A year ago, Kyle Schwarber took over October with his bat, launching monstrous home runs and putting himself on the map as one of the better young hitters in baseball. This summer, Schwarber took over July with his unavailability, as many of the summer’s rumors revolved around teams — specifically the Yankees — trying to get the young slugger from the Cubs in various trades, but the team refusing to part with him, even though it meant they had to settle for a bullpen upgrade not named Andrew Miller. And now, Schwarber is taking over Octoer with his rehab; six months after tearing his ACL, Schwarber is now angling for a return to the team, offering to serve as the designated hitter in the four World Series games that take place in AL parks.
From an entertainment perspective, I hope the Cubs add Schwarber to the roster; it would make for a compelling story, especially when the Indians inevitably bring Miller in to face him, reminding the Cubs what they could have had in their bullpen if they weren’t so attached to him. From a baseball perspective, I’m less convinced that putting Schwarber on the roster would be a significant improvement for the Cubs roster.
Even though run-scoring spiked to its highest total in seven years this season, these playoffs have been dominated by pitching like few others. With managers getting more out of their shutdown relievers than ever before and pitchers like Jon Lester, Corey Kluber, Andrew Miller, Marco Estrada, and Kenley Jansen turning in dominant appearances while shouldering heavy workloads, perhaps it’s no surprise that these playoffs include the lowest-scoring ALCS in history. And with a World Series matchup that features one of the best run-prevention units the sport has ever seen and a pitching staff that just held the Blue Jays and Red Sox to a combined 15 runs in eight games, the World Series seems likely to continue as a low-scoring, pitcher-dominated affair.
With pitching potentially taking center stage for this year’s fall classic, so do the individual pitches themselves. And so, allow me to continue an exercise I’ve performed for each of the previous two World Series, in which I attempt to (somewhat) objectively identify the nastiest pitches we’ll see throughout this final seven-game series.
What makes a pitch nasty? Well, in part, the way it looks, which is informed by the combination of velocity and movement. So that’s half of our criteria right there. Dominant results also make a pitch nasty, and there’s no two better results for a pitcher than a swinging strike or a ground ball, so that makes up the other half of the process of these pitches being selected. Velocity, movement (horizontal + vertical), whiff/pitch, ground ball/ball in play, all relative to the individual pitch type and ranked based on the sum of four z-scores.
Hours before hell froze over in Chicago in Saturday, Kyle Schwarber was added to the Mesa Solar Sox taxi squad and immediately cast into action as the team’s designated hitter that night at Sloan Park in Mesa.
His presence in the lineup was significant in a way that’s unusual for the Fall League. Most of the participants here are prospects benefiting from extra developmental time against reasonably advanced minor-league competition. Schwarber, on the other hand, is more or less auditioning for a a place on the Cubs’ World Series roster. When he stepped to the plate on Saturday, it represented his first place appearance in a professional game since suffering a knee injury on April 7. That injury was originally characterized as a “season-ending” one. But the Cubs’ season hasn’t ended yet, and Schwarber remains a candidate to contribute to it.
Below are my thoughts on his performance.
Schwarber went 0-for-3 with a walk, the 0 consisting of two weak ground outs to the right side and a well struck ball to the right-center-field gap that seemed destined for extra bases off the bat but was robbed by Rockies prospect Noel Cuevas. The least flattering aspect of Schwarber’s evening was his timing. He was out on his front foot against offspeed stuff a few times, which led to some of the evening’s weak contact and he missed a few other hittable pitches.
When looking at postseason matchups, the quickest and most natural thing on which to focus is the relative strength of each club’s starting rotation. About a month ago, I wrote about this tendency to get caught up in starting-pitching matchups during postseason overanalysis — in part because it’s something that I myself tend to overanalyze. Which is why I looked at Cleveland at the start of the postseason and gave them little chance to advance to the Division Series or, certainly, the World Series. Lesson learned.
That piece focused on the string of starting pitcher-injuries at the end of the season and their impact on playoff rotations — including, of course, Cleveland. The loss of the No. 2 and No. 3 in their rotation — Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar — represented a devastating blow, and it was natural to wonder how it would impact their October chances. However, it was (and is) undeniable that the team had a tremendous bullpen, which is why this was my conclusion at the time:
“If the rotation can keep them competitive through five or six innings and the offense plays its part, there’s absolutely still a path to October success for Cleveland. Cling to that while all of the pregame overanalyses look unfavorably upon the majority of Cleveland’s starting-pitcher matchups this October.”
