Archive for February, 2013

Umpires are Improving

Fact: one of the most exciting areas of study right now is catcher defense, and catcher pitch-framing. A little bit of the shine is off, but we’re still making discoveries, and the whole thing is exciting because at last we’re able to put some numbers to something that’s long been suspected or known. Previously, we were left with guesswork and anecdotal evidence. Now we have an understanding of who’s good and who’s not good, and though it’s all still evolving, more and more people are aware of it, and more and more people are talking about it.

Yet conversations about pitch-framing are seldom just about pitch-framing. Practically every time it comes up, the conversation turns to whether or not this ought to be left to skill. Sure, some catchers receive better than others, and it can make a meaningful difference. But why should it be that way? Why can’t umpires just call consistent strike zones for everybody? Why can’t we just have automated, perfect strike zones, to even the playing field? And so on and so forth. It’s exciting that we’ve identified pitch-framing as a talent, but people are split on whether or not they want this talent to keep having an effect.

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Joba Wants to Start. Yankees Want it to Stop.

When it comes to Joba Chamberlain and the Yankees, the phrase “star-crossed” comes to mind. On Wednesday, Mark Feinsand of the New York Daily News quoted Chamberlain saying that he still believed he could be a starting pitcher. Joe Girardi and Brian Cashman responded with snark: Girardi said, “I’d like to catch one more game, too,” and Cashman said, “We’re down an outfield bat… see if he can play center.”

The next day, Joel Sherman of the New York Post slammed Chamberlain, criticizing him for “his look-at-me side” and called him “a 5-year-old,” and “a physical red flag.” “It seems very unlikely Chamberlain will be re-signing with New York after the season,” writes Mike Axisa. “That makes me sad.” How did it come to this?
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On Spring Training Game Pace

As the resident FanGraphs Game Pace Cares-A-Lot-About-er, I know it can be weird to talk about pace and watchability, because to prefer a faster pace could be interpreted as not really liking baseball that much. One could argue that a “true fan” cares only about the outs and the score and minds not the speed at which the conclusion is approached. But I know I can’t help what I care about, and I care about things like pace and duration. As such, I’ve gotten to wondering about how spring-training speed matches up with regular-season speed. Are the games this time of year longer? Are they shorter? Are they exactly the same? If there are differences, what might they mean?

So far in 2013 spring training, at this writing, 83 games have been completed. That’s not a whole lot of games, but that’s a meaningful sample of games, and it’s what I’ve examined. In every official MLB.com game box score, the length of the game is displayed toward the bottom. I’ve gone through and compiled all the data and performed some elementary math on it, as you do. As a potentially unwelcome spoiler alert, the results are not astonishing.

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Job Listing: Indians Executive Development Fellow

Title: Executive Development Fellow (EDF), Baseball Analytics

The Executive Development Fellow (EDF) for Baseball Analytics will be exposed to all facets of the Indians baseball operations during this intensive, structured 12-month immersion into the organization. The EDF will participate in a comprehensive orientation program, regular feedback meetings and a cross-functional mentorship program to facilitate enhanced organizational and career development.

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WBC Tapei’s Slugging First Baseman, Yi-Chuan Lin

The World Baseball Classic nears like an orange and pink dawn, a dawn that breaks once every three years — so like an Alaskan dawn. But Americans, in general, are not setting their alarm clocks. We and our brother Canadians have not taken to the tournament with the equal fervor of many foreign baseball fans.

I suspect one reason is limited knowledge of the foreign rosters. Outside of the main North American teams — the USA, Canadian, and DR rosters — we struggle to recognize more than a handful of players.

So let’s try to wrest away some passion from these non-American, non-Canadian types and learn a bit more about the other teams! Particularly, let’s examine Taiwan’s three best sluggers. Why Taiwan? Your humble author speaks a little Mandarin. Taiwan speaks a lot of Mandarin. It’s like a match!

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The WBC, March Madness Style

Four years ago, I wrote a post on “Fixing the WBC” that revolved around one primary suggestion: move the timing of the event to mid-season. Many of the reservations that teams have about their players participating in the event have to do with the injury risks of getting away from a normal pre-season workout, and moving the event to mid-season — in that piece, I suggested just replacing the All-Star Game with the WBC and making the break a few days longer — would eliminate that primary concern.

However, it’s not a particularly realistic suggestion. The All-Star Game is a big money maker for Major League Baseball, and a sport as steeped in tradition as MLB isn’t going to simply cast it aside once every four years. While fully represented WBC squads playing meaningful games would almost certainly be more entertaining than any AL/NL All-Star clash, MLB’s preference is clearly for both events to be highly successful, rather than choosing one over the other. Just from a financial perspective, canceling the All-Star Game is probably a non-starter, so even if I think the WBC would work better mid-season, it’s probably not a feasible idea.

