The Bullpen Has Saved, and Killed, the White Sox

On Monday, the White Sox lost 1-0, so that makes things fairly uncomplicated — they lost because they didn’t score. It happens. Also, they ran into Matt Harvey, and the Mets had reportedly identified a problem with Harvey’s mechanics beforehand, so if Harvey’s back on track now, well, there’s no shame in losing to him. Matt Harvey is an ace, and sometimes aces shut people out.

That’s how the White Sox lost their most recent game. Now let’s talk about the previous games.

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NERD Game Scores: Junior Guerra Split-Finger Jubilee Event

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 Milwaukee | 14:10 ET
Martinez (53.0 IP, 106 xFIP-) vs. Guerra (30.0 IP, 100 xFIP-)
Were one to view — like the author is currently viewing — the NERD game scores for today calculated down to the second decimal, what that one would find is that today’s game between the Cardinals and Brewers actually isn’t the most highly rated. That distinction — which is a strong word for what that is — belongs rather to the Boston-Baltimore encounter (6.09 NERD). The Houston-Arizona game (5.89 NERD) also possesses a higher score than this one (5.80 NERD). What neither of those contests offers, however, is the Brewers’ Junior Guerra, which right-hander features not only one of the world’s top split-finger fastballs, but also sufficient experience abroad to substitute periodically for Rick Steves on the latter’s PBS travel program. Research indicates, for example, that Rick Steves visited San Marino long enough only to produce a five-minute video regarding it, while Guerra recorded over 60 innings as a pitcher there in 2014.

Readers’ Preferred Television Broadcast: Milwaukee.

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NERD Game Scores for Sunday, May 29, 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
Boston at Toronto | 13:07 ET
Price (62.1 IP, 70 xFIP-) vs. Dickey (60.2 IP, 99 xFIP-)
Research indicates that knuckleballers typically prevent runs at a rate better their fielding-independent numbers would suggest. R.A. Dickey, whom the reader will recognize as a knuckleballer, is no exception to this rule. Between 2010 (when he began throwing the pitch at about the current rate) and 2015, Dickey produced a 102 xFIP- but 89 ERA- — which is to say, an expected FIP about 2% worse than average, but an ERA about 11% better than average. In 2016, the figures are inverted. Dickey’s recorded a 99 xFIP- and 110 ERA-. “What’s happening?” one is likely asking — about not only R.A. Dickey, probably, but also about this entire frightening world.

Readers’ Preferred Television Broadcast: Boston.

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Sunday Notes: Rockies’ Bettis, Padres, Adonis, Indians, IBBs, more

Chad Bettis throws both a cutter and a slider. Or maybe he throws cutters but not sliders? That determination largely depends on how you parse pitches. Whatever your opinion, you probably won’t get much of an argument from him. The Rockies right-hander isn’t 100% sure himself.

“Both,” was Bettis’s initial answer to my ‘Cutter or slider?’ question. That was followed by less-than-definitive elaboration.

“It’s the same grip; it’s just me manipulating it to make it shorter or bigger. With one, I’m more behind the ball and with the other I’m a little more on the side of it. When I want to make it a little sweepier, I can. When I want to make it short and tight like a cutter, I can do that too.”

Bettis had a slider at Texas Tech, although he’d already begun developing a cutter by the time Colorado selected him in the second round of the 2010 draft. Prior to last season, the cutter is all he’d thrown in pro ball.

The reintroduction of a slider — if that’s what you choose to call it — came about mostly by accident. Read the rest of this entry »


