Cubs-Indians: World Series Notes

Pitching has become a power game. High-octane is the new norm, so if you don’t pump gas, you better be able to change speeds and dot corners with the best of them. And if that’s what gets you to the big leagues, you better perform upon your arrival. There are guys with 95-plus arms standing in line behind you, waiting their own opportunities.
The Cleveland front office likes velocity as much as anyone — Indians starters averaged 92.8 mph with their fastballs this year, fourth highest among the 30 teams — but they’re not married to it. Recent outings are proof in the pudding. Ryan Merritt etched himself in Indians lore with mid-80s domination of the Blue Jays. Josh Tomlin baffled Boston and Toronto while barely topping 90.

Following the ALCS clincher, I asked GM Mike Chernoff to weigh in on the two hurlers, plus the club’s willingness to groom — and trust — what are tantamount to velocity-challenged control artists.

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How the Indians Can Win the World Series

The night before the 2016 World Series is set to begin in Cleveland, our playoff odds list the Chicago Cubs with a 66% chance to take home the trophy, which is a remarkably one-sided projection, given the nature of how baseball is played and how any series, let alone one played by two teams who emerged as champions of their respective leagues, often feels like nothing more than a coin flip. But our odds list the Cubs as 2:1 favorites over the Cleveland Indians, and FiveThirtyEight’s odds are almost identical.

These Cubs outscored their opponents by more than 250 combined runs this season, completing one of the most dominant regular seasons in baseball history, and they’re playing at nearly full strength, even improbably adding the slugging Kyle Schwarber, who’s been out since April 7 with torn ligaments in his left knee, to the their World Series roster. These Indians, admittedly, a great team in their own right, outscored their opponents by 101 runs — the fourth-best run differential in baseball this year, although a much more typical number — and are playing without a borderline ace pitcher in Carlos Carrasco, with a limited version of star pitcher Danny Salazar, with a drone-inflicted Trevor Bauer, and now apparently with a hobbled Jason Kipnis, too.

It’s impossible to fault the odds for saying what they do. The Cubs are clearly the better team, clearly in better shape. But a one-in-three shot is still a one-in-three shot, and this is a Cleveland sports town that just saw their Cleveland Cavaliers come back from a 3-1 NBA Finals deficit to dethrone the Golden State Warriors, at a time when the Warriors were being considered 40:1 favorites entering Game Five, so these fans probably don’t care too strongly for the odds.

What they would care for is an Indians championship. Here’s five keys to that happening:

No. 1: Run Like Hell on Jon Lester

This one can happen, starting tonight. Jon Lester is starting Game One for the Cubs, and we all know about Jon Lester’s little problem: he can’t throw to first. Like, really, he just can’t throw a baseball to first base. It might literally be the weirdest thing about an already weird sport, but for whatever reason, he can’t do it from a fielding position, and he just won’t do it from the rubber. The Kansas City Royals made this very clear when they stole seven bases on him and Derek Norris in the 2014 American League Wild Card game, and the Los Angeles Dodgers made this very clear when they toyed with him all throughout the Game Five of the NLCS last week.

But what’s funny about all that toying, as I wrote, is that they never actually ran. Thing is, Lester’s delivery is exceptionally quick to home, and catcher David Ross‘ pop times to second base are exceptionally quick, and as a pair, they can actually be rather difficult to successfully steal against, even given the lengthy leads Lester’s pickoff inability affords baserunners.

