Archive for Teams

Brad Boxberger Has Arrived, In Reverse

This is going to be one of those things where probably 95% of you will go “Wow, that’s somewhat interesting,” while 5% of you — the percentage who are a fan or close follower of the Tampa Bay Rays, probably — will say “Yeah, genius, we’ve been following this for months.” Still, the third week of August has some of the doggiest days of the summer, and there’s only so much to be said about tight division races that will only be resolved by waiting for games to be played. So for the moment, let’s check in on a little-known reliever doing something a bit extraordinary.

We’re talking about Brad Boxberger, of course. He’s 26. He’s in his third major league season and his third major league organization. He was once a first-round pick — if you can really say “No. 43 overall is a first-round pick” with a straight face — and he’s been in trades for both Mat Latos and Jesse Hahn/Alex Torres. He’s a righty. He throws two pitches: a fastball and a change. He throws them kind of hard, but not exceptionally so. He’s averaging about 93 mph on his fastball.

If this sounds like your typical fungible righty middle reliever, well, yeah, so far he does. Boxberger didn’t even break camp with the Rays this year, and didn’t stick when they did call for him. On April 14, he came up for three appearances but returned to Triple-A Durham five days later to make room for the immortal Charles Riefenhauser. On May 1, he came up as the 26th man in a doubleheader, then he went down immediately after the game. He returned on May 6 when Nate Karns was sent out. On May 8, he pitched an “immaculate inning,” getting three strikeouts on nine pitches with the bases loaded.

Boxberger has stuck around ever since, and he’s used that time well. He’s in the middle of doing something we haven’t quite seen… well, ever. Read the rest of this entry »


Nick Ciuffo and Josh Almonte: Raw Promise in the Appy League

When our other prospect writers submit scouting reports, I will provide a short background and industry consensus tool grades.  There are two reasons for this: 1) giving context to account for the writer seeing a bad outing (never threw his change-up, coming back from injury, etc.) and 2) not making him go on about the player’s background or speculate about what may have happened in other outings.

The writer still grades the tools based on what they saw, I’m just letting the reader know what he would’ve seen in many other games from this season, particularly with young players that may be fatigued late in the season. Often, those will be the same grades. The grades are presented as present/future on the 20-80 scouting scale and very shortly I’ll publish a series going into more depth explaining these grades. – Kiley

Nick Ciuffo, C, Princeton Rays (Rays Rookie-Advanced)

Ciuffo was the Rays’ 21st overall pick out of a South Carolina high school in 2013 ($1.97 million bonus) and was a near wire-to-wire first round pick from the summer showcase season to draft day, after a standout prep career where he drew a scholarship offer from the local Gamecocks before he played in high school.  While his swing and frame aren’t necessarily as pretty as other prep hitter first round picks, Ciuffo made plenty of contact with above average raw power and showed the tools to stick behind the plate with an above average to plus arm.  Scouts often compared him to A.J. Pierzynski as a solid-across-the-board backstop with everyday upside. Hit: 20/45+, Raw Power: 55/55, Game Power: 20/50, Speed: 40/35, Field: 50/50+, Throw: 55/55+   – Kiley

Ciuffo is a potential plus defensive catcher who might offer enough bat to make a real impact.

Hit: 20/40 Read the rest of this entry »


So Let’s Talk About Alex Gordon

For most of the last few years, if you clicked on the Leaderboards tab here on FanGraphs, you’d find Mike Trout‘s name at the very top. Today, that is not the case, as Trout has been surpassed in 2014-to-date WAR, slipping to #2 for the first time since late April. That isn’t necessarily controversial in and of itself, as it’s not that unusual for the best overall player in the game to not rate at the top of the WAR leaderboards every season, but what is somewhat controversial is the name of the player who has usurped Trout at the top of the list at this moment.

Alex Gordon, you see, is not exactly what most people think of as a superstar. He’s a corner outfielder who is hitting .286 with 13 home runs. Among 153 qualified Major League hitters this season, he’s ranked 36th in batting average, 32nd in on-base percentage, and 53rd in slugging percentage. Even using wOBA as a better evaluator of overall offensive performance, his .357 wOBA puts him in a tie for 33rd with Neil Walker and Jayson Werth. Add in park effects, and his wRC+ of 128 falls to 39th. As a hitter, he’s basically having the same season as Matt Kemp. This is the batting profile of the guy who currently leads all position players in WAR, and for many, that simply highlights the limitations of the model.

