Archive for November, 2016

The A’s Just Added a Cheap Breakout Slugger

Last year, the A’s couldn’t play defense. Matt Joyce isn’t really going to help with that. Last year, the A’s couldn’t keep their pitchers healthy. Matt Joyce isn’t really going to help with that. And, last year, the A’s couldn’t hit very much. Matt Joyce is probably going to help with that.

Here’s the deal — around this time of year, we write about a lot of transactions. We don’t write about every transaction, but we cover the majority of multi-year free-agent signings. Not every one of those signings is interesting. It took me forever to find something to say about Edinson Volquez, and I don’t even like the post that I wrote. Joyce has now signed with the A’s for two years and $11 million, meaning he got half of Volquez’s guarantee. Many of you have figured out this is a post about Joyce, and so you want to just leave and read anything else. But this one is interesting. Joyce is interesting. A few times during the season, I wanted to write him up, but I never got around to it. Now I have a reason, as the A’s might’ve found another cleanup hitter.

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2016 Hitter Contact-Quality Report: NL Second Basemen

With the Winter Meetings on the horizon, our position-by-position look at hitter contact quality continues, using granular exit-speed and launch-angle data as our primary guides. On Monday, it was the AL second-sackers’ turn; today, we turn to their senior-circuit counterparts.

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Win a Free Copy of THT 2017!

Have you heard? The Hardball Times Baseball Annual 2017 is now available for sale. You can check out the table of contents and read some excerpts from the book here. When you finish that you can purchase it Amazon in either print or Kindle form.
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Chris Sale and Giving Up a Stud

Yesterday, Ken Rosenthal published a piece over on FoxSports arguing that, if a team wants to put themselves in the Chris Sale sweepstakes, they should consider parting with one of their “can’t touch” players.

“Can’t do that.”

That’s the phrase baseball people often use when confronted with the possibility of trading a top young player. Can’t do that. Won’t do that. Don’t even go there.

The availability of White Sox left-hander Chris Sale, however, creates a different landscape — or at least, it should.

Rarely, if ever, have we seen a pitcher obtainable under circumstances like this.

Sale, 27, is not simply one of the game’s top aces. He also is under club control for three more years — and priced well below market value at less than $13 million per season.

The White Sox, then, are justified in setting an exceedingly high bar for Sale, and should not settle for less when they start hearing the proverbial “can’t do that” from one team after another.

Rosenthal goes on to list six players who fit the criteria of a cornerstone player, the kind that Rosenthal believes Sale should bring back in return as the foundation of a deal. Those players? Alex Bregman, Andrew Benintendi, Rougned Odor, Julio Urias, Trea Turner, and Dansby Swanson.

Rosenthal is right that Sale, based on his elite performance and remarkably underpriced contract, is worth this kind of player. It’s why he ranked as the 15th most valuable asset in the game in this summer’s Trade Value series, ahead of all six of those players. But if I’m one of the teams trying to make a deal for Sale, I’d still be inclined to try and say “no thanks” to a deal built around those kinds of players.

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Dave Cameron FanGraphs Chat – 11/30/16

Dave Cameron: Happy Wednesday, everyone. Hopefully not the last day with actual baseball news for a while.

Dave Cameron: The CBA expires at the end of the day, so this should be an eventful 12 hours.

Dave Cameron: We can chat about that, or about the off-season, or how fast things cook at altitude — which I may not have correctly accounted for in making Thanksgiving last week.

Brad: Hey Dave, I know you aren’t the prospects guy here, but what’d you think of the Atlanta-Seattle deal for minor leaguers? Is there any hope on Jackson turning it around?

Dave Cameron: He’s, what, 20? There’s always hope with anyone that young. But can anyone think of a successful big leaguer who hit this poorly in A-ball? Anyone?

Dave Cameron: Toss in the reports that his body has gone the wrong way and makeup questions, and I don’t know that I’d be too optimistic.

