NERD Game Scores for Saturday, September 5, 2015

Devised originally in response to a challenge issued by viscount of the internet 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
Minnesota at Houston | 19:10 ET
Santana (65.0 IP, 120 xFIP-) vs. McCullers (89.2 IP, 88 xFIP-)
The abstract concept of Decency requires one, somehow finding him- or herself newly in receipt of a time machine, to employ that time machine to the end of traveling back to late-19th century Austria-Hungary and duly offing an infant Adolf Hitler. Following a similar course of action for child Pol Pot and child Stalin might also be regarded as good form. After the most notable of murderous tyrants have been treated thusly, however, one might also consider returning to April 4th of this year and explaining to the people that September 5th’s Twins-Astros game would have some relevance to the postseason landscape. Then, finally — after being derided openly by the public — capture Napoleon from a battlefield and introduce him to a modern water park in California.

Readers’ Preferred Broadcast: Houston Television.

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The Best of FanGraphs: August 31-September 4, 2015

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, orange for TechGraphs and blue for Community Research.
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The Braves And Phillies Sucking at the Same Time Is Rare

Earlier today, Buster Olney noted on Twitter that the Braves are now pulling up the rear in terms of run differential:

It got me to thinking — a dangerous pastime, I know — that it must be rare that two teams in the same division suck this much at the same time. Turns out, there’s something to that notion. Over at ESPN, we can easily find the run differentials back to 2002. Let’s take a look. Teams in bold are/were in the same division:

Teams With -150 Run Differential Or Worse, 2002-2015
Year Team 1 RD Team 2 RD Team 3 RD Team 4 RD Team 5 RD
2015 PHI -163 ATL -164
2014
2013 MIN -174 HOU -238
2012 CLE -178 HOU -211
2011 BAL -152 MIN -185 HOU -181
2010 BAL -172 KC -169 SEA -185 PIT -279
2009 KC -156 WAS -164
2008 WAS -184
2007 TB -162
2006 TB -167 KC -214
2005 TB -186 KC -233 ARI -160
2004 KC -185 CIN -157 ARI -284
2003 DET -337 MIL -159 CIN -191 SD -160
2002 TB -245 KC -154 DET -289 MIL -194 SD -153
SOURCE: ESPN – http://espn.go.com/mlb/standings/_/sort/pointdifferential/season/2002

A couple of things to note. First, last season was pretty cool, because no one was super awful. That doesn’t happen all that often. But two teams being this bad at the same time in the same division hasn’t happened since 2003. Brewers fans will remember 2003 as the year before Ben Sheets was awesome. Reds fans will remember 2003 as the year when Ken Griffey Jr. was awesome but frequently injured. Well, I guess that was most years Griffey was in Cincy. In any case, things weren’t pretty in either city. Adam Dunn rankled old school devotees with a .215 batting average, Wayne Franklin started 34 games and (I’m just guessing here) a lot of brain cells were murdered with alcohol.

Things haven’t been much better in Atlanta and Philly this season. They’re the first two teams to be this bad in the same division in over a decade. That’s rare. But at least they can take comfort in a couple of things. First, they’re not the suckiest bunch of sucks that ever sucked — do you see that 2003 Tigers run differential? Woof! Second, at least they know that they are not alone. And that’s something. After all, misery needs company.


On Ruben Tejada and the Nature of Inside-the-Park Homers

A home run is generally the result of a one-on-one battle between pitcher and hitter. A pitcher throws the ball, the batter hits it, and all the other players are more or less observers as the ball sails out of the park. Weather and park factors play a role in whether the ball leaves the yard. An outfielder might give chase. Then teammates show elation or disgust depending on the side of the battle where they are aligned. An inside-the-park home run is not like those other home runs. An inside-the-park home run needs this:

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Jeurys Familia in Context Is Unfair

The Mets closer has a new pitch, and it is fantastic. A 95 mph split-finger fastball is already superlative by name, but when you drill down into the arsenal of Jeurys Familia, it starts to look unique… and unfair.

But first we must appreciate the pitch in all its GIF glory.

