When Lightning Strikes Thrice

The first time I saw a triple play, I was keeping score for one of my brother’s All-Star games. I don’t remember exactly how old I was, but for some reason 14 sounds about right, so let’s go with that. My exact age at the time is less important than the fact that I was old enough to have scored hundreds of baseball games. I had spent countless afternoons at practices with my dad and my brother. I had seen a lot of baseball and I knew enough to be momentarily confused by what had just happened.

The thing about a triple play is that even if you are paying complete attention to the game, there is a really good chance you are going to miss something. Maybe you catch one or two of the outs, but the play develops so quickly that if you are even remotely distracted when the ball is hit, it’s probably going to take a second for your brain to register that an ideal scoring situation for one team has been erased in mere seconds by the other.

You can spend your whole life watching your favorite team and never see them turn a triple play. I’ve been a Cubs fan for over 30 years, and in that time, the Cubs have turned just four triple plays. The only one I caught live was this disputed triple play from 2020, which many people rightly pointed out would have been overturned if the Reds had been able to review it. It was the first triple play the Cubs had turned in 23 years. It’s the only triple play I’ve ever seen them turn in real time and even though it’s on the record books, it didn’t really happen. There is a very real chance I could spend another decade or two waiting to cross “saw the Cubs turn a triple play” off my list. Read the rest of this entry »

Are the Mets Running Out of Rope?

The Mets got a rare bit of good injury news on Wednesday. Marcus Stroman was pulled in the second inning on Tuesday after three pitches due to soreness in his left hip. Given the season the Mets are having in the injury department — there are 13 players on an Injured List as I type this — and really, the seemingly cursed history of the Mets and pitcher injuries, Stroman’s departure caused a lot of worries. But his MRI revealed no damage to the hip that would have resulted in a 14th name on the shelf.

That’s not to say the Mets are out of danger. The same day Stroman tweaked his hip, the team announced that Joey Lucchesi would undergo Tommy John surgery, ending his 2021 (and likely most of his 2022) season, and that Michael Conforto‘s return from the IL would be delayed. Given the team’s dissipating rotation depth, losing two pitchers instead of just one would have been a significant blow. Carlos Carrasco has yet to make his 2021 debut, Noah Syndergaard’s return date was pushed back due to elbow inflammation, and all-galaxy ace Jacob deGrom has had multiple injury scares already this season.

Now, the exercise here isn’t to depth-shame the Mets. In past years, the team had a bad habit of entering the season with interesting five-man rotations and highly worrisome Plans B, C, and D, generally consisting of converting relievers back to starters or leaning on whatever random Quad-A starting pitcher was playing decent ball for Syracuse. The additions of Carrasco, Lucchesi, Taijuan Walker, Jordan Yamamoto, Jerad Eickhoff, and Sam McWilliams provided the team a lot of fallback options on the pitching staff. That’s a notable improvement from a shrug-emoji-or-possibly-Walker-Lockett strategy.

Every team has a point at which they run out of good options. Even teams like the Rays, Dodgers, and Padres would be in dire straits if five starting pitchers suddenly decided to retire and sail around the world or sign with NASA to train full-time for a mission to Mars. The Mets were well-designed to support a number of significant losses, but the limits still exist. And they might have already come up against those limits — players like Johneshwy Fargas, Brandon Drury, and Mason Williams ought to be quite far down the depth charts — if not for the fact that no other team in the division has seized the opportunity. Despite all the injury losses, the rotation exceeding expectations and the division disappointing have been enough for the Mets to only be a single win off from where the preseason ZiPS projections saw them at this point.

ZiPS still projects the Mets as a .563 team going forward, just about where it pegged the club three months ago, and that’s with playing time assumptions in many cases far worse than they were in March. But a four-game lead in the division is not an unassailable position, and outside of not regressing toward the bleak history of Met injury management, there’s not much they can do to prevent a new rash of nasty surprises on that front.

So the question that comes to mind is just how much bad news can the Mets absorb before their postseason positioning proves perilous? Let’s start with updated ZiPS standings as of Thursday morning.

