The Most Simple Fix for the Nationals Bullpen

Jonathan Papelbon walked off the mound in Cleveland on Tuesday night with the bases loaded in the ninth inning and no outs. That’s not what you want from your closer. Papelbon put the game in jeopardy by walking Jose Ramirez and giving up a double to Tyler Naquin to begin the inning, which led to a comedy of errors that tied the score and forced a pitching change. Papelbon then watched from the bench as Francisco Lindor beat a ground ball through the right side of the infield against Oliver Perez, completing the second ninth-inning meltdown by the Nationals bullpen in as many games, each initiated by Papelbon.

On the heels of a fruitless pursuit of Aroldis Chapman and amidst continued trade rumors targeting a high-profile relief pitcher, Jon Heyman tweeted the following after Tuesday night’s blowup:

And, yeah. Papelbon probably isn’t the greatest high-leverage relief option for a contending team. Among the 32 relievers who’ve recorded at least 10 save opportunities this season, Papelbon’s ERA- ranks 28th, and while that figure did look fine just a few days ago, we can’t pretend that these last two games didn’t happen, and we can’t pretend like the red flags don’t exist either. Papelbon’s lost another half-tick off his velocity from last year, and is now down to averaging under 91 mph on his fastball. The walk rate is higher than it’s been in five years. He’s posting the worst K-BB% of his career and his lowest ground-ball rate since his early days in Boston. More and more of Papelbon’s age is showing, and he now projects as something like the fifth-best reliever on his own team moving forward.

Papelbon projects as something like Washington’s fifth-best reliever, and he’s pitched as something like Washington’s fifth-best reliever, and yet he’s also pitched Washington’s most important innings. Hence, the Nationals looking for outside help regarding their closer role. But, do they really need to go outside the organization? Don’t they already have an elite closer, worthy of trusting in high-leverage innings down the stretch and into the postseason? Don’t they already have Shawn Kelley?

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Michael Fulmer on Turning a Corner with the Change

I was at Progressive Field when Michael Fulmer made the second start of his big-league career on May 5. He wasn’t very good. The Detroit Tigers right-hander gave up a four spot in the first inning and ultimately left having allowed 10 hits and five runs in five innings.

The game in Cleveland exemplified his early outings. In his first four starts, the 23-year-old rookie surrendered 14 earned runs over 19.1 innings. Then he discovered a changeup. Or, perhaps it could be said, the changeup found him.

To say Fulmer has since found success would be an understatement. Over his last 11 starts, the former Mets prospect — Detroit acquired him at last year’s trade-deadline for Yoenis Cespedes — has allowed a grand total of 11 runs over 70 innings. On the season, he has a record of 9-2 to go with a 2.41 ERA.

Fulmer talked about his ascent — including the changeup that seemingly fell from the sky — prior to last night’s game. The pitch will be on display this afternoon when he takes the mound at Fenway Park.

———

Fulmer on his development: “There’s hesitation when you first start out. When you’re 18 years old and going into pro ball, you don’t know what to expect. You see big-league guys playing on TV and you’re like, ‘Oh man, that’s going to be so cool. Then you get to the Gulf Coast League and you’re playing at noon. It’s hot and it rains every day. That’s not what I was expecting. I’ve had to learn how it all worked, step by step, at every level along the way.

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The Catcher Who Suddenly Stopped Catching

I’m going to let you in on a little writer secret. We don’t just write exclusively for traffic, but without traffic, there’s no FanGraphs. So we do want more clicks instead of fewer clicks, and when you’re composing a post about Chris Iannetta, it can be beneficial to disguise the subject. You might not be interested in reading about Iannetta, if you knew that’s what you’d be doing. But now you’re in, see. And you’re probably going to see this whole thing through, because the brain doesn’t want to acknowledge being teased. Now that I think about it, this isn’t a writer secret at all. This is just the Internet. Well anyway, there is something crazy here, so let’s get to that.

