Author Archive

Michael Young’s Three Most Significant Hits

The last few weeks before pitchers and catchers report is mostly a time of great anticipation for players and fans. However, it is often serves as a time when veteran free agents without teams decide that the available offers are not attractive enough to be worth it and retire. This seems to have been the case with Michael Young, who announced his retirement last week. He retired as as a member of the Texas Rangers, and he and the team seem to have been able to put aside whatever differences they had over the last few years of Young’s time with Texas.

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Remembering Lance Berkman’s Biggest Hits

Lance Berkman announced his retirement last week. While a week may seem like an eternity in the world of baseball blogs (especially during the seemingly endless off-season), a player of Berkman’s stature cannot be allowed to slip quietly into the night. If for no other reason, Berkman would deserve recognition on the basis of not one, but two of the best nicknames (judged on originality and appropriateness to the subject) in contemporary baseball in “Big Puma” and “Fat Elvis.” But he was also, as one would hope FanGraphs readers know, a tremendous player. As we so often do, let’s look back on some of Lance Berkman’s biggest hits from the perspective on their impact on individual games.

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The Cardinals, Mark Ellis, and Depth

The Cardinals have reportedly signed Mark Ellis to a one-year deal. Ellis will turn 37 next season, but played well enough the last couple of years with the Dodgers that he was sure to find a job. The question is whether the Cardinals really needed him given the presence of Kolten Wong. The answer has to do with the Cardinals’ position as a contender and their concern with depth.

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Victorino, the Red Sox, and the Ellsbury Aftermath

Not sure if you have heard, but Red Sox center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury is a member of the Yankees now. Ellsbury may not have repeated his monstrous 2011 in 2013, but he did have an excellent year and put his miserable 2012 mostly in the rear view mirror. We might argue over how good Ellsbury is, but he is pretty clearly good. Boston did try to re-sign Ellsbury, but the Yankees offered more. That’s the way it works, and good for Ellsbury.

The value of Ellsbury and his place on Yankees’ side of thing has been covered, but I want to look back on how the decision to sign Shane Victorino during the 2012-2013 off-season looks even better now for the Red Sox in light of Ellsbury’s departure.

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Ambiguous Victory: Thoughts on the Dayton Moore Extension

In November of 1941, the British forces in North Africa launched Operation Crusader with the intention of engaging the Axis forces led by Erwin Rommel. The British were hoping for a tank battle in which the superior numbers of British tanks would have the advantage and crush the German armor while also relieving the besieged fortress at Tobruk.

It did not turn out that way. The short version begins with British constantly giving up the initiative, dispersing their tanks and then suffering huge losses as the concentrated German forces smashed through them one by one. Despite numerous initial setbacks, Operation Crusader ended with what is generally considered a victory for the British. Rommel overreached, and during his “dash to the wire” (the border between Libya and Egypt), the British, rather than retreating as Rommel had thought, held fast and Rommel was ultimately forced to withdraw west of Tobruk. It was not an overwhelming victory for the British by any means, and in many ways the fighting highlighted the British Army’s glaring tactical shortcomings. Yet it was a victory, generally considered to be the first by the British against German-led forces during the Second World War.

The Royals might be said to have had their own version of Operation Crusader in 2013. They made some questionable decisions along the way, they did end up winning 86 games, their first winning season since 2003 (with the previous one coming in 1993 — every 10 years!). So on Black Friday, the Royals rather unsurprisingly announced an extension for general manager Dayton Moore, whose contract was scheduled to end after the 2014 season. The new contract extends him through 2016.

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The Royals, George Kottaras, and Cash

Back in March, I wrote about the alleged spring training positional battle story for the Royals’ backup catcher spot between George Kottaras. For all of Kottaras’ defensive liabilities, it was pretty clear he was going to be the choice to be Salvador Perez‘ caddy in 2013 since he had a clearly superior bat to Hayes that overcame his defensive issues. As a left-handed hitter, Kottaras also provided a useful platoon player so that Perez’ off days could be scheduled versus a right-handed starter. Kottaras was a useful bench bat in general. Finally, since the Royals went out of their way to claim Kottaras off of waivers from Oakland, they clearly wanted him around.

Kottaras was indeed the Royals’ primary backup catcher in 2013, but Hayes (or perhaps Francisco Pena) seems to have gotten the last laugh. Kottaras was designated for assignment a few days ago by the Royals, and yesterday was traded to the Cubs for cash. It is essentially a minor transaction, and in itself does not make a huge difference. It might, however, help us raise questions about the Royals’ off-season strategy.

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Joe Smith: Boring Name, Decent Reliever

Joe Smith, who has long contended with Scott Baker and Jim Johnson for The Most Boring Name in Baseball, reportedly signed a three-year, $15.75 million deal with the Angels over the weekend. This might seem like another multi-year contract of the sort bloggers like to complain about, but I don’t think that conclusion is self evident. The more important question might be how this fits into a coherent off-season strategy for the Angels to improve their run prevention.

