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Terrance Gore Is Human After All

This is not how a catcher reacts to your typical regular-season caught stealing:

And this is not the sort of enthusiasm with which a catcher is typically met in the post-game high-five line:

If you missed what happened in the ninth inning of Wednesday’s game between the Cleveland Indians and the Kansas City Royals, I’ve already spoiled the surprise. Terrance Gore, pinch-runner extraordinaire, was caught stealing in a regular-season game for the first time in his career. He’d gone 17-for-17 before Wednesday night. He’d gone 4-for-5 in the postseason, too, and his only caught stealing came at third base on a play in which he beat the throw and was originally called safe, only to have the verdict changed because his foot came off the bag for a split-second.

For more than a century prior to the advent of instant replay, Gore’s only caught stealing before Wednesday night wouldn’t have been a caught stealing at all, and even with replay, the ruling was dubious. Gore was damn near 21-for-21 in steal attempts to begin his career before Wednesday night, and the major-league record in the expansion era is 26, set by Mitchell Page in 1977. What was amounting to an historic streak has now come to a close, at the hands of Indians catcher Roberto Perez and reliever Cody Allen.

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The Continued Growth of Rick Porcello, Cy Young Candidate

On Monday night in Baltimore, Rick Porcello allowed two earned runs in a complete-game victory, striking out seven batters without a walk. That outing lowered his season ERA to 3.08, topped in the American League only by Masahiro Tanaka and Chris Sale. It raised his innings total to 210.2, topped in the AL only by Sale and Porcello’s teammate, David Price. It improved his pitcher record to 21-4 — which, I don’t need to tell you how poor of an evaluating tool pitcher record is, but there’s a part of me that refuses not to be at least a little impressed by 21-4.

Porcello, over the last month or so, has gone from fringe Cy Young candidate to a legitimate possibility. Sale is the only AL pitcher with a higher RA9-WAR and FIP-WAR than Porcello. The argument is right there if you want to make it. Sure, you could probably make the argument that Porcello’s ERA is more a product of good fortune than performance by pointing to his .260 batting average on balls in play, which is 42 points lower than his career mark. But then also you’ve got to consider that his career mark’s probably unfairly inflated by his being a ground-ball pitcher in front of Detroit’s defense for so many years, and that the BABIPs of his strongest Cy Young competitors are similarly depressed.

So you could make the case that Porcello’s numbers point more to good fortune than performance, or you could make the case that Porcello has made some legitimately compelling strides in the way he pitches.

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Tanner Roark Has Been Washington’s Kyle Hendricks

Stephen Strasburg‘s been in the news lately for playing catch. It’s still unclear whether he’ll pitch again this season. Given that the Nationals are just a few weeks away from postseason baseball, and given that Joe Ross just returned from having missed 10 weeks with a shoulder injury and is currently working on a limited pitch count, it’s not an ideal situation for Washington’s rotation. Gio Gonzalez is having his worst season in six years by ERA and FIP, and Lucas Giolito was unable to provide the shot in the arm that many had hoped.

And so, the comfort of having the always stellar Max Scherzer notwithstanding, anyone invested in the success of the Nationals is currently thinking what I’m sure they all expected they would in the spring: thank goodness we have Tanner Roark.

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August Fagerstrom FanGraphs Chat — 9/20/16

12:09
august fagerstrom: starting chat soon!

12:14
august fagerstrom: ok, let us begin

12:15
august fagerstrom: while listening to Andre Benjamin:

12:16
Borkmeisel: Hello, friend!

12:16
august fagerstrom: hello, Bork!

12:16
The Lure of the Animal: Any idea on why a lot of guys with middling power like Galvis are doubling and tripling their HR totals, while most traditional heavy hitters like Trout aren’t experiencing a significant bump?

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Addison Reed Has Become Andrew Miller-Lite

Over the last calendar year, Andrew Miller has a 1.81 ERA and a 2.22 FIP. Those dominant numbers, combined with the compelling nature of Miller’s complete transformation, have rightfully earned him the reputation as perhaps baseball’s best active relief pitcher.

Over the last calendar year, Addison Reed has a 1.87 ERA and a 2.14 FIP. You might not have heard about it, but dating back 365 days, Reed’s been every bit as dominant as the guy who’s rightfully earned the reputation as perhaps baseball’s best active relief pitcher. And you might not have realized it, but Reed’s undergone a similarly compelling transformation that’s left him looking more and more like Miller than one might expect.

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Zach Britton Has Actually Been Unlucky

Hopefully there aren’t too many of you out there suffering from Zach Britton fatigue. Last month, our own Corinne Landrey wrote about his potential for an all-time great season, and then shortly thereafter the baseball-writing community collectively began taking turns crafting the individual arguments for his Cy Young — and even MVP — candidacy, before the pushback began. We had our Zach Britton week, and all was good and fun. In reality, however, the chances of him winning — or even making a serious run at — the Cy Young Award seems highly unlikely.

