Is Oakland’s Mount Davis Killing Fly Balls?

My favorite part of my job is when players ask me questions. It’s difficult enough to come up with questions on a daily basis, so it’s great to get a free piece — and it’s even better when the question came from someone who plays the game every day. Once you make it to the Show, it’s all about staying in the Show, and that means making the most of your athletic talents. Strategy is often the key component to these questions.

When Athletics infielder Jed Lowrie came bounding across the Oakland clubhouse to me with his question earlier this year, he’d already decided to act on what he had perceived as an issue with his new/old home park. In the spring, he’d connected with his hitting coach, Darren Bush, in order to work on going the other way since he was leaving Houston’s friendly confines for Oakland’s cold. Because fly balls die in Oakland, and opposite-field fly balls are, by nature, less damaging than their pull counterparts, part of that new “oppo” approach was a heavier ground-ball profile. Mission accomplished.

But the reason behind Oakland’s fickle fly-ball play was still on his mind. “I think it’s Mount Davis,” he said back then. His theory was that the wall-like 10,000-seat expansion in center field — constructed in 1996 and nicknamed Mt. Davis in scorn after the Raiders’ late owner Al Davis — was responsible for suppressing fly ball distance in the Coliseum.

Answering his question turned out to be fairly difficult.

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August Fagerstrom FanGraphs Chat — 9/27/16

The Mets Didn’t Get the Jay Bruce They Traded For

On August 1, within an hour of this season’s trade deadline coming to a close, the New York Mets and Cincinnati Reds finalized a trade which sent outfielder Jay Bruce to New York in exchange for prospects Dilson Herrera and Max Wotell. The Mets added Bruce certainly not for his glove, but for his bat, particularly for a little extra thump against right-handed pitching. At the time of the trade, Bruce was having the best season of his career. The 29-year-old right fielder had 25 home runs in just 402 plate appearances, good for a career-best .295 isolated slugging percentage, and a 124 wRC+. After an injury-plagued 2014 and a down 2015, Bruce was driving the ball in the air to the opposite field, had cut down on his strikeouts, and, at the plate, generally looked like the prime version of himself for the first time in several years.

And then, one week ago, on September 20, less than two months after parting ways with a legitimate major-league prospects to acquire Bruce’s bat, Bruce was pinch-hit for in the eighth inning of a close game against the Atlanta Braves by Eric Campbell, he of the career 81 wRC+ which presently rests at 55 this season. Bruce said after the game he had never been pinch-hit for. He certainly couldn’t have ever expected that the first would come for a player with Campbell’s track record.

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NERD Game Scores for September 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
Baltimore at Toronto | 19:07 ET
Gausman (166.1 IP, 88 xFIP-) vs. Sanchez (179.0 IP, 88 xFIP-)
While other outcomes are certainly possible, what this game — and, indeed, what this series — probably represents is a prelude to the American League Wild Card game. Toronto has already recorded as many wins as either Detroit or Seattle — that is, the teams currently situated just outside the top of the wild-card standings — as many wins (86) as either Detroit or Seattle are projected to record; Baltimore, just one fewer. What’s required both of the Baltimores and the Torontos, then, is merely not to fail too hard.

Of course, as modest as that requirement might seem, it’s one that everyone is eventually unable to fulfill. Sometimes chronically so. And then your father’s like, “Do you know how much I’ve paid for tennis lessons, and you can’t even get past the first round of a regional tournament?” And then you’re like, “Whatever, Dad, I hate tennis.” And then you storm off. And then, a decade later, you’re a weblogger. Hypothetically, that is. In this hypothetical, not real example.

Readers’ Preferred Broadcast: Baltimore Television.

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Our Staff Remembers Jose Fernandez

As you know by now, the world lost Jose Fernandez on Sunday. Here at FanGraphs, we wanted to offer those affiliated with us an opportunity to remember Fernandez in their own way. We have collected those remembrances, and would like to share them with you, as we all mourn Fernandez’s passing together.

August Fagerstrom

I cannot say that I truly knew Jose Fernandez. We spoke once, directly, and once as part of a post-game interview scrum. But I can say that our paths crossed, and that I was graced with his personal energy, which was impossible to miss if you spent more than 30 seconds in the same room as him, and for that, I am grateful.

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FanGraphs Audio: Dave Cameron on Jose Fernandez

Episode 685
Dave Cameron is the managing editor of FanGraphs. During this edition of FanGraphs Audio, he discusses late Miami right-hander and divine ray of light Jose Fernandez.

