Meet Your New Favorite Possible Dodgers Non-Roster Invitee

I lived through the 2008 Seattle Mariners. I’m not sure quite how I did it, but I paid attention to that damn team on a daily basis, and I wrote about that damn team on a daily basis, and while I’m sure there were lots of things I cared about and thought were significant in the moment, one of the only things I truly remember about the year, and especially the second half of the year, is Roy Corcoran. Corcoran was a nobody, a journeyman reliever, but he became one of the rare positive stories on a team that went right down the crapper. One of the few upsides of following a team through a disaster year is you uncover these little surprises who otherwise never would’ve gotten a chance. You get to stop caring about a team and start caring about individual players and individual stories, and 2008 put Roy Corcoran on my radar.

And then he fell off my radar the next year, but, anyway. Last year’s Rangers had their own disaster season. It was a disastrous season for different reasons from why the 2008 Mariners had a disastrous season, but it was a catastrophe almost from the start. And as a result, in time, unfamiliar players started to show up in the bigs. I never knew anything about Jake Smolinski. The same goes for Dan Robertson and Tomas Telis and Spencer Patton and Lisalverto Bonilla. And the Rangers also introduced one Ben Rowen. Now, the Rangers are no longer in possession of said Ben Rowen:

…and maybe that’s meaningful. They had him, and didn’t think enough of him to keep him. But I’d like to show you why you should be rooting for Ben Rowen. Daniel Brim already did, having beaten me in a race, but Rowen came up in my morning chat, and had it not been for the Rangers’ 2014 nightmare, Rowen wouldn’t have won me over with his unconventional…ness. They don’t make many like this guy.

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The Jose Bautista of the Ivy League

Multiple influences led to the composition of this brief post — and I fully anticipate that the end result will appeal to approximately X readers, where X is an integer less than 1. That said, as my fourth-grade teacher at Broken Ground School in Concord, NH, once told me during an actual student-teacher conference, “Carson, you’re not that special.” Which is to say: there’s a possibility that at least one other person will derive some pleasure from what follows and perhaps, not unlike that same bright star upon which Fievel Mousekewitz and his sister Tanya both wished in 1986 animated musical An American Tail, the current dispatch will allow us to feel less alone in a world populated by talking felines who extort small immigrant mice in return for quote-unquote protection.

Earlier today, my colleague Jeff Zimmerman — a person who, I sense, very much anticipates the return of domestic baseball — asked if I had plans to do any scouting this spring/summer in the the northeast. The short answer is “No” — not because I don’t intend to transport my dumb body to actual games (I do), but rather because, even were I to acquire both a radar gun and a lifetime supply of moisture-wicking polos, I am a mere impostor in this regard.

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Does MLB Need More Offense In the Modern Game?

On Sunday, Commissioner Manfred made some comments about considering the idea of restricting defensive shifts, an idea to which there was a considerable amount of public pushback. In an interview with Ken Rosenthal last night, Manfred clarified his position, and noted that there’s nothing wrong with exploring the idea of making changes even if they aren’t needed, chalking up the comments to nothing more than due diligence. On that point, I fully agree with him, as there’s no harm in asking questions.

There’s an implicit assumption in this particular question, however. The goal of restricting shifts would be to raise the level of offense in the game today, so those in favor of such an idea are tacitly stating that run scoring in Major League Baseball is currently lower than they would prefer. As offense has cratered over the last five years, it feels like the balance has shifted too far in favor of the pitchers, with the increasing size of the strike zone the primary culprit. As the game sets strikeout record after strikeout record, it becomes easy to conclude that changes are necessary, and the current run environment is just too low.

But I guess I’m not entirely sure that’s true. For reference, here is a chart of league average team runs per game for the 20th and 21st centuries.

