NERD Game Scores for September 25, 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
St. Louis at Chicago NL | 20:08 ET
Martinez (182.1 IP, 94 xFIP-) vs. Lester (191.0 IP, 84 xFIP-)
The point of this daily exercise is, pretty immediately, to identify that game or those games which are most likely to facilitate joy for the spectator. There are occasions, however, on which one is less inclined to seek out that sort of joy. The news of Jose Fernandez‘s death early this morning would appear to represent one of those times. That said, it’s difficult to provide a full-throated endorsement of any game. For one so inclined to observe a contest of some consequence, however, this one is probably it. The Cardinals possess nearly even odds of qualifying for a wild-card berth. The pitching matchup is also quite strong.

Readers’ Preferred Broadcast: Chicago NL Television.

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José Fernández Was a Joy

José Fernández died in a boating accident early this morning. He was a lot of things to a lot of people. First and foremost, he was Cuban. Cuban baseball players turn up frequently enough in the United States that we sort of discount how hard it must be for them to get here, from the island. We should not do that, as it is extraordinarily difficult. It is a journey that most people born in this country likely have no way of comprehending, and so we don’t try to. But Fernandez’s journey started there.

José Fernández was a prisoner. After his stepfather succeeded on his 14th try to defect from Cuba, he would eventually earn enough money for Fernández and his mother to try. Caught, Fernández would spend time in a Cuban jail among murderers, his only crime trying to leave Cuba, to pursue a better life. As a 14-year-old. From a 2013 profile by Grantland’s Jordan Ritter Conn:

He doesn’t ever want to think about the food again — “I have no idea how I would even describe it in English,” he says, “but believe me, you don’t want to know.” He tries not to remember all those bodies cramped into so little space. And he doesn’t let his mind dwell on the inmate killings. “To them, their lives were already over,” Fernández says. “What did it matter to them if they killed you? That’s just one more murder.”

José Fernández was a son. When he finally successfully did escape the undercover Cuban agents and police whose job it is to turn back defectors, his journey was just beginning. Again, from Ritter Conn:

And then he remembers the splash. He heard it one night while he was making small talk with the captain. After the splash, he heard the screams. A wave had crashed over the boat’s deck and swept Fernández’s mother out to sea. He saw her body and before he had time to think, he jumped in. A spotlight shone on the water, and Fernández could make out his mother thrashing in the waves about 60 feet from the boat. She could swim, but just barely, and as Fernández pushed his way toward her, he spat out salty water with almost every stroke. Waves — “stupid big,” he says — lifted him to the sky, then dropped him back down. When he reached his mother he told her, “Grab my back, but don’t push me down. Let’s go slow, and we’ll make it.” She held his left shoulder. With his right arm — his pitching arm — he paddled. Fifteen minutes later, they reached the boat. A rope dropped, and they climbed aboard. For now, at least, they were going to be OK.

José Fernández was going to be a father. As Emma Baccellieri noted over at Deadspin this morning, Fernández had announced to the world not even a week ago that his girlfriend was expecting. Now, that child will grow up without his or her biological father.

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Sunday Notes: Dickerson, Velo Bias, Melancon in DC, more

Corey Dickerson’s numbers with the Tampa Bay Rays aren’t as good as they were last year with the Colorado Rockies. That’s not surprising. Coors Field is an extreme hitter’s park and Tropicana Field leans pitcher.

For Dickerson — acquired over the offseason in a trade for Jake McGee — his new ballpark hasn’t simply leaned. It’s tilted precipitately. The lefty-swinger is slashing a robust .280/.313/.576 on the road, but only .205/.262/.367 at home. Only seven of his 23 home runs have come at The Trop.

There is also a chasm in his positional splits. In a close to identical number of plate appearances, Dickerson is hitting a healthy .278/.325/.511 as a left fielder, but only .216/.262/.457 as a designated hitter. Paired with the pressure of wanting to thrive in his new environs, the unfamiliar role proved burdensome.

