Author Archive

The Best of FanGraphs: August 17-21, 2015

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, orange for TechGraphs and blue for Community Research.
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FanGraphs Audio: The NotGraphs Reunion Extravaganza

Episode 585
In this belated episode of FanGraphs Audio, fill-in host David Temple talks to former NotGraphs writers about what they are currently up to, and also about their memories of writing for the now-dead section of the Internet.

Don’t hesitate to direct pod-related correspondence to @cistulli on Twitter.

You can subscribe to the podcast via iTunes or other feeder things.

Audio after the jump. (Approximately 2 hours, 16 min play time.)

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FanGraphs Audio: Dave Cameron Analyzes All Trades

Episode 583
Dave Cameron is both (a) the managing editor of FanGraphs and (b) the guest on this particular edition of FanGraphs Audio, during which edition he discusses all (read: most) of the trades that happened toward the end of this previous week. It is guest hosted by David G. Temple, so don’t be alarmed when the host’s voice is much more pleasurable than what you were expecting.

Don’t hesitate to direct pod-related correspondence to @cistulli on Twitter.

You can subscribe to the podcast via iTunes or other feeder things.

Audio after the jump. (Approximately 39 min play time.)

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Wade Davis Deserves Better Than Some Footnote

On August 24, 2013, the most popular movie at the box office was Iron Man 3. The troublesome pop song Blurred Lines was all over our radios. The Boston Red Sox had the best record in the American League, and the Atlanta Professional Baseball Club led the National League. Were we ever so young?

Also on that date, Wade Davis had a start against the Washington Nationals. He ended up losing the game, giving up seven earned runs in six innings. He struck out four and gave up a home run. Remember that last part for a minute.

Wade Davis’ start on August 24, 2013 was, as of this writing, the last start he’d ever have. This was not insignificant, as he was the other half of the James Shields trade — a trade that saw a somewhat-significant package of prospects being sent to Tampa Bay. The Royals thought they were getting a top-notch starter and another with some potential. Through most of 2013, they got a top-notch starter and whatever Wade Davis was. Shields would go on to have two productive seasons for Kansas City, as Davis continued to struggle in the starter’s role and be moved to the bullpen.

A “demotion” to the bullpen is rarely a high point for a pitcher, but for Davis, it could not have been more advantageous. After being sent to the pen, Davis would go on to dominate in the relief role (more on that later). As it happens, August 24, 2013 was a positive turning point for Davis. It would also be the beginning of an impressive — if not quirky — streak. August 24, 2013 was the last time Davis would give up a home run for almost two years.

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Twins Add Another Perfectly-Serviceable Pitcher in Santana

The 2014 Winter Meetings went on at a fairly furious pace, all things considered. There was of course speculation as to what kind of moves would be done. Jon Lester was expected to sign — he did. There were rumors Matt Kemp could get traded — he was. The Red Sox were thought to be looking to alleviate their crowded outfield — this also happened. But a ton of other things happened. The White Sox tried to get better, the Reds had a mini fire sale, and the Dodgers turned the Winter Meetings into their personal Out of The Park game. I don’t really want to call it a tradeapalooza, but I want to call it a tradepocalypse even less, so I’ll stick with the former. And in the middle of it all was the Twins signing Ervin Santana to a four-year, $55 million contract. If one were skimming the pages of MLB Trade Rumors looking for the fallout of the Winter Meetings, the Santana headline would most likely cause them to shrug unemphatically. Because Ervin Santana, as a player, is an unemphatic shrug. And he’s probably the best that the Minnesota Twins can do. Read the rest of this entry »

Casey McGehee: Fake Speedster

The 2009 Milwaukee Brewers had a fairly potent offense. Prince Fielder was playing out of his mind. Ryan Braun was not far behind him. Mike Cameron was still providing value, Corey Hart was about league average. Jason Kendall and J.J. Hardy, while not hitting very well, were playing well enough defensively that they needed to be in the lineup. And then there was Casey McGehee. Claimed off waivers from the Cubs in late 2008, McGehee had a banner season in 2009; his 126 wRC+ was good enough for 9th amongst third baseman with 300 PA or more.

