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How the Cubs Are Swinging

by Jeff Sullivan - 8/27/2015 - Comments (6)

We’ve been through this about the Blue Jays — a promising team suddenly added both Troy Tulowitzki and David Price, and since then, the Jays have taken off. Since the day Tulowitzki first appeared in a Toronto lineup, the team has gone a league-best 21-4, storming into first place and showing few signs of slowing down. Right now, in the American League, the Blue Jays are probably the best ballclub. With two new elite-level players, there’s no team looking much stronger as we head for the playoffs.

Funny thing about that Tulowitzki-specific date — since then, the Blue Jays have gone 21-4, but the Cubs have gone a strikingly similar 21-5. Granted, the Pirates and Cardinals have also done well, but the Cubs have caught fire, featuring what’s been a top-five offense. Before this specific stretch, the Cubs were 10th in the National League in runs scored, and fifth in runs allowed. Over the highlighted weeks, they’re second in runs scored, and tied for second in runs allowed. Run prevention, they’ve mostly had. Run production is a newer thing. Top-to-bottom power is a newer thing. Just about everyone has been a positive contributor, but in particular, Dexter Fowler and Addison Russell have seemingly turned their seasons around.

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Dallas Keuchel Contract Extension Could Prove Difficult

by Craig Edwards - 8/27/2015 - Comments (19)

Dallas Keuchel’s continued progress into an ace is one of the major reasons Houston is contending earlier than anyone predicted. After a good year in 2014, he is a Cy Young candidate, and perhaps front-runner, for the first place Houston Astros. The left-hander recently expressed interest in a contract extension, and Houston Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow provided a stock response about continually re-evaluating players for potential extensions. However, an extension for Keuchel is not an easy one to figure out given his proximity to arbitration and an uncertain award once he gets there.

Keuchel might have been overlooked few years ago because he lacks a fastball above even 90 mph, and there might have been some skepticism about his success last year due to a 6.6 K/9 rate that placed in the bottom third of qualified starters, but Keuchel uses an array of pitches to keep getting better. Keuchel has spent time working with Astros pitching coach Brent Strom, and that work has paid off in a big way. His 2.28 ERA ranks second in the American League and he excels at aspects of the game not picked up by peripheral statistics — although those same peripheral statistics also rank among the best in the game.

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Let's Talk About Jabari Blash

by Chris Mitchell - 8/27/2015 - Comments (22)

Of the 338 Triple-A hitters who have recorded at least 200 plate appearances this season, only two have an isolated-power (ISO) mark north of .300. The first is Richie Shaffer, an interesting Rays prospect who spent some time in the big leagues this season. The second is a player by the name of Jabari Blash. No, that’s not a character from Harry Potter, or even an Edith Wharton novel. Jabari Blash is a real, live outfielder in the Mariners organization.

Blash has hit a ridiculous .246/.370/.624 in 50 games at the Triple-A level this year. Prior to that, he slashed a similarly ridiculous .278/.383/.517 in 60 Double-A contests. But it’s his very recent performance that really stands out. Since August 6th, the 6-foot-5 slugger has put together a .292/.395/.785 performance on the strength of his 10 home runs. Those are essentially peak Mark McGwire numbers.

Blash’s stats are great. His downside, however, is that he just turned 26. Players who are 26 don’t normally come up in prospect discussions. Most 26-year-old baseball players are either big leaguers or minor leaguers who aren’t worth thinking twice about. Blash, however, might be worthy of a second thought.

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On the Inequity of the 2015 NL Wild Card Game

by Dave Cameron - 8/27/2015 - Comments (167)

The Wild Card races in the American and National Leagues could hardly be more different. Over in the AL, only four teams are playing at a level that would normally make them contenders, but the rules require that a fifth team qualify for the postseason, so one team from a remarkably mediocre group is going to get rewarded with a playoff spot even though they may end the year with 82 or 83 wins. The AL Wild Card game is very likely going to feature one of the weakest postseason teams we’ve seen since the playoffs expanded to include non-division winners.

In the National League, though, the Wild Card game is going to be a clash of the titans. The three best records in the NL all come from the Central division, meaning that the Wild Card game is likely to be a showdown between the Pirates and Cubs, unless one of those two can run down the Cardinals for the division title. There are still other possible outcomes, but most likely, the NL Wild Card game this year will pit two excellent Central division teams against each other, probably for the right to play the NL Central winner in the Division Series.

