Archive for March, 2017

The Reds Are Giving Us Something New Again

Two years ago, the Cincinnati Reds finished the season by starting rookie pitchers in 64 straight games. Overall, rookies made 110 starts for the Reds that season, third most in history behind the 1998 Florida Marlins and the 2009 Oakland Athletics. The ’98 Marlins team featured the dismantled remnants of the previous season’s World Series title team and lost 104 games. The A’s team finished .500, as Brett Anderson and Gio Gonzalez made solid debuts while Trevor Cahill, Vin Mazzaro, and Josh Outman also pitched. As might be expected, the 2015 Reds were bad, but given their reliance on rookies, we might think the staff might prove to have more veterans in 2016 and 2017. That hasn’t been the case at all.

After getting 110 rookie starts in 2015, the Cincinnati Reds followed up with another 56 rookie starts last year. In the last 100 seasons, only 24 franchises have ever had 81 games or more started by rookie pitchers. Of those teams, the 1934 Philadelphia A’s, the 1936 Philadelphia A’s, the 1978 Oakland A’s, the 2009 Baltimore Orioles, and the 2015 Reds were the only ones to follow up the season questions with another 50 starts by rookies. For the Orioles, Brian Matusz barely avoided losing his rookie status in 2009, so his 32 starts in 2010 comprised the bulk of the Orioles’ 50 rookie starts, with Jake Arrieta nabbing the other 18.

As for the A’s, there have been 234 team seasons over the past 100 years in which rookies started at least 50 games; the A’s alone are responsible 12% (28) of them. Whether in Philadelphia, Kansas City, or Oakland, the organization has almost always been a spendthrift operation, and from 1935 to 1967, the club finished in last place or second-to-last place 25 of 33 seasons, never placing higher than fourth. Only 30 times in history has a team started rookie pitchers in 50 or more games at least two seasons in a row, and the A’s organization is responsible for seven of those times, encompassing 19 seasons.

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Blake Treinen Is Going To Close

At points, it looked like the next Nationals closer would be Koda Glover. At other points, it looked like it would be Shawn Kelley, and at other points, it looked like it would be David Robertson, or someone else belonging to another team. But now we can say that the next Nationals closer will be Blake Treinen. That is, at least, in the nearest-term future, barring a change or a trade, which could happen within any given matter of minutes.

For the Nationals, what this is is a resolution. It’s an answer, and all the other bullpen roles fall out of this assignment. For me, it’s a chance to write about Blake Treinen again. I’ve been on the Treinen bandwagon for a few years, mostly just because of his sinker. I’ve been somewhat obsessed with drawing parallels between Treinen and Zach Britton, another power-sinker reliever who converted from the rotation. Their sinkers behave similarly, thrown at similar speeds, and although there’s the clear difference of handedness, I have to go back to the well. Time to think about Treinen and Britton one more time.

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Brandon Kintzler on Injuries, Respect, and a Bowling-Ball Sinker

Brandon Kintzler doesn’t fit your standard closer profile. The 32-year-old righty isn’t a power pitcher, at least not in terms of missing bats. He averaged just 5.8 strikeouts per nine innings last year while earning 17 saves with the Minnesota Twins. Featuring a sinker that he threw 82% of the time, at an average velocity of 92 mph, he had a 61.9% ground-ball rate and 3.15 ERA.

And then there’s his background. A 40th-round pick by the San Diego Padres in 2004, Kintzler was pitching in an independent league three years later — and not particularly well. The Brewers nonetheless gave him a chance, and he rewarded them by beating the odds and making it to the big leagues. After solid seasons as a setup man in 2013 and 2014, things once again went south. Following an injury-ravaged 2015 that saw him throw just seven innings, Milwaukee cut him loose. The Twins signed him prior to last season.

Kintzler is well acquainted with operating rooms. Since entering pro ball out of Dixie State College, he’s undergone repairs to his shoulder, elbow, and left knee. All have had major impacts on a career that has seen him go from non-prospect to arguably the least-respected closer in the game.


Kintzler on his sinker-heavy approach: “I think everyone has different stuff. We all have different deception. We all have different… everyone talks about spin rate. I just think everyone is different. What I do works for me. I found out that what makes me successful is attacking with my fastball and forcing action. Could I try to strike out more people? Probably. But that means too many pitches, and I want to throw every day.

“The slider was my pitch coming up through the minor leagues. Read the rest of this entry »

Taijuan Walker: Spring’s Most Improved Starter*

By now, the most prolific pitchers of the spring have put in the equivalent of three major-league starts, some close to four with how short the average start has become. And as much as we talk about the inconsistent talent level in the spring, these starters have mostly faced major-league-quality hitters because the first four to five innings of spring baseball is a decent approximation of regular-season ball. It’s not entirely irresponsible to make certain observations about a pitcher two weeks into the season, so we might as well do it now, too. So let’s talk about Taijuan Walker. Again.

