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The Twins Tumble Out of First Place

Remember when the Twins were running away with the AL Central? On June 2, they were a major league-best 40-18, a season-high 11 1/2 games ahead of the Indians (29-30). Ten weeks later, after a wild final two innings of Sunday’s game to cap a series in which the Indians took three out of four, the two teams were tied atop the AL Central at 71-47, and after Cleveland’s walk-off win against the Red Sox on Monday night, the idle Twins find themselves a half-game back.

With Cleveland beating Minnesota in the first two games of their series on Thursday night (7-5) and Friday night (6-2), the two teams actually entered Saturday sharing the division lead as well, that for the first time since April 26, when the Indians were 15-10 and the Twins 14-9. With Jake Odorizzi and friends holding Cleveland to one run on Saturday, Minnesota had edged ahead again, but on Sunday, the Indians touched up José Berríos for two first-inning runs, and carried a 3-1 lead into the bottom of the ninth. An Eddie Rosario double and two singles, all off of Indians closer Brad Hand, trimmed the lead to 3-2. With one out, Marwin Gonzalez bashed a ball off the base of the left-center wall. Luis Arraez scored easily from second base to tie the game, but Tyler Naquin made a perfect barehanded grab of the ball after it caromed, then relayed to Francisco Lindor, whose peg to Kevin Plawecki cut down pinch-runner Ehire Adrianza, the potential winning run, at the plate:

The Twins challenged the call on the grounds that Plawecki blocked the plate without the ball, but the call on the field stood; the play was kosher. Carlos Santana’s grand slam off Taylor Rogers in the top of the 10th inning provided the margin of victory in the 7-3 win. It was a Santana homer in the bottom of the ninth that lifted the Indians over the Red Sox on Monday as well. Read the rest of this entry »

The Rarity of Walker Buehler

Last Saturday night against the Padres in Los Angeles, five days past his 25th birthday, Walker Buehler authored the most dominant start of his young career. With a fastball that touched 99 mph and a slider and cutter that continually befuddled hitters, the Dodgers righty faced 31 batters, struck out 15 of them, walked none, and yielded just five hits. Only one of those hits was of consequence, namely Manuel Margot’s eighth-inning pinch-homer, which kept Buehler from throwing a complete-game shutout; he and the Dodgers had to settle for a 4-1 win. Even allowing for the fact that the Padres own the majors’ highest strikeout rate (26.0%) and weren’t fielding a modern day Murderer’s Row, Buehler’s performance was a thing to behold.

So, behold!

While the major league strikeout rate is again at an all-time high (22.8%), Buehler’s start was just the sixth of the season in which a pitcher struck out 15 batters. He’s the only pitcher with multiple 15-K games, as he whiffed 16 but allowed two solo homers (from among just three hits) against the Rockies on June 21; he didn’t need more than 111 pitches in either start. Here’s the complete set: Read the rest of this entry »

Gleyber Torres is the Yankees’ Last Man Standing

It looked as though Gleyber Torres’ number was up. One by one, from late March onward, the Yankees had sent every member of their expected 2019 starting lineup to the injured list at some point except Torres. From Didi Gregorius’ ulnar collateral ligament and Aaron Hicks’ back on March 28, through Miguel Andújar’s labrum, Giancarlo Stanton’s biceps, Gary Sánchez’s calf, Aaron Judge’s oblique, Luke Voit’s abdominal muscle, and Brett Gardner’s knee, injuries caused all of them to drop like flies. Multiple waves of reinforcements, the likes of Troy Tulowitzki, Clint Frazier, Kendrys Morales, Cameron Maybin, and Edwin Encarnación, met similar fates. When Torres left Tuesday night’s game against the Orioles in the middle of the third inning due to what was described as “core pain” — his second early departure in three nights — and returned to New York for testing, an IL stint appeared to be a foregone conclusion.

The Yankees had even gone so far as to summon infielder Thairo Estrada from Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre to Baltimore while Torres received an MRI, but he wasn’t needed. Via manager Aaron Boone, “[Torres] went through a battery of tests today and everything checked out OK. MRIs, testing again for a sports hernia, any strains, and everything turned out to be negative. Looking at him as day to day. I think he’s upbeat, he feels good, so he’s on his way back now, and he’ll travel with us to Toronto.”

