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Why Vlad Jr. Fell Short

Nobody in the baseball community expressed surprise when Yordan Alvarez took home the American League Rookie of the Year award on Monday. After all, Alvarez hit like Mike Trout over 369 plate appearances, finishing second in the majors in wRC+ among those with at least 300 trips to the plate. His 3.8 WAR led all AL rookies by a wide margin; second-place John Means was nearly an entire win behind.

But if you had a time machine and went back to the start of the 2019 season, people would undoubtedly be befuddled to learn that Alvarez claimed the ROY hardware. Rather, you might have expected the honor to go to the best hitting prospect in recent memory: Vladimir Guerrero Jr.

At the beginning of the season, Guerrero seemed poised to be the Rookie of the Year. As Eric and Kiley wrote in February, “He should […] immediately become one of the game’s most exciting, productive hitters. He is the cornerstone of the Blue Jays franchise, and perhaps a cornerstone of our sport.” Expectations were through the roof; here at FanGraphs, 20 of the 32 writers who voted in our preseason awards predictions had Guerrero winning the award. Alvarez was not on our collective radar.

In a vacuum, Guerrero did not have a bad season. Not every 20-year-old is Juan Soto, and for Guerrero to hit .272/.339/.433 with a 105 wRC+ at this age is still impressive. Since 2000, there have only been 25 individual position-player seasons with at least 200 plate appearances taken by a player aged 20 or younger. Guerrero’s wRC+ ranks 15th. Granted, there is survivorship bias here, as the only players to even be in the majors by age 20 are those who are supremely talented. But even among those supremely talented youngsters, Guerrero’s bat was still in the middle of the pack. Again, we’re reminded of expectations versus reality. We expected Guerrero to be the best, and when he wasn’t, it came as a bit of a surprise. On the whole, however, he wasn’t bad. Read the rest of this entry »

The First Generation of Nationals Fans Has Its First Championship

In Washington, D.C., the roots of baseball fandom don’t run particularly deep. Sure, there are still a few fans of the old Washington Senators, but the last edition of that club bolted to Texas nearly half a century ago. The Homestead Grays also have a storied history, and an important one — but the Grays last took the field in 1951. Prior to 2005, baseball in Washington was a distant memory, and most fans in the D.C. metro region, many of whom originally hail from elsewhere, held allegiance to teams from different cities.

In 2001, a few months after I was born, my family moved from Northern California to Northern Virginia. We’re a family of baseball fans; my parents recall how when we moved during the 2001 World Series, one of the men who helped us was a diehard Yankees fan, rooting hard for the Bronx Bombers to win their 27th title.

In 2009, just a year after Nationals Park opened in the Navy Yard district, I attended my first ever Nats game — as a fan of the visiting San Diego Padres. My dad grew up in San Diego, and there we were, at Nationals Park, wearing Padres gear. The pitching matchup was star-studded: Chad Gaudin versus John Lannan. I don’t remember many details from the game; apparently an Austin Kearns walk-off single in the 10th won it for Washington. I doubt we were still at the park. Read the rest of this entry »

Sean Doolittle’s Important Turnaround Evident in Game 1

With two outs in the bottom of the eighth inning, the Nationals up by just a single run, and George Springer on second base, Dave Martinez strolled to the mound to summon a pitching change. In the bullpen getting warm was left-hander Sean Doolittle, one of the two relievers Washington has been able to regularly trust this October.

Doolittle has been a National for two-and-a-half seasons now, and though he could become a free agent at season’s end, he has a team option that is almost assuredly to be picked up. He represents just one of Mike Rizzo’s numerous midseason reliever pickups. In 2015, it was Jonathan Papelbon. In 2016, Mark Melancon. In 2017, Doolittle and Ryan Madson. And in 2019, it was a triad of Hunter Strickland, Roenis Elías, and Daniel Hudson. Rizzo has tried and tried again to build a bullpen; his success, at best, has been mixed. With Doolittle though, he struck gold. Read the rest of this entry »

Fernando Rodney’s Next Incredible Feat

Fernando Rodney signed his first professional baseball contract before Juan Soto was born. He has been pitching in the major leagues longer than Switzerland has been a member of the United Nations. He has appeared in more games than Cy Young.

