Author Archive

An Emergency Hackathon: Multiple Swings at Analyzing Two-Strike Approach

Joey Gallo
Gregory Fisher-USA TODAY Sports

Growing up a Yankees fan, I quickly became familiar with many Michael Kay-isms. Every home game starts with a “let’s do it here in the Bronx,” every home run elicits a “see ya!” and every caught stealing followed by a home run prompts a lecture on the fallacy of the predetermined outcome. Some of these sayings are worthy of further examination. For example, Kay’s favorite “fallacy” — assuming that the runner who was caught stealing would have scored had he not failed to swipe a bag — warrants a second look, but there’s another one that I’ve always been especially intrigued by, one more ripe for analysis.

When a hitter expands the zone on two strikes, waving in the wind to try to extend the at bat with a foul, Kay describes their swing as an “emergency” or “defensive hack.” There’s no doubt that hitters chase more with two strikes: in 2021, they pulled the trigger on 39.0% of two-strike balls but only 22.0% of other wild ones. In 2022, those numbers were 40.3% and 23.5%, respectively. But given the ever-present nature of strikeouts in today’s game, I’ve wondered if some players have lost any semblance of two-strike panic, not minding the K and not bothering to try to fight off pitches. On the other hand, maybe the increase in strikeouts indicates a further expansion of the zone in tandem with less contact in this era rife with three true outcomes types (see Gallo, Joey). Read the rest of this entry »

Is All Fair in Love and WAR?: The Importance of Hard-Hit Foul Balls

Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Apart from “outside,” the most frequent word to follow “just a bit” in the baseball lexicon is probably “foul.” How many times has your favorite hitter sliced one down the line, only for the first or third base umpire to frantically wave their hands and scream the dreaded four-letter f-word? (I mean “foul” — get your head out of the gutter.) Here’s a Kyle Schwarber example from the World Series:

The Phillies were inches away from avoiding just the second no-hitter in World Series history. Instead, Schwarber was punched out two pitches later. Unfortunately for Schwarber, this situation was all too familiar. Among the 419 hitters with at least 100 fouls in the 2022 regular season, he ranked fifth in foul barrel rate, coming in at 4.6%. That meant 18 total foul barrels; he would go on to strike out after seven of those. Read the rest of this entry »

Swing-Mirroring 2, Eclectic Boogaloo

Yordan Alvarez
Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

In my last article on swing-mirroring, I detailed how, on average, one hitter’s result impacts the first-pitch swing decisions of the next hitter. I was inspired by Asch Conformity, or social influence, something I’ve experienced in my own life whenever I’ve been the last among family and friends to tune into a TV show or movie series. Usually, I cave and watch because I either want to be able to join cultural conversations and/or I convince myself that if everyone else likes a piece of media, so will I. These reasons typify the two general types of social influence: Normative, or when you are enticed to conform for the sake of fitting in; and informational, or when you conform because you think doing so is the right course of action (i.e., maybe I’ll actually enjoy the TV show).

Going back to baseball, each offensive result didn’t fall neatly into either category of social influence (nothing in life truly does). Additionally, for some results like double plays, other psychological factors such as reference dependence played a part. So I instead went very general and ended up categorizing outcomes based on whether they tended to increase, decrease, or have no consistent impact on the subsequent hitters’ first-pitch swing rate (FPS%).

This process served as a lesson in how difficult it can be to disentangle individual psychological drivers of behavior from the broader workings of the environment and the mind, especially when using observational data. But at the same time, I also noticed that the general trends varied based on the first-pitch swinger in question. This opened up another avenue to explore: Examining the patterns of individual differences in swing-mirroring could get me closer to isolating the effect of social influence. Read the rest of this entry »

Dodgers Seemingly Scrap Spending Plans, Acquire Miguel Rojas

Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports

Over the past decade, some storied names have manned shortstop for the Dodgers: Hanley Ramirez, Corey Seager, Trea Turner, heck, even an aging Jimmy Rollins was captain of the infield in LA in 2015 (though that move was ill-conceived). And now, after two years of historic free agent shortstop classes that saw the departures of both Seager and Turner, the big-money Dodgers will be adding to that list… Miguel Rojas?