ZiPS Projected Standings – 6/24
Team W L GB Pct Div% WC% Playoff% WS Win%
New York Mets 90 72 .556 75.4% 2.4% 77.8% 7.5%
Atlanta Braves 84 78 6 .519 14.9% 4.4% 19.2% 1.4%
Philadelphia Phillies 81 81 9 .500 5.7% 1.7% 7.4% 0.5%
Washington Nationals 80 82 10 .494 4.0% 1.2% 5.3% 0.3%
Miami Marlins 69 93 21 .426 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0%

The combination of a poor start to the season and both Wild Cards likely being from the NL West (ZiPS sees 2.8 average playoff spots from that division) has probably rendered the Marlins a lost cause for the 2021 season. However, the other three teams remain threats even if the Mets are the deserving favorites at this point. To get an idea of how much margin for error the Mets have, I ran the 2021 rest-of-season simulation repeatedly, with different assumptions for the Mets roster.

When looking at these two graphs (DanGraphs?), the first thing I notice is the direct effect the Giants are having on the playoff race. If the Mets struggle and don’t win the division, they usually fall behind the Giants or Padres. And when the Mets are good enough to win a Wild Card, they usually win the division anyway.

The Mets’ roster is currently about three wins ahead of the highest-leverage point in their win curve. They don’t really start seeing diminishing returns until one or two additional wins on the roster, making a strong case for the team continuing to be aggressive despite their relatively strong position in the division.

Relative to the rest of the league, third base and catcher feature on our depth charts as the team’s weakest spots, making those positions arguably the best places to add wins. That seems unlikely behind the plate; I was never much of a fan of a four-year contract for James McCann, but it doesn’t seem likely the team would make an upgrade here. The rotation is hardly a source of weakness, but I still think that given Syndergaard and Stroman’s status as free-agent-to-be status and deGrom’s injury risk, adding a starting pitcher would be helpful. The Mets should not be panicking at this point, but continuing last winter’s aggression at the trade deadline would be a welcome sight.

Scouting Three Potential First Round Arms

The 2020 draft was instructive to many teams, as it taught them how to scout off data and video since multiple in-person looks were made impossible by the pandemic. And while scouts are back on the road, data and video remain important tools, with some teams giving them the same weight as in-person reports. With access to many of the tools that teams lean on come draft season, I am able to view data and video from nearly every pitch thrown by Division I college arms. So in that spirit, I decided to write up some potential first rounders.

While a great deal of draft coverage when it comes to pitching has focused on Jack Leiter and Kumar Rocker, the two much-lauded Vanderbilt arms, there are somewhere between five and seven college pitchers who could also end up first-round picks and demand some attention. I start today with three of them — two who began the year highly regarded by the industry, and a third who has jumped up on boards considerably this spring.

Ty Madden, RHP, Texas

Statistics: 107.2 IP, 71 H, 7 HR, 41 BB, 129 K

2021 Year in Review: Madden came out strong but had some hiccups in late April and early May as he struggled with his command. He finished the year on a high note, including a 7-4-2-2-2-10 line against Mississippi State in Omaha.

Physical Description: 6-foot-3, 215 pounds. To use the scouting cliché, this is what they look like.

Delivery: Utilizes power frame well. Big kick, good hip tilt and leg drive with on-line landing. Finishes a bit wild with very high back leg coming around and creating big spin to the first base side. Leans into a high (12:30) arm angle that produces very good fastball shape. Read the rest of this entry »

Dan Szymborski FanGraphs Chat – 6/24/21

Avatar Dan Szymborski: CHAT BEING NOW

DAN: Do you think the Giants rotation is going to sustain this success with the substance crackdown and/or escape more injury (such as the yearly Alex Wood 60-day trip)?

Avatar Dan Szymborski: I don’t have a real basis for saying which team will benefit from this really. It’s all an unknown right now

Avatar Dan Szymborski: But the Giants have enough wins bagged that they probably just need to go .500 the rest of the way to make the playoffs

Seth: Has perception of Christian Pache’s FV slipped due to his struggles offensively at the beginning of the season?

Avatar Dan Szymborski: He’s been lousy enough that you *should* think a little worse of him. But not *that* much.