The Brewers had no pitching that year, and so were out of the playoff race, and by the time Milwaukee made their push in 2011, McGehee was nowhere near his 2009 level. He was traded to the Pirates, then to the Yankees, but could never reclaim his mojo. He signed a one-year deal with the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles in late 2012. He hit 28 dingers in 144 games with the Eagles. This was a good enough performance to earn him a free-agent contract with the Miami Marlins. Then, things got weird. Read the rest of this entry »

So Jose Molina Has Three Stolen Bases

It’s a bit of an odd time to write about baseball. Some trades are trickling in, but we’re about a week removed from the All Star Game. The ASG break is a great time to do some summaries, compare some first halves, look at some guys who may be surprising or disappointing. But there’s only been a handful of days since everyone submitted those stories, and very little has happened since, at least as far as big-picture stuff goes. It is for this reason, and many other selfish reasons, that I am now writing about husky guys stealing bases.

This actually started as a tweet from fellow FanGraphs-er Jason Collette. It’s a fairly innocuous thing on its own. The fact that Molina has only scored three runs is a bit of an oddity, but more on a “weird baseball” level — which I assume Jason was going for. The fact that he has three steals is even less of a big deal. Lots of dudes don’t have many steals. As of this writng, 64 players have less than 3 steals. It is slightly noteworthy that Jose Molina has as many steals as both Starlin Castro and Andrelton Simmons, but only because guys like Castro and Simmons are smaller young guys that look like they should be speedy. Conversely, Molina looks like he should not be speedy. That is, he’s 39 years old and rotund.

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Joey Votto Needs His Legs

We talk a fair bit about Joey Votto in these electronic pages. Some may say we do it too much, perhaps. But it’s for a reason. It’s not that he’s paying us to — he’s not paying me at least. He’s simply a somewhat-fascinating specimen as far as baseball players go. He’s smart, he’s a pretty good model of consistency, he never pops out.

He’s also been a small point of consternation between the statistically-inclined and fans that adhere to a more traditional understanding of the game. There’s been disagreements revolving around his penchant for walks, his attitude toward RBI, his preference to hit to all fields rather than try and pull everything for homeruns. But fans on both sides of the argument can agree that Joey Votto just hasn’t been very good this season.

Actually, allow me to check myself before I subsequently wreck myself. Joey Votto, at least on the whole, has actually been more than serviceable in 2014. As a hitter, he’s still been 28% better than league average according to wRC+. But the whole story doesn’t tell the most recent story, and the recent version of Joey Votto has been subpar by any standards. Read the rest of this entry »

The Astros Pitchers Are Still Tinkering

I’ve recently started taking golf lessons again. It’s the first time I’ve taken them in almost a decade, and in that 10 years I’ve developed a lot of bad habits. My shoulders over-rotate, my left knee collapses on the backswing, I release my wrists too early. I’m a mess, really. And working with a professional has shown me just how I got from being pretty good at something to fairly poor at it over 10 years.

It’s about creating a repeatable motion, really. Consistency is key. I can hit some dandy shots, but those are occurring less frequently. Inconsistency between rounds turn into inconsistency between holes turns into inconsistency between swings. Success comes from not only creating a good motion, but a dependable one. And getting there involves a long road of minor adjustments.

This didn’t start out as an Astros post. Technically, this started as a post about golf, but you know what I mean. I didn’t sit down to research the Astros at the outset. I was fiddling with PitchF/X numbers looking to see how pitchers were changing their positions on the rubber compared to last year. With some help from Jeff Zimmerman, I found the difference between x0 positions — essentially the horizontal position in feet where the PitchF/X cameras first pick up the ball. I sorted by the absolute difference, so that righties and lefties could be compared equally. Here’s how the top 30 shook out:
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The Diamondbacks’ Grit vs. Win Expectancy

It’s fairly safe to say that Arizona manager Kirk Gibson doesn’t care for Ryan Braun that much. Braun torched Gibson’s Diamondbacks in the 2011 LCS, just before Braun was found to have been taking some form of PEDs. The suspension, repeal fiasco, and Braun’s name coming up in the Biogenesis scandal never sat right with Gibson and he’s been a vocal critic ever since.

