Effectively Wild Episode 1725: Jerry Built

EWFI
Ben Lindbergh and Meg Rowley banter about the Padres trading for Adam Frazier and other pre-deadline activity, Joey Votto’s offensive resurgence, Shohei Ohtani’s dirty uniform, and more, then react in real time to the Mariners surprisingly trading Kendall Graveman to the Astros for Abraham Toro. They also answer listener emails about adding a pitcher/DH position, bringing back unlimited two-strike foul bunts to combat the shift, trading catchers at the deadline, the possibility of pitchers, not catchers, calling pitches, and enjoying baseball via stats alone. After that, they do a “Meet a Major Leaguer” segment on two rookies recently traded to the Pirates, Hoy Park and Tucupita Marcano, and share a Stat Blast on Merrill Kelly and the longest team streaks in which the only wins were in starts by one pitcher (plus postscripts on trades, pulling the goalie, cycles, and more).

Audio intro: The Pretty Things, "Joey"
Audio outro: Lana Del Rey, "Mariners Apartment Complex"

Link to Dan Szymborski on the Frazier trade
Link to latest Ohtani two-way outing
Link to story on the “phantom DH”
Link to story on electronic pitch-calling
Link to The Hidden Language of Baseball
Link to story on Maddux pitch-calling
Link to Gallo shift before two strikes
Link to Gallo shift with two strikes
Link to story on the two-strike bunt rule
Link to Travis Sawchik on foul balls
Link to story on Marcano
Link to Stat Blast data
Link to Ryan Divish on the Mariners’ reaction
Link to story on Piniella’s “cycle”
Link to tweet about Kepler
Link to Facebook thread on cycles and no-nos
Link to Mary Shane podcast

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Chris Taylor Puts the Super in Superutilityman

On Tuesday, July 20, Chris Taylor led off the bottom of the first inning with a double off the Giants’ Alex Wood. But he was still hungry, so he homered twice and drew a walk later in the same game.

On Wednesday, Chris Taylor led off the bottom of the first inning with a homer off the Giants’ Logan Webb. But he was still hungry, so he later singled off Webb.

On Thursday, Chris Taylor led off the bottom of the first inning with a single off the Giants Anthony DeSclafani. But he was still hungry.

On Friday, Chris Taylor led off the bottom of the first inning with a double off the Rockies’ Chi Chi González. But he was still hungry, so he later singled off Daniel Bard.

On Saturday, Chris Taylor led off the bottom of the first inning with a single off the Rockies’ Kyle Freeland. But he was still hungry. Read the rest of this entry »


Alex Reyes and Accepting High-Leverage Walks

On July 20, the Cardinals dropped a game to the Cubs despite going into the ninth inning with a 6–1 lead. Based on Greg Stoll’s win expectancy calculator, when the home team is winning by five runs in the top of the ninth, that’s a victory 99.7% of the time. The Cardinals acted accordingly, bringing in veteran journeyman Luis Garcia for his 2021 debut. This was mop-up duty … until it was not.

Garcia struck out Patrick Wisdom to start the inning, but he was able to reach first base on a dropped third strike. Nico Hoerner followed Wisdom with a single, and Jake Marisnick walked. The odds were still in the Cardinals’ favor; the win expectancy calculator gives the home team in this spot (up five, no outs and the bases loaded) a 97.2% chance of pulling it out. Nevertheless, manager Mike Shildt felt the heat enough to bring in his closer, Alex Reyes. But things did not go as planned. Reyes went walk, strikeout, walk, single, double; a 6–1 lead had turned into a 7–6 deficit in the blink of an eye.

The double did the most damage, but the walks are a theme with Reyes. The surface-level numbers are fantastic; dig one step deeper, and things look a little concerning. On the season, he has posted a 29.3% strikeout rate but also a 19.2% walk rate, leading to a 1.38 WHIP (league average is 1.29) and a 1.53 K/BB ratio that’s about 41% worse than the average pitcher. Reyes’ FIP is 3.68 despite the issues with walks, a testament to his strikeout prowess (led by a slider, curveball, and changeup that generate whiff rates of 46.4%, 57.9%, and 40.0%, respectively, per Baseball Savant) and his ability to induce groundballs with his bowling-ball sinker.

