Craig Calcaterra

Playoff Reset: Blue Jays vs. Indians ALCS Game 1


The Game: Toronto Blue Jays @ Cleveland Indians, ALCS Game 1
The Time: 8:00 PM EDT
The Place: Progressive Field, Cleveland
The Channel: TBS
The Starters: Marco Estrada (Blue Jays) vs. Corey Kluber (Indians)

The Upshot:

Neither of these teams are supposed to even be here, right? The Red Sox and Rangers were favored in each of the Division Series, after all, yet they were swept home in three games a piece. That’ll show you what being favored in the postseason is worth. A five-game series defies prediction. A seven-game series is not much better in that regard. We’re all just watching.

Tonight we’ll be watching Indians ace Corey Kluber (18-9 3.14 ERA) and coming off of a three-hit, seven shutout inning performance against the Red Sox on Game 2. His early season was uneven but he put himself in Cy Young contention in the second half and seems to be hitting on all cylinders now. He’ll have to be against the Blue Jays, against whom he has struggled in his career. He faced them once this year and gave up five runs in less than four innings. The Jays won that game 17-1. In five career starts against the Blue Jays Kluber is 1-3 with a 5.34 ERA.

The Jays will start Marco Estrada (9-9, 3.48 ERA) who is coming off of a Game 1 in the Division Series against the Rangers having allowed one run on four hits in eight and a third. In one start against Cleveland this year Estrada pitched five innings, allowing three runs on four hits but picking up the win all the same.

As for the generalities of the series: I’ve seen a lot of casual mention of this being a battle of the pitching-first Indians against the bashing Blue Jays, but that’s . . . not really accurate. Toronto allowed the fewest runs per game in the American League this year: 4.11. That was better than the Indians 4.20. Meanwhile, the Indians scored 4.83 runs per game this year, second in the AL. The Jays were fifth at 4.69 runs per game. The Jays can pitch and pick it just as much as they can bash. The Indians can score runs. Beyond that, the Indians have the home field advantage and they played very well at home this year. The teams faced off a convenient seven times this year — four times in Toronto, three times in Cleveland — and the Indians won four of seven.

This series is as evenly-matched as it comes and it defies the stereotypes these two teams earned over the course of the past couple of seasons. Moreover, as we’ve seen in the past week, the usual matchup calculus won’t necessarily matter, as Terry Francona has gone completely nuts (in a good way!) with his bullpen management. Andrew Miller may pitch one or three innings, at basically any time in the game. The save, the setup man and the closer are amusing concepts to Francona this postseason. As such, each game promises to hold surprises. It wouldn’t shock me a bit if this thing goes seven games and if, along the way, three guys’ arms fall off.

Buckle up.

Dave Roberts Trusted The Process Last Night. Until He Didn’t.


As Bill noted in the wee hours this morning, Dave Roberts pushed buttons and pulled levers like crazy last night. His unconventionality was not purely a product of gut instinct and panic, however. As Andy McCullough of the Los Angeles Times — baseball’s best beat writer going right now, without question — noted in his gamer, there was a plan in place:

The Dodgers finalized their strategy on Wednesday. The team sifted through the matchups, stitching together different pitchers for different scenarios. They called it “The Road Map to 27 Outs.”

In that plan, almost everything was on the table. Kenley Jansen, the closer, pitching well before the ninth. Joe Blanton, the setup man, pitching whenever the heck he’d be needed, which turned out to be the third. Julio Urias in long relief whenever long relief might be necessary. It was extreme unconventionality, but it was planned unconventionality, with the Dodgers brain trust — Dave Roberts, pitching coach Rich Honeycutt and front office personnel including general manager Farhan Zaidi all weighing in on that “Road Map.” It was, in some ways the epitome of 21st century baseball management these days: a collaborative effort between uniformed staff and the suits, likely with some analytics folks weighing in or at least informing the decisions of the people drawing that Road Map more than 24 hours before the game actually began.

But as McCullough notes, Clayton Kershaw was never part of that plan, even in private discussions. Dave Roberts said as much yesterday publicly. It was said in such certain terms that wise guys were riffing on it on social media:

This was not gamesmanship. Kershaw’s unavailability was the truth as far as the Dodgers, from Zaidi to Roberts to Kershaw and everyone else on down were concerned. It was the plan. It was a plan derived from a process, like so many plans are in baseball these days.

At least until the ninth inning last night. That’s when the plan and process went out the window, unable to survive contact with the enemy. Unable to survive Grant Dayton not recording any outs and unable to survive Nats batters tenaciously working Jansen into long counts, so many of which resulted in strikeouts or walks. Unable to survive the prospect of Daniel Murphy, who has absolutely crushed everything he has seen in the postseason these past two years, looming in the on deck circle if the ninth inning didn’t end quickly. The Dodgers brain trust is smart and resourceful. I presume they had an idea of who might pitch if Jansen couldn’t close the deal and, as noted, it wasn’t going to be Kershaw. But that idea was back-burnered as Kershaw warmed up and completely discarded once Roberts signaled for his ace to come into the game.

