Author Archive

It’s Difficult to Exaggerate Aaron Judge’s Power

There are always so many spring-training home runs. Generally speaking, there’s no reason for you to care about spring-training home runs. You might consider caring about this spring-training home run.

The stakes almost couldn’t be lower. The bases were empty in the bottom of the fifth of a game in the last week of February. Had the exhibition not been televised, that home run would live only in Twitter descriptions. But that’s a video of Aaron Judge going really, spectacularly deep, and that video immediately made the usual rounds. As spring training goes, that was headline news.

Judge, right now, is a 24-year-old with 95 big-league plate appearances, and a .608 big-league OPS. When he did come to bat for the Yankees, he struck out close to half of the time, so in that sense he is completely unproven. Yet there’s this one thing he doesn’t have to prove anymore. Aaron Judge doesn’t just make regular contact. When he makes contact — if he makes contact — it’s easy to see why the comparisons to Giancarlo Stanton are no exaggeration.

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Jeff Sullivan FanGraphs Chat — 2/24/17

9:08
Jeff Sullivan: Hello friends

9:08
Jeff Sullivan: Welcome to Friday baseball chat

9:08
Bork: Hello, friend!

9:08
Jeff Sullivan: Hello friend

9:08
ChiSox2020: Is Boston’s outfield going to be all time great on both sides of the ball?

9:10
Jeff Sullivan: Allow me to say this much —

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Baseball’s Unusually Top-Heavy Landscape

This is another post about the standings and the projections. We’ll do other stuff soon. Just not yet. All right, so, these are our current projected standings for 2017. The top six teams, along with their projected win totals:

  • Cubs, 95 wins
  • Dodgers, 94
  • Red Sox, 93
  • Indians, 92
  • Astros, 91
  • Nationals, 91

One quality representative from every division. That’s a pretty damn even spread. I also recently opened the team projections up to community debate. Earlier today, I analyzed the results, and here’s the community’s top six teams:

  • Cubs, 96 wins
  • Dodgers, 94
  • Red Sox, 93
  • Indians, 93
  • Nationals, 91
  • Astros, 90

There are some slight single-game shifts in there, but the level of agreement is strong. The projections identify six obvious favorites, and you, as a group, expect similar results. There’s nothing particularly strange about baseball having a tier of elites, but this time around we’re talking about six teams projected to win at least 90 games. That’s uncommon!

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Here Is What You Think of Our Team Projections

Now to analyze my favorite polling project every year. We’re a site known for its math and projections. Most of the time, we just do the math and supply the projections, and that’s the end of it. Less attention is given to community feedback. In this project, you, the community, fed back!

This is a link to our projected-standings page, which tries to forecast the 2017 regular season based on Steamer, ZiPS, and our manually-maintained team depth charts. You see projected records there, but that doesn’t mean you have to like them or agree with them. On Tuesday, I asked you all to weigh in on the American League projections. On Wednesday, I asked you all to weigh in on the National League projections. I don’t know why I just linked to those posts, because there’s no point in voting anymore, because I’m already analyzing the results right here. Two things I can tell you right off the bat: The community is high on the Rockies, and down on the A’s.

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Goodbye to the Least-Enforced Rule in the Rule Book

The intentional walk, as we’ve known it, is dead, and that’s fine. Pitchers no longer will have to lob four baseballs, as a batter can now be put on by means of a simple signal. This will not, of course, turn baseball from being a slow game into being a fast game, but it will take care of a small amount of pointlessly active inaction. While I do understand the appeal of this video:

…such memorable events are incredibly rare. The natural parallel is to the NFL’s extra point, which was made more difficult a short while ago because it used to be a gimme. The NFL did what it could to make the extra point a little more interesting. There was no way for baseball to make an intentional walk more interesting, so the whole active portion of it has been eliminated.

