Archive for Athletics

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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This Oakland Defense Sure Has Been Something

Here’s the quickest way to understand what’s gone on in the field for the Oakland Athletics this season: Marcus Semien has arguably been their best defensive player. Yep. That’s the one. The same Marcus Semien who committed 35 errors as Oakland’s everyday shortstop last year. That’s not being totally fair to Semien, who has legitimately improved at short, but he’s still been average (at best) at shortstop, and in the field for the Oakland A’s this year, average at best is as good as it gets.

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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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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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JB Wendelken on His Inauspicious A’s Debut

J.B. Wendelken had an inauspicious MLB debut. Called up by Oakland from Triple-A Nashville on Sunday, the 23-year-old right-hander retired just four of the nine batters he faced. Following a mound visit, he gave up a grand slam.

The native of Savannah, Ga., was originally Red Sox property. Drafted in 2012, he was subsequently swapped to the White Sox, and later to the A’s. Finding out he was going to the big leagues was every bit as surprising as being told he’d been traded. He was so stunned by the news that he sat down.

Wendelken didn’t have to wait long to get into a game. Hours after joining the team in Baltimore, he was standing on the mound with his eyes wide and his heart beating fast. Needless to say, it was an experience he’ll never forget.


Wendelken on learning he was being called up: “We were in Nashville and coming up on a closing situation. I’d been told by my pitching coach, Rick Ro [Rick Rodriguez], that I’d either be the late-inning setup guy or our closer. That time came along, and I was left sitting there. I was a little confused, but there was nothing to it. I didn’t think too much about another guy being up.

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Sean Manaea Comes to Oakland

As Susan Slusser with the San Francisco Chronicle reported on Wednesday, Sean Manaea will be called up to start Friday’s game in Oakland against Mike Fiers and the Houston Astros. Manaea made a decent case for making the rotation out of spring training, tallying 16 strikeouts in 14.1 innings, but the seven walks allowed over the same period gave the A’s enough reason to start him in Triple-A Nashville.

Across three starts in Nashville, he has been lights out on the mound. Only three runs have crossed the plate against him in 18 innings pitched, while 21 batters have struck out and just four have reached via free passes. That level of performance was enough for Oakland to feel comfortable bringing him up to the majors in lieu of a fourth appearance for the Sounds. But what can we expect from him out of this start, and (presumably) those going forward in an A’s uniform?

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Name That Pitcher: Present Rich Hill or Peak Max Scherzer?

As I begin writing this post, the three most-searched names in the FanGraphs search bar are Jake Arrieta, Rich Hill, and Clayton Kershaw, or, the three greatest pitchers in baseball.

I kid. Mostly. Hill faced a righty-heavy Tigers lineup in Detroit last night and threw seven shutout innings while striking out eight, walking none, and allowing just four hits. It’s the kind of start that’s become commonplace for him since September of last year, and it’s the kind of start that, if commonplace, makes you one of the best pitchers in baseball. I don’t know if Rich Hill is actually one of the best pitchers in baseball. I don’t think he is, but that’s kind of what this is all about — Rich Hill is making us think now.

Last year, we saw the four starts, and they were amazing, and we reconsidered everything we knew about baseball, and then the playoffs happened, and the offseason happened, and six months went by, and it seemed like more than enough time for 36-year-old, injury-riddled, never-done-anything-remotely-like-this-before Rich Hill to lose everything he gained during those four starts in Boston. That’s the fear with any player who ends a season on a hot stretch, that whatever that hot player had in September will have worn off by next April. That fear felt especially appropriate in this particular scenario, given Hill’s history.

And then Spring Training happened, and Hill was awful. And then he was forced into an emergency Opening Day start when Sonny Gray fell ill, and Hill only lasted 2.2 innings. At that point, it was over. Hill was cooked. Whatever happened at the end of 2015 was a total fluke, a gift from above, and Rich Hill was back to being Rich Hill.

