Archive for April, 2012

Leaderboards of Pleasure – 4/30/12


What? It’s just science.

Table of Contents
Here’s the table of contents for this edition of the Leaderboards of Pleasure.

1. A Brief Introduction to This Very Important Thing
2. Team NERD: Current Formula and Leaderboard
3. Pitcher NERD: Current Formula and Leaderboard

A Brief Introduction to This Very Important Thing
Regarding What Is the Leaderboards of Pleasure
The Leaderboards of Pleasure (past editions of which you can find by clicking here) is a mostly weekly feature of FanGraphs during the season and is composed mostly of the different NERD leaderboards.

Regarding What Is NERD
NERD is the result of an attempt to represent numerically the likely aesthetic appeal of a pitcher, team, game, etc. to the baseball nerd (i.e. you, reading this). It was developed as a response to a challenge issued to the author by Rob Neyer in May of 2010.

Specifically, NERD is a score (on a 0-10 scale) given to pitchers, teams, games, etc. that’s calculated using metrics available here at the site. When pitcher and team scores are combined in game scores (like those that appeared in today’s edition of Daily Notes), it’s possible to approximate, with at least some accuracy, which games might be of greatest (or least) interest to the baseball nerd.

Regarding the History of NERD, Part I
The history of NERD is like an ouroboros, except that way fewer people have tattoos of it.

Regarding the History of NERD, Part II
Discussions of Pitcher and Team NERD can be found here and here, respectively.

Regarding What You’ll Find Below
Wondrous spectacles and mysterious mysteries, predominantly.

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FanGraphs Audio: Dave Cameron

Episode 174
Managing editor Dave Cameron makes his weekly appearance on this Monday edition of FanGraphs Audio. Topic discussed: April records, what they do and don’t mean (especially for the Angels and Dodgers); this week’s edition of the SI.com power rankings; and the recent promotions of both Bryce Harper and Mike Trout, what their roles might be with their respective clubs.

Don’t hesitate to direct pod-related correspondence to @cistulli on Twitter.

You can subscribe to the podcast via iTunes or other feeder things.

Audio after the jump. (Approximately 33 min. play time.)

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When Should The Dodgers Become Buyers?

While it’s hard to remember it now, the Los Angeles Dodgers have a proud history. Only the San Francisco Giants have more Hall of Famers, and only four teams have won more World Series championships. With the team’s hot start and impending sale, which is scheduled to close today, people have begun the process of wading through the fog that befell the team in the last year of Frank McCourt’s ownership to see what all the fuss is about. Few people could have predicted such a scenario before the season started, but now that it has happened, one of the more pertinent questions is — when should the Dodgers become buyers?

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A’s Sign Brandon Inge to Replace Brandon Inge

After getting swept by the Mariners at home last week, the Tigers decided to make some changes, and those changes including releasing Brandon Inge. The longtime Tiger played himself out of a job last year and failed to improve on his struggles while making the conversion to second base this season, so Detroit finally cut him loose. After clearing waivers, the A’s swooped in and signed him to a contract, and will install him as their third baseman after designating Luke Hughes (claimed on waivers to take the position just last week) for assignment to make room for Inge.

On one hand, it’s hard to imagine how Inge could actually represent any grade of upgrade for a Major League team at this point in his career. He hit .197/.265/.283 last year and was just 2 for 20 to begin the 2012 season. As a soon to be 35-year-old, he looks like his career is nearly finished. On the other hand, the A’s in-house options at third base might actually be even worse.

The team began the year with Josh Donaldson tabbed as the starter coming out of spring training. Donaldson is a 26-year-old who was a below average hitter in the PCL last year. Not surprisingly, he wasn’t able to hold the job for more than a few days, as Bob Melvin had him split time with utility infielder Eric Sogard. Sogard was bad, but Donaldson was worse, so he ended up back in Triple-A and the team claimed Luke Hughes on waivers from the Twins. Hughes played four games before he was DFA’d to make room for Inge.

Using the rest-of-season ZIPS projections, we can see the forecast for Inge and the two guys who he’s being called on to replace:

Inge: .285 wOBA
Donaldson: .277 wOBA
Hughes: .274 wOBA

Almost unbelievably, Inge is actually projected to outhit both incumbents, but of course the margin is so small that all three could really just be lumped into the same “awful hitter” category.

