Archive for White Sox

The Worst Called Ball of the First Half

Only days ago, the Red Sox trailed the Blue Jays 8-7 going into the top of the eighth. The Blue Jays might be long past the point of playing for anything, but the Red Sox are still actively trying to hold off the Yankees, and so, with that in mind, every game of theirs is important. The eighth inning was given to Joe Kelly, and with his first pitch, he hit the first batter. With his third pitch, he allowed a single to the second batter. The third batter was Justin Smoak, and consecutive changeups ran the count to 1-and-1. Catcher Sandy Leon expected a breaking ball. Kelly threw a changeup instead.

The pitch — that pitch — was called a ball, with Leon ducking out of surprise. The pitch, of course, was down the middle of the plate, but instead of 1-and-2, the count became 2-and-1. Also, because the ball got away, the runner on second moved up to third. Two pitches later, Smoak hit an RBI single. On the very next pitch, Kendrys Morales hit an RBI double. The Blue Jays pulled away, eventually winning by six. Kelly and Leon were left to wonder how they got crossed up. They were left to wonder, as well, how an obvious strike became a critical ball.

That was almost the worst called ball of the season’s first half. The actual worst called ball, however, came only three days before. Leading up to the All-Star break, we had a little run of these things.

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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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Daily Prospect Notes: 7/11

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

Andres Gimenez, SS, New York Mets (Profile)
Level: Hi-A   Age: 19   Org Rank: 3   FV: 50
Line: 3-for-5, 2B, 3B

Notes
Gimenez is a 19-year-old shortstop slashing .280/.350/.430 in the Florida State League. That’s good for a 107 wRC+ in the FSL. Big-league shortstops with similar wRC+ marks are Trea Turner (a more explosive player and rangier defender than Gimenez) and Jurickson Profar, who have both been two-win players or better this year ahead of the break. Also of note in the Mets system last night was Ronny Mauricio, who extended his career-opening hitting streak to 19 games.

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The Manager’s Perspective: Rick Renteria on Mentoring Young Players

In many respects, Rick Renteria wears multiple hats as manager of the Chicago White Sox. The AL Central team he’s leading is in full-rebuild mode, its roster populated with a plethora of inexperienced players. That makes him a good fit for the position. As Cubs skipper Joe Maddon opined at the outset of spring training, “There are managers, and there are managers who are also good coaches. Not everybody can do both. [Renteria] can coach it, and he can manage it.”

The 56-year-old former big-league infielder has 20 years of both under his belt, the majority — but not all — in the minor leagues. He was at the helm for Chicago’s NL entry in 2014 — Maddon replaced him the following year — before moving across town in 2016 to serve as Robin Ventura’s bench coach. Last season, he took over as manager, where his job is less about winning now than it is to mold young players into winners. That requires patience and an ability to instruct, and along with good leadership skills, Renteria possesses each of those attributes.

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Rick Renteria: “Coming up through the system… every organization is different in terms of their philosophy, yet they’re all the same. We all want a player to understand, fundamentally, how to go about playing the game — how to run the bases, how to have an approach at the plate, how to defend, when to throw to what base. Things of that nature.

“Until you get here, though… you can be very well taught, but there’s a different dynamic in the big leagues, and it involves emotion and your mindset. No matter how well prepared, you’re going to make a mistake or two. Of course, that could be said for guys who have been in the big leagues for years.

“When you get here from the minor leagues, you continue to understand, and get a feel for, who you are as a player — what you’re supposed to be and what you can and cannot do. That comes through experience. And again, a lot of it has to do with emotions and your mindset. The emotions can speed the game up for you and take you out of your normal element.

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Players’ View: Learning and Developing a Pitch, Part 13

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 the thirteenth installment of this series, we’ll hear from three pitchers — Dennis Eckersley, Michael Fulmer, Miguel Gonzalez — on how they learned and/or developed a specific pitch.

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Dennis Eckersley (Hall of Famer) on His Slider

“I couldn’t throw a curveball because of my angle. I couldn’t get on top of it. That’s all they’d ever tell me. Every time somebody would whistle at me, it would be, ‘Get your arm up! Get your elbow up!’ But a slider came pretty easy. It was just, ‘Turn your wrist a little bit.’

“I went straight from high school to pro ball [in 1972], and all of a sudden my fastball didn’t play. I was in the California League when I was 17, and they could hit. The next thing you know, I’m throwing a lot more breaking balls than I ever did in my life. I didn’t have any choice.

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Players’ View: Learning and Developing a Pitch, Part 12

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 the twelfth installment of this series, we’ll hear from three pitchers — Matt Boyd, Sam Gaviglio, and Hector Santiago —— on how they learned and/or developed a specific pitch.

