Author Archive

The Angels’ Rotation Woes Have a Lot to Do With Their Defense

In Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani, the Angels have two of the game’s most eminently watchable players. Thanks to the latter’s return to the mound in some semblance of full health, the team began the season with a reasonable amount of optimism for breaking its streak of six straight seasons outside the playoffs and five with a sub-.500 record, centered around the promise of an improved rotation. On the eve of Opening Day, their 39.5% Playoff Odds were as high as they’ve been at that point since at least 2016. Yet they’re off to just a 14-15 start, and that rotation, which was lit for a 5.52 ERA last season and a 5.64 ERA in 2019, owns an AL-worst 5.33 mark. Ohtani’s starts aside, they’re not exactly must-see TV.

With the return of Ohtani after a season in which he was limited to two nasty, brutish and short appearances due to a flexor strain, the Angels opted to go with a six-man rotation to as not to overtax any of their starters as they ramped up to 162 games from last year’s 60. Joining Ohtani were holdovers Dylan Bundy, Griffin Canning, and Andrew Heaney, a trio that by and large pitched well for the team in 2020, making either 11 or 12 starts and finishing under 100 in ERA- and FIP- across the board save for Heaney’s 101 ERA-.

Joining the bunch were free agent Jose Quintana and trade acquisition Alex Cobb, who at the very least looked like upgrades on Julio Teheran and Patrick Sandoval, both of whom were dreadful last year. Quintana was limited to 10 innings in his final year with the Cubs due to thumb and lat injuries but from 2013-19 was a reliable workhorse who averaged 193 innings and 3.8 WAR. Cobb needed to get out of Baltimore in the worst way after yielding 1.86 homers per nine at Camden Yards during his three-season stay. Read the rest of this entry »

The Mets Make a Mess of Their Offensive Struggles

With a revamped lineup, rotation, and front office, the Mets were supposed to rank among the NL’s top teams, ideally while offering at least somewhat less dysfunction than during the Wilpon family’s tenure as owners. Given an offense that has wheezed its way to an NL-low 3.30 runs per game as the team has stumbled to an 11-12 start, however, the Mets’ brass decided to shake things up by firing hitting coaches Chili Davis and Tom Slater after Monday night’s 6-5 loss to the Cardinals. The pair have been replaced by Hugh Quattlebaum, previously the Mets’ minor league director of hitting development, and Kevin Howard, their director of player development. You may be shocked to learn that this move did not come off smoothly.

It’s not the fault of Davis, who was in his third season as the Mets’ hitting coach, or Slater, in his fourth season as the assistant hitting coach, that key newcomers Francisco Lindor and James McCann and holdovers such as Dominic Smith and Jeff McNeil have all underperformed on the offensive side. The latter duo had previously thrived under Davis and Slater, and currently Pete Alonso and Brandon Nimmo are knocking the stuffing out of the ball. Scapegoating coaches is a time-honored tradition by struggling teams, however. If you can’t fire the players…

The timing of the dismissals was curious, to say the least. The Mets had scored 18 runs over their previous three games, two of them wild weekend wins over the Phillies, snapping out of a skid during which they had scored just seven runs over their previous five games against the Nationals and Red Sox. Read the rest of this entry »

Dustin May’s Breakthrough Cut Short by Tommy John Surgery

Through the first four starts of his season, Dustin May looked as though he’d put it all together. The hard-throwing, high-kicking ginger mop top was getting the strikeouts to match his elite stuff, and putting together a performance that fit right in with the rest of the Dodgers’ top-notch rotation. Unfortunately, it’s going to be a long while before May gets to build upon his strong showing. After leaving Saturday’s start against the Brewers in obvious pain, he’ll undergo Tommy John surgery on May 11 and miss the remainder of the season, an injury that comes at a time when the Dodgers’ vaunted depth has already taken significant hits on both sides of the ball.

In the second inning of Saturday’s game, May threw a 2-2 pitch to Billy McKinney that was a couple of feet outside. The 23-year-old righty winced, signaled for the trainer, and then departed, with manager Dave Roberts describing him reporting “a shooting sensation” in his right elbow. An MRI revealed the UCL damage, and he’ll go under the knife of Dr. Neal ElAttrache next week.