“It was tough at first,” admitted Dickerson, who downplays his change of venues. “I was DHing a lot, which is something I wasn’t used to. You have all this time between at bats, and what happened is that I started critiquing every at bat. You have expectations for yourself, and because I wasn’t having success, I was trying to change. I was trying to be perfect, and this game isn’t perfect.” Read the rest of this entry »

The Worst Called Ball On Record

Last Monday, in what was a pretty critical game against the Mariners, Josh Donaldson got ejected in the seventh inning. Officially, he was ejected for arguing balls and strikes, but, unofficially, he was ejected for being a jerk. During his seventh inning at-bat, Donaldson tried to check a swing, and he disagreed with the determination that he didn’t check it enough. A couple pitches later, Donaldson was called out on a pitch that was probably below the zone. That was too much, and Donaldson expressed himself, and that was that. Donaldson wasn’t likely to hit again, so the ejection didn’t mean much, but he felt like he was getting screwed. Josh Donaldson belligerently wondered aloud why he couldn’t catch a break.

If only he knew then what he might know now. I don’t want to say that Donaldson deserved a break. A grown man needs to be able to control himself. But borderline calls are luck, and given enough time, luck will even out. Several days ago, Josh Donaldson felt like he was unfairly struck out. Friday night in Toronto, Donaldson was in the box for the very worst called ball of the entire PITCHf/x era.

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NERD Game Scores for September 24, 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
Arizona at Baltimore | 19:05 ET
Ray (166.0 IP, 80 xFIP-) vs. Miley (151.1 IP, 100 xFIP-)
Baltimore’s postseason odds have remained between 25 and 75% — which is to say, closer than not to 50% — since basically the beginning of the season, as the following graph illustrates.


As that graph also illustrates, Baltimore’s postseason odds remain in the 25-75% range today — in no small part due to an extra-inning victory on Friday that allowed them to stay on pace with a Detroit club that currently occupies the second wild-card spot. Detroit and, in the National League, the St. Louis Cardinals also play games of considerable import today.

Readers’ Preferred Broadcast: Baltimore Television.

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The Best of FanGraphs: September 19-23, 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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Chase Utley Hustles for History

Rewinding the clock roughly 11 months, we’d find Chase Utley in a very different place. He had just completed a .212/.286/.343 season that led to 423 plate appearances of replacement-level value. He was the subject of significant (justified) criticism for tackling Ruben Tejada and breaking his leg during the NLDS. Then 36, Utley was staring into the twilight of his career and it didn’t look like there were a lot of great days left.

Utley is a borderline Hall of Famer, delivering five Cooperstown-level peak seasons from 2005 to -09 and then five more well above-average seasons from 2010 to -14. His problem has always been that a good portion of his value has been tied up in defense and base-running. Given his slightly late debut, accumulating the sort of counting stats one often requires to earn 75% of the vote is probably out of reach. He’s not a slam-dunk case, but from an objective statistical sense, he’s worthy of consideration.

Players of Utley’s caliber often need a narrative to lift them over the last hurdles of a Hall of Fame candidacy. Unfortunately for Utley, it looks like his final notable act is might be having injured another player and ushering in a rule named for his transgression. Perhaps he’ll carry the Dodgers to a World Series this October, but if he doesn’t, might I suggest one final argument in favor of Mr. Utley’s election. Chase Utley is a week away from joining one of baseball’s most exclusive clubs.

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A Dialogue on the Urgent Matter of Jharel Cotton’s Cutter

In light of Oakland right-hander Jharel Cotton‘s minor-league success, his major-league success (which includes a 1.50 ERA over three starts) isn’t an entirely surprising development. More surprising, perhaps, is how he’s achieved that success — less by means of his celebrated changeup and more by means of his barely-ever-mentioned-once cut fastball.

Curious as to what might explain this development — and curious, generally, about what constitutes a successful cutter — I contacted pitch-type enthusiast and mostly tolerable colleague Eno Sarris. What follows is the product of our correspondence. The author’s questions appear in bold, Sarris’s in normally weighted typeface.


Because I’m not the foremost expert on anything, Eno — except perhaps the length and breadth of my own personal weakness — I’m also not an expert on Jharel Cotton. That said, it’s probably also fair to say that I’ve followed him with some interest. He finished atop the Fringe Five leaderboard last year (tied with Matt Boyd and Sherman Johnson). He finished among the top 10 on that same arbitrarily calculated scoreboard this year, too.

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“Pitch” Pilot: The Right Woman for the Job

“Pitch”, FOX’s new hour-long drama, premiered last night. It was a strong first episode, both dramatic and entertaining. It presents a likable yet complex protagonist in Ginny Baker (played by actress Kylie Bunbury), while also introducing us to a supporting cast that has the potential to be compelling.