Even sabermetrically-inclined writers who live in Kanas City think this is weird.

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Hisashi Iwakuma and an Unexpected Record

Somewhere along the line in their development, pitchers are instructed to try to control the running game. At younger ages, pitchers are more able to stop runners than catchers are, since the catchers aren’t very good and the runners aren’t very good. At upper levels, catchers tend to get most of the credit, and indeed catchers bear a lot of responsibility, but for the most part it’s still pitchers on whom the fate of a running game depends the most. Controlling the running game is one of the ways in which Mark Buehrle excels. It’s one of the ways in which Johnny Cueto excels. For Tim Lincecum, it’s a weakness. Nothing’s more critical for pitchers than pitching, but how you manage baserunners can grant an extra advantage or disadvantage, depending. Every little run’s important, if any run is important.

It’s a weird thing, trying to control runners on base. You don’t want to allow steals, but you do want to allow steal attempts, so that you might be able to get baserunners erased. Better for a pitcher to have one stolen base and one caught steal on his record than zero of both, because the value of a caught steal is considerably higher than the value of a successful steal. If you’re too good at controlling runners, you won’t really throw runners out. Now take a glance at this year’s leaderboard. Leading the majors in caught steals is Madison Bumgarner, with nine. Just six steals against him have been successful. Three pitchers are tied at eight caught steals. Against Drew Smyly, runners are 14-for-22. Against Max Scherzer, they’re 11-for-19. Against Hisashi Iwakuma, they’re 0-for-8.

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How Pitchers are Pitching to Javier Baez

Javier Baez is a player who transcends ordinary prospect-dom. Not just because he possesses extraordinary skills — also because he’s a prospect in whom fans of every team might be interested. Usually, a guy on the farm or a guy just on the roster will captivate locally, but Baez is able to captivate nationally, in a way that few young players are able. He’s not quite on the level of rookie Stephen Strasburg, for whose debut the whole country turned on TV, but people want to know what Baez is going to become. And they want to know how quickly he’s going to become it. His big swings are the hitter equivalent of Strasburg’s big fastballs.

People who are interested in baseball are interested in Javier Baez. They know more about him than they know about the average young prospect. Keeping with the theme, other teams, too, seem to know more about Baez than they know about the average young prospect. Other teams have prepared for Javier Baez, just as we have as fans, and in the early going it turns out Javier Baez has been pitched pretty much exactly as you’d expect that Javier Baez would be pitched.

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The Return of the Koji Uehara Curveball

Every pitcher in baseball has a primary pitch, and for almost every pitcher in baseball, that’s going to be some variety of a fastball. After the primary pitch, there will be an assortment of secondary pitches, numbering from one to a lot more than one. But not all secondary stuff is created or treated the same; there can be a trusted secondary pitch, or a decent secondary pitch, or a rare occasional secondary pitch. Clayton Kershaw‘s slider is a trusted secondary pitch. Tony Cingrani‘s slider is a decent secondary pitch. You have to keep your eyes peeled for the occasionals.

Plenty of guys throw them. Let’s look at some examples! Here’s Danny Salazar throwing a terrible curveball:

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Mike Trout’s Other Slump

Several unusual things happened in Sunday afternoon’s game in Arlington between the Rangers and Angels. Firstly, Huston Street blew a save, his first as an Angel. Second, Mike Trout got a hit, his first in 18 at bats as he suffers through the second prolonged slump of his otherwise Troutishly MVP-calibre season. Thirdly, Trout was caught stealing for the first time in 2014.

Given Trout’s recent inexperience in reaching base safely, one might understand his urgency to make something happen for the first time in a week. Which also explains why Rangers starter Nick Tepesch had an eye on the Angels’ centerfielder, promptly picking him off first base.

