Archive for May, 2017

Effectively Wild Episode 1065: A Mountain of Emails

EWFI

Ben Lindbergh and Jeff Sullivan banter about mountain-climbing, Charlie Blackmon’s RBI barrage, starter-switching, the Reds’ still-lousy pitching, a bat-boning shoutout, and Ryan Raburn, then answer emails about Nolan Arenado, Ervin Santana, and Zack Cozart, Nelson Cruz clones, career longevity, gushing broadcasters, Albert Pujols and home runs, Cody Bellinger’s hot hitting, a Padres promotion, and more.

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The Reds Have Been the Best and Worst

There was a time, early last season, when an increasing number of people was jumping on the Phillies bandwagon. The team was rebuilding and overachieving, but there were early signs that the front office had assembled a dynamite pitching staff. While the Phillies were the rebuilding team getting the most positive attention, the Reds might’ve been the rebuilding team getting the most negative attention. Rebuilds are rebuilds, and losing teams lose, but the Reds didn’t seem to have anything exciting. The Phillies were a team with possible studs. The Reds were a team with just about nothing to speak of.

As 2016 rolled on, the Phillies dropped off, while the Reds improved. The Phillies had the National League’s worst second-half record. The Reds closed out by playing .500 baseball. And now it’s 2017, and the Phillies continue to struggle. They presently have the worst record out of anyone, while the Reds have been somewhere in the vicinity of average. Suddenly, it’s the Reds who have players to talk about. It’s the Reds who look a little bit promising. They just — well, the season’s been weird. At the same time, the Reds have been very good and very bad.

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Three Ways Corey Dickerson Is a Big Giant Freak

Even though the Rays lost on Tuesday, they’re still hanging around, with a higher number of wins than losses. The pitching staff, overall, has been neither good nor bad, which I suppose is what you’d expect from a roughly .500 ballclub. Something a little more surprising might be that the Rays have been baseball’s second-best baserunning team. And even bigger than that, the Rays presently rank fifth in team wRC+, between the Dodgers and the Reds. The Rays have struck out, but they’ve still scored runs, with the team very much a legitimate wild-card contender.

If you want to talk about the Rays offense, you should give some attention to Logan Morrison. Once you’re done doing that, you should give further attention to Steven Souza Jr. And once you’re done doing that, you should give the rest of your attention to Corey Dickerson. Dickerson’s been the best hitter on the team, and he’s also been one of the very best hitters in the league, placing just behind Bryce Harper in wRC+. The Rays have known for a while that Dickerson is a pure and talented hitter, but so far he’s made the most of his skills. We should discuss those skills. Dickerson’s is a highly unusual offensive skillset.

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Giancarlo Stanton Is Changing

When Giancarlo Stanton got to the big leagues in 2010, he became the modern-day symbol of the hulking slugger. At 6-foot-6 and 245 pounds, he’s a gigantic human being, and he’s used that strength to hit the baseball like no one else. When he did hit the baseball, anyway. As part of the natural trade-off for his legendary power, Stanton also ran top-of-the-scale strikeout rates. From his debut through 2016, he struck out in 29% of his plate appearances, ranking behind only Chris Davis, Pedro Alvarez, and Mark Reynolds among regulars during that stretch.

The fact that he ranked behind only Jose Bautista in ISO allowed him to remain productive even with the strikeouts, and combined with a lot of walks and regularly high BABIPs, Stanton’s 141 wRC+ from 2010-2016 ranks 7th best in baseball. Stanton was a living example of the ability for elite power to offset contact problems.

But then, last year, that delicate balance seemed to break down. For about a month beginning in mid-May, Stanton struck out in 37 of 80 plate appearances, managing just one home run in the process. He hit .114/.215/.200 during that stretch, and people started openly wondering what happened to the game’s preeminent slugger. Had Stanton’s contact issues finally become too severe? Had the league finally figured him out?

Well, if pitchers had made an adjustment to neutralize the game’s most devastating ball-striker, Stanton apparently decided to adjust himself. And since that miserable month of flailing at everything, he’s become a pretty different hitter than he’d been previously.

