FanGraphs Power Rankings: August 1–14

With less than a third of the season remaining, it’s crunch time for a number of teams on the playoff bubble. There are still division titles up for grabs in both Central divisions, and both Wild Card races are shaping up to remain exciting down to the last day.

A reminder for how these rankings are calculated: first, we take the three most important components of a team — their offense (wRC+), and their starting rotation and bullpen (a 50/50 blend of FIP- and RA9-, weighted by IP share) — and combine them to create an overall team quality metric. New for this year, I’ve opted to include defense as a component, though it’s weighted less heavily than offense and pitching. Some element of team defense is captured by RA9-, but now that FanGraphs has Statcast’s OAA/RAA available on our leaderboards, I’ve chosen to include that as the defensive component for each team. I also add in a factor for “luck,” adjusting a team’s win percentage based on expected win-loss record. The result is a power ranking, which is then presented in tiers below.

Note: All stats are through Sunday, August 14.

Tier 1 – The 💯 Club
Team Record “Luck” wRC+ SP- RP- RAA Team Quality Playoff Odds
Dodgers 79-34 -2 122 79 81 0 179 100.0%
Astros 75-41 1 114 86 80 21 189 100.0%
Yankees 72-43 -6 119 87 80 11 182 100.0%
Mets 75-40 3 113 88 93 7 164 100.0%

The Dodgers had a 12-game win streak — which included sweeps of the Giants, Padres, and Twins — snapped on Sunday. They’ve lost just four times since the All-Star break and have asserted themselves as the best team in baseball as the summer rolls on. This hot streak comes despite plenty of uncertainty surrounding their starting rotation; Clayton Kershaw hit the injured list last week with a lower back strain, and the team announced yesterday that Walker Buehler would undergo elbow surgery, ending his season. They’ll be glad to welcome back Dustin May from his Tommy John rehab this weekend. Read the rest of this entry »

Ten Years Later, Jameson Taillon Has Changed (Yet Is Much the Same)

Jameson Taillon
Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Jameson Taillon was 20 years old when he was first featured here at FanGraphs in September 2012. Drafted second overall by the Pittsburgh Pirates out of Woodland (Texas) High School just two years earlier, he’d only recently been promoted to Double-A when he sat down for an interview. The subjects at hand were his repertoire and his early-career development as a professional pitcher.

A decade later, Taillon is now pitching for the New York Yankees. Acquired from Pittsburgh prior to last season — this after missing most of 2019 and all of the shortened 2020 season while recovering from Tommy John surgery — the 30-year-old right-hander is having a solid campaign. In 23 starts comprising 127.2 innings, he is 11–3 with a 3.95 ERA and a 4.02 FIP.

Taillon discussed his decade-long evolution on the mound when the Yankees visited Fenway Park this past weekend.


David Laurila: You were in the minors when we first spoke 10 years ago. How would you describe your progression as a pitcher since that time?

Jameson Taillon: “One of the interesting things about pitching is that you’re in constant pursuit of trying to get better. The trends change, the hitters change, the scouting reports change. But I feel like I’ve kept a lot of my strengths the same. My curveball is still a pretty decent pitch for me, I throw a four- and a two-seam, just like I did 10 years ago.

“I’ve added a slider. I’ve probably used the changeup a little bit more in the big leagues than I did at the beginning of my career. But yeah, for a while there I was heavy sinkers and ground balls. Last year I went heavy four-seam. Now I’m kind of finding that sweet mix, that balance.”

Laurila: Is that mostly based on feel? Read the rest of this entry »

Presenting a Much-Needed Steven Kwan Update

Steven Kwan
Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

In April, the baseball article subject of choice is often a player who has a scorching hot start to the season. We put him under scrutiny, examine his ins and outs, then ultimately shrug and say, well, maybe. Maybe it’s something! Then again, it could also be nothing. Months pass, and said player and their progress is never revisited. Instead, you’ll likely come across their remains in the dustiest corner of a box score, discovering a mere shell of a once-promising breakout candidate.

