Archive for April, 2017

Sunday Notes: Mendoza-Hendricks Nerdiness, Selsky as Dangerfield, Edwards Evoked ’86, more

Jessica Mendoza’s ears perked up while she was conversing with Kyle Hendricks yesterday afternoon. The ESPN analyst was doing game prep for this evening’s Sunday Night Baseball broadcast when the Chicago Cubs right-hander mentioned effective velocity.

“I interrupted him,” Mendoza told me later. “I said, ‘Can we talk about that?’

If you read this Sunday Notes column from last August, that won’t surprise you. The Stanford-educated Mendoza is a baseball nerd. So is the Dartmouth-educated Hendricks, who was more than happy to oblige her request.

“It was refreshing, because that’s (the type of subject) we love talking about,” said Hendricks. “We started talking about bat paths, two- and four-seam fastballs, how to attack hitters. That was the first time I’d met her, and it was great to talk baseball with her. You can tell she’s very knowledgeable, especially about hitting.”

How Hendricks is avoiding bats is what Mendoza wanted to address when she approached him in the clubhouse. She was especially curious about his velocity, which has been down this year. That’s where the ear-perking subject came up. Read the rest of this entry »


The Best of FanGraphs: April 24-28, 2017

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.
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Effectively Wild Episode 1051: The Mike Trout Challengers

EWFI

Ben Lindbergh and Jeff Sullivan banter about Jeff Manship, Chris Devenski, the biggest playoff-odds changers, Mets injuries, and Joey Votto’s comments on swing changes, then discuss which players, if any, can challenge Mike Trout for the title of best player in baseball, try to assemble a FrankenTrout, and conduct a brief Bryce Harper debate.

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Kenta Maeda Needs to Bring Back the Sinker

Yesterday, we examined pitcher in Los Angeles who’d switched from a pretty ordinary four-seam fastball to a more dynamic two-seamer and found success in the process. JC Ramirez does throw in the high 90s, but his was the story you want to tell.

What we might be seeing with Kenta Maeda is the opposite, or close to it. Because, right now, despite a strikeout minus walk rate that looks familiar, Maeda’s ERA is more than twice his 2016 version. The difference between the two years? Home runs, seven of them already. The fastball might be the key to avoiding those going forward.

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Is Cole Hamels Primed for a Fall?

Only six pitchers in the majors so far this season have thrown more innings than Cole Hamels, and his 3.03 ERA is pretty nice, too. Good start to the season for him, then, right? Well, not so fast. There are a number of indicators that paint the picture that Hamels may be in for a world of trouble in 2017.

I first was alerted to Hamels’ precarious situation by this tweet from the venerable Mike Petriello:

That’s not great, especially given how consistent Hamels has been throughout his career. The drop in swinging-strike percentage isn’t necessarily totally damning though, so I wanted to investigate further. Let’s start with some of his other plate-discipline statistics.

Most of Hamels’ plate-discipline stats are trending in the wrong direction, aside from his Z-Swing%, which hasn’t changed much the past three seasons. His Zone% is the second-lowest of his career, the lowest mark having occurred last season. His Swing% and O-Swing% are both at career lows. That’s not great, either. His Z-Contact% and Contact% are both career-worst marks, and his O-Contact% in at its highest since 2009. It’s the second-highest mark of his career. None of this is encouraging.

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The Mets Had a Bad Day

A variety of maladies were already plaguing the Mets before they met with the media on Thursday morning. Things would soon get worse, however. Reporters soon learned, for example, that in addition to the six Mets currently on the disabled list, Noah Syndergaard would not be making his start due to a bicep issue. Matt Harvey would be getting the ball that day instead. Before the day was out, Yoenis Cespedes would leave the game after further injuring a balky hamstring, and Harvey would fail to make it out of the fifth inning. They’ve now lost six straight games, and added further insults and injuries to an already large pile of both. Less than a month into the season, their playoff odds are starting to get ugly.

The Mets likely can’t be blamed for every single issue currently plaguing them. They can be blamed, however, for some of them. Too many of them, perhaps.

