Archive for October, 2011

FanGraphs Audio: The Great Dayn Perry Experiment

Episode Ninety-One
In which things change and also stay the same.

Headlines
Look Inside!

Featuring
Dayn Perry, Baseball Writing Veteran

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

Audio on the flip-flop. (Approximately 23 min. play time.)

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Indians Bet on Derek Lowe – and FIP

The Braves and Indians consummated the first trade of the off-season today, with the Braves trading Derek Lowe to the Indians for a minor-league pitcher Chris Jones. As a 23-year-old reliever who spent the year in A-ball, Jones is not exactly a premium prospect – this deal was all about money, as Atlanta also agreed to pay $10 million of the $15 million owed to Lowe for the 2012 season.

For the Braves, Lowe was a surplus part given their existing rotation members (Tommy Hanson, Jair Jurrjens, Tim Hudson, and Brandon Beachy) and their quartet of MLB ready pitching prospects (Julio Teheran, Mike Minor, Randall Delgado, and Arodys Vizcaino). In addition, Lowe’s 2011 did nothing to endear him to Braves fans; he was arrested for DUI in April, went 9-17 with a 5.05 ERA in 187 innings of work on the season, and contributed more than his fair share to the Braves’ September collapse by allowing 25 runs over 23.2 innings in his last 5 starts.

For the Indians, Lowe represents a relatively low cost addition to a rotation that includes Ubaldo Jimenez, Justin Masterson, and Fausto Carmona. Clearly, Cleveland likes ground-ballers, but what can the Indians expect out of Lowe in 2012?

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My Game 7 Experience

Disclaimer: this post will not contain any wOBAs, xFIPs, or UZRs. This is the story of Game 7 from the perspective of one fan — me.

As soon as David Freese’s home run landed in the grass beyond the centerfield wall, ending Game 6, I made up my mind that I was going to the stadium for Game 7. It was an interesting and amazing night, and I thought I’d try to relay that experience.

On Friday in St. Louis everyone seemingly adopted new salutations. Gone were “hello” and “goodbye”, instead, every conversation started with, “Could you believe that game last night?” and ended with, “The Cards have to win tonight.” Everyone at my office spent most of their Friday passing around emails with the best links about Game 6 (the win expectancy graph being one popular option). Cardinals fans are always crazy about their team, and we’ve been in two World Series recently, but I’ve never seen anything like the buzz for Game 7.

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World Series Win Probabilities: Primer

Over the next few days, I will be running out a series based on win probabilities from the World Series not only using single game win probabilities like the ones in our game graphs, but also using overall series win probabilities, which will be introduced today.

The idea behind the series win probabilities is based around the same idea as the single game win probabilities we use here: both teams have a 50% chance of winning each game. As such, this flow chart describes every possible path for a team through the World Series (or any other seven game series; the part from 1-1 up would describe a five-game series):

Click to embiggen, and then follow the jump for more on what’s inside.

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King of Little Things 2011

With a classic World Series — the most exciting in a long time, if not the best-played or best-managed — now over, it is time to hand out individual awards for the 2011 regular season. Sure, some people are anticipating the Cy Young, MVP, and Rookie of the Year announcements, but I bet true baseball fans really pumped for stuff like today’s award, which attempts to measure how much a hitter has contributed to his team’s wins beyond what traditional linear weights indicates. Who is 2011’s King of Little Things?

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Dan Szymborski FanGraphs Chat – 10/31/11


Top 50 Free Agents

The 2011 season is officially over, so today, we kick off our coverage of the Hot Stove League. Over the next few months, we’ll have coverage of every transaction, breakdowns of how each move will impact the various teams going forward, and analysis of the market as a whole.

We begin our off-season coverage with a look at the 50 best available free agents. Obviously, any ranking is going to be subjective in nature, and I’m sure that there will be disagreements in placement, but overall, it looks to be me like there are some pretty distinct tiers that the players fall into.

This is a pretty top heavy group, with a big five who should all land pretty large deals, and then a significant drop-off after you get past those guys. There’s a half dozen or so good players beyond them, and then you get into guys who can fill a hole but aren’t really difference makers. Then, it’s 10 guys you want on your team but shouldn’t pay an arm and a leg to acquire, followed by 20 useful players who shouldn’t be counted on as regulars but could be useful if used correctly. I’ve used these breaks to show where I think each respective player fits, but if you think he should be higher or lower within that tier, I probably won’t argue with you.

