Mike Trout Wants Your Curveballs Now

Mike Trout is, once again, the league leader in position-player WAR, and league leaders in position-player WAR tend to do some incredible things. Trout just did an incredible thing on Monday, and we should talk about it. With two strikes, against Collin McHugh:

No, you didn’t see that wrong. Eyewitnesses are notoriously unreliable, because memories are notoriously unreliable, but the thing about eyewitnesses is that they witness things once. You can witness this as many times as you want. Loop it over and over and over again. This pitch. It went for a dinger.

trout-low-2

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Cole Hamels Got Better in the Big Leagues

When Cole Hamels arrived in the major leagues, he had a 90 mph fastball, decent command, and what would prove to be baseball’s best changeup. That’s a few bucks short of an ace, and so, in two of his first four seasons, he produced an ERA over four and maybe was looking for something.

Now, instead of having one elite pitch, the Rangers’ ace is the only starting pitcher in baseball to possess four pitches in the top ten by whiff rates (minimum 200 thrown). That’s a long way from a pitch and a half. The fixes were simple, though, and he ran me through them before a recent game with the Athletics.

The Fastball
Here’s a graph that doesn’t follow normal aging curves: Hamels’ fastball velocity. Note that he was 26 years old in 2010.

HamelsVelo

Instead of going down steadily, the curve has gone up. We could wonder why, but we don’t have to — Hamels can tell us himself. Turns out, Hamels had back problems when he came up — a herniated disc — and he finally was able to do something about it once he got a major-league contract. “I hired a chiropractor, and for the past few years, I have one that travels with me and works on me the day before the game and right after the game,” Hamels told me.

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NERD Game Scores: Lucas Giolito World Premiere

Devised originally in response to a challenge issued by sabermetric nobleman Rob Neyer, and expanded at the request of nobody, NERD scores represent an attempt to summarize in one number (and on a scale of 0-10) the likely aesthetic appeal or watchability, for the learned fan, of a player or team or game. Read more about the components of and formulae for NERD scores here.

***

Most Highly Rated Game
New York NL at Washington | 19:05 ET
Harvey (85.1 IP, 101 xFIP-) vs. Giolito (MLB Debut)
It’s probably not entirely accurate to say that tonight’s start by Lucas Giolito represents his “world” premiere. Because he’s actually pitched before, is one reason. And also because only, like, a couple million people (at most) will actually observe the event — which figure only amounts to about 0.3% of the world. On the other hand, most everything one says isn’t entirely accurate. Like, “I love you,” for example. And like, “I love you, too.”

For those interested in consuming actual substantive commentary regarding Giolito should consider reading lead prospect analyst Eric Longenhagen’s scouting report here and the results of Chris Mitchell’s computer math on Giolito here.

Readers’ Preferred Broadcast: New York NL Television.

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July 2 International Signing Period Primer

Saturday is July 2, which marks the start of the 2016-2017 International Free Agent Signing Period. Most people in the industry are now simply referring to it as “J2” because “International Free Agent Signing Period” is a bit of a mouthful and because, as one Scouting Director put it, “that’s what all the kids are calling it now.”

Much has been written here at FanGraphs and in other spaces about J2, its rules and the ways teams try to circumvent them. If you’re unfamiliar with the process and its nooks and crannies — or if you just want a refresher before diving into this week’s content — here is a summary of the basic rules and regulations:

International players who are already 16 years old, or will be by Sept. 1 of 2016 (or the applicable year), are now eligible to sign with teams unless they’re old enough (23) and have the requisite experience (five years) in a foreign professional league to be declared an open-market free agent, the way Yoenis Cespedes was and Yulieski Gourriel will be.

A given J2 period runs from July 2 through June 15 of the following year, at which point there’s a two-week moratorium on any deals before the next signing period begins. Per the current Collective Bargaining Agreement, each team receives its own bonus pool, a cap on how much money the organization can spend on players during each signing period. Pool amounts are distributed much in the same way as they are for the domestic amateur draft in June and teams’ pools are based largely on their records from the previous season, with worse teams receiving more money to spend. Teams can acquire more bonus money — up to 50% of their original pool amount — via trade.

Here is a rundown of this year’s pool amounts.

If a team spends more than their pool amount, they are taxed at 100% of the overage and, if the overage exceeds 15% of their cap, are barred from signing a player to a bonus exceeding $300,000 during the next two signing periods. If a club goes over, but not by more than 15%, they must take a one-year hiatus.

