Archive for April, 2018

FanGraphs Audio: Shakeia Taylor, FanGraphs Resident for April

Episode 811
Shakeia Taylor’s work has appeared both at Complex and The Hardball Times. Most relevant to this episode, she has also served as FanGraphs’ resident for the month of April. On this edition of the program, she discusses Cleveland baseball and Chicago baseball and youth baseball.

Don’t hesitate to direct pod-related correspondence to @cistulli on Twitter.

You can subscribe to the podcast via iTunes or other feeder things.

Audio after the jump. (Approximately 57 min play time.)

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The Highly Unlikely Dangerous Diamondback

The Diamondbacks are way out in first place in the National League West, and while the biggest story might arguably be the early struggles of the Dodgers, Arizona has issued an immediate reminder that last year this club just won 93 games. J.D. Martinez is gone, playing now in Boston. Steven Souza Jr. is on the disabled list. Jake Lamb is also on the disabled list. But the Diamondbacks have still thrived, not even needing that many surprises. Patrick Corbin is one — his development has been an encouraging turn. And then there’s the matter of the shortstop. The no-hit glove guy who had to fight for a job.

Before the year, for the Effectively Wild podcast, Ben Lindbergh and I ran our annual season-preview series. When it came time to talk about the Diamondbacks, we chatted with guest Nick Piecoro. Piecoro expressed what I found to be a surprising amount of optimism about Nick Ahmed. Ahmed had never before hit well in the majors, and his peripheral skills didn’t suggest a strong offensive foundation. How many no-hit shortstops figure it out at 28? Ahmed was never a threat. Suffice to say Piecoro caught me off guard.

And now here we are, and as early as it is, Ahmed owns a three-digit wRC+. By itself, that’s not much. Roughly half of all batters will have a three-digit wRC+. But you have to remember where Ahmed is coming from. You have to remember his record.

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Shohei Ohtani Had Another Moment

The Shohei Ohtani frenzy has at least somewhat died down. This will by no means be a permanent thing, but, to a certain extent this is always inevitable, whenever something new isn’t so new anymore. We’ve seen Ohtani now. We’ve celebrated him. We’ve celebrated the pitching, and we’ve celebrated the hitting. On top of that, Ohtani hasn’t played very much lately. There’s been a blister thing, and now there’s an ankle thing, and while these things aren’t particularly serious, Ohtani has batted just twice over the past week, and he’s started one game on the mound. Neither of his last two pitching starts has been great.

The internet, you might say, is waiting for Shohei Ohtani to have another moment. After all, we all just want to be impressed. But in reality, Ohtani just had another moment. On Friday night, Ohtani hit a home run. And not a regular, run-of-the-mill home run. This requires a little bit of background, but that home run was really amazing. Ohtani is developing before our very eyes.

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A Former Yankees Prospect on the Athletics Is Suing the White Sox

Lots of things went right last year in the Yankees’ run to the American League Championship Series.

This wasn’t one of them.

The player you see here is Dustin Fowler, who was making his major-league debut for the Yankees. Fowler, in a haunting echo of Moonlight Graham, never got to bat in that game; he had been due up in the top half of the second. Fowler suffered an open rupture of his patellar tendon on the play and required emergency surgery.

During his recovery, he was traded to the Athletics in the Sonny Gray deal.

How Fowler is expected to develop as a player in the wake of his injury is a worthy line of inquiry; however, it’s not the one I’ll pursue here. Rather, my interest is in the lawsuit that Fowler filed against the White Sox in the wake of his injury — a lawsuit that remains pending.

Fowler’s suit, on the surface, is pretty simple. Fowler has sued two parties — both Chicago White Sox, Ltd. (the limited partnership that owns the White Sox) and the Illinois Sports Facilities Authority (the Illinois government agency that actually owns Guaranteed Rate Field, where the White Sox play). The complaint alleges two counts, one against each Defendant, and sounds in both simple negligence and a peculiar creation of Illinois law known as “willful and wanton conduct.” Essentially, Fowler alleges that, although the wall into which he crashed was padded, an electrical box located there wasn’t.

Here’s the relevant passage:

Let’s start with the obvious question: whither the electrical box? It’s hard to tell from the video. A still image from the above provides some sense, but it’s also easy enough not to notice.

