Kenta Maeda: One Month In

Major League Baseball has taken steps toward becoming a truly global game in recent years. Cuban players have joined their Venezuelan, Dominican and other Latin American counterparts in making a significant impact on today’s game, and talent from the Far East, particularly from the Japanese and Korean Leagues, has made its presence felt as well.

This year’s most heralded Japanese rookie is Kenta Maeda, who signed a long-term deal with the Dodgers this past offseason. After concerns were raised following a medical examination, he signed a deal that was heavily discounted from the originally negotiated terms, paying him $25 million over an eight-year period. This put the Dodgers in a fantastic position: a low-risk, potentially high-reward scenario. One month in, the Dodgers simply have to be thrilled as Maeda’s posted a 3-1, 1.41 mark with a 28/6 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 32 innings.

Sure, the season remains young, and the sample sizes are small, but it’s not too early to form some early hypotheses regarding whether Maeda is for real. Today, let’s use granular batted-ball data, examining his plate-appearance frequency and production by BIP type data, to see how Maeda is getting it done, and whether we can expect his success to continue moving forward. Read the rest of this entry »

The Rockies’ Blockbuster Night

In last night’s fifth inning, the Rockies threw punches and punches until the Giants were frontless. They scored 13 runs, which, as was noted at Purple Row, was a team record for runs scored in an inning. Oh, did I mention that this game was in San Francisco, and not in Denver? Because it was, which makes it all the more surprising. Let’s walk back through their blockbuster night, and use it to show what the Rockies are doing right this season.

First, let’s put this game into some context. Here are all the teams who have scored 15 or more runs in a game at AT&T Park, which as you probably know has been open since 2000.

15+ Runs Scored by Single Team, AT&T Park History
Date Tm Runs Opp Runs Barry Bonds?
5/6/2016 COL 17 SFG 7 No
7/10/2015 SF 15 PHI 2 No
9/13/2014 LAD 17 SF 0 No
8/31/2014 SF 15 MIL 5 No
8/24/2010 SF 16 CIN 5 No
9/24/2008 COL 15 SF 6 No
7/23/2005 FLO 16 SF 4 No
9/3/2004 SF 18 ARI 7 Yes
4/9/2003 SF 15 SD 11 Yes
5/24/2000 SF 18 MON 0 Yes
SOURCE: Baseball-Reference Play Index

As you can see, this doesn’t happen very often — happens even less when Barry Bonds hasn’t been involved. For reference, over the same time span, a team has scored 15-plus runs at Fenway Park 37 times. Across the bay at whatever Oakland’s ballpark is called now, it’s happened 16 times. At Camden Yards, it’s happened 27 times. Runs are simply harder to come by in games affected by the marine layer.

Read the rest of this entry »

Brandon Belt’s Annual, Awesome Adjustment

We’re here every year, it feels like. May rolls around, we notice that Brandon Belt has been doing new things in the early part of the season, and then we forget about it until the next season rolls around when we start all over again. Maybe it’s because he’s been the victim of a few impact injuries that have caused him to miss time in the second half of the past two seasons. Maybe it’s because he plays in the hardest park at which to hit home runs as a left-handed hitter for 81 games a year. Either way, it seems like Belt doesn’t really get his due. By all accounts, he should: by WAR, he was a top-five first baseman in 2013, and he was top-seven in 2015. Last season, he produced more offense by wRC+ than Adrian Gonzalez, Jose Abreu, or Eric Hosmer. What’s most impressive about Belt, however, is that he has always been evolving, and once again he’s showing some pretty significant adjustments so far this season.

We can trace a long line of Belt’s many evolutions. There was his breakout toward the end of 2012 and into 2013. There were his aggressive swing%/pull% adjustments in 2014. And finally, there was his plate coverage/opposite field power increase in 2015. Belt has obviously always been looking to improve on the craft of hitting, even if the overall results haven’t followed the perfect trajectory: removing an injury-marred 2014 that saw him play only 61 games, Belt has recorded wRC+ marks of 119, 140, and 135 in 2012, 2013, and 2015, respectively. Early adjustments brought him to a very high level, but subsequent ones haven’t quite vaulted him into the elite.

