Archive for April, 2014

The Fringe Five: Baseball’s Most Compelling Fringe Prospects

The Fringe Five is a weekly regular-season exercise, introduced last April by the present author, wherein that same ridiculous author utilizes regressed stats, scouting reports, and also his own heart to identify and/or continue monitoring the most compelling fringe prospects in all of baseball.

Central to the exercise, of course, is a definition of the word fringe, a term which possesses different connotations for different sorts of readers. For the purposes of the column this year, a fringe prospect (and therefore one eligible for inclusion in the Five) is any rookie-eligible player at High-A or above both (a) absent from all of three notable preseason top-100 prospect lists* and also (b) not currently playing in the majors. Players appearing on the midseason prospect lists produced by those same notable sources or, otherwise, selected in the first round of the amateur draft will also be excluded from eligibility.

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Billy Hamilton, Who is Not a Caricature

A common question in our chats has asked how much longer the Reds can put up with Billy Hamilton and his lousy numbers out of the leadoff slot. Hamilton was known to be a question mark coming into the year, and he got off to a putrid beginning, and all the speed in the world can’t do you any good if you can never even get down to first. Some entertained the idea of Hamilton becoming a full-time pinch-runner, figuring that was the way for him to maximize value. The questions have been coming in less frequently lately. Hamilton, since April 15, has hit .340.

That isn’t intended as evidence that Billy Hamilton is a good hitter. Before he started hitting .340, Hamilton was hitting .140, and that data’s every bit as valid. What’s becoming more clear, though, is that Hamilton’s a real player, and not just an assortment of exaggerations. Before a player arrives in the majors, it’s tempting to view them as caricatures of their strengths and weaknesses. Then big-league performance pulls everything back closer to the ordinary. Billy Hamilton played a game Tuesday that said as much as words could: he’s probably not the worst hitter in baseball. And while he’s gifted on the bases, he’s far from un-throw-out-able.

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Jose Fernandez and Efficient Dominance

In the grand scheme of things, raising a child that ends up being a band nerd isn’t such a terrible fate. There are a lot of worse things a kid could do with their time, and band nerds generally stay out of trouble. They are just as weird and filled with hormones as the next kid, but band kids tend to be involved in a lot of activities which keeps them under fairly-constant supervision. Band parents may have to buy a few more fundraiser candy bars or sign off on a few more field trips, but at least they are not bailing their kids out of jail.

The life of a band parent isn’t without its pitfalls however. There’s a lot of shuttling around that needs to happen, and instruments aren’t necessarily cheap. And then there are the concerts. There are so many concerts. One in fall, one around the holidays, one in the spring — along with plenty of other parades and solo competitions and jazz concerts. It has to be excruciating. But some mixture of parental love and not wanting to be seen as monsters pushes these parents to sit through these things. They don’t want to be there. Nobody does. But they are there. And all they can do is hope it goes quickly.

The Atlanta Braves is a professional baseball team. I can’t speak directly to their stance on attending children’s band concerts, but I assume they have a fairly strict policy on not leaving games that are still ongoing. I can imagine they were cursing that policy Tuesday, as they were handed 9-0 loss at the hands of the Marlins and looked fairly punchless in the process. Luckily for them, the agony didn’t have to last too long. And for that, they can thank Jose Fernandez. Read the rest of this entry »


What The Braves’ Historic Pitching Month Means

We’re into that sort-of in-between part of the early season, the part where it’s early enough where you can see ridiculous things like Charlie Blackmon hitting .379/.425/.621 and know that the dreaded “small sample size” caveat is absolutely in play, but also to know that it’s not that early any longer and that the things we’re seeing count. Whether it’s to further inform us about a player or a team, or just to have added value and wins now that will be important later even if the current production can’t be maintained, what we’ve seen over the first month matters. It’s just up to us to decide how much it matters.