Prior to the start of the season, a new collective bargaining agreement between the league and the players’ union was put into place. Among the new provisions within the document was a new 10-day disabled list, shortened from 15 days. It was created with the idea that teams could have more flexibility in giving time off to banged-up players. Clubs, in turn, would have more freedom to call up replacements and to avoin playing with an understaffed roster. Some teams, including the Mets, had gotten into a habit of playing a man or two down while players nursed injuries deemed too minor to merit a full 15 days on the DL. Now, teams can theoretically get players back five days earlier, and play with 25 men. Everybody wins, no?

The Mets have failed to fully embrace the possibilities afforded by a 10-day DL. Cespedes originally injured his hamstring on the 20th. He didn’t play again until Wednesday, partially due to an off day and a rainout, although he did come out on deck for a possible pinch-hitting appearance on Sunday before the Mets lost. The Mets and their training staff had decided that Cespedes didn’t need a full DL stint, just a few days off, with potentially a plate appearance off the bench mixed in.

Cespedes came up slightly lame when he hurt himself on the 20th. He needed help getting off the field yesterday. It’s not an ideal situation for a man who’s still dealing with the vestiges of a quad injury that sidelined him for part of the 2016 campaign and never really released him from its grip down the stretch.

Of course, Cespedes isn’t the only Met who has been carried along for the ride in such a fashion. Both Asdrubal Cabrera and Travis d’Arnaud were in similar states of limbo in the past week. The clubs has done this quite a bit over the last few seasons. It now appears to have cost Cespedes at least a few weeks of action.

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The Astros Have an Outfield Shift

CLEVELAND — We know the Astros are one of the most forward-thinking, analytically minded organizations in baseball. They’ve led baseball in infield shift usage in recent seasons. They’ve experimented with piggy-back rotations in the minor leagues, they’ve been creative in maximizing draft pools, and have given us a revolutionary bullpen figure, the gift that is Chris Devenski.

They’ve also been as aggressive as any team I’ve observed with regard to outfield alignment.

Outfield alignment doesn’t receive as much attention as infield shifts. There are few, if any, outfield alignment measures publicly available, and we don’t often see outfield alignments in full scope on television broadcasts prior to a batted ball. Average depth is recorded by Statcast, but we’re still working on understanding optimum outfield positioning.

But the Astros are up to something — something which I first noticed last season at PNC Park.

Since air balls are more evenly distributed than ground balls, there are typically fewer radical defensive alignments in the outfield. Since there are only three fielders tasked with covering a much larger area of ground than in the infield, outfielders are generally kept in equidistant positions, spreading risk. But the above alignment against the left-handed-hitting Gregory Polanco represented an extreme swing to the left. It appeared counterintuitive, too, with the Astros playing Polanco as if he were an extreme right-handed pull hitter. In this case, the left fielder was near the left-field line, the center fielder shading toward left center, and the right fielder nearly in right center.

But the approach appears to be rooted in logic, too. While most ground balls are pulled, air balls are more evenly distributed, with batters often slightly favoring the opposite field.

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Jeff Sullivan FanGraphs Chat — 4/28/17

9:03
Jeff Sullivan: Hello friends

9:03
Jeff Sullivan: Welcome to Friday baseball chat

9:03
Bork: Hello, friend!

9:03
Jeff Sullivan: Hello friend

9:03
Sock Therapy: Is Aaron Judge the messiah

9:03
Jeff Sullivan: Some people are made in something superior to God’s image

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The Fringe Five: Baseball’s Most Compelling Fringe Prospects

Fringe Five Scoreboards: 2016 | 2015 | 2014 | 2013.

The Fringe Five is a weekly regular-season exercise, introduced a few years ago by the present author, wherein that same author utilizes regressed stats, scouting reports, and also his own fallible intuition to identify and/or continue monitoring the most compelling fringe prospects in all of baseball.

Central to the exercise, of course, is a definition of the word fringe, a term which possesses different connotations for different sorts of readers. For the purposes of the column this year, a fringe prospect (and therefore one eligible for inclusion among the Five) is any rookie-eligible player at High-A or above who (a) was omitted from the preseason prospect lists produced by Baseball America, Baseball Prospectus, MLB.com, John Sickels*, and (most importantly) lead prospect analyst Eric Longenhagen and also who (b) is currently absent from a major-league roster. Players appearing on a midseason list will also be excluded from eligibility.

