Archive for March, 2016

Maybe Travis Shaw Is Just Better Than Pablo Sandoval

Perhaps you already thought it inevitable, but now it’s official: Out of the gate, Travis Shaw will be starting for the Red Sox at third base, over Pablo Sandoval. Through the end of his contract, Sandoval is owed more than seventy-five million dollars. Shaw, meanwhile, is owed an amount of money you could actually imagine in your own bank account. This is surprising, because of the commitment the Red Sox made to Sandoval the previous offseason. But this is not surprising, because Sandoval was a disaster. Hanley Ramirez might’ve been a more conspicuous disaster, but Sandoval managed to beat him, ever so slightly, in negative WAR.

There are just a few things that have to be said in response to the news. The first, which is critical, is this is non-binding. I mean, Shaw will start on opening day, but beyond that, no one’s really said anything. It stands to reason Sandoval is going to play; he’s not going to be a full-year pinch-hitter. It is legitimately unusual for a team to rule against its own financial commitments, at least this soon. And then — well, this decision was probably easy. This is the right time to give Shaw his chance. He might just be a better baseball player than Sandoval is, and after back-to-back seasons of misery, the Red Sox are in the business of maximizing wins.

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Blake Rutherford Shows Tools of a Top-Five Draft Pick

I got my first look at Blake Rutherford (Chaminade College Prep, Calif.) at USA Baseball’s Tournament of Stars showcase last summer. The 18-year-old outfielder, whom evaluators considered a top 10-draft prospect entering the spring, reinforced that status at last weekend’s National High School Invitational at the USA Baseball complex in Cary, NC, perhaps elevating himself given the underwhelming performances of some of his similarly talented peers.

The video below merges Rutherford’s batting practice from Tournament of Stars and his four at-bats from the Chaminade Prep vs. Walton HS (Ga.) contest at NHSI.

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2015 Starting Pitcher Ball-in-Play Retrospective – AL East

Teams are setting their Opening Day rosters, another page is about to flipped on the wall calendar, heralding the dawn of the regular season. Never mind those pesky Opening Day temperature forecasts of sub-40 degrees in my neck of the woods. Today, we’ll open the second half of our ball-in-play-based analysis of 2015 starting pitcher performance. Most recently, we examined the NL West. We begin our look at the junior circuit with the AL East.

First, some ground rules. To come up with an overall player population roughly equal to one starting rotation per team, the minimum number of batted balls allowed with Statcast readings was set at 243. Pitchers are listed with their 2015 division mates; those who were traded during the season will appear in the division in which they compiled the most innings. Pitchers are listed in “tru” ERA order. For those who have not read my previous articles on the topic, “tru” ERA is the ERA pitchers “should” have compiled based on the actual BIP frequency and authority they allowed relative to the league. Here we go:

