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Dodgers Hope September Shuffling Pays October Dividends

NEW YORK — They’ve won back to back National League pennants and clinched their seventh straight NL West title on September 10. They have a four-game lead over the Braves for the senior circuit’s best record. And yet, even as they close in on 100 wins and the top NL seed for the playoffs, the 2019 Dodgers are still a squad very much in flux. Lineup, rotation, bullpen — everywhere, key roles up for grabs, as manager Dave Roberts and his staff spend the remainder of September hoping to find a route through October that will end differently than the last two. 

This past weekend’s trip to Citi Field for a three-game series against the Mets, who had won four straight and nine out of their last 13, put all of that on display. Friday night’s 9-2 rout was keyed by a fourth-inning, three-run homer off Noah Syndergaard by rookie Gavin Lux, who despite having just 12 major league games under his belt at this writing is amid a successful audition for the starting second base job. Saturday’s lineup featured an outfield of familiar faces — A.J. Pollock, Cody Bellinger, and Joc Pederson — in a configuration that had been used on just two other occasions in the previous 149 games.

Saturday evening’s pitching matchup, though billed as as one between Cy Young hopefuls Jacob deGrom and Hyun-Jin Ryu, was in many ways a crucial test for the latter, who despite leading all major league starters in ERA had suddenly fallen into a four-start funk. He passed his test with flying colors, delivering seven shutout innings, but the bullpen that followed him did not, surrendering three eighth-inning runs that led to defeat. Sunday brought some familiar moving parts back into the mix, and the bullpen — particularly Kenley Jansen — fared much better in the team’s come-from-behind 3-2 victory.

To be clear, some of this was and will continue to be the usual September shufflings of a playoff-bound team trying to cover for injuries and rest some veterans before the postseason. With Justin Turner nursing a mild left ankle sprain, rookie Matt Beaty started on Friday and Saturday at third base, a position he hadn’t played at the major league level before September, though for as useful as he’s been off the bench, he’s no threat to unseat a healthy Turner. Ryu was starting on nine days of rest, while Walker Buehler, who started on Sunday, was pulled after 71 pitches (his fewest since his season debut on March 31) and five innings, pushing his season total to 171.1, 18 more than last year’s combined total in the minors and majors.

Of course, it helps to have expanded September rosters for such an endeavor, and with the Dodgers, Lux is no window dressing. By the time the team’s 2016 first-round pick made his major league debut on September 2, the Dodgers had already started six other players at second base, including July 31 acquisition Jedd Gyorko, who had debuted there on September 1. Led by Enrique Hernández (84 games, 63 starts) and Max Muncy (67 games, 59 starts) and limited somewhat by injuries to both, as well as to Chris Taylor (20 games, 13 starts), the group — including Lux — hasn’t fared badly, ranking ninth among all 30 teams in both WAR (2.9, led by Muncy’s 1.7 in that capacity) and wRC+ (104). But Lux’s torrid minor league season (.347/.421/.607 with 26 homers), his draft pedigree, and his prospect status (number nine on The Board, up from number 23 in February) earned him this shot, and Roberts has liked what he’s seen. “I see composure,” said the manager of the 21-old rookie prior to Saturday’s game. “There’s a confidence. It’s a really good skill set. I see him starting tomorrow against [Zack] Wheeler. And if he continues to play well, the at-bats will be there.” Read the rest of this entry »


Jay Jaffe FanGraphs Chat – 9/16/19

12:02
Avatar Jay Jaffe: Good afternoon folks, and welcome to another edition of my Monday chat. Apparently, I screwed something up and the queue has been open for awhile, but that just gives us a good stock of questions to start with.

12:04
Avatar Jay Jaffe: My piece for today, on the premature end of Mike Trout’s season, went up a little while ago https://blogs.fangraphs.com/mike-trouts-season-is-over-which-completel…. It’s a bummer, but not half as much a bummer as the death of Ric Ocasek, news of which reached me (and everybody else) last night.