At first glance, this is surprising. But by some measures, it makes sense: The Dodgers spread their money around and are less top-heavy than their wealthy counterparts. Even as they head into 2023 with an estimated $41 million less on the books than in ’22, the Dodgers will still be doling out $20 million or more to three players (four if you include Trevor Bauer). However, compared to the five other members of the $200 million payroll club, this mark is either tied for the lowest or at least below average depending on if we count Bauer: The Yankees are handing $20 million to six players, the Padres and Phillies five, and the Mets four. While the Angels only have three such players in that category, all are taking home at least $30 million and no Dodger is. In fact, of the $200 million club, the Dodgers and Phillies are the only teams without a $30 million payout for 2023.

So, it stands to reason that of these teams, the Dodgers might be best equipped to reset their hefty consecutive-years luxury tax penalty this offseason. Yet here’s where the Rojas trade doesn’t make sense all over again: adding him seems to put the Dodgers over the first luxury tax threshold. Read the rest of this entry »

Mariners Make Moves, Inking Pollock for Platoon and Propping up ‘Pen

Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

On Saturday, the Mariners were active. Most notably, they inked outfielder AJ Pollock to a one-year, $7 million contract, their largest guarantee of the offseason. Additionally, they swung their second trade with the Brewers this winter, acquiring reliever Justin Topa for fellow right-hander Joseph Hernandez.

While the M’s have been busy all offseason, highlighted by three significant trades prior to this one, no one move stands out as the “splash” fans may have been hoping for in order to build on the team’s drought-ending 2022 playoff run. Still, the club has added an estimated $23 million in payroll from a variety of sources, seeking to retool an already solid roster across multiple areas. Lately, left field and the bullpen have stood out as the largest holes, and Saturday’s two transactions move the Mariners closer to filling them.

Let’s start with left field and AJ Pollock. Last year, Mariners’ outfielders put up a 111 wRC+, which tied for fifth-best. But their overall performance was dragged down by a middling five Outs Above Average (OAA) mark, which placed them 11th in the majors. This winter, the M’s parted with Jesse Winker, their incumbent left fielder whose -10 OAA mark stood out as the sixth worst among all major league outfielders. Dealing him to the Brewers for Kolten Wong, Seattle also managed to shore up a second base need in the process — collectively, the M’s put up the majors’ third-worst WAR mark at the keystone last year — and the money just about evened out with the Brew Crew’s help. Read the rest of this entry »

Swing-Mirroring: Chronicling Contact Conformity

Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

If you’re anything like me, you care what your friends think of you. I’m not talking about the middle school I’ll-do-whatever-they-do kind of caring; I like to think I’ve outgrown that. But I certainly still want to fit in. I think these feelings are fairly universal among adults, whether the in-group in question is composed of friends, co-workers, or just a collection of peers with whom you happen to share something.

My credence stems from a classical psychological study conducted by Solomon Asch, which spawned an entire category of literature under the “conformity” umbrella. The word has a negative connotation, but as long as it isn’t taken to extremes, conformity is a natural and adaptable human behavior. It’s likely even seen in baseball players (and not just in how they wear the same outfit to all of their games).

In Asch’s study, a subject was placed among a group of confederates, or research assistants posing as subjects themselves. The group was shown a series of “target” lines, each alongside another group of lines, and instructed to find the line in the group most similar to the target. There was always an obvious answer, and the confederates were instructed to never choose it. The majority of subjects agreed with the confederates at least once. Read the rest of this entry »

Reds Awaken with Trio of Pre-Christmas Transactions

Wil Myers
Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

On Thursday, the Reds broke the silence hanging over their quiet offseason with three notable moves. The club inked both former Rookie of the Year Wil Myers and veteran backstop Curt Casali to one-year deals with mutual options. The former is guaranteed $7.5 million; the latter will take home at least $3.25 million. To make room for Casali, the Reds DFA’d Mike Moustakas, who was heading into the last season of a four-year, $64 million contract he signed prior to 2020.

