Aaron Nola Has Baseball’s Best Curveball

How do you identify the very best pitches? It’s actually not easy, since every pitch in someone’s repertoire has an effect on every other pitch. So let’s say this: I don’t know if Aaron Nola‘s “true-talent” curveball is the best in the game. What I know is, to this point, it’s been the most effective curveball in the game. By lots! Here’s the top of the run-value leaderboard for curves in 2016:

  1. Aaron Nola, +9.5 runs
  2. Jerad Eickhoff, +3.6
  3. Carlos Carrasco, +3.2
  4. Justin Grimm, +3.1
  5. Aaron Sanchez, +3.0

Nola’s value is nearly the sum of the next three values combined. How great is +9.5 runs? Only one pitch so far has a higher value, and that’s Jose Quintana‘s fastball, at +10.0. Quintana has thrown almost 400 fastballs. Nola has thrown fewer than 200 curves.

We’ve written plenty about the Phillies so far. Countless people have, because the Phillies have surprised, and it’s no secret the key to that has been unbelievable pitching. This has become the core of the Phillies’ whole rebuild, and they love what they’re getting from Eickhoff. They love what they’re getting from Vincent Velasquez. But you can’t forget about Nola. Nola was always thought of as the safe, polished one, but now he’s flashing upside, such that he might be the best of them all. He might be turning into one of the best, period, and the curveball is fueling his ascent.

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Twins Pitcher Jose Berrios Should Be Fun to Watch

Jose Berrios has a 6.75 ERA. His FIP is 5.63. He’s walked 16% of the batters he’s faced this season. He’s averaging more than 20 pitches per inning, and in two starts he has completed just 9.1 innings. He also has three good, major league-quality pitches with the potential for a fourth. He’s struck out more than 30% of the batters he’s faced. He could win Rookie of the Year, and — with arguments to come from Lucas Giolito, Tyler Glasnow, Alex Reyes, Blake Snell, and Julio Urias — he might be the most exciting pitcher to make his big-league debut this season.

Berrios doesn’t turn 22 until the end of the month, but he has ridden a quick and steady ascent to the majors. In 2014, he dominated High-A and held his own in a handful of starts at Double-A. Kiley McDaniel ranked him the 24th-best prospect in baseball during the 2014-15 preseason before he proceeded to mow down opponents in Double-A and Triple-A, striking out more than 25% of batters at both levels and walking less than 6% of them. Berrios entered Spring Training with an outside shot to win a starting job, but struggled with command in both his major-league and minor-league games.

In three minor-league starts this year, Berrios still produced his share of walks. But also struck out 20 of the 66 batters he faced and allowed just three runs, earning a promotion when Ervin Santana hit the disabled list. His first two starts have been a mixed bag, featuring both flashes of the potential that make him a top prospect with a comp to Pedro Martinez and show how he can be successful in the big leagues, but also an inability to consistently attack hitters in the strike zone, leading to unfavorable counts and walks.

The chart below shows league-average plate-discipline numbers as well as Berrios’ own numbers over his first two starts.

Jose Berrios Plate Discipline After Two Starts
O-Swing% Z-Swing% Swing% O-Contact% Z-Contact% Contact% Zone%
League Average 29.3 % 63.1 % 45.4 % 62.3 % 85.9 % 77.9 % 47.7 %
Jose Berrios 28.3 % 54.2 % 39.7 % 60.0 % 84.4 % 74.7 % 43.9 %

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Job Posting: Houston Astros Senior Baseball Systems Developer

Position: Houston Astros Senior Baseball Systems Developer

Location: Houston


The Houston Astros are seeking a Senior Baseball Systems Developer for the team’s Baseball Research and Development group. The Senior Baseball Systems Developer will collaborate with the analytics team to build infrastructure and design systems that encourage the effective understanding and application of information throughout Baseball Operations.

If you are passionate about understanding the game of baseball, enjoy the challenge of solving a diverse array of problems and want to work in a collaborative team environment where your contribution will make a difference, this is the position for you.


  • Create and maintain web and desktop applications.
  • Integrate video within applications.
  • Build reports and data visualizations.
  • Assist in building a data structure that facilitates analytical research.
  • Implement complex data models.
  • Produce ad hoc queries to support the R&D team.
  • Help evaluate and test new technologies.


