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A Dodgers Favorite Returns After Manuel Margots to Minnesota

Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

When the Dodgers traded for Tyler Glasnow this offseason, he wasn’t the only player the Rays sent west. Manuel Margot also joined Los Angeles, where he would to fill Jonny DeLuca’s old role as a righty-hitting outfielder capable of playing any of the three spots. Yet, Margot wasn’t exactly a snug fit for the Dodgers; his inclusion in the trade felt more like a way for Tampa Bay to shed salary. It seemed likely that Los Angeles would flip him to another team before the start of the season.

That’s exactly what happened on Monday, when the Dodgers sent Margot and minor league infielder Rayne Doncon to the Twins in exchange for minor league shortstop Noah Miller. Los Angeles also agreed to cover $6 million of Margot’s $10 million salary for 2024, along with the $2 million he’d be owed if Minnesota doesn’t exercise its team option for 2025, as Aaron Gleeman reported. So, in trading Margot, the Dodgers are saving $4 million; naturally, they promptly turned around and signed Enrique Hernández to a one-year, $4 million deal.

You can almost analyze the Dodgers’ side of this trade in a box, because the things being exchanged are so similar. In fact, to make my analysis make sense, you have to know how close the prospects are in value, so let’s start there. Doncon is a 20-year old middle infielder who spent 2023 at Single-A Rancho Cucamonga struggling against older pitchers. Want a prospect novel? Eric Longenhagen has one for you:

Doncon was a 2021 and 2022 backfield prodigy who looked like he could become a slugging middle infielder. His bat speed, body projection, as well as his struggles on defense and with chase, prompted Alfonso Soriano pipe dreams and more level-headed Esteury Ruiz comparisons at the time. Doncon had a mediocre 2023 with the bat – .215/.283/.368, albeit with a career-high 14 homers – but looked much better on defense. He currently has the actions and arm strength for shortstop, but he’s still young and has a lot of room on his frame, which means he may yet outgrow that position and move to either second or third. Doncon’s pitch recognition is not great, and he’s a bit more chase and whiff prone than is ideal, but he has good power for a hitter his age and is probably going to grow into more. The longer he can stay at short, the better chance he gives himself at being a useful big leaguer despite his flaws. The Twins have two seasons to develop Doncon before they have to decide whether to expose him to the Rule 5 draft, and realistically, they have another year or two beyond that to let him barbecue on the 40-man if they really want to. He adds an element of upside to their system as well as an element of risk. He is not likely to have a meteoric rise. Instead, he is a slow-burning, high-variance prospect.

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How in the World is Tampa Bay Doing It?

Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

I write about the Rays a lot. I just wrote about them signing Amed Rosario, for example. Earlier this month, I wrote an article titled “The Rays Can’t Keep Getting Away With This, Can They?”, and in another, I wrote that I had recently daydreamed about one of my favorite Rays players during a root canal. I’m endlessly impressed by how this team does it. But this year? I cannot put into words how wild I find this version of its team construction. In other words, I’m writing about the Rays because they deserve it – or at least I think so.

Last year, they won 99 games. They had both one of the best offenses and one of the best pitching staffs in the American League. They did a little bit of everything, and nearly overtook the Orioles for first place in the AL as a result. But that was last year. Three of Tampa Bay’s top six players aren’t returning.

There’s Wander Franco, of course. He may never play another game of major league baseball. Tyler Glasnow, who looked downright indomitable in his first year back from Tommy John surgery, got traded to the Dodgers. Shane McClanahan is having Tommy John himself. Heck, Jeffrey Springs came into the season as one of the team’s best pitchers, and his own surgery will keep him out until after the All Star break this year.
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Mitch Keller and the Pirates Tie the Knot

Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

It’s been a quiet winter in Pittsburgh. The Pirates lost almost no one from last year’s 76-86 team, but they didn’t add many players either. Their biggest acquisition is probably Aroldis Chapman. After that, it’s Marco Gonzales, Rowdy Tellez, Yasmani Grandal, or Martín Pérez. They’re competent major leaguers all, but hardly exciting additions. But as it turns out, the Pirates had another move to make, and it’s a welcome one:

