Archive for Angels

Kole Calhoun Is Cold No More

For all intents and purposes, the Angels are having a disappointing season. Not every club that begins the season as a contender is able to end it in the same way, but somehow the organization has been remarkably consistent in their path to disappointment. For the third year in a row, they’ve been swarmed by numerous debilitating ligament injuries to the arms of controllable starting pitchers — seven in the last three years and four this year alone. This season, that list is headlined by Shohei Ohtani and Garrett Richards.

Craig Edwards recently discussed the team’s competitive positioning and outlook following the news of Zack Cozart’s season-ending labrum surgery, noting that, at the time of publication, the Angels had just a 4.5% chance of reaching the postseason. Edwards advocated that, with little to sell and hopes of contending in the near future, the club’s best course of action may be to do nothing, to bet on positive regression, and to hope that Seattle falters before the end of the season.

With numerous players’ failing to reach their projected levels, one might say underperformance is the team’s middle name. (Well, one of them.) Platoon specialist Luis Valbuena sports a 57 wRC+ against right-handed hitters, fanning a whopping 34% of the time. Ian Kinsler boasts a measly .214 BABIP en route to a batting average just five points higher, and Cozart had a rough albeit inconclusive go in learning the hot corner (-5 DRS in 278.1 innings). Kole Calhoun’s year, however, is the most incomprehensible roller coaster of them all.

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Betts, Ramírez, Trout, and the Blistering Pace

Roughly a month ago, Mike Trout appeared headed towards history. On June 20, I took time out from gorging myself on lobster rolls and clam strips during my Cape Cod family vacation to put together a table showing the short list of players who reached 6.0 WAR before the All-Star break. After 74 games, Trout was on pace to finish at 13.8 WAR, the third-highest total for a position player in history, behind only the 1923 and 1921 seasons of Babe Ruth (15.0 and 13.9 WAR, respectively).

A funny thing happened on the way to the break, however: Trout fell into his first true slump of the year, and both Mookie Betts and José Ramírez have closed the gap such that the trio is in a virtual tie atop the leaderboard at 6.5 WAR. This is the first time since 1975 — as far back as our splits in this area go, alas — that three players have reached even 6.0 WAR by the All-Star break, though even that relatively recent history shows such a pace is nearly impossible to maintain.

Before I dig in, it’s worth noting that, while we generally refer to what transpires before and after the All-Star break as the season’s first and second halves, those are generally misnomers, since the pause in the schedule usually happens well after the 81st game of the season and at a slightly different point from year to year. So far in 2018, the average team has played 96 games, similar to the averages in 2013 (94) and 2014 (95) but well ahead of those in 2015 and 2016 (89 games) or 2017 (88 games). Thankfully, so long as we’re taking the trouble to prorate to 162 games, we can cope with this.

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Players’ View: Learning and Developing a Pitch, Part 17

Pitchers learn and develop different pitches, and they do so at varying stages of their lives. It might be a curveball in high school, a cutter in college, or a changeup in A-ball. Sometimes the addition or refinement is a natural progression — graduating from Pitching 101 to advanced course work — and often it’s a matter of necessity. In order to get hitters out as the quality of competition improves, a pitcher needs to optimize his repertoire.

In the seventeenth installment of this series, we’ll hear from three pitchers — Matt Barnes, Cam Bedrosian, and Jesse Chavez — on how they learned and/or developed a specific pitch.

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Matt Barnes (Red Sox) on His Curveball

“I was in Double-A (Portland) with Brandon Workman and Anthony Ranaudo, and I think we were in Trenton, playing the Yankees at their place. I’d just pitched the day before and my curveball wasn’t good. They were like, ‘Try using a spiked grip.’ I was like, ‘I’ve never done it before.’ They said, ‘We both use it,’ and the rest is history. We started playing catch with it and I’ve had that grip ever since.

“Why did it work better for me than a conventional grip? I don’t know. There are little things in baseball. People could be saying the same thing to you, but one verbiage just latches on and allows you to understand it. The grip just felt natural to me. It felt easier to spin the baseball. What you’re trying to do is spin it as fast as you can, downward, to create the action, yet still be able to command it. I wasn’t able to do that with the grip I had before that, and what they showed me worked. Read the rest of this entry »


Players’ View: Learning and Developing a Pitch, Part 16

Pitchers learn and develop different pitches, and they do so at varying stages of their lives. It might be a curveball in high school, a cutter in college, or a changeup in A-ball. Sometimes the addition or refinement is a natural progression — graduating from Pitching 101 to advanced course work — and often it’s a matter of necessity. In order to get hitters out as the quality of competition improves, a pitcher needs to optimize his repertoire.

