Archive for September, 2018

FanGraphs Audio: Jay Jaffe Wants All the Chaos Possible

Episode 837
Jay Jaffe is progenitor of the very famous JAWS metric and author of the reasonably famous The Cooperstown Casebook. On this edition of the program, he discusses his efforts — by means of his Team Entropy series — to documents the possible end-of-season scenarios that would require the greatest number of tiebreaking games and facilitate the greatest volume of disorder.

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 55 min play time.)

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Sunday Notes: Josh James Is More Than a Fringe Five Favorite

Josh James has been a Fringe Five favorite this season. He’s also been a shooting star. The 25-year-old hurler began the year in Double-A, and he’s finishing it with aplomb in Houston. Since debuting with the Astros on September 1, James has punched out 27 batters, and allowed just 14 hits and six runs, in 21 innings of work.

His ascent has come as a surprise. A 34th-round pick out of Western Oklahoma State University in 2014, James went unmentioned in our preseason Astros Top Prospects list (ergo his eligibility to take up residence in the aforementioned Carson Cistulli column).

Every bit as surprising was the righty’s response when I asked him how he goes about attacking hitters.

“To be honest, I’m still trying to figure that out,” James told me on the heels of his rock-solid MLB debut. “A couple of years ago I was a low-90s guy and mixed up pitches. I’d throw curveballs in 0-0 counts, work backwards. All that stuff. Now the velo is up a little higher, so I can throw more fastballs and attack the zone a little more.”

The velocity jump is real. James’ four-seam heater has averaged a tick over 97 MPH since his call up, and he’s been told that he touched 101 earlier this summer. Getting a good night’s sleep has helped breathe more life into his arsenal. Read the rest of this entry »


Effectively Wild Episode 1276: Reviewing the Regular Season

EWFI
Ben Lindbergh and Jeff Sullivan banter about the MVP races, the definition of value, Jacob deGrom, and Christian Yelich, plus an investigation into teams’ international practices, CC Sabathia’s costly hit by pitch, whether steroids were really responsible for steroid-era home run rates, and (don’t worry) Willians Astudillo. Then they review the 2018 regular season, including their favorite moments, the biggest ways baseball changed, what they learned about Mike Trout, how preseason narratives held up, teams that raised or lowered their stock the most, and the articles they most regret writing.

Audio intro: Super Furry Animals, "It’s Not the End of the World?"
Audio outro: Guided By Voices, "When We All Hold Hands at the End of the World"

Link to Sabathia HBP video
Link to Jeff Passan’s report
Link to Ben’s steroid era article
Link to Melisa Reidy-Russell comments

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On Addison Russell and What Constitutes Evidence

Recently, Cubs shortstop Addison Russell was placed on administrative leave in response to a blog post by his ex-wife, Melisa Reidy-Russell, detailing abuse she allegedly suffered at his hands. She’s since added additional context to her blog post with this interview today. In between, Ken Rosenthal reported the following:

Major League Baseball did not place Cubs shortstop Addison Russell on paid administrative leave solely because of a blog post written by his former wife, Melisa Reidy.

The post alone would not have been enough for baseball to force Russell off the field under its joint domestic violence policy with the players’ union. The league had additional credible information, according to sources familiar with its investigation.

The league’s investigation includes interviews with Reidy and numerous other witnesses, and with officials gathering additional information since Russell went on leave, sources said.

While Rosenthal’s reporting is consistently excellent, it appears as though his statement here is slightly inaccurate, or at least incomplete. The plain language of MLB’s Joint Domestic Violence, Sexual Assault and Child Abuse Policy appended to the Collective Bargaining Agreement states that an accusation, without more, is sufficient to place a player on administrative leave.

Under the Basic Agreement, the Commissioner may immediately place a Player accused of a Covered Act on Administrative Leave, effective as early as the date of the Notification, and may keep the Player on Administrative Leave for up to seven (7) days, including the date of Notification, subject to the Player’s right to challenge that decision set forth below.

