Archive for Braves

Sunday Notes: Ross Stripling is a Nerd and Jesse Chavez Couldn’t Get High in LA

When I approached Ross Stripling at the All-Star Game media session, I knew that he was in the midst of a breakthrough season. The 28-year-old Los Angeles Dodgers right-hander went into the midsummer classic with a record of 8-2, a 2.08 ERA, and a 10.2 K-rate in 95-and-a-third innings.

I didn’t know that he was a nerd.

“Are you taking about things like spin rate and spin efficiency? I’m a believer in that for sure,” was Stripling’s response when I asked if he ever talks pitching analytics with anyone in the organization. “When I got called up in 2016, I thought that what made me good was my high arm angle leading to good downward angle on my fastball, so I should pitch down in the zone. But I tried that, and I was getting walloped.”

Then came a conversation that jumpstarted his career. Optioned to the minors in midseason to help limit his workload — “I was basically down there sitting on innings” — Stripling picked up a ringing cell phone and was soon standing at rapt attention. The voice on the other end belonged to Dodgers president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman. Read the rest of this entry »


The Worst Called Strike of the First Half

As is tradition during the All-Star break, yesterday I wrote about the worst called ball of the first half. Per usual, it was a called ball on a pitch more or less right down the center of the zone. It always has to be that kind of pitch, given the method behind the research in the first place. Called balls like that aren’t very common — there’s no reason for them to be very common — but they always exist. Or, at least, to this point, they have always existed. Baseball has always given me something.

When you write about the worst called ball, it’s also obligatory to write about the worst called strike. The worst called ball is the ball closest to the center of the strike zone. The worst called strike is the strike furthest from the nearest edge of the strike zone. I don’t look forward to this post as much, because the balls down the middle are just funnier to me. But that doesn’t mean there’s nothing to learn, or nothing to appreciate. Every bad call is special. Let’s look at the call that’s been the most bad.

Read the rest of this entry »


Daily Prospect Notes: 7/11

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

Andres Gimenez, SS, New York Mets (Profile)
Level: Hi-A   Age: 19   Org Rank: 3   FV: 50
Line: 3-for-5, 2B, 3B

Notes
Gimenez is a 19-year-old shortstop slashing .280/.350/.430 in the Florida State League. That’s good for a 107 wRC+ in the FSL. Big-league shortstops with similar wRC+ marks are Trea Turner (a more explosive player and rangier defender than Gimenez) and Jurickson Profar, who have both been two-win players or better this year ahead of the break. Also of note in the Mets system last night was Ronny Mauricio, who extended his career-opening hitting streak to 19 games.

Read the rest of this entry »


I Think I Love This NL All-Star Outfield

Bryce Harper, Matt Kemp and Nick Markakis walk into a bar and… [squints at notes]… will be the starting outfield for the NL in the 2018 All-Star Game.

That’s not a joke. Nor is it a travesty, or justice served, or the result of any single organizing principle beyond their simultaneous eligibility for the honor. Barring any scratch due to injury, it’s a reality, one that demonstrates the potential strangeness that can occur when fans get to vote to choose the starting lineups for both leagues. Those lineups, along with the reserves and Final Vote participants, were announced on Sunday evening.

We go though this every year, and across this vast country, there’s no doubt some complaining about who’s worthy or unworthy of selection. If you care enough, you can probably find an egregious snub, a player whose omission will spike your blood pressure and cost you followers on Twitter when you surround your 280-character case for the guy with enough expletives. Me, I don’t vote for All-Star teams anymore and generally dread writing about the selections, but this trio is different. Seldom does a single unit – one league’s infield or another league’s outfield or a bullpen or whatever — shine a light on the fundamental conflicts that come into play when choosing a team.

Even once you acknowledge that the game is first and foremost an exhibition for the fans, who, after all, are the ones responsible for the vote, you run up against the question of criteria. Are the selections simply supposed to represent the hottest players over the first 80-something games of the season? The most accomplished players from around the league? The biggest stars on the most successful teams? Or the players whose true talent level over a large sample size suggests that they’re actually the best? You could go any one of those ways and get different answers — or find fault with any of them, as well.

Of the three starting NL outfielders, Harper was the easiest to predict, whether you measure from the moment in April 2015 when MLB officially anointed the Nationals to host the game — just before the 22-year-old fourth-year veteran set the Senior Circuit ablaze en route to an MVP award — or this spring, when the 25-year-old began the year by homering six times in Washington’s first nine games. While the performance gap between him and Mike Trout continues to grow, Harper is the one of the pair with more public exposure thanks to things as varied as the Sports Illustrated cover at age 16 and the Nationals’ four trips to the playoffs during his short career. He’s the one with the more outsized public persona, the wild hairdos, and the higher total of jerseys sold, at least as of last October.

