Here’s an excerpt from the May 31, 2019 edition of the Sacrifice Bunt Newsletter, on Manny Machado’s hustle:
We have identified that Machado doesn’t always hustle, however, and it’s possible that he costs himself some number of hits (or reached on errors) over 162 games. Back in 2014, Ben Lindbergh tried to figure out how many hits Robinson Canó cost himself by not hustling to first. Like Machado, Canó had earned a reputation for not always running out grounders back in his time with the Yankees. By comparing his infield hit (and ROE) rates to other left-handed hitters, Lindbergh found that Canó lost roughly four trips to first base per season during his time in New York.
That’s certainly something, but it’s a relatively small number for a player as talented as Canó. During the Yankee portion of his career, Canó netted 45.5 wins in nine seasons, or about five wins per season. He was perhaps the best second baseman of his era and could be ticketed for Cooperstown after he retires. Canó also never missed time with the Yankees, playing in at least 159 games for his final seven seasons in the Bronx. As Lindbergh argued, if pulling up on routine grounders helped Canó stay on the field, the trade-off was certainly worth it. Any missed time would have negated the value Canó’s non-hustle cost his team, which was negligible in the first place.
There are plenty of similarities between Canó and Machado. Ignoring his 51-game debut season in Baltimore, Machado’s been worth 5.4 wins per season, according to Baseball Reference. He’s also played at least 156 games in five of six seasons, hitting the 162-game mark twice. So far this season, he’s missed just one game.
The Canó part of this story came full circle a couple weeks ago. Back in New York, this time with the Mets, he was criticized—and then benched—for not running out a grounder or two and then left a game with quad tightness after scampering down the line a few days later, eventually hitting the IL. Meanwhile, in Toronto, Machado didn’t try to turn on the jets after Biggio kicked away a routine grounder, safely avoiding a potential pulled this or strained that. The Padres need Machado on the field and will happily sacrifice a few extra baserunners to pencil him into the lineup for 160 games.
Excerpt no. 2, from May 24, 2019, on Kirby Yates’ historic start:
It’s impossible for the baseball-loving fan not to extrapolate from here, if only for informational purposes. Yates has recorded his 2.14 WPA through 50 team games. If he keeps up this pace through the rest of the season, he’ll finish with 6.9 WPA, blowing away Foulke’s longstanding (modern bullpen era) record.
Will it happen? Well, probably not. Baseball is designed to take the best of on-pace-for plans and shred them to pieces. Even though Cody Bellinger is suddenly a superstar, he’s almost certainly not going to rack up a Ruthian 13.2 WAR this season. Same thing with Yates. Chances are, he’ll give up a few more runs down the stretch, cough up a few big saves. Regression to the mean is omnipresent. Further, the Padres have afforded Yates with plenty of opportunities. One-run saves, specifically, are a gold mine for WPA. Since the game is tighter, there’s more WPA points available in a one-run save than the two- or three-run type. The Padres might not play such a high percentage of close games from here out.
But could it happen? Heck yeah. Yates and these Padres might just be the perfect match for some WPA magic. We already know that Yates isn’t getting by with much good future. Sure, he might surrender a couple home runs here or there, but he’s put up that 1.13 ERA with a .375 BABiP. When you strike out half your opponents, luck doesn’t play much of a role. Roughly speaking, he’s going to continue to dominate.
The question might come down to whether the Padres can continue feeding Yates so many save opportunities. His 20 saves pace baseball by five, with Detroit’s Shane Greene in a lone second. He also has four more save opportunities than the next closest guys, Greene and LA’s Kenley Jansen. Consider this: Yates has as many one-run saves than all but four other closers have total saves. Save chances can come in bunches or disappear for a week stretch, but the Padres—good but not too good—could be the right sort of team to keep supplying Yates with plenty of WPA ammo.
As it stands now, Yates is having one of the finest reliever seasons ever, by just about any metric. With over four months left in the season, there’s plenty of time for him to come back to earth some. There’s also enough time for him to chase down some records. With how well he’s pitched since joining the Padres, the latter scenario almost seems more probable.
Excerpt no. 3, from “Wait Till Next Year,” the second ever edition of the newsletter (October 6, 2017):
But there is hope.
To go along with positive contributions from young players at the big-league level, the Padres kept on acquiring (and developing) eye-catching young talent. It’s still too early to say much about the most recent draft, but third overall pick MacKenzie Gore is the early frontrunner for best player in the entire class. The lone high-profile trade from the season—which sent Trevor Cahill, Brandon Maurer, and Ryan Buchter to the Royals—looks like another major coup, with both Esteury Ruiz and Matt Strahm providing good potential long-term value. And the minor-league system—which we’re reviewing over the next couple of weeks—overflowed with good developmental stories, from Fernando Tatis Jr. to Michel Baez to Pedro Avila. The bottom rungs of the farm system are so stocked with exciting players that the Padres might have to add another affiliate just to give everyone reps at a familiar position.
All told, things could have gone worse. Sure, the tank didn’t get much farther than base camp and the Padres still peppered us with a usual dosage of Padres Things (the five-win pass, not trading Hand by the deadline, Ron Fowler talking on the radio, etc.), but underneath the Twitter memes and well-deserved doubts, something is plainly obvious: A.J. Preller and his baseball operations team are better at finding and hoarding good young baseball players than their peers. There are worse redeeming qualities with which to forge ahead into the great unknown than that one, especially when your thing is trying to put together a good baseball team.