Archive for March, 2017

Effectively Wild Episode 1039: Is Defense Still Winning the Analysis War?


Ben Lindbergh and Jeff Sullivan banter about the end of the offseason, a Canada-only Clayton Kershaw, and Drew Smyly’s health status, then discuss whether the advancement of technology and the latest sabermetric insights still favor defense over offense, or whether hitters have started to even the score.

Read the rest of this entry »

FanGraphs Audio: Chris Carter Is a Cardboard Box

Episode 728
Managing editor Dave Cameron is the guest on this edition of the pod, during which he discusses the unconscionably thorough positional power rankings; explains why contract extensions for certain types of players (such as Jose Ramirez) seem not to have benefited from inflation for half a decade; and suffers through a tortured metaphor in which Chris Carter is likened to a Finnish cardboard box.

A reminder: FanGraphs’ Ad Free Membership exists. Click here to learn more about it and share some of your disposable income with FanGraphs.

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 34 min play time.)

Read the rest of this entry »

Are the Yankees on the Verge of a Clubhouse Culture Shift?

TAMPA, Fla. — From the outside looking in, it doesn’t seem like the Yankees are having all that much fun. This spring Yankees manager Joe Girardi said the voluminous red mane of Clint Frazier had become a “distraction” so the Yankees made the problem disappear.

FanGraphs’ own Nicolas Stellini wrote about the Yankees’ “War on Fun” several weeks ago.

So a couple weeks back when I was in Yankees camp, I was curious to enter clubhouse and get a sense if these guys are having any fun or if the volume of media, the franchise’s tradition and expectations, and the military-style grooming standards prevent light-heartedness.

While I suspect the industry is a long ways away from quantifying the value of clubhouse chemistry and culture, it was interesting that the Cubs and Indians seemed to have a lot of fun en route to capturing league pennants last season. And in college football, all-about-fun Clemson beat serious-all-time Alabama in the championship game. Maybe fun is making a comeback. Back in January I wrote about that time Dabo Swinney met Joe Maddon and how they learned they were more similar than they were different.

Read the rest of this entry »

The Dodgers have a Weakness, and They’re Addressing it

Back when I was a beat writer covering the Pirates, manager Clint Hurdle had a practice each spring camp when he and front office staffers would identify one area that was a weakness a season earlier and try to improve upon it. Rather than focus on many things, Hurdle would try to sharpen one area. One year it was defensive alignment, another year it was pitcher’s hitting ability and in 2014 it was the club’s two-strike approach.

In 2013, the season when the Pirates returned to the postseason and ended a run of 20 consecutive losing seasons, the Pirates pitched well, shifted often, and used an MVP season from Andrew McCutchen to record 94 wins. One thing the club didn’t do well is hit with two strikes. The club finished 26th in the game with a .474 two-strike OPS.

Read the rest of this entry »

Jeff Sullivan FanGraphs Chat — 3/31/17

Jeff Sullivan: Hello friends

Jeff Sullivan: Welcome to Friday baseball chat

Bork: Hello, friend!

Jeff Sullivan: Hello friend

Query: The chat will begin soon!

Jeff Sullivan: I have good(?) news!

Read the rest of this entry »

Presenting Your 2017 AL Cy Young Winner: Lance McCullers

This morning, Paul Swydan posted our Staff Predictions for the 2017 season. Because most of the people who write for FanGraphs, RotoGraphs, or The Hardball Times are at least a little bit data-oriented, the picks end up being pretty similar to what our projections say. The Cubs have the best team in the NL Central, and statistically, they have the best chance of winning the division, so they’re the logical choice for everyone to predict as the NL Central winner. Mike Trout is the logical pick for AL MVP, now that voters have shown they’ll give him the award even if his team doesn’t win, because he’s the best player in the league. And so on and so on.

But as we’ve noted before, projections are not predictions. Projections are the mean outcome in a probability distribution, and aim to identify the area in the middle of a bell curve. But the most likely outcome in of a series of possible outcomes may itself still be quite unlikely. A curve with probabilities of 10%, 15%, 25%, 25%, 15%, and 10% would result in a projection around the 25% probability marks, but you wouldn’t want to confidently predict that the 25% outcome is likely to occur, because 75% of the time, your prediction would be “wrong”.

So, if you look at the staff predictions table, you’ll notice that I made a few non-traditional picks. I went with the Yankees in the AL East, for instance, and I picked Lance McCullers to win the AL Cy Young. I don’t think the Yankees are the best team in their division, nor do I think McCullers is the best pitcher in the American League, but the fun thing about baseball is that, in one season, the results aren’t governed by the bell curves. Weird things happen, and since our predictions are just meaningless guesses, we might as well have fun with them and try to give ourselves a chance to say “I told you so!” in six months.

