Archive for Giants

Johnny Cueto Is Also a Giants Ace

The appeal of lists and rankings, whatever its cause, is very real. That thing you like? Sure, it’s good, but is it better than this other thing?! We’ve seen this carry over into baseball presumably since the sport began. Williams or DiMaggio? Aaron or Mays? Garciaparra or Jeter or Rodriguez? We’ve even clung to “Trout or Harper?” for as long as we possibly can. Whether this urge to create a clear hierarchy is good, that’s not for me to say, but it’s a tendency into which I’ve found myself constantly falling when thinking about one particular playoff team: the San Francisco Giants.

It goes without saying that the Giants are not in an enviable position. They’re down two games to none to the Cubs in the Division Series and their opponent is widely regarded as the best team in baseball on paper. But the Giants have been in a similar position before and come out alright, so it would be disingenuous to say they’re hopeless. Perhaps the biggest reason to maintain even a shred of hope that the Giants will fight back in the series is related to this fact: by at least one metric, the two best games pitched by a starter so far this postseason have been by Giants pitchers Madison Bumgarner and Johnny Cueto.

Having two elite starting pitchers doesn’t guarantee postseason success for any team – one only needs look at the Texas Rangers for confirmation of that fact – but it’s also unequivocally beneficial. It may or may not be enough to help the Giants claw their way back in this series, especially considering Bumgarner and Cueto can only start two of the remaining three wins the Giants need. But it’s a situation that lends itself to an intriguing debate that I personally am incapable of avoiding — namely, the question of who’s better, Bumgarner or Cueto?

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FanGraphs Audio: Eric Longenhagen’s Horrible Burden

Episode 688
Lead prospect analyst Eric Longenhagen is the guest on this edition of the pod, during which he discusses recent prep work on his horrible burden — namely, the forthcoming organizational prospect lists, which will begin with NL West clubs. By way of preview, Longenhangen discusses one prospect of note from each the five western teams: Jazz Chisholm (Arizona), Joan Gregorio (San Francisco), Michel Miliano (San Diego), Riley Pint (Colorado), and Jordan Sheffield (Los Angeles).

This episode of the program either is or isn’t sponsored by SeatGeek, which site removes both the work and also the hassle from the process of shopping for tickets.

Don’t hesitate to direct pod-related correspondence to @cistulli on Twitter.

You can subscribe to the podcast via iTunes or other feeder things.

Audio after the jump. (Approximately 1 hr 16 min play time.)

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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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Madison Bumgarner and the Crazy Path to Cooperstown

Last night, during Madison Bumgarner‘s latest playoff masterpiece, someone asked me in our live blog whether Bumgarner’s postseason heroics have already been great enough to get him into the conversation about potential Hall of Fame pitchers, even though he’s obviously far short on regular season totals. And there’s no question that Bumgarner’s playoff numbers are staggering; he’s now thrown 97 1/3 innings with a 1.94 ERA, good for a 53 ERA-. He’s already thrown three complete game shutouts in his postseason career; the all-time Major League record is four. Bumgarner has already cemented himself as one of the best playoff pitchers in history, and he’s still just 27.

But while we’re all rightfully marveling at Bumgarner’s dominance today, it’s worth remembering that, for whatever reason, the current crop of Hall of Fame voters have shown no interest in enshrining quality starting pitchers, even ones with similarly unbelievable postseason numbers. For comparison, here’s Bumgarner’s career postseason numbers compared with those of Curt Schilling.

Bumgarner and Schilling
Pitcher Innings H/9 HR/9 BB% K% ERA-
Bumgarner 97.3 6.2 0.65 5% 22% 53
Schilling 133.3 7.0 0.81 5% 23% 50

If Bumgarner throws another 40 innings at his current postseason pace, he’ll essentially match what Schilling did during his postseason career. Except Schilling also threw 3,261 excellent regular season innings, worth +80 WAR by FIP (#20 all-time) and +81 WAR (#32 all-time) by runs allowed. And the BBWAA members with Hall of Fame ballots haven’t cared at all.

