A West Coast Post-Season

With roughly a month remaining in the baseball season, it is clear that, at least for 2014, there has been a geographical shift in the game's balance of power. If the season were to end today, four California teams would be assured of one of baseball's ten post-season spots, while another west coast team still has a chance for the second wild card in the AL. Equally significantly, no team from Boston, New York or Philadelphia would make the post-season. The last time none of those three northeastern cities all missed the post-season was 1992. That was also the last year that only four teams made the playoffs.

Jon Lester and Why the Red Sox are Smarter than the Yankees

The Red Sox might not be able to trade Lester, or the the prospects they get for Lester may not turn into valuable players in the future, but the willingness of the Red Sox to shop Lester demonstrates why the Red Sox are one of the smartest organizations in baseball. It also presents a stark contrast between the Red Sox and their top rival the New York Yankees. In recent years, the Yankees have never accepted that they are out of contention or decided to trade a player approaching free agency. This has contributed to a cycle that demands the Yankees sign increasingly expensive and old free agents to field a team that is unlikely to play deep into the playoffs.

Pondering the Panda

Obviously, if Sandoval does not begin hitting soon, he will not get anything near what he is asking for on the free agent market, but if he turns around his season, he should be able to get around that much. Sandoval may not seem like a $20 million a year player. He has been erratic mixing very good years like 2009 and 2011 with off years like 2010. Sandoval is also probably more known for is colorful nicknames and often unsuccessful efforts to control his weight than for anything he has done on the field, but he is clearly one of the game's best young hitters. From 2009, his first year as a full time big leaguer through 2013, Sandoval 43rd in WAR among all non-pitchers. This may not sound too impressive, but, Sandoval is still only 27. Only five players are younger than Sandoval and have more WAR during those years.

Evolving Information Symmetry in Baseball

Twenty years ago, no fans had access to, for example, the data about pitch type and speed that is now relatively easily available, even decent video of major or minor league players was hard to come by. Thirty years ago up to date data of minor league games was unavailable for most fans. This made is possible for insiders to either know more than most fans, or by alluding to hard to get information, pretend they had more information than most fans.

A New Identity for the Giants and their Fans

For longtime Giants fans, this means rethinking our identity as fans. We are no longer rooting for a forgotten team searching for a championship, a team that for a period of close to half a century were either mediocre or found a way to lose championships in dramatic, and occasionally strange, ways. Fans of other teams have experienced similar things. Any thoughtful Red Sox fan would have to rethink the narrative of being cursed and long suffering that was part of what being a fan of that team meant for more than eight decades, but after 2004 and 2007 can no longer be taken seriously. Similarly, a fan of the Orioles from 1966-1983 would have thought of that team as always contending, having stellar pitching and usually being in or around the playoffs while occasionally winning a championship, but over the last 30 years, the Orioles have evolved into being a very different, and less successful, franchise.

West Coast Pitching Dominance

While the origins of this difference between the West Coast and the Northeast may be partially economic, partially random and partially due to ballpark effects, the result is that a distinct West Coast style of baseball has evolved. The home run heavy, weak starting pitching and strong veteran bullpen approach best represented by the New York Yankees is not tried by any West Coast team; and the Red Sox are the only East Coast team with any young starting pitches, Clay Buchholz and Jon Lester, who are good enough and young enough to stand out in the west. Given the recent success of the Giants, who one quarter of the way into this season, are still playing very well, this model, which seems to be applicable in Florida as well, may catch on among mid-sized market teams outside of the West Coast, thus becoming yet another trend that originates in California and makes its way east.

The Cliff Lee Trade and the Current Strategic Context

The Cliff Lee trade was an interesting trade not only because it worked out well for all three teams involved, but because it exemplifies the different kind of strategic thinking that is becoming the norm for different kinds of teams. Although the Texas Rangers and Seattle Mariners were the only teams to move players, the New York Yankees were very involved as well. The Yankees offer of minor league prospects Jesus Montero and David Adams for Lee was initially accepted by the Mariners, before it fell through at the last minute when the Mariners accepted the Rangers’ offer instead.

Five Things to Look for in 2010

The long off-season is finally winding down. It seems like ages ago that questions of where Matt Holliday and Jason Bay would sign and whether, where and for whom Roy Halladay would be traded first arose. Now spring training is coming to an end and Opening Day is a few days away. The upcoming baseball season will answer many questions. Most will be regarding on the field events. Will the Mariners have improved sufficiently to seriously contend? Can the Red Sox new emphasis on pitching and defense carry them past the Yankees? Will the Phillies become the first National League team to win three pennants in a row since Stan Musial was a young star on the Cardinals.

Not All Payroll Differences Are the Same

When the Yankees won the World Series last year there were predictable complaints that the Yankees had bought their World Series victory. Others argued that in baseball championships can’t be bought offering the fact that the Yankees had the highest payroll, by far, in baseball for several years running andhadn’t won in 2004-2008. It seems clear that, at least on some level, the Yankees bought the championship in 2009, just as the Phillies bought the championship in 2008 and the Red Sox did in 2007. All these teams invested money and ended up winning the World Series. The more accurate way to phrase it is that the Yankees paid more for their championship, have had the highest payroll for the last several years, by a significant margin, and that while high payrolls don’t guarantee championships, they certainly help a great deal.

The Red Sox and Phillies Strike Back

In recent days the Red Sox and Phillies have improved their chances of stopping the Yankees from defending their championship. The Phillies came within two wins of winning the World Series in 2009 and by adding Roy Halladay, while losing Cliff Lee, have made the top of their rotation stronger. John Lackey gives the Red Sox one of the best and deepest rotations in baseball, while the signing of Mark Cameron helps offset the almost certain loss of Jason Bay; and Marco Scutaro will be a big upgrade at shortstop. Dumping Mike Lowell will also help the team. It seems likely that the Red Sox are not quite done yet this off-season and may add another corner infield bat. Other teams, notably the Seattle Mariners have made some big moves, in the Mariners case the acquisition of Cliff Lee and Chone Figgins, that may allow them to emerge as a strong contender in 2010.