Author Archive

Manny Machado’s Light Bulb Turned On

Let’s watch a little MLB Gameday, you and I. I’ll select Saturday’s matchup between the Rays and the Orioles. Below, you’re going to see all four of Manny Machado‘s plate appearances. Note that I could’ve selected Sunday’s game instead and demonstrated the same thing, but on Saturday, Machado faced more pitches. Four simple .gifs:

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Visualizing Jered Weaver’s Hittability

It’s not just a spring-training blip anymore. For one or two games, you can dismiss a pitcher working with reduced velocity. Sometimes mechanics can be slightly off. Sometimes a pitcher can just be under the weather. Jered Weaver‘s gone beyond that. His velocity was way down in spring training, and it’s carried over into each of his regular-season starts. Weaver is down a full three ticks, and that’s a dramatic decline between years. Unsurprisingly, he’s been bad — he’s struck out just one of every 10 hitters. One season ago, his rate was twice as high.

Between years, for starting pitchers, the biggest fastball velocity drop belongs to Derek Holland, and he’s on the disabled list. The second-biggest drop belongs to Henderson Alvarez, and he’s on the disabled list. The fourth-biggest drop belongs to Homer Bailey, and he’s on the disabled list. Weaver owns the third-biggest drop, and he says he feels fine. Which means there’s either something wrong that doesn’t hurt, or this is just what he is. This isn’t what he wants to be.

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JABO: Making a Thief of Anthony Rizzo

The Cubs are a running team, now. Wasn’t always that way. Wasn’t that way even one season ago. One season ago, the Cubs finished with just 65 stolen bases, seventh-fewest in the majors. This year, they already have 25, second-most in the majors. If you fold unsuccessful steals into the mix, last year the Cubs were the worst stealing team in baseball. So far this year, fourth-best. No one ever wins the World Series because of the running game, but improvements are improvements, and this is a legitimate change.

And, well, this year’s Cubs have a bunch of new players. They also have a new manager, so maybe it’s not the most surprising thing in the world that they’ve become more aggressive with their legs. Joe Maddon liked to put the game in motion in Tampa Bay, and in spring training with Chicago he made baserunning a priority. On the other hand, here’s Anthony Rizzo, also from spring training:

“We don’t steal much on this team anyway.”

Rizzo, perhaps, wasn’t yet used to playing with Dexter Fowler. Fowler’s already stolen six bags. That’s good enough to tie him for eighth in the majors. But let’s keep that figure in mind. As of this writing, 15 players have stolen at least six bases. That’s a somewhat arbitrary line, but I chose it for a reason. Here are the 15:

It’s worth going over the stolen-base history of these guys. Generally speaking, guys who steal will steal, and guys who don’t steal will not steal. You know how stealing is. Let’s ask of each player a very basic question: Has the player ever before stolen 20 bases in a major- or minor-league season?

  • Hamilton: yes, obviously
  • Marisnick: yes
  • Gordon: yes
  • Altuve: yes
  • Ellsbury: yes
  • Springer: yes
  • Polanco: yes
  • Trout: yes
  • Fowler: yes
  • Davis: yes
  • Aoki: yes
  • Gardner: yes
  • Martin: yes
  • Cain: yes
  • Rizzo: no

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Jeff Sullivan FanGraphs Chat — 5/1/15

9:11
Jeff Sullivan: Well, we’ve done it again

9:12
Jeff Sullivan: We’ve successfully opened a live baseball chat, ten minutes after the scheduled beginning

9:12
Jeff Sullivan: One of these weeks, I’m going to be early. Stay on your toes!

9:13
Comment From Julio Pepper
When we say a hitter had a good game, what we really mean is that he got relatively lucky in his 5 or so plate appearances. Similarly, is a “good game” for a pitcher a real thing, or a result of stringing together lucky innings? It looks to me like there are days when pitchers have their stuff or don’t, and people talk this way, but has anybody looked into this?

9:14
Jeff Sullivan: The way I think of it, it’s easier to tell if a pitcher has a good game than a hitter. A pitcher goes out and throws 100 pitches or so against a bunch of different guys, while a hitter might see 15-20 pitches and he has no control over what they are or where they go

9:14
Jeff Sullivan: So while *all* single-game analyses are complicated, I think a single start is more revealing than a single game in the lineup. You can evaluate a pitcher just by seeing how he’s locating. What’s the batter equivalent?

