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Jay Jaffe FanGraphs Chat – 4/11/19

Avatar Jay Jaffe: Good afternoon folks, and welcome to today’s chat. I’m going to give the queue a few moments to fill up while I order lunch, please hang tight.

Kenny Williams: Does a rebuilding baseball team have a responsibility to put a team on the field that is moderately entertaining?  Or is losing and planning for the future the only priority?

Avatar Jay Jaffe: Ok, poke bowl ordered. On with the show

Avatar Jay Jaffe: Kenny, that’s a fundamental question that the union and owners really need to think hard about in advance of the next Collective Bargaining Agreement, because the current rules have clearly made rebuilding — while profiting handsomely by fielding low-payroll teams with much less threat to decreasing revenue — an enticing option. Baseball is a business, but also entertainment, and if you can’t convince fans that you have SOMETHING to see, even if it’s green prospects finding their way at the major league level for the first time, then something is wrong. I do think the next CBA needs to work on tightening the connection between winning and revenue (especially revenue sharing) in order to prevent so many teams from being non-competitive at the same time.

Ben: How much of the Yankees early issues can be blamed on the injuries? They have been massive, but even the healthy players aren’t performing – Britton looks bad, and Boone has made some awful decisions lately

Avatar Jay Jaffe: For all of the lineup’s losses (Stanton, Andujar, Gregorius, Hicks), the offense has scored over 5 runs per game and is fourth in wRC+ (127). Where they’re feeling the injuries the most, i think, is the bullpen, where Betances’ absence has exacerbated the struggles of Britton, Green, Kahnle and even Chapman.

Let’s remember that the one thing that makes managers look the worst in the public eye is when the relievers he calls upon don’t do the job — regardless of his options or what the data says, the knee-jerk reaction is that he’s chosen poorly.

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Mariners’ Hot-Hitting Start Defies Rebuild

While the Dodgers’ bolt from the gate isn’t too surprising given their back-to-back NL pennants and preseason playoff odds around 90% (though yes, I reaaaally nailed the timing of my investigation into their hitting), the Mariners’ hot start is the kind of early-season anomaly that reminds us how reality often fails to conform to our preconceptions. Expected to be a bystander during a rebuilding year, Seattle opened the season by sweeping a two-game series in Japan against last year’s upstarts, the A’s, and has continued to roll. They own the majors’ best record (11-2) and run differential (+40) so far.

The Mariners did spend most of last year in contention, ultimately notching 89 wins — their highest total since 2003 — but finishing eight games behind the A’s for the second AL Wild Card spot. In missing out on the October festivities, they ran their postseason drought to 17 years, the longest in North American professional sports. Given a club record payroll ($157.9 million as of Opening Day 2018) and the game’s worst farm system, general manager Jerry Dipoto opted to plunge the team into rebuilding mode, bidding adieu to free agent Nelson Cruz and trading away Robinson Cano, Alex Colome, Edwin Diaz, James Paxton, Jean Segura, and Mike Zunino, among others — nearly all of the popular kids, basically. With Kyle Seager suffering a torn tendon in his left hand, the only players common to Seattle’s 2018 and ’19 Opening Day lineups were Dee Gordon, Mitch Haniger, and Ichiro Suzuki, the last of whom used the Japan series as a farewell tour. Read the rest of this entry »

Dodgers Bashing Their Way to the Head of the Pack

The Dodgers juggernaut was stopped in its tracks on Monday night in St. Louis. For the first time in this young season, the team failed to homer, and for the second time, they failed to score at least four runs, and for just the third time in 11 games, they lost. Still, there’s much for the two-time defending NL champions to be happy about at this point in the season, particularly compared to last year.

Recall that it took the 2018 Dodgers until the third game of the season to get on the board, as they lost their first two games by 1-0 scores, both courtesy of Joe Panik solo homers. With a lineup lacking Justin Turner and a bullpen coping with a struggling Kenley Jansen, they stumbled to a 4-9 start, took until the 19th game of the season to score their 87th run, and didn’t really right the ship until mid-May, after they’d dug a 16-26 hole and lost Corey Seager for the season due to Tommy John surgery.

