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The 2016 Single-Game Pitching Belt: Scherzer vs. Velasquez

by Blengino - 5/23/2016 - Comments (5)

A few weeks back, we matched up three of the most dominant pitching performances from April, utilizing granular ball-in-play data, to determine which of Vince Velasquez, Jaime Garcia or Jake Arrieta had the best day. Velasquez won that time around, and with Max Scherzer recently authoring a 20-strikeout, no-walk complete game shutout over the Tigers, we have a worthy contender for the single-game pitching championship belt.

There’s one rule for entry into this competition: you had to finish what you started. Only complete games apply. Then we simply look at every batted ball allowed, and first calculate each pitcher’s single-game Adjusted Contact Score based on exit speed and angle data. Then, we add back the Ks and BBs, and calculate each pitcher’s single-game “tru” ERA-. With these two performances, we don’t need to worry about adding back any BBs.

Velasquez vs. Scherzer – Exit Speed/Angle Data
Velasquez vs. SD 14-Apr 88.1 89.1 87.2 87.4 20.8
Scherzer vs. DET 11-May 86.6 93.1 93.5 56.8 19.1
MLB Avg. Thru 18-May 89.4 90.0 93.5 87.4 11.0

Both of these pitchers followed similar paths in their dominant outings. Besides striking out 36 and walking none between them, both pitchers allowed very high average exit angles, and very few grounders. Only extreme fly-ball/pop-up pitchers sustain average exit angles near 20 over a full season, the Chris Youngs and Jered Weavers of this world.

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Remembering Rougned Odor's Big Adjustment

by Eno Sarris - 5/23/2016 - Comments (6)

After the scrum was gone, after he’d answered all the difficult questions about his punch heard around the baseball world, after he’d deflected and postponed and shrugged, after he slumped into his seat and sighed, Rougned Odor looked up and saw me coming. To his credit, he raised his eyebrows for the coming question, ready for another round.

He was relieved when I asked him about being sent down in 2015, and what he learned when he was down there. Relieved, even though I was asking him about one of the more difficult times of his baseball life. Well, difficult in a different way than the difficult time he’s experiencing right now.

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Yoenis Cespedes Is Still Playing Like a Superstar

by Dave Cameron - 5/23/2016 - Comments (51)

Last winter, coming off the best season of his career, Yoenis Cespedes hit the free-agent market, and promptly heard crickets. He watched David Price and Zack Greinke break $200 million in early December, and then saw Jason Heyward set the market for outfielders with a $184 million deal a week later. And then he sat and watched a bunch more pitchers get paid, while he, Chris Davis and Justin Upton sat around waiting for offers that never came. Finally, in January, all three eventually found homes, but Cespedes was unable to land the big deal he was looking for, instead taking a three-year deal from the Mets that gave him the chance to hit the market again this winter, if he so chose.

A quarter of the way through the 2016 season, Cespedes opting out of the last two years of the deal is now a foregone conclusion; the only way he wouldn’t hit the market this winter is if the Mets re-do his deal before he gets there, or if he blows out his knee between now and October. Cespedes has not only carried over last year’s second half surge, but he’s even somehow building on it.

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Major League Baseball and the New Overtime Rules

by Nathaniel Grow - 5/23/2016 - Comments (18)

This past Wednesday, the U.S. Department of Labor released its long-awaited update of the regulations governing overtime pay under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). Specifically, the new Labor Department rule modifies the FLSA’s so-called “white collar” exception, under which certain salaried workers employed in an executive, administrative, or professional capacity are not entitled to overtime compensation.

Currently, anyone working in a white-collar position who receives a salary of at least $23,660 per year is exempt from the FLSA’s overtime requirement, meaning that they do not receive any additional pay even when working more than 40 hours per week. Beginning in December 2016, however, that salary threshold will rise to $47,476, so that any white-collar workers earning less than that amount annually will now be owed one-and-a-half times their normal hourly rate anytime they work 41 or more hours per week.

