Archive for Featured Photo

Is the Baseball Dead?

The first month of the season was marked by cold weather throughout much of the country. It seemed to have an adverse affect on offense, with power numbers particularly affected. MLB players put up an isolated-power figure of .156 this March and April, which was the lowest mark since April of 2016. Rob Arthur, who has performed extensive research on the juiced ball, noticed the ball wasn’t traveling quite as far in early April even after accounting for weather — this despite a barrage of homers in the spring. Alex Chamberlain conducted some research of his own and determined hard-hit balls and barrels weren’t doing as much damage as in previous seasons, and he wondered if baseballs had been de-juiced. It’s an interesting question that deserves further research.

Chamberlain speculated that MLB had taken the juice out of the ball, potentially through the use of humidors. He found that hitters had to hit the ball harder to get it out of the park. He also observed that, when controlling for exit velocity and launch angle, batted balls weren’t quite doing the same damage as in years past. He concluded that, since we are now well past the cold-weather days of April, the change in batted balls this season is meaningful.

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What Do You Think of Your Team’s Manager?

Last weekend, the Cardinals fired manager Mike Matheny. Several teams are and were doing worse than the Cardinals in the standings, but then, the Cardinals hold themselves to a certain standard, and there were mounting concerns regarding not only Matheny’s strategy, but also leadership skills. The clubhouse seemed to be fracturing around him, so management pulled the trigger in the hopes that the season and roster might be salvaged. The response was immediate, and nearly unanimous: It was about time. Over the years, no other manager seemed to attract such a degree of internet criticism.

In a podcast after the firing, Ben Lindbergh and myself wondered who might take Matheny’s place. Not with the Cardinals — that’s Mike Shildt — but on the internet at large. Matheny was probably the most criticized manager in baseball. Now he’s out of work, which means someone else will become the most criticized manager in baseball. Who, though, will it actually be? That conversation led me to this broader polling project. This felt like a question to take straight to the FanGraphs community.

If you’ve been around for any length of time, you know how these things work. Below, you will find a poll for every team. There are actually two polls for the Cardinals. For the sake of consistency, I have to ask about Shildt, but I’m also asking about Matheny, despite the fact that he’s gone. Anyway, for each poll, the question is simple: What do you think of the manager? We don’t talk about managers here a whole lot, but they wouldn’t get paid what they do if they didn’t matter, and I want to evaluate the landscape of community opinions.

I’d ask that you only vote in polls for teams that you care about and follow pretty closely. If you don’t have much of an opinion, that’s fine, and I’m collecting that information, too. Don’t worry if you don’t know whether a manager is actually good. We don’t know if any managers are actually good or actually bad. I just want to know what you all think, because you know more about your own managers than I do. So who am I to pretend I’m all-knowing?

As far as the question is concerned, keep in mind the extent of a manager’s responsibilities. First and foremost, a manager is supposed to serve as a leader of men. Do you sense that a given manager is an effective leader? An effective communicator? The strategy does also matter, too. Do you love or hate how a given manager uses his bullpen? Does he seem particularly creative, or especially stubborn? Compare the current manager to previous managers. Compare to other active managers, if you’d like. I know it basically comes down to gut feelings, but if you have a gut feeling, I want to record it. God knows I can never get enough of another polling project.

Thank you all in advance for your participation. We’ll look at the results either later this week, or early next week. Then we’ll see which manager might take Matheny’s place as an internet punching bag. And we’ll look at everybody else, as well. Who doesn’t love a 1-through-30 ranking? With your assistance, we’ll have that very thing coming up.

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2018 Trade Value: #31 to #40

Jose Altuve will not be constrained by your “aging curves.”
(Photo: Keith Allison)

As is the annual tradition at FanGraphs, we’re using the week of the All-Star Game — while the industry pauses to take a metaphorical breather — to take stock of the top-50 trade assets in the sport. For more context on exactly what we’re trying to do here, see the honorable-mentions post linked at the top of the page.

For this post and the others in this series, I’ve presented a graphic (by way of the wizard Sean Dolinar) breaking down each player’s objective skill level (represented, in this case, by a five-year WAR projection from ZiPS), contract/team-control details, rank in last year’s series, and then year-by-year details of age/WAR/contract through 2023, although a couple players have control beyond those five years. For those readers who are partial to spreadsheets rather than blocks of text, I’ve also included all the players we’ve ranked so far are in grid format at the bottom of the post.

The ZiPS WAR forecasts did influence the rankings a bit: for players who were bunched together, it acted as an impartial tiebreaker of sorts, but the industry opinions I solicited drove the rankings.

With that said, let’s get to the next 10 spots on the Trade Value list this year.

Five-Year WAR +14.5
Guaranteed Dollars
Team Control Through 2024
Previous Rank
Year Age Projected WAR Contract Status
2019 23 +2.8 Pre-Arb
2020 24 +3.0 Pre-Arb
2021 25 +3.0 Arb1
2022 26 +2.8 Arb2
2023 27 +2.9 Arb3
Pre-Arb
Arb

I feel like I’m supposed to kick this off with a Ferris Bueller reference, but I couldn’t come up with anything fitting. Walker is one of the rare prospects who gets the coveted “has a chance to become be an ace” label that’s only true of a handful of pitchers on Earth at a given time. For all the (rightful) handwringing about how scouts don’t truly understand upside when guys like Joses Altuve or Ramirez can emerge as the best hitters in the game after never appearing on a top-100 list, the group of aces who weren’t at some point described as a potential ace is basically just Cliff Lee, and he was touted in the minors.

