Author Archive

Trea Turner Is Quietly Putting Together a Career Year

There has been a lot of discussion of shortstops in 2021 and rightfully so. Fernando Tatis Jr. is must see TV and currently third among qualified position players in WAR. During the offseason Francisco Lindor was traded to the Mets, who quickly signed him to a 10-year, $341 million extension. That deal set the stage for rampant conjecture as to the ceiling for possible contracts for the remaining top shortstops under 30 who look like they will test the free agent market for the first time this winter: Javier Báez, Carlos Correa, Corey Seager and Trevor Story. As if that wasn’t enough drama, two of those players (Báez and Story) are currently playing on teams that will be sellers over the next week and a half, adding an element of trade speculation to a conversation that was already quite compelling. But as these louder storylines dominate the conversation this season, Trea Turner is quietly building on his improvements from the pandemic-shortened 2020 campaign. The 28-year-old looks like he may be putting together a career year. Turner won’t be a free agent until 2023 and the fourth-place Nationals don’t look like contenders this season, but it’s still worth taking a closer look at how Turner is putting it all together in 2021.

Turner celebrated his birthday three weeks ago by hitting for the third cycle of his career. As I was working on this piece, he started another game with a triple and a home run before being pulled in the later innings when it was clear the Nationals did not need him to finish their 18-1 rout of the Marlins. He had to settle for a 2-for-4 night with four RBI. Read the rest of this entry »

Yoán Moncada Is a Big Reason the White Sox Are a Juggernaut Despite Injuries

In 2017, my friend Marty and I made a bet. A lot of hot young prospects were making their way to the show and Marty is a big Red Sox fan. He was convinced that Andrew Benintendi was the next big thing, while I was adamant that honor belonged to a rookie the Red Sox had traded to the White Sox who hadn’t really gotten quite as good of a look yet: Yoán Moncada. The terms of the bet were simple. I had Moncada, he had Benintendi, and the best player would be determined by whichever player put up the most WAR (FanGraphs WAR, of course) over the next three seasons. The loser owed the winner dinner at the restaurant of their choice. Benintendi’s 5.9 WAR from 2018-20 is nothing to sneeze out, but Moncada’s 9.2 takes the cake. Which reminds me, Marty still owes me dinner.

If Marty had asked me to bet on who would win the AL Central this year, I would have put my dinner money on the White Sox. Chicago’s American League team is running away with a weak division, but they aren’t doing it the way I would have predicted. The big story on the South Side of Chicago is the injuries they’ve weathered on their way to a 54-35 record. Hitting phenom Eloy Jiménez tore a pectoral muscle trying to rob a home run in spring training, and hasn’t seen a major league pitch in 2021, though he hit a home run in the first at-bat of his rehab assignment before moving to Triple-A on Tuesday. Luis Robert played all of 25 games before he tore a hip flexor. Contact stalwart Nick Madrigal had season-ending surgery after a severe hamstring tear a month ago. As the clock ticked towards the Midsummer Classic, catcher Yasmani Grandal (who was having quite a strange season at the plate) had surgery on a torn tendon in his knee. Fortunately, that injury is not expected to be season-ending. Read the rest of this entry »

Kyle Schwarber Has Leveled Up His Power

A couple of weeks ago, I examined the 2021 home run environment and concluded that despite the slightly deadened ball, this season’s home run rates are still among the highest we have on record. As part of that piece, I looked at the number of players who were on pace to hit 40-plus home runs, of which there were seven. One name that wasn’t on that list, though, was Kyle Schwarber, who has hit 16 home runs since June 12 and is now at 25 on the year. I want to take a closer look at his historic power surge and the adjustments he made to get to this spot.

Schwarber’s potential as a hitter has long been evident. You saw his plus hit tool in action when he improbably returned to the Cubs’ lineup during the 2016 World Series after having missed all of the regular season with a torn ACL — he reportedly prepared for his return by watching thousands of breaking pitches in the batting cages — and slashed .412/.500/.471. But while he was solidly above-average over the next three seasons, each year putting up a wOBA of .340 or better (and topping out at .372 in 2019), he crashed in 2020, putting up an anemic .188/.308/.393 triple slash and career-worst 91 wRC+ across 59 games. That got him non-tendered last winter, with the Nationals picking him up on a one-year, $10 million deal with a $10 million mutual option for 2022. Read the rest of this entry »

The Cubs No-Hit the Dodgers. It Wasn’t Pretty, but It Counts

Thursday night’s game between the Chicago Cubs and the Los Angeles Dodgers was Joc Pederson’s first trip back to Dodger Stadium since the team won the World Series in the pandemic-shortened 2020 season. The Cubs starting left fielder received his ring before the game. It was a beautiful ceremony. It was a show of strength. It was the Dodgers best moment all night.