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 26 min play time.)

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We Have a Pop-Up Controversy

Think about what you know about hitters and pop-ups. Pop-ups, for all hitters, are bad. They might as well be one-pitch strikeouts. And, you know who doesn’t hit them? Joey Votto. You know that Joey Votto pretty much never hits a pop-up. It’s among the many things that make him extraordinary. Joe Mauer also doesn’t really hit pop-ups. Christian Yelich. Ryan Howard. Shin-Soo Choo. On and on. And there’s Howie Kendrick. Kendrick doesn’t hit pop-ups. But:

That was tweeted at me yesterday. And when I checked the live statistics on FanGraphs, Kendrick had an infield fly. Yet when I check those same statistics today: nothing. It’s as if it’s been erased. Here is the batted ball in question:

Fielded comfortably by the second baseman. We’d all identify that as a pop-up, right? In one sense, then, Kendrick did pop up yesterday. You could say it’s the most important sense. Yet, here’s the leaderboard, when I look at everyone who’s batted at least 500 times over the past three calendar years. This is why this matters. (It doesn’t matter-matter, but, you know.)


Kendrick is the only guy with double zeros. Everyone else has hit at least one infield fly. So, what are we supposed to do, here?

In truth, it’s not that much of a mystery. We get batted-ball data from Baseball Info Solutions, and they have a specific definition of what makes an infield fly. Yesterday, when I checked the live stats, those were getting fed in by MLB Gameday, and that has a different, looser definition. So Kendrick’s fly ball was a pop-up by one definition, but not by both. If you take the BIS data as gospel, Kendrick objectively remains without such a blemish. But you can’t really say Kendrick hasn’t hit a pop-up. He just hasn’t hit one particular kind of pop-up.

Heck, this was just a matter of weeks ago:

The last time I checked, the BIS cutoff was 140 feet. That is, any fly ball hit more than 140 feet wouldn’t count as an infield fly. Kendrick still hasn’t popped up within the infield. But these flies flew only a little beyond 140. And now that we have Statcast, we can try to run some numbers ourselves. We’re still going to have to define things arbitrarily, and Statcast sometimes has trouble picking up batted balls hit at extreme angles, but let’s just see what we can do for 2016. Why don’t we set a cutoff at a launch angle of 60 degrees?

Joey Votto has zero such batted balls. Christian Yelich, zero. Joe Mauer, one. Howie Kendrick, one. Starling Marte, one. I don’t know how many batted balls are missing from the sample, so it’s not authoritative. But, it’s something. No definition of a pop-up is going to be the definition of a pop-up. This is the issue with bucketing. But Howie Kendrick either has a pop-up or two, or he doesn’t. According to the numbers we have here, Kendrick hasn’t popped up once in three years. That’s amazing! It still, no matter what, reflects a legitimate ability of his, but his is a soft zero. There’s no arriving at a one true answer.

Howie Kendrick most certainly doesn’t hit pop-ups. Except for the rare occasions when he does. Welp?

The Worst Called Ball On Record

Last Monday, in what was a pretty critical game against the Mariners, Josh Donaldson got ejected in the seventh inning. Officially, he was ejected for arguing balls and strikes, but, unofficially, he was ejected for being a jerk. During his seventh inning at-bat, Donaldson tried to check a swing, and he disagreed with the determination that he didn’t check it enough. A couple pitches later, Donaldson was called out on a pitch that was probably below the zone. That was too much, and Donaldson expressed himself, and that was that. Donaldson wasn’t likely to hit again, so the ejection didn’t mean much, but he felt like he was getting screwed. Josh Donaldson belligerently wondered aloud why he couldn’t catch a break.

If only he knew then what he might know now. I don’t want to say that Donaldson deserved a break. A grown man needs to be able to control himself. But borderline calls are luck, and given enough time, luck will even out. Several days ago, Josh Donaldson felt like he was unfairly struck out. Friday night in Toronto, Donaldson was in the box for the very worst called ball of the entire PITCHf/x era.

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Steve Clevenger and the Precedent for Insensitive Comments

Seattle Mariners’ backup catcher Steve Clevenger is not particularly sympathetic to the Black Lives Matter movement. Rather than keep his feelings on the matter to himself, however, he decided to share them with the world on Thursday afternoon in the following tweets:


Not surprisingly, the public response to Clevenger’s comments was swift and unforgiving. Within hours, the Mariners released an official statement distancing the team from the remarks. And although Clevenger later apologized for the tweets, the Mariners nevertheless announced on Friday that the team was suspending him without pay for the remainder of the season.

