Author Archive

Let’s Make a Deal! Reliever Edition

Paul Rutherford-USA TODAY Sports

Let’s play some word association. I’m going to name someone, and I want you to say the first two words that come to mind. Okay, I’m ready: Richard Bleier. Did “middle reliever” jump to the fore? You’re exactly right; Bleier spent 2022 chipping in mid-quality work in the middle innings for the Marlins. One more: Matt Barnes. Did you say “middle reliever” this time? If not, maybe it was “ex-closer.” Barnes was a roller coaster ride of a closer right until he wasn’t, and he spent 2022 pitching anywhere from the sixth to ninth inning depending on need, at least when he wasn’t on the IL.

This year, I can guarantee you that those two won’t be reprising their roles. On Monday, the Red Sox and Marlins swapped their relievers in a one-for-one trade. It’s not even a contract-based swap; both players are under contract for 2023 with a team option for 2024, and the Red Sox sent $5 million to Miami to even out the payroll expenditure on the deal. It’s simpler than that: I want your reliever, and you can take mine. Read the rest of this entry »

Fletcher Lives! (In the Form of Brendan Donovan)

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

This will sound ridiculous, but I have a hipster-ish choice for my favorite Los Angeles Angel. Trout and Ohtani? They’re fine, I guess, if you like generational superstars. Rendon? Ward? If we’re really reaching, Tyler Anderson? Again, I’m not against them, they’re just not exactly my taste. My favorite Angel? It’s none other than David Fletcher, a man ripped from the Deadball era and placed on the infield dirt in Anaheim.

How could you not love Fletcher? His skill set is delightful and also mind-boggling. In a power-mad era, he has none to speak of; he’s managed nearly as many triples as homers in his career. He hits nearly anything he swings at, particularly when he cuts his already short swing down with two strikes; he has a career strikeout rate in the single digits and comically low swinging strike rates. Fletcher often looks like he’s playing a different sport than the other guys on his team, but he’s so good at what he does that he was able to put together a three-year run of above-average play with first-percentile exit velocity.

Sadly, those three years are now in the past. Fletcher was ineffective in 2021 and then injured in 2022. His high-wire act worked for a long time, but in the end the numbers didn’t quite add up. Pitchers pounded the zone so much that he started swinging more to protect himself from called strikeouts, but that eventually drove his chase rate up and walk rate down, and the rest was history. Read the rest of this entry »

Ben Clemens FanGraphs Chat – 1/30/23

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Diamond Sports Group’s Bankruptcy Could Rock the Baseball Revenue Boat

Albert Cesare/The Enquirer / USA TODAY NETWORK

At this point in the offseason, the micro-level events that will shape the 2023 baseball season have almost all been settled. Aside from the odd trade, teams have largely set their rosters. Injuries, unexpected performances, and trades will start to affect individual fortunes when games begin, but we’re at a local lull.

But there’s big news afoot for the game in a macro sense. Diamond Sports Group, the company that owns Bally Sports Network and thus the rights to 14 teams’ local broadcasts (plus minority stakes in two team-owned broadcasts)*, is careening towards bankruptcy. Per Bloomberg, the actual bankruptcy declaration is merely a formality: the firm will reportedly skip an interest payment due in February, triggering a restructuring that will wipe out the firm’s existing equity and convert all but the most senior debt into equity stakes in the new company, leaving its current creditors in charge.

That’s a shocking turn of events for a media group that sold for more than $10 billion in 2019. Heck, it’s a shocking turn of events for a company that made more than $2 billion in revenues in the first nine months of 2022, and more than $3 billion in 2021. It might also affect long-term cashflows for every team in the league; after all, local broadcast rights are a key piece of the revenue pie, and broadcast rights have exploded along with MLB revenues in the past decade.

How could this have happened? Which teams will be impacted, and what will that impact be? How will the league adapt to the new media landscape brought on by this bankruptcy and any subsequent dominos that fall as a result? I don’t have the answer to all of those questions, but I’ll walk through each in turn before speculating about what might happen next. Read the rest of this entry »

Further Research In Pursuit of Finding Hitter Breakouts

Peter Aiken-USA TODAY Sports

Earlier this week, I wrote up a side project I’ve been working on recently: looking through exit velocity distributions to find interesting hitters. You can read that if you’d like (obviously, that’s how the internet works), but as a refresher, I looked through 2022 batted ball data for hitters whose 95th-percentile exit velocity was high but whose average exit velocity was low, as well as hitters who hit the ball hard consistently but didn’t have the results to show for it.

With a little more time to monkey around with the data, I’ve come to a few conclusions about this line of analysis. If you just want to read the article for those conclusions, no sweat: just search for the words “phenomenal cosmic power.” It’s been too long since I’ve used an Aladdin reference in an article, so I promise to shoehorn that one in somehow just before I explain my conclusions.

