Archive for March, 2018

The Best of FanGraphs: March 26-30, 2018

Each week, we publish in the neighborhood of 75 articles across 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 1197: Real Baseball is Back


Ben Lindbergh and Jeff Sullivan banter about Jeff’s research into the performance of college teams vs. MLB teams in spring training, then reach into the grab bag for a selection of topics inspired by actual baseball, including Kyle Schwarber’s defense, the Astros’ four-man outfield (and whether Joey Gallo should bunt to beat it), Mike Trout’s un-Trout-like start to the season, Felix Hernandez and Noah Syndergaard, the optimal order of starting pitchers in the first week of the season, the bypassed bullpen cart, Gabe Kapler’s divisive decision-making, and more. Lastly, they critique and respond to ESPN writer Jerry Crasnick’s latest survey of baseball executives about the season’s biggest stories.

Audio intro: Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings, "All Over Again"
Audio outro: Buzzcocks, "No Reply"

Link to Jeff’s article about college teams vs. MLB teams
Link to Ben’s article about redefining positions
Link to Matt Gelb’s Gabe Kapler game story
Link to article about starting rotation order
Link to Jerry Crasnick questions

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The Great Australian Home-Run Spike, Part 3

This is Alexis Brudnicki’s fifth piece as part of her March residency at FanGraphs. Alexis is the Director of Baseball Information for the Great Lake Canadians, an elite amateur baseball program in London, Ontario, Canada. She has written for various publications including Baseball America, Canadian Baseball Network, Sportsnet, The Hardball Times, and Prep Baseball report. She won a 2016 SABR Analytics Conference Research Award for Contemporary Baseball Commentary. She can also be found on Twitter (@baseballexis). She’ll be contributing here this month.

This is also the third installment of a three-part series exploring whether the Australian Baseball League is in the midst of their own juiced ball and bat controversy. In this installment, league officials and the equipment manufacturers respond. You can find Part 1 and Part 2 here.

The Response

Increasingly aware of the way the numbers were adding up throughout the season, the Australian Baseball League’s general manager, Ben Foster, understands the natural inclination for players, fans, and others to draw their own conclusions about what led to the spike in home runs and the offense on a whole.

“One of the great entitlements for sports fans is their right to speculate and to try and figure out why something as unpredictable as sport always surprises us,” Foster said. “As a fan myself, I love to speculate on things like, ‘Will this player or that player have a great year?’ Or, ‘Why did he go to the bullpen in that situation?’ So I do think it is natural for people to speculate about every aspect of the game when they see unexpected results.”

But the league’s GM does not believe that the numbers point to any one thing in particular. Acknowledging that equipment might have been a part of the equation, he does suspect that the standard of baseballs used during the recent season were of superior quality to those used previously.

“I cannot rule out that equipment played a part, too,” Foster said. “But I think it’s an oversimplification of just the baseballs. In conversations I had with players and coaches, many commented on the improved quality of the bats we supplied this season.

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Giancarlo Stanton’s Adjustment Appears to Be Carrying Over

Whatever their other uses, records are valuable for the drama they’re capable of facilitating. Wondering if Player X or Team Y will surpass a standard established by their predecessors is part of how many enjoy baseball. While each era is distinct in some ways — Dazzy Vance’s 21.5% strikeout rate meant something very different in 1924 than it would have in 2017 — the raw numbers still possess their own considerable weight.

Some records seem nearly insurmountable, others less so. At the moment, the Mariners’ single-season record of 264 home runs, set in 1997, is seeming particularly vulnerable. And it wouldn’t be surprise if the Yankees were the ones to topple it.

Provided they remain healthy, Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez, and Giancarlo Stanton are going to do plenty of damage. There are lots of yet-to-be-launched home runs littered elsewhere on the roster, as well. The game is trending toward the optimization of launch angles, the ball might be juiced, and the Yankees have unreal power.

