Kyle Schwarber and Hefty Leadoff Hitters

by Paul Swydan - 2/24/2017 - Comments (9)

Yesterday, Chicago Cubs manager Joe Maddon made some headlines by claiming he was considering making Kyle Schwarber his leadoff hitter this season. Mostly, that this was a big headline reflects the fact that this is one of the slowest times in the baseball calendar — players have been at camp for awhile now, yet games are just beginning, and in many cases the best players haven’t suited up yet. It’s a slow time. Still, it’s an interesting idea. The first thought that came to my mind was, would Kyle Schwarber be the heaviest leadoff hitter of all-time?

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Can Jesse Hahn Get His Groove Back?

by tsawchik - 2/24/2017 - Comments (2)

You might have forgotten about Jesse Hahn, but I assure you he is alive and well and competing for a spot in the Oakland rotation this spring.

Elbow issues cut his 2015 season short, and a shoulder strain and performance inconsistency limited him to 46 innings with the A’s last season when he posted a 5.63 FIP and an ugly 2% K-BB% mark. It was a lost year for Hahn.

But Hahn was recently one of the more intriguing arms in the sport.

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How to Fix Arbitration for Relievers

by Dave Cameron - 2/24/2017 - Comments (10)

Last week, Dellin Betances lost his arbitration case after his agents attempted to argue that he should be paid like an elite reliever, which, of course, he is. But because arbitration is based on historical comparisons and mostly rely on traditional metrics, Betances wasn’t able to overcome his lack of saves, which is effectively the deciding metric for how much a reliever will get in arbitration.

This is a problem for Major League Baseball. The ideas about traditional bullpen usage are finally breaking down, and increasingly, teams are looking to deploy elite relievers in situations before the ninth inning. But if you’re a young pitcher, and you know that the system the league uses to value your performance depends almost entirely on how many saves you rack up, there isn’t a good incentive for you to agree to that kind of role. The way the system is setup, the best young relievers are financially motivated to try and move into the closer’s role as quickly as possible, because that’s the only bullpen role that arbiters put a significant value on. The arbitration system is effectively propping up 1990s-style bullpen usage, and it’s going to hinder the buy-in from players on a better way to deploy relievers during the season.

As Ken Rosenthal wrote, maybe the best answer to this problem (and the many other problems with arbitration) is to just get rid of the process entirely, which costs both teams and agencies thousands of hours of work for no real purpose. As Rosenthal notes, it wouldn’t be that difficult to design an algorithm that could determine the salaries of pre-free-agent players, and could take into account more meaningful metrics than the ones generally considered by the arbiters making the decisions now.

But at this point, that’s a pipe dream. Dumping the arbitration system might be a long-term reality, but Dellin Betances probably won’t still be pitching by the time that actually has the chance of happening. So how do we fix arbitration before one of the game’s truly great relief pitchers spends the next three years getting his pay docked simply because he’s not pitching the ninth inning? It’s probably easier than we might think.

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What Teams Are Stuck In Between?

by tsawchik - 2/24/2017 - Comments (17)

To preview MLB spring training, Tyler Kepner examined the competitive “window” status — that is, the realistic possibility for contention — of all 30 major-league clubs earlier this month for the New York Times. Kepner employed four logical window designations: closed, open, closing and opening.

I think reasonable people can mostly agree that the Cubs’ window of contention is open, and the White Sox’ window is closed. The Royals’ is perhaps closing, and the Braves’ is opening (if not in 2017, then soon). While we will not agree on every status, it’s an interesting exercise.

Windows of contention are an interesting concept, particularly in an era of two Wild Cards in each league. How do teams balance the future and present? How do clubs play a so-so hand knowing the unpredictability of the game? Few teams are able to sustain long windows of contention. The Braves of the 1990s and early 2000s and the Cardinals of the 21st century have done it as well as any team in the in the Wild Card era.

It’s also easier to operate if you suspect your window is either completely open or closed. If you’re the Cubs and Indians last deadline, you’re willing to trade significant young assets for impact relief help. If you suspect your window is closed, like the White Sox, you’re willing to deal assets like Chris Sale and Adam Eaton. There’s a clarity in decision-making, in creating a strategy and plan to implement.

Said Texas Rangers GM Jon Daniels to FanGraphs’ David Laurila on charting a course:

“Something our management team has talked about a lot is the mistake we made our first year here, in 2006. We were caught in the middle. We convinced ourselves that if A, B, and C went right, we had a chance to win, and I think you can make the case that, for any team, it’s not a sustainable strategy.”

