Archive for Teams

Clayton Kershaw and Other 300 Strikeout Seasons

This Sunday, Clayton Kershaw has a shot to become the first pitcher to rack up 300 strikeouts in a season since Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling turned the trick back in 2002. He needs just six strikeouts to get there, so theoretically he could do it by the end of the second inning. He and his Dodgers brethren will be squaring off against the Padres, one of the strikeout-ingest teams in baseballs this season, so he’s got a real good shot to get there, even if his innings are capped. So let’s for a moment say that he does. How would he stack up against the other members of the 300 K club?

First, how many players are in this club? Thanks for asking: there’s 14. Of the 14, five have done it only once (Bob Feller, Mickey Lolich, Mike Scott, Steve Carlton and Vida Blue) and nine have done it multiple times (Curt Schilling, J.R. Richard, Nolan Ryan, Pedro Martinez, Randy Johnson, Rube Waddell, Sam McDowell, Sandy Koufax and Walter Johnson). Overall, these 14 players have hit the 300 K mark 33 times. Kershaw would be #34. You can see the whole list, via the Baseball-Reference Play Index, right here.

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Appreciating Jose Quintana

For whatever reason, people enjoy ranking things. A perfectly rational species would be okay with measures of quality, but humans are really into ordering things and arguing about the ordering of things. It explains why we often find ourselves arguing about which pitchers qualify as aces. Definitions vary, but lots of us get caught up in determining the best 10, 15, or 30 pitchers, implicitly suggesting that pitchers 11, 16, and 31 are demonstrably differently than the pitchers above them on the list.

Of course, that’s after you get over the fact that we lack an agreed upon definition of “acehood.” We can all appreciate that it’s some blend of quality and durability, but the exact nature of the definition is fluid. In a basic sense, we want to know how good a pitcher is and of we can count on him to be that good for a significant number of innings. In other words, something like a pitcher’s WAR over the previous three seasons might a good place to start the ace conversation.

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JABO: The Pirates Can Survive the Arrieta Menace

To think, there used to be real conversations about whether the Cubs should start Jon Lester or Jake Arrieta in a potential Wild Card Game. I don’t want to shortchange Lester, who’s a terrific pitcher in his own right — one of the better pitchers in the National League. But Arrieta is just on one of those runs. If you want to play along and say something stupid like “Arrieta’s on a run that he’s earned,” then that would be exactly three fewer earned runs than Arrieta has allowed since the beginning of August. Roll your eyes all you want, but don’t pretend like that sentence wasn’t effective.

There’s a certain detectable sense of dread. The Pirates and Cubs are guaranteed a one-game playoff to determine who advances to the NLDS. The only question is where it’ll be played, but the odds-on favorite at the moment is Pittsburgh. People have complaints about the one-game-playoff format. Some of them are legitimate, even given that playoff series don’t do much better to crown the deserving ballclub. But this is what we have, and it’s exciting, and it just means the Pirates get the misfortune of facing Arrieta with everything on the line. He’s an opponent who feels unbeatable. I don’t want to take anything away from Gerrit Cole, but it feels like it’s lopsided. There’s no one in the game pitching better than Arrieta has.

Arrieta just faced the Pirates, in Chicago. He got himself pretty deep into a perfect game. A week and a half earlier against the Pirates, Arrieta gave up two runs (one earned) in eight innings. In early August, he blanked the Pirates over seven frames. In the middle of May, he gave up one run in seven innings. Toward the end of April, another one-run, seven-inning outing. It’s not like the Pirates haven’t had chances. Arrieta has just been that dominant. The Cubs have lost just one of his past 17 starts; in that game, they got no-hit. Arrieta is officially an adversary you worry about.

The attention is on the Pirates. It’s on how they intend to win this seemingly unwinnable game. Buster Olney just talked to some people in the industry about what the Pirates are supposed to do. The general message is that the Pirates are up against it. There’s nothing as psychologically daunting as an ace, and Pirates fans can just think back to last October’s one-game playoff, against Madison Bumgarner. He never seemed to even give them an opportunity to advance. It’s true: Arrieta could well take over the game. He could literally win it on his own, like he did the other day, with seven shutout innings and a homer. But history, at least, isn’t quite so pessimistic. The Pirates’ odds aren’t as long as they seem.

