Archive for September, 2017

The Best of FanGraphs: September 25-29

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 1117: Pats on the Back and Slaps on the Wrist

EWFI

Ben Lindbergh and Jeff Sullivan banter about Ben’s chat with Bill James, a fan who got ejected for giving Gary Sanchez pitch locations, a suggestion for tweaking the wild card game, and Sammy Sosa, then discuss the teams whose organizational stocks have risen or fallen the most this season and wrap up with brief banter about a Patreon perk, awards voting, and Jason Benetti.

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What Statcast Says About the National League Cy Young

Over in the American League, there’s a clear two-horse race between Chris Sale and Corey Kluber for the Cy Young Award. Both are head and shoulders above the rest of the league and both have very strong cases for the honor, depending on what metrics you prefer.

Over in the National League, that isn’t quite the case. Max Scherzer is the clear front-runner at this point, with a host of other pitchers behind him all trying to make an argument why they might have had better seasons. Clayton Kershaw has a lower ERA. Zack Greinke pitches in a much tougher park. Teammate Stephen Strasburg has a lower FIP.

Those are just the stats that measure outcomes, though. Let’s see what Statcast has to say about the sort of contact the other candidates are allowing to see if anybody has a real case against Scherzer.

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Jeff Sullivan FanGraphs Chat — 9/29/17

9:07
Jeff Sullivan: Hello friends

9:08
Jeff Sullivan: Welcome to Friday baseball chat

9:08
Jeff Sullivan: Sorry for that extra long delay — had some problems recording the podcast

9:08
Bork: Hello, friend!

9:09
Jeff Sullivan: Hello friend

9:09
Tim Tebow’s Thunder Thighs: The Tigers announced that Andrew Romine will play all nine positions on Sunday. Can we please do this with Andrelton Simmons, too? Watching him pitch and run down fly balls in center would be a hoot.

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Andrew Miller Is Back, Never Really Left

Last year, perhaps without even knowing it, Andrew Miller became the father of a bullpen revolution. It was a year ago when Miller, entering multiple games in the fifth and sixth innings, helped propel a Cleveland team down its No. 2 and No. 3 starting pitchers to the brink of a World Series title.

The Indians were lauded for their creative use of Miller, freeing him from the shackles of the save to impact games in high-leverage situations and for multiple innings. He avoided the fate of Zach Britton, another dominant left-hander, who looked on longingly from the Rogers Centre bullpen as his Orioles fell to the Blue Jays in an extra-inning Wild Card game.

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Jon Gray Is Becoming the Best That the Rockies Have Had

Although it’s not yet completely certain, it looks like the Rockies are going to earn a trip to the playoffs. Should they get there, they’re going to need someone who looks like an ace. And, you know what, even if the Rockies somehow miss the playoffs, there’s still going to be more baseball, in 2018 and beyond. In those years, the Rockies are going to need someone who looks like an ace. Even in this era where starting pitchers have slightly diminished importance, there’s no substitute for a No. 1. Every team could use one; every team badly wants one.

The Rockies might thank their lucky stars for Jon Gray. Not that it’s all been luck, of course — the Rockies drafted Gray in the first round, and the Rockies developed him. But, with pitching prospects, anything can happen, for almost any reason. There would’ve been countless opportunities for Gray’s career to veer off the tracks. Still could, I suppose. Nothing’s for sure. But where Gray is, now, a few weeks shy of his 26th birthday — he seems to be becoming the best starting pitcher the Rockies have ever had.

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The Players KATOH Got Right in 2017

Matt Olson’s adjusted minor-league power numbers were encouraging. (Photo: Keith Allison)

Over the course of the last year, I’ve published projections for a boatload of prospects at this site. Now that the 2017 season is winding down, I thought it might make sense to review how KATOH has performed with specific players. For this particular post, I’d like to look at some instances where KATOH’s forecasts have looked prescient.

Allow me to point out immediately that none of this is conclusive: we’re only a year (or less) into the big-league careers of the players included here. Labeling a six-year projection as definitively “right” or “wrong” following a single season is obviously premature. That said, we undoubtedly have a much clearer picture of these players’ futures than we did six months ago.

This analysis compares each player’s industry-wide consensus to his stats-only KATOH projection — which does not consider a player’s ranking on prospect lists. Stats-only is KATOH’s purest form and also the version that disagrees most fervently with the establishment.

Writing this article was a lot of fun. Like everyone else, I enjoy saying “I told you so” when I’m right. But I also acknowledge that I’m often wrong. So as much as I’d like to tout these cherry-picked success stories and move on to current projections, I feel I’d be doing you a disservice if I didn’t write another article pointing out KATOH’s misses. Stay tuned.