Jerry Dipoto didn’t set expectations too high for the Mariners, saying the goal was to build a team that could win 85 games or so. As part of that construction, Dipoto targeted bounceback candidates, and one of them was Chris Iannetta, who was coming off a down year at the plate. At the very least, Iannetta would improve upon the Mariners’ miserable catching baseline from 2015. But there was something even more promising in there: In 2015, Iannetta learned how to frame. He became one of the better catchers with regard to stealing or keeping strikes, and the story all made sense. It was easy to buy into Iannetta as a solid receiver. That, in turn, made it easy to buy into him as a solid regular catcher.

You know what they say about buying into things. Don’t ever bother buying anything. Iannetta’s bat hasn’t bounced back. But, far weirder, the receiving has completely deteriorated.

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FanGraphs Audio: The Insubordinate Dave Cameron

Episode 671
Dave Cameron is the managing editor of FanGraphs. During this edition of FanGraphs Audio, he discusses Chris Sale‘s recent experiments with civil disobedience, the perpetually fraught topic of Aroldis Chapman, and rational markets for irrational goods.

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 50 min play time.)

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Play

FanGraphs After Dark Chat – 7/26/16

9:01
Paul Swydan: Hi everybody!
9:01
Paul Swydan: I think you’re stuck with just me tonight. Jeff is out with his better half.
9:01
BK: Given that the cost of Upton was 1.5 years/$5M and a ~30th ranked prospect, why wouldn’t more teams be in on that?
9:02
Paul Swydan: Maybe they were but the Padres just like the Blue Jays prospect better.
9:02
Paul Swydan: I mean, we definitely heard that Cleveland was in on Upton. Baltimore too.
9:02
Orioles Fan: It’s not dark yet…are you in Europe?

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Scouting D-backs Debutant Braden Shipley

When he was selected 15th overall in the 2013 draft, Braden Shipley became the highest-drafted athlete in the University of Nevada’s history, purloining that mantle from former NBA guard Kirk Snyder (RIP). Shipley spent his freshman season at Nevada playing all but two of his games at shortstop, hitting .344 in conference play and successfully completing 80% of his stolen-base attempts. He took to the mound as a sophomore, partly just because Nevada needed extra arms, and he was terrific, leading the WAC in ERA. That summer, as a rising junior, Shipley pitched in relief in the Alaskan Summer League, was touching 97, and struck out 22 hitters in just 13 innings. He was up to 99 as a junior, impressing scouts with his athleticism, arm acceleration and the changeup projection those two attributes allow.

As is the case with many conversion arms, Shipley’s athleticism has played a huge role in his minor-league development and has allowed him to make adjustments. Most notably, Shipley’s reined in his fastball. Gone is the occasional upper-90s heat in deference to a sinking fastball in the 89-92 range that touches 94. The pitch will flatten out at times, usually when Shipley — who’s only 6-foot-1 — tries to work up in the zone with it, but dialing things back has allowed Shipley to cut his walk rate in half this season. The pitch is most effective when Shipley is locating it to his glove side, allowing the pitch to run back onto the corner.

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Projecting D-backs Debutant Braden Shipley

The Diamondbacks called upon top pitching prospect Braden Shipley to make yesterday’s start against the Milwaukee Brewers. Though it marked his big-league debut, the 24-year-old has been on the prospect scene for a while now. The Diamondbacks originally drafted him 15th overall out of college back in 2013, and he’s been a fixture on top-100 lists ever since. Last month, Baseball America ranked him 63rd on their midseason list.

Despite his prospect pedigree, Shipley’s minor-league numbers have never quite lived up to his raw stuff. He spent the entirety of the 2015 season at the Double-A level, where he pitched to a 3.50 ERA — though peripherals suggest he wasn’t quite that good. The D-backs bumped him up to Triple-A this year, where he was equally underwhelming.