I hate the handwringing over MLB’s perceived lack of a transcendent national star on par with LeBron James or Tom Brady — the “The Face of Baseball” conversation, in other words — as much as anyone, but Harper is about as Face of Baseball as you can get in 2018. And that’s not “even when he’s hitting .218,” that’s “especially when he’s hitting .218,” because beyond whatever advantages Harper has in name recognition among fans, there’s the growing understanding that .218 doesn’t represent the quality of Harper’s 2018 season, or his true ability.

No, Harper’s not having his best year by any stretch of the imagination, and yes, he’s been caught in a prolonged slump, making less frequent contact with pitches inside the zone than ever (76.6%, compared to a career mark of 84.3%) and getting eaten alive by infield shifts (40 wRC+ on contact, down from 107 last year and 81 for his career). Thanks to his 21 homers (second in the league) and 76 walks (first), though, he’s still got a .374 on-base percentage (15th in the NL), a .472 slugging percentage (26th), a 122 wRC+ (also 26th), and 1.5 WAR. In other words, he’s still a very productive hitter even in a down year, and over a larger timeframe — from the start of 2017 until now, for example — he’s still one of the game’s top dozen hitters by wRC+ — and the only one among that dozen who’s eligible to play the outfield for the NL this year:

MLB wRC+ Leaders, 2017-2018
Rk Player Team PA HR AVG OBP SLG wRC+
1 Mike Trout Angels 908 58 .309 .448 .628 186
2 J.D. Martinez – – – 856 72 .314 .383 .671 171
3 Aaron Judge Yankees 1064 77 .283 .414 .607 169
4 Jose Altuve Astros 1068 33 .343 .408 .525 156
5 Joey Votto Reds 1100 44 .310 .444 .527 155
6 Jose Ramirez Indians 1035 53 .309 .382 .586 154
7 Freddie Freeman Braves 913 44 .310 .404 .567 152
8 Nelson Cruz Mariners 964 61 .281 .370 .549 148
9 Giancarlo Stanton – – – 1073 80 .276 .363 .588 147
10 Paul Goldschmidt D-backs 1059 56 .291 .398 .554 144
11 Carlos Correa Astros 796 37 .297 .376 .522 143
12T Bryce Harper Nationals 880 50 .277 .395 .544 141
12T Kris Bryant Cubs 976 38 .290 .401 .519 141
14 Anthony Rendon Nationals 902 37 .294 .385 .526 137
15 Mookie Betts Red Sox 1036 46 .288 .372 .524 135

In other words, Harper is a damn solid choice to start the 2018 All-Star Game, warts and all. Besides, did you think they were gonna play the game in DC without him?

In some ways, Markakis is the anti-Harper, a 34-year-old player who’s in his 13th big-league season. While he’s taken home a pair of Gold Glove awards, he’s never before sniffed an All-Star team, though he probably deserved it in 2008 based on a first half with a 138 wRC+ and 3.6 WAR, fourth in the league. He, too, has actually been on the cover of an issue of Sports Illustrated, jumping in the air to celebrate a victory along with fellow Orioles outfielders Endy Chavez and Adam Jones for an October 1, 2012 cover story written by David Simon of Homicide and The Wire fame, but unless you’re an Orioles or Braves fan, you probably couldn’t pick him out of a police lineup unless he was wearing his jersey. Hell, a late-season broken thumb cost him a playoff appearance in 2012, though he did hit a big two-run homer off Justin Verlander in Game Two of the 2014 Division Series.

After nine years with the Orioles, Markakis signed a four-year, $44 million contract with the Braves in December 2014, a deal that was greeted with reactions ranging from “Huh?” to “What?” especially because the team had just traded away the more talented Justin Upton and Jason Heyward amid their rebuilding effort. For the first three years of the deal, he served as little more than a durable (but apparently not fully healthy) placeholder, averaging 158 games, a 100 wRC+ (.280/.357/.386), and 1.1 WAR a year for a team that averaged 69 wins. Yet when the Braves were ready to turn the corner towards contention, Markakis stepped up and joined Freddie Freeman and Ozzie Albies as a middle-of-the-order force. He’s handling breaking pitches better than he has in years. His average exit velocity is up 3.1 mph over last year, to 91.4 mph, good for 34th out of 292 qualifiers, and his .391 xwOBA is 61 points higher than last year and 48 higher than in any other year since Statcast was unveiled.

