Carlos Rodon Isn’t a Finished Product

Carlos Rodon is attempting a very rare transition. Less than a year removed from starting at North Carolina State, Rodon is attempting to navigate major-league lineups at just 22 years old. Only Jose Fernandez, Shelby Miller, Michael Pineda, and Julio Teheran have pitched 150 innings in rookie seasons at Rodon’s age or younger in the past five years. Rodon has now made six appearances in the majors after making only nine in the minors. His 22.1 major-league innings have already surpassed the 22.0 innings he pitched in Triple-A since signing with the White Sox last summer for over $6 million after the team made him the number three pick in the draft. Rodon’s slider and fastball are major-league ready, but he has yet to challenge hitters consistently or rely on an offspeed pitch, leading to almost a walk per inning. Rodon is already the White Sox’ fourth-best starter behind Chris Sale, Jeff Samardzija, and Jose Quintana, but he is not yet a finished product and still has some development ahead of him in the majors.

Rodon has the potential to accomplish a feat even more rare than the one performed by Fernandez, Miller, et al. No pitcher in the last 15 years has been drafted from college, made their debut within a year of signing and pitched at least 150 innings at 22 years of age or younger. The last player to achieve what Rodon is attempting was Jeff Weaver in 1999 for the Detroit Tigers. Weaver made 29 starts, had a 5.55 ERA and 5.22 FIP on the way to a 1.6 WAR season. In the last 30 years, the only other pitchers to do the same were Jim Abbott in 1989, Bobby Witt in 1986, and someone White Sox fans should remember, Jack McDowell, who made his debut shortly after the draft in 1987 and made 26 starts in 1988 for the White Sox before winning the Cy Young four years later.

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Bryce Harper vs. Mike Trout vs. Bryce Harper

For a while there we thought the Bryce Harper vs. Mike Trout thing was done with. Trout had dusted him. Trout had dusted everyone. Is there anyone Trout hasn’t dusted? Look at yourself! You are covered in dust!

Three straight MVP-quality seasons have made Trout more than a competitor with Harper, they’ve made him the face of baseball (sorry, Eric Sogard!). Meanwhile, back at the ranch, Harper has trudged along at a good, if not great, level. Sure, he’s only 22 and playing in the majors when most of his peers are at Double-A, but at this point comparing him to the best player in baseball is just silliness. That competition is over. Or was over, it seemed, until two weeks ago.

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Eno Sarris Baseball Chat — 5/21/15

Eno Sarris: went here last weekend, couldn’t get the song out of my head
Eno Sarris:
Comment From smashinunicorns
Eno Sarris: morning
Comment From Shawn
Got my hands on some Sip of Sunshine. What are your thoughts on it? If I remember correctly you like over Heady Topper?
Eno Sarris: Yes! And that Fiddle beer, I like it over Heady too. I think Heady might be the sixth or seventh best beer in Vermont after I get my hands on some Hill Farmstead.

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Contact Quality: Just a Part of the Puzzle, 2014 NL Hitters

The last couple of weeks, we’ve discussed many of the various aspects of the emerging granular batted-ball velocity/exit angle data that is all the rage today. Starting this week, we’re bringing it all together, reviewing the best and worst contact-makers (and allowers) in both leagues in 2014. Earlier this week, we covered the AL offensive contact-quality leaders and laggards. Today, it’s the NL hitters’ turn. You will notice that contact quality, while extremely important, is far from the singular defining characteristic of a hitter.

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NERD Game Scores for Thursday, May 21, 2015

Devised originally in response to a challenge issued by viscount of the internet Rob Neyer, and expanded at the request of nobody, NERD scores represent an attempt to summarize in one number (and on a scale of 0-10) the likely aesthetic appeal or watchability, for the learned fan, of a player or team or game. Read more about the components of and formulae for NERD scores here.