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Zack Greinke on Pitching Inside

After we finished talking about his changeup and what he learned from Felix Hernandez, after we finished talking about command for the Hardball Times Annual, after we talked a little about his slider and his sinker, after we talked about a few hitters, even after I’d said goodbye and shook his hand, Zack Greinke hovered. He wasn’t done. He had noticed something about pitching inside and wondered if the numbers agreed.

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Blake Swihart: The Red Sox’ Mythical Third Prospect

Sometimes we here at FanGraphs like to zig when others zag. Or there are times when others zag and we zag too and then before they can say “Hey you’re zagging!” we switch back to zigging. Lots of virtual ink has been spilled recently on Mookie Betts and Xander Bogaerts and both are well deserving of the attention they’ve received for reasons discussed more on this site and others. But [looks both ways] [leans in] they are not alone. There is a third prospect in Boston with a high ceiling who has been overshadowed by Betts and Bogaerts. His name is Blake Swihart. Three days ago he hit two home runs in Yankee Stadium and when a 23-year-old catcher hits two homers in Yankee Stadium, well, that seems like as good a pretense as any to assess him and his season. So there’s our pretense. Assessment time!

Despite his youth, the switch-hitting catcher spent the majority of the season in Boston. But that wasn’t the original plan. Swihart came into the season slated for duty in Triple-A as he’d spent all of 71 plate appearances over 18 games above Double-A, but all of a sudden catchers started going down. First, starting catcher Christian Vazquez needed Tommy John surgery and the organization promoted backup Ryan Hanigan and picked up Sandy Leon from Washington to back him up. Then two months into the season Hanigan broke his hand and the organization was out of options. Swihart got the call.

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Toronto and the Postseason Crapshoot

Let’s just be real here and leave the analysis aside for a moment: it’s difficult to picture the Blue Jays losing. They got smoked yesterday, but only after clinching their division, so their lineup was missing its starters. That can be forgiven. Their overall run differential is better than second place by nearly 100. They have baseball’s best record since the All-Star break. Since beginning the little flurry with the Troy Tulowitzki trade, the Jays have won three-quarters of the time, and not even the Cubs have been able to keep up. Aggressiveness at the deadline took care of seemingly all the team’s problems, and now Marcus Stroman is back and starting and looking terrific, and this has been present the whole year:


The Jays are what’s been classically defined as “stupid-good,” one of the few teams in the American League playing like it ought to. It’s no mystery why they’ve succeeded, and now that a berth in the first round has been clinched, it’s at last time to look ahead. The Blue Jays feel like a super team. Especially given how they’ve played the last few months. So, what’s historically happened with teams like this?

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Sonny Gray: The Anti-Chris Sale

Earlier this week, I took a look at the AL Cy Young race, utilizing batted-ball metrics to address the respective candidacies of David Price, Dallas Keuchel and Chris Sale. To make a long story short, I concluded that Sale’s strikeout-to-walk (K/BB) superiority, along with solid contact management skills that have been obscured by his horrendous team defense, placed him on top. Some readers expressed incredulity in the comment section, not believing that even the worst defense in the game could cost a pitcher one full point of ERA.

Today, let’s look at the counterweight to Chris Sale, Sonny Gray. Though he wasn’t quite the same guy in the second half as he was in the first, he has wrapped up a very strong campaign, especially in the more traditionally accepted statistical categories. He’ll finish third in the AL in ERA (2.73) and is likely to receive his share of down-ballot Cy Young votes, possibly enough to nose out Sale for third place overall. Sale’s ERA is 0.78 higher than his FIP, and as we saw the other day, 1.02 higher than his “tru” ERA, which incorporates Statcast batted ball data. Gray finishes 2015 with an ERA 0.73 lower than his FIP. What gives, and what is the true talent level exhibited by Gray this season?

