strasburg getty

No, the Strasburg shutdown in 2012 is not why the Nats missed the playoffs in 2013

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The worst part of narrative-driven sports journalism is that it usually results in those who engage in it bending the facts to fit the narrative rather than identifying a narrative that springs logically from those facts. As an example I give you John Feinstein’s column on the Nats. Which came out today, but which you know he wrote a long time ago:

And now it can be said, with almost no doubt, that the decision to shut Stephen Strasburg down last September didn’t cost Washington one chance to win a World Series, it cost the team and the city two chances. Because if one thing is clear about the debacle that was this summer it is that it was set up by the disaster of last fall.

The evidence of this, apart from Feinstein’s assertion that it is self-evident, is not provided. He spends a lot of time on the idea that the Rafael Soriano signing was a slight to Drew Storen which in turn caused clubhouse strife. There is some truth to that, but based on how Storen pitched this year the strife was well-earned. Still, I don’t know what that has to do with Strasburg. Maybe he feels like the lack of Strasburg in Game 5 of last year’s NLDS led to the Storen breakdown. I have no idea, but there is not much else there other than talk of mojo, hubris, karma and all of that kind of nonsense linking the Strasburg shutdown decision in 2012 to the Nationals’ underperformance in 2013.

Which is understandable given that there were a whole host of things that happened in 2013 that led to the Nationals’ underperformance in 2013.

The offense took a step back this year, with many hitters who helped the team win the division in 2012 having worse years in 2013. Adam LaRoche dropped over 100 points of OPS. Danny Espinosa fell off a cliff. Denard Span represented a huge downgrade on offense from Mike Morse. Steve Lombardozzi was somehow given over 400 plate appearances, showing just how thin the Nats’ bench was (or how sub-optimally it was deployed by Davey Johnson). Bryce Harper’s overall numbers were excellent, but an insane start was responsible for much of that, followed by months in which he was hurt. It was an offense that had its moments, especially late in the season, but which fought inconsistency for most of the year.

The pitching had its rough patches as well, with Dan Haren’s first half looking like a car wreck. Ross Detwiler took a step back. Feinstein’s allegedly wronged man, Drew Storen, pinched off a 4.68 ERA. Yes, I suppose him being demoted made Tyler Clippard mad that one day, but keeping him in high-leverage situations would have led to far more anger among Nats fans. Beyond that, the Nats led the National League in ERA in 2012. They were sixth in 2013. Not terrible, but enough to explain a multi-game drop in the standings.

Even if you want to get into the karma/chemistry mumbo-jumbo to explain this season you’d be better off looking at the tone set by Davey Johnson — never particularly urgent, even when the team was spiraling — than you would at a pitcher-usage decision made over a year ago. I don’t put too much stock in that, but at least it’s something which actually affected this year’s Nats club.

Look, I wasn’t a fan of the Strasburg shutdown last year. I think it would have been nice to have him around in the NLDS and I think that Mike Rizzo’s ultimate decision to shut him down was just as much a function of Rizzo being stubborn or else feeling he had painted himself into a corner as it was based on sound injury prevention techniques. But even as a pretty persistent Rizzo critic on this point, I can’t see how on Earth one can make a straight-faced claim that the fate of the 2013 Nationals was even moderately dependent upon the Strasburg decision. Even remotely, actually.

I feel like Feinstein has been waiting for a long time to say “ah-ha!” to Rizzo about the Strasburg decision. And that he does today, regardless of the baseball facts which relate to the Nationals this year. But hey, narrative-driven analysis about curses and karma are the stuff of highly-paid columns and book deals, not baseball facts.

UPDATE: The Post’s Adam Kilgore — who covers the Nationals day-in, day-out — totally dismantles Feinstein’s column. Beautiful.

