Author Archive

Austin Gomber Has Adjusted to Life at Coors Field

Austin Gomber came to the Rockies by way of the Nolan Arenado trade back in January, but of the five players acquired by Colorado, he faced the most immediate pressure as the lone newcomer expected to contribute to the big league club right away. That may feel like a bit of misfortune for a 27-year-old pitcher simply trying to find a foothold on a big league roster after bouncing between Triple A and the bigs between 2018 and ‘20 while with the Cardinals. Being traded for a franchise cornerstone wasn’t his only bit of rotten luck; he now has to make half of his starts in Coors Field, a place that is far and away the worst pitcher’s park in baseball. Read the rest of this entry »

How Brandon Crawford’s New Swing Turned Things Around

Brandon Crawford’s career has always centered around his elite defense; he’s won three Gold Gloves and has been one of the best defenders in baseball over the last decade. But behind the accolades for his glove was a quietly improving offensive player. He upped his wRC+ each season in his first five and earned down-ballot MVP votes in 2016 on the back of 5.2 WAR and career-best defensive metrics. Heading into his age-30 season in ’17, our positional power rankings pegged him as one of the best shortstops in baseball and projected him for 3.5 WAR.

Instead, Crawford started a sharp decline, putting up just 4.4 WAR over the next three years. By the time 2020 rolled around, his career was a half-sunk dinghy; coming off of a near–replacement-level season, he was expected to lose playing time. And his downturn couldn’t have come at a worse time, with free agency coming after the 2021 season and the Giants under new boss Farhan Zaidi beginning to transition away from the aging veterans who made up a big chunk of San Francisco’s roster. But facing the end, Crawford posted a 111 wRC+ and a career-high .209 ISO last season, then built on that improvement this year with a 141 wRC+ and 2.1 WAR — the latter the best figure than he’s put up since ’17.

The following chart shows a closer look at his late-career resurgence.

Crawford Through the Years
Era wRC+ ISO EV WAR per 600 PA
2015-2016 (Peak) 109 0.179 89.5 4.8
2017-2019 (Decline) 84 0.138 87.6 1.5
2020-2021 (Current) 126 0.241 89.4 4.7

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The Perks of a Rangy First Baseman

Last week at Baseball Prospectus, Rob Arthur looked at the rise of advanced defensive positioning since 2015. It turns out that every position has started playing deeper, but — perhaps unsurprisingly — first basemen have moved the least of all. As Arthur writes, “First basemen have barely budged, which makes sense since they are more anchored to the bag.” But this lack of movement feels like a concession that doesn’t necessarily need to be made. The base is fixed, and the defender has to reach it, but a quicker first baseman would be able to stray farther from the anchor. If the lack of an anchor is allowing these other positions to play in more optimal locations, then some of the range that has always been a prerequisite for playing those positions is potentially going to waste. Let’s get some of those more rangy players over to first base, which doesn’t allow for the defender to be so perfectly placed.

The Right-Handed Shift

One of the reasons I’m interested in the positioning of first basemen is how it relates to the current conundrum involving the right-handed shift, about which folks like Tom Tango, Russell Carlton and Ben Lindbergh have written countless words. The short recap is that the publicly available data suggests that the right-handed shift doesn’t really work. And yet, some of the most data-driven teams are the ones that employ the shift the most.

There are a few things that make the right-handed shift different than the more prevalent left-handed one, but what I’m focused on is first base and the existence of that “anchor” that was mentioned earlier. First basemen can only stray off the bag as far as allows them to return safely in time for the throw. Turns out, that isn’t nearly far enough to cover the tendencies of the hitter. Read the rest of this entry »

Kenta Maeda Has Made a Lot of Mistakes

Last week, you may have noticed that Kenta Maeda prominently featured in a Matthew Roberson article on this site, though probably not in the way he would have liked. He was the guy throwing the pitches that led to the “nearly 900 feet of home run” that Franmil Reyes hit. Maeda has been on the business end of a lot of home run highlights so far this year. He’s already given up seven of them after only surrendering nine last year in three times the number of innings pitched.

This is the same guy who finished second in AL Cy Young voting last season and allowed a stingy .219 wOBA (97th percentile). This year things are quite different, as Maeda carries a 6.56 ERA, a 6.16 FIP and a 4.19 xFIP through his first five starts. That 97th percentile wOBA from last season? Well it’s in the fourth percentile this season at .439. You might look at his elite walk rate of 4.5%, his swollen HR/FB rate of 26.9% and his soaring .372 BABIP and think that this is just a bit of bad luck. He’s not going to end the season having more than a quarter of his fly balls go for homers. But there’s more than just bad luck going on here. Maeda is getting hit extremely hard. He’s already allowed as many hard hits (95 mph or higher) in 2021 as he did all of last season and his xERA (the newest ERA estimator found here at FanGraphs, courtesy of Statcast) is 5.17.

