Archive for September, 2018

Team Entropy 2018: Dwindling Possibilities for Chaos

This is the third installment of this year’s Team Entropy series, my recurring look not only at the races for the remaining playoff spots but the potential for end-of-season chaos in the form of down-to-the-wire suspense and even tiebreakers. Ideally, we want more ties than the men’s department at Macy’s. If you’re new to this, please read the introduction here.

For those still on the Team Entropy bandwagon, the massive tiebreaker scenarios for which we’ve been hoping are starting to feel like the Great Pumpkin. Some of us still have our blankets and aren’t yet ready to go home, but others have moved on to the candy and costumes.

The penultimate weekend is one that features a lot of scoreboard watching, as there’s not much at stake when it comes to head-to-head action. With apologies to the Phillies (1.2% playoff odds) and Diamondbacks (0.5%), we’re down to six contenders for five spots in the NL. The D-backs, who have lost 14 of their last 19 games to produce an odds graph that more resembles Utah’s Bryce Canyon than Arizona’s Grand Canyon, will still have some say in the playoff picture, as they host the reeling Rockies — the team with the most at stake in both the division and Wild Card races — for a three-game set starting on Friday night. The Rockies (82-70) were just swept by the Dodgers and have lost five out of six to fall 2.5 games back in the division race, the furthest they’ve been since August 10; our odds put them at 4.3% in that context. They’re 1.5 games behind the Cardinals (84-69) in the race for the second NL Wild Card spot, with odds of just 21.1% there. They’re hoping to get Trevor Story, who left Monday night’s game with an elbow injury that was initially feared to be UCL related, back sometime this weekend, which could provide an emotional lift, but as we’ve already estimated the 25-year-old shortstop to claim about 80% of the remaining playing time at the position, that isn’t going to move the needle, odds-wise.

As for the teams that the Rockies are pursuing, the Dodgers (85-68), who have their largest division lead of the season, host the Padres. The defending NL champions now have a 95.6% chance at capturing their sixth straight division title. The Cardinals (84-69), who host the Giants, have a 76.0% chance at claiming that a Wild Card spot (more on the Central race momentarily).

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The Greatest Generation of 25-Year-Olds Is Playing Today

Javier Baez, Mookie Betts, Matt Chapman, Bryce Harper, Manny Machado, and Jose Ramirez are among the game’s best players. Together, they have averaged more than 6 WAR a piece this season. Six wins is the generally the point at which a player enters MVP contention. As a group, in other words, Baez and Betts and company have all played like MVP candidates.

Excellence in baseball isn’t the only trait shared in common among the aforementioned players, however. They’re all also basically the same age: each is currently competing in his age-25 season. If that seems like a lot of players all excelling at roughly the same point, it is: it’s quite possible, in fact, that we are witnessing the best group of 25-year-old position players the game has ever seen. The table below features the best seasons by a 25-year-old dating back to 1901.

Top Age-25 Seasons by Player
Year Name Team HR wRC+ WAR
1920 Babe Ruth Yankees 54 239 13.3
1957 Mickey Mantle Yankees 34 217 11.4
1921 Rogers Hornsby Cardinals 21 191 11.2
1933 Jimmie Foxx Athletics 48 189 9.9
1990 Barry Bonds Pirates 33 165 9.9
1928 Lou Gehrig Yankees 27 192 9.7
2004 Adrian Beltre Dodgers 48 161 9.7
2018 Mookie Betts Red Sox 30 180 9.4
1912 Ty Cobb Tigers 7 187 9.1
1944 Snuffy Stirnweiss Yankees 8 141 9.0
1946 Stan Musial Cardinals 16 187 8.8
1906 Terry Turner Naps 2 121 8.6
1913 Tris Speaker Red Sox 3 180 8.6
1915 Benny Kauff Tip-Tops 12 175 8.4
1912 Eddie Collins Athletics 0 158 8.3
1937 Joe Medwick Cardinals 31 180 8.3
1959 Hank Aaron Braves 39 175 8.2
2017 Aaron Judge Yankees 52 172 8.2
1989 Will Clark Giants 23 174 8.1
1975 Mike Schmidt Phillies 38 142 7.9
2018 Jose Ramirez Indians 38 151 7.9
2001 Alex Rodriguez Rangers 52 159 7.8
1965 Ron Santo Cubs 33 145 7.7
1969 Sal Bando Athletics 31 152 7.7
1978 Jim Rice Red Sox 46 162 7.7
1983 Wade Boggs Red Sox 5 155 7.7
2005 Albert Pujols Cardinals 41 167 7.7
1912 Heinie Zimmerman Cubs 14 162 7.6
2012 Buster Posey Giants 24 164 7.6
1910 Sherry Magee Phillies 6 168 7.5
1924 Frankie Frisch Giants 7 132 7.5
1940 Joe DiMaggio Yankees 31 167 7.5
1943 Lou Boudreau Indians 3 133 7.5

This is a fascinating list, and I’ll ask you to note a few things. First is this: of the 33 players presented above, 18 of them are already in the Hall of Fame. Betts and Ramirez are obviously among the 15 who haven’t haven’t been elected to the Hall. Adrian Beltre, Buster Posey, and Albert Pujols are all probably bound for the Hall, but remain active. Aaron Judge isn’t as probably bound for the Hall of Fame but also remains active. That leaves just nine of 33 great 25-year-olds who both (a) are absent from the Hall but also (b) have finished their playing careers.

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Jeff Sullivan FanGraphs Chat — 9/21/18

9:07

Jeff Sullivan: Hello friends

9:07

Jeff Sullivan: Welcome to Friday baseball chat

9:07

squeeze bunt: Why is anny Margot so bad at stealing bases?

