It’s Not Time to Talk About the Brewers

On Tuesday, I wrote about the surprisingly strong early play of the Arizona Diamondbacks, and whether it was time to talk about them as potential contenders, at least for a Wild Card spot. Of course, Arizona isn’t the only expected also-ran to be playing well. It’s May 25th, and the Milwaukee Brewers are in first place. But despite thinking the second-place Diamondbacks may have put themselves in a position where going for it could make sense, I don’t think the Brewers have yet played themselves into being a buyer.

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Eno Sarris Baseball Chat — 5/25/17

1:31
Eno Sarris: Los Angeles come see Junior Boys with me https://oct.co/events/october-brings-junior-boys-globe-los-angeles

12:01
ChiSox: Is White Sox trade value disappearing? Quintana, Nate Jones, Melky, Frazier…

12:01
Eno Sarris: I don’t know if Frazier’s is affected so much by a bad batting average, he is who he is. Q could recover it with a good stretch, Melky probably never had any. Jones is too bad but they have him signed for a while so cheap that it’s nbd.

12:02
Eric: Start Maeda tonight against the Cards, or wait to see how he looks coming off the DL?

12:02
Eno Sarris: I want to see more.

12:03
JD15: Whats up with Edwin Diaz? Any chance Pazos holds the job or is it just temporary?

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Jeff Samardzija: Turning Less for Success

“What’s going on with the cutter and the slider?” I asked Jeff Samardzija the other day in the clubhouse. “I’m turning less,” said the Giants’ big right-hander. I started laughing, thinking he was talking about turning and watching the ball leave the yard. He arched an eyebrow, and didn’t follow suit. I had to explain myself. Now he was the one laughing. “No, no, that was last year. That’s why I started throwing the curveball,” he said. The good news is that turning less in one way has allowed him to turn less in another. The other good news is, Samardzija isn’t currently angry with me.

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Daily Prospect Notes: 5/25

Daily notes on prospects from lead prospect analyst Eric Longenhagen. Read previous installments here.

Jose Marmolejos, 1B, Washington (Profile)
Level: Double-A   Age: 24   Org Rank: 19   Top 100: NR
Line: 3-for-4, HR, BB

Notes
Marmolejos returned from a non-throwing forearm strain that required a 60-day DL stint on the 12th, and he has a hit each day since then. He’s got terrific bat-to-ball skills and is a good defensive first baseman but is blocked, not only at the big-league level by a resurgent Ryan Zimmerman, but at Triple-A by veteran Clint Robinson. He probably lacks the power to play every day, but it looks like he’s going to hit enough to merit a bench spot.

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NERD Game Scores for May 25, 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
San Diego at New York NL | 19:10 ET
Lamet (MLB Debut) vs. deGrom (55.2 IP, 70 xFIP-)
This game appears likely to represent the major-league debut of San Diego right-hander Dinelson Lamet. Overshadowed a bit in a deep and talented Padres system, Lamet has produced promising statistical indicators as a professional — including last season when he recorded strikeout and walk rates of 29.2% and 9.9%, respectively, as a 23-year-old at Double-A. He’s recorded one of the best strikeout rates across all of Triple-A this season.

As for the actual physical tools, it doesn’t appear as though arm speed represents any sort of impediment to success for Lamet. He sat at 95 mph during a spring-training appearance at a stadium equipped with pitch-tracking technology and nearly touched 98 during that appearance. Lead prospect Eric Longenhagen analyst also has some praise for Lamet’s slider. The flaws, according to Longenhagen? Command and the near absence of a changeup. Were one inclined, he or she could monitor Lamet’s start with those weaknesses in mind. Were one not inclined, he or she could do anything else, too.

Readers’ Preferred Broadcast: New York NL Television.

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Buster Posey and Public Displays of Disaffection

The television camera changes everything. Imagine being broadcast at work, at school, at your local coffee shop or bar, or wherever you spend most of your time in public. Were every move to be recorded, one’s behavior (I presume) would be inclined to change. My behavior certainly would. I would want the world most often to see the best of me. It’s human nature to be liked, to be accepted, to avoid controversy.

So it was quite unusual to see Buster Posey become so publicly annoyed with a teammate on Saturday because (a) we rarely see players exhibit such emotion on television and (b) Posey’s public face is generally one of mild-mannered tranquility.