  • Bachelor’s degree or higher in computer science or related field.
  • 7+ years of relevant work experience.
  • Expert in C#, ASP.Net, JavaScript (jQuery) and SQL.
  • Knowledge of CSS, HTML, Web API, functional programming, SSIS and SSRS.
  • Experience working with big data and scalable systems is a plus.
  • Familiarity with mobile app development (PhoneGap) is a plus.
  • Experience with baseball, baseball data and understanding of sabermetric concepts.
  • Possess excellent problem solving capability and the ability to quickly learn new technologies.
  • Good interpersonal, verbal, and written communication skills.

To Apply:
Please apply here.

The White Sox Have Two Aces

Chris Sale is the best pitcher in the American League, and one of the true aces in baseball. He’s made the All-Star team four straight years, and has finished in the top six in Cy Young voting in each of those seasons as well. He may be overshadowed in Chicago by what Jake Arrieta is doing right now, but Chris Sale is still recognized as one of the game’s best pitchers.

Chris Sale has a teammate, though, who you probably wouldn’t recognize unless he walked up to you and said “Hi, I’m Jose Quintana, and I’m really good at my job.” And he should consider doing just that, because Jose Quintana is indeed really freaking good at his job.

WAR, Past Calendar Year
Clayton Kershaw 247.1 4% 34% 50% 9% 80% 0.262 50 49 54 9.8 9.8
Jake Arrieta 240.1 6% 27% 57% 8% 83% 0.230 37 61 68 7.5 11.3
Chris Sale 230.0 5% 32% 42% 12% 76% 0.293 71 65 67 7.0 6.1
David Price 217.0 5% 27% 41% 9% 76% 0.306 74 68 74 6.2 5.9
Dallas Keuchel 232.0 6% 24% 60% 14% 75% 0.301 80 73 69 5.9 5.8
Jose Quintana 216.0 5% 22% 47% 7% 79% 0.317 68 69 83 5.9 6.7
Zack Greinke 227.2 5% 23% 47% 8% 82% 0.252 57 75 84 5.7 8.7
Max Scherzer 231.0 5% 30% 36% 12% 80% 0.272 79 79 76 5.6 5.8
Jacob deGrom 179.0 5% 28% 47% 8% 78% 0.267 61 63 72 5.5 5.5
Corey Kluber 217.0 5% 28% 42% 11% 72% 0.281 86 72 75 5.5 4.6

Over the past 365 days, Quintana is tied with Dallas Keuchel for the fifth best WAR among pitchers in baseball. If you prefer the runs-allowed version of WAR, he’s fourth. No matter how you evaluate a pitcher, Jose Quintana has been amazing for the past year, and yet, he’s still somehow rarely discussed as one of the game’s elite.

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The Month Pinch-Hitting Got Easier

Baseball’s brilliant chaos attracts fans of all sorts of analytical dispositions. Some people like to go with their gut, some trust their radar gun, and others prefer to dive into the spreadsheets. No matter with which group you align most closely, it’s very likely you agree with the following: pinch-hitting is super hard.

The precise difficultly is a matter of some debate, but everyone is pretty much on board with the concept. Batters perform worse coming off the bench than they do when they are already in the game. This was one of the notable findings in The Book and plenty of research has picked up on it from there.

But, uh, here’s a weird thing:

PH 1

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Dave Cameron FanGraphs Chat – 5/4/16

Dave Cameron: Back after a nice vacation last week, so let’s try to get two weeks worth of questions in today.
Alan: As a miserable Atlanta fan, can you give me some hope? And when’s the earliest you could see this franchise back in the mix for a playoff spot?
Dave Cameron: Have you seen what Swanson and Albies are doing in the minors? There’s a real chance that could be your starting middle infield next year, and those guys could represent a massive improvement from the disaster that Aybar/Peterson have been. Inciarte is still a nice player when he gets healthy, Freeman will bounce back. They are halfway to a decent lineup. The pitching stinks, so this will take a few years, but there are pieces in place.
O’s Lover: Is it time to give up on Schoop? All predictions had his breakout year coming – too soon to pull the plug?
Dave Cameron: He is what he is; a powerful slugger with lousy command of the strike zone.
S: Rockies fans have to be encouraged by Jon Gray so far, right?