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Hanley Ramirez and Batted-Ball Data

It seemed like this post was practically going to be able to write itself. Hanley Ramirez has been hot at the plate, and he’s tied for the big-league lead in homers, with 10. There are hundreds of hot streaks by so many players every single season, but this year we have the treat of new data, and Ramirez’s has seemed particularly remarkable. I thought this would be simple and straightforward, but instead we have something more complicated and kind of boring to what I assume would be the majority of people. Keep reading, though! There’ll be some .gifs. You love .gifs.

If you’ve paid attention to Gameday, you’ve probably noticed that we’ve started to get some early-season batted-ball data. It hasn’t been complete, but it’s been fairly consistent, as one of the first signs of the rolling out of StatCast. It can be tricky to find and preserve that information, but thankfully for the masses, there’s Baseball Savant, which I feel like I must link in every post. There, for the first time, we can sort hitters by batted-ball velocities. The industry has had HITf/x for years, so this isn’t progress for them, but it’s progress for us, on the outside. And we all love a new toy.

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Searching for This Year’s Called Balls on Pitches Down the Middle

This is one of those posts I like to write over and over. We’re always getting new information, meaning we’re always getting new borderline calls, and when there’s room for error around the fringes, that means there’s a non-zero chance something could go more dreadfully wrong. Like, say, a pitch being taken down the middle, and getting called a ball. Humans are perfect at nothing, not even the things that we think we’re perfect at, and a baseball season has a whole lot of pitches in it. Lots of opportunities for funny, uncommon mistakes. When it occurs to me, I try to find them.

I don’t do it because I delight in pointing out when umpires mess up. I really don’t, because their job is harder than my job, and I don’t like to pile on. Everyone’s capable of stupid mistakes. I do it because, think about it. We’re used to seeing questionable calls around the edges. But, right down the middle? It’s the kind of mistake you want to investigate, because you feel like something must’ve happened. My goal when I do this is to try to understand why the call got made how it did. Find an explanation for the seemingly inexplicable. I don’t know why this interests me so much, but, here we are, and no one on staff has told me to stop.

We’ve had weeks of baseball in 2015. There’s nothing particularly significant about right now, but let’s reflect anyway on what’s taken place. Let’s search for those called balls on pitches taken down the middle.

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Checking In On the Padres’ Defense

You shouldn’t need very much of an introduction. Beginning a few months ago, the Padres became one of the most interesting teams in baseball, totally out of the blue. The new front office completely overhauled a bad roster, and as a part of their maneuvering, they pretty clearly prioritized offensive punch over defensive capability. For a few weeks, now, the Padres have been playing games. It’s easy to see how they’ve done as a team. It’s easy to see how well they’ve been able to hit. Defensive performance is a little more hidden. So, let’s quickly check in on the Padres’ team defense.

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Home-Field Advantage With No Home-Crowd Advantage

Before this post gets published, the White Sox and Orioles will begin a baseball game in Baltimore played before no one. The few scouts in attendance will keep to themselves, and those watching from elsewhere will be unheard. There will probably be birds, and birds are always making noise, but we’re generally pretty good at tuning them out, because they never shut up. Two things, before going further:

(1) Of course, what’s going on in the rest of Baltimore is of far greater significance than what’s going on inside Camden Yards. For every one thought about the baseball game, there ought to be ten million thoughts about the civil unrest, and what it means and what’s to learn. My job, though, is to write about baseball, and so this is a post about baseball. I am qualified to do very few other things.

(2) The game will be played under extraordinary circumstances, but it’s also one game. A sample of one is, for all intents and purposes, no better than a sample of zero, so we’re not going to learn much today. We’d need a few thousand of these to really research and establish some conclusions. The post basically concerns the hypothetical, inspired by what’s taking place.

Home-field advantage exists in all sports. It’s a known thing, to varying degrees. The first thing that occurs to most people, as far as an explanation is concerned, is that the team at home has people yelling in support of it. The team on the road, meanwhile, has people yelling other things at it. The average person prefers support over mean and critical remarks. Now, consider the game in Baltimore. Strip the crowd effect away completely. What could that do? What might we expect of the home-field advantage of a team that plays with no fans?

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The Month That the Pitchers Just Stopped Trying to Hit

This seems to be this season’s week to weigh in on the designated-hitter debate. It’s a debate people will have over and over again, making the same points, until baseball changes the way things operate, and even then for a little longer still. What sparked the latest discussion, of course, was Adam Wainwright‘s season-ending injury, which wouldn’t have happened as a hitter if he didn’t have to hit. To many, it was just unnecessary, especially given how dangerous it is to just pitch, and so on we go, into a most familiar back-and-forth.

