Archive for Daily Notes

Stick It in Your Ear: How Rebellion Makes Baseball Occasionally Cool

Cheating, if you haven’t heard, is extremely cool. To look at the rules as listed, tilt your sunglasses down and, while loudly chewing gum, announce that nah, the rules are not for you, is the absolute peak of baditude. Why do you think teams have been doing it for generations? To weaken the integrity of the game and remind people that it’s nothing but a useless novelty and none of it really matters? Of course not. They’ve done it because rules are just the box society wants to keep us in. Our job as cool people is to continuously break out of it.

So it makes sense that Astros fans are leaning into their new persona as people desperate to be victims of an unclear injustice, “turning heel” to the rest of the league, as if they had at any point throughout this cheating scandal been considered heroes.

Is it “cool” to break the sport and get fans across baseball to wonder why they even bother watching? I mean, sort of. It’s at least been a more talkative offseason for baseball, with more going on than simply waiting for top free agents to sign somewhere. The violent spasms going on as baseball fights with a modern version of itself are unbecoming, but they are certainly more interesting than waiting out the late winter hellscape with a list of top ten spring training hairdos.

It’s an interesting exercise to look back through baseball and determine what has been “cool” through the years. You’re reading FanGraphs, so obviously you live at the intersection of “baseball” and “coolness.” But there was a time when coolness in this sport wasn’t defined by colorful charts or $30 t-shirts that warn people the wearer is despised among their peers. In fact, it was this day 20 years ago when we were reminded that baseball’s coolest players were identified by the bejeweling of their ear lobes. Read the rest of this entry »

Eric Longenhagen Chat: 8/23/2018

Eric A Longenhagen: What’s up, everybody? Baseball chat engage

Mike: Your Bryse WilsonMichael Fulmer comp has me really intrigued. What is that based on? Velocity and GB rate? I was impressed with Wilson’s first start.

Eric A Longenhagen: The body, the pitch mix and quality of the stuff, the limitations with pitch utility and repertoire depth. Lotta similarities.

Dan: Brailyn Marquez. Thoughts?

Eric A Longenhagen: 19y/o Cubs lefty in short season. Thoughts are same as last year. Low-to-mid 90s, will show a 55 curveball and knows how to work it to both-handed hitters. I bet the changeup comes, he has good feel. Body went backwards from last summer to this year but it hasn’t affected performance.

Chris: Any clue what has happened to Mickey Moniak as of recently?

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Shohei Otani, Brendan McKay, and the Blueprint for a Two-Way Player

In case you missed the excitement last week, here it is: according to reports, there’s a very good chance that Japanese star Shohei Otani will be posted this offseason and appear in a major-league uniform next year. Part of Otani’s great appeal — and the source of his reputation as the Japanese Babe Ruth — is his capacity both to pitch and hit at a high level. Two-way players are intriguing to us: in an era of ever increasing specialization, the probability of a single player excelling on both sides of the ball is low. Forget the ace who also serves as his team’s cleanup hitter: even a player who could function competently as both a fourth outfielder and mop-up man would open up roster possibilities that many teams would love to exploit.

However, being a two-way player is hard. Beyond even the question of talent, a player faces other concerns: finding adequate rest, scheduling his throw days as a pitcher, and cultivating sufficient stamina to last a whole season in a dual role. Addressing these concerns successfully requires a great degree of planning on the part of a team. And while there’s speculation as to how a major-league organization might answer all those questions adequately, one team is already implementing that level of infrastructure with a highly coveted prospect.

Prior to becoming the fourth-overall pick by the Tampa Bay Rays this past June, Brendan McKay had starred as both a weekend starter and middle-of-the-order bat at the University of Louisville for three years, winning numerous player-of-the-year, All-American, and two-way-player awards along the way. With his clean lefty swing, level-headed approach, and prowess on the mound, he was often favorably compared to John Olerud. Rays leadership was quick to state that, despite being announced as a first baseman at the draft, McKay would continue to be developed as both a pitcher and hitter.

