Corey Kluber, Jose Fernandez and Maximizing Your Weapons

Back in March, before the season began, our own Jeff Sullivan was interested in a way to potentially improve Corey Kluber. Kluber, of course, was already one of the game’s very best pitchers, but even the best can get better. Clayton Kershaw‘s gotten better seemingly every year he’s been in the league. Kluber could stand to improve as well. Sullivan’s idea for improving Kluber more or less went like this:

Kluber, at least in theory, could benefit from throwing more cutters and curves, and fewer fastballs. The fastball could still remain the primary pitch, but maybe the cutter would become a co-primary weapon. And the curve would show up in greater amounts, particularly in lesser-expected situations.

Reasoning being, Kluber possesses one of the few best cutters in baseball. Kluber possesses one of the few best curves in baseball. The fastballs Kluber throws have graded out as below-average pitches, and yet Kluber’s always led with the fastball. And so the thinking went, fewer fastballs, more cutters and curves, and you wind up with a better pitcher.

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FanGraphs Audio: Eric Longenhagen, Lead Prospect Analyst

Episode 678
Lead prospect analyst Eric Longenhagen is the guest on this edition of the pod, during which he discusses the recently promoted Jeff Hoffman and Luke Weaver of Colorado and St. Louis, respectively; the recently promoted and immediately demoted Jorge Alfaro of Philadelphia; and finding the ideal seat.

This episode of the program either is or isn’t sponsored by SeatGeek, which site removes both the work and also the hassle from the process of shopping for tickets.

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 05 min play time.)

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Play

NERD Game Scores for Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Devised originally in response to a challenge issued by sabermetric nobleman 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
Los Angeles NL at Colorado | 20:40 ET
Hill (82.0 IP, 85 xFIP-) vs. Anderson (83.0 IP, 82 xFIP-)
There are a number of strong candidates for facilitating Baseball Pleasure on today’s schedule: this game in Colorado, for example, featuring a Dodgers club for which wins are particularly valuable right now; another game in San Francisco, featuring a Giants club for which wins are particularly valuable right now; and a third game in Baltimore, featuring a Blue Jays and Orioles club, both of which would find some value in a win. What this particular contest offers that the others don’t is a pair of left-handers (a) who have been quite effective and (b) about whom there’s still quite a bit to learn. Among his many virtues, Rich Hill throws a curveball that resembles no one else’s. As for Tyler Anderson, he invites comparisons to Clayton Kershawagainst Corinne Landrey’s will.

Readers’ Preferred Broadcast: Los Angeles NL Radio.

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Two Ways Dansby Swanson Is Being Pitched Like a Slugger

Dansby Swanson is dapper. Dansby Swanson is exciting. Dansby Swanson should have great plate discipline and a good hit tool. And Dansby Swanson is a major leaguer. These things are all true. Dansby Swanson may also be a slugger in the future, but he’s not yet. That’s weird, though, because he’s being pitched like a slugger in two key ways.

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Behold a Genuinely Outstanding Pitch

Someone submitted something to my chat last Friday:

CapnZippers: Seth Lugo’s curveball averaged 3300 RPM last night. That spin rate is almost 10% higher than the next guy. Holy Moly! Mets maybe found a gem?

The same day, Mike Petriello sent out a relevant tweet:

I made a note to do some digging. To be honest, I don’t have a lot to add. As has been measured, Seth Lugo has thrown an outstanding curveball, in terms of its spin rate. It’s outstanding not because it’s amazing; it’s outstanding because it stands out. The average spin rate is way higher than anyone else’s. As a different way to demonstrate that, I pulled up all the individual games with the highest-spin curveballs, from Baseball Savant. Lugo, in the majors, has appeared in 10 games in which he’s thrown at least one curve. A leaderboard:

lugo-spin

Lugo dominates the spin charts in the way that Aroldis Chapman dominates the velocity charts. This isn’t a one-off fluke — Lugo has an exceptional breaking ball. The question is whether Lugo himself will become a quality pitcher, but this should at least get you to raise your eyebrows.