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The Dodgers’ Payroll Situation Is Far from Dire

The Los Angeles Dodgers have been incredibly successful on the field under the Guggenheim Group, winning four straight division titles and twice coming within two games of a World Series appearances. Not only does the club possess a massive television contract with Time Warner, but they’ve also drawn more than 3.7 million fans in every season under the current ownership group. The team has also been at the top of Major League Baseball payrolls — and, including competitive-balance tax money, has paid out roughly $1.2 billion in salaries over the past four years. There are rumblings that those payroll figures could come down quite a bit, with a detailed piece from Bill Shaikin in the Los Angeles Times indicating how and why payroll could be reduced.

Shaikin does a good job separating the Dodgers’ debt issues from their payroll concerns. While obviously related at some level — both matters are relevant to the Dodgers’ financial health — the one doesn’t necessarily affect the other. According to the current (and expiring) collective bargaining agreement, teams are forbidden from carrying a franchise debt in an amount greater than eight to 12 times the team’s earnings. (The exact multiplier depends on a few different factors not worth exploring here, and how earnings are calculated and why it matters are explained in this comment.) The rule exists to ensure the financial security of all MLB teams, limit outside influences, and make certain that teams aren’t in danger of going under. The Dodgers’ ownership group has been given five years as a grace period before the rule applies to them, giving them another year to address their debt.

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Michael Conforto and the Development of Pull Power

Though it’s not entirely clear why, it nevertheless appears to be the case that the direction of a batted ball matters when you’re attempting to model the distance over which that same batted ball will travel. Perhaps it’s because of the “slice” balls exhibit off the bat. Perhaps it’s because they exhibit less slice when batted in the direction of the pull side. Perhaps the geometry of the field is somehow responsible for distorting the results. I don’t know. A physicist would be able to tell you more!

Anyway, direction matters, and so it looks like pulling the ball is good for power, even if you keep launch angle and exit velocity constant. And that’s relevant today because Michael Conforto is relevant today. With the return of Yoenis Cespedes to the Mets, the club has one outfielder too many. Both the Mets and their 29 hypothetical trade partners are probably wondering about Conforto’s future production. Which version of him is real: the one that raked in 2015 and September of 2016 or the one who hit 10% worse than league average for three-and-half-months this past season?

I already found earlier this month that Conforto’s “barreled” balls weren’t ideal — and perhaps that it was a result of having hit too many of them to center and left (i.e. the opposite) field.

But you hear coaches say that “pull power comes last,” that a player develops his ability to pull the ball later in the development process. In fact, Don Mattingly said almost that exact thing about Christian Yelich a few months ago to our August Fagerstrom.

From Fagerstrom’s post (bold is mine):

“I still think there’s room for him to grow,” Mattingly explained. “He still hasn’t really truly learned how to pull the ball. When he learns how to pull the ball, he’s going to be really scary. Because they’re not going to be able to do some of the things they do to get him out now when he finds that next angle. Once he gets that next piece in there, he’s going to be one of the best hitters in the game.”

So common wisdom suggests that pull power develops with age. Our data suggests that Conforto barreled too many balls to the opposite field. Is it possible that age will allow Conforto to barrel more balls to the pull side?

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2017 ZiPS Projections – Toronto Blue Jays

After having typically appeared in the very famous pages of Baseball Think Factory, Dan Szymborski’s ZiPS projections have been released at FanGraphs the past few years. The exercise continues this offseason. Below are the projections for the Toronto Blue Jays. Szymborski can be found at ESPN and on Twitter at @DSzymborski.

Other Projections: Chicago NL / Washington.

