Author Archive

Fernando Tatis Jr. Isn’t San Diego’s Only Budding Star

Earlier this week, Jay Jaffe detailed Fernando Tatis Jr.’s ascent to superstardom. The 21-year-old shortstop is one of the most exciting players in baseball and is among the league leaders in nearly every meaningful offensive and defensive statistic. But he’s not the only player providing elite production from an up-the-middle position for the Padres. If you filter the position player WAR leaderboards to include players 23-years-old and younger, you’ll find one of Tatis’ teammates just a couple of spots behind him: Trent Grisham.

Among players 23-years-old and younger, Grisham is tied with Ronald Acuña Jr. and Juan Soto at 0.6 WAR. He doesn’t have the gaudy slash line Tatis has posted this year, but his overall offensive contribution has been 39% better than league average, just a couple points behind Acuña’s 141 wRC+. In his 51-game debut with the Brewers last year, Grisham posted a 92 wRC+. This improvement of nearly 50 points has been driven by an eight point jump in walk rate and an outburst of power.

Grisham’s plate discipline has always been a strength. While he was a Brewers prospect, he posted an excellent 15.8% walk rate, though that discerning eye didn’t always translate into low strikeout rates. Eric Longenhagen and Kiley McDaniel described his approach like this in his 2019 prospect profile:

The low batting averages he has posted have been due less to his inability to put the bat on the ball and more to an approach that is passive in excess. Grisham watches a lot of driveable pitches go by. That approach is also part of why he’s never run a season walk rate beneath 14%, and Grisham’s ability to reach base is part of why he’s still such an interesting prospect.

In 2019, it seemed like he had gotten his plate approach figured out, posting a 16.3% strikeout rate between Double-A and Triple-A. But the strikeouts returned in force after he was called up to the majors in August, jumping up to 26.2%, and his walk rate dropped to 10.9%. That elevated strikeout rate has followed him to San Diego but his walk rate has bounced back to 17.9%. Read the rest of this entry »


Jalen Beeks, Now With More Whiffs

During this shortened season, pitching depth has become a crucial separator for contending teams. With injuries taking a greater toll on pitching staffs and hurlers still ramping up after an abbreviated summer tune-up, many teams have had to scrounge to fill all those vacancies. The Tampa Bay Rays entered the season with one of the deepest pitching staffs in baseball. They led the majors in league- and park-adjusted FIP last year, using 33 different pitchers throughout the season, and the bulk of the staff returned in 2020.

That depth will be tested after a rash of injuries decimated the Rays’ rotation. Both Charlie Morton and Yonny Chirinos were placed on the Injured List this week, Andrew Kittredge left his start yesterday after facing just two batters, and Brendan McKay was shut down from throwing at the Rays alternate training site yesterday. To make matters worse both Blake Snell and Tyler Glasnow have been slow to ramp up to full strength after getting a late start to pre-season activities — Snell had lingering issues with his elbow and Glasnow tested positive for COVID-19. The current rotation depth chart for Tampa has Snell and Glasnow at the top, Ryan Yarbrough next, and a bunch of question marks after that.

Two possible candidates to step into the rotation are Trevor Richards and Jalen Beeks. Both are intriguing — Richards possesses a killer changeup but has struggled to maximize his entire repertoire. Meanwhile, Beeks has made some real improvements to his approach that gives him considerable upside if he were to join the rotation.

Beeks was acquired by the Rays from the Red Sox in mid-2018 when Boston traded him straight-up for Nathan Eovaldi. He had just made his major league debut in Boston earlier that year but struggled to make an impact during his first two seasons in the bigs. He’s posted a 4.49 FIP across more than 150 innings during 2018 and 2019. Most of those innings came as a bulk reliever used after an opener. His strikeout rate during that time was a lackluster 19.1% and his 9.3% walk rate was a bit above league average. Read the rest of this entry »


FanGraphs Prep: How Many Runs Should Have Scored?

This is the ninth in a series of baseball-themed lessons we’re calling FanGraphs Prep. In light of so many parents suddenly having their school-aged kids learning from home, we hope that these units offer a thoughtfully designed, baseball-themed supplement to the schoolwork your student might already be doing. The previous units can be found here.

Overview: A short unit centered on understanding the concept of expected runs and sequencing. In one of our earlier lessons, we learned about the relationship between runs and wins. Now, we’ll take that concept a step further and learn about expected runs and how they can tell us more about a team’s true talent.

Learning Objectives:

  • Use logic to determine all possible sequences of given events.
  • Use algebra to solve multiple equations.
  • Identify the effects of event sequencing in baseball.
  • Identify and apply the Pythagorean Expectation.
  • Explain the relationship between expected runs and wins.
  • Explain the uses of the Pythagorean Expectation using different inputs.