Being caught in the middle is the most difficult position for a club. Consider, for instance, a team with some relatively young stars at the major-league level. The front office thought this core of players would form the foundation of a contending team, but it’s not surrounded with the requisite depth, prospects or resources to realistically contend and sustain. The White Sox entered the season in that position. In the meantime, they’ve chosen a course. The Angels, Diamondbacks, Marlins, and Twins could all face difficult decisions in choosing paths in the not-too-distant future.

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Jeff Sullivan FanGraphs Chat -- 2/24/17

by Jeff Sullivan - 2/24/2017 - Comments (7)

9:08
Jeff Sullivan: Hello friends

9:08
Jeff Sullivan: Welcome to Friday baseball chat

9:08
Bork: Hello, friend!

9:08
Jeff Sullivan: Hello friend

9:08
ChiSox2020: Is Boston’s outfield going to be all time great on both sides of the ball?

9:10
Jeff Sullivan: Allow me to say this much —

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Charlie Blackmon and Chris Denorfia on Launch Angles

by David Laurila - 2/24/2017 - Comments (1)

Charlie Blackmon and Chris Denorfia share a similar philosophy when it comes to swing paths and launch angles. Each eschews chopping wood and champions the value of hitting the ball in the air, not on the ground. But while the Colorado Rockies’ outfielders are kindred spirits when it comes to process, their approaches to the science aren’t alike. One is more studious in his pursuit. The other is satisfied to simply be aware of the concept.

Blackmon and Denorfia shared their thoughts on the subject earlier this week.

———

Charlie Blackmon: “I try not to get super technical. I do understand that I want to match the angle of my bat with the angle that the pitch is coming in. I think that’s the best way to transfer the most energy into the ball. In saying that, I can feel what’s good and what’s bad. I can feel when I’m hitting the ball hard and when I’m just spinning the ball — I’m swinging at too much of a downward angle and just clipping it — as opposed to squaring it up and getting a lot of my energy transferred to the ball, with a better bat path.

“I haven’t seen a lot of the data, to be honest. I’d be interested in seeing it. But I think that no matter what the data says, I don’t think you can know what the launch angle is, and then backwards engineer a good swing. I think that would be hard.

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How Dellin Betances Lost $10 Million

by Craig Edwards - 2/24/2017 - Comments (30)

Dellin Betances made medium-level news a week ago when he lost his arbitration case. He’d been asking for $5 million — less, for example, than Trevor Rosenthal had made in his first crack at arbitration the season before. The Yankees, meanwhile, submitted a $3 million figure. The case went to arbitration, and the Yankees won. Randy Levine then took the medium-sized news and turned into big news by acting like a fool. While the $2 million difference might not seem like a big deal for Betances when he’s still guaranteed to receive $3 million, the affect on Betances’ finances in the coming years will be significantly greater.

Arbitration isn’t exactly the simplest of systems. Teams submit blind amounts, and if the parties can’t agree on a deal beforehand, they go to hearing. The FanGraphs glossary explains the process in slightly more detail, but if the player and team go to hearing, the arbitration panel decides on either the team’s figure or the player’s figure, with no option to choose a number in between. This makes the arbitration a winner-take-all scenario. If arbitrators could choose a number in the middle, settlements would be even more likely, simplifying the process and lead to far less debate. They can’t, though, and that means that arbitration decisions have a significant impact.

Also relevant is how service time fits into the process. Players’ salaries gradually increase based on service time, rendering the previous season’s salary quite relevant, as it represents the starting point for a raise. A few different researchers have gone through and figured out exactly how much salaries increase during arbitration. (Here’s a good one, for example.) As a general rule, though, it comes to something like a 50% increase in salary every year. Small differences, especially early in the arbitration process, compound to make bigger differences over time.

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An Exploration of the Longest Home Run of 2016

by NickS94 - 2/24/2017 - Comments (4)

Eno took some time on Wednesday to talk about last season’s unluckiest changeup. Today, we’re going to talk about a changeup that wasn’t unlucky so much as it was woefully misplaced. It was a first-pitch changeup that was as middle-middle as one can be.

That’s where the title comes in. Let’s roll the film.

You may remember this dinger from a recent article here about Giancarlo Stanton. Statcast says it was the longest blast of the year, at a staggering 504.35 feet. It’s pretty easy to understand how this happened.

Three variables are at work:

  1. Giancarlo Stanton is more machine than man, a T-800 who warped back in time and stole a baseball bat from an innocent bystander instead of boots and a leather jacket.
  2. Coors Field is the Cape Canaveral of baseball.
  3. Chad Bettis missed his spot with a changeup pretty badly.