But I didn’t pick Lance McCullers to win the Cy Young just to be contrarian. While it’s pretty likely that a Chris Sale or a Corey Kluber has higher odds of winning right now, a healthy McCullers might have better odds than his reputation would suggest.

Read the rest of this entry »

FanGraphs 2017 Staff Predictions

Hello friends. With the countdown to the season tantalizingly close to zero, it’s time to tell you what we actually think is going to happen this season. We’re not always great at this, and I don’t think you’d want us to always be great at this, because frankly, that’d be terribly boring. But we do like to conduct the thought exercise of who is going to reach the postseason, because it’s good fun and also because it helps us frame our expectations for the season.

Last season, we were able to identify seven of the 10 playoff teams successfully, though not necessarily in their correct postseason positions. Will we do as well or better this season? Only time will tell. As is often the case, some teams got the overwhelming majority of the love, and some teams got coal in their baseball stocking.
Read the rest of this entry »

2016 AL Contact Management by Pitch Type

Earlier this offseason, I spent some time reviewing the overall contact management performance of AL and NL ERA qualifiers. Exit-speed and launch-angle data was used to determine how pitchers “should have” performed on balls in play, and when the smoke cleared, CC Sabathia and Kyle Hendricks were named the 2016 AL and NL Contact Managers of the Year.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comparing and Contrasting This Year’s Prospect Rankings

A few weeks ago, lead prospect analyst Eric Longenhagen published FanGraphs’ top-100 prospect list. Baseball America recently performed a similar exercise, as did Baseball Prospectus, Keith Law, and John Sickels.

On the whole, there’s a lot of consensus among these rankings. Although the order varied, all eight of Andrew Benintendi, Dansby Swanson, Amed RosarioAlex ReyesGleyber Torres, Eloy JimenezYoan Moncada,  Brendan Rodgers and Austin Meadows ranked within each outlet’s top 20. Fifty-nine players made every single top 100. The point of this article, however, isn’t to celebrate those similarities, but to point out the differences. In what follows, I identify the prospects that each outlet ranks higher and lower than the “establishment,” and look at how the various outlets compare to each other. Brace yourselves for an onslaught of tables and plots.


List of Lists

Firstly, here’s the consensus prospect list. I hard-coded all unranked players as having ranked 210th, since Sickels ranked just over 200 names. The “Avg. Rank” column below is a simple average of all the rankings.

Read the rest of this entry »

My Favorite Reliever of the Month

Here’s an excerpted note from the top of a FanGraphs player page you’ve presumably never visited:

RotoWire News: Pruitt has made the Opening Day roster for Tampa Bay, Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times reports. (3/30/2017)

Here’s Topkin, writing a little about Pruitt. Here’s Bill Chastain, also writing a little about Pruitt. I should tell you that the specific Pruitt here is Austin Pruitt, who is a 27-year-old right-handed pitcher. A quote from the team:

“We’ve got unique situations where guys can provide lengthier innings,” [manager Kevin] Cash said. “I think looking at it, Austin will be used as a multi-inning [guy]. But those multi-inning roles could come in a 2-1 ballgame. We wouldn’t hesitate to do that with him.”

Pruitt has been a starter, in the minors. He’s about to be a reliever. A particular kind of reliever, a kind of reliever that might be becoming increasingly prevalent. I like Austin Pruitt a lot, and so, allow me to try to sell you on him.

Read the rest of this entry »

The Reds Are Giving Us Something New Again

Two years ago, the Cincinnati Reds finished the season by starting rookie pitchers in 64 straight games. Overall, rookies made 110 starts for the Reds that season, third most in history behind the 1998 Florida Marlins and the 2009 Oakland Athletics. The ’98 Marlins team featured the dismantled remnants of the previous season’s World Series title team and lost 104 games. The A’s team finished .500, as Brett Anderson and Gio Gonzalez made solid debuts while Trevor Cahill, Vin Mazzaro, and Josh Outman also pitched. As might be expected, the 2015 Reds were bad, but given their reliance on rookies, we might think the staff might prove to have more veterans in 2016 and 2017. That hasn’t been the case at all.