In fact, the Chicago Tribune reported after the game that video seemed to show Fowler missing the exposed electrical box, which is there to provide wifi to fans. Based on that video, the Tribune reported in the same story that no changes would be made to the stadium.

The Tribune, however, appears to have been a bit premature in their reporting. Later image seemed to suggest Fowler did make contact with the electrical box. (You can see the best ones via Newsday here.) The fact that the box is so hard to see — it’s designed to blend in with the wall — is actually part of Fowler’s lawsuit.

So we know the box is there, and that — it appears, at least — Fowler’s knee did impact it. So that leads to the second question: are the White Sox and the ISFA legally responsible?

Last year, Nathaniel Grow took an excellent look at workers’ compensation for professional athletes. Like in many states, Illinois has a law which says that, for the most part, you can’t sue your employer for an injury you suffer on the job. That’s the reason workers’ compensation exists. In Fowler’s case, though, while he is suing for an injury that occurred on the job, he is not suing his employer. As a result, this isn’t a workers’ compensation issue, and Fowler’s negligence claim isn’t barred on that basis.

Michael McCann did a nice run-through of Fowler’s suit back when it was first filed, and I encourage you to read it in full. But negligence law in torts is a lot more complicated than it might seem, and since I’m an Illinois lawyer, I figured I might examine this from a more local perspective. To establish negligence, a plaintiff generally has to plead and prove all of the following:

  1. The existence of a legal duty owed by the defendant to the plaintiff;
  2. The breach of that legal duty by the defendant;
  3. That the breach by the defendant caused an injury to the defendant; and
  4. That the injury is a real and cognizable harm.

Lawyers generally turn these elements into the shorthand of DBCH, which is short for duty, breach, causation, and harm. Illinois follows the traditional negligence standard, with those same four elements: “To state a cause of action for negligence, a plaintiff must plead the existence of a duty owed by the defendant to the plaintiff, a breach of that duty, an injury proximately caused by the breach, and damages.”

The tricky thing with negligence suits is twofold, though. First, you are basically punishing a defendant for what it did or didn’t do even though those actions weren’t intentional. That means that, every time you find for a plaintiff, you are necessarily saying the defendants have to undertake an obligation to protect people that otherwise wouldn’t exist. That, of course, has real social and economic costs, so courts tend to be wary of pushing the creation and application of legal duties too far. Second, because we’re talking about unintentional conduct here, there are a lot of defenses to negligence that don’t apply anywhere else in the law. These are things like contributory or comparative negligence (sometimes called comparative fault), assumption of the risk, and others which vary by state.

The first question, then, is whether the White Sox and ISFA owed a legal duty towards Fowler. In this case, there are two types of possible duties. (Actually, there are more, but we have limited space here.) There could be a “duty to warn.” That would mean anything from a sign down the right-field line saying “beware of box,” to actually telling Fowler about the box’s existence before the game, to just painting the box a bright shade of yellow so it stands out. On the other hand, there could be a “duty to protect” Fowler, with things like padding on the box or just the complete relocation of the box to somewhere outside the field of play.

Obviously, all of these points relate to the defendants, because the defendants are the ones with control over the box. That doesn’t always happen in negligence cases. What that means, though, is that a court will have to decide whether the law imposes a duty on ISFA and the White Sox either to warn players or protect them from hidden on-field hazards and — if so — how far that duty goes. Many states have accepted what’s called the “Learned Hand Rule” as the gold standard for whether to impose a duty on a defendant. Named for Judge Learned Hand (yes, that really was his name), the Learned Hand Rule uses what’s called “law and economics” to determine whether a duty should be imposed on a defendant. I personally think of the Learned Hand Rule as the “FanGraphs Method” of Negligence. Professor Doug Holden explains why:

This formula lists three factors:

1. Probability of harm (or likelihood of injury) and = P
2. Gravity of harm (or seriousness of injury) as weighed against = L (loss or liability)
3. Burden on defendant (or injury sacrificed) to take adequate precautions = B.

Therefore, if B < P x L, then you have unreasonable behavior. If you have unreasonable behavior, then there is a breach of duty.

