Archive for September, 2016

Tyler Clippard on Pitching (The Follow-Up Interview)

One month ago, Tyler Clippard discussed Beating BABIP and the Limits of FIP in these very pages. He cited his ability to create plane as a big part of his success. The Yankees reliever effectively induces weak contact with a 91-mph riding fastball and a combination of changeups and splitters.

Clippard always has insight to offer, so I followed up on our earlier conversation when New York returned to Boston a few weeks ago. The subjects at hand were pitch usage and effectively changing eye levels.


Clippard on if pitchers should throw their “best” pitch a higher percentage of the time than they do: “That’s a good question. I mean… I’m always trying to mix it up and have really good variance on what I’m throwing. That way hitters can’t sit on one pitch. If you are throwing your best pitch, regardless of how good it is, over 60% of the time, I feel like you’re giving the hitter a better chance. Granted, that pitch might be one of the best pitches in baseball — it’s tough for the hitters to hit, even if they know it’s coming — but to me, it just works against what pitching is.

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“Pitch” Episode 2: Ginnsanity

Earlier recaps: Episode 1.

Welcome to our recap of the second episode of “Pitch”, entitled “The Interim”. As always, there are spoilers, so read at your own risk.

We join Ginny Baker (Kylie Bunbury) in the aftermath of her first major-league victory (which is, of course, the first ever major-league victory by a woman). After the locker-room blowup we saw last week, Ginny’s determined to not cause any more of a fuss, despite the outside pandemonium that sports pundits have dubbed “Ginnsanity.” She wants to be “just one of the guys.”

The best way to do this is by going out for drinks with some of her Padres teammates. Almost immediately, they address the issue of Ginny’s sexuality — something that, ideally, wouldn’t be relevant, but, in reality, most definitely is. Ginny’s not a “nun,” nor is she a lesbian, but she doesn’t hook up with teammates, either. Now they know.

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Effectively Wild Episode 960: Theo Sets a New High Score

Ben and Sam banter about a wild night in baseball, the morality of forfeits, and the triples record, then discuss Theo Epstein’s record-setting extension.

Pinpointing the Moment Jake Lamb’s Season Changed

Even if you didn’t predict great things for the Diamondbacks this year, it’s hard not to be disappointed by their 2016 season. You can set aside their various front-office nonsense and still come to that conclusion. Zack Greinke hasn’t been great, A.J. Pollock missed significant time, and Shelby Miller’s year has gone about as poorly as you could imagine. The club is set to lose nearly 100 games and finish last in the NL West.

You’d think that Jake Lamb offensive exploits would be among the club’s few points of pride this season. In 2015, Lamb recorded a 91 wRC+; he’s raised that figure to 115 this year. But it’s more likely that the club is worried about their young third baseman going into the season’s final games. After a scorching hot start, Lamb hasn’t just cooled off in the second half, he’s cratered.

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Jeff Sullivan FanGraphs Chat — 9/30/16

Jeff Sullivan: Hello friends

Jeff Sullivan: I guess I’m back to being late again

Jeff Sullivan: Welcome to Friday baseball chat!

CamdenWarehouse: Is there actually evidence that says mid range power guys hit more warning track fly balls than the bigger power guys or is this something that just seems correct?

Jeff Sullivan: I think to me and others it just *seems* correct. Now, this is something that would be possible to investigate with Statcast, so with good fortune someone will take it up in the coming weeks or months to confirm

Jeff Sullivan: I’d really like to know how evenly or unevenly fly balls end up being distributed

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Freddie Freeman Is Lifting Up the Braves

There’s a danger in waiting to write a post about how the narrative surrounding a particular statistic, because the statistics are always changing. I’ve been meaning to write a post about the Atlanta Braves for a while, and specifically, the Atlanta Braves’ offense. I got the inspiration to write about the Braves offense last week, when some sorting of leaderboards for an entirely differnet topic led me to the realization that the Braves had had baseball’s best second-half offense, up until that point. “The Braves Have Had Baseball’s Best Something” would be the headline, and I would take a look at all the young, exciting players that have fueled this second-half surge for the Braves, and how it bodes well for the future of their rebuild.

Well, things change. The Braves no longer have had baseball’s best anything, because they no longer have baseball’s best second-half offense. That honor goes to the Dodgers. The Braves have now had baseball’s second-best second-half offense, and that’s not nearly as compelling a title. And the more I looked into it, my hypothesis for a narrative just didn’t hold up anyway. Honestly, in the grand scheme of things, this second-half offensive surge by Atlanta isn’t all that interesting. The part that’s interesting is that Freddie Freeman has been so damn good, he’s tricked an entire team into appearing compelling.

