Author Archive

The Redisappearance of Matt Kemp

Matt Kemp is in a funk. I’m not talking about the kind of funk endorsed by Sly Stone or Parliament. Kemp’s funk is more like the time a friend of mine left a chicken salad sandwich in my car over a hot weekend and it fermented into a noxious cloud of nauseating death-barfiness. Or funk metal.

I’m nearly certain the Dodgers didn’t originally expect to ever have Kemp on the roster in 2018. LA acquired him from Atlanta in exchange for Charlie Culberson, Adrian Gonzalez, Scott Kazmir, Brandon McCarthy, and cash — and if the the deal were to have occurred in 2012, with those names, it would have been a blockbuster. In the winter of 2017, however, Kemp wasn’t so much a player as a tax loophole, the maguffin in a trade that was primarily about teams aligning their year-to-year payrolls in such a way as to avoid luxury tax.

But a funny thing happened on the way to the luxury tax: Kemp became interesting. For once, one of those articles about a player looking amazing in spring training actually bore real fruit. Kemp showed up to spring training in excellent shape, having lost a non-trivial 40 pounds and gained a renewed interest in playing defense.

The homecoming to Los Angeles, after a lot of hurt feelings years ago, turned out to be a positive one. When Kemp slugged .561 in spring training while also exhibiting improved defense and a real effort to be a mentor to the younger players, he gave the Dodgers enough justification to keep him on the team as a role player.

Los Angeles struggled early. Kemp, however, did not. With one of the club’s top batting marks and the promise of better defense — or at least decidedly less-atrocious defense — fulfilled, Kemp received more at-bats. Unlike in previous seasons with Atlanta and San Diego, Kemp’s playing time in this case was earned on the merits of his play and not his reputation or salary. He started in the All-Star Game.

Since the All-Star Game, though, things have not gone well for Kemp. Standing at .310/.352/.522 when baseball took its midsummer respite, Kemp’s OPS has bled about 100 points in just a month, and he’s stalled at 1.1 WAR for the 2018 season. Neither ZiPS or Steamer are optimistic about a turnaround, projecting him to finish at 1.3 and 1.2 WAR, respetively, the primary difference between the two being playing time.

Before Wednesday’s 2-for-4 performance, Kemp last had a multi-hit game on July 23rd and now has hits in four of his last 19 games. Overall, he’s 5-for-58 from that date with only a lone double. The result? A .086/.191/.103 line.

So, what happened to Kemp’s 2018?

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Handicapping the Awards: Rookie of the Year

Projecting the Rookie of the Year award is simultaneously easier and more difficult than the Cy Young. It’s easier in the sense that there are fewer rookies than non-rookies and that, in most seasons, there’s a definite top tier of candidates that crowds out the rest of the pack.

What makes it a bit trickier is that the standards for rookies are applied a bit more haphazardly by writers. Because rookie ballots feature only three players — as opposed to five for the Cy Young and 10 for MVP — we see fewer players actually included in the final voting. Ideally, you’d like to bring in all the voters, crack open their skulls, and somehow read their brains to see how everyone would rank at least the top 10 rookies. My lawyers, however, inform me that this is extremely illegal and also totally gross.

In the end, I’m less confident about the Rookie of the Year model than the MVP or Cy Young versions. While, historically, ZiPS identifies about seven of the top 10 MVP and Cy Young vote-getters, the model only gets three of the top five rookies. Hopefully, as the electorate becomes more and more analytically inclined, I’ll be able to improve the model.

ZiPS 2018 AL Rookie of the Year Projections
Rank Player Percentage
1 Shohei Ohtani 63.1%
2 Gleyber Torres 15.6%
3 Shane Bieber 7.4%
4 Miguel Andujar 7.1%
5 Lou Trivino 3.4%
6 Joey Wendle 1.7%
7 Daniel Palka 0.7%
8 Ryan Yarbrough 0.4%
9 Ronald Guzman 0.3%
10 Hector Velazquez 0.3%
NA Field 0.1%

The greatest challenge of projecting the AL race is figuring out what to do with Shohei Ohtani. There’s no guidance available on how two-way players ought to be treated, so there’s a lot more guesswork than usual. Comparing apples to oranges is tricky enough — although rendered less tricky by the fact that they’re frequently right next to each other at the grocery store — but how do you treat something that is an apple and an orange at the same time? Applange and orpple both sound terrible.

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Dan Szymborski FanGraphs Chat – 8/13/18

2:40
Dan Szymborski: I think this is a chat!

2:41
CamdenWarehouse: no poops today?

2:41
Dan Szymborski: Carson set this one and doesn’t set up the poop and peanuts. I have a competing 2:45 one, we’ll see what happens at 2:45!

2:41
Matt: I think this is a late chat*

2:41
Dbo: You this is a chat, what if its just a bunch of robots trying to prove they aren’t robots

2:42
Dan Szymborski: EAT TURING, SCUM!

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Handicapping the Award Races: Cy Young

Having finished among the top five in voting every year since 2013, Chris Sale is this season’s favorite .
(Photo: Keith Allison)

Last week, I ran down the latest ZiPS projections for the MVP awards. The Cy Young tends to be a bit simpler to project than the MVP, for a number of reasons: there are no positional differences for which to adjust (outside of starter vs. reliever), no consideration of defense, fewer candidates (because hitters aren’t eligible for the award, where pitchers can win the MVP), and finally, fewer pitching stats from which to measure performance. One historical note of interest is that, while team quality plays a factor, it appears to be a less predictive factor than it is for MVP, also serving to make things a bit less difficult.

