Are Relievers Wilder Upon Entry?

On Wednesday afternoon, Liam Hendriks entered a tough situation. There were two outs in the bottom of the ninth, but his margin for error was nonexistent. The bases were loaded, and the White Sox were locked in a tie game. One hiccup in command, four slightly misplaced pitches, and the game would be over.

Do pitchers have less command when they enter? Is it worth worrying about whether a pitcher might not have it that day? I have no earthly idea, so I decided to investigate. First things first, though: I wasn’t actually sure what I was investigating. Time for some experimental design.

What about the walk rate, but only on the first batter faced by a new reliever? That’s certainly a number I could look up. That checks in at 8.1% from 2015 to present (I used the Statcast era even though there’s no Statcast data involved in this query, just for consistency’s sake). Over the same time frame, the overall reliever walk rate is 9.3%. Case closed, let’s go get brunch.

Only, that’s a bad comparison. We’re not comparing apples to apples. If we’re actually going to look into whether pitchers are particularly likely to come in and not have it, we need to compare like to like. Take the immortal Sugar Ray Marimon, who made 16 appearances for the Braves in 2015. He was a one-hit wonder, though “wonder” might be strong: he compiled a 7.36 ERA in 25.2 innings before decamping to Korea. Read the rest of this entry »

The Angels Finally Bite the Bullet by Cutting Albert Pujols

The news was as abrupt as a mid-afternoon tweet, and yet long overdue: On Thursday, the Angels designated Albert Pujols for assignment. The 41-year-old Pujols is a no-doubt Hall of Famer, one of four players to attain the dual milestones of 3,000 hits and 600 home runs. But he’s now a month into his fifth season of sub-replacement level production, an impediment to improving a team that needs all the help it can get to overcome a league-worst defense as it scrambles to return to the playoffs for the first time since 2014.

Mired in a 7-for-43 slump on a 13–17 team, Pujols is hitting just .198/.250/.372 with five homers and a 75 wRC+ in 92 plate appearances and making $30 million in the final season of the 10-year, $240 million deal that he signed following a remarkable 11-year run with the Cardinals. With his body unable to withstand a litany of leg and foot injuries — hamstrings, knees, plantar fasciitis — his megadeal provided little bang for the buck. Where he made nine All-Star teams and won three MVP awards as well as the NL Rookie of the Year award in St. Louis while helping the Cardinals to three pennants and two championships, he never approached such levels in Anaheim. As an Angel, he made just one All-Star team, finished no higher than 17th in the MVP voting, and was swept out of his lone playoff appearance.

This isn’t a move that the Angels have taken lightly, and it owes plenty to the pressures on new general manager Perry Minasian, who was hired last November, as well as the development of Jared Walsh and the continued health and presence of Shohei Ohtani. Walsh, a first baseman who has taken over most of the duties in right field since Dexter Fowler suffered a season-ending ACL tear on April 9, has hit for a 166 wRC+ in 222 PA since the start of last season. Ohtani, who this year has been available to serve as the designated hitter on days before and after his starts (which the Angels were reluctant to let him do previously), has hit for a 169 wRC+ with a major league-high 10 homers in 118 PA.

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Jay Jaffe FanGraphs Chat – 5/7/21

Avatar Jay Jaffe: Good afternoon and Happy Bartolo Colon Home Run Day to you all!

Avatar Jay Jaffe: It’s the fifth anniversary of this magnificent shot

Avatar Jay Jaffe: which, as I explained in this Twitter thread, holds special significance at Casa Jaffe-Span

Happy Bartolo Home Run Day to those celebrating. It’s an important holiday at Casa Jaffe-Span. When he homered, Emma was 6 months pregnant with our daughter, whose “nom de womb” became Bartola (1/x)

If I had been at this game, the urge to circle the bases with him like they did with Henry Aaron would have been overwhelming
7 May 2021
Avatar Jay Jaffe: My piece on the Angels’ DFA of Albert Pujols just went up a short time ago…

Avatar Jay Jaffe: It follows a piece I did just yesterday on how bad their defense has been…

Avatar Jay Jaffe: Anyway, on with the show!

