The Best Bunts of the Year, Part Two

Yesterday, I compiled the worst bunts of the season. They were bad in various ways — poor execution, great defense, a spot where failing was particularly painful — but they all cost their team dearly. Today, we’re looking at the opposite: the bunts that have added the most value.

As a refresher, this absolute gem was the best bunt of the first third of the season:

That perfect execution of an audacious plan is the platonic ideal of a bunt. If every successful bunt this season was like that, this would be a really fun series to write. A well-placed bunt is art; post five of those, and I could skate by with almost no commentary and let the GIFs do the talking.

Sadly, that’s not quite the case. There’s quite a bit of bad defense this time around — plenty of errors in the top five. That’s just how bunts work: they’re designed to force the defense to make a play, and while defenders are excellent, they’re not automatons. A sacrifice bunt that works as planned is never going to be one of the best plays a team can make — it’s designed to minimize variance, neither as bad as a strikeout nor as good as a single. The best bunts of the year by WPA, then, need to either score runs without surrendering outs or feature dubious fielding.

So yeah, some of these bunts aren’t perfectly placed gems that the defense has to eat. Some of them are just players making bad throws or bad decisions. As a palate cleanser, though, take a look at this beautiful honorable mention. Read the rest of this entry »


Effectively Wild Episode 1747: Embrace the Race

EWFI
Ben Lindbergh and Meg Rowley banter about Jake Arrieta’s sub-replacement pitching and the sorry state of the Padres’ starting staff, Bryce Harper, Juan Soto, and the NL MVP race, Shohei Ohtani, Vladimir Guerrero Jr., and the competing, persuasive narratives of the AL MVP race, and the ascendance of micro sports betting. Then (31:49) they talk to FanGraphs writer Jay Jaffe about tracking “Team Entropy,” fun and far-fetched tiebreaker scenarios, the potential for wild endings to 2021’s division and wild card races, the retirement and legacy of Ryan Braun, and the players who’ve most helped their Hall of Fame cases this season.

Audio intro: Humble Pie, "The Sad Bag of Shaky Jake"
Audio interstitial: The Stroppies, "Entropy"
Audio outro: Mandolin Orange, "Old Ties and Companions"

Link to Ohtani on the Time Top 100
Link to story on Ohtani’s Top 100 appearance
Link to Jeff Sullivan on Harper’s 2015
Link to Rob Arthur on Harper’s 2015
Link to Ben on the Soto Shuffle
Link to story on micro sports betting
Link to study on micro sports bettors
Link to story on cricket betting scandal
Link to tennis match-fixing wiki
Link to Jay on Team Entropy in 2011
Link to MLB.com 2011 retrospective
Link to CBS Sports 2011 retrospective
Link to 2011 retrospective video
Link to Ben on five-way tiebreakers
Link to Russell on five-way tiebreakers
Link to Jay’s 2021 Team Entropy intro
Link to latest Team Entropy piece
Link to Rob on the Mariners’ run differential
Link to Jay on Braun
Link to Jay on pitchers’ Hall cases
Link to Jay on hitters’ Hall cases
Link to Jay on Negro Leagues candidates
Link to Jay’s first Sausage Race piece
Link to Jay’s second Sausage Race piece

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Givens, Lorenzen Help Keep Reds’ Leaky Bullpen Afloat in Its Time of Need

As the end of the regular season draws near, the Wild Card race in the NL is as tight as it comes. The Dodgers currently control the top spot, while the Padres, who held onto second for most of the year, have faltered in the face of adversity, going from 91.7% playoff odds on July 27 to 24.2% as of today. That has left the door open for the Reds and Cardinals, with the former riding a torrid August and withstanding a slow September for a 36.2% chance to make the playoffs (though the latter currently leads in the chase for the second wild card by half a game).

