Monday, July 9, 2018

Joe Sheehan Newsletter, July 9, 2018 -- All-Star Draft with Will Leitch


This is a preview of the Joe Sheehan Baseball Newsletter, an e-mail newsletter about all things baseball, featuring analysis and opinion about the game on and off the field from the perspective of the informed outsider. Joe Sheehan is a founding member of Baseball Prospectus and a contributor to Sports Illustrated and Baseball America. He has been writing about baseball for more than 20 years.

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The Joe Sheehan Newsletter
Vol. 10, No. 58
July 9, 2018

Over the years, the All-Star Game has become less and less important in this baseball fan’s world, paralleling the way the leagues have morphed from distinct entities to conferences under the MLB banner. I’ve proffered a number of ways in which the Midsummer Classic could be changed, and while I don’t mind the current setup, I think MLB is leaving opportunities on the table.

One idea that intrigues me is what the NHL and NBA have tried in various forms: Take the eligible All-Stars and draft them into teams. That’s what we’re trying here today. I’ve made Will Leitch, of MLB.com,
New York magazine, SI TV and Deadspin fame, my first-round pick. He and I took 64 All-Stars and used them to form two teams who will play for the fate of the universe. Sound like fun? It was a blast. Here’s how it turned out.

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Joe Sheehan: Will, thanks for doing this. The guidelines are simple: We’re drafting for one game for the future of the planet, “Space Jam”-style, but with All-Star rules, so the value of starting pitching is muted. Other than that, you’re on your own.

I’ll, shockingly, take Mike Trout. There’s a temptation to get cute, to be the guy who takes someone else. If this were a career draft, from this day forward, Juan Soto or Vladito or someone might be more tempting. Alas, it is not.

Two to you, at your leisure.

Will Leitch: I'm delighted to have the opportunity to do this with you, Joe, though fair warning: I've read just about every word you've written for more than a decade, so there's a very real possibility everything I say is just going to be a fourth-generation Xerox, telephone-game, only vaguely-remembered version of something you've written already. It'll be like in the early aughts when everything I wrote sounded like Dave Eggers; eventually, osmosis takes over.

But here goes. One game for all the marbles. We lose, the aliens get the world. If they even want it now.

My first two picks:

I know it's an All-Star game and I can almost use a pitcher-per-batter pace, but I'm nonetheless not going to overthink my first pick: It's Max Scherzer. When in doubt, I'll take a starter with a star reliever's strikeout rate. I feel pretty comfortable I'll get three shutout innings out of him and then start playing the matchup game. I know there are a lot of pitchers out there, but three innings in a one-game-for-the-world contest is, well, a third of the battle.

In fact, just to tip my hand at strategy here -- and my sense that there are going to be enough hitters to go around and that a dominant pitcher takes out a dominant Mike Trout any day -- my second pick is...Chris Sale. I couldn't decide which I wanted more. So I'll just take them both. There are going to be a lot of great relievers for me to play around with later. But I'm pretty sure you're not gonna have any runs through the fifth. In one game, I'll go old school, and against the grain of current baseball, and take the two most dominant pitchers in the game. A really nice way to shorten the game is to have the best two pitchers. This definitely shortens it.

Joe: Well, I’ll raise you by saying I get an e-mail delivered to me EVERY WEEK with everything you’ve written that week AND a bonus piece that you probably absent-mindedly tap out over your Cheerios with the boys on Saturday that’s better than most of my for-work output. (Seriously, the high-school reunion bit was too damned good.)

I don’t like drafting pitchers in anything, so I thank you for taking two of them and making my life easier. I’ll triple down on bats: give me Francisco Lindor, who I think has comfortably won the Lindor/Carlos Correa debates of 2015, and Aaron Judge, because we’re all about the fans and the DINGERZ! I look forward to Scherzer and Sale batting second and third for you.

Will: I think, immediately, we've found enough of a difference in approaches that I'm no longer having Eggers fears. In fantasy baseball, or even Out Of The Park (and occasional Strat), I'm with you on pitchers. But we're playing one game! I have a piece in Mike Pesca's new anthology Upon Further Review in which I reflect on how baseball might be different if it were played once a week over four months like football. The starting pitchers would, essentially, become the quarterbacks: The most important, if not the ONLY important, player on every team. So that's my idea here: Strangle you with dominant pitchers. All I need is a shutout inning from the best pitchers in the world; that happens a lot more often than the best hitters in the world hitting homers. Plus: All you have to do is pick the best player at a position, and I get the second best one.