As expected, Cleveland’s bullpen has been simply tremendous. With just six earned runs allowed in 32.1 innings pitched, they’re sporting a 1.67 ERA. The significantly less expected development, though, is that the rotation has done a heckuva lot more than just keep the team competitive. The rotation as a whole has allowed a similarly impressive eight earned runs through 38.2 IP, giving that unit a tremendous 1.86 ERA. Obviously Corey Kluber has been a significant part of that success, but so too has Josh Tomlin’s three earned runs in 10.2 IP and Ryan Merritt’s delightfully shocking 4.1 shutout innings. The only starting pitcher for whom the bullpen has really been compelled to clean up is Trevor Bauer and his drone-afflicted pinky.
We overanalyze the playoffs. And, yeah — in part it’s because we overanalyze everything. It’s the whole reason this place exists. But we always dig deep into October, because we all understand that playoff baseball is a different animal, a different twist on a familiar sport, and we want to wrap our minds around it. We’ve tested theories inspired by the Royals. We’ve tested theories inspired by the Giants. We’ve tested theories inspired by winners, because we want to know if we can better identify winners, before they win. Every October, we search for the key to the tournament. We search, as if there’s anything to find.
There’s not. Oh, sure, there are subtle things, but a playoff series is a coin flip, determined by a sequence of coin flips. The key is for one team to be a better baseball team than the other. Then the coin won’t flip so perfectly even. But so much of this is random. So much of this is random, that it can be hard to believe it’s not *completely* random. We’ve become so conditioned to saying the best teams aren’t always rewarded. When you have one great team, the overall odds are against it.
The overall odds were against the Cubs. If you were trying to figure out the NL pennant, it would’ve been smarter to bet on the field. That’s the reality of having to win two series in a row. But, bless these playoffs. Bless these playoffs, because at least in one of the leagues, there’s restored faith that October can be just. The Chicago Cubs were very obviously the best team. They get to keep playing another handful of ballgames.
The Cleveland Indians have two sluggers on their roster. Mike Napoli and Carlos Santana each hit 34 home runs in the regular season. They did so while splitting time between the first base and designated hitter positions, which will pose a problem come the middle three games of the World Series. Unless Cleveland gets creative — and bold — one of them will be out of the lineup.
Given the importance of their bats, Terry Francona may want to find a way to make it happen. As Paul Swydan pointed out on Thursday, this was The Lowest-Scoring ALCS in History. Furthermore, the Cubs turn batted balls into outs better than anyone. It’s not easy to string together hits against best defensive team in baseball.
The Indians have scored 27 runs so far this postseason, and 15 of them have come via the long ball. Napoli and Santana have combined to hit just three of the club’s 11 home runs, but they remain the biggest power threats. There is also on-base to consider. The duo finished one-two on the team in walk rate during the regular season, and Santana’s .366 OBP was bettered only by Tyler Naquin’s .372. Napoli has eight seasons of postseason experience and is the de facto team captain.
How to get both in the lineup when the Series shifts to Wrigley Field? Read the rest of this entry »
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.
Read the rest of this entry »
Eric Longenhagen is publishing brief, informal notes from his looks at the prospects of the Arizona Fall League and, for the moment, the Fall Instructional League. Find all editions here.
Braves 2B Travis Demeritte has looked tremendous at second base this fall. Not only has he made several acrobatic plays but he’s handled some bad hops and sucked up errant throws on steal attempts as well. While his hands remain somewhat rough, Demeritte’s range and athleticism have forced me to reckon with the idea of plus-plus defense at second base — as well as to remember if I’ve ever put a 7 on a second baseman’s glove before. I don’t think I have, and I suppose it’s worth asking if such a thing even exists, as one might wonder why a 70 or 80 glove at second base couldn’t play shortstop in some capacity. I think the right concoction of skills (chiefly, great range and actions but a poor arm) can churn out a plus-plus defender there. I’d cite Ian Kinsler, Brandon Phillips and Dustin Pedroia, and Chase Utley as examples from the last eight or 10 years. It’d be aggressive to put a future 7 on Demeritte’s glove right now because his hands and arm accuracy are too inconsistent, but those are things that could be polished up with time.
Tigers RHP Spencer Turnbull was up to 94 and mixed in five different pitches last night. Nothing was plus and Turnbull doesn’t have especially good command but I liked how he and Brewers C Jake Nottingham sequenced hitters and how to and that Turnbull was willing to pitch backwards and give hitters different looks each at-bat. He and Rays RHP Brent Honeywell have the deepest repertoires I’ve seen so far in Fall League.
