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2016 MLB thread. Baseball is upon us! Royals are the champs - Page 712

post #21331 of 73652
Originally Posted by bbllplaya23 View Post

Seattle already waiting for football season? laugh.gif

Cano didn't change a thing laugh.gif
post #21332 of 73652
Hush. It's early. Once they get their SP's reassembled they'll be good.
post #21333 of 73652
Originally Posted by 651akathePaul View Post

Hush. It's early. Once they get their SP's reassembled they'll be good.

I hope Kuma and Tai have been taking BP's during their rehab stints too
You whole crew's ravishing, team's untouchable
In the jungle banging Nas, Mobb Deep and Wu
"My Ohhh My"
You whole crew's ravishing, team's untouchable
In the jungle banging Nas, Mobb Deep and Wu
"My Ohhh My"
post #21334 of 73652
Mariners will turn it around
PSN: Aiinatural
Go Hawks, Mariners, Ducks
PSN: Aiinatural
Go Hawks, Mariners, Ducks
post #21335 of 73652
@ESPNStatsInfo: Collin McHugh: 1st Astros pitcher with 12 K, 0 BB, 0 runs allowed in game since Randy Johnson in 1998
post #21336 of 73652
Thread Starter 
Did McHugh strike out that many total with the Mets? laugh.gif talk about out of no where.

Tanaka looking like a bargain.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
It has been only three starts, and it has been only three starts against the Toronto Blue Jays, Baltimore Orioles and Chicago Cubs at that. Almost anything can happen over a few starts; just look at Aaron Harang's success. But so far Masahiro Tanaka has been everything the New York Yankees could have hoped for and more.

Remember the controversy that swirled in February when Yankees GM Brian Cashman said Tanaka "had the potential to be a No. 3 starter?" That wasn't exactly what Yankee fans wanted to hear after seeing their team drop $155 million in salary, plus a $20 million acquisition fee on top of that. But if this keeps up, that price might almost look like a bargain.

Historic start
He can't keep it up, not exactly like this anyway, because Tanaka will inevitably run into trouble just like every other pitcher has. Still, in the history of Major League Baseball, here's the list of pitchers who have started their career by striking out eight or more and walking one or fewer in each of their first three games:

1. Masahiro Tanaka, 2014

That's it. No one has done what Tanaka has done, and while there's at least a little bit of bias in that -- Tanaka isn't your traditional rookie, and major league hitters are striking out more often in 2014 than ever before -- it's still more than a little impressive.

Tanaka's 28 strikeouts are also a record for any Yankee in his first three starts, breaking Al Leiter's 25 from a quarter-century ago, and that's perhaps not surprising considering that only Pittsburgh's Francisco Liriano has a higher swinging-strike percentage than Tanaka's 16.1 (see table).

Feel the breeze
Through Sunday, the leaders in swinging strike percentage.

Francisco Liriano 16.3
Masahiro Tanaka 16.1
Felix Hernandez 15.8
Ervin Santana 15.5
Stephen Strasburg 14.6
Roberto Hernandez 13.0
Max Scherzer 12.5
John Lackey 12.4
David Price 12.2.
Jose Fernandez 12.2
Put another way: Through Saturday, Tanaka had as many swinging strikes in 305 pitches as R.A. Dickey managed to get in 420 or Wade Miley has in 478. Over the past 50 years, in seasons of at least 100 innings, the only rookie to get as high a rate of swinging strikes as Tanaka was Liriano back in 2006. (Yu Darvish, for example, had an 11.8 percent rate in 2012.)

Unconventional attack
When Tanaka arrived, we knew two primary pieces of information about how he had succeeded in Japan. We knew that he threw more types of pitches than nearly anyone else, and that his splitter was expected to be among the best in the game. So far, the first part -- the huge repertoire -- has been true, to the point that it has become extremely difficult to categorize how many pitches he really has, due to the fact that he throws a few different varieties of fastballs that differ slightly in speed and break. With that being the case, different PITCHf/x databases have him throwing anywhere from six to nine different types of pitches.

If we're having such a hard time identifying his pitches even with the benefit of hindsight, data and video, then imagine how the hitter must feel. Taking into account that attempting to put exact numbers on his pitch selection is a best guess more than anything, Tanaka has thrown four different pitches at least 18 percent of the time each -- fastball, slider, splitter and sinker -- and sprinkled in curveballs, changes and cutters along the way. It's a stunning array of pitches, and he has enough command of all of them that he has walked just two batters thus far.

But as detailed recently at FanGraphs, Tanaka is making it even more difficult on the other side by staying out of the strike zone more than most pitchers while still getting more strikes than most pitchers. That sounds impossible, but what it means is that he's enjoying the best of both worlds, getting strikes on 70 percent of his pitches while throwing only 42 percent of them in the zone. The closest comparable to that combination right now is Felix Hernandez -- nice company to be in -- and while that might change as hitters attempt to lay off Tanaka's breaking stuff, the number of different pitches he has makes that easier said than done.

Oh, and the splitter? When hitters have swung at it, they've missed 59 percent of the time, and he has given up just two hits on it. So far, this is a pitch that has been as good as advertised, but made to look better by the rest of his arsenal.

Necessary boost
Along with the fragility of their aging infield and the reality of a post-Mariano Rivera bullpen, the uncertain starting rotation was among the biggest questions about the 2014 Yankees headed into the season. CC Sabathia struggled through a poor 2013 amid questions about declining velocity, Hiroki Kuroda is 39 years old and coming off a lousy second half, and Michael Pineda hadn't pitched since 2011 because of a severe shoulder injury.

