Author Archive

Japanese and Korean Prospects in Context

The MLB should be receiving a new crop of far eastern talent in the next year or two, which means it is worth reacquainting ourselves with the standouts and talent levels of these leagues — specifically the Korean Baseball Organization (KBO) and Japan’s Nippon Pro Baseball league (NPB).

Let’s start with Korea and Pittsburgh’s potential new infielder, Jeong-ho Kang:

KBO Hitters

NOTE: I am using wOBA+ here, which is merely my shorthand for wRC+ without park factors and using MLB linear weights. So the numbers are not perfect, but they’re better than OPS or OPS+.

The KBO is a hitter’s league. That is the refrain we hear most often whenever Kang’s surfaces. He slashed a filthy .356/.459/.739 with 40 homers in 2014, and his career stats suggest he’s a middle infielder who hits like he’s from the corner. But how good is he with respect to the league?

Answer: He’s the best. But a wide margin.

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The Thinning Catcher Market

The Phillies re-signed Carlos Ruiz to a 3-year, $26 million deal. Also: Brayan Pena and Geovany Soto have locked down their 2014 teams (the Royals Reds and Rangers respectively). And now it appears Jose Molina is in the final stages of returning to St. Pete for another two years of expertly framed and eh, who cares about blocking? pitches.

So where does that leave the catching market? As far as I have seen, the Yankees, Red Sox, Rockies, Angels, Rangers (still), Blue Jays and Twins have all been connected with free agent catchers on MLBTR. Using their handy free agents leaderboards (with a few additions), we can examine the remaining free agent catchers and try our hand at predicting the right fits for each.
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How David DeJesus Gained a Platoon Split

From David DeJesus’ 2003 debut through his 2010 season, the versatile outfielder hit 90 wRC+ (1175 PA) against left-handed pitchers. Since then, DeJesus has mustered a lulzwut 29 wRC+ (327 PA) against lefties. Despite his one-sided floundering in the past three seasons, DeJesus managed to procure a three-year contract extension from the Rays.

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A Method for Examining Two-Strike Hitting

Let’s talk about why I love Jamey Carroll. He has had — like most of us would like — his best years after the age of 30; he has played every position except catcher, including an inning of scoreless relief in 2013; he’s short; he spells his name humorously; and he plays a cop in this music video (therabouts of 1:10).

But what impresses me most about him is his rare combination of no power and great plate discipline (as seen here here). There is almost no threat of a homer and only a mild threat of a double when he walks to the plate, but he still induces a walk rate near 10%. Carroll walks more than Robinson Cano and Adrian Gonzalez not because pitchers fear him, but because — as anyone who’s watched Carroll can attest — the 5-foot-11 infielder fights off a half-dozen bad pitches until he finds one he can pop for a single.

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Pinch Hitting Report Card: Reds Pass, Orioles Fail

Monday night, Rays manager Joe Maddon pinch hit James Loney for right-handed Sean Rodriguez. After a foul knubber to the right, Loney went all walk-off on Tommy Hunter.

But as much as pinch-hit walk-off home runs are the soup of Hollywood executives, they are the rarest of meats in the MLB reality. In fact, pinch hitting is most often a choice between lesser evils — a choice between a bad wOBA or a terrible wOBA.

A closer look at the last five seasons of pinch hitting reveals success has not between distributed evenly, and the effectiveness of of some pinch-hitting efforts may be a product of systematic choices rather just tough breaks.
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Lineup Optimization and Multi-Run Homers

Why do some teams hit multi-run homers while other teams struggle? The relationship is not as simple as: better OBP, better rate of multi-run homers. I recently dug through sevens season of WPA logs and determined the baseball gods are not totally logical.

Observing the variation is one thing, but to ascribe it all to purely noise is another. Teams can control their runs per home run rate through constructing rosters and lineups predisposed towards greater home run efficiency. So we can’t consign variations to the random luck spittoon until we’ve more specifically assessed what’s happening in the lineup.

In the previous article, I briefly outlined what I called the Giancarlo Problem — where a team’s best OBP and best HR-rate are located within the same player. The Giancarlo Problem can result in deceiving team-wide statistics. So in this second venture, we are going to examine three dimensions instead of two: 1) OBP, excluding home runs, 2) home run rates, and 3) lineup positions.
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The Determinants of Multi-Run Homers

Let's get digging.

