Archive for October, 2016

Effectively Wild Episode 970: Managers, Closers, and Copycats

Ben and Sam banter about Manny Mota Grip Stick and Smash Mouth’s latest Twitter feud, then discuss the Cubs’ use of Aroldis Chapman in Game 5 and some strategic considerations for the rest of the series.


Terry Francona’s Fourth-Inning Dilemma

Much has been made of Terry Francona’s bullpen use this postseason. His aggressive use of relievers, Andrew Miller in particular, has garnered him a considerable amount of praise from all corners. Phrases like “leverage index” have been evoked beyond just the confines of websites like this one. Francona has managed the postseason very differently from the regular season, and that approach has worked very well given the personnel with which he’s working. Francona has felt comfortable using Miller early in games to preserve leads and once even used him to maintain a tie. In the fourth inning of last night’s Game Five loss, however, Cleveland was presented with a high-leverage situation. Instead of turning to the bullpen, Francona chose to stick with his starter, Trevor Bauer. Bauer gave up three runs in what would ultimately be a 3-2 loss. Did Francona wait too long to make a move?

First, a bit of context. As noted, Bauer started the game for Cleveland — and, over the first three innings last night, was significantly better than he appeared in Game Two. In Bauer’s first World Series start, he recorded 71 pitches through three innings, labored to get outs, and struggled with the strike zone. After a walk, a double play, and a single, Bauer was out of the game, having thrown 87 pitches before completing four innings. Last night, Bauer completed his first three innings efficiently, requiring only 45 pitches against 10 batters, striking out five of them. When he headed out to pitch the fourth inning, Bauer had three very good innings under his belt.

The fourth inning didn’t go as well for Bauer, however. On the third pitch of the inning, he sent a sinker down the middle of the plate to Kris Bryant, and Bryant crushed it to tie the game. Nor was Bryant’s shot a wind-aided gift. Consider: of all batted balls this year which left the bat at 105 mph and with a 23-degree launch angle, 70% of them were home runs.

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Eric Longenhagen Prospects Chat Meets the Wolfman

2:03
Eric A Longenhagen: Good morning from Scottsdale Stadium where I’m getting one last look at the Padres Fall Leaguers before I write them up as part of the SD list.

2:03
Eric A Longenhagen: Giants went live today, that’s here: http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/prospect-reports-san-francisco-giants/

2:04
Eric A Longenhagen: Please take two questions a piece so the kids who get here late can still have some.

2:04
Eric A Longenhagen: Okay, let’s begin.

2:05
Zonk: Has Eloy Jimenez’s performance in the AFL changed your opinion of him at all? He’s been OK, but an AFL assignment was aggressive for him given age/experience, is that right?

2:05
Eric A Longenhagen: He looks great, no change of opinion. Monster raw power, probably a little tired right now.

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The Cubs’ Continuing Curveball Crisis

The story of this World Series, to this point, has been Cleveland’s dominance over Chicago’s hitters. During the regular season, the Cubs had the best offense in baseball, once you adjust for the fact that they didn’t have the advantage of the DH, and they regularly pounded their opponents with great hitters and a deep line-up. In this match-up, though, their bats have gone quiet, as they have hit just .210/.281/.311, scoring all of 10 runs in the first five games.

The easy way to explain Cleveland’s success has been to point to greatness of Corey Kluber, Andrew Miller, and Cody Allen, and note that those guys have thrown nearly half of the team’s innings in the series. And it’s certainly true that the Tribe have leveraged their best arms to maximum efficiency, making it quite difficult for the Cubs to rally against inferior pitchers. But there’s more to this story than simply Terry Francona’s bullpen usage; the team is taking apart with the Cubs offense with a systematic plan to pound them with breaking balls.

