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Tim Locastro Catches Tim Raines

In the sixth inning of Saturday night’s Diamondbacks-Reds game, Tim Locastro took off for second base. Acknowledging the blazing speed of the runner, Reds catcher Tucker Barnhart rushed to get into his throwing motion before even securing the baseball. Thus, Carson Fulmer’s pitch nicked off his glove and skipped to the Chase Field backstop. Locastro made it to second without a throw.

Not once in Locastro’s career has he been caught stealing, with Saturday’s stolen base representing his 28th consecutive successful attempt, a new major league record. It broke the mark set by Tim Raines, who went 27-for-27 to begin his career from 1979 to 1981 (stolen base attempts have been recorded since 1951). To mark the achievement, Locastro’s cleats were swiped (pun fully intended) by Cooperstown, where they will be displayed in the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

Locastro is something of a baseball enigma, one popularized by baseball YouTuber Foolish Baseball, whose video “Why Tim Locastro Should Be Your Favorite Weird Player” now has 1.1 million views. Locastro is elite — boasting a 99th percentile ability in two very niche skills: running fast and getting hit by pitches. This allows him to frequently get on base even despite a subpar 6.6% career walk rate, and immediately wreck complete havoc on the basepaths. Read the rest of this entry »

Fastball Velocities Are Already Up

Early-season baseball analysis can pose challenges. While it’s fun to consider a world in which Yermín Mercedes is the best player in baseball, we know that this level of performance will not stick in the long run. That can make early-season analyses of players premature, as we need data to begin stabilizing before drawing firm, player-specific conclusions. Luckily, however, league-wide data stabilizes much faster, especially when we put league data in its proper monthly context — acknowledging that April baseball and July baseball are, in fact, different. That’s why it’s fascinating to analyze early season league-wide fastball velocity.

Given how much we at FanGraphs have discussed fastballs lately, it might be time to start calling us FastballGraphs. In all seriousness, there has been some excellent discussion about the fastball here on the site, with both Tess Taruskin and Kevin Goldstein covering the pitch. Taruskin made note of young prospects who threw harder in spring training, while Goldstein underscored the importance of the pitch’s shape. Today though, I’ll be focusing on velocity in the season’s early going.

So far, in 2021, pitchers are throwing hard. Through games on April 7, more than 15,000 fastballs — four-seamers, two-seamers, sinkers, and cutters — have been thrown, with an average velocity of 92.7 mph. On the surface, that might not be eye-popping, but if that holds, it would represent an April record in the Statcast Era. In fact, since 2015, no April or May has ever featured a league-average fastball velocity over 92.5 mph:

Fastball Velocity by Month, 2015-19
Year April May June July August September
2015 91.8 92.2 92.4 92.4 92.7 92.6
2016 92.2 92.4 92.6 92.7 92.7 92.8
2017 92.2 92.3 92.6 92.6 92.3 92.6
2018 92.0 92.4 92.5 92.5 92.5 92.6
2019 92.4 92.5 92.7 92.7 92.6 92.7
SOURCE: Baseball Savant

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Gary Sánchez Is Due for an Improved 2021

After Gary Sánchez’s rough 2020, there’s pretty much nowhere to go but up.

That was the rationale for including him among the 2021 ZiPS breakout candidates, with Dan Szymborski noting that no big league hitter — especially one with Sánchez’s power pedigree — carries a true-talent .159 BABIP. Unfortunately for the Yankees’ backstop, that’s how his batted ball luck shook out, with the shortened 60-game season preventing his BABIP from ever regressing to the mean.

Granted, Sánchez was not the only hitter to face extremely poor batted ball luck. A perusal of all players with at least 100 trips to the plate last season shows us that Sánchez only posted the fourth-lowest BABIP in the majors, with Hunter Renfroe (.141), Edwin Encarnación (.156), and Rougned Odor (.157) all worthy of taking even more issue with the BABIP Gods.

But even compared to these other tough luck seasons, Sánchez sticks out. What caused him as much trouble, if not more, was a lot of swinging and missing, something he did considerably more often than most of his peers in the bad BABIP department, with strikeouts in 36% of plate appearances. That combination of poor BABIP and a low propensity to put the ball in play resulted in a career-worst .147/.253/.365 triple slash.

