Archive for February, 2011

Call It the Duke Snider Problem

I’m a sucker for the second-best. Well, okay, so Duke Snider was more like the third-best outfielder in New York during the 1950s (as you may have heard), but you get the idea. I’ve never pretended to be a historian of baseball. I hardly remembered that Snider’s nickname was “The Silver Fox,” although that’s partly because it seems silly that someone who is already called “Duke” (itself a nickname given to him by either his uncle in recognition of young Edwin’s pride after his first day of school) needs a nickname. I suppose it’s not nearly as dumb as calling Jason Heyward the ‘The J-Hey Kid,’ a lame rip-off nickname made worse by the fact that Heyward’s middle name is incredibly awesome: Adenolith. Seriously, a player has a middle name that sounds like a cross between one of Godzilla’s foes and something out of H.P. Lovecraft, but the best (probably) some hack at an Atlanta newspaper and/or former Jeff Francoeur fan (side question: does Heyward fly Delta?) can do is “The J-Hey Kid?” Where was I? Oh, yeah, the late Duke Snider. As a quasi-sabermetric tribute to him, I propose renaming the “Willie Mays Problem” the “Duke Snider Problem.”

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Duke Snider’s Peak

When you sort the Career WAR leaderboards here on FanGraphs, you won’t find Duke Snider on the first page. You won’t even find him on the second page. Instead, you have to click all the way to Page 3, where he’s sandwiched right between Graig Nettles and Ed Delahanty, two guys who were never immortalized in song. For a more contemporary example, Snider has essentially the same career WAR as Scott Rolen, who is not held in nearly the same regard by his peers The Duke is.

Snider is one of the guys whose greatness can’t be summed up by looking at his career numbers. To some degree, he is the classic example of why guys with a lot of value at their peak are often remembered more fondly than their career WAR would have you suggest. And rightfully so.

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Carlos Beltran Moves Right, Angel Pagan Slides Center

It’s not easy admitting you’re no longer the person you used to be. This is something that all of us, no matter our profession, struggle with; we all get old and our skills deteriorate, and it takes a large amount self awareness and humility to gracefully deal with this fact. Many people go kicking and screaming into their forties, and pride can keep us from acknowledging our declining skills. I’m still young! Of course I can train for a marathon! Reality, though, can sometimes beg to differ.

While everyone sees their body, memory, and skills decline over time, very few of us make our living based on our physical ability. Very few of us have to acknowledge to a national audience that we’re getting older and declining, and that a younger person is better at our job than we are. This fact may be obvious to outside viewers, but on a personal level, that’s a difficult admission to make.

However, this morning Carlos Beltran did just that: he told manager Terry Collins he’s ready to switch to playing right field, allowing Angel Pagan to roam center field in his stead. At this point in his career, Beltran moving to right field is the best move for the Mets and, yes, Beltran too.

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Team Preview: Colorado Rockies

Say it with me – it’s not the pitching’s fault. Though it’s fashionable in Rockieville to blame the pitching, the Rockies’ pitching staff, led by Ubaldo Jimenez, was actually at the top of the WAR leaderboards for the second consecutive season last year. When you take into account how difficult Coors Field is to pitch in, Rockies pitchers often come out looking rosy. Since their inception, their combined pitching WAR of 322.7 ranks 6th in all of baseball, but the past two seasons have been especially exceptional. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for the offense. If the offense turns around, 2011 could see the return of Rocktober.
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Jonah Keri FanGraphs Chat – 2/28/11

The Duke of Montreal

You’ll read plenty of great tributes to Duke Snider’s playing days today, both here at FanGraphs and by friends of ours around the Web. But while Dodgers fans rightfully mourn their Duke of Flatbush, Expos fans like myself mourn the Duke of Montreal.

When Snider’s eulogy gets written, don’t expect more than a passing mention — if that — of his work as a color commentator for Montreal Expos games. But the Duke’s time behind the mic shouldn’t be considered an afterthought. For 14 seasons, Snider called games alongside Dave Van Horne, the 2010 Ford Frick winner, voice of the Expos for the first 32 years of their existence, and the current radio voice of the Florida Marlins. I’ve often referred to Van Horne as the voice of my childhood, growing up in Montreal. But really, that’s only half true. Van Horne was the co-voice of my childhood, along with the Duke.

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How Will Chase Utley Age?

The Phillies got some bad news over the weekend, as Chase Utley’s lingering knee soreness resulted in him getting an MRI. While no structural damage was found, you can now add his knees to the ever-growing list of body parts that the 32-year-old has had problems with. As noted in the linked article, he had surgery for a broken hand in 2007, hip surgery following the 2008 season, and then had to undergo surgery on his thumb last summer.

