Archive for May, 2017

Effectively Wild Episode 1065: A Mountain of Emails


Ben Lindbergh and Jeff Sullivan banter about mountain-climbing, Charlie Blackmon’s RBI barrage, starter-switching, the Reds’ still-lousy pitching, a bat-boning shoutout, and Ryan Raburn, then answer emails about Nolan Arenado, Ervin Santana, and Zack Cozart, Nelson Cruz clones, career longevity, gushing broadcasters, Albert Pujols and home runs, Cody Bellinger’s hot hitting, a Padres promotion, and more.

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The Reds Have Been the Best and Worst

There was a time, early last season, when an increasing number of people was jumping on the Phillies bandwagon. The team was rebuilding and overachieving, but there were early signs that the front office had assembled a dynamite pitching staff. While the Phillies were the rebuilding team getting the most positive attention, the Reds might’ve been the rebuilding team getting the most negative attention. Rebuilds are rebuilds, and losing teams lose, but the Reds didn’t seem to have anything exciting. The Phillies were a team with possible studs. The Reds were a team with just about nothing to speak of.

As 2016 rolled on, the Phillies dropped off, while the Reds improved. The Phillies had the National League’s worst second-half record. The Reds closed out by playing .500 baseball. And now it’s 2017, and the Phillies continue to struggle. They presently have the worst record out of anyone, while the Reds have been somewhere in the vicinity of average. Suddenly, it’s the Reds who have players to talk about. It’s the Reds who look a little bit promising. They just — well, the season’s been weird. At the same time, the Reds have been very good and very bad.

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Three Ways Corey Dickerson Is a Big Giant Freak

Even though the Rays lost on Tuesday, they’re still hanging around, with a higher number of wins than losses. The pitching staff, overall, has been neither good nor bad, which I suppose is what you’d expect from a roughly .500 ballclub. Something a little more surprising might be that the Rays have been baseball’s second-best baserunning team. And even bigger than that, the Rays presently rank fifth in team wRC+, between the Dodgers and the Reds. The Rays have struck out, but they’ve still scored runs, with the team very much a legitimate wild-card contender.

If you want to talk about the Rays offense, you should give some attention to Logan Morrison. Once you’re done doing that, you should give further attention to Steven Souza Jr. And once you’re done doing that, you should give the rest of your attention to Corey Dickerson. Dickerson’s been the best hitter on the team, and he’s also been one of the very best hitters in the league, placing just behind Bryce Harper in wRC+. The Rays have known for a while that Dickerson is a pure and talented hitter, but so far he’s made the most of his skills. We should discuss those skills. Dickerson’s is a highly unusual offensive skillset.

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Giancarlo Stanton Is Changing

When Giancarlo Stanton got to the big leagues in 2010, he became the modern-day symbol of the hulking slugger. At 6-foot-6 and 245 pounds, he’s a gigantic human being, and he’s used that strength to hit the baseball like no one else. When he did hit the baseball, anyway. As part of the natural trade-off for his legendary power, Stanton also ran top-of-the-scale strikeout rates. From his debut through 2016, he struck out in 29% of his plate appearances, ranking behind only Chris Davis, Pedro Alvarez, and Mark Reynolds among regulars during that stretch.

The fact that he ranked behind only Jose Bautista in ISO allowed him to remain productive even with the strikeouts, and combined with a lot of walks and regularly high BABIPs, Stanton’s 141 wRC+ from 2010-2016 ranks 7th best in baseball. Stanton was a living example of the ability for elite power to offset contact problems.

But then, last year, that delicate balance seemed to break down. For about a month beginning in mid-May, Stanton struck out in 37 of 80 plate appearances, managing just one home run in the process. He hit .114/.215/.200 during that stretch, and people started openly wondering what happened to the game’s preeminent slugger. Had Stanton’s contact issues finally become too severe? Had the league finally figured him out?

Well, if pitchers had made an adjustment to neutralize the game’s most devastating ball-striker, Stanton apparently decided to adjust himself. And since that miserable month of flailing at everything, he’s become a pretty different hitter than he’d been previously.

