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It's Rock Bottom for Shelby Miller

by Jeff Sullivan - 5/25/2016 - Comments (6)

Shelby Miller just started his tenth game of the season. He has, to his name, all of one single quality start. It came a few weeks ago, in Atlanta, where Miller went to work against one of the worst team offenses in recent baseball history. Miller was removed after the six-inning minimum. He racked up one strikeout, to go with a pair of walks. He also hit a guy. That guy was Erick Aybar, who has a .423 OPS. In Miller’s one quality start, he was statistically bad. Then there are the nine other starts.

In an era of fair and balanced transactions, no offseason move got even a fraction of the criticism of Arizona’s Shelby Miller trade. Those opposed to the move believed the Diamondbacks overpaid for a non-elite starting pitcher. FanGraphs, of course, figured the Braves made out like bandits, and that also happened to be the industry consensus. But to be absolutely clear, no one back then thought that Miller was anything less than a legitimate No. 3. The criticism then had to do with Ender Inciarte and Dansby Swanson. If anything, there were indications Miller might’ve been on the verge of breaking out. At the moment, he’s a shell of himself. Miller has gone completely awry, and he and the Diamondbacks are suffering.

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Are Veterans Better at Slump-Busting?

by Eno Sarris - 5/25/2016 - Comments (16)

Way back at the winter meetings, Brad Ausmus said a thing that I found interesting. It’s stuck with me ever since, gathering moss as I’ve pondered it occasionally. But by itself, it raised my eyebrow and set me on a path.

“Especially hitting,” began Ausmus. And continued:

[W]henever you recover from a struggle or go through a slump, you fall back on that experience anytime it happens again. That’s absolutely true. I can tell you that from experience. That’s why veteran players are much better equipped to handle slumps than young players just because of the experiences.

There’s a lot to unpack here, but before we ask the players and the numbers, I thought it would be interesting to call back to a psychology experiment with which I once assisted in college. In a study colloquially called The Beeper Study run by Laura Carstensen at Stanford University, we found that getting older led to more emotional stability and happiness.

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The Other Dominant AL East Closer

by Jeff Sullivan - 5/25/2016 - Comments (9)

Closers tend to be dominant, because if they weren’t dominant, they wouldn’t be closers. The role is selective, which makes total sense, on account of the stakes that come along with the designation. Now, this statement isn’t fact-checked or anything, but I feel like the closers in the American League East are particularly dominant. Maybe I’m wrong, and I don’t care, but the Red Sox, of course, acquired Craig Kimbrel. The Yankees, of course, acquired Aroldis Chapman, and they also have Andrew Miller. The Orioles have the unbelievable Zach Britton. Even the Blue Jays are happy with Roberto Osuna, who last year got himself some playoff exposure. The division knows how to finish games. It’s one of the reasons it’s a good division.

There’s another guy, and by process of elimination, you can see he closes for the Rays. Most good Rays players end up seemingly underrated, and the current closer is no exception. Jake McGee? They traded Jake McGee. Brad Boxberger? He’s been hurt. He’s on the way back, and they say he’ll close again, but if that happens, he’ll have to bump Alex Colome. Colome has been better than you probably realized. Colome has been better than I realized, and this is literally how I make a living.

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FanGraphs Meetup: New York City, June 18th

by Eno Sarris - 5/25/2016 - Comments (11)

Since a lineup-sized portion of the FanGraphs team will be in New York City for Sabermetrics Day at the Staten Island Yankees, we thought it would make sense also to run a meetup. Just another chance to come and hang out and talk baseball, except this one with (perhaps, if you’re into that sort of thing) a craft beverage in your hand.

So come visit on Saturday, June 18th, at Rattle N Hum West, from 7 to 10 pm. We’ll have free appetizers for everyone, baseball on the screens, and time to talk with some of your favorite writers, FanGraphs or not. It’s an all-ages event.

Details below.

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A Status Update on the Francisco Liriano Experience

by August Fagerstrom - 5/25/2016 - Comments (7)

Francisco Liriano‘s most recent outing for the Pittsburgh Pirates ended with eight consecutive balls and the bases loaded. The Pirates won that game, 12-1, over the Arizona Diamondbacks, and Liriano allowed just one earned runs on two hits, but the outing was nevertheless troubling for the 32-year-old lefty. Troubling because he walked five and struck out two, marking the third time already this season that Liriano walked more batters than he struck out, matching his total of starts which met that criteria over the previous two full seasons combined. Coming on the heels of three solid seasons in Pittsburgh, Liriano’s been below-replacement level by FIP-WAR, his walk and home-run rates at a career-high, his strikeout numbers the lowest in five years.

