NERD Game Scores for Sunday, August 28, 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
Minnesota at Toronto | 13:07 ET
Gibson (106.0 IP, 104 xFIP-) vs. Dickey (154.1 IP, 113 xFIP-)
By the coin-flip methdology used at this site — which seems to best represent how human minds conceive of postseason odds — both Toronto and Boston feature roughly an equal chance either of winning the division or securing a wild-card spot or of not qualifying for the postseason at all. With just a month or so left in the season, in other words, basically every outcome is equally possible. The consequences of each game are considerable. This is an example of one such game.

Readers’ Preferred Broadcast: Toronto Radio.

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Sunday Notes: Jessica Mendoza, Stubby Clapp, Strahm, McGuire, more

Jessica Mendoza will be careful not to get too nerdy when she discusses Yordano Ventura’s repertoire in tonight’s ESPN Sunday Night Baseball game. She could if it fit the script. Unlike many analysts, Mendoza is a data hound when it comes to game preparation.

With ESPN in Boston for Red Sox-Royals, Mendoza made it a point to become well-acquainted with Ventura’s offerings. She consulted PITCHf/x data. She read articles posted here at FanGraphs and at Beyond The Box Score. When I chatted with her yesterday, she cited — off the top of her head — details about Ventura’s grips, arm slots, and his horizontal and vertical movement.

An accomplished hitter in her playing days — she starred at Stanford and for the United States women’s national softball team — Mendoza feels she needs to do more homework on the pitching side. Read the rest of this entry »

NERD Game Scores for Saturday, August 27, 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
Minnesota at Toronto | 13:07 ET
Santana (140.2 IP, 99 xFIP-) vs. Stroman (161.0 IP, 78 xFIP-)
Toronto starter Marcus Stroman has produced the top strikeout- and walk-rate differential among the league’s 90 qualified August starters. What else he’s done is produce the fifth-best ground-ball rate among that same population. The result: a park-adjusted xFIP nearly 20% better than the second-best pitcher by that measure this month. The other result: a total of only six earned runs conceded by Stroman over his four August starts. The final result: the flourishing of Hope inside Canadian people.

Readers’ Preferred Broadcast: Toronto Radio.

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The Best of FanGraphs: August 22-26, 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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FanGraphs Audio: Sam Miller

Episode 677
Sam Miller is editor-in-chief of Baseball Prospectus and co-author, with Ben Lindbergh, of The Only Rule Is It Has to Work. He’s also the guest 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 09 min play time.)

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Jose Abreu Should Be Embarrassed

Here is one of my favorite clips of the season:

That’s Ronald Torreyes, attempting a delayed and perfunctory swing at a pitch-out to try to protect the running Aaron Hicks, who ends up in a heap on the ground after getting jarred in the marbles. Torreyes swings for no reason other than he’s always been told to swing in these situations, so the decision was entirely out of his hands. You can see that he’s temporarily overruled by his own brain, which properly identified that a swing would come with no upside. But then the training kicked in, and Torreyes whispered the bat in a vaguely forward direction while Hicks sprinted like the dickens, unaware the situation would end with teammates discussing his sterility.

Pretty obviously, no swing has been attempted this season at a more-outside pitch. Yet I don’t know if that should really “count,” since Torreyes didn’t swing because he wanted to. The swing was mandated by the hit-and-run play. So let’s take that off the table. Now the most-outside swing attempt of the season belongs to Jose Abreu, as of Thursday night. Abreu should probably be ashamed of himself.

Though I looked at everyone, the swings at the very most-outside pitches have been attempted by righties. Allow me to read off to you the top three:

  1. Ronald Torreyes, June 30, swinging pitch-out
  2. Jose Abreu, August 25, swinging strike
  3. Jose Iglesias, May 24, swinging pitch-out

The only worse swing was at a pitch-out. The next-worst swing was at a pitch-out. The next-worst swing at a non-pitch-out was at a pitch more than five inches closer to the plate. That swing was also with two strikes, attempted by Javier Baez. Baez will do that sometimes. So, evidently, will Abreu.