As Jake Mailhot documented less than two weeks ago, by mixing his curve and 98-99 mph four-seam fastball into what was predominantly a sinker/cutter mix, May was missing far more bats this year than before with his light-up-the-radar-gun stuff. Updating the stats, where he had struck out 20.8% of batters in his 80.2 innings in 2019-20, he’d nearly doubled that to 37.6% in 23 innings this year — the NL’s fourth-highest rate among pitchers with at least 20 innings behind Jacob deGrom, Corbin Burnes, and Freddy Peralta. Meanwhile, May’s 31.2% strikeout-to-walk differential ranked third behind only Burnes and deGrom. Of the Dodgers’ other starters, only Clayton Kershaw has outdone both his 2.74 ERA and 3.24 FIP, while only Trevor Bauer has the better ERA, and Julio Urías and Walker Buehler the better FIPs. All told, he was hangin’ with the big boys and fitting right in. Read the rest of this entry »

A Healthier Version of Buster Posey is Swinging a Hot Bat

In a division that projected to include the league’s two strongest teams, improbably enough it’s the Giants (17–11) and not the Dodgers (17–12) or Padres (16–13) who sit atop the NL West as the calendar flips to May. It’s a welcome development for a team that’s finished below .500 in each of the past four seasons, and while our Playoff Odds still show them with just a 16.9% chance of holding onto a postseason spot, surprise contenders are certainly welcome. Generally speaking, it’s been the Giants’ run prevention that’s gotten them to first place, as the team has yielded an NL-low 3.21 runs per game but scored a middling 4.11 runs per game. What’s encouraging is that on the offensive side, the hitter who’s led the charge has been Buster Posey.

Perhaps you’ve heard of him? You might be forgiven if not. I kid, but it’s been awhile since the 34-year-old, six-time All-Star backstop was front and center. As a former MVP and three-time World Series winner, Posey was perhaps the highest-profile player to opt out last year amid the coronavirus pandemic, with his family’s new pair of prematurely-born adopted twins weighing heavily into his decision. Currently hitting .359/.423/.688 with six homers and a 199 wRC+ in 71 plate appearances, he has been by far the most productive of the opt-out returnees over the season’s first month (I set up a couple of custom pages to track their performances in case anyone is interested). That’s a particularly welcome rebound for a player who, in the two previous seasons before his absence, played just 219 games due to a variety of injuries including a torn right hip labrum that required season-ending surgery in 2018 and a concussion (his second in three years) and a hamstring strain in ’19.

Those injuries, particularly the hip one, sapped Posey’s power to a great degree, as his lower half wasn’t much help in his swing. He went homerless in his final 45 games before the surgery in 2018, the second-longest single-season drought of his career, and that dry spell continued for another 19 games once he returned in ’19. He homered just 12 times in 893 plate appearances across those two seasons, slugging .375. Some of that was owed to playing at Oracle Park (formerly AT&T Park), where the park home run factor for right-handed batters for both of those seasons was 90, the majors’ second-lowest, but Posey wasn’t hitting the ball very hard very often. This year is a different story.

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Jay Jaffe FanGraphs Chat – 4/30/21

Avatar Jay Jaffe: Good afternoon, folks, and welcome to another edition of my Friday chat! Later today I’ll head up to Yankee Stadium for my first game of the year — my first since last September 16, when Kyle Higashioka hit three home runs in a game I covered (though my attentions were elsewhere when it came to subjects) and my first as a fan since September 19, 2019.

Avatar Jay Jaffe: Speaking of Higashioka, I wrote about him, Gary Sánchez, and the Yankees’ not-so-sudden catching controversy yesterday….

