September 14, 2018

Prior to a few weeks ago, I never thought it wood happen again

In what's news to literally no one at this point, Dusty Baker absolutely abused Kerry Wood and (especially) Mark Prior down the stretch of the 2003 season. I mean, just look at this insanity:

While plenty of people were rightly outraged at the time, things have progressed so far that there is a zero percent chance of something like that ever happening again.


Allow me to rephrase: There is a zero percent chance of a manager overworking two young starters like that again. But there is something similar happening right now, a mere 15 years later. Right here in Chicago, too. Because except for the future value of the assets involved, what Joe Maddon is doing to his bullpen is just as unconscionable as what Dusty Baker did to Wood and Prior in 2003. I mean, just look at this insanity:

Joe Maddon has pitched Jesse Chavez, Steve Cishek, and Justin Wilson six times each in the last eight games, spanning nine days. Or, if you prefer: Of the seven days the Cubs have actually played games, each has pitched on all but one of them. Carl Edwards, Jr. has sat out just twice. That is simply not enough rest, and someone is going to get hurt.

Someone, that is, besides Pedro Strop.

I started writing this post before Pedro Strop's injury, which was a fluky thing not related to being an abused bullpen arm. In fact, Strop was among the fresher guys in the pen, because Joe has him as The
Closer and the Cubs, sadly, haven't had many leads of late. At the same time, batting Strop in that situationbases loaded in the tenth, one out, up 4-3was a result of Joe's compulsion: he had already burned through the four other guys he trusted the most, with two of them (Cishek and Wilson) coming in to get just one out.

Yes, I know these games are important. Yesterday's win was huge, as was Tuesday's. But for more than a week now, Joe has been managing every day like it's Game 7 of the World Series. And it's not. (Nor is that where Joe is at his best.) Even the strongest, most durable arms can only take so much. These guys need more rest. Poor Jesse Chavez has pitched 13 times in the last 20 games, and hasn't had two consecutive days off since August 22-23, more than three weeks ago! I generally like Joe as a manager, but he has to start using his main arms less often and letting them work for longer. In short, he needs to start trusting them, or there's not going to be anyone left to trust come playoff time. 

September 9, 2018

Mack Draft Picks Made Me Jump, Jump

I know I'm a little late to the party, but as someone who considers himself to be a sports knower, I figured I should probably get my thoughts on the Khalil Mack deal on the recordthis site has a notary on staff, right?so that in the future, everyone will be clear as to just how little insight I have into this crap.

Before we fully get into it, virtually every statement of value that follows should be read with the understood caveat, Barring a catastrophic injury to Khalil Mack. That risk is certainly a part of the equation when trading a number of playerseven in pick formfor one guy, but it also seemed ridiculous to throw that in 17 different times over the course of this post.

Another reason I felt compelled to write about this is because I was surprisingly dissatisfied with he analysis the trade by the normally astute Bill Barnwell, who I regard as the best NFL writer around. From Barnwell's analysis:
Teams rarely trade two net first-round picks in moving up for rookie quarterbacks, who offer the most surplus value of any player in the league. The moves up for Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson, for example, included two first-round picks in a swap to move up for one first-round pick. 
Sorry, Bill: This makes no sense. Those teams didn't trade a net of two picks only because they got a pick instead of a player in return. The end result was the same: both the Chiefs and the Texans traded two first round picks to acquire one guy. While I get that acquiring a player on a rookie contract can have a lot of value, there's also a much greater likelihood that guy bombs out. Mack is the surest of sure things. There's also this:

Essentially, the Bears are getting Khalil Mack a year early. Additionally, if this trade had been consummated on draft day like Mahomes and Watson's deals, the Bears would have given up Roquan Smith and Kylie Fitts (plus next year's 1st and 3rd). Instead, they keep all three for this year. Getting that extra year of your own picksand also, only losing a 6th next year instead of a 3rdPLUS AN EXTRA YEAR OF KHALIL FREAKING MACK provides the Bears a substantial amount of surplus value. By the end of the 2020 season, the Bears will have gotten three seasons out of Khalil Mack, and the Raiders will have gotten three seasonstwo rookie, one second yearout of Chicago's two first rounders. There is virtually no way Mack doesn't provide the Bears far more production over the course of those three seasons.