Starting Pitcher BIP Profiles – AL East
M.Estrada 88.57 91.95 84.82 6.1% 46.2% 15.5% 32.2% 74 18.1% 7.6% 78 110 75
Pineda 88.14 92.07 86.03 2.7% 27.2% 21.9% 48.2% 103 23.4% 3.1% 109 83 79
Archer 90.10 92.00 89.29 2.6% 31.3% 20.0% 46.1% 112 29.0% 7.6% 81 72 81
Warren 88.06 90.97 85.42 3.2% 28.8% 22.8% 45.2% 87 19.5% 7.3% 82 90 82
Gausman 87.43 91.26 85.45 4.5% 33.6% 17.1% 44.7% 97 21.9% 6.2% 106 102 83
E.Ramirez 89.30 92.38 87.25 4.1% 27.7% 20.4% 47.8% 94 18.9% 6.0% 94 94 87
Tanaka 89.86 93.21 87.21 3.2% 30.6% 19.2% 47.0% 111 22.8% 4.4% 88 99 89
W-Y.Chen 87.61 91.74 86.37 5.5% 33.9% 20.1% 40.5% 100 19.3% 5.2% 83 104 89
Karns 89.20 92.03 87.87 3.4% 33.1% 21.6% 41.9% 104 23.4% 9.0% 92 102 92
Odorizzi 88.82 92.35 85.90 4.3% 36.4% 22.0% 37.3% 106 21.4% 6.6% 84 90 92
Sabathia 87.86 90.45 86.08 3.1% 29.3% 21.7% 45.9% 99 18.9% 6.9% 118 117 93
E.Rodriguez 87.58 91.39 85.74 4.8% 28.6% 23.5% 43.0% 98 18.8% 7.1% 96 98 93
Miley 87.52 92.13 84.23 2.1% 28.3% 20.8% 48.8% 96 17.7% 7.7% 111 95 95
U.Jimenez 88.07 91.63 86.54 3.5% 25.3% 22.1% 49.1% 104 21.2% 8.6% 102 100 95
Dickey 88.08 91.72 85.02 5.1% 32.2% 20.8% 41.9% 93 14.3% 6.9% 98 112 97
Porcello 88.99 92.36 86.53 1.7% 30.8% 21.8% 45.7% 118 20.2% 5.2% 123 103 101
Buehrle 87.23 92.50 83.94 2.8% 29.9% 21.4% 45.9% 97 11.0% 4.0% 95 106 102
Eovaldi 88.28 90.86 86.79 1.8% 24.2% 21.8% 52.2% 107 18.0% 7.3% 105 85 103
J.Kelly 90.01 91.89 89.68 1.7% 27.7% 25.1% 45.6% 108 18.8% 8.4% 120 104 103
M.Gonzalez 89.56 92.76 86.50 3.4% 32.4% 23.9% 40.3% 107 17.5% 8.2% 122 125 106
Tillman 90.33 91.92 90.16 4.8% 30.5% 21.2% 43.5% 102 16.2% 8.6% 124 111 106
Hutchison 88.39 92.36 85.36 4.4% 32.0% 24.0% 39.6% 123 19.4% 6.6% 139 110 111
AVERAGE 88.59 91.91 86.46 3.6% 30.9% 21.3% 44.2% 102 19.5% 6.8% 102 101 93

Most of the column headers are self-explanatory, including average BIP speed (overall and by BIP type), BIP type frequency, K and BB rates, and traditional ERA-, FIP-, and “tru” ERA-. Each pitchers’ Adjusted Contact Score (ADJ C) is also listed. Again, for those of you who have not read my articles on the topic, Unadjusted Contact Score is derived by removing Ks and BBs from opposing hitters’ batting lines, assigning run values to all other events, and comparing them to a league average of 100. Adjusted Contact Score applies league-average production to each pitchers’ individual actual BIP type and velocity mix, and compares it to league average of 100.

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KATOH Projects: St. Louis Cardinals Prospects

Previous editions: ArizonaBaltimore / Boston / Chicago AL / Chicago NL / Cincinnati  / Cleveland / Colorado / Detroit / Houston / Kansas City / Los Angeles (AL) / Los Angeles (NL)Miami / Milwaukee / Minnesota / New York (AL) / New York (NL) / Philadelphia / Pittsburgh / San Diego / San Francisco / Seattle.

Earlier today, lead prospect analyst Dan Farnsworth published his excellently in-depth prospect list for the St. Louis Cardinals. In this companion piece, I look at that same St. Louis farm system through the lens of my recently refined KATOH projection system. The Cardinals have the 15th-best farm system in baseball according to KATOH, and rank second best in terms of pitching.

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The Most Important Players of 2016

Mike Trout is the best player in baseball, and losing Trout would cost the Angels more wins than the loss of any other player would cost any other franchise. But even with Mike Trout, we’re only projecting the Angels for 80 wins this year, and unless some of his teammates step up, the Angels might not be a factor in the postseason race this year. So, while no one is as singularly valuable as Trout is, there are some players whose performances might end up swinging a division race one way or another, especially because we don’t really know what they’re going to be.Today, let’s look at a few players with a wide range of potential outcomes who could play a critical role in determining whether their team ends up in the postseason this year.

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Eno Sarris Baseball Chat — 3/31/16

Eno Sarris: love this love you be here soon

Alex in Austin: Better season Corbin or Shelby?

Eno Sarris: Corbin for floor.

Bork: #TrollVotto has started early. How excited are you for it during the regular season? Will he bust out the tripod during an actual game?

Eno Sarris: If anyone would ever call his shot, it would be him, and he’d be pointing to left center grass.

