Archive for February, 2017

FanGraphs After Dark Chat – 2/28/17

5:00
Paul Swydan:

What is the best Netflix original show?

Master of None (11.7% | 18 votes)
 
Black Mirror (11.1% | 17 votes)
 
Bojack Horseman (15.6% | 24 votes)
 
Narcos (14.3% | 22 votes)
 
Luke Cage (3.2% | 5 votes)
 
Jessica Jones (4.5% | 7 votes)
 
The Get Down (0% | 0 votes)
 
Orange Is The New Black (9.1% | 14 votes)
 
The OA (1.9% | 3 votes)
 
Other (say in comments) (28.1% | 43 votes)
 

Total Votes: 153
5:02
Paul Swydan:

On what team did you most like Bartolo Colon?

Cleveland (15.9% | 34 votes)
 
Expos (13.6% | 29 votes)
 
White Sox (3.7% | 8 votes)
 
Angels (4.2% | 9 votes)
 
Red Sox (2.3% | 5 votes)
 
Yankees (2.8% | 6 votes)
 
A’s (5.1% | 11 votes)
 
Mets (40.8% | 87 votes)
 
Braves (3.7% | 8 votes)
 
I never liked him (7.5% | 16 votes)
 

Total Votes: 213
9:00
Paul Swydan: Hi everybody!

9:01
Felix: Best Netflix show is Daredevil

9:01
Graves: Netflix original: Ultimate Beastmaster

9:01
Caffeind: Daredevil or Stranger Things

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Baseball’s Newest Slider Machine

I first heard of Chaz Roe in December of 2010, when he was traded straight-up for Jose Lopez. It wasn’t a promising thing; it was more like, hey, in 2009 Lopez hit 25 home runs, and in 2010 the best he could get in a trade was Chaz Roe. Roe, since then, has bounced around without quite establishing himself. He is, at this point, a 30-year-old man, who is now with his tenth organization, one of which having been an independent outfit named the Lemurs. Roe has traveled all over the place. He’s been sufficiently intriguing to get a number of looks, yet insufficiently effective to stick. Such is the career of an eighth or ninth reliever.

By now, I’m sure Roe doesn’t feel too secure. He’s probably hesitant to ever unpack any bags, and his current employer — the Braves — remains in the midst of a rebuild anyway. If Roe’s bad, he could go. If Roe’s good, he could go. The future’s uncertain, but at least Roe is now giving it his best shot. He’s running out of time to build a more stable career, so late last season, he started using his best pitch a lot more. It sounds so simple to us. It seems almost obvious. You can now count Chaz Roe among the slider machines.

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Scott Boras’s Increasingly Popular Play Call: The End-Around

The Scott Boras influence on the Nationals’ roster is “inescapable” wrote Washington Post scribe Barry Svrluga on Monday.

Svrluga calculates that, after the Matt Wieters signing, nine players on the Nationals’ projected Opening Day roster will almost certainly be Boras clients, their contracts totaling $551.4 million.

When Dave Cameron examined the curious signing of Wieters by the Nationals earlier this month the FanGraphs editor wrote:

The lesson, as always; if you’re not sure where a Scott Boras client is going to sign, Washington is always a safe guess.

At the plate, Wieters isn’t clearly better than Norris, even with the latter’s miserable 2016 as our most recent data point. …. Statcorner has Norris at +22.5 runs from framing in his career, while Wieters is at -20.9. Prorated to 10,000 pitches, that’s roughly +6.5 per season for Norris and -3.2 for Wieters, so about a 10 run swing between them per year.

The Nationals needed help. They needed to bolster their bench, they required bullpen help, and reportedly added Joe Blanton Tuesday. What they didn’t need was Wieters, a poor receiver with a middling bat. With Wieters, Boras appears to have sold ice to an arctic village. It was a surprising fit, only it wasn’t, as Boras and Nationals owner Ted Lerner have developed something of a deal-making relationship.

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FanGraphs Audio: Making the New Over/Under Prospect Game

Episode 719
Lead prospect analyst Eric Longenhagen is the guest on this edition of the pod. On this episode, he and the idiot host set the over/under WAR figures for the home edition of the Over/Under Prospect Game, which readers can play by clicking here.

