Dave Cameron FanGraphs Chat – 7/21/17

12:02
Dave Cameron: Happy Friday, everyone. Jeff and I switched days this week because he wanted to go climb something this weekend. I fully expect there to be 20 trades in the next 24 hours since he’s gone.

12:02
Charles the Cat: If the Cubs are to get one more starter, who do you think they get?

12:04
Dave Cameron: The rumor of the morning put them on Darvish, but there are diminishing returns on adding another guy at that level. You’re starting Lester/Quintana/Arrieta in the postseason, so if you pick up Darvish, one of those guys makes just one start in a seven game series.

12:05
Dave Cameron: So I’d think it would be more like an Estrada type, a guy who could potentially be a buy low and would give them depth if Hendricks has more problems, then could maybe be a reliever in October.

12:06
MK: With everyone focused on Nats bullpen issues, is adding a starter or left fielder the main priority now?

12:06
Dave Cameron: I don’t think they need a starter. They basically have a playoff spot locked up, and Scherzer/Strasburg/Gio/Roark is fine for the postseason.

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A Different Sort of Overuse Problem Among College Pitchers

Earlier this week, I wrote about UCLA’s pitcher overuse problem. At one point in that piece, I provided a comparison between league-wide and Bruins-only Pitch Smart violation rates. Pitch Smart represents a series of guidelines designed to protect the health of young athletes.

The NCAA benchmarks I reported in that post on UCLA were slightly different than those I found last August, as Pitch Smart’s age 19–22 guidelines have changed over the past year.

A brief summary of the old and new criteria:

The Differing Pitch Smart Guidelines for Collegians
Full Days Off For Recovery 2016 Pitch Range 2017 Pitch Range
0 1–30 1–30
1 31–45 31–45
2 46–60 46–60
3 61–75 61–80
4 76–105 81–105
5 106–120 106–120
Additional recommendations: Both last year and this year, pitchers were advised not to pitch in multiple games on the same day. This year, pitchers were also counseled not to pitch on three consecutive days.

By and large, the 2016 and 2017 guidelines are similar. But there are two differences: one is a change in the pitch boundary separating three- and four-day rest periods; the other is in the fine print, where it’s recommended that pitchers shouldn’t be used on three consecutive days. Because that qualification didn’t exist last year, there was a loophole in the “rules.” MLB and USA Baseball didn’t (and still don’t) set a firm ceiling for workloads — they say that the appropriate limit varies from arm to arm — so pitchers could throw fewer than 30 pitches each and every day without defying the guidelines. Now, a Pitch Smart-adhering pitcher can’t string together more than two straight outings.

Let’s look at how often the average NCAA pitcher defies both editions of Pitch Smart recommendations. Both sets of violation rates are broken up by class year for the 2012–2015 NCAA pitcher population.

The guideline adjustments send nearly all collegiate violation rates upward. In the regular season, the figures only rise by a few ticks. But when it comes to tournament appearances, rates increase by an extra 1% for sophomores, juniors, and seniors. The end result is a further magnification of the overuse issues across college baseball. The older a pitcher gets, the more likely a coach is to abuse his arm. And violation rates rise sharply in the NCAA tournament, where upperclassmen are being used irresponsibly in over 10% of their appearances.


Do Teams Still Overpay for Free Agents from Other Teams?

This is Matt Swartz’ fifth piece as part of his July residency at FanGraphs. A former contributor to FanGraphs and the Hardball Times — and current contributor to MLB Trade Rumors — Swartz also works as consultant to a Major League team. You can find him on Twitter here. Read the work of all our residents here.

When I tell people about my side career as a baseball analyst, they frequently ask me of what research I’m most proud. The answer? The work I did establishing that teams receive fewer WAR per Dollar when signing free agents away from other teams than when re-signing their own players.

My clearest and most thorough analysis of this topic came in the 2012 Hardball Times Annual. The results were initially met with strong skepticism when I published a post on the topic at Baseball Prospectus back in 2010. It took a couple years of evidence before I was able to persuade the sabermetric community that it was true — and, more importantly, that the reason for this phenomenon was that teams re-signing their own players had better information on them.

My 2012 Hardball Times Annual article tested and confirmed that this held true for a variety of players. Traded MLB players and traded minor-league prospects both tended to underperform their projections when compared to untraded players.

What’s the significance of this discovery? Generally speaking, it means that an “average” player who reaches free agency is overvalued by his projections relative to another “average” player who doesn’t reach free agency. So much of sabermetric analysis involves looking at free agents. Suddenly, I had research indicating that such analysis was based on a biased sample. The results immediately colored every potential free-agent signing. With every free agent I encountered afterward, I began asking myself: “is there some reason this player’s original team let him go?”