Still though, that walk rate is an issue, but what I want to do here is assuage some of the concerns and help reinforce a point made by Baseball Prospectus’ Jonathan Judge on Twitter just last week: that often a walk or hit-by-pitch is the next best outcome after a strikeout (compared to a ball in play). He noted that while Reyes is toeing the proverbial walk rate line, he has the tools to make that extreme profile work, especially with his ability to generate groundballs with his sinker.

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Fire Up the Machine: How Teams Are Teaching Hitting in a Pitcher’s World

We often hear about how pitchers are overmatching hitters these days, and with good reason. In the last 10 years, teams have discovered how to develop velocity at scale. After generations of going by feel and repetition, pitchers now lean on sophisticated tools and technology to burnish their arsenals and optimize their spin profile. Catchers have chipped in too, turning subtle positional and glovework adjustments into an avalanche of additional strikes on balls near the edges of the plate.

Hitters, meanwhile, spent the decade trying to play catch up. Strikeouts have climbed 5% in the past 10 years. Alongside, the league batting average has plummeted from .251 down into the .230s over that span. An industry-wide emphasis on steeper swing planes did fuel a surge in home runs, but even these gains are somewhat superficial, buoyed as they are by the juiced ball. Even with the recent crackdown on sticky substances, pitchers remain dominant.

Nobody ever stays ahead for too long in baseball though, and if you turn toward the farm, there are signs of life on the offensive side of the game. They’re not necessarily reflected in the numbers — most minor league circuits have more strikeouts and fewer dingers than the majors — but league stats bely real differences in how teams and hitters are preparing for battle against a modern pitcher’s arsenal. These gains are not spread equally across the league. Rather, the clubs that have most successfully invested time and resources into combatting high-spin fastballs at the top of the zone and a steady diet of breaking balls everywhere else have pulled ahead from the pack.

It starts in practice. The days of a coach lobbing BP from 40 feet away two hours before a game aren’t gone exactly, but progressive teams are increasingly finding better ways to develop hitters than a traditional batting practice session. The pitching machine, long out of favor among hitters at all levels of baseball, has become a vital part of a modern training regimen. Read the rest of this entry »


A’s Acquire Reliever, Like Always

It’s July, which means the A’s are trading to improve their bullpen. Whether it’s Jake Diekman, Mike Minor, Jeurys Familia, or any of a seemingly unending number of other moves, they always seem to find an arm they can bring in to redo their leverage roadmap and provide a little extra playoff oomph. Last night, they acquired Andrew Chafin in exchange for Greg Deichmann, Daniel Palencia, and cash, as MLB.com’s Mark Feinsand first reported.

Chafin has been downright spectacular this year. In 39.1 innings, he’s allowed only nine runs, good for a 2.06 ERA. He’s done so by limiting home runs; he’s only given up one all year, and while that’s unlikely to persist, he does plenty of things right that should continue to limit homers. He gets grounders, with a 50% groundball rate so far this year. He’s limited hard contact, too: opponents have barreled up only 5.1% of their batted balls and have hit only 32.3% of them 95 mph or harder.

Do those two things, and homers are harder to come by. Baseball Savant’s xHR, which is a descriptive estimate of home runs based on contact quality, thinks Chapin “should” have allowed only 1.1 dingers so far this year. That doesn’t mean it will keep happening — it’s based on the actual contact allowed, which is volatile — but it’s a good sign that he hasn’t given up 20 warning track blasts or anything of that nature.
Read the rest of this entry »


FanGraphs Power Rankings: Trade Deadline Edition

The July 30 trade deadline is just days away, making this week the last opportunity for teams in the middle of the postseason hunt to improve their roster. Most of the true contenders are simply looking to solidify their rosters for the playoffs but there are a handful of surprising clubs that are still on the bubble between buying and selling.

