Archive for April, 2018

FanGraphs Audio: Shakeia Taylor, FanGraphs Resident for April

Episode 811
Shakeia Taylor’s work has appeared both at Complex and The Hardball Times. Most relevant to this episode, she has also served as FanGraphs’ resident for the month of April. On this edition of the program, she discusses Cleveland baseball and Chicago baseball and youth baseball.

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 57 min play time.)

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The Highly Unlikely Dangerous Diamondback

The Diamondbacks are way out in first place in the National League West, and while the biggest story might arguably be the early struggles of the Dodgers, Arizona has issued an immediate reminder that last year this club just won 93 games. J.D. Martinez is gone, playing now in Boston. Steven Souza Jr. is on the disabled list. Jake Lamb is also on the disabled list. But the Diamondbacks have still thrived, not even needing that many surprises. Patrick Corbin is one — his development has been an encouraging turn. And then there’s the matter of the shortstop. The no-hit glove guy who had to fight for a job.

Before the year, for the Effectively Wild podcast, Ben Lindbergh and I ran our annual season-preview series. When it came time to talk about the Diamondbacks, we chatted with guest Nick Piecoro. Piecoro expressed what I found to be a surprising amount of optimism about Nick Ahmed. Ahmed had never before hit well in the majors, and his peripheral skills didn’t suggest a strong offensive foundation. How many no-hit shortstops figure it out at 28? Ahmed was never a threat. Suffice to say Piecoro caught me off guard.

And now here we are, and as early as it is, Ahmed owns a three-digit wRC+. By itself, that’s not much. Roughly half of all batters will have a three-digit wRC+. But you have to remember where Ahmed is coming from. You have to remember his record.

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Shohei Ohtani Had Another Moment

The Shohei Ohtani frenzy has at least somewhat died down. This will by no means be a permanent thing, but, to a certain extent this is always inevitable, whenever something new isn’t so new anymore. We’ve seen Ohtani now. We’ve celebrated him. We’ve celebrated the pitching, and we’ve celebrated the hitting. On top of that, Ohtani hasn’t played very much lately. There’s been a blister thing, and now there’s an ankle thing, and while these things aren’t particularly serious, Ohtani has batted just twice over the past week, and he’s started one game on the mound. Neither of his last two pitching starts has been great.

The internet, you might say, is waiting for Shohei Ohtani to have another moment. After all, we all just want to be impressed. But in reality, Ohtani just had another moment. On Friday night, Ohtani hit a home run. And not a regular, run-of-the-mill home run. This requires a little bit of background, but that home run was really amazing. Ohtani is developing before our very eyes.

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A Former Yankees Prospect on the Athletics Is Suing the White Sox

Lots of things went right last year in the Yankees’ run to the American League Championship Series.

This wasn’t one of them.

The player you see here is Dustin Fowler, who was making his major-league debut for the Yankees. Fowler, in a haunting echo of Moonlight Graham, never got to bat in that game; he had been due up in the top half of the second. Fowler suffered an open rupture of his patellar tendon on the play and required emergency surgery.

During his recovery, he was traded to the Athletics in the Sonny Gray deal.

How Fowler is expected to develop as a player in the wake of his injury is a worthy line of inquiry; however, it’s not the one I’ll pursue here. Rather, my interest is in the lawsuit that Fowler filed against the White Sox in the wake of his injury — a lawsuit that remains pending.

Fowler’s suit, on the surface, is pretty simple. Fowler has sued two parties — both Chicago White Sox, Ltd. (the limited partnership that owns the White Sox) and the Illinois Sports Facilities Authority (the Illinois government agency that actually owns Guaranteed Rate Field, where the White Sox play). The complaint alleges two counts, one against each Defendant, and sounds in both simple negligence and a peculiar creation of Illinois law known as “willful and wanton conduct.” Essentially, Fowler alleges that, although the wall into which he crashed was padded, an electrical box located there wasn’t.

Here’s the relevant passage:

Let’s start with the obvious question: whither the electrical box? It’s hard to tell from the video. A still image from the above provides some sense, but it’s also easy enough not to notice.

In fact, the Chicago Tribune reported after the game that video seemed to show Fowler missing the exposed electrical box, which is there to provide wifi to fans. Based on that video, the Tribune reported in the same story that no changes would be made to the stadium.

The Tribune, however, appears to have been a bit premature in their reporting. Later image seemed to suggest Fowler did make contact with the electrical box. (You can see the best ones via Newsday here.) The fact that the box is so hard to see — it’s designed to blend in with the wall — is actually part of Fowler’s lawsuit.

So we know the box is there, and that — it appears, at least — Fowler’s knee did impact it. So that leads to the second question: are the White Sox and the ISFA legally responsible?