It’s really too soon to say how much this means. It’s not an easy thing to analyze an individual pitch, and Lugo won’t go anywhere if his other pitches don’t play well, too. Everything works together. There is some evidence that high spin is correlated to reduced slugging. And there’s evidence that high spin is correlated to increased whiffing. The evidence isn’t strong, but it makes sense intuitively, and again, this is all complex. It’s fair to say that Lugo’s curveball is interesting, without going any further. I don’t know how interesting this should make Lugo as a player, but I know that now I’ll keep my eye on him. I didn’t have any reason to think about him before.

By velocity and movement, the best comparison for Lugo’s curve in the PITCHf/x era is Brett Myers‘ curve. Myers threw a phenomenal curve for an entire decade. Garrett Richards has another comparable curve, but he’s never thrown it much. Jake Arrieta‘s curve also compares well, so that’s promising. Lugo’s curve appears to be a major-league pitch. A major-league out pitch, even. We’ll see about the other pitches.

Lugo picked up his first-ever big-league strikeout on a curve. It’s with a clip of that curve that I’ll leave you today.

How interesting an arm is Seth Lugo? I don’t know. “More” would be one answer.


Ivan Nova Is Getting Happed

A year ago, when the Pirates were alive in the playoff race, they made what felt like a fairly uninspiring deadline trade for J.A. Happ. Happ was almost a giveaway, and no one really batted an eyelash about the Pirates’ tiny upgrade, but then they made some very minor tweaks and Happ pitched the rest of the season like one of the better starters in the league. There was, at one point, an actual conversation about whether Happ should start the one-game playoff opposite Jake Arrieta. Things were weird.

This year, with the Pirates alive in the playoff race, they made what felt like a fairly uninspiring deadline trade for Ivan Nova. As I recall, news broke after the actual deadline had passed, and it was a small story because Nova didn’t have a lot of value. Nova, also, was almost a giveaway. The move drew criticism, with many saying the Pirates weren’t doing enough. Ivan Nova, after all, is no Chris Sale.

Guess what? Nova has started five games for Pittsburgh, and in those games the Pirates are 5-0. He’s run a sub-3 ERA, and while his strikeouts haven’t spiked, he’s sitting on one walk. One walk, out of 121 batters faced. Nova walked three of 23 batters in his final start with New York. All of a sudden, the Pirates have turned Ivan Nova into a strike machine, and it’s funny what happens when you have a pitcher who consistently gets ahead. The batters, you see, do worse.

As with Happ, the Pirates haven’t had to do anything drastic. Nova’s repertoire looks mostly the same. Nova’s delivery looks mostly the same. Ray Searage himself has said that Nova’s been easy to work with because there’s just not much to do. If the Pirates have done anything, it’s just encourage Nova to pitch with more confidence. Through July of this year, Nova ranked in the 15th percentile of all pitchers in rate of pitches thrown while ahead in the count. In August, Nova ranks in the 88th percentile. Where he was consistently behind, now he’s consistently ahead. This is all very fundamental.

We can look at Nova’s rolling zone rate over time:

nova-zone

The Pirates have Nova working in the zone more often. As for a rolling-average plot of first-pitch-strike rate:

nova-first-pitch-strike

First-pitch strikes more often. And the differences here aren’t huge. I’m going to show you pitch-location heat maps, comparing Nova through July to Nova in August. You can tell that the heat maps are, I don’t know, siblings? They’re just definitely not twins.

nova-locations

The Pirates have Nova working up a little more, and they’ve shifted him a bit, over the plate. Where Nova, previously, was a nibbler with his fastball, now he’s less focused on trying to stay on the edges. Very generally, Nova still has a familiar-looking pitch pattern, but there’s just more confidence there, so there’s more aggressiveness, too. He’s not a strikeout pitcher, and he’s not going to be a strikeout pitcher, but there’s nothing wrong with a low-walk pitcher who can work in the 90s. The Pirates can generate outs behind him.

The explanation might be obvious. Nova no longer is pitching in the American League, and he’s no longer working in AL East ballparks. PNC Park is very forgiving, and maybe Nova just needed to believe that not every fly ball is a threat. This doesn’t necessarily have to be Ray Searage magic. Maybe the Pirates simply identified the right guy to add. Nova hardly cost them anything. Now he’s working to cost some other team a potential playoff spot.