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A Derby That Delivered the Goods

Walk-off. Walk-off! WALK-OFF! Bryce Harper won the 2018 Home Run Derby at Nationals Park in dramatic and impressive fashion, needing less than the full complement of time to beat his opponents in all three rounds. At ease in front of the hometown fans showering him with cheers, the Derby’s No. 2 seed and the only contestant with previous experience rose to the occasion each time. After dispatching seventh-seeded Freddie Freeman and third-seeded Max Muncy in the quarter- and semifinals, the 25-year-old Nationals superstar did have his back to the wall in the final round against fifth-seeded Kyle Schwarber, but with nine homers in the final minute — on 10 swings by my count, though ESPN’s broadcast said nine in a row — he tied the Cubs slugger’s total of 18. On the second pitch of the 30-second bonus period, he lofted a 434-foot drive to center field, then did a two-handed bat flip as the crowd went wild, and quickly handed the trophy to his barrel-chested father, Ron, who had pitched to him:

In a field that was somewhat lacking in star power, with no Mike Trout (who’s never participated), no Aaron Judge (who did not defend the title he won as a rookie in 2017), no Giancarlo Stanton (who won in 2016 but then was upset in his home park last year), and no player from among the season’s top five home-run totals for the first time since at least 2008, Harper — the biggest name from among the eight participants, even if he has struggled by his own standards this season — took center stage. He became just the third player to win the Home Run Derby (which began in 1985) in his home park, after the Cubs’ Ryne Sandberg in 1990 and the Reds’ Todd Frazier in 2015.

Frazier’s win came in the first year of a format that has turned the event from a three-hour slog into a vastly more entertaining spectacle that ran just over two hours. Instead of swinging until having made 10 “outs” (non-homers), players have four minutes to hit as many homers as possible, with the caveat that a ball can’t be pitched until the last one landed. Each player gets one 30-second timeout in the first two rounds and two timeouts in the finals. A player hitting two homers projected by Statcast to have traveled at least 440 feet unlocks an extra 30 seconds of bonus time.

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Five Players Who Ought to Be Traded (But Probably Won’t Be)

A Michael Fulmer deal could help the Tigers rebuild their system.
(Photo: Keith Allison)

While the result isn’t always a poor one, the decision to wait for an exact perfect trade is a dangerous game for a rebuilding/retooling team. Greed can sometimes be good, yes, but a player’s trade value can also dissipate with a simple twinge in the forearm.

For every Rich Hill who lands at a new home in exchange for an impressive haul, there’s a Zach Britton or Zack Cozart or Todd Frazier or Tyson Ross whose value declines dramatically — sometimes so dramatically that they become effectively untradable. Even when waiting doesn’t lead to disaster, such as with Sonny Gray and Jose Quintana, teams frequently don’t do that much better by waiting for the most beautiful opportunity for baseball-related extortion. Regression to the mean is real. For a player at the top of his game, there’s a lot more room for bad news than good; chaos may be a ladder, but it’s not a bell curve.

With that in mind, I’ve identified five players who might be most valuable to their clubs right now as a trade piece. None of them are likely to be dealt before the deadline. Nevertheless, their respective clubs might also never have a better opportunity to secure a return on these particular assets.

Kevin Gausman, RHP, Baltimore Orioles (Profile)

There seems to be a sense almost that, if the Orioles are able to trade Manny Machado for a great package, get an interesting deal for Zach Britton, and procure some token return for Adam Jones, then it’ll be time to fly the ol’ Mission Accomplished banner. In reality, though, that would simply mark the beginning of the Orioles’ chance to build a consistent winner. After D-Day, the allies didn’t call it wrap, shake some hands, and head home to work on the hot rod. (Confession: I don’t actually know what 18-year-olds did for fun in 1944.)

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2018 Trade Value: Honorable Mentions

The industry places Javy Baez and Manny Machado just outside the top-50 players by trade value.
(Photo: Keith Allison)

All-Star week has arrived, which means a lot of things, like that the races for the 2018 postseason have begun to take shape (at least in the NL, where postseason races exist) and also that many of those who work in baseball are currently taking rushed, abbreviated vacations. Around here, though, it marks the time for a different tradition — namely, the start our annual Trade Value series.

The inimitable Dave Cameron did this list for 13 years, 10 of them for this website. He’s now moved on the Padres, though, and FanGraphs has somehow ended up with me in his place. This list wouldn’t be possible without the model established by Cameron, nor the help of Sean Dolinar, Dan Szymborski, and Carson Cistulli in putting together this year’s series. A special thanks is also due to industry friends who put up with much rougher early versions of this list, were generous with their time, and helped whip it into shape.

For those new to the series, it marks an attempt to answer the question “Who would bring back the most in trade if he were put on the market before the deadline?” What’s notable about this list — as opposed to the prospect types I assemble with Eric Longenhagen — is that it’s the only one for which my opinion doesn’t matter. The goal here isn’t for me to project anybody’s future value but rather to capture the opinions of the industry and how they value players in reality, right now.

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The Best of FanGraphs: July 9-13, 2018

Each week, we publish in the neighborhood of 75 articles across our various blogs. With this post, we hope to highlight 10 to 15 of them. You can read more on it here. The links below are color coded — green for FanGraphs, brown for RotoGraphs, dark red for The Hardball Times and blue for Community Research.
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On Liking Jean Segura

There are few things that can make us feel more anxious than when we realize that people we consider our friends don’t enjoy the same things we do. Music, comedy specials, how much to go outside. There’s a little daring in liking things, especially when we like them deeply. By professing that we like something, we invite someone else to say that they don’t like that something, and then suddenly, there is one less thing that knits us to that someone.

