Sunday Notes: Montgomery, Giants Pitching, Devers, more

by David Laurila - 2/19/2017 - Comments (9)

Mike Montgomery threw the pitch that ended 108 years of frustration for Cubs fans everywhere. Three-plus months later, he’s in camp competing for the fifth-starter spot in Chicago’s rotation. If that doesn’t come to fruition, the southpaw will settle for being a valuable bullpen arm on a juggernaut.

A lot has changed in 12 months. Montgomery was a Mariner at this time last year — he came to the Cubs in July — and his old club wasn’t expecting much from him.

“Seattle basically told me I wasn’t going to make the team,” Montgomery said during the World Series. “I bet on myself. I said I was going to show up and earn a spot, and that I was going to pitch well. I had some success — I had some failures, too — but it was kind of my breakthrough.”

Eight years after being drafted 36th overall the Kansas City Royals, the now 27-year-old lefty finally stepped up his game. He made 47 appearances between Seattle and Chicago — all but seven as a reliever — and fashioned a 2.52 ERA over 100 innings.

An improved curveball was the catalyst. The pitch was a primary focus going into the season, and it became an even bigger one once Montgomery got to Chicago. Pitching coach Chris Bosio played a major role.

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Randy Levine Makes a Fool of Himself and the Yankees

by NickS94 - 2/18/2017 - Comments (89)

Here are some undeniable facts.

  1. Dellin Betances was the third-best reliever in baseball by WAR last year.
  2. He has the third-best strikeout rate, all-time, among pitchers who have thrown at least 250 innings.
  3. He has 22 career saves, with 12 of them coming last year.

Betances, eligible for arbitration for the first time, filed for a $5 million salary this winter; the Yankees countered at $3 million. This was the second largest gap for any player that got to the filing stage this year, only $100,000 behind the $2.1 million difference that Drew Pomeranz ($5.7M request) had with the Red Sox ($3.6M offer), and unlike the Red Sox, the Yankees decided to not split the difference and instead head to a hearing.

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The Best of FanGraphs: February 13-17, 2017

by Paul Swydan - 2/18/2017 - Comments (1)

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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Explaining the Depressed Market for Sluggers

by Craig Edwards - 2/17/2017 - Comments (19)

With apologies to Pedro Alvarez, just about every decent bat in this winter’s free-agent class has signed. We heard all winter about how the market for the offense-first, defensively limited sluggers was a bad one this offseason, and we saw many players sign contracts for less than expected. This happened to those at the highest levels — like Edwin Encarnacion who took a shorter deal than anticipated — as well as at the lower end, where many players expected to receive multi-year deals had to settle for one-year contracts. There was a general lack of talent among free agents this offseason, but the glut of mediocre options likely played into a depressed market.

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Spring Training Is Long. Could It Be Better?

by tsawchik - 2/17/2017 - Comments (19)

Living amidst the rolling hills of Western Pennsylvania, ignoring a snow-and-ice covered driveway isn’t an option for me. Our property’s concrete access to the garage includes what seems like a 30-degree slope to reach the street. While I work from home, my wife does not. My wife and I do not own four-wheel drive automobiles. So, as is the case for many others, knowing that pitchers and catchers have reported is one of the first signs the thaw is near.


Visual evidence, courtesy the author.

But spring officially remains, of course, more than a month away.

While “pitchers and catchers reporting” is a romantic phrase that warms the heart and while it boosts the morale to see footage of players stretching and playing catch on sun-soaked diamonds in Arizona and Florida via MLB Network, another snowfall or two likely awaits. It’s still very much winter and spring training remains a really long period, though it will be shortened by two days in 2018 in accordance with the new CBA to allow for extra days off in the regular season.

Still, the length of spring training is increasingly unnecessary for the vast majority of those involved, a point made by Adam Kilgore for the Washington Post. Pitchers require – or at least baseball thinks they require – about six weeks to stretch out their arms for the regular season. For everyone else, though, the length spring training provides little benefit. Said Ryan Zimmerman to the Post:

“People are showing up more ready than they used to be, and we haven’t really changed anything,” Zimmerman said. “We haven’t adjusted to what the professional athlete does in the offseason now. I understand it. For me as a position player, it’s unnecessary.”

Zimmerman didn’t supply alternatives to reshape and re-imagine the spring, but perhaps spring training’s length and format has become a prisoner to tradition. Has anyone or any team thought about a dramatically different way to maximize spring training? I’m not aware of one, though perhaps there are incremental changes being implemented that go mostly unnoticed or unreported.

