Archive for Teams

All That Ned Yost Bunting Has Helped the Royals

Relative to the rest of the league, Ned Yost‘s bunting isn’t exactly out of control. However, he does seem rather fond of the strategy, so he pulls it out pretty often, and it’s a big part of how he’s labeled online. The Royals bunted and ran like crazy people in the wild-card playoff against Oakland, and in Wednesday’s Game 4 against the Orioles, Lorenzo Cain sac bunted in the first inning, with nobody out, as the third hitter in the Kansas City lineup, facing Miguel Gonzalez. The Royals did score twice in the inning, but it was taken to be another bit of good Royals luck, and the bunt predictably drew its critics. If nothing else, it looked weird. Cain, again, was batted third, by his own manager.

But there’s a funny thing about Ned Yost’s sacrifice bunts. This goes beyond just the wild-card playoff bunts mostly being defensible. In theory, a sacrifice bunt is either successful or unsuccessful. Even if successful, it trades an out for a base or two. But bunts, as you know, have a whole range of potential outcomes. The Giants, just Tuesday, won on a walk-off sac bunt attempt. 2014 Ned Yost has called for a bunch of sacrifice bunt attempts, and overall, they’ve actually been good for the team.

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Defense Needed the Royals

I’m writing this underneath a framed ESPN magazine cover from the 2010 baseball preview. The cover features Cliff Lee, Felix Hernandez, and Ichiro Suzuki, and right up top are these words: “Outs are in — and so are the Mariners”. It’s funny now, and it was given to me half as a joke, because of course the 2010 Seattle Mariners were a total catastrophe. But I remember the feeling, the state of things back then. The 2009 Mariners had set a UZR record, and then the front office brought in Chone Figgins and Casey Kotchman. The goal was to win by prevention, and the prevention was there, but what happened was the Mariners prevented their own scoring too and lost 101 times. Things changed rapidly for the organization. There was a missed opportunity to have defense front and center on a national stage.

We’ve never been real shy about WAR, and as such, we’ve never been real shy about the more advanced defensive metrics. FanGraphs didn’t exactly invent the concept of baseball players with good gloves, but statheads have argued for years that defensive players deserve more respect, that a guy can be incredibly valuable because of what he does in the field, instead of the box. Naturally, there’s been resistance, because hitting is a lot more visible, and nothing in the field is as valuable as a home run. And, absolutely, offensive value does have a higher ceiling than defensive value, just because of the limited opportunities. But defense, as a concept, needed a mascot. It needed a representation that would allow more people to understand how significant it can really be. Defense needed a team like the Royals.

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Derek Hill: First Round Pick, Still Underrated

When our other prospect writers submit scouting reports, I will provide 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 changeup, 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 that writer would’ve seen in many of the other games from this season, particularly with young players that may be fatigued late in the season. The grades are presented as present/future on the 20-80 scouting scale and I’m in the midst of a series going into more depth explaining these grades.   -Kiley

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Randy Choate, Platoon Splits, and Arm Slots

It was the inning that shouldn’t have been.

First, in the tenth inning of Game Three of the National League Championship series, the Giants saw Brandon Crawford stroll to the plate against Randy Choate. It’s easy to say that the matchup didn’t favor the hitter based on Choate’s career splits. Choate has struck out 27% of the lefties he’s seen, and only walked 7.7%. Crawford walks 8.7% of the time against lefties, but his strikeout rate jumps to 24.5% when he’s seeing a southpaw.

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The Top-Five Red Sox Prospects by Projected WAR

Yesterday, Kiley McDaniel published his consummately researched and demonstrably authoritative prospect list for the Boston Red Sox. What follows is a different exercise than that, one much smaller in scope and designed to identify not Boston’s top overall prospects but rather the rookie-eligible players in the Red Sox’ system who are most ready to produce wins at the major-league level in 2015 (regardless of whether they’re likely to receive the opportunity to do so). No attempt has been made, in other words, to account for future value.

