Sunday Notes: Yonder, Yankees, Dodgers, Pitch Selection, more

Yonder Alonso hasn’t been dealt a generous hand. Drafted seventh overall by the Reds in 2008 out of the University of Miami, the Cuban-born first baseman was shipped to San Diego three years later. The trade took him from one of baseball’s most hitter-friendly venues to one of its least friendly.

Last winter, the Padres sent Alonso to the A’s, who play in an equally unforgiving yard. You have to feel for him. Injuries have influenced his production as well — he’s no stranger to the disabled list — but one can’t help but wonder what his numbers might look like had he spent the last four-plus seasons in a cozier abode.

His splits aren’t extreme, but they’re emblematic. He’s hit .257 with a .697 OPS in home games and .283 with a .739 OPS on the road. Power has been at a premium, as he has just 33 home runs in 2,051 big-league plate appearances.

Alonso has never felt a need to alter his attack plan — “Generally, the way I swing pretty much works in any field” — but he’s aware that where he’s played has impacted his career. Read the rest of this entry »


The Best of FanGraphs: June 20-24, 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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NERD Game Scores for Saturday, June 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
Boston at Texas | 21:20 ET
Wright (98.1 IP, 102 xFIP-) vs. Griffin (33.2 IP, 112 xFIP-)
The adjusted xFIP figures for Steven Wright and A.J. Griffin are published here because they’re published for every pitcher scheduled to start in the day’s most highly rated game. Generally, this make sense: whatever a pitcher’s adjusted ERA at any moment, it’s more likely to resemble his xFIP figure going forward. But that’s only generally. Further research on DIPS theory over the last decade-plus has revealed that certain pitchers actually do exhibit signature batted-ball profiles.

Knuckleballers are one sort of pitcher of this sort. As a result, it’s not surprising to find that Wright has produced an ERA over than 30% lower than his xFIP relative to the league (106 xFIP-, 71 ERA-). Likewise, Griffin. He doesn’t possess a knuckleball, but does throw a curve that sits at just under 70 mph. Perhaps as a result of that — and a result of the interaction of that pitch with the rest of his repertoire — he’s conceded a .247 BABIP over 300-plus innings this year, only .237 this year.

Readers’ Preferred Broadcast: Texas Radio.

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NERD Game Scores for Friday, June 24, 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
Washington at Milwaukee | 20:10 ET
Scherzer (101.1 IP, 79 xFIP-) vs. Davies (69.2 IP, 98 xFIP-)
The reader is likely aware of the how Max Scherzer is talented. The purpose of this brief entry is to note how Zach Davies, while less talented than Max Scherzer, is also probably more talented than the average major-league starter. Here’s one piece of supporting his evidence: for the season, Davies’ run-prevention and fielding-independent numbers are better than average. Here’s a second, related piece: in June, specifically, Davies has produced the 20th-best adjusted xFIP and third-best ERA among 98 qualified starters. Here’s who’s right in front of him on the ERA leaderboard: Michael Fulmer and Steven Wright. Here’s who’s right behind: Max Scherzer — a.k.a. the same pitcher who’s the pitcher Zach Davies opposes tonight.

Readers’ Preferred Broadcast: Milwaukee or Washington Radio.

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Jameson Taillon’s Remarkable Return

Of late, the Pittsburgh Pirates have been remarkable in a rather disappointing way. On May 27, the club was 28-19 and had a 43.7% chance of making the playoffs. Two weeks later, after a sweep at the hands of the St. Louis Cardinals, Dave Cameron cast considerable doubt on the Pirates’ ability to compete this season. Now, after four weeks and a 6-20 stretch, the team’s playoff odds are down to 2.7% in what figures to be a very competitive wild-card race.

Despite the disappointments of June, the Pirates continue to possess a very good, very young core in the form of Gerrit Cole, Starling Marte, and Gregory Polanco. That group provides an opportunity to stay competitive in a way most small-market franchises have found incredibly difficult. The emergence of Jameson Taillon can only help those fortunes going forward.