I suspect we are all curious to observe the individual damage Stanton, the reigning NL MVP, will do in his new home. He’s going from Marlins Park and its 80 home-run park factor for right-handed hitters — 100 is average — to Yankee Stadium’s 124 right-handed HR factor. He’ll be able to splinter his bat and hit homers to right and right-center at New Yankee. Read the rest of this entry »

What You Can Say About Matt Davidson

A week ago today, the author of the current post published his own contribution to FanGraphs’ positional power rankings — an examination, specifically, of designated hitters. In the context of the positional rankings, DH occupies a slightly uneasy place. For one, the position (or non-position, as it were) doesn’t actually exist in the National League, which means the pool of players is necessarily smaller. Also, attempting to understand the contributions of a DH in the context of wins presents some difficulties. On the one hand, owing to the absence of any defensive responsibilities, designated hitters are subject to a robust negative adjustment in the calculation of WAR. On the other hand, though, hitters who are deployed in the DH role tend to hit worse than when playing the field — what analysts typically characterize as a “DH penalty.”

While one, duly motivated, could dedicate some time and energy to improving upon the extant methodology for evaluating the position, it’s also true that good hitters, when utilized in a DH capacity, tend to be well acquitted by WAR, poor hitters less so — a point illustrated by the image below.

Here one finds the chart that accompanied the aforementioned power-rankings post. Teams further to the left are projected to produce more wins out of the DH spot in 2018; teams on the left, fewer of them. The Yankees and Red Sox, who employ Giancarlo Stanton and J.D. Martinez, respectively, are expected to fare well this season. The Mariners and Indians (Nelson Cruz, Edwin Encarnacion), too.

It’s the rightmost bar of this chart that probably deserves some attention, because it largely concerns Your 2018 WAR Leader.

The White Sox were forecast, just a week ago, to receive the fewest wins from the DH position of any American League club — and not just the fewest wins, but actually negative wins. Certain current events might serve to cast that projection in a curious light.

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Jeff Sullivan FanGraphs Chat — 3/30/18


Jeff Sullivan: Hello friends


Jeff Sullivan: Welcome to delayed Friday baseball chat


Jeff Sullivan: Podcasting before this chat is my new excuse


Charlie: When do the 2018 stats go up?


Jeff Sullivan: Should be up already. I was browsing a few of them earlier


Matty P: Cruz homerun off Kluber was an 88mph Cutter. This concern you or just first start of the year?

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R.I.P. Rusty Staub, Hitter and Humanitarian

A celebrity chef and restauranteur, a philanthropist, an icon in two cities, an All-Star in three, and the only player to collect at least 500 hits with four different franchises — Rusty Staub was all that and more. “Le Grand Orange,” who played in the major leagues from 1963 through 1985 and collected 2,716 hits including 292 homers, passed away on Thursday, hours before the start of the 2018 season and three days shy of his 74th birthday. If he wasn’t quite a Hall of Famer as a player, he most certainly was as a humanitarian, raising more than $100 million to combat hunger and to benefit the widows and families of police, firemen, and first responders killed in the line of duty.

“He was a George Plimpton character who didn’t have to be invented,” wrote Faith and Fear in Flushing’s Greg Prince.

A native of New Orleans, Daniel Joseph Staub — the son of a minor-league catcher — gained his first nickname from a nurse at the hospital he was born, for the red fuzz covering his head. Playing alongside older brother Chuck, he helped Jesuit High School to the 1960 American Legion national championship and the 1961 Louisiana State AAA championship. Major-league scouts from 16 teams beat a path to his door, and Staub wound up signing for a bonus of either $90,000 or $100,000 (sources differ) with the expansion Houston Colt .45s in 1961. He put in a big season for the Class-B Durham Bulls in 1962, leading the league with 149 hits and the next year, just eight days past his 19th birthday, was the Colts’ Opening Day right fielder. He went 1-for-3 that day, collecting an RBI single off the Giants’ Jack Sanford for his first hit, but batted a dismal .224/.309/.308 with six homers in 150 games for the 96-loss team, which was in its second year of existence.

