A Fun Comparison for Denard Span

I’m an unabashed fan of Denard Span, and for my money, he remains one of the game’s most underrated players. But I’ll admit that when I saw this a few hours ago, even I was surprised.

Below, a side by side comparison of Span and Jacoby Ellsbury since the start of the 2012 season.

Name PA BB% K% ISO BABIP AVG OBP SLG wOBA wRC+ BsR Off Def WAR
Denard Span 1872 7% 11% 0.109 0.318 0.287 0.340 0.396 0.325 105 10.9 21.7 21.4 10.8
Jacoby Ellsbury 1587 7% 14% 0.128 0.316 0.282 0.336 0.410 0.327 104 22.4 28.9 18.6 10.7

Over the last three seasons, Span has essentially been Ellsbury’s equal. They walk the same amount, and while Ellsbury has a tick more power, Span strikes out a little less. Their slash lines are almost identical, and once you adjust for the offensive environments they’ve played in, Span’s wRC+ is actually a point higher, even with less power. Ellsbury’s a better base stealer, but UZR and DRS like Span’s defense a little more. They aren’t perfect clones, but the differences are small, and the overall value has been very similar.

They’re basically the same age — Span was born in February of ’84, Ellsbury in September of ’83 — and have the same general set of skills. Ellsbury’s additional power allows one to see him as a player with a bit more upside — his 2011 season did happen, after all, when he hit as many home runs that year as Span has in his career — and he’s been a slightly better player over his entire career. If you look at their whole big league resume, Ellsbury is at +27 WAR in 3,800 plate appearances, while Span is at +22 in 4,000 plate appearances. On a per-600 PA basis, that gives Ellsbury roughly a +1 WAR advantage.

But the entirety of that difference comes from one year (which occurred four years ago), when Ellsbury was maybe the best player in the game while Span dealt with symptoms from a concussion. That season happened, and it counts, but we’re now on year three of Span and Ellsbury being basically the same player.

The Nationals have a crowded outfield, and the assumption has been that they may look to trade Span this winter. But he’s going to make $9 million next year, and the market just valued a very similar player as a $22 million per year player on a long-term deal. It might be easy to think that Span is a replaceable part, given the team’s depth, let’s not underestimate Span’s impact on the Nationals, and assume that he’d be so easy to replace. Denard Span is really good.


Zack Greinke’s Turned Into an Actual Hitter

There was a time last season that Zack Greinke was batting over .400. At that time, no other pitcher in baseball was batting over .300. So people had some fun with that, because it’s fun when a pitcher is helping himself. It pretty much never lasts. Greinke didn’t keep batting over .400. This year he’s down near .200. He’s a pitcher, and pitchers are bad hitters, and single-season pitcher hitting statistics are limited by miniature sample sizes. No longer do we think of Greinke as a guy who’s going to break records. But all the while, as Greinke’s numbers have bounced around, he’s genuinely improved. And he’s improved to the point where, now, Greinke might be a half-decent hitter, and I don’t mean relative to pitchers this time.

Since the start of the 2012 season, Greinke’s come up 173 times. There are 107 pitchers who have come up at least 50 times during that window. Greinke leads the sample in wRC+, by 27 points. He’s the only pitcher in there with an OBP over .300. He’s one of four pitchers with an ISO over .100, and the next-best OBP in that group is .243. Some people thought of Carlos Zambrano as a good-hitting pitcher, and he had a 57 wRC+, with 24 times as many strikeouts as walks. Yovani Gallardo gets similar treatment, and he has a 41 wRC+, with 12 times as many strikeouts as walks. Travis Wood? 47 wRC+, 22 times as many strikeouts as walks. Mike Leake? 57 wRC+, 12 times as many strikeouts as walks. Those considered “good-hitting pitchers” tend to be pitchers capable of hitting home runs. Greinke adds unlikely elements of discipline and bat control.

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Athletics Choose Nashville Despite Distance

The Athletics just signed a deal to make Nashville their Triple-A affiliate. After fifteen years, the River Cats will leave Sacramento behind. The move will push Oakland’s Triple-A team further away, but it may give them a more neutral run environment and a nicer home park. Perhaps proximity is overrated?