The 22-year-old Torres has built upon a strong 2018 rookie campaign that itself included a 20-day stint on the disabled list for a right hip strain. His numbers — .281/.347/.505 with 23 homers, a 120 wRC+, and 2.3 WAR — are a near carbon copy of last year’s; he’s one homer shy of his total and his wRC+ is identical, while his WAR is already higher in 18 fewer games. He made the AL All-Star team for the second straight season, and even with a modest slump to start the second half, his line conceals slight improvements in his strikeout and walk rates as well as his defense. In the time between Tulowitzki’s calf strain and Gregorious’ return from Tommy John surgery, he more than held his own in a 64-game stint covering shortstop.

Torres has played a team-high 105 of the Yankees’ 114 games. He survived a couple of smaller injury scares, missing four games in May due to a bruised right elbow after being hit by a pitch and a couple in early June due to a sore left shoulder, the origin of which was unclear. He left Sunday night’s win over the Red Sox in the eighth inning due to the onset of this “core issue.” Via Yahoo Sports’ Mike Mazzeo, earlier in the game he had appeared to be running to first base with some amount of discomfort. He went to the hospital for tests, but according to the New York Daily News’ Kristie Ackert, Torres said that doctors had ruled out a sports hernia via ultrasound. He played all nine innings of Monday’s game against the Orioles in Baltimore, but he departed mid-game on Tuesday night, just after striking out in his 11th straight plate appearance without a hit. Read the rest of this entry »

Jay Jaffe FanGraphs Chat – 8/8/19

Avatar Jay Jaffe: Hello, sports fans! Welcome to another edition of my Thursday chat. In 24 hours, I’ll be arriving in Boston for this week’s Saberseminar along with several of my colleagues, and if you’re in the area tomorrow night, we’d like you to join us for some snacks, adult beverages, and baseball chatter…

Avatar Jay Jaffe: Now, on with the show…

Chris: What would it take for you to advocate the MVP for someone who didn’t lead the league in war?

Avatar Jay Jaffe: I don’t think one has to go strictly by a WAR leaderboard to choose an MVP. First off, we have multiple versions of WAR that have different inputs, both with regards to pitching models and defensive metrics, and each of them can help illuminate different aspects of what we’re trying to reward.

Avatar Jay Jaffe: Second, we can certainly bring some other stats and context there. WPA and clutch metrics can be part of the discussion. Absences due to injury (that player may have missed some games but been better on a prorated basis as far as WAR is concerned, or he may have come up big while a key teammate was injured), changes in role, particularly strong performances against a division rival or down the stretch… The bottom line is that we don’t need to be slaves to the decimals. The WAR leader is still gonna be the WAR leader whether or not he gets the hardware.

Jim: Tony’s article got me thinking… how many homeruns would Cruz need to hit to even have a shot at the HOF? Or will the PED suspension be too much to overcome regarldess?

Read the rest of this entry »

The Unexpected Danny Santana Breakout

On the heels of a 95-loss season, the Rangers’ 2019 campaign has been a pleasant surprise. The team is 58-54, and if they don’t exactly look like Wild Card contenders — their playoff odds are just 0.2% — then at least the stellar performances of Mike Minor, Lance Lynn, and Joey Gallo have offset disappointments like Nomar Mazara, Rougned Odor, and, well, Joey Gallo’s oblique muscle and hamate bone. But one of the most unlikely breakouts has come from a player who spent the better part of the past four seasons burrowing below replacement level when he wasn’t shuttling between Triple-A, the majors, and the disabled list. If you didn’t know that Danny Santana was back in the bigs and thriving as a super-utilityman, you do now.