There’s not much that can compare to his wholesale improvements this year, however. I considered holding off on this article until the point at which we could get stabilization on a few more of his stats — ISO, in particular — but the changes are simply too glaring to ignore for another month or so. They’re exciting. We couldn’t wait. Let’s start with these few key offensive statistics:

Brandon Belt BB%/K%/ISO/wRC+, 2012-16
Season BB% K% ISO wRC+
2012 11.4% 22.5% .146 119
2013 9.1% 21.9% .193 140
2014 7.7% 27.2% .206 117
2015 10.1% 26.4% .197 135
2016 18.0% 14.8% .214 158
SOURCE: FanGraphs

Read the rest of this entry »

Hector Neris’ Nasty Splitter and Sustainability

The Phillies are off to a really good start this season, sitting at 16-12 in what is expected to be a rebuilding season as the team finally separates itself from its former glory in a move to the future. The team has some exciting young pitchers already succeeding in the majors with Vincent Velasquez and Aaron Nola putting together some very good performances. Maikel Franco is a promising young hitter and J.P. Crawford should be ready to contribute at some point. To get to their record this season, the team has succeeded by limiting runs and winning close games. The starting pitching has led the way, but the bullpen has been key, as well. No pitcher has surprised more than Hector Neris, who has upped the use of his splitter and gotten fantastic results.

So far this season, Hector Neris has faced 63 batters and struck out 27 of them. If you look at the strikeout-rate leaderboard for relievers who’ve recorded least 10 innings, you find that Andrew Miller, Dellin Betances, and Craig Kimbrel are the first three names to appear there, which isn’t surprising. Hector Neris is fourth, which is. The Phillies reliever struck out more than a batter an inning last year, but has taken that performance to new heights this season. Neris’ secret is out, as he has increased his splitter usage from 21% last season to 52% this year.

Read the rest of this entry »

Let’s Watch Adam Eaton Save 12 Runs

Bryce Harper may have slumped recently, but that doesn’t mean he hasn’t had a fantastic start to the season. He’s two homers shy of the league lead, and both the league leaders above him play half their games in Colorado. He simultaneously owns one of baseball’s best walk rates and one of baseball’s best isolated-slugging percentages. Bryce Harper is the man. Numbers weren’t necessary to make this point. All in all, Harper’s offensive performance to date has been worth nine runs above average.

Adam Eaton‘s been better. Not with the bat — Eaton’s just putting up his typical 117 wRC+ again. No, Eaton’s been better than Harper’s bat with his glove. Using Ultimate Zone Rating, our default defensive metric here on the site, Eaton’s glove has been worth a league-leading 9.6 runs above average. Use Defensive Runs Saved, where Eaton is running laps around the league with 12 runs saved, and it gets even better — Eaton’s defensive performance becomes equivalent to Mike Trout‘s season at the plate.

So this funny thing is going on with Adam Eaton in right field — a position he’s playing on an everyday schedule for the first time, having moved over from center field to accommodate Austin Jackson — and, especially considering Eaton’s outfield defense has been something of an enigma in the past, this development is something that’s begging to be explored.

Adam Eaton’s made 10 noteworthy plays this season, which, combined with all the other routine ones, have already been worth 12 Defensive Runs Saved. That’s more than Josh Donaldson had all of last year. Eaton’s number might not (probably won’t?) stay that high all year, but it’s that high right now. Let’s watch Adam Eaton save 12 runs.
Read the rest of this entry »

Jeff Sullivan FanGraphs Chat — 5/6/16

Jeff Sullivan: Hello friends

Bork: Hello, friend!

Jeff Sullivan: Hello friend

Jeff Sullivan: Let’s baseball chat

Bork: Can Trout trade the Angels?

Jeff Sullivan: Have to examine the particulars of his contract but you have to think that the answer is yes

Read the rest of this entry »

The Garrett Richards Injury and the Mike Trout Question

For the last week or so, the Angels have been pretty vague about what’s going on with Garrett Richards. He missed a start due to “fatigue” and “dehydration”, but they hadn’t given any real indicators that his arm was bothering him. Apparently it was, however, as Jeff Passan dropped this bomb this morning.

