Author Archive

Get Ready for a James Paxton Blockbuster

James Paxton is going to be traded, and he might well be traded very soon. You can never really know for sure what’s going on behind the scenes, now that front offices are increasingly leak-proof, but Paxton rumors have been bubbling to the surface with frequency, and we know Jerry Dipoto isn’t afraid of making a deal in November. The free-agent market is probably going to take its time to develop. The trade market has already opened. Dipoto moved his best catcher. Before too long, he’s going to move his best pitcher.

The Mariners, of course, were just in the playoff hunt for a while. And if there’s something they need, it’s more pitching, not less. More than anything, the Mariners would love to bring an end to their extended playoff drought, and Paxton has developed into something they should be proud of. The Mariners could use James Paxton. The Mariners could use a few James Paxtons. Yet, the big-league roster? It’s not great. And the minor-league system? It’s arguably the worst. Paxton’s looking at two remaining years of club control. The Mariners need to be honest about their timeline. It seems they’ve decided to turn Paxton’s two years into many more years of promising youngsters.

I’m not telling you much of anything you don’t already know. And I already talked about Paxton a little bit the other week. But ahead of any trade, I wanted to write this reminder of just how good Paxton really is. It’s going to be a big-time move, whenever it happens. Give me a few minutes to explain to you why.

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Jeff Sullivan FanGraphs Chat — 11/9/18

9:00

Jeff Sullivan: Hello friends

9:01

Jeff Sullivan: Welcome to Friday baseball chat

9:01

Jeff Sullivan: I made it on time to this one! Take that, haters

9:01

Xolo: Fangraphs has the Padres projected at 77 wins with fairly pedestrian Steamer numbers for all the big rookies. With that in mind, wouldn’t it make sense for them to go after a guy like Corbin now and see how it goes?

9:02

Jeff Sullivan: I do think the Padres are likely to target at least one interesting and talented pitcher, but I don’t think they’ll want to pay what Corbin will command

9:03

Jeff Sullivan: If you figure Corbin will get an offer from, say, the Yankees, the Padres would have to offer more on top of that. The Padres can’t compete with the Yankees’ budget. I’m looking for San Diego to target a cheaper starter, with a couple years of team control remaining

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How You Felt About the 2018 Season

It’s time to do this all again. A few days ago, I ran an annual polling project, asking how you felt about the season that was, on a team-by-team basis. It might seem like a silly question, or it might seem like the results would be obvious, but tradition is tradition, and I always get a kick out of the data analysis. This is the data-analysis post. I suppose I’m under no obligation to share the results with the voting public, and I could just keep all the numbers to myself, but then I don’t know what the point of any of this would be. I already struggle enough to understand what the point of any of this is. Don’t need to make the problem worse.

To refresh your memories, that polling project included 30 polls, with one for each club. Here is an example of what the polls looked like:

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Mariners, Rays Agree to Semiannual Trade

This past season, the Mariners and Rays were separated by exactly one win in the standings. Of the two teams, the Mariners have the larger operating budget, and although the Mariners’ division includes the Astros, the Rays’ division includes the Red Sox and the Yankees. And yet these are two teams that seem to be going in different directions, with the Rays being the club on the rise. The Mariners will have to try desperately to stay afloat while getting next to no reinforcements from an empty farm system. The Rays are young and good and cost-controlled, and their farm is in the upper tier. The differing circumstances have led to a trade — an as-yet unofficial five-player swap, just the latest in a series of agreements between the two teams.

Rays get:

Mariners get:

It’s an entertaining trade for all the stat nerds out there, on account of the various extremes. Zunino seldom hits the ball, but when he does, it goes a mile. Heredia and Smith hit the ball far more often, but when they do, it doesn’t go anywhere. Even Plassmeyer and Fraley are coming off eye-opening minor-league seasons. There’s something to dig into, for everybody. Plenty of numbers to be studied.

