Archive for May, 2012

MLB DNA Testing — Is Baseball Breaking the Law?

As you may know, Major League Baseball has been conducting DNA tests on prospects for several years now. What’s more, they often make the families pay for a test that costs $400. The reasons are understandable: teams want to avoid being defrauded out of millions of dollars by players who falsify their name and age.

The Nationals gave a $1.4 million signing bonus 16-year old Esmailyn Gonzalez before they found out he was 20-year old Carlos Alvarez Lugo. The Indians spent $15 million on a multi-year deal for Fausto Carmona before they found out he was three years older and his name was Roberto Hernandez. The amount of money at stake is so large that corruption is hard to avoid. Numerous officials were fired in the wake of a money-skimming scandal uncovered in 2008, including scouts from the White Sox, Yankees and Red Sox, and Nationals General Manager Jim Bowden. As Nationals president Stan Kasten said after the Gonzalez/Alvarez fraud was uncovered:

No teenager executed this fraud. There were a number of people involved in it… Falsified hospital documents. Falsified school documents. Other family members changing their identities. Bribes were paid. Really elaborate stuff.

That fraud is not just confined to a few high-profile cases. It’s widespread. According to a Cleveland Plain Dealer story from February:

Last year, MLB investigators did background checks on more than 800 players who signed professional contracts in the Dominican Republic. In about 15 percent, fraud was found. MLB statistics say fraud was discovered in over 60 percent of the players investigated in 2002.

So it’s understandable why teams would want to turn to science to find a way to fight back. But they may be breaking the law. Read the rest of this entry »

Dodgers Attempt to Replace Kemp with Castellanos

Matt Kemp’s frustration was apparent as he rounded second base in the first inning of last night’s game against the Milwaukee Brewers. Fears of the worst were confirmed as Kemp destroyed a bat in frustration: the Dodgers’ star expects to return to the disabled list, and he could miss more than two weeks this time around.

The Dodgers are without question a star driven team, with players like Kemp, Clayton Kershaw and Andre Ethier holding up an otherwise unimpressive roster. Yesterday’s lineup following Kemp’s departure read like something one would expect at an Albuquerque Isotopes contest. With Kemp out for multiple weeks, the Dodgers will turn to the ‘Topes best, Alex Castellanos. The 25-year-old will replace Kemp on the roster according to Baseball Prospectus’s Kevin Goldstein.

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FanGraphs Audio: Tom Brookens and Phil Coke

Episode 190
David Laurila, curator of FanGraphs’ Q&A Series, talks with Tigers personalities of past and present and present: former Detroit third baseman (and current first-base coach) Tom Brookens and left-handed reliever Phil Coke.

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 27 min. play time.)

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Cubs’ Players Available in Trades

At this point, it looks like the Cubs are more likely to compete for better positioning in next year’s draft than any postseason play. The team is 27th in the league in runs scored and 23rd in runs allowed, and only the Padres have a worse record. Inevitably, talk has turned to trade rumors. Bob Nightengale reports for USAToday:

The Cubs are letting teams know that nearly everyone but starter Jeff Samardzija is available, two high-ranking team officials told USA TODAY Sports on condition of anonymity because of competitive reasons.

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FanGraphs Prospect Stock Watch – 05/31/12

Jesse Biddle, LHP, Philadelphia Phillies
Current Level: A+
2012 Top 15 Prospects Ranking: 2nd
Current Value: On the Rise

Biddle continues to make big strides in his development. The 20-year-old southpaw is close to overtaking Trevor May as the best pitcher in the system – if he hasn’t already. Biddle has made 10 high-A starts but he hasn’t allowed more than two runs in his last seven appearances. He’s struck out 27 in his last four games. The lefty’s control remains inconsistent but it’s much improved over last year at low-A (4.47 to 3.22 BB/9). With 35 A-ball appearances under his belt since the beginning of 2011, Biddle is probably ready for a promotion to double-A and he has the ceiling of a No. 2 or 3 starter.