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Melvin Upton Jr. Heads to Toronto, Continuing Preller Purge

It could be argued that, when Atlanta sent Craig Kimbrel and Melvin Upton Jr. to San Diego last April, it was neither Matt Wisler nor Jordan Paroubeck nor the draft choice they received from the Padres which represented the greatest benefit of the deal for the Braves, but rather the relief from Upton Jr.’s salary. At the time, Atlanta owed more than $45 million to Upton Jr. through the 2017 season. Getting out from under the contract made sense for a club that appeared unlikely to contend anytime soon. Upton Jr., who possessed negative trade value, was nevertheless traded.

Quite a bit has changed in the meantime, it seems. Since arriving in San Diego, Upton Jr.’s on-field performance has improved as the total remaining cost of his contract has decreased. Once a liability, Upton Jr. became a hypothetically tradeable asset — one who was actually traded today, to the Blue Jays, for right-handed prospect Hansel Rodriguez.

There is, of course, some cost to the Padres, who will pay $17 million of the $22 million still owed to Upton Jr. through next season, per Jon Heyman. But that’s not entirely surprising: the trade market currently features a great number of outfielders, something that was true last summer and carried over into the free-agent market last winter. The cost to acquire outfielders simply isn’t very high, and Toronto is benefiting from that glut.

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What If the Rockies Aren’t Sellers?

On Sunday, news broke that the Rockies were ready to call up top prospect David Dahl following his 2016 minor-league stints at both Double-A and Triple-A, both of which were incredibly successful. For a prospect who looked to be thrown off his fast track last year thanks to a spleen injury, the news is joyous for Rockies fans. The high-school standout reaches the majors in his fifth professional season, which in the grand scheme of things, isn’t really that far off course.

While plenty of players from his draft class have already found success in the majors — Carlos Correa, Addison Russell, Corey Seager and Marcus Stroman, and Michael Wacha are other 2012 first rounders who have done well — some still haven’t debuted at all. That list includes three players taken ahead of him — Kyle Zimmer, Max Fried and Mark Appel — and Albert Almora, taken four picks ahead of Dahl, was only just recently promoted.

I think Dahl will be a monster, but don’t take my word for it: read what Eric and Chris have to say about him. As cool as Dahl’s promotion is for the Rockies, it wasn’t his actual promotion that was the most interesting tidbit to come out of his news report. The Rockies, 7-3 since the All-Star break at the time of his call-up (and now 7-4 following a loss last night), suddenly are not yet ready to give up on 2016. Per Thomas Harding of MLB.com:

The callup comes with the Rockies challenging themselves to become a contender. They are 47-51, six games back in the National League Wild Card race.

The Rockies wake up this morning in sixth place for a National League wild-card berth, behind the Dodgers, Mets, Marlins, Cardinals and Pirates, whom they trail by 4.5 games. The Rockies are sort of floating in their own tier, as they have a bit of separation between themselves and the next team in the queue (the Phillies at 8.0 games back).

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Valuing Relievers: Correction or Bubble?

Yesterday, the Cubs acquired the final couple of months of Aroldis Chapman‘s contract, adding the flamethrowing lefty to their bullpen for the stretch drive, but paying a high cost to win the bidding; shortstop Gleyber Torres is considered a top #25-#50 prospect in baseball, the kind of asset that is worth something like $40 million right now, and they had to throw in some sweeteners on top of that, including a big league pitcher was was worth +2 WAR just last year. Overall, the package of talent the Yankees received was probably worth around $50 million; that’s a staggering price for a rental.

In fact, I think it’s probably correct to say that the Cubs paid more for two months of Chapman than the Red Sox did for 2.5 years of Drew Pomeranz. And while this deal might prove to be an outlier in terms of deadline prices — the Cubs are somewhat uniquely positioned to overpay for relief help, given the strength of the rest of their roster, and how difficult it would have been for them to upgrade at another position — it also looks like a continuation of rising prices for relief pitchers.