Most Highly Rated Game
Los Angeles NL at San Francisco | 15:45 ET
Kershaw (51.0 IP, 57 xFIP-) vs. Bumgarner (50.2 IP, 93 xFIP-)
The reader might regard it as an instance of “beating a dead horse” to suggest that a combination of Madison Bumgarner, Clayton Kershaw, and their respective California-based franchises — to suggest that all of it, together, conspires to produce a compelling spectacle. The author contends, however, that it’s nothing at all like beating a dead horse. On the contrary: while the encounter between Bumgarner and Kershaw is likely to produce considerable pleasure, the prospect of beating horses — dead or alive, really — skews decidedly more to the horrifying side of things. Indeed, a little research reveals that today’s psychiatric wards are occupied almost exclusively by people who were traumatized after witnessing the merciless assault of a horse. Really, the author’s suggestion regarding Bumgarner and Kershaw, etc., rather than the beating of an equine, bears much more resemblance to sitting in a massage chair at an area Sharper Image location, in that one is likely both to enjoy and also to repeat that activity. To that end, I submit that it might be more accurately regarded as an instance of “sitting in a massage chair at the Sharper Image” to suggest that a combination of Madison Bumgarner, Clayton Kershaw, and their respective California-based franchises — to suggest that all of it, together, conspires to produce a compelling spectacle

Readers’ Preferred Broadcast: San Francisco Radio or Television*.

*Unless Vin Scully has made trip to San Francisco. In which case, Vin Scully.

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Brandon Crawford’s Development in Just a Few Pictures

As I look at things now, Brandon Crawford has been as good a hitter this year as Matt Holliday and Kris Bryant. But, I understand it’s just May. Small samples can turn opposites into comparisons. So, turning to the past calendar year, I see beside Crawford’s name those of Torii Hunter and Aramis Ramirez. By now, it seems evident that Crawford is at least an average hitter or so. He’s showing signs, this year, of being something greater than that.

And maybe that’s something you’ve grown used to. We adapt with remarkable speed. But, try to remember what Crawford was when he was younger. Or, failing that, let me just remind you. In the minors, in Double-A, Crawford managed a .682 OPS. In Triple-A, he was dozens of points worse than that. As a major-league rookie, Crawford didn’t exactly hit like a pitcher, but he hit like one of those people we call a good-hitting pitcher. This was the first paragraph of an article from March 2012:

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The Padres’ Biggest Problem

Even after a win Tuesday, the Padres stand at a flat 20-20, and there’s talk that manager Bud Black might be on the hot seat given ownership expectations. Curiously, the Padres aren’t letting minor-league coach Pat Murphy talk to the Brewers, and while there’s any number of potential explanations, one could be that the team sees Murphy as a Black replacement. Managers get fired by disappointing baseball teams. The Padres haven’t quite lived up to their preseason hype.

When you get to thinking about why, it’s only natural to consider the team defense. It always looked like it was going to be a potential issue, and the numbers indicate the defense has indeed been a weakness, mostly in the outfield. By Defensive Runs Saved, the Padres have been the fourth-worst defensive team in the league. By UZR, they’re second-worst. Right there, it seems like you can explain the team’s bottom-six ERA. But as it turns out, there’s something else going on. Something that’s hurt the Padres even more than their defense.

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The Fringe Five: Baseball’s Most Compelling Fringe Prospects

The Fringe Five is a weekly regular-season exercise, introduced a couple years ago by the present author, wherein that same author utilizes regressed stats, scouting reports, and also his own fallible intuition to identify and/or continue monitoring the most compelling fringe prospects in all of baseball.

Central to the exercise, of course, is a definition of the word fringe, a term which possesses different connotations for different sorts of readers. For the purposes of the column this year, a fringe prospect (and therefore one eligible for inclusion in the Five) is any rookie-eligible player at High-A or above both (a) absent from the most current iteration of Kiley McDaniel’s top-200 prospect list and (b) not currently playing in the majors. Players appearing on any of McDaniel’s updated prospect lists or, otherwise, selected in the first round of the current season’s amateur draft will also be excluded from eligibility.

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A Fun Fact Illustrative of the Marlins’ Plight

On Sunday, the Miami Marlins fired their manager, Mike Redmond, barely half a year after he received votes for the 2014 NL Manager of the Year. Coupled with the cut and forthcoming salary-eating of Jarrod Saltalamacchia and his contract, and now the, uh — promotion? demotion? — of general manager Dan Jennings to manager, it’s been a mighty volatile season in Miami. This is a lot of action before Memorial Day: what this team will do in July is anybody’s guess.

During last Friday’s game at home against the Atlanta Braves, which the Marlins would lose, the Miami broadcast team shared a fun fact that rather unwittingly illustrated the team’s lack of continuity and talent. After Giancarlo Stanton hit two home runs earlier in the game, the broadcast team reported that Stanton was the leader in home runs hit in beautiful Marlins Park, established 2012, with 59 — a number that Stanton has since increased to 60, since he is a mighty man.