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Matt Boyd (Tigers) on His Slider

“My slider has kind of evolved over the years. My junior year [at Oregon State], we had a rain delay at the University of Portland and I was playing catch out in front of the dugout. I asked Nate Yesky, our pitching coach, how to throw one. He taught me how he threw his.

“It turned into this big slurve. I kind of rode that my senior year — it was a big pitch for me — and once I got into pro ball it slowly tightened up. As the years went on, every coach on the Blue Jays worked with me on it, trying to make it more like a cutter. They wanted to make it more high 80s, closer to my fastball, but I could never really get to that pitch.

“I was still trying to figure it out when I got to the big leagues. It wasn’t very consistent. Rich Dubee really helped me out, trying to tighten it up. But again, it would come and go. It wasn’t until later in the year, last year, that it started getting tighter.

“This offseason, I threw with James Paxton a little bit and he showed me how he throws his. We obviously have a much different slider-cutter, but I threw it like his and from there it took on a shape of its own with my own delivery. It’s become a real weapon for me.

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Sunday Notes: Sean Newcomb Has Sneaky Hop

Sean Newcomb has turned a corner. On the heels of an erratic rookie campaign that saw him go 4-9, 4.32 in 100 innings for the Atlanta Braves last year, the 24-year-old former Angels prospect is rapidly establishing himself as one of the best pitchers in the National League. A dozen starts into his second big-league season, Newcomb is 7-1 with a 2.49 ERA and he’s held hitters to a paltry .198 average and just three home runs.

Improved command and confidence have buoyed the young southpaw’s ability to flummox the opposition. His 4.3 walk rate (down from 5.1 last year) remains less than ideal, but he’s no longer the raw, strike-zone-challenged kid that Atlanta acquired from Anaheim in the November 2015 Andrelton Simmons deal. He’s making the transition from thrower to pitcher, and the results speak for themselves.

“I feel more comfortable now,” Newcomb told me prior to a late-May start at Fenway Park. “I had last year’s experience to take into the season, so I’ve felt more settled in. My fastball has also been working well, and I’ve been able to go from there.”

The fastball in question is by no means run-of-the-mill. It’s very good, and not for reasons that jump out at you — at least not in terms of numbers. Newcomb’s velocity (93.3) is right around league-average. His four-seam spin rate is actually lower than average (2,173 versus 2,263), as is his extension (5.6) versus 6.1). Read the rest of this entry »


FanGraphs Audio: Travis Sawchik Mixes Up His Matts

Episode 818
Travis Sawchik, past author of one book and future author (with The Ringer’s Ben Lindbergh) of another one, recently conducted an interview in the White Sox clubhouse with a player he assumed, for good reason, was Matt Davidson. Also addressed: the competitive advantage of a multipositional catcher and Sawchik’s interview with White Sox announcer Jason Benetti.

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 46 min play time.)

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A Conversation with White Sox Play-by-Play Voice Jason Benetti

CLEVELAND — Jason Benetti is notable in many ways. He’s one of the youngest television play-by-play men in the game at 34. Only Dodgers’ voice Joe Davis (30) is younger. Benetti is one of the few broadcasters to have a law degree (Wake Forest, 2011). He is one of the few (perhaps the only?) play-by-play broadcaster who has MC’d the Saber Seminar in Boston. His credentials suggest he’s open-minded to FanGraphs-style analysis. His age, meanwhile, suggests he might represent the next wave of baseball broadcaster — one, in this case, who is more comfortable with advanced analytics and who sees the game from a new perspective. While Benetti has an appreciation and understanding of new-age numbers, he still considers himself a storyteller first and believes including “humanity” in a broadcast is as important as any metric.

His duties have gradually expanded as he replaces long-time broadcaster Ken “Hawk” Harrelson, who broadcasts only select games, and who will retire at the end of the season. Benetti, a Chicago native and lifelong Sox fan, will tell you he has his dream job, towards which he worked while spending 10 years broadcasting in the minor leagues from independent ball, to Salem, Va. (2007-08), to the Nationals’ Triple-A Syracuse affiliate (2009-14).

For a long time, Benetti balanced law studies with broadcasting in the spring and summer. He intended to have a law career. But the game kept coming back to him, he told me — including his big break when he was hired by the White Sox in 2016. He will tell you, as he told The Chicago Tribune, cerebral palsy is only a small part of who is.

