Is Trevor Bauer Tipping His Curveball?

As I write this, Kyle Schwarber just worked a 3-0 count against Indians starter Trevor Bauer in Game 2 of the World Series, and then Schwarber ripped an RBI single into center field. Now there’s a mound visit. Things aren’t going well for Bauer in his first start since his drone-shortened outing against the Blue Jays in the ALCS.

And in that outing against the Blue Jays, however short, I noticed something about Bauer that I made a note to keep an eye on the next time he took the mound. I’ve watched Bauer pitch his entire career, and I’d never noticed it before.

I want to show you a couple pitches. This first one is a fastball, Bauer’s first pitch of the game:

And now a curveball, the very next pitch:

The difference stuck out to me like a sore thumb. To me, Bauer sure looks like he’s decelerating his motion significantly in the second pitch, and slowing his arm action. I started trying to identify the curve as Bauer was throwing it with each pitch, and I was doing so with success.

I took a screenshot when Bauer’s arm stopped going back and started moving forward, at the moment when his glove reached its highest point. Again, the fastball is on the top and the curve on the bottom:


The MLB logo makes it easy to compare, and it’s noticeably higher on the curve, in the second clip. This is something our own Jonah Pemstein sort of wrote about this earlier today, that Bauer’s release point on the curve is unusually high, relative to his other pitches. But this has less to do with release points and more to do with timing.

Take these clips from Bauer’s best start of the year, back in June against the Mariners.

First, a fastball

Now the curve:

Maybe it’s just me, but I’m see more conviction with the curveball, and less slowing of the arm action. The same screenshots:


They’re almost indistinguishable. The bottom of the glove more or less lines up with the chalk.

Back to tonight. I’m seeing it again. Again, I’ve been trying to identify the curves as Bauer winds up, and I’m getting it right almost every time. If I’m getting it right from the press box, I have a hard time imagining Cubs hitters aren’t.

Here’s a couple of curves to Kris Bryant, and while FOX, somehow, still has not yet captured a full Bauer windup on a curve, the slowed arm action is still apparent:

And the comparison shot:


Again, the lettering makes it easy to compare, and it’s clear Bauer is reaching higher. Part of that is likely just by design, the nature of throwing a curve, but we see that it wasn’t as extreme earlier in the season, and it’s hard not to notice the change in arm action.

Either way, the curve is just missing. Bauer had trouble throwing it for a strike against the Blue Jays, and here’s his current pitch chart as I write this post:


He can’t throw it for strikes, and when he is getting it inside the zone, he’s leaving it up. Also, there’s this:

So, yeah. Something is up with Trevor Bauer’s curve.

Trevor Bauer’s Peculiar Curveball

Earlier today, Eno Sarris took a look at the arsenals of tonight’s World Series Game Two starters, Trevor Bauer and Jake Arrieta. In this article, I’m going to hone in on one of those pitches in particular: Bauer’s curveball.

Pitchers want to disguise their pitches. This is a pretty obvious statement – it’s harder for a batter to hit a pitch if he can’t tell what’s coming. So naturally, conventional wisdom dictates that pitchers should try to make every pitch look the same coming out of their hand. You don’t want drastically different mechanics while throwing one type of pitch than while throwing another.

So when Trevor Bauer throws his curveball from a significantly different height than all his other pitches, that stands out. It’s hard to notice on television, but Bauer releases his curve a full six inches higher than all his other pitches.


Read the rest of this entry »

Did Francisco Lindor Get in Jon Lester’s Head?

Jon Lester doesn’t throw to first. This isn’t new. In the National League Championship Series, Dodgers runners tried to dance off the first-base bag, taking large leads to try and disrupt Lester. By and large, it didn’t really work. The Dodgers didn’t take the extra base, and Lester had few problems pitching to the Dodgers with runners on.

Last night, in Game One of the World Series, the circumstances were mostly the same. On paper, at least. Cleveland did steal a base against Lester, but they also got caught stealing once, too. That’s actually a net positive for the Cubs in terms of runs. Again, on paper.

One of those stolen bases belonged to Francisco Lindor, though. Not only did the young shortstop steal a base in the first inning, but he preceded it with some of the same sort of dancing with which the Dodgers experimented previously. The end result of that first innings was two runs for Cleveland — the only two they’d need to win the game.

