By the Numbers: Evaluating the 2020 Amateur Draft

With 2020’s amateur draft consisting of just five rounds, much of the strategy teams typically use related to shifting bonus pool money around was rendered moot. There were no high schoolers to woo with big bonuses after the 10th round, no saving money on a seventh rounder to sign a better first rounder. This served to decrease the incoming talent pool by quite a bit, with many good players going undrafted or unsigned, but it also makes an immediate analysis of the exercise a little bit easier.

With just 160 picks, we can evaluate a team’s decision to take a lesser player early in the draft in order to use the money saved on picks later and vice versa. With less scouting time and fewer looks, there might have been a bit more variation in terms of the quality of the players taken on draft day. Likewise, determining who might improve and surprise is trickier. As such, we shouldn’t consider this analysis ironclad. However, using Eric Longenhagen’s rankings and the selected players’ actual draft positions, we can compare how well each team did with their picks based on those rankings. To determine the value of each player and each pick, I’ll be using my draft pick valuation research from last year, which examined expected production from every draft slot. Read the rest of this entry »

MLB Owners Make New Offer for 60 Games, but No Deal Yet

With talks taking a contentious turn over the last week, as players asked owners to tell them “when and where” to play and Rob Manfred made public statements backing away from his earlier 100% guarantee of baseball in 2020, this season seemed very much in doubt. According to Jon Heyman, the players and owners have an agreement in principle that will give players pro-rated pay while providing expanded playoffs and a waiver of a potential player grievance for failing to live up to the March 26 agreement. Heyman was also the first to report that Rob Manfred and Tony Clark had an in-person meeting yesterday, as Manfred flew to Arizona in an attempt to restart talks.

As Heyman was reporting the deal, multiple reporters confirmed that MLB had made an offer, but indicated a deal had not yet been made. The MLBPA added this:

Read the rest of this entry »

How Optimistic Are You the 2020 Season Will Be Played? (Round 7)

I was hoping the last round of polling would be our last, but here we are. Thanks again for your time. For consistency’s sake, all questions have remained the same since the end of March. Read the rest of this entry »

Manfred’s Failure to Find Consensus May Cost Baseball Its Season

After taking the 2020 season to the brink of nonexistence on Monday, Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred might actually be less popular than the coronavirus pandemic. Five days after “unequivocally” guaranteeing that there would be a season “one hundred percent,” even one of minimal length imposed under the terms of the owners’ March 26 agreement with the players union, he told ESPN he was “not confident” one would happen unless the players waive the right to file a grievance — contending MLB did not make its “best efforts to play as many games as possible” — that could potentially be worth hundreds of millions of dollars. This latest round of inflammatory action follows in the immediate wake of a drastically shortened amateur draft, one that suggests that a proposed contraction of the minor leagues is closer to reality than ever, and all of this comes after a winter dominated by MLB’s investigations into the illegal sign-stealing of the Astros and Red Sox, whose punishments many consider too light — and oh, somewhere in there, Manfred fanned the flames by referring to the World Series trophy as “a piece of metal.”

Manfred’s actions over the past several months may have some pining for the charisma and warmth of Bud Selig — that guy really knew how to call off a season — but it’s important to remember that pleasing all of the people, all of the time isn’t and wasn’t the job of either commissioner, or of their predecessors. Manfred isn’t some mad genius twisting the game to his own nefarious ends, and while he’s supposed to act in the best interests of baseball, the reality is that he works for the owners, who pay his salary and have the power to hire and fire him. When he speaks for the owners, implicit in whatever tack he’s taking is that he’s got the backing of the three-quarters of them (23 out of 30) needed to govern.

Read the rest of this entry »

COVID-19 Roundup: Fauci Versus October

This is the latest installment of a series in which the FanGraphs staff rounds up the latest developments regarding the COVID-19 virus’ effect on baseball.

Fauci Warns Against October Baseball

While the very existence of a baseball season remains up in the air, Dr. Anthony Fauci told the Los Angeles Times that he would advise against playing baseball in October, salary dispute aside. “If the question is time, I would try to keep it in the core summer months,” he said, before specifically saying October is a riskier time to play.

“The likelihood is that, if you stick to the core summer months, even though there is no guarantee… If you look at the kinds of things that could happen, there’s no guarantee of anything. You would want to do it at a time when there isn’t the overlap between influenza and the possibility of a fall second wave.”

If avoiding October play is the goal, there isn’t much time left. A 50-game season and regular-length playoff schedule would need to start by the middle of July at the very latest, which already looks difficult given the current state of negotiations. It would also require renegotiation of postseason TV contracts, not exactly a quick process in regular times. It’s simply a further obstacle to getting baseball back on the field.

