Has Mike Trout Gotten Slower?

Let’s talk about the narrative. Are we over the use of the word “narrative”? Let’s talk about the narrative. We can worry about our term usage later. Mike Trout remains, to this day, an amazing baseball player. But he seems to be something of a changing baseball player. And the theory that I’ve heard seems to be that Trout has focused on trying to develop his power, and he’s lost some of his athleticism. Basically, he’s gotten bigger, and we can see some supporting evidence. He’s dramatically increased his rate of fly balls, and he’s pulling the ball more than ever. He isn’t stealing very many bases anymore, and his baserunning value is down, and his defensive value is way down. That last bit troubles some people. In Trout’s first full season, batting runs were responsible for 52% of his runs above replacement. This year, that’s shot up to 77%. The numbers indicate that Trout is morphing into someone who’s bat-first, and this seems early for a guy who just turned 23 a couple weeks ago.

But what’s really happened to Trout’s foot speed? To what extent can we blame reduced baserunning and allegedly worse defense on just no longer running as fast? We have a lot of information here, but when it comes to speed, the information serves as a set of proxies. Best to go into the games themselves and try to figure out how quickly Trout still moves around.

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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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Scouting Info on Player Pages

With the release of Kiley’s first prospect list for FanGraphs, we’ve updated the player pages to include some basic scouting grades.

playerpagescout

These will continue to get updated as we have new information on players. And as Kiley continues to roll out his prospect evaluation lists, we will add players from additional teams.


Corey Kluber as a Cy Young Candidate

A little over a week ago, we discussed Felix Hernandez as a candidate for the American League’s Most Valuable Player award. We can make this pretty simple: if you have a pitcher who might indeed qualify as the league’s MVP, that guy’s going to be your Cy Young frontrunner, because the MVP voting includes everybody and the Cy Young voting includes only pitchers. Absolutely, if the voting were to take place right now, Felix would claim the Cy Young, because he’s having one of the better seasons in a hell of a long time. He just concluded an impressive consecutive-starts streak that set a new baseball record.

But the season isn’t over yet, and because the season isn’t over yet, Felix doesn’t have the award locked up. Plenty can happen in the weeks ahead, and Corey Kluber has been making a charge that’s drawn him more and more attention. Over Kluber’s last five starts, stretching back to July 24, he’s allowed a total of three runs, without a single dinger. In three of those starts he’s struck out ten batters. Kluber’s the Cy Young frontrunner in a league in which Felix isn’t the Cy Young frontrunner, so it seems worthwhile to spend a little time talking about Kluber’s award case and his chances. As impossible as it seems, Kluber could emerge looking like the best starter in the league.

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Neil Weinberg FanGraphs Q&A – 8/20/14

1:38
Neil Weinberg: Hey everyone, I’ll be here at 3pm to talk about our advanced stats, our features, our site, and anything else about baseball you’re interested in discussing. Fantasy and prospect questions are fine, but you’re better off asking people who know about those things.

I’m the Site Educator here, so if you’re looking to learn about stuff, that’s what this is for. I imagine we’ll have some fun Alex Gordon-Jeff Passan-Dave Cameron defensive metrics-y stuff to discuss. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, you have thirty minutes to solve the puzzle!

Also, I’m @NeilWeinberg44 on Twitter, so follow me there and contact me that way if you have questions during the week.

3:01
Neil Weinberg: Hey! Let’s chat.

3:01
Neil Weinberg: I’ll be here until at least 4, but as usual, more questions = more chat! Math already, oh brother

3:03
Comment From dbet
When I search for team stats and sort by the “Off” category for runs, there are a significantly more negatives than positives. Why does it work out this way on a number based around average?

3:04
Neil Weinberg: One thing is pitchers, who are terrible. But mostly, -20, -20, and 40 average out to 0 even if there are more negatives

3:04
Comment From august
Hey Neil! It’s me, August Fagerstrom, FanGraphs author! What counts as a “defensive game” in UZR/150? I assumed nine innings but, in doing my own calculators, it appears to be slightly off. Any clue how UZR/150 is calculated?

