Archive for March, 2018

The Best of FanGraphs: March 26-30, 2018

Each week, we publish in the neighborhood of 75 articles across 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 1197: Real Baseball is Back

EWFI

Ben Lindbergh and Jeff Sullivan banter about Jeff’s research into the performance of college teams vs. MLB teams in spring training, then reach into the grab bag for a selection of topics inspired by actual baseball, including Kyle Schwarber’s defense, the Astros’ four-man outfield (and whether Joey Gallo should bunt to beat it), Mike Trout’s un-Trout-like start to the season, Felix Hernandez and Noah Syndergaard, the optimal order of starting pitchers in the first week of the season, the bypassed bullpen cart, Gabe Kapler’s divisive decision-making, and more. Lastly, they critique and respond to ESPN writer Jerry Crasnick’s latest survey of baseball executives about the season’s biggest stories.

Audio intro: Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings, "All Over Again"
Audio outro: Buzzcocks, "No Reply"

Link to Jeff’s article about college teams vs. MLB teams
Link to Ben’s article about redefining positions
Link to Matt Gelb’s Gabe Kapler game story
Link to article about starting rotation order
Link to Jerry Crasnick questions

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The Great Australian Home-Run Spike, Part 3

This is Alexis Brudnicki’s fifth piece as part of her March residency at FanGraphs. Alexis is the Director of Baseball Information for the Great Lake Canadians, an elite amateur baseball program in London, Ontario, Canada. She has written for various publications including Baseball America, Canadian Baseball Network, Sportsnet, The Hardball Times, and Prep Baseball report. She won a 2016 SABR Analytics Conference Research Award for Contemporary Baseball Commentary. She can also be found on Twitter (@baseballexis). She’ll be contributing here this month.

This is also the third installment of a three-part series exploring whether the Australian Baseball League is in the midst of their own juiced ball and bat controversy. In this installment, league officials and the equipment manufacturers respond. You can find Part 1 and Part 2 here.

The Response

Increasingly aware of the way the numbers were adding up throughout the season, the Australian Baseball League’s general manager, Ben Foster, understands the natural inclination for players, fans, and others to draw their own conclusions about what led to the spike in home runs and the offense on a whole.

“One of the great entitlements for sports fans is their right to speculate and to try and figure out why something as unpredictable as sport always surprises us,” Foster said. “As a fan myself, I love to speculate on things like, ‘Will this player or that player have a great year?’ Or, ‘Why did he go to the bullpen in that situation?’ So I do think it is natural for people to speculate about every aspect of the game when they see unexpected results.”

But the league’s GM does not believe that the numbers point to any one thing in particular. Acknowledging that equipment might have been a part of the equation, he does suspect that the standard of baseballs used during the recent season were of superior quality to those used previously.

“I cannot rule out that equipment played a part, too,” Foster said. “But I think it’s an oversimplification of just the baseballs. In conversations I had with players and coaches, many commented on the improved quality of the bats we supplied this season.

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Giancarlo Stanton’s Adjustment Appears to Be Carrying Over

Whatever their other uses, records are valuable for the drama they’re capable of facilitating. Wondering if Player X or Team Y will surpass a standard established by their predecessors is part of how many enjoy baseball. While each era is distinct in some ways — Dazzy Vance’s 21.5% strikeout rate meant something very different in 1924 than it would have in 2017 — the raw numbers still possess their own considerable weight.

Some records seem nearly insurmountable, others less so. At the moment, the Mariners’ single-season record of 264 home runs, set in 1997, is seeming particularly vulnerable. And it wouldn’t be surprise if the Yankees were the ones to topple it.

Provided they remain healthy, Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez, and Giancarlo Stanton are going to do plenty of damage. There are lots of yet-to-be-launched home runs littered elsewhere on the roster, as well. The game is trending toward the optimization of launch angles, the ball might be juiced, and the Yankees have unreal power.