*All 200 names!

In the final analysis, the basic idea is this: to recognize those prospects who are perhaps receiving less notoriety than their talents or performance might otherwise warrant.

*****

Sherman Johnson, 2B/3B, Los Angeles AL (Profile)
Ralph Waldo Emerson writes in “Self-Reliance” that it’s essential to “abide by our spontaneous impression with good-natured inflexibility then most when the whole cry of voices is on the other side.” Immediately, one senses that Emerson’s words might lack universal application. When the whole cry of voices declares that the building is on fire, for example, it’s wise to hear them out — regardless of the impressions one has previously formed. In the case of fringe prospects, however, the risks associated with such inflexibility are less pronounced.

Which is fortunate, because a brief inspection of things reveals that the present author has abided by his impression that Sherman Johnson is a promising ballplayer. In 2015, Johnson appeared (alongside current major leaguers Matt Boyd and Jharel Cotton) at the top of the arbitrarily calculated Fringe Five Scoreboard. Last year, Johnson appeared (by himself) at the top of that same, haphazardly constructed Scoreboard. Three weeks into the current season, Johnson is poised once again to merit similar consideration.

Why? For a few reasons. Johnson’s a capable defender. He’s continued to record roughly equivalent walk and strikeout rates. He’s produced roughly average power numbers at every professional level. It’s a promising, if clearly not elite, collection of skills. Relative to his pedigree, however, it’s pretty impressive.

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The White Sox Have Had One of the Best Pitchers on the Planet

One of the classic criticisms of the front-page entries on FanGraphs is that it can sometimes look like writers are just scanning different leaderboards until they find a subject. Now, there’s nothing actually wrong with that, I don’t think. That’s why the leaderboards exist — so we can all learn from what they say. It’s not like we can easily and automatically keep track of everything by ourselves. Still, I understand where the criticism comes from. And so I’d like to be up front here: This post is about something I didn’t expect to see on a leaderboard. There’s no deeper inspiration. But when I saw a player’s line, I knew I couldn’t not write about it.

In the early going this season, the White Sox have been a pleasant surprise! They’re hanging tight with the Indians, and they’re well ahead of, say, the Royals. One element that’s driven the White Sox has been the pitching staff, and, specifically, the bullpen. Even coming into the year, the team had Nate Jones and David Robertson, so the bullpen wasn’t likely to be terrible. To this point, it’s second out of all big-league bullpens in ERA-. It’s first in K-BB%. That…isn’t what anyone expected. And now, a plot.

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Your Thoughts on Some of the Best and Worst Hitters

On Monday, I asked for your help in evaluating these five hitters who have gotten off to wonderful starts:

On Tuesday, I asked for your help in evaluating these five hitters who have gotten off to terrible starts:

The 10 polls accumulated thousands upon thousands of total votes. I was looking for you to select projected rest-of-season wRC+ marks, and you graciously participated in tremendous numbers. I don’t always follow up on my poll posts; sometimes I just want the polls to start a conversation, and sometimes I don’t think the data is worth a follow-up entry. But here I’d like to show you how the FanGraphs community voted. As a sneak preview, I’ll tell you now that apparently the community thinks Suarez is officially a better hitter today than Bautista is. Weird game!

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Thomas Pannone: An Indians Prospect Puts Up Zeroes

Thomas Pannone was almost an outfielder in the Cubs system. Instead, he’s baffling batters and racking up zeroes for the Lynchburg Hillcats. The 22-year-old left-hander has made four starts for Cleveland’s High-A affiliate and has yet to be charged with an earned run. Stingy to a fault, he’s fanned 31 batters and allowed just seven hits in 20.2 innings.

His scoreless streak — save for one unearned marker on April 12 — is even more impressive when you go back to last year. Counting his final three appearances in 2016, Pannone has now gone 38 consecutive innings without blemishing his ERA.