What follows is a recap of the show. As such, there are spoilers below, so consider yourself warned if you haven’t set seen the first episode.

We join Ginny as she’s getting ready to head to Petco Park for her major-league debut. A 23-year-old right-handed screwball pitcher who’s been in the Padres organization for five years, she is laser focused on mentally preparing for her spot start, uninterested in any outside distractions. Accompanied by her agent, Amelia Slater (Ali Larter) and social-media manager, Eliot (Tim Jo), she’s greeted by throngs of excited fans waiting for her outside of the ballpark.

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Jeff Sullivan FanGraphs Chat — 9/23/16

Jeff Sullivan: Hello friends

Jeff Sullivan: Welcome to Friday baseball chat

Jeff Sullivan: Beginning on time for the second week in a row, for the *first* time in probably history?

Spooks: This has been said in the past, but since I’m still holding on to a sliver of hope for the Mariners wild card, does Felix get the ball?

Jeff Sullivan: This is actually a really interesting question. Felix almost certainly isn’t the best starter on the team, not at this point. So you have to try to figure out the value of sentimentality, of trying to tell a story. Is there any sort of greater meaning to giving Felix the ball? Does it matter? How close is the balance between rooting for players and rooting for teams?

Dustin: Who farted more in the car, you or Cameron?

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Weak Contact and the American League Cy Young Race

Over in the National League, differing philosophical differences could shape the voting for the Cy Young award. Unless voters choose to embrace a closer like Zach Britton or look at only wins, however, we don’t have the same type of arguments over which to rage in the American League. In the AL, for example, there’s no pitcher with a massive, Kyle Hendricks-like difference in ERA and FIP. There’s no Clayton Kershaw-size innings gap between most of the contenders. Rather, the AL offers a large group of deserving candidates. To decipher which candidate is the most deserving, we’re going to have to split hairs. Let’s start splitting by discussing weak contact and its role in the candidates success.

To determine potential candidates for the Cy Young, just as I did for the National League, I looked at those in the top 10 of both RA/9-WAR as well as the WAR used on this site. If the pitcher appears among both groups, he’s included below. I also included J.A. Happ because he has a lot of pitching wins, and whether you agree or disagree with the value of a pitching win (I honestly had no idea Happ had 20 wins before beginning to write this, if you want to know the value this author places on them), some voters will consider them, so he’s on the list. A few relevant stats, sorted by WAR:

American League Cy Young Candidates
Team ERA AL Rank FIP AL Rank WAR
Corey Kluber 3.11 3 3.19 1 5.2
Chris Sale 3.23 7 3.38 3 5.2
Rick Porcello 3.08 2 3.44 4 4.7
Masahiro Tanaka 3.07 1 3.50 5 4.7
Jose Quintana 3.26 8 3.52 7 4.6
Justin Verlander 3.22 6 3.61 10 4.4
Aaron Sanchez 3.12 4 3.57 9 3.6
J.A. Happ 3.28 9 3.92 17 3.1

Those top four candidates seem to have the most compelling cases. Of those candidates, only Sale doesn’t appear among the top five of both ERA and FIP, but he also leads the AL in innings pitched this season. Rick Porcello has presented a strong argument for his candidacy in recent weeks, Tanaka leads the league in ERA, and Kluber looks to have best combination between FIP and ERA. There probably isn’t one right way to separate these candidates, but one aspect of the season at which we can choose to take a look is the impact that weak and strong contact has made in turning batted balls into outs.

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NERD Game Scores for September 23, 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
Kansas City at Detroit | 19:10 ET
Duffy (169.2 IP, 87 xFIP-) vs. Fulmer (148.2 IP, 94 xFIP-)
For as bananas as the National League’s wild-card picture has become — featuring three clubs in a sometimes virtual, sometimes actual real tie — the American League’s version has become roughly that same number of bananas. As of this morning, five clubs continue to possess at least a 10% probability of qualifying for a berth according to this site’s methodology:

American League Wild-Card Odds, Bananas
Blue Jays 83 69 .546 1.0 88.4 73.6 .537 75.9%
Tigers 82 70 .539 0.0 87.4 74.6 .543 57.6%
Orioles 82 71 .536 -0.5 86.6 75.4 .513 33.9%
Astros 81 72 .529 -1.5 85.8 76.2 .532 16.6%
Mariners 80 72 .526 -2.0 85.5 76.5 .547 12.9%

Second-place Detroit has never possessed playoff odds much above 60% this year. A victory tonight would likely allow them to cross that particular threshold. Helping them in that endeavor is young right-hander Michael Fulmer, who either should win the Rookie of the Year or shouldn’t per Jeff Sullivan.