Because MLB teams employ dozens of front-office and business employees working in an executive, administrative, or professional capacity, and because many of these individuals may earn less than $47,000 per year despite routinely being expected to work more than 40 hours per week, this new rule has potentially significant ramifications for the baseball industry.

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Rick Porcello Is Figuring Out His Fastballs

by August Fagerstrom - 5/23/2016 - Comments (7)

For one month early in the 2015 season, Rick Porcello, traditionally a sinkerballer whose fastball sits at 91, led with the four-seam. It was only the second month in Porcello’s career in which the sinker’s position as his primary pitch was usurped by the four-seam, and unlike the other instance of this happening, the magnitude of the shift was noticeable.

It was the beginning of Porcello’s tenure in Boston, his new home after spending the first six years of his career in Detroit, and so at the time, it seemed like focusing on incorporating the four-seam fastball might’ve been part of the early organizational roadmap for Porcello. But the experiment didn’t go well. In eight four-seam-reliant starts, Porcello allowed 31 earned runs in 48 innings, good for a 5.81 ERA and a 4.76 FIP. All of his patented ground balls went missing, his home-run rate ballooned, he walked more batters than usual, and just like that, the four-seam trial run was over. Back to the sinkers he went.

If it really was an organizational thing — that the Red Sox encouraged Porcello to use his four-seam fastball more early in the season, if not just to see what it was like — it doesn’t seem like a bad idea, results notwithstanding. Even though Porcello’s “heater” only sits at 91, he has the ability to ramp it up to 96, and even more important than that, he’s able to naturally generate more spin on his four-seamer than almost any pitcher in baseball. We know that high-spin fastballs can be effective when located up in the zone, even without velocity, and so Porcello seems to possess a real weapon with his high-spin heater.

For whatever reason, though, the plan didn’t work, and so it didn’t stick. Maybe it was command, maybe it was comfort, maybe it was the way relying on the four-seamer affected the rest of his sequences, or maybe it was something else entirely. Whatever the case, Porcello went back to the sinker being his primary pitch, and he hasn’t looked back since. But the four-seamer is still there. And the way he’s using it now is making it more effective than ever. The idea to employ a four-seam approach may not have gone as smoothly as originally planned, but it looks like it’s working itself out anyway.

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NERD Game Scores for Monday, May 23, 2016

by Carson Cistulli - 5/23/2016 - Comments (7)

Devised originally in response to a challenge issued by sabermetric nobleman Rob Neyer, and expanded at the request of nobody, NERD scores represent an attempt to summarize in one number (and on a scale of 0-10) the likely aesthetic appeal or watchability, for the learned fan, of a player or team or game. Read more about the components of and formulae for NERD scores here.


Most Highly Rated Game
Oakland at Seattle | 22:10 ET
Hill (49.2 IP, 89 xFIP-) vs. Walker (42.2 IP, 78 xFIP-)
One might be inclined, instead of opting for this game, to choose the one which features the Rays and Marlins, on account of that contest offers not only (a) two reasonably compelling starters but also (b) one of the very best center-field cameras in all of baseball. As opposed to this game, that is, which features two compelling starters, as well, but one of the worst center-field cameras. Unless there have been developments in the meantime, that is. In which case: ignore this entire brief entry. Whatever the case, the consequences are almost non-existent and we’re an embarrassment to our ancestors.

Readers’ Preferred Television Broadcast: Oakland Athletics.

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Mike Clevinger: An Indians Righty on His First MLB Inning

by David Laurila - 5/23/2016 - Comments (2)

Mike Clevinger was nervous when he made his major-league debut with the Cleveland Indians last Wednesday. As a matter of fact, he was so nervous that he vomited prior to taking the mound. That didn’t prevent him from pitching well. The 25-year-old right-hander allowed just one run through five innings before faltering in the sixth. He wasn’t involved in the decision, but his club did come out on top in a 12-inning affair played in Cincinnati.