Still just 24 years old, it would be reasonable to assume that Taillon has been taking a fairly standard path to the big leagues, continuing to move up the ranks as he gets older and has more success. That has not been the case, however. Taillon was actually fairly close to the majors three years ago, at 21 years of age, reaching Triple-A in 2013, with a reasonable expectation of finding his way to Pittsburgh the following season. He was consistently ranked among the top 20 or so prospects since having been drafted with the second-overall pick in 2010.

That 2014 season didn’t go as planned, however, and Taillon underwent Tommy John surgery in April of 2014. A solid rehab and recovery would have put him back on the mound sometime in the middle of last season. While trying to ramp up for the rest of the season, Taillon then had surgery for a hernia, recovery from which kept him out the rest of the season. When he headed back to Triple-A this year, he had not made a competitive pitch in over two full seasons. He didn’t look rusty, though, recording 61 strikeouts and just six walks in 61.2 innings of work for Indianapolis. That earned him a promotion to the majors — and, in light of Pittsburgh’s difficulty in finding reliable and healthy starters, his stay in the big leagues should last a while.

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Brian Dozier’s Path Out of the Slump

As May came to an end, I made my way cautiously over to Brian Dozier, who was slashing .202/.294/.329 at the time. Approaching a player in the midst of a slump can go one of two ways — you can either get Brandon Moss and complete honesty about what that battle is like, or you get frustrated non-answers tinged with anger.

Dozier was more of the former — even though his numbers at the time were some of the worst of his career, particularly the ones that concerned balls in play. He didn’t mind, though, since he had a simple solution on which he was working that day. The results were immediate.

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How Much Will Yulieski Gourriel Cost?

Five weeks before the trade deadline, contenders are starting to ramp up discussions on moves that would bolster their rosters for the stretch run, but this year, there’s a wrinkle. For teams looking to add an offensive upgrade, there’s also a free agent to consider: Cuban superstar Yulieski Gourriel. The infielder was the country’s best hitter before he and his brother left the country in pursuit of Major league jobs, and MLB recently cleared him to sign on and get his career underway. Instead of giving up talent from their farm system, a team could simply spend money to add Gourriel, and the ability to upgrade with budget room only has to appeal to a number of clubs.

But, of course, the question will be how much money the 32 year old Gourriel is going to cost. Every team would take him if the price was low enough, but because of the high incentives for large-revenue teams to spend on international free agents, Cuban players have increasingly been getting significant guarantees. And, unfortunately for Gourriel, the last batch of players to cash in after leaving the island have been a miserable failure.

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Jeff Sullivan FanGraphs Chat — 6/24/16

9:07
Jeff Sullivan: Hello friends

9:07
Jeff Sullivan: First chat in a few weeks!

9:08
Jeff Sullivan: Let us baseball chat, posthaste

9:08
Frank: Is Teheran wearing a Red Sox uniform come August?

9:08
Jeff Sullivan: Think of it kind of like World Series odds — the Red Sox might be the team with the greatest probability, but that actual probability is likely no higher than, say, 20%

9:09
Jeff Sullivan: So few decent pitchers out there. So many teams looking. Dombrowski might be the most willing to overspend to get what he wants, but I wouldn’t exactly count on that

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The Fringe Five: Baseball’s Most Compelling Fringe Prospects

The Fringe Five is a weekly regular-season exercise, introduced a few years ago by the present author, wherein that same author utilizes regressed stats, scouting reports, and also his own fallible intuition to identify and/or continue monitoring the most compelling fringe prospects in all of baseball.

Central to the exercise, of course, is a definition of the word fringe, a term which possesses different connotations for different sorts of readers. For the purposes of the column this year, a fringe prospect (and therefore one eligible for inclusion in the Five) is any rookie-eligible player at High-A or above who (a) received a future value grade of 45 or less from Dan Farnsworth during the course of his organizational lists and who (b) was omitted from the preseason prospect lists produced by Baseball America, Baseball Prospectus, MLB.com’s Jonathan Mayo, and John Sickels, and also who (c) is currently absent from a major-league roster. Players appearing on an updated prospect list or, otherwise, selected in the first round of the current season’s amateur draft will also be excluded from eligibility.

