Archive for June, 2014

FanGraphs Audio: Dave Cameron Analyzes All Mookie Betts

Episode 458
Dave Cameron is both (a) the managing editor of FanGraphs and (b) the guest on this particular edition of FanGraphs Audio — during which edition he discusses every Mookie Betts there is.

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 45 min play time.)

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J.D. Martinez Changes Everything, Changes Everything

The top Tigers regulars by wRC+, with first names left out in order to generate a surprise I’ve already ruined:

  • Martinez, 160
  • Martinez, 160
  • Cabrera, 144
  • Kinsler, 128
  • Avila, 107

Everyone’s familiar with the Tigers’ big names. The Tigers are a team built to be carried by the big names. That’s why it wasn’t so bad when the team lost Andy Dirks early on — though useful, Dirks isn’t a big name, so the Tigers could survive his absence. But something they didn’t expect was the play of J.D. Martinez. Filling in for Dirks, Martinez has performed at the plate like a big name, and not coincidentally, Martinez’s career turnaround follows a winter of changing almost everything about himself as a hitter.

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Did Masahiro Tanaka Make a Mistake?

It wouldn’t be wrong to say that Mike Napoli called Masahiro Tanaka an idiot on the baseball field. It would, of course, be misleading — Napoli didn’t say that to Tanaka’s face, and Napoli wasn’t asserting that Tanaka is some kind of moron. Napoli was simply gleeful, returning to the dugout Saturday night after breaking a tie with a ninth-inning dinger. Down two strikes, Napoli was pleased to see Tanaka throw him an elevated fastball, and Napoli knocked it out of the yard to right-center. Though the ESPN Home Run Tracker says the ball would’ve left just one of 30 stadiums under standard conditions, that one, presumably, is New York, and within a few minutes the Yankees lost. Dingers have been Tanaka’s one human side.

If you listen to Napoli, Tanaka was a fool for throwing a fastball. Obviously, according to results-based analysis, Tanaka was a fool for throwing a fastball, since that pitch ultimately was the difference in the game. There’s no question that Tanaka made a mistake in that he missed his spot and left the pitch up. But let’s think a bit about the sequencing. Did Tanaka make a mistake in going with the heat in a 1-and-2 count? Was Tanaka being an idiot, or did he get burned by a fine idea?

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Astros Internal Trade Chatter Leaked Online

So, this is something you don’t see everyday. The Astros database, nicknamed Ground Control, includes archived notes on past trade discussions. While written in shorthand, the notes are pretty detailed, and are definitely not something the Astros ever expected to become public. But that’s exactly what has happened, as someone anonymously uploaded a couple of files to a data warehouse called Anonbin.

Here, you can find all the notes on discussions from last summer.

Here are the winter discussions.

Among the notes found in the leak:

The Astros asked for Dylan Bundy or Kevin Gasuman in return for Bud Norris. Which sounds hilarious, until you notice that they included Xander Bogaerts on the list of possible players they would want from the Red Sox. Bud Norris was eventually traded to Baltimore for L.J. Hoes and Josh Hader, plus a draft pick.

Maybe even more hilarious: the Astros asked for Lucas Giolito in exchange for Lucas Harrell. Lucas Harrell was eventually designated for assignment in April.

The Marlins apparently noted that acquiring Giancarlo Stanton would require George Springer and Carlos Correa; the Astros countered with Jarred Cosart and Delino Deshields. I wonder which side thought the other’s offer was more ridiculous.

A friend in the game has independently confirmed that these leaks are legitimate, and noted that every team in baseball keeps similar notes just like this. This isn’t necessarily an indictment on the Astros for having these kinds of notes, but it’s certainly an embarrassment to their organization that they were not able to secure them well enough to keep them from getting out. I would imagine there are a lot of teams that are quite unhappy with the Astros right about now.

Anyway, enjoy the leaks, because I bet it will be a long time before we ever see anything like this get out in the public realm again.

Kyle Seager and Breaking the Safeco Field Curse

Ever since it opened in July 1999, Seattle’s Safeco Field has had a reputation as a pitcher’s park, and for good reason. (“Everyone thinks of subpar offense in Seattle because the Mariners have given nearly 1,500 plate appearances to Willie Bloomquist over more than a decade, right?” That’s not the right answer, but it certainly is an answer.) Since the park’s first full season in 2000, the Mariners have consistently hit for more power on the road, ranking ahead of only the Padres in terms of percentage of overall ISO and SLG they’ve compiled at home:
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What Might Mookie Betts Be?

Over the weekend, the Red Sox summoned Mookie Betts from Triple-A; he made his big league debut last night, going 1-3 with a walk. While no single game will ever reveal much about a player’s skillset, the process by which he approached the game seems to fit with his minor league profile:

He didn’t chase pitches; he swung at only two of 11 out-of-zone-pitches.

He makes contact; he put the bat on the ball on all eight in-zone swings.