So!

My next two picks are Josh Hader -- who, dude, is striking out 51 PERCENT OF THE BATTERS HE FACES -- and let's keep one lefty/one righty with Justin Verlander, whose late career resurgence is one of my favorite stories in recent years. That no one accuses of him being on PEDs, like everyone would have 10 years ago, is a rare sign of progress in the human discourse these days.

Joe: “Eggers Fears” is absolutely going to be one of my fantasy football team names in two months. I suppose being “the guy who manages to be disagreeable with Will Leitch” is as on-brand as anything else I’ll come up with this season. It’s like disagreeing with Mr. Rogers (I need to see that movie) or Anna Kendrick or a puppy.

I like the Hader pick a lot. My strategy was going to be to take a bunch of relievers, and Hader was a big part of that. You mention his strikeout rate, which is crazy, but it got me thinking about how it used to be over 60 percent, so I went looking…it’s 38% since the start of June. He’s also pitched just once in nine days, which is more a function of Brewers’ game flow than anything else. He’s definitely one of the most important guys in the league in the second half, so it’s worth watching that K rate.

I will quadruple down on my approach by taking Jose Ramirez. I lead in Fun like 17-1, William. I almost took Ramirez over Judge at 3.1, and am happy to see he’s still here. At 5.1, I will break the seal and take Aroldis Chapman over some comparable relievers in a deep, deep pool.

Will: All right, fine: I probably should grab at least one hitter, so I'll get my favorite one to watch: Mookie Betts. I'll bat him first just so I get to watch him as much as possible. And remember: He was supposed to be one of the OTHER Red Sox prospects. I am very curious what happens in the next couple of years now that he has turned down an extension. I don't know if there's any other hitter over whom I'll cry if I don't have -- particularly because some of the guys I love I don't have to worry about because you've already grabbed their position -- I'll stick with taking all the good pitchers and get Corey Kluber. I'm gonna take the high-end guys so you're talking yourself into "I'll take Joe Jimenez in a high-leverage position, it's just one inning, it'll be fine."

Joe: Joe Jimenez is an all-timer, a function of the Tigers being terrible, the players being part of the selection process, and the fetish for having 12 pitchers eligible for one game. I don’t know if he’ll be the last guy selected — we have five catchers available — but he’s definitely as random an All-Star as we’ve seen in a long time.

Team Fun will add Jose Altuve to the mix, for a clean sweep of the top four spots in the 2017 AL MVP voting. Even though there are fun hitters left for the taking, we’ll grudgingly take the most fun pitcher left on the board, Craig Kimbrel. Seven-inning game now, Leitch.

While I have you here…are you an All-Star Game guy? I am not, for most of the obvious reasons — interleague play, every game televised, et al. I loved it as a kid, but now, it’s four days off. To me, this part, the selection process, is what matters, and even it matters less to me than it once did.

Will: This will actually be the first All-Star Game I haven't attended since 2012, and I'll say: I'm OK with it. Part of this is antipathy to Nationals Park. Why does a stadium in one of the game's most storied baseball cities feel like a knockoff of an also-boring ballpark in Cincinnati? Part of it is that I still love it, and anything you love always loses a little when it becomes The Usual. I'll enjoy watching it at home, and if something exciting or weird happens, hopping on Twitter to see what people are saying (and avoiding it like the plague it has become otherwise) and maybe falling asleep on the couch before Miles Mikolas gets to pitch otherwise. I'm ready to have the All-Star Break be an actual break. This Cardinals fan needs one.

Picks! I'm gonna make sure you don't take the first baseman -- you don't have one yet -- I actually want, so I'll grab Freddie Freeman while I can. (Having this dull, in-fighting Cardinals team while living 90 minutes from one of the most exciting young teams in the sport is a little stressful for a guy whose children will be thrown out of the house if they show affection for another team. Freeman can be that team's Anthony Rizzo, or Altuve: The guy who was there BEFORE all of it got good, and therefore can doubly appreciate all the spoils.) Then I'll get Jacob deGrom because seriously, stack the lineup all you want you're not scoring any runs.