Prospects KATOH Liked
Here are the players on whom KATOH has typically been more bullish than other outlets. Players are listed in general order of “success” in 2017.

Rhys Hoskins, 1B/OF, Philadelphia

As you’re probably aware, Hoskins had a pretty good summer. But before he was hitting homers at a ridiculous clip, Hoskins was an unheralded first-base prospect who had never cracked a major publication’s top-100 list. KATOH was all over him, though, due to his impressive minor-league numbers. My system ranked him No. 54 in the preseason and No. 14 when he was called up. He also cracked the All-KATOH Team in the preseason. The best minor-league hitters often succeed in the majors as well. As obvious as that sounds, the case of Rhys Hoskins shows that we sometimes overthink these things.

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FanGraphs Audio: A Deeply Flawed Conversation About Bruce Maxwell

Episode 772
When Monday arrived this week, managing editor Dave Cameron found it difficult to write about anything other than Bruce Maxwell’s decision to take a knee during the national anthem. When it was time to record the podcast on Wednesday, he felt similarly. The result? Hopefully, a responsible and nuanced conversation. In reality, though, probably something less than that.

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 39 min play time.)

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Effectively Wild Episode 1116: Sleep on It

EWFI

Ben Lindbergh and Jeff Sullivan banter about how one’s incentives alter one’s perception of a season, then answer listener emails about FanGraphs’ World Series odds, the mid-1990s Braves pitching staffs, the annual suggestion that a team start a reliever in the wild card game, a comeback for Tony La Russa’s pitching platoon system, Andrew McCutchen’s belated first grand slam, the shift and ground ball success, the value of better sleep, the significance of the absence of managerial firings in 2017, the overlooked career of hefty triples machine Dave Orr, a hitter equivalent of Game Score, and more.

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Andrelton Simmons Is Incredible in Ways We Cannot Measure

On Sunday night, Andrelton Simmons orchestrated what has to be one of the top assists of the year, certainly the most creative. On one play, within one sequence, he created two separate rundowns. If it’s not one of the most watchable chain of events all season, I have to see the full list of contenders. It featured all the athleticism, artistry, and anticipation that we’ve come to associate with Simmons.

With two outs in the bottom of the third, the count full, and Jose Altuve on first base, Carlos Correa ripped a single to right. With Altuve off and running, Simmons moved into position to cut off the throw from Kole Calhoun. Instead of holding his glove up near his chest, however, to intercept the ball, Simmons allowed his hands to hang freely at his sides. His intent, it seemed, was to let the ball carry through to third base with a view to catching Altuve.

Simultaneously, Correa proceeded to make a wide turn around first base. Perhaps anticipating this — indeed, perhaps having caused it — Simmons reached up at the last moment to cut off Calhoun’s throw. Immediately, he turned to first, throwing it behind Correa and creating the opportunity for a rundown.

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How 2017 Compares to the Steroid Era: Part II

Yesterday, I looked at how one of the last seasons of the steroid era (2002) compares to the present one in terms of home runs, total offense, and overall value by position. To summarize the findings of that post briefly: while corner outfielders account for less production now than they did in 2002, infielders and catchers are now responsible for more of it. Moreover, players at the top of the home-run leaderboards now are accounting for a lower percentage of total league-wide homers than in the steroid era. There’s a more even distribution of homers, in other words.

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How This Year’s Best Players Compare to History

Yesterday afternoon, Dave told me he was going to write about the National League MVP. Specifically, he said he was going to write about how there’s just no real good way to pick a winner, because all the best players are almost equally good. Here is the post. It went live in the morning. It’s all sensible, and it does a good job of laying out the landscape.

I said to Dave it would be possible to compare this year’s crop of the best players to how the crops have looked throughout baseball history. I added that I could look into it if he won’t. His response, and I quote: “I won’t.” So now here I am! I’m running through some quick analyses, going back to the start of the integration era in 1947. I’ve prepared plots to examine all of Major League Baseball, and I’ve prepared plots specific to the American and National Leagues. Off we go.

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A Long Weekend of Instructional League Notes

Periodically, I’ll be posting notes from in-person observations at Fall Instructional League and the Arizona Fall League. Both are essentially the scouting calendar’s dessert course both in their timing and sometimes dubious value. I take bad fall looks with a large grain of salt as players are sometimes fatigued, disinterested, put in difficult situations purposefully so that they’ll fail, or some combination of these or other bits of important context. With that in mind here are links to past notes followed by this edition’s.

Previously: 9/20 (TEX, SD).

