There’s a question that gets asked all the time on baseball social media. The variations are endless, but essentially, it boils down to this: Would you rather have an ultra-consistent hitter in Player X, who you can count on for a daily hit, or an uneven hitter in Player Y, who oscillates between prime Barry Bonds and a benchwarmer?
Given specific numbers, you could work out whether Player X or Y is more valuable. But what if we assume they’re players of equal caliber? That’s where it gets tricky. Maybe I’m only seeing certain answers, but in such cases, it seems like people prefer the clockwork Player X. It makes sense: The prospect of guaranteed production is reassuring, as befits our risk-averse tendencies. I have a hunch that we generally overvalue consistency in baseball, but I’m not here to prove that. Instead, I wanted to find out which hitters have been steady at the plate this season, and which hitters have been mercurial.
Over on our Splits Leaderboards, you can break down hitters’ seasons into weekly chunks. They range from Isaac Paredes’ destruction of the league in mid-June (488 wRC+) to Travis Demeritte’s hit-less and walk-less stretch a month prior (-100 wRC+). From there, measuring the variance between those weeks is a fairly simple endeavor. I grouped the weeks by each player, then calculated the standard deviation in wRC+, which represents how spread apart a player’s weeks are from his overall production. The higher the standard deviation, the more variable he is; the lower the standard deviation, the more consistent. Read the rest of this entry »
With the 2022 KBO season halfway through, it seemed like a good opportunity to summarize the ins-and-outs of baseball over in Korea so far. Since I’m doing this in order of the standings, part one (in case you missed it) covered the SSG Landers, Kiwoom Heroes, LG Twins, KIA Tigers, and KT Wiz. Part two will focus on the remaining five teams: the Samsung Lions, Doosan Bears, Lotte Giants, NC Dinos, and Hanwha Eagles. Without further ado, here’s the latest on the Korea Baseball Organization.
What do you do when you lose Hae-min Park, your All-Star centerfielder, to free agency? Casually replace him with a 20-year-old prospect, that’s what. A second-round pick in 2021, Hyeon Joon Kim is filling in some big shoes with a .307/.401/.394 slashline so far. That doesn’t mean he’s an instant star, though. Contact-orientated hitters do fare better in Korea than they do in the States, but Kim’s utter lack of slug forewarns BABIP complications, and he’s not a particularly amazing fielder. Still, it’s great that the Lions have found a suitable replacement so quickly.
As for the Lions’ foreign players, Jose Pirela’s 167 wRC+ leads the team, dispelling the shroud of doubt created by his meager second half in 2021. The power hasn’t gone anywhere, and he’s even trimmed his already excellent strikeout rate. Since arriving in Korea in 2020, David Buchanan has gone from “solid No. 2/3 starter” to “bonafide ace.” And his latest partner, Albert Suárez, is looking like a successful acquisition (2.31 ERA/2.96 FIP). Most KBO teams have qualms with at least one of their foreign recruits; the Lions certainly do not.
But there’s a reason why they are in sixth place. Despite a career-best season in 2021, veteran lefty Jung-hyun Baek has crashed and burned this year and is practically unusable. Chae-heung Choi, a rotation stalwart, has left to complete his mandatory military service. On the position player side, rightfielder Ja-wook Koo looks nothing like his normal, hard-hitting self, and his trips to the injured list are likely to blame. What’s worse, the entire infield save for first baseman Ji-hwan Oh is on track for less than 1 WAR.
Looking back, it’s surprising that the Lions climbed all the way to second place last season. This feels more like a knock-back from fourth place to sixth. New contributors are providing the Lions a step forward, but the departures of old ones are dragging them two steps back. They aren’t terrible by any stretch of the imagination; it’s just that the losses have piled up. Read the rest of this entry »
With the 2022 KBO season halfway through, it seemed like a good opportunity to summarize the ins-and-outs of baseball over in Korea so far. Since I’m doing this in order of the standings, part one will talk about the SSG Landers, Kiwoom Heroes, LG Twins, KIA Tigers, and KT Wiz. Part two, which will be published tomorrow, will focus on the Samsung Lions, Doosan Bears, Lotte Giants, NC Dinos, and Hanwha Eagles, so don’t fret if your favorite team doesn’t appear here. Without further ado, here’s the latest on the Korea Baseball Organization.
