Archive for January, 2018

Diamondbacks Sign One of Last Year’s Best Hitters

I’ve been waiting for the Diamondbacks to sign Alex Avila for months. It’s not like it’s been some obsession, and it’s not something I’ve thought about every single day, but the fit just always seemed more or less perfect. Avila is younger than the departed Chris Iannetta, and, unlike Iannetta, he swings from the left side, which makes him a better partner for Jeff Mathis. Importantly, Avila had a highly promising 2017; importantly, he was never going to cost a fortune, and the Diamondbacks are dealing with limited financial flexibility. It’s a move that I thought was inevitable. Oftentimes, those inevitable moves fail to come to fruition, but at least this one is finally crossing the finish line. Avila is joining the Diamondbacks, on a two-year contract.

He’s going to get paid $8.25 million, and there are additionally some modest incentives. Avila’s likely to be something of a semi-regular, and last year’s 112 games played was his highest total since 2014. When a team uses Avila, he should be platooned, because southpaws just give him awful fits. There are so many reasons to just see this news and move right on by it, like seeing that David Hernandez signed with the Reds. But in case you don’t play much with Statcast tools, Avila’s 2017 was outstanding. He resembled, by one measure, a frightening threat.

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The Most Exciting Player on the Padres

To be completely honest with you, I’ve been kind of bored. Bored and feeling uninspired. Maybe it’s just a winter funk, but there’s also the reality of the slow-motion baseball offseason. I know I’m not the only writer whose topic well has begun to run dry. It’s not a big deal; everything’s cyclical, and writing has its ups and downs. I’m just trying to explain to you how I got here.

When I’m feeling stuck, I frequently just play around on various leaderboards, searching for inspiration. I’ll run through leaderboards here, I’ll run through leaderboards on Baseball Reference, and I’ll run through leaderboards on Baseball Savant. Most recently I was bit by the Statcast bug, so I found myself on Baseball Savant’s familiar pages. I was looking at the exit velocity page. I was looking at the sprint speed page. Suddenly, a name jumped out I didn’t expect. And the more I thought about it, the more I realized I couldn’t ignore this.

I considered all the current Padres position players for whom there’s a decent sample of 2017 Statcast information available. The player with the fastest average sprint speed? It’s not Manuel Margot. It’s Franchy Cordero. And, the player with the fastest average exit velocity? It’s not Wil Myers. It’s Franchy Cordero. A few days ago, I knew next to nothing about Cordero’s skillset. I knew only of his existence. Now I realize he’s one of the more exciting young players around.

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Could Baseball Borrow the Premier League’s Spending Incentive?

“The strategy the Marlins have adopted is tried and true in baseball. I’m not saying it’s without pain… But it was a process that ultimately produced a winner [at times, including Houston this season], in terms of smaller markets’ ability to win.”

–Commissioner Rob Manfred on the Dan LeBatard show, Dec. 20

 
Rebuilding, of course, has long been a part of baseball.

Before the Astros and Cubs parlayed dramatic rebuilds into World Series titles, the Marlins conducted fire sales of their own amid championships in 1997 and 2003. Young, cheap, talented labor has been prized since the origins of the professional game.

However, it is the depth of baseball’s current rebuilds that has begun to create more concern recently, notably among the league’s 120 unsigned free agents. It seems like something is different is occurring, that organizations are thinking more extreme, more like an NBA team when retooling.

If the Cubs and Astros did not inspire these more extreme retooling efforts, the Cubs’ and Astros’ success has nevertheless allowed clubs to follow the “tanking” model with greater conviction.

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Kiley McDaniel Chat – 1/31/18

12:07

Kiley McDaniel: Kiley estoy aqui

12:07

Lurker: When will your top 100 drop?

12:07

Kiley McDaniel: Okay schedule is a good place to start here. Just recorded a podcast with Carson but it isn’t up yet so I guess I’ll break some news (?) that the top 100 drops Monday and there will be a whole week of top 100 related content.

12:08

Kiley McDaniel: The list is essentially done now, gonna lock it tonight, so I can talk in generalities about some players but don’t want to give too much away.

12:08

Kiley McDaniel: And since we’re blowing this out a bit and the Braves list is like 1/2 on the the top 100, that and the Yankees list got pushed back a bit but should both be coming soon after prospect week.