Cincinnati’s success this season is in large part due to contributions from players like Joey Votto and Wade Miley. One unit that hasn’t helped, though is the bullpen; Reds relievers carry the fourth-highest FIP (4.69) in the majors and account for just 1.0 WAR. But in the last month and a half, the bullpen has shown some improvement, albeit modest, with a 4.40 FIP since August 1 and a 4.02 mark in the month of September, which ranks 11th in baseball during that time. That improvement has been particularly noticeable in the late innings:

Cincinnati Reds Bullpen Performance in 8th and 9th Innings
Month FIP xFIP
Mar/Apr 5.76 5.88
May 4.01 4.50
Jun 4.80 4.13
Jul 5.22 4.39
Aug 4.20 4.69
Sept/Oct 3.79 2.57

All that is despite a closer situation has been fluid, to say the least — one riddled with injuries and poor performance throughout the year. Back in the offseason, the Reds surprisingly sent incumbent closer Raisel Iglesias to the Angels for middle reliever Noé Ramirez, betting that their stock of young arms and less expensive veteran alternatives would make up for his departure. The plan backfired. Iglesias is following up his excellent 2020 with a career year in which he’ll challenge previous career highs in saves and strikeouts, and his WAR this season is nearly twice that of the entire Reds relief corps.

Read the rest of this entry »


Eric Lauer’s Emergence Gives the Brewers October Options

For much of the 2021 season, the story of the Milwaukee Brewers has been the dominant pitching they’ve gotten from their three aces, Corbin Burnes, Brandon Woodruff and Freddy Peralta. Those three all have ERAs under 3.00 and have combined for 14.6 WAR. Since July 1, the Brewers have been on an absolute tear, going 41-23; the once competitive NL Central has turned into a blowout. The roll they’ve been on hasn’t come entirely from who you might expect, though. Look at their starting pitching since July 1:

Starting Pitching Since July 1
Player IP ERA FIP K-BB% WAR
Corbin Burnes 77.1 1.98 1.79 26.8% 3.3
Eric Lauer 54.2 1.98 2.87 14.5% 1.5
Brandon Woodruff 62.1 3.47 3.44 21.0% 1.3
Adrian Houser 49.2 1.99 3.59 5.4% 1.0
Freddy Peralta 40.0 3.83 3.61 19.1% 0.9

Please attempt to ignore the nonsense that Burnes has been up to and check out how good Eric Lauer has been. Yes, Adrian Houser has been great, too, but I want to focus on Lauer. His 3.10 ERA is nearly a run and a half better than his previous best and even with him outperforming his peripherals (3.94 FIP, 4.22 xFIP, 4.05 xERA), those marks remain career bests as well. So how has he done it? Read the rest of this entry »


Ryan Braun’s Complicated Legacy

The announcement was inevitable, with only its timing in question. On Tuesday, Ryan Braun formalized what had been presumed since last winter, namely his decision to retire from baseball. The 37-year-old slugger made his announcement via the Twitter feed of the Brewers, the team that drafted him out of the University of Miami with the fifth pick in 2005, and the one with whom he spent his entire 14-year major league career.

Braun hit just .233/.281/.488 for a career-low 99 wRC+ last season, as back and right index finger injuries limited his playing time to 39 games and 141 plate appearances. In late October, the Brewers declined their end of a $15 million mutual option, choosing instead to pay him a $4 million buyout. It was the first time he’d ever reached free agency, as he spent all but his 2007 rookie season playing under two long-term extensions, first an eight-year, $45 million deal that covered 2008-15, and then a five-year, $105 million deal that covered 2016-20.

Braun and the Brewers remained in touch through the winter, and he went so far as to visit the Brewers during spring training. Even so, he told MLB.com’s Adam McCalvy in February that he was enjoying his time with his family and business interests and didn’t foresee resuming his career, saying, “I’m continuing to work out and stay in shape, but I’m not currently interested in playing.” Braun reiterated that stance in May, when Team USA reached out to ask whether he was interested in pursuing a spot on the US Olympic squad, which ultimately won a silver medal with the similarly unsigned likes of Ian Kinsler and Scott Kazmir taking on pivotal roles. Team Israel had expressed interested as well, given Braun’s Jewish heritage. Read the rest of this entry »


Josh Donaldson Talks Hitting

Josh Donaldson has a 138 wRC+ since becoming a full-time player in 2013, and power has been a big part of that equation. Not counting last year’s pandemic-shortened season, and an injury-marred 2018, the 35-year-old third baseman has averaged 31 home runs annually. Now in his second year with the Minnesota Twins, Donaldson is a three-time All-Star who has been awarded a pair of Silver Sluggers.

He’s also an analytics-savvy hitting nerd who spends a lot of time thinking about his craft, and he doesn’t always do so in a predictable way. When Donaldson sat down for this interview in late August — the Twins were playing in Boston — he didn’t wait for a question; he asked a rhetorical one of his own.

