Carlos Correa, Playing Through Injury, and True Talent

“Different day, different arm,” is one of those things you’ll hear a pitcher say. You get up on the mound on a given day, and you try to figure out which pitches are working, what parts of your body are barking, where you can actually intentionally throw your pitches. It’s understandable, given the complicated mechanics required to throw the ball so hard, with so much movement — but it has implications for those who would attempt to place a number on their true-talent ability.

We know about this difficulty when it comes to pitching. Projections try to put a number on the true ability of a player, but pitching projections lag behind hitting projections. Even when a stat — like exit velocity — becomes meaningful in similar samples for hitters and pitchers, it behaves strangely for pitchers. It becomes meaningful quickly but isn’t quite predictive, either — maybe because pitchers add pitches, change the script, and become different more quickly than hitters. Maybe because their true talent shifts often.

Maybe true talent for hitters shifts more than we think, though.

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Jeremy Hazelbaker on Proving His Skeptics (Like Me) Wrong

With the exception of an eight-game stretch in April where he went 13-for-26, with seven extra-base hits, Jeremy Hazelbaker has had a fairly unremarkable rookie season. The St. Louis Cardinals outfielder is slashing .239/.300/.487, with a dozen home runs in 221 plate appearances. He spent parts of June and July in Triple-A.

For a time, it looked like he might be a minor-league lifer. Drafted in the fourth round out of Ball State University by the Red Sox in 2009, Hazelbaker was dealt to the Dodgers following the 2013 season. Eighteen months later he was released. St. Louis signed him last May and assigned him to Double-A Springfield. He finished the year in Triple-A.

Hazelbaker was 28 years old when he reported to spring training — he turned 29 last month — and the odds were against him earning a spot on the Cardinals roster. He beat those odds.

I’d followed Hazelbaker’s career. I’d interviewed and written about him a handful of times as he was coming up through the Red Sox system. I’d seen the tools, but I hadn’t seen those tools translate into consistent performance. I was skeptical that I ever would.

When I caught up to Hazelbaker in early August, I admitted as much. Being perhaps a little too honest, I began the interview by saying: “I didn’t think you’d make it. Why was I wrong?” Here was his response.

———

Hazelbaker on proving me wrong: “Everybody has their opinion on guys coming up. There are things people don’t really get. Looking in from the outside, you don’t see how hard of a worker a guy is, or how much drive and determination he has. Do you want to call me an underdog story? You can if you want. Whatever you want to call it, I know there have been people skeptical of me — my path, my journey, my abilities along the way.

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Dave Cameron FanGraphs Chat – 9/28/16


NERD Game Scores for September 28, 2016

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

***

Most Highly Rated Game
Cleveland at Detroit | 19:10 ET
McAllister (50.1 IP, 106 xFIP-) vs. Fulmer (155.2 IP, 91 xFIP-)
There are only a few teams playing games of real consequence at the moment, but Detroit’s and St. Louis’s games are probably the most consequential among them. Both trail their league’s respective second-place wild-card club by just a game. Both play at home tonight, too — and are likely, as a result, to host lively partisan crowds. For those compelled to choose, Detroit’s game also offers one of the American League’s top rookies in right-handed starter Michael Fulmer.

Readers’ Preferred Broadcast: Detroit Radio.

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Learning Something About David Dahl from One Swing

On Sunday evening, the Los Angeles Dodgers hosted the Colorado Rockies in what was legendary announcer Vin Scully’s last home game at Dodger Stadium after 67 years of calling the team. The Dodgers won, in walk-off fashion, scoring in the ninth on a Corey Seager home run that tied the score at 3-3, and again in the 10th on a home run by Charlie Culberson that clinched the National League West Division and ensured Scully’s final call in Los Angeles would come on a high note.