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Chris Sale Is Pitching to Contact Now

I was talking with my father about Miguel Cabrera recently, and about how he’s undeniably one of the best hitters either of us have ever seen. One of the things we found so fascinating is that Miggy has seemingly never had to adjust. He’s got this approach, and that approach has been damn near unbeatable going on 14 years now. He’s been waiting, and waiting, and waiting some more for pitchers to exploit him, but there is no exploiting Miguel Cabrera, so he just keeps doing what he’s always been doing. Over the last decade, Cabrera’s swing rate’s always been between 46% and 51%. The contact rate’s always between 79% and 83%. The pull rate, always between 35% and 41%. Ground-ball rate, never wavering from the 39% to 42% range. There’s sure to have been little tweaks here and there, but for the most part, Miguel Cabrera’s been adjustment-free more than a decade, and he’s one of the greatest hitters of all time.

Of course, Miguel Cabrera is the exception. Seriously, the exception. Mike Trout‘s had to adjust. Bryce Harper‘s had to adjust. Hell, even Clayton Kershaw spends some of his off time looking for another piece. Everyone in baseball is adjusting, constantly, which benefits their own employment status as well as mine.

You know Chris Sale as one of baseball’s very best pitchers. Over the last two-plus years, he’s got baseball’s second-best strikeout-walk differential, third-best FIP, fourth-best ERA, and fifth-best xFIP. He’s no Kershaw, but it’s very simple to make the argument that he’s the next-best guy. But Sale’s not content with the next-best guy. Just like Trout and Harper weren’t content with where they were, Sale wants Kershaw status. I’d guess that Sale, personally, has no doubts he can get there.

And so Sale’s made an adjustment. It’s always tough to tell, especially this early in the season, whether the changes we’re seeing in a player’s process are intentional or moreso a product of their environment. It becomes a lot easier to cipher out when the player comes out and lets us know it’s the former. Chris Sale, the American League’s greatest strikeout artist, made a conscious decision to become a more contact-oriented pitcher, and he’s doing it.

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NERD Game Scores for Wednesday, May 4, 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
Arizona at Miami | 19:10 ET
de la Rosa (23.2 IP, 79 xFIP-) vs. Fernandez (28.2 IP, 71 xFIP-)
One comment regarding this game is that the merits of Miami right-hander Jose Fernandez are conspicuous. He’s young, throws hard, and possesses a refulgent light inside him that bathes everyone around. These truths are self-evident and achingly self-evident. Another comment regarding this game is that Rubby de la Rosa has produced consecutive brilliant starts, recording a 16:3 strikeout-to-walk ratio — and conceding just a single total run — in 13.0 total innings versus Pittsburgh and then St. Louis. One difference he’s exhibited: almost completely abandoning his (well-regarded) changeup while throwing more sliders than ever.

Here’s video footage depicting three of those sliders from his most recent start:

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Corey Dickerson Is Hunting Endangered Game

The Rays are big fans of Corey Dickerson. You don’t have to just take my word for it. Consider that the Rays exchanged a valuable trade commodity to get him. And since Dickerson has joined the roster, the Rays have at times gushed over his swing and his approach. They love his natural aggressiveness, and they love the way the ball comes off of the bat. Dickerson is skilled, for a purely offensive player, and if anything the Rays would like more hitters like him.

Dickerson is a great individual indicator of the Rays’ move toward a more aggressive lineup. As they say, Dickerson goes up there prepared to take a swing. Okay, now, think about aggressive hitters. Think about aggressive power hitters, and how they succeed, and how they fail. Dickerson has seen new opponents in a new league, but what they’re doing might in one sense not be surprising at all. Provided you forget about Dickerson’s background.

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Here Are Andrew Miller’s 10 Biggest Spots

Originally I wanted to sit here and write about the Reds’ godawful bullpen. But then the research started bumming me out, so I turned my focus to the opposite of the Reds’ godawful bullpen, which is Andrew Miller. I find Miller to be much more pleasing, so here comes stuff about him.