This is both exciting and necessary, at least in my opinion. The Pirates haven’t developed many effective starting pitchers in the last, well, ever. Only one Pirates starter in the past decade has eclipsed 10 WAR with the team: Gerrit Cole with 13. After that, their success stories are Jameson Taillon, Joe Musgrove, and, well… Iván Nova is sixth on the list, and that came in 2.5 years after the Yankees traded him to Pittsburgh. As Stephen Nesbitt and Ken Rosenthal recently chronicled in The Athletic, it’s been an ugly decade for baseball in the Steel City.

Mitch Keller has already accrued the third-most starting pitching WAR in the past decade with 7.5. He’s entering his sixth big league season this year, though ups and downs early in his career mean that it’s only his fifth year of service time. The road to success has been bumpy — from 2019 through 2021, he compiled a 6.02 ERA and only racked up 170 innings of major league work. Things have gotten better since then, though. He threw 159 solid innings in 2022 and then made 32 starts in 2023, both times looking like a consistently effective starter rather than the roller coaster ride of earlier years. Read the rest of this entry »

The Rays Got Amed Rosario for a Song. What Does It All Mean?

Reggie Hildred-USA TODAY Sports

This winter has been one of the weakest markets for middle infielders in recent memory. You remember the shortstop glut of recent years? Carlos Correa, Corey Seager, Francisco Lindor, Trevor Story, Xander Bogaerts… the list of players who either reached free agency or signed extensions to take them off the market went on and on. But this year, the pickings were slim. Depending on personal preference, the best second baseman or shortstop available was… Whit Merrifield? Isiah Kiner-Falefa? I would have said Amed Rosario, only the market clearly disagrees:

That’s a shockingly light deal for Rosario, at least in my head. I had him at the tail end of my Top 50 free agent rankings, and the crowd and I both penciled him in for a two-year deal worth $8 million per year. Instead, he’s getting less than a fifth of that AAV, and for only a year at that. This merits some investigation, both into why his market didn’t develop and why the Rays came calling in the end. Read the rest of this entry »

Ben Clemens FanGraphs Chat – 2/20/24

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Less-Heralded Hitting Prospects I Like in 2024

Rob Schumacher/The Republic / USA TODAY NETWORK

Hey there, and welcome to the last edition of my data-driven look at some mid-tier hitting prospects I like more than the industry consensus. It feels weird, almost funereal, to start this article by mentioning that the series is ending, but that’s just how it is. This will be the fourth installment of my variably named Prospect Week contribution. In it, I use data and a big pinch of intuition to point out some hitters who I think have a good chance of sticking in the majors, even if they’re not your average Top 100 type.

In the past, I’ve done acceptably well at this; I don’t think it’d be fair to say that I’m great at it, but I’ve come up with my fair share of interesting players using this process. In looking through my past lists, I feel good about the process that led me to some guys you’ve heard of (Miguel Vargas and Ezequiel Tovar are probably my biggest hits so far, but I’ve also gotten some role players, and both Gabriel Moreno and Alejandro Kirk performed incredibly well by my model, though I didn’t end up including them in a list thanks to their pedigree) and plenty you haven’t.

What’s so hard about this project? The obvious thing is that my methods are archaic. I’m using some sorting techniques that are still reasonably current. K-nearest neighbors and multiple binary logistic regressions are still my two favorite techniques, and I think they both still do what I want them to. These approaches aren’t state of the art in statistical analysis, but they’re not particularly far from it, especially when you take into account that I’m a baseball writer instead of a data scientist. Read the rest of this entry »

Whomps per Whiff Is a Real Stat Now

Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

A few articles ago, I was engaging in one of my favorite pastimes: making up the names of non-existent statistics. What can I say? I got into writing because I like lining words up in funny ways. I got into baseball writing because I love baseball. But when the two things I like line up, then we’re really cooking with gas.

The fake statistic in question? Whomps per whiff. You can grasp what it is right away: how often you absolutely whomp the ball, as compared to how often your swing results in nothing but a tiny gust of air and perhaps an emphatic umpire reaction. Is this a predictive statistic? I have no idea whatsoever, but I thought I’d try to see who’s good at it.

