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The Twins Have Crushed Their Way to Overdog Status

While many of the division races in baseball look quite similar to those in 2018, the AL Central has gone topsy-turvy. The Indians, despite a lackluster offseason, looked to be the clear favorite, with the Twins the only realistic threat to their recent dominance. That has turned out not to be the case, with Cleveland hanging around .500 as we enter the third month of the season and Minnesota holding a 9 1/2 game advantage, the largest divisional lead in baseball. I’d like to say I saw this coming, but I did not, and if I claimed otherwise, readers would no doubt out me as a filthy, filthy liar.

What was my complaint about the Twins? While they were considerably busier in the offseason than their rivals on the Cuyahoga, I was disappointed that they didn’t do more. Nelson Cruz was a solid short-term addition, and players like Marwin Gonzalez, C.J. Cron, and Jonathan Schoop all improved the depth of the team’s talent base, but I thought they should have been even more aggressive in their winter investments. Joe Mauer’s contract came off the books, and in a division with only one real 2019 rival, my belief was that it would be a mistake to start the season with a lower payroll than in 2018. Just one year before, the Twins aggressively pursued Yu Darvish and while that would clearly not have been a boon for the team that season, it represented them really pushing chips with the high-rollers when the opportunity presented itself.

But it has turned out that the need for a Bryce Harper or a Manny Machado or a Patrick Corbin wasn’t so pressing after all. Jake Odorizzi‘s continued development and Martin Perez’s unexpected velocity have a lot to do with it as well, but the Twins wouldn’t be where they are if a change in their offensive philosophy hadn’t paid off in spades. Read the rest of this entry »


Pedroia’s Possible Premature Parting

“You don’t know the end result, and that part’s hard. So that’s why a little reflection right now, I need to reevaluate, go home, chill out and see how everything responds.”

– Dustin Pedroia, 5/27/19 press conference

The fat lady hasn’t sung for Dustin Pedroia, but she’s at least warming up for her aria. Pedroia, Red Sox manager Alex Cora, and president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski took a break from any Memorial Day barbecues to hold a press conference updating Pedroia’s injury status.

As you probably know by now, the news was not of the optimistic variety, with Pedroia announcing that he was taking a break from any rehab that specifically targeted a return to baseball in 2019. Pedroia’s knee has been a problem for years and he originally underwent surgery to repair a torn meniscus after the 2016 season.

Not all of Pedroia’s missed 2017 time was due to the knee injury, with the infielder also suffering issues with his ribs, his wrist, and even a nasal contusion after getting hit in the nose by a foul ball he hit off home plate. Complicating the situation was the hard slide from Manny Machado in an April 2017 game — there was a controversy at the time whether it was a dirty play — that led to Pedroia limping off the field. Pedroia’s stated in the past that he doesn’t hold a grudge against Machado, but that he does think about that injury.

Manny's Hard Slide, 4/21/17

Pedroia's Nose Catches a Foul, 9/18/17 (NESN)

After offseason surgery during the 2017-2018 winter that attempted to restore cartilage to his knee, Pedroia has suffered numerous setbacks, only getting into a few games in 2018 and 2019. When asked if he would return, Pedroia responded that he was not sure he’d ever play again. Read the rest of this entry »


Yordan Alvarez Has Figured Out This Baseball Stuff

What does ZiPS have for Yordan Alvarez’s translation?

Is Alvarez for real?

Do the Astros need to call up Alvarez right now?

Scattered within my weekly chat questions about cat and chili, there were quite a few questions revolving on Yordan Alvarez, who has spent the first two months of the 2019 season traumatizing minor league pitchers. So naturally, instead of answering the questions, I greedily saved the Alvarez talk for an article on the subject.

Prior to this season, Alvarez was ranked seventh in Houston’s farm system by Eric Longenhagen and Kiley McDaniel on the strength of his raw power potential. Ranking seventh on the Astros says more about the team’s organizational strength than any negative about Alvarez; he’s not someone who would appear in a Fringe Five column. While with a lot of minor league outfielders, you try to see if they can stick in center as long as possible, this was never a realistic option for Alvarez, who is cut from the massive slugger template.

But if you thought he was a one-dimensional type of hitter, a Pedro Cerrano type, you’d be wrong. While it’s not believed that he’ll maintain high batting averages in the majors, I think he might hang onto better averages than many think. For one, he has an efficient, easy swing and is willing to use the entire field, making him less likely to be subject to shift abuse than some other sluggers in the majors. Just to illustrate, here’s Alvarez’s spray chart in the minors in 2019 compared to Max Kepler, a more pull-heavy left-handed hitter.