Last winter, the Red Sox gave up a significant prospect package to acquire Craig Kimbrel from the Padres, and the Astros put together a five player combination for Ken Giles that the Phillies simply couldn’t turn down. Even the mid-tier relievers benefited, with seemingly every bullpen pitcher with a pulse landing a multi-year contract, and three year deals becoming standard for arms coming off strong seasons. With the game trending more towards shorter outings from starting pitchers and the Royals showing you can win a World Series with lousy starting pitching, teams have begun to alter their calculations on what relievers were worth.

But is this increasing emphasis on specialists an acknowledgment of the growing importance of bullpens, or simply an overreaction to the Royals winning the 2015 World Series on the backs of Wade Davis, Kelvin Herrera, and Ryan Madson?

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The Recent History of High-Profile Reliever Acquisitions

The Chicago Cubs paid one hell of a price to acquire Aroldis Chapman yesterday. Maybe the highest we’ve ever seen for a reliever; certainly the highest for a half-season rental. What this post won’t do is answer whether the Cubs paid too much, not enough, or just a little for Chapman’s services. What it won’t do is give you any kind of added indication of how Chapman might perform down the stretch; Chapman’s not only his own person, but he’s unlike anything we’ve ever seen. To be honest, this isn’t going to answer much of anything, really, but I’m interested in checking on how similar reliever acquisitions have gone recently. Or, more importantly, seeing if we can even answer that question at all.

I used MLBTradeRumors’ Transaction Tracker to span the last few years for reliever trades and free-agent signings by contenders. The names I picked were subjective, but I hope you all can trust me enough to correctly identify the big ones. Once I had my names, I decided to look for… something.

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August Fagerstrom FanGraphs Chat — 7/26/16

12:07
august fagerstrom: hey!

12:07
august fagerstrom: let’s chat

12:07
august fagerstrom: while listening to Beck’s Mellow Gold

12:13
august fagerstrom: OK, sorry. Let’s start for real.

12:13
Bork: Hello, friend!

12:13
august fagerstrom: Hi, Bork!

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Projecting Rockies Power-Speed Threat David Dahl

Before debuting yesterday for Colorado, 22-year-old outfielder David Dahl had recorded a smooth .307/.389/.562 between Double-A and Triple-A this year, including a torrid .456/.508/.886 showing in his short stint at Triple-A. Dahl possesses an exciting combination of power and speed. The former 10th-overall pick belted 18 homers in the minors this year while also swiping 17 bases. Dahl’s 20-plus-homer power is a relatively new addition to his skill set, but it’s not as though he hasn’t shown glimpses of it before.

Dahl has plenty going for him in the power and speed departments, but his strikeout numbers are some cause for concern. He whiffed in 25% of his plate appearances in Double-A last year, and didn’t really improve in that area this season. Much this year’s improvement can be traced back to his sky-high .388 BABIP, while the underlying contact issues linger.

Dwelling on Dahl’s contact rates almost feels like nitpicking, however, especially since his strikeout numbers are trending in the right direction. All in all, Dahl has an awful lot going for him. Whether you look at his stat line or his scouting reports (such as the one published today by Eric Longenhagen), it’s very easy to envision him sticking as a quality everyday center fielder.

My newly revamped KATOH projection system is a big believer in Dahl. My stats-only model rates him as the #12 prospect in baseball, while my KATOH+ model — which also integrates Baseball America’s prospect rankings — placed him at #14. They foresee 9.0 WAR and 11.1 WAR, respectively, over Dahl’s next six seasons.

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Scouting Rockies Call-Up David Dahl

Outfielder David Dahl‘s (dahl?) ascent to the major leagues, at which level he debuted last night for Colorado, has been relatively swift considering he missed just about all of 2013 with a hamstring injury and a huge chunk of 2015 with a ruptured spleen. That missed development time — in concert with Colorado’s unenviable affiliate situation — has made Dahl difficult to evaluate and project. In four pro seasons, Dahl has spent time with clubs in Grand Junction, CO; Asheville, NC; Modesto, CA; Boise, ID; New Britain, CT; Hartford, CT (but not actually in Hartford because that club doesn’t actually currently possess a home park); and Albuquerque, NM.