Target Grade-Level: 9-10

Daily Activities:

Day 1
In baseball, sequencing is the concept that the order of events on the field have an effect on run scoring results. Sometimes this concept is referred to as cluster luck because teams that cluster hits together appear more “lucky” than teams who don’t. This concept is pretty easy to demonstrate. Say a team collects three singles and one home run in a given inning. The order of those events will lead to very different outcomes. If the team hits the three singles before the home run, it will likely result in four runs. But if the home run is hit first with the three singles following, the likely result is fewer runs, perhaps as few as one. Read the rest of this entry »


Zach Plesac Is the Next Success Story in Cleveland

Cleveland’s extended run of success during the last half-decade has been primarily sparked by their ability to develop pitching talent seemingly out of nowhere. Their rotation has been filled with contributors who didn’t have any major prospect hype but turned into outstanding members of the rotation once they reached the majors. Names like Corey Kluber, Danny Salazar, Mike Clevinger, and Shane Bieber have impressed. Last year, Aaron Civale made his case to be the next no-name to join the list of graduates from Cleveland’s development program. This year, it looks like it’s Zach Plesac’s turn.

Plesac is even less known than Civale or any of the other names above. Kluber, Clevinger, and Bieber were all fourth-round draft picks and each crept into the bottom of the team’s prospect rankings as they made their way through Cleveland’s organization. Civale might have had the most draft capital of the bunch — he was a third-round pick in 2016. In that same draft, Cleveland selected Plesac in the 16th round, and he never received any mention on any team prospect rankings before making his debut.

Plesac actually made it to the majors before Civale and accumulated more innings than he did last year. But where Civale enjoyed great success right off the bat, Plesac struggled a bit in his first taste of the majors. He made 21 starts last year, compiling a very good 3.81 ERA that masked an ugly 4.94 FIP. His strikeout rate was well below league average (18.5%), he walked a few too many batters (8.4%), and he had a real problem with the long ball. The skills he showed off during a very successful minor league career suddenly eluded him in the big leagues. That first major league hurdle derails so many pitching careers, but Plesac worked hard to fine-tune his repertoire during the offseason to ensure that he would have another chance to find success. Read the rest of this entry »


Kyle Lewis Is Proving It

Take a glance at the early season position player WAR leaders and you’ll find Mike Yastrzemski leading all of MLB, making his grandfather proud. Next you’ll find José Ramirez on his quest to show that last year’s struggles were just a blip. The player with the third-highest WAR in this young campaign is Mariners center fielder Kyle Lewis, who was leading the category yesterday. After a sparkling debut last September, Lewis is proving that his hot start wasn’t a fluke.

With another two yesterday, Lewis has now collected hits in all seven games this season and has strung together five multi-hit performances in a row. All told, he’s hit .448/.500/.655 this year and owns a .320/.355/.610 line in his young career. His historic September included blasting home runs in his first three major league games, becoming just the second player in history to accomplish the feat. He would go on to hit three more through the first 10 games of his career.

But that success came with some glaring red flags. He posted a 38.7% strikeout rate last year, and it is only a touch lower so far this season. His tendency to swing and miss often only confirmed the skepticism some had about his hit tool. His swinging strike rate is a bit lower this year (from 17.7% to 15.2%), and his underlying plate discipline stats look a little better — a lower overall swing rate, particularly on pitches out of the zone — but his high strikeout rate will likely follow him throughout his career. Thriving in the majors with such a high swinging strike rate is difficult but not impossible. Bryce Harper ran a 15.3% swinging strike rate last season while posting a 125 wRC+. The difference for Lewis is that many of those whiffs are coming with two strikes, driving up his strikeout rate. Harper can survive with such a high swinging strike rate because he’s aggressive early in the count but adjusts his approach with two strikes. Read the rest of this entry »


FanGraphs Prep: Is Context King?

This is the eighth in a series of baseball-themed lessons we’re calling FanGraphs Prep. In light of so many parents suddenly having their school-aged kids learning from home, we hope that these units offer a thoughtfully designed, baseball-themed supplement to the schoolwork your student might already be doing. The previous units can be found here.

Overview: A short unit centered on understanding the difference between context-neutral stats and context-specific stats. Both tell us very different things about what happens on the field. What’s the difference between them and how do we use them?

Learning Objectives:

  • Identify and apply a run-expectancy matrix.
  • Explain the difference between context-specific and context-neutral statistics.
  • Evaluate which type of statistic to use in a given situation.

Target Grade-Level: 9-10

Daily Activities:

Day 1

At the end of 2019, Pete Alonso led all of baseball with 53 home runs. But all those home runs weren’t created equally. Thirty-one of them came with no runners on, while the remaining 22 were hit with at least one runner on base. Should those two- and three-run home runs count for more than all those solo shots? That’s the question at the center of our lesson today: Should we take the game context into account when evaluating players? Not to spoil anything, but the answer is both yes and no. Read the rest of this entry »


FanGraphs Prep: Ups, Downs, and Rolling Averages

This is the seventh in a series of baseball-themed lessons we’re calling FanGraphs Prep. In light of so many parents suddenly having their school-aged kids learning from home, we hope is that these units offer a thoughtfully designed, baseball-themed supplement to the school work your student might already be doing. The first, second, third, fourth, fifth, and sixth units can be found here, here, here, here, here, and here.