The Blue Jays find themselves in a strangely enviable position right now, if ZiPS is to be believed. The loss both of Jose Bautista (510 PA, 3.1 zWAR) and Edwin Encarnacion (576, 3.6) to free agency creates obvious areas of weakness for the club, nor does the combination of Ezequiel Carrera (381, 0.5) and Melvin Upton Jr. (433, 0.4) appear to be what the metaphorical doctor ordered so far as compensating for those losses. That said, every other position on the team (with the exception of first base) is occupied by a capable starter. Translation: the roster can be improved easily by the installation of even just average players in the corner-outfield slots (and/or first base). The Blue Jays’ reported interest in Jay Bruce and Dexter Fowler (the latter of whom received a three-win projection from ZiPS) is unsurprising, as a result.

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Effectively Wild Episode 982: Scouting the Yankees and Signing the Cespedes

Ben and Sam banter about a scene from Major League, an Adam Jones tweet, and the return of Nora Morse, then talk to BP’s Jeff Paternostro about the Yankees’ farm system, the Mets’ Yoenis Cespedes signing, and the future of international free agency.

FanGraphs After Dark Chat – 11/29/16

Paul Swydan:

Did you miss us?

Hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha (12.2% | 27 votes)
A little bit (19.0% | 42 votes)
Who are you? (27.1% | 60 votes)
Make with the questions, chat boys (41.6% | 92 votes)

Total Votes: 221
Paul Swydan:

Do you like the Mets resigning Yoenis Cespedes?

YES! (56.1% | 156 votes)
Meh (38.4% | 107 votes)
NO! (5.3% | 15 votes)

Total Votes: 278
Paul Swydan: Oh, hi

Paul Swydan: Crap, I spaced on my own chat.

Deez: Whur you is? Yous late holmes!

Paul Swydan: SO LATE!

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Making Yoenis Cespedes Look Better

Yoenis Cespedes never really wanted to leave New York, and now he won’t have to. He’s re-signed with the Mets for four years, and it’ll cost the team $110 million and a no-trade clause. It’s the news of the day, and presumably the news of the week, as Cespedes was considered the best player on the free-agent market. Not even that long ago, one wouldn’t have expected the Mets of all teams to be able to make this sort of splash.

They say Cespedes makes an intangible impact. I don’t have much to say about that. They say Cespedes is the straw that stirs the Mets’ drink. I don’t have much to say about that. They say Cespedes might not age very well now that he has his long-term guarantee. I definitely don’t have much to say about that. I want to talk to you about the details. The stupid little crap that might only matter to readers of FanGraphs. Let’s talk about Yoenis Cespedes’ WAR, and how we might be able to make him look better.

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FanGraphs Audio: Dave Cameron’s FAQ for the CBA

Episode 702
Dave Cameron is the managing editor of FanGraphs. On this edition of the program, he provides an audio primer on the current negotiations for baseball’s new collective bargaining agreement.

This episode of the program either is or isn’t 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 48 min play time.)

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Let’s Fix the Mets Outfield

The Mets have Yoenis Cespedes back! That’s great news, in that he’s a good player, they’re a win-now team, and good players help win-now teams win more. But it’s also a problem, because the Mets already had too many corner outfielders even before Cespedes re-signed with the team. With Cespedes back, they now have four guys for two spots, with three of the four being too similar to work as complementary parts. This is no longer depth; this is officially a logjam.

Complicating the problem is that the team also still kind of needs another outfielder; Juan Lagares is the only real true center fielder on the roster, but how much they can count on him is something of a question, given the thumb injury that sidelined him in 2016 and the elbow problems that limited him in 2015. If the team sees Lagares as more of a defensive replacement than a regular, then the team with the most crowded corner outfield in the game is still short a starting center fielder.

So, let’s try and help Sandy Alderson out here, and see if we can find some ways to turn four corners and no CF into a three man group the team can be happy with on most days.