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The Next Jose Bautista Is Jose Bautista

Over the winter, Jose Bautista was forced to settle on a one-year contract of about $18 million, or roughly the price of a qualifying offer. Given Bautista’s performance over the previous half-dozen years — during which he’d been one of the game’s best hitters — that deal came as a surprise. Most thought he would get three or four years guaranteed at that rate.

When a player receives so little compared to the general consensus, there’s an inclination to believe that maybe the teams know something we don’t. Bautista had just recorded one of his worst seasons, putting up a 122 wRC+, a 20-point drop from his previous three campaigns. Perhaps there was reason to believe that his poor 2016 season was going to carry over into this year. That certainly looked to be the case just a few weeks into the current season. Not so much anymore.

On April 25, Jose Bautista had played in 19 games, recorded 85 plate appearances, and produced just three extra-base hits, only one of those a homer. His walk rate was a solid 15%, but his strikeout rate was 31%. A lot of strikeouts and no power caused an early-season hitting line of .129/.271/.200 and just a 33 wRC+. As for the cause of Bautista’s poor play, age-related decline was certainly a possibility. Curious himself, Jeff Sullivan requested reader assistance, on April 25, to help better understand the underlying causes for some hitters’ struggles. Jose Bautista was one of those struggling hitters. Since that time, however, he hasn’t struggled at all. In fact, he’s been one of the game’s best, recording a 177 wRC+ in the meantime.

Regarding Bautista, the first issue raised by Sullivan raised was contact. The Jays’ right fielder had historically made contact on 81% of pitches, but he was down to 71% this season. His whiffs both in and out of the zone were up. To help gain some context, let’s separate Bautista’s last few years into a few different segments: 2013-2015, 2016, the 2017 season through April 24, and the 2017 season since April 24. Let’s start by looking at contact rate.

Jose Bautista Contact Rates
Time Period O-Contact % Z-Contact % Contact %
2013-2015 66.8% 88.7% 82.2%
2016 60.4% 88.7% 80.1%
2017 through April 24 53.3% 77.8% 70.6%
2017 since April 24 52.1% 87.6% 76.3%

The good news is that Bautista has brought his contact rate back up to near-vintage Bautista levels. When the ball is pitched in the zone and Bautista swings, he’s making good contact. Before we get to the damage done on contact, that dropping O-Contact% is worth a look. From 2013 to -15, Bautista was above the league average of 63% on swings on balls outside the zone. Last season, Bautista tumbled below the 62% league average. This season, whether looking at the early or latter part of this year, Bautista is well below league average. While that is likely an indication of his declining skills, given Bautista’s batting eye, it might not hurt him as much as others. Bautista’s 21% swing rate on pitches outside the zone is among the top-10 rates in baseball.

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Dan Szymborski FanGraphs Chat – 5/31/17

2:01
Dan Szymborski: OH GOD THERE’S NO QUESTION QUEUE DAMN YOU CARSON

2:02
Big Tuna: Are we buying into Whit Merrifield?

2:02
Dan Szymborski: There’s probably some real power improvement there, but let’s not go too nuts yet.

2:02
The Average Sports Fan: What is holding the Cubs back?

2:02
Dan Szymborski: Losses.

2:02
Nick: Drop O. Herrera?

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Joey Gallo on Athleticism and Defensive Versatility

Joey Gallo not only slugs like a slugger, he looks like a slugger. Listed at 6-foot-5 and 235 pounds, he’s a large man by any measure. But don’t let that fool you. He’s no plodder. The 23-year-old Texas Rangers infielder-outfielder is far more athletic than many people realize.

It’s no secret that Gallo can propel baseballs long distances — fully half of his 16 home runs this year have traveled at least 430 feet — and it’s equally well known that he whiffs at an alarming rate. No shortage of words have been written about those facets of his game. Far fewer have been written about his ability to handle the hot corner and, if the need arises, positions higher on the defensive spectrum.

Gallo weighed in on his defensive versatility, including his background as a shortstop and as a flame-throwing pitcher, when the Rangers visited Fenway Park last week.