I’ve had something of a fixation on Liriano for a while now, due to the extreme nature of his pitching style. Coming into this season, he’d thrown the lowest rate of pitches inside the strike zone of any starter during a two-year stretch, while somehow also getting batters to chase those pitches at an extreme rate. Despite his approach — essentially inviting hitters to get themselves out over and over again — representing one that was theoretically easy to beat, hitters continuously failed to make the adjustment, which actually embodied a league-wide trend in MLB over the last eight years.

With Liriano struggling this season, this naturally becomes the first thing to check. Is Liriano still working outside the zone still often? Are batters still flailing away, even though they should know what’s coming?

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Dave Cameron FanGraphs Chat - 5/25/16

by Dave Cameron - 5/25/2016 - Comments (23)

12:01
Dave Cameron: Happy Wednesday, everyone. Unless you’re Matt Harvey, I guess.
12:01
Joe S: Has to be asked… What would you have done with Harvey?
12:03
Dave Cameron: This is the kind of thing that’s basically impossible to say we know better from the outside. Maybe Harvey wouldn’t respond well to doing the phantom-injury thing, and maybe he’s just got too much pride to try to figure things out in the minors. I think, in this case, the Mets just know more than we do, so it’s not really worth saying that we’d do things differently.
12:03
Curtis: What is the most impressive thing about the Mariners hot start? How good their record would be if they could actually be .500 at home?
12:04
Dave Cameron: The bullpen has probably been the biggest factor. It looked like it could have been a disaster, but they’re getting good innings from reclamation projects like Nuno, Montgomery, and Peralta. And it looks like they stole Nick Vincent from SD.
12:04
Erik: What is the logic behind allowing some types of draft pick trading but not others? Do you see this changing after the next CBA? Or is it somehow in the interests of either the players or the owners to keep it this way?

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NERD Game Scores for Wednesday, May 25, 2016

by Carson Cistulli - 5/25/2016 - Comments (1)

Devised originally in response to a challenge issued by sabermetric nobleman 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
New York NL at Washington | 13:05 ET
Matz (41.2 IP, 71 xFIP-) vs. Roark (56.0 IP, 91 xFIP-)
Among Mets starters, the one who’s produced the best season thus far is (unsurprisingly) right-hander Noah Syndergaard. Syndergaard has recorded the highest strikeout rate on the club and lowest walk rate and highest ground-ball rate and top WAR figure and also remains the youngest, somehow. His virtues are manifold and impressive, one concludes. Among Mets starters who don’t invite very obvious comparisons to Norse deities, however, Steven Matz is the best — and all the distinctions which formerly applied to Syndergaard (highest strikeout rate, lowest walk rate, etc.) apply instead to him. Because he invites many fewer comparisons to deities, is why. Unless there’s a god somewhere named Steve the Approachable-Looking Fellow. In which case, Steven Matz probably bears a pretty close resemblance.

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Kershaw Is Forcing Us to Confront the Pedro Question

by NWein44 - 5/25/2016 - Comments (96)

Over the last 365 days, Clayton Kershaw has been baseball’s best pitcher. That isn’t a particularly enlightening sentence given that he’s almost certainly been the league’s best pitcher over the last several years, as well. At this point, the question isn’t really if Kershaw is the best pitcher, but rather if he is the best overall player, Mike Trout included. Kershaw has truly been that phenomenal.

To put some numbers behind it, consider: since May 26, 2015, Kershaw has thrown 253.1 regular-season innings (34 starts) and produced a 39 ERA- and 42 FIP-, thanks in part to a 34.8 K% and 3.3 BB%. By our WAR model, that’s equivalent to an 11-WAR season. It’s closer to 12 WAR if you use runs allowed as the primary input instead of FIP.

We all have our own favorite Kershaw fun fact, but here’s one that’s been bubbling to the surface lately. Full disclosure: I’ve been partially responsible for said bubbling.