What seems likely is that Rosenthal is referring to MLB’s recent extension of Russell’s leave past 30 days, which, theoretically, does require additional evidence. Again, from the Joint Policy:

The Commissioner’s Office may ask the Players Association to consent to a one-time extension of the initial seven-day Administrative Leave period for an additional seven (7) days (for a total of fourteen (14) days), which consent shall not be unreasonably withheld. Alternatively, the Commissioner’s Office may defer placing the Player on Administrative Leave until the Player is either charged with a crime by law enforcement, or the Commissioner’s Office receives credible information corroborating the allegations.

This seems to be the confusion: for longer than seven days, additional evidence is required. For less than seven days, it’s not. It’s a minor point, perhaps. In the grand scheme of things, it’s not very significant.

Why I’m mentioning it here, however, is because — due to a very loud conversation occurring in our country at the moment, one that is riddled with all manner of misinformation and self-interest — there’s probably some merit to reviewing, under somewhat more sober conditions, how the law treats personal accounts like the one provided by Reidy-Russell on her blog.

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Zack Greinke’s Climb Towards Cooperstown

Zack Greinke’s final start of the 2018 season was a tour de force, one that knocked his former team, the Dodgers, out of first place in the NL West heading into the season’s final weekend. The going-on-35-year-old righty survived a rocky beginning and pitched well, drove in the go-ahead run, tormented longtime nemesis Yasiel Puig as baserunner and a pitcher, and even made a nifty fielding play, albeit one that ultimately didn’t count. It was a fitting capper to a very good season in which Greinke made his fifth All-Star team and delivered solid — but not exceptional — value given his massive contract. He couldn’t singlehandedly pitch the Diamondbacks into the playoffs, and he isn’t likely to receive any Cy Young votes, but by staying healthy and pitching at a high level, he gave his chances at Cooperstown a considerable boost.

It’s that last topic that brings me to this post, because multiple readers have asked for it in some context. I’ve touched upon the cases of several of Greinke’s peers this season, such as Felix Hernandez (here), CC Sabathia (here) and Justin Verlander (here). As we’re about to spend the next five weeks absorbed in postseason baseball, it seems like a good time to check in.

But first, let’s appreciate the resiliency and athleticism Greinke displayed on Wednesday night. Peppered for seven hits from among the first 12 batters he faced, he managed to limit the damage to two runs thanks in part to a double play off the bat of Joc Pederson that ended the second inning and a diving stab by shortstop Nick Ahmed that snared Puig’s bases-loaded, 99.9 mph line drive to end the third. That out was part of a stretch in which Greinke retired 10 of the final 12 batters he faced, with a Chase Utley walk and a Cody Bellinger infield single the only blemishes. Ballinger’s single followed a grounder up the first base line that Greinke — a four-time Gold Glove winner who has seven Defensive Runs Saved to his credit this year — gloved and then flipped to first baseman Paul Goldschmidt in time for what would have been an out had the ball not been ruled foul:

On the other side of the ball, in the bottom of the second inning, as starter Ross Stripling coughed up the Dodgers’ early 2-0 lead, Greinke stroked an RBI single up the middle to plate Nick Ahmed with Arizona’s third run. He took second on a Ketel Marte single, and then tagged and went to third on an Eduardo Escobar liner to Puig:

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Jeff Sullivan FanGraphs Chat — 9/28/18

9:07

Jeff Sullivan: Hello friends

9:07

Jeff Sullivan: Welcome to Friday baseball chat

9:07

Jeff Sullivan: Our final Friday baseball chat of the regular season

9:08

stever20: How concerned should Red Sox fans be with Chris Sale and his velocity the other night?  Was he just holding back?

Also, do you remember a bigger x factor type of situation entering the playoffs as we have Sale this year?

9:09

Jeff Sullivan: This is what’s being referred to: http://www.brooksbaseball.net/velo.php?player=519242&b_hand=-1&gFilt=a…

9:09

Jeff Sullivan: Pretty massive drop-off since Sale came off the disabled list

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Eugenio Suarez Is Always Adjusting

This is Cat Garcia’s second post as part of her September residency. She is a freelance baseball writer whose work has appeared at The Athletic, MLB.com, the Chicago Sun-Times, La Vida Baseball, and Baseball Prospectus, among others. She is a Chicago native and previously worked at Wrigley Field before becoming a full-time freelancer. Follow her on Twitter at @TheBaseballGirl.

