Archive for Giants

Which Team Has MLB’s Best Double-Play Combo?

These days, we’re blessed with a number of amazing young shortstops. Carlos Correa, Francisco Lindor, and Corey Seager, for example, are already among baseball’s top players. Manny Machado is a shortstop who just accidentally plays third base. All of them are younger than 25.

Second base isn’t as notable for its youth. Last year, however, second basemen recorded one of the top collective offensive lines at the position in the history of the game. Good job, second basemen.

So both positions are experiencing a bit of a renaissance at the moment. This led me to wonder which teams might be benefiting most from that renaissance. It’s rare that teams can keep a second baseman and shortstop together long enough to form a lasting and effective double-play combo. Right now, MLB has some pretty great ones. But which is the greatest — particularly, on the defensive side of thing? Let’s explore.

First, we want to know who has played together for awhile. Since the start of the 2015 season, 21 players have played at least 200 games as a shortstop, and 23 have done the same at second base. Cross-referencing them and weeding out the players who have played for multiple teams, we get the following list:

Teams with 2B & SS with 200+ G, 2015-2017
Team Second Baseman G Shortstop G
BAL Jonathan Schoop 281 J.J. Hardy 264
BOS Dustin Pedroia 279 Xander Bogaerts 346
CLE Jason Kipnis 297 Francisco Lindor 290
DET Ian Kinsler 335 Jose Iglesias 279
HOU Jose Altuve 338 Carlos Correa 288
MIA Dee Gordon 257 Adeiny Hechavarria 288
PHI Cesar Hernandez 270 Freddy Galvis 339
SF Joe Panik 257 Brandon Crawford 315
TEX Rougned Odor 300 Elvis Andrus 347

That’s a pretty good list. There are some tough omissions here. The most notable is the Angels, as Andrelton Simmons hasn’t been with them long enough to meet our bar here. Given Johnny Giavotella‘s defensive contributions, however, we can guess that the combo here would be quite one-sided. Also excluded are teams with new double-play combos, like the Dodgers and Mariners. Not only are the Logan Forsythe-Corey Seager and Robinson CanoJean Segura combos new this season, but thanks to injuries they haven’t even played together much this season. Cano-Segura has only happened 22 times this season, and Forsythe-Seager only 10 times.

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The Players on Choking Up

Round bat, round ball, traveling in different directions: the eight-word story of hitting really captures some of the difficulty of that practice. When you get into the art of choking up — moving the hands up the barrel and shortening the bat — you uncover a whole world of players attempting to address that difficulty. David Kagan examined the physics of choking up today at The Hardball Times. Here, we ask the practitioners what they think. It turns out, the players serve up some conventional wisdom, but also some insight into the reasoning behind the practice.

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The Giants Are Stuck

Things haven’t exactly gone according to plan for the Giants. A year after winning the Wild Card game, they’ve got the worst record in baseball and, as of right now, a 7% chance of making the playoffs. They’ve lost their ace to a foolish dirt-bike accident, and their starters at shortstop and center field, as well as their closer, are on the DL. They’ve scored the second-fewest runs of any team, and their run differential of -69 makes that even worse. It’s May 10th and the Giants may already be dead.

Teams this far out of the playoff picture typically make the most of it by offloading pieces to contenders in exchange for prospects. It’s much too early in the year for theoretical contenders to be pushing their chips to the center of the table just yet, but it’s not too early for them to be surveying the shape of the market. Unfortunately for both buyers and San Francisco, the Giants may not have many pieces to pick over.

Players who get moved at midseason usually don’t have much time remaining on their contracts before they hit free agency. They’re guys who may not be around when the selling team is making its next playoff run — or whom the club can otherwise afford to replace. The Giants have pretty much their entire core under contract for next year. Only Hunter Pence and possibly Denard Span (depending on how the Giants decide to handle his option) will leave for free agency following 2018’s conclusion. They’ll have Bumgarner back at full strength next year, and in the unlikely event that Johnny Cueto doesn’t opt out, he’ll be there, too. If Cueto does opt out, this upcoming free-agent class doesn’t lack for premium starting pitching, on which the Giants have repeatedly shown themselves willing to spend.

