Archive for Today in FanGraphs

The Rays Bullpen Makes Big Spenders Look Dum

The double-surprise success of Fernando Rodney has received appropriate documentation and laud, but a grander epic is unfolding daily in the Tampa Bay Rays bullpen.

The Rays ‘pen has the second best ERA and third best FIP in the MLB. Their ERA trails only the National League Reds, and their FIP has only one AL rival, the New York Yankees. Only the Rangers (30) and the Diamondbacks (35) have fewer meltdowns than the Rays bullpen at 36 (and the Rangers have a much better offense, meaning fewer meltdown opportunities).

And it has been the same story since 2008. The Rays bullpen has made relief magic on a mom-and-pop-store budge:

Source: USA Today.

The Rays are paying approximately one (1) Jonathan Papelbon this season for one of the best bullpens in the Majors. And they are accomplishing this one excellent pitch at a time.
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Felix Hernandez, John Jaso Outwit the Rays

Felix Hernandez’s perfect game on Wednesday was a testament to both his excellent stuff, but also a well-deserved outcome for an excellent game plan executed by he and catcher John Jaso. A former Ray himself, Jaso appeared to know just how to approach the Rays lineup, getting increasingly good results as the game went along:

That’s 5 swinging strikes through the first 61 pitches, and then 19 through the remaining 53 pitches. How did Felix do this? He and Jaso took advantage of an aggressive Rays plan by placing filthy breaking stuff further and further from the zone.
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A Mixed Showing for International Rookies

The 2012 MLB season began with a very public bounty of international talent — Japanese stars, Cuban expats and even a Taiwanese surprise. With the season dipping into its final six weeks, we are beginning to see both the good and the bad of these international players who made the direct transition to MLB rookie.

SP Yu Darvish — The biggest star from Japan since Daisuke Matsuzaka has had a very Daisuke Matsuzaka season — much despite steady predictions of the opposite. Well, actually, he has an 86 FIP-minus and 94 xFIP-minus. That’s at least a better FIP than Daisuke’s rookie year, but an identical xFIP.

Dave Cameron has written extensively on Darvish lately, noting Darvish has a command problem, the league has realized Darvish has a command problem, and Darvish has a scary group of command problem comparables.

At the same time, though, Darvish has been adjusting his approach to a less-aggressive (compared to the NPB) league. He has been toying with his repertoire, and I would not be surprised if he entered the 2013 season with a streamlined pitch selection that sets up his elite slider (one of the best in the league) more effectively and simply.
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Jamey Carroll: The Game Shortstop Du Jour

Anyone who plays FanGraphs: The Game in the shortstop category can attest to this fact: It is hard to find good production at shortstop. Actually, given the budget constraints of The Game and the quickly-adapting pricing algorithm, it’s hard to find good production anywhere.

The technique I have been employing is to start stars (typically $8 or up) against terrible competition (i.e. bad pitchers or the Cubs lineup) and then start regression candidates (typically $3 to $5) when there is no obvious winner among the stars matchups. I am proud to report this method has produced one of the better outfielders and starting pitchers — at least among the FanGraphs super secret Writer’s League.

In his FanGraphs: The Game strategies piece for RotoGraphs, Zach Sanders suggests players avoid starting anybody on bad matchup days. My approach goes counter to that; I say regression possibilities always leave room for a good matchup (the notable exception being starting pitching — some days, there really is no good play to make).

So where does Twins infielder Jamey Carroll fit in all this? Well, he’s the unlikely regression candidate that I’m going to ride to the finish line.
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Yoenis Cespedes: Rookie of the Year in Any Other Year

According to reports, this is how Billy Beane feels.

The casual fan will be excused for not knowing this, but Yoenis “La Potencia” Cespedes is having a phenomenal rookie year.

The Cuban import entered the league this past offseason with a fanfare rivaled only by that of Yu Darvish, who had the weight of his own nation’s media trained on him. But Cespedes — he of the plucky YouTube training video, he of the flight from totalitarian Cuba — has been just as worthy, if not more, of the media’s eye.

His rookie campaign started with a little old fashioned oh-em-gee — three home runs in the opening Tokyo series against the Mariners — but then the excitement petered out as an injury, a muscle sprain in his left hand, stalled his season.