Meanwhile, the winners of the NL West and NL East — right now, the Dodgers and Mets, who currently hold the fourth and fifth best records in the league — are set to play each other for the right to advance to the NL Championship Series. Because of the playoff structure and the dominance of the Central teams this year, we’re almost guaranteed to only have one team in the NLCS out of the clubs with the three best regular season records, with lesser performing teams getting an easier path to the pennant.

And, understandably, that’s frustrating for anyone rooting for an NL Central club this year. The Wall Street Journal’s Jared Diamond spoke to some of the players on the teams involved, who said things like this:

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Eno Sarris Baseball Chat -- 8/27/15

by Eno Sarris - 8/27/2015 - Comments (6)

Eno Sarris: yo
Eno Sarris:
Comment From Houzer
Thoughts on Severino for the playoff run?
Eno Sarris: lovely
Comment From Tough critic
Is a check swing reviewable on replay? Also, are there any good reasons why the 1B or 3B umpire should NOT call every checked swing? If replay was added to get calls right then MLB should adjust this rule as well. The whole concept of allowing the HP umpire to call them contradicts the “getting the call right” theme.
Eno Sarris: I don’t think it is, but it should be. But what if there was a chip in the bat and on the plate? What if robo umps? Is Tennis so bad?

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So You Want an Edge Against Mike Trout

by Jeff Sullivan - 8/27/2015 - Comments (46)

Like a lot of people, Wednesday evening I was watching Justin Verlander try his damnedest to no-hit the Angels. I was tuning in because of the pitcher, but in the seventh inning, I found myself thinking about the hitter. It was in the top of the seventh that Verlander faced Mike Trout for what would be the last time, and I was reminded of something Sam Miller pointed out a couple years ago. All it took was one pitch.

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NERD Game Scores for Thursday, August 27, 2015

by Carson Cistulli - 8/27/2015 - Comments (5)

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
Chicago NL at San Francisco | 15:45 ET
Haren (148.1 IP, 119 xFIP-) vs. Bumgarner (169.2 IP, 78 xFIP-)
Within the haphazardly derived algorithm used to calculated NERD team scores, the expression intended to represent the “urgency” or perhaps “leverage” of a club’s season — the expression relies on that same club’s divisional-series playoff odds. The closer those odds are to 50% — thereby suggesting greater uncertainty regarding the outcome of their season — the higher the NERD score for the relevant team.

As multiple concerned readers have noted, however, the method isn’t perfect. The Chicago Cubs, for example, possess almost precisely a 50% chance of qualifying for the divisional series at the moment. What they also possess, though, is basically zero probability of winning their division. The Cubs have, essentially, clinched a wild-card spot at this point — and, as such, it’s probably fair to say that their odds of reaching the divisional series (again, at 50%) aren’t reflective of great urgency. Unfortunately, to improve the algorithm at this point would require a close working relationship with tedium, a state which — not unlike polio or carpeting — ought to be eradicated posthaste.

Readers’ Preferred Broadcast: Almost All of Them.

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The Return of a Different Adrian Gonzalez

by Jeff Sullivan - 8/27/2015 - Comments (8)

I find that writing goes in phases, and they can be unpredictable. I don’t know when it’s going to be a good writing week. I don’t know when it’s going to be a bad writing week. And I don’t know what I’m next going to find interesting. For example, I feel like I spent a good year or two zoning in on pitch-framing, which I thought was just the coolest thing. And my current fascination appears to be player adjustments. That’s good, because players are always adjusting, and it’s bad, because adjustments can be complicated. But I feel like there should be more attention paid to what’s going on underneath, even when the surface numbers seem stable. What’s driving a player’s success or failure? What’s driving his stability?

Adjustment analysis comes in different flavors. Some are more convincing than others. Some are more subtle than others. There are PITCHf/x adjustment analyses. There are mechanical adjustment analyses. And there are just plain ordinary statistical adjustment analyses. Many times, people will argue it’s just an observation of sample-size noise. Definitely, some of the time, that’s true. Other times, the adjustments are real, even if fleeting. And sometimes they’re so significant they just about slap you in the head. You want a story of a player who made an adjustment and kept himself around the top of his game? Embrace the case of Adrian Gonzalez, who is what he was, yet at the same time very much isn’t.