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Jeff Sullivan FanGraphs Chat — 1/27/15

9:06
Jeff Sullivan: Hey guys

9:06
Jeff Sullivan: Having some operational issues but this should be resolved any moment

9:07
Jeff Sullivan: There we go. That was weird

9:07
Comment From Amoeba
ASTROS_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ 2014 GB/FB ratio
Evan Gattis_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ 0.87
Colby Rasmus_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ 0.81
George Springer_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ 1.15
Jon Singleton_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ 0.85
Jose Altuve_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ 1.60
Jed Lowrie_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ 0.71
Luis Valbuena_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ 0.66
Jason Castro or Hank Conger_ _ _ _ _ 1.26 (0.79)
Chris Carter_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ 0.53
AVG_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ 0.94 (0.89)MARLINS_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ 2014 GB/FB ratio
Christian Yelich_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ 3.42
Marcell Ozuna_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ 1.44
Giancarlo Stanton_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ 1.06
Michael Morse_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ 1.37
Dee Gordon_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ 3.13
Adeiny Hechavarria_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ 2.26
Martin Prado_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ 1.65
Jarrod Saltalamacchia_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ 0.93
AVG_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ 1.91

Is it fair to say that Astros and Marlins have opposite team construction philosophies?

9:07
Jeff Sullivan: Well that’s a hell of a way to start

9:07
Jeff Sullivan: Let me try to parse whatever this is trying to say

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Early 2015 MLB Draft Notes

Kiley McDaniel posted his Way-Too-Early 2015 MLB draft rankings back in September and a quick update in November but it has been rather quiet on the FanGraphs MLB Draft front since then. I’m here to start changing that, as this past weekend gave me my first opportunity of the year to begin getting looks at notable draft prospects in the Southern California area.

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Wily Peralta and the Case of the Missing Whiffs

The Milwaukee Brewers traded a mainstay of their rotation in Yovani Gallardo to the Texas Rangers last week, as you by now are well aware. When a team trades a mainstay of its rotation, it’s natural to look to the rest of the rotation in an attempt to find who will pick up the slack. Literally, that person will be Jimmy Nelson, who is likely to fill the now-open spot in the rotation. But Nelson’s a fifth starter who is 26 has thrown just 79 innings in the MLB, so the expectations of him are somewhat tempered.

You look to the rest of the rotation and you see Kyle Lohse and Matt Garza, two guys whose career trajectories appear to be going down rather than up. Mike Fiers is an interesting case, but believe it or not he’s only a year younger than Garza and since he hasn’t been a big part of the rotation the last two years, the bar isn’t set too high for him, either.

This brings us to Wily Peralta. Peralta is young — he’s just 25. Peralta has been a fixture of the rotation the last two seasons — he’s made 32 starts in each year and racked up 382 innings in the process. Peralta legitimately improved last season — he dropped his ERA-, FIP- and xFIP- while throwing more innings per start. And Peralta is exciting, because he throws really, really hard. But that’s the part I want to talk about.
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Can the Yankees Avoid Paying A-Rod’s Milestone Bonuses?

The legal controversy surrounding Alex Rodriguez seemingly knows no end. Fresh off a season-long suspension – and a year filled with litigation – Rodriguez is currently preparing to return to the New York Yankees for the 2015 season. In addition to the $61 million the Yankees still owe A-Rod under the 10-year contract he signed back in 2007, Rodriguez can potentially earn another $24 million in bonuses by reaching four different home run milestones in the next three years.

Under the terms of his 2007 contract, the Yankees will pay A-Rod $6 million every time he moves up the all-time home run leaderboard. Rodriguez’s 654 career home runs currently rank fifth all-time, trailing only Willie Mays, Babe Ruth, Hank Aaron and Barry Bonds. If Rodriguez hits six home runs in 2015, he would earn the first $6 million bonus by tying Mays’ career 660 home runs.

According to a recent report in the New York Daily News, however, the Yankees are preparing to contest the bonus provisions in A-Rod’s contract. When the team agreed to the milestone bonus structure back in 2007, it assumed Rodriguez’s march to the all-time home run crown would prove to be quite lucrative. In light of Rodriguez’s subsequent fall from grace, though, the team now understandably thinks A-Rod’s home run milestones will not be nearly as valuable as it initially hoped. As a result, the team is exploring its legal options.

