Archive for Dodgers

FanGraphs Audio Presents: The Untitled McDongenhagen Project, Ep. 5

UMP: The Untitled McDongenhagen Project, Episode 5
This is the fifth episode of a weekly program co-hosted by Eric Longenhagen and Kiley McDaniel about player evaluation in all its forms. The show, which is available through the normal FanGraphs Audio feed, has a working name but barely. The show is not all prospect stuff, but there is plenty of that, as the hosts are Prospect Men. Below are some timestamps to make listening and navigation easier.

0:23 – What games Eric and Kiley have seen lately: Arizona Fall League and the Diamond Club showcase for Florida high school prospects, featuring a Tyler Callihan update.

2:19 – TOPIC ONE: Yahoo’s Jeff Passan joins us to talk about the Astros cheating scandal and its many facets.

7:15 – Eric reviews the Chinese phone the Astros were using, which should be called the fruit calorie counting machine.

14:50 – Jeff inquires about the status of Kiley’s backyard and dog while Eric reveals how revealing he currently is.

23:08 – We lose Jeff due to technology, and he returns via a time jump, feat. flight attendant announcements.

24:30 – Jeff reveals who is more petty than him, but only by a small margin.

25:23 – Jeff’s antisocial plane tips.

26:54 – A mini topic about Manny Machado’s playoff behavior affecting his free agent market.

29:00 – A mini topic about the Luke Heimlich/Dayton Moore connection living on.

32:48 – TOPIC TWO: How we would put together a scouting department in today’s baseball.

33:56 – Options for structuring the pro scouting department.

34:50 – The biggest factor we don’t have access to: minor league TrackMan.

36:25 – Pros and cons of the different pro scouting department structures.

38:12 – How Eric would structure his pro department.

38:58 – Something to keep in mind in terms of allocating scout days on the amateur side.

40:15 – Kiley jumps in to ask about DSL coverage.

41:39 – Introducing the concept of dynamic pro coverage.

44:00 – Kiley jumps in again to clarify the pyramid of scout experience/assignments.

46:05 – What sorts of scouts can beat the TrackMan data at projecting prospects in the upper levels?

49:10 – When are the robots coming for us?

52:20 – The structural question the guys aren’t sure about

55:46 – TOPIC THREE: The saga of Barbecue Yee with Jake Mintz of Cespedes Family BBQ

56:16 – Jake makes the worst pun in the history of the podcast.

1:00:53 – Jake and Kiley laugh uncontrollably for the first time.

1:03:40 – Is varsity baseball a constitutionally protected right? You heard me right.

1:07:50 – Jake’s first great free idea for the Yee family.

1:16:26 – Jake’s second great free idea for the Yee family.

1:20:09 – The best outtakes portion we’ve ever had.

Don’t hesitate to direct pod-related correspondence to @kileymcd or @longenhagen on Twitter or at prospects@fangraphs.com.

You can subscribe to the podcast via iTunes or other feeder things.

Audio after the jump. (Approximately 1 hr 22 min play time.)

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The Ties That Bind the Red Sox and Dodgers

Given that the Dodgers have won 20 pennants and the Red Sox 13, and that the two teams have combined to make 25 trips to the postseason during the Wild Card era, it seems improbable that this World Series will be just their second meeting in the Fall Classic — and more than a century since their first. Both franchises have endured ups and downs over the decades, but in general have been among the majors’ most successful, with the Dodgers owning the third-highest winning percentage since 1901 (.526) and the Red Sox the fifth-highest (.519).

What follows is an exploration of nine shared aspects of the two teams’ rich histories, listed in vaguely chronological order. Not all of them will come to bear directly upon the action, but for a sport and an event where the present is always linked to the past, it’s worth keeping these relationships in mind.

1916: The Original Matchup

The Red Sox were one of the nascent American League’s most successful teams, winning six pennants in the Junior Circuit’s first 18 years and going undefeated in five World Series during that span: 1903 (the inaugural one, against the Pirates), 1912 (against the Giants), 1915 (against the Phillies), 1916 (against the Dodgers), and 1918 (against the Cubs). (John McGraw’s Giants refused to play them in 1904, and so there was no World Series.) As for the Dodgers, they began life as the Brooklyn Atlantics in the American Association in 1884 and were known variously (and unofficially) as the Grays, Bridegrooms, Grooms, Superbas, and Trolley Dodgers. They enjoyed some success in the 19th century, winning the 1889 AA pennant and the 1890, 1899, and 1900 NL ones, but they didn’t win their first of the 20th century until 1916, when they were known as the Robins in honor of manager Wilbert Robinson (a moniker that bore special significance to this scribe and expectant father a century later). Not until 1932 did they officially become the Dodgers, though a program from the 1916 World Series did bill them that way:

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Job Posting: Dodgers Baseball R&D Quantitative Analyst

Position: Quantitative Analyst, Baseball Analytics

Department: Baseball Research & Development

Description:
The Los Angeles Dodgers seek a full-time, entry-level analyst for the team’s Baseball Analytics group. Their objective is to identify highly talented, mathematically-oriented candidates as they build an industry-leading analytics team.