This investigation begins with a simple frustration. I was recently watching the Rays and, after a few solo homers wandered over the fence, I asked myself, “How can a team with such a solid on-base percentage hit so few multi-run homers?”

It makes sense that, if’n a team can matriculate men down to first and second and even third base, they can get more bang for their homer bucks. My frustration reminded me of Jeff Sullivan’s frustrations in 2012, when he wrote the epic monkey’s paw game recap, wherein he bemoaned the Mariners’ solo homeritis.

But, to me, it made sense the Mariners had solo homeritis. The 2012 Mariners had a .296 OBP — worst in the majors by a Deadball Era or two.

So I began a quest, a quest that has lasted several months. I have scaled SQL cliffs, journeyed deep into Pivot Table mines, and waded through the blogger depression swamps. With the support of some eclectic friends, such as Jeff Zimmerman, Matt Hunter, and Steve Staudenmayer, I have concluded that OBP and runs per home run do indeed have a relationship, but that relationship is severely diluted by randomness and unpredictability.
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The Marlins Offense Cannot, Does Not Hit

I would say we are watching history, but the “we” who is actually watching the Marlins has to be limited to just about the 50 players present at any game, the managers, the broadcasters, and the odd Florida resident who fell asleep during the SunSports “Inside the Rays” special on Sam Fuld and then awoke to find a Marlins game on television.

The Marlins offense is bad. It is very bad. If you want to hear about the redeeming elements of the Marlins offense, this article may not be much help. Yes, Giancarlo Stanton is to home runs what Moses is to water-spewing rocks — he hits them — but the remainder of their eclectic crew of rushed prospects and aged veterans has offered little praiseworthy bat-action.

And if the situation deteriorates even a little, if their narrow balance of awful totters or teeters just a bit worse, this offense has a chance to engrave its poor results in the most inglorious stone of history: Worst offense of modern times.
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The Curious Case of Junior Lake

Just 23 years old, Junior Lake has made a heart-shaped impression on Cubs fans. Search his name on Twitter, and you will find a nation of Cubs fans eager to see him play in the 2014 All-Star game and receive his due credit in morning talk shows. With the team holding baseball’s version of a mid-season yard sale, Lake’s heroics have come at a time when the club most needed something fun to watch.

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The Changing Effects of Petco Park

Jeff Sullivan’s recent enjoyable trot through San Diego Padres statistics and history led to a number of commentors thinking about San Diego’s park factors. The Padres changed the outfield dimensions of Petco Park in the off-season, and since park factors are backwards looking and rely on multiple years of data, changing dimensions can throw a bit of a monkey wrench into the calculations. So, it’s possible that our park factors are now somewhat behind the times, and we need to keep this in mind when looking at the park adjusted numbers (such as wRC+, ERA-/FIP-/xFIP-, WAR, etc…) for San Diego players, both hitters and pitchers.

It’s not quite so simple as noting that the changing dimensions have made the old park factors useless, however. Moving in the fences helps home runs, yes. This is undeniable. But it also can decrease triples and doubles, as well as effect the more odd elements of park factors, such as walk-rates, strikeout rates and pop-up rates.

It’s too early in the season to construct terribly useful park factors for the new dimensions, but we can do some harmless back-of-the-napkin mathematics to at least determine if the recent numbers suggest at least the early signs of serious run environment changes.
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An Apology to Luis Valbuena and Dioner Navarro

Luis Valbuena struggles against fastballs, and is Michael-Jackson-bad against all other pitches. In an alternate world in which the Cubs actually cared about the difference between 61 and 65 wins, Luis Valbuena does not get 303 plate appearances last season. But in this world, where the Cubs are suppressing arbitration clocks and dropping bench players into starting roles, Luis Valbuena gets 303 PA. Barring something magical, do not put Luis Valbuena on your fantasy team in 2013.

That was me. I wrote that very review of Cubs third baseman Luis Valbuena for his 2013 FanGraphs+ fantasy profile. At the time, Luis Valbuena had a career .224/.292/.343 slash and a 73 wRC+. On the merit of some impressive defensive output in 2012, he had managed to increase his career WAR to a sterling -0.3 wins through 1109 PA.