A strong rotation is a key component of any dominant team, and the Landers have exactly that — the best in the KBO, in fact. It’s led by Wilmer Font, who threw nine perfect innings in his first start of the season but failed to receive a single run of support. He’s maintained that brilliance, posting a 1.94 ERA and 2.76 FIP so far. But guess who leads the league with a 1.43 ERA? That’s Kwang Hyun Kim, who I suspect took a few courses on modern pitching theory, because his sub-30% fastball rate and 40% slider rate are an analyst’s dream come true. Oh, and he’s throwing two ticks harder than he did in the States. Talk about a homecoming.
The Landers’ lineup, while not as untouchable, is no slouch, either. Shin-Soo Choo remains a valuable leadoff hitter with his penchant for walks at the ripe old age of 40. Seong-han Park is the best hitting shortstop in the league, team captain and rightfielder Yoo-seom Han is on pace for a career-best 5 WAR, and the ever-consistent third baseman Jeong Choi — think of him as a Miguel Cabrera-type who never experienced a drastic decline — is slashing .302/.410/.493. It’s not just the veterans, as Ji-hoon Choi, their 25-year-old centerfielder, is in the midst of a breakout campaign with a 130 wRC+.
Entering this season, however, the offense consisted of two major holes. Thankfully, the first has been addressed: In May, the Landers made a trade for Tigers catcher Min-sik Kim, which made sense given the negative WAR accrued by SSG catchers up to that point. Kim is wielding a league-average bat with his new team so far, and while his production will likely a dwindle a tad, he’s nonetheless a massive upgrade. Meanwhile, the second hole at second base remains an issue, and the Landers’ internal options are nonexistent. They may not go for another trade given that the current squad is enough to win the pennant, but it is a major weakness. Overall, these Landers are the team to beat this KBO season. Read the rest of this entry »
There probably isn’t a good way to pitch to Juan Soto. The man is simply impossible: End up an inch outside the zone, and he’ll take the pitch in stride, celebrating the occasion with his signature shuffle. End up anywhere near his comfort zone, and he’ll lace it into the outfield for a double, or worse, over the fence for a home run. You just have to pray and hope that Soto messes up his timing. He’s been blessed with a preternatural knack for plate discipline to go along with legitimate power, and to wrap up this sentence, he’s very good.
At the same time, pitchers must be doing something right, because so far, Soto is having the worst season of his career. With a 125 wRC+ as of this writing that might be other hitters’ best marks, Soto looks merely mortal in 2022. So what’s going on? I don’t claim to have all of or even necessarily the right answers, but I have a few ideas.
Before proceeding any further, I need to stress that Soto’s underperformance is largely a product of bad luck, plain and simple. Soto has a .207 BABIP. Nobody has a .207 BABIP! Even Joey Gallo has a .256 BABIP. Batting average on balls in play is mysteriously down in 2022, but that’s nowhere near enough to explain why Soto’s been a bottom-dweller in this regard. Another quirk from this year: Nearly everyone is lagging behind their expected wOBA because Statcast metrics have not been calibrated to the new offensive environment. Even so, the gap between Soto’s actual and expected wOBA is the 28th-largest in baseball. Soto isn’t really behaving like an inferior version of himself. The contact is there. The discipline is there. We’re still in June, and there’s plenty of time for a correction to occur. Read the rest of this entry »
Among catchers this season, Willson Contreras has been the talk of the baseball town. It’s easy to understand why: Here’s a fan favorite suddenly having a career-best season in a walk year. That grabs everyone’s attention. Suddenly, fans of others teams find themselves hoping that their favorite club will land him at the deadline or possibly this offseason. On the sabermetric side, there’s mounting evidence that Contreras has indeed taken a step forward. A catcher with this much offensive upside is a rarity, and with a robust 161 wRC+, the veteran has turned himself into prized jewel.
