Author Archive

Leonys Martin Stopped Being a Slap Hitter

I keep a little notebook next to my computer, so I can keep track of potential things to write about. Generally, topics break down into two categories: there are the topics that practically need to be written about, and there are the possible topics to monitor. Maybe those need bigger sample sizes; maybe those just need to become more interesting. Some of those topics turn into posts, and some of those topics never leave the piece of paper. I see that I crossed out something about Joe Ross. No idea what that was supposed to be.

For weeks, because of the notebook, I’ve been casually following Leonys Martin. I noticed in the early going that Martin didn’t look like himself: he was striking out a bunch, but he was also hitting more baseballs in the air. That seemed to me like something to follow, and wouldn’t you know it, but here we are, and Martin is still a fly-ball hitter. That’s odd because, in his entire major-league past, Martin was a ground-ball hitter. We’re more than a quarter of the way through the season, and now Leonys Martin appears to be a bat worth talking about.

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Your Team Chemistry Ratings

Think about everything you’ve ever heard about team chemistry. People say it’s an important thing, maybe the most important thing, but it’s impossible to put any numbers to. So let’s put some numbers to it.

team-chemistry-fan-ratings

Those are numbers. Those are your numbers, in fact. I guess you could say those are technically bars, which represent numbers, but, you know what I mean. And, you’re responsible for what you’re looking at. I polled you guys on Tuesday. That’s the meat of the outcome. Congratulations, Cubs. Sorry about your clubhouse, Atlanta.

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What Jackie Bradley Jr. Figured Out

Jackie Bradley Jr. has been doing amazing things. To be absolutely clear, they’ve all been doing amazing things. Every last one of them. That 91 mile-per-hour sinker outside? Amazing. That opposite-field roller past the shortstop? Amazing. The reason we bother to pay attention in the first place is because everything that happens out there is amazing, performed by amazing players. Yet Bradley has been particularly amazing. Here’s an amazing thing from yesterday:

Bradley is riding a long hitting streak, and while we don’t really care too much about hitting streaks, on their own, they’re tightly correlated to good offense. That’s what we do care about. This year, Bradley ranks eighth in baseball in wRC+, between Manny Machado and Nick Castellanos. Of course, some things still look a little weird — Aledmys Diaz, for example, ranks second. So looking over the past calendar year, Bradley ranks 15th. That covers 401 trips to the plate, and he’s sandwiched between Machado and Nelson Cruz. Regardless of whether this is for real, Bradley is now definitely a hitter. And in this season, he seems to have taken one more step.

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The Phillies Have Had Baseball’s Best Bullpen

The Phillies won again on Wednesday. So this is already off to a silly start, but anyhow, here’s more or less how they did it.

phillies-bullpen

When you allow two runs, you don’t have to do much at the plate to win, and though the Phillies never do much at the plate, they did enough against Tom Koehler to make a winner out of Jeremy Hellickson. Hellickson gave way to David Hernandez, who turned in a scoreless inning. Hernandez gave way to Hector Neris, who turned in a scoreless inning. And Neris gave way to Jeanmar Gomez, who turned in the final scoreless inning necessary. Sometimes good teams are said to have bullpen formulas. This is the Phillies’ formula, and it’s helped propel them into a wild-card spot. The Phillies are in a wild-card spot. You know who’s in a wild-card spot? The Phillies.

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Christian Yelich Is Starting to Soar

You know who’s figuring it out? Christian Yelich! Not that Yelich ever didn’t have it figured out — his big-league career began with three consecutive 117 wRC+ seasons. He was as steady as anyone you could find, but he kept on occasionally hinting at more, and now he’s showing more more often. He’s 24, and he’s being coached by Barry Bonds. People everywhere kind of saw this coming. Yet it was never going to be automatic. Yelich has put in the work to get to where he is.

