Author Archive

Examining the A’s Epic Collapse

One of the biggest stories of the season’s second half has been the historic decline of the Oakland Athletics. They are flirting with accomplishing the extremely difficult feat of having the best record in baseball at the All Star break, and then missing the playoffs. Winning the final two games of their pivotal series with the Seattle Mariners this past weekend has sharply decreased the likelihood of that worst case scenario, but the collapse has been stark nonetheless. It’s convenient to tie the A’s second half results to the departure of Yoenis Cespedes in the Jon Lester trade, but the reality is a bit more complicated than that. There are many factors in play, but arguably the foremost among them has been the precipitous fall of two of their key offensive players – Derek Norris and Brandon Moss. Read the rest of this entry »

Chris Davis, 2014: What Happened?

Unless the Baltimore Orioles advance to the World Series, the 2014 book is closed on their slugging first baseman, Chris Davis. After breaking out in a big way with a 53-home-run tour de force in 2013, Davis crashed to earth this season, hitting half as many homers while losing 90 points off of his batting average before a 25-game suspension for Adderall usage brought his campaign to a premature halt. Just by watching him for even a couple of days, it’s easy to see that Davis is a high variance, all-or-nothing hitter, but even then such a sudden decline at age 28 is beyond the pale. Which Davis — the 2013 MVP candidate or the 2014 Mendoza Line flirter — is closer to the real thing? Read the rest of this entry »

Building a Great Bullpen

There are a number of reasons that the Seattle Mariners find themselves in a heated race for a playoff spot as the 2014 season winds down. Felix Hernandez for one, and Robinson Cano and Hisashi Iwakuma, for two and three. And Kyle Seager, for four. They upgraded both their outfield defense and the back of their rotation from awful to fairly solid, both massive upgrades. On top of it all, their bullpen has by far the best ERA in the major leagues at 2.41, effectively shortening games to six or seven innings. In 2013, the Mariner pen, with many of the same pitchers in place, was not very good. This leads one to a number of questions regarding reliever performance. How does bullpen performance correlate with winning? What have similar frontrunning pens of the past few years had in common? Do high-end pens stay on top for very long? Read the rest of this entry »

Danny Duffy: Simultaneously Unlucky, Lucky And Pretty Good

The introduction of sabermetrics into general baseball discussion over the past generation has brought the concepts of random chance and, dare I say, “luck” into the daily discourse surrounding the game. Hardcore opponents of analytics tend to deride the entire notion of luck, while analysts may too quickly ascribe variations in performance to random chance. The more factors we are able to quantify, the more easily we can decide what is random variation, and what isn’t.

Into this esoteric debate steps Royals’ lefthander Danny Duffy, who has posted a subpar 8-11 won-lost record – and a glittering 2.42 ERA, through his abbreviated one-pitch outing (due to shoulder soreness) on Saturday. And then that ERA is way out of whack with his fairly ordinary 3.68 FIP. Has he been as unlucky as his record tells us, or as lucky as his ERA might indicate? Let’s see what we can measure about both Duffy and the context surrounding him, to get a better feel for his true talent and the role random chance has played in his odd 2014 season. Read the rest of this entry »

The Cubs’ Historic Offensive Infusion

Sparks of enthusiasm are once again kindling among Chicago Cubs’ loyalists, as the long-awaited influx of position-player talent onto their major league roster has begun in earnest. The club is far from a finished product, and a loaded minor league system is no guarantee of major league success — just ask some of the teams I’ll discuss below. It’s an exciting time on the North Side, however, and this is before Kris Bryant — arguably the best of the lot — has been penciled into the big-league lineup. How does this group match up with some other recent talent infusions? Read the rest of this entry »

Is Dustin Ackley Fixed?

They encountered one another on a major-league field for the first time this past weekend — the first two picks of the 2009 draft, the Nationals’ Stephen Strasburg and the Mariners’ Dustin Ackley. The two names are forever linked in Mariner lore, as it was their ill-timed winning streak at the end of the 2008 season that landed both players in their eventual homes. Strasburg made the Mariners look silly on Saturday night, but Ackley got in a solid counterpunch, drilling a late homer that cost the Nationals’ righty his shutout, ending his night a bit earlier than expected. Truth be told, the Mariners’ return on their first-round selection has looked better of late, as Ackley’s second-half surge has helped keep his club firmly entrenched in the wild-card race. Which is the real Dustin Ackley? The one that struggled for the better part of the last three seasons, or the guy who has shown up for the last month and a half? Read the rest of this entry »