A fourth-round pick by the Angels in 2011, Clevinger came to Cleveland in the 2014 deal that sent Vinnie Pestano west. Prior to being called up, the impressively coifed native of Jacksonville, Florida, was 5-0 with a 3.03 ERA at Triple-A Columbus.

Clevinger talked about his debut outing — primarily his emotion-filled first inning of work — when Cleveland visited Boston over the weekend.


Clevinger on his mindset when he took the mound: “I remember trying not to look up. I was trying to just zone in on the catcher. Ever since I got to pro ball, what I’ve heard is, ‘Whenever that time comes, don’t look up. If you do, the moment will get you out of yourself. So all I thought was, ‘Stay within yourself, stay within yourself; don’t overthrow, don’t overthrow.’

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NERD Game Scores for Sunday, May 22, 2016

by Carson Cistulli - 5/22/2016 - Comments (1)

Devised originally in response to a challenge issued by sabermetric nobleman Rob Neyer, and expanded at the request of nobody, NERD scores represent an attempt to summarize in one number (and on a scale of 0-10) the likely aesthetic appeal or watchability, for the learned fan, of a player or team or game. Read more about the components of and formulae for NERD scores here.


Most Highly Rated Game
Chicago NL at San Francisco | 20:05 ET
Hendricks (41.0 IP, 75 xFIP-) vs. Bumgarner (58.2 IP, 85 xFIP-)
It doesn’t require a brain surgeon to recognize that a game featuring two of the league’s more successful pitchers and more successful clubs — that such a game would possess some interest for the public. There’s also no reason to believe, however, that a medical doctor trained specifically in the field of neurology would be particularly well-suited to diagnosing the likely aesthetic value of such a game. There are a number of neurosurgeons, presumably, who have almost no familiarity with the Pastime. Like Nate’s dad, for example. He’s a neurosurgeon, but what does he know about sport? Nothing, is what.

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Sunday Notes: Khris Davis, Naquin's Pop, Reds, Rockies, more

by David Laurila - 5/22/2016 - Comments (6)

The numbers suggest that Khris Davis should be labeled a power hitter. Since the beginning of last season, the Oakland outfielder is hitting .244/.308/.504 with 39 home runs in 603 plate appearances. This past week, he had a three-homer game capped off by a walk-off grand slam.

A few days before his heroics, I opined to Davis that he’s best described by said label. He demurred.

“That’s arguable,” answered the 28-year-old former Brewer. “It’s just what everybody’s judgment is of me. I don’t think I’m a power hitter.”

Color me a skeptic. Not only is Davis among the league leaders in home runs this year, he went deep 21 times over the second half of last season. If he’s not a power hitter, where are the bombs coming from?

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NERD Game Scores: Buy-Low Psychic Investment Opportunity

by Carson Cistulli - 5/21/2016 - Comments (2)

Devised originally in response to a challenge issued by sabermetric nobleman Rob Neyer, and expanded at the request of nobody, NERD scores represent an attempt to summarize in one number (and on a scale of 0-10) the likely aesthetic appeal or watchability, for the learned fan, of a player or team or game. Read more about the components of and formulae for NERD scores here.


Most Highly Rated Game
Tampa Bay at Detroit | 16:10 ET
Smyly (49.2 IP, 85 xFIP-) vs. Fulmer (19.1 IP, 85 xFIP-)
The virtues of Drew Smyly as a pitcher are what Thomas Jefferson — and also anyone who possesses some facility with English — might describe as “self-evident.” As for Michael Fulmer‘s virtues as a pitcher, those are decidedly less evident at the moment. Because one of the things he’s done is to concede earned runs at a rate about 50% higher than an average pitcher. By this measure, his virtues are rather obscure. But look: he’s produced a fielding-independent line that’s roughly a standard deviation better than the average starter’s. And a sitting fastball velocity more than a standard deviation better. And he’s also more than a standard deviation younger than the average starter. The marginal return on your psychic investment in Michael Fulmer is likely to be enormous. Thanks to Michael Fulmer, you’re going to be flush with psychic currency.