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Prospect Reports: San Francisco Giants

Below is an analysis of the prospects in the San Francisco Giants farm system. Scouting reports are compiled with information provided by industry sources as well as from my own observations. The KATOH statistical projections, probable-outcome graphs, and (further down) Mahalanobis comps have been provided by Chris Mitchell. For more information on thes 20-80 scouting scale by which all of my prospect content is governed you can click here. For further explanation of the merits and drawbacks of Future Value, read this. -Eric Longenhagen

The KATOH projection system uses minor-league data and Baseball America prospect rankings to forecast future performance in the major leagues. For each player, KATOH produces a WAR forecast for his first six years in the major leagues. There are drawbacks to scouting the stat line, so take these projections with a grain of salt. Due to their purely objective nature, the projections here can be useful in identifying prospects who might be overlooked or overrated. Due to sample-size concerns, only players with at least 200 minor-league plate appearances or batters faced last season have received projections. -Chris Mitchell

Other Lists
NL West (ARI, COL, LAD, SD, SF)
AL Central (CHW, CLE, DET, KC, MIN)
NL Central (CHC, CIN, PIT, MIL, StL)
NL East (ATL, MIA, NYM, PHI, WAS)
AL East (BAL, BOSNYY, TB, TOR)

Giants Top Prospects
Rk Name Age Highest Level Position ETA FV
1 Christian Arroyo 21 AA 3B 2017 55
2 Tyler Beede 23 AA RHP 2018 50
3 Bryan Reynolds 21 A OF 2019 50
4 Ty Blach 26 MLB LHP 2016 45
5 Andrew Suarez 24 AA LHP 2018 45
6 Steven Okert 25 MLB LHP 2016 45
7 Joan Gregorio 24 AAA RHP 2017 45
8 Sandro Fabian 18 R OF 2020 45
9 Chris Stratton 26 MLB RHP 2016 45
10 Matt Krook 22 A- LHP 2019 40
11 Chris Shaw 23 AA 1B 2019 40
12 Jordan Johnson 23 A+ RHP 2019 40
13 Heath Quin 21 A+ OF 2019 40
14 Steven Duggar 22 AA OF 2017 40
15 Dan Slania 24 AA RHP 2017 40
16 C.J. Hinojosa 22 AA SS 2019 40
17 Reyes Moronta 23 A+ RHP 2019 40
18 Melvin Adon 22 A- RHP 2020 40
19 Jalen Miller 19 A 2B 2020 40
20 Garrett Williams 22 A- LHP 2019 40
21 Sam Coonrod 24 AA RHP 2018 40

55 FV Prospects

Drafted: 1st Round, 2013 from Hernando HS (FL)
Age 22 Height 5’11 Weight 185 Bat/Throw R/R
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Hit Raw Power Game Power Run Fielding Throw
50/70 40/40 30/40 40/40 45/50 60/60

Relevant/Interesting Metrics
Slashed .224/.278/.294 at home in 2016, .315/.348/.438 on the road. Worth +11 runs at combination of shortstop and third base this year per Clay Davenport

Scouting Report
Arroyo was viewed as a bit of a reach when he was drafted because he was already very likely to move off of shortstop and quite unlikely to develop prototypical, corner-worthy power. Some scouts wanted to give him a try behind the plate because it was the only place they thought his bat would profile. While scouts were right about Arroyo’s power projection, it may prove less relevant to his future than originally anticipated because his feel to hit compensates so well for it.

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Cubs-Indians: Game Five Notes

Aroldis Chapman had never recorded more than seven outs in a game. Last night, he recorded eight. Thanks to the Cuban flamethrower’s efforts — and Joe Maddon taking a page out of the Terry Francona playbook — the Cubs stayed alive with a nail-biting 3-2 win over the the Indians. The World Series now moves to Cleveland for Game Six, on Tuesday.

August Fagerstrom wrote about the difference between Cleveland and Chicago’s bullpen yesterday. Who knows, maybe Maddon read the piece and took it to heart? Regardless of the reason, his imitative stratagem cemented a win he described earlier in the day as being “as important as oxygen.”