Not liking the same little somethings is fine; I like eggplant and I have friends who don’t and it has never mattered, not even one time. But it can be hard to suss out in advance which little things, when pulled open, will lead to the bigger somethings that do matter. And so sharing the things we like can make us feel nervous. Perhaps you, the eggplant disliker, don’t care for its texture. That’s fine; eggplant has divisive mouthfeel. But maybe you don’t like it because you prefer the meaty taste of the human persons you have folded up in your basement freezer. That’s considerably less good! I went in liking eggplant and came out knowing you’re a murderer. Friendship can be dicey in this way, but I guess we have to risk it.

So here’s what I like. I like watching Jean Segura play baseball.

I liked this single, on a ball just above the zone.

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Ryan Borucki and Baseball’s Newest Plus Pitch

For most of 2018, any positive noise about the Toronto Blue Jays has been oriented to the future. Teoscar Hernandez — picked up for Francisco Liriano last July 3 — has proven to be a solid piece for the team. The farm system boasts four prospects in the top 100, led by baseball’s No. 1 prospect in Vladimir Guerrero Jr. While injured currently, Guerrero has posted video-game numbers at Double-A, and even the slightest possibility of his call-up to Toronto has sent fans into hysterics. With the AL East pretty well set for the playoffs, looking ahead is an entirely realistic plan for the Blue Jays.

Two weeks ago, another young Blue Jay made his major-league debut. Ryan Borucki comes from a baseball family: his father played 600 games in the minors and was a one-time teammate of Ryne Sandberg’s. The younger Borucki was a 15th-round pick in 2012 and signed for $426,000 to forego his commitment to Iowa. After a rough start to the career — including Tommy John surgery and shoulder pain that led to lost 2015 campaign — he turned it around after a demotion to Low-A in 2016 and shot up three levels to Triple-A in 2017. After a middling start to the 2018 season in Triple-A, Borucki got called out to fill out a rotation plagued by struggles and injury.

In his first three starts, Borucki faced the Astros, Yankees, and Tigers. Despite the quality of those first two clubs, Borucki conceded only five total runs in 20 innings while recording a 16:6 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Nor does it get any easier: Borucki is scheduled to start tonight against Boston.

At first glance, Borucki’s arsenal doesn’t seem like the sort capable of thwarting two of the league’s highest-scoring offenses. His sinking fastball averages around 92 mph and his slider is generally seen as pedestrian. However, he does have one weapon that could become one of the best pitches of its kind in the majors.

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Descalso and Avila Hurl Their Way into Weird History

Even in these days of bloated, 13-man pitching staffs, it’s not uncommon for a position player to take the mound. With the season roughly halfway done, there have been 30 outings by position players thus far — not including two-way phenom Shohei Ohtani, who’s in a class by himself — which means we’re almost certain to see what, at the very least, is an expansion-era record (more on which momentarily). Despite that increasing commonality, Wednesday night brought a rarity that’s worth appreciating — a few of them, in fact — in the Rockies’ 19-2 trouncing of the Diamondbacks (box).

Yes, it was a game at Coors Field, where wackiness reigns thanks to the high altitude, and unfortunately, the circumstances were triggered by an injury. Diamondbacks starter Shelby Miller, making just his fourth major-league start since returning from Tommy John surgery, was lit up for five first-inning runs via two walks and four hits, the most important coming in the form of an Ian Desmond homer.

Though he completed the inning, Miller needed 37 pitches — a bit extreme given his recent injury, but take it up with manager Torey Lovullo — and began feeling elbow tightness by the end of his abbreviated stint. Reliever Jorge De La Rosa, who knows all about the horrors of Coors Field as he spent nine freakin’ years (2008-16) calling it home, came on in relief and allowed four runs in the second inning and three in the third via homers by Charlie Blackmon and Carlos Gonzalez. He got the hook with two outs and the Diamondbacks trailing 12-1. While T.J. Mcfarland got the final out of the third, Lovullo pulled him due to stiffness in his neck, and then Yoshihisa Hirano allowed four straight hits and three runs after retiring Desmond to start the fourth.

At that point, Lovullo effectively said, “To hell with this,” and called upon second baseman Daniel Descalso — who had already pitched four times in his nine-year major-league career, including May 4 of this year against the Astros — to take the hill, with Chris Owings coming off the bench to play second base. It didn’t go well at first, Nolan Arenado greeting Descalso with an RBI single and then Gonzalez following with a three-run homer, bringing the score to 18-1. Fortunately, Descalso settled down and wore it like a champ, lasting 2.2 innings and 36 pitches and retiring eight of the next 11 batters he faced, with the only run in that span arriving via a solo homer by pitcher German Marquez.

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The Telephone Game in Cleveland

CLEVELAND — This author is all too familiar with cases of identification mix-ups within the confines of Progressive Field, as you might be aware of if you are a loyal listener of FanGraphs Audio.

