Mike Trout and One-Man Teams

Mike Trout’s exploits are well known, but no matter how well Mike Trout plays, his team will not succeed without productive play from others in the lineup. Mike Trout is not the first great player with a less than stellar supporting cast. It is something he has gone through already in his brief career. In 2012 and 2014, the Angels had solid teams surrounding Trout that won nearly 90 games in 2012 and won the division in 2014, but in 2013, the rest of the Angels provided poor production and the team wasted a 10-win season. The Angels have gotten off to a slow start at 12-15 and they are certainly far from out of the race at this point, but based on the start of the season and the projections from here on out, the Angels could have trouble providing Trout with support and staying in the playoff hunt as the year goes on.

On offense this season, Mike Trout has been 11.6 runs above average, good for sixth in all of baseball while the rest of the position players have been 26.6 runs below average. Even with Mike Trout, the team has an 85 wRC+ in the early going, ranking 25th in Major League Baseball. Mike Trout is hitting .302/.404/.552. while the rest of the team is .218/.275/.323. Garrett Richards, C.J. Wilson, and Matt Shoemaker should perform well in the rotation, but the team projects to finish the season around .500. No matter how hard he tries, Mike Trout cannot end every game like this:
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Dave Cameron FanGraphs Chat – 5/6/15

Changing Breaking Balls, By Movement

Yesterday, we looked at the biggest changes in fastball movement (rise and sink) in starters and relievers from their offerings in 2014 vs. this season. Today, we’re going to do the same thing with breaking balls (pitches known for their movement), which should hopefully yield some interesting takeaways as we move forward with this young season.

As I said in the previous article, more movement doesn’t always mean better results: it can be a catalyst for some changes in peripheral numbers, however, and can point toward raw improvement in a pitch. We’ll go into some information related to whiff rates and batted ball profiles with these breaking pitches, looking for any change in production that goes along with change in movement.

The standard preface: all stats are farmed from Baseball Prospectus’ PITCHf/x leaderboards. It’s obviously still very early, so take these results with a grain of salt, and mostly as something interesting to watch as the season progresses. Today we’ll divide these pitches by curveball and slider, looking at starters and relievers together. We’ll also divide sliders by lefties and righties, as the movement data is obviously quite different for each of them. As a baseline, I’ve used a 50 pitch minimum for both starters and relievers in 2014.


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The Brewing Dispute over Alex Rodriguez’s Bonuses

When reports emerged in January that the Yankees were intending to contest the home run milestone bonus agreement the team entered with Alex Rodriguez back in 2007, it was unclear whether or not the matter would ever actually come to a head. Following a season-long suspension for performance enhancing drug use, no one knew for sure whether Rodriguez would even make the Yankees’ opening day roster, let alone be given enough playing time to hit the six home runs necessary to tie Willie Mays at 660 (triggering the first of five potential $6 million milestone bonuses under the 2007 agreement).

Rodriguez, of course, did make the team and ended up hitting his 660th career home run on Friday evening in Boston. As a result, attention has once again focused on whether the Yankees have any realistic hope of escaping the milestone bonus agreement.

As I noted back in January, because the bonus agreement has never been released publicly, it is difficult to fully assess the Yankees’ chances of escaping the $6 million payment. However, while there is still much that we don’t know about the contract, recent developments have shed some additional light on the legal arguments the Yankees will likely rely on when attempting to avoiding paying Rodriguez under the agreement.

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NERD Game Scores for Wednesday, May 6, 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
Cleveland at Kansas City | 20:10 ET
Carrasco (21.2 IP, 58 xFIP-) vs. Duffy (28.2 IP, 90 xFIP-)
All indications indicated that Cleveland right-hander Carlos Carrasco would sustain — given adequate health — would largely sustain in 2015 his success from 2014. FanGraphs’ Eno Sarris found, for example, that no other pitcher generated a better combination of swinging strikes and ground balls with each pitch in his arsenal. That sort of performance in combination with the plus-plus velocity he exhibited on his fastball last year suggested that he possessed both the physical tools and pitching-specific skills to produce an excellent campaign. While he’s had some difficulty in preventing actual runs over his first five starts, Carrasco has continued to record among the very best defense-independent numbers in the league, having recorded, for example, the third-best expected FIP among all pitchers with 20-plus innings — behind only Clayton Kershaw and teammate Danny Salazar. Nor is the run-scoring likely all his fault: the Cleveland defense currently sits comfortably in the bottom third among all clubs both by Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) and Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR).

