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Jeff Sullivan FanGraphs Chat — 7/13/18

9:06

Jeff Sullivan: Hello friends

9:07

Jeff Sullivan: Welcome to Friday baseball chat

9:07

Jeff Sullivan: To my knowledge Manny Machado still hasn’t been traded

9:07

Jeff Sullivan: If it were to happen during the course of this chat, well, I probably wouldn’t know

9:08

Carl: Which Austin would you rather, Barnes or Hedges?

9:08

Jeff Sullivan: For a game today, Barnes. For the longer term, Hedges, since Barnes is three years older

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Kyle Schwarber Bunted With Two Strikes and the Bases Empty

So far, it’s been an exciting season of change for Kyle Schwarber. He showed up to camp in the best shape of his life, and while those stories are typically easy to dismiss, Schwarber has undergone something of a transformation. He’s sitting on what would be a career-high WAR. He’s walking more than he used to, and he’s striking out less than he used to. He’s hitting ground balls more than he used to, but he’s also still hitting for power, because he’s attempting to hit more line drives. Most impressively, Schwarber has turned himself into a pretty good defensive corner outfielder. His range is basically average, and his throwing arm is a weapon. The Cubs always said they believed in Schwarber’s future. We’re seeing the best version of him that there’s been.

There is an entire article to be written about appreciating Kyle Schwarber in general. This article is about appreciating Kyle Schwarber in specific. Because in the ninth inning against the Giants on Wednesday, Schwarber bunted for a single with two strikes and the bases empty. This is one of those plays that just can’t be ignored.

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The Precedent for a Manny Machado Trade

Sometime soon, the Orioles are going to trade their best player. Sometime soon, the Orioles are going to trade one of the best players, period. I’ve seen people worrying that the Orioles might just hang onto Manny Machado through the end of the year, and I understand that, historically, trading with the Orioles has always been complicated, but that would be a bridge too far. There’s just about no way the Orioles would settle for free-agent compensation, here. There’s a blockbuster trade to be made, and there are interesting prospects to be acquired.

So, a Machado trade is virtually inevitable. There is no shortage of suitors. Two factors make this situation unusual. One, Machado is very good. Many good players are traded around the deadline, but few are at Machado’s level. Two, Machado will become a free agent in a matter of months. He’s a rental. Some suitor might think they could win Machado over down the stretch, but that’s unlikely to lead to much of a bargain. Machado’s not signing a contract extension before he hits the market. This should be interpreted first and foremost as a short-term move.

It can be hard to know what would be an appropriate price. How much should someone be willing to give up for Machado? For how much should the Orioles be willing to settle? To this point, the Orioles have asked for more than anyone’s been willing to surrender. That much is self-evident, since Machado is available but there hasn’t yet been an agreement. I think it’s useful to dig into the history. Every trade negotiation is different, conducted under unique circumstances, but there’s value in understanding the precedent. Trades don’t follow precedent in the way that, say, arbitration does, but we can get an idea of what’s going to happen by looking at what has happened. Time to consider a whole bunch of names.

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There’s No Ignoring Jesus Aguilar Anymore

Among qualified hitters this season, Jesus Aguilar is tied for fourth in wRC+. He’s the current National League leader in home runs. He homered yesterday against the Marlins. The day before that, he homered twice against the Braves. At last update, he’s the leader in the NL for the All-Star Game’s Final Vote. Every player in there is good, but Aguilar is perfectly deserving.

Don’t like half-year samples? Since last season began, Aguilar has batted 596 times. He’s put up a 136 wRC+, which matches the wRC+ put up by Anthony Rendon. Mookie Betts is at 135. Nolan Arenado is at 133. Looking at first basemen, Aguilar has been out-hit by only Joey Votto, Freddie Freeman, and Paul Goldschmidt. Last season proves that Aguilar is no random flash in the pan.

It’s a bit of a funny coincidence that the Brewers are hurting for a second baseman, because late in the spring in 2017, they dropped Scooter Gennett, who’s turned into an All-Star. Gennett, in a sense, is exactly what the Brewers could use. Just a couple months earlier, though, the Brewers claimed Aguilar, who’s also in the process of turning into an All-Star. There was no room for Aguilar in Cleveland, and then he was in part responsible for there being no room for Gennett in Milwaukee. So as far as second base goes, the Brewers can be only so upset. Aguilar fought for opportunities to prove himself. He’s seized the few chances he’s had.