Job Functions:

  • Statistical modeling and quantitative analysis to support one or more research projects focused on player evaluation/development and strategic decision-making
  • Developing, automating, and implementing mathematical, statistical, and/or machine learning models
  • Preparing reports and presentations to disseminate model results to front office, coaching staff, player development, scouting, and medical/performance staff
  • Performing ad hoc data analysis to support Baseball Operations
  • Other duties and responsibilities as assigned

Basic Requirements and Qualifications:

  • B.S. in mathematics, statistics, computer science, operations research, or a related quantitative field
  • Experience building and validating mathematical, statistical, and/or machine learning models, preferably in Python or R
  • Some computer programming experience
  • Familiarity with SQL
  • Knowledge of recent advances within the public baseball research community
  • Desire to work in a collaborative team environment

You should apply if:

  • You want to help the Dodgers build an industry-leading analytics team
  • You love to compete, and you want to see the impact of your work on the field and in the box score

When you apply for this job online, please include answers to following questions in your cover letter, using 500 words or fewer:

  • When are you available to start?
  • Why are you interested in pursuing this opportunity?
  • What experience do you have building mathematical and/or statistical models?
  • Additionally, if you are or were enrolled in a university degree program (within the last three years), please include with your application a complete list of the technical courses that you have taken or in which you are currently enrolled, along with course numbers and grades.

To Apply:
Qualified candidates should submit a cover letter and resume online at www.dodgers.com under Job Opportunities. The deadline for applications is November 9, 2018.


Those Left Behind With a Piece of the Journey

Here is one list of names: Matt Albers, Chase Anderson, Jett Bandy, Jacob Barnes, Ji-Man ChoiOliver Drake, Eric Sogard, Brent Suter, Eric Thames, and Jonathan Villar.

Here’s another: Scott Alexander, J.T. Chargois, Tony Cingrani, Kyle Farmer, Josh Fields, Logan Forsythe, Wilmer Font, Corey Seager, Ross Stripling, and Chase Utley.

These are the 20 men — ten Dodgers and ten Brewers — who appeared on their clubs’ 2018 Opening Day rosters but will not — for one reason or another — appear in any of the seven games of this year’s National League Championship Series. One of the two teams they played for this year will advance to the World Series tonight, and will do so without these men. And yet, for some portion of the season at least, there they were, willing their teams along. And so, let us celebrate a few moments in which these guys were glorious, before the inevitable offseason cries of “That guy was a Dodger?” and “Oh! I’d forgotten about him!” set in.

Villar Takes Harvey Deep (+.238 WPA)

Unless you’re a Milwaukee fan, you might not even remember that Jonathan Villar was a Brewer this year. I’d understand. He spent the second half of the season toughing it out for the Orioles, who are best forgotten, and in my mind he is still most closely associated with the Astros. But the fact is that, yes, Villar was indeed a Milwaukee Brewer until July 31st, and on April 14th he was tasked with playing second base for the Crew against the New York Mets at Citi Field.

Harvey, brilliant in his home whites, set down Lorenzo Cain, Eric Thames, and Ryan Braun in order in the first, but then ran into trouble almost immediately in the second, yielding a double to Travis Shaw, before walking Domingo Santana ahead of an Eric Sogard strikeout. That brought Villar — then the owner of a .298 batting average (and a .298 OBP, but let’s pay that no mind) — to the plate. Harvey’s first pitch, a slider, missed badly down and in, and Villar wisely didn’t offer at it. On Harvey’s second pitch, however, Villar flicked his bat out and, almost apologetically, took Harvey deep down the left-field line. Here it is:

I think we can all agree that that was a nice moment for Jonathan Villar.

Chase Utley up past his bedtime in the desert (+.350 WPA)

It feels a little odd to include a guy like Utley on a list like this, which is meant to celebrate the little guy, but he meets all the criteria so I suppose we’ll let him in on a technicality. On April 2nd, which was the Dodgers’ first road game of the season, they played 15 innings against the Arizona Diamondbacks. They were a good 15 innings, too — the Dodgers went up 3-0 in the top of the first, only to see the Diamondbacks tie it with runs in the first, third, and fourth; then the Dodgers added on in each of the sixth, seventh, and eighth to make it 6-3, only to have Arizona tie it in again the ninth and send it to extras. The game proceeded at 6-6 for five innings of taut bonus baseball, until — in the top of the 15th, and presumably somewhat less fresh than he’d been five hours before, when the game began — Chase Utley came to the plate with Cody Bellinger on second, and proceeded to do this:

The Dodgers went on to lose 8-7. But that was nice, Chase.