Also, I’ve included each player’s WAR total for the prior three seasons. One of the regular traps in free agency is paying for a player’s most recent performance and ignoring prior history, so using 2009-2011 data will help put some context into what they’ve done over a larger sample. It’s not perfect, of course, as most recent data is most important, but in most cases the three year window gives us a better view of a player’s true talent level than just looking at what he did in 2011.

Oh, and one last thing before we get to the list – using the Custom Player List feature on the leaderboards, we’ve created a Sortable Free Agent Leaderboard for everyone to use. Now you can compare free agents within specific positions, over various periods of time, or check out their data on a specific split. Want to know which free agent outfielders performed the best against LHPs from 2006-2011? Now you can.

The report will soon be added to the leaderboards, where you’ll always be able to just click on it to get an updated list of free agents. We’ll maintain that list all winter so you’ll always be able to see who is still available and how they compare to their peers still on the market. The link above will stay static, however, so you can refer back to that one to see the market as it is today.

Now, without further ado, our top 50 free agents of the winter.

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Dontrelle Willis: Lefty Specialist

It’s hard to believe that just six years ago, 23-year-old Dontrelle Willis threw 236.1 innings for the Florida Marlins and logged one of the better seasons from a starting pitcher over the past decade — 2.63 ERA, 2.99 FIP, and 6.2 WAR.

Since then, Willis has gone from Cy Young contender to replacement-level pitcher. He has become a major-league journeyman, playing with four organizations over the last four years and trying to re-discover the spark that once made him a star.

In that time frame, though, he compiled a 6.15 ERA over 199 innings with more walks (156) than strikeouts (139).

Despite those lackluster numbers, things appeared brighter this year in Cincinnati. Reds’ pitching coach Bryan Price helped smooth out Willis’ mechanics and focused on staying behind the baseball more effectively. He started 13 games in Triple-A Louisville to begin the year and dominated hitters. The walk rate was back down to 2.39 BB/9, and his 2.63 ERA earned him a mid-season promotion to the big leagues.

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Offseason Notes: All the Options


Japanese sensation Yu Darvish pitched in the NPB playoffs on Friday (i.e. Saturday). More info here.

Table of Contents
Here’s the table of contents for today’s edition of Offseason Notes.

1. Assorted Headlines
2. SCOUT Leaderboards: Arizona Fall League
3. Projection: ZiPS for New York (AL), Boston, Chicago (NL), Philadelphia

Assorted Headlines
Brewers Decline Options on K-Rod and (More Importantly) Betancourt
The Milwaukee Brewers declined Sunday to exercise the 2012 options for both Francisco Rodriguez and Yuniesky Betancourt, MLB.com’s Adam McCalvy reports. Rodriguez would have been owed $17.5 million in 2012; Betancourt, $6 million. The pair’s buyouts were $4 and $2 million, respectively. While the Brewers will no doubt miss the offensive production of Prince Fielder, replacing Yuniesky Betancourt with someone who’s not Yuniesky Betancourt will go some way towards mitigating the loss of Fielder.

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Is Cleveland Making the Right Choices?

According to Jordan Bastian of MLB.com, the Indians are expected to decline the $9 million 2012 option on Grady Sizemore. The Tribe is also expected to exercise the $7 million 2012 option on Fausto Carmona. Bringing back Carmona is considerably less risky than exercising Sizemore’s option, however, taken together, the transactions tandem speaks to the Indians evaluation of risk and reward.

Is the team making the right choices with these two longtime employees?

The kneejerk reaction with Sizemore is to pan the organization. How could they decline a relatively low-valued option for a player who averaged close to 7 WAR from 2005-08? At $9 million, even an injury-prone Sizemore would seem worth the risk because the reward is substantial. By declining his option, the team is effectively saying one of two things: that it would rather pay him $500,000 for the right to bring him back on an even lesser deal, or that it thinks so little of his long-term health and performance prospects that it’s unlikely he hovers around the league average moving forward.