Teams that are in that “penalty box” include:

2016-2017
Dodgers, Giants, Cubs, Royals, Diamondbacks, Angels, Rays, Yankees, Red Sox and Blue Jays

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A Status Update on Nats Prospect, Future MVP Max Schrock

At the end of January, the author published unassailable evidence to the effect that — owing to certain traits he shares with SEC alumnus and current major leaguer Josh Donaldson — that Washington infield prospect Max Schrock is a strong future candidate for an MVP award.

Not unlike life itself, the author’s argument bore trace elements of the absurd. One finds, for example, that Schrock passed his junior year at the University of South Carolina as a 5-foot-8 left fielder — not a classic profile for which scouts are clamoring. Perhaps not coincidentally, Schrock wasn’t selected until the 13th round of the 2015 draft. The $500,000 bonus he eventually extracted from the Nationals compensated him more along the lines of a fourth-rounder. Despite that — and despite success in his first exposure to affiliated ball — he entered the 2016 campaign absent from all notable top-prospect lists.

The purpose of this post is to announce how Schrock, following a strong half-season at Low-A Hagerstown — for which he was rewarded with a place in the Sally League All-Star game (winning that contest’s MVP award) — has been promoted to High-A Potomac, for which club he debuted last night, batting second and playing second base (box). By those measures which suggest future success — most notably, contact and power and the capacity to provide defensive value — Schrock’s tenure in Hagerstown was encouraging. One notes, for example, that Schrock recorded the lowest strikeout rate among all qualified batters across all Low-A while also recording an isolated-power figure about 10 points higher than the SAL average. Schrock’s last month, in particular, was impressive — and rendered below in table form.

Max Schrock’s Final Month in South Atlantic League
PA K% ISO
Schrock’s Final Month 107 3.7% .179
SAL Average, 2016 21.6% .122

On the most recent edition of FanGraphs Audio, managing editor Dave Cameron made comments to the effect that contributors to this site aren’t clairvoyant — nor is it the present author’s intention to contradict that sentiment. What one finds in Max Schrock, however, and his receipt someday of baseball highest single-season honor, isn’t so much a prediction as an account of the inevitable. Future Max Schrock has already been recognized as an MVP. We’re human anachronisms, all of us, for not knowing it yet.


Scouting Earth’s Best Young Arm, Lucas Giolito

Lucas Giolito was once the 2012 draft’s odds-on first-overall selection. As he began his senior season at Harvard-Westlake, Giolito was seen as the most talented player in a draft class that included Byron Buxton and Carlos Correa. It would have made him the first and only high-school righty to be selected at 1.1 in the draft’s history. But then Giolito felt discomfort in his elbow during the first inning of an early-March start (he was up to 100 mph and had thrown a one-hitter the start before) and removed himself from the game in the second.

An MRI revealed damage to Giolito’s UCL but not so much that he would require immediate ligament reconstruction. Despite that, Giolito’s season was over and so, too, were his chances of going first overall. As the draft approached and the Astros, who possessed the first pick, shifted their focus toward Correa and other prospects (including Giolito’s teammate Max Fried), the industry wondered when and where Giolito would be selected. There wasn’t much precedent at the time for pre-draft UCL injuries and Giolito’s stock remained volatile until very late in the process. He was still being mocked within the top-five picks into late May.

The Nationals drafted Giolito 16th overall and signed him, at the deadline, for $2.925 million, exactly $800,000 over the pick’s slot value at that time and about $300,000 more than the slot’s value in 2016. Giolito threw two innings for the Nationals’ GCL team on August 14th of that year. On August 31st, Dr. Lewis Yocum fixed his elbow.

Giolito returned 10 months later, especially notable considering that effective Tommy John rehabilitations generally require 12-18 months. It has been almost exactly three years since Giolito made his first post-TJ start and his stuff has returned to pre-surgery levels.

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The Reds’ Pursuit of Historical Ignominy

Last night, Kris Bryant became the first player in Major League history to hit three home runs and two doubles in the same game. His offensive barrage was part of a five homer attack by the Cubs — Jake Arrieta and Anthony Rizzo also went yard last night — in their 11-8 win over the Reds. But while Bryant’s game was indeed spectacular, we also shouldn’t be too surprised that it came in Cincinnati, because the Reds staff is allowing dingers like no pitching staff in baseball history.