———

Gallo on being drafted as a third baseman: “When I signed, I knew I was good enough to play third base. But I didn’t know how good I was. When I started out, I was playing with Latin guys who were much more advanced in the infield and kind of did things a little bit differently. So, when I signed, I was kind of thrown into that process. I was the only American infielder on our team, and I was a little bit behind. I was also a big guy, so I had to work pretty hard to stay at third. But again, I always knew I was good enough play there.

“I don’t think people realized I could play the position, that I could field the position, and do it at a pretty high level. When I was drafted, they said ‘first baseman,’ even though the Texas Rangers drafted me as a third baseman. MLB Network had me as, ‘Joey Gallo, first baseman, drafted…’ My parents were all pissed. It was weird. Everyone did reports on me as a first baseman, not thinking I could play third base.”

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Dictating the Action with Joey Votto

“It’s like a boxer who is always trying to lead the guy into his straight. You have to manipulate him with your footwork. Same type of thing in baseball. You have to figure out a way to funnel [the pitcher] into your hot zone. That comes with patience and that comes with accepting or realizing there will be some error on their side.

“It’s almost like as a hitter you have to be a counter puncher. The best way to be a counter puncher is just to sit and wait and absorb and then counter with whatever you think your strength is.”

Joey Votto to David Manel, last September

CLEVELAND – Baseball is an unusual team sport in that the defense possess the ball. Pitchers have the advantage of dictating the action, the location, and type of pitch. But the idea articulated by Votto in the epigraph above is fascinating, this idea of “funneling,” of batters influencing pitchers. It led me to Votto’s locker in the corner of the visiting clubhouse at Progressive Field last week.

A willing and introspective Votto is a great resource if you’re interested in discussing the art of hitting. I suppose it’s akin to having access to this generation’s Ted Williams. I was curious to learn more about this idea of dictating action from the batter’s box, imposing will from there, to learn more about Votto’s renowned selective aggressiveness. Votto leads baseball in the ratio of swings on pitches in zone compared to swings out of the zone as Ben Lindbergh noted recently. But I was particularly curious to speak with Votto because it seems like several of the game’s best young hitters are following elements of Votto’s approach. With the data-density charts that have become available in recent years, we can now see what maturation, what selective aggressiveness, looks like.

Miguel Sano has become a fearsome hitter because he’s more selective. It appears as though he’s looking in a smaller area to do damage this year. While Bryce Harper declined to discuss his approach, he also appears to be having great success by zeroing in. And there was, of course, the great April surprise that was Eric Thames, who credits his success in part to taking advantage of idle hours in South Korea where he learned to be selectively aggressive, or perhaps and even more refined version of that philosophy that Votto dubbed “funneling.”

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Dave Cameron FanGraphs Chat – 5/31/17

12:01
Dave Cameron: Happy Wednesday, everyone.

12:01
Dave Cameron: Since we last spoke, I (most likely) tore my ACL and contracted a stomach bug that caused me to vomit during the recording of the most recent podcast.

12:02
Dave Cameron: Oh, also, Mike Trout got hurt.

12:02
Dave Cameron: This week sucked.

12:02
Dave Cameron: Let’s talk about happier things.

12:02
Kiermaier’s Piercing Green Eyes: The AL position player WAR leaders right now include Sano (3rd), Dickerson (4th), and Souza (7th). Mike Trout has been the best player in baseball by so far for so long that he can win MVP despite playing for the Angels. Not that Sano, Dickerson, or Souza will still be at the top come October, but how do the voters treat the players on small market non-juggernauts for the non-first place votes? Ortiz got sixth in MVP voting last year, which is farcical, but I can’t picture the Rays’ DH getting votes over names like Correa and Lindor even if you just extrapolate his numbers to a 7.5 WAR season.

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KATOH’s Most-Improved Pitching Prospects So Far

With nearly two months of games in the books, I’m taking another look at the pitching prospects who have most improved their KATOH+ projections since the preseason. To ensure I am writing up actual prospects rather than fringey ones, I’ve set a minimum KATOH+ projection of 3.0 WAR and listed the five most-improved lesser prospects at the bottom. I did not include guys who are injured or who have graduated to the big leagues. A reminder: a player’s KATOH forecast denotes his projected WAR total over the first six seasons of his major-league career.