So what’s going on? If you came into this article knowing anything about Maeda, it might be the fact that he has a great slider. According to our pitch values, it’s hard to find one better. Maeda’s was the sixth best slider in baseball from 2016-20. Here are his pitch values on his four main offerings throughout his career, with usage thrown in as well.

Kenta Maeda’s Pitch Values with Usage
Year Fastball Slider Curveball Changeup
2016 4.8 (42.9%) 19.1 (28.8%) -6.4 (17.9%) 4.4 (10.4%)
2017 3.9 (43.5%) 6.3 (25.0%) 0.6 (14.1%) -5.7 (9.0%)
2018 -2 (44.4%) 6.7 (27.5%) -5.8 (11.4%) 7 (15.2%)
2019 0.2 (37.4%) 19.0 (30.8%) 0.8 (7.3%) 4.3 (23.8%%)
2020 7.3 (25.9%) 5.8 (39.9%) 0.8 (3.4%) 7.8 (28.9%)
2021 -5.5 (29.9%) -7.3 (42.1%) 0 (3.7%) -0.9 (24.3%)

Over the years, he has become more reliant on his plus slider and this year is no different, as he’s throwing it at a career-high rate. But the pitch has betrayed him completely. All of his pitches have struggled, mind you, but because the slider has been his most consistent pitch throughout his career, I think it’s worth focusing on. Read the rest of this entry »

Fastball Freddy’s Fast New Windup

There are two things that jump out to me about Freddy Peralta’s start to the 2021 season. The first is that the man once known as Fastball Freddy is throwing said fastball at a career-low rate. The second is that he’s added some new moves into his windup that may be increasing his deception. Amidst all that change are some underlying command issues that suggest he still has things to work on.

Let’s start with his windup, which I’ve become absolutely fixated on. It’s not at all the windup I remembered him having, and I’m mesmerized by it.

Like an alarm clock going from a restful existence into a blaring beep that jiggles itself off the nightstand, Peralta has added some chaos to his delivery. What once was a fairly normal over-the-head windup and cross-body release has gotten more complicated. The leg kicks up higher, his feet are more caffeinated, and he starts in a more hunched position as if to make his over-the-head motion easier to attain. His new windup is nearly a half a second faster from start to release. And did I mention his feet? His feet!

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MLB The Show 21 Is Being Released to Its Widest Audience Ever

This is Luke’s first piece as a FanGraphs contributor. Luke has been a graphic designer in the golf industry for the last five years, though he’s never truly enjoyed that particular “swing at a ball” sport. Rather, it’s baseball that provides the proper amount of weirdness for him. Umpires ringing up hitters. Gold Glovers awkwardly squirming under wind-blown popups. Sluggers whiffing on 88 mph fastballs. That stuff is Luke’s wheelhouse, and he explores those interests on his site, The Pop Up Dance. He lives in Portland and is on a never ending quest to find the mythical Jeff Sullivan. You can purchase the new FanGraphs t-shirts he designed here.

For its entire 15-year history, MLB The Show has been exclusive to Sony consoles, from the PlayStation 2 up to the current era PlayStation 5. The reason for that is simple: Sony owns San Diego Studio, the creators of the game. But this year, a whole new group of gamers will be able to join in the digital action, as MLB The Show 21 will be released on Microsoft’s Xbox consoles for the first time; it’ll also be a part of the company’s subscription service with millions of active subscribers. This move allows for casual or new baseball fans to enjoy the acclaimed video game series without the barrier of it being full-priced. Increasing the accessibility of MLB The Show is a great way to get new fans interested in not just the video game, but the sport of baseball itself. There is a lot to parse here, so a little background should help us fully understand the baseball ramifications.

At the time, San Diego Studio was fairly small compared to some of the other sports video game studios, such as EA Sports (the makers of Madden and FIFA) and 2K Sports (NBA 2K). 2K Sports even had a licensed baseball game of their own that was released yearly on multiple consoles, including PlayStation.

San Diego Studio began releasing their MLB The Show series in 2006 to immediate praise. Focused on a revolutionary “Road To The Show” mode in which one could create a player and play their way up through the minors, MLB The Show quickly became the game that baseball fans wanted to have. Year after year it racked up high review scores for its polished and innovative releases — the funny commercials were just a bonus. San Diego Studio was making their rival obsolete.
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