Author Archive

The Chicago Cubs: A Dynasty in the Making

We’ve written a lot about the Cubs over the past year-plus. Nor is there any secret as to why that’s the case. After undergoing a deep rebuild, the organization resurfaced with a roster full of young homegrown stars and talented free-agent additions. The club played at high level throughout 2016, ultimately leading to one of the most exciting games in baseball history. The Cubs’ World Series victory was 2016’s best sports story of the year, and maybe even the best sports story of the past 50 years.

The Cubs haven’t been at the forefront of the winter newscycle. There have been plenty of other notable stories, of course. Chris Sale changed teams! Jerry Dipoto made a few trades! The Rockies signed Ian Desmond! And so on.

But the 2017 campaign is almost here, which means it’s time for projections, discussions about team depth, and then some more projections. So many projections. Most of which tab the Cubs to be the best or second-best team in baseball in 2017. I can’t envision a reasonable objection to either placement.

But what about 2018? How might the team fare in 2019? Using a combination of projection systems and other data sources, I peered into a crystal ball to see how well the Cubs are set up for a five-year run.

WAR Under Control

To project WAR, I used a method proposed by Tom Tango that weights the past three years’ WAR and applies an aging curve. The method isn’t perfect, particularly when it comes to pitchers, but I trust Tango’s methodology enough to go forward. For missing years, I gave the player 1 WAR.

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Four Reasons to Be Optimistic About Oakland’s Sean Manaea

Oakland A’s fans didn’t have many reasons to be optimistic in 2016. The team’s playoff odds peaked at 20%… on April 3rd. As the season wore on, Sonny Gray’s ERA rose almost as high as the home runs against him flew. The team’s 69-93 final record was the icing on the cake.

Sean Manaea provided one bright spot. Acquired from Kansas City in 2015 in exchange for Ben Zobrist, Manaea is a 6-foot-5, 245-pound lefty. He debuted in April and, after tweaking his changeup grip, remained in the rotation the entire season. He gave up more than his fair share of home runs, but the 14.7-point difference between his strikeout and walk rates (K-BB%) proved he could fool batters. His 93 xFIP- ranked alongside that of Rookie of the Year Michael Fulmer.

The 2017 season doesn’t look much rosier for the A’s organization. Our Depth Charts projections have them bringing up the rear in the AL West again. But at least the team’s fans can be optimistic Manaea will perform well in 2017, for four very good reasons.

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Why the Astros Didn’t Catch Chris Correa

The St. Louis Cardinals’ former director of amateur scouting, Chris Correa, is serving 46 months in jail for gaining unauthorized access to the Astros’ player information/evaluation database, codenamed Ground Control. A few days ago, MLB announced St. Louis’s penalty: they’d have to send $2 million and their top two draft picks to Houston.

From a network-security perspective, the case is interesting. It illustrates how difficult true network security really is, which raises the strong possibility that another team will attempt this in the future (if indeed one isn’t doing it right now).

Here’s a timeline of the incident up until it was made public:

  • March 2013 – April 2014: Correa accesses Ground Control using passwords of various Astros staff. (Source: David Barron and Jake Kaplan of the Houston Chronicle.)
  • June 2014: Deadspin posts leaked documents that were retrieved from Ground Control, mostly regarding trades or potential trades during the 2013 season. This action causes the Astros to contact MLB, who contacts the FBI to begin an investigation into the breach. (Source: Derrick Goold and Robert Partrick of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.)
  • June 2015: Michael S. Schmidt of the New York Times reports that the Cardinals are the prime suspects in this investigation.

Why didn’t the Astros detect the unauthorized access themselves? I don’t know anything about how they ran their security team, so I can only speculate. But I do have several years of experience in the network-security industry. I’ll use those to provide a perspective.

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Shawn Kelley’s Much Deserved Opportunity

Are you overshadowed by a rock-star colleague? Maybe you’re great at your job, but this person occupies a similar role and is amazing at theirs. This super-you exceeds expectations on every project, perpetually radiates serenity, and never burns popcorn in the office microwave. In actual talent level you’re not far behind this person, but in management’s eyes you don’t measure up. You’re employed, sure, but constantly feeling overlooked.

Shawn Kelley knows how you feel. For years, his managers overlooked him when they called for a closer. After spending four years in Seattle behind David Aardsma, Brandon League, and Tom Wilhelmsen, Kelley landed with the Yankees in 2013. Would he close games? Well, Mariano Rivera was not only the Yankees’ closer, but also their legend riding off into the sunset. And in 2014 it was David Robertson’s turn in the ninth.

After the Yankees traded Kelley to the Padres, Eno Sarris argued that he could close games. But A.J. Preller disagreed. One day before the season started, he acquired Craig Kimbrel. When Kelley signed with the Nationals prior to 2016, Jonathan Papelbon was the closer. When he wore out his welcome, Mark Melancon filled the role.

Kelley has been toiling in obscurity for his whole career, but 2017 may finally represent his first opportunity to shine. He’s the leading candidate to close games in D.C. I’m here to tell these folks and Nationals fans: it’s okay to get excited at the prospect of Shawn Kelley, Nationals closer.

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This Isn’t the Time to Trade Zach Britton

No offense to Welington Castillo, but the hottest topic in Orioles land right now is whether the team should trade Zach Britton. Clubs, unsurprisingly, have shown interest in a possible deal. Scour the web and you’ll find polemics both for and against one. I’m here to argue the latter case.