That’s where we are with the Atlanta Braves, who have somehow managed to keep their early run of insanely good pitching alive and well through the end of April. And when I say insanely good, I mean just that. Even after Alex Wood got hit hard in Miami on Tuesday night, Atlanta’s rotation ERA- is 55. Since Jackie Robinson integrated the game in 1947, the lowest rotation ERA- we have on record for a full season is 73, by three teams, including the 1997 and ’98 Braves of Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz. If it’s unfair to compare a month of play to full seasons, well, then you might like to know that since the 1968 “Year of the Pitcher,” only three other teams have had a rotation ERA below 2.00 in a month of at least 25 games, as the Braves currently do. Each of those teams — the 1976 Dodgers, 1992 Braves and 2011 Phillies — had at least one Hall of Famer in the rotation or someone with a strong case to be there in the future.

That the 2014 Cardinals sit second behind the Braves on the ERA- list further shows you how early it is, that the Braves won’t continue pitching like this, and that regression is coming. Obviously. Aaron Harang and Ervin Santana aren’t going to pitch like Maddux and Smoltz all yearI imagine it isn’t shocking, breaking news that the 2014 Braves aren’t going to end up as the pitching version of the 1927 Yankees.  Read the rest of this entry »


FanGraphs Chat – 4/30/14

11:26
Dave Cameron: Happy Wednesday. I’m at the doctor’s office (no worries, everything is fine) so the chat might be a little late starting today, but I’ll make up for it on the back end if we don’t start right at 12.

12:06
Dave Cameron: Alright, let’s get this party started.

12:06
Comment From RK
Has your opinion of Trevor Bauer changed at all in the first month? Seem to recall you were pretty down on him (like most of us).

12:08
Dave Cameron: Personally, I think the most overrated players in the game are bad command/high fastball pitching prospects who rack up strikeouts by pitching out of the zone in the minors. Bauer, Archie Bradley, lots of guys fit this mold, and get a lot of hype because of velo and K numbers, but if you want to succeed in the majors, you have to throw strikes. Sometimes they learn, but it’s not as often as people think.

12:09
Comment From Matt
Is there any difference between a strikeout swinging and a strikeout looking? I know that it seems like there shouldn’t be, but I was curious to know if one is better/worse than the other.

12:09
Dave Cameron: Swinging strikeouts are more predictive, for both the batter and the pitcher, going forward. Called strikeouts are mostly a function of randomness.

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FG on Fox: Don’t Sleep on the Angels

After a disappointing second-place finish in 2011, the Los Angeles Angels decided to become New York Yankees West and attempted to buy their way back into the playoffs.

They gave $240 million to Albert Pujols and $78 million to C.J. Wilson. Toss in the promotion of a young star named Mike Trout, and no one added more talent to their 2012 roster than the Angels.

The result? A modest three-win improvement that resulted in finishing in third place in the AL West rather than second, and a second consecutive season without October baseball.

So they doubled down and threw more money at their problems: $123 million to Josh Hamilton, $15 million to Joe Blanton, $8 million to Sean Burnett and $3.5 million to Ryan Madson.

The returns were even worse, as Hamilton was an unmitigated disaster and Blanton was among the worst pitchers in baseball. Madson never even threw a pitch for the organization as the Angels finished third again. But this time they finished below .500 at 78-84.

Two winters of spending over $450 million in future commitments — during the same two years that Trout emerged as one of baseball’s best player — and the team managed back-to-back third-place finishes.

For the first month of 2014, it’s just more of the same, as LA stands 13-13 — following Tuesday’s 6-4 win over Cleveland — with a game to go in April. Except this year, it might actually be different. This Angels team is actually showing signs of being pretty good.

Read the rest on FoxSports.com.


NERD Game Scores for Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Devised originally in response to a challenge issued by viscount of the internet Rob Neyer, and expanded at the request of nobody, NERD scores represent an attempt to summarize in one number (and on a scale of 0-10) the likely aesthetic appeal or watchability, for the learned fan, of a player or team or game. Read more about the components of and formulae for NERD scores here.