Let’s amend that. If there’s anyone who deserves a follow-up, it’s Guardians outfielder Steven Kwan, who ranked No. 57 on our 2022 Top 100 prospect list before the season and who captivated fans back in April with an endless stream of hits and a refusal to swing and miss. But a horrid May (.173/.271/.253) removed him from the community’s collective radar, consigning him to a Yermín Mercedes-like fate. Since then, however, Kwan has been outstanding: Following a productive summer, he’s brought up his slash line on the season to a respectable .295/.371/.389, for a 121 wRC+. This sport has seen countless one-month wonders; he isn’t one of them. Read the rest of this entry »

Drew Rasmussen Cuts Down the Opposition

© Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Sunday afternoon, Drew Rasmussen had everything working. For eight innings, his fastball/cutter combination kept Orioles batters off balance, with intermittent sliders only deepening their confusion. The first 24 Orioles to come to the plate walked away empty-handed. It took Rasmussen just 79 pitches to navigate those eight innings. He was on course for both a perfect game and a Maddux, and the Orioles looked unlikely to stop him.

They managed to break through. Jorge Mateo led off the ninth inning by lacing a double down the third base line. He advanced on a groundout, then scored on a wild pitch. Rasmussen didn’t even manage a complete game; after Brett Phillips reached on a dropped third strike, Kevin Cash went to the bullpen for the last two outs of the game. It wasn’t the crowning achievement for Rasmussen that it might have been, but this season has been a success nonetheless, and a near-perfecto presents a great excuse to examine what’s gone right.

I last checked in on Rasmussen after his first start this season, when he adopted a new sweeping slider and threw it a ton. In 2021, he’d been a fastball-first pitcher with a slider that changed shape as he worked on it throughout the year. In 2022, he came out featuring the slider, with a new cutter to boot. Would 2022 be the year of the sweeper for Rasmussen?

As it turns out, not so much. His first few starts represented a local high in slider usage, and he’s been leaning on the pitch less and less since. He’s filled in that gap by going back to his high-octane fastball and by trusting that new cutter:

Read the rest of this entry »

Kyle Harrison Is One of the Top Pitching Prospects in the Game

© Allan Henry-USA TODAY Sports

Kyle Harrison is one of the top pitching prospects in baseball. Drafted 85th overall in 2020 out of Concord, California’s De La Salle High School, the just-turned-21-year-old left-hander is No. 30 on our updated Top 100. Ranked ninth among hurlers, Harrison has dominated at two levels. Currently with the Richmond Flying Squirrels, the Double-A affiliate of the San Francisco Giants, he’s fanned 143 batters and allowed just 57 hits in 86-and-a-third innings this season. In a word, the young southpaw has been overpowering.

Harrison discussed his repertoire when Richmond played in Portland over the weekend.


David Laurila: To start, give me a self-scouting report.

Kyle Harrison: “My fastball averages around 94 [mph]. I spin it decently — not too high — but it’s from a low approach angle, so I think it looks like the ball has a little bit of rise. Then I’ll go to my slider. I’ll kind of grip that off the four-seam and really just try to rip it at the bottom of the zone. It’s a little more sweepy-ish than a regular slider. I’m trying to make it harder. I’m able to get it to 85 sometimes — that’s kind of where I want it to be — but those are the max-effort ones. It’s usually more 80-83.

“The changeup I’m playing around with now is a new grip. I’m kind of splitting the two seams there. It’s more of a one-seam, so I can get a little bit more tumble. I’ve been throwing it harder than I’d like. I’m trying to take a little velo off to get some better speed differential.” Read the rest of this entry »

Fernando Tatis Jr. Suspension Is Huge Loss for Padres, Fans, Major League Baseball

Fernando Tatis Jr
D. Ross Cameron-USA TODAY Sports

In a shocking story heading into the weekend, MLB announced that Padres shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr. would be suspended for 80 games under the league’s Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program. His positive test was for Clostebol, an anabolic steroid that previously led to the suspensions of Dee Strange-Gordon and Freddy Galvis. The ban ends his 2022 season before it ever officially started, and he will also miss a decent chunk of next year, as well.

To say this is unwelcome news would be an understatement. The Padres are in prime playoff position without having the services of Tatis this year, but this is a giant hit; they’re in this position in spite of his loss. Whether you’re talking about the projections of nerdy computer systems or the expectations of team employees and their fans, the idea that he would be back on the roster for at least most of the stretch run and the playoffs was baked into the assumptions.

