Archive for Red Sox

Xander Bogaerts and the Uneven Road to Success

We haven’t spoken about Xander Bogaerts at length in these digital pages for some time, so let’s remedy that situation. It seems like a good time to check in on the young shortstop’s development as a major-league hitter: Bogaerts is posting a wRC+ north of 100 in the first two months of the season, and he’s also almost cut his strikeout rate in half compared to last year. There’s also this group, which is an interesting subset of players, of which Boston’s shortstop is the leader — hitters with the highest increase in batted balls to the opposite field this season over last season:

Opposite_Field%_Leaders

Though it’s still perhaps a little early to be putting a ton of confidence in these numbers, changes as large as these in a hitter’s opposite-field tendencies merit attention. Opposite-field approach is often a good place to look when searching for a reason behind a change in type of production, and, given the drop in Bogaert’s ISO numbers from last year — .123 in 2014 vs. .106 this year — plus the fact that we’re over the ISO stabilization point, it’s one of the spots we’re going to focus on.

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Heyward, Pedroia, and Your Annual Warning About Defense

We all know, entering the season, that the WAR leaderboards in the early part of the year reveal less about the players contained within them than those same WAR leaderboards at the end of the year. That knowledge doesn’t stop me, personally, from compulsively looking at the leaderboards just as soon as the season begins. Remember Freddy Galvis? He was tied for the National League lead among shortstops with 0.9 WAR — and “on pace” for a great season at the end of April. A month of replacement-level production has placed him considerably lower among major-league shortstops. What about Devon Travis? At the end of April, his 1.4 WAR was sixth in all of baseball. Unfortunately, an injury slowed him down and he has been unable to add to his impressive April totals.

Now that we have reached the second week of June, the leaderboards begin to look a little more familiar. Mike Trout, Josh Donaldson, and Paul Goldschmidt have continued great runs of production. Bryce Harper has emerged and Jason Kipnis has returned to form after a poor 2014 season. There are still surprises at this point, though. The production of Harper and Kipnis was not expected to reach these levels, Joc Pederson has been far more impressive than anyone could have expected, and Dee Gordon is still slapping and running his way into the top ten. We will see more changes as the season wears on, providing a more accurate depiction of player value as more games are played. However, since we are all looking at the leaderboards now, it might be worthwhile to point out a few anomalies in WAR totals due to the small sample sizes we have with defensive statistics.

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Eduardo Rodriguez Shows He’s Ready for the Majors

Eduardo Rodriguez‘s big-league debut went about as well as anyone could have expected. The hard-throwing lefty struck out seven in 7.2 scoreless innings, and allowed a mere three hits. Boston’s original plan was for Rodriguez to make just one spot start before returning to the minor leagues. However, following Thursday’s outing, the Red Sox decided they’d go with a six-man rotation for the time being in order to give Rodriguez at least one more start. They apparently saw enough to keep him around.

The thing that stood out most about Rodriguez’s debut was his crazy-hard fastball. As Eno Sarris noted on Friday, Rodriguez threw his fastball harder than almost any active starting pitcher. In fact, his average fastball velocity from last Thursday night was the highest we’ve seen from a lefty starter this year. Read the rest of this entry »


Joe Kelly: Perennially an Adjustment Away

Joe Kelly always seems just a tweak away from greatness. He owns one of the biggest fastballs in the game, and has decent secondary pitches that don’t deserve scorn either. His command isn’t great, but he’s no Henry Rodriguez either. Throw a little bit more of one pitch, or a little bit less of another, the thinking has gone, and we’ll finally see greatness from the guy to match his athleticism and velocity.

You might have to admit that the latest tweak, suggested publicly by his manager, makes you wonder if there’s a fatal flaw that will forever keep the 26-year-old Red Sox starter from realizing his potential. It’s already the third such tweak that either the player or the team has discussed since they acquired him late last year.

