Author Archive

Are We at the High-Water Mark for Shifting in Baseball?

Here’s the thing about bunting: it can be a good idea if the third baseman is playing too far back. The chance of a hit goes up in that case, and a successful bunt often causes the third baseman to play more shallow in future plate appearances, so future balls in play receive a benefit. That’s one of those games within a game we see all the time in baseball: once the positioning deviates from “normal” by a certain degree, the batter receives a benefit. Then the defender has to change his approach.

This tension created by the bunt illustrates how offenses and defenses react to each other’s tendencies. That same sort of balance between fielder and hitter might be playing out on an even broader scale, however, when it comes to the shift in general.

Too many shifts in the game, and the players begin to adjust. They develop more of a two-strike approach, they find a way to put the ball in play on the ground the other way, or they make sure that they lift the ball if they’re going to pull it. There’s evidence that players are already working on lifting the ball more as a group, pulling the ball in the air more often than they have in five years, and have improved on hitting opposite-field ground balls. So maybe this next table is no surprise.

The League vs. the Shift
Year Shift wOBABIP No Shift wOBABIP
2013 0.280 0.294
2014 0.288 0.294
2015 0.286 0.291
2016 0.292 0.297
wOBA = weighted on base average on balls in play

The league has improved against the shift! The shift is dead! Or, wait: the league has actually improved as a whole over this timeframe, and the difference between the two is still about the same. And every team would take a .292 wOBA against over a .297 number. Long live the shift.

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How Would You Comp Yasiel Puig?

Perspective matters a great deal when you’re trying to look at a question and find the unfiltered truth. It’s true of all statistical analysis, but it becomes even more obvious when you’re trying to find comparable historical players.

Where do you set the cutoffs? How far back do you go in the player pool? How far back do you go in the player’s own career? If you manipulate the variables, you can get all sorts of different results. That’s why it’s so hard to analyze a player simply by finding other, similar players. The very idea of similar is difficult to pin down.

Take Yasiel Puig, for example. Pull the strings a little differently each time, and his comps vary wildly.

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Eno Sarris Baseball Chat — 2/23/17

1:46
Eno Sarris: be right there

12:00
Kiermaier’s Piercing Green Eyes: If this is how the Internet reacts to intentional walks being removed, I’m afraid of what’s going to happen when the NL gets the DH.

12:00
Eno Sarris: Lots of handwringing, all caps screaming, things of that nature.

12:01
Sandy A.: Any word on how the new ballpark in ATL is gonna play?

12:01
Eno Sarris: I saw that the fences were a few feet shorter in the power alleys but weather is the biggest part of park factors, so about the same I’d guess.

12:01
Black Beard’s Delight: Home sick with a fever of 102, but it’s ENO SARRIS BASEBALL CHAT!!!!!!

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Last Year’s Unluckiest Changeup

In baseball, luck is a tricky concept. In some cases, it’s used to describe an event that’s within the normal distribution of outcomes but far from the mean. In other cases, what we call luck might actually be the first signs of an outlying skill for which we simply lack a sufficiently large sample to identify.

We’ve developed a new understanding on one kind of luck in recent years — namely, the sort that occurs with a batted ball. With Statcast data, we can look at the shape and size of a ball in play and try to decide what the batter “deserved” from that sort of ball in play. Then we compare it to actual outcomes. The difference between the observed and expected outcome is luck.

What if you want to look at a luck on a specific pitch type, though? How would you do it? You could look at the results on the pitch and basically use the Statcast-type process from the other side of the ball. What sorts of balls in play did that pitch produce, and what sort of results should those balls in play have produced? The problem with that approach is that you’re slicing a pitcher’s repertoire into small samples when you start talking about balls in play off a specific pitch. Even David Price, for example — who led the majors in innings last year — allowed fewer than 300 balls in play on his most frequently thrown pitch, the fastball. Secondary pitches are, almost by definition, thrown much less often. Variance isn’t the exception in such cases, but the rule.

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Ten Bold Predictions for the Coming Season

Over at the fantasy blog, they’ll be publishing their annual bold predictions soon. Those posts, as usual, will cater to the roto side of things. They’re fun to write. And, even though I’m no longer editing RotoGraphs anymore, I’d like to continue the tradition. So I’ve decided to do a version that’s aimed more at the real game.

Let’s stretch our imagination and make some predictions that are a little bit sane (they should be rooted in reality to some extent), but also a little bit insane (since the insane happens in baseball every year anyway). Back when I did this for fantasy, I hit 3-for-10 most years. Doubt I do it again, for some reason.

What follows are my 10 bold predictions for 2017.