Scouting Julio Teheran, Major-League Starter

Leading up to the trade deadline, there was quite a bit of discussion at this website about Atlanta RHP Julio Teheran regarding his value and whether or not it was prudent for the Braves to move him at this juncture. I was often asked in chats about what I thought about the situation, Teheran’s value, etc. I responded that, going forward, I thought Teheran was a league-average starter, a No. 4 worth around two wins annually. There was some adverse reaction to that, which is understandable given that Teheran has made two All-Star teams before turning 26 and had already contributed about 2 WAR this season when I opined. Conversely, he’s also got a career FIP approaching 4.00 and has seen a drop in his average fastball velocity this year.

The Braves came through Arizona for a four-game set with the Diamondbacks last week and I was in attendance for Teheran’s start on Wednesday to get an in-person look at an arm that has undergone a substantial metamorphosis since his days as a prospect and one that will likely be on the market this winter. I try to hit a major-league game every now and then, just to remind myself for what I’m supposed to be looking in the prospects I see. I thought evaluating Teheran would make for an interesting piece, so I did it.

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The Padres Are Running Towards History

A few weeks ago, Jeff Sullivan wrote about the Padres spectacular baserunning this year. I didn’t see that post, because I was in Oregon shopping for a house when he published it. So this morning, I started writing about the Padres spectacular baserunning, and then Jeff tapped me on the shoulder and informed me that my post was redundant. 2016 has gone so badly for the Padres that even when we try to write about them, even that gets messed up.

But thankfully, I’ve noticed something that wasn’t true when Jeff wrote his post on August 11th that is still interesting enough to justify this post. His post focused on the Padres overall baserunning success, looking at every factor involved in a team’s aggressiveness and success on the bases. I want to point out the Padres insane success at taking bases after contact. To illustrate their success, here’s a graph of the top 10 team UBRs for 2016, which measures the runs added or lost by a team through non-stolen base baserunning, so things like going first-to-third or second-to-home.

2016 Non-SB Baserunning

The Padres are #1, at almost +16 runs; the Indians are second, at +10 runs. The Padres are six runs better than the next best team at this on the year; only four other teams are even six runs better than average by UBR this year. This is an area where the Padres are an island to themselves; no one is even close to being as good as they are this.

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Here Is a Powered-Up Addison Russell

My hunch is that it’s easier for pitchers to make adjustments on the fly than hitters. In part this is because pitchers are simply more in control — they can aim for different areas, while hitters simply have to respond. Pitchers also get more and longer breaks between appearances, and sometimes a pitch can just click. Everybody everywhere is always tweaking something, and I’m no authority, but I’d guess that hitters make their biggest changes over offseasons. That’s when they have the best opportunity to identify a flaw and get to overwriting the old muscle memory.

Yet you do see midseason adjustments. Some players are just better at adjusting than others. Some players are more aware of themselves than others. Some adjustments stick, and some adjustments fade away. Muscle memory is a fickle thing. I can tell you that Addison Russell has changed on the fly. For a while, it seemed like he’d need to either improve his contact or improve his power. His power now is trending up. He is 22 years old.

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Rich Hill Truly Curveballs Like No One Else

As if Rich Hill needs another way to be unique. How many other pitchers experience their career breakout at 35 and become one of the best in the league? How many other pitchers throw their curveball half the time? How many other pitchers who typically throw overhand freeze batters by occasionally dropping to sidearm? How many other pitchers speak fluently about their pitch axis, perceptual velocity, vertical and horizontal planes, and name drop DRA in interviews? Hell, how many other pitchers develop blisters on their fingers which require more than a month to heal? Rich Hill doesn’t need another thing to make him unique, and yet here we are.

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Kevin Newman on Hitting (His Way to Pittsburgh)

The Pittsburgh Pirates knew they were getting a good hitter when they made Kevin Newman the 19th-overall pick in the 2015 draft. Not only did he hit .337 in his three seasons at the University of Arizona, he won a pair of Cape Cod League batting titles along the way. There wasn’t much power — just two home runs as a Wildcat — but he fanned a grand total of 48 times in over 700 plate appearances.