But enough about the Cubs or Contreras. Do you know who’s second in catcher wRC+ this season? That’s right, it’s Alejandro Kirk, who’s been the Blue Jays’ primary backstop ever since Danny Jansen headed to the IL with a fractured finger. His 146 wRC+ isn’t too far behind Contreras’, and the corresponding triple slash is a beauty: a .311/.392/.469 line is somewhat of a rarity in today’s game.
Kirk’s output might not be so surprising if you paid attention to his minor league numbers. Starting with Rookie ball in 2017, he raked at every level to which he was assigned, notching more walks than strikeouts, which led to a well-deserved big-league promotion in 2020. The Blue Jays gave him a proper chance the following year, and while he was serviceable, a 106 wRC+ in 189 plate appearances didn’t exactly leave a strong impression. This year, however, Kirk looks like the unstoppable force his minor league track record suggested he could be. Read the rest of this entry »
Jordan Montgomery hasn’t had the easiest of careers. While he established a name for himself with a solid rookie campaign in 2017, extended battles with injuries kept him off the mound in subsequent years. An underwhelming return in 2020 (5.11 ERA) raised questions about his future with the Yankees. But the much better peripherals (3.87 FIP, 3.65 xFIP) signaled a return to form, and the following year, Montgomery put together somewhat of a second breakout season, anchoring a rotation that was considerably more volatile than it is now.
Last year, Montgomery made an adjustment I thought was interesting but never got to write about, drastically raising his four-seam fastball usage in September, which had its pros and cons. On one hand, this newfound reliance on the hard stuff granted Montgomery the highest monthly strikeout rate of his career, as hitters found themselves whiffing at elevated fastballs. On the other hand, it led to a barrage of hard contact; the shape of Montgomery’s fastball isn’t great to begin with, and the corresponding decrease in sinker usage didn’t help, either.
Considering Montgomery’s excellent command, though, I believed he could make this new approach work in the long-term. So naturally, the development we’ve seen this season is… a near-abandonment of the four-seamer! His last five starts all featured a four-seam fastball usage under 10%; against the Tigers on June 5, Pitch Info thought he didn’t throw a single one. But Montgomery isn’t just tinkering with his pitch mix. Check out this side-by-side view of his typical arm slot in 2021 (left) versus 2022 (right):
It’s subtle, but you can see that Montgomery is throwing slightly less over-the-top than before. The Hawk-Eye readings bear this out: he’s lowered his average vertical release point from 6.70 feet to 6.47. What good is a different angle for? My theory is that it’s helped Montgomery exchange vertical movement for horizontal. His sinker is getting more drop and arm-side run than ever before, which is the sort of trade-off stuff models absolutely love (and opposing batters hate). It’s come at the cost of a worse four-seamer, but realistically, improving two diametrically opposed fastballs is a tall order. Montgomery made a choice to stick with one, and so far, it’s worked wonders.
Originally, this article had a much bigger focus on Montgomery. But looking around the league, I couldn’t help but notice several other pitchers who’ve placed a recent emphasis on their sinkers. There are the obvious names, like Clay Holmes and his triple-digit, bowling-ball sinkers, or basically the entire Giants rotation sans Carlos Rodón. Lesser-known examples (to the average fan, at least) include Mitch Keller, who, as noted by Michael Ajeto, switched to a sinker-slider combo after a disappointing start to his season. Oh, and did you know Robbie Ray reintroduced his long-dormant sinker? Wild. Maybe he reckons it’ll help curb the home runs. Read the rest of this entry »
No matter how good we are at what we do, mistakes are inevitable. They happen. That doesn’t make them any less embarrassing, of course, but such a reminder helps us to get over our mishaps. And though I’m no major leaguer, I assume hitters and pitchers alike need the occasional self-therapy session. Baseball is a taxing and capricious endeavor – one week you’re striking out batter after batter, the next you’re getting shelled. It takes quite a bit of mental fortitude.