Scott Alexander shuts it down (+.372 WPA)

Scott Alexander had kind of an anonymous season, as far as seasons by 6’2″ lefties go. His ERA was 3.68. His FIP was 3.57. Both numbers were fine. Scott Alexander was fine. Scott Alexander is not on the Dodgers’ NLCS roster. But on July 13th, he was asked by his manager to go out in the ninth inning of a one-run game against the Los Angeles Angels of Angel Stadium in Anaheim and close things out. Being presumably in search of something to get the ol’ heart moving, he proceeded to allow a double to Shohei Ohtani, which was understandable, and then a single to José Briceño, which was not. That single brought the Dodgers’ win expectancy down from 91 percent at the start of the inning, to 63 percent, when David Fletcher stepped up to the plate with one out. Which made it rather relieving for reliever Alexander that David Fletcher promptly did this:

Ji-Man Choi has a good night (+.463 WPA)

Sometimes you get a lot of WPA because you come to the plate with the game on the line in late innings and do something ordinary, like hit a single or draw a walk. And sometimes you get a lot of WPA because you come to the plate in some random anonymous middle inning and do something very good, like drive in four runs with one swing of the bat. That latter thing is what Ji-Man Choi did against Luis Garcia in the sixth inning of an otherwise unexciting game between the Phillies and the Brewers. This was Choi’s final swing as a Milwaukee Brewer–he was traded to Tampa Bay the next day:

Bonus Jake Arrieta Is Mad content in the above.

Kyle Farmer Drives in Barnes (+.678 WPA)

Kyle Farmer was, before the 2018 season began, featured in articles on this site that referred to him as, variously, one of “seven scrubs” and a “fringe prospect.” Neither of those characterizations are necessarily untrue, but they also failed to anticipate this one wonderful moment from June 19th, when Farmer came to the plate with runners on first and second in a game his team trailed by a run. It was the first game of a doubleheader the Cubs and Dodgers played that day, and Cubs pitcher Justin Wilson was a little bit rattled. After battling to a 2-2 count, and with an almost-casual delivery, Wilson left a 90 mph cutter just a little bit too far over the plate, and within seconds the Dodgers were ahead, as it turned out for good:

Eric Thames Sinks Wade Davis (+.822 WPA)

Here it is: The single most impactful moment by a Dodger or Brewer not featured in tonight’s game, and it’s a classic. The Brewers entered the bottom of the ninth inning of their August 3rd game against the Colorado Rockies down 3-2. They trailed the Cubs in the NL Central standings by one game. The Cubs had won that afternoon behind a José Quintana dandy, and a loss would have put the Brewers two games back headed into the long month of August. Which all made this ninth inning rather important for Milwaukee. Wade Davis managed to retire Mike Moustakas swinging, then walked Jesús Aguilar and Travis Shaw in order before retiring Jonathan Schoop on a pop fly. That brought Thames to the plate — still struggling, as he had been all season, and about to enter a spiral that would pull his average from .244 that day to .219 on September 30th. He did, however, have one more good swing in him:

Villar, Utley, Alexander, Choi, Farmer, and Thames. I’d wager they’ll be watching the game tonight. They helped these teams get to where they are right now. They’ll own a little bit of whatever celebration comes next.


ZiPS Updated Playoff Probabilities – 2018 NLCS

Updated through Game Six of the NLCS.

The ZiPS projection system will update these charts after every game and as the starting pitcher probables change. They are based on the up-to-date ZiPS projections of the strengths of the teams and the projected starting pitchers. They are different than the playoff odds that appear elsewhere at this site. The FanGraphs playoff probabilities are based on 10,000 simulations using the updated projections in the depth charts. Where ZiPS differs is guessing the game-by-game starting pitcher matchups and using the ZiPS projections, including split projections.

First, here are the game-by-game probabilities:

Game-by-Game Probabilities, NLCS
Game Home Team Milwaukee Starter Brewers Win Los Angeles Starter Dodgers Win
1 Brewers Gio Gonzalez 100.0% Clayton Kershaw 0.0%
2 Brewers Wade Miley 0.0% Hyun-Jin Ryu 100.0%
3 Dodgers Jhoulys Chacin 100.0% Walker Buehler 0.0%
4 Dodgers Gio Gonzalez 0.0% Rich Hill 100.0%
5 Dodgers Wade Miley ‘n’ Friends 0.0% Clayton Kershaw 100.0%
6 Brewers Wade Miley 100.0% Hyun-Jin Ryu 0.0%
7 Brewers Jhoulys Chacin 45.1% Walker Buehler 54.9%

And here are the overall series probabilities.

Overall NLCS Probabilities
Result Probability
Brewers over Dodgers in 4 0.0%
Brewers over Dodgers in 5 0.0%
Brewers over Dodgers in 6 0.0%
Brewers over Dodgers in 7 45.1%
Dodgers over Brewers in 4 0.0%
Dodgers over Brewers in 5 0.0%
Dodgers over Brewers in 6 0.0%
Dodgers over Brewers in 7 54.9%
Brewers Advance 45.1%
Dodgers Advance 54.9%

Adventures in Playoff Leverage and Win Probability Added

Playoff baseball is interesting as a concept. After a regular season of 162 games to determine the game’s best teams, the sport’s champion is then determined by a few best-of-five and best-of-seven series. It’s not unlike asking the top 10 finishers of a marathon to run a 5K in order to decide who should receive first place. The sprint-like nature of the postseason is baseball’s Theatre of the Absurd (especially where small sample sizes are concerned): entertaining and a bit preposterous at the same time.