The Yankees are paying $86 million for a one-inning reliever

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OXON HILL, MD — The Yankees signing of Aroldis Chapman late Wednesday night came as something of a surprise. And the money — $86 million — was something of a shock. Yes, we knew that Chapman was going to break the bank and likely set a record as the highest paid relief pitcher in history, but seeing it in black and white like that is still rather jarring.

In the coming days, many people who attempt to analyze and contextualize this signing will do so by pointing to the 2016 playoffs and the unconventional use of relievers by Terry Francona and the Indians and Joe Maddon of the Cubs. They’ll talk about how the paradigm of bullpen use has shifted and how relief pitchers have taken on a new importance in today’s game. Chapman’s astronomical salary, therefore, will be described as somehow more reasonable and somewhat less shocking than it first seems.

Don’t buy that jive for a second.

Yes, Andrew Miller and, to some extent, Chapman himself were used unconventionally in the 2016 playoffs, but not long into the 2017 season we will see that as an exception, not the rule. And not just because Chapman showed himself unable to hold up to that level of use in the playoffs. It will be the exception because the Yankees have shown no inclination whatsoever to deviate from traditional bullpen usage in the past and there is no reason to expect that they will do so with Chapman in the future.

As you no doubt remember, the Yankees had Chapman, Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller for the first half of 2016. Such an imposing back end of a bullpen has rarely been seen in recent history. All of them, however, were used, more or less, as one-inning-a-piece guys and no real effort was ever made to break any bullpen usage paradigms or to shorten games the way many applauded Terry Francona for doing in the playoffs.

Miller pitched 44 games for the Yankees, totaling 45.1 innings. He pitched more than a single inning on only three occasions. Chapman pitched 31 games for the Yankees, amassing 31.1 innings. He was used for more than one inning only twice. Betances worked in 73 games, totaling 73 innings. On 11 occasions he pitched more than one inning.  It was unconventional for a team to have three relievers that good, but they were not, in any way, used unconventionally. Nor is there any reason to expect Chapman to be used unconventionally in 2017, especially given that Miller is not around and Chapman has shown no real ability to be stretched for multiple innings for a sustained period.

None of which is to say that having Chapman around is a bad thing or that he is any less of a closer than his reputation suggests. It’s merely to say that the Yankees paying Chapman unprecedented money for a closer should not be justified by the alleged new importance of relief pitchers or that changing role for them we heard so much about in the playoffs. Indeed, I suspect that that changing role applies only to pitcher use in the playoffs. And I do not suspect that this transaction alone pushes the Yankees into serious playoff contention, making that temporary unconventionality something of a moot point in New York for the foreseeable future.

It is almost certain that the Yankees are paying $86 million for the same one-inning closer Aroldis Chapman has been for his entire seven-year career. His contract may or may not prove to be a good one for New York based on how he performs, but don’t let anyone tell you now, in Decemeber 2016, that it’s better than you think because Chapman will somehow transform into a 1970s-style relief ace or something.

Report: Yankees sign Aroldis Chapman to a five-year, $86 million deal

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Update (12:02 AM EST): Rosenthal adds that Chapman’s contract includes an opt-out clause after three seasons, a full no-trade clause for the first three years of the contract, and a limited no-trade clause for the final two years.

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Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports reports that the Yankees have signed closer Aroldis Chapman to a five-year, $86 million contract. Mark Melancon recently set the record for a contract earned by a reliever at $62 million over four years. Chapman blew that out of the water and many are surprised he didn’t fetch more.

Chapman, 28, began the 2016 season with the Yankees but he was traded to the Cubs near the end of July in exchange for four prospects. The Cubs, of course, would go on to win the World Series in large part due to Chapman. The lefty finished the regular season with a 1.55 ERA, 36 saves, and a 90/18 K/BB ratio in 58 innings between the two teams.

Chapman was the best reliever on the free agent market and, because he was traded midseason, he didn’t have draft pick compensation attached to him.

The Yankees don’t seem to be deterred by Chapman’s domestic violence issue from last offseason, resulting in a 30-game suspension to begin the 2016 regular season.