However, I do think that there’s one aspect of the mid-season WBC suggestion that could easily be ported over to the current timeframe and would make the event both more enjoyable and increase participation from MLB players: make the entire event a single elimination tournament, March Madness style.

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Eno Sarris Baseball Chat — 2/27/13


Zack Wheeler And “The Zing”

Zack Wheeler’s spring debut set the prospect world abuzz as the right-hander showed elite stuff in two scoreless innings of work. Having seen him pitch twice for the Augusta GreenJackets in 2010, Wheeler’s outing is an example of projection blooming into production.

Reading through older reports while watching Hotel Transylvania left me looking for “The Zing”, or the moment when one becomes smitten with a prospect knowing he’ll be special. Wheeler provided one of those in 2010 when I wrote,

“Wheeler had a definite “wow” factor which the overwhelming majority of prospects simply do not have. Behind Julio Teheran, he’s the second best pitcher I have ever seen at the level and has true impact starter upside.”

Seeing Wheeler pitch in Grapefruit League action is an opportunity to reflect on memories from three seasons ago, and identify areas where he has grown. Read the rest of this entry »


Daily Notes: On Spring Run Environments, In Case You Care

Table of Contents
This edition of the Daily Notes appears not to have a table of contents.

On Spring Run Environments, In Case You Care
In yesterday’s edition of the Notes, the author published the earliest possible returns regarding league averages for spring training this year — both for the two spring leagues as a whole, and for the Florida and Arizona leagues separately.

A curious reader named Dan — who likely possesses multiple graduate degrees and even more lovers — asked how the spring stats so far in 2013 compared to last year’s spring-training numbers. What this post does is provide the answer to that particular question — while, perhaps, asking several more.

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Taijuan Walker’s Journey

Taijuan Walker is an elite pitching prospect. Despite the TINSTAAPP rules, Walker has ranked in the top 15 of the major top 100 lists, and he’s Seattle’s No.1 or No. 2 prospect, depending on the list. Walker’s 2012 line, however, was a little underwhelming. He posted a 4.69 ERA and 4.04 FIP, and during the couple chats I’ve done with Mike Newman, I’ve seen quite a few questions about whether we should be worried about it. The answer is no, but I thought it warranted a longer, more detailed answer.

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Effectively Wild Episode 150: 2013 Season Preview Series: Pittsburgh Pirates

Ben and Sam preview the Pirates’ season with R.J. Anderson, and Pete talks to Pittsburgh Tribune-Review Pirates beat writer Rob Biertempfel (at 17:03).


How Much Better Could Justin Masterson Be?

The other day, the Cleveland Indians announced that Justin Masterson will be their starter on Opening Day, barring some sort of injury. One might consider this damning with faint praise, as the Indians aren’t even necessarily ankle deep in proven quality starters, but what this provides is an opportunity to talk a little bit about Masterson, and what he is, and what he could be, maybe. Masterson stands to be important if this year’s Indians are to make a run for the playoffs. Masterson stands to be in the majors for a while yet, as he’s only 27 and as he’s demonstrated that he can throw 200 reasonable innings.

We have a pretty good idea of the Justin Masterson skillset. He’s got a big, sweeping motion and he leans heavily on a low-90s sinker. Sometimes he’ll threaten to go entire games without throwing anything else. Masterson keeps the ball on the ground, he strikes out about one batter for every six, and he issues the occasional walk. Last year, he posted about the same FIP as Jon Lester and C.J. Wilson, which is good company at least in terms of name value. Masterson’s ERA was elevated, but, ERA.

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The Unique Power-Speed Combos of Braun, Pence and Jones

Of the positive events for hitters, home runs and infield hits are polar opposites, and not just in terms of impact. The home run is the realm of the beefed-up slugger, the lumberers. The infield hit is reserved for the wisps, the sprinters, the scrawny slap hitters. Unsurprisingly, there is a weak negative correlation between home runs and infield hits on a per-plate appearance basis — I found a minus-0.45 correlation coefficient between the two for all hitters with at least 1000 plate appearances between 2008 and 2012.

Hitters who are able to both beat out dribblers and blast fly balls out of the park, then, are quite rare. Looking at the last five years, three players stand out from the pack:

ifhhr

With over 100 home runs and infield hits since 2008 — 20 per season of each — Ryan Braun, Adam Jones and Hunter Pence find themselves in a class of their own.

