Author Archive

2023 Positional Power Rankings: Shortstop

Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports

Earlier today, Davy Andrews gave an accounting of the league’s third basemen. Now we turn our attention to the shortstops.

So, so deep. That’s true of the Mariana Trench, which extends some 36,000 feet below sea level, and also of the shortstop position in the major leagues. If you think of an average player as one who accrues roughly 2 WAR per 600 plate appearances, 29 teams are above average at shortstop. That’s because everyone puts their best athletes there for as long as they can, which results in an embarrassment of positional riches. You have to delve down to 25th on this list to get to a team whose aggregate projection is less than 3.0 WAR. No other position’s list of three-WARriors extends past 20th. Read the rest of this entry »

Why I Love the WBC

Shohei Ohtani
Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports

I found myself speechless on Friday afternoon. I was partaking in one of my favorite yearly rituals, watching the first round of the NCAA tournament at a sports bar. Something about the atmosphere calls to me — masses of strangers on the edges of their barstools, captivated by the energy of do-or-die games between wildly mismatched teams. As it happened, the bar I picked was a Purdue bar, and the mood slowly soured as the Boilermakers struggled with and ultimately fell to tiny Fairleigh Dickinson, one of the greatest upsets in the history of the tournament.

That game got me thinking about why I love the World Baseball Classic so much. It’s a newfound love of mine. The last time the WBC was held, in 2017, I paid exactly as much attention to it as my work required; given that my job was to try to make money trading interest rates, that worked out to exactly zero. I vaguely knew that the United States won, but even as a baseball fan, it didn’t really grab me. I liked the Cardinals, not Team USA, and it felt like a weird time of year for competitive baseball.

Having watched most of this year’s games, I’m sad I wasn’t watching before. The WBC is like nothing else in professional baseball, a chaotic and exciting mashup of national identity and high tension, often between teams that have no business being on the same field as each other.

Major league baseball is, by design, a slog. No individual game matters all that much because there are so many of them. If you’re a player, you can’t get too high or too low, even if you really want to. The Pirates and the Dodgers are a big mismatch, but even if the Pirates beat the odds and win a game, that game almost doesn’t matter. They’ll play again the next day, and then the next day, and then grind through a whole year’s worth of games. Read the rest of this entry »

Ben Clemens FanGraphs Chat – 3/20/23

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A Simple Method for Evaluating Team Options

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Every time a young star signs a contract extension, we all breathlessly mention the total guarantee. Did you hear Corbin Carroll is getting one hundred and ten million dollars? You could buy a pretty nice house with that, or several nice houses, or live comfortably for the rest of your life and set your kids up to succeed in the bargain. It’s natural to focus on something like that. It is, after all, the main part of the deal.

In almost every one of these extensions, there’s an additional feature: one or more years of team options tacked on to the end of the contract. Our collective analytical view of those tends to be more or less a shrug. “Oh, yeah, and two team options, so that’s nice,” we say, or “well, that makes sense.” I wouldn’t call our evaluations of these options particularly nuanced.

I don’t think that’s going to change on the whole, but the Carroll extension spurred me to at least delve a little deeper into the dollars and cents side of those team options. I’ve already done some work on opt outs from the player perspective, and conveniently enough, I can lift a lot of the mathematical methods from that treatment and use them to evaluate things from the team side. Read the rest of this entry »

Four Player Crushes of Mine

Riley Greene
Mike Watters-USA TODAY Sports

Over the weekend, I participated in a panel at the SABR Analytics Conference in Phoenix. It was a ton of fun, and I enjoyed getting a chance to nerd out about baseball with a bunch of like-minded people. The awards show wasn’t bad, either. I look forward to Michael Baumann and I making subtle references to it the rest of the year (or maybe just me; Baumann is less arrogant than I am).

The topic of my panel, where I was joined by Yahoo Sports’ Hannah Keyser and moderator Vince Gennaro, was players we love for the 2023 season. I love Shohei Ohtani and Mike Trout most for the 2023 season, but more specifically, it was about players we love who aren’t widely regarded as superstars. I came prepared; I picked two hitters and two pitchers who fit the bill.

A panel isn’t the same as a presentation, and our discussion ranged widely around these and other players (Hannah loves Wander Franco and Hunter Greene, Vince loves Dylan Cease), but I thought I’d lay out my research here as well. If you’re a frequent reader, you probably already know how much I like these guys, but it never hurts to reiterate a point. Read the rest of this entry »

Ben Clemens FanGraphs Chat – 3/13/23

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Corbin Carroll Reduces Snake-Eyes Risk by Signing Long-Term with Snakes

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Spring is for extensions. As surely as swallows flock to Capistrano or salmon charge upstream, major league teams spend February and March offering their young stars sackfuls of money in exchange for years of team control. Sure enough, the Diamondbacks and Corbin Carroll followed the path of least resistance over the weekend in agreeing to an eight-year deal worth $111 million, with a ninth-year option for $28 million and $20 million in various contract incentives.

