Eric Longenhagen Prospect Chat 7/25


Chris Sale and Leverage

Over the weekend, Chris Sale decided that he really didn’t want to wear the White Sox’ throwback uniforms, believing they were too heavy to pitch in and might impact the team’s performance. Unhappy with the thought of having to wear them anyway, Sale went all Edward Scissorhands on the jerseys, forcing the organization to wear a uniform with which he was more comfortable; as a result, Sale was sent home from the clubhouse and suspended five days for insubordination.

The timing was particularly poor for the White Sox, who had just started listening to offers for their ace, realizing that they probably aren’t going to make a second-half run that would justify the team’s win-now moves over the last 18 months. Instead of showing scouts why he is still one of the best left-handed starters in baseball, Sale reminded everyone that he has a bit of a temper, lashing out at the organization for the second time this year; he was one of the most vocal critics in the Drake LaRoche matter during spring training.

In the aftermath of the kerfuffle, I’ve seen a few comments about Sale’s outburst reducing the White Sox’ leverage, opening the door for other teams to swoop in and pick him up at a discount. But thankfully for Rick Hahn, I don’t expect that the weekend drama will have any real effect on the kinds of offers the Sox will be fielding for Sale this week, because in baseball (as in most markets), leverage is much more about a player’s value to a potential buyer than to the seller. Even if Sale came out and demanded a trade this week, the price the White Sox could extract from opposing teams probably wouldn’t change.

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The Cubs, Chapman, and the New Price for an Elite Reliever

When a baseball trade happens, it’s common practice for folks to want a winner or a loser anointed right away. It’s only natural to desire an instant verdict, to immediately express an opinion. Truth is, it’s impossible to declare a winner or loser on the day of a trade. It might be impossible to do so until the careers of every player involved are finished. It might even take longer than that. It sure looks like the Blue Jays are going to win the Josh Donaldson trade, but what if Franklin Barreto turns into a Hall of Famer?

The expected deal between the New York Yankees and the Chicago Cubs is different. There’s external factors we don’t typically have to figure into a trade evaluation. Aroldis Chapman is likely heading to the Cubs. Some prospects will be going back to the Yankees, including a really good one. It’s interesting, strictly from a baseball perspective. Strictly from a baseball perspective, we won’t know who will have won or lost this trade for more than a decade. But this is one of those rare times when you can rightfully declare a winner or loser on the day of the trade, if inclined.

Aroldis Chapman’s been accused of choking a woman, for which he was suspended 30 games. I’ve since heard folks refer to him as a monster. You’d be hard-pressed to argue with that description. We enjoy sports because they provide us a necessary diversion from the terrors of the world and the tedium of daily life. It becomes harder to glean pleasure from the diversion when the diversion and the terrors begin to intertwine. The Chicago Cubs had a young man in their organization who, as far as we can tell, is an upstanding citizen with a bright future ahead of him, personally and professionally. They seem, in this case, to prefer the troubled man with the dark history. You could say the Cubs already lost this trade.

I know this is FanGraphs. I know you came here for baseball analysis. This is supposed to be the diversion from your favorite diversion. We’re getting to that. The real-life stuff is just so much more important, and it needs to be discussed. Front and center.

It’s difficult to transition back into the trivial stuff. Feels dirty. But that’s what you came here for. This is the best I can do.

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Dan Szymborski FanGraphs Chat – 7/25/16


Projecting Astros Call-Up Alex Bregman

A mere 13 months ago, the Houston Astros selected Alex Bregman with the second pick in the amateur draft. Tonight, he’ll suit up for the Astros, after he gave Houston no choice but to call him up to the show. The 22-year-old hit .311/.412/.589 in the minors this year, including a .356/.387/.685 showing during his 17-game pit stop at Triple-A. Last season, his junior one at LSU, Bergman slashed .323/.412/.535 and, unsurprisingly, had little issue adapting to life in the pros. He closed out his draft year by hitting a strong .290/.358/.408 across two levels of A-ball.

Bregman pairs exceptional contact ability with ample power and a good walk rate, making him an all-around offensive threat. Bregman owns a minuscule 10% strikeout rate as a professional, yet has still managed a .200 ISO. Very few hitters possess Bregman’s combination of contact and power.