The Cars were an unstoppable hit machine when I was in grade school. Entry level new wave/post-punk, catchy as hell, icy cool. Only later did I appreciate the extent to which they were a gateway to so many great bands that influenced them — Kraftwerk, Roxy Music, Bowie, Suicide, the Modern Lovers, etc. Their first album is utter perfection, and the ones that followed are pretty damn good as well.

12:04
Avatar Jay Jaffe: Anyway, on with the show.

12:04
MVP: Do you think Trout hangs on to win the AL MVP vote despite missing effectively the last 3 weeks of the season?

12:06
Avatar Jay Jaffe: I address that in the piece. While we’ve seen a handful of players win while toiling for sub-.500 teams, and win while playing in 140 or fewer games in a 162-game schedule, we’ve never seen anybody who’s at the intersection of that Venn diagram. Alex Bregman is closing in on Trout, and while he won’t overtake him, I can see the strong possibility of voters screwing the best player on Planet Earth yet again. Brace yourselves.

12:06
stever20: How crazy is it that in the last 3 years Trout has missed now 98 games.  Costing him 30 homers and 106 hits based on what he’s done in those 3 years on average.  How worried are you that he’s gonig to turn into this generations Ken Griffey Jr.?

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Mike Trout’s Season is Over, Which Completely Sucks

The transition from the regular season to the playoffs inevitably leaves us with a stripped-down cast of the game’s best players, but this is getting ridiculous. After a week in which NL MVP candidate Christian Yelich was lost for the year with a fractured kneecap, Javier Báez was ruled out for the remainder of the regular season due to a fractured left thumb, and both Byron Buxton and Shohei Ohtani elected to undergo season-ending surgeries, we’ve now lost Mike Trout as well. The best baseball player on planet Earth will undergo surgery on his right foot later this week, according to the Angels, bringing to a premature end yet another remarkable season.

Trout had not played since making a pinch-hitting appearance on September 7, a day after he took an early exit from a game due to what was termed “right toe discomfort.” Two days later, he underwent a cryoablation procedure (the insertion of hollow needles filled with cooled, thermally conductive fluids) to alleviate a Morton’s neuroma, an inflamed nerve located between the bones at the ball of the foot. The condition is more common among women than men because of the way high heels put pressure on the toes or the ball of the foot, but any kind of repetitive, high-impact activity can cause it, particularly when tight shoes are involved.

Trout had been dealing with pain in the foot for nearly a month, according to the Los Angeles Times’ Maria Torres. Said the 28-year-old center fielder after the cryoablation, “Once it flares up, it doesn’t go away. It calms down at night and when you do baseball activity, it flares up again… This procedure today, they say it helps it.”

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Team Entropy 2019: Hanging In There

This is the second installment of this year’s Team Entropy series, my recurring look not only at the races for the remaining playoff spots but the potential for end-of-season chaos in the form of down-to-the-wire suspense and even tiebreakers. Ideally, we want more ties than the men’s department at Macy’s. If you’re new to this, please read the introduction here.

It’s been 12 days since I launched this year’s Team Entropy series, and I’m happy to report that for connoisseurs of chaos, the news is generally good, at least when it comes to the Wild Card races. The division races… eh, we’ve seen some tightening in both Centrals, but of greater significance are the pages torn off the calendar; there are but 16 days remaining in the regular season.

The Dodgers became the first team to clinch a division title this year, claiming their seventh straight NL flag on Tuesday, September 10. No other clinching is imminent, but by coincidence, the magic numbers for both East division leaders (the Yankees and Braves) and that of the AL West (the Astros) all stood at eight entering Thursday; the Yankees, with the sweep of their doubleheader against the Tigers and the Rays’ loss to the Rangers, cut theirs to five, though the other two remain at eight. It’s only a matter of time for them; there’s no reason to hold your breath in those races.

In the AL Central, the Twins — who since my last installment have lost both Michael Pineda and Byron Buxton for the season, the former to a drug suspension and the latter to shoulder surgery — have lost ground since the previous check-in. At 89-57, they now lead the Indians (86-61) by just 3 1/2 games, but with the shrinking schedule, their odds have only dropped by 0.6%, to 93.8%. The two teams face off for a three-game series this weekend in Cleveland, their last head-to-head matchup. The Indians lead the season series 9-7, and realistically probably need to sweep to keep things interesting given that they have the harder remaining schedule of the two (.487 vs. .443).