I suspect we are all curious to observe the individual damage Stanton, the reigning NL MVP, will do in his new home. He’s going from Marlins Park and its 80 home-run park factor for right-handed hitters — 100 is average — to Yankee Stadium’s 124 right-handed HR factor. He’ll be able to splinter his bat and hit homers to right and right-center at New Yankee. Read the rest of this entry »


What You Can Say About Matt Davidson

A week ago today, the author of the current post published his own contribution to FanGraphs’ positional power rankings — an examination, specifically, of designated hitters. In the context of the positional rankings, DH occupies a slightly uneasy place. For one, the position (or non-position, as it were) doesn’t actually exist in the National League, which means the pool of players is necessarily smaller. Also, attempting to understand the contributions of a DH in the context of wins presents some difficulties. On the one hand, owing to the absence of any defensive responsibilities, designated hitters are subject to a robust negative adjustment in the calculation of WAR. On the other hand, though, hitters who are deployed in the DH role tend to hit worse than when playing the field — what analysts typically characterize as a “DH penalty.”

While one, duly motivated, could dedicate some time and energy to improving upon the extant methodology for evaluating the position, it’s also true that good hitters, when utilized in a DH capacity, tend to be well acquitted by WAR, poor hitters less so — a point illustrated by the image below.

Here one finds the chart that accompanied the aforementioned power-rankings post. Teams further to the left are projected to produce more wins out of the DH spot in 2018; teams on the left, fewer of them. The Yankees and Red Sox, who employ Giancarlo Stanton and J.D. Martinez, respectively, are expected to fare well this season. The Mariners and Indians (Nelson Cruz, Edwin Encarnacion), too.

It’s the rightmost bar of this chart that probably deserves some attention, because it largely concerns Your 2018 WAR Leader.

The White Sox were forecast, just a week ago, to receive the fewest wins from the DH position of any American League club — and not just the fewest wins, but actually negative wins. Certain current events might serve to cast that projection in a curious light.

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Jeff Sullivan FanGraphs Chat — 3/30/18

9:08

Jeff Sullivan: Hello friends

9:08

Jeff Sullivan: Welcome to delayed Friday baseball chat

9:08

Jeff Sullivan: Podcasting before this chat is my new excuse

9:08

Charlie: When do the 2018 stats go up?

9:08

Jeff Sullivan: Should be up already. I was browsing a few of them earlier

9:09

Matty P: Cruz homerun off Kluber was an 88mph Cutter. This concern you or just first start of the year?

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R.I.P. Rusty Staub, Hitter and Humanitarian

A celebrity chef and restauranteur, a philanthropist, an icon in two cities, an All-Star in three, and the only player to collect at least 500 hits with four different franchises — Rusty Staub was all that and more. “Le Grand Orange,” who played in the major leagues from 1963 through 1985 and collected 2,716 hits including 292 homers, passed away on Thursday, hours before the start of the 2018 season and three days shy of his 74th birthday. If he wasn’t quite a Hall of Famer as a player, he most certainly was as a humanitarian, raising more than $100 million to combat hunger and to benefit the widows and families of police, firemen, and first responders killed in the line of duty.

“He was a George Plimpton character who didn’t have to be invented,” wrote Faith and Fear in Flushing’s Greg Prince.

A native of New Orleans, Daniel Joseph Staub — the son of a minor-league catcher — gained his first nickname from a nurse at the hospital he was born, for the red fuzz covering his head. Playing alongside older brother Chuck, he helped Jesuit High School to the 1960 American Legion national championship and the 1961 Louisiana State AAA championship. Major-league scouts from 16 teams beat a path to his door, and Staub wound up signing for a bonus of either $90,000 or $100,000 (sources differ) with the expansion Houston Colt .45s in 1961. He put in a big season for the Class-B Durham Bulls in 1962, leading the league with 149 hits and the next year, just eight days past his 19th birthday, was the Colts’ Opening Day right fielder. He went 1-for-3 that day, collecting an RBI single off the Giants’ Jack Sanford for his first hit, but batted a dismal .224/.309/.308 with six homers in 150 games for the 96-loss team, which was in its second year of existence.

