Archive for Rangers

Jeremy Jeffress and Using Spin Rate to Get Better

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

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

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Punting First Base Is The New Black

It’s no secret that this winter has not been kind to veteran hitters, particularly those with limited defensive ability. Mike Napoli is still a free agent, as are Chris Carter and Pedro Alvarez. Brandon Moss just signed with the Royals yesterday, getting a backloaded $12 million on a two year deal. Edwin Encarnacion, Jose Bautista, and Mark Trumbo all took significant discounts relative to their initial asking prices. As we discussed a few weeks ago, the market for offense-first players was remarkably poor this year, to the point where it could be seen as an overcorrection; perfectly useful players are signing for less than what similarly valuable players with different skills are getting paid.

What is perhaps most interesting about this development, however, is that the teams who could are most in need of a first base upgrade are also teams that should be trying to squeak out every marginal win they can find.

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2017 ZiPS Projections – Texas Rangers

After having typically appeared in the very famous pages of Baseball Think Factory, Dan Szymborski’s ZiPS projections have been released at FanGraphs the past few years. The exercise continues this offseason. Below are the projections for the Texas Rangers. Szymborski can be found at ESPN and on Twitter at @DSzymborski.

Other Projections: Arizona / Atlanta / Baltimore / Boston / Chicago AL / Chicago NL / Cleveland / Detroit / Houston / Kansas City / Los Angeles AL / Los Angeles NL / Milwaukee / Minnesota / New York AL / Miami / Oakland / Pittsburgh / St. Louis / San Diego / San Francisco / Seattle / Tampa Bay / Toronto / Washington.

Batters
The Texas Rangers added catcher Jonathan Lucroy (510 PA, 3.7 zWAR) at the trade deadline last year. A brief examination of the projections below reveals that Lucroy is forecast to produce more wins than any other Rangers field player in 2017. This would seem to be a harbinger of good things for Texas: a club that won its division by nine games just a year ago, and which has retained basically all its principal characters from the previous season, will now benefit from an even better principal character.

None of that is actually false. What that line of reasoning fails to acknowledge, however, is that the 2016 edition of the Texas Rangers was very likely the most fortunate club in the majors. On the one hand, they won 95 games. On the other, the salient indicators — in this case, represented by BaseRuns — suggest they played more like an 82-win club.

Unsurprisingly, the ZiPS projections here seem to call for something more like an average team than an elite one. Only three starting field players besides Lucroy receive a forecast for more than two wins. Three positions — first base, left field, and right field — are expected to contribute just a single win each.

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The Adjustments that Made the Hall of Famers

The truth about a Hall of Fame career is that there’s no single magic moment that makes it happen. There’s no way you can put together the sort of resume that ends in Cooperstown unless you make many changes along the way. Baseball is that demanding.

When it’s all over, though, there’s time for looking back and for giving thanks. Because in order to make all those adjustments, the players had to receive advice from truth-peddling coaches and players along the way. For every adjustment, there was a trusted source that helped at just the right time.

So, along with the help of Alyson Footer of MLB.com, Bill Ladson of MLB.com, and others, I asked our newest Hall of Fame trio about their path to the big leagues.

*****

Jeff Bagwell

On Power: “I think my hitting coach, Rudy Jaramillo and I – you know, when I was in the minor leagues and all that kind of stuff, I used to hit a lot of balls with back, excuse me, topspin. And then I kind of learned how to change my hands a little bit and get a little bit of backspin and all that kind of stuff, and that carried the ball…

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In Defense of Andruw Jones’ Hall of Fame Credentials

We tend to form memories poorly. In middle school, my band teacher was fond of telling us that if you only played two parts of the song correctly, to make it the beginning and the end, because most people wouldn’t remember anything else.

So it may be with Andruw Jones. If you pressed most people on what they remember most about Jones, there’s a decent chance that they’d recall him as the 19-year-old who homered twice in the 1996 World Series and also as a really fat guy who was terrible in his 30s. In between those two endpoints, though, he had a Hall of Fame career.

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Do All the Free-Agent Sluggers Have a Home?

It’s true that, if you look at the free agents who remain unsigned this offseason, you’ll find a lot of power still available. Franklin Gutierrez, Mike Napoli, Mark Trumbo: all three produced an isolated-slugging figure greater than .200 last season. All three are projected by Steamer to produce better than a .195 ISO in 2017. All three have yet to find a team for the 2017 season.

