Jay Jaffe FanGraphs Chat – 4/18/19

Avatar Jay Jaffe: Good afternoon, folks, and welcome to the latest edition of our usual Thursday chat. The questions in the queue are piling up, so without further ado…

Corbin Burnes: Do I have a Home Run Problem?

Avatar Jay Jaffe: Oh, indeed. 11 home runs in just 17.2 innings, and from among just 19 flyballs. I’ve got an entry devoted to Burnes in the forthcoming companion to yesterday’s piece, which will be titled “Let’s Get Weird, Again: Extreme Pitcher Stats So Far”

stever20: What do you make of Chris Sale?  His career in April normally is pretty good(before this year 2.82 ERA).  So it’s not like he normally starts slowly.  Even brought in his personal catcher and that didn’t help.

Avatar Jay Jaffe: I’m more worried about Sale with each passing start, but I think it really comes down to a lack of arm strength brought about by a slow build up this winter. He’s just not the same pitcher if he can’t get his velocity up to where it normally lives, and right now, his fastball is getting tattooed for a 1.095 SLG and a 322 wRC+ (also in today’s forthcoming piece).

Rather than sending him out there every fifth day, I do think the Red Sox should DL him and send him back to extended spring training to ramp up, because he’s not helping them by getting hammered each time out.

Tel: What’s the deal with the playoff odds graphs?  The Yankees beat the Red Sox 8-0 on Tuesday and their playoff odds went down from 91.1% to 84.4%?  The Red Sox went up from 52.8% to 54.4% or so yesterday but this morning are back to 50.7% in the odds numbers dated yesterday.  I know things change based on playing time estimates etc., but what’s the point of a graph if you can’t gloat over your team crushing their rival and moving the needle on the odds?  Seems like if you’re putting up a graph the changes should be based on how the team is playing rather than how Fangraphs staff changed the team’s playing time estimates.

Avatar Jay Jaffe: If you’re worrying about daily fluctuations in playoff odds at this stage, might I suggest closing your browser and taking a long walk to enjoy the improving weather? You can yell at clouds, which is 100% guaranteed to be more constructive than sweating the changes.

Remember, the odds are produced by running 10,000 simulations of the season from the point in question. From day to day, the outcomes might be a little different even with the same parameters.

US Attorney General: Also, how about that Anthony Rendon?

Avatar Jay Jaffe: Incredibly underrated player. It seems strange that Rendon has never made an All-Star team. A quick look at his splits by half reminds that in one of his four big seasons (2016), he was off to a slow start (99 wRC+), so his getting passed over makes sense in isolation. Still, a guy with three six-win seasons on his resumé deserves better.

Ben: What is the worst the Yankees can play during this injury stretch that they can come back in the AL East race behind the Rays? .500?

Avatar Jay Jaffe: In Wild Card era history we’ve seen the Yankees win the division after starting 10-15 or 11-14, and that was with far fewer injuries than they have now. So long as guys come back from the IL and are productive, I think they’ll be fine, and the fact that the Red Sox are in an even deeper hole certainly helps their cause.

Lou: Should the Commissioner give extra punishment to pitchers who bean players for bat flipping?  If we want baseball to be more fun and attract more players I think so.

Avatar Jay Jaffe: Bat flip or no, my view is that pitchers who intentionally hit batters should be suspended for a minimum of 20 days, which amounts to a three-game suspension. Whittle it down to 15 on appeal, for a two-game suspension, and teams will still feel the bite.

KJ: what to expect from Tyler White moving forward? looked like a guy who was ready to step up but Astros not playing him enough– maybe deservedly so?

Avatar Jay Jaffe: My understanding of White’s role at the time I wrote our Positional Power Rankings for first base (https://blogs.fangraphs.com/2019-positional-power-rankings-first-base/) was that he’d be the team’s primary DH and backup first baseman. So far, he hasn’t hit much, and the Astros have used a rotating cast for the DH, with White drawing just 6 starts out of 18. Maybe Hinch has just been trying to keep the likes of Springer, Brantley, and Altuve (who have combined for 7 starts) fresher in the early going by giving them half-days off? I haven’t really followed closely. I do see that White is hitting a ton of grounders. He’s capable of better, and when his swing comes around I suspect he’ll get his reps.

