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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Oakland Acquires Improbable, Inevitable Future MVP in Trade

In January of this year, the author of this post, following some statistical perambulations, arrived at the conclusion that Max Schrock, a 13th-round selection out of the University of South Carolina during the most recent (2015) draft, would someday win an MVP award. The basis for that conclusion: no SEC batter in 2015 had produced numbers more similar to Josh Donaldson‘s — during Donaldson’s own final year as a collegiate player (also in the SEC) — than Schrock. And Donaldson himself had just collected an MVP award in the American League. So, by a very liberal application of the transitive property, I concluded that Schrock would as well.

There were, of course, a number of reasons to suppose that Max Schrock would not win an MVP award in the major leagues. There remain a number of reasons. Chief among them is probably this: the best player of the current era — and possibly any one’s era ever — has received only one MVP award during his first four seasons in the majors and faces a non-negligible chance of extending that record to one in five years. If Mike Trout is capable of just a 20% conversion rate on MVP awards, everyone else’s chances are dramatically lower.

Moreover, there’s the matter of Schrock himself. Because, here’s a type of prospect who rarely develops into a perennial MVP candidate: a 5-foot-8 hitter. And here’s another kind: an infielder who’s incapable of playing a competent shortstop. And here’s a third sort: a player who’s selected in the 13th round. How many 5-foot-8, 13th-round second basemen have been recognized as their respective league’s best? I lack the requisite ambition to perform the search. But none seems like a reasonable answer. Let’s assume none or somewhere close to none. Indeed, even Josh Donaldson, whose ascent to stardom is regarded as improbable, is a former first-round selection. And features physical attributes that suggest the ability to hit for power. And offered, as a young player, the possibility of defensive value as a catcher. (And continues to offer it as a markedly above-average third baseman.) Schrock possesses none of these redeeming qualities.

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A Very Mike Trout Home Run

Last night, Mike Trout went 3-for-6 with a double, a homer, two runs, and an RBI. The Angels won, 8-2, over the Blue Jays, but let’s get back to that home run. Here’s what Mike Trout’s body looked like just moments before making contact with a pitch that went over the left field fence:

Screen Shot 2016-08-25 at 1.32.46 PM

We all know what a typical home run swing looks like, and it sure doesn’t look like that. We also know what a normal baseball player looks like, and it sure doesn’t look like Mike Trout.

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Projecting Max Schrock, the Return for Marc Rzepczynski

A 13th-round pick last year, infielder Max Schrock — received by Oakland today from Washington in exchange for left-handed reliever Marc Rzepczynski — has made something of a name for himself by putting up strong offensive numbers in the lower levels. He’s hitting .333 between two levels of A-ball this season, largely due to an 8% strikeout rate. That’s encouraging coming from a middle infielder with speed and decent power. As a result, he’s become a regular on Carson Cistulli’s Fringe Five column.

Despite his strong performance, KATOH isn’t a huge fan of Schrock. My system pegs him for 2.9 WAR over his first six seasons by the traditional method and 2.8 WAR by the method that integrates Baseball America’s rankings. That puts him in the #150-#200 range in terms of prospects. To help you visualize what his KATOH projection entails, here is a probability density function showing KATOH+’s projected distribution of outcomes for Schrock’s first six seasons in the major leagues.

Schrock

While Schrock’s hitting has been very good, KATOH dings him for being just 5-foot-8, and also for playing second base rather than shortstop. Second baseman with good numbers in the low minors don’t pan out all that often. There are some obvious exceptions to that statement, but it’s worth pointing out that those exceptions all provide defensive value, while Schrock has been eight runs below average at second base, according to Clay Davenport’s numbers.

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

Please note that the Mahalanobis analysis is separate from KATOH. KATOH relies on macro-level trends, rather than comps. The fates of a few statistically similar players shouldn’t be used to draw sweeping conclusions about a prospect’s future. For this reason, I recommend using a player’s KATOH forecast to assess his future potential. The comps give us some interesting names that sometimes feel spot-on, but they’re mostly just there for fun.