But the first inaugural Zach Britton Cy Young Discussion Week still provided the framework for a few days of thought-provoking arguments and gave us something interesting to ponder. Now, here’s something else to think about: what if, in Zach Britton’s already potentially all-time great season, he’s actually been unlucky?

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Julio Urias Is Coming for One of Kershaw’s Titles

All things considered, Julio Urias is having an extraordinary rookie year. In his age-19 season, Urias has struck out a quarter of all the batters he’s faced in 72 innings. He’s got a 3.50 ERA and a 3.25 FIP, and the list of starting pitchers, age 20 or younger, with better adjusted ERAs and FIPs over the last 50 years runs just six deep. ZiPS already sees Urias as being the near-equal of Cy Young candidate Masahiro Tanaka, and Steamer thinks even more highly of the Dodgers’ young phenom. Already, Urias has put himself on the map as one of baseball’s best young pitchers. And already, Urias is coming after one of teammate Clayton Kershaw‘s crowns.

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Beware of the Power-Surge Imposters!

It’s no secret that power is up in baseball. While guys like Brian Dozier are hitting their 40th home run and Tyler Naquin are putting up Barry Bonds-type numbers against breaking and offspeed pitches, investigations into the potential of a juiced ball have persisted throughout the analytical community. We can’t say for sure why power is up, but it is. The league’s .167 isolated slugging percentage is the highest the peak of the steroid era in 2000, and the second-highest in the history of the game, and the 14-point increase in ISO from 2015-16 is the 10th-largest single-season in increase since the modern era began in 1921.

Such a sudden and drastic increase can make it difficult to contextualize player changes on the fly. When I wrote about Eric Hosmer‘s season two weeks ago, this line from a comment by user “isavage” stuck with me:

It doesn’t seem like Hosmer’s performance has fluctuated too greatly, it’s more that his offense didn’t get better when the league’s offense got better.

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The Near-Historic Characteristic of the Indians Offense

When a below-average lineup in 2015 was followed by a quiet offseason and a Michael Brantley shoulder surgery, it was easy to make a case against Cleveland’s preseason playoff hopes that started and ended with the lineup. Yet here we are, now, in September, and Cleveland is all but a lock to win their division. They’ve gotten here due in large part to a lineup that’s exceeded expectations (third in runs scored, 10th in wRC+) and kept pace with the pitching (third in ERA-, seventh in WAR) and defense (fourth in UZR, 10th in DRS). They’ve gotten here by crushing offspeed pitches, at a near-historic rate.

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August Fagerstrom FanGraphs Chat — 9/13/16

12:08
august fagerstrom: My apologies for the delay. Had some technical difficulties this morning and fell behind on my post-writing. Will start this thing up ASAP, hopefully about 10 minutes or so!

12:20
august fagerstrom: ok!

12:20
august fagerstrom: let us chat1

12:20
Bork: Hello, friend! YOU’RE LATE

12:20
august fagerstrom: Hi, Bork!

12:20
august fagerstrom: Sorry for making you wiat.

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The Elite Skill You Won’t Find on Javy Baez’s Scouting Report

Certain people on a baseball field possess the type of abilities that lend themselves to being noticed. It’s very easy to notice Giancarlo Stanton when he hits a massive home run. It’s tough to miss Noah Syndergaard pumping 101-mph fastballs in the first inning. Others possess the type of abilities that only become noticed when things go wrong. We don’t really notice the first-base umpire until he blows the call that ruins a perfect game. Nobody knows the third-base coach’s name until he holds the runner that could’ve changed the World Series. And then there’s a third group who possess extraordinary abilities, one way or another, that go completely unnoticed. Someone is the best in the world at playing ricochets off the wall in the outfield, but we’ve got no real way of knowing. There’s a king of the “second-base-glove-flip-to-first,” but we haven’t crowned him.

For some time, Javier Baez existed in that third group, of having an elite skill that’s not as obvious as hitting a home run or throwing 100. Lately, he’s been moving into group one. It’s getting hard not to notice Javy Baez’s tag game.

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The Dividends of Alex Bregman’s Non-Adjustment

While trolls and naysayers on Twitter were crying bust after Houston Astros’ top prospect Alex Bregman began his major-league career by going 0-for his first 17 and 1-for his first 32, manager A.J. Hinch was moving him up to bat in the most important spot in his team’s lineup. At the time, Hinch cited his contact rate and exit velocity as indicators that Bregman’s at-bats were better than the results indicated.

