Neil Weinberg FanGraphs Q&A – 7/23/14

Live Blog Neil Weinberg FanGraphs Q&A – 7/23/14

The Fringe Five: Baseball’s Most Compelling Fringe Prospects

The Fringe Five is a weekly regular-season exercise, introduced last April by the present author, wherein that same ridiculous author utilizes regressed stats, scouting reports, and also his own heart 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 all of three notable preseason top-100 prospect lists* and also (b) not currently playing in the majors. Players appearing on the midseason prospect lists produced by those same notable sources or, otherwise, selected in the first round of the current season’s amateur draft will also be excluded from eligibility.

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So Jose Molina Has Three Stolen Bases

It’s a bit of an odd time to write about baseball. Some trades are trickling in, but we’re about a week removed from the All Star Game. The ASG break is a great time to do some summaries, compare some first halves, look at some guys who may be surprising or disappointing. But there’s only been a handful of days since everyone submitted those stories, and very little has happened since, at least as far as big-picture stuff goes. It is for this reason, and many other selfish reasons, that I am now writing about husky guys stealing bases.

This actually started as a tweet from fellow FanGraphs-er Jason Collette. It’s a fairly innocuous thing on its own. The fact that Molina has only scored three runs is a bit of an oddity, but more on a “weird baseball” level — which I assume Jason was going for. The fact that he has three steals is even less of a big deal. Lots of dudes don’t have many steals. As of this writng, 64 players have less than 3 steals. It is slightly noteworthy that Jose Molina has as many steals as both Starlin Castro and Andrelton Simmons, but only because guys like Castro and Simmons are smaller young guys that look like they should be speedy. Conversely, Molina looks like he should not be speedy. That is, he’s 39 years old and rotund.

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FG on Fox: The Second Wild Card Trap

As we head into play on Wednesday, 12 of the 15 teams in the American League are within six games of a playoff spot. This is great news if you were a member of Bud Selig’s Blue Ribbon Committee, tasked with bringing parity — competitive balance is the preferred MLB jargon, I believe — to a sport that has seen its fair share of dominant dynasties. The addition of a second wild card, along with rising television revenues that have shrunk the gap between the haves and the have-nots, means that more teams are fancying themselves as contenders now than ever before.

The Royals, a game below .500, are reportedly more interested in acquiring a hitter to bolster their offense than in selling off the final few months of James Shields‘ contract. The Rays are five games below .500, but have won six straight and might just be talking themselves out of trading David Price, given their recent surge. Even the Red Sox, who looked dead and buried a few weeks ago, have now won eight of their last 10, and can probably make a case for keeping their team together to make a last ditch run at defending their championship.

However, I’d like to make a suggestion to American League teams chasing the second Wild Card spot: proceed with caution.

The reward for even winning the Wild Card used to be a best-of-five series that would likely result in at least two home playoff games, a nifty little reward for a team’s fan base. Under the new system, however, the carrot at the end of the Wild Card stick is just a single game winner-take-all affair, with the loser only extending their season by one additional day, and maybe not even playing that game in front of their home crowd.

And the news gets worse for the second Wild Card entry in the American League this year; not only are you going on the road for an elimination game, but you’re almost guaranteed to be going up against one of the very best teams in baseball.

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Dave Cameron FanGraphs Chat – 7/23/14

Dave Cameron: A week and a day until the trade deadline, so I’m guessing these next two chats will be heavily driven by trade rumors/questions/suggestions. Normally, I prefer to avoid crazy trade proposals, but for the next couple of weeks, we’ll indulge everyone’s desire to make fake trades. Try to maintain some semblance of logic, however.
Dave Cameron: Non-trade questions are still allowed too, of course.
Dave Cameron: The queue is now open and we’ll start chatting in about 20 minutes.
Comment From Guest
How different is the Rockies Front Office by opening day 2015?
Dave Cameron: Entirely different, I think. We haven’t had much front office turnover lately, but I think we’re going to see a bunch of house cleanings this winter. Arizona, Colorado, and San Diego are all likely to bring in new people, and I wouldn’t be shocked if Ruben Amaro got canned in Philly either.
Comment From Tradey Tradestein
Biggest name to be moved at the deadline will be?