There will be intended consequences, and I’m sure there will also be unintended consequences. Among the lesser-known consequences is that this effectively erases what was probably baseball’s least-enforced rule. So that I am being absolutely clear, this is not a fond-farewell kind of post. I will not miss this rule. Mostly because no one’s ever had to pay attention to this rule.

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Your Stance On the Team Projections (National League)

Hello and welcome to the second part of this community polling project, in which I ask you all how you feel about the various team projections, now that we’ve included both the Steamer system and the ZiPS system. If you missed it, here’s Tuesday’s polling post, about the American League. Now to examine the National League landscape:

Projected NL Records
Team W L
Cubs 95 67
Dodgers 94 68
Nationals 91 71
Giants 87 75
Mets 85 77
Cardinals 83 79
Pirates 82 80
Marlins 78 84
Rockies 78 84
Diamondbacks 76 86
Braves 73 89
Phillies 71 91
Reds 70 92
Brewers 69 93
Padres 65 97

All in all, it seems fairly uncontroversial. Last year’s top six NL teams: the Cubs, Nationals, Dodgers, Giants, Mets, and Cardinals. This year’s projected top six NL teams: the Cubs, Dodgers, Nationals, Giants, Mets, and Cardinals. There hasn’t been much of a shakeup at all, because the majority of the NL is either trying to win now or rebuilding. That being said, just because this looks similar to a year ago doesn’t mean you have to agree with everything. Rosters have changed, and outlooks are altered. This is why I run this project in the first place. Let me know where you disagree. (Also let me know where you agree. That part is important too.)

Again, [copy, paste] something I’d like for you to keep in mind: Please vote according to what we know now. Don’t vote anticipating midseason additions or subtractions. It’s one thing if you think a team will or will not call up a top prospect, but don’t vote planning on trades. I think everything else is self-explanatory, so, have fun. For each team and each poll, I’ll offer brief commentary that serves little purpose since I don’t want to actually bias anything myself. I think that’s it for the intro. Thank you and I love you!

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Your Stance On the Team Projections (American League)

Time to kick off the latest edition of what’s always my favorite polling project every year. For a while, on the site, we’ve been showing you the Steamer projections. Just in the last day or two, we’ve folded in all the ZiPS data, meaning now we’ve got projections that shouldn’t budge anymore, barring injuries or roster moves. Here is the projected American League landscape!

Projected AL Records
Team W L
Red Sox 93 69
Indians 92 70
Astros 91 71
Blue Jays 86 76
Angels 83 79
Mariners 83 79
Rangers 83 79
Rays 82 80
Orioles 81 81
Tigers 81 81
Yankees 81 81
Athletics 79 83
Royals 75 87
Twins 74 88
White Sox 69 93

Overall, I assume things look more or less acceptable. Every division has a clear favorite, and we know the White Sox have initiated a rebuild that’s likely to cause them to suck in the short-term. The Twins, also, could suck in the short-term. The A’s and Rays are forever projecting to play around .500. And so on and so forth. But every year I like to see what the community thinks, because there isn’t otherwise an easy way to express disagreement with the numbers being provided. Do some of the projections just feel wrong to you? Say that in the polls below. We’ll look at the National League on Wednesday, and then I’ll examine all the results at the end of the week.

Something I’d like for you to keep in mind: Please vote according to what we know now. Don’t vote anticipating midseason additions or subtractions. It’s one thing if you think a team will or will not call up a top prospect, but don’t vote planning on trades. I think everything else is self-explanatory, so, have fun. For each team and each poll, I’ll offer brief commentary that serves little purpose since I don’t want to actually bias anything myself. I think that’s it for the intro. Thank you and I love you!

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How to Rationalize an Eric Hosmer Mega-Contract

In the middle of last July, rumors started to spread that, come free agency, Eric Hosmer could seek a 10-year deal. Then, in the second half of the season, Hosmer batted .225, with a 76 wRC+. Now, in a new article from Ken Rosenthal, it’s expressed the Royals believe Eric Hosmer could seek a 10-year deal.

