How Good Is Shohei Otani?

This is a guest post from our friends at, who have built a projection system and systematic evaluation methodology about which you can read more at their site. They also tweet @NEIFIco and have started their own blog as well.

Back in November, we contributed a post about Japanese superstar Shohei Otani, noting that the 22-year-old hurler already projected as one of the best pitchers on the planet, and would be one of the most coveted international imports in baseball history if his NPB team, Nippon Ham, decided to make him available to MLB clubs. Since that time, Otani’s 2016 season has only expanded his legend.

On the mound, Otani has had another great year, allowing a 2.25 ERA in 16 starts and racking up 140 strikeouts in 116 innings. But his real coming out party has been at the plate, as he’s forced his way into the lineup on a regular basis, becoming a legitimate two-way player. In 301 plate appearances, he’s hitting .333/.435/.631, which means he leads the league in OPS. With all due respect to Madison Bumgarner and the #PitchersWhoRake hashtag, Otani looks like something the likes of which we don’t currently have in MLB.

That brings up the obvious question: do we have any relevant comparisons for Shohei Otani?

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Let’s Improve Some Pitching Arsenals

Yesterday, we talked about Corey Kluber and Jose Fernandez, who have both made an effort to improve their arsenals in the second half by maximizing the usage of their best pitch — in this case, their similarly frisbee-like breaking balls. Kluber and Fernandez, in this regard, have been inching closer toward following in the footsteps of pitchers like Rich Hill, Kenta Maeda, Lance McCullers, Matt Shoemaker, and Masahiro Tanaka each of whom has thrown some version of a breaking or offspeed pitch this season more often than they’ve thrown a fastball.

A comment by Hill in May seemed to suggest that more pitchers could benefit from being told that they should simply throw their best pitch more often, regardless of whether that pitch is a fastball. Indians pitching coach Mickey Callaway told me more recently that “traditional things take some time to change,” and that the thinking with Kluber was that he could become more efficient in getting ahead in counts by throwing his best pitch, the curve, more often, rather than the more traditional choice of his two-seam fastball.

Guys like Hill, McCullers, Shoemaker, and now potentially Kluber and Fernandez have already made the adjustment to lead with a non-fastball. Because this approach interests me so much, I’m now curious who else might benefit from such a change.

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Dave Cameron FanGraphs Chat – 8/31/16

Dave Cameron: Happy Wednesday, everyone. I just flew back from SF yesterday, after a fun Pitch Talks event on Monday night. Seriously, these shows are great, and you really should make a point of going if one comes anywhere near you.
Dave Cameron: Watching Jonah Keri get made crushed by Jon Miller was a lifetime highlight.
Dave Cameron: But with a month left in the season, we’ve got plenty of stuff to talk about, so let’s spend the next hour talking baseball.
wilson: Shelby Miller is back up today, do you think theres a shred of hope for him going forward?
Dave Cameron: Sure, there’s no reason to think that a guy who was a quality pitcher for several years is now just utterly useless. It seems like his season just snowballed on him, with his mechanics getting out of whack, and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if Miller turned out to be a useful pitcher again. Remember, Roy Halladay had one of the worst seasons in baseball history, got sent back to A-ball to redo his mechanics, and came back as a Hall of Famer starter.
Guest: Hendricks peripherals are pretty much identical to last year? Has he actually gotten better?

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NERD Game Scores for Wednesday, August 31, 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
Sanchez (156.1 IP, 82 xFIP-) vs. Gallardo (91.2 IP, 130 xFIP-)
This seems like the sort of television for which one might be required to make an appointment: an unexpected and legitimate Cy Young candidate starts for a club that possesses the slimmest of leads over not one, but two, division rivals. One of those two division rivals is the opponent. Starring Aaron Sanchez and all the rules governing baseball.

Readers’ Preferred Broadcast: Toronto Radio or Baltimore Television.

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Matt Moore’s New Pitch Addresses Old Concerns

In his last start, the Giants’ Matt Moore did something he’d never done before. Not no-hit a team through eight innings: he’d thrown an actual no-hitter before, in Double-A in 2011, on 98 pitches on his brother’s birthday. He’d thrown a one-hitter before, too — albeit over seven innings instead of 9.2, and earlier in his pro career.