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Tampa Bay’s New Center Fielder of the Future

Kevin Kiermaier debuted for the Tampa Bay Rays in 2013. Here were his end-of-season numbers:

Kiermaier 1 0 0 .000 .000 .000 .000 0.0

The Rays added Kiermaier to their 40-man roster on September 30 last season for their Game 163 tiebreaker against the Texas Rangers. Kiermaier debuted in the ninth inning when Joe Maddon subbed him in as a defensive replacement in center field, and as a result Kiermaier earned a spot on the Rays postseason roster for their Wild Card game against the Indians. An unusual debut, to say the least, but not surprising given what was thought of Kiermaier at the time.

Rays General Manager Andrew Friedman called Kiermaier the best defensive player in their organization at any level at the time of his callup last season.’s Bernie Pleskoff, a former professional scout, called Kiermaier an “outstanding defender” and went on to say that Kiermaier could win multiple Gold Gloves.

It was always thought that Kiermaier had a future as an MLB player, probably as a fourth or fifth outfielder who mostly served as a late-inning defensive replacement or pinch runner. Now, Kiermaier has the highest WAR on the team projected to be best in the AL East, and he’s done it in less than half as much playing time as anyone else.

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NERD Game Scores: Tsuyoshi Wada Recon Opportunity

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
San Diego at Chicago NL | 20:05 ET
Ian Kennedy (129.1 IP, 87 xFIP-, 2.3 WAR) faces Tsuyoshi Wada (113.2 IP, 25.9% K, 6.0% BB at Triple-A). That the latter has produced the second-best strikeout-walk differential among all qualified Triple-A pitchers is a matter of record. Precisely how he’s done that — as a 33-year-old who was considerably less effective last year in the minors and also throws just 90 mph — that’s a greater mystery. Wada’s major-league debut July 8th at Cincinnati was a success; he recorded a 3:1 strikeout-to-walk ratio against 19 batters over 5.0 scoreless innings (box).

Readers’ Preferred Broadcast: Chicago NL Television.

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Prospect Watch: Angels System Is Not Empty… Yet

Each weekday during the minor-league season, FanGraphs is providing a status update on multiple rookie-eligible players. Note that Age denotes the relevant prospect’s baseball age (i.e. as of July 1st of the current year); Top-15, the prospect’s place on Marc Hulet’s preseason organizational list; and Top-100, that same prospect’s rank on Hulet’s overall top-100 list.

* * *

Victor Alcantara, RHP, Los Angeles Angels (Profile)
Level: Low-A   Age: 21   Top-15: N/A   Top-100: N/A
Line: 87.0 IP, 48-79 BB-K, 64 H, 4.03 ERA

With the recent trade for the Padres’ Huston Street, the Angels all but emptied their minor league system. Read the rest of this entry »

Midseason Pick-Ups and Fighting Regression

I remember… some of the details about the clearest time regression to the mean was ever explained to me. It wasn’t explained to me personally; it was a blog post somewhere, or maybe a print-published article, and it simply showed league-leading batting averages, and then the batting averages for the same players the next season. If you’re familiar with the concept of regression, of course you know that, the next season, the batting averages were pretty much all down. It couldn’t have been more simple, and it couldn’t have been more helpful, and regression is so common a term now within baseball analysis that we all get to feel like part-time mathematicians. Especially around here, most people are smart enough to factor regression into almost everything.

It applies between seasons, and it applies within seasons. It’s a little like gravity — it’s always a factor, whether you like it or not, and it’s built into good player projections. It’s built into good standings projections. If a player has been really good for a time, odds are, going forward, he’s going to be less good. If a team has been really good for a time, odds are, the same thing. Regression is among the more powerful forces, but there is some evidence of teams being able to fight it off. Let’s talk about midseason trades.

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FanGraphs After Dark Chat – 7/22/14

Paul Swydan: Hi everybody!

Jeff and I will be here at 9 pm ET to cram as much baseball as we can cram into your cramholes. Until then, fill up the queue! See you soon!

