Archive for February, 2018

How Data Transformed the Angels’ Rule 5 Pick

When the Angels selected Luke Bard in December’s Rule 5 draft, they acquired a pitcher who is stylistically different than the right-hander Minnesota took in the first round of the 2012 amateur draft. The younger brother of former Red Sox flamethrower Daniel Bard is no longer looking to induce ground balls. He’s looking to blow away hitters with belt-high heaters.

He did plenty of that last year between Double-A Chattanooga and Triple-A Rochester. Armed with his new data-driven attack plan, Bard augmented his 2.76 ERA with 99 punch outs in 65.1 innings of relief work. His 13.6 K/9 far exceeded his previous personal best, which was a pedestrian 8.1 against Low-A hitters in 2015.

What prompted the change from sinkerballer to power pitcher? The 27-year-old Georgia Tech product learned that he has elite spin rate. As a result, his two-seamer is now in his back pocket and his modus operandi is four-seam explosion.

Whether or not he remains an Angel, or ends up being offered back to the Twins, remains to be seen. Either way, Bard has evolved, and he has Statcast to thank.

———

Luke Bard: “I was a sinkerball pitcher all through college and for my first several years of pro ball, and I got a lot of ground balls, but I never got the swings and misses. I would see guys who didn’t throw as hard as me and go, ‘How are they getting swings and misses on their fastball?’ Then I started learning about spin rate and realized I was throwing high-spin sinkers. Read the rest of this entry »


Clayton Kershaw’s Next Contract

The 2018 season is a big one for Clayton Kershaw. The three-time Cy Young winner isn’t just chasing the World Series ring that still eludes him, he’s trying to remain healthy wire-to-wire for the first time since 2015. At the end of the year, he’ll have the chance to reclaim his spot as the game’s highest-paid pitcher if he chooses to exercise an opt-out clause in the seven-year, $215 million deal he signed in January 2014.

Via the Los Angeles TimesAndy McCullough, neither Kershaw nor the Dodgers are tipping their hands as to what might happen beyond publicly agreeing that they’re maintaining an “open dialogue” regarding the soon-to-be 30-year-old lefty’s contract status. If he does opt out, he’ll co-headline a stacked free-agent class alongside Bryce Harper and Manny Machado, with Josh Donaldson, Dallas Keuchel, Craig Kimbrel, and Andrew Miller among the other luminaries. There’s no indication that Kershaw would rather pitch for another team besides the Dodgers, who drafted him with the seventh overall pick in 2006, but he may not get a better chance to hit free agency while so close to the top of his game.

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The Adjustment to Revive the Final Boss

This post begins with a friendly reminder — specifically, that there are five teams in each of baseball’s six divisions. Given the noise around baseball for much of the offseason, one could be forgiven for thinking there were only four clubs in the American League East. Much of the chatter regarding the AL East this winter has centered around the formidability of the Yankees’ roster, the Red Sox’ (now successful) pursuit of J.D. Martinez, the imminent close of Baltimore’s competitive window, and the Rays’ sort of, kind of, not really teardown. It isn’t that the Blue Jays have done nothing — they’ve made several good trades and taken low-cost risks — it’s just that there have been a few more prominent stories and louder fanbases.

The most recent move out of Toronto continues the club’s offseason trend of reasonable, low-cost acquisitions. For a price of just $2.5 million, the signing of Seung-Hwan Oh — a player who, in 2016, recorded nearly three wins out of the bullpen — seems like a potential bargain.

Of course, he would not be available at this time of the offseason and at this price if he didn’t have some warts. He is coming off of a mediocre 2017 campaign, falling from one of the leauge’s top-10 relievers to barely replacement level. Of possibly greater concern is the fact that the Rangers nixed a potential deal after expressing concerns with Oh’s physical. Despite these warning signs, there is reasonable optimism for an Oh turnaround, one that would benefit the Blue Jays in either a playoff chase or as a deadline trade chip.