This is a useful little algorithm for identifying breach of duty. In practice, however, judges don’t like to sit and calculate such variables like Learned Hand did. So somewhere along the line, the Learned Hand rule went from functioning as a mathematical calculation to serving as a guidepost to then becoming the rule that a party has a duty to all persons who could suffer a “reasonably foreseeable” harm as a result of the former’s actions.

Illinois follows that “reasonably foreseeable” standard. So, in this case, the question is whether it was reasonably foreseeable that a player like Fowler would injure himself on the electrical box. Given that much of the rest of the wall is padded, it’s clearly foreseeable that a player could be injured by colliding with an unpadded wall. By extension, it seems reasonably foreseeable that an unpadded box could also cause harm. Therefore a duty does exist to take adequate precaution. And theoretically, since the burden on the defendant is minimal — like spray-painting the box yellow or a few feet of padding — the Hand formula weighs in favor of Fowler, too.

Next is whether the ISFA and White Sox breached their legal duty to Fowler. To that point, we know they didn’t pad the box. We also have no reason to believe they warned Fowler, either. Of some relevance here perhaps is a doctrine in the law called “res ipsa loquitur.” Res ipsa loquitur basically means that if a defendant exercises exclusive control over an object — like an electrical box — and the object harms someone, the law presumes the defendant was negligent even in the absence of evidence of negligence. Here, I think there is that evidence of negligence, though: the existence of the padding elsewhere. Remember when we discussed protective netting that I explained the “voluntary undertaking doctrine”?

Here’s a refresher:

The Illinois Supreme Court, for example, explained in Nelson v. Union Wire Rope Corp. that, where a company voluntarily does something it wasn’t legally obligated to do, that company is liable for failing to do so reasonably. In some states (like Illinois, for instance), this is known as the voluntary undertaking doctrine.

If the ISFA and White Sox voluntarily undertook to protect fielders by padding the wall but didn’t pad the box, that’s negligence because they failed to complete the job reasonably.

Next are causation and harm. Did the box cause Fowler’s injuries? Well, the impact is what tore his knee open. I could talk about proximate cause and cause-in-fact, but we don’t really need to here. Because the injury was foreseeable and a direct result of an impact with the box, causation’s probably satisfied.

So what defenses do the ISFA and White Sox have? Their primary argument is probably going to be that they didn’t owe Fowler any duty. But in an Illinois court, that’s unlikely to hold water simply because Illinois courts have adopted the reasonable foreseeability standard. And they could argue that Fowler assumed the risk of being injured, but it’s hard to argue that running into things is part of baseball the way being hit by a pitch is. And they can’t argue that Fowler wasn’t injured, because even though he’s back and playing, his injury was very real, which in and of itself entitles him to damages under Illinois law.

So they tried something else. Shortly after Fowler filed his lawsuit, the ISFA and White Sox removed the case to federal court. The White Sox then moved to dismiss the case, arguing that it was preempted by the CBA. The White Sox invoked the Labor Management Relations Act (“LMRA”), a federal law stating (in Section 301) that federal courts, and federal law, govern all employment disputes where the rights of the parties have been collectively bargained. As the White Sox argue, “Plaintiff alleges that he was injured as a result of an incident that took place only because he was employed as a Major League Baseball Player pursuant to a highly regulated contractual employment relationship that specified all of the rights and duties of the respective parties – including with respect to Players health and safety.” Here, the White Sox point to Article XIII of the CBA, which governs players’ safety and health.

Here we return to the issue of “willful and wanton conduct” cited at the outset of this piece. In Illinois, under a case called Ziarko v. Soo Line Railroad, willful and wanton conduct represents something more severe than just negligence, but not so severe as intentional conduct. It’s akin to recklessness. And generally, in Illinois, you can’t disclaim willful and wanton conduct by contract. Moreover, Fowler argues, the CBA doesn’t actually cover situations like this, which means the CBA doesn’t preempt Fowler’s claims.

On that basis, Fowler wants the case sent back to state court.

This is one case where both sides appear to have strong arguments, and there’s ample case law going both ways. I tend to think Fowler has the better of the argument, but I don’t see this as being a clear-cut issue, particularly given the unusual set of facts. Many of the cases cited by both sides, like Stringer v. NFL, concerned situations where the player was injured by or on his own team’s facilities or lack of care. And even there, courts often split the proverbial baby, allowing some claims through and not others. The issue is currently being briefed, and Judge Gary Feinerman will rule sometime in June or July.