But the take-home: The Rays are trying to win, and they’ve addressed a position of need. The Mariners are apparently trying to reload, without losing too much, and they’re banking on 2018 results while adding a longer-term player. You can see an argument favoring either side of this, but I find the Rays’ to be more convincing.

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The Problem With Bryce Harper’s Contract Season

Bryce Harper is a (nearly) unrestricted free agent. He is newly 26 years old. He is projected, by Steamer, to be baseball’s second-best hitter next season. According to reports, he’s already turned down a contract offer worth $300 million. According to MLB Trade Rumors, he might end up with a contract worth more than $400 million. We’ve been anticipating this offseason for a while. Harper has been a household name for longer than I can remember, and as the cherry on top here, he’s represented by Scott Boras. Boras will push for some kind of contract record. I expect he’s going to be successful. Harper’s a core player in the prime of his life, and there’s more money in baseball than ever before.

Earlier this morning, almost by accident, I noticed that Harper was worse than Mitch Haniger in 2018, by 1.1 wins above replacement.

The point is not that Haniger is better than Harper is. Age is on Harper’s side. Talent is on Harper’s side. Track record is on Harper’s side. While I don’t know how much of a believer I am in the concept of measurable ceilings, we sort of know what Harper’s ceiling is, because we saw it in 2015. He was unbelievable. He hasn’t become as consistent as one would like, but Harper hits for power and he draws a boatload of walks. He just played in a career-high 159 games.

The Haniger thing got me looking closer, though. And in Harper’s otherwise good-enough contract season, he raised some questions about his defense. We still don’t focus that much on defense when we’re talking about sluggers. But teams don’t ignore it. Teams interested in Harper will have to figure out what happened.

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How Did You Feel About the 2018 Season?

It’s Election Day in the United States! If you haven’t yet voted, and if you still have the chance, I encourage you to go vote for whatever you’re going to vote for. If you’re already done, or if you’re standing in line waiting, or whatever — today’s a day that puts a lot of Americans in a voting mood. And as long as you’re in the mood to be voting, I’ve got more voting for you to do down below. Some voting with, shall we say, far lesser stakes.

We’re at the point where just about everyone is ready to turn the page and focus on the offseason ahead. The playoffs ended last week, and this is the week of the general-manager meetings in California. I wouldn’t be surprised if we see some movement pretty soon. Some transactions of real consequence. I’ve been told to prepare for a crazy market, and it could all get underway at a moment’s notice. So before all that starts up, and while the 2018 season is still fresh in your collective minds, I want to continue what’s become an annual polling project. The convenient thing about this being an annual polling project is that I can just copy and paste the text below from last time!

This is a post with 30 polls, one for each team. Ideally I’d like you to only vote in the poll or polls corresponding to your favorite team(s). Some of you might be fans of baseball more than you’re fans of one team in particular, and in that case, either don’t vote at all, or vote for the team you think you care about the most. It’s up to you. It’s all up to you. For each team, I’ve asked a simple question. How was your experience being a fan of the given team this season? There’s no wrong answer, and your feeling is personal to you. But if you’d like to share it, please do so. This shouldn’t take much in the way of mental gymnastics. Were you happy? Were you disappointed? How disappointed were you? Do you love watching every game, no matter the score and no matter the standings? Just how much did you get out of your investment? To what extent were you invested in the first place?

It’s easy, and I appreciate your participation, in advance. I’ll review the results later this week. In the past, I’ve written summary blurbs for each team, but I realized those blurbs might bias the responses, so now I’ve quit. Also, I’m lazy (Editor’s note: still true in 2018). Anyhow, all the polls are below. Hopefully the anchor text works to send you to your team directly! Thank you again for making these poll posts possible.