Hosmer is represented by Scott Boras, and you can see here how Boras effortlessly presupposes Hosmer’s significance:

“We all know that Hos is a franchise player, a world champion. He’s done all this at a very young age,” Boras said.

World champion? Sure, that happened. Very young age? Hosmer is still only 27 years old. But, there’s that first thing. We don’t all know that Hosmer is a franchise player. The majority of people would actually disagree with that notion. This is a phenomenally easy idea to argue against.

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The Marlins Have (Almost) Never Been Able to Frame

Over the course of their admittedly limited franchise history, the Marlins have had a catcher win a Gold Glove Award three times. The first winner was Charles Johnson in 1995, a season in which, according to Baseball Prospectus, he was one of the less-valuable defensive catchers in the game. Johnson then won again in 1996, and BP ranks his defensive value 96th out of 100 that year. And then Johnson won again in 1997, with BP ranking his defensive value 95th out of 96. That would be worst, were it not for the flabbergastingly-bad Kirt Manwaring.

This isn’t to say anything about the voters themselves. This was back when the Gold Gloves were among the least scientific awards in existence, and Johnson, to his credit, was pretty damn good at blocking and throwing. Those are a catcher’s most conspicuous skills, and Johnson was fantastic at preventing those extra bases. His statistical downfall is that he rates as having been a lousy receiver. If it’s any comfort to him, that’s kind of been an organizational problem.

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Jeff Sullivan FanGraphs Chat — 2/17/17

9:06
Jeff Sullivan: Hello friends

9:06
Jeff Sullivan: Welcome to Friday baseball chat

9:06
Bork: Hello, friend!

9:07
Jeff Sullivan: Hello friend

9:07
JT: Jeff, why is MLB literally willing to do anything to speed up games except for the most obvious problem of not enforcing the pitch clock and making batters stay in the box?

9:08
Jeff Sullivan: So, the staying-in-the-box part, yeah, enforcement has gotten pretty relaxed. Batters have gone back to pushing that

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Here Are 111 Seconds of Pedro Baez Not Pitching

The major story of the playoffs, obviously, was the Cubs winning the World Series. But that’s something we only got to know after the fact, and in the thick of things, the playoffs are a random jumble of assorted other stories. There was Trevor Bauer and the drone. There was the surprise appearance of Ryan Merritt. There was Clayton Kershaw pitching in relief. And there was Pedro Baez demonstrating a reluctance to ever be pitching at all.

Baez is not baseball’s only slow worker, but he probably became the new face of the group. When he was a rookie in 2014, he averaged 29 seconds between pitches, ranking him tenth-slowest. The next year, his average increased to 29.8, ranking him first-slowest. Runner-up Junichi Tazawa made himself slower by seven-tenths of a second, so Baez responded by making himself slower still, bumping that average to 30.2, again the slowest mark in the game. It’s something that’s simultaneously subtle and ever so noticeable. Baez’s nickname, according to Baseball-Reference, is The Human Rain Delay, and that’s because whenever he gets summoned from the bullpen, the umpires get together to discuss whether they should just call the thing and go home.

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Carter Capps’ Delivery Is New, Still Basically Against the Rules

Major League Baseball would never root for its own players to be injured, but sometimes the timing of certain injuries can be convenient. We spent a chunk of 2015 talking about whether Carter Capps‘ throwing motion should be allowed. Parallels were drawn to Jordan Walden, who has his own unorthodox delivery. Nothing was approaching the level of a crisis, but Capps was drawing a lot of attention, and he was dominating all the while. Then he got hurt, and he didn’t pitch in 2016. Walden also didn’t pitch in 2016. Baseball didn’t have to deal with anything, here, because nothing was happening. The deliveries were out of sight and out of mind.

Walden is still working his way back. There’s a chance he might never return to the majors. But, Capps? Capps has recovered from his elbow surgery. He’s been throwing in Padres camp, and based on early looks, he has made a mechanical change. Yet it still seems to be against the rules. Once more, this could turn into an issue.