For a team that seemingly gets the most of their forty-man roster, you’d think the A’s would want their Triple-A team closer by than Nashville. Need Drew Pomeranz for a start? He’s just a bus ride away, ready to go. Need an extra infielder tonight? Call Sacramento and tell them to get Andy Parrino in his car.

Turns out, the A’s don’t actually shuttle more than your average major league team. Below is a table that shows the number of callups by team. The third column shows DL activity (both on and off the DL) as a sanity check — a DL’ed star begets a minor league callup, after all. Courtesy ProSportsTransactions.com:

Team Times Called Up DL moves
Anaheim 61 39
Boston 57 33
Toronto 54 36
Cleveland 52 32
Colorado 49 56
Seattle 47 28
Chicago NL 47 31
Baltimore 44 28
Washington 44 30
Miami 43 32
St. Louis 43 30
Tampa Bay 42 30
Houston 42 30
Los Angeles 42 46
Cincinnati 41 40
Pittsburgh 40 29
New York AL 39 32
Minnesota 39 25
Kansas City 37 26
Milwaukee 36 20
Oakland 35 35
Philadelphia 35 38
Arizona 34 35
San Diego 33 42
New York NL 32 32
San Francisco 32 33
Texas 31 49
Chicago AL 29 27
Detroit 26 18
Atlanta 25 23

20 teams have made more minor league moves than the A’s, despite the fact that only eight teams had more disabled list moves.

So it seems the team decided that the benefits of moving to Nashville outweighed the benefit of having the team closer by for thirty-odd moves a year. Fresno was available, for example.

What were the benefits to Nashville? Well, Nashville is building a new 10,000 seat park that will open next year, so that’s nice. That means better facilities for their young players, and perhaps better health outcomes. The contract is fairly boilerplate with little room for negotiation, and there’s absolutely no chance that the Nashville stadium sweetened the deal at all.

But the Athletics also move into what looks like a more neutral run environment. We don’t know yet how the new stadium will play, but the PCL Pacific Western Division — Sacramento, Reno, Tacoma, Fresno — holds three of the highest-scoring teams in the league. In the new American South division, Memphis scored the most, and it came in ninth overall in the PCL.

If there are ancillary benefits to having your Triple-A team close, there are also ancillary benefits to a more neutral run environment. For the ease of travel — not only for players, but for scouts and team employees — the team acquired a park that may keep their players more healthy while also allowing their pitchers to develop in a more normal run-scoring division.


Carlos Carrasco Brings A Bullpen Ace To The Rotation

For years, people have been writing “nothing good ever comes out of Cliff Lee trades” articles. I’m sure somewhere along the line, I wrote one too, and that’s mostly because, well, nothing really had. Justin Smoak was probably the best player to come out of any of those deals, and he isn’t any good. Jason Donald, Jason Knapp and Lou Marson didn’t amount to anything, nor has Blake Beavan. I don’t want to talk about Josh Lueke. Among Ruben Amaro‘s many missteps, the 2009 deal that shipped off Lee to Seattle for the massive return of Tyson Gillies, Phillippe Aumont and J.C. Ramirez probably doesn’t get enough press.

For most of the last five-plus years — yes, really, it’s been that long – Carlos Carrasco was lumped in with those failures, too. In parts of four seasons with Cleveland (2009-11, ’13) he’d put up a 5.29 ERA and 4.48 FIP in 238.1 innings. He’s been DFA’d at least once, lost all of 2012 to Tommy John surgery, and served multiple suspensions for head hunting. While he won the fifth starter job out of camp this year, he was also sent to the bullpen in favor of Zach McAllister after four lousy starts.

At the time, his career ERA stood at 5.43. He had mediocre strikeout numbers, and the inexplicable combination of “gets both groundballs and home runs.” We’ve been writing stories about him here since at least 2008, and all we’d seen in that time was disappointment and absence. There was really little reason to think any of that was going to change. After all, it had already been five years of struggle since the trade.

Carrasco moved back into the rotation in August. Since then, he’s made eight starts. He’s allowed seven earned runs, and since four of them came in one game, that means he’s made seven starts allowing zero or one earned run, including Wednesday’s two-hit — neither of which left the infield — shutout of Houston. He’s got a 59/7 K/BB in that time. Is this finally the Carrasco Cleveland had waited so long to see? Let’s find out.

