Author Archive

The Indians Did What They Had to Do

On the Tuesday prior to the All-Star break, at a game which this author observed from the Progressive Field press box, Trevor Bauer left his start after eight innings with the Indians holding a 4-0 lead. Then a call to the bullpen, complete with a miscommunication error, followed. Dan Otero faced Joey Votto. The Indians lost. It was not necessarily a great surprise: so often something has gone amiss for Cleveland this year after such calls to the bullpen.

As readers of this Web site are likely aware, the Indians’ bullpen has struggled mightily this season, sitting in the bottom quartile by many notable bullpen skill metrics.

The group ranks 28th in WAR (-0.9), 23rd in WPA (-1.07), 29th in ERA (5.28), and 29th in FIP (4.85). There has not been any positive regression, either. Over the past 30 days, the Cleveland relief corps has posted a 4.87 ERA, a 5.10 FIP, and a -0.15 WPA.

Bullpens are fickle beasts. The Indians’ 27th-ranked left-on-base percentage (68.7%) suggests some poor first-half fortune was bound for second-half positive regression. Oliver Perez and Neil Ramirez have been useful finds, with Ramirez perhaps building on his physical talents by learning more how to harness his high-spin fastball and breaking ball in concert. But the Indians had a clear manpower shortage in their bullpen, particularly with Andrew Miller still sidelined and out for much of the first half.

As the All-Star break approached, it felt like the Indians had to do something. Baseball knew the Indians had to do something, so if the Indians were to do something, it was not going to be done cheaply. And on Thursday, the Indians did something.

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How Realignment Could Improve the All-Star Game

During FanGraphs’ editorial weekend in Denver last month, this correspondent excused himself to spend some time in the Rockies clubhouse and Coors Field press box. There I found Rockies beat writer Thomas Harding realigning baseball in his reporter’s notebook.

This contributor finds playing expansion czar to be an interesting thought exercise. Soon that afternoon, some Mets beats writers also joined the discussion, sharing their thoughts. Anytime there is a realignment-based post on this Web site or elsewhere, it tends to generate interest. Many of us like to play commissioner.

We’re almost certainly headed toward a future of 32 teams. MLB is in its longest expansion drought in the modern era. Rob Manfred has expressed a desire to expand — and preferably to add at least one international location. One of the major benefits Manfred has cited in the move to 32 teams is the ease of scheduling it would create. Namely, the game would not have to schedule a constant, rotating interleague series.

In fact, it would allow MLB to dramatically reduce the need for interleague play altogether.
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Travis Sawchik FanGraphs Chat – 7/16/18

Travis Sawchik: Happy All-Star Break, folks

Travis Sawchik: And more important, happy Trade Value Series Week

Travis Sawchik: I know who is ranked No. 1 but I can’t tell you

Mookie Betts: I have to be one of the favourites/if not the favourite for AL MVP? Right?

Travis Sawchik: You’re in the discussion but you’re actually behind Trout AND Jose Ramirez in fWAR and Lindor is not far behind you

Travis Sawchik: The AL MVP race (and Cy Young race) are shaping up to be more interesting than the actual AL postseason races, since they don’t really exist outside of the AL East

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Scooter Gennett Breaks Out the Old-Fashioned Way

CLEVELAND — As Belgium’s attempt to equalize against France fell short in the World Cup semifinal on Tuesday, this contributor witnessed Scooter Gennett morph from desperately hopeful — wanting the Belgians to show more urgency — to crestfallen in the visiting clubhouse at Progressive Field. Whatever Gennett’s connection to that small European nation, it was apparently strong enough for him to take their loss somewhat personally.

While he might not have realized it at the time, it represented one of the few opportunities Gennett has had to experience genuine disappointment at a baseball park in recent years. Over the past two seasons, he’s been one of a small collection of players to transform from a marginal, contact-based hitter into a star-level bat. Gennett has never been in a better place as a professional baseball player.

After posting a career-best 27 homers and a 124 wRC+ last season, a campaign which included perhaps the most unlikely four-homer game in major-league history (as documented at SI by current colleague Jay Jaffe), Gennett has been even better this year, to the tune of a 137 wRC+. He’s recorded the 26th-best batting line amongst qualified hitters. He’s currently the 23rd-most valuable position player by WAR.

Gennett has already overcome the odds several times. He advanced to the majors after being selected as a 16th-rounder out of Sarasota (Fla.) High School in the 2009 draft. He is the rare player to enjoy remarkable success after being claimed off waivers (by the Reds last year), which FanGraphs managing editor Carson Cistulli noted last season. You could understand why Gennett, at 5-foot-10 and 185 pounds, might be asked for ID when he tries to enter a visiting major-league ballpark. He is one of the few physical comps to this author in the major leagues. He does not look like someone capable of hitting for much power.

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The Telephone Game in Cleveland

CLEVELAND — This author is all too familiar with cases of identification mix-ups within the confines of Progressive Field, as you might be aware of if you are a loyal listener of FanGraphs Audio.