In the sixteenth installment of this series, we’ll hear from three pitchers — Clay Buchholz, Matt Moore, and Tyler Skaggs — on how they learned and/or developed a specific pitch.

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Clay Buchholz (D-backs) on His Split-Change

“I don’t throw it a lot, but there’s the split-change I’ll use against lefties. The first time I threw it was in 2012. We were in Tampa. I was in the bullpen warming up for a game and I couldn’t throw a changeup for a strike, so I went into the dugout and asked Josh Beckett how he held his little split-change. He showed me, I gripped it, and it felt good, so I brought it out to the mound.

“I think I threw six or seven innings, and struck out something like six or seven guys on that one pitch. There was nothing in my head. There were no expectations, it was just grip it, throw it, and see if it works. I was going through a grip episode with my changeup, and I figured that was better than bouncing changeups and throwing them over hitters’ heads. I literally took it from the dugout into the game. Read the rest of this entry »


Mike Trout Was Going Through a Thing

On Saturday afternoon in Anaheim, Mike Trout went 3-for-4 with two singles and a home run. For a player who, at age 26, has basically secured a place in the Hall of Fame, that kind of performance is pretty commonplace. Mike Trout is the best player in the world; nothing in this piece will attempt to convince you otherwise.

What was notable about that Saturday game, however, is that it represented Trout’s first multi-hit effort since since June 18th. If you’re the kind of person who takes life as it comes, for good or for bad, this sort of thing might not even register. But for the rest of you, who worry about the little moments in between the big ones, there is this: for the last two weeks or so, before he got three hits on Saturday, Mike Trout had been in a bit of a slump. For about two weeks or so, Mike Trout was a below-average major-league hitter.

Consider the following, which is a chart of Trout’s rolling wRC+ in 14-game chunks, dating back to the beginning of the 2012 season, which was his first full campaign, and concluding on July 6th, the day before his home run:

There are roughly 1,000 games here, so it’s pretty condensed. The most important part of it, however, is the low point on the right-most edge of the graph. That’s the slump Trout was enduring until Saturday, a 14-game stretch (June 22nd to July 6th) during which he recorded just a 70 wRC+. With the exception of that horrible second half he had back in 2014 and the very beginning of his 2012 season, it was the worst offensive period of his very excellent career to date.

A couple weeks spent hitting 30% worse than league average isn’t a news item for most players. Trout’s teammate Justin Upton has recorded just a 64 wRC+ over the last two weeks, for example, and that’s unlikely to inspire a post here at FanGraphs. Billy Hamilton owns a lifetime batting mark of 71 wRC+. For Mike Trout, however, this type of stretch is nearly unprecedented — and especially notable as it came hot on the heels of some of the best baseball in his glittering career.

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Players’ View: Learning and Developing a Pitch, Part 15

Pitchers learn and develop different pitches, and they do so at varying stages of their lives. It might be a curveball in high school, a cutter in college, or a changeup in A-ball. Sometimes the addition or refinement is a natural progression — graduating from Pitching 101 to advanced course work — and often it’s a matter of necessity. In order to get hitters out as the quality of competition improves, a pitcher needs to optimize his repertoire.

In the 15th installment of this series, we’ll hear from three pitchers —Justin Anderson, Archie Bradley, and Brent Suter — on how they learned and/or developed a specific pitch.

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Justin Anderson (Angels) on His Spiked Slider

“Some people might think it’s a curveball, but it’s a slider. It kind of has the same plane as my fastball. That’s the idea. You want one pitch going one way, and one going the other. My thought process is to throw it as hard as I can and try to get break on it with my wrist flipping.

“It’s not a traditional slider grip by any means. It’s a grip I was always curious about. There’s a guy we’d always watch in the minor leagues — I played against him coming up — and we were like, ‘This guy has one of the best sliders ever.’ His name is Dean Deetz. I stole it from him. I finally saw his grip on a picture, on Twitter, last October or maybe in November. I was like, ‘OK, so this is how the guy throws it. I’m going to give it a go.’ That’s what I did. I ran with it.

Anderson’s spiked slider grip.

