Archive for August, 2017

The Angels Wanted Justin Upton for Right Now

Two things are simultaneously true about the American League wild-card race. One, none of the teams, outside of the Yankees, are particularly good. Even the Yankees have their own flaws, but the rest of the teams in the mix are even weaker. One could argue whether any of them will deserve to be playoff teams at all. Two, there will be playoff teams. There will be, probably, the Yankees and someone else. No matter what you might think about team quality, playoff positions are at stake, and a playoff spot, for any club, holds considerable value. We don’t actually know how the playoffs will ever go. The biggest thing is just making it there. Plenty of AL teams are trying to make it there.

It’s with this year’s playoff race in mind that we’ve got the following trade:

Angels get

Tigers get

The Angels are not a good baseball team, relative to other baseball teams. However, they don’t need to be good — rather, they just need to be good enough. Upton could well make them good enough, and because this trade was made official today, Upton, of course, would be eligible for the playoff roster. Upton’s contract does have another four years, but this trade is very much about today, tomorrow, and the weeks a little after that.

Read the rest of this entry »


Does Baseball Need to Reassess the “Right” Way to Play?

This is Ashley MacLennan’s sixth and final piece as part of her August residency at FanGraphs. Ashley is a staff writer for Bless You Boys, the SB Nation blog dedicated to the Detroit Tigers, and runs her own site at 90 Feet From Home. She can also be found on Twitter. Read the work of all our residents here.

“You gotta take care of your teammates sometimes. With me, if hitting a guy in the leg is what I have to do, then that’s what I did… I take care of my teammates and protect them.” Those were the words of Tigers relief pitcher Alex Wilson in the immediate aftermath of one of the most absurd and raucous games of baseball in recent memory.

Alex Wilson makes his contribution to last week’s contretemps between the Tigers and Yankees.

During the August 24th day game between the Tigers and Yankees, the benches cleared three times and eight people were ejected, including players, managers, and coaches. Multiple players on both teams were – intentionally or not – hit by pitches. An array of fines and suspensions followed.

It was, for lack of a better word, a disaster.

It was also an object lesson in one of baseball’s most notoriously silly and problematic unwritten rules. The unwritten rules — a subset of conventions that dictate baseball etiquette but don’t exist in any official capacity — are intended to mandate how players act on the field and to establish repercussions if those players fail to abide by the code. Grandstanding and bat flips are a no-no, as we saw when Texas Rangers second baseman Rougned Odor sucker-punched Toronto Blue Jays outfielder Jose Bautista as revenge for Bautista’s famous 2015 postseason bat flip. Punishment is usually swift for someone who breaks the rules, but grudges often carry over into subsequent seasons.

Read the rest of this entry »


Jonathan Schoop Has Been One of the Best Second Basemen

The Orioles won again on Wednesday, continuing their surge back into the wild-card race. In the bottom of the fifth inning, Jonathan Schoop knocked a game-tying first-pitch homer against the admittedly homer-prone Ariel Miranda. Later on, in the bottom of the eighth, Schoop laced a tie-breaking first-pitch single against Marc Rzepczynski. Schoop was only one of the Orioles’ heroes, but they presumably wouldn’t have won without him.

As the Orioles have shaken off their slump, observers around the league have begun to notice. It was only weeks ago one wondered whether the team might elect to sell off Zach Britton, and more. There was even a little chatter about a trade of Manny Machado. The club now has three more wins than losses, and Machado’s drawn praise for his big second half. Dylan Bundy, too, is getting the spotlight treatment for his possible August breakout. Even Kevin Gausman has received plaudits for turning his season around. But you know who leads the 2017 Orioles in overall WAR? It’s Schoop, and it’s Schoop by the better part of a win. While Machado is still the best player on the roster, Schoop’s own progress shouldn’t be overlooked.

Read the rest of this entry »


FanGraphs Audio: The Pessimist’s Guide to the Future of Scouting

Episode 762
Roughly two weeks ago, the Houston Astros fired eight scouts in what GM Jeff Luhnow characterized as the first step in an effort by the club to restructure, but not reduce the size of, the organization’s scouting departments. Nevertheless, there remains some anxiety in the scouting community, according to FanGraphs’ lead prospect analyst Eric Longenhagen. He examines their concerns and his own in this edition of the program.

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 1 hr 13 min play time.)

Read the rest of this entry »


Eno Sarris Baseball Chat — 8/31/17

1:26
Eno Sarris: Weird intro, but i’m looking forward to seeing them in New York at https://octfest.co in two weeks. See you there?

