The Envelope Please: Our 2021 Hall of Fame Crowdsource Ballot Results

The following article is part of Jay Jaffe’s ongoing look at the candidates on the BBWAA 2021 Hall of Fame ballot. For a detailed introduction to this year’s ballot, and other candidates in the series, use the tool above; an introduction to JAWS can be found here. All WAR figures refer to the Baseball-Reference version unless otherwise indicated.

It would be only somewhat hyperbolic to say that the 2021 Hall of Fame election cycle was as contentious and polarizing as the presidential election that preceded it nearly three months ago, but let’s face it, this time around has not been a whole lot of fun. When Hall president Tim Mead opens the envelope to announce the results shortly after 6 pm ET on MLB Network on Tuesday evening, there’s a very good chance that the BBWAA voters will produce a shutout, the writers’ first since 2013 — a ballot that not-so-coincidentally is headlined by some of the same candidates who have split the electorate.

There’s no shutout from FanGraphs readers, however. In our third annual Hall of Fame crowdsource ballot, three candidates cleared the 75% bar, down from four last year and seven in 2019. Not surprisingly, Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens did so, just as they’ve done in each of the past two years. However, both members of the gruesome twosome took a back seat to the top close-but-no-cigar candidate from our 2020 crowdsource ballot, and no, I don’t mean Curt Schilling.

Before I get to the results, a refresher on the process. As with the past two years, registered readers of our site (and participating staff, this scribe included) were allowed to choose up to 10 candidates while adhering to the same December 31, 2020 deadline as the actual voters, but unlike the writers, our voting was conducted electronically instead of on paper. This year, 1,152 users participated, a drop of exactly 20% from last year’s 1,440 voters, but one that’s understandable in light of our pandemic-related traffic dip as well as an apparent lack of enthusiasm towards a ballot that, quite frankly, is headed by heels, in that the top four returning candidates in terms of voting percentage have significant issues that would give any character-minded voter pause. Read the rest of this entry »


Musings at the Intersection of Launch Angle Consistency and Hard-Hit Rate

If you follow the work of Alex Chamberlain at all, you’ve heard of the value of launch angle consistency. I’m not going to recapitulate his body of work on the subject, but briefly: hitters with tighter launch angle distributions routinely run higher BABIPs, and you can think of launch angle consistency as roughly a proxy for “hit tool.”

Most of this comes down to avoiding terrible batted ball outcomes. The two worst things you can do when you put the ball in play are to hit it straight down or straight up. Given that balls are, on average, hit mostly forward and with a tiny bit of loft — breaking news, I know — launch angle consistency is a great proxy for how often you avoid those, because the more -80s and +80s you put in your sample of mostly 10s and 20s, the higher the standard deviation gets.

One thing I’ve often wondered is whether this idea of consistency holds up for subsets of batted balls. Intuitively, it seems like it might. Take hard-hit balls, for example. If you’re hitting the ball 95 mph or harder, you really don’t want to squander it by hitting the ball on the ground or straight into the air. The distribution peaks at 30 degrees, but anything between 10 and 35 is a solid outcome.

With this in mind, I decided to look for batters who grouped their hard-hit balls most tightly. Having a narrow distribution seems like a great way to maximize good outcomes. Which player, you ask, has the tightest launch angle consistency (I’m just using standard deviation here) on hard-hit balls? I’m glad you asked — it’s Dee Strange-Gordon. Read the rest of this entry »


Enrique Hernández’s Unique Skillset Heads to Boston

Enrique Hernández’s phone should have been busy over the last three months, because he’s the kind of player every team has a roster spot for. If you have a hole in your lineup at second base, third base, or any outfield spot, consider Hernández. If your starting infield is set but you need a good replacement off the bench, consider Hernández. If your starting outfield is set but you want a backup who can capably man center, consider Hernández. If you simply want to add a veteran with loads of postseason experience to your clubhouse, consider Hernández. It is impossible not to find a use for one of the few players who can play every position in the field (minus catcher) and whose asking price is modest enough that even Pittsburgh could afford it. The only question is whether Hernández will hit.

The Red Sox believe he will, signing Hernández to a two-year contract worth $14 million on Friday — the only multi-year deal the team has handed out this winter. Boston reportedly agreed to terms with the former Dodger after missing out on Jurickson Profar, a similarly versatile player who signed with San Diego for the same AAV but for one additional year. As noted over on The Athletic, Hernández could address either of Boston’s two most glaring needs at second base or in center field and provide assistance at any other spot at which he might be needed.

Red Sox fans are no stranger to having a Swiss Army Knife on the roster. That same role was occupied for most of the last decade by Brock Holt, before he signed with Milwaukee a year ago. Like Hernández, Holt was able to log lots of playing time by providing serviceable defense everywhere on the field. But while Holt’s lack of pop limited his potential to be an impact hitter, the same can’t be said about Hernández, who has a .195 ISO going back to 2017. That power has had a knack for showing up in big moments during his playoff career, including two different game-tying homers in last year’s NLCS, one of which was a pinch-hit dinger in Game 7.