Pineda has looked wonderful as he makes his way back, but the rest of the rotation is still full of uncertainty. Sabathia's velocity has declined even further -- once routinely at 95 or above, he's now struggling to break 90 -- and while he has managed to increase his strikeout rate so far, it's a mirage, as his swinging-strike rate of 9.5 percent (through Saturday) is identical to last year's 9.6. (That he already has allowed six homers isn't helping either.) Kuroda is also having trouble missing bats, and Ivan Nova's 5.5 percent swinging-strike rate was among the worst in baseball even before he injured his elbow on Saturday.

Now Nova appears likely to be headed for elbow surgery, and so the Yankees still have rotation problems to worry about, having lost their only starter who was both pitching regularly in Major League Baseball last year and under the age of 30. Now imagine what the rotation would have looked like without Tanaka.

The primary free-agent starters this winter were Ubaldo Jimenez, Matt Garza, Ervin Santana and Ricky Nolasco -- all less-than-desirable for the Yankees for various reasons -- which was a big part of the reason the Yankees went after Tanaka so hard. Despite all that Sabathia has meant to this franchise, it's difficult to argue that Tanaka isn't the best starter they have right now, and as the issues pile up around him, he's someone they're desperately counting on after just three starts.

As Tanaka faces the Red Sox on Tuesday night, he'll get a different challenge than he's seen his first three times out. So far, everything we've seen shows that the Yankees spent their money wisely.

Indians will bounce back.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Last season the Cleveland Indians started the year 8-10 and, despite winning one contest by a 19-6 count, had been outscored by six runs in the process. This April, the Indians have started 8-10 and, despite winning one contest by a 12-6 count, have been outscored by seven runs in the process. Last April they were mired in the 20s in the ESPN Power Rankings all month, and this week they have slid back to 22.

Last year, the Indians turned things around and earned a postseason berth. This year, the Indians will turn things around, and are still on the short list for earning a trip to the playoffs. Let's consider why.

Unlucky rotation
The starting rotation has had its fair share of bad luck in the early going. The batting average on balls in play against their starters is a league-high .362, which is 27 points higher than the D-backs, the No. 2 team. In fact, the difference between first and second place is roughly the same as the difference between second and 12th place. Now, sometimes that just means your pitchers aren't very good, but the Indians' starting pitchers also have sixth-best strikeout rate in the majors. Overall, the numbers bear out in the difference between their ERA (4.25) and FIP (3.47), which is the second-highest in MLB.

Aside from the BABIP problem, the Indians' rotation has two issues at the moment. They are not stranding enough runners (third-worst in the majors) and they are walking too many hitters (fifth-worst). The former should clear up as the season progresses. In particular, Justin Masterson, Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar have been victimized.

Masterson and Salazar currently have a LOB rate at least 5 percent below their career averages (in Salazar's case, that includes all of his innings as a professional, since his major league résumé is too thin to be reliable), and Carrasco's LOB rate is nearly 14 percent under his career average. Over the course of the season, that should even out based on the law of averages/regression.

The walks for these same three have been an issue, but it's not all bad. Masterson's zone percentage (percentage of pitches he throws in the strike zone) is 48.3 percent, his highest in three seasons. And his swinging strike percentage (11.5) and contact percentage (73.5) would be career bests if he maintained them all season. His walk problems, in other words, appear to be a blip.

[+] EnlargeMichael Bourn
AP Photo/Carlos Osorio
Bourn is hitting just .118 in three games since coming off the DL.
Salazar's plate discipline numbers have essentially been league average, but they are down from his brief time in the majors last season. Salazar is working in more two-seam fastballs and changeups this season, and taking that in combination with his lack of big league time, and it seems reasonable that he will turn things around once he gets his feet under him more, particularly when you consider his promising stuff.

The same cannot be said for Carrasco. He doesn't have a ton of big league service time either, but he is three years older than Salazar. Carrasco has been inducing enough swing-and-misses to be effective, but he is not putting the ball in the zone. The league average first-strike percentage is 59.9 percent, and Carrasco is at an alarmingly low 30.7 percent. Only two pitchers in the majors have been worse.

The end result is that he has not yet progressed past 5 2/3 innings in any of his three starts, and he has allowed at least four runs each time out. It's just three starts, but if he doesn't improve soon he may lose his rotation spot to Trevor Bauer, who appears to have regained some of his old velocity, averaging 94.1 mph in his one start this season. So even if Carrasco loses his job, the Indians have a legitimate replacement.

Surprising slumps
Of course, those three starting pitchers are not the only culprits. Carlos Santana has started in a bad slump. He is hitting just .145/.329/.226, which is good for a lowly 73 wRC+. That's 53 percent worse than his career average, and 62 percent worse than he hit last season. Nick Swisher has hit just as poorly. His 60 wRC+ is 59 percent worse than his career average and 56 percent worse than he hit last season. And Ryan Raburn, who was a revelation last season, has started out even worse than those two. Now, Raburn certainly isn't expected to hit on par with Santana and Swisher -- who will be fine as the season progresses -- but he needs to do better than the .205/.234/.227 line that he has posted to date.

It isn't just them. Michael Bourn missed the first couple of weeks, and when he returned he slumped. That wasn't unexpected, since he needs time to work himself into a rhythm, but the player he replaced in the lineup -- Nyjer Morgan -- had been hitting really well (154 wRC+), so it was a bit of a double whammy for the Indians' offense.

In fact, of the team's regular starters, the only two players who are hitting better than expected are outfielders David Murphy and Michael Brantley. Overall, the team hasn't been awful or anything -- they've been right in the middle of the pack with a 101 wRC+ that ranks 15th in the game. Last season, those numbers were 107 and eighth, respectively, so there is definite room for improvement, especially when Santana finds his groove.

The Indians haven't been bad, but with expectations heightened following a great 2013 run, an 8-10 record feels like a letdown. But if you're not playing well, one of the more enviable situations to have is that your team's best players are the ones pulling up the rear. In Masterson and Santana, and to a lesser extent Swisher and Salazar, that is exactly the situation in which the Indians find themselves. As they round into form, so too will Cleveland, just like it did in 2013.

