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The Very Surprising Texas Rangers

If the postseason started today, the defending champion Boston Red Sox would not be playing. The presumptive American League Central winner Cleveland Indians would not be playing. Instead, the Texas Rangers, projected to lose 90 games before the season began, would be squaring off against the Tampa Bay Rays for a spot in the Division Series if current results were to hold the rest of the way. Now, with 60% of the season left to go, current results are unlikely to hold the rest of the way. But 40% of the season isn’t an insignificant portion of the schedule, perhaps making the Rangers the most surprising team of 2019.

The Twins and Rays might have better cases for being the biggest positive surprises based on their record, but neither team was projected to be bad like the Rangers. The graph below shows every teams’ projected winning percentage before the season started, and their winning percentage through Sunday’s games:

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Reds and Mets Game the MLB Draft System

Baseball teams continue to search for whatever edge they can find when it comes to bringing cheap, talented players into their organizations. The draft is one of the easiest ways for teams to accumulate talent, as clubs take turns picking the best amateur players in the country, and the Commissioner’s office, as authorized by the CBA between the players and owners, tells teams how much they are allowed to spend. Most amateur players have very little leverage, and generally sign for the recommended slot amount. Because individual draft picks receive a slotted amount, but teams are allowed to spend their entire draft pool in whatever manner they choose, money often gets moved around pick-to-pick, with those players with less leverage receiving much less than the slot amount for their pick while those players with some leverage getting quite a bit more. This year, the Reds, Mets, White Sox, and Marlins all appear to be moving significant money around in an effort to manipulate the draft system to their benefit. Is it worth it though?

While every team moves money around in the draft, these four clubs stood out for drafting hard-to-sign prep players in the early rounds, then taking college seniors with multiple picks later in the first 10 rounds. Presumably, the college senior picks will sign for amounts significantly under their slot value (you can find all the slot values here), meaning the savings can be used to sign the prep players who threatened to go to college if their bonus demands are not met. Here are the teams, players, slot amounts, and the number of senior signs for each team.

Potential Overslot Draft Picks
Team Player Pick Slot Senior Signs
White Sox Andrew Dalquist 81 $755,300 6
Reds Tyler Callihan 85 $710,700 3
Mets Matthew Allan 89 $667,900 7
Marlins Evan Fitterer 141 $390,400 7

All four players are likely to require more than their draft slot provides in order to sign a contract with their drafting teams. Tyler Callihan has reportedly agreed to a deal for $1.5 million. Allan is rumored to have an asking price of about $3 million, which might be why the Mets selected seniors with seven picks in the first 10 rounds. The slot for Evan Fitterer is pretty low, requiring the Marlins to make sacrifices with many of their subsequent picks. We don’t yet know exactly what it will take to sign all of the players listed, but we do have an idea of how much value teams gave up in later rounds, as well as the expected value of the players who were picked. Read the rest of this entry »

Craig Edwards FanGraphs Chat–6/6/19

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Craig Kimbrel Is No Longer a Free Agent

Eight months ago, Craig Kimbrel declared for free agency. A lot has happened since then. There were rumors in November that Kimbrel wanted a six year deal. We don’t know what happened to Kimbrel’s demands or when. We don’t know what offers were made and then rejected, or not made because of those perceived demands. We don’t know if draft pick compensation was a legitimate concern or simply an excuse for teams to hide behind. What we do know is that Craig Kimbrel is no longer a free agent. Ken Rosenthal first reported that Kimbrel had agreed to a deal with the Chicago Cubs for three years and roughly $45 million, with Jeff Passan reporting Kimbrel will make $10 million this season and $16 million in each of the following two years with a $1 million buyout on a team option for 2022.

