Archive for August, 2012

Rafael Betancourt Is Just Getting Laughable

There have been two players named Betancourt throughout the course of major-league history, and it just so happens that both of them are current. Far more has been written about Yuniesky Betancourt than Rafael Betancourt, even though Rafael has been around longer, and even though Yuniesky is terrible. But then, that’s kind of the reason. Yuniesky wasn’t supposed to be terrible, but he became terrible, famously terrible, and he kept getting jobs. Rafael is a reliever who has been quietly effective for relatively unpopular teams for the better part of a decade. It never didn’t make sense that more should be written about Yuniesky. But some should be written about Rafael, because it turns out he’s more interesting than you probably thought.

Full disclosure: I’m obsessed to a minor degree with Rafael Betancourt. I find him to be absolutely fascinating for reasons that might not appeal to the average baseball fan. There’s something particular about the way that Betancourt goes to work. He hasn’t hit a batter since his rookie season way back in 2003, many hundreds of appearances ago. That’s crazy, and I’ve written about that elsewhere. But that’s a symptom. It’s not that Betancourt tries not to hit batters; it’s that he pitches in such a way that hit batsmen are almost impossible. Especially, specifically, against lefties.

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Carlos Villanueva Keeps Rolling As Starter

For a little while, Toronto was showing the makings of a playoff contender. An excellent offense built around Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion and a surprisingly solid starting rotation built around Brandon Morrow kept the Blue Jays in games for the first half of the season. But the injuries piled up, particularly on the pitching end, prompting inquiries into record-setting injury paces.

And so it’s no surprise the Blue Jays own one of the league’s worst starting rotations with respect to WAR (+4.5, 26th) and ERA (4.81, 25th). From beneath this heap of pain and misery, however, one bright spot has emerged. Rotation replacement Carlos Villanueva continued to groove as a starter Thursday against the Rays, tossing six shutout innings with seven strikeouts and just six baserunners allowed.

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FanGraphs Audio: My 91-Year-Old Grandfather

Episode 235
The host’s 91-year-old grandfather, whose opinions have been documented previously within the electronic pages of FanGraphs, is the guest on this edition of FanGraphs Audio. Discussed: ways in which the host has failed to fulfill his potential. Also: the Yankees of the 1950s. And finally: management advice for the current iteration of the Boston Red Sox.

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 37 min. play time.)

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Padres Improving But Many Fans Can’t Watch On TV

Yesterday Jeff Sullivan wrote about the San Diego Padres. If you haven’t read Jeff’s post, go read it now. I’ll wait. Okay, so now you know that since June 10, the Padres have a record of 41-30 and have outscored their opponents by 32 runs. But that’s not all. The Padres are 9-1 in their last 10 games, 13-7 in their last 20, and 18-12 in their last 30. They are outplaying everyone in the National League West other than the division-leading Giants.

The Padres also have new owners. The second and third generation of the O’Malley family — who owned the Dodgers from 1950 until 1998 — now own the Padres, along with San Diego businessman Ron Fowler and a group of minority investors. Fowler has been designated as the team’s control person, but Peter O’Malley and his sons and nephews, with their longstanding baseball pedigree, will be key to the Padres’ efforts to re-energize the team and the fan base.

It won’t be easy.

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The Tigers’ Royal Choke Job

The Tigers’ projected domination of the 2012 American League Central never quite came off. However, after a disappointing first couple of months that saw them below .500, the Tigers have been winning ever since. They were looking forward to this weekend’s showdown at home in Detroit with the division-leading White Sox. Detroit was only two games back.. All they had to do was get through the three-game series with the Royals in Kansas City in order to set themselves up. Sure, Anibel Sanchez had been mostly terrible since coming to the Tigers, and Rick Porcello was having yet another disappointing season (at least in terms of ERA), but they were matched up against Bruce Chen and Jeremy Guthrie, respectively. No way the Tigers offense doesn’t light those guys up, right? If that wasn’t enough, Justin Verlander was matched up against Luis Mendoza.

According to Cool Standings’ “Smart” standings, going into the series in KC the Tigers had a 32 percent chance of winning the division and 61.4 percent chance of making the playoffs. A series win in KC would set them up nicely going into the weekend and for a shot at the playoffs generally. Things didn’t exactly work out that way. The Tigers got swept. As of today, the “smart” standings have Detroit down to a 40 percent chance of making the playoffs. What?

