Archive for Blue Jays

Jose Bautista Thinks the ALCS Is Rigged

Losing is generally not a fun, enjoyable experience. Winning is better, and when you don’t win, sometimes you look for reasons why that coveted win didn’t occur. In baseball, the margin between winning and losing is often very small, and that has certainly been the case in the American League Championship Series: both of the series’ first two games were close, low-scoring affairs won by a Cleveland team that scored a total of runs. While players generally control outcomes, for a high-scoring team like the Toronto Blue Jays to score just one run in two games, the results have been unusual, a little too unusual, per Mike Vorkunov’s twitter account.

I don’t know if I’m lumped in there with “you guys,” but I’m more than happy to discuss the “circumstances” of which Bautista speaks. Bautista’s addressing the strike zone, and he believes that Cleveland pitchers have been getting borderline calls that Toronto’s pitchers haven’t. Let’s work backwards and begin with Saturday’s game. Here’s the strike-zone plot against left-handers hitters for Cleveland and Toronto pitchers care of Brooks Baseball. (View from the catcher’s perspective.)


Green is a called ball and red is a called strike, with Cleveland represented by squares and the Blue Jays represented by triangles. For our purposes here, let’s break things into categories. We can look at missed calls in and out of the strike zone and borderline calls. Based on the typical strike zone, we find two missed calls going against Blue Jays pitchers. For borderline calls, let’s say anything touching the line of the typical strike zone is borderline. By that definition, Cleveland threw three borderline pitches and got two strikes. Toronto threw two borderline pitches and got one strike.

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The Constantly Evolving Marcus Stroman

Things could be going better for the Toronto Blue Jays. The only true “must-win” games are elimination games, but trailing Cleveland two games to none in the ALCS, there’s little doubt that tonight’s Game 3 feels like a must-win game Toronto. Should they lose tonight, all anyone will be able to talk about is how only one MLB team has ever come back to win a series after being down three games to none.

Could the Blue Jays become the second team to make such a comeback? Of course. They strung together a four-game win streak as recently as the Wild Card Game through their ALDS sweep over the Rangers, after all. But, naturally, facing a best-case scenario of four straight elimination games is not the outcome Toronto will be seeking in tonight’s game.

The most obvious aspect of Toronto’s game which needs to improve if they want to win is their offense. In the 18 innings they’ve played against Cleveland thus far, they’ve scored just one run – not exactly an ideal method for winning games. Of course, scoring runs at prodigious rates is something else we just saw Toronto do,what l when they tallied up 22 runs in their three-game ALDS sweep over the Rangers. It doesn’t take much imagination to envision Josh Donaldson or Edwin Encarnacion or another key member of their lineup stepping up to the plate and delivering for Toronto. If they want to win tonight, someone is going to have to push runs across the plate and they aren’t lacking for players who can be that guy.

However, to state the obvious, a two-game stretch of inept offense does not change the fundamental realities of baseball for the Blue Jays. Hitting well isn’t their singular path to getting back into the series. Defense and pitching are just as important as ever. So far, Toronto’s pitching staff has done a tremendous job of keeping Cleveland’s offense in check, yielding just four runs over the two games. There are a multitude of paths to success in a baseball game, but among the simplest is to prevent the other team from scoring. Tonight, they’ll turn to starting pitcher Marcus Stroman in hopes that he’ll become their latest pitcher to keep Cleveland’s offense in check. One of the interesting things to watch tonight will be what Stroman looks like — aside from the diminutive bundle of energy we’ve come to know over the past few seasons — because Stroman is constantly evolving.

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One Counterpoint to Toronto’s Fastball Advantage

Yesterday, our own Eno Sarris astutely pointed out the advantage that a fastball-heavy pitching staff like the Blue Jays might have against the Indians lineup, who have done the overwhelming majority of their damage on slow stuff and have struggled against heaters. And while I do believe it’s true that, on the whole, Toronto’s fastballing ways could still give the Indians lineup fits, I go thinking about a couple follow-up point that might be important, and that might help mitigate this potential advantage.