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Cleveland Signs David Murphy, Continues Loving Platoons

Former Texas Ranger David Murphy has reportedly agreed to a contract with the Cleveland Indians. As of this writing, the details are still coming out, but the deal is said to be for two years and about $12 million. It sounds like the new standard contract for platoon players in their thirties — see Jonny Gomes and David DeJesus for recent examples. Cleveland might very well be planning to platoon the left-handed-hitting Murphy with Ryan Raburn in right field. The combination could provide enough production at the right price to overcome concerns about flexibility while also filling out Cleveland’s lineup and allowing them a chance to take another shot at the playoffs in 2014 if they make some additional moves.

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Worst Bunts of 2013

Earlier this week, I posted about the best bunts of the 2013 regular season according to Win Probability Added. You can read about the basic idea (and its limits) there. Now that we have looked at the best, why not a few of the worst?

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Best Bunts of 2013

Everyone understands that not all bunts are a bad idea, right? The auto-sacrifice has (I think) mostly fallen out of favor with fans and teams, but as a nice illustration of sabermetrics’ infinite task, the analysis of bunts continues to evolve. The bunt as a piece of traditional baseball strategy was (and in some circles, continues to be) a target for early sabermetric analyses. But as the field grew more sophisticated, the analysis grew more subtle: a bunt may or may not be a good idea depending on the base/out/game situation, the skill of the bunter, and the position of the fielders.

A more sophisticated analyzing which bunts represent the best process (as opposed to results) would take, well, days of searching through game logs. Analyzing which bunts were the best executed would be an even more onerous burden. For this particular annual tradition, I have chosen the much simpler task of which bunts of the 2013 regular had the best result as measured by Win Probability Added.

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Switching Out Hanigan for Pena

Today, the Cincinnati Reds have agreed to sign Brayan Pena to a two year contract. Brayan Pena is a generic replacement level catcher, so you probably don’t care too much about him. You might care about Ryan Hanigan, however, since you’re reading FanGraphs. Because Hanigan is something of a sabermetric darling, and now he’s being cast aside in favor of a player who seems demonstrably worse.

For the Reds, this probably has less to do with Hanigan and more to do with Devin Mesoraco, who looks to be the team’s regular starting catcher in 2014 after today’s news. Pena fits the prototypical backup role, and now the team can attempt to use Hanigan as trade bait. And, given his skills and the amount of teams looking for a catcher this winter, they should have no shortage of suitors.

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King of Little Things 2013

Although the end of regular baseball is sad for both fans who blog and those who do not, for the former it at least provides a time to look back on the season and write about certain achievements. For me, it is a nice time to whip out some silly awards based on toy stats. On Monday, we looked at 2013’s Joe CarterTony Batista Award winner, which compared RBI totals with linear weights runs created. Today, we look at a more specific situational stat that someone (not me) suggested a few years back and that I have looked at annually. It is not the same thing as clutch, but does use situational metrics to see how much a player contributed on offense beyond what is measured by traditional linear weights, in this case by looking at the specific game states the player faced. For better or worse, we call the winner of this award the King of the Little Things.

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The 2013 Joe Carter-Tony Batista Award

Award season is upon us. It is a time for arguing about ERA versus FIP, pitching to the score, defensive value, and the meaning of “valuable.” Fun, right? It is also a time for me to whip out fun little toys to recognize different kinds of offensive contributions. One of these is the basis for the Joe CarterTony Batista Award, which annually recognizes the hitter whose RBI total most overstates his actual offensive contribution.

Spoiler alert: it was a banner year for the National League Central. Taste the excitement!

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David Ortiz and the Very Large Hall

The Hall of Fame buzz around David Ortiz is understandable given the amazing World Series he just had. With few exceptions, Ortiz has been an outstanding hitter since coming to Boston in 2003, a performance that will certainly make him an intriguing candidate for the Hall of Fame. I do not know whether he will get elected to the Hall, and there are others who are good at such analysis.

But when we as fans argue about the Hall of Fame, we mostly argue about whether a player should go into the Hall of Fame. In this context. Ortiz’s career usually draws comparisons of his career numbers with other players who were primarily DHs like Frank Thomas and (more often) Edgar Martinez. Obviously, this is not an either/or proposition. Just because Thomas and Martinez are (in my mind) clearly worthy of enshrinement does not mean Ortiz cannot be. Thus the “Edgar first” position is not all that interesting to me.

I do happen to believe that Thomas and Martinez are worthy and that Ortiz is not, but rather than getting into that way of looking at the issue , I want to take a different approach. If Ortiz’s career to date makes him worthy of being in the Hall of Fame, what other players might also be worthy based on their numbers? Exactly how large are Ortiz’s advocates willing to make the Hall?

