Dan Szymborski FanGraphs Chat – 8/13/20

12:03
Avatar Dan Szymborski: Hello chatters and chatees

12:03
Joe: The Orioles will win 28 or more games. True or false.

12:03
Avatar Dan Szymborski: EVER? True.

12:03
Ben: Kyle Hendricks is good at pitching baseballs

12:04
Avatar Dan Szymborski: After facing his curve and change, Hendricks fastballs look like Jordan Hicks

12:04
Avatar Dan Szymborski: Well, Jordan Hicks fastballs. They don’t actually look like Jordan Hicks

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Freddy Galvis Is Trying Something Different

The process of coming up with article ideas often involves trying to find who’s the best at something in baseball right now. With clubs having played around 18 games at most, however, the tops of the leaderboards are still muddled with plenty of players who have gaudy (and most likely unsustainable) numbers. For example, seven technically qualified players currently have ISOs over .400. Seven also have an OBP of at least .440, while a whopping 21 pitchers have a FIP of 2.50 or below. There are potential stories to be written about all of those performances, but many of them run the risk of aging poorly with just one bad start or series.

But this article isn’t about someone who is running circles around the league right now. This article is about Freddy Galvis.

Just over a quarter of the way through the season, Galvis is having the kind of year you would probably expect him to have. He holds a .205/.314/.386 line through his first 51 plate appearances (all stats are through August 11), has hit a couple of homers, owns a 96 wRC+, and has been an above-average defender at shortstop. A below-average-but-not-terrible slash line, some pop, and a reliable glove? Yep, that’s Freddy Galvis alright. But that’s not the complete picture. The reason Galvis has been a consistently below-average hitter despite possessing a bit more power than many other shortstops is because his plate discipline numbers are typically very weak — his career walk rate is 5.5%, and his strikeout rate is 20.2%. With a BB/K ratio like that, a .260 average and 20 homers just aren’t enough to make you a league-average hitter.

Fortunately for Galvis, that ratio suddenly looks very different in 2020. Read the rest of this entry »


Statcast Stats Are Now on FanGraphs!

We’re pleased to announce that we’ve begun publishing MLB’s Statcast data on FanGraphs!

At the moment, you can view Average Exit Velocity, Maximum Exit Velocity, Launch Angle, Barrels, Barrel%, HardHit balls, and HardHit%. For specific details about these measurements and metrics, please consult MLB’s Statcast Glossary. In addition to the stats listed above, we’re also reporting Events, which are calculated batted balls determined by PA – SO – BB – HBP for batters and TBF – SO – BB – HBP for pitchers. Statcast data is available from the 2015 season onward.

These metrics are currently available on our player pages and leaderboards, and in our game logs. In addition, Average Exit Velocity will display as a column on the players’ dashboard for both batters and pitchers. Read the rest of this entry »


Aaron Nola Has Changed, but Also Hasn’t

After strike-throwing hiccups (the percentage of pitches he threw in the zone dropped from 53% to 47%) contributed to a 2019 that was relatively pedestrian by his standards, Aaron Nola has come out of the gate red-hot in 2020. He’s getting ahead of hitters — his first-pitch strike percentage (68%) is sixth among qualified starters — and then finishing them, inducing a comfortably career-high 15.6% swinging strike rate, which is also sixth among qualified starters. Nola has now punched out an incredible 29 of the 68 hitters he’s faced this year and is one of just three starters who has fanned more than 40% of opponents (Trevor Bauer and Shane Bieber are the others).

Nola has done most of this damage with his changeup, which he is using much more than at any point in his career, calling on the cambio a whopping 30% of the time after using it at about a 16% clip in prior years. The changeup itself doesn’t appear to be any different than in the past, as its movement profile is similar to his career-best 2018 campaign (it had a little less sink in 2019). Nola’s release point is perhaps a little more consistent than last year, when he was getting underneath more changeups (hence less sink) and missing badly to his arm side, but unless something tactile about his release has changed (which is difficult to detect without the aid of a high-speed camera), the pitch appears to be the same. He’s just throwing it more (including to righties) and locating it more consistently, which Nola told the Philadelphia Inquirer he aimed to do back in February. Read the rest of this entry »


Jalen Beeks, Now With More Whiffs

During this shortened season, pitching depth has become a crucial separator for contending teams. With injuries taking a greater toll on pitching staffs and hurlers still ramping up after an abbreviated summer tune-up, many teams have had to scrounge to fill all those vacancies. The Tampa Bay Rays entered the season with one of the deepest pitching staffs in baseball. They led the majors in league- and park-adjusted FIP last year, using 33 different pitchers throughout the season, and the bulk of the staff returned in 2020.