I don’t need explain the first point very much. You know all about Giancarlo Stanton and what he’s capable of doing. You’ve seen him lay waste to baseballs. His muscles are made of steel rebar. He’s been doing this for years, and if we’re lucky, he’ll do it for a while longer.

I also don’t need to explain point No. 2 very much. Coors is in Denver, and the 20th row of seats in the upper deck at Coors is exactly a mile above sea level. That means the air is thin, which means the ball flies further. This is good for guys like Stanton and bad for anybody who stands on the pitcher’s mound. Unfortunately, that includes Bettis.

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Effectively Wild Episode 1024: Season Preview Series: Nationals and Twins

by Ben Lindbergh - 2/24/2017 - Comments (1)

EWFI

Ben Lindbergh and Jeff Sullivan banter about an Andrew Miller image and the top-heavy projected standings, then preview the Nationals’ 2017 season with Chelsea Janes of the The Washington Post and the Twins’ 2017 season with Aaron Gleeman of Baseball Prospectus.

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Baseball's Unusually Top-Heavy Landscape

by Jeff Sullivan - 2/23/2017 - Comments (27)

This is another post about the standings and the projections. We’ll do other stuff soon. Just not yet. All right, so, these are our current projected standings for 2017. The top six teams, along with their projected win totals:

  • Cubs, 95 wins
  • Dodgers, 94
  • Red Sox, 93
  • Indians, 92
  • Astros, 91
  • Nationals, 91

One quality representative from every division. That’s a pretty damn even spread. I also recently opened the team projections up to community debate. Earlier today, I analyzed the results, and here’s the community’s top six teams:

  • Cubs, 96 wins
  • Dodgers, 94
  • Red Sox, 93
  • Indians, 93
  • Nationals, 91
  • Astros, 90

There are some slight single-game shifts in there, but the level of agreement is strong. The projections identify six obvious favorites, and you, as a group, expect similar results. There’s nothing particularly strange about baseball having a tier of elites, but this time around we’re talking about six teams projected to win at least 90 games. That’s uncommon!

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Tony Cingrani Needs a New Pitch, Is Working on It

by tsawchik - 2/23/2017 - Comments (3)

We know early spring-training coverage, February coverage, is littered with Best Shape of His Life stories. While there’s no database to track the impact and predictive power of these stories, the general sense is they generally do not correlate with dramatically better performance in the following season.

In a FanGraphs chat a couple weeks ago, one questioner asked me to what types of stories I pay attention early in the spring. What really matters this time of year? It’s a good question. One story line that does interest me in February — something that can perhaps provide real value and change — is the addition of a new pitch.

Jason Collette was kind enough this week to track every reported pitch addition to date in 2017. Perhaps the new pitch about which we should be most excited isn’t really a pitcher adding a new pitch at all, but bringing back an old one. Eno Sarris is excited about the return of Dylan Bundy’s cutter, a pitch once described as “a supreme piece of aerodynamic filth” by former-BP-writer-turned-Cubs-scout Jason Parks. Imagine Andrew Miller with another weapon or Joe Ross with a much-needed changeup.

But perhaps no one needs a new pitch more than one lefty experimenting with one this spring: Reds reliever Tony Cingrani. (And no group in baseball needs more help than what was a historically poor bullpen in Cincinnati last season.)

Cingrani told MLB.com the cutter he began developing this offseason is “just another way to get guys out… [The cutter] feels comfortable.”

But Cingrani really has had only one way, to date, to get major-league hitters out. Among all pitchers who tossed at least 40 innings last season, Cingrani led baseball in fastball usage, throwing his four-seam fastball 89.5% of the time.

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2016 Hitter Contact-Quality Report: A Few AL Non-Qualifiers

by Blengino - 2/23/2017 - Comments (5)

Throughout much of the offseason in this space, we’ve been taking a look at hitter contact quality, using 2016 granular exit-speed and launch-angle data as our guide. We’re down to the last two installments, in which some non-qualifying hitters from both leagues will be reviewed.

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Here Is What You Think of Our Team Projections

by Jeff Sullivan - 2/23/2017 - Comments (22)

Now to analyze my favorite polling project every year. We’re a site known for its math and projections. Most of the time, we just do the math and supply the projections, and that’s the end of it. Less attention is given to community feedback. In this project, you, the community, fed back!

This is a link to our projected-standings page, which tries to forecast the 2017 regular season based on Steamer, ZiPS, and our manually-maintained team depth charts. You see projected records there, but that doesn’t mean you have to like them or agree with them. On Tuesday, I asked you all to weigh in on the American League projections. On Wednesday, I asked you all to weigh in on the National League projections. I don’t know why I just linked to those posts, because there’s no point in voting anymore, because I’m already analyzing the results right here. Two things I can tell you right off the bat: The community is high on the Rockies, and down on the A’s.