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The Cardinals Are Finally Signing Greg Holland

For a very long time, Greg Holland was available as a free-agent closer. For a very long time, the Cardinals appeared to be in some need of a closer. Oh, at certain points, they expressed faith in Luke Gregerson. At certain other points, they expressed faith in Dominic Leone. But Holland was always going to find some sort of job, and the Cardinals have had the best opening. And so it’s unsurprising that we’ve wound up here: Holland and the Cardinals have agreed to a one-year contract worth $14 million. Holland only has to pass his physical, and then he’ll get back to being a ninth-inning weapon.

The Cardinals have never needed Greg Holland. This isn’t something being done out of necessity. I believe the Cardinals really would’ve been comfortable going into the year with the relievers they’ve had. Yet Holland and Scott Boras also apparently backed off their multi-year wishes. The Cardinals have a new reliever now at a cost lower than that of the qualifying offer. While this means the Cardinals might now have less midseason trade flexibility, this is like making a midseason trade ahead of time. And the Cardinals are right in position to make the most use of this upgrade.

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The Great Australian Home-Run Spike, Part 2

This is Alexis Brudnicki’s fourth piece as part of her March residency at FanGraphs. Alexis is the Director of Baseball Information for the Great Lake Canadians, an elite amateur baseball program in London, Ontario, Canada. She has written for various publications including Baseball America, Canadian Baseball Network, Sportsnet, The Hardball Times, and Prep Baseball report. She won a 2016 SABR Analytics Conference Research Award for Contemporary Baseball Commentary. She can also be found on Twitter (@baseballexis). She’ll be contributing here this month.

This is also the second installment of a three-part series exploring whether the Australian Baseball League is in the midst of their own juiced-ball and bat controversy. In this installment, the pitchers respond. You can find Part 1 here.

The Pitchers

For some, the conversation started early.

In the opening weekend of the 2017/18 Australian Baseball League season, 111 runs were scored and 30 home runs were hit. In just 11 games. More than half of those home runs were hit at Melbourne Ballpark, home to the Aces, who hosted the Perth Heat for four contests.

“I noticed a difference in the league in Round 1,” said Josh Tols, a current Phillies farmhand and southpaw for the Aces with five seasons in the ABL under his belt. “There was an abnormal number of home runs hit at Altona in our opening series against Perth. Typically, with the wind at our field, the ball doesn’t get out all that much. Just looking at the home-run numbers after Round 1, you kind of had a feeling it was going to be a long year for the pitchers.”

Other hurlers didn’t begin to notice a difference until a little later.

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Does MLB Have a Concussion Lawsuit in Its Future?

The new baseball season is upon us. But even before the Cubs and Marlins began play today, indications from this spring have suggested that a dangerous trend, apparent last year, has continued into the present one — namely, an increased incidence of concussions.

Before I address that, though, first a brief primer on what concussions can do to a baseball player. In 2010, first baseman Justin Morneau was running a 183 wRC+ and had established himself as one of the best hitters in baseball. After suffering a concussion that knocked him out for the remainder of the season, he was never the same, failing to play a full season until 2012 or to cross the 120 wRC+ threshold against until 2014. Third baseman Corey Koskie was a borderline star before suffering a concussion with Milwaukee; he never played again. The way he describes the effects are frightening: “I remember walking up to the plate, thinking OK which way do I run again?”

Joe Mauer’s career was derailed by a concussion that gave him blurry vision for two years; he was hitting .324 with a 143 wRC+ when he suffered the injury in 2013 and didn’t eclipse a .300 batting average, a .350 OBP, or a 110 wRC+ again until 2017. Last year, Brandon Belt’s season was put on hold by a concussion, as well; he experienced feelings of depression and lethargy.