That being said, they’ll have a hard time throwing out Rajai Davis if he reaches first, and he’ll be starting against Lester. The Indians have already come right out and said they plan to test Lester, given the opportunity, and given their status as the AL’s best base-stealing team this year combined with Terry Francona‘s hyper-aggressive postseason managing style, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the Indians try and turn World Series Game One into a repeat of Lester’s 2014 Wild Card disaster, getting them Game One with a shot to put this thing away early if they can just…

No. 2: Win Two Games Started by Non-Kluber Starters

I understand that “win baseball games” isn’t a particularly insightful piece of advice, but in this case, it seems compelling, as this very circumstance is a big part of what’s led to Cleveland’s improbable postseason run in the first place. Without Carrasco or Salazar in the rotation for the first two rounds of the playoffs, nobody thought Josh Tomlin was going to be able to handle the imposing lineups of Boston and Toronto, until he did, and everyone counted out the Indians when they threw Ryan Merritt into the fire against the Blue Jays, until he pitched the Indians into the World Series. With Corey Kluber potentially starting Games One, Four, and Seven, the Indians could realistically hope for two wins in games started by their ace, needing just two more by the rest of the pack to seal the deal.

These underpowered Indians starters were able to navigate Toronto’s overpowering lineup by picking a game plan and sticking to it, a game plan that might be similar to the one they employed against Toronto, which aims to…

No. 3: Get the Cubs to Hit Ground Balls

The Cubs were arguably baseball’s best offense this year, and one defining characteristic of that offense is their love for fly balls. Only four teams hit the ball on the ground less often than Chicago, and guys like Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, and Willson Contreras are looking to get the ball into the air almost every time they step to the plate, as that’s how they inflict the most damage. The Indians were able to keep the Blue Jays on the ground by throwing them a steady diet of breaking pitches, but the Cubs were one of the five best teams in baseball this year at producing against breaking pitches, according to our PITCHf/x run values (the Indians were No. 1 by a landslide).

Instead, the key to keeping the top of the Cubs’ lineup on the ground will have less to do with pitch selection and more to do with pitch execution, like pitching away from Bryant — the other half of Cleveland’s game plan against Toronto — and low and away from Rizzo.

That’s one key for Cleveland’s pitching, while one key for their hitting might be to…

No. 4: Pounce on Jake Arrieta’s Fastballs

In Lester, the Indians may find a subtle advantage in their ability to capitalize on his weakness in holding runners on first base. In Hendricks, the Indians may find a subtle advantage in their ability to excel against all pitches slow and/or bendy, but Jake Arrieta, to me, represents their most difficult challenge. What the Indians’ lineup really struggles against is premium velocity, and Arrieta is Chicago’s hardest-throwing starter, averaging more than 94 mph on his fastballs, which he throws roughly two-thirds of the time, a percentage that could even increase, given Cleveland’s struggles with the pitch. If guys like Jose Ramirez, Mike Napoli, and especially Tyler Naquin can catch up to Arrieta’s heat, it will go a long way toward neutralizing perhaps Chicago’s strongest starting pitching matchup against Cleveland.

So, run on Lester, get good outings out of Bauer and Tomlin, keep the Cubs’ balls in play on the ground, and jump on Arrieta’s fastballs. Those are all ways the Indians can get out to early leads, which, in actuality, is the single biggest key for the Indians to win the World Series, as early leads allow Francona to…

No. 5: Continue Getting the Most Out of Andrew Miller

I’ve somehow gone more than 1,000 words without mentioning the MVP of the ALCS, Andrew Miller, who’s turning in one of the most dominant postseason pitching performances on record. The first step in the “How to Beat Andrew Miller Handbook” is “Don’t Face Andrew Miller,” and the best way to make that happen is to not let the Indians get out to a lead. The Indians turned into one of the best teams in baseball the moment they got a lead this year, and that effect has only been amplified following the midseason acquisition of Miller and Francona’s rampant usage of him in the postseason. When the Indians have carried a lead through five or six innings, Francona has turned to his two-headed bullpen monster of Miller and Cody Allen to work the remaining three to four innings, and the Indians have appeared almost unbeatable.

The finish line is within arm’s reach, and Andrew Miller’s arms are long as hell. With no more series remaining after this one and an entire offseason to recover, all bets are off with regards to how far Francona pushes Miller, and it wouldn’t be a surprise for him to turn the dial up a notch, even from the unprecedented usage we’ve seen thus far. Steps one through four are how the Indians can get the ball into the hands of Miller with the lead. Step five is how they can win the whole [damn] thing.