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Sunday Notes: Ian Kinsler Has Deserved More Gold Gloves

Ian Kinsler was awarded his only Gold Glove in 2016. He’s been deserving of several more. Presenting at SABR’s national convention last weekend, Chris Dial shared that Kinsler has topped SABR’s Defensive Index at second base in five separate seasons, and on three other occasions he ranked as the runner up. Another metric is equally bullish on his glove work. Since breaking into the big leagues in 2006, Kinsler has 115 Defensive Runs Saved, the most of anyone at his position.

I asked the 36-year-old Angel if he was aware of how well he stacks up by the numbers.

“I secretly knew that,” smiled Kinsler, who then proceeded to balance appreciation with a touch of old-school skepticism for defensive metrics.

“It’s always nice to be valued in one way or another,” acknowledged Kinsler, who spent eight seasons in Texas, and four more in Detroit, before coming to Anaheim. “I don’t know if analytics are always correct. They don’t take into account everything this game offers, and I don’t know if they ever will, but to be thought of in that regard is flattering.”

Kinsler credits hard work, as well as the tutelage of coaches and teammates, for his having developed into a plus defender. Read the rest of this entry »


Daily Prospect Notes: 6/27

Notes on prospects from lead prospect analyst Eric Longenhagen. Read previous installments here.

Jabari Blash, OF, Los Angeles Angels (Profile)
Level: Triple-A   Age: 28   Org Rank: NR  FV: 35
Line: 3-for-3, 3 HR, BB

Notes
Blash is no longer rookie-eligible, so while he’s a fun player to watch hit bombs and had a hell of a game last night, he’s on here today as a conduit to discuss what’s going on with some of the Angels hitters in the lowest levels of the minors. This is Trent Deveaux last fall, when he first arrived in the states. His swing was largely the same early this spring, albeit with a stronger, more involved top hand, which helped him drive the ball with more authority. This is what he looks like right now, which bears quite a bit of resemblance to Blash. No offense to Blash, who has had a long pro career and will probably play for another half-decade or so, but I’m not sure I’d proactively alter an ultra-talented 18-year-old’s swing to mimic that of a notoriously frustrating replacement-level player. Deveaux isn’t the only low-level Angels hitting prospect whose swing now looks like this.

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This Might Not Be the Angels’ Year

In terms of playoff odds, Mike Trout gives the Angels a pretty good head start over the rest of the field every season. Where Los Angeles has had trouble over the last few years, however, is surrounding Trout with enough talent to make the postseason. They tried spending big, bringing in Josh Hamilton, Albert Pujols, and C.J. Wilson and extending Jered Weaver. That netted them exactly one playoff appearance, in 2014, when they were swept in three games. They’ve slowed down spending a bit in recent years, but made a savvy trade to bring Andrelton Simmons aboard, brought in Justin Upton and signed him to an extension, jumped on Ian Kinsler in a trade, signed Zack Cozart, and then lucked out in the Shohei Ohtani sweepstakes.

Despite what appears to be a collection of good moves, the results are still lacking. Now, news that Cozart will miss the rest of the season diminishes the Angels’ chances even further.

At the moment, there are only seven teams with at least a 5% chance at the playoffs in the American League. In the National League, there are nine teams with a similar chance. A week ago that number was 11 (sorry, Pirates and Rockies), and two weeks ago it was 12 (sorry, Mets). The National League looks very competitive this season, with a bunch of teams in the hunt and no single club possessing more than a 90% playoff probability. The American League, on the other hand, looks like this:

Four of the five playoff spots appear to be locked up, with the Mariners currently looking likely to take the final one. The pennant race is not without intrigue — the Yankees and Red Sox will battle to avoid a one-and-done Wild Card round — but Cleveland looks to be running away with the AL Central, and unless the Mariners have another gear, the Astros are going to take the West. As for the non-Yankees/Red Sox Wild Card, the Mariners have a seven-game edge over the Athletics and a nine-game lead over the Angels. If the Mariners win half the rest of their games, the Angels would need to win 50 to catch them. That’s 62% of their remaining dates, close to a 100-win pace over the course of the rest of the season.

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Daily Prospect Notes: 6/24 and 6/25

Notes on prospects from lead prospect analyst Eric Longenhagen. Read previous installments here.