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Nathan Eovaldi Might Be the Best Starter on the Market

I’ve gone around and around on this point. It’s possible that J.A. Happ is the best starter on the market. I used to think Tyson Ross would be the best starter on the market. And the Mets, of course, could blow everyone away if they start taking real offers for Jacob deGrom. There is no clear favorite; the trade-deadline picture is always cloudy. But I can tell you I’m coming around on Nathan Eovaldi. Eovaldi is eight starts into the season, now that he’s on the other side of Tommy John surgery, and he’s already recorded three starts of at least six innings with no more than one hit. On Sunday, against the Mets, he made an attempt at a perfect game. All of Eovaldi’s old arm strength remains intact. And now he’s improving on what he does with it.

Back when Eovaldi was younger, back when we understood a little less about pitching, he was somewhat confounding to analysts. It didn’t make immediate sense why someone who threw so hard would allow so much contact. Where we stand today, Eovaldi has what would easily be a career-high strikeout rate. He also has what would easily be a career-low walk rate. I can rattle these things off if you’d like. Among starters this season, Eovaldi ranks first in strike rate. He ranks second in chase rate. He ranks first in the rate of pitches thrown while ahead in the count. He ranks first in the rate of pitches thrown in the zone. Eovaldi is blossoming, and you could argue he has the Yankees and Rays to thank.

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Jeff Sullivan FanGraphs Chat — 7/6/18

9:06

Jeff Sullivan: Hello friends

9:06

Jeff Sullivan: Welcome to Friday baseball chat

9:06

Jeff Sullivan: I was all prepared to bury the Nationals, and then they came back from down 9-0. That’s the Marlins for you!

9:07

:/: how long can the mariners pretend Ryon Healy is not a 0 WAR player and try something else?

9:07

Jeff Sullivan: The Healy thing is really not going very well

9:08

Jeff Sullivan: Not because he’s a bad player, but because he’s an entirely unimproved player

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The Rays Used a Catcher To Protect a Late Lead

No one ever wants to play 16 innings. Pretty much no one ever wants to watch 16 innings, but, certainly, no one ever wants to play them. Even Ernie Banks would want those 16 innings spread over two games, instead of just one. At a certain point, baseball breaks down. The rosters get warped and everyone’s tired, and while you could say it becomes more of a psychological battle than a physical one, the baseball at the end of a marathon resembles only slightly the baseball at the start. There’s a reason Rob Manfred has talked about changing the rules in extra innings, and it’s not because he hates baseball. It’s because, when a game goes too long, the players hate baseball. And based on how few people remain in the stadium, many of the fans do, too.

The Rays and Marlins played 16 innings on Tuesday. The Marlins are out of it, and the Rays might as well be, but there’s no giving up, not in the regular season. Definitely not in early July. The game took place in the NL ballpark, and things inevitably got weird. The Rays, of course, don’t have a conventional pitching staff, so they quickly ran low on pitchers. Meanwhile, over the past three years, no one with at least 150 plate appearances has a lower wRC+ than Dan Straily, but the Marlins were forced into using him as a pinch-hitter. A game that goes 10 feels like it’ll end after 11. A game that goes 15 feels like it’ll end after the heat death of the universe. At any moment, a team might score a run. But after it’s been long enough, scoring feels impossible.

At last, in the 16th, things broke the Rays’ way. The game had been tied at four since the fifth. Then the Rays put up a five-spot. The rally featured an RBI single by long reliever Vidal Nuno, and the hit was his second in as many innings. As Nuno batted in the 16th, he’d thrown only 26 pitches. It looked as if Nuno would be fine to close the game out. Then he ran down the line after contact.

Vidal Nuno strained his hamstring. He was replaced. Though the Rays wound up ahead 9-4, they’d need someone to record three outs. They didn’t turn to their bullpen. They turned to their bench.

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The MLB Landscape of Negative WAR

It’s not that hard to delight in the Astros’ performance. I do understand, of course, that they have a weakening hold on their own division. Somehow, some way, the Mariners have managed to keep up. But if you look beyond just wins and losses, the Astros are tied for baseball’s highest team wRC+. They have baseball’s lowest ERA-, and FIP-, and xFIP-. The Astros have baseball’s highest run differential, and the gap between first and second is 50 runs, which on its own would be one of the higher run differentials around. By Pythagorean record, the Astros are easily in first place. By BaseRuns as well, they’re easily in first place. The Astros are an excellent team that has still found a way to underperform. That’s not an easy thing to do.

