Archive for September, 2015

The Player Who’s Most Hurt the Astros

Last night, the Astros lost, and for the first time since May 15, they find their playoff odds below 50%. They have but four remaining games to re-claim playoff position, and, I’m sure you’ve had a good sense of their struggles. A 10-16 September has dropped their playoff odds from 97% to 44%. It’s dropped their division-winning odds from 88% to 3%. It took so long to get used to the idea of the Astros advancing to the postseason, and then it felt like a given for weeks. Now people are starting to think about big-picture perspectives, like how it’s still been a great season regardless of whether it ends in a few days. That’s true, but it’s also not what Astros fans thought they’d be having to consider at the end of September.

In a certain sense, these struggles have been almost team-wide. While the position players rank third in baseball in September WAR and third in September wRC+, they’re also 22nd in Win Probability Added, owing to some lousy timing. Astros starters rank 18th in WPA, neither good nor bad. The bullpen, meanwhile, ranks 27th in WPA. The Astros have had several issues, but a once-reliable bullpen has been a big one. And within that bullpen, one arm in particular has come apart at the worst possible time.

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Anthony Rizzo, Bruised Into History

This season, Anthony Rizzo has obliterated 30 baseballs into the seats for home runs. As of last night, in perfect symmetry, 30 baseballs have exacted revenge for their wounded brothers by hitting Anthony Rizzo. This is a rare accomplishment. Is this an accomplishment? This is a rare accomplishment.

Until now, only one player had ever before reached that particular 30/30 threshold — Don Baylor, in 1986. That year, he knocked 31 dingers, and was hit 35 times. Over his career, he hit hundreds of homers. And he was hit by hundreds of pitches. He’s fitting company. If you want to make Rizzo more special, he’s also exceeded 30 doubles, which Baylor didn’t, so now by those terms Rizzo is the first-ever 30/30/30 player. Anyhow, going back to the original 30/30 terms, if you loosen the restrictions, there have only ever been six 25/25 player seasons. In 2004, Craig Wilson slugged 29 homers, and was slugged by 30 pitches. He came painfully close to belonging in the Baylor/Rizzo tier. Maybe that year he was robbed of a home run. I don’t know, so I’ll pretend, to aid the narrative. Craig Wilson: almost historic. Too bad.

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Kevin Cash on Communication and Collaboration

Kevin Cash is in the final week of his first season as a big league manager. He’s had quite the learning experience. Working closely with one of baseball’s most progressive front offices, the 37-year-old former catcher has helped keep the Tampa Bay Rays competitive, despite several key injuries and one of the lowest payrolls in the game.

Currently the youngest manager in MLB, Cash was hired to replace Joe Maddon last December. Prior to coming to Tampa, he spent two years as the bullpen coach for the Cleveland Indians, where he worked under Terry Francona.

Cash touched on his first season at the helm – including the importance of communication and collaboration – last week at Fenway Park.


Cash on what he’s learned: “I’ve learned that it’s a challenging task to stay on top of everything. The communication is a constant that never goes away – communication with the front office, communication with the players. That was a big goal coming in, for all of us – for the entire staff – and we’ve continued to evolve as the season has gone on. It takes time to build relationships. I think we all feel confident that we’re heading in the right direction in that regard.”

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Addison Russell Is This Year’s Other Guy

Most Major League Baseball fans are familiar with Addison Russell. The Oakland A’s selected Russell in the first round of the 2012 draft, and he became one of the best prospects in all of baseball before his trade to the Chicago Cubs for Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel at the trade deadline last season. His call-up in April was a bit of a surprise, and despite his prospect record, his mediocre batting line, higher profile teammates, and a pair of rookie shortstops in the American League have left Russell in relative anonymity. Russell’s play has not forced anyone to take notice, but playing a full season at his age is an accomplishment in and of itself.

While most people know Russell, it would be fair if they weren’t keeping up with his progress this season. A 21-year-old top prospect would normally receive a lot of attention, but recording his own debut within days of teammate, uber-prospect and likely Rookie-of-the-Year in Kris Bryant rendered Russell’s arrival less newsworthy. Russell has also been overshadowed by a pair of 21-year-old shortstops from the American League, as Carlos Correa and Francisco Lindor have both exceeded a 130 wRC+ in over 400 plate appearances. Russell, on the other hand, has yet to distinguish himself at the plate: he’s hitting just .237/.301/.384 with an 87 wRC+ this year, and has struck out in more than 28% of his plate appearances.

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JABO: The Evolution of Mookie Betts

A year ago, Mookie Betts was one of the more divisive young talents in baseball. Mostly overlooked by scouts due to his diminutive size and lack of power — he was a 5th round pick by the Red Sox back in the 2011 draft — Betts ended up crushing minor league pitching in 2013 and 2014 to put himself on the prospect map, though opinions about his future still varied pretty widely. Over at FanGraphs, we were pretty big fans based on his overall value skillset, but our enthusiasm was met with a lot of skepticism over the perceived lack of upside from a small contact hitter who generated a lot of value by drawing walks against inferior pitching.