After getting 110 rookie starts in 2015, the Cincinnati Reds followed up with another 56 rookie starts last year. In the last 100 seasons, only 24 franchises have ever had 81 games or more started by rookie pitchers. Of those teams, the 1934 Philadelphia A’s, the 1936 Philadelphia A’s, the 1978 Oakland A’s, the 2009 Baltimore Orioles, and the 2015 Reds were the only ones to follow up the season questions with another 50 starts by rookies. For the Orioles, Brian Matusz barely avoided losing his rookie status in 2009, so his 32 starts in 2010 comprised the bulk of the Orioles’ 50 rookie starts, with Jake Arrieta nabbing the other 18.

As for the A’s, there have been 234 team seasons over the past 100 years in which rookies started at least 50 games; the A’s alone are responsible 12% (28) of them. Whether in Philadelphia, Kansas City, or Oakland, the organization has almost always been a spendthrift operation, and from 1935 to 1967, the club finished in last place or second-to-last place 25 of 33 seasons, never placing higher than fourth. Only 30 times in history has a team started rookie pitchers in 50 or more games at least two seasons in a row, and the A’s organization is responsible for seven of those times, encompassing 19 seasons.

Read the rest of this entry »

Blake Treinen Is Going To Close

At points, it looked like the next Nationals closer would be Koda Glover. At other points, it looked like it would be Shawn Kelley, and at other points, it looked like it would be David Robertson, or someone else belonging to another team. But now we can say that the next Nationals closer will be Blake Treinen. That is, at least, in the nearest-term future, barring a change or a trade, which could happen within any given matter of minutes.

For the Nationals, what this is is a resolution. It’s an answer, and all the other bullpen roles fall out of this assignment. For me, it’s a chance to write about Blake Treinen again. I’ve been on the Treinen bandwagon for a few years, mostly just because of his sinker. I’ve been somewhat obsessed with drawing parallels between Treinen and Zach Britton, another power-sinker reliever who converted from the rotation. Their sinkers behave similarly, thrown at similar speeds, and although there’s the clear difference of handedness, I have to go back to the well. Time to think about Treinen and Britton one more time.

Read the rest of this entry »

Brandon Kintzler on Injuries, Respect, and a Bowling-Ball Sinker

Brandon Kintzler doesn’t fit your standard closer profile. The 32-year-old righty isn’t a power pitcher, at least not in terms of missing bats. He averaged just 5.8 strikeouts per nine innings last year while earning 17 saves with the Minnesota Twins. Featuring a sinker that he threw 82% of the time, at an average velocity of 92 mph, he had a 61.9% ground-ball rate and 3.15 ERA.

And then there’s his background. A 40th-round pick by the San Diego Padres in 2004, Kintzler was pitching in an independent league three years later — and not particularly well. The Brewers nonetheless gave him a chance, and he rewarded them by beating the odds and making it to the big leagues. After solid seasons as a setup man in 2013 and 2014, things once again went south. Following an injury-ravaged 2015 that saw him throw just seven innings, Milwaukee cut him loose. The Twins signed him prior to last season.

Kintzler is well acquainted with operating rooms. Since entering pro ball out of Dixie State College, he’s undergone repairs to his shoulder, elbow, and left knee. All have had major impacts on a career that has seen him go from non-prospect to arguably the least-respected closer in the game.


Kintzler on his sinker-heavy approach: “I think everyone has different stuff. We all have different deception. We all have different… everyone talks about spin rate. I just think everyone is different. What I do works for me. I found out that what makes me successful is attacking with my fastball and forcing action. Could I try to strike out more people? Probably. But that means too many pitches, and I want to throw every day.

“The slider was my pitch coming up through the minor leagues. Read the rest of this entry »

Taijuan Walker: Spring’s Most Improved Starter*

By now, the most prolific pitchers of the spring have put in the equivalent of three major-league starts, some close to four with how short the average start has become. And as much as we talk about the inconsistent talent level in the spring, these starters have mostly faced major-league-quality hitters because the first four to five innings of spring baseball is a decent approximation of regular-season ball. It’s not entirely irresponsible to make certain observations about a pitcher two weeks into the season, so we might as well do it now, too. So let’s talk about Taijuan Walker. Again.

Read the rest of this entry »

Is the Clock Running Out on Yadier Molina?

Earlier this week, Jon Heyman reported that the Cardinals and Yadier Molina were “getting close” on a contract extension. With Molina, 34, years seem to be as much as an issue as the dollars involved. Heyman reports that Molina was initially seeking a four-year extension, while the club countered with a two-year deal. Can they find common ground on a three-year contract?

Molina is entering the final year of his current deal, which features a mutual option for next season. He’s given the club a deadline of Opening Day to reach an agreement, though if the club offered him Russell Martin-money in mid-April, I suspect he would consider it.