Overall, Markakis is hitting .322/.389/.490 for a 135 wRC+; his 113 hits ranks first in the league, his batting average third, his on-base percentage sixth, his wRC+ tied for 12th, and his 2.5 WAR tied for 18th and tied for third among NL outfielders:

NL Outfield WAR Leaders, 2018
Rk Player Team PA HR AVG OBP SLG wRC+ WAR
1 Lorenzo Cain Brewers 317 8 .290 .394 .435 127 3.4
2 Kyle Schwarber Cubs 307 17 .249 .376 .498 129 2.6
3T Nick Markakis Braves 398 10 .322 .389 .490 135 2.5
3T Brandon Nimmo Mets 280 12 .262 .386 .515 148 2.5
5 Ben Zobrist Cubs 271 6 .294 .387 .429 123 2.3
6 A.J. Pollock D-backs 186 11 .289 .355 .590 147 2.3
7T David Peralta D-backs 356 15 .291 .354 .508 130 2.2
7T Starling Marte Pirates 317 10 .278 .328 .457 112 2.2
7T Christian Yelich Brewers 318 11 .285 .362 .459 120 2.2
10 Matt Kemp Dodgers 297 15 .319 .360 .549 146 2.0
11T Chris Taylor Dodgers 361 10 .257 .338 .461 119 1.8
11T Brian Anderson Marlins 395 6 .282 .359 .407 113 1.8
11T Cody Bellinger Dodgers 359 17 .234 .320 .475 116 1.8
11T Odubel Herrera Phillies 365 15 .281 .335 .469 117 1.8
15 Albert Almora Jr. Cubs 283 4 .326 .365 .452 120 1.7
16T Jason Heyward Cubs 283 5 .280 .339 .421 104 1.5
16T Kiké Hernandez Dodgers 247 15 .230 .313 .475 113 1.5
16T Corey Dickerson Pirates 317 6 .308 .341 .458 114 1.5
16T Bryce Harper Nationals 388 21 .218 .374 .472 122 1.5
20T 8 players 1.4

If you’re going by a larger timeframe than just the past three-and-a-half months, there’s no justifiable logic by which Markakis could be an All-Star, but as a hot hand on what might be the NL’s biggest surprise team (unless it’s the Phillies, who are actually tied with the Braves atop the NL East), he’s the type of selection that fans often make. And while he takes a back seat to 46-year-old Satchel Paige, 42-year-old Tim Wakefield, 40-year-old Jamie Moyer, and other older first-time All-Stars, there’s something endearing and cool about Markakis making it, particularly given that until his selection, he ranked second in career hits (2,164) among players who had never made an All-Star team and began their careers after 1933, the year of the first All-Star Game. If Nick Markakis can persevere that long before becoming an All-Star, then buck up, Buttercup, because good things are in store for you, as well.

Which brings us to Kemp, whose two previous All-Star appearances, in 2011 and -12, date back to when he was the toast of Tinseltown. In the first of those years, Kemp was voted the NL’s starting center fielder during a season in which he wound up one homer short of becoming just the fifth player in history to go 40/40 in homers and steals; as it was, he led the NL in homers (39), RBIs (126), total bases (353), and WAR (8.3) while ranking second in wRC+ (168). He won a Gold Glove, and while he finished second to Ryan Braun in the NL MVP voting, he landed an eight-year, $160 million dollar extension, setting a record for an NL player. While he got off to a sizzling start the following year, back-to-back left hamstring strains limited him to five plate appearances in a two-month span and forced him to the sidelines for the Midsummer Classic.

Thus began a string of increasingly frustrating seasons during which Kemp’s production on both sides of the ball sank; the Dodgers traded him to the Padres in December 2014, eating $32 million of the $107 million remaining on his deal. On July 30, 2016, the Padres sent him to the Braves along with $10.5 million in exchange for infielder Hector Olivera, who was under suspension for a domestic-violence incident, owed $28.5 million for 2017-20 once he was reinstated, and immediately released upon completion of the deal. As I noted in late April, the trail of bad paper attached to Kemp came full circle this past December, when the Braves dealt him back to the Dodgers for Charlie Culberson, Adrian Gonzalez, Scott Kazmir, Brandon McCarthy (collectively owed more than $50 million for 2018) and another $4.5 million, a move designed to help the Dodgers get under the competitive balance tax threshold.