Scouting Yankees and Phillies prospects.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
LAKEWOOD, N.J. -- The New York Yankees' low Class A affiliate, the Charleston Riverdogs, are currently making their one visit to play the Lakewood BlueClaws, the Philadelphia Phillies' farm club in the South Atlantic League. I was there Monday night, when Charleston threw its best starter, and a pair of 2013 first-round picks were in the starting lineups as well. Here's my report from the game.

• Charleston starter Luis Severino showed an impressive three-pitch mix in 5 2/3 innings of work, the longest outing (by outs recorded) of his professional career. Severino's fastball was 91-95 mph, with a little life at the lower end of that range, and showed a plus changeup at 81-83 mph with both deception and late, hard fading action; he was willing to double and triple up on the pitch, especially to left-handed batters, once he saw a weakness.

His slider was his weakest offering, more of a hard slurve at 82-85, backing up from time to time and never showing that sharp of a break. He threw strikes after the first inning and worked down in the zone with his fastball, showing less command of the slider than of the other two pitches.

Severino arm is very quick and loose, but he has a reliever's delivery all the way -- he doesn't use his lower half, he barely rotates his hips, and he gets minimal extension out front. On the positive side, lengthening his stride and getting him to use his lower half might give Severino more consistently above-average velocity; one scout told me he saw Severino hit 97 mph last week, so there's more in the arm than what I saw in Lakewood. I wouldn't relegate him to the bullpen any time soon, but he'll need some mechanical adjustments to reach his above-average starter ceiling.

• Outfielder Aaron Judge, one of the largest prospects in the minors at 6-foot-7, 265 pounds, reached base in all four plate appearances on Monday night, walking twice (one an impressive nine-pitch walk where he fouled off several tough 3-2 pitches), singling weakly over the second baseman, and smoking a triple off the center-field wall.

Judge, the No. 32 overall pick in the 2013 draft, stands well back of the plate in the box, giving him better coverage on the inner half, and for a guy with long arms and a little bit of a bat wrap he's still quite short to the ball, with good hip rotation and loft in his finish for line-drive power. His BP features more big-fly power, but in games where I've seen Judge he's always gone for hard line-drive contact rather than trying to pull everything out to left. Judge turns 22 on Saturday, so he shouldn't stay in the Sally League for long; this assignment may just be to make up for the fact that he lost all of last summer due to injury.

• Two other Charleston players of note: Shorstop Abiatal Avelino, who turned 19 in February, looked very good at shortstop, with smooth actions and a plus arm, but was largely overmatched at the plate and showed below-average speed. Second baseman Gosuke Katoh (pronounced ka-TOE) did walk twice, but his miserable start to the season continued with another strikeout (his 24th in 43 at-bats) as he was well behind average fastballs. Katoh, the Yankees' second-rounder from June 2013, is still very slight, and I'm not sure how much stronger his frame can get, but he'll have to add some wrist and forearm strength so he can turn on velocity.

• On the Lakewood side, the star is shortstop J.P. Crawford, the Phillies' first-round pick last year (16th overall) and their best overall prospect. Crawford's still a plus runner with great actions at short and a plus arm, showing easy range to his left and a quick transfer from glove to hand. At the plate, he grounded out three times and punched out once while swinging through a 94 mph fastball from Severino.

Crawford starts his hands a little high and deep, but has above-average bat speed and may just need to load a little closer to his body so he can catch up to heat. I don't see any power here -- 10 homers might be his peak -- but the other four tools should all come with time.

• Center fielder Carlos Tocci might be even slighter of build than Katoh, and is still one of the youngest players in any full-season league -- he won't turn 19 until late August. Tocci can run and tripled to left-center on a two-strike slider from Severino, after he'd shown he couldn't catch up to Severino's fastball. He's still interesting, but he also looks like he still belongs in short-season ball, even though he spent 2013 with Lakewood already.

• Dylan Cozens, the Phillies' second-round pick in 2012, and a somewhat controversial pick at that due to serious makeup concerns, looked awful against Severino, striking out twice in ugly fashion on changeups and popping up in his third at bat against the Charleston starter. A left-handed hitter, Cozens couldn't seem to make any adjustment at all to changing speeds, even with the platoon advantage, and as a well below-average defensive outfielder he's going to have to hit to have any value at all. The same goes for Larry Greene, a supplemental first-rounder in 2011, who has lost some weight but still has no clue at the plate, punching out three times, looking bad on fastballs and changeups from Severino.

• Lakewood catcher Gabriel Lino has to have one of the best throwing arms in the minors, given the lasers he was firing to second base last night -- consistently under 1.90 seconds, and dead accurate each time. Acquired from the Orioles in July 2012 for Jim Thome, Lino is now in his third year in low-A -- he actually split 2013 between Lakewood and short-season Williamsport -- and he struggled receiving last night, so there may not be anything more here than an arm.

• Charleston's lineup was missing two names of note. Tyler Wade, their third-round pick last year, took BP but didn't play. Catcher Luis Torrens, one of the top teenage prospects in the whole system, hurt his arm last week and isn't listed on the roster, although he did travel with the team.

Nathan Eovaldi: Bartolo Colon Meets Yordano Ventura.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
While there’s a chance you have your own personal anecdotes, most of us are familiar with Nathan Eovaldi for one thing: He’s a starting pitcher who throws super hard. I guess that’s two things. But so far this year, he’s got baseball’s second-fastest average fastball among starting pitchers, behind only Yordano Ventura. Eovaldi has been doing this since he first reached the majors, and he’s one of those live arms on the Marlins that leads people to think the staff has enormous upside. There’s all kinds of sex appeal in a starter who can throw 98 mph.