On the one hand, the impact of the suspension on Clevenger will be relatively modest, as he was already on the 60-day disabled list with a broken hand, and thus was unlikely to play again for the Mariners this season. On the other hand, however, by being suspended without pay, Clevenger will forfeit the roughly $32,000 he would have earned over the season’s final 10 games.

It does not appear as though Clevenger will challenge his punishment, according to a report by Maury Brown. If Clevenger were to change his mind and file an appeal, however, then it is possible that he could get his suspension reduced by an arbitrator. Specifically, although Major League Baseball and its teams generally have the legal right to punish players in this manner, Clevenger could argue that a suspension of this length is at odds with those handed down in similar, prior cases.

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Clayton Kershaw Experimented On the Rockies

One of my favorite things about baseball is how Clayton Kershaw has never been able to master a changeup. There’s absolutely no one in baseball who needs a changeup less than Clayton Kershaw, but, drive is drive. He’s been frustrated by his own lack of progress, because as far as he’s concerned, he’ll forever see room for improvement. He still has an ERA. Runs are mistakes.

Kershaw wants to be better. It doesn’t matter to him how silly that sounds. He’s willing to try different things, and that brings us to this past weekend, when Kershaw and the Dodgers blew out the Rockies. We’re going to fast-forward to the seventh inning, when the Dodgers were up by eight runs. Actually, no, before we do that, here’s an image from Texas Leaguers. Kershaw’s estimated 2016 release points:


Three pitches stand out. Here’s the high one, from April:

You might’ve forgotten about that. The baseball season is long. Anyway, now, seventh inning, facing the Rockies. Here’s Kershaw throwing a pretty ordinary Kershaw-y pitch to Nolan Arenado:

Real good pitch. Here’s the following delivery:

You see that? So, Arenado singled. He was shortly eliminated. With two outs, up came Gerardo Parra. A typical Kershaw pitch:

And, the very next pitch:

You see Parra look out at the mound. Arenado did the same thing. That’s presumably because Kershaw gave them both a sudden, weird, different look. I’ll use screenshots now. The first of the two shown Parra pitches:


The second of the two shown Parra pitches:


Look at the arm. Look at the release point. Two times in the seventh inning, with the leverage about as low as it can get, Clayton Kershaw dropped down. He threw one ball, and he threw one strike, which earned a strikeout. Here’s a one-image comparison, with the ordinary release point shown by the yellow dot:


Just as Clayton Kershaw doesn’t need a changeup, he doesn’t need a second slot. He’s already the best at what he does in the game. But, I mean, what’s the harm? Especially at 8-0? I’m going to guess he’s tried this a few times in the bullpen. Might as well see if it plays in a game, with the playoffs coming up. Anything for an edge. I suppose even the best players have to work hard to remain the best.

I will say, Kershaw’s low-slot delivery doesn’t look so smooth. It doesn’t quite seem comfortable, and maybe you shouldn’t expect it to. That’s not how he’s thrown, but that second fastball was perfectly located, and you don’t need to be flawless if you’re offering a second look, for the surprise of it. The ball gets to the catcher in less than half a second. That doesn’t give hitters much time to process. I wonder if this was Kershaw’s idea, or if he’s been having conversations with Rich Hill. Hill loves his unpredictability. Imagine Hill’s deception with Kershaw’s stuff.

Or, don’t. The result would be terrifying. And besides, there’s not yet any indication this is going to keep up. For the time being, all we know is that Clayton Kershaw tried an experiment two times in a low-leverage inning. Maybe that’s all we’ll ever see. Or maybe, you know, it’s not. What am I, God?


As shown in the comments, Kershaw was indeed inspired by Hill. And it turns out the strikeout pitch to Parra was the fastest pitch Kershaw has thrown in 2016, by a few tenths of a point. So.

NERD Game Scores for September 26, 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
New York NL at Miami | 19:10 ET
Colon (184.1 IP, 101 xFIP-) vs. Undecided (N/A)
It’s generally regarded as unwise to alter the results of a statisical model due to the existence of additional, seemingly relevant information. “If there’s additional, seemingly relevant information,” goes the reasoning, “then merely incorporate it into the model itself.” Regardless of what the best practices are for such a thing, the author has altered the NERD game scores for today’s Mets-Marlins game because (a) these so-called “NERD game scores” are the product less of a statistical model and more just a distillation of the author’s own biases, anyway, and (b) there’s hardly any way to integrate “horrible death of a beloved young person” into a model reliably. If one is inclined to fill his or her role as spectator today, then this is likely the best means by which to fill that role.