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The Cardinals Are Finally Signing Greg Holland

For a very long time, Greg Holland was available as a free-agent closer. For a very long time, the Cardinals appeared to be in some need of a closer. Oh, at certain points, they expressed faith in Luke Gregerson. At certain other points, they expressed faith in Dominic Leone. But Holland was always going to find some sort of job, and the Cardinals have had the best opening. And so it’s unsurprising that we’ve wound up here: Holland and the Cardinals have agreed to a one-year contract worth $14 million. Holland only has to pass his physical, and then he’ll get back to being a ninth-inning weapon.

The Cardinals have never needed Greg Holland. This isn’t something being done out of necessity. I believe the Cardinals really would’ve been comfortable going into the year with the relievers they’ve had. Yet Holland and Scott Boras also apparently backed off their multi-year wishes. The Cardinals have a new reliever now at a cost lower than that of the qualifying offer. While this means the Cardinals might now have less midseason trade flexibility, this is like making a midseason trade ahead of time. And the Cardinals are right in position to make the most use of this upgrade.

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The Great Australian Home-Run Spike, Part 2

This is Alexis Brudnicki’s fourth piece as part of her March residency at FanGraphs. Alexis is the Director of Baseball Information for the Great Lake Canadians, an elite amateur baseball program in London, Ontario, Canada. She has written for various publications including Baseball America, Canadian Baseball Network, Sportsnet, The Hardball Times, and Prep Baseball report. She won a 2016 SABR Analytics Conference Research Award for Contemporary Baseball Commentary. She can also be found on Twitter (@baseballexis). She’ll be contributing here this month.

This is also the second installment of a three-part series exploring whether the Australian Baseball League is in the midst of their own juiced-ball and bat controversy. In this installment, the pitchers respond. You can find Part 1 here.

The Pitchers

For some, the conversation started early.

In the opening weekend of the 2017/18 Australian Baseball League season, 111 runs were scored and 30 home runs were hit. In just 11 games. More than half of those home runs were hit at Melbourne Ballpark, home to the Aces, who hosted the Perth Heat for four contests.

“I noticed a difference in the league in Round 1,” said Josh Tols, a current Phillies farmhand and southpaw for the Aces with five seasons in the ABL under his belt. “There was an abnormal number of home runs hit at Altona in our opening series against Perth. Typically, with the wind at our field, the ball doesn’t get out all that much. Just looking at the home-run numbers after Round 1, you kind of had a feeling it was going to be a long year for the pitchers.”

Other hurlers didn’t begin to notice a difference until a little later.

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Does MLB Have a Concussion Lawsuit in Its Future?

The new baseball season is upon us. But even before the Cubs and Marlins began play today, indications from this spring have suggested that a dangerous trend, apparent last year, has continued into the present one — namely, an increased incidence of concussions.

Before I address that, though, first a brief primer on what concussions can do to a baseball player. In 2010, first baseman Justin Morneau was running a 183 wRC+ and had established himself as one of the best hitters in baseball. After suffering a concussion that knocked him out for the remainder of the season, he was never the same, failing to play a full season until 2012 or to cross the 120 wRC+ threshold against until 2014. Third baseman Corey Koskie was a borderline star before suffering a concussion with Milwaukee; he never played again. The way he describes the effects are frightening: “I remember walking up to the plate, thinking OK which way do I run again?”

Joe Mauer‘s career was derailed by a concussion that gave him blurry vision for two years; he was hitting .324 with a 143 wRC+ when he suffered the injury in 2013 and didn’t eclipse a .300 batting average, a .350 OBP, or a 110 wRC+ again until 2017. Last year, Brandon Belt’s season was put on hold by a concussion, as well; he experienced feelings of depression and lethargy.

In perhaps the most tragic case, Cincinnati utilityman extraordinaire Ryan Freel committed suicide in December 2012. Freel had suffered 10 concussions during his career and was posthumously diagnosed with Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy. CTE is a disease caused by repeated concussions or traumatic brain injuries and which was most famously diagnosed in the late Patriots football player Aaron Hernandez. Suicide and aggression are two symptoms of CTE. There’s even research to suggest Lou Gehrig didn’t suffer from ALS, but instead had CTE.

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