Though Kemp had homered 77 times from 2015 to -17, he hit just .269/.310/.470 (107 wRC+), posted the majors’ worst outfield defense by UZR (-33) and DRS (-50), and produced a net of 1.4 WAR for his $64.5 million salary. The Dodgers, with an outfield logjam, weren’t even expected to roster him come Opening Day, presumed instead to have plans of trading him to a DH-friendly team or releasing him. Nonetheless, Kemp showed up to camp having lost a reported 40 pounds, played well during spring training, and became the beneficiary when Justin Turner’s broken wrist opened up time for Kiké Hernandez in the infield.

Improbably, Kemp proceeded to hit for a 144 wRC+ during the Dodgers’ otherwise dismal April and is now batting .319/.360/.549 with 15 homers and a 146 wRC+, which ranks seventh in the league, second among the league’s outfielders (sorry, Nimmo), and second on the Dodgers, who would be closer to Triple-A Oklahoma City than NL West-leading Arizona if not for his unlikely resurgence. No, his defense isn’t great (-1 UZR, -3 DRS), but it’s not gut-shot bleeding awful the way it was during his first round of stardom. His 2.0 WAR may rank just ninth among NL outfielders, but I don’t see any more compelling redemption stories of his caliber above him.

Perennials, first-timers, redemption stories… let’s face it, All-Star selections aren’t just about choosing the best in the league, and they probably never were. Sure, the unlikely trio’s AL counterparts — namely Trout, Mookie Betts, and Aaron Judge rank as the majors’ top three outfielders by WAR not just over the 2018 season but including 2017, as well. Still, with something on the order of 70 roster spots between the two teams once the dust settles on injuries and inactives, it helps to have some variety, a few guys here and there who check the various narrative boxes that release the different neurotransmitters during the game’s pitching changes.

Grieve if you want to over the slight of Cain, whose fourth-ranked WAR merely netted him a reserve role. Bemoan the fate of Nimmo, who’s already suffered the indignity of being a 2018 Met, for being left off not just the NL roster but the Final Vote ballot, as well. Scream all you want about the unfairness of the process, the need to reform this bloated affair because the unwashed masses can stuff the electronic ballot boxes, or because there are too many rebuilding teams that mandate automatic recognition, or because collectively these guys can’t hold a candle to a Frank RobinsonWillie MaysHank Aaron starting trio. I’m happy for Harper, Markakis, Kemp and the fans who chose them. For once, I’m seeing this particular 24-ounce cup of overpriced ballpark beer as half-full instead of half-empty, and my day is better for it.


Todd Keeling, SunTrust Park, and Workplace Safety

It wasn’t so long ago that building things was a pretty dangerous pastime. The most extreme example of this is probably the Panama Canal; over 5,000 people died in its construction. Five people died erecting the Empire State Building. It’s safer now to construct great buildings; such fatalities are significantly rarer than they used to be. But as we learned last week, the risk inherent to the construction and maintenance of any structure, especially large venues like stadia, will never be zero.

Enter SunTrust Park, the brand new, state-of-the-art venue for the first-place Atlanta Braves. The Braves’ surprising season took a tragic turn on June 26, when workers found a dead body inside a beer cooler at SunTrust. The body was later confirmed to be that of Todd Keeling, a 48-year-old inventor most famous for designing and patenting a technology which dispensed beer at several times the conventional rate. Keeling had already installed his technology in Guaranteed Rate Field and Target Field. Ben Brasch of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution described the technology, called “Draftwell taps,” this way:

The Braves said Monday that the new Draftwell taps installed throughout the ballpark cut down pour times from a 14-second average to five seconds.

Delaware North Sportservice, which manages food and beverage service at SunTrust Park, said the new boozy tech will also keep the beer colder and fresher with more “brewery-intended flavor.”

Target Field in Minneapolis, home of the Twins, installed Draftwell taps and increased its keg yield from 87 to 94 percent, said Delaware North spokesman Marc Heintzman.

Read the rest of this entry »


Sunday Notes: Jeimer Candelario is Palm Up, Gap-to-Gap, a Talented Tiger

Jeimer Candelario is establishing himself as one of the best young players on a young Detroit Tigers team. Playing in his first full big-league season, the 24-year-old third baseman is slashing a solid .251/.346/.476 with 10 home runs. His 2.0 WAR leads all Tigers.