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The Most Promising Thing About Gregory Polanco Right Now

by Jeff Sullivan - 8/26/2015 - Comments (73)

The funny thing is, Andrew McCutchen and Starling Marte are so good the Pirates would be in the conversation for baseball’s best outfield no matter who the third guy was. But more often than not, the third guy has been Gregory Polanco, and Polanco came with enormous hype. He’s had his good days and bad days, his good moods and bad moods, but these days Polanco’s on a tear. A few weeks shy of his 24th birthday, Polanco looks like he might be realizing his potential, with power, a quick swing, and a diminishing rate of groundballs. The more Polanco hits, the better off the Pirates are, and the better are the chances that Polanco really is establishing himself as a quality regular.

An interesting thing about Polanco is that, even when his numbers weren’t great, they were well and good against right-handed pitchers. It was lefties who were giving him fits, and while that’s not too uncommon for a young lefty bat, it was clearly a hurdle for Polanco to overcome. As much as the Pirates believe in and practice positional versatility, they still would’ve loved to not have to keep Polanco platooned. This leads to something that’s really encouraging. Polanco’s numbers, lately, are up. So is something else.

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Astros Power Arm Martes Emerges as Top Prospect

by J.Chipman - 8/26/2015 - Comments (28)

Astros right hander Francis Martes started the year in extended spring training and Kiley McDaniel had him graded as a 35+ FV. Martes was one of the lesser pieces in the big Jarred Cosart/Colin Moran trade and he was in Rookie-level ball at the time of the trade. From last year to early in 2015, Martes’ velocity jumped, his breaking ball jumped from fringy to at least plus, all of which has helped his above-average changeup play even better. Last week, Kiley graded Martes as the top prospect in the minor leagues that wasn’t in his pre-season Top 200, falling somewhere among the top-50 prospects in baseball and earning at 55 FV grade.

Martes went out to Low-A from extended spring this year, then to the hitter-friendly High-A Cal League where he dominated again until the 19-year-old scorching hot prospect got the promotion to Double-A on Monday. Here’s my observations from two looks at Martes earlier this year in extended spring training, in April/May when his whirlwind season was just getting started and very few scouts were paying attention.

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Is Taylor Jungmann for Real?

by Blengino - 8/26/2015 - Comments (11)

Every year, a number of starting pitchers seemingly come out of nowhere to become significant contributors at the major-league level. Sometimes, as in the case of, say, Jacob deGrom, the sudden evolution at the major-league level is real and sustainable. In the case of the majority of these short-term success stories, the league adjusts, the pitcher is unable to, and either disappears from the major-league scene or settles into a lesser role.

Coming into the 2015 season, Brewers right-hander Taylor Jungmann appeared to be little more than a failed first-round pick, with prospects of perhaps a big-league cup of coffee in his future. Instead, he has turned out to be a bright spot in a lost season for the Brew Crew since being summoned to Milwaukee in early June. Has the big righty turned a corner, settling in for a long run in the big club’s rotation? Or is this a short-term mirage, a dream that the big righty might wake up from any moment now?

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JABO: The Diamondbacks' Hidden Star

by Dave Cameron - 8/26/2015 - Comments (31)

A few months ago, someone asked me who the most underrated player in baseball was, and after kicking around a few names, I settled on Arizona outfielder A.J. Pollock. Pollock got to the big leagues as a speed-and-defense center fielder who hit well enough to justify a regular gig, and then had his breakout year derailed last season when Johnny Cueto hit him in the hand with a fastball. Since he missed roughly half the season, it was easy to overlook his offensive improvements, but Pollock carried the added power and improved contact rate over to this season, and has developed into one of the very best outfielders in all of baseball.

But Pollock’s 2015 season has been so good that it’s hard to call him the game’s most underrated player anymore. After all, he made the All-Star team this year, and thanks to a .325 average and a decent likelihood of being honored with a Gold Glove at years end, he’s not really flying under the radar anymore. Like Ben Zobrist and Bobby Abreu, Pollock might have been mentioned as the game’s most underrated player so many times that he’s now being properly rated.

But even with Pollock’s graduation to stardom now being pretty widely accepted, I still think the game’s most underrated player might be an outfielder for the Diamondbacks. This time, I’m going with Pollock’s teammate David Peralta.

Read the rest on Just a Bit Outside.