Through 77 games, the Reds have allowed 129 home runs, 23 more than any other team has allowed this season. That works out to 1.7 homers allowed per game, a pace that would shatter the all-time record for home runs allowed if the Reds were to keep serving longballs at this rate. The title of the most homer-prone pitching staff in history currently belongs to the 1996 Detroit Tigers, who allowed 241 homers, or a rate of 1.5 homers per game. They edged out the 2000 Royals, 2001 Rockies, and 1999 Rockies, all of whom were attempting to pitch during the height of baseball’s “Steroid Era”, when home run records were falling left and right.

To break the record, the Reds would have to allow 113 home runs over their remaining 85 games, a 1.3 home run per game pace that would be somewhat formidable for most pitching staffs. But for this particular group of hurlers, it’s actually not that hard to imagine them breaking the record.

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An Astros Prospect Overcomes Adversity Times Three

Ben Smith has a 21.21 ERA in three appearances for the Tri-City Valley Cats. All told, the 23-year-old southpaw has allowed 19 base-runners and 15 runs in 4.2 innings for Houston’s short-season affiliate.

There’s a lot more to his story than numbers.

Smith will be watching this week’s College World Series with interest. The school out of which he was drafted in 2014, Coastal Carolina, is a surprise participant in the championship round. Several of the Chanticleers are former teammates, and he expects to be “sneaking into the locker room a couple of times” each night to follow their fairy-tale quest for a title.

The fact that the lanky left-hander is playing baseball is a real-life success story of its own.

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Matt Carpenter and the Greatest Leadoff Seasons of All Time

In 1990, Rickey Henderson came to the plate in the leadoff spot 588 times (out of 594 total plate appearances). He hit 28 homers out of that slot, walking 95 times and striking out just 60, en route to a .326/.439/.579 line as Oakland’s No. 1 hitter. He also stole 65 bases and was caught on just 10 attempts. All told, he produced a 10.2-WAR season that has since been eclipsed by only three position players: Barry Bonds, Cal Ripken, and Mike Trout.

Henderson’s 190 wRC+ mark in 1990 has been topped by a small handful of batters in the meantime, too: Bonds a bunch of times, Jeff Bagwell Mark McGwire. Bryce Harper did it last year, and Frank Thomas did, too, in the strike-shortened 1994 season. None of them provided such production out of the leadoff spot, however. By most criteria, it’s the greatest hitting season by a leadoff batter in history.

It will likely remain the greatest season by a leadoff batter after the 2016 campaign, as well. That said, Cardinals infielder Matt Carpenter is making a strong case for second-best.

In terms of pure value at the plate, Matt Carpenter is off to a great start. Carpenter’s .300/.419/.585 line has led to a .419 wOBA and a 167 wRC+ that leads the National League and is behind only David Ortiz in all of major-league baseball*. Over the last 365 days, Carpenter’s 154 wRC+ mark sits behind only Ortiz, Trout, Josh Donaldson, Harper, and Joey Votto, and his .277 ISO is the seventh best in baseball. Continued production at that level would give him one of the greatest-hitting leadoff seasons of all time.

*Numbers current as of Monday afternoon.

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FanGraphs Audio: Dave Cameron’s Confirmation Bias

Episode 663
Dave Cameron is the managing editor of FanGraphs. During this edition of FanGraphs Audio he discusses (on the occasion of another dominant performance by Jose Fernandez at Marlins Park) the current state of research on home-field advantage; attempts to explain why the Boston Red Sox might play a 29-year-old first baseman with a limited major-league future alongside top prospects Andrew Benintendi and Yoan Moncada at their Double-A affiliate; and reveals that the authors of FanGraphs are not clairvoyant.

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 37 min play time.)

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Projecting Nationals Right-Hander Lucas Giolito

It’s raining prospects. The prospect gods gave us Brandon Nimmo and A.J. Reed over the weekend, and today we’re treated with another prospect debut: hard-throwing righty Lucas Giolito. The former first-rounder will take the hill for the Nationals in tonight’s game against the New York Mets.

Giolito pitched exclusively at the Double-A level this year, where he posted a 3.22 FIP and a 23% strikeout rate. That performance is nothing to sneeze at, especially coming from a 21-year-old, but it’s a tad underwhelming when held against his numbers from prior seasons. Giolito showed an exceptional penchant for missing bats at the low minors, but he hasn’t been quite as prolific since he was promoted to Double-A last July. He posted a 29% strikeout rate in 168 innings in A-Ball between 2014 and 2015, but saw that figure dip below 23% in his 118 Double-A innings. His walk rate also ticked up upon reaching the Double-A level.