You might remember that, before the year, Miller sustained a fracture in his non-throwing wrist. So there was concern that he’d have to be sidelined for a while, which would deal a blow to the Yankees’ biggest strength, but Miller opted to play through the discomfort. He’s so far allowed an OPS of .273. He has an xFIP- a little over 0, an ERA- of exactly 0, and an FIP- somehow under 0. No less deliciously, Miller is presently the only pitcher in baseball who’s gotten a higher rate of swings at pitches out of the zone than at pitches inside of the zone. Andrew Miller basically turns hitters into pitchers, except he turns them into pitchers who have to be hitters. To make matters worse for them, they’re effectively pitcher-hitters at the highest-leverage spots. Andrew Miller is good.

There are so many ways to demonstrate how Andrew Miller is good. That paragraph demonstrates it. Everything after this demonstrates it. I decided to pull up Miller’s log of plate appearances on the year, and sort them by leverage. I looked to see how Miller has done in the toughest of the tough situations. Miller so far has 33 batters faced. Here are the 10 most important showdowns.

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Jason Heyward Has Made Some Weird Decisions

I don’t know what the scariest thing is about the Cubs. It might be that they have baseball’s best record, and a historically excellent run differential. Or maybe it’s that they have baseball’s best record, and a historically excellent run differential, while Jason Heyward has been a worse hitter than Alexei Ramirez (who has been a bad hitter). Heyward hasn’t gotten going yet, not even a little bit, and the Cubs have barely noticed. You might feel like the Cubs are overhyped. I get it. And, you’re wrong.

Let’s preface this with something. We’re about to talk about Heyward’s offensive struggles. Heyward has a career 116 wRC+, and he’s 26 years old, so he’s probably not broken. Not beyond repair. His career wRC+ in the first month is 96 — he’s genuinely something of a slow starter. There’s every reason to expect that Heyward is going to settle into a groove at some point. Typically, given enough time, good players find their level. This doesn’t mean Heyward hasn’t had a bad start, though. He knows it. The coaches know it. And to this point, Heyward has shown a somewhat unusual plan of attack. Whether it’s intentional or unintentional, I don’t know.

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Adam Conley Looks the Same, Is Not

Adam Conley is surprising some with his sophomore effort, just by seemingly repeating what he did in his debut last year. His velocity, ERA, WHIP — even his swinging-strike and ground-ball rates — are all about the same as they were in 2015. But he’s different! In important ways.

Late last year, in the midst of a decent debut with the Marlins that saw him hitting 94 mph on the radar gun and shutting out the Mets on their way to the World Series, the lefty starter saw a picture of himself and froze. “I really didn’t like what I saw,” Conley told me a few days before he no-hit the Brewers for seven-plus innings this year. “It didn’t look like what I thought I looked like.”

Maybe the image was something like this one from his start against the Nationals late last season. “I could see in the picture that my front side was gone completely and my foot wasn’t down,” Conley says. “My foot is floating through the air and I’m trying to throw the ball.”

But once he saw that thing, he was convinced. He had to get back to the things he’d heard growing up, when he took the drive to Pete Wilkinson’s camp to work on his pitching mechanics. He had to get away from results-oriented development — “throughout the minor leagues, they would talk about results a lot,” he said — and get back to making sure his process was good.

The effort was two-pronged. He had to make sure he was getting his power from the right places, and he had to make sure his pitches worked together. The results brought him back to where he was, in a more sustainable way, with differences that appear once you look under the hood. And as he describes it all, you start to hear all of the things that we’ve been hearing recently as the new numbers have caught up to the pitching coaches.

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Finding a Trade Partner for Ryan Braun

Over the weekend, Ken Rosenthal reported that the possibility of Ryan Braun being traded “was becoming more realistic”, as Braun is off to a fantastic start to the 2016 season, and he’s starting to put some distance between himself and the BioGenesis scandal that cost him half the 2013 season and a good chunk of his reputation. Since the suspension, Braun hasn’t played up to his previously established levels of performance, and when combined with his contract and the baggage surrounding how he handled his failed test, he was mostly an immovable object.