The Dodgers were understandably favorites going into the game, with a -250 line in Vegas. The Cubs were the underdogs at +200 and while I’m not really a gambler, those odds seemed a bit light. Toeing the mound for the Cubs was Zach Davies, fresh on the heels of a 10-2 drubbing by the Marlins that saw him leave the game after six innings pitched, seven hits, three walks and eight earned runs. Walker Buehler was the Dodgers starter, in search of his 24th straight start without a loss.

Baseball is a funny game.

And this was something of a funny no-hitter. The 2021 Dodgers are the first team to be no-hit the year after winning the World Series since the 2013 Giants were no hit by Homer Bailey, then of the Cincinnati Reds. Interestingly, while the 2020 Dodgers were not no-hit, the club’s previous two championship teams were the year they won it all. The 1988 Dodgers won the World Series, but before Kirk Gibson hit that epic home run, the team fell to the Reds’ in Tom Browning’s perfect game on September 16, 1988. The 1981 Dodgers team was no-hit by the Houston Astros Nolan Ryan on their way to a World Series Championship. Perhaps, then, the Dodgers shouldn’t worry too much about being no-hit in the regular season, though you can forgive their fans for feeling some concern today despite that history. Read the rest of this entry »

When Lightning Strikes Thrice

The first time I saw a triple play, I was keeping score for one of my brother’s All-Star games. I don’t remember exactly how old I was, but for some reason 14 sounds about right, so let’s go with that. My exact age at the time is less important than the fact that I was old enough to have scored hundreds of baseball games. I had spent countless afternoons at practices with my dad and my brother. I had seen a lot of baseball and I knew enough to be momentarily confused by what had just happened.

The thing about a triple play is that even if you are paying complete attention to the game, there is a really good chance you are going to miss something. Maybe you catch one or two of the outs, but the play develops so quickly that if you are even remotely distracted when the ball is hit, it’s probably going to take a second for your brain to register that an ideal scoring situation for one team has been erased in mere seconds by the other.

You can spend your whole life watching your favorite team and never see them turn a triple play. I’ve been a Cubs fan for over 30 years, and in that time, the Cubs have turned just four triple plays. The only one I caught live was this disputed triple play from 2020, which many people rightly pointed out would have been overturned if the Reds had been able to review it. It was the first triple play the Cubs had turned in 23 years. It’s the only triple play I’ve ever seen them turn in real time and even though it’s on the record books, it didn’t really happen. There is a very real chance I could spend another decade or two waiting to cross “saw the Cubs turn a triple play” off my list. Read the rest of this entry »

There Are Still a Lot of Home Runs

After MLB announced they were deadening the ball for 2021, we’ve spent a lot of time chasing the effects of those changes. Devan Fink has looked at what happened to the hits that used to be home runs and compared the total number of home runs per batted ball event in April. But while home run totals are comparatively lower over the short-term, it’s worth noting that there are still a historically high number of home runs in baseball. In fact, as of Wednesday morning, 3.48% of at-bats resulted in a home run, which is the fourth-highest rate in the majors since 1921:

It turns out that as a proportion of baseball’s offense, the home run is as prominent as it’s ever been. While 2019 is still the outlier for home runs as a proportion of total hits, with a whopping 16.2% of all hits being home runs, 2021 has the third highest proportion of teams offense coming in the form of a long ball. The explosion of home runs across the league in the last five seasons makes the steroid era pale in comparison:

Read the rest of this entry »

October Isn’t Everything: Storylines to Keep an Eye on in the National League

In May, I took a look at some of the most compelling storylines in the American League for the teams least likely to make the postseason. Since that post ran, Shohei Ohtani has been involved in a benches clearing incident (don’t worry, he’s fine) and Miguel Cabrera inched closer to his 3,000th hit with this bases-clearing double to put the Tigers ahead of the Brewers:

The Brewers are in first place in the NL Central right now, so they will not be making another appearance in this post, as our projections like their chances in a tight division race and predict that they’ll hold that spot to win the division. No, this post is for the teams that are much less likely to make the postseason — the teams that won’t play meaningful baseball in October, but that can hopefully still offer something to the fans who continue to show up. Let’s delve into the prospects, players, and milestones on the horizon for the non-contenders in the Senior Circuit. Read the rest of this entry »

October Isn’t Everything: Storylines to Keep an Eye on in the American League

When the Cubs’ 2021 schedule came out, I circled May 17-20. That otherwise unremarkable four-game series with the Nationals would mark the return of 2016 World Series heroes Jon Lester and Kyle Schwarber to Wrigley Field. I knew they would receive an epic welcome from fans and I felt like I needed to be part of it.