12:00
Tim: How many hits do you think you could get in 600 plate appearances Eno?

12:00
Eno Sarris: Man you saw my swing path and stats. I think zero, but the role of luck is huge. I’d just swing as hard as I could as soon as the pitcher released the ball and maybe get one.

12:01
Nick in Atl: headed across the pond soon – beer/brewery recs in London, Edinburgh & Amsterdam? Enjoying the book also.

12:01
Eno Sarris: I don’t know as much about those spots as I should. Cloudburst is doing fun stuff though.

12:01
2-D: Eno I just missed out on Pliny and had to get Blind Pig. How big is the gap?

Read the rest of this entry »


Chad Green on His Overpowering Repertoire

Chad Green’s 2-0 win-loss record and 2.05 ERA suggest he’s had a successful season. Those numbers only begin to tell the story. Pitching out of the New York Yankees bullpen, the 26-year-old right-hander has allowed just 27 hits in 57 innings while also recording 86 strikeouts. Doing the math, that’s 4.3 hits per nine and 13.6 strikeouts per nine. Augmenting those stellar stats is a 0.74 WHIP, which ranks as third best in baseball, behind only Craig Kimbrel (0.67) and Kenley Jansen (0.69).

Yesterday — in his 31st appearance on the season — the former Tigers prospect became the first pitcher in MLB history to record seven strikeouts while facing eight or fewer batters in a game. In December 2015, the Yankees acquired Green, along with Luis Cessa, in exchange for Justin Wilson.

Spin and velocity are among his closest friends. Green’s arsenal includes a solid slider, but his signature pitch is a four-seam fastball that zooms through the zone at an average speed of 95.5 mph. Thanks to a well above-average 2,478 spin rate, the University of Louisville product gets plenty of punch outs above the belt.

———

Green on the reasons behind his breakout: “Last year, I figured out what I needed to work on, and this year it’s been about consistency. Last year, I wasn’t consistent. Some days I would have a good breaking ball, and some days I wouldn’t. Some days I would have good fastball command, and some days I wouldn’t.

Read the rest of this entry »


Adrian Beltre Is Never Getting Older

Earlier this season, there was a disagreement between Adrian Beltre and myself about how long I was permitted to remain in the visiting clubhouse at Progressive Field. I was there waiting on one of Beltre’s teammates (now ex-Ranger Jonathan Lucroy). The rest of the modestly sized media contingent had departed and the media-relations representative was nowhere to be found. I was the last reporter remaining. Beltre asked from his locker about 20 feet away why I was still in the clubhouse. He suggested I leave.

I motioned toward the time on the wall-mounted digital clock and explained I had a few minutes remaining. I have rights as a BBWAA card holder! He disagreed. Feeling outnumbered, feeling now as something of a trespasser — and preferring to fight another day and over something more significant — I attempted to depart the clubhouse with my dignity.

Read the rest of this entry »


Dylan Bundy Is Looking the Part

Think about the teams in the American League wild-card race. Focus on the teams gunning for the second position. Focus further still, on their various starting rotations. They’re bad! They’re pretty much all bad. Or, if “bad” feels too cruel, we could go with “lacking.” All of them are lacking. I don’t know if the Orioles have the worst rotation in the group, but they’ve received maybe the most notice for being so thin. It’s not like it hasn’t been deserved.

Chris Tillman was supposed to be good, and his season’s been a nightmare. Ubaldo Jimenez wasn’t supposed to be nearly as good, but his season has also been terrible. Kevin Gausman has yet to make that leap people always figure he’s on the verge of making. The Orioles traded for Jeremy Hellickson when his strikeout rate was under 14%. There’s been so little, for so many months. The Orioles are in the race despite their rotation, not because of it. They’ve just been waiting for someone, anyone, to step up.

And now, Dylan Bundy is stepping up. Of the Orioles’ rotation value over the past several weeks, Bundy has accounted for almost all of it. I don’t think a pitcher can become an ace in the matter of one month. But if one could, that month would look a lot like Bundy’s August.

Read the rest of this entry »


Greg Bird Is Back and Might Save the Day

Hey, remember this guy?

It was Greg Bird, not Aaron Judge or Gary Sanchez, who was the talk of Yankees camp while producing eight home runs and a 1.654 OPS over 51 at-bats. It was Bird who seemed poised to build upon a promising 178-plate-appearance sample as a rookie in 2015 (.261/.343/.529 slash line and 137 wRC+) after missing all of 2016 with a labrum tear.