Last year, Nathaniel Grow took an excellent look at workers’ compensation for professional athletes. Like in many states, Illinois has a law which says that, for the most part, you can’t sue your employer for an injury you suffer on the job. That’s the reason workers’ compensation exists. In Fowler’s case, though, while he is suing for an injury that occurred on the job, he is not suing his employer. As a result, this isn’t a workers’ compensation issue, and Fowler’s negligence claim isn’t barred on that basis.

Michael McCann did a nice run-through of Fowler’s suit back when it was first filed, and I encourage you to read it in full. But negligence law in torts is a lot more complicated than it might seem, and since I’m an Illinois lawyer, I figured I might examine this from a more local perspective. To establish negligence, a plaintiff generally has to plead and prove all of the following:

  1. The existence of a legal duty owed by the defendant to the plaintiff;
  2. The breach of that legal duty by the defendant;
  3. That the breach by the defendant caused an injury to the defendant; and
  4. That the injury is a real and cognizable harm.

Lawyers generally turn these elements into the shorthand of DBCH, which is short for duty, breach, causation, and harm. Illinois follows the traditional negligence standard, with those same four elements: “To state a cause of action for negligence, a plaintiff must plead the existence of a duty owed by the defendant to the plaintiff, a breach of that duty, an injury proximately caused by the breach, and damages.”

The tricky thing with negligence suits is twofold, though. First, you are basically punishing a defendant for what it did or didn’t do even though those actions weren’t intentional. That means that, every time you find for a plaintiff, you are necessarily saying the defendants have to undertake an obligation to protect people that otherwise wouldn’t exist. That, of course, has real social and economic costs, so courts tend to be wary of pushing the creation and application of legal duties too far. Second, because we’re talking about unintentional conduct here, there are a lot of defenses to negligence that don’t apply anywhere else in the law. These are things like contributory or comparative negligence (sometimes called comparative fault), assumption of the risk, and others which vary by state.

The first question, then, is whether the White Sox and ISFA owed a legal duty towards Fowler. In this case, there are two types of possible duties. (Actually, there are more, but we have limited space here.) There could be a “duty to warn.” That would mean anything from a sign down the right-field line saying “beware of box,” to actually telling Fowler about the box’s existence before the game, to just painting the box a bright shade of yellow so it stands out. On the other hand, there could be a “duty to protect” Fowler, with things like padding on the box or just the complete relocation of the box to somewhere outside the field of play.

Obviously, all of these points relate to the defendants, because the defendants are the ones with control over the box. That doesn’t always happen in negligence cases. What that means, though, is that a court will have to decide whether the law imposes a duty on ISFA and the White Sox either to warn players or protect them from hidden on-field hazards and — if so — how far that duty goes. Many states have accepted what’s called the “Learned Hand Rule” as the gold standard for whether to impose a duty on a defendant. Named for Judge Learned Hand (yes, that really was his name), the Learned Hand Rule uses what’s called “law and economics” to determine whether a duty should be imposed on a defendant. I personally think of the Learned Hand Rule as the “FanGraphs Method” of Negligence. Professor Doug Holden explains why:

This formula lists three factors:

1. Probability of harm (or likelihood of injury) and = P
2. Gravity of harm (or seriousness of injury) as weighed against = L (loss or liability)
3. Burden on defendant (or injury sacrificed) to take adequate precautions = B.

Therefore, if B < P x L, then you have unreasonable behavior. If you have unreasonable behavior, then there is a breach of duty.

This is a useful little algorithm for identifying breach of duty. In practice, however, judges don’t like to sit and calculate such variables like Learned Hand did. So somewhere along the line, the Learned Hand rule went from functioning as a mathematical calculation to serving as a guidepost to then becoming the rule that a party has a duty to all persons who could suffer a “reasonably foreseeable” harm as a result of the former’s actions.

Illinois follows that “reasonably foreseeable” standard. So, in this case, the question is whether it was reasonably foreseeable that a player like Fowler would injure himself on the electrical box. Given that much of the rest of the wall is padded, it’s clearly foreseeable that a player could be injured by colliding with an unpadded wall. By extension, it seems reasonably foreseeable that an unpadded box could also cause harm. Therefore a duty does exist to take adequate precaution. And theoretically, since the burden on the defendant is minimal — like spray-painting the box yellow or a few feet of padding — the Hand formula weighs in favor of Fowler, too.

Next is whether the ISFA and White Sox breached their legal duty to Fowler. To that point, we know they didn’t pad the box. We also have no reason to believe they warned Fowler, either. Of some relevance here perhaps is a doctrine in the law called “res ipsa loquitur.” Res ipsa loquitur basically means that if a defendant exercises exclusive control over an object — like an electrical box — and the object harms someone, the law presumes the defendant was negligent even in the absence of evidence of negligence. Here, I think there is that evidence of negligence, though: the existence of the padding elsewhere. Remember when we discussed protective netting that I explained the “voluntary undertaking doctrine”?