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Mark Trumbo’s Month as Somebody Awful

Over the past month or so, who’s been the worst regular or semi-regular hitter in baseball? I’m actually asking you, because I don’t have the answer. I could look it up really easily but wouldn’t you know it, I haven’t looked it up. Huh. The answer might be Mark Trumbo. If the answer isn’t Mark Trumbo, then Mark Trumbo is probably close to being the answer, because over the past month or so, Mark Trumbo has just been terrible.

If you look at Trumbo’s game log, you might think that he showed signs of snapping out of this Thursday night. Against Jon Lester and the Red Sox, he finished 2-for-4 with an RBI. But one of those hits was a weak groundball single, the other hit was just a regular single, Trumbo struck out once, and Trumbo swung and missed several times. Also this was just one game. I don’t know what it’s going to look like if and when Trumbo returns to being something like himself, but I wouldn’t be surprised if we couldn’t recognize it at the time.

It’s a really bad slump that Trumbo has been in. You could simply take my word for it, because I wouldn’t lie about something like this on the front page of FanGraphs, but I’ll go into some detail anyway, just in case you were unaware of the slump or unaware of the magnitude. It wasn’t that long ago that Trumbo looked like an out-of-nowhere superstar slugger. His overall numbers are still terrific, but looking at the overall numbers ignores a trend and, as humans, we really like trends.

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Adam Greenberg’s “One At Bat”

Over the last week or so, several people have hit me up on Twitter asking me to help promote OneAtBat.com, a social campaign to get the Chicago Cubs to sign Adam Greenberg and give him a chance to hit in the big leagues in September. The story is certainly moving. You may remember that Greenberg got hit in the head on the first pitch of his Major League career, but may not know that it effectively ended his shot at a big league career.

Since the 2005 season, Greenberg has bounced around between a few different Double-A clubs and more recently independent league baseball, and now 30-years-old, he’s not likely to have any kind of career rebirth that leads to a sustained chance with a Major League team. So, Matt Liston has decided to use social pressure and the promise of good PR to try and get the Cubs to give Greenberg the at-bat they tried to give him back in 2005, before Valerio de los Santos’ wild pitch turned a dream into a nightmare.

It’s a pretty fascinating social experiment. Greenberg’s not the first guy to have his big league dreams cut short due to something beyond their control, and he’s certainly not the only guy playing in independent ball who would love to get an at-bat in the big leagues just so he can say he finally got to experience what it was like. If Major League teams operated like Extreme Makeover: Baseball Edition, granting wishes to those with touching backstories, we’d have a never-ending parade of at-bats being handed out because “it’s the right thing to do.” From a pandora’s box point of view, I can understand a team’s reticence to open up a spot on the 40 man roster and go through all the machinations involved with adding a new player in order to give Greenberg his chance at redemption.

That said, I’m still hoping the Cubs play along. If there’s room on a big league roster for Roger Clemens simply because he wants to delay his HOF eligibility in hopes of increasing his chances of getting inducted later on — and let’s call a spade and spade and note that this is likely the motivation behind his “comeback” — then we should all admit that a roster spot for one game in September for a team out of the playoff race isn’t so sacrosanct that it can’t be spared for Greenberg.

The schedule actually works out perfectly as well, as the Cubs close the season at home against the Astros. There will be no questions of whether giving Greenberg an at-at in a Houston-Chicago match-up in game 162 is influencing a playoff race, or endangering the legitimacy of an outcome that anyone cares about. Let Greenberg lead-off the game and get a standing ovation, and with any luck, he’ll even get a chance to run the bases. It’d be a good story. It’d be fun to watch. I hope it happens.


Eno Sarris RotoGraphs Chat — 8/31/12

You’ve got a few minutes before you duck out early for the long weekend.


FanGraphs Audio: Clay Buchholz, Clayton Mortensen

Episode 234
David Laurila, curator of FanGraphs’ Q&A Series, talks with Red Sox right-handers Clay Buchholz and also Clayton Mortensen.

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 18 min. play time.)

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What Makes a Pitcher’s Count?

What’s a pitcher’s ultimate goal? In the grand scheme, it’s to help win games. A pitcher needs to do his part to keep runs to a minimum — and strikeouts are the best way to accomplish that. Walking, or hitting a better, can’t help. Those outcomes (plus avoiding home runs) are the three rates, each with somewhat separate skills that most of us watch when evaluating pitchers.

