Archive for December, 2015

The Yankees Bullpen Probably Won’t Be Any Better

Your immediate reaction to the Aroldis Chapman trade was right on. The Yankees have assembled something silly, a three-headed bullpen monster to rival any in the history of the game. On talent, Chapman, Andrew Miller, and Dellin Betances are three of the five or ten or so best relievers in baseball, and now if this plan comes together, one will hand the ball to the other, who will then in turn hand the ball to the other. While the 2016 Yankees aren’t going to feature a roster full of All-Stars, it’s going to feel like a pitching staff full of All-Stars in the most important moments, and that’s not going to be any fun for half the people watching.

There’s something important to be said, though. On talent, the 2016 Yankees bullpen should be better than the 2015 Yankees bullpen. Yet on performance, it’ll be hard for this coming year’s group to improve on the group that was. You’ve probably seen some of the numbers, like how the Yankees were 66-3 when leading after six, and 73-2 when leading after seven. Honestly, that probably already says enough, but we can make use of some of our own statistics. Whether you go superficial or analytical, last year’s bullpen almost always got the job done, when the job was important.

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FanGraphs Q&A and Sunday Notes: The Best Quotes of 2015

In 2015, I once again had the pleasure of interviewing hundreds of people within baseball. Many of their words were shared via the FanGraphs Q&A series. Others came courtesy of my Sunday Notes column. Here is a selection of the best quotes from this year’s conversations.


“We have to understand how a pitcher’s movements affect the ball, how the movement on the ball affects the hitter’s reaction, and how the batted-ball results average out over the course of a long season. To effectively map out this sequence of events, you need to have a thorough understanding of pitching mechanics, pitch data, and sabermetrics, because they all work together.” — Brian Bannister, Red Sox pitching analyst, January 2015

“You can take two guys with the exact same stuff and have them put up the exact same type of contact, but if the defense is one step slower, or they’re not shifted properly, that can be the difference between having an 4.01 ERA or a 3.01 ERA.” — Chris Archer, Rays pitcher, January 2015

“I would equate that to throwing my cutter… It’s the pitch I throw more than anything. The other pitches could be other songs, and the song I always come back to is my cutter.” — Evan Meek, journeyman reliever and guitar player, January 2015

“I was like a squirrel. I could turn left, turn right, go up, go down. Basically, everything that caught my eye, I was going straight for. I wasn’t ready – especially spiritually – for the journey that’s coming.” — Mark Hamburger, Twins minor league pitcher, January 2015 Read the rest of this entry »

Dodgers Give Iwakuma Money to Scott Kazmir

It seemed for a time like Scott Kazmir wanted to get himself signed before Christmas. That didn’t happen, but he’ll settle for getting signed before New Year’s — for three years, and $48 million, with the Dodgers being his newest employer. Kazmir joins what could be an all-left-handed starting rotation, not even counting the left-handed Julio Urias. No one would ever suggest you can fill a Zack Greinke-shaped hole with a Scott Kazmir-shaped plug, but there simply wasn’t another Greinke to be had, and Kazmir makes this group better than it could have been.

This is, what, a Tier-2-level transaction? Maybe even Tier 3. I’m not sure because I just invented the scale. But with a move like this, there generally isn’t all that much to be said in terms of player or team analysis. Kazmir is above-average. Occasionally great, occasionally awful. The Dodgers are above-average, too, and should remain that way into the future. Kazmir is getting above-average-player money. All that stuff is obvious, so it’s better to focus on the one most interesting detail. And in this case, I think that detail is that Kazmir can opt out of the contract after this coming season.

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Predicting Secondary Market Prices for Playoff Tickets, Part 2

This is a follow-up to my previous post, “Predicting Secondary Market Prices for ALDS/NLDS Tickets”. Now with a complete set of price data from 2011 to 2015, I’ve amended and refined my previous model for ALDS/NLDS ticket prices. I’ve also been able to build additional models to predict prices for ALCS/NLCS and World Series ticket prices in the future.

Before I go further, I’d like to thank Chris from TiqIQ. Chris was nice enough to give me TiqIQ’s complete set of price data from 2011 to 2015 for each year’s playoff teams. Needless to say, without his help, this study could not be completed.

The new set of data is superior to the previous data I collected from TiqIQ’s blog for the following reasons:

  • It takes into account all the transaction values, instead of only the transactions at the time the TiqIQ blog posts were written; and
  • It only includes playoff games that were actually played, instead of all possible playoff games (which include prices for games that may not be played); and
  • We have values for each individual game, instead of only an average value for the whole regular season and the whole ALDS/NLDS.