Saturday, Kevin Gausman didn’t have the best start. It wasn’t a disaster by any means – he went six innings and gave up a single run – but with three walks and just four strikeouts, it paled in comparison to his typical dominance. Not only that, two of those walks were issued to Javier Báez. If you’re reading this, you know how unlikely that is. No qualified pitcher in baseball induces a higher rate of swings against pitches outside the zone than Gausman. No qualified hitter in baseball swings at pitches outside the zone more often than Báez. Based on the numbers, it seems like a foregone conclusion: Báez would struggle, while Gausman would triumph. Read the rest of this entry »
FanGraphs readers are a smart bunch. Though the comments can sometimes unravel into a series of shouting matches, the usual atmosphere is encouraging and collegial. For example, here’s a thought-provoking question I received a few weeks ago and my reply to it:
This is from an article I wrote about Framber Valdez and how he was on pace to shatter his own historic groundball-to-fly ball ratio. A five-man infield in any other circumstance would be out of the question, but consider just how many grounders Valdez generates. Among starters with a minimum of 200 innings pitched since 2020, he’s first in groundball rate (66.7%) by a wide, wide margin. With so few balls heading towards the outfield, does it make sense to reinforce the infield instead? It’s an intriguing inquiry, one that I promised would receive an answer. So here goes! Read the rest of this entry »
If you’re a major league pitcher right now, there’s a good chance life is pretty smooth. You’ve realized that you can throw more and more sliders without repercussions; it might even be an ideal strategy. You’ve also learned that by using a two-seam grip, you can upgrade a regular slider into a “sweeper,” which is shockingly effective for a pitch that’s so easy to learn. You’ve probably gained a much better understanding of how and why certain pitches do or don’t move. Knowledge is power, especially in baseball, and the modern pitcher is possibly the most educated athlete around.
Meanwhile, there are formerly innovative approaches that you don’t think twice about nowadays – they’ve become the norm. A great example is the high fastball. Back in the days of yore, a perfect fastball meant one located at the knees, down and away. But as pitch data became widely available, teams started to realize that throwing the fastball up would maximize swings and misses and minimize damage on contact. Regular high cheese also served to counteract the so-called fly ball revolution; an uppercut swing made golfing pitches at the bottom of the zone easier but left a hole at the top. Read the rest of this entry »
By now, you know how the Tampa Bay Rays operate: Due to their small budget, their success hinges on whether they can replace formerly cost-controlled and talented players with currently cost-controlled and talented players. The process works (even as we wish they would flex their financial muscle more often), and the Rays have been to every postseason since 2019.
But inevitably, the Rays’ way results in a few bumps in the road. Sometimes, prospects or trade acquisitions don’t pan out as hoped. This season in particular, their rotation has suffered a spate of injuries. Shane Baz is injured. Luis Patiño is injured. Tyler Glasnow might miss the entire season. As for internal options, Josh Fleming failed to impress as a starter and was recently optioned to Triple-A Durham. Fortunately, the Rays always seem to materialize at least one good player out of thin air each season. Their latest trick? Making a starter out of Jeffrey Springs.
What’s surprising is that unlike Fleming, Springs had virtually zero prior experience starting in the big leagues, save for two opportunities in his rookie year. Nonetheless, his workload has begun to increase. He tossed 4.2 innings against the Blue Jays on May 15, followed by 5.2 innings against the Orioles on May 21. And in his latest start, Springs pitched a full six innings, striking out six Yankees while giving up just two runs. But it was their B-squad! I know, yankeesfan0567. But what matters to the Rays is that Springs passed with flying colors, his spot in the rotation now all but entrenched. Read the rest of this entry »