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A New Changeup for Clay Buchholz

Clay Buchholz has the best strikeout and swinging-strike rate of his career! Clay Buchholz has a new changeup grip! Therefore his strikeout rate must be because of his new changeup? Maybe, but it’s not a linear thing. Nothing in baseball ever is.

The Red Sox pitcher did change from a four-seam changeup grip to a two-seam grip — look at Jake Peavy‘s versions for a reference point — and the difference has been stark. Read the excellent Brian MacPherson on the subject, and then look at the change in horizontal movement from the changeup.

When Buchholz has thrown his four-seam changeup, it tended to have little side-to-side movement. It instead would mimic the path of his four-seam fastball and then dive straight toward the dirt as it neared the plate. What the two-seam changeup does is mimic the path of a two-seam fastball, fading horizontally at the end of its flight — in on righties, away from lefties.

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MLB Scores a Partial Victory in Minor League Wage Lawsuits

Eight Major League Baseball teams won an initial victory on Wednesday in two federal lawsuits contesting MLB’s minor league pay practices under the minimum wage and overtime laws. At the same time, however, the judge denied the league a potentially more sweeping victory in the cases.

The two lawsuits were filed in California last year by former minor league players who allege that they received as little as $3,300 per year, without overtime, despite routinely being required to work 50 or more hours per week during the playing season (in addition to mandatory off-season training). MLB and its thirty teams responded to the suit by challenging the plaintiffs’ claims on a variety of grounds. Wednesday’s decision considered two of these defenses in particular.

First, 11 of the MLB franchises argued that they were not subject to the California court’s jurisdiction and therefore must be dismissed from the lawsuit. Second, all 30 MLB teams argued that the case should be transferred from California to a federal court in Florida, which they argued would be a more convenient location for the trial.  In its decision on Wednesday, the court granted MLB a partial victory, agreeing to dismiss eight of the MLB defendant franchises from the suit due to a lack of personal jurisdiction, but refusing to transfer the case to Florida. Read the rest of this entry »


Defending the Red Sox’ Offensive Approach

Coming into the season, the Red Sox rotation looked to be around league average. Instead, watching Red Sox starters this season has been like sticking 30 sporks in your eye: difficult, time consuming, and quite painful. So they’ve been worse than we thought.

The results from the starting staff have been bad and that badness has been unexpected but not nearly as unexpected as the Red Sox’ inability to score runs. While the rotation had a low upside, Boston’s hitters were expected to crush the ball. Indeed, the Red Sox were projected to score the most runs in baseball, but instead they’re seventh in the American League and closer to the last place White Sox than the first place Blue Jays.

To date, the offense has been mediocre instead of outstanding and, more importantly, hasn’t been good enough to cover for the starting rotation’s early season difficulties. But as you know if you read FanGraphs regularly, just citing runs scored isn’t enough. Though if it were I’d be finished right now and, I won’t lie, that has some appeal! Still, we want to know why, so let’s find out why.

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The Current State of Bullpen Usage in 2015

The number of innings a team’s bullpen throws over the course of the season has less to do with the performance of the bullpen than the performance of the starters. Teams with starters pitching deep into games rely less on relievers, leaving the bullpen well-rested and allowing the manager to leverage a team’s best relievers in more important situations. A great bullpen might cause a manager to pull his starter at the first sign of trouble, creating more innings for the bullpen, but for the most part, the starter will pitch as many innings as possible and the rest is left for the bullpen. Once the relievers are called upon, it is the manager’s job to divvy out appearances and prevent overuse. So far this season, the Boston and Tampa Bay rotations have put their bullpens in trouble and St. Louis also appear to be in danger of wearing out their core arms — points which I’ll address momentarily.

First, let’s consider performance. In unsurprising fashion, the Kansas City Royals’ bullpen has produced the lowest ERA among all major-league bullpens in 2015. Their relief corps was a featured strength as the team made it to the World Series last year. From 2012 to 2014, the Royals bullpen WAR of 17.7 is more than two wins greater than the second-place Atlanta Braves, and the bullpen is off to a great start in 2015 (even if their 3.35 FIP does not quite match their sterling 1.56 ERA). The graph below shows every bullpen’s ERA and FIP, sorted by the former.