Inge used to be an elite defender at third base, but injuries have taken their toll on him, and he’s not what he used to be with the glove. Still, given the atrocious options the A’s had in house, signing him actually represents a small upgrade offensively, as hard as that actually is to believe.


Live Player Stats!

In the player pages there is a new section called “Live”, which has live stats from the game(s) a player played in today, and then an updated year-to-date stats line for them.

Basically, you no longer need to wait until 4:30-ish AM to see how the day’s games changed a player’s most popular full season stats.


Time to End Gardy Time?

You may have noticed that the Minnesota Twins are not good. They are certainly a long way from 2010, when they won the American League Central for the second year in a row. That meant it was time for certain writers to start talking (again) about how Ron Gardenhire was maybe The Best Manager in Baseball, because, hey, someone had to be making the Twins win against all odds (supposedly). It was “Gardy Time,” as Joe Posnanski liked to declare.

So, given last year’s 99-loss season and this season’s continuing fiasco, the Twin have to seriously consider firing Gardenhire, right?

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Yankees Look to Mix it Up with D.J. Mitchell

With the big league pitching staff under performing, the New York Yankees front office has been forced to shake things up. In the upheaval, minor league starter D.J. Mitchell finds himself added to the 25-man roster for the first time in his four-year pro career.

Mitchell, who was omitted from the Yankees pre-season Top 15 prospect list, was out-performing – and earned the promotion over – fellow prospects Dellin Betances (ranked third) and Adam Warren (14th) at triple-A. Rookie hurler David Phelps (12th) was pitching well enough in the big league bullpen to earn a shot at replacing disappointing veteran Freddy Garcia in the starting rotation.

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Andy Hawkins vs the Detroit Tigers, October 10, 1984

Andy Hawkins is the only pitcher in San Diego Padres history to earn a World Series win. It came in 1984 when the then-24-year-old right-hander threw five-and-one-third scoreless innings in Game 2, in relief of Ed Whitson. Dominating a powerhouse Detroit Tigers lineup, Hawkins allowed only one base runner as the Padres rallied for a 5-3 win at Jack Murphy Stadium.

Hawkins finished his career with a record of 84-91, his best season coming in 1985 when he went 18-8 with a 3.15 ERA. Currently the bullpen coach for the Texas Rangers, he reminisced about his World Series win during a visit to Fenway Park earlier this month.

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Andy Hawkins on October 10, 1984: “It was Game 2. I came in with two out in the first inning and we were in a tough situation. We were down [3-0] and they had runners on. My approach was to throw strikes, get somebody out immediately, and try to pick up the pieces from there. Fortunately, that happened. From there, I got a little stronger as the game progressed.

“It was mainly about controlling my emotions. This was the World Series and I was very uptight and very nervous. It was a battle of keeping myself under control, because I was pitching with an immense amount of adrenaline. Read the rest of this entry »


Dan Szymborski FanGraphs Chat – 4/30/12


Strong Starts Don’t Mean That Much

Last Friday, I focused my weekly ESPN Insider column (which can also be read here on the site if you are a FanGraphs Plus subscriber) on the predictive power of a team getting off to a strong start in April. We know that at the individual level one month doesn’t mean much, but I wondered whether a dominating start to the season for an entire team might be more predictive of future success.

To do this, we looked at every team since 1974 that won at least 70 percent of their games in April (minimum 15 games), which gave us a sample of 45 teams. We then looked at how these teams performed from May through September to find out how predictive a strong team start actually was. I was pretty surprised at just how little it actually mattered.

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Pitcher Aging Curves: Introduction

As on-field performance data has evolved, baseball enthusiasts have been spoiled with more precise measures of player performance. One area in particular is pitcher velocity. Whether through Baseball Info Solutions (BIS) or PITCHf/x, writers and researchers can now add a critical variable into their analysis that wasn’t readily available a decade ago.

Many readers of FanGraphs and Beyond the Box Score have seen Jeff Zimmerman’s position player aging curves. After reviewing them, I started to pester Jeff to see if he considered similar curves for pitchers — specifically in the area of fastball velocity. I was curious about the general pattern of decline for fastball speed and how it impacts overall pitcher performance. Luckily, Jeff already had been thinking about this.

