So What Do the Diamondbacks Do Now?

Heading into the season, there was probably no more polarizing team in baseball than the Diamondbacks. Despite adding Zack Greinke, Shelby Miller, and Tyler Cllippard over the winter, our preseason forecasts pegged Arizona as a 78 win team, a win worse than they finished a year ago. The organization themselves saw a wildly different picture, and so many articles were written about the divide that I had to write a piece in March trying to dispel the notion that we had some kind of bias against the franchise.

You know what’s happened since then. First, the team suffered a devastating loss when A.J. Pollock‘s lingering elbow issues turned into a season-ending injury right before Opening Day. Then Zack Greinke gave up seven runs in his first regular season start with the team, and struggled through a slow start to the season. Then Shelby Miller imploded, pitching worse than any other starter in baseball this year. And now it’s the end of May and the team is 23-30, already nine games behind the Giants in the NL West race.

But this isn’t a post gloating that we were right all along. In reality, some of the D’Backs optimism surrounding their team has actually been more correct than our pessimism about the team’s chances, if you look beyond the overall record, anyway. Our projections didn’t like the Diamondbacks because it had a negative view of their role players, thinking that this was basically a stars-and-scrubs team that relied too heavily on a few elite players. But so far, those role players have been carrying the team, keeping it afloat while the big names struggle.

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Baseball and the Legal Implications of Biometric Data

Last week, Rian Watt published a terrific piece at Vice Sports on the growing use of wearable technology by Major League Baseball teams for purposes of collecting players’ biometric data. If you haven’t read Watt’s article, go check it out, it’s fantastic. In short, though, the piece explores the ethical implications of MLB teams asking their players to wear devices — such as the Readiband sleep monitoring system recently employed by the Seattle Mariners — that collect data that can not only be used for purposes of fine-tuning players’ on-field performance, but also potentially for roster- and contract-related decisions as well.

For instance, while the sleep-tracking data provided by Readiband could certainly help players adjust their sleep patterns to maximize their chances of performing at a peak level on the playing field, this data could also give teams insight into a player’s habits undertaken in the privacy of his own home. It’s not hard to imagine a team ultimately incorporating such information, or other forms of biometric data, into their player evaluations in ways that may ultimately harm a player’s career prospects or earning potential.

In addition to the ethical considerations surrounding the use of these technologies explored in Watt’s article, the collection of biometric data by MLB franchises also has potential legal implications as well. As Watt notes in his piece, wearable technology may very well become an issue during this year’s collective-bargaining negotiations between MLB and the Major League Baseball Players Association. Indeed, Pirates’ infielder Cole Figueroa recently mentioned during an episode of the Effectively Wild podcast that a number of MLB players are growing increasingly concerned over the potentially adverse consequences of the growing use of this technology by their teams.

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August Fagerstrom FanGraphs Chat — 5/31/16


The Astros Have a New Weapon, and a Decision

It was an inauspicious start to the season for Michael Feliz. It’s been an inauspicious start to the season for the entire Houston Astros ballclub. One of them’s turned it around, providing hope to the other.

Feliz’s numbers, on the whole, are impressive, and even they come with something of an asterisk. In 20 innings of relief work, the 22-year-old right-handed rookie has struck out 33 batters and walked four — only two pitchers in baseball currently have a better K-BB%, and they both wear pinstripes. You’ve probably heard of them. The asterisk is that Feliz has walked just four batters all year, and they all came in his season debut, a 107-pitch relief outing back on April 6 after starter Collin McHugh recorded just one out. Feliz was thrust into action in the first, asked to eat innings, faltered, and was promptly sent to the minors for a fresh arm. He was recalled a couple weeks later, and since then, he’s been completely unhittable.

Dating back to that April 26 recall, Feliz has struck out half of the batters he’s faced, and he’s walked none of them. He’s getting ground balls, and he’s working multiple innings. Before the year, you might’ve only known Feliz’s name by being an Astros fan or a prospect hound — while he fell just outside of preseason top-100 prospect lists, most evaluators viewed him as a top-10 piece in a deep Astros’ system. Now, he’s turning heads, with the kind of numbers that practically demand attention.

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NERD Game Scores for Tuesday, May 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
Pittsburgh at Miami | 29:10 ET
Cole (53.1 IP, 100 xFIP-) vs. Fernandez (60.2 IP, 63 xFIP-)
Were Noah Syndergaard and Nathan Eovaldi and Carlos Martinez and Yordano Ventura — were none of those four to exist, the starters in this game between Pittsburgh and Miami would possess the top two average four-seam velocities among all qualifiers. This presupposes, of course, that Cole and Fernandez weren’t somehow also altered. Which, have Syndergaard and Eovladi and everyone — have they died in this hypothetical scenario? Or have they merely never been born? Is it possible that their presence is detected only by their absence, not unlike a black hole? Can a man step in the same river twice? Of course, he can. As long as he’s brought his towel with him, it shouldn’t be a problem.

Readers’ Preferred Television Broadcast: Pittsburgh.

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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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