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Team Entropy 2021: Thinning the Herd, Slightly

This is the third 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.

We’re now inside of two weeks remaining in the 2021 season, and in both leagues, the playoff herds have thinned. With the Mets and Mariners both slipping in the Wild Card standings of their respective leagues, it appears that Major League Baseball’s heretofore unpublished five-way tiebreaker protocol will remain under wraps for another year, and time is running out for some other teams. Even so, there’s still a lot in play.

NL West and NL East

For starters, the race for the NL West flag is very much alive. The Giants won nine in a row from September 5-14, turning what had briefly been a tie with the Dodgers — which they broke with a season series-clinching win to kick off the streak — into a 2 1/2-game advantage. But after beating the Padres twice to start their four-game set at Oracle Park, the Giants lost the last two game of the series, and took “only” two of three agains the Braves this past weekend. Meanwhile the Dodgers split four games with the Cardinals in St. Louis, swept six games from the Padres and the Diamondbacks at home, and took two out of three from the Reds in Cincinnati, trimming the gap to a single game.

Both teams were idle on Monday, and now the defending champions visit Colorado and Arizona for three-game sets this week before returning home to close out the regular season with three-gamers against the Padres and Brewers. The Giants visit the Padres and then the Rockies for three apiece, then close by hosting the Diamondback and Padres. The Playoff Odds have ever so slightly tilted back to the Dodgers, 50.5% to 49.5%, but a stiff breeze could undo that pretty quickly.

The potential end-of-season scenario for these two teams hasn’t changed. If they’re tied after 162 games — the odds of which are currently at 16.1% — the Giants will host the tiebreaker, and the winner will be crowned division champion and get the NL’s top seed, while the loser will host the Wild Card Game; whoever wins that will turn around and play the NL West champion in the Division Series.

Meanwhile, with the Braves losing five out of six to the Marlins, Rockies, and Giants from September 11-18, the gap in the NL East shrank to a single game. It’s back up to three now, but I still get to run the table:

NL East Contenders Head-to-Head Records and Games Remaining
Team Record GB Braves Phillies Mets
Braves 78-70 7-9 (3,0) 8-8 (3,0)
Phillies 76-74 3 9-7 (0,3) 10-9
Mets 73-77 6 8-8 (0,3) 9-10
Games remaining between each pair of teams in parentheses, in format (Home,Road). Yellow cells denote that team has clinched the season series.

The Phillies, who just took two of three from both the Cubs and Mets, have the NL’s second-easiest remaining schedule the rest of the way, with a weighted opponents’ winning percentage of .448. They’re in the midst of hosting the Orioles — who have done their part to play the spoiler in the AL East, and beat the Phils at Camden Yards on Monday — and Pirates, the latter for four games instead of three, then finish with three apiece in Atlanta (where they can clinch the season series with a single win) and Miami. The Braves (.512 oppo win percentage) are in the midst of visiting the Diamondbacks for four and then the Padres for three before returning home to host the Phillies and Mets. I’m humoring the Mets here, because with odds of just 0.4% — all for the division, as they’ve slipped below the visibility threshold in the Wild Card race — New York is barely relevant. They do close against Atlanta; before that, the visit Boston for two and Milwaukee for three, then host Miami for four.

If the Phillies and Braves do end up tied (8.8% odds), the winner of the season series would play host to a Game 163 tiebreaker while the loser would, in all likelihood, go home. If somehow the two teams do finish 162 games with the same record as the second Wild Card team, the division-deciding tiebreaker wouldn’t be considered as breaking that tie. Instead, they’d become part of whatever Wild Card tie-breaking process is on the table. For example, if the Braves, Phillies, and Cardinals all finish at 86-76… You know what? I’m getting ahead of myself.

NL Wild Card No. 2

NL Wild Card Contenders Head-to-Head Records
Team Record GB Cardinals Reds Padres Phillies
Cardinals 80-69 9-10 3-3 3-4
Reds 79-73 3 10-9 1-6 4-2
Padres 76-73 4 3-3 6-1 2-4
Phillies 76-74 4.5 4-3 2-4 4-2
Yellow cells denote that team has clinched the season series.

Let’s backtrack a bit. By beating up on the Padres and Reds, the Dodgers did their share to clear up the Wild Card picture, which gained additional clarity as the Cardinals swept six games from the Mets and Padres, running their winning streak to eight straight. The Cardinals don’t have the easiest road ahead, in that six of their remaining 13 games (plus the one they won on Monday night, stretching their winning streak to nine) are against the Brewers, first as part of a four-game series in Milwaukee. They follow that with three against the Cubs in Chicago, then return home to host the Brewers and Cubs for three apiece. Their Playoff Odds, which were 7.9% as of September 11, and 36.0% on September 16, have skyrocketed to 79.6%.

