How Careful Should the Mets Be With Jacob deGrom in October?

Jacob deGrom
Robert Edwards-USA TODAY Sports

The Mets are the current World Series favorites, with 17.7% odds of winning a championship, according to ZiPS. They have a 76.4% chance of earning a first-round bye through capturing the NL East and a starting rotation fronted by Max Scherzer and Jacob deGrom. In an ideal world, Scherzer and deGrom would pitch every postseason inning, with the occasional Edwin Díaz appearance sprinkled in, because that song with the trumpet is quite a lot of fun.

Unfortunately, people are frail. They’re full of oddly shaped parts that break and swell and stiffen and rupture. Starting pitchers are more susceptible than most. They’re the four-note motif at the beginning of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony: They come out guns blazing and then need a nice, long break before they’re ready to think about doing it again. Read the rest of this entry »

The Qu-eye-et Brilliance of Brendan Donovan

© Katie Stratman-USA TODAY Sports

This is Alex’s first piece as a FanGraphs contributor. Alex is a recent honors graduate of Vassar College, where he served as the sports and senior editor of the award-winning Miscellany News. He has also written for PitcherList and Sports Info Solutions, the latter of which he video-scouted for as well. His main interest lies in cognitive psychology, a woefully under-studied area of baseball research. For his senior thesis, he constructed a neural network that predicted pitch speed and location based on early trajectory information; he used the model’s errors to learn more about how batters might integrate a pre-pitch “guess” with their real-time perceptions. He is fascinated by pitch sequencing and is a swinging-strike enthusiast.

Julio Rodríguez. Michael Harris II. Adley Rutschman. We all know the names atop this year’s extraordinary position player rookie class. You have to go back to 2015 for the last time three different first-year hitters each accrued four or more wins; then it was Kris Bryant, Matt Duffy, and Francisco Lindor. Those names should put into perspective just how much baseball has gone by since then. But when Steven Kwan surpassed the 4-WAR mark on Sunday with a three-hit, five-RBI effort, cementing the Guardians’ American League Central crown, this year’s class became the first since 1964 to have four rookies each with four or more wins.

All told, the big four at the top have overshadowed some other stellar performances. Bobby Witt Jr. has joined the 20-20 club already; along with Rodríguez, they make up the first rookie duo to do so since 1987. Jose Siri has authored an excellent defensive season, ranking fifth in the majors in Statcast’s Runs Above Average. While not the age of a traditional rookie, Joey Meneses has come out of nowhere to post a 158 wRC+ across the last two months of the season. And among hitters with at least 400 PAs this year, Brendan Donovan ranks seventh in the majors with a .389 OBP. Read the rest of this entry »

Why Are the Atlanta Braves Bunting at All?

The Atlanta Braves don’t bunt much. To be fair, most teams aren’t bunting all that often these days, especially since the introduction of the universal designated hitter. The Braves, however, still stand out from the pack. In an age of reduced bunting, Atlanta is leading the charge.

Of the thousands of balls the Braves have put into play this year, only four have been bunts. Of their 1,327 hits this season, only one has come on a bunt. One. You’d be hard-pressed to find any other counting stat category on the FanGraphs leaderboards with the number one written next to a team’s name.

The bunt-tracking era at FanGraphs began in 2002. (Side note: I’m going to take credit for coining the phrase “bunt-tracking era.”) Records for sacrifice bunts were kept long before 2002, but the data for bunts and bunt hits only goes back 21 years. In that time, the lowest number of bunts for a team in a full season is 12, courtesy of the 2018 Toronto Blue Jays. With a mere four bunts this season, the Braves are nestled amongst most teams from the shortened 2020 season at the bottom of the team bunt leaderboards:

Fewest Bunts by a Team in a Full Season
Team Year Bunts
Atlanta Braves 2022 4
Toronto Blue Jays 2018 12
Los Angeles Dodgers 2022 13
Oakland Athletics 2018 14
Texas Rangers 2005 15
Oakland Athletics 2019 16
Minnesota Twins 2022 16

Read the rest of this entry »

I Don’t Believe in the Cleveland Guardians*

© Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Oh, did that title get your attention? I thought it might. Bad news, though! It was just a trap to get you to read this. I’m here to talk about the same thing we talk about around this time every year: projections offending people. I don’t like it any more than you do, but that’s just the name of the game when October comes around. We post playoff odds before the season, which means we’re always missing on some team or other. That’s right: as best as I can tell, Cleveland fans are upset that we gave their team a 93.3% chance of making the playoffs in 2019, only to have them miss out on the postseason.