This is a huge blow to the Angels, not only because Richards is really good, but because the Angels pitching staff without him is atrocious. Here’s what our current depth chart forecast for Anaheim’s starting rotation looks like, with Richards included.

#25 Angels

Garrett Richards   159.0 8.4 3.2 0.7 .298 72.7 % 3.39 3.41 2.8
Hector Santiago 140.0 8.1 3.5 1.1 .292 74.2 % 3.89 4.29 1.3
Jered Weaver 137.0 5.6 2.5 1.4 .288 70.0 % 4.54 4.84 0.5
Nicholas Tropeano 114.0 8.5 3.3 1.1 .303 71.6 % 4.09 4.03 1.1
Matt Shoemaker 84.0 7.6 2.3 1.2 .298 71.5 % 4.04 4.07 0.9
Andrew Heaney   62.0 7.5 2.6 1.0 .301 72.0 % 3.83 3.91 0.7
C.J. Wilson   40.0 7.6 3.7 0.9 .295 70.8 % 4.06 4.14 0.4
Tyler Skaggs   39.0 8.7 3.2 0.8 .294 73.7 % 3.42 3.60 0.6
Kyle Kendrick 16.0 5.3 2.3 1.2 .292 71.5 % 4.23 4.59 0.1
Total 790.0 7.6 3.0 1.1 .296 72.1 % 3.93 4.08 8.4

Hector Santiago is a FIP-beater, so he’s better than that projected WAR makes him look, but after him, it’s a dumpster fire. And in Passan’s story, he notes that Andrew Heaney may also need Tommy John surgery, so we might be crossing his ~60 innings off that list as well, if his rehab-to-avoid-surgery plan isn’t successful. And Tyler Skaggs just went for an MRI after getting scratched from a Triple-A start last week; the current diagnosis is biceps tendonitis, but it’s an arm problem for a guy with a history of arm problems.

At some point in the not too distant future, the Angels rotation could be Santiago-Weaver-Tropeano-Shoemaker-Kendrick, which wouldn’t be good enough to contend even if supported by the offense of the 1927 Yankees. And the 2016 Angels aren’t exactly an offensive behemoth.

Read the rest of this entry »

NERD Game Scores for Friday, May 6, 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
Washington at Chicago NL | 14:20 ET
Scherzer (38.0 IP, 91 xFIP-) vs. Lackey (33.1 IP, 85 xFIP-)
It represents a classic case of “stating the obvious” to note how this game features, in the Cubs, probably the best major-league team in the majors, and also, in the Nationals, something not much worse than the best major-league team in the majors. Likewise, observing that Max Scherzer is an elite pitcher recalls for many of us that gentleman who pointed at the sky and made certain remarks on the subject of its blue-ness. Is John Lackey elite? Perhaps not. But his name is a byword for competence. In short, this game offers quality all around — plus also a version of Tommy La Stella who’s produced seven extra-base hits in fewer than 50 plate appearances.

Read the rest of this entry »

The Fringe Five: Baseball’s Most Compelling Fringe Prospects

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

Central to the exercise, of course, is a definition of the word fringe, a term which possesses different connotations for different sorts of readers. For the purposes of the column this year, a fringe prospect (and therefore one eligible for inclusion in the Five) is any rookie-eligible player at High-A or above who (a) received a future value grade of 45 or less from lead prospect analyst Dan Farnsworth during the course of his organizational lists and who (b) was omitted from the preseason prospect lists produced by Baseball America, Baseball Prospectus, and John Sickels, and also who (c) is currently absent from a major-league roster. Players appearing on an updated prospect list or, otherwise, selected in the first round of the current season’s amateur draft will also be excluded from eligibility.

