Effectively Wild Episode 1520: Rough Draft

Ben Lindbergh and Meg Rowley banter about the benefits, uncertainties, and downsides of the deal between MLB and the MLBPA to sort out salary and service time in the event of a shortened or canceled season, whether and how a social distancing-approved version of baseball could be played while maintaining a six-foot minimum distance between players and other personnel, how a shortened season would affect the Dodgers’ return in the Mookie Betts trade, a commercial in which Johnny Bench holds seven hamburgers, and baseball jerseys being turned into gowns and masks, then (50:39) talk to FanGraphs lead prospect analyst Eric Longenhagen about the new labor agreement’s implications for domestic and international amateur players, minor leaguers, the draft, player development, and scouting, as well as his upcoming book (plus a postscript on the late Jim Wynn).

Audio intro: Sloan, "Essential Services"
Audio interstitial: Blur, "No Distance Left to Run"
Audio outro: Nada Surf, "Amateur"

Link to Rosenthal and Drellich on the MLB-MLBPA deal
Link to Jay Jaffe on the MLB-MLBPA deal
Link to Eric on the MLB-MLBPA deal
Link to Bench commercial
Link to other Bench commercials
Link to article about Fanatics masks and gowns
Link to Eric on data and player development
Link to B-Ref draft
Link to order Future Value
Link to order The MVP Machine

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How the Cleveland Indians’ Lineup Dynasty Was Assembled

There’s never really a bad time to “remember some guys,” but with baseball’s return date still up in the air, now seemed like an especially good moment to geek out on some of the best lineups of the past few decades, with a focus on how the groups were assembled. I initially wanted to create a “Top 10 of the Decade” series that would include rankings that were well-balanced between both leagues. But after running the numbers for lineups in the 1990s, I found that the majority of the best lineups were concentrated in the same few teams, mostly led by a core group of hitters performing at an elite level over the course of multiple seasons. The 1998 Houston Astros were the lone National League team that even managed to crack the Top 10 in wOBA, wRC+, or offensive WAR.

Not only did I determine that it would be tricky to rank them relative to each other, it also became clear that one team — the Cleveland Indians — stood out over the rest. Not for one particular season, but for an eight-year run of dominance that began in 1994 and continued into the following decade.

Cleveland’s pitching staffs were typically very good during this period, but the offensive firepower was really something to behold. As I walk you through how these lineups came together, you’ll recognize some Hall of Famers, maybe another future Hall of Famer or two, and a lot of other very good players.

By the time John Hart was promoted to general manager in September 1991, many of the players who would eventually become a core part of the team’s great lineups were either in the minor leagues or just getting their feet wet in the majors. But he certainly had his hand in maintaining the group’s dominance by consistently pulling the right strings when it came to trades and free agency.

Heading into the 1994 season, the Indians were trying to avoid their eighth consecutive losing season. They hadn’t been to the playoffs since 1954, when they lost the World Series in a four-game sweep by the New York Giants. But just as the tides turned for Cleveland in the fictional Major League, which first appeared in movie theaters in 1989, things were about to turn around in real life, too.

While they would fall short during the strike-shortened season — they were 19 games over .500 and one game within the first place Chicago White Sox when the season was called off — the Indians were finally done being a laughingstock around the league. They would go on to win the division in six of the next seven seasons while reaching the World Series in 1995 and 1997. It’s a shame that a team this good could not bring home a championship. A note on the below: overall league rankings are listed in parentheses next to the year.  Read the rest of this entry »

COVID-19 Roundup: A Labor Deal Is Finalized

This is the latest installment of a daily series in which the FanGraphs staff rounds up the latest developments regarding the COVID-19 virus’ effect on baseball.

Yesterday, the United States overtook China and Italy in terms of the total number of confirmed COVID-19 cases, becoming the world leader. While there are over 82,000 confirmed cases, the true number of infections in the U.S. continues to be underreported due to testing deficiencies. As the U.S. domestic situation continues to worsen, things are seemingly under better control in parts of Asia. A locally transmitted infection was reported for the first time in three days in China, and the country’s government has decided to bar the entry of foreign citizens in a continued effort to combat the spread of the virus. It highlights a stark difference in the response to this crisis by the two countries.

A Deal Is Reached Between MLB and the Players Association

With much of the baseball world watching the classic games included as part of the Opening Day at Home festivities, MLB and the MLBPA continued negotiations over what to do in the event of a cancelled season, with a deal reportedly reached in the afternoon:

Read the rest of this entry »

Eric Longenhagen Chat: 3/27/20

Eric A Longenhagen: Howdy from Tempe. I’ve got a busy day today so I’m gonna keep this to the 45-60min territory. Hope you’re all hanging in there, executing your scientific, humanitarian and patriotic duty of social distancing relatively free of mental imbalance.