Acquired along with Isaac Paredes in the deal that sent Alex Avila and Justin Wilson to the Cubs at last summer’s trade deadline, “Candy” is a switch-hitter with pop. His M.O. is gap-to-gap, and the orientation of his top hand is a focal point of his swing.

“I want to hit the ball with palm up,” explained Candelario. “If you’re palm up and you hit the ball, you finish up. I try to be connected. My back side, my hands, my hips, and my legs come in the same moment. That way, when I hit the ball I hit the ball with power, with palm up.”

Candelario credits Cubs assistant hitting coach Andy Haines — at the time the club’s hitting coordinator — for helping him develop his stroke. Now that he’s in Motown, he’s heeding the advice of Lloyd McClendon, who is emphasizing “How to load and then follow through, which helps me have some doubles and homers. If I just concentrate on hitting line drives, the ball will carry.”

McClendon is bullish on the young infielder’s future. Ditto his here and now. Read the rest of this entry »


The Best Call of the Season

If you’re like me, then, before Tuesday, you didn’t know the name Stu Scheurwater. We all know the names of some umpires, and maybe you know the names of most umpires, but it’s almost impossible to keep track of all of them. Scheurwater, previously, wasn’t anywhere on my radar. And honestly, that’s probably a good thing, since we get to know umpires in the first place because they do something that ticks us off. We don’t seize many opportunities to congratulate umpires for a job well done. In that way they’re kind of like closers — their success is almost assumed. They’re supposed to get it right. They can’t always do that. Every little mistake makes thousands of people upset.

I’d like to take this moment to applaud Scheurwater’s performance. One call in particular has placed him on my good side. Scheurwater didn’t do anything he wasn’t supposed to do. He simply followed the rule book, which is much of an umpire’s job. Yet many other umpires wouldn’t have made the same decision. When it comes to how baseball is played, I don’t have many strong opinions. I’m open to the pitch clock, I’m open to changing the mound, and I don’t care either way about the DH. With Brandon Nimmo at the plate Tuesday, Scheurwater called a ball. I strongly believe any such sequence should be called the same way.

Read the rest of this entry »


Sunday Notes: Sean Newcomb Has Sneaky Hop

Sean Newcomb has turned a corner. On the heels of an erratic rookie campaign that saw him go 4-9, 4.32 in 100 innings for the Atlanta Braves last year, the 24-year-old former Angels prospect is rapidly establishing himself as one of the best pitchers in the National League. A dozen starts into his second big-league season, Newcomb is 7-1 with a 2.49 ERA and he’s held hitters to a paltry .198 average and just three home runs.

Improved command and confidence have buoyed the young southpaw’s ability to flummox the opposition. His 4.3 walk rate (down from 5.1 last year) remains less than ideal, but he’s no longer the raw, strike-zone-challenged kid that Atlanta acquired from Anaheim in the November 2015 Andrelton Simmons deal. He’s making the transition from thrower to pitcher, and the results speak for themselves.

“I feel more comfortable now,” Newcomb told me prior to a late-May start at Fenway Park. “I had last year’s experience to take into the season, so I’ve felt more settled in. My fastball has also been working well, and I’ve been able to go from there.”

The fastball in question is by no means run-of-the-mill. It’s very good, and not for reasons that jump out at you — at least not in terms of numbers. Newcomb’s velocity (93.3) is right around league-average. His four-seam spin rate is actually lower than average (2,173 versus 2,263), as is his extension (5.6) versus 6.1). Read the rest of this entry »


Players’ View: Learning and Developing a Pitch, Part 11

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 eleventh installment of this series, we’ll hear from three pitchers — Tyler Clippard, A.J. Minter, and Seung Hwan Oh — on how they learned and/or developed a specific pitch.

———-

Tyler Clippard (Blue Jays) on His Changeup and Splitter

“My changeup is a pitch I’ve been throwing since I was 13 or 14 years old. It’s always been the same grip, kind of a circle change. The grip itself isn’t that unusual as far as how most people grip their changeup. The biggest thing I think I do a little differently than most guys is that I have the ability to kind of kill my lower half. That stems from a pitching coach I had at an early age. I took what he said to heart and developed a feel for not pushing off the rubber, for having a soft front side. Read the rest of this entry »


The Manager’s Perspective: Brian Snitker on MLB vs. the Minors

Managing in the majors is different than managing in the minors. In the opinion of Brian Snitker, it’s a lot different. And he should know: prior to taking the helm in Atlanta in May 2016, Snitker skippered Braves farm clubs in Rookie ball, Low-A, High-A, Double-A, and Triple-A. Interspersed with three stints as a big-league coach, he managed in the minor leagues for 20 seasons.