Most people equate good velocity with good stuff. And I think good velocity leads to one of two assumptions . Either the guy is an unhittable ace, or he’s tough to hit but wild. Basically, there’s the thought that good velocity means a low contact rate, and then it’s just a matter of how many strikes get thrown. But this year, Eovaldi’s been doing something different to the extreme — pitching like a guy with a very different profile. Nathan Eovaldi has been blending Ventura’s fastball with Bartolo Colon‘s approach.

Or any hard-throwing pitcher’s fastball with any strike-throwing pitcher’s approach. I almost cited Cliff Lee, but Lee’s on a level of his own. Nevertheless, let’s consider some Eovaldi rankings. At this writing, there are 114 qualified pitchers in the majors.

First-pitch strike rate: Eighth
Zone rate: First
Contact rate: 104th

Better than seven out of every 10 pitches have been strikes. More than a quarter of Eovaldi’s pitches have been thrown in 0-and-2, in 1-and-2 or in 2-and-2 counts. It would be almost blasphemous to suggest Eovaldi has Lee’s command — and he doesn’t have Lee’s command — but he’s running a Lee-esque strike rate and walk rate with a far livelier arm. Eovaldi isn’t pitching like a guy with his arm is supposed to pitch.

If Eovaldi’s zone rate were to hold up, it would be the highest qualified zone rate in the whole PITCHf/x era, by nearly two percentage points. In Eovaldi’s past three starts, he’s posted three of his four highest career zone rates. He’s attacking, almost without mercy, and one notices he has 23 strikeouts and two unintentional walks. He’s like Henderson Alvarez, plus an adjustment.

Actually, let’s talk about that real quick. In March, a National League pitcher noted Alvarez has the potential to be unhittable, if he made a tweak somewhere in his skillset. If someone showed him, say, a better changeup grip, the sky could be the limit. The idea is Alvarez throws so hard he gets a heck of a head start on reaching a high ceiling. Eovaldi’s no different in that respect, and while the difference for Eovaldi hasn’t been developing a shutdown changeup, he’s boosted his aggressiveness into the stratosphere and he’s running a FIP just above 2.00.

You wonder if this is a team-wide emphasis. The Marlins’ starting rotation leads baseball in zone rate, and Eovaldi is only a part of that. Given the arms, it makes sense. You don’t need to nibble when you’re comfortable in the mid-90s, and there are worse things than teaching young pitchers to be a bit more economical. But it’s not like Eovaldi is sacrificing all his strikeouts by pounding the zone, because he’s just constantly pitching ahead. Find enough two-strike counts and strikeouts will accumulate.

For Eovaldi, there have always been questions about his secondary stuff. As a result, he’s always leaned pretty heavily on his fastball, and he’s still done that in 2014. But a key to his success could very well be tightening things up. We’ll look at four images. First, we’ll look at Eovaldi’s fastball locations before this year, and this year.

In 2014, you don’t see many fastballs up, and you don’t see many fastballs down. You see a cluster of fastballs right in the zone, with some lateral drift. Because of the sample sizes, this isn’t quite evident, but driving Eovaldi’s zone-rate increase is a fastball zone-rate increase. He’s thrown far more fastballs for strikes. With the secondary stuff, the adjustment has been more like throwing fewer secondary pitches for obvious balls. Here’s where I think we see something kind of dramatic, and here’s why I think Eovaldi might really have taken a step forward:

What hasn’t changed, meaningfully, is Eovaldi’s zone rate with offspeed stuff. But look at those distributions. Even eyeballing them, there’s basically nothing left and nothing up this season. There’s also basically nothing in the dirt. Eovaldi hasn’t been flying open, and he’s been mostly able to stay down-and-away against righties and down-and-in against lefties. He likes to throw his slider. Usually you’re taught not to believe in fastball-slider righties facing lefties, but the down-and-in slider is a legitimate weapon if you can control it — and Eovaldi’s been controlling it. It would appear he’s just more consistent with his secondary pitches, allowing him to be more aggressive and successful with his primary pitch. And Nathan Eovaldi — with something other than just fastball velocity — is a terror to imagine.

How does a pitcher strike out 22% of batters with one of the league’s highest contact rates? Interestingly, Eovaldi leads baseball in foul-ball rate. Foul balls aren’t the same as swings and misses, but they also aren’t the same as balls in play. They basically are swings and misses until you have two strikes. Presuming the foul rate regresses, the question will be in which direction. Will that poor contact turn into good contact or no contact? The answer will determine the likely direction of Eovaldi’s strikeout rate, but as long as he’s throwing this many strikes, the strikeouts will never disappear completely.

Eovaldi’s teammates with the guy who has baseball’s highest strike rate. To date, just about three of every four Kevin Slowey pitches has been a strike. That’s always been Slowey’s profile, but he’s also struggled to find consistent success because he’s so hittable within the zone. Eovaldi isn’t too far from Slowey’s strike rate, and then he blends that with one of baseball’s better fastballs, off of which he’s able to throw what would appear to be improved secondary pitches. It’s way too soon to declare Eovaldi is turning into an ace. It isn’t way too soon to think Eovaldi might be getting closer to his God-given ceiling. Some pitchers maximize the times they’re ahead in the count. Nathan Eovaldi simply always stays ahead in the count.

The Most Improved Pitchers Thus Far by Projected WAR.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Since nearly the first day of the season, each player page at FanGraphs has featured — in addition to the assortment of 2014 projections made available during the preseason — both a rest-of-season and updated end-of-season projection for both the Steamer and ZiPS systems. In what follows, the author has utilized that data to the end of identifying five pitchers whose end-of-season projections have most improved since the beginning of the season.

Depending on what question one is specifically hoping to answer, there are a number of ways to attempt such an endeavor. What follows is the methodology I’ve used, however, with a brief explanation of certain choices.

What I’ve done is to:

1. Find the preseason projections for each pitcher according both to Steamer and ZiPS.

2. Re-calculate each pitcher’s preseaon ZiPS WAR based on FanGraphs’ preseason depth-chart innings projection (see note below for explanation).