And then he rattled off another four-start stretch that rivaled 2015’s. Back to Rich Hill. Thirty-four strikeouts in in 23 innings, eight walks, five earned runs. Over Clayton Kershaw’s last nine starts, he has a 1.85 FIP, and over Hill’s nine starts during that same time period, Hill has the better strikeout rate, the better home-run rate, the better ground-ball rate, and the better ERA.

So I wanted to play a little game. Hill has been Kershaw’s equal since September of last year, but it’s not exactly a fair comparison, because Hill is (probably) pitching at the absolute peak of his career, and we’ve just compared him to a less-than-peak (but still amazing) Kershaw. To make a truly fair comparison, we need to go peak against peak. In the interest of full disclosure, I originally thought this might work with Kershaw, but then I looked at Kershaw’s best nine-starts stretches and realized how foolish I am. Kershaw isn’t a human. But Max Scherzer is a human! And also one of the best, I don’t know, five pitchers in baseball? Based on those two statements alone, he became our new subject. Let’s play a guessing game, pitting Scherzer’s career-best nine-start runs in particular statistical categories vs. Hill’s last nine starts. Click the .gif below each question to reveal the answer.
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What Pitchers (and Numbers) Say About Pitching in the Cold

Maybe it was the fact that she spent her formative years in Germany, while I spent most of mine in Jamaica and America’s South, but my mother and I have always disagreed about a fundamental thing when it comes to the weather. For her, she wants the sun. It doesn’t matter if it’s bitter cold and dry; if the sun’s out, she’s fine. I’d rather it was warm. Don’t care if there’s a drizzle or humidity or whatever.

It turns out, when we were disagreeing about these things, we were really talking about pitching. Mostly because life is pitching and pitching is life.

But also because the temperature, and the temperature alone, does not tell the story of pitching in the cold. It’ll make sense, just stick with it.

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Players’ View: The Difference Between Left and Right Field

If you look at the positional adjustments for Wins Above Replacement on our website, it looks like left and right field are equally valuable, and the second-easiest positions to play on the field. Generally, that seems about right — first base is where you put your slugger, and the corner-outfield spots is where you put your other sluggers.

And yet, if you look for bats that qualified for the batting title (and didn’t play catcher, the most platooned position on the field), you’ll find that there are fewer left fielders than any other position, and significantly so. Only 15 left fielders qualified last year. Even shortstop had 20 guys who reached that threshold. If you look at the Fans Scouting Report, left fielders were better defensively last year (overall and in almost every component) than they had been before in the life of the Report.

It seems that there’s a bit of a difference between left and right field, and in the types of players who are playing those positions. So I thought it made sense to ask the players what the difference actually was. It’s not as easy as putting the better arm in right field because he has a longer throw to third base.

Tim Leiper, Blue Jays first base coach: “The nuances for me… when the ball is hit directly at you, it’s learning how to open up toward the line. If you’re in right field and it’s a right-handed hitter, and he hits it directly at you, he probably stayed inside the ball and it’s going to slice to the line a little bit. Same thing with a left-handed hitter to left field. But I find that left-handed hitters actually have more slice to the ball than right-handed hitters. That’s probably because they’re right-hand dominant. The spin is different. I think the right-handed hitter’s balls have a lot more chance to stay true. I also think some outfielders maybe open up in one direction better than the other.”

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Is the Real Sean Doolittle Back?

Early this March, I talked to Sean Doolittle after a game. He was excited. “I was throwing 93-94 today, and normally it takes me a little to get going,” he told me. “Normally I won’t hit ‘3 until the last week of March.” The excitement was infectious, as it often is with him. He’s an upbeat guy.

As I headed back to the press box, I tweeted something about what he said. Another writer pulled me aside and told me their source hadn’t seen anything over 92. That was a bit of cold water.