Readers’ Preferred Broadcast: Miami Radio.

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FanGraphs Audio: Eric Longenhagen, Live from Instructs

Episode 684
Lead prospect analyst Eric Longenhagen is the guest on this edition of the pod, during which he discusses the Fall Instructional League — like what it is, for example; speculates wildly on how many 15-year-olds in the world are capable — like Brazilian Eric Pardinho is capable — of throwing 90 mph; and cites a real-life instance of a club using spin-rate data to draft a high-school prospect.

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 12 min play time.)

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I Can’t Wait to Tell My Son About Jose Fernandez

The lens that I watch baseball through has shifted many times. Growing up, the game was a thing I aspired to, a dream for my future. Somewhere along that path, the internet became a thing, and somehow, I ended up seeing baseball as a thing to write about, as I found community with other fans while I lived thousands of miles from where I grew up. Most recently, the way I see the game has begun to evolve again, as I have a son headed towards his second birthday, and I wonder what our relationship to baseball will be. Frequently, now, I think about how I’m going to introduce him to baseball, and what parts of the game might draw him in.

Yesterday, the idea of showing my son how fun baseball can be got a bit more daunting, as the game lost its seminal ambassador for the sport as an opportunity to experience unbridled enjoyment. Yesterday, my son lost the opportunity to watch Jose Fernandez. Not just to watch Jose Fernandez pitch, but more importantly, to watch Jose Fernandez love the game of baseball.

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NERD Game Scores for September 25, 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
St. Louis at Chicago NL | 20:08 ET
Martinez (182.1 IP, 94 xFIP-) vs. Lester (191.0 IP, 84 xFIP-)
The point of this daily exercise is, pretty immediately, to identify that game or those games which are most likely to facilitate joy for the spectator. There are occasions, however, on which one is less inclined to seek out that sort of joy. The news of Jose Fernandez‘s death early this morning would appear to represent one of those times. That said, it’s difficult to provide a full-throated endorsement of any game. For one so inclined to observe a contest of some consequence, however, this one is probably it. The Cardinals possess nearly even odds of qualifying for a wild-card berth. The pitching matchup is also quite strong.

Readers’ Preferred Broadcast: Chicago NL Television.

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José Fernández Was a Joy

José Fernández died in a boating accident early this morning. He was a lot of things to a lot of people. First and foremost, he was Cuban. Cuban baseball players turn up frequently enough in the United States that we sort of discount how hard it must be for them to get here, from the island. We should not do that, as it is extraordinarily difficult. It is a journey that most people born in this country likely have no way of comprehending, and so we don’t try to. But Fernandez’s journey started there.

José Fernández was a prisoner. After his stepfather succeeded on his 14th try to defect from Cuba, he would eventually earn enough money for Fernández and his mother to try. Caught, Fernández would spend time in a Cuban jail among murderers, his only crime trying to leave Cuba, to pursue a better life. As a 14-year-old. From a 2013 profile by Grantland’s Jordan Ritter Conn:

He doesn’t ever want to think about the food again — “I have no idea how I would even describe it in English,” he says, “but believe me, you don’t want to know.” He tries not to remember all those bodies cramped into so little space. And he doesn’t let his mind dwell on the inmate killings. “To them, their lives were already over,” Fernández says. “What did it matter to them if they killed you? That’s just one more murder.”

José Fernández was a son. When he finally successfully did escape the undercover Cuban agents and police whose job it is to turn back defectors, his journey was just beginning. Again, from Ritter Conn:

And then he remembers the splash. He heard it one night while he was making small talk with the captain. After the splash, he heard the screams. A wave had crashed over the boat’s deck and swept Fernández’s mother out to sea. He saw her body and before he had time to think, he jumped in. A spotlight shone on the water, and Fernández could make out his mother thrashing in the waves about 60 feet from the boat. She could swim, but just barely, and as Fernández pushed his way toward her, he spat out salty water with almost every stroke. Waves — “stupid big,” he says — lifted him to the sky, then dropped him back down. When he reached his mother he told her, “Grab my back, but don’t push me down. Let’s go slow, and we’ll make it.” She held his left shoulder. With his right arm — his pitching arm — he paddled. Fifteen minutes later, they reached the boat. A rope dropped, and they climbed aboard. For now, at least, they were going to be OK.

