Archive for January, 2015

The Best of FanGraphs: January 26 – January 30, 2015

Each week, we publish north of 100 posts on our various blogs. With this post, we hope to highlight 10 to 15 of them. You can read more on it here. The links below are color coded — green for FanGraphs, brown for RotoGraphs, dark red for The Hardball Times, orange for TechGraphs and blue for Community Research.
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OFAC Clarifies Stance: MLB Is Only Hurdle for Cubans

When I wrote on Monday about the changing policies and confusion surrounding MLB, OFAC, U.S.-Cuba relations and the unblocking process for Cuban ballplayers, this situation seemed like a muddled mess. After my first article on the topic, Yahoo’s Jeff Passan and Baseball America’s Ben Badler added further details throughout the week and reported statements from OFAC and MLB as both sides were looking to clarify their stances. There was some urgency to conclude the negative PR whirlwind, with high-ranking MLB officials upset about not being able to sign three notable Cuban players left in limbo by this delay, with the total value of their potential contracts easily in excess of $100 million.

I was first turned onto this story by Cuban phenom Yoan Moncada’s agent David Hastings, who has taken some flack in the industry for being a first-time agent and representing such a high profile player, but it appears this situation has shaken out after a one week long media cycle. OFAC sent Hastings a letter within the last hour further clarifying their stance from previous statements earlier this week. According to Hastings, the letter stated that OFAC will not grant a specific license to Cuban nationals who are already unblocked via the general license. This applies to Moncada and the other two notable Cuban nationals waiting to be unblocked, second basemen Hector Olivera and Andy Ibanez.

OFAC’s earlier statements left an opening that they could be held responsible for the delay, as they said granting both general and specific licenses to certain Cubans would be handled on a “case-by-case basis.” This suggested that OFAC could hand out the specific license and end the delay by meeting MLB’s standard for unblocking a player. At the same time, OFAC said only the general license is necessary to clear a Cuban national to sign with a team, but MLB asked for more from the Cuban players, an MLB-only policy that changed at some point in the last few years.

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FanGraphs Audio: Dayn Perry Remembers

Episode 525
Dayn Perry is a contributor to CBS Sports’ Eye on Baseball and the author of three books — one of them not very miserable. He’s also the moribund guest on this edition of FanGraphs Audio.

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 1 hr 7 min play time.)

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Which MLB Teams are Blazing New Trails in Scouting?

Last time, I looked at which MLB teams do and don’t pursue players born in the five most prolific non-draft-eligible countries (the Dominican Republic, Venezuela, Cuba, Mexico, and Japan). Part of the goal there was to identify which of the 30 MLB organizations are the most aggressive and/or progressive in terms of finding the best talent they possibly can o’er the entire globe.

Of course, looking at how teams approach well-established springs of baseball talent like the Dominican is hardly the only way to identify whether or not a team is looking for new and novel opportunities outside of the Nifty Fifty. In the past twenty or so years, there are five other countries who — while they have not produced a similar total number of MLB players as the aforementioned Established Five — are producing more and more MLB-caliber players as time goes on: Australia, Colombia, Curacao, South Korea, and Taiwan. Teams who sign the most players from these locales are, at the very least, in admirable pursuit of new and unexpected sources of that rare gem: an MLB-caliber player.

This time I will only be tallying which team signed which player as an international free agents — I will not be tallying other MLB teams that each player eventually played for during their careers stateside. Players who were born in these countries but who were eventually drafted in the rookie draft are excluded from the count. I used a lot of help from Baseball Reference and Baseball Almanac. Here we go!

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The Link Between MLB Teams and Specific Countries

At the Cincinnati Enquirer, C. Trent Rosencrans notes that, after Ichiro Suzuki plays his first game in a Miami Marlins uniform, the Reds will be the only of the 30 MLB teams to never employ a player born in Japan at the major-league level. (Tip of the hat to MLBTradeRumors.)

Here is a quote that Rosencrans shares from Reds General Manager Walt Jocketty:

We do have some people who do cross-checking, we don’t have a scout in Japan. It’s too costly.

