Kauffman Stadium: Pitcher-Friendly, Hitter-Friendly

This October, there’s been a lot of talk about the Royals’ offense, which is a very unexpected sentence. By now everyone should be pretty familiar with the Royals’ approach: they try to hit the ball and make things happen, as opposed to sitting back and waiting for dingers. At a few points, you might’ve read remarks along these lines from Royals officials: if the team played in a different ballpark, they’d hit a lot more homers. This year the Royals were actually last in the American League in road home runs, so it’s not like dimensions have conspired to suffocate a juggernaut, but the bigger message is that the Royals have a big stadium. And Kauffman Stadium, indeed, is statistically tough on the longball.

Let’s play an assumption game for some reason. Say you’re given only one piece of information about a stadium, and from there you have to guess how the stadium plays overall. By our numbers, Kauffman Stadium has baseball’s seventh-lowest home-run factor. That means it’s probably pitcher-friendly, right? AT&T Park is pitcher-friendly. PNC Park is pitcher-friendly. Safeco, historically, has been pitcher-friendly. But this is the interesting twist, at least as far as park factors go: Kansas City’s ballpark is overall hitter-friendly. It’s just not so in the ordinary way.

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Contract Crowdsourcing 2014-15: Day 6 of 10

Free agency begins five days after the end of the World Series. As in other recent offseasons, FanGraphs is once again facilitating this offseason a contract-crowdsourcing project, the idea being to harness the wisdom of the crowds to the end of better understanding the 2014-15 free-agent market.

Below are links to ballots for a collection of starting pitchers who’ve demonstrated varying degrees of health in recent years.

Other Players: Nori Aoki / Emilio Bonifacio / Billy Butler / Asdrubal Cabrera / Melky Cabrera / Nelson Cruz / Michael Cuddyer / Chase Headley / Torii Hunter / Adam LaRoche / Jed Lowrie / Nick Markakis / Russell Martin / Victor Martinez / Kendrys Morales / Michael Morse / Aramis Ramirez / Hanley Ramirez / Colby Rasmus / Mark Reynolds / Alex Rios / Pablo Sandoval / Ichiro Suzuki / Chris Young (OF)/ Delmon Young.

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The World Series of Power Versus Finesse

Only three teams threw the ball faster, on average, than the Royals this year. Not surprising when you’ve got youth like Yordano Ventura, Greg Holland and Kelvin Herrera throwing fire on the regular.

Only one team threw the ball slower, on average, than the Giants this year. Not surprising when you have distinguished gentlemen like Tim Hudson, Ryan Vogelsong, and Jake Peavy stepping on the rubber three out of every five games.

This difference in velocities has ramifications for pitch mix, of course. The Royals threw fastballs more often than the Giants. The Giants threw breaking pitches more often than the Royals. In fact, the Giants threw more breaking pitches than anyone in baseball.

Is one team better equipped to handle the strength of the opposing team?

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FG on Fox: Divergent Strategies, Dominant Bullpens

Not all bullpens are created equal. This postseason, the Kansas City Royals are putting on a show with their backend arms, blowing the doors off any and all competition with their unsubtle charms. What they lack in nuance they make up for in pure, unadulterated filth.

Meanwhile, in San Francisco, the Giants feature a bullpen that couldn’t be more different than the high-powered Royals relief corps. Where the Royals are young, the Giants are old. Where Kansas City is cheap, the Giants relievers are lavishly paid.

It’s a study in contrasts, right up until the moment when you get around to studying their results. Because this October, the way the Giants pen racks up outs is second to none. Consider the postseason results of these two groups, both forced to run the full Wild Card gauntlet.

2014 postseason IP H R HR K% BB% K-BB% AVG ERA
Kansas City Royals 35 22 7 1 25.7% 9.3% 16.4% .179 1.80
San Francisco Giants 35.1 20 7 7 22.6% 8.3% 14.3% .164 1.78

The manner in which they conduct their business might be different but they are getting spotless results. The Giants benefit from their wizened manager deploying them expertly, eschewing set inning roles and instead using whichever of his four main guys is better suited to the situation at hand.

Read the rest on Just a Bit Outside.

The Nastiest Pitches We’ll See in the World Series, Subjectively

I had slightly higher hopes for this post. Don’t get me wrong, I’m pleased with the final result. But when I first cooked this idea up, my plan was to utilize the Baseball Prospectus PITCHf/x leaderboards to pull velocity, horizontal movement, vertical movement, whiff rate and groundball rate to determine the nastiest pitches we’ll see in the World Series. But, there were a few problems.

