Archive for January, 2016

Sunday Notes: Christin, Chi Chi, Collins’ Decision, Reliever Value, more

Christin Stewart is the top power-hitting prospect in the Detroit Tigers system. He aspires to be the best overall hitter.

The 22-year-old outfielder got off on the right foot after being drafted 34th-overall last summer out of the University of Tennessee. Swinging from the left side, the muscular slugger slashed ..285/.372/.508 and bashed 10 home runs in half a season. He did the bulk of his damage in West Michigan, where he helped lead the Whitecaps to a Midwest League championship.

Stewart is highly touted, although the accolades come with cautions. Baseball America has lauded his plus bat speed and raw power, but also opined that he’s “an aggressive hitter whose swing gets long.”

This past summer, I asked the first-year pro about the latter assessment.

“There’s not a lot of movement in my swing,” Stewart told me. “I think I have a short swing to the ball. My extension through the ball can get a little long at times, and maybe that’s what they mean.”

Phil Clark, West Michigan’s hitting coach last year, had a different take. He concurred with his charge on length, but then to pointed to the start, as opposed to the finish. Read the rest of this entry »


The Best of FanGraphs: January 25-29, 2016

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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A Strategy For Deploying Baseball’s Best Backup Catcher

It wasn’t that long ago that the Pittsburgh Pirates were a laughingstock. They experienced two decades of losing seasons from 1993 to 2012, but getting that proverbial monkey off their backs in 2013 didn’t exactly free them from the pain baseball can inflict.

In fact, the Pirates found a way to be simultaneously great and depressing. They’ve hosted three consecutive wild-card games, winning the first one and losing the last two. Not only have they failed to advance past the Division Series despite averaging over 93 wins a year, they have had to endure the madness of the coin-flip game three times in a row. Needless to say, the Pirates and their fans desperately crave a longer October stay in 2016.

To do that, they’ll either have to be better than the powerhouse Cubs or they will have to secure a wild-card spot and win a one-game playoff. The Pirates are perhaps the team at the steepest spot on the win curve because the best team in baseball is in their division, they’re projected to be competing among a tightly bunched group of contenders, and the indignity of another wild-card defeat might be too much to handle. 

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Effectively Wild Episode 807: Daren Willman Previews Statcast Season Two

Ben and Sam talk to the new Director of Baseball Research and Development for MLB Advanced Media, Daren Willman, about what’s in store for Statcast in 2016 and beyond.


How the Mets Could Afford Yoenis Cespedes

New York Mets ownership has come under increased scrutiny over the past few years. Lowering payroll in a gigantic media market and getting entwined in the Bernie Madoff Ponzi scheme will bring that kind of attention. Back at the trading deadline, there were many, including myself, wondering why the Mets were acting like a small-market team in New York. The team quieted many doubters by bringing Yoenis Cespedes at the trade deadline and making the World Series, but due to insurance for David Wright’s injury and the PED suspension for Jenrry Mejia, the payroll increase was not significant. As a result, calls for the Mets to spend were heard again during the offseason, and again, the Mets have silenced their critics with Yoenis Cespedes.

The Mets’ revenues are driven by many factors, including the massive New York market that affords them a fantastic television deal that nets them around $100 million per year. However, nothing drives revenue like success, and the Mets, despite significant ownership debts and upcoming payments totaling over $60 million related to the Madoff scandal, the Mets were able to raise payroll due to their on-field success in 2015 and the fan response to that success. Team sources have pegged the revenue due to the Mets World Series run at around $45 million, per the New York Post. Fortunately for Mets fans, it appears almost all of that amount is being invested back on the field.

Let’s break it down.

Regular Season Revenue from 2015

Additional revenue from the regular season was not included in the $45 million estimate, but it is helpful to note that, due to the increased number of fans, the Mets did substantially better at the gate in their competitive 2015 season than they did the prior year. In 2014, the Mets drew 2.15 million fans and had an Opening Day payroll below $85 million — both figures down more than 30% from when Citi Field opened in 2009, but within a few-hundred thousand fans of the previous three seasons as the payrolls dropped beginning in 2011.