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 1 hr 10 min play time.)

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The Over/Under Prospect Game: Home Edition

During the former’s most recent appearance on FanGraphs Audio, Eric Longenhagen and the host of that program played what they called the Over/Under Prospect Game. The rules of the game are discussed in greater detail within the pod episode. In short, though, this is how it’s played:

  • Contestant A nominates a rookie-eligible player.
  • Contestant A also sets an over/under figure for that player’s WAR in 2017.
  • Contestant B chooses the over or under.

The results of that experiment are published here. But why this current post exists is because multiple readers suggested that they, too — with a view to holding at arm’s length the burdens and worries of life — would like to participate in the Over/Under Game, as well. So what this post does is announce the existence of such a game for readers of FanGraphs.com.

Play the Over/Under Prospect Game: Home Edition by clicking here.

For this edition of the Game, Longenhagen and I have set over/under WAR figures for 10 players, five batters and five pitchers. What sort of batters and pitchers? Rookie-eligible ones, is what kind — specifically, the rookie-eligible ones who’ve received the highest plate-appearance and innings-total projections per this site’s depth charts.

The rules of the Home Edition are as follows:

  1. Choose the under or over for each prospect listed.
  2. Choose an innings total for Ty Blach — as tie-breaker in event that multiple contestants finish with most correct guesses.
  3. The winner will receive a gift certificate for Barrio Queen in Scottsdale, Arizona, equivalent to price of pitcher of sangria plus tax.

Ballots for the Home Edition of the game will be accepted until Sunday, March 5, at 11:59pm ET. Any questions? Don’t hesitate to ask them in the comments section below. Also don’t hesitate to listen in breathless, real-time action to the making of the Home Edition on FanGraphs Audio.

Play the Over/Under Prospect Game: Home Edition by clicking here.


Robert Gsellman and Changing Paradigms

This morning, Eric Longenhagen released his list of the Top 20 Mets prospects, giving kudos to an underrated system led Amed Rosario, who Eric noted could be the #1 prospect in the game when next year’s Top 100 rolls around. Right behind him, Eric went with Robert Gsellman, the Jacob Degrom lookalike who ended last year in Queens, helping pitch the Mets to a Wild Card berth. This was a bit of a deviation from where Gsellman has ranked on other lists, as Baseball America had him as the #7 prospect in the Mets system, while MLB.com had him at #5. Eric, though, put a 55 FV grade on him, the same rating as many of the best-known pitching prospects in the game, such as Michael Kopech, Tyler Glasnow, and Jose De Leon.

Given Gsellman’s track record, it’s not surprising that he would engender some pretty different points of view. A 13th round pick, he was a run-of-the-mill pitch-to-contact guy for most of his minor league career, running strikeout rates as low as 13% in Double-A as recently as 2015. As Eric noted, he mostly sat in the low-90s and pitched primarily off his fastball, so between not being much of a prospect when drafted to not having an out-pitch against low-level hitters, there weren’t a lot of reasons to get too excited about Gsellman’s future.

But then last year, the velocity began to tick up a bit, and he got his strikeout rates up closer to league average in both Double-A and Triple-A, which earned him enough notice to get a big league callup when the injury plague hit Queens and the team needed another starter to help down the stretch. And then, once he got to the big leagues, he was nothing short of spectacular, running a 2.42 ERA/2.63 FIP/3.38 xFIP in 45 innings of work. As a Major Leaguer, his fastball sat at 94, generated a bunch of groundballs, and his secondary stuff was good enough for him to post an above-average strikeout rate. Besides the fact that five of his seven starts came against the Braves and Phillies, there was basically nothing to argue with in his big league performances.

So, Gsellman is a great test case for how evaluators weight different types of information. On the one hand, we have four years of minor league data suggesting that he doesn’t get enough strikeouts to be a high-end big league pitcher, and you almost always want to go with four years of history over a month’s worth of data. On the other hand, not only is Gsellman’s performance in the majors the most recent data, but it also provides some pretty clear evidence that he’s not throwing the same stuff he was as a minor leaguer who didn’t miss bats. What you think of Gsellman’s future likely depends on how much importance you put on long-term track record versus how willing you are to believe that a small sample performance that doesn’t match the history suggests a change in skillsets.