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The Marlins’ Young Outfield One of Baseball’s Best

The National League Wild Card race is hardly a race at all. It feels as though the teams vying for the playoffs’ back door don’t actually want to claim the prize, struggling as the contenders have in recent months.

There is another team on the outside of that cohort or recent playoff squads, something of a darkhorse that sits just 2.5 games out of the Wild Card slots. A team that lost 100 games last year, the Miami Marlins. They sat in first place in the NL East as recently as June 8th, only to slip well below .500 in July. They’re a puzzle, an enigma wrapped in a riddle wrapped in a blood orange.

Are the Marlins good? Are they a legit Wild Card contender? Maybe not. One thing that isn’t up for debate is the strongest part of this Marlins team – their outfield is one of the best in baseball and could stay that way for a long while.

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The Year in the Eephus

On Monday, our very own Jeff Sullivan wrote about the return of the Koji Uehara curveball. You see, Uehara doesn’t really throw a curveball. He only threw three last season. He’s thrown two this season. This fascinated me. Pitchers have set repertoires and, for the most part, they typically don’t deviate from them. What I wanted to do was put together a list of some of baseball’s most rare pitches. I set to the leaderboards to find starting pitchers with an unusually low percentage of curveballs, sliders, splitters or changeups, but the results didn’t really please me. Turns out not many guys are like Uehara, throwing a certain pitch just a couple of times. Either they’ve thrown a pitch 25-30 times already this season or they don’t throw it at all.

That is, unless we’re talking about the eephus.

What follows, mostly, are not pure “eephi” in the true sense of the word, as there haven’t been too many true eephus pitches since perhaps El Duque’s in the early 2000′s. But when we think eephus, we think really slow, high-arcing pitches. What I’ve done, thanks to the help of BaseballSavant, is identify all curveballs throw less than 60mph this season. “Slow curves” are generally those under 70. When the speed starts with a 5, that’s when you’re really getting unique.

This season, there have been 31 curveballs thrown less than 60mph, but there’s some caveats here. Not all eephi are made the same. For example, the pitch thrown by Hector Santiago listed at 46mph is clearly some sort of PITCHf/x glitch, as it was actually a 93mph fastball that got smoked to right field. Down to 30.

Then there’s pitches like this:

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FG on Fox: The Potential Rusney Castillo Bargain

Unless you’re a dedicated baseball fan or follow Ken Rosenthal on Twitter, you may not know the name Rusney Castillo. That is probably going to change soon, as he is expected to sign a free-agent contract in the not-too-distant future, becoming the latest international import to incite a bidding war among MLB teams. If rumors are to be believed, his contract might even end up north of $50 million. And recent history suggests that even that might be a bargain.

The sport seems to be pretty far removed from the days of Hideki Irabu and Kei Igawa. Certainly, there was a time when major-league teams — okay, most often the Yankees — threw significant money to bring over international players who turned out to be duds. But lately, there have been few better ways to spend money than on the international free agent market. Especially if you’ve been buying a hitter from Cuba.

Since the start of the 2010 season, seven hitters have defected from Cuba, signed major-league contracts worth at least $10 million in guaranteed money and played in the majors this season. Here are those seven players:

Read the rest on Just A Bit Outside.


Dave Cameron FanGraphs Chat – 8/20/14

11:45
Dave Cameron: I’m back for our regular Wednesday chat fest. You know the drill: queue is open, and we’ll start in 15 minutes.
12:01
Comment From Romelu Lukaku
White Sox beat writers (and broadcasters) are making it sound like Carlos Rodon will debut in September. Do you have any idea why they would start his service clock in a lost season?
12:02
Dave Cameron: Because there’s little real difference to giving him 25 days of service time. It’s not going to affect his arbitration or free agent eligibility.
12:02
Comment From Paul
Re Gordon article: I was surprised that you didnt mention replacement values. It is easier to shine when compared to left fielders than when you play CF so it affects the replacement value and hence the WAR
12:02
Dave Cameron: This simply isn’t true. Read the primer on positional adjustments in the FG Library.
12:03
Comment From Mike Nakamura
I was hoping you could explain something to me: The Blue Jays rank 12th in starters’s WAR, despite being in the 20th area of FIP. Is the difference there entirely due to park factors, or are there other factors I’m missing? I have read the fangraphs primer on pitching WAR and it was not clear to me.