He’s proven to be more than capable at the highest level. Now in his second full season on the job, Snitker — a 62-year-old baseball lifer who has helped nurture countless careers — has his young Atlanta squad 11 games over .500 and in first place in the National League East.

———

Brian Snitker: “Your daily norm isn’t close to the same in the major leagues as it is in the minor leagues. After I got this job, I remember telling my wife, ‘It’s like I can’t get there early enough to have any time for my myself. All I do is talk.’ I could probably change the hinges on the door once a week, because every time I turn around there’s either a player, a coach, a front-office person, medical staff, or a media person coming into my office and closing the door. You have a piece of everything that’s going on here. This is a lot more involved job than managing in the minor leagues ever was.

“I always loved having a relationship with the players in the minor leagues. I wanted to be invested in what they were doing. It’s a different relationship here, because these guys are grown men. They have families. In the minors, especially in the low minors, they’re getting their electricity cut off because they paid $300 for a pair of tennis shoes, or bought their girlfriend a dog, instead of paying their bills. You’re more of a father figure in the lower minor leagues.

Read the rest of this entry »


Are Young Teams More Likely to Fade After Hot Starts?

Heading into the 2018 season, the NL East picture appeared to be pretty clear. The Washington Nationals — while having just one more year of Bryce Harper — entered the campaign as presumptive favorites. The Mets, despite possessing a talented roster, were conducting their affairs in an all-too-familiar way, while the Marlins were conducting their affairs in a way that made their roster much less talented.

In Atlanta and Philadelphia, meanwhile, the future was on the horizon. The Braves boasted a stable of young arms, Freddie Freeman, and the best prospect in the game (mon-Ohtani division). The Phillies supplemented their equally impressive young core with the signing of Jake Arrieta, announcing that they were ready to end the rebuild and begin contending. It only seemed a matter of time before the division would be theirs.

A couple months into the season, the picture is somewhat less clear. Indeed, it seems as though the future has arrived a little early in the NL East. As of this morning, the Braves sit atop the NL East at 35-25, with the Phillies just a couple games behind in third. (The Nationals sit in second.) The two teams have gone about things in different ways: where the Braves — led by Ozzie Albies, the aforementioned Freeman, and a surprising Nick Markakis — boast a top-five offense, the Phillies have benefited from a top-five pitching staff.

Whenever a young team makes this sort of run, it’s inevitably accompanied by discussions concerning the importance of experience. Experience, so it is said, leads to more staying power over the course of a long season or playoff run. Young teams are then expected to fade or fall short, thus earning some “much needed experience” and checking off that box on their development path.

Read the rest of this entry »


Mike Foltynewicz Is Separating Toward His Strengths

Last Friday night, Mike Foltynewicz threw a complete game for the Braves during which he struck out 11 Nationals — including Bryce Harper twice — and walked just one, while allowing two hits and zero runs. That’s the kind of performance that tends to make people like me, who don’t otherwise spend all that much time paying attention to what Mike Foltynewicz does with his days, sit up and take notice. But for Braves fans, Foltynewicz’s dominance probably didn’t come as quite that much of a surprise. Foltynewicz has been getting better for some time now:

It took his ERA a little while to catch up to his FIP thanks to some poor results at the end of the 2017 season, but he’s all caught up now and then some. Right now, Foltynewicz owns the eighth-best park-adjusted FIP in the National League and an even better ERA. After generating just 1.8 WAR across 28 starts last season, he’s up to 1.6 fWAR through just 12 starts this year. What’s changed?

One can’t say for sure, of course. If forced to guess, however, I’d say it has something to do with the difference between two numbers. The first is 54.9. That’s the percentage of the time Foltynewicz threw either his fastball or his slider in 2017. The second is 68.9, which is the equivalent figure for 2018. A year ago, Foltynewicz was a fastball-sinker-slider pitcher, in that order, with a changeup and a cut fastball that he threw only occasionally. These days, it’s probably fairer to say that Foltynewicz is a fastball-slider-sinker pitcher, in that order, with the same two backups for emergency use.

Read the rest of this entry »


Sunday Notes: Phillies First-Rounder Adam Haseley is Getting Off the Ground

Adam Haseley was drafted eighth overall last year, so his potential goes without saying. That doesn’t mean there aren’t question marks in his profile. When Eric Longenhagen blurbed the 21-year-old University of Virginia product in our Philadelphia Phillies Top Prospects list, he cautioned that “Some scouts have concerns about his bat path.”

