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José Ramírez Is a Star

Ramírez has exhibited a kind of power never anticipated by talent evaluators.
(Photo: Erik Drost)

More or less, the public perception of a ballplayer’s value correlates pretty strongly with the reality of that player’s value. Mike Trout, for example, is almost universally regarded as the best player in the game. The numbers bear that out. José Altuve and Kris Bryant have both won MVP awards in recent years. Their records suggest that such accolades are warranted.

That said, an examination of the FanGraphs leaderboard for WAR since 2016 — which you can examine for yourself by means of this convenient link — reveals a case where perception and reality seem to diverge. Here are the top players from same:

WAR leaders, 2016-18
Rank Player WAR
1 Mike Trout 19.5
2 Mookie Betts 16.8
3 Kris Bryant 16.2
4 José Altuve 15.4
T5 Francisco Lindor 14.2
T5 José Ramírez 14.2
Through games played May 13th, 2018.

You may be a more observant baseball fan than I am — or you may be from Cleveland (some people are!) — but I’m not sure that one out of every 10 reasonably aware fans would be able to say, without checking, that José Ramírez has recorded the fifth-most WAR of any hitter in the game over the last two-plus seasons. I’m not sure they would say he’s been more valuable than Josh Donaldson, Corey Seager, and Joey Votto over that span. But he has been.

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What Shane Carle Does With His Days

You do something with your days, I think. You must. You get up in the morning, stretch out your arms and legs, blink a few times, maybe check your phone for a few minutes. (Try not to, though! Screen addiction is a real problem!) Then get up and do something with your day until, not that many hours later, you fall asleep in your nice warm bed and do it all over again.

Imagine this, though: imagine if, one day, you woke up and found that you were doing that thing — the thing you do with your days — better than you’ve ever done it before. Better, in fact, than most people have ever done it. That would be great, right? That’s a little bit of what’s been happening to Shane Carle recently, day over day, a little bit at a time.

You may not know who Shane Carle is, so let’s run over the resume. First of all, he’s a player with the Atlanta Braves — a reliever, in fact. He’s 26 years old. He’s 6-foot-4 and weighs 210 pounds. He’s a rookie. He throws a fastball, a changeup, a slider, and a curveball — in roughly that order of frequency. And this is where Carle is already a bit different: not many major-league relievers throw four pitches well with any regularity. If they do, they’re often encouraged to become major-league starters. But Carle is a major-league reliever. And we’re getting distracted. Let’s continue with the resume.

Carle was selected out of Cal State-Long Beach in the 10th round of the 2013 draft, by the Pirates. He wasn’t bad for the Pirates, but he wasn’t especially good, either, and he didn’t strike out very many people, even at High-A. The Pirates are pretty good at developing pitching, and after the 2014 season, they decided they didn’t want to develop Shane Carle anymore. He was traded to the Rockies, and despite exhibiting little more promise than the year before — at least on paper — he’d been promoted to Triple-A Albuquerque by the end of 2015.

And when he got there, something happened that’s had very important consequences for Shane Carle’s present: he started to strike people out. In Triple-A in 2015, Carle struck out 4.5 batters for every nine innings he threw. In that same league in 2016, he struck out 7.1 batters for every nine innings he threw. And this year, for the Atlanta Braves, against real major-league hitters, Carle has struck out 17 batters in fewer than 20 innings, and he’s got the fifth-most relief WAR of any pitcher in baseball. Here is some visual interest:

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The MLBPA Is Doing Work in the Field

The Major League Baseball Players Association has its offices on the 24th floor of a gleaming glass skyscraper at 12 E. 49th Street, in the heart of midtown Manhattan, just around the corner from the Commissioner’s offices on bustling Park Avenue. Spend some time lingering outside the Association’s steel-columned steps, and you’re likely as not to see just the folks you expect to see heading in and out of the building: old labor hands raised on tales tall and short of Marvin Miller’s legendary two decades as union boss, hard-bitten union attorneys trained in every detail of employee-side labor law brought on board during the Don Fehr era, and maybe even a few folks who joined the Association during Michael Weiner’s tragically short tenure at the top of the org chart.

What you won’t see, though, is much sign of Tony Clark’s signature hires as executive director of the Association. That’s because they’re at the ballpark.

The Association has always heavily involved players in its governance, of course — it is, after all, their union — but generally speaking only through the old player-representative/executive-subcommittee structure established in the 1960s, and not in the form of retired players actually on staff. Marvin Miller came from steel organizing, and the resumes of staff at the Association have, until recently, been populated heavily by previous work in the world of organized labor — folks coming out of the National Labor Relations Board or from other unions — and not necessarily work in baseball itself. Only in the waning days of Weiner’s leadership (with Clark as his deputy) did the Association really begin to seek out and hire former players to help advance and shape its work.