9:07

Jeff Sullivan: Why is Rougned Odor even worse?

9:08

Jeff Sullivan: Margot wasn’t particularly bad last season. Been worse this year. Stolen bases are about a lot more than raw foot speed. He might just somewhat struggle to get good reads of first moves

9:10

WP41: How much value would you guess Javy Baez being able to play multiple premium positions has provided to the Cubs this season?

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An Update on the Cleveland Indians and Chief Wahoo

Back in February, I wrote about an action brought by an indigenous person in Canada regarding the Cleveland Indians’ logo and team name.

Baseball may be America’s national pastime, but there remains a single franchise north of the border, and that has created an interesting conflict between American and Canadian law. There is currently litigation about both Chief Wahoo and the Indians’ name pending in Canadian courts. In that case, an indigenous person is suing to block the Indians from using either their name or Chief Wahoo while playing in Toronto on the grounds that it violates Canada’s legal protections for indigenous peoples. Major League Baseball has intervened in that case on the Indians’ behalf. In Canada, “Indians” is a foreign (United States) registered trademark which has also been registered in Ontario, and Canadian law on free speech and trademarks is different. And if the plaintiff wins that case in Canada, the Indians would likely be required to play the Blue Jays in Toronto as simply “Cleveland.”

Interestingly, had the case been decided after the season, at least part of the issue would have become moot: the Indians are phasing out Chief Wahoo after this season. The case, however, has since ended — and though most reports indicate that Douglas Cardinal, the plaintiff, lost, that characterization of the result seems not to be entirely accurate. Instead, Cardinal’s lawyer, Monique Jilesen, told the Canadian Press that the case had been “resolved.” In fact, evidently as part of that resolution, the Indians did not display Chief Wahoo on their uniforms during their recent four-game weekend series in Toronto. According to Paul Hoynes,

Manager Terry Francona said the decision not to wear Chief Wahoo on their uniforms or caps during this four-game series at Rogers Centre in Toronto was made by the organization to show respect for anyone offended by the soon-to-be discontinued logo.

“We’re just trying to be respectful,” said Francona. “We’re never trying to be disrespectful by wearing it. We just want to do the respectable thing.”

Asked about the change, Blue Jays president Mark Shapiro, who previously held the same role with Cleveland, expressed approval.

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The Manager’s Perspective: Mickey Callaway on His First Year in the Big Apple

Mickey Callaway’s first season as a manager hasn’t gone as planned. The Mets team he was hired to lead was expected to contend in the National League East, and that didn’t happen. Things looked rosy after a 11-1 start, but five months later, the Metropolitans are limping to the finish line, currently at 11 games under .500. All in all, Citi Field hasn’t been a happy place this season.

Callaway came to Queens from Cleveland, where he served as a pitching coach for a club whose culture has helped cultivate multiple playoff appearances in recent seasons. Led by a strong front office and manager Terry Francona, the Indians have been, in many ways, a model franchise. Conversely, the Mets had devolved into what could reasonably be called a dysfunctional one.

The 43-year-old Callaway wasn’t about to change that on his own, certainly not overnight. But he is expected to help move the Mets in the right direction, and he feels that’s begun to happen. Despite the disappointing season, he believes that progress is being made.

The same can be said for his growth as a manager. Callaway acknowledges that there has been a steep learning curve. Moreover — and this is to his credit — he also admits there are a few things he should have done differently over the course of the summer. His job is by no means an easy one. Not only is he the rookie manager of a team in transition, he’s at the helm of a team that plays in The Big Apple.

———

Mickey Callaway: “As a first-year manager, you come into the job with an idea of who you want to be and what you value. As you get into it, that quickly becomes, ‘OK, those were the things I thought about; now I have to implement them.’ The challenge is to continue to believe in all of those things. You have to make sure you stay in a good spot with the way you communicate, and the way you react to situations, both good and bad.

“All of these things you learn or get educated about from other managers… information is just information until you have to utilize it in your own experiences. Sticking true to certain things can be difficult. I’ve tried to do the best I can at being myself and believing in, and implementing, the things I’ve learned.

“I’ve tried to [bring aspects of Cleveland Indians culture], and not just because of Tito and the Indians. It’s because it’s what I believe is right. I’ve learned in different cultures. I’ve taken things from Buck Showalter, from Mike Scioscia, from Buddy Black, from Joe Maddon. Obviously Tito. All of those guys. They were always prepared and very thoughtful in everything they did. It makes sense to bring some of that over here.

“You learn pretty quickly that New York is a different animal. For a lot of reasons. You have to adapt some of the thinking you had when you were with a smaller-market team. You have to make sure you understand that this is a different situation, and you might have to implement things differently. The ideals can stay the same, but the implementation of things you want to do probably has to be a little different.

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The Gradual Spread of the Opener

The thing about the “opener” strategy is even the Rays couldn’t tell you exactly how much it’s helped. It’s hardly intended to make that dramatic a difference in the box score; it’s about slightly shifting the odds in a handful of matchups. If it didn’t affect the name of the starting pitcher, a strategy like this wouldn’t have made many headlines. But, the Rays knew what they were getting into. They knew that, in a way, they were turning baseball on its head when they started Sergio Romo. The Rays have stuck with the opener for a chunk of their starts ever since, and the evidence suggests it’s not not working.