Was there anything Francisco Lindor did that might have gotten Lester out of rhythm in the first inning, or were the two walks and hit-by-pitch that followed simply ill-timed luck. Is there any evidence that ties Lindor’s steal to Lester’s head?

On the season, Lester threw 64% of his pitches for strikes. Generally speaking, he relies on swinging strikes to get batters out, as his strike-zone percentage of 46% placed him among the bottom quarter of qualified pitchers this year. Of the first eight pitches he threw before Lindor’s single, Lester recorded seven strikes, retiring Rajai Davis on four pitches and inducing a first-pitch out from Jason Kipnis. Lindor was only on first base for two pitches, both called balls by the umpire. The second pitch was in the strike zone, but as is sometimes the case on stolen-base attempts, David Ross‘ movements to prepare for throwing out the runner didn’t provide a good opportunity for framing; the pitch, likely as a result, was called a ball.

Six of Lester’s next eight pitches were balls, and suddenly the bases were loaded. For the rest of the game, Lester threw 64% of his pitches for strikes, just like the regular season. Unfortunately for Lester, one of the balls went to human ball-magnet Brandon Guyer, who has what could be generously called a “strategy” for getting hit. That HBP and a swinging bunt on the previous pitch led to the 2-0 Cleveland lead that proved to be the difference.

Let’s take a look at what Lindor did to “distract” Lester. Here’s the stolen base itself:

It doesn’t appear that Lindor does anything out of the ordinary here. He took perhaps a slightly larger lead than normal, and then ran on first movement. Lindor was safe, as Ross had difficulty getting the ball out of the glove. When August Fagerstrom discussed Lester and Ross, he went through the numbers on why it’s so difficult to steal on them despite Lester’s throwing problems:

Well, let’s run some math. The problem here is, Lester and Ross are quick. All of the following information comes from Statcast, provided by Mike Petriello. Lester was getting the ball to the plate between 1.1 and 1.2 seconds last night, and Ross’s average pop time for the season was 1.95, which ranked sixth among 83 catchers with at least five throws to second base. Both those figures could be considered plus to elite on a scouting scale, and as a battery, their ~3.15 time to second base is hard to beat.

Lindor took advantage of a slightly larger lead and the knowledge that he could leave on first movement without consequence. Those two things together likely put Lindor’s chances of stealing a base at something like average for him, after factoring in the speed of Lester’s delivery and Ross’s pop time. Did the steal get in Lester’s head to help cause the walks of the next two batters as Rajai Davis intimated?

Read the rest of this entry »

2016 World Series Game 2 Live Blog

Andrew Miller Has Had That David Ross At-Bat Before

Inarguably, one of the biggest moments of Game 1 happened in the seventh inning. Really, a handful of the biggest moments of Game 1 happened in the seventh inning, but the top half ended with Andrew Miller whiffing David Ross with two down and the bases loaded. The score at that point was a manageable 3-0, and the showdown got people talking. In part, there was confusion over why Ross was hitting there in the first place. Ross is not that good a hitter! But, he was definitely the one up there, and he is not a bad baseball player. Maybe most remarkable was this:


That’s the other thing people have discussed. At 3-and-1, with nowhere for Ross to go, Miller threw a slider. At 3-and-2, with still nowhere for Ross to go, Miller threw a slider. Those are what are referred to as classic fastball counts, and the perception is that there’s a lot of risk in going offspeed, because those pitches are more likely to be balls. Indeed, the final pitch wound up out of the zone, but Miller got Ross to chase, which is kind of his thing. It’s not Ross’ fault that Miller is some sort of baseball god.

The at-bat inspired some wonderful writing. In there, you see a discussion over what pitches there were, and what pitches Ross was expecting. It takes some balls to throw back-to-back sliders in that situation. I searched for precedent. I bet you’re not surprised to learn Miller hasn’t pitched that much this year with the bases loaded. When he has, he’s even less frequently been in three-ball counts. In fact, this year, before yesterday, Miller had thrown two three-ball pitches with the bases loaded. They both came on May 6, with the Yankees leading the Red Sox 3-2 in the top of the ninth. Miller threw a 3-and-1 pitch to David Ortiz, and he threw a 3-and-2 pitch to David Ortiz.

Here’s the first of them.