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When to Walk David Ortiz

It is a bit of an exaggeration to say that David Ortiz has been the Red Sox’ whole offense during the World Series, but only a bit, as he is hitting .733/.750/1.267 in the Series so far. Of course, he hit .091/.200/.227 in the ALCS versus Detroit. The reader probably understands both sets of numbers to be both small sample fluctuations — Ortiz is an excellent hitter, but making decisions based on any short span of plate appearances is a bad idea. The temptation to give Ortiz the “Barry Bonds treatment,” i.e., walk him every time he comes to the plate, no matter what the situation, is understandable, but should be resisted.

Even if Ortiz is no Bonds, he is an excellent hitter, and clearly the Red Sox’ best. Although the intentional walk in general seems to be overused, there are situations in which it makes sense, especially with the Cardinals sending the right-handed Michael Wacha to the mound tonight and the Red Sox (probably) hitting several right-handed hitters behind the left-handed hitting Ortiz. When to walk or not walk is not a clear cut situation, but using some general principles, we can at least outline some basic game situations when it is might be the right idea.

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World Series Game 3 Live Blog

Matt Klaassen: Welcome to my first chat in… a long time. That’s just how desperate things are around here: I’m running a chat on a Saturday night World Series Game. Send ’em in and we’ll get going pretty soon.
Comment From Sgt. Pepper
Provide content damn it
Comment From BH
How many grandmothers will be startled when OU/Texas Tech suddenly starts airing on Fox News at 6:30 CDT?
Comment From Z S
Hi Matt, what do you think of Kelly getting the nod for game 3 over Lance Lynn (and the long lost Shelby Miller, for that matter)?
Matt Klaassen: Well, I think Lynn is better than Kelly, but obviously Matheny likes Kelly here. There is objective evidence that Miller may have been gassed near the end of the season, and the Cardinals seem to agree.

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Billy Butler and the Royals’ Off-Season Plan

Apparently some people do not respect the sanctity of World Series Week:

Move over, Scott Boras and A-Rod.

Jokes aside, the Royals’ reported willingness to see what they can get from Billy Butler is, on the surface, not all that interesting. A team seeing what sort of value they can get from their assets simply makes sense. “Team X should trade Player Y if they can get more surplus value back” is a truism. If the Royals can get more value back for Butler than he is worth, then, yes, they should probably trade him. Of course, on the other side of things, teams should only trade for Butler (or any other player) if they do not have to give up too much. These sorts of unbalanced trades are not really worth discussing in the abstract. What might be more interesting is trying and figure out why the team would want to move Butler given their other needs.

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Iannetta, Conger, and the End of the Arencibia Era

If one were willing to go out on a limb, one might say that Blue Jays’ catcher J.P. Arencibia did not have the best year. Sure, he hit 21 home runs and, well, that is about it. With the rumor mill firing up in anticipation getting into full swing after the World Series, word has it that the Blue Jays are interested in acquiring one of the Angels’ catchers: either Chris Iannetta or Hank Conger.

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Brandon Phillips as a Trade Asset

The Reds and their fans are likely understandably disappointed in their first-found playoff loss to the Pirates after a 90-win season. Still, the Reds gave themselves a shot by making the playoffs. It was their third playoff trip in four years, and though they did not make the Divisional Series as they did in their most recent two prior appearances, it was still the team’s third time in four years in the playoffs.

Nonetheless, this is the time of year for speculation on what a team should do to position itself for the future, especially in the suddenly very competitive National League Central. The Reds are likely facing at least one major departure as Shin-Soo Choo hits free agency after a monster season at the plate. They still have a good core of players who will be around, among them Joey Votto, Mat Latos, Jay Bruce, Aroldis Chapman, and Homer Bailey. Brandon Phillips also has been a big part of that core during the Reds’ recent run of success, and is under contract through 2017. However, earlier this week John Fay wrote that the Reds apparently had interest in Cuban infielder Alexander Guerrero, who is projected to play second base in the big leagues. With Phillips’ perceived down performance and the organization’s reported irritation with some of his comments, reading the tea leaves could mean the team is ready to see if they can trade Phillips this winter.

Phillips did have a down year by recent standards, but the question is whether 2013 indicates a greater-than-expected drop in his skills, and how that might influence his value to other teams given his age and the $50 million left on his contract.

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Right-Handed Platoon Notes: Cuddyer, Trout, and Holliday

A few weeks ago, I wrote about some interesting platoon splits of a couple of left-handed hitters who had my attention. When I started looking at some right-handed hitters who had splits I wanted to discuss, they also turned out to be players with a big impact this year: the winner of the 2013 National League batting title, the most exciting young player in years, and the hero of last night’s NLCS game. Their splits are interesting in themselves (at least to a certain type of baseball fan), but also are concrete way of thinking about more general principles with respect to platoon skill.

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