But Posey isn’t accustomed to this much losing. He knows that the Giants are in a tough spot, already 10 games back in the NL West and seven games under .500, with the Rockies and Diamondbacks looking like legitimate postseason contenders in addition to the favored Dodgers. The Giants are, of course, also without their ace Madison Bumgarner. Perhaps Posey’s tolerance threshold for nonsense and mental errors — and this is pure speculation — has been diminished.

So in the ninth inning Saturday night, Posey lost any concern for appearances. He had enough with Brandon Belt apparently zoning out and failing to keep the runner — in this case, Stephen Piscotty — close to the bag. Piscotty went on to steal second in a relatively close game. Always pay attention to Buster.

Despite knowing that every movement is being documented, Posey didn’t hide his indignation and wait for the privacy of the clubhouse to protect a teammate from public rebuke:

This isn’t the face of a pleased catcher:

Nor was this the first instance of on-field discord between Posey and Belt — a point noted by longtime Giants beat writer Henry Schulman noted after the game:

Matt Carpenter flied out to end the game, Belt gave Posey an icy stare in the handshake line, after which Posey apparently turned to say something to the first baseman.

This was not the first time the cameras caught Posey expressing displeasure with Belt.

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Mike Leake Was Leading the National League in ERA

Let us consider, for a moment, the matter of Mike Leake.

The mental image you have of Leake is probably that of a serviceable mid-to-back-end starter. Leake doesn’t strike many guys out, and he’s perhaps walked a few too many men for comfort considering his lack of punchouts. Leake does not make your team a contender, but he makes it viable. He’s a good bowl of potato leek soup if you’ll pardon the unwitting pun: not your first choice on the menu, but one that’s hearty and comforting when done right. Teams need good bowls of soup. They’re not much if they only have superstars and super-scrubs. They need something in the middle. They need arms to throw decent innings. Mike Leake has been that man for years.

Until now, perhaps. Before Clayton Kershaw took the mound last night and threw nine innings of one-run ball, Leake had the lowest ERA in the National League at 2.03. Kershaw has now assumed his rightful place at the head of the pack with a 2.01. That would seem like a return to normalcy — that is, if Leake’s 2.03 ERA itself weren’t so abnormal.

As you might suspect, the underlying metrics don’t think Leake is pitching exactly this well. His 3.18 FIP is still quite good, while his 3.73 DRA is less enthusiastic. His ground-ball rate is identical to last year’s, while he’s allowing fewer line drives and more fly balls. Opposing batters are putting just .244 when they put the ball in play against him, which is interesting considering that the Cardinals haven’t been all that great on defense this year. He’s not creating especially soft or hard contact, either. He’s near the middle of the league in average exit velocity.

So what exactly is going on here? How does a soul-warming bowl of soup turn into a delicacy?

Let us consider, for a moment, the St. Louis rotation.

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Salvador Perez Is Making the Most of Swinging at Everything

Salvador Perez has been aggressive from the start. He’s long been an aggressive hitter, and a talented bat-to-ball hitter, and pitchers have responded as you’d expect. This is Perez’s seventh year in the big leagues. In every successive year, he’s seen a lower rate of pitches in the zone. He’s also steadily seen fewer fastballs, this year owning the lowest fastball rate in the game. Perez doesn’t see strikes because he swings at balls, and for the same reason, he seldom draws a walk. In each of Perez’s last three seasons, he’s finished with an OBP under .300. For that matter, he’s finished with an OBP under .290.

Perez is no stranger to having a hot start, so, bear that in mind. But something so far this year is unusual. Again, he’s not seeing many strikes, and he’s not seeing many fastballs. Accordingly, he hasn’t drawn walks, because he’s still chasing as often as ever. Yet Perez is hitting for power, sitting on a 127 wRC+. There’s a long way to go before we know what Perez truly is, but he looks to be building on a process started last year. Salvador Perez is fully focused on finding left field.

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Baseball’s Toughest (and Easiest) Schedules So Far

When you look up and see that the Athletics are in the midst of a two-game mid-week series against the Marlins in late May, you might suspect that the major-league baseball schedule is simply an exercise in randomness. At this point in the campaign, that’s actually sort of the case. The combination of interleague play and the random vagaries of an early-season schedule conspire to mean that your favorite team hasn’t had the same schedule as your least favorite team. Let’s try to put a number on that disparity.

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Michael Conforto Hits the Ball Everywhere

Let’s begin with something pleasing. We’re all in a good mood. Here’s Michael Conforto hitting an unnecessary home run on Tuesday:

That home run didn’t matter in part because, earlier in the game, Michael Conforto hit a home run. And it didn’t matter in part because, earlier in the game, Conforto hit a two-run single. It was a good night to be Michael Conforto. It’s been a good year to be Michael Conforto.

