Archive for June, 2016

Mets Hitters Couldn’t Be Less Clutch

Let’s face it: As the Mets go, there’s no shortage of things to worry about. The team overall remains in a decent position, but now there’s concern regarding two pitchers’ elbows. Meanwhile, Matt Harvey still doesn’t quite look like himself. David Wright is probably done for the year. And the lineup just isn’t producing runs. Injuries haven’t helped, and Michael Conforto’s collapse didn’t help, but the pitchers are getting so little margin of error. Things in New York are frequently tense. They’re tense today. It feels a little like last season, before the season turned beautiful.

I can’t say anything about Steven Matz. I can’t say anything about Noah Syndergaard. I can’t say much about the various injuries, or about Conforto’s chances of getting it going. I don’t know where the Mets are going to go, and their struggles have helped open the door for the Marlins. What I can say is this: Offensively speaking, the Mets have been impossibly unclutch. It shouldn’t continue like this. Of course, what’s done is done.

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The Great Yankees Bullpen… Sale

The New York Yankees aren’t completely out of the 2016 postseason race, but they’re also not trending up. The team has done little this season to make anyone think they’re playoff-bound or anything more than a .500 team. Masahiro Tanaka has been good and CC Sabathia is having a nice bounce-back season, but Michael Pineda, Nathan Eovaldi, Luis Severino and Ivan Nova haven’t been able to keep the ball in the park, giving up 52 homers in 274.1 innings. On offense, the only above-average hitter is a 39-year-old Carlos Beltran, and he’s having trouble staying on the field. The strength of the team is an historically great bullpen, and if the team is willing to give up on this season, they could get quite a return over the next month by dealing Aroldis Chapman, Andrew Miller and maybe even Dellin Betances.

The Yankees are currently 37-39 with a negative-34 run differential*. They’re nine games back in the division and six games out of the last wild-card spot, needing to pass six teams to get there. Our projections have them going 44-42 the rest of the way, thereby ending the year at exactly .500. BaseRuns says the Yankees have played like a team that should be 33-43. While the team’s peripheral pitching stats suggest the team has outperformed their results a little bit (4.43 ERA and 4.00 FIP), we’re still talking about a team that might be .500 if things had worked out better, not a team that looks like a contender. The team’s best playoff odds are likely behind them and the team has a roughly 6% chance at the postseason right now.

*Numbers before play on Wednesday.

chart (2)

So in all likelihood, the team should be sellers. That said, a team of veterans with long-term contracts doesn’t generally make for the most appealing trade partner. If he’s still healthy, Carlos Beltran should be in demand, and it’s possible that Nathan Eovaldi might bring something back, but the strength of the Yankees has been the bullpen, and if they’re going to sell, that’s where they’ll get the greatest return.

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July 2 Scouting Reports, Prospects 11-25

Below are scouting reports on the prospects ranked 11-25 on my 2016 July 2 Sortable Board which you can find here. Most of the players discussed below, as you’ll see on the board, are of the 35 FV variety. So too are the unranked players listed below them on the board. The group highlighted here separated themselves from the rest primarily because of (a) a more realistic likelihood to play a premium defensive position and (b) perceived upside. Scouting reports on the top-10 players will run tomorrow. We’ll also have a “best of the rest” rundown of other players in the class next week.

11. Yordy Barley, SS, Dominican Republic (Video)

Barley is a plus runner with twitchy and athletic defensive actions, a lightning quick transfer and a plus arm. His footwork and hands need polish but he has the physical ability to be an above-average defensive shortstop at maturity. Offensively, Barley is smooth and graceful, he has loose, whippy wrists and sprays contact to all fields. The body has some room to fill out and add some power while retaining the speed for shortstop, and Barley’s swing has the natural loft to hit for some power in games. The feel to hit is a little raw and Barley probably won’t ever have more than fringe-average bat-to-ball and game power, but that kind of offensive profile from a good defensive shortstop who also provides value on the bases is a good everyday player. He is expected to sign with the Padres for about $1 million.

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Congress Is Asked to “Save America’s Pastime”

Rightly or wrongly, minor-league baseball teams believe the ongoing, class-action lawsuit over minor-league players’ wages presents something of an existential threat. As has been previously discussed here on a variety of occasions, the litigation contends, in short, that many minor league players’ salaries — which can run as low as $3,300 per year — violate the federal minimum wage and overtime laws.

Even though minor-league teams are not actually responsible for their players’ salaries — minor leaguers are instead paid by their respective major-league franchise — they still fear that a ruling in the players’ favor could be vitally injurious to their interests. As the argument goes, if major-league teams are forced to incur higher payroll costs, then they will likely cut back on other subsidies that they may currently provide to their minor-league partners.