As for the NL Central, the Cardinals (82-64) have a four-game lead over both the Cubs and Brewers (78-68), each of whom has recently lost a key player for at least the remainder of the regular season, namely Javier Báez (fractured thumb) and Christian Yelich (fractured kneecap). Since reaching their season high-water mark in terms of leading the division (3 1/2 games on August 8), the Cubs are just 15-16, while the Cardinals are an NL-best 24-9 and the Brewers 18-12; the latter has won seven in a row despite the loss of the reigning NL MVP and a few other players. Since the previous Team Entropy installment, St. Louis’ odds to win the division have jumped a honkin’ 12.3%, to 76.7%, with the Cubs’ odds more than cut in half to 16.3% and the Brewers’ odds now visible to the naked eye at 7.0%. The Redbirds host the Brew Crew this weekend, and with a 9-7 series lead, need just one more win to clinch the upper hand. The odds of a season-ending tie atop the division, which would require a tiebreaker game, are at 10.1%, 0.4% higher than when we last checked in. Read the rest of this entry »


Cubs’ Loss of Báez Sticks Out Like a Sore (or Broken) Thumb

September has been a cruel month when it comes to contending teams losing key players. On Tuesday alone, the Twins placed Byron Buxton on the injured list with a left shoulder subluxation for which he subsequently underwent season-ending surgery, and the Brewers lost Christian Yelich for the duration due to a fractured right kneecap. The day before that, the Cubs found out that Javier Báez would not return before the end of the regular season due to the severity of the fractured left thumb he suffered on September 1, though at least the door is open for him to return at some point in the postseason. Each of those losses compound other injury woes — at this time of year, everybody hurts — but for the Cubs the loss of Báez is particularly acute, as the team has slid from first place into a tie for the second NL Wild Card spot in the span of five weeks.

On August 8, the Cubs’ season reached its high-water mark in terms of both their division lead (3 1/2 games ahead of the Cardinals) and playoff odds (90.8%). Since then, they’ve stumbled to a 14-16 record, and at 77-68, find themselves tied with the Brewers with 17 games remaining. Here’s the graph of the NL Central teams’ playoff odds over the course of the season, with the aforementioned date highlighted:

The 26-year-old Báez initially injured his thumb while sliding into second base in the third inning following a pickoff attempt by the Brewers’ Gio Gonzalez. Though visibly shaken up on the play, he did not depart until the seventh inning:

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Fractured Kneecap Ends Yelich’s Season and Dents Brewers’ Postseason Hopes

Christian Yelich won NL MVP honors while leading the Brewers to a division title and within one win of a trip to the World Series last year, but hopes for repeating that magic took a severe blow on Tuesday night. In the first inning of the Brewers’ game against the Marlins in Miami, the 27-year-old right fielder fouled a pitch off his right kneecap and was forced from the game. In the aftermath of the team’s 4-3 victory, general manager David Stearns told reporters that Yelich had fractured the kneecap and will be out for the remainder of the season, a crushing blow to a team that has overcome a slew of injuries to win five straight games and climb to within one game of the second NL Wild Card spot.

Ouch. Ugh. F***. A player with a reasonable claim as the NL’s best is down for the count as far as 2019 goes, and while thankfully it’s not an injury with career-altering ramifications, right now there’s no joy in Mudville or Milwaukee. This completely sucks.

Facing righty Elieser Hernandez, Yelich fouled a 1-1 slider squarely off his right knee, crumpled to the ground, and remained there for several minutes while being tended to by Brewers athletic trainer Rafael Freitas. He could not complete the plate appearance (pinch-hitter Trent Grisham completed the strikeout, which was charged to Yelich) and limped off the field under his own power (you can see the video here).