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The Rays Ditched Their Bad Fastball Hitters

Last spring, I detailed how the Rays had, over the years, created a cult of the high fastball. Nor did their commitment to the pitch waver at all during the 2017 regular season. The club’s pitchers remained fully invested in throwing fastballs up last year — despite some of the negative side effects (notably, the home run) suffered by an arm like Jake Odorizzi, whom they have since dispatched to Minnesota.

Interestingly, at least to this author, the Rays now appear to be paying closer attention to fastball performance on the other side of the ball — that is, with regard to their hitters. If you are among that class of hitter who has difficulty with the fastball, the Rays seem increasingly less likely to employ you. Tampa Bay ranked 28th in performance against fastballs last season, according to linear weights. This offseason, however, they have shed some of their weakest fastballs hitters.

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A Semi-Complete Taxonomy of Baseball Ejections, Part II

Remember how the world never expressly needed a taxonomy of ejections? Well, good. Here is Part I. Now, appreciating your refusal to clamor for a Part II, here’s an entire second post dedicated to a taxonomy of ejections. Enjoy!

I’m Going to Throw Stuff at You Now
Home-plate umpire Quinn Wolcott ejects Ryan Braun.
Date: April 29
Ejection No.: 30

Humans enjoy power, but normal people don’t get to wield it very often. Clerks can make you wait, and TSA agents can subject you to additional screening, and sometimes umpires eject players when they complain about a strike a little too loudly but not actually too loudly. They have power on the field, and sometimes they exercise it arbitrarily because they can’t use it at all other places. Sometimes. Sometimes, though, Ryan Braun throws his elbow guard at them. Pretty rude.

Or they experience I’m Going to Throw Stuff at You Now’s related but distinct variant, Kicking Stuff at You. Also rude.

Throwing Stuff, God Bless America Edition
Home-plate umpire Shane Livensparger ejects Scooter Gennett.
Date: September 10
Ejection No.: 168

Look, whatever, Scooter threw stuff. He tossed around his work tools. You’ve seen that before. You’ve watched baseball, and when you were a kid in the school yard, you saw other kids chuck balls and sticks at their enemies. You just watched Ryan Braun and Yuli Gurriel misbehave. That’s not the point of this. The point is the power of ritual. The umpires and manager are standing there grousing at each other, arguing baseball stuff, and then they are stopped dead in their tracks by “God Bless America.”

You can see Jerry Layne on the far right mouthing “Where’s the flag?” before realizing it’s off to his right and helpfully nudging Bryan Price to face the right way. Price and Layne are adversaries. They’re grumpy with each other. They’re observing ejections’ rituals. But the game presented another, more potent tradition to mind. Perhaps they all saw The Power of Myth at a particularly formative age.

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Kiley McDaniel Chat – 2/28/18

12:02

Kiley McDaniel: Hello. It is chat time.

12:03

tim815: Agree or disagree.

12:03

Kiley McDaniel: Hmmm. Disagree.

12:03

Waltharius: Is there any update on Hankins’ injury?

12:04

Kiley McDaniel: Not really. It’s shoulder soreness, as expected and also rumored before the start where he walked off the mound. He’ll rehab it and probably be fine. Hopefully is back on the mound in like a month or two and has some time to prove he’s healthy. Don’t think it’s a long-term thing.

12:04

ECinDC: Fangraphs ranks Carter Kieboom a lot higher than other sites, what do you all see in him that others are missing?

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What the MLBPA’s Grievance Means

On Tuesday, the Major League Baseball Players Association filed a grievance against four major-league teams: Miami, Oakland, Pittsburgh, and Tampa Bay. Specifically, the MLBPA contends that these four teams are violating the collective bargaining agreement by misusing their revenue-sharing money.