The count ran to 3-and-1 in the first place after a fastball/slider/fastball/slider sequence. It’s the same sequence that took Miller to 3-and-1 against Ross. Back in May, against Ortiz, Miller threw a 3-and-1…slider, for a close called strike. Now, it looks worse in the video, because the catcher was crossed up. The catcher was crossed up! And Miller still got the strike. That’s good umpiring! But it made Ortiz upset, because he turned around and saw the catcher fumbling, and so he made some assumptions. John Farrell came out to keep Ortiz from getting ejected. Farrell got ejected.

So, full count. Bases still loaded, one still out, one still the deficit. This is about as high-leverage as it can get in the first week of May. Miller threw the baseball that he had.

Slider, called strike, strikeout. Does the pitch seem kind of low to you? It definitely seemed kind of low to John Farrell, who — wait, what was Farrell doing still in the dugout? Get out of there!

People were heated. Ortiz got ejected. His getting ejected mattered less after the at-bat than it would have in the middle of it. It was a generous strike call. It was maybe probably a ball. Tough couple pitches.

But it’s not the results that matter to me. It’s just the process and the precedent. Miller got a lot of credit for throwing Ross two three-ball sliders. On the only two comparable pitches he threw this year, he also threw sliders. That’s kind of the thing about guys who throw 60% sliders — they don’t do that unless they really, really trust the pitch. For all intents and purposes, Andrew Miller’s slider is his fastball. At least, in the way we think about pitchers conventionally. Against Miller, it’s impossible to rule out the slider, ever. It’s among the things that make him nearly unhittable.

Andrew Miller threw David Ross some tough sliders in a difficult spot. Andrew Miller throws tough sliders. The best pitchers can do whatever they want.

Corey Kluber’s Outing Reflected the Times

Larry Vanover was the home-plate umpire yesterday. At one point on Twitter I noticed he was trending, so, you probably know what that means. After one particular half-inning, Jon Lester walked over to Vanover to have a little chat, presumably to try to clear some air. There were disagreements. When the stakes are so high, it’s possible to see injustice everywhere.

Vanover, in truth, called strikes that were perfectly fine. There were borderline pitches, and any borderline-pitch decision will make half the viewers upset, but overall, the Vanover zone was good. Maybe great! Let’s use the artificially binary strike zone from Baseball Savant. During the season, 91% of the pitches taken within the strike zone were called strikes. Vanover called yesterday at 96%. During the season, 13% of the pitches taken outside of the strike zone were called strikes. Vanover called yesterday at 10%. More preserved strikes, fewer extra strikes. That’s good umpiring. He clearly missed a pitch or three, but that’s just part of the everyday arrangement. Sometimes I fall asleep without taking out my contacts. That’ll happen until we have lens-removing robots. (I, too, will not accept said robots until they are perfect.)

Read the rest of this entry »

What Separates Jake Arrieta From Trevor Bauer?

If you attempted to characterize the starters for Game Two of the World Series merely by arsenal alone, you might end up somewhere you didn’t expect: the same place. Cubs right-hander Jake Arrieta throws a four-seam fastball with ride and good velocity; a sinker he’s gone to more often this year; a strong, harder breaking ball; an excellent, bigger breaking ball; and a change he doesn’t use very often. As for Trevor Bauer… Well, huh: he has the same stuff.

Maybe you scoff, because of the differences in the results. Arrieta has produced three consecutive excellent seasons; Bauer has shown promise and improvement, but seemingly not on Arrieta’s level. Regardless, the similarities are present — and remain so, even if you take a more numbers-based approach to the analysis.

Read the rest of this entry »

Spinning Out of Control

Every now and then, something occurs in a major-league game that just compels me to stop what I’m doing, switch gears, and go into analysis mode. It happened most recently in the top of the fifth inning of NLCS Game Five when Kris Bryant hit a fly ball to straightaway — but slightly on the left-field side of — center field. Center fielder Joc Pederson ran nearly straight backward initially facing toward right field. Then he suddenly and perhaps inexplicably spun around to face left field while still running toward the fence.

At the last minute the ball went just over the reach of his outstretched glove, on the right-field side of center field. The ball bounced on the warning track close to the CF fence, and when the dust had settled, Bryant was on second base with a double. Just to make sure everything is completely clear: Pederson was initially facing the right direction, then he spun around to face the wrong direction, then he spun back at the last second to the original direction, with the ball barely escaping his outstretched reach. Having spun around a complete 360 degrees, he clearly misplayed the ball.

