Author Archive

MLB’s Possible Three Division Monte

With so much uncertainty surrounding the “when” and “if” of a 2020 MLB season, it’s not surprising to see a constant progression of new plans. What it comes down to is that there’s no obvious one-size-fits-all solution that maximizes player and staff safety, baseball quality, the number of baseball games, and league revenue simultaneously. It’s only in such an odd year that things like playing in spring training parks, Arizona/Florida leagues, neutral playoffs, fanless games, and Thanksgiving baseball actually seem plausible rather than falling in the category of whimsical skylarkings.

While states re-opening for business seems like a dubious decision, often running counter to the advice of public health experts, it appears inevitable that many jurisdictions will resume much of their pre-COVID-19 economic activity, though with additional precautions and wariness of others. We’re far from being able to expect normal game conditions, with fans and hot dog vendors, but increasingly, there’s a push to play a large percentage, if not all of the season, in teams’ home parks.

With travel likely to be both more difficult and more perilous, CBS Sports’ RJ Anderson reported a proposal for a three-division alignment for the 2020 season. This would likely involve teams at least starting in just a few stadiums before an eventual move to their home cities depending on the course of the virus. Read the rest of this entry »


ZiPS Time Warp: Joe Mauer

If we didn’t know it was real, Joe Mauer’s career with the Minnesota Twins might strike us as being more like a fairy tale than an actual story. That is, until August 19, 2013. That was when Mets first baseman Ike Davis hit a foul tip that hit Mauer square in his helmet.

The moribund Twins, coming off a 69-93 season, had the first overall draft pick in 2001 for the second time in franchise history. The first time the Twins had the No. 1 pick, they drafted Tim Belcher, who didn’t sign when the team wouldn’t pay the going rate for a top selection. Minnesota also failed to sign their second round pick, Bill Swift; none of the players they actually did sign ever played a game in the majors. Read the rest of this entry »


2020 ZiPS Projected Standings: Korean Baseball Organization

2020 hasn’t quite gone as planned for anyone or anything, including baseball, but US audiences got to taste an amuse-bouche with the start of the season for the KBO (Korea Baseball Organization). Naturally, 2020’s gonna 2020 — the NC Dinos and the Samsung Lions dealt with a rain delay early, while the Kia Tigers and Kiwoom Heroes had to wait through a fire delay. But in the end, we had five real, live baseball games go off successfully.

I’ve spent the last four days cloistered within my quarantine, running ZiPS projections for KBO players and their teams. While ZiPS has always been able to project the MLB performance of players who come over from South Korea, I’ve rarely used the feature that allows me to run KBO-specific projections. But with KBO one of the only games in town (let’s not forget the CPBL!), this was a good time to whip out something new.

Many of the typical caveats that apply to projections for MLB players apply to KBO projections. There are also a few additional issues, like the lack of some advanced data and the dude running the projections having less familiarity with team construction. Without advanced data, ZiPS defaults to a simpler model, with results it has less confidence in. I’m still not happy with anything defense-related on an individual level — the team level is easier — so no wins above replacement will be present here.

And having less familiarity with team construction means it’s harder for me to construct depth charts to run simulations, an important aspect of projecting team results. The wonderful MyKBO, run by Dan Kurtz, is an absolutely indispensable site. (My colleague Jay Jaffe has a two-part, in-depth interview with Kurtz you should be sure to read.)

The league’s own site also provides a lot of information, as do the Google gremlins. But even with these sources, it’s not as easy for me to understand the contours of, say, a third base position battle on the Kia Tigers the same way I would on the Detroit Tigers. Read the rest of this entry »


COVID-19 Roundup: The Furloughs Start

This is the latest installment of a series in which the FanGraphs staff rounds up the latest developments regarding the COVID-19 virus’ effect on baseball.

Tampa Bay Rays to Furlough Employees

In order to save money, the Tampa Bay Rays have reportedly furloughed some of their full-time employees; the furloughs will take effect on Saturday. The furloughs will involve less than half of their staff, with other employees in baseball operations receiving pay cuts. Teams have unsurprisingly been happier to trumpet the employees they’ve kept on than the cuts they’ve made, such as the already reported news of the Pirates halting 401k contributions for baseball operations staff or the Mets cutting front office salaries after June 1, even if a partial season is played.

The Rays are the first team known to have furloughed employees, but they’re unlikely to be the last; the A’s have reportedly discussed what Ken Rosenthal and Alex Coffey described as “extensive layoffs.” Read the rest of this entry »


How Shortened Seasons Affect Future Projections

Unusual situations create interesting problems for analysts to solve. While it’s still not clear just what the 2020 season will look like — if indeed there is a 2020 season — the one thing that’s guaranteed is that baseball this year will probably look very different than any season in living memory. (Incidentally, I won’t say all-time: 19th century baseball saw a team disband during warmups because no one was in attendance and some of the home squad left with the visiting team.)

