Rich Hill Truly Curveballs Like No One Else

As if Rich Hill needs another way to be unique. How many other pitchers experience their career breakout at 35 and become one of the best in the league? How many other pitchers throw their curveball half the time? How many other pitchers who typically throw overhand freeze batters by occasionally dropping to sidearm? How many other pitchers speak fluently about their pitch axis, perceptual velocity, vertical and horizontal planes, and name drop DRA in interviews? Hell, how many other pitchers develop blisters on their fingers which require more than a month to heal? Rich Hill doesn’t need another thing to make him unique, and yet here we are.

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Kevin Newman on Hitting (His Way to Pittsburgh)

The Pittsburgh Pirates knew they were getting a good hitter when they made Kevin Newman the 19th-overall pick in the 2015 draft. Not only did he hit .337 in his three seasons at the University of Arizona, he won a pair of Cape Cod League batting titles along the way. There wasn’t much power — just two home runs as a Wildcat — but he fanned a grand total of 48 times in over 700 plate appearances.

Newman is still putting his bat on the baseball. In 95 games between High-A Bradenton and Double-A Altoona, the 23-year-old shortstop is slashing .328/.391/.435. He’s even showing a little pop. On the season, he has 21 doubles, a pair of triples, and five home runs.

Newman talked about his line-drive approach prior to a recent game in Portland, Maine.

———

Newman on his hitting approach: “I try to hit low line drives all over the field. I know myself as a hitter — I’m a singles-doubles sort of guy — and I want to stick to my strengths. My swing plane is short and level through the zone. I try to hit a line drive over the second baseman, a line drive over the shortstop. Read the rest of this entry »


Eric Longenhagen Prospects Chat 8/29


NERD Game Scores for Monday, August 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
Toronto at Baltimore | 19:05 ET
Estrada (137.1 IP, 107 xFIP-) vs. Miley (134.0 IP, 101 xFIP-)
Toronto and Baltimore currently feature the second- and fifth-greatest point adjustments to their respective NERD scores by way of the methodology explained tortuously further down in this post. What that means, practically speaking: their games are of greater consequence than other teams’ — this game, in particular, because each clubs’ divisional odds are directly influenced by the performance of the other club. There’s considerable urgency here, is the point, like an episode of a BBC detective series in which there’s considerable urgency.

Readers’ Preferred Broadcast: Baltimore Television.

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New Interactive Splits Tool!

We’ve created an interactive splits tool that allows you to create your own custom reports by combining splits of various metrics. All the splits that FanGraphs hosts are featured here, along with some new ones — including times through the order, outs and day/night.

The controls have three different sections: stats, splits and group by.

Kris Bryant Splits Tool Overview

The “Stats” bar allows you to toggle between the three different groups of stats we currently host on a player’s split page. This isn’t too different from the standard, advanced and batted-ball tabs we feature elsewhere on the site.

The “Splits” bar is the most important control within the splits tool; this is where you can select which splits are applied. When no splits are applied, you’ll get the full season stats. When a split is applied like “vs. LHP,” you’ll get only the plate appearances against a left-handed pitcher. If you add another split like “Groundballs,” you’ll get all ground balls against left-handed pitchers. As you add splits from different categories, you’ll narrow the number of plate appearances.

Kris Bryant Splits Menu

The splits which are applied appear as blue blocks above the table. If you wish to remove a split, either click the “X” on the split or unselect it within its menu.

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NERD Game Scores for Sunday, August 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
Minnesota at Toronto | 13:07 ET
Gibson (106.0 IP, 104 xFIP-) vs. Dickey (154.1 IP, 113 xFIP-)
By the coin-flip methdology used at this site — which seems to best represent how human minds conceive of postseason odds — both Toronto and Boston feature roughly an equal chance either of winning the division or securing a wild-card spot or of not qualifying for the postseason at all. With just a month or so left in the season, in other words, basically every outcome is equally possible. The consequences of each game are considerable. This is an example of one such game.

Readers’ Preferred Broadcast: Toronto Radio.

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Sunday Notes: Jessica Mendoza, Stubby Clapp, Strahm, McGuire, more

Jessica Mendoza will be careful not to get too nerdy when she discusses Yordano Ventura’s repertoire in tonight’s ESPN Sunday Night Baseball game. She could if it fit the script. Unlike many analysts, Mendoza is a data hound when it comes to game preparation.

With ESPN in Boston for Red Sox-Royals, Mendoza made it a point to become well-acquainted with Ventura’s offerings. She consulted PITCHf/x data. She read articles posted here at FanGraphs and at Beyond The Box Score. When I chatted with her yesterday, she cited — off the top of her head — details about Ventura’s grips, arm slots, and his horizontal and vertical movement.