I found Benetti in the White Sox road clubhouse Tuesday, where one can almost always find him before games talking to players, gathering information. In a way, he’s part reporter and part data analyst. He agreed to speak to me about what he feels his responsibility is as a broadcaster, how he prepares, how he balances calling a season for a team in transition, and how he sees the broadcast industry evolving and adapting to modern challenges:

FanGraphs: A reader might spend five or 10 minutes with a piece at FanGraphs or another media outlet (and that’s if they become engaged with it). But if a viewer watches the entirety of a game, you have their ear for three hours. I’d argue there’s no greater influential platform in a local media. Do you see it that way? Do you feel a sense of responsibility?

Jason Benetti: The level of responsibility comes in both fairness and accuracy. We need to be honest about what we are seeing and know what we are seeing is anomalous or not. So I think the tendency is to see a play that happens and is poor and immediately reach for, ‘Oh, you gotta make that play.’ And that’s what fans do and that’s what I did when I was a kid. But I also think there’s a part of it where you have to understand that baseball is such a long year that there are going to be outliers. Michael Jordan missed shots. I’m not saying that Michael Jordan is on the current White Sox. But I am saying that I think responsibility lies in knowing what people’s tendencies are, knowing when they are breaking them, and being as well informed as we possibly can as to what we are seeing fits what we know about that person — or it breaks the mold enough that we need to rethink the person overall.

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How Matt Davidson Became the Most Improved Hitter in Baseball

CLEVELAND — Major-league pitchers threw Matt Davidson 1,855 pitches last season. Of those, 1,014 were thrown outside the confines of the strike zone, according to pitching-tracking data. Davidson swung at 343 of those out-of-zone pitches.

When he went home to his native Southern California this past winter, Davidson didn’t try to forget about baseball or an unimpressive 2017 campaign that included a .220/.260/.452 slash line and 83 wRC+. Rather, he relived his entire season.

Like every major-league player, Davidson has access to an incredible trove of video. On his iPad he could watch every pitch from his 2017 season and he did. Over the course of several days last October, he watched every pitch from his 2017 season — the video edited to erase the dead time between tosses. He was particularly interested in those 1,014 pitches thrown out of the zone against him and how he reacted.

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Top 25 Prospects: Chicago White Sox

Below is an analysis of the prospects in the farm system of the Chicago White Sox. Scouting reports are compiled with information provided by industry sources as well as from our own (both Eric Longenhagen’s and Kiley McDaniel’s) observations. For more information on the 20-80 scouting scale by which all of our prospect content is governed you can click here. For further explanation of the merits and drawbacks of Future Value, read this.

All the numbered prospects here also appear on THE BOARD, a new feature at the site that offers sortable scouting information for every organization. Click here to visit THE BOARD.

White Sox Top Prospects
Rk Name Age High Level Position ETA FV
1 Eloy Jimenez 21 AA RF 2019 65
2 Michael Kopech 21 AAA RHP 2019 60
3 Luis Robert 20 R CF 2020 60
4 Alec Hansen 23 AA RHP 2020 50
5 Zack Burdi 22 AAA RHP 2019 50
6 Zack Collins 22 AA 1B 2018 50
7 Dane Dunning 22 AA RHP 2018 50
8 Dylan Cease 22 A+ RHP 2020 45
9 Micker Adolfo 21 A+ RF 2021 45
10 Jake Burger 21 A 3B 2020 45
11 Blake Rutherford 20 A+ LF 2020 45
12 Ryan Cordell 26 AAA RF 2018 40
13 Carson Fulmer 22 MLB RHP 2018 40
14 Gavin Sheets 21 A+ 1B 2020 40
15 A.J. Puckett 22 A+ RHP 2019 40
16 Luis Gonzalez 22 A RF 2021 40
17 Seby Zavala 24 AA C 2020 40
18 Luis Alexander Basabe 20 A+ CF 2020 40
19 Ian Clarkin 23 AA LHP 2019 40
20 Spencer Adams 21 AA RHP 2019 40
21 Tyler Danish 22 MLB RHP 2017 40
22 Jameson Fisher 23 AA LF 2019 40
23 Aaron Bummer 24 MLB LHP 2018 40
24 Jordan Stephens 24 AAA RHP 2019 40
25 Danny Mendick 24 AAA SS 2019 40

65 FV Prospects

Signed: July 2nd Period, 2013 from Dominican Republic
Age 20 Height 6’4 Weight 205 Bat/Throw R/R
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Hit Raw Power Game Power Run Fielding Throw
30/50 70/80 50/70 45/40 45/50 60/60

Jimenez was largely compared head-to-head with now-Yankees SS Gleyber Torres as the top talents in the loaded 2013 July 2nd class. Both players signed with the Cubs, then later were traded as headliners in blockbuster trades for Aroldis Chapman and Jose Quintana, respectively.