“We got a little taste of our own medicine,” said Cleveland’s Jason Kipnis, after the game. “Late in the year, you don’t really hold anything back. They took a page out of our own book tonight.”

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The Cubs Got Back to Being the Cubs

When a team makes it to the World Series, it’s probably best that they– hold on. Let me re-start that. When a team has one of the best regular seasons in major league history and then goes on to make it to the World Series, it’s probably best that that team continues playing in a similar fashion to the way they played up until that point. That is, if they’re interested in capitalizing on that regular season by winning the World Series. The Cubs are very interested in that proposition.

All along, of course, these Cubs have been interested, but through the first four games of this World Series, we didn’t see as much of the regular season Cubs as we expected. The world-beating Cubs. We certainly didn’t see those Cubs in Games Three and Four at Wrigley, when Cleveland pushed Chicago’s backs to the wall by outscoring them 8-3 in two games on their home turf to take a 3-1 series lead. But in Game Five’s potential Cleveland clincher, Chicago’s last home game of the year, they gave their fans one last taste of what their historical season looked like, whether that history is rewarded with a World Series victory or not.

These Cubs all year played defense. That defense, along with their pitching staff, turned balls in play into outs as well as most any team in baseball history. Saturday’s Game Four loss featured two errors, and they led to early runs. The night before, the game’s only run came on a ball that dropped feet in front of Jorge Soler and was preceded by a wild pitch that put the go-ahead run 90 feet away from home. The Cubs looked sloppy in their losses, and the Cubs haven’t looked sloppy all year.

The Cubs went back to not being sloppy in Sunday’s 3-2 win. Let’s take a trip around the diamond.

For as much that gets made about Jon Lester and holding baserunners, it’s actually pretty tough to steal off him and battery-mate David Ross. Ask Francisco Lindor, who’s learned that the hard way not once, but twice this series.

This is all just so Cubsy. You see Lester staring down a runner who’s practically standing over second base already, and he doesn’t do a dang thing about it. Except for deliver the ball home in about 1.2 seconds to David Ross, who gets it to second in a remarkable 1.7 seconds. And then there’s Javier Baez, who’s probably responsible for shaving two-tenths of a second off Ross’ already elite pop time by doing Baez things: positioning himself in front of the bag — whereas most second baseman would wait on top of it — to get the ball into his glove faster, and then letting the ball travel into his glove, as his glove travels into Lindor.

All three parties here deserve credit for their remarkable parts in this caught stealing, which was huge, by the way. Lindor represented the tying run in Jon Lester’s final inning with Cleveland’s best hitter against left-handed pitching at the plate, with formidable bats in Carlos Santana and Jose Ramirez waiting after him. Two-tenths of a second more by anyone involved — Lester in his delivery, Ross in his exchange, Baez with his positioning and application — and the tying run is scoring on a single. Instead, Napoli led off the next inning with the bases empty against a hard-throwing righty.

That’s three Cubs players who contributed defensively. Let’s keep moving around the infield.

That’s Jose Ramirez busting ass down the line on a ball that’s an infield hit more often than it’s not, runners on the corners with no outs down two more often than not, that instead turned into runner-on-third-one-out-and-this-inning-ended-up-being-scoreless because Addison Russell improvised with his arm slot and showed David Ross that he’s not the only one with an elite pop time. And with all that Russell did, we’re back to runners on the corners with no outs down two, and probably worse, if not for Rizzo’s pick, one of the little things he does consistently that make him an elite defensive first baseman even without the flashy diving plays and catches made while climbing over the tarp.

Speaking of which, let’s move on over to third.

That ball came off Brandon Guyer’s bat at 95 mph, right down the line. That ball went right into Kris Bryant’s glove, as he dove into foul territory. That ball went right into Rizzo’s glove, as he stretched and scooped. The scoops, man. The scoops.

Hey, Jason Heyward played.