The Case For Trading Britton

The case for trading Britton isn’t hard to make. He’ll make $11.4 million next year, as projected by MLB Trade Rumors. That’s a lot of scratch for an ostensibly mid-market club to pay someone to pitch 70 innings.

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Few Marginal Players Will Get Qualifying Offers Today

Today at 5 p.m. E.T. is the deadline for teams to make a qualifying offer (QO) to their free agents. For years, this decision was straightforward: teams handed offers to anyone remotely worth it. Why not? Every player rejected them. It was a free draft pick.

Meanwhile, evidence mounted that players should adjust their strategy of “always reject.” Nelson Cruz, Stephen Drew, and Kendrys Morales (among others) showed that rejecting the offer wasn’t always a good idea. These players cost themselves big time.

Can you imagine the frustration they felt at reaching free agency only to see a big payday slip through their grasp? This year’s free agents are watching and learning. And teams are watching and learning with them.

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The Orioles’ Secret Sauce

Last week, both Jeff and I wrote about the Orioles and BaseRuns. Jeff said this towards the end of his piece:

In four of the last five years, the Orioles’ BaseRuns record has been better than the projected record by at least six wins. In the fifth year, they were the same. The point being, the Orioles have knocked their projections out of the park, and they’ve done it far more than anyone else.

I ended my article with the following quote:

Haven’t [the Orioles] overperformed their BaseRuns wins for many years now? Yes, they have. But they’re overperforming at run prevention, not run scoring.

That night, Buck Showalter thumbed his nose at us both. Specifically, he mocked and derided the concept of run prevention by refusing to use his best run preventer in a tied elimination game with one out and runners on the corners. That refusal hurt the team’s chances of winning in a high-profile way. And thus another Orioles team bit the dust.

Given what happened, the prospect of talking about the Orioles and run prevention makes me twitch. But I’ll suppress it because there’s some interesting analysis here. Onward!

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Strikeout Rates, BaseRuns, and the Orioles

As an Orioles fan, BaseRuns is never far from my thoughts. Since 2010, the team has outperformed its BaseRuns record every year — most notably in 2012, on the way to its first playoff appearance in over a decade. This year’s Orioles are no different, sitting last week at +5 wins versus what BaseRuns models. Fans say it’s Orioles Magic. The algorithm says such performances are expected. Jeff Sullivan doesn’t know precisely what to say.

After the team signed Pedro Alvarez, I paid attention when Dave asked if they would strike out too much, where by “too much” he meant “to such an extent that they’d win fewer games than their BaseRuns record suggests.” With another season in the books, I’ve picked up here where Cameron left off, exploring the relationship between a team’s strikeout rate and its BaseRuns in a few more ways.

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How to Judge the Atlanta Braves’ Rebuild

Atlanta Braves fans are waiting for their team to be consistently good again. After winning the division handily in 2013 but losing in the NLDS, the team fired general manager Frank Wren at the end of the following year. They replaced him with a duo: president of baseball pperations John Hart and GM John Coppolella. These two combined with longtime Braves executive John Schuerholz to form the team’s new brain trust.

They began rebuilding immediately. That offseason they sent familiar faces Evan Gattis, Jason Heyward, Craig Kimbrel, Justin Upton and Melvin Upton Jr. all packing. They signed longtime Oriole Nick Markakis. Midway through 2015, the team traded Alex Wood. After the season, they dealt Andrelton Simmons and then Shelby Miller. The only notable names remaining from Wren’s time were Freddie Freeman and Julio Teheran.

Two years after the regime change, I wanted to evaluate their efforts. But first, I needed metrics. How does one evaluate a rebuild? After pondering the subject, I landed on three aspects: team run differential, time, and payroll flexibility. Below I discuss how the Braves are doing in these areas.

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Ubaldo Jimenez Found His Mechanics at the Right Time

The words “Ubaldo Jimenez” and “good start” haven’t appeared together often this year. In fact the word “start” itself hasn’t always applied. But with his team clinging to a Wild Card spot and still within reach of a division title, he picked a great time to throw four good starts in place of an injured Chris Tillman.

Jimenez’s first two years with the Baltimore Orioles are a study in contrasts. In 2014, he walked nearly 14% of his batters en route to a 4.48 xFIP. Although the Orioles won the AL East and took Jimenez to the ALDS, they left him off the ALCS roster. But in 2015, Jimenez harnessed his funky mechanics, got more ground balls, walked fewer batters, and had a much better 3.83 xFIP.

This year has more resembled 2014 than 2015. Although Jimenez is walking fewer batters than in 2014, he’s striking out fewer, too, leading to a lower strikeout- and walk-rate differential (K-BB%). After beginning the season in the rotation, here’s what happened:

  • June 14 – Demoted to bullpen. At the time, his strikeout rate was just 17.3%, while his walk rate was 11.4%.
  • June 17 – Pitched 2.1 innings in emergency relief of Mike Wright. Jimenez struck out four batters but walked two and gave up two long balls.
  • June 22 – Returned to rotation.
  • August 1 – Demoted to bullpen again. From June 22nd to August 1st, his strikeout rate improved to 22.25%, but his walk rate soared to an unplayable 15.7%.
  • August 24 – Returned to the rotation as a result of Chris Tillman going on the DL. At the time the Orioles were 69-56, two games back in the AL East and two games ahead of Seattle for the second AL Wild Card spot.

His four starts in place of Tillman were good. Jimenez struck out only 15.9% of the batters he faced, but he cut his walk rate to a stingy 5.6%. He also threw the team’s first complete game since 2014.

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