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


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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The 2016 Single-Game Pitching Belt: Kershaw vs. Velasquez

Earlier this week, we again utilized granular batted-ball data to determine whether Vince Velasquez could hold onto the championship belt for the best single-game pitching performance of the season. He did so, beating out Max Scherzer‘s 20-strikeout performance. To this point, we’ve also matched the Phils’ righthander against Jaime Garcia‘s one-hitter and Jake Arrieta‘s no-hitter.

When one is discussing pitching excellence, it’s only a matter of time before Clayton Kershaw enters the discussion. Today, let’s match up Velasquez’16 K, 0 BB vanquishing of the Padres on April 14 to, well, Kershaw’s entire body of 2016 work.

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Matt Carpenter Has Taken the First Pitch of Every Game

Something interesting caught my eye this morning while doing the research for my post on Alcides Escobar‘s first-pitch swing tendencies: Matt Carpenter has led off 42 times for the Cardinals this year, and in those 42 leadoff starts, he has not yet swung at a single first pitch to begin the game. Forty-two first pitches, forty-two takes.

Carpenter

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Xander Bogaerts Is Putting the Pieces Together

For a while there, it seemed like the healthy version of Troy Tulowitzki was the best shortstop in baseball. That’s the guy the Blue Jays wanted to trade for, but Tulowitzki has entered a decline period, vacating the positional throne. And now things are kind of complicated. It doesn’t actually matter in any real way who you rank No. 1, among shortstops, but there’s plenty of competition. Last summer, I wondered aloud if Carlos Correa was already deserving of the label. More recently, August suggested it could be Francisco Lindor. There’s probably an argument for Brandon Crawford. There’s definitely an argument for Manny Machado, if you consider him a shortstop. Young shortstop talent is seemingly everywhere, but in Boston, now Xander Bogaerts is making his case. He’s doing so by blending all of his skills.

For Bogaerts, in one way, it hasn’t been smooth. That dreadful slump in 2014 raised several legitimate questions about his future. In another way, this was how it was always going to go. Rookie Bogaerts showed some skills. Sophomore Bogaerts showed different skills. Now the skillsets are being combined, and pitchers are running low on ways to get Bogaerts out.

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Job Posting: LA Angels Assistant Baseball Systems Developer

Position: LA Angels Assistant Baseball Systems Developer

Location: Anaheim

Description:

The Assistant Baseball Systems Developer will help build and maintain application and database systems to assist in the decision making process of the Baseball Operations Department.

Responsibilities:

  • Work with the current development to team to help design, develop, improve, and maintain new and existing applications and data systems.
  • Develop web-based applications displaying data at multiple levels of detail.
  • Design ad hoc SQL queries to facilitate baseball operations.
  • Implement and optimize advanced algorithms for player projection from software prototypes.
  • Continually work with baseball operations staff to identify features and areas of improvement within the player information system to facilitate a user-friendly research tool.
  • Integrate new information sources and multimedia displays into player information and tracking system.
  • Communicate results to appropriate staff members through presentations, written reports, and tools.
  • Other duties as assigned by members of the Baseball Operations Department.

Qualifications:

  • Experience with at least one object oriented programming language, preferably C# or Python.
  • Familiarity with SQL querying and database design principles (experience with Microsoft SQL Server a plus).
  • Comfortable with modern web development technologies including HTML5, CSS, and JavaScript.
  • Knowledge of the software development lifecycle and industry best practices.
  • Working familiarity with advanced statistical concepts, particularly those relevant to sabermetric player projection techniques that include experience implementing statistical calculations, derivations, and graphical representations into software applications.
  • Bachelor’s degree in Computer Science, Information Systems, or related field from a four-year college or university or equivalent work experience.

To Apply:
Please apply here.


Scouting Julio Urias, Dodger Phenom

The Dodgers announced today that teenage LHP Julio Urias will be called up to make his major-league debut on Friday in New York against the defending National League champion Mets. His statistics in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League this year have been cartoonish. In eight appearances, Urias has thrown 41 innings, allowed 24 hits, 8 walks, and accrued 44 strikeouts. He sports a 1.10 ERA and a 0.78 WHIP — versus the PCL averages of 4.36 and 1.40, respectively. All of it at the age of 19, a full eight years younger than the average Pacific Coast Leaguer.

When he debuts on Friday, Urias will be the youngest player in Major League Baseball and the first pitcher to debut as a teenager since Madison Bumgarner in 2009. Not bad for a kid whom the Dodgers discovered in the Mexican League (and later signed for $450,000) on the back end of a scouting trip that also netted them Yasiel Puig.

Urias’ repertoire and usage thereof is advanced. His fastball is plus and will sit 91-95 while touching 97. However, it can be fairly straight, and even features some natural cut at times, but Urias generally commands it down or below the zone and to both sides of the plate. He generates lots of ground balls when he’s not catching hitters looking on the corners or blowing away the ones who struggle with velocity. The heater is complemented by a plus low-80s curveball and an 82-85 mph changeup that is consistently above average. Urias’ usage of his repertoire is just as (if not more) impressive than his pure stuff. You’ll see him back door and back foot the curveball to right-handed hitters, pitch backwards with it to lefties and rarely leave a secondary pitch hanging in a place where it can be punished.

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FanGraphs Summer Tour With Pitch Talks

Last month, I mentioned that we were going to be partnering up with the Pitch Talks guys, and would be helping with their efforts to bring the fantastic baseball speaker series to the U.S. this summer. Today, we’re excited to announce what the summer tour is going to look like.