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Congratulations, St. Louis

You are the champions of baseball, and you just completed one of the most miraculous comebacks in the history of sports.


Source: FanGraphs


World Series Game Seven Chat


The Weather of Park Factors

During the Sportscenter running before the start of yesterday’s World Series game, ESPN did a segment on some trends associated with cold weather* baseball. The numbers discussed ranged from biometric data (your grip strength and reaction time ability both decrease dramatically in cold weather) and some of the resulting baseball numbers such as that batting average drops and errors increase in cold weather.

*Link goes to one produced about football, but the same biometric data applies.

I do not think any of the above should surprise you. I found it fairly intuitive. I can recall with great clarity that my fingers do not seem as dexterous when suffering from cold. What I hadn’t done before though was make the explicit connection between the biological nuisances of cold and the dynamics of a baseball game. Think about how reduced grip strength can impact a pitcher. Some of his control is going to be diminished, but probably not evenly so as offspeed pitches require more of a grip than a fastball does. And writing of fastballs, think about how an increase in reaction time affects a hitter trying to distinguish between pitches and then make contact with a 90+mph pitch.

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Who Will Washington Trust In Game Seven?

Before Game Four, Rangers manager Ron Washington was caught on camera giving pitcher Derek Holland a pep talk right before first pitch. He may want to do the same tonight with Matt Harrison, as the Rangers need a good outing from him tonight.

For the World Series, the Rangers’ cumulative bullpen WPA is -1.065. The four relievers Washington has used most — Alexi Ogando (five appearances), Neftali Feliz (four), Scott Feldman (four) and Darren Oliver (three) all have a negative WPA. Ogando has been the most egregiously bad, and also the most frequently used. He has compiled a negative WPA in four of his five appearances, and in his one positive outing he probably would have been tagged with runs — and a negative WPA — if Albert Pujols had not forgotten about the hit-and-run he had apparently called for. Feliz had been fine until last night, but even when he has performed well enough, he has been treading on thin ice, as he has walked at least one batter in all four of his World Series appearances.

It’s not just that the Rangers bullpen is failing — they’re also failing in the clutch. Eleven of the 23 appearances by the Rangers’ bullpen have come with a pLI higher than two — in those 11 appearances, the ‘pen has totaled a WPA of -1.086. Most of the ugly in that came last night, and it will be interesting to see if Washington has a short memory and goes to his trusted guys again — no one threw more than 23 pitches so they should all be ready to go — or if he is going to seek alternatives.

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Freese Ascends From Goat to Hero

There was a moment, as the Cardinals and Rangers somehow dragged themselves through the middle innings of Game Six, when David Freese was the goat for the Cardinals. Freese was 0-for-2 through the first five innings, but it wasn’t like he stranded the bases loaded or struck out looking twice. It wasn’t the bat. It was this one moment here that induced cringes (and laughs) nationwide, captured by SB Nation’s Jeff Sullivan:

When it comes to pitching, the pop-up is the next best thing to a strikeout. Batters reach on pop-ups around two percent of the time. There it was, already inside Freese’s glove. And then, there it was again, on the ground, as one of the Cardinals’ biggest postseason heroes committed one of the most egregious errors a Major League baseball player can ever commit, whether it’s Game Six of the World Series or a 6-0 sixth inning in the 66th game of the season. Of course, the error would be punished, as a mere two pitches later Michael Young drilled a double to the left field gap which plated Hamilton, the go-ahead run.

The stage was set, should the Rangers just hold on, for Freese’s mistake to be the one that ended the Cardinals’ season. But, as Jonah Keri reminded us in his fantastic recap for Grantland, without the constraint of a clock, as long as there remains an out to be made, any scenario is possible.

Like going from the goat who blew the Little League play to putting together one of the greatest games in World Series history.

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Game 7 Preview: Chris Carpenter vs. Matt Harrison

Chris Carpenter is starting tonight on only three days rest, while Matt Harrison hopes to do better than the shellacking he took in Game Four. Both pitchers will need to change up how they’re attacking hitters if they want to be successful.

