Archive for May, 2015

NERD Game Scores for Sunday, May 31, 2015

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
Kansas City at Chicago NL | 14:20 ET
Ventura (54.1 IP, 94 xFIP-) vs. Wada (10.0 IP, 64 xFIP-)
This past Wednesday in the electronic pages, contributor Jeff Zimmerman examined the relationship between pitcher velocity and a number of batted-ball types. One revelation from that post: that, as velocity declines, a pitcher is likely to concede more home runs per batted ball. Or, rendered into the form of the graph, this:

The discovery is both (a) not shocking but also (b) of some assistance to understanding the relationship between the gap (whether positive or negative) which certain pitchers exhibit between their expected FIP (xFIP) and ERA numbers. While xFIP relies on the supposition that home-run allowance will regress to a league-average rate, what Zimmerman’s work suggests is that pitchers who feature higher than average fastball velocities are likely to outperform their xFIPs; those who feature lower than average velocities, to underperform them. Of some relevance, is this, to Cubs starter Tsuyoshi Wada, who (a) is a candidate to produce impressive fielding-independent numbers, but also (b) sits at only about 89 mph.

Readers’ Preferred Broadcast: Chicago NL Television.

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Sunday Notes: Featherston, Bass, Knucklers & Eddy R

Financially, being on the Angels roster is a plus for Taylor Featherston. The major league minimum is $507,500 and he’d be making a fraction of that down on the farm. Developmentally, it’s a different story. Being in Anaheim is a minus for the 25-year-old infielder.

Featherston is languishing on the end of Mike Scioscia’s bench. He has just 31 plate appearances on the season. That’s what happens when you can’t be sent to the minors without first passing through waivers and being offered back to your old club. A fifth round pick by the Rockies in 2011, the former TCU Horned Frog was claimed by the Cubs in last December’s Rule 5 draft and subsequently swapped to the Angels for cash considerations.

“For 30 minutes I thought I was going to be a Cub,” said Featherston, who had 53 extra-base hits last year for Colorado’s Double-A afilliate. “My phone was blowing up. I was working out, and my trainer was yelling at me to put it down and focus on my lift. I had hundreds of texts and calls saying, ‘Congratulations, Chicago.’ The next thing I know, the script was flipped and I was in LA. It’s been a fun ride.”

It’s also been an exercise in frustration. Featherston has but a lone base knock in 27 at bats. It’s easy to picture him removing splinters from his backside when Scioscia calls his name. To his credit, he’s taking a glass-is-half-full approach. Read the rest of this entry »


NERD Game Scores: Carlos Frias Against a Sea of Troubles

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
Los Angeles NL at St. Louis | 19:15 ET
Frias (28.2 IP, 102 xFIP-) vs. Wacha (57.2 IP, 107 xFIP-)
Dodgers right-hander Carlos Frias suffered the slings and arrows less of outrageous fortune during his most recent start and more of the San Diego Padres batsmen (box). Facing 25 hitters, Frias recorded zero strikeouts, conceded two walks, and allowed 10 runs on 12 hits. One, in his most generous mood, might note that the Padres recorded hits on nearly half their balls in play against Frias. That same one, however, would find it difficult to ignore how Frias exhibited little feel for his release point over the duration of four mostly unpleasant innings. Despite those innings, Frias still owns slightly above-average fielding-independent numbers as a starter — plus also a swinging-strike rate and average fastball velocity that place him roughly 1.0 and 1.5 standard deviations, respectively, above the starting-pitcher mean.

Readers’ Preferred Broadcast: St. Louis Radio.

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The Best of FanGraphs: May 25-29, 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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FanGraphs Audio: Craig Edwards’ Inaugural Appearance

Episode 565
Craig Edwards has contributed and/or still contributes to SB Nation Cardinals blog Viva El Birdos and Yankees blog Pinstripe Alley. He now definitely contributes every day to FanGraphs. He makes his inaugural appearance here on 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 54 min play time.)