As before, the statistic that is predicted is the average price of the tickets for each playoff series. Because the final game of each series (Game 5 in the ALDS/NLDS and Game 7 in the ALCS/NLCS and World Series) is guaranteed to be an elimination game for both teams, it commands a premium compared to the other games, so I excluded that data in calculating the average value.

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Chris Davis and the Free Agent Bottleneck

The week between Christmas and New Year’s is traditionally a quiet one in baseball circles, as most home offices are closed, and many top executives vacation far, far away. This year hasn’t exactly been typical, with one big trade (Aroldis Chapman to the Yanks) and one reasonably significant free agent signing already in the books (Henderson Alvarez to the A’s) and another one pending a physical (Daniel Murphy to the Nationals).

There are still many big name free agents yet to sign on with their new clubs, and most of them are of the position player variety. Outfielders Justin Upton, Yoenis Cespedes and Alex Gordon, to name just three, are still on the board. So is first baseman Chris Davis, whose recent offensive contributions outstrip even those three. The Orioles reportedly offered Davis in the vicinity of $150 million over seven years to remain in the fold, only to be rebuffed. Has that offer clogged up position player free agency? And is an investment of that magnitude in this sort of player a wise one?

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Dave Cameron FanGraphs Chat – 12/30/15

Dave Cameron: Sorry for being a few minutes late.

Dave Cameron: We’ll get this thing fired up now.

Pat: Does Cashman have more moves in him?

Dave Cameron: I would think so. I’d imagine they’ll end up as players for whichever free agent SP ends up looking for a discounted deal in late January or early February.

Pat: What would it take for the nationals to part with Joe Ross?

Dave Cameron: Probably a good amount. I’m not sure what their motivation to trade him would be.

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Projecting the Prospects in the Aroldis Chapman Trade

A couple of days ago, news broke that the Yankees had traded for uber-reliever Aroldis Chapman. In exchange for Chapman’s services, the Bombers coughed up four prospects: Starting pitcher Rookie Davis, corner infielder Eric Jagielo, second baseman Tony Renda and reliever Caleb Cotham. Here’s what my fancy computer math says about this quartet.

Rookie Davis, RHP (Profile)
KATOH Projection Through Age 28 (2015 stats): 2.6 WAR
KATOH Projection Through Age 28 (2014 stats): 0.7 WAR

The Yankees took Davis in the 14th round out of high school in 2011, but he soon proved to be a steal at that spot. In 2013, he dominated Short-Season A-Ball with the help of a mid-90s fastball. He continued to establish himself in 2014 by posting a sub-4.00 FIP as a starter in Low-A.

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FanGraphs Audio: The Dave Cameron Food Metaphor Episode

Episode 620
Dave Cameron is both (a) the managing editor of FanGraphs and (b) the guest on this particular edition of FanGraphs Audio, during which edition he employs no fewer than one (1) food metaphor while discussing, at different points, the Aroldis Chapman trade, the signing of Daniel Murphy, and the prospect of the Cubs as the league’s best team.

This edition of the program is sponsored by Draft, the first truly mobile fantasy sports app. Compete directly against idiot host Carson Cistulli by clicking here.

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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2016 ZiPS Projections – Chicago Cubs

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 Chicago Cubs. Szymborski can be found at ESPN and on Twitter at @DSzymborski.

Other Projections: Atlanta / Baltimore / Boston / Cincinnati / Kansas City / New York AL / Philadelphia / Pittsburgh / Seattle / Texas / Toronto.

About two weeks ago, Jeff Sullivan wrote a piece for this site examining the very real possibility that, as presently constituted, the Chicago Cubs are the best team in the majors. That claim was based, in no small part, on how the club possessed then — and still possesses today — the league’s best collective Steamer WAR projection. Given the numbers one finds below, it wouldn’t be surprising to find — when the present series of forecasts is complete — that the Cubs possess the top projected record by ZiPS, as well.

Among position players, the strengths are unsurprising. Kris Bryant, Jason Heyward, and Anthony Rizzo amassed a total of 18 wins between them in 2015. Because negative regression is the rule, and not the exception, with regard to these sorts of star-level performances, ZiPS doesn’t call for an exact repeat of last year’s production. As a trio, however, that group is expected to log around 15 wins. That figure alone would represent a better mark than the overall totals posted by the position players of eight clubs in 2015.