Nothing outside of some solid PCL numbers suggested Valbuena could be a solid third baseman in 2013. So far, I’ve been quite wrong.
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De-Lucking Team Offenses

If you are similar to me, then you spend more than a trivial amount of time on the teams leaderboard page. I find myself sorting the wRC+ column for my daily Ottoneu, The Game, and game preview needs. But, like a suspicious man at a bus stop, BABIP lurks just a few columns away. It haunts my well-crafted insults hurtled brazenly towards the Miami Marlins from the comfortable solitude of my home office.

I have spent the past year or two studying BABIP, in part because it has shown the power to unlock a fielding independent hitting metric I so cleverly and regrettably titled ShH or Should Hit. But other than confusing friends during spoken conversation, Should Hit can also regress offensive production based on four simple factors: walks, strikeouts, home runs, and BABIP.

We have previously employed ShH and its stepchild, the De-Lucker X (DLX), to regress players according to their previous performances. But now, let us throw whole teams into the De-Lucker vat. It will be great opportunity to kick the already over-kicked Marlins — as well as offer uncommon accolades for the San Francisco Giants and San Diego Padres lineups.
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The Road to ROTY Goes Through Hyun-Jin Ryu

He leads all rookie pitchers with 1.0 WAR, and is tied with the thus-far sensational position players Evan Gattis and A.J. Pollock. Sunday night, Hyun-Jin Ryu completed six innings against the San Francisco Giants, and though he took a loss, Ryu induced weak contact from a line-drive team. If the national audience was paying attention, they saw perhaps the best rookie in the league.

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Amazing Feats in 0-2 Home Runs

There are few reversal of fortune so dramatic as the 0-2 home run. When pitchers corner a batsman into an 0-2 count, said batsman has hit .154/.160/.216 through the 2013 season. The following sample of at bats combine for an immaculate 1.000/1.000/4.000 slash.

Let’s take a look at them.
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Adam Wainwright is Fire

Through five starts, St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Adam Wainwright has a 1.93 ERA, 1.09 FIP, and 2.13 SIERA. Of the 144 batsmen to face Wainwright, 37 struck out and just 1 walked — Bryce Harper in the 6th inning of last Tuesday’s game. Wainwright has induced a career-high 55.8% groundball-rate; he has held opponents to 8 earned runs, 9 runs total, scattered across 37 and 1/3 innings.

Wainwright is not “on fire.” He is fire. Butane lighters hang pictures of him on their bedroom walls. Local volunteer firemen warn children about Wainwright during school visits.

So how does an excellent pitcher produce results like a deity pitcher? For Wainwright, the tactic appears to be: (a) Throw a full spectrum of fastballs, (b) select from that fastball spectrum at an increasingly unpredictable rhythm, and (c) pitch against the right teams.
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Roberto Hernandez is Not Fausto Carmona

Yes, well obviously Roberto Hernandez is not Fausto Carmona. The name Fausto Carmona belongs to someone else, and though the history of Cleveland Indians starting pitcher “Fausto Carmona” belongs to Roberto Hernandez, the two pitchers (the one pitcher) are not the same.

What I’m saying is: Roberto Hernandez is striking out batters.

He has a 22.5% K-rate right now. His previous career high was 17.1%, but that was mostly as a rookie reliever. As a starter, his highest K-rate was 15.6%. In fact, if we dig even deeper, we find his 22.5% K-rate is the highest strikeout rate he’s ever posted over a four game period:

4-game K-rate

His recent success — underscored and even underappreciated in his 3.75 FIP and 3.60 SIERA — appears to be the product of deliberate changes. That suggests he could maintain a new level of success.
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Surely There Is a Roster Spot for Micah Owings Somewhere

After a hard-fought, closely-followed battle, Bryce Harper beat out former relief pitcher Micah Owings for the starting left field position in Washington. Okay, Owings was never really in competition to take playing time from the reigning Rookie of the Year, Jayson Werth or Adam LaRoche — the three players in positions accessible to Owings’s limited defensive upside.

But here is the deal:

    A) Pitchers do not consistently practice hitting. (Simple fact.)

    B) The more time between at bats, the more a hitter struggles. (The Book.)

    C) The more times a player faces a certain pitcher, the greater the advantage for the hitter — both in a game and in a career. (The Book Blog.)