In perhaps the most tragic case, Cincinnati utilityman extraordinaire Ryan Freel committed suicide in December 2012. Freel had suffered 10 concussions during his career and was posthumously diagnosed with Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy. CTE is a disease caused by repeated concussions or traumatic brain injuries and which was most famously diagnosed in the late Patriots football player Aaron Hernandez. Suicide and aggression are two symptoms of CTE. There’s even research to suggest Lou Gehrig didn’t suffer from ALS, but instead had CTE.

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How Excited Are You for Baseball?

For fans of all 30 28 26 teams, Thursday, at last, is opening day. As I write this, regular-season baseball is already underway. Literally the first real pitch of the entire season was hit for a home run. It was also a 96 mile-per-hour fastball from a pitcher few people across the country have heard of. I don’t know if you could come up with a more pithy representation of baseball in the modern era. Everything is about power, strikeouts, walks, and apparently batters getting hit by a pitch. This is how it’s been, and this is how it will be.

There’s nothing that quite compares to the feeling of opening day. I know I’m not alone when I say that, every single year, on this particular morning, I wake up with a start. Most mornings begin with a snooze or three or four, but on the morning of opening day, I arise with this internal electricity. It’s not that the games on opening day are that important. It’s that just having games is important. We’ve all spent five or six months feeling like our preferred routine was disrupted, and now we can all get back to normal. We can watch and think happily about baseball.

The start of the year is welcome for just about everyone. That much should be self-evident — as fans, we just want to watch our teams compete, and especially early on, optimism can dig its hooks in without letting go. So the question in the headline might come off as ridiculous. Who among us isn’t excited for baseball, now that it’s finally back? But this is a polling project I’ve run before, two years ago. I wish I would’ve done it in 2017. The average fan of every team is happier now than they were a few months ago. But, who’s most excited? Who’s least excited, relatively speaking? As you should all understand by now, I love collecting data covering the whole MLB landscape, and this is just another opportunity.

There’s no reason for you to think too hard. The polls ought to be very easy to answer, because the answer is already there in your gut. Let’s say you’re a fan of the Yankees. How excited are you about 2018? Let’s say, instead, you’re a fan of the Marlins. How excited are you about 2018? Are White Sox fans more or less excited than Phillies fans? Than Padres fans? Than Rangers fans? Provided you all vote honestly, in sufficient numbers, we can get answers. We can get them very easily! And your responses should be revealing.

The best polling projects, I think, are the ones with no right or wrong answer. In the poll for your favorite team below, select whichever response you feel most strongly about. And then early next week, we can have fun with the numbers, comparing contenders to contenders, and basements to basements. And contenders to basements, and so on and so forth. Baseball is back, and it’s going to be here every day. Every day at the major-league level, and every day at the minor-league level. Look, there’s something stirring within each one of us. Please respond below, if you have a moment, and thank you all in advance for your participation. I’ll never stop publishing polling projects. (I’ll never stop publishing polling projects.)

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Let’s Dream on Cristian Pache

While employed as a beat reporter, one thing I learned from photographers is the virtue of patience. One has to keep paying attention, keep triggering the digital camera’s capture button, or risk missing a memorable moment, the best moment of a career. Photographers are fishing, really. There is no DVR playback in live-image capturing.

Only shaky video from a handheld smartphone captured the moment on Tuesday evening.

If it weren’t for Ashley’s wherewithal to employ her phone’s video option, the world might have missed Cristian Pache’s second professional home run. All those who were not present at SunTrust Park had already missed his first. Each occurred on Tuesday night in Atlanta.

Nowadays it seems everything that happens in major-league baseball is captured by high-definition camera. But the Braves’ final exhibition game against a contingent of their minor leaguers at SunTrust Park on Tuesday night was not televised. It was an exhibition, a final warm-up the club dubbed as the Braves vs. Future Stars. We will have only the oral histories to document what happened. And something remarkable did happen.

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2018 Opening Day Very Long Chat

12:16
Craig Edwards: Happy Opening Day everyone. We’ve got Cubs Marlins starting shortly and Carlos Martinez against Noah Syndergaard also coming up. The queue is open for questions and comments. Meg Rowley will be here for the early games as well. We will get started very soon. Baseball.