Namely, I got to thinking about Marco Estrada, because it’s fun to think about Marco Estrada; Marco Estrada is a fascinatingly unique pitcher. Estrada is set to start Game 1 of the NLCS for Toronto against Cleveland in a few hours and, according to our PITCHf/x run values, Estrada had something like baseball’s 11th-most valuable fastball, right between Robbie Ray and Stephen Strasburg. Strasburg throws 95. Ray throws 94. Makes sense — the best fastballs are usually the fastest fastballs. Not Estrada, though. Estrada’s fastball sits 88. Estrada’s fastball is all about spin, and how it plays off his changeup, and since it’s so different, I got to wondering if maybe Estrada’s elite fastball plays by different rules than the fastballs against which Cleveland struggles.

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Fall League Daily Notes: October 14

Eric Longenhagen is publishing brief, informal notes from his looks at the prospects of the Arizona Fall League and, for the moment, the Fall Instructional League. Find all editions here.

As Fall Instructional League winds down here in Arizona, teams have begun playing their games earlier in the day, allowing scouts to double and triple up should they so choose, catching instrux at 9 or 10 am before moving on to the afternoon and night Fall League games. For me yesterday, that meant seeing the Brewers’ and Diamondbacks’ instructional-league teams in the early morning. Of note from that game, the Brewers lined up second-round pick Lucas Erceg at shortstop and shifted Gilbert Lara over to third. Lara’s destiny likely lies at a position other than his usual shortstop — and so, too, does Erceg’s (despite a 70-grade arm) — and this was probably more of a fun experiment or opportunity to let Lara move around than it is earnest developmental news for Erceg, who has looked great throughout instrux but can’t play shortstop.

Luis Alejandro Basabe homered the opposite way during the game. He has more power than his incredibly small frame would otherwise indicate. His double-play partner, Jasrado (Jazz) Chisholm, showed off his precocious defensive ability at shortstop, ranging to his left behind the bag, corralling an odd hop while he simultaneously made contact with second base and then making a strong, mostly accurate throw to first base from an awkward platform. It wasn’t especially pretty but an impressive play nonetheless.

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Cleveland’s Baserunning Edge Could Extend to the Outfield

Earlier this morning, I wrote about the exploitable advantage the Indians’ offense ought to have against Blue Jays pitching in the ALCS, in that Toronto’s been notoriously susceptible to allowing stolen bases this season, while Cleveland’s notoriously successful in stealing bases themselves. And, while it’s not always true that good base-stealers are also good baserunners, it’s the logical line of thinking, and in this particular instance, it’s true.

We host a stat here on FanGraphs called Ultimate Base Running (UBR), which filters out stolen base attempts and focuses just on a player’s ability and efficiency in taking the extra base on hits and tagging up on fly balls. As a team, the Indians rank second in baseball in this measure, behind only the historic Padres. On an individual level, Jose Ramirez was baseball’s best baserunner. Rajai Davis ranked seventh, among 268 batters with at least 300 plate appearances. Jason Kipnis, Tyler Naquin, and Carlos Santana were all soundly above-average, and in fact, Mike Napoli and Chris Gimenez are the only members of Cleveland’s postseason roster that were soundly below-average at taking the extra base.

For more context, the league-average in taking the extra base on a hit is 40%. Cleveland ranked second, successfully taking the extra base on 45% of their hits, when possible. They led baseball in scoring from second on a single, doing so 129 times in 184 opportunities. Ramirez did this 18 times, while taking the extra base in 60% of his opportunities. Francisco Lindor scored from second on a single 17 times. There’s either speed, baserunning instincts, or a combination of both, all throughout Cleveland’s lineup.

This is simply one of the tents of this Cleveland team. Been that way all season. Nothing new here. Like the stolen bases, it only becomes interesting in the context of the upcoming series when you consider the opponent.