So do the Yankees have any realistic chance of voiding Rodriguez’s bonuses? As is so often the case with the law, the answer is: It depends.

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FanGraphs Audio: Dave Cameron’s Weekly Dispatch

Episode 524
Dave Cameron is both (a) the managing editor of FanGraphs and (b) the guest on this particular edition of FanGraphs Audio — during which edition he discusses Mookie Betts and the future of the defensive shift and the Blue Jays’ mysterious pursuit of Dan Duquette.

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 40 min play time.)

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Revisiting How Devin Mesoraco Got Good

The Reds have officially given four years and at least $28 million to Devin Mesoraco. The contract buys out what would’ve been Mesoraco’s first year of free agency, and this is a contract that would’ve looked a little weird to an observer a year ago. Through 2013, in the majors, Mesoraco owned a 70 wRC+, and against same-handed pitchers, it was a lowly 53. Before last season, Mesoraco was pretty much all potential. And then he tapped into that potential.

He wound up with a 147 wRC+. Against righties, 145. It’s not exactly new news that Mesoraco enjoyed a breakout season, and I’ve even written about this before, back in August. Everything from then remains valid, but I wanted to revisit Mesoraco’s season, to show in greater detail where he made adjustments, and where those adjustments paid off. Though Mesoraco’s remains far from a household name, he just completed one of the great breakout seasons of our time.

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FG on Fox: Breakout Sluggers, Predicted by Fastballs

You can tell a lot about a hitter by how many fastballs pitchers are willing to throw him. The bigger the bat, the more likely it is to see junk. Turns out, small changes in the number of fastballs a hitter sees can help us project that hitter better.

Sort the leaderboard for lowest fastball percentage, and you’ll see it immediately. It’s full of sluggers at the top. Reverse the filter and it’s mostly slappy speedsters. Rob Arthur took a more scientific approach and showed that isolated slugging and fastball percentage are indeed correlated negatively — sluggers see fewer fastballs.

Rookies see more fastballs when they come into the league. Over the last five years, the league saw 57.5% fastballs, and rookies saw 58% fastballs. That’s not a large difference, but it comes in a large sample. Then again, it’s not a large difference, period. Over the course of a season, a rookie with 600 plate appearances would be expected to see 12 or so extra fastballs.

In any case, even if this effect is small when you zoom out, it seems that individual differences in fastball percentage are predictive of future strong work. As Arthur said when he did the gory math behind this statement, “Fastball frequency normally varies according to the pop of the batter, so that when it changes, it may be indicating a change in the underlying skill level of the same batter.”

Read the rest on Just a Bit Outside.


U.S. Government’s New Policy May Help Cuban Ballplayers

One of the big questions when Barack Obama talked about softening relations with Cuba was what impact this would have on Cuban ballplayers. After talking to industry sources, some think we already have a new policy that will speed the process for Cuban defectors to become Major League players.

This new policy is online if you want to read the whole thing, but I’ll excerpt the important passages below, with all of this becoming official in the last ten days:
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The Problem With Rob Manfred’s Problem With Shifts

Yesterday was Rob Manfred’s first official day on the job, and he didn’t waste any take making headlines. In addition to penning an open letter to the fans, he also sat down with Karl Ravech for an ESPN Sunday Conversation, offering some thoughts on what he saw as priorities to tackle early in his tenure. Some of the points of emphasis are things people have been talking about for a long time — there can be entirely too much time between pitches, and when certain teams get together, the length of the game is a real problem as well — but it was his comments about potentially restricting defensive shifts that got the most attention.