Earlier this year, I approached Matt Davidson’s locker stall in the visiting clubhouse in Cleveland and asked Matt if he had time for an interview. Seated, Matt agreed. He was pleasant and eager, as if he hadn’t spent much time being hounded by reporters. It was in the midst of the interview, speaking with Matt — Matt Skole — when he mentioned how he played in the Nationals organization earlier in his career. I realized my mistake. I had the wrong 6-foot-4 position-playing Matt. I politely asked another question or two and ended the interview. While a surge of embarrassment struck me, at least the error was realized before, say, publication.

There was another sort of case of mistaken identity in Cleveland on Tuesday night.

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The Trade Deadline Matters Less Than Ever

Among MLB’s calendar of so-called Important Events, one finds a fast-approaching date — namely, the July 31st non-waiver trade deadline.

Historically, it is a deadline that facilitates action, that forces teams to declare whether they’re contenders or rebuilders, that compels sellers and buyers to stop negotiating and come to terms on a deal. Deadlines often force actors to make “yes” or “no” calls. This date is one of the last periods for teams with postseason aspirations to improve, for rebuilding clubs to retool. The date creates interest in the sport. This very Web site experiences increased traffic during the days leading up to to the deadline.

But the trade deadline wasn’t so packed with action a year ago, and it might be even slower this season.

The trade deadline just might not matter that much anymore.

Teams knew early last year whether they were buyers or sellers. They’ve known earlier still this season. They also know the deadline doesn’t typically provide much impact.

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Chris Archer Is Probably Right About All-Star Snubs

For as long as there are ballots and voters, there will be controversy about the contents of those ballots cast by those voters. Baseball, in this sense, is no exception. The Hall of Fame, end-of-season awards, and — of greatest relevance at the moment — the All-Star Game: each provides ample room for discontent.

The All-Star selection process has changed recently, with managers losing their power to select reserves last season. Fans still vote on the starting position players for each league, but players have now taken on much a larger role: overall, they’re responsible for choosing 33 of the 64 All-Star roster spots (17 reserves in the AL and 16 in the NL). The commissioner’s office then cleans up by selecting a handful of final AL and NL reserves to round out the rosters. There is then a final fan vote ballot (#SaveMuncy) that includes one more player from each league as chosen by the fans.

Anthony Castrovince wrote an excellent primer on the selection process.

Fans have long been criticized, and many times deservedly so, for their poor voting track record. But many have noted this is a game for the fans, they are the customers, so they ought to see whom they want. But interestingly, the players’ ability to assess All-Star talent is also coming into question, including by some within their own ranks. And with the wealth of information available in today’s game, perhaps the public can make as good, or better, All-Star decisions.

The day following All-Star selections, a day following any sort of selection process, is a day to evaluate who was snubbed.

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Travis Sawchik FanGraphs Chat

Travis Sawchik: Happy All-Star Snub Reaction Day

Travis Sawchik: There were many!

Travis Sawchik: The players might be worse at picking All-Stars than the general public …

Travis Sawchik: Let’s get started!

Rob: Who benefits more from Machado:  Dodgers or Brewers?

Travis Sawchik: Brewers, I think. Of each current iteration, FG projects the Dodgers to have much stronger division odds

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Another Fascinating Thing About Willians Astudillo

Willians Astudillo has captured baseball’s collective imagination — and for good reason.

In an age when the march toward three true outcomes seems inevitable and indomitable, Astudillo arrives as an outlier of outliers, an offensive peformer who never walks or strikeouts, whose batting line would make much more sense if it were produced by a 19th century hitter.

When the Twins called up Astudillo late last month, Jeff Sullivan examined his curious numbers at every professional stop. It is believed Astudillo first appeared in these Web pages as Carson’s “guy” way back in 2016.

Fittingly, Astudillo has not struck out or walked through his first 14 major-league plate appearances.

Said Astudillo of his approach to the Star-Tribune:

“Coaches try to change my approach,” he said. “It’s just who I am. I’m a free swinger.”

Said Twins baseball operations chief Derek Falvey to the Star Tribune:

“I don’t think he gets to [strike] three very often. He’s an aggressive guy. It’s not a secret. I’m not revealing anything the advance work won’t show. He attacks the ball and makes good contact. Sometimes that profile plays well off the bench when you think about different types of guys to bring in the sixth, seventh, eighth inning.”

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The Nationals Are in Trouble

The Washington Nationals have a problem. The Braves and Phillies have arrived ahead of schedule, as we know. The Nationals enter play Thursday in third place behind those two clubs, seven games behind the Braves and five-and-a-half games behind the Phillies.

While the Nationals have trailed in the NL East for much of the season, their FanGraphs playoff odds have dipped below 60% (59.4% as of Thursday afternoon) for the first time this season.

While the Super Teams are taking care of business in the American League, the NL field remains more open. And at the moment, the Nationals are the only preseason division favorite, the only so-called preseason Super Team, with playoff odds below 89.9% and division odds less than 50% (43.5%). With their loss to Red Sox on Wednesday, the Nationals fell below .500 (42-43).

While teams often go through struggles and sluggish periods in the marathon that is a 162-game season, we’re now more than halfway into this season and the Nationals have never gotten on track. It appeared that Washington might be getting right about a month ago as they moved back into first place and held a half-game lead in the division on June 10. But they fell out of first place on June 12 and haven’t been back, losing 16 of their last 21 games. Read the rest of this entry »