Pitch Talks Heads to the Cactus League

Pitchers and catchers have reported. It’s shorts weather in Minnesota, at least to Minnesotans. Spring is coming. It’s time to fire up the Pitch Talks machine and get together to talk about our favorite teams. Here we come, Phoenix!

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Podcast Results: The Over/Under Game with Dave Cameron

Last week, the author of this post played the inaugural Over/Under Prospect Game on FanGraphs Audio with lead prospect analyst Eric Longenhagen, the results of which contest were subsequently recorded for posterity at this site. Now, just this very minute, the same author has published an audio record of a similar game — in this case with managing editor Dave Cameron.

The rules of this particular version:

  • Contestant A introduces a specific metric for 2017.
  • Contestant A proposes a precise figure for that metric.
  • Contestant B chooses the over or under.

So, for example: in this edition of the game, Cameron proposes a wager concerning Adam Eaton’s UZR figure in center field for the Nats this season. He sets the over/under mark at +8.0 runs. The author of this post chooses the under. Bet made.

Each Cameron and the host submit five over/under proposals in this episode, for a total of 10 overall. The results of all 10 wagers appear below.

Wager No. 1
Contestant A: Cistulli
Metric: Games entered by Andrew Miller in 7th inning or earlier.
Over/Under: 22
Contestant B: Cameron
Chooses: Under

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The Least Intimidating Hitter in Baseball

You can learn a lot about a hitter by the way he gets pitched to. Granted, you can also learn a lot about a hitter by the way that he hits, but when you look at the approach, you learn something about perception. You learn how opponents see the hitter. Two useful measures: fastball rate, and zone rate. You could of course go deeper than this, but fastball rate tells you something about fear. The same goes for zone rate. If someone keeps getting fastballs in the zone, the pitchers probably aren’t afraid. If someone rarely sees fastballs or pitches in the zone, well, something else is going on.

Some 2016 numbers, for reference:

Fastball and Zone Rates
Split Fastball% Zone%
Pitchers 71% 55%
Non-Pitchers 56% 48%
Top 25 ISO 53% 45%
Bottom 25 ISO 59% 49%

You can see how aggressively pitchers are attacked by other pitchers. The fastball rate skyrockets, and you get five out of nine pitches in the strike zone. More powerful hitters see fewer fastballs, and fewer strikes. Less powerful hitters see more fastballs, and more strikes. This is all easy and intuitive, and although there are other variables to consider, we’ve touched on the big stuff.

Using these statistics, we can attempt to quantify a hitter’s intimidation. No, it’s not perfect, but I’ve still run the math, calculating z-scores for both of the rates. The last step is just adding the two z-scores together. In this table, the least intimidating hitters in baseball in 2016, given a minimum of 200 plate appearances.

Least Intimidating Hitters, 2016
Player Season Fastball%, z Zone%, z Combined
Ben Revere 2016 3.5 1.9 5.3
Nori Aoki 2016 1.8 2.6 4.4
J.B. Shuck 2016 1.9 2.1 4.0
Billy Burns 2016 1.2 2.7 3.9
Shawn O’Malley 2016 1.9 1.9 3.8
J.J. Hardy 2016 1.5 2.2 3.7
Angel Pagan 2016 2.6 0.9 3.5
DJ LeMahieu 2016 2.3 1.0 3.3
Darwin Barney 2016 1.3 1.9 3.2
Derek Norris 2016 1.6 1.6 3.2

It’s Ben Revere! And it’s Ben Revere by a mile. Revere just saw 70% fastballs, and he saw 52% of all pitches in the strike zone. That’s not quite where pitchers wound up, collectively, but Revere was nearly pitched like a pitcher, and that certainly sends a message. No one was afraid of him, and not coincidentally, Revere finished with a 47 wRC+. He did, though, smack a couple of dingers.

For some context, I calculated numbers for individual hitter-seasons throughout the PITCHf/x era, stretching back to 2008. Where did Revere’s season rank in terms of its unintimidatingness?