Today, Jeff and I are launching a multi-part series on pitcher aging curves, which is centered on fastball velocity. This introductory article will lay out the methodology we used and — of course — the initial baseline curves for all pitchers, as well as starters versus relievers.

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Daily Notes: Presenting the Season Debut of NERD

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

1. Important Announcement: NERD Is Now Available
2. Featured Game: Arizona at Miami, 12:40 ET
3. All of Today’s Games

Important Announcement: NERD Is Now Available
Important Announcement
There’s an important announcement everyone needs to hear and it’s that NERD, in all its forms, is now available for the 2012 season.

Regarding What Is NERD
NERD is the result of an attempt to represent numerically the likely aesthetic appeal of a pitcher, team, game, etc. to the baseball nerd (i.e. you, reading this). Specifically, NERD is a score (on a 0-10 scale) given to pitchers, teams, games, etc. that’s calculated using metrics available here at the site. When pitcher and team scores are combined in game scores, it’s possible to approximate, with at least some accuracy, which games might be of greatest (or least) interest to the baseball nerd.

Regarding How NERD Is Calculated
The formulae for the various NERD scores for 2012 remain mostly unchanged from the iterations that appeared in the One Night Only game previews at the end of last season. Follow these links for the relevant information: Pitcher NERD (scroll down a little), Team NERD.

Regarding NERD Leaderboards
Readers will be able to view NERD leaderboards and laggardboards — along with some notes on minor changes to the weighting and calculation of NERD — in the season debut, this afternoon, of the Leaderboards of Pleasure.

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Chad Billingsley’s Perfect Called Strikes

Saturday night’s contest between the Nationals and Dodgers — not coincidentally one of the weekend games previewed in the Friday edition of the perpetually infallible Daily Notes — was an excellent one (box). Uberprospect Bryce Harper made his major-league debut, hitting an impressive line-drive double to the center-field wall (video) and also displaying his strong, accurate throwing arm (video); Stephen Strasburg struck out a third of the 27 batters he faced while walking none, posting a single-game xFIP of 1.82 (video); and Matt Kemp hit his league-leading 11th home run to win the game in extra innings (video). The game’s average leverage index (1.83) was easily the highest of the day.

A quieter, but still notable, feat was performed by Dodger starter Chad Billingsley in the top of the second inning. Facing Danny Espinosa, he threw what amounted to two ideal pitches for called strikes to begin the at-bat.

Generally speaking, a hitter that isn’t Jeff Francoeur will begin a plate appearance looking for a pitch in a particular area, and will increase or decrease his swing zone depending on the count. Accordingly, if a pitcher is able to locate a pitch both (a) inside the strike zone but (b) outside of the hitter’s swing zone — that is, outside of the area where a batter believes he could drive the ball — then he will gain an advantage.

What sort of advantage? Consider: per Baseball Reference, National League batters are hitting .159/.188/.233 (21 OPS+) this season after reaching an 0-2 count. Meanwhile, those same batters have a 92 OPS+ after a 1-1 count and a 161 OPS+ after 2-0. That the difference, basically between the 2011 version of Prince Fielder, on the one hand, and the 2011 version of Ian Stewart, on the other.

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Prospects Tyler Moore, Pat Corbin Receive the Call

It’s been an exciting week for call-ups with the Top 2 prospects within the Top 100 pre-season prospect list getting the call to the Majors. A couple other interesting names have also received a promotion to the Majors this week for the first time, although their names carry much less fanfare than the likes of Mike Trout of the Los Angeles Angels and Bryce Harper of the Washington Nationals.

The demotion of Josh Collmenter from the starting rotation to the bullpen in Arizona is not a surprise. However, the prospect tapped with replacing him in the rotation may be. Southpaw rookie Pat Corbin, 22, was off to a very nice start in double-A, although he doesn’t possess the same ceiling as fellow top prospects Trevor Bauer and Tyler Skaggs. Prior to the season Corbin was ranked sixth on FanGraphs’ Top 15 prospect list for the Diamondbacks, while Bauer was first and Skaggs was third behind the now-traded Jarrod Parker.