Below are the top-five prospects in the Sox’ system by projected WAR. To assemble this collection of players, what I’ve done first is to utilize the Steamer 600 projections made available at the site. Hitters’ numbers are normalized to 550 plate appearances; starting pitchers’, to 150 innings — i.e. the playing-time thresholds at which a league-average player would produce a 2.0 WAR. Catcher projections are prorated to 415 plate appearances to account for their reduced playing time.

Note that, in many cases, defensive value has been calculated entirely by positional adjustment based on the relevant player’s minor-league defensive starts — which is to say, there has been no attempt to account for the runs a player is likely to save in the field. As a result, players with an impressive offensive profile relative to their position are sometimes perhaps overvalued — that is, in such cases where their actual defensive skills are sub-par.

Note also that no Steamer projection has been produced for Rusney Castillo, although work both by McDaniel and also Dave Cameron suggests that something in the 2-3 WAR range probably constitutes a reasonable expectation. (Credit to reader Alex for asking.)

5. Henry Owens, LHP (Profile)

IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 FIP WAR
150 8.2 4.5 1.0 4.41 1.1

Owens and other left-hander Brian Johnson are projected to produce almost precisely the same WAR figures per 150 innings in 2015, the former expected to record more strikeouts; the latter, to better prevent walks. That both pitchers are projected more optimistically than the higher-ranked Eduardo Rodriguez (5.05 FIP, 0.0 WAR per 150 IP) isn’t particularly surprising: as noted by McDaniel, the current optimism regarding Rodriguez is based largely on his body of work after having been acquired by Boston this summer — not a large enough sample, that, to compensate for his more pedestrian numbers from previous years.

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Shelby Miller: Fixed?

There’s a sort of check list you can go to when a pitcher’s performance changes. You run down the possible reasons, and if there’s no box checked, you shrug and figure a few bounces have gone differently and that was all that happened.

So what do you do when a pitcher has a breakout performance, then suffers a setback and then looks like he’s re-found what he’s lost? Especially when that pitcher doesn’t have any obvious checkmarks on the checklist? What do you say about Shelby Miller‘s up-and-down year so far?

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Dan Duquette and Avoiding the Awful

So can we just go over this one more time? I know everyone knows about it, but it’s still freaking crazy. The Orioles are in the ALCS. That’s already pretty nuts. But Ubaldo Jimenez, who they gave a lot of money to, was bad. He’s not on the roster. Matt Wieters played 26 games before getting hurt. He’s not on the roster. Manny Machado managed half a season before getting hurt. He’s not on the roster. Chris Davis basically just sucked. He’s not on the roster. Even if, in March, you had a program of your own that predicted the Orioles would get this far, your program still would’ve been wrong about how it all happened. The Royals? Great story. The Orioles? Great story, too. There are so many reasons why so many people seem to find this year’s ALCS more compelling than its senior companion.

Clearly, the Orioles have gotten contributions from enough other people to make up for the missing or underperforming stars. Clearly, the Orioles assembled some depth. This all got me thinking about Dan Duquette, and a certain principle. One way to improve a roster is by adding more good players. Another way to improve a roster is by eliminating the bad players. Of course, you want to do both, but in theory you can either raise the ceiling or raise the floor. It seems to me the Orioles haven’t given much in the way of playing time to the truly bad. It seems to me that would be a credit to the organization. To what extent, though, is this actually true?

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Moneyball Comes to LA: Dodgers Hire Andrew Friedman

Due in large part to Michael Lewis’ Moneyball, analytical baseball ideology has often sold as a necessity for low-revenue franchises to compete with teams who have vastly more resources. The A’s story was written as brains overcoming riches, and a number of teams in smaller markets decided to emulate their success. Over the past decade, the front offices most known for their analytical decision making processes inlucded teams like the A’s, Rays, Indians, Astros, and Cardinals, and because of this, Moneyball was the catch-all phrase for poor teams that used analytics to compete with teams that didn’t need it.