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Willians Astudillo and Hanser Alberto Are Here To Swing the Bat

In her 2012 novel Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn wrote that the Midwest is full of people who are nice enough, but easy to manipulate. “Easy to mold, easy to wipe down,” Flynn wrote of these people, who she described as having plastic souls. But she could not have foreseen two current Midwest residents who are breaking the mold of modern baseball.

The major-league walk rate has comfortably sat around 8% for the last 100 years, and with 21st-century front offices emphasizing on-base percentage, the game’s elite offensive players regularly walk more than 10% of the time while boasting on-base percentages in the .400 club.

This season, the American League Central plays home to two players that don’t seem to care about any of that. The Twins’ Willians Astudillo and the Royals’ Hanser Alberto have each strode to the plate at least 55 times in 2021. They have combined for zero walks.

The pair of Midwest transplants are the only players in the league who have batted at least 50 times without drawing a walk. They are also the only players in the league who have batted at least 40 times without drawing a walk, and the only players who have batted at least 30 times without a walk. The player with the third-highest amount of plate appearances this year without a base on balls is Angels journeyman Scott Schebler, who’s all the way down at 27. Red Sox backup catcher Kevin Plawecki had made 35 straight walkless plate appearances to begin his season before inexplicably drawing two on Thursday against the Tigers’ bullpen.

Astudillo and Alberto have never been paragons of patience during their careers. Both players have career walk rates under 2.5%, with Astudillo at 1.9% and Alberto at a slightly more selective 2.4%. Since Astudillo was summoned to the big leagues in 2018, he and Alberto have the lowest walk rates of any players with at least 300 plate appearances. Yet, they can each claim on-base percentages above .310 during that span, which certainly isn’t great, but is much better than almost all of their classmates in the remedial walk room. Read the rest of this entry »

Daily Prospect Notes: 5/7/21

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

Robert Hassell III, CF, San Diego Padres
Level & Affiliate: Low-A Lake Elsinore   Age: 19   Org Rank: 5   FV: 50
Line: 3-for-5, HR, 2B, BB, 2 SB

Perhaps the most important thing about Hassell’s first pro season will be how he looks in center field. His first step out there is pretty good, but he sometimes struggles to close the deal, especially when he’s approaching the wall. Hassell hit with substantially more power during 2020 instructs, then arrived to 2021 spring training (where he got a lot of run with the big league team) with a really steep, uphill swing, and I watched him swing through a lot of fastballs with lateral action during minor league spring training. Clearly games like last night are an indication that’s okay, I’m just noting there may be a contact-for-power tradeoff happening here based on my spring looks. Read the rest of this entry »

Keeping Up With the KBO: April, Part One

Last year, the arrival of the KBO was a breath of fresh air for our despondent, quarantined, and baseball-deprived selves. Between May and July, the entire baseball community became invested in a league that is in many ways different from MLB. There’s greater emphasis on contact hitting and baserunning, which recalled another, perhaps nostalgic, era of major league baseball for some. Sure, the defense and pitching could be clunky at times, but we embraced them as fun idiosyncrasies. And though baseball and a semblance of normalcy has returned stateside, there are still plenty of fans who want to monitor the KBO.

That’s why I’ve decided to start a monthly column that acts as a periodic check-in on the KBO. This isn’t, say, a power ranking, but rather an overview of which developments I find interesting. Today’s Part One will discuss league-wide trends and include updates on the Samsung Lions, KT Wiz, LG Twins, and SSG Landers. Part Two, which I hope to get published on Monday, will deal with the six remaining teams. Also, don’t forget to check out our expanded KBO stats offering as the season progresses! So without further ado, let’s begin! Read the rest of this entry »

Where Did the Homers Go?

On Monday, I examined the new baseball’s impact on April home run totals. In sum, home runs were down in April 2021 compared to April 2019, with the home run per batted ball rate dropping by roughly 0.45 percentage points, a figure that would result in about an 8% decrease in home runs from ’19 to ’21, under the assumption that hitters receive roughly equal plate appearances in each season. (Due to seven-inning doubleheaders and the new extra inning rules, though, that won’t happen, but it’s still good to compare apples-to-apples to estimate the impact.)