All’s good so far! Where the fun fact started to unravel was when the identity of the second-most-prolific-homer-er in Marlins Park was revealed. That man is Marcell Ozuna. Which, sure, Ozuna is a promising young talent, but his total of 12 home runs hit in Marlins Park seems something like a typo and something like a piece of trivia from the Deadball Era.

What the broadcast team did not reveal, but which I very much wanted to know, was the remainder of the leaderboard for most home runs hit in Marlins Park. And, thanks to BaseballSavant, I have it.

Tied for third place, with seven homers apiece, is Garrett Jones (a Marlin in 2014), Justin Ruggiano (2012-2013), and Hanley Ramirez, who only called Marlins Park his home for the first 93 games of 2012.

Where the list gets really hairy is if we look at the three players who are tied with six homers apiece. One of them is Saltalamacchia, who is let’s say unlikely to be remembered fondly in the annals of Marlins history. The other two are Ryan Zimmerman and Evan Gattis. The presence of both of these players so high on this list is notable because — and your memory is serving you correctly here — neither of these players have ever been employed as Miami Marlins.

By playing a handful of games instead of half of their games annually at Marlins Park, Zimmerman and Gattis should, under normal circumstances, be nowhere near this close to the top of this leaderboard, especially considering that Gattis did not make his big league debut until 2013, and Zimmerman only managed five total homers in a weak 61 games in 2014. But when, of course, have the Marlins provided a set of normal circumstances?

The Black Swan Theory of Drafting Pitchers

I wrote yesterday about the how the shelf life of draft rankings affects the finished product, using my “guy” from this year’s draft, Vanderbilt righty Carson Fulmer, as an example of a guy typically under-appreciated by this process. My history of scouting Fulmer goes back four years to his high school days, but my history of zeroing in on this type of pitcher goes back eight years.

Taking a Page from Wall Street

Nassim Taleb’s The Black Swan came out in 2007 and I read it toward the end of that year. Taleb made a lot of money during the stock market crash in 1987 and again during the financial crisis that started in 2007, a crisis he predicted in The Black Swan. The way he made his money is the underpinning of the book: better understanding how very rare events happen.

The human brain simplifies complex situations, which can often help us and conserve energy, but also makes us vulnerable when a seemingly unimportant piece of information is smoothed over by many individuals. Taleb names the unlikely event that few see coming a Black Swan, referring to the collective surprise exhibited when a black version of the (presumed exclusively) white bird was found in another part of the world.

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Yankees Promote a Healthy Slade Heathcott

With Jacoby Ellsbury out of action for at least the next couple of weeks with a knee sprain, the Yankees called up former first round draft choice Slade Heathcott to help fill the void in the outfield. If it feels like you’ve been hearing about Heathcott for a while now, that’s because you have been. The Yankees took Heathcott 29th overall out of high school way back in 2009, but it’s taken him until now — at age-24 — to crack the major leagues.

Heathcott’s extended stay in the minor leagues hasn’t been due to a lack of talent, but has been almost entirely the result of injury. Slade’s spent an awful lot of time on the shelf since he was drafted back in 2009. Here’s a look at his lengthy injury history courtesy of Baseball Prospectus. Read the rest of this entry »

JABO: Bad Bullpens Through History

After another loss on Tuesday night, the A’s stand 14-27, the worst mark of any team in baseball. That record comes in spite of the fact that they’re 5th in the majors in runs scored (184), and have “only” allowed 190 runs to their opponents; being outscored by six runs over 41 games generally does not lead to a disastrous win-loss record, but that’s where the A’s find themselves after the first quarter of the season. And as is often the case when a team’s record doesn’t match their run differential, the blame can be laid almost entirely at the feet of the A’s relievers.

At the most basic level, you could just look at their 4.99 bullpen ERA — 29th in the majors — and conclude that they’ve struggled, but ERA is not a great tool to evaluate pitcher performances, and it’s especially poor at evaluating relief pitcher performance, because often their job is to come in and squash a rally; if they fail, the starting pitcher’s ERA is the one that goes up, so ERA won’t reflect bullpen performances in those situations.

And, of course, not all runs are created equal, especially late in the game. If you’re up 10-3 in the eighth inning and your bullpen gives up a few runs, it’s not a particularly big deal, as you’re extremely likely to win the game anyway. So when discussing a bullpen’s impact on a team’s record, we care not just about the number of runs they allow — whether ERA blames them for it or not — but also the distribution of when they allow those runs, and whether more of them happen to be coming in situations where giving up even a single run can have a dramatic outcome on the game.