Clearly, Rodney has been around the game of baseball for a while. His first postseason appearance came on October 10, 2006. It was Game 1 of the ALCS between the Rodney-having Tigers and the not-Rodney-having Athletics. He faced eight hitters that night, including now-Hall of Famer Frank Thomas, later-to-be NLCS MVP Marco Scutaro, and good-but-never-elite Nick Swisher.

On Tuesday night, Rodney will be in uniform for his 16th different playoff series. He’ll likely pitch in a game before the World Series is over, which will add yet another interesting factoid to his legacy. If — or likely, when — Rodney appears in the 2019 Fall Classic, he will have pitched in an AL and NL Wild Card Game, plus the ALDS, NLDS, ALCS, NLCS, and World Series for both an AL and an NL team. Read the rest of this entry »

The Yankees Still Need Adam Ottavino

Last offseason, the Yankees gave Adam Ottavino a three-year, $27 million contract, a move that added yet another high octane arm to their already-loaded bullpen. And unlike some reliever contracts, it has worked out quite well thus far.

Ottavino had a solid first year in New York. His 1.90 ERA was a career-best, as was his 2.5 RA9-WAR. His 3.44 FIP (74 FIP-) and 4.32 xFIP (94 xFIP-) suggested that he was probably quite a bit worse than his ERA indicated, due to a year-over-year strikeout rate that fell from 36% to 31% and a walk rate that ballooned from 12% to 14%. So, yes, Ottavino wasn’t nearly as dominant in 2019 as he was the year before, but that doesn’t mean he wasn’t useful in the Big Apple. His 1.3 WAR ranked 22nd among all relievers and second on the team.

We could dig deeper into Ottavino’s 2019 campaign if we so desired, but that’s not why he’s relevant right now. The 66 and third innings he pitched during the regular season were important, but they are not nearly as meaningful as the two and one-third innings he’s pitched so far this postseason. Ottavino has faced just 18 hitters this October, but the Yankees have already been ridiculed for “making a big mistake” in sticking with him.

Perhaps this is a fair argument; Ottavino’s October results certainly reflect the rationale behind the criticism. Of the 18 batters he has faced, seven of them have recorded hits, three more have walked, and just seven have made outs. The slash line against Ottavino is ugly: .467/.556/.800.

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The Stars Aligned for the Nationals

With their sweep of the St. Louis Cardinals, capped off by a 7-4 win last night, the Washington Nationals are bringing the World Series back to the nation’s capital for the first time since 1933.

No team gets to the World Series without their fair share of luck, and the Nationals certainly have seen things go their way so far this October. But at the end of the day, talent reigns supreme. It shouldn’t come as a surprise to you that the Nationals were a superior team to the Cardinals. They produced 48.3 WAR this season, more than 10 wins above the Cardinals’ aggregate of 37.9. Washington’s hitters produced a wRC+ eight points higher than St. Louis’; their pitchers produced a FIP- six points lower. The Nationals were simply better across the board. What’s arguably most exciting for fans in Washington is that their top talent has stepped up when things have mattered most.

One of my favorite statistics to follow during the postseason is Championship Win Probability added, or cWPA, housed on the website The Baseball Gauge. It’s very similar to WPA in that it calculates how each plate appearance during every game has changed each team’s odds of winning the World Series. The Ringer’s Ben Lindbergh has covered cWPA in the past, such as in this piece about players who made late-season debuts and contributed to a postseason run, or in this one when analyzing the relative “mundanity” of the 2018 World Series. As you might expect, Nationals players are dominating in cWPA this postseason. Four of the top five individual cWPA leaders don the Nationals’ red, white, and blue: Read the rest of this entry »

Jesus Luzardo Should Make A’s Fans Excited for Next October

Last Wednesday, the Athletics were eliminated from the playoffs at the hands of the Rays and the long ball in the American League Wild Card Game. Yandy Díaz homered twice, Avisaíl García and Tommy Pham each added homers of their own, and the Rays cruised to a 5-1 victory.

