Mariners Fire Jack Zduriencik

The culling of General Managers continues. Today, the Mariners announced that Jack Zduriencik is joining the ranks of Doug Melvin, Dave Dombrowski, and Ben Cherington as executives who lost their jobs because of their team’s 2015 struggles. Coming off an 87 win season and significant off-season expenditures the last few years, the Mariners expected to win this year, and another disappointing season proved too much for Zduriencik to outlast. With five losing seasons in seven years and no playoff berths in either of his two winning years, plus a farm system that looks like one of the worst in the game and a history of mishandling the young talent they did get to the big leagues, the Mariners have decided it’s time for a change in direction.

Zduriencik took over after the 2008 season, bringing now-FanGraphs author Tony Blengino with him from Milwaukee to form a front office that looked like it would attempt to blend scouting and statistical analysis. The first year was a wild success, taking the team from 61 to 85 wins, but it was almost all entirely downhill from there. After the 2010 team flopped, the front office fractured, and the organization pivoted away from valuing defense and began a multi-year obsession with trying to stack the line-up with power hitters. Not surprisingly, that plan never worked particularly well.

The Mariners finally got back to the winning side of things last year, after spending $240 million to lure Robinson Cano away from the Yankees, but down years from Cano, Kyle Seager, and Felix Hernandez this year exposed a group of role players that still weren’t up to contention-level, and the team’s inability to put reasonable backup plans in place for the predictable struggles of guys like Logan Morrison forced the team to deal with replacement level production at a large number of positions.

So now the Mariners will search for a new leader, but like in Boston, it seems more likely that they’ll be looking for someone to turn the ship around quickly rather than lead another rebuild. With Hernandez, Cano, and Nelson Cruz all declining assets, there is likely to still be pressure to try and win with this core before those contracts go south and a rebuild is necessary. Bob Nightengale reported that the team may have interest in White Sox president Kenny Williams, while Ken Rosenthal notes on Twitter that they’ve reached out to former Rockies GM Dan O’Dowd. While the team would likely do better to hire a younger, more forward-thinking GM rather than go with another old-school scout, it seems more likely that the team will hire an experienced executive who will promise to turn this ship around fast.

It’s an organization in an awkward position, not setup well to either win next year or long-term, so the new guy will have their work cut out for them. But the fact that the team is struggling and the farm system is in shambles is why the job is open in the first place.


Comparing the Win Distribution Between Leagues

Wins across the National League and American League aren’t distributed equally. Looking at both current wins and our projected expected wins, the NL has more teams at the extreme ends of the wins spectrum, while the AL is more tightly grouped. The shape of the win distribution is useful because it can create a picture of the league. The AL has 20 more interleague wins than the NL due to the 140-120 AL-NL interleague record, so the AL’s distribution is shifted slightly higher than the NL’s. But the NL’s distribution is more spread out with more teams having either really good records or really poor records. Interestingly enough, one division, the National League Central, has the top three teams, Cardinals, Pirates and Cubs, in its league.

2015-Wins-Distribution-League

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Perpetually Looping Video: Chris Davis vs. All Capitalism

“Was it Karl Marx,” one might ask drunkenly at a party, “or Baltimore Orioles first baseman Chris Davis who memorably declared that ‘The production of too many useful things results in too many useless people’?”

The answer, technically: Karl Marx, in his text Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844.

The answer, metaphorically: Chris Davis, actually, by means of a foul-ball protest against Sweet Baby Ray’s Barbecue Sauce in the first inning of tonight’s game versus Kansas City.


Come Drink Tonight With FanGraphs!

If you frequent these internet pages, you may have seen the announcement last month that we are hosting a Meetup tonight at Mead Hall in Cambridge in advance of this weekend’s Saber Seminar. In case you didn’t, I’m reminding you again so that you’re all out of excuses. Here’s the pertinent paragraph:

We’ll be getting started right at 7 pm, at Mead Hall’s upstairs bar, just in time to watch the first pitch of the Royals v. Red Sox tilt at Fenway Park. Generally, there are all sorts of writers from the FanGraphs family of blogs at the Meetup, and this year should be no different. Dave Cameron, David Laurila, Jeff Zimmerman, Chris Mitchell, Bryan Cole, Peter Bonney and myself will be on the premises for sure, as will Saber Seminar co-organizer Chuck Korb.

There will be plenty of your other favorite baseball analysts there as well. Oh, and beer. Did I mention beer? So much beer. (Reminder: You’re supposed to be 21 to attend.) So come join us tonight, it’s going to be a marvelous time!