9/21

San Diego held an intrasquad game last Thursday morning that featured many of the club’s high-profile position players. Venezuelan infielder Justin Lopez has begun to grow into his rangy, 6-foot-2 frame and is taking stronger swings than he was in the spring. His levers and swing are long, causing Lopez to be late on some hittable fastballs, but he has good feel to hit for a gangly 17-year-old switch-hitter. Lopez is a graceful defender with polished actions for a teenager and can competently play either middle-infield position, though he might eventually outgrow shortstop. He turns 18 in May.

OF/1B Tirso Ornelas has also been in the midst of a physical transformation, streamlining a frame that I once thought was surely destined for first base. He spent a good amount of time in center field this summer, and while I think it’s very unlikely he plays there long term, I do like his chances of serving as a competent corner-outfield defender, probably in left field. There’s going to be a lot of pressure on Ornelas’s bat wherever he ultimately falls on the defensive spectrum but he’s very advanced in that regard, with all-fields doubles power already at age 17. On Thursday, he stayed back on a breaking ball on the outer half and hit it the opposite way for a single.

Like Ornelas, RHP Martin Carrasco is a 17-year-old from Tijuana. He doesn’t throw especially hard right now, sitting 85-88, but he has advanced fastball command and some feel for a changeup and breaking ball. He’s an intriguing, athletic teenage arm and worth following as he transitions to stateside ball.

The White Sox’ and Rangers’ instructional-league groups played each other in Surprise on Thursday afternoon. Walker Weickel, a righty drafted 55th overall by San Diego in 2012, started the game for Texas and was 91-93, touching 94, with an average curveball and fringe cutter and changeup. Weickel was released by San Diego near the end of spring training and was picked up by Texas in early April.

CF Pedro Gonzalez, who Texas received as the player to be named later in the Jonathan Lucroy trade, had a huge day. He tallied multiple extra-base hits and showed good range in center field. He’s a 45 runner from home to first, but long-legged striders like Gonzalez often take a little while longer to get to full speed. I’m optimistic about his chances of staying in center field. He had some issues around the wall/warning-track area but Gonzalez is a converted shortstop who’s been playing the outfield for only a few seasons. His frame has room for another 30 pounds or so and whatever raw power comes with it.

White Sox lefty Ian Clarkin sat in the upper 80s and touched 90 with an average curveball and changeup. He was one of the prospects sent to Chicago from the Yankees in the Frazier/Kahnle/Robertson deal. C Zack Collins, the team’s 2016 first rounder, turned on a fastball from Rangers RHP Tyler Phillips and homered to right field.

9/22

On Friday, a lone Brewers and Padres instructional-league game was straddled by a full day of amateur tournament play in the West Valley. Padres SS Luis Almanzar looked much better that day then he had in the few games I’d seen leading up to this one, hitting one ball to the warning track the opposite way and later doubling down the left-field line. I think he’s a better fit at second base than at shortstop, which means he’ll have to hit for more power than he did in the Northwest League in 2017.

Brewers 2017 first-rounder Keston Hiura played second base on Friday, notable because he spent all spring DH-ing at UC Irvine due to an elbow injury. That continued through all but three of Hiura’s final four games at the end of the pro season. I didn’t see his arm stress-tested during this game, but I thought he had the best bat speed on the field.

RHP Adrian Houser made a tune-up start ahead of Fall League play and looks to be in great physical condition. He made nine late-season starts after missing just over a year due to elbow surgery and rehab. He was up to 96 with his fastball and missing bats with a 12-6 curveball.

9/23

On Saturday, I saw Padres Cuban righty Michel Baez sit 94-97 and throw strikes with an average curveball. He lacked feel for his changeup that morning, but it’s his best secondary pitch. He alternated half-innings with Cuban lefty Adrian Morejon, who was 93-94 with an above-average breaking ball and changeup but poor command. He was a dominant on-paper strike-thrower at short-season Tri-City before struggling with walks in six starts at Low-A Fort Wayne.


There Is No Obvious NL MVP

Back in August, I wrote about the remarkably crowded NL MVP race. I went through 10 guys with pretty strong cases for the award, and noted there wasn’t much separation between those 10 guys. I ended the piece by noting that “this list will undoubtedly narrow itself”, figuring that down the stretch, a few guys would rise above the rest of the crop and become the clear top candidates.

Well, that didn’t happen. With just a few days left before NL MVP voters are required to turn in their ballots, the reality is that this is the most muddled class of MVP candidates I can ever remember.

