Archive for Indians

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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FanGraphs Audio Presents: The Untitled McDongenhagen Project, Ep. 4

UMP: The Untitled McDongenhagen Project, Episode 4
This is the fourth 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.

0:25 – What the guys have been up to

1:34 – TOPIC ONE: Playoff Thoughts with Jack Handey

2:14 – Plans ahead for eliminated teams

2:20 – Colorado Rockies: which prospects are ready, players headed to free agency or one year away, what sort of moves do they make given their competitive situation, featuring Nolan Arenado, Charlie Blackmon, Brendan Rodgers, German Marquez, Garrett Hampson

8:34 – Atlanta Braves: the various ways to approach this offseason, featuring Nick Markakis, Kurt Suzuki, Johan Camargo, J.T. Realmuto, A.J. Pollock, Bryce Harper

14:05 – Who is the NL East favorite in 2019?

16:43 – Cleveland Indians: solving the big holes in the outfield, building on the rock solid rotation, possibly trading from the strength of elite international program

20:50 – Breaking down how Cleveland fell short in the series vs. Houston, including Kiley’s thoughts about an article from The Athletic

24:24 – We make ill-advised World Series picks

25:34 – TOPIC TWO: The Mesa brothers + Sandy Gaston workout

28:30 – Kiley’s adventure in Miami and why this even was different than other open Cuban workouts

30:42 – Eric gives his take and we get into the FBI investigation

36:48 – Does an international draft solve some of these problems? Will the FBI investigation impact the next CBA? What’s the track record of MLB and the player association fixing these sorts of issues?

43:56 – TOPIC THREE: The Kyler Murray intrigue is increasing!

44:18 – Eric usurps Mel Kiper’s draft coverage hair throne

44:50 – Eric is steamed at the football draft illuminati

50:26 – Cal quarterback/center fielder Brandon McIlwain is back on the radar in both sports

51:20 – Kiley has some beef about Kyler Murray as well

53:22 – The guys audition to be football scouts, finding some similarities with baseball

1:00:45 – Eric has to leave to go have his mind blown by Forrest Whitley

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 1 min play time.)

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Mike Clevinger, Will Harris, and Brandon Workman on Developing Their Curveballs

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

In this installment of the series, we’ll hear from three pitchers — Mike Clevinger, Will Harris, and Brandon Workman— on how they learned and developed their curveballs.

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Mike Clevinger, Indians

“My curveball was pretty inconsistent in the past. I would get kind of slurvy with it — it was sloppy the past couple of years — but I’ve tightened it up. It’s more 12-6 now. I’ve been able to find a more consistent up-to-down break.

“There was a lot of process involved. It literally started as… it was almost like we were trying to catch a bass, just flipping it with a tight wrist. A reversed stance — my right foot forward, almost like a pickoff — and just flipping it, flipping it. We were kind of getting the feel for that, coming down and pulling out in front.

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The Astros Gave the Indians an All-Time Beating

We know half of the ALCS, as the Astros on Monday wrapped up a sweep of the Indians. And the way I see it, there are two ways you can read the brief series that was.

In one sense, the series was closer than it seems. Game 1 was tight until the bottom of the seventh. It was only then the Astros managed to pull away. Game 2 was decided by only two runs, and the Indians actually led into the bottom of the sixth. The contest turned on a Marwin Gonzalez double off Andrew Miller. And then even though Game 3 was a blowout, the Indians led into the top of the seventh. That catastrophic inning turned in part on an excuse-me ground-ball single. It turned in part on a throwing error on a would-be double play. It turned in part on a double well out of the zone that Marwin Gonzalez thought he fouled off. The score got out of hand, and it got there fast, but the Indians had it where they wanted it to be. It all unraveled in the last third of the game.

So based on one reading, the Indians could start, but they just couldn’t finish. Through the first six innings, they were outscored 7-5. Over the final three innings, they were outscored 14-1. It looks very bad, but it’s not like they were all laughers. At some point, the Indians were very much in every game.

Based on another, different reading, the Indians got destroyed. They didn’t even belong on the same baseball field. The Astros coasted to maybe the most lopsided series win in history.

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Sunday Notes: The Voice of the Indians Flirted with a Pigskin Tiger

Tom Hamilton has been the radio voice of the Indians since 1990. Very early into that tenure there was a chance — albeit a small one — that he would move on and spend the bulk of his career elsewhere. How might that have happened? In the winter following Hamilton’s second year in Cleveland, the Detroit Tigers inexplicably informed iconic broadcaster Ernie Harwell that 1991 would be his final season in the booth.