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Mookie Betts Has Been in a Funk

While Yu Darvish carved up the Dodgers on Monday night at Petco Park, Mookie Betts accounted for the team’s only notable gasp of offense, clubbing a third-inning solo homer that accounted for Los Angeles’ only run in six innings against the Padres’ righty, and one of their two hits. The Dodgers trailed 4-0 at the time, and were down 6-1 when Betts had another chance to make an impact. Batting with two outs and the bases loaded in the seventh against Austin Adams, Betts swung at a 2-0 slider high in the zone but managed just a routine fly ball for the third out; the Dodgers went on to lose, 6-2.

It’s been that kind of season for Betts, who has certainly had his moments here and there — his leadoff homer and double play against the Pirates on June 10, for example — but has generally been unable to sustain the type of magic that he generated in his first year as a Dodger. Acquired from the Red Sox in February 2020 and subsequently signed to a 12-year, $356 million deal, Betts helped spur the team to its first championship in 32 years with his offensive, defensive and baserunning contributions; indeed, his postseason work was a tour de force. This year, the 28-year-old right fielder has battled minor injuries and has yet to go on any kind of sustained hot streak. Read the rest of this entry »

When 92 Is Actually 95: Bailey Falter’s Extension Adds Meaningful Velocity

What if I told you that there is a pitcher who throws 92 mph but is actually throwing 95? That’s just Bailey Falter’s niche. Despite only throwing nine major league innings in his career to date, Falter has already shot to the top of some important leaderboards: release extension and average velocity added.

Here are the top-10 fastballs in June, sorted not by average velocity, but instead by average added velocity, which is the result of simple subtraction: effective velocity minus release speed. Effective velocity estimates the “actual” pitch speed the hitter faces based on where the pitcher releases the baseball and how much time the hitter has to react. If a pitcher releases the ball closer to home plate, the batter has less time to react, effectively (there’s that word again) making the pitch come in faster. This is music to Falter’s ears:

Top-10 Fastballs by Added Velocity, June
Player Pitch Type Release Speed Effective Velocity Difference
Edwin Díaz FF 99.5 103.3 3.8
Garrett Whitlock SI 94.6 98.2 3.6
Bailey Falter FF 94.1 97.5 3.4
Logan Gilbert FF 93.3 96.7 3.4
Tyler Glasnow FF 95.9 99.3 3.4
Bailey Falter SI 93.6 96.9 3.3
Bailey Falter FF 92.6 95.9 3.3
Bailey Falter SI 90.0 93.3 3.3
Bailey Falter SI 92.5 95.7 3.2
Logan Gilbert FF 96.7 99.9 3.2
SOURCE: Baseball Savant

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What Hard-Hit Foul Balls Might Tell Us

We’re now five years into the Statcast era, and with that has come a good base of knowledge and an understanding of what small sample events are significant or beyond noise. Alex Chamberlain recently provided a wonderful example of this type of analysis; I encourage you to read that to get a feel for what I’m going to be talking about. But where Alex and Connor Kurcon covered the values of hard-hit balls at extreme launch angles and extreme exit velocity at given pitch speeds, I want to cover foul balls and what we can — or maybe can’t — learn at the extremes.

Any quick look at the Statcast leaderboard will show you that Yermín Mercedes has a max exit velocity of 116.8 mph, good for ninth best in baseball this year. That’s an incredible feat for any player, but what criteria do we want to set when determining a max? We’re ultimately seeking to measure raw power output, so maybe we should be more inclusive to all batted ball events. If we include foul balls, Mercedes would suddenly have the sixth-highest max exit velocity in baseball at 117.7 mph.

I encourage you to listen to that clip with sound, because the play-by-play commentary is all we have as to where the ball landed.

That 0.9-mph jump might not mean much, but there’s more to it once you consider both the rarity of the batted ball and the fact that we have a number on it in the first place. There’s a wide acceptance of all stats derived solely from launch angle and exit velocity, but you should consider the importance of spray angle. In the same way that both Alex and Connor talked about abnormal exit velocities in the context of a pitch speed or launch angle, something similar should be noted when thinking about the spray of the ball.

To understand this relationship, it’s important to see the spray angle at which each player generates their max EV:

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Why Teams Wait To Make Trades

Completing a trade before July — a real player-for-player deal that improves one’s playoff chances or prospect depth — can be exceptionally difficult. Sometimes the stars align, as they did in late May when the Rays sent Willy Adames to the Brewers in a deal that included three relievers swapping jerseys, but for the most part, things are quiet until the final weeks before the deadline.