NERD Game Scores for Saturday, May 28, 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 AL at Tampa Bay | 16:10 ET
Pineda (49.2 IP, 86 xFIP-) vs. Moore (51.0 IP, 95 xFIP-)
Here’s a fact that’s concurrently startling and true and startling: as of Friday night, the Tampa Bay Rays — a club which not only plays in a legitimate pitcher’s park but which also features one of the league’s lowest collective payrolls — led the majors in home runs, having accumulated one more than both the Mets and Orioles. Adjusting for park, one finds that the Rays had produced a home-run rate approximately 2.1 standard deviations better than league average. The next best club by that measure? The Mets, at 1.6 standard deviations above the mean. Here’s who’s been the best at homering for Tampa Bay: Corey Dickerson. As of Friday, he’d recorded homers in 5.6% of his plate appearances. Here’s who’s been second-best: Steve Pearce. He’d also produced a 5.6% mark. Here’s who was third: Steven Souza Jr., at 5.3%. To find the rest of the team’s numbers, the reader will have to perform his or her own calculations. Or, alternatively, abandon all curiosity about the rest of the team’s numbers, thus rendering it unnecessary to perform all those dumb calculations.

Readers’ Preferred Television Broadcast: Tampa Bay.

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The Best of FanGraphs: May 23-27, 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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FanGraphs Audio: Lead Prospect Analyst Eric Longenhagen

Episode 655
Eric Longenhagen, previously of ESPN’s Draft Blog and Crashburn Alley (among other sites), has recently been named the lead prospect analyst for FanGraphs. On this edition of the program he discusses the top-five prospects of the 2016 MLB draft, the benefit of Atlanta’s recent trade for a competitive-balance pick from Baltimore, and the most notable upcoming events on the scouting — as opposed to the Gregorian — calendar.

This episode of the program is 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 11 min play time.)

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Play

Trayce Thompson: The Dodgers’ Other Good Rookie

When the December three-way trade between the Chicago White Sox, Cincinnati Reds, and Los Angeles Dodgers was announced, you could sense Dodgers’ fans frustration. “Dodgers, Reds, Sox Complete Three-Way Trade Centered Around Todd Frazier,” is a great headline if you’re a Dodgers fan. Until you realize that Frazier isn’t coming to Tinseltown. Surely this was a mistake. After all, Justin Turner was having knee surgery, and how good is he, really? “We need Frazier!” the people of Los Angeles almost certainly said.

Well, it didn’t work out that way for the boys in blue. And, as it turns out, that’s just fine, as Trayce Thompson has been a revelation this season.

Before we get into why and how he’s been a revelation, I want to share a brief nugget of FanGraphs history with you. At one point, we had been considering a book project, and we crafted a few sample pages for it. On one, we placed blurbs for four players, one of whom happened to be Thompson. Here’s the blurb Carson Cistulli wrote for him (click to embiggen):

trayce thompson blurb

So, whenever I see Trayce Thompson’s name, I think of this, and it makes me smile. As I think you’ll agree, that blurb is Vintage Cistulli.

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Danny Salazar on His Repertoire (It’s Not a Split)

Danny Salazar has a fastball that averages nearly 95 mph and one of the best changeups in the game. Given that lethal combination, it’s no surprise that he’s striking out over 11 batters per nine innings and has a 2.32 ERA. In his age-26 season, the Indians right-hander is continuing his ascent into most-overpowering-pitchers territory.

Signed by Cleveland out of the Dominican Republic in 2006, Salazar began emerging as a top-shelf prospect after returning from Tommy John surgery in 2011. Two years later, he was in the big leagues with a heater that touched triple digits. Last season, he logged career highs in wins (14), innings pitched (185) and strikeouts (195).

Salazar talked about his repertoire, which includes a changeup with a unique grip — no, it’s not a splitter — when the Indians visited Fenway Park earlier this month.

———

Salazar on why he’s emerged as a front-line pitcher: “I think it’s learning. Every time I go outside, every time I watch a game, I’m paying attention. I’m seeing how guys attack hitters. That’s helping me to become a better pitcher.

“You learn about yourself and you learn about hitters. My best pitch is a fastball, but I know that if I’m just throwing fastball, fastball, they’re going to do damage to me. I have to use my secondary stuff, too. I’m learning more about myself and more about the other teams and how to attack them.”

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Braves, Rangers Indicate No End to Publicly Funded Stadiums

Baltimore’s Camden Yards opened to almost universal praise in 1992. The success of the park and its broad appeal spurred the development of new stadiums throughout baseball. Since the construction of Camden Yards, 21 of the league’s 30 franchises have received new stadiums, while eight others have undergone renovations (sorry, Tampa Bay). In Cleveland, they’ve seen both occur.