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The Matter With Michael Wacha (Maybe)

Around the beginning of the year, the Cardinals lost Adam Wainwright, and though they just welcomed him back to the active roster, there’s no time to build him up as a starter. Around the end of the year, the Cardinals lost Carlos Martinez, and while the hope is that there’s nothing seriously wrong with his shoulder, he won’t pitch again for a while. It speaks to the Cardinals’ organizational talents that Martinez developed into a quality option, and it speaks to their depth that his absence can be survived, but it puts a little more pressure on everyone else. Everyone includes Michael Wacha, but Wacha had himself a miserable September.

It was capped off Wednesday with a four-inning, six-run outing. Everyone’s allowed the occasional clunker, but it gets worrisome when a pattern develops, and in Wacha’s five September starts, he gave up 21 runs in 24 frames, with about as many walks as strikeouts. The obvious initial guess is fatigue. Wacha had a start skipped at the beginning of the month with his innings total in mind, and he’s cleared last year’s pitch count by about 1,200. And, absolutely, he might just be tired. Or it could be something else. There’s no reason to go with the initial guess and just stop there, when some research can be done.

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The Player Who’s Most Hurt the Astros

Last night, the Astros lost, and for the first time since May 15, they find their playoff odds below 50%. They have but four remaining games to re-claim playoff position, and, I’m sure you’ve had a good sense of their struggles. A 10-16 September has dropped their playoff odds from 97% to 44%. It’s dropped their division-winning odds from 88% to 3%. It took so long to get used to the idea of the Astros advancing to the postseason, and then it felt like a given for weeks. Now people are starting to think about big-picture perspectives, like how it’s still been a great season regardless of whether it ends in a few days. That’s true, but it’s also not what Astros fans thought they’d be having to consider at the end of September.

In a certain sense, these struggles have been almost team-wide. While the position players rank third in baseball in September WAR and third in September wRC+, they’re also 22nd in Win Probability Added, owing to some lousy timing. Astros starters rank 18th in WPA, neither good nor bad. The bullpen, meanwhile, ranks 27th in WPA. The Astros have had several issues, but a once-reliable bullpen has been a big one. And within that bullpen, one arm in particular has come apart at the worst possible time.

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Anthony Rizzo, Bruised Into History

This season, Anthony Rizzo has obliterated 30 baseballs into the seats for home runs. As of last night, in perfect symmetry, 30 baseballs have exacted revenge for their wounded brothers by hitting Anthony Rizzo. This is a rare accomplishment. Is this an accomplishment? This is a rare accomplishment.

Until now, only one player had ever before reached that particular 30/30 threshold — Don Baylor, in 1986. That year, he knocked 31 dingers, and was hit 35 times. Over his career, he hit hundreds of homers. And he was hit by hundreds of pitches. He’s fitting company. If you want to make Rizzo more special, he’s also exceeded 30 doubles, which Baylor didn’t, so now by those terms Rizzo is the first-ever 30/30/30 player. Anyhow, going back to the original 30/30 terms, if you loosen the restrictions, there have only ever been six 25/25 player seasons. In 2004, Craig Wilson slugged 29 homers, and was slugged by 30 pitches. He came painfully close to belonging in the Baylor/Rizzo tier. Maybe that year he was robbed of a home run. I don’t know, so I’ll pretend, to aid the narrative. Craig Wilson: almost historic. Too bad.

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Addison Russell Is This Year’s Other Guy

Most Major League Baseball fans are familiar with Addison Russell. The Oakland A’s selected Russell in the first round of the 2012 draft, and he became one of the best prospects in all of baseball before his trade to the Chicago Cubs for Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel at the trade deadline last season. His call-up in April was a bit of a surprise, and despite his prospect record, his mediocre batting line, higher profile teammates, and a pair of rookie shortstops in the American League have left Russell in relative anonymity. Russell’s play has not forced anyone to take notice, but playing a full season at his age is an accomplishment in and of itself.