While more velocity generally makes a pitch nastier, that’s not always true, especially in the case of offspeed pitches. More movement definitely makes a pitch nastier, but movement is hard to compare across a PITCHf/x leaderboard because a lot of it is dependent on arm slot and you get some funky values from guys who throw with funky motions.

So then, I was left with just whiff rate and groundball rate, but I actually kind of like that. Those are two of the best outcomes, and they’re the direct result of some of the things we weren’t able to capture, such as velocity, horizontal movement and vertical movement. The most dominant outcome of a pitch, for a pitcher, is a swing and miss. But not all guys dominate by getting whiffs, and so they don’t all pitch that way. Some guys dominate by getting weak contact, and ground balls yield the weakest contact of the three main batted ball types (grounders, flies and line drives). But the guys who really dominate are the ones who get the best of both worlds: whiffs and grounders.
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Dave Cameron FanGraphs Chat – 10/20/14

Dave Cameron: So, due to a scheduling conflict, you won’t get your regular Monday Szymborski fix. He and I traded days this week, though, so if you’re missing your Dan time, you don’t have to wait another week. That does mean you’re stuck with me today, though.
Dave Cameron: Okay, we’ll get this chat started.
Comment From a Guest
Thanks for chatting Dan! What can we make of Jake Peavy’s free agency after a bifurcated year? 3/40 about right, and if so who bites at that price?
Dave Cameron: I’m not Dan, and I don’t think Peavy will get anything close to 3/40. Steamer projects him as about a +1 WAR pitcher for 2015, and he just posted the worst xFIP of his career.
Dave Cameron: Wild guess: I’d probably think he’s in line for something like the 2/20ish deal that Arroyo/Hudson/others got last winter.
Comment From _David_
Does your discussion of the Royals and the value of mediocrity make the Cano signing look any better for the Mariners?

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A Tale Of Two Buster Poseys

There’s no shortage of reasons why the Giants find themselves in the World Series for the third time in five years, really, and you can start anywhere. Maybe that’s Jake Peavy, a disappointment in Boston and now a revelation in San Francisco. Or rookie Joe Panik, filling a hole that was so bad it had led to Dan Uggla desperation, or the hilarious story that is Travis Ishikawa. There’s help from outsiders like Mike Matheny & Randy Choate, not to mention the Pirates deciding they’d rather have Edinson Volquez on the mound for the wild card game rather than Gerrit Cole. There’s been 18-inning playoff games, and the complete disappearance of Tim Lincecum, and the much more explainable absences of Matt Cain, Angel Pagan and Marco Scutaro, and 12 October runs that came in without the benefit of hits.

For an 88-win team to get to the World Series, a lot has to go their way. Much of it is going to be of their own doing, and some of it is going to be the usual insanity that comes in short-series baseball, which is less about crowning the “best” team and more about rewarding the right team, the one that did what needed to be done at the appropriate times.

This Giants team has all of that and more, and certainly Bruce Bochy and his staff have earned the credit they’ve been given. But in our rush to try to identify all the unusual ways that a team that always seems to be more good than great keeps getting this far in the playoffs, it’s easy to look past some of the more obvious reasons, like the fact that the Giants have two of the best players in baseball. Ace Madison Bumgarner is really, really good. So, of course, is Buster Posey.

* * * Read the rest of this entry »

Players Who Were Better Off Bunting

Bunts were more topical before the Royals discovered how to hit home runs in the playoffs. But bunt fever can never be cured, only controlled. Hopefully people have a more nuanced view of bunts. Jeff Sullivan recently discussed how the Royals’ bunts this year actually have not been so bad according to Win Probability Added, a tool I also use in my annual Best and Worst Bunts posts (the anticipation is building!).

While much of the positive value of bunts comes from the chances of the defense making errors. A WPA analysis takes into account the game state — at some point things like one-run strategies are pretty good ideas. Moreover some players are better bunters than others, and some players are such poor hitters that bunting might be more advisable for them than others.

Looking back at the 2014 regular season, which players were better off bunting?

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Sunday Notes: Tazawa’s Role, Perkins’ Bullets, Butler, Buck, Baseball Americana

Junichi Tazawa is satisfied with his current role. Sort of. The 28-year-old set-up specialist would rather start or close, but he’s comforted by the knowledge that outs in the seventh and eighth innings can be every bit as valuable as outs in the ninth. And he gets a lot of them. Tazawa made 71 appearances for the Red Sox this season and logged a 2.86 ERA over 63 innings.