When it does come back, though, Fauci will be there. Of his hometown Nationals allowing fans at games in 2021, he said: “Unless you have a dramatic diminution in cases, I would feel comfortable in spaced seating, where you fill one-half or one-third or whatever it is of the stadium, and everybody is required to wear a mask in the stadium.” Read the rest of this entry »

2020 ZiPS Projected Standings: Nippon Professional Baseball

Baseball in Korea and Taiwan is in full swing — my apologies for the pun — and a third major professional league is set to join them on Friday when NPB (Nippon Professional Baseball) starts up its delayed 2020 season. The novel coronavirus has shown that it has little care for the vagaries of baseball scheduling, so as with other leagues, NPB will naturally play a shortened slate.

Unlike a certain other league – it would be far too gauche of me to identify it by name – NPB is trying to fit as much baseball into the summer as it can. By virtue of being able to start in June, each team is scheduled to play 125 games, with the main change being the suspension of interleague play. (Normally, each team plays three home games against three teams in the opposite league, and three road games against the remaining cross-league competition.)

So with Japanese baseballing imminent, it’s time to run the ZiPS projections for the league, as I did last month with the Korean Baseball Organization (KBO). With a league closer to MLB in quality, slightly better data, and more personal experience working with said data, I’m more confident about ZiPS’ NPB projections than the KBO ones.

Without interleague play, both leagues will have .500 records, helpful for the Central League, which has lost the interleague battle against the Pacific League 14 times in 15 seasons. Ties aren’t something ZiPS normally has to account for, but after doing research on the topic, I’ve found they’re even more random than one-run wins in MLB (as we all would have expected). On to the projections!

2020 ZiPS Projected Standings – Pacific League
Team W L T GB PCT 1st 2nd 3rd 4th 5th 6th
Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles 69 54 2 .560 37.6% 25.1% 17.2% 11.7% 6.2% 2.3%
Fukuoka Softbank Hawks 68 55 2 1 .552 33.9% 25.7% 17.9% 12.5% 7.4% 2.6%
Saitama Seibu Lions 62 61 2 7 .504 12.9% 18.6% 20.8% 20.2% 17.0% 10.5%
ORIX Buffaloes 61 62 2 8 .496 10.5% 16.7% 19.9% 21.0% 19.1% 12.8%
Chiba Lotte Marines 56 67 2 13 .456 3.8% 9.1% 14.8% 19.5% 26.3% 26.5%
Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters 53 70 2 16 .432 1.4% 4.8% 9.5% 15.1% 24.1% 45.2%

Read the rest of this entry »

Effectively Wild Episode 1552: Confidence Interval

Ben Lindbergh and Meg Rowley discuss Rob Manfred’s rapid flip-flop from expressing 100 percent confidence about an MLB season starting to expressing a lack of confidence in an MLB season starting, his ultimatum to the union, how Manfred has floundered at a pivotal time and how that failure effects his future, how some owners’ reluctance to start the season is hurting themselves and the sport, how COVID complicates plans to play, the worst-case scenario for the league, the odds of a season, and more. Then they answer listener emails about how to support players while still supporting teams, expanding the division series, the impact of future NBA seasons overlapping longer with MLB’s, whether players could form their own league, teams’ incentive to win in 2020, and whether and why pulled homers are the most aesthetically pleasing, plus Stat Blasts about players with the least playing time by number of years of service time and an unsurpassed feat by Mark Buehrle.

Audio intro: Courtney Barnett, "Crippling Self-Doubt and a General Lack of Confidence"
Audio outro: Drive-By Truckers, "Grievance Merchants"

Link to The Athletic on the latest in MLB’s big dispute
Link to Craig Edwards on Manfred’s latest comments
Link to Jeff Passan on Manfred
Link to Ken Rosenthal on Manfred
Link to Stat Blast song cover by John Choiniere and Lucas Apostoleris
Link to Lucas’s debut album
Link to service time spreadsheet
Link to starters with most games facing the minimum
Link to Rany on Buehrle

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Rob Manfred Threatens to Cancel Season

On Saturday, after rejecting Major League Baseball’s latest offer, the Major League Baseball Players Association agreed to abide by the threat MLB had floated at the beginning of the month and allow the commissioner to set the schedule. In response, MLB sent a letter to the MLBPA indicating it would not set a schedule unless the players agreed not to file a grievance over a shortened season. Before looking at why MLB might be taking this approach, let’s take a look at how we got here. It’s been almost a week since the first day of the amateur draft, when Rob Manfred spoke to Tom Verducci about the start of the season on MLB Network. Early in the interview, Verducci asked about the possibility of imposing a shorter schedule:

Tom Verducci: Obviously, you want an agreement. In the absence of an agreement, according to the March 26 agreement with the players the owners believe that you as commissioner can schedule a season that “uses the best efforts to play as many games as possible”. How close are you to that point, how many games are we talking about.