I intentionally chose the word production there, because value is a much more complex concept. And here's what Barnwell had to say about paying Mack market value as one of the premier defensive players in the NFL:
Unless he's the Defensive Player of the Year four seasons in a row, the Bears aren't going to get much at all in the way of surplus value on this contract. At best, given the way the top of the defensive market will grow, they're probably looking at $10 million to $15 million over the next four to five years if everything breaks right. ... Paying two first-round picks for the right to possibly gain $15 million in excess value just doesn't make economic sense.
He's right, to an extent. But constructing a team is not a simple accounting exercise, and at some point, overall talent level matters. Even with their recently signed, market-value extensions, would Aarons Rodgers and Donald not command a huge return if they were on the market? Of course they would, because to win, you need impact players. You could have a team of nothing but players on seventh-round rookie deals who each deliver third round production, but all that "surplus value" isn't going to win you squat. At some point, you need guys in various spotsparticularly at high-impact ones like QB or, say, edge rusherwho are going to produce at a much higher level than others who play their position. 

With that out of the way, let's move onto the picks, particularly those in 2020, because that's what really stood out to me when I learned the details of the deal. While I would love to know exactly what would have to happen for the Raiders 5th rounder to be included, I have been unable to find the conditions anywhere; if you've come across that information, please share it in the comments. So I'm going to assume the pick only conveys if Mack is unable to play a certain number of games, meaning we should probably all be rooting for it not to happen. Because of that assumption, I'm also going to be looking at this as if the Bears will not get the pick, because if they do that probably means a poor outcome that's unlikely to be salvaged by a single Day 3 selection.

To compare the various picks, I'm using Chase Stuart's more-accurate-than-Jimmy-Johnson's-version-that-he-used-to-try-to-bamboozle-stupid-front-offices-into-giving-him-a-king's-ransom-for-higher-picks draft value chart, which is based on five-year approximate values.

I've assigned a draft position to the picks by creating tiers and then taking the approximate average selection for each. Contenders (the 12 playoff teams) choose 21st to 32nd, so I've chosen pick 26. On the other extreme, for the bottom 12 teams in the league, I've chosen pick 6, while pick 16 represents a middling team. Here's what that looks like (I've highlighted the good outcomes for the Bears in green, the bad in red, just like a real adult business person professional work product dashboard!):

Looking at the extremes, if this trade helps boost the Bears to contender status while the Raiders struggle under Coach Hooter Ogler, the difference between the 2nd round pick the Bears receive and the 1st they give up will amount to a late 5th rounder (which, I should add, they might be getting back anyway). Or if you add that 2.5 points to the 3rd rounder they're giving up, it's equal to a late 2nd round pick. And Khalil Mack for a 1st and a 6th a year from now, and a 2nd in two years is an insanely good deal.

However, if the outcomes are reversed and the Bears continue their devolution into Brownsdom while the Raiders recreate their Chucky glory days, then the Oakland 2nd is nearly canceled out by the Chicago 3rd. Deducting that 1.2-point differential basically lowers the value of the Bears first-round pick by a single slot. Which makes the deal far less good from a value perspective and also a massive disappointment, because the whole point of acquiring Mack was to springboard the Bears back to relevance, not to continue to be a steaming pile that selects near the top of the draft.

And so, whether this ends up being a great trade or near-disaster is almost totally dependent on Mitchell Trubisky, actually. If Trubisky is the franchise quarterback the front office believes him to beand don't get me wrong, I'm highly skeptical that he isthe team will be a contender and this will end up being a very good deal. If he's not, well ... I'll still consider it a decent trade, but only because I am supremely confident this franchise would have botched those picks anyway.