Rey Diablo: More worried about Sale or Nola?

Avatar Jay Jaffe: Ask me after I’ve read Dan Szymborski’s forthcoming piece on the latter, because I really don’t know what to make of his start and haven’t had a chance to investigate it for myself.

Sale: “I do think the Red Sox should DL him ” JAFFE FAIL IT’S IL

Avatar Jay Jaffe: What’s the time? It’s time to get IL…

Sale: … oh no, that “Jaffe Fail” thing was a joke. I meant to say that and then say, “But Sale got his velocity back Tuesday and was still really awful. So there’s the velo and also the command, and it’s hard to fix both while on the mound.”

Avatar Jay Jaffe: No worries, I took it as a joke. Velocity coming back is one thing, but we all know that a pitcher can overexert himself in the name of higher mph readings while compromising his command, and I think that much of Sale’s problems have to do with that as well. And I still think the fix has to happen somewhere besides a major league mound while the team is sinking in the standings.

Ben Zobrist: Doctor, my slugging percentage really hurts. I know I’m nearly 40, but I still slugged .440 last year. Am I just getting unlucky with a seemingly endless number of hard hit outs, or is it time to kick off the

Avatar Jay Jaffe: At 37, Zobrist’s slow start is cause for some concern, most notably because his exit velo is down, from 89.4 mph last year to 86.3 this year — a drop from the 64th percentile to the 21st. Meanwhile his hard hit rate is down to the 9th percentile and he’s walking 15.5% of the time, and swinging just 29.8% of the time, all of which has me wondering about whether he’s trying to compensate for a slower bat.

Avatar Jay Jaffe: There will be a brief pause as I position myself to tackle this spicy chicken banh mi…

Vlad Sr: Did you see what my large adult son did in Pawtucket last night ?

Avatar Jay Jaffe: I assume you mean this?

Vlad Jr. sent it to the parking lot 😳
18 Apr 2019
LScott: With Todd Frazier and eventually Jed Lowrie coming back, will JD Davis be the odd man out and sent to AAA?  How do you see the Mets handling the infield logjam when they both return?

Avatar Jay Jaffe: Davis is carrying a 147 wRC+ so I don’t see him being sent anywhere. It wouldn’t surprise me if Dominic Smith gets sent down (he’s got a 199 wRC+, but in just 24 PA) or traded, with Frazier becoming the backup corner infielder for the moment. Lowrie won’t be back for awhile — he apparently just started taking live BP again — but it’s quite a puzzle the Mets have on their hands.

johnprestongomez: What do you think about Jeff McNeil, all he’s done is hit in the majors but those skyhigh baibs make it hard to accurately gauge who he is. 3 war player?

Avatar Jay Jaffe: I don’t expect him to maintain a .349 AVG and 146 wRC+ (his career marks to date) but I think we’ve seen enough to say that the Mets have themselves a nice, above-average — or perhaps better – player on their hands. By definition, the likelihood is still higher that he’s a 3-win guy than a 5-win one, but he’s impressive as hell so far.

Tyler: Hi Jay, on the new Plus Stats tab on the Fangraphs leaderboard do you know what is and is not park adjusted? That is if anything other than wRC+ is.

Avatar Jay Jaffe: this is what Tyler is talking about, introduced yesterday https://blogs.fangraphs.com/instagraphs/new-fangraphs-plus-stats/

My understanding is that the new suite of plus stats isn’t park-adjusted at the moment. It’s something we may get to, in time, but already we’ve provided something that’s new and, I think, useful and cool

I can claim some responsibility for this, actually. Before i came to FanGraphs — back when I was working on The Cooperstown Casebook, even — I was publicly begging for K+, a league-adjusted strikeout rate, so as to better contextualize the accomplishments of the Sales and Scherzers and Kimbrels, and going back the likes of Dazzy Vance, Nolan Ryans and Walter Johnson. David Appelman was enthusiastic about the idea, and cooked up a K+ spreadsheet that I’ve used a couple times, but implementing it at the site level simply took some time to rise on the to-do list.

I’ll have some fun with the K+ stuff next week.

Avatar Jay Jaffe: My soup du jour is now being dished up https://blogs.fangraphs.com/lets-get-weird-again-extreme-pitcher-stats…

Outta my way, Gyorkass: Please opine on the Brewers pitchers’ aggregate hitting.