His job isn’t simple. Along with frequently facing high-leverage situations, he doesn’t have one designated inning. Tazawa pitched in the eighth inning 45 times this year, and 16 times in the seventh. He also made appearances in the sixth, the ninth, and in extra frames.

Further impacting Tazawa’s preparation has been his usage relative to the scoreboard. He entered 29 games with the Red Sox trailing. On 28 occasions he entered with a lead.

“My job doesn’t really depend on whether we’re winning or losing,” acknowledged Tazawa, through translator C.J. Matsumoto. “There is the possibility I will get into either situation, so I’m looking at the pitch count and trying to get my blood flow going. I need to be able to step right in there.”

One of the questions I asked Tazawa at season’s end was whether his ready-at-any-time role is more challenging mentally or physically. Read the rest of this entry »

The Best of FanGraphs: October 13 – October 17, 2014

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, purple for NotGraphs, dark red for The Hardball Times, orange for TechGraphs and blue for Community Research.
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FanGraphs Audio: Kiley McDaniel’s Catalog of Disappointment

Episode 496
Kiley McDaniel is both (a) the lead prospect writer for FanGraphs and also (b) the guest on this particular edition of FanGraphs Audio — during which edition he discusses the Cubs’ and Red Sox’ prospect lists among other various and sundry topics.

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 59 min play time.)

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FG on Fox: Two Wild Cards Are In the World Series, and That’s Terrific

So we’re all set, then, for a weekend without any baseball. The Royals did away with the Orioles in the minimum number of games, and the Giants almost did that same thing to the Cardinals. So out of a possible 14 LCS contests, we got nine of them, and now we’re set up for a showdown that isn’t exactly improbable, but that wasn’t predicted by (m)any. The Royals are in the World Series, after winning 89 games and after having once been 48-50. The Giants are in the World Series, after winning 88 games and after having once been 63-57. It’s going to be a World Series between two wild-card teams, and that’s absolutely terrific.

Major League Baseball is getting what it wanted from this postseason. And I don’t just mean in terms of the drama, although I think we’ve all been aware of that. The series haven’t been long, but the games have just about all been close. As one example, during the regular season, 19 percent of all plate appearances occurred with a score deficit of at least four runs. In the playoffs, that’s dropped all the way to 9 percent, and there were only three such plate appearances in the whole ALCS. It’s absurd how suspenseful and electrifying this has all been, but then that’s something more particular to this postseason. The wild-card thing is a bigger-picture issue.

It’s … I don’t know, what’s a good word? Controversial? The argument against being, wild-card berths dilute the level of talent in the playoffs. So perhaps the wild-card teams are undeserving, and then what does that tell you if you get a pair of them in the championship? What does a World Series title tell you about a team, if it’s a series between two teams who failed to win their divisions?

It tells you that a team beat another team in a baseball tournament. It tells you nothing more, and it’s not designed to tell you anything more. Tournaments thrive on drama and unpredictability. What baseball’s got set up is a hell of a tournament, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with a couple of wild-card teams surviving to the end. In another sport, we’d call them Cinderellas.

Read the rest on Just A Bit Outside.

Madison Bumgarner: Elite Fastball Pitcher

Not long ago, a prominent national baseball writer declared that Madison Bumgarner is the one pitcher you’d want starting a must-win game for your team in the playoffs. The statement’s certainly debatable, but at the same time the feeling is understandable — Bumgarner’s tough as nails, and he’s been on a hell of a run. He’s been on the radar for years, having spent plenty of time pitching in the postseason, and there’s something that comes to mind when you think about Bumgarner: his signature cutter. Or slider. Whichever. No matter the name, they describe the same weapon, and it’s something Bumgarner has thrown before almost 40% of the time. Madison Bumgarner? Awesome cutter. Yeah. The association’s automatic.

Regarding that, I want to show you a table. You know our pitch values? You know our pitch values. Positive numbers are good. Bigger positive numbers are more good. Here are Bumgarner’s year-to-year pitch values, from his player page:

Season Fastball Cutter Curve Changeup
2009 -0.8 1.5 0.0 0.3
2010 -5.8 -0.3 2.4 5.0
2011 2.2 17.7 -5.4 -2.3
2012 -0.2 16.0 -1.4 0.4
2013 13.6 15.1 2.1 3.6
2014 16.5 1.5 -6.0 -0.9

Based on that, a year ago, Bumgarner really improved his fastball. And this year, his cutter wasn’t much of a weapon. Let’s do more! Here are 2014 season splits:

Split Fastball Cutter Curve Changeup
1st Half 0.1 0.5 -3.0 -1.2
2nd Half 16.4 1.0 -3.0 0.3

All that fastball value came in the second half. As a matter of fact, after the All-Star break, Madison Bumgarner’s fastball was the most valuable pitch in baseball. The cutter? It was fine, and it’s still fine, but it’s not what it has been. And Bumgarner doesn’t seem to mind. Despite the cutter association, the Madison Bumgarner we’ve been seeing for months is, more than anything else, an elite fastball pitcher.