“Ernie told me that I should apply for the job, or at least go if I got called,” Hamilton explained. “I felt uncomfortable about that — nobody wanted to see Ernie have his career end that way — but he came to me and said that I should. The Tigers did call, so I interviewed even though I didn’t really have an interest. Not only was I happy in Cleveland, I didn’t want to be the guy following Ernie.”

Rick Rizzs, who is now in Seattle, ended up getting the job. Predictably, he wasn’t well-received. While Rizzs was, and remains, a quality baseball play-by-play announcer, that means little when you’re stepping into the shoes of a legend.

Another Wolverine State sports legend made Hamilton’s reluctant interview more than worthwhile. Read the rest of this entry »


A Conversation with Cleveland Pitching Coach Carl Willis

The Indians have one of the top pitching staffs in baseball. Carl Willis can’t claim all of the credit — his 2015-17 seasons were spent in Boston — but he’s certainly played a meaningful role. The veteran pitching coach has done an exemplary job since coming to Cleveland one year ago this month.

An understanding and appreciation of analytics is a big reason why. At the age of 57, Willis possesses an admirable blend of old-school acumen and the new-school applications that augment the ABCs of the craft. His resume includes a stint as a special assistant to baseball operations, as well as 15 seasons as a big-league pitching coach. Four different hurlers have captured a Cy Young Award under his tutelage.

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Carl Willis on notable changes in the game: “There have been two major changes. The first one is that swings have changed. Because they’ve changed, how you pitch — how you attack those swings — has changed. Certainly, when I played, and when I first became a coach, it was always, ‘You’ve got to command the bottom of the strike zone. You have to pitch down. It’s money.’

“Nowadays, with the evolution of launch angle, we’re seeing the top of the strike zone, and above, becoming much more of a weapon. That’s how we’re attacking those swings. Of course, there are still pitchers who pitch at the bottom of the zone. It depends on your repertoire and, obviously, the action you get.

“Because of how hitters are being attacked now, velocity has probably become more important. But velocity doesn’t matter if you can’t command it. Nowadays hitters see velocity every day. It used to be Nolan Ryan, Doc Gooden, J.R. Richard. Those guys separated themselves with their velocity. They had other pitches as well, but they had that superior velocity. Now, every time the bullpen door opens, it’s 97-98. Hitters are acclimated to it.

“The other major change is analytics. For me, it’s really more the science and understanding of what the baseball is doing. And it’s only how we’re able to evaluate pitchers in that regard. It’s how we can help them create some of those actions, some of that spin. And I think it’s [spin] axis more so than [spin] rate. There’s a better understanding of what a pitcher is going to be and what he’s going to have to do to succeed with what he brings to the table.”

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An Update on the Cleveland Indians and Chief Wahoo

Back in February, I wrote about an action brought by an indigenous person in Canada regarding the Cleveland Indians’ logo and team name.

Baseball may be America’s national pastime, but there remains a single franchise north of the border, and that has created an interesting conflict between American and Canadian law. There is currently litigation about both Chief Wahoo and the Indians’ name pending in Canadian courts. In that case, an indigenous person is suing to block the Indians from using either their name or Chief Wahoo while playing in Toronto on the grounds that it violates Canada’s legal protections for indigenous peoples. Major League Baseball has intervened in that case on the Indians’ behalf. In Canada, “Indians” is a foreign (United States) registered trademark which has also been registered in Ontario, and Canadian law on free speech and trademarks is different. And if the plaintiff wins that case in Canada, the Indians would likely be required to play the Blue Jays in Toronto as simply “Cleveland.”

Interestingly, had the case been decided after the season, at least part of the issue would have become moot: the Indians are phasing out Chief Wahoo after this season. The case, however, has since ended — and though most reports indicate that Douglas Cardinal, the plaintiff, lost, that characterization of the result seems not to be entirely accurate. Instead, Cardinal’s lawyer, Monique Jilesen, told the Canadian Press that the case had been “resolved.” In fact, evidently as part of that resolution, the Indians did not display Chief Wahoo on their uniforms during their recent four-game weekend series in Toronto. According to Paul Hoynes,

Manager Terry Francona said the decision not to wear Chief Wahoo on their uniforms or caps during this four-game series at Rogers Centre in Toronto was made by the organization to show respect for anyone offended by the soon-to-be discontinued logo.

“We’re just trying to be respectful,” said Francona. “We’re never trying to be disrespectful by wearing it. We just want to do the respectable thing.”

Asked about the change, Blue Jays president Mark Shapiro, who previously held the same role with Cleveland, expressed approval.