Paul Swydan: Hey guys, let’s do this thing.
Comment From Cobbieguy
Conventional wisdom says Brock Holt won’t be a first ballot hall of famer; however, what can his value be going forward? Ben Zobrist lite with less power?
Paul Swydan: Ben Zobrist lite with less power is a utility player, which is what Holt really is.
Jeff Zimmerman: I am just not buying to his season. Zobrist without the power and a little worse defender.
Comment From Ceej
Is Byron Buxton injury prone similar to someone like Ellsbury and Harper where it just keeps happening but he isn’t necessarily brittle and more fluky?

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The Top 10 Prospects Currently by Projected WAR

Recently, in these pages, Marc Hulet released his midseason top-25 prospect list — designed, that particular post, to sort out the best prospects in baseball according to overall future potential. What follows is a different thing than that — designed to identify not baseball’s top prospects, but rather the rookie-eligible players* who are most ready to produce wins at the major-league level (regardless of whether they’re likely to receive the opportunity to do so). What it is not is an attempt to account for any kind of future value — for which reason it’s unlikely to resemble very closely those prospect lists such as that recently released by Hulet.

*In this case, defined as any player who’s recorded fewer than 130 at-bats or 50 innings — which is to say, there’s been no attempt to identify each player’s time spent on the active roster, on account of that’s a super tedious endeavor.

To assemble the following collection of 10 prospects, what I’ve done first is to calculate prorated rest-of-season WAR figures for all players for whom either the Steamer or ZiPS projection systems have produced such a forecast. 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 approximately a 2.0 WAR. Catcher projections are prorated to 415 plate appearances to account for their reduced playing time.

Owing to how the two systems are structured, the majority of the numbers which follow represent only the relevant prospect’s Steamer projection. Players eligible for the list either (a) enter their age-26 season or lower in 2014 or, alternatively, (b) were signed as international free agents this offseason.

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Padres Finally Trade Chase Headley Two Years Too Late

In 2012, 28-year-old Chase Headley put up one of the five best seasons in the history of the Padres franchise, a 7.2 WAR year that made him one of the six most valuable hitters in baseball that year. He had two years of team control remaining, he was on the right side of 30 and he was playing a position that is always difficult to fill ably. His value was through the roof; the Padres could have had almost anything they wanted for him. Preferring to try to win, they made a few extension offers that didn’t pan out, and kept him around to go 119-141 since the end of 2012.

Less than two years later, he’s been traded to the Yankees for a 27-year-old infielder who was a minor league free agent last winter (Yangervis Solarte), an inconsistent (though talented) 23-year-old A-ball pitcher who wasn’t on anyone’s top-100 list (Rafael De Paula), the loss of the option to give Headley a qualifying offer if they wanted, and they even had to kick in a million dollars to the Yankees to make it happen. When you talk about holding on to an asset too long, well, this is the prime example right here. Headley is no longer part of the Padres’ future, and he didn’t turn into anything that is very likely to be a big part of that future.

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What Jhonny Peralta Tells Us About Defensive Metrics

Five years ago, the Cleveland Indians decided that Jhonny Peralta just wasn’t capable of playing shortstop at the Major League level anymore, shifting him to third base to allow Asdrubal Cabrera to move back from second base to shortstop, the position he had primarily played in the minors. Peralta had never put up particularly good defensive numbers at shortstop, and with a thick lower half, he certainly looked more like a third baseman than a middle infielder.

After roughly a year at third base, while still hitting like a shortstop, Peralta was traded to Detroit. The Indians weren’t going to pick up his $7 million option for 2011, and the Tigers were looking for an infielder to give them some depth on the left side of the infield. Peralta played third base for a week with the Tigers, but then incumbent Brandon Inge returned from the disabled list, and the Tigers moved Peralta back to shortstop.

Since that move, Peralta has played the position exclusively, spending four years at shortstop between Detroit and St. Louis. And along the way, a funny thing happened; UZR fell in love with Jhonny Peralta’s defense.

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Huston Street Deal: A Good Omen for the Sellers

With the trading deadline still 10 days away, there have been, as might be expected, a whole lot more rumors than deals to date. A fairly significant one did take place over the weekend, however, as the Angels acquired RHP Huston Street and minor league RHP Trevor Gott from the Padres in exchange for four prospects – 2B Taylor Lindsey, RHP R.J. Alvarez, SS Jose Rondon and RHP Elliot Morris. The big picture trade market has been slow to develop in part due to the imbalance between a large group of potential buyers and a relatively small – but growing – number of sellers and should-be sellers. This trade should be a reassuring development for those confirmed sellers, and a prod to get the undecideds off of the fence and down to some serious selling. Read the rest of this entry »

Jeff Sullivan FanGraphs Chat — 7/22/14

Jeff Sullivan: All right, so let’s see

Jeff Sullivan: Late: check

Jeff Sullivan: Don’t bother asking fantasy questions because I don’t know how to answer them: check

Jeff Sullivan: The Mariners are the way to my heart but I try to limit the amount of those questions I take: check

Jeff Sullivan: Onward!