Except that story hasn’t been entirely true for quite a while now. It’s an easy story to tell, because low revenue teams have used these kinds of tools to allow themselves to make up for their revenue deficits, but the notion of analytics being only for small market teams is outdated and now just not correct. The Red Sox were probably the first big market team to really buy into the combination of efficient spending while maintaining a very high payroll, but the Yankees weren’t far behind, with a significant analytical department of their own. And of course, the Dodgers already hired one analytically-oriented GM, with Paul DePodesta running the team in 2004-2005, though that didn’t last.

When the Cubs new ownership wanted to build a sustainable winner, they poached Theo Epstein from Boston, and are now not too far away from being a very scary competitor for the rest of the NL Central. And now, the Dodgers have lured Rays GM Andrew Friedman out of Tampa Bay, making him the President of Baseball Operations for the team with the largest payroll in baseball. With Friedman heading west, arguably the four most historic franchises in MLB — and certainly four of the teams with the highest revenue potential — fit the mold of a Moneyball front office. This kind of structure is no longer the domain of poor somewhat less rich teams, and this transition serves to make the Dodgers an even more formidable opponent in the NL West.

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Evaluating the Prospects: Boston Red Sox

Evaluating The Prospects: RangersRockiesDiamondbacksTwinsAstrosRed Sox & Cubs

Scouting Explained: Introduction, Hitting Pt 1 Pt 2 Pt 3 Pt 4 Pt 5 Pt 6

The Red Sox have the deepest list yet in this series, to go with plenty of top-end talent as well.  Be sure to read the Eduardo Rodriguez report to see more about the decision the Red Sox had to make on the trade deadline, which I and other clubs found pretty interesting.  It’s a testament to amateur scouting and development to have so many top picks (8-14 on the list are all Red Sox 1st rounders) and high international bonuses all show up on the list, without many busts. You can fault Boston for relying too much on young players in 2014, but indications are they are about to spend a bunch of money this offseason and they have among the best groups of young talent in the game.

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John Lackey, Tim Hudson and Pitching Longevity

Every year, there’s a gaggle of young guns, ready to take the league by storm. Wether it’s Clayton Kershaw, Jose Fernandez, or Matt Harvey, there’s a new face that everyone can dream careers upon. Unwrinkled faces, unworn arm ligaments, and the bright unknown future might be the stuff Spring Training dreams are built upon.

And here we are, October 14, 2014, and we’ll be watching 39-year-old Tim Hudson go up against 35-year-old John Lackey in game three of the National League Championship series. If, at the beginning of this decade, you had these guys down as top-25 pitchers for the next 14 years, congratulations. This game is your reward.

But that won’t stop us from looking back and trying to figure out how we got to this moment.

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So You’re Starting Jeremy Guthrie In The ALCS

When the Royals and Orioles resume their rain-interrupted ALCS tonight in Kansas City, the Royals are going to use their fifth-best starting pitcher, and on the surface this doesn’t make a lot of sense. Not that Yordano Ventura was going to pitch on two days rest, or that James Shields was likely to go on three days rest, but with Jason Vargas and Danny Duffy around, Ned Yost has options. Instead, he’s going with Jeremy Guthrie, who hasn’t pitched since Sept. 26, a full 17 days of rest. Though he’s 35 years old, Guthrie has never thrown a pitch in a postseason game, so the often-seen “but playoff-tested” excuse doesn’t work here.

When we say “fifth starter,” that’s based entirely on performance. Of the five regular Kansas City starters, Guthrie’s ERA this year was the worst. His FIP was the worst. His WAR, despite throwing the second-most innings, was the worst. Over the last five years, his FIP is 215th of 228 qualified pitchers, basically making him Randy Wolf with fewer injuries. Just two seasons ago, he was getting traded straight-up for Jonathan Sanchez after a brutal half-season in Colorado. Now, he’s starting a playoff game, one of the most important games for his franchise in years.