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Jaime Garcia Is About Right for the Twins

Faced with an expensive market for premium starting pitching, but in possession of one of the least effective rotations in the majors, the Twins are reportedly close to finalizing a deal for left-handed Braves pitcher Jaime Garcia.

Mike Berardino of the Pioneer Press has more information:

The Braves would pick up less than half of Garcia’s remaining obligation, the person with direct knowledge said, but that figure was still being discussed along with which player or players the Twins would surrender. Medical reports were still being evaluated as well, but the deal was said to be “very close to final.”

Entering Friday, the Twins (48-46) are surprisingly just a half-game behind the Indians, the reigning AL champs and and heavy division favorites. The Twins are also just a game behind the Yankees for the second Wild Card spot in what is expected to be a bit of a log jam. So there’s some cause for optimism.

At the same time, however, Minnesota ranks 25th in the majors in BaseRuns win percentage (.438), suggesting they’ve benefited considerably from sequencing. Entering Friday, FanGraphs expects the Twins to finish with 78 wins and 84 losses. Overall, the club possesses a 10.6% probability of reaching the postseason according to FanGraphs’ playoff odds — and a 2.6% chance of capturing the division. The projections, in other words, don’t have much belief in the current roster.

So with 68 games to play, the Twins find themselves in a somewhat delicate position, in close proximity to a postseason berth but quite possibly lacking the roster to really go for it.

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Effectively Wild Episode 1087: Survey Says You Suck

EWFI

Ben Lindbergh and Jeff Sullivan banter about the Mariners’ and Marlins’ David Phelps trade, Sam Dyson’s bounceback, an eight-strikeout game, the Salina Stockade, Matt Davidson and Jeff Mathis, the first post-All Star Game weeks of Mike Trout and the Cubs, and early trade-deadline activity, then examine the results of a FiveThirtyEight survey about the most- and least-liked MLB teams.

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Here’s Why the Indians Don’t Really Need a Starter

I don’t know if the Cubs are actually coming out of their funk, but it sure looks like they are. It feels like a matter of days before they re-claim first place in the NL Central, which is the outcome we’ve all long expected. There’s still work to do yet, but as the Cubs improve, it sends more eyes over to the Indians. The Indians have been in a funk of their own, and while they’re already sitting in first, they’ve been unable to shake the Twins and the Royals. Even the Tigers remain within conceivable striking distance, and they’ve begun to sell. The Indians were supposed to be better than this, and the clock, as a clock does, is ticking.

Struggling team? Check. Trade deadline approaching? Check. Observers are wondering how the Indians might look to get better in the week and a half ahead. One thought has been that the club could look to add another starting pitcher. With Danny Salazar about to return from injury, perhaps that wouldn’t be necessary. But for me, the key isn’t the return of Salazar. Rather, it’s the emergence of Mike Clevinger. Clevinger has stepped up in a big way, giving the Indians more than they thought they might have.

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Mariners Get David Phelps, Who Is Good

The Marlins? They’re out of it. At some point it seemed like they might have a chance, but now they’re out of it, ever so out of it, so they’ve gone into sell mode. The Marlins are used to being in sell mode. The Mariners? They’re not out of it. They’re out of it within their own division, but they’re close to a wild-card spot, like a lot of the American League. They’re close despite dealing with a thin and injured pitching staff. The Mariners are simultaneously too good to sell, and too bad to buy hard. Not to mention the farm isn’t good enough to buy hard anyway. The Mariners haven’t appeared to have that many options.

Put it all together, and that’s how you get a trade like this:

Mariners get

Marlins get

The Mariners could really use a starter. But also, they could really use a reliever, and Phelps remains under team control for 2018. So, he’s not just some kind of stretch-run rental. And although he’s no Kenley Jansen, he’s pretty good and awfully interesting. The price is four guys from the low minors. We shouldn’t pretend like any of us have any idea what they’re going to become. It’s another Jerry Dipoto exchange of low-level depth for high-level, shorter-term security.

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The Rays Have a Road Map, Require Urgency

On Tuesday night, the Yankees made a considerable pre-deadline splash in acquiring Todd Frazier, David Robertson and Tommy Kahnle.

While the Yankees hope a slumping Frazier returns to form and upgrades their corner-infield situation, the real impetus of this trade appears to be the attempt to create an uber bullpen that stacks up against any unit in the game, one that could give the club a competitive edge should it advance to the postseason.

