Author Archive

The Cleveland Defense Is A Different Kind Of Problem Now

One year ago today, I wrote an article right here called  “The Indians Are Missing The Easy Ones,” which looked into just how awful the Cleveland defense had looked to that point. Though it included all the usual “it’s still early in the season” caveats, the simple fact was that the Indians had done little to help what had been (and would be) a fantastic young pitching staff with repeated miscues in the field, flaws that seemed obvious even in mid-April. (It was also a great excuse to have an article full of blooper GIFs. This is going to come up again.)

As it turned out, it wasn’t just a small sample size problem. The Indians went on to have the worst DRS in baseball at a shocking -75, and as Jeff Sullivan ably noted in August, the defensive gap alone was a huge component of what set the Indians apart from the Royals. If you buy into the idea that 10 runs equal a win, then DRS saw a difference of 11 wins between the two clubs on defense alone. Even if you don’t completely accept that full value as an accurate accounting, it’s pretty clear that poor fielding was a huge detriment to the 2014 Indians, and that’s a big deal considering that they missed the wild card by just three games.

So! Now it’s 2015. With somewhat of an inflexible roster, management was limited in the moves they could make, so while things look similar, they aren’t identical. The Carlos Santana third base experiment is long over. Asdrubal Cabrera’s adventures at shortstop are now Tampa Bay’s problem, with Jose Ramirez presenting a far superior defensive option. Yan Gomes’ second half looked a lot better than his first half. Nick Swisher’s achy knees haven’t yet appeared in a game. Tyler Holt showed defensive value as a backup outfielder late in the year. Jason Kipnis swore he was healthier after oblique and hamstring issues helped to tornado his 2014 season.

Story after story after story came up about the team’s focus on it this winter. This was never going to be a good defense, not with so much of the same cast and crew, but maybe enough had changed to think, okay, maybe this won’t be so bad. So how’s that going? Read the rest of this entry »


Milwaukee’s Untimely Collapse

Avert your eyes, Milwaukee Brewers fans. I apologize in advance for how painful this may be.

When the Brewers woke up on Monday morning, they were merely a bad baseball team, off to a 2-10 start, the worst in 47 years of Pilots/Brewers baseball. When they went to bed on Monday night, they were still a bad baseball team, off to a 2-11 start, one of just two teams with fewer than four wins. In between, second baseman Scooter Gennett joined the “stupidly weird injury” club, slicing his hand open in the shower. In between, star catcher Jonathan Lucroy left Monday’s 6-1 loss to Cincinnati early with what was revealed to be a fractured toe, one that manager Ron Roenicke could apparently hear happening.

So there’s terrible baseball, and then there’s this, in which a team that had just about no margin for error has gotten off to what’s basically the worst possible start imaginable. You can’t make the playoffs in April, but you sure can miss them. That’s a saying that exists or it’s one I’m either making up or poorly paraphrasing, but now it’s on the Internet, and therefore it’s true. Welcome to the 2015 Milwaukee Brewers, a team that just saw its season implode before it really began. Read the rest of this entry »


Billy Hamilton’s Reverse Lineup Protection

You’d think that here in 2015, alongside our flying hoverboards and pill-based meals, we’d have finally eradicated the myth of “lineup protection.” The idea that having a dangerous hitter on deck would give the pitcher incentive to challenge the current batter with hittable pitches lest he walk him and put a man on for the better hitter may make sense in theory, but in practice it’s been proven wrong in an endless stream of studies, dating back to at least 1985.

But as I’ve watched the first week of games, it keeps coming up on broadcasts, seemingly endlessly. It’s not worth worrying about whether a great hitter has someone dangerous behind him — that hasn’t stopped Andrew McCutchen or Giancarlo Stanton or Robinson Cano in recent years — and it’s not worth worrying about whether the hitters in front of those great hitters get more hittable pitches. It’s been definitively proven that either there’s no effect at all or, if there is one, it’s so imperceptibly small and clouded by other variables that there’s no meaningful gain to be had from it.

