NERD Game Scores for Thursday, May 26, 2016

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

***

Most Highly Rated Game
Miami at Tampa Bay | 13:10 ET
Fernandez (53.2 IP, 66 xFIP-) vs. Smyly (56.0 IP, 91 xFIP-)
Having read no fewer than two or maybe one popular-science books on the subject of human cognition, the present author is prepared to state unequivocally that a central feature of the brain is its tireless search for patterns — and tendency to extract meaning from mere coincidence. As a product of those traits, one might reasonably expect the human brain to regard these numbers with some interest:

Jose Fernandez , 2015 vs 2016
Season GS TBF IP xFIP- FIP- ERA- WAR WAR200
2015 11 265 64.2 68 60 75 2.1 6.5
2016 9 217 53.2 66 62 75 1.7 6.4
WAR200 denotes WAR prorated to 200 innings.

Those are the the 2015 and 2016 seasons of Jose Fernandez. What one observes are the similarities between certain of the right-hander’s index stats from one season to the next. Nearly identical adjusted xFIP marks, for example. And nearly identical (and lower) adjusted FIP marks. And actually identical (and slightly higher) adjusted ERA marks. Of course, the figures aren’t entirely random; they have, for example, been produced by the same pitcher. Nevertheless, the symmetry of the data is unusual. The brain is stirred! Or, at least: maybe the brain is stirred!

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My Favorite Andrew Miller Fact

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

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

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It’s Rock Bottom for Shelby Miller

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

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

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Let’s Watch Jeff Samardzija Tip Some Pitches

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

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

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

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

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

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Are Veterans Better at Slump-Busting?

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

“Especially hitting,” began Ausmus. And continued:

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

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

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The Other Dominant AL East Closer

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

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

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Giancarlo Stanton’s Concerning Contact Rate

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Screen Shot 2016-05-25 at 2.13.10 PM

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

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


FanGraphs Meetup: New York City, June 18th

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

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

Details below.

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A Status Update on the Francisco Liriano Experience

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

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

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

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Dave Cameron FanGraphs Chat – 5/25/16

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

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NERD Game Scores for Wednesday, May 25, 2016

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

***

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

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Kershaw Is Forcing Us to Confront the Pedro Question

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

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

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

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

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

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FanGraphs After Dark Chat – 5/24/16

9:00
Paul Swydan: Hi everybody!
9:01
Paul Swydan: Jeff may be late. Kids stuff. Pro tip – Never become an adult.
9:01
Paul Swydan: I have to say, I’m surprised 10.3% of you have faith in Jackie Bradley Jr. to beat Joe DiMaggio’s record. I guess someone’s gotta do it.
9:01
Jeet: I finally made it to a chat
9:01
Paul Swydan: Congrats Jeet!
9:01
Amir Garrett: Will I be in the majors this year? Makes sense right?

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Leonys Martin Stopped Being a Slap Hitter

I keep a little notebook next to my computer, so I can keep track of potential things to write about. Generally, topics break down into two categories: there are the topics that practically need to be written about, and there are the possible topics to monitor. Maybe those need bigger sample sizes; maybe those just need to become more interesting. Some of those topics turn into posts, and some of those topics never leave the piece of paper. I see that I crossed out something about Joe Ross. No idea what that was supposed to be.

For weeks, because of the notebook, I’ve been casually following Leonys Martin. I noticed in the early going that Martin didn’t look like himself: he was striking out a bunch, but he was also hitting more baseballs in the air. That seemed to me like something to follow, and wouldn’t you know it, but here we are, and Martin is still a fly-ball hitter. That’s odd because, in his entire major-league past, Martin was a ground-ball hitter. We’re more than a quarter of the way through the season, and now Leonys Martin appears to be a bat worth talking about.

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2016 Broadcaster Rankings (TV): Complete Table and Notes

Over the course of last week, the author published the results of this site’s television broadcaster rankings — itself the product of reader crowdsourcing and an update to a similar exercise that was performed here roughly four years ago.

Click the relevant links to read about the 31st- and 32nd-ranked broadcasts, Nos. 30 – 21, Nos. 20 – 11, and Nos. 10 – 1.

The full sortable table appears below. But first, three notes:

  • Teams are ranked in descending order of Overall rating. Overall ratings are not merely averages of Charisma and Analysis.
  • Ratings aren’t intended to represent the objective quality or skill of the relevant announcers, but rather to provide a clue as to which broadcast teams are likely to appeal most (or least) to the readers of this site.
  • Due to an error made by the author, Toronto’s broadcast team was originally ranked 31st overall. They now rank 25th in the amended version.

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Projecting the Prospects in the Brian Matusz Trade

Last night, the Baltimore Orioles dealt Brian Matusz and the 76th overall pick in the draft to Atlanta for minor-league pitchers Brandon Barker and Trevor Belicek. As lead prospect analyst Eric Longenhagen noted on Twitter, the $838,900 in bonus money tied to that pick bumps the Braves’ draft and international bonus pool up to $13.2 million, which gives them the third-largest pool in baseball. Only the Reds and Phillies have more.

Neither of the two pitchers involved cracked Baseball America’s top-30 prospect list for Atlanta heading into the year, which tells you just about everything you need to know about them: they’re fringy. Barker did earn a mention on our Braves list, but was relegated to the “Quick Hits” section.