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Sunday Notes: Trevor Story Hovers, Then Explodes

Trevor Story has always been a good hitter. He’s never been as good of a hitter as he is now. In his third big-league season, the 25-year-old Colorado Rockies basher is slashing .291/.346/.555 with 40 doubles, five triples, and 33 home runs. In short, he’s been a beast.

According to Story, he hasn’t changed all that much mechanically since the Rockies took him 45th overall in the 2011 draft out of an Irving, Texas high school. But he has changed a little.

“I think you’d see something very similar (if you compared then to now), but there are some differences,” Story told me earlier this summer. “I had more of a leg kick when I was younger, and I was kind of bouncing my hands instead of resting them on my shoulder. Outside of that, my movements are basically the same.”

Story felt that having a higher kick resulted in him getting beat by fastballs from pitchers with plus velocity, and as he “didn’t really need a leg kick to hit the ball far,” he changed to what he considers “more of a lift than a kick now; it’s almost more of a hover.”

Leg kicks — ditto lifts and hovers — are timing mechanisms, and as not all pitchers are the same, nor is Story always the same. The differences are subtle, but they’re definitely there. Read the rest of this entry »


Using Contact Quality to Sort Out the AL Cy Young Mess

The American League Cy Young race is pretty messed up this season. The current WAR leader, while apparently healthy, might throw so few innings in September that he fails to qualify for the ERA title as a result. The pitcher currently ranked second by WAR in the league hasn’t pitched in a month. A third pitcher who, as of July 1, had authored a sub-2.00 ERA and fantastic peripherals — and was probably the favorite for the award — is now an afterthought.

Overall, there are probably eight candidates who deserve to appear on a ballot — and that’s without even considering the credentials of dominant relievers like Edwin Diaz and Blake Treinen. Voters, however, can only choose five names — and, as a result, it is possible that totally defensible ballots will omit the eventual winner (or that a pitcher who would have otherwise won will be omitted from a totally defensible ballot).

As I noted yesterday with regard to the NL’s Cy Young field, this award invites multiple questions about how best to evaluate pitching performance. Unavoidably, one’s choice for Cy Young will depend on how one weighs what a pitcher can and cannot control — and how best to quantify those effects. In this post, I’ll look at various metrics and consider the implications of each regarding luck, defense, and pitcher skill.

Before we get to how contact and defense might be playing a role in voters’ minds, though, let’s look at some fairly standard statistics at FanGraphs.

AL Cy Young Contenders
Metric Chris
Sale
Trevor Bauer Gerrit Cole Justin Verlander Corey Kluber Luis Severino Carlos Carrasco Blake Snell
IP 146 166 182.1 195 195 173.2 169 157
K% 38.7% 31.5% 34.6% 33.6% 25.6% 28.5% 29.3% 30.4%
BB% 5.8% 8.2% 8.1% 4.6% 3.8% 5.9% 5.0% 8.8%
HR/9 0.62 0.43 0.84 1.25 1.06 0.98 1.01 0.86
BABIP .276 .298 .286 .277 .269 .317 .322 .250
ERA 1.97 2.22 2.86 2.72 2.91 3.52 3.41 2.06
FIP 1.95 2.38 2.70 2.96 3.19 3.05 2.95 3.08
WAR 6.1 5.9 5.7 5.8 4.8 4.9 4.6 3.7
Blue=First
Orange=Second
Red=Third

Jay Jaffe made the case for Chris Sale’s candidacy last week, and that case certainly looks quite strong — or would, if the season ended today. Problem is, Sale might not get too many more opportunities to build said case. The left-hander is scheduled to throw two innings for Boston today and then another three innings on the 16th. If he records those five innings and then, say, another 10 over his final two starters, he won’t qualify for the ERA title and will potentially allow other pitchers the opportunity to catch up in value.

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Sunday Notes: Mike Clevinger is Channeling Trevor Bauer

Mike Clevinger has been channeling Trevor Bauer. Not just in terms of effectiveness — the long-maned righty has a 3.11 ERA and a 9.3 strikeout rate — but also with competitiveness and ingenuity. While the Cleveland Indians teammates aren’t exactly two peas in a pod, Clevinger is certainly being influenced by his mad scientist of a rotation mate.

“He’s a wealth of knowledge, and a really good resource, especially with our new cameras and stuff like that,” Clevinger said of Bauer, who uses 2,000-frames-per-second video to parse the movement and spin of pitches. “We have the same mindsets and goals on the mound. It’s never going to be a completed process. For us, it’s always going to be ‘What’s the next step? What’s the next move to get better? What’s the next level to take it to?’ Throw harder. Make it nastier.”