Avatar Jay Jaffe: I wrote about position player pitching weirdness today… and also had a spot on the FanGraphs Audio podcast talking to Dan Szymborski about the Pioneer League’s experimental rules… which I wrote about here…

Avatar Jay Jaffe: And that’s enough housekeeping for now

Estevão: Mookie Betts is the fifth best hitter on the Dodgers? Thoughts

Avatar Jay Jaffe: Betts has been a bit banged up; he missed a couple days due to lower back stiffness and then got drilled on the right forearm. I don’t think there’s much to worry about here; his 121 wRC+ is still solid, and the Dodgers do have a bunch of good hitters, though their recent slide suggests they’re missing Cody Bellinger more than before, and their depth has taken a few other hits.

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Position Players Are Suddenly — and Probably Fleetingly — Decent at Pitching

The moment was certainly worth a chuckle. In the seventh inning of a 10-0 drubbing by the Braves on Wednesday night, Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo took the mound. After retiring Johan Camargo on a grounder to first and then walking Ronald Acuña Jr., the NL leader in wRC+, the lefty-tossing Rizzo faced off against lefty-swinging Freddie Freeman, the reigning MVP — and struck him out.

Neither combatant could keep a straight face as Rizzo fell behind 2-0 via a slow curveball that was about two feet outside, and then a 70-mph fastball that missed the outside corner. Freeman laid off another 70-mph fastball that was in the zone, fouled one off that was a few clicks faster, and then went down swinging at a sweeping 61-mph curve that was low in the zone.

“I couldn’t stop laughing as I was going up to the plate,” Freeman told reporters afterwards. “It’s a recipe for disaster.”

“He’ll have that over me forever. But that’s one strikeout I’m OK with. That was fun. It was fun to be a part of.”

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Amid Yankees’ Funk, Kyle Higashioka Catches and Surpasses Gary Sánchez

It would be inaccurate to say that the Yankees suddenly have a catching controversy, but only because the situation has been building for years, and already came to something of a head last fall. While Gary Sánchez burst onto the scene a few years ago as one of the game’s top backstops, he has struggled mightily in three years out of the past four, to the point that he started just two of the team’s seven postseason games last October and was nearly non-tendered last December. Amid his latest slump and the team’s ongoing funk, Yankees manager Aaron Boone said on Tuesday that going forward, Sánchez and longtime understudy Kyle Higashioka will share the starting job.

“Kind of we’ll just go day by day,” Boone told reporters. “They’re obviously both going to play a lot. But it will be a day by day thing that I’ll try to communicate as best I can.”

“[Higashioka has] just earned more playing time. Simple as that… His improvements the last couple of years on both sides of the ball have been strong. I think the way he’s played here on the onset of the season has earned him some more opportunities.”

The move has as much to do with ascendance of the 31-year-old Higashioka — a seventh-round 2008 pick who’s spent parts of five seasons at Triple-A Scranton-Wilkes/Barre plus the past season-and-change as the top backup — as it does the ongoing descent of the 28-year-old Sánchez, a two-time All-Star. After a miserable 2020 campaign in which he hit an unfathomable .147/.253/.365 (68 wRC+) with 10 homers and -0.1 WAR, Sánchez showed signs of a bounce back during spring training, and homered in each of the Yankees’ first two games of the regular season against the Blue Jays. He hasn’t homered since, however, and has gone just 6-for-48 with a lone double and seven walks since en route to a .182/.308/.309 (85 wRC+) line, that while his defense has again regressed. He’s hardly the only reason that the Yankees have stumbled to an 11-13 start — they were 9-13 before rolling into Camden Yards for their usual pillaging and plundering — but with Higashioka outplaying him on both sides of the ball as so many of their other hitters have slumped, the time is right for the Yankees to try this. Read the rest of this entry »

Decision by Derby: The Pioneer League Joins the Experimental Rules Bandwagon

The idea has long been a refrain for both proponents and critics of extra-innings baseball, though often voiced with tongue in cheek: instead of drawing out contests to 10 or 12 or 17 wearying innings, or starting each extra frame with a runner on second base, why not just settle the matter via a home run derby? This year, as the affiliated minor and independent leagues implement a variety of experimental rules, the Pioneer League will do just that. The “Knock Out” rule, as the league is calling it, is just one change from among a slate that should garner the league some attention — though that doesn’t mean it’s coming to major league ballparks anytime soon.