Wade Davis, Dellin Betances, and the 95+ mph Cutter

The video here depicts the last pitch of Wednesday night’s game between Kansas City and Cincinnati, a contest won 4-3 by the Royals. What else the video depicts is a cutter thrown by Wade Davis at 96 mph — for a swinging strike to one of the major leagues’ most talented hitters. Though the author failed to seek Votto’s opinion of the pitch, the following image might provide some insight:

Votto Image
This is the expression a man makes whilst another man relates an anecdote about the time he suffered some manner of testicular injury. It’s also the expression Joey Votto makes, apparently, when he’s just witnessed a pitch featuring an unusual blend of velocity and movement.

The curious reader — and even the dumb author — are both compelled to ask in such an instance: is Davis’s the fastest sort of cutter? And also: if Davis’s isn’t the fastest, then whose is?

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Projecting the Prospects in the Chase Utley Trade

After 13 productive years in a Phillies uniform, Chase Utley is headed to Los Angeles, where he’ll help solidify the Dodgers’ second-base situation. In exchange for Utley’s services, the Dodgers sent a couple of minor leaguers to the Phillies: utility player Darnell Sweeney and right-handed pitcher John Richy. Here’s my statistical breakdown of these two prospects.

Darnell Sweeney, 2.3 WAR

Sweeney, 24, has spent the 2015 season at a Triple-A Oklahoma City, where he’s hit .271/.332/.409 in 116 games. He also runs very well, as evidenced by his 32 steals this year. Aside from the steals, though, Sweeney has been an average Triple-A hitter across the board. He’s seen action at second base, third base, shortstop, left field and center field in the minor leagues.

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Projecting Marcus Greene: The Return for Will Venable

On Tuesday night, the Texas Rangers swung a deal to acquire Will Venable from the San Diego Padres. In return for Venable, the Rangers sent catcher/outfielder Marcus Greene to San Diego, along with a player to be named later. Here’s what my fancy computer math has to say about Greene and his future outlook.

Greene has played exclusively in Low-A Hickory this season, where he logged 25 games before he underwent Tommy John Surgery in June. The 20-year-old hit a strong .218/.365/.500, thanks to an impressive combination of power (.282 ISO) and walks (17% walk rate). On the downside, he struck out in a concerning 24% of his trips to the plate in Hickory. This performance yielded a KATOH forecast of 1.9 WAR through age 28, with a 54% chance of cracking the majors. Due to Greene’s increased strikeout rate, this is a sizable step down from the 4.7 WAR forecast yielded by his 2014 numbers, which primarily took place in the Northwest League.

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Red Sox Hire Dave Dombrowski, Signal Change in Philosophy

On August 4, the Detroit Tigers “released Dave Dombrowski from his contract,” as owner Mike Ilitch decided to promote assistant general manager Al Avila to take the team in a somewhat different direction. While Avila worked closely with Dombrowski, he did make it clear that he intended to modernize the team’s front office a bit more, promoting analyst Sam Menzin to a more prominent role and noting that they’d be expanding the department under him. Dombrowski had a successful run as the Tigers GM, but is one of the more traditional executives still running teams in this age of increasing information.

And now, two weeks later, Dombrowski has landed a new position, taking the title of president of baseball operations with the Boston Red Sox. As part of the transition, GM Ben Cherington will be leaving the organization, and Bob Nightengale reports that former Braves GM Frank Wren is the most likely candidate to replace Cherington. Wren was ousted in Atlanta in part because the team had fallen behind the curve analytically, so a Dombrowski-Wren combination would make for one of the more old-school front office tandems in baseball.

Given that the Red Sox have been among the most aggressive teams in terms of implementing analytics and using data to drive their decision making, this looks like a pretty monumental shift in organizational philosophy. Given that nearly every move Cherington and his staff made last winter has turned out as poorly as possible, it’s not a huge shock that he’s taking the fall for the team’s second consecutive losing season. But it is a bit surprising to see the team apparently change course so aggressively. Dombrowski certainly has a strong track record of building contenders, but it looks like the Red Sox may be pivoting away from data and more towards scouting in response to their recent failures.

One thing’s for sure: This weekend’s Saber Seminar — held in Boston, and with a schedule that was to include a large number of Red Sox front office officials, Cherington included — just got way more interesting.


Job Posting: Baseball Info Solutions Research & Development Associate

Position: Baseball Info Solutions, Research & Development Associate

Location: ~ Allentown, Pa.