FanGraphs Audio: Eric Longenhagen’s Future Value

Episode 692
Lead prospect analyst Eric Longenhagen is the guest on this edition of the pod, during which he discusses Boston’s Michael Kopech, Oakland’s Frankie Montas, and other prospects who might be candidates for the future role of middle-inning relief ace; considers Atlanta prospect Travis Demeritte and the possibility of plus-plus second-base defense; and previews his forthcoming organizational lists, including his use of future value.

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

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

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

Audio after the jump. (Approximately 1 hr 7 min play time.)

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One Last Look at Kyle Schwarber

I scouted Kyle Schwarber on Saturday and wrote my thoughts here. I encourage those who have not yet read that and have instead found themselves here to go back and skim over it for context. This afternoon in Mesa I was able to get a second look at Schwarber and see if any progress was evident. I believe there was and, while I can’t deny the way Schwarber is running the bases is slightly disconcerting, I think there’s enough juice in the bat right now to justify rostering him over either Chris Coghlan or Jorge Soler. Read the rest of this entry »

What On Earth Has Gone On at Progressive Field?

It is terribly unsexy to put together any kind of article about park factors. I know that; I’ve done it. But, here I am, for two reasons:

  1. at least two World Series games are about to be played at Progressive Field
  2. what in the hell?

The meat of this is the following horrible-looking plot. I’m sorry that it looks so horrible but, what are you going to do about it? This post is already published. I slapped some numbers together using the Baseball Reference Play Index. For each year since 1994, I gathered numbers for Indians games in Cleveland, and I gathered numbers for Indians games not in Cleveland. Then I calculated some single-year “park factors” by just calculating ratios. Here are some of those ratios:


Arguably the most important one is the one tracking runs per game. I’m not the first person to see this. Tony wrote a couple relevant park-factor articles in September. But look at how that dotted line moves, after the stadium first opened. For a few years, the ballpark was somewhat hitter-friendly. Then it took a turn. Between 2003 – 2014, Cleveland reduced run-scoring by about 6%, with one odd offensive spike in 2007. That spike is important — there’s danger in trying to make too much out of single-year park factors. But look at the last two years. The park last year boosted offense by 26%. This year, 21%. Now we’ve got an extreme two-year park factor, that seemingly came out of nowhere. For a long time, the park was kind to pitchers. Somehow, lately, it’s played like a nightmare.

Batting average? Way up, relative to numbers in games outside of Cleveland. OBP? Way up. Slugging percentage? Way up. Batting average on balls in play? Way up. Slugging percentage on balls in play? Way up. Interestingly, also, the walk-rate factor is up, and the strikeout-rate factor has dipped. This year, the home-run factor took off, although last year homers in Cleveland were actually slightly down. That was made up for by a bunch of doubles.

Frequently, on FanGraphs, you come across posts that try to get at the answer to something. I don’t have answers here. Instead, I’m just raising a question. What’s been happening at Progressive Field, to drive so much offense over the past two years? Is this really just a random, yet randomly-sustained spike of statistical noise? Does this somehow have to do with the installation of the newer scoreboard? Has there been a bunch of high-rise construction in the surrounding area? Have wind patterns changed? Why has Progressive been so hitter-friendly? Because, based on the last two years, Progressive has been very hitter-friendly. I don’t know how that could impact the World Series coming up, but you could see some baseballs absolutely take off.

Cleveland Might Not Have a Bullpen Advantage

I just wrote about Andrew Miller. Everyone’s written about Andrew Miller. Miller has been the story of the Cleveland bullpen, and the bullpen has been the story of Cleveland’s success. By this point, it’s all well-trod ground — the Indians have gotten this far because Terry Francona has been so aggressive to get to his relievers, and in particular to get to his best ones. It’s easy enough to take this and run with it, figuring that the bullpen must be the Indians’ relative World Series strength.

