Archive for October, 2016

The Difference Between Cleveland and Chicago’s Bullpen

When it became very clear that the 2016 Chicago Cubs, the 103-win Chicago Cubs, were potentially one game away from their historical season coming to a disappointing finish, the pitcher standing on the mound was Travis Wood. Wood had just been brought in to face the left-handed Jason Kipnis, and Wood had just thrown three balls in four pitches to Jason Kipnis, and then an 87-mph cutter breaking right toward the heart of the plate. Kipnis hit the very hittable cutter 10 rows deep into the right field bleachers at Wrigley Field, on a windy night in Chicago when would-be home runs were becoming warning track fly outs all evening long. Not this one.

Nothing was stopping this ball, off the bat at 105 mph, from landing in the bleachers (and then immediately being thrown back onto the field), from giving the Indians a 7-1 lead in the game, and from getting the Indians one step closer to the 3-1 lead in the World Series which they now possess. And when that ball was on its way out of the playing field, Aroldis Chapman, Hector Rondon, and Pedro Strop, the three most important Cubs relievers during the regular season, looked on from the third-base bullpen, none of them having thrown a single pitch in the game.

Rondon eventually mopped up Wood’s mess — and Justin Grimm‘s and Mike Montgomery’s mess, too — throwing two scoreless innings, striking out two of the eight batters he faced while pumping fastballs that touched 99 mph. And the fact that it was Rondon who mopped up the mess caused by lesser relievers, while Chapman and Strop contributed nothing, highlights the key difference between the bullpens of the Chicago Cubs and the Cleveland Indians in this World Series.
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Sunday Notes: Cubs-Indians Game 4, Bogaerts, McHugh, more

Corey Kluber was asked on Friday if facing a team back-to-back will require him to make more adjustments than usual. His answer, presumably predicated on the fact that he dominated in Game One, was a classic yes-and-no.

“I don’t think so,” said Kluber. “They’re obviously going to make adjustments based on last game. I’m going to make adjustments based on last game, and it’s going to be that cat-and-mouse game. But I think anytime you face a team back-to-back or in a short span… I mean, that’s always the case.”

Kluber ended up throwing more curveballs and fewer cutters in Game 4, but the bigger adjustment came from the Cubs. The righty reacted as per usual. Read the rest of this entry »

2016 World Series Game 4 Live Blog

Neil Weinberg: Hey everyone!

Neil Weinberg: Nick Stellini and I are going to be your hosts this evening. Nick is going to be joining the site as a regular writer in a week or two, but this is his soft launch.

Korey Cluber: FOX had Carlos Santana listed as a 1B/OF in the pregame.

Nick Stellini: If I blow up on the launchpad it’s all Neil’s fault.

Neil Weinberg: I saw this. Loved it. I am all about players playing weird positions.

Neil Weinberg:

Who would you like to win tonight?

Cleveland (49.1% | 57 votes)
Cubs (50.8% | 59 votes)

Total Votes: 116

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The Best of FanGraphs: October 24-28, 2016

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 and blue for Community Research.

Minors to Majors: Calculating Individual Pitch Grades by Jeff Zimmerman
One step in tying pitch grades to actual on-field performance.

The 2016 World Series’ Nastiest Pitches by August Fagerstrom
Video clips of men imparting improbable velocity and spin onto leather spheres.

The Kyle Schwarber Decision by Dave Cameron
Revisit a moment in history when rostering Schwarber was a question.

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The Unlikely Kyle Schwarber Defense

Rather than Andrew Miller, it was Bryan Shaw who was stretched past his typical workload in Cleveland’s 1-0 World Series Game Three win on Friday, throwing 31 pitches in a rare multi-inning appearance. Rather than Andrew Miller, it was Bryan Shaw who wound up throwing the high-leverage middle relief innings, handling four of Cleveland’s five highest-leverage at-bats before Cody Allen’s ninth inning. And, rather than Andrew Miller, it was Bryan Shaw who faced lefty Kyle Schwarber when he came off Chicago’s bench.

Everyone in the stadium was waiting to see when Schwarber would get his at-bat. Cody Allen was warm in the bullpen when Schwarber entered the game at at a time when one swing of the bat would have tied things up, but manager Terry Francona stuck with Shaw. Dave Cameron had written hours earlier about this very tango, suggesting that Francona flip-flop the accustomed usage of deploying Miller first, instead saving him for the later innings to make life tougher on Schwarber and Joe Maddon. What Cameron didn’t consider — and why would he have? — is that it wouldn’t be Miller or Allen facing Schwarber at all.

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The Indians Stole the Game They Needed

Like a lot of people, I don’t gamble, but, like a lot of people, I have done it before. I was a sophomore in college, and I thought I knew an awful lot about baseball, so I thought, you know what, I bet I can monetize this. I decided to lean on my baseball expertise to bet on individual baseball games. I bet for two days, I lost about four hundred dollars, and I haven’t tried it again since. I’ve learned more about baseball over the decade, but, have I, really?