Moreover, the minor leagues worry that, in some cases, MLB teams may potentially even decide to terminate their relationship with one or more of their minor-league affiliates in order to reduce costs. While most of the higher-level minor-league teams would likely survive such an scenario, the minor leagues fear that a victory for the players could spell doom for some of their lower-level franchises, especially those residing in particularly small metropolitan areas.

As a result, the minor leagues announced 18 months ago that they would petition Congress for relief, asking the legislature to pass a law protecting the industry from the federal minimum wage and maximum hour laws. A year and a half later, these efforts finally came to fruition, when a bill was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives last week proposing to formally exclude minor-league baseball players from the federal minimum wage and overtime protections. Read the rest of this entry »

Picking the 2016 American League All-Stars

The All-Star Game is just a couple of weeks away, so it’s time for the annual tradition of deciding which really good players get acknowledged and which really good players get left out. The fact that there’s no shortage of ways to define who should make the All-Star team doesn’t help; is it about just gathering as many big namem players as possible every summer, about rewarding the players who have performed the best so far this year, or some combination of the two?

I tend to lean towards rewarding in-season performance, while using career track record as secondary variable to help make the decision when picking between multiple worthy players. Yes, some guys are going to have great half-seasons and end up on the team despite not truly being long-term stars, but I prefer that over jogging out the same 34 names every summer just because they’re the guys we’re used to recognizing as stars, regardless of what they’ve actually done that season. To me, the All-Star Game is a reward for the players who are playing at a high level, and what you’ve done this season is the most important variable in selecting the rosters.

For my selections, I’m adhering to the MLB rules, so we’re picking 22 position players and 12 pitchers, and every team has to have a representative. Yes, even the Twins. Because some positions are performing much better than others — I’m looking at you, sorry sack of 2016 AL catchers — I did take some liberties with how many players get carried as reserves at each spot, but overall, I tried to pick a team that would satisfy the requirements of how the game is managed and still rewards 34 guys who deserve to make the trip to San Diego this summer. And injured players aren’t eligible for my picks, as I’m just going with players who are healthy enough to play in the game in a couple of weeks.

On to the roster!

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Eno Sarris Baseball Chat — 6/30/16

Eno Sarris: Listen I heard this on Jason Schwarzman’s show and it’s some sort of Doobie Brother cover played on like a casio and I know that sentence is way up its own ass but I dunno I like it.

Bork: Hello, friend!

Eno Sarris: Hello!

Bob Dobolina: Worried about Samardzija? Dude’s getting knocked around.

Eno Sarris: here’s the weird thing, if you look at his peripherals, they are exactly the same as last year. The balls in play results are different.

Eno Sarris: I think he’s a highish ERA okay WHIP meh strikeouts guy basically. 3.75/1.25/7k9

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Who Will Hate Robot Umps the Most?

Ever since Eric Byrnes used a computer to help umpire an independent-league baseball game last year, and then Brian Kenny took up the mantle of #RobotUmpsNow on the MLB Network, I’ve been fascinated with the idea that robot umpires will soon call strike zones in baseball. The more I talk to players about it, though, the more I doubt that it’s an eventuality. Because the players, well, the players are going to hate it.

I can’t speak for all players, obviously. I haven’t talked to all of them. But I’ve talked to plenty on both sides, even ones I can’t quote here, and the biggest endorsement I could get was a tepid version of “It’s going to happen.”

So instead of asking each player what they thought about robot umpires, I changed the question a bit. Instead, I asked pitchers, catchers, and hitters, “Who will hate robot umps the most?”

The short answer? Everyone. The long answer? Much more interesting.

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NERD Game Scores: Examining the R.A. Dickey Question

Devised originally in response to a challenge issued by sabermetric nobleman Rob Neyer, and expanded at the request of nobody, NERD scores represent an attempt to summarize in one number (and on a scale of 0-10) the likely aesthetic appeal or watchability, for the learned fan, of a player or team or game. Read more about the components of and formulae for NERD scores here.


Most Highly Rated Game
Cleveland at Toronto | 19:07 ET
Carrasco (56.0 IP, 80 xFIP-) vs. Dickey (95.2 IP, 109 xFIP-)
More than one reader over the past month-plus has suggested — in only the most congenial possible terms, naturally — that perhaps Toronto right-hander R.A. Dickey isn’t entirely worthy of his high marks here. This is a fair sort of criticism to make. If one looks into his or her heart and finds that it’s unmoved by the prospect of R.A. Dickey, regardless of whatever charms Dickey’s knuckleball possesses — this is, essentially, a kind of Truth.