An accomplished hitter in her playing days — she starred at Stanford and for the United States women’s national softball team — Mendoza feels she needs to do more homework on the pitching side. Read the rest of this entry »


NERD Game Scores for Saturday, August 27, 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
Minnesota at Toronto | 13:07 ET
Santana (140.2 IP, 99 xFIP-) vs. Stroman (161.0 IP, 78 xFIP-)
Toronto starter Marcus Stroman has produced the top strikeout- and walk-rate differential among the league’s 90 qualified August starters. What else he’s done is produce the fifth-best ground-ball rate among that same population. The result: a park-adjusted xFIP nearly 20% better than the second-best pitcher by that measure this month. The other result: a total of only six earned runs conceded by Stroman over his four August starts. The final result: the flourishing of Hope inside Canadian people.

Readers’ Preferred Broadcast: Toronto Radio.

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The Best of FanGraphs: August 22-26, 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: Sam Miller

Episode 677
Sam Miller is editor-in-chief of Baseball Prospectus and co-author, with Ben Lindbergh, of The Only Rule Is It Has to Work. He’s also the 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 09 min play time.)

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Play

Jose Abreu Should Be Embarrassed

Here is one of my favorite clips of the season:

That’s Ronald Torreyes, attempting a delayed and perfunctory swing at a pitch-out to try to protect the running Aaron Hicks, who ends up in a heap on the ground after getting jarred in the marbles. Torreyes swings for no reason other than he’s always been told to swing in these situations, so the decision was entirely out of his hands. You can see that he’s temporarily overruled by his own brain, which properly identified that a swing would come with no upside. But then the training kicked in, and Torreyes whispered the bat in a vaguely forward direction while Hicks sprinted like the dickens, unaware the situation would end with teammates discussing his sterility.

Pretty obviously, no swing has been attempted this season at a more-outside pitch. Yet I don’t know if that should really “count,” since Torreyes didn’t swing because he wanted to. The swing was mandated by the hit-and-run play. So let’s take that off the table. Now the most-outside swing attempt of the season belongs to Jose Abreu, as of Thursday night. Abreu should probably be ashamed of himself.

Though I looked at everyone, the swings at the very most-outside pitches have been attempted by righties. Allow me to read off to you the top three:

  1. Ronald Torreyes, June 30, swinging pitch-out
  2. Jose Abreu, August 25, swinging strike
  3. Jose Iglesias, May 24, swinging pitch-out

The only worse swing was at a pitch-out. The next-worst swing was at a pitch-out. The next-worst swing at a non-pitch-out was at a pitch more than five inches closer to the plate. That swing was also with two strikes, attempted by Javier Baez. Baez will do that sometimes. So, evidently, will Abreu.

abreu-cishek

Exclaimed Mariners announcer Dave Sims, after Abreu’s strikeout with runners in scoring position:

Swing and a miss, he got him! What a big pitch.

It’s easy to get fooled on the fly. Strikeouts are strikeouts, and when the batter swings, that implies a pitch could have been only so bad. Abreu chased this slider from Steve Cishek; therefore, it must have been a good slider from Steve Cishek. Yet it’s not hard to see how that could have been a disastrous slider from Steve Cishek. You don’t want a pitch in that situation to get away. And Abreu had never before swung like this. I went to Baseball Savant. I plotted all of Abreu’s career swings. The swing above is highlighted below.

abreu-career-swings

I mean-

Eleven inches. The difference between that pitch and the next-most-outside pitch Abreu had chased is 11 inches. Nearly a whole damn foot. There’s really no excuse for that kind of swing. The easy explanation is “Abreu was trying to do too much,” but trying to do anything with that pitch is trying to do too much. It’s a brain fart. It has to be a brain fart. I don’t know what else it would be unless, as of Thursday night, in the seventh inning, Jose Abreu suddenly became, on camera, the single worst hitter in Major League Baseball.

By the way, the Baez swing? The one that’s the next-worst of the season?

baez-cishek

That swing was also against a Steve Cishek slider. It’s probably just a coincidence. But, maybe I’m the one who doesn’t get it.


Major League Baseball’s Streakiest Team

Streaks can be maddening or joyful, depending on which side of the coin your allegiance happens to lie. When it happens to players, we say the player is hot or in a slump. He might be performing better or worse for a particular reason — like good health or lack thereof — but, often, it’s just the product random variation over a long season.

For teams, the situation is a bit different. If a player goes 2-for-4, that’s good and potentially part of a hot streak. A team, however, can record only a win or a loss. Long winning or losing streaks are fairly rare. Only the Indians and Cubs have managed winning streaks of at least 10 games this season — and the only double-digit losing streaks this season have come from the Cincinnati Reds, Los Angeles Angels, and Tampa Bay Rays. Good teams tend to rack up winning streaks; bad teams, losing streaks. If you want to get somebody who can do both, however, look no further than the Detroit Tigers.