An 80-MPH slider is one of Clevinger’s nastiest pitches, and while Bauer didn’t play a role in its development, he has broken down its nuts and bolts. Read the rest of this entry »


Michael Schwimer on Francisco Mejia and the Future for Big League Advance

Back in April, I wrote about the lawsuit former Indians uberprospect and current Padres backstop Francisco Mejia had filed against Big League Advance. As I wrote earlier this week, that case is now over. Michael Schwimer, the CEO of Big League Advance, who was good enough to talk to me after my initial post on the case, spent some time this week answering my questions about how the case ended. Once again, Schwimer was forthcoming about his company, the Mejia suit, and the future for himself and his business.

I first asked Schwimer what happened at the end of the case. Schwimer told me that Mejia dismissed his case voluntarily, without providing a specific reason. That said, Schwimer suspects “peer pressure [on Mejia] from players” might have had something to do with it. “[We got] overwhelming support from minor-league players,” Schwimer said regarding the suit, adding that BLA clients were largely supportive of the company through the litigation. Schwimer also corrected one assumption I’d made in my previous article — that no discovery had been performed. BLA, at least, had responded to document requests propounded by Mejia’s attorneys. Schwimer thought that response had something to do with Mejia’s decision to dismiss his case, as well. “We had proof to back up literally everything,” Schwimer told me.

Among Mejia’s allegations was that BLA purportedly hired a lawyer for him — and paid that attorney to advise him — solely with a view to including language in the contract that he’d had the benefit of counsel. But Schwimer told me that BLA had correspondence with Mejia’s private attorneys refuting the claim. “We had the emails with Francisco’s lawyer, where [the lawyer] redlined the contract for Francisco’s benefit,” Schwimer said. “He reduced the endorsement from 6% to 2.5%, and made other changes that helped Mejia.”

As I noted in my postmortem on the case following its dismissal, apologies in lawsuits are incredibly rare, and I was curious to know how this one came about. “We did ask him to apologize, no doubt,” Schwimer said. In this case, the apology was part of a settlement, but not of Mejia’s claim. Instead, Schwimer explained that Mejia voluntarily dismissed his claim and settled BLA’s counterclaim. The apology was part of that settlement.

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Shane Bieber Completes the Indians’ Dominant Rotation

This time last year, Jeff Sullivan posited that the Indians might have assembled the best pitching staff in baseball history, a distinction that unsurprisingly included one of the best collections of starting pitchers ever. Even though the club wasn’t able to translate their success into October glory, it would be hard to pin whatever shortcomings the team exhibited on the rotation, the worst regular member of which, Josh Tomlin, recorded “only” a league-average FIP. It was an impressive season.

Perhaps surprisingly, the 2018 campaign has seen the Indians repeat that success. The rotation as a whole leads baseball with 19.9 WAR, with its four best starters — Trevor Bauer (6.0 WAR, fourth in baseball), Corey Kluber (4.9 WAR, ninth), Carlos Carrasco (4.1 WAR, 11th), and Mike Clevinger (3.9 WAR, 12th) — ranked among the top 12 of the league by that metric. That quartet has already exceeded their combined WAR from 2017 by half a win with a month to go. Notably, that isn’t even the only way in which the rotation has improved.

Instead of Tomlin, the Indians have turned to rookie starter Shane Bieber since the end of May. In 15 starts, Bieber’s has produced a 4.66 ERA but has also posted an incredible 3.23 FIP and 2.0 WAR in a mere 85 innings. He strikes out over a batter an inning (9.21 K/9) and has excellent control of his pitches, as evidenced by a top-10 walk rate (4.2%). Putting those figures two together, Bieber’s 5.8 K/BB is exceeded by only six pitchers with at least 80 innings pitched. Some impressive names are counted among those six, including Clayton Kershaw, Chris Sale, Justin Verlander, and Bieber’s teammate, Kluber.

The Indians seem to have struck gold with Bieber. While the team doesn’t seem to need it this year — thanks to the remarkably weak AL Central — Bieber is a key piece for the Indians in the future. His repertoire, ability to deploy his pitches, and command make him an especially valuable (and foundational) starter.

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Donaldson on the Cuyahoga

The Blue Jays made the long-awaited trade of Josh Donaldson on Friday night, sending their former MVP third baseman to the Cleveland Indians and cash considerations for a player to be named later.