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Dan Szymborski FanGraphs Chat - 2/23/17

by Carson Cistulli - 2/23/2017 - Comments (3)

2:00
Dan Szymborski: And away we go! Thanks for coming guys, had some internet issues yesterday.

2:01
Kevin: The Brewers best starting pitcher this year will be __________________

2:02
Dan Szymborski: Teddy Higuera 1986 remains the best starting pitcher for the Brewers as of 2017!

2:02
Dan Szymborski: You guys know my position on fill in the blanks! Just be gald I didn’t say fart.

2:02
Geoff Williams: If a team was projected to go 81-81, and added a batter who you knew would homer every at bat- but was limited to 15 pinch hit appearance through entire year, would that team be a World Series favourite?

2:03
Dan Szymborski: A playoff favorite, but I think you’d run out of PH appearances for the playoffs.

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How Would You Comp Yasiel Puig?

by Eno Sarris - 2/23/2017 - Comments (35)

Perspective matters a great deal when you’re trying to look at a question and find the unfiltered truth. It’s true of all statistical analysis, but it becomes even more obvious when you’re trying to find comparable historical players.

Where do you set the cutoffs? How far back do you go in the player pool? How far back do you go in the player’s own career? If you manipulate the variables, you can get all sorts of different results. That’s why it’s so hard to analyze a player simply by finding other, similar players. The very idea of similar is difficult to pin down.

Take Yasiel Puig, for example. Pull the strings a little differently each time, and his comps vary wildly.

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Eno Sarris Baseball Chat -- 2/23/17

by Eno Sarris - 2/23/2017 - Comments (0)

1:46
Eno Sarris: be right there

12:00
Kiermaier’s Piercing Green Eyes: If this is how the Internet reacts to intentional walks being removed, I’m afraid of what’s going to happen when the NL gets the DH.

12:00
Eno Sarris: Lots of handwringing, all caps screaming, things of that nature.

12:01
Sandy A.: Any word on how the new ballpark in ATL is gonna play?

12:01
Eno Sarris: I saw that the fences were a few feet shorter in the power alleys but weather is the biggest part of park factors, so about the same I’d guess.

12:01
Black Beard’s Delight: Home sick with a fever of 102, but it’s ENO SARRIS BASEBALL CHAT!!!!!!

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All Arrows Pointing Up for Diamondbacks Rotation

by tsawchik - 2/23/2017 - Comments (10)

On December 2, new Diamondbacks general manger Mike Hazen announced the hire of Mike Fitzgerald to lead the Diamondbacks’ analytics department. Perhaps Fitzgerald’s most notable contribution in Pittsburgh, where he was the No. 2-ranking analyst, was pounding the table for then free agent Russell Martin — and, at the same time, the power of pitch-framing — at the close of the 2012 season.

On December 2, the Diamondbacks elected to non-tender incumbent starting catcher Welington Castillo, which surprised some in and around the industry. Castillo led an Arizona catching group that finished 26th in framing runs last season, according to Baseball Prospectus.

On December 2, the Diamondbacks reached an agreement with catcher Jeff Mathis on a two-year deal. On a per-pitch basis, among catchers who received at least 1,000 pitches last season, Mathis was was the ninth-best framer, according to StatCorner, and the best free-agent catcher available by that measure. While in a reserve role last season, Mathis graded out as the 13th-best defensive catcher in baseball, according to Baseball Prospectus. Castillo ranked 95th. New Diamondbacks manager Torey Lovullo said at the winter meetings that there is no clear-cut No. 1 catcher and that Mathis will split the work load with Chris Herrmann.

Said Lovullo to reporters in Washington, D.C, in December:

“We believe in the metrics. We believe in the data. We believe in trying to do as much research as possible. We have a great team of people that are working hard behind the scenes.”

It was on December 2, 2016, that the Diamondbacks joined the 21st century. And no group of players stands to benefit more than the Diamondback starting pitchers. As noted by Mike Petriello on Tuesday in an excellent piece for MLB.com, Zack Greinke is a good bounce-back candidate for 2017 due to the club’s improved framing and defense. Indeed, everyone in the Diamondbacks staff is a good bet to improve.

Greinke will be Exhibit A, though.

As Petriello notes, according to Baseball Prospectus’ values, no pitcher benefited more from framing than Greinke in 2015. It’s part of the reason I led my 2015 NL Cy Young ballot with Jake Arrieta in a tight race, as Greinke benefited from Yasmani Grandal.

