FanGraphs Audio: Jay Jaffe Contemplates Carlos Beltrán

Episode 877

Jay and I discuss the Astros’ punishment for electronic sign-stealing, the dismissal of Jeff Luhnow, AJ Hinch, and Alex Cora, and what we want the punishment of teams, managers, and front office personnel to achieve in cases like this. We then turn our attention to how the Astros and Red Sox World Series teams (and the players who played for them) will be remembered decades from now, and what his association with the scandal might mean for Carlos Beltrán’s future Hall of Fame consideration.

Please note, this episode was recorded prior Beltrán stepping down as the Mets manager.

To read Jay’s piece on the parallels between the sign-stealing scandal and the steroid era, click here.
To read Jay’s piece on the Astros’ punishment, click here.
To read Jay’s piece on Carlos Beltrán, click here.
Update: Jay’s follow-up on Beltrán and the Mets’ mutual parting is available here.

Don’t hesitate to direct pod-related correspondence to @megrowler on Twitter.

You can subscribe to the podcast via iTunes or other feeder things.

Audio after the jump. (Approximate 44 min play time.)


Ranking the Trade Value of Nolan Arenado, Mookie Betts, Kris Bryant, and Francisco Lindor

Earlier this week, I asked our readers to rank the star players rumored to be on the trade block. I asked just two questions. The first asked readers to rank the players by how good they are right now. The second asked readers to rank the players by their trade value.

The first question proved to be an easy one, as 42% of the more than 2,500 responses had the exact same ranking.

Read the rest of this entry »


Craig Edwards FanGraphs Chat – 1/16/2020

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A Conversation With Cleveland Indians Pitching Prospect Ethan Hankins

Ethan Hankins has one of the highest ceilings in Cleveland’s pitching pipeline. The 6-foot-6 right-hander possesses a first-round pedigree — he went 35th overall in 2018 — and a heater that sits mid-90s with late life. Eric Longenhagen and Kiley McDaniel ranked him 15th in Cleveland’s system last year. Moreover, he’s wise beyond his years. Still just 19 years old, Hankins is studious enough about his craft that he could reasonably be referred to as a pitching nerd.

Hankins split his first full professional campaign between Short-season Mahoning Valley and Low-A Lake County, logging a 2.55 ERA and fanning 71 batters in 60 innings. No less impressive are the strides he’s continued to make between the ears. The former Forsythe, Georgia prep may have bypassed Vanderbilt University to sign with the Indians, but his quest for knowledge has by no means waned. Influenced heavily by his off-season experiences at Full Count Baseball, it continues unabated.

Hankins discussed his cerebral approach, and the improvements he’s made to his repertoire, late in the 2019 season.

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David Laurila: Is pitching more of an art, or more of a science?

Ethan Hankins: “The game we’re playing right now, with all the analytical stuff we have access to, and use — especially with the Indians — it’s starting to become more of a science. I feel like it used to be more an art. Even a few years ago. But it’s been growing into something that can be called a science, because of the average velocities, the spin efficiencies, true spin, 2D spin, 3D spin. There are all of these numbers that can be beneficial if you know how to use them in the right way.“

Laurila: It sounds like you lean science.

Hankins: “Yes, but that’s not because the Indians have thrown it in my face. It’s because I’ve taken to learning how these numbers can benefit you. Granted, the Indians help a lot. They obviously have all of this knowledge. But not everybody uses it. We don’t get pressured to use it.”

Laurila: How do you use it?

Hankins: “There are a million different ways that… oh gosh. I’d say that I’m using it to develop my offspeed, more than anything. My curveball has made a huge jump over the past year. I don’t credit that solely to the Rapsodo, or any of the other technology we have access to, but that does give you a lot of insight. It tells you, ‘This is where you are.’ From there, you’re able to say, ‘OK, I want to be here; I want this pitch to have this much efficiency. This is the direction I want.’ Read the rest of this entry »


The Best (Expected) Secondary Pitches of 2019

Yesterday, I put every fastball thrown in baseball last year into a giant spreadsheet to come up with expected pitch values. Well fine, it was a small snippet of code, not a giant spreadsheet. But the output came in a giant spreadsheet! In any case, the idea is pretty straightforward: look at a player’s pitches, substitute in xwOBA-based contact numbers instead of actual results, and call it a metric.

Today, I’m completing the set. Well, I’m kind of completing the set; I ignored knuckleballs because there aren’t enough of them, and secondary offerings are more complex. Due to differing classification systems, I scraped breaking balls (sliders, curveballs, knuckle curves, and even cutters) and offspeed pitches as a single pitch type. Otherwise, we might end up with something like Nick Anderson — classification systems can’t decide if he throws a curve or a slider.

