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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My Favorite Andrew Miller Fact

Most of what I do here is provide you with fun facts. Let’s be real — you already have a decent idea of which players are good and which players are bad. A healthy portion of my job, then, is to tell you what you already know, but in some new and different way. When it works, I think we all get to come away feeling smart! Hopefully it continues to work.

What I have for you here is an Andrew Miller fun fact. Not just a fun fact — my absolute favorite Andrew Miller fun fact, at least of the moment, at least as long as it’s factual. It’s not like you didn’t already know that Andrew Miller is good. We all came to terms with that years ago, and Miller hasn’t gotten any worse. He’s gotten better! Boiled down, this post is just “Andrew Miller is great at pitching.” But there’s this thing, see. He turns hitters to brain-dead mush.

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It’s Rock Bottom for Shelby Miller

Shelby Miller just started his tenth game of the season. He has, to his name, all of one single quality start. It came a few weeks ago, in Atlanta, where Miller went to work against one of the worst team offenses in recent baseball history. Miller was removed after the six-inning minimum. He racked up one strikeout, to go with a pair of walks. He also hit a guy. That guy was Erick Aybar, who has a .423 OPS. In Miller’s one quality start, he was statistically bad. Then there are the nine other starts.

In an era of fair and balanced transactions, no offseason move got even a fraction of the criticism of Arizona’s Shelby Miller trade. Those opposed to the move believed the Diamondbacks overpaid for a non-elite starting pitcher. FanGraphs, of course, figured the Braves made out like bandits, and that also happened to be the industry consensus. But to be absolutely clear, no one back then thought that Miller was anything less than a legitimate No. 3. The criticism then had to do with Ender Inciarte and Dansby Swanson. If anything, there were indications Miller might’ve been on the verge of breaking out. At the moment, he’s a shell of himself. Miller has gone completely awry, and he and the Diamondbacks are suffering.

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Let’s Watch Jeff Samardzija Tip Some Pitches

An interesting nugget from a recent edition of the always-excellent Ken Rosenthal notebook:

White Sox pitching coach Don Cooper accepted responsibility for Jeff Samardzija‘s struggles last season, telling reporters, “Man, I failed.”

Samardzija, with the benefit of hindsight, takes a more magnanimous view, saying that Cooper only was trying to help him. As it turns out, the foundation of his early success with the Giants came in his final two starts with the White Sox, a one-hit shutout of the Tigers and a strong seven-inning effort against the eventual World Series champion Royals.

Samardzija, 31, said he made an adjustment in September after realizing that he was tipping pitches based upon the time he stayed set in the stretch — coming out of it quickly, he threw a fastball or cutter; taking more time, he threw a slider or split.

A handful of times each year, an article will surface with a pitcher, manager, or even reporter, suggesting that a struggling starter might be tipping his pitches. Seems like, more often than not, these suggestions are sort of brushed aside, either because they’re viewed as nothing more than an excuse, or because without any explanation regarding the nature of the tipping, they’re just viewed as hearsay. Well, Rosenthal provided some pretty specific explanation, and so I went looking to see if I couldn’t find some good ol’ Jeff Samardzija pitch-tipping in action.

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Are Veterans Better at Slump-Busting?

Way back at the winter meetings, Brad Ausmus said a thing that I found interesting. It’s stuck with me ever since, gathering moss as I’ve pondered it occasionally. But by itself, it raised my eyebrow and set me on a path.

“Especially hitting,” began Ausmus. And continued:

[W]henever you recover from a struggle or go through a slump, you fall back on that experience anytime it happens again. That’s absolutely true. I can tell you that from experience. That’s why veteran players are much better equipped to handle slumps than young players just because of the experiences.

There’s a lot to unpack here, but before we ask the players and the numbers, I thought it would be interesting to call back to a psychology experiment with which I once assisted in college. In a study colloquially called The Beeper Study run by Laura Carstensen at Stanford University, we found that getting older led to more emotional stability and happiness.

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The Other Dominant AL East Closer

Closers tend to be dominant, because if they weren’t dominant, they wouldn’t be closers. The role is selective, which makes total sense, on account of the stakes that come along with the designation. Now, this statement isn’t fact-checked or anything, but I feel like the closers in the American League East are particularly dominant. Maybe I’m wrong, and I don’t care, but the Red Sox, of course, acquired Craig Kimbrel. The Yankees, of course, acquired Aroldis Chapman, and they also have Andrew Miller. The Orioles have the unbelievable Zach Britton. Even the Blue Jays are happy with Roberto Osuna, who last year got himself some playoff exposure. The division knows how to finish games. It’s one of the reasons it’s a good division.

