Archive for August, 2011

The End of the Aaron Rowand Era

They say desperate times call for desperate measures. In San Francisco, desperate times apparently call for sane, resonable, and rational measures. Today, the Giants have designated Aaron Rowand and Miguel Tejada for assignment.

The Tejada decision was an easy one: he was on a one-year deal and simply never showed MLB ability this season, posting a .239/.270/.326 line. The Rowand decision, on the other hand required more than simply dumping an aging veteran who would be gone at the end of the season anyway. Designating Rowand for assignment at this juncture is that decision we so often see general managers (or ownership) shy away from at the most important times: cutting bait on a big, long-term contract.

Rowand is currently in the fourth year of a five-year, $60 million dollar contract. He is still owed roughly $2 million for the rest of 2011 and $12 million for the 2012 season. But with Rowand contributing only 0.7 WAR in 2011 and 4.8 WAR from 2008-2011, it was increasingly difficult for Brian Sabean and the Giants to justify his spot on the roster. Hindsight, of course, is simple, and Aaron Rowand was once a very good baseball player. Did Sabean whiff on the decision to pay Rowand, or was the ill-fated deal more about the player failing to live up to his value?
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Complete Game James: James Shields Unlearns Us

Education consists mainly of what we have unlearned.

-Mark Twain

In 2010, James Shields led the league in hits allowed, home runs allowed, and earned runs allowed. Many among the Rays faithful protested last year when Joe Maddon tabbed Shieldsy to start game two of the ALDS, wherein he failed to complete five innings.

“He’s broken,” said some. “He shouldn’t even be on the playoff roster!” fumed others.

He finished the 2010 season somehow once again topping 200 innings, but his ERA was over 5.00, his FIP was above 4.20, and his fans were frustrated. Despite his career-best 3.55 xFIP, a career-low LOB%, and career-high BABIP (a whopping .341), many — even among the sabermetric-slanted — doubted he was merely a product of bad luck.

Well, in 2011, his statistics have sung, “Cy Young!” all season long: 2.96 ERA, 3.36 FIP, and 3.11 xFIP. And most impressively: a league leading 10 complete games and 4 shut outs.

For a guy who has pitched 200+ innings in 5 straight seasons, he sure never showed a knack for complete games before:

He went two years without a single complete game, and then BAM! suddenly he has 10 in one season (at least; he starts again tonight). How’d he do it?! Is it just a luck swing-around?! Did he change his approach?! Is his Bradley Woodrum-esque quasi-Amish beard to blame?

The answer: Yes to all.
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AFL-Bound Prospects, Sorted by MLB Team

Preliminary rosters for this year’s Arizona Fall League — i.e. the epicenter of prospect mavenry in the United States — were announced Tuesday. An equally preliminary glance around the internet reveals the absence of any sort of list of AFL-bound players sorted by major-league team — which, that seems like a helpful thing.

Below, I’ve included just such a list. Also, for the greater convenience of the baseball nerd, I’ve linked each player to his FanGraphs player page. Three 2011 draftees — Milwaukee’s Drew Taylor Jed Bradley, Seattle’s Danny Hultzen, and Tampa Bay’s Mikie Mahtook — have made no minor-league apperances yet, and thus have no player pages here at the site.

This year’s AFL teams (with home park in parentheses) are as follows:

MES: Mesa Solar Sox (Mesa Hohokam Park)
PEO: Peoria Javelinas (Peoria Sports Complex)
PHX: Phoenix Desert Dogs (Phoenix Municipal Stadium)
SLT: Salt River Rafters (Salt River Fields at Talking Stick)
SCO: Scottsdale Scorpions (Scottsdale Stadium)
SUR: Surprise Saguaros (Surprise Stadium)

In addition to the table below (which is best viewed not on Internet Explorer), roster data is available as a Google Doc here, for Maximum Sortability™.

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How Should We Measure Power?

What exactly is “power”? Is it the ability to hit home runs? Doubles? Triples? Should we consider how far a player hits a ball, or are we just concerned with the outcome? How would you define it?

If we were to try and define power from the ground up, obviously you’d have to start with home runs. Power hitters are guys that mash lots of home runs, right? When I think power, I think of players like Jose Bautista, Babe Ruth, Hank Aaron, and Barry Bonds. Home runs are so flashy, they steal the show.

But there’s more to power than a player’s raw home run total. You can’t completely ignore other extra base hits, which is why there are statistics like Slugging Percentage and Isolated Power. Slugging Percentage measures a player’s total bases and Isolated Power measures a player’s extra bases*, so both statistics count doubles and triples as well as home runs.