One more thing: the system is heartless. No human could argue that this wasn’t the best curveball of the year:

Or if not that one, then this one, with bonus Eric Lauer bewilderment and Greinke sprinting:

Slow curves are undoubtedly the best curves, results be damned. But the soulless calculation robot doesn’t agree with me on that, caring about “whether the opposition hit it” and “whether it gets strikes” instead of “whether Ben audibly giggles when the pitch is thrown.” To each their own, I suppose. Read the rest of this entry »


Carlos Beltrán’s Job and Legacy Are in Limbo

This article was published before the Mets and Beltrán “agreed to mutually part ways” on Thursday. Jay’s follow-up is available here.

This has not been a good week for Carlos Beltrán. Though he evaded punishment from Major League Baseball for his involvement in the Astros’ 2017 electronic sign stealing scheme, as did every other player, Beltrán was the only one singled out by name in commissioner Rob Manfred’s report. What’s more, he’s now the only one of the three managers who were caught up in the scandal — or at least its initial wave — who still has a job, though he’s already on the hot seat before managing a single game. Suddenly, what appeared to be a very promising second act to his career is in jeopardy, as is the possibility that Beltrán will be elected to the Hall of Fame once he becomes eligible in 2023.

Per Manfred’s report, which I dissected on Tuesday, the Astros’ efforts to steal signs using electronic equipment — a practice broadly prohibited by MLB rules but not strictly enforced at the time — began early in 2017 and grew more elaborate as the season went on. “Approximately two months into the 2017 season, a group of players, including Carlos Beltrán, discussed that the team could improve on decoding opposing teams’ signs and communicating the signs to the batter,” wrote Manfred. The intent was to upgrade a system that had been rather simple to that point, with employees in the team’s video replay room viewing live footage from the center field camera, and relaying the decoded sign sequence to the dugout, where it was signaled to a runner on second base; the runner would then transmit the signs to the batter.

In the wake of Beltrán’s intervention, bench coach Alex Cora arranged for a monitor showing the center field feed to be placed in the tunnel near the dugout. After decoding the sign from that monitor, “a player would bang a nearby trash can with a bat to communicate the upcoming pitch type to the batter,” according to the report. The practice continued through the end of the regular season and the postseason, and into 2018, even after Manfred issued a stern warning to all 30 teams on September 15, 2017, in the wake of separate allegations regarding the Red Sox engaging in their own abuse of the system. At that point, Manfred said that he would hold general managers and managers accountable for their teams’ efforts to subvert his prohibition on using electronic means to steal signs. Read the rest of this entry »


2020 ZiPS Projections: New York Yankees

After having typically appeared in the hallowed pages of Baseball Think Factory, Dan Szymborski’s ZiPS projections have now been released at FanGraphs for eight years. The exercise continues this offseason. Below are the projections for the New York Yankees.

Batters

That ZiPS gives the Yankees such a robust projection is hardly surprising. This is a team, after all, that won 103 games in 2019 despite missing most of their starting lineup, their ace pitcher, and a top reliever for large chunks of the season.

It’s unlikely the Yankees are going to win 110 games in this year. While the team did an excellent job furnishing Plans B through Z, players like Mike Tauchman and Gio Urshela likely performed at what might be thought to be the reasonable high-end of their expectations. Both project to be valuable in 2020, but not quite as spicy as they were in last season. Tauchman’s defensive projection remains quite aggressive, as the probability-based measure that ZiPS uses for minor league defense was a fan of Tock’s fielding, projecting him at around 10 runs a year as a center fielder in the minors. If only the Rockies could find a player like that! Read the rest of this entry »


Angels Acquire Andriese From Arizona

With Anthony Rendon now under contract in Anaheim, our depth charts project Angels position players for 30.0 WAR — fifth-best in the major leagues, and within a half-win of second place. Anaheim pitching, however, is projected for just 13.1 WAR (eighth-worst). No team projected to finish in the top half in WAR is expected to finish with so little of their total coming from their arms (the Twins, who’re projected for 14.9 pitching wins and 45.2 overall, are closest). Given that imbalance, it’s not entirely unexpected that the Angels would spend this latter part of their offseason trying to get arms wherever they can. This week, they got Matt Andriese in a trade with the Diamondbacks in exchange for minor league right-hander Jeremy Beasley.