After sharing the article on Twitter, I received an interesting question that I felt merited further discussion: How many of those now-non-homers turn into hits versus outs? That is a fascinating question because it potentially gets to the heart of why MLB dejuiced the baseballs in the first place. Baseball didn’t want to eliminate offense, per se; they just wanted to alter how it is generated, with more balls put into play rather than what they perceived as a recent over-reliance on the long ball. In short, if all of those newly-created non-homers are now other types of hits, then dejuicing the baseball might’ve actually had the impact MLB wanted. If they are now outs, then it’s just going to make life that much harder for batters.

Given the majors’ historically-low batting average this season — once again, I’ll point you to Brendan Gawlowski’s excellent piece on the matter — you can likely guess what happened: Outs are up. Read the rest of this entry »

Phillies Prospect Ethan Lindow Is a Craftsman Who Learned From a Master

Ethan Lindow is low profile at this point in his career. A fifth-round pick four years ago, the 22-year-old southpaw sits humbly at No. 25 on our Philadelphia Phillies Top Prospects list. His lack of stand-up-and-take-notice stuff is largely responsible for his modest ranking. Atypical in an age of high velocity and nasty benders, Lindow is a command artist who attacks hitters with a ho-hum heater and a top-shelf changeup.

The lack of buzz belies his success at the lower levels of the minors. In 211.1 professional innings, Lindow has chewed up batters to the tune of a 2.73 ERA while allowing just 176 hits and 54 free passes. Moreover, the Locust Grove, Georgia native’s ledger includes 220 strikeouts, a noteworthy number given his finesse identity.

A former Phillies prospect now pitching for the Oakland A’s is a comp that came to mind when I spoke to Lindow shortly before he made his Double-A debut with the Reading Fightin Phils. It turned out that it’s someone he’s considered himself.

“He’s a guy I kind of always looked at,” Lindow said of Cole Irvin. “I’d be like, ‘Man, that’s a guy I’d compare myself to.’ I’ve just always been one of those crafty lefties. None of my numbers are going to light up the boards, so I go off my command and movement, and let my defense work.” Read the rest of this entry »

The Dodgers Are in Purgatory

Within the first Dodgers-Cubs game of Tuesday’s doubleheader was one of the worst-executed plays at the plate that I’ve ever seen in a major-league game.

Let’s not even get into the fact that it was the bottom of the third and Clayton Kershaw had given up four runs in the first inning — after which he left the game, in the shortest start of his career. Here, Kyle Hendricks was up to the plate. Not a pitcher known for his slugging capabilities. There were two out, and Dennis Santana was in an ideal position to strand the two baserunners he had allowed.

Instead, he spiked a pitch in front of home plate. It careened off Will Smith’s shin pad, off into oblivion. Another run came scampering home, and as it did, Smith attempted to throw Santana the ball to make a tag. He did this as he was falling backward, twisting on one leg, and it bounced in the dirt in front of Santana, who was not at all ready to make a play at home. It caromed off his leg, over toward the backstop. Santana tried to avoid the obstacle of the runner, but by the time he got to the ball, the second runner had already scored, and there was nobody there to make an attempt at tagging him out. Read the rest of this entry »

FanGraphs Audio: Marly Rivera and Lars Anderson Swap Stories

Episode 921

On this week’s show, we get fun perspectives from a reporter and a former player before an on-the-ground report from the Arizona ballfields.

  • In the first half, David Laurila is joined by Marly Rivera, writer and broadcaster for ESPN, and Lars Anderson, former major leaguer, current music producer, and co-founder of Birdman Bats. The trio discuss Yankee Stadium’s reaction to the return of the Astros, Boston’s reaction to the return of Alex Cora, and how managers like him and Torey Lovullo make you want to play for them. Marly and Lars each share Manny Ramirez and Mariano Rivera anecdotes, before Lars discusses his experience playing in Japan and Australia. Finally, they offer their own professional insights into a few serious clubhouse matters. [2:42]
  • After that, Eric Longenhagen welcomes Bill Mitchell of Baseball America back to the show. Eric and Bill recently wrapped up their look at minor league spring training, and getting back to field was nice. The duo discuss some of the best players they have seen recently, including A’s prospect Tyler Soderstrom (and how to pronounce his name). Eric and Bill also go over the effects of so many minor league players having been out of game action for so long, as well as the impressive velocity spikes they’ve seen seemingly across the board. [42:54]

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