Read the rest of this entry »

Dave Cameron FanGraphs Chat – 10/26/16

Dave Cameron: Happy Wednesday, everyone. Probably a happier one if you’re a Cleveland fan.
Dave Cameron: Let’s talk some World Series, or if your team is already out of it, we can work in some offseason stuff too.
Guest: What are your thoughts on last nights game? As a Cubs fan, even with a loss I saw a lot of optimism there, more specifically vs Miller. Obviously upset with a loss, but I was more mad in the LA shutouts.
Dave Cameron: Yeah, if you’re the Cubs, I think you’re fine with last night. Miller is spent, Schwarber looked good, and you’re not going to keep giving bombs to Roberto Perez all series. You just look at that one, say they needed it more, and realize you’re now in a great position to take the next two.
Baller Status: The Coghlan/Heyward decision got me thinking about hot streaks/slumps. This doesn’t really exactly apply here, because Coughlan wasn’t hitting that great. But if a guy like Heyward has looked lost recently, and if another player seemed to be really locked in, would that sway your decision on who to play? Even if their projections were similar or even slightly lower for the player who was on a hot streak?
Dave Cameron: Hot streaks have been extensively studied, and they basically have no real predictive value. Which is to say we can’t identify ahead of time when a hot streak is over.

Read the rest of this entry »

The Corey Kluber Pitch That Turned the Cubs Into Mush

Several hours before the first pitch of the World Series opener in Cleveland on Tuesday night, a reporter opened the press conference with Indians Game Two starter Trevor Bauer by asking him what it was that he enjoyed about watching Game One starter Corey Kluber when he was at his best. Probably nine in 10 pitchers answer this question with some form of stock response, praising Kluber for the way he competes, his intensity on the mound, or his routines in between starts (Indians players love Kluber’s routines). Whenever nine out of 10 someones would say any one thing, Trevor Bauer is always that 10th guy.

“I like the two-seam fastball,” Bauer said, matter of factly. “That’s a pitch I’m fascinated with. A pitch I started throwing mostly by studying his, and figuring out exactly why it moves and all the science behind it. So I enjoy watching that because sometimes it moves a lot, and it’s really fun to see the reactions to it.”

Bauer spent blocks of time during the 2015 offseason watching film at 1,000 frames per second of Kluber’s two-seam fastball, studying its spin axis and the way Kluber achieves that spin and movement based on the way it comes off his fingers. That year, Bauer threw more than 350 two-seam fastballs, having thrown just seven in his career before learning it by studying Kluber. This year, the two-seam fastball trumped the four-seam as Bauer’s go-to offering, and he threw it more than any other pitch, turning himself into a completely different type of pitcher in the process.

On Tuesday night, we saw just why Bauer went to such lengths to mimic Kluber’s two-seamer, as it was the biggest reason Cleveland’s ace was able to carve up perhaps baseball’s best lineup, allowing just three baserunners in six scoreless innings while striking out nine, and turning Chicago’s biggest threat, Anthony Rizzo, into mush.

Read the rest of this entry »

The Dream of the ’70s Is Alive in Andrew Miller

Since the beginning of this year’s postseason, the present site has become littered with a collection of posts examining the somewhat novel (if also logically sound) deployment of relief pitchers during that postseason. A hasty examination of the archives reveals, for example, a post declaring the advent of the bullpen revolution; a meditation on likely bullpen usage in 2017; and then a third one about how another run might never be scored in a major-league game.

Given this trend, one might suggest that the editors of this site should change its name to BullpenGraphs. But only as a joke, presumably, is why one would do this. Because actually changing the site’s name to BullpenGraphs would represent a huge logistical nightmare — and would almost certainly hurt traffic. And therefore revenue. And therefore ruin the site entirely. Which, for someone who’s employed by that site and also possesses a mortgage, isn’t a particularly amusing joke.

In any case, mostly at the center of this enthusiasm regarding bullpen usage has been Cleveland left-hander Andrew Miller. And for good reason: not only has Miller been predictably effective, but he’s also been ubiquitous. Following last night’s appearance in Game One of the World Series, Miller has now recorded a strikeout rate of 47.1%, stranded every runner who’s been dumb enough to get on base, and conceded zero runs in 13.2 innings. So, roughly as good as possible.