I have to be honest with you, though. I’m not entirely clear on just how much of an advantage the Indians really have there. Yes, Miller is one of the best. Maybe the very best! But let me just show you a table. This table is what causes me to hesitate.

World Series rosters haven’t been announced yet, but I went ahead and made some guesses about the upcoming bullpens. I gave Cleveland and Chicago seven relievers each, and then I plugged in their actual ERAs and FIPs, and their projected ERAs and FIPs. The last step was weighting the numbers, since the seventh reliever won’t pitch nearly as often as the first or second guy. Weighting requires its own guesses, but I assigned a number between 1 and 7 to each reliever. Zach McAllister, for example, got the 1, for Cleveland. Andrew Miller got the 7. I weighted the numbers by these designations.


2016 World Series Bullpens
Team Adj. ERA Adj. FIP Proj. ERA Proj. FIP
Cubs 2.77 2.99 2.99 3.14
Indians 2.53 3.20 3.15 3.18

“Adj.” just means “Adjusted,” which is a different way of saying “Weighted.” The first two stat columns reflect what the relievers did in 2016. The last two stat columns reflect the projections for the relievers. The Indians look better in the very first column, but that’s also arguably the least-important column of the four. If you put everything together, the Cubs bullpen looks like it’s basically as good as the Indians’ unit. That isn’t something you’d necessarily expect, given that conversations we’ve all been having, but it might just be because relieving has been *the* strength of the Indians. The Cubs have had plenty go right, so the bullpen gets less attention.

The Indians’ big flashy advantage is Miller. Obviously. He can come in in any inning, and he can go multiple innings, and we don’t yet know how hard is too hard to push him. Miller has already handled so much of the workload, but based on precedent, that’s unlikely to keep up to such a degree, unless the Indians somehow manage to sweep. Aroldis Chapman is the Cubs’ equivalent, and he’s barely worse than Miller is. He’s just less flexible, and seemingly less durable. But the Cubs have been prepared to use him in multi-inning stints.

There’s one place where this might break down. One place that, I guess, involves two players. The numbers like Hector Rondon and Pedro Strop. They were good overall in 2016, and they project to be good, too. But Rondon had a late-season stint on the DL, and Strop did, too, and if they’re not close to what they usually are, then the Cubs are in worse shape. The pitchers insist they’re okay, but, it’s the playoffs. Every pitcher insists he’s okay. Joe Maddon hasn’t leaned very heavily on these guys and maybe the Cubs know they’re compromised. That’s a big variable.

From here, however, I only have numbers to go off. The numbers say there’s not really a bullpen gap at all. Count this among the reasons why the Cubs are being viewed as fairly heavy favorites.

Cubs Should Keep Starting Jason Heyward in the World Series

Would you believe me if I told you Jason Heyward‘s play hasn’t cost the Cubs anything this postseason? You might. After all, following their victory over the Dodgers on Saturday, the Cubs are now heading to the World Series. That said, you might be more inclined to believe that the Cubs advanced to the World Series in spite of Jason Heyward’s poor play. After all, in 30 postseason plate appearances, he’s reached base just four times — and one of those four was the product of an intentional walk. Heyward has followed up a very poor regular season at the plate with an even worse postseason, and after several benchings in the earlier rounds of the playoffs, there’s a question as to whether Heyward should start a game in the World Series. And there’s not an easy answer.

In the games during which he’s been benched, Heyward’s replacements, Jorge Soler and Albert Almora, have combined for an overall 0-for-17 mark with two walks, a sac bunt, and one double play (including all PA from Soler and Amora). Heyward hasn’t had too many big opportunities in the field, but his 90 mph throw to nab Adrian Gonzalez at the plate in Game One of the NLCS was an important moment in that contest. And for as poor as Heyward’s been offensively, he’s at least been timely: two of his four hits have been of the leadoff, extra-base variety in one-run ballgames, so his WPA in the playoffs is actually the same as Ben Zobrist‘s (at -0.32) and not too far off of Dexter Fowler‘s -0.15 — to say nothing of the defensive plays not counted in WPA. Of course, looking at the past 10 games and counting a couple timely hits as worth more due to sequencing is a very poor way to make future decisions. If the Cubs knew in advance Heyward would hit that poorly in the first two rounds, they likely wouldn’t have played him.