Avatar Jay Jaffe: .375/.429/.594, 164 wRC+ with two homers in 36 PA, wow. It’s my carefully considered opinion that such a performance is unsustainable, but still, the top-to-bottom difference in WAR between the best-hitting staffs and the worst is about two wins, which could very much be the difference between claiming a playoff spot or staying home in October.

Avatar Jay Jaffe: (forgot to post the question first, fixed now).

David: What are your thoughts on Erik Swanson? Looked good in his first start.

Avatar Jay Jaffe: I didn’t see his start, and I don’t know anything about him beyond what I’ve read from prospect experts. Kiley and Eric threw a 40+ FV on him and ranked him 12th in what’s currently the worst system in the game. (https://blogs.fangraphs.com/top-25-prospects-seattle-mariners/). Plus fastball, chance for average slider and changeup with above-average command. Rule of thumb is that any pitcher is going to need more than that to stick in a rotation, but if one of his secondary pitches develops into something more, he could be a useful reliever. As to the specifics re Swanson, ask somebody more expert than me.

Matt W: How is Jason Vargas still a thing?

Avatar Jay Jaffe: Have you ever known the Wilpon-era Mets to be ahead of the curve in conceding sunk costs?

billsaints: If you ran the Astros what would you do with Myles Straw? He seems to be wasting away his best speedy years in AAA which seems a little harsh on the guy as speed is often the first skill to go. A guy who can play CF and (soon) SS would be valuable to someone.

Avatar Jay Jaffe: I don’t know much about him other than that they’re trying him at SS in AAA (see Longehagen here https://blogs.fangraphs.com/daily-prospect-notes-4-9-2019/). The Astros have OF depth, but if he can play the infield as well, maybe he’s their next attempt at a Marwin Gonzalez type?

LenFuego: What is the deal with Jose Ramirez?  How does a guy go from a year and a half of MVP-level production to subMendoza-level production seemingly in the blink of an eye (around the first week in August last year)?  Does he need to see an eye doctor or something?

Avatar Jay Jaffe: Slow starts happen for any one of a number of reasons. Mookie Betts has a 79 wRC+ himself, though that’s not _an 11 wRC+_ which is what Ramirez is carrying. Devan Fink suggested his woes may have something to do with trying to beat the shift (https://blogs.fangraphs.com/jose-ramirez-is-in-a-quarter-season-long-s…) and noted that he’s been in deep slumps before. Give that a look.

GERB: If you suddenly had the hitting ability of Mike Trout, but in the field you were still Jay Jaffe, would you be able to do well enough to find a starting job somewhere in the NL?

Avatar Jay Jaffe: If I could hit like Mike Trout I’m sure an NL team would give me every chance in the world to find a defensive home, and for a hell of a lot less than a $430 million commitment. Figure I’m worth about 6-7 wins with the bat and -3 wins with the glove at an easy position, and that’s still an above-average player.  

Remember, higher strikeout rates mean fewer balls in play, which means less selective pressure on defensive skill. The conditions have never been better for a Trout-Jaffe to thrive in the NL.

Ghost of Walter Alston: Is Cody Bellinger a hot start I can believe in?

Avatar Jay Jaffe: I mean, he ain’t gonna slug .925, but he certainly looks better than last year. Build on a full season worth of 2017 performance plus age-related improvement and you’ve got a guy who could wind up in MVP discussions.

CubFan: How much staying power does German have in the Yanks rotation? Does it come down to if he can keep his walks down?

Avatar Jay Jaffe: He’s had a few absolutely stellar starts over the past two seasons, and I think the general consensus is that the stuff is there. Command can be an issue, but he’s bought himself some time to stick around the rotation, particularly with Severino out for awhile.

Jkim: Bellinger MVP? Crazy that he has cut his K% to half. Idk if this will necessarily continue but looks like he’s definitely changed his approach a bit at the plate

Avatar Jay Jaffe: He went back to the stance along the lines of he was using in 2017, armed with the knowledge that he’d gained over the past two seasons of where MLB pitchers found the holes in his swing. It’s something to behold right now. I’m very impressed.