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Jeff Hoffman Surprisingly Polished in Return from Surgery

The Blue Jays’ farm got stronger last week, as last summer’s first-round pick, right-hander Jeff Hoffman, made his pro debut for High-A Dunedin. Hoffman was in the mix to go #1 overall last year until he underwent Tommy John surgery just before the draft and slid to ninth overall. The 6-foot-4 righty has the size and athleticism to support his frontline starter stuff, which was already back in his first regular season after surgery.

Fastball – 65/75

Hoffman came out establishing his fastball and showed his premium arm speed, sitting 95-98 and touching 99 mph early on. The pitch had life up in the zone and, when located down, the heater had good run and sink. It’s a heavy pitch that has the ability to swallow up opposing hitters’ barrels. In the second inning, Hoffman was leaving the pitch up and out over the plate, causing it straighten out. He was hit hard and loud that inning, but that was the only bump in the road.

Hoffman allowed four runs on four hits that inning, but put up zeros in the other four innings, scattering another four hits. He also showed the ability to hold his premium velocity while working out of the stretch, sitting 93-97 mph. The fastball command was better than I anticipated, as well. Even though he was getting squeezed a bit, Hoffman was regularly working the fastball to both corners and moving it up and down in the zone. Fastball command is usually one of the last traits to return after an injury like his, so it’s an encouraging sign to see glimpses of it this early.

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Cal Poly Pomona’s Cody Ponce Still in Play for First Round

Cody Ponce entered the spring as a potential first-round pick following a breakout summer in the Cape Cod League. That’s still the case now just two weeks before the draft, and I saw why during his Sunday start against Tampa in the Division II World Series, which was played at USA Baseball’s National Training Complex in Cary, N.C.

In the Cape, the Cal Poly Pomona right-hander sat 92-94 mph, touching 97, and combined his fastball with a hard cutter, curveball and changeup. That’s the same four-pitch mix he’s working with now, although the stuff wasn’t as sharp in my look compared to the reports from the summer. Still, he’s logged 62.1 innings this spring on his way to a 1.44 ERA with 54 hits allowed, 14 walks and 67 strikeouts so far this season, albeit against inferior competition.

At no point over the last 10 years has Cal Poly Ponoma produced a player that was drafted inside of the top-10 rounds. Ponce, who ranks No. 23 on Kiley’s latest draft board, will certainly end that streak and likely become the program’s highest-drafted player since 1983, when the Dodgers selected left-hander Mike Munoz in the third round.

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Noah Syndergaard’s Big Day and the Six-Man Rotation

On Wednesday, Noah Syndergaard had a day he is likely to hold onto for quite some time. The 22-year-old Mets rookie pitched into the eighth inning, struck out six players, didn’t walk a single batter, allow an extra base hit, or allow a single run to cross the plate while he was on the mound. It was an impressive outing, and Syndergaard’s first four starts have gone well, also. To wit: the right-hander has averaged just over six innings per outing with 22 strikeouts against five walks, and is currently sporting a 2.55 ERA and equally impressive 2.60 FIP. Big things are expected of Syndergaard as the Mets try to make the most out of potential contention this year while simultaneously limiting the number of innings he pitches to save his arm both for October and also the years to come. Determining how to keep pitchers healthy can be challenging, especially when Syndergaard has outings like he did against the Phillies.

Syndgergaard’s last start against the Phillies was impressive because of fastballs like this:

Curves like this:

The start will be most memorable, however, because of this:
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JABO: The Pirates’ Terrific Budget Offseason

With Thursday’s 11-5 drubbing of the Padres, the Pirates have won seven straight games. It’s a well-timed winning streak, on the heels of what were previously mounting concerns. And the Pirates are very much in the thick of it, if you can say there’s even a thick of anything when it still reads “May” on the calendar.

The Pirates are 25-22. Not bad. Also potentially a bit misleading. Based on their runs scored and allowed, their record should be better than that. Based on their expected runs scored and allowed, their record should be better than that. I know that’s a weird thing to think about, since runs are runs and wins are wins, but trust me that wins and losses aren’t the only indicators of team performance and ability. We can also say this: at FanGraphs, the rest of the way, we have the Pirates projected as a top-five team.