Earlier this year, I approached Matt Davidson’s locker stall in the visiting clubhouse in Cleveland and asked Matt if he had time for an interview. Seated, Matt agreed. He was pleasant and eager, as if he hadn’t spent much time being hounded by reporters. It was in the midst of the interview, speaking with Matt — Matt Skole — when he mentioned how he played in the Nationals organization earlier in his career. I realized my mistake. I had the wrong 6-foot-4 position-playing Matt. I politely asked another question or two and ended the interview. While a surge of embarrassment struck me, at least the error was realized before, say, publication.

There was another sort of case of mistaken identity in Cleveland on Tuesday night.

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Brett Gardner, Fines, and Pace of Play

Brett Gardner’s posted a walk rate north of 10% six times in his 11-year big-league career, including each of the last four seasons. He’s racked up 2.5 WAR or better in every full season he’s played, on the back of sometimes elite defense, consistently above-average offense, and the ability to knock a few dingers into the short porch in Yankee Stadium III. In other words, Gardner is a Very Useful Player, the kind of complementary piece every contending roster needs.

That’s not Gardner’s reputation, though. Instead, Gardner is regarded more as a “pest.” Not because of his conduct as a person — I’ve never met him, though I’m sure he’s a lovely human and fine conversationalist — but rather as a leadoff hitter. And the numbers mostly bear this out: this year, he’s seeing 4.15 pitches per plate appearance, 10th best in the American League. Last year, it was 4.23 pitches per plate appearance, seventh best in the American League. In 2016, Gardner saw 4.09 pitches per plate appearance, 16th best in the Junior Circuit. You get the idea: Gardner is a tough out. Jeff Sullivan wrote about this last year during the playoffs.

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The Royals Should Trade Whit Merrifield

What does Whit Merrifield see in the gauzy mists of his future?
(Photo: Minda Haas Kuhlmann)

Whit Merrifield is a pretty good baseball player. Despite not debuting in the majors until his age-27 campaign and recording 1,700 roughly average plate appearances in Double-A and Triple-A before that, Merrifield has now produced two seasons’ worth of above-average offense at the major-league level. His 5.3 WAR ranks seventh among all second baseman since the start of last season. The 120 wRC+ he’s recorded this year is surpassed only by the marks produced by Jose Altuve and Jed Lowrie among AL second baseman. And while that’s his primary position, he has also played first base, center field, and right field this year and does have some experience at third base and left field, as well.

That combination of offensive skill and defensive flexibility makes Merrifield the sort of player who can fit on a number of clubs. It’s also what makes him appealing as a possible trade-deadline target for contenders. The Royals have a piece from which other clubs should benefit. They should make every effort to find a deal that makes sense.

Merrifield’s appeal isn’t limited to his performance. Because of his late start as a major leaguer, he won’t even be eligible for arbitration until 2020 and won’t be a free agent until after the 2022 season. Those extra years typically add considerable weight to trade value, allowing clubs to avoid wading out into the expensive free-agent waters.

Also due to Merrifield’s late start, however, the prospect of his cost-controlled years is a bit different than for other, similarly experienced (or inexperienced) players. While his league-minimum salaries for this year and next are appealing, Merrifield is likely to have entered his decline phase for the last three of his cost-controlled seasons. Cost-controlled seasons can be a great benefit to a team, but most of that theoretical benefit is based on a player still in his prime and potentially even improving. Players can get better in their early 30s — Jeff Kent and Daniel Murphy come to mind as prominent examples of second basemen alone — but age-related decline is the rule not the exception.

To get a sense of how Merrifield might age, I looked for second baseman since 1995 at 28 and 29 years old with a WAR between 5.0 and 8.0 and age-29 WAR between 2.5 and 5.0. Note that this analysis doesn’t account for the fact that Merrifield was a mostly mediocre minor leaguer, but instead focuses on his good run over the last two years.

At age 30, the 12 players who fit the above criteria averaged a solid 107 wRC+ and 2.8 WAR. At age 31, they experienced a typical move downward, to a 103 wRC+ and 2.2 WAR. By age 32, only half the players recorded more than 2.0 WAR and, at age 33, the only players to surpassed the 1.5 WAR threshold were Kent, Ray Durham, and Eric Young.

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Daily Prospect Notes: 7/9

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

Victor Robles, CF, Washington Nationals (Profile)
Level: Rehab   Age: 21   Org Rank: 1   FV: 65
Line: 0-for-1, BB

Notes
Robles has begun to make rehab appearances on his way back from a hyperextended left elbow that he suffered in early April. He’s gotten two plate appearances in the GCL each of the last two days. The Nationals’ big-league outfield situation should enable Robles to have a slow, careful rehab process that takes a few weeks. He is one of baseball’s best prospects.

Adam Haseley, CF, Philadelphia Phillies (Profile)
Level: Hi-A Age: 22   Org Rank: 7   FV: 45
Line: 2-for-5, HR

Notes
The homer was Haseley’s fifth of the year and his slash line now stands at .301/.344/.417. He’s undergone several swing tweaks this year, starting with a vanilla, up-and-down leg kick last year; a closed, Giancarlo Stanton-like stance early this season; and now an open stance with more pronounced leg kick that loads more toward his rear hip. All that would seem to be part of an effort to get Haseley hitting for more power, his skillset’s most glaring weakness. But Haseley’s swing plane is so flat that such a change may not, alone, be meaningful as far as home-run production is concerned, though perhaps there will be more extra-base hits.

The way Haseley’s peripherals have trended since college gives us a glimpse of how a relative lack of power alters those variables in pro ball. His strikeout and walk rates at UVA were 11% and 12% respectively, an incredible 7% and 16% as a junior. In pro ball, they’ve inverted, and have been 15% and 5% in about 600 pro PAs.