To understand the implications of the union’s grievance, we have to begin with the language of the CBA itself. Article XXIV(A) of the CBA states that “[a]ny Club seeking a distribution from the Commissioner’s Discretionary Fund [that is, the revenue-sharing money] shall submit a request in writing to the Commissioner. The written request must include, but need not be limited to: (i) the amount requested; (ii) the use(s) to which the Club intends to put the requested distribution; and (iii) an explanation of how, in the Club’s view, the requested distribution should improve the Club’s performance on the field” (emphasis mine).

Later on, the CBA is even more explicit:

[E]ach Club shall use its revenue sharing receipts (including any distributions from the Commissioner’s Discretionary Fund) in an effort to improve its performance on the field. The following uses of revenue sharing receipts are not consistent with a Club’s obligation . . . to improve its performance on the field: payments to service acquisition debt or any other debt that is unrelated to past or future efforts to improve performance on the field; payments to individuals other than on-field personnel or personnel related to player development; payments to entities that do not have a direct role in improving on-field performance; and distributions to ownership that are not intended to offset tax obligations resulting from Club operations.

It’s that language on which the MLBPA is hanging its hat.

Now the MLBPA’s grievance will go before an arbitration panel, not a court. The rules of private arbitrations like this are generally set by the parties themselves. That can lead to some interesting quirks, like the fact that the commissioner himself serves as arbitrator in certain proceedings that are appeals from his own decisions (the interest-of-the-game clause and the like). In this case, the grievance hearing will be conducted in accordance with the Rules of Procedure laid out in Appendix B of the CBA.

Those Rules are pretty lengthy, so here are the pertinent bits: the legal rules of evidence don’t apply, the arbitration panel sets its own standard of proof (in other words, how much evidence one side needs to present to win), and it’s possible to avoid a hearing altogether just by both sides agreeing to submit legal briefs. Also, there are three arbitrators: one selected by the MLBPA, one selected by MLB, and a neutral third party who is usually a lawyer with some experience in conflict resolution and who serves as the panel chair. That means that, as a practical matter, it’s the panel chair who decides these cases.

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We Might Be Observing the Decline of the Windup

Felix Hernandez will play a crucial role in determining the fate of the Mariners’ season. Felix isn’t what he used to be, and no one expects him to return to that level, but we at least know that he should still have the stuff. The changeup and curveball are there, if he wants to miss bats. The issues have been more mechanical. Felix hasn’t had the command he needs to succeed at his velocity. There’s much attention, then, being paid to his delivery. A week and a half ago, he threw for the first time in spring training. He said the following about his session.

“I threw everything, curveball, changeup, sinker and one slider,” he said. “It was OK. I was better from the stretch than from the windup.”

Why?

“I was more balanced from the stretch,” he said. “I was moving all over the place from the windup.”

Perfectly standard, unremarkable quote from early spring. Felix had some rust to knock off. He felt better out of one of his deliveries than out of the other. But, well, hold on. Why does he have two deliveries? Why do so many pitchers have two deliveries? You’d think that maintaining one would be complicated enough.

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Tim Lincecum Is Signing a Major-League Contract

Pardon our inconsistency. On the one hand, we love having projections. Projections allow us to have an idea of what the future could bring. Projections let us think we know what’s going to happen, and we believe in them because they’ve proven themselves. On the other hand, we love the exceptional. That which doesn’t follow, that which takes us by surprise. We don’t want to actually know the future. We want for the world to mostly make sense, I suppose, but no one wants to close the door on the unpredictable. It’s the surprises that bring life to the living.

Tim Lincecum is back. Tim Lincecum is signing a major-league contract, having been inked by the Rangers. When Lincecum last pitched in the bigs, he might’ve been the very worst pitcher at the level. His ERA soared over 9, and the Angels couldn’t bring themselves to give him ten starts. If you want to get right down to it, the last year Lincecum was an effective major-league pitcher was 2011. That year’s best players by WAR were Jacoby Ellsbury and Matt Kemp. It’s been a long time since Lincecum was Lincecum, but hope blows on the embers of a dying fire. Baseball is better with Lincecum in it. There’s renewed reason to think he could surprise.