Yeah, turns out he didn’t have to climb the wall. Under normal circumstances, this could’ve been a routine catch. Not normal circumstances, though. It was another windy night in Chicago. If any right fielder knows how to read a ball off a bat, it’s Jason Heyward, and the read off this bat was one row foul, within reach. The wind brought it back three row’s lengths toward the field, and Heyward adjusted in a way that few other right fielders would.

Even Ben Zobrist was making sneaky good plays in left:

That’s the kind of play that usually doesn’t get appreciated in real time by viewers, but goes a long way within a dugout and within a clubhouse.

“Don’t understatement how important that play was that Zobrist made keeping that a single,” manager Joe Maddon said. “A lot of times that would have turned into a double. That was a great play by Zo. Eventually we kept them from scoring.”

That’s every player but the center fielder contributing something “plus” in a one-run World Series win. I’m a big fan of the term “run prevention unit,” because as much as a Gold Glove Award insinuates the pinnacle of defensive achievement as being an individual task, defense is often played on the team-level, which isn’t always apparent in the game of baseball. On Sunday night, the Cubs played team defense. Three men played crucial roles in a crucial caught stealing. A first baseman helped ensure two fantastic plays actually turn into outs. How often do you see the diving play that should’ve been out, if only? For the Cubs, the should’ve been outs become outs. The Cubs played team defense.

Hell, they even used two guys to catch a pop fly:

The return to status quo didn’t just occur in the field. It occurred at the plate. The Cubs chased, uncharacteristically, throughout the first four games of this series. During the regular season, they ran one of baseball’s lowest team chase rates. According to BaseballSavant, they offered at 31% of pitches outside the strike zone. In the first four games, that rate spiked by 30%, helping lead to their lowest four-game stretch of run production all season.

And, while Javier Baez has reminded us all that he’s still very much an incomplete package with his plate discipline in this series, Kris Bryant got back to laying off the low-and-away breaking pitch and had himself a game:

chart4

Ben Zobrist was flawless:

chart5

The Cubs chased just 28% of Cleveland’s offerings outside of the zone, getting back under their elite season total.

And then they pitched, too. Lester Lester’d, and the back-end of the bullpen shut the door with three dominant innings the way they did for much of the regular season, except this time, it was just all Aroldis Chapman. That’s the one way the Cubs didn’t look like themselves on Sunday night, but for Cubs fans, that was a deviation from the norm that was finally welcome.

The Cubs now head back to Cleveland, fresh off a reminder of why they were the best team in baseball. Are the best team in baseball. The deficit is still very real, and the Indians are still very much favorites in the series. The Cubs remain the team most likely to play the closest thing to a perfect game of baseball. And perfect isn’t even required to win two more games.


Joe Maddon Terry Francona’d Aroldis Chapman

It’s not the relievers themselves that have seemed to give the Indians a bullpen edge. I know that so many baseball fans have reduced the Indians’ playoff success to the words “Andrew” and “Miller,” but Andrew Miller might not even be the best reliever in the World Series. If you look only at this year, Aroldis Chapman was no less dominant. If you look over the last three years, Aroldis Chapman was no less dominant. Miller maybe feels somewhat fresher; Miller maybe has to try a little harder. But Chapman’s arm is amazing. It’s incredible that he’s ever blown a save.

So it’s not about how well the pitchers can pitch. It’s been about when the pitchers can pitch. The whole advantage with Miller has to do with his versatility, how he can pitch in any situation in any inning. Miller has given Terry Francona almost limitless bullpen freedom, and we’ve seen how that’s worked. With Chapman, things were a little more rigid. You might say traditional. Chapman, they said, was accustomed to his routine, and you wouldn’t want to risk a disruption.

Sunday night, the Cubs risked a disruption. Joe Maddon asked Chapman to be prepared to enter in the seventh. Chapman got warm in the seventh. Chapman came in in the seventh. No one had to relieve Aroldis Chapman. Maybe it wasn’t so much that Chapman got Francona’d — maybe it would be better to say he got Dave Roberts‘d. But for the first time in the playoffs, Chapman was pushed to the extreme, and now the Cubs know there’s something new he can do. That information could prove to be useful as the series shifts right back to Cleveland.