Pedro vs. Kershaw
Player Time IP ERA- FIP-
Pedro Martinez 1999-2000 430.1 39 39
Clayton Kershaw Last 365 days 253.1 39 42

Some context: since 1961, there have been just a handful of qualified starters to record less than a 40 ERA- in a single season and the only two qualified seasons under 40 FIP- belong to Pedro in 1999 and Kershaw in 2016. Those Pedro years are often considered the modern gold standard of starting-pitcher dominance. He was 60% better than league average for two full seasons.

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FanGraphs After Dark Chat - 5/24/16

by Paul Swydan - 5/24/2016 - Comments (0)

9:00
Paul Swydan: Hi everybody!
9:01
Paul Swydan: Jeff may be late. Kids stuff. Pro tip – Never become an adult.
9:01
Paul Swydan: I have to say, I’m surprised 10.3% of you have faith in Jackie Bradley Jr. to beat Joe DiMaggio’s record. I guess someone’s gotta do it.
9:01
Jeet: I finally made it to a chat
9:01
Paul Swydan: Congrats Jeet!
9:01
Amir Garrett: Will I be in the majors this year? Makes sense right?

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Leonys Martin Stopped Being a Slap Hitter

by Jeff Sullivan - 5/24/2016 - Comments (11)

I keep a little notebook next to my computer, so I can keep track of potential things to write about. Generally, topics break down into two categories: there are the topics that practically need to be written about, and there are the possible topics to monitor. Maybe those need bigger sample sizes; maybe those just need to become more interesting. Some of those topics turn into posts, and some of those topics never leave the piece of paper. I see that I crossed out something about Joe Ross. No idea what that was supposed to be.

For weeks, because of the notebook, I’ve been casually following Leonys Martin. I noticed in the early going that Martin didn’t look like himself: he was striking out a bunch, but he was also hitting more baseballs in the air. That seemed to me like something to follow, and wouldn’t you know it, but here we are, and Martin is still a fly-ball hitter. That’s odd because, in his entire major-league past, Martin was a ground-ball hitter. We’re more than a quarter of the way through the season, and now Leonys Martin appears to be a bat worth talking about.

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The Orioles Sold a Draft Pick Again

by Dave Cameron - 5/24/2016 - Comments (33)

Since the trading of some types of draft choices was allowed in the most recent CBA, we’ve seen teams use their “competitive balance” selections as currency, often swapping them for role players in minor mid-summer trades. As noted in this MLBTradeRumors post from last year, players traded for draft picks include the likes of Bryan Morris, Bud Norris, and Gaby Sanchez, although they have also been included in deals for better players like Jon Lester as part of a larger package.

Last year, though, the Orioles and Dodgers created a new kind of trade for a competitive balance pick, taking out the desired player aspect of the deal, and turning it into a simple cash proposition. Last April, the Orioles decided they didn’t want to pay the remainder of Ryan Webb‘s 2015 salary — roughly $2.8 million — and so they gave the 74th overall pick in the draft to the Dodgers in exchange for LA taking Webb’s contract. The Dodgers didn’t actually want Webb, as they showed by immediately DFA’ing him upon receipt, and the deal stood as the first time two teams had clearly decided that it would be mutually beneficial for one franchise to purchase a draft pick from the other.

A year later, the Orioles decided to do it again, so last night, they traded the 76th pick in the draft to the Braves, along with the roughly $3 million remaining on Brian Matusz‘s contract, in exchange for two non-prospects. For the Orioles, the competitive balance selections might as well be renamed “$3 million rebate checks,” because that’s apparently how Dan Duquette sees these selections.

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Noah Syndergaard Is an Elite Contact Pitcher, Too

by August Fagerstrom - 5/24/2016 - Comments (49)

One of the first things taught in any newswriting class is how to craft a compelling lede. You learn about the inverted pyramid, writing concisely, and the importance of employing strong verbs. No professor of mine ever said anything about .gifs, but hey, what’s more compelling than watching Noah Syndergaard pitch? If that doesn’t grab and hold your interest, you’re probably here on accident anyway.

These are the final pitches of the first three batters Syndergaard faced against the Brewers in New York on Sunday, his most recent start of the season:

1

2

3

Ignore the result of batter No. 2. That one is on David Wright. Just focus on what Syndergaard did. He got a ground ball, a ground ball, and then another ground ball. That’s three ground balls.