As if that weren’t enough, Bregman also provides value through means other than his hitting. The Astros have given him time at several positions this year in anticipation of his promotion, but he’s a shortstop by trade. That suggests he could be a fine defender at just about any place further down the defensive spectrum. He’s also swiped 20 bases in his year as a professional player, indicating good (or, at least, usable) speed.

As you probably imagined, my newly re-vamped KATOH system is head-over-heels for Bregman. He’s easily the top prospect in the land according to my math. Both KATOH (which considers stats only) and KATOH+ (which also incorporates prospect ranks) peg him for more than 17 WAR over his first six years in the big leagues.

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Scouting Astros Call-Up Alex Bregman

At birth, Alex Bregman was touched by the Baseball Gods. He is not very big, not very fast, not especially graceful, and yet he somehow finds a way to do everything you can ask of a baseball player. He turned an unassisted triple play at age four. He was already very clearly the best high-school baseball player in the history of New Mexico before his senior year when a bad hop broke a finger on his right hand, ended his season, and irreparably harmed his 2012 draft stock.

Pre-draft, Bregman’s camp promised he would not sign should teams fail to select him in the first round. The Red Sox called his name in round 29 and were rebuffed. Bregman matriculated to LSU, where his list of accolades grew. First Team SEC, First Team All American, Collegiate National Team. And all of that as a freshman. When 2015 rolled around and he was draft-eligible again, Bregman was a divisive prospect despite his success largely because there was no consensus about his long-term ability to play shortstop. He didn’t have no-doubt shortstop speed and, while his arm was fine for the left side of the infield, it wasn’t the kind of elite arm strength that allows some players to hide their lack of range. Additionally, Bregman had virtually no positive physical projection remaining and wasn’t hitting for the sort of game power at LSU that would allay concerns about his offensive profile should he have to move off of short.

That’s not to say scouts didn’t like Bregman — he’s always been adored — but it’s hard to justify drafting a second or third baseman with fringe to average power projection in the top three picks. None of it has mattered. Houston bought in, drafted him #2 overall in 2015, gave him nearly $6 million to sign and, 13 months of raking later, they have a big leaguer.

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FanGraphs Audio: Eau de Dayn Perry

Episode 670
Dayn Perry is a contributor to CBS Sports’ Eye on Baseball and the author of three books — one of them not very miserable. He’s also the deeply unimportant guest on this edition of FanGraphs Audio.

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 7 min play time.)

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Play

An Improved KATOH Top-100 List

Back in January, I made some tweaks to my KATOH projection system, and have been using that updated model for the past several months. That model was unquestionably better than the previous versions, but it left me unsatisfied. While it addressed many of the flaws from previous iterations, there was still a lot of information it wasn’t taking into account.

I’ve been plugging away behind the scenes, and finally have a new version KATOH to share with the world. In what follows, you’ll find some detail on the new model, including its notable updates. I’ll be using this model in all of my prospect analysis from this point forward. Below, you’ll find a quick run-through of the notable tweaks, followed by an updated top-100 list.

*****

Added Features

Choosing projection window based on level, rather than age

In my previous model, I projected out based on a player’s age. If a player were 22, I projected him through age 28; If he were 24, I projected through age 30. This resulted in KATOH undervaluing players who were old for their level. The goal of KATOH is to predict the value a player will generate during his six-plus years of team control. By projecting a 22-year-old through age 28, KATOH failed to capture some of that value in cases where the 22-year-old was still in A-ball.

This time around, I chose my windows based on level, rather than age. I projected the next six seasons for players in Triple-A. I did the next seven for players in Double-A, eight for A-ballers, and nine for Rookie ballers.

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Should Exit Velocity Factor Into Official Scoring?

In the second inning of today’s game at Fenway Park, Minnesota’s Max Kepler hit a one-hop rocket that Red Sox shortstop Xander Bogaerts couldn’t handle. After deliberation — he looked at multiple replays —- official scorer Chaz Scoggins ruled the play an E-6.

A few minutes later, MLB.com Twins beat writer Rhett Bollinger noted that StatCast had Kepler’s smash at 109 mph. That begs a question: Should exit velocity factor into official scoring decisions?

According to Scoggins, the subject has been discussed informally by scorers throughout the two leagues. Based on those conversations, the majority feel “the numbers” shouldn’t matter — an experienced official scorer is able to make an informed decision on a hard-hit ball.