Readers’ Preferred Broadcast: Detroit Radio.

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How to Judge the Atlanta Braves’ Rebuild

Atlanta Braves fans are waiting for their team to be consistently good again. After winning the division handily in 2013 but losing in the NLDS, the team fired general manager Frank Wren at the end of the following year. They replaced him with a duo: president of baseball pperations John Hart and GM John Coppolella. These two combined with longtime Braves executive John Schuerholz to form the team’s new brain trust.

They began rebuilding immediately. That offseason they sent familiar faces Evan Gattis, Jason Heyward, Craig Kimbrel, Justin Upton and Melvin Upton Jr. all packing. They signed longtime Oriole Nick Markakis. Midway through 2015, the team traded Alex Wood. After the season, they dealt Andrelton Simmons and then Shelby Miller. The only notable names remaining from Wren’s time were Freddie Freeman and Julio Teheran.

Two years after the regime change, I wanted to evaluate their efforts. But first, I needed metrics. How does one evaluate a rebuild? After pondering the subject, I landed on three aspects: team run differential, time, and payroll flexibility. Below I discuss how the Braves are doing in these areas.

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The Most Extraordinary Team Statistic

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the Rangers’ success in one-run games. They actually lost by one run yesterday, but if you’ve been paying attention, that was the first time that’s happened all season, probably, and one game doesn’t upset the whole pattern. The regular season is just about done, and the Rangers have put together an incredible stat. That’s — well, it’s incredible. I don’t need to provide any other words.

It’s tricky to write about these things, and I wasn’t looking to cover this in the familiar way. We’ve all read a number of articles about what the Rangers have done. We’ve all read articles before about similar teams doing similar things. It’s boring to say “luck,” and it’s tired to say “luck,” and with the playoffs around the corner pointing toward luck is additionally irrelevant. The Rangers have done what they’ve done, and their fans have been able to enjoy it. There’s no taking any of that enjoyment back for math-y purposes.

I’ve just been amazed by how the Rangers have stood out. They’ve won 77% of their one-run games. The Yankees are in second at 69%. Then you have the Tigers at 62%. Thinking about the Rangers got me wondering: Is this the most extraordinary team statistic of the year? I’ll tell you right now: It’s not! Follow along below.

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Late-Season NL Contact-Management Update

We’re headed down the regular-season home stretch, with nearly a full campaign’s worth of data in the books. In my next two posts, we’ll measure the contact-management performance of qualifying starting pitchers in both leagues. Today, let’s look at the National League.

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Jose Abreu Is Halfway to Strikeout Bingo

Just in case you’ve missed it — Jose Abreu, earlier, was a massive disappointment. For as long as the White Sox were worth paying attention to this year, Abreu was underachieving. It was one of the critical things holding them back, as Abreu generated a first-half line that was a little worse than average. In the second half, as the White Sox have faded, Abreu’s been fantastic. That’s not to suggest there’s some sort of weird-ass inverse relationship between Abreu’s hitting and Chicago’s winning. Abreu has just found his footing again. He’s playing like an All-Star again. That should make the White Sox feel better as they turn their attention to the offseason ahead.

So, Abreu’s improved. The power is up, and he’s cut down on the whiffs. But, about some of those whiffs. It’s probably too late in the year for Abreu to pull off the full Strikeout Bingo. He’d have to really make an effort. Nevertheless, he’s gotten halfway there. It’s a notable accomplishment, if not one Abreu would want to talk about.

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Projecting Orioles Call-Up Trey Mancini

With the minor-league playoffs finished, the Baltimore Orioles summoned first-base prospect Trey Mancini from Triple-A Norfolk this week to help sure up their offense. Mancini wasted no time making an impact for the O’s, notching his first career home run in Tuesday’s game against the Red Sox. Mancini broke out in 2015 when he slashed an outstanding .331/.370/.539 between High-A and Double-A. His raw numbers regressed a bit this season as he moved to a more pitcher-friendly park, but he still managed a strong .282/.357/.458 showing, with almost all of that coming at Triple-A.

