Author Archive

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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