Exclaimed Mariners announcer Dave Sims, after Abreu’s strikeout with runners in scoring position:

Swing and a miss, he got him! What a big pitch.

It’s easy to get fooled on the fly. Strikeouts are strikeouts, and when the batter swings, that implies a pitch could have been only so bad. Abreu chased this slider from Steve Cishek; therefore, it must have been a good slider from Steve Cishek. Yet it’s not hard to see how that could have been a disastrous slider from Steve Cishek. You don’t want a pitch in that situation to get away. And Abreu had never before swung like this. I went to Baseball Savant. I plotted all of Abreu’s career swings. The swing above is highlighted below.


I mean-

Eleven inches. The difference between that pitch and the next-most-outside pitch Abreu had chased is 11 inches. Nearly a whole damn foot. There’s really no excuse for that kind of swing. The easy explanation is “Abreu was trying to do too much,” but trying to do anything with that pitch is trying to do too much. It’s a brain fart. It has to be a brain fart. I don’t know what else it would be unless, as of Thursday night, in the seventh inning, Jose Abreu suddenly became, on camera, the single worst hitter in Major League Baseball.

By the way, the Baez swing? The one that’s the next-worst of the season?


That swing was also against a Steve Cishek slider. It’s probably just a coincidence. But, maybe I’m the one who doesn’t get it.

Major League Baseball’s Streakiest Team

Streaks can be maddening or joyful, depending on which side of the coin your allegiance happens to lie. When it happens to players, we say the player is hot or in a slump. He might be performing better or worse for a particular reason — like good health or lack thereof — but, often, it’s just the product random variation over a long season.

For teams, the situation is a bit different. If a player goes 2-for-4, that’s good and potentially part of a hot streak. A team, however, can record only a win or a loss. Long winning or losing streaks are fairly rare. Only the Indians and Cubs have managed winning streaks of at least 10 games this season — and the only double-digit losing streaks this season have come from the Cincinnati Reds, Los Angeles Angels, and Tampa Bay Rays. Good teams tend to rack up winning streaks; bad teams, losing streaks. If you want to get somebody who can do both, however, look no further than the Detroit Tigers.

That win streaks translate to season-long success is probably not news. As the graph below confirms, going on win streaks leads to a lot of wins in general. (Data from Baseball Reference.)

Team Win Streaks in 2016

That’s a rough look at the standings, although Detroit might be a bit higher than their wins suggest and the Mets and Marlins have had difficulty pulling off a run despite solid overall records. And poor San Diego: the Padres have yet to pull off a single four-game win streak all season.

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NERD Game Scores for Friday, August 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
Chicago NL at Los Angeles NL | 22:10 ET
Montgomery (74.2 IP, 83 xFIP-) vs. Norris (103.2 IP, 99 xFIP-)
Both Mike Montgomery and Bud Norris have pitched, for an extended period this season, in a relief role. Both have been traded to contenders, as well. Both have, — curiously, perhaps — been promptly inserted into the starting rotations of their new, theoretically better teams after arriving at those team. Both have, even more curiously, produced better strikeout- and walk-rate differentials — a metric which tends to be predictive of future success — in a starting and not relieving capacity. Why these similarities are important, the author can’t say. These human brains we all have gravitate to them, for some reasons. These feeble, human brains.

Readers’ Preferred Broadcast: Los Angeles NL Television.

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Khris Davis and Others Who Have Pressed Before

Khris Davis has maintained excellent exit velocity all year, and has 33 home runs to his name, but that doesn’t mean he hasn’t pressed at times with his new team. His walk rate is less than half what it used to be, and his swinging-strike rate is up nearly 20%.

The Oakland outfielder admitted that his decision on when to swing hasn’t been at its finest this year. “I was putting pressure on myself in a new environment,” he told me recently before a game against the Indians. “It was mental. Just kinda settled down.”

It’s something we can easily see in his swing percentages — but, perhaps more importantly, it’s totally normal and has happened very often to other big bats changing teams.