So there’s no shortage of places to find Houston Astros fun facts. Some of them reflect the bigger picture. Some of them reflect the smaller pictures. I was reminded of something today, when the Astros placed Brian McCann on the DL, and called up Tim Federowicz. I wouldn’t go so far as to call this a Tim Federowicz fun fact; I wouldn’t do that to you. But in his tiny slice of 2018 big-league playing time, Federowicz has put up a -0.1 WAR. Keep that in mind, will you?

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We Can’t Not Talk About the Royals

The Royals lost on Monday, 9-3. No big deal — the Royals lose a lot, plus, the opposing starter was Corey Kluber. You’re going to lose most of the time to Corey Kluber. Earlier, the Royals lost on Sunday, 1-0. Also no big deal — they’re still the Royals, plus, the opposing starter was James Paxton. You’re going to lose most of the time to James Paxton. As the calendar has flipped from June to July, the Royals have been given an impossible task, and there’s little shame in defeat. You could forgive the Royals for what they’ve most recently done.

But there’s recent-recent, and then there’s just regular-recent. “Recent” is a subjective word, absent any cutoff. As far as early July is concerned, with the Royals, there’s nothing to talk about. It’s when you fold in June that the situation starts to look embarrassing. Over the past several weeks, at the plate in particular, the Royals have been historically bad. I’m not using “historically” to get your attention. I’m using it because the Royals’ struggles have been historic.

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The Mariners Are Trying to Be the Clutchiest Team on Record

The Rays lost a one-run decision in Miami Monday night, and it didn’t matter. I’m sure it mattered to the Marlins, and I’m sure it mattered to the Rays, but it didn’t really matter in the standings. Not as far as the playoff race is concerned. In the hunt for the AL’s second wild card, the Rays are in fourth place, but they’re separated from the first-place Mariners by 11.5 games. The Angels are 11 games back, and the A’s are the nearest competition, at eight behind. Nothing is actually yet set in stone, but it feels like we know the AL’s five playoff teams before we even reach the Fourth of July.

In some other universe, not much is different, except for everything. In this other universe, teams have win-loss records that match their run differentials. If you arrange by Pythagorean records, the Mariners still hold the second wild card, but they’re only one up on the Angels. They’re two up on the A’s, and they’re two and a half up on the Rays.

And then there’s the universe where everything goes according to BaseRuns. The inputs are the same as they are here, but the outputs simply make more sense. If you arrange by BaseRuns records, the Rays take over the lead for the second wild card. They’re a half-game up on the Mariners, and then there’s a little more room before the A’s and the Angels. According to the only standings that matter to us, the Rays are out of it. Basically everyone behind the Mariners is out of it. According to what you’d expect would have happened, there would be a tight race. In those other universes, there’s stress. There’s a far greater degree of uncertainty.

Not so. The Mariners have found a separator. They’ve pulled well away from all of their wild-card competition, and they’ve done so by being the clutchiest bunch of clutches that ever clutched.

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The Weirdest Player in the Minors Is Now in the Majors

When you do this as a full-time job, you spend a lot of time looking at the numbers. And when you spend a lot of time looking at the numbers, you start to notice certain outliers. Then you start to root for certain outliers. It’s hard to be a fan of a team, when you’re supposed to write about everyone objectively. So you settle on other interests. The Twins just called up an interest.

The Twins selected the contract of catcher/infielder Willians Astudillo from Triple-A Rochester. Astudillo appeared in 49 games for the Red Wings this season, hitting .290 (51-for-176) with 12 doubles, seven home runs and 25 RBI.

Astudillo is now on the roster at the expense of Felix Jorge. Or, if you want to look at it differently, he’s on the roster at the expense of Taylor Motter. Jorge was designated for assignment, and Motter was placed on the disabled list. And I don’t think the Twins want to be here; they’d rather be higher in the standings. They’d rather have a healthy Jason Castro. They’d rather have a productive Miguel Sano. The Twins would like to have a lot more things going right. But there’s the story of the team, and there are the stories of the team’s individual players. Circumstances have permitted Astudillo to reach the majors for the first-ever time. I’m sure he doesn’t care about the explanation. Astudillo has been a career-long outlier, and now he’ll receive his first major-league paycheck.

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Jeff Sullivan FanGraphs Chat — 6/29/18

9:06

Jeff Sullivan: Hello friends

9:06

Jeff Sullivan: Welcome to Friday baseball chat

9:07

Nick: Who is the biggest threat to the Mariners in the second AL WC spot. Is it really the A’s?