Giants righty Chris Stratton sat 89-92 last night with an average mid-80s slider that is good enough to miss bats if he locates it, and last night he did. I think the changeup is average, as well, while Stratton’s curveball is a tick below but a useful change of pace early in counts. He looks like a back-end starter.
Quite a few defenders got to air it out last night. Here are some grades I put on guys’ arms:
Dawel Lugo, 3B, ARI: 6
Miguel Andujar, 3B, NYY: 6
Pat Valaika, INF, COL: 5
Gavin Cecchini, INF, NYM: 45
Christin Stewart, OF, DET: 4
Angels CF Michael Hermosillo, who was committed to Illinois to play running back before signing with Anaheim after the 2013 draft, displayed tremendous range in center field last night. He looks erratic at the plate but he hit well at Burlington and Inland Empire this year and is an obvious late-bloomer follow as a two-sport prospect from a cold weather state.
Last night, Jon Lester took the mound for the Cubs, and for most of the game, the conversation was about he can’t do: hold runners on. The Dodgers danced and pranced off first base, taking leads they wouldn’t take against any pitcher, and daring him to throw over to first base. But you know what the Dodgers didn’t do against Jon Lester? Score runs.
Okay, fine, they got one, but for most of the night, Lester just shut the Dodgers offense down. Because that’s just what he does in October.
You know about Madison Bumgarner‘s postseason dominance by now; that’s a well-told story at this point. So, just for fun, here’s a table of some numbers that might surprise you.
Lester has been basically identical to Bumgarner in the postseason, once you account for the league and run environment differences of their postseason opportunities. Even their underlying numbers are almost identical across the board. Lester, though, has now been this dominant in 17 extra playoff innings, so you could argue that his October resume is actually even more impressive.
For all the talk about the Giants ace as the dominant postseason hurler of his time, Lester is in that conversation ,too. And after another great outing last night, he’s one of the big reasons the Cubs are now one win away from the World Series.
It seems a bit silly to write a piece extolling the virtues of starting pitching in the playoffs. Everyone knows starting pitching is important. Those guys pitch three times as many innings during the regular season as their relief counterparts. They win almost all the Cy Young awards — and sometimes MVPs, as well. The narrative this postseason, however, has seen the importance of starters take a back seat to a collection of guys who — either because they’ve lacked the ability to pitch every five days or, otherwise, proved unable to turn over a lineup — have been subsequently moved to the bullpen. Relievers are great — and they’re obviously exerting a tremendous influence on the current postseason — but the starting pitcher’s impact on a game is still great, no matter how early the bullpen comes in to save the day and earn our praise.
Earlier this week, Dave Cameron discussed how bullpen usage was killing offenses this postseason. Teams were shaving off more than an out per game from the starters, who were averaging a little over five innings per start. Going to good relievers earlier and avoiding pitching fatigued starters without having to use the typical below-average long man has kept offense down. On the other hand, five innings of work still represents more than half the outs in a baseball game and it’s the starters who are recording those outs.
This postseason has featured plenty of interesting baseball with all sorts of compelling performances. Without diminishing Javy Baez‘s tags or Clayton Kershaw’s brilliance, it’s probably fair to say that the two main storylines have concerned bullpen usage and the impact of replay. Perhaps we’ve reached a bullpen tipping point, but it seems almost certain that this postseason will lead the league to revise exactly how replay is applied to split-second base detachments.
While most people have latched onto these stories, I’ve had my eye on something different. The Cubs and Dodgers both carried three catchers for at least one series and have both used three catchers in a single game during these playoffs. Admittedly, this is a less important and obvious development than bullpen changes and replay controversies, but it sets up a discussion I’ve been wanting to have about a potential rule change.
: Well geez everybody
: Let’s Friday baseball chat
: Hello, friend!
: Hello friend
: Jon Lester is so weird!
: In entirely unusual ways he has to be the most awesome player in baseball to overanalyze
Free agency begins five days after the end of the World Series. As in other recent offseasons, FanGraphs is once again facilitating this offseason a contract-crowdsourcing project, the idea being to harness the wisdom of the crowds to the end of better understanding the giant and large 2016-17 free-agent market.
Below are links to the final six ballots for this year’s free agents, including all relief pitchers.