Okay, fine. I’m actually talking about the Guardians making the playoffs this year after starting the season with a 7.5% chance of winning their division, as the league helpfully noted on Twitter earlier this week:

I brought up the 2019 example to make a point: our odds miss in both directions. They’re not biased for or against the Guardians specifically. I thought it might be useful to look into a few things our model doesn’t handle particularly well that might have understated the Guardians’ chances, a few things the team did well to improve its odds, and a few breaks along the way that Cleveland deftly took advantage of. Read the rest of this entry »

Effectively Wild Episode 1908: A Movie Script Ending (to the Season)?

Ben Lindbergh and Meg Rowley banter about the latest hitting heroics by 30-year-old rookie Joey Meneses, then discuss the Guardians clinching the AL Central title, underdogs that defy the projections and playoff odds, and Albert Pujols’s 700th homer. After that (47:00), they talk to Death Cab for Cutie singer/songwriter/guitarist Ben Gibbard about the Mariners’ stretch run and playoff prospects, the sound of settling (for the third wild card), the greatness of Julio Rodríguez, the strengths and weaknesses of the roster, the future of the franchise, celebrity M’s fans, monitoring the Mariners during Death Cab concerts, the band’s stylistic evolution on new album Asphalt Meadows, the reception to the record, and more, plus a Past Blast (1:37:07), a few followups, and a closing word from Ben G.

Audio intro: Death Cab for Cutie, “A Movie Script Ending
Audio interstitial: Death Cab for Cutie, “I’ll Never Give Up on You
Audio outro: Ben Gibbard, “Duncan, Where Have You Gone?

Link to Ben on Meneses
Link to Jayson Stark on the Guardians
Link to Zack Meisel on the Guardians
Link to Zack on the celebration
Link to article on Guardians’ youth
Link to article on old-school Guardians
Link to SIS on Giménez’s defense
Link to Ben on contact and the playoffs
Link to FG preseason playoff odds
Link to FG preseason staff predictions
Link to MLB tweet about odds
Link to Guardians’ tweet about odds
Link to playoff odds check
Link to second playoff odds check
Link to BP IL Ledger
Link to Rob Mains on weak divisions
Link to Ben on Pujols
Link to Death Cab album/merch
Link to Death Cab tour schedule
Link to stream Asphalt Meadows
Link to Death Cab on Metacritic
Link to story on why we like music
Link to Church cancellation story
Link to Church rescheduling story
Link to “Ichiro’s Theme”
Link to Ben G.’s first EW appearance
Link to 1908 article source
Link to SABR on the 1908 Winter Meetings
Link to article on lineups and gambling
Link to Shantz interview episode
Link to Pujols swing montage

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Red Sox MiLB Player of the Year Niko Kavadas Crushes Baseballs

Fenway Park
Enterprise News

Niko Kavadas climbed multiple levels in his first full professional season. Moreover, he was one of the best hitters in the minors. Drafted in the 11th round last year by the Boston Red Sox out of the University of Notre Dame, the 6-foot-1, 230-pound first baseman slashed .280/.442/.547 with 26 home runs, those numbers coming between Low-A Salem, High-A Greenville, and Double-A Portland. His 170 wRC+ ranked third highest among MLB farmhands who logged at least 300 plate appearances.

I recently asked Portland Sea Dogs development coach Katie Krall what makes Boston’s 2022 Minor League Player of the Year as good as he is.

“Niko understands his thumbprint as a hitter,” she said of Kavadas, who came to the plate 515 times and augmented his 110 hits with 102 walks. “He knows where he does damage. He’s got a disciplined approach in terms of the types of pitches he’s looking to hit and doesn’t chase a lot. If you look at his heat map, he does most of his damage belt to below, so a message we’ve tried to hammer home with him is to focus on that. He’s really bought into it. Even here in Double-A, where he hasn’t had the same results that he did in Greenville, the underlying processes are trending in the right direction.”