The Cubs are pretty far removed from the juggernaut that won 103 games on the way to the team’s first championship in 108 years. While a relatively weak division means it’s certainly possible they could go on a run that would keep Jed Hoyer’s front office from being sellers at the deadline, it is far from guaranteed. Our playoff odds give the Cubs a 35.1% chance of making the postseason. It has left me looking for those moments of joy that fall short of the ultimate goal of hoisting the Commissioner’s Trophy at the end of the season but are still meaningful.

It occurred to me that I am far from the only fan looking for moments to celebrate beyond the expectation of playing in October. So I started looking for all of the silver linings to 2021’s cloudiest seasons. I identified all of the teams with less than a 20% chance to make the playoffs per our odds, then dug into the prospect lists, record books and clubhouse storylines to see what I might circle on the calendar for the sport’s less fortunate faithful. So here they are, a few moments of joy for the fanbases that may still be holding out hope that their team will channel its inner 2019 Nationals, but suspect they won’t. It’s not an exhaustive list, but it’s what struck me as notable. Today, I’ll take a look at the American League, with a National League post to follow next week. Read the rest of this entry »

Could 2021 Be the Year of the No-Hitter?

I was unwinding on Friday after a long week of work when I got an alert from MLB that Wade Miley was throwing a no-hitter against Cleveland. I blinked my eyes a couple of times in disbelief before putting the game on, but as I was watching Miley complete his no-hitter, my alerts went off again: Sean Manaea had a perfect game in progress in Oakland. He ended up losing it when Randy Arozarena walked in the seventh and his no-hitter when Mike Brosseau led off the eighth with a double, but if your head is spinning a bit from all the alerts, you are not alone. We are barely five weeks into the 2021 season, and we’ve already seen four no-hitters (five, if you count Madison Bumgarner’s seven-inning no-no, which MLB officially doesn’t). As fun as it has been to follow the action this season, something historically anomalous is afoot.

Let’s start with the raw numbers. There are only 21 full MLB seasons with four or more no-hitters since 1901, and the only season that saw more than four no-hitters happen before May 15 is 1917, when five took place (all before May 6). That season ended with six no-hitters and a tie for the highest percentage of no-hitters per game played — until now.

The existing record of no-hitters as a percent of total games is at 0.48%, which has happened twice in MLB history, but it’s unlikely many of us were around for those 1908 and 1917 seasons. The vaunted 1968 “Year of the Pitcher” season that resulted in the mound being lowered five inches doesn’t even crack the top-10 list in terms of no-hitters as a percent of total games. Here are the top 20 seasons for no-hitters as a percent of total games, including 2021 data through May 9: Read the rest of this entry »

These Aren’t the Hits MLB Wanted

There have been some scary moments in the first few weeks of the 2021 major league season. On April 28, Phillies Manager Joe Girardi was ejected after both Didi Gregorius and Bryce Harper were hit by pitches while they were playing the Cardinals. Harper’s incident was particularly scary as he was hit in the face with a 97 mph fastball. On April 5, Cubs catcher Willson Contreras was plunked by a 93 mph fastball to the helmet. Two days later Reds rookie Jonathan India had a similar moment after a fastball ricocheted off his helmet.

It’s not your imagination: batters are being hit by wayward pitches at a record clip. Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic made note of the trend this morning. Baseball Prospectus’ Rob Mains recently published an excellent breakdown of this year’s record-setting pace for hit batsmen. I was particularly taken aback by this chart showing that prior to 2018, no season in baseball history had a hit batsman in more than 1 in 103 plate appearances:

Mains continues:

There was one batter hit per 96 plate appearances in 2018, a new record. It fell further, to 94, in 2019. Then all the way to 81 in last year’s short, weird season.

This year? Through Tuesday night’s games, it’s down to 74.5. Batters are being hit thirty-eight percent more frequently than in 1901. There are just over eight hit batters for every five just a decade ago. We’re averaging 0.997 hit batters per game in 2021, a single HBP shy of one per game—a level the sport’s never approached. Batters so far have a .309 on-base percentage. Hit batters account for thirteen points of that figure. Ten years ago, there were only eight points of hit batters in MLB’s .321 OBP.

I wanted to take a look at possible reasons the HBP rate is at record levels so far in 2021, but first we need to be clear about which parts of this trend are continuations from previous seasons and which parts are actually new. In 2019, Devan Fink demonstrated that the HBP rate per plate appearance was approaching the highest levels seen since the early 1900s. He looked at increased velocity and reliever usage to demonstrate that while a pitches’ speed didn’t necessarily mean a pitcher had worse command, relievers had a larger share of HBP than their starting counterparts. Read the rest of this entry »