In 2013, Schililng’s first year on the ballot, he got 39% of the vote. As the ballot got more crowded, he dropped to 29% in 2014, then bounced back to 39% in 2015. Last year, encouragingly, he got up to 52% of the vote, which puts him within striking distance of the 75% needed. Most guys who get over 50% within their first few years eventually get in, so Schilling has a shot at getting inducted.

But think about what we’d require from Bumgarner to get to Schilling’s career numbers. Not only does he have to throw 40 more amazing innings in the postseason, he’s almost 2,000 regular season innings behind; we’d basically need him to keep throwing 200 innings per year for the next ten years. And it’s not like Bumgarner got a late start on his career; he debuted at 19, and would still need to be throwing 200 innings per year at age 36 in order to get up to Schilling’s career innings total, without any injuries between now and then.

And if Bumgarner does that, his closest statistical comparison would be the kind of guy that voters kind of shrug their shoulders at, not sure whether he was worthy of the Hall of Fame or not. That’s just nuts.

Bumgarner, at this point, has more work to do to put himself in Hall of Fame consideration. He just hasn’t pitched enough at this point to be a strong candidate. But there’s no question that he’s put together one of the best postseason resumes we’ve ever seen, and if he remains a quality pitcher for most of the next decade, how could we possibly deny him entry?

But that’s what we’re doing to Schilling. If you’re awed by Bumgarner’s October dominance — and you should be — then you should support Curt Schilling for the Hall of Fame. I know he’s not the most likable guy in the world, but the Hall of Fame is for honoring the greatest players of all time, and Schilling was one of those. When you watch Bumgarner pitch, remember that Schilling was just as good for even longer, and then lobby your favorite Hall of Fame voter to recognize the guy who was doing this before Bumgarner came along.


Madison Bumgarner, Yoenis Cespedes, and Two Extremes

Johnny Cueto may have had the better 2016 regular season, but when the calendar flips to October, Madison Bumgarner becomes the unquestioned ace of the San Francisco Giants — their most important player. The postseason legend of Bumgarner grew last night, thanks to a complete game shutout in a 3-0 victory against the New York Mets at Citi Field in the National League’s Wild Card play-in game.

No Met hit better than Yoenis Cespedes this season, and Neil Walker, the only position player who accrued more value according to WAR, has been out since the end of August with a back injury that required surgery. Cespedes was the Mets’ most important position player last night, and he also had a team-worst -.101 Win Probability Added, going 0-for-4 with two strikeouts, helping to strand two of the only six batters Bumgarner allowed to reach base.

In a showdown between the Giants’ best pitcher and the Mets’ best position player, the most important showdown, Bumgarner won by KO in four rounds. And he did it by putting his hand on the “approach” lever and pushing it all the way toward the extreme.

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The Dream and the Nightmare of Having an Ace

There is no more sought-after commodity than the ace starting pitcher. It’s true in the offseason and it’s true at the deadline, and it’s why so many eyes are soon going to be on the White Sox front office. The White Sox, you see, are in possession of Chris Sale, and should they choose to relieve themselves of his talent, every other executive alive is going to daydream. Any sort of player can be valuable, in any sort of role, but aces feel singularly able to take over ballgames. We gather that baseball can’t be figured out, yet an ace promises to make things uncomplicated.

Teams want aces during the regular season because they stabilize rotations and they theoretically ward off bad slumps. Teams especially want aces during the playoffs, because having an ace should just make things so simple. An unhittable pitcher can win a team a series. Every team wants an ace like Noah Syndergaard. Every team wants an ace like Madison Bumgarner. As it happened, the two squared off Wednesday, the Giants and the Mets having everything on the line. In the end, the reality of what it is to have an ace became apparent. And at the same time, in the end, the ace mythology will live on. The Giants lived the dream that every team imagines.