As things stand, Conforto ranks 11th among position players in WAR. The weird news is he’s behind Zack Cozart. The better news is he’s tied with Buster Posey. Just by hitting, Conforto’s fifth in wRC+, between Ryan Zimmerman and Bryce Harper. There was concern coming into the season that Conforto might not end up with enough playing time. Circumstances have allowed him to play plenty, and now he’s made himself impossible to sit.

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Dan Szymborski FanGraphs Chat – 5/24/17

2:01
Dan Szymborski: It’s party time! A very disappointing party, with reading text instead of beer.

2:01
The Average Sports Fan: How do you feel about the 70’s Earl Weaver approach to developing young pitchers in the bullpen before putting them in the rotation?

2:02
Dan Szymborski: I think it’s a good approach. It gets pitchers comfortable in the majors in lower-key situations (presuming you choose those). It saves some innings.

2:02
Tim: Is Starlin Castro under rated?

2:02
Dan Szymborski: Nah, he’s about rated.

2:03
Rusty: What is happening to Julio Urias? He did not look very sharp in his first go-around this year.

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Red Sox Prospect Jalen Beeks Is Breeding Contempt in the Eastern League

Jalen Beeks is quietly emerging as one of the top pitching prospects in the Red Sox organization. The 23-year-old lefty has made seven starts for the Double-A Portland Sea Dogs, and he’s kept the opposition off the scoreboard in five of them. His ERA is a frugal 1.60, and he’s fanned 48 batters over 39.1 frames.

On the surface, Beeks is more about craftiness than power. The University of Arkansas product stands an unimposing 5-foot-11, and his repertoire doesn’t include a plus-plus offering. His biggest asset has been an ability to mix and match, and keep hitters off balance.

Which isn’t to say he’s all about finesse. A scout to whom I spoke during his most recent outing opined that Beeks has good stuff, and that consistency and command are the keys to his future success. Having options should help. The former Razorback had a crisp curveball on the day I saw him, which helped make up for a cutter that wasn’t sharp. Beeks had pointed to the latter when I asked about his breakout.

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The Yankees and the Stanford Marshmallow Experiment

My wife is a school psychologist here in the Pittsburgh area, so naturally I learn about the profession and the field. One test of interest, and some amusement, that she’s discussed involves children and the concept of delayed gratification. Testers use all sorts of sugar-laden incentives for the evaluation. The tester presents a child with a cookie or chocolate or something else and informs the four-year-old that, after a short period of time, if the child can avoid the temptation to indulge in the first snack, that said child will receive a second. (I’m not sure such a test of will power would be all that easy for adults, either.)

The study, I believe, traces its origins to the Stanford Marshmallow Experiment conduced in the late 1960s by psychologist Walter Mischel. The kids tested were given one marshmallow, and then a second if they were able to endure about a 15-minute wait. Follow-up studies found that the children who were able to wait generally had better life-outcomes, though the experiment is not without their critics. The Atlantic revisited the study in 2014:

Studies showed that a child’s ability to delay eating the first treat predicted higher SAT scores and a lower body mass index (BMI) 30 years after their initial Marshmallow Test. Researchers discovered that parents of “high delayers” even reported that they were more competent than “instant gratifiers”—without ever knowing whether their child had gobbled the first marshmallow.

While such a study and its small sample is, of course, imperfect, I think reasonable people can agree there are many merits to delayed gratification for children and adults.

So that brings me to the New York Yankees. The club is somewhat surprisingly resides in first place in the AL East more than a quarter of the way through the season, and boasts of the second-best run-differential in the American League (+53), trailing only the Astros (+58). BaseRuns suggests the Yankees actually deserve to be a game better than their actual standing (27-16).

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Dave Cameron FanGraphs Chat – 5/24/17

12:00
Dave Cameron: Happy Wednesday, everyone.

12:00
Dave Cameron: We’re nearly two months into what is turning out to be a pretty interesting season.

12:01
Dave Cameron: So let’s talk about it.

12:01
Kiermaier’s Piercing Green Eyes: Chris Archer is on a team-friendly contract and central to a Rays team that would like to be competitive over the next few years. He is also second in the AL in WAR behind Sale. I see a lot of Cubs et al. fans talk about trading for Archer, but do you actually see anyone paying the price the Rays would demand to move their competitive window back? Quintana’s gotta go somewhere, and that’s a nifty consolation prize.