This is where he is:

Yelich hasn’t been constantly hitting home runs or anything. You would’ve heard about that. He has five, which isn’t that many, but then his career high is nine. His slugging is way up, and his walks are way up, and his strikeouts are down. Christian Yelich seems to be moving into a higher tier, and he’s among the reasons why the Marlins are hanging around the early playoff race.

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Using Statcast Against Jose Abreu

A few days ago, in the FanGraphs chat room, there was a little discussion about whether Statcast more favored run production or run prevention. I’m of the mind that having so much information works to the advantage of the pitchers and defenders, myself. I wrote about that a couple Hardball Times Annuals ago. But it’s by no means a settled matter. Someone during our conversation pointed out that, while Statcast is new to us, teams have had access to HITf/x for years, so they probably already had their ideas. Yet, perhaps Statcast makes everything easier. Perhaps more teams are just on board now than before. I don’t know. Many angles are interesting!

There’s something about Statcast that I think might be underappreciated. And it would be true about HITf/x, too, but Statcast is the thing that we get to see, so let’s roll with it. As a demonstration, I’m going to use Jose Abreu, of the White Sox. Abreu hasn’t been terrible, but he hasn’t quite been himself, not yet. Why is that? Could be any number of things, but it could have to do with how he’s been pitched. This is where Statcast can serve a purpose.

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Russell Martin Ain’t Right

News broke earlier that the Pirates agreed to a three-year contract extension with Francisco Cervelli. It’s an easy enough story to analyze in isolation, but to really add depth, you can compare and contrast Cervelli and Russell Martin, who was Cervelli’s predecessor. When Martin left the Pirates, it seemed like it ought to have delivered a massive blow, but if anything Cervelli has been the superior catcher since. This year in particular, they’ve shot off in completely opposite directions.

Cervelli’s not someone who’ll hit for power, but in 2016 he’s reached base nearly 40% of the time. And the defense is there, so the Pirates are pleased. The Blue Jays like Martin, and there’s no question he’s one of their leaders, but — well, maybe you haven’t noticed this. I don’t know which things you have noticed. Russell Martin has been one of the worst hitters in baseball. Like, worse than you’d believe. Did you know Erick Aybar has a wRC+ of literally 7? That’s a 7, where a 100 would be average. Martin’s all the way up at 11. The next-worst mark: teammate Ryan Goins, at 22. The Blue Jays don’t have a good record yet, and while that’s because of a number of things, Martin has been horrible. He’s made it tough to be successful around him.

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How Good Is Your Team’s Chemistry?

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We’re back, with another one of these! Previous community polling topics have included front offices, ownerships, pitching coaches, general enthusiasm, and so on. Now I’m here to ask you about team chemistry. You know, that thing that’s impossible to measure, that thing that continues to be debated as if nothing has ever been settled, because nothing has ever been settled. That thing that exists — or doesn’t exist — mostly within a community that does not include yourself, because you yourself are not a major-league baseball player. How does your favorite baseball team get along? You don’t know. How do you think your favorite baseball team gets along?

I don’t know why I’m asking this now, exactly. It’s just coming out of curiosity, and I wouldn’t be any less curious tomorrow, or a week from now. But the timing, I suppose, isn’t bad — we’re deep enough into the season that teams should have personalities, but we’re not so deep everything will just be colored by wins and losses. Braves and Twins aside, everyone still gets to think they have a chance, so nothing has totally gone off the rails.

I do know I’ve been reading the Ben Lindbergh/Sam Miller book, and they’ve discussed chemistry prioritization and observation. I also read this post by Kate Preusser last week, and while that was specifically about the Mariners, it must’ve cemented the topic in my mind. I don’t want to talk about any particular team up front because I don’t want to bias any of the voting down below. But for something that gets talked about so often, I’m a little surprised we haven’t tried this before.

Don’t get me wrong — none of us actually know anything about team chemistry, for sure. I don’t think there’s even an agreed-upon definition. But we do get to observe how players interact, some of the time, and we get to read about more. So I think fans can get a certain sense of how the roster fits together. Whether there’s adequate leadership, whether there’s adequate support, whether there’s adequate interaction between all groups. What idea do you have about your favorite baseball team? Your idea might be wrong, but you might’ve also been wrong about the pitching coach, and I doubt that stopped you from voting back whenever that poll post went up. I’m just hunting for informed opinions. There’s information within informed opinions.