Before PITCHF/x and Statcast, I’d probably be in the “small sample size” camp, pointing out that even including 2016’s improved minor league numbers, KATOH is still comparing him to guys like Aaron Cook, and suggesting we don’t get too excited about a small handful of starts against poor competition. But thankfully, with better data, I think we now better understand of the limits of yelling “small sample size” about everyone, and we have tools that allow us to more regularly identify guys whose track records lose relevance after a significant shift in skills. And when you read Eric’s write-up and look at what Gsellman threw in the big leagues, I think there’s enough evidence to suggest that not only is the optimism warranted, but that it’s possible that we’re still undervaluing him even now.

Let’s put the minor league numbers aside for a minute. Let’s just talk about raw stuff. In the big leagues, Gsellman primarily threw a sinker that averaged 94, ran his four-seam fastball up to the high-90s on occasion, and threw a couple of breaking balls and a change-up ranging from 82-89. Using the always-nifty pitch descriptions from Brooks Baseball, which turn the data into scouting-report style write-ups, this is what Gselllman’s stuff looked like in the majors last year.

His sinker generates an extremely high number of swings & misses compared to other pitchers’ sinkers, generates a very high amount of groundballs compared to other pitchers’ sinkers and has well above average velo. His fourseam fastball has slightly above average velo. His cutter generates an extremely high number of swings & misses compared to other pitchers’ cutters, has heavy sink and is a real worm killer that generates an extreme number of groundballs compared to other pitchers’ cutters. His curve is slightly harder than usual. His change is basically never swung at and missed compared to other pitchers’ changeups, is much firmer than usual and results in somewhat more flyballs compared to other pitchers’ changeups. His slider (take this with a grain of salt because he’s only thrown 18 of them in 2016) is thrown extremely hard, is an extreme flyball pitch compared to other pitchers’ sliders and has primarily 12-6 movement.

Despite the difference between calling his primary hard breaking ball a slider or a cutter, this matches up well with what Eric wrote, and the first sentence really emphasizes why Gsellman destroyed big league hitters last year. A 94 mph sinker that generates both an “extreme” number of swinging strikes and generates a “very high” number of groundballs is a huge weapon. For instance, here’s the leaderboard of swinging strike rate on sinkers from 2016.

2016, Whiff/Swing on Sinkers
Rank Pitcher Whiff/Swing%
1 Vincent Velasquez 26%
2 Carlos Carrasco 22%
3 Yu Darvish 20%
4 Jake Arrieta 20%
5 Steven Matz 20%
6 Robert Gsellman 19%
7 Brandon Finnegan 18%
8 Robbie Ray 18%
9 Yordano Ventura 17%
10 Noah Syndergaard 16%

Probably not a coincidence that there are three Mets on that list. Also not a coincidence; most of these guys are really good. Darvish, Arrieta, and Syndergaard are three of the game’s most elite pitchers, and Carrasco isn’t far behind. Guys who throw swing-and-miss sinkers have a great foundation, and Gsellman’s sinker put him in the top tier of bat-missing with the pitch.

But Gsellman might also be different from most of those guys, because his sinker also generated the 12th highest GB% of any sinker in MLB last year. In general, the guys who get high whiff rates on their sinker don’t also get high grounder rates. For instance, Velasquez had the highest whiff rate but the fourth-lowest grounder rate. Out of the 119 pitchers who threw at least 200 sinkers last year, Darvish ranked 79th in groundball rate, Arrieta ranked 65th, and Ray ranked 87th. Brandon Finnegan, the least encouraging comparison on the whiff rate list, ranked 110th.

The only other pitcher who ranked in the top 20 in grounder rate on his sinker and top 10 in whiff rate with the pitch was Carlos Carrasco, who ranked 19th in GB% with his sinker; Ventura was 22nd and Syndergaard was 24th, for the record.

So, yeah, Gsellman’s sinker. This looks like it might be a pretty special pitch. If all we knew about him was that he threw that, then there would be plenty of reason for optimism. But the good news doesn’t end there.