Joe Palumbo, LHP, Texas Rangers (Profile)
Level: Rehabbing   Age: 23   Org Rank: 18  FV: 40
Line: 2 IP, 2 H, 0 BB, 3 K, 0 R

Notes
Sunday was Palumbo’s first start back from Tommy John surgery. He was into the mid-90s with a plus curveball before the injury, which caused him to miss all of 2017. Yerry Rodriguez (more detail here) had a second strong outing in relief of Palumbo, striking out seven in six innings of four-hit, one-run ball. Video of Rodriguez appears below.

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Goldschmidt, Trout, and the Greatest Weeks of the Century

One week’s worth of at-bats isn’t going to tell you a lot about a player. Hitters can look very good or very bad for entire weeks or even months, and it doesn’t necessarily represent their talent level or tell you a whole lot about it. For example, on April 9, Shin-Soo Choo began what has been thus far the worst week of the entire season. He came to the plate 29 times and got one hit, a single, which was good for a -70 wRC+. However, on the season, he has a 134 wRC+, which is not too far from his career line. Didi Gregorius had a 336 wRC+ the second week of the season and a -66 wRC+ the second week of May. Crazy things can happen in 20-30 plate appearances, and two of the craziest stretches of this century happened in the past two weeks.

You’ve probably heard that Mike Trout has been on a roll lately. That last statement has almost always been true for the past seven seasons, but it was particularly true last week. From June 11 to June 17, Trout came to the plate 28 times. He reached base via a hit 13 times, including four homers and a double. He was walked on seven occasions and was hit by a pitch once. He struck out five times. That leaves just two occasions where Trout made contact with the ball and got out. Once he hit a sacrifice fly and once he grounded into a double play. He was not named the American League Player of the Week.

That Trout was not named Player of the Week is a surprise, but sometimes consistent greatness doesn’t get rewarded. What’s more surprising is that Trout’s week wasn’t the best offensive week of the season. More specifically, it was not even the best offensive performance this month. That honor goes to Paul Goldschmidt one week earlier. From June 4 through June 10, Goldschmidt came to the plate 29 times. He reached base via a hit 16 times, including four homers, one triple, and six doubles. He also walked three times and was hit by a pitch. He struck out four times and made an out on a ball in play six times. His 455 wRC+ narrowly edged out Trout’s 439 in a week’s time.

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It’s Time to Talk About the AL Playoff Picture

It might seem a bit premature, but I think it’s time to talk about the American League playoff picture. Even though we’re only in the middle of June, the field might already be rounding into its final form, so we ought to at least entertain the conversation. During the preseason, we thought we had this all figured out; the preseason is when we feel our most clever. And for the most part, things in this sortable table don’t look terribly different than we expected them to before Opening Day.

American League Playoff Odds
Team Preseason
Odds
Current
Odds
Win Div Win WC SOS Pyth.
Record
BaseRuns
Record
Astros 98.8% 100% 98.1% 1.9% 0.491 -5 -2
Indians 96.6% 95.9% 95.4% 0.5% 0.477 -1 -1
Yankees 89.7% 100% 74.8% 25.2% 0.489 +3 +1
Red Sox 84.2% 99.5% 25.2% 74.3% 0.509 +1 +2
Blue Jays 37.1% 2.7% 0.0% 2.7% 0.506 0 +2
Twins 28.7% 7.0% 4.4% 2.6% 0.484 -2 0
Angels 27.1% 14.0% 0.1% 13.9% 0.510 -1 0
Mariners 9.4% 74.9% 1.8% 73.0% 0.516 +8 +7
Athletics 9.2% 5.6% 0.0% 5.5% 0.508 +1 +1
Rangers 7.7% 0.1% 0.0% 0.1% 0.504 +1 +2
Orioles 4.9% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.523 -4 -3
Rays 4.9% 0.2% 0.0% 0.2% 0.515 -1 -5
Royals 0.9% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.501 0 -2
Tigers 0.7% 0.2% 0.1% 0.1% 0.506 +2 +1
White Sox 0.1% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.505 -2 -6

The Astros, Yankees, and Red Sox are the class of the league, with all three teams projected to win at least 100 games and the first two of those each projected to win 103. The Indians are worse than we thought they would be, but the presence of the Royals, White Sox, Tigers, and even the Twins means their pursuit of another division championship likely won’t be imperiled.

We expected the Indians to win, and it looks like they will. We expected the Yankees and Red Sox to kick the snot out of each other on their way to sterling records, and for one of them to end up a quite overqualified Wild Card teams, and that looks overwhelmingly likely, too. And despite their currently narrow two-game lead on the Mariners, we expected that the Astros would run away with the West. That still looks probable, as well. It all still mostly looks probable. We (or at least the projections) were pretty clever.

