Archive for August, 2018

Contending Brewers Trade for Often Good Pitcher

The National League Wild Card race is nuts. Here’s the currently field of clubs competing for it, through Thursday’s games, with our playoff odds.

National League Wild Card Race
Team W L GB Proj W Proj L ROS W% Win Division Win Wild Card Make Playoffs
Cardinals 75 59 0.5 88.8 73.2 .494 4.1% 63.0% 67.3%
Brewers 75 60 0 88.7 73.3 .508 4.5% 61.8% 66.4%
Rockies 72 61 2 86.2 75.8 .491 14.6% 14.7% 29.4%
Dodgers 72 62 2.5 89.2 72.8 .616 56.4% 17.4% 73.8%
Phillies 71 62 3 86.2 75.8 .525 35.3% 6.2% 41.6%

That’s just nuts! In the American League, the next closest Wild Card team, the Seattle Mariners, is 4.5 games out of a playoff spot. The next closest team behind them is the eight-games-out Rays. The next closest NL team, as you might notice, is significantly closer than that. The NL has eight teams whose odds of making the playoffs are over 25%; the AL, meanwhile, has just five such teams.

And so, with the NL’s relative nuttiness in mind, the Brewers traded this afternoon for left-handed pitcher Gio Gonzalez to bolster a rotation that is still in search of reinforcements after losing Jimmy Nelson to a shoulder injury before the season started and Brent Suter to Tommy John surgery in July. In return, the Nationals will reportedly receive two minor leaguers, though at the time of publication, those players’ identities are still unknown. As such, we’ll evaluate this trade in terms of Gonazalez’s merits for the Brewers and what the trade signals for the Nationals’ late-season tear-down. We should also note that the trade, famously a disruptive event, was remarkably convenient for Gonzalez, who — as a result of the two teams playing one another today — simply had to walk across the field to the Brewers’ dugout.

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Effectively Wild Episode 1264: Schrödinger’s Bunt Attempt

EWFI
Ben Lindbergh and Jeff Sullivan banter about Matt Chapman’s misleading error total, Tyler White and “cheap” home runs, Danny Hultzen, Aaron Nola, and the concept of “safe” players, the latest on Shohei Ohtani and Willians Astudillo, Jacob deGrom and the NL MVP race, a conditional trade followup, Magneuris Sierra and the woeful Marlins, Mike Foltynewicz’s spit balk, Michael Lorenzen’s confusing foul ball, the Andrew McCutchen trade to the Yankees and the state of the Giants, belief in Kyle Freeland, a road-trip addendum, and a Yusmeiro Petit quote.

Audio intro: Slothrust, "Trial & Error"
Audio outro: Death Cab for Cutie, "We Looked Like Giants"

Link to Tyler White’s walk-off
Link to video of spit balk
Link to Sam’s article about balks
Link to Jeff’s Lorenzen post
Link to Ben’s Freeland article
Link to Jeff’s Freeland post
Link to Petit article

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Which Pitchers Are Doubling Up to Start an At-Bat?

This is Nate Freiman’s fourth post as part of his August residency. Nate is a former MLB first baseman. He also played for Team Israel in the 2017 World Baseball Classic and spent time in the Atlantic and Mexican Leagues. He can be found on Twitter @natefreiman. His wife Amanda routinely beats him at golf. To read work by earlier residents, click here.

On June 7, 2013, I got the start against Chris Sale in Chicago. Roughly 22,000 people were there to see us beat the White Sox 4-3 on a Josh Donaldson sixth-inning grand slam.

I was on deck when Donaldson homered, and consequently faced a very angry Sale. He started me off with a slider. The pitch appeared to start more or less in the first-base dugout before catching the better part of the outside corner. Then he threw a changeup. I was geared up for 97. I buckled and took a second called strike. I was down 0-2 and still hadn’t seen the fastball. If you’re concerned about catching up to the fastball, the key is to slow down and think, “Be on time.” Hopefully that doesn’t translate to start a little early. That’s when you chase the back-foot slider.

Sale’s next pitch was 97 mph at the top of the zone. It looked even harder because I hadn’t seen the fastball. Strike three swinging. I got soft-soft-harded.

In my last post, I mentioned that at-bats are “path dependent,” meaning that each pitch is going to depend on the previous pitch. It’s nice to know what percentage of fastballs a guy throws. It’s really nice to have it broken down by count. Luckily there’s a really cool graphic for that on Baseball Savant. Here’s what it looks like for Blake Snell:

The chart shows that Snell throws 45.4% fastballs in 0-1 counts. In those counts, sometimes he got ahead with a fastball and sometimes he got ahead with offspeed. Do the pitches that came before it matter? Because soft-soft-hard is merely one example of a three-pitch sequence. I was curious whether MLB pitchers have measurable pitch-sequencing tendencies in other counts, too.