Newman is still putting his bat on the baseball. In 95 games between High-A Bradenton and Double-A Altoona, the 23-year-old shortstop is slashing .328/.391/.435. He’s even showing a little pop. On the season, he has 21 doubles, a pair of triples, and five home runs.

Newman talked about his line-drive approach prior to a recent game in Portland, Maine.

———

Newman on his hitting approach: “I try to hit low line drives all over the field. I know myself as a hitter — I’m a singles-doubles sort of guy — and I want to stick to my strengths. My swing plane is short and level through the zone. I try to hit a line drive over the second baseman, a line drive over the shortstop. Read the rest of this entry »


Eric Longenhagen Prospects Chat 8/29


NERD Game Scores for Monday, August 29, 2016

Devised originally in response to a challenge issued by sabermetric nobleman 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 Baltimore | 19:05 ET
Estrada (137.1 IP, 107 xFIP-) vs. Miley (134.0 IP, 101 xFIP-)
Toronto and Baltimore currently feature the second- and fifth-greatest point adjustments to their respective NERD scores by way of the methodology explained tortuously further down in this post. What that means, practically speaking: their games are of greater consequence than other teams’ — this game, in particular, because each clubs’ divisional odds are directly influenced by the performance of the other club. There’s considerable urgency here, is the point, like an episode of a BBC detective series in which there’s considerable urgency.

Readers’ Preferred Broadcast: Baltimore Television.

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New Interactive Splits Tool!

We’ve created an interactive splits tool that allows you to create your own custom reports by combining splits of various metrics. All the splits that FanGraphs hosts are featured here, along with some new ones — including times through the order, outs and day/night.

The controls have three different sections: stats, splits and group by.

Kris Bryant Splits Tool Overview

The “Stats” bar allows you to toggle between the three different groups of stats we currently host on a player’s split page. This isn’t too different from the standard, advanced and batted-ball tabs we feature elsewhere on the site.

The “Splits” bar is the most important control within the splits tool; this is where you can select which splits are applied. When no splits are applied, you’ll get the full season stats. When a split is applied like “vs. LHP,” you’ll get only the plate appearances against a left-handed pitcher. If you add another split like “Groundballs,” you’ll get all ground balls against left-handed pitchers. As you add splits from different categories, you’ll narrow the number of plate appearances.

Kris Bryant Splits Menu

The splits which are applied appear as blue blocks above the table. If you wish to remove a split, either click the “X” on the split or unselect it within its menu.

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NERD Game Scores for Sunday, August 28, 2016

Devised originally in response to a challenge issued by sabermetric nobleman 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
Minnesota at Toronto | 13:07 ET
Gibson (106.0 IP, 104 xFIP-) vs. Dickey (154.1 IP, 113 xFIP-)
By the coin-flip methdology used at this site — which seems to best represent how human minds conceive of postseason odds — both Toronto and Boston feature roughly an equal chance either of winning the division or securing a wild-card spot or of not qualifying for the postseason at all. With just a month or so left in the season, in other words, basically every outcome is equally possible. The consequences of each game are considerable. This is an example of one such game.

Readers’ Preferred Broadcast: Toronto Radio.

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Sunday Notes: Jessica Mendoza, Stubby Clapp, Strahm, McGuire, more

Jessica Mendoza will be careful not to get too nerdy when she discusses Yordano Ventura’s repertoire in tonight’s ESPN Sunday Night Baseball game. She could if it fit the script. Unlike many analysts, Mendoza is a data hound when it comes to game preparation.

With ESPN in Boston for Red Sox-Royals, Mendoza made it a point to become well-acquainted with Ventura’s offerings. She consulted PITCHf/x data. She read articles posted here at FanGraphs and at Beyond The Box Score. When I chatted with her yesterday, she cited — off the top of her head — details about Ventura’s grips, arm slots, and his horizontal and vertical movement.

