Last year, the arrival of the KBO was a breath of fresh air for our despondent, quarantined, and baseball-deprived selves. Between May and July, the entire baseball community became invested in a league that is in many ways different from MLB. There’s greater emphasis on contact hitting and baserunning, which recalled another, perhaps nostalgic, era of major league baseball for some. Sure, the defense and pitching could be clunky at times, but we embraced them as fun idiosyncrasies. And though baseball and a semblance of normalcy has returned stateside, there are still plenty of fans who want to monitor the KBO.
That’s why I’ve decided to start a monthly column that acts as a periodic check-in on the KBO. This isn’t, say, a power ranking, but rather an overview of which developments I find interesting. Today’s Part One will discuss league-wide trends and include updates on the Samsung Lions, KT Wiz, LG Twins, and SSG Landers. Part Two, which I hope to get published on Monday, will deal with the six remaining teams. Also, don’t forget to check out our expanded KBO stats offering as the season progresses! So without further ado, let’s begin! Read the rest of this entry »
Last week, I wrote about the Padres and how their usage of the infield shift stands out. To recap: They shift almost exclusively against left-handed hitters to great success, neglecting right-handed ones in the process. This decision is backed up by public research, which casts doubt on the efficacy of shifts against righties.
As a few of the comments noted, though, the Padres aren’t the most interesting subject when it comes to shifts. If anything, they’re conformists! The Dodgers and Rays, in contrast, are the rebels who defy convention by shifting more against righties than against lefties. We still don’t have a clear answer as to why. Leading up to this article, I did take a crack at the problem, and in the process, unearthed something about the Dodgers.
Before that, some context: Much of our discourse regarding the shift is focused on the dynamic between the hitter and team shifting against him. Kole Calhoun has a tendency to pull the ball, so the Dodgers have prepared this alignment. If Calhoun could go the other way, he’d earn himself a free knock, and so on.
But what about a version of the dynamic that includes the pitcher? By the same logic applied to hitters, if a pitcher could alter his approach to induce pulled grounders that are tailor-made for infield shifts, he’d probably be successful. We know pitchers can control the types of batted balls they allow to some extent: Last season, our Alex Chamberlain wrote about the relationship between pitch location and launch angle. As it turns out, a lower pitch will yield a lower launch angle compared to one located higher up, irrespective of pitch type.
Read the rest of this entry »
The recent flurry of matchups between the Dodgers and Padres have been enthralling. That’s what transpires when two teams of similar caliber go head-to-head – both clubs feature impressive lineups, employ the league’s best starters, and have quality bullpens and bench options to maintain the tension in later innings. They also both possess good front offices. The Dodgers have long been at the sabermetric forefront, while the Padres have strengthened their analytics department over the last few years. They share multiple characteristics, and not surprisingly, both teams excel.
However, the intrastate rivals do disagree on one major aspect of the modern game: infield shifts. Since last year, the Dodgers have applied the shift in 58.0% of opportunities, a league-leading rate over that span. In contrast, the Padres have done so just 21.5% of time. Only the Cardinals and Braves, two teams that are notably shift-averse, recorded lower rates.
What’s interesting, though, is that this isn’t because the Padres dislike the shift. Let’s dig a bit deeper. The Dodgers are what you would call equal-opportunity shifters – that is, they don’t discriminate between left- and right-handed hitters. Of their 6,729 shifts during the aforementioned time span, 3,210 (47.7%) of them were against the former. (Here I should clarify that I’m only factoring in Baseball Savant’s shifts, not strategic alignments, to simplify the analysis.)
Ok, now for San Diego. Their total of 2,608 shifts is much lower, but, and I kid you not, 2,524 (96.8%) of them were against left-handed hitters! And no, the Padres didn’t stumble into this. The gap between them and second place, the Rockies, is about 18 percentage points. There’s clear intent here, which looks even more impressive on a graph:
There are two hitters I would like to introduce. The first, Player A, has been described in terms of the classic trio of statistics: average, on-base percentage, and slugging. The second, Player B, has been described in terms of modern metrics like Exit Velocity and Barrel rate. Take a look at their numbers and try to see who’s better:
Player A: .081/.205/.162
Player B: 95.4 mph Exit Velocity, 63.6% Hard-Hit rate, 27.3% Barrel rate
Not much of a competition, right? Without additional context, you probably chose Player B in a heartbeat. Player A’s appalling triple-slash makes him a DFA candidate. Player B, on the other hand, looks like a hitting genius! Those numbers and rates would place him well above the 95th percentile of all major leaguers. The twist, of course, is that these two hitters are in fact the same person: Matt Carpenter, veteran infielder for the St. Louis Cardinals.