What he did this August 25th against the Dodgers that he’d never done before was throw a cutter 29 times. Only twice had he thrown the pitch even 10 times, but there he was going to the well, again and again, on his way to an oh-no instead of a no-no.

Weirdly, he didn’t get a single whiff on the pitch. But it doesn’t seem like the swinging strike is the point to the pitcher. Nearly everything else is.

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Job Posting: Washington Nationals Baseball Research & Development Analyst

Position: Washington Nationals Baseball Research & Development Analyst

Location: Washington DC

The Washington Nationals are seeking a data analyst to join the organization’s Baseball Research and Development team. This role will focus on using data science to support Baseball Operations in player evaluation, roster construction and in-game tactics. This includes using machine learning techniques and predictive modeling to draw insights from our in-house baseball datasets. The analyst will work closely with the existing R&D team, including other analysts and developers, to design and build decision-support systems and tools for use throughout the organization.


  • Statistical modeling of baseball data.
  • Build automated solutions to import, clean, and prepare baseball datasets for downstream analyses.
  • Create informative visualizations of our baseball datasets.
  • Assist in the maintenance of our data warehouse.
  • Build information systems to support Baseball Operation’s efforts to improve player health and performance.
  • Review of public research in both baseball and data science.

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Chalk Up Another Brewers Buy-Low Success

Some parts of the Brewers’ rebuild have been relatively easy. I mean, all trade negotiations are complex, but it was pretty obvious when it was time for the Brewers to trade Carlos Gomez, and they were inevitably going to get a strong prospect return. And, it was pretty obvious when it was time for the Brewers to trade Jonathan Lucroy, and they were inevitably going to get a strong prospect return. The Brewers did well with those moves, and now the Gomez trade looks even better, but just about any front office would’ve been able to help the organizational future there.

The Brewers have done well elsewhere, too. With some of the more creative, lower-profile moves, the Brewers have helped to prop themselves up. Very quietly, they’ve gotten good production out of Jonathan Villar. I wrote not too long ago about why I’m a fan of Keon Broxton. The Brewers were smart to be in on Junior Guerra. They were able to turn Gerardo Parra into Zach Davies. A lot of the buy-low transactions have worked out, and there’s another name to add to the list. If you knew Hernan Perez before, it wasn’t for anything good.

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Ryan Schimpf and the Great Old Rookie

It was roughly a month ago that I wrote the post that Ryan Schimpf made necessary. Schimpf is 28 years old, and 28-year-old rookies tend not to merit a lot of attention. There have obviously been some great, older players to produce fantastic debut seasons — like Ichiro Suzuki, for example, or Jackie Robinson. This post, however, isn’t concerned with those players who were kept from the game because they played professionally elsewhere or were unable to play due to systemic racism. Rather, the present post attempts to remedy the lack of awareness for players in a situation like Schimpf’s — older players who make the most of their opportunity — both this year and in those that preceded it.

While Schimpf is certainly the best of the lot this season, he’s not alone among older guys in their rookie seasons this year. The chart below shows the rookies who are at least 27 years old and have recorded at least 100 plate appearances (and who didn’t sign as professional free agents before the season e.g. Byung-ho Park).

Old Rookies in 2016
Name Team Age PA HR AVG OBP SLG wRC+ Off Def WAR
Ryan Schimpf Padres 28 226 16 .242 .367 .613 155 17.8 -4.2 2.1
Jarrett Parker Giants 27 136 5 .254 .375 .430 123 3.5 -3.2 0.5
Jeremy Hazelbaker Cardinals 28 197 11 .250 .309 .506 111 2.2 -4.5 0.4
Whit Merrifield Royals 27 220 2 .271 .305 .381 81 -2.5 6.0 1.1
Shawn O’Malley Mariners 28 193 2 .238 .318 .343 85 -3.5 0.2 0.3
Brett Eibner – – – 27 127 5 .209 .270 .391 72 -4.1 3.9 0.4
Tyler Holt Reds 27 170 0 .213 .292 .260 50 -9.9 -2.6 -0.7