In the final analysis, the basic idea is this: to recognize those prospects who are perhaps receiving less notoriety than their talents or performance might otherwise warrant.

*****

Chance Adams, RHP, New York AL (Profile)
Adams debuted among the Five proper last week on the strength (generally) of his season-to-date performance and (specifically) his two most recent starts. The first of those appearances was impressive for the outcome itself: against Pirates affiliate Bradenton, the 21-year-old Adams recorded a 10:0 strikeout-to-walk ratio against just 17 batters over 5.0 no-hit innings. The line from the second start was less conspicuously great (5.1 IP, 19 TBF, 3 K, 1 BB) but notable for another reason: it was the product of Adams’ first Double-A appearance. The right-hander recorded his second-ever Double-A start just last night (Thursday) at Orioles affiliate Bowie (box). Adams conceded six runs. Which, that’s not ideal. But he also produced a 8:1 strikeout-to-walk ratio against 25 batters. Which, more ideal. And where matters of projecting future success are concerned, it’s the latter of those marks on which one likely ought to dwell.

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Trevor Bauer Looks Like a Completely Different Pitcher

We’ve long known Trevor Bauer as the 21-year-old kid with attitude who shook off Miguel Montero as a rookie. The No. 3 overall pick from 2011 who Terry Francona called stubborn and implored to work more with the coaching staff.

Brian Dozier recently described Bauer to Eno Sarris as someone who “lives up in the zone” and who won’t go away from his strengths to attack Dozier, a high-ball hitter. And while it’s technically still true that Bauer often throws his fastballs high in the zone, it’s an interesting reminder of the perception of what Bauer was in the past, and the reality of what Bauer is now. The perception of Bauer was that he was so transfixed with his own pitching style, he was resistant to change. The reality is now, he couldn’t look more different.

Bauer opened the year in the bullpen after a rough 2015, but found himself back in the rotation after Cody Anderson‘s early season struggles. In 11 starts, he’s got a 2.96 ERA and a 3.22 FIP. Over the last 30 days, he leads the entire majors in WAR among pitchers. But results are results, and without a change in process, there’d be no reason to believe the results should be any different. This is what a complete change in process looks like:
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Miguel Cabrera’s Curious Splits

Baseball never lacks for intriguing story lines. There is always a player breaking out and there is always a player declining. There are Cinderella teams and disappointing collapses. In this sport, you can always find something new and exciting to watch. But this post isn’t about those expectation defying feats. On the contrary, this post is about the predictable and reliable greatness of a guy named Miguel Cabrera and the absurdity dwelling beneath it.

Prior to the start of the season, our Depth Chart projections spit out a 2016 projected slash line of .310/.393/.524 for Cabrera, which amounted to a .387 wOBA. After a disappointing 0-for-5 game yesterday, Cabrera currently sits at .301/.379/.538 with a .383 wOBA. It’s not a perfect match for his projected line, but it’s damn close. His overall production is down from when he was a Triple Crown and MVP winner, but that’s to be expected for a 33-year-old. He’s still a stellar hitter putting up impressive numbers that are well in-line with what we expect to see from the future Hall of Famer. But underneath his cumulative numbers are a couple of jarring splits.

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The White Sox’ Hidden Catastrophe

I was reading through Jon Heyman’s latest Inside Baseball, and then I got to the White Sox section. Within, Heyman said something about Chris Sale, and though it wasn’t specifically about everything that’s going to follow in here, it at least works well enough for me to embed:

Chris Sale’s pitches come from such an unusual angle, it seems to fool umpires. It looked like he had an 0-and-5 count on Nick Castellanos in one at-bat (the actual count was 3-and-2)

Nothing important, really. Just a fleeting thought about one at-bat in particular. OK! Well, as you know, balls and strikes have to do with multiple factors. The pitcher plays a part. The hitter plays a part. The umpire plays a part. Dumb luck plays a part. And the catcher plays a part. In some previous posts, I’ve quickly touched on the White Sox’s catchers. It seems time for something in greater depth, because this has been an awfully big problem for a team that’s badly slipped.