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Is the Clock Running Out on Yadier Molina?

Earlier this week, Jon Heyman reported that the Cardinals and Yadier Molina were “getting close” on a contract extension. With Molina, 34, years seem to be as much as an issue as the dollars involved. Heyman reports that Molina was initially seeking a four-year extension, while the club countered with a two-year deal. Can they find common ground on a three-year contract?

Molina is entering the final year of his current deal, which features a mutual option for next season. He’s given the club a deadline of Opening Day to reach an agreement, though if the club offered him Russell Martin-money in mid-April, I suspect he would consider it.

Molina told on Tuesday that the clock on extension talks is “running.” Said Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak: “We understand there is a deadline. I think everyone is going to roll up their sleeves and continue to work at it.”

But is the clock running out on Molina?

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Could Aaron Altherr Be a Part of the Core?

It feels like things with the Phillies should be a little more settled than they are. That could just be my own impatience, but even on the pitching side, we have to see if Aaron Nola and Vince Velasquez can stay healthy. And as for the young position players, Odubel Herrera might be the lone sure thing, and he’s bizarre. Maikel Franco still needs to prove that he’s valuable. J.P. Crawford needs to step up his own game. There’s been progress, but the actual core here is still being built.

Thinking about that led me to think about Aaron Altherr. Wednesday’s spring-training highlights also led me to think about Aaron Altherr.

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Eno Sarris Baseball Chat — 3/30/17

Eno Sarris: was going to play some mac dre, but this is close enough, and has better visuals

Borkins: Ello, mate!

Borkins: Cody Reed to the bullpen because…..????

Eno Sarris: They have too many starters! I dunno. I figure Feldman or Arroyo will flame out or Rookie Davis won’t have enough secondary stuff and he’ll be back.

Ragingtwig: I think this decision is ridiculously easy, but am waffling nonetheless: can keep Yoan Moncada ($3) or David Dahl ($8) in keep 6, $2 inflation, both for the next three years. OBP and SLG league. It’s Dahl right?

Eno Sarris: You get at least a half year more PT, and then Dahl also offers much more floor. I’d do him. Pause.

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Are Forecasts Too Pessimistic About the Blue Jays’ Rotation?

Paul Sporer and I were responsible for providing the starting-rotation installments of last week’s positional power rankings, posts which you can access here and here. One of the interesting things I took from the exercise was the absence of the Toronto Blue Jays from the top 15 of those rankings.

Blue Jays starters led the American League in ERA (3.64) last season. If you prefer more advanced measures, the Blue Jays’ rotation led the AL with 15.3 WAR and finished second in FIP (4.07) to Cleveland. This season, all of Toronto’s starting pitchers of significance return save for R.A. Dickey.

But despite finishing as the AL’s most productive rotation last season and despite losing arguably its weakest link in Dickey, the Jays’ rotation appeared in last week’s positional rankings as just the eighth-best staff in the AL and the 16th-best such group in the game. FanGraphs projections have the Blue Jays staff ranked behind the Red Sox and the Yankees in the AL East, and if that holds, it could be damaging to Toronto’s postseason aspirations.

Our 2017 forecasts for the Blue Jays’ likely starting pitchers…

Aaron Sanchez   205.0 7.9 3.2 0.9 .302 73.7 % 3.69 3.86 3.4
J.A. Happ 181.0 7.8 2.8 1.2 .303 72.5 % 4.11 4.15 2.6
Marcus Stroman 169.0 7.5 2.4 0.9 .313 71.3 % 3.85 3.64 3.2
Marco Estrada 167.0 7.0 2.9 1.4 .277 71.6 % 4.31 4.62 1.9
Francisco Liriano 149.0 9.6 4.1 1.2 .310 74.3 % 4.11 4.22 1.8
Casey Lawrence 37.0 5.1 2.4 1.5 .312 67.9 % 5.20 5.04 0.2
Mat Latos 38.0 6.6 3.0 1.3 .309 70.2 % 4.77 4.69 0.3
Mike Bolsinger 9.0 8.5 3.5 1.3 .317 71.7 % 4.51 4.36 0.1
Conner Greene 9.0 5.8 4.6 1.4 .311 67.6 % 5.77 5.63 0.0
Ryan Borucki 9.0 5.8 3.8 1.6 .310 68.3 % 5.59 5.54 0.0
Total 973.0 7.7 3.0 1.1 .302 72.3 % 4.11 4.18 13.4

So what’s going on here?

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On Mistakes and Baseball’s Long Memory

This is Kate Preusser’s fourth and final piece as part of her month-long residency. It has been a pleasure to host her work! Missed her previous posts? You can read them here. Listen to her appearance on FanGraphs Audio here.