Elsewhere, it isn’t entirely clear where Joe Maddon et al. will deploy Javier Baez. After recording starts at second, third, and short this past season both in Chicago and at Triple-A Iowa, Baez has recently made appearances in center field with Santurce, his Puerto Rican winter league club. He appears, within the depth chart below, as a platoon partner with Kyle Schwarber — although that’s a product more of “idle speculation” than “actual facts.” Whatever the particulars, ZiPS is optimistic regarding Baez’s 2016 campaign, calling for slightly more than two wins.

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August Fagerstrom FanGraphs Chat — 12/29/15

august fagerstrom: alright let’s start this thang up a little early

august fagerstrom: good afternoon to all, and I hope any time spent with family recently was cherished

august fagerstrom: chat soundtrack: Lil Ugly Mane – Three Sided Tape, Volume One

august fagerstrom:

august fagerstrom: also, a user recommendation –

Derek: Can I start the chat off with a music rec? William Onyeabor – Fantastic Man. I’d post a youtube link but, at work.

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FG on Fox: Projecting the Returning Pitchers From Tommy John Surgery

Out of context, throwing a baseball for a living is not a particularly dangerous job. There are hundreds of other occupations that provide a greater threat to health on a daily basis than standing on a pitcher’s mound. In the context of the game of baseball, however, pitching is a dangerous occupation. Besides the threat of a comebacker or awkward play at first base in which the pitcher has to cover, every pitch thrown during a game is a risk. Every pitcher in baseball is dealing with damage to their elbow in varying levels of severity, and as there’s no telling how healthy a given pitcher’s elbow is, the one pitch that could lead to serious injury is what makes the craft, in a word, totally unpredictable.

The success rate of Tommy John surgery is now so high that many fans take it for granted when an injury does occur, even going so far as to view it as some sort of rite of passage that every young pitcher must go through. But not everyone makes it back to the mound, and those that do are more likely to need another Tommy John at some point. We also know a lot more about how pitchers come back from Tommy John surgery than we used to, and it debunks a lot of previously-held beliefs.

On average, pitchers don’t gain velocity, don’t improve performance compared to their pre-injury numbers, and they’re more likely to go on the disabled list with an injury to their throwing arm than a pitcher that didn’t have surgery. While there is some evidence that TJ surgery might allow pitchers to not suffer as much age-related depreciation as those that have their original ligament, it’s clear that this is a major surgery, and not something to be taken for granted.

With that said, there are a number of All-Star-caliber pitchers who are likely to make their return in 2016 (if all goes well), and they should be included in any analysis of the ongoing offseason transactions around baseball. 2015 was a particularly difficult year in terms of the talent of pitchers requiring Tommy John surgery, as a number of current and potential future aces had to undergo the procedure.

To help visualize the talent of the pitchers who had the procedure last year and could possibly return this coming season, I’ve plotted the average Wins Above Replacement in the year prior to pitchers undergoing surgery (I’ve set the lower cutoff at the year 2000, as it was the first year in which the number of surgeries was in the double digits). In other words, how collectively good were each year’s Tommy John patients the year before they had surgery? Take a look:

Average WAR, Year Before TJ Surgery, All Pitchers

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Yankees Build Laugh-Out-Loud Bullpen With Aroldis Chapman

At best, Aroldis Chapman is unstable. A manageable sort of loose cannon. At worst, he’s violent, a danger not only to himself but to others. There’s a lot to try to handle here — more than we want to have to handle when we’re dealing with baseball players and baseball trades. We don’t want to have to consider this stuff, but here we are, and it can’t be avoided. Aroldis Chapman has been traded to the Yankees, for Rookie Davis, Eric Jagielo, Caleb Cotham, and Tony Renda. Chapman would’ve been a Dodger by now, or maybe a member of the Red Sox, but for an off-field incident involving alleged violence and gunfire. Chapman wasn’t arrested, but he might still be suspended under MLB’s new domestic-violence policy. That part of this story is front and center. Were it not for the incident, Chapman wouldn’t be on the Yankees. Were it not for the incident, Chapman would’ve commanded a higher price.

