NERD Game Scores for Sunday, August 30, 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.

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Most Highly Rated Game
New York AL at Atlanta | 13:35 ET
Eovaldi (144.0 IP, 97 xFIP-) vs. Teheran (157.1 IP, 105 xFIP-)
Last Monday, Eno Sarris examined in these pages the development of right-hander Nathan Eovaldi‘s splitter, a pitch that — following a disaster start at Miami in June — Eovaldi began to throw roughly 4 mph harder than previously but also with the same amount of drop. That same evening as Sarris’s post, Eovaldi proceeded to record a higher usage rate with the splitter than with his fastball (while also throwing that same fastball at an average velocity of 98-99 mph). The results: the highest single-game whiff rate of Eovaldi’s season and also 8.0 shutout innings. This afternoon’s game against Atlanta — facilitated by Atlanta’s excellent center-field camera — represents an opportunity to observe Eovaldi’s transformation.

Readers’ Preferred Broadcast: Atlanta Radio.

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Sunday Notes: Heaney, Givens, Dombrowski, Lefties-vs-Lefties, more

Andrew Heaney was pitching in the Arizona Fall League when I first talked to him. A member of the Marlins organization at the time, he was 17 months removed from being drafted ninth overall out of Oklahoma State. This was in 2012, and Heaney had a clean delivery and a bright future.

He still has a bright future, although it’s now with the Angels. Anaheim acquired the 24-year-old southpaw from Miami, via the Dodgers, last winter. As for his delivery, it’s back after a brief hiatus.

“I went through a little funk last year,” Heaney told me earlier this month. “It’s hard to say exactly when it happened, but I developed some mechanical issues. It was also gradual, so I didn’t even feel it. I wasn’t pitching as well as I could, and I wasn’t sure why.”

Film from his time in the Fall League provided the answer. Read the rest of this entry »


FanGraphs Audio: Kiley McDaniel, Lead Prospect Analyst

Episode 590
Kiley McDaniel is both (a) the lead prospect analyst for FanGraphs and also (b) the guest on this particular edition of FanGraphs Audio — during which edition he discusses the curious treatment by the Washington Nationals of prospect Trea Turner, the uses and not-uses of big-league scouts, and McDaniel’s dramatic re-assessment of right-handed Houston prospect Francis Martes.

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

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

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

Audio after the jump. (Approximately 55 min play time.)

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NERD Game Scores for Saturday, August 29, 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.

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Most Highly Rated Game
New York AL at Atlanta | 19:10 ET
Severino (23.0 IP, 90 xFIP-) vs. Wisler (64.2 IP, 127 xFIP-)
When observing the New York Yankees, one is observing a club afflicted by uncertainty. When observing Luis Severino, meanwhile, one is observing a pitcher engorged by talent. It’s a sort of litmus test — with which, of the two, one finds him- or herself identifying. Only one choice is sane, however.

Readers’ Preferred Broadcast: Atlanta Radio.

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The Best of FanGraphs: August 24-28, 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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Jaime Garcia Pitching to Contact with Ace Stuff

Pitching to contact is a much-maligned, sometimes misunderstood philosophy. Inducing contact results in a hit 30% of the time while a runner can reach base on a strikeout only on the rare wild pitch or passed ball. The strikeout is a considerably better outcome, but attacking hitters and getting strike one, the philosophy espoused by Dave Duncan, can combine strikeouts, weak contact, and quick outs to form an incredibly effective pitcher. A half-decade after Duncan’s retirement, one of his former pupils, Jaime Garcia, is throwing strikes, getting ground balls, and keeping hitters off balance, potentially resurrecting a career that appeared doomed by injuries.

Garcia, a 22nd-round draft pick of the Cardinals in 2005, made a brief appearance in the majors in 2008 before Tommy John surgery ended that season and cost him 2009 as well. Garcia came back strong in 2010, and in July 2011, he signed a four-year contract extension that included two team options. At the time, he had pitched nearly 300 innings with a 3.06 ERA and 3.46 FIP, but a year later he would suffer another injury, this time in his shoulder. Rehabilitation failed and in early 2013, he underwent surgery, missing the rest of the season and putting his career in doubt. He was not a part of the Cardinals’ plan to pitch in 2014, but he recovered and appeared briefly in 2014 before injuries again took over. This time, Garcia suffered from thoracic outlet syndrome, the same condition ended the career of teammate Chris Carpenter. Again, he had surgery, and again, he was not a part of the Cardinals’ plans.