But with Braun hitting .372/.443/.605 — yeah, that is heavily inflated by a .409 BABIP, but his early season strikeout rate is back in line with Peak Braun levels, and he can still hit the ball a long way — and only four guaranteed years left on his deal after this season, dealing Braun is starting to look like something that could happen. It’s almost a certainty that the Brewers will take on some of his remaining contract in any deal in order to get better talent in return, with the question of how much of the remaining ~$90 million they’ll keep on their books being settled depending on how well he keeps hitting and what other sluggers hit the market this summer.

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On the Prospect of Owners Getting “Duped” by PED Users

Dee Gordon‘s recent suspension has renewed the conversation about how to deter and punish PED users. The issue is complicated for a number of reasons. One specific reason — which I discussed this past Friday — concerns the possible benefit to owners of PED suspensions. Teams who employ aging players with large contracts actually benefit when those players are penalized by suspensions without pay. The longer the suspension, the greater the benefit. The principal examples of this at work involve the Yankees (with Alex Rodriguez and his PED suspension) and the Angels (and their frustrations concerning Josh Hamilton‘s lack of suspension for substance abuse).

The noteworthy aspect regarding Gordon’s case, of course, is that he had just received a five-year, $50 million extension this winter. Naturally, the Marlins’ decision to offer Gordon an extension was based, in no small part, on his excellent 2015 season. But was Gordon’s success in 2015 based at all on the positive effects of PEDs? And when he returns to the club in the second half, will he be able to match that success without the aid of PEDs? Did Gordon essentially “dupe” the Marlins into $50 million?

The issue has little to do with moral integrity, but is instead purely financial. The possibility exists for a player to use PEDs, sign a big contract, then get suspended and see his performance decline while the owner remains on the hook for the contract. Players object to this sort of scenario because they see money going to players who are cheating instead of those who play clean. Owners, who have had little problem benefiting from players’ performances even if they are cheating, naturally object to the prospect of owing guaranteed money to players who are unable to provide production at a level commensurate with their contract.

While there is certainly a possibility of PED users benefiting from a large extension or free-agent contract, the questions is, has it actually happened? For this post, I attempted to identify situations in which an owner had been “duped” in this manner during the previous dozen years of PED suspensions.

Major League Baseball began suspending players in 2005, but the suspensions at that time were only for 10- days, hardly an indication that MLB was really ready for meaningful enforcement. Beginning in 2006, the penalty was increased to 50 games, and then in 2014, the current 80-game penalty for first-time offense was instituted. While MLB also suspends for amphetamines, the penalties are less stringent, and the stigma is not anywhere near the same. For the purposes of this post, those cases have been omitted. That leaves us with 31 players and 35 suspensions of at least 50 game since 2006.

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August Fagerstrom FanGraphs Chat — 5/3/16

august fagerstrom: let’s do a chat!

august fagerstrom: I wanted this week’s chat soundtrack to be the new Drake record, but unfortunately it’s horribly boring, so instead watch the new Radiohead video and then listen to a bunch of other Radiohead while you’re at it

Bork: Hello, friend!

august fagerstrom: Hi, Bork!

Shawn: Outside of a few bad pitches, Matt Moore has looked great so far this year. Think this is the year he finally puts it all together?

august fagerstrom: I’ve never been a big Moore believer, but I touched upon him a bit in the Rays post I wrote last week. Everything he’s doing — velocity, movement, command — either looks exactly like rookie season Moore, or better

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Jose Iglesias, Defensive Metrics, and the Value of Going Right

Jose Iglesias is a shortstop capable of doing some pretty terrific things on a baseball field. I say that now because there’s going to be plenty of .gifs in this post that paint Iglesias in a not-so-positive light, and it can be a weird feeling to make a player look bad based solely upon which clips you’ve hand-chosen to show, so here, look at all the incredible things Jose Iglesias is capable of doing on defense. There. Those are the kinds of plays that earn you a reputation.

And Iglesias has certainly earned a reputation. He had earned the reputation before he ever stepped on a big league field. He was named the best defensive infielder in the Red Sox system by Baseball America from 2009 to 2012. In 2010, he was named the best defensive shortstop in the entire Eastern League, and received those same honors in the International League each of the next two seasons. From that same publication’s scouting report of him in 2010, as the No. 1 prospect in Boston’s farm system a year before his MLB debut:

Iglesias is an exceptional defender who could challenge for a Gold Glove in the big leagues right now. He plays low to the ground, using his quick feet, lightning-fast hands and strong arm to make all the plays. His instincts and body control also stand out, and he made just seven errors in 57 games at short last season. He’s fearless in the field, almost to the point of overconfidence, but he makes more web gems than mistakes.