1. Dylan Bundy will be the ace he was always supposed to be.
Once picked fourth overall and pegged as the future ace of the Orioles, Bundy had a terrible time in the minor leagues. Over five years, he managed only 111 innings between injuries. There was Tommy John, of course, but lat strains, shoulder-calcification issues and between-start bouts of elbow soreness have dogged him throughout, as well. At least he was good while he was in, with an ERA in the low twos and great rates to support those results.

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Eno Sarris Baseball Chat — 2/16/17

1:45
Eno Sarris: was listening to some old school Lupe and he’s not too far off the mark these days

12:01
Gucci: What’s your take on Blake Snell this year? I’m not expecting ace like numbers but as a super late round pick maybe a profitable opportunity

12:02
Eno Sarris: Decent floor, but yeah maybe ace like upside. The slider was a big deal last year, giving him four pitches I believe in… command of course is the question.

12:02
Minty: OBP keeper. Trade Beni for Dahl? They’re both sexy time bc of lineup or park

12:02
Eno Sarris: I think in OBP I’d keep Benintendi. Huge, UGE, floor.

12:03
Michael Waka Flaka: How many at bats for Matt Holliday this year? Think he’s worthy of an OF5 spot in a points league?

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Chris Tillman, the Orioles, and Rotation Depth

Chris Tillman has some aches in his shoulder, has recently received a shot, and may miss some time early in the season. That’s what’s been reported, at least. It might not be a big deal, considering that teams can skip a fifth starter’s spot in April and fudge their way through the month. It might be a big deal, though, once you consider the Orioles’ rotation depth relative to the rest of the league.

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Who Could Drop Their Arm Slot for More Success?

Yesterday, we identified Jeremy Jeffress as a pitcher who benefited greatly from dropping his arm slot, adding more sink and fade to his two-seamer. The idea was that his four-seamer was straight and possessed below-average spin, so moving from that pitch to a sinker, while dropping the slot, gave him a better foundational fastball. There’s a roadmap there. Let’s follow it.

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Jeremy Jeffress and Using Spin Rate to Get Better

It’s exciting to have so many statistics available to us when we’re trying to evaluate our favorite players. From the players’ perspective, though, it’s probably more exciting when those statistics allow them to improve themselves. From that point of view, metrics like launch angle and spin rate probably have a certain appeal that some others don’t: they provide a measurement of something that might help a player understand his game and get better.

There’s one problem, though — with spin rate, at least. Indications are that it’s difficult for a pitcher to change his in any material way. Still, as Jeremy Jeffress may have found, it can provide a window into betterment.

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Noah Syndergaard’s Weight Change in Context

Maybe because it’s an example of the Best Shape of His Life story taken to its inevitable conclusion or maybe because it’s the only news that’s occurred other than pitchers and catchers saying “here” in a spring-training facility somewhere. In either case, it seems relevant to discuss how Noah Syndergaard showed up to camp with a reported extra 17 pounds of muscle.

To understand the implications of that weight gain, we’d ideally examine big weight gainers of the past and use that data to discuss the situation. Unfortunately, that’s not really an option: listed weights are notoriously incorrect and also don’t change on a yearly basis.

What we can do is look at the best available research on strength training and pitching. We can also look at the pitcher himself and put this newest change in the context of the individual. Once you do, it doesn’t seem so drastic. Then the weight change is just another in a line of ambitious adjustments Syndergaard has already tackled.

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Finding the Next Great Defensive Turnaround

There are different ways to turn a team around. That’s probably an obvious thing to say, but it’s true. Another thing that’s obvious and true: teams are made of humans. Because of that, no turnaround is entirely uniform in nature.

Even so, a team might emphasize certain traits when attempting to rebuild or improve. On-base skills, power, etc. Some of those turnarounds are easy to follow; others, less so.

Given the relatively short history of defensive metrics, the turnaround of team defense hasn’t been thoroughly chronicled, and yet teams have certainly made it a priority. Just last year, the Astros and Indians exhibited improvements in the field in a way rarely matched. Looking further back, it’s possible to find other teams that have accomplished the same feat. The question, though: how did they it? Maybe it’s possible to use past successes as a road map for current teams! So, let’s find the next Indians and Astros.

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Eno Sarris Baseball Chat — 2/9/17

1:29
Eno Sarris: I’m a sucker for interesting voices

12:01
Ludes: Props on the new beer site. Digging it so far. RUN THE JEWELS!

12:02
Eno Sarris: Wish I was going to be there but two days earlier have to be in Hawaii for a brew fest on the big island life is RUFF

12:02
2-D: Marlins’ fans rejoice!