Alvarez has kept his swinging strike rate under 10% in the high minors, and in the early going, he has cut off about a quarter of his 2018 strikeout rate. His walk rate has also edged higher; Alvarez is a hitter who eats what he hunts. ZiPS uses play-by-play data to estimate a version of xBABIP that I refer to as zBABIP (you don’t win the Kewpie doll for guessing what the z stands for). Alvarez won’t keep the .424 BABIP that’s currently driving his .400 batting average in the minors, of course, but the hit data suggests he may keep quite a lot of it. Read the rest of this entry »


Dan Szymborski FanGraphs Chat – 5/20/2019

12:04
Avatar Dan Szymborski: Unleash the Chatken!

12:04
Egg: How impactful are hitting coaches really? Do you think there is anything to the correlation between Mets, Cubs, and Red Sox all struggling under Chili Davis, with a complete lack of power?

12:05
Avatar Dan Szymborski: That’s a tricky thing in that’s it hard to really separate out a hitting coach’s contribution. It’s more of a leadership role for the manager to figure out than anything that is data driven.

12:05
Avatar Dan Szymborski: Unless someone smarter than me has found a way to isolate hitting coaches.

12:05
Voldemort: Do you have confidence in Matt Carpenter and/or Jesus Aguilar to turn things around this year?

12:05
Avatar Dan Szymborski: Carp more.

Read the rest of this entry »


For the San Francisco Giants, the Void Beckons

When we look back on this era of baseball in future times, exhorting children to get off our lawns, nobody shed tears of pity for the San Francisco Giants. After all, the Giants of this generation made the World Series four times and won three of them, a difficult, probability-crushing feat in a world where six division winners and four wild card teams make the playoffs. It was a team that featured most of the grandest years of one of the best players anyone will ever see — no, Dusty Baker, not Pedro Feliz — before that mantle was handed off.

After such a highlight-filled epic, the problem is what comes next? In literature, you have the ability to just end the story. King Arthur’s body sails to Avalon; Beowulf lives another 50 years; Frodo sails away. Or maybe the author doesn’t finish the books, and a TV adaptation shoves three years’ worth of material into 13 episodes. But baseball always has another sequel, another tale with new protagonists and antagonists and unfortunate Joe West cameos, and these San Francisco Giants have bungled the end of their current tale.

The Outfield Conundrum

We’ve talked a lot about Cleveland’s failures this offseason to address their outfield situation, but San Francisco’s problems are long-standing and arguably even less excusable. While one can rightly complain about the amount of chutzpah (and possibly arrogance) needed for a contending team to just let a major weakness slide going into the season because their competition is extremely weak, the Giants were under no such illusion. The NL West provided five playoff teams combined in 2017 and 2018 and the Dodgers were the NL champs in both seasons, so the “Hey, we play the Tigers and Royals a lot” excuse doesn’t hold. Not to mention that the Dodgers, while losing their partial season from Manny Machado, reasonably expected to get a full season from a returning Corey Seager, which is as good as a major free agent signing. Read the rest of this entry »


For the Pirates, Archer Trade Not Looking Sterling

At 2018’s trade deadline, the Pittsburgh Pirates made a surprising move, picking up underperforming Chris Archer from the Tampa Bay Rays in return for Tyler Glasnow, Austin Meadows, and the ever-popular Player To Be Named. Once that latter nom de guerre was revealed to be Shane Baz, it meant that all three players heading to Florida were names of serious prospectage. In Eric Longenhagen’s top prospect list for the Pirates going into 2018, Meadows and Baz ranked No. 2 and No. 3, respectively. Glasnow, who didn’t qualify for the list due to service time, ranked second the year before.

How did I feel about this trade last year? At the time, I thought it was eminently reasonable for both sides. My argument was that the Rays would have been hard-pressed, even in sorta-contention, to turn down this kind of return given that the team’s long-term win condition is an assembly line of impact prospects.

For the Pirates, I argued that if this was part of a change in approach to more of a short-term, win-now approach in the offseason, this move could be justified, even with the team having a similar path to winning as the Rays do. This kind of bold, win-now or win-soon attempt (along with picking up Keone Kela from the Rangers) was something that was missing from the Pirates in recent years when the strength of their roster was at its peak.

The Pirates did not end up pushing their chips this offseason, though their signing of Jordan Lyles looks way better so far than I ever expected. But the winter moves were largely the kind of low-impact, solid-value moves the team has excelled at. They’ve even done well in several of these so far, with Francisco Liriano currently sitting at a 2.73 FIP and Melky Cabrera at .339/.375/.471 (though admittedly BABIP-aided).

These are the types of moves that win at chess, trading your movement-hampered bishop for your opponent’s strongly placed knight or giving up having both bishops to weaken their pawn structure. The problem is, that’s frequently not enough in baseball. Looking up at the league with fewer financial advantages and a division in which every single other team was in win-now mode, the Pirates didn’t need value trades, they needed to put an opponent’s rook in their pocket when the latter went to the bathroom. Read the rest of this entry »


The Elbow Gods Punish the White Sox Again

On Tuesday, the White Sox announced that Carlos Rodón will undergo Tommy John surgery, prematurely ending his 2019 season. With a 12-to-16 month rehabilitation period generally the norm for pitchers undergoing TJ, even a sunny scenario for Rodón would put a serious dent in his 2020 season; a cloudier one makes it unlikely he returns to Chicago until his 2021 season.