Given the general demand for power, you might wonder why so many of these sluggers don’t have jobs yet. A look both at the supply and the demand in the league reveals a possible cause, however: handedness. There might be an obstacle, in other words, to matching those free agents with the right teams.

To illustrate my point, let me utilize the depth charts at RosterResource. What’s nice about RosterResource, for the purposes of this experiment, is that the site presents both a “go-to” starting lineup and also a projected bench. Here’s a link to the Cubs page to give you a sense of what I mean.

In most cases, a team will roster four non-catcher bench players. Looking over the current depth charts, however, I find 15 teams with only three non-catcher bench players on the depth chart (not to mention five additional bench players who are projected to record less than 0 WAR). For the purpose of this piece, let’s refer to these as “open positions.”

Fifteen! That’s a lot. It means we’re likely to see quite a few signings before the season begins. Of course, not all these openings are appropriate for the power bats remaining on the market. Most of those guys are corner types, if they can play the field at all, while some of those 15 clubs have needs at positions that require greater defensive skill.

For example, Anaheim might need an infielder or a third baseman for their open bench spot. The White Sox need a right-handed center fielder to platoon with lefty Charlie Tilson. Detroit needs a center fielder, maybe a right-handed one — and in the process of writing this piece, they got one in the form of the newly acquired Mike Mahtook maybe. If Mel Rojas Jr. can’t play center in Atlanta, they need a (right-handed?) center fielder, too. The Yankees may need a third baseman — and, if not that, definitely someone with some defensive ability on the infield.

So that reduces the number of open positions to 10. That’s 10 slots that could be filled by an offensive piece with little defensive value. Here are the teams that, by my estimation, have an opening for a slugger: Baltimore, Boston, Chicago (NL), Cleveland, Kansas City, Minnesota, Oakland, Seattle, Tampa, Texas, and Toronto.

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Tyson Ross and Risk vs. Uncertainty

Tyson Ross was one of the more intriguing names available in this winter’s historically weak crop of free-agent pitching.

At his best, Ross is something of the Rich Hill of sliders. From 2012 to -15, Ross led baseball in slider usage (38.7%) among pitchers tossing at least 300 innings. The pitch was so effective, he was often a two-pitch pitcher.

Among pitchers to throw at least 300 innings, Ross posted the 12th-best swinging-strike percentage in the game (11.2%) during that three-year period, and his 3.34 FIP ranked 34th in the game. Over that same stretch, Ross tallied 9.5 WAR. He was one of the better starting pitchers in the game.

His slider was still effective on the only day he pitched in 2016. Just ask Carl Crawford:

Ross was quietly becoming one of the more valued starting pitchers in the game. Then 2016 happened.

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If You Vote for Vlad, You Have to Vote for Walker

If you’re an avid FanGraphs reader, you might remember a piece I wrote January in which I wondered whether Vladimir Guerrero had the credentials of a Hall of Famer. The verdict? He does. As an inductee, he wouldn’t have the most impressive resume in the Hall, but he’d belong — and, according to the first 44 ballots collected by Ryan Thibodaux by way of his BBHOF Tracker, it appears as though the voters agree:

2017 Hall of Fame Ballot, Vote %
Player Vote%
Jeff Bagwell 89%
Tim Raines 87%
Ivan Rodriguez 81%
Vladimir Guerrero 74%
Trevor Hoffman 74%
Barry Bonds 70%
Roger Clemens 70%
Edgar Martinez 66%
Mike Mussina 62%
Curt Schilling 51%
Manny Ramirez 43%
Lee Smith 36%
Larry Walker 19%
Jeff Kent 17%
Fred McGriff 15%
Jorge Posada 11%
Sammy Sosa 11%
Billy Wagner 9%
Gary Sheffield 6%
Vote % through 44 ballots from Ryan Thibodaux’s BBHOF Tracker

At 74%, Guerrero is right on the threshold for induction (which requires a candidate is named on 75% of ballots). That means that even if he isn’t selected this year Guerrero will almost certainly gain entry to the Hall next year. Which is great. Guerrero was a fantastic player. He’s deserving.

Larry Walker was also a great player, though. In most important ways, he was a superior one. And he’s received enough votes on previous Hall of Fame ballots to return for a seventh year. Like the previous six years, however, Walker is unlikely to be enshrined in Cooperstown this year — if the early polling holds steady, that is. In light of Guerrero’s seeming popularity, that’s strange. By most reasonable accounts, Walker has a better case. If you vote for Guerrero, you have to vote for Walker.

