Author Archive

Thanks, And See You All Soon

Touching base to let Fangraphs readers know that this is my last piece in this space.

Just got back from recharging my batteries with my family (including Biscuit, the Wonder Dog) at Brigantine, New Jersey, just north of Atlantic City. Plenty of time for thinking, reflecting, etc., and pondering the future. For me, it has become clear that I need to turn my full focus toward getting back into baseball, with a club, where I can best use my combination of scouting and analytical experience and expertise.

That is going to take time and my much more undivided attention. It has been extremely rewarding to put my thoughts and ideas into print here at FanGraphs over the last few years, but honestly, it’s not enough baseball for me. It’s time to go back to work.

Many thanks to David Appelman for giving me the opportunity to write under the FanGraphs banner. Dave Cameron, you were the guy who encouraged me from the very beginning; deepest thanks to you, as well. Carson Cistulli has been my primary editor and contact for the past couple of years. You always had time and a witty rejoinder for me. Paul Swydan was always there to pick up the ball in a tough spot. It has been a pleasure to work alongside the entire FanGraphs staff. Wherever the road takes me, I look forward to remaining in contact with my colleagues.

Lastly, and most importantly, to the readers. Thank you, from the heart. I have connected with many of you via email to discuss my articles, to thank you for pointing out the (hopefully) rare typos that slipped through the process. We are unified by our love for this great game of ours. The game, the way it is played, the way is it covered and analyzed, continually changes. But at its core, it will always hold us close. I’ll see you all down the road, hopefully soon. Be sure to say hello.

Tony


Cabrera and Votto: Two Passing Ships?

Miguel Cabrera and Joey Votto — they’re both cinch future Hall of Famers, as close approximations as any among current major leaguers to the ideal all-around hitter. They have consistently made hard contact to all fields, hit for average and power, and not conceded many free outs to opposing pitchers. And obviously, they’ve done it without any contribution from their legs; it’s been all bat.

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The Struggles of Three Shortstops

Bogaerts isn’t taking advantage of the Monster the way he could. (Photo: Keith Allison)

Last week in this space, we took a look at some shortstops predominantly known for their gloves who’ve taken some real (and not so real) steps forward with the bat. (Zack Cozart was not included; he deserves his own article soon.) This time, let’s flip the script and assess the light offensive production of some shortstops known for their bats not all that long ago.

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That Other Truly Dominant Starting Pitcher

Health is the only real weakness in Paxton’s profile at the moment. (Photo: hj_west)

 
In this, the year during which the all-time record for homers in an MLB season will be broken, there has been no shortage of dominant starting pitcher performances. From Clayton Kershaw to Max Scherzer in the NL to Chris Sale and Corey Kluber in the AL, true greatness has been on display. In this space not too long ago, I dug a little deeper into the exploits of Dodgers lefty Alex Wood. Today, let’s do the same in the AL and give Mariner lefty James Paxton his due.

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The Rise of the Light Hitting Shortstop

The main subplots of this 2017 season have been pretty obvious; the Dodgers are unstoppable, Aaron Judge is a power-hitting monster, and Clayton Kershaw, Max Scherzer, Chris Sale and Corey Kluber are really good at what they do.

Flying a bit under the radar, however, are some shortstops previously best known for their glovework (or not known at all) who have begun to hit. Is the offensive production being generated by the likes of Elvis Andrus, Andrelton Simmons and Johan Camargo for real? Let’s use batted-ball data to answer some questions.

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The Nuts And Bolts Of BIP-Based Park Factors

Yesterday, we rolled out the latest update of my batted ball-based park factors, through the All Star break. Today, we’ll delve a bit more into some park-specific details.

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Mid-Season Park Factor Update

Exactly two months ago, I posted my first in-season BIP-based park factor update. BIP-based, you say? Basically, I’ve taken every batted ball hit in every park, applied major league average production for its exit speed/launch angle bucket, incorporated run values, and scaled the resulting projected production to an average of 100. It’s now time for midseason update #2, as of the All Star break.

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Evaluating NL Team Quality Using Batted Ball Data

Earlier this week, we used granular batted ball data to calculate true-talent team records for American League clubs as of the All Star break. Today, it’s the senior circuit’s turn in the barrel.

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Evaluating AL Team Quality Using Batted Ball Data

In recent off-seasons, I have attempted to ascertain team’s baseline true-talent levels utilizing batted ball data. This year, let’s do the same with current year data through the break. Today, let’s look at the American League.