And those concerns were somewhat legitimate. When I first wrote about Betts on JABO a year ago — suggesting that the Red Sox keep him rather than get tempted into dealing him for a frontline starting pitcher — I developed a list of offensive comparisons based on his swing and contact rates. There were some good names on that list, including Joe Mauer and Matt Carpenter. There was also the Tony Gwynn that doesn’t make for an optimistic comparison, along with Craig Counsell, Daric Barton, and Sam Fuld. The low swing rate/high contact types almost universally didn’t hit for power, and guys Betts’ size often end up being defensive-oriented players who try to slap enough singles and steal enough bases to avoid being an offensive hole.

Well, with his first full season nearly in the books, I think it’s safe to say at this point that Betts is not a slap hitter. Last night, he launched his 16th home run of the season, and perhaps more impressively, hit his 42nd double. Add in the 8 triples and Betts now has 66 extra base hits on the year, the same number of XBH as Nelson Cruz (who leads the majors in home runs) and Jose Abreu, and ahead of Cubs slugging rookie Kris Bryant, who was the consensus top prospect in baseball in large part because of his prodigious power. And that puts him five extra base hits ahead of Andrew McCutchen, who became the popular comparison this spring, when Betts was torching the Grapefruit League in Spring Training.

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Dave Cameron FanGraphs Chat – 9/30/15

Dave Cameron: Alright, the queue is now open, so feel free to get your questions in, and we’ll start in about 20 minutes.

Dave Cameron: Alright, let’s get this thing started.

Comment From Andrew
All of a sudden a bunch of playoff teams are looking very mortal. The Cards are getting crushed with injuries, the Royals and Dodgers are racing to jump off a cliff first, the Yankees are treading water, and the AL West is still nuts. Care to hazard a best guess at what’s going to happen?

Dave Cameron: The playoffs are going to start and we’re going to forget all this? There’s been no real proof that September performance matters in October.

Comment From Guest
since WAR is FIP based, that means it’s not taking park into account right? so WAR would undervalue pitchers in a hitters park? do I have that correct?

Dave Cameron: No, we add in park adjustments when calculating WAR.

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What Zack Greinke Learned from Felix Hernandez Exactly

Zack Greinke’s changeup may only seem different this year. By the stats, it drops a bit more and it’s harder, sure. But if you ask the pitcher, the pitch itself hasn’t changed much. “I throw it more this year,” he said when I asked him what was different about it.

If the systems have the change dropping more this year — estimates run from about a half inch to an inch more drop this year over previous years — there might be something else going on. The systems might be grabbing bad changeups and classifying them as sinkers, while calling the bendier pitches changeups.

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NERD Game Scores for Wednesday, September 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
Oakland at Los Angeles AL | 19:05 ET
Zito (3.0 IP, 238 xFIP-) vs. Richards (195.1 IP, 95 xFIP-)
It is not particularly helpful to suggest that — for a club such as the Angels, who find themselves within two games on each side either of winning the AL West or failing to qualify at all for the postseason — it’s not so helpful to suggest that every victory is meaningful. Perhaps more enlightening, however, is to observe that, among all the clubs playing today, the Angels possess the highest projected probability of winning as calculated by the methodology used at the site (and ignoring precise lineup decisions, because the information is unavailable).

Regard, that same statement rendered — with difficulties — into the form of a table:

Win Prob

Readers’ Preferred Broadcast: Oakland Radio.

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Return of the First-Pitch Swing

Not very long ago, I read an article featuring some quotes from Kevin Cash, talking about how he wanted the Rays’ hitters to be more aggressive swinging at the first pitch. At least, I think I read such an article, but I’ll be damned if I can find it. It was probably from Ken Rosenthal, but now I feel a little bad in case I just gave credit to the wrong person. In any case, the article is lost on my internet, but the memory remains, and with it a little research idea. It’s time to look again at first-pitch swings.

With the season basically over, we’re free to examine league trends. You can examine league trends whenever you want, but now there’s no more time for new trends to pop up. Any trends present today are effectively locked in. Last week, I wrote a little bit about the return of offense, and especially home runs, in this season’s second half. If there was a crisis of run-scoring before, concerns have at least been reduced. The run-scoring trend is probably the most interesting one. It’s a big deal if there’s going to be offense again. But there’s another thing we’ve seen happen, even if we individually haven’t noticed. Hidden in the deeper numbers is evidence that hitters are more willing to go up there and swing right away.

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FanGraphs Audio: Dave Cameron Analyzes All Coin-Flipping

Episode 599
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 participates in an inquisitive but largely unscientific conversation regarding the Bryce HarperJonathan Papelbon contretemps, confirms that the Mets are scary but not also spooky, and (finally) attempts to explain why professional coin-tossing would make for an utter failure as a spectator sport.

This edition of the program is sponsored by Draft, the first truly mobile fantasy sports app. Compete directly against idiot host Carson Cistulli by clicking here.

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 46 min play time.)

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