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Are Plate Discipline Breakouts for Real?

Earlier this month, I noted that hitters are chasing fewer pitches and seeking out fastballs in the zone. It’s one thing batters can do to fight back against the rising pitching talent and increased strikeouts. It seemed to me that every time I looked into a hitter potentially breaking out this season, I saw the same pattern: fewer swings on pitches outside the zone and a rising wRC+.

There comes a point when writing about the same thing over and over again becomes presumptuous if we can’t quite be sure that the benefits will last. To that end, I first went through plate discipline numbers from this season to determine if chasing fewer pitches seemed to help batters like I think it should. First, I looked at all hitters with at least 300 plate appearances in 2018 who were also qualified for the batting title as of May 13 of this year. While we can presume that taking pitches outside the strike zone is a skill, and one that stabilizes pretty quickly based on previous research, here’s how the numbers from last season and this one match up as of Tuesday’s data. Read the rest of this entry »

Craig Edwards FanGraphs Chat–5/16/2019

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Chris Sale is Sort of Back

There was a fair bit of consternation regarding Chris Sale at the start of the season. In his first start of the year, he gave up three homers in three innings against the Mariners. Concern mounted when his fastball averaged 89 mph against Oakland in his next start and he struck out just a single batter. The Red Sox told everyone not to worry because dialing back was part of a plan. Sale did nothing to help his cause with a lackluster start against the Blue Jays the next time out, but his fastball averaged over 95 mph against the Yankees in his fourth outing, and over Sale’s last six starts, he’s got 65 strikeouts against seven walks in 38 innings with a 1.92 FIP and a 2.61 ERA. He’s struck out 31 batters in his last two starts, including 17 Rockies in just seven innings on Tuesday. Chris Sale, ravager of batters is back, but his velocity is still down, so he’s adjusted how he attacks hitters.

The game against the Yankees could be looked at as the turning point in Sale’s season thus far — the results certainly back that point up — but that was more of an isolated incident when it comes to the velocity we’ve grown accustomed to the past few years. The graph below shows Sale’s fastball velocity in each start over the past few seasons as well as a band which shows the max velocity for Sale in any given start.

When the Red Sox indicated they had a plan for Sale at the beginning of the year amidst his struggles, pointing to 2018 was the biggest piece of evidence. Sale started the 2018 season with lower velocities and then ramped it up as the season wore on before Sale wore out. This season might require a slower, less inclined ramp to make sure that Sale is still pitching strongly at the end of the season. Where skepticism might remain is whether Sale can be anything close to his prior great self if he spends half the season at 92-93 mph instead of a few ticks higher. If the last few starts are any indication, Sale will be just fine. Read the rest of this entry »

The Astros’ Other Best Player

In 2014, George Springer received an April callup to the majors and for half a season, he was Houston’s second-best player, with Jose Altuve leading the way. In 2015, Springer was on his way to a very good season when he fractured his wrist. Despite playing in just 102 games, he put up nearly four wins, about half a win shy of Altuve’s total. In 2016, Springer put up a very good five-win campaign, but he was bested not just by Altuve, but by rising shortstop Carlos Correa. The trio finished in the same order the following season, but last season, Alex Bregman jumped to the front of the pack, followed by a five-win season from Altuve, and a disappointing three-win year from Springer. Entering this season, Springer looked like the fourth-best position player on the Astros, but thus far, he’s been the fourth-best position player in baseball and tops in the American League.

Springer hasn’t exactly languished in the shadows of his star teammates, but his best seasons haven’t been nearly as good as their’s have been, and at 29 years old, he’s the same age as Altuve, four years older than Bregman, and five years Correa’s senior. Despite his relatively lesser status on the Astros, Springer’s 19 wins since the start of the 2015 season rank 21st in baseball, just ahead of Anthony Rizzo, J.D. Martinez, Andrelton Simmons, Charlie Blackmon, Giancarlo Stanton, and Correa. His 117 homers ranks 20th, just ahead of Kris Bryant and Freddie Freeman. Since the start of the 2016 season, his 15 wins are 15th among position players and his 101 homers is 12th in the sport. Looking at Springer’s numbers over multiple years helps to shape a greater appreciation for him, but it also glosses over a disappointing 2018 season.

Last season, Springer looked a lot like the player he’d been earlier in his career, with a walk rate around 10% and a strikeout rate twice that. His batted ball profile in terms of groundballs, fly balls and balls pulled looked the same. He had roughly the same number of doubles as in previous years. The problems for Springer came because the ball just wan’t flying out of the park. His 22 home runs constituted a big drop after hitting 63 the previous two seasons, and his .169 ISO was close to average. He just wasn’t hitting the ball as hard, with an average exit velocity on fly balls that was down to 92.6 mph from 94.4 mph in 2017, per Baseball Savant. In 2017, his average fly ball went 338 feet; it was down to 329 feet last season. Read the rest of this entry »

Stephen Strasburg’s Big Zig

Over the last decade, pitchers have striven to be more and more like Stephen Strasburg. While Strasburg has always had one of the better changeups in the game, the 30-year-old righty has long used a four-seam fastball up in the zone paired with a big curve to dominate hitters. It’s a combo the Astros have famously used to successfully transform multiple pitchers, but almost nobody has been better than Strasburg with both the four-seamer and the curve over the last decade. The graph below shows all pitchers with at least 500 innings pitched who have thrown a four-seamer and curve, and the total run value the two pitches have produced.