Brent Honeywell, RHP, Tampa (Profile)
Preseason KATOH+ Projection: 5.7
Current KATOH+ Projection: 7.5

Honeywell has dominated while splitting time between Double-A and Triple-A this year. He’s struck out 30% of opposing hitters and walked less than 5%. The results haven’t quite been there in Triple-A, as evidenced by his 4.93 ERA, but his 2.89 xFIP explains KATOH’s admiration. He’s become one of baseball’s very best pitching prospects.

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NERD Game Scores for May 31, 2017

Devised originally in response to a challenge issued by sabermetric forefather Rob Neyer, and expanded at the request of nobody, NERD scores represent an attempt to summarize in one number (and on a scale of 0-10) the likely aesthetic appeal or watchability, for the learned fan, of a player or team or game.

How are they calculated? Haphazardly, is how. An explanation of the components and formulae which produce these NERD scores is available here. All objections to the numbers here are probably justified, on account of how this entire endeavor is absurd.

***

Most Highly Rated Game
Milwaukee at New York NL | 19:10 ET
Guerra (8.2 IP, 98 xFIP-) vs. deGrom (64.0 IP, 68 xFIP-)
Because the author himself wasn’t aware, it’s possible that at least one reader isn’t currently aware of how good Jacob deGrom has been so far this season — in particular at missing bats. Among the league’s 92 qualified pitchers, he’s recorded the second-lowest contact rate (68.1%), the fourth-highest swinging-strike rate (15.3%), and the third-highest overall strikeout rate (32.2%). There’s obviously quite a lot of interaction between those metrics; in each case, however, one is forced to reach the conclusion that Jacob deGrom is missing a lot of bats.

By what means is he doing it? Largely by recording much higher whiff rates on every pitch. Regard, deGrom’s repertoire from 2016 versus the current season (data care of Brooks Baseball):

Jacob deGrom’s Whiff Rate by Pitch, 2016 vs. -17
Pitch Type 2016 Count 2016 Wiffs 2017 Count 2017 Whiffs Whiff Diff
Fourseam 989 12.3% 444 18.2% 5.9%
Sinker 412 5.6% 151 11.9% 6.3%
Change 261 21.8% 93 20.4% -1.4%
Slider 434 12.9% 268 16.4% 3.5%
Curve 254 10.6% 84 14.3% 3.7%
SOURCE: Brooks Baseball

Readers’ Preferred Broadcast: Milwaukee Radio or New York NL TV.

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The Strike Zone Is Changing

Even though the existence of this piece is based on opinions relayed to me by multiple players, none of those players’ actual name appear within it. Why? Because nobody wants to go on record about the strike zone. They do have feelings about that zone, though. Especially lefties. And there’s evidence that the lefty strike zone is changing.

One lefty slugger was recently telling me about his approach and then made sure that we were off the record to throw in an aside: “… because they’re calling the lefty zone more true on the inside these days.” A catcher was adamant that he’d heard from umpire crew chiefs that there was an added emphasis on those pitches in to lefties. Another catcher echoed the sentiment and added that umpires were looking harder at the bottom of the zone. One lefty hitter called it garbage. A third catcher just shook his head at the whole thing.

Though none of these players would put their name to the complaint — fair, since they have to interact with the umpires going forward and wouldn’t want to poison that conversation and put a bullseye on their backs — there was enough smoke here to investigate the situation for fire.

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Effectively Wild Episode 1064: Harper Throws Hands, Trout Hurts His

EWFI

Ben Lindbergh and a Jeff Sullivan substitute banter about Clayton Kershaw, then discuss all of the fallout from Mike Trout’s surgery and Bryce Harper’s brawl.

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FanGraphs After Dark Chat – 5/30/17

4:38
Paul Swydan:

What is tonight’s best 6-7 pm ET matchup?

OAK (Gray) vs. CLE (Bauer) (17.8% | 27 votes)
 
NYY (Severino) vs. BAL (Tillman) (17.8% | 27 votes)
 
ARI (Ray) vs. PIT (Nova) (35.7% | 54 votes)
 
LAD (Maeda) vs. STL (Wacha) (21.8% | 33 votes)
 
CIN (Wojciechowski) vs. TOR (Happ) (0.6% | 1 vote)
 
MIL (Davies) vs. NYM (Pill) (0.6% | 1 vote)
 
PHI (Velasquez) vs. MIA (Nicolino) (0.6% | 1 vote)
 
SEA (Miranda) vs. COL (Anderson) (4.6% | 7 votes)
 

Total Votes: 151
4:40
Paul Swydan:

What is tonight’s best 8 pm ET or later matchup?