Here’s a refresher:

The Illinois Supreme Court, for example, explained in Nelson v. Union Wire Rope Corp. that, where a company voluntarily does something it wasn’t legally obligated to do, that company is liable for failing to do so reasonably. In some states (like Illinois, for instance), this is known as the voluntary undertaking doctrine.

If the ISFA and White Sox voluntarily undertook to protect fielders by padding the wall but didn’t pad the box, that’s negligence because they failed to complete the job reasonably.

Next are causation and harm. Did the box cause Fowler’s injuries? Well, the impact is what tore his knee open. I could talk about proximate cause and cause-in-fact, but we don’t really need to here. Because the injury was foreseeable and a direct result of an impact with the box, causation’s probably satisfied.

So what defenses do the ISFA and White Sox have? Their primary argument is probably going to be that they didn’t owe Fowler any duty. But in an Illinois court, that’s unlikely to hold water simply because Illinois courts have adopted the reasonable foreseeability standard. And they could argue that Fowler assumed the risk of being injured, but it’s hard to argue that running into things is part of baseball the way being hit by a pitch is. And they can’t argue that Fowler wasn’t injured, because even though he’s back and playing, his injury was very real, which in and of itself entitles him to damages under Illinois law.

So they tried something else. Shortly after Fowler filed his lawsuit, the ISFA and White Sox removed the case to federal court. The White Sox then moved to dismiss the case, arguing that it was preempted by the CBA. The White Sox invoked the Labor Management Relations Act (“LMRA”), a federal law stating (in Section 301) that federal courts, and federal law, govern all employment disputes where the rights of the parties have been collectively bargained. As the White Sox argue, “Plaintiff alleges that he was injured as a result of an incident that took place only because he was employed as a Major League Baseball Player pursuant to a highly regulated contractual employment relationship that specified all of the rights and duties of the respective parties – including with respect to Players health and safety.” Here, the White Sox point to Article XIII of the CBA, which governs players’ safety and health.

Here we return to the issue of “willful and wanton conduct” cited at the outset of this piece. In Illinois, under a case called Ziarko v. Soo Line Railroad, willful and wanton conduct represents something more severe than just negligence, but not so severe as intentional conduct. It’s akin to recklessness. And generally, in Illinois, you can’t disclaim willful and wanton conduct by contract. Moreover, Fowler argues, the CBA doesn’t actually cover situations like this, which means the CBA doesn’t preempt Fowler’s claims.

On that basis, Fowler wants the case sent back to state court.

This is one case where both sides appear to have strong arguments, and there’s ample case law going both ways. I tend to think Fowler has the better of the argument, but I don’t see this as being a clear-cut issue, particularly given the unusual set of facts. Many of the cases cited by both sides, like Stringer v. NFL, concerned situations where the player was injured by or on his own team’s facilities or lack of care. And even there, courts often split the proverbial baby, allowing some claims through and not others. The issue is currently being briefed, and Judge Gary Feinerman will rule sometime in June or July.

Meanwhile, Dustin Fowler hasn’t yet exhibited the form that made him a top prospect when he debuted last June. After a 138 wRC+ last year at Triple-A, he has just a 84 wRC+ for Oakland’s highest affiliate this year through 97 plate appearances. On the plus side, he’s already stolen five bases.


Dan Szymborski FanGraphs Chat – 4/30/18

2:02
Dan Szymborski: And away we go!

2:02
Mark: Is Jason Kipnis as done as he looks? Brutal start to the year…

2:02
Dan Szymborski: He’s on my panic list on my piece at ESPN today.

2:02
Billy Beane: Dan, which would be more entertaining, watching wrestlers play baseball or baseball players wrestle?

2:02
Dan Szymborski: Baseball players wrestle.  Bad baseball really isn’t that much fun, but bad wrestling can be.

2:02
Ray Liotta as Shoeless Joe: How do Kurt Suzuki or Francisco Cervelli have more home runs than Evan Gattis?!

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The Next Generation of Second Basemen Is Arriving

Since 1999, five second basemen have produced 40 or more wins. Of that group, Chase Utley debuted first, in 2003. Robinson Cano arrived in 2005, and Dustin Pedroia, Ian Kinsler, and Ben Zobrist all made their first major-league appearances in 2006. Over the last dozen years, those five players have dominated the position, and while they might not have gotten a shirtless photo-op like the shortstops of a generation prior, they have defined excellence at second base.

Even looking at the production of that group over the last four years — roughly a decade after their debuts — Cano, Kinsler, Pedroia, and Zobrist make up half of the top eight by WAR. Jose Altuve and Brian Dozier, who appear among the leaders, have emerged over the last half-decade, while Daniel Murphy has been a late-bloomer. But a collection of older players who debuted in 2005 and 2006 — one that also includes Aaron Hill, Howie Kendrick, Brandon Phillips (Reds debut in 2006), Dan Uggla, Rickie Weeks Jr. — have been mainstays at the position over the last decade.