It’s been a different story this time around. On Opening Day, the Dodgers pounded out a major league record eight home runs against the Diamondbacks, and so far, they haven’t looked back. Through 11 games, they’re 8-3 with 87 runs scored, the most by a team to this point in the season since the turn of the millennium:

Most Runs Scored Through 11 Games Since 1901
Rk Team Year W-L RS RA Rdiff Final Finish Postseason
1 Yankees 1932 8-3 95 52 43 107-47 1 WS Champ
2T Rockies 1997 8-3 91 56 35 83-79 3
2T Americans 1901 6-5 91 85 6 79-57 2
2T White Sox 1901 7-4 91 64 27 83-53 1 AL Pennant
5 Indians 1999 9-2 90 50 40 97-65 1 Division Champ
6T Brewers 1901 3-8 88 97 -9 48-89 8
6T Athletics 1994 6-5 88 78 10 51-63 2
8 Dodgers 2019 8-3 87 52 35 N/A N/A N/A
9T Yankees 1950 7-4 86 59 27 98-56 1 WS Champ
9T Tigers 1901 8-3 86 85 1 74-61 3
9T Orioles 1901 7-4 86 70 16 68-65 5
9T Tigers 1993 7-4 86 55 31 85-77 3
9T Cardinals 1901 5-5 86 76 10 76-64 4
14T Mariners 2019 9-2 85 56 29 N/A N/A N/A
14T Giants 1962 8-3 85 51 34 103-62 1 NL Pennant
14T Yankees 1926 8-3 85 53 32 91-63 1 AL Pennant
17T Blue Jays 1994 6-5 84 70 14 55-60 3
17T Cardinals 1962 7-3 84 53 31 84-78 6
19T Cardinals 2000 7-4 83 65 18 95-67 1 Division Champ
19T Indians 1995 7-4 83 57 26 100-44 1 AL Pennant
SOURCE: Baseball-Reference

As you might expect, bashing out so many runs so early often portends good things. While “only” eight of the 18 teams above besides this year’s Dodgers and Mariners made the playoffs, five of those 18 teams (including the Boston Americans, who became the Red Sox circa 1908; the Milwaukee Brewers, who became the St. Louis Browns in 1902; and those Baltimore Orioles, who were dissolved and replaced by the New York Highlanders in 1903) were battling it out in the inaugural edition of the American League, which must have been crazy circa April and May, 1901; the Junior Circuit averaged 5.35 runs per game that year overall, compared to 4.63 in the NL. Read the rest of this entry »

Chris Davis Continues His Free-Fall

If there’s one player whose 2019 season is off to a more conspicuously inauspicious start than Nationals reliever Trevor Rosenthal, who has yet to retire a batter through four appearances (including one on Sunday), it’s Orioles first baseman Chris Davis, who has yet to record a hit. Like Rosenthal, Davis’ run of futility has actually carried over from his previous season. He’s now approaching the major league record for consecutive hitless at-bats by a non-pitcher, held by Eugenio Velez (0-for-46 in 2010-11), and is putting the rebuilding Orioles in an awkward position given his huge contract, which could become the largest sunk cost in major league history.

