Archive for Red Sox

The Red Sox Have Been the Best Base-Stealing Team Ever

Yesterday morning, I published a post on the main site detailing Jose Altuve‘s base-running woes of the past two seasons. Within that post, I noted that Altuve is a good base-stealer, citing his success rate on stolen-base attempts this season. “Among the 71 players with at least five steal attempts this year, Altuve’s success rate ranks third,” I said. The stat would’ve been cooler if I could’ve said he was first, but I couldn’t say that, because there were two Red Sox players in front of him.

Most efficient base-stealers, 2016 (min. five steal attempts)

  1. Mookie Betts, 100% (11-for-11)
  2. Jackie Bradley, Jr., 100% (5-for-5)
  3. Jose Altuve, 95% (18-for-19)

Two Red Sox at the top! Bradley and Betts are a combined 16-for-16 on steal attempts this year. Interesting! Bradley has still never been thrown out on a steal attempt in his major-league career, about which fact I wrote in the offseason. He’s now eight successful steals away from tying the all-time record of consecutive successes to begin a career. And then Betts might just be the best all-around base-runner in the game.

So, those two have been perfect at stealing bases, but as I scrolled down the list of base stealing efficiency, something caught my eye. In 11th place is Hanley Ramirez — Hanley Ramirez! — who’s 5-for-6. Xander Bogaerts is four spots behind him, at 9-for-11. Two spots behind Bogaerts is Dustin Pedroia, 4-for-5.

It’s the whole team! But is it really the whole team? I made a new spreadsheet of team base-stealing efficiency. I think this plot is pretty fun:

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The Knuckleball Is More Conventional Than It Seems

We often treat knuckleball pitchers as if they were members of some long-forgotten sect, practicing their secret ninjutsu on the rest of the league with a pitch that defies gravity and cannot be classified. That’s fine, the knuckler is the rarest pitch in baseball, and it has its iconic moments. Let’s not begrudge anyone a little fun.

But once you peal back the layers on the pitch, you start to see that each truism about the knuckler isn’t necessarily true. In fact, there are probably more ways in which the art of throwing a knuckleball is similar to the art of throwing other pitches than it is different. At least, that is, in terms of strategy and outcomes. Mechanics are obviously a different story.

Let’s unpack some of the things we might hear about knuckleballs, and then us the data and the words of R.A. Dickey and Steven Wright to guide our analysis.

Velocity doesn’t matter.

Maybe this isn’t a thing that’s said a ton, but nobody breathlessly reports knuckleball velocity readings the way they do fastball readings, so at least implicitly we’ve decided that speed doesn’t matter as much with the floating butterfly.

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Xander Bogaerts Changes, Really Remains the Same

Everything Xander Bogaerts did well in his breakout season last year, he seems to be doing better this year. More power, more patience, more contact, and better defense — he’s basically equaled last year’s full-season WAR figure already, and there’s three-fifths of a season left to go. He’s leading the league right now!

Of course, WAR isn’t your traditional counting stat: Bogaerts could hypothetically put up negative wins going forward, were he to regress in one way or all of them. But since he gave us such a great preview last year, it’s tempting to believe in all of the improvements he’s made. He’s really the same guy, just a little better.

At the center of his improvement has been how hard he hits the ball, the angles (both vertical and horizontal) of those batted balls, and his defensive range. He didn’t think much had changed about those particilar variables when I asked him, though. Just a few minor tweaks.

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Putting Hitting Streaks in Perspective, Again

Back in July of 2013, I put together a little bit of research to put Michael Cuddyer‘s 27-game hitting streak into perspective. I had been quite critical of Mr. Cuddyer at that time, and it only seemed fair to show him a little love. At the time, I mentioned that I might look into some more hitting streak data in the near future. Turns out the “near future” was three years later. Spurred on by the recent hitting streaks from the killer B’s on a swarmJackie Bradley Jr. and Xander Bogaerts — I thought I’d wade back in.

First, as I mentioned last time, a couple of ground rules. I don’t count streaks that span two seasons. I don’t like doing it, and you can’t make me. Second, there are some streaks that took place from the time before we have game logs. When I first conducted this research, the earliest season for which we had game logs was 1916; now it’s 1913. Fortunately, for the sake of convenience, no relevant hitting streaks occurred during 1913-1915, so we’re not getting any new information in that respect.