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The Orioles’ Frustrating Season

It wasn’t supposed to be this way for the Orioles. After a second trip to the postseason in three years, one in which they got about one-sixth of a season from Matt Wieters and half a season from Manny Machado, making the playoffs in back-to-back seasons for the first time since 1996-1997 was the clear goal. It hasn’t happened that way. The team recently dropped six straight, and has dropped eight of their last 10, to give themselves a firm uphill climb toward a wild-card berth.

Perhaps what is most frustrating for the Orioles is that they have significantly outscored all four teams standing with them or in their way of the second wild-card slot:

American League Second Wild Card Competitors
Team W L Run Diff BR Run Diff WC Playoff Odds
Texas 65 61 -29 -43 28.2%
Anaheim 65 62 -4 -20 31.8%
Minnesota 65 62 -9 -80 13.0%
Tampa Bay 63 64 -19 21 10.7%
Baltimore 63 64 49 9 7.7%
BR = BaseRuns, WC = Wild Card

When you expand from actual run differential to BaseRuns run differential, you can see that the Rays have a legit case to be positioned ahead of Baltimore, but overall that has to be a pretty frustrating table for the Orioles and their fans.

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The Mystery of the Same Old Stephen Strasburg

The Nationals are in a pickle, and not one of those delicious hipster pickles with fresh dill and organic garlic cloves placed in a mason jar by a guy with lots of tattoos in some nondescript warehouse in Brooklyn. I’m talking a problem pickle. The kind you don’t want to see on your doorstep, the kind some hipster would make a horror film about with a hand-held camera in some nondescript warehouse in Brooklyn. Horror Pickle: The Dill of Death! It would be wonderfully awful! No, the nature of the Washington Nationals’ pickle comes from the lots of losing they’ve done this season — far more than the Mets, that is, who lead them both alphabetically (curse you, ancient Greeks!) and, possibly more importantly if more fleetingly, in the NL East standings.

Much has been said about the Nationals’ collapse, but some portion of their mediocre start falls on the broad shoulders of Stephen Strasburg, who my computer badly wants to call Stephen Starsbug, which needs to be a computer-animated movie starring Chris Pratt. In any case, Strasburg started out the season badly, then he hit the DL, then he pitched three games, then hit the DL again. His inconsistent health has been remarkably consistent. The odd thing was that, in between all these DL stints, Strasburg, one of the best pitchers in baseball since breaking into the majors in 2010, was awful. As Jeff Sullivan wrote about the issue back in May. Strasburg was having command issues, which manifested especially strongly with runners on base. But now he’s back (again) and he’s Stephen Strasburg again! What? How?

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The Pirates’ Unlimited Supply of Russell Martins

From 1990 to 1992, the Pittsburgh Pirates averaged just over 96 wins per season. They were led by Jim Leyland and what we thought at the time were the peak seasons of Barry Bonds. The early ’90s Pirates were great, but they lost in the NLCS three times and then became the Pirates. From 1993 to 2012, their best finish was 79-83 and there were a lot of finishes worse than that.

So when the Pirates became good in 2013 and continued it into 2014, people began piecing together the puzzle that was the Steel City Renaissance. Maybe you’ve even read Travis Sawchik’s Big Data Baseball. The book is very much a spiritual successor to Moneyball in that it tells the story of a smaller market team trying to find ways to succeed in an environment in which they can’t spend on par with their rivals. In the modern game, data is everywhere. The story of the Pirates’ success was their ability to interpret the data and to get the field staff and players to believe in it.

One of the focuses of the book was the Pirates’ acquisition of Russell Martin. As a FanGraphs reader, you’re likely familiar with Martin’s excellent framing and defensive numbers. A league-average-hitting catcher with elite defensive ability is an extremely valuable piece, and the Pirates were the team that had the vision to sign him. The BABIP Gods rewarded them in spades in 2014 when he posted a BABIP roughly 50 points above his career average and produced a 141 wRC+. Martin was a valuable asset and wound up having an incredible offensive season in his walk year with the Pirates. His success proved the Pirates right, but it also put Martin out of their price range for 2015. He signed a five year, $82 million deal with the Blue Jays this offseason.