Readers’ Preferred Broadcast: Cleveland Radio.

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JABO: The Emerging Josh Reddick

If you sort the Major League leaderboards by runs scored for each team, you’ll find the Toronto Blue Jays at the top of the list. That’s probably no big surprise, given that they feature prodigious sluggers like Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion, and Josh Donaldson; the Blue Jays have some serious thump in the middle of their order.

But you might be surprised to see that the Oakland A’s are not too terribly far behind the Blue Jays, with their 140 runs scored putting them in second place among all big league clubs. The A’s had a pretty good offense last year, but that was a very different line-up, including a half-season of production from Yoenis Cespedes, plus full years from the aforementioned Donaldson, the also-traded Brandon Moss and Derek Norris, and some good hitting from free agent departee Jed Lowrie. After the A’s second half fade and Wild Card loss to Kansas City, Billy Beane spent the off-season shipping out most of his good hitters, putting together a younger roster that leaned more towards contact hitters than the homers-or-strikeout types that they featured a year ago.

But it isn’t really the new guys leading the offensive charge for the A’s so far this year. Ben Zobrist is on the DL, and wasn’t great even before he had to start sitting out a good chunk of the season. After a hot start, Billy Butler has remembered that he’s Billy Butler and come back down to earth. Ike Davis has one home run, only one fewer than Lawrie. Instead, the line-up has been led by a couple of holdovers: Stephen Vogt and Josh Reddick.

Vogt has been a monster for the A’s, and has been perhaps the best player in baseball so far; his +1.8 WAR leads all big leaguers. Eno Sarris tackled Vogt’s improvement, noting that while he won’t keep this up, there are reasons for optimism, who might be the latest in a long list of guys that just needed a chance to play before finding their first opportunity in Oakland.

But that’s not Reddick’s story at all. He came up through the Red Sox system with plenty of hype, as Baseball America had him among the team’s top five prospects in 2008, 2009, and 2010. On their 2010 Top 100 prospect list, Reddick ranked 75th overall, 10 spots ahead of some guy named Mike Trout. Reddick made it to the big leagues in Boston, and was only traded to Oakland when the Red Sox wanted to acquire All-Star closer Andrew Bailey from the A’s.

Reddick took over as the A’s everyday right fielder immediately after joining the organization, and had a breakout year in 2012, finishing 16th in the MVP voting thanks to a strong performance both on offense (32 home runs) and on defense (+17 UZR and a Gold Glove). But the injury problems that caused the Red Sox to trade Reddick sidelined him for significant parts of the last two seasons, and his power regressed even when he was healthy enough to play. He was still a solid enough player, but mostly contributed with average-ish offense and plus defense, and he appeared to be settling in as as a solid role player rather than any kind of star.

But to start 2015, Reddick has not only looked like the star of his 2012 season, but actually something even better than he’s ever shown before. With the big caveat that it’s only 86 plate appearances, Reddick is flashing the combination of skills that could allow him to develop into an elite right fielder. Those skills? Simultaneous power and contact. Most players in baseball — the ones who aren’t just backup catchers or utility infielders, anyway — can call one of those two things something of a strength. Guys either major in hitting the ball hard or hitting the ball often, but very few can do both at the same time.

Read the rest on Just a Bit Outside.

Dee Gordon Has Been Going Full Ichiro

As you know, we’ve got some new data on the site. It isn’t data that’s going to completely change the way we think about baseball, but new stuff is new stuff, and new stuff always takes a while before it becomes old stuff. It’s fun to play around with new stuff, and as I was doing that Tuesday, I found something I tweeted out. I’ll blockquote my own words, I guess:

hard-hit rate

Chase Utley: 16%
Dee Gordon: 15%


Chase Utley: .082
Dee Gordon: .489

All it is, really, is a fun fact. Maybe two fun facts, or maybe four fun facts. A fun fact is its own thing, and it certainly isn’t an argument. Fun facts don’t try to prove anything; they just are, as curious statistical moments in time. But while we’re here, I’ll throw you another fun fact: as I write this, Dee Gordon leads the National League in Wins Above Replacement. Through the season’s first month, Gordon’s been one of the best players in baseball, and this after he was picked up by the Marlins in a trade that we criticized.