Which is all to say, hey! The Pirates are pretty good. Not only have they been pretty good, it looks like they ought to remain pretty good, especially now that Andrew McCutchen has rediscovered his swing. Now, these days, times are different. Suddenly, it’s not strange to think of the Pirates as being a good team. But there was some concern here because between 2014 and 2015, the Pirates lost Russell Martin to free agency. They didn’t want to; he just got too expensive. Martin was one of the team’s best players. To say nothing of other guys they also lost, including Edinson Volquez, Ike Davis and Travis Snider. Martin was certain to be difficult to replace, and the Pirates understood that from the start.

So how did the organization conduct itself over the winter, with a key piece leaving for $82 million in the other league? The Pirates are anything but a big-budget franchise, so they focused, as always, on efficiency. And while it’s been only two months — so no chapters are closed — it looks like the Pirates had themselves an excellent offseason. An offseason that cost them less than what the Blue Jays invested in a catcher.

Let’s run some of this down. I’ll highlight some individual acquisitions.

Read the rest at Just A Bit Outside.


Jeff Sullivan FanGraphs Chat — 5/29/15

9:14
Jeff Sullivan: Boy! It’s a chat

9:15
Jeff Sullivan: And you’re invited!

9:15
Comment From Trader Joe
Is Strasburg broken or a good buy low opportunity?

9:16
Jeff Sullivan: While I recognize this as a fantasy question, it’s also a real-baseball question, so I’ll let it slide. The stuff is there. There’s no clearly obvious indication of injury, and the Nationals do have some depth to use if they were more genuinely concerned. I think what we’re seeing is mechanical, and I think Strasburg straightens it out. Look for a far, far better second half

9:18
Comment From Jeff
A lot of people probably expected more out of Phil Hughes this year, just based off what he did last season. Safe to assume he won’t return to last years form? Ks are down, and HR/FB % has doubled from last year. Time to drop, and move on?

9:18
Jeff Sullivan: He is still doing the same thing in one way: he’s getting ahead in the count crazy often. He’s pounding the zone with strikes, like never before, save for 2014

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A Hypothetical Pitching All-Star Ballot

The All-Star Game ballot is no longer available in paper form. This comes to the chagrin of many, but probably didn’t really bother the vast majority of the baseball watching population. The paper ballot certainly had its limitations, and space was chief among them. There simply isn’t much room on the paper ballot, and often you had to squint to read the names, which is all the more difficult on a sunny day when you’re consuming some frosty beverages. Now that baseball has done away with the paper ballot though, it raises the following question:

Joe often comes up with good questions around MLB’s big events, and this was no exception. Given that there is no limit to how long the ballot can be online, and given how slick MLB’s online ballot actually is, there really doesn’t seem like much reason to keep pitchers off the ballot. For one thing, you’d be doing the managers a big favor, as the fans would be doing a lot of the work for them. There will still inevitably be pitchers who start on the Sunday before the game and are thus removed from the proceedings (side note: this bugs me when teams do this, though there really isn’t a good fix for it), not to mention normal injuires, so the managers won’t have their voting power completely stripped away. Still, this would alleviate some of their burden. There’s a chance that it could simply focus their pain on one or two decisions when crappy teams are involved and you need to pick an All-Star, any All-Star from said crappy team, but that seems like a risk worth taking to give fans more of a say.

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NERD Game Scores for Friday, May 29, 2015

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
Pittsburgh at San Diego | 22:10 ET
Liriano (53.2 IP, 80 xFIP-) vs. Shields (62.1 IP, 74 xFIP-)
Despite all his success in the majors over a decade-long career, San Diego right-hander James Shields has never produced a strikeout rate greater than 23.6% — which mark he recorded in 2012 while still with Tampa Bay. Last year, with Kansas City, he posted excellent numbers, both of the fielding-independent and also just normal run-prevention varieties. His 19.2% strikeout rate, however, was actually slightly below the major-league average figure. Over 10 starts and 62.1 innings this season, however, Shields has exhibited a different level of success in this regard. Regard, his current strikeout rate: 31.5%. Regard, his current swinging-strike rate, also: an unambiguously career-best mark of 15.0%. Among the possible explanations one is able to produce by means of brief and haphazard research: Shields’ curveball is generating an unprecedented rate of swings and misses — about 20 of them for every 100 curves thrown — and he’s utilizing the pitch more often.