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Top 15 Prospects Lists… Another Teaser

Earlier this week we published our first Top 15 prospects list teaser with player profiles on Washington Nationals’ Matt Skole, Los Angeles Angels’ Chevez Clarke, and San Francisco Giants’ Jesus Galindo. Today you receive another three prospect reports on some players that I really like – and feel could be valuable big league players – but they fell short of their teams’ Top 15 prospects lists.

We’re also offering a challenge today. Below, you’ll find a direct quote from a professional scout that I talked with about an Arizona Diamondbacks Top 15 prospect. The first person to correctly identify that prospect will win bragging rights.

Scout Quote: “[Player X] was a polished high school hitter. He had power to all fields, but had the advanced look of a hitter. Since he signed, he has not disappointed in his production in the minor leagues. He is continuing to improve in all aspects and his make up is second to none.”

Let’s hear your guesses!

And now onto the prospect profiles…

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Cubs Fans Will Need Patience

Former Red Sox GM Theo Epstein received a hero’s welcome in Chicago on Tuesday as he took the reins of the moribound organization. Epstein’s exploits in Boston – most notably two World Series rings – have Cubs fans hoping that Epstein will end the curse of the goat and deliver the Cubs’ first World Series championship since 1908. The parallels between the Cubs of 2011 and the Red Sox of 2002 that Epstein inherited are numerous. Both are large markets, with high revenues. Both play in revered, but decrepit and small ballparks. Both are allegedly cursed, with excruciatingly painful postseason scars – Bartman, Buckner, Bucky “Bleeping” Dent – intermingled with decades of mediocrity or worse.

Unfortunately for Cubs fans, the parallels between the 2002 Red Sox and the 2011 Cubs end when comparing the talent on hand. The 2002 Red Sox won 93 games and finished 10.5 games behind the New York Yankees in the A.L. East and missed the wild card by 6 games. As the table below indicates, Epstein inherited a roster that included a trio of starting pitchers – Pedro Martinez, Derek Lowe, and Tim Wakefield – that combined for 17.6 WAR in 2002, and a core of offensive players led by Manny Ramirez (5.4 WAR), Nomar Garciaparra (4.8 WAR), Johnny Damon (4.1 WAR), and Jason Varitek (2.5 WAR). Out of this group only Garciaparra (0.5 WAR) failed to make a significant contribution to the Red Sox 2004 World Series winning team.

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The Most Exciting Game Ever?

The last day of the regular season was perhaps the best evening of baseball I’ve ever seen. It was the kind of unbelievable night that justifies the “once in a lifetime” tag. And yet, exactly one month later, we’re sitting here recovering from a World Series game that might just have been the most exciting game in the history of the sport.

There were 108 plays in last night’s game – 46 of those occurred when the leverage index was at least 1.50. Perhaps more staggeringly, there were 18 plays where the LI was above 3.00 and 11 of those came with an LI of 4.00 or higher. When you think about some of the great World Series games of all time, we think of specific moments – Kirk Gibson’s home run in 1988, Joe Carter’s in 1993, Luis Gonzalez’s bloop single in 2001 – but most of those were isolated instances within that game. Those games offered one great, unbelievable moment – last night offered us about a dozen of them.

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How Will Prince Fielder Age?

While the upcoming Free Agent crop isn’t the deepest in recent memory, there are a few sexy names at the top of the list. One of those names is of course Milwaukee Brewers first baseman Prince Fielder. Looking at his stats, we see a player who has accumulated 15.3 WAR over the last three seasons and is a perennial threat to launch 40 home runs and get on base over 40% of the time. However, due to his less than slim body type, it is not prudent to assume that he will age like most other Major League players.

In order to attempt to predict what Fielder will do over the life of his next contract, we should compare him to players with similar body types. Jeff Zimmerman has put together a list of 205 players who weigh more than 3.25 lbs per inch of height in order to construct an aging curve. To put that in perspective, a 6’0″ tall player would have to weigh a minimum of 234 lbs in order to be included in the sample.

Below is a graph that shows the aging curve of the heavy players we identified, and the curve for average sized players. Across the x-axis is age, and the y-axis runs (batting, positional, UZR), with 0 being the peak year. The y-axis shows how many runs below the peak year they are at a given age.

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