12:02
Dave Cameron: No, I don’t think the Rays trade Archer unless they fall apart in the next month. The Red Sox early struggles have made the AL East pretty winnable, and I’d imagine the Rays aren’t going to punt their next few years unless things go south.

12:02
Ray Liotta as Shoeless Joe: You have suggested that teams may have better data models than other analysts which may cause them to evaluate players differently. Have you talked to August Fagerstrom about lines of research the amateur community could pursue to be more in-line with team research (without divulging proprietary data, of course)?

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Daily Prospect Notes: 5/24

Daily notes on prospects from lead prospect analyst Eric Longenhagen. Read previous installments here.

Ryan Burr, RHP, Arizona (Profile)
Level: Low-A   Age: 22   Org Rank: NR   Top 100: NR
Line: 2 IP, 1 H, 0 BB, 1 R, 3 K

Notes
Burr was remarkably consistent at Arizona State, sitting 93-96 with an above average slider each time I saw him. After dealing with injuries last year, he’s back to missing bats, albeit at a lower level than one might like to see from a college prospect in his second full pro season. He has setup-man upside if everything is intact.

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Job Posting: Sports Info Solutions Information Technology Analyst

Position: Sports Info Solutions Information Technology Analyst

Location: Coplay, Pa.

Description:
The candidate will develop new features and products as well as help maintain existing internal and external products within a mature codebase. The ideal candidate will be responsible for building applications, including anything from back-end services to their client-end counterparts. The primary responsibilities will be to design and develop these applications, and to coordinate with the rest of the team working on different layers of the infrastructure. Therefore, a commitment to collaborative problem solving, sophisticated design, and quality product is essential.

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NERD Game Scores for May 24, 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
Cincinnati at Cleveland | 18:10 ET
Bonilla (18.1 IP, 116 xFIP-) vs. Bauer (44.2 IP, 81 xFIP-)
By each of those three variables that inform run-prevention beyond the three included in expected FIP, Bauer has fared almost as poorly as possible. Among qualified pitchers, he’s conceded nearly the most home runs per fly ball. He’s allowed nearly the most hits per ball in play. He’s stranded nearly the fewest runners who’ve reached base against him. To observe Trevor Bauer is to observe a plaything of the arbitrary. It is to observe… ourselves!

Readers’ Preferred Broadcast: Cleveland Radio.

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The Preposterous Mike Trout

It’s that time again, when we provide your somewhat regularly scheduled update on the exploits of Mike Trout. When we last saw our protagonist, he was rocking a 210 wRC+ on April 24th. That was good enough for sixth best in baseball, but given that it was April 24th, we were sure to see some regression. Right?

Now it’s May 24th, and Mike Trout has a 220 wRC+. That’s the best in baseball. It means he’s been 120% better on offense than the league average. He’s twice the average offensive player and then some. Since he’s often considered to be a reincarnation of Mickey Mantle, it should be noted that Mantle never had a single season wRC+ that high, his best mark being a 217 in 1957. He was worth 11.4 WAR in 144 games.

Speaking of WAR, Trout’s accumulated a 3.3 mark so far this year. That naturally also leads the league by a fair margin and has taken Trout over the 50-win mark for his career. In doing so, he’s passed a number of all-time greats in total career value. Those players include Luis Aparicio, Orlando Cepeda, Fred Lynn, David Ortiz, and Jimmy Rollins. He’s very close to passing George Sisler and Enos Slaughter. He’s still got a few months until he turns 26.

Of course, it’s not surprising to see Trout playing this well. It’s not surprising that this past Monday’s game was only the seventh 0-for he’s taken over the first 42 games he’s played this year. (He still managed to walk twice.) It’s not shocking to see Trout playing out of his mind like this, or to know that the above homer from yesterday tied him for the big league lead in homers with Aaron Judge.

And that’s because he’s Mike Trout, the guy who’s already punched his ticket as one of the best players to ever play the game. He’s the guy who’s finished first or second in MVP voting in every full season he’s played, and arguably should have won every time. He’s been the most consistently great player in the game since the second he was called up in 2012. He’s among that extremely small percentage of players who shouldn’t be discounted from being able to carry a 200 (or larger) wRC+ for a whole season, because he’s simply that talented. And by typical player aging curves, Trout hasn’t even hit his prime yet.

