Sunday Notes: Analytics Have Changed, Leadership Hasn’t Changed

Last Sunday’s column led with J.D. Martinez, whose non-quantifiable impact on the Red Sox lineup was widely lauded. Deeply enmeshed in hitting mechanics and theory, the veteran slugger was both a sounding board and lead-by-example influence on several of his teammates. That didn’t go unnoticed by people around the game.

“J.D. rightfully so got credit for doing that,” said Milwaukee manager Craig Counsell, one of three managers I broached the subject with at the Winter Meetings. “It’s an important part of being a teammate — being connected and sharing. A player’s eyes are probably on each other more than they are on the coaches. They have a way to help each other, just as much as coaches do. You want to foster that environment. It’s something all teams should try to do.”

Asked for an example of a positive influence on his own team, Counsell cited Ryan Braun. Responding to that same question, Oakland manager Bob Melvin named a player who may or may not be wearing an A’s uniform next year.

“Jed was the guy last year for us,” Melvin said of now-free-agent Jed Lowrie. “(He) understands mechanics. He understands launch angles and exit velocities. (He) was a nice kind of player/coach for us to help out Bushy (hitting coach Darren Bush) with some of our younger guys.”

Martinez, Braun, and Lowrie are all north of 30 years old. They bring experience to the table. One of the two players who stood out to Washington Nationals manager Dave Martinez is barely removed from eating at the kids’ table. While Anthony Rendon is 28, Juan Soto played his entire rookie season as a teenager.

“We told some of our other players, just watch what they do,” Martinez said of Rendon and Soto. “And they started doing it and started getting better at it. So these guys… Juan is different, he really is. I’ve never seen a 19-year-old break down pitching and hitting and mechanics like he does. He’s a special kid.”

Circling back to Melvin, whichever team signs Lowrie will be getting a player who epitomizes the qualities mentioned herein. Veteran leadership — every bit as much as technical expertise — is the reason why.

“I don’t think the leadership qualities every team needs has changed,” said Melvin, who like his managerial brethren was aware of the intangibles Martinez brought to Boston. “That’s pretty consistent, and you know right away when you get guys who are going to be more instrumental along those lines. The analytics, and some of the things we’re teaching have changed a little bit, but not the leadership part.”


From time to time I’ll start an interview by asking a player if he considers hitting to be more of an art or more of a science. The question works well as an ice-breaker for a pair of reasons: 1. It gives me insight into how the player thinks. 2. It makes the player think, thus decreasing the chances of a rote response. A non-cliched exchange usually gets an interview off on the right foot.

I recently used a variation of that question to kickstart a conversation with Cadyn Grenier. I asked the 22-year-old shortstop if he considers defense more of an art or more of a science. He fielded it with aplomb.

“I think it’s art,” said Grenier, whose defensive acumen is a big reason the Baltimore Orioles drafted him 37th overall this year out of Oregon State. “You don’t have all of the analytics — the science part — on defense like you do with hitting. It’s like a painter. You have your style, and the more time you put into it, the more you improve your craft.”

Being an artist with the glove involves a certain amount of individuality and creativity. Many of the game’s great shortstops — think Ozzie Smith, Omar Vizquel, and more recently Jose Iglesias — have possessed their own, unique styles. Much of what they do can’t be taught. The 2018 Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year isn’t quite in their class, but he does recognize that more than fundamentals go into being an elite defender.

“We all have our own way of doing things, and getting too cookie-cutter can take away from how you play defense,” said Greiner. “If you do something one way and it works for you — whether it’s glove size or how you move your feet — there’s no reason to go away from it.”

Clint Barmes was a plus defender despite his acknowledged unorthodox footwork when scooping up ground balls. If the up-and-coming Oriole has any quirks of his own, he’s unsure of what they might be.

“I don’t ever look at myself and think, ‘I do this weird,’” said Grenier, who is familiar with the slick-fielding former Rockies and Pirates shortstop. “I just go out and try to perfect what I’m good at. The more I practice, the better I get. It’s pretty simple, really.”



Red Barron went 3 for 10 against Watty Clark.

Pid Purdy went 5 for 11 against Jesse Petty.

Chicken Hawks went 7 for 11 against Flint Rhem.

Ty Cobb went 8 for 11 against Mellie Wolfgang.

Tuck Stainback went 8 for 11 against Huck Betts.