Dave Cameron FanGraphs Chat - 8/26/15

by Dave Cameron - 8/26/2015 - Comments (15)

Dave Cameron: It’s Wednesday, so let’s chat. The queue is now open.
Dave Cameron: Alright, let’s get this fired up.
Comment From Pale Hose
It’s a real shame that (likely) two of the NL Central teams will not get a playoff series.
Dave Cameron: Yeah, it sucks when stuff like this happens, with two or three of the best teams in the league all in the same division. But this doesn’t happen all that often, fortunately. It’s lame for the Cardinals and Pirates, but I don’t know that it justifies overhauling the playoff system.
Comment From Sean
What does the future hold for a post-Coors-Field, soon-to-be 31 year-old Troy Tulowitzki? Obviously his numbers, while still good, have taken a nosedive this year.
Dave Cameron: He definitely doesn’t look quite as elite as he did a year ago, so he might be settling into the good-not-great portion of his career.

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What Makes Bruce Bochy and Joe Maddon Great?

by Eno Sarris - 8/26/2015 - Comments (105)

With the Cubs in San Francisco to face the team just behind them in the wild-card race, it makes sense to compare the two managers. After all, they both ended up within the top five in a recent ESPN.com survey, and their teams have both found success in recent years. Though they were born just a year apart, their styles are different enough that they seem to be a study in contrasts.

Who better to ask about what makes them great than their own players and coaches and beat writers? Well, maybe unbiased observers can be more critical than our sample, but the task at hand is to delineate the managers’ strengths.

So, what makes Bruce Bochy great? What makes Joe Maddon great?

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NERD Game Scores for Wednesday, August 26, 2015

by Carson Cistulli - 8/26/2015 - Comments (4)

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
Houston at New York AL | 13:05 ET
McHugh (159.0 IP, 100 xFIP-) vs. Pineda (118.0 IP, 71 xFIP-)
On the edition of FanGraphs Audio released this actual morning, the author mentioned that a friend of his — the sort of friend, specifically, who’s had two children over the last four years and whose relationship with the Pastime has suffered duly — would be attending today’s Astros-Yankees game. What follows is a brief collection of statements designed to provide context for a spectator of that same contest who also has no idea what’s going on.

Readers’ Preferred Broadcast: Houston Television.

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What If Justin Verlander Figured It Out?

by Jeff Sullivan - 8/26/2015 - Comments (41)

A little over a month ago, Dave ran through his annual trade value rankings, and as he likes to do, after all the good bits, he wrote up the bad bit, addressing the game’s least-valuable players. Ranking third on his list was fallen Tigers ace Justin Verlander, whose contract is steady even when the pitching isn’t. Verlander ranked worse than Matt Kemp. Worse than Shin-Soo Choo. He’s making $28 million a year through 2019, and when Dave wrote the post up, Verlander looked like a wreck, after a season in which he also looked like a wreck. Verlander’s contract has been used as one of the reasons why the Tigers might be headed for disaster.

And, the Tigers might be headed for disaster. So might you and I be, I don’t know. Who knows anything? One thing I think I know, though — Verlander has turned things around. As the Tigers have faded out of the race, Verlander has seemingly re-emerged, and now it’s worth wondering what he actually is. Just as the world was getting used to the idea of an underwhelming, under-performing Justin Verlander, he’s showing signs that he…might…be…back? What if that were true? Are we open to the chance that that’s true?

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FanGraphs Audio: Dave Cameron Relives Saberseminar '15

by Carson Cistulli - 8/26/2015 - Comments (6)

Episode 589
Dave Cameron is both (a) the managing editor of FanGraphs and (b) the guest on this particular edition of FanGraphs Audio, during which edition he discusses this past weekend’s Saberseminar in Boston, the quality and quantity of Statcast data, and one of Curt Schilling’s less horrifying — but also recent — comments.

This edition of the program is sponsored by Draft, the first truly mobile fantasy sports app. Compete directly against idiot host Carson Cistulli by clicking here.

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 39 min play time.)