There’s another guy, and by process of elimination, you can see he closes for the Rays. Most good Rays players end up seemingly underrated, and the current closer is no exception. Jake McGee? They traded Jake McGee. Brad Boxberger? He’s been hurt. He’s on the way back, and they say he’ll close again, but if that happens, he’ll have to bump Alex Colome. Colome has been better than you probably realized. Colome has been better than I realized, and this is literally how I make a living.

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Giancarlo Stanton’s Concerning Contact Rate

Giancarlo Stanton has always had a lot of swing and miss in his game, offsetting all the whiffs with ridiculous power displays on his way to being one of the game’s elite sluggers. So when you look at Stanton’s 2016 numbers, it’s easy to just look at the overall line (which includes a 115 wRC+) and note the unsustainably low .256 BABIP — he’s at .324 for his career, given that he hits the crap out of the baseball — in thinking that everything is going to be fine once that corrects itself.

And that’s mostly true, but probably not comprehensive enough, because beyond the BABIP, Stanton’s current struggles include one actually-concerning trend. Here are his contact rates, by season, for his career.

Stanton’s Contact Rate
Season Contact%
2010 70%
2011 66%
2012 68%
2013 68%
2014 70%
2015 66%
2016 62%

Stanton’s contact rates have always been low, but they’ve been on the low-end of the normal range. If you look at the guys who have run the lowest seasonal contact rates in the PITCHF/x era, you’ll see Stanton hanging out with a bunch of Ryan Howard‘s good seasons, some productive Adam Dunn stretches, Josh Hamilton‘s last valuable year, and the recent versions of Chris Davis. You can be a good hitter while making contact at around 67-68% of the time, as long as you have elite power, which Stanton obviously has.

But he’s currently at 62%. Here’s the full list of players who have posted a contact rate that low over a full season, since PITCHF/x allowed us to start tracking contact rate.

Contact Rates Below 63%
Player Season Contact% wRC+
Mark Reynolds 2010 61.7% 96
Mark Reynolds 2009 62.7% 127
Mark Reynolds 2008 63.0% 97

Mark Reynolds is not really the guy you want as your only comparison; those three seasons were his last as a semi-productive regular, and he’s kicked around the league as a barely-above-replacement-level player ever since. Of course, Reynolds doesn’t have Stanton’s power, and no one is suggesting that Stanton is headed for a precipitous cliff, but it’s worth noting that there are basically no examples of productive hitters who swing and miss this often.

The good news for Stanton is he’s sort of had this problem before. Here’s his career K% on a 30-day rolling average basis.

Screen Shot 2016-05-25 at 2.13.10 PM

In the second half of 2012, Stanton struck out in 35% of his plate appearances over 180 PAs, slightly higher than his 34% K% in 182 PAs so far this year. And then in 2013, he got his K% back down to 28%, and then 27% in 2014, when he put up a +6 WAR season. But in that second half of 2012, Stanton’s contact rate was still 66%; on the low-end of his range, but a lot higher than it is now.

Stanton has never really made contact this rarely for very long before, and when you swing and miss this much, all the power in the world doesn’t bail you out. Stanton is still the best guy on the planet at crushing baseballs, but for him to get back to what he has, he’s going to have to start hitting them more often again.


FanGraphs Meetup: New York City, June 18th

Since a lineup-sized portion of the FanGraphs team will be in New York City for Sabermetrics Day at the Staten Island Yankees, we thought it would make sense also to run a meetup. Just another chance to come and hang out and talk baseball, except this one with (perhaps, if you’re into that sort of thing) a craft beverage in your hand.

So come visit on Saturday, June 18th, at Rattle N Hum West, from 7 to 10 pm. We’ll have free appetizers for everyone, baseball on the screens, and time to talk with some of your favorite writers, FanGraphs or not. It’s an all-ages event.

Details below.

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A Status Update on the Francisco Liriano Experience

Francisco Liriano‘s most recent outing for the Pittsburgh Pirates ended with eight consecutive balls and the bases loaded. The Pirates won that game, 12-1, over the Arizona Diamondbacks, and Liriano allowed just one earned runs on two hits, but the outing was nevertheless troubling for the 32-year-old lefty. Troubling because he walked five and struck out two, marking the third time already this season that Liriano walked more batters than he struck out, matching his total of starts which met that criteria over the previous two full seasons combined. Coming on the heels of three solid seasons in Pittsburgh, Liriano’s been below-replacement level by FIP-WAR, his walk and home-run rates at a career-high, his strikeout numbers the lowest in five years.

