Jeff Passan

  • The Pirates pitcher who succeeds by not throwing strikes

    Jeff Passan at Yahoo Sports 1 day ago

    If only they didn’t swing. That should be the strategy against Francisco Liriano. Lope into the batter’s box, sling bat over shoulder and play statue. Stare at every ball that whizzes by. And chances are, if temptation doesn’t take over, if the almost pheromonal scent of Liriano’s pitches can’t cajole a swing, the exercise will end in a leisurely stroll to first base.

    Because in a pitching world whose mission boils down to a two-word statement repeated ad nauseam – “throw strikes” – Liriano serves as the literal and figurative wild child. Nobody in baseball delivers fewer pitches in the strike zone than the Pittsburgh Pirates’ 31-year-old left-hander, and his mastery of effective wildness has grown into wild effectiveness.

    “He’s got two of the most dynamic off-speed pitches in the game,” Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. “And he has good enough stuff that he still gets swings even when it’s not close.”

    “He has learned how to pitch,” Pirates pitching coach Ray Searage said. “Every once in a while, he’ll have a flashback where he thinks he can pitch 97. But he’s more disciplined now.”

    They never do.

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  • Why MLB needs to keep exploring ways to improve pace of play

    Jeff Passan at Yahoo Sports 3 days ago

    More than 540,000 pitches have been thrown in Major League Baseball games this year, and after each one comes the delay. In the best scenarios it is barely a hindrance and in the worst an interminable bore, and on average, 22.1 seconds lapse between pitches, which means the 2015 baseball season has featured about 12 million seconds of dead time.

    This is notable because in spite of the perpetual wrench heaved into action, the effort to speed up pace of play in baseball has been a rousing success. The average nine-inning game is down to 2 hours, 54 minutes, down eight minutes from last season's foray past the three-hour mark. Now that the threshold has been crossed, MLB needs to figure out whether sub-3:00 is a goal accomplished or a starting point from which to build.

    The average game time in the Texas League is down from 2:51 to 2:46. The Southern League dipped 11 minutes to 2:41. The Eastern League shaved 12 minutes off its games. The biggest differences are at Triple-A, where the Pacific Coast League lost 13 minutes and the International League went from the second-longest games in the minor leagues (2:56) to sixth of 16 domestic leagues (2:41).

  • 10 Degrees: The hard truth about RBIs

    Jeff Passan at Yahoo Sports 6 days ago

    Let’s talk about RBIs. This is going to be a frank discussion, with no room for sentiment, dogma or any of the other things fostering the propaganda that crowns a Most Valuable Player because he leads baseball in a statistic with ever-waning relevance to such conversations.

    Late Saturday night, a few hours after Toronto Blue Jays star Josh Donaldson drove in six runs to hit the 100-RBI threshold this season, the promotion of his MVP candidacy cranked into overdrive. The confluence of a fantastic game, a monster second half and particularly an unhealthy obsession with round numbers launched the Donaldson-vs.-Mike Trout MVP debate that seems likelier and likelier to dominate the final six weeks of the season.

    There is no wrong choice between the two. Donaldson has been brilliant. Trout has been glorious. They’re the two best players in the American League this season. Nobody else is particularly close.

    @JeffPassan why? Runs win games.

    This is accurate. It also conflates runs with comparing RBIs from player to player, which can be an apples-and-oranges appraisal, as it is with Donaldson vs. Trout.

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  • Mike Trout's off-field obsession proves he's a man for all seasons

    Jeff Passan at Yahoo Sports 10 days ago

    At first, Jim Cantore thought the question was a joke. Then he saw the blue checkmark verifying the Twitter account that sent it and realized the best baseball player in the world really did want to know everything he could about the size of the snowstorm headed for New Jersey.

    “All of a sudden, I get this direct message from Mike Trout,” said Cantore, the Weather Channel’s voluble on-camera meteorologist and among the most trusted voices in forecasting today. “He’s asking me about the storm. Not like, ‘Hey, Jim, it’s Mike.’ He just went right into the details. He was genuinely curious about what the models said.”

    For all of Trout’s star power and the possibility of back-to-back American League MVP trophies, precious little is known about him away from the field. Which is why Cantore, a New York Yankees fan, was tickled to learn something that a few Internet sleuths later figured out.

    Mike Trout is a weather geek. And if he weren’t patrolling center field for the Los Angeles Angels nightly, the 24-year-old figures he would be holed away in some corner of the northeast where snow falls during the winter delivering the daily weather report on local TV.

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  • Short-sightedness of the Red Sox will work only if they give Dave Dombrowski autonomy long-term

    Jeff Passan at Yahoo Sports 10 days ago

    The Toronto Blue Jays were pursuing Dave Dombrowski and all that comes with him – the pedigree, the gravitas, the haircut – when in swooped the Boston Red Sox to consummate another shotgun marriage. The Red Sox adore these sorts of dalliances, ones where the names are as big as the fits are questionable.

    Now, let it be said: Hiring Dombrowski as president to run baseball operations, which the Red Sox officially did Tuesday night, isn't an ill-advised idea in a vacuum. Dombrowski's past success, especially with the sort of payroll leeway he'll get in Boston, speaks for itself.

    Which, as much as anything, shows how myopic the Red Sox have become, not just in their ability to let a talented executive like Cherington go but to potentially drive out the rest of a front office that has constructed a well-above-average major league core and one of the five best minor league systems in baseball.