That back and forth? That up and down? That’s probably what it’s like to come back from labrum problems. Hope, false hope maybe, sadness, wash, and do it all again. You just hope that you’re building back to where you were. The good news is that, through two appearances, it looks like the old Sean Doolittle is back.

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Billy Butler Ran Into 10 Outs

Last season, Billy Butler ran into 10 outs. If you didn’t know that before, you definitely know that now. And if you’re anything like me, now that you know that, you want to know what happened. Boy have I got the post for you. It’s this post!

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The Area Where Khris Davis Became Chris Davis

Chris Davis earned a seven-year, $161 million contract with the Orioles this offseason. Khris Davis was traded to the A’s for a couple low-minors prospects. Chris Davis is a lefty, and plays first base. Khris Davis is a righty, and plays the outfield. Chris Davis has been the best power hitter in baseball. Over the last three years, his .292 isolated slugging percentage is nearly 20 points higher than the next guy, and he’s got 15 homers over runner-up Nelson Cruz. Khris Davis has been a tantalizing, yet in many ways still flawed player whose shine has somewhat faded after an explosive debut with Milwaukee in 2013.

Yet even with those flaws, namely struggles with contact ability and plate discipline, one might be surprised to learn that Davis — sorry, Khris — has also been one of the league’s most prodigious power hitters, with an ISO that ranks in the top 10 since 2013. Since Khris came on the scene, he’s hit for more power than Bryce Harper, Miguel Cabrera and Jose Abreu. Granted, injuries, defensive shortcomings and his one-dimensional nature at the plate have limited his playing time, so perhaps his power output isn’t quite as impressive as his slugging peers who have done it for longer, but he’s now batted more than 1,100 times and done so with an ISO that’s indistinguishable from Paul Goldschmidt‘s. The power is real, and just last year, he took a step forward in one promising area to put his name alongside the game’s premier power hitter, the Chris with a C.

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KATOH Projects: Oakland Athletics Prospects

Previous editions: ArizonaBaltimore / Boston / Chicago AL / Chicago NL / Cincinnati  / Cleveland / Colorado / Detroit / Houston / Kansas City / Los Angeles (AL) / Los Angeles (NL)Miami / Minnesota / Milwaukee / New York (NL) / New York (AL).

Yesterday, lead prospect analyst Dan Farnsworth published his excellently in-depth prospect list for the Oakland Athletics. In this companion piece, I look at that same Oakland farm system through the lens of my recently refined KATOH projection system. The A’s have the 19th-best farm system in baseball according to KATOH.

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Evaluating the 2016 Prospects: Oakland Athletics

Blue Jays
Red Sox
White Sox

Billy Beane has been the master of the pseudo-rebuild for a long time now, replenishing the farm system while simultaneously improving or at least diversifying the big league roster. This past year has been more about subtraction from the minor league depth than addition, but internal development, a solid draft last June and some lesser moves have put the system in a better spot than it was last year. Translation: they have some more chips to play with come this July.

Though it is definitely in a better spot, it certainly isn’t without weakness. Besides Sean Manaea, there isn’t much immediate help for the big league rotation without dipping into some more of the command specialist-types that they have had to rely on the last few years, albeit with pretty good success. On the offensive side, Matt Olson, Chad Pinder and Renato Nunez are close to ready for their big league shots, as are guys like Joe Wendle and Matt Chapman, to a lesser extent impact-wise.

Recent drafts have been fairly successful keeping the pipeline operational, though the A’s have had an inordinate amount of pitchers dealing with injuries. Raul Alcantara, Dillon Overton and Bobby Wahl are all in the comeback stages of arm injuries, and young Chris Kohler is dealing with shoulder stiffness this spring. It may just be a product of their wheeling and dealing of anyone who is healthy, but it still bears watching over the next season or two to look for any patterns.