It’s pretty obvious that Gordon’s value has been given a tremendous boost by the laughable hit rate. Counting errors, Gordon has reached on more than half the balls he’s put in play. You don’t need me to tell you that’s going to stop. The question, really, is what Gordon will do when the silliness ends. To this point, he’s resembled a prime Ichiro Suzuki.

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FanGraphs After Dark Chat – 5/5/15

Paul Swydan: Hi everybody! Jeff and I will be here to chat at 9 pm ET. Well, Jeff might be late, but usually he just *says* he’ll be late and then shows up on time. Under promise, over deliver, and all of that.

Anyhoo, get your questions in now, and we’ll chat like the bosses we all are.

Paul Swydan: OK, let’s do this. Jeff IS going to be late, so you’re stuck with me for awhile.
Comment From Job
Saw this on Twitter: If you think Lucroy is a 5ish win player for ’15/’16/’17 and Perez is a 3ish win guy for his contract, and the Royals are going all in for the next few years, would it make sense for KC to trade Perez + prospects or Lucroy or just Perez? Lucroy is a better hitting and isn’t credit for pitch framing, but the contract isn’t as nice as Perez.
Paul Swydan: I mean, it’s an interesting thing to ponder, but I don’t see the upgrade being enough for the Royals to sacrifice all the knowledge that Perez already has of their system and their pitchers, etc, etc. Don’t see that one happening.
Comment From Minty
No one knows what their respective teams will do, but when would you debut Correa and Seager?
Paul Swydan: Not before the Super 2 deadline passes in June.

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Steve Pearce Is Playing Second Base

Understand that no one’s Plan A would be putting Steve Pearce into the lineup at second base. It would be nobody’s Plan B, either. Understand that the Orioles have been forced into a position, with J.J. Hardy hurt, and with Jonathan Schoop hurt, and with Ryan Flaherty hurt. What the Orioles have been confronted with is a situation in which the middle infield is in dire need of at least temporary help. Under these specific circumstances, Pearce at second base has become Plan A. Even that feels strange, like the sort of thing no other team would dare attempt.

Pearce, as it happens, is actually out of the lineup Tuesday, because he’s feeling under the weather. But that’s not a performance concern. Over the weekend, Baltimore played three home games in a city that isn’t its home, and in all three games, Pearce started at second. There’s a graphic for it and everything.


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2015, Featuring the League-Leading Houston Astros

This would’ve been better-timed yesterday, before the Astros lost a game to the Rangers, thereby having their winning streak snapped. Good teams don’t want to make a habit of losing games to the Rangers. But the timing doesn’t matter, because the message still stands: even with the loss, the Astros currently have the best record in the American League. More than that, the Astros have put a full seven games between themselves and the next-closest team in their division. The other AL division leads: two games, and half of a game. As a reminder, the team we’re talking about right now is the Houston Astros.

You know how this works. All these posts nowadays have to contain this information. On Opening Day, we gave the Astros a 14% chance at the playoffs, with a 5% chance at the division. Now they’re at 51% and 36%, respectively. They’re the favorites to win the AL West, even though we have them projected to play the rest of the way slightly below .500. It’s the whole thing about every game mattering. The Astros’ advantage is in the books, and the season is about a sixth complete. Let’s say, before the year, you figured the Astros would be 10 games worse than their direct competition. Let’s say you still believe that! Over the remainder, with the season shortened, you’d put the difference a hair over eight games. And, as I write this, the Astros’ lead is seven games. It’s very simple math. Because of their start, and because of the starts of their various rivals, the 2015 Houston Astros are for real.