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You Don’t Just Have to Beat Andrew Miller’s Slider

The media has presented a skewed perspective. The matchup we are going to see is the Chicago Cubs against the Cleveland Indians. The matchup we aren’t going to see is the Chicago Cubs against Andrew Miller. I mean, we’ll see that, but we won’t *only* see that, regardless of how the Indians are being discussed. And, look, I know we’re contributing to all this. We’ve been writing three Miller pieces a day. If we don’t stay above that threshold the whole website blows up.

The Cubs are going to have 25 players, and pretty much all of them are going to play. The Indians are going to have 25 of their own players, and pretty much all of them are going to play. It’s going to be fun! This is another Andrew Miller post.

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Eric Longenhagen Prospects Chat, All Eyes on Mesa


Eric A Longenhagen: Hey everyone. I’m at Sloan Park in Mesa for BP. I’ll probably hold tight to an hour today to grab a seat. I’ll try to hustle through as many questions as possible…


Greg: I know you raved about Demeritte defensively. Have you seen any improvement offensively out in Arizona, or any reason to believe he can be an offensive contributor in the future?


Eric A Longenhagen: His approach remains over-aggressive.


Keith, Farmington, CT: Thanks Eric. Heard a report that Yoan Moncada‘s infield defense is atrocious enough that Boston needs to move him to the outfield in the spring. Is that fair? Too harsh?


Eric A Longenhagen: He’s so new to 3B that you have to excuse most of the hiccups at this point. I’ve seen enough promising footwork to be optimistic of his future at 3B.


John: What is Kolby Allards Floor/Ceiling?

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The Kyle Schwarber Decision

A year ago, Kyle Schwarber took over October with his bat, launching monstrous home runs and putting himself on the map as one of the better young hitters in baseball. This summer, Schwarber took over July with his unavailability, as many of the summer’s rumors revolved around teams — specifically the Yankees — trying to get the young slugger from the Cubs in various trades, but the team refusing to part with him, even though it meant they had to settle for a bullpen upgrade not named Andrew Miller. And now, Schwarber is taking over Octoer with his rehab; six months after tearing his ACL, Schwarber is now angling for a return to the team, offering to serve as the designated hitter in the four World Series games that take place in AL parks.

From an entertainment perspective, I hope the Cubs add Schwarber to the roster; it would make for a compelling story, especially when the Indians inevitably bring Miller in to face him, reminding the Cubs what they could have had in their bullpen if they weren’t so attached to him. From a baseball perspective, I’m less convinced that putting Schwarber on the roster would be a significant improvement for the Cubs roster.

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The 2016 World Series’ Nastiest Pitches, Almost Objectively

Even though run-scoring spiked to its highest total in seven years this season, these playoffs have been dominated by pitching like few others. With managers getting more out of their shutdown relievers than ever before and pitchers like Jon Lester, Corey Kluber, Andrew Miller, Marco Estrada, and Kenley Jansen turning in dominant appearances while shouldering heavy workloads, perhaps it’s no surprise that these playoffs include the lowest-scoring ALCS in history. And with a World Series matchup that features one of the best run-prevention units the sport has ever seen and a pitching staff that just held the Blue Jays and Red Sox to a combined 15 runs in eight games, the World Series seems likely to continue as a low-scoring, pitcher-dominated affair.

With pitching potentially taking center stage for this year’s fall classic, so do the individual pitches themselves. And so, allow me to continue an exercise I’ve performed for each of the previous two World Series, in which I attempt to (somewhat) objectively identify the nastiest pitches we’ll see throughout this final seven-game series.