Trout, as good as he’s been, has never finished a season having outpaced the league by this much. It’s important to note that it is, indeed, just May 24th, but Trout’s hitting profile looks pretty similar to what he’s produced in the past. He’s just simply hitting the ball with even more power. His walk and strikeout rates are generally the same as last year, and he’s basically taken just two percentage points of ground-ball rate and put them into fly-ball rate. The only marked difference is that his soft contact rate is somehow up to 20% from 12%.

Ben Lindbergh recently noted in an excellent piece of work at The Ringer that Trout is swinging more than ever, and that he’s swinging more often at meatballs in the middle. Swinging more often can sometimes be dangerous, but Trout is pulling it off with aplomb, as Ben noted.

In his first, brief exposure to the big leagues, Trout’s selective aggression ranked in the first percentile compared with qualifying hitters. He swung at fewer than half of the pitches he saw in the strike zone and almost a third of likely balls, showing relatively little ability to differentiate between pitches he could punish and pitches even he would have a hard time driving. His ratio improved in 2012 and again in 2013 and 2014 before regressing in 2015, when he was probably playing through a wrist issue. Last year and this year, his strike zone judgment has made further strides, to the point that he’s now in the 94th percentile — one of the game’s smartest swingers

Having a strong feel for the strike zone isn’t the only ingredient of offensive success: Plenty of hitters have the ability to distinguish balls from strikes but lack the coordination and power to make the most of that skill. But when a hitter with Trout’s physical gifts adds elite discipline to the mix, pitchers can’t counter. Thus far, they’ve thrown fewer pitches in the strike zone to Trout than ever before, but he’s not biting on bad pitches. Over the course of his career, Trout has produced a .465 weighted on-base average when swinging at pitches inside the strike zone and a .250 wOBA when swinging at pitches outside the strike zone. It makes perfect sense that he’d be even more potent now that he’s swinging at the former pitches more often and the latter less often.

Ben also pointed out that Trout is pouncing on first-pitch curves more than ever, which counters a previously popular method of attack against him. Trout is plugging the few tiny holes in his game, and it’s resulting in some dazzling production.

There’s probably going to be a bit of regression from the phenomenal offensive high he’s currently riding, but there isn’t reason to expect a ton of it. We’ve always wondered about the hypothetical of whether or not Trout has peaked yet, of whether or not there’s still room between his current state and the upper limit of his possible performance. That may be what we’re looking at right now. If Trout is reaching his physical peak, maybe that explains his .411 ISO, which is well above that even of the behemoth Judge.

Nothing should be surprising with Trout, except if perhaps if he took the mound and started striking people out. As I noted over the winter, he’s basically already a Hall of Famer. He’s just gotten even better now. Trout could very well come back down to his heightened version of reality at some point in the near or distant future, because it’s extremely hard to hit this well for an entire season. There have only been 32 instances of a qualified batter carrying a wRC+ of 200 or greater for a season. Many of those campaigns were had by men named Ruth, Bonds, and Williams. That’s how good Trout has been, and what kind of company he would have to keep to do this from now until October.

We shouldn’t put it past him. We shouldn’t expect him to do it, either, but we shouldn’t immediately discount it. Trout is a special player, and possibly the greatest to ever play the game. He’s the one thing keeping the Angels from being basement-dwellers.

He’s absolutely, incredibly, ridiculously great. We’re lucky to be able to watch him perform.


Effectively Wild Episode 1061: Losing Lucroy

EWFI

Ben Lindbergh and Jeff Sullivan banter about the White Sox signing Luis Robert, the Twins’ turnaround, and small-sample successes such as Anthony Swarzak and Chad Pinder, then discuss Jonathan Lucroy’s perplexing defensive decline and the state of catcher framing in 2017.

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FanGraphs Audio: Dave Cameron Speaks Truth To and/or About Power

Episode 743
Exit velocity is an asset for hitters, all things being equal. That said, some of the very best hitters in baseball (including Mike Trout, for example) have recorded rather pedestrian batted-ball speeds. Managing editor Dave Cameron addresses the diminishing returns of exit velocity. He also discusses Chris Davis and Khris Davis and explains why only one of them was a prospect. Also: the Brewers and Twins were among 2016’s worst clubs. Now? They’re both division leaders. “How and why and how?” is what the host asks, in that careful order.

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Don’t hesitate to direct pod-related correspondence to @cistulli on Twitter.

You can subscribe to the podcast via iTunes or other feeder things.

Audio after the jump. (Approximately 43 min play time.)

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