You know about Noah Syndergaard because of the 100 mph fastball and all the strikeouts. Or at least those would be among the most likely immediate reactions if presented with a silhouette of Syndergaard’s head while being administered a Rorschach inkblot test. And those responses would be justified. It’s less likely that “ground balls” would spring to mind, unless, that is, you’d been paying close attention to Syndergaard’s development as a pitcher, or had recently read this article.

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August Fagerstrom FanGraphs Chat -- 5/24/16

by August Fagerstrom - 5/24/2016 - Comments (2)

11:51
august fagerstrom: chatty chat chat!

11:51
august fagerstrom: Soundtrack: Massive Attack – Mezzanine

12:05
august fagerstrom: WHERE IS BORK

12:05
august fagerstrom: I CANNOT START THE CHAT WITHOUT BORK

12:06
august fagerstrom: oh man

12:06
august fagerstrom: hope he’s okay

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An Improved Joey Gallo Joins the Rangers

by Chris Mitchell - 5/24/2016 - Comments (12)

The Rangers lost both Drew Stubbs and Shin-Soo Choo to injury over the weekend, leaving them relatively bare in the outfield. To fill the void, they’ve called up top prospect Joey Gallo, who’s perhaps one of the most exciting prospect in baseball due to his exceptional power. We’ve been here before. The Rangers called Gallo up last summer, too, but thanks to a .204/.301/.417 performance in the show, they wisely concluded he needed more seasoning in the minors. Most concerning of all was his 46% strikeout rate, which was literally over twice the league average.

Based on his recent performance, it seems Gallo’s gotten the seasoning he needed. Last year, Gallo hit .240/.342/.520 between Double-A and Triple-A, and struck out in a super-concerning 37% of his trips to the plate. This year, he’s slashed his strikeout rate to a merely mildly-concerning 23% in Triple-A. As a result, he’s hit a gaudy .265/.415/.639.

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NERD Game Scores for Tuesday, May 24, 2016

by Carson Cistulli - 5/24/2016 - Comments (0)

Devised originally in response to a challenge issued by sabermetric nobleman 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
New York NL at Washington | 19:05 ET
Harvey (48.1 IP, 97 xFIP-) vs. Strasburg (61.0 IP, 69 xFIP-)
A brief examination of the matter appears to suggest that Mets right-hander Matt Harvey both (a) continues to possess a number of the qualities typically also possessed by elite pitchers but that he (b) has nevertheless experienced some difficulties of late in terms of preventing runs. During his most recent start, for example — against Washington, as well — he didn’t acquit himself particularly well in terms of preventing runs, conceding nine of them (six earned) over just 2.2 innings (box). FanGraphs’ Eno Sarris, after performing the requisite forensic analysis, determined that a combination of slightly diminished velocity and less slightly diminished command of the slider is likely to blame. So this, it seems is what one ought to monitor tonight: Harvey’s fastball velocity and his command of the slider.

Readers’ Preferred Television Broadcast: New York NL.

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Ben Zobrist on Being in Sync

by Eno Sarris - 5/24/2016 - Comments (6)

Better not throw a ball to Ben Zobrist right now. Better throw it in the zone.

He’s got the lowest swing rate in baseball this year, and a bottom-nine number since we started tracking that stat. He’s always swung less often than most, but this is extreme, even for him.

“I’m just seeing the ball really well,” he said before a game against the Giants, reducing the answer to a simplicity that can be common from a player in the middle of a hot streak. “I don’t want to analyze it too much,” he continued, laughing. “That’s your job.” Pretty much the motto for all players in the midst of a good run.

But this isn’t really just a streak. It’s the convergence of a few factors that have put the Cubs second baseman in the position to put up these numbers. Health, approach, competition, and mechanics are all coming together to set the scene.

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FanGraphs Audio: Dave Cameron on Analytics for Daily Life

by Carson Cistulli - 5/24/2016 - Comments (2)

Episode 654
Dave Cameron is the managing editor of FanGraphs. During this edition of FanGraphs Audio he discusses the implications which new regulations concerning overtime pay might possess for major-league clubs, the very bright financial prospects for Mets outfielder Yoenis Cespedes, and — at the request of the host — a wOBA-type metric for better determining the value of a residential property.

