Archive for April, 2017

Sunday Notes: Mendoza-Hendricks Nerdiness, Selsky as Dangerfield, Edwards Evoked ’86, more

Jessica Mendoza’s ears perked up while she was conversing with Kyle Hendricks yesterday afternoon. The ESPN analyst was doing game prep for this evening’s Sunday Night Baseball broadcast when the Chicago Cubs right-hander mentioned effective velocity.

“I interrupted him,” Mendoza told me later. “I said, ‘Can we talk about that?’

If you read this Sunday Notes column from last August, that won’t surprise you. The Stanford-educated Mendoza is a baseball nerd. So is the Dartmouth-educated Hendricks, who was more than happy to oblige her request.

“It was refreshing, because that’s (the type of subject) we love talking about,” said Hendricks. “We started talking about bat paths, two- and four-seam fastballs, how to attack hitters. That was the first time I’d met her, and it was great to talk baseball with her. You can tell she’s very knowledgeable, especially about hitting.”

How Hendricks is avoiding bats is what Mendoza wanted to address when she approached him in the clubhouse. She was especially curious about his velocity, which has been down this year. That’s where the ear-perking subject came up. Read the rest of this entry »

The Best of FanGraphs: April 24-28, 2017

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.
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Effectively Wild Episode 1051: The Mike Trout Challengers


Ben Lindbergh and Jeff Sullivan banter about Jeff Manship, Chris Devenski, the biggest playoff-odds changers, Mets injuries, and Joey Votto’s comments on swing changes, then discuss which players, if any, can challenge Mike Trout for the title of best player in baseball, try to assemble a FrankenTrout, and conduct a brief Bryce Harper debate.

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Kenta Maeda Needs to Bring Back the Sinker

Yesterday, we examined pitcher in Los Angeles who’d switched from a pretty ordinary four-seam fastball to a more dynamic two-seamer and found success in the process. JC Ramirez does throw in the high 90s, but his was the story you want to tell.

What we might be seeing with Kenta Maeda is the opposite, or close to it. Because, right now, despite a strikeout minus walk rate that looks familiar, Maeda’s ERA is more than twice his 2016 version. The difference between the two years? Home runs, seven of them already. The fastball might be the key to avoiding those going forward.

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Is Cole Hamels Primed for a Fall?

Only six pitchers in the majors so far this season have thrown more innings than Cole Hamels, and his 3.03 ERA is pretty nice, too. Good start to the season for him, then, right? Well, not so fast. There are a number of indicators that paint the picture that Hamels may be in for a world of trouble in 2017.

I first was alerted to Hamels’ precarious situation by this tweet from the venerable Mike Petriello:

That’s not great, especially given how consistent Hamels has been throughout his career. The drop in swinging-strike percentage isn’t necessarily totally damning though, so I wanted to investigate further. Let’s start with some of his other plate-discipline statistics.

Most of Hamels’ plate-discipline stats are trending in the wrong direction, aside from his Z-Swing%, which hasn’t changed much the past three seasons. His Zone% is the second-lowest of his career, the lowest mark having occurred last season. His Swing% and O-Swing% are both at career lows. That’s not great, either. His Z-Contact% and Contact% are both career-worst marks, and his O-Contact% in at its highest since 2009. It’s the second-highest mark of his career. None of this is encouraging.

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The Mets Had a Bad Day

A variety of maladies were already plaguing the Mets before they met with the media on Thursday morning. Things would soon get worse, however. Reporters soon learned, for example, that in addition to the six Mets currently on the disabled list, Noah Syndergaard would not be making his start due to a bicep issue. Matt Harvey would be getting the ball that day instead. Before the day was out, Yoenis Cespedes would leave the game after further injuring a balky hamstring, and Harvey would fail to make it out of the fifth inning. They’ve now lost six straight games, and added further insults and injuries to an already large pile of both. Less than a month into the season, their playoff odds are starting to get ugly.

The Mets likely can’t be blamed for every single issue currently plaguing them. They can be blamed, however, for some of them. Too many of them, perhaps.

Prior to the start of the season, a new collective bargaining agreement between the league and the players’ union was put into place. Among the new provisions within the document was a new 10-day disabled list, shortened from 15 days. It was created with the idea that teams could have more flexibility in giving time off to banged-up players. Clubs, in turn, would have more freedom to call up replacements and to avoin playing with an understaffed roster. Some teams, including the Mets, had gotten into a habit of playing a man or two down while players nursed injuries deemed too minor to merit a full 15 days on the DL. Now, teams can theoretically get players back five days earlier, and play with 25 men. Everybody wins, no?

The Mets have failed to fully embrace the possibilities afforded by a 10-day DL. Cespedes originally injured his hamstring on the 20th. He didn’t play again until Wednesday, partially due to an off day and a rainout, although he did come out on deck for a possible pinch-hitting appearance on Sunday before the Mets lost. The Mets and their training staff had decided that Cespedes didn’t need a full DL stint, just a few days off, with potentially a plate appearance off the bench mixed in.

Cespedes came up slightly lame when he hurt himself on the 20th. He needed help getting off the field yesterday. It’s not an ideal situation for a man who’s still dealing with the vestiges of a quad injury that sidelined him for part of the 2016 campaign and never really released him from its grip down the stretch.

