Author Archive

Ronald Acuña and the 40-40 Club

Ronald Acuña Jr., with 34 home runs, 28 stolen bases, and six weeks left in the season, has a chance to become the fifth player to join Major League Baseball’s 40-40 Club. If Acuña’s membership application is approved by feats of baseballing, he’ll join an exclusive fraternity of Jose Canseco, Alex Rodriguez, Barry Bonds, and Alfonso Soriano. Okay, mostly elite.

As someone who apparently became a “veteran” baseball analyst at some point, I’m not always sure if the game has changed or if I have. When I was a kid, there’d be talk of 20-20 clubs, 30 HR/100 RBI guys, and scores of home run milestones. But you don’t hear about these baseball clubs as often as you used to. Has fandom changed this much or have I become jaded about these kinds of statistically interesting accomplishments? Or is that some of the older markers for performance, such as the 400 Homer Club, have become less exclusive institutions to join than a sandwich shop that give you a 10th sub free after buying nine?

The 40-40 Club, on the other hand, still excites me. Part of it could be that Jose Canseco’s charge on his way to becoming the founding member of this fraternity in 1988 was still very early in my Serious Baseball Fandom phase. I’ve loved watching baseball from the age of three, but it wasn’t until a few years later I really became a serious fan of the game, aided by my grandfather getting me a subscription to Sports Illustrated in 1986, a bit before my eighth birthday. While I watched the 1983-1985 World Series games, the 1986 World Series was the first one where I really followed every pitch, watching to the end even on school nights. I can still remember Tim Teufel‘s error as much as Bill Buckner‘s more famous one, and am able to exactly replicate Marty Barrett‘s closed stance and Sid Fernandez’s three-quarters delivery.

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Martín Pérez’s Cutter is No Longer Cutting It

While the Twins going home run-crazy in a world of home run-wackiness may have been the most significant early storyline for Minnesota, one of the team’s other early bright spots was the emergence of Martín Pérez. I was extremely skeptical of the decision to bring him in given his history with the Rangers, and thought the Twins ought to have been more aggressive in signing top free agents after clearing Joe Mauer’s salary.

In the early months of the season, my worries about Pérez seemed almost quaint. On May 23, at what I would call his high-water mark, the Twins outslugged the Angels, winning 16-7 and leaving Pérez with a 7-1 record and a 2.95 ERA. He was showing increased velocity. Pérez was never a big fastball pitcher, but his increased velocity from late 2018 — when he had an average velocity of at least 95 mph in four of his September relief appearances — continued in 2019 as a starter. But perhaps the most important factor in his early-season success was the development of his cut-fastball, a pitch he picked up on advice from his agent and with help from teammate Jake Odorizzi.

The proof of the pudding is in the eating and with his fancy new cutter, Pérez feasted on opposing batters in the late spring. Through the literal end of the season (June 20), Pérez threw 435 cutters, making it his most-used pitch, and held batters to a .164 BA and a .250 SLG. Against all other pitches, including his fastball, the league was hitting .301. 42% of his 74 strikeouts were thanks to his cutter. To put how well the cutter was performing in perspective, from 2007 on Mariano Rivera, who knows a bit about this pitch, had batters swing-and-miss on 10% of his cutters. Through mid-June, Pérez was at 15%. Read the rest of this entry »

Dan Szymborski FanGraphs Chat – 8/12/2019

Avatar Dan Szymborski: Instead of getting into a random Twitter fight right at 11:58 AM and starting the chat late, I’m going to go against character and do the responsible thing and just start my chat at 11:58 AM!

ECDC: Would you give Scherzer the Verlander extension (2 years/$66 million) right now?

Avatar Dan Szymborski: Absotively, posilutely.

Bread Gardner: Gotta admit, not really digging this matte black/matte white motif for Players’ Weekend. I’d have loved to see more throwback jerseys… like, it would be legendary to have ’50s-era uniforms for the Yankees-at-Dodgers games, you know?

Avatar Dan Szymborski: I wouldn’t mind everyone getting to choose their own. It’s not football and it’s not really hard to tell who is on what team from context.

Bread Gardner: I would like to call attention to Suzyn Waldman’s recent nomination to the Radio Hall of Fame; unfortunately, she was not elected. She’s a genuine trailblazer and I hope she someday gets a well-deserved place in Cooperstown.

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The Cubs Are Slowly Pulling Away

Unlike the other five divisions in the majors, the National League Central has spent 2019 in a constant state of upheaval. Four of the five teams have spent multiple days in first place, with none of the quartet being able to hang on to and solidify their lead. The division’s doormat, the rapidly collapsing Pittsburgh Pirates, spent nearly 15% of the season in first or second place. The Cincinnati Reds, the only team that hasn’t led the Central (I’m not counting the tie the morning after Opening Day), have the division’s second-best Pythagorean record.