*Quick refresher course for everyone. Slugging Percentage = Total Bases / At Bats ; Isolated Power = Extra Bases / At Bats

Or if you prefer to think about it another way, Jose Bautista has a .330 ISO this season. That means he averages nearly one extra base every three at bats. 

Both these stats have the same problem, though: not all bases are created equal. If a player has accumulated 30 extra bases in 100 at bats, isn’t there a big difference if those extra bases were accumulated through 10 home runs versus 30 doubles ? Both players have the same Isolated Power, but which one has provided their team with more value through their power production?

Good question, I’m glad you asked.

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Out of Order in Detroit

During last night’s 2-1, extra innings classic between Detroit and Kansas City, something surprising jumped out at me. Well, it jumped out at me after I recovered from Doug Fister somehow putting up four wins above replacement this season, being perfect through six, and having a thrilling duel with the Royals’ Jeff Francis. (By the way, a belated HAPPY FRANCIS DAY to my fellow Royals fans. Or is it MERRY JEFFMAS?). Delmon Young was hitting third. And it wasn’t just a one game thing, or even a platoon strategy with the Tigers facing a lefty. Nope, it’s been happening every game since the Tigers acquired Young from the Twins earlier this month. Seriously, has Jim Leyland become the real Motor City Madman?

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One Night Only: Game Previews for August 31st

The most recent acquisition by the Getty Museum.

Featured Game
Los Angeles Americans (5) at Seattle (0) | 22:10 ET
• The Angels’ playoff run remains interesting enough to render the Mariners watchable.
• In case you missed it, Mike Trout did disgusting things to the baseball last night.
He also hit two home runs.
• (Wocka. Wocka.)
• Starters: Dan Haren (194.2 IP, 20.4% K, 3.5% BB, 43.1% GB, 81 xFIP-) at Felix Hernandez (200.1 IP, 23.7% K, 7.5% BB, 48.0% GB, 79 xFIP-).

MLB.TV Audio Feed: Mariners Radio, I guess. (Anyone have thoughts on Angels Radio? I’m not familiar with it.)

Also Playing
Here’s the complete schedule for all of today’s games, with our very proprietary watchability (NERD) scores for each one. Pitching probables and game times aggregated from and RotoWire. The average NERD Game Score for today is 5.6.

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FanGraphs Chat – 8/31/11

Matt Bush: September Call-up Candidate?

Over the next 48 hours everyone in and around baseball will be busy analyzing the rosters of minor league teams in anticipation of September call-ups. But perhaps the most interesting name who is currently on a 40-man roster, Matt Bush, may not get the call at all. By now we all know Bush’s story – the bust that was the first overall pick in the 2004 draft. The immature teenager who made more headlines for his transgressions off the field than his play on it. Fast forward to 2011, and not only has Bush overcome his personal demons with substance abuse, but he has put his career on a major-league path.
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Ichiro’s Career and the Hall of Fame

Ichiro Suzuki is having a down season and is nearing the end of his career. Many people would consider him an automatic hall-of-famer with the work he’s put together since joining the Mariners as a 27-year-old in 2001. But how good is he, really? Well, for comparison’s sake, I took the production of all hitters from 27 years of age and older and put them against Ichiro’s career numbers. The results are interesting and will only add to the debate.

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Playing Catch and the “Rhythm of the Universe”

A great question was posed to me at last year’s SABR convention. It came from renowned baseball historian John Thorn, and it was as profound as it was simple. It was a baseball question, yet it transcended the game itself.

Why is it so much fun to play catch?

I recently revisited John’s question — his philosophical musing on the simple act of tossing a baseball back and forth — and decided to ask some of baseball’s most-contemplative minds for their opinions. Here’s what they said:


Andrew Bailey [Oakland A’s]: “The love you have for the game really starts with playing catch. Being out there in the back yard playing catch with your father or friends is kind of the first step to falling in love with the game of baseball. It takes you back to those days every single time you get on a big-league field and do it.

“Growing up, it’s ‘Let’s go out and play catch,’ and now the game has obviously evolved to more than that. There are days when you stop and think about it — how far you’ve come from riding your bike to the park and playing catch with your buddies. Playing catch is a learning process. Growing up, you’re throwing stuff into the ground, or over someone’s head, or you’re missing the ball. Now it‘s just a routine.”

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