Averaging roughly one new stadium per year has been great for business, as attendance has gone up across the league and the old unsightly multipurpose stadiums have been retired. It would be reasonable to think, however, that such a boom in stadium construction would naturally result in an equally steep decline. There are, of course, only so many clubs for which to build new park. Reason isn’t always at play in such cases, however. Both the Braves’ relocation to a new home next year — and a recent announcement by the Rangers that they plan to build a new air-conditioned ballpark just 20-some years after debuting the old one — should solidify that notion for us. As long as they create profits for ownership, stadium building, renovations, and fights for public money will never end.

Baseball is a business, and franchise owners acts as corporate heads looking to extract money and increase profits wherever they can. Getting the public to fund a stadium is a very big part of that and most owners have been incredibly successful in this regard. Of all the news stadiums built in this era, only the San Francisco Giants privately funded their stadium, with the St. Louis Cardinals representing the only other club to account for a significant portion of their stadium’s expense. In most cases, we’ve seen public fights, with threats to relocate elsewhere — sometimes to another city and sometimes just to a neighboring suburb. We’ve seen this play out recently in the case of both the Braves and the Rangers — and, despite all of the new stadiums, we’re not done seeing it.

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Matt Bush Nearly Has Aroldis Chapman’s Fastball

This is a post about the similarities between Matt Bush and Aroldis Chapman on the baseball field. On the baseball field.

Which, really, it’s remarkable that any similarities exist at all, given Matt Bush was first a shortstop, and then incarcerated, and has only since been pitching professionally again since April of this year. Seriously. April 7, 2016 was his first professional pitching appearance in more than four years. Two months later, here we are talking about the characteristics his fastball alongside the most powerful fastball in the game.

What makes a fastball dynamic? Well, velocity of course. That’s what you know Chapman for. That’s what a good fastball’s always been. But more recently, we’ve learned the importance of spin rate, too, which helps influence both movement and deception. There’s more to any pitch than just velocity and spin, but if you had to pick only two quantifiable characteristics to measure a fastball, you’d pick these two. Or at least, I did. And when I did that, the results looked like this:

Bush

That’s every starter and every reliever with at least 50 four-seam fastballs thrown this year. By velocity, Bush’s fastball ranks eighth, averaging 97.2 miles per hour. By spin rate, Bush’s fastball ranks second, averaging 2,626 revolutions per minute. Put the two together, and you’ve the closest thing to an average Aroldis Chapman fastball, and perhaps the most lively heater displayed by any right-handed pitcher in baseball this season.

Observe:

Guy was supposed to be a shortstop.


Marcus Semien, Now More of a Shortstop

Last year, there wasn’t a worse defensive shortstop in the big leagues than Marcus Semien. That’s what the numbers say — traditional and advanced — and it’s also what observers thought as they watched the Oakland A turn in Es with his arm and his legs. It was fair to ask if he’s a shortstop at all.

Then Ron Washington joined the fold, and the shortstop started working with his infield coach. Every day. Before anyone else hit the field, there were Semien and Washington, with their tools, running through the drills.

The turnaround has been remarkable, and deserves more attention.

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Projecting Julio Urias

Happy Julio Urias Day to you and yours!

As you’ve probably heard by now, 19-year-old phenom Julio Urias will make his major-league debut against the Mets. Yesterday, lead prospect analyst Eric Longenhagen provided an excellent breakdown of Urias from a scouting perspective. Go read that if you haven’t already. Today, I look at Urias through a more statistical lens. Urias looks like an elite prospect from that angle, too.

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On the Shrinking Strike Zone and Lengthening Games

For the last few years, Jon Roegele (among others) has been doing excellent work showing that the strike zone was getting larger with every passing season. Specifically, pitchers and catchers had started getting calls on pitches below the knees that they hadn’t gotten previously, and the rise of the called low strike led a pervasive myth that hitters had`gotten too passive, putting the onus on the batters for the decrease in run scoring, when the reality is that batters were being called out on pitches they couldn’t do anything with anyway.

