Archive for January, 2015

The Best of FanGraphs: January 26 – January 30, 2015

Each week, we publish north of 100 posts on our various blogs. With this post, we hope to highlight 10 to 15 of them. You can read more on it here. The links below are color coded — green for FanGraphs, brown for RotoGraphs, dark red for The Hardball Times, orange for TechGraphs and blue for Community Research.
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OFAC Clarifies Stance: MLB Is Only Hurdle for Cubans

When I wrote on Monday about the changing policies and confusion surrounding MLB, OFAC, U.S.-Cuba relations and the unblocking process for Cuban ballplayers, this situation seemed like a muddled mess. After my first article on the topic, Yahoo’s Jeff Passan and Baseball America’s Ben Badler added further details throughout the week and reported statements from OFAC and MLB as both sides were looking to clarify their stances. There was some urgency to conclude the negative PR whirlwind, with high-ranking MLB officials upset about not being able to sign three notable Cuban players left in limbo by this delay, with the total value of their potential contracts easily in excess of $100 million.

I was first turned onto this story by Cuban phenom Yoan Moncada’s agent David Hastings, who has taken some flack in the industry for being a first-time agent and representing such a high profile player, but it appears this situation has shaken out after a one week long media cycle. OFAC sent Hastings a letter within the last hour further clarifying their stance from previous statements earlier this week. According to Hastings, the letter stated that OFAC will not grant a specific license to Cuban nationals who are already unblocked via the general license. This applies to Moncada and the other two notable Cuban nationals waiting to be unblocked, second basemen Hector Olivera and Andy Ibanez.

OFAC’s earlier statements left an opening that they could be held responsible for the delay, as they said granting both general and specific licenses to certain Cubans would be handled on a “case-by-case basis.” This suggested that OFAC could hand out the specific license and end the delay by meeting MLB’s standard for unblocking a player. At the same time, OFAC said only the general license is necessary to clear a Cuban national to sign with a team, but MLB asked for more from the Cuban players, an MLB-only policy that changed at some point in the last few years.

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FanGraphs Audio: Dayn Perry Remembers

Episode 525
Dayn Perry is a contributor to CBS Sports’ Eye on Baseball and the author of three books — one of them not very miserable. He’s also the moribund guest on this edition of FanGraphs Audio.

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 1 hr 7 min play time.)

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Which MLB Teams are Blazing New Trails in Scouting?

Last time, I looked at which MLB teams do and don’t pursue players born in the five most prolific non-draft-eligible countries (the Dominican Republic, Venezuela, Cuba, Mexico, and Japan). Part of the goal there was to identify which of the 30 MLB organizations are the most aggressive and/or progressive in terms of finding the best talent they possibly can o’er the entire globe.

Of course, looking at how teams approach well-established springs of baseball talent like the Dominican is hardly the only way to identify whether or not a team is looking for new and novel opportunities outside of the Nifty Fifty. In the past twenty or so years, there are five other countries who — while they have not produced a similar total number of MLB players as the aforementioned Established Five — are producing more and more MLB-caliber players as time goes on: Australia, Colombia, Curacao, South Korea, and Taiwan. Teams who sign the most players from these locales are, at the very least, in admirable pursuit of new and unexpected sources of that rare gem: an MLB-caliber player.

This time I will only be tallying which team signed which player as an international free agents — I will not be tallying other MLB teams that each player eventually played for during their careers stateside. Players who were born in these countries but who were eventually drafted in the rookie draft are excluded from the count. I used a lot of help from Baseball Reference and Baseball Almanac. Here we go!

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The Link Between MLB Teams and Specific Countries

At the Cincinnati Enquirer, C. Trent Rosencrans notes that, after Ichiro Suzuki plays his first game in a Miami Marlins uniform, the Reds will be the only of the 30 MLB teams to never employ a player born in Japan at the major-league level. (Tip of the hat to MLBTradeRumors.)

Here is a quote that Rosencrans shares from Reds General Manager Walt Jocketty:

We do have some people who do cross-checking, we don’t have a scout in Japan. It’s too costly.

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On the “Craziness” of a Four Pitcher Limit

Yesterday, Dave put forward a proposal about how Major League Baseball could possibly improve its pace of play and run scoring in one fell swoop: limit the number of pitchers allowed per game to four. He couched it by saying that it was an admittedly crazy idea. But after compiling a grid of how many pitchers are used per game, I’m not so sure that it is.

What I wanted to see is a grid of how each team used its pitchers. How many games with two pitchers, three pitchers, etc. Thankfully, Baseball-Reference’s pitching game logs are very accommodating in this regard. In order to get a representative sample, I scrubbed out extra inning games, as well as games that were shortened for some reason (most likely rain). That leaves just the games where the pitchers threw eight to nine innings. Now, there’s certainly a chance that there was some weird game that was stopped for rain after eight innings, but barring that, this should be a sample of all the “regulation” games from last season. No team had fewer than 141 of these games, and no team had more than 154. Most of the games removed were extra-inning games, there were just a handful of shortened games.