From the quantity of health problems he’s had in the last four years, it might appear that Utley’s body is just beginning to break down. Given that there are a number of examples of second baseman who fell off a cliff in their early 30s – see Roberto Alomar, Carlos Baerga, Chuck Knoblauch, and Brian Roberts, among others – it could be natural to assume that Utley’s headed for a steep decline. In fact, the rate of aging among second baseman has been so severe that it has become a truism in baseball that players who man the keystone position simply don’t age well. Theories on the causes of this phenomenon often hinge around the beating second baseman can take while turning the double play, as they often have to guard the bag with their back to an oncoming baserunner intent on breaking up the twin killing. Is Utley yet another example of the wear and tear of second base causing a premium second baseman to break down earlier than he would have otherwise?

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Top 10 Prospects: The Cincinnati Reds

The Cincinnati Reds
2010 MLB Record: 91-71 (first place, NL Central)
Minor League Power Ranking: 7th (out of 30)
Click for: Last Year’s Top 10 Prospect List

The Prospects

1. Aroldis Chapman, LHP
Acquired: 2010 non-drafted free agent (Cuba)
Pro Experience: 1 season
2010 MiLB Level: AAA/MLB
Opening Day Age: 23
Estimated Peak WAR: 5.5 (as a starter)

Notes: The Reds organization swooped in seemingly out of nowhere to pull the rug out on a number of clubs, including the Toronto Blue Jays, and came away with the amateur free agent. Chapman made his pro debut at the AAA level and over-powered hitters with his 100+ mph fastball and strikeout slider. His strikeout rate sat at 11.60 K/9 but he showed his iffy control (4.94 BB/9). When he moved up to the Majors, Chapman showed improved control at the MLB level (3.38 BB/9) in a small sample size. Despite his inexperience, the lefty could supplant veteran Francisco Cordero as the club’s closer by the end of the season. Hopefully Chapman’s arm, elbow and shoulder holds up a little better than Joel Zumaya’s (another hard-throwing reliever known for his DL stints). He does throw with a nice, compact delivery that he explodes out of with a low-three-quarter arm slot.

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2011 Second Opinion PDF

The 2011 Second Opinion is now available in a PDF format. It’s 391 pages worth of content.

Originally we did not plan to release any PDF this year and the reasoning was that purchasers of the Second Opinion would be able to get all the content online with some additional integration. The stats under each profile were also reduced because I figured if you wanted to see stats, the player profiles would be just a click away.

While good intentioned, I think the decision to do away with the PDF this year was premature and we’ll hopefully be able to deliver a more meticulously formatted one next season.

Anyone who already purchased the Second Opinion 2011 can downoad the PDF at anytime. And anyone who purchases the Second Opinion will be able to download it at their time of purchase.

Team Preview: San Francisco Giants

Fifty-six years in San Francisco and one World Series title. Most Giants fans are probably set for another fifty-six years, and for some it’s time to get greedy. Unfortunately, despite some fundamental flaws that existed even during their improbable title run, the team did little over the offseason to inspire confidence. Can their mix of flawed veteran position players and elite starting pitching fuel another run?

The Starting Nine

CF Andres Torres
2B Freddy Sanchez
1B Aubrey Huff
C Buster Posey
3B Pablo Sandoval
RF Cody Ross
LF Pat Burrell / Mark DeRosa
SS Miguel Tejada

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Team Preview: Arizona Diamondbacks

Starting today, FanGraphs is offering a season preview for each team in baseball. We’ll begin with the NL West and do three teams each day. Check back later for our thoughts on the Giants and Rockies, and stay tuned over the next few weeks where we break down each team’s chances in 2011.

After dealing Dan Haren to the Angels during the 2010 season, the Diamondbacks have gone into full rebuilding mode under new General Manager Kevin Towers. The team traded Mark Reynolds, but much of the relatively young talent which keyed Arizona’s powerful offense remains. Towers has surrounded that young talent with aging veterans, ostensibly hoping to use 2011 as a season for the young guns to learn how to win from the older guys. Unfortunately, much like last year, the Diamondbacks roster doesn’t project to do much winning this season.

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Herb Washington was Like No Other

The annals of baseball history are littered with interesting stories and stat lines. Being the young sap that I am, much of that history is unknown to me which is why I dig around in our databases from time to time so that I can come across stories like this one.