Opportunities differ throughout MLB, and that’s especially true for young, unproven players. As Cleveland Indians manager Terry Francona explained to me this summer, the standings can impact who-plays decisions just as much as roster composition does.

“If you’re out of it, you can let guys play,” said Francona. “If you’re a contender it’s hard to go with a kid, sink or swim. Sometimes you need to hit now, and not everybody is ready to do that.”

There are, of course, times where a seemingly-not-ready-for-prime-time player does get a chance to prove himself on a contender. Back when he was managing the Red Sox, Francona stuck with an undersized infielder who was struggling to hit his weight.

“Sometimes it comes down to how the rest of your team is doing,” the two-time World Series-winning skipper told me. “Remember Dustin Pedroia that first year? He was doing bad, but he seemed to handle it and we were doing so well that we could carry him. Then he broke out of it. Sometimes it’s other circumstances.”



Yomiuri Giants right-hander Tomoyuki Sugano has reportedly signed a ¥650 million (approximately $5.7 million) contract, equaling the highest ever for an NPB player. Sugano had 10 complete games, eight shutouts, and a 2.14 ERA this season.

The Giants have also agreed to terms with Ryan Cook. The 31-year-old right-hander heads to NPB having appeared in 236 games over parts of six seasons with the A’s, D-Backs, Red Sox, and Mariners.

MLB salaries fell this year for the first time since 2004. According to the players’ union, the average salary was $4,095,686, down from $4,097,122 in the 2017 season. 

The Binghamton Rumble Ponies, the Double-A affiliate of the New York Mets, have named Kevin Boles as their new manager. He replaces Luis Rojas, who will remain in the organization as the Mets quality control coach. Boles managed the Triple-A Pawtucket Red Sox for each of the past five seasons.

The newest entry in the Expedition League — a summer collegiate league based in Nebraska — has been branded as the Fremont Moo. Yes, they have a quality logo.


One week ago today, Diamond Digest ran a Twitter poll that asked the following:

You only get to use one of these two sites for the rest of your life — Baseball-Reference or FanGraphs — which are choosing?

There were 4,713 votes cast, with B-Ref coming out on top with 60% support.

While my vote went to the side receiving 40%, I do want to take this opportunity to say that B-Ref is an invaluable resource. At the risk of sounding excessively effusive, Sean Forman, the site’s fearsome leader, is a God among men in the baseball community. Good on you for existing, B-Ref.

That said, we can only assume hanging chads and uncounted ballots — FanGraphs is clearly the better choice. Fortunately we don’t have to choose between the two


Looking back at this year’s World Series, it was more compelling than a lot of people have claimed. On the heels of an epic, 18-inning affair that ended at 3:30 a.m. EST, the Dodgers led the Red Sox 4-0 through six innings in Game 4. With Rich Hill dealing, all signs pointed to the Series being knotted at two games apiece. That didn’t happen, of course. Dave Roberts went to his bullpen earlier than he should have, Alex Cora’s club ultimately broke a tie with five in the ninth, and the rest is history.

Were it not for the Red Sox rally, Yasiel Puig’s Game 4 home run — complete with Puig-like exultation — would be a signature moment rather than an afterthought (ditto Eduardo Rodriguez spiking his glove as Puig’s blast was leaving the yard). Instead, the night’s biggest hits belonged to a trio of Boston hitters — Steve Pearce, Mitch Moreland, and Rafael Devers — the first of whom was later named Series MVP.

Let’s not forget the second of those three names. Moreland’s two-out, three-run blast off Ryan Madson — his only hit of the Series — brought the Red Sox to within 4-3 in the seventh inning. There may not have been a more important swing in the 2018 Fall Classic.



At The Japan Times, Jason Coskrey filled us in how Yu Kato is helping shine light on women’s baseball in Japan.

Geoff Baker of The Seattle Times provided more details about the contentious firing of Mariners high performance director Dr. Lorena Martin.

Over at The Athletic, Corey Brock brought us behind the scenes of a broadcast hopeful, Anders Jorstad, pursuing his diamond dreams at the Winter Meetings.

Ryan Flaherty is a free agent again, awaiting the call from a major league team. Kevin Thomas wrote about the versatile Maine native at The Portland Press Herald.

What will baseball in 2018 be remembered for forever? Sam Miller offered his ever-erudite take over at ESPN.



