Author Archive

Aaron Judge Would Win a Literal Heart & Hustle Award

Every year since 2005, the Major League Baseball Players Alumni Association (MLBPAA) has selected one player for what’s known as the Heart & Hustle Award. The distinction is intended to honor “an active player who demonstrates a passion for the game of baseball and best embodies the values, spirit and traditions of the game.” The idea is to recognize traits such as “determination” and “desire” and other qualities one appreciates in ballplayers but abhors in friends.

These considerations are, of course, typically absent from the pages of FanGraphs dot com. That’s the case for a number of reasons, but mostly because — as critics of the site have long suspected — our mothers never loved us. Indeed, certain employees of FanGraphs never even had mothers, but instead emerged fully formed from an algorithm devised by Billy Beane and Bill James when they co-wrote Moneyball. The author of this post can admit to shrinking merely at the thought of human touch.

No, it is typically the province of FanGraphs not to celebrate baseball’s humanity but to snuff it out wherever it emerges, like a game of compassion whack-a-mole. If a certain corner of the media landscape is to be believed, we have conducted our work with great success. Baseball, in the opinion of some, has been rendered an almost entirely joyless husk of its former self.

But the job isn’t yet complete. Some people appear still to be deriving pleasure from the game. And so, in this publication’s great tradition of joylessness, I present the current document — one in which I endeavor to answer a question that nobody has asked. That question, specifically? Something along these lines: “What if, instead of honoring the most passionate of ballplayers, the Heart & Hustle Award were presented based on the literal size of one’s heart and also a very obscure, technical definition of hustle?”

Let us go then, you and I… to a tedious summary of the author’s process for answering that question.

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FanGraphs Audio: Dan Szymborski Analyzes All the Postseason

Episode 839
Dan Szymborski is the progenitor of the ZiPS projection system and a senior writer for FanGraphs dot com. He’s also the guest on this edition of the program, during which he examines which managers have produced the best performances of the postseason. Also: Szymborski’s argument for playing Matt Kemp at shortstop. And: a status update on the forthcoming projections for 2019.

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 49 min play time.)

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2018 Fringe Five: Summary and Results and Discussion

Introduction
The Fringe Five is a weekly regular-season exercise (introduced a half-decade ago) conducted by the author with a view to identifying and monitoring the most notable of those rookie-eligible minor leaguers omitted from the preseason prospect lists produced by Baseball Prospectus, MLB.com, John Sickels, and (most importantly!) FanGraphs’ Eric Longenhagen and Kiley McDaniel* — and all their attendant midseason lists, as well. Nearly every week during the minor-league season — except for those during which the vagaries of life have interfered — the author has submitted the names of five “compelling” minor leaguers, each name attended by a brief summary of that prospect’s most relevant credentials.

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

Generally speaking, the word compelling has been used to designate those prospects who possessed some combination of the following:

  1. Promising offensive indicators; and
  2. The ability to play on the more challenging end of the defensive spectrum; and
  3. Youth relative to minor-league level; and
  4. A curious biographical or statistical profile.

With the minor-league regular season having been complete now for over a month, the author has finally escorted his carcass to the keyboard with a view towards presenting this document, a summary and discussion of the Fringe Five for 2018.

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FanGraphs Audio: Craig Edwards Live on Tape in Wisconsin

Episode 838
Craig Edwards traveled to Milwaukee for Games One and Two of the NLDS between the Brewers and Rockies. In this edition of the program, he discusses what he saw there. Also: what criteria must a club meet to become a dynasty? And: if teams added no players this offseason, which club would be best in 2019?

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 40 min play time.)

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Division Series Live Chat – 10/5/18

1:59
Jay Jaffe: Hello folks, and welcome to a day of baseball madness, with four Division Series games piled high starting with the Indians and Astros at 2 PM. I’m the starter today, not the opener. Hopefully I’ll be able to give you several good innings of delightful commentary.

1:59
Klubot: How much of a factor do you think Kluber’s hard hit % will be today? His rate this year is his career high

2:01
Jay Jaffe: I’m less worried about Kluber’s hard hit rate and more worried by the fact that his 7.7% drop in K rate was the majors’ largest for anybody with 150 innings last year and this one. Number two on that list? Kershaw, with a drop of 5.9%. https://www.fangraphs.com/leaders/season-stat-grid?position=P&seasonSt…. Both are still excellent pitchers, and perhaps the hard-hit rate for Kluber is  as indicative of a decline as the K rate is, but the rest of his numers say he’s still a vary valuable pitcher.

