Archive for August, 2012

Rafael Betancourt Is Just Getting Laughable

There have been two players named Betancourt throughout the course of major-league history, and it just so happens that both of them are current. Far more has been written about Yuniesky Betancourt than Rafael Betancourt, even though Rafael has been around longer, and even though Yuniesky is terrible. But then, that’s kind of the reason. Yuniesky wasn’t supposed to be terrible, but he became terrible, famously terrible, and he kept getting jobs. Rafael is a reliever who has been quietly effective for relatively unpopular teams for the better part of a decade. It never didn’t make sense that more should be written about Yuniesky. But some should be written about Rafael, because it turns out he’s more interesting than you probably thought.

Full disclosure: I’m obsessed to a minor degree with Rafael Betancourt. I find him to be absolutely fascinating for reasons that might not appeal to the average baseball fan. There’s something particular about the way that Betancourt goes to work. He hasn’t hit a batter since his rookie season way back in 2003, many hundreds of appearances ago. That’s crazy, and I’ve written about that elsewhere. But that’s a symptom. It’s not that Betancourt tries not to hit batters; it’s that he pitches in such a way that hit batsmen are almost impossible. Especially, specifically, against lefties.

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Carlos Villanueva Keeps Rolling As Starter

For a little while, Toronto was showing the makings of a playoff contender. An excellent offense built around Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion and a surprisingly solid starting rotation built around Brandon Morrow kept the Blue Jays in games for the first half of the season. But the injuries piled up, particularly on the pitching end, prompting inquiries into record-setting injury paces.

And so it’s no surprise the Blue Jays own one of the league’s worst starting rotations with respect to WAR (+4.5, 26th) and ERA (4.81, 25th). From beneath this heap of pain and misery, however, one bright spot has emerged. Rotation replacement Carlos Villanueva continued to groove as a starter Thursday against the Rays, tossing six shutout innings with seven strikeouts and just six baserunners allowed.

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FanGraphs Audio: My 91-Year-Old Grandfather

Episode 235
The host’s 91-year-old grandfather, whose opinions have been documented previously within the electronic pages of FanGraphs, is the guest on this edition of FanGraphs Audio. Discussed: ways in which the host has failed to fulfill his potential. Also: the Yankees of the 1950s. And finally: management advice for the current iteration of the Boston Red Sox.

Don’t hesitate to direct pod-related correspondence to @cistulli on Twitter.

You can subscribe to the podcast via iTunes or other feeder things.

Audio after the jump. (Approximately 37 min. play time.)

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Padres Improving But Many Fans Can’t Watch On TV

Yesterday Jeff Sullivan wrote about the San Diego Padres. If you haven’t read Jeff’s post, go read it now. I’ll wait. Okay, so now you know that since June 10, the Padres have a record of 41-30 and have outscored their opponents by 32 runs. But that’s not all. The Padres are 9-1 in their last 10 games, 13-7 in their last 20, and 18-12 in their last 30. They are outplaying everyone in the National League West other than the division-leading Giants.

The Padres also have new owners. The second and third generation of the O’Malley family — who owned the Dodgers from 1950 until 1998 — now own the Padres, along with San Diego businessman Ron Fowler and a group of minority investors. Fowler has been designated as the team’s control person, but Peter O’Malley and his sons and nephews, with their longstanding baseball pedigree, will be key to the Padres’ efforts to re-energize the team and the fan base.

It won’t be easy.

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The Tigers’ Royal Choke Job

The Tigers’ projected domination of the 2012 American League Central never quite came off. However, after a disappointing first couple of months that saw them below .500, the Tigers have been winning ever since. They were looking forward to this weekend’s showdown at home in Detroit with the division-leading White Sox. Detroit was only two games back.. All they had to do was get through the three-game series with the Royals in Kansas City in order to set themselves up. Sure, Anibel Sanchez had been mostly terrible since coming to the Tigers, and Rick Porcello was having yet another disappointing season (at least in terms of ERA), but they were matched up against Bruce Chen and Jeremy Guthrie, respectively. No way the Tigers offense doesn’t light those guys up, right? If that wasn’t enough, Justin Verlander was matched up against Luis Mendoza.

According to Cool Standings’ “Smart” standings, going into the series in KC the Tigers had a 32 percent chance of winning the division and 61.4 percent chance of making the playoffs. A series win in KC would set them up nicely going into the weekend and for a shot at the playoffs generally. Things didn’t exactly work out that way. The Tigers got swept. As of today, the “smart” standings have Detroit down to a 40 percent chance of making the playoffs. What?

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Mark Trumbo’s Month as Somebody Awful

Over the past month or so, who’s been the worst regular or semi-regular hitter in baseball? I’m actually asking you, because I don’t have the answer. I could look it up really easily but wouldn’t you know it, I haven’t looked it up. Huh. The answer might be Mark Trumbo. If the answer isn’t Mark Trumbo, then Mark Trumbo is probably close to being the answer, because over the past month or so, Mark Trumbo has just been terrible.