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The Mariners Can Fill the Seller Void

At some point, I won’t continue to feel obligated to post this. That point isn’t now. The Mariners have the longest active playoff drought in the four major North American sports. Here are their playoff chances over the course of the 2018 regular season:

This is all well-established and relatively ancient history now, but it feels fresh and raw again with the benefit of some distance. Yes, the good Mariners were clearly overachieving. But in the middle of June, they stood at 46-25, 11 games ahead of the eventual wild-card A’s. The Mariners were going to snap the drought, because their lead in the race was virtually regression-proof. Then the Mariners regressed. The A’s, meanwhile, never lost again. The drought lives.

You wonder how things would be different today had the Mariners won a few extra ballgames. Had the A’s lost a few extra ballgames. Odds are, the Mariners still would’ve lost to the Yankees, but even getting that far would’ve meant something. Alas, a promising season turned out bad, and now the Mariners are in the news. They’re in the news because they might try to get worse.

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The Worst Called Strike of the Second Half

Hello friends. You’ll notice this headline refers to the worst called strike of the second half. Late last week, I wrote about the worst called ball of the season. When I write about the worst called balls, I’m obligated to write about the worst called strikes. When was the worst called strike of the season? It turns out it happened pretty early on, and I already wrote about it in July. I figured there wasn’t any sense in writing about the same call a second time, since I’d have all the same stuff to say. So as a compromise, I’m following last week’s post with a more recent called-strike update. The worst called strike of the second half is still the worst called strike in a while.

Let me show you what was almost the worst called strike of the second half. This is determined, for the record, by distance from the nearest edge of the strike zone. The worst called strike of the second half was almost a pitch thrown to Jose Altuve. It was almost a pitch thrown by Jaime Barria. I don’t think I’ve ever actually written a sentence about Jaime Barria. This is as close as I’ve gotten. Barria got the benefit of the doubt in a 3-and-1 count.

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Clayton Kershaw’s Contract Is What We Want Out of Baseball

Less than a week ago, Clayton Kershaw had to worry about every single pitch he was throwing in the World Series. And then after he threw most of those pitches well, but some of those pitches not well enough, he had to worry about the future of his career. Kershaw had to decide whether to opt out of his existing contract, which promised him $65 million over the next two years. If you’ve stayed in touch with baseball at all this week, you knew Kershaw and the Dodgers had moved the decision point to Friday. Decision’s been made. Kershaw will stay in LA, and he’s effectively getting a one-year extension.

Instead of two years and $65 million, Kershaw’s contract has been reworked to three years and $93 million, with some achievable bonuses. This doesn’t guarantee that Kershaw will stay with the Dodgers for the rest of his life, but it’s a major step in that direction, since when this is over Kershaw will be approaching 34 years old. This was the clearest opportunity for Kershaw to leave. The opportunity wasn’t seized, and while I have no specific rooting interest, I’m rather pleased about that.

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Jeff Sullivan FanGraphs Chat — 11/2/18

9:08

Jeff Sullivan: Hello friends

9:08

Jeff Sullivan: Welcome to Friday baseball chat

9:08

Jeff Sullivan: Usually I’m late to start because of a pre-chat podcast. Today it was a pre-chat phone conversation with the boss! Always something

9:09

Jeff Sullivan: First Friday baseball chat in a while with no active…baseball. Weird feeling. Also weird that it already feels normal

9:09

Bork: Hello, friend!

9:09

Jeff Sullivan: Hello friend

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The Worst Called Ball of the Season

One of the worst called balls of the season was thrown, and called, in the seventh inning of a White Sox game on September 10. I always just measure these things by the distance from the center of the strike zone. Lucas Giolito threw a two-strike pitch close to the center of the strike zone. It was taken, and called a ball. I’m only bringing this to your attention because of the subsequent call on the Royals TV broadcast:

Steve Physioc: Right down the middle for ball three.
Rex Hudler: [laughing] Wowwwwww. Woo! We got away with one there.