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The Most Fascinating Stolen Base That Didn’t Matter

The Cubs just won Game 5 of the World Series, forcing the series back to Cleveland. There were some really obvious high-drama moments from the game, and we’ll talk about them very soon. But right now, I want to talk about a stolen base that had no impact on the outcome of the game whatsoever.

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2016 World Series Game 5 Live Blog

7:57
Carson Cistulli: This has begun! This largely one-sided conversation has begun!

7:58
Carson Cistulli: And Eric Longenhagen, who’s far more likable, will arrive soon.

7:58
Eric A Longenhagen: I’m totally here.

7:59
Eric A Longenhagen: And ready to appear likable.

7:59
Miguel Sano: Over/under 12.5 outs for Bauer tonight?

8:00
Carson Cistulli: I’d guess over. Francona will likely be a bu more patient tonight, is my idle speculation.

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The Difference Between Cleveland and Chicago’s Bullpen

When it became very clear that the 2016 Chicago Cubs, the 103-win Chicago Cubs, were potentially one game away from their historical season coming to a disappointing finish, the pitcher standing on the mound was Travis Wood. Wood had just been brought in to face the left-handed Jason Kipnis, and Wood had just thrown three balls in four pitches to Jason Kipnis, and then an 87-mph cutter breaking right toward the heart of the plate. Kipnis hit the very hittable cutter 10 rows deep into the right field bleachers at Wrigley Field, on a windy night in Chicago when would-be home runs were becoming warning track fly outs all evening long. Not this one.

Nothing was stopping this ball, off the bat at 105 mph, from landing in the bleachers (and then immediately being thrown back onto the field), from giving the Indians a 7-1 lead in the game, and from getting the Indians one step closer to the 3-1 lead in the World Series which they now possess. And when that ball was on its way out of the playing field, Aroldis Chapman, Hector Rondon, and Pedro Strop, the three most important Cubs relievers during the regular season, looked on from the third-base bullpen, none of them having thrown a single pitch in the game.

Rondon eventually mopped up Wood’s mess — and Justin Grimm’s and Mike Montgomery’s mess, too — throwing two scoreless innings, striking out two of the eight batters he faced while pumping fastballs that touched 99 mph. And the fact that it was Rondon who mopped up the mess caused by lesser relievers, while Chapman and Strop contributed nothing, highlights the key difference between the bullpens of the Chicago Cubs and the Cleveland Indians in this World Series.
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Sunday Notes: Cubs-Indians Game 4, Bogaerts, McHugh, more

Corey Kluber was asked on Friday if facing a team back-to-back will require him to make more adjustments than usual. His answer, presumably predicated on the fact that he dominated in Game One, was a classic yes-and-no.

“I don’t think so,” said Kluber. “They’re obviously going to make adjustments based on last game. I’m going to make adjustments based on last game, and it’s going to be that cat-and-mouse game. But I think anytime you face a team back-to-back or in a short span… I mean, that’s always the case.”

Kluber ended up throwing more curveballs and fewer cutters in Game 4, but the bigger adjustment came from the Cubs. The righty reacted as per usual. Read the rest of this entry »


2016 World Series Game 4 Live Blog

7:53
Neil Weinberg: Hey everyone!

7:53
Neil Weinberg: Nick Stellini and I are going to be your hosts this evening. Nick is going to be joining the site as a regular writer in a week or two, but this is his soft launch.

7:54
Korey Cluber: FOX had Carlos Santana listed as a 1B/OF in the pregame.

7:54
Nick Stellini: If I blow up on the launchpad it’s all Neil’s fault.

7:54
Neil Weinberg: I saw this. Loved it. I am all about players playing weird positions.

7:55
Neil Weinberg:

Who would you like to win tonight?

Cleveland (49.1% | 57 votes)
Cubs (50.8% | 59 votes)

Total Votes: 116

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The Best of FanGraphs: October 24-28, 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 and blue for Community Research.