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The Return of Shohei Ohtani, Pitcher

Shohei Ohtani is coming back. Not Ohtani the hitter, who has thrived in his capacity as a designated hitter and pinch-hitter since his return on July 3 from a Grade 2 sprain of his ulnar collateral ligament. No, it’s Ohtani the pitcher, the one who we were afraid we might not see again this year — and maybe not even next year — will start Sunday night’s game against the Astros, announced Angels manager Mike Scioscia on Thursday. It will be the first time the 24-year-old two-way phenom taken the ball in that capacity since June 6.

If you’re not awaiting this start — and the return of this incredible athlete’s filthy stuff — with bated breath, consult your doctor.

Ohtani left his June 6 start — his ninth of the season — against the Royals after just four innings due to a recurrence of a blister. While getting the blister drained, he complained of soreness in his elbow, and a subsequent MRI revealed the sprain. With the Angels optimistic that he could avoid Tommy John surgery, he underwent both platelet-rich plasma and stem-cell injections and was placed on the disabled list. He was cleared to begin taking swings again three days later, returned to action without even going on a rehab assignment, and, despite some ups and downs, has more or less equaled the impact of his early-season work, if not exactly replicating its shape:

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The Best Deadline Trade of the American League

When the New York Yankees grew concerned about their rotation for the rest of the season, they made a pretty big move to get J.A. Happ from the Blue Jays. In Brandon Drury, they traded a young player with success at the major-league level. Eric Longenhagen and Kiley McDaniel ranked Drury the fifth-best minor leaguer traded at the deadline. The club also gave up Billy McKinney, who ended up 19th on the same list. It wasn’t an inconsequential deal.

Happ has been everything the team could’ve hoped for. He’s recorded a 3.95 FIP and 2.37 ERA since joining the Yankees. He’s been worthy roughly half a win. He looks like he’ll be an asset for a team that’s bound for some kind of postseason play. He’s also not even the top-performing pitcher his own club acquired at the deadline.

Rather it’s Lance Lynn who has put up the best park-adjusted FIP of any pitcher acquired at the trade deadline — including Cole Hamels — as the following table indicates.

Notable Starter Trade-Deadline Acquisitions
Name Team IP WAR K% BB% ERA- FIP-
Lance Lynn Yankees 31.2 1.2 27.7 % 6.6 % 92 47
Cole Hamels Cubs 39.0 1.4 25.7 % 7.4 % 17 55
Kevin Gausman Braves 32.0 0.8 18.0 % 5.7 % 42 72
J.A. Happ Yankees 24.1 0.6 30.3 % 7.1 % 60 81
Nathan Eovaldi Red Sox 25.0 0.6 13.7 % 3.4 % 114 82
Chris Archer Pirates 22.1 0.2 22.4 % 8.4 % 162 116
Numbers as of August 30.

Cole Hamels has been fantastic, but when you factor in both Yankee Stadium and the American League, he’s produced the better fielding-independent numbers. (With his edge in innings, Hamels’ has recorded a higher WAR.) Nor is it just against trade acquisitions that Lynn fares well. Here are the top pitchers by WAR this month.

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Jeff Sullivan FanGraphs Chat — 8/31/18

9:07

Jeff Sullivan: Hello friends

9:07

Jeff Sullivan: Welcome to Friday baseball chat

9:07

Jeff Sullivan: And welcome to what is almost a long holiday weekend!

9:07

Jeff Sullivan: Thank you for already mentally checking out from work so that you can participate in this exchange

9:08

Ozzie Ozzie Albies Free: What do you think? Was it a foul ball or a foul bunt?

9:08

Jeff Sullivan: I lean pretty strongly toward foul ball. I do not believe that Lorenzen had intent to bunt that pitch

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If Not Aaron Judge, Then Andrew McCutchen for Yankees

When Aaron Judge went down with a wrist injury at the end of July, the Yankees didn’t appear to be a club in dire straits. While there would be no replacing the American League’s 2017 WAR leader, the team would still be in decent shape, having entered the season with three talented outfielders beyond Judge in Brett Gardner, Aaron Hicks, and Giancarlo Stanton.

Things haven’t quite worked out as expected, though. Stanton has played mostly designated hitter, while Gardner has struggled offensively. The result: a possible weakness in the lineup where one wasn’t anticipated. With the Yankees’ acquisition of Andrew McCutchen, however — a deal first reported by Buster Olney — the lineup should benefit considerably.