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Today’s Managers on Adjusting to the Home-Run Surge

The 2016 season featured the second-most home runs in baseball’s history. Though a few people around baseball want to attribute it to the placement of power hitters higher in the lineup or better coaching based on better data, the evidence that both exit velocity and home runs per contact are up across the league refutes the first, and the evidence of the latter is minor. It’s a bit of an open mystery, but it’s certainly possible that the ball is different now.

In any case, the fact that homers are up is irrefutable. And it’s on the game to adjust. So I asked many of baseball’s best managers a simple question: with home runs up, how have you adjusted how you approach the game? Lineups, rotations, bullpens, hooks: is anything different for them today than it was two years ago?

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Terry Collins, New York Mets: No, really doesn’t. The game has changed, that’s the game now: home runs. And we’re lucky we got a few guys who can hit ’em. That’s where it’s at. As I said all last year, our team was built around power, so you sit back and make sure they have enough batting practice and be ready to start the game. We’ve got a good offensive team. Neil. Getting Neil Walker back, that’s big. David back and Ces and Jay and Granderson. We got a bench full of guys that could be everyday players. We’re pretty lucky.

I watched the playoffs, too, and I know what you’re talking about. I talked to Joe Maddon a couple days ago about how the playoffs may change and he said, ‘We didn’t have your pitching. I’ll leave ’em in.’

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Carlos Gomez Has a Home in Texas

Think about the teams that need to make the most of the year ahead. The Red Sox, certainly, will now be under a lot of pressure to roll through the playoffs. That’s the consequence of working how they’ve worked. The Royals will face a lot of pressure in a different way, because it looks almost certain that 2018 and beyond will be a challenge. For Kansas City, this could be their last competitive season in a while. And then you get the Rangers. The Rangers’ situation and the Royals’ situation aren’t too dissimilar. The Rangers are probably a little better off, but the long-term picture isn’t so sunny. This’ll probably be the last year with Yu Darvish and Jonathan Lucroy.

So the Rangers need to maximize what they have. They also need to try to do that without doing any more harm to the long-term outlook. Enter Carlos Gomez on a one-year deal. It’ll be an important year for both parties. Gomez is looking for a pillow season, a chance to re-establish some value in a friendly place so that next offseason he could really score. The Rangers are trying to give it what could be one last go. Gomez still isn’t without his big giant upside, as the Rangers try to keep up with the Astros.

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How Can We Help Andrew Cashner Bounce Back?

Andrew Cashner just signed a one-year deal with the Rangers, the kind of deal you might call a pillow contract, an opportunity for Cashner to bounce back and get on the market with better numbers behind him. That’s the benefit for Cashner. As for the Rangers, they’re happy to get a relatively cheap veteran with some upside for the back end of their rotation.

The only problem with this scenario is that Cashner has spent two years trying to bounce back, and has met with poor results, even on the back of high-velocity stuff that looks like it should do better. There’s got to be a way to get more from 94 and a mullet.

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Andrew Cashner, Deep in the Heart of Texas

Another domino is about to fall in the free-agent pitching market. The market would make tapioca look exciting, yes, but someone has to throw innings for baseball teams, and the Rangers have decided to have Andrew Cashner throw some of those innings for them.

Cashner has spent most of his time with the Padres and was traded to the Marlins around the trade deadline. Good 2013 and 2014 campaigns were followed up by a 2015 that saw a downward trend and then a 2016 that was a minor disaster. His strikeouts per nine fell while his walk rate in the other direction. His 12 appearances with the Marlins went even worse.

But, because of the state of the open market, Cashner was one of the more interesting options. His big fastball has always made him appealing — and, indeed, he’s experienced success for some time. But injuries have derailed him of late and a fastball that once averaged 96 mph is down to 94, per Brooks Baseball.

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Prime Ball-in-Play Traits of the 10 Playoff Teams, Part 2

The playoffs roll on, with subplots galore, most of them involving pitching-staff usage patterns that are long overdue. Meanwhile, let’s conclude our two-part series examining macro team BIP data for the 10 playoff teams, broken down by exit speed and launch angles. (Read the Part 1 here.) We’ll examine what made these teams tick during the regular season and allowed them to play meaningful October baseball. It’s more or less a DNA analysis of the clubs that made it to the game’s second season.