Read the rest of this entry »

The Angels and Giants Are Making Unprecedented Contact

Is it still cool to talk about contact hitting, or are we past that? I don’t think we should be past that. Not yet, not as long as the Royals remain the defending champions. So, you remember all this stuff. It was a big part of the Royals conversation during last year’s playoffs. Yeah, the Royals had a really strong bullpen, and an incredible team defense, but they wound up mostly defined by their insistence on putting the ball in play. For better or worse, that’s the association. The Royals were the contact team. As a matter of fact, they were arguably the best contact-hitting team since at least 1950. I personally don’t care too much about what happened before 1950, not when I’m talking about statistics.

The Royals are a loyal organization, so they brought back a lot of their players. There’s been a little mixing up, but for the most part they’re still the familiar Royals, so it shouldn’t surprise you they’re again running a low strikeout rate. It’s a pretty sticky metric, strikeouts. As much as the Royals have put the ball in play, though, they’ve so far been surpassed in that regard. Filter out pitchers, and the Royals have baseball’s seventh-lowest rate of strikeouts. They’re a little higher than the A’s. They’re a little higher than the Marlins. And so on, and then there are the two standouts. To this point, at least as far as not striking out goes, the Angels and Giants have been on another level.

Read the rest of this entry »

Jeremy Sowers: From Flawed Southpaw to MBA Ray

Jeremy Sowers doesn’t turn 33 until later this month. He’s young enough that he could still be pitching. Having succumbed to shoulder woes and ineffectiveness, he’s instead embarking on a new career with the Tampa Bay Rays.

Drafted sixth overall in 2004 out of Vanderbilt, Sowers never did fulfill expectations on the mound. In four seasons with the Cleveland Indians, the left-hander logged a 5.18 ERA while winning just 18 of 48 decisions. Known more for moxie than velocity, he fanned 10% of the batters he faced across 400 innings of work.

Unable to sufficiently school hitters, Sowers stepped away from the game and returned to the classroom, earning an MBA from the University of North Carolina. Now he’s back in baseball. After a summer spent interning with the Orioles, Sowers is currently a major-league operations assistant with the Rays, a position he sees as a stepping stone to bigger and better things.

Sowers talked about his path from first-round pick to entry-level baseball ops on a recent visit to Fenway Park.


Sowers on working for the Rays: “Just because I played does not qualify me as an absolute source of information about this game. I think I offer a unique perspective, but my value is only increased by hearing out and understanding everybody else’s perspective. To use a really crappy movie analogy, in Sling Blade, everybody is trying to figure out how to make a lawnmower work. All of a sudden, the one character is like, ‘I reckon there’s no gas in it.’

Read the rest of this entry »

We’ve Never Seen This Felix Hernandez

I recognize that this is a sensitive subject at a lousy time. I mean, the Mariners are winning, winning on a fairly sustained basis, and Felix Hernandez owns a lower ERA than Stephen Strasburg and Noah Syndergaard. According to our playoff odds page, the Mariners have a better than 50% chance of getting to the postseason, which for Felix would be his first-ever taste of those stakes. Mariners fans aren’t looking to be worried. Not now, not when they have circumstances to appreciate.

So I know this post might be interpreted as a bit of a bummer. It’s not meant that way; these are just observations. And no part of me presently thinks that Felix is toast. It’s just, there are things to talk about. What Felix has been doing, he’s never before done quite like this. It’s looking like he could be beginning a new chapter.

Read the rest of this entry »

Urias and De Leon Look Close to the Big Leagues

Heading into the season, there were a lot of question marks about the Dodgers rotation, but so far, the team’s struggling offense and bullpen have received a big boost from a pitching staff led by Clayton Kershaw and Kenta Maeda; their starters currently rank fifth in WAR. Ross Stripling has been a nice early surprise for the team, and while Alex Wood‘s ERA remains too high, his underlying metrics suggest that he still can help the team. Scott Kazmir’s struggles are perhaps most worrisome, but if he can stop giving up home runs, he should be serviceable as well.

