Ranking the bullpens: 2014 edition

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We tried this with the rotations the other day. Once again, I’ll be dipping into my 2014 projections here to rank the bullpens. To come up with the following bullpen ERAs, I simply combined each team’s seven highest-IP relievers, according to my projections.

AL
Royals – 2.93
Red Sox – 3.14
Athletics – 3.16
Rangers – 3.31
Tigers – 3.35
Rays – 3.36
Blue Jays – 3.39
Twins – 3.40
Mariners – 3.42
Indians – 3.49
Orioles – 3.55
White Sox – 3.58
Angels – 3.58
Yankees – 3.77
Astros – 3.97

– That’s a weaker showing for the Rays than I would have guessed, but they still have excellent depth and a couple of the lesser knowns will surely surprise, as they always do. My projections call for essentially the same ERAs from their 6th-12th relievers.

– The Blue Jays would have come in fourth here had I used both Dustin McGowan and Jeremy Jeffress instead of adding in Esmil Rogers. Rogers, though, seems like the best bet to have a spot.

– Boston comes in second even though it’s big addition, Edward Mujica, has the worst projected ERA of its seven relievers. However, Ryan Dempster is still projected as a starter for these purposes and would bring the group down a bit if he starts off in the pen.

– I assume the Yankees will add a veteran reliever prior to Opening Day. Even so, that ranking isn’t going up at all with such a big gap to the White Sox and Angels.

NL
Dodgers – 3.07
Braves – 3.16
Cardinals – 3.19
Giants – 3.24
Reds – 3.29
Diamondbacks – 3.29
Nationals – 3.31
Padres – 3.31
Marlins – 3.38
Pirates – 3.42
Brewers – 3.50
Mets – 3.59
Cubs – 3.59
Phillies – 3.61
Rockies – 3.79

– The Pirates’ ranking here is getting dragged down by Jeanmar Gomez and Vin Mazzaro, who are both projected to throw more innings than the top guys in their pen. They’ll be higher in the subjective rankings.

– The Cardinals are kind of an odd case, given that I have both Joe Kelly and Carlos Martinez projected to open up in the pen but also spend some time in the rotation. The only three pitchers I have on the team in that typical 60-, 70-inning range are Trevor Rosenthal, Kevin Siegrist and Seth Maness. So, the depth is in question. On the other hand, a Jason Motte-Martinez-Rosenthal combo has the potential to be the best in the majors in the late innings, depending on how things shake out.

Here’s my ranking, 1-30, along with the top three ERAs from each team:

1. Royals (Greg Holland, Kelvin Herrera, Luke Hochevar)
2. Athletics (Sean Doolittle, Danny Otero, Ryan Cook)
3. Dodgers (Kenley Jansen, Paco Rodriguez, J.P. Howell)
4. Braves (Craig Kimbrel, Luis Avilan, Jordan Walden)
5. Red Sox (Koji Uehara, Junichi Tazawa, Andrew Miller)
6. Cardinals (Trevor Rosenthal, Randy Choate, Kevin Siegrist)
7. Rays (Jake McGee, Grant Balfour, Joel Peralta)
8. Pirates (Mark Melancon, Jason Grilli, Tony Watson)
9. Diamondbacks (Brad Ziegler, J.J. Putz, David Hernandez)
10. Reds (Aroldis Chapman, Sean Marshall, Sam LeCure)
11. Rangers (Neal Cotts, Tanner Scheppers, Neftali Feliz)
12. Blue Jays (Aaron Loup, Sergio Santos, Casey Janssen)
13. Nationals (Craig Stammen, Tyler Clippard, Rafael Soriano)
14. Giants (Sergio Romo, Javier Lopez, Jean Machi)
15. Tigers (Al Alburquerque, Joe Nathan, Bruce Rondon)
16. Twins (Glen Perkins, Jared Burton, Casey Fein)
17. Padres (Joaquin Benoit, Alex Torres, Nick Vincent)
18. Indians (Cody Allen, Josh Outman, Marc Rzepczynski)
19. Mariners (Charlie Furbush, Yoervis Medina, Fernando Rodney)
20. Marlins (Steve Cishek, Mike Dunn, A.J. Ramos)
21. Rockies (Rex Brothers, Boone Logan, Wilton Lopez)
22. Orioles (Darren O’Day, Brian Matusz, Tommy Hunter)
23. Brewers (Brandon Kintzler, Will Smith, Jim Henderson)
24. Angels (Ernesto Frieri, Joe Smith, Dane De La Rosa)
25. White Sox (Nate Jones, Scott Downs, Daniel Webb)
26. Cubs (Pedro Strop, Wesley Wright, Blake Parker)
27. Mets (Bobby Parnell, Gonzalez Germen, Josh Edgin)
28. Yankees (David Robertson, Preston Claiborne, Shawn Kelley)
29. Phillies (Jake Diekman, Jonathan Papelbon, Antonio Bastardo)
30. Astros (Jesse Crain, Chia-Jen Lo, Josh Fields)