As far as I can tell, the Rays have started 49 games with an opener. It’s not always easy to tell who’s an opener and who’s just a starter with a relatively low pitch count, but I feel reasonably confident about my selections. Over those 49 games, the Rays have gone 29-20. Overall, they’ve allowed 3.95 runs per nine innings in those contests, which would rank them fifth-best in baseball. They have a combined 14.8% K-BB% in those contests, which would rank them 11th-best in baseball. And remember, that’s pretty good, because the Rays don’t use an opener for, say, Blake Snell. This is what would be the back of their rotation, and the numbers are still easily better than average. We don’t know how the Rays would look *without* the opener, but the pitchers have pretty much all bought in. At least in Tampa, the opener doesn’t look like it’s going away.

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A Viable Path for Vlad Jr. to Fight Service-Time Manipulation

Yes, this is yet another piece addressing the problem of service-time manipulation, an issue which has been discussed at some length both in these pages and others. In 2018, Ronald AcunaPeter AlonsoVladimir Guerrero Jr.Eloy Jimenez, Gleyber Torres, and even Byron Buxton have all spent extra time in the minor leagues this year, in whole or part to gain their teams an extra year of contractual control.

The MLBPA has weighed in against the practice, but with grievances — like the one filed by Kris Bryant in his rookie year — essentially having stalled out, there doesn’t seem to be a resolution on the horizon. Because minor leaguers (that is, players not on a major-league 40-man roster) aren’t members of the union, the issue of service-time manipulation hasn’t necessarily represented a priority.

Here’s the Blue Jays’ 40-man roster. Vladimir Guerrero Jr. isn’t on it. He almost certainly will be next year. As of right now, though, he isn’t — which means he also isn’t a member of the Major League Baseball Players’ Association. Somewhat surprisingly, there’s a way that might actually represent an advantage for him. Specifically, it might give him the opening he needs to challenge the practice of service-time manipulation in court… and win.*

*For our purposes, let’s assume that Toronto is subject to American law. As you’ll see, the argument below can be applied really to any minor leaguer. We’re just using Vlad as an example.

Few teams admit to manipulating service time. It is not surprising, therefore, to find that the Blue Jays have also been reluctant to invoke service time when justifying the absence of Vlad Jr. from the major-league roster. Here is how Blue Jays president Mark Shapiro explained it back in July on SiriusXM Fantasy Sports Radio:

We want to make sure from the teenage perspective, leadership perspective, defensive perspective, routines, nutrition, all the little things, that we have this guy with as good a foundation as possible.

Most of the traits invoked here are sufficiently dependent on the opinion of baseball professionals that the prospect of performing any kind of analysis on it, from the outside, is basically impossible. Leadership and routine: both are surely required, in some volume, to flourish in the majors. The people most well positioned to evaluate those qualities are all probably employed by the Blue Jays, however. To that degree, all one can do is take Shapiro at his word, even if those words seem quite convenient for Toronto’s bottom line.

Shapiro mentions another “perspective,” however, that is less frequently invoked by front-office personnel and which also seems more suited to some kind of objective assessment — namely, nutrition. Nor is this the only occasion on which it has been cited by Toronto as one of the reasons for leaving Vlad Jr.’s potent bat in the minors. So let’s consider nutrition for a moment.

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Elegy for ’18 – San Diego Padres

The first year of Eric Hosmer’s contract has not been encouraging, but the club’s future is bright.
(Photo: Ian D’Andrea)

Up until now, this has been a very American League-centric series, with the Marlins — a team I’m not 100% positive hasn’t actually been relegated to the Pacific Coast League — representing the only NL club. While the AL is now a bifurcated league, one that features a smaller middle class than most 11th-century societies, the NL is now relatively competitive, the better league for Team Entropy. Clubs like the Padres stayed mathematically competitive much longer than comparable AL teams, but the eventual requiem mass was inevitable.

The Setup

Among the clubs who could use a real, consistent run of success, the Padres are fairly high on my list. It’s an organization that, despite reaching its 50th year of Major League Baseball this season, has only won 95 games on one occasion and only produced consecutive 85-win seasons at one point in their history (2006-07), so if anyone’s due for a truly sunny period, it’s San Diego. Conversely, the Padres are rarely even all that bad and haven’t had a 100-loss season since 1993 (though they have come close). If, for Bill James, the late-80s Houston Astros were like bad jazz, I’d submit that the Padres are like .38 Special (the band, not the gun): their most popular songs are instantly recognizable, and you won’t turn off the radio in the middle of “Hold On Loosely”, but you’re never going to make a giant .38 Special playlist for your road trip. The team just exists, harmless and middling.

That’s the long-term trajectory of the Padres, and you get the sense that they really want to put together a winner, almost desperately. We saw this inclination after the 2014 season, shortly after general manager A.J. Preller’s joined the organization from Texas. His desire to compete immediately remains laudable, but the foundation of the team wasn’t strong enough to allow it, and there were some really troubling errors in judgment exhibited en route to hastily assembling a contender, such as the acquisition of Matt Kemp. (I won’t fault them for James Shields, whom they signed to a reasonable deal at the time and was ultimately exchanged for the system’s top prospect.) Manager Bud Black took the fall in 2015 — I’m not a fan, but he was definitely a scapegoat in that particular instance — and the team quite quickly went back into rebuilding mode.

The rebuilding had gone quite well heading into the 2017-18 offseason, but a little more organizational impatience was displayed, though not as damaging as that from three years earlier. While I’d prefer not to dwell on Eric Hosmer, you can’t talk about the preseason without mentioning him. There’s a very good argument to be made that a club shouldn’t refuse to sign a star player simply because they haven’t entered a window of contention yet. The problem, however, is that Hosmer isn’t so much a star as an extremely up-and-down player who has never recorded two consecutive league-average seasons in the majors. You don’t give someone $500 to lock in your Olive Garden reservations for next year’s wedding anniversary.