The Indians drafted Pannone out of the College of Southern Nevada in the ninth round of the 2013 draft. A year earlier, he’d bypassed an opportunity to sign with a team which liked him more for his bat than for his arm.

“I was going to be an outfielder,” explained Pannone, who was selected by Chicago’s NL club in the 33rd round out of a Rhode Island high school. “But between how late in the draft it was, and not being sure I was fully ready to start a pro career, I went to a junior college instead. One thing led to another, and I was drafted as a pitcher the following summer.”

That wasn’t what Pannone had in mind when he went west.

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What I Would Pay Eric Thames

On Tuesday, I ran a poll, asking what you would pay Eric Thames now, given what he’s done to MLB pitching — and the Reds — over the first three weeks of the season. When asked what kind of annual salary you’d agree to under the same three year term that he signed this winter, a majority of the responders (56%) selected $11-$15 million per year. The weighted average of all the votes came out to just under $15 million, so the crowd estimated that a fair three-year contract for Thames now would be something like $45 million.

And while I think there are valid concerns about the lack of information we have concerning how Thames will adjust as the league adjusts to him, I still think that number is overly conservative. If I were tasked with crafting an offer for Thames at this point, and followed the same constraint that he was only accepting three year offers to put it on the same scale as the one he signed this winter, I’d offer him the Edwin Encarnacion deal: $60 million over three years.

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Eno Sarris Baseball Chat — 4/27/17

1:24
Eno Sarris: Dad admission: didn’t even know they made Viet Cong change their name didn’t even know they had a new album.

1:25
Eno Sarris: I like some of the new tunes like this one. Oh, and we had a beer with them over at October https://oct.co/articles/having-beer-preoccupations

12:02
Rick Sanchez: Is Bundy for real? Any concerns with the velo?

12:03
Eno Sarris: I am concerned with him. I’d be shopping pretty hard. First, there’s the injury concern. Then there’s a two mph dip in the last start, two mph off from last year. Velocity drop is the biggest indicator of injury.

12:03
botchatheny: trouble in st. louis ? –

12:03
Eno Sarris: Dude always shows up when I try to quantify managers, in a bad way.

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Kris Bryant: The Earliest Adopter

PITTSBURGH — Nearly 20 years ago, in the back yard of his half-acre lot in suburban Las Vegas, Mike Bryant completed what has became a crucial construction project for his family and the Chicago Cubs. Foundational holes were dug, and concrete was poured, to support three metal frames from which nylon netting was draped. The result: a spartan batting cage within feet of his home.

Kris Bryant often waited until the evenings, when his father had completed his private hitting instruction, to enter the cage.

“We had some lights that weren’t very good, but they did the job,” said Bryant of evening hitting sessions. “[The cage] was just a net and some dirt on the ground. The net had holes everywhere. You’d be hitting baseballs across the street and into other houses… But I was fortunate to have it at my finger tips and swing whenever I wanted. Other guys had to go to a local batting cage and find time to hit.”

Bryant hit balls across the street and against neighbors’ homes because he hit the ball in the air. In the cage, Mike Bryant taught his son to elevate the ball. He would create targets in the upper part of the netting and challenge Bryant to direct the ball there. The targets were always raised above the ground.

“It would be like, ‘Try to hit in the back right-hand corner of the cage. Try to hit it right there.’ It’s almost something I practiced when I was younger and didn’t know,” said Bryant of his uppercut plane. “Being young, you are not as focused on your swing, you are just out there hitting. But my dad would do certain games in the cage where I would hit targets in the air and I would practice it.”

While it’s probably unnecessary to remind our loyal readers that we’ve written often about the fly-ball revolution at FanGraphs this offseason and spring, you can read some of our musings here, here, and here.

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JC Ramirez Got Better As a Starter

It’s not uncommon for a pitcher to experience difficulty as a starter, move to the bullpen, and benefit from almost immediate success. That’s a story we’ve heard plenty. We’re seeing it in Arizona right now, for example — with both Archie Bradley and Jorge de la Rosa — but they’re hardly the only cases. Bullpens are littered with failed starters. The best relief pitcher ever began his major-league career with a collection of uninspiring starts.