Every team could use Craig Kimbrel. The Red Sox — whose current saves leader, Ryan Brasier, has a 5.30 FIP and ERA over four as the team has struggled to stay above .500 — wasn’t interested in bringing Kimbrel back and paying the 75% tax on his salary. The Atlanta Braves — who are in a fight for first place with a below replacement level bullpen performance that is worse than every teams outside of Miami and Baltimore and payroll flexibility coming off a division title and new taxpayer-funded stadium — opted not to get involved. The Nationals — with an MLB-worst 6.66 bullpen ERA as they try to get back into playoff contention — chose to try and stay below the competitive balance tax. The Brewers — who watched Corey Knebel go down with a season-ending injury and watched their 2018 strength turn into a liability outside of Josh Hader — sat and watched Kimbrel go to their rival. Read the rest of this entry »

Regression Didn’t Come for Kyle Freeland

A year ago, Kyle Freeland had a very good season. For some, it was almost too good. Here at FanGraphs, Freeland put up a 3.67 FIP, and playing half his games in Colorado meant a 4.2 WAR in over 200 innings and one of the 10 best pitching seasons in the National League. Freeland’s ERA was even better than his FIP, and with a 2.85 mark, his RA/9WAR was 7.5, the fifth-best mark in all of baseball. The distance between his ERA and FIP likely created a gap between those who believed Freeland was one of the best pitchers in baseball and merely a good one. The latter group thought that Freeland was in for some regression this year. After a rough two months, including time on the injured list, Freeland has been dispatched to the minors. That’s not regression. Allow me to explain.

Before being sent down, Freeland had a 6.37 FIP, a 7.13 ERA, and had given up 16 homers in 12 starts after giving up 17 in all of 2018. After last season, it’s possible some were expecting another sub-three ERA, but doing so would have been unrealistic. Expecting some regression might have meant that Freeland’s BABIP would go up from the .285 where it was a year ago and his LOB% would go down from 83%. Those numbers wouldn’t affect his 3.67 FIP, but it might take his ERA closer to his FIP. Maybe Freeland’s 8.5% HR/FB would creep up closer to average, leading to a higher FIP and ERA. In fact, projections considered many of those factors and forecast Freeland for a roughly average season with an ERA and FIP around 4.50. If regression had come for Kyle Freeland, that might have been what it looked like. If Freeland were pitching just like last season, we might expect a similar FIP and worse ERA. The problem is that Freeland isn’t pitching like he did last season. This isn’t regression (or reversion). This is Kyle Freeland being not as good of a pitcher as he was a year ago.

Freeland is a command lefty who excelled last season by pitching to his spots. In late 2018, Jeff Sullivan wrote about how good Freeland’s command had been all season, using multiple heat maps. We’ll engage in a similar exercise below, showing Freeland last year and this year. First, here are all of his pitches in 2019 compared to all of his pitches last season:

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The Most Exciting Team in Baseball

As a baseball fan, winning feels great and losing feels awful. When teams win in dull fashion, fans are generally content to take the wins even if they aren’t all that thrilling. The Astros, Twins, and Dodgers are blowing teams out on a regular basis, but those wins aren’t causing too much consternation. But on the other end of the spectrum are teams that lose a lot of games and fail to provide much excitement during those contests. These are the bad teams that fall behind early and don’t give too much reason in terms of wins and losses to keep following the game. By combining a team’s winning or losing ways with how important at-bats tend to be, we can determine the most exciting team in baseball, as well as the most miserable club.

To determine how often teams have tension-inducing moments, we can take a look at Leverage Index (LI). Our glossary says “Leverage Index is essentially a measure of how critical a particular situation is. To calculate it, you are measuring the swing of the possible change in win expectancy.” A game’s LI starts at 1.0, and the more meaningful plate appearances gets, the higher the index rises; if plate appearances become less meaningful, the index goes lower. Leverage Index shows up on our Play Logs and is on the bottom of our Win Expectancy graphs. Here’s one for Game 3 of last year’s World Series:

The bars along the bottom identify the biggest moments of the game, even if something big doesn’t show up on the scoreboard. For teams, we are dealing with more than a thousand plays at this point in the season. If we take the average LI of every play, we can see if teams have a tendency to have a decent number of important moments during their games or if things are decided relatively early, with the players playing out games with little chance of changing the outcome. Read the rest of this entry »

Finding Cody Bellinger’s Weakness

It doesn’t take an ardent reader of FanGraphs or a great appreciator of advanced statistics to understand that Cody Bellinger is having an incredible season. Twenty home runs and a .377 batting average will get you noticed by anybody and everybody. However, appreciating the type of work and the numbers available at this site might aid in understandings and enjoying just how good Bellinger has been. Devan Fink wrote about it here not too long ago. Mike Petriello added his insight. Travis Sawchik’s analysis is out there. Sam Miller offered some context and so has Ginny Searle. If you favor more traditional outlets, Andy McCullough of the LA Times is on the case as well. Rather than build on the already good work of others, let’s take up a different task: Let’s try to get Cody Bellinger out.