August 25, 2018

Under Pressure, David Bote Says Let's Dance

Much was written in the aftermath of David Bote's pinch-hit "ultimate" grand slam nearly two weeks ago. (Some of it by me, although I never got my shit together enough to actually publish anything.) First time since 2011, or 1996, or 1936, or maybe ever, depending on what criteria you use. Regardless of the exact infrequency, though, it was rare and cool and awesome.

A few random items caught my eye at the time, most involving Win Probability Added (WPA). And so I started writing this piece. But my fuckheadedness got in the way, and pretty soon several days had passed and eventually I lost my window to post anything. Or so I thought, until Bote went and hit another walkoff yesterday and saved my lazy ass.

So I'm back in business, baby, and here are the top WPA seasons of all-time, provided you believe that time started in 1974, when (I'm guessing) Fangraphs play-by-play data became thorough enough to make accurate calculations:

I went 25-deep in part because HOLY SHIT Barry Bonds. He's got more than a quarter of the listed seasons, and even if you don't include the time he went all HGH on everyone's asses, he's got three years on there, which is still more than anyone else, as only Pujols and Prince Fielder(?) have two. But no, Bonds should definitely not be in the Hall of Fame for capping his career by doing something that damn near everybody else was doing.

Anyway, as of today, David Bote's seasonal WPA is 1.93, which doesn't even crack the top 2000 (not a typo). Still, I've added him to the list. I've also added plate appearances, so that I could then turn WPA into a rate statistic, normalizing it over 600 PAs:

On a per-plate-appearance basis, David Bote's WPA is topped only by the meta-human version of Barry Bonds. Now on-pace-for stats are always kinda bullshit, but WPA's inclusion of negative events makes it especially so; a bases-loaded double play in the ninth while trailing by 1 would wipe away more than a quarter of Bote's total. But this is still insane! Several of the seasons listed are among the most legendary offensive years in all of baseball history, and Bote, with his very-nice-but-hardly-spectacular 127 wRC+, has been so incredibly clutch that he's right there with them! Why are you not freaking out more?!?!? Should I not have said on-pace-for stats are bullshit?

I shouldn't have said on-pace-for stats are bullshit.

But seriously, they are.

June 28, 2018

Going to WAR with Previous MVPs

What do Joe DiMaggio, Yogi Berra, Mickey Mantle, Nellie Fox, Robin Yount, Dennis Eckersley, and Vladimir Guerrero all have in common? That's right, they're all in the Hall of Fame.

But there's something else, or at least there'd better be if I'm going to wring an entire post out of it. And that is this: Each was also named AL MVP in a season when they put up 6 WAR or less (per Fangraphs model).

So why is that significant? Well, at exactly the halfway point of the Angels' season, Mike Trout is at 6.1 fWAR.*

* The facts around this post were shaping up to be even more awe-inspiring about a week ago, before Trout sprained his finger, when he was slashing .332/.464/.688 and sitting at the same 6.1 fWAR. While the injury hasn't kept him out of the lineup, it has relegated him to DHing, where it's significantly harder to add value, especially so when you're mired in a (likely) sore-finger-related slump. Over his last 6 games at DH, he's gone 5-for-23 with two walks and nine strikeouts, shaving just shy of 50 points off his OPS since the injury. He's also somehow gone two weeks without an extra base hit, which has to be a record for him.