Read the rest of this entry »

Joe Maddon’s Other Curious Decision

Andrew Miller, for once, didn’t look invincible. After relieving Corey Kluber in the top of the seventh inning, he walked Kyle Schwarber — who answered all of the questions about rust and timing in that fantastic at-bat — and then gave up a single to Javier Baez, loading the bases with nobody out. Down 3-0, this was the Cubs shot at winning Game One, and potentially running away with the series; if Cleveland couldn’t win the home game where Kluber dominated on full rest, they weren’t going to have an easy time winning four more without that ideal setup.

But Miller, being the excellent pitcher that he is, got Willson Contreras to fly out to shallow center field, leaving the bases loaded. Then Addison Russell struck out, and Miller was one out away from getting out of the jam. The final at-bat of the seventh inning seemed like the Cubs last shot to win; a big hit in the gap would tie the game — or a home run would even give them the lead — but an out would end the rally, leaving the team down three with only six outs to go against Miller and the looming Cody Allen.

So when David Ross stepped up to the plate to take his chances against Miller, I was pretty surprised, to say the least.

Read the rest of this entry »

Corey Kluber, the Cubs, and Small Sample Size

The World Series Notes column that ran earlier today included quotes from Dexter Fowler and Ben Zobrist on the subject of Corey Kluber. More specifically, their lack of success against the Indians right-hander. The sample sizes are small, but nevertheless real. The two Cubs came into tonight’s game a combined 1 for 20 against Kluber.

They weren’t alone in their woe. The nine players in Chicago’s starting lineup were 4 for 35, with 15 strikeouts, in their cumulative career against the Cleveland ace.

Do small sample-size results mean anything in a given game? Conventional wisdom says no. It is, after all, small sample size. That doesn’t mean it can’t hint at future performance. Some players simply don’t see the ball well against certain pitchers, which is something you can’t quantify. And if a player isn’t careful, the conundrum can go from his eyes to between his ears.

“It’s a mentality,” said Cubs outfielder Chris Coghlan. “Some pitchers, the more you face them, it domes you up. You’re like, ‘Man, I’m getting out all the time. I don’t feel good.’”

“Guys know if they’re comfortable against a pitcher or not,” confirmed Cubs hitting coach John Mallee. “They know how they felt in the box, and that’s something you can’t see in the numbers.”

Tonight’s numbers looked all too familiar to most members of the Chicago lineup. They went 4 for 22 against Kluber, with nine strikeouts. Eight of those punch outs came in the first three innings.

Did a multitude of Cubs lack confidence in the box in Game One of the World Series? The answer to that question is an unequivocal no. This is one of the best hitting teams in baseball. They aren’t about to be cowed, no matter how good the pitcher.

That doesn’t mean subconscious doubt didn’t begin to creep into a few heads. As for how well the NL champs were tracking the ball, the number of swings and misses, and called strikes, tell a story.

Which brings us back to sample size, which now stands at 8 for 47, with 24 strikeouts. Still too small to be meaningful in a certain sense. As much as anything, what it says is that Corey Kluber is very good.

The Cubs will face Kluber at least one more time this October, and while they’ll do so with stiff upper lips, it’s hard to imagine them being fully confident.

2016 World Series Game 1 Live Blog

Dave Cameron: Welcome to the World Series!
Dave Cameron: This should be a fun series.
Dave Cameron: Let’s start with a poll.
Dave Cameron:
World Champion?

Cubs in 4 (0.9% | 2 votes)
Cubs in 5 (21.2% | 46 votes)
Cubs in 6 (34.2% | 74 votes)
Cubs in 7 (7.8% | 17 votes)
Indians in 4 (0% | 0 votes)
Indians in 5 (3.7% | 8 votes)
Indians in 6 (20.8% | 45 votes)
Indians in 7 (11.1% | 24 votes)

Total Votes: 216
Bork: I love that they used the Imperial March when the Cubs came in. Because when I think of evil baseball empires, the Cubs are the first team that comes to mind.
Kevin: When napoli got announced it felt like it was about the 6th time he was in the world series… turns out its only 3 but with 3 different teams so still impressive

Read the rest of this entry »

Chris Coghlan Is Starting in the World Series and That’s Weird

Over the last few days, we’ve written a decent amount about the Cubs potential line-ups for the World Series, with Kyle Schwarber‘s return creating some options. With Schwarber set to DH when the games are in Cleveland, that left Joe Maddon with a decision to make about his outfield; stick with the struggling Jason Heyward while betting on his defense and track record, or go with the less experienced Willson Contreras, the youngster who was terrific in the second half but doesn’t have Heyward’s glove. Faced with a star player coming off a lousy season or a young maybe-star-in-the-making, Joe Maddon chose… Chris Coghlan?