While a certain trade with the team in D.C. for a specific outfielder of much acclaim rightfully got the most thundering plaudits after the deadline, the depth move for Brandon Drury in a small trade with the Reds is looking even better. After a string of disappointing seasons following his early success in Arizona, he’s having a career year, hitting .269/.333/.521 for a wRC+ of 130 and playing several positions. Drury is competent at both second base and third base, which amplifies the value of his offensive production, and that flexibility allows the Padres to shuffle players around the diamond as needs, matchups, or injuries demand. He’s even played enough shortstop that he can be at least considered an emergency option, but it’s less needed in San Diego with Ha-Seong Kim and Jake Cronenworth likely ahead of him in the depth chart at the position.

The Padres’ depth mitigates the loss of Tatis, but their young superstar is so good that practically any timeshare of mortals will represent a significant downgrade at the position. Entering 2022, ZiPS ranked him second in baseball in projected WAR, behind only Juan Soto, and only because it projected fewer games played for Tatis because of his injury history. ZiPS was not exactly going out on a limb here; Steamer and THE BAT held him in similar regard, as did, well, every person who was even vaguely familiar with baseball. Even my mom, who has just about zero interest in the sport, knew about the suspension, though admittedly she referred to him as “Taters.”

In any case, let’s run the median projections for the NL West, both without a Tatis suspension and with him returning at the end of this week:

ZiPS Projected Standings – NL West (Pre-Tatis Suspension)
Team W L GB Pct Div% WC% Playoff% WS Win%
Los Angeles Dodgers 106 56 .654 99.9% 0.1% 100.0% 10.7%
San Diego Padres 91 71 15 .562 0.1% 85.5% 85.6% 6.3%
San Francisco Giants 82 80 24 .506 0.0% 5.4% 5.4% 0.2%
Arizona Diamondbacks 72 90 34 .444 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0%
Colorado Rockies 69 93 37 .426 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0%

The Dodgers have basically closed the door on the longshot chance that San Diego would catch them in the NL West, but the Padres are among the best situated of the plausible wild card teams. Adding Soto gave them the strongest roster among wild card contenders, a roster as strong as Los Angeles’ until Walker Buehler and Clayton Kershaw return. ZiPS saw San Diego, against league-average competition, as a .582 team with the assumption that Tatis would be back. Now let’s go to the current projection without Tatis, which reduces the roster strength by 26 points of winning percentage, to .556.

ZiPS Projected Standings – NL West (After 8/15 Games)
Team W L GB Pct Div% WC% Playoff% WS Win%
Los Angeles Dodgers 106 56 .654 100.0% 0.0% 100.0% 10.7%
San Diego Padres 90 72 16 .556 0.0% 76.0% 76.0% 5.3%
San Francisco Giants 82 80 24 .506 0.0% 6.5% 6.5% 0.2%
Arizona Diamondbacks 72 90 34 .444 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0%
Colorado Rockies 69 93 37 .426 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0%

The impact on both San Diego’s chances of making the playoffs and winning the World Series is significant. In terms of the postseason, just under a tenth of the time, the Padres playing postseason baseball becomes the Padres playing golf and watching the playoffs on TV. Playoffs being a bit of a crapshoot, the absolute impact is relatively small, but that a sixth of their World Series chances just evaporated has to be a sore spot for a team trying to win right now. Against a .575 team, going from a .582 team to a .556 team reduces the chances of victory by about four to six percentage points every series, depending on length.

Naturally, Tatis’ teammates and organization have expressed their frustration with him publicly; it would be unreasonable for them to feel differently. Nobody can find fault when a player is injured, but when he’s out from actions of his own doing, it feels a bit like a betrayal. If I were suspended from my BBWAA membership for a year for conduct violations, while it would obviously affect my personal career, it would be a real slap in the face of my colleagues at FanGraphs and the many writers who have spread my work around over the years.