His minor league track record shows a guy who is able to pound the strike zone, and he did the same thing in the big leagues. This isn’t a Daniel Cabrera situation, where a guy with a great fastball is unable to throw strikes and puts himself in hitter’s counts where guys can sit on it and crush a predictable offering. As Eric notes, Gsellman’s entire thing as a minor leaguer was fastball command, only now he’s apparently commanding a sinker that might be among the best in the game.

The primary knock against Gsellman now is that the breaking balls still aren’t great, and as Eric notes, the change-up is kind of terrible. As, as a sinker-heavy right-hander who is probably going to move towards the slider as his primary breaking ball — he’s a Met, after all — there seems to be some risk that he might be vulnerable to left-handers. But then, there’s this.

Gsellman’s Splits, MLB 2016
Platoon BB% K% GB% xFIP wOBA
Vs LHB 10% 28% 49% 3.13 0.267
Vs RHB 7% 19% 58% 3.60 0.292

Platoon splits are one of the things that can show up pretty quickly, especially if a guy has a limited repertoire that only works against one type of hitter; it’s almost impossible for a sinker/slider right-hander to accidentally strike out a bunch of lefties if he’s throwing from a low-arm slot. But that wasn’t Gsellman’s story, as he struck out a higher percentage of lefties than righties, and still got a bunch of grounders from them as well. His breaking stuff might not scare left-handers much, but it seems like the fastball is good enough to pitch off of against hitters from either side, and while we shouldn’t put any stock in the reverse-platoon aspect of things, it’s at least encouraging that lefties didn’t torch him in the big leagues.

So, based on what he threw in the majors last year, it seems difficult to cling to comparisons to guys like Aaron Cook or Mike Leake. Gsellman looks like he has one of the best sinkers in the game, sitting at 94 with movement and command. The secondary stuff isn’t great, but realistically, there doesn’t seem to be a huge difference between what Gsellman was throwing in the big leagues last year and what Aaron Sanchez rode to an All-Star appearance in Toronto. Sanchez throws a tick harder, but he’s an example of what a heavy sinking fastball that also misses bats can do, even for a pitcher that doesn’t do a lot of other stuff at a high level.

Without a true knockout breaking ball, he probably won’t run elite strikeout rates, but the reality is that a guy who throws strikes and gets groundballs doesn’t also need an elite strikeout rate to be a good pitcher. Even if he settles in as more of a Marcus Stroman or Sonny Gray, guys with roughly average strikeout rates, that’s still a high-end arm, and the profile doesn’t look too different from what Garrett Richards was earlier in his career, showing that these guys do add strikeouts as they develop sometimes.

Of course, not every velocity spike is long-lasting, and the story changes a bit if Gsellman goes back to throwing 92 instead of 94. Health certainly is no guarantee. But I think this might be one of the times where what a player was previously might be having too much of an impact on what we think he is now. Eric certainly wasn’t conservative in giving Gsellman a 55 FV grade and putting him in the upper tier of pitching prospects around the game, but I wonder if even that might be underselling the value of a big league ready arm who throws what Gsellman throws.

There just aren’t that many guys commanding 94 sinkers that miss bats and get ground balls. It’s easy to look at the rest of the stuff and say that it’s not special, but if he had another special pitch, he’d be the best pitching prospect alive. As is, he looks pretty good to me, even without a knockout breaking ball. And if he develops one, well, good luck National League.


KATOH’s 2017 Top-100 Prospects

It’s that time of the year again. Baseball America recently published their top-100-prospects list, as have Baseball Prospectus, Keith Law and MLB Pipeline. Eric Longenhagen will be putting out his top-100 this spring, too. Below, you’ll find my KATOH projection system’s take on baseball’s most promising rookie-eligible players.

As usual, hitters far outnumber pitchers on these lists, by about three to one. The reason for this, I think, is two-fold. Primarily, it’s just that even the best pitching prospects are risky. They get hurt; they lose velocity; they move to bullpen — all with little notice. Even the pitchers who do pan out are less likely to sustain their success over several years than their hitting counterparts. Secondly, KATOH does not directly account for pitchers’ velocity (or any other measure of “stuff”). If I were able to include a measure of fastball velocity, for example, I imagine most of the top pitching prospects would project more favorably. There isn’t an obvious scouting analogue for hitters that is glaringly omitted by the numbers.