James: Jimmy Rollins has looked great so far in spring. Is it that far-fetched to think he could go 20/20 this season? Last season was awful and he still went 12/13.

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Let’s Find Some MLB Comps for Tyler White

Tyler White has already accomplished a hell of a lot for a baseball player, no less a baseball player who wasn’t drafted until the 33rd round. He earned six minor-league promotions in just three years. He hit .311/.422/.489 across those six stops — a surefire way to quickly climb the organizational ladder. He was invited to the Houston Astros’ big-league camp, where he hit .348/.446/.543, and at the end of it all, he was handed the Opening Day job as the team’s first baseman, and why wouldn’t he?

It was somewhat of a surprise, given White having never played in the majors, and the Astros’ status as a contender, and Jon Singleton having been the favorite throughout the winter, but White outplayed Singleton, and frankly, White’s outplayed Singleton every step of the way.

So a 25-year-old rookie is now the starting first baseman on a team many consider to be the best in the American League, and expectations, naturally, are high. It doesn’t take much more than a quick perusal of #AstrosTwitter to see the hype surrounding White. Many feel he’s the long-term answer at first base for a team who gave 47 starts to Luis Valbuena and Marwin Gonzalez there in the midst of a playoff run last season. Some are calling for Rookie of the Year. Someone I spoke with recently loosely compared him to Paul Goldschmidt, if not only as late-round first basemen who were slept on during their ascent through the minor leagues, despite doing nothing but crushing every level at which they played.

And it’s true — White has been slept on. Even this year, a year after putting up a .467 on-base percentage and 178 wRC+ at Triple-A, he didn’t make a single top-100 prospect list. Not at MLB, not at ESPN, not at Baseball America, not at BaseballProspectus. Our own Dan Farnsworth was higher on White than any other prospect evaluator this offseason, and even Farnsworth’s bullishness pegged White as the sixth-best prospect in the system.

Mostly, it has to do with the position. White came up as a third baseman, but has since been moved to first and may even be better suited as a designated hitter. He offers little in the way of speed, and without any value coming from the field or the bases, the bat’s got to be elite for him to have value as a prospect. His career minor-league wRC+ is 157, which sure hints at an elite bat — for reference, Goldschmidt’s was 163 — but what makes White such a compelling case, beyond the production defying his late-round draft status, is his offensive profile.

See, White’s overall production in the minors has mirrored that of a slugging first baseman, but the way he goes about that production has not. More specifically: for a first baseman, he doesn’t have much in the way of power. Instead, he derives his offensive value from a remarkable ability to control the strike zone; in the minors, he’s walked 174 times and struck out 164 times. Yes, that’s more walks than strikeouts across more than 1,200 plate appearances.

White is intriguing due in part not only to his career trajectory, but also his profile. Both seem nearly unprecedented, and so in cases like these, when we begin treading into unfamiliar territory, it only makes sense to gain context by means of historical perspective.

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Evaluating the 2016 Prospects: St. Louis Cardinals

Blue Jays
Red Sox
White Sox

The Cardinals certainly have tons of mid-level depth. If history continues to repeat itself, that means at least two above-average position players and a high-upside pitcher or two will pop up from the low minors this year, replenishing the lack of “impact” players at the high levels. They continue to target hitters with upside in the hit-tool department, trusting them to develop power or complement it with defensive or base-running value. On the pitching side, it’s like a broken record for a lot of the newer pitchers in the low levels: (Pitcher Name) came in throwing in the high-80s, and now comfortably sits in the low- to mid-90s with more physical projection left to realize.

No one will be excited by the prospects coming up through this system, but you’d be mistaken if you underestimate the player development model they have created in recent years. I had trouble putting a lot of the prospects I like in this system into the 50+ group for various reasons, but the Cardinals have one of the highest numbers of players just outside that line that could step forward this year with the right adjustments.

There are a number of players whom I rank lower than most in this organization, but in all honesty, there’s so much clustering in the middle of the list that it’s just semantics arguing over most of them. Feel free, anyway. Darren Seferina is my top pick for the Cardinals’ patented out-of-nowhere starting position player, with excellent hitting ability and base-running potential to go with potential above-average defense at second base. If you listen carefully, you’ll hear the boo birds gathering forces in the darkest corners of the internet as you read this.