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(Maybe) The Most Improved Hitter in Baseball

According to expected wOBA, which is not perfect, but which is pretty good, the most improved hitter in the major leagues is Mookie Betts. The second-most improved hitter is Leonys Martin, and the third-most improved hitter is Matt Davidson. Since xwOBA is only one measure, that means we can have a conversation. And that means there’s an argument for each of those three players, along with some others. I’ll lay out the case for Davidson here. It’s every bit as simple as it is impressive.

At this writing, Davidson is tied for the seventh-highest xwOBA overall. He’s right there with Kris Bryant. No one in baseball has a higher xwOBA on batted balls alone. If you prefer something a little more familiar, Davidson has bumped his wRC+ from 83 to 161, the second number being almost double the first. For anyone who knows anything about Davidson, the power has always been present. The improvement has taken place elsewhere. It’s maybe the most difficult improvement to make, but the easiest one to explain.

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A Former Yankees Prospect on the Athletics Is Suing the White Sox

Lots of things went right last year in the Yankees’ run to the American League Championship Series.

This wasn’t one of them.

The player you see here is Dustin Fowler, who was making his major-league debut for the Yankees. Fowler, in a haunting echo of Moonlight Graham, never got to bat in that game; he had been due up in the top half of the second. Fowler suffered an open rupture of his patellar tendon on the play and required emergency surgery.

During his recovery, he was traded to the Athletics in the Sonny Gray deal.

How Fowler is expected to develop as a player in the wake of his injury is a worthy line of inquiry; however, it’s not the one I’ll pursue here. Rather, my interest is in the lawsuit that Fowler filed against the White Sox in the wake of his injury — a lawsuit that remains pending.

Fowler’s suit, on the surface, is pretty simple. Fowler has sued two parties — both Chicago White Sox, Ltd. (the limited partnership that owns the White Sox) and the Illinois Sports Facilities Authority (the Illinois government agency that actually owns Guaranteed Rate Field, where the White Sox play). The complaint alleges two counts, one against each Defendant, and sounds in both simple negligence and a peculiar creation of Illinois law known as “willful and wanton conduct.” Essentially, Fowler alleges that, although the wall into which he crashed was padded, an electrical box located there wasn’t.

Here’s the relevant passage:

Let’s start with the obvious question: whither the electrical box? It’s hard to tell from the video. A still image from the above provides some sense, but it’s also easy enough not to notice.

In fact, the Chicago Tribune reported after the game that video seemed to show Fowler missing the exposed electrical box, which is there to provide wifi to fans. Based on that video, the Tribune reported in the same story that no changes would be made to the stadium.

The Tribune, however, appears to have been a bit premature in their reporting. Later image seemed to suggest Fowler did make contact with the electrical box. (You can see the best ones via Newsday here.) The fact that the box is so hard to see — it’s designed to blend in with the wall — is actually part of Fowler’s lawsuit.

So we know the box is there, and that — it appears, at least — Fowler’s knee did impact it. So that leads to the second question: are the White Sox and the ISFA legally responsible?

Last year, Nathaniel Grow took an excellent look at workers’ compensation for professional athletes. Like in many states, Illinois has a law which says that, for the most part, you can’t sue your employer for an injury you suffer on the job. That’s the reason workers’ compensation exists. In Fowler’s case, though, while he is suing for an injury that occurred on the job, he is not suing his employer. As a result, this isn’t a workers’ compensation issue, and Fowler’s negligence claim isn’t barred on that basis.

Michael McCann did a nice run-through of Fowler’s suit back when it was first filed, and I encourage you to read it in full. But negligence law in torts is a lot more complicated than it might seem, and since I’m an Illinois lawyer, I figured I might examine this from a more local perspective. To establish negligence, a plaintiff generally has to plead and prove all of the following:

  1. The existence of a legal duty owed by the defendant to the plaintiff;
  2. The breach of that legal duty by the defendant;
  3. That the breach by the defendant caused an injury to the defendant; and
  4. That the injury is a real and cognizable harm.

Lawyers generally turn these elements into the shorthand of DBCH, which is short for duty, breach, causation, and harm. Illinois follows the traditional negligence standard, with those same four elements: “To state a cause of action for negligence, a plaintiff must plead the existence of a duty owed by the defendant to the plaintiff, a breach of that duty, an injury proximately caused by the breach, and damages.”

The tricky thing with negligence suits is twofold, though. First, you are basically punishing a defendant for what it did or didn’t do even though those actions weren’t intentional. That means that, every time you find for a plaintiff, you are necessarily saying the defendants have to undertake an obligation to protect people that otherwise wouldn’t exist. That, of course, has real social and economic costs, so courts tend to be wary of pushing the creation and application of legal duties too far. Second, because we’re talking about unintentional conduct here, there are a lot of defenses to negligence that don’t apply anywhere else in the law. These are things like contributory or comparative negligence (sometimes called comparative fault), assumption of the risk, and others which vary by state.