12:18
Meg Rowley: Baseball!

12:30
Meg Rowley: Hello! We are back! Thank you for chatting with us! Exclamation point! We have a full day of chat ahead. Craig and I have you covered for the early games.

12:30
Meg Rowley: Travis and Jay will sub in for the midday games.

12:30
Meg Rowley: Sheryl Ring and Roger Cormier will take the late shift.

12:31
Meg Rowley: And Jeff Sullivan and Eric Longenhagen will make appearances at some point as well.

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Searching for Mr. March

In the future, everyone will be world-famous for a couple days in March.
(Photo: slgckgc)

 
Two people walked into a bar. They settled every debate in the universe. Then they discussed baseball.

“Who is Mr. October?”

Reggie Jackson. What my elders taught me anyhow. Read it was sarcastic at first, then Reggie grew into the role.”

“Mr. November?”

“Ain’t Jeets that’s for sure? Can’t take a crown because you were first in line when a calendar flips.”

A swig.

“Randy Johnson won Games Six and Seven of the World flippin’ Series. That boy never needed to grow, of course. Just found the right circumstance. We should all be so lucky and talented.”

“Sounds good to me.”

Peace in our time.

“What about Mr. March?”

Oh no.

“All the databases have ‘Mar/Apr’ in their splits. There have been 70 regular-season games played in March. What are we saying here? Beginnings don’t matter? Without a beginning there is no end. An ouroboros. With no March there is no October. There is no November. There’s no Christmas. I like Christmas.”

“Chanukkah is also…”

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FanGraphs 2018 Staff Predictions

And just like that, the winter of our discontent is almost over. Tomorrow, all 30 teams celebrate Opening Day, and their fans with them. But before play begins, we at FanGraphs will observe our annual tradition of attempting to predict what will happen this year, before we commence our other annual tradition of getting some things wrong. Last year was a mixed bag. Astros? Nailed it. Cubs and Dodgers? Aren’t our moms proud! Aaron Judge and Cody Bellinger, Rookie of the Year winners? Can’t say we saw that coming.

We gathered predictions from writers across our family of blogs; what follows are the results.

The American League

The American League predictions are marked by their overwhelming sameness. Of the 40 ballots cast, a full 29 have the Astros, Indians, and Yankees sitting atop their divisions come the season’s end. Eight others feature the Astros and Indians but swap in the Red Sox for the Yankees. That isn’t so surprising: we currently project Houston to win 100 games, while New York, Cleveland, and Boston check in at 95, 94, and 93 wins, respectively.

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Top 26 Prospects: Philadelphia Phillies

Below is an analysis of the prospects in the farm system of the Philadelphia Phillies. Scouting reports are compiled with information provided by industry sources as well as from our own (both Eric Longenhagen’s and Kiley McDaniel’s) observations. For more information on the 20-80 scouting scale by which all of our prospect content is governed you can click here. For further explanation of the merits and drawbacks of Future Value, read this.

Phillies Top Prospects
Rk Name Age High Level Position ETA FV
1 Sixto Sanchez 19 A+ RHP 2020 60
2 Scott Kingery 23 AAA 2B 2018 55
3 J.P. Crawford 23 MLB SS 2018 55
4 Adonis Medina 21 A RHP 2020 50
5 Franklyn Kilome 22 AA RHP 2019 50
6 Mickey Moniak 19 A OF 2021 45
7 Adam Haseley 21 A CF 2020 45
8 Jorge Alfaro 24 MLB C 2018 45
9 Jhailyn Ortiz 19 A- 1B 2021 45
10 JoJo Romero 21 A+ LHP 2019 45
11 Seranthony Dominguez 23 A+ RHP 2018 45
12 Enyel De Los Santos 22 AA RHP 2019 45
13 Daniel Brito 20 A 2B 2020 40
14 Arquimedes Gamboa 20 A SS 2021 40
15 Luis Garcia 17 R INF 2023 40
16 Roman Quinn 24 MLB CF 2018 40
17 Kevin Gowdy 20 R RHP 2020 40
18 Spencer Howard 21 A- RHP 2020 40
19 Francisco Morales 18 R RHP 2022 40
20 Jose Taveras 24 R RHP 2018 40
21 Thomas Eshelman 23 AAA RHP 2018 40
22 Ranger Suarez 22 A+ LHP 2020 40
23 Dylan Cozens 23 AAA OF 2018 40
24 Cole Irvin 24 AA LHP 2019 40
25 Jake Holmes 19 R SS 2022 40
26 Jose Gomez 21 R UTIL 2020 40