It’s certainly not my intention today to give you yet another study on why lineup protection is terribly overrated in the traditional sense. What’s more interesting today is that we’re seeing, at least in one case in the early going, a different kind of lineup protection. Read the rest of this entry »


The Reinvention Of Mat Latos Isn’t Off To A Good Start

You already know what I’m going to say — this early in the year, we don’t really care about results so much as we care about what goes into those results. Maybe that’s a new pitch, or a new batting stance, or our first look at a guy trying to come back from an injury. Sometimes, though, you can’t help but start with the results. In Mat Latos’ Miami debut, there were certainly results:

latos_box_score

So that’s pretty bad, and generally you’d let it go by as just one of those things, in the same way that no one really thinks that Cole Hamels’ lousy first start means anything more than a very good pitcher having a very bad day. But like with the interest in seeing what kind of pitcher Masahiro Tanaka would be, there’s interest in Latos. After several good seasons, his 2014 was ruined by left knee surgery and right elbow soreness, after which the Reds flipped him to to a Miami team that plans on contending for a decent enough pitching prospect in Anthony DeSclafani and minor league catcher Chad Wallach’s intriguing offensive profile. Read the rest of this entry »


The Reds Actually Chose Kevin Gregg Over Aroldis Chapman

It’s far too early to put serious weight on just about anything (save for injuries, or growing concern about those injuries) you see in the first 36 hours of a baseball season. It’s far too early to do much of anything other than say, “hey, baseball’s back, isn’t that great?” I mean, Buddy Carlyle and Chris Hatcher are on pace for 162 saves. The Red Sox are on pace for 810 homers. Probably not going to happen. Could happen. Won’t happen.

So we know not to look at the in-season numbers for at least a few weeks, lest we forget what Charlie Blackmon and Dee Gordon did last April as compared to the rest of the season. But it’s not like we’re simply not going to talk about baseball until then, and it’s not like there aren’t takeaways we can make from what we’re seeing right now. Like this one, for example: Seemingly years after most smart baseball team gave up on the save rule, why are we still seeing managers risk victories in service of it? Read the rest of this entry »


2015 Positional Power Rankings: Starting Rotations (#16-30)

What do we have here? For an explanation of this series, please read this introductory post. As noted in that introduction, the data below is a hybrid projection of the ZIPS and Steamer systems, with playing time determined through depth charts created by our team of authors. The rankings are based on aggregate projected WAR for each team at a given position.

Yes, we know WAR is imperfect and there is more to player value than is wrapped up in that single projection, but for the purposes of talking about a team’s strengths and weaknesses, it is a useful tool. Also, the author writing this post did not move your team down ten spots in order to make you angry. We don’t hate your team. I promise.

2015_fangraphs_startingpitchers_war_projection_16-30

As we get into the back half of the starting rotations, that chart would look a whole lot better for the teams on the right side if you chose to willfully ignore that there’s 15 teams better than them not even shown here. This is where the pitching’s going to get a little dark. I’m tempted to just go with “it doesn’t matter, they’re all going to get hurt anyway and one day we’ll all be dead,” but that seems a little too bleak. Still, it’s sort of how you feel relying on any pitcher these days. Right? No? Just me? Okay, fine. Read the rest of this entry »


Trying To Optimize The Rockies Rotation For Coors Field

A few weeks back, I wrote about Jorge de la Rosa’s remarkable mastery of Coors Field, a fact made all the more interesting by the reality that he’s struggled badly pretty much everywhere else. One of the comments on that piece put forth a pretty fascinating idea:

The Rockies need to break the straitjacket of the five-man rotation on a fixed schedule. Rather, they need to platoon their starters to some degree. Split them into ‘pitch mainly at Coors’ and ‘pitch mainly on the road’.

Could that possibly work? Should it? I’ve been thinking about it ever since then, during which time two things have happened. First, Jeff Sullivan wrote a very similar piece about Jered Weaver and the Angels, causing me to mostly table this. But then second, the Rockies announced that the vastly inferior Kyle Kendrick would start on Opening Day, opening the door to “worst Opening Day starter ever” articles, and that they’d push de la Rosa all the way to the fourth game of the season… which just so happens to be the home opener.