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The Value of Alex Gordon Not Using His Arm, Redux

Three and a half months ago, I wrote about Alex Gordon‘s arm. Among regular outfielders, Gordon has one of the very best throwing arms in baseball, and that’s allowed him to pile up valuable runner-killing assists. Toward the end of June, I noticed that Gordon’s assists were down, but that his arm rating was still up high. The reason: deterrence. To that point, nobody had really been willing to challenge Gordon. While he was creating fewer outs, he was saving a ton of bases, and the value there is very much real.

Now, deterrence is a difficult thing to observe in real-time. Good speed, you can observe on a lot of plays. The same goes for good instincts and route-running, and on a decently frequent basis you can see a guy’s throwing arm at work. But deterrence requires certain circumstances, and you have to be looking for it. At the end of the season, I don’t think you have a “feel” for which outfielders deter runners the most, like you might have a feel for other things. But if you want to talk about Gordon, then we can just talk about Saturday. Because Alex Gordon stopped a runner from attempting to score, late in a 4-4 game.

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19-Year-Old Jorge Mateo Is The Yankees’ Shortstop Of The Future

When our other prospect writers submit scouting reports, I will provide 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 changeup, 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 that writer would’ve seen in many of the other games from this season, particularly with young players that may be fatigued late in the season. The grades are presented as present/future on the 20-80 scouting scale and I’m in the midst of a series going into more depth explaining these grades.   -Kiley

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Sergio Romo Made a New Mistake

If everybody in baseball were better at execution, offense would go down. Though the hitters would be improved on talent, hitting is reactionary, and if pitchers could more consistently hit their spots, it stands to reason there would be far fewer dingers. Pitches aren’t usually called in dinger-friendly areas — home runs, commonly, come out of mistakes.

Sunday night, the Cardinals went deep four times against Giants pitching. Matt Carpenter clobbered a Jake Peavy fastball that drifted out over the plate. Oscar Taveras got out ahead of a Jean Machi splitter that never dropped. Matt Adams punished a high Hunter Strickland fastball that, if Strickland had his druthers, would’ve been higher. And then Kolten Wong was the hero in the bottom of the ninth, taking advantage of a Sergio Romo mistake. And for Romo, it was a mistake he hadn’t made.

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The Math on Letting Lance Lynn Hit

There were a bunch of turning points in Game 2 of the NLCS, including three late-game home runs that allowed the Cardinals to walk-off as winners. Yadier Molina‘s exit, due to a strained oblique, also looked like a big moment, especially when backup catcher Tony Cruz couldn’t handle Trevor Rosenthal‘s game-tying wild pitch in the ninth inning. But, given the change in expected outcome, the biggest moment of the game might have actually occurred way back in the bottom of the fourth inning.

Already up 1-0, the Cardinals mounted a rally against Jake Peavy, with Matt Adams drawing a leadoff walk and Jhonny Peralta following with a single. Yadier Molina then laid down a bunt, which wouldn’t have made any sense if he was healthy, but it seems like he very well may not have been, which would help explain why he gave himself up to move the runners over. With first base open, the Royals easily decided to walk Kolten Wong, but then Randall Grichuk singled to drive in a run while also keeping the bases loaded.

At this point, the Cardinals had a 2-0 lead and three runners on with only one out. Their win probability had ballooned to 86%, in part because the run expectancy of a bases loaded/1 out situation is 1.5 runs, so while the Cardinals led only 2-0 at that point, the WPA graph was assuming that the inning would end with them either having a 3-0 or 4-0 lead, most likely. And that would make them overwhelming favorites to hang on and win.

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Andrew Miller, Wade Davis and the Battle of the Bullpen Aces

If you were to ask yourself, “Who are the two most dominant bullpen weapons – that aren’t closers – in the MLB?” the next logical step would be to ask yourself, “Well, how could I find out?”

One way you could find out is to head over to the FanGraphs leaderboards and export a custom leaderboard to Excel with the saves, FIP-WAR and RA9-WAR totals of all the qualified relievers in baseball this season. Then, you could remove all the players with more than 10 saves and sort the ones that are left by a 50/50 split of the two WAR totals.