2:02
TJF1777: Have the Yankees ever played the Red Sox in the playoffs? Didn’t see any articles on it this week

2:02
Jay Jaffe: I can’t tell if you have the sarcasm font on or not, but to answer you in earnest: three times, all in the ALCS: 1999, 2003 and 2004.

2:02
BK: I’m just a sad Braves’ fan looking to watch some more baseball and wallow in my sorrows

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AL Wild Card Live Chat

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Mookie Betts Is the WAR Champion of 2018

Before examining Mookie Betts and Mookie Betts’ excellent 2018 season in earnest, allow me first to address some claims I have no intention of making in what follows. I will not, for example, state definitively that Mookie Betts is the most talented player in the majors. I will not suggest that Betts ought obviously to be the MVP of the American League. I will not argue that Wins Above Replacement is an infallible measure of player value. I will also not contend that FanGraphs’ version of WAR is necessarily superior to others that exist.

What I will say is that WAR is a metric designed to account for the ways in which a player contributes on the field and to translate those various contributions into wins. While the methodology employed by FanGraphs differs slightly from the one used by Baseball-Reference, for instance, both are constructed with the same end in mind — namely, to estimate the value of a ballplayer relative to freely available talent. Each represents an attempt to answer a good question in a responsible way.

According to the version of WAR presented at this site, Betts was the major leagues’ most valuable player this year. By FanGraphs’ calculations, he was worth just over 10 wins relative to a replacement player. As Craig Edwards recently noted, that 10-win threshold is pretty significant: the “worst” player to reach it since the beginning of last century is Norm Cash. Cash, according to Jay Jaffe’s JAWS metric, was more or less his era’s Mark Teixeira. Whatever one’s opinion of Mark Teixeira, it’s encouraging if he represents the floor for a player’s career projection. It’s difficult to record a 10-win season by accident. Mookie Betts is very good.

What follows is an account of how Betts produced those 10 wins — an anatomy, as it were, of a historically great season. By examining the constituent elements of WAR — and Betts’ performance in each category — it’s possible perhaps to arrive at a better sense of what is required for a player to distinguish himself amongst his peers. It might also possibly allows us to better appreciate what a special talent Betts has become.

Batting Runs: +62.2
The batting element of WAR is calculated, more or less, by translating all the hitterly events (walk, single, double, etc.) into runs. By this measure, Betts ranked second among all major leaguers behind Mike Trout — and finished just ahead of teammate J.D. Martinez.

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NL Wild Card Live Chat

7:49
Carson Cistulli: Hello. The chat will begin in earnest momentarily. Dan Szymborski will be here. Maybe Craig Edwards. Possibly other writers. Also possibly not them.

7:49
Carson Cistulli: In the meantime, please consider responding to a poll.

7:50
Carson Cistulli:

Are you “stoked” about tonight’s Wild Card Game?

Yes, obviously. (34.7% | 59 votes)
 
No, I am dead inside. (11.7% | 20 votes)
 
I’m dead inside, but I’m still stoked. (53.5% | 91 votes)
 

Total Votes: 170
7:57
Ozzie Ozzie Albies Free: What are the drinking game rules for today?

7:58
Carson Cistulli: Drink anytime you want but also employ reason while doing so.

7:58
bosoxforlife: Couldn’t care less who wins but can’t wait for the game to start.

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Max Muncy Did Something He Had Never Did Before

Max Muncy hit a lot of home runs this year. Including his opposite-field effort on Monday against Colorado, he hit 35 of them overall. Not only will that total rank him 14th forever among major leaguers from the 2018 campaign, it will also represent the greatest improvement for a batter between last season and this one. This year, Muncy hit 35 home runs. Last year, he hit zero of them. Arithmetic suggests that he produced a net total of +35 by this very specific measure. A perusal of the leaderboards reveals that no batter rivals him in this regard. Among the many ways in which Muncy’s 2018 season was exceptional, that’s one of them.

The purpose of this post, however, is not to catalog all the unlikely exploits of Muncy’s 2018 campaign, but rather to examine one specific way in which Muncy’s home run on Monday was different than all the others he’s ever hit. To understand the significance of that homer, though, it’s necessary first to contemplate another, different homer.