Brandon Barker is a 23-year-old righty who’s had a moderate amount of success in a starting capacity. He spun a 3.25 ERA and 3.49 FIP in 147 innings last year, but did so with an unremarkable 18% strikeout rate. The Braves bumped him up to Double-A this year, where he’s had a good deal of success. His strikeout rate has ticked up over 22%, resulting in a 2.00 ERA and 3.46 FIP. KATOH pegs him 0.9 WAR over his first six years in the majors.

Trevor Belicek was drafted as a starter in the 16th round of last year’s amateur draft, but has worked exclusively out of the bullpen this year. He seems to have taken well to his new role. In 28 innings pitched, the southpaw has spun a 2.50 FIP with a 28% strikeout rate. However, he’s made just one appearance above Low-A, so he’s completely untested against polished hitters. The outlook for 23-year-old Low-A relievers isn’t great, so KATOH pegs him for 0.3 WAR over his first six years in the majors.

The two minor-league arms headed to Baltimore have pitched well in the minors this year, but since they’re both 23 and don’t have much of a track record, they aren’t really prospects. It’s unlikely they’ll make any sort of noticeable impact at the big-league level. Matusz was once a top prospect, but he’s an unremarkable lefty reliever these days. He’s been all sorts of terrible this year, and the Braves have already designated him for assignment. The real asset trading hands here is the bonus-pool money. The Braves are essentially agreeing to take on the remainder of Matusz’s one-year, $3.9 million contract in exchange for more spending power in the draft.


The Orioles Sold a Draft Pick Again

Since the trading of some types of draft choices was allowed in the most recent CBA, we’ve seen teams use their “competitive balance” selections as currency, often swapping them for role players in minor mid-summer trades. As noted in this MLBTradeRumors post from last year, players traded for draft picks include the likes of Bryan Morris, Bud Norris, and Gaby Sanchez, although they have also been included in deals for better players like Jon Lester as part of a larger package.

Last year, though, the Orioles and Dodgers created a new kind of trade for a competitive balance pick, taking out the desired player aspect of the deal, and turning it into a simple cash proposition. Last April, the Orioles decided they didn’t want to pay the remainder of Ryan Webb‘s 2015 salary — roughly $2.8 million — and so they gave the 74th overall pick in the draft to the Dodgers in exchange for LA taking Webb’s contract. The Dodgers didn’t actually want Webb, as they showed by immediately DFA’ing him upon receipt, and the deal stood as the first time two teams had clearly decided that it would be mutually beneficial for one franchise to purchase a draft pick from the other.

A year later, the Orioles decided to do it again, so last night, they traded the 76th pick in the draft to the Braves, along with the roughly $3 million remaining on Brian Matusz‘s contract, in exchange for two non-prospects. For the Orioles, the competitive balance selections might as well be renamed “$3 million rebate checks,” because that’s apparently how Dan Duquette sees these selections.

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Noah Syndergaard Is an Elite Contact Pitcher, Too

One of the first things taught in any newswriting class is how to craft a compelling lede. You learn about the inverted pyramid, writing concisely, and the importance of employing strong verbs. No professor of mine ever said anything about .gifs, but hey, what’s more compelling than watching Noah Syndergaard pitch? If that doesn’t grab and hold your interest, you’re probably here on accident anyway.

These are the final pitches of the first three batters Syndergaard faced against the Brewers in New York on Sunday, his most recent start of the season:

1

2

3

Ignore the result of batter No. 2. That one is on David Wright. Just focus on what Syndergaard did. He got a ground ball, a ground ball, and then another ground ball. That’s three ground balls.

You know about Noah Syndergaard because of the 100 mph fastball and all the strikeouts. Or at least those would be among the most likely immediate reactions if presented with a silhouette of Syndergaard’s head while being administered a Rorschach inkblot test. And those responses would be justified. It’s less likely that “ground balls” would spring to mind, unless, that is, you’d been paying close attention to Syndergaard’s development as a pitcher, or had recently read this article.

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August Fagerstrom FanGraphs Chat — 5/24/16

11:51
august fagerstrom: chatty chat chat!

11:51
august fagerstrom: Soundtrack: Massive Attack – Mezzanine

12:05
august fagerstrom: WHERE IS BORK

12:05
august fagerstrom: I CANNOT START THE CHAT WITHOUT BORK

12:06
august fagerstrom: oh man

12:06
august fagerstrom: hope he’s okay

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An Improved Joey Gallo Joins the Rangers

The Rangers lost both Drew Stubbs and Shin-Soo Choo to injury over the weekend, leaving them relatively bare in the outfield. To fill the void, they’ve called up top prospect Joey Gallo, who’s perhaps one of the most exciting prospect in baseball due to his exceptional power. We’ve been here before. The Rangers called Gallo up last summer, too, but thanks to a .204/.301/.417 performance in the show, they wisely concluded he needed more seasoning in the minors. Most concerning of all was his 46% strikeout rate, which was literally over twice the league average.

Based on his recent performance, it seems Gallo’s gotten the seasoning he needed. Last year, Gallo hit .240/.342/.520 between Double-A and Triple-A, and struck out in a super-concerning 37% of his trips to the plate. This year, he’s slashed his strikeout rate to a merely mildly-concerning 23% in Triple-A. As a result, he’s hit a gaudy .265/.415/.639.

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