The Cincinnati Reds have been surprisingly interesting in 2018. Not interesting in the way your typical contending ball club might be, but interesting in some curious ways. They started off the season with an MLB-worst record of 3-15. They fired their manager, Bryan Price, after four seasons with the club. And in an unexpected move, they acquired struggling former-ace Matt Harvey from the Mets in early May.

In the middle of all of that, there has been a significant — and likely longer-lasting — bright spot. As FanGraphs’ own Jeff Sullivan recently wrote, third baseman Eugenio Suarez has continued to build upon his impressive 2017 breakout season. Suarez’s 133 wRC+ is currently tied for ninth-best in the National League. He’s already hit a career-high 32 home runs this season, and he currently has the 12th-highest ISO in the NL, just two points behind Travis Shaw.

And while his .322 BABIP is his highest since 2015, it isn’t so far off his career norms, and there is reason to believe his healthy batting line isn’t just the result of good batted-ball luck. As Sullivan pointed out in his piece, Suarez is making much harder contact than he has previously. His .373 wOBA is a career-best, while his xwOBA suggests it could even be a bit better.

Suarez told David Laurila earlier in the season that he hadn’t made any adjustments to his swing. But it seems there has been a new development on that front, one that has contributed to Suarez’s success.

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FanGraphs Audio Presents: The Untitled McDongenhagen Project, Ep. 3

UMP: The Untitled McDongenhagen Project, Episode 3
This is the third episode of a weekly program co-hosted by Eric Longenhagen and Kiley McDaniel about player evaluation in all its forms. The new show, which is available through the normal FanGraphs Audio feed, has a working name now, but barely. The show is all prospect stuff, but there is plenty of that, as the hosts are Prospect Men. Below are some timestamps to make listening and navigation easier.

0:43 – BONUS TOPIC #1: Eric runs down some instructional league notes starting with the Brewers: RHP Nash Walters, LHP Aaron Ashby, RHP Caden Lemons, RF Larry Ernesto and CF Carlos Rodriguez

2:20 – Eric continues with Rangers notes: RHP Cole Winn, RHP Owen White, RHP Michael Matuella, RHP Emmanuel Clase and briefly on RHP A.J. Alexy, RHP Reid Anderson, RHP Hans Crouse, CF Julio Pablo Martinez, CF Leody Taveras, CF Pedro Gonzalez

4:21 – Royals RHP Brady Singer, guys that seemed to increase their FVs in instructs thus far, feat. Rangers RHP Yerry Rodriguez

5:38 – Kiley shares notes from his first instructs game: Braves CF Cristian Pache, C Alex Jackson, 3B CJ Alexander

7:00 – Kiley moves on to the Tigers, SS Wenceel Perez and RHP Carlos Guzman

8:02 – And back to the Braves arms: RHP Odalvi Javier, RHP Patrick Weigel, RHP Tristan Beck

9:30 – BONUS TOPIC #2: Why instructional league games are starting to dry up

12:31 – TOPIC ONE: Draft rankings update to THE BOARD

13:23 – Adley Rutschman (C, Oregon State) as the top prospect for 2019, vs. Giants C Joey Bart (#2 overall pick in 2018), the historic comparison to Matt Wieters and the path to an amateur 60 FV

17:00 – Candidates to pass Rutschman by draft day: shortstops galore

18:30 – Will Bobby Witt, Jr. be able to hit? How will we know? Why do we hate him (according to the commenters)?

21:35 – The other elite shortstops: C.J. Abrams, Bryson Stott and Greg Jones

23:46 – Explaining the concept of Future Value (FV) tiers briefly

23:34 – Exploring the elite corner bats: 1B Andrew Vaughn, 1B/RF Michael Busch, 1B/RF Michael Toglia, RF Riley Greene

26:35 – Eric breaking down rising prep CF Corbin Carroll

27:43 – Who would we compare Carroll to historically?