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Evaluating the Prospects: Texas Rangers

Scouts kept saying two things about the Rangers system: this is a deep group with prospects at every level and the Soria trade was a total steal. I know you guys would like to know where I’d guess Texas falls in terms of system strength and if Gallo is as good as some other elite power prospect, but I’ll reserve judgment until I’ve done my due diligence on each team. Here’s the primer for this series and here’s a disclaimer about how none of us really know anything, perfect to read before I attempt to tell you everything about the Rangers farm system.

Most of what you need to know is at those two links, but I should add that the risk ratings are relative to their position, so average (3) risk for a pitcher is riskier than average risk (3) for a hitter, due injury/attrition being more common. I’d also take a 60 Future Value hitter over a 60 FV pitcher for the same reasons. Also, risk encompasses a dozen different things and I mention the important components of it for each player in the report.  The upside line for hitters is the realistic best-case scenario (in general, a notch better than the projected tools) and the Future Value encompasses this upside along with the risk rating for one overall rating number.

Below I’ve included a quick ranking of the growth assets Texas has in the majors that aren’t eligible for the list and Dave Cameron shares some general thoughts on the organization. Scroll further down to see Carson Cistulli’s fringe prospect favorite. The next team up in the series, working from the bottom of the standings on up, is the Colorado Rockies.

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NERD Game Scores for Wednesday, August 20, 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
Atlanta at Pittsburgh | 19:05 ET
Alex Wood (123.0 IP, 90 xFIP-, 1.5 WAR) faces Gerrit Cole (85.2 IP, 96 xFIP-, 0.7 WAR). Of some note regarding these two: they’re the same age (23), have recorded the same precise park-adjusted xFIP (88 xFIP-) and WAR (3.1), and have done all that in almost the same precise number of major-league innings (200.2 and 203.0, respectively).

Regard, those figures (and others) rendered in table form:

Name IP K% BB% BABIP GB% xFIP- FIP- ERA- WAR RA9-WAR
Alex Wood 200.2 23.6% 7.5% .315 47.0% 88 86 84 3.1 3.3
Gerrit Cole 203.0 21.3% 6.8% .308 50.3% 88 90 96 3.1 3.2

Of some other note regarding these two, as well: while the former (i.e. Wood) was omitted from most (all?) top-100 prospect lists, the latter generally occupied a place among the top-10 players on those same lists in both 2012 and -13. What ought one to conclude from this? That our painful labors are unnecessary and fruitless? No. Rather, one should enjoy him- or herself watching this game, which features two clubs that possess declining, but still real, odds of qualifying for playoffs.

Readers’ Preferred Broadcast: Atlanta Radio.

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Brad Boxberger Has Arrived, In Reverse

This is going to be one of those things where probably 95% of you will go “Wow, that’s somewhat interesting,” while 5% of you — the percentage who are a fan or close follower of the Tampa Bay Rays, probably — will say “Yeah, genius, we’ve been following this for months.” Still, the third week of August has some of the doggiest days of the summer, and there’s only so much to be said about tight division races that will only be resolved by waiting for games to be played. So for the moment, let’s check in on a little-known reliever doing something a bit extraordinary.

We’re talking about Brad Boxberger, of course. He’s 26. He’s in his third major league season and his third major league organization. He was once a first-round pick — if you can really say “No. 43 overall is a first-round pick” with a straight face — and he’s been in trades for both Mat Latos and Jesse Hahn/Alex Torres. He’s a righty. He throws two pitches: a fastball and a change. He throws them kind of hard, but not exceptionally so. He’s averaging about 93 mph on his fastball.