Michael Brantley: Stealth AL MVP Candidate

As we head down the season’s home stretch, the AL MVP race isn’t shaping up to be the neat, two-horse race it was in both 2012 and 2013. Miguel Cabrera hasn’t quite been Miguel Cabrera, and though he still could win the award, Mike Trout hasn’t exactly been Mike Trout. As occasionally happens when there is no slam dunk position player candidate, the leading contender might be a pitcher, in the person of Felix Hernandez. In such a circumstance, sleeper candidates lacking the typical statistical “oomph” often possessed by MVPs can often emerge from the position player ranks of contending clubs. The Mariners boast two worthy contenders in Robinson Cano and Kyle Seager, the A’s have Josh Donaldson, and the Royals boast Alex Gordon, just to name a few. The Indians are not too far off of the wild card pace, and are one hot week away from injecting the name of Michael Brantley into the discussion. Read the rest of this entry »

Dazzy Vance, The Ultimate Outlier

We spend a lot of our time writing about outliers on these pages. Performance outliers, such as Miguel Cabrera and Mike Trout on the offensive side, and Clayton Kershaw and Felix Hernandez on the pitching side. We focus on those who took outlier paths to the big leagues, such as Cuban imports like Aroldis Chapman and Yoenis Cespedes, or even late-career conversions like Jason Lane. As far as outliers go, Hall of Fame pitcher Dazzy Vance has them all beat. Read the rest of this entry »

Limiting Hard Contact: NL Leaders, and a Laggard

Much of modern sabermetric thought regarding pitcher evaluation has been based upon the theory that most types of contact are created somewhat equally. High and low BABIPs allowed are usually attributed to good and bad luck, and FIP, which is directly based upon BABIP, is oft cited as the go-to individual pitching statistic. Well, not all contact is created equal. This week, we’re using a fairly basic method of evaluating contact management ability, and looking at the leading contact managers in both leagues. As it turns out, there’s a head-to-head battle for supremacy in both the AL and NL. Read the rest of this entry »

Limiting Hard Contact: The AL’s Two Stars

Much of modern sabermetric thought regarding pitcher evaluation has been based upon the theory that most types of contact are created somewhat equally. High and low BABIPs allowed are usually attributed to good and bad luck, and FIP, which is directly based upon BABIP, is oft cited as the go-to individual pitching statistic. Well, not all contact is created equal. This week, we’re going to use a fairly basic method of evaluating contact management ability, and look at the leading contact managers in both leagues. As it turns out, there’s a head-to-head battle for supremacy in both the AL and NL. Read the rest of this entry »

The Padres Offense: Historically Bad, Unlucky, Or Both?

For the first time in seemingly forever, a new GM hire was announced on Wednesday, with A.J. Preller tabbed to take the reins of the San Diego Padres. For such a change to occur, things typically need to go seriously wrong, and in the Padres’ case, it was offensive issues of epic proportion that did the trick. Ranking last in the NL in runs, AVG, OBP, SLG, doubles and total bases, to name just a few categories, is no way to go through life. How did the Padre offense get that bad, and is there a layer of bad fortune working against them to go along with the cold hard facts? Read the rest of this entry »

The August Waiver Trading Period

The July 31 trading deadline came and went last week, with quite a bang. Numerous deadline deals were consummated, with players of varying pedigree changing uniforms. David Price and Jon Lester were the big names, but perhaps the most notable aspect of the proceedings was the movement of incumbent major league regulars by contending clubs, such as Yoenis Cespedes and Austin Jackson, in lieu of or in addition to minor league prospects in pursuit of the biggest fish available.

“Deadline” is a somewhat misleading term, however, as trades will continue to be made throughout the month of August. A whole new bunch of arcane industry rules apply, however, in the August waiver trading period, creating a cat-and-mouse game where teams must not only know which players they covet and are willing to give up, but also which players their competition wants, prompting aggressive moves to block their rivals. Read the rest of this entry »

Don’t Write Off The Rays End Of The David Price Deal Just Yet

Today was quite the deadline spectacle, with two of the best pitchers in baseball, Jon Lester and David Price, changing uniforms. The Lester deal hit early, and it was an eye-opener, with the “buyer” A’s “selling” their #4 hitter, Yoenis Cespedes in the process. The movement of established players, such as Cespedes, Allen Craig and Joe Kelly, by buyers in pursuit of their needs came to be one of the themes of the day.

As they often do, however, the Tampa Bay Rays zigged while everyone else zagged, and “sold” ace lefty David Price to the Tigers in a three-team deal that sent Austin Jackson to the Mariners, and lefty starter Drew Smyly and infielders Nick Franklin and Willy Adames to the Rays. The reaction of many media outlets to the Rays’ take had a quizzical or even disappointed tone. It takes a little more analysis – and an understanding of the way the underfunded Rays need to do business – to see what they’re up to here. To put it simply, the Rays are trusting their solid organizational evaluation skills as they have many times in the past, and see an abundance of talent and team control in this three-player package. Read the rest of this entry »

