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How Much Does Having Runners on Base Improve a Hitter?

The Reds struggled quite a bit in 2014, as the offense scored 100 fewer runs than it did in 2013. The most obvious reason for the struggles was Joey Votto missing significant time. While Votto has the ability to hit for power, he is best known for taking a walk. There is a hidden advantage for players with high on base percentages — they make the hitters after them better by reaching base. Let’s look at how much a batter can expect to improve because of the previous hitters’ on-base percentages.

Lineup projection is a topic which has been discussed and debated at great length. Protection in baseball is normally thought of as the concept of a stud hitter needing a good batter up behind them so they won’t get pitched around. The concept was debunked in the “The Book” when it found unprotected sluggers were a bit more productive than the protected ones (.380 wOBA vs. .376 wOBA).


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Looking For the Next Ben Zobrist

Finding diamonds in the rough is *the* goal for fantasy owners. Top 100 prospect lists can give you an idea of which young players are up and coming. I am not going to be looking at players experts have been writing about. Instead, I am going to look for non-prospect position players who have a chance to contribute in the majors if given a chance. Your diamonds in the rough.

To help me find these players, I have created a metric which looks for traits which may not get the most notice by the ranking services. Here are the criteria I used to filter the players:

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Is There An Adjustment Time for Players Changing Leagues?

Last season, Prince Fielder and Albert Pujols moved from the National League to the tougher American League. A drop in production was expected… and occurred. As the season went on, they began to hit better. With a sample size of two, it seems to take players a while to adjust to a new league and its pitchers.

By looking at players who changed leagues, let’s try to determine if there is an adjustment period to the new pitchers and parks. These transitioning hitters could then be bought at a discount during their adjustment time.

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Projections and Playing Through Pain

Fantasy evaluations are based on the player’s statistical projections, no matter what type of league you are in. A key to winning fantasy drafts is to find which players will exceed their projections and then go get them as cheaply as possible. It also follows that hitters that played through injuries the year before could outperform their projections.

One problem with projections is that they take into account the player’s full season of production. If a player persevered through an injury during the season, their overall stats probably suffered. Projections don’t know if a player played through injuries, though. The player’s projections might have been better if the player had simply gone on the disabled list to recover instead of trying to play through pain.

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How to Deal with Injuries

Fangraphs’ injury expert Jeff Zimmerman takes an in-depth look at how injuries could impact key fantasy players in 2011, and what you should consider before drafting them.

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Where Was Neftali Feliz?

The Yankees entered the eighth inning Friday night with only a 4.1 percent chance of winning.

The Rangers decided to allow C.J. Wilson to continue pitching in the eighth. The inning started off with a Brett Gardner infield single, and then Derek Jeter doubled, scoring Gardner. Wilson was pulled for Darren Oliver, who walked both Nick Swisher and Mark Teixeira to load the bases.

The Rangers then brought in Darren O’Day to face Alex Rodriguez. O’Day threw one pitch, which Rodriguez hit past third baseman Michael Young into left field. Both Jeter and Swisher scored on the play. Next, Clay Rapada was brought in to face Robinson Cano. On Rapada’s first and only pitch, Cano hit a single to center field, allowing Teixeira to tie the game.

The Rangers went to the ‘pen again for Derek Holland, who allowed Marcus Thames to single, scoring Rodriguez. The Yankees finally took the lead for the first time in the game, 6-5. All of the five runs scored in the eighth were with no outs. Holland finally was able to get three outs before any more damage was done. The chances of the Yankees winning the game soared from 4.1 percent to 67.5 percent by the end of the inning.

The Rangers went through four relievers in the eighth, and they opted to leave Neftali Feliz, their best reliever, sitting in the bullpen. The decision to not use Feliz at any time during the eighth inning will come back to haunt the Rangers. Once it was decided that Wilson could not go any farther, the Rangers should have brought in Feliz, for a couple of reasons.

First, the heart of the Yankees’ lineup — Swisher, Teixeira and Rodriguez — was due up. The Rangers should have looked at using their strongest pitcher against the Yankees’ strongest hitters. Also, the situation could not have been any more important: a runner on second, no outs. Instead, Feliz was being saved for the ninth inning to save the game. That save would never come, and four other relievers were brought in who didn’t record a single out until a 5-1 lead turned into a 6-5 deficit.

The Rangers entered the eighth inning with a great chance of winning, but everything fell apart. This a perfect example of why managers should sometimes think outside the box and use their closers when the game is on the line.


Jerry Crawford’s Big ALDS Role

Umpires have been in the spotlight all season, from Joe West’s comments about the pace and style of games between the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees to Jim Joyce’s blown call costing Detroit’s Armando Galarraga a perfect game. But on the 25th anniversary of Dom Denkinger’s controversial call in the 1985 World Series, the scrutiny of assignments and performance of umpires goes to another level in the postseason.

Perhaps the most interesting assignment for the League Division Series will see Jerry Crawford serving as crew chief for the Yankees’ series against the Minnesota Twins.

Crawford is considered to have the smallest strike zone in the major leagues; this season, among all umpires, he has the lowest strikeout to walk ratio at 1.55, well below the league average is 2.17 strikeouts per walk. Conversely, Brian O’Nora, who is on Crawford’s crew for the series, has an average of 2.50 strikeouts per walk.

While the stats tell one story, the graphic of an umpire’s strike zone can offer an enhanced look at exactly how umps see the strike zone and what that means for the two teams when specific men in blue are behind the plate.

