Archive for February, 2016

Your Stance On the Team Projections (American League)

Last week, I said I would run my next community polling project just as soon as we got ZiPS projections all uploaded and folded in with Steamer. That’s precisely the news I woke up to today, so, here we go. Steamer’s up, ZiPS is up, we have an updated playoff odds page, and here are the current American League team projections, based on the numbers and our depth charts:

AL Projected Records
Team W L
Red Sox 88 74
Astros 88 74
Indians 87 75
Blue Jays 84 78
Mariners 82 80
Yankees 82 80
Tigers 81 81
White Sox 81 81
Rays 80 82
Rangers 80 82
Angels 80 82
Athletics 78 84
Orioles 78 84
Twins 78 84
Royals 77 85

I know — you see the Royals in last. You can’t help but chuckle. Maybe you agree with it, and maybe you don’t agree with it, and in either case, it’s probably kind of funny. But, good news! This is your chance to sound off, in a way. Projections are given to you. They’re presented to you, and maybe you sometimes feel like you’re being force-fed. You’re not obligated to actually agree with what the projections are saying, and here, I want to know how the community feels about each individual team projection. I want to know where people think the projections are right on, and, more interestingly, I want to know where people think the projections are being stupid. Could be they’re not being stupid, at all, but I want to know about the perception. I ran this project a year ago, and I love it. I hope you also love it. Together, let’s crowdsource the projected 2016 American League standings. (We’ll all look at the National League tomorrow.)

Something I’d like for you to keep in mind: please vote according to what we know now. Don’t vote anticipating midseason additions or subtractions. It’s one thing if you think a team will or will not call up a top prospect, but don’t vote planning on trades. I think everything else is self-explanatory, so, have fun. For each team and each poll, I’ll offer brief commentary that serves little purpose since I don’t want to actually bias anything myself. I plan to examine the voting results later this week. Thank you and I love you!

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Ruddy Giron: Possible Sleeper in the Padres System

A month ago, I put out the most recent version of KATOH’s top-100 prospect list. The top of the list looked like this:

  1. JP Crawford
  2. Jose Peraza
  3. Orlando Arcia
  4. Corey Seager
  5. Ozhaino Albies
  6. Julio Urias
  7. Max Kepler
  8. Ruddy Giron

Seven of those eight players are consensus top prospects. Baseball Prospectus and Baseball America ranked each of the first seven in their top 100s this winter, while six of those seven — excluding Peraza — cracked Keith Law’s list. Crawford, Arcia, Seager, Albies and Urias didn’t just make those lists, but ranked very close to the top. And then, ranked eighth overall, is a prospect excluded from all the industry’s most notable top-100 lists: Ruddy Giron.


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Can We Solve Baseball’s Other Catcher Concussion Problem?

Baseball may have seemed to have solved the catcher concussion problem when it instituted new rules governing the play at the plate in 2014. Despite some hiccups, eliminating the play at the plate seems to eliminate the main source of player on player in-game violence — and the other, the play at second base, is currently under scrutiny. Despite the odd pitch to the head and outfielder into the wall, that should make baseball one of the safest sports for a young brain. The numbers, especially for catchers, provide hope.

But there is still one repetitive play that causes concussions regularly for catchers — and there might be a fix to that problem, too. A fix that seems to come with even fewer ramifications for the game.

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Baseball’s Wage Scale: An Argument for a Safety Net

Over the weekend, Pirates ace Gerrit Cole expressed some unhappiness with the organization based on his 2016 salary.

On Saturday, Cole grudgingly signed a deal for $541,000 in base salary. That’s the same amount he made last year — $531,000 in base pay play a $10,000 bonus for making the All-Star team.

According to Cole, the team’s initial offer last week was for $538,000 – which was less than his total pay last year. The team refused to go higher than $541,000.

“They even threatened a salary reduction to the league minimum if I did not agree,” Cole said.

As a pre-arb player, Cole’s salary is dictated to him by management, and per the rules of the Collective Bargaining Agreement, he has no recourse but to accept whatever they offer. If he chose not to sign for the $541,000 they offered him, they had the power to unilaterally renew his contract at whatever price they wanted, even down to that $507,500 league-minimum number. Until a player reaches arbitration eligibility, they have no negotiating power whatsoever, so even elite players like Cole make something close to the league minimum.

MLB’s pay scale is intentionally designed to restrict the earnings of young players, with the resultant savings being passed on to veterans who are free to negotiate their wages in free agency. As with many unions, length of service is a larger factor than performance in determining wages, with younger players subsidizing the wages of older workers. Cole understands this system, and his grief doesn’t appear to be with the wage scale itself, as much as the Pirates’ implementation of their system of pre-arb raises.