“What other sport not only kept a stat as cruel as the error, but posted it on the scoreboard for everyone to see?”

–Chad Harbach, The Art of Fielding

On paper, it looks like Jurickson Profar had a successful WBC stint for Team Netherlands. He batted .464 during the team’s run through the Classic, with five doubles, four RBIs, and a home run — this while also playing a passable center field, a position at which he’s never recorded a start as a professional.

But Profar’s sterling performance will be overshadowed — for him, at least — by a baserunning blunder made in the first inning of an elimination game against Puerto Rico. Andrelton Simmons led off that game with a single. Xander Bogaerts was hit by a pitch right after that. When Profar followed with another single, it could have potentially loaded the bases for the Dutch. Could have, except that Simmons had just gotten picked off trying to steal third against Yadier Molina — because, I don’t know, maybe he didn’t recognize one of the best defensive catchers in the world with his blond hair?

But back to the Profar single. Even after accounting for Simmons’ caught stealing, that single still put the Dutch in a good position, with two runners on base and just the one out. The advantage didn’t last long, however. After rounding first, Profar used the opportunity to gesture towards the Netherlands crowd — an admittedly smaller contingent than Puerto Rico’s — and was slow getting back to the bag. Yadier Molina, a tiger who has the reflexes of a cobra that’s also a member of MENSA, threw him out. Which, of course he did! Yadier Molina likes throwing people out in the same way you and I like breathing. And of course Profar was celebrating his base hit, because people celebrating base hits is what makes the WBC so delightful. As an event, it’s like NES Super Punch-Out but with actual live humans doing the taunting.

There are multiple angles of the sequence in question. Here are two of them:

The Netherlands would still go on to score that inning thanks to Wladimir Balentien’s two-run homer, but it’s hard not to note that it could have been a grand slam. Profar certainly isn’t failing to note that. As he told the Orange County Register: “I just want to put this loss on myself… I made that mistake. I think we paid for it.”

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2017 Positional Power Rankings: Summary

Over the last couple of weeks, we published our annual season preview series by going position by position around the league. If you missed any of the posts, they can be accessed by that helpful widget up above. Today, we’re also going to summarize the results of the series. Let’s start by diving right into the results of the ordinal ranks, which we’ll break into three tables for easier digestion. Infield first!

2017 Infield Positional Power Rankings
Rank C 1B 2B SS 3B
1 Giants Cubs Astros Astros Blue Jays
2 Rangers Diamondbacks Mariners Indians Orioles
3 Dodgers Reds Twins Dodgers Cubs
4 Yankees Tigers Red Sox Nationals Rockies
5 Astros Braves Indians Cubs Mariners
6 Athletics Giants Tigers Giants Rangers
7 Cubs Indians Cubs Red Sox Dodgers
8 Blue Jays Cardinals Nationals Angels Nationals
9 Cardinals Orioles Giants Blue Jays Rays
10 Royals Padres Dodgers Cardinals Astros
11 Mariners Mets Blue Jays Rockies Pirates
12 Marlins White Sox Mets Mariners Indians
13 Pirates Yankees Rangers Athletics Royals
14 Tigers Dodgers Cardinals Yankees White Sox
15 Indians Astros Rays Reds Phillies
16 Red Sox Brewers Orioles Braves Twins
17 Nationals Royals Padres Tigers Yankees
18 Mets Twins Rockies Rangers Marlins
19 Orioles Angels Pirates Rays Padres
20 Padres Rangers Marlins White Sox Cardinals
21 Twins Red Sox Yankees Pirates Giants
22 Reds Blue Jays Phillies Twins Diamondbacks
23 Angels Marlins Reds Mets Athletics
24 Rays Athletics White Sox Phillies Reds
25 Brewers Mariners Athletics Orioles Angels
26 Phillies Phillies Braves Brewers Brewers
27 White Sox Rockies Brewers Royals Mets
28 Braves Pirates Angels Diamondbacks Tigers
29 Diamondbacks Rays Diamondbacks Marlins Red Sox
30 Rockies Nationals Royals Padres Braves

There’s a reason we use projected value and not just average ranking by position when talking about a team’s strength, since the margins between ranks can be deceptive. But this also gives you a decent idea of the amount of balance a team has across positions, and right away, it’s hard not to notice the Astros. Not only are they at the top of both middle-infield lists, but they’re No. 5 on the catcher list, No. 10 on the third-base list, and No. 15 on the first-base list.

Houston projects to get average or better production at every infield spot, something that can also only be claimed by the Cubs, Dodgers, and Indians, three of the very best teams in baseball. The Giants are close to joining that group, with only third base falling a little bit short, and the Blue Jays would be in this mix if they had a real first baseman.

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