With the Blue Jays out of contention quickly in both 2017 and 2018, a trade of Donaldson was always likely at some point. Without an agreement on a long-term contract for Donaldson, it would have been very risky to hang onto him. The Jays’ had some concern, in fact, that, due to his recent struggles with injury, Donaldson would actually accept a one-year qualifying offer — a factor which changed the calculus somewhat as the non-waiver deadline approached. At the start of the season, retaining Donaldson would have seemed like a possible option even if the club didn’t remain competitive, because a characterstically productive Donaldson would have almost certain fetched a $50-plus million deal this offseason and commanded a compensation pick for Toronto.

At one point, with the Oakland A’s, Donaldson was in danger of becoming a minor-league journeyman, hitting .156/.206/.281 in a little cup of espresso in 2010 during his age-24 season. His .238/.336/.476 and .261/.344/.439 lines over his age-24 and -25 seasons for the Sacramento River Cats in the Pacific Coast League were extremely marginal for that league, not even at the level at which you’d call him a Ken Phelps All-Star, Bill James’ terms for minor-league sluggers who never received a real chance in the majors.

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Josh Donaldson Reportedly Traded to Club with Best Third Baseman

On the most superficial level, this has something of the absurd about it:

Josh Donaldson, when healthy, is one of the best third baseman in the majors. He’s talented both offensively and also defensively, which is almost all the ways a ballplayer can be talented. He’d represent an upgrade on basically any of baseball’s contending clubs.

That’s basically any of baseball’s contending clubs. Not all of them, though. A brief examination of this site’s WAR leaderboard for position players reveals why.

Top Position Players by WAR, 2018
Rk Name Team PA wRC+ Off Def WAR
1 Mookie Betts Red Sox 525 184 58.3 8.6 8.7
2 Jose Ramirez Indians 579 164 53.4 6.1 8.1
3 Mike Trout Angels 508 190 59.7 1.4 8.0
4 Francisco Lindor Indians 614 138 27.6 17.6 6.7
5 Alex Bregman Astros 592 156 42.4 -0.4 6.3

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Daily Prospect Notes Finale: Arizona Fall League Roster Edition

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

Note from Eric: Hey you, this is the last one of these for the year, as the minor-league regular season comes to a close. Thanks for reading. I’ll be taking some time off next week, charging the batteries for the offseason duties that lie ahead for Kiley and me.

D.J. Peters, CF, Los Angeles Dodgers
Level: Double-A   Age: 22   Org Rank: 7   FV: 45+
Line: 4-for-7, 2 HR, 2B (double header)

Notes
A comparison of DJ Peters’ 2017 season in the Cal League and his 2018 season at Double-A gives us a good idea of what happens to on-paper production when a hitter is facing better pitching and defenses in a more stable offensive environment.

D.J. Peters’ Production
Year AVG OBP SLG K% BB% BABIP wRC+
2017 .276 .372 .514 32.2% 10.9% .385 137
2018 .228 .314 .451 34.0% 8.1% .305 107

Reports of Peters’ physical abilities haven’t changed, nor is his batted-ball profile different in such a way that one would expect a downtick in production. The 2018 line is, I think, a more accurate distillation of Peters’ abilities. He belongs in a talent bucket with swing-and-miss outfielders like Franchy Cordero, Randal Grichuk, Michael A. Taylor, Bradley Zimmer, etc. These are slugging center fielders whose contact skills aren’t particularly great. Players like this are historically volatile from one season to the next but dominant if/when things click. They’re often ~1.5 WAR players who have some years in the three-win range. Sometimes they also turn into George Springer.

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Learning and Developing a Pitch: Kyle Barraclough, Andrew Miller, and Dan Straily on Their Sliders

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

In this installment of the series, we’ll hear from three pitchers — Kyle Barraclough, Andrew Miller, and Dan Straily — on how they learned and/or developed their sliders.

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Kyle Barraclough, Miami Marlins

“I’ve thrown it since my sophomore year of high school. One day my coach grabbed me and said, ‘Hey, you want to throw a slider?’ He showed me a grip and was like, ‘Throw it like a fastball, and at the very end kind of just focus on staying down through your middle finger.’

“I couldn’t really throw a curveball, to be honest with you. I didn’t know much about pitching at that point — I played multiple sports until my senior year — and it just never came naturally to me. The slider kind of popped up out of nowhere. It was basically, ‘Let the grip do what it’s going to do,’ and that worked for me.

“When I got to college — I don’t know if it was from trying to be too fine with it, or from not being as aggressive through the ball — but it kind of got a little loopier. Then I got to pro ball and it kind of stayed that way.