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On the “Craziness” of a Four Pitcher Limit

Yesterday, Dave put forward a proposal about how Major League Baseball could possibly improve its pace of play and run scoring in one fell swoop: limit the number of pitchers allowed per game to four. He couched it by saying that it was an admittedly crazy idea. But after compiling a grid of how many pitchers are used per game, I’m not so sure that it is.

What I wanted to see is a grid of how each team used its pitchers. How many games with two pitchers, three pitchers, etc. Thankfully, Baseball-Reference’s pitching game logs are very accommodating in this regard. In order to get a representative sample, I scrubbed out extra inning games, as well as games that were shortened for some reason (most likely rain). That leaves just the games where the pitchers threw eight to nine innings. Now, there’s certainly a chance that there was some weird game that was stopped for rain after eight innings, but barring that, this should be a sample of all the “regulation” games from last season. No team had fewer than 141 of these games, and no team had more than 154. Most of the games removed were extra-inning games, there were just a handful of shortened games.

Enough talk, let’s get to the grid:

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Should Kevin Gausman and James Paxton Throw More High Fastballs?

Understand that I’m not a pitching coach. I’ve never played one on TV, and if I were asked to serve as one for an actual team, I’d be wildly out of my element. Pitching is complicated, and pitchers in the major leagues are impossibly good, and pitchers in the major leagues also have reasons for doing what they do however they do it. I don’t know if what follows is good advice for Kevin Gausman and James Paxton, or garbage. It’s just, there’s at least enough here that we can have a conversation.

Thursday, I wrote about the Rays and collecting and encouraging high fastballs. I’m interested in this high-fastball thing — it’s an intuitively sensible way to attack hitters who are increasingly prepared to hit down low. The Rays have talked about this idea. The Astros have talked about this idea. Brandon McCarthy has talked about this idea, during an interview for the Hardball Times Annual. It’s a trend, seemingly, to counter a different trend. But it’s worth noting, not just any fastball should be thrown high. You need to have some command, and you need to be able to generate the right kind of spin. You want to have a fastball — a four-seamer — with a high PITCHf/x vertical-movement reading. That’s not the way pitchers themselves think about it, but that’s how we can understand it.

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Kiley McDaniel Prospects Chat – 1/30/15

12:08
Kiley McDaniel: I have the least snappy intros in the prospect chat game and I’m gonna keep it that way

12:08
Comment From Total Clown
Hey Kiley, is that prospect you just wrote about legit?

12:08
Comment From Pale Hose
Is Carson Cistulli legit?

12:08
Comment From RotoLando
Hell yeah, it’s time for the legittest chat on the internet

12:08
Kiley McDaniel: Good to see you guys have your game face on

12:09
Comment From CoolWinnebago
Keith Law’s (Sorry!) top 100. What are your feelings on it? Im no expert but parts of it just seem nonsensical to me. Ex. Joe Ross at #63 and Matt Wisler omitted. Judging from your org write ups your list will have many disagreements with his.
Also, remind me when your list is coming out.

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Estimating ERA: A Simulated Approach

ERA, probably the single most cited reference for evaluating the performance of a pitcher, comes with a lot of problems. Neil does a good job outlining why in this FanGraphs Library entry. Over the last decade, plenty of research has cast a light on the variables within ERA that often have very little to do with the pitcher himself.

But what is the best way to use fielding-independent stats to estimate ERA? FIP is probably the most popular metric of this ilk, using only strikeouts, walks, hit batters, and home runs to create a linear equation that can be scaled to look like an expected ERA. Then there’s xFIP, which is based off the idea that pitchers have very little control over their HR/FB rate; to account for this, it estimates the amount of home runs that a pitcher should have allowed by multiplying their fly balls allowed by the league average HR/FB rate.

For many people, however, these are too simple. FIP more or less ignores all balls in play completely; xFIP treats all fly balls equally. Neither one correctly accounts for the effects that any ball in play can have; we know that the wOBA on line drives is much higher than the wOBA on pop ups, but we don’t see that reflected in many ERA estimators. The estimators we use also are fully linear, and may break down at the extreme ends; FIP tells us that a pitcher who strikes out every batter should have an ERA around -5.70, which is, well you know, not going to happen.

