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Kolby Allard Has Been Quite the Find for the Rangers

In the final moments of the 2019 trade deadline, the Astros shocked the baseball world with their trade for Zack Greinke. As Dan Szymborski put it at the time, “In a league in which money and prospects are meekly handed out when a team has an opportunity to strike a critical blow, Houston keeps demonstrating why they’re one of the best, most focused organizations in baseball today.”

Since the trade, Greinke has been good. He’s pitched 49.1 innings for Houston thus far, posting a solid 3.10 ERA, 3.50 FIP, and 1.2 WAR. His strikeout numbers have dipped (24.0% to 19.5%) since moving from the Diamondbacks to the Astros, but even with this dropoff in performance, it’s hard to say that he hasn’t been worth the cost so far. With that said, of course, the Astros didn’t acquire Greinke to help them get to the playoffs; they acquired him to get through the playoffs. The evaluation of that trade — along with many others made at the deadline — is far from complete.

While Greinke has been solid since the trade, he hasn’t been the best pitcher of those moved in July. That distinction belongs to Kolby Allard, even if it is by a razor-thin margin:

WAR Since Aug. 1, Pitchers Traded in July
Rank Player Name Team WAR
1 Kolby Allard Rangers 1.3
2 Zack Greinke Astros 1.2
3 Zac Gallen Diamondbacks 1.1
4 Homer Bailey Athletics 1.0
5 Nick Anderson Rays 0.9
6 Jason Vargas Phillies 0.6
7 Mark Melancon Braves 0.6
8 Jordan Lyles Brewers 0.5
9 Sergio Romo Twins 0.5
10 Chris Martin Braves 0.4
Stats through games played on September 14.

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Carlos Santana Is Having a Career Year

On September 19, 2018, Carlos Santana was in the Phillies’ lineup, playing third base. It was an experiment that sparked speculation about his role in Philadelphia going forward. After all, he had just signed a three-year, $60 million contract. But after Rhys Hoskins had one of the worst defensive seasons by a left fielder this decade, it was clear that Santana’s usage would need to be adjusted. Having him play first — thus relegating Hoskins to the outfield — would not work long term, especially for a team trying to contend.

Santana’s brief stay in Philadelphia was mixed. He drew walks in 16.2% of his plate appearances, hit for power at about his then-career-average, and was about average defensively. With that information, you’d probably think that Santana had a good year, but reality was different. He was BABIP’d to death; no qualified hitter in 2018 posted a lower BABIP than Santana’s .231. His slash sat at .229/.352/.414 with a 108 wRC+, a decent-yet-unspectacular season. He also made headlines this past March when it was reported that, near the end of the 2018 season, he had smashed a clubhouse TV after witnessing his now-former teammates playing Fortnite during games.

The Phillies went on to have a memorable offseason, to say the least. They signed Bryce Harper, Andrew McCutchen, David Robertson. They traded for J.T. Realmuto and Jean Segura. Once all of the dust settled, Carlos Santana was no longer wearing red and white pinstripes. The seemingly tumultuous relationship lasted one season. Santana was back in Cleveland, the same place where he had spent the first eight seasons of his major league career. Read the rest of this entry »

Trevor Story Writes a New Chapter With Improved Defense

The last time I wrote about Trevor Story, this was the lede:

Don’t make any Trevor Story puns, Devan. Don’t do it.

Too late. The Rockies’ rookie shortstop has been a mammoth story this season, as he continues to break record after record.

I’m not proud of this, just as I’m not proud of the pun in the headline above. But when you can make a pun, you make the pun. There’s not much more to it than that.

That’s why I’m here to talk about Trevor Story. He has always been an offense-first shortstop. During his rookie season in 2016, Story became the fifth player in baseball history to homer in each of his team’s first four games of the season. He also became the fastest player to six career home runs. Today, I’m here to change the conversation regarding Story’s bat-first reputation.

This season, Story’s offense has still been the best part of his game. In 585 plate appearances, Story has slashed .296/.356/.548 with 30 home runs and a 116 wRC+. He’s produced 17.4 runs above-average of offensive value, a slight step back from 2018 (+23.9), but it’s still a figure that ranks seventh among all shortstops this season. (Alex Bregman is listed first on the leaderboard, but he’s been primarily a third baseman.)