Max Schrock’s Mahalanobis Comps
Rank Name Mah Dist KATOH+ Proj. WAR Actual WAR
1 Chad Akers 2.51 2.8 0.0
2 Jesus Mendoza 2.65 1.4 0.0
3 Lonnie Webb 2.91 2.1 0.0
4 Miguel Flores 2.94 3.3 0.0
5 Scott Hairston 3.20 2.5 5.2
6 Ralph Milliard 3.40 1.4 0.2
7 Kary Bridges 3.45 1.9 0.0
8 Delwyn Young 3.46 1.6 0.5
9 Marty Malloy 3.58 1.8 0.0
10 Alberto Callaspo 3.64 2.7 7.3

As Dave Cameron pointed out, Rzepczynski is a mediocre left-handed reliever, and a month of his services probably could have been had for next-to-nothing. Schrock probably won’t win any MVP awards, but there’s a pretty decent chance he’ll be a useful role player in a couple of years. That’s demonstrably more than next-to-nothing.


Joey Votto’s Most Joey Votto Game

Excuse me there. May I have just a minute of your time? Maybe five. I know there’s a playoff race going on. I know Gary Sanchez is hitting all of the home runs and Rich Hill is back. I know the Royals are surging and the Giants are freefalling, and that’s all well and good, but would you mind if I spent some time this afternoon talking about a game played by a last-place team three weeks ago? I’m bringing it up now because I’m afraid we all missed it when it happened, and I can’t let that go on any longer. You see, since the start of June, Joey Votto‘s been safe more than he’s been out, and in the midst of this ridiculous run, he had what may be the most Joey Votto game of all the Joey Votto games, and that seems like the sort of thing of which we should all take note. I’m glad I have your attention. Let’s begin.

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Eno Sarris Baseball Chat — 8/25/16

12:34
Eno Sarris: Something weird happens to your Limbic System when you have kids. It’s like someone turns on the hose, and suddenly you’re sitting there listening to a song you’ve heard a million times and you’re wiping tears from your face.
12:02
Eno Sarris: I’m here!
12:02
Gary: Let’s assume Benintendi is fine for next year. Better keeper: him or Brantley in a points league?
12:02
Eno Sarris: I’d rather take a shot on Benintendi’s power, he looked really impressive at the plate.
12:02
Al: How much value does a manager actually provide and is there a quantifiable metric to show how their decisions impact the win-loss total?
12:03
Eno Sarris: My guess is 2-4 wins, and no. Which sucks, because I got my first vote this year, and it’s for AL MOY.

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Nationals Play Scrabble, Probably Lose

One of the recurring themes over the last year has been the high price the market is putting on relief pitchers. Ken Giles and Craig Kimbrel brought back monster returns in trades last winter, while even decent middle relievers were getting two or three year deals as free agents. At last month’s trade deadline, Aroldis Chapman got the Yankees a terrific haul. It’s clearly a good time to be selling relief pitching.

And today, it looks like those rising prices have trickled down to mediocre lefty specialists, as the Nationals gave up a legitimately interesting prospect for a five week rental of Mark Rzepczynski. The guy nicknamed Scrabble is a useful situational reliever, having held lefties to a .270 wOBA in his career — don’t put any stock on his 2016 reverse split, which is all BABIP driven — but he’s useless against righties (.351 career wOBA allowed) so he’s effectively a one out guy.

Of course, the Nationals already have exactly this kind of pitcher in Oliver Perez, who they signed for $7 million over two years last winter. Perez hasn’t been as good as they hoped this year, and has been particularly bad lately, getting torched for a .473 wOBA in August. But he’s still held lefties to a .316 wOBA this year after keeping them to just a .230 wOBA last year, and is at .306 for his career; you’d have to really overreact to five bad innings in August to think that the Nationals needed to give up real value to improve their lefty specialist for the playoffs.