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The Shared, Exploitable Weakness of Toronto’s Pitching Staff

The starting pitching staff of the Toronto Blue Jays possesses an inherent advantage over the lineup of the Cleveland Indians in the ALCS, in that Indians hitters do the brunt of their damage on offspeed and breaking pitches, while Blue Jays pitchers rely on the fastball moreso than any other team, as our own Eno Sarris wrote about earlier this morning. Both teams know this, and both teams will attempt to adjust accordingly in order to maximize or limit the effect of this matchup in their favor. That’s what happens in the postseason, when every little piece of information becomes that much more valuable.

Along those same lines, but on the flip side, there’s also a weakness shared by many of those same fastballing Blue Jays pitchers that perhaps no team other than the Indians is better suited to exploit. Whatever inherent disadvantage Indians hitters may have at the plate, they may make up for on the bases.

We saw what kind of an effect controlling the running game can have in the postseason when the Royals ran wild on Jon Lester and the A’s in the Wild Card game two years ago. And while none of the Blue Jays pitchers are quite at Lester-level mediocrity in this facet of the game, only three of Kansas City’s seven stolen bases in that game came against Lester. Part of it was Lester. Part of it were the relievers who replaced Lester. Part of it was the catcher, Derek Norris.

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Toronto’s Advantage Against Cleveland

A while back, August Fagerstrom noticed a near-historic aspect of the Cleveland Indians’ offense. They do really well against breaking and offspeed pitches. They led the non-Colorado division of baseball in slugging percentage against those pitches, and they had one of the most extreme splits as an offense against fastballs, as opposed to breaking/offspeed pitches, in the history of baseball. That’s quite a strength.

Of course, it’s a strength that belies a relative weakness on the other side. Take a look at how the Indians ranked in production against fastballs when judged by pitch-type values in the American League this year.

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Trusting Blue Jays Closer Roberto Osuna

In this year’s postseason, relievers have received attention based on when (or if) they have entered the game. For the Toronto Blue Jays and closer Roberto Osuna, there were questions a week ago whether Osuna would be able to pitch at all in the postseason after being removed from the Wild Card victory over the Baltimore Orioles with a shoulder issue. Osuna pitched to four batters in that game, retiring them all and striking out two, but his availability for the recently completed Division Series against the Texas Rangers was in some doubt. Osuna has laid those doubts, as well as those that accompanied a less-than-stellar end-of-season run, to rest.

If you were to hazard a guess at which Blue Jays player was most important in this year’s playoffs — at least in terms of increasing the probability of winning games — you probably would not guess Roberto Osuna. You would also be right not to guess Osuna, as Josh Donaldson‘s nine hits and a walk in 19 postseason plate appearances led to a team-leading .635 WPA over the Jays’ four postseason games. Osuna, however, is second on the team WPA leaderboard, despite pitching in only three of the four games and recording just five total innings.

Toronto WPA Leaders, 2016 Playoffs
Player WPA
Josh Donaldson .635
Roberto Osuna .462
Edwin Encarnacion .442
Ezequiel Carrera .242
Marco Estrada .216
Jason Grilli .178
Troy Tulowitzki .152
J.A. Happ .122

Osuna, despite his shoulder issue, has now appeared in three of the four Blue Jays playoffs games (having not been needed in the Game 1 rout of the Rangers). In this year of the non-traditional closer use in the postseason, Osuna has yet to come in at the start of the ninth in a save situation. Every single appearance has been incredibly important — and has often coincided with the most important moments of each game, by leverage index.

Roberto Osuna Playoff Appearances
Game Situation Runners/Outs IP First Batter LI Highest LI in Game
WC Game T9 (tied) 0/0 1.1 2.32 2.32
Game 2 ALDS B8 (up 5-3) 2/1 1.2 2.73 3.30*
Game 3 ALDS T9 (tied) 0/0 2.0 2.32 2.74
*The 3.30 LI occurred with Osuna on the mound in the ninth.