I asked the left-handed-hitting Haseley why that might be.

“My interpretation would be that I was wanting be more direct to the ball,” responded Haseley, who put up a .761 OPS last year between short-season and low-A. “Something I’d started doing at UVA was trying to create more launch angle — I wanted to hit balls in the air with true backspin — but coming into pro ball there was more velocity than I’d ever seen in college. I had to adjust to that, and my way of adjusting was to get more direct, which resulted in a flatter angle. Now I’m trying to find that happy medium between the two.”

His quest for middle ground remains a work in progress. Two months into his first full professional season, Haseley has a 48.4 GB% and just three home runs in 217 plate appearances with high-A Clearwater. Compare that to his final collegiate campaign, where as a Cavalier he went deep 14 times in a comparable number of chances. Read the rest of this entry »


Players’ View: Learning and Developing a Pitch, Part 10

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 tenth installment of this series, we’ll hear from three pitchers — Zach Britton, Pedro Martinez, and Brandon McCarthy — on how they learned and/or developed a specific pitch.

———-

Zach Britton (Orioles) on His Sinker

“In 2007, I was in short-season Aberdeen and my pitching coach, Calvin Maduro, tried teaching me a cutter. It kind of developed from there. No crazy story, really. It’s just that, with my arm action, the ball never cut. It went straight down like a sinker. He said, ‘Keep doing what you’re doing,’ and over the years I started throwing it more and more, and getting comfortable with it.

“A lot of guys throw cutters the way I grip my sinker, and others actually throw their curveball like that. Again, it’s arm action. I’ve shown it to guys and they haven’t been able to do it, so I can only assume it’s the way I throw.

Read the rest of this entry »


Sunday Notes: Brad Keller, Almost Once a Royal, is Thriving as a Rule 5 Royal

Brad Keller is having an impressive rookie season with the Kansas City Royals. Pumping fastballs with a bulldog mentality, the 22-year-old right-hander has appeared in 18 games and has a 1.96 ERA. He’s not afraid to challenge big-league hitters. Substantiating KC skipper Ned Yost’s assertion that he’s “been able to come in and bang strikes on the attack,” Keller has issued just five free passes in 18-and-a-third innings of work.

His path to the Kansas City bullpen was roundabout. In retrospect, it was also only a matter of time before he got there.

Drafted out of a Flowery Beach, Georgia high school by the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2013, Keller changed addresses twice in a 15-minute stretch during December’s Rule 5 draft.

“My agent called to say, ‘Hey, the Reds picked you up in the Rule 5,’” explained Keller. “I hung up the phone, called my parents, called my brother, and as soon as I hung up my agent called again. ‘Hey, you just got traded to the Royals.’ Then I had to pick up the phone and call everybody back.”

Keller’s next conversation was with the D-Backs — “they told me everything that was going down” — and soon thereafter Royals assistant GM Scott Sharp called to welcome him to his new organization. A similar call almost came four years earlier. Read the rest of this entry »


Players’ View: Learning and Developing a Pitch, Part 7

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 seventh installment of this series, we’ll hear from three pitchers — Jakob Junis, Kyle Ryan, and Chase Whitley — on how they learned and/or developed a specific pitch.

———

Jakob Junis (Royals) on His Slider

“It’s technically a slider, although sometimes it has more of a curveball break because of the way I release it. I’ve always looked at it as a slider, because I also throw a curveball — a traditional type of curveball — with a different grip. The grip I came up with for my slider is fairly new.

“I started throwing a slider in Double-A, and it really wasn’t a very good one. It was with a standard, trying-to-learn grip. That offseason I went home and said, ‘This isn’t going to work.’ I knew that I needed a new grip to get more shape and to throw it a little firmer.

Read the rest of this entry »


Nick Markakis Is Somehow the Best He’s Ever Been

This offseason, I was tasked with preparing a writeup of right fielders in the game of major-league baseball. That was quite a difficult exercise, for it requires one to predict the future, and soothsayers are, at least to my knowledge, mythical. Still, I was quite confident when I wrote this:

There are those people who believe that Nick Markakis will make a run at 3,000 hits and the Hall of Fame. I am not among those people. Granted, Markakis has compiled 2,052 hits in his big-league career. That’s good! But Markakis, now at 34, is not good. Not at all. In fact, he really hasn’t been good since 2010. Since then, Markakis’s WAR has gone 1.4, 1.6, -0.2, 2.5, 1.5, 1.1, 0.9. In other words, of Markakis’ 25.3 career WAR, almost 17 were accrued in the first five years of his career.