Readers’ Preferred Broadcast: San Diego Television.

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The Can’t-Miss Prince Fielder

Numerous people have told me that the Grand Canyon is something I have to see in person. It’s supposedly one of those things in life that doesn’t disappoint and you can’t quite appreciated it until you’re standing there ready to be swallowed up by it’s rocky majesty. Having never traveled west of Dallas, I’m just assuming these people are telling the truth. Maybe the Grand Canyon is better on an HDTV.

I remember having that feeling as a kid traveling to Comerica Park to watch Mark McGwire come to town two years after he broke the single-season home-run record. My family bought tickets to a game during that series specifically to see a Mark McGwire dinger in person. He hit one in the three-game set and slashed .333/.385/.677 in 13 PA against my favorite team. The Tigers won two out of three. It was pretty much exactly what you wanted as a young baseball fan.

Under much different circumstances, I had a similar feeling when Prince Fielder made his Tigers debut at Comerica Park twelve years later. I have a very vivid memory of Fielder taking a huge cut in his first plate appearance that day. It was one of those swings you could hear from the upper deck and you knew if he had made contact that ball would have traveled a very long way. Power is impressive on television, but you can’t always appreciate just how quickly a ball leaves the playing field when you’re watching on your sofa.

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Effectively Wild Episode 686: Catcher Game-Calling, Now Slightly Less Mysterious

Ben and Sam talk to BP Director of Technology Harry Pavlidis about his recent discoveries about game-calling and our new understanding of what catchers are worth.


Which Teams are Most Changed Since Opening Day?

We’re conditioned to believe that it’s all about wins and losses. This is because, ultimately, it tends to all be about wins and losses. There’s the whole concept of “true talent”, but true talent isn’t what gets a team to the playoffs — teams get to the playoffs because they accumulate a sufficient number of wins, by whatever means possible. And so we put a lot of importance on team record. We figure the good teams are the teams with wins, and we figure the bad teams are the teams with losses. On some level it’s almost insane to think this could possibly be wrong.

But there are results, and there are evaluations. Right now, the Astros have the best record in the American League. Are the Astros the best team in the American League? According to wins and losses, the answer is inarguably yes. Go beyond wins and losses, though, and there’s a lot more to argue. Team record is only one indicator, and especially this early, it can be a misleading one. This all brings us to the question being addressed.

Which teams are the most changed since Opening Day? That is, which teams have gotten better, and which teams have gotten worse? If you just look at the standings, you’d say, for example, the Astros and Twins have clearly gotten better. The Red Sox have clearly gotten worse, and so have the A’s. But sometimes, results come down to fluky events. In a recent Twitter stream, MGL talked about how wins and losses can throw you off the scent. Let’s think about an alternative approach, that you’ve probably already figured out.

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Reassessing Ryan Howard’s Trade Value

You remember the offseason that was. It was the offseason in which the Phillies said outright they’d be better off without Ryan Howard. And it was the offseason that concluded with Ryan Howard still on the Phillies. Things could’ve been more awkward than they were, and a conversation did take place between the parties that tried to smooth things over. But, not very long ago, the Phillies had mentally moved on. The problem was that Howard hadn’t gone anywhere.

Then the season started, and Howard was bad. Maybe that wasn’t the biggest surprise. But the season continued, and now Howard’s been good. Isolating just the month of May, Howard’s posted a 156 wRC+, with familiar-looking power. Cole Hamels remarked that Howard looks like the old version of Ryan Howard, by which I mean the younger version of Ryan Howard, and Ruben Amaro has said before that the best thing Howard can do is hit. When Howard hits, then in theory, there are more options. So it’s worth wondering now: with Howard actually looking productive, what can we make of his trade value?

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Brandon Belt Looks to Break Out Again (Again)

Brandon Belt has shown this before: a 10- or 15-game stretch in which he looks to be the real slugging threat everyone talked about during his prospect days. He did it in August of 2013, and then he did it again to open the season in 2014; the latter seemed like it might be the one that would stick, but Belt broke his thumb on a hit by pitch in early May, suffered a concussion in July, and his season was effectively derailed.