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Clayton Kershaw Pitched Like a Reliever

by NickS94 - 2/17/2017 - Comments (25)

You might have heard that Clayton Kershaw is good at pitching. He’s Hercules and Sandy Koufax merged together at the molecular level. He’s faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, and able to throw over tall buildings with a single curve. He’s SuperPitcher. Much like Mike Trout, Kershaw is the sort of athlete who could easily serve as the genesis of a daily newsletter with interesting factoids about said athlete. The more you dig around on statistical leaderboards and in his ledger, the more ridiculous little nuggets of gold you can dig up.

Take, for instance, this:

2016 WHIP Leaders, Min. 60 Innings
Pitcher IP WHIP
Kenley Jansen 68.2 0.67
Andrew Miller 74.1 0.69
Clayton Kershaw 149 0.72
Zach Britton 67.0 0.84
Ryan Dull 74.1 0.87
Nate Jones 70.2 0.89
Mark Melancon 71.1 0.90
Dan Otero 70.2 0.91
Christopher Devenski 108.1 0.91
Seung Hwan Oh 79.2 0.92

One of these things is not like the other. WHIP isn’t a perfect indicator of pitcher success, because the number of hits allowed by a pitcher is impacted by the defense playing behind him, and walks are affected by the framing quality of a pitcher’s catcher. It is, however, a generally fun statistic and is usually useful when one is in pursuit of a general picture of a pitcher’s ability to limit baserunners. The full leaderboard is here, and as you can see, it generally consists of pitchers who kicked ass in 2016.

Let’s talk about the top portion of that leaderboard, though, which has been reproduced in the table above. Of the 10 pitchers included here, Kershaw is the only one who’s a full-time starting pitcher. (Devenski started five games but had the bulk of his success in relief.) You have to go down to the 16th spot on the leaderboard to find the next starter, Max Scherzer (who’s followed by Kyle Hendricks and Rich Hill). Scherzer’s WHIP was 25 points higher than Kershaw’s. This is largely due to the fact that Kershaw walked just 11 men all year, and would have set the modern record for strikeout-to-walk ratio had he been a qualified starter.

One of the great injustices of baseball is that Kershaw hurt his back last year, because we’ll never know if he would have been able to keep up that sheer lunacy over the course of a full season. His 1.69 ERA in 149 regular-season innings was lower than Pedro Martinez‘s 1.74 in his ridiculous 2000 campaign. Kershaw also bested Pedro’s 2000 in FIP and WHIP, with Pedro taking the edge in DRA. If you look at all starting-pitcher seasons since 2000, set the minimum innings requirement at 140, and sort by WHIP, Kershaw’s 2016 and Pedro’s 2000 represent the top two figures. Four of the top 10 seasons over that timeframe belong to Kershaw. The fact that we’re even conducting a flawed (Pedro threw 217 innings that year, and in a different offensive era) comparison of these two men and not totally throwing the stats out with the bathwater is remarkable.

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2016 NL Starting-Pitcher Contact Management: Non-Qualifiers

by Blengino - 2/17/2017 - Comments (7)

Pitchers and catchers are in the house, we unfortunately have our first major spring training injury, and our offseason series of contact management/quality articles rolls toward its conclusion. Earlier this week, we examined American League pitching non-qualifiers; today, our eyes turn to the senior circuit.

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Jeff Sullivan FanGraphs Chat -- 2/17/17

by Jeff Sullivan - 2/17/2017 - Comments (8)

9:06
Jeff Sullivan: Hello friends

9:06
Jeff Sullivan: Welcome to Friday baseball chat

9:06
Bork: Hello, friend!

9:07
Jeff Sullivan: Hello friend

9:07
JT: Jeff, why is MLB literally willing to do anything to speed up games except for the most obvious problem of not enforcing the pitch clock and making batters stay in the box?

9:08
Jeff Sullivan: So, the staying-in-the-box part, yeah, enforcement has gotten pretty relaxed. Batters have gone back to pushing that

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Is It Time to Worry About Ian Kinsler?

by Paul Swydan - 2/17/2017 - Comments (21)

The 2016 season was a great one, statistically, for Ian Kinsler. By WAR, wRC+ and wOBA, it was (at least) one of the best three seasons of his career — a career that should garner a modicum of Hall of Fame debate when he retires. But in looking at his Steamer projection for this season, I started to wonder — is this the season we should start to worry about Ian Kinsler?