Other Players: Pedro Alvarez / Erick Aybar / Jose Bautista / Carlos Beltran / Joe Blanton / Billy Butler / Andrew Cashner / Santiago Casilla / Brett Cecil / Aroldis Chapman / Bartolo Colon / Rajai Davis / Ian Desmond / R.A. Dickey / Edwin Encarnacion / Doug Fister / Dexter Fowler / Carlos Gomez / Jeremy Hellickson / Rich Hill / Greg Holland / Matt Holliday / Austin Jackson / Jon Jay / Matt Joyce / Colby Lewis / Brandon Moss / Mike Napoli / Ivan Nova / Angel Pagan / Steve Pearce / Wilson Ramos / Colby Rasmus / Josh Reddick / Michael Saunders / Kurt Suzuki / Mark Trumbo / Justin Turner / Chase Utley / Luis Valbuena / Edinson Volquez / Neil Walker / Matt Wieters / C.J. Wilson.
Kenley Jansen (Profile)
Some relevant information regarding Jansen:
*That is, a roughly average number of innings for a starting pitcher.
**Prorated version of final updated 2016 depth-chart projections available here.
Jeff Sullivan wrote a post this morning about Jon Lester and the running game. He mentioned that I’d also be writing a post about Jon Lester and the running game, but with a greater emphasis on the numbers side of it. This is that post.
Before we get to the actual numbers, a note about Jon Lester himself. In a way, for much of his career, Lester almost been consistent to a fault. To the point where his greatness borders on boring, or forgettable. In nine years since taking on a full workload, he’s made between 31 and 33 starts in each season, always 191 and 219 innings. He had a three-year run of his ERA- being 71, then 73, then 75, and four of his nine FIP- have been between 73-76. His fastball has sat between 91.8 and 93.5 miles per hour — right at or below average — in each of those nine years. Lester’s had his two best seasons by ERA in the last three years, but even then, his FIP- figures have read: 75, 75, 82. Just consistent ol’ Jon Lester. Nothing remarkable here.
And yet, somehow, the longer Lester remains consistent, the more we realize he’s one of the most fascinating and unique specimens in the game. We realize he simply refuses to attempt a pickoff throw to first base, and that’s because when he’s forced to field a ground ball and make an overhand throw to first, he just literally can’t do it. The pitcher just cannot throw. We realize that he’s maybe the worst hitter, ever, like in MLB history. And so we watch each one of his starts with amazement, as the gifted, elite athlete is unable to hide his inexplicable ineptitudes, and as the opposition just… fails to exploit them?
Give the Dodgers credit. They sure as hell tried. Kind of. At the very least, they sure as hell put put all of Lester’s bizarre quirks front and center stage in their 8-4 NLCS Game 5 loss on Thursday night. It’s just, none of it mattered.
The Dodgers wasted no time letting Lester know that they knew. This was the first pitch Lester threw:
In Game 5, the Dodgers stole two bases against Jon Lester, out of two attempts. Stretch that over, say, a 33-start season, and you’ve got a pitcher who’s given up 66 steals in 66 chances. That pitcher, we’d say, was historically bad at controlling the running game. It would be a huge, distracting problem. The Dodgers did take a little advantage of Lester, which was a part of their plan, and though in the end it wasn’t enough, it was something worth trying.
Yet the Dodgers could’ve pushed it further. And this was a topic of much discussion. The Dodgers danced around, taking incredibly, unprecedentedly aggressive leads, but still they didn’t seize every chance to put the game in motion. Even though Lester clearly has the yips, and everyone knows it, Dodger baserunners still exercised some amount of caution. A seventh-inning screenshot I took will stick with me:
You — you might remember Enrique Hernandez.
To be clear, there are three postings here.
Read the rest of this entry »
Hello! Do you like baseball posts about how the playoffs are different? You have come to one of the right places.
Let’s go over some easy stuff. The playoffs, just by being what they are, select for the best baseball teams. Playoff rosters are selective for the best hitters, and they’re also selective for the best pitchers. Because of the nature of the series, and with all the off days, you see bullpens used more aggressively. We wrote about that yesterday, and everyone has written about that on every day, for the past few weeks. The Indians are in the World Series, and they mostly have their bullpen to thank, and, yeah, that’s the big story in the AL as we wait to identify the other half.
I want to talk briefly about how defense factors into this. Maybe it’ll surprise you, or maybe it won’t, but come playoff time, even batted balls themselves more often meet a negative fate. Strikeouts tend to go up, and homers tend to go down, but even when you concentrate on plays where hitters knock the ball fair, you still see things favoring run suppression.