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Cleveland’s Left Side Is the Best Side

With a month to go, Lindor and Ramirez have already recorded one of the top SS/3B seasons in history.
(Photo: Erik Drost)

At this point, it should surprise absolutely nobody paying even the remotest attention to the doings and transpirings of Major League Baseball that Jose Ramirez is having an MVP-type season. Ramirez may not, in fact, actually win the MVP award: Mookie Betts and Mike Trout have had similarly valuable seasons, while J.D. Martinez’s pursuit of the Triple Crown remains active. That said, one could easily make the argument that a very good defensive third baseman who’s produced a .292/.403/.607, 166 wRC+, and 8.1 WAR with another month go is clearly at least MVP-adjacent.

Perhaps the most telling tribute to Ramirez’s season is that he has somehow managed to overshadow Francisco Lindor’s own work a bit. The towering presence of Lindor’s talent and pedigree had previously — like sneaking a shot by Dikembe Mutombo — made such a thing seem unlikely.

If Ramirez is a superhero, though, Lindor’s more partner rather than sidekick. He gets to drive the Batmobile, solve the caper in 1890s London, and sing “Twist and Shout” in the Von Steuben Day Parade. Lindor ranks fourth in the American League in WAR among position players, hitting .291/.367/.533 and playing his typical interstellar defense at short. Some cities are built on rock ‘n’ roll, some on efficiency of infrastructure due to increased density, but Cleveland’s run-scoring is built on the backs of their shortstop and third-base pair.

To say that Lindor and Ramirez are a dangerous pair isn’t a flaming hot take. They’ve been so productive, however, that the time has come to ask not where the rank relative to their peers but to other shortstop/third-base combinations in major-league history. To answer this, I went through every team’s SS/3B pair — as defined by the players who received the most time at each position for their teams — since the beginning of the sport. I used their seasonal numbers because, after all, if Ramirez plays some scattered games at second base, as he did in 2016, does that really diminish how good the pair is?

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Sunday Notes: Calling Games For The Rays is Rarely Boring

It’s safe to say that the Tampa Bay Rays aren’t following a paint-by-numbers script. Casting convention to the wind, they employ “an opener,” they station their relievers on corners, they… do just about anything to gain a potential edge. As a small-market team in the A.L. East, they need to be creative in order to compete. It makes sense.

But not to everybody, and that includes a fair share of their fanbase. And even if it does make sense to the fanbase — sorta, kinda, at least — that wasn’t always the case. They had to be brought up to speed on the methods behind the madness, and that job fell squarely on the shoulders of the people who report on, and broadcast, the games.

Andy Freed and Dave Wills — the radio voices of Rays baseball — were front and center. According to the latter, they at least had a head start.

“We were trained a little bit by Joe Maddon,” said Wills, who along with Freed has called games in Tampa since 2005. “Joe was kind of the leader with doing different things, such as shifts and putting four men in the outfield. He’d set lineups differently than other people. So when it comes to what they’re doing now, we’re already in grad school. We’ve seen it, we’ve been there, we’ve done that.”

Which doesn’t mean advance warning from Kevin Cash wasn’t appreciated when the team introduced the “opener” concept. Wills may have an advanced degree in understanding-out-of-the-box, but what the Rays manager told him and his broadcast partner was straight out of left field. Read the rest of this entry »


Cody Allen on Rotating His Spike

Cody Allen throws a lot of curveballs. As a matter of fact, the Cleveland closer has thrown the second-highest percentage (38.9%) of curveballs among qualified relievers since the start of the 2014 season. It’s hard to argue with success. Allen’s signature pitch has helped him amass 147 saves, the most in Indians history.

His grip, while not uncommon, isn’t entirely traditional, either. The 29-year-old right-hander throws a spiked curveball, which he learned and developed through the insistence of someone whose advice he’s always taken to heart. It was career-altering advice. Were it not for the pitch, Allen’s day-to-day experiences with rotation would be markedly different than they are on a mound.

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Cody Allen: “My freshman year of college, I was pretty much just a fastball-slider guy. My slider was OK. I have a twin brother, Chad, who pitched at the University of West Florida, and he had a really good breaking ball. He spiked his. He would always tell me, ‘Hey, man, try spiking it.’ I did, but I had no feel for it. It had good spin and was doing the things I wanted it to, but I felt there was no way I could throw it for a strike.

“When I was coming back from Tommy John surgery the next year, I had an extended throwing program. That gave me a window to see if I could maybe iron this pitch out. So the fall of 2009, and the spring of 2010, is when I really stuck with it. I kept throwing it, and it got better and better.