2015+BULLPEN+ERA+AND+FIP

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A Far-Too-Early 2015 MLB Mock Draft

I wrote yesterday about the uncertainty surrounding the #1 overall pick, but that doesn’t keep scouts from trying to figure out who will go in the subsequent picks. It’s way too early to have any real idea what’s going to happen beyond the top 10-15 picks, but the buzz is growing in the scouting community about how things will play out and you people are sustained by lists, predictions and mock drafts. You’re welcome.

I’d bet it’s more telling on draft day to make judgments using the buzz and all the names I mention, rather than the one name I project to be picked, but you guys already don’t read the introduction, so I’ll shut up. For reports, video and more on these players, check out my latest 2015 MLB Draft rankings, or, if your team doesn’t pick high this year, look ahead with my 2016 & 2017 MLB Draft rankings.

UPDATE 5/11/15: Notes from this weekend’s college games: Dillon Tate was solid in front of GM’s from Arizona, Houston and Colorado. Dansby Swanson was even better, in front of decision makers from all the top teams, including Houston, who may still be debating whether they’d take Swanson or Rodgers if given the choice (Rodgers’ season is over). Carson Fulmer did what he usually does and probably has a home from picks 7-17 depending on how things fall on draft day, with an evaluation similar to Marcus Stroman and Sonny Gray as previous undersized righties with stellar track records and plus stuff.

Andrew Benintendi went nuts at the plate again (I’ll see him and Fulmer this weekend). And, finally, Jon Harris was excellent, rebounding from a not-so-great start, so, at this point, I would make Harris the 9th pick to the Cubs and slide Trenton Clark down a few picks, but still comfortably in the top 20. I also updated the 2016 MLB Draft Rankings as a few top prospects came off the DL and impressed, further strengthening the top of that draft, which is far and away better than this year’s draft.

1. Diamondbacks – Dansby Swanson, SS, Vanderbilt
I wrote about this more in depth yesterday, where I wrote it’s down to CF Garrett Whitley, C Tyler Stephenson and CF Daz Cameron with some chance RHP Dillon Tate is still in the mix and SS Dansby Swanson possibly involved. After writing that, I heard that Arizona is definitely considering those prep players, but teams don’t think they’ll pull the trigger on a way-below-slot prep option and they are leaning college, with Tate and Swanson the targets and SS Alex Bregman also getting some consideration as a long shot.

I’ve heard Arizona wants a hitter here and GM Dave Stewart was in to see Vanderbilt last night. I had heard they were laying in the weeds on Swanson, so, for now, I’ll go with Swanson here. To be clear, Arizona hasn’t made any decisions yet, so this group could still grow or they could change course. One scouting director told me yesterday when asked what he thought Arizona would do that “it sounds like they are going to do something crazy.” Until a few hours before this published, I had Arizona taking Whitley, so this is still very much in flux. There’s also some thought that Tate or Swanson were the targets all along and the rumors of cut-rate high school options have just been a ploy to get the price down–you can pick your own theory at this point.

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Assigning Blame for the Red Sox Rotation

There’s nothing real surprising about what just happened. Pitching coach Juan Nieves was fired by the Red Sox, the organization citing the under-performance by the starting rotation. Said rotation has been under the microscope since the team went through the offseason without acquiring a front-line ace, and the ERA at this point is terrible. When ERAs are terrible, and when they’re terrible in higher-pressure situations, heads roll, and they frequently belong to pitching coaches. Or, they frequently belonged to pitching coaches. Anyway.