Markakis hasn’t been even a league-average hitter since 2015, and that year he hit three (3) home runs. He hasn’t been even an average defensive outfielder since 2008. He hasn’t added value on the basepaths since 2009. In 2017, Markakis was below average against righties (97 wRC+) as well as lefties (91 wRC+), and his only remaining plus tool is his plate discipline and ability to draw walks. That’s all that separates Markakis from being a replacement-level player, and the projections aren’t optimistic about that, either. Markakis isn’t going to the Hall of Fame because he probably won’t get a big-league deal this offseason.

Welp.

Nick Markakis must have read that, because he has looked like a Hall of Famer so far this year. Entering Sunday, Markakis, who is 34, was slashing .344/.428/.550 (all career bests) with a 169 (career-best) wRC+. He also appears to have turned around his play afield, too, posting positive defensive numbers (that is, UZR and positional adjustment combined) for the first time since the Bush administration (2008). Nick Markakis, in 2018, has been worth roughly as many wins as his 2016 and 2017 combined.

What the hell has gotten into Nick Markakis?

Read the rest of this entry »


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:

Read the rest of this entry »


Job Posting: Braves Major League Operations Intern

Position: Major League Operations Intern

Location: Atlanta, GA

Description:
Support the Major League Operations group through the creation of tools for displaying and disseminating data, statistics, and other baseball-related information. The ideal candidate has a strong technical background and can work independently on self-contained projects, as well as an understanding of baseball research concepts and modern gameplay strategies.

Responsibilities:

  • Develop tools and visualizations for disseminating statistical concepts.
  • Conduct research projects for the Major League Operations group.
  • Help build database and reporting infrastructure to support Major League advance report and coaching staff needs.
  • Summarize project results in succinct, actionable format and present findings to the group.
  • Opportunities for other ad-hoc contributions to the Major League advance scouting process.

Qualifications:

  • Demonstrated track record as self-starter through independently-produced projects and/or writing (via online publication, etc.).
  • Strong foundation in the application of statistical concepts to baseball data and the translation of data into actionable baseball recommendations.
  • Required: Advanced-level capabilities in R and SQL.
  • Preferred: Experience with at least one scripting language (e.g. Python, Ruby, Perl) and web development experience with Python Flask.
  • Preferred: Demonstrable independent research (published or unpublished) using publicly available datasets (i.e. PITCHf/x, Statcast, etc).

Duration:
Early June through August, with potential opportunity for future full-time employment.

To Apply:
Please email relevant materials, research, and resume to bravesopsjobs@gmail.com.


You Can’t Blame Tanking for the Lack of Competitive Teams

Tanking is a problem. Professional sports like baseball are built on the assumption that both sides are trying to win. Organizations putting forth less than their best efforts hurts the integrity of the sport and provides fans with little reason to engage. That said, the perception of tanking might have overtaken the reality of late. Competitive imbalance is not the same as tanking. Sometimes teams are just bad, even if they are trying not to be.

Tanking concerns are not new. Two years ago, just after the Astros and Cubs had turned their teams around, the Phillies were attempting to dismantle their roster by trading Cole Hamels. The Braves had traded multiple players away from a team that had been competitive. The Brewers, who traded away Carlos Gomez, would soon do the same with Jonathan Lucroy after he rebuilt his trade value.

The Braves, Brewers, and Phillies all sold off whatever assets they could. Two years later, though, those clubs aren’t mired in last place. Rather, they’re a combined 54-37 and projected to win around 80 games each this season in what figures to be a competitive year for each. While the Braves and Phillies could and/or should have done more this offseason to improve their rosters, neither resorted to an extreme level of failure, and the teams are better today than they would have been had they not rebuilt. While accusations of tanking dogged each, none of those clubs descended as far as either the Astros or Cubs. None came close to the NBA-style tank jobs many feared.

One might suspect that I’ve cherry-picked the three clubs mentioned above, purposely selecting teams with surprising early-season success to prop up a point about the relatively innocuous effects of tanking. That’s not what I’ve done, though. Rather, I’ve highlighted the three teams Buster Olney cited by name two years ago — and which Dave Cameron also addressed — in a piece on tanking.

Read the rest of this entry »