For the right to marginally upgrade their LOOGY, a guy who might face four or five batters in an entire playoff series, the Nationals surrendered a 21 year old currently running a 131 wRC+ in high-A ball. Max Schrock isn’t an elite prospect or anything, but he’s been a fixture on Carson’s Fringe Five all year, based on his strong contact rates and at least a little bit of power. As a diminutive second baseman, it’s easy to look at Schrock as a limited upside guy, but with Jose Altuve on the verge of getting AL MVP votes, we should remember that the idea of firm upside ceilings are much less concrete than is often thought.

Schrock’s more likely future is as a bench bat, but even if he’s just Alberto Callaspo 2.0, giving that up for a marginal gain in lefty specialists seems weird.

So why did the Nationals do this? Well, the deal was announced as Rzepczynski and cash for Schrock, so presumably, Oakland is paying some of the remaining ~$800K or so left on his contract this season. But according to sources in the game, Rzepczynski actually cleared waivers before this trade was completed, so the Nationals could have simply had him for just a the waiver fee, and kept a legitimately interesting prospect in their system.

So, effectively, the Nationals just sold a decent prospect for some cash savings in order to bolster the least important part of their bullpen. I know the value of relievers is going up, but deals like this still seem silly to me. Maybe Scrabble will get a big out or two in October and it will seem worth the long-term cost, but Rzepczynski seems like the kind of guy the Nationals should have gotten for next to nothing. When the market is inflating reliever prices to the point you have to give up a legitimately interesting 21 year old for a five week rental of a LOOGY, maybe it’s just time to stop paying market prices for relievers and go with what you already have.


Yu Darvish’s Night at the Plate

We are currently in the 20th year of regular-season interleague play. I’m not sure exactly how many repetitions it takes for an event to transition from exciting novelty to mundane part of the schedule, but somewhere along the way interleague play has done just that. We now accept that this is a world where things as bizarre as Marlins/Mariners series will occur from time to time because it’s become a part of the routine. However, on occasion something happens to remind us why interleague play has any value. It doesn’t happen often, but it did happen last night, when interleague play set the stage for Yu Darvish to step to the plate and hit the first home run of his professional career.

It wasn’t the first home run hit by an American League pitcher this season — that honor belongs to Anthony Ranaudo — but, with all due respect to Ranaudo, it was the first by a pitcher of Darvish’s caliber in a long time. Since the debut of interleague play in 1997, there have been 21 American League pitcher home runs, from Bobby Witt‘s on 6/30/97 to Darvish’s last night. As you would expect, the number of top-tier pitchers on that list after Darvish is small: Mark Buehrle, Zack Greinke, Josh Beckett (twice), and CC Sabathia (twice). You can include post-peak Doc Gooden if you’re so inclined, and then, of course, there’s Felix Hernandez, who hit that beautiful grand slam off Johan Santana at Shea Stadium back in 2008.

It’s such a rare feat that there are still four American League teams – Oakland, Los Angeles, New York, and Minnesota — which have yet to record their first pitcher home run in the DH era. Given that rarity and the particular absurdity of how it all played out last night, it’s worth taking a look at Darvish’s night at the plate.

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NERD Game Scores for Thursday, August 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
Baltimore at Washington | 19:05 ET
Jimenez (94.2 IP, 116 xFIP-) vs. Scherzer (174.0 IP, 82 xFIP-)
You probably didn’t expect to find that a late-August game started by Ubaldo Jimenez — who, for whatever his virtues, now possesses both below-average command and velocity — would be identified as the day’s most promising by an algorithm designed to identify such things. That said, you also didn’t expect your uncle Danny to remain on nodding terms with sobriety all the way till the end of your wedding reception, and yet that’s precisely what happened. These aren’t miracles, per se, but brief respites from a labyrinth of difficulties.

In this case, the main attraction is less Jimenez and more a combination of Max Scherzer (who’s built of electricity) and Jimenez’s club, the Orioles (whose postseason fate is among the least clear in the majors).