Stearns said that Yelich would be flown back to Milwaukee to meet with team doctors and determine whether surgery would be necessary and what the prognosis would be going forward. He praised his star slugger, saying, “Look, I think first and foremost, we feel awful for Christian. This is a guy who has carried us in a number of ways over the last two years. He could have been two and a half weeks away from a repeat Most Valuable Player Award. That’s where our thoughts go first.” Read the rest of this entry »


Red Sox Head Towards a Crossroads with Mookie Betts

With president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski fired and the team’s playoff odds heading into skim milk territory, the Red Sox have effectively thrown in the towel on 2019. Who will be charged with cleaning up the situation — a competitive roster that will nonetheless have significant holes to fill, a massive payroll that could limit their ability to do, a depleted farm system, and sky-high expectations nonetheless — remains to be seen. One thing is certain, however: at or near the top of the incoming executive’s to-do list will be figuring out how to handle Mookie Betts‘ pending free agency following the 2020 season. For as tempting as it may be to trade him before he walks away, the Red Sox could be making a serious mistake.

Betts, who will turn 27 on October 7, is in the midst of another fine season, if not one that measures up to last year’s high standards. Through Monday, he’s hitting .290/.388/.522 with 27 homers, 14 stolen bases, a 133 wRC+, and 6.1 WAR. Among American League players, his on-base percentage (fourth), WAR (fourth), and steals (10th) rank among the top 10, but for as impressive as that may be, it’s a marked contrast to 2018, when he led the AL in batting average (.346), slugging percentage (.640), and WAR (10.4) while placing second in on-base percentage (.438) and wRC+ (185), fourth in steals (30), and ninth in homers (32) en route to winning AL MVP honors in a landslide and helping the Red Sox to a championship. Not only was that 10.4 WAR higher than any player’s — even Mike Trout’s — since Barry Bonds’ 11.9 in 2004, but Betts posted that mark during his age-25 season, younger than any other 10-win player from the post-1960 expansion era save for Trout.

10-WAR Seasons Since 1961
Rk Player Team Season Age WAR
1 Barry Bonds Giants 2002 37 12.7
2 Barry Bonds Giants 2001 36 12.5
3 Barry Bonds Giants 2004 39 11.9
4 Carl Yastrzemski Red Sox 1967 27 11.1
5 Joe Morgan Reds 1975 31 11.0
6 Willie Mays Giants 1965 34 10.7
7 Cal Ripken Orioles 1991 30 10.6
8 Willie Mays Giants 1962 31 10.5
9 Barry Bonds Giants 1993 28 10.5
10 Willie Mays Giants 1964 33 10.5
11 Mookie Betts Red Sox 2018 25 10.4
12 Mickey Mantle Yankees 1961 29 10.3
13 Barry Bonds Giants 2003 38 10.2
14 Rickey Henderson Athletics 1990 31 10.2
15 Norm Cash Tigers 1961 26 10.2
16 Mike Trout Angels 2013 21 10.2
17 Buster Posey Giants 2012 25 10.1
18 Mike Trout Angels 2012 20 10.1
19 Alex Rodriguez Rangers 2002 26 10.0

By that yardstick, Betts’ 2019 looks like something of a disappointment, though he has dug his way out of an early-season funk that saw him hit an unremarkable .243/.375/414 (108 wRC+) in May and June. Since July 1, he’s hit .329/.397/.616 for a 155 wRC+ and 3.3 WAR, the last of which is fifth in the majors in that span behind only Alex Bregman (3.8), Trout (3.7), Anthony Rendon (3.5), and Ketel Marte (3.4). Prorate that performance to his season total of plate appearances (670) and that’s 7.8 WAR with 18 games still to play — an MVP-caliber season in most years. Read the rest of this entry »


Pineda’s Suspension Is a Serious Blow to the Twins

After frittering away what was once an 11 1/2-game lead over the Indians, the Twins have reestablished firm control of the AL Central race, but this weekend, their hopes to play deep into October took a hit when Michael Pineda was suspended for 60 games for violating MLB’s Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program. Pineda tested positive for hydrochlorothiazide, a diuretic on the league’s banned substances list, and while his suspension was reduced from the standard 80 games upon appeal, he won’t be available for the playoffs, making this one of the most impactful recent Joint Drug suspensions.