But Seager and Culberson only had the opportunity for their theatrics because of a home run hit in the top of the ninth inning by a Rockies player. With the Rockies down to their final strike of the ninth inning and with rookie outfielder David Dahl in a 1-2 count with two outs, this happened:

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FanGraphs After Dark Chat – 9/27/16

9:00
Paul Swydan: Hi everybody!
9:00
Jeff Zimmerman: Hi
9:01
Byron: So it looks like the Dodgers are going to let Julio Urias pitch in the postseason going past his innings limit. Thoughts?
9:02
Paul Swydan: I think that flags fly forever, and that innings limits are arbitrarily set by teams out of fear and not science. Let the kid pitch.
9:02
Jeff Zimmerman: Not a huge deal, but I may start his spring training late next year
9:02
Aladdin Sane: Voted Kluber because the wording made me think we are assuming, for poll purposes, that he’d be out for the season.

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The Nationals Already Have Another Playoff Letdown

The Nationals are far from the only team to have experienced recent playoff disappointment. Some teams don’t even make the playoffs at all! So you can’t really say the Nationals are necessarily unique. Teams run up against obstacles. A lot of those teams can’t get past. That being said, over the past number of seasons, few teams have looked better than the Nationals, and few teams have wound up more disappointing. A Nationals fan might get the sense that a championship will simply never be in the cards, and that familiar feeling is coming back with gusto, with Wilson Ramos having been diagnosed with a torn ACL.

The truest pain here belongs to Ramos. Most immediately, he is the one literally hurting. But he’s also the one who can’t play anymore, and he’s the one who was looking ahead to free agency after having a big bounceback season. Ramos’ short-term future has been blown up in the blink of an eye, and he might wonder whether he’ll even be able to catch anymore down the line. This is somebody’s life, somebody’s career. That is, and is always, the most important thing.

Secondarily, but of fan interest, is the effect on the team. And that’s the only thing we’re really equipped to write about. So, acknowledging that the real story is Ramos himself, I’d like to set that aside for a moment and talk about the postseason. The Nationals find themselves in trouble at the worst possible time.

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Wilson Ramos Tears ACL, Nationals Suffer Big Loss

The Nationals have had an excellent bounce back season after last year’s struggles, and have already locked up the NL East with a 91-65 record. But all is not well in Washington.

The team was already dealing with the potential absence of Stephen Strasburg, who had to leave his first start back from the disabled list with lingering soreness. Daniel Murphy, probably the team’s MVP this year, has not played in over a week due to a glute strain, and while it doesn’t seem like a major injury, you never like to see important players dealing with issues right before the playoff start.

And now, the Nationals will need Murphy more than ever, because Dusty Baker just confirmed that starting catcher Wilson Ramos has suffered a torn ACL, ending his season a week before the team takes on the Dodgers in the NLDS.

Ramos’ career year has been one of the primary reasons the Nationals have been better this year than last year, as he’s posted a 124 wRC+ and +3.5 WAR, solidifying what was a black hole in 2015. He gave the lineup depth it didn’t have last year, and provided some right-handed thump to counter team’s left-handed pitching; he had a 160 wRC+ against LHPs this year, second-best on the team.

Jose Lobaton will take over as the Nationals starting catcher, and the offense is going to suffer as a result. Lobaton has a career 77 wRC+, and is putting up a normal-for-him 82 wRC+ this year. He takes some walks and makes okay contact, but there’s not much power there, and the Dodgers pitchers will probably have no problem coming right after him and making him do damage with his swing. Facing a pitching staff as good as Los Angeles’, especially one with two frontline left-handed starters, Lobaton is going to be a huge dropoff from Ramos.

This injury doesn’t sink the Nationals chances, of course; no one player is that important in baseball, and Ramos isn’t the kind of impact player that can swing a series by himself. But no question, this is a significant loss for Washington, especially given that the Dodgers are a formidable opponent. The team has had a great season, but they’re likely going to need some Murphy and/or Strasburg to make it back for the NLDS, because without Ramos too, they’re going into the playoffs undermanned.


The Beautiful Baseball Game

Monday night, a plurality of eyes were fixed on the fall’s first presidential debate, featuring at least one individual that any given viewer mistrusts. Like many political events, it was a transparent exercise in attempted persuasion, and one would be left questioning either participant’s sincerity. Around the same time in the evening, the Mets and the Marlins were playing out the most important baseball game of the year.