3. Find the average of each system’s preseason WAR projection for every pitcher (using the re-calculated ZiPS WAR figure).

4. Find the updated projections for each pitcher according both to Steamer and ZiPS.

5. Calculate each pitcher’s updated ZiPS WAR, as well, based on FanGraphs’ depth-chart innings projection.

6. Find the average of each system’s updated WAR projection for every pitcher (using the re-scaled ZiPS figure).

7. Subtract the composite preseason WAR projection from the composite updated WAR projection.

8. Identify the top-five pitchers by this measure.

9. Write a dumb post about it at

The impetus for re-calculating the ZiPS WAR figures has nothing to do with any sort of shortcoming associated with ZiPS, but rather with how that particular system issues a playing-time projection based largely on playing time from recent seasons — as opposed, that is, to the unqiue circumstances facing each player within the context of his team. Steamer, on the other hand, uses playing-time estimates as taken from FanGraphs’ depth charts — which estimates (ideally) offer a more accurate sense of how a player will be used within the context of his organization.

What follows are the five pitchers whose end-of-season WAR projections have most improved since the beginning of the season. Projection denotes a composite Steamer and ZiPS projection. PRE denotes the player’s preseason projection; UPD, the updated projection. All figures are current as of some time in the middle of the night between Tuesday and Wednesday.

5. Michael Wacha, RHP, St. Louis (Profile)
Projection (PRE): 173 IP, 8.0 K/9, 2.7 BB/9, 0.91 HR/9, 3.56 FIP, 1.9 WAR
Projection (UPD): 177 IP, 8.3 K/9, 2.3 BB/9, 0.85 HR/9, 3.31 FIP, 2.8 WAR

Despite his success at the end of last season and then throughout the Cardinals’ postseason run, there was some concern regarding Wacha due to the limited nature of his repertoire — which repertoire featured an effective fastball and effective changeup, but little else. Wacha has begun the 2014 season by throwing his curveball more than twice as often; he’s also begun it by producing a 75 xFIP- (i.e. a really good xFIP-) over four starts and 26.0 innings. Whether the latter fact is influenced by the former isn’t immediately clear, however: one notes that the Wacha has used the curve much less often as a strikeout pitch (which is smart, because it’s produced only a 4.4% swinging-strike rate) than he has to generate first-pitch strikes against right-handed batters. Such usage suggests that the curve has been helpful, perhaps, but not useful as another outpitch.

4. Chris Archer, RHP, Tampa Bay (Profile)
Projection (PRE): 163 IP, 7.7 K/9, 3.7 BB/9, 0.94 HR/9, 4.11 FIP, 1.4 WAR
Projection (UPD): 177 IP, 7.7 K/9, 3.3 BB/9, 0.74 HR/9, 3.65 FIP, 2.3 WAR

Over 150-plus innings between 2012 and -13 — almost all of them in a starting capacity — Archer recorded a strikeout rate of 21.2%. Over 24.2 innings this season — definitely all of them as a starter — Archer has recorded a strikeout rate of 20.8%. Very slightly less, is how that compares to his established level from the previous two seasons. Generally, pitchers aren’t issued more promising projections when their strikeout rates demonstrate little (or no) movement upwards. In Archer’s case, the improvement is tied both to an improving walk rate and also to how he’s conceded zero home runs thus far after allowing 15 over 128.2 innings in 2013.

3. Drew Hutchison, RHP, Toronto (Profile)
Projection (PRE): 115 IP, 7.5 K/9, 3.4 BB/9, 1.17 HR/9, 4.38 FIP, 1.1 WAR
Projection (UPD): 164 IP, 8.7 K/9, 3.4 BB/9, 1.06 HR/9, 3.94 FIP, 2.0 WAR

Insofar as he recorded only about 110 innings combined between the 2012 and -13 seasons — those coming on either side of a Tommy John procedure and the subsequent rehab — Hutchison would have posed some difficulties for a projection system entering 2014. An excellent spring, however — during which he finished among the league’s leaders in strikeout rate — suggested that he was prepared, if not to dominate for Toronto, then at least to make a contribution as a starter. The early returns have been excellent in that regard: Hutchison has recorded the 10th-best strikeout rate among 111 qualified starters and 88 xFIP- over his first 20.0 innings.

2. Cliff Lee, LHP, Philadelphia (Profile)
Projection (PRE): 192 IP, 8.7 K/9, 1.5 BB/9, 0.94 HR/9, 3.03 FIP, 3.9 WAR
Projection (UPD): 204 IP, 8.9 K/9, 1.3 BB/9, 0.84 HR/9, 2.73 FIP, 4.8 WAR

The sort of pitcher one might reasonably expect to find on this sort of list is one who’s either (a) relatively inexperienced or (b) returning from injury or (c) both. That’s the sort of pitcher, for example, who occupies the three entries above the present one. In each case, a system has been compelled to produce a projection based on something less than a full complement of major-league data. The sort of pitcher one doesn’t expect to find on a list such as this one is four-time all-star and former Cy Young winner and perpetually excellent Cliff Lee. Firstly, given the size of the sample and the relative homogeneity of the numbers he’s produced in recent years, Lee really ought to be among the league’s most readily projectable pitchers. Secondly, owing to how excellent he’s been, there’s a lot less room for improvement for Lee than basically every other pitcher. What he’s done so far, however, is to produce walk and ground-ball rates thus far which are superior to any such marks from a previous season — while maintaining the ca. 25% strikeout rate that’s become his established level in recent years.