* * * Read the rest of this entry »


Clayton Kershaw’s Effect on the Dodgers Bullpen

Ken Rosenthal has an NL MVP vote this year, and the other day, he wrote about his thought process in regards to pitchers winning the award. He’d prefer to vote for a position player, but isn’t entirely against pitchers-as-MVPs, and he noted that a dominant starter who works deep into games doesn’t just affect the team on the day they pitch, as is commonly cited. Quoting from his column:

The one pro-Kershaw argument I do like – the one I recall making for Pedro Martinez in 1999 and 2000 – is that a dominant starting pitcher affects three games out of five. Kershaw averages more than 7 1/3 innings per start. Dodgers manager Don Mattingly can empty his bullpen the day before Kershaw pitches and manage a fully rested group the day after.

This does seem to be a potentially real benefit created by Kershaw that is not being accounted for anywhere in his own stat-line. While there is a lot of talk about players “making their teammates better”, this would be one actual place where it could exist, with a starting pitcher allowing his manager to reallocate his bullpen usage to the days around Kershaw, increasing their chances of winning on those days as well. This is the kind of thing that we wouldn’t capture by just looking at Kershaw’s performance.

But is it true? Rob Neyer was smart enough to realize that we should be able to find some data to test this theory, and so I bugged Jeff Zimmerman about it, and he was nice enough to query out the Dodgers’ bullpen usage on days before and after Kershaw pitched this season. Here are the results.

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Eno Sarris Baseball Chat — 9/18/14

11:44
Eno Sarris: yo
11:45
Eno Sarris: This is dedicated to the A’s. Because it feels sad.
11:46
natty pongpiboonkiat:
12:01
Comment From Pale Hose
Phil Hughes K/BB makes me feel like Eno taking grip pics.
12:01
Eno Sarris: I even took grip pics of Phil Hughes, to complete the circle.
12:01
Comment From Stephen
stream bauer @Min tomorrow?

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Examining the A’s Epic Collapse

One of the biggest stories of the season’s second half has been the historic decline of the Oakland Athletics. They are flirting with accomplishing the extremely difficult feat of having the best record in baseball at the All Star break, and then missing the playoffs. Winning the final two games of their pivotal series with the Seattle Mariners this past weekend has sharply decreased the likelihood of that worst case scenario, but the collapse has been stark nonetheless. It’s convenient to tie the A’s second half results to the departure of Yoenis Cespedes in the Jon Lester trade, but the reality is a bit more complicated than that. There are many factors in play, but arguably the foremost among them has been the precipitous fall of two of their key offensive players – Derek Norris and Brandon Moss. Read the rest of this entry »


NERD Game Scores for Thursday, September 18, 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
Boston at Pittsburgh | 19:05 ET
Brandon Workman (82.0 IP, 112 xFIP-, 0.7 WAR) faces Gerrit Cole (117.0 IP, 96 xFIP-, 1.2 WAR). While French theologian John Calvin — and any other number of determinists, religious or otherwise — would likely argue that the outcomes of the various playoff races have been decided already, the editors of FanGraphs are capable only of speaking in probabilities. So far as Pittsburgh’s probability of qualifying for the divisional series is concerned, “almost exactly 50%” is the best answer available to us at the moment. Of greater certainty — one bordering on 100%, in this case — is that Cuban emigre Rusney Castillo will make his second start for Boston tonight in center field.

Readers’ Preferred Broadcast: Boston Radio or Television.

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Dodgers’ Lefty Tom Windle Shows Power Stuff

When our other prospect writers submit scouting reports, I will provide a short background and industry consensus tool grades. There are two reasons for this: 1) giving context to account for the writer seeing a bad outing (never threw his changeup, coming back from injury, etc.) and 2) not making him go on about the player’s background or speculate about what may have happened in other outings.

The writer still grades the tools based on what they saw, I’m just letting the reader know what he would’ve seen in many other games from this season, particularly with young players that may be fatigued late in the season. The grades are presented as present/future on the 20-80 scouting scale and very shortly I’ll publish a series going into more depth explaining these grades. -Kiley

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Building Jake Arrieta

Let’s go back to 1920. Let’s look at starting pitchers who threw at least 75 innings in consecutive big-league seasons. Relative to last year, Jake Arrieta‘s K-BB% has improved by 14 percentage points. That’s the fourth-greatest improvement within the sample. Relative to last year, Arrieta’s FIP- has improved by 64 points. That’s the single greatest improvement within the sample, edging out 2007-2008 Cliff Lee. This is what a breakout looks like. This is what maybe the biggest breakout looks like.