While a good argument can be made for exit velocity mattering, Scoggins brought up a valid point in defending its non-use. A ball may have been hit X mph, but was the infielder playing back, or was he in on the grass with less reaction time? More goes into a scoring decision than a number can measure.

Does this mean exit velocity will never become a tool for official scorers? In my opinion, the answer is no. Eyeball judgement will remain the primary determiner, but data will influence decisions.


NERD Game Scores for Sunday, July 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.

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Most Highly Rated Game
Cleveland at Baltimore | 13:35 ET
Kluber (129.0 IP, 78 xFIP-) vs. Worley (51.1 IP, 104 xFIP-)
Vance Worley isn’t the precise name one expects to find headlining what is allegedly the day’s most compelling game. The score produced by the author’s haphazardly calculated algorithm for this particular contest, however, has less to do with the identity of Baltimore’s starter and more with its current place in the standings. No team is perched more precariously on the knife edge of postseason qualification than the Baltimore Orioles, which club features both divisional and wild-card odds in the vicinity of 50%. For more on that, read the author’s tortuous explanation of NERD’s ongoing playoff adjustment below. For less on that, do anything else that you want.

Readers’ Preferred Broadcast: Cleveland Radio.

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Sunday Notes: Giants’ Law, Twins’ May, Miller’s Pop, January, more

Earlier this week, I interviewed Giants rookie right-hander Derek Law in the visiting dugout at Fenway Park. Approximately 10 feet to our right, another conversation was taking place. Johnny Cueto was shooting the breeze with Luis Tiant.

Tiant was a favorite of mine during his glory years. Law was born in 1990, eight years after the Cuban legend threw his last pitch, but he was every bit as captivated with the nearby confab.

“I’m a huge Luis Tiant fan,” Law told me. “I’d love to go over and get his autograph after this. My dad pitched for a bit and I’m big into baseball history. Tiant is one of the guys I’ve really taken a liking to.”

The windup is a big reason. Cueto essentially copied the one El Tiante artistically employed on his way to 229 wins. Not surprisingly, the youngster has asked his Giants teammate about the wiggle and turn. Read the rest of this entry »


NERD Game Scores for Saturday, July 23, 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.

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Most Highly Rated Game
New York NL at Miami | 19:10 ET
deGrom (102.0 IP, 81 xFIP-) vs. Fernandez (113.2 IP, 53 xFIP-)
Given where each club currently resides within this site’s playoff-odds projections, it’s probable that either the Mets or Marlins will qualify for some manner of postseason appearance. It’s improbable, on the other hand, that both will qualify. In this way, tonight’s game resembles that scene from Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome where two men enter and then only one man leaves. How it differs from that 1985 film is that, instead of taking place in a lawless, post-apocalyptic Australian hellscape, it’ll actually just be in Miami.

Readers’ Preferred Broadcast: New York NL Television.

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The Best of FanGraphs: July 18-22, 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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NERD Game Scores for Friday, July 22, 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 St. Louis | 20:15 ET
McCarthy (16.0 IP, 59 xFIP-) vs. Wacha (109.1 IP, 96 xFIP-)
Left-hander Clayton Kershaw last pitched on June 26th. Brandon McCarthy first pitched on July 3rd. Kershaw has produced the lowest adjusted xFIP (52 xFIP-) among all qualified starters this year. McCarthy, over his three starts, has produced a nearly identical figure (59 xFIP-). Coincidence? Yes. Of course. Kershaw and McCarthy are two distinct people, often photographed in each other’s company — or near proximity, if nothing else. The have difference faces and bodies. And dreams. They likely have different dreams, too.

Readers’ Preferred Broadcast: St. Louis Radio.

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FanGraphs Boston Meetup – Saber Seminar Eve (8/12/16)

Dear reader, please allow this internet article to serve as the official announcement of the fourth annual FanGraphs Boston Meetup on Saber Seminar Eve. As the title makes clear, this year that day is Friday, August 12th. We’ll kick off around 7 pm, and the televisions will display the baseball match between the Boston Red Sox and Arizona Diamondbacks. We’ll talk about it, and baseball, and beer, and maybe how ridiculous it is that the other TVs in the bar are showing preseason football because who watches those?
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Seattle Mariners Might Be Stuck, Even in Seller’s Market

The Seattle Mariners are in a tough spot. They’re not a bad team, sitting a game over .500. By both Pythagorean wins and BaseRuns, they profile a few games better than that. Over the course of the rest of the season, they’re expected to continue to be a bit above average and our projections have them finishing at 83-79 for the year. That’s not a bad season — and if the team made a few big moves and caught a few breaks, they might even sneak their way into the playoffs where anything can happen. Unfortunately for the Mariners, that scenario isn’t very likely.