So much discussion about baseball strategy these days involves a perceived hierarchy in which the whiz kids in the front office order around the folks down in the dugout who, quite often, are characterized as either being the mindless drones of the guys in suits and ties or, alternatively, in grudging acceptance of what they think, implementing their philosophy with grains of salt but looking for ways to nonetheless place their stamp on the game as their allies in the press talk about how “baseball men” know best. When the manager makes an off-plan move like calling Kershaw into the game, the guys in the press often characterize it as the baseball man going rogue or something.

But last night Dave Roberts and the Dodgers showed that these are false constructs. The entire brain trust, in conjunction with the manager, can put a process in place, informed by meetings and analytics and breakdowns. They can formalize it with a name like “The Road Map to 27 Outs” and, heck, if they want to, they can even put it down on pages that a manager can stick in a binder or write it on a laminated sheet and keep it next to the bullpen phone. And it can work wonderfully for several innings. But it can also accommodate the realities on the ground and be subordinated to those realities if need be. The manager can feel free to go with his gut when the circumstance dictates it, as Roberts did last night.

I suspect that, in the wake of the talk in McCullough’s gamer about the “Road Map” that someone or another will weigh in with a view that Roberts ripped up the plan and characterize his going with Clayton Kershaw as him repudiating the guys with the spreadsheets. I suspect it’s more accurate, however, to view what happened in Nationals Park last night to be a evidence of a healthy organization working together in a productive fashion. One in which all relevant parties brought all of the information and insight they had together and formed it into a strategy. A strategy, however, in which the manager was nonetheless empowered to allow his on-the-fly decision making to deviate from it if and when the circumstances dictated.

Dave Roberts and the Dodgers came up with a plan on Wednesday. They had a process. Roberts followed that process for much of the game and then tossed the process out the window at a critical moment. The Dodgers win was a product of both of those things. The process and Roberts’ gut. Working together seamlessly, in ways that so many pretend cannot happen in modern baseball.

And now the Dodgers are heading to the NLCS because of it.

Report: the qualifying offer will be set at $17.2 million this year

Associated Press

Ken Rosenthal reports that the value of a qualifying offer for free agents this off-season has been set at $17.2 million. That represents an increase of $1.4 million over last year’s value of $15.8 million. The qualifying offer is a one-year deal worth the average of the top 125 salaries in MLB.  Teams that make a qualifying offer to a player that ends up being rejected receive a compensation draft pick in the upcoming draft. The team that signs the player who rejected a qualifying offer gives up their earliest non-protected draft pick.

As we’ve seen in practice over the past couple of years, this process does not hinder the price of franchise players and inner-circle superstar free agents. It can, however, hinder the market for the middle class of free agents, inasmuch as it costs any team who would sign a QO-attached player both the player’s new salary and a first round pick. Just this past year Howie Kendrick, Yovani Gallardo, Dexter Fowler and Ian Desmond were all unsigned as of the beginning of February after finding few takers on the open market, likely in part because the draft pick made them too rich for other teams’ blood. In the past Nelson Cruz was a noted QO victim, signing an $8 million deal following the 2013 season. It obviously gives the player’s previous team — the one which extended the qualifying offer — a huge advantage in retaining the player, as they don’t have to give up a draft pick to themselves.

Still, the qualifying offer is becoming more attractive to players. This past year, for the first time, a player actually accepted a qualifying offer. Three actually: Brett Anderson, Colby Rasmus and Matt Wieters. One of them was pretty happy with it!

For players who like their current situation and/or are looking for a one-year deal with which to build value for their next free agent opportunity, yes, it’s probably nice to have. And, given how some QO-attached players have lingered on the market for a long time in recent years, the bird-in-the-hand value of the QO may be looking better as time goes on.

For someone like Dexter Fowler or Nelson Cruz, however, it’s hard to argue that the qualifying offer hasn’t hurt their marketability. Every player’s case is different, but the macroeconomics of the situation don’t necessarily work for the players’ benefit in the aggregate. If the player can fundamentally change the game for a team, sure, they’ll give up a pick. But they won’t do it in order to make incremental improvements. The draft pick is simply worth far too much to teams these days and offsets the “average” inherent in the QO calculus.

Rosenthal notes that the QO will likely continue on into the new Collective Bargaining Agreement which is expected to be in place early this winter, so it would seem that the players seem content to keep the system in place. Maybe because, macroeconomics aside, they like that it’s there in case they need it. Maybe because alternatives, including the A/B/C-level free agent system in place was worse. Maybe they just have bigger fish to fry. We won’t know until the new CBA is in place.

But the QO does cost players something, overall anyway. And I wonder whether what they’re getting in return for it is worth as much as that which they are leaving on the table.