12:09

Kiley McDaniel: And sortable 2018/2019/2020 draft rankings drop the next Monday, so it’s a true 7-day week of rankings

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Thanks for Reading

January 21st, 2011. That’s the day I got a phone call from David Appelman that changed my life.

I’d moved to California and was trying to make a full-time go of writing about fantasy baseball for a living, but my wife — as amazingly supportive as she’s been — had been wondering when I might be able to contribute more to the household. David’s call was a lifeline, a rope to a sinking writer, and I’ll never forget it. A job. Writing about baseball. Amazing.

Other than giving me a chance to do this for a living, David also gave me a chance to connect with you readers here at FanGraphs, readers I count as probably the best of the internet, and sometimes I feel like I’ve written for all of the internet. Maybe I have some authority on the matter. You guys are awesome, believe me.

This will be my last post for FanGraphs for now, post number 2,202 when you add them all up. Details to come, but I’m excited for this new chapter, and I will still see you around, but not on these pages.

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2018 ZiPS Projections – Arizona Diamondbacks

After having typically appeared in the hallowed pages of Baseball Think Factory, Dan Szymborski’s ZiPS projections have now been released at FanGraphs for half a decade. The exercise continues this offseason. Below are the projections for the Arizona Diamondbacks. Szymborski can be found at ESPN and on Twitter at @DSzymborski.

Batters
A perfectly average group of field players would produce something like 16 wins collectively in a season (that is, two wins times eight starters). The group of D-backs field players on the depth-chart image below is projected for roughly 15 wins collectively in 2018. By one definition, at least, this is basically an average offense.

By another, it’s not at all. Of the club’s eight likely starters, only one — Ketel Marte (599 PA, 1.7 zWAR) — receives a wins forecast that would round to 2.0. Paul Goldschmidt (638, 4.1), Jake Lamb (589, 2.5), and A.J. Pollock (510, 3.4) occupy one mode of this hypothetical distribution graph; the rest of the starting eight (minus Marte), the other.

The weakness for a club constructed thusly is its exposure to risk: an injury to one of the teams leaders can have catastrophic effects. This was the case for the 2016 edition of the D-backs, for example, when A.J. Pollock was unable to make his season debut until late August. The strength for such a club, meanwhile, is the ease of upgrading the roster. In the case of Arizona, finding an alternative to Yasmany Tomas (426, 0.4) in left field might represent the most expedient means to such an upgrade.

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Vladimir Guerrero Was Obviously One of a Kind

Last week, we found out that Vladimir Guerrero — among others — will go into the Hall of Fame. The Guerrero news was hardly surprising, given how well he fared his first time on the ballot, but still, the Hall of Fame is considered a black-and-white issue, and for all but the most obvious of cases, there emerge criticisms, cases against. Arguments that a given player might not be good enough. Guerrero’s career generated some of those arguments, as he wound up with a WAR under 60. WAR has never been and will never be the sole defining metric for Cooperstown, but it’s true that Guerrero’s number might be surprisingly low. It’s right there on his player page, one estimated summation of all he achieved.

One consequence of Hall-of-Fame conversations is that great players get nitpicked. Everyone who gets so much as close to induction had a remarkable career spanning more than a decade. Another consequence is that players can get reduced to totals, with little attention given to how they were amassed. In a case like Guerrero’s, this means there’s something left out. And maybe it’s better that way, I don’t know — maybe all that should matter are the final results. The numbers a player has to show for his career. Yet players play in different ways, and there are different paths to accumulate value. You might not need to be told this, but Guerrero was something extraordinary. He wasn’t just a regular great player. He was a great player in a way all his own.

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You Didn’t Know You Were Interested in This Royals/A’s Trade

Monday afternoon, the Royals and A’s exchanged four players, and the most recognizable among them is also the least valuable. It’s one of those multiplayer trades that tends to be easy to ignore, and that’s made all the more true by the fact that the Royals have entered a down period, and the A’s might not yet have emerged from their own. But as I’ve repeated lately, every major-league move is interesting if you look at it long enough. And in this case, there are two notable players in particular. Two players who might be considered analytical standouts. Here’s the breakdown:

A’s get

Royals get

At first, you could interpret this as the A’s reuniting with a beloved slugger. It’s not so. Moss is likely to be dropped or flipped, and he’s only in here for the purposes of the Royals shedding about $5 million. From the A’s perspective, this is about landing Buchter, a much-needed lefty for the bullpen. For the Royals, they get to roll the dice on some pitchers. Fillmyer is the prospect. Hahn is arguably the more intriguing one.