At the moment, however, it seems as though a changing of the guard is underway. Young talents like Ozzie Albies and Yoan Moncada — along with a strong group of prospects — appear ready to take over.

The 2016 season represented the best one ever seen for second basemen. Twelve players recorded four-win seasons, while batters at the position produced a collective 106 wRC+ for the season. While Jose Altuve topped that season’s production, Cano, Kinsler, and Pedroia made up three of the next five players. Due to the aging veterans near the top of the list, that level of production was going to be impossible to maintain. Unsurprisingly, the positional numbers dipped last season, with only Altuve, Dozier, and Murphy reaching the four-wins threshold, while Jose Ramirez’s great season came mostly while playing third. Second basemen put up a respectable 99 wRC+, but it was much closer to traditional expectations of the position.

This year, second-base production is up to a 103 wRC+. This early in the season, of course, we don’t know if that production will continue. What’s of considerably more interest, however, is the players occupying the top of the leaderboards at second base.

Second Base WAR Leaders
Name BB% K% ISO BABIP wRC+ WAR Age
Jed Lowrie 8.7 % 19.0 % 0.243 0.388 168 1.6 34
Asdrubal Cabrera 8.0 % 14.3 % 0.24 0.358 170 1.5 32
Ozzie Albies 5.5 % 18.9 % 0.353 0.298 166 1.4 21
Yoan Moncada 11.7 % 39.2 % 0.257 0.423 138 1.4 23
Javier Baez 5.8 % 21.2 % 0.365 0.313 162 1.2 25
Robinson Cano 14.7 % 15.5 % 0.167 0.355 152 1.2 35
Jose Altuve 8.6 % 12.5 % 0.096 0.392 141 1.1 28
Cesar Hernandez 18.6 % 23.7 % 0.105 0.379 130 0.8 28
DJ LeMahieu 10.8 % 12.5 % 0.215 0.299 126 0.8 29
Brian Dozier 9.9 % 15.3 % 0.17 0.278 107 0.5 31
Through Sunday, April 29.

Jed Lowrie and Asdrubal Cabrera are off to incredibly good starts, but the next three players on this list are all 25 or younger. Like Lowrie and Cabrera, their hot starts are unsustainable. They’ve each built themselves a cushion, however, such that even modest production will result in strong end-of-season numbers.

According to the projections, which are conservative in nature, Albies and Moncada — the latter using an unusual approach at the plate — are headed for nearly four-WAR seasons, while Baez seems likely to reach three wins. The last time three second basemen aged 25 and under produced at least three wins was 2007 when Cano, Hill, Pedroia, Weeks Jr., and Kelly Johnson did it. Before 2007, you have to go all the way back to 1993, when Roberto Alomar and Delino DeShields led a young group that also included Chuck Knoblauch the previous season. No group is likely to measure up to the triumvirate of Paul Molitor, Willie Randolph, and Lou Whitaker from 1979 or the class of 1965 (featuring Gene Alley, Jim Lefebvre, Joe Morgan, and Pete Rose, but a collection of good, young second basemen is not a common occurrence, no matter how good the group turns out.

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Travis Sawchik FanGraphs Chat

12:05
Travis Sawchik: Happy Acuna Era

12:05
Travis Sawchik: Let’s get started …

12:05
Kyle: Will Acuna be in the HOF in 25 years?

12:06
Travis Sawchik: Debuting at such a young age is actually a pretty big deal for HoF chances

12:07
Travis Sawchik: Acuna has about a 10% chance according to our own Jay Jaffe https://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/instagraphs/acunas-hall-of-fame-chance…

12:08
Travis Sawchik: But let’s let him play a bit first

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The Supreme Court Might Reconsider MLB’s Antitrust Exemption

Successfully suing Major League Baseball under federal antitrust law is no easy task. Not only does the league typically hire the best legal representation money can buy, but it is also the beneficiary of a unique, judicially-created antitrust exemption generally shielding it from liability under the Sherman Antitrust Act.

Nevertheless, an enterprising plaintiff every so often decides to try his or her luck at convincing a court to set aside baseball’s exemption and hold MLB liable for various, allegedly anticompetitive practices.

These challengers typically hope to overcome baseball’s antitrust exemption in either of two ways. Initially, the plaintiffs usually try to persuade the trial court that the exemption does not apply to whichever of MLB’s business practices is at issue in the case, asserting that the league’s legal protection should instead be narrowly construed.

And — as is the case more often than not — when that strategy fails to work, the plaintiff’s fallback plan is to hope to be able to convince the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn its prior decisions affirming the exemption and instead hold that MLB is no longer immune from legal challenge under the Sherman Act.

Two such cases contesting MLB’s antitrust exemption are currently before the Supreme Court, both of which have been covered here previously at FanGraphs during their earlier stages of litigation.