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Making Too Much of Too Little Jason Heyward

For an awfully consistent hitter, Jason Heyward is considered an awfully frustrating hitter. Over the last four years, he hasn’t had a wRC+ under 110 or over 121, but there’s so clearly the potential for so much more than that too few people have come away satisfied. And it’s easy to identify the problem: Observers wish that Heyward would hit for more power. He clearly can — the man stands 6’5. He clobbered 27 homers when he was 22. He’s hit 24 homers the last two years combined. It doesn’t matter that Heyward has still been productive; he looks like he should be a beast of a hitter, so it’s odd to see him hit singles and doubles.

Let’s focus on Heyward and power for a minute, then. Forget about everything else. Throw caution to the wind, even. What follows is going to lean upon some spring-training data. One spring of spring-training data. The headline raises the red flag right off the bat — I’m probably making too much of too little. But just looking at how Heyward has hit the ball, there are early signs that he’s concentrating on pop. As can always be said when writing about a small sample: What we have here is something to monitor.

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Effectively Wild Episode 852: 2016 Season Preview Series: Chicago Cubs

Ben and Sam preview the Cubs’ season with authors Mark Armour and Dan Levitt, and Jeff talks to Mountain Goats frontman/Cubs fan John Darnielle (at 21:40).

Spring Speaketh of Many More Dingers

It’s the annual exercise: Every year, right before the baseball that counts, there are six weeks of baseball that doesn’t count, but still many of us watch it closely. As we do so, we’re always trying to figure out which indications might be of something real, and which might be misleading. Predicting baseball is impossible work. Projecting baseball is near-impossible work. But we have just enough successes to keep doing it, each time trying to be better. At the end of the day, even when you get something wrong as you think about spring training, at least you’re thinking about baseball. That’s basically the point.

Study after study after study has shown that individual spring-training stats are unreliable. You know all the reasons why, and this is why the most interesting stuff usually has to do with, say, velocity changes. Hits, you can luck into. Higher velocity, you either can reach or you can’t. So we don’t talk all that often about spring-training statistics. Not on the player level, and not on the team level. But there’s a funny thing about league-wide numbers. There’s real signal in there. When you put all the spring numbers together, you really can get a glimpse of the future.

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The Potential Rejuvenation of Matt Bush

Here’s a list of the last 11 players selected first overall in the draft, in order of most recent to least:

A couple of the guys are too young to fairly judge, but for the most part this is a list of star players. And Luke Hochevar. He’s on there, too. When a team picks first overall, their chances of getting, not just a major leaguer, but a star, are the highest among any spot in the draft. Which makes sense. But even in the most advantageous position with which to draft a star, teams make mistakes, and take the wrong guy. The Royals took Hochevar over Evan Longoria, Clayton Kershaw, and Max Scherzer. The Rays took Beckham over Posey. The Astros took Appel over Kris Bryant. So it doesn’t always work out.

And then there’s the draft that I left out. The year before the Diamondbacks picked Justin Upton, the San Diego Padres had the first pick. There was a right-hander out of Old Dominion University in Virginia who was well regarded, but the Padres didn’t take Justin Verlander. Instead they took a local high-school shortstop named Matt Bush. Bush wasn’t the consensus best player available, but he was highly thought of, still a legit first-round pick if not a first-overall selection.

So the Padres picked him. He stood on the stage, smiled the smile of an 18-year-old who has no idea what’s in store for him, and modeled a Padres jersey. Things went downhill from there. Since that day, the greatest in his young life but the first of what was supposed to be many great days, Bush has spent more time in jail than on a major-league roster. He’s been arrested multiple times for offenses as serious as assault and battery, drunk driving, and hit-and-run while drunk driving. His life has been, to put it gently, a damn mess. He’s a man with personal demons and he’s let those demons define his life, destroy his career, and injure those unlucky enough to be situated nearby.

But Bush could always throw, and even at 30, his arm is apparently still present. He signed with the Rangers two months after being released from prison and he’s opened some eyes during spring training with his plus-plus velocity from the mound.

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Colin Walsh: Brewers’ Rule-5 Stanford Success Story

Colin Walsh might be the best story of the spring. Yesterday, it was announced that the 26-year-old infielder/outfielder will be on Milwaukee’s opening-day roster. His path to the big leagues has been both uneven and unique.