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The Actual Difference Between Mike Trout and Mookie Betts

With postseason awards ballots due in a few days, we’re getting a bunch of writers publishing their hypothetical votes today, including national writers like Ken Rosenthal and Jon Heyman. As has become an annual custom, one of the primary points of contention is whether to give the AL MVP to Mike Trout, far and away the best player in the game.

Rosenthal, who definitely ascribes value to playing on a contender, stumps for Trout anyway.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I prefer my MVP to come from a contender. A preference, though, is not an absolute. Trout has been the best by such a wide margin — his OPS is nearly 100 points higher than Betts’, thanks to his league-leading .441 on-base percentage — it would be foolish to deny him.

Heyman takes the more traditional path, arguing for Mookie Betts because he had better teammates, even though he puts Trout second, ahead of plenty of other good players on winning teams. In support of his belief that it’s close enough to give the edge to the guy was fortunate enough to get drafted by the well-run organization, Heyman puts for this argument.

Some say his age-23 season has been comparable to Joe DiMaggio’s. I’m not sure about that. But it’s good enough to take the AL MVP in a tight, tough, interesting year. He gets the nod over David Ortiz for playing defense (and an outstanding right field), and he gets it over Trout as he was almost as brilliant as Trout (9.5 WAR compared to Trout’s 10.2). That 0.7 extra WAR (based mostly on more walks) isn’t enough to disregard how Betts helped his team win baseball’s best division, and dominated games in the division, especially against the Orioles.

In the blurb on Trout finishing second, he repeats the claim that the difference is just some walks, saying “But his numbers are almost identical to those of Betts, except for the walks.”

Now, sure, that’s one way to look at it. If you just look at the traditional baseball card numbers, they are very similar.

Trout and Betts, Outdated Numbers Analysis
Trout 0.318 29 99 123 27
Betts 0.320 31 112 119 26

But just for fun, let’s add another traditional baseball number to the column. It’s not going to be anything scary. It’s not a formula. It’s a counting stat, just like home runs and RBIs.

Trout and Betts, Outs Made
Player Games Outs
Trout 156 386
Betts 155 472

Heyman framed the difference as just some walks, and because walks are easy to dismiss — they’re not driving in runners, the guy didn’t really do anything to earn them, it’s just the pitcher being wild, etc… — it’s a good way to pretend that Betts and Trout have had similar offensive seasons. But instead of talking about walks, what if we just called them something else; non-outs. Because we know outs are bad, right? When a guy on the team we’re rooting for makes an out, we’re sad, because that means that our team’s offense has fewer chances to score the rest of the inning.

Mookie Betts has made 86 more outs than Mike Trout this year; in fact, Betts is sixth in the AL in outs made. Now, certainly, some of that is because he’s just hit a lot; his 718 plate appearances are second most in the AL, as the Red Sox offense has turned over the lineup frequently, allowing Mookie to come to the plate 49 more times than Trout, despite playing in the same number of games. But even Trout magically batted 49 more times than Betts this weekend, and made outs in every single one of those plate appearances, he’d still be almost 40 outs behind Betts on the season.

Betts has made three full games — plus a few leftover — worth of outs more than Trout has this season. That is an enormous difference, and can’t just be hand-waved away as “some walks”. And that’s why Trout is crushing Betts in any kind of calculation of offensive runs produced this year.

Trout and Betts, Offensive Value
Trout 135 59 58 67
Betts 122 37 31 41

wRC is closer than the rest because, as a counting stat with a base of zero, it isn’t accounting for opportunities, so Betts’ extra trips to the plate help him rack up some more value. In the other three, where an average hitter is the baseline, Trout pulls away, as he produced more raw offensive value while using many fewer outs to get there.

OFF is the combination of park-adjusted batting and baserunning value, and here, Trout has a 26 run lead. Twenty-six runs is almost three wins. The idea that it’s a close race when you look at their batting lines is simply factually incorrect. The 86 out difference makes it entirely clear that Trout trounced Betts as a hitter this year. That’s nothing against Mookie, who I continue to love; Trout trounced everyone as a hitter this year.