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With Trout Recall, Angels Make Half Of Right Decision

At 6-14, the Angels enter play today tied with the Royals for the second-worst record in baseball, and at -12 runs, they have the eighth-worst run differential as well. They have lost eight of 10, including five straight, with the last two being of the walk-off variety. As such, the team is in desperate search of a spark, and on Friday night they hope they found it by calling up the one player who should have been with the team all along in Mike Trout. Unfortunately, the Angels roster is now misshapen, thanks to the fact that Anaheim cut the wrong player in order to get Trout to the Majors.

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Bryce Harper Promoted to Nationals

It wasn’t the way the Nationals envisioned it, but nevertheless, Bryce Harper has graduated to The Show. With Ryan Zimmerman heading to the disabled list for the second straight season, the team was looking to put an impact bat, as well as perhaps shift the focus away from Zimmerman’s injury, and thus Harper gets the call.

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FanGraphs Audio: Fantasy Friday with Ben Duronio

Episode 173
RotoGraphs contributor Ben Duronio is the guest on this Fantasy Friday edition of FanGraphs Audio. In this episode: the pod’s weekly Hector Santiago Status Update, and some attention to other closer situation of note; a discussion of injury prone, but talented, starting pitchers (a list starting, but not ending, with the name Jake Peavy); a brief digression in praise of Brandon Beachy’s fastball; and some sell-high, buy-low candidates.

Don’t hesitate to direct pod-related correspondence to @cistulli on Twitter.

You can subscribe to the podcast via iTunes or other feeder things.

Audio after the jump. (Approximately 40 min. play time.)

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Where Are Heath Bell’s Whiffs?

Heath Bell was just one strike away from getting the second out in the ninth Thursday in New York. Bell was in just another jam, the fourth time in seven outings this season at least three baserunners reached against him. But with Justin Turner at the plate — a lifetime .248/.325/.336 hitter — Bell jumped out to an 0-2 count. There was his way out.

And then Turner fouled off a couple pitches. And then a couple more. And the next thing we knew, it was a full count. And then he fouled off four more pitches. Finally, on the 13th pitch of the at-bat, Turner took ball four on a pitch down and out of the zone. The Mets had the game tied and would eventually win it on Kirk Niewenhuis’s long single to right field as the rain poured on Citi Field.

It’s been about as rough a season as anybody could imagine for the 34-year-old closer. In just 5.2 innings, Bell has allowed eight runs (six earned), walked seven batters, and allowed nine hits. Pretty much every rate imaginable to measure his pitching is unfortunate at this point, but the most distressing? Perhaps a 4.9% swinging strike rate, a big part of the reason Bell couldn’t get out of the ninth Thursday at Citi Field. It used to be Bell could take a hitter like Justin Turner and blow him away. Not so throughout 2012 thus far.

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FanGraphs Prospect Stock Watch

Rob Brantly, C, Detroit Tigers
Current Level: AA
2012 Top 15 Prospects Ranking: 6th
Current Value: Monitor Closely

Left-handed hitting catchers carry a ton of value, and Brantly is a good example of this market deficiency. A former third round pick out of the University of California-Riverside, he has been moved quickly through the system and reached double-A in just his second full season. Brantly handles the bat well and doesn’t strike out much – but he also doesn’t walk. He’s currently hitting .375 with 10 extra base hits in 14 games. The extra base power is new for the catcher so if he can keep that up it adds that much more value to him. Scouts are still torn on Brantly’s ability behind the plate as he still needs a lot of polish although he does a nice job with the running game. With big league starting catcher Alex Avila also swinging from the left side, the prospect may end up as trade bait if his value continues to rise.

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In-Season ZiPS WAR

WAR is now available for in-season ZiPS! This goes for both the “rest-of-season” projection (ZiPS R) and the updated full-season projection (ZiPS U).

These are of course made possible by Dan Szymborski and the projections he provided in the 2012 ZiPS Projections, Final Edition.

These are now available in both the projections pages and the player pages.

Please note the following:

– There is no base-running component factored into the in-season ZiPS WAR projections.

– Original ZiPS fielding projections have been regressed by 22%.

– These are park adjusted.

– These are currently only available for position players, we may add pitchers later.