Traditional and modern metrics do disagree at times, but the disparity between them is seldom this wide. Through 18 games, Carpenter’s efforts to clobber the ball have not translated into actual results, much to the chagrin of Cardinals fans. There’s having a stretch of bad luck, then there’s hitting below .100. Is there something else we’re missing? Read the rest of this entry »
The Rays aren’t a mess at the moment, but at 9-8, they aren’t great, either. For an explanation, look no further than their starting rotation. Chris Archer is on the Injured List with a right forearm strain, Ryan Yarbrough has been BABIP’d to death, and veteran Rich Hill isn’t racking up strikeouts like he used to. Tyler Glasnow is doing, well, Glasnow things, but he alone can’t fix the Rays’ pitching woes.
It’s not as if the Rays are average by intent, though. They’d ideally have held onto Snell and Morton, but budgetary constraints led them to make odd transactions in hopes of remaining competitive. Trying to squeeze out one more quality year from Rich Hill? Definitely a Rays move. Bringing back Chris Archer? Ditto. So is signing… Michael Wacha?
One is unlike the others. There’s clear upside in Hill and Archer, but during the offseason, Wacha seemed like a run-of-the-mill option. He had a career-worst 6.62 ERA in 2020, and while his peripherals were better (a 5.25 FIP, a 4.30 xFIP, a 3.99 SIERA), they aren’t exactly admirable numbers. Yet, the Rays stuck with him. And after two rough starts, Wacha managed to shut out the Yankees over six frames with nine strikeouts last Friday.
Lucky? Maybe. The Yankees’ offense is struggling, after all. But the Michael Wacha of now is the result of a few refinements to his game. They aren’t as noticeable as Tyler Glasnow adding a slider, but they’re there, and I suppose someone needs to write about them. Read the rest of this entry »
To the surprise of no one, the Dodgers are good. They lead all of major league baseball with a 10-2 record. They’ve outscored their opponents by 32 runs. Barring catastrophic injuries or a long run of bad luck, they seem poised to end the season as one of the league’s winningest teams.
You may be wondering where I’m going with this. It’s to introduce the idea that good teams are good by design. In a game whose goal is to maximize runs scored and minimize runs allowed, their hitters launch dingers, their pitchers compile strikeouts, and numerous depth players allow them to deal with injuries. But today, I want to focus on a single characteristic: plate discipline. As of writing, the Dodgers have the lowest in O-Swing% in the league. They’re also second in Z-Contact%, behind only the Astros. Laying off bad pitches, making contact with hittable ones – that seems like a recipe for success. And currently, no Dodger hitter is more emblematic of this approach than Max Muncy.
We haven’t written much about the first baseman here at FanGraphs. One reason might be that he isn’t the flashiest athlete – like Trout, he achieves greatness through consistent production at the plate. Theatrics are kept to a minimum, save for when he feuded with Madison Bumgarner. But another, more relevant reason might be that Muncy had remained true to himself since 2018, his breakout year. Sure, his wRC+ plummeted in 2020, but he sported an uncharacteristically low BABIP in one of baseball’s weirdest seasons. Besides that quirk, nothing much had changed. He drew his share of walks; he hit for power.
That is, until now. Somehow, someway, Muncy has become an even more extreme version of his patient, slugging self. His O-Swing rate of 12.5% is the lowest among all hitters, which is also the lowest of his career. But wait, that’s based on 12 games! How do you know this isn’t some small-sample blip? I wondered about that too, but looking at his rolling O-Swing% tells a different story, one which began in 2019:
To begin, I want you to take a look at this screenshot from Saturday’s game between the Mets and Marlins at Citi Field. What do you think happened? What might have been the outcome?
First things first: That’s Jacob deGrom on the mound. He’s the best pitcher on Earth, as well as other inhabited worlds we have yet to discover. And as expected, he’s been mowing down the Marlins. In the first inning, he dismantled Corey Dickerson on four fastballs that went 99.9, 99.8, 100.4, and 100.1 mph. Next, he struck out Starling Marte with two fastballs, both above 99 mph, and a wicked slider. Could Jesús Aguilar, the next batter, save face for his team? Nope; unable to keep up with deGrom’s heater, Aguilar popped out to Pete Alonso in foul territory.