It’s true, Coghlan is starting in right field in Game 1 of the World Series for the best team in baseball. With all due respect to Maddon and the Cubs — who obviously know what they’re doing when it comes to running a baseball team — this is a fairly perplexing decision.

To come to the conclusion that you don’t want to start Heyward against a right-handed pitcher, you have to put a lot of weight on his 2016 performance, believing that he’s currently unable to hit anywhere near his career levels for one reason or another. His postseason struggles (.071/.133/.179 in 30 PAs) certainly make it easier to buy into that theory, but there’s no question that benching Heyward means that you’re overweighting recent performance relative to long-term track record.

Except somehow, the Cubs are starting the only guy on their entire roster who hit worse than Heyward this year.

Heyward and Coghlan, 2016
Heyward 0.230 0.306 0.325 0.282 72
Coghlan 0.188 0.290 0.318 0.269 66

Like Heyward, Coghlan is a much better hitter than his 2016 line indicates, and was a good hitter as recently as last year. But there’s no getting around the fact that Coghlan was lousy in 2016, and while he’s only hit five times in the postseason, he’s 0-4 with a walk, so it’s not like he’s earned his way into the line-up with a strong recent performance either.

If you’re overweighting recent performance in order to talk yourself into benching Heyward, I’m not entirely sure how you ignore Coghlan’s 2016 struggles to determine that he’s the better option. To do so would require ignoring what he did in Oakland this year, and only focus on his performance after getting to Chicago, which amounts to a total of 133 plate appearances. Deciding on a World Series starter based on the most recent 133 PAs is to weight recent performance so highly that it’s essentially indefensible.

For the record, here are their forecasted performances Steamer, which take all relevant data into account.

Heyward and Coghlan, Steamer Projections
Heyward 0.262 0.339 0.402 0.323 100
Coghlan 0.229 0.317 0.372 0.300 84

This morning, I argued for Heyward to start even if the team saw his bat as a liability at the moment, based on the value of aligning his defensive value with the team’s highest likelihood of putting a ball in play. That said, there was a decent argument for starting Contreras, if you really believed Heyward’s bat is broken beyond repair right now.

But in starting Coghlan, the Cubs are getting the worst of both worlds; the guy who didn’t hit at all in 2016 along with a guy who is a significant defensive downgrade. Coghlan is essentially what you’d get if you had Heyward’s 2016 bat and Contreras’ 2016 outfield glove. When faced with a choice between offense and defense, Maddon chose neither.

Because it’s baseball, Coghlan will probably hit a couple of home runs tonight and be the hero for the series. And it’s not like this is a big enough deal to get up in arms about, since Coghlan will be pinch hit for as soon as Andrew Miller enters the game anyway. We’re likely looking at one or maybe two at-bats before he’s replaced, and a few innings of downgraded defense at one corner outfield spot; starting Coghlan isn’t some disaster that will sink the Cubs chances of winning tonight.

But based on everything we know, it’s a weird call. Contreras is probably the best hitter not in the Cubs line-up, even with the platoon disadvantage, and it’s not easy to see that Coghlan is going to hit better against Kluber than Contreras would if you’re going for an offense-first line-up. And you have to do some mental gymnastics about the value of recent performance to come to the conclusion that you want to bench Heyward but still think Coghlan is worth playing. Sticking with Heyward would have been justifiable. Starting Contreras would have been justifiable. Starting Coghlan? I don’t get it.

The 2016 Cleveland Indians: A Ball-in-Play Snapshot

There’s a chill in the air, as Halloween and the long winter that follows have begun to beckon for those of us who make their home in the Midwest. This is a special fall season for many Midwesterners, as someone’s long regional nightmare is about to end: either the Indians or Cubs are going to win the World Series for the first time since either Truman beat Dewey, or Taft beat Bryan.

This week, let’s take a macro, ball-in-play-oriented look at each team and its key players. Today, it’s the AL champs in the barrel, as we examine granular data such as BIP frequencies, exit speeds and launch angles to get a feel for what made the Indians tick in 2016.