Anyway, 6.1 is a not-all-that anomalously low fWAR total for an MVP, although every winner since 2007 has surpassed it. Here's the complete list of MVPs that didn't for both leagues, since integration:

Some notes:
  • Vladimir Guerrero's MVP season was actually his best as an Angel and fourth-best of his career. In his age-26 season, Trout has already surpassed him in career WAR (61 to 54.3). 
  • It somehow felt like a disservice to include Mike Schmidt and Mickey Mantle, as both are among the game's all-time greats and led their league in WAR four and five times, respectively. In a weird coincidence, their sub-6 MVP years were each of their 11th-best seasons, with Schmidt boasting nine 7+ WAR years -- including the strike-shortened 1981 season, when he put up 7.8 WAR in just 102 games -- and three 9+ WAR ones, while Mantle had four years over 9, including two over 11 (he was MVP in both). 
  • Yogi Berra's career high WAR was 6.4, the only time in his career that he topped Trout's current half-season mark. He's only one of the three-or-so greatest catchers of all time. 
  • Between Rollie Fingers, Willie Hernandez and Jim(?) Konstanty, it's clear that no reliever should have ever been named MVP, and Konstanty's 1950 win with less than 1 WAR has to be the all-time worst. He finished his career with 3 WAR, just less than half of Trout's current season total.
Other Trout items of interest:
  • This recurring USA Today feature, which chronicles the Hall of Famers that Trout has surpassed in career WAR each month. 
  • This Fangraphs post from May, where it's shown that Trout has already provided the career value of the average Hall of Famer. 
  • Finally, this got a fair amount of play in the last two weeks after being in this ESPN article, but it's still so mind-blowing that I'm going to share it again: The longest streak of games in which Trout has failed to reach base in his career is two. 2! After over 1,000 games, he's never gone three games in a row without reaching base. That's absolutely insane. Just like Mike Trout.

April 28, 2018

Keeping Pace with the Bears' Draft

EDITOR'S NOTE: This is my first Bears-related post since this post-draft analysis the year that Lieutenant Wrong was their top pick (2010), and the first time I've written about anything since 2012. Which is to say that I'm out of practice and I've got A LOT to say, so what this post lacks in quality, it makes up for in quantity. 

I am not a Ryan Pace fan. Not at all. In fact, it's quite the opposite. (Which makes me a Ryan Pace naf, I suppose.) The point is, I don't think Pace is a competent general manager, which was further confirmed this offseason with his Warrick Holdmanning of both Kyle Fuller and Cameron Meredith.

Tendering issues notwithstanding, the main reason I know Pace is a bad GM is his handling of his first three drafts. Or, more specifically, his short-sighted compulsion to trade up.

So that is my personal backdrop leading up to this year's draft, one in which I desperately wanted the Bears to trade down in the first round if Quenton Nelson wasn't still on the board, which history told me he absolutely would not be. Because every year, there's some stud they are consistently linked to in mock drafts that I -- and just about every fan -- am dying for them to get. And every single goddamn year, that player is gone by the time the Bears pick. This phenomenon dates back at least to 1999, when the Bears, picking seventh, were forever tied to Chicago native Donovan McNabb, only to watch him shoot up the draft board at the last minute. And it really became epidemic in recent years, when Aaron Donald and Leonard Williams each went one lousy pick before the Bears' selection in back-to-back drafts -- the latter Ryan Pace's first -- a development that, combined with the disastrous Kevin White pick, likely informed his "strategy" over the next two.

Which has, quite simply, been absolutely terrible.

The key to drafting well is drafting often, because despite the league's insane scouting apparatus, the draft is still a total crapshoot. So consistently trading up is a losing strategy, simply because you are picking less. Giving up multiple picks for a single guy when your roster is several impact players short of being competitive is an especially poor gambit. And when you are already picking ahead of the consensus ranking of the player you are targeting, trading up is inexcusable.

All of this was clanking around my head when Bradley Chubb ended up going to the Broncos. I immediately thought, Fucking Broncos. That shit would never happen to the Bears. As I continued to ruminate, I realized the thought was true in a way I hadn't actually intended, and which had absolutely nothing to do with the franchises' relative luck. Envision a situation where the Bears were picking fifth and had, well, a chubby for Chubb. If he was somehow still on the board after the first three picks, the Bears would've thrown their second rounder and a 2019 third at Cleveland because "there are times when you’ve got to be aggressive, and when you have conviction on a guy, you can’t sit on your hands." The Broncos, meanwhile, must not "want to be great," because they passively waited to make their pick, and they still got the guy they wanted without unnecessarily blowing a ton of additional draft capital, the dumbasses.