A Rule 5 pick this winter from the Oakland organization, Walsh began his career with the Cardinals, who selected him in the 13th round of the 2010 draft. He hit well in short-season ball, but began the following year in extended spring training after failing to earn a spot on a full-season club. When he did reach low-A, he failed to impress.

Walsh returned to low-A in 2012, where he initially served as the designated hitter. As he put it, “They didn’t have a position for me; I was just kind of on the team.” Eventually splitting time between second base and left field, the switch-hitter went on to slash .314/.419/.530 in 425 plate appearances.

In 2013, he backslid. He put up so-so numbers in High-A, then hit just .220 after being promoted to Double-A. The following spring, he was released and picked up by Oakland. After putting up solid-but-nothing-special numbers between three levels, Walsh went into last season wondering if it would be his last in professional baseball.

That didn’t turn out to be the case. Playing for Double-A Midland, he hit an eye-opening .302/.447/.470 with 39 doubles and 13 home runs. Displaying elite plate discipline, he drew 124 bases on balls. In December, the Brewers selected the Stanford grad — Walsh has a masters degree in civil engineering — in the Rule 5 draft.

Walsh talked about his circuitous road to The Show, and the specificity of his hitting approach, late last week.


Walsh on being cut by the Cardinals two years ago: “I came to spring training assuming I’d be going back to Double-A and starting every day at second base. That didn’t happen. On the last day, I got called in and was told I was no longer in baseball. They said it was a numbers game — there were too many guys for too few spots — and I was the last guy out.

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Building a Record-Breaking Strikeout Rotation

A few weeks ago, I ventured into the topic of whether the 2016 Cleveland Indians’ starting rotation had a chance at breaking the league-adjusted team strikeout rate record held by the 1990 Mets. Those Mets (comprising a front four of Dwight Gooden, David Cone, Frank Viola, and Sid Fernandez) struck out 47% more batters than a 1990 league-average rotation. That was ridiculously good in 1990, and today, it’d be even more incredible were a team able to do it, given the increase in strikeouts league-wide and the expectation that there probably is a ceiling to the strikeout trend. (Because there has to be, right?)

The reason we focused on Cleveland was simple: they almost reached the level of those Mets for a few months in the beginning of the 2015 season. In April and May, they were striking out around 27% of the batters they faced, a mark which nearly approximated the sort of video-game numbers required to match the league-adjusted total of the 1990 Mets. Though they finished first in baseball by striking out 24.2% of batters (which was also the highest strikeout rate for a starting rotation in baseball history), they finished only 41st-best in terms of yearly league-adjusted K rate. Ho-hum. The conclusion of that previous article was, unsurprisingly, that Cleveland would have to outperform their expectations by a sizeable amount to have a chance at the 1990 Mets.

But one of you astute, noble readers was not entirely satisfied with that rational answer. Instead, phoenix2042 challenged us by putting forth a question: what would a starting rotation that could beat that record look like in the modern game? Which 2016 personnel would a team require in order to best a strikeout rate that’s 47% better than the league average? Well, phoenix2042 — and the rest of you wondering readers — this piece aims to answer that question. We will build rotations worthy of a video game, and they will best the 1990 Mets.

First, as before, let’s look at what rotation-wide strikeout rates would be required to break the record in this coming season. I’ve taken the average yearly increase in rotation strikeout rate for each league: over the past 30 years, strikeout rates for starting rotations have increased by about 0.2% per year, on average, and at a slightly higher rate in the past 10 years. Averaging this trend, I calculated the so-called “holy grail” strikeout rate of just over the 1990 Mets (i.e. >47% above league average):

Team Strikeout Rates Needed to Beat 1990 Mets (Est.)
2016 Projected League Average (Est.) “Holy Grail” Team Strikeout Rate (Est.) K%+
American League 19.5% 28.8% 148
National League 20.3% 30.0% 148
SOURCE: FanGraphs

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Dave Cameron FanGraphs Chat – 3/30/16

Dave Cameron: It’s the final Wednesday before Opening Day.

Dave Cameron: Let’s chat about the 2016 season, what to expect, last minute roster decisions, or whatever other baseball ideas come to your mind.