That process has accelerated significantly under Clark’s directorship. He is himself a former player, of course. If you glance around pretty much any spring-training camp these days — and a fair number of regular-season clubhouses besides — you may well see a broad-chested baseball man there off to the side, perhaps graying at the temples a little, taking some 23-year-old kid under his wing and teaching him the ways of the union. Bobby Bonilla. José Cruz. Steve Rogers. Javier Vázquez for international work. Phil Bradley, Jeffrey Hammonds, and Mike Myers, too. These are the men Clark has tasked with serving as the Association’s primary faces on the field, and its principal communicators with and to a membership that seems increasingly to have reason to be restive.

“They act kind of like a field organizer would in a typical union,” said a Players Association spokesman who declined to be named for this story. “Their job is to stay close in contact with all the guys on the 25-man roster [of the teams to which they’re assigned], and keep a constant communication going with them.” That’s an especially critical task for this union at this moment, because unlike most labor unions, this one doesn’t have a single factory floor or break room upon which to fall back as a natural meeting ground or organizing space. It just has its members, scattered far and wide at ballparks around the country. That presents obvious logistical difficulties.

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You Should Know What Matt Chapman’s Been Doing

You know about Matt Chapman. Right? Of course you know about him. You’re a smart, literate baseball fan. You’re even pretty sure that Matt Chapman is on the A’s these days, and that he’s good with the glove. He is good with the glove. And, in fact, he’s only ever been on the A’s, because he’s only 24 years old and was born the year before they started the O.J. murder trial. But you knew that. Didn’t you?

Anyway, if you know those things about Matt Chapman, you know, probably, about the same amount of things about Matt Chapman as the average baseball fan knew before oh, about two weeks ago. And that’s because in the last two weeks, Matt Chapman has hit as many major-league home runs as anybody not named Charlie Blackmon, Bryce Harper, or Mike Trout, and gotten on base more than 40% of the time to boot. We’re just about 10% of the way through the 2018 big-league schedule, and Matt Chapman is leading the major leagues in WAR.

This won’t last, probably. So this isn’t a piece about how, because we’re already X plate appearances into the season, A’s fans should believe that Chapman is going to sustain the .650 slugging percentage he’s put up so far and become the second coming of Sal Bando but with more power, or whatever. This is a piece about how Chapman has already had an extremely good 16 days at work, and about what he’s been doing differently during those 16 days. If you’d like to make this piece about the future, go for it. That’s on you, though. This is a piece about what Matt Chapman’s doing now.

First, the past. That’s a video of Matt Chapman hitting his 14th and final home run of 2017, against the Gallopin’ Guadalajaran, Miguel González, who tried to locate a second fastball right where he’d put the first one and instead ended up locating it somewhere over the wall in dead center field. I’m showing this to you now to demonstrate that Matt Chapman’s power didn’t come out of nowhere, exactly. Big-league hitters with power are meant to hit fastballs like that one out to dead center field, and Chapman did. He hit 30 home runs last year, between the big leagues and two different minor-league stops. He’s always had very good power. The thing was, he wasn’t as good at putting the power into action in a game setting as he could have been.

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Anybody Got a ‘Pen?

A little less than two weeks ago, Travis Sawchik and Craig Edwards wrapped up our positional power rankings series by taking a look at each team’s bullpen as composed at the start of the season. In Craig’s introduction, he noted that this was, in one sense, a bit of a fruitless exercise. Bullpen performance is very poorly correlated year to year. A combination of midseason acquisitions, injuries, and just plain bad luck can have an outsize impact on end-of-year results.

But the unpredictability of a bullpen’s performance in the future is another matter altogether from the performance of that bullpen in the past. Relievers threw a little over 38% of all innings pitched last year, and that figure is up to 42.3% through games played this past Saturday. Having a good — or at least not a terribly bad — bullpen is increasingly critical to a team’s chances of making and thereafter succeeding in the postseason, and so even if we should retain a measure of humility about our ability to predict what will happen before the season, we should nonetheless keep a close eye on how bullpens actually do once the season starts.

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Inside Baseball: How MLB Transactions Actually Get Done

Sometime late in the afternoon of March 11th, word broke on Twitter that the Phillies were “moving close” to a deal with then-free agent Jake Arrieta. In the hours that followed, several national and local writers confirmed that the two sides had reached a verbal agreement on a complex multi-year contract, though all involved cautioned that no deal was official yet.