The good news: The good players are good. I defined a whomp as a barrel, a whiff as a whiff, and then limited it to players who saw at least 500 pitches in 2023. The best in baseball at it? Ronald Acuña Jr., who just put up an all-time offensive season. Neat! Second best? Mookie Betts, who finished second in MVP voting behind Acuña. Maybe we’re on to something here. Here’s the top 10 by that metric:

2023 Whomps Per Whiff Leaders
Player Whomps Whiffs Whomps Per Whiff
Ronald Acuña Jr. 86 241 .357
Mookie Betts 60 172 .349
Yordan Alvarez 58 187 .310
Juan Soto 58 212 .274
Corey Seager 60 255 .235
Kyle Tucker 52 224 .232
Aaron Judge 66 287 .230
Wander Franco 29 127 .228
Max Kepler 41 181 .227
Yandy Díaz 41 184 .223

One thing that I love about this statistic is that it isn’t secretly ranking players based on their plate discipline. Betts doesn’t swing much, so he doesn’t whiff much. Seager is aggressive but selectively so. Luis Arraez is 12th. Lars Nootbaar is 13th. Those two are polar opposites who nonetheless are both good hitters.
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The High Sinker Paradox

Peter Aiken-USA TODAY Sports

I thought that today’s article was going to be an easy one to write. Reading Alex Chamberlain’s post on the pulled fly ball revolution made me imagine the worst pitch a pitcher could throw: a sinker that ended up high and inside, an easy-to-contact fastball in the area of the plate that leads to the most damaging types of opposing batted balls. Then I extrapolated my idea out a little bit. Maybe I could look up the pitchers who throw their sinkers high in the zone most often. We could all laugh about how they’re called “sinkers” — so that’s clearly a bad place to throw them. Maybe we would gawk at a table of a few pitchers who do this bad thing, and then we could move on with life.

Well, I can do at least one thing. Here’s a table of the pitchers who threw elevated sinkers in or around the strike zone most frequently in 2023:

High Sinker Power Users
Pitcher 2023 Sinkers Up-In-Zone%
Michael Tonkin 785 42.3%
Alex Wood 762 41.2%
Ryan Yarbrough 441 40.1%
Steven Matz 1045 40.0%
Drew Smyly 933 39.4%
George Kirby 611 38.6%
Josh Hader 765 37.5%
Brusdar Graterol 405 36.8%
Aaron Civale 373 35.9%
Jhony Brito 465 35.3%

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Ben Clemens FanGraphs Chat – 2/12/24

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Further Adventures in Pull Rate

Kim Klement Neitzel-USA TODAY Sports

I don’t think I’m alone in my fascination with pulled fly balls. In fact, I know I’m not, because Alex Chamberlain wrote about them today too. These days, we’re practically drowning in data: exit velocities, launch angles, chase rates, aggression rates — the list goes on and on. There are so many different ways of thinking about exit velocity that you can read an entire great article about what they all mean. If you want to translate how hard someone hits the ball into how they’re likely to perform, there’s no shortage of instructive articles. But in that deluge of data, horizontal angle has been left out, for reasons both purposeful and accidental, and the unavailable is always interesting.

Earlier this month, I did some idle digging into what pull rate means for production on contact. The takeaway was, to be generous, middling. It seems like pulling your aerial contact results in better overall production on that contact, but the effect isn’t huge. Perhaps the more interesting takeaway was that xwOBA on these batted balls had a bias: the more pull-happy the hitter, the lower their xwOBA was on the balls they hit in the air. That was the case despite greater overall production on those balls.

That’s a weird little artifact, though I didn’t think too much of it because I kind of knew what it would say in advance. Every time I look at a dead pull fly ball hitter, they’re getting home runs out of batted balls that xwOBA hates. But that doesn’t mean the statistic is working incorrectly; it’s doing exactly what it says on the label by bucketing batted balls based on exit velocity and launch angle. Read the rest of this entry »