Author Archive

Alex Lange Loves His Curves But Not His Edges

Alex Lange
Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

The role of the closer is diminishing every year, but it seems like no one told the Tigers. Only five different Detroit relievers recorded a save last season, tied for the lowest total among all 30 teams. Over the past five years, only 13 Tigers have earned a save. No other team has had fewer than 17 different pitchers save a game in that time; the Rays have had 35. In the last ten years, the Tigers have had only 28 players save a game, still the lowest total in the sport. The Rays, for comparison, have had 57 different pitchers record a save since 2013.

In part, this is because Detroit hasn’t been very good. When save situations are few and far between, there is less need to spread around the closing opportunities. Yet it’s not all about the wins and losses. For the past decade, the Tigers have had a go-to closer nearly every year. From veteran relievers like Joaquín Benoit, Joe Nathan, Joakim Soria, and Francisco Rodríguez to younger arms like Shane Greene and Bryan Garcia, the Tigers have shown a tendency to name a singular closer and hand him the ball in the ninth.

It seemed like this trend might finally have come to an end when A.J. Hinch took over as manager, but Gregory Soto recorded the majority of his team’s saves in 2021 and prompted Hinch to name him the closer that October. In 2022, the Tigers had one of the deepest bullpens in baseball and easily could have opted for a closer-by-committee, but Hinch stayed true to his word. Soto earned 30 of their 38 saves and took the mound in the majority of save situations. Read the rest of this entry »

Phillies Add Josh Harrison To Replenish a Depleted Bench

Josh Harrison
Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

Back on January 5, Phillies president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski told members of the media that he was largely finished making moves. Two days later, he finalized a deal for Tigers closer Gregory Soto. On January 19, Dombrowski made a similar statement, claiming he wasn’t planning to add any more players ahead of spring training. Before the month was up, he flipped the switch again, signing infielder Josh Harrison to a one-year, $2 million contract. This is the latest example of what’s becoming a trend for Dombrowski: surprising the Philadelphia faithful with better players and bigger budgets than they were expecting.

A party pooper might tell you that signing Harrison isn’t on the same level as Dombrowski’s big surprise from last winter, when he inked Nick Castellanos and pushed the Phillies’ payroll over the luxury tax for the very first time. Then again, an even bigger party pooper might respond by pointing out that Harrison was worth 2.1 more WAR than Castellanos last season. The first party pooper could reply by citing Harrison’s mediocre Steamer projections for the upcoming year; the biggest party pooper of all would chime in to remind you that no amount of surprise free-agent signings will cancel student debt or slow down rising sea levels or make Dick Monfort stop talking. But I’m getting off topic now.

Signing Harrison isn’t a season-altering move, but it’s further proof the Phillies are willing to spend the necessary dollars to keep up in the NL East. A more optimistic fan might also see the symbolism of this signing, as Dombrowski continues to right the wrongs of the previous front office regime. The Phillies first signed Harrison to a minor league deal back in November 2019 but ultimately chose Neil Walker as their utility infielder instead. Harrison ended up playing 33 games for the Nationals that season with a 108 wRC+; Walker, on the other hand, played just 18 games in Philadelphia, posting a dismal 43 wRC+, getting DFA’d in September, and retiring not long after. The Phillies missed the postseason by one measly game that year, and it’s hard not to wonder if keeping the proper infielder would have made all the difference. Signing Harrison in 2023 doesn’t get the Phillies to the playoffs in 2020, but it closes the door on a frustrating front office decision from one of the most frustrating seasons in recent memory. But again, I digress. Read the rest of this entry »

Whit Merrifield, King of Stealing Third

Whit Merrifield
Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

If I asked you to visualize the prototypical stolen base, you’d probably picture a runner taking off for second. Conversely, if I asked you to conjure up the most thrilling stolen base you could imagine, you’d pick a play at the plate. Stolen bases at third, then, are the neglected middle child — too infrequent to warrant much conversation or analysis, but not unusual enough to drum up excitement. But third is more than just the base between second and home, and stealing third regularly and efficiently is a distinct skill.