Pro scouts with area- or league-based coverage had a difficult time getting in-depth looks at Dahl because of the unusually nomadic nature of his career. His tools haven’t been difficult to evaluate (and they’re impressive), but what has been hard to grasp are Dahl’s secondary skills. He came into this season with a career walk rate around 5%, but Dahl has doubled that this season and it’s hard to discern if those improvements are real.

Let’s say, for the sake of argument and in effort to discern his floor, that Dahl’s newfound plate discipline is a mirage. Steamer has him regressing to a walk rate just shy of 6%. We’re still talking about a plus runner with a plus arm (his throw to nail Josh Naylor at the plate in the Futures Game was particularly impressive) who projects as a plus defender in center field. Impact defense at a premium position is often sufficient to justify playing everyday, even if the bat is light. Punchless though they may be, black-hole center fielders like Ender Inciarte (.242/.309/.319), Billy Hamilton (.251/.299/.351) and Kevin Pillar (.259/.390/.382) are all comfortably above replacement level this season. Dahl’s defense, though not on the elite level of Hamilton and Pillar, is strong enough that the offensive bar he’ll need to clear to play every day is relatively low.

Dahl sports plus bat speed and good bat control, but his ability to hit is undermined by some of the effort in his swing and inconsistent pitch-tracking. His swing can get long at times because of how early he extends his hands, which causes some tardiness. I’ve also gotten some reports that question Dahl’s ability to hit anything on the outer half with authority, though he’s adept at taking those pitches to the opposite field and his bat path aids in that. There’s above-average pull power here — and it will undoubtedly play up in Denver. It just remains to be seen how much of it Dahl will get to if I’m correct about his swing-and-miss issues.

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NERD Game Scores for Tuesday, July 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
St. Louis at New York NL | 16:10 ET
Martinez (114.1 IP, 92 xFIP-) vs. Syndergaard (111.1 IP, 59 xFIP-)
When a dream is deferred, it dries up like a raisin in the sun. When your cousin Ezra’s admission to Columbia is deferred, he cries while playing Call of Duty for like five or eight hours. When a major-league game is deferred, the clubs frequently schedule it as part of a doubleheader the next day. Hence, the Cardinals-Mets game — postponed last night by inclement weather — will be played as part of a doubleheader today.

Readers’ Preferred Broadcast: New York NL.

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Do the Rays Have a Special Home-Run Problem?

Home runs are up! Okay, you’ve noticed that. But here’s a wrinkle: the Rays’ starters have been hit especially hard. Especially in the starting staff. Only the starters for Cincinnati, Kansas City, Minnesota, and Pittsburgh have suffered a greater increase in home runs per nine innings — and those staffs had more turnover. These Rays starters were supposed to be the club’s strength, but the gopher ball has eaten a hole into their value. Why?

To answer, we’ll have to look at the tendencies of the team and the league and the pitchers themselves. I asked Drew Smyly and Chris Archer for help figuring it out, too.

“We’ve all noticed. We’re all talking about it,” said Smyly. “Max Scherzer is giving up 22 home runs, and he’s filthy! Our whole staff has given up like 20 a piece. It’s weird.” I agreed.

But even just establishing as fact that the Rays have been harder hit than other teams is tricky. If you look at home runs per fly ball for the starters, for example, the Rays’ starters have improved actually, from 19th in the league to 23rd this year, even as their HR/FB has risen. It hasn’t risen as badly as other teams have seen around the league!

If you look at the starters with the biggest difference between their projected home-run total and actual, though, the Rays zoom to the top. Smyly is fifth, Archer ninth, Moore 17th, and Odorizzi 34th. They were projected to give up some home runs, but then they got it much worse than the projections suggested they would.

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Projecting the Prospects in the Aroldis Chapman Deal

You’ve undoubtedly heard about the Chapman blockbuster by now. Yesterday, lead prospect analyst Eric Longenhagen gave his take on the prospects involved. Below, I outline what my newly revamped KATOH projection system thinks about the youngsters headed to the Yankees. I also go on to compare that group to the group the Yankees sent to Cincinnati last December in exchange for Chapman’s services.