Enough talk, let’s get to the grid:

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Should Kevin Gausman and James Paxton Throw More High Fastballs?

Understand that I’m not a pitching coach. I’ve never played one on TV, and if I were asked to serve as one for an actual team, I’d be wildly out of my element. Pitching is complicated, and pitchers in the major leagues are impossibly good, and pitchers in the major leagues also have reasons for doing what they do however they do it. I don’t know if what follows is good advice for Kevin Gausman and James Paxton, or garbage. It’s just, there’s at least enough here that we can have a conversation.

Thursday, I wrote about the Rays and collecting and encouraging high fastballs. I’m interested in this high-fastball thing — it’s an intuitively sensible way to attack hitters who are increasingly prepared to hit down low. The Rays have talked about this idea. The Astros have talked about this idea. Brandon McCarthy has talked about this idea, during an interview for the Hardball Times Annual. It’s a trend, seemingly, to counter a different trend. But it’s worth noting, not just any fastball should be thrown high. You need to have some command, and you need to be able to generate the right kind of spin. You want to have a fastball — a four-seamer — with a high PITCHf/x vertical-movement reading. That’s not the way pitchers themselves think about it, but that’s how we can understand it.

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Kiley McDaniel Prospects Chat – 1/30/15

Kiley McDaniel: I have the least snappy intros in the prospect chat game and I’m gonna keep it that way

Comment From Total Clown
Hey Kiley, is that prospect you just wrote about legit?

Comment From Pale Hose
Is Carson Cistulli legit?

Comment From RotoLando
Hell yeah, it’s time for the legittest chat on the internet

Kiley McDaniel: Good to see you guys have your game face on

Comment From CoolWinnebago
Keith Law’s (Sorry!) top 100. What are your feelings on it? Im no expert but parts of it just seem nonsensical to me. Ex. Joe Ross at #63 and Matt Wisler omitted. Judging from your org write ups your list will have many disagreements with his.
Also, remind me when your list is coming out.

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Estimating ERA: A Simulated Approach

ERA, probably the single most cited reference for evaluating the performance of a pitcher, comes with a lot of problems. Neil does a good job outlining why in this FanGraphs Library entry. Over the last decade, plenty of research has cast a light on the variables within ERA that often have very little to do with the pitcher himself.

But what is the best way to use fielding-independent stats to estimate ERA? FIP is probably the most popular metric of this ilk, using only strikeouts, walks, hit batters, and home runs to create a linear equation that can be scaled to look like an expected ERA. Then there’s xFIP, which is based off the idea that pitchers have very little control over their HR/FB rate; to account for this, it estimates the amount of home runs that a pitcher should have allowed by multiplying their fly balls allowed by the league average HR/FB rate.

For many people, however, these are too simple. FIP more or less ignores all balls in play completely; xFIP treats all fly balls equally. Neither one correctly accounts for the effects that any ball in play can have; we know that the wOBA on line drives is much higher than the wOBA on pop ups, but we don’t see that reflected in many ERA estimators. The estimators we use also are fully linear, and may break down at the extreme ends; FIP tells us that a pitcher who strikes out every batter should have an ERA around -5.70, which is, well you know, not going to happen.

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2015 ZiPS Projections – Baltimore Orioles

After having typically appeared in the very hallowed pages of Baseball Think Factory, Dan Szymborski’s ZiPS projections have been released at FanGraphs the past couple years. The exercise continues this offseason. Below are the projections for the Baltimore Orioles. Szymborski can be found at ESPN and on Twitter at @DSzymborski.

Other Projections: Arizona / Atlanta / Baltimore / Boston / Chicago AL / Chicago NL / Cleveland / Colorado / Detroit / Houston / Los Angeles AL / Los Angeles NL / Miami / Milwaukee / Minnesota / New York NL / Oakland / San Diego / San Francisco / St. Louis / Seattle / Tampa Bay / Washington.

Manny Machado returned in May after completing rehab on his horribly ruptured left-knee ligament and the surgery to repair it. His slash stats were poor during that first month back (.220/.271/.284 in 119 PA), but by the beginning of August he possessed roughly the same park-adjusted offensive mark he’d recorded the season before (111 wRC+, as opposed to 102 wRC+ in 2013). His 2014 campaign ended in August when we underwent surgery to repair a partially torn ligament in his other knee. ZiPS doesn’t specifically “know” about the injuries — just the playing time lost to them. In any case, Machado is expected to replicate his slightly above-average batting line once again — with a little bit more in the way of isolated power than either of the past two seasons.

The breakout age-31 season isn’t a particularly common occurrence in baseball, but that’s what Steve Pearce produced in 2014, recording a 161 wRC+ and 4.9 WAR in 383 plate appearances. Characteristically, ZiPS is conservative. After hitting homers at a rate of 33 per 600 plate appearances, Pearce is projected for 26 every 600 plate appearances in 2015 — plus also a markedly more average defensive figure.

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