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The Royals Aren’t Making Elite Contact Anymore

We’d like to welcome Ryan Pollack to the staff as the newest contributor to FanGraphs. Ryan has written for Camden Chat and Camden Depot in the past, and yes, we hired him just so Orioles fans would stop yelling at us about our projections. Please give Ryan a warm welcome.

The Kansas City Royals have been a high-contact, low-strikeout team for several years. Very few people saw this approach when the team was bad. But during their 2014-15 run, many noticed the team hardly ever struck out.

This bat-to-ball philosophy made great headlines because it opposed the trend of rising strikeouts. That the Royals succeeded in winning games made the contrast even greater. We remember Salvador Perez’s single past a diving Josh Donaldson that won the 2014 AL Wild Card game. We remember Alcides Escobar’s first-inning, first-pitch inside-the-park home run in Game 1 of the 2015 World Series. And we remember Eric Hosmer scoring the tying run of Game 5 on a weak Perez grounder to David Wright.

Put the ball in play, they said, and good things will happen.

That’s advice the 2016 Royals could use. Despite returning several members of the 2014-15 teams, this year’s iteration doesn’t avoid strikeouts well.

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Why Did the Dodgers Trade A.J. Ellis?

Last night, the Dodgers and Phillies made a deal that, on the surface, is your typical minor August move of minor role players. The Dodgers landed Carlos Ruiz, a 37 year old catcher, in exchange for A.J. Ellis, a 35 year old catcher, and a prospect of dubious quality. The impetus for the trade seems pretty clear; Ruiz can still hit lefties a bit, and so he’s a better fit as Yasmani Grandal‘s platoon partner in the postseason. Ellis isn’t much at the plate these days, so by adding Ruiz, the team has slightly upgraded their offense against left-handed pitching.

But the trade was a big deal because, as was immediately apparent given the reaction to the news of the deal, A.J. Ellis was beloved by his teammates, and especially, by the team’s ace.

Ellis and Kershaw are obviously quite close, but other members of the team also showed their support for Ellis, and made it clear they will miss him.

By trading away a beloved part of the clubhouse for a minor bench upgrade, the media has been handed a very simple narrative: nerd-run team doesn’t value chemistry, tears apart clubhouse in the process. The fact that the Dodgers were one out away from being no-hit on the night Ellis got traded didn’t do anything to slow that story down. But of course the Dodgers do care at least a little bit about chemistry, or Yasiel Puig wouldn’t be hanging out in Triple-A right now. So, six days away from roster expansion, when Ellis could have kept hanging around the team even after they acquired Ruiz, why did the Dodgers trade A.J. Ellis?

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Surprise, the Royals Have a New Relief Weapon

The Kansas City Royals, like any team would, have missed Wade Davis in his absence, but they haven’t really missed Wade Davis. Davis, of course, would make any bullpen better. But since Kansas City’s star closer last pitched nearly a month ago to the day, the Royals bullpen has performed as well as it has all season. Over the last 30 days, the unit’s run a league-best 1.95 ERA, good for a league-best 2.8 RA9-WAR, and the same group has run a league-best 3.15 FIP, good for a league-best 1.5 FIP-WAR. As the Royals have surged back into the fringe of the playoff discussion, the bullpen’s been a big reason why, and it’s done so without its centerpiece.

Part of it’s been de facto closer Kelvin Herrera. He’s recorded a 2.77 ERA and a 2.99 FIP in Davis’ absence, and gone 8-for-8 in save chances. Joakim Soria‘s played a big role, too. He’s seemingly corrected his early-season woes and posted a 2.03 ERA and 2.85 FIP in the last month. Peter Moylan‘s pitched well, and Chris Young hasn’t given up a run since July 26. But neither Herrera nor Soria nor Moylan nor Young’s been the biggest part of Kansas City’s bullpen since Davis went down. No, the most important reliever in Kansas City since Davis hit the disabled list is the guy who only got called up because Davis hit the disabled list.

Screen Shot 2016-08-26 at 10.26.26 AM

Matt Strahm, over the last month, has put up a 0.84 ERA and 0.43 FIP in the first 10.2 innings of his big-league career. The 24-year-old lefty, drafted in the 21st round of the 2012 draft, has struck out 19 of the 40 batters he’s faced and walked three. Six hits, no homers, one run.