Least Intimidating Hitters, 2008 – 2016
Player Season Fastball%, z Zone%, z Combined
David Eckstein 2009 3.1 2.7 5.8
David Eckstein 2010 3.1 2.5 5.6
Marco Scutaro 2013 2.6 2.9 5.5
Nick Punto 2013 2.8 2.7 5.5
Ben Revere 2016 3.5 1.9 5.3
Jason Kendall 2010 2.8 2.5 5.3
David Eckstein 2008 2.8 2.2 5.1
Denard Span 2011 2.0 3.0 5.0
Ryan Hanigan 2015 1.9 3.0 4.9
A.J. Ellis 2015 3.0 1.9 4.9

Not a bad showing — fifth place, out of 3,148 hitter-seasons. David Eckstein occupies the top two spots, and, sure, of course he does. Because I’m sure you’d wonder, the lowest combined score is -6.7, belonging to 2012 Josh Hamilton. Pitchers definitely didn’t want to throw him any fastballs, and they didn’t want to risk anything he’d find particularly hittable.

Back to Revere. There was an article on Nationals.com after the home run embedded above, which was Revere’s first of the season. Said Dusty Baker, unironically, or maybe ironically, how should I know:

“I’m just hoping he doesn’t get that dreadful disease of home run-itis,” Baker said.

Said Revere, referring to same:

“If I try to hit it in the air, I’ll probably be at .250 or a Mendoza-line .200 hitter. But if I hit the ball on the ground or line drives, I’ll be .300 for a long time.”

Revere ran the same ground-ball rate he had as a regular in 2015, when he hit .306. He finished the year batting .217.

The Reinvention of Franklin Gutierrez, Baseball Miracle

The Dodgers signed Franklin Gutierrez over the weekend. Now, I didn’t realize the Dodgers still had room on their major-league roster, but they probably know better than I do. Here is a list of problems that have sent Franklin Gutierrez to the disabled list over the past several years:

  • stomach gastritis
  • strained left oblique
  • torn right pectoral
  • concussion
  • strained right hamstring
  • strained right hamstring

Related to the above, here are Gutierrez’s year-to-year plate-appearance totals after getting traded to the Mariners:

  • 2009: 629
  • 2010: 629
  • 2011: 344
  • 2012: 163
  • 2013: 151
  • 2014: 0

That zero stands out. Gutierrez missed all of 2014, making the personal decision to sit out so he could focus on treatment. Treatment for what? Treatment for ankylosing spondylitis! Young athletes are not often diagnosed with ankylosing spondylitis, but Gutierrez was, and there isn’t a cure. It’s a condition he’ll deal with for the rest of his life, and it costs him flexibility and mobility. It’s cruel and unrelenting, and when Gutierrez elected to not play, he couldn’t have known whether he’d ever be able to return.

But he tried in 2015. He tried, and he succeeded, having settled on a treatment plan that left him feeling somewhat okay. Gutierrez batted almost 200 times with the 2015 Mariners, and then he batted almost 300 times with the 2016 Mariners. And the player that Gutierrez turned himself into was and is dramatically different from the player he’d been before.

Franklin Gutierrez vs. Franklin Gutierrez
Years PA Def/600 BB% K% wRC+ ISO HR/FB% Hard% Zone% WAR/600
2007 – 2010 1999 18.3 7% 21% 94 0.143 9% 32% 53% 3.6
2015 – 2016 472 -10.3 9% 29% 135 0.255 30% 44% 45% 3.7

That’s a comparison of recent Gutierrez to what’s basically peak, healthy Gutierrez. Earlier in his career, Gutierrez was as smooth an outfield defender as anyone had ever seen. He was one of the best defensive players in baseball, and at the plate, he showed some promising pop. Now look at the last two years. Gutierrez has become a negative defensive asset, because he simply doesn’t move so well anymore. For the same reason, he’s seldom aggressive on the bases. So much of that old athleticism is gone, and it’ll never return. But Gutierrez has found a way to compensate. He’s gotten bigger, and he’s made a conscious effort to try to just beat the living crap out of the ball.

Some percentile rankings from the last two years:

  • HR/FB%: 100th
  • ISO: 96th
  • Hard%: 99th
  • wFA/C: 99th
  • Exit Velo: 96th
  • Contact: 7th
  • K%: 5th
  • Fastball%: 4th
  • Def/600: 19th

No hitter in baseball has managed a higher rate of home runs per fly ball. Gutierrez has some of the best hard-contact measures around, having sacrificed contact to get there. At this point, he has a lot of power and a lot of swing-and-miss, and so pitchers increasingly treat Gutierrez like a terrifying threat, avoiding fastballs and avoiding the zone. As far as other things go, Gutierrez can still play the outfield, but he isn’t very good at it. And there will be days he’ll wake up and he simply won’t be able to play. On those days, his condition won’t let him.