By losing series to the Cardinals, Pirates, and Dodgers, the Red have dropped their odds from 52.9% to 14.4%, and losing Jesse Winker after a premature one-game return from his intercostal strain didn’t help (never believe a team when they say they think a player can return from an intercostal strain in 10 days). They do have the easiest remaining schedule, with a .440 weighted opponents’ winning percentage; that’s thanks to a pair of three-game series against the Pirates — first at home, beginning with Monday night’s win, then closing on the road — bookending a four-game series hosting the Nationals and then visiting the South Side for two against the White Sox.

The Padres are falling apart at the seams. Their odds were still at 44.0% on September 9, but they’ve gone 2-8 since then, sandwiching sweeps by the Dodgers and Cardinals around a split of a four-game series with the Giants. Saturday night’s dugout confrontation between Manny Machado and Fernando Tatis Jr. not only didn’t look good but hinted at bigger troubles behind the scenes.

As noted previously, the Padres have a brutal schedule the rest of the way, with six games against the Giants (three at home this week, then three in San Francisco on the final weekend) bookending a three-game series hosting the Braves and a three-game trip to visit the Dodgers. Oh, and get this, that series against the Braves also includes the conclusion of a suspended game that began on July 21, where the Braves trail 5-4 in the bottom of the fifth inning of a seven-inning game; in other words, for a brief time, they’ll be the home team at Petco Park.

Tiebreaker-wise, if two of these teams wind up with the same records atop this group after 162 games (11.9% odds), the host for the game will be determined by the better head-to-head record, and if not that then the better intradivision record; here the Reds (41-30, .577) and Phillies (40-30, .571) have big advantages over the Cardinals (32-31, .508) and Padres (32-35, .478, yikes). If that doesn’t unknot the tie, then intraleague records are next, positioning the Cardinals (69-60, .535) ahead of the Phillies (70-62, .530), and Padres (62-67, .481). If somehow that didn’t break the tie, they’d drill down to records in the last half of intraleague games, and then the last half plus one, plus two, and so on. I’m not digging through schedules for those hypotheticals just yet.

If three teams wind up tied for a single Wild Card spot, it gets complicated. This time around, I’ll use a hypothetical example involving the Cardinals, Reds, and Phillies. The Reds won their season series against both of the other teams (10-9 over Cardinals, 4-2 over Phillies), so they’re first in the pecking order, then the Phillies are second by dint of their 4-3 edge over the Cardinals. The teams then draft spots within the following scenario: Club A hosts Club B, with the winner hosting Club C. In other words, the team picking first can either choose a shot at two home games, or limit themselves to one road game. The team with the short straw in the three-way tiebreaker is actually Club B, which in a best-case scenario has to win not one but two road games just to get into the playoffs.

If four teams wind up tied for one spot, they’re ranked by their combined head-to-head records, which in this case shake out as the Padres (11-8, .579), Phillies (10-9, .526), Reds (15-17, .469), and Cardinals (15-17, .469), with the last two teams separated by Cincinnati’s aforementioned 10-9 season series advantage. The four teams would then draft spots in the following scenario: Club A hosts Club B and Club C hosts Club D, with the A/B winner hosting the C/D winner.

Back to the aforementioned scenario involving the Braves, Phillies, and Cardinals, with the first two teams tied for the NL East lead and all three tied for the second Wild Card spot. Once the Game 163 tiebreaker determines the NL East champion, the losing team would still be considered tied for the Wild Card spot. The Cardinals lost season series to both the Braves (1-6) and Phillies (3-4) so regardless of the division tiebreaker’s outcome, they would be the road team for that play-in, the winning of which would merely send them into the Wild Card game as the road team. Note that if the Padres are the third team instead of the Cardinals, they lost the season series to the Phillies (2-4) but haven’t yet finished their series against the Braves, so there’s a still chance they could be the home team if that play-in transpired.

AL Wild Cards

AL Wild Card Contenders Head-to-Head Records & Games Remaining
Team Record GB Red Sox Blue Jays Yankees A’s Mariners
Red Sox 86-65 +1.5 10-9 10-6 (3,0) 3-3 4-3
Blue Jays 84-66 9-10 10-6 (3,0) 5-2 2-4
Yankees 84-67 0.5 6-10 (0,3) 6-10 (0,3) 4-3 5-2
A’s 82-68 2 3-3 2-5 3-4 4-9 (3,3)
Mariners 81-69 3 3-4 4-2 2-5 9-4 (3,3)
Games remaining between each pair of teams in parentheses, in format (Home,Road). Yellow cells denote that team has clinched the season series.

With five straight wins over the Mariners and Orioles, the Red Sox have moved to the head of the class, and they have a relatively thin schedule the rest of the way (.486 oppo win percentage) in which their three games against the Yankees this coming weekend are the only ones against a team above .500; first they host the Mets for two, then spend their final week on the road with three apiece against the Orioles and Nationals. Their odds at claiming a spot are now 89.8%.