Red Sox director of player development Brian Abraham offered a similar assessment. Citing Kavadas’ combination of power and plate discipline, he expressed that the left-handed hitter is unique in that he “almost has a contact approach that produces power.” Read the rest of this entry »

Kyle Wright Reaches a Rare Milestone in His Breakout Season

Kyle Wright
Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

For being the defending champions and on track to return to the postseason (and in position to snatch the NL East away from the Mets, whom they trail by one game at this writing), the Braves have certainly benefited from their share of surprises this year. Rookies Michael Harris II, Spencer Strider, and Vaughn Grissom have all made significant contributions to the team ahead of schedule. But one other notable breakthrough has come via a player many had written off: former first-round pick Kyle Wright, who after four seasons of bouncing between the minors and majors has stuck in the rotation for the entire season, and who on Sunday became this year’s first 20-game winner.

The fifth pick of the 2017 draft out of Vanderbilt, Wright debuted in the majors just 15 months later, making four appearances out of the bullpen. He broke camp with the team the following spring as a member of the rotation but didn’t last long, either in that season or in subsequent stints in 2020 or ’21. The Braves called his number in some important spots in the postseason in those last two years, and in fact, he made as many appearances in last year’s World Series as he did in the regular season (two), spending most of the 2021 campaign at Triple-A Gwinnett. Entering this season, he owned a 6.56 ERA, 6.56 FIP, and -0.8 WAR in 70 career innings, driven by unsightly walk and homer rates (14.8% and 1.93 per nine, respectively).

That’s not a pitcher that most contending teams would pencil in for 30 starts, regardless of his pedigree, but the Braves were particularly impressed by Wright’s performance in Game 4 of last year’s World Series against the Astros. Entering with two on and one out in the first inning in relief of rookie Dylan Lee, Wright limited the damage to one run by retiring both Carlos Correa and Kyle Tucker and allowed only a solo homer to Jose Altuve before departing after 4.2 innings. The Braves trailed 2–0 at the time, but their bats woke up in time to win, 3–2, giving them a 3–1 series lead.

Atlanta went into spring training with a couple of rotation openings behind Max Fried, Ian Anderson, and Charlie Morton, and the now–26-year-old Wright seized the opportunity to claim one. Even as the team stumbled out of the gate, he pitched well, posting a 1.13 ERA and 1.41 FIP in four April starts; the Braves went 4–0 in those and 6–12 in the rest of their games that month. After he spun six shutout innings in his season debut against the Reds on April 9, manager Brian Snitker told reporters, “I just think he looked like a completely different guy from the outset of Spring Training, when he came in a little more focused and driven. I think the best thing that happened to that kid was he spent a whole year at Triple-A. He pitched and figured out who he was and changed some things.”

Wright hasn’t been as dominant since April, but he’s been more than solid, only once allowing more than three runs in back-to-back starts. Until this month, he hadn’t posted an ERA above 3.94 in any calendar month this season, or a FIP above 4.36; an eight-run pounding by the A’s did a number on his September numbers, interrupting what was otherwise a stretch of seven outings allowing two runs or fewer. Overall, he’s pitched to a 3.18 ERA and 3.62 FIP (both 13th in the NL) as well as 2.8 WAR (23rd). His 23.9% strikeout rate ranks ninth in the league, and his 16.6% strikeout-walk differential and 175.1 innings both rank 11th. The latter is second on the team behind Fried’s 180.1 — no small matter given Anderson’s collapse and the struggles of Jake Odorizzi since the Braves traded for him in August. Read the rest of this entry »

Shohei Today, Low-A Tomorrow: The Benefits of a Well-Balanced Baseball Diet

© Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

If Oakland Coliseum is indeed “baseball’s last dive bar,” as has often been asserted, then it must have one hell of a booking manager. Let’s not forget, after all, that this dive bar has a stage. And yes, that stage may be a bit far from the audience, and sure, it is housed in a hulking cement behemoth that shares a BART station with the airport, and fine, it might be subject to the occasional rodent or plumbing issue. But it still draws the same big names as other, glitzier venues. The Coliseum’s dinginess might generate headlines, but lately I’ve been struck more by the unique backdrop it offers attendees for seeing the major’s biggest names.