If this sounds like your typical fungible righty middle reliever, well, yeah, so far he does. Boxberger didn’t even break camp with the Rays this year, and didn’t stick when they did call for him. On April 14, he came up for three appearances but returned to Triple-A Durham five days later to make room for the immortal Charles Riefenhauser. On May 1, he came up as the 26th man in a doubleheader, then he went down immediately after the game. He returned on May 6 when Nate Karns was sent out. On May 8, he pitched an “immaculate inning,” getting three strikeouts on nine pitches with the bases loaded.

Boxberger has stuck around ever since, and he’s used that time well. He’s in the middle of doing something we haven’t quite seen… well, ever. Read the rest of this entry »


FanGraphs Audio: Dave Cameron Reveals All Revelations

Episode 472
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 reveals, among other revelations, that he’ll be voting on two BBWAA awards this year.

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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Play

Nick Ciuffo and Josh Almonte: Raw Promise in the Appy League

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 change-up, 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. Often, those will be the same grades. 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

Nick Ciuffo, C, Princeton Rays (Rays Rookie-Advanced)

Ciuffo was the Rays’ 21st overall pick out of a South Carolina high school in 2013 ($1.97 million bonus) and was a near wire-to-wire first round pick from the summer showcase season to draft day, after a standout prep career where he drew a scholarship offer from the local Gamecocks before he played in high school.  While his swing and frame aren’t necessarily as pretty as other prep hitter first round picks, Ciuffo made plenty of contact with above average raw power and showed the tools to stick behind the plate with an above average to plus arm.  Scouts often compared him to A.J. Pierzynski as a solid-across-the-board backstop with everyday upside. Hit: 20/45+, Raw Power: 55/55, Game Power: 20/50, Speed: 40/35, Field: 50/50+, Throw: 55/55+   – Kiley

Ciuffo is a potential plus defensive catcher who might offer enough bat to make a real impact.

Hit: 20/40 Read the rest of this entry »


So Let’s Talk About Alex Gordon

For most of the last few years, if you clicked on the Leaderboards tab here on FanGraphs, you’d find Mike Trout‘s name at the very top. Today, that is not the case, as Trout has been surpassed in 2014-to-date WAR, slipping to #2 for the first time since late April. That isn’t necessarily controversial in and of itself, as it’s not that unusual for the best overall player in the game to not rate at the top of the WAR leaderboards every season, but what is somewhat controversial is the name of the player who has usurped Trout at the top of the list at this moment.

Alex Gordon, you see, is not exactly what most people think of as a superstar. He’s a corner outfielder who is hitting .286 with 13 home runs. Among 153 qualified Major League hitters this season, he’s ranked 36th in batting average, 32nd in on-base percentage, and 53rd in slugging percentage. Even using wOBA as a better evaluator of overall offensive performance, his .357 wOBA puts him in a tie for 33rd with Neil Walker and Jayson Werth. Add in park effects, and his wRC+ of 128 falls to 39th. As a hitter, he’s basically having the same season as Matt Kemp. This is the batting profile of the guy who currently leads all position players in WAR, and for many, that simply highlights the limitations of the model.

Even sabermetrically-inclined writers who live in Kanas City think this is weird.

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Jeff Sullivan FanGraphs Chat — 8/19/14

9:11
Jeff Sullivan: This time wasn’t my fault! This time I couldn’t get the Cover It Live website to load!

9:12
Jeff Sullivan: Which, actually, could’ve been my fault somehow. But it wasn’t a deliberate act of tardiness.

9:12
Jeff Sullivan: So let’s talk about real baseball and not fantasy baseball unless by fantasy baseball you mean the slim odds of a White Sox 2014 division title

9:12
Comment From Andy
Lies

9:12
Jeff Sullivan: You’ll never know!

9:13
Comment From Guest
There are almost 200 million people in Brazil, why is baseball underdeveloped there?