Trading Enyel De Los Santos for Freddy Galvis displayed similar failings of patience, even if that deal is hardly the sort to destroy an organization. You can’t say De Los Santos was anywhere near elite prospect status then or now, but a year of a slightly below-average shortstop production just didn’t do anything for the club. People yelled at me that the Padres had “enough” pitching prospects, but having too many pitching prospects isn’t an actual problem, and trades ought to bring in assets a club needs. It’s a small unforced error, but those unforced errors pile up.

The Projection

The ZiPS projection system was completely unimpressed with San Diego’s starting pitching and, overall, saw the team as rather lackluster entering the 2018 season, projecting a 73-89 record and a 1.5% shot at the playoffs. ZiPS saw little divisional upside for the Padres, with many of the organization’s most interesting players absent from the 25-man roster for part or all of the season.

The Results

At 61-92, the Padres are already guaranteed to fall short of the projections for the 2018 season, though they again won’t lose 100 games. Hosmer struggled after a hot start, spending the summer struggling to keep his OPS above .700 and is either below-average or sub-replacement depending on how you feel about Baseball Info Solutions’s DRS vs. Ultimate Zone Rating. Wil Myers was similarly blazing on his return from an oblique injury, his OPS peaking at an impressive .976 the week before the All-Star break, but he has hit .213/.275/.329 since then. Dinelson Lamet didn’t even make it into the 2018 season, a torn UCL ending his campaign prematurely, making him one of the year’s biggest disappointments for me. The starting pitching was generally lousy, with the rotation’s 131 ERA- ranking last in MLB.

The potential for the veterans to prevent the Padres from sorting through their lesser prospects and interesting Triple-A talent was mitigated significantly due to injuries. The team, for example, never had Myers, Franchy Cordero, Hunter Renfroe, and Christian Villanueva all healthy at the same time. Still, they had trouble occasionally finding at-bats for Franmil Reyes. It would have been nice to give a look at fringier minor-league depth, too — like Brett Nicholas or Ty France — but that’s unlikely to seriously come back and bite the franchise later.

Despite this collection of missteps, the team did have quite a bit go right. Renfroe, Reyes, and Villanueva all showed progress as power hitters, even if none of them are likely to be build-around types. Getting a look at Myers at third base with Villanueva gone with a broken finger was an extremely clever way to fit both Renfroe and Reyes in the lineup without benching the veteran. Myers may even be a plausible third baseman, which makes him more valuable; it was a smart thing for a rebuilding organization to try. The rotation was a hot mess, but Joey Lucchesi adjusted to the majors very quickly. Austin Hedges took a significant step forward at the plate, enough that it makes the team’s catcher battle — in this case, with recently acquired Francisco Mejia — a fascinating thing to watch over the next year. One of my favorites, Manuel Margot, bounced back nicely from a nightmare-esque first two months of the season (.189/.234/.288 through May 21st).

I can’t leave without talking a bit about the bullpen. The group has combined for 7.8 WAR, behind only the Yankees, with a 3.53 ERA/3.33 FIP in 2018. And they assembled that top bullpen essentially from scratch, with no splashy free-agent acquisitions.

2018 Padres Bullpen
Pitcher FIP ERA WAR Original Acquisition
Craig Stammen 2.05 2.70 2.2 Minor league contract
Adam Cimber 2.32 3.17 1.1 9th-round draft pick
Jose Castillo 2.46 3.12 0.9 Wil Myers trade
Kirby Yates 2.60 2.01 1.5 Waiver claim from Angels
Robert Stock 2.63 2.21 0.6 Minor league contract
Robbie Erlin 2.69 2.05 0.8 Mike Adams trade
Brad Hand 3.17 3.05 0.7 Waiver claim from Marlins
Phil Maton 3.24 4.26 0.6 20th-round draft pick
Matt Strahm 3.71 2.23 0.3 Big ol’ relief trade with Royals
Kazuhisa Makita 5.31 6.10 -0.2 Two-year, $3.8 million + $0.5 million posting fee
Min 30 innings.

Contrast San Diego with the experience of the Colorado Rockies, who spent nearly all their free-agent dough on brand-name relievers and still endured bullpen struggles throughout most of the season. While contracts like Hosmer’s seem to reflect problematic decision-making, it is a good sign if the organization sees that they can build a solid relief corps without spending money like your irresponsible cousin. The 2000s Angels and A’s made this kind of bullpen assembly an art form.

What Comes Next

Hopefully for the Padres, the future involves staying the course. If there’s a positive to Hosmer’s poor season and Galvis’s irrelevant one, it’s that they could have a moderating effect on any kind of over-exuberant transactions this winter. While you may think from my tone in certain places that I’m down on the Padres, I’m actually wildly optimistic about the team’s future. A middle infield of Fernando Tatis Jr. and Luis Urias could be the best combo of the next generation, and we’ve only seen the very edge of the team’s overwhelming stable of pitching prospects, with Lucchesi and Jacob Nix representing merely a dip of the toe in the talent reservoir. Combine those two and MacKenzie Gore and Chris Paddack and Logan Allen and Adrian Morejon and Cal Quantrill and Michel Baez and Anderson Espinoza and Luis Patino and Ryan Weathers and so on and so on and you have a list of young pitching prospects that’s so long that I think I forgot the point I was trying to make.