The first top-100 list ranks prospects by KATOH+, which takes into account players’ performance, age, height and ranking on traditional prospect lists. This is the more “accurate” version of KATOH. As it did previously, this incorporates a player’s rank on Baseball America’s top-100 list. However, this version also folds in Eric Longenhagen’s FV ranking for the players who weren’t ranked by Baseball America, ensuring borderline top-100 guys aren’t dinged as hard as non-prospects.

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Eric Longenhagen Prospects Chat, Where is Tebow?

12:02
Eric A Longenhagen: Good morning everyone, we’ll keep things tight to an hour today as I wrap up the Washington prospect list and move on to New York (AL).

12:02
Eric A Longenhagen: Here’s the Mets list: http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/top-20-prospects-new-york-mets/

12:03
Eric A Longenhagen: let’s begin

12:03
Slamboni: What are your thoughts on Anderson Tejada? Still young and has room to grow, but his numbers intrigue me

12:04
Eric A Longenhagen: I like him. Good bat speed, you’re right that the body has more to give and there’s already some power in there, not sure he’s a shortstop but the bat projects fine at second base and if he does stay at short he could be a star. Was raw vs any offspeed stuff in AZL but showed some ability to adjust.

12:04
Fred: Do you prefer Allard or Braxton Garrett?

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Joe Blanton Finally Finds a Home

Before today, the last post containing information about Joe Blanton on the baseball news aggregator MLB Trade Rumors went up on February 2nd. He was one of the seven remaining players in the right-handed reliever section of the site’s list of free agents, alongside players like Jerome Williams and Jonathan Papelbon who have fallen victim to the passage of time. Blanton is 36 years old, with 1723.1 regular-season innings’ worth of mileage on his right arm. Our Depth Charts projection system looked into its cybernetic crystal ball and foresaw just 0.7 WAR for him this year. In a way, it’s not surprising that Blanton didn’t have an employer until today, when he signed with the Nationals.

But it’s also quite strange that he couldn’t find a deal until now, and that he didn’t find more than $4 million for a year (and, in typical Washington fashion, $3 million of that sum is deferred). He’s been just as valuable as Shawn Kelley these last two years, ever since he was reborn from the pitching ashes as a reliever. Blanton’s career was through, collapsed under the groaning weight of home runs surrendered. He didn’t appear in a big-league game in 2014, and then reappeared as a member of the Royals’ bullpen the following year. He’s been a valuable relief workhorse ever since.

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Max Fried and the Braves’ Risk Tolerance

Max Fried is a dude again.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports that it is so. Being a dude in baseball is much preferable to being just a guy.

After a lengthy rehab from Tommy John surgery and a shaky return, Fried finished the 2016 minor-league season by striking out 44 against seven walks in 25 innings over his final four starts. He touched 97 mph and the knee-melting curveball was back. According to the reviews out of Braves camp, he has picked up this spring where he left off in the fall:

You might recall that Fried was once the second-best pitcher on his high-school team, behind staff ace Lucas Giolito, but was talented enough to go seventh overall in the 2012 draft.

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Michael Kopech on Heat, Momentum, and Health

Michael Kopech’s fastball sits in the upper 90s and has reportedly been clocked at 105 mph. With that kind of electricity, he has one of the highest upsides of any pitching prospect in the game. Part of the package Chicago received from Boston in the Chris Sale deal, he’s a big part of the White Sox’ future.

He obviously needs to stay healthy, and continue to grow his game, for that to come to fruition. There’s risk in both areas. Kopech is just 20 years old, and thanks in part to a pair of off-the-field snafus, he’s thrown only 134.2 innings since being drafted 33rd overall out of Mount Pleasant (Texas) High School in 2014. He’s been a dynamo in that smallish sample, fanning 11.5 batters and allowing 6.2 hits per nine innings of work.

Kopech talked about his ongoing development, including his burgeoning velocity, late last week.