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Last Chance to Buy Saber Seminar Tickets

The Saber Seminar — my favorite baseball conference of the year — takes place in Boston next weekend. Ticket sales end Monday, so this is your last chance to get in on the action. If you’re on the fence about attending, perhaps this recently released schedule will help:

Saturday:

Presentations by FG/BP writers:

Jonah Pemstein, Bill Petti, Jeff Zimmerman, Bryan Cole, Harry Pavlidis, Rob Arthur, Jonathan Judge, and Dan Brooks.

Four separate Q&As with Red Sox staff:

Ben Cherington, John Farrell, Tom Tippett, Jared Porter

Other neat stuff!

Sunday:

Presentations by cool people:

Wendy Thurm, Alan Nathan, and a series of abstracts that are always really interesting.

Q&As with members of the Royals front office, plus a player development panel with Red Sox personnel.

Media panel with some great writers and myself.

And if you stick around to the bitter end, I take questions and make jokes.

Seriously, it’s a packed schedule, and you won’t regret attending. A ticket is just $140, or $65 if you’re a student, and every dime received goes to The Jimmy Fund, so you’re not only getting a deal, you’re getting a deal and supporting cancer research at the same time.

If you’re in Boston next weekend, this is a no-brainer. If you’re anywhere near Boston, you should strongly consider making the trip in. If you’re nowhere near Boston, it’s probably still worth getting on a plane. If you’re reading FanGraphs, you like baseball, and if you like baseball, you’ll really enjoy this conference. Come hang out with us next weekend.


So Johnny Cueto Thinks He Can Dance

The best part of writing about baseball? First, you get to watch baseball. Then you get to write about it. That’s how it works. The worst part? The worst part is that you can’t watch it all. No way. There’s like — add the two, carry the one — well, I’m no sabermetrician, but there’s like a lot of baseball to watch, way too much for the average human even if that human owns some sort of picture-in-picture-in-picture technology by which to watch, say, the trinitarian terror of Trout and McCutchen and Harper wreak simultaneous havoc.

What is this a long way of saying? This is a long way of saying that until Monday night, I had not personally witnessed (nor even been impersonally aware of) Johnny Cueto’s revolutionary wiggle. Have you seen this thing? The Detroit Tigers sure have. And so have fans of the Royals, at least those lucky enough to have witnessed the dominant shutout — four hits allowed, zero walks given, many wiggles supplied — that the newly acquired Cueto provided in his Kauffmann Stadium debut.

A trip through the archives reveals that Cueto introduced his wiggle-icious windup against the Nationals on July 7, rendering Ian Desmond but a helpless bystander. Watch the scene and realize that Desmond, poor Desmond, has just witnessed the dawn of a new age. Watch it and realize that Desmond just got Cueto’d!

It’s just crazy amounts of awesome, is it not? It’s as if Luis Tiant and Gale Sayers — well, that would be a biologic impossibility — as if Luis Tiant and whoever is the Lingerie League’s most evasive tailback spawned a super-incredible love child who boasts an outstanding four-seamer/changeup combo and who suddenly belongs on So You Think You Can Dance. Cueto thinks he can dance, and does. Taking the Tiantian pause to a delightful extreme, he turns his back to the hitter and promptly stops — so dramatically that you think you hit the pause button — and then shimmies like he’s trying to evade the Lingerie League’s leading tackler. You half expect — no, fully expect! — Cueto to add the terpsichorean equivalent of a triple Salchow, even if, were a runner on base, the umps would be like, “Um… balk?”

For his part, Tigers manager Brad Ausmus thinks the windup is illegal, as if Cueto should be ticketed and forced to attend Defensive Pitching School this weekend. Indeed, after watching the righty go all Dirty Dancing on a ninth-inning whiff of Ian Kinsler, Ausmus told the Associated Press: “Really, the way the rule reads, you’re not supposed to even alter your motion. That’s the way the rule reads.”

Well, boo you, Brad Ausmus!

Remember: We watch baseball. A lot of it. And watching baseball is supposed to be fun. Seriously, does this look like someone who’s busy reading the rulebook?

A Cueto Kid


Brewers to Replace Doug Melvin as GM

The Brewers announced today that Doug Melvin is going to “transition into an advisory role” with the team, which is probably the nicest language you can use to fire someone. The Brewers have been in need of a new direction for a while now, and a new front office should help kickstart a rebuild that is already a bit late in getting started.

In terms of potential candidates, Twitter is already offering plenty of speculation.