All three of these elements suggest pitchers should hit, let’s say, about .145/.180/.190, or -10 wRC+ (that is, 110% worse than league average). Micah Owings — a pitcher — has, through 219 PA, hit .283/.310/.502 with 9 home runs and 14 doubles, a 104 wRC+.

Micah Owings is a good hitter. Possibly a great hitter. The Nationals have a bunch of those. But surely someone else out there could use a bench bat — or a starting outfielder — with the ability to pitch a 111 ERA- every now and then.
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2013 Positional Power Rankings: Designated Hitter

Note: Due to an unfortunate data error, the numbers in this story did not include park factors upon publication. We have updated the data to include the park factors, and the data you see below is now correct. We apologize for the mistake.

For an explanation of this series, please read the introductory post. The data is a hybrid projection of the ZIPS and Steamer systems with playing time determined through depth charts created by our team of authors. The rankings are based on aggregate projected WAR for each team at a given position.

Update: Boy! What a difference park factors make! In the original iteration of this article — the one where we thought the park factors were park factoring, but they weren’t — the distribution of DH talent appeared skewed left. Now, not only have the teams shifted closer together, but teams from hitter-friendly parks — such as the Yankees and White Sox — have slunk to the rear while those in pitcher havens — the Mariners and Rays — have edged to more prominent slots.

Because I attempted to weave together these rankings into a grander sort of narrative, much of my original text requires revision. I am happy to report, however, the majority of my in-post complaining about the rankings became validated by the fixed park factors. However, in lieu of covering this article with strike-throughs, I am going to just update the test (as minimally as possible) to reflect the updated rankings.

Originalish post: These rankings are fun. They do not affect the results on the field or the players ranked in them or the GMs glowering over the players. But we are inexorably drawn to these sorts of rankings. With egos invested into our teams, rankings give us pre-season bragging rights or grinding axes.

In all this fun, however, it is important to remember the function of our list. As we are wont to do at FanGraphs, we have attempted to make our lists in the most clinical, mathematical and unbiased ways as possible. Whereas many MLB power rankings are based on gut judgements or broad, basic analyses, we have computed a scientific power ranking system that requires human input only when it is an improvement over an algorithm.

This means, however, the space between each team is discrete. The distance between No. 1 and No. 2 is much greater than, as you will see, between No. 13 and No. 14:

DH Power Rankings

Two are clustered near the top, others are rounding errors apart, and two teams appear clustered near the bottom. But an ordinal ranking does not represent that accurately.

And even despite our best utilization of projection systems and playing time predictions, the season is unpredictable. Not just hard to predict, but unpredictable. If it weren’t, who would watch it? But as of now, as of our best playing time estimations, as of the best projection systems, this is how the DH world settles. This is how the big and sluggerish stand.

Without further ado, I present the Slow and Sluggering Show:
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Szu-Chi Chou, Taiwan’s Jose Bautista


Can you believe it!? Friday night, tonight!, the World Baseball Classic commences with an 11:30 p.m. ET game between Chinese Taipei and Australia!

For those of us who spent the snowy preceding months watching grainy online feeds of Australian and Latin American winter ball, this day — this meaningful day — is precious. But precious also describes the amount, the scarcity, of WBC enthusiasts in America. Tragic, but true: America and Canada do not share foreign fervor for the WBC.

Well, in an effort to correct that, I have offered studies of some Taiwanese sluggers, and today I will conclude that cultural and statistical foray. For the previous pieces, see:

INF Ngayaw Ake
1B/DH Yi-Chuan Lin

Today, let’s examine Taiwan’s likely starting left fielder, Szu-Chi Chou.
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WBC Tapei’s Slugging First Baseman, Yi-Chuan Lin

The World Baseball Classic nears like an orange and pink dawn, a dawn that breaks once every three years — so like an Alaskan dawn. But Americans, in general, are not setting their alarm clocks. We and our brother Canadians have not taken to the tournament with the equal fervor of many foreign baseball fans.

I suspect one reason is limited knowledge of the foreign rosters. Outside of the main North American teams — the USA, Canadian, and DR rosters — we struggle to recognize more than a handful of players.

So let’s try to wrest away some passion from these non-American, non-Canadian types and learn a bit more about the other teams! Particularly, let’s examine Taiwan’s three best sluggers. Why Taiwan? Your humble author speaks a little Mandarin. Taiwan speaks a lot of Mandarin. It’s like a match!

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