Before I begin, one clarification from the MVP post: the award percentages that appear here aren’t based on each player’s mean final projections, but from the whole array of possibilities, 1st to 99th percentile, for each player. So, for example, Giancarlo Stanton’s projected award chance of 2.8% isn’t predicated on him winning the award based on his predicted final line, but from the better scenarios in which he exceeded that current projected final line.

ZiPS 2018 AL Cy Young Projections, 8/13/18
Rank Player Win %
1 Chris Sale 29.9%
2 Trevor Bauer 26.0%
3 Luis Severino 11.5%
4 Corey Kluber 10.1%
5 Justin Verlander 8.5%
6 Gerrit Cole 5.6%
7 Carlos Carrasco 1.5%
8 Charlie Morton 1.3%
9 James Paxton 1.0%
10 Edwin Diaz 0.9%
NA The Field 3.8%

There’s a popular perception that Chris Sale wears out down the stretch. The perception is supported by his career splits: Sale has a career ERA below three for each of the first four months of the season with a 3.22 ERA for August and a 3.78 ERA in September. This data isn’t quite as robust as some suggest, but assuming for the sake of argument that it reflects something real, it’s also worth nothing that Sale’s been used more carefully than in past seasons. At this point in 2017, Sale had thrown at least 110 pitches in 16 starts after having crossed that threshold 10 times in both of the previous two seasons. This year, he’s at only four. The FanGraphs Depth Charts have Sale finishing at just 187 innings for the season, his lowest figure since 2014. ZiPS projects Sale to finish the year with the most strikeouts and best ERA in the AL while also tying for the highest WAR mark. The combination of his own performance plus the strength of the Red Sox make him a strong bet to go over the top.

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Handicapping the Award Races: MVP

Once baseball’s non-waiver trade deadline passes, you start to see the conversations shift from fantasy to terra firma. Almost all the big-name players who are likely to make Chicxulub-sized impacts on team rosters have already been traded. The focus shifts squarely back to the pennant races, and with them, talk of individual player awards.

It will come as no surprise to most readers that I love working on predictive models. It’s not just about trying to predict the future — though that is inevitably a large part of it — it’s also about dissecting things to see how they work. Awards are something I’ve always found fascinating because they not only deal with truths in baseball but also with the psychology and mindset of the people covering the sport. We talk a lot about baseball writers believing more in stats like OBP and SLG, and eventually WAR, but the proof in the pudding is in the eating. If advanced stats don’t budge how writers are judging the best players in the league, are they truly accepted?

We’ll start this trio of pieces with the current MVP races. I’ve spent a lot of time over the past decade modeling MVP votes, and the truth is that things have, in fact, shifted considerably. Slugging percentage and wins above replacement do have more predictive value than they did in the past, as does on-base percentage (albeit to a lesser extent). The defensive players who get a larger share of the vote than one expects tend to be players who do well in the sabermetric defensive measures. Team quality and the Triple Crown stats still play the largest role, however, and even though the MVP award doesn’t specify hitters over pitchers, pitchers still make far less of a dent than one would expect from their impact.

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It’s a Special Year for the Mendoza Line

Language is rich with words and terms that recognize the contributions of historical figures. This can be a good thing, but also a bad one, depending on what’s being commemorated. You’d rather go down in history as the namesake of a popular sweater (like James Brudenell, 7th Earl of Cardigan) or a certain type of legal protection (Ernesto Miranda) than for those traits by which Nicholas Chauvin or Ned Ludd are best remembered. In baseball, former utility infielder Mario Mendoza belongs to the latter category. Thanks to some creative but cruel teammates on the 1979 Mariners, Mendoza’s name has become synonymous with hitting futility. To fall below the Mendoza Line is to record a batting average below .200.

For a hitter both to qualify and to finish below the Mendoza Line actually represents a notable feat of ineptitude. One must not only fight the influence of the Regression Gods attempting to pull the hitter into the respectable company of the .200s, but also to play sufficiently well otherwise not to lose his job. It’s something Mario Mendoza himself never actually even achieved, coming closest in the black-magical 1979 season, but falling short due to manager Darrell Johnson’s mercy: Mendoza was frequently pinch-hit for in his third time up, was pinch-hit-for five times in his second plate appearance, and lost significant playing time to Larry Milbourne late in the season.

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José Ramírez Is About to Crush History

Through Monday morning, José Ramírez has nearly accomplished something very unusual, which to-date has only been done once in baseball history. With just 0.1 WAR in separation, or roughly one run, Ramírez has almost caught Mike Trout. While one might ideally like Derek Fisher – or at least someone named Fry, Cook, or Giantbearpaw – to best a Trout, it’s Ramírez, the still-young Cleveland third baseman, overshadowed as a prospect by Francisco Lindor, who is leading the charge.

Trout, of course, hasn’t just been squeaking out WAR leads, as the average result during his five full, healthy seasons has been a 1.1 WAR lead over the second-place position player, terrorizing the error bars as thoroughly as major-league pitching. Only Bryce Harper has matched Trout so far, a player linked with the Angels center fielder while a prospect but one who has generally fallen short.

Even in Trout’s injury-trimmed 2017, during which he only played 114 games, he still finished fourth among hitters with a 6.9 WAR. That was good enough to be the fifth-best season for a player who appeared in fewer than 120 games since 1901, behind George Brett, Joe DiMaggio, Ted Williams, and Mike Schmidt, all players you may have heard of.