For one thing, steals of third base make for a faster showdown between catcher and runner. The average pop time on a throw to second last season was 1.97 seconds; on a throw to third, it was 1.55 seconds — nearly half a second quicker. The distance between bases, however, is the same all around the diamond, which means a runner needs a much better jump when he’s going for third. Thus, stealing third is less of a race and more of a mind game. Pure speed is less important, but the perfect lead and a well-timed jump are invaluable. Read the rest of this entry »

Adam Duvall Is the Latest Piece in Boston’s Offseason Puzzle

Kyle Ross-USA TODAY Sports

Chaim Bloom’s plan to replace Trevor Story began to take shape Wednesday morning, as the Boston Red Sox signed outfielder Adam Duvall to a one-year, $7 million deal. Duvall can earn an additional $3 million in playing time incentives; he missed the second half of the 2022 season with an injured wrist, and the Red Sox are hedging their bets against another IL stint.

A couple of weeks ago, this signing wouldn’t have made much sense. Boston’s outfield looked all set with Masataka Yoshida in left field, Enrique Hernández in center, and Alex Verdugo in right, plus Rob Refsnyder on the bench and Jarren Duran at Triple-A. But then their second baseman/potential shortstop underwent major surgery on his throwing arm, and the Red Sox were thrown for a loop. The versatile Hernández, who’s played every position save for catcher, became the shortstop by default, and Boston needed a new center fielder. Enter Duvall.

Duvall took up center field late in life, making his first appearance there a few weeks before his 32nd birthday. He started his first game there the following April and didn’t become a primary center fielder until last year, his age-33 season. In 2023, he’ll attempt to play his first full season as a center fielder at an age when most players are already moving down the defensive spectrum. Read the rest of this entry »

Andrew McCutchen Sets Sail for Home

Andrew McCutchen
Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports

After five seasons and four different teams, Andrew McCutchen is returning to the ballclub where it all began. On Friday morning, the 36-year-old outfielder came to terms with the Pirates on a one-year, $5 million contract. The deal is pending a physical, but the official hype video is already up on Twitter.

McCutchen was remarkable in his first stint with Pittsburgh, putting up 46 WAR from 2009 to ’17. Only five players were more valuable during those nine years: Mike Trout, Buster Posey, Joey Votto, Miguel Cabrera, and Robinson Canó. McCutchen hit 203 home runs, stole 171 bases, and led the Pirates to three straight postseason appearances, including their first in more than 20 years. He’s the best player in the history of PNC Park and the greatest Pirate since Barry Bonds. Read the rest of this entry »

Why Bo Bichette’s Wheels Fell Off in 2022

Brent Skeen-USA TODAY Sports

Bo Bichette burst onto the scene in 2021, proving to be every bit the star he looked like as a prospect. His bat was dynamic, and he hit for both power and average. His defense at shortstop was passable, which was all anyone could have hoped for. He was durable, too, ranking among the league leaders in both plate appearances and defensive innings. Yet despite all that, the most exciting aspect of his game wasn’t his bat, or his glove, or his resilience; I’d argue it was his baserunning.

According to BsR, the comprehensive baserunning metric we use here at FanGraphs, the young phenom was electric on the bases. He finished with the seventh-highest BsR in baseball, ahead of names like José Ramírez, Myles Straw, and Trea Turner. Meanwhile, he ranked just 37th among qualified players in wRAA and 72nd in OAA. In other words, his value on the bases was where Bichette stood out most from the rest of the league. The metrics from other sources support this point — Baseball Reference had Bichette tied for 11th in baserunning, while Baseball Prospectus had him at 16th. Only six other players ranked among the top 20 on all three sites: Read the rest of this entry »

Johnny Cueto Brings a Veteran Presence to a Promising Marlins Rotation

Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

The 2022 AL Comeback Player of the Year Award went to Justin Verlander, but were it not for Verlander’s historic return from Tommy John surgery, the hardware could have gone to Johnny Cueto instead. In 2022, Cueto signed a minor league contract with the White Sox on Opening Day. There was little doubt he would eventually make the major league roster, but it was still telling that the former All-Star and Cy Young finalist was forced to sign a non-guaranteed deal. He hadn’t thrown a full season since 2016, and as he entered the back half of his 30s, the once great pitcher’s career seemed to be winding down.