What makes a pitch nasty? Well, in part, the way it looks, which is informed by the combination of velocity and movement. So that’s half of our criteria right there. Dominant results also make a pitch nasty, and there’s no two better results for a pitcher than a swinging strike or a ground ball, so that makes up the other half of the process of these pitches being selected. Velocity, movement (horizontal + vertical), whiff/pitch, ground ball/ball in play, all relative to the individual pitch type and ranked based on the sum of four z-scores.

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Scouting Kyle Schwarber’s Arizona Fall League Appearance

Hours before hell froze over in Chicago in Saturday, Kyle Schwarber was added to the Mesa Solar Sox taxi squad and immediately cast into action as the team’s designated hitter that night at Sloan Park in Mesa.

His presence in the lineup was significant in a way that’s unusual for the Fall League. Most of the participants here are prospects benefiting from extra developmental time against reasonably advanced minor-league competition. Schwarber, on the other hand, is more or less auditioning for a a place on the Cubs’ World Series roster. When he stepped to the plate on Saturday, it represented his first place appearance in a professional game since suffering a knee injury on April 7. That injury was originally characterized as a “season-ending” one. But the Cubs’ season hasn’t ended yet, and Schwarber remains a candidate to contribute to it.

Below are my thoughts on his performance.

Schwarber went 0-for-3 with a walk, the 0 consisting of two weak ground outs to the right side and a well struck ball to the right-center-field gap that seemed destined for extra bases off the bat but was robbed by Rockies prospect Noel Cuevas. The least flattering aspect of Schwarber’s evening was his timing. He was out on his front foot against offspeed stuff a few times, which led to some of the evening’s weak contact and he missed a few other hittable pitches.

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Does Cleveland Even Need Danny Salazar?

When looking at postseason matchups, the quickest and most natural thing on which to focus is the relative strength of each club’s starting rotation. About a month ago, I wrote about this tendency to get caught up in starting-pitching matchups during postseason overanalysis — in part because it’s something that I myself tend to overanalyze. Which is why I looked at Cleveland at the start of the postseason and gave them little chance to advance to the Division Series or, certainly, the World Series. Lesson learned.

That piece focused on the string of starting pitcher-injuries at the end of the season and their impact on playoff rotations — including, of course, Cleveland. The loss of the No. 2 and No. 3 in their rotation — Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar — represented a devastating blow, and it was natural to wonder how it would impact their October chances. However, it was (and is) undeniable that the team had a tremendous bullpen, which is why this was my conclusion at the time:

“If the rotation can keep them competitive through five or six innings and the offense plays its part, there’s absolutely still a path to October success for Cleveland. Cling to that while all of the pregame overanalyses look unfavorably upon the majority of Cleveland’s starting-pitcher matchups this October.”

As expected, Cleveland’s bullpen has been simply tremendous. With just six earned runs allowed in 32.1 innings pitched, they’re sporting a 1.67 ERA. The significantly less expected development, though, is that the rotation has done a heckuva lot more than just keep the team competitive. The rotation as a whole has allowed a similarly impressive eight earned runs through 38.2 IP, giving that unit a tremendous 1.86 ERA. Obviously Corey Kluber has been a significant part of that success, but so too has Josh Tomlin’s three earned runs in 10.2 IP and Ryan Merritt’s delightfully shocking 4.1 shutout innings. The only starting pitcher for whom the bullpen has really been compelled to clean up is Trevor Bauer and his drone-afflicted pinky.

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The Best Team In Baseball Is Still Playing Baseball

We overanalyze the playoffs. And, yeah — in part it’s because we overanalyze everything. It’s the whole reason this place exists. But we always dig deep into October, because we all understand that playoff baseball is a different animal, a different twist on a familiar sport, and we want to wrap our minds around it. We’ve tested theories inspired by the Royals. We’ve tested theories inspired by the Giants. We’ve tested theories inspired by winners, because we want to know if we can better identify winners, before they win. Every October, we search for the key to the tournament. We search, as if there’s anything to find.