Readers’ Preferred Broadcast: Washington Radio.

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The Next Stage of Nolan Arenado

Walks, I think, have suffered from something of a marketing problem. And analysts were in large part responsible, back in OBP’s heyday 10 or 15 years ago. The walk felt underrated, and so in some circles it became maybe overrated. Analysts loved players who walked. But other players didn’t respond so well to that, because, to them, you don’t go up there trying to walk. You go up there trying to hit. In truth, everyone has always seen eye to eye — the goal is to reach base, by avoiding an out. But some damage was done. Low-walk players got tired of talking about their low walk totals. It seemed like a nonsense concern, coming from somewhere outside of the game.

Nolan Arenado has historically been a low-walk player. And, like others, he wasn’t real jazzed to talk about that. An excerpt from this past April:

Rockies third baseman Nolan Arenado couldn’t have thought it possible that he’d receive so much attention for not swinging.
[…]
Although the interest in his walks elicited a bemused eye-roll and a sardonic, “Great topic,” Arenado had fun with the subject, and with teammate Carlos Gonzalez.

Arenado didn’t want to hear criticism about his low walks. And, without question, he’s been successful while aggressive. Yet walks aren’t really the point. Walks are a proxy. Drawing a walk means a hitter didn’t swing at too many pitches out of the zone. No hitter wants to swing at too many pitches out of the zone. If you read on in the linked article, you see Arenado talking about how he was seeing the ball better. Arenado talked about what felt like better discipline. That’s all anyone’s ever wanted. And, say, Arenado’s stat line looks new.

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Let’s Talk About Ryan Howard

I want to share a leaderboard with you that I can’t stop thinking about. These are the top-five National League first basemen in the second half by wRC+:

Second-Half NL First Basemen wRC+ Leaderboard
Player Team PA wRC+
Joey Votto CIN 154 226
Ryan Howard PHI 66 191
Freddie Freeman ATL 155 179
Adrian Gonzalez LAD 137 149
Paul Goldschmidt ARZ 158 140
Min. 60 PA
Stats through start of play Tuesday 8/23

I cannot fathom a more perfect depiction of the frustratingly beautiful juxtaposition of expected/unexpected outcomes which is so integral to this absurd bat-and-ball game we watch each day. It would be easy to pick Votto, Freeman, Goldschmidt and Gonzalez as top offensive performers among National League first basemen. But Ryan Howard?! That Ryan Howard?!

The thing about Howard is that it’s not as though he snuck onto that leaderboard. He has a 191 wRC+ in the second half! Only four other players in all of MLB have a higher wRC+ since the All-Star break: Votto, Gary Sanchez, J.D. Martinez, and Jose Altuve (min. 60 PA).

What’s more, Ryan Howard’s offensive surge is in true old-school Ryan Howard fashion, which is to say he’s hitting the snot out of the ball. Thanks to a remarkable seven home runs in just 66 plate appearances, he’s posted a .403 ISO and .742 slugging percentage. Of the 294 players with 60 or more plate appearances this half, 142 of them — nearly half! — have a lower OPS than Howard’s SLG%.

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Gary Sanchez Is No Jesus Montero

Jesus Montero is still just 26 years old, and he’s having a pretty decent season at the plate. He’s batting over .300, and he has his OBP close to .350 and his slugging percentage close to .450. All things considered, that’s not a bad campaign. But for the fact that Montero has spent the summer in Triple-A, and he’s split his time between first base and DH. He’s mostly been the DH.

It’s hard to believe now that Montero spent three consecutive years within the Baseball America prospect top-10. Though the pop remains in his bat, there’s pretty much nothing else to speak of, and Montero has stood as a cautionary tale to those who’ve been high on Gary Sanchez. Not only did they rise through the same system — Montero and Sanchez have had similar roles and similar strengths, with similar criticisms and similar questions. They even made similar first impressions. At least for the time being, Montero is there to keep Sanchez fans grounded.