Interesting challenges are usually fun to tackle, though admittedly I much prefer those that don’t involve a lack of baseball. The general belief around the game is that we will get some baseball this year, making the challenge of the moment figuring out what a shortened season will mean for the projections; regardless of what form this season takes, come 2021, I’ll have to churn out ZiPS projections, which should prove to be a trickier-than-typical offseason task.

The natural hypothesis is that in the short-term, the projections will be worse than usual, due to greater uncertainty and simply fewer games played by the players in question. If the season opens in late June or early July, it’s likely that teams will play somewhere in the neighborhood of 100 games. The good news is that while we haven’t had a lost season, we have two strike-shortened seasons, in 1981 and 1994, that can help guide us. They’re not 100% comparable — 1981’s strike was in the middle of the season and 1995 was slightly shorter as well — but they’re the main historical comps we have to look at.

ZiPS projections didn’t exist during these seasons, as I was in high school in 1994 and was just figuring out how to use a toilet in 1981. So to get an idea, I ran some very simplified projections, using only the basic data and simple aging, a stripped-down projection that’s similar to Tom Tango’s Marcel the Monkey forecasting system. Read the rest of this entry »


Dan Szymborski FanGraphs Chat – 4/30/20

12:01
Avatar Dan Szymborski: And here we go!

12:01
Dan: Is there a way to enter our own stats and see what is projected? Is recently found my little league stats and was curios what the system would say if a prospect had 22 K/9 0 BB/9 one year 6 K/9 4 BB/9 the next.

12:01
Avatar Dan Szymborski: Heh, no little league stats in ZiPS

12:01
BASEBALL SZN: I know you are/were a big HearthStone fan.  Have you tried Gwent?  I made the switch recently and am hooked real, real hard.

12:02
Avatar Dan Szymborski: I have, though I do tend to play HS the most.

12:02
Sweet Spot: At this rate, what would your ideal season look like in terms of games played, location, playoffs, etc?

Read the rest of this entry »


Putting KBO Players in an MLB Context

One of the world’s strongest professional baseball leagues, the KBO (Korean Baseball Organization) starts their 2020 on May 5, bringing us high-level baseball in a world that’s currently experiencing a shortage. If you haven’t watched a KBO game, it’s a different atmosphere than MLB, one I would love to see MLB take a few cues from. The fans are loud, the bat flips are fierce, and players have customized theme songs.

And thankfully, it’s looking like American fans will get to see more of it. The KBO and ESPN are apparently close to a broadcast deal to televise KBO games on this side of the Pacific. (A deal had previously been reported as close, but fell through when ESPN wanted to give KBO no money up-front.)

For fans, there are a lot of new names to know. But even without indepth knowledge of the KBO, some will be vaguely familiar already, as Korea is one of the frequent landing spots for Triple-A journeymen to get a real opportunity to play highly competitive baseball at considerably more enticing salaries. To acclimate ourselves to what the talent levels are like in KBO, I fired up the ZiPS supercomputer to get the 2019 MLB translations for KBO players. After all, many fans understand baseball relative to MLB. That’s not to suggest that the KBO shouldn’t be enjoyed on its own terms; many of its difference from MLB are what make it so engaging. Next week we’ll have ZiPS projected standings and player projections put in a KBO-context for the league’s Opening Day. Read the rest of this entry »


COVID-19 Roundup: Lay Off the Bleach!

This is the latest installment of a series in which the FanGraphs staff rounds up the latest developments regarding the COVID-19 virus’ effect on baseball.

Preliminary results from a recent study of antibody tests among New York City residents revealed that 13.9% of tested people came back positive for COVID-19 antibodies. That’s good news in a couple of ways. It’s another test that suggests that, at least preliminarily, the actual fatality rate may be lower than the observed case fatality rate (CFR). This happened with H1N1 in 2009, which also saw the estimated fatality rate, post-outbreak, come far below the observed CFR.

It also suggests the health care system might be able to continue to treat patients, if not in ideal fashion, at least avoiding the worst of experiences of countries like Italy, though reports of the experiences of front-line health care workers across the US, and particularly in places like New York City, serve as a grim a reminder of why it is so important to stay home.

What it means for the return of activities like organized baseball, however, remains to be seen, as such a return is obviously far more dependent on widely available tests for current infection and a decline in fatalities and hospital resource usage in states like Arizona and Florida.

And please, do not inject yourself with bleach or Lysol, whatever the president says!

MLB The Show is MLB The Show

Perhaps one of the only businesses thriving right now, at least of those that don’t make toilet paper, is Sony Interactive Entertainment San Diego, the developers of MLB The Show 20 for the PlayStation 4. Without much real baseball, you’ve seen a lot more exposure for the game than I can ever remember. We now have major league players streaming games against each other live, with ESPN and other networks set to broadcast select games from the MLB The Show Players League. The first broadcast was last night, with the next one coming Sunday night.