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Aaron Bummer’s Sinker Is No Disappointment

This season, the AL Central could feature three above-.500 teams for the first time since 2015. The Twins and Indians should remain at the top of the division, but after an active offseason, the White Sox could very well join them in a tight race. It reminds me a bit of the NL East in recent years: a lot of good teams, but none without a glaring hole somewhere.

The White Sox are hardly immune. Their rotation doesn’t project to be great, and there are still a few question marks in the lineup, like whether Yoán Moncada will regress, or Nomar Mazara will progress, and how Luis Robert will hit.

But even with those options, I would argue that Chicago’s most prominent weakness is their bullpen. By projected WAR, the White Sox relief unit ranks 26th in the majors, their worst individual ranking among any of the 12 positions we currently have listed on our Depth Chart pages. Most of their expected value comes in the form of Aaron Bummer, who flew far under the radar last season despite being among the best at one extremely important skill: inducing groundballs. Read the rest of this entry »

Why I’m Excited for Dansby Swanson’s 2020

Last week, with baseball’s attention firmly fixed on the fall out from the Astros’ sign-stealing scandal, the Twins signed Josh Donaldson to a long-term deal. You’d be forgiven if the signing slipped your mind; there was a lot going on. The Braves, however, are certainly aware that Donaldson is no longer a member of their organization; I’m sure the Nationals (and really, the rest of the NL East) are at least happy to have him out of their division. There’s no denying Donaldson’s impact in 2019 — a 132 wRC+ over 659 PA and 4.9 WAR in 155 games made him one of the best free agent signings of last offseason. And while the Nationals ultimately won the World Series, there’s a more-than-reasonable argument to be made that Donaldson represented the difference in the Braves winning the division crown.

Without Donaldson in the fold, the Braves’ lineup is due to take a step back. Of course, this is still a team flooded with talent; among the six position players to amass at least 400 PA for Atlanta last year, five had a wRC+ above 100. Their offensive output was led by Freddie Freeman (138 wRC+) and certainly more than aided by Ronald Acuña Jr. (126) and Ozzie Albies (117). That trio will be back this year and supplemented by outfielder Marcell Ozuna (110), signed last night, and catcher Travis d’Arnaud, who represents something of a wild card offensively, though he did post a 107 wRC+ during his time in Tampa Bay. But perhaps the Braves’ solution to soften the offensive blow of Donaldson’s departure is the player who spent all of last season next to him in the field: Dansby Swanson. Read the rest of this entry »

Kole Calhoun Heads Home to the Desert

There’s nothing like a good homecoming story during the holidays, and in this tale, Kole Calhoun will serve as our protagonist. The Arizona native and Arizona State alumnus will return to the desert in 2020, as Calhoun and the Diamondbacks agreed to a two-year, $16 million contract according to multiple reports on Tuesday. The deal includes a team option for 2022 valued at $9 million.

Calhoun, now 32, became a free agent in early November after the Angels declined his $14 million team option in favor of a $1 million buyout. Though he was effective last season, the decision was an easy one for Los Angeles; with top prospect Jo Adell waiting in the wings to play right field full-time, it made little sense to keep Calhoun around.

Calhoun is a much clearer fit for the Diamondbacks. He’ll slot in quite nicely at his primary position, where he will essentially replace Adam Jones, who signed with Japan’s Orix Blue Wave earlier this offseason. Though he started his 2019 campaign hot, Jones was effectively a replacement-level player across 137 games last year, posting an 87 wRC+ in 528 plate appearances; he was worth -0.1 WAR. In total, Diamondbacks right fielders produced a total of 0.9 WAR, good for 26th in the majors. Read the rest of this entry »

The Intrigue of Yimi García

Relievers are weird. For proof, just ask Blake Treinen. One year, Treinen is the best reliever in baseball. The next, he’s below replacement-level and gets non-tendered, though he still landed a relatively lucrative payday after signing with the Dodgers.