This fact and this fact alone could be the reason D-Backs reliever Evan Marshall threw at Ryan Braun twice in a row, hitting him the second time and earning an ejection. It could have been compounded by the fact that Brewers starter Kyle Lohse hit two batters himself earlier in the game. It could have to do with the two batters that were hit the night before. There could be a lot of reasons for it, but one thing is clear; the Diamondbacks playing tough-guy baseball was a bad move as far as the numbers go and ended up costing them the game in this case. Read the rest of this entry »

Bo Porter and the Value of Trying

You may have seen mention of it. Considering it happened during a game between two of the worst teams in baseball, you’ll be forgiven if you hadn’t.

The Houston Astros visited the Arizona Diamondbacks on Monday. The Astros came out strong, getting two runs in each of the first two innings. They wouldn’t score any more. The Diamondbacks would, however. In the bottom of the eighth inning, Houston was leading 4-3. Lefty Tony Sipp was coming off a fairly effective seventh inning and was brought out again to face Arizona’s three best hitters. Well, sort of. Here’s how the eighth inning played out: Read the rest of this entry »

This is Giancarlo Stanton on Two Good Legs

It’s kind of hard to imagine a man who is 6’6 and weighs 240 lbs. It’s easy to imagine the numbers, but it’s hard to fathom a person that size standing behind you in line at the bank or teaching social studies to third graders. We see numbers like this bandied about in sports, and when big men are playing on a field with other big men, the baseline is shifted. They don’t seem that much bigger than everyone else.

A few years ago, I was in the Twins clubhouse and got to talk a little with Justin Morneau. Justin Morneau is listed at 6’4″ and 220 lbs. My first out-loud question was something about how his training regimen changed since his concussion problems. My first internal question regarded how quickly he could leave me in a bloody pulp should my questions anger him. Morneau has 4 inches and 30 pounds (40 if you don’t include my spare tire) on me. Yet the difference, when standing face-to-face with him, was staggering. Giancarlo Stanton and Justin Morneau are large men, is the point. Read the rest of this entry »

What Makes a Team Good at Replay Challenges?

We’re somewhere between 25% and 33% into the 2014 season, which means we’re about 25% to 33% into the first season of the Instant Replay Era. Stylistically, I didn’t need to capitalize that, but it makes it feel like a bigger deal. In 2024, it won’t be a big deal, but instant replay is still a shiny new toy that we’re playing and tinkering with, so it seems like a more important thing at the moment. There are a bunch of new rules, new strategies, and new things for managers to think about. So, to paraphrase Ed Koch, how we doing?

Jeff Sullivan, in his handsome wisdom, already talked about replay’s affect on the time of the game. The gist — games are a little longer than last year, but games have been getting longer for some time, so it’s hard to say definitively how much replay has affected that. At the time of this writing, there have been 773 games played. According to Baseball Savant’s replay database (point of order — this is my informational source going the rest of the way), there have been 389 challenges, 60 of which have been issued by umpires. That comes out to just about a challenge per every two games. Is that a lot? We don’t know! May isn’t quite over, but there isn’t much difference in challenges between this month and April. So far, managers have found their stride when it comes to challenging calls.

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Why Cliff Lee’s Injury is Somewhat Surprising

Baseball is a presentation. It’s a thing that is part of our lives, but isn’t our lives. It lies in the world of the else. It’s theater, it’s drama, it’s entertainment. Because of this, we tend to romanticize it some. This is a totally normal response. We pull for teams, we root for certain guys, we sometimes wish others would fail. Just like any drama, there are heroes and villains and fools and underdogs. Every story has characters and every character has an archetype.

I’ve written about labels in baseball in the past. It’s a subject that interests me. Labels are just like any other word really, they only have meaning because we say they do. The thing you are looking at isn’t really a computer screen; it’s a thing we call a computer screen because we needed to call it something, so we picked that. We couldn’t call it a dog because we already named something else a dog. Words are placeholders, they are helpers. There’s nothing intrinsic about the words computer or screen beyond the value and definitions we place on them. I’d go deeper into this, but it would probably end with me telling you that you’re just a battery fueling the system of our robot overlords. Plus, I need to start talking about baseball.

