Author Archive

Brian Dozier’s Path Out of the Slump

As May came to an end, I made my way cautiously over to Brian Dozier, who was slashing .202/.294/.329 at the time. Approaching a player in the midst of a slump can go one of two ways — you can either get Brandon Moss and complete honesty about what that battle is like, or you get frustrated non-answers tinged with anger.

Dozier was more of the former — even though his numbers at the time were some of the worst of his career, particularly the ones that concerned balls in play. He didn’t mind, though, since he had a simple solution on which he was working that day. The results were immediate.

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Eno Sarris Baseball Chat — 6/23/16

1:19
Eno Sarris: was going to use their song about subways because it was cool to be in the New York subway again last week but this song’s video is just too weird to not post
12:01
Bork: Hello, friend!
12:01
Eno Sarris: Hello!
12:01
Alex: Hey Eno– what do you think of keuchel ROS? can he return to last season form? Being offered finnegan and duffy for him and not sure what to do…
12:02
Eno Sarris: Don’t love Duffy but Finnegan’s velocity is down and the change has ifffy movement. Duffy is interesting but has so many injuries in the past. Doesn’t move the needle for me.
12:02
mathenging ’16: you lika da moss?

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How Good Is Julio Teheran?

Atlanta’s ace, Julio Teheran, has a career 3.34 ERA, a good mark even for this pitching-friendly era. This year’s numbers, at least in some ways, are the best of his career. He’s a 25-year-old with less than $30 million in guaranteed money remaining on his contract, which runs through 2020 if you count the low-cost team option for that season. If the Braves make him available before the deadline, he’d instantly become one of the most valuable assets on the market.

But is Teheran an ace, like the Braves are likely to price him? Or is he more of a good pitcher on a nice run? Since assuming regular major-league duties in 2013, he’s 44th in pitching Wins Above Replacement despite being 11th in innings pitched, as he’s accrued value by staying healthy and racking up innings, but not dominating in the traditional walk, strikeout, and home run categories.

But this year, once again, Teheran is dealing, and he’s doing so without strikeout, walk, or home-run rates that would appear on the first page of each leaderboard. For teams hoping to acquire the Braves ace, they’ve got to be wondering who he will be on their team; the guy who looks great by ERA or the guy who looks like an innings-eater by FIP?

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The Knuckleball Is More Conventional Than It Seems

We often treat knuckleball pitchers as if they were members of some long-forgotten sect, practicing their secret ninjutsu on the rest of the league with a pitch that defies gravity and cannot be classified. That’s fine, the knuckler is the rarest pitch in baseball, and it has its iconic moments. Let’s not begrudge anyone a little fun.

But once you peal back the layers on the pitch, you start to see that each truism about the knuckler isn’t necessarily true. In fact, there are probably more ways in which the art of throwing a knuckleball is similar to the art of throwing other pitches than it is different. At least, that is, in terms of strategy and outcomes. Mechanics are obviously a different story.

Let’s unpack some of the things we might hear about knuckleballs, and then us the data and the words of R.A. Dickey and Steven Wright to guide our analysis.

Velocity doesn’t matter.

Maybe this isn’t a thing that’s said a ton, but nobody breathlessly reports knuckleball velocity readings the way they do fastball readings, so at least implicitly we’ve decided that speed doesn’t matter as much with the floating butterfly.

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Xander Bogaerts Changes, Really Remains the Same

Everything Xander Bogaerts did well in his breakout season last year, he seems to be doing better this year. More power, more patience, more contact, and better defense — he’s basically equaled last year’s full-season WAR figure already, and there’s three-fifths of a season left to go. He’s leading the league right now!

Of course, WAR isn’t your traditional counting stat: Bogaerts could hypothetically put up negative wins going forward, were he to regress in one way or all of them. But since he gave us such a great preview last year, it’s tempting to believe in all of the improvements he’s made. He’s really the same guy, just a little better.

At the center of his improvement has been how hard he hits the ball, the angles (both vertical and horizontal) of those batted balls, and his defensive range. He didn’t think much had changed about those particilar variables when I asked him, though. Just a few minor tweaks.

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The Advantages and Disadvantages of Talking to the Umpire

“I’ll tell you one thing I don’t like,” Sean Doolittle said as he grabbed his glove and jogged his way out of the clubhouse for stretch. “The hitters get to talk to the umpire and I don’t.”

You see it all the time, even if many hitters don’t want to talk about their conversations with the umpire. Muttering, head-shaking, even outright questions — “where was that?”. Occasionally you’ll even see demonstrative complaints that don’t result in the hitter being tossed, but do result in some aggressive stares and good old baseball posturing.

On the mound, it seems like the stakes are higher. Pitchers might be allowed a stare or aggressive body language, but if it escalates too quickly… Is Doolittle right? Do pitchers do get less leeway before they are warned or ejected? Or get to say less? They definitely don’t get to talk in close quarters with the person determining the balls and strikes, especially in the American League.