In the playoffs this year, Blue Jays pitchers have faced 15 batters at a point in the game when the leverage index had reached 2.0 or greater. Osuna has recorded eight of those high-leverage plate appearances — more than J.A. Happ (who had four in his start), Francisco Liriano (one), or Joe Biagini (two, one of which was a run-scoring double by Mitch Moreland in Game 2).

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Kevin Pillar Hit a Stupid Home Run

The recipe for winning in the playoffs really shouldn’t be that complicated. You want your good players to do well, and you want the rest of your players to do well enough. It shouldn’t take any more than that, so, for the Rangers, they came into the ALDS against the Blue Jays hoping to lean on Cole Hamels and Yu Darvish, which is totally fine. Those are two outstanding pitchers; you expect them to have outstanding games. Hamels, yesterday, allowed seven runs, and couldn’t get out of the fourth. Darvish, today, allowed five runs, and couldn’t get into the sixth. Now the Rangers are probably screwed. What do you do? They just got baseballed.

Darvish’s problem was that he allowed four homers. And I’m not going to try to defend him — you have to work pretty hard to give up four homers. But we should at least be able to excuse him for one of them. Behold Kevin Pillar doubling what was, in the moment, a one-run lead. I’d argue that Pillar might’ve done a worse job of executing here than even Darvish did. No, that sounds stupid, but, you know what I mean. What is this!

Literally just the other day, Pillar knocked a double against a pitch that was similarly high, but that double could’ve been caught, and at least the pitch was somewhere over the plate. Pillar went up and Pillar went in to take Darvish yard, and I just honestly don’t know what you’re supposed to do with this. This isn’t the pitch that Darvish wanted to throw, but it should’ve just put him behind 3-1 in the count, not 3-1 on the scoreboard.


Here’s a plot of all the 2016 home runs, with data borrowed from Baseball Savant. I put righty and lefty home runs on the same scale, such that pitches on the left are inside, and pitches on the right are outside. You can easily see here that Pillar’s home run is exceptional, relative to the pack.


Maybe it’s not the single most exceptional home run. Maybe it is? I don’t know. But it’s out there. It’s above most of the group, and it’s to the left of most of the group, and it’s both of those things at the same time, which makes it bizarre. It doesn’t reflect well on Pillar that he swung at this pitch in the first place while ahead in the count. It’s probably no mystery why Pillar is the owner of a career 85 wRC+. But on the other hand, maybe that is a mystery, because if Pillar can go yard against a pitch like this, what’s to stop him from going yard against almost literally anything?

I am a professional baseball analyst, writing for a website founded upon baseball analysis. So often, around this time of year, my analysis comes down to a “welp.” Pillar put a…good? swing on the ball. I don’t even know, man. But it sure was a dinger, all right.

Even Yu Darvish Makes Adjustments

You get into a bubble sometimes. Even when that bubble doesn’t look like other bubbles, it’s there insulating you from seeing something you should see. I’m always looking for that new thing, that change, that great new pitcher, that guy overperforming his expectations. That’s the fun thing to look at! An ace, pitching like an ace again, with wipeout stuff? Huh. Somehow, that might be my blind spot.

But then again, sustained excellence can do that to you. We didn’t really write about Jon Lester this year, for example. Jon Lester was excellent, of course. But he was excellent in the way he’s usually excellent. It’s worked out for the Cubs, but there’s material there for analysis.

Corinne Landrey’s been the only one to write about Yu Darvish so far this year, even though he was the second-best starter by strikeout percentage in 2016 while also the author of the best walk rate of his career. We should regularly write about excellence, and here’s Darvish taking on the Blue Jays for Game Two. Here’s an opportunity to pop the Yu bubble.

The thing is, it looks like he hasn’t changed much since he was so excellent before his Tommy John surgery. It looks that way. I’m not sure that’s true.