As a pitcher, strike one is incredibly important. When pitchers get to 0-1 this season, batters are putting up a 63 wRC+, but if the hitter gets ahead 1-0, those swinging the bat have the advantage and put up a 128 wRC+. So what happens when a pitcher gets ahead of Cody Bellinger? It doesn’t matter at all. This season, Bellinger is putting up a 207 wRC+ in the 111 plate appearances when he falls behind on the first pitch. That mark slightly undersells the “advantage” of trying to get ahead of Bellinger, as he’s 10-for-18 on the first pitch with four homers, a triple, and two doubles. There really aren’t any counts where pitchers gain an advantage and keep it throughout a plate appearance against him.

Cody Bellinger By Count
Through* PA wRC+ Rank
0-1 111 207 1
1-0 108 186 28
0-2 38 169 2
1-1 99 183 4
2-0 54 194 68
1-2 61 108 14
2-1 66 202 26
2-2 55 129 19
3-2 36 284 2
*Numbers include PA results after the designated count has been reached.

Getting to a 1-2 or 2-2 count is better than not, but he’s still been one of the best in the game in those counts, and his 127 wRC+ with two strikes ranks fourth in baseball this season. Bellinger has been pretty close to the same great hitter in any count. When the count has been 0-2 this season, he has just one swinging strikeout on pitches outside of the zone, and on the 15 pitches in the zone, he’s swung at 13 and only whiffed twice with five fouls and three hits in six batted balls. Read the rest of this entry »

Craig Edwards FanGraphs Chat – 5/30/2019

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How Anthony Rizzo is Beating the Shift

Even though he’s just 29 years old, the last few seasons of Anthony Rizzo’s career have looked a lot like a player in decline. At its most basic, Rizzo’s offensive production looked like this:

He hit for a 155 wRC+ back in 2014, dropped 10 points, held steady for a season, dropped 10 points, and then dropped 10 points again. The simplest of graphs doesn’t always tell the story, though, and so far this season, Rizzo is hitting as well as he’s ever has. In a less simplistic view, here’s Rizzo’s 50-game rolling wRC+ since 2014. Every point represented below shows roughly one-third of a season to help eliminate a slump over a few weeks or some fluky results:

Even here, we seem to see a long slow creep downward, with the highs not quite as high and the lows a bit lower. Where the difference is compared to the yearly numbers is in the 2018 movement. There is a huge valley to start the season with a massive peak higher than anything Rizzo has done since 2015. The two evened out and resulted in a somewhat disappointing year before we get to a small valley to start this season with another good peak, both of which look similar to Rizzo’s profile prior to 2018. When we break out some of Rizzo’s numbers, consistency appears more prevalent than a decline. Read the rest of this entry »

Jorge Polanco Puts PED Suspension Behind Him

Heading into spring training ahead of the 2018 season, there was a fair bit of optimism regarding Jorge Polanco despite a so-so 2017 campaign. He earned a starting job in 2017, but some early season struggles spiraled after a death in the family. He lost his starting position and heading into August, his 47 wRC+ was the worst in baseball among those players with at least 300 plate appearances. Polanco basically salvaged his season over those final two months by putting up a .317/.377/.553 slash line with 10 homers and a 145 wRC+ in 234 plate appearances. At 24 years old, he looked like he was building on his solid prospect status as part of a young Twins core expected to contend. An 80-game suspension for PEDs announced in spring 2018 robbed Polanco of the first half of games and the latter half of the season was rather uneventful, with a decent 110 wRC+ and 1.3 WAR. Through two months of the 2019 season, Polanco has been the best player on the team with the best record in baseball.

Jorge Polanco is hitting a robust .335/.405/.583 with a 160 wRC+ and a 2.6 WAR. That ranks eighth in all of baseball and is already half a win better than his preseason projections. After that decent half-season in 2018, it’s fair to call this season’s performance a big surprise, though it wouldn’t be fair to say he’s never done this before. Below you’ll find Polanco’s 50-game rolling wRC+ since the the 2016 season when he first got a real shot at playing time:

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