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Andrew McCutchen Clearly Doesn’t Have His Swing

It’s easy to consider over- and underachieving players in isolation. It’s only a little bit harder to put them in context. Below is some context. I exported a spreadsheet of every qualified position player on the season. Then I exported a spreadsheet of all our preseason projections, and I compared the two, looking at actual vs. projected WAR over however many trips to the plate each given player has had. Which players have underachieved expectations the most? Here are 10 names:

Most Underachieving Position Players
Player Actual WAR Projected WAR Difference
Prince Fielder -1.8 0.6 -2.4
Andrew McCutchen 0.4 2.6 -2.2
Giancarlo Stanton 0.2 2.3 -2.1
Justin Upton -0.2 1.6 -1.8
Alcides Escobar -0.8 0.8 -1.6
Jose Abreu -0.2 1.4 -1.6
Adam Jones 0.0 1.5 -1.5
Joey Votto 0.8 2.2 -1.4
Adrian Gonzalez -0.2 1.2 -1.4
Hanley Ramirez -0.1 1.3 -1.4

Prince Fielder is off his expected pace by about two and a half wins, which is absurd and terrible. Not that the Rangers have even really needed his help. But Fielder isn’t the only struggling star player, and right there in second is Andrew McCutchen, whom the Pirates could dearly use. He’s about tied with Giancarlo Stanton, who’s got his own problems, but let’s focus on one player at a time. McCutchen, by now, was supposed to be almost a three-win player. He hasn’t been close to a one-win player, and as he’s sunk, so has the team around him.

The Pirates have a whole lot of issues, sure. And the outfield as a whole has still been productive. Lower-budget teams, however, need their star players to be star players, and McCutchen hasn’t been a star player. It’s because he doesn’t have his swing.

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Todd Frazier’s Batted Ball Problem

Todd Frazier hasn’t been exactly what the White Sox hoped when they traded a slew of prospects for him in the offseason. I mean, yeah, he’s got a share of the MLB home run lead with 21, but everything else has been out of whack. Despite those 21 home runs, Frazier’s actually barely been a league-average hitter, a .201 batting average being the key contributor to a pedestrian 104 wRC+. The stellar base-running Frazier displayed in 2014 has been absent. Any defensive metric suggests Frazier’s once-solid defense has gone into a spiral this year. Frazier’s essentially been an all-or-nothing home run machine, which has amounted to just 0.7 WAR for the year.

You look at the home runs, and you see the potential, but then you look at the mediocre overall batting line, and your eye is drawn to the batting average, because it’s the only thing that’s out of whack. Just .201. Frazier’s not striking out much more than usual, so you look to the BABIP, and you see… .182. Todd Frazier has a .182 batting average on balls in play this year, the lowest in baseball by more than 30 points. Excellent! Regression is near! That’s how BABIP works, right?

Well, yeah, kind of. Frazier will finish the year with a BABIP higher than .182, because surely he’s had some misfortune, but you don’t misfortune yourself all the way to a sub-.200 BABIP almost halfway through the year. More than anything, this is on Frazier.

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Danny Espinosa, Trea Turner, and the Value of Patience

When the Nationals decided to begin the year with Danny Espinosa as their starting shortstop, with top prospect Trea Turner beginning the year back in Triple-A, it was widely seen as another example of a team manipulating the service time rules in order to extend their controllable years over a valuable player. That narrative was seemingly reinforced when the Nationals stuck with Espinosa even after he hit .185/.316/.246 in April, especially given that Turner was hitting .317/.387/.463 in Triple-A at the end of the first month of the season. And as the two disparate batting lines were compared and contrasted, calls for Turner to replace Espinosa got louder and louder.

Yet the Nationals stuck with Espinosa. They pointed to his superior defense as a primary reason, also noting that Turner has some work to do with the glove, and stuck with that plan even after Turner came up and went 3 for 3 with a double and a walk after he got summoned to the big leagues while Ryan Zimmerman went on paternity leave. And now, as we reach the end of June, it’s probably time to admit the Nationals made the right call.