One of the areas where the effect is most pronounced is in the realm of Win Probability Added (WPA) and Leverage Index (LI). Championships are on the line and the lens of the postseason only serves to magnify what would be tense moments even on a quiet night in July. A big WPA day turns a player into a legend, while going the opposite direction turns a player into the goat. But not every intriguing event with a high WPA or LI is a starring turn. With that in mind, let’s look at a few of the stranger WPA- and LI-related things we’ve seen during the League Championship Series.

Caleb Ferguson and Playoff Stress

Caleb Ferguson was a 38th-round pick out of high school for the Dodgers in 2014. A starter through his whole minor-league career — he recorded only three relief appearances in the minors prior to this year — he found a home in the Dodgers’ bullpen this year. While he doesn’t have an incredible arsenal — Eric Longenhagen and Kiley McDaniel graded his fastball as a 50, curveball as a 45, and changeup as a 45 — he put up solid numbers as a reliever, striking out over 30% of batters and produced a 2.55 xFIP. After that solid rookie season, Ferguson joined the playoff roster as one of three lefties — the other two being Alex Wood and Julio Urias — in the Los Angeles bullpen.

Generally speaking, he didn’t pitch in high-leverage situations this season. With an average leverage index of 1.08 (Overall average is 1), he ranked 123rd in baseball for relievers with at least 30 innings pitched. In the League Championship Series, however, things have been a little different.

2018 LCS Leverage Index Leaders
Player pLI WPA/TBF
Kenley Jansen 2.48 0.031
Caleb Ferguson 2.14 0.017
Jeremy Jeffress 2.09 -0.026
Junior Guerra 1.87 0.004
Ryan Brasier 1.66 0.018

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The Gambit Versus the Ace

Early in this NLCS, when the defining feature of it seemed to be the randomness of Brandon Woodruff’s Game One homer off Clayton Kershaw and Wade Miley’s Game Two double off Hyun-Jin Ryu, it was easy to scoff at the hype equating the series to a chess match between managers Craig Counsell and Dave Roberts. As the series has unfolded, however, watching Counsell handle the Brewers’ pitching staff in a fashion largely without precedent in postseason baseball and Roberts use the Dodgers’ roster’s depth and versatility to counter with “line changes” (in the hockey sense) to secure the platoon advantage in as many spots as possible has made for a compelling accompaniment to the action on the field.

Never was that more true than in Game Five, when Counsell’s shockingly quick hook of Miley in favor of Woodruff — echoing a tactic from a World Series nearly a century ago — and Roberts’ persistence in sticking with Kershaw made for the series’ starkest contrast yet. Ultimately, the Dodgers outlasted the Brewers for a 5-2 win and a 3-2 series edge.

The wily, left-handed Miley had pitched brilliantly in Game Two, retiring 17 of the 19 Dodgers he faced while helping to keep the Dodgers scoreless through six. Only after he departed did Los Angeles’s offense show signs of life, ultimately breaking through for a 4-3 win. When Counsell announced that Miley would start Game FIve on three days of rest, the choice seemed logical given the team’s loose definition of a “rotation,” because nobody expected seven innings or 100 pitches. Four innings, give or take, made perfect sense, even with the staff having been stretched for 13 innings in their Game Four loss.

Roberts, whose all-righty starting lineup from Game Two floundered against Miley, sensed an early move might be afoot and guarded towards an early change to a righty by starting two lefties and rejiggering his outfield:

Dodgers NLCS Lineup Comparison
# Game 2 Bats Game 5 Bats
1 Chris Taylor, CF R Cody Bellinger, CF L
2 Justin Turner, 3B R Justin Turner, 3B R
3 David Freese, 1B R David Freese, 1B R
4 Manny Machado, SS R Manny Machado, SS R
5 Matt Kemp, LF R Max Muncy, 2B L
6 Enrique Hernandez, 2B R Chris Taylor, LF R
7 Yasiel Puig, RF R Enrique Hernandez, RF R
8 Austin Barne,s C R Austin Barnes, C R
9 Hyun-Jin Ryu, P R Clayton Kershaw, P L

Muncy, who hit for a 141 wRC+ against southpaws, was starting at second base for the first time since September 11 and just the 14th time all season. Bellinger, Tuesday night’s hero, managed just an 88 wRC+ against southpaws this year.

As it turned out, Miley threw just five pitches, walking Bellinger and getting the hook — not for injury or performance reasons, but because that had been Counsell’s plan all along — to switch to the right-handed Woodruff, who had thrown two impressive, perfect innings in Game One. The idea to bring Miley back to start Game Six in Milwaukee. It was a plan so secret that only the two pitchers, Counsell, and his staff knew ahead of time; Woodruff couldn’t even tell his family, and players such as Lorenzo Cain professed to be caught off guard.

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Manny Machado Gets Dirty

Last night, Manny Machado scored the decisive run in an extra-inning walkoff victory to tie the NLCS at two games a piece and put the Dodgers within two wins of the World Series. When discussing Machado and last night’s game, we’d ideally be focusing on his key hit, his smart and aggressive take of second base on a wild pitch, and his impressive dash from second to home on a single to right field that barely beat a strong throw from Christian Yelich.