That’s all a somewhat roundabout way of saying that the Giants don’t exactly have a ton of expendable trade chips at the moment. This season doesn’t look like the start of an irreparable decline as much as it looks like a rather large bump in the road. There’s no reason the Giants can’t be competitive next year, even if they do lose Cueto. But barring a massive resurgence and excellent play from their currently injured players, the Giants aren’t going anywhere this year, and they’re not really in a position to better prepare themselves for the future.

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Brandon Belt Rightly Resists the Revolution

On Wednesday night, Brandon Belt came to the plate six times. He drew four walks, struck out once, and put one ball in play, a single in the 11th that drove in a run. Of course, the combination of all those walks and the relative lack of homers sometimes leads to spurious criticisms not unlike those leveled at Joey Votto. While most understand that Votto is a great hitter and many understand that what Belt does is good, Belt’s reputation likely suffers more than Votto’s for a few reasons.

  1. He’s not as good as Joey Votto.
  2. He hits relatively few homers for a first baseman.

As to that first point, there’s no shame in failing to rival Joey Votto. As to the second, it really is hard to overstate the effects of Belt’s home park. Despite what Barry Bonds might have led everyone to believe, it’s incredibly difficult to hit homers in San Francisco. Despite what Barry Bonds might have led everyone to believe, it’s even more incredibly difficult for lefties to homer there.

Brandon Belt isn’t without power. He has posted ISOs well above league average throughout his career. Since the beginning of 2015, his .226 ISO on the road is 23rd best in baseball among the 160 players who’ve recorded at least 500 away plate appearances. He’s within 10 points of Joey Votto; he’s right behind Josh Donaldson, Brian Dozier, and Daniel Murphy; and he’s just ahead of Miguel Cabrera and Jose Bautista. In 580 away plate appearances since the beginning of 2015 — roughly a season’s worth of playing time- – Belt has 28 home runs, having hit them at a greater rate than Kris Bryant and Paul Goldschmidt. His numbers are good in high-leverage and low-leverage situations. He’s good with runners on and the bases empty. He’s consistent, too, as the chart showing his 100-game rolling ISO shows.

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You Can Probably Blame Rich Hill’s Blisters on His Curveball

Rich Hill is in the midst of a blister problem. It’s been going on since his breakout season last year. Since only three pitchers in 2016 threw more curveballs than Hill, it makes sense to blame the curve. Maybe there’s more at work, but also maybe not. It’s a pretty reasonable hypothesis.

I mean, for one, the pitcher himself believes it. “It’s right there, on the pad of my finger, where it touches the seams on my curveball,” said Hill on Tuesday night. Curious about the condition of his digit, I pushed: could I take a picture of the pad on his middle finger pad? “Nobody’s taking a picture of my finger,” he laughed. I didn’t pursue the matter any further.

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FanGraphs Audio: The Massive Lacunae in Pittsburgh, San Francisco

Episode 735
Managing editor Dave Cameron is the guest on this edition of the program, during which he discusses the absence of Starling Marte from the Pirates and the absence of Madison Bumgarner from the Giants and, implicitly, the absence of “human behavior” from his behavior.

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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 39 min play time.)

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The Giants Shouldn’t Punt Just Yet

Last Thursday, Madison Bumgarner wrecked his dirt bike, and in the process, also wrecked his throwing shoulder. The team publicly announced that he’d be out 6-8 weeks while rehabbing the injury, but reports suggest that might be an optimistic belief.

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Madison Bumgarner Crashes His Bike and Playoff Hopes

It’s not a shock that Madison Bumgarner has never been on the disabled list before now. He’s a big horse of a man, made purely of muscle and tree sap. The only thing that’s prevented him from being sidelined is Bruce Bochy not letting him throw 400 innings in a year and, apparently, that he’s been steady on a dirt bike until now.

