Archive for April, 2015

Hanley Ramirez and Batted-Ball Data

It seemed like this post was practically going to be able to write itself. Hanley Ramirez has been hot at the plate, and he’s tied for the big-league lead in homers, with 10. There are hundreds of hot streaks by so many players every single season, but this year we have the treat of new data, and Ramirez’s has seemed particularly remarkable. I thought this would be simple and straightforward, but instead we have something more complicated and kind of boring to what I assume would be the majority of people. Keep reading, though! There’ll be some .gifs. You love .gifs.

If you’ve paid attention to Gameday, you’ve probably noticed that we’ve started to get some early-season batted-ball data. It hasn’t been complete, but it’s been fairly consistent, as one of the first signs of the rolling out of StatCast. It can be tricky to find and preserve that information, but thankfully for the masses, there’s Baseball Savant, which I feel like I must link in every post. There, for the first time, we can sort hitters by batted-ball velocities. The industry has had HITf/x for years, so this isn’t progress for them, but it’s progress for us, on the outside. And we all love a new toy.

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Brett Lawrie Saw 10 Straight Breaking Balls, Twice

Brett Lawrie doesn’t really have a problem with breaking balls, not if you zoom out on his career. He’s whiffed on sliders (14%) and curves (8%) at about an average rate (13% and 11%, respectively), which follows his overall whiff rates (8.6% for Lawrie, 8.5% is average).

Opening week, in three games against the Rangers, Lawrie saw ten straight breaking balls… twice. He’d never seen ten straight breaking balls before.

“They’re not going to stop until I make an adjustment,” Lawrie admitted before a game with the Mariners. But that statement’s not enough to uncover what it’s like to see a barrage of breaking balls like Lawrie did. And what it means, and how you claw your way out of a hole like the one he found himself in.

Lawrie’s a loquacious dude: he’ll keep talking if you let him. So, at one point, I asked him about the thought process when something like this was happening, and he obliged. You can’t edit an inner monologue like this, especially when you know he’s describing what it feels like to strike out four times on 12 straight pitches:

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Julio Urias, the Dodgers, and the History of Teenage Pitchers

For all her conspicuous virtues and manifest talents, late singer Aaliyah was almost certainly mistaken in her assertion that age “ain’t nothing but a number.” It is a number, that’s true, but it’s a number that represents the number of years a thing or person or some other manner of noun has existed. Which, that’s more than nothing.

In the context of baseball prospect analysis, age is decidedly not nothing. As both anecdotal evidence and also more rigorous statistical evidence* suggest, age relative to level is predictive of future major-league performance, where younger relative to level is better. One finds, for example, that players who debut at a younger age produce higher prorated WAR figures than players who debut at an older one. It’s not because they’re younger that they’re better, of course. Rather, their respective teams have generally recognized that they’re capable of handling the highest level of competition. And it follows that, if they’re able to handle that level of competition en route to their respective peaks, then they’re also generally able to handle it in the decline phase of their careers, too.

*Such as the sort produced by Chris Mitchell.

The relationship between age and performance and level is the foundation for the considerable and deserved excitement regarding Mike Trout’s career — not only for his career up the to present day, but also the prospect of what his career will have been once it’s finished. Trout has recorded the highest WAR among all hitters ever through his age-22 season, for example. That’s not only impressive, but probably also predictive. Because consider: basically all of the next 20 guys on that particular leaderboard are now in the Hall of Fame.

Players who, like Trout, combine youth and talent are notable. And, all other things being equal, it’s reasonable to expect that the prospects who are producing the top performances at the youngest ages will develop into the best players.

This question of talented youth is relevant today largely because of the Dodgers, their rotation, and their top pitching prospect left-hander Julio Urias. The Dodgers possess the largest major-league payroll by roughly $50 million. They also possess the sort of expectations associated with that kind of payroll — and, over the first month of the season, the club has more or less met those expectations. As of today, for example, they lead the NL West by two games and feature nearly a 90% chance of winning that division according to the numbers and methodology used at this site.

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An Effect of Shifting, or an Effect of April

Life is funny sometimes. While working on a post about an interesting little quirk in the 2015 increase in runs per game, Neil Weinberg tweeted out the following.

This was the exact quirk that I noticed that led me down the particular rabbit hole I’m about to drag you into. If you go to the league leaderboard, you’ll notice that the league as a whole is hitting .249/.314/.390 this year, good for a .310 woBA. That is almost an exact match for the .251/.314/.386 line the league put up last year, and by wOBA rounded to three decimal places, it results in the same .310 mark.

The fact that April 2015 offense is equal to total 2014 offense is interesting, because it suggests that offense might be ticking up this year, ending the trend of the last few years. April is almost always the most pitcher friendly month of the season, with cold weather knocking down baseballs that will generally fly out of ballparks in warmer months; additionally, most teams haven’t yet had to rely on their pitching depth yet, as the full toll of injuries manifests itself more later in the year than it does at the beginning of the season.

But that’s not the part that got me interested; it’s the part that Neil noticed. League batting is basically the same as it was last year, but league runs per game are up a decent amount, going from 4.07 R/G last year to 4.26 this year. That’s nearly a match for the league’s run scoring levels of 2011, back when league wOBA was .316. So offense is up a bit from a runs perspective, but not up much at all from an individual outcome perspective. What’s driving that difference?

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JABO: Jose Altuve Was Always Good, But a Few Tweaks Helped

Sure, he’s the shortest regular of this century, but Jose Altuve has managed big things. Last year, he put up the second-best batting average of a second baseman in the free agency era, broke the Astros’ single-season record for hits, and showed the best pop of his career. A few changes to his game helped him be even better.