Joe: Twitter tends to make “events” — All-Star Game, Super Bowl, et al — more fun for me, but I’m on Day 35 of a cleanse that hopefully will become permanent. I’ll have the Game on some screen, I’m sure, but will almost certainly not be home for it. It’s not that long ago I’d get worked up over tactical pitching changes; now I just hope there are no mid-inning ones. Our friend, your neighbor, the great MLB.com writer Matthew Leach is a huge fan of the ASG, and when I talk to him, I get a little more excited about it.

Hard to get snaked in a two-man draft, but you pulled it off. I can live without Freeman, given the depth of first base, but I had eyes on deGrom as my starter. I guess someone has to pitch the seventh inning for you. Yeesh, what a staff. Then again, deGrom won’t get any more run support on your team than he does on the Mets.

I’ll settle for the actual best pitcher in New York City, Luis Severino. He can go five innings, right? Right? (Three max by rule, actually, and two max for the last 20 years, I believe.) Then we’ll keep working back to front with Kenley Jansen, although it kills me to pass on some of the outfielders sitting there.

Will: One really wonderful thing about All-Star Games: The Pilgrimages. I wrote about this back a few years ago, but All-Star Games are essentially Perpetual Minnesota: Just a bunch of people in good moods because they just came to a place where everywhere they look is baseball. The ASG really is a celebration of baseball in a way even the World Series isn't. There's no stress. There's no freezing cold. There's no stakes. It's just a big baseball thing, and it eventually comes to your town, even if you are a fan of a terrible team. It's why I love that every team has to be represented. We all get to be a part.

I don't know if that last e-mail was a way to goad me into taking outfielders, but whether it was or not, it worked: I'm now gonna go get some power. I'll take Bryce Harper because the guy has a sense of the moment, if not always much else, and assuming we're playing this Monstars game in D.C. (because that's where the world should end anyway), he'll either homer or knock off his helmet streaking home to score the game-winning run. Then I’ll take J.D. Martinez because he will definitely homer.

Joe: Yeah, I think there’s a family reunion aspect to the All-Star Game that has appeal. It was moving away from the “low stakes” of it where MLB went wrong for a while. Just throw a party.

I wasn’t trying to goad you, and if I was, it absolutely wasn’t with the intention of having you take Harper. Denying the people Harper and Trout on the same team is very Not Fun of you, sir. I do agree that this game being in D.C. sets us up for some kind of Bryce Harper Moment, and truth be told, he’s also something of a throwback to those 1970s All-Star Games. I don’t think he has a chill mode on the field.

I’ll take one more reliever in Sean Doolittle, for the hometown fans (and adding one of the great baseball wives, Eireann Dolan, in the process). That’s four straight pitchers, and I’m feeling twitchy, so let’s take the best hitter left on the board, Joey Votto.

This is a late note now that we’re seeing some NLers come in, but 11 of the top 13 picks were from the AL, including the first six position players. All the real star power is in the junior circuit.

Will:  Speaking of star power: Manny Machado! I do feel that even in a game for the future of the human race, we need to have a subplot involving the trade deadline. It is July, after all. (The Diamondbacks should ABSOLUTELY be the team that goes hardest for him, by the way.)

Also, Nolan Arenado, if just because I need him to get all the balls Manny can't get to at short.

Joe: I have a piece in the next SI about potential deadline deals, and I led it with Machado, and I have been holding my breath ever since. Please, Orioles, don’t find the clue box for another few days, thanks.

Did you see the Eno Sarris piece on Machado’s defense? There was a good Twitter thread this week, too, and I come down roughly where, I think, BP’s Jonathan Judge did: Shifting has rendered zone-based performance metrics unusable. The Statcast data, and what teams are doing with it privately, is where it’s all at.

Let’s go with Buster Posey, who I think has managed to become underrated despite three rings and an MVP award. He’s the first catcher off our board. And then, tough call with a lot of good arms left, but we’ll go with Gerrit Cole to back up Severino in the early going.

Will: I just realized a flaw in my team: I have too many left-handed hitters! Scott Boras tells me my team is being discriminated against. How could I not trust such an unbiased, disinterested observer?

(I actually love Boras. We all need a Boras. Honestly, every writer should have a Boras.)