Joel Sherman has reported that two prospects would go back to the Giants if and when the deal is confirmed, including infielder Abiatal Avelino. The 23-year-old reached Double-A in 2016, spent some time in three levels last year, and moved back and forth between the two highest minor-league levels while destroying Double-A pitching and struggling in Triple-A.

Update: Jim Bowden is reporting the other player in the deal Juan De Paula, currently a starter in Low-A, and Jon Heyman reports that the Giants and Yankees are splitting the roughly $2.5 million remaining on McCutchen’s deal. 

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The Particular Skill of Kyle Freeland

As I write this, there are 115 different pitchers this year who have thrown at least 100 innings. Among them, Kyle Freeland ranks tied for seventh in ERA-, at 62. The pitcher with whom he’s even: one Clayton Kershaw. The next pitcher down the list: one Justin Verlander. Now, we’re a site that loves its peripherals, and, indeed, if you sort by, say, FIP-, Freeland doesn’t look quite so good. But he still looks strong. According to a peripheral-based version of WAR, Freeland has been a plus. According to a runs-based version of WAR, Freeland is a viable candidate for the NL Cy Young.

I don’t hesitate to say that Freeland has been overlooked. He doesn’t get the attention of rotation-mate Jon Gray, because Gray throws that sexy power stuff, and he gets those sexy strikeouts. Freeland doesn’t do as much of the basic stuff that analysts look for, so he’s flown for this long under the radar. But if you’ll allow me some freedom here, I’d like to invoke a couple all-timer names. The images might be able to speak for themselves.

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Daily Prospect Notes Finale: Arizona Fall League Roster Edition

Notes on prospects from lead prospect analyst Eric Longenhagen. Read previous installments here.

Note from Eric: Hey you, this is the last one of these for the year, as the minor-league regular season comes to a close. Thanks for reading. I’ll be taking some time off next week, charging the batteries for the offseason duties that lie ahead for Kiley and me.

D.J. Peters, CF, Los Angeles Dodgers
Level: Double-A   Age: 22   Org Rank: 7   FV: 45+
Line: 4-for-7, 2 HR, 2B (double header)

Notes
A comparison of DJ Peters’ 2017 season in the Cal League and his 2018 season at Double-A gives us a good idea of what happens to on-paper production when a hitter is facing better pitching and defenses in a more stable offensive environment.

D.J. Peters’ Production
Year AVG OBP SLG K% BB% BABIP wRC+
2017 .276 .372 .514 32.2% 10.9% .385 137
2018 .228 .314 .451 34.0% 8.1% .305 107

Reports of Peters’ physical abilities haven’t changed, nor is his batted-ball profile different in such a way that one would expect a downtick in production. The 2018 line is, I think, a more accurate distillation of Peters’ abilities. He belongs in a talent bucket with swing-and-miss outfielders like Franchy Cordero, Randal Grichuk, Michael A. Taylor, Bradley Zimmer, etc. These are slugging center fielders whose contact skills aren’t particularly great. Players like this are historically volatile from one season to the next but dominant if/when things click. They’re often ~1.5 WAR players who have some years in the three-win range. Sometimes they also turn into George Springer.

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What Christian Yelich Has Changed

You couldn’t blame Eric Hosmer or Christian Yelich if they got sick of hearing about Statcast. Anyone who’s ever played with the basic tools has been able to discover two things: (1) historically, Hosmer and Yelich have hit the ball hard, and (2) historically, Hosmer and Yelich have hit the ball on the ground. It became easy to wonder what might happen if Hosmer and Yelich set their sights on the skies. It just so happened that, last offseason, both of those players changed teams. Might they have also been willing to change their swings? It’s not that it wasn’t interesting. It just started to grow a little tired.

Hosmer hasn’t changed. That much I can tell you. Through five months of baseball, he’s got a below-average batting line and a below-replacement WAR. He has the highest ground-ball rate he’s ever posted. But then, Yelich is currently sitting on a career-high wRC+. He’s sitting on a career-high slugging percentage. He’s also technically sitting on a career-low ground-ball rate.

Don’t get the wrong idea, though. Yelich’s average launch angle hasn’t budged from last season to this one. He remains a ground-ball and line-drive hitter. In part, he’s just benefiting from playing in Milwaukee instead of playing in Miami. And in part, he’s benefiting from another change. It’s not one that has to do with his swing. Rather, it’s one that has to do with his approach.

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