What immediately stands out in Kinsler’s Steamer projection is a drop in wOBA and WAR. Steamer forecasts him for just a .320 wOBA. It would be the second-worst mark of Kinsler’s soon-to-be 12-year career, and only by one point (he posted a .319 wOBA in 2014, his first year in Detroit). Steamer calls for Kinsler to produce 2.8 WAR. While that would represent a good year for most second basemen, it would be the second-worst mark in 10 seasons for Kinsler (who posted 2.6 WAR in 2013). Simply put, Kinsler is generally a lot better than those numbers.

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Ilitch Offered Model for Owners to Follow

by tsawchik - 2/17/2017 - Comments (23)

As you know, late Detroit Tigers owner Mike Ilitch died last week.

Even if you follow the sport only casually, you’re probably aware that Ilitch wanted to win as badly as his club’s fans did — to a point, even, that sometimes led to irrational decision making. When Victor Martinez hurt his knee in the winter of 2012, for example, Ilitch spent $214 million on Prince Fielder. Since 2006, the Tigers’ payroll has been higher than the major-league average every season, according to Cot’s Baseball Contracts via Baseball Prospectus — and higher by at least $30 million on eight occasions since that same year, including each of the last six years. As a reference point, the Detroit metro area was the 13th largest to host a major-league team last season.

Said Ilitch of winning to MLB.com after signing Jordan Zimmermann to a $110-million deal:

“That’s all I think about,” Ilitch said. “It’s something that I really want. I want it bad. We’re doing everything we can to make sure we get as many of the best ballplayers out there.”

Not all owners can say that. What percentage can say that, I’m not certain.

FanGraphs’ own Nathaniel Grow wondered in December of 2015 if Ilitch had accidentally suggested the possibility of collusion when asked if he’d go over the luxury threshold:

“I’m supposed to be a good boy and not go over it,” Ilitch said, “but if I think there are certain players that could help us a lot, I’ll go over it. Oops, I shouldn’t have said that.”

Even those of us who aren’t Michigan natives – but care about the game – have some familiarity with his interest and passion for the Detroit community. While, as the Detroit Free Press has recently reported, his relationship with the city was complicated at times, he rehabilitated parts of downtown Detroit when few others were willing to make an investment in the depressed central business district. He was a philanthropist. He paid Rosa Parks’ rent.

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Effectively Wild Episode 1021: Season Preview Series: Indians and White Sox

by Ben Lindbergh - 2/17/2017 - Comments (2)

EWFI

Ben Lindbergh and Jeff Sullivan banter about Adam Lind, Matt Albers, bunting to beat the shift, Mike Fiers, and Brandon Guyer, then preview the Cleveland Indians’ 2017 season with writer/editor Pete Beatty and the Chicago White Sox’ 2017 season with Cat Garcia of Baseball Prospectus.

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Here Are 111 Seconds of Pedro Baez Not Pitching

by Jeff Sullivan - 2/17/2017 - Comments (19)

The major story of the playoffs, obviously, was the Cubs winning the World Series. But that’s something we only got to know after the fact, and in the thick of things, the playoffs are a random jumble of assorted other stories. There was Trevor Bauer and the drone. There was the surprise appearance of Ryan Merritt. There was Clayton Kershaw pitching in relief. And there was Pedro Baez demonstrating a reluctance to ever be pitching at all.

Baez is not baseball’s only slow worker, but he probably became the new face of the group. When he was a rookie in 2014, he averaged 29 seconds between pitches, ranking him tenth-slowest. The next year, his average increased to 29.8, ranking him first-slowest. Runner-up Junichi Tazawa made himself slower by seven-tenths of a second, so Baez responded by making himself slower still, bumping that average to 30.2, again the slowest mark in the game. It’s something that’s simultaneously subtle and ever so noticeable. Baez’s nickname, according to Baseball-Reference, is The Human Rain Delay, and that’s because whenever he gets summoned from the bullpen, the umpires get together to discuss whether they should just call the thing and go home.

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Carter Capps' Delivery Is New, Still Basically Against the Rules

by Jeff Sullivan - 2/16/2017 - Comments (82)

Major League Baseball would never root for its own players to be injured, but sometimes the timing of certain injuries can be convenient. We spent a chunk of 2015 talking about whether Carter Capps‘ throwing motion should be allowed. Parallels were drawn to Jordan Walden, who has his own unorthodox delivery. Nothing was approaching the level of a crisis, but Capps was drawing a lot of attention, and he was dominating all the while. Then he got hurt, and he didn’t pitch in 2016. Walden also didn’t pitch in 2016. Baseball didn’t have to deal with anything, here, because nothing was happening. The deliveries were out of sight and out of mind.