Though it wasn’t a straight steal of second base, it counts as just his 13th stolen base attempt and first unsuccessful try – that’s ten fewer than noted speedster and fellow New Jersey native Todd Frazier. A number difficult to believe for a player who gets on base 40% of the time and also successfully swiped 82 bases over the two previous seasons.

The lack of stolen bases highlights a soft spot in Trout’s game this year – he hasn’t been a particularly valuable base runner. One of the fastest players (and hardest runners) in the league, Trout’s work with his feet rates as a single run above average this season, a far cry from the two Wins he added on the base paths between 2012 and 2013. In each of those years, Trout added five runs by advancing extra bases when the ball was in play while the weighted stolen base metric values and reflects his efficient theft accordingly. This season, his UBR is essentially zero.

Given his speed, reputation, and the sheer volume of his opportunities (only four players reached base safely more than Trout this season), this result is somewhat shocking. Why is Trout suddenly less effective on the bases? Or, is Trout actually less effective on the bases, or is this just expected and normal variance?

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Brian McCann Probably Couldn’t Be Given Away For Free

The August waiver period can be an interesting time, because it gives you a little bit of insight into how teams around the bigs value certain players. For example, it came as absolutely no surprise that the overpriced and under-performing Carl Crawford and Andre Ethier made it through waivers, or that Cole Hamels, Bryce Harper and Stephen Strasburg did not. It came as a bit of a surprise that Jon Niese did get through, which maybe tells you something about how other teams view his shoulder and that he’s perhaps not as valuable as Mets fans seemed to think; if the worst-case scenario is that the Mets stick you with the $16 million he has left after this year and still nobody was interested, that’s not a great sign.

For guys like Crawford, Ethier and others, their contracts were signed years ago, and obviously much has changed since then, so it’s most interesting to see how the industry reacts to players who were popular free agents just last winter, a mere eight months or so ago. While obviously not every roster move or claim is public, we know of at least one: Curtis Granderson, who signed for four years and $60 million with the Mets. Even with the desperate need for offense around the majors, Granderson, on pace for only a two-win season despite a rebound from a slow start, went unclaimed. At 33, two years off his last good season and three years away from his last great one, the risk wasn’t worth it.

This isn’t about Granderson, though; it’s about one of the other major New York signings from last winter who is off to an atrocious start in his new home and has a considerable amount of money still coming: Brian McCann, who returned from a stay on the concussion list yesterday. We don’t know if McCann has been put on waivers or if anyone would put in a claim — you imagine a rich team with catching issues like the Dodgers would at least think about it, though not necessarily do it — but isn’t it fascinating to think that if someone did claim him, the Yankees might be best off just letting him go?

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J.J. Hardy and the Quick Turn

My Sunday afternoon was spent covering the Cleveland Indians and the Baltimore Orioles game at Progressive Field. In the fifth inning, something caught my eye from the press box:

Double plays happen all the time. This one was a bit unique in that it was started by the pitcher, but it still appeared to be a pretty standard double play. Most exciting double plays are the result of a glove flip, a diving stop or a barehanded catch-and-throw. Here’s what this one looked like:

hardy1 Read the rest of this entry »


Juan Perez and Pedro Fernandez: Young Latin American Arms

When our other prospect writers submit scouting reports, I will provide a short background and industry consensus tool grades.  There are two reasons for this: 1) giving context to account for the writer seeing a bad outing (never threw his change-up, coming back from injury, etc.) and 2) not making him go on about the player’s background or speculate about what may have happened in other outings.

The writer still grades the tools based on what they saw, I’m just letting the reader know what he would’ve seen in many other games from this season, particularly with young players that may be fatigued late in the season. Often, those will be the same grades. The grades are presented as present/future on the 20-80 scouting scale and very shortly I’ll publish a series going into more depth explaining these grades. – Kiley

Juan Perez, RHP, Johnson City Cardinals (STL, RK-Advanced—Viewed 7/23 at Princeton)

Perez is a 6’2/195, 19-year-old Venezuelan righty that signed for $80,000 in August 2011 at age 16.  He’s steadily progressed from DSL to GCL to Appy League as a starter in his three pro seasons and is noted for his arm speed. Nathaniel’s grades surpass what scouts I asked about Perez told me, as Perez has improved this year in a league where only a handful of teams have their scouts do formal coverage.