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Grading the Pitches: 2016 NL Starters’ Curveballs

Changeup: AL Starters / NL Starters.
Curveball: AL Starters.

We’re almost three weeks into the regular season, with sample sizes mounting but still not to a level worthy of significant analysis, Eric Thames notwithstanding. We’ll take the opportunity to continue our look back at 2016 pitch quality. We looked at AL ERA qualifiers’ curveballs earlier this week; today, we turn our attention to the senior circuit.

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Daily Prospect Notes: 4/20

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

Christian Arroyo, 3B, San Francisco (Profile)
Level: Triple-A   Age: 21   Org Rank: 1  Top 100: 69
Line: 4-for-5, 2B, HR

That’s a home run in two consecutive games for Arroyo — both in Sacramento’s Raley Field, which is pitcher-friendly compared to most other PCL parks. Arroyo’s home run on Monday was a 350-foot opposite-field poke. I wouldn’t prematurely jump ship on Arroyo despite his modest statistical output last year. He’s still just 21, already at Triple-A and has rare bat-to-ball skills. He’s a better defensive fit at second or third base than shortstop (where he’s playing most of his time now) and lacks power and great walk rates. But Arroyo is tough to strike out and should be able to play somewhere favorable on the defensive spectrum or several positions. If the bat maxes out, he could profile similarly to Martin Prado.

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The A’s, the Giants, and the Importance of Middle Relief

Last year’s playoffs were seen as a win not only for the Cubs and their fans, but also for proponents of the relief ace. On a national stage, Terry Francona used Andrew Miller early and often to put out fires almost regardless of inning. He’d been doing it ever since Cleveland acquired Miller in the summer, of course, but here was a manager deploying the strategy on the game’s largest stage.

Not every team can be blessed with having both Miller and Cody Allen on their roster, though, nor can every team have both Dellin Betances and Aroldis Chapman. Most teams are lucky enough to have a good closer, and most of those teams employ the traditional strategy of waiting until the ninth inning to use their best reliever. Much has been made of the strategic merit of that, but it’s a system that helps players know their roles on the team, and that has value, too. But if a team isn’t blessed with a Miller-type player, then they need a sturdy bridge to arrive at that closer. Even Cleveland and New York need help from guys without well-known names.

We’ve been fixated on the idea of the relief ace. The idea is so tantalizing and so intoxicating. Not only is it awesome to see Miller jump in and melt faces whenever Tito desires, but it’s a bit of a high for sabermetric types to see something for which they’ve argued so strenuously actually getting implemented in games. And this isn’t to say that the relief ace is a bad idea! It’s an exceedingly good idea, if the usage of the pitcher is properly managed. But the relief ace, and the closer, don’t matter a ton if the rest of the guys in the bullpen aren’t effective.

Take the Giants’ opener on Sunday, for instance. Madison Bumgarner went seven innings. Bruce Bochy needed just two innings from his bullpen to hold a one-run lead. A lot of teams have a setup man to serve as an opening act for the closer, and indeed, the Giants were supposed to have Will Smith out there. He’s out for the year with Tommy John surgery, though. So the duty fell to Derek Law, who promptly coughed up the lead, and the Diamondbacks walked it off against Mark Melancon in the ninth.

San Francisco’s bullpen, outside of  Melancon, looks almost entirely the same as it did last year. They appeared in the bottom half of our bullpen power rankings for a reason. There just isn’t enough firepower there, even if they likely aren’t as disastrously bad as they were down the stretch last year, from a true talent perspective. They may have replaced Santiago Casilla with Melancon, but the relief corps isn’t strong enough to compensate when a starter only goes five.

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Madison Bumgarner Is Getting Better

Yesterday, the Giants’ 2017 season started much like their 2016 season ended, with a questionable bullpen blowing a late lead. Despite their $62 million investment in Mark Melancon over the winter, the team’s bullpen remains mediocre, and the Giants are going to have to hope that the rest of their team is good enough to overcome this weakness.

