Author Archive

Aaron Sanchez and the Trevor Rosenthal Experiment

On Thursday night, preseason consensus top-50 prospect Aaron Sanchez made his first appearance of the season out of the bullpen for the Buffalo Bisons, the Triple-A affiliate of the Toronto Blue Jays.

Sanchez’s move to the pen is notable for several reasons, even though he already had 14 relief appearances on his minor league resume (though some of those were from a tandem-starter experiment at Single-A in 2012).

But first, a note on how he performed: poorly. One inning is a woefully small sample to be judging anything from, but Sanchez was touched for two runs on three singles, taking the loss after allowing Pawtucket to break a 1-1 tie in the sixth. It wasn’t all that bad – three singles out of four balls in play is a little fluky – and one of those hits was from an MLB veteran in Shane Victorino, though the pitch was a mistake on Sanchez’ part (right over the plate and a shade above the knees). Still, he caught a lot of the plate on one of the other singles, and his final out was a well-hit liner to short.
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The AL East War Of Attrition

They say all games are created equally, and that each outing in a long season is just one of 162 games. That’s certainly true, from a mathematical perspective – 90 wins is 90 wins, regardless of how a team gets there.

From a practical perspective, however, not all games are equal. While the primacy effect may make it seem like it’s the games late in the season, within a tight race, that “matter more,” the argument can be made that it’s the games earlier in the year that can shape a team’s endpoint the most. In particular, success in the games ahead of the July 31 trade deadline, when looked at together, is paramount.

The American League East is a great example of this. With five teams projected to perform similarly before the season, the spread in the division so far is perhaps wider than most anticipated, with 9.5 games separating first and last. The team quality evaluation hasn’t changed all that much, however, with each team projected to win between 35 and 37 games (.480-.521) the rest of the way. The teams who have performed well early are in the driver’s seat for a playoff push, even though they don’t necessarily project as better than the others the rest of the way.

This is important not just for building an edge within the division – it’s made three teams buyers and two teams sellers ahead of the deadline.
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Is Brett Lawrie Putting Himself In Harm’s Way?

It’s kind of hard to pick apart Brett Lawrie’s game right now. Yes, the strikeout rate is up some and the walk rate down even further, but he already has a career-high in home runs, his isolated slugging is up and he is once again posting roughly a league-average weighted runs created plus (98), more than enough to make him a valuable player thanks to his quality defense at both second and third.

With that said, Lawrie really could stand to get out of his own way a little bit.

This isn’t one of those pieces suggesting a high-energy player tone down the intensity or anything like that, because that’s part of what makers Lawrie the Stone Cold Steve Austin-if-Red Bull-were-beer of baseball. But Lawrie is on the disabled list after fracturing a finger on his right hand, the second time this month he was caught on the hands with a pitch.
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Casey Janssen And The Hyperefficient Save

Entering the bottom of the ninth on June 5th, Toronto Blue Jays closer Casey Janssen probably thought he had lucked into a day off. He had just had the previous day off but hey, nobody is going to argue with a leisurely getaway day.

And so with the Jays leading the Detroit Tigers 7-3 thanks to a Melky Cabrera insurance home run in the top of the ninth, manager John Gibbons sent third-year reliever Chad Jenkins out to try and shut things down with a two-and-two-thirds-inning save. The Jays had a 99.2 percent chance of winning the game based on win probability graphs, though it may have been slightly lower with the middle of the Tigers order due up.

Four batters later, the Jays had to call on Janssen after all. He had no patience for this; he was already back in Toronto, mentally, and how dare a late Tigers rally put him to work?
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The Giants And High-Leverage Dominance

The San Francisco Giants entered play Thursday with the best record in baseball at 38-21, a game ahead of their cross-bay rivals in Oakland and a full 3.5 games better than any other National League team. Given their recent history of World Series success, maybe this doesn’t stand out to you. If you know the team and have been following along, however, this seems more than a little surprising, because the Giants certainly don’t seem like the best team in baseball.

That’s not to disparage them – they’re a good team, to be sure, and their Pythagorean win-loss record of 36-23 doesn’t indicate that they’ve been benefitted too much from run distribution.

