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COVID-19 Roundup: Choo, Murphy Donate to the Minors

This is the latest installment of a daily series in which the FanGraphs staff rounds up the latest developments regarding the COVID-19 virus’ effect on baseball.

Shin-Soo Choo Gives Back

Shin-Soo Choo is donating $1,000 to each Rangers minor leaguer, nearly 200 players in total. For minor leaguers scraping to get by, every dollar counts, and Choo mentioned his time in the minors as a motivating factor for the donation. Choo had already donated nearly $200,000 to Community Chest of Korea to help with pandemic relief in Daegu, one of the hardest-hit cities in South Korea.

Daniel Murphy Does Too

Last week, Adam Wainwright made a $250,000 donation to More Than Baseball, a charity that supports all minor leaguers. Yesterday, Daniel Murphy added $100,000 to that total, making the donation to a joint effort between More Than Baseball and Our Baseball Life, a charity that provides support and resources for baseball playing families. The fund will support minor leaguers with families, a particularly vulnerable group during the work stoppage. Read the rest of this entry »

An OOTP Brewers Update: Virtual Trade Targets

After a desultory opener, our Brewers have gone .500; they stand at 2-3 on the season, having split a pair with the Cardinals and Cubs. It’s too early to look at the standings, but here they are anyway:

NL Central Standings
Team W L GB
Chicago Cubs 4 1
Cincinnati Reds 3 2 1
Milwaukee Brewers 2 3 2
St. Louis Cardinals 2 3 2
Pittsburgh Pirates 2 3 2

While that top-line news isn’t so bad, basically everything else has gone poorly. First, the offense has been sputtering. Take a look at a few batting stats for the eight regulars plus the two part-timers:

Relevant Brewers Hitters
Avisaíl García 22 22.7% 4.5% 0.188 0.166 0
Christian Yelich 22 22.7% 9.1% 0.286 0.325 102
Lorenzo Cain 21 19.0% 0.0% 0.353 0.265 65
Keston Hiura 21 19.0% 0.0% 0.133 0.226 44
Justin Smoak 18 38.9% 22.2% 0.429 0.318 86
Orlando Arcia 17 17.6% 5.9% 0.462 0.389 143
Omar Narváez 15 13.3% 13.3% 0.200 0.279 61
Eric Sogard 11 9.1% 9.1% 0.250 0.286 64
Jedd Gyorko 9 22.2% 11.1% 0.167 0.173 -2
Ryan Braun 7 14.3% 14.3% 0.400 0.347 110

Arcia is raking, so that promotion has worked out well, even if it’s largely BABIP-fueled. Smoak has a .389 OBP, so I’d trust his wOBA more than his OPS+ (OOTP doesn’t provide wRC+). And Hiura will probably perk up. But the offense has been so desultory that in real life, the team would be contemplating changes, or at least rest days to give veterans a jolt. Read the rest of this entry »

Updating the Pinch Hit Penalty, with a Few Rules of Thumb

Pinch hitting is hard. Baseball is a rhythm game, and pinch hitters are denied any semblance of routine. They’re on the bench, swinging a bat back and forth to get the blood pumping in their arms, and then just like that, they’re in the game. They might have been daydreaming about what they plan on ordering from room service, and here’s Jacob deGrom throwing 92 mph sliders. Good luck!

That’s the classical conception of a pinch hitter, and it explains why Tom Tango, Mitchel Lichtman, and Andrew Dolphin found a significant pinch hitting penalty in The Book. They found a 24-point wOBA penalty for pinch hitters, which is a large cost. That’s roughly equivalent to the platoon advantage a lefty gets when facing a right-handed pitcher.

That’s a pretty striking difference. When your team gets a lefty batter up against a righty pitcher in a big spot, it feels great. Imagine that pitcher being replaced by a left-hander. Feels pretty awful, right? That’s the same swing in effectiveness you get when a batter pinch hits rather than batting regularly.

You don’t always hear about this effect on broadcasts, because there are other decisions that go into pinch hitting. You’re getting a diminished version of whichever hitter you select, but other advantages can still tip the scales in a batter’s favor. Read the rest of this entry »

Ben Clemens FanGraphs Chat – 3/30/20

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Imagining a Socially-Distanced Baseball

Last Friday on Effectively Wild, Meg and Ben (Not me! Curse you, Lindbergh, for your recognizable Ben-ness!) answered a question that several readers had asked. How, the readers wondered, might baseball exist if everyone involved in the game were required to remain at least six feet apart at all times?

It’s a silly question, really; they’re not going to play baseball with social distancing. But a question being silly has never stopped me even when there was baseball to write about, so let’s brainstorm. To figure out what would need to change if baseball wanted to be compliant with the new COVID-19 world we’re living in, I decided to choose a game from last year and watch for what we’d need to change. I picked a random date — June 11, 2019 — and selected the first game available, the first game of a Mets-Yankees doubleheader.

As a recap, Meg and Ben took their best shot at figuring out what might happen. They considered ghost runners or Statcast-estimated speed splits to each base. They considered eliminating the running game entirely. They noted that an automatic strike zone would likely be necessary to remove the umpire from his current position. Additionally, they covered some easier spacing dilemmas — only one reliever up in the bullpen at a time, a mostly-empty dugout with players remaining in the locker room until needed, and automatic reviews that would allow an umpire to stay further from the action.

With those ideas in mind, I started watching my random game. Some of the personal contact would be easy to fix. For example:

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We’re Managing the (Fake) Brewers!