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James Paxton’s New Angle on Life

This past Monday, against Cleveland, Seattle left-hander James Paxton recorded the highest single-game average fastball velocity of his career, at just under 99 mph. While sources differ on the matter, it was at least a mile per hour harder than his previous single-game high, which he’d established in his previous start (and season debut) at San Diego about a week earlier. Jeff Sullivan described that appearance against the Padres as “horrible and promising,” because Paxton had allowed eight runs in just 3.2 innings, but also exhibited a sort of arm speed he hadn’t previously. Monday’s start wasn’t horrible, at all. And even more promising.

There’s a mechanical explanation for why Paxton threw harder on Monday than he’d ever thrown before. But there’s also a change in pitch mix that led to one of the best starts of his life, too. And with those new mechanics and that new pitch mix also came a new mindset. It might be fair to say this is a new James Paxton.

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Eno Sarris Baseball Chat — 6/9/16

12:14
Eno Sarris: ‘nice’ day
12:01
Vinny From Philly: Am I going to be ok?
12:02
Eno Sarris: It’s not good. Biceps pain doesn’t make us all shiver like forearm problems, but it’s all one chain.
12:02
Anthony: Paxton is going to win a Cy Young one day….
12:02
Eno Sarris: Piece going up today about him! Just needs to stay in one piece.
12:02
Erik: With not too much separating the top 5-6 prospects in the draft tonight, the Phillies should abandon best player available and go with cheapest good enough player available instead, right?

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There’s Already Been More than One Trevor Story

The first read of Trevor Story‘s split stats produces an easy narrative. In April, he recorded a .988 OPS due (in part) to ridiculous, unsustainable power. Since then, his OPS has been under .800, with half as many homers. The league adjusted to him, and he didn’t adjust back. Simple enough.

Of course it’s much more complicated than that in reality, at least in terms of what’s happening on the field. To the player, it’s simple.

Jeff Sullivan documented a stark adjustment that the league made to the Rockies’ shortstop after that huge first week. They stopped throwing him inside because he showed he could pull those pitches for homers.

“A lot of people don’t pitch inside, I don’t think,” said Story about that first week, framing that first week as the anomaly, which might come as a surprise. “Some teams do, and some teams don’t.”

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Theory and Implementation with Byron Buxton

Generally, the theory is that even top prospects bust. Byron Buxton is the toppest of top prospects, but even that distinction can’t protect him from failure of one kind or another. Exploring that theory is much more difficult when you’re the player himself. Or the writer asking that player about those expectations and the difficulties he’s been having so far. “You’re going to have a stamp on you wherever you are, but I try to put it to the side,” the struggling Twin said recently before a game with the Athletics. It’s hard not to empathize.

The theory with Buxton is that the tools are there but that he needs to make an adjustment to major-league pitching. It’s looked bad, but the talent is in there.

In 195 major-league plate appearances so far, Buxton has struck out 36% of the time and walked just 4% of the time, for a 32-point differential between his strikeout and walk rates. It’s a toxic combination. And rare. Consider: among 106 top-10 prospects since 1990, only Javier Baez has recorded a worse strikeout- minus walk-rate differential in his first 200 plate appearances.

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Eno Sarris Baseball Chat — 6/2/16

1:43
Eno Sarris: Days from turning 37 and I’m not yet a but I will chat with you
12:00
Bork: Hello, friend!
12:00
Eno Sarris: Hello, Bork!
12:00
Lars: Danny Valencia: what’s true talent here?
12:01
Eno Sarris: .280/24?
12:01
Crunchy Black: Hyun Soo Kim: Legit? ROS Projections?

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What’s Going On, Michael Pineda?

Michael Pineda is having a hard time right now. Not when it comes to plate appearances ended by the umpire — his strikeout minus walk percentage is 21st in the big leagues, just ahead of Jake Arrieta‘s. Usually that’s good enough, since K-BB% was once shown to be the best in-season predictor, and because it’s hard to be bad if you’re striking a bunch of guys out and not really walking anyone.

Usually. But not right now. Not in the Bronx, at least. Because, since 2000, nobody has recorded a K-BB% over 15% (Pineda is at 17.7% currently) and suffered from a worse batting average on balls in play. Nobody has allowed more homers per nine innings in that group, either. After contact, the ball has not been Pineda’s friend.

Still, we might just chalk it up to luck and call it a day. We might, if it wasn’t so obvious from watching Pineda that he’s having trouble with command and that things aren’t quite right.

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Marcus Semien, Now More of a Shortstop

Last year, there wasn’t a worse defensive shortstop in the big leagues than Marcus Semien. That’s what the numbers say — traditional and advanced — and it’s also what observers thought as they watched the Oakland A turn in Es with his arm and his legs. It was fair to ask if he’s a shortstop at all.