In truth, we haven’t seen this sort of thing too often from San Francisco’s giraffe-like first baseman:

Belt_Coors_Homer

Sometimes a hitter just runs into one, and sometimes balls go very far at Coors Field. Regardless, his homer from last week was quite a punctuation mark — a mic drop, if you will — and it should at the very least force us to ask that familiar question concerning Belt: what can we really expect from him?

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Effectively Wild Episode 685: A Couple Complaints About Replays and Appeals

Ben and Sam banter about home runs and a Dan Jennings quote, then discuss some oddities of baseball’s replay and appeal rules.


The Fringe Five: Baseball’s Most Compelling Fringe Prospects

The Fringe Five is a weekly regular-season exercise, introduced a couple years ago by the present author, wherein that same author utilizes regressed stats, scouting reports, and also his own fallible intuition 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 the most current iteration of Kiley McDaniel’s top-200 prospect list and (b) not currently playing in the majors. Players appearing on any of McDaniel’s updated prospect lists or, otherwise, selected in the first round of the current season’s amateur draft will also be excluded from eligibility.

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2015 MLB Mock Draft v2.0

Now that enough information has accumulated in the last 20 days, it’s time to do another mock draft. I’ll do one more right before the draft, but the variations likely from what I have below hinge on (1) who Houston takes with the second pick, so I outlined the two paths and (2) players shuffling and deals being cut in the back half of the first round (with regard to which decisions teams are starting to meet now), so I gave a word bank of sorts at the end of this, of other players in the mix.

As I mention below, the #1 pick has gone from toss-up to well over 50% chance that it’ll be Dansby Swanson, but it appears that picks 2-9 will have the same players I have below, jumbled in some order. Since certain teams are only on a few of those players, the possible selections after that aren’t just random, but rather variations of the two scenarios centering around which player Houston takes. Roughly picks 10 to 20 are the same names jumbled, with less certainty about which teams prefer whom, then roughly 21 to 40 is about 30 players for 20 picks, with those left out either getting a little less money at later picks, or striking an overslot deal in a later round.

I’ve seen 23 of the 26 players in the projected first round and our prospect writers have seen the other three, so we have video of all the projected first rounders below from the FanGraphs YouTube page, with a quickly growing 2015 MLB Draft playlist of multi-year compilations of video from dozens of top couple round prospects, with many more coming.

*****

1. Diamondbacks – Dansby Swanson, SS, Vanderbilt

I wrote about the Diamondbacks casting a wide net 21 days ago, then projected them with Swanson the next day, but noting it was very unsettled. Now, estimates have the D’Backs about 80% likely to take Swanson here, as the industry consensus has pegged him as the top player in the class (he’ll overtake Rodgers in my forthcoming rankings), especially after a scorching finish to the season.

New York prep CF Garrett Whitley is seen as the most likely backup option here, and it would be for a drastically cut rate: Swanson would get a number that starts with 6, of the $8.6 million slot and Whitley would get around $3.5 million or so, as he’d likely slide into the teens if he doesn’t go here. Arizona’s northeast area scout owns a hitting facility and has instructed Whitley since he was in middle school, with some D’Backs officials comparing him to Mike Trout, which you hear more and more with big athletes in the Northeast these days.

Whitley allows the D’Backs to consider going cheap here and spread it to extra picks, but they have almost no control over who they get with those later picks (43 and 76) because, even with a verbal deal for $1 million more than any other team can offer, they can’t stop dozens of teams from taking the player they want anyway. See the notes below on who Arizona is targeting for those picks. Because of the uncertainty of where the savings would go and the belief that Arizona would prefer a college player and a hitter, Swanson looks like the pick here.

Georgia prep C Tyler Stephenson is an even less likely cut-rate prep option they’ve explored and college players RHP Dillon Tate, LHP Tyler Jay and SS Alex Bregman are all getting looks as well, but these five players add up to about a 20% chance of happening, at best.

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