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Ben Clemens FanGraphs Chat – 1/25/21

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Baseball Has Lost a True Titan in Henry Aaron (1934-2021)

There are baseball stars, there are heroes and legends, and then there is Henry Aaron. The slugging right fielder is remembered mainly for surpassing Babe Ruth’s all-time home run record on April 8, 1974, but even that crowning achievement obscures the all-around excellence and remarkable consistency he demonstrated during his 23-year major league career.

What’s more, Aaron’s accomplishments can most fully be appreciated only with an understanding of the racism he encountered throughout his life and his career, as a Black man who began his professional career in the Negro Leagues, who became a star before half of the teams in the National League had integrated and a champion before the last teams in the American League did so, who emerged as a force for civil rights while becoming the first Black star on the first major league team in the Deep South, who surpassed the most hallowed record produced by the game’s most famous player while facing a nearly unimaginable barrage of hate mail and death threats, and who broke down further barriers after his retirement, as one of the game’s first Black executives and as a critic of the lack of diversity among managers and executives.

More than a Hall of Famer, Aaron was a true titan, an American icon in his own right. Sadly, he is the latest Hall of Famer in an unrelenting stretch to pass away. News of his death was announced on Friday morning, four days after that of Don Sutton, 15 days after that of Tommy Lasorda, and 27 days after that of former teammate Phil Niekro. He was 86 years old, and had been in the news earlier this month as he received a COVID-19 vaccination.

“Hank Aaron was one of the best baseball players we’ve ever seen and one of the strongest people I’ve ever met,” said former president Barack Obama in a statement released on Friday. Former presidents Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush paid tributes in statements as well, as did President Joe Biden:

While Aaron’s story is often cast as that of a man overcoming or ignoring racism and hatred to achieve greatness with quiet dignity, it does the man a disservice to soften his edges and diminish the pain that he felt, and the scars that he bore — particularly given that he did not do so in silence. Surpassing Ruth “was supposed to be the greatest triumph of my life, but I was never allowed to enjoy it. I couldn’t wait for it to be over,” he once said. “The only reason that some people didn’t want me to succeed was because I was a Black man.” Read the rest of this entry »


Nationals Add Brad, Land Hand

One of the early surprises of the offseason was Cleveland opting to pay Brad Hand a $1 million buyout rather than spend $10 million to pick up his option for the 2021 season. Perhaps even more of a surprise was that Hand cleared waivers, which meant every other team in baseball opted not to commit $10 million despite him putting up his fifth straight one-plus win season even in a shortened slate of games. While Hand was likely seeking more than a one-year deal in free agency given his performance (and both the crowd and I predicted as much), he still did better than the option, getting a $10.5 million deal with the Nationals as first reported by Jon Heyman and Jeff Passan.

Including the buyout, Hand will receive $11.5 million this year, or $1.5 million more than he would have if Cleveland had simply retained his services. Eric Longenhagen wrote his profile in the Top-50 Free Agents piece, noting both the positives and negatives for the lefty:

His velocity fell for the second consecutive year (it trended up throughout the season) but Hand still struck out more than 30% of opposing hitters for the fifth straight season and had a career-best 2.05 ERA and 1.37 FIP. He’s a funky, low-slot lefty who can throw his trademark curveball for strikes whenever he wants and consistently locate it just off the plate to his glove side for swings and misses.

Aside from some elbow soreness that sidelined him late in 2019 (and perhaps limited his workload throughout that season), Hand has also been remarkably durable for a reliever, pitching in excess of 70 innings every year from 2014 to 2018, some of those in a swingman role. His lower arm slot gives Hand rather pronounced platoon splits, which means he may not be universally deployable in high-leverage situations, but his curveball quality and his ability to execute it consistently should still enable him to be a second or third bullpen banana for the next several years, even if his velocity keeps gradually sliding.

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With Jameson Taillon, the Yankees Add Upside and Risk

Pittsburgh’s sell-off continued over the weekend, with the Pirates sending starting pitcher Jameson Taillon to the New York Yankees in return for four prospects. The 29-year-old didn’t pitch in 2020, his season lost due to rehabilitation from Tommy John surgery in late 2019, the second such surgery of his career. Taillon, a former 2010 first-round pick, has suffered more than his share of setbacks, missing three years of his career and most of a fourth due to his elbow injuries and a sports hernia; he also missed time in 2017 due to testicular cancer. He heads to a Yankees rotation with a lot of interesting upside talent and a surplus of question marks.

Taillon’s departure to join former teammate Gerrit Cole in the Bronx represents the end of an era in Pittsburgh. Taken in consecutive drafts in 2010 and ’11, Taillon and Cole were frequently imagined together as the two aces at the top of a future Pirates rotation. For a team that had had recent first-round busts in the quickly injured Brad Lincoln and the bafflingly selected Daniel Moskos, this pair was the cornerstone of the rebuilding efforts of the then-new Frank Coonelly/Neal Huntington regime. Both pitchers were consensus elite choices in the draft and were selected without any of the team’s trademark cynical calculations about whether a player would sign on the cheap.

