Archive for August, 2011

The End of the Aaron Rowand Era

They say desperate times call for desperate measures. In San Francisco, desperate times apparently call for sane, resonable, and rational measures. Today, the Giants have designated Aaron Rowand and Miguel Tejada for assignment.

The Tejada decision was an easy one: he was on a one-year deal and simply never showed MLB ability this season, posting a .239/.270/.326 line. The Rowand decision, on the other hand required more than simply dumping an aging veteran who would be gone at the end of the season anyway. Designating Rowand for assignment at this juncture is that decision we so often see general managers (or ownership) shy away from at the most important times: cutting bait on a big, long-term contract.

Rowand is currently in the fourth year of a five-year, $60 million dollar contract. He is still owed roughly $2 million for the rest of 2011 and $12 million for the 2012 season. But with Rowand contributing only 0.7 WAR in 2011 and 4.8 WAR from 2008-2011, it was increasingly difficult for Brian Sabean and the Giants to justify his spot on the roster. Hindsight, of course, is simple, and Aaron Rowand was once a very good baseball player. Did Sabean whiff on the decision to pay Rowand, or was the ill-fated deal more about the player failing to live up to his value?
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Complete Game James: James Shields Unlearns Us

Education consists mainly of what we have unlearned.

-Mark Twain

In 2010, James Shields led the league in hits allowed, home runs allowed, and earned runs allowed. Many among the Rays faithful protested last year when Joe Maddon tabbed Shieldsy to start game two of the ALDS, wherein he failed to complete five innings.

“He’s broken,” said some. “He shouldn’t even be on the playoff roster!” fumed others.

He finished the 2010 season somehow once again topping 200 innings, but his ERA was over 5.00, his FIP was above 4.20, and his fans were frustrated. Despite his career-best 3.55 xFIP, a career-low LOB%, and career-high BABIP (a whopping .341), many — even among the sabermetric-slanted — doubted he was merely a product of bad luck.

Well, in 2011, his statistics have sung, “Cy Young!” all season long: 2.96 ERA, 3.36 FIP, and 3.11 xFIP. And most impressively: a league leading 10 complete games and 4 shut outs.

For a guy who has pitched 200+ innings in 5 straight seasons, he sure never showed a knack for complete games before:

He went two years without a single complete game, and then BAM! suddenly he has 10 in one season (at least; he starts again tonight). How’d he do it?! Is it just a luck swing-around?! Did he change his approach?! Is his Bradley Woodrum-esque quasi-Amish beard to blame?

The answer: Yes to all.
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AFL-Bound Prospects, Sorted by MLB Team

Preliminary rosters for this year’s Arizona Fall League — i.e. the epicenter of prospect mavenry in the United States — were announced Tuesday. An equally preliminary glance around the internet reveals the absence of any sort of list of AFL-bound players sorted by major-league team — which, that seems like a helpful thing.

Below, I’ve included just such a list. Also, for the greater convenience of the baseball nerd, I’ve linked each player to his FanGraphs player page. Three 2011 draftees — Milwaukee’s Drew Taylor Jed Bradley, Seattle’s Danny Hultzen, and Tampa Bay’s Mikie Mahtook — have made no minor-league apperances yet, and thus have no player pages here at the site.

This year’s AFL teams (with home park in parentheses) are as follows:

MES: Mesa Solar Sox (Mesa Hohokam Park)
PEO: Peoria Javelinas (Peoria Sports Complex)
PHX: Phoenix Desert Dogs (Phoenix Municipal Stadium)
SLT: Salt River Rafters (Salt River Fields at Talking Stick)
SCO: Scottsdale Scorpions (Scottsdale Stadium)
SUR: Surprise Saguaros (Surprise Stadium)

In addition to the table below (which is best viewed not on Internet Explorer), roster data is available as a Google Doc here, for Maximum Sortability™.

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How Should We Measure Power?

What exactly is “power”? Is it the ability to hit home runs? Doubles? Triples? Should we consider how far a player hits a ball, or are we just concerned with the outcome? How would you define it?

If we were to try and define power from the ground up, obviously you’d have to start with home runs. Power hitters are guys that mash lots of home runs, right? When I think power, I think of players like Jose Bautista, Babe Ruth, Hank Aaron, and Barry Bonds. Home runs are so flashy, they steal the show.

But there’s more to power than a player’s raw home run total. You can’t completely ignore other extra base hits, which is why there are statistics like Slugging Percentage and Isolated Power. Slugging Percentage measures a player’s total bases and Isolated Power measures a player’s extra bases*, so both statistics count doubles and triples as well as home runs.

*Quick refresher course for everyone. Slugging Percentage = Total Bases / At Bats ; Isolated Power = Extra Bases / At Bats

Or if you prefer to think about it another way, Jose Bautista has a .330 ISO this season. That means he averages nearly one extra base every three at bats. 