If you look at Trumbo’s game log, you might think that he showed signs of snapping out of this Thursday night. Against Jon Lester and the Red Sox, he finished 2-for-4 with an RBI. But one of those hits was a weak groundball single, the other hit was just a regular single, Trumbo struck out once, and Trumbo swung and missed several times. Also this was just one game. I don’t know what it’s going to look like if and when Trumbo returns to being something like himself, but I wouldn’t be surprised if we couldn’t recognize it at the time.

It’s a really bad slump that Trumbo has been in. You could simply take my word for it, because I wouldn’t lie about something like this on the front page of FanGraphs, but I’ll go into some detail anyway, just in case you were unaware of the slump or unaware of the magnitude. It wasn’t that long ago that Trumbo looked like an out-of-nowhere superstar slugger. His overall numbers are still terrific, but looking at the overall numbers ignores a trend and, as humans, we really like trends.

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Adam Greenberg’s “One At Bat”

Over the last week or so, several people have hit me up on Twitter asking me to help promote OneAtBat.com, a social campaign to get the Chicago Cubs to sign Adam Greenberg and give him a chance to hit in the big leagues in September. The story is certainly moving. You may remember that Greenberg got hit in the head on the first pitch of his Major League career, but may not know that it effectively ended his shot at a big league career.

Since the 2005 season, Greenberg has bounced around between a few different Double-A clubs and more recently independent league baseball, and now 30-years-old, he’s not likely to have any kind of career rebirth that leads to a sustained chance with a Major League team. So, Matt Liston has decided to use social pressure and the promise of good PR to try and get the Cubs to give Greenberg the at-bat they tried to give him back in 2005, before Valerio de los Santos‘ wild pitch turned a dream into a nightmare.

It’s a pretty fascinating social experiment. Greenberg’s not the first guy to have his big league dreams cut short due to something beyond their control, and he’s certainly not the only guy playing in independent ball who would love to get an at-bat in the big leagues just so he can say he finally got to experience what it was like. If Major League teams operated like Extreme Makeover: Baseball Edition, granting wishes to those with touching backstories, we’d have a never-ending parade of at-bats being handed out because “it’s the right thing to do.” From a pandora’s box point of view, I can understand a team’s reticence to open up a spot on the 40 man roster and go through all the machinations involved with adding a new player in order to give Greenberg his chance at redemption.

That said, I’m still hoping the Cubs play along. If there’s room on a big league roster for Roger Clemens simply because he wants to delay his HOF eligibility in hopes of increasing his chances of getting inducted later on — and let’s call a spade and spade and note that this is likely the motivation behind his “comeback” — then we should all admit that a roster spot for one game in September for a team out of the playoff race isn’t so sacrosanct that it can’t be spared for Greenberg.

The schedule actually works out perfectly as well, as the Cubs close the season at home against the Astros. There will be no questions of whether giving Greenberg an at-at in a Houston-Chicago match-up in game 162 is influencing a playoff race, or endangering the legitimacy of an outcome that anyone cares about. Let Greenberg lead-off the game and get a standing ovation, and with any luck, he’ll even get a chance to run the bases. It’d be a good story. It’d be fun to watch. I hope it happens.


Eno Sarris RotoGraphs Chat — 8/31/12

You’ve got a few minutes before you duck out early for the long weekend.


FanGraphs Audio: Clay Buchholz, Clayton Mortensen

Episode 234
David Laurila, curator of FanGraphs’ Q&A Series, talks with Red Sox right-handers Clay Buchholz and also Clayton Mortensen.

Don’t hesitate to direct pod-related correspondence to @cistulli on Twitter.

You can subscribe to the podcast via iTunes or other feeder things.

Audio after the jump. (Approximately 18 min. play time.)

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What Makes a Pitcher’s Count?

What’s a pitcher’s ultimate goal? In the grand scheme, it’s to help win games. A pitcher needs to do his part to keep runs to a minimum — and strikeouts are the best way to accomplish that. Walking, or hitting a better, can’t help. Those outcomes (plus avoiding home runs) are the three rates, each with somewhat separate skills that most of us watch when evaluating pitchers.

And getting ahead in the count is at least partially responsible for all three outcomes. In my first look at pitching ahead to batters I defined a pitcher’s being ahead in the count as having it 0-1, 0-2 or 1-2. Conversely, batters were ahead in 1-0, 2-0, 3-0, 2-1 or 3-1 counts. Those demarcations were made by simply taking the greater number, aside from full counts.

The aggregate numbers support the difference between the two types. In my self-identified pitcher’s counts, batters are held to a .204/.211/.303 line this season. Shifting to a hitter’s count, the batting line more than doubles to .342/.472/.609. Clearly a pitcher benefits when he’s ahead, but I wanted to know about home runs, as well, and whether this was a good division of counts.

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