As for the surprise picks on the list, Manaea’s consistency issues drop him down a little bit for me, though I still like his potential in the rotation. Chad Pinder and Rangel Ravelo are both better hitters than most people seem to think in my opinion, while Matt Chapman and Ryon Healy have some things to prove before I’ll really buy into their offensive profiles. Seth Brown is an interesting upside prospect to watch, coming out of nowhere to hit a bunch of homers in college, getting drafted late and continuing to hit well in the low minors.

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The Easiest Explanation for Rich Hill

When we tell a lie, it’s often rooted in fact. It’s tough to just completely pull a lie out of thin air; somewhere, entrenched deep down within a lie, there’s a factual base. But we start with that small fact, and we turn it into a big lie, and at first we know not to believe that lie but over time, if we continue to lie, two things begin to happen. One, the lie begins to expand. We add in new layers, hyperbolize the already fictitious tale, and turn it into something larger than we’d ever intended. Two, we begin to believe that lie. We’re not aware of this happening, but tell a lie enough times and you’ll forget where you started. That’s how you really wind up in trouble.

Rich Hill felt like a lie last season. I’m still not sure I believe it happened. And, as if I was the one who told the Great Rich Hill Lie of 2015, I began to embellish the story. Two days ago, I’d have bet good money that Rich Hill did what he did last year over 10 or more starts. Give me enough time and I’d have said he did it over a full season. But alas! Rich Hill was only literally Clayton Kershaw for four starts, not 10 or 20 or 33.

But Rich Hill being literally Clayton Kershaw for any amount of time last year still seems like a lie, and when we look at the numbers, it’s almost impossible to make sense of them. It took long enough for us to come to terms that what Clayton Kershaw does is just what he does. We can’t have a second one. When we see 36 strikeouts in 106 batters faced, what does that mean? What does five walks mean? Half of balls in play on the ground — what’s that? In just four starts, these types of numbers have so little context, it almost does more harm than good to think about them. So naturally, we go deeper.

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My Favorite Quiet Waiver Claim

Some time ago, I wrote about both Mychal Givens and Tony Zych, two rookie relievers who remained mostly unknown despite breakthrough seasons. I’m a fan of Givens, and I’m a fan of Zych, but while researching those posts, I came across some other names of intrigue. Mostly, I just filed them away in my own brain, but I’ve frequently thought about a few of them. And now that I have a chance, I can’t not write about one of them. One of the players whose names I hung on to just changed organizations over the weekend, and I have to jump in here if only because I wouldn’t forgive myself if I didn’t.

As people waited for the Pedro Alvarez acquisition to become official, any mystery would’ve probably had to do with whether he’d pass an Orioles physical. One could’ve wondered about something else, though: Who would be dropped from the Orioles’ roster to make room? Alvarez did pass that physical, and he’s going to be a full-time DH. The Orioles did have to clear space on the 40-man, and the corresponding move passed by almost unnoticed. After all, what’s most important is the Orioles have Alvarez. But the Orioles no longer have Andrew Triggs. Now the A’s have Andrew Triggs. Let me tell you a little about Andrew Triggs.

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Josh Reddick Has Been the Anti-Willie Bloomquist

A short while ago, I published a Willie Bloomquist career retrospective you might have seen. But, I know you’re probably tired of reading Willie Bloomquist career retrospectives. Ever since Bloomquist announced his retirement late last week, the Internet has been dominated by Willie Bloomquist career retrospectives. When I navigate over to Google News, all I see filling every individual section are innumerable different Willie Bloomquist career retrospectives. So in case you didn’t bother to read my latest, out of Willie Bloomquist career retrospective fatigue, let me boil it down: Bloomquist was a lot of different things over the course of his career, but one of those things, interestingly, is that Bloomquist was clutch. He hit a little better when the stakes were a little higher.

I didn’t intend for that post to spark a series. And, really, this isn’t a series — all this is is another post, the subject of which was discovered while researching the earlier post. But, okay: You probably didn’t know before today that Bloomquist was objectively clutch. And you probably didn’t know before right now that Josh Reddick has been objective unclutch. By a lot, I mean. The numbers are dreadful.