What I love about these poll posts is that they allow us to establish a context. Instead of saying, oh, this team seems to get along, or this team seems unhappy, we have an average, we have comparisons. It’s only by seeing the whole landscape that you can try to identify the standouts. This is why I could use your help! I sure as shoot couldn’t generate this data by myself. I need help from the community, so I can come back and analyze the voting a day or three from now.

You probably have a favorite team, or a couple favorite teams. You probably have some kind of mental definition of team chemistry. How good do you think is the chemistry of your favorite team? We can probably learn something from this. Even if we can’t, at least this is a few minutes you can distract yourself from thinking about the roiling sea of horrors that threatens to drown us all every day that we breathe.

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Ian Desmond Has Been a Complete Success

Sunday, in what was undoubtedly one of the coolest moments of his career that no one remembers, Ian Desmond slugged a lead-changing and eventually game-winning home run. Desmond homered off of a horrible pitch, and then he flipped his bat, which is funnier now.

I’m not convinced there’s anything to learn there. Most hitters would be able to punish a hanging two-strike curveball. Desmond last year probably would’ve been able to punish a hanging two-strike curveball. That being said, Desmond only saw a hanging two-strike curveball because he’d stayed alive in the at-bat. The previous pitch:

One pitch is one pitch, no more and no less. In isolation, it’s a normal-looking foul ball, and maybe Desmond fouls off the same ball a year ago. But a year ago, and even before, Desmond struggled against high fastballs. A year ago in particular, Desmond struggled against plenty of things. That’s why he wound up signing a one-year pillow contract toward the end of the offseason, but a month and a half in, now, Desmond is looking like a total success. Ian Desmond has helped the Rangers scoot back into first place.

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Jeff Sullivan FanGraphs Chat — 5/13/16

9:11
Jeff Sullivan: You guys are late every week!

9:11
Jeff Sullivan: How embarrassing that must be

9:11
Jeff Sullivan: for you

9:12
Jeff Sullivan: hello friends

9:12
Bork: Hello, friend!

9:12
Jeff Sullivan: Hello friend

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It’s Starting to Click for Drew Pomeranz

Let’s take a little stroll through the big-league leaders in strikeout rate. Jose Fernandez. All right. Clayton Kershaw! Of course. Drew Pomeranz. Naturally. Danny Salazar. Predictable. Max Scherzer. Duh. Stephe-wait, rewind. Well I’ll be damned, there he is. Pomeranz, indeed.

Most recently, Pomeranz went into Chicago and struck out 10 Cubs, and eight of them weren’t even John Lackey. And if you think this might just be a case of strikeout fetishizing, Pomeranz owns a 1.80 ERA, and he’s given up just two unearned runs. The peripherals are good, even if the walks are a little bit up. Seven starts in, and Pomeranz looks fantastic. Not bad for a guy who came to camp as a probable reliever. While relatively little has gone right for the Padres, Pomeranz looks like he could be gathering and assembling all of his pieces. It’s either taken a while, or it’s taken no time at all. That’s up to your own perspective.

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When Noah Syndergaard Frightened the Dodgers

Over the course of big-league history, there have been a few hundred no-hitters. There have been 66 occasions of a pitcher hitting multiple homers in one game. Scarcity doesn’t automatically mean a superior accomplishment, but what Noah Syndergaard just did against the Dodgers was extraordinary. His first time up, he hit a home run. His second time up, he hit a home run. The last pitcher to pull this off was Micah Owings in 2007, and Owings was more of a hitter, anyway. Here are the MLB.com highlights. This would be no fun without the highlights.