I don’t want to belabor the contrast, but it was a most striking juxtaposition. No matter your leaning, the debate wouldn’t have left you feeling clean. You’d be on edge, hairs raised, to some degree agitated. Watching the Mets and the Marlins, however, could only leave you feeling deeply, truly human. Tears were shed and tears were shared. Watching from home or from a seat in the park, the Marlins won, 7-3. Jose Fernandez got the win, Jose Fernandez knocked all of their hits, and Jose Fernandez scored all of their runs.

Following the events of Sunday morning, there was no question the Marlins had to cancel their game. It was too soon, too unthinkable to play. The emotional blow was crippling. You can’t play a game if you can’t rise to your feet.

Come Monday, there was no question the Marlins had to proceed with their game. The game itself would be of little consequence, the fouls and the flies and the takes-too-long pitching changes. But only a game could be at the heart of the ceremony that baseball so desperately needed.

Grief is seldom coherent, and in the aftermath of the accident, there have been some complicated feelings of something like guilt. As much as fans hurt, fans aren’t Fernandez’s family. Even Fernandez’s own teammates are something short of being his own family. And beyond that, while Jose Fernandez died, two other young men also are dead, two young men unfamiliar to the greater public. Their deaths are no less sad, no less unfortunate. Something felt vaguely inappropriate about grieving but one of three losses.

The baseball world needed Sunday to advance into Monday. It needed for a game to be played, because only the game could give us direction and relieve us of the burden of guilt. Fernandez’s loved ones will pay their respects. The loved ones of the two others will pay their respects. There were three lives, and they were all involved in many circles. The game – that was for Fernandez’s baseball circle. It functioned as a wake, for the baseball community. We’ve all had feelings we needed to let out, and Monday gently guided their release.

From the fan perspective, it feels objectively silly to be so broken up about the loss of a stranger. And in truth, the feelings aren’t entirely about Fernandez himself – we’ve witnessed the sudden loss of a 24-year-old invincible, and that reminds us of the fragility we try in earnest to forget. The teammates and the coaches – they, at least, knew Fernandez, many of them well. The reasons for their heart-hurt are easier to place, but nevertheless, how you feel is how you feel, even if you’re not entirely sure why. The entire baseball community aches. The only way to heal is through baseball.

Yesterday’s was an experience of hurting while watching others hurt. As Fernandez’s peers paid tribute, we paid ours through theirs. We listened to the mournful trumpet, and we listened to the anthem. We remained silent when the ballpark was silent, and we were brought into the two teams embracing. We were brought into the Marlins encircling the mound, inscribing Fernandez’s number and rubbing dirt on their pants. We were brought into even Giancarlo Stanton’s red-eyed pregame speech, and after it was all over, with the Marlins triumphant, we were brought into the team again standing around the mound, bowing their heads and leaving their hats.

In the video, you see one Marlin – Fernandez, No. 16 – saying to the others, “let’s leave our hats.” Only some of the elements from the whole evening were planned. That was a spur-of-the-moment idea, with Fernandez’s teammates searching for every last way to honor his memory. No single tribute ever heals a soul, but for an instant, every tribute feels like it could. The players and coaches seized any opportunity to acknowledge their grief. And so our own was acknowledged, from some distance away, though still very much raw.

The most important baseball game of the year featured the most important home run of the decade. Leading off the bottom of the first, Dee Gordon took a pitch while batting right-handed, mimicking Fernandez’s stance and apparently wearing his helmet. Gordon then returned to his familiar box and, two pitches later, he hit his first home run of the season. Gordon was in tears as he crossed home plate, and he sought out the Marlins’ every embrace.

You’re under no obligation to believe it was fate. You’re under no obligation to believe it was divine. What it was was cathartic, the unplanned and entirely unpredictable tribute that will forever stand as the symbol and memory of the evening. The devastating reality is we don’t yet know the total volume of this collective grief, but Gordon’s home run allowed us to release so much of an unknowable amount. There was sadness after, as there was sadness before, yet sandwiched was one single flicker of elation. It was, one could figure, the first.

Sunday’s accident brought far more than just the baseball community to its knees. We are not alone in being hurt, and it feels at least slightly intrusive to be affected so deeply at all. One could conceivably question whether we even have the right. But Jose Fernandez touched untold millions of people, and Monday night, there was a ceremony allowing for the baseball world in particular to grieve. The ceremony took place around a baseball game, a game that was scheduled to be started by Fernandez himself. He was, with great misfortune, unable to make the start, but in place of one singular Jose Fernandez, there were nine.