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Blake Snell Needs to Get Strike One

Tampa Bay’s Blake Snell entered the season as one of Major League Baseball’s top prospects. Among the top-20 names on a number of the industry’s preseason lists and a dark-horse Rookie of the Year Candidate, there were rumors that the young left-hander might agree to a contract extension with the Rays that likely would have placed him on the club’s Opening Day roster. That didn’t happen, however. Finally, after sufficient time had passed to secure an extra year of service time for the Rays, Snell was called up to make a start and pitched well. Following that, however, a series of off days allowed Tampa Bay to deploy a four-man rotation. That, combined with a series of solid starts from Matt Andriese, meant Snell stayed down in the minors. Now he’s back and the results so far are mixed — but also easily corrected.

When a pitcher has compiled just three starts in the majors, and the first one of those is separated by more than a month from the other two, evaluating his statistics is a glass-half-full-half-empty situation. If you want to believe Blake Snell is doing well, look at his ERA and FIP — they’re 2.40 and 2.92, respectively — and how he has yet to concede a home run. For those who’d like to view the glass as half empty, consider instead that Snell has allowed five unearned runs for which his ERA (by definition) doesn’t account — and that, in his last two starts, he’s recorded as many walks as strikeouts. While giving up no home runs is good, it likely can’t continue like that and could lead to higher run totals in the future.

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Eno Sarris Baseball Chat — 6/23/16

1:19
Eno Sarris: was going to use their song about subways because it was cool to be in the New York subway again last week but this song’s video is just too weird to not post
12:01
Bork: Hello, friend!
12:01
Eno Sarris: Hello!
12:01
Alex: Hey Eno– what do you think of keuchel ROS? can he return to last season form? Being offered finnegan and duffy for him and not sure what to do…
12:02
Eno Sarris: Don’t love Duffy but Finnegan’s velocity is down and the change has ifffy movement. Duffy is interesting but has so many injuries in the past. Doesn’t move the needle for me.
12:02
mathenging ’16: you lika da moss?

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Let’s Talk About Eric Hosmer’s Defense

There’s another disagreement regarding the Kansas City Royals and advanced metrics. If you’re still standing, you may take another drink.

This time, it’s Eric Hosmer and the defensive metrics. The Kansas City Star‘s Rustin Dodd penned a column over the weekend regarding the disconnect between the perception of Hosmer’s defense and the evaluation of Hosmer’s defense. It’s a well-written and well-researched piece that’s worth your time, but I wanted to dive a bit deeper. And it’s probably about time we had the talk anyway — it’s been an elephant in the room each of the last three seasons, while Hosmer’s won a trio of Gold Glove Awards despite grading as nothing more than an average defender.

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NERD Game Scores for Thursday, June 23, 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
Seattle at Detroit | 13:10 ET
Sampson (4.2 IP, 112 xFIP-) vs. Norris (1.0 IP, 225 xFIP-)
The idea that being handed lemons by Life — the idea that this somehow represents an undesirable state of affairs — is a bit perplexing for those among us who’ve been compelled actually to pay for lemons at a grocery. Nearly as perplexing as the suggestion that, once having been supplied with all these lemons, that one ought immediately to run out and go make lemonade. Because consider: lemons are present in a number of pesto recipes. And serve as a nice complement to broiled fish. Nor does this even credit the many uses of lemon zest. Lemonade, whatever its merits, doesn’t come close to representing the fully actualized state of the lemon.

Today’s baseball schedule has handed the reader metaphorical lemons. There are fewer games than usual and a paucity of elite starters. But this oughtn’t prevent one from extracting pleasure from it. The best use of the day, perhaps? To play the role of impostor-scout and carefully observe the starts of Seattle’s Adrian Sampson and Detroit’s Daniel Norris, neither of whom has recorded even as much as five innings in the majors this season.

Readers’ Preferred Broadcast: Detroit Radio.

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Hitter Contact-Quality Report: Third Base

Our position-by-position tour of hitter contact quality reaches its midway point today. Last time, we looked at shortstops. Today, hot-corner regulars. As we have in the previous installments, we’ll use granular ball-in-play data, such as BIP type frequencies, exit speed and launch angle to perform this analysis.

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