That’s footage of Muncy, tying the score against the Mariners’ Edwin Diaz in the ninth inning of an August 18th game this season. Edwin Diaz was one of the best relievers in baseball this year. Part of what makes Diaz so effective is his arm speed. Diaz threw this fastball to Muncy at 98 mph, as the hastily edited screencap below indicates.

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Game 163s Live Chat Jubilee Event

12:49
Craig Edwards: Hello everyone. Chat/Live Blog to begin shortly. Feel free to load up the queue.

12:50
Craig Edwards:

Who are you rooting for in the early game?

Brewers (75.6% | 267 votes)
 
Cubs (24.3% | 86 votes)
 

Total Votes: 353
12:55
Craig Edwards: Just so everyone is aware, the game is on ESPN, so plan accordingly.

12:58
Dave: Odds we see Josh Hader if the Brewers are down 3+?

12:58
Craig Edwards: 10%? If the team is down three, you are probably going to want multiple innings from him tomorrow, which would preclude an appearance today.

1:00
5 Run Homer: I’d just like to say that MLB is very rude for scheduling these games while I have assignments to do and classes to attend. Why can’t they cater to my specific needs?

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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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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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A Collegiate Summer Team Outdrew Most of the Minors

If 2001 romantic comedy Summer Catch provided any kind of service to humanity, it was to alert aspiring young ballplayers to the complicated but ultimately beneficial influence of Jessica Biel’s intoxicating charm on one’s talents. Many of our greatest minds have contemplated whether Freddie Prinze Jr.’s character Ryan Dunne would have, left to his own devices, received a contract offer from Phillies scout Hugh Alexander. It’s impossible to know, of course. Yet one suspects that the presence of Biel’s Tenley Parrish in Dunne’s life — whatever challenges it posed along the way — ultimately rendered him not only a better ballplayer but a better man.

Beyond this philosophical grist, Summer Catch offered another sort of gift to the public — specifically, by introducing a new demographic to the existence of the Cape Cod League. The country’s premier collegiate wood-bat summer circuit, the Cape League is one of those rare entities whose virtues are actually difficult for the soft-focus lens of a Hollywood film to embellish. The games feature some of the top amateur talent in the country, are played in a network of small parks along the New England coastline, and cost absolutely nothing to attend. It is, in some ways, the ideal way to experience the game.

And while the Cape’s version is, by a number of measures, the best of these wood-bat summer leagues, it certainly isn’t the only one. A map of collegiate summer teams compiled by Jeff Sackmann earlier this decade reveals their ubiquity:

Most of these teams follow a model similar to the one employed by the clubs on the Cape, offering families an opportunity to watch a fairly high level of baseball for something close to free. They draw 1,000 or 2,000 fans per game — in many cases, fewer than that — and are relatively modest in terms of presentation and ballpark experience.

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FanGraphs Audio: Meg Rowley Likes This Baseball

Episode 835
Meg Rowley, managing editor of The Hardball Times, approves of National League postseason race and uses this edition of FanGraphs Audio to explain why. Also discussed: how the Rockies are like a careless dad with a nut allergy and the dark side of position players pitching.

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 3 min play time.)

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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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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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FanGraphs Audio: Nate Freiman, FanGraphs Resident for August

Episode 833
Nate Freiman was a professional ballplayer for nine seasons, during two of which he served as first baseman for the Oakland Athletics of Major League Baseball. He served, more recently, as FanGraphs’ resident for the month of August. He is, not coincidentally, the guest on this edition of the program.

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 45 min play time.)

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Who Would Be the Home-Run Leader in Space?

A writer — even a below-average baseball writer — needn’t worry much about finding a pretense upon which to invoke space. To the extent that night exists, the prospect of that distant, empty hellscape is, basically by definition, never far from one’s experience of the world. Space, as a notion, is inescapable.

During one recent night, I stumbled upon a dumb thought regarding that inescapable notion. Or, to put it more accurately, what I stumbled upon was less a thought and more a fleeting vision — a vision, specifically, of a baseball game being played in space.

There are obviously a lot of logistical concerns that attend such a vision. How are the players able to breathe? By what means do they move from base to base? Who washes the uniforms? Blessed with little in the way of intellectual curiosity and even less in the way of intellectual aptitude, I was fortunately untroubled by most such questions, allowing them to drift away unanswered. For the most part, I survived this reverie without having endured improvement of any kind.