But do not let that trick you. Not only is Yoenis Cespedes crushing the ball this season, he is hitting like one of the best rookies in the league — and if this were any year but Mike Trout’s, then he’d be in serious Rookie of the Year contention.
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Competitive Balance Lottery: Just Smoke and Mirrors

And SHAZAM! Now’s there’s parity in the MLB!

The MLB is a funny organization. One would think that in a sport producing most of the world’s largest guaranteed contracts, the production being paid for on the free agent market would guarantee on-field success. But that is not the case. Large payrolls have been large busts, such is life.

We know that a larger payroll leads to more wins, if not necessarily a playoff appearance, but also that teams need a strong input from their farm system, too. Teams have to strike a balance with these two inputs. For some teams — like the Tampa Bay Rays and Oakland Athletics — the vast majority of their talent input must come from the draft. They can afford only the January Free Agents — the unwanted scraps of the big market teams. Because of a matter of geography and history, newer teams in smaller markets like the Diamondbacks, Marlins and Rays will probably never again draw the kind of income the Mets and Yankees do.

So, an outsider might look at Wednesday’s Competitive Balance Lottery (CBL) and say, “Hey, well it’s good the MLB is trying to even things out a little bit, help out the little man.” But in truth, the CBL is a weak offering to a ever-crippled lower class. And if the MLB wants to keep small-market teams like the Rays capable of winning, they must undo their recent changes.
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Daisuke Matsuzaka, Improving Via Injury?

In only 26 of Daisuke Matsuzaka’s 110 career starts has he walked 5% or less of the batters faced. And 3 of those 26 starts came in June.

Daisuke has gone back to the DL since his brief five-start appearance, and it appears the Boston faithful have begun to doubt the Japanese import will provide much more value to the Red Sox this season or perhaps at all:

Valentine said they wanted to leave Matsuzaka sidelined until his neck pain had completely gone away. It’s anybody’s guess how long that will take. In theory he could return later this month or maybe he never pitches for the Sox again.

[emphasis mine]

Many in Boston are expecting Daisuke will be non-tendered after this year and will have to seek employment elsewhere. Given Daisuke’s recent injuries, maybe that’s the right financial decision (he could potentially be brought in on a cheaper deal than what he’d get in arbitration). But looking at the numbers from Daisuke’s five 2012 starts, we find the 31-year-old righty appears to have some good starts left yet.
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De-Lucker! 2.0: Hot, Fresh, New xBABIP

Fare thee well, father, mother. I’m off
to de-luck the f*** out of this s***.

Let us delve once again into the numbers.

With this All-Star break forcing to watch so little baseball, we now have a moment to drink up the frothy milkshake of statistics from the first half. So, you and I, we shall dissect the stats and find out who has been lucky, unlucky and a little of both.

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Trevor Plouffe: A Something to Enjoy in Minnesota

The reader may very well be totally and irretrievably drunk at the moment, but it’s not for that reason that he’s seeing Trevor Plouffe‘s name near the top of the preceding [leaderboard]. As of Tuesday night, at least, Plouffe had hit the most home runs (nine) among major leaguers in June.

— Carson Cistulli, Daily Notes

If you are a self-respecting, perfectly rational human, then you have no doubt been ignoring the Minnesota Twins. Even fans from the Northstar State have been watching their beloved team — now at 34-45 — through face-covering hands of anguish.

So it is likely you, like me, did not really think about Trevor Plouffe before right now or perhaps earlier this month. I knew his name, but it was not until a fan suggested he deserved a movie in his honor that I realized something was askew.

And a askew it is: Plouffe — a utility infielder with a consistent history of ~95 wRC+ in the minors — has 18 home runs and a .371 wOBA (137 wRC+). Not only has he earned the starting third base job in Minnesota, he has shot up the MLB leaderboards and would currently have the 3rd best wRC+ among third basemen if he had the qualifying plate appearances.

And though his home run power may be partly mirage, there is enough evidence now to think Plouffe’s re-birth is for real.
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Todd Helton: Do Not Retire Just Yet

Rockies first baseman Todd Helton committed an error on Wednesday night — couldn’t get his foot on the bag — and Colorado lost. The 38-year-old hall-of-fame contender has the second-worst numbers of his career — .332 wOBA and 99 wRC+, not counting his abbreviated first season in 1997 — and he is becoming the scapegoat of a miserable Rockies team.