Cooper’s tweet is somewhat reinforced by this follow-up from Tom Haudricourt:

If you’re committed to Counsell as the manager, and that is not a negotiable point, outside candidates may be less interested in the job, knowing that they not get to pick their own staff. An internal candidate like Montgomery, who worked with Counsell in the front office before he was named manager in May, would probably have less of a problem going with the continuity line of thinking.

If the team does decide to go outside the organization, Jerry Dipoto would probably be one of the more popular names, though given that he just lost a power struggle with an owner over an empowered manager, perhaps this wouldn’t be the kind of spot he’s hoping to land. There are also an army of highly qualified assistant GMs around baseball, many of whom will likely make for excellent GMs when given the opportunity. The Brewers could also go big and aim for Dave Dombrowski, but they’d probably have to make him team president to compete with other offers he’s going to get, so if they’re just looking for a GM, he’ll probably have better options.

Either way, this should lead to some necessary changes in Milwaukee, and perhaps help the team get along with renovating the roster while admitting that the current group is unlikely to contend in the NL Central in the near future.


Perpetually Looping Video: Jon Gray’s Life-Affirming Fastball

On the one hand, cultural critics suggest openly that — not unlike the bread-and-circus efforts of Caesar’s Rome — that sport serves as an opiate of the masses. On the other hand, a thing that people fail to recognize is how opiates make you feel indestructible and also there are no side effects.

In conclusion, what one finds here is footage of three fastballs, all thrown by Colorado rookie right-hander Jon Gray this evening against the Mets for strikeouts — and all recorded at 95 mph or greater. Mere diversion or monument to human potential: this is the reader’s choice, ultimately.


Daily Projections by SaberSim on FanGraphs!

Daily projections courtesy of SaberSim.com are now available on the player pages and in a sortable format!

Matt Hunter, creator of SaberSim.com, explains the projections:

FanGraphs has long been home to a variety of excellent projection systems, each with its own distinguishing features that attempt to predict future performance as effectively as possible. Though these systems differ from one another in many respects, one common trait is that they project performance over an extended period of time—season, rest of season, or even multiple seasons. Beginning this week, FanGraphs will also feature a daily projection for each player. The daily projections are created by SaberSim, and are updated each day to reflect the specific factors the player will encounter in the matchup at hand.

SaberSim, as the name suggests, utilizes simulation to produce player and team projections. By simulating – thousands of times – every event of a particular game, the simulator is able to account for the unique context of each game and the interaction between players, using the actual posted lineups and starting pitcher assignments. It starts with Steamer rest-of-season projections (including handedness splits) for each player, then adjusts the probability of each event based on a number of context-specific factors. These include: regressed home-plate umpire strikeout/walk tendencies, handedness- and event-specific park factors, game-time temperature and wind speed/direction, home/away splits, and perhaps most importantly, batter-pitcher matchups using the Odds Ratio method. The adjusted rates are then fed into the simulator, which keeps track of the outcome of each play and the statistics for each player over the course of the simulated games.

The daily projection for every player in a starting lineup on a given day is featured towards the top of his player page, and the full leaderboard can be found in the Projections page linked above. The projections consist of the mean number of each outcome a player produced over the course of thousands of simulated games. Therefore, the numbers displayed do not represent the probability of each event happening, but rather the average number of times it happened per simulated game.

A quick note on these projections: the simulator currently only runs games with a single starting lineup for each team – for lineups that aren’t yet posted, we use the team’s most recent lineup vs. the opposing pitcher’s handedness. This means that until lineups are officially posted, you may not see projections for all players – if, for example, a player had a day off the day before. Because of this, the projections are most accurate and useful after all lineups from a given game are official. Usually this occurs about 4-5 hours before start time.

Over the past year and a half, SaberSim has grown from a basic simulator to an advanced tool for projecting daily performance on an individual and team level. While all player projections can be found right here on FanGraphs, you can find additional data and tools, such as specific team and player distributions and a daily fantasy lineup optimizer, on SaberSim.com. We look forward to sharing these daily projections with the FanGraphs community over the days and weeks to come, and welcome any comments, criticisms, or suggestions as we continue to improve the effectiveness of the simulator and the site. Enjoy!


The Good, the Bad and the Greinke

On June 23, 1971 – that’s two months after A Fistful of Death had its release date, for those of you who crave historical context – Phillies pitcher Rick Wise enjoyed the kind of performance that might best be described as “The Good, the Great and the Wise,” if only because it perfectly fits this narrative. On that day in Cincinnati, the 25-year-old righty not only no-hit the Reds but also homered twice, racking up three of Philly’s four runs batted in, in a 4-0 victory against the defending National League champions.