The reality is, Gutierrez isn’t getting healthier. And teams are reluctant to sign a player whose availability is unpredictable. From time to time, the Dodgers might end up frustrated, playing games with a short bench. But they know what they’re getting into, and they know what Gutierrez has been able to do since his return. Having lost a lot of his ability to move around, Gutierrez has focused on more light jogs and fewer hard sprints. He remains active with his 34th birthday coming next week, and given where he’s been, that’s almost impossible to believe.

Job Posting: Wasserman Sports Analytics Position

Position: Wasserman Sports Analytics Position

Location: New York
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Job Posting: Minnesota Twins Advance Scouting Internship

Position: Minnesota Twins Advance Scouting Internship

Location: Minneapolis
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Job Posting: Washington Nationals Research & Development Internship

Position: Washington Nationals Research & Development Internship

Location: Washington DC
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Where Chris Archer and Max Scherzer Were Opposites

Late last week, I published an article about Kevin Kiermaier, calling him further underrated because he’s faced an abnormally tough schedule of opposing pitchers. On the other side of things, Jorge Soler is coming off a year in which he faced one of the easiest opposing slates in recent history. This doesn’t lead to anything conclusively — worse pitchers can throw great pitches, and great pitchers can make mistakes. But what’s suggested is that Kiermaier’s true talent is higher than his numbers, while Soler probably had his 2016 stats inflated. This is an adjustment we so infrequently discuss.

If I’m going to point to hitters and their strengths of schedule, it only makes sense to look at pitchers, too. So I did that for a number of pitchers in 2016, guided by this Baseball Prospectus list. I didn’t calculate numbers for every pitcher, but I examined many pitchers at either end of the BP list. All I did was calculate the average 2016 wRC+ posted by the pitchers’ opponents. The higher the number, the tougher the average opponent. The league-average wRC+ last season, with pitchers included, was 97.

Pitchers with easier schedules

For the most part, I just wanted to look at pitchers who threw at least 100 innings. But for some smaller-sample fun, J.P. Howell‘s average opponent managed just an 84 wRC+, while Matt Harvey wound up at 85. That makes Harvey’s season look only worse, although he had a pretty good reason for that.

Pitchers with tougher schedules

The gaps might not seem that big to you, I don’t really know. But for whatever it’s worth, Todd Frazier just had a 102 wRC+, and Adonis Garcia finished at 90. Steamer projects Mike Napoli for a 103 wRC+, with Kevin Pillar at 90. Imagine the difference between a full season facing lineups of Napolis and lineups of Pillars. Mathematically, it would work out to double-digit runs, so just remember this the next time you’re, say, recalling some pitching numbers from the 2016 American League East. Not every schedule is created the same, and you better believe certain pitchers can feel it.

(Still) The Most Volatile Hitter in Baseball History

Last week, on Twitter, Mike Petriello reminded me that, in January of 2016, I wrote a post entitled The Most Volatile Hitter in Baseball History. The headline was sexy and interesting, because I didn’t know any other way to convince you to read a post about Ryan Raburn. The gist: I looked at all four-year season stretches dating back to 1900, with at least 200 plate appearances in each season. Raburn, over his four-year span beginning in 2012, had seen his wRC+ bounce around the most. He went from being one of the worst hitters to being one of the best hitters to being one of the worst hitters to being one of the best hitters. I don’t know what it meant. It just instantly became the most interesting thing about Ryan Raburn.

Okay! So, since 1900, there have been more than 8,300 cases where a player was a “qualified” hitter in consecutive years. Who had the biggest year-to-year drop in wRC+? You might be able to guess this one — it’s Bryce Harper, who just saw his wRC+ drop by 85 points. Though he wasn’t bad by any means in the most recent year, he wasn’t the destroyer of worlds he’d been the summer before. Rumors continue to swirl that Harper was playing through significant pain.

Bryce Harper’s wRC+ just lost 85 points. A massive, historic drop. If you look at the last two years and reduce the playing-time minimum, the guy with the second-biggest drop, at 81 points, is Ryan Raburn.

The pattern, therefore, continues.