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FG On Fox: Fastball Pitchers and Surviving Coors Field

I don’t much care for the move the Rockies made Thursday. I like Jake McGee just fine — he’s an excellent late-inning reliever — and maybe I could understand the trade under different circumstances. But the Rockies don’t actually project to be good, so it seems strange for them to add a reliever at the cost of an affordable, long-term outfielder. Not only that, but of the two prospects exchanged, I like Kevin Padlo more than German Marquez, and Padlo is joining Corey Dickerson in going from Colorado to Tampa Bay.

The trade won’t be the end of the world, and the Rockies could just decide to flip McGee in a matter of months, but for now, it’s an odd decision. This is a move you might expect from a competitive team with a thin bullpen, not a mediocre team with a thin bullpen.

So the Rays add value to the roster and to the farm, and the Rockies add late-inning impact. That’s essentially the summary, with one interesting offshoot being that this seems to set the Rays up for another outfielder trade. There’s another interesting offshoot, though, and it has to do with the Rockies, and with where they play. Sometimes it can be an easy thing to forget about, but the Rockies play baseball literally a mile above sea level, and that makes the team something of an ongoing experiment. It’s always fun to have an opportunity to investigate a new Coors Field question, and the McGee acquisition opens the door.

Read the rest on Fox Sports.


Evaluating the 2016 Prospects: Cincinnati Reds

Other clubs: Braves, Cubs, Diamondbacks, Orioles, Red Sox, White Sox.

I share the view of many fans in wondering if the return from the Todd Frazier deal was justified, even though I do think Jose Peraza and Scott Schebler are valuable prospects. Even if all three (Brandon Dixon being the third) were busts, the Reds have amassed quite an assortment of high-upside and -floor prospects who could the club competitive in a short time frame. And that’s without including Nick Howard and Jonathon Crawford as promising assets, both of whom were highly thought of as recently as last offseason before their lost 2015 years.

The Reds have an uphill road to climb this season to contend, with the Cardinals, Cubs and Pirates all looking like present contenders. Depending on how their young players respond at the major league level, we could see an influx of talented players turn them into a contender akin to the way the Cubs did last season. Most likely they still have a year or two to expect the results to resemble their collective potential, but this crop is an exciting group to monitor this year.

They may lack a sure thing top-of-the-rotation starter or cornerstone shortstop, but you can’t help but be interested in seeing where pitchers like Robert Stephenson, Cody Reed and Amir Garrett settle in. And between Blandino, Peraza and Blake Trahan, at least one of them should be able to supplant Zack Cozart at short, allowing Eugenio Suarez’ likely move to third base.

This was a hard organization to cover, due to the endless amount of legitimate bench and bullpen pieces behind a sizable list of 50+ future value players. The system boast a ton of mid-level talent to go along with their solid top talent, and is a team I’ll be following closely this year to see how everyone’s stock improves.

As usual, there are a few rankings here that differ from popular opinion. I have Winker ranked number one, since I maintain confidence in his hitting ability while also expecting his power to come on strong. Ian Kahaloa and Gavin LaValley are too newer additions to the organization whose futures I am higher on than what I have heard elsewhere. I am not as bullish about Eric Jagielo’s bat progressing, and am also lower on Antonio Santillan, Yorman Rodriguez and Aristides Aquino. Admittedly, Santillan and Kahaloa are so early in their development that you could make a case for either of them moving up or down ten spots, and I wouldn’t argue with you.

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Jeff Sullivan FanGraphs Chat — 1/29/16

9:06
Jeff Sullivan: Hello friends

9:06
Jeff Sullivan: Welcome to baseball chat

9:06
Joe G: Does it make sense for ChiSox to sign Desmond and play him at SS until Anderson is ready? Afterward moving him to OF?

9:07
Jeff Sullivan: White Sox are a definite fit to me. Them and the Diamondbacks are both obvious. And the White Sox might not even need to worry about moving Desmond for Anderson — could just end up a short-term arrangement

9:07
Bork: Since the Rockies FO is obviously reading FG for advice. What should their next move be? To get a new FO?