29:02 – Talking about the most unique player we ranked, LHP/1B Spencer Jones

31:05 – TOPIC TWO: top organizations to win the next 5 World Series

34:44 – Eric proposes another top tier organization

35:28 – A quick conversation about manipulating service time and the non-economical approach sometimes being best, featuring Peter Alonso, Eric Lauer and Joey Lucchesi

42:25 – Kiley talks about the Yankees, what makes them successful and what teams in the top tier have in common with them

45:54 – Working through the second tier of clubs, finding the ones most likely to break through

48:39 – Kiley pinpoints a division in transition to keep an eye on the next 12 months

53:54 – TOPIC THREE: Super Mesa Bros. feat. Sandy Gaston

54:22 – Sorting through the background and context for the Cuban market

56:04 – Running down all three players’ from a scouting perspective

57:03 – Handicapping the teams with int’l pool money to spend

1:04:32 – Factoring in MLB’s ban of signings from the Mexican League, including short discussions of Isaac Paredes, Tirso Ornelas, Jose Albertos, Luis Verdugo, Reivaj Garcia

Don’t hesitate to direct pod-related correspondence to @kileymcd or @longenhagen on Twitter or at prospects@fangraphs.com.

You can subscribe to the podcast via iTunes or other feeder things.

Audio after the jump. (Approximately 1 hr 9 min play time.)

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The Two Rookies Who Drive the Braves’ Bullpen

This past Saturday, the Braves defeated the Phillies by a score of 5-3, earning their 87th win on the season and clinching the National League East title. Needless to say, this was unexpected back in March, when the Braves entered the year with a 3.2% chance of reaching the playoffs. Then again, there were a lot of unexpected developments in Atlanta this year. It was clear entering the season, for example, that Ronald Acuna possessed considerable talent; it was less obvious, however, that he’d become one of baseball’s best so soon. It was perhaps even more unlikely that a 34-year-old Nick Markakis would earn his first All-Star selection, although that happened as well. The list of surprises goes on. Johan Camargo, Mike Foltynewicz, and Anibal Sanchez: each of these actors played an important role in the Braves’ early arrival on the national stage.

Now the minds of both fans and the players themselves turn to October baseball. While there are some legitimate reasons to regard the Braves as a long shot — the Astros, the Dodgers, the Indians, the Red Sox, you get the idea — they do still have a 2.9% chance of winning the World Series. Throw in the fact that playoff baseball can be especially random, and we could be sitting here in a month lauding World Series MVP Kevin Gausman.

The Braves do enter October with questions beyond their youth. Most of these questions relate to their pitching, especially their bullpen. In terms of both run prevention (19th in adjusted ERA) and peripherals (18th in adjusted FIP), the relief corps has been middling. The midseason acquisitions of Brad Brach and Jonny Venters for international bonus money have yielded some returns, as the two veterans have put up a combined 0.8 WAR. However, if the Braves hope to slow down baseball’s best offenses in the late innings, they’ll be relying on two rookies with very similar arsenals.

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Cardinals Ask Adam Wainwright to Save Season

Adam Wainwright made his final appearance of spring training this year on March 15. Ten days later, he was scratched from a Grapefruit League start and, shortly after that, was added to the disabled list with a hamstring strain.

The injury appeared, at first glance, to scuttle plans the club had made to give Wainwright the start for the Cardinals’ home opener on April 5. As former manager Mike Matheny said at the time about that honor:

“It’s something we put thought into,” Matheny said. “I think our fans appreciate it, what he’s been able to do. ‘Waino’ obviously has a long history with our fan base and a lot of credibility built up in this game.”

Under normal circumstances, Wainwright would have probably returned in mid-April, following a rehab appearance to ready him for major-league competition. A nine-strikeout, one-run performance from Jack Flaherty, who’d taken Wainwright’s place on the roster, reduced any necessity to rush Wainwright back. In the end, though, the Cardinals activated him for the April 5 start anyway. The former ace walked more batters than he struck out, threw just 17 of his 42 fastballs above 90 mph — only eight fastballs hit 91 mph — and failed to make it out of the fourth inning.

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FanGraphs Audio: Dayn Perry Performs a Mississippi Goodbye

Episode 836
Dayn Perry is a contributor to CBS Sports’ Eye on Baseball and the author of three books — one of them not very miserable. He’s also the unconfirmed guest on this edition of FanGraphs Audio.