60 FV Prospects

Signed: July 2nd Period, 2014 from Dominican Republic
Age 18 Height 6’0 Weight 185 Bat/Throw R/R
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Fastball Slider Curveball Changeup Command
70/70 45/50 50/55 55/65 45/55

Hitters like to shorten up against Sixto after he’s blown well-placed, sinking, upper-90s gas past them for strikes one and two, which leaves them vulnerable to any of his three viable secondary offerings later in at-bats. Sanchez sits 95-99, has touched 102, and possesses advanced command. He has a long, cutting slider in the mid-80s and a two-plane curveball, both of which flash above-average, but his best secondary is a ghosting, mid-80s changeup which embarrassed hitters five years older than him at Hi-A last year.

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When College Teams Face the Pros

The Marlins are probably the worst team right now in the majors. Independent of schedule, they project for the worst record. Taking the schedule into consideration, they still project for the worst record. Taking community input into consideration, also, they still project for the worst record. Of course, this isn’t surprising. This is kind of the plan. The Marlins are bad now on purpose, because they didn’t see the sense in trying to push for a competitive window. And, you know, there’s a chance the Marlins overachieve. Maybe they finish with a better record than the White Sox. Maybe they win more games than the Tigers. But, the season will be rough. It’ll be a season of development and ugly results.

Tuesday, the Marlins played a game against the University of Miami. These kinds of games happen from time to time every spring, as practice for the pros, and as fun opportunities for the amateurs. What kind of 20-year-old wouldn’t get up for the chance to play some major-leaguers on the field? For the Marlins, obviously, there was nothing to play for. I guess a little bit of pride. But the Marlins were just saying goodbye to another long spring training. The exhibition ended after the top of the seventh.

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Effectively Wild Episode 1196: A Minor-League Pitcher Explains Minor-League Pay

EWFI

Ben Lindbergh and Jeff Sullivan banter about an update on the fate of the indy leagues, their rapid playoff predictions for 2018, the inaugural journey of the Diamondbacks’ bullpen cart, juiced-ball precedents from the 1920s and 1930s, what spring stats are saying about the season to come, and a Dennis Sarfate extension. Then they talk to Brewers minor-league pitcher Jonathan Perrin (18:30) about the so-called Save America’s Pastime Act, minor-league pay and working conditions, what teams could and should do to improve minor-league development, what major leaguers could do to help the minor leaguers’ cause, his legal aspirations and investment advice, having interests outside of baseball, his first professional hit, and more.

Audio intro: The New Pornographers, "Play Money"
Audio interstitial: Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings, "Money"
Audio outro: Arcade Fire, "Put Your Money on Me"

Link to Nathaniel Grow article about the indy leagues
Link to Diamondbacks bullpen cart video
Link to Ben’s article about spring stats
Link to Pages from Baseball’s Past

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 Email Us: podcast@fangraphs.com


The Great Australian Home-Run Spike, Part 1

This is Alexis Brudnicki’s third piece as part of her March residency at FanGraphs. Alexis is the Director of Baseball Information for the Great Lake Canadians, an elite amateur baseball program in London, Ontario, Canada. She has written for various publications including Baseball America, Canadian Baseball Network, Sportsnet, The Hardball Times, and Prep Baseball report. She won a 2016 SABR Analytics Conference Research Award for Contemporary Baseball Commentary. She can also be found on Twitter (@baseballexis). She’ll be contributing here this month.