The first time around, I looked at four-year stretches, with a minimum of 200 plate appearances in each. Raburn has batted at least that many times every year since 2009, but since he’s often been close to 200, I opted to lower the minimum to 150 plate appearances. Now to look at five-year stretches. I had a pool of 12,044 five-year stretches to consider. Here are the stretches with the biggest wRC+ standard deviations:

Hitter Volatility, wRC+
Player First Year Last Year Y1 Y2 Y3 Y4 Y5 Standard Deviation
Ryan Raburn 2012 2016 28 149 50 154 73 57.7
Ryan Raburn 2011 2015 94 28 149 50 154 56.8
Ryan Raburn 2010 2014 120 94 28 149 50 49.6
Dusty Rhodes 1953 1957 89 181 125 83 55 48.5
Danny Valencia 2012 2016 26 140 85 136 118 47.2
Ryan Raburn 2009 2013 129 120 94 28 149 46.9
Danny Valencia 2011 2015 83 26 140 85 136 46.7
Travis Hafner 2004 2008 158 166 176 121 64 45.8
Travis Hafner 2005 2009 166 176 121 64 115 44.9
Bernard Gilkey 1996 2000 152 102 74 117 34 44.6

It’s Ryan Raburn! In second place, overlapping Ryan Raburn. In third place, overlapping Ryan Raburn. And then a somewhat distant Dusty Rhodes. But one thing about standard deviations is that they don’t really consider sequencing. Going 100 – 100 – 50 would look the same as going 100 – 50 – 100. The second example looks more volatile, so to capture that, I’ve looked at the total wRC+ change. I took the absolute values of the changes between each year and then added them together. The leaders:

Hitter Volatility, wRC+
Player First Year Last Year Y1 Y2 Y3 Y4 Y5 Total Change
Ryan Raburn 2012 2016 28 149 50 154 73 405
Ryan Raburn 2011 2015 94 28 149 50 154 390
Ryan Raburn 2010 2014 120 94 28 149 50 312
Danny Valencia 2011 2015 83 26 140 85 136 277
Danny Valencia 2010 2014 117 83 26 140 85 260
Clyde Barnhart 1923 1927 151 91 114 31 116 251
Joel Youngblood 1980 1984 102 164 75 138 101 251
Roy Campanella 1952 1956 120 154 75 150 89 249
Rafael Furcal 2007 2011 82 171 93 126 83 243
Lou Piniella 1972 1976 136 76 114 38 106 242

It’s not even close. Over the last five years, Raburn’s wRC+ has changed by an average of about 101 points a season. The nearest non-Raburn name is 2011 – 2015 Danny Valencia, at an average of about 69 points a season. Raburn established a historic pattern, and then continued it. I wasn’t expecting that, even though, you know.

Basic pattern recognition would suggest Raburn is now due for another offensive breakout. He happens to be a free agent, and the last time he was linked on MLB Trade Rumors was last March 29. Every team in baseball would tell you, no, that conclusion is stupid, that’s not how this works. But I think we can all agree that baseball probably doesn’t quite understand how Ryan Raburn works. How could it?

Draft Results: The 2017 Over/Under Prospect Game

This very minute, the author has published an episode of FanGraphs Audio in which lead prospect analyst Eric Longenhagen and that same dumb author play the first inaugural edition of the Over/Under Prospect Game. The rules of the game are discussed in greater detail within the pod episode. In short, though, this is how it’s played:

  • Contestant A nominates a rookie-eligible player.
  • Contestant A also sets an over/under figure for that player’s WAR in 2017.
  • Contestant B chooses the over or under.

For sake of simplicity, we limited the game to 10 nominations total, five by Longenhagen and five by me. The only criterion for a nominee was that he retained his rookie eligibility entering the 2017 campaign.

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Cleveland Signs Logan, Keeps Winning Offseason

The Indians have had a successful offseason, as noted by Craig Edwards last week and they kept winning the offseason on Thursday, agreeing with left-handed reliever Boone Logan on a one-year deal with an option, as first reported by Ken Rosenthal.

Entering Thursday, Cleveland had only one lefty in its bullpen, albeit perhaps the game’s best left-handed reliever in Andrew Miller. Now they have two who can miss bats, and presumably Logan can fit a matchup role that will free Miller to be used in a more versatile manner by Cleveland manager Terry Francona.

Last season with the Rockies, Logan held left-handed hitters to a .139/.222/225 slash line and since 2014 he’s limited lefties to a .236/.330/.392 slash line.

Francona said earlier this winter he didn’t just want any lefty added to the bullpen, he wanted an effective one. And according to T.J. Zuppe, Logan was on the Indians’ radar last trade deadline.