In this environment, one might have expected to see significant wheeling-and-dealing at the trade deadline. While most of the National League could rightly claim to be in the Wild Card race, the Central teams jockeying for October baseball had the benefit of also being in a tight race for the division. Being able to draw the straight or the flush, the NL Central teams with 2019 postseason aspirations were incentivized to make an aggressive play for a Zack Greinke or a Trevor Bauer.

And the teams’ closeness wasn’t just a creation of the projections, either. On the morning of July 31, the Cubs and Cardinals were tied for first-place; the Brewers were a game back. ZiPS largely agreed that the Cubs had the strongest roster, enough to make the North Siders the favorite, but hardly a prohibitive one:

ZiPS NL Central Projections – 8/1/19
Team W L GB PCT Div% WC% Playoff%
Chicago Cubs 87 75 .537 53.0% 20.4% 73.4%
St. Louis Cardinals 85 77 2 .525 25.7% 24.2% 49.9%
Milwaukee Brewers 84 78 3 .519 20.3% 22.3% 42.5%
Cincinnati Reds 78 84 9 .481 1.1% 2.5% 3.6%
Pittsburgh Pirates 71 91 16 .438 0.0% 0.0% 0.0%

What ought to have made making significant upgrades more important for the Cardinals and Brewers is that hidden in the projections were signs that the Cubs were more dangerous at the end of July than they had been earlier in the season. Dial back to May 15 and the ZiPS projections only saw the Cubs roster as that of a .531 team, with the Brewers at .525 and the Cardinals at .519. That’s just under a two-game spread from top to bottom over the course of a 162-game season. Read the rest of this entry »

Can the Reds Figure Out Kevin Gausman?

To say that Kevin Gausman has been a frustrating pitcher to his fans and employers alike would be an undersell. Debuting in the majors in 2013 for the Baltimore Orioles, he’s passed the two-WAR mark in four seasons and only failed to hit the one-WAR threshold when he threw just 47.2 innings in his rookie campaign. But while Gausman has been a contributor, given his top-prospect status, his ability to hit the high-90s, and his possession of a knee-buckling splitter, his career still feels curiously underwhelming. His unusually robust first-half/second-half splits certainly don’t help the common perception of Gausman, with his second halves (ERA of 3.63) needing to deflate the ERAs from his first halves (4.96).

Now Gausman joins his third organization of the last year. And at the nadir of his value too; while the Braves didn’t give up any elite prospects to pry Gausman from the Orioles in 2018, they at least gave up actual prospects. The Cincinnati Reds only needed a waiver claim to bring Gausman to town, essentially committing to nothing more than paying the rest of his 2019 salary.

Gausman’s history of at least moderate respectability works in his favor, but that 6.19 ERA is hard to completely forget about. With a FIP of 4.21, there’s a massive discrepancy between his actual run prevention and the run prevention suggested from his peripheral stats. The tricky part then becomes figuring out which stat to believe more, so we need to do further digging. Read the rest of this entry »

Dan Szymborski FanGraphs Chat – 8/6/2019

Avatar Dan Szymborski: IT IS CHAT TIME

Appa Yip Yip: Is Marcus Stroman the Mets best infielder now?

Avatar Dan Szymborski: It’s possible, lol!

Zipp: LFGM

Avatar Dan Szymborski: My favorite thing about the Mets is that they essentially had a terrific deadline (picking up Stroman and NOT trading Thor or Wheeler) because they failed their second part of that plan.

Philip: 2 questions: Is the zips stats only prospect ranking going to happen? And with the 3 year Zips projections is there a plan to have auto daily updates based on new statistical changing info?

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The Braves Build Bullpen Depth, Adding Mark Melancon

The Atlanta Braves continued their deadline bullpen upgrades by acquiring relief pitcher Mark Melancon from the San Francisco Giants for pitchers Tristan Beck and Dan Winkler.

Coming into today, the ZiPS rest-of-season projections for the Braves, when combined with the FanGraphs depth charts, had the Braves with the No. 19 bullpen in baseball, ahead of only the Phillies, Nationals, and Angels among the plausible contenders. ZiPS is also the more optimistic of the two systems; when you combine ZiPS and Steamer on the FanGraphs Depth Charts, the Braves drop to 22nd.

There’s a misconception that Atlanta’s relief woes are because of Luke Jackson, the team’s closer for most of the season. It’s true that Jackson has only saved 17-of-24 games for the Braves, but save percentage is actually a rather poor predictor of future save percentage, especially when other metrics exist (ERA, FIP, batter OPS, pretty much anything else). Melancon and Jackson are in roughly the same tier performance-wise, along with Shane Greene; the reason the trade improves the team is because it improves the depth of the bullpen, which was a significantly larger problem than the closer himself.