And getting ahead in the count is at least partially responsible for all three outcomes. In my first look at pitching ahead to batters I defined a pitcher’s being ahead in the count as having it 0-1, 0-2 or 1-2. Conversely, batters were ahead in 1-0, 2-0, 3-0, 2-1 or 3-1 counts. Those demarcations were made by simply taking the greater number, aside from full counts.

The aggregate numbers support the difference between the two types. In my self-identified pitcher’s counts, batters are held to a .204/.211/.303 line this season. Shifting to a hitter’s count, the batting line more than doubles to .342/.472/.609. Clearly a pitcher benefits when he’s ahead, but I wanted to know about home runs, as well, and whether this was a good division of counts.

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Effectively Wild Episode 33: The Least Likely Team to Win a World Series In the Next 10 Years/Does it Matter if Jimmy Rollins Jogs?

Ben and Sam slum it with a bunch of bad teams from baseball’s underclass and speculate about which has the least hope of going all the way before 2022, then discuss Jimmy Rollins’ benching and how much running out a popup really matters.


The Dodgers Have A Good Outfield Problem

Shane Victorino was recently asked if he would return to the Dodgers in a part-time role next season. One of the many pieces the Dodgers added near the trade deadline, the former all-star centerfielder was adamant that he’ll seek regular playing time in his next deal. Given Victorino’s sentiments and the crowded Dodgers outfield, his return likely isn’t in the cards. However, the Dodgers may need someone like him over the next year or two as an insurance policy on Carl Crawford or a stopgap until Yasiel Puig is ready.

When the Dodgers acquired Crawford, along with Josh Beckett, Adrian Gonzalez …and Nick Punto in last week’s megadeal, they put the finishing touches on a very expensive outfield for the foreseeable future.

The move didn’t come without consequences. In addition to the hefty contracts now on the books, the Dodgers created a positional logjam that may prove difficult to solve without eating salary or making subsequent trades.

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Daily Notes, Featuring the Whole Entire Weekend

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

1. Daily Notes Programming Message
2. Notable Weekend Games
3. Complete Weekend Schedule (Including MLB.TV Free Game)

Daily Notes Programming Message
Programming Note
At the risk of disappointing the otherwise entirely cheerful reader, both the Saturday and Sunday editions of the Daily Notes will be omitted from these electronic pages as the author attends a wedding this weekend.

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Q&A: Anthony Gose, Blue Jay in Progress

Anthony Gose has seen his big-league career get off to a slow start. The Toronto Blue Jays outfielder has hit just .183/.256/.244 in 92 plate appearances since debuting in mid-July. He promises to get much better as he matures, though. As one of the top prospects in Toronto’s organization, the 22-year-old (as of Aug. 10) left-handed hitter has both a sprinter’s speed and emerging power (70 stolen bases and 16 home runs last year in Double-A). He also has excellent defensive chops, including good instincts and a well-above-average arm. What he lacks is experience, which he should gain a lot more of this coming month.

Gose came to Toronto in 2010 from the Phillies, via the Astros, in a three-team deal. He talked about his development path — as well as his first week as a big- leaguer — when the Blue Jays visited Fenway Park last month.

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Gose on developing as a hitter: “A tremendous amount has changed since I was in the Florida State League [in 2010]. There’s been the whole transformation of my swing — my mechanics. That’s been a gradual thing ever since I was traded over here, and even throughout this season. There have also been, at times, more drastic changes. Now it’s more just fine-tuning things; it’s more on the smaller end of changes.

“When I got traded over, it became more of being able to swing the bat for a little bit more power — trying to drive the ball. I’ve been focusing on making two-strike adjustments and barreling the ball more consistently, as well as just getting on base.

“I went through a number of different stances when I first got over. Read the rest of this entry »


A Post About the San Diego Padres

Overlord Dave and I exchange a lot of emails, and earlier Thursday he sent me an email declaring that everybody’s talking about the Padres. I chuckled heartily to myself, as Dave is one of the funniest people I know. The Padres are about as forgettable a franchise as any in the major professional sports. They could win seven consecutive World Series and still people would only talk about them in order to complain about the camouflage uniforms. But while everybody most certainly is not talking about the Padres right now, more people are talking about the Padres right now than were talking about the Padres some months ago. That’s because the Padres have been playing some outstanding baseball.