First, some ground rules. For each club, all offensive and defensive batted balls were broken down (first) by type and (second) by exit speed. Not all batted balls generated exit speed and/or launch angle data; just over 14% were unread, most of them weakly hit balls at very high or low launch angles. How do we know this? Well, hitters batted .161 AVG-.213 SLG on them, a pretty strong clue.

BIP types do not strictly match up with FanGraphs classifications. For purposes of this exercise, any batted ball with a launch angle of over 50 degrees is considered a pop up, between 20 and 50 degrees is a fly ball, between 5 and 20 degrees is a line drive, and below 5 degrees is a ground ball. For background purposes, here are the outcomes by major-league hitters for each of those BIP types: .019 AVG-.027 SLG on pop ups (5.7% of measured BIP), .326 AVG-.887 SLG on fly balls (30.9%), .658 AVG-.870 SLG on liners (24.4%) and .238 AVG-.260 SLG on grounders (39.1%).

As you might expect, there are massive differences in production within BIP types based on relative exit speed. If you hit a fly ball over 100 mph, you’re golden, batting .766 AVG-2.739 SLG. If you drag that category’s lower boundary down just 5 mph, however, you get to the top of the donut hole, where fly balls go to die. Hitters batted just .114 AVG-.209 SLG on fly balls between 75-95 mph. All other fly balls — yes, even including those hit under 75 mph — fared much better, generating .387 AVG-.786 production.

Line drives tend to be base hits at almost all exit speeds. All the way down to 75 mph, hitters bat over .600 on batted balls in the line-drive launch-angle ranges; down to 65 mph, hitters still bat around .400 range in each velocity bucket. At 65 mph and higher, a liner generates an average .673 AVG-.889 SLG line. Under 65 mph, liners tend to land in infielders’ gloves; hitters batted just .170 AVG-.194 SLG on those. On the ground, hitters batted a strong .423 AVG-.456 SLG on grounders hit at 100 mph or higher. Under 85 mph, however, the hits dry up almost totally, with hitters producing a .107 AVG and .117 SLG. Between 85-100 mph, hitters bat closer to the overall grounder norm, at .267 AVG-.294 SLG.

With that as a backdrop, let’s conclude our look at each playoff club’s offensive and defensive BIP profiles. Last time, we profiled the Orioles, Red Sox, Cubs, Indians and Dodgers; today, we’ll look at the other five, in alphabetical order:

New York Mets
Two of the 10 playoff teams played well over their true talent this season, at least based on my BIP-centric method of team evaluation. Both will be covered today. First, the Mets hit significantly more pop ups than their opponents (+69), not including untracked ones in that 14% “null” group. On the positive side, the Mets hit 160 more fly balls than their opponents; they were a whopping +86 vis-à-vis their opponents in the 95-105 mph buckets. This explains why they hit 66 more homers than their opponents.

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The Rangers Are Facing a Difficult Winter

There’s no such thing as a good way to lose in the playoffs, but the worst way might be getting swept in the first round. It also might not, I don’t know, but it can feel so unfairly abrupt. The Rangers spent six months working on building the best record in the entire American League. It all came to an end in three games. That quickly, the mental calendar flips, and after another year spent entertaining dreams of the World Series, it’s time now for the Rangers to think about the season to come.

And this promises to be a difficult offseason for them. In fairness, it’s always some kind of difficult offseason for everyone, every time. But the Rangers need to identify exactly where they stand. And there are going to be several holes for them to fill, with limited financial flexibility. Nothing about next year’s Rangers is guaranteed, and there’s work to be done if they want to even contend.

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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.

pillar

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.

pillar-home-run

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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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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One More Incredible Rangers Statistic

As you’re no doubt aware, it’s been a hell of a season in Texas. The Rangers own the best record in the American League, with the eighth-best run differential. They’ve destroyed their Pythagorean record, which has caused them to destroy their BaseRuns record. Much of this has been fueled by historic success in one-run games, and much of that has been fueled by historically clutch hitting. Teams are successful every year, but the Rangers have followed an unusual course. It’s been simultaneously thrilling and bizarre, something difficult for analysts to explain. At this point, there might not be any sense in trying.

There’s one more nugget I want to throw on top of the others. For the reasons detailed above, this Rangers season has been truly exceptional. It’s hard to imagine a team drawing it up like this. Yet there’s another split you might have trouble believing. I know I did! Which is why I’m writing this in the first place. I don’t really know what it means, but I can’t not bring it to your attention.

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