In the first case, Wyckoff v. Office of the Commissioner, two former scouts have accused MLB teams of illegally colluding to depress the market for the services of professional and amateur scouts. Meanwhile, the second case — Right Field Rooftops v. Chicago Cubs — involves a claim that the Cubs have unlawfully attempted to monopolize the market for watching their games in-person by purchasing a number of the formerly competing rooftop businesses operating across the street from Wrigley Field and also blocking the view of some of the remaining rooftops by installing new, expanded scoreboards.

In each case, the plaintiffs failed to convince the trial court to construe the league’s antitrust immunity narrowly, and now they must hope they can convince the Supreme Court to reconsider the nearly century-old exemption it first created back in 1922.

Unlike most previous challenges to the antitrust exemption, however, the Wyckoff and Rooftop plaintiffs are not necessarily asking the Supreme Court to directly overrule its prior decisions and strip MLB of its antitrust immunity. Instead, the parties are primarily urging the Court to take their respective cases to clarify just how broadly baseball’s exemption ought to apply.

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Top 24 Prospects: Kansas City Royals

Below is an analysis of the prospects in the farm system of the Kansas City Royals. 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.

All the numbered prospects here also appear on THE BOARD, a new feature at the site that offers sortable scouting information for every organization. Click here to visit THE BOARD.

Royals Top Prospects
Rk Name Age High Level Position ETA FV
1 Seuly Matias 19 A RF 2022 50
2 Nick Pratto 19 A 1B 2021 45
3 M.J. Melendez 19 A+ C 2022 45
4 Khalil Lee 19 A+ RF 2020 45
5 Nicky Lopez 23 AA SS 2019 45
6 Michael Gigliotti 22 A CF 2020 40
7 Eric Skoglund 25 MLB LHP 2018 40
8 Richard Lovelady 22 AAA LHP 2018 40
9 Hunter Dozier 26 MLB 3B 2018 40
10 Foster Griffin 22 AA LHP 2019 40
11 Emmanuel Rivera 21 A+ 3B 2021 40
12 Josh Staumont 24 AAA RHP 2018 40
13 Scott Blewett 21 AA RHP 2020 40
14 Meibrys Viloria 21 A+ C 2021 40
15 Ryan O’Hearn 24 AAA 1B 2018 40
16 Gabriel Cancel 21 A+ 2B 2021 40
17 Burch Smith 27 MLB RHP 2018 40
18 Yefri Del Rosario 18 R RHP 2022 40
19 Chase Vallot 21 A+ 1B 2021 40
20 Evan Steele 21 R LHP 2020 40
21 Heath Fillmyer 23 AAA RHP 2019 40
22 Bubba Starling 25 AAA CF 2018 40
23 Daniel Tillo 21 A LHP 2021 40
24 Carlos Hernandez 21 R RHP 2022 40

50 FV Prospects

Signed: July 2nd Period, 2015 from Dominican Republic
Age 18 Height 6’3 Weight 200 Bat/Throw R/R
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Hit Raw Power Game Power Run Fielding Throw
20/40 60/70 30/60 55/50 40/45 70/70

Matias’s exit velos are on par with those produced by Quad-A sluggers who have seven years on him, and he hit a quarter of his balls in play over 105 mph last season. His has a longish swing and possesses poor breaking-ball recognition, the combination of which has led to pretty concerning early-career strikeout rates.

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Jonny Venters and the Official Tommy John Threepeat Club

On the same night that top prospect Ronald Acuña made his made his major-league debut, a former Brave had his own memorable moment. In Wednesday night’s Rays-Orioles game at Camden Yards, in the bottom of the sixth inning, 33-year-old Rays lefty Jonny Venters made his first major-league appearance since October 5, 2012. He faced just one hitter, Chris Davis, and needed just four pitches to retire him on a routine grounder to shortstop, but in doing so he became the rare pitcher to return to the majors after a third Tommy John surgery.

Exactly how rare is in dispute, which I’ll examine in greater depth below, but first, let’s appreciate the man and his moment. A 30th-round draft-and-follow pick in 2003 out of a Florida high school, Venters was such an obscure prospect that his name was misspelled “Benters” on some draft lists according to John Sickels. He began his professional career in 2004, but by the end of 2005, when he was 20, he had already gone under the knife of Dr. James Andrews for his first Tommy John surgery. That cost him all of the 2006 season. Working primarily as a starter, he reached Double-A in late 2008 and Triple-A in 2009. Though he didn’t make the Braves the following spring, he was soon called up and debuted against the Rockies on April 17, 2010 with three shutout innings.