Logan didn’t make the cut of FanGraphs’ top-50 free agents this offseason, but he did come in at No. 50 on at CBSSports and ranked 37th according to MLB Trade Rumors. So for Cleveland to sign Logan in February to a one-year deal with an option seems like a winning transaction for a club, which is projected to win the AL Central and return to the postseason.

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The Grand Return of Wily Mo Peña

Sit ’round the fire, children, and let me tell you a tale. Once there was a man named Wily Mo Peña. He did things like this.

Wily Mo could hit the ball just about as far as anyone. He didn’t make contact very often, but when he did, the ball flew as if someone had set off a brick of C-4 behind it. Wily Mo Peña was a human launching pad, but a flawed one. In 1,845 big-league games between 2002 and 2011, he accumulated just 0.4 WAR. That’s because Peña generally can’t play defense, and he doesn’t walk very much either. He’s a one-trick pony of the highest order, a poor man’s Dave Kingman. It is not surprising that he took his talents to Japan. There he thrived. Now, he has returned.

After taking 2016 off, Peña has signed a minor-league deal with Cleveland, and there’s a clause in his contract that stipulates that he can make $700,000 if he makes the big-league team. He’ll serve as an insurance policy for Edwin Encarnacion and Carlos Santana, given that both sluggers are over 30, though he’ll need to contend with Chris Colabello. Peña should be adequate as a stopgap DH should the big club need him. Ken Rosenthal reports that he and Encarnacion are close and that Cleveland signed him after watching him work out with Encarnacion.

This is a move of little to no significance. It’s hard to imagine a scenario in which Wily Mo Peña plays a crucial role for Cleveland during the playoff push, to say nothing of imagining a Wily Mo Peña home run winning a World Series game. Peña is a dinosaur sort of player from a bygone era. He is a 90s’ kind of slugger in a younger more athletic game, a game in which the man who led the National League in homers in 2016 may have to retrace Peña’s steps to Japan.

Sports are entertainment, though, and we should celebrate that we may once again be entertained by Wily Mo Peña. Goodness knows the fans in Japan did.

It would be surprising if Peña got more than 150-200 plate appearances with the big club, if any at all. We can only hope that we’re blessed with even just one more massive home run. He may be capable of peppering the massive scoreboard at Progressive Field. All that remains to be seen if he’s given the chance to do so.

SABR Analytics Awards: Voting Now Open

Here’s your chance to vote for the 2017 SABR Analytics Conference Research Award winners.

The SABR Analytics Conference Research Awards will recognize baseball researchers who have completed the best work of original analysis or commentary during the preceding calendar year. Nominations were solicited by representatives from SABR, Baseball Prospectus, FanGraphs, The Hardball Times, and Beyond the Box Score.

To read any of the finalists, click on the link below. Scroll down to cast your vote.

Contemporary Baseball Analysis

Contemporary Baseball Commentary

Historical Analysis/Commentary

Voting will be open through 11:59 p.m. MST on Monday, February 13, 2017. Details and criteria for each category can be found here. Only one work per author was considered as a finalist.



Create your own user feedback survey

Mobile or Safari users, click here to access the survey


Results will be announced and presented at the sixth annual SABR Analytics Conference, March 9-11, 2017, at the Hyatt Regency Phoenix in Phoenix, Arizona. Learn more or register for the conference at SABR.org/analytics.

Greg Holland Joins the Rockies

Look, it would be strange if the Rockies didn’t have a weird offseason, right? It’s the Rockies. Weird has been the modus operandi with this franchise for all of recent memory. Even their run to the World Series was unexpected and strange and involved Matt Holliday perhaps not really touching home plate at one crucial point. If the Rockies went out and made a bunch of coherent moves, it might be cause for concern.

Anyways, after signing Ian Desmond to play first base and throwing a lot of money at perfectly pedestrian lefty reliever Mike Dunn, Colorado is bringing in right-hander Greg Holland, because why not? As you likely know, Holland is good at baseball. He was the closer for the Royals during their run of success, and when he was healthy, he was excellent. Holland is the owner of a career 2.35 DRA and has struck out just over a quarter of all the batters he’s faced. When he was healthy, he was one of the best in the business.