Akil Baddoo, OF, Minnesota Twins (Profile)
Level: Low-A Age: 19   Org Rank: 12   FV: 45
Line: 3-for-5, 2B, SB

Notes
Baddoo is scorching, on an 11-game hit streak during which he has amassed 20 hits, nine for extra-bases. He crushes fastballs and can identify balls and strikes, but Baddoo’s strikeout rate has doubled this year as he’s seen more decent breaking balls, with which he has struggled. Considering how raw Baddoo was coming out of high school, however, his performance, especially as far as the plate discipline is concerned, has been encouraging. He’s a potential everyday player with power and speed.

Jesus Tinoco, RHP, Colorado Rockies (Profile)
Level: Double-A Age: 23   Org Rank: NR   FV: 40
Line: 6 IP, 3 H, 0 BB, 1 R, 7 K

Notes
Tinoco didn’t make the Rockies’ offseason list, as I thought he had an outside shot to be a reliever but little more. His strikeout rate is way up. He still projects in the bullpen, sitting 93-95 with extreme fastball plane that also adds artificial depth to an otherwise fringe curveball. He’ll probably throw harder than that in the Futures Game.

Travis MacGregor, RHP, Pittsburgh Pirates (Profile)
Level: Low-A Age: 20   Org Rank: 21   FV: 40
Line: 5 IP, 3 H, 1 BB, 2 R, 6 K

Notes
MacGregor is a projection arm who is performing thanks to his ability to throw his fastball for strikes, though not always where he wants. His delivery has a bit of a crossfire action but is otherwise on the default setting and well composed, with only the release point varying. It’s pretty good, considering many pitchers with MacGregor’s size are still reigning in control of their extremities. MacGregor’s secondaries don’t always have great movement but should be at least average at peak. He projects toward the back of a rotation.

Austin Cox, LHP, Kansas City Royals (Profile)
Level: Short Season Age: 21   Org Rank: HM   FV: 35
Line: 5 IP, 3 H, 0 BB, 1 R, 10 K

Notes
Cox, Kansas City’s fourth-rounder out of Mercer, has a 23:3 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 11.2 pro innings. He put up goofy strikeout numbers at Mercer, too, but struggles with fastball command. He’s a high-slot lefty who creates tough angle on a low-90s fastball, and his curveball has powerful, vertical shape. It’s likely Cox will be limited to relief work due to fastball command, but he could be very good there, especially if the fastball ticks up in shorter outings.

Notes from the Field
Just some pitcher notes from the weekend here. I saw Rangers RHP Kyle Cody rehabbing in Scottsdale. He was 94-96 for two innings and flashed a plus curveball. Joe Palumbo rehabbed again in the AZL and looked the same as he did last week.

Cleveland has another arm of note in the AZL, 6-foot-1, 18-year-old Dominican righty Ignacio Feliz. He’s one of the best on-mound athletes I’ve seen in the AZL and his arm works well. He sits only 88-92 but that should tick up as he matures physically. His fastball has natural cut, and at times, he throws what looks like a true cutter in the 84-87 range. He also has a 12-to-6 curveball that flashes plus.

Feliz could develop in a number of different ways. Cleveland could make a concerted effort to alter his release so Feliz is more behind the ball, which would probably play better with his curveballs. Alternatively, they might nurture his natural proclivity for cut and see what happens. Either way, this is an exciting athlete with workable stuff who doesn’t turn 19 until the end of October.

Between 15 and 18 scouts were on hand for Saturday night’s Dodgers and Diamondbacks AZL game. That’s much more than is typical for an AZL game, even at this time of year, and is hard to explain away by saying these scouts were on usual coverage. D-backs OF Kristian Robinson (whom we have ranked No. 2 in the system) was a late, precautionary scratch after being hit with a ball the day before, so he probably wasn’t their collective target. Instead, I suspect it was Dodgers 19-year-old Mexican righty Gerardo Carrillo, who was 91-96 with a plus curveball. I saw Carrillo pitch in relief of Yadier Alvarez on the AZL’s opening night, during which he was 94-97. He’s small, and my knee-jerk reaction was to bucket him as a reliever, but there’s enough athleticism to try things out in a rotation and see if it sticks.


The Best of FanGraphs: July 2-6, 2018

Each week, we publish in the neighborhood of 75 articles across our various blogs. With this post, we hope to highlight 10 to 15 of them. You can read more on it here. The links below are color coded — green for FanGraphs, brown for RotoGraphs, dark red for The Hardball Times and blue for Community Research.
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In Which Mike Leake Uses a Paper Cup

I’ve touched on it before, but I don’t think we talk nearly enough about how weird it must be to be a major-league baseball player. Sure, they’re wealthy and get annoyed with their boss like anyone else, but they’re also frequently naked around their work friends. Their workplace is so strange. People spit in the office, and those spitters don’t always aim well, which means flecks of spit on their shoes. We watch them be bad at their jobs, but they never get to see us botch a sale or split an infinitive.

Sometimes, their pants rip just a little bit, near the butt.

This happens to the literal best players. They continue to wear those pants for several hours. They then get new pants. They don’t have to pay for them.

And they litter. Gum wrappers, seeds, the sticky leftovers of athletic tape. They use a bunch of paper cups — seemingly a different one every inning! — and then just throw those cups on the floor of the dugout. It’s a move that must strike your average desk-job worker as odd; insurance adjusters are generally expected to recycle.