Taillon and Cole met their lofty expectations as they quickly worked their way through the minors. Cole, a college draftee, made his 2011 major league debut just two years after draft day, and if not for injury, Taillon would have likely followed him early in 2014. Missing two years is an enormous setback for any prospect, but the Pirates averaged 93 wins per season over 2013-15 and could afford to be patient. As the holes the team had to fill in order to continue winning increased, ownership’s commitment to investing in the roster did not, and the Pirates needed Taillon in 2016 more than they did in ’14 or ’15. And he succeeded, requiring only a 10-game tuneup at Triple-A before debuting in the majors and pitching well enough where he would have gotten some Rookie of the Year votes if he had been up for the entire year. Read the rest of this entry »


Marlins Reel In Anthony Bass

It’s become a common narrative in baseball recently: the veteran player, struggling to secure a job in America, heads overseas to play in Japan or Korea. They spend some time there, rediscover or reinvent part of their game, and return to America to find much greater success in the majors than before. Anthony Bass made his way to Japan in 2016 after toiling away for five years on three different teams. In his one season in Nippon Professional Baseball, he played for the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters during their championship season. He ended up pitching in five of the six games in the Japan Series that year and was the winning pitcher in the championship clinching Game 6.

After getting a taste of winning in Asia’s highest league, he returned to the States in 2017 but continued to struggle to earn a regular job in the majors until latching on with the Mariners in May of 2019. By the end of the season, he had worked his way into high-leverage innings for Seattle. He was claimed on waivers by the Blue Jays after the season and continued to work as a late-inning reliever in 2020. On Friday, he signed the first multi-year contract of his career, a two-year deal with the Marlins worth a guaranteed $5 million with a club option for 2023. The 33-year-old has taken the journeyman moniker to it’s extreme but finally found a school to call home in Miami.

The success he found in Japan gave Bass a huge boost of confidence. Getting over that mental hurdle was a significant step toward realizing his talent on the field. In an interview from February of last year, he recounted that mental process to Kaitlyn McGrath of The Athletic:

“Cause I was having success there and I was like, ‘I can do it. I can come back to the States and do exactly what I’m doing here in the States and have success. When I really started telling myself I’m a really good pitcher, and just attack the strike zone with everything I have, a switch turned on in my head and it just completely changed my career from pitching almost passively and a little timid, trying to stay in the major leagues versus, ‘No, I can do this and I want to dominate at this level.”

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Padres Sign Profar to Play, Well, Some Position Presumably

When the Padres traded for Jurickson Profar before the 2020 season, they had a hole at second base. By the time the season started (give or take a week), Jake Cronenworth had filled that hole. But luckily for the Padres, Profar was flexible. He played the outfield for the majority of the season, more than doubling his career innings played total on the grass, and backed Cronenworth up at second while putting together the best batting line of his career. In a shortened season with heightened injury problems, his flexibility was exactly what the team needed.

On Friday, the Padres and Profar agreed to reunite, with San Diego signing him to a three-year, $21 million deal that includes opt outs after each of the first two seasons. But while Profar is headed back to southern California, what role he’ll play there remains undecided. A Padres team without many holes has spent the offseason filling in what cracks it has, leaving precious little space for more cooks in the kitchen — or so it seems.

One of the greatest unknowns facing NL teams is the DH rule. Will it come back next season? Opinions vary, and whether you can give an extra player at-bats changes roster construction significantly. The pre-Profar Friars straddled the gap between building for an extra hitter and for traditional rules. Ha-seong Kim, their prize position player signing this offseason, currently profiles as a super-utility player who starts on the bench. He could fill the DH position, but using a middle infielder (Kim is a shortstop by trade) there feels wasteful. Meanwhile, the team’s two corner outfielders, Tommy Pham and Wil Myers, are both mixed in the field. Either of them could slide to DH — Pham played DH during his tenure in Tampa — if the team could find a suitable defensive replacement. Read the rest of this entry »


Job Posting: Boston Red Sox Data Engineer, Baseball Systems

Position: Data Engineer, Baseball Systems

Position Overview:
The Data Engineer, Baseball Systems position will be a member of the baseball operations software development team, and is responsible for integrating, collecting, processing, and storing many sources of baseball data, as well as designing and building new data solutions. This position must be comfortable with on-premises and cloud solutions, and take the initiative to explore new optimizations and cutting-edge data technologies. This individual will work closely with the team’s data architect, analysts, developers, and other members of baseball operations.

Responsibilities:

  • Build leading-edge baseball solutions together with the software development team, analysts, and others on new and existing baseball systems
  • Build and maintain integration pipelines, often via an API or file-based, while also identifying areas of improvement and spending time to re-architect when required. Build and maintain infrastructure to optimize extraction, transformation, and the loading of data from various sources
  • Design, build, and maintain data warehousing solutions for the software development and analytics teams. Build and maintain tools for the analysts to enable more efficient and extensive data modeling and simulation efforts
  • Participate in key phases of the software development process of critical baseball applications, including requirements gathering, analysis, effort estimation, technical investigation, software design and implementation, testing, bug fixing, and quality assurance
  • Actively participate with software developers and data architects in design reviews, code reviews, and other best practices
  • Read the rest of this entry »