That win streaks translate to season-long success is probably not news. As the graph below confirms, going on win streaks leads to a lot of wins in general. (Data from Baseball Reference.)

Team Win Streaks in 2016

That’s a rough look at the standings, although Detroit might be a bit higher than their wins suggest and the Mets and Marlins have had difficulty pulling off a run despite solid overall records. And poor San Diego: the Padres have yet to pull off a single four-game win streak all season.

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NERD Game Scores for Friday, August 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
Chicago NL at Los Angeles NL | 22:10 ET
Montgomery (74.2 IP, 83 xFIP-) vs. Norris (103.2 IP, 99 xFIP-)
Both Mike Montgomery and Bud Norris have pitched, for an extended period this season, in a relief role. Both have been traded to contenders, as well. Both have, — curiously, perhaps — been promptly inserted into the starting rotations of their new, theoretically better teams after arriving at those team. Both have, even more curiously, produced better strikeout- and walk-rate differentials — a metric which tends to be predictive of future success — in a starting and not relieving capacity. Why these similarities are important, the author can’t say. These human brains we all have gravitate to them, for some reasons. These feeble, human brains.

Readers’ Preferred Broadcast: Los Angeles NL Television.

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Khris Davis and Others Who Have Pressed Before

Khris Davis has maintained excellent exit velocity all year, and has 33 home runs to his name, but that doesn’t mean he hasn’t pressed at times with his new team. His walk rate is less than half what it used to be, and his swinging-strike rate is up nearly 20%.

The Oakland outfielder admitted that his decision on when to swing hasn’t been at its finest this year. “I was putting pressure on myself in a new environment,” he told me recently before a game against the Indians. “It was mental. Just kinda settled down.”

It’s something we can easily see in his swing percentages — but, perhaps more importantly, it’s totally normal and has happened very often to other big bats changing teams.

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The Royals Aren’t Making Elite Contact Anymore

We’d like to welcome Ryan Pollack to the staff as the newest contributor to FanGraphs. Ryan has written for Camden Chat and Camden Depot in the past, and yes, we hired him just so Orioles fans would stop yelling at us about our projections. Please give Ryan a warm welcome.

The Kansas City Royals have been a high-contact, low-strikeout team for several years. Very few people saw this approach when the team was bad. But during their 2014-15 run, many noticed the team hardly ever struck out.

This bat-to-ball philosophy made great headlines because it opposed the trend of rising strikeouts. That the Royals succeeded in winning games made the contrast even greater. We remember Salvador Perez’s single past a diving Josh Donaldson that won the 2014 AL Wild Card game. We remember Alcides Escobar’s first-inning, first-pitch inside-the-park home run in Game 1 of the 2015 World Series. And we remember Eric Hosmer scoring the tying run of Game 5 on a weak Perez grounder to David Wright.

Put the ball in play, they said, and good things will happen.

That’s advice the 2016 Royals could use. Despite returning several members of the 2014-15 teams, this year’s iteration doesn’t avoid strikeouts well.

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Why Did the Dodgers Trade A.J. Ellis?

Last night, the Dodgers and Phillies made a deal that, on the surface, is your typical minor August move of minor role players. The Dodgers landed Carlos Ruiz, a 37 year old catcher, in exchange for A.J. Ellis, a 35 year old catcher, and a prospect of dubious quality. The impetus for the trade seems pretty clear; Ruiz can still hit lefties a bit, and so he’s a better fit as Yasmani Grandal‘s platoon partner in the postseason. Ellis isn’t much at the plate these days, so by adding Ruiz, the team has slightly upgraded their offense against left-handed pitching.

But the trade was a big deal because, as was immediately apparent given the reaction to the news of the deal, A.J. Ellis was beloved by his teammates, and especially, by the team’s ace.

Ellis and Kershaw are obviously quite close, but other members of the team also showed their support for Ellis, and made it clear they will miss him.

By trading away a beloved part of the clubhouse for a minor bench upgrade, the media has been handed a very simple narrative: nerd-run team doesn’t value chemistry, tears apart clubhouse in the process. The fact that the Dodgers were one out away from being no-hit on the night Ellis got traded didn’t do anything to slow that story down. But of course the Dodgers do care at least a little bit about chemistry, or Yasiel Puig wouldn’t be hanging out in Triple-A right now. So, six days away from roster expansion, when Ellis could have kept hanging around the team even after they acquired Ruiz, why did the Dodgers trade A.J. Ellis?