But despite the Opening Day loss, there was some good news for the Giants. Because, once again, it looks like their ace may be getting better.

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Watch: The Five Craziest Opening Day Games

In honor of Opening Day 2017, we thought it would be fun to take a look back at the five craziest Opening Day games (or home openers), as defined by swings in win expectancy. So we did, in this video we just posted at our Facebook page! Happy baseball!

Thanks to Sean Dolinar for his research assistance.

2016 Hitter Contact-Quality Report: NL Catchers

It’s been quite a while since we kicked off our position-by-position look at 2016 hitter contact quality, which arrives at its last official installment today. (There will be a small number of add-on articles covering pitchers and hitters who didn’t quite qualify as “regulars.”) We looked at AL catchers earlier this week; today we move on to the NL crop, again utilizing granular exit-speed and launch-angle data in the analysis.

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Sergio Romo Opts for Dodger Blue

As Ken Rosenthal reported Monday, Sergio Romo has found a home in Los Angeles, signing a one-year deal with the Dodgers and switching sides in one of the game’s most spirited rivalries. Romo will always be associated with the Giants, part of three World Series-winning teams, but he’ll pitch for the Dodgers in 2017 and it’s going to take some getting used to for everyone.

The incomparable Grant Brisbee offered a fascinating detail as he came to grips with the transaction:

(Romo) was recognizable. He was on commercials. He was reliable. He occasionally made opposing hitters look silly, as if they just picked up the sport of baseball. And he was around for nine seasons. Here’s a list of San Francisco Giants who have thrown nine seasons or more since the team moved west:

Juan Marichal
Greg Minton
Matt Cain
Gary Lavelle
Kirk Rueter
Scott Garrelts
Randy Moffitt
Jim Barr
Gaylord Perry
Sergio Romo
Tim Lincecum

How many relievers spend nine seasons with a club nowadays? It’s a rare tenure. But by relocating south to join the division favorites, he will now be part of the group setting up for closer Kenley Jansen, unless manager Dave Roberts blows our minds and begins using Jansen in non-save situations.

Everything from Romo’s demonstrative actions to his pitch mix remains interesting. He’s succeeded with below-average velocity thanks to his slider, a fascinating pitch that proves in the bullpen you can really make a career with one pitch – if it’s outstanding.

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AT&T Is the Home-Run Killer of the Millennium

Here’s something that isn’t new to you: It’s difficult to hit a home run in San Francisco. It’s difficult to hit a home run in any ballpark, but, in particular, San Francisco makes it tough. This information is well understood.

So why don’t we freshen things up with a twist? Not only is it hard to hit a homer in AT&T Park — AT&T makes homers more hard than Coors Field makes them easy. That’s clunky, so to put it a different way, AT&T has the most extreme home-run park factor in the league. The most extreme of the pitcher-friendly places, and the most extreme of the hitter-friendly places, just speaking in terms of distance from the average. We all know the ballpark holds most fly balls, but while we were paying only indirect attention, AT&T became the toughest dinger ballpark in 25 years.

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Vladimir Guerrero and the Best Truly Bad Ball Hitters

Maybe the most painful part of writing about baseball for a living is that your biases — the same biases of which we’re all guilty — are constantly laid bare for everyone to see. Vladimir Guerrero reminded me of that problem most recently.

David Wright and Joey Votto embody my first bias. Plate discipline was a way to find great hitters! I’d read Moneyball and used it to draft Chipper Jones first in my first fantasy league, back in 2001, and I was money. I had baseball all figured out.

Good one, early 2000s dude. Good one.

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The San Francisco Left-Field Question, or Something

The Giants aren’t a bad team. They just made the playoffs, and they signed a closer in Mark Melancon who (hopefully) won’t make the citizens of San Francisco tear their hair out. Hunter Pence should be healthy! That makes things fun. Fun baseball is good baseball, and the Giants are locked in to a pretty fun team at this point. Every position is accounted for, for the most part. Only left field offers a little room for finding something to write about pondering, so let’s ponder, shall we?