FB: 50/55, CB: 30/40, CH: 40/45, CMD: 30/40  – Kiley

Given the Cardinals’ propensity for finding big arms out of seemingly nowhere, it’s easy to take interest in a teenager in their system throwing well in the Appy League. Perez doesn’t project as the next massive St. Louis pitching prospect, but he does carry significant intrigue.

Fastball: 50/55

PerezFB

Blessed with above-average arm speed, Perez worked at 91-93 mph, touching 94, in the first couple of innings in my viewing before tailing off to 89-92 in the latter half of his outing. The pitch doesn’t have a whole lot of life, and with a fairly mature frame, he doesn’t have as much projection as many teenagers, so its present velocity is easily the fastball’s biggest asset. He does show the ability to drive it down in the zone on occasion, but his command of the pitch is shaky due to his delivery.

Curveball: 40/50

PerezCB

Perez employs a tight hybrid 11-to-5 breaking ball that I initially called a slider but was told he refers to as a curve. It arrives at 77-81 mph (like the fastball, it declined a bit in velocity throughout the outing, starting at 79-81 and tailing to 77-79) with some sharpness and bite, though it doesn’t have as much pure break and depth as most curveballs. He likes to throw it as a chase pitch like you can see in the .gif above, but he also shows the ability to put the pitch in the zone against lefties and righties, and it still misses bats in the zone. Given that he can throw a sharp power breaker at his young age, the pitch has decent projection, but it’s tough to imagine it ending up significantly above average barring a revamp of its basic characteristics.

Changeup: 40/50+

PerezCH

Perez didn’t turn to the changeup as much as the curveball, and it’s not quite as advanced of a pitch. It comes in at 84-85 mph with some sinking life and reasonably convincing arm speed, and he doesn’t seem to have a lot of confidence in it at present, but it has more projection than the breaking ball and should evolve into a consistently solid offering. He will throw it to both lefties and righties, but needs to use it more against southpaws as he advances.

Command: 30/45+

As one might expect from a pitcher who has never posted a walk rate below 10% (his 11.6% rate this year is easily the lowest of his career), Perez has some work to do on commanding his pitches. He uses a relatively compact motion but flies open, causing the ball to sail on him at times. He wastes a lot of fastballs up and/or in to right-handed batters, and actually has been far more effective against lefties (.131/.185/.230, 18/4 K/BB, compared to .266/.389/.372, 22/17 against righties) this year. Given his youth and the strides he’s made, he has a chance to iron out many of his issues, though he’s unlikely to ever be a control artist.

Summary

Perez turned 19 the day before I saw him, and he already shows a good fastball and two playable offspeed pitches that could evolve into average pitches. He doesn’t have a ton of projection left, and he’s not in the same category that, say, Alex Reyes was in when he was in Johnson City last year, but he has a wide enough skillset to project to stay in the rotation all the way up the chain and potentially evolve into an inconsistent but reasonably effective back-of-the-rotation starter at the major league level. He’s young enough that dreams of production beyond that level aren’t entirely guaranteed to go unfulfilled, but given his distance to the majors, those dreams aren’t the likeliest outcome.

Pedro Fernandez, RHP, Lexington Legends (KC Low-A—Viewed 7/7/14 at Hickory)

Fernandez is 6’0/175, 20-year-old Dominican righty signed for $45,000 in September 2011 at age 17.  He’s on a similar path as Perez, going from DSL to AZL to Low A in his three pro seasons.  Fernandez is a medium-framed righty with arm speed and limited off-speed/command that’s held back by his delivery.  It looks like Nathaniel saw a bad day for Fernandez’s off-speed, particularly.

FB: 60/60, CB: 40/45, CH: 45/50, CMD: 30/40   40  – Kiley

Fernandez got significant hype in the offseason–he came in at #16 on the Royals list in the Baseball America Prospect Handbook despite being far from the big leagues. He’s held his own in skipping from the AZL to the SAL, which might seem to paint him as a pitcher on the rise, but the lack of quality attributes beyond his fastball puts his future in the bullpen.