By their standards, at least. Maybe “outstanding” is too strong a term, but since June 10 — an endpoint carefully selected to make the Padres look as good as possible — the Padres have gone 41-30 and they’ve outscored the opposition by 23 runs. Overall, they’ve drawn to within a game and a half of the Red Sox, and while the Red Sox clearly aren’t what they were supposed to be, that’s a psychologically significant fun fact. The Padres and the Red Sox aren’t too different. The Padres now might well be better than the Red Sox now. What a game, baseball.

The Padres are nowhere close to a playoff race, because before they caught fire, they played baseball as if they were literally on fire. Yet their stretch of success has people wondering if the playoffs might be in the Padres’ near-term future. Let’s examine how this stretch has happened, and what the Padres’ outlook looks like.

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Billy Hamilton and Stealing 100 Bases

Because he is a man who hates joy, Walt Jocketty said yesterday that Billy Hamilton would “probably not” be called up to the majors in September, as the Reds put the finishing touches on a first-place campaign. (Hamilton has been assigned to the Peoria Javelinas of the Arizona Fall League.) But you never know — as Lloyd Christmas might say, there’s a chance — so I think it’s still worth writing about Sliding Billy, the man who could reach the century mark in steals for the first time in a quarter-century.
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Mike Newman Prospects Chat – 8/30/12


Dustin Ackley Might Finally Be Adjusting

Dustin Ackley has a strikeout problem. It’s not a problem new to him at this level. Last season in the American League, average hitters struck out on 18% of his trips to the plate. Dustin Ackley did so in 21%. However, it was new to him overall. In the minors, Ackley was terrific at avoiding strikeouts. With Tacoma in 2011, Ackley struck out on 12% of his PAs whilst the average PCL hitter would strike out 18% of the time.

The low strikeouts in the minors made sense. Ackley was billed as a polished hitter with good contact skills and a good eye for the strike zone. And indeed, Ackley has had fewer swinging strikeouts than average at every level, even including his two years now in the Majors.

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Arizona Fall League Breakdown: Mesa Solar Sox

Tentative rosters for the Arizona Fall League were released on Aug. 29. The fall developmental league is designed to help prospects received extra seasoning and coaching at the conclusion of the minor league season. Each organization contributes players to the six-team league. The league typically shifts in favor of the hitters because teams are generally reluctant to assign top arms to the league – unless they’re attempting to make up for lost innings due to injuries.

The Mesa Solar Sox club consists of players from five organizations – Baltimore, Detroit, Houston, Los Angeles NL, and Chicago NL. Below are some interesting names set to appear on the roster. Full rosters can be found here.

Mike Belfiore, LHP, Baltimore: A former supplemental first round draft pick, Belfiore doesn’t have the same stuff he once did but he was a great addition to the organization when Arizona asked for Josh Bell. He pitched well in double-A and held left-handed hitters to a .170 batting average. He could provide same-handed match-ups at the big league level as a loogy or work as a long reliever. Belfiore, 23, is eligible for the Rule 5 draft this off-season so the organization will have to decide if its going to add him to the 40-man roster by the November deadline; his fall performance could help sway the decision.

Nick Castellanos, 3B/OF: Detroit: One of the top prospects on the squad – along with Chicago’s Javier Baez and Houston’s Jonathan Singleton – Castellanos could use the AFL as a spring board to a big-league assignment in 2013. A natural third baseman, Castellanos has seen time in the outfield in 2012 as the big league club tries to find a way to fit his bat into a lineup that already features third baseman Miguel Cabrera. The young prospect probably needs another half season of seasoning in the minors after posting a 96 wRC+ in 72 double-A games after a promotion from high-A ball (186 wRC+).

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Pedro Alvarez’s Cardinal Destruction

The Cardinals must be glad they won’t be seeing the Pirates again this season. Not because the Pirates were a particular thorn in the Cardinals’ side — the Pirates won the season series 8-7, but the Cardinals have had greater struggles against the Braves (1-5) and, oddly enough, the Phillies (2-5). No, the Cardinals must be glad because they’ve seen the last of Pedro Alvarez, at least until a potential playoff matchup.

Alvarez closed the season series with a home run, a double and three RBI as part of a 2-for-4 night, bringing his line for the series up to 23-for-58 with four doubles, seven home runs and seven walks. All-in-all, Alvarez compiled a .534 wOBA throughout the assault. More importantly, with the Cardinals and Pirates separated by just one game in the standings, Alvarez made the damage count — in just 15 games, Alvarez produced a massive 1.7 WPA.

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