The first question, then, is whether the White Sox and ISFA owed a legal duty towards Fowler. In this case, there are two types of possible duties. (Actually, there are more, but we have limited space here.) There could be a “duty to warn.” That would mean anything from a sign down the right-field line saying “beware of box,” to actually telling Fowler about the box’s existence before the game, to just painting the box a bright shade of yellow so it stands out. On the other hand, there could be a “duty to protect” Fowler, with things like padding on the box or just the complete relocation of the box to somewhere outside the field of play.

Obviously, all of these points relate to the defendants, because the defendants are the ones with control over the box. That doesn’t always happen in negligence cases. What that means, though, is that a court will have to decide whether the law imposes a duty on ISFA and the White Sox either to warn players or protect them from hidden on-field hazards and — if so — how far that duty goes. Many states have accepted what’s called the “Learned Hand Rule” as the gold standard for whether to impose a duty on a defendant. Named for Judge Learned Hand (yes, that really was his name), the Learned Hand Rule uses what’s called “law and economics” to determine whether a duty should be imposed on a defendant. I personally think of the Learned Hand Rule as the “FanGraphs Method” of Negligence. Professor Doug Holden explains why:

This formula lists three factors:

1. Probability of harm (or likelihood of injury) and = P
2. Gravity of harm (or seriousness of injury) as weighed against = L (loss or liability)
3. Burden on defendant (or injury sacrificed) to take adequate precautions = B.

Therefore, if B < P x L, then you have unreasonable behavior. If you have unreasonable behavior, then there is a breach of duty.

This is a useful little algorithm for identifying breach of duty. In practice, however, judges don’t like to sit and calculate such variables like Learned Hand did. So somewhere along the line, the Learned Hand rule went from functioning as a mathematical calculation to serving as a guidepost to then becoming the rule that a party has a duty to all persons who could suffer a “reasonably foreseeable” harm as a result of the former’s actions.

Illinois follows that “reasonably foreseeable” standard. So, in this case, the question is whether it was reasonably foreseeable that a player like Fowler would injure himself on the electrical box. Given that much of the rest of the wall is padded, it’s clearly foreseeable that a player could be injured by colliding with an unpadded wall. By extension, it seems reasonably foreseeable that an unpadded box could also cause harm. Therefore a duty does exist to take adequate precaution. And theoretically, since the burden on the defendant is minimal — like spray-painting the box yellow or a few feet of padding — the Hand formula weighs in favor of Fowler, too.

Next is whether the ISFA and White Sox breached their legal duty to Fowler. To that point, we know they didn’t pad the box. We also have no reason to believe they warned Fowler, either. Of some relevance here perhaps is a doctrine in the law called “res ipsa loquitur.” Res ipsa loquitur basically means that if a defendant exercises exclusive control over an object — like an electrical box — and the object harms someone, the law presumes the defendant was negligent even in the absence of evidence of negligence. Here, I think there is that evidence of negligence, though: the existence of the padding elsewhere. Remember when we discussed protective netting that I explained the “voluntary undertaking doctrine”?

Here’s a refresher:

The Illinois Supreme Court, for example, explained in Nelson v. Union Wire Rope Corp. that, where a company voluntarily does something it wasn’t legally obligated to do, that company is liable for failing to do so reasonably. In some states (like Illinois, for instance), this is known as the voluntary undertaking doctrine.

If the ISFA and White Sox voluntarily undertook to protect fielders by padding the wall but didn’t pad the box, that’s negligence because they failed to complete the job reasonably.

Next are causation and harm. Did the box cause Fowler’s injuries? Well, the impact is what tore his knee open. I could talk about proximate cause and cause-in-fact, but we don’t really need to here. Because the injury was foreseeable and a direct result of an impact with the box, causation’s probably satisfied.

So what defenses do the ISFA and White Sox have? Their primary argument is probably going to be that they didn’t owe Fowler any duty. But in an Illinois court, that’s unlikely to hold water simply because Illinois courts have adopted the reasonable foreseeability standard. And they could argue that Fowler assumed the risk of being injured, but it’s hard to argue that running into things is part of baseball the way being hit by a pitch is. And they can’t argue that Fowler wasn’t injured, because even though he’s back and playing, his injury was very real, which in and of itself entitles him to damages under Illinois law.