TB (Andriese) vs. TEX (Martinez) (0% | 0 votes)
 
BOS (Sale) vs. CHW (Quintana) (75.6% | 124 votes)
 
HOU (Fiers) vs. MIN (Berrios) (9.1% | 15 votes)
 
DET (Verlander) vs. KC (Skoglund) (0.6% | 1 vote)
 
ATL (Colon) vs. LAA (Bridwell) (3.6% | 6 votes)
 
CHC (Butler) vs. SD (Lamet) (4.2% | 7 votes)
 
WAS (Gonzalez) vs. SF (Samardzija) (6.7% | 11 votes)
 

Total Votes: 164
4:44
Paul Swydan:

What June movie are you most excited to see?

Wonder Woman (6/2 release) (33.3% | 42 votes)
 
Capt. Underpants (6/2) (5.5% | 7 votes)
 
The Mummy (6/9) (10.3% | 13 votes)
 
All Eyez on Me (6/16) (4.7% | 6 votes)
 
Rough Night (6/16) (1.5% | 2 votes)
 
Cars 3 (6/16) (8.7% | 11 votes)
 
47 Meters Down (6/16) (1.5% | 2 votes)
 
Baby Driver (6/28) (11.9% | 15 votes)
 
Despicable Me 3 (6/30) (9.5% | 12 votes)
 
Other (say in comments) (12.6% | 16 votes)
 

Total Votes: 126
4:46
Paul Swydan:

If a manager challenges a call in the first three innings, what is your reaction?

Great job! Get every call you can! (25.3% | 39 votes)
 
Good job, I think we’ll get that one. (20.7% | 32 votes)
 
Meh (36.3% | 56 votes)
 
Bad job, we need to save that challenge (3.2% | 5 votes)
 
My manager is an idiot, so this is probably a bad challenge (14.2% | 22 votes)
 

Total Votes: 154
9:00
Paul Swydan: Hi everybody!

9:00
Jeff Zimmerman: Hi

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Grading the Pitches: Clayton Kershaw, 2016

Previously
Changeups: AL Starters / NL Starters.
Curveballs: AL Starters / NL Starters.
Cutters and Splitters: MLB Starters.
Four-Seamers: AL Starters / NL Starters.
Sinkers: MLB Starters.
Sliders: AL Starters / NL Starters.
Two-Seamers: MLB Starters.

Over the last few weeks in this space, I have been painstakingly grading the individual pitches of every 2016 ERA-qualifying starter. Unfortunately, Clayton Kershaw didn’t pitch enough innings to be included. He is special enough to deserve his own article, however.

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Players’ View: Are Two-Seamers and Sinkers the Same Pitch?

The terms “two-seamer” and “sinker” are synonymous. Or are they? It depends on who you ask — and even then, there’s ambiguity in the answer. If an exercise in semantics is what you’re after, pursuing this subject with a cross section of pitchers and pitching coaches might be a good place to start.

I learned that over the past week. Prompted in part by Alex Stumpf’s article, The Death of the Sinker , I solicited the opinions of 12 — four from each team — members of the Boston Red Sox, Seattle Mariners, and Texas Rangers. Here’s what they had to say.

———

Brian Bannister, Red Sox assistant pitching coach: “It’s basically the same grip, but for some power pitchers, it’s kind of a variation on the four-seamer with a little more arm-side movement; it’s really a derivative of their four-seamer. For other guys, it’s their bread-and-butter pitch where they’re trying to get the hitter to hit the top half of the ball. For some guys it misses more bats, and for other guys the purpose is to get ground balls.

“It depends on how your arm works and how your hand works through the ball. For some, it’s really more of a two-plane fastball. For others, it really goes down. Guys like Jake Arrieta, Noah Syndergaard, and Michael Fulmer throw two-seamers that end up above barrel, whereas with your Trevor Cahills and Dallas Keuchels, it ends up below barrel.”