Note that I’ve included two types of KATOH projection. KATOH denotes the newest iteration of my projection system, outlined yesterday. KATOH+ denotes a version of that same thing which also accounts for Baseball America’s prospect rankings.

*****

Gleyber Torres, SS (Profile)

KATOH Projection: 5.6 WAR
KATOH+ Projection: 7.1 WAR

Although he’s just 19, Torres has been one of the more productive hitters in High-A this year. The Venezuelan shortstop is slashing .275/.359/.433 on the year, with an impressive nine homers and 19 steals. In addition to his offensive exploits, Torres plays an uber-premium position and plays it well.

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Scouting the Prospects in the Aroldis Chapman Deal

I first laid eyes on Gleyber Torres in 2014 at the Rookie-level Arizona League. He was just about a year removed from signing a $1.7 million bonus the year before and, along with Eloy Jimenez, was that summer’s headliner in Mesa. Torres was polished for his age but he was slight of build and his tools were relatively muted compared to some of the other players from the 2013 J2 class. I put a 45 on him at the time, lacking confidence in his ability to find that happy medium where he could become physical enough to do some damage with the bat while also remaining at shortstop. Since then, things have gone about as well as anyone could have hoped. Torres’ body matured rapidly and he began to make more authoritative contact while retaining a contact-oriented approach and enough range to remain at shortstop. For now.

Torres has above-average bat speed and makes good use of his hips and lower half throughout his swing, allowing him to make hard ground-ball and line-drive contact to his pull side and back up the middle. He can also drive fly balls the other way, though doing so sucks some of the torque out of Torres’ swing and he doesn’t have the raw strength in his wrists and forearms to poke balls into the right-field bleachers regularly. He has solid feel for the barrel and, despite some effort, finds a way to make hard contact with pitches in various parts of the zone. He’s hitting .275/.359/.433 in High-A ball at age 19 (he turns 20 in December) and all signs here point to a future plus hit tool.

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Is Odubel Herrera a Good Defensive Center Fielder?

A year ago today, baseball fans outside of the Delaware Valley were first introduced to a rookie outfielder on the worst team in baseball. His name: Odubel Herrera. You may recall that Herrera was a Rule 5 pick who had been a second baseman in the Rangers organization only to find himself named the Opening Day center fielder for the Phillies due to the, how shall we say, less than ideal nature of their 2015 roster. He didn’t find immediate success and received inconsistent playing time during the first half, so it wasn’t until July 25th that he appeared on the national stage. In what ended up being Cole Hamels’ final start in Phillies red, Herrera made one of the more iconic final outs in a no-hitter.

When the ball was hit, I remember knowing it would be a home run. When I realized the wind was going to keep it in the park, I remember knowing Herrera wasn’t going to be able to backtrack and make the catch. When I saw him make the catch, I remember knowing that baseball is unknowable and I should really stop pretending otherwise.

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Eric Longenhagen Prospect Chat 7/25

2:01

Eric A Longenhagen: Good day, sirs and madams. I’m just finishing writing up the prospects in the Chapman deal so give me a few minutes…

2:01

Eric A Longenhagen: I also require liquid refreshment.

2:01

Eric A Longenhagen: Also, holy crap there are a lot of you here.

2:07

Eric A Longenhagen: OKay, let me start by plugging some stuff and letting you know that, after hitting Chicago for the Under Armour game and getting back home to AZ last night, I was forced to eat salad for breakfast. It was really terrible.

2:08

Eric A Longenhagen: So here’s the link to my Bregman callup piece: http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/scouting-astros-call-up-alex-bregman/

2:08

Eric A Longenhagen: Dahl callup piece has been filed and is just waiting for editing. Same goes for the reports on the Cubs prospects sent to NYY in the Chapman deal.

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