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FanGraphs After Dark Chat - 8/25/15

by Paul Swydan - 8/25/2015 - Comments (0)

Paul Swydan: Hi everybody! Jeff is travelling home from Saber Seminar tonight (did you go to Saber Seminar? If not, go next year!!!) so you’re stuck with just me. Come back at 9 pm ET, and we’ll talk some baseball, or anything else you’d like to talk about! See you soon!
Paul Swydan: Hi everybody! OK, let’s do this.
Comment From Jasper
How much of Joc’s struggles should be attributed to a .218 2nd half BABIP?
Paul Swydan: Obviously a good bit of it. His BB and K %s have remained basically static. But the drop in his BABIP doesn’t explain the drop in his HR rate, and it’s also a little weird how he’s going oppo more often (11% more often). He’s not as good as he was in the first half nor is he as bad as he has been in the second half, but there is a good chance he is going to be streaky like this.
Paul Swydan: Also notable is that his soft % was 14.9% in the first half and it’s 31% in the second half.
Comment From Ol Sea Capn
I have a tough keeper question – Do I keep the hot-lately Reisel Iglesias or trade him high? He’s really cheap ($3) and I can trade bigger names like TWalker, McHugh (both at 10x cost) and the bat Maybin. 14 teams obp league.

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A Home Run That Must Be Discussed

by Jeff Sullivan - 8/25/2015 - Comments (46)

A week and a half ago, there was a remarkable home run, which I like. I’m drawn to those kinds of things, and I almost can’t help myself but write about them. I was floored by the home run itself; it was one of the most obvious subjects ever provided to me. The only problem was then I didn’t write for a week. The moment passed. Usually, these things have to be written right away, or people cease to be interested. It’s been a while since the home run, now. People are thinking about other things. The Mets. The Mets are neat.

I feel like I have to do it, though. I can’t let it fade away — FanGraphs needs to have a post dedicated to this home run. It was sufficiently incredible that we’d be doing you a disservice by not putting something together. While I know the moment is gone, this is a home run with a longer life, a home run for which you needn’t worry about context. Come with me back to Saturday, August 15. We’re going to watch the Indians and the Twins in Minnesota. We’re going to watch them because, in the fifth inning, there was Eddie Rosario.

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The Year BaseRuns Failed

by Dave Cameron - 8/25/2015 - Comments (101)

Around here, you know that we spend a lot of time working with metrics that attempt to strip noise out of results. Often times, we’re less concerned with what has happened and more concerned with what is going to happen, and these component metrics often do a better job of isolating either a player or a team’s overall contribution to the results, while removing some of the factors that lead to those results but aren’t likely to continue in the future.

At the team level, the most comprehensive component metric we host is called BaseRuns, which evaluates a team’s quality based on all the plays they were involved in, without regard for the sequence in which those events occurred. BaseRuns essentially gives us a context-neutral evaluation of a team’s performance, assuming that the distribution of hits and runs isn’t really something a team has a lot of control over. BaseRuns can be thought of as the spiritual successor to Bill James‘ implementation of the pythagorean theorem to baseball, as pythag strips sequencing out of the conversion of runs to wins, but doesn’t do anything to strip the sequencing effects out of turning specific plays into runs scored and runs allowed.

Historically, BaseRuns has worked really well. For the years we have historical BaseRuns data (2002 to 2014), one standard deviation was right around four wins, and the data appears to be normally distributed; 73% of team-seasons have fallen within one standard deviation, 97% of team-seasons have fallen within two standard deviations, and no team had ever exceeded three standard deviations. There have been years here and there where a team sequenced their way to an extra 11 or 12 wins, but they weren’t very common, and that was usually the only break from the norm in that season.

Until this year. Here is the year by year standard deviation in BaseRuns wins versus actual wins for every year that we have the data.

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WAR: Batters
Bryce Harper7.3
Josh Donaldson7.0
Mike Trout6.9
Paul Goldschmidt6.2
Joey Votto5.8
WAR: Pitchers
Clayton Kershaw6.2
Chris Sale5.8
Dallas Keuchel5.4
Corey Kluber5.4
Chris Archer5.1
WPA: Batters
Anthony Rizzo6.33
Nelson Cruz5.71
Paul Goldschmidt5.47
Josh Donaldson5.17
Andrew McCutchen4.95
Zack Greinke4.80
Sonny Gray3.86
Clayton Kershaw3.34
Dallas Keuchel3.22
David Price3.14
Mark Melancon4.07
Wade Davis3.43
Dellin Betances3.13
Trevor Rosenthal3.07
Hector Rondon3.07
Fastball (mph): SP
Juan Nicasio96.9
Noah Syndergaard96.9
Nathan Eovaldi96.6
Bryan Mitchell96.3
Yordano Ventura96.1