The playoffs roll on, with subplots galore, most of them involving pitching-staff usage patterns that are long overdue. Meanwhile, let’s conclude our two-part series examining macro team BIP data for the 10 playoff teams, broken down by exit speed and launch angles. (Read the Part 1 here.) We’ll examine what made these teams tick during the regular season and allowed them to play meaningful October baseball. It’s more or less a DNA analysis of the clubs that made it to the game’s second season.
First, some ground rules. For each club, all offensive and defensive batted balls were broken down (first) by type and (second) by exit speed. Not all batted balls generated exit speed and/or launch angle data; just over 14% were unread, most of them weakly hit balls at very high or low launch angles. How do we know this? Well, hitters batted .161 AVG-.213 SLG on them, a pretty strong clue.
BIP types do not strictly match up with FanGraphs classifications. For purposes of this exercise, any batted ball with a launch angle of over 50 degrees is considered a pop up, between 20 and 50 degrees is a fly ball, between 5 and 20 degrees is a line drive, and below 5 degrees is a ground ball. For background purposes, here are the outcomes by major-league hitters for each of those BIP types: .019 AVG-.027 SLG on pop ups (5.7% of measured BIP), .326 AVG-.887 SLG on fly balls (30.9%), .658 AVG-.870 SLG on liners (24.4%) and .238 AVG-.260 SLG on grounders (39.1%).
As you might expect, there are massive differences in production within BIP types based on relative exit speed. If you hit a fly ball over 100 mph, you’re golden, batting .766 AVG-2.739 SLG. If you drag that category’s lower boundary down just 5 mph, however, you get to the top of the donut hole, where fly balls go to die. Hitters batted just .114 AVG-.209 SLG on fly balls between 75-95 mph. All other fly balls — yes, even including those hit under 75 mph — fared much better, generating .387 AVG-.786 production.
Line drives tend to be base hits at almost all exit speeds. All the way down to 75 mph, hitters bat over .600 on batted balls in the line-drive launch-angle ranges; down to 65 mph, hitters still bat around .400 range in each velocity bucket. At 65 mph and higher, a liner generates an average .673 AVG-.889 SLG line. Under 65 mph, liners tend to land in infielders’ gloves; hitters batted just .170 AVG-.194 SLG on those. On the ground, hitters batted a strong .423 AVG-.456 SLG on grounders hit at 100 mph or higher. Under 85 mph, however, the hits dry up almost totally, with hitters producing a .107 AVG and .117 SLG. Between 85-100 mph, hitters bat closer to the overall grounder norm, at .267 AVG-.294 SLG.
With that as a backdrop, let’s conclude our look at each playoff club’s offensive and defensive BIP profiles. Last time, we profiled the Orioles, Red Sox, Cubs, Indians and Dodgers; today, we’ll look at the other five, in alphabetical order:
New York Mets
Two of the 10 playoff teams played well over their true talent this season, at least based on my BIP-centric method of team evaluation. Both will be covered today. First, the Mets hit significantly more pop ups than their opponents (+69), not including untracked ones in that 14% “null” group. On the positive side, the Mets hit 160 more fly balls than their opponents; they were a whopping +86 vis-à-vis their opponents in the 95-105 mph buckets. This explains why they hit 66 more homers than their opponents.
The 2016 Blue Jays are finished, having been killed off by a playoff-specific mutation of a pitching staff. If it’s any consolation, 97% of all baseball team-seasons end with some sort of disappointment. But seasons end abruptly, even the good ones, and the focus has already shifted. The 2016 Blue Jays aren’t really to be discussed anymore. From this point forward, it’s all about the 2017 Blue Jays, and beyond.
There’s no possible way you’ve missed that this is going to be a challenging offseason. The resurgent Blue Jays in large part built their identity around Josh Donaldson, Jose Bautista, and Edwin Encarnacion. Two of those players are about to become free agents, and both of them are likely to leave. It’s hard to picture the Blue Jays without them, and it’s a hell of a lot less fun to picture the Blue Jays without them. The Jays were pure baseball entertainment, and Bautista and Encarnacion became area icons.
With them probably gone, it makes you wonder if the Jays should rebuild. The roster isn’t particularly young, and earlier today Dave laid out the argument for why the Blue Jays should take an intentional step back. I’m here to argue *not* for that. Dave and I didn’t set out to do this on purpose, but it just so happened that we have differing perspectives. You can choose to go along with whichever one you prefer.