While most people know Russell, it would be fair if they weren’t keeping up with his progress this season. A 21-year-old top prospect would normally receive a lot of attention, but recording his own debut within days of teammate, uber-prospect and likely Rookie-of-the-Year in Kris Bryant rendered Russell’s arrival less newsworthy. Russell has also been overshadowed by a pair of 21-year-old shortstops from the American League, as Carlos Correa and Francisco Lindor have both exceeded a 130 wRC+ in over 400 plate appearances. Russell, on the other hand, has yet to distinguish himself at the plate: he’s hitting just .237/.301/.384 with an 87 wRC+ this year, and has struck out in more than 28% of his plate appearances.

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JABO: The Evolution of Mookie Betts

A year ago, Mookie Betts was one of the more divisive young talents in baseball. Mostly overlooked by scouts due to his diminutive size and lack of power — he was a 5th round pick by the Red Sox back in the 2011 draft — Betts ended up crushing minor league pitching in 2013 and 2014 to put himself on the prospect map, though opinions about his future still varied pretty widely. Over at FanGraphs, we were pretty big fans based on his overall value skillset, but our enthusiasm was met with a lot of skepticism over the perceived lack of upside from a small contact hitter who generated a lot of value by drawing walks against inferior pitching.

And those concerns were somewhat legitimate. When I first wrote about Betts on JABO a year ago — suggesting that the Red Sox keep him rather than get tempted into dealing him for a frontline starting pitcher — I developed a list of offensive comparisons based on his swing and contact rates. There were some good names on that list, including Joe Mauer and Matt Carpenter. There was also the Tony Gwynn that doesn’t make for an optimistic comparison, along with Craig Counsell, Daric Barton, and Sam Fuld. The low swing rate/high contact types almost universally didn’t hit for power, and guys Betts’ size often end up being defensive-oriented players who try to slap enough singles and steal enough bases to avoid being an offensive hole.

Well, with his first full season nearly in the books, I think it’s safe to say at this point that Betts is not a slap hitter. Last night, he launched his 16th home run of the season, and perhaps more impressively, hit his 42nd double. Add in the 8 triples and Betts now has 66 extra base hits on the year, the same number of XBH as Nelson Cruz (who leads the majors in home runs) and Jose Abreu, and ahead of Cubs slugging rookie Kris Bryant, who was the consensus top prospect in baseball in large part because of his prodigious power. And that puts him five extra base hits ahead of Andrew McCutchen, who became the popular comparison this spring, when Betts was torching the Grapefruit League in Spring Training.

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What Zack Greinke Learned from Felix Hernandez Exactly

Zack Greinke‘s changeup may only seem different this year. By the stats, it drops a bit more and it’s harder, sure. But if you ask the pitcher, the pitch itself hasn’t changed much. “I throw it more this year,” he said when I asked him what was different about it.

If the systems have the change dropping more this year — estimates run from about a half inch to an inch more drop this year over previous years — there might be something else going on. The systems might be grabbing bad changeups and classifying them as sinkers, while calling the bendier pitches changeups.

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A First for Brian Dozier’s Career

A few weekends ago, I wrote myself a note, reading “Jose Bautista — oppo.” I watched Bautista hit a home run to right field in Yankee Stadium, and I figured that might be the sort of thing worthy of a post. Bautista generally clobbers his dingers to left, and I thought maybe there could be something there. I thought also that maybe, just maybe, Bautista had a history of going out to right field in New York, which has maybe the most forgiving right field in baseball. Ultimately, I didn’t do anything. I mean, I eventually did some research and played with some numbers, but I didn’t have enough for a post. Not a post that anyone would care about.

Stupid me — I was watching the wrong player. Genius me — I at least had a decent general idea. Rare opposite-field home runs? Potentially interesting. And while I didn’t get enough of interest on Bautista, it wasn’t much later that Brian Dozier pulled off a career first. I have to apologize for the lack of timeliness; this is a post about an event from last Wednesday. I don’t know why I didn’t notice sooner. But last Wednesday, facing Corey Kluber of all people, Brian Dozier stepped in and, in a 2-and-1 count, hit a home run down the right-field line.