It’s up to you to determine whether or not Jake Arrieta is an ace, but he’s certainly generated ace-like results for the past several months, so if he’s not an ace yet, he’s on the right track. Six times already, he’s held an opponent hitless into the fifth. Three times, he’s held an opponent hitless into the seventh. Twice, he’s held an opponent hitless into the eighth. Arrieta’s flirted with history a few times, and while he hasn’t sealed the deal on an actual no-hitter, he’s at least earned greater familiarity and exposure. The Arrieta breakout, by now, is obvious. And more and more people are becoming aware of it.

So, we think we know what we have. How did this happen? How was Jake Arrieta built? Let’s condense his whole story into a blog post. Seems editorially responsible.

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Mark Sappington Moves To The Pen, Throws Harder

When our other prospect writers submit scouting reports, I will provide a short background and industry consensus tool grades. There are two reasons for this: 1) giving context to account for the writer seeing a bad outing (never threw his changeup, coming back from injury, etc.) and 2) not making him go on about the player’s background or speculate about what may have happened in other outings.

The writer still grades the tools based on what they saw, I’m just letting the reader know what he would’ve seen in many other games from this season, particularly with young players that may be fatigued late in the season. The grades are presented as present/future on the 20-80 scouting scale and very shortly I’ll publish a series going into more depth explaining these grades. -Kiley

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A 2014 Review of 2013′s Fringe Five Champions

Last week, the author published the final results of this year’s weekly Fringe Five column, which column is designed to identify the most compelling of those rookie-eligible minor leaguers excluded from notable preseason top-100 prospect lists. To what degree it does that (i.e. identify compelling prospects) is a matter of some debate, probably. With a view to assessing the efficacy of the project, however — or, at least, to producing internet content — what follows is a review of the top finishers from the 2013 series of weekly Fringe Five posts. Players ordered alphabetically according to surname.

*****

Wilmer Flores, 3B/SS, New York NL (Profile)

Level PA BB% K% AVG OBP SLG wRC+ WAR
AAA 241 6.6% 16.2% .323 .367 .568 137  
MLB 233 4.3% 11.2% .245 .280 .386 87 1.2

Much of what the author is compelled to say about Wilmer Flores, he’s already said within the last 24 hours via a combo package of two posts regarding the 23-year-old’s surprisingly adequate shortstop defense. What’s omitted from those posts, however, is any mention of Flores’s offensive acumen — which acumen the Venezuelan native exhibited considerably during Tuesday night’s Mets game, during which he hit two home runs and produced a single-game 836 wRC+ over four plate appearances. Over the last two weeks now, Flores has recorded the highest isolated-power mark (.429) among 156 qualified batters while simultaneously posting the fourth-lowest strikeout rate among that same group.

Maikel Franco, 1B/3B, Philadelphia (Profile)

Level PA BB% K% AVG OBP SLG wRC+ WAR
AAA 556 5.4% 14.6% .257 .299 .428 97  
MLB 33 3.0% 15.2% .194 .212 .226 17 -0.1

That Franco appeared among the top-five finishers on the arbitrarily calculated end-of-season 2013 Fringe Five Scoreboard deserves some note — insofar, that is, as he (i.e. Franco) last appeared within that weekly column at some point in or around July, his inclusion on multiple mid-season prospect lists having disqualified him from consideration as a “fringe” prospect. Though he continued to exhibit an excellent combination of power and contact ability following a promotion to Double-A last year, that same package of skills didn’t translate entirely to Triple-A this season, where he homered at only about half the rate as in 2013. That he recorded a league-average line there as just a 21-year-old, however, bodes well for his future.