Since the start of July, the 28-year-old switch-hitting Santana has been red hot, batting .380/.394/.740 with 14 multi-hit games in 22 starts. Overall, he’s hitting .321/.349/.589 with a career-high 17 homers, 12 steals, a 133 wRC+, and 2.0 WAR. His slugging percentage is high enough that he cracks the AL top 10 even with the addition of 28 phantom at-bats (he’s got 319 PA and needs 347 to qualify), and among AL players with at least 300 PA, his un-adjusted slugging percentage is in a virtual tie for third, his batting average in a virtual tie for second, and his wRC+ 16th. He’s done this while playing all over the diamond: 20 starts at first base, 16 in center field, 15 at second base, eight in left field, five at shortstop, and four in right field. Eleven times, he’s switched positions mid-game, and he’s taken four different positions after entering as a pinch-hitter. Lately, he’s been working out at third base, and playing time there appears inevitable given the recent release of Asdrúbal Cabrera and the fact that he’s played the hot corner six times in his major league career.

If you can’t quite place Santana on the space-time continuum, you’re forgiven, as it’s been awhile since he was relevant. In May 2014, as the Twins were busily beating a path to their fourth straight season with at least 92 losses, they were receiving very little production from both shortstop Pedro Florimón and center fielder Aaron Hicks. In early May, they recalled the 23-year-old Santana, whom they’d signed out of the Dominican Republic in 2007, and initially used him at shortstop, but when Hicks continued to struggle after suffering a concussion induced by his crashing into an outfield wall, they gave Santana a shot at center, a position he’d played all of 23 times in seven minor league seasons. Thanks to his natural athleticism, he held his own in the middle pasture, and just kept hitting. By the time the season ended, he owned a .319/.353/.472 line with seven homers, 20 steals, a 132 wRC+, and 3.9 WAR, that while making 62 starts in center field and 31 at shortstop. He got a bit of down-ballot consideration in the AL Rookie of the Year voting, finishing seventh while Jose Abreu won unanimously. Read the rest of this entry »

This Doesn’t Look Like the Red Sox’s Year

On Sunday night, in their 114th contest of the season, the Red Sox lost their 55th game. Normally, this might escape notice — 16 teams beat them to that particular punch — but last year, the Sox didn’t lose their 55th game until October 6 (Game 2 of the AL Division Series against the Yankees), that after storming to 108-54 record during the regular season. They would lose just three postseason games, one in each round, en route to their fourth championship of the millennium. This year’s Red Sox do not appear destined to increase that total.

Sunday’s loss was the Red Sox’s eighth in a row, all within the AL East; after taking the first three games of a four-game set from the Yankees at Fenway Park from July 25-27, they lost the series finale, then three straight at home to the Rays before being swept in a four-game series in the Bronx, which knocked them to 14.5 games behind their New York rivals. The skid — which ended with Monday’s 7-5 win over the Royals — was the team’s longest since July 2015; no Sox team of the past three seasons lost more than four straight, and last year’s powerhouse never lost more than three straight.

As a result of the slide, Boston’s playoff odds have dropped precipitously:

Through July 27, the Red Sox were 59-47, eight games back in the AL East (the closest they’d been since June 25) and tied with the A’s for the second AL Wild Card spot. Their playoff odds stood at 64.6%, with a 6.5% chance to win the division and a 58.0% chance of retaining a Wild Card spot; their odds of winning the World Series stood at 6.2%, higher than every team except the Astros (23.6%), Dodgers (18.8%), Yankees (15.7%), and Twins (7.3%). After Sunday, their odds were down to 15.9%, with just a 0.2% shot at the division, and just a 1.4% chance at winning the World Series, lower than 10 other teams. With Monday’s win, which isn’t reflected in the above graph, they’re back to 20.7%, but no closer to the division lead; it’s Wild Card or bust.

Read the rest of this entry »

A Quick Look at Midsummer Intradivisional Trades: AL Edition

As I was saying before the busiest trade deadline day on record — yes, my timing of this two-part series was impeccable — Monday’s trade of Jason Vargas to the Phillies was noteworthy as the rare intradivisional pre-deadline swap. Some might view in-season deals with direct rivals to be taboo, but they do occur, and as the July 31 trade deadline approached, it seemed like a fun idea to examine their recent history.

To keep this from becoming unruly, I’ve confined my focus to the 2012-19 period, the era of two Wild Cards in each league — a cutoff chosen because it expands not only the number of teams who make the playoffs, but also the group who can at least envision themselves as contenders. For this, I’m using the Baseball-Reference Trade Partners tool and counting only trades that occurred in June, July, or August, which we might more accurately call midsummer deals rather than deadline ones — though some of them were definitely of that variety. I’ve omitted straight purchases, which generally involve waiver bait, though I have counted deals in which cash changed hands instead of a player to be named later.