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Where the Wild Things Are: Scenes from Life in the Independent Frontier League

This is Alex Stumpf’s seventh and final piece as part of his May residency at FanGraphs. Stumpf covers the Pirates and also Duquesne basketball for The Point of Pittsburgh. You can find him on Twitter, as well. Read the work of previous residents here.

March 24th, 2017

Zach Strecker sat alone in his Florida hotel room. He wasn’t ready to pack. He had a plane to catch and a Sweet 16 game to watch with his dad, but his mind was elsewhere.

After an offseason of preparation and work, the 23-year-old righty reliever thought he was going to be a part of the Twins organization for another year. He had turned a strong senior season with the University of Kentucky in 2016 to a contract as an undrafted free agent with Minnesota nine months earlier, thanks mostly to the testimonial of former coach Brad Bohannon. He even pitched well in Rookie ball, leading the Gulf Coast League Twins in saves.

But today, he heard the same dreaded words every low-level minor leaguer who is losing their job will hear: there just isn’t a spot for you.

It’s a brutal business. He knows that. He wasn’t even expecting to play professional baseball when he graduated from Kentucky. That’s why he has two degrees: one in accounting, the other in finance. He was going to give baseball a shot until there’s no future in it. The day might have come.

Thoughts started to run through his head. “Am I really leaving right now?” “Is this it?” “Am I really ready to go home and join the real world?”

It was the longest 30 to 40 minutes of his life. That was until he got a call from Tony Buccilli, the director of team operations with the Washington Wild Things. Their season was starting in seven weeks, and they were looking for relief pitchers.

“I gave it some thought, but there wasn’t much thought,” Strecker said. “I wanted to play ball, so let’s give it a shot. It’ll be fun.”

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A World Without Mike Trout

It was just last week that we were extolling the virtues of Mike Trout. How quickly things can change. How quickly the hammer of fate can smite those who dare tempt it. How quickly things can go so very wrong.

When Trout stole second base in the fifth inning on Sunday, he came up wagging his hand and in pain. He eventually left the game, and we now know that he tore a ligament in his thumb when he accidentally jammed his hand into the bag while sliding. Trout’s elected to have surgery to repair the ligament and has a six- to eight-week timetable to return.

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Eric Longenhagen Prospects Chat 5/30

12:02

Eric A Longenhagen: Good noon from Catasauqua, PA. Here is a link to today’s notes with notes from my look at Brendan McKay and more: http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/instagraphs/daily-prospect-notes-530/

12:02

Ira: Can we expect a write up on Luis Robert? What’s your scouting report on him?

12:03

Eric A Longenhagen: Once he starts playing actual games, sure. I wrote him up last summer when I saw him and in the hardball times annual over the winter. He’s a very good prospect, fits somewhere in the middle of a top 100 based on what I’ve seen an the reports I’ve gotten.

12:03

J: Most upside in this year’s draft? Highest floor?

12:04

Eric A Longenhagen: Obviously this question requires certain assumptions, including me assuming you know those assumptions. But with that in mind: Greene has the most upside, McKay has the highest floor.

12:04

Greg: Any new draft buzz in the top 5?

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KATOH’s Most-Improved Hitting Prospects So Far

With nearly two months of games in the books, I’m taking another look at the hitting prospects who have most improved their KATOH+ projections since the preseason. To ensure I am writing up actual prospects rather than fringey ones, I’ve set a minimum KATOH+ projection of 3.0 WAR and listed the five most-improved lesser prospects at the bottom. I did not include guys who are injured or who have graduated to the big leagues. A reminder: a player’s KATOH forecast denotes his projected WAR total over the first six seasons of his major-league career.

Jesus Sanchez, OF, Tampa (Profile)
Preseason KATOH+ Projection: 0.5
Current KATOH+ Projection: 5.8

Sanchez appeared on the two previous iterations of this exercise and continues to perform as a teenager in Low-A. He’s hit for an impressive amount of power and has also been making more contact of late. As of this writing, he’s struck out just four times over his last 10 games. The combination of contact, power, and youth will win over KATOH in a hurry.

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