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Oakland Has Its Own Adam Wainwright Curveball

A few weeks ago, I used some basic PITCHf/x information to note that Rick Porcello‘s curveball started to look a lot like Adam Wainwright‘s curveball by the end of last season. That’s the kind of thing that’s interesting to me, even if it isn’t particularly interesting to anyone else, and then later it was revealed that Porcello actually used Wainwright’s curve as an inspiration. I wasn’t expecting that. Even though, I suppose, the data had already made the case. But it was a cool nugget to read in the news.

Now I’m going right back to the well, because once I start thinking about pitch comps again, I have a difficult time focusing on anything else. One thing that’s true is that Rick Porcello now throws a curveball that resembles Wainwright’s. Another thing that’s true is that Porcello isn’t the only one. This is all relatively new to Porcello, but there’s a pitcher in Oakland who’s had this kind of pitch in his back pocket for years.

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Previewing the Best and Worst Team Defenses for 2016

Early this morning, the full 2016 ZiPS projections went live on the site. This is probably news to many of you. Surprise! Happy ZiPS day. You can now export the full ZiPS spreadsheet from that link, find individual projections on the player pages, and view our live-updating playoff odds, which are powered by a 50/50 blend of ZiPS and Steamer. This is good news for everyone, including us, the authors, because now we have more information with which to work.

And so here’s a post that I did last year, and one which I was waiting for the full ZiPS rollout to do again: previewing the year’s team defenses. It’s been a few years running now that we’ve marveled over speedy outfielders in blue jerseys zooming about the spacious Kauffman Stadium outfield, and now those speedy outfielders in blue jerseys are all World Series champions. People are thinking and talking about defense more than ever, and you don’t think and talk about defense without thinking and talking about the Kansas City Royals. Defense: it’s so hot right now. Defense.

The methodology here is simple. ZiPS considers past defensive performance and mixes in some scouting report information to give an overall “defensive runs above or below average” projection. Steamer does the same, except rather than searching for keywords from real scouting reports, it regresses towards the data from the Fans Scouting Report project compiled by Tangotiger every year. The final number is an average of these two figures, and can be found in the “Fld” section of the depth charts and player pages. It isn’t exactly Ultimate Zone Rating or Defensive Runs Saved, but it’s the same idea, and the same scale.

Let’s look ahead toward the year in defense.

* * *

The Best

1. Kansas City Royals

This is one of my new favorite fun facts: the Royals outfield defense, just the outfield, is projected for 31 runs saved, which is higher than any other entire team in baseball. And with Alex Rios out of the mix in right field and Jarrod Dyson and Paulo Orlando stepping in full-time, Kansas City’s outfield defense should somehow be even better than it’s been in the past.

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The Cubs Addressed Their Last Big Question

It all makes the Orioles look bad, which isn’t fair. It was supposed to be easy enough for the Orioles to sign both Yovani Gallardo and Dexter Fowler. Then, within a few days, the Gallardo talks nearly fell apart, and the Fowler talks did fall apart. Instead of the Orioles and Fowler having an agreement, it turns out Fowler wanted a one-year opt-out, which the Orioles wouldn’t give him. That’s a perfectly defensible stance, but here’s where we are now: Baltimore doesn’t have Dexter Fowler. Fowler has gone back to the Cubs, for a year and $13 million. It’s all been a pretty stunning turn of events, and the breakdown in the Baltimore talks has allowed the Cubs to answer the last big question they had.

For the Orioles, it’s a bad look, and it’s frustrating, because now they have to keep poking around to fill a hole they thought they’d fill. It’s probably somewhat bad for morale, and now you can likely expect the Orioles to get in contact with the Reds about Jay Bruce. It’s not the worst fallback in the world. Yet this is all really about the Cubs. The Cubs get to keep Fowler, if only for a year. It reduces the uncertainty for what’s pretty clearly a World Series favorite.

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