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Projecting Phillies Call-Up Jorge Alfaro

Jorge Alfaro‘s physical tools have put him in the prospect conversation for years — he’s cracked Baseball Prospectus’ top-101 prospects in each of the past five seasons, for example — but his on-field performance has always left something to be desired. He hit a respectable-for-a-catcher .253/.314/.432 in an injury-shortened season at Double-A level last year, but his plate discipline was poor. Although he demonstrated enticing power, his 4% walk rate and 29% strikeout rate hinted at serious issues with his approach. 

He’s seemingly begun to make the right adjustments this year, as he’s hacked six points off of his strikeout rate without sacrificing much power. In just under 400 plate appearances in Double-A, he slashed a more-encouraging .279/.322/.444. Whatever development has occurred, it seems to have satisfied the Phillies, who will promote the catcher today according to Yahoo’s Jeff Passan.

Alfaro’s future looks brighter than it did five months ago, but he’s still far from a slam-dunk prospect. Though his strikeout and walk numbers are trending in the right directions, they’re still cause for concern. And though he’s only 23, Alfaro has been playing professionally since 2010, so he may not have a ton of improving left to do.

While he’s improved at the plate, Alfaro’s biggest strides seem to have taken place behind it. According to Baseball Prospectus’ pitch-framing data, Alfaro’s framing was nearly a run worse than average last year, but has been over 14 runs better than average this season. Clay Davenport’s data tell a similar tale: +1 last season and +12 this year.

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Jeff Sullivan FanGraphs Chat — 8/26/16

Jeff Sullivan: Hello friends

Jeff Sullivan: Welcome to baseball chat

carrotjuice: I recommend the Rob Arthur article on 538 the other day about Statcast missing batted balls. The craziest thing: 21.7% of batted balls in the Arizona Diamondbacks stadium aren’t tracked!

Jeff Sullivan: If I recall this was an issue a year ago — many of the weakest-hit batted balls weren’t tracked. Stands to reason that wouldn’t get fixed right away. So what we’re seeing in the data isn’t necessarily “true” in terms of capturing everything

Jeff Sullivan: There are problems with balls hit directly into the ground, and there are problems with balls hit so high the cameras lose sight of them

Jeff Sullivan: It’s not random — the missing batted balls tend to be extremely unproductive batted balls, from a hitting standpoint

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Another Year with Joe Blanton, Great Reliever

The price of relief pitching is on the rise. Baseball die hards are currently having a fierce debate about reliever valuation, but it’s relatively clear that teams are willing to pony up for quality back of the bullpen arms. The recent deals for Ken Giles, Aroldis Chapman, Andrew Miller, and Will Smith demonstrate as much. Clubs want good relievers (who can blame them!) and they are allocating more resources toward their acquisition.

I’m not an economist, but I imagine teams would rather acquire a high-quality reliever who isn’t expensive than one who is. Unfortunately, market forces tend to get in the way and you wind up trading lots of prospects for a couple seasons of reliever help. Unless you’re the Dodgers. If you’re the Dodgers, you take a gamble on Joe Blanton‘s 2015 season and get a setup man at utility-infielder prices.

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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,’s Jonathan Mayo, and John Sickels, and also who (c) is currently absent from a major-league roster. Players appearing on a midseason 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.

Daniel Gossett, RHP, Oakland (Profile)
Back in March, ESPN’s Keith Law visited the backfields of Oakland’s complex in Arizona. The result of that visit: a very positive impression of right-hander Daniel Gossett.

From the report he filed:

“He looked great Friday, thanks to a new cutter at 86-89 mph with sharp break downward as much as to the side, along with a fastball at 91-96 mph (sitting 94) that he was blowing by hitters. He showed a solid average changeup at 82-85 mph and a power curveball that was kind of slurvy but hard at 82-83 mph”

Gossett has looked great on a number of other days since that Friday in May, it would appear. Originally selected by Oakland in the second round of the 2014 draft out of Clemson, the 23-year-old right-hander was adequate but not dominant during his first extended tour of affiliated baseball last year. This season, however, has been a revelation for him. After producing nearly a 21-point strikeout- and walk-rate differential over nine starts with High-A Stockton, Gossett has nearly replicated that sort of control of the zone in Double-A. He’s been particularly strong of late, recording a 17:2 strikeout-to-walk rate against 49 batters in two starts (13.0 innings) since last week’s edition of the Five.