———

Kopech on his delivery and glove-side fastballs: “[Pitching coach Don Cooper] said he likes what I do mechanically, and a lot of that is from what I worked on with the Red Sox, but a few things have been tweaked. I’m trying to stay back over my back leg longer, and stay tall. Something that’s been really important for me is… not necessarily trying to stay in line toward the plate, but to have my momentum carried in the right direction. I’ve been a guy who throws across his body my whole career, but as long as I can keep my momentum going the right way, I feel like that’s more important than making a line.

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Top 20 Prospects: New York Mets

Below is an analysis of the prospects in the New York Mets 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)

Mets Top Prospects
Rk Name Age Highest Level Position ETA FV
1 Amed Rosario 21 AA SS 2017 65
2 Robert Gsellman 23 MLB RHP 2017 55
3 Dom Smith 21 AA 1B 2017 50
4 Justin Dunn 21 A- RHP 2019 50
5 Andres Gimenez 18 R SS 2020 50
6 Desmond Lindsay 20 A- OF 2020 45
7 Thomas Szapucki 20 A- LHP 2020 45
8 Thomas Nido 22 A+ C 2018 45
9 Brandon Nimmo 23 MLB OF 2017 45
10 Gregory Guerrero 18 R SS 2020 45
11 Gavin Cecchini 23 MLB 2B 2017 45
12 Peter Alonso 22 A- 1B 2020 40
13 Wuilmer Becerra 22 A+ OF 2019 40
14 Josh Smoker 28 MLB LHP 2017 40
15 Luis Guillorme 22 A+ UTIL 2018 40
16 Merandy Gonzalez 21 A- RHP 2019 40
17 Marcos Molina 21 A+ RHP 2018 40
18 Ricardo Cespedes 19 R OF 2020 40
19 Luis Carpio 19 A- UTIL 2020 40
20 Paul Sewald 26 AAA RHP 2017 40

65 FV Prospects

Signed: July 2nd Period, 2012 from Dominican Republic
Age 21 Height 6’2 Weight 170 Bat/Throw R/R
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Hit Raw Power Game Power Run Fielding Throw
40/60 50/55 40/50 60/60 55/60 60/60

Relevant/Interesting Metrics
Slashed .324/.374/.459 between High-A and Double-A in 2016.

Scouting Report
When Rosario was a teenager, he was a messy amalgam of limbs, athleticism and clearly present baseball instincts that were all wholly unsupported by a lack of physical strength. As he has started to fill out (it was easy to see, even back in 2012, that he was going to) and gotten stronger, he has become more explosive, his actions more refined, and he’s begun to hit. And indeed, at just 21 years old with more room for mass on the body, Amed Rosario has just begun.

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Effectively Wild Episode 1025: Season Preview Series: Giants and Braves

EWFI

Ben Lindbergh and Jeff Sullivan follow up on an Andrew Miller discussion and banter about Cubs backlash, then preview the Giants’ 2017 season with Grant Brisbee of SB Nation and the Braves’ 2017 season with Mark Bradley of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

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Are We at the High-Water Mark for Shifting in Baseball?

Here’s the thing about bunting: it can be a good idea if the third baseman is playing too far back. The chance of a hit goes up in that case, and a successful bunt often causes the third baseman to play more shallow in future plate appearances, so future balls in play receive a benefit. That’s one of those games within a game we see all the time in baseball: once the positioning deviates from “normal” by a certain degree, the batter receives a benefit. Then the defender has to change his approach.

This tension created by the bunt illustrates how offenses and defenses react to each other’s tendencies. That same sort of balance between fielder and hitter might be playing out on an even broader scale, however, when it comes to the shift in general.

Too many shifts in the game, and the players begin to adjust. They develop more of a two-strike approach, they find a way to put the ball in play on the ground the other way, or they make sure that they lift the ball if they’re going to pull it. There’s evidence that players are already working on lifting the ball more as a group, pulling the ball in the air more often than they have in five years, and have improved on hitting opposite-field ground balls. So maybe this next table is no surprise.