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Most Highly Rated Game
Toronto at Kansas City | 20:10 ET
Drew Hutchison (26.0 IP, 80 xFIP-, 0.6 WAR) faces Yordano Ventura (25.0 IP, 84 xFIP-, 0.8 WAR). The latter, in addition to having posted the highest average fastball velocity among qualified starters (which isn’t particularly surprising), has also generated a considerable number of swings and misses with his secondary pitches (which is more surprising). Hutchison, for his part, has actually recorded even better defense-independent figures, having now struck out more than a third of opposing batters in consecutive starts.

Readers’ Preferred Broadcast: Toronto, Maybe?

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Prospect Watch: Severino, Andriese, and Schimpf

Each weekday during the minor-league season, FanGraphs is providing a status update on multiple rookie-eligible players. Note that Age denotes the relevant prospect’s baseball age (i.e. as of July 1st of the current year); Top-15, the prospect’s place on Marc Hulet’s preseason organizational list; and Top-100, that same prospect’s rank on Hulet’s overall top-100 list.

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Luis Severino, RHP, New York Yankees (Profile)
Level: Low-A Age: 20 Top-15: 11th Top-100: N/A
Line: 19.0 IP, 15 H, 22/6 K/BB, 1.89 ERA, 2.41 FIP

Summary
He’s still raw, but Severino is helping to lead a new wave of high-ceiling prospects into the conscious mind of New York fans.

Notes
Signed for a modest bonus out of the Dominican Republic in 2012, Severino looks like a scouting coup. He’s produced excellent numbers in his two seasons of pro ball prior to 2014.

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The New Austin Jackson, Again

You remember what the concerns with Austin Jackson used to be. There weren’t many questions about his defense, there weren’t many questions about his athleticism, there weren’t many questions about his ability to hit the ball hard. There were, simply, questions about his ability to hit the ball. A fine rookie season gave way to a mediocre sophomore campaign, in which Jackson posted the fourth-highest strikeout rate for a 24-year-old ever. Before 2012, Jackson worked hard to modify his swing and, most visibly, eliminate his high leg kick. He chopped a fifth off of his strikeouts, and his lifted his wRC+ by almost 50 points. Austin Jackson had been fixed, and he turned into a legitimate everyday player.

So fans knew what to credit for Jackson’s turnaround. Mechanical changes always make good sense after the fact, if a player’s been successful. Jackson had a rougher go of it in 2013, but he did keep his strikeouts down. Yet Jackson was awful in the playoffs, and he’s off to a scorching start in 2014, and he’s looked both very familiar and very different. Funny thing about those mechanical changes.

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Effectively Wild Episode 439: The Email Answers You Asked For

Ben and Sam answer listener emails about Jose Fernandez, the best baseball PED, a pitcher with perfect command, and more.


FanGraphs After Dark Chat – 4/29/14

5:44
Paul Swydan: Hi everybody! Jeff and I will be here at 9 pm ET to nerd it up and/or down with you. In the meantime, please enjoy this wide array of polls. And by wide array, I mean four polls that cover two topics.

See you soon!

9:00
Paul Swydan: OK, let’s light this candle!

9:01
Comment From Evil Fredi Gonzalez
Looks like we’re going against one of the best pitchers in baseball tonight. Sounds like the time to throw out my backups who are all far worse both offensively AND defensively. They’ll never see it coming! MUAHAHAHAHAHA!

9:01
Paul Swydan: Mawahahahahahaha!

9:01
Comment From Shoeless Joe Jackson
Any chance Pete Rose is admitted to the HOF posthumously?

9:01
Paul Swydan: I suppose there’s always a chance, though I’m not holding my breath.