After blowing it up when their previous rebuild resulted in merely a Wild Card contender, Cincinnati’s current reconstruction period is entering just its second season; at best, the team has an outside shot at the playoffs. That said, these moves don’t strike me as pure roster-filler or eye-toward-July transactions. Instead, they make real sense as supplements to a young team, potentially aiding in the development of up-and-comers in concrete ways. Read the rest of this entry »

A’s Add Trevor May With Eye Toward July

Trevor May
Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

Last Friday, the Athletics signed right-handed reliever Trevor May to a one-year, $7 million deal. He joins Aledmys Díaz and Jace Peterson as short-term veteran signings for the rebuilding A’s, but while Díaz is coming off of a fairly typical season for him and Peterson is coming off of his best, May will be looking to rebound after a poor 2022 showing.

Given that the A’s still have a ways to go before entering competitive territory again, one of the motivations behind these signings, besides obtaining more mentors for the up-and-comers, is likely to provide trade deadline fodder. Díaz and Peterson will most likely draw some interest if they retain their current levels of performance; the former has been around a 100 wRC+ for quite some time now, and the latter has had a few decent years at the dish and could increase his value further by cementing his gains with the glove. Either way, the floor is relatively high for these utilitymen, but their range of outcomes is narrow. May, however, has the potential to be either a non-factor or quite valuable come July. Read the rest of this entry »

Syndergaard Signing Bolsters Dodgers’ Rotation, Hurler’s Own Hopes for Rebound

© Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

Despite trailing only the Mets in payroll last season, the Dodgers inked just their second eight-figure contract of the offseason Wednesday night. Noah Syndergaard and his one-year, $13 million pact will join the returning Clayton Kershaw (on a one-year, $20 million deal) in shoring up a rotation that has said goodbye to breakouts Tyler Anderson and Andrew Heaney.

Enduring the losses of Anderson and Heaney means the Dodgers will have to rely more heavily on a number of pitchers with health concerns. Julio Urías, whose 2.16 ERA came out just above Tony Gonsolin’s 2.14 mark, is the only Dodgers starter to have thrown at least 175 innings in each of the past two years; Urías was himself a non-factor for two years after having anterior capsule surgery on his left shoulder in 2017. As for Gonsolin, owner of the rotation’s lowest 2022 ERA, he suffered a forearm strain in late August; he would go on to pitch just 3.1 innings the rest of the year, including the playoffs. Relegated to mid-rotation duty now, Kershaw hasn’t appeared in 30 games since 2015 and in the past two seasons hasn’t topped 22. Dustin May, Tommy John returnee, was only in the rotation for six turns this summer before landing on the shelf again, this time with a back issue. And now the player formerly known as Thor will round things out. Read the rest of this entry »

Díaz Signing Provides Minimal Relief for A’s Fans

© Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports

In the wake of a frenzied week at the Winter Meetings that saw teams ink five different players — Xander Bogaerts, Aaron Judge, Trea Turner, Justin Verlander, and Jacob deGrom — to contracts through their age-39 seasons, The Athletic’s Jayson Stark declared that it was “just like ‘old’ times.” All of these cornerstone stars will also receive at least $25 million annually through the duration of their deals. Meanwhile, last year, only the short-term pacts for Max Scherzer and Verlander fit both of these criteria; in the 2021 and ’20 offseasons, no contracts did. All of this while one big domino, Carlos Correa, has yet to fall.

This offseason’s free agent class is a special one, following multiple remarkable feats including Judge’s historic home run total and deGrom and Verlander’s dominant returns from serious arm injuries. But the sheer amount of money and years included in the contracts doled out thus far is also due, at least in part, to the open minds (and wallets) of team owners.

And just like the “old” times, the Steinbrennerian behavior of the Mets’ Steven Cohen and the Padres’ Peter Seidler, who both took over their respective teams heading into the 2021 offseason, has left other teams with smaller markets and/or more miserly owners in the dust. Only this time, the Oakland Athletics haven’t unearthed anything akin to their early-2000s Moneyball tactics, which by now have been adopted by all of the big market teams, in order to close the gap. Unless there’s something about Jace Peterson and Aledmys Díaz we don’t know, that is. Read the rest of this entry »