Already known for his all-or-nothing extremes, which included him hitting 53 homers in a season (2013) and striking out 219 times (2016), the now-33-year-old Davis appeared to find the bottom last year, when he hit .168/.243/.296 for a 46 wRC+ while striking out in 36.8% of his plate appearances, numbers that all ranked dead last among the majors’ 140 qualifying hitters. Whether it was mechanical flaws, eyesight troubles, medication issues (he has a therapeutic use exemption for an ADHD drug, an issue that led to a 25-game suspension in 2014, when it wasn’t properly addressed), or mental struggles, Davis and the coaching staff weren’t able to find the answer to his problems. Including slightly subpar defense (-1.7 UZR), his -3.1 WAR tied for the majors’ sixth-lowest mark since 1901. He closed the season while stuck in a 1-for-39 skid, with a September 14 double off the White Sox’s James Shields his only hit after his second plate appearance on September 5. He went hitless in his final 21 at-bats, with 14 strikeouts (he walked twice and was hit by a pitch within that span). In an act of mercy, the Orioles — who were on their way to 115 losses, the third-highest total of the post-1960 expansion era — didn’t play him in their final eight games, preventing Davis from digging an even deeper hole. Read the rest of this entry »

Trevor Rosenthal Reaches for Infinity

Last month, in the wake of Bryce Harper’s signing with the Phillies, I took stock of the Nationals and raised an eyebrow at the limited fixes administered to a bullpen that has required annual midseason makeovers, and that last year tied for 25th in the majors in WAR (0.6). General manager Mike Rizzo’s big offseason moves regarding the unit were to sign Trevor Rosenthal, who missed all of 2018 due to Tommy John surgery, and Kyle Barraclough, who pitched to a 4.20 ERA and 4.98 FIP with the Marlins. So far, it hasn’t gone well, to say the least. The unit as a whole has an 11.02 ERA through five games.

Barraclough has only been charged with one run allowed in 3.1 innings, but he’s also allowed five out of five inherited runners to score. That’s no good, but it’s nothing compared to the travails of Rosenthal, a 28-year-old righty who, during his Cardinals tenure, pitched to a 2.99 ERA and 2.60 FIP while saving 121 games from 2012-17.

On March 30 against the Mets, Rosenthal entered a tied game in the eighth inning and proceeded to allow back-to-back singles to Wilson Ramos and Jeff McNeil, then walked Amed Rosario (a tough thing to do given the kid’s 4.9% walk rate last year) and served up a two-run single to J.D. Davis. Manager Davey Martinez gave him the hook in favor of Barraclough, who immediately balked in a run, and two outs later, allowed a two-run double by Pete Alonso. Thus, four runs were charged to Rosenthal, who didn’t retire a batter.

Undeterred, Martinez called on Rosenthal again the next day with the Nationals trailing the Mets 5-2 and runners on the corners courtesy of mid-March signing Tony Sipp. Facing Rosario again, Rosenthal threw just one pitch, which the 23-year-old shortstop lined for an RBI single. Sean Doolittle relieved Rosenthal and allowed back-to-back singles, the second of which scored Rosario. Another day, another outing with a run allowed but no out for Rosenthal. Read the rest of this entry »

Jay Jaffe FanGraphs Chat – 4/4/19

Avatar Jay Jaffe: Hey folks, welcome to my first solo chat of the 2019 regular season. I’ve got a short thing on Randal Grichuk’s extension up this morning ( plus yesterday’s big piece on catcher framing and its impact on Hall of Fame consideration (…). on with the show!

RR: Are projections updated as the season goes on? The Mets won the last 2 games but their Proj wins fell… Not sure how that is possible without the underlying team strength changing. Any ideas?

Avatar Jay Jaffe: Our projections are updated, yes. I don’t know the specifics of why the Mets went down in this instance but it could result from revisions in estimated playing time on their team or elsewhere in the league. If, for example, the Braves were to sign Kimbrel, that would improve their projection and take a bite out of the competition’s projections, with the effect felt most within the division (since that’s who they play the most frequently).

Ray Liotta as Shoeless Joe: Small sample size, etc., but this sure seems like the season of bullpen meltdowns.

Avatar Jay Jaffe: Via our splits, nine teams have bullpens with ERAs over 5.00 right now, and seven teams have bullpen FIPs over 5.00. That’s <checks notes, pulls out slide rule and abacus, does math> not great.

Andrew: Trevor Rosenthal is having a really rough start: 3 appearances, 7 runs, 0 outs. I can’t remember the last time I saw someone fail to record an out in his first 3 appearances in a season.