When I used this metaphor to describe my experience at an August 9 Shohei Ohtani start at the Coliseum, a friend likened it to seeing Metallica play an unannounced show a few years ago at The Metro, a venue just a stone’s throw up Clark Street from Wrigley Field, with a capacity of 1,100. You may remember this early-August Ohtani outing: one of those Tungsten Arm games – unremarkable but for the home run he launched into the right field bleachers and the win he secured, allowing him to reach the Babe Ruth milestone of recording 10 wins and 10 home runs in a season, though Ohtani’s home run total for the season had long eclipsed Ruth’s. The vastness of the stands only emphasized how few people I was sharing my baseball viewing experience with.

The next day, I followed up that major league masterclass with a Low-A day game in the uncovered San Jose grandstand, watching a teenager struggle to throw strikes under the blazing sun. If Ohtani at the Coliseum is Metallica at the Metro, then this game, where I went to watch prospects from the San Francisco Giants organziation, was sitting in on a garage band rehearsal. Low-A is an altogether different brand of baseball, where tweaks are made every day – sometimes even mid-game – in the hopes of tapping into young players’ potential. Read the rest of this entry »

Bo Bichette’s Scissor Kick Has Revitalized His Swing

© Brent Skeen-USA TODAY Sports

This is Esteban’s first piece as a FanGraphs contributor. Esteban is a baseball fanatic. While his Yankees fandom may be a disappointment to some, it’s the reason he became obsessed with the game we all love. His perspective is heavily influenced by his time as a player, but his passion lies in linking mechanics with data. Esteban’s previous work can be found at Pinstripe Alley. He’s New York born and raised and will probably let you know once or twice more.

Over the last few weeks, Bo Bichette has been the catalyst for the Toronto Blue Jays as they have battled for the top American League Wild Card spot. If you exclude Aaron Judge’s historic bashing of baseballs, no one else in the month of September has hit like Bichette, who has outpaced everybody except the Yankee outfielder to the tune of a 229 wRC+. Not too shabby!

Robert Orr of Baseball Prospectus did a great job covering Bichette’s breakout through a statistical lens. The main point of focus from Orr was Bichette’s willingness and ability to spray the opposite field gap. Bichette got away from that for most of this season, but his mechanical adjustments have got him back to being the best version of himself and embracing the opposite field laser.

His style of hitting is unique. Depending on your preferred flavor of hitting, you may have mixed feelings about his swing and the movement he generates in it. But whatever your preference, there is no denying his performance. Those movements, which make him appear as if he is swinging as hard as he can, are exactly how he can produce so much power despite being slightly undersized compared to the average major leaguer.

For Bichette, it’s all about how he uses his lower half to interact with the ground. At his size, it takes efficient movement up and down the kinetic chain to produce power on a variety of pitches and in a variety of locations. He doesn’t have the natural strength for a low effort swing that still produces bat speeds north of 75 mph. His stance, load, and entry to and through the hitting zone need to be consistent. That will be the focus here: how Bichette has cleaned up the interaction between the ground and the balance in his lower half and hips to create more plate coverage in his bat path. Let’s start with a comparison. The first swing here is from mid-July, while the second is from late August. I prefer to start with normal-speed video to see if it’s possible to read the swing at the same speed as the players on the field, mainly the pitcher and the catcher:

The thing that immediately stands out to me is that Bichette is staying too far over his back half. As he makes contact, pay attention to the direction of his reciprocal movement after hitting the ball. (By reciprocal movement, I mean the response his body makes to rotating and making contact.) While it’s very subtle, you can see his torso face the sky as he finishes his swing, especially in the first GIF. This takes away space in his bat path to hit the bottom of the ball with force at different depths (front to back of the plate) of the strike zone.