Fastball: 60/65

FernandezFB

Though he’s relatively small at 6’0” and 175 pounds, Fernandez has big arm speed and gets excellent extension, allowing him to whip the ball in at 92-95 mph, touching 96. Even in a 3 1/3 inning outing, his velocity tailed off fairly quickly, but if he ends up a full-time reliever, that won’t matter. The pitch will show some tail up in the zone at times but often is fairly straight; however, it gets on hitters quickly thanks to the aforementioned extension, thus sometimes playing above its velocity.

Curveball: 30/40

FernandezCB

Fernandez’s curve comes in at 75-77 mph, which is a perfectly reasonable velocity for the pitch to arrive at, but it plays a lot softer. It has very loose ¾ break and rolls rather than bites; further, it lacks the requisite depth to be successful with any regularity. He shows the ability to put some power on the pitch, so it may become fringe-average in time, but it needs a lot of development to get there. I wouldn’t be surprised if it ends up turning into a slider in the future.

Changeup: 25/35

FernandezCH

Fernandez only threw one changeup in my viewing, an 84-mph pitch without much action. Obviously, it’s tough for me to say much about it.

Command: 30/40+

Fernandez has a busy delivery that isn’t easy to repeat. His elbow comes up in the back and he throws somewhat across his body, taking a long stride. He varies the timing of his motion, sometimes slowing down in the back, and needs to get more consistent in this department in order to hit his spots with more frequency. He’s a smaller pitcher who has some athleticism and coordination, but he’s something of a thrower at present, especially with his fastball so far ahead of his offspeed pitches. Since he’s just 20 and has some positive attributes, he has a chance to have playable command down the line.

Summary

Fernandez is touted as a sleeper in the Royals system, and his big arm certainly holds some intrigue—not too many 20-year-olds have his arm speed. The rest of the package is very underdeveloped at present, though, and he’ll need a lot of refinement in order to reach his ceiling. Given the rawness of his secondary pitches and command, that ceiling likely lies in the bullpen, where he could throw explosive mid-90s heat in short stints. He needs something else–command or another pitch–to step forward into the average range for him to make an impact.


Can Giancarlo Stanton Steal the National League MVP?

Last week, Dave wrote a little ditty about how we will probably be crowning some Los Angeles players with the Most Valuable Player Awards this season. For the National League, that means Yasiel Puig or Clayton Kershaw. And, Dave is right. Dave is usually right. Right now, Kershaw is probably the best choice. But he’s a pitcher, and he missed a month, and yada yada yada people will invent reasons to not vote for him. And Puig? Well, we know he isn’t the most popular player among the voting bloc. But Giancarlo Stanton, on the other hand, is pretty popular with just about everyone. And he is having a heck of a season too. Could he sneak in and yank the award away from the boys in blue?

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Finding Baseball’s Least-Effective Pitch

We have a pretty good idea of baseball’s best pitches. You’ve got the Aroldis Chapman fastball. You’ve got the Kenley Jansen cutter. The Adam Wainwright curveball. The Stephen Strasburg changeup. The Cole Hamels changeup. The Felix Hernandez changeup. The Corey Kluber whatever it is. The Clayton Kershaw curveball. The Kershaw slider. The Kershaw hypothetical splitter that, in my imagination, he doesn’t throw because he doesn’t need to because of his curveball and his slider. There’s no clear winner, but there are plenty of candidates, and all of them are amazing.

We don’t have as good an idea of baseball’s worst pitches. The truth is baseball’s worst pitches don’t get thrown often outside the bullpen. They’re projects in which pitchers don’t have confidence, so you don’t see them in games. But we can skip over to something related, something that might stand as a decent proxy: We have the data to identify baseball’s least-effective pitches. At least among pitches that are thrown more than once or twice a month. This is one of the uses of the FanGraphs pitch-value data, and if you set a 50-pitch minimum, the second-least effective pitch this year has been Wei-Chung Wang‘s changeup. And the first-least effective pitch this year? That honor belongs to Drew Smyly.