Sure, Clayton Kershaw is on another planet, but Strasburg is the only other pitcher at least 50 runs above average on both pitches. Since 2016, he’s been the best at combining the fastball and the curve to get great results. Read the rest of this entry »

Byron Buxton’s Slow Rise to Stardom

The best prospects in baseball generally become very good major league players. When I looked at prospect valuations last year, on average, position players ranked first or second in baseball became three-win players in the big leagues with more than half playing at an All-Star level or above. Those averages and All-Star rates were far and away the best results for ranked prospects, with players just five spots down worth roughly half of what the players who were ranked among the top-two prospects in baseball were worth. There are certainly busts (with Delmon Young at the forefront), but most players do well. When I looked at players like Vladimir Guerrero, Jr. yesterday, one player showed up as bust-like in some of the charts, but I don’t think those charts were completely fair to Byron Buxton.

Here’s the chart showing top prospects in their 600 plate appearances after their first 10 games or so and how they performed over the rest of their careers. Byron Buxton should be pretty easy to spot.

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Craig Edwards FanGraphs Chat–5/9/2019

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Let’s Freak Out About Vladimir Guerrero, Jr.

Big expectations — and building anticipation — can bring out the need for immediate results. Vladimir Guerrero, Jr. had humongous expectations given his lineage, his prospect status, and the utter destruction he wrought on minor league pitching. His name made him known earlier than other prospects without Hall of Fame fathers, but his play declared him ready for the majors last year, with some desiring a May call-up and the player’s union mentioning him by name last September when he remained in the minors. Through 10 games, Vladimir Guerrero, Jr. has not produced, but then, even super-duper prospects who are almost completely unlikely to bust sometimes don’t hit well for 10 games.

Given the expectations, it’s easy to call a .162/.244/.189 slash line with a 23 wRC+ disappointing. It is disappointing. Just like the 29 wRC+ Paul Goldschmidt has put up over the last 14 days. Or the 35 wRC+ from Corey Seager during the same time period. Mitch Haniger’s wRC+ over the last two weeks is a measly 49. Ronald Acuña Jr.’s is barely better at 51, with Jose Altuve just ahead at 56. It’s possible the latter numbers have escaped your attention. It’s okay to have missed them or to even have known about them and ignored them because we know they aren’t an accurate representation of the talent level these players possess. But when a player comes up from the minors for the first time and doesn’t break out immediately, second thoughts can creep into the backs of our minds about can’t-miss prospects who missed.

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Looking for Vintage Madison Bumgarner

Madison Bumgarner’s reputation as a pitcher wasn’t burnished during the regular season. Bumgarner has been mostly very good as a starter prior to October. From 2011 through 2016, he averaged 212 innings and 3.9 WAR per year. During that time his 23.3 WAR places him ninth among major league starters, which is more a low-level ace than a dominator in the form of a Clayton Kershaw or Max Scherzer. No, it was in three postseasons that Bumgarner forged his reputation, pitching another 100 innings across three playoff seasons and three championships, including earning NLCS and World Series MVP honors in 2014. With the Giants unlikely to contend this season, Bumgarner’s value to the club more likely lies as a trade chip than a bringer of championships. After struggling the last two seasons, Bumgarner is pitching better in 2019, but whether he’s back to his old level of success remains to be seen.

We are still just seven Bumgarner starts into the season, but there is a bit of optimism. In his last start, Bumgarner threw the ball harder than he has in some time on the way to six innings of one-run ball against the Dodgers during which he struck eight against just two walks. The velocity wasn’t just encouraging, it was harder than he’s thrown in years.

Other than a few starts in early 2017 before he was hurt, Bumgarner hasn’t thrown the ball with as much velocity as he did the other night on a regular basis since the 2015 season. And it wasn’t just the last start that Bumgarner has pitched well. While the velocity against the Dodgers was new, in his last four starts, Bumgarner has struck out 27 batters against just three walks in 24.2 innings for a 1.84 FIP. That four-game FIP is the best Bumgarner has put together since the 2015 season and nearly a full run lower than any stretch last year.

Bumgarner is pitching better than the last few seasons, but to get some idea about how much better, let’s take a baseline and compare Bumgarner over three different periods, plus the last four starts as a bonus. First, let’s look at some numbers most readers at FanGraphs should be familiar with. Read the rest of this entry »

How Sinclair’s Purchase of Baseball Sports Networks Will Affect You

Near the end of 2017, reports surfaced of a massive deal that would see Disney buy more than $50 billion in FOX assets, including 22 regional sports networks that broadcast the games of about half of the 30 major league baseball franchises. After a bidding war between Comcast and Disney saw the latter win out, moves needed to be made to satisfy antitrust concerns. Given Disney’s already powerful place in the market with its ESPN family of channels, one of those moves included the sale of those regional sports networks. The first domino fell in March when the Yankees agreed to buy back the YES Network at a total valuation of around $3.5 billion dollars. Now, the remaining dominoes appear to have fallen, with the Wall Street Journal first reporting that Sinclair Broadcasting Group has agreed to buy the remaining 21 networks, valued at $10.6 billion.

The networks included in the deal are as follows:

MLB Regional Sports Networks Purchased by Sinclair
Team Network
Angels Fox Sports West
Braves Fox Sports South/Southeast
Brewers Fox Sports Wisconsin
Cardinals Fox Sports Midwest
Diamondbacks Fox Sports Arizona
Indians Fox SportsTime Ohio
Marlins Fox Sports Florida
Padres Fox Sports San Diego
Rangers Fox Sports Southwest
Rays Fox Sports Sun
Reds Fox Sports Ohio
Royals Fox Sports Kansas City
Tigers Fox Sports Detroit
Twins Fox Sports North
Other networks included in this deal are Fox Sports Carolinas, Fox Sports Indiana, Fox Sports New Orleans, Fox Sports Oklahoma, Fox Sports Prime Ticket, and Fox Sports Tennessee. Sinclair has previous reached deals with the Cubs (Marquee Network) and Yankees (YES) for less than a controlling interest.

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