Able to Bring It with rare velocity for a southpaw (95.1 mph average according to Pitch Info), Venters proved effective against righties as well as lefties and quickly gained the trust of manager Bobby Cox; by June, he was working in high-leverage duty. In 79 appearances as a rookie, he threw 83 innings and struck out 93, finishing with an ERA of 1.93, a FIP of 2.69, and 1.5 WAR. The next year, he made an NL-high 85 appearances and turned in similarly strong numbers in 88 innings, making the All-Star team along the way. The heavy usage was a bit much for his elbow to take, however. By mid-2012, a season during which he made a comparatively meager 66 appearances, he was briefly sidelined by elbow impingement. He began the 2013 season on the disabled list due to lingering elbow pain and soon received a platelet-rich plasma injection to promote healing. On May 16, he underwent his second TJ surgery, also by Dr. Andrews. To that point, he owned a 2.23 ERA, 3.00 FIP, and 26.6% K rate in 229.2 major-league innings.

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Sunday Notes: Jonny Venters Returns to Kill More Worms

Jonny Venters was in the news this week after becoming the first pitcher to appear in a big-league game after undergoing three Tommy John surgeries. The 33-year-old veteran worked one-third-of-an-inning for the Tampa Bay Rays after having last pitched for the Atlanta Braves in the 2012 postseason. It’s a great story, worthy of the attention it’s garnered (and will continue to garner; colleague Jay Jaffe will have more on Venters in the coming days).

On Friday, I approached Venters to discuss a tangentially-related subject: the worm-killing sinker that made him an effective setup man before his elbow became stubbornly uncooperative. Since the stat began being tabulated, no pitcher with at least 125 career innings under his belt has had a higher ground-ball rate than the 68.4% mark put up by the come-backing left-hander.

Venters transitioned to a sinker-ball pitcher in 2009 when he was a starter with the Double-A Mississippi Braves. He’d been primarily a four-seam guy, but the organization asked him to put that pitch in his back pocket and begin prioritizing his two-seam. Helped initially by the tutelage of pitching coach Marty Reed, it eventually became his go-to.

Success wasn’t instantaneous. Read the rest of this entry »


The Best of FanGraphs: April 23-27, 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 1209: Stop, Pop, and Roll

EWFI

Ben Lindbergh and Jeff Sullivan follow up on previous talk of triples, popups, and foul balls, then discuss Ronald Acuña’s big second game, the intriguing Oakland A’s, the new and maybe-improved Joey Gallo, the transformations of Didi Gregorius and Andrelton Simmons, the post-injury return of Jonny Venters, Clayton Kershaw vs. Trevor Richards and the biggest baseball upsets, Jarrod Dyson’s bases-loaded bunt, the Diamondbacks’ season-starting series winning streak, the Yankees’ ongoing dominance of the Twins, and more.

Audio intro: The Decemberists, "Make You Better"
Audio outro: Spoon, "The Underdog"

Link to thread with research about triples and homers
Link to Ben’s article on Didi and Andrelton
Link to Jeff’s Gallo post
Link to Jeff’s post about Dyson’s bunt

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The Yankees’ No-Fastball Approach Might Be Breaking Sonny Gray

The Yankees’ biggest splash at the trade deadline last season was the acquisition of Sonny Gray. The Bronx Bombers thought they had acquired a frontline starting pitcher to pair with homegrown ace Luis Severino and Splitter Aficionado Masahiro Tanaka.

But Sonny Gray, after the trade in 2017, posted a 101 xFIP- and 107 FIP- — this after having produced a 75 xFIP- and also 75 FIP- with Oakland before the deal.

Sonny Gray, since the beginning of 2018, has a 132 xFIP- and 115 FIP-. Sonny Gray, on Wednesday night, gave up three earned runs, a home run, and walked five in 4.2 innings, recording a 6.67 xFIP in the process. Sonny Gray, the Yankees version, has been bad.

One, of course, is curious as to why he’s been bad. What happened to the guy who, at the time of the deal, could boast a 3.25 FIP, 8.7 K/9, 1.175 WHIP, and 3.13 K/BB ratio, numbers that were much more in line with his 2013-15 run with the A’s? On the surface, it appears Gray joined the Yankees and reverted to his troubled 2016 self. After all, after the trade, Gray’s home-runs allowed spiked, from 0.7 per nine to 1.5 per nine. Perhaps as a result of wariness, his walks spiked from 2.8 per nine to 3.7 per nine, as well.

It’s a plausible theory, but it’s also insufficient.

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Kevin Kiermaier on His Career Path With the Bat

Kevin Kiermaier has come a long way since I first talked to him in the spring of 2014. At the time, his big-league experience consisted of two games — two very important games — as a defensive replacement with the Tampa Bay Rays. Already considered elite with the glove, he was seen as the club’s centerfielder of the future — assuming he could hold his own with the bat.

A little over a year later, in May 2015, I followed up with the uber-athletic former 31st-round draft pick. As he was coming off a rookie season where he’d slashed a better-than-many-expected .263/.315/.450, the resulting Q&A was titled “Kevin Kiermaier on Turning a Corner”.