[…]
[…]
[…]

Oh yeah, future awesome or something like that. The team cashed in two of their cheaply acquired bullpen pieces to bring in Mejia, the best catching prospect in baseball. Josh Naylor, who may present an interesting problem for the team in a few years as it would be shocking to see him anywhere but first base, showed great improvements in plate discipline and power in 2018, and I think there’s a good chance he’ll hit in the majors.

San Diego’s future is as promising as any other team’s in the majors, especially if the team’s willing, when they are finally a force, to give out more Hosmer-type contracts to players who are better than Hosmer. If someone came back from the past and excitedly proclaimed to me “Dan, the Padres have four All-Stars in 2021!” I’d actually be slightly disappointed that the team only had four and very disappointed at such a mundane use of a time machine.

The organization’s challenge is piloting these transition years, not with short-term thinking or a desire to hot-shot an 80-win season through shortcuts, but with a laser-like focus on enhancing that future core as much as possible.

And when this team succeeds, they better do it in some variation of mustard and brown. The franchise deserves better than to have what could possibly be the sunniest epoch in the team’s history be played out in Generic Team 1 uniforms from the create-a-team mode in a baseball video game.

Way-Too-Early 2018 Projection: Fernando Tatis Jr.

Sure, it might be interesting to see Margot’s development, or project Hosmer’s chances at a bounceback, or see what a Myers season at third looks like. But I’m sure what people really want here is some glorious fan service in the form of Fernando Tatis Jr. Let the dreaming commence…

ZiPS Projections – Fernando Tatis Jr.
Year BA OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB OPS+ DR WAR
2019 .224 .288 .398 518 71 116 20 5 20 78 42 197 19 95 -2 1.5
2020 .238 .311 .442 504 75 120 22 6 23 85 49 187 16 110 -1 2.8
2021 .247 .323 .498 506 80 125 22 6 31 94 52 181 16 121 -1 4.1
2022 .245 .325 .496 506 80 124 22 6 31 93 55 187 15 122 -1 4.1
2023 .244 .325 .501 505 81 123 22 6 32 94 56 187 15 123 -1 4.2
2024 .240 .324 .493 499 80 120 21 6 31 92 57 187 15 121 -1 4.0
2025 .237 .323 .486 490 78 116 20 6 30 89 58 184 13 119 -2 3.7

I thought the process of turning grass into steak was the world’s best magic trick, but turning James Shields into this, well that’s impressive. ZiPS doesn’t think that Tatis will spike high averages in the majors, but it does see a significant power upside, and really, if you’re complaining about this projection for a prospect in Double-A, well, you’re the greediest person that ever existed and you should be thrown in jail or something and have to wear one of those old-timey cannonball things chained to your ankle.


Jay Jaffe FanGraphs Chat – 9/20/18

12:02
Jay Jaffe: Good afternoon and welcome to another edition of my Thursday chat! Thanks for stopping by. I don’t have anything witty to say, but the thumb is healing nicely — had my two stitches out on Sunday and the thing no longer looks like a trainwreck in a plate of rigatoni. Let’s get to it.

12:03
stever20: totally get what you think should happen with Sale and the AL Cy Young.  But what do you think will happen should Sale not get to 162 innings?  Does he have a realistic shot?

12:05
Jay Jaffe: That’s a very good question, and with the Red Sox taking a particularly conservative approach such that he’ll fall short of 162 innings (he’s at 150 and figures to have two turns left, both possibly after his team clinches the division) I think the race might be up in the air. I’m starting to think that Blake Snell’s combination of 20 wins and an ERA title might carry the day, regardless of the strikeouts (where he’s a respectable but not dominant 8th) and the advanced metrics.

12:05
tb.25: What does JAWS say about Chris Sale? I realize I haven’t seen much on his HOF candidacy except his appearance on some JAWS tables (and if you’ve written about him, forgive me!)

12:10
Jay Jaffe: Sale’s at 43.0 WAR as he nears the end of his age-29 season, which isn’t historic but is 11th since the start of 1969. It’s a mixed bag in his neighborhood, with five obvious HOF types at the top (Clemens, Blyleven, Kershaw, Pedro, Maddux) at 50.5 to 62.8, then Felix at 50.0, Appier at 45.8 (big drop), Seaver 45.3, Saberhagen 44.9, CC Sabathia at 43.4 and then Sale; Verlander’s 9 spots lower at 36.4 and there are guys like Stieb, Gooden, Tanana and Zambrano between them, with Mussina (37.7) the only real HOF type guy in the middle.

Bottom line: it’s all going to depend on Sale’s ability to carry this into his 30s, and avoid what happened to Felix, but he’s got a good base to build upon.

12:11
pkddb: Using whatever method you feel needed, was there a more dominant pitcher you have experienced in your adult life than Pedro in his prime?

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The Yankees Have a Shot at Some Home-Run Records

In addition to forestalling the Red Sox’ attempt to clinch an AL East title on the Yankees’ turf, Neil Walker’s three-run shot off the Boston’s Ryan Brasier on Tuesday night gave New York a share of one major-league record. Wednesday night’s pair of homers from Luke Voit and another from Miguel Andujar gave the club a share of a franchise record and inched them closer to two more major-league ones. In these homer-happy times, nobody loves the long ball as much as the Bronx Bombers.

Walker’s homer, a towering, second-deck blast to right field, was his 10th of the season.

That gave the Yankees 11 players in double digits, tying a mark that has been matched in each of the past four years, a period that admittedly has produced three of the four highest per-game home run rates in history (1.26 per team per game in 2017, 1.16 in 2016, and 1.15 this year).