Joe Musgrove on Tatis:

“A little bummed, a little pissed,” said Joe Musgrove, the lifelong Padres fan and now a pitcher and a leader on the team. “It’s hard to make a judgement or say anything until I hear from Tati or what those details are. But yeah, not a good day.”
“You can say he’s a young kid and he’s gonna learn his lessons or whatnot,” Musgrove said. “But ultimately, I think you’ve got to start showing a little bit of that remorse and showing us that you’re committed to it and that you want to be here.”

Mike Clevinger:

“The second time we’ve been disappointed with him,” pitcher Mike Clevinger said last night. “You hope he grows up and learns from this and learns it’s about more than just him.”

President of Baseball Operations A.J. Preller:

“It’s very disappointing,” Preller said. “He’s somebody that from the organization’s standpoint we’ve invested time and money into. When he’s on the field, he’s a difference maker. You have to learn from the situations. We were hoping that from the offseason to now that there would be some maturity, and obviously with the news today, it’s more of a pattern and it’s something that we’ve got to dig a bit more into. … I’m sure he’s very disappointed. But at the end of the day, it’s one thing to say it. You’ve got to start showing by your actions.”

The explanation given by Tatis was unconvincing.

Athletes blaming their positive tests on others is old hat, but the claims of a tainted ringworm treatment, while not impossible, sound like a stretch. Dr. Rany Jazayerli, a name most of you ought to be familiar with, is at that rare intersection of baseball analyst, long-suffering Royals fan, and working dermatologist, and he was highly skeptical about Tatis’ claims. On Twitter, he reiterated that he would not consider prescribing anything with Clostebol — as opposed to the similarly named Clobetasol — to a patient with ringworm.

Tatis accepted the suspension without appealing, but that’s hardly a great sacrifice given that drug suspensions in baseball are largely strict liability. Without being able to challenge the proof of the violation itself, he must prove by clear and convincing evidence that he bore no significant fault or negligence for the positive test. That’s a tough burden and mostly serves simply to mitigate the penalty to a minimum of 30 games for a first-time offender while still leaving him ineligible for the playoffs. Luckily for the Padres, the postseason ban only applies to the season during which a suspension commences, not all seasons in which there is a suspension, which leaves Tatis eligible to play in the 2023 postseason along with most of the regular season.

There’s no real silver lining, but if Tatis had been suspended just a few weeks later, there would have been an additional problem for the Padres. Since his suspension runs for fewer than 40 games in 2023, he is allowed to play in all spring training games, not just the intrasquad games for which no tickets are sold. Given that Tatis had already missed most of a season with a fractured wrist, the franchise should be happy to get him into as many actual baseball games as they can before he returns sometime next year. If San Diego plays in the maximum of 22 postseason games, he could be back as soon as mid-April!

From a projection standpoint, little changes about Tatis other than the additional normal hit taken from missing time from a non-injury. ZiPS does not look at drug suspensions differently because, after spending a decade researching this issue from every angle I can think of, knowing whether or not a player has been banned for PED use has had no predictive value in the context of performance from MLB-level players. This is largely why I consider PED use a safety issue — players shouldn’t feel forced to use, whether or not they’re effective — and a public relations one.

That latter arena is where Tatis might take the biggest hit of all. The reputational damage will be immense, no matter the efficacy of his PED use. We’re in uncharted territory here, in which a young, elite player is caught using. While Alex Rodriguez has admitted using, and there’s at least a question about David Ortiz as a young player in 2003, these weren’t known at the time. Tatis could come back, put up a Hall of Fame-type run for a decade and pass every drug test with flying colors, and there will be inevitably some people who still think of him as a cheater. Robinson Canó didn’t have to play baseball for 15 years after a drug suspension, and players like Frankie Montas and Nelson Cruz just aren’t in the same tier as Tatis; fans seem to be far more forgiving of moderate talents than transcendent ones.

There could even be Cooperstown consequences. Only speaking for myself, I consider a drug suspension, even if I don’t believe it significantly changed performance, to be a serious offense. To me, as with corked bats, it’s the attempt to cheat, not the efficacy. I do think there is a gray area, as when Mark McGwire allegedly was using. Some will cite Fay Vincent’s 1991 memo banning steroid use as evidence of a baseball rule, but even Vincent himself didn’t believe his memo applied to players.