We are getting some other new information, though. For instance, Baseball-Reference has WPA calculated further back than they did before, so where before we didn’t know the WPA of Joe DiMaggio‘s 56-game hit streak, now we do have that figure. We also have a few more years of streaks in the mix. The cut-off for WPA data now seems to be 1930, though there was one streak from 1943 for which WPA information appears unavailable.

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It’s Time for the League to Adjust to Mookie Betts

Last night, in Baltimore, Mookie Betts did this.

Those three home runs pushed his season total to 12, putting him in a tie with guys like Mike Trout, Miguel Cabrera, Giancarlo Stanton, and George Springer, among others, and ahead of a group that includes Jose Bautista, J.D. Martinez, and Miguel Sano. Through the first two months of the season, Betts is hitting for the kind of power you expect from a slugging cleanup hitter, not a diminutive leadoff guy. And while Betts hasn’t had any three-homer nights before, this power surge isn’t that new.

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It’s Time to Buy Into Steven Wright

How do you know when a knuckleball pitcher is good? It’s not an easy question to answer. We know it’s not just a matter of having a knuckleball — there have been bad knuckleball pitchers. But the pitches themselves aren’t easy to scout, and the whole idea behind an effective knuckleball is sort of the lack of consistency. There’s not a large sample of these pitchers to examine, which further complicates things. A knuckleballer is the most unusual player type in the game, someone who can be almost impossible to trust, but someone who also throws a pitch that seems almost impossible to hit.

There’s a line somewhere. There has to be. There’s a line beyond which a knuckleball pitcher is legitimately good, and maybe that’s when he throws 60 good knuckleballs out of 100, or maybe it’s when he throws 90 good knuckleballs out of 100. We’ve seen R.A. Dickey be an ineffective knuckleballer, and we’ve seen him be an effective one. The pitch gave his career a second chance, which is one of its magical aspects. At some point, I suppose, you just have to look at the numbers. The numbers will tell you when a knuckleballer is working. I don’t know of any other approach, and what the numbers are indicating is that Steven Wright has mastered the weirdest pitch in the sport.

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Xander Bogaerts Is Putting the Pieces Together

For a while there, it seemed like the healthy version of Troy Tulowitzki was the best shortstop in baseball. That’s the guy the Blue Jays wanted to trade for, but Tulowitzki has entered a decline period, vacating the positional throne. And now things are kind of complicated. It doesn’t actually matter in any real way who you rank No. 1, among shortstops, but there’s plenty of competition. Last summer, I wondered aloud if Carlos Correa was already deserving of the label. More recently, August suggested it could be Francisco Lindor. There’s probably an argument for Brandon Crawford. There’s definitely an argument for Manny Machado, if you consider him a shortstop. Young shortstop talent is seemingly everywhere, but in Boston, now Xander Bogaerts is making his case. He’s doing so by blending all of his skills.

For Bogaerts, in one way, it hasn’t been smooth. That dreadful slump in 2014 raised several legitimate questions about his future. In another way, this was how it was always going to go. Rookie Bogaerts showed some skills. Sophomore Bogaerts showed different skills. Now the skillsets are being combined, and pitchers are running low on ways to get Bogaerts out.

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Rick Porcello Is Figuring Out His Fastballs

For one month early in the 2015 season, Rick Porcello, traditionally a sinkerballer whose fastball sits at 91, led with the four-seam. It was only the second month in Porcello’s career in which the sinker’s position as his primary pitch was usurped by the four-seam, and unlike the other instance of this happening, the magnitude of the shift was noticeable.

It was the beginning of Porcello’s tenure in Boston, his new home after spending the first six years of his career in Detroit, and so at the time, it seemed like focusing on incorporating the four-seam fastball might’ve been part of the early organizational roadmap for Porcello. But the experiment didn’t go well. In eight four-seam-reliant starts, Porcello allowed 31 earned runs in 48 innings, good for a 5.81 ERA and a 4.76 FIP. All of his patented ground balls went missing, his home-run rate ballooned, he walked more batters than usual, and just like that, the four-seam trial run was over. Back to the sinkers he went.

If it really was an organizational thing — that the Red Sox encouraged Porcello to use his four-seam fastball more early in the season, if not just to see what it was like — it doesn’t seem like a bad idea, results notwithstanding. Even though Porcello’s “heater” only sits at 91, he has the ability to ramp it up to 96, and even more important than that, he’s able to naturally generate more spin on his four-seamer than almost any pitcher in baseball. We know that high-spin fastballs can be effective when located up in the zone, even without velocity, and so Porcello seems to possess a real weapon with his high-spin heater.