The idea of a workhorse pitcher has been around the game for some time. You perhaps have read an article or a hundred articles about the death of the workhorse pitcher — how the days of Seaver and Carlton and Feller are over, how our pitchers are now babies and/or being babied. The reasons for this phenomenon are fairly clear and aren’t something I’m terribly interested in discussing at the moment, but the basic facts are true. Pitchers are pitching less innings than they used to. Because of this shift, certain pitchers who do perform at a greater frequency are still revered.

And this isn’t without good reason. We know that the ability to pitch a good deal of innings is a valuable skill. It keeps the pressure off the bullpen, and helps teams keep the amount of pitchers they need to use during a season low. High-volume pitchers are usually good performers as well, as even a pitcher with the rubberiest arm wouldn’t go that many innings if he was always getting lit up by the fifth. There are a lot of useful skills a pitcher can have, durability is one of them. Read the rest of this entry »

The Underappreciated and Evolving Rick Porcello

As of this writing, the Detroit Tigers are the only team in the AL Central with a record above .500. They rank sixth in all of baseball in both runs scored per game and runs allowed per game. While their offense ranks in the top 10 in WAR, their pitching is what is really shining — ranking second in all baseball just behind the Red Sox. The claim that the Tigers have good pitching is not an original one, certainly. They have a pair of Cy Young award winners in Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer, as well as Anibal Sanchez, who would be the ace of a lot of teams.

Other members of the rotation pique certain interests as well. Drew Smyly is getting another shot at starting, and Robbie Ray has been more than adequate while filling in for an injured Sanchez. Applying a sort of family dynamic to the team — Verlander, Scherzer, and Sanchez are the older kids that are just kind of doing their own thing while Smyly and Ray are the little ones that garner all the attention. This leaves Rick Porcello, the Jan Brady of the Detroit Tigers.

Porcello isn’t a dominant strikeout artist. He doesn’t have amazing “stuff” that gets featured via GIFs. Though he’s only 25 years old, he isn’t seen as part of an exciting new crop of pitchers. He isn’t flamboyant, he doesn’t say crazy things to the press. On the surface, Rick Porcello is boring.

But do you know what else Rick Porcello is? A top-25 starting pitcher. Since 2012, he’s been the 24th best pitcher by WAR and ranks 25th so far this season. He doesn’t walk many, he keeps the ball on the ground and in the ballpark. He may not have the dazzle of a Jose Fernandez (RIP), but he’s a vey effective pitcher in his own right. And he may be getting more effective. Read the rest of this entry »

Jose Fernandez and Efficient Dominance

In the grand scheme of things, raising a child that ends up being a band nerd isn’t such a terrible fate. There are a lot of worse things a kid could do with their time, and band nerds generally stay out of trouble. They are just as weird and filled with hormones as the next kid, but band kids tend to be involved in a lot of activities which keeps them under fairly-constant supervision. Band parents may have to buy a few more fundraiser candy bars or sign off on a few more field trips, but at least they are not bailing their kids out of jail.

The life of a band parent isn’t without its pitfalls however. There’s a lot of shuttling around that needs to happen, and instruments aren’t necessarily cheap. And then there are the concerts. There are so many concerts. One in fall, one around the holidays, one in the spring — along with plenty of other parades and solo competitions and jazz concerts. It has to be excruciating. But some mixture of parental love and not wanting to be seen as monsters pushes these parents to sit through these things. They don’t want to be there. Nobody does. But they are there. And all they can do is hope it goes quickly.