Jeremy Hazelbaker took a path fairly similar to Schimpf, moving from the Red Sox to the Dodgers to the Cardinals, who finally gave him a bit of a chance this season. Parker was drafted by the Giants, has hit in virtually every stop and debuted last year for San Francisco — and is back with the team this season after spending much of the season in the minors. Merrifield progressed slowly with the Royals, eventually making Omar Infante expendable, but ended up back in the minors last month with Kansas City giving Raul Mondesi a shot. Shawn O’Malley was drafted 10 years ago and received only brief exposure at the major-league level in both 2014 and 2015 before appearing this season. Eibner was traded for Billy Burns earlier this year, and the A’s are making a bet that Eibner’s success in the minors can translate to the bigs if given the chance. Tyler Holt is a speedy, low-power player who has gotten to the majors in each of the past three years.

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Jake Arrieta Has Developed a Problem

Any Cubs fan could tell you Jake Arrieta just doesn’t seem quite right. This has been the case for a number of weeks, or months, and we’ve touched on it before. It’s funny to think about the hand-wringing over a pitcher sitting on a sub-3 ERA. But, he really has gotten meaningfully worse, and he’s the staff ace of a World Series favorite. Cubs fans don’t have a whole lot of negatives right now. Arrieta might be turning into one, and he had a clunker against Pittsburgh just Monday.

Last week, I wrote about the curious disappearance of Arrieta’s unbelievable slider. It hasn’t killed him or anything, with the fastball picking up the slack, but that’s not something Arrieta would’ve wished for. The slider going away is a symptom of something. I can present to you now another symptom of something. And it’s related to the slider’s deterioration — Arrieta’s developing a platoon split. He’s having some trouble with lefties, and, it turns out there are lefties everywhere.

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KATOH on the Cape: Projecting Cape Cod League Hitters

The college baseball season wrapped up in June when Coastal Carolina defeated Arizona in the College World Series, but most of the top college players’ seasons don’t end when their team’s season does. Players with dreams of going pro often spend the summer months playing in collegiate summer leagues to gain extra reps and exposure. Teams in these leagues are composed entirely of college players, and — unlike at the college level — hitters use wooden bats instead of metal ones.

The most well known of these leagues is the Cape Cod Baseball League, which aptly takes place along Cape Cod in Massachusetts. The Cape attracts most of the best college players, and many of today’s stars spent their college summers playing there. Josh Donaldson, Evan Longoria, Buster Posey and Mark Teixeira are just a few notable alumni.

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KC’s Chris Young Versus Three Boston Batters

Chris Young faced three batters in the sixth inning of last Friday’s game at Fenway Park. Pitching in relief of starter Ian Kennedy, the Royals right-hander came on with one out, a runner on second base, and Kansas City leading the hometown Red Sox 5-1. He allowed a run-scoring single to Dustin Pedroia, then retired Xander Bogaerts and David Ortiz to end the inning.

Two days later, Young talked about the at-bats, the role of luck, and how his pitching approach is influenced by a home run he gave up in 2005.


Young on facing Pedroia: “A lot of variables go into it, but I’m big on looking at the reports. With Pedroia’s numbers off fastballs, and what he does against sliders, in the back of my mind I was thinking, ‘Alright, I probably need to get him out with a slider.’ The fastball he covers pretty well. If I do throw a fastball, it’s got to be in a specific location.

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August Fagerstrom FanGraphs Chat — 8/30/16

august fagerstrom: Yo! Chat will start shortly after the top of the hour

august fagerstrom: In the meantime, listen to this new Bon Iver single that I have not been able to quit replaying:

august fagerstrom: I’m not even a particularly huge Bon Iver fan, but I can’t get enough of the new sound he’s displayed on the three singles. Insanely hyped for this new record. Love the new direction

august fagerstrom: ok!

august fagerstrom: let’s begin

Brett W: Your chat might be more efficient and effective if you lead with the curve.

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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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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 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:


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


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.


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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