Evan Scribner is a fantastic example of how different a reliever’s performance can be from their traditional numbers. If you just look at his overall line, it appears that he’s having an excellent season; 23 innings, 17 hits, 2 walks, 27 strikeouts, and a 2.38 ERA. Even newer-fangled pitching numbers like FIP (2.30) and xFIP (2.20), that are designed to better isolate a pitcher’s performance, think very highly of Scribner. From a context-free standpoint, Scribner has been terrific, but once you look at the distribution of his performances, you find a somewhat different story.

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Revisiting The D’Backs Young Rotation

This spring, the Arizona rotation was a fascinating mix of imported and home-grown youth, and Josh Collmenter and Jeremy Hellickson. Each of the youngsters gave us a point of emphasis this spring, and now that they’ve each had a few chances to show their work, we could give out some first semester grades. And maybe figure out how who’s at the head of the class.

Chase Anderson might have the best argument for valedictorian. He’s had the best ERA and peripherals, and that’s not too surprising, since he was the guy that had the most experience. And if Rubby de la Rosa has a plus changeup, you could say that Anderson has two.

So Anderson spent the spring working on his two-seamer, he said. If you look at PITCHf/x and his homer and grounder rates, you’d think he has succeeded in that effort. By that measure, he’s upped his usage of the sinker from 18% to 27%. His ground-ball rate has gone up from 40% to 43%. It’s a tempting narrative, especially since it fits into what the pitcher himself said earlier this year.

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San Francisco’s Offense: A Glass Half Full and Empty

The San Francisco Giants’ offense should be better than we have seen thus far. On the other hand, the Giants’ offense should be a lot worse than we’ve seen thus far. But then again, maybe the Giants’ offense is about what we expected it to be. Below is an attempt to determine how much water is currently in the San Francisco Giants’ glass.

The Optimist’s View

The Giants have been unlucky and they are bound to turn things around. Since the beginning of the season, the Giants’ offense has been one of the best in the league, but has failed to score runs. The defending World Series champions carry a solid .268/.332/.398 line after 39 games. Their .319 wOBA ranks eighth in Major League Baseball and their wRC+ of 105 is sixth. Removing pitcher statistics makes their numbers even better, as the wRC+ of 113 is fourth in all of baseball and just one point away from second place (if also a mile behind the 134 wRC+ of the Dodgers). Despite their solid hitting numbers, the Giants have scored just 3.8 runs per game, ahead of only the Chicago White Sox, Los Angeles Angels, and the woeful Philadelphia Phillies, who have scored just 3.2 runs per game this season.

There is a disconnect between the Giants’ hitting performance and their runs scored. Here’s a graph depicting MLB teams’ runs scored versus wOBA so far this season, with the Giants denoted as the orange dot.

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Dave Cameron FanGraphs Chat – 5/20/15

Dave Cameron: It’s my last chat for the month of May — I’m taking next week off — so get your questions in now before the calendar reads June.
Dave Cameron: The queue is now open, and we’ll start in 15 minutes.
Comment From Kris
What are the odds that Shelby Miller, Jace Peterson, Foltynewicz and Matt Wisler have more combined 2015 WAR than Jason Heyward, Evan Gattis, Justin Upton and Craig Kimbrel
Dave Cameron: Not very good. I’d say 5 to 1 or something like that.
Comment From Guest
Did the Braves, against all odds, actually win that Miller/Heyward swap?
Dave Cameron: I’m not sure why you’d think it would be against all odds; that trade was a fair swap for both sides, and pretty much everyone said so at the time, I think.…

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A Look at Wilmer Difo, the Newest National

Yesterday, the Washington Nationals promoted infield prospect Wilmer Difo to the major leagues to fill the roster spot vacated by the injured Jayson Werth. As Dave Cameron pointed out yesterday, this move was something of a head-scratcher. Although Difo’s a fairly well-regarded prospect, he wasn’t exactly pushing for a call-up. He had all of 14 games above A-Ball to his name, and only 25 more above Low-A. Even stranger is that there isn’t a ton of playing time to be had in the Nationals infield. Ian Desmond, Danny Espinosa and Yunel Escobar seem to have shortstop, second base and third base covered until Anthony Rendon‘s ready to return from injury.