This episode of the program is sponsored by SeatGeek, which site removes both the work and also the hassle from the process of shopping for tickets.

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 44 min play time.)

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The 2016 Single-Game Pitching Belt: Scherzer vs. Velasquez

by Blengino - 5/23/2016 - Comments (8)

A few weeks back, we matched up three of the most dominant pitching performances from April, utilizing granular ball-in-play data, to determine which of Vince Velasquez, Jaime Garcia or Jake Arrieta had the best day. Velasquez won that time around, and with Max Scherzer recently authoring a 20-strikeout, no-walk complete game shutout over the Tigers, we have a worthy contender for the single-game pitching championship belt.

There’s one rule for entry into this competition: you had to finish what you started. Only complete games apply. Then we simply look at every batted ball allowed, and first calculate each pitcher’s single-game Adjusted Contact Score based on exit speed and angle data. Then, we add back the Ks and BBs, and calculate each pitcher’s single-game “tru” ERA-. With these two performances, we don’t need to worry about adding back any BBs.

Velasquez vs. Scherzer – Exit Speed/Angle Data
AVG ALL AVG FLY AVG LD AVG GB AVG VERT
Velasquez vs. SD 14-Apr 88.1 89.1 87.2 87.4 20.8
Scherzer vs. DET 11-May 86.6 93.1 93.5 56.8 19.1
MLB Avg. Thru 18-May 89.4 90.0 93.5 87.4 11.0

Both of these pitchers followed similar paths in their dominant outings. Besides striking out 36 and walking none between them, both pitchers allowed very high average exit angles, and very few grounders. Only extreme fly-ball/pop-up pitchers sustain average exit angles near 20 over a full season, the Chris Youngs and Jered Weavers of this world.

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Remembering Rougned Odor's Big Adjustment

by Eno Sarris - 5/23/2016 - Comments (6)

After the scrum was gone, after he’d answered all the difficult questions about his punch heard around the baseball world, after he’d deflected and postponed and shrugged, after he slumped into his seat and sighed, Rougned Odor looked up and saw me coming. To his credit, he raised his eyebrows for the coming question, ready for another round.

He was relieved when I asked him about being sent down in 2015, and what he learned when he was down there. Relieved, even though I was asking him about one of the more difficult times of his baseball life. Well, difficult in a different way than the difficult time he’s experiencing right now.

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Yoenis Cespedes Is Still Playing Like a Superstar

by Dave Cameron - 5/23/2016 - Comments (64)

Last winter, coming off the best season of his career, Yoenis Cespedes hit the free-agent market, and promptly heard crickets. He watched David Price and Zack Greinke break $200 million in early December, and then saw Jason Heyward set the market for outfielders with a $184 million deal a week later. And then he sat and watched a bunch more pitchers get paid, while he, Chris Davis and Justin Upton sat around waiting for offers that never came. Finally, in January, all three eventually found homes, but Cespedes was unable to land the big deal he was looking for, instead taking a three-year deal from the Mets that gave him the chance to hit the market again this winter, if he so chose.

A quarter of the way through the 2016 season, Cespedes opting out of the last two years of the deal is now a foregone conclusion; the only way he wouldn’t hit the market this winter is if the Mets re-do his deal before he gets there, or if he blows out his knee between now and October. Cespedes has not only carried over last year’s second half surge, but he’s even somehow building on it.

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WAR: Batters
Mike Trout3.2
Dexter Fowler3.0
Manny Machado2.9
Jose Altuve2.7
Ben Zobrist2.6
WAR: Pitchers
Clayton Kershaw3.8
Noah Syndergaard2.5
Johnny Cueto2.5
Jose Quintana2.3
Stephen Strasburg2.2
WPA: Batters
Ian Desmond2.54
Bryce Harper2.26
David Ortiz2.20
Robinson Cano2.06
Jay Bruce1.98
WPA: SP
Clayton Kershaw2.40
Johnny Cueto2.35
Chris Sale2.33
Noah Syndergaard1.71
Jose Quintana1.55
WPA: RP
Zach Britton1.71
Will Harris1.60
Jeremy Jeffress1.56
Jeurys Familia1.55
A.J. Ramos1.53
Fastball (mph): SP
Noah Syndergaard98.0
Nathan Eovaldi96.9
Garrett Richards95.6
Danny Duffy95.5
Jonathan Gray95.5