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Eno Sarris Baseball Chat — 9/28/17

1:01
Eno Sarris: dedicated to the Twins and Rockies. Team entropy may have lost out, but it’s kinda cool to have these two teams in the postseason

12:01
Eno Sarris: yello

12:02
John Edwards: Twins are in the postseason. What does this mean moving forward? Should we expect them to be in “Win Now” mode for the next few seasons?

12:03
Eno Sarris: I bet they run it like Cleveland with Derek Falvey in there. hope to have the young guys do it with a slow ramp up of free agent signings. Doubt they trade anything under control for a win now piece.

12:03
Minty: SP Castillo at $2 or Francisco Mejia at $4 as my last keeper?

12:03
Eno Sarris: Castillo. Mejia could be very good and still not be great for fantasy.

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The Yankees Are Built to Bullpen the Wild Card Game

Dellin Betances is just one member of a historically strong bullpen. (Photo: Keith Allison)

The Yankees could do something really interesting in the Wild Card game — and perhaps even really smart.

If ever there were a team ideally suited to bullpen a Wild Card play-in game, it’s this Yankees team. Yankees relievers have combined to post the highest collective strikeout rate of all time among bullpens. The club has five individual relievers who have struck out better than 30% of batters faced: Chad Green (41.9%), Dellin Betances (38.7%), David Robertson (38.4%), Aroldis Chapman (32.3%) and Tommy Kahnle (31.9%). All five also have K-BB% marks of 21 points or better and FIPs of 3.20 or lower. Chasen Shreve represents another high-strikeout arm and a second left-handed option.

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Brent Suter on Turning a Corner with a Pedestrian Fastball

Brent Suter succeeds in atypical fashion. The Milwaukee Brewers rookie throws his four-seam fastball roughly 70% of the time, and not because he lights up radar guns with it. He doesn’t. Suter’s (ahem) heater averages 86.3 mph, which is comfortably near the bottom of our velocity chart.

Nonetheless, batters have a hard time hitting it. As Jeff Zimmerman pointed out in a recent RotoGraphs piece, Suter gets a lot of swings and misses with his signature pitch despite its unhurried path to the plate. More importantly, he gets a lot of outs. In 76.2 innings this season, the deceptive southpaw has a 3.29 ERA.

Along with being sneaky fast, he is also smart. The Brewers drafted Suter out of Harvard, where he earned a degree in environmental science and public policy.

———

Suter on how he gets hitters out: “I pitch a lot with my fastball. I trust it. It has a little bit of late-cut movement to it, plus I have kind of a hunched-over delivery, so I hide the ball a little longer and get some good extension on it. I feel like my fastball kind of plays. It gets on guys a little earlier than they expect.

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FanGraphs Audio: Travis Sawchik, Live from the Shores of Lake Erie

Episode 771
The prolific Travis Sawchik has relocated from beautiful Mount Lebanon, PA, to beautiful Bay Village, OH. The move, however, has rendered him no less intent on exploring the wild frontiers of baseball analysis. Among the frontiers considered here: velocity and the human mind, the format of the Wild Card play-in game, and the scourge of interleague play on the sport.

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 59 min play time.)

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Did the Warthen Slider Drag the Mets Down?

The Mets’ quick slide from a National League championship in 2015 to 90 losses this season had to claim a victim. Manager Terry Collins appears to be one of them: according to reports, he’s unlikely to return next year. Now, pitching coach Dan Warthen is a candidate to join him on the chopping block in New York.

It makes sense to some degree. The Mets’ fate over the past few years has been tied closely to the quality of the pitching staff. Once a clear strength of the club, that staff represented a weakness for this year’s team. But much of that weakness was a product of injury, and injuries hit every team at a seemingly random pace. Is Warthen a scapegoat here, or is he somehow directly responsible for the current situation?

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The San Francisco Giants: Baseball’s Biggest Disappointment

The baseball season is long. How long is the baseball season? For the last little while, I’ve been following the Brewers and thinking about them as the underdog in the wild-card race. Yet the team they’re pursuing — the Rockies — is also an underdog in the wild-card race. It’s all about how you narrow your field of vision. If you’re concerned only with the right now, the Brewers as a wild-card team would be a surprise. If you step back and consider all of 2017, the Rockies as a wild-card team are no less surprising. Their success shouldn’t be taken for granted, or assumed simply because they’ve been successful from the beginning.

The NL wild-card teams are likely to be the Diamondbacks and the Rockies. That’s how it’s looked for a while. But, if you remember, the NL wild-card teams were supposed to be the Mets and the Giants. Maybe the Cardinals. If the division winners are what we thought, the wild-card situation is more surprising, or even refreshing. We’ve got no shortage of underdogs, and some of them required that the Mets and Giants move out of the way. The Mets this year have been a letdown. The Giants have been even worse.

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