Walden is still working his way back. There’s a chance he might never return to the majors. But, Capps? Capps has recovered from his elbow surgery. He’s been throwing in Padres camp, and based on early looks, he has made a mechanical change. Yet it still seems to be against the rules. Once more, this could turn into an issue.

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Is Jeffrey Loria's Marlins Sale the Most Profitable Ever?

by Craig Edwards - 2/16/2017 - Comments (13)

Five years ago, the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Diego Padres were sold to new owners, both partially spurred on by messy divorces. Since that time, there’s been just one change in Major League Baseball ownership, when John Staunton took control of the Seattle Mariners last season as Nintendo stepped aside. While we don’t know for sure when the next sale will be, there are rumors that Jeffrey Loria could sell the Miami Marlins for $1.6 billion, a massive increase over the 2002 sale price of $158.5 million and more than double Forbes’ current estimate of value. Loria doesn’t have a great reputation as a baseball owner, and he is absolutely going to cash in, but where would this sale rank in MLB history?

Including a potential Marlins sale, there have been by my count, 33 major transfers in ownership over the last 30 years. In taking a look at previous sales, we can compare them to Loria’s potential sale and determine how he did. In terms of a straight profit with sale price minus purchase price, Loria’s is big, but not bigger than Frank McCourt’s when he sold the Dodgers. The graph below shows the 33 sales.

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Billy Eppler on Rebuilding the Angels

by David Laurila - 2/16/2017 - Comments (18)

Thirteen months ago, we ran an interview titled Billy Eppler on Taking the Reins in Anaheim. At the time, Eppler was a first-year general manager, 100-plus days into his tenure. He’d come to the Angels from New York, where he’d spent 11 years in the Yankees front office. Armed with a background in scouting and player development, and a degree in finance, he was being entrusted to rebuild a moribund farm system while staying competitive in the American League West.

Progress has come slowly, at least on the surface. The Angels struggled in 2016, winning just 74 games and finishing in fourth place. Pitching injuries were a culprit — they remain a concern — while an offense led by the incomparable Mike Trout scored fewer runs than all but five AL squads. As for the prospect pipeline, Rome wasn’t built in a day. Keith Law recently ranked the Angels’ farm system, which was dead last a year ago, 27th of the 30 organizations.

Eppler didn’t make a splash over the offseason — there was nothing as notable as last winter’s Andrelton Simmons acquisition — but there were some meaningful moves. Cameron Maybin is now an Angel, as are Danny Espinosa, Martin Maldonado, and Luis Valbuena. In the opinion of some, Eppler’s club can contend this season if the pitchers — particularly Garrett Richards — remain in one piece.

Eppler discussed the team’s direction, and the philosophies set forth by his “Office of the GM” earlier this week.

———

Eppler on the extent to which a team needs to commit to a direction — rebuild, win now, etc. — and stay the course: “I believe that the majority of clubs, maybe 20-25 clubs, walk in at the start of spring training evaluating what they have. From there they see what manifests over that first third of the season. Here, we like to break our seasons into thirds. We basically do a thorough audit around Memorial Day, another audit right around the trade deadline, and we take that to the end of the season.

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Eno Sarris Baseball Chat -- 2/16/17

by Eno Sarris - 2/16/2017 - Comments (3)

1:45
Eno Sarris: was listening to some old school Lupe and he’s not too far off the mark these days

12:01
Gucci: What’s your take on Blake Snell this year? I’m not expecting ace like numbers but as a super late round pick maybe a profitable opportunity

12:02
Eno Sarris: Decent floor, but yeah maybe ace like upside. The slider was a big deal last year, giving him four pitches I believe in… command of course is the question.

12:02
Minty: OBP keeper. Trade Beni for Dahl? They’re both sexy time bc of lineup or park

12:02
Eno Sarris: I think in OBP I’d keep Benintendi. Huge, UGE, floor.

12:03
Michael Waka Flaka: How many at bats for Matt Holliday this year? Think he’s worthy of an OF5 spot in a points league?

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Salvador Perez Deserves a Break

by tsawchik - 2/16/2017 - Comments (17)

Salvador Perez, to me, is one of the more overrated players in baseball.

Defining “overrated” is a largely subjective endeavor, but, to me, he has received praise and exposure in a volume not commensurate with his abilities. Yes, he was part of a world-championship club, and he was of course heavily involved as its catcher. Still, his production is not that of an All-Star.