1. Aaron Harang, RHP, Atlanta (Profile)
Projection (PRE): 10 IP, 6.5 K/9, 3.2 BB/9, 1.39 HR/9, 4.75 FIP, 0.0 WAR
Projection (UPD): 144 IP, 7.4 K/9, 3.4 BB/9, 0.90 HR/9, 3.90 FIP, 1.4 WAR

The rate stats from Harang’s most recent updated projection aren’t actually quite so good as they appears relative to those from his original preseason one. Harang pitches for Atlanta now, obviously, but his original projection seems to have been issued before he was released by Cleveland — and thus accounts for (more difficult) American League competition. Even if the rates are skewed slightly, the WAR projection for Harang (which is park- and league-adjusted in both cases) has become considerably more optimistic. In his first four starts, Harang has recorded strikeout and walk rates (22.7% and 12.4%, respectively) both notably higher than in previous seasons — an indication, that, which would appear to suggest that he’s throwing less often in the zone (although one not supported by his zone rate, which is roughly the same as in previous seasons).

Cliff Lee is Still Awesome.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Last night, Cliff Lee dominated the Dodgers, throwing eight shutout innings, while striking out 10 batters without walking anyone. In other words, it was just your normal Cliff Lee start. For the season, Lee now has 38 strikeouts against two walks; this is just what he does. But just because we’re used to Cliff Lee’s ridiculous command doesn’t mean we shouldn’t remember to appreciate it.

Here’s a fun fact you may not know. Since the start of the 2008 season, when Lee underwent his career rebirth, he’s been the most valuable pitcher in baseball, and that doesn’t really change regardless of how you evaluate pitchers.

Here are the top 10 pitchers in FIP-based WAR, since 2008.

Cliff Lee 1,368 38.4
Justin Verlander 1,399 37.7
Felix Hernandez 1,394 33.0
CC Sabathia 1,395 32.3
Zack Greinke 1,235 30.2
Roy Halladay 1,187 30.1
Clayton Kershaw 1,186 28.7
Jon Lester 1,261 28.5
Dan Haren 1,290 25.8
Cole Hamels 1,281 24.7
And here are the top 10 pitchers in RA9-based WAR, since 2008.

Cliff Lee 1,368 38.7
Felix Hernandez 1,394 34.8
Clayton Kershaw 1,186 34.7
Justin Verlander 1,399 34.2
Roy Halladay 1,187 32.7
CC Sabathia 1,395 31.4
Jered Weaver 1,215 30.2
Jon Lester 1,261 28.7
Zack Greinke 1,235 28.4
Cole Hamels 1,281 28.3
By FIP, Lee has a +1 WAR advantage over second place, and a +5 WAR advantage over third place. By RA9, Lee has a +4 WAR advantage over both second and third place. There are a handful of pitchers who haven’t been much worse than Lee over the last six-plus years, but none have matched Lee’s sustained excellence, whether you’re only counting things that pitchers control the most or all the of the outcomes that occur when they are on the mound. For the last six years, Cliff Lee has just been remarkably and consistently awesome.

And he’s showing no signs of decline. When Lee made his big leap forward in 2008, he did it by pounding the strike zone and convincing hitters to chase when he threw pitches out of the zone. That year, Lee was #1 in MLB in Zone% (58%) and #8 in MLB in opponents O-Swing% (33%); through his first five starts in 2014, Lee is #8 in MLB in Zone% (55%) and #9 in MLB in opponents O-Swing% (36%). He’s followed the league wide trend of throwing more pitches out of the zone, but opponents are still going after them, and now, they just don’t make contact.

Here’s the rate of contact opponents have made when they chase Lee’s out-of-zone pitches over his run of dominance. Note the trend.

Season O-Contact%
2008 73%
2009 73%
2010 68%
2011 68%
2012 65%
2013 67%
2014 60%
This isn’t something Lee is exceptional at, as league average contact rate on pitches out of the zone is just 62%, but as Lee has gotten older, he’s sustained his ability to get hitters to swing at bad pitches, while getting better at getting them to swing-and-miss at bad pitches. As a result, Lee is allowing less contact than ever before, even as age has stolen some of his prior velocity. Over the last few years, Lee has seen his velocity slightly tick downwards, but it hasn’t showed up in his performance. At all.

In the first few years of his career rejuvenation, Lee’s dominance was strongly tied to his ability to limit home runs, which isn’t necessarily a skill you want to build your career around. However, as his HR/FB rate has climbed, he’s offset the higher home run rates with higher strikeout rates, and for the first few weeks of 2014, he’s also just stopped walking anyone, ever.

For the first few years of his career, Lee was a pitch-to-contact fly ball guy with a home run problem. It’s easy to still think of him as a pitch-to-contact guy, given his crazy low walk rates and below average velocity, but hitters are making contact against Lee at about the same rate they’re making contact against Chris Archer, Scott Kazmir, Adam Wainwright, and Justin Verlander. Cliff Lee is not a contact pitcher; he’s a strikeout machine who just happens to be a strikeout machine without ever walking anyone, and does it with by getting hitters to stare at pitches on the corners.

With offense trending downwards in baseball, there are a lot of notable pitchers in Major League Baseball, and many of them are young flamethrowers who get our attention in a hurry. But hanging out in the background, doing his usual thing, remains Cliff Lee. He’s not going away. He’s not even getting worse. He’s just taking the ball every fifth day and shutting down opposing line-ups.

It isn’t fair to equate Cliff Lee to the last pitcher we saw just destroy baseball with strikes and groundballs in this same way — Lee is amazing, but he’s not quite Greg Maddux — but Lee’s run since the start of the 2008 season matches up with the best years of nearly every pitcher in the Hall of Fame. Because he got a late start and because the current voting bloc has established a ridiculously high standard for modern pitchers to clear, he probably won’t end up in Cooperstown, but we’re now on Year Seven of Cliff Lee pitching like a guy who belongs. With a reasonable decline over the next few years, Lee’s going to have a fascinating case for induction, and given that Lee isn’t showing any decline right now, it’s not ridiculous to think that he might end up with career totals that give him a legitimate argument.