If you’re looking for a basis of comparison, in the companion piece to this, covering the National League, I found that the NL division with the most deals fitting the description within the period was the NL East, with 12, with five such deals taking place in the NL Central, and just three in the NL West, none of them involving the Dodgers; this year’s deadline didn’t change any of those tallies. The most notable NL deal in this class was a July 27, 2012 one that sent Marco Scutaro from the Rockies to the Giants, whom he not only helped win a World Series but earned NLCS MVP honors along the way. Since I worked from West to East in the NL edition to emphasize some of those points, we’ll take these divisions in the same order.

Midsummer Trades 2012-19: AL West
Team Astros Angels Athletics Mariners Rangers Total
Astros 2 1 0 (6/2010) 1 4
Angels 2 1 0 (12/2012) 0 (6/2018) 3
Athletics 1 1 1 1 4
Mariners 0 (6/2010) 0 (12/2012) 1 0 (4/2019) 1
Rangers 1 0 (6/2018) 1 0 (4/2019) 2
SOURCE: Baseball-Reference
For combinations with no midsummer trades, the dates in parentheses note the last transaction involving the two teams.

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Deadline Deals and Non-Deals I Liked… and Didn’t Like

The 2019 trade deadline has come and gone, and while it provided a frenzy of late-breaking activity, ultimately it offered far more quantity than quality. With the exception of Trevor Bauer, Zack Greinke, and Marcus Stroman, most of the top starters whose names have been tossed around for the past several weeks — including Matthew Boyd, Madison Bumgarner, Mike Minor, Robbie Ray, Noah Syndergaard, and Zack Wheeler — ended up staying put, and likewise when it came to relievers. What’s more, there weren’t many big bats dealt, and in general, the combination of too many teams that view themselves as contenders and the loss of the August waiver period led to approaches that felt far too risk-averse.

Regarding the volume, first consider the accounting of True Blue LA’s Eric Stephen from a year ago as compared to this year. Last year, there were 18 trades on July 31, and 37 from July 25 onward. This year there were 22 on July 31, and 35 from July 25 onward. In terms of quality, last year there were six position players (Manny Machado, Eduardo Escobar, Tommy Pham, Ian Kinsler, Asdrubal Cabrera, and Mike Moustakas) who had higher WARs at the time they were dealt than this year’s leader, Franmil Reyes (1.4). On the other hand, this year had more pitchers above that baseline (five to four), and where J.A. Happ led last year’s brigade at just 2.0 WAR, Greinke (3.6, not counting his 0.7 as a hitter), Stroman (2.9) and Bauer (2.7) all surpassed that. Finally, by the accounting of colleague Ben Clemens — whose study of deadline activity goes back to 1986 and can be found here — last year, there were 143 players traded in all of July; they had totaled 64.9 WAR in 2017 and were on pace to total 62.1 WAR in 2018. This year, there were 126 such players dealt; they totaled 55.1 WAR in 2018 and were on pace for just 45.6 WAR this year.

What follows here is a breakdown of five of my favorite trades (or in some cases, sets of trades) of July and five of my least favorite trades and non-trades. Admittedly, I’m viewing these with a vague bias towards winning now, and against your favorite team (I kid, I kid). In some cases, I wrote about these deals myself, while for others, I’ll refer you to the fine analysis of my colleagues in order to keep this from becoming a novel.


1. Astros acquire RHP Zack Greinke from Diamondbacks for four prospects

To these eyes, the boldest move of the deadline was clearly the best. At a time when so many other top contenders talked themselves out of paying high prices to acquire top talent, the Astros — who already owned the AL’s best record (69-39, .639) — added the 35-year-old Greinke in exchange for righties J.B. Bukauskas and Corbin Martin, first baseman Seth Beer, and infielder/outfielder Josh Rojas. As Dan Szymborski detailed, Greinke’s curve keeps getting better and better, and he’s currently ninth in the majors in pitching WAR (it’s a shame he likely won’t bat much the rest of the way).