The idea of ending games that go beyond nine innings with some kind of home run contest has been in the ether for awhile, to say the least, and it’s even been implemented in some places:

As best I can tell, the Futures Collegiate Baseball League, an amateur summer league akin to the Cape Cod League, has taken a variant of this rule for the longest spin. Introduced for the 2017 season, and applicable only after the 10th inning, the FCBL reported that 10 of its 238 games that year were decided via a derby, and the format proved popular enough to retain. With the exception of the aforementioned use in the Eastern League All-Star Game in 2015, it doesn’t appear to have received a trial in the professional ranks. Read the rest of this entry »

Sunday’s Humiliation Highlights Braves’ Slow Start

Officially recognized or not, one team’s no-hitter is another team’s humiliation, and so the Braves were nearly doubly humbled during Sunday’s twin bill against the Diamondbacks — and at home, no less. In the opener at Truist Park, Zac Gallen held Atlanta to a lone Freddie Freeman single, while in the nightcap, Madison Bumgarner kept them completely hitless while facing the minimum number of batters. Though the Braves rebounded to beat the Cubs on Monday, they’re just 10-12 thus far, tied for third in the NL East and bearing only passing resemblance to the team that has won three straight division titles.

To be fair, until Sunday the Braves’ fortunes had been on the rise. After opening the season by sandwiching two four-game losing streaks around a four-game winning streak, they had gone 5-2 by taking two out of three from the Cubs in Chicago, splitting a two-game set with the Yankees in the Bronx, and then winning the series opener against the Diamondbacks. Even so, the team entered Sunday hitting just .228/.323/.424, and they’ve fallen to .219/.315/.407 (97 wRC+) even with Monday’s 8-7 win. They’ve managed to stretch that discouraging batting line to 4.50 runs per game, good for fifth in the NL, but on the other side of the ball, they’re allowing a league-worst 5.00 runs per game.

Sunday sticks out like a sore thumb, though, so we’ll dig into the offense first. By getting just one hit over two games of any length, the Braves became just the second team in the past 113 years to join a very short list:

Two Games, One Hit
Team Opponent Start End No-Hit Pitcher PA R H BB SO AVG/OBP/SLG
BRO STL/CHC 9/24/1906 (2)* 9/25/1906 Stoney McGlynn 56 1 1 4 10 .020/.093/.020
BOS BRO 9/5/1908 (2)* 9/7/1908 (1) Nap Rucker 57 1 1 2 14 .019/.054/.019
HOU CHC 9/14/2008* 9/15/2008 Carlos Zambrano 59 1 1 4 20 .019/.102/.019
ATL ARI 4/25/2021 (1) 4/25/2021 (2)* M. Bumgarner 45 0 1 2 13 .024/.089/024
SOURCE: Baseball-Reference
* = no-hit game, regardless of official MLB designation.

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No Hits Allowed, but No Official Recognition for Bumgarner’s Seven-Inning Feat

On Sunday, Madison Bumgarner did what the Padres’ Joe Musgrove and the White Sox’s Carlos Rodón have already done this season: he pitched a game to its scheduled completion without allowing any hits. Yet the 31-year-old Diamondbacks lefty won’t get credit for an official no-hitter because his sterling effort took place in a seven-inning doubleheader game — oddly enough, the nightcap of a twin bill that began with teammate Zac Gallen holding the Braves to a single hit.

Because Saturday night’s game at Truist Park was postponed due to inclement weather, the Diamondbacks and Braves met for the season’s 21st doubleheader, playing under the rules put in place early in the 2020 season as a means of helping teams make up postponements in expeditious fashion, particularly COVID-19-related ones. The rule was then carried over into this season as part of this year’s health and safety protocols. In the opener, Gallen allowed only a sixth-inning single to Freddie Freeman, and afterwards waved off the thought of how his achievement would have been viewed if not for Freeman’s hit:

“Yeah, I didn’t know that it didn’t count, but it wouldn’t have really counted in my book anyway,” Gallen said. “[D-backs catcher Stephen Vogt] after was like, ‘Man, that would have been sick,’ and I was like, ‘Forget that, I want to get a legit one.’”

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