“When he was healthy” is the important phrase here. Holland missed all of last year and part of 2015 after undergoing Tommy John surgery. This makes him going to Colorado interesting, because Coors Field is not exactly the first place that comes to mind when one thinks “rebound.” Yet here Holland goes, to ply his craft for the Rockies. He’s heading there on a one-year deal, per Jeff Passan, with a vesting option for a second year. Holland will make  $7 million this year, and could potentially earn as much as $14 million through incentives. The vesting option will presumably depend either on raw innings pitched or the number of games Holland finishes.

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Projecting Jose De Leon

At long last, the Dodgers found a solution to their hole at second base, acquiring second baseman Logan Forsythe from the Rays on Monday night in exchange for top pitching prospect Jose De Leon. This came after months of rumors around a trade involving De Leon and Brian Dozier. The Dodgers had a surplus of starting pitchers and an opening at second, so it was only a matter of time before they dealt the unproven De Leon.

De Leon’s first crack at the big leagues — a four-start cameo in September — didn’t go quite as well as many had hoped. But he breezed through the minors over the last two years. He broke out in a big way in 2015, striking out an absurd 35% of opposing hitters between High-A and Double-A while walking just 8%. That performance made him a consensus top-30 prospect the following winter.

De Leon battled injuries in the first half of 2016, but began dominating again once he returned to the field. In 16 starts at the Triple-A level, he once again posted a strikeout rate well over 30%, along with solid walk and home-run numbers. De Leon proved himself at the highest level of the minors at the tender age of 23. Pitchers who meet that standard often go on to have success in the majors, especially when they miss bats as prolifically as De Leon did.

De leon grades out exceptionally well by my KATOH system. It projects him for 8.1 WAR over his first six seasons by the traditional method (KATOH) and also 10.1 WAR by the method that integrates Baseball America’s rankings (KATOH+). He’s the 13th-highest-ranking prospect by KATOH+ and the third-highest-ranking pitcher.

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How Much Hope Do the Bad Teams Have?

Spring training has gotten surprisingly close, and — in terms of significant activity — the offseason is mostly complete. Just about every team around has a pretty good idea what the opening-day roster is going to look like, which means we’re coming up on projection season. Now, you could argue it’s always projection season, at least here on FanGraphs, but the team projections should, in theory, be better than they’ve been all winter. So let’s work with that.

Right now, all we have available is Steamer. We’re still a little while away from ZiPS getting folded in. But Steamer isn’t stupid, so, looking at that, we see the following teams projected to bring up the MLB rear: the Padres (66 wins), the Brewers (67 wins), and the Reds (69 wins). No one else is projected right now for a win total in the 60s, and while the White Sox would end up down there if they sold Jose Quintana, that hasn’t yet happened, so we shouldn’t assume anything.

You could argue the three worst teams are on the right tracks. All of them are openly rebuilding, and none of them think they’re going to win in 2017. Keith Law just ranked the Padres’ farm system No. 3 in the game. He ranked the Brewers at No. 6, and he ranked the Reds at No. 8. I don’t think many people thought the Reds would come in so high! There they are, though. Lots to hope for in the future.

But what about the near-term future? How good could these teams be in the year just ahead? None of them plan to win, but, miracles happen. To get to the point: I consulted my spreadsheet of team projections going back to 2005. That’s 12 years, and over that span, I found 26 teams projected to win no more than 70 games. Here’s a big (sortable) table of how all those teams did:

Worst Projected Teams Since 2005
Team Season Projected W Actual W BaseRuns W
Orioles 2012 70 93 82
Blue Jays 2010 65 85 84
Marlins 2008 68 84 81
Astros 2010 69 76 68
Brewers 2016 69 73 76
Nationals 2007 70 73 69
Pirates 2011 70 72 70
Phillies 2016 64 71 63
Royals 2011 68 71 78
Astros 2014 67 70 77
Royals 2007 65 69 74
Braves 2016 68 68 70
Orioles 2008 67 68 72
Pirates 2008 70 67 67
Pirates 2005 69 67 72
Rays 2005 70 67 64
Twins 2013 67 66 63
Phillies 2015 66 63 59
Marlins 2013 69 62 65
Pirates 2009 70 62 66
Royals 2006 65 62 62
Nationals 2008 70 59 62
Astros 2011 66 56 62
Royals 2005 68 56 59
Astros 2012 64 55 58
Astros 2013 60 51 57

On average, the teams were projected to win 68 games. On average, they actually won 68 games, with an average BaseRuns win total of 68. Pretty good, all in all, by which I mean, pretty bad. The medians are also in agreement.