Yet Gary Sanchez is no Jesus Montero. I get that the parallels are many. But the profiles are dramatically different. Sanchez is looking like he can hit. Even more importantly, Sanchez is looking like he can catch.

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The Royals Are Having the Most Royals Month Ever

On July 31st, the Royals were basically dead in the water. On the day before the team had to make a final buy, sold, or hold decision, KC stood at 49-55, 12 games out of first place in the AL Central. They’d been outscored by 59 runs. And to top it off, Wade Davis had to go back on the DL with a flexor strain, signaling that he hadn’t been able to get past the arm problems that had already cost him part of the season. The Royals hadn’t been very good with him in 2016, and now were looking at likely spending the rest of the season without one of the main reasons they’ve been able to win the last few years.

And yet, despite four months of struggles and Davis’ absence, since the calendar flipped over to August, the Royals have been almost unbeatable. They’ve reeled off 16 wins in 21 games, including their last nine, and have breathed some life back into a season that looked to be dead and buried. The graph of their end-of-season expected record tells the story pretty well.

chart (40)

In a season of ups and downs, August has been the biggest up so far, and unsurprisingly, the Royals have been winning games with the same kind of crazy formula that allowed them to make a couple of postseason runs the last two years.

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Video: Trevor Bauer on Managing His Sinker’s Movement

Imagine you’re floating on a raft down a lazy river. It can’t be so hard to imagine, it’s still August. In one hand, naturally, you’ve got an adult soda; the other, you place into the water to check the temperature. Suddenly, you’re headed — slightly but perceptibly — towards the bank on the same side as that hand you’ve submerged. Now stop imagining.

In layman’s terms, what you’ve done is to use your hand as a rudder of sorts. That’s one way of characterizing the effect. What you could also say, however, is that you’ve disrupted the laminar flow, creating a force that alters the direction of the object within the flow. Those aren’t layman’s terms.

Whatever the precise words you’re using, they’re all relevant to a baseball flying through the air. The seams cause drag in different ways, and that drag causes movement. Physicist Alan Nathan does a better job explaining it both here and elsewhere, but that’s a simple way to understand the relationship of the seams to movement.

Trevor Bauer is currently showing the best horizontal movement on his sinker of his career. That’s what this graph illustrates:

Brooksbaseball-Chart-57

When I asked him about it, he agreed that it was good earlier in the year. Not recently, though. “Recently, it’s been shit,” he told me Tuesday afternoon. And you can see that, yes, indeed, the horizontal movement has been more erratic than it was earlier in the year.

Brooksbaseball-Chart-58

Part of that is just the fact that the body changes slightly over time. It’s related to the difficulty in improving command. Little muscles act differently as they get more or less fatigued than the muscles around them. “I also overhauled my delivery a couple of years ago, and I’m starting to get better muscle memory for this new delivery over time,” Bauer pointed out. So that’s helped him get to this point where he’s commanding the ball better, which has allowed him to throw the front-door sinker to lefties more often this year, a big part in putting up his best strikeout- and walk-rate differential this year (and overall numbers) against lefties of his career.

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Tyler Clippard on Beating BABIP and the Limits of FIP

Tyler Clippard has always been a smart pitcher. That’s evident from his erudition as well as his results. Based on my experience, the 31-year-old reliever is equally adept at discussing his craft and flummoxing opposing hitters with solid-but-unspectacular stuff.

As noted in this past Sunday’s Notes column, Clippard has recorded the lowest BABIP against (.237) of any pitcher to have thrown at least 500 innings since 2007. That’s when the righty broke into the big leagues. Pitching for the Nationals, A’s, Mets, Diamondbacks and now the Yankees, Clippard has 45 wins, 54 saves and a 2.94 ERA in 539 appearances (all but eight out of the bullpen). Augmenting his ability to induce weak contact is a better-than-you-might-expect 9.9 strikeouts per nine innings. He’s made a pair of All-Star teams.