So they tried something else. Shortly after Fowler filed his lawsuit, the ISFA and White Sox removed the case to federal court. The White Sox then moved to dismiss the case, arguing that it was preempted by the CBA. The White Sox invoked the Labor Management Relations Act (“LMRA”), a federal law stating (in Section 301) that federal courts, and federal law, govern all employment disputes where the rights of the parties have been collectively bargained. As the White Sox argue, “Plaintiff alleges that he was injured as a result of an incident that took place only because he was employed as a Major League Baseball Player pursuant to a highly regulated contractual employment relationship that specified all of the rights and duties of the respective parties – including with respect to Players health and safety.” Here, the White Sox point to Article XIII of the CBA, which governs players’ safety and health.

Here we return to the issue of “willful and wanton conduct” cited at the outset of this piece. In Illinois, under a case called Ziarko v. Soo Line Railroad, willful and wanton conduct represents something more severe than just negligence, but not so severe as intentional conduct. It’s akin to recklessness. And generally, in Illinois, you can’t disclaim willful and wanton conduct by contract. Moreover, Fowler argues, the CBA doesn’t actually cover situations like this, which means the CBA doesn’t preempt Fowler’s claims.

On that basis, Fowler wants the case sent back to state court.

This is one case where both sides appear to have strong arguments, and there’s ample case law going both ways. I tend to think Fowler has the better of the argument, but I don’t see this as being a clear-cut issue, particularly given the unusual set of facts. Many of the cases cited by both sides, like Stringer v. NFL, concerned situations where the player was injured by or on his own team’s facilities or lack of care. And even there, courts often split the proverbial baby, allowing some claims through and not others. The issue is currently being briefed, and Judge Gary Feinerman will rule sometime in June or July.

Meanwhile, Dustin Fowler hasn’t yet exhibited the form that made him a top prospect when he debuted last June. After a 138 wRC+ last year at Triple-A, he has just a 84 wRC+ for Oakland’s highest affiliate this year through 97 plate appearances. On the plus side, he’s already stolen five bases.


The Next Generation of Second Basemen Is Arriving

Since 1999, five second basemen have produced 40 or more wins. Of that group, Chase Utley debuted first, in 2003. Robinson Cano arrived in 2005, and Dustin Pedroia, Ian Kinsler, and Ben Zobrist all made their first major-league appearances in 2006. Over the last dozen years, those five players have dominated the position, and while they might not have gotten a shirtless photo-op like the shortstops of a generation prior, they have defined excellence at second base.

Even looking at the production of that group over the last four years — roughly a decade after their debuts — Cano, Kinsler, Pedroia, and Zobrist make up half of the top eight by WAR. Jose Altuve and Brian Dozier, who appear among the leaders, have emerged over the last half-decade, while Daniel Murphy has been a late-bloomer. But a collection of older players who debuted in 2005 and 2006 — one that also includes Aaron Hill, Howie Kendrick, Brandon Phillips (Reds debut in 2006), Dan Uggla, Rickie Weeks Jr. — have been mainstays at the position over the last decade.

At the moment, however, it seems as though a changing of the guard is underway. Young talents like Ozzie Albies and Yoan Moncada — along with a strong group of prospects — appear ready to take over.

The 2016 season represented the best one ever seen for second basemen. Twelve players recorded four-win seasons, while batters at the position produced a collective 106 wRC+ for the season. While Jose Altuve topped that season’s production, Cano, Kinsler, and Pedroia made up three of the next five players. Due to the aging veterans near the top of the list, that level of production was going to be impossible to maintain. Unsurprisingly, the positional numbers dipped last season, with only Altuve, Dozier, and Murphy reaching the four-wins threshold, while Jose Ramirez’s great season came mostly while playing third. Second basemen put up a respectable 99 wRC+, but it was much closer to traditional expectations of the position.

This year, second-base production is up to a 103 wRC+. This early in the season, of course, we don’t know if that production will continue. What’s of considerably more interest, however, is the players occupying the top of the leaderboards at second base.

Second Base WAR Leaders
Name BB% K% ISO BABIP wRC+ WAR Age
Jed Lowrie 8.7 % 19.0 % 0.243 0.388 168 1.6 34
Asdrubal Cabrera 8.0 % 14.3 % 0.24 0.358 170 1.5 32
Ozzie Albies 5.5 % 18.9 % 0.353 0.298 166 1.4 21
Yoan Moncada 11.7 % 39.2 % 0.257 0.423 138 1.4 23
Javier Baez 5.8 % 21.2 % 0.365 0.313 162 1.2 25
Robinson Cano 14.7 % 15.5 % 0.167 0.355 152 1.2 35
Jose Altuve 8.6 % 12.5 % 0.096 0.392 141 1.1 28
Cesar Hernandez 18.6 % 23.7 % 0.105 0.379 130 0.8 28
DJ LeMahieu 10.8 % 12.5 % 0.215 0.299 126 0.8 29
Brian Dozier 9.9 % 15.3 % 0.17 0.278 107 0.5 31
Through Sunday, April 29.