The Atlanta Braves is a professional baseball team. I can’t speak directly to their stance on attending children’s band concerts, but I assume they have a fairly strict policy on not leaving games that are still ongoing. I can imagine they were cursing that policy Tuesday, as they were handed 9-0 loss at the hands of the Marlins and looked fairly punchless in the process. Luckily for them, the agony didn’t have to last too long. And for that, they can thank Jose Fernandez. Read the rest of this entry »

Body Types by Lineup Position – Visualized

On April 2nd, 2014, just one day removed from April Fools’ Day, the Houston Astros turned in the lineup for their game against the New York Yankees. Dexter Fowler would bat leadoff, Matt Dominguez would hit second and Robbie Grossman would bat in the three hole. The cleanup spot would be filled by Jose Altuve. Altuve is listed at five feet, five inches tall. Since that fateful day on April 2ns, he is now tied with Freddie Patek as the shortest player to bat cleanup since 1974.

Here comes the caveat that the Astros are doing their own thing at the moment and what they do should not be seen as some sort of new-age thinking in regards to winning baseball games. Short dudes in the four hole are not the new market inefficiency. Altuve’s odd lineup placement is just a phase. Like that one weird cousin of yours, Houston is taking some time to figure some stuff out right now.

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Should We Start Worrying About Billy Butler?

Earwigs are weird little bugs. They’re long, they have pincers on their butts and they have these weird little membranous wings they rarely use. Some species of earwigs have been traced back to the Jurassic Era, and they live on pretty much every continent. You know where they don’t live? Anyone’s ears. The term earwig is a bit of a misnomer as, at least according to the infallible Wikipedia, one would rarely find them in a human ear.

The term has also migrated to mean something that is found in the human ear, at least sort of. Songs, tunes and melodies can also be termed earwigs — referring to a tune that gets stuck in one’s head. I’d list some popular choices, but I don’t consider myself to be that mean of a person and I shudder at the comments if I were responsible for the quickening of some readers’ descents into madness. I do have to mention one, though, or this won’t have anything to do with baseball. Read the rest of this entry »

Phil Hughes is Back to His Old Ways

Everyone is good at something. We may not be great or elite, but we all have something we can do better than anyone we know. Whether it’s whistling, whittling, or wrestling — you can do something better than your friends and family. It could have to do with genetics or just hours of practice, but there’s something. This is not to say that being good at something is actually a good thing. Most talents are pointless at best.

I used to work in a sheet music store/warehouse. Part of my job was pulling sheet music for customers who called the store or came in looking for something. I would look up the thing on my computer, then take to the stacks. Every piece of stock had a nine digit stock number. I started off writing these things down, but eventually just committed everything to memory. Doing this dozens of times a day allowed me to become very proficient at memorizing and then immediately forgetting nine digit numbers. I can still do it pretty well. This is a pretty dumb talent.

On April 9th, Phil Hughes started a game for the Twins. He gave up four runs, striking out three and walking three. This isn’t entirely atypical of Phil Hughes, but he’s certainly done better. He pitched only five innings, however. This, we are learning, is probably more of the norm for him. Read the rest of this entry »

Luke Hochevar and the Reliever Redemption

At the start of every season, or perhaps a little before, certain decisions are made in which certain starting pitchers suddenly cease to be starting pitchers. Whether due to age, ineffectiveness, or perhaps both, a handful of starting pitchers are demoted — if you can call it that — to a role in the bullpen. Certainly, this happens during the season, as well. A young pitcher could be knocking a starter out of their rotation spot, but offseason decisions to change a pitcher’s role is a pretty clear sign that the club isn’t terribly impressed with what a guy has been doing in that larger role. That is ostensibly happened to Ross Detwiler this year. It also happened to Paul Maholm, Brad Peacock, Justin Grimm, Chris Capuano, and Samuel Deduno, among others, probably. Contracts or lack of better options keep them on the team, but just not in the role most came into the league filling.

Almost every reliever is a failed starter of some sorts. Whether in college, the minors, or the big leagues, they were told that their services would no longer be needed in the first inning. A handful have been position player reclamations, sure, but you get the idea. And certainly players have flourished when being sent to the pen — Glen Perkins is a somewhat-recent example, but there are plenty to chose from throughout history. Some have fizzled out too, certainly. But as Detwiler et al. look to succeed in their new roles, there is a very recent blueprint for success they can look to — Luke Hochevar. Read the rest of this entry »