Okay, great, now that we’ve dispensed with the casuals, let’s talk through a bunch of procedure. You nerds (I say this with affection) love the procedure, I know. First things first: I took Baseball Savant data for all batted balls and grouped them by player and season. I skipped 2020 due to sample size issues and last season because we don’t have subsequent-year data. That left me with approximately 3,000 player-seasons of at least 50 batted balls. Read the rest of this entry »

Michael A. Taylor Is the Second Center Fielder the Twins Needed

Michael A. Taylor
Peter Aiken-USA TODAY Sports

Hello, and welcome to today’s episode of Twins Trade Talk. I’m your host, Ben Clemens, ostensibly a writer at FanGraphs but now an exclusive chronicler of Twin City swaps. Last week, Minnesota traded AL batting champion Luis Arraez in a deal I absolutely loved. If that’s the main course, Monday’s move was dessert:

Let’s start here: I love this trade for both sides. Michael A. Taylor has been a quality contributor when healthy for much of his career, and his last two seasons in Kansas City encapsulate his career well. In a sentence: very good outfield defense is valuable. Taylor hit a paltry .249/.304/.357 in blue and gold, but he was still worth 3.5 WAR (by our calculation, 5.7 per Baseball Reference) over roughly 1,000 plate appearances because he’s one of the best outfield defenders around. Depending on which defensive metric you’re most fond of, he’s either first (DRS), first (UZR), or second by one run (OAA) among all outfielders over the past two years. Read the rest of this entry »

Some Breakout Hitter Candidates, Courtesy of Exit Velocity Percentiles

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

I think I might be on to something. While fiddling around with some 2022 batted ball data in an attempt to improve my programming skills, I created a list of players whose 95th-percentile exit velocity most outstripped their average exit velocity. If you want that in plain English, that’s players who hit the snot out of the ball when they connect, but whose average exit velocity is weighed down by a pile of mishits. Second on this list among players with at least 200 batted balls? Oneil Cruz, a poster child for cartoonish maximums and frequent contact issues.

With Cruz coming in near the top of this list, I thought I might have a bead on something cool. Jo Adell (only 162 batted balls, but still), Michael Harris II, and Pete Alonso are all high up there, and they’re the kind of players I would expect to see. They’re also interesting players from a breakout perspective; if something clicks and they start making more consistent contact, they could turn into monster hitters overnight.

That’s unfair to Alonso, who is already a monster hitter, but there’s even some instructive value there. Alonso and Mookie Betts had strikingly similar lines in 2022 by strikeout rate, walk rate, isolated power, BABIP, and wRC+:

Betts = Alonso??
Player BB% K% ISO BABIP wRC+
Mookie Betts 8.6% 16.3% .264 .272 144
Pete Alonso 9.8% 18.7% .246 .279 143

One category where they weren’t similar? Alonso’s top end exit velocity is far superior to Betts’s. I mean, obviously. Have you seen Mookie Betts? Have you seen Pete Alonso? If Alonso were getting to his power as often as Betts gets to his, he’d be putting up Yordan Alvarez numbers. Indeed, Alvarez and Alonso have nearly identical 95th-percentile exit velocities, but Alvarez hits the ball 5.5 mph harder on average. He’s consistently hitting the ball on the screws, in other words. No wonder, then, that he posted an isolated power 60 points higher than Alonso. Read the rest of this entry »

Ben Clemens FanGraphs Chat – 1/23/23

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The Twins Won the Trade That Had To Happen

Pablo Lopez
Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

Trades aren’t inevitable. We hear rumors of some player being on the block all the time. Sometimes, that ends in an actual trade. Frequently, though, it ends in nothing: some team shops a mystery player around, no one bites, and then everyone goes about their business as if the initial trade rumor never happened. But sometimes the rumors are just so strong that they’re bound to come true eventually. To pick a name at random (note: not random), the Marlins have reportedly been looking to trade Pablo López for eons. They can’t hit, they have plenty of starting pitchers, and López seems like the best trade option when considering the combination of potential return and expendability.

Likewise, Luis Arraez has intermittently been the subject of trade speculation. He’s a good hitter and versatile defender, but the Twins have enough infielders that they’ve been reduced to playing the 5-foot-10 (generously) Arraez at first base. When Carlos Correa returned to the fold, it looked like another year of Arraez at first base, so it didn’t take a rocket scientist to surmise that the Twins might look to move an infielder. They needed pitching. The Marlins needed hitting and crave contact ability. What happens when an unstoppable force meets an exceedingly movable object? The trade that had to happen, of course.

As Jeff Passan reported, Luis Arraez is now a Marlin after the Twins traded him for López and two prospects: Jose Salas and Byron Chourio. Both Arraez and López are the kind of player that smart front offices love to build around. They have multiple years of team control remaining at below-market rates thanks to the arbitration process. They’re both borderline All-Stars, and both have utility on more or less any team — Arraez because of his versatility and López because everyone needs pitching. Players like these two form the backbone of every sustainable winner, so it’s no surprise that each team demanded such a player when trading one away. Read the rest of this entry »

Daulton Varsho’s Secret Superpower

David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports

Daulton Varsho is good in a few very obvious ways. He’s lightning quick, gets great jumps in the outfield, and plays catcher when he’s not in center or right. He swatted 27 homers last year, and his underlying power metrics suggest that he’ll be able to hit 20-30 a season with some regularity. A plus center fielder who also plays catcher and hits for power? That’s a loud-tool kind of player, the sort who hits you over the head with how good they are.

That’s all true, but I’m intrigued by another one of Varsho’s skills. He might be a power hitter, but he’s also a volume bunter. He ended a plate appearance with a bunt 14 times in 2022, 14th-most in baseball. The guys ahead of him on this list are mostly singles hitters; Victor Robles and Geraldo Perdomo led the pack, for example. No one ahead of him on the list hit 20 homers; for someone with his level of pop, he’s a huge bunting enthusiast.

Strangely, he was particularly fond of bunting with the bases empty last year. That runs counter to conventional baseball wisdom, but also to all baseball wisdom. One of the best reasons to bunt is that even a failure can help score runs. If you try to bunt for a single with a man on first, plenty of your failures will still put a runner in scoring position. If you try a bunt and fail with no one on, it’s an out like any other. Read the rest of this entry »