Matt: Sale’s velocity was fine in his last game. 96.06mph on his four-seamer

Avatar Jay Jaffe: Again, it’s command as much as velo, but fwiw, the Yankees didn’t have a single swing and miss at one of his 20 fastballs 95 or higher. 3 balls put into play, EVs of 100+ each, all hits. https://baseballsavant.mlb.com/statcast_search?hfPT=&hfAB=&hfBBT=&hfPR…

Readerguy: Just wanted to say that your glossary of terms and explanations in the beginning of the Cooperstown Casebook was incredibly helpful and enjoyable to read. You made it easy to relate to a casual fan who wants to know more, so thank you!

Avatar Jay Jaffe: Thank you! Years of doing Baseball Prospectus books that had similar chapters to introduce the concepts came in handy, and I spent a whole lot of time polishing that part of the manuscript — it was even part of the initial proposal — before moving on to the individual chapters. I’m glad readers found it useful.

Something: Isn’t the issue with 20 game suspensions for pitchers that it is 1/8th of their salary for the year? Feel like the Union would be extremely up in arms about that

Avatar Jay Jaffe: Yes, it’s an issue. It’s a sign that the players and the commissioner are actually ok with the bullshit state of affairs that we’ve got now, “Let the Kids Play” to the contrary.

Jeff: Speaking of Zobrist, and how the Cubs apparently have “money problems”…does Theo Epstein realize that if he’d pawned off Zobrist this winter (as rumored he could have), non tendered his spouse abusing SS and maybe not signed Daniel Descalso…he could have Craig Kimbrel right now? And if he’d just let Hamels walk, maybe Harper?

Avatar Jay Jaffe: The guy to ask about “money problems” has the last name Ricketts, but yes, the Cubs certainly could have approached their roster much differently this winter.

Avatar Jay Jaffe: I don’t believe for a second that the Cubs couldn’t have simply let Hamels walk and sign Harper and Kimbrel. They would have paid the tax this year, albeit as first-time offenders. MIght have required a few hard choices next winter to avoid repeating that, but winning solves a lot of ills.

Blake Swihart: Where do I go from here?

Avatar Jay Jaffe: Probably not to the Cubs as a key piece in a Cole Hamels trade.

KD: Do you see Brad Miller finding a home?  The Red Sox need a 2bman and Miller is also around for when Moreland eventually gets hurt.

Avatar Jay Jaffe: Coming off back-to-back WARs of 0.0, he’s not exactly somebody I’d tear up my roster to accommodate, but the Red Sox have been such a black hole at 2B that he makes some sense there.

Elvis Andrus: Should I opt out?

Avatar Jay Jaffe: You’d need to do better than 3/$43 M (what remains on the deal) which at 31 years old will be a lot more easily obtainable if you hit for a 178 wRC+ (as you are now) than last year’s 78.

I think Andrus probably does a Kershaw/Sabathia-like soft opt out, parlaying his leverage into an extension with his current team.

jv: How is the banh mi?

Avatar Jay Jaffe: Tasty as always. I go for the grilled chicken (thigh), spicy with jalapeños.

I miss Nicky’s Vietnamese, which I could get in here in Brooklyn as well as the East Village — it was my regular meal for my BP chats going back to, like, 2005 — but Hanco’s, which is the place I order from here, is dependably solid.

Bat: Jay, do you really think Sabathia is a HOFer?  I don’t see it even though I agree voters need to change from this 300 / 3000K win-type mentality.

Avatar Jay Jaffe: A topic I’ll address for a round-up piece tomorrow at ESPN+ and that I’ll surely visit in more detail when Sabathia hits one of his two upcoming milestones (250 W or 3,000 K). Short answer: his traditional credentials are stronger than his advanced-stat ones (e.g., JAWS) but the dearth of credible upcoming candidates, and the esteem with which he’s held within the game, gives him a decent shot.

Richie: How do you know there’s NOT something wrong with the Playoff Graph? No, playoff odds should not go down 7% after a win. Myself I don’t care at all, but sure looks like something indeed is wrong in there.

Avatar Jay Jaffe: I don’t know for sure. My point is that I don’t worry about it. If you’re worried about it, reach out to David Appelman or Sean Dolinar.