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2015 ZiPS Projections – Baltimore Orioles

After having typically appeared in the very hallowed pages of Baseball Think Factory, Dan Szymborski’s ZiPS projections have been released at FanGraphs the past couple years. The exercise continues this offseason. Below are the projections for the Baltimore Orioles. Szymborski can be found at ESPN and on Twitter at @DSzymborski.

Other Projections: Arizona / Atlanta / Baltimore / Boston / Chicago AL / Chicago NL / Cleveland / Colorado / Detroit / Houston / Los Angeles AL / Los Angeles NL / Miami / Milwaukee / Minnesota / New York NL / Oakland / San Diego / San Francisco / St. Louis / Seattle / Tampa Bay / Washington.

Batters
Manny Machado returned in May after completing rehab on his horribly ruptured left-knee ligament and the surgery to repair it. His slash stats were poor during that first month back (.220/.271/.284 in 119 PA), but by the beginning of August he possessed roughly the same park-adjusted offensive mark he’d recorded the season before (111 wRC+, as opposed to 102 wRC+ in 2013). His 2014 campaign ended in August when we underwent surgery to repair a partially torn ligament in his other knee. ZiPS doesn’t specifically “know” about the injuries — just the playing time lost to them. In any case, Machado is expected to replicate his slightly above-average batting line once again — with a little bit more in the way of isolated power than either of the past two seasons.

The breakout age-31 season isn’t a particularly common occurrence in baseball, but that’s what Steve Pearce produced in 2014, recording a 161 wRC+ and 4.9 WAR in 383 plate appearances. Characteristically, ZiPS is conservative. After hitting homers at a rate of 33 per 600 plate appearances, Pearce is projected for 26 every 600 plate appearances in 2015 — plus also a markedly more average defensive figure.

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FG on Fox: Why Starling Marte Might Be an MVP Candidate

Starling Marte was already one of the kings of hidden value. Metrics like Wins Above Replacement (WAR) have loved him, despite his average power, and despite his ugly ratios of strikeouts to walks. One contributing factor has been that he’s played half the time in an extremely pitcher-friendly ballpark, but this goes well beyond that. Marte has done a little bit of everything.

Forcing mistakes? Last season, Marte reached base 14 times on defensive errors. No one else in baseball exceeded 12. It’s an open question as to whether forcing errors is any kind of sustainable skill, but it makes sense that Marte puts pressure on the defense with his speed. Right there, you’ve got 14 outs that turned into non-outs. That’s one example of hidden value.

And while Marte has drawn just 66 walks as a big-leaguer, he’s also reached base another 44 times on hit-by-pitches. No one wants to be hit by a pitch, and Marte has been hurt by getting drilled, but reaching base is valuable, and Marte has this additional means. Over the last two years, Marte is the league leader.

Then there’s the matter of baserunning. Marte’s been caught stealing a whole bunch of times, but he’s also been successful a whole bunch of other times, and baserunning is about more than just stealing anyhow. It’s also about awareness, about being able to take extra bases when opportunities present themselves, and overall, the last two years, Marte has been worth about 13 runs more than average with his legs. That ranks him sixth, between Elvis Andrus and Mike Trout.

Of course, there’s also the defense. Marte is a corner outfielder who’s good enough to be a center fielder. By one metric — UZR — Marte has been worth almost 20 runs more than the average left fielder. By Defensive Runs Saved, he comes in at double that. Nobody questions that Marte is an outstanding defender, covering a lot of ground in what’s a relatively expansive section of the PNC outfield.

With everything he’s done, Marte has demonstrated that he’s a quality player, and a definite building block. He’s been one of the better players in the National League, and he’s been a huge reason behind the Pirates’ return to relevance. All that’s been missing have been a few developments within the box. Except, perhaps, those developments might’ve already taken place.

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Effectively Wild Episode 606: The Baseball-to-Cricket Conversion

Ben and Sam talk to international baseball and cricket coach Julien Fountain about his efforts to turn marginalized minor leaguers into well-compensated cricketers.