Jed Lowrie and Asdrubal Cabrera are off to incredibly good starts, but the next three players on this list are all 25 or younger. Like Lowrie and Cabrera, their hot starts are unsustainable. They’ve each built themselves a cushion, however, such that even modest production will result in strong end-of-season numbers.

According to the projections, which are conservative in nature, Albies and Moncada — the latter using an unusual approach at the plate — are headed for nearly four-WAR seasons, while Baez seems likely to reach three wins. The last time three second basemen aged 25 and under produced at least three wins was 2007 when Cano, Hill, Pedroia, Weeks Jr., and Kelly Johnson did it. Before 2007, you have to go all the way back to 1993, when Roberto Alomar and Delino DeShields led a young group that also included Chuck Knoblauch the previous season. No group is likely to measure up to the triumvirate of Paul Molitor, Willie Randolph, and Lou Whitaker from 1979 or the class of 1965 (featuring Gene Alley, Jim Lefebvre, Joe Morgan, and Pete Rose, but a collection of good, young second basemen is not a common occurrence, no matter how good the group turns out.

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Yoan Moncada’s Approach Is Actually Working

On Wednesday, Yoan Moncada hit a grand slam and stole a base. Those were the notable accomplishments for the White Sox’ 22-year-old second baseman in Chicago’s game at Oakland. In a less remarkable but still relevant development, Moncada recorded his 300th plate appearances for the White Sox since his debut with the club last June.

Three years ago today, Moncada had yet to play a professional game in the United States, and while he came with considerable hype and pedigree, his play thus far has mostly lived up to the lofty expectations. Here’s his line with the White Sox since his promotion last season.

Yoan Moncada with the White Sox
Name PA HR BB% K% ISO BABIP AVG OBP SLG wRC+ BsR Off Def WAR
Yoan Moncada 305 11 12.8 % 33.8 % .187 .331 .229 .336 .416 106 3.7 6.1 1.5 1.8

A combination of good patience, decent power, and solid speed have allowed Moncada to mitigate the effects of his one real weakness (swinging and missing) and permitted him to produce solid numbers. And while we can’t simply double the numbers here to arrive at a full-season forecast for Moncada, our Depth Chart projections nevertheless call for an average offensive performance and roughly three-win season in 2018.

If there’s a number that jumps out, however, it’s the one caused by his aforementioned weakness: Moncada has struck out more than a third of the time with the White Sox overall and in just under 40% of his plate appearances this season. That number is scary high. While Moncada has incredible tools, it could be difficult for him to capitalize on his immense talent if he fails to discern strikes from balls.

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Hopeless Forecasts and the Stereotype Threat

CLEVELAND — This spring, I’ve briefly inhabited the clubhouses of some teams that aren’t expected to do very well in 2018. I’ve been in Sarasota, Florida, to visit the Orioles. I dropped by the road locker room at Progressive Field when the Tigers and Royals were guests there last week. There are no great expectations in Baltimore, Detroit, and Kansas City this spring.

The projection systems have given those clubs little chance at postseason contention. In fact, according to FanGraphs, those three clubs each featured a 0% chance of winning the World Series as of Opening Day. The same was true for a handful of other teams, as well.

Of course, these prognostications aren’t available only to the interested public. They reach the ears of on-field personnel, too. PECOTA forecasts appear on MLB Network’s preseason coverage. Some players even visit this very web site. Our projections have the Royals winning 71 games, the Tigers 70, and the White Sox 65 in the AL Central — or 25, 26, and 31 games, respectively, behind the Indians.

In an era increasingly populated almost entirely of super teams and tanking teams, there is theoretically less possibility of contention, less reason to hope, for teams forecast to finish lower in the standings.

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The White Sox Cap and Hip-Hop Culture

This is Shakeia Taylor’s second piece as part of her April Residency at FanGraphs. Shakeia is an avid baseball fan and baseball history enthusiast. Her main interests include the Negro Leagues and women in baseball. She has written for The Hardball Times and Complex. She hosts an annual charity bartending fundraiser for Jackie Robinson Day, all of tips and raffle proceeds of which are donated to the Jackie Robinson Foundation. Though not from Baltimore, she’s still an Elite Giant. Shakeia can also be found on Twitter (@curlyfro). She’ll be contributing here this month.