That’s despite the fact that it makes sense for teams to address their needs early. An acquisition to help a team get into the playoffs has a much greater impact if he’s on the roster for 90 games instead of 60; you don’t need to be a quant genius to tell you that’s 50% more games. Buyers want to address their needs yesterday, and obvious sellers have players available immediately. For most, however, the waiting game just makes good business sense in terms of market dynamics. And there’s a new wrinkle to this year’s market that clubs are still figuring out how to navigate — one that will surely add to the delays in getting that stove truly hot.

Why Buyers Wait

Teams looking to make a playoff push are waiting for the market to expand. Depending on how you look at it, there are only six to eight obvious sellers right now, and many of them don’t have much of interest on the available menu. There are an equal amount of teams on the bubble in late June, and these are teams with better rosters full of plenty of players that winning clubs would like to have. The Cubs and Giants, who were seen as two of those bubble teams entering the year, are loaded with excellent players on expiring contracts, but at this point, they’re buyers.

But even with those options off the table, there are plenty of very good players who are not available today but might be two to four weeks from now. What if the Angels go cold and are suddenly willing to talk about Alex Cobb and Andrew Heaney? Are there scenarios where another losing streak for the Nationals makes (gulp) Max Scherzer available?

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Raisel Iglesias, Lefty (and Righty) Specialist

Do you know the pitcher with the highest swinging-strike rate in all of baseball this year? Well, it’s Jacob deGrom, no surprises there; it’s such an obvious answer that I probably didn’t need to ask. But do you know the pitcher with the second-highest swinging-strike rate? It’s Raisel Iglesias, and the Angels’ closer has been impressive so far this season, even if his run prevention numbers don’t quite show it yet.

If I could see only one pitching statistic, I’d choose swinging-strike rate. That’s not to say that nothing else matters; that’s decidedly not the case, and there are easy examples of both pitchers who miss bats but aren’t effective and pitchers who are effective without missing bats. But as a first pass, swinging strikes are great. Everything else is contextual. Called strike? That’s because the batter didn’t swing. Foul? It’s not always worth a strike. Groundball? The batter could hit it through the defense or find a gap. A swing and miss is absolute.

You probably don’t need to hear that. Whiffs have been the premium currency of pitching for a long time, long before we had the pitch-level data to track them accurately. I merely thought I’d mention it, because wow does Iglesias miss a lot of bats.

Most closers operate with a common template. Throw a really good fastball — a really good fastball — and spot an unhittable secondary pitch off of it. It’s not always about velocity, though it often is. But it’s almost always about a fastball and one pitch spotted off of it — a guessing game for the hitter with two bad answers.

Iglesias is that pitcher, kind of. Against righties, he relies on a four-seam fastball and a devastating slider. He mixes in a smattering of two-seamers and changeups, but mostly for show; more than 80% of his pitches are fastballs or sliders. Against lefties, Iglesias also relies on two pitches: his fastball and changeup. He throws each of them roughly 40% of the time, with sinkers and sliders comprising the remainder of his offerings.
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Why Tyler Glasnow Can Be a Voice That Baseball Needs

We talk a lot about the “face” of baseball — a player who has the look, the excitement, the highlight reel, the things that make them an ideal candidate to be a poster child for the game. “Here,” we say, to would-be fans. “This is what you’re getting when you start to watch that sport.” It could be Bryce Harper with his GIF-worthy hair tosses, or Aaron Judge with his giant frame and home runs. It could be Mookie Betts or Mike Trout, whose talents defy generational lines and who we will likely be talking about for decades after they retire.

As baseball faces go, there are lots of options, even if it feels like no one can agree on them or decide who would be the best candidate to usher in a new generation of fans. Whose poster would these kids want on their walls? Whose stance would they most likely emulate in Little League games? Which superstar can surpass the limitations of team fandom to become beloved by all? It’s a tough request to fulfill, and that’s likely why there are no firm answers.

In recent months, I’ve begun to wonder if what baseball needs is a face at all. Perhaps what baseball needs instead is a voice.

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