Perhaps Mike Leake secretly aspires to more traditional office work. In the top of the fifth inning of his July 4th tilt against the Angels, Leake was pulled in favor of Nick Rumbelow. He looked hot and frustrated. The camera finds him as he takes a long, grumpy drink of water. Here we are, watching him after he just failed. He gives the cup an angry little flick. Runners on the corners. Might be time to litter. He stares into the middle distance. Grumble, grumble, bad day. But then…

He puts the cup back! He drinks from the cup, puts his lips full on it, and then puts it back on top of the stack. Presented with this less typical baseball workplace weirdness, we are left to conclude that Leake either has a stack of cups for his own personal use throughout the game — the result of considered cup tastes — or cares deeply about the environment, or else is thoroughly untroubled by the idea of a teammate grabbing his previously full-lipped cup off the top of the stack. It might be an act of care, but it could also be sort of awful.

I suppose, in that respect, Mike Leake has shown that the dugout is actually just like every other workplace, defined as they often are by drudgery, and grumpy types, and small bits of heedlessness borne of opaque personal agenda or indifference to washing the mug you just used before putting it back in the break room dish drainer.

Maybe being a baseball player isn’t so weird after all. Except for when you’re naked with your fellows. That remains strange.


Daily Prospect Notes: 7/5

Monday through Wednesday notes on prospects from lead prospect analyst Eric Longenhagen. Read previous installments here.

7/2

Brewer Hicklen, OF, Kansas City Royals (Profile)
Level: Low-A   Age: 22   Org Rank: HM   FV: 35+
Line: 4-for-6, 2B, HR

Notes
Hicklen has some statistical red flags if you’re unaware of the context with which you should be viewing his performance. He’s a 22-year-old college hitter with a 30% strikeout rate at Low-A. But Hicklen hasn’t been committed to playing baseball for very long, as he sought, late in high school and throughout college, to have a football career. He went to UAB as a baseball walk-on and eventually earned a football scholarship as the school’s defunct program was to be reborn. But Hicklen’s physical tools stood out as he continued to play baseball (plus speed and raw power), so he was drafted and compelled to sign. He hasn’t been focusing on baseball, alone, for very long and has a .300/.350/.525 line in his first full pro season. He’s a toolsy long shot, but so far so good.

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Oh Hello, J.T. Realmuto

In recent memory alone, the conduct of Marlins owners has been defined largely by questionable judgment, from the purchase of a team whose payroll they could not afford to the alleged pocketing of revenue-sharing monies that should have been put towards improving the on-field product. They have claimed to be based in the British Virgin Islands in hopes of taking a court case to arbitration and even sued season ticket-holders and vendors.

Legal aficionado Sheryl Ring addressed the absurdity of what the Marlins are doing:

That’s right: the Marlins obtained a judgment against a season ticket holder using as leverage the fact that his attorney suffered a heart attack. They then attempted to take away a building he owns to collect on that judgment — and all because he didn’t want to renew his season tickets.

[…]

Because, consider: the Marlins haven’t sued just their fans; they’ve also sued ballpark concession vendors who, due to low attendance, were unable to stay in business and thus renew their contracts or pay the $2 million entry fee charged by the team.

What makes that tactic strange is that those lawsuits include claims against companies that have filed for bankruptcy protection, which means that the team is engaged in expensive litigation against entities that may have little or no ability to pay back the amount the team says it’s owed.

You could say that the Marlins are conducting a peculiar type of experiment: what happens when a team alienates its fans to such a degree that no one is left to watch.

As images like the following reveal, the experiment appears to be working.

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Scouting the Reds’ Return for Dylan Floro

On Wednesday, the Reds sent righties Dylan Floro and Zach Neal, as well as international pool space, to the Dodgers for RHPs James Marinan and Aneurys Zabala. Marinan, Los Angeles’s fourth-round pick in 2017 out of Park Vista High School in Florida, made three starts in the AZL before the trade. Zabala, whom the Dodgers originally acquired from Seattle for Chase De Jong, was pitching in the Low-A Great Lakes bullpen.

Both pitchers have size and big-league arm strength. Marinan is 6-foot-5, 220, while Zabala (though listed at 175) is closer to 250. Zabala was throwing 96-100 while he was with Seattle, but his conditioning wavered after the trade and the fastball was in the low 90s when I saw him last year. He also had, and still has, issues repeating his delivery, which leads to scattershot fastball command. His velocity is back up into the upper 90s this year, and he can spin a breaking ball. He has above-average relief stuff, but is a high-risk prospect because of how far the command needs to come — and because the stuff has roller coastered over the last two years.

Marinan is a bit more stable. He has a four-pitch mix glued together by a low-90s sinker and average change that flashes above. He can throw an average curveball for strikes, and the slider can miss bats away from righties when located. He could end up with a bunch of 50s, maybe a 55 changeup and command, and become a solid No. 4/5 starter. Both players are likely three years away from the majors, at least, though Zabala will essentially be ready as soon as his fastball command improves, if it does.


Did Jon Gray Deserve His Demotion to the Minors?

In one sense, Jon Gray’s 2018 season has been pretty successful. He’s struck out 29% of the batters he’s faced this year, for example, which ranks 12th among 90 qualified starters. His walk rate, at 7%, sits in the top third for starters. His home-run rate of 1.1 per nine innings is right in the middle of the pack among that sample, too, as are his 92 innings.