The years that have followed have been a combination of prosperous and unkind. The now-28-year-old Kiermaier accumulated 11.3 WAR between 2015-2017, in large part because his defense has been nothing short of exemplary. Despite multiple trips to the disabled list, he led MLB with 89 Defensive Runs Saved over that three-year stretch. At the plate, he slashed a credible .262/.320/.426, with a dozen home runs annually.

Staying on the field has obviously been a major issue. Kiermaier has missed chunks of time with hand and hip fractures, and earlier this month he went on the shelf with a torn ligament in his right thumb. Prior to the most-recent injury, I sat down with Kiermaier to discuss his career thus far, with the main focus being his continued development on the offensive side of the ball. Read the rest of this entry »


Was Robinson Cano an Infielder or an Outfielder?

Last Friday, in the second inning against the Rangers, Robinson Cano went where no man, at least no infielder, had gone before.

Cano, the Mariners’ nominal second baseman in this instance, was situated in an alignment in which he began 221 feet from home plate against Joey Gallo. Read the rest of this entry »


Jeff Sullivan FanGraphs Chat — 4/27/18

9:07

Jeff Sullivan: Hello friends

9:07

Jeff Sullivan: Welcome to Friday baseball chat

9:08

Rock Kickass: Would you trust Snell v Boston or Godley v Washington tonight?

9:08

Jeff Sullivan: I know that this is a fantasy question, but regardless, Snell and Godley are good pitchers, and so I would trust them both

9:08

Jeff Sullivan: Probably Godley more given how the Nationals are presently shorthanded

9:09

(not that) James: When you’re looking for new topics to write Acuña, how do generate ideas? Like, do you just read through Acuña to get an idea of what happened that day, Acuña do you think more long- Acuña? I’m just Acuña in your Acuña-making Acuña. Acuña.

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The Fringe Five: Baseball’s Most Compelling Fringe Prospects

Fringe Five Scoreboards: 2017 | 2016 | 2015 | 2014 | 2013.

The Fringe Five is a weekly regular-season exercise, introduced a few years ago by the present author, wherein that same author utilizes regressed stats, scouting reports, and also his own fallible intuition to identify and/or continue monitoring the most compelling fringe prospects in all of baseball.

Central to the exercise, of course, is a definition of the word fringe, a term which possesses different connotations for different sorts of readers. For the purposes of the column this year, a fringe prospect (and therefore one eligible for inclusion among the Five) is any rookie-eligible player at High-A or above who (a) was omitted from the preseason prospect lists produced by Baseball Prospectus, MLB.com, John Sickels, and (most importantly) FanGraphs’ Eric Longenhagen and Kiley McDaniel* and also who (b) is currently absent from a major-league roster. Players appearing on any updated, midseason-type list will also be excluded from eligibility.

*Note: I’ve excluded Baseball America’s list this year not due to any complaints with their coverage, but simply because said list is now behind a paywall.

For those interested in learning how Fringe Five players have fared at the major-league level, this recent post offers that kind of information. The short answer: better than a reasonable person would have have expected. In the final analysis, though, the basic idea here is to recognize those prospects who are perhaps receiving less notoriety than their talents or performance might otherwise warrant.

*****

David Fletcher, 2B/SS, Los Angeles AL (Profile)
As noted in last week’s edition of this same column, David Fletcher has only ever once produced an isolated-power figure above .080 in a professional season during which he’s also compiled more than 100 plate appearances. As things currently stand with Triple-A Salt Lake City, however, Fletcher could fail to record an extra-base hit in any of his next 106 at-bats and he’d still post something slightly better than an .080 ISO.*

*As of Thursday afternoon, at least. Fletcher actually added a stupid double and stupid homer last night, meaning his extra-base drought could extend even longer.

Incredibly, Fletcher has produced these unprecedented power numbers while also striking out at a much lower rate than usual. Which, actually, that’s not entirely accurate: Fletcher isn’t just striking out less often, he’s striking out almost never. In 86 plate appearances entering yesterday, he’d recorded just one strikeout, a figure in close proximity to — some would say the closest proximity to — zero strikeouts.

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Would MLB Lose That Much Money in a 154-Game Season?

In 1961, the American League added two teams. To ensure that the 10 teams played an equal number of games against each other, the league moved from 154 games to 162, while the National League stayed put at 154. The following season, the National League followed suit, expanding both the number of teams and the number of games on the schedule. With the exception of strike seasons, the MLB schedule has remained at 162 games. The current setup has teams play 19 games against teams in their own division, with 66 games of the remaining games coming against the rest of the league, and 20 against interleague opponents. This year, more off days pushed up the start of baseball season. That early start coupled with horrendous weather has caused a large number of postponements, which has led to calls for a 154-game season. While I personally prefer the current schedule, a reduction in games is pretty doable.