Meanwhile, Dustin Fowler hasn’t yet exhibited the form that made him a top prospect when he debuted last June. After a 138 wRC+ last year at Triple-A, he has just a 84 wRC+ for Oakland’s highest affiliate this year through 97 plate appearances. On the plus side, he’s already stolen five bases.


Dan Szymborski FanGraphs Chat – 4/30/18

2:02
Dan Szymborski: And away we go!

2:02
Mark: Is Jason Kipnis as done as he looks? Brutal start to the year…

2:02
Dan Szymborski: He’s on my panic list on my piece at ESPN today.

2:02
Billy Beane: Dan, which would be more entertaining, watching wrestlers play baseball or baseball players wrestle?

2:02
Dan Szymborski: Baseball players wrestle.  Bad baseball really isn’t that much fun, but bad wrestling can be.

2:02
Ray Liotta as Shoeless Joe: How do Kurt Suzuki or Francisco Cervelli have more home runs than Evan Gattis?!

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The Next Generation of Second Basemen Is Arriving

Since 1999, five second basemen have produced 40 or more wins. Of that group, Chase Utley debuted first, in 2003. Robinson Cano arrived in 2005, and Dustin Pedroia, Ian Kinsler, and Ben Zobrist all made their first major-league appearances in 2006. Over the last dozen years, those five players have dominated the position, and while they might not have gotten a shirtless photo-op like the shortstops of a generation prior, they have defined excellence at second base.

Even looking at the production of that group over the last four years — roughly a decade after their debuts — Cano, Kinsler, Pedroia, and Zobrist make up half of the top eight by WAR. Jose Altuve and Brian Dozier, who appear among the leaders, have emerged over the last half-decade, while Daniel Murphy has been a late-bloomer. But a collection of older players who debuted in 2005 and 2006 — one that also includes Aaron Hill, Howie Kendrick, Brandon Phillips (Reds debut in 2006), Dan Uggla, Rickie Weeks Jr. — have been mainstays at the position over the last decade.

At the moment, however, it seems as though a changing of the guard is underway. Young talents like Ozzie Albies and Yoan Moncada — along with a strong group of prospects — appear ready to take over.

The 2016 season represented the best one ever seen for second basemen. Twelve players recorded four-win seasons, while batters at the position produced a collective 106 wRC+ for the season. While Jose Altuve topped that season’s production, Cano, Kinsler, and Pedroia made up three of the next five players. Due to the aging veterans near the top of the list, that level of production was going to be impossible to maintain. Unsurprisingly, the positional numbers dipped last season, with only Altuve, Dozier, and Murphy reaching the four-wins threshold, while Jose Ramirez’s great season came mostly while playing third. Second basemen put up a respectable 99 wRC+, but it was much closer to traditional expectations of the position.

This year, second-base production is up to a 103 wRC+. This early in the season, of course, we don’t know if that production will continue. What’s of considerably more interest, however, is the players occupying the top of the leaderboards at second base.

Second Base WAR Leaders
Name BB% K% ISO BABIP wRC+ WAR Age
Jed Lowrie 8.7 % 19.0 % 0.243 0.388 168 1.6 34
Asdrubal Cabrera 8.0 % 14.3 % 0.24 0.358 170 1.5 32
Ozzie Albies 5.5 % 18.9 % 0.353 0.298 166 1.4 21
Yoan Moncada 11.7 % 39.2 % 0.257 0.423 138 1.4 23
Javier Baez 5.8 % 21.2 % 0.365 0.313 162 1.2 25
Robinson Cano 14.7 % 15.5 % 0.167 0.355 152 1.2 35
Jose Altuve 8.6 % 12.5 % 0.096 0.392 141 1.1 28
Cesar Hernandez 18.6 % 23.7 % 0.105 0.379 130 0.8 28
DJ LeMahieu 10.8 % 12.5 % 0.215 0.299 126 0.8 29
Brian Dozier 9.9 % 15.3 % 0.17 0.278 107 0.5 31
Through Sunday, April 29.