The New And Improved Jon Lester

As the grains in the hourglass slip away toward the trading deadline, Jon Lester has become the most focused-upon target of buyers. As recently as a month ago, this didn’t seem to be a particularly likely scenario, but the surge of the Tampa Bay Rays and the plunge of the Boston Red Sox has caused the wheel to spin from David Price to Lester. While Lester has been exceptional this season, his 2013 performance would be characterized as no better than solid, and he was one of the game’s biggest disappointments in 2012. What has happened to bring Lester from there to here, and is his current form sustainable going forward? Read the rest of this entry »

The Effects, Or Lack Thereof, Of The New HOF Voting Rules

On Sunday, Cooperstown looked as it should on induction day. A good crowd, in a beautiful, heavenly part of America, paying tribute to well deserving — and just as importantly, living — awardees. Unfortunately, it hasn’t been this way often enough in recent seasons, as the BBWAA has had a difficult time electing members, for reasons both within and outside of their control. To that end, they have enacted a rule tweak, with the desired impact of clearing up the ballot that has become saturated in recent years. Eligible players may now remain under BBWAA consideration for 10 years, instead of 15. Is this the magic bullet that is going to make the voters’ problems go away, or might this simply be a “rearranging the deck chairs”-type move that takes the onus off of the actual problem? Read the rest of this entry »

The Jake Peavy Deal: Giants and Red Sox Make Win-Win Trade

The Red Sox and Giants struck a Saturday morning near-trading deadline special, with Jake Peavy headed west in exchange for pitching prospects Edwin Escobar and Heath Hembree, with the clubs splitting Peavy’s $5M remaining 2014 salary. As with most of this month’s trades to date, real, actual, solid prospects were netted by the selling club. In this case, they’re both pretty close to big league ready. Before anyone rushes to call this a clear win for the Giants – Peavy is 1-9, 4.72, for the season, after all – let’s take a closer look at what the Giants are getting, and how Peavy fits into his new environment. Read the rest of this entry »

What Happened To Chase Headley?

Another piece in this year’s trade deadline mosaic fell into place on Monday, as Chase Headley was dealt from the Padres to the Yankees in exchange for 3B Yangervis Solarte and High-A RHP Rafael De Paula. Headley promptly jumped on a plane, was inserted into what became a 14-inning marathon with the Rangers, and delivered the game-winning hit. Moments like this have been hard to come by for the switch-hitting third baseman since 2012, when he unfurled a .286-.376-.498 line with 31 HR and an NL-leading 115 RBI, while playing his home games in a pitchers’ park.

He basically became the poster child for an underachieving, and dare I say boring Padres club. It’s clearly unfair to heap all of the 2013-14 Padres’ problems on the back of Headley, but it goes with the territory when you bat in the middle of the order daily and haul down a large salary by San Diego standards. What on earth has happened to Headley since 2012, and what can the Yankees expect to get from their new third sacker for the rest of the 2014 season? Read the rest of this entry »

Huston Street Deal: A Good Omen for the Sellers

With the trading deadline still 10 days away, there have been, as might be expected, a whole lot more rumors than deals to date. A fairly significant one did take place over the weekend, however, as the Angels acquired RHP Huston Street and minor league RHP Trevor Gott from the Padres in exchange for four prospects – 2B Taylor Lindsey, RHP R.J. Alvarez, SS Jose Rondon and RHP Elliot Morris. The big picture trade market has been slow to develop in part due to the imbalance between a large group of potential buyers and a relatively small – but growing – number of sellers and should-be sellers. This trade should be a reassuring development for those confirmed sellers, and a prod to get the undecideds off of the fence and down to some serious selling. Read the rest of this entry »

Is This The Real Justin Verlander?

The All Star Game took place on Tuesday, and for the first time since 2008, Justin Verlander was not there for the festivities. Looking at his recent performance, it seems like very, very long ago that Verlander was the consensus pick as the best pitcher in baseball, when in fact, it was 2012. What has happened, and is his descent from the Mount Rushmore of starting pitchers permanent? Great pitchers have had bad years before regaining their groove – Steve Carlton, for one, lost 20 games in 1973 and didn’t come close to resembling the monster who won 27 games for a terrible Philadelphia team the year before. All he did was go on to win three more Cy Young Awards over the next decade, while in the process reclaiming Best Pitcher in Baseball honors. Can Verlander make a similar resurgence? Read the rest of this entry »

The Most Unlikely All Star of All

With the season on hiatus for the playing of the Midsummer Classic, we might recall some of the best players never to play on all All Star team. My personal nominations for such an award, if it were to exist, would be for Garry Maddox, one of the best center fielders I’ve ever had the pleasure to watch, and Tim Salmon, a consistent, prolific middle-of-the-order power threat. Toss in Kirk Gibson for good measure. Articles are also written about the worst players ever to play in All Star Game, but this is not one of them. This is about an unlikely participant – the Reds’ Alfredo Simon, who was yesterday named as a late addition to the NL roster. Anyone who had him in the “Future All Star” pool at any time in the last decade and a half, please step to the head of the line. Read the rest of this entry »