Despite the losing effort, it was an A’s player who impressed me the most. Jesus Luzardo, who came on to pitch the sixth, seventh, and eighth innings, had quite the postseason debut. In those three frames, he did not surrender a run, and only allowed one hit and two walks to go along with his four strikeouts. At just 22 years and two days old, Luzardo became the youngest pitcher to throw three or more shutout innings in a postseason game since Madison Bumgarner in 2010:

Youngest Pitchers With 3+ Shutout Postseason IP Since 2000
Pitcher Date Age (YY.DDD) Round IP H R BB K
Jesus Luzardo 10/2/2019 22.002 ALWC 3 1 0 2 4
Madison Bumgarner 10/31/2010 21.091 WS 8 3 0 2 6
Phil Hughes 10/7/2007 21.105 ALDS 3.2 2 0 0 4
Francisco Rodriguez 10/20/2002 20.286 WS 3 0 0 0 4
SOURCE: Baseball-Reference

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The Patrick Corbin Signing Made the Difference for Washington

The Nationals would not be here today without Patrick Corbin.

In a season with many ups and downs — really, just one “down” and then one much larger “up” — Corbin was a consistent arm in the Nationals’ rotation, especially as the ace of the staff, Max Scherzer, dealt with injuries in the second half and relative (by his standards) ineffectiveness upon his return. He was not the only rock — Stephen Strasburg was also superb — but he was the new rock, the highlight of the Nationals’ offseason, their prized signing.

On December 4, the Nationals inked Corbin to a six-year, $140 million deal, the largest contract given to any starting pitcher the entire offseason. With one full season in the books, it’s clear that Corbin has come to Washington exactly as advertised. As their third ace, Corbin’s presence in the rotation helped put them over the top. A team with three of the best 13 pitchers in baseball likely won’t stay defeated for long, and the Nationals overcame a horrid 19-31 start to win 93 games and clinch the top NL Wild Card spot.

Of course, this turnaround is not solely due to Corbin’s contributions, but having him in the rotation certainly didn’t hurt. He pitched 202 innings this year to the tune of a 3.25 ERA, 3.49 FIP, and 4.8 WAR. He outpitched both Steamer’s (3.3 WAR) and ZiPS’ (3.5) preseason projections. As a result, the Nationals had the best rotation in baseball, and they hope that their top three starters will be the difference here in October: Read the rest of this entry »

Dylan Bundy Is Beating the Long Ball

The other day, while I was doing my usual perusal of the FanGraphs’ Season Stat Grid, I came across an interesting find. Orioles pitcher Dylan Bundy had seen the largest year-over-year decrease in home runs allowed per nine of any pitcher in baseball.

This was particularly interesting for a plethora of reasons, none less important than the fact that we’re currently witnessing baseball in its most homer-happy era ever. We all know this, Rob Manfred knows this, and the Orioles certainly know this, having set the record for most home runs allowed in a single season all the way back on August 22. Thus, there is a certain irony here; of all teams, the Orioles currently employ the pitcher who has witnessed the largest year-over-year decrease in home runs per nine.

Bundy’s career has followed an interesting arc. He was the fourth pick of the 2011 draft, with a four-seam fastball that touched 100 mph. He made his major league debut the following year, becoming the first Oriole to debut before his 20th birthday since Mike Adamson in 1967. Bundy only pitched 1.2 scoreless innings, all out of relief, but the excitement in Baltimore for their top pitching prospect was understandably palpable.

Tommy John surgery ended Bundy’s 2013 before it began, and in the process of rehab, he had to be shut down indefinitely due to shoulder issues. Long story short, Bundy didn’t return to the majors until 2016, making his season debut on April 7, a grand total of 1,290 days after his last major league outing.

Bundy is now concluding his third full season in Baltimore’s rotation, and though 2019 did not produce his best results, he certainly wasn’t bad. Over 161.2 innings, Bundy posted a 4.79 ERA, a 4.74 FIP, and 2.5 WAR. But, as noted above, he also posted the largest year-over-year decrease in home runs per nine. Here are the leaders in that statistic: Read the rest of this entry »

Seth Lugo’s Three-Headed Monster

As a FanGraphs reader, Mets fan, baseball follower, or some combination of the three, you’re probably familiar with Seth Lugo. We at FanGraphs haven’t written a ton about Lugo in 2019, but he is one of baseball’s most fascinating pitchers, known for his high-spin curveball that consistently finds itself atop the Baseball Savant daily spin rate leaderboards, like this one from September 15:

Lugo’s curveball is cool, and its coolness has generated much discussion. For good measure, here’s another look:

Wil Myers had no chance. Read the rest of this entry »