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Tigers’ First-Rounder Burrows Impresses in Debut

The Tigers selected right-hander Beau Burrows, one of the hardest throwing prep arms in the class, out of Weatherford High School in Texas with the 22nd-overall pick a few months ago. After quickly signing for just over slot value ($2.1 million), Burrows was assigned to the Tigers’ Rookie-league affiliate in the Gulf Coast League. The 18-year-old right-hander put together an impressive professional debut, with above-average numbers but, more importantly, Burrows’ pre-draft stuff and command were present and he showed the aptitude to adjust to pro instruction. I observed two of Burrows’ starts, on August 13 and August 27.

Physical Description
Generously listed at 6-foot-2 and 200 pounds, Burrows is likely closer to an even six-feet tall and has a mature build for his age. There’s solid strength in Burrows’ upper body and core. His lower half is exceptionally strong with fairly thick tree trunk legs; there’s minimal physical projection remaining. That being said, Burrows’ frame already resembles that of a potential innings eater.

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JABO: Kevin Kiermaier Might Be Having the Best Defensive Season We Know Of

Just in case, let’s get this out of the way early: Kevin Kiermaier is the Rays’ center fielder. You probably already knew that, but you can never be too safe. Kiermaier is considered by everyone to be something of a defensive whiz. They say you’re supposed to open with a joke. Here’s a funny picture that proves even a defensive whiz can end up in a humiliating screenshot:

kiermaier

There’s a perfectly good explanation for what happened that relieves Kiermaier of pretty much all blame, but it’s more fun if you don’t know. Look at that guy! What a silly person.

Realistically, for the hitter, it’s probably a good thing that what happened happened. Spoiler alert: By rule, the hitter was awarded a home run. Had a physical structure not interrupted the flight of the baseball, there’s a decent chance Kevin Kiermaier would have, a few seconds later.

Major League Baseball fans were first introduced to Kiermaier late in 2013, when the Rays called him up for tiebreaker game 163, and the AL Wild Card Game. Kiermaier wasn’t promoted to serve as some sort of dangerous slugger off the bench. Nor was he around to be a potential pinch runner. Kiermaier was brought up specifically for his outfield defense. The Rays knew it was a little crazy, but they thought Kiermaier was the best defensive outfielder in the organization, so it wasn’t hard to talk themselves into it. Kiermaier played an inning in the first game. He played two in the second. That was it. Over the winter, Baseball America called Kiermaier the No. 10 prospect in the system.

Some prospects go away. Some hype proves to be unjustified. I don’t think it would’ve been a shock had Kiermaier never shown up again, or had he been limited to a bench role. But he wound up playing 108 games last year as a rookie, and he’s already close to 130 as a sophomore. Kiermaier’s bat has developed enough for him to play nearly every day. And because he’s played so often, we’ve seen ample evidence of his defensive skill. The Rays, back then, were on to something. I’m obligated to share some defensive highlights. The hardest thing is picking.

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Jeff Sullivan FanGraphs Chat — 9/4/15

9:13
Jeff Sullivan: Well it’s Friday, which means a late start to this scheduled baseball chat

9:13
Jeff Sullivan: Let’s talk Matt Harvey shutdown!

9:13
Jeff Sullivan: Or literally anything else

9:14
Comment From Phillies113
In the second half of 2015, Joey Votto’s walk rate is higher than his strikeout rate by DOUBLE DIGITS (29.1% vs 16.7%)! How bananas is Joey Votto right now?

9:14
Jeff Sullivan: I love this. Will probably write about it early next week. Votto has basically stopped swinging at inside pitches. Umpires don’t like to call strikes on inside pitches to lefties. So Votto is ahead in more counts, which means he can focus even more on the pitches he wants to hit…

9:14
Jeff Sullivan: Also, Votto has gone back to hitting the ball the other way, after a spell of pull power. He’s not perfect, but he’s close

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Likely Scenarios for Current Front-Office Vacancies

Two seasons ago, I ranked the job security of each general manager and listed GM prospects. I think I did a pretty good job with both lists given what we knew at the time, and may do it again as Opening Day 2016 closes in. We’ve had less executive movement in the last few off-seasons than usual and it looks like the regression is happening this year, with four GM jobs currently open and a likely fifth coming soon. This seemed like a good time to cover each of the situations in flux and target some possible changes in the near future, along with some names to keep in mind as candidates to fill these openings.