———

Josh Donaldson: “Are barrels overrated? In 2019, my OPS was good. Last year, I didn’t really have enough at-bats to log. This year, my OPS isn’t good — not for my standards — but if you go look at the charts, all of my [quality of contact] categories are red. They’re well into the 90s for percentiles.

“I looked at guys around the league who are having really good years. I looked at Marcus Semien, who is having a great year. I looked at a guy like Nolan Arenado, who has been a really good hitter for awhile. You go throughout the league and look at guys’ hard-hit percentages, and it’s like, ‘Is that good?’ That’s one thing I’ve been kind of tinkering with.

“Obviously, you want to be able to hit the ball hard — you want to drive balls — but I think there’s also something to… say, for instance, someone like Tony Gwynn. Are you able to control the barrel with where it’s pitched? Maybe it’s an inside pitch and you’re able to stay inside it and fight it off the other way to get a hit. That’s versus… I mean, I’ve gotten pitches in, or I’ve gotten pitches middle, and I’ve smoked them on the ground, or I’ve hit a line drive where the defense is playing.

Freddie Freeman. You look at his Baseball Savant page, and it’s really good. He’s in the 99th percentile in a lot of categories, but I know that his thought-process is to hit a line drive to where the shortstop is. He’s always focused on doing that, yet has the ability to turn on some balls as well. So I think there’s an argument to be made… or at least it’s something that I’m kind of digging into a little bit more. Is hitting the ball hard good, or is it bad?” Read the rest of this entry »


The Worst Bunts of the Year, Part Two

Earlier this year, I took a look at the worst (and best) bunts of the year. I couldn’t help myself. It’s simply too much fun to watch the best-laid bunting plans go down in flames, while a perfectly executed bunt is one of the most exciting plays in baseball.

Originally, I planned on waiting until the end of the season to update both lists. I forgot something, though: the end of the season is really busy and fun as it is. Playoff races, individual awards, wondering where the Mets went so wrong. There are already innumerable annual traditions to write about at season’s end. Instead, I decided to get a head start on these standout bunts, and circle back if one improbably beats them out for the worst (or best) bunt of the year.

As a reminder, here was the worst bunt of the first third of the season:

That one was really bad, both in execution and outcome. It cost the Cardinals dearly — more than a quarter of a win by WPA. It’s not easy to lose so much value in a single play on offense. With that in mind, I’ll be answering a bonus question for each bunt in this list: was it worse than José Rondón’s ill-fated attempt? Without further ado, let’s get bunting. Read the rest of this entry »


Effectively Wild Episode 1746: They’re Saying Boo-urns

EWFI
Ben Lindbergh and Meg Rowley banter about Padres reliever Austin Adams tying the single-season hit by pitch record (and some resulting safety concerns), Corbin Burnes pitching (most of) the season’s record-setting ninth no-hitter and the changing norms around pulling pitchers mid-no-no, Max Scherzer’s recent run, pitchers whose whole careers are covered by pitch-tracking tech, and Scherzer vs. Walker Buehler, the Padres’ stretch-run incentives, the Blue Jays raking and the Orioles imploding, the Yankees moving Gleyber Torres from shortstop to second base, and the latest demotion for quintessential journeyman Ryan Lavarnway. Then (40:18) they talk to writers Russell Carleton and Robert O’Connell about their recent (and not-so-recent) research and reporting about conditions in the minor leagues, touching on whether pay and housing have improved, the role of advocacy groups and media members in influencing public opinion, the cases for and against paying minor leaguers more, how much it would cost to raise the standards, the roots of low minor league pay, the impact of anxiety on development, and more.

Audio intro: Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real, "Just Outside of Austin"
Audio interstitial: Motorists, "Blood From the Stone"
Audio outro: The Both, "Pay for It"

Link to Zach Kram on Adams
Link to locations of Adams’ HBP
Link to Adams’ pitch to Turner
Link to story on Planet Nine
Link to Will Sammon on Counsell’s decision
Link to 1974 Preston Gomez story
Link to Jay Jaffe on Scherzer
Link to Jeff Passan on the Scherzer trade
Link to Dodgers Nation on Scherzer vs. Buehler
Link to Scherzer’s Kershaw reaction video
Link to MLB’s 3000-strikeouts graphic
Link to Ben Clemens on the Blue Jays
Link to Hyde’s postgame quote
Link to Dan Szymborski on Torres
Link to Lavarnway news
Link to Robert’s Defector story
Link to Russell on minor leaguers in 2012
Link to Russell on what it would cost
Link to Russell on responding to objections
Link to Russell on minor leaguers as investments
Link to Russell on minor league anxiety
Link to Russell on player-development losses
Link to Russell on changing teams’ thinking
Link to Marc Normandin on unionizing the minors
Link to story on G League union
Link to G League union announcement
Link to Joon Lee’s Angels report
Link to Brittany Ghiroli’s recent report
Link to Ghiroli on Astros housing
Link to FanGraphs post on housing costs
Link to story about Orioles housing
Link to subsequent story on Orioles housing
Link to Advocates for Minor Leaguers requests
Link to EW meetup info