I don’t think I have a position. That won’t surprise some of you. I’m obviously a fan of a version of baseball that has different rules for different leagues. If the rules were made to be the same, I imagine I’d remain a fan of the result. I think my true position is that, while I’d understand if the National League were given a DH, I’d miss the pitcher-hitting statistics. It’s just one of the things that I’m into, because pitcher hitting is like a rulebook-mandated experiment. The numbers are silly, and I spend more of my time thinking about baseball than I do watching baseball. It’s more fun to think about a version of baseball where sometimes, pitchers have to hit for themselves, even though they all suck.

And speaking of all of them sucking — boy, do they ever. You’ve long known this to be true, with rare exception. But you might not have noticed what’s gone on for this season’s first month. Things are getting worse.

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Devon Travis Wants to Be the Rookie of the Year

Let’s reflect on the FanGraphs staff predictions, shall we? Seems like a great idea for the 28th of April. Every single voter selected the Nationals to win the National League East. Okay, great start. Taijuan Walker got the most votes for the American League Rookie of the Year, and his ERA’s almost 7. Daniel Norris also got some meaningful support. Devon Travis got half as many votes as Norris did. So the best you could say is that Travis at least got his name picked by a few people. I bring this up because, as silly as it is to be thinking about awards in the season’s first month, right now Travis ranks third in baseball in wRC+. Perhaps more shocking, Travis ranks fourth in baseball in isolated power. The Blue Jays decided to start Travis out of the gate even though he never spent a day at the highest level of the minors. All he’s done is out-hit the scorching-hot Nelson Cruz.

And this is a Toronto second baseman we’re talking about. Certainly, it’s not like the position is cursed. There’ve been good second basemen in Toronto before, and there’ll be good second basemen in Toronto again, after the Travis days are over. But the Blue Jays are the reason you even recognize the name Ryan Goins. Devon Travis isn’t Ryan Goins. It’s not quite clear what Devon Travis is, but one answer seems to be “surprisingly powerful.”

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The Nationals Have Lost Almost All of Their Edge

A fun question from last Friday’s chat:

Comment From Zob Lerblaw
How many games do the Mets have to get ahead of the Nationals and by what date to believe they may win the east? 15 games by June 1?

Since the question was asked, the Mets lost two of three over the weekend against the Yankees. So, if you’re a believer in momentum, the Mets have a little less than they used to. On the other hand, since the question was asked, the Nationals lost three of three against the Marlins. So while the Mets lost ground to Miami, they gained on Washington, which is the team they’d be most concerned about. At this writing, with the season almost 12% over, the Mets lead the Nationals by a full seven games.

The Mets are a worse baseball team than the Nationals are. I’m not 100% certain that’s true, but I’m definitely more than half certain that’s true. There is some point at which the season record becomes more meaningful than the projected numbers, but that point comes nowhere close to as early as April, and just last year the Nationals won almost 100 games. Any system that overreacts to the early start is a bad system; from this point forward, the Nationals should realistically be expected to be terrific.

Yet, the season still feels new. It feels like just yesterday that the Nationals seemed to have the biggest division edge in baseball. Already, that edge is almost all gone. The NL East is on the verge of becoming a coin flip.

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Josh Hamilton’s Return to a New Place

In the moment, it’s easy to focus only on the things that annoy you, on the things that you wish would be better. The greatest challenge in the world is to appreciate the moments that you get before you stop getting them, and it becomes all the more difficult when things aren’t going like you imagined. After the moment, everything shifts. The irritating bits fade into nothing, and what remains are images of the good times. In large part these are the principles driving the Angels’ sale of Josh Hamilton to the Rangers, and perhaps here more than anywhere else, it’s evident that the same thing can always be viewed in contrasting ways. The Angels see Hamilton in one way, the Rangers see him in another, and the great question concerns which side is closer to the truth. Josh Hamilton’s truth isn’t changing; it just happens to be somewhat unknown.

At its core, this really is just a baseball move. The Angels wouldn’t be paying for Josh Hamilton to go away if they thought he could still be a productive member of a contending team. And the Rangers are taking a shot because their financial risk will be laughably small, and they’re a team that could use a helpful left fielder. The Angels think they’ll be better for this, and the Rangers think they’ll be better for this. Obviously, it’s a little more complicated. It just always tends to come down to performance.

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Jeff Sullivan FanGraphs Chat — 4/24/15

9:09
Jeff Sullivan: Hello friends

9:09
Jeff Sullivan: Welcome to hot sexy live baseball chat

9:09
Jeff Sullivan: I’ll be your host, and I live in a time zone that is ten minutes slower than whatever your time zone is

9:09
Comment From Guest
Good morning, Jeff, glad you could join us.

9:09
Jeff Sullivan: Me too!