According to MinorLeagueCentral, Betts only swung at 34% of the pitches he was thrown in Pawtucket, and he made contact on 88% of his swings. Minor league data isn’t as reliable as major league data, but in general, swing and contact rates are pretty easy things to track and should at least be in the ballpark. While Betts will almost certainly see more in-zone pitches and be forced to swing more often in the big leagues, he has shown a pretty disciplined eye at the plate, and we shouldn’t expect him to expand the strike zone even against big league pitching.

And swing/contact rates do tend to carry over from the minors to a decent degree. For instance, if we look at the other prospects of note who have been promoted from the International League this year, we see that their swing and contact rates in the big leagues were in the same general range as their were in Triple-A.

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FG on Fox: Devin Mesoraco’s Delayed Breakout

It’s hard being a young catcher. Even ones as highly regarded as Devin Mesoraco — rated the 11th best prospect in baseball the year he debuted — find the adjustment difficult. 589 plate appearances into his big league career, the young catcher entered the 2014 season still looking for a regular job and an approach at the plate that worked. In his fourth year, everything has clicked for him, and there he is, a top five catcher in the big leagues.

He’s not bitter, though. He understands that those years were important, and that they helped him make some important adjustments that have paved the way for this breakout.

“It’s tough to call a catcher up and throw him right in the fire to be the everyday guy, because there is so much to do,” Mesoraco said before a late June against the Giants. “You have to learn all the pitching staff, you have to learn the league and what those guys are trying to do at the plate. You also have to work on your fundamentals, throwing and blocking.”

It’s this kind of work that seems to suggest a later peak for catchers. They’re not only involved in almost every single play in the game, they’re helping the pitcher with his game plan and sitting in the most athletically demanding position on the field. But if you look at catcher aging curves, it’s unclear if there’s actually a later peak:

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Dan Szymborski FanGraphs Chat – 6/30/14

Dan Szymborski: And here we go. Sorry I’m late. People flooding my twitter with political talk delayed me.

Comment From TB
JD Martinez: What the hell? Flash in the pan or the next jose Bautista?

Comment From Brules Rules
J.D. Martinez, any of the breakout sustainable?

Dan Szymborski: Flash. No.

Comment From Colletti, Ned
Were you too quick to write off the Dodgers a few weeks ago?

Dan Szymborski: Gave them a 1-in-10 chance at the division. Strongly believe it was well-founded based on the facts at hand at the time.

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Brock Holt: Leak Plugger

During a year in which they own the right to call themselves champions until someone dethrones them in October, it’s safe to say things aren’t exactly going the way the Boston Red Sox anticipated. At this point last year, the Red Sox had the best record in the American League at 49-34 and were on their way to winning the eighth World Series title in franchise history. This year, they’re 38-44 and currently own just a 17% chance to make the postseason at all, according to the very smart FanGraphs Playoff Odds.

The starting rotation, outside of Jon Lester and John Lackey, has been a disaster. Shane Victorino has barely played due to back and hamstring injuries. Dustin Pedroia has been reduced to a league average hitter as his complete lack of power starts to look more and more real. The A.J. Pierzynski signing hasn’t worked out like it did for the Rangers last year and Pierzynski’s time in the MLB appears to be coming to a close. It took Daniel Nava a month to go from starting major league outfielder to starting minor league outfielder. Xander Bogaerts hasn’t lit the world on fire like some hoped and Jackie Bradley Jr. has done nothing to prove that he can hit major league pitching, at all. Even David Ortiz, despite his gaudy home run total, hasn’t been totally himself at the plate.

When a season is going like this, one must try to find a bright spot, somewhere, lest one risk being a total pessimistic bummer. Even on the worst of teams, you can usually point to at least one guy that’s been exciting, surprising or shown some promise one way or another.

Enter Brock Holt.
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NERD Game Scores: Jordan Zimmermann Competence Update

Devised originally in response to a challenge issued by viscount of the internet Rob Neyer, and expanded at the request of nobody, NERD scores represent an attempt to summarize in one number (and on a scale of 0-10) the likely aesthetic appeal or watchability, for the learned fan, of a player or team or game. Read more about the components of and formulae for NERD scores here.


Most Highly Rated Game
Colorado at Washington | 19:05 ET
Yohan Flande (5.0 IP, 91 xFIP-, 0.0 WAR) faces Jordan Zimmermann (97.2 IP, 84 xFIP-, 2.3 WAR). The latter has produced a park-adjusted xFIP (84 xFIP-), swinging-strike rate (10.9%), overall strike rate (68.4%), and average fastball velocity (93.8 mph) all a standard deviation or better than the mean produced by the 190 pitchers who’ve thrown 20-plus innings this year in a starting capacity. Indeed, that nearly arbitrary statement can be made of only two other pitchers this season: Jose Fernandez and Stephen Strasburg, both of whom are regarded as the hottest possible stuff. Jordan Zimmermann is stuff, too, is the point of this brief paragraph — stuff that’s almost certainly above-average in temperature.

Readers’ Preferred Broadcast: Washington Radio.

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