9:07

Jeff Sullivan: Basically has to be the A’s

9:07

Jeff Sullivan: They’re seven back. The next-closest team is the Angels, at ten back, and they’ve been completely decimated by injuries

9:07

Jeff Sullivan: Rays are 11 back. Blue Jays, 13. Twins, 13.5. It’s the A’s or it’s nobody

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The Most Unhittable Arm in the Minors

The most unhittable arm in the minors is a 24-year-old lefty reliever. Two months ago, he was selected as a player to be named later in a major-league trade swung in February. He’s never made a prospect list of any significance, be it league-wide or organizational, and he doesn’t have any video clips on the official Minor League Baseball website. Whenever we write posts here, we’re supposed to include photos to go out to accompany the tweets, and I had to use a photo of the player from his previous club. I didn’t even know how to pronounce the guy’s last name until this morning.

The most unhittable arm in the minors is Colin Poche. Last year, he led the minor leagues in strikeout rate. This year, he again leads the minor leagues in strikeout rate, having increased his own strikeout rate by a dozen points despite going up against much stiffer competition. When Poche pitched in High-A last year, he struck out 37% of the hitters. In Double-A this year, he struck out 60% of the hitters. In Triple-A this year, he’s struck out 50% of the hitters. All year long, over 41.1 innings, he’s allowed just three runs. He’s allowed an OBP of .185, and he’s allowed a slugging percentage of .184. Colin Poche is turning in one of the most unbelievable performances you might ever see. Better still, it’s not entirely clear how he’s doing it.

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It’s Not Just Luis Severino’s Velocity

Luis Severino currently ranks second among all major-league pitchers in WAR. He’s third by park-adjusted ERA, he’s first by park-adjusted FIP, and he’s sixth by park-adjusted xFIP, and he’s done this while facing the seventh-toughest average opponent, among everyone with at least 50 innings. There was a time when a lot of the attention was on the development of Severino’s changeup. The changeup is there, and it’s not like Severino is afraid of it, but he’s blossomed into one of the best pitchers in either league largely on the back of his fastball and slider. Two pitches can be all you need, when said pitches are elite.

Just Tuesday, Severino blanked the Phillies over seven innings, whiffing nine without issuing a single walk. In all, 95% of his pitches were fastballs or sliders, and Severino’s 101st pitch clocked in at an even 100 miles per hour. It’s been said before that high velocity affords a pitcher a greater margin of error. That’s true, and part of the story behind Severino’s emergence simply comes down to how hard he can throw. Yet there’s more there, more that underscores how difficult Severino is for hitters. Let’s take a look at how his pitches play off of one another.

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The Rays Played a Pitcher at First Base

It’s been a strange few months for the Tampa Bay Rays. The front office spent the spring denying accusations they were trying to tank, and even at a half-decent 39-40, the club is nowhere particularly close to the playoff hunt. And yet, if you prefer the BaseRuns standings to the actual ones, the Rays have been a top-ten baseball team, even while playing a difficult schedule. And while injuries and being shorthanded led the Rays toward their “opener” experiment in the middle of May, as a team they’ve allowed the lowest ERA in baseball ever since. They’ve also allowed the lowest wOBA. This is where the Rays have gotten without Brent Honeywell. This is where they’ve gotten without Jose De Leon. Injuries have sidelined Nathan Eovaldi, Chris Archer, Anthony Banda, Jake Faria, and Kevin Kiermaier, among others. A month ago, Denard Span and Alex Colome were traded.

Through one lens, the Rays have been mediocre. They are how they were designed. Through another lens, the Rays have been an inspiring success. One could argue only luck separates them from a wild-card spot. No matter the lens, though, the Rays haven’t been boring. It’s a young club, stocked with talent. The strategy around the starting rotation and the subsequent relievers has been inventive. And on Tuesday, in the ninth inning of a one-run game, manager Kevin Cash played a pitcher at first base. The circumstances weren’t extraordinary. It was done very much on purpose.

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How Best To Predict the Season’s Second Half

By actual games played, we’re coming up on the halfway point of the season. By now, statisticians might continue to insist that certain data samples remain small, but they generally don’t feel small. We’ve had three months of baseball, everyday baseball, and three more months of everyday baseball remain. This is the middle of the summer routine, the routine where baseball stretches as far as the eye can see in every direction. It’s a comfortable time of year; games are becoming increasingly important, but there’s still ample time to correct mistakes.