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Free Carlos Martinez!

Heading into the 2012 season, Carlos Martinez was the 22nd-best prospect in the game, according to ESPN, and the 27th-best according to Baseball America. He was ranked in everyone else’s top 100 as well, including here. A year later, he was 38th, and 39th. Despite this, the Cardinals have never given him a real shot to prove that he can be anything other than a middle reliever. It’s time someone gave him that chance.

Armed with what has been referred to as two pitches near the top of the 20-80 scale, Martinez has talent that all scouts dream of. And when he reached the majors at age 21 last season, he put it on display. He didn’t get the chance to start, but with the Cardinals in the thick of the playoff hunt, this wasn’t a major surprise. He got one spot start at the beginning of August, didn’t fare very well, and was moved back to the ‘pen. Plenty of hot shot prospects have broken in via the bullpen, and then gone back to being starters when the season starts anew in April. But between the Cardinals’ seemingly crowded rotation and some excellent work as a reliever in last year’s National League Championship Series, Martinez found himself back in the bullpen to start 2014.

This time, he didn’t take to the bullpen as well. Perhaps that is because his manager, Mike Matheny, couldn’t figure out what to do with him. In one stretch in April, Martinez had consecutive gmLI’s of 3.02, 0.52, 0.75, 1.46, 0.14, 2.13 and 0.03. We rail against rote bullpen roles frequently, and with just cause — managers should try to put their teams in the best position possible to win games. But even this approach has its limits. In case gmLI’s are a little foreign to you, here’s what the situation was when Martinez entered the game in those seven appearances:

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Contract Crowdsourcing 2014-15: Day 5 of 10

Free agency begins five days after the end of the World Series. As in other recent offseasons, FanGraphs is once again facilitating this offseason a contract-crowdsourcing project, the idea being to harness the wisdom of the crowds to the end of better understanding the 2014-15 free-agent market.

Below are links to ballots for a collection of immobile DH-types and also Ichiro Suzuki.

Other Players: Nori Aoki / Emilio Bonifacio / Asdrubal Cabrera / Melky Cabrera / Nelson Cruz / Michael Cuddyer / Chase Headley / Torii Hunter / Adam LaRoche / Jed Lowrie / Nick Markakis / Russell Martin / Michael Morse / Aramis Ramirez / Hanley Ramirez / Colby Rasmus / Mark Reynolds / Alex Rios / Pablo Sandoval / Chris Young (OF).

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How Does One Pick Off Terrance Gore?

Probably my favorite sub-plot of this manic Royals conquest is the team’s 25th man, Terrance Gore, who had played in 11 major league regular season games before this most iconic of winning streaks. In fact, including his postseason appearances, Gore has played only 33 games above single-A, and is now a World Series contestant.

One way to easily identify Gore on the field is his uniform number 0, an under-utilized quirk that is an easy way to gain my affection. (Much respect also to Adam Ottavino.) There are other easy ways to identify him: he’s by far the smallest person on the field, somewhere around 5’7”, and he is only summoned off the bench in order to pinch-run in late-inning situations, and almost always for designated hitter Billy Butler. The substitution for Butler is doubly brilliant on the Royals’ part: slow Billy is taken off of the basepaths, and inexperienced Terrance does not have to play high-leverage innings of defense. In his sixteen games as a Royal, Gore has only been allowed two plate appearances, neither of them in the postseason.

Gore’s inclusion on the roster is a brilliant example of an entire Major League organization working in orchestration. Anticipating his usefulness as a playoff bench weapon, the Royals promoted Gore from High-A Wilmington to Triple-A Omaha at the beginning of August, and then from Omaha to Kansas City at the end of the month. Come playoff time, and Gore effectively replaced Raul Ibanez on the 25-man roster, with the hoodied Ibanez looking more and more like a coach as he watches and encourages from the dugout.

It has been easy to compare Gore to Herb Washington, a track champion and an Oakland A from 1974-75. In his two years in the big leagues, Washington appeared in 110 games, stole 31 bases, and ended up with more World Series rings (1) than career plate appearances (0).