Except for one thing, that is — namely, that the Mariners are currently in sole possession of the second Wild Card and that the Mariners are 7.5 games up on the Angels.

This isn’t a post about the Mariners, per se, but it is useful to think about how they got to this point. As Jay Jaffe wrote, they’ve been both ridiculously successful in one-run games (currently 23-10) and ridiculously clutch in high-leverage situations. (Their current 7.17 Clutch Score still leads the AL.) Their bullpen is quite good (fourth in the AL). Mitch Haniger has taken a big step forward, Marco Gonzales a more modest one. James Paxton has a FIP in the twos. Jean Segura would deserve to be an All-Star if shortstop weren’t such a crowded position.

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Daily Prospect Notes: 6/19

Notes on prospects from lead prospect analyst Eric Longenhagen. Read previous installments here.

Forrest Whitley, RHP, Houston Astros (Profile)
Level: Double-A   Age: 20   Org Rank:FV: 60
Line: 4 IP, 2 H, 1 BB, 7 K, 0 R

Notes
This is the best pitching prospect in baseball, wielding ungodly stuff that spiked when he dropped about 60 pounds throughout his senior year of high school. He’s also on Driveline’s weighted-ball program. He’ll show your four plus or better pitches over the course of an outing. Whitley has yet to allow a run since returning from suspension. The suspension might be a blessing in disguise for Houston, who could now conceivably weave him into their playoff plans without fear of overworking Whitley’s innings count.

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Shohei Ohtani and the Implications

This is Rahul Setty’s first post at FanGraphs. His work can also be found at SB Nation blog Halos Heaven. He is present at Twitter dot com.

When Shohei Ohtani was finally posted in early December, baseball fans in the States were formally introduced to his exploits. Selected first in the NPB’s 2012 draft by the Nippon Ham Fighters when he was 18, Ohtani quickly became the first player to start on the mound and in the field. As a teenager and young adult in a league that, on average, featured players between five and 10 years his senior, Ohtani slashed .286/.358/.500 and struck out in excess of 10 batters per nine innings for a 2.52 ERA. He also possessed an outstanding arm, jaw-dropping raw power, and top-of-the-line speed. And, as if all that wasn’t enough, Ohtani set a velocity record for all Japanese high schoolers at the age of 17 (99 mph) and then did the same, one-upping himself, in NPB play four years later (102.5 mph).

He doesn’t feel human.

By now, you have likely heard the news that Shohei Ohtani is immensely talented. Inviting comps to Babe Ruth, he has taken a no-hitter into the seventh inning and homered off of a reigning Cy Young winner. He owns the 11th-highest exit velocity (and 10th-highest hard-hit percentage) among batters with 50 batted balls or more. Ohtani’s 151 wRC+ places him in the 95th percentile (min. 100 PA), which is as remarkable as it is baffling given the notable adjustment he made so quickly.

You have also likely heard that Ohtani came down with a second blister on his throwing hand approximately two weeks ago, received an MRI, and found out he has a grade-2 sprain of his throwing UCL. The two-way unicorn has opted for plasma-rich platelet and stem-cell treatment in an effort to repair the ligament and avoid Tommy John surgery.

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Trout, Davis, and the Largest Seasonal WAR Differentials

As I noted earlier today, Orioles slugger Chris Davis, who through the Orioles’ first 67 games has already dug himself a -1.9 WAR hole, is on pace for the worst season ever by that measure, -4.6 WAR. At the other end of the spectrum, Mike Trout is having not just the best season of his already amazing career, but one for the pantheon. His 5.7 WAR through the Angels’ first 69 games prorates to 13.4 over a full season, which would rank third all-time, behind the 1923 and 1921 seasons of Babe Ruth (15.0 and 13.9 WAR, respectively), making Trout’s season “only” the best in the past 95 years. What a slacker.

Even if that’s the case, Trout and Davis could combine for the largest WAR differential between two position players in one season, a chasm wider than the Grand Canyon. Below are the 20 largest single-season gaps, with some player-seasons, such as Ruth’s 1920, included more than once. I’ve also included two hypothetical end-of-season figures for Trout and Davis: their WAR differential based both on current pace and also our Depth Chart projections.