The news has primarily drawn two responses, related to one another. One is that, well, someone had to pay for the early-season disaster. It’s called accountability. Two, Nieves is being scapegoated. It’s not his fault the Red Sox never got around to adding an ace. Ben Cherington is just getting the performance he deserved. Absolutely, it’s true that Nieves isn’t to blame for the lack of a higher-profile transaction. It’s not his fault Jon Lester‘s in Chicago. But it wouldn’t be fair to put this on the front office, either. Blame gets spread around. Hell, maybe there’s no one to blame at all.

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Blake Swihart Gets the Call in Boston

After taking a pitch on the hand Friday night, the Red Sox placed Ryan Hanigan on the DL with a broken finger. Hand injuries are always tricky for hitters, and this one appears to be rather serious, as it will require surgery. According to Red Sox skipper John Farrell, Hanigan’s recovery time will be “lengthy,” and he won’t return to action until after the All-Star break. The Red Sox will be without their starting catcher for a while.

Hanigan’s injury leaves the Red Sox thin at catcher. Really thin. Hanigan wasn’t even actually supposed to be Boston’s primary catcher — That distinction was slated to go to Christian Vazquez. However, Vazquez’s season came to an end before just before it started when he suffered an elbow tear in spring training.

To help fill the void behind the plate, the Red Sox called up top prospect Blake Swihart, who placed 9th on our pre-season top 200 list, higher than any other catching prospect. At the time of the call up, the switch-hitting catcher was hitting an empty but solid .338/.392/.382 in Triple-A Pawtucket. Still, despite his solid start, most felt he needed a little more seasoning before he was ready for the show. But the Sox had a gaping hole at catcher, and Swihart was next in line, so here we are. Read the rest of this entry »


The Madison Bumgarners That Once Were

We have a Madison Bumgarner, right now. He just put a whole team on his shoulders and blew our minds last October, even. And with that Paul Bunyanesque workmanlike yet fiery demeanor, he seems a snowflake. Unique and alone. But maybe we have we seen pitchers like him before?

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MLB’s Evolving Luxury Tax

A few weeks ago I took a look at Major League Baseball players’ declining share of overall league revenues, noting that the players have gone from receiving just over 56% of MLB’s revenues in 2002 to around 38% today. That post went on to identify a variety of factors that have converged to reduce the percentage of league revenues going to the players, including increased revenue sharing, MLB’s growing television revenues, and more efficient front office decision-making.

One factor that I touched upon briefly in my prior post, but that probably merited a more extended discussion, is MLB’s luxury tax. As I explained the last time around, the luxury tax has helped dampen many of the larger market franchises’ willingness to spend on payroll, as teams will now incur a fine ranging from 17.5% to 50% – depending on how many years in a row the club has exceeded the luxury tax threshold – for every dollar they spend on player salaries over $189 million per year.

Because most clubs will only raise their payroll when they anticipate that each additional dollar spent on player salary will generate more than that in added revenue, the luxury tax provides a natural disincentive for most teams to cross the payroll threshold. Now, rather believe that an extra dollar in payroll will generate at least $1.01 in added revenue, teams must instead anticipate that any increased salary obligations above $189 million will generate anywhere from $1.18 to as much as $1.51 per dollar in new revenue in order to justify the expenditure. As a result, the luxury tax has caused most of MLB’s largest market franchises – the teams that the Major League Baseball Players Association has historically relied on to help drive the free agent market – to become more financially prudent in recent years.

But even this basic account doesn’t fully reflect the impact that the luxury tax has had on the players’ declining share of league revenues, as changes to the luxury tax structure since 2002 have increased the penalties for teams exceeding the payroll threshold, while also significantly lowering the threshold as a share of the average MLB team’s revenues.

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Hanley Ramirez and Batted-Ball Data

It seemed like this post was practically going to be able to write itself. Hanley Ramirez has been hot at the plate, and he’s tied for the big-league lead in homers, with 10. There are hundreds of hot streaks by so many players every single season, but this year we have the treat of new data, and Ramirez’s has seemed particularly remarkable. I thought this would be simple and straightforward, but instead we have something more complicated and kind of boring to what I assume would be the majority of people. Keep reading, though! There’ll be some .gifs. You love .gifs.