Currently, it looks like the Giants are going to deploy a platoon of Jarrett Parker and Mac Williamson there. Surprisingly enough, no, Parker and Williamson are not tertiary characters from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, but actual baseball players. They’ve both seen some playing time since 2015 in fits and starts as depth players.

The Parker/Williamson combo package could, in theory, be fine. The Giants likely aren’t expecting more than league-average production here, after all, and they don’t necessarily need more than that. Parker also has some serious pop in his bat, and frankly, there’s always room for some highlight-reel bombs.

That’ll do! That kind of power works in San Francisco, and if he can meet his ZiPS WAR projection of 1.4 as the big side of the platoon, maybe they don’t need to go get Saunders after all. Parker is also out of options, and may have a hard time making it through waivers to Triple-A.

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How Mike Trout Could Legally Become a Free Agent

What type of contract would Mike Trout have commanded this offseason had he been a free agent? Coming off an MVP-award-winning campaign in which he compiled 9.4 WAR and about to enter just his age-25 season, Trout would have easily been one of the most sought after players ever to hit the open market. And given the state of this year’s historically weak free-agent class, the bidding for Trout may very likely have ended up in the $400-500 million range over eight to ten years.

Considering that Trout signed a six-year, $144.5 million contract extension back in 2014 – an agreement that runs through 2020 – this is just an interesting, but hypothetical, thought experiment, right?

Not necessarily. A relatively obscure provision under California law — specifically, Section 2855 of the California Labor Code — limits all personal services contracts (i.e., employment contracts) in the state to a maximum length of seven years. In other words, this means that if an individual were to sign an employment contract in California lasting eight or more years, then at the conclusion of the seventh year the employee would be free to choose to either continue to honor the agreement, or else opt out and seek employment elsewhere.

Although the California legislature has previously considered eliminating this protection for certain professional athletes – including Major League Baseball players – no such amendment has passed to date. Consequently, Section 2855 would presumptively apply to any player employed by one of the five major-league teams residing in California.

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2016’s Best Pitches by Results

While the 2016 campaign is over and the flurry of moves after the season has come to a halt for the moment, a whole year’s worth of data remains to be examined. Today’s post is an easy one and a fun one. Let’s find the best pitches that were thrown regularly last year.

Before we begin: the word “results” appears in the headline, but I’m not going to use results judged by things like singles and doubles and the like. The samples gets pretty small if you chop up the ball-in-play numbers on a single pitch, and defense exerts too much of an influence on those numbers. So “results” here denotes not hit types, but rather whiffs and grounders.

I’ve grouped all the pitches thrown last year, minimum 75 for non-fastballs, 100 for fastballs. I combined knuckle and regular curves, and put split-fingers in with the changeups. So the sample per pitch type is generally around 300 — a lot less for cutters (89) and a bunch more for four seamers (500) — but generally around 300 pitches qualified in each category. Then I found the z-scores for the whiff and ground-ball rates on those pitches. I multiplied the whiff rate z-score by two before adding it to the ground-ball rate because I generally found correlations that were twice as strong between whiff rates and overall numbers like ERA and SIERA than they were for ground-ball rates.

The caveats are obvious. Pitches work in tandem, so you may get a whiff on your changeup because your fastball is so devastating. This doesn’t reward called strikes as much as swinging strikes, so it’s not a great measure for command. On the other hand, there isn’t a great measure for command. By using ground-ball rate instead of launch-angle allowed, we’re using some ball-in-play data and maybe not the best ball-in-play data.

But average-launch-angle allowed is problematic in its own way, and ground-ball rate is actually one of the best ball-in-play stats we have — it’s very sticky year to year and becomes meaningful very quickly. Whiff rates are super sexy, since a swing and a miss represents a clear victory for the pitchers over the batter — and also because there’s no room for scorer error or bias in the numbers. And while the precise way in which pitches work in tandem remains obscure in pitching analysis, we can still learn something from splitting the pitches up into their own buckets.

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