Not that there’s any such thing as a bad home run, but those were big-boy dingers. Syndergaard jumped on a first pitch, and then he jumped on a two-strike pitch. He gets points for diversity, and he also gets points for dumb luck, since the second homer followed four consecutive shown bunts. Instead of moving the runners a little bit over, he moved them all the way over. Syndergaard drove home all the Mets’ runs. He genuinely pitched and hit them to victory. It was one of the better all-around single-game performances in history, I’m sure.

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The Current Simplicity of Pitching to Puig

There’s always a risk that comes with pre-writing. I’m writing this Wednesday afternoon, about Yasiel Puig, even though Puig hasn’t yet begun his game Wednesday night. I can’t know what’s going to happen. Puig might have the game of his life! Or he might hijack a blimp. Life’s a mystery. But what I know is that I’m writing about the Puig who’s batting .235. The Puig with a 78 wRC+ that would very easily stand as a career low. Maybe Puig snaps out of this in between writing and publishing, but what’s happened has most definitely happened, so now, a discussion of that.

You might’ve noticed by now that I take a lot of interest in the way that good hitters get pitched. Puig’s been pitched in a certain way, and it’s remarkably uncomplicated. A couple weeks ago, Dave Roberts said Puig’s been hurt on fastballs in and soft stuff away. Pretty much. And that’s also kind of a traditional blueprint, but it’s been aces against Puig to this point. We have the overall numbers, and we have the idea from the manager. Let’s now get into some deeper evidence.

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How the Mariners Became AL West Favorites

This isn’t my own subjective interpretation. When you throw around a word like “favorites,” that opens the door to opinion-based writing, but I have numbers on my side. Sweet, sweet, precious numbers. Look at the following table. You have our preseason projected win totals, and our current projected win totals, which take into account everything that’s happened.

Projected Wins, 2016 AL West
Team Wins, Before Wins, Now
Angels 81 74
Astros 88 82
Athletics 79 77
Mariners 82 86
Rangers 79 81

We liked the Astros a lot. Still do, but they’ve done themselves considerable harm. After the Astros, there was a group of four teams, all vying for second or last. The Mariners have emerged through the early going, and now they’re well out in front. Sure, that’s just us, but if it makes you feel any more trusting, PECOTA agrees. Projections still like the Astros, but the Astros are way behind the Mariners, just because of the games in the books. So the Mariners find themselves in a great divisional position. Getting to the point faster: This.

playoff-odds-al-westA lot has gone into that picture. Let’s talk.

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What Hector Neris Might Teach Brad Brach

Believe it or not, I actually agonized over how to title this post. Ultimately, I couldn’t come up with anything better, not if I didn’t want to outright deceive. Because this is a post about Hector Neris, and about Brad Brach, and there’s no way around that. You should be aware of that from the start. Now the only people in here are people who might give a damn, and that’s better than me feeling like I tricked you.

Neris is someone who’s been on my radar for a few weeks. Before that, he was absolutely not on my radar, even though he pitched in the majors in each of the previous two years. I became aware of him after a Phillies person told me to become aware of him, and Neris is in the early stages of a breakthrough major-league campaign. It’s been quiet, because he’s not a closer, and because he’s not a starter. Non-closing relievers take a while to command attention. But Neris has allowed four runs in 20 innings. More impressively, he’s increased his strikeout rate by more than fifty percent.

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Meet the All-or-Nothing David Wright

You don’t need to know what spinal stenosis is to know you don’t want it, and to know it’s bad that David Wright has it. No major-league baseball player would choose the condition for himself, and for Wright, the diagnosis raised innumerable questions about the state of his career. When this very regular season opened, there was chatter in the first series that Wright looked stiff, that he looked exploitable and weak. Early on, it looked like Wright could and would be a liability. It would be a most unfortunate turn for a beloved former superstar.

Let’s be clear: David Wright still has spinal stenosis. That isn’t going to change. He is very much limited, but at the same time, as I write this, Wright is sitting on a 136 wRC+, about dead even with his lifetime mark of 134. Wright might be compromised, but Wright has also made things work, and he’s done that by focusing on maximization. David Wright has turned himself into an all-or-nothing hitter.