Largest Single-Season WAR Differentials Since 1901
Season Player 1 Team WAR Player 2 Team WAR Dif
2018 Mike Trout PACE Angels 13.4 Chris Davis PACE Orioles -4.6 18.0
1923 Babe Ruth Yankees 15.0 Shano Collins Red Sox -2.5 17.5
1920 Babe Ruth+ Yankees 13.3 Ivy Griffin Athletics -2.8 16.1
1920 Babe Ruth+ Yankees 13.3 Chick Galloway Athletics -2.4 15.7
2002 Barry Bonds Giants 12.7 Neifi Perez+ Royals -2.9 15.6
1927 Babe Ruth Yankees 13.0 Ski Melillo Browns -2.5 15.5
1924 Babe Ruth Yankees 12.5 Milt Stock+ Robins -2.7 15.2
1924 Rogers Hornsby Cardinals 12.5 Milt Stock+ Robins -2.7 15.2
1927 Lou Gehrig Yankees 12.5 Ski Melillo+ Browns -2.5 15.0
2001 Barry Bonds Giants 12.5 Peter Bergeron Expos -2.4 14.9
1931 Babe Ruth Yankees 10.7 Jim Levey Browns -3.3 14.0
1993 Barry Bonds+ Giants 10.5 David McCarty Twins -3.1 13.6
1929 Rogers Hornsby Cubs 11.1 Tommy Thevenow Phillies -2.4 13.5
1905 Honus Wagner Pirates 10.8 Fred Raymer Beaneaters -2.4 13.2
1912 Tris Speaker Red Sox 10.6 Frank O’Rourke Braves -2.6 13.2
1928 Babe Ruth Yankees 10.6 Doc Farrell Braves -2.6 13.2
1930 Babe Ruth Yankees 10.5 Fresco Thompson Phillies -2.7 13.2
1993 Barry Bonds+ Giants 10.5 Ruben Sierra Athletics -2.6 13.1
1993 Barry Bonds+ Giants 10.5 Luis Polonia Angels -2.6 13.1
1927 Rogers Hornsby Giants 10.4 Ski Melillo+ Browns -2.5 12.9
2002 Alex Rodriguez Rangers 10.0 Neifi Perez+ Royals -2.9 12.9
2018 Mike Trout PROJ Angels 10.8 Chris Davis PROJ Orioles -1.7 12.5
+ = Player-season appears more than once.

Seven separate Ruth seasons are represented here, along with three apiece from Hornsby and Bonds. Aside from the projection of Trout, only one other post-World War II player besides Bonds is represented above on the good side of things, namely A-Rod in 2002. That’s just one small set of data points related to the fact that the spread of talent between the best and worst players is much less now than it was 75 or 100 years ago and that leagues today are stronger than the ones of decades past.

Ruth hit “only” 41 homers during his 15.0-WAR 1923 season, but via his .393/.545/.764 (231 wRC+) line, he set career highs in the first two categories even while somehow failing to win a batting title. (The Tigers’ Harry Heilmann hit .403.) His dance partner from the 1923 season was Collins, a light-hitting outfielder who batted .231/.265/.289 for a lousy 43 wRC+ that year and was six runs below average on defense. To the extent that Collins has any other claim to fame, it’s apparently that he was the only player in the White Sox’ starting lineup for Game One of the World Series who didn’t wind up either banned for life as part of the Black Sox scandal or elected to the Hall of Fame (as Eddie Collins and Ray Schalk were). Ruth’s 1931 season (.373/.495/.700, 46 HR) is paired with Levey, the Browns shortstop who actually had an even worse season (1933, -4.0 WAR) that represents the record Davis is trying to avoid.

As for Trout, to date, the largest WAR gap of his career is 13.9 WAR, from 2013, when he set a career best with 10.1 WAR and Yuniesky Betancourt turned in a -1.8 WAR clunker. Even if Davis didn’t play another game this year, Trout would only need to add another 4.5 WAR over the Angels’ 93 remaining games to surpass that previous high. While he and Davis don’t have much margin for error in surpassing Ruth and Collins, it still boggles the mind that we could be seeing such extremes in the same season.


The Fringe Five: Baseball’s Most Compelling Fringe Prospects

Fringe Five Scoreboards: 2017 | 2016 | 2015 | 2014 | 2013.

The Fringe Five is a weekly regular-season exercise, introduced a few years ago by the present author, wherein that same author utilizes regressed stats, scouting reports, and also his own fallible intuition to identify and/or continue monitoring the most compelling fringe prospects in all of baseball.

