Chicago Cubs 2016 NL Central Championship Gear

pirates bucketI hope everyone who celebrates the holiday had a lovely one yesterday among family and friends – and I hope everyone who doesn’t celebrate that particular holiday had a lovely Friday. Our kiddos were thrilled and impressed by Santa’s surreptitious arrival, and they even managed to make it to about 6am before their pleas to take them downstairs reached a level that The Wife and I could no longer ignore.

  • There have been rumors for some time that the Pittsburgh Pirates – who’ve had a strangely quiet offseason – are shopping, among others who’ve already been moved out (Neil Walker for Jon Niese, Pedro Alvarez via non-tender), closer Mark Melancon, who was a brilliant part of the team’s success in 2015. Those rumors struck me as odd, given the Pirates’ 98 wins in 2015 and their obvious potential to win 90+ games again in 2016 and compete for a playoff spot. Teams in that position tend not to trade away elite closers unless there’s a clear indication that the player can be immediately and successfully replaced. Then again, we know that the Pirates cannot quite operate in the same way as many other large market teams, and, given Melancon’s probable significant value on the trade market (as well as lofty projected salary), now is as good of a time as ever to strike and capitalize on that value. Sure, the Pirates would take a 2016 hit, but they might have to do it in order to extend their current window.

  • Of course, the hit to the Pirates in 2016 by losing Melancon could be even more damaging than you might otherwise think. Jeff Sullivan writes about the best relievers over the past three years by Win Probability Added – i.e., which relievers were best when it mattered most – and Melancon is at the very top in all of baseball, at 10.0 WPA. Interestingly, right behind Melancon is Pirates setup man Tony Watson at 9.5. If you’re looking for a bit part of the reason the Pirates have been so successful the last three years, you needn’t look any further than that. You’re talking about nearly 20 wins worth of WPA over three seasons because of TWO RELIEVERS.
  • As Sullivan aptly says, “Whatever attention the Pirates get, the Pirates get for Andrew McCutchen. In nerd circles, there’s attention to the front office, and the coaching staff, and Starling Marte. I think even the nerds have underrated the bullpen.” It’s true. I’m pretty blown away by this revelation, and it seems like the kind of thing that would be impossible to sustain over a period any long than the Pirates have already seen. Indeed, Sullivan points out that, in two of the past three seasons, the Pirates have had one of the top 15 WPA seasons by a bullpen in baseball history, and the other season was in the top quarter. That’s just an insanely productive run of success in specifically important situations by the Pirates’ pen. And now they’re set to lose Melancon, either in trade now or after this coming season, they’ve already lost Antonio Bastardo (1.01 WPA last year), and Watson will be a free agent in a couple years, too.
  • (Even if the Pirates don’t deal Melancon, though, you’d expect to see some natural regression in the bullpen’s performance – it’s hard to be historically good in specific situations so many years in a row.) (Yes, yes, I know we should expect some regression from Jake Arrieta, too, for similar foundational reasons.)
  • Former Cubs starter Dan Haren is also former Marlins starter Dan Haren, and he spoke with Scott Miller about stories this year involving the Marlins’ clubhouse and reported antipathy for young starter Jose Fernandez. Although Miller’s reporting confirmed many of the stories out there about the Marlins’ ongoing circus (almost literal), Haren and Marlins pitcher Tom Koehler refuted any notion that Marlins players were openly rooting for Fernandez to fail when he took the mound. It’s still an open question whether the Marlins will seriously consider dealing Fernandez this offseason, but the circus element – complete with Barry Bonds as the new hitting coach – continues apace.

  • The Miller piece is a really good read, in general, about the Marlins’ unique culture. It’s almost difficult to read something like that and imagine a baseball team operating in such a way. Cubs fans, you must know, are incredibly lucky right now to have both a front office and an ownership group that understand their respective roles (and are rather good at them, too).
  • Peter Abraham writes a list of ideas to, in his mind, improve baseball, and I pretty much agree with them across the board. I’d go a little further than he does on the DH (he suggests a DH for all games involving at least one AL team, but I would say just institute for all games in both leagues), but otherwise he just nails it, idea after idea. Roster expansion in September is a little silly, and an easy fix is to allow teams to call up as many guys on the 40-man roster as they want, BUT only 28 (or so) can be declared “active” for a given game.

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