Cliff Lee, still an ace. Still as good as ever. Still an absolute joy to watch. He might not throw 95 or have any remaining upside, but the young hurlers we’re all in love with can only hope that they’ll have a run as good as the one Lee is currently on.

Lineup Genius in Cleveland.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
The Cleveland Indians weren’t supposed to make the playoffs in 2013. They did, briefly, thanks to a 10-game winning streak to end the season. But analysts, pundits and other words for sports bloggers were not impressed enough by the Indians come-from-behind success to predict a return engagement in 2014. Maybe they’re right. As of this writing, Cleveland resides in the basement of the American League Central, but they’re also just two-and-a-half games behind the division-leading Detroit Tigers.

One thing seems certain: Some very smart people are working for Team Cleveland. In addition to their focus on those intangible things we’ve had such a hard time measuring — like manager influence and chemistry — the club has also made some smart decisions about the roster’s composition.
The Indians lineup has leaned left-handed for years. There might be some method to the madness. Last season, despite a predominantly lefty regular lineup, the Indians were able to post the best wOBA in baseball against left-handed pitchers. The driving forces behind the Tribe’s success were Ryan Raburn, Yan Gomes, Nick Swisher and to a lesser extent, Drew Stubbs and Mark Reynolds. Stubbs and Reynolds have moved on, but the big players remain in town. Raburn was brought in specifically to platoon against southpaws, but Gomes was a revelation straight out of left field. Even the most bullish scouts couldn’t have predicted the .327/.376/.558 line he put up against lefties.

This season, the Indians remain capable of fielding an extremely left-handed lineup. Let’s look at the unit deployed against Blue Jays righty Drew Hutchison last Friday.

Michael Bourn – L
Swisher – S
Jason Kipnis – L
Carlos Santana – S
Michael Brantley – L
Asdrubal Cabrera – S
David Murphy – L
Gomes – R
Lonnie Chisenhall – L

“S,” of course, refers to switch-hitters. An aesthete will note this particular lineup is capable of fielding eight left-handed batters. Said deployment can also alternate handedness. Should the opposing manager choose to bring in a left-handed reliever, every other hitter will retain the platoon advantage. Moreover, the Indians are capable of deploying both Raburn and Mike Aviles when opposed by south paw starters.

Over the course of a 162-game season, there’s an inherent advantage to fielding a lefty-leaning lineup. Roughly 70% of pitchers are right-handed, so we’re talking about a lot of platoon advantage. Of course, if 70% are right-handed, then 30% are left-handed. That can be a problem, which is where Raburn and the switch-hitters enter the equation.

A left-handed lineup is strategic in the AL Central. The Indians biggest rival, the Tigers, features a rotation of four righties and Drew Smyly. The Twins feature an all right-handed rotation, while the Royals and White Sox are evenly split between right and left. All told, the Indians regularly face 14 righties and six lefties when playing intra-division games.

Most importantly, the Tribe has the platoon advantage against the top threat in the division. The Royals are considered the other threat in the division, and their lefty duo consists of Bruce Chen and Jason Vargas, who are hardly not the most intimidating pair. The White Sox are the only team in the division to feature any tough left-handed starters with Chris Sale and Jose Quintana.

If you’re the Cleveland Indians, the advantage of a left-leaning lineup goes beyond the standard platoon advantages. Consider the handedness park factors available at FanGraphs Guts! Progressive Field has a 105 HR park factor for left-handed batters. In other words, lefties hit 5% more home runs in Cleveland than in a neutral park. Contrast this to an 89 HR park factor for righties. Basically, Progressive Field reduces righty bombs by 11%. Add it all up and a generic lefty bat is 16% more likely to go yard than a generic righty hitter.

The Indians may not have the sexiest lineup in baseball, but they have built one of the smartest. Not only does the typical lineup take advantage of league and division-wide handedness trends, it’s also ideally suited for Progressive Field. The Indians are a very analytically aware organization — some might call them a “Moneyball” organization. The next time you hear somebody belittling the Moneyball mentality and OBP, mention what the Cleveland Indians have done.

The Baseball Equivalent of Hitting on 16.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Fairly early in life, I’d venture to guess that many of us learned to play basic card games, from poker to rummy to blackjack. These games were often learned at home from parents or other older relatives, in a family bonding type of setting. At an early stage in this process, someone likely sat us down and handed down some helpful hints as to how to play the game well – if the dealer is showing a face card in blackjack, for instance, it might make sense to take another card – a hit – if you are holding 16, otherwise a scenario in which you would almost never take another card. Playing the game thusly doesn’t mean you’re always going to win, of course – it simply tilts the odds ever so slightly in your direction.

Whether you’re playing bridge, Scrabble, Monopoly or Trivial Pursuit, there are “little things” you can do within the rules that enhance your chances of winning. It’s called game theory, and understanding it is vital to success in any endeavor that includes an element of chance. Odds are that utilization of data has become more commonplace in your workplace, and is integral to the management of businesses of all types. For some reason, despite the proliferation of data and its increased usage in baseball today, basic tenets of game theory continue to go unheeded by managers/organizations, and unnoticed by announcers/traditional media/bloggers. Case in point – this past weekend’s Mariners-Marlins series.
The Seattle Mariners rolled into Miami last Friday in desperate need of a victory. A promising start seemed eons ago, has they had lost five of their last six games, including the final three in Texas. The most painful of those losses was a 9th-inning 3-2 loss in Texas that was a conversion of a routine grounder away from victory, wasting a masterful outing from Felix Hernandez. Their rotation was reeling from the recent losses of James Paxton and his injury replacement, Blake Beavan, to add to the previous losses of Hisashi Iwakuma and Taijuan Walker. The Marlins hadn’t been faring any better, losing eight of their previous nine games. It shaped up as your classic movable object vs. resistible force matchup. It turned out be much more than that. Perhaps a metaphor, or a how-not-to treatise on baseball game theory.