———

Clippard on his BABIP and creating plane: “Someone brought it to my attention a few years ago. I guess it didn’t surprise me when I learned that. I’m constantly trying to figure out ways that I can pitch to get the weakest contact, whether it’s from my arm slot or my pitch selection. That’s kind of how I’ve always pitched. I’ve always tried to maximize my room for error. I’m not a guy who is going to have pinpoint command, so I’m always trying to create more plane, more deception.

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Dave Cameron FanGraphs Chat – 8/24/16

12:02
Dave Cameron: Happy Wednesday, everyone. Let’s talk some baseball for an hour or so.
12:02
Ed in Iowa: I have several questions/comments this week, but most importantly: Was there good news yesterday? Is it time to start planning that fancy, costume, pool party?
12:03
Dave Cameron: For those who aren’t sure what Ed is referencing, I had my five year remission checkup yesterday. It was, indeed, good news. I’ll never be really “cured”, as there’s always a small lingering chance of recurrence, but the five year mark is the point where 95% of AML patients end up living a nice healthy life until something else kills them.
12:04
Dave Cameron: So yeah, we’re going to have a big party.
12:05
britishcub: Are NL pitchers stats more predictive of future performance if you look at non pitcher at bats only or do you just lose information?
12:05
Dave Cameron: I would imagine it probably doesn’t make a big difference one way or another, but I haven’t seen it studied.

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Jose Ramirez Has Been Michael Brantley

It was fair to wonder about the potential of the Indians’ offense when Peter Gammons went on live television during the Winter Meetings and reported that Michael Brantley would be out until August after learning his shoulder injury was worse than originally expected. It might’ve been fair to wonder about it before then; this was a unit that was below average by wRC+ in 2015, and added to their lineup only Rajai Davis, Mike Napoli, and Juan Uribe — a trio of 34- to 36-year-olds who were coming off just average offensive seasons themselves — in what was then seen as an underwhelming offseason. Everyone expected the Indians to pitch, but without Brantley, could an outfield of Davis, Abraham Almonte, and Lonnie Chisenhall lead a playoff team?

And then Brantley’s shoulder issues wound up being worse than even Gammons reported, and Cleveland’s best hitter over the previous two seasons managed just 43 painful plate appearances before succumbing to another shoulder surgery that ended his season once and for all. Essentially one-third of their entire offseason busted — Uribe was designated for assignment in early August — and yet here we are, more than two-thirds of the way through the year, and the Indians have managed a top-five offense by runs scored and a top-10 group by wRC+. Arguably, it’s the hitting that’s been their biggest strength, before the pitching.

Even more shocking is that same lackluster outfield unit currently ranks third in WAR and sixth in wRC+. A lot of that has to do with Tyler Naquin tapping into unforeseen power and hitting like Anthony Rizzo, but even more important to the Indians’ success this season has been the fact that, despite Brantley’s lost year, they haven’t actually been without him at all. Turns out the key to not missing your All-Star left fielder is to simply clone him using a 5-foot-9 utility infielder:

Jose Ramirez vs. Michael Brantley
Player AVG OBP SLG ISO wRC+ BB% K% HR* SB* WAR*
Brantley, 2016 projection .299 .362 .449 .150 123 8.6% 9.4% 14 14 3.0
Ramirez, 2016 production .305 .359 .453 .148 118 7.3% 11.2% 13 26 4.0
*HR, SB, and WAR figures prorated to 600 PA

Jose Ramirez has provided the Indians with a near-exact replica of Brantley’s 2016 preseason projected numbers, and due to Ramirez’s superior base-running and defensive abilities, he’s already outperformed Brantley’s full-season WAR projection in just 466 plate appearances. Ramirez even took the impersonation a step further by filling in as the team’s primary left fielder for much of the season — despite having played just 14 major-league innings in the outfield prior to this year — before returning to a more familiar post at third base upon Uribe’s dismissal from the team.

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