In Anaheim, though, we might possibly be witnessing a more rare type of story. Right-hander JC Ramirez is working as a a starter right now — for the first time since Double-A in 2011, actually — and, well, there are plenty of reasons to think he’ll be a good at it. Dude’s posting the best strikeout rate of his career, and it makes sense when you look under the hood.

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The Most-Changed Teams Since Opening Day

Projections. Do you not like reading that word? Don’t worry about it. I don’t particularly like writing that word, and I know full well that it can be a major turn-off. It doesn’t help that there’s not a great alternative way to express the same idea. When you’re talking about projections, you typically have to say “projections” somewhere. It’s inelegant, but it is what it is.

Some people don’t like projections because projections aren’t always right. Perfectly legitimate, even if it holds the model to an impossible standard. That being said, overall, the better projections are better than human guesswork. I’ve never seen convincing evidence that people are better at seeing the baseball future than projections are, and so the projections live on, referred to constantly. This has all been a long way of getting to the point that, hey, I’m about to build a post around our team projections. I want to compare projections today to the projections we had the morning of the first day of the season.

It’s not that hard to do, using the information readily available on our Playoff Odds page. You could do it yourself! But you don’t have to. Because, look below. When we start getting games under our collective belt, fans and readers ask us which of our ideas have changed. We all have our own individual ideas about players and teams, but changes in the projections tend to be closely linked. So let’s quickly examine changes at either end of the spectrum.

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Effectively Wild Episode 1050: The Big Leaguer Born at Sea

EWFI

Ben Lindbergh and Jeff Sullivan banter about Chris Coghlan’s slide and the Pirates’ new international players, then answer listener emails about Korean baseball, fixing slides, the impressive JC Ramirez, baseball and humility, Space Jam and Hey Arnold!-inspired scenarios, Clayton Kershaw’s undoing, Billy Hamilton’s speed vs. on-base ability, a mysterious Seager, a pitching-change clock, Eric Thames-esque ownership of one team, intentionally walking Bryce Harper, and more.

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Approaching the Joey Gallo Threshold

By the middle of their game on Tuesday, the Rangers were getting blown out. It hasn’t been a great start, overall, for the ballclub. But as Joey Gallo stepped up to the plate, the broadcast kicked it over to reporter Emily Jones, who talked about how Gallo had been a more than capable fill-in for the injured Adrian Beltre. The broadcast put up a nearly screen-wide graphic of some of Gallo’s impressive early statistics, and then they cut away just in time to see Gallo charge up another hack.

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The Yandy Diaz Project Is One to Follow

Yandy Diaz was already interesting before the 2017 season began. His combination of offensive and defensive skills compelled Carson Cistulli to include him often as a member of the Fringe Five, a group that’s building quite a track record.

He became more interesting early this season, however, when he made the Indians’ 25-man roster and filled in at third base (while Jose Ramirez shifted to second base) in the absence of an injured Jason Kipnis. While with the major-league club, Diaz had an Eric Thames-like out-of-zone swing rate (16.1%), demonstrated a discerning eye, and recorded a swinging-strike rate of just 8.0%. Of the first 42 major-league pitches he saw, he swung and missed only twice.

Now that Kipnis has been activated from the disabled list, Diaz is back in Triple-A. But Diaz continues to offer some interest and remains worthy of attention even as a member of the Columbus Clippers — not just because he has a Jose Ramirez starter kit (contact and on-base skills plus defensive versatility), but because perhaps no professional player could benefit more from adding lift to his swing.

Despite a career minor-league slash line of .307/.406/.411 and the ability to play on the left side of the infield, Diaz was an overlooked prospect — partly because he was a relatively older and lower-budget signing out of Cuba in 2011, but also because of his lack of power.

Diaz is a strong man. Here’s a photo to prove it:

And here’s the Statcast data to prove it: Diaz’s average exit velocity as a major leaguer was 95.2 mph over a sample of 42 batted balls. That’s elite, ranking ninth in the sport.

But despite those guns and that exit velo, Diaz has never reached double-digit home-run totals at any minor-league stop. Last season, he hit seven home runs over 416 Triple-A plate appearances.

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