9:10
Jeff Sullivan: I’ll start the chat with this: per usual, I encourage you to not bother asking fantasy questions. I don’t play so I can’t give good advice, and also most people don’t care to read about your fantasy teams

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JABO: The Royals Are Hitting Everything

I’m going to let you in on a little blogger secret: as I’m writing this post about the Royals, the Royals are actively playing the White Sox, on Thursday night. I usually try to shy away from writing about someone or something as they’re playing, because something might conceivably change, and then I could have to re-work my thesis if not abandon the article entirely. But I’m going to stick with this and cross my fingers. In fact, I can even use this to my advantage.

So, here’s a neat thing. Thursday, the Royals are facing Chris Sale! Which means for you, the reader, on Thursday, the Royals faced Chris Sale. At this writing, Sale has two strikeouts through three innings, having faced 14 batters. For Sale, it’s not his greatest outing, especially given the two runs he’s allowed. But about the whiffs: through these three innings, the Royals’ team strikeout rate has gone up.

That’s a little perspective. The Royals have been red-hot, and the Royals’ offense has been red-hot. This is a rather distinct change from the editions of the Royals we’ve seen over the past few years. We knew the team would be able to defend, and we knew the team would have a lockdown bullpen; we didn’t know the offense could do something like this. At FanGraphs, we track a stat called wRC+, which is like OPS+, but better. As I look at the team leaderboard, the Royals are second in baseball, between the Dodgers and Padres. As always, plenty of factors go into making an offense good. You can never discount the variable of good luck. But something that’s driven the Royals to this point: they simply haven’t been striking out. Their contact has been absurd.

It’s not only that the Royals have the lowest team strikeout rate in baseball. A year ago, they had the lowest team strikeout rate in baseball. The year before, they had the second-lowest. The Royals have been a contact-oriented team. What’s most notable is the magnitude of the Royals’ advantage over everyone else. Here are the lowest team rates, through some of Thursday, but not all of Thursday:

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Raising the Dodger Fastball

You might be getting kind of sick of me writing about fastballs, and elevating them. That’s totally fine, and I don’t intend to keep on writing about them forever and ever. There are two contributing factors. One, I need to write a lot, so I can’t throw away very many ideas. And two, when I get something I’m interested in, I stay interested in it for a while, performing all the analysis I can think of to see if there’s anything new to be said. I don’t want to keep writing about high fastballs, but this post is kind of about high fastballs, and if it helps at all, you can think of it as being a post about Clayton Kershaw. Or, inspired by Clayton Kershaw.

Kershaw’s fresh off a nine-strikeout start in San Francisco. For the most part he looked like himself. For the most part he’s looked like himself. While his ERA’s over 4, his xFIP’s under 2, and his strikeout rate is higher than ever. His repertoire is fine. Kershaw looks like Kershaw, which is good if expected news for the Dodgers, but I can at least point out this one little thing about him. Check out where his fastballs have gone.

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Finding Chris Iannetta In an Unexpected Place

Guess what! It’s time for my first pitch-framing post of the season. There will probably be dozens more of these. I don’t know what those ones will be about, but the purpose of this one is to highlight the early performance of Angels catcher Chris Iannetta. I know, of course, it’s super early! I know, of course, current statistical arrangements will change over the coming five and a half months. But so far, Iannetta rates as one of the top pitch-receivers in the game. He ranks very high according to Matthew Carruth’s method. He ranks very high according to the Baseball Prospectus method. And that one adjusts for a whole lot of stuff. Through these weeks, Iannetta has been getting strikes and avoiding balls.

Which some catchers do commonly. You know the guys who’re considered good at this. What makes Iannetta interesting is, this is a first for him. Not that the season is over and we’ve confirmed that he’s a good framer now, but he’s played like a good framer, and, previously, that hasn’t been him. Let’s go back four years. In all four years, by Carruth, Iannetta has rated as below-average. In all four years, by Baseball Prospectus, Iannetta has rated as below-average. As recently as 2013, Iannetta looked like one of the worst receivers in baseball, by the numbers. So you wouldn’t expect him to be where he is today.

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These Marlins Weren’t Going To Be Very Good

When the Marlins reorganized their front office not too long ago, one of the hopes was that Jeffrey Loria would no longer so frequently meddle in the team’s operation. In 2015, however, the team has stumbled right out of the gate, and there’s chatter that Loria is getting involved. From a recent report about manager Mike Redmond being on the hot seat:

According to sources who have heard rumblings, Redmond is on the hot seat and the the organization is already bouncing around possible replacements. One possibility: Wally Backman, the Mets’ Triple A manager.