Late-Season AL Contact-Management Update

The season’s final week has begun, with intriguing races for playoff spots continuing in both leagues. It’s the home stretch of award season, as well; while strikeouts and walks often get lots of attention in the Cy Young discussion, the role of contact management is often overlooked. To that end, we examined the contact-management ability of qualifying NL starters last week. This week, it’s the AL’s turn in the barrel.

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An Early Look at the Right-Handed Pitchers in the 2017 Draft

This is a series of scouting thoughts on high-school prospects eligible for the 2017 MLB Draft based on observations from summer showcases. Today’s positional group is right-handed pitchers. Links to other positional groups appear below.

Previous editions: Catchers / Corner InfieldersMiddle Infielders / Center FieldersLeft-Handed Pitchers.

Hunter Greene, RHP, Notre Dame HS (CA)

Height: 6’4, Weight: 200, Commitment: UCLA

This kid might go 1-1 and he’d be the first high-school righty in the history of the draft to do so. His fastball is absolutely electric, sitting in the mid-90s and touching as high as 98 with good extension and movement that plays in the zone. I think Greene’s heater would be effective in the big leagues right now and, though the rest of his repertoire is middling, his body and athleticism make the entire package worthy of top-of-the-draft considertation.

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Is Oakland’s Mount Davis Killing Fly Balls?

My favorite part of my job is when players ask me questions. It’s difficult enough to come up with questions on a daily basis, so it’s great to get a free piece — and it’s even better when the question came from someone who plays the game every day. Once you make it to the Show, it’s all about staying in the Show, and that means making the most of your athletic talents. Strategy is often the key component to these questions.

When Athletics infielder Jed Lowrie came bounding across the Oakland clubhouse to me with his question earlier this year, he’d already decided to act on what he had perceived as an issue with his new/old home park. In the spring, he’d connected with his hitting coach, Darren Bush, in order to work on going the other way since he was leaving Houston’s friendly confines for Oakland’s cold. Because fly balls die in Oakland, and opposite-field fly balls are, by nature, less damaging than their pull counterparts, part of that new “oppo” approach was a heavier ground-ball profile. Mission accomplished.

But the reason behind Oakland’s fickle fly-ball play was still on his mind. “I think it’s Mount Davis,” he said back then. His theory was that the wall-like 10,000-seat expansion in center field — constructed in 1996 and nicknamed Mt. Davis in scorn after the Raiders’ late owner Al Davis — was responsible for suppressing fly ball distance in the Coliseum.

Answering his question turned out to be fairly difficult.

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August Fagerstrom FanGraphs Chat — 9/27/16

11:50
august fagerstrom: Just a heads-up, guys — had shoulder surgery on Thursday, and my left arm is currently totally immobilized and hooked up to a cryotherapy unit. Makes it sort of difficult to type, so bear with me on the speediness of this chat.

11:55
august fagerstrom: Soundtrack: The Antlers – Burst Apart

12:05
botchatheny : you are looking well

12:05
august fagerstrom: about how I’ve felt the last few days

12:07
petey: Sale/Kluber/Porcello looks like a total dead heat for the AL Cy. How would you decide a tiebreaker between them?

12:09
august fagerstrom: Sale: 5.9 RA9-WAR, 5.2 FIP-WAR, 6.9 DRA-WAR (6.0 tWAR)
Kluber: 5.7 RA9-WAR, 5.1 FIP-WAR, 6.1 DRA-WAR (5.6 tWAR)
Porcello: 6.2 RA9-WAR, 5.1 FIP-WAR, 4.7 DRA-WAR (5.3 tWAR)

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The Mets Didn’t Get the Jay Bruce They Traded For

On August 1, within an hour of this season’s trade deadline coming to a close, the New York Mets and Cincinnati Reds finalized a trade which sent outfielder Jay Bruce to New York in exchange for prospects Dilson Herrera and Max Wotell. The Mets added Bruce certainly not for his glove, but for his bat, particularly for a little extra thump against right-handed pitching. At the time of the trade, Bruce was having the best season of his career. The 29-year-old right fielder had 25 home runs in just 402 plate appearances, good for a career-best .295 isolated slugging percentage, and a 124 wRC+. After an injury-plagued 2014 and a down 2015, Bruce was driving the ball in the air to the opposite field, had cut down on his strikeouts, and, at the plate, generally looked like the prime version of himself for the first time in several years.