Noah: Do you have an I-Love-You-Even-Though-You-Always-Hurt-Me prospect?

Eric A Longenhagen: I assume it’ll be Monte Harrison when all is said and done

Andrew: If there is a minor league “season”, would it be played at spring training sites?

Eric A Longenhagen: I have no idea. If I did I’d report it in a way that fed my ego and sense of self importance and you’d already have heard about it.

Old guy: A few weeks ago you mentioned wishing you could have seen Barry Bonds at ASU. I got that chance during a college visit. Incredible physically. Obviously stood out even on a quality college team. 80 grade arrogance. Warmed up apart from the rest of the team. Legendary coach Brock called everyone in, and everyone but Bonds hustled over. Bonds kept playing catch with a ball boy and later sauntered in when he felt like it.

Read the rest of this entry »

MLB and the Union Hammer Out a Deal and Hunker Down in the Face of the Unknown

Major League Baseball and the Major League Baseball Players Association have spent the past few weeks working through a long list of issues brought about by the coronavirus pandemic-driven delay to the 2020 regular season. On Thursday night — on what would have been Opening Day — the two sides announced a deal that settles several key questions that have hung in the balance since MLB postponed the start of the season. In general, the deal gives the league a great deal of flexibility in its attempt to salvage as much of the season as is feasible, and protects the players against the possibility that the season could be canceled entirely by addressing the thorny question of service time. However, it not only sells out amateur players with regards to this year’s draft and international signing period, it does so in ways that hint at more permanent and controversial changes sought by the league, such as a contraction of the minors and the institution of an international draft.

Despite the often-contentious relationship between the union and the league in drawing up the battle lines related to the next Collective Bargaining Agreement (the current one expires following the 2021 season), this deal represents an effort by both sides to avoid prolonged public bickering over billions of dollars in the face of an international crisis. Each side made key compromises that will leave some parties unhappy. The union voted to accept the deal on Thursday, and the owners ratified it via a conference call on Friday. With the ratification, a roster freeze is now in effect, barring teams from signing free agents and making trades, waiver moves, minor league assignments, et cetera, until both sides agree such transactions can resume. Towards that end, on Thursday dozens of players were optioned to the minors.

Per the deal, whose details were first reported by ESPN’s Jeff Passan and additionally fleshed out by the Associated Press, The Athletic, and the New York Post, MLB will advance the players $170 million in salary for April and May. At this point, it’s a virtual certainty that no games will be played during those months so long as the league adheres to the Center for Disease Control’s guidelines, which called for the cancellation or postponement of events consisting of 50 or more people through at least May 10. That best-case scenario, which may be a pipe dream given that the U.S. has now overtaken China in terms of the most confirmed cases of COVID-19 infections and is on an ominous trajectory as far as its further spread, would allow for a three-week resumption of spring training and the start of the season in June. Read the rest of this entry »

Boston’s Tim Hyers Talks Hitting

Tim Hyers has emerged as one of the game’s most respected hitting coaches. His resume speaks for itself. As Boston’s minor league hitting coordinator from 2013-2015, Hyers helped hone the skills of players like Mookie Betts, Xander Bogaerts, and Rafael Devers. He then moved on to Los Angeles, where he was the assistant hitting coach for division-winning Dodgers teams in 2016 and 2017. Since returning to the Red Sox as their hitting coach prior to the 2018 season, the 48-year-old Georgia native has seen the club score the second-most runs in baseball. Moreover, he’s played a key role in the emergence of Betts, Bogaerts, and Devers as bona fide offensive machines.

Hyers discussed his hitting philosophies, and the strides made by multiple Red Sox hitters, late in the 2019 season.


David Laurila: Is there such a thing as a Red Sox hitting philosophy?

Tim Hyers: “Yes. I think all hitters are different. I really do. That said, the Red Sox hitting philosophy is pitch selection, game planning, and mechanics. If we don’t dominate the strike zone, if we don’t have a good plan, if we don’t have solid mechanics — then we’re going to run into trouble. Every at-bat, those three things come into play.”

Laurila: The Red Sox probably aren’t different from most teams in that respect…

Hyers: “No. Teams are pretty similar. But when you’re talking about those basics, how do you peel back the layers? What is getting to the player? How is the player consuming the information? How is he buying into the importance of those three things?

“The mechanical realm is probably the one that can go in many different directions, depending on what organization you talk to, or what hitter you talk to. I really believe every hitter is different, but they also do similar things. How they go about them is what’s different.”

Laurila: You were in the organization [from 2013-2015], then came back [in November 2017]. Is the mechanical realm approached differently now than it was in your first go-round? Read the rest of this entry »

We’re Managing the (Fake) Brewers!