“Oh he’s always been this good, I remember when I first saw him in the Venezuelan Summer League and was amazed,” laughed his current hitting coach, Dave Hudgens. But he agreed that a small change to his batting stance over the last few years may have made a difference.

Here’s Altuve in 2013. Watch his front leg.

Here’s Altuve this year. Watch his front leg again.

See it? Altuve added a little bit of a more dramatic step with his front leg in early 2014. “Not too much, just a little,” Altuve said of the change. “I wanted to do an early step, not a big leg kick.”

The change has helped him in a couple different ways. “I recognize pitches earlier now that I’m doing that,” Altuve said. Hudgens agreed that the step has helped him start his entire swing and thinking process earlier. Altuve has always made a lot of contact — he’s in the top ten in contact rate this year — but his ability to make contact took a leap forward with the step.

Read the rest on Just a Bit Outside.

Checking In on the Disaster Positions

On the eve of this season, we at FanGraphs compiled our annual Positional Power Rankings, examining the projected depth charts at every position for every team. Things are very exciting at the top of these rankings — monitoring the center field situation for the Angels, for example, will be a thrill for the foreseeable future.

Also a thrill — at least for this impartial observer — was the situation at the very bottom of the same rankings. While just about every position for just about every team has been serviceably filled by the end of winter, a few slipped through the cracks here and there. Of the dozens of major league positions amongst the thirty teams, only four were projected to produce at below replacement level. Here we will examine just how things are going for those four positions, plus starting here with a fifth position that, while projected for marginally above replacement level, lagged remarkably behind the other 29 teams:

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Eno Sarris Baseball Chat — 4/30/15

Eno Sarris: I’ll be here shortly


Comment From Thorn
How excited should we be over Foltynewicz? Thinking of dropping Dickey or Niese for him in my 15 teamer.. thoughts?

Eno Sarris: No changeup, no command. Still, I guess I might drop Dickey.

Comment From Every Cub
Facing Gerrit Cole and Arqiumedes Caminero in the same game should be against the rules. SAVE US MR. MANFRIED

Comment From Zack
I just traded Adrian Gonzalez for Jose Abreu *drops mic*

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The Red Sox Bizarre Rotation

The Boston Red Sox rotation began the season with some scrutiny as the starting five was filled with average to above average types and no pitcher resembling an ace. That scrutiny has turned to criticism as we near the end of the first month of the season and that rotation has allowed more runs than any other starting group in the American League and their 5.75 ERA is the worst in Major League Baseball. The rotation has gotten off to a terrible start, but the offense has produced and the Red Sox will still enter May with a winning record at 12-10. While a bloated ERA has generated calls for the Red Sox to make a trade for a starter, the current rotation has pitched better than its ERA would indicate. Going forward, the Red Sox rotation should get much better results than we have seen so far.

The Red Sox have given up a lot of runs, but the rotation’s FIP is a middle of the road 3.91. The Red Sox and Cleveland Indians are the only two rotations in MLB to have their ERA and FIP differ by more than one, and for the Red Sox that number is 1.84. The team’s walk rate at 8.8% is a little too high, but they make up for the high walk rate by striking out 22.9% of hitters. Their 14.9% K-BB rate is in the upper third of American League teams. Individually, there is not a single starter with a lower ERA than FIP.

Clay Buchholz 25.0 5.76 2.65 2.79
Joe Kelly 23.2 4.94 3.60 3.19
Justin Masterson 22.2 5.16 3.57 3.88
Wade Miley 15.2 8.62 4.83 5.88
Rick Porcello 32.0 5.34 4.92 4.08

In a more visual form:
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Searching for This Year’s Called Balls on Pitches Down the Middle

This is one of those posts I like to write over and over. We’re always getting new information, meaning we’re always getting new borderline calls, and when there’s room for error around the fringes, that means there’s a non-zero chance something could go more dreadfully wrong. Like, say, a pitch being taken down the middle, and getting called a ball. Humans are perfect at nothing, not even the things that we think we’re perfect at, and a baseball season has a whole lot of pitches in it. Lots of opportunities for funny, uncommon mistakes. When it occurs to me, I try to find them.

I don’t do it because I delight in pointing out when umpires mess up. I really don’t, because their job is harder than my job, and I don’t like to pile on. Everyone’s capable of stupid mistakes. I do it because, think about it. We’re used to seeing questionable calls around the edges. But, right down the middle? It’s the kind of mistake you want to investigate, because you feel like something must’ve happened. My goal when I do this is to try to understand why the call got made how it did. Find an explanation for the seemingly inexplicable. I don’t know why this interests me so much, but, here we are, and no one on staff has told me to stop.

We’ve had weeks of baseball in 2015. There’s nothing particularly significant about right now, but let’s reflect anyway on what’s taken place. Let’s search for those called balls on pitches taken down the middle.

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NERD Game Scores for Thursday, April 30, 2015

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
Washington at New York NL | 19:10 ET
Strasburg (24.0 IP, 100 xFIP-) vs. deGrom (24.1 IP, 102 xFIP-)
Washington right-hander Stephen Strasburg was an elite amateur prospect known for his plus-plus arm speed who was selected first overall in the 2009 draft. Mets right-hander Jacob deGrom was a markedly less elite amateur prospect selected 272nd overall (and signed for $95,000) in the 2010 draft. Here are their average fastball velocities roughly a month into the season: 94.2 mph and 94.0 mph, respectively. One finds that those are the seventh- and tenth-best such marks among the league’s 112 qualified pitchers). One concludes that all human endeavor is afflicted by awfulest chance.

Readers’ Preferred Broadcast: New York NL Television.

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