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Dylan Bundy on Preparing for a Start

A few weeks ago, we heard from Baltimore infielder Manny Machado on how he prepares for an upcoming series. Today, we explore the subject from a pitcher’s perspective. On the same day I spoke to Machado, I asked Orioles right-hander Dylan Bundy about how he goes about readying himself for his next start.

Like most every other member of a rotation, Bundy throws a bullpen session between starts, and he follows that up by watching video and reading scouting reports. But not every pitcher goes about those things the exact same way. Bullpen routines differ, as do the approaches to studying opposing lineups. Here is how Bundy does it.

———

Dylan Bundy on preparing for a start: “Not every bullpen is the same. Some days I go out there knowing my curveball wasn’t very good in my last start, so I’ll work on my curveball that day. But most of the time, I’m throwing fastballs and changeups, and that’s it — 20 to 25 pitches. I have a basic routine. At least the first nine or 10 pitches are usually fastballs — up, down, in, out — and then I’ll throw four or five changeups. If I feel great after that, I’ll shut it down. If not, I’ll throw a few more pitches.

“Sometimes my body isn’t feeling all that great — the ball isn’t coming out the way I want it to — so I’m not going to work on pitches. I’m not going to work on things like movement, or even location, because I don’t have my body in the right shape to do all that stuff. That day, I’m just kind of moving. I’m throwing pitches and loosing up my arm and my body. I’m working mechanically, trying to feel the way I need to feel for the next game I’ll be starting.

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Michael Fulmer, Changeups, and Managing Contact

No matter how you look at Michael Fulmer, you’ll probably come away impressed. Today’s Tigers starter is making good on his sophomore season and currently has the 10th-best ERA among qualified starters. But if you look at strikeouts and walks, traditionally thought of as the outcomes over which a pitcher exerts the most control, Fulmer is 43rd best among that game group. Which ranking is more indicative of his true talent? His changeup might have the answer.

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The White Sox’ Big Bets On Risk

On Tuesday, the White Sox completed their latest trade, sending Todd Frazier, David Robertson, and Tommy Kahnle to New York for a trio of prospects and Tyler Clippard, who was included as a salary offset. In the span of four major trades, the team added 15 minor leaguers, including most of their best-ranked prospects now. And when you look at where these guys rank on the Baseball America mid-season Top 100, it’s easy to see why White Sox fans are excited about the organization’s now-bright future.

CHW’s Recently Acquired Prospects
BA Rank Pre-Season Rank Player Position
1 1 Yoan Moncada 2B
5 11 Eloy Jimenez OF
20 24 Michael Kopech SP
36 37 Blake Rutherford OF
59 23 Reynaldo Lopez SP
75 40 Lucas Giolito SP
83 90 Dylan Cease SP

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Eno Sarris Baseball Chat — 7/20/17

1:06
Eno Sarris: This guy danced like this, sang like crazy, and ended up in a tree at some point last weekend at Pitchfork and we should all live so intensely

12:01
TimMorris: 7 game series who you got, Dodgers or Astros?

12:02
Eno Sarris: I’m going to take the Dodgers. Kershaw gives them two wins (I know it doesn’t work like that, but humor me) and that’s a nice bank. Not sure Sonny Gray changes that calculus.

12:02
Nick: Got offered Kyle Tucker and Schebler for Stras and Cahill and a keeper? Take it or leave it?

12:03
Eno Sarris: Eh. This run environment seems to create Scheblers left and right and if Stras is a keeper he’s best in deal.

12:03
Senor Crabs: I hate to be this guy, but I traded 4 years of Kris Bryant for 4 years of Gregory Polanco and 5 years of Maz and Aaron Nola. Did I do ok?

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Projecting Yoan Moncada

After they shipped Todd Frazier to the Yankees in exchange for prospects earlier this week, the White Sox replaced him on their roster with Yoan Moncada. Moncada was hitting a healthy .282/.377/.447 at Triple-A, highlighted by his 12 homers and 17 steals. He hits for average, hits for power, steals bases, and even draws walks. Very few players can hit like Moncada does while also providing value in the field and on the bases. That’s why he was a fixture at the top of midseason prospect lists this summer. Baseball America and Baseball Prospectus both ranked him No. 1, while Keith Law put him at No. 13.

But for all his strengths, Moncada has some weaknesses that we shouldn’t overlook. Most notably, he strikes out a bunch. Moncada’s struck out in over 28% of his trips to the plate this year. Though it’s been somewhat hidden by his high batting averages, Moncada has had a lot of trouble making contact against minor-league pitchers. This suggests he’ll have even more trouble doing so in the big leagues, which is exactly what happened in Boston last September when he struck out 12 times in 20 plate appearances.