Given the racial makeup of Major League Baseball, it might seem like baseball’s culture would be largely distinct from hip hop’s, but it isn’t really. Many players warm up to hip-hop music and use its songs as their walk-ups. In 1993, Seattle Mariners superstar Ken Griffey Jr. chose Naughty By Nature’s “Hip Hop Hooray” as his walk-up song. The song would eventually become his personal anthem. Roc Nation, Jay Z’s entertainment company, represents baseball players, including Robinson Cano and Yoenis Cespedes.

And the game’s influence has been felt in hip hop, as well. Baseball caps, also known as fitteds, have become a mainstay in hip-hop culture. In a game that can at times feel dominated by pop country music, hip hop’s prominence in baseball — and baseball’s presence in hip hop — offers a foothold for fans of both who wish to see their interests intersect.

The relationship between baseball and hip hop is particularly deep in Chicago. Jay-Z has his Yankees cap, but 90s rap videos were all about the White Sox fitted. It became a symbol of the culture at a time when rap was going mainstream and rappers from both coasts were gaining popularity. The design and color scheme of the cap are simple, yet timeless.

The most ubiquitous White Sox cap design — which is also the club’s current cap design — is actually drawn from the 1948 White Sox logo, and was designed by the grandson of White Sox founding owner Charles Comiskey, Chuck.

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What You Can Say About Matt Davidson

A week ago today, the author of the current post published his own contribution to FanGraphs’ positional power rankings — an examination, specifically, of designated hitters. In the context of the positional rankings, DH occupies a slightly uneasy place. For one, the position (or non-position, as it were) doesn’t actually exist in the National League, which means the pool of players is necessarily smaller. Also, attempting to understand the contributions of a DH in the context of wins presents some difficulties. On the one hand, owing to the absence of any defensive responsibilities, designated hitters are subject to a robust negative adjustment in the calculation of WAR. On the other hand, though, hitters who are deployed in the DH role tend to hit worse than when playing the field — what analysts typically characterize as a “DH penalty.”

While one, duly motivated, could dedicate some time and energy to improving upon the extant methodology for evaluating the position, it’s also true that good hitters, when utilized in a DH capacity, tend to be well acquitted by WAR, poor hitters less so — a point illustrated by the image below.

Here one finds the chart that accompanied the aforementioned power-rankings post. Teams further to the left are projected to produce more wins out of the DH spot in 2018; teams on the left, fewer of them. The Yankees and Red Sox, who employ Giancarlo Stanton and J.D. Martinez, respectively, are expected to fare well this season. The Mariners and Indians (Nelson Cruz, Edwin Encarnacion), too.

It’s the rightmost bar of this chart that probably deserves some attention, because it largely concerns Your 2018 WAR Leader.

The White Sox were forecast, just a week ago, to receive the fewest wins from the DH position of any American League club — and not just the fewest wins, but actually negative wins. Certain current events might serve to cast that projection in a curious light.

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More Than You Wanted to Know About Opening Day Starters

Few pitchers have started more consecutive Opening Day games than Felix Hernandez.
(Photo: Keith Allison)

On the heels of a pair of injury-shortened seasons, it was a rough spring for Felix Hernandez, who was drilled by a line drive in his first Cactus League start. Fortunately, he bounced back in time to build up his pitch count, and when he takes the mound tonight for the Mariners at Safeco Field, he’ll claim a little slice of history.

Hernandez will be making the 11th Opening Day start of his career, putting him into a tie with CC Sabathia for the lead among active pitchers, and the 10th-highest total since 1908, as far as the Baseball-Reference Play Index now reaches. He’ll also be making his 10th consecutive Opening Day start, moving him into a tie for fourth place with Hall of Famers Walter Johnson and Steve Carlton as well as Roy Halladay.

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Let’s Watch Lucas Giolito Look Very Good

I’ll get to Lucas Giolito in a moment. But first, James Paxton. Paxton has always had pretty good stuff, but for a while, he didn’t know quite where it was going. Here are two screenshots from before Paxton broke out.

Paxton would reach back, and, with his glove arm, he’d reach up. Like, way up. And that sort of set the tone, because Paxton’s throwing arm would then come over the top. There are good over-the-top pitchers — there are great over-the-top pitchers — but Paxton didn’t become one. Not quite. Early in 2016, Paxton changed his angles. Almost instantly, he gained some gas, and he gained some control. Paxton turned into an ace-level starter, when he’s been healthy enough to start, at least. Two more screenshots, now.

Paxton’s glove arm has calmed down. And while he’s still not a side-armer or anything, Paxton has lowered his arm slot. His release point is down several inches, from where it had been. The way Paxton describes it, this is his natural slot, and it certainly looks more comfortable to the eye. Paxton has settled on better mechanics, and it’s among the reasons why he’s gotten so good.

To Giolito, now. There’s something I was just never able to shake.

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