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Jeff Samardzija’s Oddly Dominant Season

It’s been an utterly lost season for the San Francisco Giants. Sure, it’s not an even year, so finding the Giants outside of the playoff mix isn’t a total shock, but the second-worst record in baseball? Not exactly what Bay Area fans had in mind.

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Turning Up the Heat

You may have noticed, especially if you’re a Baltimore Orioles fan, that run-scoring has been trending up as the season has progressed. This isn’t new, or particularly surprising, as the coming of summer turns up the heat, enabling fly balls to carry farther.

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A Few Offbeat Player “Families”

Jose Altuve has succeeded despite a liner rate that’s due for some positive regression.
(Photo: Keith Allison)

 
The All-Star Game and its various related events are behind us, and the game has collectively taken a breath for a couple of days (except for the Cubs and White Sox, but I digress). The numbers for the first half are in the books, giving us an opportunity to reflect on what has already happened and what it might portend for the second half of the season.

In this space I will often analyze players by examining plate appearance frequency and contact quality (for hitters) and contact management (for pitchers) information for pitchers, using granular data to see how players “should be” performing to get a better handle on their true talent and performance levels. Today, let’s use some of this data in a slightly different manner, identifying players with common statistical markers that can tell us something very good or very bad about those player “families.”

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The Dodgers’ Unheralded Supporting Cast

From a team perspective, one of the big stories of the first half has been the utter dominance of the Los Angeles Dodgers. Sure, most prognosticators thought they would be good, but this good? Their sheer dominance over the last couple months has been nothing short of historic, 1939 Yankees type stuff.

The identity of their lead dogs hasn’t been all that surprising. There’s Clayton Kershaw, the best of the best among starting pitchers — once again healthy and offering elite quality and quantity of contribution. Kenley Jansen is a human zero machine out of the bullpen. Occasionally, hitters even make contact against him. Corey Seager might still be a very young man, but his excellence has come to be expected. And while the immediacy and magnitude of Cody Bellinger’s production might be a bit surprising, he was almost unanimously considered an elite prospect.

We can talk (and have talked, just last week, about Kershaw) about those guys another time. Today, let’s turn toward three supporting players who have made surprisingly large contributions to the larger team effort. Third baseman Justin Turner is one of their core guys, but did you have him down for .377/.477/.583 at the break? Utilityman Chris Taylor is the least likely of the club’s six double-digit homer producers. And it’s Alex Wood, at 10-0 and with 1.67 ERA, who’s making a strong run at the Kershaw/Max Scherzer tandem for Cy Young honors.

How real are their first-half contributions? Let’s drill down into their plate-appearance-frequency and batted-ball-quality data to get a better feel.

In the two tables below, such data is provided for all three players.

Plate Appearance Frequency Data
Name POP % FLY% LD% GB% K% BB%
C. Taylor 0.6% 28.9% 25.9% 44.6% 28.2% 11.2%
J. Turner 1.0% 41.8% 26.4% 30.8% 10.6% 11.7%
A. Wood 2.6% 18.0% 15.9% 63.5% 30.9% 7.0%

Contact Quality/Overall Performance Data
Name UNADJ C U-FLY-A U-LD-A U-GB-A ADJ C wRC+ PRJ PRD
C. Taylor 169 184-81 105-109 167-134 124 122 99
J. Turner 162 104-109 150-98 91-91 132 179 161
Name UNADJ C U-FLY-A U-LD-A U-GB-A ADJ C ERA – FIP – TRU –
A. Wood 54 41-73 54-89 91-85 73 41 48 53

The first table lists each players’ K and BB rates, as well as the breakdown of all of their BIP by category type. For this table, color-coding is used to note significant divergence from league average. Red cells indicate values that are over two full standard deviations higher than league average. Orange cells are over one STD above, yellow cells over one-half-STD above, blue cells over one-half STD below, and black cells over one STD below league average. Ran out of colors at that point. Variation of over two full STD below league average will be addressed as necessary in the text below.

The second table includes each player’s Unadjusted Contact Score. This represents, on a scale where 100 equals league average, the actual production level recorded/allowed by each player on balls in play. Basically, it’s their actual performance with the Ks and BBs removed. Their Unadjusted and Adjusted Contact Scores for each BIP category are then listed. Adjusted Contact Score represents the production level that each player “should have” recorded/allowed if every batted ball resulted in league-average production for its exit-speed/launch-angle “bucket.”