First, let’s talk about a reason that shouldn’t be used as a justification to shorten the regular season: this year’s postponements. While postponements are drawing a lot of attention, we are likely dealing with a set of unique circumstances that won’t affect future seasons. The season did start a few days earlier than we’ve typically seen, but the biggest factor in all of these postponements isn’t the early start; it’s the bad weather. The number of postponements and cold weather games this season compared to past seasons suggests that this year’s weather is an anomaly unlikely to cause similar disruptions in future seasons. Cutting eight games from the schedule after more than 50 years because of somewhat unusual weather in one year seems unnecessary. If the goal is to move the season back to early April, a half-dozen Saturday day-night doubleheaders later in the summer would accomplish the same thing.

Players certainly seem like they would be willing to drop down to a 154-game schedule, as getting a few extra days off was an important negotiating point in the last round of collective bargaining with the owners. Removing eight games from the schedule would allow players the same number of days off they just bargained for and allow the league to start the season in early April instead of late March. From a pure feasibility standpoint, there is some merit to it, and it doesn’t seem like it would make a ton of difference to fans. The season would be about as long as it used to be; the handful of extra off days spread out over the course of six months wouldn’t make its presence deeply felt. The feel of a baseball season would hardly be impacted. The impediment, seemingly, would be money.

Over at The Athletic, Jayson Stark did some excellent reporting discussing the potential for a 154-game season. Particularly illuminating to me was the nugget that a vast majority of teams would be happy to drop down to an 154-game schedule. Stark did indicate that the minority of teams who would object to a shorter season would have very loud objections.

Stark estimated that a team like the Yankees might lose more than $10 million in gate and concession revenue. Losing four home dates, assuming a couple are less desirable weekday games in April plus a couple Monday games in the summer probably, might have a slightly smaller affect than that as the number of tickets sold for those games is likely to be somewhat lower than average. I am skeptical that teams could raise prices enough to recoup all of that money lost. I would be surprised if teams aren’t already doing whatever they can to maximize ticket and concession revenue. They may be able to get some of that money back, however, particularly from season ticket holders. They could, for example, provide 5% less inventory by taking away four games, but only drop season ticket prices by 3%, thus getting back some of the lost money while still providing a discount compared to what season ticket holders previously paid.

In his piece, Stark discussed the potential problems that might emerge with teams’ contracts with regional sports networks. Contractually, it is possible teams promised a certain number of games, making a change in the schedule challenging. But in terms of revenue, the money lost would be fairly insignificant. The lost revenue for regional television partners would be pretty minimal as the vast majority of that income derives from cable subscriber fees rather than advertising. Nationally, baseball would have little trouble fulfilling any of their deals, as the number of national games seems unlikely to change.

If the Yankees’ lost revenues are somewhere around $10 million, we might be able to roughly estimate the total losses to be somewhere in the $100 million to $150 million range before considering mitigation through some minor price increases. While MLB owners haven’t ever easily given up that much money, we are probably looking at something in the range of 1% or less of total MLB revenues. There might be talk of the players having to sacrifice pay, but these small decreases in overall revenue shouldn’t significantly alter the player-owner split as it is currently structured, and would be the subject of bargaining. Players get the off days they crave, the season starts in April, and the revenue split for the players and owners would likely remain roughly the same.

Financially, dropping eight games from the schedule is probably a lot more feasible than one might think. Of course, making the situation financially feasible doesn’t necessarily make it a great idea. I realize this makes me a bit of a curmudgeon, but I’m used to records and performances based on a 162-game schedule. And the baseball season is long. That’s a feature, not a bug. While 154 games might not feel that different, as someone who consumes baseball in a near-constant fashion all of the months of the year, I would rather have those 120 meaningful regular season games than not have them. The grind of the season with relatively few of the teams qualifying for the playoffs helps make the regular season more special than that of the other major sports.

These reasons aren’t necessarily compelling enough to keep the schedule the way it is. Perhaps someone else can come up with better ones. But it certainly doesn’t seem like finances should be a major impediment.


Scoring and Not Scoring the Runner From Third

I don’t mean to pick on Jose Abreu. Abreu has had a fine start to the season, and he is currently under the weather. But, to this point, Abreu has batted five times with less than two out and a runner on third. In zero of those five chances has the runner been driven home. Twice, Abreu has hit into a double play. Once, he’s popped out. Once, he’s struck out. And once, he’s lined out. He’s better than this, of course, and eventually the RBI will be there, but from a fan perspective, few things are more frustrating than such a wasted opportunity.

Every opportunity that doesn’t work out feels wasted. And in large part I think it’s because people don’t really know what normal is. Of course teams can’t convert every opportunity, but, it’s just moving a runner up 90 feet, right? It sounds like it should be easy. In a way, it’s just like bunting. You feel like everyone should be able to do it, but it’s surprisingly challenging to execute. It’s helpful to look at the league-wide numbers. It’s the only way to establish the proper context.

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