Rob Manfred: I remain committed to the idea that the best thing for our sport is to reach a negotiated agreement with the MLBPA that plays as many games as possible for our fans. We do have rights under the March 26 agreement and there could become a point in time where we’ll exercise those rights.

Manfred went on to say the two sides were “very, very close” on health and safety protocols. After he also indicated that finishing the season in November was not practical due to a potential second wave of the coronavirus and the difficulty of moving the playoffs around for television partners, Verducci got to the heart of the matter and asked whether there would be baseball this season.

Tom Verducci: Negotiations are complicated. Simple question for you. Can you guarantee we will have major league baseball in 2020?

Rob Manfred: We are going to play baseball in 2020. 100%. If it has to be under the March 26 agreement if we get to that point in the calendar, so be it, but one way or the other we are playing major league baseball.

Two days later, MLB provided the players with its “Final Counterproposal for 72 games,” along with a letter from deputy commissioner Dan Halem to union negotiator Bruce Meyer complaining that players were not entitled to pay to begin with and that MLB could have opted to not have negotiated a deal in March at all. The letter did not mention the owners’ fears of the players suing for full salaries in the event of a partial season, the elimination of the roughly $20 million in minimum postseason bonus pools, the relaxation of debt rules that might otherwise have opened up the CBA completely, or the $400 million in amateur signing bonuses that were deferred or eliminated. The March agreement was not an act of generosity, but rather a pact between two sophisticated parties trying to reach the best deal possible. And as Manfred noted, the March agreement gives the commissioner certain rights, including the right to set the schedule. Read the rest of this entry »

Jay Jaffe FanGraphs Chat – 6/16/20

Avatar Jay Jaffe: Good afternoon and welcome to another edition of my Tuesday chat. It looks like we’re in a dark place today as far as the 2020 season is concerned, but I’m hearing a bit more optimism this morning (and afternoon) than I did last night, mainly because Manfred and the owners have put themselves in an untenable position and something has to give.

STT Fan: what do you think is the % chance we see MLB this year?

Avatar Jay Jaffe: I still think it’s above 50%. There’s just too much money for it not to happen, but man, getting a season off the ground has been and will continue to be ugly

Robert: Is Manfred somehow worse than selig?

Avatar Jay Jaffe: Been thinking about this a lot, and in some ways, it’s like trying to choose your least favorite child from among two failsons.

That’s the easy answer. The reality is that one has to remember that the commissioner isn’t an independent operator or neutral party. He serves as the representative of the owners, and so implicit in his actions is that he has the backing of three-quarters of them needed to stay in power.

For all of the dark places that Bud Selig took baseball, he was very skilled at marshaling a consensus among his fellow owners, satisfying their very disparate needs among big- and small-market owners, labor hawks and doves, et cetera, which is why he was able to stay in power so long and effect so much change.

Manfred doesn’t seem to have that knack, at least to the same degree, but it may also be true that he’s working with a worse set of owners — ones that realize they can take their teams into the tank without worrying about whether they’ll make a profit, and so on.

Guest: Jay, first off great job on Long Gone Summer. Second, who do we suspect are the 6 owners that don’t want to have a season are? OAK, CHC, LAA, PIT for sure, right? Who are the other two?

Read the rest of this entry »

Wild World Series Tactics: 2017-2019

I know what you’re thinking — the most recent World Series won’t have the same wild tactical decisions that were so common in the early 90s. You’re right! That’s true! What am I going to do, though — leave this series unfinished? Not likely. Today, we’re looking to the recent past.


First things first: you can’t bring up this World Series without mentioning the Astros’ sign stealing scandal. I don’t think it had any effect on their tactics, so this is the only time I’ll address it — but yes, before you head down to the comments to let me know about it, I’m aware.

Lineup-wise, both of these teams knew how to set things up. Alex Bregman batted second for the Astros, with Justin Turner filling that role for the Dodgers. They were each arguably the best hitter on their team — modern lineup construction in action.

Both managers used appropriately short leashes on their pitchers. The Astros’ could have been even shorter — they let Dallas Keuchel face the top of the righty-stacked Dodgers lineup a third time in Game 1, and Turner punished him with a two-run homer. Clayton Kershaw went a similar length — one fewer pitch, one more out, and the same number of batters faced — but escaped with only one run allowed. That was the game — Turner’s home run provided the margin of victory.

Both teams went further in Game 2 — Rich Hill faced only 18 batters and Justin Verlander faced 21. Verlander’s last three batters nearly cost the Astros the game — like Keuchel before him, he gave up a two-run shot to the Dodgers’ number two hitter the third time through — Corey Seager this time. With Hill providing only four innings of work, the Dodgers needed a two-inning save from Kenley Jansen — reasonable with an off day to follow. Unfortunately for them, Jansen coughed up two runs, and after two extra innings, the series was tied. Read the rest of this entry »