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Brewers Sign Dinger Machine, DFA Other Dinger Machine

Chris Carter is not, by any stretch of the imagination, what one would characterize as a “pure” or “complete” hitter. He’s the owner of a .218 career batting average and has struck out in 33.1% of his plate appearances. However, 150 of his career 499 hits have also been home runs. As a result, Carter has always found a place to play. His most recent stop was with the Brewers. He hit 41 bombs in Milwaukee this past year, which was enough to tie him with Nolan Arenado for the league lead. He didn’t do much else (recording just a 0.9 WAR this year), but 41 dingers don’t just fall into one’s lap every year. That’s why it’s a little weird that the Brewers seem to have cut ties with their big, slugging first baseman last night. Again, Carter wasn’t that far above replacement level in 2016, but power is power, and it’s hard to imagine that someone wouldn’t have signed up for that in a trade over the winter or at the deadline, when power is such a hot commodity.

To replace Carter, Milwaukee has brought in Eric Thames. Yes, as you’re doing your best Obi-Wan Kenobi impression, Eric Thames. What’s he been up to since 2012, when he last appeared in a big-league game? Do you have half an hour to spare?

Those are all from 2015. Thames joined the NC Dinos in South Korea in 2014 and immediately became one of the biggest offensive threats in the league. He won the league’s MVP award in 2015 with a .381/.497/.790, 47-homer effort. He lost this year to Dustin Nippert, who appeared in 119 major-league games between 2005 and 2010 and posted a 5.31 ERA during that stretch.

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Edinson Volquez Is So Many Pitchers

The top priority for the Marlins is boosting the pitching staff that suffered a devastating blow upon the death of Jose Fernandez. That can’t be forgotten, but at the same time, it’s as good as unfair to other pitchers to lead with this, because Fernandez could have no suitable replacement. The Marlins were robbed of one of the greatest talents on the planet. The Marlins just signed Edinson Volquez. Volquez has his things he can do, but he’s a far cry from being a franchise cornerstone. The more the Marlins attempt to move on, the more we’re all reminded of what they’re trying to move on from.

The Marlins did need some kind of starter. Edinson Volquez is some kind of starter. They gave him two years and $22 million, even though last year Volquez had an ERA in the mid-5s. A couple years ago the Royals gave Volquez an almost identical contract following an ERA of 3.04. Behold the death of ERA! Anyhow, the analysis here is simple. The last three years, Volquez has averaged about 1.6 WAR. Plugging that into our contract tool and accounting for Volquez’s age yields an estimated two-year contract worth…$22 million. Super. What gets me here isn’t Volquez joining the Marlins. It’s the story of Volquez, and the story of many a live-armed starting pitcher.

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The Most Improved Changeup of the Second Half

I’ve been attempting recently to better understand changeups through the prism of spin. A relationship might exist, but it’s difficult to identify. I’m working on it — and, if I find anything, I’ll share it here. In the meantime, though, there still remain some dependable pitch-level metrics which can reveal the quality of a changeup — namely, drop, fade, and velocity difference. While it’s true that there are a multiple pathways to success for the changeup, those which are notable by these criteria also tend to be notable for their effectiveness. Movement, for example, is what allows Zack Greinke’s hard change to work. The velocity gap between the change and the fastball, meanwhile, becomes more important for those changeups which feature less of Greinke’s signature movement.

Over the course of this past season, a few changeups improved in these regards. We should take notice because, even in today’s era of spin, a nasty changepiece can really pull an arsenal together.

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Scouting the Prospects in the Alex Jackson Deal

In all-prospect trade Monday night, the Atlanta Braves acquired OF Alex Jackson from Seattle in exchange for pitchers Max Povse and Rob Whalen. Jackson, the sixth-overall pick in the 2014 draft, is the headliner here despite poor performance in pro ball because he was one of this decade’s most decorated high-school hitters.

In 2012, Jackson led all California high-school hitters in home runs with 17. He was a sophomore. Later that summer, Jackson went to Area Codes, where he had one of the event’s most impressive batting practices. His swing length was exposed in games during the event, but Jackson made an adjustment and shortened up the next spring and continued to rake. He hit well against elite prep arms in showcases during his entire high-school career. The track record for hitters who have consistent success at those events is very good.

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The Best Available Free Agent: Cespedes or Turner?