Overview: A short unit centered on calculating rolling averages. Calculating the mean, median, and mode are fundamental concepts in math. But when we’re dealing with a dataset spread out over weeks, months, or years, simply calculating the average value for the entire dataset hides the data’s peaks and valleys. For a baseball player, those are the hot and cold streaks that everyone goes through during the season.

Learning Objectives:

  • Identify and apply a rolling average.
  • Explain how changing an interval affects interpretation.
  • Consider the potential uses of a rolling average in baseball.

Target Grade-Level: 9-10

Daily Activities:
Day 1
Khris Davis famously hit .247 four seasons in a row from 2015–2018. If we take his total hits and total at-bats over those four seasons, it’s no surprise that his combined batting average is .247.

Khris Davis Batting Average, 2015–2018
Year At-bats Hits AVG
2015 392 97 0.247
2016 555 137 0.247
2017 566 140 0.247
2018 576 142 0.247
Total 2089 516 0.247

Read the rest of this entry »


FanGraphs Prep: Build Your Own Mock Draft

This is the fifth in a series of baseball-themed lessons we’re calling FanGraphs Prep. In light of so many parents suddenly having their school-aged kids learning from home, we hope is that these units offer a thoughtfully designed, baseball-themed supplement to the school work your student might already be doing. The first, second, third, and fourth units can be found here, here, here, and here.

Overview: A one-week unit centered around the MLB Draft.

The amateur draft is one of the most important events in baseball. Months and years of work go into each team’s preparation for the exercise. In this unit, you’ll squeeze all of that work into a single week as you learn about the decision-making process that goes into making a selection in the draft.

Learning Objectives:

  • Gather data from various sources to form an opinion.
  • Evaluate a dataset using a set of criteria to identify data points that fit.
  • Project potential fits based on needs and trends.
  • Adapt and adjust as new data is available.
  • Explain the reasoning behind a decision-making process.

Read the rest of this entry »


FanGraphs Prep: Wins, Runs, and Pythagoras

This is the second in a series of baseball-themed lessons we’re calling FanGraphs Prep. In light of so many parents suddenly having their school-aged kids learning from home, we hope is that these units offer a thoughtfully designed, baseball-themed supplement to the school work your student might already be doing. The first unit, on constructing a team’s Hall of Fame, can be found here.

Overview: A one-week unit centered on the Pythagorean Theorem and Pythagorean Expectation.

The Pythagorean Theorem is a fundamental principle in geometry that describes the relationship between the three sides of a right triangle. In baseball, the Pythagorean Expectation describes the relationship between runs and wins.

Learning Objectives:

  • Identify and apply the Pythagorean Theorem
  • Identify and apply the Pythagorean Expectation
  • Explain the relationship between runs and wins
  • Evaluate various example problems and apply mathematical reasoning to solve them

Target Grade-Level: 9-10

Read the rest of this entry »


FanGraphs Prep: Build Your Own Team Hall of Fame

As you may recall, a few weeks ago, we asked for your feedback on FanGraphs Prep, a new project we’re embarking on in light of many parents suddenly having their school-aged kids learning from home. We thought we might be able to use baseball as a teaching tool, and give parents a way to keep their kids engaged with their school work. Since then, we’ve spoken with a few current and former educators to get our bearing and try to design units that are useful to parents and students. For instance, Jake, the author of today’s unit, has a Masters in Teaching with a certification in Secondary (Middle & High School) Social Studies. He taught in Washington public schools from 2010 to 2012, and also worked for a local non-profit serving at-risk youth from 2010 to 2014, where he developed curriculum and a behavior management system.

This is our first effort in the series, and before we get to our lesson, we thought we should lay out what FanGraphs Prep is, and what it is not. These are not meant to be a substitute for your student’s existing curriculum. Curriculum design is not our primary occupation, and if the last few weeks have reinforced anything, it’s just how much skill and expertise it takes to guide students’ learning and design educationally enriching materials for them. What we hope is that these lessons offer a thoughtfully designed, baseball-themed supplement to the work your student might already be doing. We’ll endeavor to provide clear learning objectives, as well as activities or problems for each unit, and offer some pointers for how to tailor the lessons for students who might not fall into each unit’s target grade level. And we want to hear from you on what works and what doesn’t. This week’s lesson skews more heavily toward the writing side of things, but others will tackle math subjects more directly. They’ll be pitched to a variety of grade levels. We welcome your feedback on what other subjects would be useful to you. Thank you for reading the site. Now, on to this week’s lesson! – Meg Rowley

Build Your Own Team Hall of Fame

Overview: A two-week unit centered around the Hall of Fame.

You’ve just been appointed the director of your favorite team’s Hall of Fame. Your first task is to evaluate a single player for possible election to the Hall. Then, you’ll build a new set of criteria for election and determine which players are eligible. Read the rest of this entry »