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The Giants’ Shot at Noah Syndergaard’s Vulnerability

I’ll begin with a statement you’re going to grow sick of: No, there’s no predicting any of this. We wouldn’t even really like it if there were, but there’s not, and there never will be. Baseball games are played by people, and the best analysis in the world could be rendered useless by Noah Syndergaard or Madison Bumgarner waking up with the sniffles. Last year’s Blue Jays weren’t eliminated after Russell Martin accidentally bounced a return throw off Shin-Soo Choo because a few minutes later Elvis Andrus made seven consecutive errors. Just last night, the Orioles were eliminated because Zach Britton did all of his pitching off the bullpen mound. I mean, no, that wasn’t everything, but, you get the point. The smaller the sample of baseball, the more insane it seems to get. The thing about insanity is it’s unpredictable.

I feel bad having to include all that, but I’d feel worse if I didn’t. I’d feel like I was lying. The best we can do is to discuss little details, small factors that might slightly shift the win expectancies. On the plus side, that is fun, and it contributes to the conversation. So why don’t we contribute to the conversation about Syndergaard facing the Giants?

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How Did Madison Bumgarner Fix His Curve?

The thing about the curveball is getting batters to swing. Once you get the batter to swing at your curveball, it has the same whiff rates, basically, as a changeup or a slider, especially once you correct for the fact that the curve is the slowest pitch type, meaning batters have an easier time making contact with it. But the swing rate against the curve? Easily the lowest in the game — below 40% when most other pitch types are near 50%.

If the swing is the thing generally, then it’s no surprise that getting batters to swing at his curveball has been a major part of Madison Bumgarner‘s excellent season after a less-than-excellent first month. He admitted as much when I talked to him in May: “I just don’t feel quite right yet,” he said then. “They haven’t been swinging as much at my curve.”

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Syndergaard’s Stolen-Base Problem and the Postseason

Noah Syndergaard has reached a point of excellence this season that finds him capable (to the extent that anyone is capable) of challenging Clayton Kershaw for the title of baseball’s most dominant starter. If compelled to pinpoint the most glaring difference between the two Cy Young candidates, however, it would be this: whereas Kershaw is historically masterful at stopping the running game, Syndergaard is historically poor. The Mets’ ace gave up a whopping 48 steals this year, one of the 10 worst seasons for steals allowed since 1974, when Retrosheet’s full records begin.

The reason for Syndergaard’s struggles is clear: the 6-foot-6 righty is really slow to the plate. This has been a problem all year, making it a popular talking point for the New York media. That included speculation from John Harper a couple of weeks ago, as the Daily News writer made the case that these struggles would make Syndergaard an unwise choice to start the wild card game.

That might even raise the question of who should start the wild-card game. As dominant as Noah Syndergaard can be, his problems in controlling the running game are a consideration in a win-or-go-home scenario, where a couple of stolen bases could prove crucial.

“That would be a factor for me,” an NL scout said Friday. “Everybody says stolen bases aren’t important anymore, but then you get to the playoffs, and they can be the difference in a ballgame.

This argument that the Mets should sit the exceptional Syndergaard is suspect. But the scout’s theory is worth testing. Maybe, given the magnitude of postseason games, runners attempt more steals when it counts, and contribute more towards team wins. Let’s check.

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Weak Contact and the National League Cy Young Race

The National League Cy Young race is an incredibly competitive one, and as Dave Cameron (who has a vote this year) broke down a few weeks ago, much of the differences between the candidates deals with run prevention in a team sense (RA/9-WAR and ERA) versus run prevention in a component sense (FIP, WAR). As a result, there has been considerable discussion on the concept of weak contact, and last week I looked at the role of the Cubs defense in the Chicago pitchers’ low BABIPs. Taking a small step further, let’s use the Statcast to look at weak and strong contact to determine if the Cy Young candidates in the National League have been helping out their defenses.

To whittle down the candidates, I found the pitchers who are among the National League’s top 10 both by WAR and RA/9-WAR — and then added Jose Fernandez, who just missed the second list. This is a list of those pitchers and their respective ERA, FIP and WAR marks.