Andriese, 30, has played in parts of the last five major-league seasons for the Rays and Diamondbacks but has yet to spend a full season at the major league level since making his professional debut in the San Diego system back in 2011. Last year, his first (and, as it turns out, only) season in Arizona, was also his first season pitching exclusively in relief. Andriese acquitted himself adequately in that role, posting an 85 FIP- and 107 ERA- over 70 2/3 innings, mostly ahead of Archie Bradley and Greg Holland. Perhaps most appealingly, he posted a 50.3% groundball rate in a season where the league average was just a touch below 43%. Read the rest of this entry »


2020 ZiPS Projections: Detroit Tigers

After having typically appeared in the hallowed pages of Baseball Think Factory, Dan Szymborski’s ZiPS projections have now been released at FanGraphs for eight years. The exercise continues this offseason. Below are the projections for the Detroit Tigers.

Batters

The Detroit Tigers will continue to struggle to score runs. I don’t mean in the “occasionally getting shut out by the Orioles” sense, but more like when you’re watching Tigers games, you should channel flip when they’re at the plate rather than during the commercials. What makes this worse isn’t that they’re just awful offensively, but that there’s really almost no source of potential upside outside of Jeimer Candelario.

Jonathan Schoop and C.J. Cron are both legitimate major leaguers, but in this offense, they’re practically the centerpieces, and the most the Tigers can really hope for is that they’re good enough to flip for a prospect in July. Normally, I’d rather see lottery tickets instead of fill-in veterans since the offense will be absolutely wretched under any circumstances, but Detroit doesn’t really even have many of those types either. Nor have the Tigers done any sweeps of minor league free agency to find any; it’s been an extraordinarily quiet winter in the Motor City.

It’s kind of sad to see Miguel Cabrera with a negative number, but his power was non-existent last year and it’s hard to have value at designated hitter when your isolated power is the same as Hanser Alberto’s. Cabrera blasted the team’s lineup for his lack of power in 2019, but the truth is that Cabrera just isn’t a good hitter any longer. One of the most dangerous fastball hitters in baseball at one point, Cabrera only had an xSLG of .600 against fastballs in what Statcast calls the “heart” of the strike zone. That sounds like a big number, but the league as a whole was at .615. That number was .928 for Cabrera as recently as 2016, and at 17% of pitches thrown in the heart of the zone last year, pitchers gave him more fastballs down the middle than ever before in his career. He just can’t do much with them these days. Read the rest of this entry »


Alex Cora Out as Cheating Scandal Moves to Boston

When the investigation into the Astros’ electronic sign-stealing operations concluded, Houston was hit hard, losing draft picks, dollars, and their general manager and manager. Jay Jaffe went over the penalties for FanGraphs, but Jeff Luhnow, AJ Hinch, and Brandon Taubman weren’t the only people mentioned in the report. New Mets manager Carlos Beltrán was identified as having substantial role in the so-called “banging scheme,” though given that he was a player at the time, he will not face suspension; whether the Mets will retain him as manager is still unclear. And Alex Cora’s name was littered throughout, with the former Astros bench coach identified as having played a prominent role in the team’s cheating scheme. While discipline wasn’t meted out to Cora in the Commissioner’s Monday memo, as he is also the subject of an investigation into more cheating while with Boston in 2018, a suspension is inevitable, and hoping to move forward quickly, the Red Sox and Cora, using language so euphemistic as to almost defy accuracy, “mutually agreed to part ways.”

As soon as the Astros investigation’s findings came out, Cora was as good as gone. From the Red Sox release:

“Today we met to discuss the Commissioner’s report related to the Houston Astros investigation. Given the findings and the Commissioner’s ruling, we collectively decided that it would not be possible for Alex to effectively lead the club going forward and we mutually agreed to part ways.”

As for those findings and that report, Cora’s name is mentioned five times in the Rules Violation section:

Early in the season, Alex Cora, the Astros’ Bench Coach, began to call the replay review room on the replay phone to obtain the sign information.

Cora arranged for a video room technician to install a monitor displaying the center field camera feed immediately outside of the Astros’ dugout.

Witnesses consistently describe this new scheme as player-driven, and with the exception of Cora, non-player staff, including individuals in the video replay review room, had no involvement in the banging scheme.

Rather, the 2017 scheme in which players banged on a trash can was, with the exception of Cora, player-driven and player-executed. The attempt by the Astros’ replay review room staff to decode signs using the center field camera was originated and executed by lower-level baseball operations employees working in conjunction with Astros players and Cora.

Read the rest of this entry »