Here’s footage of Gossett from June, recording a strikeout with a curve and two fastballs, the latter of which was reported at 93 mph:

Domingo Leyba, SS/2B, Arizona (Profile)
Dawel Lugo, 3B/SS, Arizona (Profile)
Ildemaro Vargas, 2B/SS, Arizona (Profile)
This triumvirate appears here together because (a) they’re all employed by the same organization and because (b) whatever differences they possess as ballplayers, said differences are a function more of degree than type. The type in question: a contact-oriented hitter with usable power who’s also likely to produce net-positive defensive value. Regard, by way of illustration, certain numbers recorded by this triumvirate during the present month:

The Arizona Three in August
Player Level Age PA BB% K% ISO lgISO* wRC+ Pos
Domingo Leyba Double-A 20 88 10.2% 6.8% .077 .114 129 SS-17, 2B-3
Dawel Lugo Double-A 21 78 2.6% 9.0% .171 .114 128 3B-14, SS-5
Ildemaro Vargas Triple-A 25 101 9.9% 4.0% .128 .146 142 2B-20, SS-3
*Average isolated-power figure in relevant league.

Ildemaro Vargas has been a fixture among the Five this year. Indeed, with his appearance here, the former indy leaguer settles into third place on the arbitrarily calculated Scoreboard one finds at the bottom of this post. Dawel Lugo, for his part, has previously been included among the Next Five. Originally signed out of the Dominican for $1.3 million by Toronto in 2011, he moved to Arizona last August in the deal that sent Cliff Pennington to the Blue Jays. Signed originally as a shortstop, Lugo has moved to third predominantly — partly in deference to Leyba, it would appear, and partly just because it was inevitable. After producing better-than-average contact and power figures with High-A Visalia, he was promoted in early July to the Southern League, where he’s continued to exhibit almost precisely the same profile. He’s succeeded, at 21, in a league for which the average age is 24.0.

Which, this seems to be an opportune moment upon which to note that the third player being discussed here, Domingo Leyba, is still actually just 20, rendering him one of the youngest field players in all of Double-A. Signed originally by the Tigers out of the Dominican for $400,000 in 2012, Leyba was traded to Arizona (along with Robbie Ray) in the deal that sent Didi Gregorius to New York and Shane Greene to Detroit. After passing the entire 2015 season at High-A Visalia, Leyba started the 2016 campaign there, as well. Whether due to real adjustments or greater physical strength oe randomness, his numbers on contact improved by some measure — and, following a mid-July promotion to Mobile (roughly a week after Lugo’s own promotion), he’s both made more contact and drawn more walks while facing more advanced competition.

Max Schrock, 2B, Oakland (Profile)
Schrock appears here less because of his performance over the last week — although he continued to exhibit his customarily excellent contact skills, etc. — and more because of the Breaking News in which he played a part yesterday. A basic summary of that news: Schrock was sent to Oakland from Washington in exchange for left-handed reliever Marc Rzepczynski. The author’s own towering thoughts on the matter appeared in full at the site here yesterday. With a view to repeating myself, however, here’s a passage from that post, on the matter of major leaguers who possess Schrock’s basic skills:

[E]ver since that mid-winter’s post celebrating Schrock’s virtues, he’s acquitted himself almost perfectly, first recording the lowest strikeout rate among all Low-A batters and, more recently, recording almost the lowest strikeout rate among High-A batters — while also producing a roughly league-average isolated-power figure at both levels. That combination of extreme contact and satisfactory power — combined with the capacity to occupy a place on the more challenging end of the defensive spectrum — is a deceptively valuable one. Players who’ve paired those skills at the major-league level have been almost uniformly helpful.