National League Cy Young Candidates
Name ERA NL Rank FIP NL Rank WAR
Noah Syndergaard 2.63 3 2.34 1 6.1
Clayton Kershaw 1.73 1* 1.68 1* 6.1
Jose Fernandez 2.99 9 2.39 2 5.7
Max Scherzer 2.78 6 3.08 4 5.6
Johnny Cueto 2.86 7 3.06 3 4.9
Madison Bumgarner 2.57 4 3.12 5 4.9
Kyle Hendricks 2.06 1 3.27 6 4.1
Jon Lester 2.40 2 3.45 7 3.9
*Kershaw does not have enough innings to qualify

As you can see, the NL pitchers ranked first and second in ERA only rank sixth and seventh in FIP, which has led to discussions, particularly with regard to Kyle Hendricks, about how to evaluate such discrepancies when discussing a pitcher’s Cy Young candidacy. To examine the type of contact a pitcher is generating, ee can start with a simple look at average exit velocity. Here are the pitchers’ average exit-velocity numbers and MLB ranks, per Baseball Savant.

Exit Velocity of NL Cy Young Candidates
Avg Exit Velocity (mph) MLB Rank
Clayton Kershaw 87.1 6
Kyle Hendricks 87.3 9
Noah Syndergaard 87.5 12
Max Scherzer 87.7 13
Johnny Cueto 88.1 25
Jon Lester 88.3 30
Madison Bumgarner 89.1 60
Jose Fernandez 90.0 106

While the evidence isn’t overwhelming, there is some reason to think that a pitcher has some, if not a lot, of influence over exit velocity, with the bulk of the influence coming from the batter. Those arguing for Kyle Hendricks for the Cy Young would likely say there is a considerable effect and point to the very good exit-velocity numbers and very low BABIP he’s conceded as evidence. That said, Clayton Kershaw has an even better average exit velocity and his BABIP isn’t quite as low as Hendricks’. Which pitcher gets more credit?

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Graphing a Week of the Giants Bullpen

Last night, the Giants took a 1-0 lead over the Dodgers into the 9th inning. They lost anyway. At this point, the team’s lead-blowing prowess has become so well known that it wasn’t even really a surprise, and the last week has cemented the tire-fire status of the team’s relief corps. They gave up two in the ninth to lose by one last night. They gave up two in the ninth to lose by one on Saturday. They gave up five in the ninth to lose by one last Tuesday. In the last seven days, the Giants bullpen has handed over three should-win games with three outs to go, and as a result, the Giants are now six games back in the NL West race, and tied with the Cardinals for the second Wild Card spot.

Those words make it sound bad, but I thought some graphs might more adequately represent the disaster that was the Giants bullpen over the last week.

screen-shot-2016-09-20-at-8-58-42-am

This is a scatter plot of shutdowns and meltdowns, a couple of relief pitcher metrics we track here on FanGraphs. A shutdown is any relief appearance where the team’s win probability goes up by at least six percentage points during the outing, and a meltdown is an appearance where it goes down by at least six percentage points. The standard ratio of shutdowns to meltdowns is a little under 2:1, though for high leverage relievers, they usually earn those roles because they do much better than that.

As the graph shows, the Giants ratio last week was 1:7. They had the fewest shutdowns in MLB and the most meltdowns. Their bullpen essentially only pitched well when the game wasn’t really on the line, and then was a total disaster if the game was close.

So let’s look at the league’s relievers total Win Probability Added last week, or in the Giants case, Win Probability Lost.

bullpen-wpa-last-7-days

I probably didn’t have to highlight the Giants line there; you likely would have known it was them even without the assistance. They racked up nearly -2.0 WPA last week, which is astonishingly bad for a seven day stretch.

Let’s finish up with a table. Here is how hitters performed against various Giants relievers in high leverage situations over the last week, thanks to our handy new splits tool.

