Archive for June, 2017

July 2 Sortable Board and Rules Primer

The 2017 July 2 signing period is set to begin on Sunday. Here is the 2017 J2 Sortable Board with tool grades and scouting reports for the players whom I believe to be the best in the class. The changes made to the J2 process when the last Collective Bargaining Agreement was ratified in November are significant and have impacted the way teams approach signing players; altered how a given class’s talent is distributed throughout baseball; changed players’ earning power; and, at least for now, forced prospects to consider how to best time their decision to sign.

Before diving into the details pertaining to this year’s class, allow me to suggest some prerequisite reading should this be your first time navigating FanGraphs’ scouty pages. If the 20-80 scale and scouting terminology is new to you, this piece will be helpful. If you’d like more context on the previous July 2 rules as we discuss the way the new CBA has changed them in this article, I suggest this.

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Effectively Wild Episode 1078: Bring on the Banter

EWFI

Ben Lindbergh and Jeff Sullivan do an all-banter episode about Takuya Nakashima, Dustin Fowler, the latest on home runs and the baseball, an Aaron Judge intentional walk, too many Tylers, the significance of baseball’s lowest-ever average Leverage Index, the Reds’ still-disastrous pitching staff, and more.

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NERD Game Scores for June 30, 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
New York AL at Houston | 20:10 ET
Pineda (87.1 IP, 79 xFIP-) vs. McCullers (81.2 IP, 60 xFIP-)
One might be inclined to think that, on account of how good Chris Sale has been this year, that he’s certainly recorded the top expected FIP mark (xFIP-) among all qualified pitchers. It’s actually true that he’s done that. It’s also true that so has Lance McCullers, though. Entering play today, both pitchers have produced a park-adjusted xFIP 40% better than league average. Only one of them is expected to pitch tonight, however. McCullers is who.

Readers’ Preferred Broadcast: Houston Radio.

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The New Relief Ace in Anaheim

If you had told the Angels before the season started that they would be in the thick of the Wild Card race approaching Fourth of July weekend, it’s likely they would have been pleased. Our preseason projections suggested they were an 83-win team and so far they are on pace for 82 wins. They’ve outplayed their run differential and their raw statistics slightly, but they looked like a roughly average team and have played like a roughly average team.

What’s noteworthy is that they’ve managed to stay on this pace despite losing Mike Trout to injury more than a month ago. It’s not news that the Angels are as good as we thought they were, but the fact that they’ve stayed on track without the services of the game’s best player sent me searching. With all due respect to Martin Maldonado, Cameron Maybin, Andrelton Simmons, and Eric Young (?!), it’s the bullpen that has stood out so far, and that bullpen has been led by Blake Parker.

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Joey Gallo Embodies Modern Baseball and the Rangers Are Cool with That

If you were to pick a face, a player, to represent where baseball is trending, Joey Gallo might be the one.

This post isn’t intended to serve as an endorsement of Gallo as an elite player, but rather to suggest that he embodies its trends as well as anyone. The game continues to include more home runs, more strikeouts, more walks, and fewer balls in play — to the angst of some (many?). Gallo is one of the Three True Outcome kings in the sport, a point detailed by one of FanGraphs’ community writers earlier this year.

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Picking the 2017 American League All-Stars

Yesterday, I put on my dictator hat and suggested how I would fill out the National League All-Star team, if it was entirely up to me. Today, we’re going to do the American League, which is, in comparison, underwhelming. Actually, underwhelming is an underwhelming description for what it was like to assemble this roster after doing the NL yesterday. It was essentially an exercise in saying “wait, really, these are my choices?” over and over.

There are, of course, some really exciting talents in the American League. And there are guys having really great All-Star caliber seasons. But there are shockingly few players who fit both of those criteria, as basically all the big names that you’d expect to be here haven’t had seasons good enough to justify their presence. Mike Trout? Injured. Miguel Cabrera? 115 wRC+. Manny Machado? 86 wRC+. Josh Donaldson? Missed a good chunk of the first half, and hasn’t been great since coming off the DL.

As I noted yesterday, I lean towards the All-Star game being a reward for a player’s performance to this point, with track record a factor but a less important one than how you’ve played this year. That’s why they have the event every year; to honor the players playing like stars this season. In the first half of the 2017 season, the stars of the AL mostly haven’t played like stars, and the guys who have are not guys you would have pegged for the All-Star team before the year started.