And then, one week ago, on September 20, less than two months after parting ways with a legitimate major-league prospects to acquire Bruce’s bat, Bruce was pinch-hit for in the eighth inning of a close game against the Atlanta Braves by Eric Campbell, he of the career 81 wRC+ which presently rests at 55 this season. Bruce said after the game he had never been pinch-hit for. He certainly couldn’t have ever expected that the first would come for a player with Campbell’s track record.

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NERD Game Scores for September 27, 2016

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

***

Most Highly Rated Game
Baltimore at Toronto | 19:07 ET
Gausman (166.1 IP, 88 xFIP-) vs. Sanchez (179.0 IP, 88 xFIP-)
While other outcomes are certainly possible, what this game — and, indeed, what this series — probably represents is a prelude to the American League Wild Card game. Toronto has already recorded as many wins as either Detroit or Seattle — that is, the teams currently situated just outside the top of the wild-card standings — as many wins (86) as either Detroit or Seattle are projected to record; Baltimore, just one fewer. What’s required both of the Baltimores and the Torontos, then, is merely not to fail too hard.

Of course, as modest as that requirement might seem, it’s one that everyone is eventually unable to fulfill. Sometimes chronically so. And then your father’s like, “Do you know how much I’ve paid for tennis lessons, and you can’t even get past the first round of a regional tournament?” And then you’re like, “Whatever, Dad, I hate tennis.” And then you storm off. And then, a decade later, you’re a weblogger. Hypothetically, that is. In this hypothetical, not real example.

Readers’ Preferred Broadcast: Baltimore Television.

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Our Staff Remembers Jose Fernandez

As you know by now, the world lost Jose Fernandez on Sunday. Here at FanGraphs, we wanted to offer those affiliated with us an opportunity to remember Fernandez in their own way. We have collected those remembrances, and would like to share them with you, as we all mourn Fernandez’s passing together.

August Fagerstrom

I cannot say that I truly knew Jose Fernandez. We spoke once, directly, and once as part of a post-game interview scrum. But I can say that our paths crossed, and that I was graced with his personal energy, which was impossible to miss if you spent more than 30 seconds in the same room as him, and for that, I am grateful.

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FanGraphs Audio: Dave Cameron on Jose Fernandez

Episode 685
Dave Cameron is the managing editor of FanGraphs. During this edition of FanGraphs Audio, he discusses late Miami right-hander and divine ray of light Jose Fernandez.

This episode of the program either is or isn’t sponsored by SeatGeek, which site removes both the work and also the hassle from the process of shopping for tickets.

Don’t hesitate to direct pod-related correspondence to @cistulli on Twitter.

You can subscribe to the podcast via iTunes or other feeder things.

Audio after the jump. (Approximately 26 min play time.)

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Play

We Have a Pop-Up Controversy

Think about what you know about hitters and pop-ups. Pop-ups, for all hitters, are bad. They might as well be one-pitch strikeouts. And, you know who doesn’t hit them? Joey Votto. You know that Joey Votto pretty much never hits a pop-up. It’s among the many things that make him extraordinary. Joe Mauer also doesn’t really hit pop-ups. Christian Yelich. Ryan Howard. Shin-Soo Choo. On and on. And there’s Howie Kendrick. Kendrick doesn’t hit pop-ups. But:

That was tweeted at me yesterday. And when I checked the live statistics on FanGraphs, Kendrick had an infield fly. Yet when I check those same statistics today: nothing. It’s as if it’s been erased. Here is the batted ball in question:

Fielded comfortably by the second baseman. We’d all identify that as a pop-up, right? In one sense, then, Kendrick did pop up yesterday. You could say it’s the most important sense. Yet, here’s the leaderboard, when I look at everyone who’s batted at least 500 times over the past three calendar years. This is why this matters. (It doesn’t matter-matter, but, you know.)

pop-ups-last-three-years

Kendrick is the only guy with double zeros. Everyone else has hit at least one infield fly. So, what are we supposed to do, here?