To find major leaguers who possess Schrock’s basic skill set, I identified all the qualified players over the first half of this decade who recorded an elite strikeout rate (under 11%, in this case, which accounts for roughly 10% of batters each year) and exhibited roughly league-average power (.130-.160 ISO) and produced a positive positional adjustment. The results of that search appear below. (Note: catchers have been excluded because their positional adjustment renders them otherly.)

Max Schrock Comparables, 2011-15?
Name Team Season PA K% ISO wRC+ Pos WAR
Jose Reyes Mets 2011 586 7.0% .156 142 5.6 5.9
Robinson Cano Mariners 2014 665 10.2% .139 137 1.4 5.2
Ian Kinsler Tigers 2014 726 10.9% .145 103 2.4 5.2
Jose Altuve Astros 2015 689 9.7% .146 123 2.2 4.5
Andrelton Simmons Braves 2013 658 8.4% .149 91 7.0 4.5
Dustin Pedroia Red Sox 2012 623 9.6% .160 114 1.9 4.5
Jose Reyes Marlins 2012 716 7.8% .146 110 7.3 4.1
Jimmy Rollins Phillies 2011 631 9.4% .131 103 6.1 3.6
Ian Kinsler Rangers 2013 614 9.6% .136 104 0.7 2.6
Martin Prado D-backs 2013 664 8.0% .135 104 0.8 1.9
Average 9.1% .144 113 3.5 4.2
*Excludes catchers.
**Also possibly excludes reason.

The Next Five
These are players on whom the author might potentially become fixated.

Greg Allen, OF, Cleveland (Double-A Eastern League)
Austin Davidson, 2B/3B, Washington (High-A Carolina League)
Zack Granite, OF, Minnesota (Double-A Southern League)
Dinelson Lamet, RHP, San Diego (Double-A Texas League)
Pablo Reyes, 2B/SS, Pittsburgh (High-A Florida State League)

Fringe Five Scoreboard
Here is the top-10 list of players who have appeared among either the Fringe Five (FF) or Next Five (NF) so far this season (which is to say, today). For mostly arbitrary reasons, players are assessed three points for each week they’ve appeared among the Fringe Five; a single point, for each week among the Next Five.

Fringe Five Scoreboard, 2016
1 Sherman Johnson Angels 2B 12 5 41
2 Greg Allen Indians OF 8 7 31
3 Ildemaro Vargas D-backs 2B/SS 7 3 24
4 Jharel Cotton LAN/OAK RHP 5 6 21
5 Max Schrock WAS/OAK 2B 6 1 19
6 Aaron Wilkerson BOS/MIL RHP 5 2 17
7 Tim Locastro Dodgers SS 4 3 15
Yandy Diaz Indians 3B/OF 4 3 15
9 Jaime Schultz Rays RHP 4 2 14
10 Chad Green Yankees RHP 4 1 13

The One Problem With Kris Bryant’s MVP Case

Kris Bryant is everything you could want in an MVP candidate. He hits, he runs, he plays defense, he moves around, he’s in there every day — Bryant is an outstanding player on an outstanding team. You don’t have to worry about the Cubs wasting him, and not going to the playoffs. If Bryant’s teammates are doing him any harm, it could be because there are too many good ones — even without Bryant, the Cubs would be fine. It speaks to the roster’s strength, but Bryant is the best regular. He’s maybe, or probably, the best all-around player in the National League.

There’s more than a month left to go, so various leaderboards are going to change. Performances will change, and perceptions will go along with them. That being said, Kris Bryant has to be thought of as the NL MVP front-runner. By which I mean, I assume he has the most support. And, what a player to throw your support behind! In so many ways, Bryant would be deserving. There’s just one little problem. That one little problem is basically the entire counter-argument.

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One of Baseball’s Best Pitches Is Missing

There’s a sense that Jake Arrieta isn’t quite what he’s been before. It’s not entirely untrue — a season ago, Arrieta put together a historic campaign. He set the bar so high for himself that it would be next to impossible to meet the updated expectations. But, you know, Arrieta’s still been terrific. Last year, opponents batted .185. This year they’ve batted .183. He ranks fourth among qualified starting pitchers in ERA, and even since his ERA dipped under 1 around the beginning of May, it’s been just a little over 3. Last year’s National League Cy Young came down to Arrieta, Zack Greinke, and Clayton Kershaw. Kershaw’s hurt. Greinke’s already allowed 19 more runs than he did a season ago. Arrieta is doing just fine.