San Francisco trading Melancon (and Ray Black, Sam Dyson, and Drew Pomeranz) does not represent the Giants throwing in the towel on the 2019 season. Prior to these trades, the ZiPS/Steamer combined projections had San Francisco with eight relief pitchers projected to have a FIP below four over the rest of the season. The Giants still retain five of them (Pomeranz was not on the list), more than enough pitching to cover high-leverage relief innings. The team has an improving farm system, but that’s largely due to the first-tier talent at the top of their prospect list: Joey Bart, Marco Luciano, Heliot Ramos, and Hunter Bishop. Much like the Braves’ bullpen prior to today, what the Giants’ system still lacks is depth. Read the rest of this entry »

Astros Acquire Zack Greinke, Win Trade Deadline in Closing Moments

The Houston Astros needed starting pitcher help and they got it in dramatic fashion, picking up Zack Greinke from the Arizona Diamondbacks in return for pitchers J.B. Bukauskas and Corbin Martin, first baseman Seth Beer, and jack-of-all-trades Josh Rojas.

A couple of years ago, I became increasingly concerned about the continued decline in Zack Greinke’s velocity. It used to be that every spring training, Greinke would throw 86 mph and everyone would panic, and then the velocity would eventually come back. In 2018 that didn’t happen, yet Greinke’s shown every sign the last two seasons that he can navigate what could very well have been a late-career crisis, with the barest of speed bumps.

The major reason for Greinke’s survival is his multi-flavor curveball, a pitch he can throw anywhere from 66 to 74 mph and anywhere in the strike zone. The speed differences result in the pitch ranging from a traditional, looping curve to an almost full-on, Rip Sewell eephus pitch.

Just how good is his curveball? In 2017, by our pitch data, Greinke had his best-ever season with the curve, at 7.2 runs better than league average. Last year, that improved to +10.6 runs. This year, with a third of the season to go, Greinke stands at +16.4, second in baseball to Charlie Morton. At the pace he’s on, +24.6 by season’s end would put him fifth in the 18 years for which we have this data, behind only 2017 Corey Kluber, Morton, 2007 Erik Bedard, and 2003 Roy Halladay. Here is Greinke throwing his curve to Vladimir Guerrero Jr. on June 8:

Oh my.

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The Rockies Are Wasting Their Stars

When we talk about teams not taking advantage of the best seasons of their stars, there’s no better example than Mike Trout and the Angels. You could make a 90-win team by simply building a .500 team around Trout, and yet the Angels have been able to do this only once with their center fielder. But they’re hardly the only team to fritter away the prime of top talent. Enter the Colorado Rockies.

The Rockies can hardly be called a grand failure on the field, having won 87 and 91 games in 2017 and ’18, making the playoffs in consecutive years for the first time in franchise history. But you could also argue that it’s a team that you can say underperformed those win totals, especially last year. The 2018 Rockies won 91 games, but that was with two legitimate Cy Young and MVP contenders; after successfully doing the hard part and finding legitimate stars, they’ve repeatedly failed to put a halfway competent team around those stars.

To illustrate this, here is team WAR from 2017, 2018, and 2019 (through July 29) outside of a team’s top two position players and top two hitters. As noted above, the Rockies have done as good job finding high-end talent as any team in baseball. Read the rest of this entry »

Trevor Bauer Traverses Ohio

The Cold A/C League needed a bit of recharging, with Marcus Stroman’s move to the Mets the only major trade so far this deadline. With only 18 hours to go, the Indians provided a big one, sending pitcher Trevor Bauer to the Cincinnati Reds in a three-way trade that included the San Diego Padres. I like to approach three-way trades as three individual trades to keep things from getting confusing, like a Westerosi family tree.

Cincinnati Reds acquire P Trevor Bauer in return for OF Yasiel Puig, OF Taylor Trammell, and P Scott Moss

Cincinnati made aggressive, short-term moves to improve the team last winter, acquiring Puig, Sonny Gray, Tanner Roark, and Alex Wood in an attempt to jump-start their transition from rebuilder to contender, much the Braves and Phillies did in 2018. While not everything went according to plan — Wood has been injured and Puig got off to a slow start — it’s hard to say the moves were a failure. If the playoffs were determined by Pythagorean record, the Reds would be in the thick of the Wild Card mêlée, in third place and two games behind the Washington Nationals (as of the moment this trade hit the wires).

Alas, the playoffs are not determined by Pythagorean record.

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