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Batted-Ball Velocity, Adrian Beltre, and Xander Bogaerts

In batted-ball velocity numbers, we’ve got a new toy. It’s hard to know exactly how to use it, as it goes with many new statistical toys. Without even a full year of sample size, we have no idea how accurate the data coming in is, how sticky batted-ball velocity is year to year, or how much of a skill it is. Even worse, the data is incomplete — velocity without angle is somewhat useless, and the angle that’s coming through is only for home runs.

Is there a short-term fix? Is there a way to combine batted-ball velocity with existing stats to make it useful in the short term? I think there might be, and I think the stories of Xander Bogaerts and Adrian Beltre might help us find this patch.

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JABO: The Superficially Underachieving Dodger Offense

In a sense, there isn’t that much wrong with the Dodgers. They won on Thursday — albeit barely — and they stand in first place in their division. You could excuse them if they’ve gotten used to that. The last time the Dodgers weren’t in first place was one night in the last week of May. Prior to that, you’re looking at the second week of the season. All year long, they’ve been positioned well, and they have two unbelievable starting pitchers, and they’re heavily favored to advance to the first round of the playoffs. The Dodgers aren’t struggling. Most of the teams in baseball would be ecstatic to be where they are.

But, of course, not every team is equal, and given the Dodgers’ resources, it feels like they should be doing better. It feels like they should be almost unstoppable, unless they were to be brought down by injuries, like the Nationals. One could reasonably assert that the Dodgers should be running away with things, and that it’s worrisome they’re still fending off the Giants. The Dodgers might not make the NLDS. It’s unlikely, but very possible. Things just feel underwhelming. Observers feel it. The players themselves feel it.

Look over the numbers, and there’s one glaring curiosity. What might be one explanation for the Dodgers’ performance? You might be familiar with wOBA, which is like a better version of OPS. Right now, the Dodgers offense ranks third in wOBA in all of baseball. They lead the National League. What could be better than pairing a good offense with two proven aces? And yet, the Dodgers rank 18th in baseball in runs scored. By one measure, they’re tremendous. By another, they’re average. This is an unusual discrepancy.

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Mariners Fire Jack Zduriencik

The culling of General Managers continues. Today, the Mariners announced that Jack Zduriencik is joining the ranks of Doug Melvin, Dave Dombrowski, and Ben Cherington as executives who lost their jobs because of their team’s 2015 struggles. Coming off an 87 win season and significant off-season expenditures the last few years, the Mariners expected to win this year, and another disappointing season proved too much for Zduriencik to outlast. With five losing seasons in seven years and no playoff berths in either of his two winning years, plus a farm system that looks like one of the worst in the game and a history of mishandling the young talent they did get to the big leagues, the Mariners have decided it’s time for a change in direction.

Zduriencik took over after the 2008 season, bringing now-FanGraphs author Tony Blengino with him from Milwaukee to form a front office that looked like it would attempt to blend scouting and statistical analysis. The first year was a wild success, taking the team from 61 to 85 wins, but it was almost all entirely downhill from there. After the 2010 team flopped, the front office fractured, and the organization pivoted away from valuing defense and began a multi-year obsession with trying to stack the line-up with power hitters. Not surprisingly, that plan never worked particularly well.

The Mariners finally got back to the winning side of things last year, after spending $240 million to lure Robinson Cano away from the Yankees, but down years from Cano, Kyle Seager, and Felix Hernandez this year exposed a group of role players that still weren’t up to contention-level, and the team’s inability to put reasonable backup plans in place for the predictable struggles of guys like Logan Morrison forced the team to deal with replacement level production at a large number of positions.

So now the Mariners will search for a new leader, but like in Boston, it seems more likely that they’ll be looking for someone to turn the ship around quickly rather than lead another rebuild. With Hernandez, Cano, and Nelson Cruz all declining assets, there is likely to still be pressure to try and win with this core before those contracts go south and a rebuild is necessary. Bob Nightengale reported that the team may have interest in White Sox president Kenny Williams, while Ken Rosenthal notes on Twitter that they’ve reached out to former Rockies GM Dan O’Dowd. While the team would likely do better to hire a younger, more forward-thinking GM rather than go with another old-school scout, it seems more likely that the team will hire an experienced executive who will promise to turn this ship around fast.

It’s an organization in an awkward position, not setup well to either win next year or long-term, so the new guy will have their work cut out for them. But the fact that the team is struggling and the farm system is in shambles is why the job is open in the first place.