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Matt Carpenter Is Going Full Jose Bautista

As you might remember from last year, Matt Carpenter turned himself into a different kind of hitter. He’d already been wonderfully productive, but last year, he seemingly made the decision to exchange some contact for power. So while Carpenter soared to a career-high ISO, with a career-low rate of grounders, he also notched a career-high strikeout rate, with a career-low rate of contact. It wasn’t necessarily good, and it wasn’t necessarily bad; it was interesting. Carpenter managed a 139 wRC+. Two years earlier, as more of a contact guy, he managed a 146 wRC+.

Now look at this year’s leaderboards. As I write this, David Ortiz owns the highest wRC+ among qualified hitters in the game. Carpenter, however, is right there in second, ahead of Jose Altuve and Mike Trout. And upon investigation, this has gotten silly. Carpenter has hit for more power than a year ago. He’s still putting most of his batted balls in the air. Yet Carpenter has re-gained much of his lost contact. His strikeout rate is down about six percentage points, and his walks are higher than ever. So to summarize: Carpenter traded some contact for power, but then he boosted the power and the contact, and, I don’t know, but here we are. You might think his numbers look very familiar. This is because Carpenter now resembles a left-handed prime Jose Bautista.

Matt Carpenter vs. Jose Bautista
Player Season(s) wRC+ ISO BB% K% GB/FB Pull/Oppo Swing% Pull ISO Oppo ISO
Matt Carpenter 2016 167 0.285 16% 17% 0.74 2.82 38% 0.521 0.091
Jose Bautista 2010 – 2016 154 0.282 16% 16% 0.79 2.71 39% 0.532 0.137

Bautista became Bautista in 2010. So that’s why I selected that window of time. And while Bautista, of course, has done this over several seasons, while Carpenter has done this over about half of one, look at the similarities. LOOK AT THEM. Same walks. Same strikeouts. Same power. Same batted-ball tendencies. Same pull-side preference, with limited strength the other way. One column I didn’t include: Bautista’s one weakness has been infield flies. Usually goes hand-in-hand with that sort of uppercut approach. Carpenter has two infield flies on the season. That helps to explain the wRC+ difference. I’m not saying that’ll sustain, but it’s worth a mention.

Carpenter bats lefty, and Bautista bats righty, and that’s an important difference, but it’s also maybe the only difference that really matters. Matt Carpenter just looks like Jose Bautista from the other side. Carpenter was never really supposed to develop this sort of power, but the man stands 6’3, as compared to Bautista at 6’0. It’s not like it’s come out of nowhere. This ability has been contained within, and now it’s gotten out. It’s gotten out while Carpenter has still been able to keep the strikeouts in check.

Matt Carpenter was never a Baseball America top-100 prospect. He was never a BA top-10 Cardinals prospect. Nevertheless, he developed into an elite contact hitter, and now it looks like he’s developing into an elite power hitter. This is by no means a shot at BA. Rather, it’s a reminder that prospecting is difficult work. Sometimes an underrated prospect becomes a great player. Sometimes an underrated prospect becomes two great players.


No, But Seriously, Check Out Bud Norris

It’s not something I’ve ever officially written down, but I’ve tried to observe a personal policy of not bothering to write about Bud Norris. Do I really need to explain? I assume you get it. The level of interest you’ve had in reading about Bud Norris — that’s more or less been my level of interest in writing about Bud Norris. And I certainly didn’t think I’d be writing about him this year, not given his employer, and not given how he started.

But don’t go away! For one thing, Norris is generating some attention on the trade market. And, yeah, I know, it’s a lousy trade market, for starting pitchers in particular. That fuels some of this. Yet Norris, also, deserves whatever amount of respect that confers. Quietly, Norris has gotten up to something. For the month of June, he’s tied for fourth among qualified pitchers in WAR. He’s right behind Jose Fernandez and Clayton Kershaw, and even with Jacob deGrom, Corey Kluber, Max Scherzer, and Zachary Davies. Norris has become a ground-baller, which is new. Bud Norris is making something of himself — again? — and there’s even what feels like an easy explanation.

Cutter!

Following, I’ve plotted all of Norris’ pitches, grouped by velocity and spin axis. There are two plots which you’ll see: Norris’ pitches through the end of May, and Norris’ pitches since the start of June.