Teams with 11 Players Hitting 10-Plus Home Runs
SOURCE: Baseball-Reference
Players are listed alphabetically, not by home run totals.

This year’s Blue Jays could join the above 11×10 list if rookie Lourdes Gurriel Jr. hits two more homers over the remainder of the season, while the Yankees similarly have a shot at separating themselves from this pack if Voit, who didn’t even debut with the team until August 2, adds one more. Voit’s homers on Wednesday night, which were less majestic than Walker’s, represented his eighth and ninth since joining the team.

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Jacob deGrom and the MVP Precedent

Historically speaking, pitchers don’t win MVP awards — or don’t win them often, at least. There are exceptions to the rule, but the honor historically has been reserved for a league’s top position player. The logic among voters generally follows a couple recognizable lines of reasoning. Pitchers don’t play every day, some voters argue. They have the Cy Young all to themselves, say others. Whatever the justification, the record reveals a preference for position players over pitchers. Consider: since reliever Dennis Eckersley won the American League MVP in 1992, only Clayton Kershaw and Justin Verlander have been recognized as their respective league’s most valuable player.

It’s possible that some voters aren’t using entirely sound logic to arrive at their conclusions. Even if they’re employing the wrong process, however, they’re still usually arriving at the correct result: pitchers simply aren’t the best players in their leagues all that often. Position players make an impact at the plate and on defense. They just have more opportunities to create value. Their roles give them a competitive advantage.

Or, they usually provide a competitive advantage. This season, however, that hasn’t been the case. This season, the best player in the National League is likely a pitcher. While a lot of obstacles stand between Jacob deGrom and an MVP award, he deserves consideration — and there’s a really good argument he deserves to win.

Before we get to the more compelling arguments in favor of deGrom’s MVP candidacy, it makes sense to entertain the less compelling ones, too. First among them is the Mets, who have been poor this year. While voters are explicitly told that the MVP needn’t come from a playoff team, voters have typically evaluated a player’s performance in the context of his team’s performance, the logic presumably being that the player in question has been an asset in the most important situations. While the Mets are heading for a high draft pick now, it would be unfair to say that deGrom hasn’t been pitching in meaningful games. Thanks to their strong start, the Mets’ postseason hopes were remained alive into mid-June. Even if you wanted to assess deGrom some sort of penalty for playing for a bad team — let’s say you discount his second-half WAR by 50% — he would still lead the National League by that measure. It’s also worth noting that deGrom leads all National League pitchers in win probability added. In the games he’s pitched, in other words, he has been incredibly helpful to the cause of potentially winning a game, even if the end result has been disappointing.

Ultimately, there will be voters who are dogmatic in their views on which players are eligible for the MVP award. To those who contend, for example, that pitchers oughtn’t win it or that it should go to a member of a playoff team, I have little to say other than the rules and ballot history suggest otherwise. For those who are prepared to entertain the possibility of such a thing, however, then Jacob deGrom has a really good case.

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Effectively Wild Episode 1272: Take Money to Make Money?

EWFI
Ben Lindbergh and Jeff Sullivan banter about Trevor Story’s close call, then (9:04) bring on former MLB pitcher Michael Schwimer, the founder and CEO of Big League Advance, to talk about the mechanics and morality of giving money to minor leaguers in exchange for a percentage of their future earnings if they make the majors, why the company was the subject of a now-dropped lawsuit, the dilemma of low minor-league pay, why Michael maintains that BLA is helping players, BLA’s investment model and efforts to predict pitcher injuries, and Michael’s proposed solution to the rising strikeout rate. Lastly, Ben and Jeff review the interview and offer their thoughts on BLA, minor-league pay, and injury prediction.

Audio intro: Aerosmith, "Make It"
Audio interstitial: Neil Young, "Roger and Out"
Audio outro: Spinal Tap, "Gimme Some Money"

Link to Ken Rosenthal on BLA
Link to Jack Dickey on BLA
Link to Sheryl Ring on BLA
Link to Jonathan Perrin podcast episode

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The Quiet Boost to the Dodgers’ Bullpen

Tuesday night, the Dodgers played a crucial game against the Rockies, and it was all tied at two in the top of the tenth. After Scott Alexander retired Charlie Blackmon to lead off, he was replaced by Dylan Floro, who was tasked with facing DJ LeMahieu and Nolan Arenado. After four pitches, Floro struck LeMahieu out. It happened on the following sinker:

After four more pitches, Floro struck Arenado out. The sequence included the following four-seamer:

And then it concluded with the following slider:

Floro’s time with the Dodgers hasn’t all been terrific. A month ago, Floro was on the mound when the Dodgers lost to the Mariners on a walk-off balk. That’s the kind of incident that can stick with you for a while. But, overall, Floro has been a stabilizing member of the bullpen since arriving in a midseason trade. The Dodgers have needed the help, and Floro has provided it, even though the trade with the Reds drew barely any attention. When Floro arrived, he was a ground-balling middle reliever. With a little bit of assistance, he’s become something more.

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An Investigation into Sandy Leon’s Current State of Worry

I hope you will, in the service of a brief investigation into human worry, allow me to engage in some baseless speculation.

We tend to think of player decline as a gradual business. Guys get good, peak, turn 30, and then start to be less good. They lose a step on the basepaths, a tick on their fastball. The idea of making new friends wears them out. Their doctors tell them they just have to live with some uncomfortable stuff now. Any given player’s career might buck those trends, of course. Some failure to develop entirely, nary a peak to be found. Pitchers hurt their elbows and retire young; a designated hitter or two keeps trundling along past age-40. But most players have time to get used to the idea of being at home more.