Mike O’Neill, OF, St. Louis (Profile)

Level PA BB% K% AVG OBP SLG wRC+ WAR
AA 408 10.0% 9.1% .269 .343 .347 101
AAA 65 10.8% 6.2% .333 .400 .386 112

Given the limits both of his power and also his defensive skills, O’Neill’s ceiling is necessarily rather low. In 2013, however, he produced such considerably anomalous walk and strikeout rates (16.0% and 6.5%, respectively) at Double- and Triple-A that he became a fixture among those prospects included weekly in the Fringe Five. While still better than average, O’Neill’s rates haven’t scaled the heights of incredulity like last year. In 477 plate appearances between Double- and Triple-A this season, O’Neill has produced marks of 10.3% and 8.8%, respectively. That he’s employed by an organization boasting a surplus of outfielders offers no great hope to his chances of earning any kind of playing time.

Danny Salazar, RHP, Cleveland (Profile)

Level IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 xFIP FIP ERA WAR
AAA 60.2 11.3 4.2 1.0   3.79 3.71  
MLB 98.0 9.5 2.9 1.2 3.52 3.79 4.22 1.3

Salazar began last season as a Tommy John survivor never to have appeared on a top-100 prospect list and ended it starting the Cleveland Clevelanders’ literally most important game of the year. What he did in the meantime was exhibit both a 96 mph fastball and also split-changeup, the latter of which offering provoked a non-zero number of religious experiences throughout Cuyahoga County. In terms of run prevention, Salazar’s 2014 season hasn’t been as excellent; indeed, he’s produced a league- and park-adjusted ERA 13% worse than average. In terms of his fielding-independent performance, however, Salazar has continued to pitch like an above-average major-league starter — if with perhaps slightly less electricity than during his 10-start run with the parent club last year.

Marcus Semien, 2B/3B (Profile)

Level PA BB% K% AVG OBP SLG wRC+ WAR
AAA 366 14.5% 16.1% .267 .380 .502 142
MLB 216 7.4% 29.2% .226 .284 .342 73 0.2

As one notes from his stat lines here, Semien has produced very different offensive numbers this season at the minor- and major-league levels, exhibiting excellent plate discipline and contact skills in the former and much less of those things in the latter. That said, Semien’s walk and strikeout rates in 2014 represent a substantial improvement over his brief time with the White Sox last year, when he produced a 1:22 walk-to-strikeout ratio in 71 plate appearances. Both Steamer and ZiPS regard him as a nearly a league-average true-talent hitter.

The Next Five
Here are the players who finished sixth through tenth on last year’s Fringe Five scoreboard.

Boston infielder/outfielder/wunderkind Mookie Betts wasn’t even eligible for the Five until a mid-July promotion to High-A Salem, but still produced enough there to finish sixth overall on the mostly arbitrary Scoreboard. His 2014 season has been mostly a study is excellence … Miami left-hander Brian Flynn appeared within a number of early season editions of the Five, but was less effective following a promotion to Triple-A New Orleans. He made just two major-league appearances this season… Somewhat surprisingly, it’s been Mets right-hander Rafael Montero‘s command that has made his transition to the majors difficult. He’s produced a walk rate of 12.3% over 39.0 innings in the majors this season after walking only 5.8% of batters in over 400 minor-league innings… St. Louis’s Stephen Piscotty didn’t exhibit any more power this year than last — of some concern, that, if he’s to play a corner-outfield spot. Still, he continued to record excellent plate-discipline marks this season, posting walk and strikeout rates of 7.7% and 11.0%, respectively, with Triple-A Memphis… Following a promising record in the minor’s last season, Burch Smith‘s 2014 was a nothing: he pitched only 5.1 innings for San Diego’s Triple-A affiliate while dealing with a forearm injury.


Neil Weinberg FanGraphs Q&A – 9/17/14

2:16
Neil Weinberg: Hey all, we’ll chat at 3pm. Remember priority to stat, data, FG questions, but happy to take regular baseball talk as well. I’m @NeilWeinberg44 on Twitter if you want to get in touch.

See you soon!

3:00
Neil Weinberg: Alright, hey everyone!

3:01
Neil Weinberg: Let’s do some chatting.

3:01
Comment From Tim Whatley
I would obviously take Pedro over Kershaw in terms of level of peak years (those dominant yrs during the PED era is insane). But in terms of sustained greatness over a longer period of time….have to give it to Kershaw if he does this a few more years…Agree?

3:02
Neil Weinberg: Big if, Pedro was amazing for a nice amount of time. To be determined. He has been good enough for this to be a plausible question.