Ramírez didn’t explode onto the baseball scene as Trout did; in fact, he has been a bit of a surprise. The ZiPS projection season liked him as a prospect, but it didn’t fall CPU-over-RAM in love with him, seeing him more as a cordial fan. Trout is still the favorite, but ZiPS gives him a 35% chance of being surpassed by Ramírez in the year-end WAR count, something that’s awfully hard to do.

After his 2013 stint in Double-A, Ramírez got his first official ZiPS projection for the 2014 season. The computer pegged him at .267/.308/.346 at second base, good for 1.5 WAR in 116 games. While a league-average projection for a 21-year-old is impressive, I can’t make any claim to ZiPS predicting players achieving superstar status.

ZiPS Rest-of-Career Projections, pre-2014
Rank Player Rest-of-Career WAR
71 Billy Hamilton 23.7
72 Jonathan Lucroy 23.7
73 Jacoby Ellsbury 23.5
74 Anthony Rendon 23.3
75 Max Stassi 23.0
76 José Ramírez 22.9
77 Wilmer Flores 22.7
78 Wil Myers 22.4
79 Rougned Odor 22.2
80 Ian Desmond 22.2
81 Matt Carpenter 21.9

In 2015, Ramírez’s projection was similar at .263/.304/.360, good for a 90 OPS+ and 2.2 WAR over 138 projected games. This was largely thanks to a .302/.360/.441 Triple-A season in 2014 followed by a .262/.300/.346 line in his first real stint with the Indians. That was enough to get him almost into the top 20 in ZiPS (he would’ve been a top-five prospect in my 2015 list if he hadn’t already lost his Rookie of the Year qualifications).

ZiPS Rest-of-Career Projections, pre-2015
Rank Player WAR
17 Jason Heyward 37.1
18 Anthony Rizzo 36.8
19 Addison Russell 36.6
20 Gregory Polanco 36.3
21 J.P. Crawford 35.7
22 José Ramírez 34.9
23 Joey Gallo 34.5
24 Dilson Herrera 33.8
25 Byron Buxton 33.7
26 Xander Bogaerts 33.5
27 Salvador Perez 33.4

In 2015, Ramírez began the season as the starting shortstop for Cleveland, and while I don’t have any inside knowledge of Cleveland’s reasoning, I would imagine they wanted to see what they had in Ramírez at short before Lindor hit the majors and cleared out the rest of the suitors, as Odysseus did in legend upon his return to Ithaca.

And what he showed wasn’t that much, at least initially. His defense wasn’t great, at -6 in UZR and -2 in DRS over fewer than 400 innings in 2015. When demoted in June, he was only hitting an Alcidian .180/.247/.240. By the time he returned to the majors in August, Ramírez had lost the shortstop job to the aforementioned Lindor for good, and hit .259/.337/.438, mostly filling in for Jason Kipnis and Giovanny Urshela, both nursing shoulder injuries.

ZiPS still believed in Ramírez going into 2016, but didn’t see quite as much upside, with his 2015 dropping him to 43rd in rest-of-career ZiPS WAR with a .262/.316/.383 line and a 1.9 WAR projection.

By now, you know how the rest of this story went. Ramírez burst into stardom in 2016, hitting .312/.363/.462, good for a 121 wRC+ and 4.8 WAR. Then he got even better in 2017. And this year, he’s ridden the saber-limousine all the way to Crazyville. As of Monday morning, Ramírez stands at .300/.409/.631 with 33 home runs, 26 stolen bases, a 175 wRC+ and 7.5 WAR, all already career highs (except for batting average) and by substantial margins. You can even make a case that he’s actually been a little unlucky, doing all of this with a .277 BABIP, down 23 points from his career average of .300. From his hit profile, ZiPS thinks Ramírez “ought to” have a .315 BABIP this year, or .302 by Andrew Perpetua’s model.

My colleague Jay Jaffe wrote about the greatest seasons by a third baseman a few months ago, so I won’t go too into detail, but I will touch on a few important points.

For position players as a group, the 10-WAR seasons in history can be distributed into a few buckets:

• Hall of Famers, plus one that ought to be on performance alone (Barry Bonds)
• Players who are not yet eligible (Alex Rodriguez, Trout)
Norm Cash
Fred Dunlap

Out of those 52 seasons, 50 were players in the first two categories, all with nearly indisputable Hall of Fame talent. Cash isn’t quite as obvious, but he’s at least a borderline category and better than quite a few other Cooperstown-immortalized sluggers. That just leaves Dunlap and his curious 1884 for the St. Louis Maroons, as he hit .412/.448/.621 as a 25-year-old and never hit .275 again. I am unable to find any accusations of performance-enhancing tincture or tonic, so I’ll assume that this was another case of 1800s-baseball-gonna-1800s-baseball, given the variability of play quality at the time.

The mean projection for Ramírez by ZIPS for the rest of the season puts him at 9.7 WAR, tantalizingly close to the 10-WAR barrier, which has been broken by exactly zero third basemen in MLB history. Only Darrell Evans, Adrian Beltre, Rodriguez, and Ron Santo made it to within a half-win of ten. What this means is that as of right now, ZiPS is projecting José Ramírez to have a 53% chance at the greatest season by a third baseman in history and a 20% chance of being the first to hit ten WAR.