Jeff Sullivan FanGraphs Chat — 8/28/15

9:16
Jeff Sullivan: Every week, I wonder what’s going to cause me to be late to open my chat

9:16
Jeff Sullivan: It always happens. This week, I was prepared for the scheduled beginning. Then Jack Zduriencik got fired

9:16
Jeff Sullivan: Sooooooo we’re probably going to talk about that a lot

9:17
Jeff Sullivan: Beginning now!

9:17
Comment From Pat s
Do you have any thoughts on Ben Gamel?

9:17
Jeff Sullivan: Pat s with the pressing question of the day

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NERD Game Scores for Friday, August 28, 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
Detroit at Toronto | 19:07 ET
Boyd (30.2 IP, 126 xFIP-) vs. Dickey (167.0 IP, 122 xFIP-)
The current edition of this daily futile exercise features a bold and fresh amendment to the (now less) haphazardly derived algorithm utilized by the author to produce the NERD scores one finds below. Concerned reader John suggested a subtle but powerful revision to the calculation yesterday with a view to more accurately representing the state of those teams (like the Cubs) who, while technically featuring roughly a 50% probability of reaching the divisional series, aren’t actually competing in particularly high-leverage games at the moment (because they’ve basically clinched a wild-card spot but have no real chance of winning their division). The results of that suggestion appear below. Note the Cubs’ score, for instance, which drops from 10 to 5 as a result of the alteration. The Blue Jays and Yankees feature the league’s highest team scores, meanwhile, on account how their seasons are currently riddled with uncertainty.

Readers’ Preferred Broadcast: Detroit or Toronto Radio.

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The Fringe Five: Baseball’s Most Compelling Fringe Prospects

The author realized only after press time that Houston right-hander Michael Feliz actually appeared on John Sickels’ mid-season prospect update, thus technically rendering him (Feliz, not Sickels) ineligible for the Five. That he’s a promising talent remains true; that he’s a fringe one, however, is harder to argue.

The Fringe Five is a weekly regular-season exercise, introduced a couple years ago by the present author, wherein that same author utilizes regressed stats, scouting reports, and also his own fallible intuition to identify and/or continue monitoring the most compelling fringe prospects in all of baseball.

Central to the exercise, of course, is a definition of the word fringe, a term which possesses different connotations for different sorts of readers. For the purposes of the column this year, a fringe prospect (and therefore one eligible for inclusion in the Five) is any rookie-eligible player at High-A or above both (a) absent from the most current iteration of Kiley McDaniel’s top-200 prospect list and (b) absent from the midseason prospect lists produced by Baseball America, Keith Law, and John Sickels, and also (c) not currently playing in the majors. Players appearing anywhere on McDaniel’s updated prospect list or, otherwise, selected in the first round of the current season’s amateur draft will also be excluded from eligibility.

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How Much Did Felix Hernandez Solve?

Wednesday was a pretty good day for starting-pitcher redemption. Most visibly, Justin Verlander came a few outs from no-hitting the Angels, calling attention to the fact that it looks like he’s back on track. In Chicago, Rick Porcello returned to the Red Sox and spun seven shutout innings, after entering with an ERA near 6. And Felix Hernandez turned in an effective outing at home against the A’s, following a stretch of particular and peculiar hittability. None of these pitchers stand to mean very much down the stretch, their teams basically out of contention, but fans want to know who can be relied on, and the three of them provided arguments for why they can still be good, for a while to come.

With Felix’s outing came an explanation. Felix was aware of how badly things had gone for him, so he took the uncharacteristic step of watching some video of himself and working out in the bullpen. According to Felix, he saw that he was rushing through his delivery, and that was costing him both location and movement. So he worked on knocking that off, and then not only were Wednesday’s results good, but Felix felt like he had his command. He thought his pitches were much better. It seems like that should be everything. There was a problem, the pitcher claimed to identify the problem, the pitcher worked on the problem, then the next performance was good. It ought to be comforting, everything wrapped up so neatly.

Yet I still can’t help but wonder. Just how much did Felix actually solve? A pitcher knows himself better than anyone, but even a pitcher can end up biased by results. Wednesday, the numbers were there. Dig deeper, and it’s a stranger case.

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How the Cubs Are Swinging

We’ve been through this about the Blue Jays — a promising team suddenly added both Troy Tulowitzki and David Price, and since then, the Jays have taken off. Since the day Tulowitzki first appeared in a Toronto lineup, the team has gone a league-best 21-4, storming into first place and showing few signs of slowing down. Right now, in the American League, the Blue Jays are probably the best ballclub. With two new elite-level players, there’s no team looking much stronger as we head for the playoffs.