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 Email Us: podcast@fangraphs.com


Daily Prospect Notes: 9/14/2021

These are notes on prospects from Eric Longenhagen. Read previous installments of the Daily Prospect Notes here.

Games on 9/12

Mason Fox, RHP, San Diego Padres
Level & Affiliate: Double-A San Antonio Age: 21 Org Rank: 38 FV: 35+
Line:
1 IP, 3 K

Notes
Fox’s previously dominant fastball (he had a 0.55 ERA and 0.98 WHIP in 2019, mostly in short-season ball) wasn’t as nasty during the spring. Sitting in the low-90s, he struggled and was shut down, and was put on the Development List for most of July and August. Back for about three weeks now, his fastball velocity has more often been in the 93-95 range again, though his curveball still lacks bat-missing power and depth. Because 2021 is his roster evaluation year (either he’s put on the 40-man or subject to the Rule 5 Draft in December) and because he’s thrown so few innings so far this season, the Arizona Fall league is perhaps a logical assignment for Fox and the Padres.

Jackson Rutledge, RHP, Washington Nationals
Level & Affiliate: Low-A Fredricksburg Age: 22 Org Rank: 5 FV: 45+
Line:
4 IP, 3 H, 1 BB, 1 R, 4 K

Notes
Speaking of other potential Fall League candidates (I’m drawing logical conclusions here, not reporting anything or leaking dope), Jackson Rutledge has struggled to take the ball every fifth day because of an early-season shoulder injury, and more recently, recurring blister issues. Sunday was Rutledge’s third blister-free start since his most recent activation. He’s sitting in the 94-98 range since returning, with his stuff intact coming off those dreaded shoulder issues. Obviously context is important here (it’s not as if Rutledge has gone every fifth day all year and is sitting 94-98), but that’s an encouraging sign for his health. Having amassed just 32 innings this season, Rutledge is a prime Fall League candidate. Read the rest of this entry »


The Yankees Perform Infield Triage

There were a lot of reasons Gleyber Torres was fascinating as a prospect. Most of them were based on his offensive potential, but if we turn back the clock four years, there was also hope that Torres would be an adequate enough shortstop that he wouldn’t necessarily need to move down the defensive spectrum (at least not right away) thanks to a strong arm that could compensate for other shortcomings. Both Eric Longehagen and Dan Farnsworth expressed that hope here at FanGraphs, though Eric wasn’t quite as bullish. The Yankees are perhaps the foremost experts in winning lots of games with a defensively unimpressive shortstop who more than makes up for it with fantastic offensive contributions; the height of that ideal, of course, is recently-inducted Hall of Famer Derek Jeter.

Torres had mostly played second base in his rookie campaign, with mixed results, but when incumbent shortstop Didi Gregorius underwent Tommy John surgery, the Yankees had an opportunity to give him an extended look at the position. That seemed to pay off. At -5 runs per 150 by UZR and -6/150 by DRS and OAA, Torres wasn’t a great shortstop by any stretch, but he wasn’t in “let’s see how Todd Hundley does in the outfield” territory, either. Plus, hitting .278/.337/.535 with 38 homers at age 22 has a nice way of neutralizing concerns about mediocre defense.

The wheels came off that particular apple cart last season. He played poor defense, and while he still got on base, his power completely disappeared. All told, Torres hit just three homers in the abbreviated 2020 campaign, and his isolated power dropped in half, from .256 to .125. Last season was a weird year for obvious reasons, but Torres hasn’t bounced back at all in a more normal one, hitting .249/.320/.349 through Monday’s games. At this level of offense, it gets much harder to carry a defensively unimpressive shortstop. In 151 combined games in 2020 and ’21, basically a full season, Torres’ numbers at short have been -6 runs by UZR, -7 by OAA, and an extremely troubling -21 in DRS. Read the rest of this entry »