– The Royals are an easy No. 1 in my mind. Not only do they have the elite closer in Greg Holland, but all seven of their relievers have ERAs under 3.40 in my projections. Even if they take away from the group by sticking either Wade Davis or Luke Hochevar back in the rotation, they’d still take the top spot, though that would narrow the gap considerably.

– Even though they seemed to be in pretty good shape anyway, the A’s added $15 million in relievers in the form of Jim Johnson and Luke Gregerson. I still have the incumbents (Sean Doolittle, Ryan Cook and Danny Otero) with the best ERAs of the group.

– The Mariners were set to be ranked 21st before the Fernando Rodney signing.

Baseball in Arizona as early as May is pure madness

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Overnight Jeff Passan on ESPN followed up on the Associated Press’ report of preliminary talks between Major League Baseball and the MLBPA about the potential resumption of the baseball season. The plan, which is nothing short of radical — and nothing short of highly-fraught — would potentially have baseball resume as early as next month. June at the latest.

The talks are highly preliminary at the moment, but Passan describes the following topics that are at least on the table:

  • All 30 teams would play games at stadiums with no fans in the Phoenix area, including at the Diamondbacks’ Chase Field and various spring training facilities;
  • “Players, coaching staffs and other essential personnel would be sequestered at local hotels, where they would live in relative isolation and travel only to and from the stadium;”
  • Teams would carry significantly expanded rosters to (a) allow for players who get sick or who test positive for COVID-19 to be easily replaced; and (b) to allow for ample rest give that games would be played in the triple-digit heat of the Arizona desert;
  • There would be an electronic strike zone to allow the umpires to keep their distance;
  • There would be no mound visits;
  • There would be seven-inning doubleheaders to allow them to schedule as many games as possible;
  • On-field microphones would be used by players, “as an added bonus for TV viewers;”
  • Players and team personnel would sit in the empty stands 6 feet apart instead of in a dugout to ensure proper social distancing.

There’s a lot to chew on there, but I want to hold off a moment on that chewing. I want to resist the urge to do what we usually do when some radical new idea about sports comes up such as a rules change, the implementation of a new technology, divisional realignment or playoff expansion, or something to that effect. I’ll get to that stuff in a moment, but for now I want to take several steps back and leave the specifics of those things aside and ask a question:

What in the hell are we doing here?

Don’t get me wrong: I miss baseball. Everyone misses baseball. Setting aside the financial incentives at play for the moment, MLB exists to put on baseball games and they want baseball games. Players live to play baseball and they want to play. If we could snap our fingers and make that happen, God, it would be wonderful. If we could play baseball or any other pro sport right now, it would definitely be a pick-me-up for a large part of the nation.

This plan, however, is patently absurd. Less in form than in its very conception and existence.

How, in light of all that is going on at the moment, is this at all justifiable?  How is the level of necessary logistical support to pull this off — the transportation, the isolation, and the prioritization of a few thousand baseball people for testing and attendant medical care if someone gets sick — close to rational?

Just yesterday a member of New York’s city council announced that they will be burying the city’s many dead in temporary mass graves in public parks, ten to a row, and that prison inmates will be offered $6/hour to dig the graves. The governor of Illinois said last night that states are bidding against one another to try to obtain desperately needed medical supplies to treat the national surge in the sick and the dying. Is that what everyone is going through right now? No, of course not. Most of us are bored at home. But that — the tens of thousands of dead and counting and the overarching fear and anxiety which is affecting the populace — provides the national backdrop against which these negotiations are occurring. To call it “incongruous” to be talking about a far-sooner-than-expected return of baseball is a monumental understatement.