That’s not bad, but the dropoff becomes even less of a concern when one realizes that Story’s defensive value has been quite high this season. Among primary shortstops, Story’s +12.9 defensive runs are the third-most in baseball, and among all players, they are the 12th-most. His eight-run increase in year-over-year defensive value is the 17th-highest in baseball among players who received ample playing time in both 2018 and 2019. Story is evolving from an offense-first shortstop to an all-around great one. Read the rest of this entry »

Baseball’s Best Catcher Keeps it Real

Things aren’t going all that well for the Phillies. On Wednesday night, with Aaron Nola on the hill, the team looked to take their third consecutive game from the Reds, in the hopes of adding to their solid start to September. But after Nola gave up five runs in the first two innings, and their comeback was foiled by a bullpen implosion, Philadelphia’s early-month momentum was stopped right in its tracks.

On Thursday afternoon, the story was different, but the result was the same. The Phillies couldn’t get the clutch hit, and the team went 2-for-11 with runners in scoring position before falling 4-3 in 11 innings. With losses in back-to-back games to close out the series, Philadelphia had to settle for a split with Cincinnati. Things don’t look better in the immediate future, either. The Phillies have the toughest remaining schedule, they do not have much depth, and their playoff odds have dwindled to just 1.9%.

Even as the 2019 outlook becomes bleak, there has been one major bright spot this year. If they do overcome the odds and make the postseason, this player could find himself receiving some down-ballot votes for NL MVP. No, I’m not talking about Bryce Harper; rather, I’m referring to J.T. Realmuto, who has officially solidified his status as baseball’s best catcher. Read the rest of this entry »

Regression Has Come for Hyun-Jin Ryu

When Hyun-Jin Ryu takes the hill tonight against the Rockies in Los Angeles, he’ll be looking to reverse the fortunes he’s faced over his last three outings.

Ryu started the year hot. In his first 22 outings this season, Ryu’s 1.45 ERA led baseball by a healthy margin. No one could beat him; Ryu allowed two or fewer earned runs in 21 of his first 22 starts, and his ERA would have been even lower (read: 1.04) if it weren’t for one disastrous outing at Coors Field on June 28.

Despite this sparkling start to his 2019 campaign, Ryu found himself in the midst of a two-man race for the National League Cy Young Award. At the time, Ryu’s ERA — while certainly outstanding in a vacuum — appeared quite dependent on defense and luck. On the morning of August 12, after he completed seven innings of shutout ball against the Diamondbacks, Ryu’s ERA sat at the aforementioned 1.45 figure (34 ERA-). His FIP of 2.86 (65 FIP-) was still excellent, but it remained a far cry from the dominance we had witnessed on the scoreboard. In fact, at the time, Ryu’s ERA-FIP differential of -1.40 runs was the second-lowest in baseball. An ERA that low just wasn’t possible to sustain. Read the rest of this entry »

Anthony Rendon’s Hot August Adds Third Face to MVP Race

For the first few months of this baseball season, everything had been coming up “Belli vs. Yeli.” Of course, this was for good reason.

Since the two sluggers got off to scorching starts, the race for the National League Most Valuable Player award has centered entirely around Cody Bellinger and Christian Yelich. Major League Baseball itself basically even recognized that these two candidates had lapped the field, releasing a commercial prior to the All-Star break featuring Bellinger and Yelich playing a comical game of M-V-P.

But baseball is a long season, and even the surest things are never a given. We might just be witnessing that right now. Nationals third baseman Anthony Rendon is one of baseball’s most underrated players. Despite ranking ninth in WAR since his debut season in 2013, Rendon was finally voted in to his first All-Star game in 2019, though he did not attend. He is a player who Sam Fortier of The Washington Post described as “infamously attention-averse,” and he is also a player who just completed the third-best offensive month of his career. Anthony Rendon demands attention, and in a big way. With his excellent play last month, he might have thrust himself into the mix for the league’s highest individual player honor. Read the rest of this entry »

Finding a Beltway Baseball Comp for Renato Núñez

Every year, the Orioles and Nationals play games against one another, though the number actually varies depending on baseball’s rotational interleague schedule. These meetings are referred to as the “Beltway Series,” paying homage to the defining characteristic of the region: traffic on I-495 (the Capital Beltway) and I-695 (the Baltimore Beltway). While I am (mostly) kidding, I still sometimes wonder why there isn’t a better name for this geographical rivalry.