You can take this for whatever it’s worth:

If you want to play semantics, now the Marlins are off to a 3-11 start. So Redmond could be fired right now and the official wouldn’t technically have been a liar. The thing about votes of confidence is that you can never really know what they mean. They’re either one thing or the exact opposite, and we don’t know what the Marlins are going to do off the field, because we don’t know what the Marlins are going to do on the field.

But we can step back from manager speculation. The Marlins will make whatever decisions they make, and as easy as it is to pin these things on Loria, maybe there’s more of a consensus. Maybe Redmond deserves to be fired; I have no idea. Analysts can seldom add value to the subject of managerial job security. I have one point, though, that I feel like ought to matter: these Marlins probably weren’t going to be very good. While the start has been disappointing, it needs to be compared against what would’ve been a reasonable expectation.

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Let’s Watch Kris Bryant Do Something Amazing

Out of all the reasons I enjoy baseball, I think mainly it’s about watching people do things few other people can do. Granted, that applies to the whole sport itself — every single player in the major leagues is absolutely fantastic. But I get particularly charged up by the freaks, and by the freak events. I love Felix Hernandez‘s changeup because there just isn’t another one like it. I love Aroldis Chapman‘s fastball because there just isn’t another one like it. Mike Trout clobbers baseballs other guys don’t clobber. Andrelton Simmons gathers baseballs other guys don’t gather. Everybody we watch is several standard deviations above the mean. And then to see things several standard deviations above that? I watch to be amazed, and players remain amazing.

Kris Bryant was just called up, as you know. He’s without question an elite-level prospect and he might be, with some question, an elite-level player. One thing we know is he possesses an elite-level skill, in his ability to hit for consistent power. Not every player in the league is capable of doing truly extraordinary things. Bryant, though, shot up prospect lists because he is capable. And Tuesday night, we got our first major-league glimpse. In the first inning of a game against the Pirates, Kris Bryant did something amazing. Let’s watch and discuss.

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Let’s Get Paulo Orlando 21 Triples

The highest career triple rates in baseball history, minimum 1000 plate appearances, with one exception:

Orlando, obviously, doesn’t qualify, being well short of 1000 career trips to the plate. But let’s just pretend he got all the way up to 1000, and over that span he never hit another triple. He’d still have a higher rate than Darin Erstad, and Jeff Francoeur, and whichever one of the Alex Gonzalezes this is, and Rickey Henderson. Across baseball, triples have been in decline. Orlando is trying to reverse the trend by himself.

Until a short while ago, you’d probably never heard of him. He’s a 29-year-old rookie who joined affiliated baseball in 2006. That tells you plenty about his career path, and upon Orlando’s initial promotion, by far the neatest fun fact was that he became the third-ever Brazilian major-leaguer. Now there’s a neater fun fact, a fact all Orlando’s own: he’s the first player anyone can find whose first three big-league hits were triples. And since then, he’s hit two more triples.

He isn’t just the current major-league leader, among players. He’s also tied for the major-league lead, among teams. Orlando has all five of the Royals’ triples. Four other teams have five triples, but none have more than that, and most have fewer. Two teams have yet to hit a single triple. Orlando hasn’t hit a ball out of the park. From a post by Jeffrey Flanagan:

“The first time the guy who scouted me for the White Sox saw me [in Brazil] he said to me, ‘All you do is hit triples. You never hit home runs,'” Orlando said, smiling.

See? Scouting is easy! Orlando was scouted as a triples machine. He’s blossomed into something of a triples machine. No matter how much longer this goes on, Orlando’s already made history. Few 29-year-old rookies can say that, but now that we know Orlando’s already cemented his place, how much more might’ve been possible to do? It’s time for this article to get stupid.

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Shane Greene Is Building Off Yankees Advice

I’ll start this one like I think I’ve started another, probably also about Shane Greene. Who remembers? Last summer, while working on an article for The Hardball Times Annual, I talked to Brandon McCarthy about the significance and implementation of contemporary data. It was a long interview and a lot went into the article, so I’m not going to sit here and spoil everything, but McCarthy noted something he learned immediately upon joining the Yankees. Right away, they told him about the value of an elevated fastball. Even though McCarthy was more traditionally a sinker-baller, he found that he could get easy outs sometimes going hard and up, with hitters geared for pitches down. Adding one new level made hitting exponentially more difficult.

As the conversation went on, it turned to then-Yankees sensation Shane Greene. Maybe “sensation” is over-selling him, but he came out of nowhere, and he was throwing gas. Greene was whiffing a batter an inning, powered by a mid-90s sinker that he kept down by the knees, and as we neared the end, McCarthy made one more point. The Yankees had given Greene very simple offseason instructions: he was to improve his ability to throw a fastball up.

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