Don’t hesitate to direct pod-related correspondence to @cistulli on Twitter.

You can subscribe to the podcast via iTunes or other feeder things.

Audio after the jump. (Approximately 1 hr 6 min play time.)

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Willians Astudillo Hasn’t Struck Out in 55 Plate Appearances

The last pitcher to strike out Willians Astudillo was Tyler Olson. With two on and one out in the top of the eighth of a one-run game, Olson put Astudillo away with the sixth pitch of the at-bat, a well-thrown low-away changeup. Astudillo had also struck out ten plate appearances earlier, facing Blake Snell. Snell was the first guy in the majors to get Astudillo to go down on strikes. Olson was the second. There have been only the two strikeouts. Olson’s happened on August 29.

Astudillo appeared again on September 1. He started on September 2. So far in September, Astudillo has come to the plate 55 times, and he hasn’t struck out. He is the only major-leaguer without a strikeout this month, among everyone with at least 50 opportunities. And though Astudillo has also drawn just one September walk, he’s batted .389. Overall, in a small sample in the bigs, he’s batted .350. Ordinarily we don’t cite batting average very often around these parts, but with Astudillo, it can tell most of the story. The weirdest player from the minors is making it work.

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The Manager’s Perspective: Fredi Gonzalez on Embracing Change

There are expected to be a number of managerial openings this offseason, with no shortage of candidates in line to replace those being jettisoned (or leaving of their own volition). And while there has been a recent trend of hiring young — no previous experience necessary! — a handful of former MLB managers will certainly be considered. Fredi Gonzalez is among them.

Currently the third-base coach for the Marlins, Gonzalez has had a pair of mostly successful stints as a big-league skipper. The 54-year-old native of Cuba was at the helm in Miami from 2007 to -10, and in Atlanta from 2011 to -16. Under his leadership, the Braves had back-to-back 94- and 96-win seasons before things went south.

Gonzalez has grown a lot since he was named to replace Bobby Cox following the 2010 season. In December of that year, an interview I did with him for Baseball Prospectus led with the following: “Fredi Gonzalez is no stat geek — at least not yet — but he clearly recognizes the importance of data.”

Eight years later, that recognition has increased exponentially. Gonzalez still trusts his gut — every experienced manager and coach does, to a certain extent — but he’s smart enough to have evolved with the game. Baseball is embracing analytics more and more, and so is Fredi Gonzalez.

———

Fredi Gonzalez: “I think a lot differently now than I did back then. I remember we talked about sacrifice bunting. I’ve kind of gone away from that line of thinking. We’re a National League team — I’ve always been in the National League — and while I think the pitcher is more productive when he can bunt a guy over, that’s usually not the case for a position player. I’ve changed my mind on that.

“I’ve changed my mind on closers. I was spoiled when I first came up, because I had Craig Kimbrel. It was easy to plan out my ninth-inning strategy. Now I’m starting to question why you’d spend a large amount of your payroll a guy who is only going to pitch 80 innings. I still believe that the ninth inning is the ninth inning — it’s still a special inning — but I also believe in putting guys in spots to be successful. If there are two or three left-handed hitters coming up in the ninth, you can use your left-hander there. It doesn’t necessarily have to be your closer.

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Roberto Osuna’s Legal Case Is Over

On Tuesday, Astros reliever Roberto Osuna agreed to a deal to bring to a close the legal proceedings pending in Ontario for charges filed against Osuna for assault stemming from a domestic-violence incident that occurred earlier this year.

Per ESPN:

A domestic assault charge against Houston Astros closer Roberto Osuna in Toronto was withdrawn on Tuesday.

In exchange, Osuna agreed to a peace bond, which requires him to not contact the woman he is alleged to have assaulted and to continue counseling. He must comply with the conditions of the bond for one year or face criminal charges, which would carry a maximum sentence of up to four years’ imprisonment.

The bond was worth $500. At least according to one Associated Press report, the impetus behind the deal was that the complainant, Alejandra Román Cota, was unwilling to return to Canada to testify against Osuna.