Of note: The worst projected team was even worse than expected. Of greater note, though, is that three of these 26 teams finished over .500. That’s about a 12% success rate, if that means anything to you. The 2012 Orioles are the greatest success story included, because they outdid their projected win total by an unbelievable 23. They made the playoffs! Their win totals leading up to the season in question: 69, 66, 64, 68, 69, 70. Between 2007 – 2011, no team in the American League won fewer games than the Orioles. Between 2012 – 2016, no team in the American League has won more games than the Orioles. That year in 2012 was when the whole story of the organization was flipped on its head.

The 2010 Blue Jays were only a little outdone. They beat their projection by 20 wins, and just looking at BaseRuns, they finished better than the 2012 Orioles. Those Jays were thought to be somewhat rebuilding, after ridding themselves of J.P. Ricciardi, and no team would expect to win after trading away Roy Halladay. The Jays played just one month that year with a sub-.500 record.

And then you’ve got the 2008 Marlins, before they decided to identify just with Miami. What the 2008 projections knew was that, in December 2007, the Marlins traded Miguel Cabrera to the Tigers. But the projections didn’t think the run prevention would improve by 124. It wasn’t a playoff season, but it was a hell of a lot better than it could’ve been.

In all, 26 projected bad teams. Of those, 23 were at least mostly bad. Odds are, the Padres, Brewers, and Reds will be bad, too. But let’s just say, for simplicity, there’s a 3-in-26 chance for each given team to do better than .500. It would follow there’s about a 30% shot for at least one of these teams to do better than .500. Wouldn’t that be something? I’ll pick the Brewers, and live with it.

Let’s Watch Kevin Kiermaier Not Catch a Fly Ball

How good is Kevin Kiermaier, defensively? Kevin Kiermaier is this good, defensively: Since 2003, 148 different players have played center field for at least 1,000 innings. Kiermaier leads all of them, so far, in UZR per 150 games. In case you’d like a second source, Kiermaier also leads all of them in DRS per 150 games. DRS actually likes him even more than UZR does. Obviously, because Kiermaier isn’t yet 27, we haven’t seen his decline phase. At some point, he will become a worse defender, because at some point, he will wake up and be a 75-year-old man. But Kiermaier is like an outfield Andrelton Simmons, except that, oh, by the way, Kiermaier can also hit a little.

It’s fun to examine the great ones. It’s fun to examine when the great ones are great, and sometimes it’s even more fun to examine when the great ones are not great. So I rolled over to Baseball Savant to check out Kiermaier’s plot of base hits allowed. This is a new feature, and an awesome one, and here’s what shows up for Kiermaier’s 2016:

By hang time and distance, pretty much everything here is some variety of a difficult play. Or, for many, an impossible play! There’s only one missed play that counts as either routine or easy, and you see it there within the red circle. Curious, I asked Daren Willman if he could tell me when that play occurred. He gave me the information I needed. What catch did Kevin Kiermaier miss? We rewind to early August.

The ball hung up for more than six seconds. That’s a lot of time, and it allowed Kiermaier to cover more than 100 feet of ground. Here’s a screenshot of right around where Kiermaier started, with a dot to indicate where the ball bounced off the fence.

And, the fateful moment, or thereabouts:

There’s a twist here, see. This shows up as a missed play for Kiermaier, but it’s not entirely clear this was Kiermaier’s ball to catch. Certainly, that much wasn’t clear to left fielder Mikie Mahtook, who mis-everythinged his leap. Kiermaier was right there, and it looked like he had a shot, but at the last instant, he held up, with Mahtook taking to the air. What we can’t tell from the broadcast or from the replays is whether either player called off the other. What we can tell is that Mahtook took charge. In most cases, an outfielder here will defer to the guy playing center. He tends to be the defensive captain of the outfield, so to speak. Mahtook defied convention, and Jose Bautista wound up with a double.

Why the miscommunication? It’s impossible for us to conclusively say, and it’s not like the Rays aren’t used to having Kiermaier in center field. But Kiermaier wasn’t used to having Mahtook to his right. This play happened early in the first inning on August 9. The first time this past season that Kiermaier was in center, with Mahtook in left: the first inning on August 9. It took two batters for that alignment to be exploited, and it might not be a total coincidence that Mahtook’s newest baseball future will take place with Detroit. When you get in the way of Kevin Kiermaier’s defense, a team won’t take it lightly.

This is how Kevin Kiermaier missed his easiest catch. The ball was a near home run, and another player tried to leap for it first.