For whatever reason, though, the plan didn’t work, and so it didn’t stick. Maybe it was command, maybe it was comfort, maybe it was the way relying on the four-seamer affected the rest of his sequences, or maybe it was something else entirely. Whatever the case, Porcello went back to the sinker being his primary pitch, and he hasn’t looked back since. But the four-seamer is still there. And the way he’s using it now is making it more effective than ever. The idea to employ a four-seam approach may not have gone as smoothly as originally planned, but it looks like it’s working itself out anyway.

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What Jackie Bradley Jr. Figured Out

Jackie Bradley Jr. has been doing amazing things. To be absolutely clear, they’ve all been doing amazing things. Every last one of them. That 91 mile-per-hour sinker outside? Amazing. That opposite-field roller past the shortstop? Amazing. The reason we bother to pay attention in the first place is because everything that happens out there is amazing, performed by amazing players. Yet Bradley has been particularly amazing. Here’s an amazing thing from yesterday:

Bradley is riding a long hitting streak, and while we don’t really care too much about hitting streaks, on their own, they’re tightly correlated to good offense. That’s what we do care about. This year, Bradley ranks eighth in baseball in wRC+, between Manny Machado and Nick Castellanos. Of course, some things still look a little weird — Aledmys Diaz, for example, ranks second. So looking over the past calendar year, Bradley ranks 15th. That covers 401 trips to the plate, and he’s sandwiched between Machado and Nelson Cruz. Regardless of whether this is for real, Bradley is now definitely a hitter. And in this season, he seems to have taken one more step.

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Best Final Seasons, Part Two

Yesterday, we tackled the best final seasons for pitchers. Today, let’s tackle the position players, so we can get to the heart of the question of just how good David Ortiz needs to be to crack one of these lists. The rules and breakdowns are the same as before, so I would encourage you to read yesterday’s post to peep those. Once again, big ups to Jeff Zimmerman for data help.

30-39 WAR

Best Final Season, Position Players with 30-39 WAR
Player Final Season Age WAR Career WAR
Roy Cullenbine 1947 33 4.4 33.8
Chick Stahl 1906 33 3.7 33.1
Tony Cuccinello 1945 37 3.0 32.2
Gil McDougald 1960 32 2.8 39.7
Joe Adcock 1966 38 2.5 34.2
Elbie Fletcher 1949 33 2.4 30.7

The guys on this list are definitely not household names, but there are some interesting, if also tragic, stories here. Let’s deal with the tragic first. There are six players here because one of them, Chick Stahl, committed suicide during spring training of the 1907 season. He had been named the Americans’ (Red Sox) player/manager over the winter, and something drove him to take his own life. This was surely a big loss for the team, as they had been counting on him to help lead them. He was the fifth-best hitter in the game just a couple years earlier in 1904.

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Best Final Seasons, Part One

A few years back, I wrote a fourpart series about the worst final seasons for good players. It was inspired by Willie Mays, who very prominently had a bad final season, but was far from the worst season. Now, David Ortiz has inspired the flip side of the coin – the best final season. The Large Father is off to quite a hot start, and so some people have asked, how good does he have to be to produce the best final season of all-time? As you’ll see, the answer is he’ll have to do quite a lot.

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The Red Sox Offense Has Been Better Than the 1927 Yankees

The Boston Red Sox played the first game of a series versus the Houston Astros last night, and they scored 11 runs, eight of which came against Houston starter Dallas Keuchel. The day before that, they played the Oakland A’s, and they scored 13 runs. The two days prior to that — also against the A’s — they scored 13 and 14 runs, respectively, with one of those games coming against Oakland starter Sonny Gray. In the span of four days, Boston torched last year’s Cy Young Award-winner and the third place runner-up for a combined 15 earned runs. Pitching in the major leagues tends to be a matter of razor-thin margins, and that margin is made even more razor-thin in the pitcher-unfriendly confines of Fenway Park; regardless of that fact, the Red Sox offense is currently in the equivalent of a brightly-colored baseball fever dream, going berserk on anything and everything in its path.