The Blue Jays lost the first of three to the Rays in Tampa Bay on Monday night but are still a major league best 15-4 this month. They’ve got two more there, and four in Minnesota before finishing by hosting the Yankees and Orioles for three apiece. Their odds of winning a Wild Card spot are a solid 62.6%. The Yankees, who are tied with the Orioles for the league’s worst record since August 27 (8-15), have been busy dropping key series to the Mets and Cleveland, to say nothing of their troubles with the Birds. They did beat the Rangers in the first game of their three-game series on Monday, after which they face a critical six-game road trip to Toronto and Boston before returning home to host Tampa Bay. Among the remaining AL Wild Card contenders, their weighted opponents’ winning percentage of .539 is now the highest, and their odds (40.1%) are less than half of what they were at their peak (85.7% on September 4).

In danger of fading from the picture are the two AL West contenders. Despite a five-game winning streak over the Royals and Angels, the A’s are just 9-9 this month, and their odds have fallen to 5.5%. Losing to the Mariners at home on Monday night, in the first game of a four-game set, didn’t help, particularly as they now have to run the table just to take the season series. They’ve got a tough schedule the rest of the way (.537 oppo win percentage) because in addition to Seattle, they’ve got six games left against the Astros; they close the season in Houston. They’re still better off than the Mariners, whose odds are down to 1.6%, though at least Seattle gets six games against the Angels instead of six with the Astros.

Tie-wise, the three AL East contenders have odd numbers of head-to-head games, so determining the host of a two-team play-in is straightforward. As for three-way ties, assuming it’s the beasts from the east, the order would shake out with the Red Sox getting to pick first because they own the season series advantage over the other two teams, with the Blue Jays picking second and the Yankees third. If somehow the A’s were to replace the Yankees in such a scrum, I think — but am not 100% sure based on the wording of the tiebreaker protocol (“If Club 1 has a better record against Clubs 2 and 3, and Club 2 has a better record against Club 3, then Club 1 chooses its designation, followed by Club 2”) — that the order would be Red Sox, Blue Jays, and A’s because while Boston and Oakland split their six games, the former has the better intradivision record (40-30 versus 33-31). Again the teams draft into the familiar scenario: Club A hosts Club B, with the winner hosting Club C.

A four-team scenario involving all but the Mariners would move to a ranking by combined head-to-head records. The exact order is still up in the air thanks to the Yankees having three games apiece against their AL East rivals, but if we’re doing this today it would go Blue Jays (24-18, .571, three to play), Red Sox (23-18, .561, three to play), Yankees (16-23, .410, six to play), A’s (8-12, .400). Want to swap the Mariners for the A’s? Fine, sure, whatever: Red Sox (24-18, .571, 3 to play), Blue Jays (21-20, .512, three to play), Mariners (9-11, .450), Yankees (17-22, .436, six to play). Again, the four teams draft spots, and Club A hosts Club B and Club C hosts Club D, with the A/B winner hosting the C/D winner atop the coconut tree (I might need to review my notes).

Our tiebreaker page tells us that the two-way AL tie has the best odds of any such tie scenario, at 17.1%, with a three-way tie for the second spot at 2.1%, a three-way tie for the top spot at 2.3%, and a four-way tie at 0.1%. If that doesn’t give you something to root for, then contributor Jake Mailhot has a handy guide to potential spoilers:

Now, get rooting!


The Playoff Race That’s For the Birds — the Ones in Baltimore

The Orioles are a very bad baseball team. In fact, by the available evidence, they’re the majors’ worst, owners of the lowest winning percentage by a narrow margin and the lowest run differential by a country mile. Yet when the book is finally closed on the 2021 season, they will have left a sizable footprint on the American League playoff picture. For as dreadful as they’ve been, they’ve played quite the spoilers — and could continue to do so.

The O’s have already lost more than 100 games for the third time in the past four seasons; obviously, they couldn’t pull that off during last year’s pandemic-shortened campaign, though had it been played to completion, they might have given the century mark a run for its money, as their their record prorated to 68-94. At 47-102 (.315) this year, they’re one game worse than the Diamondbacks (48-101, .322), and on pace to lose 111 games, second only to their 2018 team’s 115 losses in terms of the franchise’s run in Baltimore. Because they’ve surrendered a ghastly 6.00 runs per game, they’ve been outscored by 276 runs, and could become the fifth team of the post-1960 expansion era to be outscored by at least 300 runs.