Mancini’s power is enticing. In each of the last two seasons, he’s reached the 20-homer mark and ISO’d over .175. However, some of his other attributes take away from some of that shine. Mancini’s a first baseman, meaning he’ll need to hit a bunch to have a long-term future in the bigs. He also turns 25 next spring, making him a bit old for even the Triple-A level. And perhaps most importantly, he kind of strikes out a lot — likely due in part to his long swing.

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Projecting Manny Margot and Other Padres Call-Ups

Following the end of their Triple-A affiliate’s championship season in the Pacific Coast League, the San Diego Padres promoted a small collection of players to their major-league club on Tuesday. Below are forecasts for the three most notable prospects of that group — Carlos Asuaje, Hunter Renfroe, and Manuel Margot — according to my KATOH system and presented in order of projected WAR.

Note that KATOH represents the WAR projection for the relevant player’s first six years in the majors; KATOH+ is that same thing, except with the player’s Baseball America ranking included as a variable.


Manny Margot, CF (Profile)

KATOH+: 13.6 WAR

Margot’s game centers around speed and contact. The 21-year-old struck out in just 12% of his plate appearances in Triple-A this year on his way to a .307/.355/.442 slash line. He also racked up an exciting 32 steals, while playing elite center field defense by Clay Davenport’s numbers. Margot also isn’t a zero in the power department, as he managed a respectable 46 extra-base hits in the minors this year, including seven homers. He’s one of the very best prospects in baseball by my math, and he’s big-league ready.

To help you visualize what his KATOH projection entails, here is a probability density function showing KATOH+’s projected distribution of outcomes for Margot’s first six seasons in the major leagues.


To put some faces to Margot’s statistical profile, let’s generate some statistical comps for the speedy outfielder. I calculated a weighted Mahalanobis distance between Margot’s performance this year and every Triple-A season since 1991 in which a center fielder recorded at least 400 plate appearances. In the table below, you’ll find the 10 most similar seasons, ranked from most to least similar. The WAR totals refer to each player’s first six seasons in the major leagues. A lower “Mah Dist” reading indicates a closer comp.

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Eno Sarris Baseball Chat — 9/22/16

Eno Sarris: fly this whole mess into the sea
Eno Sarris: I’m here!
Q-Ball: While I think Bryant should be NL MVP anyway, I also wonder if Seager’s chance are hurt by the fact that voters know he is getting another major award. (NL RoY). Do you think it works that way?
Eno Sarris: Yes I do think it’s that way. Shouldn’t Rick Porcello be a shoo-in for AL Comeback Player? Do you think he’ll win it?
Jimmy: Hey Eno. I’ve been reading a lot about how the Cubs should order their rotation, specifically the first 3 games. What do you think they should do?
Eno Sarris: The only thing that might matter is what parks they’re playing in and the lefty/righty situation, i.e. in which park do you play Jon Lester?

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Zach Britton on Sinkers, WPA, and the Cy Young

In October 2011, a Q&A titled Zach Britton, Oriole in Progress was published in these pages. Britton had just completed a rookie season in which he went 11-11, with a 4.61 ERA, in 28 starts. He’d thrown his signature pitch 53% of the time.

Fast forward to today. Britton is still in Baltimore, but much has changed. He became a reliever in 2014, and the results have been nothing short of spectacular. Since moving to the bullpen, the 28-year-old southpaw has appeared in 199 games and fashioned a 1.42 ERA. Relying more heavily on his power sinker — he now throws it over 90% of the time — he has the highest ground-ball rate in the game (80.8% this year). He also misses bats. Britton strikes out better than a batter per inning.

This season he’s been next to un-hittable. In 61.1 innings, Britton has allowed just 34 hits. He’s recorded a microscopic 0.59 ERA and has 45 saves in as many chances. As August Fagerstrom wrote last month — many have echoed his opinion since that time — Britton is very much in the mix for this year’s American League Cy Young award.


Britton on his pitch mix and changing roles: “There were a lot more four-seamers back [in 2011]. As a starter, you throw more pitches and mix in different things. It was probably a negative for me that I wasn’t learning how to command the sinker as much as I am now. That was really the big focus when I went to the bullpen — the command of my sinker. The results have been really good once I got that focus.

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