Division Series Begins Today, Multiple Hirings Announced, Ears and Spins, Cubs Low Velocity, and Other Cubs Bullets

The MLB Divisional Round is here. The Phillies and Braves kick things off at noon CT on Fox, the Mariners and Astros go at 2:30pm CT on TBS, the Guardians and Yankees are at 6:30pm CT on TBS, and then the Padres and Dodgers play at 8:30pm CT on FS1.

  • The hiring cycle has already started, with a new (former) manager in Philadelphia, and a new GM in San Francisco. For the Phillies, they decided to go ahead and make very-successful interim manager Rob Thomson their full-on manager for the next two seasons:
  • Thomson took over at midseason for Joe Girardi, who was bounced over to Marquee for periodic broadcasts. Girardi may yet get another managerial opportunity, but it became clear through various interviews down the stretch that Thomson was a better fit for the Phillies’ current roster.
  • For the Giants, who were replacing GM Scott Harris (who went to the Tigers as their new President of Baseball Operations), they have tapped the Astros:
  • Based on some quick googling, it seems like Putila was in a very similar situation to Carter Hawkins when the Cubs hired him from the Guardians: over a decade with one organization, focused heavily on the player development side, recently promoted to Assistant GM.
  • All right. Check. One front office spot filled, no poaching from the Cubs. The Mets opening (above Billy Eppler) is not likely to be a Cubs-type target either.
  • Appreciated this deep dive by Eno Sarris on the Joe Musgrove ear-check thing. Although it was true that Musgrove’s spin rate on his fastball was up, so was his velocity (call it October adrenaline) – and we know that when velocity goes up, raw spin rate goes up. So instead of looking at raw spin rate to see if there was funny business, you should look at spin rate PER mile per hour of velocity. When you do that, you see that there really wasn’t anything all that funky about Musgrove’s fastball spin rate.
  • That said, the spin rate Musgrove was flashing on his slider was out of line with season norms, and that one can’t be explained by velocity. Even on that part, Sarris points out that the spin rate volatility on breaking pitches – the extent to which it varies naturally from start to start – is much higher than for fastballs. So it’s possible that this just happened to be a really flukey super-high-spin slider day for Musgrove. All I can say for sure is that I’m very glad it happened, because The Ear Check will forever be a fun part of MLB playoff history.
  • Speaking of velocity, I’d been waiting to get some updated data on this after the end of the season, but the point is likely to still stand sufficiently that I can discuss it now:
  • The Cubs aren’t just at the bottom of that list, they are HILARIOUSLY at the bottom. We knew that this year’s staff was not one for premium velocity, but good gravy. That’s jarring. To be sure, you can still succeed without 97+ mph fastballs, but we know that they give you a whole lot more margin for error. The Cubs absolutely want to incorporate more velocity, and they will be over the coming years as more pitchers come up who’ve been part of the improved player development program (some of the velocity gains down on the farm are really incredible).
  • … of course, if the Cubs add the right pitcher or two in free agency or trade, that number could spike immediately anyway. Gotta get those organic spin rates and ear checks up, after all.
  • As far as averages go, the Cubs’ 92.8 mph average fastball velocity this year was faster than only the Diamondbacks at 92.6 mph. You want to be near the top of the league? Then your staff has to have an average fastball velocity approaching 95 mph.
  • Six years ago tonight was absolute magic:
  • A deep dive and profile on Gerrit Cole, who arguably just had his “worst” season since 2017:

While not specific – not really – to Cole, I did find this section a good reminder about the relationship between randomness, preparation, and execution in this sport, and how hard it can make evaluations:

As outcomes that Cole found inexplicable piled up over the course of the season, his attention turned towards the inherent randomness of the game on which he’s staked his legacy. A victim of umpire discretion and batted ball outcomes is a difficult place to find yourself when you spend five days developing a plan to reduce the randomness of the outcomes against you.

He references a video he saw of Cardinals pitcher Adam Wainwright talking with his catcher, Yadier Molina, about having a process, but accepting that things can go “haywire” sometimes. He notes the differences between two wild card games that were played the day before: In which the Guardians and Rays hit the ball well in a low-scoring game, and the Mariners and Blue Jays hit the ball well for a high-scoring slugfest.

“On any given day, there can be different variables affecting the results,” Cole said. “It makes it baseball.” It makes it unpredictable.”

While he enjoys engaging with the ambiguity of the sport, Cole admits it makes it hard to make clean evaluations. The evaluations are what help him process a bad inning or a bad day on the mound. They are what gave him a fresh start five days later. They are what he uses to try to live up to the expectations on him, even if those expectations are extreme.

Cole doesn’t believe it’s possible to be overly reliant on routine and process, though he notes two caveats: “You’re going to need to adjust your process and evolve, and the process doesn’t guarantee great results each time.”

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