Of all the major sports, I would argue that none rely on their history and its place in the cultural milieu more than baseball. Every big moment in baseball seems to be steeped in comparable historical feats accomplished by some of the game’s most famous protagonists, from Ruth to Mantle to Maddux. In one sense, that’s a positive; even if there are more strikeouts and home runs than there were 100 years ago, someone from 1921 could arrive by time machine and still follow what is fundamentally a very similar game. But on the flip side, someone like Mike Trout can’t simply be recognized as being the first Mike Trout but as the next version of Mays or Mantle or Speaker. We joke about broadcasters waxing nostalgic about the aura and mystique of the New York Yankees, but a player on the Yankees can’t help but be endlessly compared to the heroes of yore, and mortals are usually found wanting in those comparisons.
Every team in the playoffs has something to prove, but Boston Red Sox and Houston Astros would both like to be victors who write the history books.
The Red Sox spent most of the 20th century as the Goofus to New York’s Gallant. The Yankees were expected to win World Series after World Series while the less-fortunate son was the habitual loser, constantly pulling defeat from the jaws of victory because of a curse caused by a team owner who wanted to produce a play, My Lady Friends in 1919. But the 2000s have swung things the Sox way, with Boston not just breaking its long championship-less streak but winning four championship trophies this century, the most in baseball. Yet to a large extent, the Yankees still retain the position of the big dog. It even felt a bit like that at the trade deadline, when the Yankees got the headlines for acquiring Joey Gallo and Anthony Rizzo while Kyle Schwarber was seen as a Boston consolation prize. But Schwarber played better than either Gallo or Rizzo, and unlike them is still playing in 2021. Read the rest of this entry »
Needing to win two consecutive games to advance to the American League Championship Series, the Chicago White Sox got a bit of a breather on Monday thanks to storms that swept through the area, postponing Game 4 until Tuesday afternoon. The extra day of rest gave the White Sox an interesting option: do you stick with the previous rotation plan and start Carlos Rodón for Game 4 or do you take the opportunity to use Lance Lynn or Lucas Giolito, the Game 1 and 2 starters? White Sox manager Tony La Russa opted to stick with Rodón. Is that the right choice?
The first step in answering that question is to see if the projections give any obvious guidance. As it currently stands, with Rodón starting Tuesday and Lynn going in a possible Game 5, ZiPS projects the White Sox with a 25.2% chance of winning the final two games of the series. Moving Lynn and Giolito into those spots increases Chicago’s win probability to 26.6%. That’s is a relatively minor change. The Astros get a larger boost from their decision to move Lance McCullers Jr. up to Game 4, skipping José Urquidy and then likely turning to Framber Valdez for Game 5.
A percentage point or two doesn’t make a move obvious, and while projections are highly useful, they cannot always take the whole micro situation into account, no matter how clever their developers imagine themselves to be. Read the rest of this entry »
The National League Division Series between the Atlanta Braves and the Milwaukee Brewers got off to a low-scoring start on Friday afternoon, with Corbin Burnes dueling Charlie Morton for six innings. Offense was nearly nowhere to be found, as the teams combined for just nine hits against 18 strikeouts. The three runs came on two hits: a two-run shot by Rowdy Tellez in the bottom of the seventh and a solo follow-up by Joc Pederson the next half-inning:
That wasn’t the only big moment of the night by Tellez, as the husky first baseman made a solid throw to nail Jorge Soler at the plate for the back end of an Ozzie Albies double play ball in the first inning. That run turned out to be the difference. Read the rest of this entry »
The Boston Red Sox summarily dispensed with the New York Yankees in their winner-takes-all Wild Card matchup on Tuesday night, with Nathan Eovaldi cruisin’ and Gerrit Cole the subject of a bruisin’. Boston now faces the Tampa Bay Rays in a five-game American League Division Series matchup that represents just the third time the teams have ever squared off in the playoffs.
One of the interesting things about this matchup from a projections standpoint is that it features two of the teams with the largest gap between their FanGraphs Projected Standings and the ZiPS-concocted ones. Indeed, if it weren’t for the St. Louis Cardinals, these two squads would have the biggest separation in the two systems’ respective preseason outlooks, with the FanGraphs Projected Standings preferring the Red Sox and ZiPS leaning toward Tampa Bay:
Read the rest of this entry »
The original data and methodology are below.
We’ve reached the final week of the 2021 regular season, and for fans of high-intensity, stretch-drive baseball — a group I think we can refer to as “everyone” — there’s still quite a lot to play for. Only five of the 10 playoff spots are claimed, with two of those five teams in a battle for a division title. And since there are just a handful of games left to play, we can move the ZiPS projections from the macro to the micro. In April, it’s always hard to project specific pitcher matchups, but with a week left to go in the season, it’s a more reasonable task of extrapolation. As a result, that allows me to adapt the ZiPS model into a game-by-game projection of the final week of the season for the relevant teams.
I’ve focused on three of the playoff spots, the two AL wild cards, and the NL East, along with the division versus wild card battle in the NL West. The Astros can still technically lose the division to the Mariners (one-in-about-1,800) or the Athletics (one-in-about-2,150), and the Cardinals could still have an epic collapse in which they lose six, the Reds win six, and they lose the tiebreaker (one-in-about-3,300). These could also become mathematical impossibilities quickly; if they become plausible rather than proverbial lottery tickets, I’ll update with the data.
Let’s start with the easy races.
The Braves enter the final week with a 2 1/2-game lead in the division but three games remaining against the Phillies. Their schedules are similar in strength, with Atlanta getting home games and Philadelphia on the road, something that’s largely canceled out by the former getting the slightly harder opponent (the Mets versus the Marlins). The edge comes from the cushion.