Ramírez’s season is not being driven by some freakishly high defensive WAR number, something you occasionally see given how volatile defensive measurements tend to be. The former shortstop’s defense only amounts to 8.7% of his total WAR, 51st among the 85 seven-WAR seasons by third basemen. A few players have seen this share go to over a third, headed by Brooks Robinson’s 1968, in which fielding makes up 58% of his WAR, (Graig Nettles and Robin Ventura both had seasons over 33%).

Naturally, all this uncontrolled awesomeness has altered Ramírez’s career-trajectory, tempora mutantur, nos et mutamur in illis and all that jazz. In this year’s FanGraphs trade value series, Kiley McDaniel ranked Ramírez as the player with the greatest trade value in baseball, up from 15th in last year’s edition.

Unsurprisingly, the occasionally anthropomorphic projection system on my desk has also adjusted its gaze. Ramírez’s 2016 campaign got him back up to 25th in future WAR and over 2000 hits for his career. His 2017 rocketed him up to 8th, third-best of players 25 or older for the 2018 season, behind only Trout and Mookie Betts (and their 2500 hits).

As you probably have guessed, 2018 shoots Ramírez even higher in the long-term projections. His top-five near-age offensive comps are all Hall of Famers or should be (Santo, Ernie Banks, Scott Rolen, Chipper Jones, and Brett). Over the next five years, ZiPS projects 32.5 WAR, more than six wins a year, and 52 total WAR remaining, third among position players only behind Trout and Lindor. He already passed the 2500 hit mark in the projections; now he’s up at 350 homers as well. And with some simple math, all of a sudden, his projected final rank among third basemen puts him in Hall of Fame territory.

Third Baseman by Career WAR
Rank Player WAR
1 Alex Rodriguez 113.5
2 Mike Schmidt 106.5
3 Eddie Mathews 96.1
4 Wade Boggs 88.3
5 Chipper Jones 84.8
6 George Brett 84.6
7 Adrian Beltre 83.7
8 Brooks Robinson 80.2
9 José Ramírez 72.6*
10 Ron Santo 70.9
* = projected

You can shift these rankings around a little depending on how you categorize players like Rodriguez and Miguel Cabrera, but there’s only limited play possible with these numbers, and however you shuffle the deck, Ramírez is one of the very few players projected to finish with a career of historical, plaqued significance. Projection systems just aren’t designed for exuberance.

José Ramírez is heading on a course that could see him end up as one of the greatest Indians players in history and one of the greatest third basemen, period. And thanks to some shrewd wheeling-and-dealing by the team’s front office to sign him to a five-year, $26 million contract after his initial breakout in 2016, he’s going to be doing it in Cleveland through the 2023 season. Ramírez is now in his third consecutive year of doing things we didn’t know were possible for him; if he manages to pull this off for a fourth, he may just break baseball.


Dan Szymborski FanGraphs Chat – 8/6/18


August Trade Targets to Fight the Post-Deadline Blues

There’s always this moment of reflective depression for me, after July’s non-waiver trade deadline passes and all the autopsies are done, when I wistfully look over the players not traded and sigh at the possibilities that never came to pass. Trades are fun after all, and let’s be honest, they’re also raw meat for loudmouth internet commentators like myself.

August isn’t a completely dead month, however, and trades can be made, especially when there’s a large contract in the mix. Woe be unto the teams that recklessly make a claim on a player with a contract they do not wish to have. And with many of the currently contending, large-payroll teams being run in a manner that demonstrates their cognizance of MLB’s soft salary cap — let’s call things what they are — there’s an opportunity to sneak smaller contracts through in addition to some of the more expensive ones for players that can help a team while not necessarily being worth their contracts.

In 2017 alone, you had Justin Verlander, Justin Upton, Yonder Alonso, Curtis Granderson, and Mike Leake, among others, all notable players that were able to be moved due at least in part to contractual reasons. It’s weird looking at it now, but Verlander completely cleared waivers and the Tigers ate some of his contract to get better prospects than they would have otherwise.

As in most years, there are a number of players who are extreme risks to claim on waivers, as their current teams likely will just say “Done. Thanks!”

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ZiPS Trade-Deadline Roundup, National League

Yesterday, we cranked the ZiPS projection system through the American League standings in the wake of the trade deadline, churning out new AL playoff odds from the gears and turbines. Now, it’s the National League’s turn — and, this year at least, the best has been saved for second. The methodology is the same as for the American League yesterday. For those who purposely ignored that piece, regarding baseball’s junior circuit as a bunch of filthy upstarts, allow me to repeat it here.

To arrive at the standings forecasts below, I first began with the updated ZiPS projections as of the morning of August 1st, which includes my spin on the new depth charts. There’s some variation from the FanGraphs Depth Charts, but they tend to be in the same neighborhood given that the disagreements between playing-time predictions typically involve mostly fringe-type players; it’s not like one of us thinks Clayton Kershaw will start for the Dodgers and the other things they’ll release him or something.

After that, I “undid” every transaction made since June 15th, both reshuffling the depth charts as if the trades never happened and removing or adding the fractional wins that players have added to their new teams since those trades. Then… ZiPS-zap-zippity-zoop… out came the new projections and a bottom line of the changes in playoff odds.