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Dan Szymborski FanGraphs Chat – 2/29/16

Dan Szymborski: We get signal.

Dan Szymborski: Main screen turn on.

Rick: ZiPS projection for wRC+ is on the individual player pages, but not on the mass spreadsheet or compiled projections page. Is there any way to fix this?

Dan Szymborski: No, because I don’t calculate wRC+

Outta my way, Gyorkass: I saw on the Brewers ZiPS page that O. Arcia is projected to be a +2 WAR player. Is that all in the defense? He’s hit well, but nothing above AA ball.

Dan Szymborski: A 20-year-old hitting like that in AA isn’t something to poo-poo.

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Previewing the Best and Worst Team Defenses for 2016

Early this morning, the full 2016 ZiPS projections went live on the site. This is probably news to many of you. Surprise! Happy ZiPS day. You can now export the full ZiPS spreadsheet from that link, find individual projections on the player pages, and view our live-updating playoff odds, which are powered by a 50/50 blend of ZiPS and Steamer. This is good news for everyone, including us, the authors, because now we have more information with which to work.

And so here’s a post that I did last year, and one which I was waiting for the full ZiPS rollout to do again: previewing the year’s team defenses. It’s been a few years running now that we’ve marveled over speedy outfielders in blue jerseys zooming about the spacious Kauffman Stadium outfield, and now those speedy outfielders in blue jerseys are all World Series champions. People are thinking and talking about defense more than ever, and you don’t think and talk about defense without thinking and talking about the Kansas City Royals. Defense: it’s so hot right now. Defense.

The methodology here is simple. ZiPS considers past defensive performance and mixes in some scouting report information to give an overall “defensive runs above or below average” projection. Steamer does the same, except rather than searching for keywords from real scouting reports, it regresses towards the data from the Fans Scouting Report project compiled by Tangotiger every year. The final number is an average of these two figures, and can be found in the “Fld” section of the depth charts and player pages. It isn’t exactly Ultimate Zone Rating or Defensive Runs Saved, but it’s the same idea, and the same scale.

Let’s look ahead toward the year in defense.

* * *

The Best

1. Kansas City Royals

This is one of my new favorite fun facts: the Royals outfield defense, just the outfield, is projected for 31 runs saved, which is higher than any other entire team in baseball. And with Alex Rios out of the mix in right field and Jarrod Dyson and Paulo Orlando stepping in full-time, Kansas City’s outfield defense should somehow be even better than it’s been in the past.

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Revisiting Baseball America’s Top-10 Prospects from 2006

Flashback to February of 2006. Lindsay Lohan has never been to jail, Steve Irwin’s alive and well, and we still have three years of Bieber-free living to look forward to. More importantly, though, Baseball America has just put out its annual top 100 prospect list.

Now that a decade’s passed, and we know how each of these players turned out, let’s look back at some of these players’ prospect years. Perhaps there are lessons to be learned — statistically or otherwise — from their case studies that might be useful in evaluating today’s prospects. Keep in mind that these players are all just anecdotes. They represent merely a few data points among thousands, and therefore shouldn’t be used to draw any sweeping conclusions. But still: real-world examples are always fun, and names and faces are a great way to bring macro-level trends to life.

Below each name, you’ll see three WAR figures. The first is that player’s historical KATOH forecast — that is, what KATOH would have projected given the relevant prospect’s minor-league numbers. The second was calculated using the formula derived by Jeff Zimmerman in this year’s Hardball Times Annual applied to each player’s 2006 BA ranking. The third is that player’s actual (positive) WAR total throughout the period of time forecasted by KATOH. (So for players 22 and younger, that’s thru age-28. For players 23 and over, it’s the first six years.)

Essentially, you have KATOH’s projection, BA’s projection, and what actually happened. I tried to glean some sort of lesson from each of these case studies, even if the lesson wasn’t particularly ground-breaking.

1. Delmon Young, OF (Profile)

BA: 20.3 WAR
Actual: 3.6 WAR

Just like everyone else, KATOH was all in in Delmon. It was kind of hard not to be. Young hit .322/.388/.538 as an 18-year-old in A-Ball, and then slashed .315/.354/.527 between Double-A and Triple-A. And he stole bases, too. He had it all, or at least it looked like he did.

His one flaw was his plate discipline. Both his strikeout and walk numbers left a little to be desired, but dwelling on those numbers feels like nitpicking. His 7% walk rate was certainly acceptable, and his 19% strikeout rate wasn’t terribly concerning (even considering that 19% then might be equivalent to 22% now). When a player is so good at everything else, you can let things like that slide. You kind of have to, or else you’d be down on nearly every prospect.