Are they actually trying to put this into motion? It’s true that de la Rosa is battling a groin injury this spring and probably could use as many extra days as the team can give him, but it’s also clear that they want him on the mound at home whenever possible. It might be just as clear that Kendrick, who always seemed an odd fit for the Rockies, would be best served setting foot in the state of Colorado as few times as possible. Maybe this isn’t just about de la Rosa’s odd skill; maybe he’s just the starting point. Let’s put forward a plan to optimize the Rockies’ rotation. Read the rest of this entry »


2015 Positional Power Rankings: Catcher

What do we have here? For an explanation of this series, please read this introductory post. As noted in that introduction, the data below is a hybrid projection of the ZIPS and Steamer systems, with playing time determined through depth charts created by our team of authors. The rankings are based on aggregate projected WAR for each team at a given position.

Yes, we know WAR is imperfect and there is more to player value than is wrapped up in that single projection, but for the purposes of talking about a team’s strengths and weaknesses, it is a useful tool. Also, the author writing this post did not move your team down ten spots in order to make you angry. We don’t hate your team. I promise.

As we kick off the 2015 Positional Power Rankings with catchers, let’s start with a chart of the projected WAR totals, and…

2015catchers_positional-power-rankings

…and good lord, Giants and Diamondbacks, for two entirely different reasons.

Immediately obvious: Buster Posey isn’t just the best catcher in baseball, he’s the best by a considerable amount. Also equally obvious: It’s going to be a really, really long season in Arizona. In between, you’ve got some pretty clear tiers of 4-6 teams apiece, and that’s far more important than the actual rankings themselves. After the Giants, the next 10 teams break down easily into two blocks, and then beyond that, starting with the Mets at No. 12, there’s a soft decline from “acceptable” to “poor” to, well, the Diamondbacks.

Remember, please, that there’s just not a lot of meaning in tenths of a point of WAR, so while (for example) we have the Mets and Rays separated by nine spots, they’re only 0.4 WAR from one another. Remember, also, that our WAR formula doesn’t currently account for pitch framing, which has been pretty well acknowledged here and elsewhere as being a real thing that exists. You’ll just need to mentally account for additions (or demerits) for those catchers well-known to be valued (or avoided) based on that skill. Read the rest of this entry »


Tony Cingrani, Now In A Position To Succeed

Tony Cingrani is going to the Reds bullpen, having already been ruled out of the Cincinnati starting competition. If that’s a surprise, it’s only because after they shed Alfredo Simon and Mat Latos over the winter, the team might now actually start the season with one (or both!) of Paul Maholm and Jason Marquis in the rotation. As Dave Cameron laid out yesterday, that’s absolutely no way for a team on the fringes of contention to be operating.

Cingrani isn’t pleased about it, but let’s be honest and admit that he seemed like a future reliever from the day he set foot in the big leagues. In a short cameo at the end of 2012, he threw 90% fastballs. In 104.1 innings in 2013, he threw 81% fastballs, trying desperately to find a useable second pitch. Last year, he got that down to 73%, but he also missed a considerable portion of the season with a shoulder injury, not pitching at all after June 19.

Or, put another way: Read the rest of this entry »


It’s Time To Fix Baseball’s Broken Service Time System

Kris Bryant is almost universally hailed as the best prospect in baseball, and for what absolute little spring stats count for, he’s got a 1.561 OPS in spring training. He destroyed Triple-A in a half season of play in 2014, just like he did at every level since he was drafted No. 2 overall in 2013, putting up a 194 (!) wRC+ in 860 minor league plate appearances. The Cubs traded incumbent third baseman Luis Valbuena to Houston this winter in an obvious move to make room for Bryant, even if they won’t admit it.

Bryant is unquestionably ready for the big leagues — all four of our projection systems have him for between a 129-132 wRC+ — and yet, there’s almost no chance that he’ll actually be on the Cubs’ Opening Day roster. Enjoy Mike Olt and Tommy La Stella for the first two weeks, Cubs fans. This is so, so dumb. Read the rest of this entry »