9:07
Jeff Sullivan: I’m not convinced the FO is the problem. From what I’ve heard, what I’ve read, and from my interactions, the group is sharp enough. They’re just dealing with a unique situation and ownership that hasn’t made choosing a direction very easy

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2016’s Most Promising Platoons

So, what did everyone think of the Justin Upton deal? Took a long time to sign. Got a lot of money. Good player. Gonna hit a bunch — probably something like 25% better than league average. Might not be great in the field, but, hey, it’s certainly an upgrade over what they already had. Deal mostly makes sense. It’s just so weird that the Rays were the team that signed him.

You didn’t hear? Yeah, it was the Rays that got him. The Tigers? No, no no no no no. The Rays landed Upton. Big-time move for them.

OK, fine, they didn’t technically get Upton. Technically, Upton signed with the Tigers, sure. I’ll admit that. They didn’t get Upton, but what they did get was Corey Dickerson and Steve Pearce, and — hey, stop laughing! Hear me out, here. Dickerson, for his career, has mashed right-handed pitching. Problem’s been the lefties. He’s got a career 139 wRC+ against righties. Pearce, for his career, and especially lately, since he turned his career around, has crushed left-handed pitching. Problem’s been the righties. He’s got a career 123 wRC+ against lefties.

When the Tigers went out and signed Upton to a six-year, $132 million contract, they signed up for something like a 127 wRC+ in 2016, according to the Steamer projections we host here on the site. Makes sense. That’s the exact midway point between last year’s production in San Diego, and the previous year’s production in Atlanta. The Rays? The Rays got Dickerson from Colorado yesterday for Jake McGee, an injury-prone, yet very effective, left-handed reliever. As for Pearce, he was signed for one year and $4.75 million. And if Dickerson only batted against righties, getting two-thirds of the season’s plate appearances, and Pearce got the other one-third by only batting against lefties, Steamer projects that the duo would combine for something like a 124 wRC+ — just a shade below Upton’s performance and at a fraction of the cost.

Of course, it never works that way. Dickerson’s going to be forced into some playing time against lefties, and it’s inevitable that Pearce is going to face his share of righties. Neither one is as adept in the outfield as Upton, and because the Tigers have an everyday player in left field, rather than a platoon, they’ve got an “extra” roster spot, relative to the Rays. You’d rather have Upton than Dickerson and Pearce. At the same time, you’ve got to applaud the Rays for spending so little to acquire a pair of corner outfielders whose production, so as long as the players are used optimally, could rival that of Upton’s.

This is one of the ways in which small-market teams can keep up with their big-market brothers, and one of the reasons why clubs like the Indians, A’s and Rays are so often found near the top of the platoon advantage leaderboard. There’s something very compelling about the cost-effective nature of a productive platoon, as well as the brutal honesty. A platoon is an organization’s way of telling a player, “We know you’re severely flawed, but we’re fine with who you are, and don’t need you to be anything more,” which sort of flies in the face of the traditional macho, “strive for greatness” athlete persona.

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KATOH’s Top 100 List: Now Incorporating Multiple Years

Back in November, I published a top-100 prospect list that was generated by my KATOH projection system. Since that time, I’ve done some tinkering to improve the model. So even though we just did this, like, barely even two months ago, I’m back with another list for you. In addition to yielding lower AICs and R^2s and whatnot, this version also feels better in terms of the projections themselves. There aren’t as many head-scratchers as before, which suggests I’m moving in the right direction. There are still players who feel too high to me and others who feel too low to me, though I’d argue that’s not always necessarily a bad thing.

There’s still room for improvement. That will always be the case. But I think I’ve reached a point where I’ve gotten most of the low hanging fruit. This isn’t to say I’ll stop trying to make improvements, but don’t expect anything drastic anytime soon. This is the version I’m prepared to go to war with in 2016 (for now, at least). It’s not perfect, but I think it’s a sizable step in the right direction. Below, you’ll find a brief writeup of the changes, followed by a brand new top 100.