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The Rangers’ Worst Swings Against Marco Estrada

When I used to come in to pitch, I’d take my eight warm-ups from the mound, and almost without fail I’d hear loud shouts from the other dugout that “this guy’s got nothing!” For the most part this was because they were right, I had nothing, I should’ve been terrible, but what I think kept me from being truly terrible was their own overconfidence. I was never the best pitcher on my team, and opponents would swing like I was the worst pitcher on my team, but thanks to that overeager aggressiveness, there were surprising numbers of clean whiffs and pop-ups. I was as surprised as they were, but at some point it stops being a fluke.

Marco Estrada is better than he’s ever been. When he was younger, he threw about a league-average fastball. Now he’s four ticks below the league mark. Marco Estrada is a finesse pitcher, and as a general rule, finesse pitchers are worse than non-finesse pitchers. But the best ones — they succeed in part because of their own abilities to locate, but they succeed also by turning hitters against their own selves. Power pitchers force a hitter to shorten up. Finesse pitchers tempt a hitter to lengthen. They tempt hitters to come out of their shoes, as if a 500-foot homer means more than its 400-foot equivalent. Facing a Marco Estrada is a test in self-discipline. As we’ve all experienced for ourselves, when pressure starts to mount, self-discipline can unravel.

Estrada dominated the Rangers on Thursday, Texas hitters frequently swinging out of their shoes. Even knocking Estrada around might not have done much: The Blue Jays won by nine runs. But Estrada came close to a complete-game road shutout, and his finesse-y repertoire worked out just peaches. Too often, the Rangers couldn’t help themselves but overswing. Here now are their five worst swings, along with one honorable mention.

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Rating All of the (Remaining) Playoff Teams

Come playoff time, you tend to see a lot of team-to-team comparisons. And when you see team-to-team comparisons, the people doing the comparing frequently lean on regular-season statistics. And, you know, in theory that makes plenty of sense. Those numbers are readily available all over the place, and, isn’t the regular season a hell of a sample? Doesn’t the regular season pretty adequately reflect the level of talent on a given roster?

I’m not going to argue that regular-season numbers are or aren’t more important than, say, postseason numbers. The regular season obviously has the biggest and therefore the most meaningful sample. But as should go without saying, things change come October. Rosters are optimized, and usage patterns shift. For example, during the year, Rangers hitters had a 98 wRC+. Rangers hitters on the roster today averaged a weighted 106 wRC+. During the year, Rangers relievers had a 100 ERA-. Rangers relievers expected to relieve in the playoffs averaged a weighted 75 ERA-. The Rangers aren’t what they were for six months. No team is, entirely. So what do we have now? What does the actual, weighted playoff landscape look like?

Time for some tables of numbers. That’s almost as fun as actual baseball!

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Kevin Pillar Reached a New Height

Any story of the Toronto Blue Jays’ 5-2 Wild Card victory over the Baltimore Orioles at the Rogers Centre on Tuesday night will start and end with Orioles’ manager Buck Showalter’s refusal to allow ERA leader, Cy Young candidate, and flawless closer, Zach Britton, into the game. Britton watched from afar as Ubaldo Jimenez threw the final five pitches of the their team’s season, and considering how baffling Showalter’s decision-making was, it’s only right the stories should start and end there.

But a start and an end leave room in the middle, and the ending we got couldn’t have happened without everything that led up to it. Showalter’s decision was key to the final outcome of the game, as was Jimenez’s failure to execute. But we never get there without Jose Bautista‘s first-inning home run, or the five innings of scoreless relief by Toronto’s bullpen, or Edwin Encarnacion hopping all over that fat Jimenez fastball in the 11th and raising his hands in triumph. And while those were the most obvious keys to success for Toronto last night, Bautista and Encarnacion have crushed hittable pitches hundreds of times in their career prior, and bullpens have thrown countless scoreless innings. What Kevin Pillar did in the fifth inning is something he’s never done. What Pillar did in the fifth was something most have never done.