Except, what if they didn’t? What if for a hitter, it weren’t an issue of injury, or being hit by a car, but the gift deciding, quite suddenly, to leave you? Poof! Gone! We know that isn’t how this stuff generally works. Players age or get hurt or someone better comes along; yips are a throwing dysfunction. But I have often wondered how much of a player’s reaction to any given strikeout is a concern that they will never get a hit again. That this is the first in a series of whiffs and groundouts and balls caught at the track that concludes with them no longer being baseball players. They could hit, and now, quite simply, they can’t.

To wit, Sandy Leon hasn’t had a hit since August 23. In 13 games and 30 plate appearances, he has walked just once and been hit by a pitch twice. He has a -73 wRC+ over that stretch. I watched the at-bats. It wasn’t screaming liners and vindictive BABIP. He has just been quite bad at baseball. He looks resigned. And I wonder how worried he is. I mean, of course he is worried, and probably a lot. He hasn’t played since Saturday. The Red Sox are in a great dream and he is trapped in a small nightmare. But I wonder when he has felt the most worried about this, this idea that he can’t hit anymore, this secret concern, and how much worried he was.

You might think the low point was this past Saturday, when he struck out looking against the Mets’ Daniel Zamora, and his own broadcast spent much of the at-bat talking about the Cy Young chances of a pitcher who wasn’t pitching that day, or in the American League.

This was his last at-bat before being benched. He is probably 13 percent worried here. It has been a while. He’s in a bad way.

Or perhaps in the moment after he pointed to his hand so as to assert, yeah, Lucas Giolito had hit him with a pitch, such an obvious plea for and acceptance of charity. Here, 4%. Yes, he’s worried, but also, that hurt. He’s thinking mostly about how much it hurt. And feeling indignant that he was doubted. But also feeling that it hurt. Ouch.

Or perhaps on September 4, when he twice came to the plate with the bases loaded and two outs and twice failed to capitalize. Maybe 10%? That’s a lot of suck in a three hour span, but also, his team won. He was probably high-fived by his teammates at the end of it, though likely in a perfunctory way.

But I think the real answer is September 7, at home against Gerrit Cole. In the bottom of the fifth inning, Sandy struck out swinging, but reached base when the pitch skittered away from Martin Maldonado. This is 18% at least, and probably as high as 25.

He wants to be on first, needs it badly, but not like this. All that erased his failure was someone else’s worse stumble. Maybe there isn’t work as we understand it in a hit-by-pitch, but there is some sacrifice. There’s a dignity in it. Sandy was wounded in a trivial service. But a ball that gets away, a bit of luck that necessitates such a hard run down the line, telegraphing so strongly all his pent-up desperation, his concern he won’t speak of?

After it is clear that Leon is safe, first base coach Tom Goodwin puts out his hand for a fist bump, and there is just the smallest pause from Sandy, a pause in which I assume he looked his worry square on, wondered if he would ever reach base by a hit again, and considered not accepting Goodwin’s gesture. Fist bumps are for ballplayers, and what if suddenly he isn’t one of those anymore, only he doesn’t quite know it yet? Most of him probably moved on to running the bases. But I bet 18-25% didn’t.

The other day, my DVD player stopped working in the middle of a movie. I got it a year ago. Sandy Leon will almost certainly hit again. He might tonight! He’s a professional baseball player. He’ll get at least a few more chances. But I bet he is worried, at least 4% of him and maybe as much as 25. Sometimes things just crap out and take your copy of Tombstone with them.


A Ranking of Ballparks by Walkability

In light of how individual humans not only possess unique genetic traits but are also exposed to a unique collection of experiences as young people and then less young people, it is not surprising to find that they also develop preferences that are distinct from those possessed by all the other humans around them. Some like the color red, for example, while others prefer green. Some enjoy the taste of cilantro, while others seem compelled to curse its existence. Some even appreciate the work of Canadian rock band Rush, while others are not my roommate Dan from college.

Despite the wide range of tastes possessed by the individual specimens of our dumb species, there do also appear to be some cases of general agreement. In some instances, the reasons are obvious. Humans tends to prefer temperatures in the vicinity of 70 degrees, probably, because anything much colder or much warmer actually becomes a health liability. In some instances, the reasons are more obscure, but the effects are detectable anyway. This appears to be the case with physical spaces. People, it seems, are naturally drawn to areas that facilitate pedestrian traffic — and are built according to what urban designer Jan Gehl, who has studied the matter in some depth, characterizes as “human scale.”

Five years ago, I wondered which ballparks, by virtue of their location, might best lend themselves to human scale (although that’s not exactly how I phrased it). After a very poor attempt at answering the question, I published a less poor attempt at answering it using the walkability metrics available at Walk Score. Because they are based on proximity to shops and cafes and other services relevant to daily life, the Walk Scores figures aren’t necessarily a perfect representation of human scale, but they nevertheless serve as a decent proxy.