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Tim Lincecum’s Eyes Are Wide Open

Maybe you find Tim Lincecum frustrating. He’s still throwing no-hitters, still in the top 25 for swinging strikes, still has an above-average strikeout rate, and still has a an above-average ground-ball rate. His walk rate has improved the last couple of years! Those home runs are coming at a rate that you’d figure would regress to the league average at some point. But they aren’t, and so you have his last few years.

Well, you are not alone with your emotions. Tim Lincecum is also frustrated. “The last few years have kind of eluded me in a sense, so I’m always trying to figure something out,” the pitcher admitted before a game with the White Sox.

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The Indians as the Anti-Royals

In an unexpected turn of events, the Royals are fighting with the Tigers to try to win the AL Central, which hasn’t escaped your attention. The Tigers have been hurt by Justin Verlander being replaced by Chris Volstad, and by Joe Nathan being also replaced by Chris Volstad. The Royals, meanwhile, have been helped by an overall clutch team performance and an amazing defensive outfield. At this point, the division is almost a toss-up, where as recently as a few weeks ago it looked like the Tigers would advance without breaking a sweat.

Looking up at both of those teams, not quite out of the race but not quite in the middle of it, are the Indians. Though the Indians haven’t been markedly worse than the Royals, they have, in several ways, been the anti-Royals. The Royals have been clutch, and the Indians haven’t. The Royals have outplayed their BaseRuns, and the Indians haven’t. The Royals haven’t hit well, and the Indians have. The Royals haven’t had a strong rotation, and the Indians have. And then you get to the fielding. There is no greater difference between the two teams than there is in the field, where the Royals have been great and where the Indians have been less than that.

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How Has Garrett Richards Limited That Hard Contact?

So we know by now that Garrett Richards has blossomed into an ace. He always had it in him, at least based on his fastball velocity and movement, and in this particular season he’s helped to pick up a lot of the slack within an Angels rotation that carried a bunch of question marks. Richards is the premier arm on the staff, and a part of his breakout has had to do with his dramatic increase in strikeout rate. From last year to this year, Richards has increased his strikeouts by half, which, well, think about that.

The other part of his breakout has had to do with his limiting quality contact. Tony just wrote about this Wednesday, linking Richards with Felix Hernandez, and that’s saying something considering Felix is having one of the better seasons ever. Richards has started 24 baseball games, and he’s allowed just five home runs. He’s yielded a .256 slugging percentage that is actually lower than his opponents’ on-base percentage. You don’t need to dig too deep to understand that batters haven’t been hitting the ball hard against Garrett Richards through four and a half months. But, what’s going on here? How does a pitcher allow just a .063 ISO?

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The Orioles and Accepting Random Variation

Two years ago, the Baltimore Orioles gave a middle finger to the concept of regression to the mean. For six months, they won game after game by a single run, relying on a bullpen that posted the highest WPA in history to make the postseason despite the skepticism of sabermetric writers everywhere, including here on FanGraphs. The story of their season was essentially told in two numbers: 93-69 record, +7 run differential. To O’s fans, it was a fantastic season, but to writers like those found here, it was essentially a fluke.

The 2012 Orioles were a decent team that managed to distribute their runs in about the most effective manner possible, but there’s just no evidence to suggest that this is a repeatable skill over significant periods of time. And sure enough, after going 29-9 in one run contests in 2012, the 2013 Orioles went 20-31 in games decided by a lone run. For one year, the Orioles defied the odds, but as we’d expect, they couldn’t get that to carry over into the next season, and they won eight fewer games despite playing basically at the same level as the previous year.

But now, it’s 2014, and the Orioles are doing it again, though not quite to the same degree. Their 24-17 record in one run games isn’t quite so crazy, but they are outperforming what context-neutral models would suggest based on their overall performance to date. As Jeff noted, the Orioles are #2 in Clutch performance this year, winning five more games than their underlying statistics would have suggested. And once again, their bullpen leads the Majors in WPA, though it’s not quite the historical performance of two years ago.

And while Orioles fans may have been able to accept random variation as the explanation for 2012, the fact that they’re doing it again just two years later leads to suspicion that perhaps the Orioles — or maybe just Buck Showalter — have figured out how to game the system. A few comments I received yesterday, both in my chat here and on Twitter.