That’s the sort of game you might have twice in a lifetime: once, when you’re a 25-year-old righty on June 23, 1971, and once when you’re 10 in the Pony League.

Why do we mention this? It’s not because we own stock in Rick Wise’s Most Fabulous Day Ever Enterprises. It’s because yesterday, against the same Philadelphia franchise, Dodgers righty Zack Greinke had the kind of performance that might best be described as … well, you saw the headline up there, right? It perfectly fits this narrative.

In L.A.’s eventual 10-8 victory, Greinke, who entered the game with an ERA of a precocious Pony Leaguer (1.41), allowed six earned runs – five in the first inning alone – but balanced that stink job by going 3-for-3 at the plate, with three runs scored, a solo homer and one theatric bat flip.

080615_greinke_bat_flip_med_zd4cnzf3

In so doing, he became the second Dodgers pitcher to score thrice in a game since Claude Osteen in 1970; the first to go 3-for-3 or better with a home run since Leo Dickerman in 1923; and the first to yield five earned runs in the first inning of a game in which he also bat-flipped like nobody’s business since…well, you Dodgers historians will have to answer that one.

Greinke now enters his next start with an ERA of 1.71 and a batting average of .220. What does it all mean? First, it means that baseball is, as ever, just plain weird. It also means that given his abilities at the plate, plus the fact that he allowed just one earned run in his final six innings, Greinke is still worth A Fistful of Dollars.

Seriously.

The 1964 Spaghetti Western, a forerunner to The Good, the Bad and The Ugly, has made $14.5 million to date. And if we value each win – i.e., $/WAR – at around $7 million, then Greinke, with a 2015 fWAR of 4.2, is worth roughly twice what the Clint Eastwood shoot-’em-up has earned, with enough left For a Few Dollars More.

Seriously. The budget for that Spaghetti Western was just $600,000.


Ketel Marte Continues to Fly Under the Radar

Although he was perpetually young for his level, Ketel Marte more than held his own at every stop as he ascended through the Mariners system. In 2013, he posted a 91 wRC+ as a 19-year-old between Low-A and High-A. In 2014, at the tender age of 20, he put up a 105 spot between Double-A and Triple-A. This year, his .314/.359/.410 showing in Triple-A resulted a 107 wRC+. Even more impressive is that he did all of this while primarily playing shortstop.

Yet, despite his history of success at a young age, Marte’s always flown under the prospect radar. He’s never appeared on a top 100 list, and barely made Kiley McDaniel’s top 200 list heading into the season.

With Robinson Cano banged up last week, the Mariners called Marte up to the majors. But in typical Ketel Marte fashion, his call up flew under the radar, overshadowed by this year’s wild trade deadline. I’ll admit I didn’t even notice he had been called up until just a couple of days ago. Read the rest of this entry »


Job Posting: Sydney Blue Sox Baseball Analytics & Associate Scouting Intern

Just to be clear, there are two separate positions here.

Position: Sydney Blue Sox, Baseball Analytics Intern

Location: Various locations throughout US, with a preference for Chicago

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Job Posting: Cleveland Indians Baseball Systems Developer

Position: Cleveland Indians, Developer – Baseball Systems

Location: Cleveland

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A First Look at White Sox Outfielder Trayce Thompson

With the end of the minor league drawing near, teams are starting to call up some of their more promising Triple-A players to the big leagues. Just this week, we’ve had the pleasure of seeing Richie Shaffer, Jon Gray, Henry Owens and Luis Severino take the field for the first time. Also called up, but somewhat lost in the shuffle, was 24-year-old White Sox outfielder Trayce Thompson, who struck out in his one trip to the plate so far.

The White Sox called up Thompson to replace J.B. Shuck, who’s set to miss at least the next couple of weeks with a hamstring strain. A former second round pick, Thompson has always been a premium athlete. In fact, he’s the son of former NBA center Mychal Thompson, and the brother of Klay Thompson of the Golden State Warriors. Athleticism clearly runs in the family.

Yet despite his tremendous athletic ability, Thompson’s unrefined baseball skills have rendered him a fringe prospect over the course of his minor league stay. With a .180 Isolated Power and 11 steals, he demonstrated an enticing combination of power and speed in Triple-A this year. However, his 5% walk rate and 19% strikeout rate speak to his unrefined approach at the plate. Read the rest of this entry »


2015 Park Factors Update

Last night we updated our park factors for the 2015 season and made a slight correction to our FIP pitching park factors.

The correction is very small and effects almost all teams by less than .01. Of note, Rockies teams in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s, had the largest impact and will have their FIP park factors increased by about .03.