Here is a basic explanation of what the walk scores signify:

  • 90–100 Walker’s Paradise
    Daily errands do not require a car
  • 70–89 Very Walkable
    Most errands can be accomplished on foot
  • 50–69 Somewhat Walkable
    Some errands can be accomplished on foot
  • 25–49 Car-Dependent
    Most errands require a car
  • 0–24 Car-Dependent
    Almost all errands require a car

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Death of a 14-Year Streak

Monday evening, the Pirates beat the Royals, 7-6. The Royals were up by two in the bottom of the eighth, but the Pirates rallied to tie, and then they walked it off an inning later. With Kevin Kramer leading off second base, Jacob Stallings sent a low line drive into left field, and Kramer beat Alex Gordon’s throw home. The Pirates rushed out of the dugout to celebrate the victory:

Now, this season, the Pirates are going nowhere. The Royals are even worse. The win did, I suppose, push the Pirates back over .500, but it’s worth remembering that every game is a competition. Every game features major-league baseball players trying to win, and so every actual win legitimately feels like an achievement. Especially for teams full of players just trying to make a good impression to extend their careers. Recently, the dreadful Royals walked off against the dreadful White Sox, after a throwing error on a would-be sac bunt. The Royals celebrated in regular fashion:

So part of this is just that a walk-off is fun. You never know when you’re going to be part of another. Seize happiness; it’s fleeting. Celebrate your achievements. Few people in the world ever get to participate in a win in the major leagues. What an incredible thing it is to experience.

There’s something else about the Pirates’ victory, though. None of the players would’ve known it at the time, but you can see their celebration as symbolic if you want. The win was the Pirates’ 75th of the season. But it was also the National League’s 151st win in interleague play. Every year, every team plays 20 interleague games. That means there are 300 interleague games in all. And for the first time since 2003, the American League isn’t going to win the majority of them. It won’t win exactly half of them. Interleague play, in 2018, belongs to the senior circuit.

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Kiley McDaniel Chat – 9/19/18

12:19

Kiley McDaniel: Hello! Slight delay today for some paperwork issues but we’re all good now and Scout is napping. Let’s see what you people have for me

12:20

Kiley McDaniel: Oh, and in the way of promotion, we have a couple fun things coming, I will guess, on Monday. We have a new weekly podcast about prospects and the big leagues, from a front office POV. Here’s episode 2: https://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/fangraphs-audio-presents-the-untitled-…

12:20

Kiley McDaniel: We also did a refresh of THE BOARD, as our last update before we get into the offseason list time of year

12:21

Kiley McDaniel: As always, THE BOARD is here: https://www.fangraphs.com/scoutboard.aspx

12:21

Kiley McDaniel: and the article detailing why some guys are rising is here: https://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/the-final-pro-side-update-to-the-board…

12:21

Oyster Burns: roansy have better upside than justus?

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The Manager’s Perspective: John Gibbons on His Long, Crazy Career

John Gibbons is in his second go-round as the manager of the Toronto Blue Jays. The 56-year-old former catcher skippered the A.L. East team from 2004 to -08, and he’s been back at the helm since the beginning of the 2013 season. There have been a pair of postseason berths along the way — in 2015 and 2016 — and he heads into the waning days of the current campaign with a managerial record, exclusively with Toronto, of 789 wins and 782 losses.

It’s no secret that this will be his last year on the job. While nothing has been made official, the Blue Jays are expected to replace Gibbons once the season concludes. He won’t be fading into the sunset, though — at least not right away. Gibbons hopes to stay in the game, in one capacity or another, for the foreseeable future. As for his pair of tenures in Toronto, and the roads he traveled to get there… it’s safe to say that he’s enjoyed the ride.

———

John Gibbons: “In 1990, I was in Triple-A with the Phillies and kind of at the end of my rope as a player. Being a catcher with a little big-league experience, you can always find a job, but I wasn’t sure that’s what I wanted. My original organization, the New York Mets, called. They wanted to know if I was interested in being their roving catching instructor. I debated whether I wanted to keep playing a little longer or get into coaching. I decided to go into coaching.

“After I roved for a couple of years, the Mets gave me a managing opportunity in Kingsport, Tennessee, in the Appalachian League. That was actually the first league I’d played in, back in the day. Things just kind of took off from there.

“I ended up with the Toronto Blue Jays when J.P. Ricciardi was hired as the general manager. I was originally in the bullpen, but then they made a couple of changes and I was the first-base coach. A few years later they made more changes, and I was the manager. So it’s been a long, crazy career. It wasn’t a very good one as a player, and from there it’s been what it’s been.

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FanGraphs Audio: Towering Figure of Sabermetrics Rob Neyer

Episode 834
A former research assistant for Bill James and writer for ESPN at the dawn of the internet, Rob Neyer has recently authored a book, Powerball, that uses an A’s-Astros game from September 2017 as an entree into meditations on the current state of the sport.

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 1 min play time.)

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Rockies’ Story Takes a Turn for the Worse

This article has been updated since initial publication to reflect developments in the diagnosis of Trevor Story’s right elbow.

Surrendering first place to the Dodgers, as the Rockies did on Monday night in Los Angeles, was bad enough. The departure of Trevor Story in the middle of his fourth-inning plate appearance may prove more damaging to the team’s postseason hopes. Via Twitter, The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal reported on Tuesday afternoon that the All-Star shortstop is “facing potential UCL damage in [his] right elbow,” though the exact diagnosis was unknown at the time. In the wake of an MRI, the Rockies now believe that Story is dealing with inflammation in the elbow but no structural damage to the ligament. Had there been significant UCL damage, the 25-year-old shortstop would likely have been headed for Tommy John surgery, ruling him out of the remainder of the regular season and postseason (if the Rockies make it), and into the first half of next season. The Rockies are optimistic that he will miss “only a few days,” though his absence could potentially be a significant blow to the team’s playoff hopes.

Story reportedly felt a twinge in his elbow after making an outstanding play in the first inning on Monday night. He dove to his left to stop a Justin Turner grounder, then he completed a spin and made a strong throw to first base for the out. His discomfort worsened when he whiffed on a 2-1 Hyun-Jin Ryu changeup in his next plate appearance.

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