Herb Washington was a world-class sprinter. Literally, he held world records in both the 50 and 60-yard sprints. He also played baseball in high school but stopped after his Junior year. About six years later, Charlie Finley signed him to the Oakland Athletics for the 1974 season to be used as a pinch runner.

That was not an unprecedented move for Finley, but what ended up being special about Washington is that despite appearing in 110 games total across 1974 and 1975, Washington never once came to bat nor spent even an inning in the field. Read the rest of this entry »

Francisco Liriano, the Twins, and the Towel

You are running a team that is coming off a divisional championship, thanks in large part to a Cy Young Level performance by a pitcher finally “all the way back” from injury. He’s still under team control through 2012, and your team is still considered a contender for the division. What do you? Consider trading him, of course! According to the linked report, that might be the situation with the Twins and Francisco Liriano. But can they contend in 2011 without him?

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The 20 Best/Worst Groundballing Seasons, 1950-2001

As the title of the post indicates, this is a list of the 20 best and also worst groundballing seasons, 1950-2001, as estimated by the Retrosheet ground-out/air-out (GO/AO) data hosted at Baseball-Reference.

For more on the research here, please don’t hesitate to read the last article in this series or a discussion of same at Tango’s Inside the Book blog. I’ve also included a brief discussion of some name on this list after the leaderboards.

Here are the 20 best groundballing seasons (xGB% is Expected Groundball Percentage and xGB+ is xGB% relative to league average in the relevant season):

Pitcher		Team	Year	GO/AO	xGB%	LgAvg	xGB+
Steve Trout*	CHC	1984	3.62	67.9%	43.2%	157
Tommy John*	LAD	1978	3.72	68.4%	43.9%	156
Tommy John*	LAD	1977	3.87	69.2%	44.6%	155
John Denny	PHI	1983	2.90	63.5%	43.9%	145
Kevin Brown	FLA	1997	2.99	64.1%	44.4%	144
Bob Stanley	BOS	1982	2.82	62.9%	44.3%	142
Tommy John*	NYY	1988	2.57	61.1%	43.2%	142
Bill Swift	SEA	1988	2.57	61.1%	43.2%	142
John Denny	CLE	1981	2.79	62.7%	44.6%	141
Kevin Brown	FLA	1996	2.70	62.1%	44.3%	140
Dennis Lamp	CHW	1982	2.68	61.9%	44.3%	140
Orel Hershiser	LAD	1984	2.45	60.1%	43.2%	139
Kevin Brown	TEX	1989	2.47	60.3%	43.3%	139
Jerry Reuss*	LAD	1982	2.60	61.3%	44.3%	139
Tommy John*	LAD	1976	2.50	60.5%	43.7%	138
Kevin Brown	TEX	1990	2.37	59.5%	43.0%	138
Ray Fontenot*	NYY	1984	2.40	59.7%	43.2%	138
Al Brazle*	STL	1950	2.24	58.4%	42.2%	138
Chuck Rainey	CHC	1983	2.50	60.5%	43.9%	138
Bill Swift	SFG	1993	2.43	60.0%	43.5%	138

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Faith in an Adam Lind Bounceback

In 2009, Adam Lind led a Blue Jays offense that finished eighth in the majors in runs scored. His .394 wOBA topped the team by a significant margin, and his .257 ISO was unrivaled by any player with more than 150 PA (sorry, Randy Ruiz). It stood to reason that Lind, a highly touted prospect whom the Blue Jays brought along slowly, had experienced a breakout year and would continue to lead the team’s offense through its rebuilding years. Yet in 2010 we saw a completely different Lind. It has led to many questions about him heading into 2011. But looking at how his season unfolded, it appears as though he could be in for another high-powered 2011 campaign.

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How Much Would You Pay For Blackout-Free

An interesting comment from the post below leads me to this simple question – how much more would you be willing to pay for a version of that did not include blackout restrictions? Essentially, would the market justify an additional product whose revenues could be used to buy the team owners out of their arcane use of “local market” demarcations? The totals listed below would essentially be premiums on top of the base fee, so you can just add $100 or $120 (depending on which version you would purchase) to get the total price you’d be willing to pay for a truly blackout free product.

Still Ranting About Blackout Policy

As Carson noted over at NotGraphs yesterday, is set to begin broadcasting actual baseball games this weekend, with three match-ups on the docket for Saturday. And, as they mention on the subscription page, there will be 150 spring training games available with “NO BLACKOUTS” (emphasis theirs). That brings me to my annual rant about a product that I can’t live without, but is so deeply flawed as to frustrate me to no end. could be the greatest thing ever invented, but the insane MLB blackout policies are simply mind-bogglingly stupid.