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Lars Anderson Discovers Australia, Part 5

In the previous installment we learned how Lars ended up with the club-level Henley and Grange Rams, while Ryan Kalish landed with the Canberra Cavalry — the ABL team Anderson had journeyed Down Under to join. In Part 5, Lars makes the jump to Australia’s top league, where multiple teams wanted him but only after they could find room for an import on the roster. Would the former big leaguer wait on the Aces or the Bite, or was wearing his third color of Sox a better option?

———

Lars Anderson: “Looking back at my career, I reckoned I had run the gamut of professional baseball experiences and transactions, from the top of Mt. Everest to the bottom of the Mariana Trench. I’ve been drafted, called up, sent down, designated for assignment, claimed off waivers, traded, released, entered free agency, signed free-agent deals. I thought that I had done it all, but while Gary and Ryan were visiting me in Adelaide, I found myself in a unfamiliar world: I was a relatively hot free-agent commodity in the midst of a modest bidding war.

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Eric Longenhagen Prospects Chat: 1/30

12:03

Eric A Longenhagen: Morning, everyone. Would like to extend condolences to the family and friends of Kevin Towers, who people in baseball held in high regard.

12:03

Blooper: How is the outlook for Jose Siri? He crushed it last year

12:04

Eric A Longenhagen: I buy it. Think he’s talented enough to make the approach (which is horrendous) work.

12:04

Rick C: What would an Atlanta package have looked like to match what the Brewers gave up for Yelich?

12:07

Eric A Longenhagen: Not sure there’s a clear match on prospect quality/readiness and package depth. Maybe something like Soroka, Anderson, Riley and a 40?

12:07

Scuffy McGee: Do the A’s have a true top of the rotation guy in the minors? Puk is a little wild for that designation I think

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Ballpark Playing Surfaces Are Shrinking in a Surprising Way

Back in April, this author argued that the new generation of ballparks is pushing us (well, some of us) away from the game.

The retro-ballpark era has been universally praised for bringing wider concourses, greater amenities, and generally more charm to major-league facilities. However, many of these parks suffer from a significant flaw: by removing obstructed views and adding layers of luxury suites, clubs have pushed fans in the upper decks — that is, the middle class of fan — further away from the sights and sounds of the playing surface.

While the move away from the cookie-cutter, multi-purpose stadiums of the 1960s and 70s is undoubtedly a positive one for the fan experience and while the actual ballparks of the past featured a number of design flaws themselves, not everything is ideal with this new generation of ballparks.

Consider: even as fans in the bleachers and upper deck have been further removed from the action, the installation of lower-deck seats has brought some folks closer. To get a sense of what I mean, consider the evolution of Dodger Stadium through images of the park from 1962, 1969, 2000, and 2014, paying attention in particular to the area along the border of the playing surface.

While the fairness of this trade-off is perhaps questionable, that particular concern is a consideration for another time. What’s relevant about this development in terms of the present post is the effect of that new seating on the game.

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What Could Brandon Nimmo Become?

Brandon Nimmo’s elite selectivity helps carry his offensive profile.
(Photo: Arturo Pardavila III)

The Mets reportedly continue to look for infield help this winter with a view to improving their team for the 2018 campaign. According to Ken Rosenthal, three of the targets for New York are free agents — specifically, Todd Frazier, Eduardo Nunez, and Neil Walker. Pirates infielder Josh Harrison is a fourth. The cost of acquiring any of the first three is pretty straightforward: about $30-40 million, according to our crowdsourced estimates. As for Harrison, the issue of “cost” is more complicated.

According to Rosenthal, the Pirates want Brandon Nimmo in return for their versatile infielder. Superficially, that seems to make sense for the Mets. Nimmo is probably a fifth outfielder after Michael Conforto gets healthy. As for Harrison, he’d probably start. That’s a good trade-off for New York, right?

In one way, yes. But then there’s also that agonizing question every club is compelled to face when pondering the trade of a young player: what could he become? What’s his upside?

One way of answering that question with regard to Nimmo, specifically, is to focus on his process and look at other players who have a similar one. Nimmo is a player with a good eye, a nearly even batted-ball mix, and a certain degree of power. Also, his outfield defense looks decent. Let’s get exact about those facets of his game and look at other players with similar games.