The League vs. the Shift
Year Shift wOBABIP No Shift wOBABIP
2013 0.280 0.294
2014 0.288 0.294
2015 0.286 0.291
2016 0.292 0.297
wOBA = weighted on base average on balls in play

The league has improved against the shift! The shift is dead! Or, wait: the league has actually improved as a whole over this timeframe, and the difference between the two is still about the same. And every team would take a .292 wOBA against over a .297 number. Long live the shift.

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It’s Difficult to Exaggerate Aaron Judge’s Power

There are always so many spring-training home runs. Generally speaking, there’s no reason for you to care about spring-training home runs. You might consider caring about this spring-training home run.

The stakes almost couldn’t be lower. The bases were empty in the bottom of the fifth of a game in the last week of February. Had the exhibition not been televised, that home run would live only in Twitter descriptions. But that’s a video of Aaron Judge going really, spectacularly deep, and that video immediately made the usual rounds. As spring training goes, that was headline news.

Judge, right now, is a 24-year-old with 95 big-league plate appearances, and a .608 big-league OPS. When he did come to bat for the Yankees, he struck out close to half of the time, so in that sense he is completely unproven. Yet there’s this one thing he doesn’t have to prove anymore. Aaron Judge doesn’t just make regular contact. When he makes contact — if he makes contact — it’s easy to see why the comparisons to Giancarlo Stanton are no exaggeration.

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The Fans Are Most Optimistic About Yoan Moncada

As of this moment, the writers at FanGraphs responsible for curating this site’s depth charts have allocated some type of playing time to 586 position players across the league’s 30 teams, from Freddie Freeman, Miguel Sano, and Carlos Santana at 665 plate appearances each down to Victor Caratini and Pedro Severino at just six a piece.

Of the 586 players who appear on those depth charts, 264 have received a sufficient quantity of fan ballots to earn a published projection. The fan assessments tend almost uniformly to skew optimistic. In the case of the 264 aforementioned players, for instance, the depth-chart projections (a combination of Steamer and ZiPS) call for an average of 2.1 WAR per every 600 plate appearances. The fans, meanwhile, call for 2.7 WAR per 600 plate appearances. That’s roughly a half-win difference for every player prorated to a full season.

Even though optimism is generally the rule in these matters, it comes in degrees. Nearly 20 players, for instance, receive a prorated fan projection that’s precisely a half-win better than the corresponding depth-chart projection. Over 170 players — i.e. about 65% of the entire sample — earn a fan-based projection that’s between 0.0 to 1.0 wins better than the figure produced by the the combination of Steamer and ZiPS.

The purpose of this brief post, however, is to consider briefly the players about whom the crowd is most optimistic. To identify that group, I prorated both the fan and depth-chart projections to 600 plate appearances and subtracted the latter result from the former. Here are the players who receive the top fan projections relative to their depth-chart numbers.

Players Most Highly Regarded by Fans (Relative to Projections)
Rank Name Club Fan600 Depth600 Diff
1 Yoan Moncada White Sox 4.6 0.6 3.9
2 Keon Broxton Brewers 3.6 1.4 2.3
3 Cameron Rupp Phillies 3.8 1.6 2.2
4 Brandon Drury D-backs 2.7 0.5 2.2
5 Guillermo Heredia Mariners 2.7 0.5 2.2
6 Byron Buxton Twins 4.7 2.6 2.0
7 Tim Anderson White Sox 3.7 1.6 2.0
8 Mallex Smith Rays 2.6 0.7 1.9
9 Willson Contreras Cubs 4.9 3.1 1.8
10 Luis Valbuena Angels 2.9 1.1 1.8
Fan600 denotes the FAN projections prorated to 600 plate appearances.
Depth600 denotes depth-chart projections prorated to 600 plate appearances.
Diff denotes difference between two.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, one finds that most of the players here — all of them, really, with the exception of Luis Valbuena — have little major-league experience. That makes sense on two accounts. First, it’s logical that the projection systems would be conservative with this population. All things being equal, a player who lacks past success in the majors is unlikely to produce future success in the majors. On the other hand, if there’s a type of player about whom the public might possess information for which the numbers don’t account, it’s a prospect.

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Cubs Notes: Maddon, Hendricks, Anderson, Zagunis

Brett Anderson knows the numbers. Currently in camp with the Cubs, the 29-year-old southpaw was indoctrinated into the data game when he reached the big leagues with the Oakland A’s, in 2009.