“I sent it out because I believed it was important to take the position that steroids were dangerous, as were other illegal drugs,” Vincent said. “As you know, the union would not bargain with us, would not discuss, would not agree to any form of a coherent drug plan. So my memo really applied to all the people who were not players.”

In other words, that memo could ban Jim Fregosi or Terry Collins for steroid use. But the drug testing agreement explicitly made it against the rules with penalties attached, and that wiggle room vanished.

Unlike some writers, I don’t consider a PED suspension an automatic disqualifier, but under the Hall of Fame’s voting guidelines, I consider it a violation of the character clause, which I see in baseball terms, and for a borderline candidate, that could put him out. That said, the Hall of Fame voting pool will change a lot in the 20–25 years before Tatis would come up to the electorate — I don’t vote until after the 2025 season, and by the point I would be voting on Tatis, I’ll be in my mid-to-late 60s — so it’s hard to gauge exactly how writers will feel about drug use with another quarter century of experience.

Regardless of what happens to Tatis personally, this is a hit for baseball. He’s one of the league’s most marketable young talents, and one of the proponents for baseball actually being allowed to be fun, not a Very Serious Affair in which we tut-tut about brutish bat flips and proletariat celebrations as we gently sip our beers (pinky out!) and yearn for the return of Regency Baseball standards. Tatis should be one of the faces of baseball, not one of its disgraces. When we lose a player like that, everybody who loves the game loses.

Sunday Notes: Revisiting Jordan Lyles, Who is Winning With The Orioles

The Baltimore Orioles were nine games under. 500 when I talked to Jordan Lyles in late May, and they were only a smattering of games better when the veteran right-hander was featured here in Sunday Notes on June 26. Not much changed over a month’s time. Moreover, most signs pointed to the rebuilding Birds’ going on to have a sixth straight losing season.

A revisiting of what I wrote seven weeks ago is in order. Not only has Baltimore morphed into one of baseball’s hottest teams, the crux of that column was Lyles’s bad-club background. Now in his 12th big-league season, the journeyman hurler came into the current campaign having never played a full year with a team that finished above .500.

That might be about to change. With 24 wins in their last 33 games, the Orioles went into last night with a record of 59-53, in third place in the American League East and in possession of the final wildcard slot. Earlier this week, I asked Lyles about the team’s unexpected ascent in the standings.

“When we talked, there was a different atmosphere around our ball club, our clubhouse,” said Lyles. “Things definitely turned around and got moving in a better direction for us. It’s been a joyful ride. It’s been fun to see these young guys start to grow, and to grow quickly.”

Amid that growth, the Orioles front office saw fit to take one step backward in hopes of taking two steps forward. In moves that weren’t well-received by much of the fan base, Baltimore traded Trey Mancini and Jorge Lopez. On back-to-back days, an impact bat and a closer departed town in exchange for a further influx of promising, yet mostly-unproven, talent. Read the rest of this entry »

Effectively Wild Episode 1889: A Different League

Ben Lindbergh and Meg Rowley banter about whether Dottie dropped the ball on purpose in the 1992 movie A League of Their Own, then (steering clear of spoilers) review and discuss the highs and lows of the new TV reboot, the first season of which debuted on Friday on Amazon Prime Video. After that (49:54), they answer listener emails about whether hard infield throws pose a danger to first basemen, Miguel Cabrera and the efficacy of “setting up” pitchers, announced attendance vs. actual attendance, the Braves’ notable lack of bunting, and what would happen if players had to wear their first uniform for their whole career, plus (1:23:41) a Past Blast from 1889 and a postscript (1:31:34) on Fernando Tatis Jr.’s PED suspension.