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The Most Interesting New Houston Astro

The Astros’ 2015 season ended because of a total bullpen meltdown. Before that, the bullpen had been fairly steady, but the Astros made damn sure there wouldn’t be a repeat. And so, last year, the Astros led all of major-league baseball in bullpen WAR. They finished fourth in bullpen WPA, and they project to be strong as a unit once again. There’s Michael Feliz, coming off an FIP- of 76. Luke Gregerson is coming off an FIP- of 70. Ken Giles finished last year at 62. Will Harris finished last year at 55. Even Christopher Devenski finished last year at 55, having thrown maybe the quietest 100-odd excellent innings I can recall. And then, as you read down the depth chart, you come across the name James Hoyt. Let me tell you about James Hoyt.

Hoyt is 30 years old, and only last year did he make his big-league debut. That usually isn’t a promising sign. Hoyt came to the Astros from the Braves in the Evan Gattis trade, and you’ll remember that Gattis has an incredible backstory, involving rehab, depression, going undrafted, and being a janitor. When Gattis was first emerging, consensus was that he was one of the best stories in the game. Now, I don’t know if Hoyt’s story is as good as his teammate’s. To my knowledge, Hoyt has never been an inpatient in a psychiatric facility. But in the deal, there were two amazing stories packaged together. And Hoyt might now be on the verge of making a name for himself.

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How Much Hope Is Appropriate for Felix Hernandez?

Felix Hernandez looks like a new man. He’s created a new self because he wants to more closely resemble his old self, the self that ranked consistently among the best pitchers in baseball. There are many different ways to tell the story of his decline, but I could note that he was most recently a one-win pitcher, where he used to be a six-win pitcher. The season before last, he was a three-win pitcher. That’s one way to put it all simply. Here’s another:

You don’t have to know anything about baseball to spot those directional changes, and you don’t have to know much about baseball to know those directional changes are bad. This is an easy thing to discuss: Over the past couple years, Felix has lost his command, and he’s become more hittable. Now that he’s almost 31 years old, we could say, well, yeah, this is how players decline, and his age is pretty decline-y. Felix, though, has worked to reverse all this. As with Noah Syndergaard, you could say Felix is presently in the best shape of his life. The whole point is to be hopeful.

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MLB Hitters Are Getting Off the Ground

Last week, Travis Sawchik wrote an outstanding article titled “Can More MLB Hitters Get Off the Ground?” The article went in depth about the optimal swing plane, and about the resistance it can face within the game when a player’s thinking about trying to hit the ball in the air. Players have been instructed for decades to swing down on the ball in an attempt to generate backspin. Recent breakouts like Josh Donaldson and Justin Turner, however, can vouch for simply letting it fly. They’ve found their success from always swinging up.

For the most part, right now, the conversation is built upon anecdotes. There have been players who have changed their swings, but we haven’t seen anything reflected in the overall league numbers. Last year, the average ground-ball rate was 45%. Five years ago, the average ground-ball rate was 45%. That number seldom budges, and it does in part speak to baseball’s consistency. We aren’t seeing a reflection of a whole bunch of guys suddenly adopting uppercuts.

But then, it all depends on how you dig. It turns out there is something. A sign, if a small one, that we’ve entered a period of transition.

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DJ LeMahieu Gets No Respect

Monday afternoon, I put up an InstaGraphs post titled “The Least Intimidating Hitter in Baseball.” The idea was to use a formula including fastball rate and zone rate, because, the way I figure, the more aggressively a hitter gets pitched, the less the pitchers are afraid of. I combined a couple z-scores to get a number I’ll refer to today as the Aggressiveness Index, and many of the players in the linked post are unsurprising. Turns out pitchers go after Ben Revere aggressively. Ditto Nori Aoki and Billy Burns. There’s nothing weird there.