The Rays’ Kind of Fastball

A couple weeks ago, the Rays signed Everett Teaford to a minor-league contract. Even if you noticed it, you forgot it, because people tend to forget all these minor-league acquisitions, and if you remember Teaford for anything, it’s not for being good. After being not good for the Royals, Teaford spent last year in Korea, where he had a league-average ERA. I don’t know if he changed something; I don’t know if the Rays saw something. But I know I can look at Teaford’s PITCHf/x page on Brooks Baseball, and he’s flashed something of a live heater. The vertical-movement column shows a pitch’s movement relative to a pitch thrown with no spin. The league-average four-seamer comes in just shy of 9 inches. Teaford’s been a little north of 10. That’s where you start talking about rise.

And when you talk about rising fastballs, you’re talking about something of great interest to Tampa Bay. They don’t actually rise, of course — they just don’t sink as much as normal fastballs. And while Teaford might not throw a single pitch for the Rays in the regular season, his fastball, at least, looks like it could fit in. The Rays have something going on, and while they’re not the only team with the idea, they seem like the most aggressive in the implementation.

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Last Year’s Minor-League WAR Leaders, If That Existed

Even for those among us who, for whatever reason, derive no particular spiritual nourishment from the Judeo-Christian tradition, it’s difficult to ignore the charms and actual, real wisdom provided by the Book of Ecclesiastes from the Old Testament. The author of that particular text is noteworthy both for his concision and his clear-eyed observations, announcing at the beginning of the text (for example), “Meaningless! Meaningless!… Everything is meaningless” and also noting that “All things are wearisome.” Rarely has truth been uttered more truthfully.

It’s also the first chapter of that Book within which the author proclaims, “What has been done will be done again; / there is nothing new under the sun.” For anyone who has ever bothered to produce an idea inside his or her own dumb head, this sentiment resonates loudly. For it’s just as soon as one has completed the manufacture of an idea, that said idea is accompanied by a gnawing sensation — namely that someone else, in some other place, has probably manufactured that idea before.

This happens to me a lot. For example, I recently had the pleasure of discovering that two of my favorite words, when combined together, form an elegant portmanteau to describe that class of dining establishment — Hooters, Tilted Kilt, etc. — known for employing scantily clad waitresses to compensate for the fact that the cuisine is poor and life is terrible. Upon further examination, however, I learned not only that the term breastaurant is already in wide use, but that it has, in fact, been registered as a trademark by a third such dining establishment (something called Bikinis Sports Bar & Grill) with the United States Patent and Trademark Office.

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Draft Video Breakdown: Ian Happ

OnDeckDigital is a new company run by former big league pitcher Randy Flores that films, logs and stores video on their website of multiple angles from some of the top amateur baseball games around the country. They have an exclusive contract to video the prestigious Cape Cod League and have expanded into colleges, high schools and youth events as well. Numerous MLB teams already subscribe to their service and we wanted to show FanGraphs readers what the video and information from OnDeckDigital can do.

I chose arguably the top draft-eligible hitting prospect from the Cape, OnDeckDigital made a highlight reel with their video from the Cape and Matt Rose and I give some analysis for context to what you’re seeing. All of their video is HD, available on mobile devices and is easily sharable to social media. You can learn more at OnDeckDigital.com

Ian Happ, 2B, Cincinnati (NCAA) & Harwich (Cape Cod League)
6’0/205, B/R, Draft Day Age: 20.8, Draft Ranking: 13th

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The Top-Five Atlanta Prospects by Projected WAR

Earlier today, Kiley McDaniel published his consummately researched and demonstrably authoritative prospect list for the Atlanta Baseball Club. What follows is a different exercise than that, one much smaller in scope and designed to identify not Atlanta’s top overall prospects but rather the rookie-eligible players in the Atlanta system who are most ready to produce wins at the major-league level in 2015 (regardless of whether they’re likely to receive the opportunity to do so). No attempt has been made, in other words, to account for future value.

Below are the top-five prospects in the Atlanta system by projected WAR. To assemble this brief list, what I’ve done is to locate the Steamer 600 projections for all the prospects to whom McDaniel assessed a Future Value grade of 40 or greater. Hitters’ numbers are normalized to 550 plate appearances; starting pitchers’, to 150 innings — i.e. the playing-time thresholds at which a league-average player would produce a 2.0 WAR. Catcher projections are prorated to 415 plate appearances to account for their reduced playing time.