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The Cubs Have a #3 Starter

The way Jake Arrieta has thrown the ball this year — especially in the second half — has ended any discussion about who the Cubs #1 starter is. Arrieta has propelled himself into the discussion of true aces, and he’ll be the guy the Cubs put on the hill with their season on the line next Wednesday. With Jon Lester slotting in to the #2 spot, the Cubs top two starters should be able to hold their own against any other staff in baseball.

After that, though, things get a little more interesting. When asked who his third starter in the postseason might be, Joe Maddon stated simply “I don’t know.” Jason Hammel began the year as the team’s third starter, and his overall numbers are quite good for a middle-of-the-rotation guy, but those numbers are based on an excellent first half and a pretty lousy second half. Prior to the All-Star break, opposing hitters posted just a .261 wOBA against Hammel, but since the break, they’ve put up a .371 mark against him. The problems may be tied to a hamstring injury that landed him on the DL in July, and unless he really shows them something in the last week of the season, it’s not clear that the Cubs can trust that he’s healthy enough to be effective in high-leverage postseason innings.

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The AL Cy Young Discussion

Last week, I addressed the Cy Young battle in the senior circuit and titled it “The NL Cy Young Showdown.” This time, it’s the AL’s turn — and “discussion” (as opposed to “showdown”) seems to be the proper way to characterize it. It’s been a low-key pitching season, comparatively, in the AL, with no one posting an ERA near Zack Greinke‘s, or pitching no-hitters or engaging in zany second-half shenanigans like Jake Arrieta. In fact, a general consensus seems to be building that the award is David Price‘s to lose. Today, let’s have a full discussion, including utilization of batted-ball data, about the AL Cy Young and its three likely frontrunners, Price, Chris Sale and Dallas Keuchel.

Price, who turned 30 in late August, is the only one of the three with a Cy (2012) on his mantle, though he hasn’t finished above sixth in the annual voting since then. Sale has come progressively closer in the voting, checking in at sixth, fifth and third in the last three seasons, while this will be the first time on a ballot for Keuchel, 2015’s foremost pitching breakthrough.

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Gerrit Cole Is Now the Most Important Pirate

Gerrit Cole might not be the best player on the Pittsburgh Pirates — Andrew McCutchen probably still holds that distinction — but over the course of the next 10 days, perhaps no pitcher in the National League, or perhaps in Major League Baseball, will have a greater impact on his team’s season. Cole has slid under the radar of the Cy Young race as Clayton Kershaw, Jake Arrieta, and Zack Greinke are all having historically good seasons. While Cole is a bit behind that NL pitching triumvirate, his 2.60 FIP is third in MLB behind only Kershaw and Arrieta. His nearly identical 2.61 ERA is sixth, behind the above three, as well as Dallas Keuchel and David Price. Cole has already pitched some important games down the stretch this season, but how he pitches in the near future could frame how many people view the Pirates’ season as they head to the playoffs for the third straight year.

Cole has pitched very well as the regular season comes to a close. Over his last four starts, he has faced only playoff teams in the Chicago Cubs (twice), the St. Louis Cardinals and the Los Angeles Dodgers. The Pirates have won all four of Cole’s starts, during which time he’s recorded a 32:5 strikeout-to-walk ratio and allowed just one home run over 27.1 innings, good for a 2.30 ERA and 1.94 FIP. The starts against division rival were of particular importance. One September 6, the Pirates trailed the Cardinals by 6.5 games. A loss at that time would have put the team 7.5 games back, making their shot at a divisional comeback almost impossible. The win also kept the Pirates three games ahead of the Cubs. His next start, against those same Cubs, lengthened the lead for home-field advantage to five games and briefly put them within two games of the Cardinals.

Cole just recently turned 25 years old, and in his age-24 season, he has been one of the best in recent history at his age. Among qualified pitchers 24 and under, Cole’s 5.5 WAR is the best such figure, a full two wins better than Carlos Martinez‘s mark. Since 2010, the only pitchers 24 and under with a season exceeding Cole’s current 5.5 fWAR are Clayton Kershaw (twice), Matt Harvey and Felix Hernandez.

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JABO: What’s Wrong With Jacoby Ellsbury?