ZiPS Trade Deadline Improvements, Percentage Points
Team Playoff+
Los Angeles Dodgers 7.1%
Arizona Diamondbacks 6.6%
Philadelphia Phillies 4.5%
Atlanta Braves 3.1%
Milwaukee Brewers 1.4%
New York Mets 0.0%
Miami Marlins 0.0%
Cincinnati Reds 0.0%
San Diego Padres 0.0%
Chicago Cubs -0.1%
Pittsburgh Pirates -2.4%
San Francisco Giants -3.1%
St. Louis Cardinals -3.3%
Washington Nationals -6.3%
Colorado Rockies -7.4%

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ZiPS Trade-Deadline Roundup, American League

One of my favorite post-deadline activities to do is to force ZiPS to act a bit like a time machine. Not the cool kind that goes back in history and saves James Garfield or into the future to see the dependable hoverboards that we were supposed to get in 2015, but to give a bottom-line estimate of how, based on projections, the trade deadline mixed up those playoff races.

To do this, I first start with the updated ZiPS projections as of the morning of August 1st, which includes my spin on the new depth charts. There’s some variation from the FanGraphs Depth Charts, but they tend to be in the same neighborhood given that the disagreements between playing-time predictions typically involve mostly fringe-type players; it’s not like one of us thinks Clayton Kershaw will start for the Dodgers and the other things they’ll release him or something.

Then, I “undo” every transaction made since June 15th, both reshuffling the depth charts as if the trades never happened and removing or adding the fractional wins that players have added to their new teams since those trades. Then… ZiPS-zap-zippity-zoop… out come the new projections and a bottom line of the changes in playoff odds. Let’s start with the American League with the bottom-line playoff improvements. (We’ll get into the divisions next.)

ZiPS Trade Deadline Improvements, Playoff Percentage Points
Team Playoff+
Seattle Mariners 8.2%
Cleveland Indians 0.5%
New York Yankees 0.0%
Texas Rangers 0.0%
Kansas City Royals 0.0%
Detroit Tigers 0.0%
Chicago White Sox 0.0%
Boston Red Sox 0.0%
Baltimore Orioles 0.0%
Toronto Blue Jays 0.0%
Houston Astros -0.2%
Minnesota Twins -0.5%
Los Angeles Angels -0.7%
Tampa Bay Rays -0.8%
Oakland A’s -6.5%

The rather prosaic results here demonstrate just how relatively set the American League is in 2018. Four of the teams are nearly guaranteed playoff appearances: Boston, Cleveland, Houston, and New York. The fifth playoff spot essentially has only two real contenders in the Seattle Mariners and Oakland A’s. There are a few additional questions here, mainly whether the Yankees can catch the Red Sox or Seattle can shock Houston, but after those six teams, the odds of a seventh team becoming playoff-relevant down the stretch are very long. Sure, the Angels and Rays aren’t mathematically out of the hunt by any means — they both have something better than a Dumb and Dumber “So you’re saying there’s a chance?” probability — but even those two teams didn’t act like they believed it was anything more than pure moon shot.

ZiPS Projections, AL East, 8/1/18
Team W L GB PCT DIV% WC% PLAYOFF% PreDIV PrePlayoff
Boston Red Sox 107 55 .660 76.6% 23.4% 100.0% 77.5% 100.0%
New York Yankees 103 59 4 .636 23.4% 76.6% 100.0% 22.5% 99.9%
Tampa Bay Rays 80 82 27 .494 0.0% 0.2% 0.2% 0.0% 1.0%
Toronto Blue Jays 74 88 33 .457 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0%
Baltimore Orioles 52 110 55 .321 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0%

If you haven’t figured it out from the context, “PrePlayoff” represents the team’s playoff probability without any of the trades of the last six weeks.

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Mariners Acquire Adam Warren for Role He Deserves

As reported by the indefatigable Ken Rosenthal and Emily Waldon of The Athletic, the Seattle Mariners acquired relief pitcher Adam Warren on Monday afternoon from the New York Yankees in return for bonus slot money.

Is it possible for a bullpen to be too good? Obviously, at some level, that’s a silly question: no lead is 100% safe and, consequently, a team should never stop surveying what it has. But there’s also the question of utility. Any given club is bound to play only so many high-leverage innings. While you’d rather have a good reliever in the game than a poor one, the stuff you can get in return for that good reliever may simply be more useful to your franchise. Warren has been used mainly in low-leverage scenarios this season. Consider: of the eight Yankee pitchers primarily used in relief this season who have thrown at least 20 innings, Warren’s entered the game in the second-least crucial situations overall, ahead of only A.J. Cole, who has more swingman-type utility than Warren.

Chasen Shreve has already been traded by the Yankees for similar reasons, Zach Britton’s arrival in the Bronx only making the competition for those high-pressure situations more fierce. Tommy Kahnle is still standing by if the team loses a reliever and there’s still depth remaining, including J.P. Feyereisen, who continues to refine his control, and Raynel Espinal.

Game-Entrance Leverage Index for Yankee Relievers, 2018
Name gmLI ERA FIP
Aroldis Chapman 1.65 1.93 1.71
Chad Green 1.49 2.74 3.29
David Robertson 1.44 3.61 2.87
Dellin Betances 1.21 2.44 2.35
Jonathan Holder 0.98 2.11 2.55
Chasen Shreve 0.85 4.26 4.98
Adam Warren 0.68 2.70 3.30
A.J. Cole 0.64 0.83 2.01
Min. 20 IP.

Just to illustrate how Warren’s skill are wasted by using him in the low-leverage innings available, just compare his performances to other relievers with 20 innings pitched and a game-entrance LI with 0.1 of Warren.

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Dan Szymborski FanGraphs Chat – 7/30/18

1:59
Dan Szymborski: OK, let’s get this party started.

1:59
Dan Szymborski: Not only have I left emotes on, but I’ve put “Peanut Gallery” on.