There’s also the matter of Moncada’s defense. He’s primarily played second base since emigrating from Cuba, and the prognosis for minor-league second basemen isn’t great. The fact that he’s already been deemed “not a shortstop” is a knock against him in KATOH‘s eyes. Furthermore, his defensive metrics at second base aren’t great. He’s been right around average there by Clay Davenport’s fielding data this year and was several ticks worse than average last year. This suggests he may not be a defensive asset in the infield.

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NERD Game Scores for July 20, 2017

Devised originally in response to a challenge issued by sabermetric forefather 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.

How are they calculated? Haphazardly, is how. An explanation of the components and formulae which produce these NERD scores is available here. All objections to the numbers here are probably justified, on account of how this entire endeavor is absurd.

***

Most Highly Rated Game
Milwaukee at Pittsburgh | 12:35 ET
Nelson (115.2 IP, 75 xFIP-) vs. Taillon (67.2 IP, 83 xFIP-)
The author’s haphazardly constructed algorithm has identified three games of similar interest today: this Milwaukee-Pittsburgh game, the Arizona-Cincinnati contest also at 12:35 p.m. ET, and the Yankees-Mariners game at 10:10 p.m. ET. Of particular note regarding this game is the pitching matchup, featuring a pair of starters who each sit at 95 mph and who’ve recorded roughly five wins between them, both by the FIP-based version of WAR and the runs-allowed one.

One might consider preparing for the game by reading about how Jimmy Nelson has utilized his college studies in kinesiology to render his mechanics more efficient. One might consider also not doing that.

Readers’ Preferred Broadcast: Milwaukee Radio.

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Can MLB Build a Better Ball?

Like a weird, leathery snowflake, each baseball is unique. (Photo: Keith Allison)

 
The nature of the ball — and the degree to which it has contributed to the historic home-run spike — has, of course, been a subject of interest during the first half of the season. It continued to be a subject of some interest during the All-Star break, as well, when the media had an opportunity to pepper MLB commissioner Rob Manfred with questions.

Did Manfred want more offense in the game? Yes, he’s on record saying just that. Is there a ball-related conspiracy to inject run scoring into the game? I do not have an answer for you. Manfred continued to generally defend the position that the ball is not juiced. That said, he also seemed to allow room for a different interpretation.

Consider his remarks, relayed here by the Wall Street Journal‘s Jared Diamond:

And consider, as well, noted ball investigator Rob Arthur’s reaction:

You’re probably familiar with Arthur’s juiced-ball research and the independent experiments facilitated by Ben Lindbergh and Mitchel Lichtman that offer compelling evidence of a ball that is different and more apt to fly further.

While, as Lindbergh noted last year, the game ball has still likely fallen within MLB standards, a study commissioned by MLB back in 2000 found that “theoretically, two baseballs could meet the specifications but one ball could be hit 49.1 feet further than the other could be hit.” So those standards are rather laughable, variable — and even the commissioner suggests they are a bit lax.

While it might be relatively easy for a sport to produce a juiced ball — a different type of wool wound in the ball led to the livelier ball era beginning in 1920 — what might be more difficult is to create a ball that plays more consistently.

The average major-league game ball has a lifespan of about six pitches. But remarkably (at least to this author), baseballs are still handcrafted, each specimen’s 108 stitches handsewn in Costa Rica, where low-wage workers produce 2.4 million baseballs a year.

Rawlings laid off 200 of its 650-member Costa Rican workforce in 2015, though those cuts were related to uniform production and not the ball.

That a $10 billion industry has outscored its game-ball production to low-wage workers who toil long hours in a factory that lacks universal air conditioning is a subject for another post, a globalization story that has been explored by a number of outlets including The New York Times.

I’m not an expert in manufacturing, but it seems that any product that’s handmade is going to have a high degree of variance in its performance quality. To “juice” a handmade product would seem to require material changes to affect the core, interior threads, or seams of the ball.

In an effort to produce a ball that has less variance in ball-to-ball performance, it seems the ball itself would need to be manufactured by a mechanized process.

As Nicholas Jackson of The Atlantic notes, there have been attempts to automate the process over the last 100-plus years, though no effort has succeeded.

Starting in 1949, the United Shoe Machinery Company made three attempts at creating a ball-stitching machine.

Engineers at USMC broke down the problem into five areas: cover assembly (lasting); needle threading; start of stitching (anchoring the first stitch); stitching or lacing; and lastly, final stitching (final thread anchoring). Previous automated machines exhibited two serious problems: they were unable to start or stop the stitching process without manual assistance, and they were unable to vary the tension of the stitches … C.B. Bateman of USMC said in August 1963, “we have a long, long way to go for a commercial piece of equipment to be presented to the trade.”