MONDAY
Minors to Majors: Calculating Individual Pitch Grades by Jeff Zimmerman
One step in tying pitch grades to actual on-field performance.

The 2016 World Series’ Nastiest Pitches by August Fagerstrom
Video clips of men imparting improbable velocity and spin onto leather spheres.

The Kyle Schwarber Decision by Dave Cameron
Revisit a moment in history when rostering Schwarber was a question.

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The Unlikely Kyle Schwarber Defense

Rather than Andrew Miller, it was Bryan Shaw who was stretched past his typical workload in Cleveland’s 1-0 World Series Game Three win on Friday, throwing 31 pitches in a rare multi-inning appearance. Rather than Andrew Miller, it was Bryan Shaw who wound up throwing the high-leverage middle relief innings, handling four of Cleveland’s five highest-leverage at-bats before Cody Allen’s ninth inning. And, rather than Andrew Miller, it was Bryan Shaw who faced lefty Kyle Schwarber when he came off Chicago’s bench.

Everyone in the stadium was waiting to see when Schwarber would get his at-bat. Cody Allen was warm in the bullpen when Schwarber entered the game at at a time when one swing of the bat would have tied things up, but manager Terry Francona stuck with Shaw. Dave Cameron had written hours earlier about this very tango, suggesting that Francona flip-flop the accustomed usage of deploying Miller first, instead saving him for the later innings to make life tougher on Schwarber and Joe Maddon. What Cameron didn’t consider — and why would he have? — is that it wouldn’t be Miller or Allen facing Schwarber at all.

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The Indians Stole the Game They Needed

Like a lot of people, I don’t gamble, but, like a lot of people, I have done it before. I was a sophomore in college, and I thought I knew an awful lot about baseball, so I thought, you know what, I bet I can monetize this. I decided to lean on my baseball expertise to bet on individual baseball games. I bet for two days, I lost about four hundred dollars, and I haven’t tried it again since. I’ve learned more about baseball over the decade, but, have I, really?

If there’s one thing we know about baseball, it’s that we can’t predict it. The smaller the sample, the wilder it gets. But we can be so, so easily tricked, and never is that more clear than it is in the playoffs. In the playoffs, see, individual games are under greater scrutiny. And when you get to the World Series, people are searching for possible keys everywhere. *Everything* is important. This pitcher’s vulnerability could be exploited. That player on the bench will have a good matchup. The guy over there’s a bad defender. We examine these games in so much detail that we start to convince ourselves the games can be actually predicted. We convince ourselves the games will make sense. Earlier Friday, in my chat, I fielded countless questions about the degree to which the Indians would be screwed in Game 3. Road park, Josh Tomlin pitching, wind blowing strongly out, DH in left field. It was all lining up for the Cubs. It was so easy to believe, yeah, this is the Cubs’ game. How couldn’t it be?

You can stare at a coin all you like, but heads or tails will still come up half the time. An exhaustively-examined game in the World Series is not meaningfully more predictable than an unexamined regular-season game in July. Give it one game at a time, and baseball’s likely to baseball. Give it one game at a time, and Tomlin and the Indians can knock off the Cubs 1-0 in a pretty extreme hitters’ environment.

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Cubs-Indians: Game Three Notes

Corey Kluber pitching on three days rest — and starting three games if the Series goes seven — won’t be all that uncommon. Teams have employed their best starter that way in the postseason numerous times. Sometimes the strategy works. Sometimes it doesn’t.

Terry Francona doing so with Kluber makes perfect sense. Not to take anything away from Ryan Merritt, but the rookie repeating his shock-the-baseball-world outing against the Blue Jays would be… well, even more shocking. Lightning rarely strikes twice, and this is the World Series. Plus, Chicago’s lineup isn’t Toronto’s lineup (although both have issues against curveballs). Francona may be managing in Cleveland, but he lives in match-up city.

