Archive for September, 2011

Hamilton Bunts, World Gasps

Baseball is a game of mysteries: Who invented the game? Why do scouts use a scale ranging from 20 to 80? And what were the Marlins thinking when they chose their new team logo?

Yet these mysteries are but mere blips on the proverbial radar when compared to what happened tonight. It was the first game of the ALDS — and following an Elvis Andrus walk — Josh Hamilton dug in with no outs, down by eight runs in the bottom of the sixth inning. And then did the unthinkable.

Josh Hamilton bunted.

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Rays-Rangers, ALDS Game One Chat


The Idea and Reality of Justin Verlander

“In the end, the Tigers are just too strong in too many areas, and they have the X factor at the top of their rotation. Verlander is this year’s Orel Hershiser of ’88 vintage, capable of winning two games each series, no questions asked.” – Larry Stone, Seattle Times.

“He was the most pivotal player in the league, dominating on the days he pitched and having a significant impact on the Detroit bullpen the day before he pitched and the two days afterward.” – Buster Olney, ESPN

You don’t have to do much googling to find a column praising the dominance of Justin Verlander. In fact, a search for “Justin Verlander” + dominant will return 561,000 results. There’s no arguing that Verlander is one of the game’s elite pitchers – no matter what perspective you take, he’s great.

But, I’m starting to feel like the idea of Justin Verlander is becoming larger than the reality of Justin Verlander. He’s a great pitcher who had a great year, but it’s not like he did anything this season that was historically unprecedented. In fact, there’s a pitcher that performs at something close to this level nearly every season.

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Umpires of the LDS

The list of umpires scheduled for the LDS has been released. As much as they should not be a factor in the games, several of their decisions will ultimately be scrutinized this postseason. The following is a look at which umpire strike zones are most likely to get notice and affect the game.

I am not going to get into any discussion on if the umpires and their strike zones are good or bad. They are their own individuals. The more I look into the subject, the differences can be some of the 2% that can be exploited to gain an advantage over other teams.

At the beginning of the season, I rated which of the umpires are the most hitter and pitcher friendly. Here is a look at each umpire, their rating and what series and game, for now, they are to umpire. I know there are only five games, but I included the last umpire in case there are any changes. The umpires at the top of the list are more hitter friendly and those at the bottom are more pitcher friendly:

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FanGraphs Staff Playoff Predictions

After Wednesday night’s madness finally set the playoff series, we asked our writers to chime in on what they thought might happen over the next few weeks. Trying to predict the outcomes of short baseball series is a fool’s errand, but I do think there are some interesting things to be learned from the collective opinions of some pretty smart people who follow the game closely. My individual predictions might be worthless, but there’s strength in numbers, and the overall assessment of what our staff is expecting produces some interesting results.

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NLDS Preview: Brewers-Diamondbacks

The similarities between the Milwaukee Brewers and the Arizona Diamondbacks are creepy. In 2010, both teams had very good offenses but sputtered to losing records due to horrible pitching. With their issues solved — a rebuilt bullpen in Arizona, a revamped starting rotation in Milwaukee — both teams stormed back from the depths of mediocrity (or worse) to hoist a division title in 2011.

The construction of both teams is remarkably similar. Both have a legitimate MVP candidate (Ryan Braun, Justin Upton). Both have good offenses, although with significant holes (Willie Bloomquist, Yuniesky Betancourt), and both have rotations turned from weaknesses to strengths, largely thanks to great one-two punches (Yovani Gallardo and Zack Greinke, Ian Kennedy and Dan Hudson).

What will set these two teams apart? Let’s take a look at the advantages each team will carry into the series, both perceived and real.

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Disappointing 2011 Prospects: NL East

We kick off the National League today as we continue our series looking at disappointing seasons from prospects ranked on the pre-season 2011 FanGraphs Top 10 prospect lists. We’ve already taken a look at the American League: East, Central, and West.

Atlanta Braves
FanGraphs 2011 Top 10 Prospects
Decreased Value: Matthew Lipka, SS/2B/OF

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Brandon Jacobs and Xander Bogaerts

The release of Baseball America’s South Atlantic League top-20 list is essentially Christmas for me, as much of my time is spent scouting the league. This season, I had the opportunity to see 11 of the top-20 prospects featured in person, which is actually a down year for me. Fortunately, the Greenville Drive, the Boston Red Sox “Sally” affiliate was well represented, with four players in the top-20, including two of the highest ceiling prospects in the system in outfielder Brandon Jacobs and shortstop Xander Bogaerts.

As two of the best hitting prospects in the league this past season, both Jacobs and Bogaerts deserve to be ranked highly on the list, and they check in 8th and 10th respectively. However, I was pretty surprised to see Jacobs edge out his teammate for a higher position on the list.