In the context of the conversation about how the game can be improved, Manfred mentioned that the league was looking at ways to “inject additional offense into the game.” And it’s fairly natural that people would draw a connection between the rise in shifting and the decrease in offense around the game. After all, the trend towards non-traditional defensive alignment has picked up a lot of steam in the last five years, the same time period in which offensive output has returned to levels not seen since the early-1990s. Shifts are also highly visible changes to the game, as we have all seen line drives end up as easy outs when a frustrated slugger shakes his head and walks back to the dugout.

But while I appreciate Manfred’s willingness to think about tweaking the game to improve the overall experience, this probably isn’t the best path to pursue. Read the rest of this entry »


The Top-Five Yankees Prospects by Projected WAR

Earlier today, Kiley McDaniel published his consummately researched and demonstrably authoritative prospect list for the New York Yankees. What follows is a different exercise than that, one much smaller in scope and designed to identify not New York’s top overall prospects but rather the rookie-eligible players in the Yankees 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 Yankees 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. Ramon Flores, OF (Profile)

PA AVG OBP SLG wRC+ WAR
550 .238 .305 .369 89 0.9

McDaniel notes with regard to Flores that, despite entering just his age-23 season, that he’s nearly a finished product. It’s not surprising, then, to see Flores’ name appear here among the Yankees’ top rookie-eligible players. What it also means is that, unlike with other prospects at the same point on the age curve, it’s probably not correct to assume that Flores will improve considerably over the next three or so years. Defensively, Flores receives a projection of about -3 runs — that is, roughly half way between a league-average center fielder and corner outfielder. This, too, supports McDaniel’s assertion that Flores is capable of playing (if not necessarily excelling at) all three outfield spots.

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Dan Szymborski FanGraphs Chat – 1/26/15

12:00
Dan Szymborski: From his secret lair here on Skullcrusher Mountain, it’s the Dan Szymborski FanGraphs Chat!
12:00
Dan Szymborski: (No presidents as I am not home)
12:00
Comment From Dan
Do you have the Zips PC at least so we can get some projs?
12:00
Dan Szymborski: On my laptop, so no. There would be long waits between.
12:01
Comment From Eric
Your best guess as to where Shields lands?
12:01
Dan Szymborski: That’s hard as he’s the last really desirable free agent standing so there are a lot of options.

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Chris Sale Finds Another Great Pitch

I’m not sure that we talk about how great Chris Sale is often enough. That’s relatively easily explained, I suppose; after all, with offense down across baseball, there’s more great-looking starting pitchers than ever, and even just within Sale’s division last year we found Corey Kluber, James Shields, Yordano Ventura, Max Scherzer, David Price, Anibal Sanchez, Justin Verlander, and Phil Hughes. You don’t have to go too far to find an interesting starter to talk about these days.

Sale finished third in the AL Cy Young balloting, but a distant third, not picking up a single first-place vote. That was primarily due to an early-season trip to the disabled list that left him unable to match Kluber and Felix Hernandez in innings pitched; otherwise, on a rate basis, he was every bit the equal of the AL’s two best starters. But we know that Sale is incredible, and we know that in 2014 he began to be a different kind of incredible, as Jeff Sullivan noted in June. Sale began to diminish usage of his fearsome slider, the one that he’d collected more than half of his strikeouts in 2012-13 with, in hopes that fewer sliders would help maintain the health of his arm.

That was in June. Now it’s January. We have a full season of data to look back upon, and three things should be pretty immediately clear. One, Sale really did use the slider less over the course of the year as compared to 2013: Read the rest of this entry »


2015 ZiPS Projections – Boston Red Sox

After having typically appeared in the very hallowed pages of Baseball Think Factory, Dan Szymborski’s ZiPS projections have been released at FanGraphs the past couple years. The exercise continues this offseason. Below are the projections for the Boston Red Sox. Szymborski can be found at ESPN and on Twitter at @DSzymborski.