His explanation of the pitching plans show that logic, not desperation, is the determiner. Read the rest of this entry »


2016 World Series Game 3 Live Blog

4:52
Eno Sarris: oh it’s just a

7:31
Ryan Pollack: Properly this time:

7:32
Ryan Pollack: That’s my musical contribution for the evening. Let’s get this party started!

8:01
Harambe: Eno, this music is terrible.

8:01
Eno Sarris: Oh I know. I’m sorry. It was a funny.

8:02
Chris: hey eno, i’m in bells and founders land but stone from San Diego or whatever just recently started being carried by several places here. what should i look for?

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John Lackey, Umpires, and the Strike Zone

John Lackey might be slightly overlooked on a Chicago Cubs team that’s almost ideally constructed. He isn’t young and he isn’t really a star — which tend to be the two traits that earn a player attention during the postseason. He is an above-average pitcher, though, and as the Cubs’ starter for Game Four of the World Series, he’s in a position to exert some influence over the club’s chances of winning the championship. With all of his antics on the mound, it’s hard to say Lackey does anything gracefully. What he has done, though is age quite well, putting up one of the best two-year runs among pitchers his age over the last three decades. And here’s something about him that’s relevant for Saturday’s game against Cleveland: while he doesn’t need a generous strike zone to succeed — his pitching ability and the great Cubs defense are enough — Lackey, more than most, is in a position to benefit from one.

Over the past two seasons, John Lackey has pitched more than 400 innings with a better-than-league-average FIP. Over the last 30 years, he’s one of just a dozen pitchers to pull off that feat between the age-36 to -37 seasons. While his 6.7 WAR total over that interval might not seem incredibly high, the only pitchers over the last three decades to pitch more innings with a higher WAR are (listed in order of wins) Randy Johnson, David Wells, Chuck Finley, Dennis Martinez, Jack Morris,  R.A. Dickey, Greg Maddux, and Woody Williams .

The relatively even success over the 2015 and -16 seasons doesn’t mean that Lackey hasn’t made adjustments. As Eno Sarris wrote, Lackey improved his change and took a different approach against left-handed batters this season that could have lessened his platoon splits. He both struck out and also walked a few more hitters this year while giving up homers at a higher rate (something to watch for if the wind is blowing out on Saturday), but because of the overall increase in scoring this season, Lackey’s fielding-independent numbers remained nearly identical when taken in context. While he isn’t mowing hitters down, he has continued to record an above-average strikeout rate and walk rate, and the Cubs appear to have gotten a pretty good deal on the two-year, $32 million contract Lackey signed, even if the team did also have to concede a draft pick.

Lackey is a pitcher who relies on swings to get batters out. His strike-zone percentage at 48% is a little below average, but he’s one of just five starting pitchers (Kevin Gausman, Cole Hamels, Max Scherzer, Justin Verlander) in 2016 to finish among the top-20 starters in out-of-zone swing rate (O-Swing%), in-zone swing rate (Z-Swing%), and overall swing percentage. Among the right-handers in that group, all of them throw several miles per hour harder than Lackey — and even the lefty Hamels throws a bit harder on average. Lackey relies on being close enough to the zone to (a) elicit swings on pitches that will either be missed or yield weak contact or (b) get called strikes on borderline pitches. Read the rest of this entry »


The 2016 Chicago Cubs: A Ball-in-Play Snapshot

The Fall Classic is underway, with the underdog Cleveland Indians landing the first haymaker blow for their third series in a row. The NL Champion Chicago Cubs were clearly the best team in baseball throughout the regular season; will they be able to do what the Tribe’s previous postseason opponents couldn’t, and fight their way off of the ropes and onto ultimate victory?

This week, we’re taking a macro, ball-in-play-oriented look at each team and its key players. Earlier this week, we looked at the AL champs; today, it’s the Cubs’ turn under the microscope, as we examine granular data such as BIP frequencies, exit speeds and launch angles to get a feel for what made them tick in 2016.

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