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Buck Showalter and the Zach Britton Test

Tonight’s AL Wild Card game is a pretty fascinating matchup. Both teams launch home runs at prodigious rates, as the Orioles led the majors in long balls, and the Blue Jays finished fourth overall, just four home runs back of a tie for second. Interestingly, however, neither team was as good offensively as those home run totals might make you think; Toronto ranked 11th in offensive runs above average while Baltimore came in 13th. If they’re not launching homers, they can be held in check, so tonight’s game might not be the slugfest that could otherwise be expected.

Especially because the rules of the Wild Card game incentivize frequent pitching changes, and both of these teams should be taking advantage of the flexibility. The Blue Jays are starting Marcus Stroman, but they also have starters Francisco Liriano and Marco Estrada on the roster, plus the normal compliment of seven relievers; the Jays could mix-and-match their pitchers from the first inning and still have enough arms to get through the game, even while holding one of the extra starters in reserve for a potential extra inning contest.

Likewise, the Orioles are also carrying 10 pitchers, with Ubaldo Jimenez and Dylan Bundy available in relief, along with seven traditional relievers. But if you’re Buck Showalter, you’re probably a lot less excited about the possibility of bringing in Jimenez (5.44 ERA/4.43 FIP/4.64 xFIP) or Bundy (4.02 ERA/4.70 FIP/4.61 xFIP) in an elimination game, and the plan is more likely going to be to ride Tillman as long as he’s effective, than to turn the ball over the team’s normal relief corps.

That relief corps, of course, is anchored by Zach Britton, the best pitcher the Orioles have. Britton’s dominance is almost hard to believe at this point; 202 of the 254 batters he faced this year (80%) either struck out or hit a groundball. He’s the most extreme groundball pitcher we’ve ever seen, only he also blows hitters away with a similar strikeout rate to what Noah Syndergaard posted this year. Opposing batters hit .161/.221/.191 against him this year. To put that in perspective, Mariano Rivera only held hitters to a lower OPS than Britton’s .430 mark once in his career; in 2008, when hitters put up a .423 OPS against him.

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An Argument for Saving Francisco Liriano

Francisco Liriano has pitched his way into consideration for today’s American League Wild Card game by having been excellent since his return to the rotation — during which period he’s recorded 24.2 innings with 26 strikeouts, six walks, and four earned runs — but also by being on the right schedule to pitch today and by pitching with his left hand.

It’s easy enough to sort this list of teams and find that the Orioles have been the worst American League team against lefties this year. But that’s just what’s happened in the past. It doesn’t necessarily dictate what would happen in the future.

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Joe Biagini and the True Awareness of Fun

Following Torontos’ Wild Card-clinching win over the Red Sox at Fenway Park on Sunday, I asked Blue Jays reliever Joe Biagini if he’d just thrown the biggest inning of his life. Before answering, he paused to watch a champagne-soaked teammate traipse across the clubhouse, adorned in only a jockstrap, amid a cacophony of exultations.

“Probably,” mused Biagini. “Yesterday’s, today’s. They just kind of keep getting bigger.”

This one was huge. The 26-year-old rookie right-hander had entered in the eighth inning with the tying run on second base, and Dustin Pedroia — .318/.376/.449 on the season — due up. Two outs were needed to preserve a precious lead. That’s exactly what he got.

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How Should We Evaluate a Manager?

I’ve got a vote for American League Manager of the Year this season and I’m terrified. My first vote as a member of the Baseball Writer’s Association, and it’s the impossible one.

Maybe impossible is too tough a word. I’m sure I’ll figure something out in time to submit a vote. But evaluating the productivity of a manager just seems so difficult. We’ve seen efforts that use the difference between projected and actual wins, or between “true talent” estimations for the team and their actual outcomes. But those attribute all sorts of random chance to the manager’s machinations.

I’d like to instead identify measurable moments where a manager exerts a direct influence on his team, assign those values or ranks, and see where each current manager sits. So what are those measurable moments?