The Orioles have been even worse within their division (18-52, .257) than outside it (29-50, .367), but while they lost 18 out of 19 games to the Rays — becoming the third team of the division play era to do that, after the 2019 Tigers (1-18 versus Cleveland) and Mariners (1-18 versus the Astros) — they went 8-11 versus the Yankees. Without that difference, the AL East race would be a four-team pileup:

AL East Versus Orioles and Overall
Team W-L vs BAL PCT W-L Tot PCT GB W-L w/o BAL PCT GB
Rays 18-1 .947 92-58 .613 74-57 .565
Red Sox 12-4 .750 86-65 .570 6.5 74-61 .548 2
Blue Jays 11-5 .688 84-65 .564 7.5 73-60 .549 2
Yankees 11-8 .579 83-67 .553 9 72-59 .550 2

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Jay Jaffe FanGraphs Chat – 9/17/21

2:02
Avatar Jay Jaffe: Good afternoon, folks, and welcome to another edition of my Friday chat. I’ve got a piece today about notable second-half slides that have crowded the Wild Card race https://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/the-second-half-slides-that-have-crowd…, and earlier this week, I wrote about Team Entropy (https://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/team-entropy-2021-lets-get-wild/), Max Scherzer (https://blogs.fangraphs.com/max-scherzer-chases-perfection-and-collect…), Ryan Braun’s retirement (https://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/ryan-brauns-complicated-legacy/)

2:02
Avatar Jay Jaffe: And now, on with the show

2:02
Fat Spielberg: Do you think it’s true that Steve Cohen’s tweeting has hurt the Mets chances of hiring decent FO people?

2:04
Avatar Jay Jaffe: I don’t think it’s helped that cause, to say the least, but I think the bigger problem is that the organization just reeks of a dysfunctional culture, and the most prominent person in common to the Wilpon era and the Cohen one is Sandy Alderson, who’s apparently returning despite three notable hiring gaffes that blew up in the team’s face. I don’t see how you’re going to land an Epstein or a Beane if Alderson is still in place.

2:04
Fat Spielberg: I’ve heard a lot of people this season call Bryce Harper a future first ballot HoFer. I don’t necessarily disagree, but when I look at his comps on bbref, it’s a group of really good players, but only one HoFer in the group (Reggie Jackson. And Barry Bonds.) Are people jumping the gun, or has this season (which I assume isn’t used in those comps) pushed him over the edge?

2:06
Avatar Jay Jaffe: I don’t think Harper has come close to guaranteeing first-ballot status but his early start put him on a Hall of Fame path, and the way he’s played over the past two seasons has helped get him back onto it after his progress was slowed. Wrote about him in this context here https://blogs.fangraphs.com/ten-position-players-who-have-most-helped-…

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The Second-Half Slides That Have Crowded the Wild Card Races

It didn’t explicitly come up in the Effectively Wild podcast spot I did highlighting this year’s Team Entropy series, but one reason why the Wild Card races that I covered in my second installment early this week are so wild — with five teams chasing two spots in the AL, and five more chasing one spot in the NL — is a handful of prominent collapses. The Mets, Padres, and Red Sox all spent a good chunk of the season occupying playoff positions, with New York and Boston occupying the top spots in their respective divisions for more days than any of their competitors. Yet all three teams could miss out on October baseball thanks to some of the most drastic first half-to-second-half drop-offs we’ve seen in recent years.

The Mets, despite a slew of injuries, led the NL East — at times with company in first place — for nearly four months, from April 13 to August 6, with a slight return after falling out of first that stretched the window to August 13. They somehow did that by posting winning records only in May (17-9) and July (14-13), and even after being overtaken, they remained within striking distance for about half of a dreadful August during which they went 9-19. Since the July 30 trade deadline, when they acquired Javier Báez but arguably didn’t do enough to bolster their rotation — a decision that was exacerbated by Jacob deGrom’s subsequent setback, which came to light almost immediately after the deadline passed — they’ve gone just 17-28. At this writing, they’re 72-75, 5 1/2 games behind the Braves in the NL East, and five behind the Cardinal for the second NL Wild Card spot, with cumulative playoff odds of 2.1%. I’m skeptical they’ll be relevant by the time I next cover Team Entropy.

The Red Sox had an on-and-off relationship with first place in the AL East, occupying at least a share of it from April 8 through May 23, and then again for most of a stretch that ran from June 19 through July 30. They’ve gone just 20-24 since the deadline passed, for the third-worst record in the AL; they did so while the Rays (29-14), Blue Jays (31-16), and Yankees (29-16) peeled off the AL’s top three records in that span. A wave of COVID infections has played a part, knocking 12 players — including Xander Bogaerts, Enrique Hernández, Chris Sale, and Matt Barnes — out of action since August 27; notably, the Red Sox are one of the six teams that has failed to reach the 85% vaccination threshold to loosen protocols, though the majority of those infected were vaccinated. They’re now 8 1/2 games back in the AL East, but occupying the second Wild Card spot, a percentage point behind the Blue Jays and half a game ahead of the Yankees, with Playoff Odds of 75.3%.