Jed Lowrie and Asdrubal Cabrera are off to incredibly good starts, but the next three players on this list are all 25 or younger. Like Lowrie and Cabrera, their hot starts are unsustainable. They’ve each built themselves a cushion, however, such that even modest production will result in strong end-of-season numbers.

According to the projections, which are conservative in nature, Albies and Moncada — the latter using an unusual approach at the plate — are headed for nearly four-WAR seasons, while Baez seems likely to reach three wins. The last time three second basemen aged 25 and under produced at least three wins was 2007 when Cano, Hill, Pedroia, Weeks Jr., and Kelly Johnson did it. Before 2007, you have to go all the way back to 1993, when Roberto Alomar and Delino DeShields led a young group that also included Chuck Knoblauch the previous season. No group is likely to measure up to the triumvirate of Paul Molitor, Willie Randolph, and Lou Whitaker from 1979 or the class of 1965 (featuring Gene Alley, Jim Lefebvre, Joe Morgan, and Pete Rose, but a collection of good, young second basemen is not a common occurrence, no matter how good the group turns out.

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Travis Sawchik FanGraphs Chat

12:05
Travis Sawchik: Happy Acuna Era

12:05
Travis Sawchik: Let’s get started …

12:05
Kyle: Will Acuna be in the HOF in 25 years?

12:06
Travis Sawchik: Debuting at such a young age is actually a pretty big deal for HoF chances

12:07
Travis Sawchik: Acuna has about a 10% chance according to our own Jay Jaffe https://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/instagraphs/acunas-hall-of-fame-chance…

12:08
Travis Sawchik: But let’s let him play a bit first

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The Supreme Court Might Reconsider MLB’s Antitrust Exemption

Successfully suing Major League Baseball under federal antitrust law is no easy task. Not only does the league typically hire the best legal representation money can buy, but it is also the beneficiary of a unique, judicially-created antitrust exemption generally shielding it from liability under the Sherman Antitrust Act.

Nevertheless, an enterprising plaintiff every so often decides to try his or her luck at convincing a court to set aside baseball’s exemption and hold MLB liable for various, allegedly anticompetitive practices.

These challengers typically hope to overcome baseball’s antitrust exemption in either of two ways. Initially, the plaintiffs usually try to persuade the trial court that the exemption does not apply to whichever of MLB’s business practices is at issue in the case, asserting that the league’s legal protection should instead be narrowly construed.

And — as is the case more often than not — when that strategy fails to work, the plaintiff’s fallback plan is to hope to be able to convince the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn its prior decisions affirming the exemption and instead hold that MLB is no longer immune from legal challenge under the Sherman Act.

Two such cases contesting MLB’s antitrust exemption are currently before the Supreme Court, both of which have been covered here previously at FanGraphs during their earlier stages of litigation.

In the first case, Wyckoff v. Office of the Commissioner, two former scouts have accused MLB teams of illegally colluding to depress the market for the services of professional and amateur scouts. Meanwhile, the second case — Right Field Rooftops v. Chicago Cubs — involves a claim that the Cubs have unlawfully attempted to monopolize the market for watching their games in-person by purchasing a number of the formerly competing rooftop businesses operating across the street from Wrigley Field and also blocking the view of some of the remaining rooftops by installing new, expanded scoreboards.

In each case, the plaintiffs failed to convince the trial court to construe the league’s antitrust immunity narrowly, and now they must hope they can convince the Supreme Court to reconsider the nearly century-old exemption it first created back in 1922.

Unlike most previous challenges to the antitrust exemption, however, the Wyckoff and Rooftop plaintiffs are not necessarily asking the Supreme Court to directly overrule its prior decisions and strip MLB of its antitrust immunity. Instead, the parties are primarily urging the Court to take their respective cases to clarify just how broadly baseball’s exemption ought to apply.

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Top 24 Prospects: Kansas City Royals

Below is an analysis of the prospects in the farm system of the Kansas City Royals. Scouting reports are compiled with information provided by industry sources as well as from our own (both Eric Longenhagen’s and Kiley McDaniel’s) observations. For more information on the 20-80 scouting scale by which all of our prospect content is governed you can click here. For further explanation of the merits and drawbacks of Future Value, read this.

All the numbered prospects here also appear on THE BOARD, a new feature at the site that offers sortable scouting information for every organization. Click here to visit THE BOARD.