Central to the exercise, of course, is a definition of the word fringe, a term which possesses different connotations for different sorts of readers. For the purposes of the column this year, a fringe prospect (and therefore one eligible for inclusion among the Five) is any rookie-eligible player at High-A or above who (a) was omitted from the preseason prospect lists produced by Baseball Prospectus, MLB.com, John Sickels, and (most importantly) FanGraphs’ Eric Longenhagen and Kiley McDaniel* and also who (b) is currently absent from a major-league roster. Players appearing Longenhagen and McDaniel’s most recent update have also been excluded from consideration.

*Note: I’ve excluded Baseball America’s list this year not due to any complaints with their coverage, but simply because said list is now behind a paywall.

For those interested in learning how Fringe Five players have fared at the major-league level, this somewhat recent post offers that kind of information. The short answer: better than a reasonable person would have have expected. In the final analysis, though, the basic idea here is to recognize those prospects who are perhaps receiving less notoriety than their talents or performance might otherwise warrant.

*****

Josh James, RHP, Houston (Profile)
Every time James produces a strong start — an event that has occurred with considerable frequency this season — FanGraphs contributor and traveler within the world of ideas Travis Sawchik sends a note to the present author that reads, “His name is JOSH JAMES.” While I can’t argue with the literal sense of Sawchik’s message — namely, that this right-hander’s given name literally is Josh James — I suspect that my colleague is attempting to communicate something more profound than a single datum from James’s biography. Have I pursued the topic? No. Not because I’m afraid to, either — but rather because I am infested by indifference.

James made one start this week, recording an 11:2 strikeout-to-walk ratio against 23 batters while facing Houston’s affiliate in Fresno (box).

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Is Ian Kinsler Cooked?

It’s been a rough year for AL second basemen on the wrong side of 30. Robinson Cano, 35, was recently hit with an 80-game PED suspension. Dustin Pedroia, 34, played just three games last week before going back on the disabled list with inflammation in the same knee that had sidelined him for the season’s first two months. Jason Kipnis has played more like 41 years old than 31, and fellow 31-year-old Brian Dozier has been merely average. The oldest of them all, the soon-to-be 36-year-old Ian Kinsler, has been one of the majors’ worst. It’s increasingly possible that his days as a productive regular are over.

After homering just twice in the Angels’ first 54 games, Kinsler went yard three times in a five-game span from May 29 to June 2, going 11-for-20 in those games against the Tigers and Rangers — Kinsler’s two previous teams, incidentally, both in the bottom half of the league in terms of run prevention. Even with the aforementioned hot streak, however, the returns on Kinsler have been underwhelming. He entered Tuesday hitting just .212/.279/.348. Out of 85 AL batting-title qualifiers, his on-base percentage ranked 80th, his slugging percentage 78th, his 74 wRC+ 77th, with Pedroia fill-in Eduardo Nuñez, Kipnis, and the Tigers’ Dixon Machado the only AL second basemen below him in the last of those categories. Kinsler’s glove has been strong enough (5.3 UZR) to just push his value into the black.

When the Angels traded a pair of low-level prospects for Kinsler last December, it appeared to be a worthwhile gamble. The six players who had toiled at the keystone for their 2017 squad (Kaleb Cowart, Danny Espinosa, Nolan Fontana, Nick Franklin, Cliff Pennington, and Brandon Phillips) had combined for a league-worst 63 wRC+ at the position and just 0.2 WAR. Tellingly, that sextet has combined for all of 39 big league plate appearances this year. While Kinsler was coming off a career-worst season with the bat (.236/.313/.412, 91 WRC+), his typically solid baserunning (1.5 BsR) and fielding (7.8 UZR) boosted his value to 2.5 WAR, 12th in the majors at the position. With an $11 million salary in his final year before free agency, he seemed like both a solid stopgap and an upgrade at the same time.

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How Shohei Ohtani Could Help the Angels’ Platoon Problem

Every bit of value counts for the Angels, who share a division with probably the majors’ best team and who possess a 29.9% chance of making the postseason as of right now. Even slight improvement would be more meaningful to the Angels than most teams. And there’s perhaps a way the Angels can better employ the game’s most interesting and only two-way player in Shohei Ohtani to gain a little more value.