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Ricky Romero Sinking and Not Sinking

A preface:

(1) The Blue Jays are of tremendous interest this year, after having spent the offseason adding R.A. Dickey and the Marlins. Many expect that the Jays will win their division for the first time since 1993. At the very least, if they’re not favorites, they’re close to it.

(2) Ricky Romero is of tremendous interest, because what the hell happened?

(3) We’re suckers for anything having to do with PITCHf/x and player-on-player analysis. What’s that? Players making use of PITCHf/x data in an attempt to improve themselves or others? A FanGraphs post is all but obligatory.

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Giancarlo and Carlos

Jeffrey Loria and the Marlins’ front office need to save face as much as anyone since Harvey Dent (dated pop culture reference: check). One suggestion has been that they should re-sign their one remaining superstar, Giancarlo Stanton. That is easier said than done, given that Stanton publicly expressed displeasure in the immediate wake of the team’s massive trade with Toronto. Even if he had not, why would any player want to make a long-term commitment to the Marlins at this point (note to Giancarlo: make sure and get that no-trade clause in writing. Also, stick with rentals.)?

As Buster Olney points out, even if one thinks Stanton is unlikely to sign an extension, if the Marlins do at least make a good faith offer, they can at least say they tried, which in itself would be progress and might help them a bit in the court of public opinion. If he turns it down, at least they could feel free to trade him when is value is highest. Naturally, Loria is saying exactly the wrong thing: “Giancarlo needs to play this year.” Aside from the particulars of the whole Marlins mess, when considering how much it would cost to extend Stanton, not many recent comparisons come to mind. Olney cites an agent to compares Stanton to the Rockies’ Carlos Gonzalez after his 2010 season, when he signed for seven-years and $80 million dollars. That comparison makes sense in that Gonzalez was then and Stanton is now young, talented, and still a year away from arbitration eligibility. A comparison with Gonzalez is a helpful starting point, but beyond the increased money in baseball now, there are good reasons to think a Stanton extension would be significantly bigger. As good as Gonzalez was and is, Stanton projects to be even more valuable.

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FanGraphs Chat – 2/27/13


Daily Notes: Some Almost Not Meaningless Spring Numbers

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

1. Some Almost Not Meaningless Spring Numbers
2. Mostly Unhelpful Video: Tom Layne, Striking Out Sides

Some Almost Not Meaningless Spring Numbers
The bespectacled reader is likely aware that spring training baseball has begun. As Jeff Sullivan pointed out earlier this month, there are a number of variables present in spring games which necessarily distort the stats that are produced there. As Mike Podhorzer demonstrated last March, however, there’s some significance to certain spring stats — especially among those which become reliable in smaller samples.

Even less than a week into spring, there are some numbers that are worthy of consideration — more for purposes of monitoring, perhaps, if not to regard as gospel.

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Maybe Hanley Ramirez Should Actually Start At Shortstop?

The Los Angeles Dodgers have many stars. The Los Angeles Dodgers don’t have a star third baseman, at least not one that is slated to start third base this year. The Dodgers *do* have many good defensive shortstops, and none of them is starting at shortstop. The weirdest thing is that it might all make sense, at least for now.

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Q&A: Zack Wheeler, Future Mets’ Ace

Zack Wheeler hadn’t been pitching particularly well when he agreed to do this interview late last season. During his previous seven outings — three with Double-A Binghamton and four with Triple-A Buffalo — he’d allowed 28 runs in 35 innings. Deep into his second full professional season, the New York Mets’ best prospect seemed to have hit a wall.

This season, the 23-year-old right-hander promises to knock down a different wall — the one standing between him and big-league stardom. Few pitching prospects have a higher ceiling. Wheeler throws four plus-pitches, including a mid-90s fastball and a rapidly improving changeup.

——

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New York Mets Top 15 Prospects (2012-13)

The New York Mets’ top prospect list is a lot stronger now than it was when the off-season began, thanks to the R.A. Dickey trade with Toronto that brought two of the club’s Top 3 prospects into the system. The club lacks impact bats but it has a plethora of high-ceiling arms.

 

#1 Zack Wheeler (P)


Age G GS IP H HR K/9 BB/9 ERA FIP
22 25 25 149.0 115 4 8.94 3.56 3.26 2.99

Organizations have to make bold moves at times when trying to win championships and the Mets’ top prospect list has benefited from that, both with the R.A. Dickey trade with Toronto, as well as the deal that saw veteran outfielder Carlos Beltran head to the San Francisco Giants, an organization that has won the World Series in two of the past three seasons. That latter trade netted Wheeler, a pitcher with the upside of a No. 1 or 2 starter.

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