Royals Top Prospects
Rk Name Age High Level Position ETA FV
1 Seuly Matias 19 A RF 2022 50
2 Nick Pratto 19 A 1B 2021 45
3 M.J. Melendez 19 A+ C 2022 45
4 Khalil Lee 19 A+ RF 2020 45
5 Nicky Lopez 23 AA SS 2019 45
6 Michael Gigliotti 22 A CF 2020 40
7 Eric Skoglund 25 MLB LHP 2018 40
8 Richard Lovelady 22 AAA LHP 2018 40
9 Hunter Dozier 26 MLB 3B 2018 40
10 Foster Griffin 22 AA LHP 2019 40
11 Emmanuel Rivera 21 A+ 3B 2021 40
12 Josh Staumont 24 AAA RHP 2018 40
13 Scott Blewett 21 AA RHP 2020 40
14 Meibrys Viloria 21 A+ C 2021 40
15 Ryan O’Hearn 24 AAA 1B 2018 40
16 Gabriel Cancel 21 A+ 2B 2021 40
17 Burch Smith 27 MLB RHP 2018 40
18 Yefri Del Rosario 18 R RHP 2022 40
19 Chase Vallot 21 A+ 1B 2021 40
20 Evan Steele 21 R LHP 2020 40
21 Heath Fillmyer 23 AAA RHP 2019 40
22 Bubba Starling 25 AAA CF 2018 40
23 Daniel Tillo 21 A LHP 2021 40
24 Carlos Hernandez 21 R RHP 2022 40

50 FV Prospects

Signed: July 2nd Period, 2015 from Dominican Republic
Age 18 Height 6’3 Weight 200 Bat/Throw R/R
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Hit Raw Power Game Power Run Fielding Throw
20/40 60/70 30/60 55/50 40/45 70/70

Matias’s exit velos are on par with those produced by Quad-A sluggers who have seven years on him, and he hit a quarter of his balls in play over 105 mph last season. His has a longish swing and possesses poor breaking-ball recognition, the combination of which has led to pretty concerning early-career strikeout rates.

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Jonny Venters and the Official Tommy John Threepeat Club

On the same night that top prospect Ronald Acuña made his made his major-league debut, a former Brave had his own memorable moment. In Wednesday night’s Rays-Orioles game at Camden Yards, in the bottom of the sixth inning, 33-year-old Rays lefty Jonny Venters made his first major-league appearance since October 5, 2012. He faced just one hitter, Chris Davis, and needed just four pitches to retire him on a routine grounder to shortstop, but in doing so he became the rare pitcher to return to the majors after a third Tommy John surgery.

Exactly how rare is in dispute, which I’ll examine in greater depth below, but first, let’s appreciate the man and his moment. A 30th-round draft-and-follow pick in 2003 out of a Florida high school, Venters was such an obscure prospect that his name was misspelled “Benters” on some draft lists according to John Sickels. He began his professional career in 2004, but by the end of 2005, when he was 20, he had already gone under the knife of Dr. James Andrews for his first Tommy John surgery. That cost him all of the 2006 season. Working primarily as a starter, he reached Double-A in late 2008 and Triple-A in 2009. Though he didn’t make the Braves the following spring, he was soon called up and debuted against the Rockies on April 17, 2010 with three shutout innings.

Able to Bring It with rare velocity for a southpaw (95.1 mph average according to Pitch Info), Venters proved effective against righties as well as lefties and quickly gained the trust of manager Bobby Cox; by June, he was working in high-leverage duty. In 79 appearances as a rookie, he threw 83 innings and struck out 93, finishing with an ERA of 1.93, a FIP of 2.69, and 1.5 WAR. The next year, he made an NL-high 85 appearances and turned in similarly strong numbers in 88 innings, making the All-Star team along the way. The heavy usage was a bit much for his elbow to take, however. By mid-2012, a season during which he made a comparatively meager 66 appearances, he was briefly sidelined by elbow impingement. He began the 2013 season on the disabled list due to lingering elbow pain and soon received a platelet-rich plasma injection to promote healing. On May 16, he underwent his second TJ surgery, also by Dr. Andrews. To that point, he owned a 2.23 ERA, 3.00 FIP, and 26.6% K rate in 229.2 major-league innings.

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