The following images are the called strike zones of Crawford and O’Nora for right-handed hitters in 2010. The graphs were created from MLB Pitchf/x data using 255 separate buckets to represent his strike zone. The dark red area is where 100 percent of the pitches in that zone are called strikes, the green area is where 50 percent of the pitches are called strikes and the purple area is where none of the pitches are called strikes.

This is Crawford:

This is O’Nora:

O’Nora has a significantly bigger strike zone than Crawford, especially in the vertical direction.

The Yankees led the league with a strikeout/walk ratio of 1.81 and the Twins were second with a ratio of 1.88. Both of these teams know how to work a count in order to get players on base.

When Crawford is behind the plate, then, it’s going to be a marathon, and the season mostly bore that out: the Twins had Crawford behind the plate four times; their normal nine-inning game lasted 2 hours, 46 minutes, and with Crawford it lasted 2 hours, 49 minutes (not a huge gap). The Yankees played 3 hours, 5 minutes on average; in the two games they had Crawford calling balls and strikes, they averaged 3 hours, 31 minutes.

The main impact point for CC Sabathia, Francisco Liriano, Phil Hughes, Carl Pavano and others in this series is this: You don’t want to throw around the middle, obviously, especially with Alex Rodriguez, Robinson Cano, Jason Kubel and Joe Mauer in this series — but with Crawford, you either pound the zone or you walk a ton of guys.

Keep an eye on which game Crawford is behind the plate for; it could be the turning point of this series.


When Do MVPs Peak?

We are nearing the end of the MLB season, and the discussion frequently turns to who should win the postseason awards. There are many debates about criteria should be taken into account for winning each award, especially the Most Valuable Player trophy. Should pitchers earn votes even though they could win the Cy Young Award? Does the award go to the best player in the league or to the player who is most valuable to his team’s success? Should only players on playoff teams be considered?

Besides these criteria, the voters often voice a preference for players who perform better during the last few months of the season, arguing that those who step up their game down the stretch deserve bonus points.

To see whether voters actually follow through on this stated preference for MVP winners, all the winners since 2002 will be examined to see whether their performance at the end of the season helped them toward winning. To do this study, I compared the players’ final wOBA to each month’s total. Here is the average monthly difference in wOBA for the 16 winners when compared to their season total.

From these numbers, it can be seen that the winners’ best months were at the beginning and end of the season. The MVPs’ best performing month was August and worst was May.

One issue with this approach is that in some seasons the MVP was so much better than the rest of the league that even if his performance slacked at the end of the season, he was still much better than everyone else being considered. This scenario was definitely the case when Barry Bonds was putting up wOBAs of over .500 for multiple seasons.

But if you want to get a feel for this with an easy-to-understand graph, check out the average month-by-month performances of every MVP from 2002 to 2009 based on wOBA. As you can see, there is a tremendous surge in August, and September is the next-best month.

Besides the winners turning it on toward the end of the season to help their cause, did the second-place finishers hurt their cause by not performing better during the same time? Here are the differences in the monthly wOBAs when compared with the yearly final:

The runners-up definitely don’t perform as well as the winners in the last couple of months. Voters may have a couple of candidates in mind, and the one who finishes better could get the voter’s final vote. This happened in 2006, when MVP runner-up Albert Pujols ended the season with a wOBA of .448 and MVP Ryan Howard had a wOBA of .436. Pujols had wOBAs of .394 and .475 in August and September, while Howard put up .481 and .516 numbers to take home the hardware. His team didn’t make the postseason, but Pujols’ did.

So what does that now tell us about this season? Let’s take a look at the month-by-month wOBAs of some of this season’s leading candidates.

Although the MVP award should be judged on an entire season’s worth of work, there is some evidence that players who heat up in August and September may sway a few voters their way compared with players who struggle during that same time period. That could doom Cano, who had by far his best month back in April. Hamilton would seem to be the runaway choice for AL MVP and Pujols the pick in the NL right now. However, the Cardinals’ recent slide could change the narrative and put Votto in great shape to take home the National League hardware. Remember, a lot can change in the season’s final month.


Strasburg Not an All-Star

Though Stephen Strasburg has made just four major league starts, there is already some buzz that he deserves to make the All-Star team. It seems likely that he’ll end up getting picked by Charlie Manuel, the manager of the NL team, but if the All-Star Game is a representation of the season’s best players, especially when it comes to the pitchers, who aren’t voted on by the fans, Strasburg should not be considered this year. Other pitchers –- those who have been with the big club since Opening Day — have done more for their teams this season.

Strasburg should have six starts in the majors by the time the rosters are announced July 6. Even though his stats are at historical levels for someone who has made four starts, it has been just four games, and those starts have been against the Pirates, Indians, White Sox and Royals, the 30th-, 24th-, 20th- and 17th-ranked offenses in baseball. When the Royals are the best offense you have seen this season, your stats should be taken with a grain of salt.

With 34 players on the All-Star roster, there will probably be 12-14 pitchers selected, and three or four of them will be relievers. That means there are roughly 8-10 spots for starting pitchers. Using WAR, we can pinpoint 11 NL starting pitchers who easily surpass Strasburg in terms of value.

The main reason Strasburg’s WAR is below that of these pitchers is his lack of starts (about one-third fewer than the rest of the league’s starters when the rosters are set), yet even if he continues to pitch at his current level in his next two starts, it will still be hard for him to pass most of the pitchers listed above in seasonal value. He has the quality, but not the quantity, and if we’re just going by the numbers, he’s not an All-Star. Not this year.