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Explaining My Franchise Player Draft Selection

This afternoon, ESPN is hosting their Franchise Player Draft, tapping 30 of their writers and television personalities to select the player that they would want to build a franchise from scratch around for the next 10 years. As with last year’s version, I was invited to participate, and I was given the eighth overall selection through the random draft order.

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Braves Call Up Andrelton Simmons

Only three NL teams have a higher BABIP against than the Braves, a number which would be even worse if not for a top notch defensive outfield. Martin Prado, Michael Bourn, and Jason Heyward are all plus defenders in the outfield, but the Braves have struggled tremendously on the defensive front in the infield. Dan Uggla is annually one of the worst defensive second baseman in the league, Chipper Jones and Juan Francisco are both below average in the field, Freddie Freeman maintains a solid glove but very limited range, and Tyler Pastornicky has been the worst defensive shortstop based on pretty much every metric.
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FanGraphs 2012 Amateur Draft Selections

Major League Baseball’s 2012 amateur draft is less than a week away. The first round is scheduled for June 4, beginning at 7 p.m. EST, and the next 39 rounds will be on June 5 (rounds two through 15) and June 6 (rounds 16 through 40), beginning at noon EST on both days.

The draft will be interesting for a number of reasons. First and foremost, the overall talent is considered one of the weakest in recent memory; second, new rules have been implemented by MLB in an effort to control draft spending. Among many other changes, each team will be given a pool of money to spend (based on the number and position of their picks) and penalties can be assessed for exceeding the “recommended” funds.

Because teams are limited by the amount of money they can spend, you’re likely to see a lot of good prep players, who are not consensus first-round talents, head to college because they won’t be able to sign above-slot deals after being selected later in the draft, like in the past. As well, junior college enrollement could skyrocket because that route allows players to re-enter the draft after just one year, rather than wait three seasons with the four-year college route.

Below is my take on the first round selections. It is not a guess of what teams will do; it’s a ranking of what I would do if I were running the draft war room for each team. I drafted without considering each club’s willingness to spend money on the draft, and I looked to take who I considered the best player available — based on scouting reports, word of mouth and first-hand observation.

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Wendy Thurm FanGraphs Chat – 5/31/12

Norichika Aoki Deserves a Starting Job

When the Milwaukee Brewers added outfielder Norichika Aoki to their roster this past offseason, I thought it was a curious move — the 30-year-old outfielder was one of Japan’s better hitters and by my anticipation deserved at least a large platoon role. Yet the Brewers intended on using him in a bench role.

In his final and worst season in the NPB, Aoki was still one of the league’s best hitters. And looking at his final five seasons in Japan’s Central League, we see he was consistently a dominant hitter in a league typically starved for offense:

Aoki’s wOBA

2007 .395 127 .310
2008 .400 131 .306
2009 .371 123 .301
2010 .408 129 .316
2011 .320 115 .277

All wOBA+ numbers relative to the Japanese CL.

Aoki has been getting more playing time lately, but now it’s time for him to get all of it.
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Daily Notes: Every Game Previewed Amazingly

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

1. A Note on the Title, Its Decided Ambiguity
2. Every Game Previewed Amazingly
3. Today’s Complete Schedule

A Note on the Title, Its Decided Ambiguity
The reader will note that the title of this post is phrased ambiguously. On the one hand, one might suppose that, within the confines of this post, he will find all of today’s games, previewed in a way — owing to an impressive combination of logic and rhetoric, perhaps — that will amaze readers. One might suppose, alternatively, that the mere fact that every game has been previewed is, itself, the amazing thing.

While it’s true that much of writing is a purposeful struggle against ambiguity — and that the strategic insertion of a comma might make the author’s intentions perfectly clear — I’m prepared to submit that present case represents an instance of pleasant ambiguity.

Every Game Previewed Amazingly
These are all of today’s games today.