There’s not. Oh, sure, there are subtle things, but a playoff series is a coin flip, determined by a sequence of coin flips. The key is for one team to be a better baseball team than the other. Then the coin won’t flip so perfectly even. But so much of this is random. So much of this is random, that it can be hard to believe it’s not *completely* random. We’ve become so conditioned to saying the best teams aren’t always rewarded. When you have one great team, the overall odds are against it.

The overall odds were against the Cubs. If you were trying to figure out the NL pennant, it would’ve been smarter to bet on the field. That’s the reality of having to win two series in a row. But, bless these playoffs. Bless these playoffs, because at least in one of the leagues, there’s restored faith that October can be just. The Chicago Cubs were very obviously the best team. They get to keep playing another handful of ballgames.

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Sunday Notes: DH Dilemma, Indians, Gallardo, Glasnow, HoF Managers, more

The Cleveland Indians have two sluggers on their roster. Mike Napoli and Carlos Santana each hit 34 home runs in the regular season. They did so while splitting time between the first base and designated hitter positions, which will pose a problem come the middle three games of the World Series. Unless Cleveland gets creative — and bold — one of them will be out of the lineup.

Given the importance of their bats, Terry Francona may want to find a way to make it happen. As Paul Swydan pointed out on Thursday, this was The Lowest-Scoring ALCS in History. Furthermore, the Cubs turn batted balls into outs better than anyone. It’s not easy to string together hits against best defensive team in baseball.

The Indians have scored 27 runs so far this postseason, and 15 of them have come via the long ball. Napoli and Santana have combined to hit just three of the club’s 11 home runs, but they remain the biggest power threats. There is also on-base to consider. The duo finished one-two on the team in walk rate during the regular season, and Santana’s .366 OBP was bettered only by Tyler Naquin’s .372. Napoli has eight seasons of postseason experience and is the de facto team captain.

How to get both in the lineup when the Series shifts to Wrigley Field? Read the rest of this entry »

The Best of FanGraphs: October 17-21, 2016

Each week, we publish north of 100 posts on our various blogs. With this post, we hope to highlight 10 to 15 of them. You can read more on it here. The links below are color coded — green for FanGraphs, brown for RotoGraphs, dark red for The Hardball Times and blue for Community Research.
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Fall League Daily Notes: October 21

Eric Longenhagen is publishing brief, informal notes from his looks at the prospects of the Arizona Fall League and, for the moment, the Fall Instructional League. Find all editions here.

Braves 2B Travis Demeritte has looked tremendous at second base this fall. Not only has he made several acrobatic plays but he’s handled some bad hops and sucked up errant throws on steal attempts as well. While his hands remain somewhat rough, Demeritte’s range and athleticism have forced me to reckon with the idea of plus-plus defense at second base — as well as to remember if I’ve ever put a 7 on a second baseman’s glove before. I don’t think I have, and I suppose it’s worth asking if such a thing even exists, as one might wonder why a 70 or 80 glove at second base couldn’t play shortstop in some capacity. I think the right concoction of skills (chiefly, great range and actions but a poor arm) can churn out a plus-plus defender there. I’d cite Ian Kinsler, Brandon Phillips and Dustin Pedroia, and Chase Utley as examples from the last eight or 10 years. It’d be aggressive to put a future 7 on Demeritte’s glove right now because his hands and arm accuracy are too inconsistent, but those are things that could be polished up with time.

Tigers RHP Spencer Turnbull was up to 94 and mixed in five different pitches last night. Nothing was plus and Turnbull doesn’t have especially good command but I liked how he and Brewers C Jake Nottingham sequenced hitters and how to and that Turnbull was willing to pitch backwards and give hitters different looks each at-bat. He and Rays RHP Brent Honeywell have the deepest repertoires I’ve seen so far in Fall League.

Giants righty Chris Stratton sat 89-92 last night with an average mid-80s slider that is good enough to miss bats if he locates it, and last night he did. I think the changeup is average, as well, while Stratton’s curveball is a tick below but a useful change of pace early in counts. He looks like a back-end starter.