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The Next Jose Bautista Is Jose Bautista

Over the winter, Jose Bautista was forced to settle on a one-year contract of about $18 million, or roughly the price of a qualifying offer. Given Bautista’s performance over the previous half-dozen years — during which he’d been one of the game’s best hitters — that deal came as a surprise. Most thought he would get three or four years guaranteed at that rate.

When a player receives so little compared to the general consensus, there’s an inclination to believe that maybe the teams know something we don’t. Bautista had just recorded one of his worst seasons, putting up a 122 wRC+, a 20-point drop from his previous three campaigns. Perhaps there was reason to believe that his poor 2016 season was going to carry over into this year. That certainly looked to be the case just a few weeks into the current season. Not so much anymore.

On April 25, Jose Bautista had played in 19 games, recorded 85 plate appearances, and produced just three extra-base hits, only one of those a homer. His walk rate was a solid 15%, but his strikeout rate was 31%. A lot of strikeouts and no power caused an early-season hitting line of .129/.271/.200 and just a 33 wRC+. As for the cause of Bautista’s poor play, age-related decline was certainly a possibility. Curious himself, Jeff Sullivan requested reader assistance, on April 25, to help better understand the underlying causes for some hitters’ struggles. Jose Bautista was one of those struggling hitters. Since that time, however, he hasn’t struggled at all. In fact, he’s been one of the game’s best, recording a 177 wRC+ in the meantime.

Regarding Bautista, the first issue raised by Sullivan raised was contact. The Jays’ right fielder had historically made contact on 81% of pitches, but he was down to 71% this season. His whiffs both in and out of the zone were up. To help gain some context, let’s separate Bautista’s last few years into a few different segments: 2013-2015, 2016, the 2017 season through April 24, and the 2017 season since April 24. Let’s start by looking at contact rate.

Jose Bautista Contact Rates
Time Period O-Contact % Z-Contact % Contact %
2013-2015 66.8% 88.7% 82.2%
2016 60.4% 88.7% 80.1%
2017 through April 24 53.3% 77.8% 70.6%
2017 since April 24 52.1% 87.6% 76.3%

The good news is that Bautista has brought his contact rate back up to near-vintage Bautista levels. When the ball is pitched in the zone and Bautista swings, he’s making good contact. Before we get to the damage done on contact, that dropping O-Contact% is worth a look. From 2013 to -15, Bautista was above the league average of 63% on swings on balls outside the zone. Last season, Bautista tumbled below the 62% league average. This season, whether looking at the early or latter part of this year, Bautista is well below league average. While that is likely an indication of his declining skills, given Bautista’s batting eye, it might not hurt him as much as others. Bautista’s 21% swing rate on pitches outside the zone is among the top-10 rates in baseball.

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Dan Szymborski FanGraphs Chat – 5/31/17


Big Tuna: Are we buying into Whit Merrifield?

Dan Szymborski: There’s probably some real power improvement there, but let’s not go too nuts yet.

The Average Sports Fan: What is holding the Cubs back?

Dan Szymborski: Losses.

Nick: Drop O. Herrera?

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Joey Gallo on Athleticism and Defensive Versatility

Joey Gallo not only slugs like a slugger, he looks like a slugger. Listed at 6-foot-5 and 235 pounds, he’s a large man by any measure. But don’t let that fool you. He’s no plodder. The 23-year-old Texas Rangers infielder-outfielder is far more athletic than many people realize.

It’s no secret that Gallo can propel baseballs long distances — fully half of his 16 home runs this year have traveled at least 430 feet — and it’s equally well known that he whiffs at an alarming rate. No shortage of words have been written about those facets of his game. Far fewer have been written about his ability to handle the hot corner and, if the need arises, positions higher on the defensive spectrum.

Gallo weighed in on his defensive versatility, including his background as a shortstop and as a flame-throwing pitcher, when the Rangers visited Fenway Park last week.


Gallo on being drafted as a third baseman: “When I signed, I knew I was good enough to play third base. But I didn’t know how good I was. When I started out, I was playing with Latin guys who were much more advanced in the infield and kind of did things a little bit differently. So, when I signed, I was kind of thrown into that process. I was the only American infielder on our team, and I was a little bit behind. I was also a big guy, so I had to work pretty hard to stay at third. But again, I always knew I was good enough play there.