We’ve seen a couple articles about this offense in the past few days. The sheer number of offensive categories they currently lead in baseball is wildly impressive. We’re going to dig a little deeper today, however, and get a little historical perspective before trying to pin down the processes this offense has taken to cause such an incredible run of form.

First, let’s take a look at where this offense would rank if it finished the season with this type of production. Let’s compare the 2016 Red Sox to every team since the start of the live ball era (1920) by wRC+. wRC+ is adjusted for parks and leagues, so it allows us to easily compare offenses from different years to one another. Take a look at the top 10 teams of all time by wRC+ — with each point above 100 representing a percentage point above league average:

Ten_Best_wRC+_1920-2016

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Is It Time to Worry About David Price?

The Red Sox were a fairly popular pick to win the AL East entering this season. The continued maturation of their young position players combined with an improved starting rotation — fronted by big-ticket free-agent acquisition David Price — was the recipe for success.

Here we are, over a month into the campaign, and the Sox are battling the Orioles for the top spot in the division. The offense has been even more potent than expected, with David Ortiz fighting off father time and Xander Bogaerts taking the next step toward stardom. The pitching staff, however — with the exception of knuckleballing savior Steven Wright — haven’t gotten the memo. Price, in particular.

Price enters his start this evening with an AL-worst 6.75 ERA. It’s not like his stuff has evaporated: he still possesses a strong 53/12 strikeout-to-walk ratio, and his swinging-strike rate stands at a career best 14.1%. Today, let’s dig into some granular ball-in-play (BIP) data and draw some conclusions as to whether it’s OK to start worrying about Price.

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The (Mostly) Good News About David Price

A quick check of the pitching leaderboards for qualified starters reveals an unsettling fact for the Red Sox: David Price has the second-worst ERA in baseball. Cue the alarm bells! The Sox paid for an ace, and instead, they’ve gotten the exact opposite of an ace — as far as outcomes are concerned, at least. Seven starts into the season, some element of worry has to be merited, right? The answer is yes, of course, because an ERA of almost seven for a No. 1 starter after over a month of games has to be worrying. Price has been terrible, and if you’re worrying about him or would like to, that’s probably merited. The reason why we’re here is to look into whether his performance thus far is grounds to for worry in the future, as well: though Price can’t get any of his clunkers back from the past seven starts, we can certainly look into whether those clunkers might presage future clunkers.

First, let’s start with the bad news, because it’s always better to end with good news. The bad news has been right there in front of us in every single one of Price’s starts this season, flashed up on a board in the stadium or on our TV screens during every pitch: his velocity is down. Way down. Lowest it’s ever been. That’s worrisome not only because velocity loss leads to a smaller margin of error, but also because velocity loss is the most visible indicator of injury. The drop captured in the red box in the chart below — depicting Price’s velocity by month from 2011 to 2016 — ought usually to inspire some concern (chart courtesy of Brooks Baseball):

Price_Velo

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Finding a Trade Partner for Ryan Braun

Over the weekend, Ken Rosenthal reported that the possibility of Ryan Braun being traded “was becoming more realistic”, as Braun is off to a fantastic start to the 2016 season, and he’s starting to put some distance between himself and the BioGenesis scandal that cost him half the 2013 season and a good chunk of his reputation. Since the suspension, Braun hasn’t played up to his previously established levels of performance, and when combined with his contract and the baggage surrounding how he handled his failed test, he was mostly an immovable object.

But with Braun hitting .372/.443/.605 — yeah, that is heavily inflated by a .409 BABIP, but his early season strikeout rate is back in line with Peak Braun levels, and he can still hit the ball a long way — and only four guaranteed years left on his deal after this season, dealing Braun is starting to look like something that could happen. It’s almost a certainty that the Brewers will take on some of his remaining contract in any deal in order to get better talent in return, with the question of how much of the remaining ~$90 million they’ll keep on their books being settled depending on how well he keeps hitting and what other sluggers hit the market this summer.

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Saying Nice Things About A.J. Pierzynski

A.J. Pierzynski has played baseball for a very long time. He’s one of the few players to predate not only the PITCHf/x era (2007-present), but also the Baseball Info Solutions era (2002-present). He’s one of just six active players who played in the 1990s — the others are Carlos Beltran, Adrian Beltre, Bartolo Colon, David Ortiz and Alex Rodriguez. They are all well celebrated and beloved players. Pierzynski does not fit in that group.