Note that, in many cases, defensive value has been calculated entirely by positional adjustment based on the relevant player’s minor-league defensive starts — which is to say, there has been no attempt to account for the runs a player is likely to save in the field. As a result, players with an impressive offensive profile relative to their position are sometimes perhaps overvalued — that is, in such cases where their actual defensive skills are sub-par.

5. Jace Peterson, 2B (Profile)

PA AVG OBP SLG wRC+ WAR
550 .230 .297 .314 74 0.1

Two other players besides Peterson — both outfielder Zoilo Almonte and right-handed reliever Juan Jaime — are projected by Steamer to produce about 0.1 wins for Atlanta, as well. Composing whole paragraph for all three of that group, however, would seem to constitute an example of Overenthusiasm in Action. In any case, among the triumvirate, Peterson appears to have the greatest likelihood of finding a half-regular role with the parent club. Despite last season’s vigorously unsuccessful cameo with the Padres (58 PA, -27 wRC+, -0.6 WAR), Peterson nonetheless continued to exhibit above-average contact skills in the high minors — in addition, that, to occupying a place along the more challenging end of the defensive spectrum.

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Eno Sarris Baseball Chat — 1/29/15

11:35
Eno Sarris: I’ll be here shortly shorty

11:41
Eno Sarris: Let’s start off mellow

11:41
{“author”:”Billy Valds”}:

12:00
Comment From Carl
You can target one player in a trade — are you going after Paul Goldschmidt (8th round keeper) or Anthony Rizzo (20th round)?

12:01
Eno Sarris: Give me Rizzo and the 12 rounds!

12:02
Comment From Miketron
How intrigued are you with Travis Snider now that he is in Baltimore?

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An (Admittedly Crazy) Rule Change Proposal

Earlier in the week, Rob Manfred laid out some ideas that the sport could consider to both increase run scoring and improve the pace of play. While those seem like competing priorities, there is some evidence that both can be obtained simultaneously, though it seems unlikely that either restricting the shift or implementing a pitch clock would move the game in both directions. Instead, if MLB wants to make changes that serve both interests, they should probably pick a different approach.

If there’s been one significant change to the game over the last 30 years that has both extended the amount of standing-around-doing-nothing time during games and tipped the balance in favor of run prevention, it has been the expansion of the modern-day bullpen. Jonah Keri and Neil Paine covered this well in a piece at FiveThirtyEight last August, and because I like the graph they used in their piece, I’m going to steal it and embed it below.

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Pre-Spring Divisional Outlook: NL Central

Periodically over the next few weeks, I’m going to take an early look at the six divisions in a slightly unorthodox manner. Utilizing batted ball data, we’ll go back over the 2014 season and attempt to calculate each club’s true talent level. Making adjustments for teams’ offensive and defensive K and BB rates and team defense, we’ll calculate each team’s true talent 2014 won-lost record. Then, we’ll take a look at the current Steamer projections for 2015, evaluate key player comings and goings, and determine whether clubs are constructed to be able to handle the inevitable pitfalls along the way that could render such projections irrelevant. The second installment of this series features the NL Central. Read the rest of this entry »


How Good of a Weapon Did Drew Hutchison Find?

Have I mentioned lately how helpful the chats can be when it comes to finding things to write about? You guys don’t know how valuable you are. Dozens upon dozens of questions, if not hundreds upon hundreds, and out of those questions, longer posts can occasionally germinate. This is one of them! Because I’ve noticed a recurring kind of question about Drew Hutchison, and how much he might be capable of in 2015.

Pulling an example, from earlier January:

Comment From BJ Birdie
Drew Hutchison had a 26% k rate and 7% walk rate in second half of 2014 after changing his slider (slower, more vertical movement), what do you think his chances of a major break out are in 2015?

Dave Cameron: I think the research has shown that trying to use second half performance to predict future breakouts is a fool’s errand.

Dave’s right, of course. The smart thing to do is to always bet against a breakout, as foretold by an encouraging second half. But that’s also boring, and one figures encouraging second halves can sometimes mean something for the season to come. We’re all just here to analyze, right? So, let’s do some analysis. What on earth was the deal with Drew Hutchison’s slider?

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