Everyone has their own personal horror story about the blackout rules. Living in North Carolina, I know that I don’t have it as bad as others – the poor people in Iowa are blacked out from watching the Twins, Royals, White Sox, Brewers, Cubs, and Cardinals – but the story here shows just how ridiculous Major League Baseball’s rules are. I am in the “local” market for four teams – the Braves, Reds, Nationals, and Orioles. The Braves are at least somewhat understandable, as I’m “only” about five hours from Atlanta and their games are readily available on cable networks in my area.

The other three, however, are essentially out of my reach. I’m 430 miles from Cincinnati, and no television carrier in my area offers Fox Sports Ohio. Why would they? It’s not like there’s much demand for Ohio area sports down here. Interestingly, I’m not blacked out from the Pirates, who are only 409 miles away, or the Indians, who are 476 miles away. I can’t explain the Pirates/Reds thing, and as for Cleveland, I guess that extra 50 miles makes all the difference in the world, despite the fact that it is more accessible via major interstates and it would actually take me less time to drive there than to get to Cincinnati.

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Unsung Los Angeles Rookie Relievers

Plenty of rookie relievers who made brief appearances in 2010 are worth looking out for in 2011. Aroldis Chapman leads rookie reliever headlines with his grade 90 fastball (yes, grade 90) and Chris Sale could challenge for the White Sox’ closer role. Craig Kimbrel has also gotten lots of love from several FanGraphs authors. While it remains to be seen if Chapman and Sale will develop into starters, Kimbrel seems destined for the bullpen. His mid-90s fastball and mid-80s slurvy curveball form a two-pitch reportoire, which resulted in a 17.42 K/9 in 2010. Earlier this month, I highlighted Kimbrel’s control issues and 6.71 BB/9 when discussing the Braves’ possible platoon closer situation.

But there are two Los Angeles rookie relievers with similar profiles to Kimbrel whom I feel have been more underappreciated, perhaps due to Kimbrel’s appearances in October baseball: Kenley Jansen of the Los Angeles Dodgers and Jordan Walden of the Los Angeles Angels (of Anaheim). Like Kimbrel, both Jansen and Walden bring the high heat with mid to high-90s fastballs along with mid-80s slurvy slider/curves. And like Kimbrel, both L.A. relievers are strikeout artists with command issues, especially with their fastballs.

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Top 10 Prospects: The Texas Rangers

The Texas Rangers
2010 MLB Record: 90-72 (first place, AL West)
Minor League Power Ranking: 8th (out of 30)
Click for: Last Year’s Top 10 Prospect List

The Prospects

1. Jurickson Profar, SS
Acquired: 2009 non-drafted free agent (Curacao)
Pro Experience: 1 season
2010 MiLB Level: Short-season
Opening Day Age: 18
Estimated Peak WAR: 5.0

Notes: Profar was challenged with a North American debut in short-season ball and held his own. Then 17, he hit .250/.323/.373 in 252 at-bats. He utilized a quick bat to post a .123 ISO rate despite a slight frame. Encouragingly, Profar also showed a lot of patience for his age and experience level by posting a walk rate of 9.7 BB%. His strikeout rate was reasonable at 18.3 K%. At the plate, he doesn’t take much of a stride but he has a balanced base and quick hips. On the base paths, the youngster shows decent speed and stole eight bags in 11 tries. Defensively, he’ll have no issues with remaining at shortstop thanks to good range, soft hands and a strong arm (He was coveted by many teams as a pitcher). Rangers fans should be excited about this infielder.

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Nyjer Morgan’s Reckless Base Stealing

Last season was a rude and abrupt awakening for those thinking that Nyjer Morgan had made a step toward stardom. In 2009, Morgan combined above-average hitting with a UZR love affair to produce a breakout 4.9 WAR season. But Morgan couldn’t maintain the historic +28 UZR he posted in 2009 and, at the same time, his batting line dropped off sharply as his BABIP fell down to earth. Still, despite the catastrophic fall on offense and defense, Morgan still had one point of value to cling to: baserunning. Speed doesn’t slump, as they say, and it didn’t for Morgan in 2010. The speedster compiled another 34 stolen bases after posting 42 in his first full season in 2009.

Of course, just as batting average doesn’t tell the whole story of hitting, stolen bases don’t tell the whole story of baserunning. The caught stealing can be a costly result for a team, so much so that a player needs to succeed at least three times as often as he fails for the stolen base to provide value. And despite all of his speed, somehow Nyjer Morgan has failed to provide value via the stolen base over the course of his career.

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