Physioc and Hudler were *on it.* They talked through a slow-motion replay and everything. And, I mean, the call was clearly absurd. It merited some attention. But we’re talking about a mid-September game between the White Sox and the Royals. At the end of the day, who cares, right? Still, the announcers were sufficiently locked in. Just four days later, we saw the true worst called ball of the season. It happened in the seventh inning of a game between the playoff-hopeful Dodgers and the playoff-hopeful Cardinals. As usual, a pitch sailed right down the middle, and it wasn’t called as a strike. It obviously should’ve been a strike. But no one said a word about it. Not on either side, not on TV or radio. It was as if the call didn’t happen at all. The worst such call of an entire baseball season.

That makes it sound ridiculous. Ridiculously negligent, on the part of everyone involved. In reality, there was a good reason. There’s usually a good reason. What happened is that Dakota Hudson threw a slider, right down the middle, and it was called a first-pitch ball. It was also maybe the least interesting part of the entire sequence.

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What We All Saw in the Playoffs

Usually these posts follow some kind of narrative structure. You wouldn’t necessarily say you come to FanGraphs for the storytelling, but any decent article is supposed to tell a story, even if it’s mostly statistical. I’m not going to bother this time. I’m not going to lead in with some manner of gripping anecdote. I just want to show you all a bunch of postseason numbers. I want to show them to you, because some of them are interesting, and postseason numbers aren’t always the easiest things to track down. Certainly not if you want to compare them to the same year’s regular-season numbers. That’s why I’m here today.

I’ve shown some of these plots in the past. What’s different now is that I have a few more plots, and also that the 2018 postseason is officially complete. Below, eight images, and limited commentary. How has playoff baseball compared to regular-season baseball over the years? I’ve gathered a whole host of statistical indicators, mostly with the help of Baseball Reference. Join me, if you will, on a quick analytical journey. We always guess at how the playoffs might play out, or which trends we might observe. We don’t have to guess about what’s already in the books.

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The Nationals Signed One of 2017’s Best Relievers

In the binary world of most baseball conversation, a party should be either (A) going big, or (B) going home. In baseball, the way this manifests is that fans frequently think a team should either go for it or blow it up. There are, of course, other options — a lot of other options, all somewhere in the middle — but people like dramatic action, especially right now, on the heels of the playoffs. And when you look at the Nationals, you can almost see one side of things. I’ve seen it asked whether the Nationals should take a step back. They’ve already taken a step back in the standings, and the Braves and Phillies might only get better, and Bryce Harper is probably a goner. How do you make up for probably losing Bryce Harper? Are the Nationals at the end of an era?

With or without Harper, the Nationals can contend. The idea of them blowing it up was always silly. Far too much talent remains, and on Wednesday, the club has made a notable addition. The Nationals signed a free agent. Not a new free agent, but rather, a preexisting free agent. Trevor Rosenthal spent the 2018 season rehabbing from Tommy John surgery. Now he’s the newest member of the Nationals’ bullpen. A bullpen they hope can lead them back to October.

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Remember the Orioles for What They Were

Very soon — maybe right at this moment! — everyone’s going to be ready to turn the page. Maybe many of you are already there. The 2018 baseball season is over for every team, and for the overwhelming majority of teams, it’s been over for quite a while. What’s the sense of reflecting, when we’re supposed to move ever forward? I get it, I agree, and I’ll get there soon, myself. But, look: I’ve been spending the past month thinking exclusively about good baseball teams. Competitive baseball teams, playoff baseball teams. I wanted to take the chance to write one thing about the worst baseball team that we saw. I had a note here on a piece of paper to address the 2018 Baltimore Orioles.

The Orioles’ final record was the kind of bad that everyone remembers. In the same way it’ll take you eons to forget that the 2003 Tigers finished 43-119, it’ll take you just as long to forget that the 2018 Orioles finished 47-115. The numbers are immortalized in that iconic playoff photo of Andrew Benintendi. The Orioles won 47 games; the Orioles finished 14 more games than that out of first place. Their best month, by record, was July, in which they went 9-16. They didn’t reach ten wins in a single calendar month, and they wound up 11 wins behind the next-worst baseball team in either league. The Orioles had the 15th-worst winning percentage since 1900, and the fourth-worst winning percentage since the end of World War 2.