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2011 NL Playoff Rotations: St. Louis Cardinals

Remember when St. Louis was doomed without Adam Wainwright? Yes, the Braves choked in a big way, but the Cardinals also made a magnificent September run to get into the playoffs. Their starting pitching was a huge part of that run, putting up a 2.85 ERA (2.96 FIP) during the final month of the regular season. Overshadowed by all the other Wednesday hoopla, Chris Carpenter dominated the opposition (I use that term loosely — it was the Astros) with a two-hit, 11-strikeout, one-walk, two-hit complete-game shutout. The need to win every game right up to the end of the season disrupted the preferred order of St. Louis playoff rotation, but it was not that long ago they looked like they were finished — at this point the Cardinals are playing with house money.

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ALDS Preview: Tigers-Yankees

The Yankees and Tigers square off in the Bronx tonight (the Yankees always seem to end up with the night game, don’t they?) with what should be the marquee pitching matchup of the Division Series — Justin Verlander versus CC Sabathia. Here’s a fun fact: both pitchers are very good. A second fun fact: you should be excited to watch them. But you didn’t click on this story to read that — you already knew that. So let’s get into the stuff you did come here to read, shall we?

When the Tigers are at bat:

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Offseason Notes for September 30th


These kids are totally unaware of the exercise in joy that is the offseason.

Offseason Notes: An Introduction
On What Is This Thing
While the playoffs begin Friday, they do so only for eight teams — meaning that a considerably greater number of teams (22, it seems, provided this abacus isn’t broken) and their fans have entered that period of life known as The Offseason. In about a week, another four teams will join those ranks. And then another two. And then everyone.

The purpose of these Notes will be to address those matters of greatest interest to the curious baseballing fan.

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ALDS Preview: Rangers-Rays

For being an exact rematch of last year’s ALDS, the roles of the Rays and Rangers have been reversed since last season. Last year, the Rays were the favorites; they were loaded with talent in Matt Garza, Rafael Soriano, Carlos Pena, and a pre-Boston Carl Crawford. They won 96 games and beat out the Yankees for the AL East title, while the Rangers won 90 games and reached the postseason for the first time in over a decade. The Rangers were underdogs, but underdogs with a dominant starting rotation and a gutsy, scrappy* attitude.

*Yeah, I just used scrappy in FanGraphs post. I should probably hand in my resignation now.

This season, though, it’s the Rangers who enter the postseason having won 96 games, and they are undoubtedly the favorites in this series. While Vegas has the two teams as a close matchup — odds for the pennant: Rays 4/1; Rangers 13/4 — the Rangers simply have the better team here. They have one of the best offenses in the majors (.348 wOBA), and they are very balanced team, good against both righties and lefties. Their starting pitching staff shouldn’t be overlooked, as they have three starters with sub-4 ERAs and FIPs in C.J. Wilson, Derek Holland, and Matt Harrison. They aren’t going to be an easy team to walk through.

Meanwhile, the Rays have a mediocre offense (.320 wOBA) and have been carried into the postseason primarily on the wings of their pitching (3.58 ERA, 4.03 FIP) and defense (2nd in majors in UZR, 1st in DRS). They got hot down the stretch, going 17-10 in September and beating up on the Yankees and Red Sox, so this year they’re the club with the “intangibles” going for them.

But let’s dig in a bit deeper and take a look at some of the potential key matchups on either side. Both clubs have hidden strengths that could prove to be the deciding factor in the series.

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NLDS Preview: Phillies-Cardinals

The Cardinals steamrolled opponents in September en route to one of the biggest comebacks in baseball history. Trailing the Braves in the wild card standings by ten and a half games on August 24, they won 23 of 32 games, capturing a playoff berth on September 28, 2011: a date which will live in baseball insanity.

The Phillies, meanwhile, coasted through most of the regular season. Their 102-60 record marked a new franchise best, and that win total would have been even shinier if not for an eight-game losing streak directly after clinching in mid-September.

The regular season doesn’t matter anymore. Sure, the Phillies have home field advantage throughout the post-season — especially since the NL won the All Star Game — but playoff series are dramatic because anything can happen. The Phillies are a better team on paper, but it shouldn’t surprise anyone if the Cardinals advance to the championship series. The last time a team as hot as the Redbirds made the playoffs, the 2007 Rockies won a one-game playoff against the Padres and subsequently swept the Phillies out of the division series. That Rockies team went to the World Series. Everything clicked at the end of the month and they were able to parlay that late success into playoff victories.

The Phillies lost the second game of that division series primarily because reliever Kyle Lohse served up a grand slam to Kaz Matsui. Lohse was recently named the series opening starter for the Cardinals, adding another parallel. Matt Holliday now plays for the Cardinals, adding even another parallel. But unlike that series, where the 2007 Phillies were successful almost solely due to offensive exploits, this version of the team is built much differently, and forms a much more formidable foe. Here are the major takeaways to get you ready for this potentially very entertaining division series.