That sounds like a lot of money. Carroll, after all, has only played 32 games in the major leagues and has accrued only 772 professional plate appearances. But do the math, and you can see why Arizona offered this deal, and also why Carroll accepted it.

Carroll isn’t some random recent debut. He’s the number two prospect in baseball, a power-contact-speed-and-defense threat who has dismantled every level of competition he’s faced. That includes the major leagues; that 32-game debut saw Carroll hit .260/.330/.500 with superlative baserunning and defense. He looked like an All-Star right away, and truthfully, he’s always looked like an All-Star. That’s how you end up as the number two prospect in baseball as a 5-foot-10 outfielder so quickly despite missing nearly two consecutive seasons of playing time thanks to the pandemic and then injury. Read the rest of this entry »

Let’s Identify Some Hitter Sleeper Candidates

Mike Watters-USA TODAY Sports

Ah yes, you’ve made it through Prospect Week, reading our Top 100 list, interviews with both prospects and team personnel, Picks to Click, and myriad other prospect-focused delights. You might think that nothing could top that huge eruption of prospect coverage. And you’d be right! But as I’ve done for the past two years, I’m going to contribute a small postscript to the week by picking some hitting prospects who intrigue me and who I think stand a better-than-average chance of making noise in the major leagues.

In the past, I’ve done pretty well at this. My hit rate hasn’t been 100% or anything, but let’s put it this way: of the four betting favorites for NL Rookie of the Year for 2023, one is Kodai Senga, one is consensus all-world prospect Corbin Carroll, and the other two have appeared on the previous editions of this list. That’s Miguel Vargas and Ezequiel Tovar, if you’re keeping score at home, and both also feature on our Top 100 list this year. They’ve gone from being interesting guys with promising statistical markers to capital-G guys, which is exactly what I’m trying to do when putting this article together.

That said, it’s getting harder. The 2021 edition of this list featured some carping about Eric Longenhagen ranking Gabriel Moreno in the 100, because he was the exact kind of player who might not have been highly regarded in earlier eras of public prospect evaluation but who had all the markers of future success. This time around, the Top 100 has even more Moreno types, prospects who combine raw tools that might land them just short of the list with statistical markers that scream future big leaguer. Read the rest of this entry »

How Should You Interpret Our Projected Win Totals?

Alex Bregman Jose Altuve
Thomas Shea-USA TODAY Sports

Last week, we published our playoff odds for the 2023 season. Those odds contain a ton of interesting bells and whistles, from win distributions to chances of receiving a playoff bye. At their core, however, they’re based on one number: win totals. Win totals determine who makes the playoffs, so our projections, at their core, are a machine for spitting out win totals and then assigning playoff spots from there.

We’ve been making these projections since 2014, so I thought it would be interesting to see how our win total projections have matched up with reality. After all, win total projections are only useful if they do an acceptable job of anticipating what happens during the season. If we simply projected 113 wins for the Royals every year, to pick a random example, the model wouldn’t be very useful. The Royals have won anywhere from 58 to 95 games in that span.

I’m not exactly sure what data is most useful about our projections, so I decided to run a bunch of different tests. That way, whatever description of them best helps you understand their volatility, you can simply listen to that one and ignore everything else I presented. Or, you know, consider a bunch of them. It’s your brain, after all.

Before I get started on these, I’d like to point out that I’ve already given our playoff odds estimates a similar test in these two articles. If you’re looking for a tl;dr summary of it, I’d go with this: our odds are pretty good, largely because they converge on which teams are either very likely or very unlikely to make the playoffs quickly. The odds are probably a touch too pessimistic on teams at the 5–10% playoff odds part of the distribution, though that’s more observational than provable through data. For the most part, what you see is what you get: projections do a good job of separating the wheat from the chaff.

With that out of the way, let’s get back to projected win totals. Here’s the base level: the average error of our win total projections is 7.5 wins, and the median error is 6.5 wins. In other words, if we say that we think your team is going to win 85.5 games, that means that half the time, they’ll win between 79 and 92 games. Past performance is not a guarantee of future results, but for what it’s worth, that error has been consistent over time. In standard deviation terms, that’s around 9.5 wins. Read the rest of this entry »

Ben Clemens FanGraphs Chat – 2/21/23

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