I can’t tell you how you’re supposed to feel. I can’t tell you what Chapman did or didn’t do. At this point I bet even the parties involved couldn’t tell you exactly what Chapman did or didn’t do, given the memory’s tendency to warp. All that’s known is there was something ugly, and Chapman was in the middle of it, and the details caused some teams to back off. If you love the trade for the Yankees, that’s fine. If you don’t want to root for Chapman anymore, that’s fine. If you feel like it’s getting harder and harder to be a sports fan these days, that’s fine. The more we know our athletes, the more we know them as real people, and real people are complex, where sports are supposed to be simple. This isn’t what a lot of us signed up for.

Your job is to figure out how you feel. And how you want to feel, if it’s different. My job is to tell you about the baseball. I’m not qualified to do the other stuff. And here’s the reality of baseball: no team likes off-the-field concerns, or potential pending suspensions. Every team wants its 25 players to be saints. But character is only part of it, and when the talent level is high enough, teams will overlook everything else. Aroldis Chapman is one of the greatest per-inning pitchers on the planet. Of that there is zero question. There are questions about his character, but teams know this stuff blows over. And beyond that, you could say Chapman’s off-field problems created a market inefficiency. Just ask Brian Cashman:

“Given the circumstances that exist, the price point on the acquisition has been modified,”Cashman said. “We felt this was an opportunity to add a big arm to our bullpen.”

There you go. Sometimes executives are reluctant to share the whole truth. Cashman is more of a straight shooter, and that excerpt tells you everything. Chapman’s got some troubles. Those troubles scared off other teams. And that made it appealing for the Yankees to strike. As far as roster management is concerned, Chapman’s incident is practically a good thing. Value value value. Below, I’m going to write more about baseball. After all, there’s a transaction to analyze, and I have a job to do. Read, or don’t. I’m not here to judge you or anybody. I’m here to judge statistics, and Chapman has some awesome statistics.

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Nationals Settle for Daniel Murphy’s Adequacy

One of the many reasons why it’s challenging to evaluate a front office is that it’s hard to know what to do with intent. All the stuff we actually see is results-based observation. This offseason, the Nationals wanted to sign Darren O’Day, but he went somewhere else for similar money. They wanted to sign Jason Heyward, but he went somewhere else for similar money. They wanted to sign Ben Zobrist, but he went somewhere else for similar money. They couldn’t even finish a deal for Brandon Phillips after Phillips wanted too much to waive his no-trade clause. The Nationals have had several plans, but the big thing they’ve actually done is sign Daniel Murphy, pending a physical. According to reports, it’s to be a three-year contract, worth $37.5 million.

You remember Murphy for his whirlwind October. For sure, it was a hell of a story, tracking the rise and fall of an unexpected superstar. If there was a mistake made, it was linking Murphy’s performance to his upcoming free-agent negotiations. When Murphy was white-hot, I remember reading speculation he could land a five-year contract. When he came undone in the World Series, many wondered how much money Murphy had cost himself. The playoffs were never going to be that important, relative to Murphy’s track record. He’s now signing the contract he was pretty much always going to get.

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An End-of-the-Year MLB Legal Update

It’s been a busy year in the courtroom for Major League Baseball. From its minor league pay practices and fan safety rules, to its scout hiring and television broadcasting practices, MLB spent 2015 defending itself from a variety of different lawsuits across the country. While I’ve covered many of these cases throughout the year, I’ll provide a final, year-end status update on three of MLB’s on-going lawsuits: The Payne suit challenging MLB’s fan safety protocol; the MASN broadcast royalty dispute between the Baltimore Orioles and Washington Nationals; and the Wyckoff suit contesting MLB’s scout-hiring and pay practices.

Payne v. Office of the Commissioner of Baseball

The issue of MLB fan safety was front and center in 2015 following a series of incidents in which fans sustained serious injuries after being struck by foul balls or broken bats. In light of these events, MLB announced earlier this month that it was issuing a new set of non-binding safety recommendations to its teams, encouraging the league’s franchises to take steps to install additional netting between the dugouts, while also making it clearer to fans at the time they buy their tickets whether particular seats are shielded from flying objects.

Despite these recommendations, MLB continues to face a lawsuit that seeks to force the league to take even greater steps to protect its fans. As I noted in July, in Payne v. Office of the Commissioner of Baseball, a California federal court has been asked to order MLB to mandate that all 30 of its teams install foul-pole-to-foul-pole netting in their stadiums. As I also noted at the time the case was filed, though, the suit faced several substantial legal hurdles — not the least of which was the fact the lead plaintiff in the suit appeared to lack the requisite legal standing-to-sue, since she had never been injured while attending an MLB game.