Who would blame Helton for calling it a career? He has 8,044 plate appearances, 354 home runs and 61.8 WAR on his resume. He has been a solar flare among bottle rockets.

But if we dig into his 2012 numbers, we find baseballing pride of Tennessee should have a few more years left in his bat.
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R.A. Dickey and Cy Young Hopes

After yesterday’s 12-strikeout, no-walk complete game from R.A. Dickey, the league’s best knuckleballer moved into position with the MLB’s fourth-best xFIP, the MLB’s fourth-best ERA, and the 10th-best ERA-minus among historical knuckleballers.

Advanced stats can sometimes fail us with knuckleballers because they produce especially weak contact. In his most recent start, Dickey got 10 ground outs, 1 weak single that may get ruled an error, and 1 infield fly ball. So naturally, FIP and xFIP under-appreciate Dickey to a certain extent, but does that mean he should be in consideration for a Cy Young award?

Yes. Probably very much: Yes.
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Checking in on the International League Studs

Did you know the FanGraphs leaderboards — which already no doubt consume the majority of your time like they do mine — also carry updated minor league data? Yeah, right here:

Under the Leaders tab, yo!

Let us take a moment, you and I, to delve into the numbers of my favorite of the minor leagues, the International League.
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De-Lucker! or Josh Hamilton is Under-Performing


Let us delve once again into the numbers. The season is now two months aged and we have more stories unfolding than we have enough digital ink to cover: Will the Red Sox ever find an outfielder? Is Adam Jones the new Matt Kemp? Can the White Sox really make a playoff push in a rebuilding year? And will the 2012 Pirates really go down as one of the worst offenses in modern history?

We will not truly know the answers to these questions for some time, but we can peer into the murky mirror-mirror that is the De-Lucker! and at least get a better feel for the state of everything. Much of the offensive fluctuations in the early part of the season come from strange movements in BABIP. The De-Lucker! attempts to smooth those fluctuations and give us a better guess as to who is doing well and who is not.

And Josh Hamilton, you will see, is in both categories.
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The Pittsburgh Pirates Offensive Catastrophe

All numbers current through at least Wednesday morning.

The Pittsburgh Pirate offense is the worst in the league. Evidence:

Will this extra terrible offensive season continue? Or will regression cause the Pirates miss their chance to burn the record books in the spectacular flame of Awfulness?
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Marlon Byrd, Mike Moustakas De-Luck’d

A refreshed look at the data.

Specificity is both delightful and dangerous. The guys at The Book Blog have previously remarked about how UZR and WAR would be better for mass consumption without the decimal because neither stat can show a true talent level within a single season, but the extra decimal can make it appear more certain or accurate than it is. At the same time, though, the difference between 1.0 and 1.9 WAR can be the difference of a starting job or a bench role (or the difference between 1.6 and 2.4, if rounding is your thing).

Well, today we will err on the side of specificity. In the past, when a player’s BABIP was .498 or .93278, we would just say, “Well, he will regress to the mean,” and then resume our toiling lives. Now, with Fielding Independent wOBA, we can whip their numbers into shape, we can thrust them into the De-Lucker and find out where a regressed BABIP will take them — which is good news for Marlon Byrd, but bad news for Mike Moustakas.

Let’s examine it.
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Is Bryan LaHair’s Success Sustainable?

A visual analysis of Bryan LaHair’s swing.

Yes. Cubs first baseman Bryan LaHair will sustain his success. The Cubs have indeed caught lightning in a bottle.

LaHair is leading the MLB with a .510 BABIP and is third behind Matt Kemp and Josh Hamilton with a 36.4% HR/FB ratio. Fans of Chicago’s northside and fans of regression to the mean have begun to pay extra close attention to LaHair because he has performed so well in these luck-affected categories. In Mike Axisa’s most recent first baseman rankings, he moved LaHair up to Tier Four, though he was uncertain of what LaHair would look like after the smoke cleared:

LaHair is off to a scorching start but his numbers will come back to Earth a bit once his .545 (!) BABIP returns to normal. That said, the man can definitely hit.