You know it, I know it, and there’s no sense beating around the bush. The Orioles were a total catastrophe. Buck Showalter and Dan Duquette are both out of a job. But here’s the other thing about these Orioles: They weren’t supposed to be bad. They weren’t supposed to be great, but they didn’t blow things up. Things blew up on their own.

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The 2018 Red Sox in Historical Context

As soon as any World Series is over, it’s fair to wonder how the most recent champion stacks up when compared to the history. And while sometimes the numbers are downright laughable, the 2018 Red Sox have been pretty extreme. In the regular season, they won five more games than anyone else. In the playoffs, they lost just once per series while eliminating the three other best teams in the game. Sometimes, you think about the history because you think you’re obligated. In this case, we look to the history because it seems like the Red Sox might’ve done something historic. It feels like this might’ve been one of the all-time greats.

I’ve run some numbers in order to see what we’ve got. I should acknowledge right here there’s no perfect, agreed-upon way to do this. There’s no ideal measure of a team overall. Does it matter how good a team is for seven months, or is it only the playoffs that matter, provided you do just enough to make it in in the first place? There are arguments to go in either direction, but for my purposes here, I’ve simply combined regular-season numbers with postseason numbers. The postseason sample, of course, is dwarfed by the regular-season sample, but that’s how I feel like it should be. You might have another opinion, and so you might trust your own analysis. Below, I’ll quickly present my own.

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The Red Sox Were the Best, Despite Their Best

We talk all the time about whether or not the playoffs crown the best team in baseball. Is it more important to be the best team for six months, or is it more important to be the best team for one month? What are we even celebrating, anyway? When you look at the playoffs too hard, and when the playoffs tell a different story than the regular season, it can be difficult to know what to think. You can start to think about these things more than they were ever intended to be thought about. It’s deeply unfulfilling. I can speak from experience.

This year, we get a break. We get a break from having to overthink the tournament, and having to compare it against everything we saw before. The Red Sox won the World Series in five games over the Dodgers. The Red Sox had led all of baseball with 108 wins. In the first two playoff rounds, they eliminated the two other teams that reached triple digits. My favorite standings fact: For true talent, I prefer to look at run differential, or BaseRuns. The four best teams in the regular season were the Astros, Red Sox, Dodgers, and Yankees. The Red Sox knocked out the Yankees, the Astros, and the Dodgers, in order. They lost only one game in each round. Their playoff record was 11-3. Only three champions in the wild-card era have lost fewer games. The Red Sox did that against incredible competition.

All things considered, the Red Sox were the best team of 2018. They presented a lot of the evidence from March through September, and then in October, they made a convincing closing argument. It was what happened in October that turned this from a great team into maybe the greatest Red Sox team in history. By winning the championship, the Red Sox accomplished as much as they possibly could. And there’s something about the title run that’s striking to me. In terms of execution, the playoff Red Sox played almost flawless baseball. Yet they were largely carried by their supporting cast.

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Jeff Sullivan FanGraphs Chat — 10/26/18

9:08

Jeff Sullivan: Hello friends

9:08

Jeff Sullivan: Welcome to Friday baseball chat

9:08

Dylan: What do you make of Brodie Van Wagenen being the frontrunner for Met GM? Is this a good idea or is the lack of experience too much to overcome?

9:09

Jeff Sullivan: Let me put it this way: I am excited by the prospect of a team making such an outside-the-box hire. But if I were a Mets fan, I’d prefer to have Bloom, because I wouldn’t want my team to be an experiment

9:09

Elwood: Are you still watching the Senators this year? As an Avalanche fan that went through 16-17 I can tell you I’ve never learned more from a season.

9:09

Jeff Sullivan: They haven’t been terrible yet!