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Colorado’s Canny Outfield Platoon

This spring, the Colorado Rockies made the unusual decision to break camp with six outfielders. If any roster had the right personnel to overload in the outfield, it was the Rockies. Infielders Josh Rutledge, DJ LeMahieu and Charlie Culberson have plenty of utility (Rutledge did not make the club out of spring training). Backup catcher Jordan Pacheco can also play the infield corners, as can Michael Cuddyer. With Justin Morneau an uncertainty entering the season, the club probably planned on using Cuddyer at first base with some regularity. Additionally, Cuddyer, Morneau and Carlos Gonzalez can be considered injury risks. IN FACT, Cuddyer is already on the disabled list.

So we’ve covered why the Rockies could carry six outfielders: utility. But why did they want to carry them?

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The Brewers’ Amazing and Worrisome Bullpen

As we creep up on the beginning of May, the Milwaukee Brewers have the best record in baseball. At 19-7, they’ve thrust themselves squarely into playoff contention, even if the pre-season projections mostly saw them as a third wheel in a difficult division; their early success combined with the struggles of their direct competition have opened the door for the Brewers to make a real run at the postseason. As Jeff noted two weeks ago, it doesn’t even matter all that much that our projections still aren’t that bullish on their future performance, because the cushion they’ve created with a strong first month of the season gives them plenty of room to regress and still be in contention.

Which is a good thing, because there’s almost certainly some pretty harsh regression coming the Brewers direction; one of the core foundations of their strong start has been a remarkable performance from their bullpen.

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The Most Improved Hitters Thus Far by Projected WAR

Last week in these pages, the author considered the most improved pitchers by projected WAR. What follows is a very similar thing, except for hitters. As noted in that first post, there are multiple ways to perform such an exercise. As in the case of that first post, I’ve chosen here to (first) calculate the average of Steamer and ZiPS’ preseason WAR projections for each player and then (second) find the difference between that figure and the average updated WAR projection. As with last week, I’ve scaled all ZiPS projections to FanGraphs’ depth-chart plate-appearance projections.

What follows are the five hitters whose end-of-season WAR projections have most improved since the beginning of the season. Projection denotes a composite Steamer and ZiPS projection. PRE denotes the player’s preseason projection; UPD, the updated projection. All figures are current as of some time in the middle of the night between Tuesday and Wednesday.

5. Mike Trout, OF, Los Angeles AL (Profile)
Projection (PRE): 663 PA, .303/.402/.529, 160 wRC+, 50 Off, 5 Def, 8.6 WAR
Projection (UPD): 685 PA, .307/.399/.542, 164 wRC+, 54 Off, 14 Def, 10.1 WAR

Notes
There are certain elements of Mike Trout’s first 100-plus plate appearances that aren’t ideal. His walk rate, for example, is nearly just half of what it was in 2013; his strikeout rate, about 50% higher. The likely explanation for both trends: Trout has made less contact thus far than in previous seasons. If certain mild concerns exist with regard to the process, less can be said about the product. Both case and point: Trout, who has led the major leagues in WAR over each of the past two seasons, is doing that same exact thing again through the first month of this one. Incredibly, after having received the highest projected WAR figures from both Steamer and ZiPS before the season, Trout has somehow managed to exceed expectations.

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Jeff Sullivan FanGraphs Chat — 4/29/14

9:07
Jeff Sullivan: Hey guys. I’m pretty badly under the weather, so I’m probably not going to be on the ball with regard to a lot of baseball questions.

9:07
Jeff Sullivan: So let’s deal with some baseball questions.

9:07
Comment From Jeff
83-79 a plausible record for the Mets?

9:08
Jeff Sullivan: Unlikely but plausible, especially if they start to get more aggressive with promotions later on

9:08
Comment From TKDC
Over/Under 25 strikeouts in Braves/Marlins game tonight?