Just to make sure you not only don't score any runs but you never hit the ball, let's grab some another knockout one inning dude: Einar Diaz. And just because he's hitting as well as he ever has right now, this very second: Paul Goldschmidt. I can even DH him because I don't mind J.D. Martinez playing the outfield because all your dudes are striking out.

Joe: I’m not sure a Will Leitch team can list too hard to the left...

I should actually stick you with Einar Diaz, who probably would be out-hit at this point by Edwin Diaz, but we’ll be kind. Sugar has an outside shot at the single-season saves record. Is it me, or have we not had a single-season record chase, of any kind, in a very long time?

Taking a super defensive first baseman to DH is cheating, you cheating cheater. There goes my first-base platoon. (Actually, I’m just annoyed you remembered the DH slot. And I’m pro-DH!) All right, let’s take the best remaining healthy outfielder in George Springer, and an infield supersub who gets us back to Team Fun in Javier Baez.

Will: Ha, yes. Edwin. People with two small children in the house should never stay up past 11. Thank you for your kindness. By the way, we had a real chance for a great single-season record chase, but...Chris Davis has gotten a little hot lately. Well, "hot."

Get me some hot Brad Hand action, which I am actively relieved is not a current slogan in San Diego. And because we're in fun land, I want some Ozzie Albies, because there's no way I"m not picking a guy named Ozzie.

Joe: Albies is a ton of fun. One of the quirks of the All-Star Game is that a lot of the fun young players will be coming into the game just as America is going to bed. I have a lot of All-Star opinions that I’ll save for another day.

There are still a few key roles left to fill. I’ll take Alex Bregman, the best 2018 hitter left by advanced measures, even if it means moving Jose Ramirez to DH. And then, similarly, the best 2018 pitcher left, Aaron Nola. Plenty of pitching down here for those drafters patient enough to wait for it. Ahem.

Will: There are plenty of Perfectly Acceptable All-Star Game pitchers. But they're not my studs. The Sheehan Doth Protest Too Much. I like Aaron Nola, a ton, but in a nine-inning game, with my roster, he's not getting in the game. If he's the best guy left, I'm happy with where I stand.

You know what I don't have? A guy who can steal me a base late and be a defensive replacement after I have my lead. So hello Lorenzo Cain, honestly, the most underrated player in the game right now. (I was so happy he made the team.) For a similar reason: Christian Yelich. I just got those two players in about the same span of time as it took the Brewers to get them.

Joe: I almost took Cain a couple of times, but demurred because he’s coming off the groin injury. You better get Craig Counsell’s permission before giving him the green light. I love the Brewers for being like the only middling team in baseball that’s been aggressive the last couple of years. We need 17 more of those.

All right, let’s take the best available reliever in Blake Treinen, to protect our 15-0 lead in the fifth, and then, even though he’s not this good, I’d like the honor of being the first person to ever take Nick Markakis in an All-Star draft. Great story, that Nick.

Will: Honestly, can we talk about the fact that there are five catchers? And I bet each manager STILL keeps an extra one on the bench. YOU NEVER KNOW. (I'd love to see a non-catcher have to catch in an ASG, just to see their GM have an aneurysm.) Anyway, I better get one: Willson Contreras it is. My favorite factoid: He's the longest tenured Cub.

Also, give me Mitch Haniger because I want some of that good Mariners mojo. (Man, just typing those words means the A's are gonna go on a run.)

Joe: I think there’s a catcher re-entry rule, which makes having three catchers even more silly, but for the fact that all three NL catchers are pretty deserving, and J.T. Realmuto is like the only Marlin who is deserving. The AL, though…there are just two catchers who are even batting-title eligible (both the All-Stars), and most of the others have lousy numbers or are hurt or suspended. Salvy Perez seems a ridiculous choice until you look at the field.

A’s are 6 1/2 back of the Mariners. Man, wouldn’t that be a story.

Jose Berrios is the best pitcher left, I think, so let’s add welcome him to the team. The pitching has finally thinned out a bit. And I guess I’ll take Realmuto so as to avoid getting stuck with one or even both of the other two catchers.

Will: Well, I'm under the assumption that the Monstars will allow us no such re-entry leverage ... but I'm still not going to take another catcher until I have to. I know there's no infield re-entry rule, which is why, considering my shaky shortstop, I'm gonna grab Trevor Story, who I'm considering a slightly better defensive shortstop than Brandon Crawford at this point, but take your pick. And also Scooter Gennett, who honestly it is a relief to see become a star considering his four-homer game last year, at the time, made me think someone had slipped me psilocybin.