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José Ramírez Is About to Crush History

Through Monday morning, José Ramírez has nearly accomplished something very unusual, which to-date has only been done once in baseball history. With just 0.1 WAR in separation, or roughly one run, Ramírez has almost caught Mike Trout. While one might ideally like Derek Fisher – or at least someone named Fry, Cook, or Giantbearpaw – to best a Trout, it’s Ramírez, the still-young Cleveland third baseman, overshadowed as a prospect by Francisco Lindor, who is leading the charge.

Trout, of course, hasn’t just been squeaking out WAR leads, as the average result during his five full, healthy seasons has been a 1.1 WAR lead over the second-place position player, terrorizing the error bars as thoroughly as major-league pitching. Only Bryce Harper has matched Trout so far, a player linked with the Angels center fielder while a prospect but one who has generally fallen short.

Even in Trout’s injury-trimmed 2017, during which he only played 114 games, he still finished fourth among hitters with a 6.9 WAR. That was good enough to be the fifth-best season for a player who appeared in fewer than 120 games since 1901, behind George Brett, Joe DiMaggio, Ted Williams, and Mike Schmidt, all players you may have heard of.

Ramírez didn’t explode onto the baseball scene as Trout did; in fact, he has been a bit of a surprise. The ZiPS projection season liked him as a prospect, but it didn’t fall CPU-over-RAM in love with him, seeing him more as a cordial fan. Trout is still the favorite, but ZiPS gives him a 35% chance of being surpassed by Ramírez in the year-end WAR count, something that’s awfully hard to do.

After his 2013 stint in Double-A, Ramírez got his first official ZiPS projection for the 2014 season. The computer pegged him at .267/.308/.346 at second base, good for 1.5 WAR in 116 games. While a league-average projection for a 21-year-old is impressive, I can’t make any claim to ZiPS predicting players achieving superstar status.

ZiPS Rest-of-Career Projections, pre-2014
Rank Player Rest-of-Career WAR
71 Billy Hamilton 23.7
72 Jonathan Lucroy 23.7
73 Jacoby Ellsbury 23.5
74 Anthony Rendon 23.3
75 Max Stassi 23.0
76 José Ramírez 22.9
77 Wilmer Flores 22.7
78 Wil Myers 22.4
79 Rougned Odor 22.2
80 Ian Desmond 22.2
81 Matt Carpenter 21.9

In 2015, Ramírez’s projection was similar at .263/.304/.360, good for a 90 OPS+ and 2.2 WAR over 138 projected games. This was largely thanks to a .302/.360/.441 Triple-A season in 2014 followed by a .262/.300/.346 line in his first real stint with the Indians. That was enough to get him almost into the top 20 in ZiPS (he would’ve been a top-five prospect in my 2015 list if he hadn’t already lost his Rookie of the Year qualifications).

ZiPS Rest-of-Career Projections, pre-2015
Rank Player WAR
17 Jason Heyward 37.1
18 Anthony Rizzo 36.8
19 Addison Russell 36.6
20 Gregory Polanco 36.3
21 J.P. Crawford 35.7
22 José Ramírez 34.9
23 Joey Gallo 34.5
24 Dilson Herrera 33.8
25 Byron Buxton 33.7
26 Xander Bogaerts 33.5
27 Salvador Perez 33.4

In 2015, Ramírez began the season as the starting shortstop for Cleveland, and while I don’t have any inside knowledge of Cleveland’s reasoning, I would imagine they wanted to see what they had in Ramírez at short before Lindor hit the majors and cleared out the rest of the suitors, as Odysseus did in legend upon his return to Ithaca.

And what he showed wasn’t that much, at least initially. His defense wasn’t great, at -6 in UZR and -2 in DRS over fewer than 400 innings in 2015. When demoted in June, he was only hitting an Alcidian .180/.247/.240. By the time he returned to the majors in August, Ramírez had lost the shortstop job to the aforementioned Lindor for good, and hit .259/.337/.438, mostly filling in for Jason Kipnis and Giovanny Urshela, both nursing shoulder injuries.

ZiPS still believed in Ramírez going into 2016, but didn’t see quite as much upside, with his 2015 dropping him to 43rd in rest-of-career ZiPS WAR with a .262/.316/.383 line and a 1.9 WAR projection.

By now, you know how the rest of this story went. Ramírez burst into stardom in 2016, hitting .312/.363/.462, good for a 121 wRC+ and 4.8 WAR. Then he got even better in 2017. And this year, he’s ridden the saber-limousine all the way to Crazyville. As of Monday morning, Ramírez stands at .300/.409/.631 with 33 home runs, 26 stolen bases, a 175 wRC+ and 7.5 WAR, all already career highs (except for batting average) and by substantial margins. You can even make a case that he’s actually been a little unlucky, doing all of this with a .277 BABIP, down 23 points from his career average of .300. From his hit profile, ZiPS thinks Ramírez “ought to” have a .315 BABIP this year, or .302 by Andrew Perpetua’s model.