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Francisco Liriano Made a Ballsy Decision

In a good way, Francisco Liriano is making life more complicated for the Blue Jays. Not that a team should take anything for granted, but as the Jays look ahead to the playoffs, it’s hard to know exactly which starters could and should serve as their starters. The Jays already had some depth when Liriano arrived as something of a salary dump, but a funny thing has happened — Liriano has found himself after leaving Pittsburgh. He’s slashed his walk rate, he’s upped his strike rate, and his ERA with Toronto is 2.92. Liriano looks good again, and he looked terrific Wednesday night.

Ultimately, for the Blue Jays, Wednesday was disappointing. They suffered through a blown save and a loss, and they still haven’t locked up an actual playoff spot. There’s work to be done, and because of the ninth-inning collapse, moments from Liriano’s start earlier have been forgotten. They simply can’t matter that much if the end result was a loss to a rival. I want to bring something to your attention, though. In the fifth inning, Liriano came through with a crucial strikeout of Chris Davis. In that showdown, Liriano took a hell of a chance, and the gamble paid off.

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The Worst Called Ball On Record

Last Monday, in what was a pretty critical game against the Mariners, Josh Donaldson got ejected in the seventh inning. Officially, he was ejected for arguing balls and strikes, but, unofficially, he was ejected for being a jerk. During his seventh inning at-bat, Donaldson tried to check a swing, and he disagreed with the determination that he didn’t check it enough. A couple pitches later, Donaldson was called out on a pitch that was probably below the zone. That was too much, and Donaldson expressed himself, and that was that. Donaldson wasn’t likely to hit again, so the ejection didn’t mean much, but he felt like he was getting screwed. Josh Donaldson belligerently wondered aloud why he couldn’t catch a break.

If only he knew then what he might know now. I don’t want to say that Donaldson deserved a break. A grown man needs to be able to control himself. But borderline calls are luck, and given enough time, luck will even out. Several days ago, Josh Donaldson felt like he was unfairly struck out. Friday night in Toronto, Donaldson was in the box for the very worst called ball of the entire PITCHf/x era.

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Weak Contact and the American League Cy Young Race

Over in the National League, differing philosophical differences could shape the voting for the Cy Young award. Unless voters choose to embrace a closer like Zach Britton or look at only wins, however, we don’t have the same type of arguments over which to rage in the American League. In the AL, for example, there’s no pitcher with a massive, Kyle Hendricks-like difference in ERA and FIP. There’s no Clayton Kershaw-size innings gap between most of the contenders. Rather, the AL offers a large group of deserving candidates. To decipher which candidate is the most deserving, we’re going to have to split hairs. Let’s start splitting by discussing weak contact and its role in the candidates success.

To determine potential candidates for the Cy Young, just as I did for the National League, I looked at those in the top 10 of both RA/9-WAR as well as the WAR used on this site. If the pitcher appears among both groups, he’s included below. I also included J.A. Happ because he has a lot of pitching wins, and whether you agree or disagree with the value of a pitching win (I honestly had no idea Happ had 20 wins before beginning to write this, if you want to know the value this author places on them), some voters will consider them, so he’s on the list. A few relevant stats, sorted by WAR:

American League Cy Young Candidates
Team ERA AL Rank FIP AL Rank WAR
Corey Kluber 3.11 3 3.19 1 5.2
Chris Sale 3.23 7 3.38 3 5.2
Rick Porcello 3.08 2 3.44 4 4.7
Masahiro Tanaka 3.07 1 3.50 5 4.7
Jose Quintana 3.26 8 3.52 7 4.6
Justin Verlander 3.22 6 3.61 10 4.4
Aaron Sanchez 3.12 4 3.57 9 3.6
J.A. Happ 3.28 9 3.92 17 3.1

Those top four candidates seem to have the most compelling cases. Of those candidates, only Sale doesn’t appear among the top five of both ERA and FIP, but he also leads the AL in innings pitched this season. Rick Porcello has presented a strong argument for his candidacy in recent weeks, Tanaka leads the league in ERA, and Kluber looks to have best combination between FIP and ERA. There probably isn’t one right way to separate these candidates, but one aspect of the season at which we can choose to take a look is the impact that weak and strong contact has made in turning batted balls into outs.

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