Finally, overall Adjusted Contact Score, and for hitters, actual wRC+ and Projected Production, and for pitchers, actual ERA-, FIP-, and “tru” ERA- are listed. Projected Production and “Tru” ERA add back the Ks and BBs to the Adjusted Contact Score data to give a better measure of each player’s true performance level.

Neither Chris Taylor nor Justin Turner was expected to become an offensive force at the major-league level. Each year, I compile my own list of minor-league position-player rankings, based on production and age relative to league and level. It basically serves as a follow list, a starting point from which traditional scouting takes place to tweak the order. Taylor qualified for this list four times, finishing progressively lower each season (Nos. 59, 71, 245, and 307 from 2013 to -16). Turner qualified twice, at No. 212 in 2007 and No. 253 in 2010. I was with the Mariners when we selected Taylor in the fifth round out of Virginia. We thought he was a big leaguer, for sure, but a big bat? Not quite.

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Starting-Pitcher Championship-Belt Showdown

The overriding theme of the 2017 season to date has been a wave of homers, many of them hit into the stratosphere courtesy of the sport’s new wave of sluggers, like Cody Bellinger, Miguel Sano, and, of course, Aaron Judge. Somewhat under the radar, the game’s three best starting pitchers, Clayton Kershaw, Chris Sale, Max Scherzer and are doing what they always do — namely, dominate.

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Fireworks All Summer Long

For many people, a good fireworks show is a welcome part of their extended 4th of July weekend. I mean, who doesn’t like one, except for some really good dogs out there? That said, if you attended a fireworks show every night of the entire summer, it’d probably get old pretty quick, right? Right.

Well, what I’d like to do here is consider a different sort of fireworks — one more relevant to our national pastime — and the possibility of them wearing out their welcome.

For the sake of the analogy, home runs will take the place of fireworks. Homers are occurring more than ever and, I submit, it’s going to get old pretty soon. Oh, we’ve been down this road before, in the so-called steroid era, which peaked right around the turn of the 21st century. Homers got pretty old then, too.

Well, we’re hitting way more homers now than we were hitting then. In the year 2000, major-league hitters combined for 1.17 homers per team per game, an all-time high. Or, I should say, an all-time high until now. Now we’re rolling along at 1.26 homers for the season, shattering the previous high.

As for the implications of the home-run spike, I’ll discuss that in a moment. First, a couple key notes for context. In 2000, teams struck out an average of 6.45 times per game. That average has been on a rocket ship upward over the last decade, up to 8.24 thus far this season. As for walks, they had been trending downward for a while, from 3.42 per team per game in 2009, down to 2.88 in 2014. Well, that has turned upward in a big way, up to 3.27 thus far in 2017. What we have here is the Russell Branyan-ization of baseball: the Era of the Three True Outcomes is upon us.

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Judge vs. Bellinger: The Tale of the Tape

Aesthetically, the emergent style of play in “our game” isn’t very pleasing, I would submit. The three true outcomes have run amok; the Russell Branyan-ization of baseball is almost complete. That said, there have been some satisfying side effects of this trend, Aaron Judge and Cody Bellinger among them.

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What’s Up With Manny Machado?

In this, The Year of Higher Launch Angles and Homer and Strikeout Spikes, most of the game’s marquee offensive players have joined the party. Mike Trout was Mike Trout when healthy, Bryce Harper is back, while Cody Bellinger, Aaron Judge, Miguel Sano, and others are leading the youth brigade. In the meantime, though, has anyone seen Manny Machado?

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2017 Top NL Contact Survivors

Hitters are generating thunderous contact at a record clip, with pitchers in both leagues under siege. Last week, we examined the ERA-qualifying AL starting pitchers who have been the best at limiting damage, looking at their underlying batted-ball allowed data to see whether their performances are real. Today, we avert our gaze toward qualifying NL starting pitchers.

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2017 Top AL Contact Survivors

Last week, we took a look at the hitters who have been the most productive on balls in play in both leagues, and peeled back a layer or two of batted-ball data to see how much of it was real. This week and next, we’re going to do the same with pitchers. Today, the AL.

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2017 Top NL Contact Performers

Earlier this week, we took a look at the AL hitters producing the most on balls put in play. Today, it’s the NL hitters’ turn. Bear in mind that this top-10 list is based on games played through Saturday, explaining the absence of the greatest hitter of all time, Scooter Gennett. (In all seriousness, nice job, Scoots.)

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