The Open GM Spots
We have two teams without a top baseball decision-making executive, in Seattle and Milwaukee:

Mariners
The Mariners moved on from (now former) GM Jack Zduriencik recently, a long-rumored move that club president Kevin Mather admitted he waited too long to execute. Mather has said they’re looking for a replacement sooner than later (likely eliminating execs from playoff teams), with GM experience (eliminating most of the GM prospects you’ll see below), and that the team doesn’t require a rebuild (meaning a shorter leash and higher expectations from day one). This should prove to narrow the pool of candidates a good bit, but this is still seen as the best of the currently open jobs.

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NERD Game Scores for Friday, September 4, 2015

Devised originally in response to a challenge issued by viscount of the internet 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
Texas at Los Angeles AL | 22:05 ET
Perez (43.2 IP, 99 xFIP-) vs. Richards (161.0 IP, 94 xFIP-)
While human efforts to predict baseball have been dismissed by scientists — scientists dressed in real lab coats, surrounded by beakers of roiling and unnamed chemicals — have been dismissed as an exercise in futility, the attempt to project baseball has at least some foundation in actual mathematics. The sort of projections available at FanGraphs suggested in April, May, June, July, and August — suggested in all those months that a future in which the Texas Rangers’ qualified for the 2015 postseason was an improbable one. As of today, however, it’s decidedly less improbable.

Regard, the club’s various odds on the fourth of each month, up to and including the fourth of September:

Rangers’ Postseason Odds on Fourth of Each Month
Date Division Wild Card Playoffs Div Series
4/4 0.8% 2.3% 3.1% 1.8%
5/4 0.4% 0.5% 0.9% 0.6%
6/4 3.7% 6.1% 9.8% 6.6%
7/4 2.9% 5.8% 8.7% 5.7%
8/4 3.4% 12.5% 15.9% 9.3%
9/4 20.1% 40.9% 60.9% 39.1%

Rocketed northward, is what those postseason odds have done metaphorically. Increased by over 50 percentage points, is what they’ve done literally. One, observing the Rangers, is observing a group of individuals whose actions have become surprisingly relevant — as surprising and relevant as the lyrics of a Jewel song immediately after having been dumped unexpectedly.

Readers’ Preferred Broadcast: Texas Radio.

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Down Goes Todd Frazier’s Power

Less than two months ago, some of the game’s best players gathered in Cincinnati to participate in the Midsummer Classic. The game featured Mike Trout being Mike Trout and Jacob deGrom looking like he was ready to graduate to a better league. The night before, Major League Baseball rolled out a new Home Run Derby format that was met with near universal approval. It certainly helped that hometown favorite, Todd Frazier, captured the title.

The derby was something of an emergence for Frazier. While he was coming off a 4.7 WAR season in 2014 and accumulated  11.1 WAR in 1,846 plate appearances between 2011 and 2014, the 29-year-old still carried one of those “underrated because he plays in a small market” weights around his neck. Frazier was a very good player before 2015; our ZiPS/Steamer blend gave him a 3 WAR projection based on average defense at third base, and a 112 projected wRC+.

In your head, you’re probably thinking that projection feels light. Frazier was riding in after a season just short of 5 WAR and was still on the right side of 30. But entering the year, Frazier had a 112 career wRC+ and had never topped 121. Essentially, every facet of his game profiled as average — with the exception of his power. His power looked be above average, but short of great. Then the first half of 2015 happened.

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FanGraphs Audio: Live Free and Also Die with Dayn Perry

Episode 592
Dayn Perry is a contributor to CBS Sports’ Eye on Baseball and the author of three books — one of them not very miserable. He’s also the guest on this edition of FanGraphs Audio.

This edition of the program is sponsored by Draft, the first truly mobile fantasy sports app. Compete directly against idiot host Carson Cistulli by clicking here.

Don’t hesitate to direct pod-related correspondence to @cistulli on Twitter.

You can subscribe to the podcast via iTunes or other feeder things.

Audio after the jump. (Approximately 1 hr 1 min play time.)