It’s no secret that position players are the big prize in this winter’s relatively weak free-agent class. Available top-tier starting pitching is essentially non-existent, but there are a few hitters who will be expected to be a big boon to their new teams. Even then, though, it’s not as if the ranks of available hitters are dripping with star-level talent. I keep going back to free-agent rankings ordered according to 2017 projection systems – here’s our free-agent depth chart and here are’s projections – and grappling with the name atop the projections: Justin Turner. Is it actually possible that a 32-year-old infielder coming off his first major-league season as a full-fledged starter is the game’s best available free agent?

The most popular name to cite as this year’s “best” free agent is Yoenis Cespedes. He appears atop Dave Cameron’s top-50 free-agent rankings and all indications are that he’s the most likely player to lock-down a nine-figure contract before next year. Edwin Encarnacion is also available, and all he’s done is hit more homers over the last five seasons (193) than every player in the game except Chris Davis (197). But then there’s Justin Turner. As Cameron said when he listed Turner as the best potential free-agent bargain this winter: “Turner looks like this year’s Ben Zobrist: a good player who will get underpriced because he doesn’t feel as good as he actually is.”

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Top 18 Prospects: Cleveland Indians

Below is an analysis of the prospects in the Cleveland Indians 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
AL Central (CHW, CLE, DET, KC, MIN)
NL Central (CHC, CIN, PIT, MIL, StL)

Indians Top Prospects
Rk Name Age Highest Level Position ETA FV
1 Francisco Mejia 21 A+ C 2019 55
2 Brad Zimmer 23 AAA CF 2018 55
3 Triston McKenzie 19 A RHP 2020 55
4 Greg Allen 23 AA OF 2018 50
5 Bobby Bradley 20 A+ 1B 2019 45
6 Will Benson 18 R OF 2021 45
7 Nolan Jones 18 R 3B 2020 45
8 Erik Gonzalez 25 MLB UTIL 2017 45
9 Yu Chang 21 A+ INF 2019 45
10 Brady Aiken 20 A- LHP 2020 45
11 Juan Hillman 19 A- LHP 2020 45
12 Yandy Diaz 25 AAA 3B 2017 45
13 Anthony Santander 22 A+ 1B/OF 2019 40
14 Rob Kaminsky 22 AA LHP 2018 40
15 Gabriel Mejia 21 A- CF 2021 40
16 Shawn Armstrong 26 MLB RHP 2017 40
17 Willi Castro 19 A SS 2020 40
18 Mark Mathias 22 A+ 2B 2019 40

55 FV Prospects

Signed: July 2nd Period, 2012 from Dominican Republic
Age 21 Height 5’10 Weight 175 Bat/Throw S/R
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Hit Raw Power Game Power Run Fielding Throw
40/70 50/55 30/45 50/40 40/50 70/70

Relevant/Interesting Metrics
Slashed .333/.379/.500 as a left-hander in 2016, .359/.390/.542 as right-hander.

Scouting Report
Arguably the best catching prospect in all of baseball, Mejia’s prodigious arm strength and bat-to-ball ability give him the raw physical material to impact the game in a variety of ways. A switch-hitter, Mejia has fantastic bat control from both sides of the plate and tracks pitches well. He has plus bat speed and, except for the occasional rash of overswinging, generates it with little effort. As a right-handed hitter, Mejia hits to all fields. He’s more pull-heavy as a left-handed hitter but is better at creating airborne contact from that side. Mejia’s strikeout rate has fallen as he’s risen up the minor-league ladder. I have a future 70 on the hit tool.

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Effectively Wild Episode 981: The New-GM Job Check

Ben and Sam banter about a baseball TV trope and a Roger Angell passage, then discuss how they would have asked and answered interview questions for the Twins and Diamondbacks GM jobs and what they thought of the Mariners’ and Diamondbacks’ Jean Segura-Taijuan Walker trade and the Twins’ Jason Castro signing.