That’s he’s done of his work at elevation in Colorado makes those numbers even more impressive. His 3.07 FIP has produced a 2.5 WAR, one of the top 15 figures in baseball. Unfortunately, the Rockies haven’t received the benefit of that good pitching. In fact, Gray’s 5.77 ERA ranks 88th out 90 starters. The massive difference between his ERA and FIP would represent the largest such disparity in baseball history, and it was of sufficient concern to the Rockies to send Gray to Triple-A.

Not too long ago, Jay Jaffe wrote a piece on Jon Lester, whose season was also busting historical norms. Lester’s ERA was significantly lower than his FIP. So far this season, Gray is Lester’s opposite. The graph below shows every pitcher’s FIP and ERA this season.

You can see Jon Lester over there on the left on his own. If you go to the right, you can see Jon Gray with nobody even close to him. It should be evident that, in the middle, most players are reasonably close when it comes to ERA and FIP. The average differential per player 0.53. Of the 88 ERA and FIP pairs in this sample, 77 are within one run. So far this season, Gray’s 2.69 ERA-FIP is roughly double the player closest to him, as the table below shows.

Biggest ERA-FIP Gaps, 2018
Name Team ERA FIP E-F
Jon Gray Rockies 5.77 3.08 2.69
Jason Hammel Royals 5.56 4.20 1.37
Lance Lynn Twins 5.49 4.37 1.12
Sonny Gray Yankees 5.44 4.39 1.05
Nick Pivetta Phillies 4.71 3.68 1.03
Luke Weaver Cardinals 5.16 4.22 0.93
Vince Velasquez Phillies 4.69 3.81 0.87
Luis Castillo Reds 5.85 5.03 0.82
Carlos Carrasco Indians 4.24 3.42 0.82
Zack Wheeler Mets 4.47 3.66 0.80
Qualified starting pitchers.

That isn’t just remarkable for this season. Since 1901, here are the biggest differences among qualified pitchers.

Largest ERA-FIP Since 1901
Name Team Season ERA FIP E-F
Jon Gray Rockies 2018 5.77 3.08 2.69
Jack Knott Browns 1936 7.29 5.16 2.12
George Caster Athletics 1940 6.56 4.52 2.04
Hub Pruett Phillies 1927 6.05 4.11 1.94
Chris Bosio Brewers 1987 5.24 3.38 1.86
John Burkett Rangers 1998 5.68 3.89 1.78
Bert Blyleven Twins 1988 5.43 3.66 1.77
Joe Oeschger Braves 1923 5.68 3.91 1.77
Ernie Wingard Browns 1927 6.56 4.80 1.76
Bobo Newsom – – – 1942 4.73 2.99 1.74
Ricky Nolasco Marlins 2009 5.06 3.35 1.71
Early Wynn Senators 1942 5.12 3.42 1.70
Jack Lamabe Red Sox 1964 5.89 4.21 1.68
Rick Wise Phillies 1968 4.55 2.89 1.66
Pol Perritt Cardinals 1913 5.25 3.59 1.66
Qualified starting pitchers.

There are a few Hall of Famers on that list in Blyleven and Wynn, but nobody comes close to what Gray has done thus far. Just to get a few more familiar names, here’s the same list since 1995.

Largest ERA-FIP Since 1995
Name Team Season ERA FIP E-F
Jon Gray Rockies 2018 5.77 3.08 2.69
John Burkett Rangers 1998 5.68 3.89 1.78
Ricky Nolasco Marlins 2009 5.06 3.35 1.71
Jaime Navarro White Sox 1997 5.79 4.21 1.59
Jose Mercedes Orioles 2001 5.82 4.32 1.51
LaTroy Hawkins Twins 1999 6.66 5.16 1.50
Edinson Volquez – – – 2013 5.71 4.24 1.47
Nate Robertson Tigers 2008 6.35 4.99 1.36
Derek Lowe Braves 2011 5.05 3.70 1.35
Clay Buchholz Red Sox 2014 5.34 4.01 1.33
Jose Jimenez Cardinals 1999 5.85 4.53 1.32
Zack Greinke Royals 2005 5.80 4.49 1.31
Mike Oquist Athletics 1998 6.22 4.93 1.30
Qualified starting pitchers.

There are some good pitchers on this list, too, including Zack Greinke. The odds are against Gray maintaining such a high difference. With half a season to go, Gray’s ERA is likely to be considerably closer to his FIP moving forward. If, the rest of the way, Gray’s FIP is one run lower than his ERA like it was in 2016, his ERA will end up right around Chris Bosio’s 1.86 number from 1988. If Gray’s ERA is half a run higher than his FIP like it was last year, he’ll end up with something close to Jaime Navarro’s 1.59 from 1997 and not even crack the top-15 all-time.

As we are getting close to the All-Star Break, it might be useful to take a look at the biggest half-season differences from our splits leaderboards, which go back to 2002. Here are the biggest first-half differences for pitchers with at least 70 first-half innings.