Bregman’s now become a fixture in the second position of Houston’s batting order, starting there in each of the club’s last 33 games, and over the last month, he’s been among baseball’s most productive hitters. Seems like there must have been a grand adjustment, or a light bulb that went off. Astros hitting coach Dave Hudgens dispelled that notion before a recent game in Cleveland, reinforcing Hinch’s suggestions that Bregman was never actually struggling at all.

“The biggest thing is, he was having good at-bats and having tough luck, too,” Hudgens said. “He was getting good at-bats. He just needed a couple hits to fall. His at-bats were good even when he was struggling.”

Split Bregman’s short career into two near-halves, and it’s evident that Hinch and Hudgens aren’t just blowing smoke — the Bregman we saw the first three weeks really isn’t all that different than the Bregman that’s tore up the league over the last month.

Two Tales of Alex Bregman
Time PA AVG OBP SLG K% BB% GB% Contact% O-Swing% Hard% BABIP
First 19 Games 85 .169 .235 .234 23.5% 8.2% 33.3% 74.7% 27.8% 31.0% .224
Last 22 Games 103 .347 .398 .695 21.4% 7.8% 24.7% 78.1% 25.5% 32.9% .394

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The Case for Josh Donaldson for American League MVP

This week, we’re running a series of posts laying out the case for the most compelling candidates for the American League’s Most Valuable Player Award. These posts are designed to make an affirmative argument for their subject and are not intended to serve as comprehensive looks at every candidate on their own. The authors tasked with writing these posts may not even believe their subject actually deserves to win, but they were brave enough to make the case anyway. The goal of these posts is to lay out the potential reasons for voters to consider a variety of candidates and to allow the readers to decide which argument is most persuasive.

Other cases: Jose Altuve for AL MVP / Mookie Betts for AL MVP / Mike Trout for AL MVP / Manny Machado for AL MVP.

Josh Donaldson was the American League’s Most Valuable Player last season, edging out Mike Trout by receiving 23 of 30 first-place votes and earning 385 vote points, compared to Trout’s 304. Donaldson was the best player on a division-winning team and, by routinely delivering in key moments, led the league in Win Probability Added for his 93-win club.

Donaldson was great, and clutch, and a winner. And this year, he’s arguably gotten better. The wRC+ has gone up. He’s again been one of baseball’s most productive hitters in high-leverage situations. He remains one of the game’s top defensive third basemen. The reigning MVP has, in many ways, built on his award-winning season. But that’s not why he should win it again.

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Christian Yelich Has More of His Angles Covered

The consistency of Christian Yelich throughout his first three major-league seasons, each with identical wRC+ figures of 118, was both promising and, in some ways, perhaps maddening. On the one hand, a hitter with a 118 wRC+ is a good hitter. Especially at such a young age. On the other hand, Yelich has been a ground-ball machine, and with his 6-foot-4 frame, the adjustment to bump up the production a few ticks has seemed so obvious. He doesn’t have to be a slap hitter, and yet he largely has been. And, as with Kansas City’s Eric Hosmer, that inability to adjust — to hit the ball in the air with even slightly greater frequency — has been somewhat confounding.

Unlike Hosmer, Yelich has taken a step forward this year. Our own Jeff Sullivan took early notice of some changes back in May. Yelich was laying off low fastballs, getting himself more good pitches to hit. He was doing a better job of turning on the inside pitch, and a better job of using those offerings to create loft. For the year, Yelich has dropped his ground-ball rate by six points, and while that’s one of the larger decreases across the game, Yelich’s still putting the ball on the ground more than almost anyone.

But then this past week, Yelich showed something else new. You’ll be able to see it rather clearly in this image. Yelich’s already doubled his career-high in home runs, with 18. Here’s the first 15, from before last week, and then you’ll see three new ones pop up in the week since:

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August Fagerstrom FanGraphs Chat — 9/6/16

12:05
august fagerstrom: Yo! Labor Day threw me off for a second. We’ll get this one started up real soon

12:05
august fagerstrom: In the meantime, this is very good:

12:13
august fagerstrom: ok! let’s begin

12:13
Bork: Hello, friend!

12:13
august fagerstrom: Hi, Bork!

12:14
Ronnie: If a Colorado Rockies player hit .400 would anyone even care?

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How Brian Dozier Put Together a Season for the Ages

Yes, it’s true that this is the year of the second baseman. As a group, second basemen are putting up better offensive numbers than they have in nearly a century, and are outhitting their defensively challenged counterparts in left field for the first time in the history of the live-ball era, dating back to 1920. And yes, it’s true that power across the sport is nearly at an all-time high. The league’s power output has returned to peak steroid-era levels, with this year’s isolated slugging percentage and home runs per plate appearance trailing only the year 2000 as the most power-laden season in the game’s history.