Then Ron Washington joined the fold, and the shortstop started working with his infield coach. Every day. Before anyone else hit the field, there were Semien and Washington, with their tools, running through the drills.

The turnaround has been remarkable, and deserves more attention.

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Eno Sarris Baseball Chat — 5/26/16

1:34
Eno Sarris: Be here shortly. Also, shuddleywap.
12:01
Oliver: URIAS TIME BABY
12:02
Eno Sarris: Yes. Supposedly very polished. But I had a question about dropping Ryan Madson for him, I wouldn’t do that.
12:02
Oliver: Think after Caminero “rehabs his quad injury” he can get things back on track?
12:02
Eno Sarris: Would take a bit to get back into setup, he’s droppable even in holds leagues.
12:03
Friend: Joey Gallo got called up to….sit the bench? WHY?!?!?

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Are Veterans Better at Slump-Busting?

Way back at the winter meetings, Brad Ausmus said a thing that I found interesting. It’s stuck with me ever since, gathering moss as I’ve pondered it occasionally. But by itself, it raised my eyebrow and set me on a path.

“Especially hitting,” began Ausmus. And continued:

[W]henever you recover from a struggle or go through a slump, you fall back on that experience anytime it happens again. That’s absolutely true. I can tell you that from experience. That’s why veteran players are much better equipped to handle slumps than young players just because of the experiences.

There’s a lot to unpack here, but before we ask the players and the numbers, I thought it would be interesting to call back to a psychology experiment with which I once assisted in college. In a study colloquially called The Beeper Study run by Laura Carstensen at Stanford University, we found that getting older led to more emotional stability and happiness.

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FanGraphs Meetup: New York City, June 18th

Since a lineup-sized portion of the FanGraphs team will be in New York City for Sabermetrics Day at the Staten Island Yankees, we thought it would make sense also to run a meetup. Just another chance to come and hang out and talk baseball, except this one with (perhaps, if you’re into that sort of thing) a craft beverage in your hand.

So come visit on Saturday, June 18th, at Rattle N Hum West, from 7 to 10 pm. We’ll have free appetizers for everyone, baseball on the screens, and time to talk with some of your favorite writers, FanGraphs or not. It’s an all-ages event.

Details below.

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Ben Zobrist on Being in Sync

Better not throw a ball to Ben Zobrist right now. Better throw it in the zone.

He’s got the lowest swing rate in baseball this year, and a bottom-nine number since we started tracking that stat. He’s always swung less often than most, but this is extreme, even for him.

“I’m just seeing the ball really well,” he said before a game against the Giants, reducing the answer to a simplicity that can be common from a player in the middle of a hot streak. “I don’t want to analyze it too much,” he continued, laughing. “That’s your job.” Pretty much the motto for all players in the midst of a good run.

But this isn’t really just a streak. It’s the convergence of a few factors that have put the Cubs second baseman in the position to put up these numbers. Health, approach, competition, and mechanics are all coming together to set the scene.

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Remembering Rougned Odor’s Big Adjustment

After the scrum was gone, after he’d answered all the difficult questions about his punch heard around the baseball world, after he’d deflected and postponed and shrugged, after he slumped into his seat and sighed, Rougned Odor looked up and saw me coming. To his credit, he raised his eyebrows for the coming question, ready for another round.

He was relieved when I asked him about being sent down in 2015, and what he learned when he was down there. Relieved, even though I was asking him about one of the more difficult times of his baseball life. Well, difficult in a different way than the difficult time he’s experiencing right now.

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What’s Wrong With Matt Harvey?

Yes. What is wrong with Matt Harvey? Because if you watch him pitch, it seems like everything is wrong, and yet nothing at all. At least, it’s hard to put your finger on it. You run down the list of things that could explain why he has an ERA near five and the worst ERA estimators of his career, and you find little things here or there. But do you find a smoking gun?

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Eno Sarris Baseball Chat — 5/19/16

1:36
Eno Sarris: things to fill your eye pieces and ear holes until I am here shortly
12:00
Mike: Tyler White is hitting much better of late. Still a chance he sticks with the team all year, or is he a goner when Reed is ready?
12:02
Eno Sarris: The Gattis to catcher thing is interesting here. That means that White could move to DH if he can be better than Gattis, and yes he can be better than Gattis. I believe in White. Played against a righty, sat, played against a lefty… I think he’ll push his way to playing daily. They throwing the high fastball against him and he’s had to resort to his more patient ways.
12:02
Texas Dolly: It’s finally Sam Dyson time!!! Do you expect him to hold down the job for the rest of the season?
12:02
Eno Sarris: Yes. Bush is there, but Dyson’s sinker gives him such a high floor.
12:02
Greg: Your recent article has be scared about JD Martinez. In a keeper league where both have same value forever and power is heavily weighed, would you deal him for Gregory Polanco?

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