To compare these two players is actually disrespectful to Gore. For Washington’s career, he successfully stole on 31 of his 50 attempts — an unremarkable 62% — and went 0 for 2 in the playoffs. To wit:

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Where I Was Wrong About the Royals

Over the last few years, I’ve been pretty down on the Royals as a contender, most notably writing a pretty harsh review of their side of the James Shields trade. Then, before the season began, I stated that I didn’t see the Royals as legitimate contenders this year, even though they were becoming a trendy pick in the national media. And finally, on July 21st, I suggested that the Royals punt on 2014 and trade Shields before he gets to free agency, given that they had fallen into third place and were seven games behind the Tigers in the AL Central.

Since that last piece was published, the Royals have gone 49-24, including their current 8-0 postseason run that has let them to the World Series. A moribund franchise has been rejuvenated, and the Royals have achieved the exact result they were hoping for when they made the Shields trade in order to speed up their timeline. If the Royals had listened to me at any point along the way, they probably wouldn’t be in the World Series right now, so it’s time for some self-examination. What did I miss? Is there a lesson to be learned here?

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The Top-Five Cubs Prospects by Projected WAR

Earlier today, Kiley McDaniel published his consummately researched and demonstrably authoritative prospect list for the Chicago Cubs. What follows is a different exercise than that, one much smaller in scope and designed to identify not Chicago’s top overall prospects but rather the rookie-eligible players in the Cubs system who are most ready to produce wins at the major-league level in 2015 (regardless of whether they’re likely to receive the opportunity to do so). No attempt has been made, in other words, to account for future value.

Below are the top-five prospects in the Cubs system by projected WAR. To assemble this brief list, what I’ve done is to locate the Steamer 600 projections for all the prospects to whom McDaniel assessed a Future Value grade of 40 or greater. Hitters’ numbers are normalized to 550 plate appearances; starting pitchers’, to 150 innings — i.e. the playing-time thresholds at which a league-average player would produce a 2.0 WAR. Catcher projections are prorated to 415 plate appearances to account for their reduced playing time.

Note that, in many cases, defensive value has been calculated entirely by positional adjustment based on the relevant player’s minor-league defensive starts — which is to say, there has been no attempt to account for the runs a player is likely to save in the field. As a result, players with an impressive offensive profile relative to their position are sometimes perhaps overvalued — that is, in such cases where their actual defensive skills are sub-par.

5. Kyle Schwarber, C/OF (Profile)

415 .219 .278 .353 74 0.8

Calculating a projection for Schwarber presents some difficulties insofar as (a) he’s clearly more valuable at catcher than left field, presuming he’s an average defender at both, but also (b) he’s probably not an average defensive catcher. Not currently, at least. As McDaniel notes, however, the Cubs are committed for the time being to developing Schwarber behind the plate. His offensive profile, complemented by the benefit of a catcher’s positional adjustment, would conspire to create an impressive major leaguer.

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Evaluating the Prospects: Chicago Cubs

Evaluating the Prospects: RangersRockiesDiamondbacksTwinsAstrosRed Sox & Cubs

Scouting Explained: Introduction, Hitting Pt 1 Pt 2 Pt 3 Pt 4 Pt 5 Pt 6

The Cubs have the deepest system I’ve written up so far and the most impact talent, with much of it at the upper levels.  There’s a case to be made that this is the best system in baseball and  it has to be in the top five, but I’ll hold off on an official determination until I’ve formally evaluated all of the candidates. The rebuilding of the organization and system is evident in looking at the types of players I rank below; a number of prospects from the 2013 July 2nd spending spree, aggressive over-slot bonuses on high upside draft prospects, solid low minors prospects acquired in trades along with hitting on nearly all the high profile, big money signings in recent years.

There’s still some position fits to work out before the fanboys will see their ideal lineups of the future in living color (see Russell and Schwarber reports for new information on that front), but the Cubs are being proactive to try to solve this, with multiple position players converting to a position of long-term need (catcher) during instructs this fall (more notes below).  There’s a reason this system seems a lot like the last team I evaluated, the Red Sox, because both are among the best systems in the game and were put together with the same kinds of principles and resources along with some of the same top executives.

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Library Update: Plate Discipline

The great thing about plate discipline statistics is that they’re relatively easy to understand, but the bad news is that there are so many variations and it can be hard to keep them perfectly straight.  Fear not, we’ve expanded out Library entry on plate discipline stats to combat this problem.

The entry includes more specifics about all of the numerators and denominators and provides some more detail about how to interpret the data and the differences between our two sets of plate discipline data.

As always, feel free to ask questions in the comments section here, find me on Twitter @NeilWeinberg44, or stop by our weekly chat designed for this type of inquiry, Wednesdays at 3pm eastern.