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Surprise, the Royals Have a New Relief Weapon

The Kansas City Royals, like any team would, have missed Wade Davis in his absence, but they haven’t really missed Wade Davis. Davis, of course, would make any bullpen better. But since Kansas City’s star closer last pitched nearly a month ago to the day, the Royals bullpen has performed as well as it has all season. Over the last 30 days, the unit’s run a league-best 1.95 ERA, good for a league-best 2.8 RA9-WAR, and the same group has run a league-best 3.15 FIP, good for a league-best 1.5 FIP-WAR. As the Royals have surged back into the fringe of the playoff discussion, the bullpen’s been a big reason why, and it’s done so without its centerpiece.

Part of it’s been de facto closer Kelvin Herrera. He’s recorded a 2.77 ERA and a 2.99 FIP in Davis’ absence, and gone 8-for-8 in save chances. Joakim Soria‘s played a big role, too. He’s seemingly corrected his early-season woes and posted a 2.03 ERA and 2.85 FIP in the last month. Peter Moylan‘s pitched well, and Chris Young hasn’t given up a run since July 26. But neither Herrera nor Soria nor Moylan nor Young’s been the biggest part of Kansas City’s bullpen since Davis went down. No, the most important reliever in Kansas City since Davis hit the disabled list is the guy who only got called up because Davis hit the disabled list.

Screen Shot 2016-08-26 at 10.26.26 AM

Matt Strahm, over the last month, has put up a 0.84 ERA and 0.43 FIP in the first 10.2 innings of his big-league career. The 24-year-old lefty, drafted in the 21st round of the 2012 draft, has struck out 19 of the 40 batters he’s faced and walked three. Six hits, no homers, one run.

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Projecting Phillies Call-Up Jorge Alfaro

Jorge Alfaro‘s physical tools have put him in the prospect conversation for years — he’s cracked Baseball Prospectus’ top-101 prospects in each of the past five seasons, for example — but his on-field performance has always left something to be desired. He hit a respectable-for-a-catcher .253/.314/.432 in an injury-shortened season at Double-A level last year, but his plate discipline was poor. Although he demonstrated enticing power, his 4% walk rate and 29% strikeout rate hinted at serious issues with his approach. 

He’s seemingly begun to make the right adjustments this year, as he’s hacked six points off of his strikeout rate without sacrificing much power. In just under 400 plate appearances in Double-A, he slashed a more-encouraging .279/.322/.444. Whatever development has occurred, it seems to have satisfied the Phillies, who will promote the catcher today according to Yahoo’s Jeff Passan.

Alfaro’s future looks brighter than it did five months ago, but he’s still far from a slam-dunk prospect. Though his strikeout and walk numbers are trending in the right directions, they’re still cause for concern. And though he’s only 23, Alfaro has been playing professionally since 2010, so he may not have a ton of improving left to do.

While he’s improved at the plate, Alfaro’s biggest strides seem to have taken place behind it. According to Baseball Prospectus’ pitch-framing data, Alfaro’s framing was nearly a run worse than average last year, but has been over 14 runs better than average this season. Clay Davenport’s data tell a similar tale: +1 last season and +12 this year.

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Jeff Sullivan FanGraphs Chat — 8/26/16

9:02
Jeff Sullivan: Hello friends

9:03
Jeff Sullivan: Welcome to baseball chat

9:03
carrotjuice: I recommend the Rob Arthur article on 538 the other day about Statcast missing batted balls. The craziest thing: 21.7% of batted balls in the Arizona Diamondbacks stadium aren’t tracked!

9:04
Jeff Sullivan: If I recall this was an issue a year ago — many of the weakest-hit batted balls weren’t tracked. Stands to reason that wouldn’t get fixed right away. So what we’re seeing in the data isn’t necessarily “true” in terms of capturing everything

9:05
Jeff Sullivan: There are problems with balls hit directly into the ground, and there are problems with balls hit so high the cameras lose sight of them

9:05
Jeff Sullivan: It’s not random — the missing batted balls tend to be extremely unproductive batted balls, from a hitting standpoint

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Another Year with Joe Blanton, Great Reliever

The price of relief pitching is on the rise. Baseball die hards are currently having a fierce debate about reliever valuation, but it’s relatively clear that teams are willing to pony up for quality back of the bullpen arms. The recent deals for Ken Giles, Aroldis Chapman, Andrew Miller, and Will Smith demonstrate as much. Clubs want good relievers (who can blame them!) and they are allocating more resources toward their acquisition.

I’m not an economist, but I imagine teams would rather acquire a high-quality reliever who isn’t expensive than one who is. Unfortunately, market forces tend to get in the way and you wind up trading lots of prospects for a couple seasons of reliever help. Unless you’re the Dodgers. If you’re the Dodgers, you take a gamble on Joe Blanton‘s 2015 season and get a setup man at utility-infielder prices.

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