We aren’t talking about that, though. We’re talking instead about a play in the 10th inning of last night’s game on which Manny Machado made contact with Brewers first baseman Jesus Aguilar:

In real time, it looked really awkward, but not necessarily malicious. After the game, the Brewers said the play was dirty or insinuated as such by questioning Machado’s general attitude about playing hard. From the MLB.com story:

“It’s a dirty play by a dirty player,” Brewers right fielder Christian Yelich said.

“It looked like it,” Aguilar said. “I’ve known Manny for many years and I don’t know why he would act like that.”

Brewers manager Craig Counsell threw shade at Machado when asked if the play went beyond the grounds of hard play.

“I don’t know,” he said. “I guess they got tangled up at first base. I don’t think he’s playing all that hard.”

Machado didn’t really back down either:

“If that’s dirty, that’s dirty,” Machado said. “I don’t know, call it what you want. I play baseball. I try to go out there and win for my team. If that’s their comments, that’s their comments. I can’t do nothing about that.”

Let’s start by giving Machado the benefit of the doubt and assume, for sake of argument, that it was just a weird play. In that spirit, let’s take a few closer looks at it to see what kind of determinations we might be able to make. Here’s another angle from directly behind Machado.

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Cody Bellinger Wasn’t Clutch Until He Was

Postseason baseball has not come easily to Cody Bellinger. After setting an NL rookie record with 39 home runs in 2017, the then-22-year-old endured ups and downs last October, coming up big in the Dodgers’ Division and League Championship clinchers but going 4-for-28 with a record setting 17 strikeouts in the World Series. Those struggles had continued this fall, in the form of a 1-for-21 skid through Game Four of the NLCS and a spot on the bench for Game Four, as lefty Gio Gonzalez started for the Brewers. Nonetheless, in a five-hour, 15-minute slog that he didn’t even enter until the sixth inning, Bellinger played the hero, first with a diving catch on a potential extra-base hit off the bat of Lorenzo Cain in the 10th inning and then a walk-off RBI single in the 13th, giving the Dodgers a 2-1 victory.

The hit was actually Bellinger’s second of the night. His first came in the eighth inning, when he countered the Brewers’ defensive shift with an opposite-field single off the nearly unhittable Josh Hader, a Nice Piece of Hitting.

Bellinger, despite his pull tendencies, ranked ninth in the majors on grounders against the shift during the regular season, with a 98 wRC+. His 111 wRC+ overall on balls in play against the shift ranked 24th among the 123 hitters with at least 100 PA under such circumstances, which is to say that he’s fared well in this capacity — among the many other ways he’s fared well — despite this October slump.

Paired with Max Muncy’s leadoff single earlier in the inning, it was the first time all year that the Brewers’ fireman yielded multiple hits to left-handed batters in the same outing. The Dodgers couldn’t convert there — more on which momentarily — but Bellinger would only come up bigger.

Here’s Bellinger’s catch off Cain’s liner, which led off the 10th inning against Kenley Jansen. According to Statcast, it had a hit probability of 94%:

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Where It Went Wrong for Clayton Kershaw Last Time

Five years from now, when we think about Game One of the NLCS between the Dodgers and Brewers, I’m guessing we’ll probably think about the ninth inning: taut, suspenseful, and fundamentally baseball-y in the best way. If the Brewers go on to win the World Series, completing the job the 2008-11 versions of the club never could and exorcising some of the demons still haunting the area formerly occupied by County Stadium (which is actually just the parking lot right outside Miller Park), that ninth inning will be remembered as a key step along the way. I hope it is. The ninth inning was The One Where the Brewers Hung On. But I hope that fond memory is not eclipsed, at least today, by our shared memory of the third inning: The One Where Clayton Kershaw Couldn’t Hit His Target.

For the sake of narrative appeal, it would have been ideal for Kershaw to have entered the inning all youth and innocence, grown in stature by vanquishing a series of increasingly insalubrious foes, and then fallen to an antagonist at the dramatic climax of the tale.

That is not what happened, however. What happened instead is that Kershaw just began the inning by allowing a home run to Brandon Woodruff. Here is a picture of where Yasmani Grandal wanted the pitch that Woodruff ended up hitting out:

And here is a picture of where the ball ended up right before Woodruff blasted it into Toyota Territory™:

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One Simple Fix for Rich Hill’s Pitch-Tipping

There’s been a tiny little surge of pitch-tipping content. Ben Harris identified credible evidence that Luis Severino was tipping some of his pitches. And Fabian Ardaya wrote about Ross Stripling tipping his pitches. Now, within the Stripling article, there’s also a brief point made about Rich Hill. Chase Utley is apparently a wizard at looking for pitch signals. Utley saw that Stripling was doing something, but Utley also saw that Hill was doing something. Being a good teammate, Utley let the pitchers know. Hill already folded in a quick fix. One you’re probably able to spot, and spot easily.