A quick refresher: my approach takes the three most important components of a team — their offense (wRC+), and their starting rotation and bullpen (50%/50% FIP- and RA9-) — and combines them to create an overall team quality metric. I add in a factor for “luck” — adjusting based on a team’s expected win-loss record — to produce a power ranking. All of the below stats are through July 25.

Tier 1 – The Best
Team Record “Luck” wRC+ SP- RP- Team Quality Playoff Odds Δ
Giants 62-37 -1 108 86 93 163 ↗ 94.3% 0
White Sox 59-40 -3 111 81 97 172 ↘ 99.2% 1
Dodgers 61-40 -5 110 82 99 162 ↘ 99.4% -1
Astros 61-39 -4 117 86 105 144 ↗ 97.6% 0
Rays 60-40 0 103 96 84 153 ↗ 86.1% 1
Red Sox 61-39 4 104 94 90 155 ↗ 94.7% -1

The Giants have had an up-and-down start to the second half. They lost a pair of series to the Pirates and Cardinals but won three of four against their biggest rivals, the Dodgers. They still hold the best record in baseball and are the only team on pace to win more than 100 games this year. They face a stiff challenge this week as they host the Dodgers and the Astros.

Meanwhile, Los Angeles is powering through a bunch of bad injury luck. They were fortunate to face the Rockies six times in the past two weeks, with four wins against Colorado helping offset the three losses they suffered against the Giants. On Saturday, they rolled out a lineup that looked more like a spring training split squad than the team that’s scored the most runs per game in the National League — Albert Pujols was slotted in at cleanup, followed by light-hitting catcher Austin Barnes, with a handful of other depth pieces getting starts too. Gavin Lux has been sidelined since the All-Star break and Mookie Betts hit the Injured List Sunday, though Corey Seager could be making his return soon. Luckily, Chris Taylor has nearly single-handedly powered their offense, blasting five home runs last week. Read the rest of this entry »


The Pirates Plunder Yankees Infield Depth in Clay Holmes Trade

Depending on how one frames Monday’s Yankees and Pirates swap of reliever Clay Holmes for upper-level minor leaguers Hoy Park and Diego Castillo, it can look pretty rough. Holmes, who is out of options, is walking over five per 9 IP and has an ERA just a shade under 5.00 in a middle relief role for one of the worst teams in baseball, while Park and Castillo are annihilating the upper levels of the minors and play valuable defensive positions. But even though my shoot-from-the-hip reaction to this deal was that the Yankees took a bit of a bath because I think Castillo has the most long-term upside of the players exchanged, there are indications that Holmes is better than his superficial stats and really special in a few ways. There are also minor league roster dynamics at play for New York that make parting with these two middle infielders more palatable.

But let’s start with Holmes since he’s the one most likely to play an immediate big league role in the Bronx pressure cooker. He owns the highest groundball rate in baseball at 72.8%. It’s well above Holmes’ career rates, but he’s also experienced a 3 mph uptick in velocity to his fastball, cutter and curveball. For a pitcher generating a league-leading rate of groundballs, his HR/FB rate, a whopping 18.8%, feels unusually high and seems likely to regress to his career mean or below, considering how sinkery his improved, harder fastball is playing. It’s part of why his FIP and xERA are at least a run below his ERA to this point.