But how much of LaHair’s world-shattering .511 wOBA is white noise, and how much is thunder? Let’s investigate.
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If Nothing Else, JPA Should At Least Stick Around

I have no idea if JPA — which sounds like the name of some backwoods, Alaskan air strip (or, sure, Brazil) — is an actual nickname for the Toronto Blue Jays catcher J.P. Arencibia, but his name is surprisingly long (13 characters, not including the space), which is nuts, considering his name is actually just one name and two letters (my name, in the short version — Brad Woodrum — is only 11 characters); so what I’m saying here is that I couldn’t fit “J.P. Arencibia” in the title. But he still certainly deserves the post.

Last year, the Blue Jays handed their chief catching duties to 25-year-old Arencibia, and he promptly clobbered some 23 home runs and began looking like the legitimate heir to homer-happy, walk-disenchanted John Buck — from whom he received his starting role. Arencibia’s homers came with an uninspiring .282 OBP, putting him at a less-than-awesome .309 wOBA and 92 wRC+.

A lot of hope is riding on J.P. Arencibia — not only has he shown some early promise, but he also comes with a solid pedigree. As recently as last year, Marc Hulet rated him as the No. 3 prospect in a deep Blue Jays system. In 2012, JPA will once again saddle up as the Jays’ starting catcher, but how will he do?
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2012 Roy Oswalt Projections: The Wizard of DL?

It sounds as if Roy Oswalt should sign sometime this very Thursday. Since you are reading this in the future — which, to you, will feel like the present, but trust me: it’s the future — you may already know of Oswalt’s new team. Don’t gloat.

Instead, let us turn our languid eyes to Oswalt’s future, more specifically, his 2012 projections.

Maybe it is because he has pitched 150 innings in every season since the beginning of the Bush administration — or maybe it is because he played such a prominent role in a successful Houston Astros that seems now so distant from reality — but Roy Oswalt somehow feels ancient. Despite that, he is only a year and change older than Mark Buehrle and a year and one day older than Cliff Lee.

So Oswalt, first of all, is really not old — especially for a pitcher. At the same time, though, he is not necessarily healthy. He hit the DL twice last year and his back problems and his full history of injuries leaves great cause for concern.

Still, the Wizard of Os also ranks among some the best active pitchers. Regard:

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Seong-Min Kim, Korea, and the International Draft

Yesterday evening, Roch Kubatko of MASN announced the most unexpected: The MLB had voided the Baltimore Orioles‘ contract with 17-year-old South Korean pitcher Seong-Min Kim.

Kim had signed with the Orioles earlier this year, but the $550,000 signing almost instantly sent the peninsula into an icy rage. The Korean Baseball Organization (KBO) decried the MLB for not affording it the same unspoken courtesies as Japan’s NPB league. This week, the MLB, the Orioles, and the KBO have taken the tack of calling the signing a “breach of protocol.”

Which is funny because:

Protocol, by definition, is official. Yet this signing hoopla is about an unofficial rule: You don’t take amateur talent from East Asia (or at least Japan and South Korea). For the Orioles’ breach (which has been officially undone now), the KBO outlawed Seong-Min Kim (on February 8) from playing in Korea (that may/should be rescinded), and they have forbid the Orioles from sending scouts to South Korea (that does not appear likely to be rescinded).

In a shame-based culture such as Korea’s, a social breach such as this, however unintentional, can leave a damaging, lasting, and — to Americans — overzealous impression, and that is bad news for the Orioles.

But there is even a bigger issue here, that of the differing expectations and standards in the international market for talent. Because while the KBO complains about MLB teams snatching away talent from the amateur levels, the Puerto Rican baseball community has begun to complain about the opposite issue.
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What Is Sabermetrics? And Which Teams Use It?

It is a simple question.

What is sabermetrics?

Not the history of it, but what is it, right now? What is, in our nerdiest of lingoes, its derivative? Where is it pointing? What does it do?

Last Tuesday I created no little stir when I listed the 2012 saber teams, delineating them according to their perceived embrace of modern sabermetrics.

Today, I recognize I needed to take a step back and first define sabermetrics, because it became obvious quickly I did not have the same definition at heart as some of the readers and protesters who gathered outside my apartment.

I believe, and this is my belief — as researcher and a linguist — that sabermetrics is not statistics. The term itself has come to — or needs to — describe more than just on-base percentage, weighted runs created plus, fielding independent pitching, and wins above replacement.

Sabermetrics is the advanced study of baseball, not the burying of one’s head in numbers.
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