Giants Relievers in High Leverage, Last 7 Days
Pitcher Batters Faced BA OBP SLG wOBA
Hunter Strickland 4 0.667 0.750 1.000 0.702
Santiago Casilla 2 1.000 1.000 1.000 0.784
Javier Lopez 2 0.500 0.500 0.500 0.439
Derek Law 2 0.500 0.500 0.500 0.439
Steven Okert 1 1.000 1.000 4.000 2.012

That isn’t so much closer by committee as it is a Jonestown Massacre reenactment. Bruce Bochy has taken a good amount of flak for his bullpen management in the second half of the season — especially his loyalty to Casilla — but no one could look good managing a group of pitchers who did that.

The Giants still have a chance to turn this around and make the playoffs, but they’re going to need their bullpen to pull it together. Like tonight.


Matt Duffy on Seeing the Baseball (and the Penguin)

A few weeks ago, I approached Tampa Bay (and former San Francisco) infielder Matt Duffy in the visiting clubhouse at Fenway Park. I wanted to talk to him about the mental side of the game. He was getting dressed, so we agreed to meet in the dugout in five minutes. At that very moment, Brian Kenny began talking about the idea of clutch on MLB Network, which was showing on the TV a few steps from where were standing.

Duffy kept his eyes and ears on the MLB Network discussion as he pulled on his uniform and cleats. With that in mind, I began our subsequent conversation with that very subject. From there, we segued into his mindset as a hitter, which is heavily influenced by Harvey Dorfman’s The Mental Keys of Hitting.

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Duffy on clutch hitting and heart rate: “I think there is something to [the idea of clutch]. When you look at the RBI leaders every year — the guys who do well with runners in scoring position — for the most part it’s the same guys. To me, that’s not an accident. I think a lot of people think RBIs are purely a result of the opportunities you have. That does play into it, but I also think that, in certain situations, if I can keep my heart rate at a more efficient level than the pitcher does, more times than not I’ll succeed. I don’t want my heart rate to be so low to where I’m not awake, but I also don’t want it to be so high that I’m jumping at everything in the box.

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What Can Hitters Actually See Out of a Pitcher’s Hand?

We’ve all seen those swings so terrible that a batter can’t help but smile. Swings like this one from Brandon Phillips last year.

Phillips, of course, isn’t the only victim of this sort of thing. He’s been a league-average major-league hitter for a decade, which is a substantial accomplishment. But even accomplished hitters can look bad, can get it very wrong.

Were Phillips batting not for a last-place club but one contending for the postseason, we might gnash our teeth. Couldn’t he see that was a slider? What was he thinking? What was he looking at?

The answer to that last question, turns out, is way more complicated than it seems. Phillips clearly should have laid off a breaking ball that failed to reach the plate. He clearly has done that — otherwise, he wouldn’t have had a major-league career. So what happened? What did he see? Or not see? Ask hitters and experts that question, and the answers are vague, conflicting, and sometimes just strange.

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Pitching to Contact with Zack Greinke and Denard Span

I hadn’t planned on talking to Zack Greinke about the game he’d started the night before, but then, for the second time in his career and the first time since his rookie year, he went six innings and recorded only one strikeout. It was a win for the team, but maybe not his finest game, that one against the Giants on Tuesday night. So I had to say something. “They make a lot of contact,” he grumbled, “but it wasn’t ideal.”

When I asked him if anything was different, he shrugged. “Against guys like Denard Span, Ben Revere, Buster Posey, I’m not going to spend a lot of pitches going for the strikeout. They make too much contact.”

We’ve heard this sort of thing before, of course. Pitching to contact is even espoused as a general philosophy by some organizations. But it’s a little surprising to hear from this pitcher, who regularly strikes out 200 batters a year, even if he’s told us before that pitching to FIP — pitching to limit the walks and increase the strikeouts — just led to hard contact in the zone.

He also gave us a name! Denard Span, he of the 3.7% career swinging strike rate, good for 11th-best overall since he’s been in the league. Span, because of his contact-oriented skill st, has forced Greinke to approach him differently.

So let’s look at Greinke’s plan against Span this past Tuesday and see what he was trying to do.