Moving Beyond WAR Through Age-28

In the past, a few commenters rightly pointed out that projecting a WAR total through age-28 wasn’t all that informative for some prospects. For a guy who’s already 25, his WAR through age-28 captures at most three years of team control, while it might capture all of a 21-year-old’s control years. In this iteration, I made my output a bit more flexible. For players 22 and younger, I still forecast WAR through age-28. But I expanded my horizons for players 23 and older, and now project the next six years. So 23-year-olds get a WAR thru 29, 24-year-olds get a WAR through 30, etc.

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Q&A: Luke Weaver, Cardinals Pitching Prospect

Luke Weaver dominated high-A in his first full professional season. In 19 Florida State League starts, the St. Louis Cardinals’ 2014 first-round pick had a 1.11 WHIP and a 1.62 ERA.

There was no opportunity for the lanky righty to prove himself in Double-A. He didn’t make his first 2015 appearance until mid-May — according to St. Louis assistant GM Michael Girsch, there was “no specific injury” — and the club proceeded to keep him in the FSL for the entire campaign. Wanting to augment his innings — Weaver spun 105 at Palm Beach — they subsequently sent the 22-year-old former Florida State Seminole to the Arizona Fall League for further seasoning.

Weaver, who gets high marks for his changeup and his ability to command the strike zone, discussed his development late in the AFL season.

———

Weaver on his build and his delivery: “Right now, I’m 6’ 2” and about 175 pounds. I work on getting bigger and stronger, but that’s not something I see as an absolute must. I accept how I’m built. Being loose and agile are tools that I can use to my advantage.

“My delivery is long and loose. I have a coil with my leg and throw across my body — I just kind of sling it in there. I don’t know exactly who I’d compare my windup to. The coil isn’t extreme — it’s not a Cueto or a Lincecum — but rather more like an Arrieta, where he kind of has that sideways coil.”

On his curveball and his slider: “My innings were down a little bit, so they wanted me to tack on a few more (in the AFL). They also wanted me to come here to get more reps on my slider. Read the rest of this entry »


The Weird Rumor is Now a Weird Trade

On Tuesday, I wrote about a trade rumor that, on paper, didn’t seem to make a lot of sense. Ken Rosenthal and Marc Topkin both reported that the Rays and Rockies were discussing a deal centered around Corey Dickerson and Jake McGee, and they’re the kind of reporters who don’t just say things for the fun of it; when they throw names out there, it’s because there is some substance behind the report. And so not surprisingly, two days later, the weird trade rumor is now a weird trade.

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Astros Take the Doug Fister Chance

Just gonna go ahead and borrow from a colleague:

Rich Hill signed for a year and a guaranteed $6 million. He’s nearly 36 years old, and he just started all of four games for the Red Sox, and before those, he hadn’t made a start in the majors since 2009. Doug Fister, meanwhile, has now signed for a year and a guaranteed $7 million, with the Astros folding in some additional incentives. He’s nearly 32 years old, and between 2011 – 2014, he had roughly the same RA9-WAR as Max Scherzer, Jon Lester, and Zack Greinke. In this past season, Fister wasn’t terrible, and he didn’t undergo any surgeries.

Compared to Hill, Fister obviously has the track record. He also has age on his side, and more 2015 big-league innings, and yet the market wasn’t excited. We’re left with Fister signing for only an incrementally larger guarantee, and it’s because the market is forward-looking, and Fister is a mighty big question mark.

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The New Members of the 40 WAR Club

If you go to our leaderboards and click on “career,” you’ll get a sample of 3,879 qualified position players, and 2,988 pitchers. If you lower the playing time threshold down to zero on each, you end up with 16,824 and 9,127. Now, obviously there’s some overlap in those numbers, but the point is that at least 16,000 players have suited up for a major league game. In that context, when I note that only 472 players total (314 position, 158 pitcher) have crossed the 40 WAR threshold, you can see it’s a big deal. It’s more or less the top-500 players in the game’s history (you can fill in the gaps — and probably then some — with Negro League players for whom we don’t have WAR or any advanced metrics).