And indeed it wasn’t. Before any major- or minor-league transaction can become officially official—before, indeed, a player can appear on a team’s roster or begin receiving paychecks from said team for their services—team, league, and (mostly in the case of free agent signings) agency officials have to work together to confirm each and every minute detail of the transaction in baseball’s system of record: the Electronic Baseball Information System (eBIS).

The gap between when verbal agreement is reached and when a deal is finalized in eBIS is most familiar to us as the interstitial period that comes between word of a big deal breaking in public and the team making that deal official. But the same process applies to thousands of transactions every year, big and small, and when we speak of a deal becoming Official—or, for that matter, a player being placed on waivers or reassigned to the minor leagues or drafted—what we really mean is that that transaction has been recorded and approved in eBIS.

It’s possible that the details of how this system works are only interesting to me, A Known Process Nerd. But on the off chance that might also be interesting to you, I spent some time talking about how the system works with Morgan Sword, the league’s Senior Vice President for League Economics & Operations, and Ned Rice, one of three Assistant General Managers for the Phillies, and the man mostly responsible for that team’s eBIS interactions (you may also recognize him as one of the men who greeted Arrieta’s plane on the tarmac in Florida on the evening of March 13th—the two men have known each other since their time in Baltimore).

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2018 Positional Power Rankings: Shortstop

Hello! This is a post in the series called “Positional Power Rankings,” which started on Monday with Jeff Sullivan’s introduction and continues today with my thoughts on the league’s shortstops. If you’d prefer to read other people’s thoughts on other positions, you can navigate to those thoughts using the widget above.

We’ve been talking about a golden age of shortstops for a few years now. Scanning through this list, I don’t see any particular reason to stop the chatter. Some players are fading a little, but Manny Machado is a shortstop again this year, after spending much of his big-league career at third; J.P. Crawford and Gleyber Torres are emerging, and the guys at the top of the list are projected to be just as good or better than they were last year. This is a special time to care about the middle of the infield, and the folks ranked in the middle of this list this year could easily have ranked near the top a decade ago. In some cases, like Troy Tulowitzki’s, they literally did. Anyway, here’s the chart you’ve been looking for:

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The Most and Least Confident of Projections

Chris Sale features the smallest gap among pitchers between his 10th- and 90th-percentile projections.
(Photo: Keith Allison)

A few weeks ago, I wrote a piece for this site wherein I noted that the Chicago White Sox rotation was (a) projected to be very bad in 2018 and (b) composed to a great extent of starting pitchers of whom the following could be said: “That guy? Who knows what he’ll do this year.” My editor Carson Cistulli titled the piece “The White Sox’ Rotation Could Be Anything,” and he was right. The White Sox’ rotation could be anything, because it’s full of players whose track records cause most projection systems to raise their digital shoulders, put on their best Robert De Niro face, and shrug magnificently right in your face.

In the comments to that piece, some of you expressed an interest in reading more about variance in player projections. So, here are some words and tables on that subject.

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Tell Me Something About the Future

In 2017, the fastball rate fell again. It’s been falling for some time now, but in 2017 it fell again, from 56.7% in 2016 to 55.6% last year. There’s some reason to think that the drop in the fastball rate is linked to the increase in baseball’s increasing swinging-strike rate, which in turn is linked to the rise in strikeouts and hit batsmen, and on and on and on. Baseball is a complex system of action and reaction, and small changes can grow large quickly.

So this year, I want to know: what do you think will happen to some of baseball’s key stats, league-wide, in 2018? Maybe you think home-run rates will go up and strikeouts will fall. Maybe you think if home-run rates go up then strikeout rates have to fall. Maybe you think it’s the other way around. I don’t know. But I want to hear from you, and most of all I want to hear why you think certain changes are linked, and others aren’t.

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How GMs Talk Amongst Themselves

A few weeks ago, as I dialed in to the fourth of five hour-long conference calls scheduled that Tuesday at my place of regular employment, I began to wonder idly how major-league teams and executives conducted their own sorts of correspondence. These are important people, I reasoned. Surely, they live lives of glamour and fascination, removed from such mundane tasks. Surely, they don’t dial into five hour-long conference calls every Tuesday.

And it’s true: they don’t do that. Over the past few weeks, I’ve asked multiple senior MLB executives a series of questions about how, in the most basic and concrete sense, they talk with their colleagues around the game. It turns out that, generally speaking, they live lives very far removed from glamour and fascination, and the way they communicate is basically the same way you and I do. It turns out that they text. A lot.