In truth, it’s not that much of a mystery. We get batted-ball data from Baseball Info Solutions, and they have a specific definition of what makes an infield fly. Yesterday, when I checked the live stats, those were getting fed in by MLB Gameday, and that has a different, looser definition. So Kendrick’s fly ball was a pop-up by one definition, but not by both. If you take the BIS data as gospel, Kendrick objectively remains without such a blemish. But you can’t really say Kendrick hasn’t hit a pop-up. He just hasn’t hit one particular kind of pop-up.

Heck, this was just a matter of weeks ago:

The last time I checked, the BIS cutoff was 140 feet. That is, any fly ball hit more than 140 feet wouldn’t count as an infield fly. Kendrick still hasn’t popped up within the infield. But these flies flew only a little beyond 140. And now that we have Statcast, we can try to run some numbers ourselves. We’re still going to have to define things arbitrarily, and Statcast sometimes has trouble picking up batted balls hit at extreme angles, but let’s just see what we can do for 2016. Why don’t we set a cutoff at a launch angle of 60 degrees?

Joey Votto has zero such batted balls. Christian Yelich, zero. Joe Mauer, one. Howie Kendrick, one. Starling Marte, one. I don’t know how many batted balls are missing from the sample, so it’s not authoritative. But, it’s something. No definition of a pop-up is going to be the definition of a pop-up. This is the issue with bucketing. But Howie Kendrick either has a pop-up or two, or he doesn’t. According to the numbers we have here, Kendrick hasn’t popped up once in three years. That’s amazing! It still, no matter what, reflects a legitimate ability of his, but his is a soft zero. There’s no arriving at a one true answer.

Howie Kendrick most certainly doesn’t hit pop-ups. Except for the rare occasions when he does. Welp?


The Worst Called Ball On Record

Last Monday, in what was a pretty critical game against the Mariners, Josh Donaldson got ejected in the seventh inning. Officially, he was ejected for arguing balls and strikes, but, unofficially, he was ejected for being a jerk. During his seventh inning at-bat, Donaldson tried to check a swing, and he disagreed with the determination that he didn’t check it enough. A couple pitches later, Donaldson was called out on a pitch that was probably below the zone. That was too much, and Donaldson expressed himself, and that was that. Donaldson wasn’t likely to hit again, so the ejection didn’t mean much, but he felt like he was getting screwed. Josh Donaldson belligerently wondered aloud why he couldn’t catch a break.

If only he knew then what he might know now. I don’t want to say that Donaldson deserved a break. A grown man needs to be able to control himself. But borderline calls are luck, and given enough time, luck will even out. Several days ago, Josh Donaldson felt like he was unfairly struck out. Friday night in Toronto, Donaldson was in the box for the very worst called ball of the entire PITCHf/x era.

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Steve Clevenger and the Precedent for Insensitive Comments

Seattle Mariners’ backup catcher Steve Clevenger is not particularly sympathetic to the Black Lives Matter movement. Rather than keep his feelings on the matter to himself, however, he decided to share them with the world on Thursday afternoon in the following tweets:

croppedclevenger-png38b91c2f0009027

Not surprisingly, the public response to Clevenger’s comments was swift and unforgiving. Within hours, the Mariners released an official statement distancing the team from the remarks. And although Clevenger later apologized for the tweets, the Mariners nevertheless announced on Friday that the team was suspending him without pay for the remainder of the season.

On the one hand, the impact of the suspension on Clevenger will be relatively modest, as he was already on the 60-day disabled list with a broken hand, and thus was unlikely to play again for the Mariners this season. On the other hand, however, by being suspended without pay, Clevenger will forfeit the roughly $32,000 he would have earned over the season’s final 10 games.

It does not appear as though Clevenger will challenge his punishment, according to a report by Maury Brown. If Clevenger were to change his mind and file an appeal, however, then it is possible that he could get his suspension reduced by an arbitrator. Specifically, although Major League Baseball and its teams generally have the legal right to punish players in this manner, Clevenger could argue that a suspension of this length is at odds with those handed down in similar, prior cases.

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