Funny thing about that Tulowitzki-specific date — since then, the Blue Jays have gone 21-4, but the Cubs have gone a strikingly similar 21-5. Granted, the Pirates and Cardinals have also done well, but the Cubs have caught fire, featuring what’s been a top-five offense. Before this specific stretch, the Cubs were 10th in the National League in runs scored, and fifth in runs allowed. Over the highlighted weeks, they’re second in runs scored, and tied for second in runs allowed. Run prevention, they’ve mostly had. Run production is a newer thing. Top-to-bottom power is a newer thing. Just about everyone has been a positive contributor, but in particular, Dexter Fowler and Addison Russell have seemingly turned their seasons around.

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Dallas Keuchel Contract Extension Could Prove Difficult

Dallas Keuchel’s continued progress into an ace is one of the major reasons Houston is contending earlier than anyone predicted. After a good year in 2014, he is a Cy Young candidate, and perhaps front-runner, for the first place Houston Astros. The left-hander recently expressed interest in a contract extension, and Houston Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow provided a stock response about continually re-evaluating players for potential extensions. However, an extension for Keuchel is not an easy one to figure out given his proximity to arbitration and an uncertain award once he gets there.

Keuchel might have been overlooked few years ago because he lacks a fastball above even 90 mph, and there might have been some skepticism about his success last year due to a 6.6 K/9 rate that placed in the bottom third of qualified starters, but Keuchel uses an array of pitches to keep getting better. Keuchel has spent time working with Astros pitching coach Brent Strom, and that work has paid off in a big way. His 2.28 ERA ranks second in the American League and he excels at aspects of the game not picked up by peripheral statistics — although those same peripheral statistics also rank among the best in the game.

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Let’s Talk About Jabari Blash

Of the 338 Triple-A hitters who have recorded at least 200 plate appearances this season, only two have an isolated-power (ISO) mark north of .300. The first is Richie Shaffer, an interesting Rays prospect who spent some time in the big leagues this season. The second is a player by the name of Jabari Blash. No, that’s not a character from Harry Potter, or even an Edith Wharton novel. Jabari Blash is a real, live outfielder in the Mariners organization.

Blash has hit a ridiculous .246/.370/.624 in 50 games at the Triple-A level this year. Prior to that, he slashed a similarly ridiculous .278/.383/.517 in 60 Double-A contests. But it’s his very recent performance that really stands out. Since August 6th, the 6-foot-5 slugger has put together a .292/.395/.785 performance on the strength of his 10 home runs. Those are essentially peak Mark McGwire numbers.

Blash’s stats are great. His downside, however, is that he just turned 26. Players who are 26 don’t normally come up in prospect discussions. Most 26-year-old baseball players are either big leaguers or minor leaguers who aren’t worth thinking twice about. Blash, however, might be worthy of a second thought.

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On the Inequity of the 2015 NL Wild Card Game

The Wild Card races in the American and National Leagues could hardly be more different. Over in the AL, only four teams are playing at a level that would normally make them contenders, but the rules require that a fifth team qualify for the postseason, so one team from a remarkably mediocre group is going to get rewarded with a playoff spot even though they may end the year with 82 or 83 wins. The AL Wild Card game is very likely going to feature one of the weakest postseason teams we’ve seen since the playoffs expanded to include non-division winners.

In the National League, though, the Wild Card game is going to be a clash of the titans. The three best records in the NL all come from the Central division, meaning that the Wild Card game is likely to be a showdown between the Pirates and Cubs, unless one of those two can run down the Cardinals for the division title. There are still other possible outcomes, but most likely, the NL Wild Card game this year will pit two excellent Central division teams against each other, probably for the right to play the NL Central winner in the Division Series.

Meanwhile, the winners of the NL West and NL East — right now, the Dodgers and Mets, who currently hold the fourth and fifth best records in the league — are set to play each other for the right to advance to the NL Championship Series. Because of the playoff structure and the dominance of the Central teams this year, we’re almost guaranteed to only have one team in the NLCS out of the clubs with the three best regular season records, with lesser performing teams getting an easier path to the pennant.

And, understandably, that’s frustrating for anyone rooting for an NL Central club this year. The Wall Street Journal’s Jared Diamond spoke to some of the players on the teams involved, who said things like this:

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