The Padres were projected to be one of the NL’s two best teams, albeit in a division occupied by the other one, the Dodgers. But while the defending champions have indeed been one of the top two, it’s been the Giants, not the Padres, who have provided their closest competition; San Diego has spent just 14 days in first place in the NL West. Even so, they spent nearly three-quarters of the season with Playoff Odds of 75% or better, but have gone just 16-25 since the deadline, and 10-21 since August 10. Having just won back-to-back games for the second time in the past five weeks, they’ve closed the gap behind the Giants to, uh, 18 1/2 games, but their Playoff Odds have dwindled to 32.0%.

As you can see, there’s a pretty wide spread when it comes to these three teams’ chances of playing October baseball, but each has fallen significantly from the spots they occupied earlier in the season. Depending on where I set the endpoints, their slumps might appear even more acute, which works for storytelling purposes, but is harder for comparative analysis. Since all three were riding rather high in early July, I decided to see how their declines in winning percentage from the first 81 games — a point the Padres reached on June 29, the Red Sox on June 30, and the Mets on July 4 — to the second compared to those of other teams in recent years.

As it turns out, the Padres’ drop from a .593 first-half winning percentage — the first 81 games of the season, not the uneven “halves” defined by proximity to the All-Star break — to a .422 second-half mark so far is the fourth-largest since 2012, the start of the two Wild Card team era; their dip ranked second until this two-game hot streak. Meanwhile those Red Sox and Mets rank among the dozen largest drop-offs, with yet another team from this year, one I hadn’t even considered for this piece given my apparent East Coast bias, in the top 20:

Largest Winning Percentage Drop-Offs After First 81 Games
Team Year W-L1 WPCT1 W-L2 WPCT2 WPCT Dif Postseason
Brewers 2014 49-32 .605 33-48 .407 -.198
Athletics 2014 51-30 .630 37-44 .457 -.173 Wildcard
Mets 2012 44-37 .543 30-51 .370 -.173
Padres 2021 48-33 .593 27-37 .422 -.171
Giants 2016 50-31 .617 37-44 .457 -.160 Wildcard
Rangers 2019 45-36 .556 33-48 .407 -.149
Diamondbacks 2018 47-34 .580 35-46 .432 -.148
Pirates 2012 45-36 .556 34-47 .420 -.136
Mariners 2018 50-31 .617 39-42 .481 -.136
Red Sox 2021 50-31 .617 33-34 .493 -.124
Mets 2021 44-37 .543 28-38 .424 -.119
Rangers 2016 52-29 .642 43-38 .531 -.111 Division Champ
Pirates 2013 51-30 .630 43-38 .531 -.099 Wildcard
Yankees 2018 54-27 .667 46-35 .568 -.099 Wildcard
Phillies 2018 44-37 .543 36-45 .444 -.099
Astros 2015 47-34 .580 39-42 .481 -.099 Wildcard
Athletics 2021 47-34 .580 31-33 .484 -.096
Nationals 2015 45-36 .556 38-43 .469 -.087
Blue Jays 2014 45-36 .556 38-43 .469 -.087
Astros 2017 54-27 .667 47-34 .580 -.087 WS Champ

That’s not really a list you want to be on, judging by the minimal postseason impact of those teams. Obviously, we don’t yet know the playoff fates of the Padres, Red Sox, Mets (well, I think we know that one), and A’s (welcome to the party). Of the other 16 teams, seven made the playoffs; four won Wild Card games (the 2013 Pirates, ’15 Astros, ’16 Giants, and ’18 Yankees), but the only one that won a Division Series or a later round was the ’17 Astros, who, well, you know. Only one team with a drop-off of at least 87 points and a sub-.500 record in the second half won so much as a Wild Card game, namely the 2015 Astros.

Since the A’s turn up here, their arc is worth retracing as well. Despite being outscored in both April and May, strongly suggesting that they were playing over their heads, they climbed to the top of the AL West, and spent all but a single day of the next two months there, from April 20 to June 20. Despite their stellar June (17-9), an Astros team that had been lurking just behind them overtook them, and while the A’s were just 1 1/2 games back at the 81-game mark, and just 2 1/2 back at the 115-game mark (August 14) after some ups and downs, they’ve lost 18 of their last 29 and fallen seven games back. Their Playoff Odds peaked at 76.9% on June 18, and spent the next two months mostly in the 40-60% range, but they’ve plummeted from 62.5% on August 12 to just 4.3%.

So that’s two AL and two NL teams that have each taken rather dramatic tumbles this season. As you can see from the table above, it’s the second time within this span we’ve seen four teams from a single season take such falls; in 2018, the Yankees and Mariners both crumbled, as did the Phillies and Diamondbacks, with Philadelphia even sliding below .500 for the season to finish 80-82.