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2016 ZiPS Projections – Boston Red Sox

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 Boston Red Sox. Szymborski can be found at ESPN and on Twitter at @DSzymborski.

Other Projections: Atlanta / Baltimore / Cincinnati / Kansas City / New York AL / Philadelphia / Pittsburgh / Seattle / Texas / Toronto.

The object of considerable attention among the authors of this site, it’s probably not inaccurate to suggest that infielder/outfielder Mookie Betts is riddled with virtue. Or perhaps, afflicted by virtue. In either case, what he’s done is to parlay wide-ranging competence into a star-level profile. He’s projected to produce nearly a 20-20 season while also recording a strikeout rate of about 12%. He certainly doesn’t possess the skill set typical of a right fielder, but he’s equipped to produce wins anywhere, given an opportunity.

Elsewhere, one finds that (a) the second-best projection among Boston’s field players belongs to another 23-year-old, shortstop Xander Bogaerts, (b) ZiPS forecasts a slightly above-average season for Jackie Bradley Jr., and (c) Hanley Ramirez receives a defensive projection for first base!

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Dan Szymborski FanGraphs Chat – 12/28/15

Derek Carr: Kenta to the Dodgers is all but done, right? He was visiting the stadium over the weekend

Dan Szymborski: While it seems likely, lots of things have seemed likely.

Dan Szymborski: Remember when everybody in the world was 100% sure Bernie Williams was going to sign with the Diamonbdbacks?

Dan Szymborski: And I’m saving the off-topic questions for the Lightning ROund

Dan Szymborski: Unless it looks like nobody’s here, possibly caused by the weird time we started.

BK: Simply looking for a gut reaction here: If you were Carlos Correa, what number would it take for you to sign a lifetime contract right now (same AAV every year, deal pays until you’re 38)?

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Effectively Wild Episode 788: The Deepest Mailbag Dive

Ben and Sam banter about player privacy concerns, then dig (very) deep into the mailbag for questions that time forgot.

Sunday Notes: Reliever Innings, Second Basemen, Chapman, more

On Tuesday, 10 MLB managers shared their thoughts on what has become known as the Third Time Through the Order Penalty. The fact that it exists in one thing. What to do about it is another.

One idea is to develop relievers who are able to work multiple innings on a consistent basis. In other words, go back a few decades to where it wasn’t uncommon. Pitchers like Bob Stanley used to do it all the time, and not just in the middle frames. He earned numerous multi-inning saves.

A while back, I asked Stanley if there’s any reason today’s relievers couldn’t do what he, and several of his contemporaries, did.

“You have to remember, back in the day we only had 10 pitchers on the staff,” said Stanley, who coaches in the Blue Jays system. “We had five relievers and they could all go two or three innings. Now we have seven relievers and most of them can only go one inning. Could they go longer? Sure, although some guys aren’t as tough as they used to be. It’s a different game now.”

Orioles pitching coach Dave Wallace — also in an older conversation — told me much the same. Read the rest of this entry »

FanGraphs Audio: An Intimate Hour with Jeff Sullivan

Episode 619
Jeff Sullivan is a senior editor at FanGraphs. He’s also the only guest on this edition of FanGraphs Audio.

This edition of the program is sponsored by Draft, the first truly mobile fantasy sports app. Compete directly against idiot host Carson Cistulli by clicking here.

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 58 min play time.)

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The Iwakuma Files

Last week, I wrote a retrospective on Jerry Dipoto’s whirlwind first few months as the Seattle Mariners’ general manager. It’s been a time filled with moves, roster churn and intrigue. Yet the biggest curveball of Dipoto’s tenure has occurred since then, as Hisashi Iwakuma’s deal with the Los Angeles Dodgers broke down due to concerns about his physical, which allowed the Mariners to catch Iwakuma on the rebound.

The M’s major offseason moves had apparently been wrapped up, for better or worse, only for this early Christmas present to fall into the team’s lap. (Ironically, the move was announced at the club’s holiday party.) Many lessons can be learned from this turn of events. One is a better understanding of the roles of the player physical and the management of the team salary budget within the business of player procurement. A more subtle, and enlightening takeaway, is how some simple baseball axioms — having defined principles, knowing and scouting your own players better than anyone else’s and letting the game come to you — enabled the Mariners to make their own good fortune.

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