My colleague Jay Jaffe wrote about the greatest seasons by a third baseman a few months ago, so I won’t go too into detail, but I will touch on a few important points.

For position players as a group, the 10-WAR seasons in history can be distributed into a few buckets:

• Hall of Famers, plus one that ought to be on performance alone (Barry Bonds)
• Players who are not yet eligible (Alex Rodriguez, Trout)
Norm Cash
Fred Dunlap

Out of those 52 seasons, 50 were players in the first two categories, all with nearly indisputable Hall of Fame talent. Cash isn’t quite as obvious, but he’s at least a borderline category and better than quite a few other Cooperstown-immortalized sluggers. That just leaves Dunlap and his curious 1884 for the St. Louis Maroons, as he hit .412/.448/.621 as a 25-year-old and never hit .275 again. I am unable to find any accusations of performance-enhancing tincture or tonic, so I’ll assume that this was another case of 1800s-baseball-gonna-1800s-baseball, given the variability of play quality at the time.

The mean projection for Ramírez by ZIPS for the rest of the season puts him at 9.7 WAR, tantalizingly close to the 10-WAR barrier, which has been broken by exactly zero third basemen in MLB history. Only Darrell Evans, Adrian Beltre, Rodriguez, and Ron Santo made it to within a half-win of ten. What this means is that as of right now, ZiPS is projecting José Ramírez to have a 53% chance at the greatest season by a third baseman in history and a 20% chance of being the first to hit ten WAR.

Ramírez’s season is not being driven by some freakishly high defensive WAR number, something you occasionally see given how volatile defensive measurements tend to be. The former shortstop’s defense only amounts to 8.7% of his total WAR, 51st among the 85 seven-WAR seasons by third basemen. A few players have seen this share go to over a third, headed by Brooks Robinson’s 1968, in which fielding makes up 58% of his WAR, (Graig Nettles and Robin Ventura both had seasons over 33%).

Naturally, all this uncontrolled awesomeness has altered Ramírez’s career-trajectory, tempora mutantur, nos et mutamur in illis and all that jazz. In this year’s FanGraphs trade value series, Kiley McDaniel ranked Ramírez as the player with the greatest trade value in baseball, up from 15th in last year’s edition.

Unsurprisingly, the occasionally anthropomorphic projection system on my desk has also adjusted its gaze. Ramírez’s 2016 campaign got him back up to 25th in future WAR and over 2000 hits for his career. His 2017 rocketed him up to 8th, third-best of players 25 or older for the 2018 season, behind only Trout and Mookie Betts (and their 2500 hits).

As you probably have guessed, 2018 shoots Ramírez even higher in the long-term projections. His top-five near-age offensive comps are all Hall of Famers or should be (Santo, Ernie Banks, Scott Rolen, Chipper Jones, and Brett). Over the next five years, ZiPS projects 32.5 WAR, more than six wins a year, and 52 total WAR remaining, third among position players only behind Trout and Lindor. He already passed the 2500 hit mark in the projections; now he’s up at 350 homers as well. And with some simple math, all of a sudden, his projected final rank among third basemen puts him in Hall of Fame territory.

Third Baseman by Career WAR
Rank Player WAR
1 Alex Rodriguez 113.5
2 Mike Schmidt 106.5
3 Eddie Mathews 96.1
4 Wade Boggs 88.3
5 Chipper Jones 84.8
6 George Brett 84.6
7 Adrian Beltre 83.7
8 Brooks Robinson 80.2
9 José Ramírez 72.6*
10 Ron Santo 70.9
* = projected

You can shift these rankings around a little depending on how you categorize players like Rodriguez and Miguel Cabrera, but there’s only limited play possible with these numbers, and however you shuffle the deck, Ramírez is one of the very few players projected to finish with a career of historical, plaqued significance. Projection systems just aren’t designed for exuberance.

José Ramírez is heading on a course that could see him end up as one of the greatest Indians players in history and one of the greatest third basemen, period. And thanks to some shrewd wheeling-and-dealing by the team’s front office to sign him to a five-year, $26 million contract after his initial breakout in 2016, he’s going to be doing it in Cleveland through the 2023 season. Ramírez is now in his third consecutive year of doing things we didn’t know were possible for him; if he manages to pull this off for a fourth, he may just break baseball.