Detroit at Boston | 19:10 ET ***MLB.TV Free Game***
Of the 158 pitchers who’ve thrown more than 20 innings as a starter, right-hander Max Scherzer, who goes tonight for Detroit, is one of only ten with a perfect NERD score. (See below for more on NERD.) Owing to a .394 BABIP and 16.7% HR/FB, Scherzer’s ERA is 5.67, but there are indications that he’s pitched much better than that. For example, here’s what two defense-independent ERA estimators say: 2.78 SIERA, 3.16 xFIP (76 xFIP-). Also for example, consider how only Jeff Samardzija (12.9%) and Cole Hamels (12.8%) possess a batter swinging-strike rate better than Scherzer’s (12.5%) — a figure better than even his teammate Justin Verlander’s (12.2%).

Readers’ Preferred Broadcast: Red Sox Radio.

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Mike Trout Is Pretty Good, Too

Mike Trout is off to a great start. In just 129 plate appearances this season, the 20-year-old outfielder is hitting .304/.364/.522. Combine that with his spectacular defense, and it looks like Trout is well on his way to becoming one of the best players in baseball. Although Trout has been great this season, Bryce Harper has overshadowed his performance. And while Dave Cameron recently told us that Harper could be on his way to a historic season, Mike Trout isn’t that far behind.

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Max Scherzer on His High BABIP and K-Rate

Max Scherzer is having a Jekyll-and-Hyde-type season. The Detroit Tigers right-hander has the highest strikeout rate (12.0) of any American League starter, but he also has the highest BABIP (.394) and has a 5.67 ERA. According to a major-league scout who has seen him multiple times this season, the numbers aren’t misleading: “He has either been striking guys out or giving up hard-hit balls.”

Scherzer is stat-savvy enough to know that his BABIP should regress to the mean, but he also isn’t in denial about the hard-hit balls. He addressed the subject, as well as the increased velocity of his slider and his changeup, prior to Wednesday’s game at Fenway Park.


Scherzer on his high BABIP: “My stuff, right now, is where I want it to be. I’m able to attack the zone with my fastball, and [throw] my slider and changeup in the zone and out of the zone. That’s how I’m generating swings and misses. But throughout my outings, I’m constantly making a few mistakes and I’m getting punished for it. You can’t put a number on that. It’s how my outings have been going and I have to minimize those mistakes.

“I’m aware of the luck in [BABIP], but at the same time, you can’t directly influence it. Read the rest of this entry »

FanGraphs Audio: Google the Internet w/ Dayn Perry

Episode 189
During Dayn Perry’s most recent appearance on FanGraphs Audio, both host and guest spent a not insignificant portion of the show googling the internet in search of information about professional wrestling. This week, the internet is googled even more vigorously — and with shocking results!

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 42 min. play time.)

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Arbitrary Endpoint Leaderboards: May Hitters

A couple of weeks ago, I waxed idly on the degree to which April numbers — and the narratives they create — seem capable of occupying an inordinately large space in the baseball fan’s mind, even as the season progresses. Reader Mike noted in the comment thread of that post — nor do I have any interest in contradicting him — that this is due to what is called the Primacy Effect. The Primacy Effect is, according to Wikipedia, “a cognitive bias that results in a subject recalling primary information presented better than information presented later on.”

While the author has no intention of speaking for the reader, I don’t think I’m being particularly controversial by suggesting that the Primacy Effect does seem to play a part in the way we remember and reflect on a season, whether in progress or after the fact.

As a means to pushing back against this bias, I’ve presented below two leaderboards for May hitters — one a simple WAR leaderboard, the other an Expected wRC+ leaderboard — with notes on same. Insofar as basically all endpoints are arbitrary — a point noted by my colleague Eno Sarris last August — these May numbers aren’t necessarily more “important” than either their April or full-season counterparts. Still, they do reveal what has happened over the most recent stretch of meaningful baseball games, which has some value in itself.

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Doug Fister Returns to Disabled List

This week officially has a theme – after Ted Lilly (strained shoulder), Roy Halladay (strained lat) and Jered Weaver (strained back) landed on the disabled list over the last two days, Ken Rosenthal is reporting that Doug Fister (strained side) has now joined the party, and is heading back to the DL with the same injury that caused him to miss most of April. There’s been a lot of straining going on as of late.