And if any of the big leaguers falter, there is help on the way. In the minors, Jose De Leon made his first start of the 2016 season on Tuesday, the delay being partly due to a minor ankle injury and also the product of an effort to keep his innings low in the early going. When de Leon’s debut came the day before Julio Urias’ most recent start, I decided to watch both via

Read the rest of this entry »

Dallas Keuchel’s Attempts to Adjust Back

Just a couple weeks back, Dave Cameron examined the things that should worry us about Dallas Keuchel. He was more nuanced, but we could break it down into three components: lower velocity, fewer calls on the black, and fewer swings. For a guy that had the third-lowest zone percentage in baseball last year, the latter two seem hugely important for his success. So I asked the Astros’ lefty what he’s doing about those things.

Lower Velocity

Asking a pitcher about velocity is a delicate thing. Big increases mean whispers, and big declines mean… whispers of another sort. And then there’s the brutal march of time that fritters away our athleticism, day by day. You walk on egg shells.

But they know their radar-gun readings. And though age should have stolen about a tick from Keuchel, it looks like he’s down more than a tick and a half on the radar gun, from 89.6 mph last year to 88.0 this year. But that’s comparing all of last year to this year’s April, and also ignoring a slight uptick in recent games. If you compare last week’s velocity to last year’s April velocity, Keuchel is only down 0.8 mph, well in the normal range for a 28-year-old pitcher.

Read the rest of this entry »

The Case for Francisco Lindor as Baseball’s Best Shortstop

The case has been made for Carlos Correa. It was even made on this very site last year. He was the number one overall draft pick. He was last year’s American League Rookie of the Year. He’s been called Alex Rodriguez, with better makeup. He’s even been called the best player in the major leagues (maybe). When we ran our preseason staff predictions a couple months back, 11 of 55 FanGraphs employees chose Correa to win the American League MVP. Beside he and Mike Trout, no other player received more than four votes. The public opinion on the matter seems almost unanimous: Carlos Correa is viewed as baseball’s best shortstop, just 126 games into the 21-year-old’s major league career.

But there’s a 22-year-old, just 123 games into his major league career, who wasn’t Rookie of the Year and received zero preseason MVP picks, whose case for baseball’s best shortstop might be just as strong as Correa’s. It’s time we consider whether it’s actually Francisco Lindor who is baseball’s best shortstop.

The argument might not have to be complicated. Correa gained his status so quickly due to the hype and the performance. Both need to be present for a player to be accepted as a bonafide superstar in less than a calendar year. It’s when the two collide that lofty claims like “baseball’s best shortstop” or “MVP candidate” start to seem reasonable. So let’s start with the hype.

Read the rest of this entry »

It’s Time to Buy into Daniel Murphy

Yesterday, Daniel Murphy went 4-5, hitting his fourth home run of the season in the process, and driving his batting line for 2016 up to .398/.449/.663. His 192 wRC+ ranks third best in the big leagues, and he’s behind only Manny Machado, Dexter Fowler, and Mike Trout on the WAR leaderboards. In the aftermath of yesterday’s hit barrage, I sent out the following tweet.

Many of the responses argued that Fowler is ahead in that race, which is certainly a reasonable argument given what he’s done for the Cubs thus far. A bunch of other responses were essentially along the “small sample size” lines, though. Like this one, for instance.

In general, the premise of this tweet is mostly correct. When you have a large sample of a player’s career performance, you shouldn’t overreact to a 25 game hot streak, and believe that the most recent performance cancels out the longer history the player has provided for evidence of what he’s capable of doing going forward. In Murphy’s case, though, we’re well past the point of this being a 25 game hot streak. For most of the last year, Daniel Murphy has been one of the best hitters in baseball.

Read the rest of this entry »

Eno Sarris Baseball Chat — 5/5/16

Eno Sarris: Be here shortly! In the meantime
Eno Sarris: challa!
Matt Harvey: Are you worried about me?
Eno Sarris: Look a little doughy, not doing well in the fifth, velocity dropping off, it’s hard to change fitness in the middle of the season, but I’m less worried about him than a guy like Keuchel at 88 mph.
Inquiring Monde: I think I know the answer to this q given your podcast/love of Nola, but here goes: trade Travis Shaw to get back Nola in a redraft?
Eno Sarris: Shaw looks like a .260/20 type third baseman, which I like a little less than a strong fantasy #2.