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Justin Grimm Is Rebuilding Himself

“When I signed here,” said Justin Grimm, leaning forward over the back of one of the teal folding chairs that dot the home clubhouse at Safeco Field, eyes intent and slightly wide, “I just came in with the attitude like, you know what, I don’t know shit. I’m going to learn everything I can about myself and what works for me, and I’m going to start over from square one.”

It’s been a year of beginnings for Grimm, who was released by the Cubs — his club for the past five seasons — on March 15th, signed with the Royals three days later, put up a 13.50 ERA in 16 disastrous appearances for Kansas City, and was released for the second time in less than four months on July 7th. To cap it all off, Grimm and his wife Gina — an All-American gymnast at UGA, where the two met — welcomed a baby boy, their first, on May 25th.

“When I was released [by the Royals], I was on the disabled list,” Grimm said, “and the Mariners came in and were like, ‘Hey, come rehab in Seattle, we want to sign you.’ I saw it as an opportunity to go out and get better. I knew I was better than the numbers I was putting up. I knew they could help me get back to where I was.”

The early returns are promising. In five appearances for the Mariners, Grimm has allowed just a single run in 4.2 innings. His velocity is up, his walks are down, and his confidence is starting to recover. The difference, as is typical in these situations, has been a combination of a fresh mental approach to the game and some very specific mechanical and pitch-mix adjustments, made courtesy of the Mariners’ coaching staff.

Brian DeLunas, Seattle’s bullpen coach, had noticed that Grimm’s fastball had a tendency to “spray” left and right up in the zone, which meant that, on nights when his other key pitch — the curveball — wasn’t playing either, hitters were able to sit fastball, accepting walks when the heater wasn’t touching the zone and crushing it when it was. Grimm needed a third pitch.

“So,” said “DeLunas, “we went out and looked at video, and did some work on the numbers, and had him throw some different stuff and figure out what was going to work for him, and found out that he actually threw a really good slider. It was something that he felt with his hand speed and his effort this year, he could get it into the zone consistently. That kind of opened up a little bit more for him, where he uses the slider to get into good counts and puts guys away with the curveball.”

Thus, after nearly eliminating the pitch from his repertoire in 2016 — the data indicate he threw just two all year — Grimm’s slider was back. Just over one in every five pitches Grimm has thrown for the Mariners has been a slider, and batters are missing nearly half the ones at which they swing. If you’re looking for a single reason Grimm’s been able to generate so many more swings and misses during his time with Seattle than he was in Kansas City, look to the slider.

But also look to how he’s throwing it. The reason Grimm dropped the pitch in the first place, three years ago, was that he felt his max-effort delivery didn’t allow him enough control over the pitch. This season, sage at 30 years old, he’s found a delivery that works the same for his entire repertoire and gives him more options when he falls behind in counts.

DeLunas’s laid-back, highly physical coaching style — even talking to me, restricted by the low ceiling and close walls of Safeco’s dugout tunnels, he backed me up and demonstrated each element of Grimm’s new delivery himself, exacting step by exacting step — was, apparently, just what Grimm needed to cut through the clutter of his up-and-down season and previous biases — and to make a change.

“Growing up,” says Grimm, “you always hear ‘Don’t get so rotational, don’t be rotational.’ And all that means is just you’re firing your front side too soon. If you don’t do that, though, it’s okay to get rotational. That’s a big change I’ve made. It’s something that you see Charlie Morton do — and Bauer, how he opens up his front side, and gets that really big chest. For years, that approach sounded so negative to me, because I took it the wrong way. But it’s all about the timing.”

Consider, for example, this slider that Grimm threw for the Cubs in August 2015:

And compare it to this slider Grimm threw this past Tuesday for the Mariners:

The difference is, to my eye, stark. Grimm’s body, whipping out of control in the first video, is subdued but no less powerful in the second. “Really,” says Grimm, “it’s just about keeping that front side closed, and getting the timing of when it fires right. I feel like now I have a good feel of that, and there’s a couple cue points that I can go to.” The tools were always there, in other words, it’s just that now they’re used in a different way and to a different effect. That’s growing older. That’s getting better.