1:59
Dan Szymborski: Which may be the biggest disaster ever, never to be repeated, but let’s try!

2:00
Dan Szymborski: Seems to work.  Trade Deadline is supposed to be a non-stop erotic cabaret, so we can take some risks.

2:00
Bret: Will the Blue Jays be able to trade Roberto Osuna? If so, how much of a discount will they need to give?

2:00
Dan Szymborski: Aroldis Chapman was traded.  I expected they don’t, though.

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Let’s Make Some Trades

Harper to the Yankees? It’s not not possible.
(Photo: Lorie Shaull)

There are only 24-ish hours remaining until baseball’s trade deadline and, truth is, I’m a bit impatient. Until free agency opens up in about a hundred days or thereabouts, this is truly our last great opportunity to let our imaginations run wild. Sure, we can conjure up some fun trades in August, but our whimsical mind-meanderings just aren’t as exciting when all of the players we trade have to go through imaginary revocable waivers.

Against my worse judgment, to which I typically cater, I endeavored to make my last-minute deadline trades to retain at least a whiff of plausibility. So, no blockbuster Mike Trout deal, no winning Noah Syndergaard in a game of canasta, and no Rockies realizing that they have significant other needs other than the bullpen.

Bryce Harper to the Yankees

Washington’s playoff hopes have sunk to the extent that, even if you’re as optimistic as the FanGraphs depth charts are and believe the Phillies and Braves are truly sub-.500 teams as presently constructed, the Nats still only are a one-in-three shot to win the division. If you’re sunnier on Philadelphia or Atlanta, those Nats probabilities lose decimal places surprisingly quickly.

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The Toronto Blue Jays Are Now Happless

A day after Boston added starting-pitch depth from the Rays in the form Nate Eovaldi, the Yankees have followed suit this afternoon with another AL East team, acquiring left-hander J.A. Happ from Toronto in exchange for infielder Brandon Drury and outfielder Billy McKinney.

While this trade doesn’t preclude the Yankees from making a splashier acquisition for a starting pitcher, it wouldn’t surprise me if Happ is the only significant addition to the New York rotation. The team’s been linked to Cole Hamels in recent weeks, but that seems a curiously unsatisfying acquisition from New York’s perspective. At this point, Hamels’ reputation is still mostly derived from what he did in Philadelphia and, after a so-so 2017, he’s been hit hard and often in 2018. It’s tempting to disregard the inflated HR/FB rate as a fluke, but his 44.9% hard-hit rate this year is the second-highest among qualifiers — this after he set a career high in 2017. Now, that’s not enough to doom a pitcher by itself — Zack Greinke and Patrick Corbin are up there too and having fine seasons — but it does lend support to the notion that his homers allowed aren’t flukes.

Getting hit hard is a risk in Yankee Stadium, and the point of these types of deadline trades isn’t to maximize upside but rather to find some certainty. No, Happ wasn’t really the sixth-best starter in his 20-4, 3.18 ERA Cy Young-contending year in 2015, but he’s also a fairly safe pitcher at this point, one who has already been playing in the AL East and experienced plenty of success. The Yankees aren’t trying to make a David Price or a Johnny Cueto trade here; rather, they’re looking for someone more dependable than Sonny Gray to slot after Luis Severino, Masahiro Tanaka, and CC Sabathia down the stretch. Fourth starters do tend to make an appearance in the playoffs and, should the Yankees reach the ALDS — which our odds says isn’t about 70% likely to occure — it’s difficult to imagine they’d be comfortable turning to Gray, who has failed to complete the fifth inning in seven of his 19 starters in 2018. And with it looking more and more likely the Yankees are the first Wild Card rather than the AL East winner, that extra Wild Card game means they’re even more likely to require the services of that fourth starter.

In the ZiPS playoff odds, the addition of Happ to the rotation boosts the team by about a win over the course the rest of the season, moving their divisional odds from 23% to 28% in the projections. ZiPS believe the Yankees are a slightly better team than the Red Sox, but the 5.5 games baked into the cake, so to speak, are telling here. This is more a depth move for the Yankees than something intended to upend any playoff scenarios.

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Let’s Sell the Orioles!

Gausman to the Pirates?
(Photo: Keith Allison)

During the All-Star break, Manny Machado was traded to the Dodgers for a solid package of prospects led by Yusniel Diaz. Last night, longtime closer Zach Britton was shipped off to the Yankees for Dillon Tate and some other interesting names. Both moves were obviously made with a view to the Orioles’ future.

Both moves were also inevitable, though — and, in a way, easy. It doesn’t take a fancypants scientist to figure out that trading terrific players who’re headed to free agency is a smart thing to do; us regular-pantsed folks can see that for ourselves. Now, though, there are harder decisions to make, other players to give away, if the Orioles are going to embrace a full rebuild. Complicating this is an organization that has shown a tendency to balk at hard decisions and put off future plans, preferring instead to tread water with the least aggressive quarter-measures available. In this case, however, action is required.

Unfortunately, we can’t just waltz into the B&O Warehouse and start trading away Orioles. Seriously, I double-checked what my credentials will permit. No, we may have to seize the team by force. Let’s presume that our dark FanGraphs forces can seize the corporate offices successfully — we do have a particular expertise involving WAR — and gain control of the franchise. It wouldn’t be the first war lost by the Angelos family, and Sheryl Ring can draft some paperwork to make this nice and legal. We have to be quick, though, before we all end up in jail. So let’s start the sale.