I’ve had something of a fixation on Liriano for a while now, due to the extreme nature of his pitching style. Coming into this season, he’d thrown the lowest rate of pitches inside the strike zone of any starter during a two-year stretch, while somehow also getting batters to chase those pitches at an extreme rate. Despite his approach — essentially inviting hitters to get themselves out over and over again — representing one that was theoretically easy to beat, hitters continuously failed to make the adjustment, which actually embodied a league-wide trend in MLB over the last eight years.

With Liriano struggling this season, this naturally becomes the first thing to check. Is Liriano still working outside the zone still often? Are batters still flailing away, even though they should know what’s coming?

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Dave Cameron FanGraphs Chat – 5/25/16

12:01
Dave Cameron: Happy Wednesday, everyone. Unless you’re Matt Harvey, I guess.
12:01
Joe S: Has to be asked… What would you have done with Harvey?
12:03
Dave Cameron: This is the kind of thing that’s basically impossible to say we know better from the outside. Maybe Harvey wouldn’t respond well to doing the phantom-injury thing, and maybe he’s just got too much pride to try to figure things out in the minors. I think, in this case, the Mets just know more than we do, so it’s not really worth saying that we’d do things differently.
12:03
Curtis: What is the most impressive thing about the Mariners hot start? How good their record would be if they could actually be .500 at home?
12:04
Dave Cameron: The bullpen has probably been the biggest factor. It looked like it could have been a disaster, but they’re getting good innings from reclamation projects like Nuno, Montgomery, and Peralta. And it looks like they stole Nick Vincent from SD.
12:04
Erik: What is the logic behind allowing some types of draft pick trading but not others? Do you see this changing after the next CBA? Or is it somehow in the interests of either the players or the owners to keep it this way?

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NERD Game Scores for Wednesday, May 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
New York NL at Washington | 13:05 ET
Matz (41.2 IP, 71 xFIP-) vs. Roark (56.0 IP, 91 xFIP-)
Among Mets starters, the one who’s produced the best season thus far is (unsurprisingly) right-hander Noah Syndergaard. Syndergaard has recorded the highest strikeout rate on the club and lowest walk rate and highest ground-ball rate and top WAR figure and also remains the youngest, somehow. His virtues are manifold and impressive, one concludes. Among Mets starters who don’t invite very obvious comparisons to Norse deities, however, Steven Matz is the best — and all the distinctions which formerly applied to Syndergaard (highest strikeout rate, lowest walk rate, etc.) apply instead to him. Because he invites many fewer comparisons to deities, is why. Unless there’s a god somewhere named Steve the Approachable-Looking Fellow. In which case, Steven Matz probably bears a pretty close resemblance.

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Kershaw Is Forcing Us to Confront the Pedro Question

Over the last 365 days, Clayton Kershaw has been baseball’s best pitcher. That isn’t a particularly enlightening sentence given that he’s almost certainly been the league’s best pitcher over the last several years, as well. At this point, the question isn’t really if Kershaw is the best pitcher, but rather if he is the best overall player, Mike Trout included. Kershaw has truly been that phenomenal.

To put some numbers behind it, consider: since May 26, 2015, Kershaw has thrown 253.1 regular-season innings (34 starts) and produced a 39 ERA- and 42 FIP-, thanks in part to a 34.8 K% and 3.3 BB%. By our WAR model, that’s equivalent to an 11-WAR season. It’s closer to 12 WAR if you use runs allowed as the primary input instead of FIP.

We all have our own favorite Kershaw fun fact, but here’s one that’s been bubbling to the surface lately. Full disclosure: I’ve been partially responsible for said bubbling.

Pedro vs. Kershaw
Player Time IP ERA- FIP-
Pedro Martinez 1999-2000 430.1 39 39
Clayton Kershaw Last 365 days 253.1 39 42

Some context: since 1961, there have been just a handful of qualified starters to record less than a 40 ERA- in a single season and the only two qualified seasons under 40 FIP- belong to Pedro in 1999 and Kershaw in 2016. Those Pedro years are often considered the modern gold standard of starting-pitcher dominance. He was 60% better than league average for two full seasons.

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