The division-leading Texas Rangers hardly seem invincible, but they’ve accrued a decent lead on the Mariners, while other divisional-rival Houston possesses the advantage both of more wins than the Mariners and more talent. This makes the M’s current chances of winning the division rather low. (For an interactive version of the chart, click here.)

chart (7)

They’re not out of it, as you can see, but they do face difficult odds. And keep in mind: these odds are reflective of the talent each club currently possesses on hand. Both the Rangers and Astros are expected to be buyers, and further moves by those teams figure to push their odds higher and the Mariners’ lower unless they counter with a move of their own.

As for the wild card, the task is equally as daunting. The chart below shows the wild-card probabilities only and do not include a team’s chances at the division. (Interactive version here.)

chart (8)

If you’re willing to hand the American League Central to Cleveland, that leaves four additional available playoff spots. Seattle is seventh on that list, with less than a 10% shot. That the top three teams all play in the AL East — and also expected to be buyers before the deadlines — makes Seattle’s predicament all the more obvious. The team isn’t likely to win, so the team should sell. How they should sell, though, is a bit more difficult to decipher.

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The Royals Should Be Buyers, Sort Of

Winning a championship is great — for about 48 hours or however long it takes for the parade to end. Then the page turns to the next season and it’s time to figure out how to win all over again. The Kansas City Royals just won their first championship in 30 seasons less than a year ago, but right now, it’s not enough. If the 2015 championship is the only one they win with this current core of players, they’ll eventually be able to look back with fondness on the achievement. Now isn’t the time for reflection, however: it’s the time to make every effort to add even more glory to this era of Royals baseball.

Unfortunately, the Royals haven’t put themselves in a strong position to contend in 2016. They’re at an even .500 record despite a negative-33 run differential and currently sit nine games behind first-place Cleveland. Our playoff odds currently give them just a 1-in-50 chance of making it to the divisional series. If they “buy” over the next week and a half, it stands to reason they can increase their odds slightly, but they face an unavoidably great uphill climb. In order to claim a wild-card spot, they’ll have to leapfrog five other teams.

It’s certainly possible that they can pull off a surprise run in the second half – the Royals have made an impressive habit of foiling projections in recent years, after all — but if I were the one calling the shots in Kansas City, I’d find it irresponsible to make moves focused solely on 2016 success.

Note how I phrased that, though: I didn’t say that I wouldn’t be a “buyer” this month, only that I wouldn’t focus on 2016.

There’s a maddening and inaccurate oversimplification which inevitably occurs each July that there are two groups of teams: those trying to win now and those who should sell off all players without long-term value. The Royals shouldn’t be buying for 2016, but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be “buyers” in the current trade market.

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Predicting the Trade Deadline Moves

The trade deadline is a week from Monday, and between now and then, we’re probably going to see a lot of moves. Not a lot of big moves, necessarily, but with a lot of buyers in the market for bullpen upgrades, we’re probably looking at a large number of depth acquisitions. Just for the fun of it, let’s wildly speculate on where the biggest name guys might go before August 1st. Keep in mind that no one really knows what is going to happen, so this is more of an exercise in frivolity than a serious attempt at forecasting the deadline moves. Let’s see how many wild guesses I can get right.

Big Buyers
Cleveland Indians

The Indians have put themselves in a strong position to make the playoffs, and with the fickleness of starting pitching — see Mets, New York — they will try to take advantage of this opportunity. Generally reluctant to trade their best young prospects, I think they’ll back off that stance this year, and move either Clint Frazier or Bradley Zimmer, plus some lower level pieces, to make the big league team as strong as possible.