Here’s Hill throwing a pitch on September 22:

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NLCS Game Three Turned on Decision to Let Buehler Hit

With his stellar performance down the stretch — including in the Game 163 tiebreaker that won the NL West — Walker Buehler may have supplanted Clayton Kershaw as the Dodgers’ ace. In Monday night’s Game Three of the NLCS, manager Dave Roberts nonetheless went a bridge too far with the 24-year-old fireballer. For five innings, the young righty had pitched brilliantly, if not flawlessly, against the Brewers, allowing just a lone run. But that run loomed large. For the third time in the series, the Dodgers had failed to put a dent in the Brewers’ starter, and so they entered the bottom of the fifth trailing 1-0 against Jhoulys Chacin, who to that point, had allowed just two hits and two walks (one intentional) himself.

On Chacin’s fourth pitch of the inning, Yasmani Grandal — who has had a rough series on both sides of the ball — dunked a slider into left field for a ground-rule double. Enrique Hernandez lined out to bring up Buehler, who to that point, had thrown 78 pitches and struck out eight while yielding just two hits and one walk. The Brewers had done their damage in the first inning, when Ryan Braun followed a six-pitch walk to Christian Yelich with a scorching double to left field for the game’s only run. From there, Buehler had settled down, striking out the next four hitters and retiring 14 of 16. He was dealing.

Nonetheless, the Dodgers offense was gasping for air, and Roberts had a full and rested bullpen thanks to the off day. He’d stacked his lineup with lefties — Joc Pederson, Max Muncy, and Cody Bellinger — against Chacin, who struggles without the platoon advantage. That left Roberts with a bench full of righties, namely Brian Dozier, David Freese, Matt Kemp, Chris Taylor, and, if necessary, backup catcher Austin Barnes. No doubt the skipper had his eye on using some of those righties to combat lefty Josh Hader later in the game. Still, Freese, Kemp, and Taylor all posted a wRC+ of 113 or better against righties this year, though only Taylor had been that strong last year. Of that trio, both Freese and Taylor handled sliders from righties well this year, with wOBAs of .388 and .336 according to Baseball Savant; over the past three years, however, only Taylor (.350) has been above .300 among that trio.

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Small-Sample Theater in the Postseason: The Justinification

We’re now two games deep in both League Championship Series, which makes it a good time to take stock of some of the small-sample stuff that makes up the postseason. As before, I’ll note that there’s always some danger in ascribing too much meaning to the numbers underlying the wins and losses. That said, it’s difficult not to notice certain trends and, having noticed them, not to connect them with what we’ve seen over the course of the regular season. Inclusive of the Wild Card and Division Series rounds, as well, here’s what has caught my eye over the past week.

Justin Time I

On the heels of last year’s championship run, Justin Verlander continues to stand out in October — relative not only to the other frontline pitchers of this current postseason but to a generation of October veterans. Here’s a quick look at the nine starters who have taken two turns thus far in this postseason, ranked by cumulative Game Score (Version 2):

Pitchers with Two Postseason Starts in 2018
Player Team IP H R HR BB SO ERA FIP GSv2
Wade Miley Brewers 10.1 5 0 0 1 5 0.00 2.52 131
Justin Verlander Astros 11.1 4 4 0 6 13 3.18 2.49 129
Gerrit Cole Astros 13.0 9 6 1 2 17 3.46 2.05 127
Hyun-Jin Ryu Dodgers 11.1 10 2 1 0 12 1.59 2.23 124
Chris Sale Red Sox 9.1 6 4 0 6 13 3.86 2.34 113
Clayton Kershaw Dodgers 11.0 8 5 1 2 5 3.27 4.02 106
Luis Severino Yankees 7.0 9 6 0 6 9 7.71 3.20 83
Mike Foltynewicz Braves 6.0 5 5 2 7 10 7.50 7.70 71
David Price Red Sox 6.1 8 7 3 6 4 9.95 10.94 53
GSv2 = Constant + 2*Outs + Strikeouts – 2*Walks – 2*Hits – 3*Runs – 6*HR. Here I’ve applied the constants from the regular season for the AL (40) and NL (38), which centered the season average at 50.

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Jhoulys Chacin’s Matchup Problem

After throwing Jhoulys Chacin on short rest for the division title two weeks ago and then in Game Two of the NLDS against Colorado shortly after that, Brewers manager Craig Counsell opted to skip Chacin for the first two games of the NLCS against the Dodgers. As I noted last week, the move made sense: while Chacin functions as the club’s nominal ace, the Brewers nevertheless gained an advantage over the Dodgers by throwing two left-handed starters.

The plan very nearly worked: Milwaukee took the first game of the series, then took a 3-2 lead into the eighth of Game Two before the bullpen coughed up the victory. With the series headed back to Los Angeles, Chacin will get his first start of the NLCS after eight days of rest. The Dodgers could provide some matchup problems for Chacin.

Jhoulys Chacin has always had platoon issues. By that standard, this season was no different. Against right-handers this year, Chacin struck out 24% of batters, walked 7%, and gave up a homer to one out of every 56 batters. When at a platoon disadvantage, however, Chacin struck out just 15% of batters, walked 11%, and gave up a homer to one out of every 37 batters he faced. The Dodgers — thanks in part to lefties Cody Bellinger, Max Muncy, and Joc Pederson, and also switch-hitting Yasmani Grandal — put up an MLB-best 124 wRC+ (non-pitchers) against right-handed pitching this season. It’s clear, in light of this, why Counsell might have avoided using Chacin for a few games after a heavy recent workload and a couple lefty options. Moving Chacin’s game to Los Angeles also meant moving away from Miller Park, the third-best stadium in baseball for left-handed home runs. The Dodgers do play in a park that is homer-friendly for lefties, but not to the extent of Milwaukee.

