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    The So What? - Hosmer on Padres (2/21/18)

    By Ryan Fowler
    When the San Diego Padres won 90 games back in 2010, they ranked 28th in hitting (.246) and 22nd in runs per game (4.1 RPG). As you might expect, they leaned heavily on their top three starting pitchers, which included a 22-year-old rising star Mat Latos, in addition to closer, Heath Bell who converted 47 of 50 saves. Bud Black's pitching staff finished the season with the second-best ERA, 3.39, just behind San Francisco (3.36) whose 92-70 regular season record was enough to win the NL West and keep the Padres out of the playoffs.

    In the seven seasons since, San Diego has averaged 73 wins and 89 losses per year as the front office strives to rebuild a National League contender, while trying to ball on a budget.

    Although the Padres' 25-man payroll of $60.8-million ranks 28th this season, the organization did just shell out $144-million over eight years for Eric Hosmer's services. Still only 28 years old, his deal isn't the worst investment we've witnessed in recent years *coughPujolscough*, but relocating a .284/.342/.439 talent to a pitcher's park like Petco Park isn't the game-changer many Padres' fans would imagine. While Hosmer definitely upgrades an offense whose most consistent bat, Manuel Margot, hit only .263 last season, how far off is San Diego from truly contending in the NL West?

    The So What – Eric Hosmer

    Before Hosmer's arrival, Wil Myers was to remain at first base with seven players vying for right-and-left field gigs. So, for the sake of argument, let's place Jose Pirela – he of the 142 MLB games at the age of 28 - in left and Hunter Renfroe – who hit a franchise-rookie record 26 dingers, but struggles against RHP (.636 OPS) - in right field on a Hosmer-less Padres roster.

    After 50,000 season simulations, San Diego is projected to win 64.6 games or six fewer than a season ago with a 0.4% playoff probability and 0% shot at a World Series title.

    That's the bad news. What's worse is just how little of an impact Hosmer makes on this year's ball club. His bat and defense improved the Padres' by a whopping 2.3 wins (66.9), while their playoff odds tick up to 0.5% and their World Series future remains Blutarsky.

    Despite the notion that elite offense helps put butts in seats, perhaps what San Diego is missing isn't a bat in the lineup, but a major upheaval on the mound. San Diego's starting rotation ranked 23rd in ERA with a 4.83 average (4.40 xFIP) last season. On the surface, the offseason acquisitions of Tyson Ross and Bryan Mitchell do little to bolster the front end of the rotation. Ross, who played four seasons with the Padres before a one-year hiatus in Texas, posted a 7.71 ERA (6.28 xFIP) in 12 games last season. Mitchell, 26, will make his tenth career start when he takes the ball for the first time this season. Needless to say, this rotation isn't ideal. But what-if we gave it a much-needed upgrade? What-if we flipped the Dodgers and Padres rotations?

    After 50,000 season simulations, the Padres' win total improved by 14 games, their odds of making the playoffs jumped by nearly 20% and even got a 1% sniff of a World Series championship. Adding Clayton Kershaw and Co. and having them pitch at Petco 81 times per year definitely boosts San Diego's stock, but still only 81 wins – 81!.

    When you scan San Diego's projected 2018 lineup and rotation, you may notice that only catcher Austin Hedges is homegrown talent. Twenty-seven players on their 40-man roster have been acquired via trade or free agency.

    Between 2010-2016, a span of seven seasons, the New York Yankees average payroll was $223.5-millon. With the need to pay aging stars and continued tossing of dollars at veteran free agents, the Bronx Bombers only managed 89 wins per season and failed to advance to the playoffs three times with zero trips to the World Series to show for it.

    This year the Yankees payroll dips to, and this isn't a typo, $157.8 million and oddsmakers have them pegged as a top-five World Series favorite.

    Despite Hosmer's nine-figure contract, San Diego isn't going to buy their way to a National League West division title, NLCS or World Series. Eventually, their farm system – currently ranked third by Baseball America – and pitching prospects - MacKenzie Gore, Michel Baez, Adrian Morejon, etc. - will need to pay some dividends as young, homegrown talent has for New York (Judge, Sanchez, Bird), Boston (Mookie, Xander) and Los Angeles (Seager, Bellinger, Puig) the past several seasons.

    The So What – What-If the Marlins Were 2018 Buyers?

    Granted, they trailed the Washington Nationals by 20 games by season's end, but, to their credit, the 2017 Miami Marlins finished second in the National League East, their best standing since 2009.

    Rather than work to keep the franchise foundation together, Derek Jeter elected to take a jackahmmer to the 40-man roster. With December's hot stove turned up to 11, the Marlins dealt Dee Gordon to the Mariners, Giancarlo Stanton to the Yankees, and Marcell Ozuna to the Cardinals before January's trade of Christian Yelich to the Brewers in exchange for some prospects. The fire sale may not yet be over.

    As it stands now, and after 50,000 season simulations, the 2018 Marlines are projected to win 65.5 games, have no shot at a World Series and just a 0.6% playoff probability.

    That's so boring. So, how could the Marlins have fared had they kept the aforementioned core group together for the 2018 season? Well, after 50,000 sims, they managed only 75.7 wins, fewer than last year, less than a 10% shot at the playoffs and 0.2% World Series probability. So, Jeter was probably right to move some – maybe not all – his stars.

    However, it would have been fun to see Jeter as a “buyer” instead of a “seller” in his first year with the Marlins. Granted, from an investment standpoint, he and his business partners would request me to kick rocks, but as a fan of the game, an aggressive Miami team retaining the talent they had and adding a splash here and there would have been compelling to the National League playoff narrative instead of, you know, watching the Nationals blow another series.