Although he’s spent the entirety of his professional career in the low minors, Difo’s done nothing but hit the last couple of years. He spent all of 2014 in Low-A Hagerstown, where he hit a strong .315/.360/.470 with 49 steals. This year, he split time between High-A and Double-A, and hit an even better .315/.367/.520. Before you get too excited about those numbers, though, I’ll point out that Difo is already 23 years old. Most prospects worth their salt are at least a year or two removed from A-Ball by their 23rd birthdays. This isn’t to say that Difo is doomed as a prospect. Plenty of late-blooming prospects have gone on to have long and productive careers; but in the world of A-Ball prospects, you’d much rather a guy be 19 than 22 or 23.

Although he didn’t reach full-season ball until last year, Difo’s been around for a while. The Nationals signed him as an 18-year-old out of the Dominican back in 2010. However, despite strong offensive showings, they moved him very slowly through the system. The Nats kept him in the Dominican Summer League until July of his age-19 season, and didn’t move him out of American Rookie-ball until he was 21. This set him up to play his first full year in full-season ball last year at age-22.

Difo’s loudest tool is his speed, which grades out as a 70 according to Kiley McDaniel, and enabled him to steal 57 bases in 68 attempts between this year and last. There’s more to Difo than just his speed, however. He also showed an intriguing combination of power and contact in his minor-league stay. Difo racked up 52 extra-base hits last year, including 14 homers. This year, he logged 19 extra-base knocks in 33 minor-league games before his call up. Difo complemented this modest power by striking out a mere 12% of the time. Through this blend of contact and power, Difo put up a 139 wRC+ in spite of his 6% walk rate.

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NERD Game Scores for Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Devised originally in response to a challenge issued by viscount of the internet Rob Neyer, and expanded at the request of nobody, NERD scores represent an attempt to summarize in one number (and on a scale of 0-10) the likely aesthetic appeal or watchability, for the learned fan, of a player or team or game. Read more about the components of and formulae for NERD scores here.


Most Highly Rated Game
St. Louis at New York NL | 18:10 ET
Martinez (51.1 IP, 88 xFIP-) vs. Colon (40.0 IP, 90 xFIP-)
Here, in lieu of a thousand words, is a chart depicting the number of batters Bartolo Colon has faced and the number of those same batters (colored red) that he’s walked (click to enlarge, naturally):

Readers’ Preferred Broadcast: New York NL Television.

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The Marlins’ Middle-Infield Magic Trick

The Miami Marlins have been in the news this week, because they did something that’s at worst kind of stupid, and at best pretty confusing. But the Marlins only did something newsworthy in the first place because the team, overall, has been an early disappointment, and disappointing baseball teams tend to leave a few people jobless. But there’s something else true about even the most disappointing teams: not everything is going wrong. It’s kind of the key to keeping yourself interested — even bad teams have bright spots, promising spots. With this in mind, let’s watch Dee Gordon make a throwing error.

This is from Tuesday’s game. It’s a weird play, but it’s ultimately a play that didn’t go in the Marlins’ favor.

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FanGraphs After Dark Chat – 5/19/15

Paul Swydan: Hi everybody! I will be here at 9 pm ET to answer all of your baseballing queries. Jeff may be here too, but he may also be busy. This is the whole intro, because my kids are beating each other up right now. See you soon!
Paul Swydan: Hi people!
Jeff Zimmerman: Yo
Comment From Minty
Do you prefer $3 Thor or $1 Rodon for a dynasty?
Paul Swydan: $1 Rodon. Always take the cheaper pitcher.
Jeff Zimmerman: Thor based on being in the NL and can throw strikes.

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The Closer Role Is Alive and Well

Perhaps it’s felt to you like it’s been a year of bullpen uncertainty. You wouldn’t be alone. Not only are certain bullpens wildly under- or over-achieving; there’s been a good number of jumbled roles. In some cases, there might not be any clear roles at all. I’m not just making that up. It’s essentially a direct quote:

There’s been some weirdness in, for example, Los Angeles. The same could be said of Oakland. Also, Toronto. Also, Tampa Bay. And so on and so forth. It feels like things have been unusually unconventional. It feels like perhaps we’re edging ever nearer to the end of the set closer role. That’s one of the oldest subjects in sabermetric commentary.

And there’s reason to think there’s something bigger going on. Consider what’s taken place within the Dodgers organization. The Dodgers have tried to spread around the saves, so that young pitchers grow accustomed to working out of different roles. This way, they teach their pitchers versatility, and everyone’s subjected to every situation. What that seems like is the future of bullpens. And, you wonder, is the future arriving today? Are we seeing different usage patterns at the major-league level?

Not so much. Not in a way that’s easily observable. The closer role is very much alive, and it’s hard to spot any statistical trends.

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