Not surprisingly, all four of these teams that have crashed in 2021 have underachieved relative to their Pythagenpat records during the second half. The Padres are the only ones who were underachieving during the season’s first half as well:

Second-Half Sliders
Team RS1 RA1 WPCT1 Pyth WPCT1 RS2 RA2 WPCT2 Pyth WPCT2
Red Sox 5.06 4.47 .617 .557 5.10 4.93 .493 .516
Padres 4.57 3.60 .593 .607 4.47 4.89 .422 .459
A’s 4.54 4.14 .580 .543 4.70 4.28 .484 .543
Mets 3.72 3.64 .543 .509 4.27 4.64 .424 .463
SOURCE: Baseball-Reference

For the Padres, this has mainly been about the collapse of a rotation projected to be the majors’ best coming into the season; it’s been lit for a 5.52 ERA and 4.82 FIP in this second half. Yu Darvish has been battered for a 7.67 ERA and 5.74 FIP in 54 innings during this slide, that while landing on the injured list twice, for left hip tightness and lower back tightness. Ryan Weathers has completely collapsed (9.00 ERA, 7.55 FIP in 38.1 innings) after a promising beginning, Chris Paddack (5.74 ERA, 4.13 FIP in 42.1 innings) has had some bad luck, and even Joe Musgrove has regressed (3.79 ERA, 4.31 FIP). On the other hand, Blake Snell (3.03 ERA, 3.34 FIP) turned his season around, but a groin strain forced him out during the first inning of his September 12 start against the Dodgers. Adding insult to injury, the Padres reportedly were close to acquiring Max Scherzer at the deadline, only to watch as the Dodgers snatched him away, and he’s been brilliant. Scrapheap pickup Jake Arrieta? Not so much.

Run prevention has become a major issue for the Red Sox as well, with both the rotation and bullpen (4.42 ERA and 4.59 ERA, respectively) underperforming their FIPs by about four-tenths of a run. High-leverage guys such as Barnes, Adam Ottavino, and Hansel Robles have been particularly lousy. On the offensive side, the Sox have been a juggernaut, but while they’ve received a 100 wRC+ or better from nine out of the 11 players with 90 or more PA since July 1, Bogaerts (107 wRC+) and J.D. Martinez (108) haven’t been themselves, and rookie center fielder Jarren Duran (50) was over his head before landing on the COVID-19 injured list.

The Mets have continued to show holes on both sides of the ball. Offensively, Jeff McNeil (91 wRC+), James McCann (66), and Dominic Smith (56) have come up notably short even while the arrival of Báez (156), the return of J.D. Davis (118), and the upswing of Francisco Lindor (139) after a dreadful beginning to his season have helped; the last of those made the 36 games he missed due to an oblique strain a particularly big thumbs down. While late July additions Rich Hill and Trevor Williams have been pretty good, they don’t add up to a deGrom; meanwhile, the much-awaited arrival of Carlos Carrasco (5.59 ERA, 4.38 FIP) hasn’t really panned out, and Taijuan Walker (7.04 ERA, 6.90 FIP) has turned into a pumpkin. Key relievers such as Seth Lugo, Trevor May, Jeurys Familia, and Edwin Díaz have taken steps backwards of varying size at the wrong time as well.

By runs scored and allowed, the A’s have produced the same Pythagenpat winning percentages in both halves, but have gone from overachieving by 37 points to underachieving by 59 points, making for both the largest second-half shortfall and the largest overall swing relative to their expected record. The second-half fades of Sean Manaea and James Kaprielian and the frightening loss of Chris Bassitt (who’s still rehabbing his way back) have loomed large in the rotation. The bullpen — particularly Lou Trivino, Sergio Romo, and Yusmeiro Petit, three of the most four heavily-used relievers in the second half — has proven shaky as well.

For as much as these four teams have in common in terms of the severity of their second-half slides, and for as crowded as they’ve made the Wild Card races, it’s clear by now that the A’s and Mets are just hanging on, while the Red Sox are odds-on favorites to make it through, and the Padres are hardly out of it. Still, when the playoff slate is finally set, at least some of these teams will look back and wonder what might have been, and how they fell so far.


Ryan Braun’s Complicated Legacy

The announcement was inevitable, with only its timing in question. On Tuesday, Ryan Braun formalized what had been presumed since last winter, namely his decision to retire from baseball. The 37-year-old slugger made his announcement via the Twitter feed of the Brewers, the team that drafted him out of the University of Miami with the fifth pick in 2005, and the one with whom he spent his entire 14-year major league career.

Braun hit just .233/.281/.488 for a career-low 99 wRC+ last season, as back and right index finger injuries limited his playing time to 39 games and 141 plate appearances. In late October, the Brewers declined their end of a $15 million mutual option, choosing instead to pay him a $4 million buyout. It was the first time he’d ever reached free agency, as he spent all but his 2007 rookie season playing under two long-term extensions, first an eight-year, $45 million deal that covered 2008-15, and then a five-year, $105 million deal that covered 2016-20.