Molina told on Tuesday that the clock on extension talks is “running.” Said Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak: “We understand there is a deadline. I think everyone is going to roll up their sleeves and continue to work at it.”

But is the clock running out on Molina?

Read the rest of this entry »

Could Aaron Altherr Be a Part of the Core?

It feels like things with the Phillies should be a little more settled than they are. That could just be my own impatience, but even on the pitching side, we have to see if Aaron Nola and Vince Velasquez can stay healthy. And as for the young position players, Odubel Herrera might be the lone sure thing, and he’s bizarre. Maikel Franco still needs to prove that he’s valuable. J.P. Crawford needs to step up his own game. There’s been progress, but the actual core here is still being built.

Thinking about that led me to think about Aaron Altherr. Wednesday’s spring-training highlights also led me to think about Aaron Altherr.

Read the rest of this entry »

Eno Sarris Baseball Chat — 3/30/17

Eno Sarris: was going to play some mac dre, but this is close enough, and has better visuals

Borkins: Ello, mate!

Borkins: Cody Reed to the bullpen because…..????

Eno Sarris: They have too many starters! I dunno. I figure Feldman or Arroyo will flame out or Rookie Davis won’t have enough secondary stuff and he’ll be back.

Ragingtwig: I think this decision is ridiculously easy, but am waffling nonetheless: can keep Yoan Moncada ($3) or David Dahl ($8) in keep 6, $2 inflation, both for the next three years. OBP and SLG league. It’s Dahl right?

Eno Sarris: You get at least a half year more PT, and then Dahl also offers much more floor. I’d do him. Pause.

Read the rest of this entry »

Are Forecasts Too Pessimistic About the Blue Jays’ Rotation?

Paul Sporer and I were responsible for providing the starting-rotation installments of last week’s positional power rankings, posts which you can access here and here. One of the interesting things I took from the exercise was the absence of the Toronto Blue Jays from the top 15 of those rankings.

Blue Jays starters led the American League in ERA (3.64) last season. If you prefer more advanced measures, the Blue Jays’ rotation led the AL with 15.3 WAR and finished second in FIP (4.07) to Cleveland. This season, all of Toronto’s starting pitchers of significance return save for R.A. Dickey.

But despite finishing as the AL’s most productive rotation last season and despite losing arguably its weakest link in Dickey, the Jays’ rotation appeared in last week’s positional rankings as just the eighth-best staff in the AL and the 16th-best such group in the game. FanGraphs projections have the Blue Jays staff ranked behind the Red Sox and the Yankees in the AL East, and if that holds, it could be damaging to Toronto’s postseason aspirations.

Our 2017 forecasts for the Blue Jays’ likely starting pitchers…

Aaron Sanchez   205.0 7.9 3.2 0.9 .302 73.7 % 3.69 3.86 3.4
J.A. Happ 181.0 7.8 2.8 1.2 .303 72.5 % 4.11 4.15 2.6
Marcus Stroman 169.0 7.5 2.4 0.9 .313 71.3 % 3.85 3.64 3.2
Marco Estrada 167.0 7.0 2.9 1.4 .277 71.6 % 4.31 4.62 1.9
Francisco Liriano 149.0 9.6 4.1 1.2 .310 74.3 % 4.11 4.22 1.8
Casey Lawrence 37.0 5.1 2.4 1.5 .312 67.9 % 5.20 5.04 0.2
Mat Latos 38.0 6.6 3.0 1.3 .309 70.2 % 4.77 4.69 0.3
Mike Bolsinger 9.0 8.5 3.5 1.3 .317 71.7 % 4.51 4.36 0.1
Conner Greene 9.0 5.8 4.6 1.4 .311 67.6 % 5.77 5.63 0.0
Ryan Borucki 9.0 5.8 3.8 1.6 .310 68.3 % 5.59 5.54 0.0
Total 973.0 7.7 3.0 1.1 .302 72.3 % 4.11 4.18 13.4

So what’s going on here?

Read the rest of this entry »

On Mistakes and Baseball’s Long Memory

This is Kate Preusser’s fourth and final piece as part of her month-long residency. It has been a pleasure to host her work! Missed her previous posts? You can read them here. Listen to her appearance on FanGraphs Audio here.

“What other sport not only kept a stat as cruel as the error, but posted it on the scoreboard for everyone to see?”