Yes, sports have, traditionally, served as a rallying point for the nation. But this is not a war. This is not a natural disaster. This is not a situation where our defiant assertion of normality will help pull us through. We do not need a Winston Churchill figure and, in fact, attempting to be a Churchill figure, we have unfortunately learned, is precisely the opposite of sensible. This is not a situation where keeping calm, carrying on, and acting resolute in the face of peril will help us prevail. A viral pandemic is not impressed with our composure, our resolve or our symbolic gestures such as playing baseball in the face of what can only be described as horror. The only thing we can do in the face of this horror is to take sensible precautions. To collectively sacrifice. To collectively appreciate the risks, stay at home, ride it out, and provide every possible bit of support available to the sick, to those who treat the sick, and to the millions of people displaced, economically and psychologically, by the crisis.

There nothing sensible about this nascent plan currently being floated by Major League Baseball, however. And make no mistake: it is being floated. With a purpose.

This report comes two days after President Trump held a conference call with Rob Manfred and all of the other major sports league commissioners in which he expressed his desire for sports to return as soon as possible. It is in his and his administration’s political interests for that to happen. As it would be, to be fair, in the interests of any president. There was a reason FDR pressed baseball to play on as usual during World War II. My political leanings are pretty plain to those who have read this website for any length of time, but I do not begrudge Trump this impulse, in and of itself. As a leader there are very good reasons for him to want the public to be happy and entertained and, as I said, we would all love to be happy and entertained at the moment.

President Trump, however, has been demonstrably shown to have made countless missteps in his handling of the pandemic thus far. Missteps that, in at least one case, appears to be born by personal financial interest. I simply do not trust his judgment in pressing professional sports back into service and I do not trust Rob Manfred to sensibly push back against political pressure urging him to take what would, clearly, be irresponsible steps in order to make baseball happen the way it is being described in Passan’s column.

And it is irresponsible. Let’s just play this out for 30 seconds:

  • Passan describes a scenario in which players would be isolated for more than four months. Are they supposed to not see their families during all that time? How are they supposed to function under that scenario? Even worse, what if their family members get sick? What if one of their parents die? Is their season over or do they stay in Arizona?
  • No quarantine can be perfect, so there’s a non-trivial chance that despite these efforts someone gets sick. Passan mentioned that they would be removed from their teams and put into isolation. That may be fine for a physically fit 24 year-old, but many managers, coaches, trainers and clubhouse attendants are older and, as such, at far greater risk of complications if they get sick. Some players are too. Adam Duvall is Type 1 diabetic. Kenley Jansen just had heart surgery. Carlos Carrasco and Trey Mancini are cancer patients. What about them?
  • If players are quarantined in hotels or resorts, there are hundreds if not thousands of people cooking for them, cleaning for them, doing the laundry and stuff like that. They all have to be isolated too, no? Just as a virus propagates itself exponentially, so to does the support necessary to put on Major League Baseball games, even in these radically different circumstances.

That’s just off the top of my head. I’m sure there are many other things that infectious disease experts and people who are more involved in the details of putting on games under these circumstances could imagine. Yes, I understand that the idea behind flattening the curve and slowing the spread is not to prevent every single person from becoming infected. That’s impossible. But at the same time, Major League Baseball should not be creating conditions under which a highly infectious disease has an entryway into a in environment where 26 guys and a staff x 30 teams all share close quarters as a rule.

That’s especially true when we look at the benefits of all of this. Benefits which, as Passan freely notes in his article, are primary financial. Or, as noted above, may have some broadly inspirational or symbolic significance. And that’s before you start to assess the actual quality and integrity of the baseball which would be played under these extreme circumstances.

Could they figure this all out? Maybe. Will they do it? I don’t know. It might actually happen. Nothing would surprise me at this point. But even attempting it seems profoundly incongruous to what’s happening in the real world. And profoundly misguided.

And one more thing.

To the extent this misguided plan gains traction, it will be because a lot of us — particularly people in my industry, but fans as well — approach this idea solely through the prism of sports. It will be because, when presented with the idea of a 2020 baseball season in the Arizona Bubble League, we spend more time debating electronic umpiring and whether East Coast Bias is the reason the Yankees and Red Sox get more games in air-conditioned Chase Field and that Oakland A’s have to play more games in 105 degree heat at HoHoKam Stadium in Mesa. It will because we thought of all of this as great fun or a cool intellectual and competitive exercise and judged it, as we judge so much else in sports, only on those terms.

We need to think bigger than that. We need to think smarter than that. We need to set aside our laser-focus on sports as the be-all and end-all, set aside our strong and understandable desire to have sports return as soon as possible and treat the current situation with the gravity it deserves.

And this plan ain’t it, jack.