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Randal Grichuk Joins the Extension Parade

This spring, Randal Grichuk is following Mike Trout. The outfielder whom the Angels drafted with the 24th pick in 2009, one slot before they chose a player who’s already in the conversation for the greatest of all time, is the latest to agree to a long-term extension. It’s significantly less than Trout’s 12-year, $430 million pact, of course, but Grichuk nonetheless guaranteed himself a substantial payday by agreeing to a five-year, $52 million deal with the Blue Jays, covering the 2019-23 seasons. That’s not too shabby for a player who was viewed as a fourth or fifth outfielder when he was acquired from the Cardinals in January 2018.

As the Blue Jays have steered themselves into rebuilding mode by shedding the likes of Jose Bautista, Josh Donaldson, J.A. Happ, Russell Martin, Troy Tulowitzki, and others over the past 18 months, either via trade or free agency, the now-27-year-old Grichuk has emerged as more than just a backup. Last year, he started 84 games in right field, another 25 in center — largely when Kevin Pillar, who coincidentally was traded to the Giants on Tuesday, the same day that Grichuk’s deal was announced, missed time with a shoulder sprain — and one in left field. Despite hitting just .106/.208/.227 in 77 plate appearances before missing all of May due to a right knee sprain, he set a career high with 25 homers while posting his highest on-base percentage (.301), slugging percentage (.502), and wRC+ (115) since his 2015 rookie season. Read the rest of this entry »

Framing the Hall of Fame Cases for Martin and McCann

Amid winters that were rather underwhelming relative to the excitement of their respective 2018 seasons, the Braves and Dodgers brought back a pair of familiar, if grizzled, faces, namely 35-year-old Brian McCann and 36-year-old Russell Martin. Now several years removed from their last All-Star appearances, neither figures to do the bulk of the catching duty for their respective teams in 2019. Our new pitch framing metrics underscore what they bring to the table at this stage of their careers, as well as just how valuable they’ve been over the years — valuable to the point of amplifying their cases for Cooperstown.

McCann, a Georgia native who was drafted by the Braves in 2002 and spent 2005-13 with the team, making seven All-Star appearances while playing a part on four postseason-bound squads, signed a one-year, $2 million deal to return to Atlanta in late November, the five-year, $85 million deal he signed with the Yankees in December 2013 having expired (McCann spent 2017-18 in Houston, following a 2016 trade). The plan is for him to share time with Tyler Flowers, who started 70 games behind the plate for the NL East-winning Braves last year; Kurt Suzuki, who started 83 games, signed a two-year, $10 million deal with the Nationals.

McCann is coming off the weakest year of his career, having hit just .212/.301/.339 (79 wRC+) in 216 PA over 63 games with the Astros. He spent over 10 weeks on the disabled list with a torn meniscus in his right knee, which required surgery in early July. That knee, which also sent him to the disabled list in August 2017, may have been a factor in his atypically rough season behind the plate as well. Via Fox Sports South’s Cory McCartney, the knee “became so unbearable that it left the left-hander unable to push off his plant leg at the plate and it became difficult to squat as moving around on it led to a fluid buildup. ‘Every time I would land, my knee would collapse,’ McCann said. ‘I should have gotten the surgery done after the (2017) World Series — but thought I could get through it, I just couldn’t.’”

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David Hess and No-Hittus Interruptus

On Monday night, the Orioles — who last year lost 115 games, the third-highest total of the post-1960 expansion era — won their third game out of four in this young season, beating the Blue Jays, 6-5. The win itself was less notable than the pitching performance of David Hess, a 25-year-old righty in his second major league season. Hess no-hit the Blue Jays for 6.1 innings while the Orioles built up a 6-0 lead, but before he could pitch further, rookie manager Brandon Hyde gave him the hook.