Here’s why Dickey is so well received by the haphazardly constructed pleasure-algorithm featured here. When the author first introduced a sort of prototype of NERD to readers at this site, there was something resembling consensus among those same readers — or at least those compelled to raise their internet voices — that Dickey, who has never possessed great velocity or the promise of youth or excellent fielding-indepedent numbers, ought to receive a bonus for the knuckleball. The solution: to provide a bonus to all pitchers calculated by multiplying the frequency with which they threw a knuckleball (KN%) by five. Since then, only Dickey and (now) Steven Wright have benefited from the adjustment, essentially receiving about extra four points above and beyond their leaguemates.

Ought the knuckleball bonus to be eliminated? Ought it, at the very least, to be decreased slightly? Perhaps. Readers are invited to comment on the matter with civility in the space below. Or invited to dismiss the entire matter as an absurd thing in an ocean of absurd things.

Readers’ Preferred Broadcast: Cleveland Radio.

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This Might Be the End for Alex Rodriguez

Two opposing things can be true, I believe. Superstar players are probably the last to know when they’ve come to the end of the line. Declines can be so gradual they’re tough to detect if you’re just taking things day by day. If you listen to the players, they’ll insist they remain capable, even after they’re probably not. On the other side of the coin, no one loves to bury good players too early more than writers. We’ve all probably done it at some point. I did it way too early to Raul Ibanez. Countless people did it way too early to David Ortiz. We start looking for any signs of age-related decline, and then when one or two show up, we tend to assume that’s it. Good players know how to make adjustments. That’s what allows them to be good players.

So with Alex Rodriguez, right now, we’re…somewhere. Rodriguez says he’ll be okay, and he says he loves to prove doubters wrong. Not that Alex Rodriguez has much of a history of being doubted, but, anyway. Rodriguez has his pride, and he also has terrible numbers. He’s 40 years old! But then, the Yankees’ best hitter is 39 years old. It would be very easy to conclude that Rodriguez is finished. The Yankees have started to put him on the bench. We should probably be more patient — this is still Alex Rodriguez we’re talking about. The talent is in there. It’s just, the numbers paint a picture, and it’s a picture of a changed and worse ballplayer. That much cannot be argued.

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Effectively Wild Episode 916: State of the Standings: AL West

As the regular season’s midpoint approaches, Ben talks to Joe Sheehan about the state of the AL West.

The Best and Worst of Maikel Franco

Maikel Franco had one of the better games in baseball Tuesday. Facing the Diamondbacks, he came up in the third inning and doubled, and then he came up in the fifth inning and homered. It’s extraordinarily difficult to have a bad game when you hit a home run. It’s almost impossible to have a bad game when you homer and double. The Phillies would take that performance eight days a week — Franco’s single-game wRC+ easily cleared 300.

There was just one little thing, though. Franco’s a young power hitter, so the fact that he had two extra-base hits shows that that was Franco at his best. Yet there was also a sighting of Franco at his worst. In the end, the Phillies won, and Franco did do his damage, so spirits are high. But Franco did something that’s hard to forget.

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Marcus Semien Deserves Our Admiration

First, Marcus Semien worked hard, every day, with Ron Washington and various tools of the trade in order to improve his defense. He’s now an above-average defender, if you believe the stats — or at least a competent defender, if you prefer your eyes.

The newest evidence of his behind-the-scenes toil comes from his production at the plate. If you look at his overall line, a little bit more patience and power has pushed his weighted, park- and league-adjusted offense up about 10 percentage points. If you look at his overall peripherals, even, it doesn’t look like much has changed. He’s pulling a bit more, but he’s hitting about the same mix of grounders and flies.

You might just chalk it up to getting a little bigger, and picking his pitches a bit better. But if you did that, you’d miss that there’s been a rapid and drastic change to his batted-ball mix this season. It’s almost a tale of two seasons.

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Jay Bruce Might Finally Get Traded

Jay Bruce’s tenure with the Reds has reached the kids in the back seat asking “Are we there, yet?” stage. It feels like he should have been traded a while ago, yet here is, again a trade target and again a player Cincinnati can move to help its rebuilding process. The team has a $13 million option on Bruce for next year, so they theoretically still control him for another year and a half. That said, now is really the time the Reds need to trade him.

Figuring out when the Reds could have traded Bruce isn’t difficult. Determining if they should have is more so. Jay Bruce signed his current contract back before the 2011 season. The deal guaranteed him $51 million, buying out his arbitration years and potentially three years of free agency. The Reds were coming off a division-winning season, and while the 2011 season was disappointing, the team made the playoffs in 2012 and 2013. Heading into the 2014 season, the Reds had reasonable expectations of contending.