This is the second consecutive year that, god help me as an avowed John Elway hater dating back 35 years now, I've cast an envious eye towards the Broncos' braintrust. Because as god-awful as the Trubisky trade was -- and god, was it awful -- what really showed Pace's cluelessness last year was when he pissed away a sixth round pick to move up five slots in the fourth to draft Eddie Jackson. Look, Eddie Jackson turned out to be fine, but there was no reason whatsoever to give up an additional pick for a guy that every other team had already passed on three different times. The likelihood of him being gone was small, and even if he was, the delta between him and any of several dozens of players still available is not great enough to justify the cost.

So again, contrast that with the Broncos. Here's John fucking Elway after last year's draft, speaking about a guy they were targeting.

Notice they stayed put and hoped what they wanted would happen, as opposed to blowing another pick to guarantee it did. Because there's no goddamn need to do it. No one at that juncture can possibly be valued so highly that it's worth surrendering another lottery ticket to acquire him.

Which brings us, mercifully, to the 2018 draft, when a mere 800 words in, I get to the point of this post. Even though I wanted Nelson, part of me was relieved when he went to the Colts at 6, because at least Pace hadn't blown three future firsts to trade up to get him. (Small victories, people.) And so with Nelson gone, the Bears should've been in full trade down mode, because they entered the draft with two glaring needs in my eyes: interior offensive line and wide receiver -- the latter due to Pace's own shortsightedness re: Meredith -- or three, if you want to include linebacker.

I don't know whether or not Pace was actually trying to move down, but those efforts would've undoubtedly been undercut by the Bucs trading down the pick before them, as it removed both an interested team and one of the QB options from the table. That's not to say that they couldn't have pulled it off, as the Niners did two picks later, but it certainly changed the market in terms of potential partners and the subsequent return. And at that point, taking the best player on the board in Roquan Smith, who also happened to fit a position of need, was a solid move.

But it still left the Bears with two gaping holes going into Round 2. They filled the one on the o-line with C James Daniels at 39, which everyone seems to agree was a good pick; ESPN, for instance, had Daniels slotted at 18th overall, higher than Lions first-round center Frank Ragnow.

Now the Bears were faced with watching 65 players -- more than two full rounds -- come off the board before they got another chance to grab a receiver (at 105). And after three WRs quickly went off the board at 40, 44, and 47, Pace knew for certain they were going to left with slim pickings. Hence, the trade up for Anthony Miller, a player I really liked coming into the draft.

So I actually think Pace did well in terms of the three players he selected. But the cost, yet again, was just too high. And I'm guessing he wouldn't have felt compelled to sacrifice next year's second rounder - which, if their QB doesn't develop like they are assuming he does, could basically be almost as valuable as a late first - if he hadn't stupidly given up their third round selection (for the second consecutive year, I might add) to move up one lousy pick to select Mitchell Trubisky. When the worst case scenario then was some other team trading with the 49ers to select Trubisky -- even though he wasn't really the consensus top QB, let alone the highest rated player on the board -- leaving you with -- gasp! -- Deshaun Watson to fill your gaping, Mike Glennon-sized hole at quarterback.

But the draft is supposed to be a time for optimism, so I don't want to exclusively be a cornflakes-pisser. And there is some good news, in addition to the three solid draftees: Pace is clearly going all-in on this year, which means he likely has gotten the impression that the team needs to show marked improvement or he's out of a job. And if the Bears stink again this year, not having a second round pick won't be the greatest thing for their 2019 draft, but no longer having Ryan Pace at the helm just might be.