But a certain name showed up in eighth place. Last year, pitchers didn’t show any significant fear of facing DJ LeMahieu. That makes sense if you weren’t paying attention, but LeMahieu played every day, and finished with a 128 wRC+. LeMahieu, ever so quietly, had himself a breakout, four-win season, yet it looks like pitchers just didn’t care.

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Reds Shed Brandon Phillips to Play Brandon Phillips

When you play in the majors long enough, and when you stick with one team for a while, you’re granted certain leverage. Brandon Phillips used his well-earned no-trade protection to block moves that would’ve sent him to Washington, Arizona, and Atlanta. That last decision took place in November, while the Braves were also talking with Sean Rodriguez. They signed Rodriguez, and the Phillips talks went cold. There wasn’t anything more to discuss.

Yet while Phillips was given more leverage, he wasn’t given *all of* the leverage. The situation in Cincinnati threatened to turn ugly, with the team clearly ready to move on and play younger players. Phillips faced the possibility of being benched or released, moves from which he couldn’t protect himself. Talks with the Braves picked back up in the aftermath of Rodriguez getting into a car accident. This time, Phillips acquiesced. The Reds aren’t getting much in return; they’re hardly even getting salary relief. What the Reds do get to do, now, is play Jose Peraza without things being uncomfortable. And, coincidentally enough, Peraza looks an awful lot like another Brandon Phillips.

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Jeff Sullivan FanGraphs Chat — 2/10/17

9:06
Jeff Sullivan: Hello friends

9:06
Jeff Sullivan: Welcome to baseball chat

9:06
Bourque: Hi, pal!

9:06
Jeff Sullivan: Hello pal

9:07
Zach: Better long term outlook- Mets or Yankees and why?

9:07
Jeff Sullivan: Yankees. Yankees have one of the best outlooks of any team. Of course there’s the farm system, but more importantly, there’s just the unbelievably massive franchise value and revenue level. Their resources are almost unparalleled

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The Most Underrated Player in Baseball, Again

Usually, these things tend to go in one direction. We talk about a player who seems underrated, and then, in time, that player becomes rated more or less appropriately. We’ve seen this happen with, say, Jose Quintana, who used to be considered a nobody even while he was pitching out of his mind. A lot more people now know how good Kyle Seager is. People know how good Starling Marte is. People have even figured out how good Kevin Kiermaier is, basically. Obligatory Ben Zobrist mention. Great players don’t stay hidden too long. I should note that I’m open to the argument Mike Trout remains underrated, but that’s different, because his ability is impossible for humans to understand.

You don’t see many players go from underrated to understood to underrated again. Such a sequence ordinarily wouldn’t make any sense. Yet, sometimes, there are just atypical circumstances. Of course there’s no infallible metric for underratedness. I know that I can’t prove anything, so we can get that out of the way up front. But I’m just here to remind you about A.J. Pollock. Pollock was once criminally underrated, and then, as time passed, he was recognized as one of the greats. Then he missed almost an entire baseball season. Out of sight, out of mind — that is how we work. So Pollock is back to where he was, preparing for camp as Arizona’s neglected star.

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It’s No Great Mystery Why Matt Wieters Is Available

Matt Wieters is a free agent right now, but he won’t be for long. Spring training is right around the corner, and Wieters is a legitimate big-league backstop, so at some point his expectations and a team’s open-mindedness will come into alignment. These things can drag out sometimes. A few years ago, people thought Prince Fielder was screwed. He signed for $214 million in the last week of January. Scott Boras is good. He should pretty much always get the benefit of the doubt.

Yet in the case of Wieters, you can see why he’s still out there. This is all prompted by a Ken Rosenthal article titled: “Why is veteran catcher Matt Wieters still on the free-agent market?” Boras is quoted within, and, what the hell, let’s just get right to it. Boras obviously has his agenda, but it isn’t hard to pull his argument apart.

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