The thing to watch, in particular, will be how Chacin’s slider fares against Dodgers hitters. This season, the Dodgers have been one of the very best teams in baseball against right-handed sliders, per Baseball Savant.

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FanGraphs Audio: Dan Szymborski Analyzes All the Postseason

Episode 839
Dan Szymborski is the progenitor of the ZiPS projection system and a senior writer for FanGraphs dot com. He’s also the guest on this edition of the program, during which he examines which managers have produced the best performances of the postseason. Also: Szymborski’s argument for playing Matt Kemp at shortstop. And: a status update on the forthcoming projections for 2019.

Don’t hesitate to direct pod-related correspondence to @cistulli on Twitter.

You can subscribe to the podcast via iTunes or other feeder things.

Audio after the jump. (Approximately 49 min play time.)

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Brewers Pass Over Ace to Gain Advantage

With the presence of two analytically driven clubs in the NLCS, much of the attention paid to the series will focus on how each team responds to moves made by the other in an effort to gain the upper hand. For the Brewers, one area particularly well suited for creative decision-making is the rotation. As documented by Jeff Sullivan last week, Brewers starters recorded the highest collective ERA of all this year’s playoff teams after accounting for league and park. The weaknesses of the rotation, however — in the hands of a club willing to ask questions — also represents an opportunity for creative solutions.

Consider: in the team’s incredibly important Game 163, manager Craig Counsell opted for the team’s best starting pitcher, Jhoulys Chacin, on short rest. Then, in Game One of the Division Series against the Rockies, the Brewers piggybacked Brandon Woodruff and Corbin Burnes before going with Chacin on short rest again for the second game of the series. Counsell bypassed Wade Miley until Game Three of the Division Series and passed over Gio Gonzalez entirely.

For the series with the Dodgers, though, those final two pitchers, Gonzalez and Miley, have been named as the starters for Games One and Two, respectively — even though nominal ace Chacin is available on full rest. In this case, however, the use of the two lesser pitchers might ultimately give the Brewers and advantage,

The Brewers employed a bit of gamesmanship with regard to their probable starters for the NLCS, waiting until just yesterday to announce their choices. How they deploy their rotation, though, could have a real effect on the starting lineup selected by Dodgers manager Dave Roberts. To get a better sense of what I mean, let’s start by examining the potential lineups for the Dodgers with the right-handed Chacin on the mound versus either of the two left-handers.

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The Dodgers’ Other Legal Matter

Earlier this week, I examined the federal grand jury probe currently looking into possible misdeeds by the Los Angeles Dodgers in Latin America. Even in a best-case scenario, it would appear as though the organization (or, at least, individuals associated with the organization) is in some real trouble.

According to a report yesterday from the Daily Beast’s Adam Rawnsley, however, it would appear as though the Dodgers have been named in conjunction with a completely different matter, as well. From Rawnsley’s piece:

The email from the manager of a Hampton Inn in Glendale, Arizona, stunned the Los Angeles Dodgers. A minor-league player recently signed by the team had been accused of harassing and then sexually assaulting a hotel housekeeper. The situation, the manager wrote, was “unacceptable.”

“I guess for a few weeks now [the player] has been making remarks and asking her to go out with him,” the manager wrote in an email to a team official that was obtained by The Daily Beast. “She keeps telling him that she has a boyfriend and is not interested but he still keeps making comments. . . . On Sunday things elevated where she was cleaning another room and he came up behind her and grabbed her,” the email continued. “She pushed him back and he came back and grabbed her yet again. She told him that she wasn’t interested and that he needed to leave and he did.”

While the unnamed minor leaguer’s conduct is certainly worthy of some attention in and of itself, the incident is perhaps even more notable both for (a) the Dodgers’ behavior in its wake and (b) the larger implications for domestic-violence policy (or its absence) in the minor leagues.

Regarding the first of those points, Craig Calcaterra provides some further information.

According to internal emails, the Dodgers investigated the incident and, by all indications, believed the maid’s account. High-ranking officials were in the loop, including then-head of player development Gabe Kapler who said in an email that he was “embarrassed for our organization.” Another Dodgers official said that the player was lucky not to be in jail. The police were not called, it seems, as the maid did not wish to alert authorities.

As to the housekeeper’s motivations for not reporting the incident(s), I won’t address that here. There are many possible reasons. If one takes as credible the maid’s account of events, however — which the Dodgers themselves appear to have done — it’s likely that the unnamed minor leaguer’s conduct amounts to a criminal act of some kind (which is relevant for reasons I’ll discuss below).

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The NLCS Will Be a Study in Contrasts

The Brewers and Dodgers, Team Entropy’s darlings, both had to win Game 163 tiebreaker games to claim their respective division titles. They then dispatched their NL Division Series opponents with relative ease this past week, with the former sweeping the Rockies and the latter taking three out of four from the Braves. Now they’ll meet in the NLCS, which opens tonight at Miller Park. The Brewers, NL Central champions, earned home-field advantage by virtue of their 96 wins, whereas the Dodgers, the NL West champs, won a comparatively modest 92 games.