He simply seems a wee bit less automatic. From the perspective of an observer, he’s made it more difficult to take outs for granted. From the perspective of an analyst, Arrieta’s command has wobbled. And what’s maybe most interesting here: Arrieta apparently doesn’t have a feel for his slider. Or cutter. Or whatever. You know what I mean. Arrieta has managed a low ERA while, underneath, he’s had trouble finding what had been one of the truly elite pitches in the game.

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An Early Look at the Catchers in the 2017 Draft

We’re continuing a series of scouting reports on 2017 draft-eligible high-school players. I’ve already filed reports on left-handed pitchers, which you can find here. Today we’re discussing catchers.

High-school catching is often one of the draft’s most fruitless positions and 2017 looks like an average group.

M.J. Melendez, C, Saint James School (AL)

Height: 6’, Weight: 160, Commitment: Florida International

Melendez’s father, Mervyl, Sr., is the head baseball coach at Florida International and indeed that is where M.J. (Mervyl, Jr.) is committed to play ball in college. At this point, it’s unclear to scouts whether or not that will have any impact on Melendez’s signability.

This is the best prep catcher I saw this summer but it’s hard to glean anything from a statement like that because depth at premium positions (especially among high schoolers) is very volatile, draft to draft.. Melendez has special defensive traits. He is lithe, loose and twitchy with uncommon athleticism and movement skills for a catcher, as well as an average receiver with plus raw arm strength. I had pop times as low as 1.94 to second base and 1.5 flat to third. Melendez also has some potential with the bat (which I’ll get into later) but he’s very raw offensively and is going to be drafted primarily because of his defensive ability. So where are catching prospects like this typically selected? Here’s a brief rundown of early-round high-school catchers from recent years:

2016: Cooper Johnson is the best defensive prep catcher in the class but falls due to weird signability issues. Of the 30 catchers taken in the first 10 rounds of the draft, only five of them are high schoolers and all of them (Andy Yerzy, Ben Rortvedt, Mario Feliciano, Payton Henry, Sam Huff) are bat-first prospects.

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Money Is Buying Wins Again in 2016

If the playoffs started today, the Washington Nationals, Chicago Cubs, Los Angeles Dodgers, San Francisco Giants, and St. Louis Cardinals would be in the playoffs on the National League side. The top-five payrolls in the NL belong to those same five teams. Over in the American League, the Cleveland Indians seem likely to make the playoffs while the New York Yankees likely will not — and the Los Angeles Angels aren’t anywhere near the playoffs, but these are merely exceptions to the rule. Anecdotally it certainly seems like money matters this year after several years of parity. Digging into the numbers of the relationship between money and wins, the numbers indicate that a team’s payroll really is more important now than at any other time in the last decade.

There are 15 teams this season whose opening-day payrolls exceeded $130 million. Among those 15 teams, only the Los Angeles Angels possessed a losing record through Tuesday’s games, and if the playoffs started today, the top half of teams by payroll would claim nine of the 10 available playoff spots. Of that bottom 15, the only teams with a winning record are the Pittsburgh Pirates, Houston Astros, Miami Marlins, and Cleveland Indians. Cleveland would represent the only team among that group to qualify for the playoffs if the season ended today. If this seems unusual, it is. And it isn’t.

Last season at around this time, I looked at the relationship between wins and payroll and found that there was nothing significant. The correlation coefficient between wins and payroll was .17, and that number had been part of a decline that had been occurring over the previous decade. As Brian MacPherson pointed out when he researched the issue the year prior, the relationship between wins and payroll had been declining since the start of this decade. At the end of last season, the correlation coefficient for wins and payroll in 2015 was a very low .22, but in discussing the issue last year, I pointed to two causes for concern (if a lack of parity is concerning).

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