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Dazzy Vance, The Ultimate Outlier

We spend a lot of our time writing about outliers on these pages. Performance outliers, such as Miguel Cabrera and Mike Trout on the offensive side, and Clayton Kershaw and Felix Hernandez on the pitching side. We focus on those who took outlier paths to the big leagues, such as Cuban imports like Aroldis Chapman and Yoenis Cespedes, or even late-career conversions like Jason Lane. As far as outliers go, Hall of Fame pitcher Dazzy Vance has them all beat. Read the rest of this entry »


Watching The Catcher’s Rear

The outfield can get boring. But you can spend time thinking about your positioning at least. And if you spend a lot of time thinking about positioning, as Sam Fuld does, then you’ll eventually dissect every part of the play as it sets up. Even the catcher’s butt.

From pitch to pitch, I’ll try to guess with the pitcher. I’ll just take a couple steps in that direction. Sometimes, once the catcher sets up early enough, I can tell something. If the guy is set up middle and his ass is up a bit, I can tell it’s offspeed if a runner’s on base. He’s getting ready to block the pitch because you’re more likely to get a ball in the dirt. You can sort of read stuff from the catcher and think of what pitch is coming. — Sam Fuld

Can we mere laymen see this change in catcher butt height?

Let’s look at a game from the weekend and compare the catcher’s posterior positioning. Both of these images come from the first inning of the Braves against the A’s at home this past weekend. Julio Teheran is throwing Evan Gattis an outside changeup in both instances, as well. But Gattis is in a different receiving position in each case, with the bases empty on the left and a runner on first in the picture on the right:

GattisChangeNoRunnerGattisChangeRunnerOn

Knowing an offspeed pitch is coming, as you would in this situation if you were looking in the right place, would allow you as an outfielder to take a step towards the pull field. A step can make a difference.

It gets boring out there in the outfield, and Sam Fuld thinks of all sorts of things to fill the time. Sometimes he thinks about the catcher’s butt.


NERD Game Scores: Ft. The Curiously Indomitable Mike Fiers

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
Toronto at Milwaukee | 20:10 ET
J.A. Happ (109.1 IP, 108 xFIP-, 0.9 WAR) faces Mike Fiers (21.0 IP, 74 xFIP-, 0.5 WAR). The latter recorded, in his most recent start, which was also his second major-league start of the season, he recorded 14 strikeouts against just 22 batters (box) — a percentage, that, which would amount to a passing grade in most American high schools and colleges. Unless the college were Hampshire, that is. In the case of Hampshire College, Fiers would have instead received a detailed narrative evaluation. In any case, Fiers et al. currently possess 49% odds of winning the Central and slightly-better-than-that odds of qualifying for the divisional series at all.

Readers’ Preferred Broadcast: Milwaukee Radio.

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Hisashi Iwakuma and an Unexpected Record

Somewhere along the line in their development, pitchers are instructed to try to control the running game. At younger ages, pitchers are more able to stop runners than catchers are, since the catchers aren’t very good and the runners aren’t very good. At upper levels, catchers tend to get most of the credit, and indeed catchers bear a lot of responsibility, but for the most part it’s still pitchers on whom the fate of a running game depends the most. Controlling the running game is one of the ways in which Mark Buehrle excels. It’s one of the ways in which Johnny Cueto excels. For Tim Lincecum, it’s a weakness. Nothing’s more critical for pitchers than pitching, but how you manage baserunners can grant an extra advantage or disadvantage, depending. Every little run’s important, if any run is important.

It’s a weird thing, trying to control runners on base. You don’t want to allow steals, but you do want to allow steal attempts, so that you might be able to get baserunners erased. Better for a pitcher to have one stolen base and one caught steal on his record than zero of both, because the value of a caught steal is considerably higher than the value of a successful steal. If you’re too good at controlling runners, you won’t really throw runners out. Now take a glance at this year’s leaderboard. Leading the majors in caught steals is Madison Bumgarner, with nine. Just six steals against him have been successful. Three pitchers are tied at eight caught steals. Against Drew Smyly, runners are 14-for-22. Against Max Scherzer, they’re 11-for-19. Against Hisashi Iwakuma, they’re 0-for-8.

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