As you know, Delmon never panned out. The plate discipline was the biggest culprit — although his weight problems certainly didn’t help, either. As of this writing, Young is a 30-year-old who’s been without a team for the better part of the last year. He was a replacement-level player or worse for most of the last decade.

I guess the takeaway is to be wary of hitters who have great tools and minor-league numbers, but also possess an unrefined approach at the plate. Although, I’d be lying if I said I could have seen this coming. The strikeout rate was a warning sign, but the truth is that 19-year-old Delmon Young gave us little warning that we were in for a decade of replacement-level play. More often than not, players as talented as Young make the necessary adjustments. Sometimes they don’t.

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Rangers Sign Shortstop, Get Left Fielder

I don’t know how often Ian Desmond thinks about the nine-figure extension offer he turned down. He probably doesn’t think about it as often as people who write about Ian Desmond think about it. Desmond, after all, has to live his own life, and he still has to worry about the present and the future. Not to mention, he’s already earned some tens of millions of dollars, so it’s not like one tough decision has caused Desmond to go bankrupt. He’s doing fine, all things considered. He had the chance at a big payday, he didn’t take it, so he’s collected fewer millions — but still millions, and he could, in theory, go on to earn that whole sum anyway. Just has to prove himself on the baseball field. It’s the thing he’s best at.

In a way, it’s not fair to hold the decision against Desmond. He was justified in making his call, and now it’s in the past and no longer relevant. We have the advantage of knowing more now than we could’ve known back then, and of course what happened in 2015 made Desmond look a lot worse. His decision was a fine decision. But. But. There’s no way around the visual of all this. Desmond bet on himself as a soon-to-be free agent. He signed for one year and $8 million after spring training had already started. And he signed to play a position he hasn’t played.

Ian Desmond is doing fine. Ian Desmond is a major-league-caliber baseball player. It’s just been a hell of a drop. If it weren’t for Josh Hamilton, he might still not have a job.

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Effectively Wild Episode 828: 2016 Season Preview Series: San Diego Padres

Ben and Sam preview the Padres’ season with Cut 4 writer Michael Clair, and Jeff talks to Padres beat writer Corey Brock (at 23:31).

Sunday Notes: First Trades, Yost, Maddon, Roberts, Trout, more

It has been said that everyone remembers their first. With that in mind, I recently asked a trio of general managers/presidents of baseball operations about the initial trades they made as big-league decision makers. One of the responses began with a refutation of a report.

“Deadspin actually wrote an article about what was supposedly my first transaction,” said White Sox GM Rick Hahn. “That was trading Kenny Williams, Jr. to the Colorado Rockies (in November 2012). However, I didn’t actually do that trade. It was announced a couple of days after I became GM, but Kenny had already put that in place with Dan O’Dowd. It was a good story — it looked like an old-time mob move to settle things with Kenny’s family — but in reality it was all Kenny.

Hahn couldn’t recall his first trade — records show it was Brandon Kloess to San Diego for Blake Tekotte — but he remembers his first transaction and his first major deal. Right after being hired he re-signed Jake Peavy, and the following summer he sent Peavy to Boston in three-team swap that netted Avisail Garcia, Frankie Montas and JB Wendelken. Read the rest of this entry »

The Best of FanGraphs: February 22-26, 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.

2016 New Pitch Tracker by Jason Collette
The data appear to suggest that, more often than not, the introduction of a new pitch leads to more success.

Grading the Offseasons for All 30 Teams by Dave Cameron
For the sake of authenticity, Cameron handwrote the first draft of this post all in red pen.

How to Search Your Favorite Baseball Sites with Launchy by David Temple
Temple examines a product marketed as a “keystroke launcher” — a phrase which, when uttered in German, will get you kicked out of the schnitzel house.

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Building a Frankenstein Backup Catcher

One of the things people enjoy about sports is the role they role they play in starting conversations and debates. People enjoy arguing, especially about trivial matters like “who was the best hitter of all time?” and “who’s the best shortstop in the game right now?” These exchanges satisfy one’s desire to engage in battles of wits without challenging someone’s moral character, which is what often happens when debates turn to more sensitive topics such as politics or religion.

Sports allows for fierce debate with extraordinary low stakes. Think about how much time we’ve spent arguing about the difference between Mike Trout and Miguel Cabrera! While you might think those conversations were tremendously unproductive, I would submit that they provided many people with a confrontational, emotional, and intellectual outlet. We’re a species blessed with language and reason, but cursed with imperfections in both. Arguing about the performance of athletes allows us to exercise those muscles without inadvertently causing real damage to society.