“I don’t think people realized I could play the position, that I could field the position, and do it at a pretty high level. When I was drafted, they said ‘first baseman,’ even though the Texas Rangers drafted me as a third baseman. MLB Network had me as, ‘Joey Gallo, first baseman, drafted…’ My parents were all pissed. It was weird. Everyone did reports on me as a first baseman, not thinking I could play third base.”

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Dictating the Action with Joey Votto

“It’s like a boxer who is always trying to lead the guy into his straight. You have to manipulate him with your footwork. Same type of thing in baseball. You have to figure out a way to funnel [the pitcher] into your hot zone. That comes with patience and that comes with accepting or realizing there will be some error on their side.

“It’s almost like as a hitter you have to be a counter puncher. The best way to be a counter puncher is just to sit and wait and absorb and then counter with whatever you think your strength is.”

Joey Votto to David Manel, last September

CLEVELAND – Baseball is an unusual team sport in that the defense possess the ball. Pitchers have the advantage of dictating the action, the location, and type of pitch. But the idea articulated by Votto in the epigraph above is fascinating, this idea of “funneling,” of batters influencing pitchers. It led me to Votto’s locker in the corner of the visiting clubhouse at Progressive Field last week.

A willing and introspective Votto is a great resource if you’re interested in discussing the art of hitting. I suppose it’s akin to having access to this generation’s Ted Williams. I was curious to learn more about this idea of dictating action from the batter’s box, imposing will from there, to learn more about Votto’s renowned selective aggressiveness. Votto leads baseball in the ratio of swings on pitches in zone compared to swings out of the zone as Ben Lindbergh noted recently. But I was particularly curious to speak with Votto because it seems like several of the game’s best young hitters are following elements of Votto’s approach. With the data-density charts that have become available in recent years, we can now see what maturation, what selective aggressiveness, looks like.

Miguel Sano has become a fearsome hitter because he’s more selective. It appears as though he’s looking in a smaller area to do damage this year. While Bryce Harper declined to discuss his approach, he also appears to be having great success by zeroing in. And there was, of course, the great April surprise that was Eric Thames, who credits his success in part to taking advantage of idle hours in South Korea where he learned to be selectively aggressive, or perhaps and even more refined version of that philosophy that Votto dubbed “funneling.”

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Dave Cameron FanGraphs Chat – 5/31/17

Dave Cameron: Happy Wednesday, everyone.

Dave Cameron: Since we last spoke, I (most likely) tore my ACL and contracted a stomach bug that caused me to vomit during the recording of the most recent podcast.

Dave Cameron: Oh, also, Mike Trout got hurt.

Dave Cameron: This week sucked.

Dave Cameron: Let’s talk about happier things.

Kiermaier’s Piercing Green Eyes: The AL position player WAR leaders right now include Sano (3rd), Dickerson (4th), and Souza (7th). Mike Trout has been the best player in baseball by so far for so long that he can win MVP despite playing for the Angels. Not that Sano, Dickerson, or Souza will still be at the top come October, but how do the voters treat the players on small market non-juggernauts for the non-first place votes? Ortiz got sixth in MVP voting last year, which is farcical, but I can’t picture the Rays’ DH getting votes over names like Correa and Lindor even if you just extrapolate his numbers to a 7.5 WAR season.

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KATOH’s Most-Improved Pitching Prospects So Far

With nearly two months of games in the books, I’m taking another look at the pitching prospects who have most improved their KATOH+ projections since the preseason. To ensure I am writing up actual prospects rather than fringey ones, I’ve set a minimum KATOH+ projection of 3.0 WAR and listed the five most-improved lesser prospects at the bottom. I did not include guys who are injured or who have graduated to the big leagues. A reminder: a player’s KATOH forecast denotes his projected WAR total over the first six seasons of his major-league career.

Brent Honeywell, RHP, Tampa (Profile)
Preseason KATOH+ Projection: 5.7
Current KATOH+ Projection: 7.5

Honeywell has dominated while splitting time between Double-A and Triple-A this year. He’s struck out 30% of opposing hitters and walked less than 5%. The results haven’t quite been there in Triple-A, as evidenced by his 4.93 ERA, but his 2.89 xFIP explains KATOH’s admiration. He’s become one of baseball’s very best pitching prospects.

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