With strikeout rates again at an all-time high, MLB has apparently decided to take some action after a few years of studying the issue. According to a Jayson Stark report from last weekend, the competition committee approved a tentative plan to “effectively raise the lower part of the strike zone to the top of the hitter’s knees”, beginning as early as next year, assuming the rules committee also approves the plan, and the issue will apparently be raised with the players during CBA negotiations, so they may have a voice in the changes as well.

And you can be sure that some of those players won’t be happy about the proposal. For instance, here was Adam Wainwright‘s reaction to the report.

“It’s a horrible, horrible idea,” he said. “One, I’m a pitcher. And I’m a pitcher who likes to keep the ball low. Two, and mainly, all this talk about making the games shorter — what part of raising the strike zone up is going to do that? … They want more offense. I understand that. But taking 45 seconds off for an intentional walk one out of every three games isn’t going to make up for the added balls in the gap by raising the strike zone, in my opinion.”

At least Wainwright is honest and admits his bias right up front. This is a change that could potentially make his job harder, and like most self-interested individuals, he’s against things that have a negative consequence for him personally. But note that Wainwright doesn’t just stop at saying that he’s against it because he’s a pitcher, but he’s against it because he thinks it’s counterproductive to MLB’s other stated goal, which is to reduce the length of games back under three hours. As Wainwright and others would have you believe, instituting a smaller strike zone will lead to even longer games, and so MLB is barking up the wrong tree.

Except that the evidence suggests that this probably isn’t going to be the case.

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Jeff Sullivan FanGraphs Chat — 5/27/16

9:10
Jeff Sullivan: Hello friends
9:10
Jeff Sullivan: Let’s every last one of us baseball chat
9:10
Snowflake: Happy 21st Birthday Yoan Moncada
9:10
Jeff Sullivan: Julio Urias’ grandfather
9:11
Slippin Jimmy: I was watching MLB Network the other day, and the two analysts ran down their top 5 pitchers in baseball. One of them said Rich Hill. Not joking.
9:11
Jeff Sullivan: It’s…hard…to argue against? I mean, there are varying definitions of “best” but if you’re looking for someone to win a game tomorrow…

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One Tiny Fact About One Part of Michael Saunders’ Comeback

Nomar Mazara hit a 491-foot home run the other day. You’ve probably heard about it, you’ve probably seen it. If you haven’t, go check it out. Something special, that homer. Something special, that Mazara. I thought there might be a post in that homer, and there might still be, but in the midst of running some numbers on it, something else caught my eye. While looking up information about a 21-year-old phenom who hit a 491-foot home run, I somehow came away most impressed with Michael Saunders.

See, there’s some outstanding stuff about that Mazara homer, even beyond the age and the raw distance. You’ll see that it came off a left-handed pitcher, with Mazara being a left-handed batter himself. You’ll see that it was pretty far on the inside of the plate, that Mazara really had to turn on it. And you’ll see that it was a breaking pitch, one that started even further inside, that was never really in the strike zone until the moment Mazara hammered it. It was already a special homer on the surface, made even more special by the way it happened. And Mazara hit it a long way. You can’t fake what Mazara did. I’m not sure you can fake what Michael Saunders has done, either.

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

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.

*****

Greg Allen, CF, Cleveland (Profile)
While all the prospects who appear among the Five feature some manner of promising statistical profile, that’s not the only criterion for inclusion here. As noted in the introduction to this post, the author also utilizes scouting reports and his own fallible intuition. Allen appears here today due both to the strength of his statistical indicators and also the scouting reports. But he appears here most expressly because something about his name and performance and skill set resonate within the author.