We’re always trying to take stabs at the future. We know that baseball will play out however it likes, but we still attempt to guess what’s going to happen. This kind of thinking is what informs a lot of trade-deadline activity. So I’ve been thinking lately about second-half predictions. How can we know what’s going to happen in the standings? First things first: In a sense, we can’t. Baseball has an endless capacity to make the analysts look stupid. But it’s not like we don’t know anything. So I’m returning to a project similar to something I’ve done before.

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What You Think of These Ten Surprising Hitters

Last week, I asked you about ten surprising hitters. These are their names!

It had been a while since I ran a polling project, so that was the exercise. Five of those players had greatly overachieved, relative to their projections, and five of those players had done the opposite. So what I was looking for was for the FanGraphs audience to collectively project their rest-of-season wRC+ marks. For each player, I provided their current wRC+, their projected rest-of-season wRC+ based on Steamer and ZiPS, and a poll with a bunch of options. In this post, I’ll analyze the results of the polls. Polling projects are nothing without the analysis.

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The National League Is Winning

I don’t mean to alarm you, but it’s true. I know that, as I write this, the A’s are clobbering the Padres. And earlier on Wednesday, the Blue Jays took a one-run game over the Braves. But also, the Reds beat the Tigers. There is plenty of season left to go, and it’s a guarantee that there will be events that surprise all of us, yet for right now, at this moment in time, in interleague play, the National League has a better record than the American League. You can understand why this is notable.

I write a post like this once or twice every season. I mean, not a post like this, but a post that serves as a midseason interleague update. The posts have generally all said the same thing: The AL still looks like it’s the better league. That statement has been true for quite some time. Because there’s still so much baseball left, the AL could end up better in 2018 once again, but I thought I’d give you a snapshot of our present reality. I think we’ve all been waiting for this!

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Domingo German Seems Incredibly Talented

Shohei Ohtani was supposed to win the American League Rookie of the Year. And, you know, he still might, depending on how he recovers from his injury. His numbers are great, and he deserves a bonus for the degree of difficulty of his job. But Ohtani’s elbow makes me nervous, and I’ve become skeptical about these things. You can’t count on him coming back and looking like himself. And as the award goes, that would open up the door. One prime contender would be Gleyber Torres. Another strong contender would be Miguel Andujar.

And as I look at things, the Yankees might very well run the table. Rookie of the Year voters select three names. Torres or Andujar could finish first. The other could finish second. And Domingo German could finish third. Or, I suppose, second or first, if he had a really good second half. But the point here is that the Yankees have three great and significant rookies. In March, Torres was considered the Yankees’ No. 1 prospect. Andujar was considered their No. 2 prospect. German slotted in at 13th.

A month and a half ago, Travis wrote about German right here. Since then, over 40 innings, German has allowed 28 runs, which is too many. Yet he’s also generated 45 strikeouts, with only a dozen walks. He’s turned in three strong starts in a row, and four times in a row, now, he’s gone at least six innings. I will not be making the point that German is amazing. I will be making the point that he’s probably being underrated. That might just be a consequence of how loaded the Yankees already are.

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Royals Hastily Trade Kelvin Herrera to Nationals

For the past week or so, I’ve been kicking around the idea of writing about Justin Miller. Miller is a 31-year-old reliever, and, by the way, he’s pitching for the Nationals. Though he’s allowed runs in each of his last two appearances, he’s faced 43 batters so far, and he’s struck out 22 of them, without one single walk. Miller, last year, was bad in Triple-A for the Angels. Now he looks like he could be one of the more dominant relievers around. It’s too early to go quite that far, but, well, you know how relievers are. They can emerge or decline in the blink of an eye.

It’s possible that, in Miller, the Nationals have found something. He might turn out to be one of the keys to their season. But Mike Rizzo is also no stranger to making midseason bullpen upgrades, and you don’t want to end up counting on Miller to keep up the miracle. And so, Monday, Rizzo has moved to beef up the depth in front of Sean Doolittle. In the current era of baseball, it’s almost impossible to have too many good relievers. The Nationals got a new one from the Royals.

Nationals get:

Royals get:

I’m not sure there’s anything stunning here. Herrera was very obviously going to be available, as a contract-year closer on a terrible team. The Nationals are in the hunt, and the bullpen in front of Doolittle has sometimes been shaky. The prospect package seems to be light, but rentals generally don’t fetch a blockbuster. Herrera’s strikeout rate is only 23%. What surprises me more than anything is that this happened on June 18. It doesn’t surprise me that the Nationals would want Herrera for five or six extra weeks. It surprises me that, on so early a date, the Royals would settle.

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