While the two pitchers Houston sent to Arizona ranked fourth and third respectively on the Astros’ prospect list as of March, none of the players they dealt rank among our Top 100 prospects, and Martin, who made five appearances for the Astros in May and June, recently underwent Tommy John surgery. That Greinke’s contract runs through 2021, with the Diamondbacks picking up about 31% of the remaining tab, makes this all the better for the Astros, as it protects them against the potential loss of Gerrit Cole in free agency while costing them only about $22.7 million per year on an annualized basis. Read the rest of this entry »

Jay Jaffe FanGraphs Chat – 8/1/19

Avatar Jay Jaffe: Good afternoon and welcome to today’s post-deadline chat with what’s left of my brain after writing, filing and/or publishing 8,600 words in the last 27 hours…

Avatar Jay Jaffe: I’ve got to quickly buy some tickets to tomorrow’s Tarantino showing and I’ve got a radio spot in the middle of this chat so the going might be slow at first.

stever20: Do you think the Dodgers can win the World Series with the back end of the bullpen they currently have?

Avatar Jay Jaffe: To quote the late, great Graham Chapman in the “Flying Sheep” sketch, “A fair question and one that in recent weeks has been much on my mind”

Avatar Jay Jaffe: The Dodgers’ failure to get a late-inning arm made my list of five least-favorite moves and non-moves. I thought the price the Pirates were reportedly asking for Vazquez — two of the top 12 prospects in the game (per our Board, in May, Lux, and Ruiz) was too high but there had to be some middle ground between that and the sinkerballing lefty they got from the Rays, who’s nice but…

Avatar Jay Jaffe: If Jansen recovers from, if Kelly keeps up what he’s been doing since June started, if Maeda dominates the way he did in late 2017, if Baez can recover form, if some of Ferguson, Stripling, and Floro can still help, and if Urias keeps doing what he’s been doing, then yes, I think the bullpen can hold together. Obviously, that is one big basket of ifs

Read the rest of this entry »

Cubs Nick Castellanos from the Tigers

Having already bolstered their bench with super-utilityman Tony Kemp, the Cubs have added a more substantial bat in the form of right fielder Nicholas Castellanos, a pending free agent who has spent his entire career with the Tigers. The 27-year-old righty swinger heads from the Motor City to the Windy City in exchange for a pair of right-handed pitching prospects.

Cubs get:

OF Nicholas Castellanos

Tigers get:

RHP Alex Lange
RHP Paul Richan

A supplemental first-round pick in the 2010 draft out of a Florida high school, Castellanos spent the bulk of his first four full major league seasons (2014-17) playing third base — and badly at that (-25.8 UZR, -64 DRS). During that time, he hit for a modest 104 wRC+ in 2,304 plate appearances, good for just 4.8 WAR. The bulk of that value arrived in the last two of those years, as he began to hit for more power and trimmed his strikeout rate. He bopped a career-high 26 homers in 2017, the same year that he took up playing right field in September, two months after J.D. Martinez was traded to the Diamondbacks. Though he hit only 23 homers last year, he set across-the-board career highs in all three slash stats (.298/.354/.500) as well as wRC+ (130) and WAR (3.0).

Castellanos has been unable to match that performance this year, hitting .273/.328/.462 for a 106 wRC+ with just 11 homers in 439 PA. His average exit velocity has dropped from 89.6 mph to 88.3, and his xwOBA, too, from .377 to .335. He has chased pitches out of the zone like never before (a career-high 41.2% O-Swing%), and while he continues to crush fastballs (as Devan Fink noted last week), he has been vulnerable to changeups outside the zone and has experienced a spike in popups on such pitches; where he hit for a career-best 167 wRC+ against changeups last year, he’s back down to 117 this year, though he has cut his swinging strike rate on them by more than half (from 21.8% to 10.2%). He has struggled against sliders, whiffing on them 22.6% of the time, and hitting for just a 74 wRC+ against them. Pitchers have noticed; changeups and sliders have accounted for 36.3% of the pitches he’s seen, up from about 28-32% from 2016-18. Read the rest of this entry »