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Play

Clayton Kershaw and 300 Strikeouts

Talk to any player in baseball and that player will tell you the most important thing is winning. That player will tell you he doesn’t care if he goes 0-for-4 if his team still wins the game. That isn’t always all true, but winning tends to be the priority, and at least in the moment, players don’t care so much about the numbers. It’s one of the many differences between baseball players and baseball fans. Players just want to go to the park and have their team get the job done. Fans want to consume as much baseball as they can, and that’s where the stats come in, to fill the void in between baseball games. Each day, a game entertains for three hours. That means numbers could conceivably entertain for 21 hours, given a particularly unhealthy individual.

Many of the best players in baseball are almost as entertaining on paper as they are on the field. Barry Bonds‘ player pages continue to amaze to this day, even though his career has been over for years. Clayton Kershaw is turning into a sort of pitcher version. Kershaw goes above and beyond what his own team would deem necessary. There’s no need for Kershaw to be this good. The Dodgers would still win if he were a little bit worse, but he’s not a little bit worse, so the numbers are like a toy box. If you want to observe Clayton Kershaw, and he’s not actively pitching, you can get by from looking at his statistics, because they’re like the numerical version of a perfectly-located curveball.

Kershaw pitched on Wednesday. He faced a lineup of players all worse than him, and he was something close to perfect, striking the hitters out 15 times. What that meant, for Kershaw, is that the Dodgers won a game against a division rival. What it means, for us: Kershaw has positioned himself to have a shot at 300 strikeouts.

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The Early Returns on Manny Machado, MLB Shortstop

Before this season, Manny Machado was a talented young player who’s remained something less than elite due to injuries and a bat that was closer to average than star. He added offense to his game this season and earned his status as a star-level player. Debuting just a month removed from his 20th birthday back in 2012, Machado combined an above-average bat with amazing defense, but a switch flipped this season and Machado joined Mike Trout and Bryce Harper as one of the very best players in the game. Machado is one of the game’s very best third baseman defensively, but a couple times this week, the Orioles have experimented with him at shortstop. While the long-term implications for Machado and the Orioles are unclear, early returns suggest a happy outcome for the club and the 23-year-old, were he to return to his original spot on the diamond.

Drafted out of high school as a shortstop, Machado was projected to remain at shortstop given his solid hands and arm, although there were whispers that somewhere down the line his body might outgrow the position. The Orioles certainly expected his future was as a shortstop, putting him there for all but two of his 208 minor league games. When the Orioles found themselves in a pennant race in 2012, they already had one of the best defensive shortstops in the game with J.J. Hardy so they moved Machado to third base. The move worked, as the Orioles won a wild-card spot and an ensuing wild-card game to make the American League Division Series. With Hardy continuing to provide excellent defense, Machado has remained at third base until now.

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Elvis Andrus Steals Home, Padres’ Souls

The Rangers sure are exciting these days. They’re only two games behind Houston for the AL West lead and one game up on Minnesota for the last Wild Card while still holding the title of The Best Team With a Negative Run Differential. That is, if nothing else, an unwieldy banner. It’s the banner equivalent of Jarrod Saltalamacchia’s name on a t-shirt in that it would start on one side and end on the other. Negative run differential or not, the Rangers are winning games and doing it in exciting fashion. Tuesday the Rangers beat the Padres while Elvis Andrus stole home. I’m happy that happened because that this is an article about Elvis Andrus stealing home and if he hadn’t stolen home this would be a pretty weird article.

The Rangers have had some good luck in addition to playing well. For example, the San Diego Padres just wanted to play a baseball game Tuesday. I’m not even sure they wanted to win it. I mean, they’d probably have been fine with winning, but they’d have been fine with not winning, too. Let’s just play a game, they probably thought, then get some sleep. Instead they got Tuesday’s game which was much, much worse.

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NERD Game Scores for Thursday, September 3, 2015

Devised originally in response to a challenge issued by viscount of the internet 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 AL at Minnesota | 13:10 ET
Samardzija (182.0 IP, 104 xFIP-) vs. Gibson (158.0 IP, 101 xFIP-)
Were one committed to consuming at least one Twins game this season — and had also failed to satisfy the terms of that agreement so far this year — then today represents probably the ideal occasion on which to do so. For one, the club continues to maintain a curious proximity to the last wild-card spot. For two, there’s the opportunity to definitely observe Byron Buxton (who’s playing center and batting ninth) and possibly) Miguel Sano (who strangely absent from the lineup despite having declared a terrible war on major-league pitchers). And finally, Target Field features one of the league’s top center-field cameras.