Pitch-FanTour-fb

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2016 Draft: Kyle Lewis Swings Way to Top-Five Consideration

After a breakthrough summer in the Cape Cod League, Mercer outfielder Kyle Lewis entered the spring as a potential first-round pick and has managed to dramatically improve his stock over the course of the season. He’s among the country’s leading hitters with a .411/.545/.729 line, 17 homers and 61 walks against 43 strikeouts at the time of this publication, numbers that helped him win the Southern Conference Player of the Year Award for the second straight season. With elite performance to back up five-tool promise and one of the best swings in the class, he’s in the conversation to be one of the first five players off the draft board.

I saw Lewis this past weekend when the Bears traveled to North Carolina for their regular-season series finale at UNC-Greensboro. The video below offers two angles from batting practice and a couple throws from center field, concluding with his first three plate appearances of the series. Other draft follows from this series get their own blurbs at the end.

Physical Description

Playing in the Southern Conference, Lewis looks pretty different from everyone else on the field. He’s listed at 6-foot-4, 210 pounds, and features a high-waisted, athletic build that should add another 15 pounds or so. He shows fast-twitch ability in all phases, coupling athletic movements in the box with fluid actions in the field.

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Esky Magic Has Worn Off

This is a follow-up post that could practically write itself. Last year, the Kansas City Royals won the World Series in spite of (because of?) weak-hitting shortstop Alcides Escobar leading off each and every game and almost always swinging at the first pitch, even when the opposition was nearly certain it was coming. It became a thing. Broadcasters talked about it every game, we all laughed about it on Twitter, and the Royals rallied around the idea that they’d win as long as Escobar went after that first pitch. He kept doing it, and they kept winning, and I honestly believe that plenty of rational people (myself included, I think) legitimately began questioning whether magic — specifically, Esky Magic — might be real.

And as long as Escobar (inexplicably?) continued to lead off for the Royals this season, his first-pitch tendencies would be worth a review at some point in the year. Escobar has continued to lead off, and so his first-pitch tendencies are worth a review at some point in the year. This is that point.

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Eno Sarris Baseball Chat — 5/26/16

1:34
Eno Sarris: Be here shortly. Also, shuddleywap.
12:01
Oliver: URIAS TIME BABY
12:02
Eno Sarris: Yes. Supposedly very polished. But I had a question about dropping Ryan Madson for him, I wouldn’t do that.
12:02
Oliver: Think after Caminero “rehabs his quad injury” he can get things back on track?
12:02
Eno Sarris: Would take a bit to get back into setup, he’s droppable even in holds leagues.
12:03
Friend: Joey Gallo got called up to….sit the bench? WHY?!?!?

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Dodgers Calling Up Elite Prospect Julio Urias

On Friday night, the Dodgers were set to start LHP Alex Wood against the Mets in New York, but he has been scratched due to tightness in his triceps. To replace Wood, LA is calling up 19 year old sensation Julio Urias to make his big league debut.

To say Urias has earned the promotion would be an understatement. Just 19, even making it to Triple-A is an accomplishment, and for most pitchers in the PCL, the goal is to just not suck too badly. For instance, two years ago, a 21 year old Noah Syndergaard ran a 4.60 ERA/3.70 FIP, as he controlled the strike zone but got torched for a .389 BABIP, thanks to the fun-sized ballparks and offensive environments that make the league a hitter’s haven.

Urias, though, is running a 1.10 ERA/2.89 FIP in his first 41 innings in the PCL, and four of the five runs he’s allowed came in one appearance, back on April 16th. He allowed the fifth run in his next outing on April 22nd, a five inning affair where he gave up just two hits, walked one, and struck out eight. He’s pitched in five games since then, and posted the following line.

26 IP, 13 H, 0 R, 6 BB, 24 K.

In the toughest environment for a pitcher in baseball, Urias is destroying the competition. As a 19 year old.

So tomorrow, we’ll get to see how ready he is to get big leaguers out. His initial test, pitching against the defending NL champs in Citi Field, is not an easy one, but Urias has been dominating hitters in less-than-friendly environments all year. There is always a tremendous amount of uncertainty when it comes to projecting pitching prospects making the leap to the big leagues, but with Urias doing what he did to Triple-A batters this year, it was time to see how well he’ll handle the transition.

Steamer’s already sold on Urias, projecting him for a 3.43 ERA/3.58 FIP over the rest of the season, which would work out to put him on a pace for +3 WAR if he were to pitch a full season’s worth of innings. Whether the teenager can live up to those lofty projections and the hype that surrounds him is something we’re all about to find out.


NERD Game Scores for Thursday, May 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
Miami at Tampa Bay | 13:10 ET
Fernandez (53.2 IP, 66 xFIP-) vs. Smyly (56.0 IP, 91 xFIP-)
Having read no fewer than two or maybe one popular-science books on the subject of human cognition, the present author is prepared to state unequivocally that a central feature of the brain is its tireless search for patterns — and tendency to extract meaning from mere coincidence. As a product of those traits, one might reasonably expect the human brain to regard these numbers with some interest:

Jose Fernandez , 2015 vs 2016
Season GS TBF IP xFIP- FIP- ERA- WAR WAR200
2015 11 265 64.2 68 60 75 2.1 6.5
2016 9 217 53.2 66 62 75 1.7 6.4
WAR200 denotes WAR prorated to 200 innings.

Those are the the 2015 and 2016 seasons of Jose Fernandez. What one observes are the similarities between certain of the right-hander’s index stats from one season to the next. Nearly identical adjusted xFIP marks, for example. And nearly identical (and lower) adjusted FIP marks. And actually identical (and slightly higher) adjusted ERA marks. Of course, the figures aren’t entirely random; they have, for example, been produced by the same pitcher. Nevertheless, the symmetry of the data is unusual. The brain is stirred! Or, at least: maybe the brain is stirred!

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