Good news, everyone! Our crowd-managed Brewers have started the season. Not well! Not well at all! But they’ve started the season. Game 1 was an absolute blowout; the Cubs put up 14 on the Brewers, including five runs against Josh Hader (on three walks, a hit by pitch, and a grand slam by Javy Báez). Our batters weren’t up to the task, scoring only three runs. Yu Darvish went eight innings and struck out 10 Brewers.

One game isn’t enough to say anything about this team, but it was an ugly one. Christian Yelich, Justin Smoak, and Avisaíl García all went hitless, and the team didn’t put enough pressure on Darvish to even make any interesting baserunning decisions. The pitching staff walked 10 and hit three while striking out only four Cubs, a desultory performance to match the offense’s slow start.

But it’s just one game. It’s time to start thinking about the rest of the season. First, let’s review the decisions we made last time. We had a few management sliders to move. You voted for aggressive baserunning, frequent infield shifts, and quick pitching hooks. The only place where there was a confusing result was on pinch hitting, where slightly aggressive pinch hitting was first, slightly conservative pinch hitting was a narrow second, and neutral tendencies came in third. I decided to resolve this by leaving pinch hitting pretty much middle of the road. Read the rest of this entry »

An “Opening Day” Viewing Guide

It’s Opening Day! Or, well, it would have been Opening Day. It was Opening Day? The semantics are still unsettled. In any case, today is a day when I’d normally block off my entire calendar and watch baseball — glorious meaningful baseball — all day long. The global pandemic hasn’t stopped my yearning for that yearly ritual; if anything, the grim reality of our current predicament has made me long for baseball more.

Luckily for me and you, MLB is doing its best to make it feel like baseball is still here. The league has assembled a broad slate of games across several platforms that will let you watch all the baseball you can handle. There are 35 broadcasts in all:

There are so many games, in fact, that you can choose your own adventure. Or, if you’re so inclined, you can let me choose your adventure. Here are a few slates for various types of fan.

World Series Drama
If you want to watch the highest-stakes games available, you’re in luck. Start your morning off with an appetizer: the 2013 Pirates/Reds Cueto game, which I wrote about here, in Spanish on Twitter. It’ll be early, so brew a coffee, eat some cereal, and listen to awesome announcing and echoing Cueto chants. There are no World Series stakes in this game, but it’s the best of a thin 8:30 ET slate if you want drama.

From there, it’s nothing but the hits. Head to Facebook for Cardinals/Rangers Game 6 (2011 World Series) at 11:00. Knowing what happened doesn’t make it any less ridiculous that the Cardinals were down to their final strike twice — in consecutive innings! — and stormed back to win in 11 innings. The level of play wasn’t pristine — the teams combined for five errors, and that doesn’t count Nelson Cruz’s Family Circus routes in right. But you’re not here for crisp play, you’re here for drama, and this game delivers. Read the rest of this entry »

Noah Syndergaard Tore His UCL, and It Sucks

Baseball news is coming in drips and drabs these days, which makes sense — we’ve all got bigger things to deal with at the moment than contract extensions and teams with unsettled rotations. Unfortunately, that means that when there is baseball news, it’s likely to be bad, and yesterday was no exception: per Jeff Passan, Noah Syndergaard has been diagnosed with a torn UCL and will undergo Tommy John surgery tomorrow.

Regardless of when or if the season starts, this is obviously terrible news for the Mets. The NL East is nasty and brutish, and the 2020 season, should it happen, will be short. Every win is — well, baseball is never a matter of life and death, and that’s never been more clear than in recent weeks. But every win is monumentally important. Over a full season, replacing Syndergaard’s 4.6 WAR projection with Michael Wacha’s 0.6 WAR projection would be a tough blow, and that’s before considering which minor leaguer will be picking up Wacha’s innings.

Those four wins hurt; over the full year, they drop the Mets from roughly even with Atlanta and Washington to roughly even with the Phillies, turning the division into a two-tiered race. In fact, now that the Mets are without Thor’s services, they’d prefer a shorter season, because they’re decidedly underdogs at this point. As Dan Szymborski recently illustrated, a half-season gives underdogs a fighting chance.

Whatever your feelings towards the Mets, this is a disastrous stroke of bad luck. The team is built to win in 2020; Marcus Stroman will hit free agency after this year, Syndergaard will follow him the year after, and many of the team’s veterans are most useful in 2020. Robinson Canó isn’t getting any younger, Rick Porcello and Wacha are only in the fold this season, and Jacob deGrom is only invulnerable to decline until he isn’t. Without a stacked farm system, this might be the team’s best chance for another World Series berth in the near future. Read the rest of this entry »

Ben Clemens FanGraphs Chat – 3/23/20

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Let’s Manage the Brewers!

There’s no baseball right now. Heck, there’s no anything right now; Joe Buck is offering to do play-by-play of domestic chores:

But if you’re in the mood for some baseball, you’re in luck. Brad Johnson of RotoGraphs has organized a 30-person Out Of The Park league with human managers for every team. Partially, some of the fun will be providing updates and talking about team strategy. Candidly, we’re all looking for something to write about, and describing the machinations of our very own team is too good to pass up.

But we can do more. I’m managing the Milwaukee Brewers. Rather than simply tell readers what my team is doing, I’m opening it up to the crowd. We, as a FanGraphs community, will be running the Brewers. Maybe it will work well. Maybe it’ll be a disaster. Either way, though, I think it’ll be a lot of fun.

I’m going to lay out a few ground rules. You’re not getting to vote on whether we should trade Christian Yelich for a bag of nickels. We shouldn’t. There’s no point in taking a vote on that. And we’re not going to legislate the overall direction of the team — we, the Brewers front office, are going to operate under budget constraints while attempting to make the playoffs in a competitive NL Central. Read the rest of this entry »