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Here Are the 25-and-Under Rankings

Recently, Kiley McDaniel and Eric Longenhagen rolled out a bunch of original content as the core of FanGraphs Prospects Week, and the highlight was probably their 2018 top-100 prospect list. Baseball America has also been rolling out its own prospect lists, and toward the end of January they published their organizational rankings, running down which teams have the most and least talent on the farm. It’s obviously important to have an idea what’s going on below the majors, because that’s where the next wave is stationed. Teams are going to need their young reinforcements. It’s hard for a team to be sustainably good if it’s thin on young, high-level talent.

I don’t have much to add to the organizational reports. All I’d like to say is this: Young players already in the majors are also important. When a prospect graduates and establishes himself in the majors, he disappears from the prospect lists, as he ought to. But that very same player is still immensely valuable, because he’s proven himself to be of major-league quality. To get to the point, I’d like to try something. Below, I’ve ranked every team in baseball, based on all their players 25 and younger. This is something of an experiment, but I’m still satisfied with the results.

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The Ninth-Inning Rule Change Would at Least Be Fun

The history of baseball is littered with different proposals designed for making the game more fun, exciting, and accessible. A quick perusal of the careers of Bill Veeck and Charlie Finley will tell you that Major League Baseball used to experiment a lot more than it does today. Letting fans manage a game, using yellow baseballs, printing nicknames on jerseys, and launching fireworks after home runs: this is merely a brief list of the gimmicks that have been tried. Some of them still remain, or at least resurface periodically.

Recently, MLB has turned its focus to pace of play, tinkering with the rules and enforcement of rules to speed up the game. At their heart, these changes have been proposed to make the sport more enjoyable for fans without fundamentally altering it.

A recent suggestion has made the rounds and received some attention. Rich Eisen introduced the idea on his show — apparently as it was related to him by a league executive. This particular proposal? To allow any batter to hit in the ninth inning of a game.

On its face, the idea is ridiculous, representing a massive change in the way we understand and watch the game. On the other hand, it might make the game more a little more exciting, particularly in its latter stages, and might keep fans at the ballpark a little longer. Ultimately, it probably isn’t worth changing the fabric of the sport for a little extra excitement; plus, the end of most contests features a certain amount of excitement already. That said, consider the following graph, which depicts offense by inning relative to average.

In the first inning of games last year, hitters put up a 106 wRC+, or roughly the 2017 equivalent of Kyle Seager. In the ninth inning, batters recorded an 82 wRC+, or more like Freddy Galvis. The reasons for this are relatively simple: in the first inning, teams begin with the first three hitters in their lineup, and the pitcher almost never bats. Managers usually put their best hitters at the top of the lineup. If we removed pitchers, the numbers in innings two through five would all get a decent bump. The 109 wRC+ in innings three to five in that case is actually better than in the first inning.

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Eric Longenhagen Prospects Chat: 2/27

12:02
Eric A Longenhagen: Hi everyone, and welcome back. Gonna keep things to a tight hour this week so I can hustle across the valley to a big league game, but I’ll move as quickly as possible.

12:03
BC: Here are two top tier prospects, Tatis and Bichette. Which one has the biggest upside?

12:03
Eric A Longenhagen: I think Tatis because he might actually stay at SS

12:03
THE Average Sports Fan: Do you think Senzel can be ever decent at SS?

12:04
Eric A Longenhagen: It’s possible. If you assume you can hide what used to be considered subpar range with better positioning then it certainly improves his chances. If I’m skeptical of anything it’s how he’ll look around the bag.

12:04
Eric A Longenhagen: But I guess we’ll see. I don’t like watching Paul DeJong at SS baseball but I guess we’re headed there.