In that realm, I would like to present a baseball question to which you have probably devoted almost no attention. If you could take the best attributes of baseball’s backup catchers and fuse them into a single, lovable backstop, what components would you choose and how valuable would the resulting Frankenstein Catcher be?

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Jacob deGrom, Sonny Gray Top Candidates for Extension

Projecting pitchers too far into the future can be pretty dicey. Elbow problems lead to Tommy John surgery and a 15-month recovery period. Shoulder problems can end careers. Fastballs drop in velocity and effectiveness fades. As a result, teams would prefer to be pretty careful when investing money in pitching. The problem for teams, however, is that pitching is expensive. An average starter costs nearly $100 million on the free-agent market, and good pitching costs double that amount. Good, cheap pitchers are young, and while they might remain good, they will not remain cheap. Teams then choose to invest in this risky position by extending young, cheap pitching with the hope of avoiding the free-agent market. Sometimes it works, like with Madison Bumgarner and Chris Sale. Other times, like with Cory Luebke, the team gets very little in return. This spring, there is a great crop of young pitchers teams should be looking to lock up long term, led by Gerrit Cole, Jacob deGrom, and Sonny Gray.

A year ago at this time, I put together a list of potential extension candidates headed by Corey Kluber. Among the other players on the list were Drew Hutchison, Wily Peralta, Shelby Miller, Tom Koehler, and Dallas Keuchel, who I foolishly downplayed. Hutchison, Peralta, and Koehler had disappointing seasons while Miller was solid and Keuchel and Kluber were fantastic. That collection of players illustrates the risk both of locking up young talent and also failing to do so. Keuchel’s cost will soar during arbitration, making an extension expensive (and also unlikely), while extensions for Hutchison and Peralta would look like mistakes just one year later. Cleveland locked up Kluber, adding him to the list of pitchers extended over the past few springs. The numbers below were all current at the time of the relevant extension.

Pitchers with Pre-Arbitration Contract Extensions
IP ERA FIP WAR Service Time
Corey Kluber 450.1 3.34 2.95 10.6 2.074
Chris Sale 286.1 2.89 3.19 6.5 2.061
Madison Bumgarner 325.2 3.10 3.06 6.2 1.127
Derek Holland 393.2 4.73 4.36 5.3 2.120
Jose Quintana 336.1 3.61 3.99 5.3 1.133
Jon Niese 370.2 4.39 3.77 4.6 2.107
Julio Teheran 211.2 3.44 3.85 2.5 1.062
Cory Luebke 157.1 3.38 3.09 2.3 1.033
Chris Archer 158.0 3.47 3.94 1.7 0.156

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KATOH Projects: Los Angeles Angels Prospects

Previous editions: Baltimore / Boston / Chicago AL / Chicago NL / Cincinnati  / Cleveland / Colorado / Detroit / Houston / Kansas City.

Earlier this week, lead prospect analyst Dan Farnsworth published his excellently in-depth prospect list for the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. In this companion piece, I look at that same LA farm system through the lens of my recently refined KATOH projection system. The Angels have the second worst farm system according to KATOH, edging out only the Marlins.

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A Very Simple Fix for the Qualifying Offer

Yesterday, Dexter Fowler re-signed with the Cubs, taking $13 million for one year, or $2.8 million less than he would have made had he accepted the qualifying offer back at the beginning of free agency. Along with Yovani Gallardo and Howie Kendrick, Fowler became the third QO-offered player to accept a deal that was worse than the one they passed up, and Ian Desmond seems likely to join them in that group when he signs as well. These four players were crushed by the draft pick compensation that the QO attaches, as teams were reluctant to give them long-term deals based on perceived risks with their skillsets, but also didn’t want to surrender a valuable draft pick for a short-term asset.

The qualifying offer has worked for MLB teams, driving down free agent prices by serving as a tax on salaries for a select group of players, but because it’s so regressive in nature — and is inequitably applied — it is highly unpopular, and will almost certainly be revised in some way in the next CBA. There have been any number of suggestions for how to amend the system; I suggested removing the seven-day acceptance window a few years ago, and Nathaniel Grow pointed out that the system could work better if it moved to a multi-year offer, instead of a one-year tender that players are loathe to accept before testing the market. There’s also a pretty rational argument that the system should just go away entirely.

But those are big changes. Big changes are difficult, and often have unintended consequences, so more frequently, people prefer to make tweaks rather than overhauls. So if we look at the current qualifying offer system, agree that it needs adjusting, but limit the potential solutions to things that would be easier to agree upon and wouldn’t be a dramatic shift from what is already in existence, is there a way to make it so that players like Fowler, Kendrick, Gallardo, and Desmond don’t get stuck in free-agent limbo after they learn that the market isn’t going to give them the long-term deal they were seeking?