With the edge in the standings, ZiPS projects just over a four-in-five chance that the Braves will not have to play the Rockies in a makeup game on Monday. Overall, the Braves win the division 87.7% of the time without the makeup game, and the Phillies stick the Braves in at least a 1 1/2-game hole 1.0% of the time.
Batting average may have rightfully lost its sex appeal in player evaluation, but not everything that’s fun needs to be a measure of a player’s overall value. We’ve been treated to eight new members of the 3,000 hit club over the last 20 years; that’s a quarter of the 3,000-hitsmen in baseball history, with a few more just outside that arbitrary endpoint. Miguel Cabrera almost certainly won’t get the 21 hits he needs to reach the milestone over Detroit’s nine remaining games this season, but he should get there sometime in early 2022. After he does, however, baseball won’t have to print any more membership cards for a while.
By definition, players who end up with 3,000 career hits necessarily must have had 2,000 hits at some point. In 2021, we have fewer active 2,000-hit hitters than at any other “normal” time in baseball history:
There was only a single batter with 2,000 career hits after the 1952 season: Stan Musial, who had 2,023. But that bottleneck is hardly surprising given that many of baseball’s stars missed multiple seasons due to service in World War II. There were 10 active 1,500-hit hitters that year and six of them (Musial, Johnny Mize, Enos Slaughter, Ted Williams, Dom DiMaggio, and Mickey Vernon) went to war. Baseball set a record for the most active players with 2,000 hits fairly recently, with 27 after the 2004 season. Right now, there are only five: Cabrera, Robinson Canó, Yadier Molina, Albert Pujols, and Joey Votto. Read the rest of this entry »
San Diego’s 2021 season has become a campaign of devolving questions. From the preseason’s burning query of whether or not the Padres could best the Dodgers, we’ve gone from wondering whether they could top the Giants to whether they would make the playoffs at all. Now, as we head into the final week of the regular season, it’s unclear if San Diego can even beat the .500 mark.
Even if you’re hopeful about the team — and you probably don’t feel very optimistic after watching this weekend’s games or reading Jay’s piece on second-half collapses — finishing with a winning record is an open question. All of the Padres’ remaining games are against teams that would make the playoffs if the season ended today, and none of them can set cruise control; the Dodgers and Giants are fighting for the division, and the Braves still haven’t put away the Phillies.
The unraveling of the Padres became even more pronounced over the weekend. A three-game sweep at the hands of the Cardinals pushed San Diego 3.5 games out of a playoff spot, and in dramatic fashion. A clearly frustrated Manny Machado got in a public shouting match with Fernando Tatis Jr. after the latter became visibly angry about umpire Phil Cuzzi’s strike zone; fortunately for the team, manager Jayce Tingler took over the argument and was the one ejected instead of Tatis. Just as ugly was Tatis’ dropped pop-up in the first inning of Sunday’s game, compounded by a throw home instead of to second base for the force.
Coming into the season, the ZiPS projections pegged San Diego as a 98-win team, the second-best in baseball — the first time ZiPS had ever projected the franchise to win 90 games, the previous bests being 86 wins in 2007 and ’20 (before the season was pared down to a 60-game schedule). To finish 98–64 at this point, the Padres would have to go 23 and -9, which quite obviously will not happen unless MLB invents some new, bizarre rule.
Technically, there’s a path to the Padres ending 2021 on a satisfying note, but the odds are quickly becoming less “roll a double to get out of Monopoly jail” and more Dumb and Dumber-esque “so you’re saying there’s a chance.”
Coming into the season, ZiPS had the Padres with a one-in-eight chance of winning the World Series; now, it’s one-in-1,607. Perhaps if the season were 200 games, they would have time to right the ship somewhat and make the playoffs, but given how this year has gone, maybe an extended season would have them falling behind the Rockies, too.
There were a lot of reasons Gleyber Torres was fascinating as a prospect. Most of them were based on his offensive potential, but if we turn back the clock four years, there was also hope that Torres would be an adequate enough shortstop that he wouldn’t necessarily need to move down the defensive spectrum (at least not right away) thanks to a strong arm that could compensate for other shortcomings. Both Eric Longehagen and Dan Farnsworth expressed that hope here at FanGraphs, though Eric wasn’t quite as bullish. The Yankees are perhaps the foremost experts in winning lots of games with a defensively unimpressive shortstop who more than makes up for it with fantastic offensive contributions; the height of that ideal, of course, is recently-inducted Hall of Famer Derek Jeter.
Torres had mostly played second base in his rookie campaign, with mixed results, but when incumbent shortstop Didi Gregorius underwent Tommy John surgery, the Yankees had an opportunity to give him an extended look at the position. That seemed to pay off. At -5 runs per 150 by UZR and -6/150 by DRS and OAA, Torres wasn’t a great shortstop by any stretch, but he wasn’t in “let’s see how Todd Hundley does in the outfield” territory, either. Plus, hitting .278/.337/.535 with 38 homers at age 22 has a nice way of neutralizing concerns about mediocre defense.
The wheels came off that particular apple cart last season. He played poor defense, and while he still got on base, his power completely disappeared. All told, Torres hit just three homers in the abbreviated 2020 campaign, and his isolated power dropped in half, from .256 to .125. Last season was a weird year for obvious reasons, but Torres hasn’t bounced back at all in a more normal one, hitting .249/.320/.349 through Monday’s games. At this level of offense, it gets much harder to carry a defensively unimpressive shortstop. In 151 combined games in 2020 and ’21, basically a full season, Torres’ numbers at short have been -6 runs by UZR, -7 by OAA, and an extremely troubling -21 in DRS. Read the rest of this entry »