If you’ve paid attention to Gameday, you’ve probably noticed that we’ve started to get some early-season batted-ball data. It hasn’t been complete, but it’s been fairly consistent, as one of the first signs of the rolling out of StatCast. It can be tricky to find and preserve that information, but thankfully for the masses, there’s Baseball Savant, which I feel like I must link in every post. There, for the first time, we can sort hitters by batted-ball velocities. The industry has had HITf/x for years, so this isn’t progress for them, but it’s progress for us, on the outside. And we all love a new toy.

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The Red Sox Bizarre Rotation

The Boston Red Sox rotation began the season with some scrutiny as the starting five was filled with average to above average types and no pitcher resembling an ace. That scrutiny has turned to criticism as we near the end of the first month of the season and that rotation has allowed more runs than any other starting group in the American League and their 5.75 ERA is the worst in Major League Baseball. The rotation has gotten off to a terrible start, but the offense has produced and the Red Sox will still enter May with a winning record at 12-10. While a bloated ERA has generated calls for the Red Sox to make a trade for a starter, the current rotation has pitched better than its ERA would indicate. Going forward, the Red Sox rotation should get much better results than we have seen so far.

The Red Sox have given up a lot of runs, but the rotation’s FIP is a middle of the road 3.91. The Red Sox and Cleveland Indians are the only two rotations in MLB to have their ERA and FIP differ by more than one, and for the Red Sox that number is 1.84. The team’s walk rate at 8.8% is a little too high, but they make up for the high walk rate by striking out 22.9% of hitters. Their 14.9% K-BB rate is in the upper third of American League teams. Individually, there is not a single starter with a lower ERA than FIP.

IP ERA FIP xFIP
Clay Buchholz 25.0 5.76 2.65 2.79
Joe Kelly 23.2 4.94 3.60 3.19
Justin Masterson 22.2 5.16 3.57 3.88
Wade Miley 15.2 8.62 4.83 5.88
Rick Porcello 32.0 5.34 4.92 4.08

In a more visual form:
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FanGraphs Audio: Both Touki Toussaint and Brian Johnson

Episode 554
Touki Toussaint is a right-hander in the Arizona system who was selected 16th overall in the most recent draft. Brian Johnson is a left-hander in the Red Sox system, currently playing for Triple-A Pawtucket. This edition of FanGraphs Audio features both of them, in conversation with lead prospect analyst Kiley McDaniel. (Note: Toussaint’s interview begins at about the 12:45 mark; Johnson’s, around the 20:35 mark.)

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 35 min play time.)

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Play

The Same and Improved Joe Kelly

As of March 16th of this year, everything was decidedly not sweetness and light for Boston right-hander Joe Kelly. On that day, he recorded his third (and ultimately final) start of spring training, over the course of which he conceded three runs in just 2.2 innings, bringing his spring ERA to 11.05. Worse yet, he was compelled to leave that start due to biceps tightness in his biceps (i.e. the place where that kind of tightness is most commonly found). The outlook was sufficiently grim that managing editor Dave Cameron was forced to publish a post here considering other starting possibilities for the Boston Red Sox.

Following a retroactively dated trip to the disabled list and a pair of minor-league spring-training appearances, Kelly made his season debut on Saturday. It’s hard to know what Kelly’s expectations were or what the organization’s were, but “low-ish” is an objectively reasonable assumption. If nothing else, there had to be concerns regarding Kelly’s endurance. Of the two appearances he’d made since leaving his spring start with an injury, his highest pitch count was 78. “Ideally he’d have another outing to build arm strength before an MLB game,” John Farrell said in the presence of Providence Journal reporter Tim Britton. That ideal scenario did not become a reality. Instead, Kelly’s next appearance was Saturday’s.