Luis Sojo: Who are the front-of-the-rotation pitchers most likely to be traded to contenders this season?

Dave Cameron: If Tyson Ross isn’t traded at some point in the next few months, the Padres really screwed up.

Dave Cameron: Beyond him, maybe Sonny Gray if the A’s collapse again?

Pennsy: Percent chance Jayson Werth finishes this season a starting outfielder?

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The Prescription That Fixed Dan Straily

Dan Straily needed to see a doctor. He wasn’t running a fever or suffering from strep throat; he had a bum shoulder. The symptoms of his malady were decreased velocity and general ineffectiveness. He initiated some independent research, and upon the recommendation of Houston Astros pitching coach Brent Strom and bullpen coach Craig Bjornson, Straily, 27, picked his practitioner.

After sitting in the waiting room that is Triple-A for much of the 2015 season, Straily paid a visit to Driveline Baseball in Seattle, where he met with Kyle Boddy. Boddy — the subject of a recent post here by Eno Sarris — isn’t an M.D., but you can think of him like a pitching doctor. Straily showed up, rattled off his ailments, and named his desired health benchmarks.

Straily told Boddy he needed to get his fastball back to sitting at 92 mph, with the ability to touch 94. That’s where he was when he first came up as an exciting, 23-year-old pitching prospect with Oakland back in 2012. Lately, his fastball had been sitting 89, and he struggled to touch 92 at all, and his effectiveness plummeted. The reason was the shoulder; he needed to get that healthy. And his breaking ball, he told Boddy, needed sharpening up.

Screen Shot 2016-03-29 at 6.10.50 PM
Straily’s average fastball velocity by year

Boddy listened to his patient, and ran the preliminary examinations. That meant a trip to the biomechanics lab to analyze Straily’s delivery, and some tests to measure the movement and spin rate on his pitches. The doc came back with good news.

“I brought everything back and I said, ‘You know, your breaking ball is actually fine. I think that problem will go away if you throw 94 and sit 92,’” Boddy said. “And [Straily] said, ‘Alright, perfect.’ So we were on the same page from the get-go.”

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The Only* Division Race in Baseball

With the start of the regular season just four days away, we find ourselves in the thick of preview season. No matter where you look, it all boils down to the question: what’s 2016 going to look like? At FanGraphs, we’ve just wrapped up our yearly Positional Power Rankings that assess the season through the lens of each position.

As you might have noticed, each team is made up of the sum of these positional projections and they will all start playing together as 30 units in nine-inning contests next week. If you’re into that sort of thing, we offer Playoff Odds that estimates each club’s shot at postseason baseball (explained here).

It’s important to remember, for all the reasons cited in the previous link, that these projected standings are incapable of total precision. In reality, even with a perfect model for individual player projections, you still wouldn’t hit on every team. And we don’t have anything close to a perfect model for individual players. Yet these projections do offer an objective reading of where the teams stand relative to one another based on what we know. They might wind up being wrong, but they’ll be wrong because they’re flawed not because they’re trying to write an interesting narrative.

Despite clear signs of parity, especially in the American League, our projections think only one division is going to be particularly close: the National League East.

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This Is a Garrett Richards Changeup

There’s not a lot of footage out there of Garrett Richards throwing a changeup. This is because he would pretty much never throw a changeup, and this is because doing so never made him feel all that comfortable. So, in the past, Richards wouldn’t throw many changeups, but, below, you can see Richards throw a changeup from just a few weeks ago. As a bonus, I’ll also include an additional changeup, thrown on Tuesday.

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FanGraphs Audio: Dave Cameron on Buyer’s Remorse

Episode 642
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 examines Rusney Castillo’s role (or lack thereof) with Boston, Hyun-soo Kim’s role (or lack thereof) with Baltimore, and whether Jesus Montero’s career trajectory suggests that there’s also no such a thing as a hitting prospect (it doesn’t suggest that).

This episode of the program is sponsored by SeatGeek, which site removes both the work and also the hassle from the process of shopping for tickets.

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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Effectively Wild Episode 851: The Squid is Fried Edition

Ben and Sam banter about a listener-suggested expression, then answer listener emails about Albert Pujols’ impact on the Cardinals, rooting against incentive clauses, what a lack of analytics looks like, and more.