That edition of the Reds featured one of the best players in baseball, Joey Votto; a still decent Brandon Phillips; a nice, young player in Todd Frazier; and promising guys like Devin Mesoraco and Billy Hamilton, who were potentially ready to step forward. With a rotation of Johnny Cueto, Mat Latos, Homer Bailey, Mike Leake, and Alfredo Simon — and Tony Cingrani with Aroldis Chapman in the ninth — the team looked like it might have a decent shot at postseason contention. At the very least, there wasn’t the obvious need to blow things up and rebuild. The 2014 season proceeded to become a bit of a disaster, however. Votto got hurt, Phillips got worse, Bailey and Latos couldn’t pitch full seasons, and Jay Bruce had the worst year of his career, putting up a wRC+ of 78, a 40-point drop from his previous four seasons.

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The 2016 July 2 Sortable Board

We’re cutting the ribbon on the 2016 July 2 Sortable Board. For background on the J2 process or the scouting grades and future value grades on the board, please refer to our July 2 Primer and this piece on the 20-80 scale. I’ll have full scouting reports up on the prospects ranked 11-25 tomorrow and the top ten on Friday and links to the reports will be added.

Some Notes on the Board

Included in the group are all the players currently eligible to sign during this J2 period, as well as those who I anticipate will be eligible at some point in the next eleven and a half months. This includes Cuban players like Randy Arozarena and Vlad Gutierrez, who are both a half-decade older than the others in the class. While I agree that the age gap creates a bit of conundrum, those players are subject to bonus pools and teams are forced to reconcile it in their own evaluations/valuations, so I think it’s important that we do the same here.

The board has 25 ranked players and then a group of others whom I consider to be 35 FVs listed below that in no particular order. The class has more players, and many of them will also be covered in the reports we roll out the rest of this week, but they profile either as org players or are too raw to consider as 35 FV players (or better) based on the sources to whom I’ve spoken.

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Jason Coats: Stitches and a Ball for a White Sox Rookie

Jason Coats has had an unremarkable career thus far. In eight games with the White Sox, the rookie outfielder has one hit in 15 at-bats. He’s basically a spare part. An unheralded former 29th-round pick, he’s ridden the pine since getting his lone base knock a week ago today.

Of course, everything in life is relative. What qualifies as unremarkable to some could be unforgettable to another. Coats has had a pair of those moments in his short time with Chicago. The more recent of them came at Fenway Park.

Hitless in his first 12 big-league at-bats, Coats stepped up to the plate against Boston southpaw Eduardo Rodriguez and smoked a pitch to deep right field. Soaring beyond the reach of Mookie Betts, the ball one-hopped the short fence into the bleachers, not far from the visiting bullpen.

As the ball was caroming, Coats was motoring.

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Dave Cameron FanGraphs Chat – 6/29/16

Dave Cameron: Sorry for being a few minutes late today. With the trade deadline just a month away, I’m guessing most of the questions we’ll get to today are about who is going where, Or about the adorable golden retriever puppy who just left his owner and picked me at the local Starbucks…

Dave Cameron: If I don’t answer for a few minutes, it’s because I’ve decided petting the dog takes priority.

Frank: If the Red Sox were to deal for Teheran and Vizcaino, what’s a realistic expectation for what we’d have to give up? Would Benintendi be necessary with Dombrowski’s history of giving up young players?

Dave Cameron: I’m guessing Benintendi is off limits. Steamer projects him as an above-average big league hitter right now, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they saw him as their Michael Conforto. I know they’re saying the right things about leaving him down right now, but if he gets hot and they are still struggling to get LF production in left, I bet he finishes the year in Fenway.

Dave Cameron: That said, Coppy has made it pretty clear he wants big league talent back, not low level guys, so if they say Benintendi is off the table, I’m not sure the fit there is as strong as everyone assumes.

Matt: Schwarber and good not great prospect for Miller and Chapman. Who say no?

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A Very Different Wei-Yin Chen

When the Marlins inked Wei-Yin Chen to a five year, $80 million deal this offseason they weren’t signing an ace or a workhorse. During his four previous seasons, Chen registered an ERA-, FIP-, or xFIP- better than 90 just once and he maxed out at 192.2 innings in 2012. Chen made a name for himself from 2012 to 2015 as an exemplar of consistency. Above average, but not great. Reliable, but not remarkable.

For $80 million, an opt-out clause, and a vesting option, the Marlins added someone worthy of slotting in behind Jose Fernandez without tying up significant payroll in one of the offseason’s superstar pitchers. Chen probably wouldn’t have been noticed walking down the street in any major-league city other than Baltimore, but front offices and coaching staffs certainly knew the value he could bring to one of those cities.