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John Jaso — Putting the Postseason in Perspective

For players and fans alike, it is all a matter of perspective. If your team is beginning post-season action today or tomorrow — or if you’re the Braves or Red Sox — you probably can’t be blamed for looking at these inevitably tense battles as life and death. But they really aren’t. As seriously as we take the game of baseball, that is exactly what it is — a game.

John Jaso understands this. The Rays catcher wants to win as badly as anyone, but he also sees the bigger picture. His team is in the midst of a Cinderella story, but winning or losing the World Series won‘t define him as person, nor change the world. It will simply make a number of people very happy, and others very disappointed. Life will go on.

Jaso shared his thoughts when the Rays — at the time still chasing the Red Sox in the standings — visited Fenway Park earlier this month.

[Editor’s note: The following are Jaso’s words, excerpted from a conversation that took place on September 16.]

——

“Winning a championship is very rewarding and something we all strive for. The funnest days of my life [have been] winning a championship. In Double-A it was amazing. In Triple-A it was amazing. And in 2008, being up here with the team and going to the World Series, was unbelievable. Even last year, coming out on top in the American League East — and it came down to the last game of the season, really — was huge. Those were big moments in my life. Read the rest of this entry »


FanGraphs Audio: Eyewitness Accounts

Episode Eighty-Seven
In which accounts and descriptions abound.

Headlines
The Story of the Rays’ Game 162 — Told by People Who Were There!

Featuring
Mike Axisa, FanGraphs and River Ave Blues
Tommy Rancel, FanGraphs and ESPN 1040 Tampa

Finally, you can subscribe to the podcast via iTunes or other feeder things.

Audio on the flip-flop. (Approximately 30 min. play time.)

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FanGraphs Audio: Mega Blowout Playoff Preview

Episode Eighty-Six
In which baseball sells itself.

Headlines
The Events of September 28th — Recapitulated!
The Saddest Story Ever — Told Briefly!
The 2011 Playoffs — Super-Previewed!

Featuring
Dave Cameron, Full-Time Employee

Finally, you can subscribe to the podcast via iTunes or other feeder things.

Audio on the flip-flop. (Approximately 45 min. play time.)

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2011 AL Playoff Rotations: Tampa Bay Rays

As Bradley Woodrum detailed earlier today, much went into putting the Rays into the postseason this year, and if they had just a little less of any one ingredient, they’d probably be packing their bags right now — or at least would be locked and loaded for the proverbial Game 163. But they made it, so let’s examine how they will move forward.

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Braves in September

Several reasons have floated around for the cause of the Braves’ historic collapse. Many people point to the horrible September that the Braves and their players experienced. Similar down months happened previously in the 2011 season, but went unnoticed due to the lack of playoff implications.

No Offense

The Braves offense was not a powerhouse over the entire season. They averaged just under four runs a game (3.96). It was 10th in the NL. While not great, it was even worse over the last month. They scored only 87 runs, or 3.22 runs per game. Now, which of the following slash lines led to the offensive collapse:

#1: 0.235/0.300/0.357
#2: 0.222/0.290/0.388

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Jarrod Parker Debuts For Diamondbacks

Lost in the shuffle of Tuesday night’s historic comeback by the Arizona Diamondbacks was the major-league debut of D-Backs prized prospect, Jarrod Parker. A top-10 selection in the 2007 draft, Parker missed the entire 2010 season after undergoing Tommy John surgery. Despite the injury, Marc Hulet ranked him as the No. 1 prospect in Arizona’s system prior to the season, saying he might be major-league ready by the end of 2011.

During the summer Mike Newman — our other prospect guru — had the opportunity to scout Parker. In his write-up, Newman said Parker’s fastball sat 92 mph to 96 mph with the ability to hit higher velocity, on occasion. As far as secondary options, Parker relied on his changeup more than his previously rated plus-slider, perhaps as a byproduct of his continued recovery. Like Hulet, Newman thought the 22-year-old Parker was ready for MLB action this year. With 5.2 innings of shutout ball on Tuesday, Parker looked ready—  even though his debut was not Strasburg- or Moore-esque.

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Don’t Blow Up the Braves

Condolences are the only proper greeting for a Braves fan today. And anger is an acceptable response to the team’s play in September, as well. But as the emotion subsides, two truths should stick out. The Braves had a good season, and they have a roster that is poised to get better without an overhaul.

89 wins is not an impetus to cry into your coffee. There are reasons for Braves fans to keep their heads held high, too. They played in one of the toughest divisions in baseball — the only one to produce a 100-game winner, for one — and they came up a buck short. No matter how you slice it (FIP, xFIP, SIERA or good old-fashioned ERA), they had a top-three pitching staff in the National League this year. That’s a good foundation for success, and the rest of their problems are fixable.

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