“When I was younger,” continued Grimm, “the message was always ‘Your stuff’s really good, so just go let it play.’ And instead of understanding what that actually meant, I would just hear it as it as, ‘Oh, your stuff’s good, you’re going to be fine.’ And so you get your pat on the butt and you go on your way. But I got so tired of hearing that. Like, okay, if I’m going to be fine, why am I blowing up every eighth outing? Back in Chicago, and Kansas City, I was losing a lot of sleep over the fact that it was happening, versus going to work to figure out why it happened.”

I think we underrate, as a baseball-writing community — or, at least, I do personally — the degree to which big leaguers are adjusting their game all the time to changing bodies, changing circumstances, and changing opposition. We know that baseball is all about adjustments, of course, but still tend to get an image in our heads of who a guy is, then have a hard time re-calibrating our expectations of his capacity in the face of something new. And most big leaguers’ anodyne interview answers, in which they blandly confess to nothing much at all, reinforce an image that hides much more change than it reveals.

But change still happens, all the time, sometimes subtly and sometimes rather more dramatically, game by game and pitch by pitch. Grimm’s change, this second half of the season in Seattle, has been notable. He has taken from himself the best parts of what he was and added the best of what he can be now. He has become, seven years into his big-league career, a different kind of pitcher. He has become, at the same time, a father. He has grown up in the game and grown with it.

“This year,” he said, “has obviously had a lot of change. I had a newborn, and adjusting to that has been a lot, plus I had some setbacks this year with injuries and other stuff. But, you know, life goes on. I’m just happy to be healthy now and think that over this past couple months,  I’ve found more of myself and who I am. That’s all you’re really looking for.”


Jay Jaffe FanGraphs Chat – 9/27/18

12:01
Jay Jaffe: Hey folks, good afternoon and welcome to the latest edition of my Thursday chat. It’s tending towards chaos here at my palatial Brooklyn estate because I’ve overextended myself a bit, with a piece on the season and Hall of Fame chances of Zack Greinke (a chat suggestion from last week, I believe), a podcast appearance, and a much-needed haircut in anticipation of my appearance on MLB Networks’s MLB Now tomorrow from 4-5 PM. So I’m going to keep this a bit brief, but let’s get the show on the road…

12:03
stever20: how worried should Red Sox fans be with the velocity of Sale?

12:06
Jay Jaffe: Honestly, it’s really tough to judge. The raw numbers (from Brooks Baseball) are rather frightening:

BOS@BAL (8/12/18) 98.17
TOR@BOS (9/11/18) 96.19
NYN@BOS (9/16/18) 94.38
BOS@CLE (9/21/18) 93.47
BAL@BOS (9/26/18) 90.21

On the other hand, there’s been virtually nothing at stake for the Red Sox in the games Sale has pitched in since his return; the playoff berth, the division and the top seed were more or less secure by that point, and it’s understandable that he wouldn’t push himself to the max instead of just getting his work in. That’s the real question — was he deliberately throwing with less than full effort? Given his history of wearing down late in the year, if I’m a Sox fan I’m hoping that’s the case, because otherwise, they may have a problem.

12:06
natsfan: So you think Bauer makes CLE rotation for 1st round against the Astros?

12:09
Jay Jaffe: yes, I think so. FWIW, his velo in his last start (avg four-seamer 93.78 mph per Brooks) was down about 1.5 mph relative to his last pre-injury start, but we know what a scientist he is when it comes to this sort of thing. I wouldn’t worry.

12:09
Outta my way, Gyorkass: Does deGrom or Baez have a chance at NL MVP, or has Yelich iced it by now?

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Mookie Betts’ Historic Season

The existence of Mike Trout makes things difficult for everyone. He’s produced more wins through age 26 than any player in history, averaging 9.1 WAR per season. He’s made adjustment after adjustment after adjustment. He became an average Hall of Famer before his 27th birthday. It’s not easy to compete with that.

It’s possible that we’ve grown so accustomed to Trout’s level of production that, when another player rivals it, the effect is muted. But that’s precisely what Mookie Betts is doing this season. Betts has recorded a season on a level we’ve only seen from Trout, Barry Bonds, and Alex Rodriguez over the past 25 years. And if it weren’t for presence of Trout himself just behind Betts on the WAR leaderboard, it’s possible that Betts’ accomplishment would seems even more unusual.