Good news, everyone! Our crowd-managed Brewers have started the season. Not well! Not well at all! But they’ve started the season. Game 1 was an absolute blowout; the Cubs put up 14 on the Brewers, including five runs against Josh Hader (on three walks, a hit by pitch, and a grand slam by Javy Báez). Our batters weren’t up to the task, scoring only three runs. Yu Darvish went eight innings and struck out 10 Brewers.

One game isn’t enough to say anything about this team, but it was an ugly one. Christian Yelich, Justin Smoak, and Avisaíl García all went hitless, and the team didn’t put enough pressure on Darvish to even make any interesting baserunning decisions. The pitching staff walked 10 and hit three while striking out only four Cubs, a desultory performance to match the offense’s slow start.

But it’s just one game. It’s time to start thinking about the rest of the season. First, let’s review the decisions we made last time. We had a few management sliders to move. You voted for aggressive baserunning, frequent infield shifts, and quick pitching hooks. The only place where there was a confusing result was on pinch hitting, where slightly aggressive pinch hitting was first, slightly conservative pinch hitting was a narrow second, and neutral tendencies came in third. I decided to resolve this by leaving pinch hitting pretty much middle of the road. Read the rest of this entry »

In the Time of COVID-19, Sweeping Changes Are Made to the Amateur Draft

Among the many significant repercussions of yesterday’s agreement between the MLBPA and MLB in response to the global COVID-19 pandemic were alterations to the amateur talent acquisition processes, changes that will have both immediate and long-term effects on all stakeholders (owners, players, people in scouting, agents, college coaches and staff, international trainers, etc.) in that arena. Last night, after the details of the agreement were reported by Jeff Passan of ESPN and Ken Rosenthal and Evan Drellich of The Athletic, I spoke with several of those stakeholders for their immediate thoughts and reactions.

The splashy news, and the detail of yesterday’s agreement that will impact team personnel and the player population soonest, is the soft rescheduling of the 2020 draft — the specific date will be determined by MLB, but it will occur by “late-July” — and the straight razor shave it was given by the owners and player’s union, cutting the 2020 draft to five rounds with the option to trim the 2021 draft to 20 rounds, down from the usual 40. MLB can choose to add rounds to the draft if they wish, and a few people in scouting told me they thought it was a real possibility that MLB will, though there’s no clear financial incentive for them to do so.

MLB can also delay the start of the 2020-2021 international signing period, which typically begins on July 2, to as late as January 2021, and can also push the following period by six months so that it spans the 2022 calendar.

While these developments raise some obvious other questions (such as if and where 35 rounds worth of players end up playing baseball again), the two most significant conclusions drawn by many of my sources in baseball were that the trimming of the draft is a convenient opportunity for MLB to shed rostered players in advance of minor league contraction, and that the new flexible start date for the IFA period is another precursor to an international draft.

The seemingly imminent affiliate contractions means teams will soon need fewer minor leaguers, and cost-conscious MLB, ever seeking to save money where it can, is taking what industry people consider a shrewd and opportunistic approach to the culling of minor league rosters at a time when there’s a convenient pseudo-reason to do it now that their 2020 revenues have been dashed by a pandemic. Why draft and sign 40 rounds worth of players who may not play this summer because of a global health crisis when many will be released next spring after a significant portion of the minor leagues is contracted? Read the rest of this entry »

Pitch Design: An Idea to Improve Jesus Luzardo’s Swinging Strike Rate

A pitcher’s swinging strike rate is one of the better measures of how well they are performing. It correlates well to their overall strikeout rate, and is one of the three gold standards I use (along with other methods) to evaluate a pitcher as a whole, in conjunction with O-Swing% (how often a hitter chases) and Z-Contact% (how little hitters make contact with pitches in the zone).

SwStr% can be used to inspect the effectiveness of either an entire arsenal or an individual pitch, and is a strong indicator of how good a pitcher’s “stuff” is. As such, an increased SwStr% is a desirable outcome for a pitcher. Obviously, some pitching styles don’t lend themselves to missing bats, and instead are good for timing disruption and/or weak contact.

One pitcher who fits the mold of a bat-misser is the young lefty prospect from the Oakland Athletics, Jesus Luzardo.

With a minuscule sample of just six games in 2019, amounting to 12 innings pitched, Luzardo had a strikeout rate of 34% (versus a 6.5% walk rate), and held hitters to a .119 batting average with an 0.67 WHIP while posting a 2.36 FIP (1.50 ERA). Luzardo was pretty good during the American League Wild Card game as well. Back in October against the Tampa Bay Rays, he pitched three innings, allowing one hit and two walks while striking out four. Read the rest of this entry »

Craig Edwards FanGraphs Chat – 3/26/2020

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