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Ron Roenicke and the Career Afterlives of Fired Managers

As the reader will likely already know, Ron Roenicke was relieved of his managerial duties with the Milwaukee Brewers on Sunday. Nor was this development entirely surprising. After a successful first year with the club in 2011 — a year that ended with a trip to the National League Championship Series — Roenicke’s Brewers were decidedly more pedestrian between 2012 and -14, finishing either third or fourth among NL Central teams in every case. The club was just 7-18 when Doug Melvin et al. made the announcement regarding Roenicke’s dismissal. So, even less impressive than those recent, average-ish teams.

On the one hand, 7-18 is a bad record. On the other, it’s not obvious at all that Milwaukee’s poor play was a product of equally poor coaching by Roenicke. The team were originally projected to win 77-78 games by the methodology used at the site here — with roughly a 4% chance of winning the division and only a 13% chance of making any sort of postseason appearance (including the Wild Card play-in game). Insofar as those probabilities had dropped to about 0% and 1%, respectively, it can be said that the team was underperforming expectations. Objectively, though, the expecations weren’t particularly high to begin with.

Nor can one ignore that a number of circumstances were out of Roenicke’s control. His best player, Jonathan Lucroy, broke his toe in mid-April. His other best player, Carlos Gomez, missed two weeks with a strained hamstring. Ryan Braun, at one point a perennial All Star, had produced fewer wins than a theoretical freely available player. All told, as of today, the club’s five mostly well-compensated players have produced a collective -0.5 WAR. To what degree that’s Roenicke’s fault is debatable — with the caveat that one side of the debate is much easier to support.

As a person who lives constantly (and justifiably) under the impression that he’s about to be fired, the author of this post felt some sympathy for Roenicke. Of course, our situations aren’t entirely analogous. While, on the one hand, Roenicke has earned millions of dollars and will remain compensated by Milwaukee through 2016, my salary is more the kind that allows me to buy a fancy cheese every now and then. Still, the prospect of unemployment isn’t a pleasant one — and, in the case of a major-league manager, is generally the product of disappointing results.

What, I wondered, are Ron Roenicke’s career prospects now that he’s been dismissed from a major-league managerial position? The means by which to answer that question are manifold. The haphazard one I chose was to first identify all those managers who’d assumed that role for at least 162 games over the course of no fewer than two seasons — this, in order to work with a sample of managers who’d been given the job on a full-time basis, and not just held it in an interim capacity. I only considered managers who’d been dismissed from their jobs or not extended following the end of their respective contracts. Which, that’s to say managers who either retired (Bobby Cox, Lou Piniella) or who left of their own volition (Mike Hargrove from the Mariners, Grady Little from the Dodgers) were excluded from consideration. Finally, I considered only those managers who were dismissed at some point between 2006 and -10 — this, in order to examine a sample of former managers who’ve had the opportunity (roughly five to ten years) to move on to other positions.

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Custom Dashboard: All Stats & Scrolling

Last week we made some changes to the custom dashboard on the player pages, which allow you to choose exactly which stats you would like displayed in the order of your choosing.

The first update is that all the stats on the site are now available to you. For a long while there was only a subset of all our stats, but this is no longer the case.

The second change we made is that the custom dashboard now scrolls within the page so it doesn’t bleed over the boundaries of the site indefinitely. There are a non-trivial number of custom dashboards that basically include all the stats on the entire site, which makes for an extremely wide custom dashboard.

As I’ve monitored feedback on the change, some people like the scrolling, but others are very opposed to it. So, we’re going to have a poll to decide how to set the default behavior. Unless the results are overwhelmingly in favor of one particular choice, we will have an option in the custom dashboard to toggle the scrolling on/off.

Should We Believe in Stephen Vogt?

You’ll hear it every time he steps to the plate in Oakland, a slow, building chant. If Stephen Vogt lets the at-bat go long enough, or the moment is big enough, it can be deafening: “I believe in Stephen Vogt. I believe in Stephen Vogt.”

Craig Edwards pointed out that only two catchers broke out as late as the 30-year-old Vogt and sustained any sort of high level of production, so the odds are stacked against him. That sort of thing makes Vogt right at home with the Athletics, but there are plenty of reasons to believe in him, too. The awkward way he made his way to the big leagues probably kept him from showing his true self until this late in the game. It might not have really been his fault that he didn’t advance quicker.