Kevin Gausman to the Pittsburgh Pirates

It seems a little too easy to sell Kevin Gausman to the Chicago Cubs and, really, at this point, I’m tired of Orioles pitchers going to Chicago and experiencing a renaissance. Jake Arrieta is the most noted example, but the Cubs squeezed significant value out of Jason Hammel, Pedro Strop, and even Tsuyoshi Wada. The Pirates aren’t rightly interested in rentals: they’ll require somebody who’s useful beyond the 2018 season because, even with their 11-game winning streak, they’re still more likely than not to miss the postseason.

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The Thoroughly Average Exploits of Bryce Harper

As was the case for the fans an hour north in Baltimore — where franchise cornerstone Manny Machado entered the last year of his own contract — the 2018 campaign has, for Washington supporters, loomed in the distance like a poorly understood Mayan prophecy. It was, of course, Bryce Harper’s final season before entering free agency.

Unlike the Orioles, though, the Nationals were at least likely to provide some solace by remaining the class of the NL East until Harper left to grab his $300 million contract. Unfortunately for residents of the area, that merry scenario has not unfolded as expected. While the the Braves and Phillies seemed unlikely to have completed their rebuilds by the start of the 2018 season, both teams appear to have done exactly that, leaving the Nationals in third place a week from the deadline, six games back and a game below .500.

More surprising than the accelerated schedule of Atlanta and Philadelphia is Harper’s role in the poor season. Even hitting .216, Harper has been far from worthless, recording a .365 on-base and .470 slugging percentage for a 119 wRC+. With some poor defensive numbers added in, the result is a 1.4 WAR in nearly two-thirds of a season. A league-average player is a real contributor, of course, but a league-average Bryce Harper feels a little like Beethoven composing the radio jingle for a local pizza place.

(Historical note: Beethoven’s Der glorreiche Augenblick, Op. 136 isn’t really that far off from being this, but that’s a story for another day on another site — or, more likely, just a Google search.)

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Dan Szymborski FanGraphs Chat – 7/23/18

2:07
Dan Szymborski: We have started!

2:07
Dan Szymborski: A few minutes late.  I totally space on the fact that I need to start it early to let a queue get going and I panicked.

2:08
Dan Szymborski: And I can’t figure out how to get it appear on the front page now! lol

2:08
Dan Szymborski: I got it to appear last week, so there’s something that I did last week that I didn’t do this week.

2:10
Dan Szymborski: So I’m going to be in wordpress panicking for a few minutes more.

2:11
Dan Szymborski: I assume none of you saw this on the front page somehow?

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Oakland A’s Add to the Familia

Whereas the first notable reliever acquisition of the trade deadline saw Cleveland receive, in Brad Hand and Adam Cimber, two pitchers who will remain with the club for future seasons, the Athletics this afternoon have performed a swap with a more traditional rent-a-player flavor, getting Jeurys Familia from the New York Mets in exchange for right-handed reliever Bobby Wahl, third baseman William Toffey, and an unspecified pile of international slot money, the 2018 version of a player-to-be-named-later.

There’s an argument to be made that, at this point, Familia may be slightly underrated among relievers. The extra couple of walks per nine that Familia picked up in a 2017 season mostly ruined by surgery to remove a blood clots from his shoulder have disappeared in 2018. Familia’s not relying on his hard, heavy sinker as much as he has in the past — especially against lefties — but given that the A’s have an infield whose four primary players, Matt Chapman, Marcus Semien, Matt Olson, and Jed Lowrie have all been above average by UZR (Lowrie a couple of runs in the negative in DRS), I’d be happy to see him go to that well a bit more often again. Even without relying on the sinker, Familia’s pitching as well as he was in 2016, which was enough to earn him an All-Star appearance and a rather odd MVP vote. Familia is in the top 20 of relievers in WAR and among the top 30 in FIP, so it’s a real upgrade to the A’s bullpen. Blake Treinen will remain the closer, which I believe is absolutely the right tack to take.

ZiPS Projection – Jeurys Familia
Year W L ERA G GS IP H ER HR BB SO ERA+ WAR
ROS 2018 2 1 3.00 25 0 24.0 21 8 1 10 25 137 0.7

Despite Sandy Alderson’s insistence earlier this season that the Mets have no plans to go full-scale rebuild, the team’s at least been listening to offers on pretty much the entire roster. Familia doesn’t necessarily indicate a stronger organizational willingness to go that route, of course, as he was likely to be traded anyway given his contract and the team’s position in the standings.

Bobby Wahl is an interesting flier for the Mets to take. It’s hard to characterize a 26-year-old reliever as some kind of top prospect — and I won’t — but Wahl throws in the upper 90s, has an effective slider (that really feels more like a slurve to me), and can change speeds at least tolerably well. His control’s been an issue at times, though not on the Bobby Witt scale, and one of the reasons he’s not been a bit higher in the pecking order is that he has a long history of injury, losing parts of most years with varying ailments, most recently surgery for a thoracic outlet issue last season. He was fine by spring training and, as far as I know, hasn’t had any significant issues along those lines since.