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Shin-Soo Choo’s Lost Season

Let us, for a moment, imagine a wacky, nonsensical alternate reality MLB. In this alternate reality MLB, players do not agree upon a salary before the season begins. Rather, they are compensated for their yearly production. Let’s say that production is measured by WAR. The generally accepted market value of a win is approximately $6 million/WAR.

During Shin-Soo Choo‘s prime in Cleveland from 2008-10, he was a 5-win player. Last year, for Cincinnati, he was a 5-win player. At Choo’s best, and his most recent prior to signing a big free agent contract this offseason, he would have earned $30M per season for his production. That’s a high number! That’s a lot of production.

In this year’s wacky, nonsensical alternate reality MLB, Choo would still be waiting to earn his first dollar. By the end of the season, he’d be lucky to scrape together a few million. As of about a week ago, he would have actually owed the Texas Rangers organization a million or two.
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The Braves Are Handing The NL East To The Nationals

At the close of business on July 20, the Braves and Nationals were exactly where they’d been for six of the previous seven days and for most of the season: tied. The two teams had been no further apart than 3.5 games all season long, continuing the two-headed competition that the NL East has been for the last several seasons since the Phillies stopped being competitive. (Your day will come, Mets and Marlins. Probably.)

At the time, our playoff odds still favored the Nationals to take the division simply because the projections considered them to be the better team, but it was easy to believe that the race was still a toss-up. After all, the Nationals were the big favorites in 2013, and they finished 10 games behind. They were the big favorites in 2014, and they weren’t doing all that much to back it up. I wondered last winter if we were overrating the Nationals coming into this year, and they certainly making it seem that way.

Just over three weeks later, the Nationals are holding a comfortable five-game lead in the NL East. Only one team in baseball has a higher likelihood of winning the division in our current playoff odds. The Nationals must have finally turned it on, right? Actually, no. They’re just 11-10 in the 21 games since. Ryan Zimmerman suffered another serious injury. Bryce Harper has been mediocre. Asdrubal Cabrera was their big trade deadline pickup. They haven’t suddenly woken up.

Instead, the Braves have gone on to drop 15 of their next 21. No team in baseball has won fewer games over that stretch. After losing all eight games on a west coast road trip, they’ve now lost three of their last four. They’re closer to the third-place Marlins than to the first-place Nationals. While the baseball world is busy watching what’s happening in Kansas City and Detroit, Atlanta is doing their best to hand this race to Washington. Read the rest of this entry »


The Season’s Quiet Mega-Breakthrough

The player with baseball’s third-best wOBA started on Tuesday, and the first time he came up, he drilled a low-away curveball into center for a single. The next time, behind 0-and-2, he fought off an inside fastball and lifted another single into center. The third time, he yanked a low slider down the left-field line for extra bases. I’m taking a risk by writing this post before the game is fully over, so perhaps there’ll be a fourth time, and maybe that’ll go well and maybe it won’t. No matter the outcome, it’s hardly the most important data point.

The most important data point is this: Right now, the best hitter in baseball has been either Mike Trout or Troy Tulowitzki. To round out the top five, you’ve got a selection, including names like Andrew McCutchen, Edwin Encarnacion, and Devin Mesoraco. Four of these players named are known to be amazing. Mesoraco’s been amazing; he’s just not known for it yet.

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Ninth Circuit Court Leans Toward MLB In Dispute Over Antitrust Exemption

A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit heard arguments today on the existence and scope of Major League Baseball’s exemption from federal antitrust law. The arguments arose in the city of San Jose’s federal antitrust lawsuit against MLB over the league’s failure to allow the Oakland Athletics to build a new ballpark in, and move to, San Jose.

San Jose sued MLB last summer claiming that the league’s rules creating exclusive operating territories for teams — and requiring a three-fourths vote of owners for an existing team to move into another team’s territory — violate federal antitrust law. Upon MLB’s motion, the federal district court in San Jose dismissed the city’s claims on the grounds that MLB enjoys an exemption to federal antitrust law dating to the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1922 decision in the Federal Baseball Club case. That decision was based on a view that baseball was a game, and not a business, and thus not subject to antirust law.

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