José Fernández was going to be a father. As Emma Baccellieri noted over at Deadspin this morning, Fernández had announced to the world not even a week ago that his girlfriend was expecting. Now, that child will grow up without his or her biological father.

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Sunday Notes: Dickerson, Velo Bias, Melancon in DC, more

Corey Dickerson’s numbers with the Tampa Bay Rays aren’t as good as they were last year with the Colorado Rockies. That’s not surprising. Coors Field is an extreme hitter’s park and Tropicana Field leans pitcher.

For Dickerson — acquired over the offseason in a trade for Jake McGee — his new ballpark hasn’t simply leaned. It’s tilted precipitately. The lefty-swinger is slashing a robust .280/.313/.576 on the road, but only .205/.262/.367 at home. Only seven of his 23 home runs have come at The Trop.

There is also a chasm in his positional splits. In a close to identical number of plate appearances, Dickerson is hitting a healthy .278/.325/.511 as a left fielder, but only .216/.262/.457 as a designated hitter. Paired with the pressure of wanting to thrive in his new environs, the unfamiliar role proved burdensome.

“It was tough at first,” admitted Dickerson, who downplays his change of venues. “I was DHing a lot, which is something I wasn’t used to. You have all this time between at bats, and what happened is that I started critiquing every at bat. You have expectations for yourself, and because I wasn’t having success, I was trying to change. I was trying to be perfect, and this game isn’t perfect.” Read the rest of this entry »

NERD Game Scores for September 24, 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 Baltimore | 19:05 ET
Ray (166.0 IP, 80 xFIP-) vs. Miley (151.1 IP, 100 xFIP-)
Baltimore’s postseason odds have remained between 25 and 75% — which is to say, closer than not to 50% — since basically the beginning of the season, as the following graph illustrates.


As that graph also illustrates, Baltimore’s postseason odds remain in the 25-75% range today — in no small part due to an extra-inning victory on Friday that allowed them to stay on pace with a Detroit club that currently occupies the second wild-card spot. Detroit and, in the National League, the St. Louis Cardinals also play games of considerable import today.

Readers’ Preferred Broadcast: Baltimore Television.

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The Best of FanGraphs: September 19-23, 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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Chase Utley Hustles for History

Rewinding the clock roughly 11 months, we’d find Chase Utley in a very different place. He had just completed a .212/.286/.343 season that led to 423 plate appearances of replacement-level value. He was the subject of significant (justified) criticism for tackling Ruben Tejada and breaking his leg during the NLDS. Then 36, Utley was staring into the twilight of his career and it didn’t look like there were a lot of great days left.

Utley is a borderline Hall of Famer, delivering five Cooperstown-level peak seasons from 2005 to -09 and then five more well above-average seasons from 2010 to -14. His problem has always been that a good portion of his value has been tied up in defense and base-running. Given his slightly late debut, accumulating the sort of counting stats one often requires to earn 75% of the vote is probably out of reach. He’s not a slam-dunk case, but from an objective statistical sense, he’s worthy of consideration.

Players of Utley’s caliber often need a narrative to lift them over the last hurdles of a Hall of Fame candidacy. Unfortunately for Utley, it looks like his final notable act is might be having injured another player and ushering in a rule named for his transgression. Perhaps he’ll carry the Dodgers to a World Series this October, but if he doesn’t, might I suggest one final argument in favor of Mr. Utley’s election. Chase Utley is a week away from joining one of baseball’s most exclusive clubs.

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A Dialogue on the Urgent Matter of Jharel Cotton’s Cutter

In light of Oakland right-hander Jharel Cotton‘s minor-league success, his major-league success (which includes a 1.50 ERA over three starts) isn’t an entirely surprising development. More surprising, perhaps, is how he’s achieved that success — less by means of his celebrated changeup and more by means of his barely-ever-mentioned-once cut fastball.

Curious as to what might explain this development — and curious, generally, about what constitutes a successful cutter — I contacted pitch-type enthusiast and mostly tolerable colleague Eno Sarris. What follows is the product of our correspondence. The author’s questions appear in bold, Sarris’s in normally weighted typeface.


Because I’m not the foremost expert on anything, Eno — except perhaps the length and breadth of my own personal weakness — I’m also not an expert on Jharel Cotton. That said, it’s probably also fair to say that I’ve followed him with some interest. He finished atop the Fringe Five leaderboard last year (tied with Matt Boyd and Sherman Johnson). He finished among the top 10 on that same arbitrarily calculated scoreboard this year, too.

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