If you’re familiar with Pierzynski, you likely know that his opponents generally have not been all that fond of him. A Google search for “A.J. Pierzynski hate” turns up plenty of results. Rather than focus on that, I thought it would be fun to find some nice to things to say about Pierzynski.

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What Pitchers (and Numbers) Say About Pitching in the Cold

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

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

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

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Wright’s Stuff: Talking Knuckleballs with a Knuckleballer

It’s not everyday you get the opportunity to speak with someone who’s mastered a craft to which few others in the world can lay claim. Red Sox pitcher Steven Wright, drafted as a conventional pitcher in the second round of the 2006 draft by the Cleveland Indians, was converted to a knuckleballer by that same organization in 2011. He made his major-league debut with the Red Sox in 2013, following a 2012 trade that sent Lars Anderson to Cleveland, and has since thrown more than 1,500 knuckleballs at the big-league level, joining R.A. Dickey as MLB’s only active knuckleballers. Wright was a member of Boston’s 2016 Opening Day roster, and currently occupies a space in their starting rotation.

I spoke with Wright in the visiting clubhouse at Progressive Field during the Red Sox’ season-opening series. He commented on his knuckleball relative to Dickey’s and Tim Wakefield‘s, how speed affects a knuckleball and its location, on the evolution of the pitch, finger pressure, and more.

* * *

On his knuckleball: “I watched a lot of video of R.A. and Wakefield. I just throw it. I just grip and it and rip it. For me, I think it’s trying to stay under control. R.A. throws his harder, Wakefield threw his slower. I feel like I’m right in the middle of them – I don’t throw quite as hard as R.A. or quite as slow as Wakefield. We’re all pretty similar, we just throw it at different speeds.”

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Ramirez to Ramirez: A Brief History

On Sunday, with two outs in the bottom of the seventh, Boston reliever Noe Ramirez fielded a comebacker off the bat of Toronto center fielder Kevin Pillar. He flipped it to Hanley Ramirez for the putout. It wasn’t a particularly momentous occasion, but it got me thinking — was this the first ever Ramirez to Ramirez putout in major-league history? I probably would have let it go right there (I’m pretty lazy, after all) but Jim Reedy pointed out that there have only been 29 Ramirezes in major-league history, and that didn’t seem like to daunting of a number. So I dove in.

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Mookie Betts Is Dustin Pedroia All Over Again

A little more than a decade ago, an undersized, often-overlooked second baseman climbed the ranks through the minor leagues and made his debut in Boston, peppering line drives off the Green Monster in Fenway Park’s left field while capturing the hearts of Red Sox fans with his aggressive and well-rounded style of play.

After 10 years of Dustin Pedroia, watching Mookie Betts burst onto the scene over the last two years must be like déjà vu in Boston.

Of course, the players have their differences, the most obvious being Betts’ place in the outfield. His move from his natural place at second base was dictated by Pedroia’s presence at the position. But the similarities in stature, and approach, cannot be understated:

Mookie Betts vs. Dustin Pedroia, Career Numbers
Name AVG OBP ISO K% BB% wRC+ GB% LD% Pull% Pull wRC+ Non-Pull wRC+
Dustin Pedroia .299 .365 .145 10% 9% 116 45% 21% 42% 175 76
Mookie Betts .291 .348 .179 13% 8% 121 39% 20% 39% 254 65

In the early stages of his career, Betts has put the ball in the air a bit more often, and thus hit for a bit more power. Pedroia’s struck out less and gotten on base slightly more. But these differences are minuscule; both have an elite control of the strike zone due to their ability to make a ton of contact while possessing the eye to draw a good number of walks. And the most striking similarity is that both inflict massive damage to the pull field.

Highest pull-field wRC+, 2015

  1. Kris Bryant, 290
  2. Bryce Harper, 261
  3. Colby Rasmus, 260
  4. Edwin Encarnacion, 257
  5. Mookie Betts, 254

Last year, Betts was one of the five best pull hitters in the game, his name appearing alongside four of baseball’s best power hitters in overall pull production despite his 5-foot-9 frame. His power output to the pull side, admittedly aided somewhat by the Green Monster, exceeded that of Josh Donaldson‘s. Pedroia, meanwhile, has been among baseball’s most consistent pull threats for a decade.

Red Sox hitting coach Chili Davis is quick to point out, though, that while both do the brunt of their damage to the pull side, neither hitter goes to the plate with a pull-field approach.

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