Greinke fell from first to 725th last year in framing support, a 15-run drop.

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GMs' View: Picking a Direction and Staying the Course

by David Laurila - 2/23/2017 - Comments (11)

How necessary is it for an MLB front office to pick a direction and stay the course? Based on the responses of 10 general managers I queried on Tuesday, there isn’t a simple answer. A lot of factors go into the decision to rebuild, especially when it’s a complete teardown. Ditto going all in to win now. That typically costs money — a bigger issue for some organizations than others — and often involves trading top prospects, which compromises the future.

A third option is to remain a middle-of-the-road team, not good enough to seriously contend, nor bad enough to seriously build for the future. Addressing short-term needs to go from 80 wins to 82, more often than not, is a recipe for baseball purgatory.

Here is what the executives had to say on the subject.

———

Chris Antonetti, Cleveland Indians: “Each team has its own opportunities and challenges within its market. It’s incumbent upon the leadership within that organization to develop a path to success, and that path could look very different in one market than it will in another.

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Syndergaard, Gray Top Extension Candidates Among Pitchers

by Craig Edwards - 2/23/2017 - Comments (14)

Last spring, for the first time in a decade, maybe more, no pre-arbitration pitchers signed a contract extension taking away multiple free-agent seasons. There were a few decent candidates in Jacob deGrom, Sonny Gray, and Carlos Martinez, the last of whom just signed a contract extension of his own earlier this winter. None of those players signed last spring, however, and it’s a possible indicator of a chilling effect on these types of extensions. The lack of deals isn’t due to a lack of candidates, though. In fact, a few of the best pitchers in baseball might be prime for long-term extensions.

When attempting to characterize the recent history of such deals, it’s difficult to say what’s a trend and what’s a random event because only two to five players sign extensions of this sort every year. The recent drought might be a product of players and agents beginning to recognize how much clubs were benefiting from signing extensions with younger players. It’s possible, on the other hand, that teams were less likely to dole out guarantees when the outcome of the CBA was in doubt. When Madison Bumgarner signed his extension right as the 2012 season was starting, he was one of five young pitchers to do so. When Chris Sale signed his ahead of the 2013 season, he was the only one. Sale and Bumgarner’s contracts have proved to be two of the bigger bargains in the majors.

When the White Sox traded Chris Sale to the Red Sox for Yoan Moncada, Michael Kopech, Luis Alexander Basabe, and Victor Diaz, they weren’t just trading Chris Sale. The White Sox were also trading Chris Sale’s contract, which included a $12 million salary for 2017 and options for 2018 and 2019 totaling $26 million. If Sale hadn’t signed that contract, he would have been a free agent this winter and received $200 million. San Francisco has no interest in trading Madison Bumgarner — who would have also been a free agent this winter — while they’re contending, so his value to the Giants is greater as a player on the field than in a trade. His contract is similar to Sale’s and so favorable that it had some discussing whether the team should negotiate a contract extension out of fairness, which does have some precedent.

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Effectively Wild Episode 1023: Mike Trout, But Backward

by Ben Lindbergh - 2/22/2017 - Comments (0)

EWFI

Ben Lindbergh and Jeff Sullivan banter about a Steven Matz tweet, the Reds and Ryan Raburn, and the automatic intentional walk, then answer listener emails about misleading headshots, pitchers who rely on one pitch, the decline of player nicknames, the Yankees’ refusal to lose, Josh Reddick’s lack of clutchness, making Mike Trout run backward, and more..

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WAR: Batters
Mike Trout9.4
Kris Bryant8.4
Mookie Betts7.8
Josh Donaldson7.6
Corey Seager7.5
WAR: Pitchers
Clayton Kershaw6.5
Noah Syndergaard6.5
Jose Fernandez6.1
Max Scherzer5.6
Johnny Cueto5.5
WPA: Batters
Mike Trout6.64
Josh Donaldson4.29
David Ortiz4.24
Joey Votto4.04
Paul Goldschmidt3.98
WPA: SP
Jon Lester4.99
Johnny Cueto4.62
Clayton Kershaw4.57
Max Scherzer4.24
Kyle Hendricks4.23
WPA: RP
Zach Britton6.39
Andrew Miller5.04
Sam Dyson3.73
Mark Melancon3.43
Jeremy Jeffress3.08
Fastball (mph): SP
Noah Syndergaard97.9
Nathan Eovaldi97.0
James Paxton96.8
Yordano Ventura96.1
Reynaldo Lopez95.9