    "No," one GM said Tuesday night. "The best."

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  • 10 Degrees: Buster Posey headlines baseball's best seasons no one is noticing

    Jeff Passan at Yahoo Sports 13 days ago

    Posey is the finest catcher in baseball today, the most well-rounded since Joe Mauer's prime, the likeliest threat to Johnny Bench and Yogi Berra's place atop the best-ever list. He hits for a high average and power in a home stadium that is like a baseball blackout. He walks more than he strikes out in an era where such hitters get rarer by the day. He throws out a higher percentage of attempted base stealers than anyone and frames so well he should work at Michael's. Were he more hare than tortoise, Posey would be the platonic ideal of a catcher.

    True excellence can go unrecognized when in the presence of transcendence, so perhaps Bryce Harper is to blame for Posey's season lurking under the radar. It's not the only one, of course, though how it's possible for someone like…

    1. Buster Posey to be two-thirds of the way to one of the greatest seasons ever from a catcher with barely a mention of just how great it's been is almost as incredible as what he has done.

    Between Posey and …

    With this sort of offense, the Royals look even more dangerous this October than they did last postseason. The one thing they never want to see again is …

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  • Johnny Cueto: the pitcher so frustrating he makes hitters want to punch strangers

    Jeff Passan at Yahoo Sports 15 days ago

    Ian Kinsler wanted to punch me in the face.

    I had asked him just how much the varying deliveries of Johnny Cueto really affect hitters, and with the wound of getting shut out by Cueto still raw and fresh, Kinsler did not exactly cotton to the line of questioning. Because he is a professional, and an educator, Kinsler stood up and decided to demonstrate. And the best way, he figured, was with his fists.

    He balled up his fingers, cocked his right arm back and held it there for a beat, then two, before extending his arm inches from my nose.

    "If I punch you like this three times in a row," he said, pausing to reload his fist, only exploding forward almost instantaneously instead of holding it back, "and then I go: Boom! Is it the same? Because it's coming from the same spot?"

    That's not a punch to the face. It's more like a kick somewhere else.

    The Tiant is like his fastball. He doesn't utilize it all the time, and because that's the case, the idea that Cueto might use another delivery exists in the minds of hitters who already have enough to worry about with six distinct pitches.

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  • Divisions in baseball need to be benched

    Jeff Passan at Yahoo Sports 16 days ago

    Were the postseason to begin today, the National League’s second- and third-best teams would play each other in a single winner-takes-all game for the honor of going on the road and playing a series against the best team in baseball. In the meantime, the teams with the fourth- and fifth-best records in the league would face off for a ticket to the NLCS.

    If this seems screwed up, it’s because it is. The wild card opened up a world of possibilities, including the one playing out in the NL Central today: The three best records happen to come from the same division, and baseball’s playoff system is in danger of penalizing teams for having the temerity to exist in relative geographic proximity to other good teams.

    This, of course, is ridiculous, and even if the New York Mets ride the weakness of the National League East or the Los Angeles Dodgers the strength of their $300 million payroll to pass up the Central’s St. Louis Cardinals, Pittsburgh Pirates, Chicago Cubs or even all three, an odd truth in baseball still will exist: winning a division is more important than winning, period.

    “That,” Silver told reporters, “is a vestige of a division system that may not make sense anymore."

  • 10 Degrees: It's a historic season for rookies

    Jeff Passan at Yahoo Sports 20 days ago

    Never before has baseball seen a group of rookies like the Class of 2015, one so rich in position players that with two months left in the season it’s on the verge of being more productive than every previous class in history. The Year of the Rookie is a real thing, though perhaps its designation is missing a word, because it’s really more the Year of the Hitting Rookie.

    Sometime this week, everyday rookies are going to surpass every class from the last 100 years in Wins Above Replacement. Even if it is a flawed metric, this year’s group of rookies reigning supreme with a third of the season remaining speaks to just how much talent suffuses it – and how teams are relying on rookie position players more than anytime since World War II.

    This season, rookie position players have accumulated 48.8 WAR, according to FanGraphs. Every hitter in baseball has a combined WAR of 386.8, meaning 12.61 percent of all offensive and defensive wins have come from rookies. Only war beget a greater percentage of WAR going to rookie hitters, as baseball struggled to fill its depleted rosters in 1943 and saw rookies account for 13.97 percent of offensive WAR.

     

  • Why Dave Dombrowski deserves to get paid more like a player than a typical GM

    Jeff Passan at Yahoo Sports 25 days ago

    More than catcher or shortstop or starting pitcher, the general manager is the single most vital asset in baseball, the person with the greatest ability to make and break an organization. Because they wear suits instead of uniforms and operate inside offices instead of before tens of thousands, GMs make a fraction of what their employees do, one of the rare jobs where bosses are compensated so disproportionately with those they hand-pick.

    If anyone can change that calculus, it is Dave Dombrowski, the first marquee free agent from the Class of 2015 to hit the market. The Detroit Tigers let Dombrowski go Tuesday afternoon, a move that divorces one of the most successful executives of his generation from the team he rescued from the doldrums and led to a pair of American League pennants and four consecutive postseason appearances.

    Pollis estimated the value between the best and worst free-agent buyers (San Francisco's Brian Sabean on top and ex-Baltimore GM Jim Beattie at the bottom) at nearly $43 million a year, and that's to say nothing of their abilities to pull off trades or draft and develop.

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