After deGrom retired two more Marlins — both on strikeouts — we’re back to the moment in the screenshot. In the batter’s box is Jazz Chisholm, one of Miami’s many promising young players. Today, in addition to manning second base, he’s tasked with facing a pitcher who has been dominant thus far. It won’t be easy.
I guess it wouldn’t be baseball in these trying times without a debate about the state of the ball. This year’s rendition started in February when Eno Sarris and Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic reported that they obtained an internal memo Major League Baseball had sent outlining changes to the baseball that would “reduce offense slightly in the 2021 season.” Specifically, Rawlings loosened the tension of the ball’s first wool winding, reducing the weight and bounciness of the ball as measured by COR, or the coefficient of restitution.
How would the new ball affect the league’s offensive environment? At that point, we could only speculate. Included in Sarris and Rosenthal’s article is a cautionary tale from the Korean Baseball Organization, which experienced a crash in league-wide offense after minor reductions to the ball’s COR. But the article also cited Dr. Meredith Willis, who believed that because MLB intended to reduce the ball’s COR along with its weight – the KBO actually increased the weight of its ball by one gram – the effects would be less severe. As for MLB, its memo included an independent lab that found minor decreases in fly ball distance with the new ball.
Then came spring training, and along with it the first uses of the new baseball. As March closed out, Rob Arthur and Ben Lindbergh published an article for The Ringer entitled “The New Baseball Still Seems Juiced.” Using data from spring training games, they made two key observations: (1) home run per contact rate had increased, not decreased, from last spring, and (2) the new ball seemed to have a high drag coefficient. “Higher drag should translate to less carry and fewer home runs,” Arthur and Lindbergh wrote. “Yet the higher-drag balls also have a higher home run rate on contact, because they have a substantially higher exit speed.” If the ball’s COR was really reduced, they added, the opposite phenomenon should occur. Read the rest of this entry »
This is Justin’s first piece as a FanGraphs contributor. Justin has always been a baseball fan and a writer, but it wasn’t until Hyun Jin Ryu began dominating in 2019 that he started to fuse those interests together. He’s written for a few places since then, including Prospects365 and Dodgers Digest, and is now hoping to pester the good people of FanGraphs with his deep-dives into niche topics. Outside of the baseball blogosphere, he’s a student at Washington University in St. Louis.
Jack Leiter has been outstanding. So far this college baseball season, the sophomore from Vanderbilt University is sporting a minuscule 0.25 ERA in 36 innings pitched. He’s struck out 59 batters. Oh, and fun fact: He had a no-hit streak that lasted 20 innings. That’s largely thanks to a masterful no-hitter against South Carolina on March 21, during which he fanned 16 batters and allowed just a single walk. In his next start, he had seven no-hit innings going against Missouri but was pulled due to concerns over his ballooning pitch count.
At this point, to call Leiter outstanding might even be an understatement. Of course, the ERA seems unsustainable, and it wouldn’t be surprising if the right-hander runs into a bad day – it’s a volatile sport, after all. But regardless of what happens in the future, he’s already made a lasting impression on fans and scouts. In the months leading up to the college baseball season, however, Leiter was at times overshadowed by teammate and fellow pitcher Kumar Rocker. And though Leiter was obviously well-regarded, his placement on public draft boards ranged. He was (and still is) No. 1 on our draft board, while MLB.com placed Rocker first and Leiter sixth in a ranking published in mid-December and Prospects Live featured Rocker first and Leiter fifth in their own mock draft published in January. Kiley McDaniel had Leiter second on his February board, ahead of Rocker, and noted that ranking Leiter above Rocker is “the consensus view after they’ve each made their first start of the season.”
There’s no doubt that Jack Leiter is good. However, it can be tricky to evaluate him because some of the standard metrics undersell his greatness. For example, let’s consider his four-seam fastball. It averaged around 92 mph last season, a mark that hardly stood out. He’s bumped it up to 93-94 mph this season, and he does top out at 98, but it’s possible to have overlooked him in favor of more eye-catching flamethrowers. His raw spin rates are between 2200 and 2400 rpm, a range that would appear light-blue if displayed on a Baseball Savant page. You might have expected more from a top pitching prospect, and that’s understandable. Read the rest of this entry »