But that’s just based on run differential, and there’s certainly a lot of variance and good fortune that can go into how teams produce runs. For the Giants, well, being the clutchiest bunch of clutches who ever clutched is certainly helping.
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What Happens When A Pitcher Goes Right Down The Middle?

The other week when I wrote about pitches that come in well out of the zone and what happens with those pitches, some discussion in the comments focused on the opposite – what happens right down the chute? If a pitcher is wasting 0-2 pitches, surely he’s firing down the center on 3-0, and if pitchers sometimes miss wildly outside, they probably miss to the meat of the plate on occasions, too.

There have already been 2,535 pitches thrown in 3-0 counts this season (2,227 if we exclude intentional walks), according to the awesome new HeatMaps here at Fangraphs, and so our knowledge of what happens when pitchers are far behind has a solid base. And thanks to data since 2012, we know why pitches have a strong incentive to fight back from 3-0, even with one strike – there is, obviously, an appreciable drop in expected on-base percentage in a 3-1 count, and there’s little chance the batter swings 3-0, anyway.

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San Diego’s Historically Tenuous Trio

The San Diego Padres currently own the worst offense in baseball. Maybe that’s not surprising given that they play half of their games in Petco Park, one of the league’s most pitcher-friendly confines. Still, an average of three runs per game is paltry, and the fact that they’ve scored three runs or less – when teams win just 22 percent of the time this season – in 26 of their 40 games is rather astounding, especially since they’ve managed to go 19-21.

It’s so bad, in fact, that even when the park is controlled for using weighted runs created plus (wRC+), the Padres still grade out as the worst offense in baseball, and by a significant margin. Their wRC+ of 75 is indicative of an offense 25 percent worse than the league average, and they’ve produced quite a cushion between themselves and the next worst offense (the Cubs, with a wRC+ of 81).

Where does the blame fall for this kind of offensive ineptitude? You’d think it would be a team-wide epidemic but most of the blame can fall squarely on the league’s most tenuous trio.
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Wasted Pitches and the Pitchers Who Make the Most of Them

You’ll often hear of a pitcher “wasting” a pitch. Up 0-2 in a count, for example, the pitcher fires off something well out of the zone, hoping the defensive hitter will hack at it, missing or putting the ball in play weakly. The cost here is minimal – the cost of that pitcher having thrown an extra pitch and the change in count from 0-2 to 1-2.

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Why Would A Pitcher Pitch Against The Shift?

On April 10 in an outing against the Toronto Blue Jays, Dallas Keuchel was pitching Jose Bautista outside in the fourth inning.

That much isn’t really surprising, because since September of 2009, Bautista has done the bulk of his damage by pulling the ball. What was curious to me, however, was that Keuchel was pitching Bautista well outside despite the fact that the Astros defense was employing a heavy shift. It seemed counterintuitive, since I had assumed – though I hadn’t previously given it much thought – that a pitcher would be best served by pitching into a shift and giving the batter something he’s more likely to pull.

As it turns out, Keuchel was probably using the proper approach.
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Edwin Encarnacion Is Not Your Typical Slugger

Hank Aaron. Barry Bonds. Albert Pujols. Edwin Encarnacion.

If one of those names doesn’t seem to fit, perhaps you haven’t been paying close enough attention in 2013. (And you probably didn’t read Dave Cameron’s trade value column.) The fact that Encarnacion is third in the majors in home runs and fourth in runs batted in doesn’t put him in elite company in historic terms, though.

No, it’s something Encarnacion is not doing that makes him unique.
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Introducing the Adam Dunn Hat Trick

A goal, an assist and a fight. A gino, a helper and a tilly. That’s The Gordie Howe Hat Trick, a rare feat in the game of hockey that honors the gritty and the skilled. It’s a feat that its namesake, Mr. Hockey himself, actually only did twice in his career – it’s named more for his career-long achievements in point production and face punching.

Well, it’s high time that baseball got a hat trick of its own. So today, with a hat tip to David Laurila for the idea, we’re introducing the Adam Dunn Hat Trick.

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