That’s not to say there’s a lot of fanfare with getting to 40 wins. No one throws you a party, and it doesn’t necessarily mean anything to the person. But since we know that 50 WAR is sort of the dividing line for whether a player can be a Hall of Famer (as I noted recently, there are plenty of players in the Hall of Fame who barely cracked the 50 WAR plateau, and I believe there are even some in who are below it), then 40 WAR is sort of the dividing line for whether we’ll argue about a player being deserving of the Hall of Fame. Well, for everyone except relief pitchers, anyway.

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Effectively Wild Episode 806: How Quickly Chemistry Can Change

Ben and Sam banter about a Salvador Perez extension and a strike-zone change, then discuss the rapid reversal of the Athletics’ clubhouse and what it might mean for the Nationals.


2016 Breakthrough Candidate: Raisel Iglesias

In 2015, there were fewer pitchers (74) qualifying for the AL and NL ERA titles than in any season going back to 1995 (70). In any given season, the number of first-time ERA qualifiers is about a quarter of that population. This last year was no exception, as 18 pitchers qualified for the ERA title for the first time.

What was unique about 2015 was the high quality of those first-time ERA qualifiers. AL first-timers included Carlos Carrasco, Danny Salazar, Taijuan Walker, Collin McHugh, Trevor Bauer and Marco Estrada. Their NL counterparts included Jake Arrieta, Jacob deGrom, Gerrit Cole, Kyle Hendricks, Carlos Martinez and Michael Wacha. There are some heavy hitters on those two lists; you might have to go back to the Class of 1984, which boasted Dwight Gooden, Orel Hershiser, Mark Langston, Mike Moore and Oil Can Boyd among its members, to find a comparable group at the top.

Beginning last week, I have reached reach into the large population of zero-time ERA qualifiers to identify the top breakthrough candidates for 2016 in both leagues. Last week, we took a look at the Orioles’ Kevin Gausman. This time around, we’ll switch over to the senior circuit and hone in on the Reds’ Raisel Iglesias.

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The Airtight Case for a Fringe Nats Prospect as Future MVP

College baseball season begins in roughly a month. For some readers, this is of little consequence. For others — even for those with no particular stake in the competition itself — it’s quite meaningful. In either case, what the college game facilitates is the opportunity to watch actual live baseball over a month before the regular major-league season begins. It also features a number of participants who are likely to appear, one day, in those same major-league games. Because, consider: 19 of the 42 players selected within the first round of the 2015 amateur draft were selected out of a four-year university. The figure is roughly half in most other years, as well.

The present author made a habit last year of publishing periodic statistical reports of dubious import for the top college conferences. I’ll continue that same practice this year when the season commences in late February. For the moment, however, I’d like to publish a different kind of report — still totally dubious — regarding the possible future value of certain college players. Or player, singular, in this case.

When watching a college game, one is naturally led to ask, “Which of these players is most likely to end up as a major leaguer — and not just to appear in the majors, but to thrive there?” There are certain clues, of course: some of them based on observations of a player’s tools, some on the sort of success which one can identify in the numbers.

Last year around this same time, Jeff Sullivan performed a simple, useful experiment with simple, important consequences. His object: to better understand the relationship between young players and their future success as professionals. Instead of examining the major-league production of former top prospects, however, Sullivan inverted the line of inquiry. Instead, he opted to focus on players who have already experienced success in the majors, and then to review how those same players were regarded as minor leaguers.

What if, instead of players, one were to begin with merely one player? One would write a post very much like the current one, is what.

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Eno Sarris Baseball Chat — 1/28/16

1:28
Eno Sarris: we have the love here, or at least we will, shortly.

1:28
Eno Sarris:

12:01
Chad: Will Shane Greene get a chance to start again?

12:02
Eno Sarris: Mike Pelfrey is currently their fifth starter. Yes.