The Angels rank dead last in platoon advantage, their batters facing opposite-handed pitchers just 37% of the time, according Baseball Reference. The MLB average is 53%. The Indians, thanks in large part to switch-hitting stars Francisco Lindor and Jose Ramirez, lead baseball in holding the platoon advantage at a 69% clip.

The Angels have recorded the most right-on-right plate appearances (1,207) of any club this year, with the Astros representing the next-closest team (1,075).

Despite their right-handed-heavy lineup, the Angels actually rank second in baseball in right-on-right wRC+ (123) and ranked fifth last season (101). Having Mike Trout helps paper over many cracks — including platoon disadvantages — but there are only three Angels regulars who are better than league average against righties: Trout, Andrelton Simmons, and Justin Upton. As a whole, the Angels rank third against righties with a 109 wRC+, while they ranked in the middle of the pack with a wRC+ of 98 versus them last season.

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Andrelton Simmons Is Avoiding Strikeouts Like Tony Gwynn

Andrelton Simmons draws comparisons to Ozzie Smith for his defensive prowess. Both players are recognized as once-in-a-generation all-time greats at their positions, though Simmons has yet rival Smith’s Hall of Fame career.

Apart from the defensive skills, similarities have emerged between Smith and Simmons offensively, as well. Consider that, through the 2016 season, Simmons had taken roughly 2,500 plate appearances and put up a weak 85 wRC+. Compare that to Smith’s first seven seasons, through 1983, when he put up an even worse 74 wRC+ in more than 3,500 plate appearances.

Smith eventually turned his career around offensively, however, putting up a 103 wRC+ from 1984 through 1992 while producing 37 runs by means of the stolen base, a total which might even understate his total offensive value. Smith was bad on offense for quite some time, then he improved and was a good offensive player for a decent portion of his career. It’s possible we are seeing the same type of transformation from Simmons. The Angels shortstop put a 103 wRC+ last season at 27 years old; thus far this season, he’s doing considerably better, with a 143 wRC+ on the strength of his .331/.402/.466 batting line. Most remarkable about Simmons’ hitting numbers are the strikeouts — or lack thereof, rather — as Simmons has struck out in just 10 of his 200 plate appearances.

In 1998, Tony Gwynn stepped up to bat 505 times and struck out on just 18 occasions. The league-average strikeout rate of 17% at that point was nearly five times Gwynn’s 3.6% mark. Preston Wilson made his debut that season and struck out more times than Gwynn despite receiving only 60 plate appearances. Gwynn’s 3.6% strikeout rate isn’t the greatest of all-time. Joe Sewell struck out in under 1% of his plate appearances five times, while 68 players between 1919 and 1951 had qualified seasons with rates lower than 2%. There were 413 seasons during that time where a player’s strikeout rate was lower than Gwynn’s in that 1998 campaign. Gwynn himself even had four seasons with a lower strikeout rate than 1998, but when considering the overall context of strikeouts in the game, Gwynn’s 1998 season is probably the best of all-time. If Andrelton Simmons can keep this up, his season is going to be better.

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Mike Trout Is Now an Average Hall of Famer

Mike Trout, pictured here, is a popular American athlete.
(Photo: Ian D’Andrea)

The Angels have struggled recently, losing seven out of 10 games to the Twins, Astros, and Rays and falling from a tie atop the AL West to 3.5 games back. Over the weekend, though, Mike Trout did something special. While going 3-for-8 with a double, a pair of homers, and four walks in 12 plate appearances against Tampa Bay, he pushed his seasonal WAR (Baseball-Reference flavor) to 4.0 and his career WAR to 58.2. With that, he reached the JAWS standard for center fielders, the average of each Hall of Fame center fielder’s career WAR and his seven-year peak WAR.

Mike Trout is two-and-a-half months shy of his 27th birthday.

Mike Trout has played six full seasons and parts of two others — roughly a quarter apiece — in the majors.

Mike Trout has not played long enough to be eligible for the Hall of Fame.

Mike Trout is very, very, very good at baseball.

You probably knew most of the above, qualitatively if not down to the first decimal place, and after six-plus years of reading about his feats at the plate, on the bases and in the field, you might be somewhat jaded as to his exploits. Right now, he might not even the most popular Los Angeles Angel thanks to the virtually unprecedented two-way prowess of Shohei Ohtani, the Most Interesting Man in the World. Trout, aside from his baseball excellence and his earnest fascination with meteorology, is not that interesting, much to the chagrin of those who fret about Major League Baseball’s lack of a Lebron James-level Face of the Game.

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