He’s posted three straight seasons of sub-.290 on-base percentages, wRC+ numbers of 91 or less. He’s a below-average hitter, and he doesn’t stand out at the game’s most challenged offensive position outside of pitcher. MLB catchers combined for a .310 on-base mark last season and an 87 wRC+. Perez posted an 88 wRC+.

In an age when pitch-framing has been quantified and now prized, Perez was rated as the worst framer in baseball last season, according to StatsCorner. Perez, like Matt Wieters, might have a framing problem in part because, at 6-foot-5, he’s unusually tall for a catcher. According to BWARP, which includes framing value, Perez has been worth an average of 0.5 WAR per season since 2014. Half a win! This is a player who has been invited to participate in four straight All-Star games. There’s a disconnect here.

What he does do well is stay on the field and throw out baserunners.

While Perez isn’t highly regarded as a receiver, he does lead all catchers in Defensive Runs Saved (39) since 2013, which accounts for catcher defense without considering framing. Perez led the AL last season by throwing out 48% of attempted stolen-base runners. His 35% rate over the course of his career is well above the league average of 28% over that six-year span.

While health is in part a skill, and while he has a strong arm, the overall profile is not one of an All-Star, let alone a quality regular. Unless, I’m missing something. And I think I might have been missing something. I wasn’t aware how dramatic Perez’s first-half and second-half splits were until watching MLB Network’s top-10 catcher show via DVR the other night.

Salvador Perez, Career Splits
AVG OBP SLG ISO wRC+
1st half 0.282 0.312 0.456 0.174 107
2nd half 0.263 0.293 0.410 0.146 87

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Chris Tillman, the Orioles, and Rotation Depth

by Eno Sarris - 2/16/2017 - Comments (12)

Chris Tillman has some aches in his shoulder, has recently received a shot, and may miss some time early in the season. That’s what’s been reported, at least. It might not be a big deal, considering that teams can skip a fifth starter’s spot in April and fudge their way through the month. It might be a big deal, though, once you consider the Orioles’ rotation depth relative to the rest of the league.

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The Most Interesting New Houston Astro

by Jeff Sullivan - 2/16/2017 - Comments (4)

The Astros’ 2015 season ended because of a total bullpen meltdown. Before that, the bullpen had been fairly steady, but the Astros made damn sure there wouldn’t be a repeat. And so, last year, the Astros led all of major-league baseball in bullpen WAR. They finished fourth in bullpen WPA, and they project to be strong as a unit once again. There’s Michael Feliz, coming off an FIP- of 76. Luke Gregerson is coming off an FIP- of 70. Ken Giles finished last year at 62. Will Harris finished last year at 55. Even Christopher Devenski finished last year at 55, having thrown maybe the quietest 100-odd excellent innings I can recall. And then, as you read down the depth chart, you come across the name James Hoyt. Let me tell you about James Hoyt.

Hoyt is 30 years old, and only last year did he make his big-league debut. That usually isn’t a promising sign. Hoyt came to the Astros from the Braves in the Evan Gattis trade, and you’ll remember that Gattis has an incredible backstory, involving rehab, depression, going undrafted, and being a janitor. When Gattis was first emerging, consensus was that he was one of the best stories in the game. Now, I don’t know if Hoyt’s story is as good as his teammate’s. To my knowledge, Hoyt has never been an inpatient in a psychiatric facility. But in the deal, there were two amazing stories packaged together. And Hoyt might now be on the verge of making a name for himself.

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The Best Transactions of the 2017 Offseason

by Dave Cameron - 2/16/2017 - Comments (98)

Spring training is here, which means it’s time for the annual winter retrospectives. While teams that have been crowned the “winners of the offseason” are often overrated heading into the next season, the reality is that teams do make significant transactions that can alter a playoff race and, in some cases, can change the entire direction of a franchise. In this post, we’re going to look at the 10 moves that I liked the most this winter, in terms of either pushing a contender towards their goal of winning in the short term or a team making a move to significantly improve their long-term outlook.

Deals that move the needle to a larger degree get more credit on this list, so this isn’t necessarily just about the most efficient allocation of resources. As such, the moves at the top of the list are more of the big-acquisition types, while the round-out-the-roster bargains end up on the bottom of the list or in the honorable-mentions category.

Tomorrow, we’ll tackle the 10 moves I liked the least, and the traffic on these two posts will once again show that you guys like head-scratching far more than back-patting. But today, let’s give some kudos to the teams I think made the best moves this winter.

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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