Braun and the Brewers remained in touch through the winter, and he went so far as to visit the Brewers during spring training. Even so, he told MLB.com’s Adam McCalvy in February that he was enjoying his time with his family and business interests and didn’t foresee resuming his career, saying, “I’m continuing to work out and stay in shape, but I’m not currently interested in playing.” Braun reiterated that stance in May, when Team USA reached out to ask whether he was interested in pursuing a spot on the US Olympic squad, which ultimately won a silver medal with the similarly unsigned likes of Ian Kinsler and Scott Kazmir taking on pivotal roles. Team Israel had expressed interested as well, given Braun’s Jewish heritage. Read the rest of this entry »


Team Entropy 2021: Let’s Get Wild

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.

Heading into July 4, at the exact midpoint of their season, the Yankees were just 41-40. Beset by injuries and underperformance, they even scraped .500 before the fireworks could go off, losing the first game of a holiday doubleheader to the Mets before rebounding to take the nightcap. From July 4 until now, they’ve gone 39-24, good for the second-best record in the entire American League, and good enough to vault them back into contention for a playoff spot, though not enough to catch the Rays, who have gone 42-19 in that stretch.

Within that impressive hot streak are two shorter, diametrically opposed streaks, however. From July 4 through August 27, the Yankees went 35-11, the hottest 46-game span of any team in the majors all season, and one capped by a 13-game winning streak, tied for the majors’ longest. The tear vaulted them from sixth in the AL Wild Card race, five games out of the second spot, and into the Wild Card lead, three games ahead of the second Wild Card team (the Red Sox), and 6 1/2 games ahead of the race’s third-place team (the A’s). Since then, however, the Yankees have skidded to an AL-worst 4-12 record, and they’ve now got company; at 80-64, they’re a game behind the Wild Card-leading Blue Jays (81-63) and in a virtual tie with the Red Sox (81-65).

That skid — aided by the Jays going 38-25 from July 4 through Monday, and 15-2 while the Yankees have gone 4-12, a situation that Ben Clemens detailed on Monday — has created quite a pileup in AL Wild Card race, where five teams are separated by just 2 1/2 games from top to bottom. The NL Wild Card race is similarly tight; while the second-place team in the NL West (currently the Dodgers) is head and shoulders above the rest of the group, five other teams are separated by just 3 1/2 games top to bottom. The chances of getting bonus baseball in each league — a do-or-die game just for the right to play in the do-or-die Wild Card game — are a bit better than one in six. As to how the various scenarios will be disentangled, that’s a job for the latest Team Entropy 2021 installment. Read the rest of this entry »


Max Scherzer Chases Perfection and Collects Milestones

Max Scherzer couldn’t quite pull off a trifecta for the ages on Sunday, but he was utterly dominant nonetheless. Facing the Padres in Los Angeles, he entered the history books with a flourish by becoming the 19th pitcher to reach 3,000 strikeouts, and just the third to record three immaculate innings — nine pitches, nine strikes, three strikeouts — in a career. Along the way, the 37-year-old righty retired the first 22 batters he faced, giving chase to a perfect game and his third career no-hitter, but he couldn’t complete that feat, as Eric Hosmer, who earlier in the game had become his 3,000th strikeout victim, broke up his bid with an eighth-inning double into the right field corner.

Not that the hit put a damper on the afternoon given what Scherzer accomplished. Making his eighth start for the Dodgers and needing six strikeouts to reach the milestone, he simply dominated the Padres all afternoon. He got to work quickly, striking out leadoff hitter Trent Grisham and needing just 12 pitches to get through the first, before mowing down Fernando Tatis Jr., Hosmer, and Tommy Pham consecutively on three-pitch strikeouts in the second.

The immaculate inning made Scherzer the third pitcher and the first right-hander to total three such innings in his career, joining lefties Sandy Koufax and Chris Sale. Scherzer previously threw immaculate innings against the Phillies (May 14, 2017) and Rays (June 5, 2018). Read the rest of this entry »


Jay Jaffe FanGraphs Chat – 9/10/21

2:03
Avatar Jay Jaffe: Good afternoon folks, and welcome to another edition of my Friday chats. I’m just back from a bit more than 48 hours in Cooperstown for the Hall of Fame induction ceremony; I wrote about the Class of 2020’s long road there https://blogs.fangraphs.com/the-hall-of-fames-class-of-2020-nears-the-…

2:04
Avatar Jay Jaffe: While in Cooperstown I put together Twitter threads on the 10 Hall of Famers who died in 2020-21, each of whom I covered at FanGraphs

10 Hall of Famers died in 2020 and ’21. At Induction Day, the Hall of Fame paid tribute in a very well-done video mlb.com/video/remember…

Earlier today, as I went through the Hall’s Plaque Gallery, I snapped photos of their plaques to link to tributes I wrote @fangraphs. (1/11)