“I came up in an organization that was at the forefront of it,” explained Anderson. “Then Brandon McCarthy came over [in 2011] and he was even more into it than most players. So I’ve been using it, although not to the extent I do now, since my rookie year.”

A player’s enthusiasm for analytics is relative. In Anderson’s case, practicality is the overriding factor. He’s data savvy, but wary of paralysis by analysis. He’s careful not to delve too deep.

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FanGraphs on Tour With Pitch Talks 2017

Last year, we joined up with the Pitch Talks crew for a three-city U.S. tour, and had a blast in Boston, San Francisco, and Chicago. The response was clear, so instead of just hitting up a few cities this year, the tour is expanding to 16 dates, and we’re covering a good chunk of the country from April through August. Here’s the current tour schedule.

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Travis Sawchik FanGraphs Chat

12:02
Travis Sawchik: Welcome to Sawchik Chat VIII, everyone. How about those Oscar snafus? Let’s talk …

12:03
baby bull : are the Yips baseball specific? Are there accounts of Golfers or other athletes that suffer from same mental block?

12:04
Travis Sawchik: I wrote about the yips today on the site …. They are not baseball specific as they occur in golf and tennis, too. Any sport where you have time to think between movements and action, the yips can probably occur

12:04
Travis Sawchik: Sergio Garcia has dealt with them ,I believe

12:05
Michael: What spring training battles are your top 3 to watch?

12:06
Travis Sawchik: Speaking of the yips, I hope Swihart can get over his throwing issues this spring. I know it’s a good bet he begins in 3A, but I still think he can be a quality regular and he should be able to push the competition in front of him …. I’m curious if Hahn can grab a rotation spot in Oakland

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Can Baseball Solve the “Yips”?

The very real psychological condition known as the “yips” was on display in the brightest of spotlights: Game Seven of the World Series last fall. The Indians tried to fluster Jon Lester, whose troubles throwing in any direction other than toward home plate had become well known.

After making 98 pick-off attempts in 2010 and 70 in 2011, Lester made just five in 2012, seven in 2013, and none in 2014, according to SportingCharts data. He didn’t make a single pick-off attempt over the course of 66 consecutive starts until this one on April 13, 2015:

The issue isn’t only tied to pick-off attempts. Lester has also struggled when fielding his position, as seen on this throw from April 17, 2016:

Lester’s issue is the most well known and publicized in recent years, but it’s not the only case. This spring, Blake Swihart has struggled throwing the ball back to the mound, though Swihart is reportedly making some progress on that front.

I personally watched and reported on Pedro Alvarez’s 24 throwing errors in 99 games at third base in 2014, a development that necessitated a move down the defensive spectrum from third to first base.

In 2013, Alvarez hit 36 home runs and played an above-average third base, according to defensive runs above average (1.8). He recorded 3 WAR. But after his struggles with throwing in 2014, after he moved to first and struggled there in 2015, he was then viewed largely as a DH last offseason. He had to wait until March to sign a one-year deal with the Orioles last spring. This spring, he remains unsigned in a market that values bat-only players less and less. Baltimore attempted to play Alvarez at third base in spots in 2016, but he was still not over the throwing issues: he recorded two throwing errors against five assists in 53 innings at the position.

The yips have cost Alvarez millions and might play a role in prematurely ending his career. The condition did end the career of Pirates broadcaster and former Pirates pitcher Steve Blass. The yips played a role in derailing the pitching career of Rick Ankiel, who said in a recent interview he drank vodka before a start in 2000 to “tame a monster” that “didn’t fight fair.”

There’s something inherently tragic about an otherwise healthy athlete failing to fulfill one of the most basic obligations of his profession. It can be uncomfortable to watch a pitcher such as Lester become vulnerable in the center of the infield. To watch a player like Alvarez inexplicably lose the ability to make routine throws is difficult to comprehend. While I had explored the issue as a newspaper reporter, I wanted to understand more about the condition and how teams might be able to ameliorate it. So last week I spoke to one of the few players who has suffered through the condition and beat it: Steve Sax.

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