So, prepare to be underwhelmed by the names to follow. This is just what the league has given us.

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Tampa Bay’s Second-Half Attendance

This is Michael Lortz’ fifth and final piece as part of his June residency at FanGraphs. Lortz covers the Tampa Bay baseball market for the appropriately named Tampa Bay Baseball Market and has previously published work in the Community pages, as well. You can find him on Twitter, as well. Read the work of all our residents here.

During my month here at FanGraphs, I’ve given an overview of the Rays’ attendance problems, detailed their need to attract millennials, compared them to other small-market teams, and discussed how their marketing strategy differs from local minor-league competition. Today, I want to end my time as June resident by talking about how baseball attendance in Tampa Bay will fare in the second half of 2017.

On June 24th, the Rays played their 41st game at Tropicana Field this year. Their average attendance at that point was 14,930. Of course, this is the lowest average attendance of any team in the Major Leagues, but it is also the Rays’ third-lowest midseason average attendance since 2007. Only in 2007 (when they were still the Devil Rays) and 2015 (the first post-Maddon year) was average attendance lower at the halfway point.

The following graph depicts Rays’ average attendance at Game 41 since 2007.

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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 any updated list — such as the revised top 100 released last week by Baseball America — 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.

*****

Jose Miguel Fernandez, 2B, Los Angeles NL (Profile)
Like every player included among this edition of the Five (with the exception of Zack Granite, who has nowhere to go besides the majors), Fernandez received a promotion this week — in this case, from Double- to Triple-A. It was only temporary (he returned to Tulsa yesterday), but not irrelevant. While it’s almost too obvious even to render into print, these promotions serve as votes of confidence from the organizations to which the players belong. That’s relevant to the author’s decision-making insofar as clubs naturally possess much better information about their prospects than a weblogger sitting at a coffee shop in Maine.

Questions persist about Fernandez’s second-base defense. No questions appear to remain about his offensive profile, however. He possesses the lowest strikeout rate in the Texas League among qualified batters and a better-than-average isolated-power figure.

Here he is taking some pleasure in his work earlier this week:

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Jeff Sullivan FanGraphs Chat — 6/30/17

9:09
Jeff Sullivan: Hello friends

9:09
Jeff Sullivan: Welcome to Friday baseball chat

9:09
Bork: Hello, friend!

9:09
Jeff Sullivan: Hello friend

9:09
Jeff Sullivan: I’ve missed you

9:09
Edwin: Approximately what % of Wins are attributed to Starting Pitchers?  Any idea?

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It’s Tough Being a (Very) Tall Pitcher

This year, we’ve seen the debut of two 24-year-old lefties who have taken their own paths to the big leagues. Jordan Montgomery in New York and Sean Newcomb in Atlanta both look like they’re dealing, but they’ve had to work to get here. Listed at 6-foot-6 and 6-foot-5, respectively, it’s worth wondering if their height has slowed down the development of their command, if it’s taken them longer to get their impressive levers in the right places. There’s some evidence that might be the case. But these two pitchers remind us that there are very few absolutes when it comes to mechanics, and that even tall pitchers are as different from each other as they are from the general population.

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John Tumpane: America’s Favorite Umpire

We’d all like to think that we’d act as MLB umpire John Tumpane did this past Wednesday at around 3 p.m. while crossing the Roberto Clemente Bridge in Pittsburgh.

Tumpane was returning from an atypically late lunch and jog across the gold-painted steel suspension bridge. If you don’t know the bridge by name, you’re probably familiar with it anyway: it serves as the iconic backdrop beyond PNC Park. One of three sister bridges, it connects downtown with the North Shore of the city. At its apex, it sits 79 feet above the Allegheny River, which it spans. As the 34-year-old Tumpane crossed the structure on Wednesday afternoon, the Chicago native watched as a woman climbed over one of its railings, preparing to jump.

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Technically, Baseball Really Is More Boring

Pace. The word occupying the most of Rob Manfred’s mind is pace. Or maybe it’s action. They could be tied. Manfred wants more action; he wants a quicker pace. In short, he wants more things to happen. Games continue to grow longer and longer, and that means dead time. Strikeouts continue to rise, and that means fewer balls in play. Home runs continue to rise, and that means…I don’t know, reducing the thrill of the average home run. If I had to distill everything down, I’d say that baseball is most concerned with staying interesting. It doesn’t want to be the boring sport, and it doesn’t want to become the more boring sport.