Besides being very good baseball teams that nonetheless had to work overtime to avoid going the Wild Card route, the Brewers and Dodgers have some commonalities. They’re analytically-driven clubs whose managers, Craig Counsell and Dave Roberts, work well with their front offices in ways that show outside-the-box thinking, the former most notably with regards to bullpen usage and the latter with regards to the lack of a set lineup and a lot of in-game position switching. Both teams were among the NL’s best at run-prevention, with the Dodgers allowing a league-low 3.74 runs per game and the Brewers ranking fourth with 4.04. Nor was that just a function of ballpark or other environmental factors. The pair also ranked first and fourth in ERA- (88 and 91, respectively), and first and fifth in FIP- (90 and 97, respectively).

What’s more, both teams have power galore and have been quite reliant on the home run. The Dodgers and Brewers ranked Nos. 1 and 2 in the NL in homers (235 to 218); the latter had the NL’s top “Guillen Number,” the percentage of runs scored via homers (46.5%) while the former was fourth in the league. The Brewers outhomered the Rockies 4-2 in their series, with five of Milwaukee’s 13 runs (“only” 36.8%) coming via the homer; the Dodgers outhomered the Braves 8-2, with 14 of their 20 runs (70%) scoring via dingers.

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The Dodgers Might Be in Actual Legal Trouble

Last week, we talked about a federal grand jury probe currently investigating Major League Baseball’s activity in Latin America. At the time, it appeared that the signing of Hector Olivera seemed to be a significant part of that investigation. Thanks to Carl Prine and Jon Wertheim of Sports Illustrated, we now have a much better idea of the matters at which that grand jury is looking.

Collectively, the documents [provided to the Grand Jury] offer a vivid window into both this netherworld and the thermodynamics of the operation: How Caribbean smugglers traffic Cuban nationals to American soil, using third-country way stations. How the underground pipeline ferries Cuban players to stash houses in countries like Haiti and Mexico before they can seek lucrative contracts with MLB clubs. How teams interact with buscones, the unregulated street-level agents who often take a financial stake in Latin American players.

The dossier given to the FBI suggests the extent to which some MLB personnel are aware of—and brazenly discuss—this unscrupulous culture and the potential for corruption. While both the league office and other teams are mentioned in the files obtained by SI, the Los Angeles Dodgers, a franchise with extensive scouting and development operations in the Caribbean, figure most prominently in the dossier[.]

Prine and Wertheim provide a detailed piece that’s is worth your time. Whitney McIntosh also published a helpful summary of their work for SBNation. A couple of interesting points jump out of their reporting, however. First, the Grand Jury and FBI are already evidently receiving at least some cooperation from important witnesses.

SI has learned that multiple alleged victims of smuggling and human trafficking operations have already given evidence to law enforcement agents or testified before a federal grand jury.

Second is that the Dodgers are evidently a prime target of the probe.

One particularly remarkable document shows that Dodgers executives in 2015 went so far as to develop a database that measured the perceived “level of egregious behavior” displayed by 15 of their own employees in Latin America. That is, using a scale of 1 to 5—“innocent bystander” to “criminal”—front-office executives assessed their own staff’s level of corruption. Five employees garnered a “criminal” rating.

***

Internal communications by the Dodgers show concerns about what team officials called a “mafia” entrenched in their operations in the Caribbean and Venezuela, including a key employee who dealt “with the agents and buscones” and was “unbelievably corrupt.” Other personnel were suspected of being tied to “altered books” or “shady dealings,” according to the documents.

We can all agree that analytics are wonderfully useful. For those who have plans of participating in international organized crime, however, please note that crafting charts to depict one’s level of criminality is unwise — as is openly discussing one’s own personal mafia.

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Max Muncy Did Something He Had Never Did Before

Max Muncy hit a lot of home runs this year. Including his opposite-field effort on Monday against Colorado, he hit 35 of them overall. Not only will that total rank him 14th forever among major leaguers from the 2018 campaign, it will also represent the greatest improvement for a batter between last season and this one. This year, Muncy hit 35 home runs. Last year, he hit zero of them. Arithmetic suggests that he produced a net total of +35 by this very specific measure. A perusal of the leaderboards reveals that no batter rivals him in this regard. Among the many ways in which Muncy’s 2018 season was exceptional, that’s one of them.

The purpose of this post, however, is not to catalog all the unlikely exploits of Muncy’s 2018 campaign, but rather to examine one specific way in which Muncy’s home run on Monday was different than all the others he’s ever hit. To understand the significance of that homer, though, it’s necessary first to contemplate another, different homer.

That’s footage of Muncy, tying the score against the Mariners’ Edwin Diaz in the ninth inning of an August 18th game this season. Edwin Diaz was one of the best relievers in baseball this year. Part of what makes Diaz so effective is his arm speed. Diaz threw this fastball to Muncy at 98 mph, as the hastily edited screencap below indicates.

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