Back in February, I had the opportunity to see McKay open the college season against two teams in Clearwater, Florida. Over the two games, against admittedly overmatched competition, he went 2-for-4 with a home run and three walks while striking out nine over six scoreless innings. He greatly impressed me with his skill and calm demeanor both on the mound and at the plate, never overreaching, not becoming too aggressive, working with what pitchers and hitters gave him. At the time, the question for most people in the stands was, “Which way will he play in pro ball?” So far, McKay is making the question “Why can’t he do both?” a legitimate one.

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Daily Prospect Notes: 6/6

Daily notes on prospects from lead prospect analyst Eric Longenhagen. Read previous installments here.

Gleyber Torres, INF, New York AL (Profile)
Level: Triple-A   Age: 20   Org Rank: 1   Top 100: 7
Line: 3-for-3, HR, BB

Even with Ruben Tejada’s recent trade to Baltimore, Torres’s reps are likely to come mostly at second and third base, as Tyler Wade remains entrenched at shortstop in Scranton. I saw him play both positions last week and lots of second base in the Fall League, and he looked like a fish out of water at both spots, especially around the second-base bag. He has the physical tools to play anywhere on the infield and will likely improve with reps, but he’s not ready for the majors right now.

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Marco Estrada Has Maybe the Changiest Changeup

It’s right there in the name. Change-up.

It’s right there in all the names, really. The best fastballs, usually, go the fastest. The best curveballs, usually, curve the most. The best changeups, then, would change the most. That property — change — isn’t quite as intuitive as the first two, but really, in a good changeup, you just want difference. You want separation from the primary pitch.

As my colleague Eno Sarris wisely pointed out on Twitter last night, measuring the characteristics of a changeup, on its own, is a mostly useless endeavor. If the main purpose of a changeup is to give hitters a different look off the fastball, don’t you also need the characteristics of that fastball to give context to the change?

On the surface, Marco Estrada’s repertoire might not be eye-popping. He doesn’t throw hard. He doesn’t have great movement. But what he does have, is this:

Largest Velocity Gaps, Fastball vs. Changeup
Player FB Velocity CH Velocity Velocity gap
Marco Estrada 89.9 79.1 -10.7
Erasmo Ramirez 92.1 81.8 -10.3
Chase Anderson 92.6 82.4 -10.2
Jeremy Hellickson 91.2 81.2 -10.0
Rick Porcello 92.7 82.9 -9.8
Jacob deGrom 95.8 86.2 -9.6
Andrew Cashner 96.2 86.7 -9.5
Max Scherzer 94.8 85.4 -9.4
Chris Archer 96.2 86.8 -9.3
Johnny Cueto 93.3 84.0 -9.3
Yordano Ventura 97.1 88.0 -9.1
*Right-handed starters
*Minimum: 500 four-seam fastballs (83)
*Minimum: 200 changeups (60)

On average, Estrada drops nearly 11 mph off his four-seam fastball with every changeup, giving him the largest difference of any right-handed starter in baseball. But we can take this a step further! There can be more to getting separation than just speed. There’s movement, too.

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Brandon Belt Looks to Break Out Again (Again)

Brandon Belt has shown this before: a 10- or 15-game stretch in which he looks to be the real slugging threat everyone talked about during his prospect days. He did it in August of 2013, and then he did it again to open the season in 2014; the latter seemed like it might be the one that would stick, but Belt broke his thumb on a hit by pitch in early May, suffered a concussion in July, and his season was effectively derailed.

In truth, we haven’t seen this sort of thing too often from San Francisco’s giraffe-like first baseman:


Sometimes a hitter just runs into one, and sometimes balls go very far at Coors Field. Regardless, his homer from last week was quite a punctuation mark — a mic drop, if you will — and it should at the very least force us to ask that familiar question concerning Belt: what can we really expect from him?