See the group that increases in number around the middle? That’s a cutter. And the group that all but disappears more toward the middle right — changeup. Norris has gotten comfortable with a cutter, and he’s abandoned his changeup, and this makes sense for a pitcher who’s long struggled against opposite-handed hitters. He’s been searching for a solution, and maybe borrowing from Brooks Baseball is a cleaner way to show this. Norris’ changeup and cutter frequencies against lefties, by month:

bud-norris-cutter

Lots of cutters, recently, and the changeup is dead. Pitchers want a useful changeup to show when they have the platoon disadvantage, but cutters can work, too, and it’s not like the changeup was ever much of a weapon before. Norris has embraced this in his return from the bullpen, and here’s an idea of what the cutter looks like:

More important than a hand-selected video of one pitch are bigger-picture results. Against lefties this year, Norris has thrown his cutter for a strike 72% of the time. It has yet to be hit for a fly ball. It’s generated 22% whiffs, and lefties have batted .105 against the new wrinkle, slugging .158. I can make this more dramatic. Check out Norris’ seasonal lefty splits. This is stupid.

Bud Norris vs. Lefties, 2016
Split PA BB K OPS Exit Velo Strike% SwS%
April/May 73 13 6 1.097 95 53% 5%
June 57 5 14 0.569 89 64% 13%
SOURCE: Baseball Savant, Baseball-Reference

Obviously, the samples are pathetically small, but the samples are also substantially different. Before embracing the cutter, Norris was a complete disaster against left-handed bats. He could barely get them out, and they were hitting him for excellent contact. In June, however, those fortunes have reversed, as Norris has found a way to pitch well in what had been difficult situations. Norris has thrown strikes to lefties. He’s made them miss. Even the contact quality has improved. All right, Bud Norris!

Who knows what the future holds? Maybe opponents just need to adjust to this, and then he’ll go back to being the pretty boring Bud Norris. Yet pitchers change ability levels pretty quickly from time to time, and all of a sudden, Norris looks like he can pitch to righties and lefties. That makes him a usable starter on a bad team, which makes him a modestly appealing trade candidate. There’s actually a reason for a team to want Bud Norris.

I’m not saying it’s the best idea in the world. I’m just saying, hey, look at that. He’s done something. It’s a pretty cool something.


Yasiel Puig or Jeff Francoeur?

Not long ago, we had a little company trip to New York, and while we were there we swung through the MLBAM offices. As part of that visit, we had a chance to go on the Statcast Podcast with Mike Petriello and Matt Meyers. At one point, in talking with them, I blurted out Jeff Francoeur as a player comp for Yasiel Puig. I hadn’t thought about it much, in the way I usually don’t think about the things I’m saying out loud too much, but I remember a weird and uncomfortable silence. It hasn’t been a great season for Puig, and we all know what Francoeur became. The link between the two isn’t something one should want to face.

But let’s face it, and let’s face it together! When I mentioned Francoeur, I didn’t really know the statistics. Now I’ve gone to the trouble of pulling up the statistics, so what follows is a quiz, I guess. You’ll be presented with 12 prompts, each of which cites one statistic. And you’re asked to pick which player is responsible for the statistic: this year’s Yasiel Puig, or Jeff Francoeur in his 20s. (Francoeur played in his 20s between 2005 and 2013.) There are no benefits to a right answer, and there are no consequences to a wrong answer. There are only numbers and answers. Truth is its own benefit, or consequence.

Godspeed and good luck and I’m sorry?

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Pirates’ Prospect Austin Meadows, Then and Now

The Pirates are currently only four games out of the last Wild Card spot, and their star center fielder is currently under contract for two more years after this one. Regardless, that hasn’t stopped people from wondering if Pittsburgh should trade Andrew McCutchen, even if the lack of an obvious trade partner makes a deal unlikely. Usually part of the argument is that the team has a near-ready replacement in Austin Meadows.

The 21-year-old center fielder just laid waste to Double-A and is now learning the ropes at the highest level in the minor leagues. His power has finally blossomed, and he looks like the five-tool prospect that’s made him a top prospect ever since he entered affiliated baseball as a top-10 pick in the 2013 draft.

It wasn’t always super easy for the player, though. I caught up with Meadows in the Arizona Fall League last October, when he was coming off an up-and-down season that saw him slug at a below-average rate both in High-A and in the Fall League. We talked about what he needed to work on. Then I asked lead prospect analyst Eric Longenhagen how well Meadows has addressed those issues, so as to get the best sense of Meadows over the course of the last year.