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The Best of FanGraphs: May 16-20, 2016

by Paul Swydan - 5/21/2016 - Comments (0)

Each week, we publish north of 100 posts on our various blogs. With this post, we hope to highlight 10 to 15 of them. You can read more on it here. The links below are color coded — green for FanGraphs, brown for RotoGraphs, dark red for The Hardball Times and blue for Community Research.

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Is Marcell Ozuna Breaking Out?

by Craig Edwards - 5/20/2016 - Comments (3)

Marcell Ozuna is the third-best outfielder on his team. He can’t match the power and discipline of Giancarlo Stanton, and he can’t match the patient, contact-oriented approach of rising star Christian Yelich. Partially related to those two statements, Yelich and Stanton have signed contracts worth nearly $400 million total while Ozuna, despite possessing more service time than Yelich and having played 50 more games than Stanton since the start of 2014, will be paid near the league minimum this year. Ozuna is off to a great start this season, and we might want to look for changes to his game after a rough 2015 season, but Ozuna is very much a similar player to the one that slugged 23 homers back in 2014.

Ozuna has a fairly unique game. He has good power, but in more than 1500 plate appearances, it has only shown up as average with a .157 ISO. He walks at a below average rate (6% for his career), strikes out at a below-average rate (23% for his career), and has maintained a high .331 BABIP. Together, it has made him a roughly average offensive player, and a difficult home park elevates his wRC+ to 104. Not too bad. On defense, Ozuna has recorded nearly 3,000 innings in center field and both UZR and DRS place him right at average. Average offense and average defense in center field combine for an above-average player. Average to above-average might sound a bit boring, but Ozuna’s streaky performance and perceived inconsistency means he gets to his stats in rather exciting fashion.

Ozuna has had one really good year, in 2014, followed by a disappointing season in 2015 that saw him receive a demotion in the middle of the season, although that demotion might have been tied more closely to Ozuna’s super-two status and his agent Scott Boras rather than any strict performance-related deficiencies. This season, Ozuna is back, picking up where he left off at the end of 2015 and playing like the player who exhibited so much promise two seasons ago. How long will this last? It’s hard to say.

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What's Wrong With Matt Harvey?

by Eno Sarris - 5/20/2016 - Comments (59)

Yes. What is wrong with Matt Harvey? Because if you watch him pitch, it seems like everything is wrong, and yet nothing at all. At least, it’s hard to put your finger on it. You run down the list of things that could explain why he has an ERA near five and the worst ERA estimators of his career, and you find little things here or there. But do you find a smoking gun?

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Ian Kinsler is Turning Back the Clock

by Owen Watson - 5/20/2016 - Comments (10)

Usually, we expect players to follow a more or less expected curve of decline when they hit their 30s. Obviously everyone is different, but baseball is a young man’s game, and father time comes for us all. Research by Jeff Zimmerman in 2013 showed that hitters don’t even tend to peak nowadays: on average, they perform at a plateau upon reaching the majors, then they decline. Take the wRC+ aging curve for a few different time periods, for instance:

We often talk about a player being “in his prime,” but primes are probably younger than many (or most) people think. In this era, 26 is really the beginning of the average hitter’s offensive decline. Which brings us to Ian Kinsler, who will turn 34 in June: he’s currently posting what would be the highest wRC+ of his career, and Isolated Power marks in line with his best home run-hitting seasons of 2009/2011. That isn’t particularly huge news: plenty of veteran hitters have ~40 game stretches in which they match close to their prime production.

The real news is that Kinsler is currently going beyond that, showing a few underlying indicators that amount to him turning back the clock. He’s also altered his approach, and the combined forces are helping to drive what is currently shaping up to be his best offensive season since he posted a 123 wRC+ with 32 homers in 2011. Kinsler is probably never going to steal 30 bases again (or maybe even 20), but he’s picking up that slack in his production at the plate, especially power-wise.