Other Projections: Arizona / Atlanta / Chicago AL / Chicago NL / Cleveland / Colorado / Detroit / Houston / Los Angeles AL / Los Angeles NL / Miami / Milwaukee / Minnesota / New York NL / Oakland / San Diego / San Francisco / St. Louis / Tampa Bay / Washington

Batters
Despite the considerable investments made by the club both in Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval this offseason — amounting to nearly $200 million collectively, those contracts — the top WAR projection among all Red Sox players belongs to their second-round pick from the 2004 draft. Dustin Pedroia produced the lowest slugging and isolated-power figures (.376 and .098, respectively) of his career last year, while also recording a career-worst strikeout rate (12.3%). ZiPS calls for Pedroia to find some positive regression in all three areas while still retaining his elite second-base defense.

Probably also capable of providing if not elite, then at least above-average, second-base defense is Mookie Betts. Owing to the continued employment by the club of Pedroia, however, Betts will be forced to supply above-average defense elsewhere. In this case, the most likely destination is right field. It would fair to say that Betts doesn’t possess the typical right-field profile, featuring less power and size than most who play the position. He has excellent plate-discipline skills, however, plus speed and non-negligible power on contact. Note that Betts’ defensive projection below (of -1 runs) is for center field. The equivalent in right would be about +6 or +7 runs saved.

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Evaluating the Prospects: New York Yankees

Evaluating the Prospects: Rangers, Rockies, D’Backs, Twins, Astros, Cubs, Reds, Phillies, Rays, Mets, Padres, Marlins, Nationals, Red Sox, White Sox, OriolesYankees & Braves

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

Amateur Coverage: 2015 Draft Rankings2015 July 2 Top Prospects & Latest on Yoan Moncada

This is the longest list by a couple thousand words and the 58 videos (most with clips from multiple years) of current Yankee prospects on the FanGraphs YouTube page is the most of any team. Some of this is due to my history with the organization and proximity to their Spring Training home, but mostly due to the depth this once-maligned system has developed.

The big story with the Yankees farm system is their July 2nd spending spree last summer and the harsh critiques ownership gave the player development and scouting departments the summer before that.  One led to the other and now things look to be in a much better shape. It’s still too early to pass judgment on the July 2nd group, but all of the high bonus guys are listed below either on the list or in the others section.

They’re the only names below that are unlinked, since they haven’t played pro games yet, only instructional league; the videos of these players are from the pre-July 2nd showcases in the Dominican and from fall instructional league in Tampa. July 2nd prospects sign contracts for the following year, so the team gets an extra year of control before having to add them to the 40-man roster, rather than starting their clock a year early for just part of a summer of games.

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Sunday Notes: Adam Everett on D, Norris’ Notoriety, Boggs & Beer, more

Per the second edition of The Fielding Bible, “From 2003 through 2007, Everett was the best shortstop in the game. It wasn’t even close.”

Adam Everett, who played from 2001-2011, mostly with the Astros, was awarded no traditional Gold Gloves during his career. Omar Vizquel and Jimmy Rollins were two of the reasons. Everett’s pop-gun bat was another, but that’s a topic for another day.

He’s aware of his analytics-based accolades. In 2012, Everett was a special assistant in Cleveland, and he’s spent the past two seasons as the infield coordinator – and briefly the bench coach – in Houston. His reading and comprehension levels go well beyond “The Error of My Ways: A Dinosaur’s Guide to Defense.”

“The Fielding Bible kind of revolutionized things,” Everett told me earlier this week. “For a lot of teams, it became, ‘How much (measurable) value does this guy bring beyond an offensive standpoint?’ It put defense on the map a little more.”

Quantifying defensive value is one thing. Playing defense is another. Everett credits former Astros coach Doug Mansolino – “He’s the guy who got me over the hump” – for much of his development. He also acknowledged former managers Jimy Williams – “a tremendous infield teacher” – and Phil Garner. Each gave him free rein to position himself on the field. Read the rest of this entry »


FanGraphs Audio: The Consummate Kiley McDaniel

Episode 523
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 Baltimore prospects and Washington prospects and Mookie Betts.

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 2 min play time.)

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The Best of FanGraphs: January 19 – January 23, 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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