Readers’ Preferred Broadcast: Minnesota Radio.

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Eno Sarris Baseball Chat — 9/3/15

11:29
Eno Sarris: trying not to be late today!
11:29
Eno Sarris:
12:03
Eno Sarris: I’m here!
12:04
Comment From Vilnius B.
BTW, can anybody in the chat room explain why my typing of comments anywhere in FG or RG has become so tediously slow since I upgraded from Windows 8 to Windows 10? It’s not happening anywhere else, e.g., newspapers. I’m not a tech geek, so I’m clueless.
12:04
Eno Sarris: The Dark Overlord will be back from his vacation soon, I’ll point it out!
12:04
Comment From Lenard
Eno, I haven’t been here in what feels like months, have you changed shampoos?

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Scooter Gennett: A Brewer’s Quest for Discipline

Scooter Gennett came into the season with a .300 batting average in 704 big-league plate appearance. The stat obviously has limited value, but it does suggest an ability to put a bat on a baseball. Gennett excels at it, sometimes to his detriment.

The 25-year-old second baseman puts a lot of balls in play. His Z-Contact% as a Milwaukee Brewer is 91.9 and his O-Contact% is 74. Both are higher than average, as are his swing rates on pitches in and out of the strike zone. Those aren’t issues when batted balls are going for base hits. They are when they’re being converted into easy outs.

Gennett was hitting .154 in mid-May and he was still south of the Mendoza line in late June. Quality of contact was the main culprit. The left-handed hitter was topping, and popping up, too many pitcher’s pitches. With his frustration level rising, he also began chasing out of the zone on two-strike counts, causing a slight up-tick in his K-rate.

A change of approach was in order. and so far the results are to his liking. Gennett has hit .317/.338/.444 over the last four weeks, raising his seasonal slash line to a more respectable .266/.300/.402. He still isn’t drawing many walks, but that’s not his goal. What he wants is to attack pitches he can barrel up, and not ones he can simply reach.

Gennett talked about his quest for discipline when the Brewers visited Wrigley Field in mid August. Read the rest of this entry »


The Fringe Five: Baseball’s Most Compelling Fringe Prospects

The Fringe Five is a weekly regular-season exercise, introduced a couple 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 both (a) absent from the most current iteration of Kiley McDaniel’s top-200 prospect list and (b) absent from the midseason prospect lists produced by Baseball America, Keith Law, and John Sickels, and also (c) not currently playing in the majors. Players appearing anywhere on McDaniel’s 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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Miguel Sano’s Making His First Adjustments

There’s a hitting prospect called straight up from Double-A currently blowing away offensive expectations while providing a boost for a surprising potential playoff team. Michael Conforto‘s just 22, and the New York Mets didn’t even really want to have him up so soon, but desperation forced their hand, and now Conforto’s sitting on a 166 wRC+. He homered on Wednesday. No matter what happens from here, Conforto’s already justified the hasty promotion. But then, there’s Miguel Sano. Sano, who’s also just 22. Conforto has been amazing. Sano, somehow, has been even better.

Say what you will about the Twins, but they’re clearly a contender, doing their best to hang with the Rangers in the wild-card race. And while earlier-season versions of the Twins were supported by a lot of really good timing, there’s no question that Sano has been a shot in the arm since he was brought up. Sano helps the current Twins to make a little more sense, and his numbers are absolutely absurd, despite the strikeouts. He doesn’t hit the ball quite as hard as Giancarlo Stanton, but the potential seems there, and the consistency makes up some of the difference. He’s a true slugger, a man with 80-grade power. Anyone with any 80 grade is a remarkable specimen.

What Sano is is a player who’s having a successful rookie season. Whenever a rookie gets off to a hot start, you have to start looking for the league adjustment. When the league learns certain rookies, those rookies have a heck of a time trying to recover. But Sano? For Sano, there are many tests yet to pass. But he’s already making some adjustments.

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