Personally, I’m not bored by baseball. I know you’re not, either, because this place is selective for superfans. Even if you wouldn’t ordinarily think of yourself as being a baseball superfan, you almost certainly qualify. Think about the website you’re reading right now. We all still find pleasure in the game, and I’m not finding any less than I ever have. If anything, my own level of interest deepens by the day.

But, wouldn’t you know it, but you could say baseball really is more boring than it’s been in a while. Not so much in a way that you’d notice. It’s subtle, as many trends are. But I have numbers to make a case. While I don’t know what to make of them, I’d still like to share them, while I have your attention.

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Effectively Wild Episode 1077: Strangely Slanting Fields

EWFI

Ben Lindbergh and Jeff Sullivan banter about (and/or follow up on) Miguel Montero’s Cubs demise, philosophical Pirates quotes, Carter Capps, unusual ballpark constructions, jams and rallies, and target-based hitting competitions, then answer listener emails about extra-inning wins by wide margins, Jake Arrieta’s career vs. Brad Radke’s career, David Ortiz’s value, rampant base-stealing in single games, Theo Epstein’s workload, catcher interference, and the latest lexicon questions, including inside-the-park homering, working walks, comebacks, breaking the game wide open, and insurance runs.

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Judge vs. Bellinger: The Tale of the Tape

Aesthetically, the emergent style of play in “our game” isn’t very pleasing, I would submit. The three true outcomes have run amok; the Russell Branyan-ization of baseball is almost complete. That said, there have been some satisfying side effects of this trend, Aaron Judge and Cody Bellinger among them.

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Projecting Dustin Fowler

On Tuesday, the Yankees called up infielder Tyler Wade in the wake of Starlin Castro’s injury. They dipped into their farm system again on Wednesday, calling up Miguel Andujar (3.6 KATOH, 2.6 KATOH+) to replace the injured Matt Holliday. And wouldn’t you know it, they did it again today. This time it’s Dustin Fowler getting the in place of Tyler Austin.

Fowler is easily the best prospect who was called up this week. He’s demonstrated a rare combination of power and speed in the minors, mashing 12 homers this year to go along with 13 steals. He’s also kicked in eight triples after lacing 15 last season. Fowler doesn’t strike out all that often, either. He’s whiffed 20% of the time this season, which puts him right around league average.

On defense, Fowler has primarily played center field, though he’s gotten regular reps at both outfield corners. He possesses plus speed, which is typically more than enough to man center field, but the metrics aren’t fond of him out there. Clay Davenport’s numbers have him as a -14 defender over roughly a full season of games in center between this year and last. Regardless, he should be more than fine in an outfield corner, which is where New York will likely use him for the time being.

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The Angels Won on a Walk-Off Strikeout*

I started blogging about the Mariners almost the instant they stopped being good. I went forward with that for some reason on a daily basis for something like a decade, and there was a whole lot of losing involved. As such, there are a lot of low points to pick from, and I don’t know when I experienced rock bottom, but I know when I felt particularly low. I can vividly recall a moment when something seemed to snap. The whole 2010 season was unfathomably bad, and it was a race to the finish line. September might as well have not existed, but it did exist, and toward the end of it, the Mariners played the Rangers, and the Rangers scored the winning run on a strikeout.

Fans of bad teams often say it’s as if their team finds new ways to lose. For me, that actually *was* a new way to lose. I’d never seen it. Many people had never seen anything like it. See, it’s extremely uncommon. And why wouldn’t it be? A strikeout is an out. A walk-off strikeout shouldn’t exist. But there’s room there for an opportunity; the door is cracked ever so slightly open. The Rangers won on a walk-off strikeout. And last night, the Angels did the same thing.

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Dan Szymborski FanGraphs Chat – 6/29/17

2:12
Dan Szymborski: And away we go!

2:12
Dan Szymborski: Sorry, was in a work conversation!

2:13
Nick: Is Beede still the Giants’ number 1 pitching prospect or has Suarez overtaken him?

2:14
Dan Szymborski: In my eyes he has, but some are going to quibble with that no doubt.  I’m not sure it’s *obvious*

2:14
ECinDC: Is it possible that Stras could be worth his extension? But really, he’ll opt out unless he’s hurt right?