The veteran right-hander went on to pitch 25 games for Chicago, tossing 158.1 innings with a 3.35 ERA and 2.4 WAR. Only two AL hurlers, Framber Valdez and Shane Bieber, averaged more innings per start (min. 100 IP). Best of all, Cueto kept off the injured list, and from his debut on May 16 through the end of the season, he never missed a start. As a reward for his bounce-back performance, he earned himself a big league contract with the Marlins worth $8.5 million. The deal comes with a $10.5 million team option for 2024 (or a $2.5 million buyout). Read the rest of this entry »

Diamondbacks Get a Little Better by Signing Evan Longoria

Evan Longoria
Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

The hot corner got a little hotter in the Valley of the Sun last Friday, as the Diamondbacks topped off a busy holiday season with the acquisition of a new third baseman. Evan Longoria is heading to Arizona on a one-year, $4 million contract with an additional $1 million in incentives. He figures to play most of his games at third base, with opportunities to DH as well.

These two sides are a good fit for several reasons, chief among them that Longoria simply wanted to play in Arizona. Heading into the offseason, he stated that he would only consider offers from the Giants, Rays or Diamondbacks (in other words, places he already had homes). It’s likely he lost some leverage by showing his hand so early — $4 million is a tad low for a player who posted 3.0 WAR over the last two seasons — but it’s hard to imagine Longoria is losing any sleep. He gets to play close to home (one of them, anyway) for a team that will give him a real opportunity to prolong his career. The D-backs aren’t true contenders, but if Longoria plays well enough, he’ll find himself in a new uniform by the trade deadline anyway. Read the rest of this entry »

Light Chanukah Reading for the Analytically Inclined

Chanukah menorah

As of sundown on December 18, Chanukah has officially begun. Meanwhile, barring any more surprises from Steve Cohen, the peak of the hot stove season is winding down. There are still several talented players up for grabs, but the top 10 of our top 50 free agents are all off the board, and only three remain from the top 25. After a busy month, things are starting to settle into place.

Thus, as the holidays begin and the busiest part of the offseason comes to a close, now seems like the perfect time to share a couple of minute and trivial statistical tidbits with a Chanukah connection. Here is a close look at grounding into double plays, the three true outcomes, and baseball miracles in honor of the Jewish festival of light. (No prior knowledge of Chanukah, Judaism, or the Talmud required.) Read the rest of this entry »

Narváez, Hedges, McCann Latest Catchers To Find New Teams

Austin Hedges
Scott Galvin-USA TODAY Sports

Catchers are not the swiftest of ballplayers, yet they’ve been moving around this winter like hot potatoes. Willson Contreras went to St. Louis as the heir to Yadier Molina’s throne. Sean Murphy, William Contreras, and Manny Piña switched places in the biggest trade of the hot stove season. Veterans Christian Vásquez, Mike Zunino, and Luke Maile changed uniforms as well. As things currently stand, more than a dozen clubs will have a new primary catcher in 2023.

The shuffle continued within the past week, with the news that three more backstops are moving teams. On December 15, the Mets signed Omar Narváez to a one-year, $8 million contract with a $7 million player option for 2024. Two days later, the Pirates signed Austin Hedges on a one-year, $5 million deal. Then, late on December 21, the Mets sent James McCann to the Orioles for a player to be named later. Hedges and McCann have already been added to the Pirates and Orioles rosters, respectively; the Mets have yet to announce Narváez. Read the rest of this entry »