3:02
Comment From Pete
Hey Neil, thanks for doing this. As a batted ball type, how stable is IFFB%? What kind of sample size thereof might be meaningful?

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The Year in High Strikes to Jose Altuve

Jose Altuve accomplished something Tuesday night. He played in a major-league baseball game! Wow! And even more incredible than that, he broke the Astros’ single-season record for hits, previously held by Craig Biggio. There are still another two weeks left to play. Of course, not all hits are the same, and we don’t usually spend much time talking about single-season hit totals, but you might prefer this: Altuve’s been great. The hits are one indication. He’s been something in the vicinity of a five-win player, as a 24-year-old in the middle infield. That’s a long-term building block.

So when some people think Altuve, they think hits. When other people think Altuve, they think short jokes. It’s clear that, in order to become the player he is today, Altuve’s had to overcome considerable adversity. A lot of that is simply that players his size tend to get selected against. They receive fewer opportunities. But then there can also be issues on the field, even during opportunities. Maybe it’s more difficult to turn a double play. It’s certainly more difficult to snare a line drive. And there’s the matter of the strike zone. Umpires aren’t great with unusual strike zones, and Altuve’s, obviously, is lower than most.

According to the PITCHf/x settings, the lower part of Altuve’s zone is lower than the average zone by almost three inches. The higher part of Altuve’s zone is lower than the average zone by almost five inches. So you know where this is going, based on that sentence, and based on the headline. I think I put together this same exact post every season. It’s time now to reflect on the season’s highest called strikes to Jose Altuve.

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Derek Holland’s All About The Slider

Look at the list of two-pitch starters these days, and you won’t find any left-handers. That’s probably because lefty starters have to think about opposite-handed hitters more than anyone. That’s probably also why more lefties use changeups than righties — the pitch is more effective against opposite-handed batters.

Well, Derek Holland‘s changeup has seen better days, he’ll admit it. And he doesn’t throw his semi-consistent curve all that much. So how does the mustachioed lefty make it work?

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Johnny Cueto, Good Pitcher Made To Look Even Better

In some ways, this Reds season has turned out exactly like we expected. Way back in February, I worried that Cincinnati wouldn’t have enough offense to compete in 2014, and that the season would be a disappointment. It wasn’t hard to see why, really. Take a team that was 15th in wRC+ in 2013, replace Shin-Soo Choo‘s elite on-base skills with the huge question mark of Billy Hamilton, do absolutely nothing else other than add the mediocre Skip Schumaker and Brayan Pena to the bench, have Brandon Phillips and Ryan Ludwick get another year older, and watch the offense collapse.

That’s what happened! Sort of. The Reds are 29th in wRC+, saved from last only by the Padres, and are probably going to lose more games than they have since 2008, but it hasn’t happened in exactly in the way we might have thought. Hamilton has been good enough. Joey Votto and Jay Bruce, the only two Reds hitters you could have counted on entering the season, have had disaster years. Devin Mesoraco and Todd Frazier have had breakout campaigns. The end result is still bad, just a different kind of bad.

You can see the same thing on the pitching side, too, just in the other direction. A good, deep rotation was expected to be a strength, and it has. Homer Bailey had finally put it all together in 2013, earning himself a rich contract extension, and a full year of Tony Cingrani seemed fascinating. But Bailey, dealing with a bulging disk in his neck, made only 23 decent starts before undergoing flexor tendon surgery. Cingrani was a huge disappointment, dealt with shoulder issues and hasn’t been seen in the bigs since June. Mat Latos didn’t make his first start until June thanks to elbow trouble, then made only 16 before being shut down earlier this month with — wait for it — elbow trouble.

This shouldn’t be a good rotation. By one measure, it’s arguably been the best rotation. We should talk about that.

* * * Read the rest of this entry »


FG on Fox: Who is the Best Team in Baseball?

Who is the best team in baseball right now? There are a handful of ways one could attempt to answer this question.

The Angels currently have the best record at 94-57, so they’re a natural pick, and maybe the best selection, as they also lead the majors in both run differential and expected record by BaseRuns, both measures which attempt to strip some luck out of a team’s results. But on the other hand, the Angels were excellent for most of the year in part due to the excellent pitching of Garrett Richards, who is now injured and won’t pitch again this year.