9:08
Jeff Sullivan: I’m going to be a lil bitch and say under

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The Magic of Playable Speed

Chances are that if you are fortunate enough to watch baseball games with a hardcore fan of an older generation, you hear complaints about the way baseball is played today compared to the “good old days”. Even with the draining of offense from the game over the past decade for obvious reasons, it does seem that almost every lineup is littered with power-focused, swing-and-miss types. One-run strategies are utilized less often, and speed seems to be less emphasized than in the past. Some of this is due to the game’s natural evolution, and a result of the encroachment of analysis into the game’s fabric.

An honest analyst with some scouting chops must realize that speed and athleticism are often at the core of the aspects of the game that are hardest to objectively measure, among them defense and baserunning. How much of the offensive and defensive impact of some of today’s fastest players is attributable to their speed? In light of some of the resulting answers to that questions, what is the Reds’ chance of success with their current Billy Hamilton experiment? Let’s use some batted-ball data to make some conclusions. Read the rest of this entry »


NERD Game Scores for Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Devised originally in response to a challenge issued by viscount of the internet Rob Neyer, and expanded at the request of nobody, NERD scores represent an attempt to summarize in one number (and on a scale of 0-10) the likely aesthetic appeal or watchability, for the learned fan, of a player or team or game. Read more about the components of and formulae for NERD scores here.

***

Most Highly Rated Game
Atlanta at Miami | 19:10 ET
Alex Wood (35.0 IP, 67 xFIP-, 0.7 WAR) faces Jose Fernandez (31.2 IP, 44 xFIP-, 1.2 WAR) in a rematch of last Tuesday’s entirely splendid contest featuring these same exact pitchers (box). After playing in front of what is arguably the majors’ second-best center-field camera last Tuesday, the clubs — which meet in Miami this time — once again play in front of arguably the majors’ second-best center-field camera.

Readers’ Preferred Broadcast: Atlanta Radio.

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Prospect Watch: Mondesi, Ravelo, and Simmons

Each weekday during the minor-league season, FanGraphs is providing a status update on multiple rookie-eligible players. Note that Age denotes the relevant prospect’s baseball age (i.e. as of July 1st of the current year); Top-15, the prospect’s place on Marc Hulet’s preseason organizational list; and Top-100, that same prospect’s rank on Hulet’s overall top-100 list.

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Raul Mondesi, SS, Kansas City Royals (Profile)
Level: High-A   Age: 18   Top-15: 3rd   Top-100: 46th
Line: 89 PA, .304/.382/.430, 1 HR, 9 BB, 23 K

Summary
One of the game’s top shortstop prospect is holding his own against much older players.

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The Temporary Solution to Miguel Cabrera

During their time together, much was written about Miguel Cabrera, Prince Fielder, and the idea of lineup protection. In theory, by having Fielder right behind him, Cabrera would get more hittable pitches and hittable fastballs. Certainly, Cabrera’s offensive game didn’t suffer, and when Fielder went away, much more was written about the idea of losing lineup protection. Would Cabrera be pitched around, with an inferior threat behind him? In the very early going in 2014, there were half-humorous observations that Cabrera’s rate of pitches in the strike zone actually went up. That is, by losing his protection, Cabrera wound up in a better spot, and therefore the idea of protection is nonsense.

But there’s something interesting there. Pitch patterns, given a good-enough sample, can reveal something about opposing scouting reports. If Cabrera had seen more strikes with Fielder on deck, perhaps that would suggest that Fielder was serving as protection. Josh Hamilton doesn’t get a lot of pitches in the strike zone, because teams know to make him chase. Marco Scutaro gets a lot of pitches in the strike zone, because teams know not to be too afraid. What if — what if — teams pitched to Miguel Cabrera as if they weren’t that afraid of him? That would be crazy, right? Wouldn’t that be crazy?

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Effectively Wild Episode 438: Bryce Harper, Hustle, and Health

Ben and Sam discuss Bryce Harper’s latest injury and their thoughts on when hustle becomes counterproductive.