These sort of stirrings oughtn’t be ignored. Writes Ralph Waldo Emerson in his essay “Self-Reliance”:

A man should learn to detect and watch that gleam of light which flashes across his mind from within, more than the lustre of the firmament of bards and sages. Yet he dismisses without notice his thought, because it is his. In every work of genius we recognize our own rejected thoughts: they come back to us with a certain alienated majesty. Great works of art have no more affecting lesson for us than this. They teach us to abide by our spontaneous impression with good-humored inflexibility then most when the whole cry of voices is on the other side. Else, to-morrow a stranger will say with masterly good sense precisely what we have thought and felt all the time, and we shall be forced to take with shame our own opinion from another.

It isn’t the author’s intention to let some dumb stranger say with masterly good sense to-morrow what I have thought and felt the whole time — namely, that the most likely outcome for Greg Allen is to become an average major leaguer. For that reason, Greg Allen appears here among the Five.

For other reasons, here’s video footage of Greg Allen recently homering:

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NERD Game Scores: Julio Urias Debut Event

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 New York NL | 19:10 ET
Urias (MLB Debut) vs. deGrom (41.0 IP, 100 xFIP-)
If Julio Urias has failed to appear at the very top of those top-100 prospect lists produced each offseason, it isn’t for a lack of success as a professional. With little exception, the left-hander’s statistical record in the minor leagues reads like an exercise in best-case scenarios. At every level, Urias has produced one of the top strikeout rates amongs his peers. And frequenly one of the best strikeout- and walk-rate differentials, as well. The current season is no exception. Among qualified pitchers across Triple-A, Urias has recorded the second-best strikeout and walk figure, second only to Pittsburgh’s Jameson Taillon, who’s five years older than Urias. Which that’s not because Taillon’s particularly old, either, but rather because Urias has only recently reached majority age. For more on Urias, read Eric Longenhagen’s white-hot scouting report from yesterday.

Readers’ Preferred Television Broadcast: New York NL.*

*That said, newcomer Joe Davis receives excellent reviews as well for Dodgers.

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Let’s Try to Spin the Mike Moustakas News

Mike Moustakas is out for the rest of the season on account of a torn ACL, which he sustained in a foul-territory collision with Alex Gordon, which also injured the other guy. Gordon is out for a few weeks, himself, and though the collision isn’t quite as costly as Mike Trout running into literally anything, the Royals have been pushed into a difficult spot. Gordon is good! They won’t have him for a bit. Moustakas is good, too. They won’t have him for a longer bit. What they will have is Cheslor Cuthbert and Whit Merrifield, and I just had to look those names up two times each.

Injury analysis? Oh, it doesn’t get much easier than injury analysis. Here’s how this projects to affect the Royals. Moustakas, the rest of the way, was projected to be worth nearly two and a half wins. Now the replacement third basemen are projected to be worth about one win. The difference: call it a win, or a win and a half. That’s the effect. The Royals are competing in a tight Central division, and every win will probably be precious. Down go the playoff odds, by a chunk. What could be simpler to understand? Moustakas was starting, because he was the best option, and now they have to go with another option, and that won’t cripple them, but it will make the situation worse.

Your basic player injury analysis could be crammed into a single tweet. It’s interesting, but only to a point. It’s certainly not worth a number of paragraphs. We already know what this Moustakas news objectively means. But let’s try to spin it! It’s brutal news for any Royals fan to digest, but the sky might not be falling. Considered differently, the sky is just getting closer.

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The Reds Have Been the Anti-Cubs

For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. If we can take some liberties with this, let’s describe the Cubs as an action. An extremely powerful and overwhelming action! It’s an action that seems borderline unstoppable. With that in mind, the opposite of the Cubs is the Reds. The Cubs have been good at pretty much everything. The Reds, meanwhile, have been bad at everything.

You can stop there if you want. You already have the idea, and what follows below is just filling out the picture. Cubs good, Reds bad. I’m just fascinated by the magnitude and diversity of the bad. Before the year, I had the Reds pegged as the seemingly bad team with the best chance of being a decent team. I stand by what I believed, but that’s just not how it’s playing out. The Reds have been a spectacular mess, and though the Braves and perhaps the Twins have commanded the everything-sucks headline genre, the Reds have probably been worse. The Reds have been the worst.

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