Both these stats have the same problem, though: not all bases are created equal. If a player has accumulated 30 extra bases in 100 at bats, isn’t there a big difference if those extra bases were accumulated through 10 home runs versus 30 doubles ? Both players have the same Isolated Power, but which one has provided their team with more value through their power production?

Good question, I’m glad you asked.

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Out of Order in Detroit

During last night’s 2-1, extra innings classic between Detroit and Kansas City, something surprising jumped out at me. Well, it jumped out at me after I recovered from Doug Fister somehow putting up four wins above replacement this season, being perfect through six, and having a thrilling duel with the Royals’ Jeff Francis. (By the way, a belated HAPPY FRANCIS DAY to my fellow Royals fans. Or is it MERRY JEFFMAS?). Delmon Young was hitting third. And it wasn’t just a one game thing, or even a platoon strategy with the Tigers facing a lefty. Nope, it’s been happening every game since the Tigers acquired Young from the Twins earlier this month. Seriously, has Jim Leyland become the real Motor City Madman?

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One Night Only: Game Previews for August 31st

The most recent acquisition by the Getty Museum.

Featured Game
Los Angeles Americans (5) at Seattle (0) | 22:10 ET
• The Angels’ playoff run remains interesting enough to render the Mariners watchable.
• In case you missed it, Mike Trout did disgusting things to the baseball last night.
He also hit two home runs.
• (Wocka. Wocka.)
• Starters: Dan Haren (194.2 IP, 20.4% K, 3.5% BB, 43.1% GB, 81 xFIP-) at Felix Hernandez (200.1 IP, 23.7% K, 7.5% BB, 48.0% GB, 79 xFIP-).

MLB.TV Audio Feed: Mariners Radio, I guess. (Anyone have thoughts on Angels Radio? I’m not familiar with it.)

Also Playing
Here’s the complete schedule for all of today’s games, with our very proprietary watchability (NERD) scores for each one. Pitching probables and game times aggregated from and RotoWire. The average NERD Game Score for today is 5.6.

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FanGraphs Chat – 8/31/11

Matt Bush: September Call-up Candidate?

Over the next 48 hours everyone in and around baseball will be busy analyzing the rosters of minor league teams in anticipation of September call-ups. But perhaps the most interesting name who is currently on a 40-man roster, Matt Bush, may not get the call at all. By now we all know Bush’s story – the bust that was the first overall pick in the 2004 draft. The immature teenager who made more headlines for his transgressions off the field than his play on it. Fast forward to 2011, and not only has Bush overcome his personal demons with substance abuse, but he has put his career on a major-league path.
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Ichiro’s Career and the Hall of Fame

Ichiro Suzuki is having a down season and is nearing the end of his career. Many people would consider him an automatic hall-of-famer with the work he’s put together since joining the Mariners as a 27-year-old in 2001. But how good is he, really? Well, for comparison’s sake, I took the production of all hitters from 27 years of age and older and put them against Ichiro’s career numbers. The results are interesting and will only add to the debate.

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Playing Catch and the “Rhythm of the Universe”

A great question was posed to me at last year’s SABR convention. It came from renowned baseball historian John Thorn, and it was as profound as it was simple. It was a baseball question, yet it transcended the game itself.

Why is it so much fun to play catch?

I recently revisited John’s question — his philosophical musing on the simple act of tossing a baseball back and forth — and decided to ask some of baseball’s most-contemplative minds for their opinions. Here’s what they said:


Andrew Bailey [Oakland A’s]: “The love you have for the game really starts with playing catch. Being out there in the back yard playing catch with your father or friends is kind of the first step to falling in love with the game of baseball. It takes you back to those days every single time you get on a big-league field and do it.

“Growing up, it’s ‘Let’s go out and play catch,’ and now the game has obviously evolved to more than that. There are days when you stop and think about it — how far you’ve come from riding your bike to the park and playing catch with your buddies. Playing catch is a learning process. Growing up, you’re throwing stuff into the ground, or over someone’s head, or you’re missing the ball. Now it‘s just a routine.”

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Casey Kotchman as Luck Example

Baseball games are not perfect simulations. They’re not good ones, or even mediocre ones. They’re downright awful. When we design, engineer and execute proper simulations or models, we are often dealing with scales on the order of thousands of repetitions to become comfortable with the probability of the results. Baseball runs through it once.

Granted there are lots of smaller, more repeated samples within the larger single sample. That helps keep some of the noise down, but not nearly all of it, or most of it. Baseball is a noisy game dominated in many ways by what is commonly called luck and people by nature are just terrible coming to grips with that.

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Offseason Overpay Candidates

With the offseason quickly approaching, today I’d like to take a glance at a few guys that I feel are prime candidates to be overpaid in free agency this winter.

To clarify, I don’t necessarily mean they can’t/won’t perform to the $5 million per win above replacement level. They may well do that. However, I’d like to present these players with all things considered, such as relative price of an available alternative, platoon splits, compensation, or anything else to that effect.