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Matt Moore’s New Pitch Addresses Old Concerns

In his last start, the Giants’ Matt Moore did something he’d never done before. Not no-hit a team through eight innings: he’d thrown an actual no-hitter before, in Double-A in 2011, on 98 pitches on his brother’s birthday. He’d thrown a one-hitter before, too — albeit over seven innings instead of 9.2, and earlier in his pro career.

What he did this Aug. 25 against the Dodgers that he’d never done before was throw a cutter 29 times. Only twice had he thrown the pitch even 10 times, but there he was going to the well, again and again, on his way to an oh-no instead of a no-no.

Weirdly, he didn’t get a single whiff on the pitch. But it doesn’t seem like the swinging strike is the point to the pitcher. Nearly everything else is.

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Noah Syndergaard Showed a Fix

The Giants faced Noah Syndergaard Sunday night, and they tried to steal two bases. Both times, they were unsuccessful. That’s notable because Syndergaard, this year, has been horrible about controlling the running game. It’s been his one drawback — before Sunday, runners in 2016 were 40-for-44 in their attempts. The Giants assumed they’d be able to take advantage of his vulnerability. Plans went awry and for those reasons, and others, the Giants lost.

The first runner to get thrown out was Trevor Brown. Brown, as you might know, is a catcher. Before Sunday in the majors this year, Brown was 0-for-0 in trying to steal. He doesn’t run. He was trying to test the limits of Syndergaard’s weakness, and Brown got himself out, after Rene Rivera made a strong throw to second.

There’s nothing too interesting about that. Syndergaard was slow to the plate. Rivera did his job well. Brown got a bad jump and he doesn’t sprint well to begin with. That caught steal is almost a direct result of other players not getting caught stealing. The weakness encourages non-runners to run. Just as Syndergaard is slow enough that any decent runner can advance, some runners are slow enough that even Syndergaard can’t be exploited.

I’m more interested in the second runner to get thrown out. That was Eduardo Nunez, and, unlike Brown, Nunez has had a big year in swiping. He’s an obvious running threat. Here’s Syndergaard’s first pitch after Nunez reached:

And now, here’s the second pitch:

You see that? Nunez had seen enough. He read Syndergaard and took off on the second delivery. Rivera was excellent here — he was quick to his feet and his throw was outstanding. So, Rivera absolutely played a role. But Syndergaard also showed Nunez a twist. The first pitch:

syndergaard-nunez-1

The second pitch:

syndergaard-nunez-2

Syndergaard lowered his leg lift. He mixed up his timing, and while for the first pitch I had him close to 1.7 seconds to the plate, on the second pitch he was at almost 1.4. He shaved roughly 15% off his time, and though he was still short of the 1.3 mark that most pitchers want to achieve, that’s a healthy leap forward. Syndergaard gave Nunez a different look, and he gave his own catcher a chance. Nunez easily could’ve wound up safe if Rivera’s throw were any worse, but what matters is just that there was a possibility he’d be out. This is something Syndergaard’s been working on, and getting Nunez out is an encouraging step.

It’s going to take more outs before runners stop trying. And it’s worth noting that, when Syndergaard lowered his leg lift, he threw his slowest fastball of the first five innings. The Mets don’t want for him to sacrifice too much, and they need to keep an eye on his mechanics. But for the time being, Syndergaard is coming off an outstanding start, and in that start, runners trying to steal went 0-for-2. One of those runners even knows how to run. It’s something to build on.


Dave Righetti on Pitching

Dave Righetti was a good pitcher. In a 16-year career spent mostly with the New York Yankees, he threw a no-hitter and saved over 250 games. He might be an even better pitching coach. “Rags” has held that position with the San Francisco Giants since 2000, and in the opinion of many, he’s among the best in the business.

Righetti’s reputation is well deserved. Under his tutelage, Giants pitchers have made 22 All-Star teams, won two Cy Young awards, and thrown five no-hitters. More importantly, the club has gone to the World Series four times and captured three titles.

Righetti talked about his philosophies — and the repertoires and pitch selection of members of the Giants’ staff — when the team visited Fenway Park in July.