Juiced or not juiced?

While the question has become a persistent topic of conversation in Major League Baseball of late, similar rumblings about the state of the baseball have begun to pick up steam across the world.

After the six teams in the Australian Baseball League combined for 171 home runs over 119 total regular-season games during the 2016-2017 season, those same squads hit 379 long balls in the same number of matchups during the most recent winter.

A comparison of the offensive stats of the 2016-17 season to the 2017-18 season highlights the shift:

ABL 2016-17 vs. 2017-18 Batting Comparison
Season R/G R H 2B 3B HR K OBP SLG OPS
2016/17 4.78 1138 2053 394 34 171 1746 .339 .388 .727
2017/18 6.51 1550 2343 476 35 379 1999 .361 .495 .856
SOURCE: Baseball-Reference
Numbers represent league totals

And the pitching stats diverge similarly:

ABL 2016-17 vs. 2017-18 Pitching Comparison
Season ERA R/9 IP R ER BB WHIP H/9 HR/9
2016-17 4.28 5.08 2016.1 1138 958 812 1.421 9.2 0.8
2017-18 5.93 6.97 2002.0 1550 1320 849 1.594 10.5 1.7
SOURCE: Baseball-Reference
Numbers represent league totals

Power numbers went way up, offensive numbers increased in every statistical category across the league, and pitching stats were abysmal, with more runs scored per game than ever before. It was a significant enough difference to inspire the players and fans to speculate on the causes.

The obvious answer in Australia was that the equipment was different. Though there has been speculation about modifications to the baseballs in MLB, the Aussie league’s transition to a new equipment provider — moving from Rawlings balls and SAM BAT sticks to bats and balls from Brett Sports — removes any need to speculate.

Or does it?

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The Most Team-Friendly Free-Agent Deals of the Winter

After examining the most player-friendly free-agent contracts of the 2017-18 offseason, here I turn to the winter’s most team-friendly deals. As I explained previously, given the perfect storm of factors that suppressed free-agent spending relative to past winters, it feels unseemly simply to celebrate “winners” and pick on “losers.” I’m not here to punch down at a player such as Mike Moustakas, whose one-year, $6.5 million deal was less than one-tenth the value of estimates projected by Dave Cameron, the FanGraphs crowd, the MLB Trade Rumors crew, FanRag Sports’ Jon Heyman, and MLB.com’s Jim Duquette back in November.

Instead, I think it’s more appropriate to view the free-agent contracts in terms of team- and player-friendliness. While acknowledging that shorter deals are inherently more team-friendly, I’ve stuck with apples-to-apples comparisons for this column and the previous one by considering the one-year, two-year, and three-year deals in their own separate categories — and grouping those of four years or more together due to the small sample size. Here, price and expected WAR aren’t the only considerations: player age, fit with a team’s roster, and competitive situation are among the additional factors to weigh.

As a refresher, here’s a graphic breaking down major-league free-agent deals by contract length over each of the past six winters, using data from the MLB Trade Rumors Free Agent Tracker. I’ve omitted minor-league deals as well as those signed by international players, including Shohei Ohtani.

Four Years or More

Lorenzo Cain, Brewers: five years, $80 million

Of the winter’s five deals that offer four years or more, only those signed by Cain and Alex Cobb (four years, $57 million from the Orioles) feature a total value under $100 million. Between those two players, Cain (who turns 32 on April 13) has the longer track record for productivity than Cobb, having averaged more than four wins per season over the past four years. He recorded 4.1 WAR in 2017, his last in Kansas City. Cobb was worth 2.4 WAR last year and hasn’t been above 3.0 in any of his four seasons with at least 100 innings pitched, plus he lost most of 2015-16 to Tommy John surgery and (checks roster) remains a pitcher.

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