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What’s the Plan in Cincinnati?

Contrary to appearances, Joey Votto is unlikely to play forever.
(Photo: Hayden Schiff)

The last time the Reds won more than 80 games in a season, they actually won 90 games in a season — and a spot in the 2013 National League Wild Card game. They lost that game 6-2 to the Pirates and then lost another 86, 98, 94, and 94 games in each of the four seasons that followed. In 2018, the Reds are projected to lose 90 games, and the incomparable Joey Votto is projected to produce another 4.4 wins for the club for which he’s recorded a line of .313/.428/.541 over his 6,141 big-league plate appearances.

Votto is 34 this year, and while his skills profile suggests he’s got at least a few good seasons left in him, he won’t be around forever. So what’s the plan in Cincinnati to make best use of the years he has left? It’s really not entirely clear.

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The White Sox’ Rotation Could Be Anything

The Chicago White Sox are projected to win 65 games in 2018 and lose 97. That’s fewer projected wins, and more losses, than are forecast for any other team in the league — including the majors’ new go-to bogeyman, the Miami Derek Jeters Marlins. The 2018 White Sox are projected to be the worst team in baseball.

But pretty soon, the White Sox are going to be pretty good. That’s not just me saying so; you believe it, too. A few weeks ago, when Jeff Sullivan asked readers to project out each team’s next five years, you collectively gave the Sox a little over 81 wins a year for each of the next five years — and that includes 2018, during which you presumably expect the Sox to be terrible.

It’s not that 81 wins is a tremendously impressive total on its own. It does, however, represent the 14th-highest figure readers gave to any of the 30 teams. For the next five years, you expect the Sox to be just above average. And, more than that, you expect the White Sox to trail only the Astros and the Phillies in terms of their performance over the next five years relative to their performance over the last five.

And I agree with you. Since kicking off their rebuild last winter with the Chris Sale trade, the Sox have managed to turn their star pieces of yesterday into a tremendous collection of young talent for tomorrow, sufficient to give them (according to Baseball America) the fifth-best farm system in the game and (according to Kiley and Eric) six of the top-100 prospects in all of baseball. So far, so good.

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The Impact of Yu Darvish on Mike Montgomery on the Cubs

Mike Montgomery is an asset to the Cubs both in relief and as rotation depth.
(Photo: Arturo Pardavila III)

So far this offseason, the Chicago Cubs have signed seven free-agent pitchers. That’s a lot. (According to ESPN Stats & Information, it’s actually the second-most ever behind the 2001 Rangers.) You may have heard of one of them: Yu Darvish.

Travis Sawchik has already written about who Darvish is as a pitcher, and how he and the Cubs needed each other, and I agree with most of that. I want to write about something else — namely, the signing’s impact on Chicago’s bullpen, and how it’s really rather bad news for one rather excellent pitcher: Michael Paul Montgomery.

The big reason for that, of course, is that Montgomery was, prior to Saturday’s news, projected as Chicago’s fifth starter. Following Sunday’s news, meanwhile, Montgomery is now projected as Guy Who Joe Maddon Uses for More Relief Innings Than You’d Exepect.

This second role was actually the one Montgomery played for much of 2017, throwing out of the bullpen in 30 out of 44 appearances, and averaging a bit over two innings in those games. Seven times, he pitched three or more innings in relief. Once, he threw 4.1 innings. No pitcher in the game who recorded as many relief innings also threw more innings per relief appearance in 2017.

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The Opening Bell

Rian Watt will now be contributing regularly to FanGraphs. This represents his opening salvo for the site.

I read last week that 100% of the S&P 500’s gains over the last quarter-century have come between 4:00 pm and 9:30 am, Eastern Standard Time. These are the hours during which the market is closed. For the last 25 years, in other words, you would likely have been better off buying at close and selling at open every day than bothering one bit about trading stocks outside those times.

This fact astonished me.

It also caused me to wonder who the heck would learn such a thing and draw from it the conclusion, as the New York Times did, that a sensible thing to do in response would be to sell at open and buy at close every day, and trade no further. This is partially because I have a natural skepticism of any market advice that involves participating in the market in the first place.

But it is also because it seems to me that, if you’re going to play the stock market, you might as well play during the day time, when everyone else is playing, too. The other way might make you money more surely and in larger quantities, but it’s also tremendously boring and does little to liven up the interval between when you’re born and when you die. So why bother at all?

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