When the New York Yankees signed Jacoby Ellsbury to a seven-year, $153 million contract before the 2014 season, the team was certainly hoping for a version of the 2011 center fielder: a speedy, defensively-sound player with serious power upside. A prevalent thought was the short porch in Yankee Stadium’s right field might help him regain some of his power after injury-marred seasons in 2012 and 2013.

Following a healthy 2014 — in which the left-hander was able to post a respectable power/speed combination while staying relatively healthy — the 2015 season has seen Ellsbury take a step back. In recent weeks, during the thick of a September pennant race, he’s actually sat against left-handed pitching in favor of Chris Young. These are the depths of the slump that Ellsbury is currently in, and it’s obviously not the return on investment the Yankees had in mind when signing him to a long-term deal.

With New York headed toward a very probable Wild Card berth, it’s time to take a close look at Ellsbury. What are the driving factors behind his current struggles? What is the outlook for the Yankees without his production?

We assign many beginning and end dates to baseball statistics, which is a part of our natural desire to organize things we’re trying to understand. We’re going to do that now, because it’s necessary for us to understand Ellsbury’s season before and after a certain event. The Yankees’ center fielder has had two very different halves  — separated by seven weeks on the disabled list with a knee injury — and understanding how they’re different is the first step we’ll take in evaluating his performance.

During the first six weeks of the season, Ellsbury was putting up great leadoff numbers: Although the power stroke wasn’t quite there — he hit only one home run along with a .047 Isolated Power average before May 19 — Ellsbury was still creating runs for his team at a 25% greater rate than a league-average player.

The classic Ellsbury tools were on display during this stage of the season. He was hitting lots of line drives, showing great speed on the base paths and playing sound defense in center field. Between April and the first two weeks of May, the 32-year-old was even walking at a much higher clip than his career norm (11.2% vs. 7.0%). The caveat with those stats, of course, is six weeks is a small sample size, so whether he would have continued his early season production is hard to gauge.

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Jake Arrieta’s Argument for the Best Season Half Ever

Sunday night, Jake Arrieta came within sniffing distance of doing the almost unthinkable. By which I mean, Arrieta made a serious bid to hit two home runs. He also, at the same time, flirted with a perfect game against the Pirates, but that part is very thinkable. I don’t know how many times this year Arrieta has grabbed attention for taking a no-hitter or a perfect game deep, but it numbers somewhere in the “a lot”s, with Arrieta more or less existing on the verge of history. It doesn’t take a no-hitter bid to put him in that position — the bid is practically a foregone conclusion.

Eventually, Arrieta gave up a hit and put multiple people on base, but none of those people happened to score, Arrieta spinning another seven shutout innings. Two batters of a total of 22 reached, and one of them only did so because Arrieta did him the privilege of hitting him with a pitch. The outing was timed well, what with the Pirates being a rival of the Cubs. The outing was timed well, what with Arrieta in the running for the Cy Young award. And the outing furthered Arrieta’s case for maybe having the best season half that ever there was. However arbitrary season halves are, we’ve been splitting seasons at the All-Star break forever, and what Arrieta has done since the break legitimately defies belief.

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Grading the Royals’ Division-Winning Celebration

We live in the age of multiple playoff levels and one of the results of this is we get many different playoff winners, and each playoff winner has to have a playoff winner celebration. Celebrations used to be more sedate than they are now, but things have changed since Don Larsen struck out Bill Mitchell and jogged solemnly off the mound after having thrown the first and to date only perfect game in the World Series. No big deal, really, when you think about it. Today, though, players never miss a chance to jump up and down and yell and celebrate and be happy. This being FanGraphs though, we can’t simply observe this behavior. We have to analyze it. Because we hate baseball.

Last Thursday in a match up between a team we thought might go to the post-season and a team named the Royals, the Royals beat the Mariners 10-4 to clinch their first AL Central division title ever. Seriously. The last time the Royals won a division title they were in a different division. The final out came when Kyle Seager grounded out weakly to first baseman Eric Hosmer. Here was the scene before contact.

Screen Shot 2015-09-28 at 9.24.15 AM

Oops, sorry. Wrong kind of contact. Let’s try that again.

Royals last pitch

There we go.

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