Effectively Wild Episode 1025: Season Preview Series: Giants and Braves

by Ben Lindbergh - 2/27/2017 - Comments (0)

EWFI

Ben Lindbergh and Jeff Sullivan follow up on an Andrew Miller discussion and banter about Cubs backlash, then preview the Giants’ 2017 season with Grant Brisbee of SB Nation and the Braves’ 2017 season with Mark Bradley of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

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Are We at the High-Water Mark for Shifting in Baseball?

by Eno Sarris - 2/27/2017 - Comments (4)

Here’s the thing about bunting: it can be a good idea if the third baseman is playing too far back. The chance of a hit goes up in that case, and a successful bunt often causes the third baseman to play more shallow in future plate appearances, so future balls in play receive a benefit. That’s one of those games within a game we see all the time in baseball: once the positioning deviates from “normal” by a certain degree, the batter receives a benefit. Then the defender has to change his approach.

This tension created by the bunt illustrates how offenses and defenses react to each other’s tendencies. That same sort of balance between fielder and hitter might be playing out on an even broader scale, however, when it comes to the shift in general.

Too many shifts in the game, and the players begin to adjust. They develop more of a two-strike approach, they find a way to put the ball in play on the ground the other way, or they make sure that they lift the ball if they’re going to pull it. There’s evidence that players are already working on lifting the ball more as a group, pulling the ball in the air more often than they have in five years, and have improved on hitting opposite-field ground balls. So maybe this next table is no surprise.

The League vs. the Shift
Year Shift wOBABIP No Shift wOBABIP
2013 0.280 0.294
2014 0.288 0.294
2015 0.286 0.291
2016 0.292 0.297
wOBA = weighted on base average on balls in play

The league has improved against the shift! The shift is dead! Or, wait: the league has actually improved as a whole over this timeframe, and the difference between the two is still about the same. And every team would take a .292 wOBA against over a .297 number. Long live the shift.

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It's Difficult to Exaggerate Aaron Judge's Power

by Jeff Sullivan - 2/27/2017 - Comments (12)

There are always so many spring-training home runs. Generally speaking, there’s no reason for you to care about spring-training home runs. You might consider caring about this spring-training home run.

The stakes almost couldn’t be lower. The bases were empty in the bottom of the fifth of a game in the last week of February. Had the exhibition not been televised, that home run would live only in Twitter descriptions. But that’s a video of Aaron Judge going really, spectacularly deep, and that video immediately made the usual rounds. As spring training goes, that was headline news.

Judge, right now, is a 24-year-old with 95 big-league plate appearances, and a .608 big-league OPS. When he did come to bat for the Yankees, he struck out close to half of the time, so in that sense he is completely unproven. Yet there’s this one thing he doesn’t have to prove anymore. Aaron Judge doesn’t just make regular contact. When he makes contact — if he makes contact — it’s easy to see why the comparisons to Giancarlo Stanton are no exaggeration.

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The Fans Are Most Optimistic About Yoan Moncada

by Carson Cistulli - 2/27/2017 - Comments (8)

As of this moment, the writers at FanGraphs responsible for curating this site’s depth charts have allocated some type of playing time to 586 position players across the league’s 30 teams, from Freddie Freeman, Miguel Sano, and Carlos Santana at 665 plate appearances each down to Victor Caratini and Pedro Severino at just six a piece.

Of the 586 players who appear on those depth charts, 264 have received a sufficient quantity of fan ballots to earn a published projection. The fan assessments tend almost uniformly to skew optimistic. In the case of the 264 aforementioned players, for instance, the depth-chart projections (a combination of Steamer and ZiPS) call for an average of 2.1 WAR per every 600 plate appearances. The fans, meanwhile, call for 2.7 WAR per 600 plate appearances. That’s roughly a half-win difference for every player prorated to a full season.

Even though optimism is generally the rule in these matters, it comes in degrees. Nearly 20 players, for instance, receive a prorated fan projection that’s precisely a half-win better than the corresponding depth-chart projection. Over 170 players — i.e. about 65% of the entire sample — earn a fan-based projection that’s between 0.0 to 1.0 wins better than the figure produced by the the combination of Steamer and ZiPS.