Predicted Additions
Jonathan Lucroy, Will Smith, Daniel Hudson, Coco Crisp

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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 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, MLB.com’s Jonathan Mayo, and John Sickels, and also who (c) is currently absent from a major-league roster. Players appearing on a midseason list or, otherwise, selected in the first round of the current season’s amateur draft will also be excluded from eligibility.

In the final analysis, the basic idea is this: to recognize those prospects who are perhaps receiving less notoriety than their talents or performance might otherwise warrant.

*****
Rookie Davis, RHP, Cincinnati (Profile)
Davis was a fixture among the Five last year, tying for 11th on the arbitrarily calculated Scoreboard by way both of an excellent strikeout- and walk-rate profile at High-A and a fastball that sits at 93-95 mph. Traded to Cincinnati this offseason as part of the deal that sent Aroldis Chapman to the Yankees, Davis has stalled a bit — so far as his statistical indicators are concerned, at least. His most recent starts have been encouraging, however: the right-hander has produced a 13:1 strikeout-to-walk ratio against 39 batters over his last 11.0 innings.

Why he appears here now, though, is because of a different leaderboard on which he’s recently appeared — namely, the secret and proprietary one the author utilizes to track each minor league’s top fringe batters. Through his first 20 plate appearances this year — which also represent the first 20 plate appearances of his career in affiliated baseball — Davis has recorded a walk, two strikeouts, and four extra bases (essentially, extra bases minus hits). That’s a 20% extra-base rate versus only a 10% strikeout rate. For context, between 2011 and -15, only 43 batters produced even a positive differential between extra-base rate and strikeout rate — out of 335 qualified batters total during that interval.

Here are the top-10 batters by that measure between 2011 and 2015:

Top Differentials, Extra Bases Minus Strikeouts, 2011-15
Name Team PA XBs K XB% K% Diff wRC+
1 Albert Pujols – – – 3120 615 332 19.7% 10.6% 9.1% 127
2 Edwin Encarnacion Blue Jays 2961 657 413 22.2% 13.9% 8.2% 143
3 David Ortiz Red Sox 2804 636 412 22.7% 14.7% 8.0% 148
4 Adrian Beltre Rangers 3102 582 352 18.8% 11.3% 7.4% 132
5 Jose Bautista Blue Jays 2921 647 460 22.1% 15.7% 6.4% 154
6 Miguel Cabrera Tigers 3233 683 480 21.1% 14.8% 6.3% 170
7 Nolan Arenado Rockies 1646 336 240 20.4% 14.6% 5.8% 104
8 Victor Martinez Tigers 2389 336 207 14.1% 8.7% 5.4% 125
9 Robinson Cano – – – 3398 597 452 17.6% 13.3% 4.3% 136
10 Aramis Ramirez – – – 2654 460 349 17.3% 13.1% 4.2% 122
Average – – – – – – – – – – – – 19.6% 13.1% 6.5% 136
Only qualified batters considered.

That’s a collection of basically the league’s top batters. The bottom of the list, meanwhile, includes most of the league’s worst ones. A combination of extra bases and strikeouts serves as a good proxy for success — and each has the benefit of stabilizing long before the typical slash stats.

It’s improbable, of course, that Davis will continue hitting like one of the top batters, literally, of the last half-decade. He needn’t do anything of the sort, of course, to offer some value. Madison Bumgarner and Zack Greinke, for example, have both produced more than three extra wins over the last five years on the basis of their offensive contributions alone — each while batting roughly 50% worse than a league-average hitter.

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How to Raise Your Stock in 10 Days, Starring Andrew Cashner

Any team looking to acquire starting pitching at this year’s trade deadline is going to have to be prepared to take on some risk in the form of uncertainty. Rich Hill, long viewed as the prize of potentially available arms, is a 36-year-old former journeyman who only started pitching like the kind of arm you’d pay to acquire less than a year ago. Now, he’s recently been scratched from a start due to a blister, left the following the start after five pitches, and is doubtful for his next one. The next-most intriguing option was Drew Pomeranz, who’s been good for an even shorter period than Hill, and comes with potential workload limitations. Even the big names of the market, like Chris Archer and Sonny Gray, come with significant recent performance concerns, and both seem unlikely to be moved regardless.

The entire market being littered with question marks, in a way, makes the individual question marks less concerning. It’s just about choosing your question mark. Someone’s going to choose Andrew Cashner‘s question mark. Take his word for it:

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