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Eric Longenhagen Prospects Chat 6/27/2016


Projecting Astros Rookie Slugger A.J. Reed

The Astros have gotten painfully little production from the first-base position this season. Spring-training hero Tyler White stopped hitting in April, and Marwin Gonzalez hasn’t exactly stepped up to pick up the slack. Houston’s lack of offense from first is a big reason why they’ve underperformed their preseason expectations. In an effort to fill the void, the Astros have called up top prospect A.J. Reed, who figures to get the lion’s share of starts at first base from here on out.

Reed’s hit everywhere he’s played. In 2014, he lead the SEC in both on-base and slugging his junior season at Kentucky, and he closed out his draft year by slashing .289/.375/.522 between two levels of A-Ball. He enjoyed his biggest breakout last year, when he hit an unquestionably gaudy .337/.428/.604 with 34 homers between High-A and Double-A. His performance has deteriorated a bit this year, but he’s still managed a .266/.345/.509 slash line in Triple-A.

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FanGraphs Audio: Dayn Perry’s Menu of Pain

Episode 662
Dayn Perry is a contributor to CBS Sports’ Eye on Baseball and the author of three books — one of them not very miserable. He’s also the monstrous vermin 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 21 min play time.)

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The Time Is Not Right to Trade Andrew McCutchen

A few weeks ago, when the Pirates got swept by the Cardinals, while also losing Gerrit Cole and Francisco Cervelli to the DL the same weekend, I noted that the Pirates might have to be a seller this summer, as their playoff odds has dropped down to 14%, and it was looking like this might not be their season. Well, in the two weeks since I wrote that post, their playoff odds have continued their freefall.

chart (36)

As it stands this morning, we’re projecting the Pirates to finish at 80-82, and with the Cubs, Nationals, and Giants all looking like they’ll finish north of 90 wins, that leaves the Mets, Dodgers, Cardinals, and Marlins all looking like Wild Card contenders, each with expected totals between 85-90 wins. To make it into the Wild Card game, the Pirates would have to leapfrog over three of those four teams; that would require them to play at over a .600 clip the rest of the season, most likely, and this doesn’t look like a team that is likely to go on that kind of sustained run.

So barring a miraculous turnaround over the next month, the Pirates are going to be sellers. According to the rumor mill, teams are already kicking the tires on Mark Melancon and Francisco Liriano, and as the deadline draws closer, it’s easy to imagine interest growing in the team’s other contract-year role players like David Freese, Neftali Feliz, and Sean Rodriguez. But with the team looking like a likely seller, attention has turned to a less-likely trade target, with speculation mounting that perhaps now is the time for the Pirates to trade Andrew McCutchen.

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The Marlins Are Doing Just Fine Without Dee Gordon

Last week, there was a little event you may have heard about called the “summer solstice.” Both calendars and my elementary-school science classes tell me that means summer just officially began. There are a few basic truths about summer’s infancy: children in your community may currently be in a state of euphoria; it’s time to plan July 4th barbeques; and, most relevant to our shared interests here at FanGraphs, there is still a lot of major-league baseball left to be played this year. As a result, the standings are largely inconsequential at the moment and still subject to massive changes before the postseason rolls around. And, yet, I’m struck by this meaningless triviality: if the season were to end today, the Miami Marlins would be a Wild Card team.

It’s not the most shocking scenario imaginable. The Marlins weren’t among the handful of rebuilding National League teams whose playoff aspirations were written off before the season even began. After all, the team boasted popular preseason picks for MVP and Cy Young in Giancarlo Stanton and Jose Fernandez, respectively. But this is also a team which last finished above .500 when Bryce Harper was a high-school sophomore… It wasn’t hard to have doubts that the Marlins would finally capitalize on their talent and actually field a winning team this summer, but the club is currently doing its part to help people forget those doubts. This past weekend, the Marlins took three out of four from the suddenly mortal Cubs to bring their record up to 41-35 and put them into a second place tie in the National League East with the scuffling Mets.

Due to the unpredictable nature of injuries and on-field performance, no team is able to perfectly execute a preseason plan — players get hurt, stars underperform and role players have breakout years — and the Marlins are no exception. One of those unexpected developments for the Marlins is that they’ve fielded one of the best outfields in the league due much less to the contributions of Stanton (currently in the midst of a career-worst season) and much more to Marcell Ozuna and Christian Yelich. It’s been a wellcovered storyline for the Marlins.

There’s another key way in which the Marlins have had to deviate from their preseason plan, too — namely, who they’ve played at second base.

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