The reason teams remained interested in Treinen at all, let alone at a price above his arbitration projection, was because of his stuff. As Ben Clemens chronicled, Treinen’s stuff experienced a hiccup in 2019, but it was so good in 2018 that a $10 million gamble made plenty of sense. In baseball, stuff sells, and if Treinen can prove to still have the 2018 version of his one-seam fastball somewhere in his back pocket, Los Angeles will be quite pleased with the signing.

That brings me to Yimi García. He’s not a household name — you probably know him if you’re a Dodgers fan, or if you happened to sort the leaderboard of 2019 relief pitchers by HR/9 in descending order. (Yikes, Edwin Díaz.) The Dodgers non-tendered García, who had been projected to earn $1.1 million in arbitration. The Marlins picked him up on Thursday, signing him to a one-year, major league deal; his salary is not yet known. Read the rest of this entry »

Brett Gardner Remains a Yankee

At this point in his career, seeing Brett Gardner in anything but Yankees pinstripes would have come as a surprise. That’s why it is no shock that Gardner and the Yankees have agreed to a one-year, $12.5 million contract, a deal that includes a club option for 2021 valued at $10 million, as first reported by George King of the New York Post.

Gardner, now 36, has spent his entire 12-year big-league career in New York, and with the retirement of CC Sabathia, remains the last holdover from the Yankees’ 2009 World Series squad. This new deal represents his third time negotiating with the Yankees to extend his stay; the first time Gardner was headed for free agency, the two sides agreed to four-year, $52 million extension beginning in 2015 with a club option for 2019. The Yankees declined that option but brought him back anyway on a one-year, $7.5 million contract, his first signed as a free agent.

Gardner had one of his most productive seasons to date on his one-year deal, earning every penny and more. In 550 trips to the plate, Gardner slashed .251/.325/.503, setting full-season career-highs in home runs (28) and wRC+ (115) to boot. Always a great all-around player, he still graded out positively in both center and left field while adding nearly five runs on the bases. In total, he was worth 3.6 WAR. Read the rest of this entry »

Cole’s Contract Opens Door for Happ Trade

Just as an earthquake can send shockwaves across a region for days, a high-magnitude free agent signing can create ripple effects for other teams around baseball.

On Tuesday, the Yankees agreed to sign Gerrit Cole to the richest pitching contract in history, getting their man for $324 million over nine years. While the top free agent is now officially off the board, the decision-makers in front offices across the league aren’t resting quite yet. In fact, the Yankees began preparing for the reality of signing Cole before the deal was even completed, with Joel Sherman reporting on Monday that the team is “actively” trying to trade J.A. Happ.

Happ is entering the second year of a two-year, $34 million contract, meaning that he will count for $17 million for luxury tax purposes. We currently project the Yankees’ 2020 payroll to be approximately $250 million, already putting them above the $208 million tax threshold. Even if the Yankees clear Happ’s salary in a trade, Cole still puts them well above the threshold, but at that point, it’s more than worth it. For New York, the key isn’t as much getting below the tax as it is getting below $248 million. For every dollar spent up to $248 million, the tax is solely monetary. Beyond that point, however, a team’s highest draft selection is moved down 10 slots. That’s why the Yankees (or any team) can blow pretty far past the tax without having to worry about impacting anything other than their owner’s checkbook. Read the rest of this entry »

The Marlins Had a Good Week

The NL East is experiencing quite the arms race. The Braves have already signed two catchers, multiple relievers, and most recently, brought lefty Cole Hamels into the fold to add to their rotation. The Phillies, meanwhile, added Zack Wheeler on Wednesday in the largest free agent signing of the offseason to date. The Nationals and Mets have been relatively idle, though I’d expect both teams to make some noise before the offseason is over.

The division is a weird one. As of today, those four NL East teams include the representation of the reigning World Series champions, the back-to-back division winners, the best starting rotation in baseball (at the moment), and the team that has shown the most willingness to spend money on large contracts in each of the past two offseasons.

All of this, of course, excludes the Marlins, who are in the midst of a rebuild after finishing with the worst record in the National League. In the two full seasons since Derek Jeter took control as the team’s chief executive, the Marlins have lost 203 games, with the hope that a full teardown will lead to winning at some point in the near or distant future. Read the rest of this entry »