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Eric Longenhagen Prospects Chat - 5/20/16

by elongenhagen - 5/20/2016 - Comments (1)

Eric A Longenhagen: Let’s begin.
Oliver: Thoughts on Baby Sandman (Mariano Jr)? Looks like hes off to a good start, but k/9s dropped from last year and his walks are up a lot
Eric A Longenhagen: Mariano III (that’s right, he’s a third, not a junior) hadn’t played a whole lot of baseball before he was drafted so there’s just more room to project on the total package. Value-wise, the upside is limited because he’s never going to be more than a reliever.
Patrick: Best pitch featured by a Phillies pitcher: Nola’s curveball, Vince’s fastball, or Neris’s splitter?
Eric A Longenhagen: Nola’s curveball plays up against righties because of his arm slot and really isn’t more than a 55 or 60. I’ll say Neris’ splitter. I have no idea where that came from.
Anonymous Coward: Thoughts on taking HS pitchers 1-1 in general? What about in the case of Groome?

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Adam Wainwright May Have Found Something

by August Fagerstrom - 5/20/2016 - Comments (7)

You don’t need numbers to gain a sense of how Adam Wainwright‘s season has started. You just need Adam Wainwright postgame quotes. After his Opening Day start, he wasn’t “anywhere close to being excited,” and called himself “the definition of average.” The next start tied his “career-high-of frustration level” because he was “so upset about the way the ball [was] coming out.” After start number three, he postulated that he’d “made more mistakes these first three games than [he had in] entire seasons.” Start four: “still not great” and “getting tired of losing.” Following his penultimate outing: “The only way I can move on from that is I have to start over. It’s a new season for me from now on.”

That’s a brief rundown of the first eight starts of Adam Wainwright’s 2016 season, in words. I said you didn’t need the numbers, but now you’re going to get them anyway. Through those eight outings, Wainwright ran a 6.80 ERA. The FIP was better, but still a below-average 4.32, and the expected FIP even worse than that. The strikeouts were way down from what we’ve come to expect, the walks were up, and too many balls were being put in the air and leaving the yard. It was the worst stretch of eight games that Wainwright had had in nearly a decade.

Wainwright being 34, and his arm having had the number of surgeries it’s had, a start to a season like that raises some questions. It raises some questions that would be tough to ask to Wainwright’s face. He probably didn’t care about the questions, but he still wanted to give some answers to make the questions stop. Consider his most recent start like the beginning of an answer.

As far as professional athletes go, Wainwright is notably candid. If his stuff isn’t good, even in a win, he’s going to say his stuff wasn’t good. A couple of those negative quotes from the first paragraph came after victories. He doesn’t beat around the bush when it comes to his opinion of how he pitched. The key quote following his most recent outing: “I’m dangerous. You can say I’m dangerous again.”

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The Fringe Five: Baseball’s Most Compelling Fringe Prospects

by Carson Cistulli - 5/20/2016 - Comments (12)

The Fringe Five is a weekly regular-season exercise, introduced a few years ago by the present author, wherein that same author utilizes regressed stats, scouting reports, and also his own fallible intuition to identify and/or continue monitoring the most compelling fringe prospects in all of baseball.

Central to the exercise, of course, is a definition of the word fringe, a term which possesses different connotations for different sorts of readers. For the purposes of the column this year, a fringe prospect (and therefore one eligible for inclusion in the Five) is any rookie-eligible player at High-A or above who (a) received a future value grade of 45 or less from Dan Farnsworth during the course of his organizational lists and who (b) was omitted from the preseason prospect lists produced by Baseball America, Baseball Prospectus, and John Sickels, and also who (c) is currently absent from a major-league roster. Players appearing on an updated prospect list or, otherwise, selected in the first round of the current season’s amateur draft will also be excluded from eligibility.