Set to factor in that series is Renato Núñez. The Orioles’ slugging designated hitter is having quite the year. Through games on Wednesday, he has more home runs than Bryce Harper, having hit 28 through his first 488 plate appearances. There’s not much beyond the power, though. He’s slashing .240/.309/.478 with a 103 wRC+, and due to his defensive limitations, he’s been held to just 0.7 WAR.

As we know, the Orioles are not in a position of contention this season, which is exactly why a guy like Renato Núñez can get play in the range of 150 games. All teams look for players with untapped potential. Not all teams, however, can give these players the plate appearances necessary to grow into the productivity that potential suggests. But the Orioles can, and Núñez is the beneficiary.

Núñez’s seemingly odd season had me hunting for a comp. What might a player with this skillset — good power, not a lot of contact, below-average discipline — look like in the future? What can the Orioles expect from Núñez in three, four, or five years?

To answer this question, I downloaded every individual player season with at least 300 plate appearances over the last five years, including 2019. I filtered my search using three conditions: a walk rate between 7-8%, an isolated power above .200, and a batting average between .230 and .250. In my mind, these three results-based constraints accomplish two goals: they limit my search to just a handful individual player seasons and allow me to find players who have similar intrinsic characteristics to Núñez’s. Read the rest of this entry »

Juan Soto and Baseball’s Most Consistent Players

Because he is still only 20 years old, Juan Soto cannot legally drink in the United States. And yet, despite his recent pubescence, he’s one of baseball’s best hitters. Last week, he became just the third player in major league history to hit 50 home runs before turning 21. He’s drawn comparisons to Miguel Cabrera. He’s even already received some Hall of Fame discussion, assuming he can stay healthy over the course of what ought to be a long career.

In a piece for from early August, Mike Petriello noted something interesting about Soto: his consistency.

There are no cold streaks, so there’s no fevered “what’s wrong with Juan Soto?” think pieces, like we’ve done with José Ramírez. There are no wild, Bryce Harper-esque up-and-downs that demand attention. There’s just steady, regular production, the kind of thing that makes Mike Trout so outstanding, and for all of that, sometimes we consider Trout to be boring.

This paragraph from Petriello’s story piqued my interest. Is there any way to examine a player’s consistency? With Soto, I attempted to do so.

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Julio Teheran Sinks to Success

At this point, it seems like common knowledge that the sinker has fallen out of favor. We’ve covered that development pretty often here at FanGraphs over the past couple of years. In fact, here’s Jeff Sullivan doing just that in a 2017 piece called, “Baseball is Moving Away From the Sinker:”

“The league got a whole hell of a lot better at hitting the low pitch out of the ballpark. Not exclusively the low pitch, but disproportionately the low pitch. Swings started to gear up for elevating the low sinker. This is something that’s continuing today. Where many of those swings have a vulnerability is up, around the belt. The uppercut swing can have trouble connecting with pitches in the upper half, and those pitches have long gotten swings and misses, anyhow. Sinkers? Sinkers are supposed to be low. They’re not so good at the thigh.”

Since then, homer totals have soared and sinker usage rates have fallen. For those still working with a sinker, it’s often their worst pitch. This is true for Noah Syndergaard, Chris Archer, and even a guy like Aaron Sanchez, who has notably reduced his sinker usage since he was traded to Houston.

That doesn’t mean the sinker is entirely dead. The most obvious example of a guy with an effective one is Zack Britton, who’s riding his sinker to a near-80% ground-ball rate this year. Britton’s a unicorn, but there are still several “normal” pitchers succeeding with sinkers too. Look at the top of the pitch value leaderboard, and you’ll see a decidedly normal pitcher with a good sinker in Julio Teheran. Read the rest of this entry »

Yu Darvish Makes a Trade-Off

During my junior year of high school, I took AP Economics. I found the class to be pretty interesting, and I look forward to continue studying the subject further. But this is a baseball website, and you probably don’t want to be hearing about the classes I took while in high school. However, there was an important concept I learned in AP Economics that applies to a baseball situation I recently discovered. That is, the idea of the trade-off. The trade-off is one of the most basic economic principles, something so basic that it’s subconsciously part of all of our decision-making processes, whether we decide to acknowledge it or not.

One person cannot do everything, and every decision made is at the expense of the other options. There is opportunity cost, and when calculating important decisions, one must weigh the benefits of their choice versus the costs associated with giving other choices up. That’s exactly what Yu Darvish has done this season. Read the rest of this entry »