The reputation was what it was, and it’s since carried over to the big-league level. And yet, in about two full season’s worth of major-league playing time at shortstop (1,991 innings), Iglesias has but three Defensive Runs Saved to his name. Baseball Prospectus’ Fielding Runs Above Average actually has him below average, crediting him with -0.8 runs saved over the course of his still-short career. Ultimate Zone Rating is the only defensive metric with anything more than an average assessment of Iglesias’ defense, and even that pegs him as a +13 defender over two seasons, which is certainly good, but still comes up short of the perennial Gold Glove types around whom Iglesias’ name is mentioned.

Understandably, folks have been skeptical of these assessments. It’s something our very own Neil Weinberg addressed last fall. As a community, our understanding of how to properly evaluate defense has always lagged behind other facets of the game, but the good news is, it’s getting better every day! It’s still far from perfect, but between the arrival of Statcast and advancements made by Baseball Info Solutions and Inside Edge, we’ve got more pieces to the puzzle than ever before. And they’re already helping explain some of our outliers, guys whose performance by the metrics have never aligned with the scouting reports or eye tests. Like Dexter Fowler, who we discovered was playing more shallow than any center fielder in baseball, and that it was killing his defensive metrics. The Cubs realized this, and have repositioned him. Let’s see if we can’t use some of these same advancements to better figure out the Jose Iglesias mystery.

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NERD Game Scores for Tuesday, May 3, 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
Philadelphia at St. Louis | 20:15 ET
Nola (33.0 IP, 67 xFIP-) vs. Wacha (29.1 IP, 93 xFIP-)
Despite their 15-11 record, the most likely outcome for the 2016 iteration of the Phillies remains the very dim one intimated by this site’s preseason projections. The club’s BaseRuns record — which metric strips out sequencing — is the fifth-worst in the majors. The team’s hitters, meanwhile, have produced the second-worst collective WAR. They possess a 0.1% probability of qualifying for the postseason. What oughtn’t be ignored, however, is the starting rotation. As a group, they’ve recorded the league’s highest strikeout rate and fifth-best collective WAR. Entirely central to that effort has been right-hander Aaron Nola. Despite having produced an average fastball velocity of just 90.0 mph, Nola has nevertheless parlayed impressive command and largely unhittable curveball into one of the league’s best pitching lines.

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Gregory Polanco Has Shortened Up


Gregory Polanco has been an absolutely fantastic baseball player, having started to turn potential into results at the plate.


Polanco has committed himself to various swing adjustments, as expertly documented by expert Travis Sawchik.

Further, unnecessary evidence for the explanation


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FanGraphs Audio: Dave Cameron on Not Specifically PEDs

Episode 650
Dave Cameron is the managing editor of FanGraphs. During this edition of FanGraphs Audio he examines the unprecedented talent among baseball’s young players; Dexter Fowler, Andrew McCutchen, and the the influence of data on outfield positioning; and, finally, the science of deterrence as it pertains to Dee Gordon and PED suspensions.

This episode of the program is 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 45 min play time.)

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The Phillies Have Had an Almost Perfect Start

If the season ended today, it would be chaos. There would be significant protestation from players, owners, and fans alike, all parties confused by the suddenly truncated schedule. But if matters were allowed to proceed from there, the National League would have the Mets grab one wild-card slot. The other entry would be determined through a different one-game playoff — that one played between the Pirates and the Phillies.

The Phillies! It’s understood that anything can happen on any given day. What that means is that anything can also happen during any given month. And here the Phillies sit, tied for baseball’s fifth-best record. The Phillies came in as a clear contender for baseball’s worst record, but they have a better record than the defending champs. They have a better record than everyone in the AL West, and also the NL West. The Phillies have won six games in a row — baseball’s longest active streak — and they’ve completed series sweeps against the Nationals and Indians. A handful of teams in the league are rebuilding. The Phillies have had the best start of any.

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