Guess what? You don’t have to think or do any of that because that’s exactly what I already did. Here’s the top 10:
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The Good That Alex Gordon Got From Being Bad

Alex Gordon, as we know him now, is a top-five outfielder on a team surging in the playoffs. We can’t forget the Alex Gordons who came before, though. Because it was those struggles that minted the current version. In terms of mindset and mechanics, we wouldn’t have today’s Gordon without yesterday’s. And we might be seeing some of the lessons Gordon learned in play with his younger teammates, too.

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The Orioles’ Relief vs. the Royals’ Offense

Over 162 games, which is the full season, the Royals were the best base-stealing team in baseball, and it was all worth to them about a dozen runs. That is not very many runs, unless they were to all happen in one or two games, and there’s a reason we don’t talk about stolen bases much during the year. They’re just such a minor factor, of far less significance than, say, playing good defense, or hitting for power. So maybe now you think the Royals’ running game is getting too much attention. They went nuts in one game, but that’s it. I’ve personally never before devoted this much attention to a running game, but here I am, putting together another post. I’m deeply interested in the way the Orioles’ ALCS roster matches up against how the Royals intend to score runs.

The matchups are a little thing, but we’re so bad at predicting the big things in a short series I might as well try something else. The Orioles released their 25-man roster, and while nothing came as a shocker, there is one notable swap — Ubaldo Jimenez will not participate. Brian Matusz will particpate, or at least he’ll be available to do so. The simple explanation is that Matusz is left-handed, and the Royals’ lineup is fairly left-handed, so Matusz fills a greater need. That’s all true, but there’s also a little more. The Royals want to get on base and run. They could have some difficulty doing both.

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Mark Appel Proved Wednesday The Big Stuff Is Back

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 changeup, 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. 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

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FG on Fox: Does Anybody Else Throw Zach Britton’s Sinker?

The Royals are an incredible story, and the Orioles are an incredible story, and when you break down a big incredible story into its component bits, you’re left with a whole bunch of tinier incredible stories. Among the possessors of those stories on the Orioles is closer Zach Britton, who, like a lot of good relievers, is a failed starter. Britton failed to build on a promising rookie season and was reduced this year to bullpen work, but in that role Britton has excelled. And not only is it remarkable that he’s excelled — it’s remarkable how he’s excelled.

If you’re familiar with Britton, you know the story. If you’re not, you will be. Britton, basically, has one pitch. He’ll mix in the occasional breaking ball, but nine times out of ten, Britton is attacking with his sinker. People liked his sinker when he was a starter and it flew in at 92 miles per hour. Now it’s coming in at 96, so it doubles as both a setup pitch and a putaway pitch. Kenley Jansen has his cutter, Jake McGee has his four-seamer, and Zach Britton has his sinker. It’s the pitch that’s allowed him to tie for the highest single-season groundball rate we have on record.

Britton’s sinker is the whole secret to his success, in that people can’t do anything with it even when they know that it’s coming. At FanGraphs we track pitch values, which measure the quality of a single pitch based on the results that it gets. This year, Johnny Cueto had the highest fastball pitch value. McGee came in second — he’s also a one-pitch pitcher. Then you’ve got Clayton Kershaw, then you’ve got Zach Britton, and of course, Cueto and Kershaw were starters. Britton had one of the most dominant individual pitches in baseball, allowing him to be a shutdown closer, and so far in the playoffs Britton hasn’t thrown anything but his bread and butter. He knows what’s been working for him.

A few people have remarked that when they see Britton’s sinker in action, they’re reminded of Jonny Venters. Unfortunately Venters hasn’t been able to pitch in the majors since 2012, so I found myself curious: does anybody else in baseball throw Zach Britton’s sinker? Does it have peers, or is it a standalone pitch? After thinking on it, I’ve come up with a method. And for simplicity, I’m ignoring handedness concerns. Left-handed and right-handed sinkers will be combined.

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