With this said, here are a few of my offseason overpay candidates.

Wilson Betemit – Detroit Tigers 3B

The pickings are slim at third base, where Mr. Betemit has played exclusively since coming over from the Royals earlier this summer. To contextualize a little bit, there are only six third-sackers league-wide with a WAR over 3.0 — in other words, even fewer than the similarly-shorthanded second base and shortstop spots. As a result, even marginal talents like Betemit appear likely to reel in a more lucrative contract than usual in this third base housing market.

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Paul Swydan FanGraphs Chat – 8/30/11

The Pitching Rich Get Richer

With a starting rotation that already boasts the likes of Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Madison Bumgarner, and Jonathan Sanchez, the San Francisco Giants organization debuted yet another impressive starting pitcher over the weekend. Southpaw Eric Surkamp made a one-and-done appearance against he hapless Houston Astros but there is no doubt that he’ll be back after being optioned back to the minors after this start. Prior to the season, I ranked as the 11th best prospect in the Giants system.

Surkamp allowed just one run in six innings of work. He showed outstanding poise with 52 of his 87 pitches going for strikes (60%). He walked three batters but also struck out four. In his career, Surkamp has shown a tendency to induce fly-ball outs but six of his 10 in-play outs were recorded on the ground.

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Recap of the SportVision Pitch F/x Summit

Research often inspires more questions than it answers. That’s acceptable because asking the right questions is such an important part of doing the right research. Every presentation at SportVision’s 2011 Pitch F/x Summit either asked or answered a worthy question, making the summit a great way to spend an day talking about baseball.

That said, of course a couple presentations stepped to the fore.

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Adam Dunn: Worst Season For A Good Player Ever?

Adam Dunn is having a terrible season, and now, even the White Sox are giving up on waiting for him to regress back to the mean – he’s been told that he’ll spend the rest of the year as a part-time player. With limited opportunities to dig an even larger hole, it seems likely that Dunn will end the year with a line not too far from his current one – a .163/.289/.290 mark that adds up to a dreadful .268 wOBA. For a DH, that kind of anti-production is nearly unheard of.

I wanted to put Dunn’s season in context, though, so I thought I’d look through history and see just how often some useful Major League player has just fallen down on the job. We’ve all seen guys fall off the cliff before, so I figured this probably wasn’t all that unusual historically. Using the nifty little “split season” filter on the leaderboards here on FanGraphs, you can choose to see the best and worst individual seasons at different types of things over a specified time period, so I filtered by the worst seasons of the last 50 years.

At -2.5 WAR, Dunn checks in tied for ninth on the list in terms of net negative performance over a full season. Ninth in 50 years doesn’t sound so bad, after all, and would confirm my initial suspicion that this kind of thing isn’t all that uncommon. But when you start to look at the context of the guys ahead of him, the story begins to change.

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One Night Only: Game Previews for August 30th

This Angels fan is like, ¿Dónde está Mike Trout?

Featured Game
Los Angeles Americans (6) at Seattle (0) | 22:10 ET
• The attentive reader will note that, somehow, Jerome Williams is responsible for what is
• Williams, since his return to the majors: 9.1 IP, 20.0% K, 0.0% BB, 31.3% GB, 2.98 SIERA, 3.01 xFIP, 75 xFIP-.
• He also has, inexplicably, an 18.8% swinging-strike rate. (League-average is somewhere around 8-9%, depending on role.)
• In other news, Mike Trout hasn’t started either of the last two games, despite looking very good since his recall.
• Here’s the average Halos Heaven comment on the matter: “Argh.”

MLB.TV Audio Feed: Mariners Radio.

Also Playing
Here’s the complete schedule for all of today’s games, with our very proprietary watchability (NERD) scores for each one. Pitching probables and game times aggregated from and RotoWire. The average NERD Game Score for today is 5.1.

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Jack Moore FanGraphs Chat – 8/30/11

How Did Berkman Clear Waivers?

Lance Berkman reportedly cleared waivers last week. How he went through the waiver process unclaimed is befuddling.

Certain noteworthy players pass through waivers based on a few factors. Some prove too costly in salary or years. Some may make it known they intend to invoke their no trade clauses. Others are viewed as risky and injury prone. The remaining players aren’t great enough to justify the acquisition cost, especially with a mere month remaining.

The Big Puma fits none of these descriptions. Determining why no team submitted a claim proves to be quite the tall task.

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Arms in the Pennant Race Running out of Fuel?

Good starting pitching is always important, but it seems to take on added significance as the pennant race heats up. And often it seems that the teams with the freshest, strongest arms are the teams able to emerge out the grind of a 162 game season into the playoffs.

This year fatigue could be especially important to monitor since there are several pitchers pitching deeper into the year and/or logging more innings than ever before whose performance could have big implications on the pennant race.
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