Fister was deactivated after his first start of the year with a costochondral strain, and the hope was that a few weeks of rest would cause the issue to resolve itself. He was able to make five starts – and pitch well in those five starts, posting 3.47 xFIP during May – but the issue has returned, and now Fister is back on the DL for another period of rest.

Losing Fister for a few weeks isn’t the end of the world, but the injury’s recurrence has to concern the Tigers beyond just the time he’ll spend on the sidelines. Muscle strains have a history of lingering, and if Fister has to pitch through the injury all season, it could be a continuous issue. It does not appear to be serious enough that it prevents him from being effective when he is able to take the mound, but his ability to remain in the rotation on a consistent basis for the next four months has to be a question at this point.

To make his start on Friday, the Tigers have called up Casey Crosby from Triple-A, whom Marc Hulet rated as the Tigers fourth best prospect before the season began. Crosby is the anti-Fister, throwing good stuff from the left side with well below average control, and hoping he can get enough strikeouts to offset all the walks. His last two starts have been two of his best, as he’s run up 16 strikeouts against just one walk in 15 innings pitched, but he’d walked 15 batters in his three previous starts, so consistency is probably going to be an issue.

It’s certainly worth the Tigers time to give the kid a look and see if his stuff can translate to the big league level even with spotty command, but with Fister’s status up in the air, you can probably add the Tigers to the list of teams that may very well be hunting for a big league starter at the trade deadline. That list has gotten very crowded in the last few days.

Farewell to Magglio: Four Bright Moments

The word is out that former Tigers and White Sox outfielder Magglio Ordonez will officially retire this weekend. Many tributes will probably be written to Ordonez, who had a lengthy and productive career. Except for his monster career year in 2007, Ordonez was not really ever the superstar some thought he was (nice job, Scott Boras), but he was a good hitter who got a lot of mileage out of a combination of good power and great contact skills. David Laurila has a great interview with Ordonez that was published earlier, in which the retiree mentions his biggest moment, his walk-off home run in the 2006 ALCS that put the Tigers into the World Series. All things considered, that was probably the right choice — it does not get much bigger than that (without being in the World Series itself). Win Probability Added (WPA) sees that as Ordonez’s biggest playoff hit at .387:

That was a great moment for the Tigers and their fans, but just considered on a individual game basis, Ordonez had many more dramatic hits in the regular seasons. As a farewell to a guy I kind of thought had already retired, let’s look at the three biggest according to WPA.

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Starlin Castro and the Odd Stat of the Day

If you’ve been reading my posts over the last eight months, you know I enjoy writing about quirky players, quirky stats and quirky stories. If you enjoy those too, read on. If not, read on anyway. You might find this one interesting.

Monday afternoon, Matthew Leach, a terrific national baseball writer for, tweeted: “Starlin Castro: more CS than BB. Guessing not many guys have kept that up over a full season.” Good guess. Not many have.

Let’s look first at Castro’s numbers.

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FanGraphs Chat – 5/30/12

Fiers Handcuffs Dodgers in LA

Injuries have run rampant throughout Major League Baseball this season, and one of the teams most decimated by injuries has been the Milwaukee Brewers. The club has six players on the disabled list, including pitchers Chris Narveson and Marco Estrada, which forced the organization to dip into the minor league system for a spot starter on Tuesday evening against the Los Angeles Dodgers.

That spot starter was right-hander Michael Fiers.

The 27-year-old Fiers earned Pitcher of the Year honors in the Brewers’ farm system in 2011, compiling a 1.86 ERA between Double-A Huntsville and Triple-A Nashville. He struck out more than a batter per inning over 126 innings of work and displayed an ability to throw four pitches — fastball, cutter, curveball, changeup — for strikes in any count. He eventually pushed his way into top prospect lists, with our own Marc Hulet ranking him as the 15th-best prospect in the Brewers’ system coming into the season.

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