Holmes has also had a shift in his pitch deployment, as his cutter/slider has taken precedent over his curve. The combination of repertoire alteration, newfound arm strength, and rust (Holmes barely threw in 2020 due to a foot fracture and a forearm strain) may be contributing to that poor control. Holmes’ walk rates (15% career, 13% this year) are troubling, though he’s slowly improved in that regard every season of his career. The Yankees are walking a tight rope here. Holmes is out of options and he had forearm trouble last year (he’s about a half decade removed from a 2014 Tommy John). He’s a little wild. He’s also superlative in a particular sense and joining a team that has been one of the best at developing pitchers in the last five years. Read the rest of this entry »


Connor Brogdon, Garrett Whitlock, and Cade Cavalli on Learning and Developing Their Changeups

The Learning and Developing a Pitch series returned last month after being on hiatus due to the pandemic. Each week, we’ll hear from three pitchers on a notable weapon in their arsenal. Today’s installment focuses on changeups and features a pair of big-league relievers — Connor Brogdon and Garrett Whitlock — as well as Cade Cavalli, the top pitching prospect in the Washington Nationals system.

———

Connor Brogdon, Philadelphia Phillies

“A changeup was the first off-speed pitch I ever learned. It was… shoot, I was probably eight or 10 years old. When I was growing up, you weren’t taught to throw a curveball too early in your life. Mine was just a straight circle change, basically right off the grip of my four-seam fastball.

“I had the same grip all the way through Little League, and even into high school. When I got to college, I started messing around with grips to see if I could throw it for a strike more consistently. I ended up talking to one of my teammates at Lewis Clark State College, Henry McAree, and picked his brain on some things.

“I finally settled on a grip that felt comfortable to me, then took some of his tips. One was to lay on your back and flip the ball up in the air, focusing on turning your wrist. By that, I mean physically taking a baseball, laying on the ground, or on a bed, and just flipping it up into the air, seeing the rotation of the ball and focusing on pronating your wrist to get that action — kind of that side-spin action you want to get. Read the rest of this entry »


Padres Snag Adam Frazier as They Make an NL West Push

Slowly falling behind in the divisional race, the Padres shook up their roster on Sunday, acquiring second baseman Adam Frazier from the Pirates. Frazier, under team control until the end of the 2022 season, is having easily the best season of his career, hitting .324/.388/.448 for a 130 wRC+ and 2.9 WAR. Except for the slugging percentage, all of these numbers are career-bests for the 29-year-old; that WAR figure was a new personal high before the All-Star Game was even played. Heading to Pittsburgh are three players: infielder Tucupita Marcano, outfielder Jack Suwinski, and right-handed reliever Michell Miliano.

Despite the fact that they’re 5 1/2 games out and behind two teams in the NL West as of Monday morning, it would be a gross exaggeration to call the 2021 season a disappointing one for the Padres. After all, they’re on pace for 92 wins, with the fifth-best run differential in the majors. The problem is that half of the teams with better run differentials also play in the NL West. That gauntlet essentially puts the Padres, Giants, and Dodgers into an “extra” grueling round of playoffs, with two of the three teams likely to be pushed into a single-elimination game after the regular season.

As of now, the Padres are a clear underdog, with a projected divisional probability that has faded from the 43.5% in the preseason, when it was expected to be a two-team race, to 11.2% before taking into account this trade. They aren’t in even remote danger of missing the playoffs — for now — but they certainly have an obvious preference for getting a free pass to the best-of-five Divisional Series, which basically doubles their chances of collecting the franchise’s first-ever World Series championship.

2021 ZiPS Projected Standings – NL West
Team W L GB Pct Div% WC% Playoff% WS Win% #1 Pick
Los Angeles Dodgers 96 66 .593 57.9% 41.0% 99.0% 12.1% 0.0%
San Francisco Giants 94 68 2 .580 25.2% 69.4% 94.6% 7.8% 0.0%
San Diego Padres 93 69 3 .574 16.9% 75.0% 91.9% 6.5% 0.0%
Colorado Rockies 69 93 27 .426 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.1%
Arizona Diamondbacks 56 106 40 .346 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 61.5%

With Frazier on board, the Padres’ divisional probability bumps to 16.9%. This is projected to be a photo finish, so each win is quite important! But what will that role be?

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Ben Clemens FanGraphs Chat – 7/26/21

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