Archive for September, 2014

Does Home Field Matter In The Playoffs?

For the teams that have already clinched playoff spots, what’s the most important thing they can do in the last few days of the regular season? Get rested and healthy, sure. Try to line up their pitching rotations if they can, definitely. If they’ve already punched their tickets to the playoffs, then they’ve earned the right to manage their teams with more than the final meaningless regular-season games in mind.

But what about getting home-field advantage? Shouldn’t a team that knows it’s headed to October do everything it can to play as many games at home as possible, in front of its screaming fans, without having to fly, potentially across the country? Getting the best record in the league not only ensures you face the wild-card team, but it gets you home-field advantage throughout the league playoffs. Getting the second-best record at least gets you the advantage over the third-best division winner in the Division Series, plus a chance to play at home in the Championship Series if the wild card pulls a first-round upset.

Objectively, that makes sense, and every team wants it. But is it really worth keeping the pedal to the metal after a playoff spot has been clinched? The numbers say, maybe not that much. Read the rest of this entry »

The Underrated Chris Sale

Chris Sale has absolutely no chance of winning the American League Cy Young Award, and that’s no knock on him. It’s simply an acknowledgement that Felix HernandezJon Lester andCorey Kluber have also been outstanding this year, and they’ll throw about 50 more innings than Sale, considering he missed more than a month early in the season because of a sore left elbow.

Toss in pitchers such as Max ScherzerDavid PriceJames Shields — clearly, there’s no shortage of excellent AL starters these days, even with Yu Darvish and Masahiro Tanaka injured — and Sale might not even finish in the top five. But that is no excuse to allow his sensational season to go under the radar.

Sale isn’t just having a season that easily ranks him among the best pitchers in the league. Even including Wednesday’s rough outing, which finally pushed his ERA over 2.00, he’s having a season that’s nearly as dominant as the unquestioned best pitcher in baseball, the man who very well might win the NL’s MVP award as well as its Cy Young. Chris Sale isn’t doing everything that Clayton Kershaw is doing, but Sale has at least been in the ballpark.

Sale and Kershaw, both lefties, were born almost exactly one year apart — Sale is a year younger — and if you were to compare some of their more important stats, the similarities are a lot closer than you might realize. Read the rest of this entry »

Oakland’s Team Effort Collapse

The Oakland Athletics, universally lauded back in July after making a pair of trades that netted them Jon LesterJeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel, are in the midst of one of the biggest late-season collapses in recent history. At one point up by six games in the AL West, the A’s are now down by 10 games to the surging Los Angeles Angels, and after having lost 21 of their past 30 games, they’re suddenly in danger of not even earning a wild-card spot.

What happened here, and why? Well, there are plenty of reasons for the collapse, and we’ll detail them in a second. But were you to ask the general population or certain members of the local media, you’d likely hear that the loss of Yoenis Cespedes, who was traded to Boston for Lester and Jonny Gomes, from the lineup (and outfield) is the main reason, and it’s easy to see why. In the 39 games since the trade, they’ve scored four or more runs just 14 times, 35.9 percent of the time. In the previous 107 games, they did so 67 times, 62.6 percent of the time. That’s an enormous downturn, and since the removal of Cespedes was the major change, it has understandably been the focal point when trying to understand Oakland’s disintegration.

That’s overly simplistic, though, because it’s about so much more than Cespedes. Here’s how the A’s have managed to go from a World Series favorite to a playoff uncertainty. Read the rest of this entry »

Instant Replay Is Worth Having

Braves president John Schuerholz, a member of the instant-replay approval committee, indicated in January that the first year of expanded replay would be a “work in progress,” that this year would be merely “a start” in a three-phase process. His words ring true today, nearly one full season into the experiment. Make no mistake: Replay hasn’t been perfect. The review process often takes too long. Some of the rules haven’t always been clear. And the logistics of actually initiating a replay are clunky and badly in need of a change.

Between those valid issues, a few high-profile mistakes and some pushback from a vocal minority, you might think replay has been more failure than success. But as you slowly walk out to the umpire, wait for your bench coach to give you a thumbs-up to challenge and then have the MLBAM operations center in New York review that opinion, the indisputable result comes back: Replay has been a massive success, and was long overdue. Sure, there are kinks to be worked out, it’s not going away anytime soon, nor should it. Read the rest of this entry »