It would be an exaggeration to say a large group of people lost their mind at this decision, in part because the game between a pair of rebuilding teams was being played in Toronto in front of just 10,460 paying fans, but there were those who took umbrage. “David Hess Got Pulled From His No-Hitter Because The Orioles Are Clowns” read one Apple News-driven tweet promoting a Deadspin piece by Tom Ley that apparently has since been retitled, “This Is The Face Of A Man Getting Pulled In The Seventh Inning Of A No-Hitter.” USA Today’s Ted Berg called it “one clear instance where the numbers suck the fun out of baseball.” Somewhere a sports talk radio yakker probably turned purple and declared this The Downfall of America, though WFAN’s Mike Francesa almost certainly slept through the start.

What Ley noted (but Berg did not) — and here I don’t mean to pick upon either, because both are fine writers — is that Hess had thrown 42 pitches in relief on March 28. meaning that he was working on three days of rest, which helped to explain why Hyde pulled him after 82 pitches instead of pushing him further. Indeed, the manager cited a concern for the pitcher’s health and the long season as primary in his thinking. To Berg’s point, the fact that Hess was about to face the middle of the Blue Jays’ batting order (Justin Smoak, Randal Grichuk, and Rowdy Tellez, admittedly not exactly Murderers’ Row) probably entered into the manager’s decision as well, given that the Cubs’ former bench coach was chosen for this job in part because it was time to bring the Orioles into the 21st century, analytics-wise. For what it’s worth, batters hit .299/.371/.612 for a .408 wOBA in 97 PA against Hess last year under such circumstances. That wOBA was the ninth-highest out of 131 qualifying pitchers. Not Great, in layman’s terms. Read the rest of this entry »

Banged-up Brewers Bullpen Loses Knebel for the Season

The Brewers came within one win of a trip to the World Series last year thanks in part to the performance of a dominant bullpen that helped to offset a shaky, injury-wracked rotation. Thus far this spring, however, that bullpen has borne the brunt of the Brewers’ injuries. With Jeremy Jeffress having already started the season on the injury list due to shoulder weakness, the team just suffered an even bigger loss, as Corey Knebel revealed on Friday that he will undergo Tommy John surgery.

The 27-year-old Knebel originally suffered a partially torn ulnar collateral ligament in 2014, while pitching for the Rangers’ Triple-A Round Rock affiliate. He was just over a year into his professional career at that point, having been chosen as a supplemental first-round pick by the Tigers out of the University of Texas in 2013, then dealt to the Rangers in a July 2014 trade involving Joakim Soria. The injury wasn’t severe enough to require TJS, so he rehabbed it and kept pitching, establishing himself in the majors after being traded to the Brewers in the Yovani Gallardo deal in 2015, then taking over closer duties from the struggling Neftali Feliz in 2017. That year, he earned All-Star honors while saving 39 games, making an NL-high 76 appearances, and pitching to a 1.78 ERA, 2.53 FIP, and 2.7 WAR; the last mark ranked fourth in the majors among relievers with at least 50 innings.

The 2018 season was a different story for Knebel. He made just three appearances before missing a month due to a left hamstring strain, and pitched so erratically that he was sent back to Triple-A Colorado Springs with a 5.08 ERA and 4.29 FIP in late August. Fortunately for the Brewers, he was thoroughly dominant upon returning, holding batters to a .096/.175/.135 line while striking out 33 of the 57 he faced in 16.1 scoreless innings through the end of the regular season, then striking out 14 out of 33 hitters over 10 postseason innings while allowing just one run. Overall, his 3.58 ERA was more than double his 2017 mark, though his 3.03 FIP wasn’t so far removed; in both seasons, he posted top-five strikeout rates (40.8% in 2017, 39.5% last year) and top 10 K-BB% (27.8% and 29.6%, respectively), with a jump in home run rate (from 0.71 per nine to 1.14) the big difference. Still, between that and a lesser workload (from 76 innings to 55.1), his WAR dropped from 2.7 to 1.0. Read the rest of this entry »