So while I appreciate Heyman looking at WAR in determining his ballot, the reality is that the argument that it’s a close race depends entirely on the acceptance of an enormous gap in defensive value as measured by Defensive Runs Saved, which is the fielding component used in Baseball-Reference’s WAR, which Heyman is citing. DRS gives Betts credit for 32 runs saved — 10 runs more than the next best player, Adam Eaton — which is almost double his +17 UZR.

Betts is clearly a fantastic defensive player, and he deserves credit for his all around game, but the reality is that the argument that Betts and Trout have had similar 2016 seasons is an argument for accepting the validity of single-season DRS at face value. We’ve probably done more to advocate for the acceptance of stats like UZR and DRS as anyone, but even I wouldn’t look at Betts’ 2016 defensive numbers and argue that we should accept that he was the best defender in baseball this year, and far more valuable defensively than Trout, who still plays the more demanding defensive position.

And unlike single-season defensive metrics, which continue to have some noise influencing their results, we can very easily identify the offensive difference between Trout and Betts. It wasn’t just “some walks”; it was 86 outs made. And those 86 outs are why, with all due respect to Betts as a great player who had a great season, it isn’t really all that close this year.

Trout was the best player in baseball, by a lot. If you want to give the award to Betts because he plays on a winning team, we can’t stop you, but let’s not pretend that Betts and Trout had similar offensive seasons. When it comes to offensive production in 2016, it’s Trout, a huge gap, and then everyone else.

Four Trivial Things to Watch This Weekend

Baseball matters this weekend, in as much as it ever truly matters. The division races are decided, but the Wild Card races in both leagues provide plenty of reasons to tune in and root for whatever outcome pleases your baseball-loving sensibilities. As things stand right now there are 13 teams with hopes of postseason play, but a week from now only eight teams will remain. Stakes don’t get much higher than that.

But the postseason pool is not the only thing that will be finalized this weekend (or, if #TeamEntropy gets its way, early next week). In a few days, the regular season will come to a halt and 2016 stat lines will be frozen forever. Is a batter a 30-home-run guy or did he stop at 29? A .300 hitter or a .299? A sub-3.00-ERA pitcher or one with a 3.03 ERA? These trivial distinctions will be determined over the next few days.

What should you watch this weekend? The playoff races. Obviously. It’s exciting and it’s thrilling. But if you’re a weirdo with an affinity for the trivial side of this sport like me, there are a few other things to keep your eye on this weekend. Here are the four I’ll be watching most closely:

The Dodgers’ Strikeout Rate

Two pitchers in major-league history have finished a career (min. 3000 IP) with a strikeout rate above 25%: Randy Johnson (28.6%) and Nolan Ryan (25.3%). The 2016 Dodgers currently have a 25.2% strikeout rate as a team. That’s right, the revolving door of healthy and injured pitchers has resulted in a Dodgers pitching staff that has struck out batters at a rate roughly equivalent to Nolan Ryan’s career rate.

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NERD Game Scores: The Sound and Fury and Cardinals

Devised originally in response to a challenge issued by sabermetric nobleman 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
Pittsburgh at St. Louis | 20:15 ET
Glasnow (18.1 IP, 104 xFIP-) vs. Martinez (188.1 IP, 94 xFIP-)
Yesterday, the author experimented with a version of NERD game scores that does not assume an average NERD score of 5 for all teams every day of the season, but instead assesses a score to each club based on its postseason odds, where odds of 50% would equal a perfect score of 10 and odds either of 0% or 100% equal a NERD score of 0. Given the number of teams which have either clinched a playoff spot or, in most cases, been eliminated from the postseason altogether, this naturally leads to a lot of 0s. The advantage, however, is the there aren’t a number of teams clustered around the 4 mark, which naturally becomes the “average” score at a point in the season when most teams are playing for little and/or nothing.

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One More Incredible Rangers Statistic

As you’re no doubt aware, it’s been a hell of a season in Texas. The Rangers own the best record in the American League, with the eighth-best run differential. They’ve destroyed their Pythagorean record, which has caused them to destroy their BaseRuns record. Much of this has been fueled by historic success in one-run games, and much of that has been fueled by historically clutch hitting. Teams are successful every year, but the Rangers have followed an unusual course. It’s been simultaneously thrilling and bizarre, something difficult for analysts to explain. At this point, there might not be any sense in trying.

There’s one more nugget I want to throw on top of the others. For the reasons detailed above, this Rangers season has been truly exceptional. It’s hard to imagine a team drawing it up like this. Yet there’s another split you might have trouble believing. I know I did! Which is why I’m writing this in the first place. I don’t really know what it means, but I can’t not bring it to your attention.

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