Joe: It is possible that someone slipped you psilocybin and Scooter Gennett had a four-homer game.

I’d been waiting out that glut of infielders, and will now take Eugenio Suarez, yet another Red who is a lot better than we ever expected him to be. (3/4 of the Reds infield is in the All-Star Game, which is weird for a team that isn’t very good, no?) And let’s start the run of backup outfielders with Michael Brantley, another good story after two years lost to injury.

Will: There is absolutely no way I'm letting Matt Kemp fall any farther. Say what you will about the fan voting, but they got it spiritually right this year. That he was even on the ballot feels like a miracle: That he won is some sort of insane cosmic justice. Also, I have too many left-handed pitchers and there's almost all lefties left: This is my way of talking myself into Miles Mikolas.

Joe: I was just about to harass you into taking the lone Cardinal on the team. When was the last time the Cards had this few All-Stars? It feels like a long time, maybe I’m wrong.

I’ll take Nelson Cruz as protection against Josh Hader matching up later in the game. Not a lot of great options left, but the most fun one is definitely Gleyber Torres, who makes his first All-Star team before Kyle Schwarber does.

Will: Yeah, not just that: They didn't get a player picked by the voters OR the players. There was a time, in the last decade, when half the team was Cardinals. Now it's tough to make an argument for anyone, or to rustle up much excitement about anybody.

This is the most restless and listless I have seen the Cardinals fanbase in more than 20 years, honestly since LaRussa got there and Anheuser-Busch sold the team. The Mozeliak/Fowler mess opened all sorts of doors to the mess going on here. I know you think Cardinals fans should be happy with how things are going, and there's undeniable truth that they are spoiled. But I'm telling you: A vein's about to open up here. Look out.

OK, that's over and done with. (Subscribe to Seeing Red with me and Bernie Miklasz!) Give me Shin-Soo Choo in case I need a baserunner late, and Jon Lester because, wow, how in the world is he having the best year of his career right now? (Also because I know that everyone will remain so inexplicably polite and not steal on him.)

Joe: Love that pod, two of my favorite people talking ball.

I’ll take J.A. Happ for the role of “if the game goes 13 innings,” and then Jose Abreu because I actually don’t have a backup first baseman yet.

Will: I don't have a backup third baseman, but I'm just gonna put Brandon Crawford out there as "general infielder if I need him." And then I'll go with Patrick Corbin, who actually made an All-Star Game five years ago, a factoid I'm sort of astounded is true.

Joe: I have absolutely no memory of that. Yeah, looks like he was 9-0 in his first 11 starts, and ended June 9-0, 2.22. That’ll get it done.

Then he had a 4.74 ERA the rest of the season, and missed 2014. Timing is everything.

I’l take Charlie Blackmon and Felipe Vazquez. It’s getting late out there.

Will: Give me Mike Foltynewicz and...Wilson Ramos because I want you to choose between having three catchers, or Joe Jimenez.

Joe: It’s honestly kind of you to leave me Mitch Moreland instead of two pitchers AND two catchers. I’ll take Joe Jimenez, because as everyone knows I hate the Royals. You get Salvy at 31.2.

Bonus Round! There are ten players eligible for the Final Vote. Pick one.

Will: I want someone who can steal me a base late: Give me Trea Turner. One game for the whole planet. This'll be fun. Enjoy all your strikeouts. And thanks for having me.

Joe: I love a lot of these choices, but I’m taking Matt Carpenter, because he’s underrated everywhere else but here.

A planet ruled by Will Leitch won’t be the worst thing in the world. Before you go, give me a starting lineup!

Will:

CF Betts
SS Machado
1B Freeman
LF J.D. Martinez
RF Harper
DH Goldschmidt
3B Arenado
C Contreras
2B Albies

SP Scherzer

Joe: Meh. Beatable. Here are the winners:

1B Votto
CF Trout
3B Ramirez
RF Judge
SS Lindor
2B Altuve
LF Springer
DH Bregman
C Posey

P Severino

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Deep gratitude to Will, one of my favorite writers, one of my favorite people, for taking the time to do this with me.