12:02
Eno Sarris: Meddling owner for sure. Also: bereft of morals.

12:02
Nathan : Can you summarize the difference between BABIP and xBABIP?

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Chris Carter & Chris Coghlan Get Similar Deals, Aren’t Similar

Chris Carter finally signed! With the Yankees, for $3 million plus incentives. Chris Coghlan also finally signed! With the Phillies, on a minor-league deal for $3 million plus incentives. On the one hand, these players couldn’t be any more different. But there are similarities, too, if we look at them through the lens of the market and its needs.

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What Else You’ll Need Besides Spin Rate

Soon, we’ll get games on television again. I know it’s hard to believe, because it seems like it’s been so long, but it’s true. It’ll only be spring training, but it’ll be baseball and it’ll be great.

Along with these televised games, we’ll hear commentators discussing key statistics. It’s very possible that, due to the rising popularity and availability of Statcast, we’ll hear about increases in spin rate when it’s relevant. That’s great! But there will be some context we won’t hear, and that context will be important.

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Who Needs a New Pitch the Most?

I love it when research underlines conventional wisdom. Like when Mitchel Lichtman found that, the more pitches a pitcher had in his arsenal, the better his chances the third time through the order. Even if it was only on the order of a few points of weighted on base average, it was a real finding that functions as a virtual nod towards all those scouts and pitching coaches who’ve wondered about a pitchers’ third and fourth options. You might not need a changeup specifically, but you need other pitches if just to put more doubt in the hitter’s mind.

Given that finding, I thought it might be fun to try and use it in reverse. Who were the worst pitchers in baseball last season when it came to the third time through the order? Who saw their talent drop off the most upon seeing a batter the third time?

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Eddie Butler Then, Now, and in the Future

Yesterday, the Colorado Rockies traded right-hander Eddie Butler to the Chicago Cubs in exchange for a modestly promising relief prospect (James Farris) and the 28th international bonus slot.

Even as recently as last year, the notion of such a move would have seemed improbable. Butler appeared twice — as recently as 2015 — on Baseball America’s top-100 prospects list. The Rockies’ rotation, meanwhile, has been quite poor, producing the second-lowest collective WAR in the majors over the last five years. They haven’t been a club, in other words, that had the luxury of giving up on a promising young pitcher.

But Colorado’s rotation has improved rapidly, while Butler’s stock has declined just as quickly. In the end, general manager Jeff Bridich concluded there wasn’t space on the roster for Eddie Butler. He made a deal.

But this isn’t just a late-January transaction that ought to be forgotten. Because Butler has shown promise. Let’s instead follow his story up to this point. He deserves it after toiling in Coors for so long, and it might provide us a glimpse of his future.

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Eno Sarris Baseball Chat — 2/2/17

8:43
Eno Sarris: The last few days have been more like

8:44
Eno Sarris: when I’m searching for my inner

12:01
Paul R: Ever play in a league that had a 3rd place prize?

12:01
Eno Sarris: all the time

12:01
Gub Gub: gub gub

12:01
Eno Sarris: bug

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Jason Heyward, Hard at Work

The easiest yes you’ll get in sports is by asking anyone on the field if spring training should be shorter. They agree almost unanimously. The players especially think so, since they’ve been working all offseason, too. The days of coming into town 15 pounds overweight and stepping on the mound or to the plate for the first time in months — those are long gone. Players have been working since after Thanksgiving, and maybe even earlier in some cases.

Players like Jason Heyward, who just came off the worst year of his career with the bat, might have been working even harder. There’s so much to prove. At least in Heyward’s case, the problem might be obvious and the solution seems to be in hand. At least theoretically.

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Switch-Hitting with the Two Jonathan Villars

“I’m a completely different hitter from each side of the plate,” Hank Conger told me one time. He went on to describe how he had more loft in his swing from one side. Switch-hitter Billy Burns said about the same thing, speculating that his relative lack of experience hitting from the left side was the cause for his lack of power on contact from that side. “My muscles aren’t as strong there,” he told me in July of 2015. Even if a player is capable of hitting — even hitting well — from both sides of the plate, that doesn’t mean he’s the same type of hitter from both sides. Subtle differences are bound to be present.

All of this may explain a strange thing that happened to Jonathan Villar last year.

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Is Baseball the Least Random Sport?

Former front-office analyst and now stats professor at Smith College Ben Baumer has a paper out, with cowriters Michael J. Lopez of Skidmore College and Gregory J. Matthews of Loyola University Chicago, that hopes to answer a question we’ve all thought about when our favorite team loses: how often does the best team win in a given sport? How much of our pain can we explain away with luck? The answers contain multitudes.

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