Read the rest of this entry »


Mariners Allow Cardinals to Rid Selves of Mike Leake

For anyone who hasn’t been paying attention, let me set the scene real quick. The Mariners are involved in that big giant fight for the AL’s second wild-card position. None of the teams in the picture are actually good, but all anyone will need is one more win than the rest of the pack. At that point, the playoffs will beckon, and, who knows? So that’s part of it. The other part is that the Mariners’ rotation was supposed to include James Paxton, Felix Hernandez, Drew Smyly, and Hisashi Iwakuma. Right now the rotation includes none of them. On the year, the Mariners’ rotation ranks 28th in baseball in WAR. Over the past month, they’re dead last, a few hairs below replacement. What do you do when you have a rotation that’s bad? One of the things you can do, I suppose, is acquire Mike Leake.

In part because of Luke Weaver, Leake became expendable in St. Louis. He remains under contract through 2020. Here are the details of the swap:

Mariners get

  • Mike Leake
  • $0.75 million in international bonus space
  • About $17 million in salary relief (via Ken Rosenthal)

Cardinals get

The Mariners have added yet another back-end starter. At least this one is a little different from the others.

Read the rest of this entry »


Would Chris Hayes Get a Hit in a Full Season of Play?

Admit it, you’ve wondered. Not you, the former Division I baseball player or the major leaguer who’s maybe reading this. I mean you, the former pony-league baseball kid who maybe got a cup of coffee with the varsity in a nondescript high school league: you’ve wondered if, given a full season’s chance — say, 600 plate appearances — you could get a single major league hit.

Maybe you haven’t. I certainly have. And so has MSNBC anchor Chris Hayes.

It’s easy to argue that he wouldn’t. Just making contact requires sufficient bat speed to catch up to the incoming pitch speed, and the difference between a layperson’s bat speed and a professional one is stark. I’ve linked this image recently, but this time it’s for the stats on the left. Take a look at how much faster Hunter Pence can swing a bat than I can.

Pence nearly doubles my bat speed and gets to the ball three times quicker. Maybe we mere fans just couldn’t connect with the hard stuff. And that’s on the fastball. What happens when a pitcher starts throwing the bendy stuff?

Hayes wondered the same. “I was recently at a batting cage and spent about half an hour, got the speed up to 70 mph, and after enough of them I was more or less getting around, though mostly fouling pitches off, with occasional solid contact,” he wrote in an email. “BUT: no breaking balls and no pitches out of the zone. I just think any major leaguer would be able to just terrify me with a first pitch fastball and then get me to chase garbage out of the zone and that would happen for literally an entire season.”

But isn’t this a question of numbers in the end? Over 600 plate appearances, more than 2000 pitches… couldn’t you swing as hard as possible middle-in and eventually get one measly hit?

Read the rest of this entry »


The Dodgers Are Listening to Justin Turner

I was in the Dodgers clubhouse before a game last week at PNC Park when the Sports Illustrated cover was released featuring Justin Turner immersed in Gatorade, the orange liquid nearly a match for the hue of his iconic mane and facial hair.

The amiable Turner was of particular interest that day due to his cover-boy status. He accommodated round after round of media interviews before his locker in the road clubhouse. The Dodgers have perhaps the largest traveling media contingent in the National League.

I waited not for not an interview but an introduction. As someone who has promoted the Air Ball Revolution, I wanted to express my appreciation for his work and to note our mutual acquaintance, private hitting instructor Doug Latta, who helped Turner rebuild his swing and philosophy. In passing, I asked Turner not about the photo (which is tremendous), but about a passage from the accompanying article by Stephanie Apstein.

[Justin Turner] persuaded a fringe major leaguer with a career .598 OPS to spend last offseason overhauling his mechanics; Chris Taylor, now a starting outfielder, has been L.A.’s best second-half hitter, with an OPS of 1.105. Since Turner assigned right fielder Puig five pushups for every grounder he hit in spring training, Puig has pounded the ball harder than in any season since his first. Turner cues up the curveball machine and challenges 22-year-old rookie first baseman Cody Bellinger to fly ball competitions, with the winner taking home $10 per session. “I’m down a little bit,” Bellinger admits. It’s worth the lighter wallet, though: His .800 slugging percentage on curves is second in baseball. The team as a whole has cut its ground ball rate by 8%, the biggest drop in the league.

I’ve previously explored the idea of how air-ball advocates like Daniel Murphy might influence teammates in positive way, how they might be adding value simply by communicating ideas.