The purpose of this brief post, however, is to consider briefly the players about whom the crowd is most optimistic. To identify that group, I prorated both the fan and depth-chart projections to 600 plate appearances and subtracted the latter result from the former. Here are the players who receive the top fan projections relative to their depth-chart numbers.

Players Most Highly Regarded by Fans (Relative to Projections)
Rank Name Club Fan600 Depth600 Diff
1 Yoan Moncada White Sox 4.6 0.6 3.9
2 Keon Broxton Brewers 3.6 1.4 2.3
3 Cameron Rupp Phillies 3.8 1.6 2.2
4 Brandon Drury D-backs 2.7 0.5 2.2
5 Guillermo Heredia Mariners 2.7 0.5 2.2
6 Byron Buxton Twins 4.7 2.6 2.0
7 Tim Anderson White Sox 3.7 1.6 2.0
8 Mallex Smith Rays 2.6 0.7 1.9
9 Willson Contreras Cubs 4.9 3.1 1.8
10 Luis Valbuena Angels 2.9 1.1 1.8
Fan600 denotes the FAN projections prorated to 600 plate appearances.
Depth600 denotes depth-chart projections prorated to 600 plate appearances.
Diff denotes difference between two.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, one finds that most of the players here — all of them, really, with the exception of Luis Valbuena — have little major-league experience. That makes sense on two accounts. First, it’s logical that the projection systems would be conservative with this population. All things being equal, a player who lacks past success in the majors is unlikely to produce future success in the majors. On the other hand, if there’s a type of player about whom the public might possess information for which the numbers don’t account, it’s a prospect.

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Cubs Notes: Maddon, Hendricks, Anderson, Zagunis

by David Laurila - 2/27/2017 - Comments (0)

Brett Anderson knows the numbers. Currently in camp with the Cubs, the 29-year-old southpaw was indoctrinated into the data game when he reached the big leagues with the Oakland A’s, in 2009.

“I came up in an organization that was at the forefront of it,” explained Anderson. “Then Brandon McCarthy came over [in 2011] and he was even more into it than most players. So I’ve been using it, although not to the extent I do now, since my rookie year.”

A player’s enthusiasm for analytics is relative. In Anderson’s case, practicality is the overriding factor. He’s data savvy, but wary of paralysis by analysis. He’s careful not to delve too deep.

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FanGraphs on Tour With Pitch Talks 2017

by Dave Cameron - 2/27/2017 - Comments (7)

Last year, we joined up with the Pitch Talks crew for a three-city U.S. tour, and had a blast in Boston, San Francisco, and Chicago. The response was clear, so instead of just hitting up a few cities this year, the tour is expanding to 16 dates, and we’re covering a good chunk of the country from April through August. Here’s the current tour schedule.

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Travis Sawchik FanGraphs Chat

by tsawchik - 2/27/2017 - Comments (0)

12:02
Travis Sawchik: Welcome to Sawchik Chat VIII, everyone. How about those Oscar snafus? Let’s talk …

12:03
baby bull : are the Yips baseball specific? Are there accounts of Golfers or other athletes that suffer from same mental block?

12:04
Travis Sawchik: I wrote about the yips today on the site …. They are not baseball specific as they occur in golf and tennis, too. Any sport where you have time to think between movements and action, the yips can probably occur

12:04
Travis Sawchik: Sergio Garcia has dealt with them ,I believe

12:05
Michael: What spring training battles are your top 3 to watch?

12:06
Travis Sawchik: Speaking of the yips, I hope Swihart can get over his throwing issues this spring. I know it’s a good bet he begins in 3A, but I still think he can be a quality regular and he should be able to push the competition in front of him …. I’m curious if Hahn can grab a rotation spot in Oakland

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Can Baseball Solve the "Yips"?

by tsawchik - 2/27/2017 - Comments (23)

The very real psychological condition known as the “yips” was on display in the brightest of spotlights: Game Seven of the World Series last fall. The Indians tried to fluster Jon Lester, whose troubles throwing in any direction other than toward home plate had become well known.