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Let’s Fall in Love with Greg Bird Again

In 2016, catcher Gary Sanchez packed a season’s worth of production into the final two months of the campaign, recording more than three wins during that brief period. Last year, it was Aaron Judge who broke out — to such a degree that he nearly won the AL MVP, in fact. Sanchez wasn’t half-bad himself, building on his rookie season with four more wins.

At this time a year ago, though, neither Sanchez nor Judge was the story of Yankees camp. Rather, it was Greg Bird. In Grapefruit League play last spring, Bird hit eight home runs and posted a 1.654 OPS over 51 at-bats. He appeared poised to build upon 178 promising plate appearances as a rookie when he slashed .261/.343/.529 (137 wRC+) in 2015. But after missing all of 2016 with a labrum tear, the first half of Bird’s 2017 season was again derailed — in this case by a foot injury.

The first baseman’s numbers were ultimately pretty ugly, as he slashed just .190/.288/.422 in 170 PAs.

Upon his return from injury, however, Bird managed to show some life. In 29 second-half games, he recorded a .253/.316/.575 slash line and 126 wRC+. And his underlying batted-ball tendencies are even more encouraging.

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Effectively Wild Episode 1181: Season Preview Series: Red Sox and Reds

EWFI

Ben Lindbergh and Jeff Sullivan banter about the Logan Morrison signing and the Twins’ potent lineup, the Rays’ potentially lucrative new TV deal, and two tidbits from a game played in 1870, then preview the 2018 Red Sox (19:49) with The Boston Globe’s Alex Speier, and the 2018 Reds (55:47) with The Athletic Cincinnati’s C. Trent Rosecrans.

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Fortifying the Dodgers’ Rotation

Clayton Kershaw was the only qualifier on the 2017 edition of the Dodgers.
(Photo: Arturo Pardavila III)

When we last saw the Dodgers’ rotation, Yu Darvish was being lit up like a pinball machine in Game 7 of the World Series due to a pitch-tipping issue that the organization somehow failed to identify. Though the Dodgers made a serious run at retaining the 31-year-old righty, the team was limited by its financial constraints, and Darvish opted to sign a six-year, $126 million deal with the Cubs instead. With exhibition season now underway, the defending NL champions’ rotation still appears as though it could use fortification.

Darvish, a July 31 deadline acquisition from the Rangers, isn’t the only starter gone from the fold. In a mid-December move designed to give them more financial flexibility, the Dodgers dealt the injury-prone Brandon McCarthy (16 starts, 3.98 ERA, 3.28 FIP, 2.4 WAR) and Scott Kazmir (a mere 12 minor-league innings due to hip and arm issues), two other players, and cash to the Braves in exchange for Matt Kemp. The trade has helped them shimmy under the $197 million competitive-balance-tax threshold, but their subsequent failure to offload Kemp and some portion of his remaining $43 million salary for 2018-19 doomed their pursuit of Darvish.

Nobody’s weeping for a wealthy team that’s lost 25 starts while retaining eight of the 10 members from a unit that compiled the majors’ third-best ERA- (82) and FIP- (88). Compared to 2015, when they used an MLB-high 16 starters, and -16, when they tied for second with 15 starters, that counts as stability, and yet in each of the past two years, just one Dodger has reached the 162-inning threshold to qualify for the ERA title. The Andrew Friedman/Farhan Zaidi regime has actively used the team’s depth and financial might to lighten the workloads of all of their starters. Not only did the unit’s 885 innings rank 10th in the NL last year, but only 742 times did a Dodger starter face a batter for the third time in a game, the majors’ lowest total.

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FanGraphs Audio: Travis Sawchik at Home and Office

Episode 803
At one of his previous places of business, guest Travis Sawchik and the rest of his coworkers were accidentally sent a spreadsheet containing the salary of every employee at the company. The information, according to Sawchik, “created some animosity” around the office. This incident is almost certainly relevant — at least in some way — to the very public manner in which ballplayers are compensated. “How?” is the question nearly addressed in this edition of the program.

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 56 min play time.)