If there’s one thing we know about baseball, it’s that we can’t predict it. The smaller the sample, the wilder it gets. But we can be so, so easily tricked, and never is that more clear than it is in the playoffs. In the playoffs, see, individual games are under greater scrutiny. And when you get to the World Series, people are searching for possible keys everywhere. *Everything* is important. This pitcher’s vulnerability could be exploited. That player on the bench will have a good matchup. The guy over there’s a bad defender. We examine these games in so much detail that we start to convince ourselves the games can be actually predicted. We convince ourselves the games will make sense. Earlier Friday, in my chat, I fielded countless questions about the degree to which the Indians would be screwed in Game 3. Road park, Josh Tomlin pitching, wind blowing strongly out, DH in left field. It was all lining up for the Cubs. It was so easy to believe, yeah, this is the Cubs’ game. How couldn’t it be?

You can stare at a coin all you like, but heads or tails will still come up half the time. An exhaustively-examined game in the World Series is not meaningfully more predictable than an unexamined regular-season game in July. Give it one game at a time, and baseball’s likely to baseball. Give it one game at a time, and Tomlin and the Indians can knock off the Cubs 1-0 in a pretty extreme hitters’ environment.

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Cubs-Indians: Game Three Notes

Corey Kluber pitching on three days rest — and starting three games if the Series goes seven — won’t be all that uncommon. Teams have employed their best starter that way in the postseason numerous times. Sometimes the strategy works. Sometimes it doesn’t.

Terry Francona doing so with Kluber makes perfect sense. Not to take anything away from Ryan Merritt, but the rookie repeating his shock-the-baseball-world outing against the Blue Jays would be… well, even more shocking. Lightning rarely strikes twice, and this is the World Series. Plus, Chicago’s lineup isn’t Toronto’s lineup (although both have issues against curveballs). Francona may be managing in Cleveland, but he lives in match-up city.

His explanation of the pitching plans show that logic, not desperation, is the determiner. Read the rest of this entry »

2016 World Series Game 3 Live Blog

Eno Sarris: oh it’s just a

Ryan Pollack: Properly this time:

Ryan Pollack: That’s my musical contribution for the evening. Let’s get this party started!

Harambe: Eno, this music is terrible.

Eno Sarris: Oh I know. I’m sorry. It was a funny.

Chris: hey eno, i’m in bells and founders land but stone from San Diego or whatever just recently started being carried by several places here. what should i look for?

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John Lackey, Umpires, and the Strike Zone

John Lackey might be slightly overlooked on a Chicago Cubs team that’s almost ideally constructed. He isn’t young and he isn’t really a star — which tend to be the two traits that earn a player attention during the postseason. He is an above-average pitcher, though, and as the Cubs’ starter for Game Four of the World Series, he’s in a position to exert some influence over the club’s chances of winning the championship. With all of his antics on the mound, it’s hard to say Lackey does anything gracefully. What he has done, though is age quite well, putting up one of the best two-year runs among pitchers his age over the last three decades. And here’s something about him that’s relevant for Saturday’s game against Cleveland: while he doesn’t need a generous strike zone to succeed — his pitching ability and the great Cubs defense are enough — Lackey, more than most, is in a position to benefit from one.

Over the past two seasons, John Lackey has pitched more than 400 innings with a better-than-league-average FIP. Over the last 30 years, he’s one of just a dozen pitchers to pull off that feat between the age-36 to -37 seasons. While his 6.7 WAR total over that interval might not seem incredibly high, the only pitchers over the last three decades to pitch more innings with a higher WAR are (listed in order of wins) Randy Johnson, David Wells, Chuck Finley, Dennis Martinez, Jack Morris,  R.A. Dickey, Greg Maddux, and Woody Williams .

The relatively even success over the 2015 and -16 seasons doesn’t mean that Lackey hasn’t made adjustments. As Eno Sarris wrote, Lackey improved his change and took a different approach against left-handed batters this season that could have lessened his platoon splits. He both struck out and also walked a few more hitters this year while giving up homers at a higher rate (something to watch for if the wind is blowing out on Saturday), but because of the overall increase in scoring this season, Lackey’s fielding-independent numbers remained nearly identical when taken in context. While he isn’t mowing hitters down, he has continued to record an above-average strikeout rate and walk rate, and the Cubs appear to have gotten a pretty good deal on the two-year, $32 million contract Lackey signed, even if the team did also have to concede a draft pick.

Lackey is a pitcher who relies on swings to get batters out. His strike-zone percentage at 48% is a little below average, but he’s one of just five starting pitchers (Kevin Gausman, Cole Hamels, Max Scherzer, Justin Verlander) in 2016 to finish among the top-20 starters in out-of-zone swing rate (O-Swing%), in-zone swing rate (Z-Swing%), and overall swing percentage. Among the right-handers in that group, all of them throw several miles per hour harder than Lackey — and even the lefty Hamels throws a bit harder on average. Lackey relies on being close enough to the zone to (a) elicit swings on pitches that will either be missed or yield weak contact or (b) get called strikes on borderline pitches. Read the rest of this entry »

The 2016 Chicago Cubs: A Ball-in-Play Snapshot

The Fall Classic is underway, with the underdog Cleveland Indians landing the first haymaker blow for their third series in a row. The NL Champion Chicago Cubs were clearly the best team in baseball throughout the regular season; will they be able to do what the Tribe’s previous postseason opponents couldn’t, and fight their way off of the ropes and onto ultimate victory?

This week, we’re taking a macro, ball-in-play-oriented look at each team and its key players. Earlier this week, we looked at the AL champs; today, it’s the Cubs’ turn under the microscope, as we examine granular data such as BIP frequencies, exit speeds and launch angles to get a feel for what made them tick in 2016.

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