12:02
the eno, the one, the matrix: eno time –

12:02
Chad: Does Sean Nolin get the #5 spot in the A’s rotation?

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A Taxonomy of Coping Mechanisms for the Full-Count Fakeout

We’re born into this world kicking and screaming. Being just seconds old, we’re confused and afraid, and being just seconds old, crying is the only way we know to cope with these anxieties. Even now, we’re all still babies — just really big ones who have better learned how to productively deal with our stressors.

Adult life is a constant stream of setting goals and either reaching them, or not. Throughout the course of a day, we’ll set dozens, if not hundreds, of goals, most of which are instantly resolved. Folks tend to think of “goals” as these overarching narratives — “lose 10 pounds this month” or “read a couple dozen books this year” or “save up enough money to buy a new car” — but even thoughtless, menial tasks like make the bed or pay a bill are really just miniature, easily attainable goals, set throughout the day, that provide us small bursts of satisfaction when they’re achieved.

Things don’t always go our way, though. And when things don’t go our way, it’s human nature to produce a response. Noted psychologist Richard S. Lazarus defined stress as “nothing more (and nothing less) than the experience of encountering or anticipating adversity in one’s goal-related efforts.” While the newborn deals with its stress the only way it knows how — crying — we as adults have developed myriad ways to cope with our adversities.

* * *

To spin this into a baseball metaphor, a batter has a goal when he steps to the plate to begin an at-bat: to reach base safely. Then, even smaller goals are created, as snap decisions are made during the act of each pitch: the moment a batter decides to swing, his newest goal becomes to make solid contact. On the contrary, the moment a batter decides not to swing, his goal becomes to earn a called ball.

For instance, a batter sees a 3-2 pitch, and he has a decision: swing, or take. Either one will produce a different goal, a goal that will be resolved instantaneously. When the batter faces adversity in that goal he’s set — say, he takes the pitch, thinking it’s ball four, but the umpire actually calls strike three — a stress is born, and our ego produces a defense mechanism in an effort to cope with this stress.

This particular scenario is among the most surefire ways for a baseball player to produce a visceral reaction on the field. So, allow me to continue playing armchair psychologist as we (a) observe pleasing .gifs of professional athletes feeling wronged by bad calls and (b) lean on George E. Vaillant’s Ego Mechanisms of Defense: A Guide for Clinicians and Researchers to categorize the observed defense mechanisms in an attempt to better understand human behavior.

The Freeze

We begin with perhaps the most common — and varied — reaction: The Freeze. The Freeze comes in many forms. In the top example, for instance, our subject appears to exhibit patience (enduring difficult circumstances for some time before responding negatively), suppression (the conscious decision to delay paying attention to an emotion or need in order to cope with the present reality), and tolerance (the practice of deliberately allowing or permitting a thing of which one disapproves).

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Where Fans and Projections Disagree

I don’t know how many of you participate in the Fan projection process. I’m sure it’s only a small minority, because for one thing, it’s extra work, and for another, it’s not like we do a lot to incentivize mass participation. For whatever it’s worth, though, I do think they make for a valuable tool, because when you get enough people chiming in, you get to do things like compare Fan projections to other projections. That doesn’t have to be just for fun — there’s the potential for great insight there. Fans pick up on stuff. Even when they don’t, it’s interesting to see when fans think they’re picking up on stuff. In an ideal world, we’d have hundreds or thousands of people entering projections for all kinds of players, and then we could try to make something of the results.

We don’t live in an ideal world — at least not in that kind of ideal world — but I’m still going to use what we have, for what you find below. Just for the hell of it, I’ve elected to compare Fan projections for position players to Steamer projections for position players. Seems to me, it could be interesting to see where the projections don’t line up. Now, as caution, I want to tell you some of these fan projections are based on pretty small samples, so this is largely just for curiosity’s sake. But, you know, away we go. I’ve chosen to compare by WAR per 600 plate appearances. An awful lot of players aren’t going to get anywhere close to 600 plate appearances, but I’m just shooting for consistency.

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