–Chad Harbach, The Art of Fielding

On paper, it looks like Jurickson Profar had a successful WBC stint for Team Netherlands. He batted .464 during the team’s run through the Classic, with five doubles, four RBIs, and a home run — this while also playing a passable center field, a position at which he’s never recorded a start as a professional.

But Profar’s sterling performance will be overshadowed — for him, at least — by a baserunning blunder made in the first inning of an elimination game against Puerto Rico. Andrelton Simmons led off that game with a single. Xander Bogaerts was hit by a pitch right after that. When Profar followed with another single, it could have potentially loaded the bases for the Dutch. Could have, except that Simmons had just gotten picked off trying to steal third against Yadier Molina — because, I don’t know, maybe he didn’t recognize one of the best defensive catchers in the world with his blond hair?

But back to the Profar single. Even after accounting for Simmons’ caught stealing, that single still put the Dutch in a good position, with two runners on base and just the one out. The advantage didn’t last long, however. After rounding first, Profar used the opportunity to gesture towards the Netherlands crowd — an admittedly smaller contingent than Puerto Rico’s — and was slow getting back to the bag. Yadier Molina, a tiger who has the reflexes of a cobra that’s also a member of MENSA, threw him out. Which, of course he did! Yadier Molina likes throwing people out in the same way you and I like breathing. And of course Profar was celebrating his base hit, because people celebrating base hits is what makes the WBC so delightful. As an event, it’s like NES Super Punch-Out but with actual live humans doing the taunting.

There are multiple angles of the sequence in question. Here are two of them:

The Netherlands would still go on to score that inning thanks to Wladimir Balentien’s two-run homer, but it’s hard not to note that it could have been a grand slam. Profar certainly isn’t failing to note that. As he told the Orange County Register: “I just want to put this loss on myself… I made that mistake. I think we paid for it.”

Read the rest of this entry »

2017 Positional Power Rankings: Summary

Over the last couple of weeks, we published our annual season preview series by going position by position around the league. If you missed any of the posts, they can be accessed by that helpful widget up above. Today, we’re also going to summarize the results of the series. Let’s start by diving right into the results of the ordinal ranks, which we’ll break into three tables for easier digestion. Infield first!

2017 Infield Positional Power Rankings
Rank C 1B 2B SS 3B
1 Giants Cubs Astros Astros Blue Jays
2 Rangers Diamondbacks Mariners Indians Orioles
3 Dodgers Reds Twins Dodgers Cubs
4 Yankees Tigers Red Sox Nationals Rockies
5 Astros Braves Indians Cubs Mariners
6 Athletics Giants Tigers Giants Rangers
7 Cubs Indians Cubs Red Sox Dodgers
8 Blue Jays Cardinals Nationals Angels Nationals
9 Cardinals Orioles Giants Blue Jays Rays
10 Royals Padres Dodgers Cardinals Astros
11 Mariners Mets Blue Jays Rockies Pirates
12 Marlins White Sox Mets Mariners Indians
13 Pirates Yankees Rangers Athletics Royals
14 Tigers Dodgers Cardinals Yankees White Sox
15 Indians Astros Rays Reds Phillies
16 Red Sox Brewers Orioles Braves Twins
17 Nationals Royals Padres Tigers Yankees
18 Mets Twins Rockies Rangers Marlins
19 Orioles Angels Pirates Rays Padres
20 Padres Rangers Marlins White Sox Cardinals
21 Twins Red Sox Yankees Pirates Giants
22 Reds Blue Jays Phillies Twins Diamondbacks
23 Angels Marlins Reds Mets Athletics
24 Rays Athletics White Sox Phillies Reds
25 Brewers Mariners Athletics Orioles Angels
26 Phillies Phillies Braves Brewers Brewers
27 White Sox Rockies Brewers Royals Mets
28 Braves Pirates Angels Diamondbacks Tigers
29 Diamondbacks Rays Diamondbacks Marlins Red Sox
30 Rockies Nationals Royals Padres Braves

There’s a reason we use projected value and not just average ranking by position when talking about a team’s strength, since the margins between ranks can be deceptive. But this also gives you a decent idea of the amount of balance a team has across positions, and right away, it’s hard not to notice the Astros. Not only are they at the top of both middle-infield lists, but they’re No. 5 on the catcher list, No. 10 on the third-base list, and No. 15 on the first-base list.

Houston projects to get average or better production at every infield spot, something that can also only be claimed by the Cubs, Dodgers, and Indians, three of the very best teams in baseball. The Giants are close to joining that group, with only third base falling a little bit short, and the Blue Jays would be in this mix if they had a real first baseman.

Read the rest of this entry »