After making 98 pick-off attempts in 2010 and 70 in 2011, Lester made just five in 2012, seven in 2013, and none in 2014, according to SportingCharts data. He didn’t make a single pick-off attempt over the course of 66 consecutive starts until this one on April 13, 2015:

The issue isn’t only tied to pick-off attempts. Lester has also struggled when fielding his position, as seen on this throw from April 17, 2016:

Lester’s issue is the most well known and publicized in recent years, but it’s not the only case. This spring, Blake Swihart has struggled throwing the ball back to the mound, though Swihart is reportedly making some progress on that front.

I personally watched and reported on Pedro Alvarez’s 24 throwing errors in 99 games at third base in 2014, a development that necessitated a move down the defensive spectrum from third to first base.

In 2013, Alvarez hit 36 home runs and played an above-average third base, according to defensive runs above average (1.8). He recorded 3 WAR. But after his struggles with throwing in 2014, after he moved to first and struggled there in 2015, he was then viewed largely as a DH last offseason. He had to wait until March to sign a one-year deal with the Orioles last spring. This spring, he remains unsigned in a market that values bat-only players less and less. Baltimore attempted to play Alvarez at third base in spots in 2016, but he was still not over the throwing issues: he recorded two throwing errors against five assists in 53 innings at the position.

The yips have cost Alvarez millions and might play a role in prematurely ending his career. The condition did end the career of Pirates broadcaster and former Pirates pitcher Steve Blass. The yips played a role in derailing the pitching career of Rick Ankiel, who said in a recent interview he drank vodka before a start in 2000 to “tame a monster” that “didn’t fight fair.”

There’s something inherently tragic about an otherwise healthy athlete failing to fulfill one of the most basic obligations of his profession. It can be uncomfortable to watch a pitcher such as Lester become vulnerable in the center of the infield. To watch a player like Alvarez inexplicably lose the ability to make routine throws is difficult to comprehend. While I had explored the issue as a newspaper reporter, I wanted to understand more about the condition and how teams might be able to ameliorate it. So last week I spoke to one of the few players who has suffered through the condition and beat it: Steve Sax.

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The Top Prospect Who Technically Isn't

by NWein44 - 2/27/2017 - Comments (16)

Byron Buxton was drafted second overall in 2012. Between that point and the loss of his rookie eligibility last season, he was eligible for four rounds of preseason prospect lists. Almost universally, he appeared at or near the top of those lists. Consider, for example, his place among the rankings published annually by Baseball Prospectus during that time frame:

Barring injury, the 2017 season is going to be the 23-year-old Buxton’s first full one in the majors. Under traditional circumstances, there would be a round-the-clock coverage of this budding superstar’s march to the top of every relevant leaderboard. Yet we find ourselves in non-traditional circumstances for a couple of important reasons.

To refresh your memory: in the summer of 2013 — Buxton’s first full season as a professional — we were only a year-plus into the Mike Trout experience and we were decidedly not taking it in stride. J.J. Cooper, writing for Baseball America, stoked the fire of comparisons between Trout and Buxton. As baseball fans are wont to do, the crowd took Cooper’s consideration of the subject to another level, and the layman’s impression of Buxton went from “really good outfield prospect” to “might be another Trout.” Buxton built his own hype in 2013, racking up a .944 OPS across multiple levels. In his first full year out of high school, Buxton’s numbers were great and people were giving reports to prospect writers suggesting he was truly elite.

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Sunday Notes: Cactus League Meanderings

by David Laurila - 2/26/2017 - Comments (22)

On Friday, we ran an interview with Rockies outfielders Chris Denorfia and Charlie Blackmon on the subject of launch angles and bat paths. I’ve asked a few other players for their opinion — we’ll hear from them in the near future — as well as a few managers and coaches. Craig Counsell and Jeff Banister are among them.

“Telling a player to hit a pitch harder isn’t a very good coaching tool,” Counsell told me. “The same goes for hitting it at certain angles. But it is appropriate feedback to tell them something was a well-struck ball, when they’re in the cage: Those are balls that are going to go a long way. A hitter probably knows that, but it’s still good feedback.”

The former infielder went on to make an interesting observation.

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The Best of FanGraphs: February 20-24, 2017

by Paul Swydan - 2/25/2017 - Comments (2)

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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Kyle Schwarber and Hefty Leadoff Hitters

by Paul Swydan - 2/24/2017 - Comments (43)

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 (3)

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 (30)

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 (36)

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 (9)

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 (38)

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 (9)

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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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