Turner is another.

Read the rest of this entry »


Dave Cameron FanGraphs Chat – 8/30/17

12:00
Dave Cameron: Happy Wednesday, everyone.

12:01
Dave Cameron: Big news of the morning is Mike Leake to Seattle, as the Mariners continue to look for more reliable starting pitchers.

12:01
Dave Cameron: Be interesting to see how much of the contract STL is picking up. Can’t imagine M’s took the whole thing.

12:01
BeBop: OK, seriously, what do you do if you’re Jeter and Co. regarding Stanton? Trade? Keep? As a Marlins fan I’m so torn.

12:02
Dave Cameron: Keep for now. Maybe you explore trading him as he gets closer to the opt-out, but you can’t trade your franchise player right after you take over.

12:03
ECinDC: What does the NL Cy Young race look like to you?

Read the rest of this entry »


The One Thing Holding Back Yasiel Puig

There’s so much to like about Yasiel Puig, and the season he’s having in 2017. He has a career-high rate of walks, and a career-low rate of strikeouts. He has a career-high isolated power, and he also has a career-high 12 stolen bases. He’s remained, for the most part, totally healthy, even on a team that makes liberal use of the disabled list, and Puig’s even got easy career-best marks in both defensive runs saved and UZR. In so many different ways, Puig’s game is looking more polished. Yet his WAR is simply a hair over 2.

There’s only one thing that has held back that number. I mean, all right, sure, Puig could stand to have a higher BABIP. He’d look better if he gathered some missing singles. But there’s just one area where Puig doesn’t look good. If you know how WAR is calculated, you’re probably one step ahead, but I should issue some quick background context. Some numbers around these parts have changed.

Read the rest of this entry »


Effectively Wild Episode 1103: The Wildest Card

EWFI

Ben Lindbergh and Jeff Sullivan banter about the AL wild card race, whether the Dodgers are doing anything wrong by using the 10-day DL liberally, then answer listener emails about packaging Pujols with Trout, Gio Gonzalez’s league-leading (but also not league-leading) WAR, the pitfalls of Statcast for pitchers, Steven Souza and home-run imbalance by handedness, an especially silly save, how many major leaguers are being missed, baseball’s hidden superheroes, and more.

Read the rest of this entry »


Arizona Fall League Roster Highlights

The Arizona Fall League just announced its rosters for the 2017 season. These are subject to change for any number of reasons, and a combination of promotions, injuries, and trades will likely impact who arrives and who doesn’t between now and October 10th, when the Fall League’s seven-week season gets underway.

For the uninitiated, the Arizona Fall League is a developmental league featuring six teams, each of which are assigned players from five parent MLB clubs. This league has been a fleeting but well-lit stage for many of MLB’s top talents, including Mike Trout, Bryce Harper, Gerrit Cole and dozens others. The league is heavily scouted and players sent here often debut in the majors the following season. With that as introduction, below are my thoughts on the prominent/interesting prospects headed to the desert in October.

Glendale Desert Dogs
(CLE, CHW, LAD, PHI, PIT)

Glendale’s pitching staff has a few notable names, led by Pirates RHP Mitch Keller, who’ll pick up the summer innings he dropped in June due to a back strain. Keller has one of the best fastball/curveball combinations in the minors, but the changeup might be his developmental focus here in Arizona. Also on Glendale’s staff is hard-throwing Pirates LHP Taylor Hearn who came to Pittsburgh from Washington as part of last year’s package for Mark Melancon. He hasn’t thrown since July 13th, when he struck out a career-high 10 hitters in 4.2 innings for High-A Bradenton. He was put on the disabled list with an oblique strain two days later. Hearn has had several injuries throughout his career. He suffered from a strained UCL in high school and had a screw put in his elbow as a college freshman after suffering two humeral fractures. When healthy, Hearn sits 94-97 and throws a hard slider. Phillies lefty Elniery Garcia, whose velocity spiked into the mid-90s late last year and who was (coincidentally!?!) busted for Boldenone in April, missed 80 games this year. His fastball has been in the 89-93 range lately.

Read the rest of this entry »


The Last Time the Royals Scored a Run Was Thursday

The Royals last scored in the bottom of the second inning of their game against the Rockies last Thursday. Brandon Moss hit a home run, and the Royals went ahead 2-0. Since then, the Royals have played the better part of five games, and after the Moss dinger, the Royals as a team have been outscored 35-0. They lost the Rockies game, and of course they lost the subsequent four. The Royals offense has managed 43 straight scoreless innings. Is that bad? Jeffrey Flanagan and Bill Chastain have the facts.