Comment From JR
Does Baez moving to 2B imply he’ll get called up soon?

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The Opposite Trends of Starlin Castro and Allen Craig

Not too long ago, I observed that Allen Craig was getting pitched differently. He was getting pitched differently because he was hitting differently, in that he hasn’t been hitting for pull power. So pitchers have fed him more fastballs, and more fastballs inside, daring him to turn on something. Before that, I observed that Robinson Cano was also missing his pull power, although he compensated better than Craig has. And somewhere along the line, I wrote something similar about Evan Longoria, so I guess I realize I’m interested in certain batted-ball tendencies. And that realization made me want to look at the bigger picture.

Some hitters are lethal when they’re able to pull the ball. Other guys are quite good at going the other way. Brian Dozier is a total pull hitter, who can’t do crap the other way. Ryan Howard, meanwhile, can’t do crap to his pull side, preferring the opposite field. Individual tendencies are individual tendencies, but things get interesting when you see those tendencies change. Changes can be indicative of changes to swing or ability.

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NERD Game Scores for Tuesday, July 22, 2014

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
Miami at Atlanta | 19:10 ET
Jacob Turner (63.2 IP, 102 xFIP-, 0.4 WAR) faces Mike Minor (83.1 IP, 97 xFIP-, 0.2 WAR). Despite having produced almost a precisely league-average park-adjusted xFIP as a starter, the former was removed from the rotation in mid-June after conceding what might rightly be classified as an excess of runs. A reasonably successful month in the bullpen, however, has earned him a return to starter’s duties — the burdens of which role will someday crush his spirit, because every man’s respective burdens eventually crush him.

Readers’ Preferred Broadcast: Atlanta Radio.

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Prospect Watch: Toolsy Outfielders

Each weekday during the minor-league season, FanGraphs is providing a status update on multiple rookie-eligible players. Note that Age denotes the relevant prospect’s baseball age (i.e. as of July 1st of the current year); Top-15, the prospect’s place on Marc Hulet’s preseason organizational list; and Top-100, that same prospect’s rank on Hulet’s overall top-100 list.

Ryan Cordell, OF, Texas Rangers (Profile)
Level: Low-A   Age: 22  Top-15: N/A   Top-100: N/A
Line: 252 PA, .336/.402/.543, 8 HR, 23 BB, 41 K

A strapping outfielder with a full set of tools, Cordell has ripped South Atlantic League pitching apart in his first full season.

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Chris Young and Dropping the Fastball

We’re constantly on the lookout for the adjustments pitchers make. We love being able to spot where the game of baseball is changing, and you never know when a pitcher’s next tweak might vault him into another performance level. Felix Hernandez became Felix Hernandez when he picked up a reliable change. Dallas Keuchel became someone worth knowing when he developed a dependable slider. Mariano Rivera didn’t even have a cutter when he was coming up in the minors, and so on and so forth. It’s easier to spot changing pitchers than changing hitters, and when one thing about a pitcher changes, sometimes you can end up with a whole different profile.

Now, often, when we’re looking for changes, we’re comparing against previous years. And that makes some sense — depending on the adjustment, they’re frequently rolled out and tested in spring training. But it’s also possible to spot some midseason adjustments, with perhaps the simplest adjustment being a change to the pitch mix. Let’s take a look at that for 2014, inspired by something I’ve noticed about Chris Young. I’ve had a note to write about this for a week or two. I guess now I’ve waited long enough.

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FanGraphs Audio: Davey Cameron Analyzes All Baseball

Episode 464
Davey Cameron is both (a) the managing editor of FanGraphs and (b) the guest on this particular edition of FanGraphs Audio — during which edition he does what he was born to do.

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 33 min play time.)

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