Yet the early returns on Chen have been somewhat disappointing for the Marlins. He’s running a career worst ERA-, FIP-, cFIP, and DRA over his first 15 starts of 2016. The only major run estimator by which he hasn’t suffered so far this year is xFIP-, which provides a very easy entry point into his struggles: it’s the home-run rate, mostly.

Screenshot 2016-06-28 at 1.07.28 PM

Chen’s never been known for his home-run prevention, registering a HR/9 above the MLB average in each of his major league seasons. Part of that has to do with pitching in Baltimore and in the AL East, but he’s someone who allows a greater share than most of batted balls in the air, and home runs can often come with that territory. This year, his home-run rate has increased at a rate even greater than the MLB average. Granted, the difference between his 2016 HR/9 and his career average HR/9 is something like four home runs over his 86.1 innings this year. Those four home runs happened, but it’s not like we’re looking at an Anibal Sanchez-level event here.

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NERD Game Scores: Paradox of Choice Home Experiment

Devised originally in response to a challenge issued by sabermetric nobleman Rob Neyer, and expanded at the request of nobody, NERD scores represent an attempt to summarize in one number (and on a scale of 0-10) the likely aesthetic appeal or watchability, for the learned fan, of a player or team or game. Read more about the components of and formulae for NERD scores here.


Most Highly Rated Game
Boston (Price) at Tampa Bay (Moore) | 12:10 ET
Chicago NL (Hendricks) at Cincinnati (Reed) | 12:35 ET
Toronto (Sanchez) at Colordao (Anderson) | 15:10 ET
New York NL (Verrett) at Washington (Scherzer) | 19:05 ET

In both his book The Paradox of Choice (through which the present author has leafed casually) and a TED Talk (which the author watched eight years ago) psychologist Barry Schwartz discusses the means by which greater choice can actually facilitate less happiness. With more options, one expects greater satisfaction. When that satisfaction never materializes, however, one becomes disappointed with his or her own selections.

Today represents an opportunity to conduct this experiment for oneself: four games offer roughly the same expected pleasure according to the author’s haphazardly constructed NERD metric. Does this abundance of choice cultivate the same sort of Paradox addressed by Schwarz? Or is it somehow exempt from his point?

Readers’ Preferred Broadcast: Assorted, Naturally.

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Anthony Rizzo Keeps Getting Better

Who is the best hitter in the National League? The easy and “right” answer, insomuch as one exists, is Bryce Harper, as we’re mere months removed from watching him put up the best season at the plate by a 22-year-old since Ted Williams. But with Harper currently producing at the plate at a rate more comparable to guys like Odubel Herrera and Stephen Piscotty, it’s natural to ponder the question: “If not Harper, then whom?”

There are a few viable candidates but two who stick out are the only two National League players other than Harper to post a wRC+ above 150 since 2014: Paul Goldschmidt, who has been consistently elite with the bat for four seasons now and, the subject at hand, 26-year-old superstar, Anthony Rizzo.

In the previous sentence, you could argue I threw around the word “superstar” a bit cavalierly. It’s a word from which I tend to shy away because it’s so incredibly subjective as to be functionally meaningless. I don’t know that there are more than two players in the game right now – Mike Trout and Clayton Kershaw – who are labeled “superstars” with anything resembling universal agreement. Anthony Rizzo certainly wouldn’t receive universal billing as a “superstar.” I don’t know if he’s a superstar by your definition – shoot, I just paired him with that term and I’m not completely convinced he’s a superstar by my own subjective definition – but I do know this: Anthony Rizzo is an extraordinarily talented baseball player and, so far this year, he’s putting up what looks like the best season of his major-league career.

He has set or matched his career high in most key offensive rate stats from on-base percentage to wOBA to strikeout and walk rates. But not only is he putting together a strong season by his own standards, his stats stand out in comparison to his competition in the National League:

Anthony Rizzo 2016 Stats
2016 NL Rank
OBP .410 2
ISO .291 3
wRC+ 161 2
K% 13.2% 13
BB% 13.9% 7
rank out of 82 qualified NL batters
stats current through start of play on Tuesday

There are a variety of different ways to go about building a prototype for an ideal hitter, but a great starting point would be a guy doing exactly what Rizzo is doing right now: exhibiting plate discipline, getting on base, and hitting for power. That’s an impressive trifecta — and, at the core of that offensive profile, lies the key improvements Rizzo has made.

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Effectively Wild Episode 915: State of the Standings: NL Central

As the regular season’s midpoint approaches, Ben talks to Joe Sheehan about the state of the NL Central.