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Effectively Wild Episode 1169: Trout on a Trampoline

EWFI

Ben Lindbergh and Jeff Sullivan banter about Mike Trout’s trampoline encounter, a Matt Albers update, Ryan Braun’s rumored move to second base, the belated demise of Chief Wahoo, and Ben’s article about the 1995 Homestead spring training camp for free agents. Then they talk to Hardball Times author Stephanie Springer about cupping, magnetic chairs, cryotherapy, and other examples of baseball pseudoscience before bringing on listener Michael Mountain to discuss his planned 35-day, 30-ballpark baseball road trip.

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FanGraphs Audio: Travis Sawchik Has No Leverage

Episode 798
Guest Travis Sawchik has speculated in multiple pieces about the causes of this winter’s historically slow free-agent market. Here he speculates on those causes with his own human voice. Also on this edition of the program: both guest and host ask very naive questions about the role of agents and then answer those questions poorly.

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 11 min play time.)

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The Brewers and the Breakout Pitching Staff

You might’ve noticed that, even after adding Christian Yelich and Lorenzo Cain, the Brewers don’t project very well. That would seem to provide a pretty convincing argument against adding Christian Yelich and Lorenzo Cain. The Brewers, obviously, think they’re better than Steamer does. Steamer just doesn’t like them, just as it didn’t a year ago. And, to be fair, ZiPS is higher on the Brewers, and that’ll be reflected when we get everything uploaded into our system. Between today and opening day, the Brewers’ team projection will improve, unless something catastrophic takes place.

But let’s spend a minute talking about the state of the team. To narrow down, let’s talk about the state of the pitching staff. Why is it that the Brewers believe they’re competitive, even while the projections are, shall we say, less convinced? The Brewers are signing free-agent reliever Matt Albers for two years and $5 million. He doesn’t explain anything, since that news just emerged Monday, but Albers is representative of something else. The Brewers believe in the breakouts.

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Projecting the Hall of Fame Ballot Through 2023

A lot of people are disappointed that Edgar Martinez hasn’t been elected to the Hall of Fame yet — and, by extension, that he wasn’t elected during this most recent round of voting. But there’s good news on this front: Martinez’s chances of making the Hall of Fame have never been better.

Martinez debuted on the ballot eight years ago, garnering 36.2% of the vote. Five years after first becoming eligible for the ballot, though, his case had gained little headway. In fact, by 2014 and -15, he’d actually backslid a little, appearing on just 25.2% and 27.0% of ballots, respectively, in those two seasons. At that point, it appeared as though he had little chance of making the Hall of Fame.

In 2016, Martinez benefit from a healthy bump (to 43%) and then another big bump (to 59%) the next year. And while that improved his overall chances of earning admission, the probability that it would occur this year remained low. Consider: over the last 50 elections, only Ralph Kiner has been elected in one year after receiving less than below 60% of the vote the year before. Martinez will almost surely make it next season after a strong 70% showing this year.

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Another Problem with This Quiet Offseason

Back in December, Eno polled a number of front-office executives with questions regarding the changing nature of the game.

It was the perfect time for such a survey, as the game is evolving rapidly in many areas: in swing plane, bullpen usage, and even (maybe) the composition of the ball itself. The depth and volume of data have changed. The game has always undergone transformation, but rarely at this pace — and, really, it’s a universal phenomenon across many industries in this age of rapidly advancing information and technology.

But it was one comment Eno extracted — one unrelated to swings or home runs or fastball velocity or breaking-ball usage — that stuck with me:

One source felt that this mode of analysis was so pervasive that it ended up changing the way we digest baseball, even more than just changing the game itself.

“I do think there’s been a fairly extreme shift in the makeup of front offices and even media coverage,” said the higher-up. “The general framework of a lot of conversations about the game has really changed. Roster-building is a year-round sport, and it does tend to feel at times like we’re all a part of some meta theater that’s somewhat loosely attached to dudes playing on a field. The focus of what it means to be a fan or follow a team has shifted at least somewhat from simply knowing the players and what happened in games toward some bigger picture perspective that accounts for assets in the farm system, where you are on the win curve, and how efficiently resources are being utilized.”

That one reads FanGraphs.

The way we consume the sport has changed. This very website is evidence of that. We typically allocate fewer words to the daily box scores here at FanGraphs than we do, say, a large transaction.