Those trends are real, and they should help shape the way we evaluate hitter’s performances in 2016. But don’t let those trends fool you: Brian Dozier is truly having a season for the ages.

The Minnesota Twins’ second baseman clubbed three home runs against Kansas City on Monday afternoon, bringing his season total to 38. Only Mark Trumbo has hit more homers than Dozier for the season; only David Ortiz has a higher ISO. Dozier’s homered eight times in the last week and has been baseball’s most valuable player in the second half according to WAR. His .298 ISO is the highest unadjusted figure in the expansion era (1961-present) for a second baseman and the highest by any second baseman not named Rogers Hornsby in baseball history.

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The Year It All Fell Apart for Eric Hosmer, Again

There was some talk not long ago about Eric Hosmer and his impending 2018 free agency, with years in the range of 10, and dollars in the range of $200 million. Of course, this talk was being put out there by Hosmer’s camp, and of course Hosmer’s camp’s got nothing to lose by talking up their client. Hosmer’s going to hit free agency at a relatively young age, and just last year he was a 25-year-old former third overall pick coming off the best season of his career, in which he became more or less the face of a World Series-winning franchise. He’s been incredibly durable, he’s had his fair share of big moments and won his fair share of awards, and he’s the kind of guy that seems to be held in high regards by teammates and within baseball circles.

Hosmer’s got his virtues, and Hosmer’s agent, Scott Boras, is just doing his job, a job at which he excels. But it was clear at the time that Hosmer was never going to earn $200 million, or probably anywhere near $200 million, and it’s become clearer since. In the month and a half since the $200 million talk began, he’s slashed .215/.292/.349, good for a 66 wRC+, and while Hosmer’s bat (and his team) have been heating up lately, each likely seem too late to save their season. The Royals currently stand with playoff odds below 5%. Hosmer currently stands with a season batting line which barely rests above the league-average mark, and a Wins Above Replacement figure that has a negative sign in front of it.

Hosmer, clearly, is a talented ballplayer. You don’t go third overall in the draft without talent. You don’t break into the majors as an above-average hitter at 21 without talent. You don’t post a top-10 average exit velocity and hit homers like this without talent. So how do we get to September with a -0.2 WAR?

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Carlos Rodon Has Taken a Step Forward

Carlos Rodon didn’t have the time to make his initial pro-ball adjustments in the minor leagues. Less than a year after being drafted third overall by the Chicago White Sox in the 2014 amateur draft, he was summoned the majors. When Rodon got the call, he’d made all of eight minor-league starts and had thrown just 34.2 innings. So it’s not a surprise to see him find things along the way, like that moving toward the third-base side of the rubber halfway through his rookie year would help with his fleeting fastball command. That’s the sort of early-career adjustment that might typically happen out of the public eye, under the watch of a Double-A manager. Rodon’s not going to have the typical career. We’ll see nearly every adjustment he makes. We’re seeing one right now.

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Let’s Improve Some Pitching Arsenals

Yesterday, we talked about Corey Kluber and Jose Fernandez, who have both made an effort to improve their arsenals in the second half by maximizing the usage of their best pitch — in this case, their similarly frisbee-like breaking balls. Kluber and Fernandez, in this regard, have been inching closer toward following in the footsteps of pitchers like Rich Hill, Kenta Maeda, Lance McCullers, Matt Shoemaker, and Masahiro Tanaka each of whom has thrown some version of a breaking or offspeed pitch this season more often than they’ve thrown a fastball.

A comment by Hill in May seemed to suggest that more pitchers could benefit from being told that they should simply throw their best pitch more often, regardless of whether that pitch is a fastball. Indians pitching coach Mickey Callaway told me more recently that “traditional things take some time to change,” and that the thinking with Kluber was that he could become more efficient in getting ahead in counts by throwing his best pitch, the curve, more often, rather than the more traditional choice of his two-seam fastball.

Guys like Hill, McCullers, Shoemaker, and now potentially Kluber and Fernandez have already made the adjustment to lead with a non-fastball. Because this approach interests me so much, I’m now curious who else might benefit from such a change.

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August Fagerstrom FanGraphs Chat — 8/30/16

11:55
august fagerstrom: Yo! Chat will start shortly after the top of the hour

11:55
august fagerstrom: In the meantime, listen to this new Bon Iver single that I have not been able to quit replaying:

11:55
august fagerstrom: I’m not even a particularly huge Bon Iver fan, but I can’t get enough of the new sound he’s displayed on the three singles. Insanely hyped for this new record. Love the new direction

12:09
august fagerstrom: ok!

12:09
august fagerstrom: let’s begin

12:09
Brett W: Your chat might be more efficient and effective if you lead with the curve.

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