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NERD Game Scores for Friday, May 20, 2016

by Carson Cistulli - 5/20/2016 - Comments (2)

Devised originally in response to a challenge issued by sabermetric nobleman Rob Neyer, and expanded at the request of nobody, NERD scores represent an attempt to summarize in one number (and on a scale of 0-10) the likely aesthetic appeal or watchability, for the learned fan, of a player or team or game. Read more about the components of and formulae for NERD scores here.


Most Highly Rated Game
Toronto at Minnesota | 20:10 ET
Sanchez (52.0 IP, 84 xFIP-) vs. Duffey (24.1 IP, 84 xFIP-)
While it’s possible, it’s not at all probable, that all DJ Khaled does “is win.” Or, if his life really is marked by constant victory, it’s almost certainly the product of some seriously risk-averse behavior. For example: has he ever played chess? It’s unlikely that DJ Khaled would defeat a grandmaster, or even a pretty good master. Has he ever tried drugs? Because, when you try drugs, everybody loses. And here one finds merely two examples in which failure, of some sort, is inevitable. With regard to Minnesota right-hander Tyler Duffey, it’s incorrect to say that all he does is win, too. But during his brief major-league career, he’s recorded fielding-independent numbers — and also other kinds of numbers — that suggest he’s likely to win more than he loses. Which isn’t a comment one maybe expected to make about Tyler Duffey two years ago or one year ago.

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Your Team Chemistry Ratings

by Jeff Sullivan - 5/20/2016 - Comments (36)

Think about everything you’ve ever heard about team chemistry. People say it’s an important thing, maybe the most important thing, but it’s impossible to put any numbers to. So let’s put some numbers to it.


Those are numbers. Those are your numbers, in fact. I guess you could say those are technically bars, which represent numbers, but, you know what I mean. And, you’re responsible for what you’re looking at. I polled you guys on Tuesday. That’s the meat of the outcome. Congratulations, Cubs. Sorry about your clubhouse, Atlanta.

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What Jackie Bradley Jr. Figured Out

by Jeff Sullivan - 5/19/2016 - Comments (41)

Jackie Bradley Jr. has been doing amazing things. To be absolutely clear, they’ve all been doing amazing things. Every last one of them. That 91 mile-per-hour sinker outside? Amazing. That opposite-field roller past the shortstop? Amazing. The reason we bother to pay attention in the first place is because everything that happens out there is amazing, performed by amazing players. Yet Bradley has been particularly amazing. Here’s an amazing thing from yesterday:

Bradley is riding a long hitting streak, and while we don’t really care too much about hitting streaks, on their own, they’re tightly correlated to good offense. That’s what we do care about. This year, Bradley ranks eighth in baseball in wRC+, between Manny Machado and Nick Castellanos. Of course, some things still look a little weird — Aledmys Diaz, for example, ranks second. So looking over the past calendar year, Bradley ranks 15th. That covers 401 trips to the plate, and he’s sandwiched between Machado and Nelson Cruz. Regardless of whether this is for real, Bradley is now definitely a hitter. And in this season, he seems to have taken one more step.

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WAR: Batters
Mike Trout3.0
Jose Altuve2.8
Dexter Fowler2.8
Manny Machado2.7
Nolan Arenado2.5
WAR: Pitchers
Clayton Kershaw3.5
Noah Syndergaard2.5
Jose Quintana2.3
Chris Sale2.2
Johnny Cueto2.2
WPA: Batters
Ian Desmond2.35
Bryce Harper2.35
Jay Bruce2.08
David Ortiz2.02
Robinson Cano2.01
Chris Sale2.68
Johnny Cueto1.74
Clayton Kershaw1.72
Noah Syndergaard1.71
Jose Quintana1.55
Zach Britton1.71
Jeurys Familia1.55
Will Harris1.47
Erasmo Ramirez1.43
Jeremy Jeffress1.38
Fastball (mph): SP
Noah Syndergaard98.0
Nathan Eovaldi96.8
Garrett Richards95.6
Danny Duffy95.5
Jonathan Gray95.5