Rob did a nice job of showing that one player does not make or break a team, but good players do matter to some degree, and the Angels are a worse team without Richards than they were with him. His loss doesn’t cut out their legs, but it does make them less likely to keep winning at this same pace going forward, and this question asks us to care more about the future than the past.

So maybe this isn’t such an open-and-shut case. Let’s evaluate a few of the top contenders, and look at their claim to the Best Team in Baseball title.

Read the rest on Just a Bit Outside.


Dave Cameron FanGraphs Chat – 9/17/14

11:44
Dave Cameron: It’s Wednesday, so let’s chat. The queue is now open.
12:01
Dave Cameron: Alright let’s get this party started.
12:01
Comment From Kris
Where do you think the Braves go from here?
12:01
Dave Cameron: I’d expect a lot of change this winter. Maybe a new GM/manager, lots of trades, and a very different roster next spring.
12:02
Comment From Dan
rational mets being being irrational: would a smith,plawecki,niese (+flores/herrera) offer get it done for tulo? adds integrity (when healthy) to lineup w/ a formidable quartet (syndy/matz,wheeler,harvey,degrom)
12:02
Dave Cameron: Not even close.

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Where Do the Braves Go From Here?

Unlike the previous iteration of the “Where Do The _____ Go From Here”, the immediate future of this week’s focus, the Atlanta Braves, remains very much unwritten. The Braves are 5.5 games out of a National League Wild Card spot with one team to leap frog. Should a litany of things break their way, they’ll play at least one game of significant significance.

That said, the Braves finding themselves in that pivotal play-in game would represent a serious reversal of fortune. Right now, and for much of the last month, the Braves look bad. Their offense is abysmal, one of the worst in baseball in the second half of the season, and they just watched their main rival celebrate a division title in their own soil. Their ongoing presence in the playoff race is more a testament of the rather putrid NL Wild Card class, currently featuring a Giants team that opted not to win a single game during the summer months and the Milwaukee Brewers, currently showing the Braves what a real slump looks like.

The problems with the Braves are relatively minor. They won 96 games last year, which we know to be extremely good. They hung in the Wild Card race and at the top of the NL East all season despite losing 40% of their starting rotation before the year even started, and then losing their lottery ticket starter before they even got to scratch it. But the issues the Braves currently face are largely issues they might have addressed in the offseason.

After their surprisingly terrific 2013 season, Braves GM Frank Wren balanced a need to improve a club that perhaps misrepresented its true talent one year against very real budgetary concerns in the next. Other than nabbing Ervin Santana on a one year desperation deal and acquiring Ryan Doumit for mildly inexplicable reasons, they stood pat and are now paying the price.

“Why mess with a 96 win team?” you might wonder. The Braves did indeed post 96 wins in 2013, but the talent they had on hand at the start of 2014 projected to win 82-86 games. Right now, the problem for Atlanta is this team is about as good as it should be. They came into the year with a question marks at a few spots in the lineup and did nothing to address them. The Braves needed underperformers like B.J. Upton to rediscover their old form while the upstarts such as Chris Johnson needed to repeat their production of the previous season. Or they could make a push to improve their team and push themselves into 90 win territory, It didn’t happen.

So now we’re left to take stock of the Atlanta Braves, now and in the future.

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NERD Game Scores for Wednesday, September 17, 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.

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Most Highly Rated Games
Chicago AL at Kansas City | 20:10 ET
Texas at Oakland | 22:05 ET
In a development that’s probably unprecedented, but also maybe not unprecedented, this edition of FanGraphs’ NERD Game Scores features two contests. First, Chris Sale (163.0 IP, 74 xFIP-, 5.3 WAR) faces Yordano Ventura (165.0 IP, 100 xFIP-, 2.5 WAR) and then, two hours later, Derek Holland (21.0 IP, 82 xFIP-, 0.9 WAR) faces Jeff Samardzija (197.2 IP, 84 xFIP-, 3.5 WAR). All pitchers, one notes, offer the prospect of Considerable Pleasure, while two of the clubs involved (the Royals and A’s) feature playoff odds — which is to say, in this case, odds of qualifying for the divisional series — uncommonly close to 50%.

Readers’ Preferred Broadcast: Kansas City and Texas Radios.

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