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Righetti on location and changing speeds: “Changing speeds on any pitch is essential, even if it’s a 95-mph fastball. If you can’t back off on it at times and throw it 90, people are going to time it out. The last thing you want to do is throw your hardest fastball every pitch.

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Jeff Samardzija Has Resurrected an Old Pitch

By now, we’re used to seeing once-starters transition to the bullpen and have successful careers. We’re used to the mold. It’s a hard-throwing righty who’s got a fastball and a slider but just can’t master a consistent changeup. He gets moved to the bullpen, he ditches the changeup entirely, he ramps the velocity up a few ticks, and the fastball/slider combo dominates in one-inning bursts. It’s become a rather common career arc. And it’s almost the precise opposite of Jeff Samardzija‘s career arc.

After playing football for four years at the University of Notre Dame, Samardzija cracked the big leagues two years after being selected in the fifth round of the 2006 MLB draft, and after four years pitching out of the Chicago Cubs’ bullpen, made the rare reliever-to-starter conversion. Not only that, but he actually reduced his arsenal when he became a starter. Usually, it’s the other way around. So much about Samardzija’s career seems backwards.

From an ESPN article from 2012:

Samardzija was tough against the Atlanta Braves on Monday as he got some much needed distance from a terrible June. Last month he added a curveball into the mix and might have leaned on it a bit too much.

“These last few starts we have been feeling things out, seeing what works and what doesn’t,” said Samardzija, whose next outing will be Saturday at New York. “But I was kind of fed up with walking guys and stuff so I really wanted to get into the zone, and I knew I could get into the zone with my slider.”

Starters-turned-relievers have no qualms with abandoning their problem pitches, because they don’t have to worry about giving batters multiple looks in order to turn over a lineup several times. Every batter a reliever faces, he’s only going to face once, so he trusts his best stuff and lets the hitter have it. Starters do have to worry about multiple looks, and so theoretically, the wider the arsenal, the better, as long as the pitches are effective. Jeff Samardzija used to throw a curveball, but once he transitioned into his starter role, he began to struggle. He identified the curve as being no longer effective, so he ditched it. From August 8, 2012 to July 23, 2016, Jeff Samardzija threw zero curveballs.

In the second inning of Samardzija’s July 24 start in New York against the Yankees, Starlin Castro saw something he couldn’t have possibly expected:

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Brandon Crawford Had One of the Greatest Games In History

In an extra-inning affair last night, Brandon Crawford recorded eight at-bats, and seven hits. One thing that means is that Crawford recorded an out. Another thing that means is that Crawford recorded seven hits. A game in which a player finishes with seven hits is very obviously outstanding. Crawford became the first player to get there since Rennie Stennett went 7-for-7 in 1975. It’s unusual to get at least seven opportunities to knock a hit. It’s especially unusual to successfully knock a hit in pretty much all of them.

Based just on hits, Crawford has equaled Stennett’s accomplishment. But there’s another layer here. Yesterday, the Giants just barely edged out the Marlins, 8-7. When Stennett had his big day, the Pirates beat the Cubs 22-0. That was a nine-run game as early as the first inning, so in the end, Stennett registered a Win Probability Added — WPA — of +0.082. Crawford registered a WPA of +1.438. He was essentially worth about a win and a half on his own. By regular numbers, Crawford had an impressive game. When you take context into account, Crawford had one of the very greatest days in baseball history.

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Sergio Romo Got Nearly the Dumbest Win Ever

Pitcher wins are a silly statistic, for all the reasons you know, and additional reasons you don’t. So we pretty much never talk about them — there was a time, once, when the analysts would rail against wins, but that battle is over. The analysts won. Wins carry less value than they ever have, and there’s a part of me that wonders why I’m even bothering to write this post in the first place.

But I just can’t not do it. For one thing, it’s Friday. Leave me alone. It’s August, and the trade deadline just passed, so, again, leave me alone. And even though we don’t talk about them, wins do still exist. Somebody hands them out, and they remain a part of the official records. So I want to take a few minutes of your time to discuss really dumb wins. Sergio Romo just got one Thursday. It was one of the very dumbest.

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