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Logan Morrison, and the Twins’ Great Advantage

Logan Morrison is signing with the Twins. It’s a one-year guarantee, worth $6.5 million, but there’s also an $8-million vesting option for 2019. Morrison turns 31 years old in August. It’s only natural to compare him to Yonder Alonso. Alonso turns 31 years old in April. He signed a couple months ago with the Indians, for a two-year guarantee, worth $16 million. There’s also a $9-million vesting option for 2020. Within the same market, Alonso did a little better than Morrison did. Maybe that’s not surprising — they’re different players! But then, are they, really?

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The Legal Standing of the Chief Wahoo Logo

Spring training is here. It’s a new beginning! Every team has optimism for the coming season. (Well, almost every team. Sorry, Marlins fans.) But in this time of beginnings, we also have an ending. Specifically, this will be the last spring training — and the last season — with Chief Wahoo. Beginning in 2019, the Indians will no longer use the symbol on their uniforms.

In one sense, the move has seemed inevitable for a while now. Cleveland has been phasing out Chief Wahoo for years in the face of increasing public pressure from people who believe the logo is racist. I don’t intend to comment on that matter in this piece. You’re all intelligent people and can draw your own conclusions.* Instead, I’m going to focus on whether the Indians legally had to remove Wahoo and what the symbol’s removal means for other teams (like the Braves) who use Native American imagery.

*For what it’s worth, research suggests that mascots and logos such as Chief Wahoo are psychologically harmful to Native American youth.

As an initial matter, the traditional use of Chief Wahoo as a logo is generally fully protected by the First Amendment, even if certain individuals regard it as offensive. The Supreme Court has held in cases like R. A. V. v. St. Paul that it’s illegal to ban speech (which includes symbols) simply because it’s offensive. But the Indians are a business, and that makes things a little more complicated.

To take a look at this, we’re going to have to enter into an area of law known as “intellectual property”: trademarks, trade dress, copyrights, and patents. Each protects different things: trademarks protect trade names and logos; trade dress protects a certain product’s label and appearance; copyrights protect creative works; and patents protect ideas like inventions. (There’s a pretty decent overview of the differences here.) For our purposes, let’s oversimplify things and discuss the trademark that applies to both the team name and Chief Wahoo.

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Dan Szymborski FanGraphs Chat – 2/26/18

2:04
Dan Szymborski: Hey guys!

2:05
Lee: What are your thoughts on Franchy Cordero’s # of plate appearances in the majors this year?

2:06
Dan Szymborski: It’d be surprised if he got more than 100 honestly.

2:06
ericstephenisgod: is wilmer font the nl cy young favorite at this point?

2:06
Dan Szymborski: Ha

2:06
Lee: Did Thor just peak for the year? 7 of 12 perfect 1st inning pitches at 100 or 101 mph

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A Semi-Complete Taxonomy of Baseball Ejections, Part I

It’s been an angry sort of offseason, which hasn’t been very enjoyable. I find the most reliable cure when I’m angry at baseball is to watch baseball. Baseball is pretty great. So with spring training upon us, I set out to watch some baseball and get back in the spirit of things. But I couldn’t shake that angry feeling. I found myself somehow watching video of ejections, the moments when our guys are at their angriest.

Including spring training and the postseason, there were 197 ejections in Major League Baseball in 2017. Using the meticulously maintained Umpire Ejection Fantasy League, I watched them all. It’s nice when people embrace the things they like, and I wanted to feel like I was a part of something other than being angry. Others have endeavored to unpack ejection data, but that isn’t our purpose today. I was interested in the aesthetics of ejections, the angry walks and grumpy faces. I sought to construct a taxonomy of baseball ejections. This represents the first batch of categories. Another batch will follow.

I Kept Talking
Home-plate umpire Stu Scheurwater ejects Buck Showalter.
Date: April 30
Ejection No.: 21

Ejections of this variety observe predictable stages of how much talking the player or the manager is actually doing.

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