Picture the barrel entering the back of the strike zone with a slight loft, but instead of keeping that loft as it moves to the front of the plate, it begins to move vertically to the top of the zone. This cuts off the barrel from moving in front of the plate at an ideal vertical bat angle, thus taking a key part of the hitting zone (in front of the plate) away from Bichette. That’s why you see choppy groundballs rather than line drives. The second swing above is slightly improved. That tracks, as it came much closer to his breakout in September where he fully perfected the scissor kick and lower half balance. Let’s look at three swings during said breakout that best portray the adjustment:

Much, much better. His swing and setup against Shane McClanahan’s running fastball prove he understands he needs to keep his hips closed as long as possible to stay on this pitch. Rotational athletes need to keep their center of mass in a position where they avoid getting pushy in their rotation; pushy rotators will do what Bichette did earlier this summer. They get stuck in their posterior and push out of their lower half with their back foot/leg, leading to their shoulder and chest facing the sky too soon in the swing. Think about it like this. Baseball players, both hitters and pitchers, want to stay in between their back foot and front foot throughout their rotation. If you get pushy, your head (center of mass) will drift forward and disrupt your swing path. Bichette has done a phenomenal job of improving his rotational direction. How exactly has he done this? That’s where the slow motion video comes into play. To the tape!

Please turn your attention to Bo’s back foot. In the first clip from July, where he hit a grounder through the hole, you can see his back foot move straight back towards the umpire as he rotates. This is what folks call squishing the bug. In the second clip, that back foot is almost completely hidden throughout the rotation by the front leg. The movement of the back leg towards the left side of the batter’s box is known as a scissor kick. Leading up to contact, Bichette is transferring energy in a different direction than he did in July to keep his center of mass where it needs to be. The scissor kick stores the energy in his hips and makes his rotation move up through his spine, as opposed to squishing the bug, where a hitter digs a hole in the ground, creating more spin in the leg (less efficient). This is no longer a pushy swing:

I bet you had to watch this a few times to believe it really happened. By the looks of it, Bichette is fooled and doesn’t have a chance to barrel up this pitch. But instead of drifting forward upon being fooled by the pitch’s spin, he maintains his hip hinge and creates a bigger stretch in his upper half. That is special movement. This angle gives you a better idea of how he did it:

Even as Bichette’s hips clearly commit to swinging, he is able to keep his upper half waiting to unload. As his front leg nears full extension, it stores potential energy and allows him to have a delayed trigger. I must remind you that this pitch was low and away off the plate. Bichette is one of those special hitters who pulls slow, outside pitches for home runs.

The scissor kick is the main movement that puts him in a position to pull a pitch in this location. Think about it like this. If you set up in the batter’s box to hit and align your feet parallel to the opposite diagonal line on the plate instead of the vertical straight lines, it’s as if you’ve changed where center field is. As a hitter scissor kicks, that’s exactly what happens. Their hips are in a better position to pull outside pitches, because it’s more like hitting a pitch straight up the middle, based on the direction the hitter’s hips are facing. It’s not an easy movement by any means, since you still need to be able to pull inside pitches in this position. That’s exactly why you mostly see it from the elite class of hitters who can cover a large portion of the plate.

Almost every legitimate hot streak or breakout can be described through video storytelling. Subtle changes in movement patterns can pay huge dividends for players, just like they have for Bo Bichette. He was an above-average hitter all season, but by cleaning up his lower half, he has climbed back to near the top of the shortstop WAR leaderboard and is on his way to another five-win season.

Trevor Rogers Changed it Up

© Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

Trevor Rogers was a revelation in 2021. He went from having a forgettable first major league season in 2020 to being a near-ace in short order, piling up strikeouts galore en route to a 2.64 ERA with the peripherals to match over 25 starts. You can’t throw a stick in Miami without hitting a pitcher who’s a potential difference-maker, but even against that backdrop, Rogers looked like one of the team’s brightest young stars.

This season hasn’t gone according to plan, to say the least. Rogers has been slowed by injury, hitting the IL thanks to back spasms and later a lat strain that shut him down for the year with the Marlins out of contention. But even when he wasn’t hurt, he struggled across the board. He struck out fewer batters, walked more, gave up 150% more home runs than in his 2021 campaign in fewer innings, and generally looked like a fish out of water.

If you’re painting with a broad brush, the story here is easy to understand. Rogers was better than expected in 2021, so our expectations got too high, and then he went back to his pre-breakout form. If you look closely, though, that’s not what happened at all. Rogers changed a ton about his game. Some of that change was good, some was bad, and I’m quite curious to see what sticks when he returns next year. Read the rest of this entry »