A few weeks ago I tweeted the following:

Kris Bryant had a 119 adjusted OPS this season and has 1,081 career total bases. Nicholas Castellanos had a 130 adjusted OPS this season and has 1,260 career total bases. Castellanos is two months younger than Bryant.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the response wasn’t particularly positive. A number of people jumped on me for having the audacity, and stupidity, to say that Castellanos was better than Bryant. It was as though I were claiming that Harold Baines is more worthy of the Hall of Fame than Larry Walker.

Of course, I wasn’t saying that at all. As readers of this column know— ditto a decent percentage of my Twitter followers —I’m a fan of random facts and stats. They’re informative, sometimes thought-provoking, and hopefully entertaining.

Consider the foofaraw-inducing Bryant-Castellanos “comp.”

Bryant has played 77% of his games as a third baseman and 20% of his games an outfielder. Castellanos has played 75% of his games as a third baseman and 24% of his games as an outfielder. Both are right-handed hitters with power. They are, as noted in the aforementioned tweet, essentially the same age.

Do they also differ in many ways? Absolutely. As a FanGraphs reader, you’re well aware that they do. There’s no real need for me to qualify a “random fact and stat” with a description of those differences — which in this case would show that Bryant is, by most accounts, the superior player. Given a choice, I’d clearly take the Cub.

That said, is there any guarantee that Bryant will be the superior player going forward? As likely as that is, it’s worth noting that you can’t predict baseball.



Larry Walker hit .348 at home and .278 on the road (a .070 difference). DJ LeMahieu has hit .330 at home and .264 on the road (a .066 difference).

Larry Walker debuted with the Montreal Expos in 1989 and finished the season with 56 plate appearances and three sacrifice hits. Walker had seven sacrifices over his 17-year career, the last of them coming in May 1991.

Andrew McCutchen has hit 20-or-more home runs in each of the last eight seasons.

Buster Posey (.304) and Wilson Ramos (.290) have the highest batting averages among catchers with at least 450 plate appearances over the past two seasons. Kevan Smith ranks third, at .286.

Among non-pitchers with 2,000-or-more plate appearances, Mike Ryan’s .193 batting average is the lowest over the last 100 years. Jeff Mathis, at .198, is second lowest. Mike Zunino, at .207, is third lowest. All three are catchers.

Edgar Martinez had a .312 batting average and a .418 on-base percentage. Joey Votto has a .311 batting average and a .427 on-base percentage.

Ted Kluszewski, Mickey Mantle and Jim Rice each played through age 36 and finished his career with a .298 batting average. All three would have finished at .300 or higher had they not played their final season.

Babe Ruth twice had more wins than strikeouts in a season. The erstwhile southpaw went 1-0 with no Ks in both 1920 and 1933. (per @PassonJim)

Early Wynn got 217 of his 300 career wins after his 30th birthday.

Nolan Ryan pitched 27 seasons and had a 112 adjusted ERA. Tommy John pitched 26 seasons and had a 111 adjusted ERA.

David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.

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5 years ago

FanGraphs + Baseball-Reference = complete justification for the existence of “Alt-Tab”.

5 years ago
Reply to  tz

Which do you like better: breathing in or breathing out?

5 years ago
Reply to  rhswanzey

I would say it’s more like: Which do you like more? Addition or calculus? BRef is the single best website for the history of baseball. It has so much more information than fangraphs, it’s not even close. But the advanced stats here are better.

I switch between them when I’m reading a Fangraphs article all the time.

5 years ago
Reply to  sadtrombone

Well, you can do addition without calculus, so you killed the analogy!

Two different versions of WAR seemed frustrating at first, but is hugely useful. B-R makes sense for studying past results as an ERA based WAR, FG gives you more granular data and FIP WAR, and therefore offers a big edge on player projection. I can’t see using one without the other, though.

5 years ago
Reply to  rhswanzey

Of course you can do addition without calculus. That’s very much my point. And it can be fun! I would get bored if I couldn’t do calculus though. I’m not The Count from Sesame Street.

5 years ago
Reply to  sadtrombone

I think the reason the Twitter poll split 60/40 in favor of B-R is that the question was which ONE website would you use…probably most respondents value the depth of stats and splits that B-R provides. FanGraphs has a focus on analysis/opinion with a somewhat less extensive set of stats available.

On that note, I’d like to give a shout out to the “other” Sean (Dolinar), who has added a bleep-ton of great data tools that bring FanGraphs way closer to B-R’s functionality.

5 years ago
Reply to  sadtrombone

I’m gonna go with Retrosheet over B-R for “the single best website for the history of baseball.”