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Austin Hedges is Here to Help the Padres

Over the weekend, the Red Sox promoted Blake Swihart, who was our highest-rated catching prospect heading into the year. The Padres followed suit two days later by promoting another highly-touted minor league catcher in Austin Hedges, who ranked 130th overall on Kiley McDaniel’s pre-season list, but was rated much higher by most other outlets. All indications are that Hedges serve as the Padres backup catcher behind Derek Norris, who seems unlikely to be benched after his excellent .323/.343/.500 start to the year. Hedges made his big league debut on Monday by striking out as a pinch hitter in the 9th.

Although they’re both well-regarded catching prospects, Hedges is a much different player than Swihart. Swihart is a plus defender with an interesting, but still-developing bat. Hedges, on the other hand, is widely considered to be one of the best defensive catchers on the planet, who offers very little in terms of offense. Through the end of the 2014 season, Hedges owned a .251/.311/.378 batting line in the minors, which earned him a 91 wRC+. This was bookended by a wimpy .225/.268/.321 (67 wRC+) showing in Double-A last year.

Despite these struggles, the Padres opted to challenge Hedges by having him open the 2015 season in Triple-A. He adapted surprisingly well. In 21 games in the PCL, he hit a loud .324/.392/.521. Obviously, this a tiny sample, but the signals emerging from this tiny sample were good. Hedges walked exactly as often as he struck out, and also hit for power in his month against Triple-A pitching. He came nowhere close to doing either of those things in Double-A last year. Read the rest of this entry »

Matt Carpenter’s Passive-Aggressive Approach Paying Off

Two weeks into the season, a narrative developed around Matt Carpenter and his aggressive behavior at the plate. In 2013, Carpenter had a breakout season, hitting 55 doubles on his way to a seven-win season. After a solid — but not quite as good — 2014 that was marked by incredible patience and a high walk rate, Carpenter flipped the script in the playoffs. He got more aggressive early in the count and took advantage of his scouting report against Clayton Kershaw and the Dodgers. That aggressive approach  carried over into 2015 with Carpenter seeing about half a pitch less per plate appearance through the first two weeks of the season. Buster Olney mentioned it on Sunday Night Baseball, and I bought in.

Two weeks later, the initial data supporting that narrative has already eroded. Carpenter is now seeing just about the same amount of pitches he has throughout his career. However, that does not mean the aggressive Carpenter narrative is dead, nor does it deserve to be. In some ways, Carpenter has reverted back to 2013 Carpenter — the patient, but slightly more swing-happy player that was missing last season. On pitches in the strike zone, Carpenter has done more than just go back to 2013 levels. He is swinging at pitches in the strike zone more often than any time since he was a role player on the Cardinals 2012 team.

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The Case for Trading Jonathan Lucroy

The Brewers season is over. Already a mediocre team that needed to catch a lot of breaks in order to contend, Milwaukee has gotten off to an 8-18 start, watched two of their best players end up on the disabled list, and on Sunday night, they fired their manager. They currently stand 11.5 games behind the Cardinals in the NL Central race, and the season is only a month old. By the time the trade deadline rolls around, they may be 20 games out, and even the lowered bar of the second Wild Card can’t save the Brewers 2015 season. Which is why they’ve already told other teams that they’ll likely be an early seller, and are just waiting for buyers to decide it’s time to upgrade in order to start moving veterans for things that can offer more help in the future.

However, according to Buster Olney, the Brewers are hanging a not-for-sale sign on their best player.

This shouldn’t come as any big surprise, as even rebuilding teams have rarely moved their franchise players lately. Whether it was Felix Hernandez, Troy Tulowitzki, or Giancarlo Stanton, we just haven’t seen non-contending teams be willing to put legitimate frontline players on the market, preferring instead to build around their best players rather than use them as chips to try and stockpile a larger quantity of talent. It’s one thing to trade role players and guys on expiring contracts, but no one seems particularly interested in getting rid of the kind of player that is very hard to get back.

But I think there’s a strong case to be made that the Brewers should go against the grain here. Jonathan Lucroy is a great player, but I think the Brewers are probably better off trading him than they are keeping him.

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Kiley McDaniel Prospects Chat – 5/5/15

Kiley McDaniel: I’m here. Let’s start.