An accomplished hitter in her playing days — she starred at Stanford and for the United States women’s national softball team — Mendoza feels she needs to do more homework on the pitching side. Read the rest of this entry »


NERD Game Scores for Saturday, August 27, 2016

Devised originally in response to a challenge issued by sabermetric nobleman 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
Minnesota at Toronto | 13:07 ET
Santana (140.2 IP, 99 xFIP-) vs. Stroman (161.0 IP, 78 xFIP-)
Toronto starter Marcus Stroman has produced the top strikeout- and walk-rate differential among the league’s 90 qualified August starters. What else he’s done is produce the fifth-best ground-ball rate among that same population. The result: a park-adjusted xFIP nearly 20% better than the second-best pitcher by that measure this month. The other result: a total of only six earned runs conceded by Stroman over his four August starts. The final result: the flourishing of Hope inside Canadian people.

Readers’ Preferred Broadcast: Toronto Radio.

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The Best of FanGraphs: August 22-26, 2016

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 and blue for Community Research.
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FanGraphs Audio: Sam Miller

Episode 677
Sam Miller is editor-in-chief of Baseball Prospectus and co-author, with Ben Lindbergh, of The Only Rule Is It Has to Work. He’s also the guest on this edition of FanGraphs Audio.

This episode of the program either is or isn’t sponsored by SeatGeek, which site removes both the work and also the hassle from the process of shopping for tickets.

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 09 min play time.)

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Play

Jose Abreu Should Be Embarrassed

Here is one of my favorite clips of the season:

That’s Ronald Torreyes, attempting a delayed and perfunctory swing at a pitch-out to try to protect the running Aaron Hicks, who ends up in a heap on the ground after getting jarred in the marbles. Torreyes swings for no reason other than he’s always been told to swing in these situations, so the decision was entirely out of his hands. You can see that he’s temporarily overruled by his own brain, which properly identified that a swing would come with no upside. But then the training kicked in, and Torreyes whispered the bat in a vaguely forward direction while Hicks sprinted like the dickens, unaware the situation would end with teammates discussing his sterility.

Pretty obviously, no swing has been attempted this season at a more-outside pitch. Yet I don’t know if that should really “count,” since Torreyes didn’t swing because he wanted to. The swing was mandated by the hit-and-run play. So let’s take that off the table. Now the most-outside swing attempt of the season belongs to Jose Abreu, as of Thursday night. Abreu should probably be ashamed of himself.

Though I looked at everyone, the swings at the very most-outside pitches have been attempted by righties. Allow me to read off to you the top three:

  1. Ronald Torreyes, June 30, swinging pitch-out
  2. Jose Abreu, August 25, swinging strike
  3. Jose Iglesias, May 24, swinging pitch-out

The only worse swing was at a pitch-out. The next-worst swing was at a pitch-out. The next-worst swing at a non-pitch-out was at a pitch more than five inches closer to the plate. That swing was also with two strikes, attempted by Javier Baez. Baez will do that sometimes. So, evidently, will Abreu.

abreu-cishek

Exclaimed Mariners announcer Dave Sims, after Abreu’s strikeout with runners in scoring position:

Swing and a miss, he got him! What a big pitch.

It’s easy to get fooled on the fly. Strikeouts are strikeouts, and when the batter swings, that implies a pitch could have been only so bad. Abreu chased this slider from Steve Cishek; therefore, it must have been a good slider from Steve Cishek. Yet it’s not hard to see how that could have been a disastrous slider from Steve Cishek. You don’t want a pitch in that situation to get away. And Abreu had never before swung like this. I went to Baseball Savant. I plotted all of Abreu’s career swings. The swing above is highlighted below.

abreu-career-swings

I mean-

Eleven inches. The difference between that pitch and the next-most-outside pitch Abreu had chased is 11 inches. Nearly a whole damn foot. There’s really no excuse for that kind of swing. The easy explanation is “Abreu was trying to do too much,” but trying to do anything with that pitch is trying to do too much. It’s a brain fart. It has to be a brain fart. I don’t know what else it would be unless, as of Thursday night, in the seventh inning, Jose Abreu suddenly became, on camera, the single worst hitter in Major League Baseball.

By the way, the Baez swing? The one that’s the next-worst of the season?

baez-cishek

That swing was also against a Steve Cishek slider. It’s probably just a coincidence. But, maybe I’m the one who doesn’t get it.