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Cody Bellinger Not Hitting Home Runs

The worst I was ever fooled was in Game 2 of last year’s World Series. Before all the madness in extra innings — before all the madness in the following five games — there was Cody Bellinger, batting against Ken Giles with two out and none on in the bottom of the ninth of a 3-3 contest. Giles fell behind 1-and-0, and then he wanted to go away with a fastball. What he did instead was throw a fastball over the middle of the plate, just above the knees. Bellinger took one of his mighty rips, and he made what looked to be perfect contact. As the ball rocketed off the barrel, the fans in the background all rose to their feet. The camera showed much of the black night sky. At one point, the screen cut off part of the right fielder’s lower body, cementing the expectation that the ball would land several rows deep. Bellinger had hit a walk-off home run. Except that he hadn’t — Josh Reddick caught the ball on the track. The inning was over, and some time after that, the Dodgers would lose.

Bellinger is not the only guy to ever trick a viewer. Anyone who’s followed even a handful of games on TV or radio knows that even the professionals get fooled. It can be hard to read a fly ball, after all, so for the first few split seconds, you’re trying to read the swing. Sometimes a good-looking swing just gets under the ball. Sometimes a good-looking swing hits the ball off the end of the bat. Batted balls can be deceptive. I’m not telling you anything you didn’t know.

What seems to be true about Bellinger is that he’s deceptive unusually often. I don’t even watch the Dodgers on a regular basis until the playoffs get started, and I can recall multiple times that Bellinger has tricked me. He got me again yesterday, if only for a moment. Cody Bellinger seems to have a knack for hitting apparent home runs that aren’t home runs. Mostly, they’re outs. The opposite of a home run. Each one is an emotional roller-coaster, concentrated within a matter of seconds.

In honor of this weird Cody Bellinger quirk, then, I will present to you a whole bunch of videos. This isn’t even exhaustive or complete. A man has only so much time in the day. But, below, you’ll find 13 video clips of Bellinger not hitting a home run. They’re not all equally deceptive, but they’re all some degree of deceptive, each and every one. Let’s watch Cody Bellinger almost get all of it, together.

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The Red Sox Don’t Have a Problem Against Left-Handed Pitching

The World Series begins later this very evening, and I don’t know who’s going to win. Nobody knows who’s going to win. It is impossible to know who’s going to win. It’s even almost impossible to know which team ought to be favored. Yeah, the Red Sox finished with baseball’s best record. But the Dodgers added Manny Machado in the middle of the year. The Dodgers finished with baseball’s second-best BaseRuns record. The Red Sox finished in third. Each team deserves to be where it is, and each team would make a deserving champion. Whatever happens over the next four to seven games will mean both everything and nothing.

Given that this is literally the World Series, though, everyone’s looking for edges. We’re all just looking for edges. Potential x-factors, if you will, that could conceivably give one team a leg up. And there’s one statistical area I’ve seen discussed in plenty of spaces — the Red Sox’s seeming vulnerability against left-handed pitching. It’s a good lineup, but it’s a lineup that had a big platoon split. Perhaps that could be enough to put the Dodgers over the top. Handedness could effectively neuter Boston’s bats.

But it seems to me there’s not anything there. The headline already gave this post away. You don’t need to keep reading in case you’re in a rush. For those of you still sticking around, I’ll take a few minutes to explain myself.

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Jeff Sullivan FanGraphs Chat — 10/19/18

9:06

Jeff Sullivan: Hello friends

9:06

Jeff Sullivan: Welcome to Friday baseball chat

9:07

Jeff Sullivan: Congratulations to the Red Sox, who are very good

9:07

Jeff Sullivan: So long to the Astros, who were very good

9:07

Phil: Best defeat over the past two days: POSTSEASON NARRATIVES.

9:07

Jeff Sullivan: I don’t know if it’s some kind of contrarian instinct or what, but I always, without fail, root for the players to turn those stories upside down. Very happy for David Price

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