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The Next Item on Mike Trout’s To-Do List

It’s not that anything more needs to be done. It’s not like Mike Trout desperately needed to fix the hole in his swing, lest he be in danger of suffering a complete collapse. Things were going just fine. That hole in Mike Trout’s swing, the one that kept him from hitting high fastballs, is like the Pablo Honey record in Radiohead’s discography. Would everything be better if it were just gone? I mean, yeah, technically. But the discography, as a whole, is still essentially flawless even with Pablo Honey, so we can all live with it.

Mike Trout went and deleted Pablo Honey anyway. It wasn’t necessary for survival, but everyone knew it was a problem, and everyone knew we’d be better off without it, so Trout went and fixed the hole in his swing. He started hitting those high fastballs, and no one ever had to hear Creep again and the world was a better place. But, listen. Someone’s gotta get in there and wipe out Fake Plastic Trees, too. Not all of The Bends; the rest of the record can stay. But Fake Plastic Trees has gotta go. Maybe I’m getting greedy, asking for even more tweaks after the big one’s already been made, but it certainly wouldn’t hurt.

This next tweak, it doesn’t have to do with Trout’s swing. For all intents and purposes, that’s about perfect. The high fastball was the only real weakness, and that’s been patched. When pitchers stopped throwing him high, they started throwing him outside, but that didn’t really work. Maybe you’d like to see Trout swing at a first-pitch curveball or two, but that’s a very minor thing, and Trout literally never swinging at first-pitch curveballs might actually be a feature, rather than a bug. Point is: the swing, for now, requires no further adjustments, and I’ve already linked to Jeff Sullivan about a hundred times in this piece. When Trout’s swing requires another adjustment, he’ll let you know.

It was exciting last year, knowing that Trout had this weakness, and knowing that Trout knew about this weakness, and knowing that Trout planned to fix the weakness. He’s never been shy about these things. During Spring Training, he came right out and said it:

“Plain and simple, I was chasing the high pitch. Everybody knows that,” Trout said. “The majority of time, they’re balls, and I was chasing them.”

Usually, us writers have to seek out these adjustments. We’ve got to watch with a close eye, and see if the numbers back it up, and then ask the player about it. In this case, Trout came right out and told us. “Hey, everybody. Makin’ an adjustment here. Free blog content.”

The next item on Trout’s to-do list isn’t exactly a secret, but Trout’s done us the favor of letting us know he’s planning on another adjustment:
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Effectively Wild Episode 827: 2016 Season Preview Series: Milwaukee Brewers

Ben and Sam preview the Brewers’ season with BP Milwaukee’s Ryan Romano, and Jeff talks to freelance writer Jack Moore (at 23:16).

Jeff Sullivan FanGraphs Chat — 2/26/16

Jeff Sullivan: Hello friends

Jeff Sullivan: Welcome to late baseball chat

Jeff Sullivan: Last night I genuinely had a dream that I was late to this chat. I knew it was a dream instead of reality because I felt anxious about it

Guest: Daaammmnn Jeffrey! Back at it again with the friday chat!

Jeff Sullivan: Can’t stop me

Jeff Sullivan: Nice try haters

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The First Week of College Baseball by (Maybe) Predictive Stats

On multiple occasions last year, the author published a statistical report designed to serve as a mostly responsible shorthand for people who, like the author, possess more enthusiasm for collegiate baseball than expert knowledge of it. Those reports integrated concepts central to much of the analysis found at FanGraphs — regarding sample size and regression, for example — to provide something not unlike a “true talent” leaderboard for hitters and pitchers in select conferences.

What follows represents the first such report for the 2016 college campaign, which began last Friday.

As in the original edition of this same thing, what I’ve done here is to utilize principles introduced by Chris Mitchell on forecasting future major-league performance with minor-league stats.

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David Stearns on Offseason Preparation and Rebuilding the Brewers

The Milwaukee Brewers had a good offseason. As Dave Cameron wrote earlier this week, “If you want to see a blueprint for how to rebuild, look at what the Brewers did this winter.”

David Stearns, who replaced Doug Melvin as the club’s general manager in September, has been the main architect. An assistant GM in Houston before coming to Milwaukee, Stearns is laying the groundwork for what he envisions as an Astros-like level of resurgence.

Stearns addressed offseason player-acquisition strategy earlier this week in Phoenix.


Stearns on preparing for the offseason: “Preparation starts in August. You start to look at what your team might look like going forward — what your needs are, what the availability of other players might be. Read the rest of this entry »