Bagwell, Raines, and Rodriguez Enter the Hall

The 2017 Hall of Fame class is a party of three, and voting totals suggest the electorate is becoming more accepting and forgiving.

Jeff Bagwell, Tim Raines, and Ivan Rodriguez were inducted into The National Baseball Hall of Fame on Wednesday, as results of the Baseball Writers Association of America’s voting were revealed on MLB Network.

Raines appeared on 86.0% of ballots in his last year of eligibility. His candidacy was promoted passionately by many, including former FanGraphs contributor Jonah Keri.

With Rodriguez’ induction to the Hall on his first ballot appearance — and the appearance both of Barry Bonds (53.8%) and Roger Clemens (51.8%) on more than 50% of ballots for the first time — voters appear to be softening against those suspected of and tied to PED use.

In 2016, Bonds appeared on 44.3% of ballots, Clemens 45.2%.

Yahoo’s Jeff Passan noted only three players who’ve appeared on 50% of ballots at one point have failed, later, to enter the Hall.

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The Mariners Are Making All the Trades Again

On Monday, I wrote about how the Mariners were moving towards the model used by the Kanas City Royals the last few years, putting a heavy emphasis on outfield defense to help prop up a mediocre rotation. GM Jerry Dipoto added Jarrod Dyson to Leonys Martin and Mitch Haniger, giving the team a starting outfield of three guys capable of playing center field, plus a couple of reserves who have some defensive abilities. So, it was pretty weird when the team announced that they’d traded one of their best prospects, lefty Luiz Gohara, to Atlanta for center fielder Mallex Smith and reliever Shae Simmons.

Smith, like Martin and Dyson, is a speed-and-defense center fielder who has some real offensive question marks. As a low-power guy who ran a 73% contact rate in the majors last year, it’s tough to see him ever developing into more than just a below average hitter who tries to make up for his offensive weakness with stolen bases and diving catches in the outfield. It’s the Billy Hamilton profile, just with a 10 percentage point reduction in contact rate and normal earth-person speed, instead of whatever Hamilton got his ability to run from from.

On a team without a real center fielder, Smith would probably be a useful piece, a flycatcher who could hit at the bottom of the order and hold down his spot while making the league minimum. On the Mariners, though, he made little sense, because he’s not good enough to supplant any of the team’s three starters, and because the team’s starters are already good defenders, there isn’t much room for a late-game defensive replacement. So why would Dipoto trade one of the team’s best young arms for another copy of what he already has? Well, there’s this.

So, apparently, like Friday’s series of trades that went together, the Mariners made a move that allows them to make another move. Speculatively, Cleveland could certainly use a guy like Smith, allowing them to push Tyler Naquin back to a corner outfield spot, or perhaps the Tigers would like Smith as an alternative to Anthony Gose, even though Gose is a warning about getting too excited about speed-and-defense prospects who can’t make contact. There are teams out there who Smith makes sense for; Seattle just isn’t one of them.

Right now, turning a left-handed pitching prospect with premium velocity into a 4th OF and a reliever doesn’t look like a great idea, but we’ll apparently have to wait and see what Smith fetches in this apparent second deal.

If you’re the Braves, though, you have to be pretty thrilled about this. Even if Simmons might have some real value as a potential high-end reliever, turning him and a guy blocked by Ender Inciarte into another high-upside pitching prospect is a pretty nifty move. While we don’t know exactly what the Mariners are doing, it seems pretty clear that the Braves saw a chance to turn a couple of spare parts into a potential core piece, and jumped on it when they could.

2016 Catcher Back-Pick Data

If you had the unfortunate honor of following me on Twitter during the 2016 season, you were subjected to several dozen versions of this tweet:

I undertook a yearlong effort to catalog and analyze every instance in which a catcher threw behind a runner at first base and the product of that endeavor was an essay in the 2017 Hardball Times Annual. That essay contains answers to questions including, but certainly not limited to:

  • Which catcher threw to first most often? (Salvador Perez.)
  • The average success rate on back-pick attempts? (About 10%.)
  • Which catcher was most accurate when throwing to first? (Yadier Molina.)
  • Do base-stealers draw more throws? (They seem to.)

If said essay failed to quench your thirst for back-pick factoids, you will likely have interest in getting your hands on the raw data which you can download here. If you use the data for any sort of published work, all I ask is that you cite me and send me a link on Twitter (@NeilWeinberg44).