Of course, Cespedes isn’t the only Met who has been carried along for the ride in such a fashion. Both Asdrubal Cabrera and Travis d’Arnaud were in similar states of limbo in the past week. The clubs has done this quite a bit over the last few seasons. It now appears to have cost Cespedes at least a few weeks of action.

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The Astros Have an Outfield Shift

CLEVELAND — We know the Astros are one of the most forward-thinking, analytically minded organizations in baseball. They’ve led baseball in infield shift usage in recent seasons. They’ve experimented with piggy-back rotations in the minor leagues, they’ve been creative in maximizing draft pools, and have given us a revolutionary bullpen figure, the gift that is Chris Devenski.

They’ve also been as aggressive as any team I’ve observed with regard to outfield alignment.

Outfield alignment doesn’t receive as much attention as infield shifts. There are few, if any, outfield alignment measures publicly available, and we don’t often see outfield alignments in full scope on television broadcasts prior to a batted ball. Average depth is recorded by Statcast, but we’re still working on understanding optimum outfield positioning.

But the Astros are up to something — something which I first noticed last season at PNC Park.

Since air balls are more evenly distributed than ground balls, there are typically fewer radical defensive alignments in the outfield. Since there are only three fielders tasked with covering a much larger area of ground than in the infield, outfielders are generally kept in equidistant positions, spreading risk. But the above alignment against the left-handed-hitting Gregory Polanco represented an extreme swing to the left. It appeared counterintuitive, too, with the Astros playing Polanco as if he were an extreme right-handed pull hitter. In this case, the left fielder was near the left-field line, the center fielder shading toward left center, and the right fielder nearly in right center.

But the approach appears to be rooted in logic, too. While most ground balls are pulled, air balls are more evenly distributed, with batters often slightly favoring the opposite field.

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Jeff Sullivan FanGraphs Chat — 4/28/17

Jeff Sullivan: Hello friends

Jeff Sullivan: Welcome to Friday baseball chat

Bork: Hello, friend!

Jeff Sullivan: Hello friend

Sock Therapy: Is Aaron Judge the messiah

Jeff Sullivan: Some people are made in something superior to God’s image

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The Fringe Five: Baseball’s Most Compelling Fringe Prospects

Fringe Five Scoreboards: 2016 | 2015 | 2014 | 2013.

The Fringe Five is a weekly regular-season exercise, introduced a few years ago by the present author, wherein that same author utilizes regressed stats, scouting reports, and also his own fallible intuition to identify and/or continue monitoring the most compelling fringe prospects in all of baseball.

Central to the exercise, of course, is a definition of the word fringe, a term which possesses different connotations for different sorts of readers. For the purposes of the column this year, a fringe prospect (and therefore one eligible for inclusion among the Five) is any rookie-eligible player at High-A or above who (a) was omitted from the preseason prospect lists produced by Baseball America, Baseball Prospectus,, John Sickels*, and (most importantly) lead prospect analyst Eric Longenhagen and also who (b) is currently absent from a major-league roster. Players appearing on a midseason list will also be excluded from eligibility.

*All 200 names!

In the final analysis, the basic idea is this: to recognize those prospects who are perhaps receiving less notoriety than their talents or performance might otherwise warrant.


Sherman Johnson, 2B/3B, Los Angeles AL (Profile)
Ralph Waldo Emerson writes in “Self-Reliance” that it’s essential to “abide by our spontaneous impression with good-natured inflexibility then most when the whole cry of voices is on the other side.” Immediately, one senses that Emerson’s words might lack universal application. When the whole cry of voices declares that the building is on fire, for example, it’s wise to hear them out — regardless of the impressions one has previously formed. In the case of fringe prospects, however, the risks associated with such inflexibility are less pronounced.

Which is fortunate, because a brief inspection of things reveals that the present author has abided by his impression that Sherman Johnson is a promising ballplayer. In 2015, Johnson appeared (alongside current major leaguers Matt Boyd and Jharel Cotton) at the top of the arbitrarily calculated Fringe Five Scoreboard. Last year, Johnson appeared (by himself) at the top of that same, haphazardly constructed Scoreboard. Three weeks into the current season, Johnson is poised once again to merit similar consideration.

Why? For a few reasons. Johnson’s a capable defender. He’s continued to record roughly equivalent walk and strikeout rates. He’s produced roughly average power numbers at every professional level. It’s a promising, if clearly not elite, collection of skills. Relative to his pedigree, however, it’s pretty impressive.

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The White Sox Have Had One of the Best Pitchers on the Planet

One of the classic criticisms of the front-page entries on FanGraphs is that it can sometimes look like writers are just scanning different leaderboards until they find a subject. Now, there’s nothing actually wrong with that, I don’t think. That’s why the leaderboards exist — so we can all learn from what they say. It’s not like we can easily and automatically keep track of everything by ourselves. Still, I understand where the criticism comes from. And so I’d like to be up front here: This post is about something I didn’t expect to see on a leaderboard. There’s no deeper inspiration. But when I saw a player’s line, I knew I couldn’t not write about it.

In the early going this season, the White Sox have been a pleasant surprise! They’re hanging tight with the Indians, and they’re well ahead of, say, the Royals. One element that’s driven the White Sox has been the pitching staff, and, specifically, the bullpen. Even coming into the year, the team had Nate Jones and David Robertson, so the bullpen wasn’t likely to be terrible. To this point, it’s second out of all big-league bullpens in ERA-. It’s first in K-BB%. That…isn’t what anyone expected. And now, a plot.

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