The Royals, who lost their fifth straight, now have been shut out in 43 straight innings, the longest such streak in Major League Baseball since the mound was lowered after 1968. The previous mark was 42 by both the 1983 Phillies and the 1985 Astros. The ’79 Phillies were blanked in 39 innings. The all-time mark is 48 by the 1968 Cubs and the 1906 A’s.

We’re dealing with an active, modern-day baseball record. This is a developing era of offensive rejuvenation, powered by the league-wide resurgence of the home run. Within that context, the Royals haven’t scored in a long-ass time. It’s not even that the record is now 43. It’s that the record will be at least 43. The Royals play again tonight. You wouldn’t think they’d be blanked in a game started by Alex Cobb, but they’ve just been blanked in games started by Ryan Merritt and Austin Pruitt. Sometimes it’s not up to the pitcher.

Read the rest of this entry »


Eric Longenhagen Prospects Chat: Fall League Roster Release

3:00
Eric A Longenhagen: Hi everyone, Fall League roster reaction piece has been filed and hopefully I’ll have a link for you during this chat. Let’s get into it…

3:02
Tommy N.: What do you think of Enyel De Los Santos? He seems to get lost in the Padres’ stacked pitching group.

3:02
Eric A Longenhagen: I like him, well-rounded stuff and strike-throwing ability. #4/5 type of starter. Wrote him up here: http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/instagraphs/daily-prospect-notes-725/

3:02
JT: What’s your take on Buxton’s recent surge?

3:02
Eric A Longenhagen: Told you so?

3:03
Eric A Longenhagen: I hope this surge is a sign of things to come for him, and that people will look to this as an example of why patience with prospects is important

Read the rest of this entry »


The Twins’ Other Dramatic Turnaround

Byron Buxton’s torrid August has been the primary reason the Twins have vaulted back into the Wild Card race this month, as the team’s center fielder is again showing why he was previously considered the best prospect in baseball. But while it’s very easy to draw a straight line between Buxton’s performance and the team’s 17-10 record in August, he isn’t doing this alone; there’s another guy on the roster whose performance has changed even more dramatically. And that guy is Matt Belisle.

After having a nice run with the Rockies in his early-30s, Belisle became the quintessential journeyman reliever the last few years, signing one year deals with the Cardinals, Nationals, and now the Twins. Those one year deals paid him between $1.25M and $3.5M per year, and despite running a 1.76 ERA with Washington last year, the Twins got him for just $2 million this past winter. As a pitch-to-contact 37-year-old, there just wasn’t much interest in Belisle despite last year’s shiny ERA.

And for the first three months of the year, the league looked prescient. When June came to a close, Belisle had a 6.53 ERA/5.17 FIP/5.53 xFIP. He was pitching himself out of baseball, as if the Twins released him, he might not get another chance, given his age and lack of ability to put batters away. An aging command guy with a 12% walk rate isn’t something many teams want.

But then, at the beginning of July, Belisle started doing something weird, for him; he started striking everyone out.

Read the rest of this entry »


Mike Pelfrey on His Post-Surgery Lack of Command

Chicago White Sox right-hander Mike Pelfrey is a survivor of Tommy John surgery, but only in the technical sense of having returned to a major-league mound after having undergone the procedure. Prior to going under the knife, the 6-foot-7 right-hander was a solid, midrotation starter for the New York Mets. Since surgery, however, he’s been a shell of his old self. Pitching for the Minnesota Twins, Detroit Tigers, and now the White Sox, Pelfrey is 18-47 with a 4.99 ERA over his last four-plus seasons.

Age-wise, he isn’t over the hill. The former first-round pick is still just 33 years old. And while his arm feels strong, it also feels… different. Pelfrey can’t quite put a finger on it, but ever since his ulnar collateral ligament — and subsequently an ulnar nerve — were repaired, something has been amiss. A dozen years — and countless pitches — into his big-league career, he has limited control over where the ball is going to go once it leaves his hand.

———

Mike Pelfrey on his post-surgery command issues: “There’s been a little more adversity than I would like. Early in my career I was more of a power-sinker guy — I was about 75% fastballs — and my command was a lot better. In 2012, I ended up getting hurt. My elbow blew out after three starts, and I had Tommy John surgery. I’ve never been the same since. My command hasn’t quite been the same. Read the rest of this entry »