Quite a few defenders got to air it out last night. Here are some grades I put on guys’ arms:

Dawel Lugo, 3B, ARI: 6

Miguel Andujar, 3B, NYY: 6

Pat Valaika, INF, COL: 5

Gavin Cecchini, INF, NYM: 45

Christin Stewart, OF, DET: 4

Angels CF Michael Hermosillo, who was committed to Illinois to play running back before signing with Anaheim after the 2013 draft, displayed tremendous range in center field last night. He looks erratic at the plate but he hit well at Burlington and Inland Empire this year and is an obvious late-bloomer follow as a two-sport prospect from a cold weather state.

Jon Lester Should Have Madison Bumgarner’s Reputation

Last night, Jon Lester took the mound for the Cubs, and for most of the game, the conversation was about he can’t do: hold runners on. The Dodgers danced and pranced off first base, taking leads they wouldn’t take against any pitcher, and daring him to throw over to first base. But you know what the Dodgers didn’t do against Jon Lester? Score runs.

Okay, fine, they got one, but for most of the night, Lester just shut the Dodgers offense down. Because that’s just what he does in October.

You know about Madison Bumgarner‘s postseason dominance by now; that’s a well-told story at this point. So, just for fun, here’s a table of some numbers that might surprise you.

Lester and Bumgarner, Postseason
Postseason IP BB% K% HR/9 BABIP LOB% ERA- FIP- xFIP-
Lester 119 6% 21% 0.9 0.248 83% 60 86 94
Bumgarner 102 5% 22% 0.7 0.236 84% 57 85 93

Lester has been basically identical to Bumgarner in the postseason, once you account for the league and run environment differences of their postseason opportunities. Even their underlying numbers are almost identical across the board. Lester, though, has now been this dominant in 17 extra playoff innings, so you could argue that his October resume is actually even more impressive.

For all the talk about the Giants ace as the dominant postseason hurler of his time, Lester is in that conversation ,too. And after another great outing last night, he’s one of the big reasons the Cubs are now one win away from the World Series.

Starting Pitching Is Important, Too

It seems a bit silly to write a piece extolling the virtues of starting pitching in the playoffs. Everyone knows starting pitching is important. Those guys pitch three times as many innings during the regular season as their relief counterparts. They win almost all the Cy Young awards — and sometimes MVPs, as well. The narrative this postseason, however, has seen the importance of starters take a back seat to a collection of guys who — either because they’ve lacked the ability to pitch every five days or, otherwise, proved unable to turn over a lineup — have been subsequently moved to the bullpen. Relievers are great — and they’re obviously exerting a tremendous influence on the current postseason — but the starting pitcher’s impact on a game is still great, no matter how early the bullpen comes in to save the day and earn our praise.

Earlier this week, Dave Cameron discussed how bullpen usage was killing offenses this postseason. Teams were shaving off more than an out per game from the starters, who were averaging a little over five innings per start. Going to good relievers earlier and avoiding pitching fatigued starters without having to use the typical below-average long man has kept offense down. On the other hand, five innings of work still represents more than half the outs in a baseball game and it’s the starters who are recording those outs.

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Let’s Make the Bullpen Catcher the Emergency Catcher

This postseason has featured plenty of interesting baseball with all sorts of compelling performances. Without diminishing Javy Baez‘s tags or Clayton Kershaw’s brilliance, it’s probably fair to say that the two main storylines have concerned bullpen usage and the impact of replay. Perhaps we’ve reached a bullpen tipping point, but it seems almost certain that this postseason will lead the league to revise exactly how replay is applied to split-second base detachments.

While most people have latched onto these stories, I’ve had my eye on something different. The Cubs and Dodgers both carried three catchers for at least one series and have both used three catchers in a single game during these playoffs. Admittedly, this is a less important and obvious development than bullpen changes and replay controversies, but it sets up a discussion I’ve been wanting to have about a potential rule change.

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