Korean Baseball Organization, ESPN at an Impasse

One of the bits of news that excited me last week was the prospect of seeing more KBO games broadcast live in the United States. If you haven’t watched one of their broadcasts before, the energy and excitement the crowds bring is quite refreshing, even if you do not speak the language (I don’t). What comes across is a league in which fun appears to be the priority, a sometimes sharp contrast with what is often an over-serious sport here. Theme songs, chants, bat flips — anything goes!

So it was disappointing to hear that there were hiccups in ESPN’s attempts to broadcast KBO games in the United States to help fill the programming void. Unfortunately, the catch appears to be that ESPN wanted the rights to the games for free. KBO baseball is established in South Korea and while a whole new audience is tempting, it’s a business and a league that is far beyond the point of needing to “work for exposure.”

COVID-19 Outbreak in Venezuela

While individual major league players have largely been spared from the effects of COVID-19 (though not always their family members), not everyone in baseball has been so fortunate. In Nueva Esparta, a small state consisting of three islands off the northern coast of Venezuela, there have been 93 reported cases of COVID-19, 83 of which are connected to the Roberto Vahlis academy. This makes up nearly a third of Venezuela’s reported coronavirus cases. The Phillies signed an outfielder, Yhoswar Garcia, out of the academy just last month.

More Teams Extend Benefits

In Wednesday’s COVID-19 roundup from my colleague Tony Wolfe, there was a handy-dandy reference chart of which teams have extended non-player employee salaries and for how long. Since Wednesday, the Texas Rangers have reiterated that there would be no layoffs or furloughs until at least the end of May. The Mets are at least formulating a plan for June and beyond, past their previous May 31 commitment. And the Pirates extending their employment guarantee to May 31 also just missed our publication time.

NHL Moves Closer to Reboot

There’s safety in numbers (well, maybe not), and MLB now has more company when it comes to leagues trying to find creative ways to continue their suspended seasons. The NHL is exploring their own version of baseball’s Arizona/Florida solution. The NHL initially tried exploring a neutral site plan, but found the logistics too difficult to overcome, so the current plan under consideration involves a number of regional “hubs” at which teams would play.

How Taiwan Restarted Baseball

This isn’t really new news in itself, but there was a highly detailed piece describing the steps that Taiwan needed to take in order to make starting the season practical. It’s going to take a lot more to get baseball going than just confining players to hotels. Hygiene will be especially important, and could present a challenge for a sport known for so much spitting and licking of hands.


Here’s What I’d Like to See in the Coming CBA Fight

When you see the “we said, they said” press release exchanges in the media between MLB and the MLBPA concerning salaries in a fanless baseball world, it serves as a reminder that baseball’s biggest fight is actually the one on the horizon. By comparison, that fight might make the COVID-19 policy squabbling look like a nursery school shoving match.

Baseball’s current collective bargaining agreement expires after the 2021 season, and long before the novel coronavirus altered the 2020 baseball landscape, players had real grievances they wished to see resolved in the next labor agreement. After two tepid winters of free agency — it did thaw a bit this last winter — and teams treating luxury tax thresholds as soft salary caps, players have expressed varying degrees of unhappiness with baseball’s current economics. Service time shenanigans like the Cubs swearing that Kris Bryant’s services were needed exactly one the day after a call-up would have otherwise resulted in free agency following the 2021 season are not conducive to good-faith negotiations between equal parties.

The players are no doubt going into these talks with a wish list of things they want. Some they’ll get, others they won’t. But the negotiation on both sides will be hard-fought; dealings between owners and players usually only go smoothly when the subject is taking away money from people with no voice at the table.

If I were the evil dictator of the MLBPA — I made myself the evil dictator of MLB last week when mixing up some new divisions — here are what my priorities would be for the next CBA. (I’ll let someone else answer the question of why I always label myself an evil dictator.) Read the rest of this entry »


Dan Szymborski FanGraphs Chat – 4/23/20

12:02
Avatar Dan Szymborski: And we are LIVE from pandemic house arrest!

12:03
Takeshi Kovacs: C.J. Abrams is obviously a long way off. But how impressed is ZIPS by his first showing in pro ball?

12:04
Avatar Dan Szymborski: Very much show, for a projection system to put him 30th in the prospect ranking based on rookie ball, is impressive.

12:05
Big Joey: In your opinion, what does Wander Franco’s ceiling look like? .330 35 20? I know he’s not a power hitter now, but I imagine he will grow into it. I’ve heard discussions about him turning into something like prime Robinson Cano but with with more speed and potentially slightly better contact skills

12:06
Avatar Dan Szymborski: A bit aggressive with BA — nobody’s real ability ever spikes that high today — but ZiPS (and I and all the scouts) think that’ll come

12:06
Avatar Dan Szymborski: He had like 40 XBH total as an 18 year old and playing above rookie ball

Read the rest of this entry »