Read the rest of this entry »

How to Score Runs Off Noah Syndergaard

There’s a vestigial anchor from my baseball past that I drag around — it’s called Red Sox fandom, and it’s attached to a barely seaworthy vessel whose form is an email group of mainly older Boston fans. Most of the debates that happen on the email chain are really just individual manifestations of the argument surrounding process vs. outcome. Like a lot of traditionally-minded baseball fans, most of the members of the group are outcomes people, as baseball fans have been taught to be for the past 100-plus years — focusing on ERA, batting average, etc. I tend to find myself more on the process end of the spectrum, and lately I’ve been thinking about this debate as it relates to pitching — and especially as it relates to Noah Syndergaard

You could argue that no one’s process is better than Syndergaard’s right now — and, most recently, Jeff Sullivan actually has argued that. If the goal of pitching is to limit base-runners — and thus limit runs — the right-hander is about as good as it gets. I like quick ERA estimators like strikeout- and walk-rate differential (K-BB%) partly because I’m lazy and partly because I think they’re nifty, and currently Syndergaard is second in K-BB%, which is the best quick ERA estimator we have. Strikeouts? Elite. Walks? Elite. Velocity? Arsenal? Unparalleled. The processes he’s taking to influence positive outcomes are second really only to Clayton Kershaw this season, and for the most part, he’s been rewarded for them. But there is one glaring issue he still has — laid bare in his past two starts — which we’ll get a lot of chances to see below.

All of that said, the main question we’re going to be answering today is: how does a team score runs off of Syndergaard? Every pitcher has to give up runs at some point, no matter how impressive their talent. Today, we engage in a fun exercise to examine those runs. So let’s go through a month’s worth of starts!

A primer for what we’re about to discuss: looking at Statcast data through Baseball Savant, Syndergaard has the lowest average exit velocity among pitchers with a minimum of 60 batted-ball events. Those events include both hits and outs, and it’s testament to the type of contact against him — and the frame for a lot of what we’ll be looking at today. Here’s a reminder of what exit velocity generally means for outcomes. Now let’s jump in, with the understanding that we’re going to skip over his first start of the season, as he didn’t give up any runs. Onward!

Start #2, 4/12/16, 1 ER: Derek Dietrich single. Exit velocity: 74 mph.

Read the rest of this entry »

NERD Game Scores for Thursday, May 5, 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
Washington at Chicago NL | 20:05 ET
Ross (22.2 IP, 105 xFIP-) vs. Hendricks (23.0 IP, 73 xFIP-)
Of the 136 starters to have recorded 20-plus innings so far this year, only five have recorded a lower average fastball velocity than Cubs right-hander Kyle Hendricks. Two of those five are knuckleballers. Another is Jered Weaver, whose fastball is so slow… How slow is it?… It’s so slow, one could author a slim collection of poorly conceived and executed jokes just like this one about it… And yet, what one finds is — despite Hendricks’ relative dearth of arm speed — is an equal and opposite amount of success. He induces grounders. He hardly walks anyone. He’s posted a league-average strikeout rate. Today, he also starts for the Cubs.

Read the rest of this entry »

How You Get a Bryce Harper Slump

Bryce Harper was in a slump! You might not have noticed. Right around the middle of April, it seemed people decided Harper had somehow taken another step forward. And maybe he has, I don’t know, but if he has, he hasn’t done it since the middle of April. As a matter of fact — I’m writing this late Wednesday, and when I look at the leaderboards over the past seven days, Harper is tied for dead last in WAR. I don’t recommend you make a habit of looking at WAR over seven-day periods, but Harper is Harper, and last is last. There was a real and legitimate slump. Could be there still is.

Let me make it clear right now that I’m not concerned. Not about Harper, not at present. I thought he was great at the beginning of April, I thought he was great in the middle of April, and I think he’s great now at the beginning of May. Everyone is entitled to the occasional off-week. I just do think there’s something we could learn from examining how what’s happened has happened. Bryce Harper slumped! Why?

Read the rest of this entry »