Pineda’s suspension was announced amid a three-game series between the division rivals. On Friday night, he held the Indians to one run over six innings while striking out a season-high 10; he left the game carrying a 2-1 lead, but the Indians tied the game in the eighth and won 6-2 in 11 innings. The next day, MLB announced the suspension, and while a fired-up Twins team rallied late to win 5-3 and cut the team’s magic number to clinch the division to 14, they lost the rubber match on Sunday, 5-2.

In a statement released by the Major League Baseball Players Association, 30-year-old Pineda said in part:

“I mistakenly took a medication that was given to me by a close acquaintance, who obtained it over-the-counter and assured me it would safely help me manage my weight. I ingested a few of these pills without the consent of the Twins’ training staff. Testing revealed trace elements of a substance called Hydrochlorothiazide, which is a banned diuretic under baseball’s testing program.”

Hydrochlorothiazide is a medication used to treat high blood pressure and fluid retention (edema) by producing more urine, which helps the body get rid of excess sodium and water. It’s on the list of banned substances because it is often abused as a masking agent, which helps to to conceal the use of anabolic steroids by reducing their concentration in urine due to the increase in volume. Read the rest of this entry »


Jay Jaffe FanGraphs Chat – 9/9/19

12:01
Avatar Jay Jaffe: Hello and good afternoon! Welcome to my first chat in this new time slot — real life events (mainly my daughter starting preschool) have necessitated changing from my Thursday slot, and thankfully, Dan Szymborski was able to accommodate. You’ll still get the same artisanal blend of sense and nonsense as I usually dish out.

12:02
Avatar Jay Jaffe: I’ve got a thing in the pipeline today about Michael Pineda’s suspension and its impact on the Twins. And now, onto the questions…

12:02
JH: How weak is it that Red Sox ownership isn’t going to discuss Dombrowski’s firing with the media?

12:03
Avatar Jay Jaffe: That is a particularly weak move as it leaves Alex Cora and the players to answer questions without knowing all that went into the decision or what the future holds

12:03
Wicho: Presumably, the new regime is going to have to cut payroll in Boston but how are they going to do that? Most of their big money players are not worth their contracts and they don’t have the prospects to attach to them.

12:04
Avatar Jay Jaffe: Well, I suspect that J.D. Martinez will opt out and that the Sox might decide that their chances of re-signing Betts are better if they haven’t committed $100M+ to him. Beyond that… they’re going to have to get creative and hope that some of their young players pan out.

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Michael Lorenzen Gets His Turn, and Other Two-Way Tales

This week, Michael Lorenzen put himself in the company of the Bambino, Abba Dabba, and The Caveman. In Wednesday night’s game between the Reds and Phillies in Cincinnati, the versatile 27-year-old became the first player since Babe Ruth to collect a win as a pitcher, hit a home run, and play the outfield in a single game, something Ruth did for the Yankees on June 13, 1921. On Thursday afternoon, Lorenzen drew the first start of his career in center field, thus becoming the first pitcher to make a start in the field in the game after netting a win since the Braves’ Jim Tobin (nicknamed Abba Dabba for reasons unclear) on July 29, 1943, and the first pitcher to start in the outfield since Don Robinson (nicknamed The Caveman for his physique) in 1984. As esoteric as this collection of achievements may be, it’s reason enough to examine the progress of Lorenzen and a few other potential two-way players whom I highlighted in late February.

In the top of the seventh inning of Wednesday’s game, manager David Bell called upon Lorenzen for his 66th appearance of the year, in the service of protecting a 5-4 lead. While Lorenzen served up a game-tying homer to Jay Bruce, the second batter he faced, Jose Iglesias’ solo homer off Jose Alvarez in the bottom of the frame put the Reds back on top. Lorenzen then threw a scoreless eighth, retiring Bryce Harper, Rhys Hoskins, and Jean Segura in order. In the bottom of the eighth, with two outs and one on against Blake Parker, he launched his first home run of the season and seventh of his career, a 100.7-mph, 387-foot shot that put the Reds up 8-5. When closer Raisel Iglesias entered for the ninth, Lorenzen moved to center field (his 18th appearance in the outfield this year), replacing rookie Brian O’Grady. He was a bystander as Iglesias set down the side in order, but he did vulture a win, his first of the season.

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