2:14
Dan Szymborski: He could very well be.

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Assessing the Trade Value of Giancarlo Stanton

The Marlins are sellers this year. Adeiny Hechavarria is already gone. Kyle Barraclough, David Phelps, and A.J. Ramos are among the bullpen pieces that might be appealing. Marcell Ozuna is having a great year and has two more years of control after this one, so he would be a desirable piece. If the team opted to, they could get a haul for Christian Yelich, too. And if the team is truly selling for the future and wants to reduce future salaries either for a future owner or because that’s just what the Marlins do, then trading Giancarlo Stanton has to be an option, as well.

It’s not entirely clear how much value Stanton has in trade. He’s obviously been a very good player to this point in his career and has recorded a 130 wRC+ so far this year. The projections see him doing roughly that the rest of the way, as well, coming close to a four-win season. He’s also only making $14.5 million in 2017, which makes him quite valuable in the near term. Detracting from that value in the longer term is the $295 million owed to Stanton over the next 10 years, part of a deal that will pay him through his age-37 season. He also has a no-trade clause. Adding to the complexity is an opt-out clause Stanton possesses in his contract after the 2020 campaign. He’ll be finishing his age-30 season at that point and will be owed $219 million over the next seven seasons.

Given the size of his deal, the return for Stanton might not be great. For that reason and because he’s a good player now and because he’s likely to remain a good player for the next few years, it’s fair to question why the Marlins would bother moving him. It’s probably too easy just to say “Because that’s what the Marlins do.” But, well, that is what the Marlins do. That opt-out might end up being difficult to turn down, and the current owner, Jeffrey Loria, likely has no interest in paying a 30-plus-year-old slugger $30 million a year. There are also rumors that the Marlins will be sold at some point soon. Before teams are sold, we often see large contracts moved in order to make the team more attractive in terms of future commitments.

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Chris Gimenez on Being a Non-Pitcher Who Pitches

Chris Gimenez is good with a quip, and he came up with a classic earlier this month. Following a game in which he homered twice, the 34-year-old journeyman told reporters, “Hopefully I’m one of the better hitting pitchers in the league.”

Gimenez is, of course, a catcher by trade — but the lines are getting blurred a bit. He’s started 24 games behind the dish for the Minnesota Twins this season, but he’s also taken the mound six times. That’s rarified air. Researching the subject requires interpretation — for instance, was Willie Smith an outfielder or a two-way player in 1963 and 1964? — but it could be reasonably argued that Gimenez is tied with Eddie Lake (1944) for the most pitching appearances in one season by a position player.

More certain is the fact that Gimenez is the first player both to catch and pitch in at least six games, in the same season, since the late 1800s. And his versatility doesn’t stop there. Gimenez has also appeared in five games at first base, and one each at third base and in left field.

Gimenez talked about his crappy fastball and about his hopes of one day following in the footsteps of Campy Campaneris, earlier this week.

———

Gimenez on not thinking like a pitcher when he’s on the mound: “I think I’ve pretty much stuck to the catching side of the thinking. I feel like that’s the more beneficial side, because chances are — at least hopefully — I’m going to catch more games than I’m going to pitch the rest of the year. But it is good to have the two somewhat different mindsets.

“Being a catcher, you need to think along the same lines as a pitcher, so you’re essentially thinking like a pitcher back there. But when I’m on the mound, it’s completely different, because I want guys to hit it. Pitchers are usually pitching for no contact or weak contact, and I’m trying to throw it down the middle. They can try to hit it as far as they want. I know that hitting is extremely difficult. You can tell that from my career average.

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Eno Sarris Baseball Chat — 6/29/17

10:34
Eno Sarris: Headed up to LA tomorrow to see Junior Boys and Kilo Kish at the Globe.

12:02
Jose Berrios: Thanks for chatting.  How good a SP am I next year and beyond?

12:02
Eno Sarris: I’m a fan!

12:02
Eno Sarris: I’d call him a top 30/40 type

12:03
Tony: Eno,  it’s halfway through the season.  Time to admit the Cubs have some serious issues?  They still have the talent and the crappy division but there are holes that were not expected back in April.

12:03
Eno Sarris: I think they’ve always been looking for pitching

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