Largest ERA-FIP by Half Since 2002
Name Team Season 1st Half IP 1st Half ERA 1st Half FIP 1st Half ERA-FIP
Glendon Rusch MIL 2003 82.1 8.09 4.38 3.71
Jon Gray COL 2018 92.0 5.77 3.08 2.69
Tim Lincecum SFG 2012 96.2 6.42 4.01 2.42
Ubaldo Jimenez BAL 2016 79.1 7.03 4.63 2.40
Zack Greinke MIL 2011 74.1 5.45 3.05 2.40
Colby Lewis TEX 2014 84.0 6.54 4.17 2.37
Ricky Nolasco FLA 2009 90.2 5.76 3.56 2.20
Jake Arrieta BAL 2012 101.1 6.13 4.04 2.09
Edwin Jackson TBD 2007 74.1 7.26 5.19 2.07
John Lackey BOS 2011 79.0 6.84 4.84 2.00
Manny Parra MIL 2009 71.2 6.78 4.80 1.98
Ryan Dempster CIN 2003 96.0 6.75 4.78 1.97
Sidney Ponson BAL 2004 113.0 6.29 4.35 1.94
Edinson Volquez SDP 2013 109.2 5.74 3.85 1.89
AVERAGE 89.0 6.54 4.28 2.26
Min. 70 IP

That was quite a performance from Glendon Rusch. He would actually go on to have a couple productive seasons as a Cubs swingman, but 2003 might have soured the Brewers on his future. Scanning the list for similar performances to Gray, another Brewer, Zach Greinke, sticks out with a near-identical FIP to Gray this season. As the average indicates, we have roughly average to maybe below-average pitchers by FIP accompanied by horrendous ERAs. The next table shows how those players performed in the second half.

Second-Half Performance for Largest ERA-FIP
Name Team Season 1st Half FIP 1st Half ERA-FIP 2nd Half IP 2nd Half ERA 2nd Half FIP 2nd Half ERA-FIP
Glendon Rusch MIL 2003 4.38 3.71 18.0 4.00 2.14 1.86
Tim Lincecum SFG 2012 4.01 2.42 89.1 3.83 4.36 -0.53
Ubaldo Jimenez BAL 2016 4.63 2.40 52.2 2.39 3.60 -1.21
Zack Greinke MIL 2011 3.05 2.40 97.1 2.59 2.92 -0.33
Colby Lewis TEX 2014 4.17 2.37 86.1 3.86 4.75 -0.89
Ricky Nolasco FLA 2009 3.56 2.20 94.1 4.39 3.15 1.24
Jake Arrieta BAL 2012 4.04 2.09 0.0 0.00
Edwin Jackson TBD 2007 5.19 2.07 86.1 4.48 4.62 -0.14
John Lackey BOS 2011 4.84 2.00 81.0 6.00 4.58 1.42
Manny Parra MIL 2009 4.80 1.98 68.1 5.93 4.96 0.97
Ryan Dempster CIN 2003 4.78 1.97 16.2 6.48 6.63 -0.15
Sidney Ponson BAL 2004 4.35 1.94 102.2 4.21 4.54 -0.33
Edinson Volquez SDP 2013 3.85 1.89 59.2 5.73 4.98 0.75
AVERAGE 4.28 2.26 66.0 4.49 4.27 0.20
Min. 70 IP.

As we might expect, the players’ first-half FIPs line up pretty well with their second-half FIPs. What’s interesting is that the second-half ERAs also line up pretty well with the FIPs from both the first and second halves. While this is what we would expect to see, it’s nice to have it show up so neatly.

One problem the above doesn’t solve is why Gray’s FIP, specfically, is so much lower than his ERA. A portion of the responsibility goes to his home park. Pitchers routinely post higher ERAs than FIPs in Coors Field because BABIP is a lot higher in Coors Field. Balls in play are not incorporated into FIP, so larger swings, like the one we see at Coors Field, are going to drive up ERA a bit. That only explains a very small portion of Gray’s differential, though. For the rest, please see the graph below depicting BABIP and left-on-base percentages for all qualified starting pitchers.

Previous research indicates that a vast majority of the difference between FIP and ERA is due to two factors, the two stats seen in the table above: BABIP and LOB%. Gray is the worst in both, about 50 points clear in BABIP and with few peers in LOB% this season.

A really poor BABIP might be an indicator that Gray is no longer an MLB-caliber pitcher. The rest of his stats say otherwise, however. Per Baseball Savant, his expected BABIP is about 50 points lower than his actual figure. As league-wide expected BABIP is about 20 points higher than actual BABIP, even once you factor in Coors Field, Gray’s BABIP is about 50 points too high based on the quality of contact, leaving the rest to luck and defense.

As for left-on-base percentage, if it were really high, we might think that perhaps Gray has trouble pitching with runners on base and that Gray’s 1.91 FIP with bases empty compared to 4.67 with runners on — and his .274 xwOBA with bases empty compared to .334 with runners on — speaks to the same issue. However, the latter number is roughly average for the league regarding xwOBA and pretty close to average for FIP once Coors Field is factored in. Jeff Zimmerman theorized that the issue might be pitching meatballs behind in the count, but even Gray’s numbers behind in the count are similar to an average pitcher in those situations. His velocity has been down in his last few starts. Ben Lindbergh noted the absence of competitive pitches from Gray this season. However, none of those theories explains a league-worst left-on-base rate or the massively high BABIP. The Rockies would have to keep Gray in Triple-A the rest of the season to game his service time, so that is an unlikely motivation, although if he hits the disabled list in the minors he would not accrue MLB service time like he would if he were DL’d now and something more serious was discovered.

Jon Gray is performing historically so far, but not in the way he would like. Now he’s pitching in a city he’d probably prefer not to. Based on the past history of others, as well as himself, there seems to be a pretty good chance — absent injury — that his ERA is going to be headed downward soon even if the big-league Rockies won’t be seeing the benefit of that downturn at the moment.