There were some successes. Robert H. Bliss, Planning Director of USMC, noted in 1972 that balls produced by the company’s machine “were more uniform in appearance than a hand-laced ball” but added “there was some speculation that a major league pitcher could tell the difference and would prefer a hand-laced ball.” Ultimately, the company elected not to continue spending money on the project, which lacked “industry support.”

Baseball has made great technology advances, like with Statcast. But it would perhaps take another invention to create a more consistent ball — if that’s an objective worthy of pursuit.

Perhaps the consistency of the ball is not a foremost concern or issue, but as long as elements of the ball continue to be produced by hand, there will be no identical versions. Each ball is different than the last and each will be different than the next. Maybe that’s OK.


Job Posting: Los Angeles Dodgers Baseball Research & Development Data Engineer

Position: Los Angeles Dodgers Baseball Research & Development Data Engineer

Location: Los Angeles

Description:
The Los Angeles Dodgers are seeking a Data Engineer for the team’s Baseball Research and Development (R&D) group. We are looking to find someone who thrives in a big data environment. As the scope and quantity of data in baseball continue to rapidly increase, we need a highly-talented individual to manage the computational and informational complexity associated with that growth. The Data Engineer will work closely with our baseball systems and analytics teams to design, build, and maintain a database and computational platform for leading-edge baseball research.

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Effectively Wild Episode 1086: A Podcast With Precedent

EWFI

Ben Lindbergh and Jeff Sullivan banter about why so many moves are being made in advance of the trade deadline, the Yankees-White Sox trade, the J.D. Martinez deal, and Yoan Moncada’s promotion, then follow up on previous topics including All-Star Game revisions, Matt Holliday’s odd slide, the Salina Stockade, strange batting stances, and unusual fields before answering listener emails about pitcher similarity, the underrated well-roundedness of Anthony Rendon, teams in difficult buying/selling spots, the most outs made in a single game, player emotions, an upcoming live podcast, and more.

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The Yankees Bullpen Could Be Something Unbelievable

The Yankees are stuck in a tailspin, being tied for last in all of baseball in wins since June 13. And if I change tabs real quick, then I can confirm that…right…now, the Yankees just lost again, this time to the Twins by five runs. That’s the bad, and the bad colors the interpretation of the present. Recency bias tells us to downplay the fact that the Yankees remain in a playoff position. Their story, for now, remains a good one, and the Yankees are still very much alive as a contender.

Even a week ago, they were a contender with some questions about the starting rotation. Then Michael Pineda was found to require Tommy John surgery, opening another hole. It seemed like the Yankees needed a starter, and a first baseman. Tuesday, they made a trade! They got a possible first baseman, in Todd Frazier. And they got two pitchers — just, two pitchers who are relief pitchers, in Tommy Kahnle and David Robertson. Additions, sure, but not the ones you might’ve expected. The Pineda gap is still there.

And the Yankees, for their part, will continue to entertain the thought of dealing for a starter. But they might’ve just indirectly addressed that very need. Starters are required to handle innings before the bullpen. The Yankees bullpen now looks like a potential deep absurdity.

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Dan Szymborski FanGraphs Chat – 7/19/17

1:58
Dan Szymborski: MAIN SCREEN TURN ON

1:58
The Average Sports Fan: Do you think David Wright ever gets another MLB AB?

1:59
Dan Szymborski: I think he’ll make an appearance, but not many of ’em.

1:59
Guest: If you’re a White Sox fan, who would you rather not see blow games as their closer… Swarzak or Clippard?

2:00
Dan Szymborski: Clippard because you’ll directly remember Robertson

2:01
Nick: Outlook for Mags Sierra? Can he be an above average hitter?

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Ace and Kinesiologist, Jimmy Nelson

PITTSBURGH — The Brewers are probably the greatest surprise among the league’s 30 teams this season. The club remains atop the NL Central for a number of reasons — the triumphant return of Eric Thames to the States, a breakout year from Travis Shaw. Among Milwaukee’s 25-man roster, however, the player most directly responsible for the team’s success is probably Jimmy Nelson, who ranks 10th among all pitchers with 3.1 WAR. Nelson entered the season with four career wins above replacement covering 440 innings.

Earlier this year FanGraphs’ Jeff Sullivan said the Brewers might have serendipitously found an ace in Nelson. Sullivan noted Nelson was among the game’s biggest improvers by strikeout- and walk-rate differential (K-BB%), particularly against left-handed hitters.

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