One concern did emerge, however, that I was ultimately unable to escape. As to why it stayed with me, I’m unable to say, although I suspect it’s because, as one of this site’s editors, I’m compelled to work frequently with the sort of tools that might help one to answer it. What I wanted to know, specifically, was this: who, among baseball’s current hitters, would be the home-run leader in space?

Already you might see what’s at work here — namely, that physical strength isn’t of much use in space. Assuming a park environment with zero gravity — and that’s the assumption I’ve made for the sake of answering this question — the need for a batter to hit the ball with any great force disappears. Exit velocity is what allows earthbound hitters to briefly counteract the influence of gravity. In the starry abyss, however, there’s no need to counteract anything. A batted ball in motion will stay in motion — theoretically, to the end of the universe. Any exit velocity above zero is sufficient.

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Sean Doolittle Has Issued a Challenge

A brief examination of basically any human encounter ever reveals that people frequently do not agree with each other. This one human over here has an opinion; this other one, meanwhile, has a different opinion. It would be fine, perhaps, if those individuals never interacted, but that is also part of being human: there’s a lot of interaction. At stores, for example. Or on streets. And the one human says to the other, “Hey, your opinion is different than mine!” And the second one says to the first, “I am mad about that!”

Sometimes the interaction in question occurs at home plate during baseball’s postseason and Sam Dyson, for reasons known primarily to Sam Dyson, has decided that the proper course of action for someone like him is just to slap Troy Tulowitzki directly on the buttocks. Tulowitzki, whom one will identify immediately as a different person than Sam Dyson, regards this as not the proper course of action and proceeds to lodge some complaints verbally. Other humans get involved and all manner of other complaints are lodged, some verbally and some even physically. Complaints abound, is what one finds. Then everyone retreats back to their respective holes in the ground (known, in the sport of baseball, as a “dugout”) and awaits the next event worthy of their indignation.

One small thing over which humans frequently disagree is how much joy is acceptable to display publicly. One camp, whom we might characterize broadly as The Sons and Daughters of John Calvin, believe the amount is very close to zero. Another camp, whom we might call Basically Everyone Else, contends that — so long as no one is getting hurt — it’s probably okay to just do whatever.

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The Fringe Five: Baseball’s Most Compelling Fringe Prospects

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

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

Central to the exercise, of course, is a definition of the word fringe, a term which possesses different connotations for different sorts of readers. For the purposes of the column this year, a fringe prospect (and therefore one eligible for inclusion among the Five) is any rookie-eligible player at High-A or above who (a) was omitted from the preseason prospect lists produced by Baseball Prospectus, MLB.com, John Sickels, and (most importantly) FanGraphs’ Eric Longenhagen and Kiley McDaniel* and also who (b) is currently absent from a major-league roster. Players appearing within Longenhagen and McDaniel’s most recent update — and the updates published by Jeffrey Paternostro of Baseball Prospectus and John Sickels at Minor League Ball — have also been excluded from consideration.

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

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

*****

Nicky Lopez, SS, Kansas City (Profile)
Because of his modest power, Lopez hasn’t produced many stretches this year that command attention. Between the most recent edition of the Five and the end of the season, for example, the Royals shortstop recorded a .095 isolated-power mark and 101 wRC+ in 48 plate appearances. That resembles, more or less, his line over 256 plate appearances at Triple-A, as well.

While other players with similarly unassuming minor-league track records (Mookie Betts, Jose Ramirez) have developed power as a major leaguers, one can’t depend on such a transformation. In the case of Lopez, however, that’s of little concern: even in his present incarnation, he’s likely to be an asset at the next level.

Consider, by way of example, Lopez’s work this season compared to an infielder who’s put together a strong major-league career without a real power breakout:

Joe Panik vs. Nicky Lopez at Triple-A
Name Season Age PA BB% K% ISO
Joe Panik 2014 23 326 8.3% 10.1% .126
Nicky Lopez 2018 23 256 10.5% 11.3% .139

As a 23-year-old in the Pacific Coast League, Joe Panik produced an average-or-better walk rate, decidedly better-than-average strikeout rate, and slightly below-average power mark. As a 23-year-old in the PCL, Nicky Lopez has done basically the same thing. Panik has averaged 2.5 WAR per 600 plate appearances in the majors while playing second base exclusively. Reasons suggests that Lopez, who’s made starts both at shortstop and second this season, ought to match — if not surpass — Panik’s defensive contributions, thus putting even less pressure on the bat.

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