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So Jose Molina Has Three Stolen Bases

It’s a bit of an odd time to write about baseball. Some trades are trickling in, but we’re about a week removed from the All Star Game. The ASG break is a great time to do some summaries, compare some first halves, look at some guys who may be surprising or disappointing. But there’s only been a handful of days since everyone submitted those stories, and very little has happened since, at least as far as big-picture stuff goes. It is for this reason, and many other selfish reasons, that I am now writing about husky guys stealing bases.

This actually started as a tweet from fellow FanGraphs-er Jason Collette. It’s a fairly innocuous thing on its own. The fact that Molina has only scored three runs is a bit of an oddity, but more on a “weird baseball” level — which I assume Jason was going for. The fact that he has three steals is even less of a big deal. Lots of dudes don’t have many steals. As of this writng, 64 players have less than 3 steals. It is slightly noteworthy that Jose Molina has as many steals as both Starlin Castro and Andrelton Simmons, but only because guys like Castro and Simmons are smaller young guys that look like they should be speedy. Conversely, Molina looks like he should not be speedy. That is, he’s 39 years old and rotund.

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Why Cliff Lee’s Injury is Somewhat Surprising

Baseball is a presentation. It’s a thing that is part of our lives, but isn’t our lives. It lies in the world of the else. It’s theater, it’s drama, it’s entertainment. Because of this, we tend to romanticize it some. This is a totally normal response. We pull for teams, we root for certain guys, we sometimes wish others would fail. Just like any drama, there are heroes and villains and fools and underdogs. Every story has characters and every character has an archetype.

I’ve written about labels in baseball in the past. It’s a subject that interests me. Labels are just like any other word really, they only have meaning because we say they do. The thing you are looking at isn’t really a computer screen; it’s a thing we call a computer screen because we needed to call it something, so we picked that. We couldn’t call it a dog because we already named something else a dog. Words are placeholders, they are helpers. There’s nothing intrinsic about the words computer or screen beyond the value and definitions we place on them. I’d go deeper into this, but it would probably end with me telling you that you’re just a battery fueling the system of our robot overlords. Plus, I need to start talking about baseball.

The idea of a workhorse pitcher has been around the game for some time. You perhaps have read an article or a hundred articles about the death of the workhorse pitcher — how the days of Seaver and Carlton and Feller are over, how our pitchers are now babies and/or being babied. The reasons for this phenomenon are fairly clear and aren’t something I’m terribly interested in discussing at the moment, but the basic facts are true. Pitchers are pitching less innings than they used to. Because of this shift, certain pitchers who do perform at a greater frequency are still revered.

And this isn’t without good reason. We know that the ability to pitch a good deal of innings is a valuable skill. It keeps the pressure off the bullpen, and helps teams keep the amount of pitchers they need to use during a season low. High-volume pitchers are usually good performers as well, as even a pitcher with the rubberiest arm wouldn’t go that many innings if he was always getting lit up by the fifth. There are a lot of useful skills a pitcher can have, durability is one of them. Read the rest of this entry »

An Early Look at the Price of a Win This Off-Season

Over the last few years, we have analyzed nearly every notable contract signed in Major League Baseball, and one of the tools that we have used regularly is a pricing model that we often refer to as $/WAR. Basically, this calculation takes a look at the expected production from a player during the life of the contract that he just signed, then also the total cost of the contract over the length of the deal, and divides the production by the price. This calculation attempts to estimate the price paid for the expected production, and gives us an idea of what teams are paying for projected wins in baseball’s closest thing to a free market.

To be clear, FanGraphs didn’t invent this calculation, and this isn’t an idea specific to us. Doug Pappas was doing similar calculations a decade ago using a method he called Marginal Payroll and Marginal Wins. Nate Silver also wrote about the marginal value of a win during his time at Baseball Prospectus, and Tom Tango has been calculating $/WAR for contracts for years on his blog. Over the last few years, plenty of others have written about the price of a win in MLB, and there are multiple methods to perform this kind of calculation.

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Daily Notes: Misusing Projections to Mildly Amusing Ends

Sunday features three games of particular note — each of those games featuring one of the three clubs presently contending for the American League’s two wild-card spots.

An excerpt from our wild-card playoff odds page allows one to examine the present state of affairs.

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