Read the rest of this entry »

How the Cubs Can Win the World Series

The Cubs should win this. I know that sounds crazy from the perspective of someone who cares a lot about baseball history, but this is the greatest Cubs team in ages, and that team is the World Series favorite. Maybe you don’t think they should be favored as strongly as they are on our pages. Maybe you don’t think they should be favored as strongly as they are in various betting markets. But you’d have to put an awful lot of weight in the American League’s superiority to think the Indians are at least a coin flip here. Home-field advantage doesn’t make up for the Indians’ deficiencies. Even if you figure their odds are about the same as, say, Joey Votto‘s odds of reaching base, Votto usually doesn’t reach base. In any at-bat, Votto’s the underdog. In this World Series, the Indians are the underdog.

Which is one of the reasons why August wrote up a post titled “How the Indians Can Win the World Series.” Obviously, there are paths that would lead the Indians to victory, and it’s interesting to think about how it could happen. It’s maybe less interesting to think about how the Cubs could win; “continue being the better baseball team” isn’t a satisfying answer. But still, there are things the Cubs can do. There are things for them to try to ignore or exploit. The Cubs have some keys to victory, just as the Indians do.

So this is the second half of our post-pair. How can the Cubs win the World Series? They can play like they’ve played practically all season. But what about specific little details? I can offer some of those. Here are some potential talking points.

Read the rest of this entry »

The Massive Payroll Disparity of the 2016 World Series

In many ways, the Chicago and Cleveland clubs about to begin this year’s World Series are similar teams. We know about the lengthy championship droughts each share, as well as their general, respective histories of futility. More specific to this season, one finds that both teams traded for relief aces from the New York Yankees, both won their divisions handily, and both advanced to the Series in relatively easy fashion. Each of the clubs is located in the middle part of the country, and each of them have relied on a collection of young, homegrown players.

So there’s a lot in common between the two teams. But there’s also one major advantage which Chicago possesses over their counterparts in Cleveland: money. While both teams feature younger players who’ve assumed major roles, the Cubs have gone out and made major fortifications through free agency while Cleveland has had to complement the core of their roster through the free-agent bargain bin.

Both teams have some dead money on their payrolls. Michael Bourn, Chris Johnson, and Nick Swisher remain on the books for Cleveland; Edwin Jackson still received money from Chicago. For Cleveland, though, those expenditures amount to roughly one-fifth of payroll compared to under 10% for the Cubs. Regarding the active World Series rosters, the Cubs are paying $147 million in salaries this year, an average of nearly $6 million per player. Cleveland, meanwhile, has invested only about $59 million in 2016 salaries, an average of $2.4 million per player. Only three Cleveland players — Jason Kipnis, Mike Napoli, and Carlos Santana — earn more than the average Cub, and Santana’s $8.45 million salary, Cleveland’s highest, would rank seventh among Chicago players. The graph below depicts the salaries for the active rosters of the two teams, with salary data from Cot’s Contracts.


Where a player was making above the major-league minimum and traded midseason, only the portion of the salary that was actually paid by the team was included. This applied to Aroldis Chapman, Coco Crisp, and Andrew Miller. Both teams feature a lot of homegrown talent, but when the Cubs needed to make a push for contention, they were able to sign Jason Heyward, John Lackey, Jon Lester, and Ben Zobrist to big contracts. Cleveland, partially hamstrung due to Zobrist-size deals for Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn, signed Mike Napoli and Rajai Davis to fortify the roster.

Read the rest of this entry »

The New Postseason Plan: Defense Early, Offense Late

In general, when Major League teams have to choose how to deploy one-dimensional players, they go offense first, then defense later. Bat-only players are usually starters, they get their three at-bats, and then they are lifted for defensive replacements late in the game if there’s a lead to protect. This usage generally minimizes the number of at-bats you have to give to the weak hitting defensive specialist, and putting your best defensive unit on the field when you have a lead to protect seems to make sense, since you don’t need to score any more runs at that point, so long as you don’t let the other team score.

But baseball has changed, and postseason baseball has changed even more dramatically, so for the Indians and Cubs, I’d suggest that the best way to utilize their specialists is to start the defenders and sub in the offensive upgrades in the middle innings.

Read the rest of this entry »

August Fagerstrom FanGraphs Chat — 10/25/16

august fagerstrom: hello!

august fagerstrom: World Series chat!

august fagerstrom: I went to bed at 5AM last night!

august fagerstrom: get those questions in and I’ll kick things off about 5 after

august fagerstrom: Chat soundtrack: Grizzly Bear – Veckatimest

august fagerstrom: alright, let’s just get it going now

Read the rest of this entry »