In 2015, a 22-year-old Betts broke out with an impressive power-speed combo, resulting in a 120 wRC+ and a 4.8 WAR season. The following year, he improved nearly every aspect of his game and put together an MVP-caliber campaign, recording just over eight wins finishing second to Trout in the balloting. Last year, Betts fell off a bit despite another good year on the basepaths and in the outfield. He increased his walk rate without suffering a corresponding rise in strikeouts, but his power dropped and he ended up with “only” 5.4 WAR for the year, ranking 15th among MLB position players.

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Effectively Wild Episode 1275: Collapses and Surges

EWFI
Ben Lindbergh and Jeff Sullivan banter about Willians Astudillo, Chris Davis and Khris Davis, the end of a Clayton Kershaw streak, Jacob deGrom, the ever-changing NL playoff race, the rapid spread of the opener, Joe Maddon’s comments about Addison Russell, and the worst team collapses of 2018, then answer listener emails about the Cubs’ offense and the most surprising division race, Bryce Harper’s bad defense, intentionally deflecting pickoff throws, the relievers with the most wins after blown saves, and the worst 2018 lineup that could be constructed out of former All-Stars, plus a Stat Blast about the biggest single-season differences between a hitter’s high- and low-leverage performances.

Audio intro: Buffalo Springfield, "Down to the Wire"
Audio outro: The Kinks, "Close to the Wire"

Link to Dan Hayes article on Astudillo
Link to Ben’s article about Kershaw’s streak
Link to article about the Brewers’ one-out opener
Link to Jeff’s post about Schwarber
Link to Moustakas pickoff play
Link to Effectively Wild crossword puzzle

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The Silliest Thing About Kyle Schwarber

The Cubs are just ever so barely hanging onto a division lead over the Brewers. For this, there could be any number of factors to blame. The Brewers, obviously, are half responsible, having played tremendously well after adding their best two players over the offseason. And on the Cubs’ side, what if Yu Darvish hadn’t gotten hurt? What if Brandon Morrow hadn’t gotten hurt? What if Kris Bryant hadn’t gotten hurt? What if Tyler Chatwood hadn’t underachieved? The division lead currently stands at half of one game. It wouldn’t have taken very much more to give the current Cubs a greater amount of breathing room.

Just glancing around, you wouldn’t think to fault Kyle Schwarber for anything. Schwarber’s been an above-average hitter and a three-win player, regularly playing an acceptable corner outfield. And before I proceed, I want to make one thing clear: Overall, the Cubs should be happy with where Schwarber is. They should be pleased with his overall health and development, and it seems as if his career is moving forward. But as you know, in a tight division race, almost anything could make a significant difference. And so we need to talk about Kyle Schwarber’s timing. I saw something in his splits I can’t in good conscience ignore. You know that I love a good fun fact.

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The Greatest Hope in Kansas City

Between 2016 and 2017, the worst hitter in the major leagues was Adalberto Mondesi. Yes, Mondesi was young. Yes, this requires you set a plate-appearance minimum of 200. Yes, it’s tight, and within a certain margin of error. But over the two years, Mondesi posted a big-league wRC+ of 29. Luke Maile wound up at 30. Adam Engel wound up at 38. Whenever you examine the extremes of any leaderboard, it’s important to understand that luck almost always plays some kind of role, but Mondesi was responsible for the very worst results. He didn’t make it any easier for the team to move on from Alcides Escobar.

Now, chances are, for many of you, you haven’t paid attention to the Royals for a while. By and large, they’ve been a terrible baseball team in a terrible baseball division. And easily the weirdest thing happening right now for the Royals is Ryan O’Hearn, who’s sitting on a 167 wRC+ after having slugged just .391 in Triple-A. O’Hearn is deserving of his own examination, but as the Royals have drifted ever further from any relevance, Adalberto Mondesi has stepped it up. Used to be, he was a good prospect with bad results. These days, he’s putting it together, with a power and speed package the Royals hope to build around when they’re once again ready to compete.

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