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Sonny Gray Is Almost Unarmed

Yesterday’s big news was that the Nationals agreed to a long-term extension with Stephen Strasburg. So that’s exciting for him, and for them, but you always have to think about the side-effects of these things. Several people pointed out that, without Strasburg, the upcoming pitching market sucks. And several people also pointed out that, with Strasburg locked up, this puts Billy Beane in a better position with regard to Sonny Gray. There’s just the one problem right now: Sonny Gray hasn’t been very good.

He’s far from the only ace who’s had his struggles. If you look at all the qualified starters and sort by ERA, you see David Price at an unbelievable 6.75. There’s Adam Wainwright, with an uncharacteristic 6.30. Gray is hanging out at an even 6.00, after getting tattooed by the Red Sox. Every slump is accompanied by a search for explanations. Seems to me the explanation for Gray is that he’s been pitching without his best weapon.

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Here Is Every Pitch That the Cubs Threw to Bryce Harper

Buckle up, because this is going to be exhausting. Bryce Harper just batted 19 times during a four-game series between the Nationals and Cubs in Chicago. Harper batted a meager .250, and he slugged a meager .250, but he came away with an OBP of .789, thanks in large part to literally 13 walks. Joe Maddon acknowledged that the Cubs were pitching around him, but he didn’t really need to do so for us to get the message, given what was taking place. How did Harper get pitched? Here are all the final locations:

harper-total

The expression of the day is “the Bonds treatment.” For one four-game series, Bryce Harper was getting pitched like the greatest hitter any of us have ever seen. What’s kind of funny is that Harper has recently been in a slump — he has five hits in 34 official at-bats over the past couple weeks. The Cubs didn’t care, seemingly preferring to go about their business with Ryan Zimmerman and one extra baserunner. At least, much of the time.

Just to what extent did Harper get pitched around? Below, you may behold all 19 plate appearances. For each, I’ll show the sequence, and I’ll assign a 1-to-10 grade indicating how little interest I think the Cubs had in attacking. The grade is entirely subjective and meaningless, but to give it the illusion of meaning, let’s say 1 is pure attack mode, and 10 is unabashed threat avoidance. Here come the Cubs, Bryce Harper, and the Pitching Terrified Index.

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Jeff Sullivan FanGraphs Chat — 5/6/16

9:09
Jeff Sullivan: Hello friends

9:09
Bork: Hello, friend!

9:09
Jeff Sullivan: Hello friend

9:09
Jeff Sullivan: Let’s baseball chat

9:09
Bork: Can Trout trade the Angels?

9:10
Jeff Sullivan: Have to examine the particulars of his contract but you have to think that the answer is yes

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The Angels and Giants Are Making Unprecedented Contact

Is it still cool to talk about contact hitting, or are we past that? I don’t think we should be past that. Not yet, not as long as the Royals remain the defending champions. So, you remember all this stuff. It was a big part of the Royals conversation during last year’s playoffs. Yeah, the Royals had a really strong bullpen, and an incredible team defense, but they wound up mostly defined by their insistence on putting the ball in play. For better or worse, that’s the association. The Royals were the contact team. As a matter of fact, they were arguably the best contact-hitting team since at least 1950. I personally don’t care too much about what happened before 1950, not when I’m talking about statistics.

The Royals are a loyal organization, so they brought back a lot of their players. There’s been a little mixing up, but for the most part they’re still the familiar Royals, so it shouldn’t surprise you they’re again running a low strikeout rate. It’s a pretty sticky metric, strikeouts. As much as the Royals have put the ball in play, though, they’ve so far been surpassed in that regard. Filter out pitchers, and the Royals have baseball’s seventh-lowest rate of strikeouts. They’re a little higher than the A’s. They’re a little higher than the Marlins. And so on, and then there are the two standouts. To this point, at least as far as not striking out goes, the Angels and Giants have been on another level.

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