Comment From Tim
How can the Braves get Josh Bell from the Pirates?

Kiley McDaniel: The Braves have 8 prospects that I deem to have the same or more trade value than Bell, so there’s 8 of the ways they could do it.


Comment From Jeff Gross
With Bryant/Russell graduated to the majors, where would the Cubs farm system rank now? Have the performance of enough guys like Vogelbach and Schwarber ticked up/maintained more grades overall than have disappointed (e.g., Johnson) to keep the Cubs in the top 5 overall?

Kiley McDaniel: More on this in the coming weeks

Comment From Peezus
How high are you on Tyler Glasnow and when do you see him coming up?

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Changing Fastballs, by Movement

There’s something about the calendar flipping from April to May that makes it seem like the baseball season is somehow better realized, with the small samples and fluctuations of the opening frame left behind in favor of more stability. The cold days in the Midwest are less numerous; we now know the teams with a capacity to surprise, and the ones that never really had a shot. That sense of May stability is an artifact of our human desire to demarcate, to divide, and to end and begin things: the real truth is that every day is merely a day before and after another, moving relentlessly toward a finality — a month, a season, a career.

Our monthly divisions are a veil draped over the game to provide meaning where there may be none. Still, knowing the futility of our plight, we’re going to press on with that propensity for order and use the end of April to look back at changes between last month and last season in relation to one subset of data: movement of pitches. I’ll be looking at who had the biggest change in movement for their offerings between last year and this year, and perhaps we can glean some data related to whiff rate, batted ball breakdown, or other peripheral statistics that suit our fancy.

Finally, a reminder: more movement doesn’t always mean better results. It does make for entertaining data and visualizations, however. Today, we’ll go over fastballs, so we won’t have the gaudy swing and miss stuff that we’ll have tomorrow, when we’ll look at breaking balls and offspeed pitches. All stats are farmed from Baseball Prospectus’ PITCHf/x leaderboards. Today we’ll divide fastballs by four-seam and two-seam, as well as starters and relievers. As a baseline, I used a 500 pitch minimum for starters in 2014, and a 100 pitch minimum for relievers.


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NERD Game Scores for Tuesday, May 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
Tampa Bay at Boston | 19:10 ET
Smyly (10.2 IP, 53 xFIP-) vs. Porcello (32.0 IP, 101 xFIP-)
In his first start of his season, on April 24th, Tampa Bay left-hander Drew Smyly struck out roughly 28% of the opposing batters he faced — or about eight points more than league average. In his second and also only other start, he struck out roughly 46% of the batters he faced — which is to say, many more points greater than league average. One might be inclined to say that “at this rate” Smyly should be expected to strike out 64% of Boston’s hitters today (Tuesday). One might be inclined to say that, but one is inclined to make any number of poor decisions. Like playing bridge with anyone over seventy. Or like wearing brown shoes with black pants.

Readers’ Preferred Broadcast: Boston Radio or Detroit Radio.

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New Batted Ball Stats!

We’ve quietly added a few new stats to our batted ball section.

First we have percentage of balls a batter pulls, hits to center field, and hits to the opposite field. This will make it much easier to figure out the general direction a player hits the ball without going to the splits pages and pulling out a calculator.

Pull% – Percentage of balls in play that were pulled by the batter
Cent% – Percentage of balls in play that were hit to center field by the batter
Oppo% – Percentage of balls in play that were hit to opposite field by the batter

Then we have how hard each ball is hit as provided by Baseball Info Solutions. It’s important to know that these are all relative to the batted ball type. For instance, a fly ball might be classified as hard, but if that ball were a line drive, it could potentially be classified as medium. If you are interested in seeing how line drives/fly balls/groundballs are classified into soft/medium/hard, we have that information available on the splits pages.

It’s also important to know that prior to 2010, these were all graded visually. From 2010 onward, the batted ball type, hangtime, and distance hit are all used to calculate the soft/medium/hard classifications.

Soft% – Percentage of balls in play that were classified as hit with soft speed.
Med% – Percentage of balls in play that were classified as hit with medium speed.
Hard% – Percentage of balls in play that were classified as hit with hard speed.