9 Sep 2021
2:05
Avatar Jay Jaffe: and another of highlights of my 1-hour blaze through the Hall to see some old favorites and new exhibits

So yesterday I blasted through the @baseballhall in an hour to visit a few favorite little spots and see a few new things. I snapped a bunch of photos along the way. Threading here. If you missed my tribute series to the 10 HOFers who passed in 2020-21, that’s here:

10 Hall of Famers died in 2020 and ’21. At Induction Day, the Hall of Fame paid tribute in a very well-done video mlb.com/video/remember…

Earlier today, as I went through the Hall’s Plaque Gallery, I snapped photos of their plaques to link to tributes I wrote @fangraphs. (1/11)

9 Sep 2021
2:05
Avatar Jay Jaffe: Today I kicked off the annual Team Entropy series https://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/team-entropy-2021-back-to-somewhat-nor…

2:05
Avatar Jay Jaffe: and now, on with the show…

2:05
bob: Is Yadi the next catcher going to Cooperstown?

Read the rest of this entry »


Team Entropy 2021: Back to (Somewhat) Normal

Less than four weeks remain in the 2021 regular season, and while the coronavirus pandemic continues due to the Delta surge, MLB is back to some semblance of normalcy (though don’t tell that to the Red Sox). We’ve got a 162-game regular season, a comprehensible 10-team postseason format, the possibility of actual tiebreaker games being played if necessary — all of which were off the table last season — and no neutral sites. We’ve got some real playoff races as well, with the potential to produce end-of-season chaos.

Welcome back to Team Entropy. If you’re new here, don’t worry, I’ll catch you up.

A decade ago, during the wild 2011 races that resulted in the Rays and Cardinals snatching spots away from the collapsing Red Sox and Braves, respectively, on the season’s final day, I coined the phrase “Team Entropy” — taking a page from the Second Law of Thermodynamics, which states that all systems tend toward disorder — to describe the phenomenon of rooting for scenarios that produced such mayhem. I’ve returned to the concept annually, tracking the possibilities for end-of-season, multi-team pileups that would require MLB to deviate from its previously scheduled programming.

The idea is that if you’re a die-hard fan of a team trying to secure (or avoid blowing) a playoff spot, flag-waving for your squad of choice takes precedence, but if you’ve embraced the modern day’s maximalist menu of options that allow one not just to watch scoreboards but also to view multiple games on multiple gadgets, you want more. More baseball in the form of final-weekend division and Wild Card races. More baseball in the form of extra innings and tiebreaker scenarios topped with mustard and sauerkraut (though alas, the dastardly Manfred Man will still be mucking up those tiebreakers if they go past nine innings). You have TVs, laptops, tablets, and phones stacked like a Nam June Paik installation so you can monitor all the action at once. You want the MLB schedule-makers to contemplate entering the Federal Witness Protection Program instead of untangling once-far-fetched scenarios. If all that sounds familiar, you’re one of us. Read the rest of this entry »


The Hall of Fame’s Class of 2020 Nears the End of a Long Road to Cooperstown

The Class of 2020 has had a long wait for induction into the National Baseball Hall of Fame, and not just because the coronavirus pandemic set the festivities back nearly 14 months. While Derek Jeter was resoundingly elected in his first year of eligibility, the road to Cooperstown for the other three honorees — Ted Simmons, Larry Walker, and the late Marvin Miller — was more like a maze, full of wrong turns and apparent dead ends. That road finally ends on the afternoon of Wednesday, September 8, when all four will be inducted into the Hall. As somebody who has been deeply invested in the careers and candidacies of all four, I couldn’t bypass the midweek trip, even under pandemic conditions.

“There was never any thought in my head that [my election] was going to happen. So to be completely honest, I didn’t pay much attention,” said Walker during a Zoom session with reporters last Thursday, referring to the annual BBWAA voting. During his first seven years of eligibility, he maxed out at 22.9% of the vote (2012), and dipped as low as 10.2% (2014).

Even those meager showings surpassed Simmons, who received just 3.7% in 1994, his first year of eligibility. “Back then, you were literally off the ballot. And you know, there was really no vehicle at that time that I knew of or heard of that would enable you to come back,” he said during his own Zoom session, referring to the so-called “Five Percent Rule” that sweeps candidates who fail to reach that mark off the ballot.

Simmons could be forgiven for not knowing the ins and outs of the Hall’s arcane election systems. That he even made it onto an Era Committee ballot to have his candidacy reconsidered for the first time in 2011 was itself groundbreaking. As longtime St. Louis Post-Dispatch writer Rick Hummel, who has served on several iterations of the Historical Overview Committee that puts together such ballots, said in 2015, “The first question these Hall of Famers ask you is, ‘How many ballots was he on for the writers’ election? One? They must not have liked him very much.’” Read the rest of this entry »