ZiPS Projection – Bobby Wahl
Year W L ERA G GS IP H ER HR BB SO ERA+ WAR
ROS 2018 1 1 4.58 15 0 17.7 21 9 3 10 23 85 0.1
2019 3 3 4.07 45 1 48.7 37 22 6 30 71 98 0.3
2020 3 2 3.97 40 0 43.0 32 19 6 26 63 101 0.3
2021 3 2 3.85 40 0 44.0 32 19 6 27 65 104 0.4
2022 2 2 3.98 35 0 38.7 28 17 5 24 57 101 0.3
2023 2 2 4.03 33 0 35.7 26 16 5 22 53 100 0.3
2024 2 2 4.01 31 0 33.7 24 15 5 21 50 99 0.3

Prospect-watchers tend to like Will Toffey more than Wahl, and ZiPS agrees that he’s a bit above-average defensively, placing him at about two runs per 150 games better than average based on the rough estimates ZiPS makes from play-by-play data. I’m really not sold on his bat: 23 is just too old for a player not in the middle infield or catching to not be killing the ball in the California League. While there’s obviously more time for Toffey to develop into something more than Wahl, I think the latter is more likely to actually contribute to a major-league team. The Mets’ squadron isn’t that deep in relief pitching and I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised to see him in the back end of the team’s bullpen in April (or even this year!) depending on what other moves the Mets make.

ZiPS Projection – Will Toffey
Year AB BA OBP SLG H 2B 3B HR BB SO SB CS OPS+ DR WAR
ROS 2018 189 .217 .267 .289 40 7 1 2 15 50 1 2 52 1 -0.3
2019 508 .211 .276 .297 107 19 2 7 44 138 3 5 56 2 -0.8
2020 488 .209 .280 .307 102 20 2 8 46 137 2 4 60 2 -0.6
2021 490 .208 .281 .310 102 20 3 8 48 140 2 4 61 3 -0.5
2022 486 .208 .284 .313 101 20 2 9 50 142 2 4 63 3 -0.3
2023 482 .205 .285 .311 99 20 2 9 52 144 2 3 63 3 -0.4

It’s interesting to see Oakland positioning themselves as buyers, at least in the bargain section. To find the last time Oakland was the team trading prospects for a veteran rather than vice-versa, you actually have to go back to the 2014 Jeff Samardzija trade, which saw the team give up Addison Russell, Dan Straily, and Billy McKinney to the Cubs for Samardzija and Jason Hammel. (They picked up Jon Lester later in that month, but you’d be hard-pressed to describe Yoenis Cespedes as a prospect.) While one doesn’t really think of the A’s as front-line, top-tier contenders, the fact is they’re essentially in a two-team race for the second Wild Card with the Mariners, a team that only has a Pythagorean record of right around .500 and likely isn’t as good as their seasonal record when you talk the rest-of-season projections. Even four games back, that it’s a two-team race is quite important: I’d rather be four games behind one team than two games back and fighting with seven other teams. But the 2018 National League is highly competitive one and the American league, the bifurcated stars-and-scrubs league, a flip of the situation a few years ago.

I’m not a believer in going all-in for a Wild Card unless it comes with a significant chance of also capturing the division title, but with what Oakland is giving up, they’re not going all-in, but simply making an incremental addition to enhance their Wild Card odds. Being less risk-averse with Familia is better in this situation than rolling the dice with Wahl would be. In all, the A’s add a significant part of their present without giving up a significant part of their future.

Wins on both sides here, with both teams getting what they need from this trade. I daresay that I’d be happier with Familia at this price than Zach Britton at the price he eventually fetches.


Are the Dodgers Now the Team to Beat?

Well before the rumors of a deal between the Dodgers and Orioles surfaced this week, Manny Machado was — as a legitimate star with an expiring contract on a team unlikely to contend — considered the prize of this year’s trade deadline. The 2018 season has done nothing so far to invalidate that notion, Machado bouncing back considerably from a surprisingly unimpressive 2017 season to hit .315/.387/.575, all three parts of that slash line representing career bests. The move back to shortstop hasn’t been quite as successful, but even a narcoleptic Jeff Blauser would have significant value with this kind of offensive contribution.

It took about 92 games longer than expected, but the Dodgers entered the All-Star break in first place, caressing a half-game lead over the Arizona Diamondbacks in the NL West. Nor is it a two-team race: the Colorado Rockies sit just two games back and the team’s traditional rivals, the San Francisco Giants, are still hanging on four games behind despite a bevy of nasty surprises in the rotation this season. There are reasons to believe that the Dodgers are in better position than their slim divisional lead might suggest, their somewhat modest record due more to underperformance than any fatal flaw in how the roster is designed. Even before the Machado trade, the updated ZiPS projections saw the Dodgers as the strongest National League team in terms of the strength of roster and the likely depth-chart configuration.

ZiPS Projections, NL Roster Strength, Pre-Trade
Team Roster Strength
Los Angeles Dodgers .584
Chicago Cubs .572
Washington Nationals .542
Arizona Diamondbacks .531
St. Louis Cardinals .530
Milwaukee Brewers .528
Philadelphia Phillies .520
Colorado Rockies .515
San Francisco Giants .514
Atlanta Braves .514
Pittsburgh Pirates .488
New York Mets .472
Cincinnati Reds .466
San Diego Padres .444
Miami Marlins .409

There are areas where ZiPS produces different results than the official postseason odds calculated from the combined Steamer/ZiPS projections. ZiPS, for example, has long preferred the Braves, Brewers, and Phillies while being a bit Nationals-skeptical, but both the ZiPS and FanGraphs methodologies agree that the Dodgers had the best roster in the National League before the trade. The problem the Dodgers faced is that, while the mean projections obviously look quite favorably on their prospects, mean projections also don’t account for the uncertainty around the numbers, which can be quite significant. Even firmly believing that the Dodgers had the strongest roster in the NL West, ZiPS still called for them — after a million years of game-by-game matchups — to lose out on the division about once every three times.

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