There were reasons, in other words, to expect the worst for Joe Kelly’s start on Saturday at Yankees Stadium. In reality, however, Kelly’s results from that start were actually the best. Not the best in every sense of the word, but certainly among the best so far as Kelly’s major-league career is concerned. He allowed just one run over 7.0 innings. He posted the lowest single-game FIP (41 FIP-) of all his starts ever. And another thing he did was to surpass his previous single-game strikeout mark. Previous to Saturday, he’d recorded six strikeouts in a single game on seven different occasions. On Saturday, however, he produced eight strikeouts (i.e. two more than ever before).

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Pick Your Pedroia

The Red Sox have played one game this season. Seems like it’s time to check in on Dustin Pedroia. Before you go, assuming the rest of this is going to be stupid, at the very end there is a poll. Internet readers love polls. Please vote in it only after you at least glance over what’s in between. So: Dustin Pedroia has two home runs!

Already, that says something. Pedroia, last year, hit seven home runs. He went deep twice on Monday against the ace to whom the Red Sox have been most frequently linked in trade rumors. Now, Pedroia wasn’t the only Boston player to go deep, so, maybe it was just one of those days. Yet it wasn’t just that Pedroia homered. It was also how Pedroia homered. His homers looked like classic Pedroia homers, and that’s just the thing.

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JABO: Rick Porcello as Young Justin Masterson

The Red Sox clearly have a thing for Justin Masterson. They drafted him with their second-round pick in 2006, then developed him into one of their best young pitching prospects before the Indians demanded him as part of the Victor Martinez trade in 2009. This winter, when he was finally a free agent after spending six years in Cleveland, the Red Sox took the opportunity to bring him back to Boston, signing him to a $9.5 million contract for 2015 despite the fact that he posted a 5.88 ERA last season.

The organization’s affinity for Masterson’s skillset is noteworthy, because this week, the Red Sox signed Rick Porcello to a four year, $82.5 million contract extension on the bet that Porcello is essentially a younger version of this same type of pitcher.

First, let’s do a quick comparison. Here are Masterson and Porcello’s numbers from their age-23 through age-25 seasons, which in Porcello’s case covers the last three years.

Name K-BB% GB% ERA- FIP- xFIP-
Porcello 11% 52% 101 94 91
Masterson 9% 57% 101 97 93

Both Porcello and Masterson were pitch-to-contact groundball hurlers, with Masterson getting a few more grounders and strikeouts at the expense of a walk rate that was significantly higher than what Porcello has posted. They’re not identical, but they’re cut from the same cloth, and heading into their mid-20s, the results were quite similar. By ERA, both were roughly league average starters, though metrics that attempt to eliminate defensive performance from the picture both thought they were significantly above average, with Porcello being slightly ahead of Masterson at the same point in their careers.

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What to Make of Mookie Betts

Following a stupid .451/.491/.804 performance in the Grapefruit League, the hype surrounding Red Sox outfielder Mookie Betts is through the roof. Scouts are all but penciling him into July’s All-Star lineup, and some of Betts’s peers have even gone as far as to compare him to Andrew McCutchen. And wouldn’t you know it, Betts opened the 2015 season by going 2-4 with a homer and a walk on opening day. Mookie-mania is upon us.

Here at FanGraphs, we’ve been on the Betts bandwagon for a while. Carson Cistulli’s been tracking Betts since July 2013, when he made his first appearance on one of his fringe five lists. An undersized 5th round draft pick with excellent stats, Betts was exactly the type of prospect who endears himself to prospect enthusiasts whose heads are buried in spreadsheets. At that point, Betts was merely a little-known A-Baller with an unusual name.

But last year, Betts took his act to Double-A, and kept right on hitting. He put up a 177 wRC+ in two months in Double-A, and followed it up with a 158 mark in Triple-A. The 5-9 second baseman with the funny name was starting to look like a bona fide prospect, and it was happening in a hurry.

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