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Travis Sawchik FanGraphs Chat

12:05
Travis Sawchik: Greetings!

12:05
Travis Sawchik: Man, there are a still a lot of unsigned free agents …

12:05
Travis Sawchik: Including 11 of the FG (Dave Cameron) top 20 …

12:06
Travis Sawchik: Let’s talk it out ..

12:06
kevinthecomic: Is Miguel Sano’s “situation” the reason that the Twins haven’t done anything other than signing Addison Reed?

12:07
Travis Sawchik: Well, the Twins have signed Fernando Rodney and Zach Duke, too …. But wouldn’t Sano’s issues be more reason to kick the tires on, say, Todd Frazier?

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2018 ZiPS Projections – Houston Astros

After having typically appeared in the hallowed pages of Baseball Think Factory, Dan Szymborski’s ZiPS projections have now been released at FanGraphs for half a decade. The exercise continues this offseason. Below are the projections for the Houston Astros. Szymborski can be found at ESPN and on Twitter at @DSzymborski.

Batters
Houston Astros position players recorded the majors’ top adjusted batting line by a considerable margin in 2017 and the largest collective WAR figure, as well. One, employing logic, would anticipate that the return of the entire starting lineup from last year’s team would render the offense a strength for the 2018 edition of the club. The numbers from Dan Szymborski’s computer support that hypothesis.

Jose Altuve (688 PA, 5.7 zWAR) and Carlos Correa (590, 5.7) belong to that class of American League player who would appear on a preseason shortlist for MVP if Mike Trout didn’t already represent the entirety of the preseason shortlist for MVP. Alex Bregman (612, 3.8) and George Springer (616, 4.4), meanwhile, are probably All-Stars. That foursome composes the core of the offense.

As for a weakness among the starting nine, that’s a relative term in the context of this club. Evan Gattis (448, 1.8 zWAR) has the trademark power of a designated hitter but not the trademark other attributes. His projected 108 wRC+ isn’t ideal at DH. But that forecast is also based on his offensive output from years in which he’s made a number of defensive appearances behind the plate. His production figures to improve if he’s not exposed to the slings and arrows of catching.

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Let’s Endure Four-and-a-Half Minutes of Mound Visits Together

A lot of our experience of baseball centers around being annoyed. Baseball has long, looping narratives, bits of fun, and good old thrills, but it is also full of small paper cuts. We’re annoyed our guy didn’t lay off one or that a call didn’t go our way. Ugh, really, ump!? We give our heads a shake and our shoulders a shrug. We sigh. Left out of October again. A summer day is too hot; the seat in front of us is occupied by a too-tall person. Our favorite team is unlucky, or underwhelming. Maybe they stink, but in the little ways. In the ways that bug you.

Baseball is constantly fretting that its games take too long. Some of that fretting is the result of knowing that most of us have to get to work in the morning, but mostly, the fretting comes from knowing that annoying stuff is just the worst. Annoying stuff makes us angry. Not in big, raging ways. But like when you bang your knee on the edge of your coffee table or spill soda on white denim. In the ways that wear you out and make you just a bit less likely to come back.

Part of baseball’s job is to safeguard us from these paper cuts, especially when we’re most vulnerable to them. January is a time to pine for baseball; our annoyance is directed at the game’s absence. We forget what it’s like to be cold and irked and in a rain delay. We forget Pedro Baez’s interminable delivery. We forget mound visits.

Last week, Jeff Passan reported the details of a memo outlining MLB’s proposed pace-of-play rule changes for the 2018 season. They come with a pitch clock and requirements that catchers and infielders and coaches more or less stay put:

The restrictions on mound visits are particularly acute. Any time a coach, manager or player visits a pitcher on the mound, or a pitcher leaves the mound to confer with a player, it counts as a visit. Upon the second visit to the pitcher in the same inning, he must exit the game. Under the proposal, each team would have received six so-called “no-change” visits that would have prevented the pitcher from leaving the game.

No one likes mound visits, but that’s a pretty drastic change. It strives to eliminate an awful lot of perceived paper cuts. I was moved to think about how many. As mound visits aren’t tracked, I took a small, imprecise sample. I decided to rewatch Game 7 of the World Series. Specifically, I watched the half-innings when the Astros were pitching, because Brian McCann loves a good mound visit.

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