That depth will be tested after a rash of injuries decimated the Rays’ rotation. Both Charlie Morton and Yonny Chirinos were placed on the Injured List this week, Andrew Kittredge left his start yesterday after facing just two batters, and Brendan McKay was shut down from throwing at the Rays alternate training site yesterday. To make matters worse both Blake Snell and Tyler Glasnow have been slow to ramp up to full strength after getting a late start to pre-season activities — Snell had lingering issues with his elbow and Glasnow tested positive for COVID-19. The current rotation depth chart for Tampa has Snell and Glasnow at the top, Ryan Yarbrough next, and a bunch of question marks after that.

Two possible candidates to step into the rotation are Trevor Richards and Jalen Beeks. Both are intriguing — Richards possesses a killer changeup but has struggled to maximize his entire repertoire. Meanwhile, Beeks has made some real improvements to his approach that gives him considerable upside if he were to join the rotation.

Beeks was acquired by the Rays from the Red Sox in mid-2018 when Boston traded him straight-up for Nathan Eovaldi. He had just made his major league debut in Boston earlier that year but struggled to make an impact during his first two seasons in the bigs. He’s posted a 4.49 FIP across more than 150 innings during 2018 and 2019. Most of those innings came as a bulk reliever used after an opener. His strikeout rate during that time was a lackluster 19.1% and his 9.3% walk rate was a bit above league average. Read the rest of this entry »


In Violating Health and Safety Protocols, Plesac, Clevinger, Laureano Become Cautionary Tales

This week, key players on two American League playoff contenders made mistakes pertaining to COVID-19 protocols that will cost them significant chunks of the shortened 2020 season. Cleveland starting pitchers Mike Clevinger and Zach Plesac — two key members of what has been the majors’ most effective rotation thus far — were both placed on the restricted list by the team and ordered to self-quarantine for three days after sneaking out of the team hotel in Chicago. Meanwhile, Oakland center fielder Ramón Laureano was suspended for six games by Major League Baseball for his part in a bench-clearing incident that occurred in Sunday’s game against Houston.

The two situations are different in their particulars, but they share some commonalities. In a normal season, the actions of these players might not have generated more than a series of stern lectures behind closed doors, and whatever suspensions they led to would have been blips on the radar amid a 162-game schedule. However, the pandemic has necessitated new rules and regulations — over 100 pages of them in MLB’s 2020 Operations Manual — and all three players crossed lines that not only violated those rules but increased the risk of infection for themselves and their teammates. Their punishments have been amplified, perhaps disproportionally, albeit as a warning to other players.

The saga of the Indians’ starters unfolded in stages. On Sunday, the team sent Plesac, a 25-year-old righty with 24 major league starts under his belt, back to Cleveland after he left the hotel without permission and went out with friends on Saturday evening. As innocuous as it sounds, that’s now prohibited under the revised protocols MLB issued last week in the wake of outbreaks on the Marlins and Cardinals; any player wishing to leave the hotel on a road trip is required to obtain permission from the team’s compliance officer.

Plesac’s actions greatly upset both the Cleveland brass and his teammates. Mindful of the possibility that he had been exposed to someone with an infection and could trigger an outbreak, the team quickly moved to isolate him from the rest of the traveling party, arranging a car service to send him back to Cleveland. According to The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal and Zack Meisel, both Plesac and the driver were given instant tests to ensure they were not already infected. Read the rest of this entry »


A Reliever Usage Check-In

When baseball finalized its jam-packed schedule for this year, one thing was immediately evident. Between an abbreviated ramp-up schedule and a dense slate of games, relievers would be in more demand this year. Starters would need time to get stretched out, and that’s extra innings for the bullpen. Stretches of six games in five days would be more common with fewer off days — a perfect time for a bullpen game, or for three competent frames from a minor leaguer and six relief innings.

True to form, 2020 has been a relief-heavy endeavor. As Jay Jaffe noted, starters are on pace to throw their fewest innings per start ever. You can do the math — that means that relievers are on pace to throw their most innings per game ever. Given all that, here’s a question for you: what does that mean for reliever rest and usage patterns?