Alby: What’s your opinion of the Hall of Fame as a museum — not who’s in vs. who’s out, just as a museum-going experience?

Avatar Jay Jaffe: Undervalued. As I wrote in the book, there’s so much more to the Hall than the endless arguments over who should be elected. The depth of the artifact collection is incredible, though there are spots where the presentation could use a bit of modernization. And the library is a remarkable resource for research.

TJ: Can we talk about Miguel Cabrera?  So far in 2019 his Hard Hit % is at a career high at 51% and Soft Hit % at a near career low.  His GB % is scary high, but since he’s whacking the crap out of the ball, do you think FB% starts to increase and we see a little pop?  I’m not asking for the greatness of yore, give my 2014’s line!

Avatar Jay Jaffe: I’m not sure what the soft/hard criteria are for our site; I go by Statcast’s definition and numbers, where he has a 69th percentile hard-hit rate (95 mph or higher). The problem, as you note, is his astronomical GB% (53.3%). I suspect there’s something mechanical going on that he needs to correct, but I do wonder if his legs are an issue.

joe: I like the + leaderboard, one comment is that the K+ for batters seems backwards a number above 100 is usually a good thing, here a number below 100 is a good thing. not horrible, but just for consistency it would be nice to see bigger being better.

Avatar Jay Jaffe: We’ll take a look at that, thanks.

Matt: There was a debate on the EW Facebook group: What will happen to the 2B class for the HOF? Utley seems like a benchmark. Cano has a PED blemish. Given his rings, If they can roll Pedoria out in a wheelchair for a few years, he is an interesting case. Even Kinsler seems like a borderline guy

Avatar Jay Jaffe: It’s a good question. A lot really depends upon whether Pedroia can recover to play regularly and get to 2,000 hits (he’s at 1,805) — Utley fell short and may well be doomed. Cano isn’t getting in anytime soon even if he gets to 3,000 hits and 400 homers.

Dan: Could a team of hall of famers given say a month to get back into shape beat a team of current minor league players?

Avatar Jay Jaffe: I’m pretty skeptical about the HOFers chances, because there’s no way you can come close to fielding a full team of players under 50 years old. Vlad, Chipper, Pudge, Pedro, Thome and, if you hurry, Rivera and Griffey (who both turn 50 in November). Roberto Alomar looked quite done at 36, I don’t want to see what he can do at 2B at 51, thanks.

Avatar Jay Jaffe: And with that, I’ve reached my pitch count for today. Good times as always _ thanks for stopping by!

Brooklyn-based Jay Jaffe is a senior writer for FanGraphs, the author of The Cooperstown Casebook (Thomas Dunne Books, 2017) and the creator of the JAWS (Jaffe WAR Score) metric for Hall of Fame analysis. He founded the Futility Infielder website (2001), was a columnist for Baseball Prospectus (2005-2012) and a contributing writer for Sports Illustrated (2012-2018). He has been a recurring guest on MLB Network and a member of the BBWAA since 2011, and a Hall of Fame voter since 2021. Follow him on Twitter @jay_jaffe... and BlueSky @jayjaffe.bsky.social.

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4 years ago

“And the library is a remarkable resource for research.”

A while back I got interested in Harry Lochhead. He was among the worst (starting) players on almost certainly the worst team in history (1899 Spiders). He had a grand total of 42 PA outside of this single year, so a player of virtually no importance in the history of the sport.

A buddy got a job at the Hall of Fame and sent me the contents of their folder on him…

A copy of a letter from the state of California, from 1977, saying that they have no record of his death.

A copy of a letter from Bill Haber (one of the founders of SABR) trying to track down surviving family members (to help complete the Baseball Encyclopedia and corroborate info) from 1979.

A response letter from harry Lochhead’s niece that included a photo from 1898-1899 (with the PCL Sacramento Gilt Edges) along with some family information.

A SABR form which was submitted in 1992 with some updated data (noting the date of his debut).

A copy of his obituary from the ‘San Francisco Call’ in 1909 (granted this is online at newspapers.com)

A copy of his death certificate.

It certainly isn’t a lot of stuff, but if they have even this amount of stuff on **every unremarkable player** the combined volume has to be truly staggering and the effort the researchers put in to have as complete records as we are lucky to have now is amazing.