    In addition to Gordon, Yelich, Stanton, and Ozuna, we added Mike Moustakas at third base and upgraded one of MLB's worst rotations by inserting Jake Arrieta and Lance Lynn as their 1-2 anchors. The results weren't perfect, but they were fascinating. As buyers, Miami improved their win total by nearly 20 games and improved their playoff probability by nearly 32%. Their 1.4% odds at a World Series title are more a testament to the strength of 2018's contenders than a slight at the retooled Marlins roster.

    Unfortunately for the Marlins fan base, it'll probably get worse before it gets better. Unlike the Braves (No. 1), Padres (No. 3) and Rays (No. 5), Baseball America currently ranks Miami's farm system 19th. The stars are gone and the prospects are light-years away.
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    NFL GameChangers: Divisional Playoff Edition (1/14/18)

    In this edition of GameChangers, we will utilize our Live ScoreCaster technology to review the game-changing plays from 2018 Divisional playoff matchups.

    EXW% = expected win percentage

    The Situation

    What-if Stefon Diggs was tackled at the Saints' 34-yard line with four seconds left?

    The Take

    Unfortunately, New Orleans Saints safety Marcus Williams won't be remembered for picking off Case Keenum late in the third quarter - a turnover that led to a Saints touchdown - but rather whiffing on a tackle of Diggs, which resulted in the Vikes receiver scoring the game-winning touchdown as time expired.

    However, had Williams made the tackle, Diggs would have been down around the Saints' 34-yard line with four seconds remaining and the Vikings would have burned their final timeout.

    Trailing 24-23, Minnesota would call on Kai Forbath to attempt the game-winning field goal. When we run that scenario through our NFL engine tens of thousands of times, the Saints' EXW% is 48.2%.

    It was a hell of a catch by Diggs. It was a hell of a game by both teams. This one isn't solely on Williams.

    The Situations

    The Steelers' pair of failed 4th-down play calls.

    The Take

    Pittsburgh converted 4-of-6 fourth downs against the Jaguars. However, it was the missing two that really cost them.

    Trailing 14-0 with 1:07 remaining in the first quarter, the Steelers faced 4th-and-1 from the Jaguars 21-yard line. Pittsburgh's EXW% before the fourth-down play call was 31% (assumed field goal attempt), but after they failed to pick up the one yard, it dipped to 23.6% - a win expectancy swing of 7.4%.

    The NFL gurus of Twitter believe Ben Roethlisberger should have used his size to pick up the measly one yard. Had he done that and picked up the first down, Pittsburgh's EXW% would remain 31%.

    Fast forward, Jaguars now lead 28-21 with 12:50 remaining in the fourth quarter, the Steelers now face 4th-and-1 from Jaguars' 39-yard line. Pittsburgh's EXW% is 24.4% right before Roethlisberger THROWS an incomplete pass *thud* EXW% dips to 16.7%.

    Now, if Ben snuck for the first down at this point in the game, the Steelers' EXW% jumps to 30.4% - a difference of nearly 16%.

    Bonus: a lot of chatter on social media regarding Pittsburgh's decision to onside kick down 42-35 with less than 3 minutes to go in the game. After the onside (and penalty), the Steelers' EXW% was 7.8% versus 8.1% had they kicked off normally.

    The Situation

    With the Patriots pinned back and in punt formation, a questionable neutral zone penalty on Tennessee.

    The Take

    In case you missed it, the penalty was originally a false start against the Patriots, but changed to a Titans' neutral zone infraction. Watch …

    So, to recap, instead of the Patriots leading 14-7 and about to punt from their own end zone, the neutral zone infraction handed New England a first down, which they parlayed into a 16-play, 91-yard touchdown drive to take a 21-7 lead.

    Before the punt, the Titans' EXW% was 16.6%. Had they received the punt – with presumed great field position – their odds improved to 21.8%.

    After the Patriots scored their third touchdown of the first half, Tennessee's EXW% dipped to 5.9% - a swing of 15.9% - and the momentum they enjoyed early on was gone.

    The Situation

    Instant replay reversed a “running into Atlanta's kicker penalty” on Philadelphia before halftime.

    The Take

    To review, with Atlanta leading 10-6 and under a minute remaining in the first half, Falcons' punter Matt Bosher punted the ball to the Eagles. Philadelphia was called for roughing the kicker, which should have resulted in an Atlanta first down, but instant replay indicated that the Eagles got a finger tip on the ball and, thus, no roughing the kicker infraction applied.

    The punt counted and it was 1st-and-10 Eagles from their own 28-yard line and Atlanta's EXW% is 56.7%. Nick Foles and Co. picked up 37 yards in a jiffy and Josh Elliott booted a 53-yard field goal as the 2nd-quarter clock hit triple zeroes. With the Falcons up 10-9 at the break, Atlanta's EXW% fell to 50.5%.

    What-if the roughing the kicker counted and the Falcons picked up a first down at the Eagles 45-yard line with 55 seconds before halftime?

    Their EXW% would have soared 10% to 66.8%.

    Now imagine if the roughing the kicker counted and the Eagles would NOT have kicked the last-second field goal to end the first half. The Falcons would have trailed 13-10, instead of 15-10, on their final drive.

    For as bad as that shovel pass play call to Terron Ward was, if Atlanta had the option to attempt a field goal on 4th-and-2 from the 2-yard line instead of roll Matt Ryan right and try to jam it into Julio Jones for the game-winner, Atlanta's EXW% would have improved by more than 20% (EXW% 46.0% down 13-10 vs. 25.7% down 15-10 on 4th-and-2).

    It's one of those cases where replay did its part, corrected the call on the field and the benefiting team wound up with improved odds before ultimately winning the game.

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