The correct answer, as usual, is that it’s complicated. Not every relief pitcher is built equally, and not all of them play the same role on a team. You want 2014 Craig Kimbrel in the big spots and some worse reliever (saw the 2020 Kimbrel joke, passed it up, too easy) when the game isn’t close. “Relievers are pitching more innings” is incontrovertibly true, but I wondered how that usage broke down between groups.
Read the rest of this entry »


A Bauer Surge Is Zapping Hitters

The Cincinnati Reds haven’t yet had the breakout season than many — myself included — predicted, but one player who need not shoulder any of the blame for their 8-9 start is Trevor Bauer. His first three outings hint at a repeat of his 2018 All-Star season, and he seems to be on more solid ground than he was back then.

But let’s go back. In one of the more surprising moves of the 2019 trade deadline, the fourth-place Reds (49-56) decided to flip the usual script for teams in their position. The result was a three-way trade with the Padres and Indians that brought Bauer to Cincinnati for Taylor Trammell, Yasiel Puig, and Scott Moss.

The initial returns were…not great. In 10 starts with Cincinnati in 2019, Bauer posted a 6.39 ERA with 12 homers allowed in 56.1 innings. His 4.85 FIP told a more positive tale, but even that mark was well below the team’s expectations. But the Bauer trade was never about 2019. The NL Central didn’t appear to have any juggernauts looming and the potential benefits of having Trammell on the roster were years away; a pitcher like Bauer, meanwhile, could have a meaningful effect on a pennant race now. Bringing in the often-controversial pitcher was always about the 2020 season, and Bauer’s first three starts have been nearly spotless. Read the rest of this entry »


Effectively Wild Episode 1577: Chaos Theory

EWFI
Ben Lindbergh and Sam Miller banter about whether the idea of sports as a distraction from the pandemic has panned out, whether unexpectedly hot-starting teams like the Rockies and Tigers should “go for it” (and what that would entail), and what, if anything, MLB should do to address the curious case of Trevor Bauer’s spiking spin rates, then answer listener emails about the ideal balance between chaos and predictability, why lower pitch counts haven’t kept pitchers healthy, a clever solution for preserving extra-long games in the era of the automatic-runner rule, and pitchers calling their own pitches, plus a Stat Blast about how many more homers some of history’s greatest sluggers would have hit if they’d batted higher in the order.

Audio intro: L.E.O., "Distracted"
Audio outro: The Go-Betweens, "Your Turn My Turn"

Link to Will Leitch on how it feels to watch sports now
Link to story about streaking Tigers
Link to Ben Clemens on the hot Rockies
Link to playoff odds changes since Opening Day
Link to Ben on foreign substances and Bauer’s spin rates
Link to Jeff Passan on foreign substances and Bauer’s spin rates
Link to article about projections and the 2015 season
Link to Phil Birnbaum on the limits of predictions
Link to Ben on 2020’s injured pitchers
Link to Neil Paine on the unsolved injured-pitcher problem
Link to Russ Hull’s Stat Blast Song cover
Link to Michael Baumann on the odds of anyone reaching 700 homers
Link to Aaron Gleeman on the new no. 2 hitter
Link to video of Greinke calling his own pitches
Link to story about Maddux calling his own pitches
Link to Ben Gibbard’s “Centerfield”

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Howie Kendrick, Dream Killer

Before you start reading this article, you should know that the conclusion stinks. This isn’t one of those articles where facts stack neatly upon facts, revealing a hidden truth of baseball at the eleventh hour. It’s the opposite of that, essentially. Sometimes the hidden truth doesn’t reveal itself. Sometimes the stack of facts collapses, and you’re left trying to put the pieces back together. Anyway, I warned you.

The story starts with promise. Howie Kendrick, a 15-year veteran with a swing-first-and-ask-questions-later game, was doing something weird. Take a look at an extremely specific statistic, current as of August 9 — first-pitch balls in play, by year:

First Pitch Balls in Play
Year First Pitch BIP
2008 30
2009 33
2010 65
2011 45
2012 70
2013 55
2014 73
2015 65
2016 62
2017 29
2018 19
2019 34
2020 0

Of note, I’m only going back to 2008, because that’s the first year of pitch tracking data — Kendrick started in 2006, but those two missing years don’t really change the narrative here. That zero in 2020 doesn’t look all that suspicious — the Nats had only played 10 games — but it looks a little suspicious. It might not be holding a match, but there are burn marks on its fingers. Could Kendrick be changing something on the fly? Read the rest of this entry »