Audio intro: The Cast of A League of Their Own, “AAGPBL Victory Song
Audio outro: Olivia Newton-John and Electric Light Orchestra, “Suspended in Time

Link to info on Dottie debate
Link to A League of Their Own movie
Link to A League of Their Own show
Link to A League of Their Own trailer
Link to Alison Herman’s review
Link to Michael Baumann’s review
Link to info on AAGPBL’s queer history
Link to A Secret Love
Link to Maybelle Blair video
Link to Outsports on Blair
Link to The L.A. Times on Blair
Link to on Blair
Link to movie’s Black bystander scene
Link to Katie Baker on the movie
Link to Katie on EW
Link to football helmet photo
Link to info on setting up pitchers
Link to article on Miggy
Link to article on Manny
Link to Bill Russell anecdote
Link to Willie’s Time passage
Link to article on reported attendance
Link to fewest 2022 team bunts
Link to fewest pre-2022 team bunts
Link to Russell on the bunting decline
Link to Russell on bunting in extras
Link to 2022 bunt hits by team
Link to 2022 sac bunts by team
Link to Manfred quote about ASG unis
Link to Outsports on Bates
Link to “boner” etymology
Link to Richard Hershberger’s Strike Four
Link to 1889 story source 1
Link to 1889 story source 2
Link to listener emails database
Link to Tatis statement
Link to Union-Tribune on Tatis
Link to MLBTR on Tatis

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Jay Jaffe FanGraphs Chat – 8/12/22

Avatar Jay Jaffe: Howdy folks and welcome to the West Coast edition of my Friday chat. I’m in San Diego for some family stuff, putting in a full week of work followed by a week of mostly vacation. I went to Wednesday’s Padres game and wrote about Manny Machado’s rebound (…) amid the revamped lineup

Avatar Jay Jaffe: Today I wrote about Justin Verlander’s comeback from Tommy John surgery. We haven’t seen a starting pitcher anywhere near this age (39) return from TJ and pitch well

Avatar Jay Jaffe: Word of warning as we do the chat: the wifi in my airbnb is brutal, and if it bogs down this could be shorter than usual but we’ll do what we can

Avatar Jay Jaffe: and now, on with the show

EuroBall: What are the Yankees waiting for to call up Peraza?

Avatar Jay Jaffe: I don’t think it’s in the cards this year. Sweeney Murti, who covers the Yankees for WFAN, had a good thread on this

Further explanation on this:
Last month, with trade deadline approaching, I asked several NYY coaches and execs about IKF and upgrading SS because of the spotty defense. They all told me they were not as concerned as I, that they valued range over the small bursts of errors 1/8

At this point the Yankees do not have a need for a middle infielder.…
10 Aug 2022

Read the rest of this entry »

Pitcher zStats Update for the Stretch Drive

Jordan Montgomery
Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

As anyone who does a lot of work with projections could likely tell you, one of the most annoying things about modeling future performance is that results themselves are a small sample size. Individual seasons, even full ones over 162 games, still feature results that are not very predictive, such as a hitter or a pitcher with a BABIP low or high enough to be practically unsustainable. For example, if Luis Arraez finishes the season hitting .333, we don’t actually know that a median projection of .333 was the correct projection going into the season. There’s no divine baseball exchequer to swoop in and let you know whether he’s “actually” a .333 hitter who did what he was supposed to, a .320 hitter who got lucky, or a .380 hitter who suffered extreme misfortune.

If you flip heads on a coin eight times out of 10 and have no reason to believe you have a special coin-flipping ability, you’ll eventually see the split approach 50/50 given a sufficiently large number of coin flips. Convergence in probability is a fairly large academic area that we thankfully do not need to go into here, but for most things in baseball, you never actually get enough coin flips to see this happen. The boundaries of a season are quite strict.

What does this have to do with projections? This volatile data becomes the source of future predictions, and one of the things done in projections is to find things that are not only as predictive as the ordinary stats but also more predictive based on fewer plate appearances or batters faced. Imagine, for example, if body mass index were a wonderful predictor of isolated power. It would be a highly useful one, as changes to it over the course of a season are bound to be rather small. The underlying reasons for performance tend to be more stable than the results, which is why ERA is more volatile than strikeout rate, and why strikeout rate is more volatile than the plate discipline stats that result in strikeout rate.

MLB’s own method comes with an x before the stat, whereas what ZiPS uses internally has a z. (I’ll let you guess what it stands for!) I’ve written more about this stuff in various other places (like here and here), so let’s get right to the data as we start the final third of the season. We’re also looking at how zStats leaders and trailers fared in the two months since I last posted the numbers. Sure, we’re using a small sample size of players and comparing a small sample size to another small sample size, but curiosity gets precedence over everything! Read the rest of this entry »