For Rodón, it’s obviously a disaster, another setback in a career that had already been largely derailed by injuries in 2017 and 2018. Rodón was drafted third in the 2014 draft out of NC State. At the time, one of the things about Rodón that interested the White Sox was that he was quite polished, even for a top college pitcher, and as a result, was likely to get to the majors very quickly.

The White Sox were correct in this analysis. Rodón’s major league debut, a relief appearance against the Cleveland Indians early in 2015, was only his 12th game as a professional. Three relief appearances later — including two rather lengthy ones at 60 and 63 pitches — Rodón entered the rotation. He acquitted himself quite well as a rookie, with a 3.87 FIP in 139.1 innings, good enough for 1.8 WAR, even as he was a little lucky in his homers allowed. He showed continued progression in 2016, dropping over a walk a game, and ended up with a 4.04 ERA, a 4.01 FIP, and 2.8 WAR.

Since mid-2016, Rodón has racked up an unfortunate injury history. First, he missed a month in 2016 slipping on the dugout steps, spraining his wrist. Sadly, this is a story I know all too well, having been forced to wear a wrist brace about a decade ago after a similar fall on my stairs; there was feline involvement. Read the rest of this entry »


Dan Szymborski FanGraphs Chat – 5/13/2019

12:06
Avatar Dan Szymborski: OK, I’m here!

12:06
Avatar Dan Szymborski: I’d like to say something out of my control happened, but I tend to start Twitter rants two minutes before I have to be somewhere

12:07
Matt: The chat post is messed up – showing the HTML code

12:08
Avatar Dan Szymborski: Should be fixed now.

12:08
Voldemort: Do you have confidence in Jesus Aguilar to turn things around this season? He’s looked sharper the last week or so.

12:08
Avatar Dan Szymborski: He’s certainly looked better. There’s still hope.

Read the rest of this entry »


Cleveland Is Now the Underdog

79 years ago Friday, Germany invaded France and the Low Countries, triggering a new phase of World War II and leading to France’s surrender six weeks later. Contrary to popular belief, the French army was not weak, and fought well. In the end, their failure was one of planning and imagination. While the Maginot Line actually held until everything else collapsed — again, contrary to what many people today think — the French leadership widely assumed they could easily take the offensive in Belgium, keeping the fighting on their left out of France, and that the Ardennes were unsuitable for any kind of invasion. Neither of those things turned out to be true and what with most of the reserve the French had in Northern Belgium or the Netherlands, they were unable to counterattack; the German crossing of the Meuse in the first week doomed them.

The Cleveland Indians, while obviously finding themselves in a considerably sunnier position than being in a life-or-death struggle with an invader trying to wipe them off the map, have struggled in 2019 and are currently looking up at the Minnesota Twins by a four-game margin; their scuffling is largely the result of same failures of planning and imagination the French exhibited. The team had a viable plan for winning this season, but it involved believing in a number of very specific things being true. Now that some of those things have turned out not to be true, the team finds itself backed into a corner, with many weaknesses that can’t be easily painted over. The fight for the AL Central is very real.

Cleveland’s argument for winning the Central relied on the team’s strengths, the things that no other team in the division could match. There was a very good case to be made for the projected five-man rotation to be the best in baseball; ZiPS pegged them to go 71-41 with a 3.47 ERA in 911 innings, combining for 20.5 WAR. The other four teams in the division combined only possessed a single starting pitcher who projected at a level high enough to even make Cleveland’s rotation — Jose Berrios of the Twins. Read the rest of this entry »


The Easiest Home Run Record Chase in Baseball History

The 2019 Baltimore Orioles are not very good at baseball. This should be no shock to anyone who has watched the Orioles play baseball during the last two seasons. Finally starting into a long-overdue rebuilding phase, this is a state of affairs that will likely last for several years. If you’re going to be terrible at something, however, I’m an advocate of being the best at being terrible at that thing. The 1962 Mets, with the most losses in modern major-league history, were lousy enough to become beloved in a way the 2003 Tigers or 1935 Braves weren’t. And there’s one lousy thing the 2019 Orioles are great at: allowing home runs.

Now, every team allows home runs these days, so standing out from the pack is even harder than it usually is. The Orioles have allowed 75 home runs in just 35 games, a frightening pace; it’s always a Home Run Derby when the orange-and-black are in town. Notice I said pace, Giants fans; your staff isn’t exactly amazing at keeping the ball in the park.

Read the rest of this entry »