Game 1 – Friday, 2nd inning. The Marlins had just taken a 3-2 lead on a sacrifice fly by Marcell Ozuna in this matchup between Chris Young and Nathan Eovaldi. With Christian Yelich on second base and two outs, Giancarlo Stanton was intentionally walked, bringing up lefthanded hitter Garrett Jones. This move actually increased the Marlins’ win probability by 1%. Jones – with the platoon advantage, unlike Stanton – followed with an infield single, but a heads-up play by shortstop Brad Miller caught Yelich rounding the third-base bag, and the final out was recorded. An intentional walk – in the 2nd inning. This, incidentally, was Stanton’s first IBB of the season. In a vacuum, it’s a negative percentage move, but in the 2nd inning, all it’s guaranteed to do is bring Stanton to the plate sooner, and perhaps give him an extra plate appearance late in the game. File that away for later.

Fast forward to the bottom of the 4th inning. It’s now 4-2 Marlins, and Young has been relieved by lefty Joe Beimel. Yelich is again on second base, with two outs. The Mariners again issue Stanton an intentional walk, which again increases the Marlins’ win probability by 1%. This one is marginally more sensible, as Beimel at least has the platoon advantage over Jones this time, and he strikes him out. Still, it is only the 4th inning, and it again brings Stanton up to the plate that much sooner, and further enhances his chances of garnering a fifth plate appearance in the endgame. Look at it this way – in either case, the 2nd or 4th inning situation, you could simply choose to pitch around Stanton, allowing him to potentially get himself out in the process. He can only hurt you with a hit, and he has a career .267 batting average. The chances of him hurting you are roughly the chances of an NBA player missing a free throw. Execute pitches – make the darned free throw.

You know where this is headed. The Mariners gamely scrapped back with single runs in the 5th and 7th, tying it 4-4. The game headed to the bottom of the 9th, and the Mariners let middle reliever Yoervis Medina, who had recorded the final two outs of the 8th, return to the mound. Medina is a fine, functional MLB reliever – every club has one or two of him. Command is his primary weakness, as evidenced by his total of 46 walks in 76 1/3 career innings. What he isn’t is the club’s best reliever. That would be closer Fernando Rodney.

Now it must be noted that the Mariner bullpen was very overtaxed at this moment in time. They had gotten just two innings from Thursday starter Erasmo Ramirez and just three from Young on this night. The only member of the pen who had not been fully taxed at this point, however, was Rodney, who had pitched all of just 2/3 of an inning in the previous week. It wasn’t a save situation, however, so old-school baseball wisdom states that you can’t use your closer in a tie game on the road. Whatever. File this one away for later as well.

Pinch-hitter Reed Johnson leads off the home 9th with a single. The Mariners have already used both of their bullpen lefties, so they are stuck with a poor matchup of righty Medina vs. red-hot lefty Yelich. This is where the Strategy Carnival really begins on both sides. The Marlins punted their matchup advantage by bunting Yelich – who laid it down perfectly, beating the bunt out when Justin Smoak slightly bobbled it.

This brought up another red-hot hitter, Marcell Ozuna, a righty. A bunt again seemed to be an unattractive option for the Marlins – a successful bunt would almost certainly take the bat out of the hands of their best hitter, Stanton. They bunted again, and this time there was perfect execution on both sides, a great bunt by Ozuna and an even better fielding play by Medina, who barehanded it and in one motion threw it to third for the force – only for the replay gods to snatch the out away thanks to the newly minted “transfer rule”.

So here we are – bases loaded, no outs, tie ballgame, and up walks – Giancarlo Stanton. He was intentionally walked twice earlier, and as a direct result it was he specifically, and the top of the order in general that came to bat in the 9th. Even Stanton played it wrong strategically in this at-bat – all he had to do was get the ball in the air for the win. Instead, he first swung through a 1-1 hanging breaking ball in the middle of the plate, trying to hit it to Jupiter. Medina then threw the same pitch again, and Stanton didn’t miss it. At no point was Fernando Rodney warming up during the inning.

All the highlights, post-game shows and articles afterward mentioned two things – the Stanton grand slam and the immediately-preceding replay reversal. Never mind the fact that Stanton batted in the 9th solely because of suboptimal strategy by the Mariners, and notched his game-winner despite suboptimal strategy by the Marlins. If there is some justice here, the team that best executed its suboptimal strategy prevailed.

Next, on to Saturday night, and the least eventful contest of the three-game set, a 7-0 Marlin victory, a two-hit shutout by Henderson Alvarez. It was notable from a suboptimal strategy standpoint for two reasons, however. First, there’s the handling of Mariner starter Roenis Elias. The young Cuban lefty had never pitched above AA entering this season, but the lefty earned a spot in the Mariner rotation thanks to a strong spring performance coupled with the attrition surrounding him. He pitched competently in his first three outings, but was fighting for each out on this night, as he battled into the 6th inning down only 2-0.

As noted previously, the Mariner bullpen was in tatters at this point, so they tried to squeeze one more inning out of him. As his pitch count climbed toward a career high 111, he faced a runner on 2nd, two out situation, with only opposing hurler Alvarez standing between him and the end of a respectable outing. Alvarez touched him for a single to make it 3-0. That had to be it for Elias, right? Nope. He then faced lefty Yelich – and walked him. Pull him now, right? Nope. He was allowed to face righty Ozuna, who drilled a three-run homer. Now, Danny Farquhar comes in. Oh, and in the 8th, guess who came in to get an inning of work? None other than closer Fernando Rodney. A world in which he can’t come into a 4-4 game one night but must come into a game with a 6-0 deficit the next night is a nonsensical world, indeed.

This article would not have been written without what happened in Game 3, however. The recent injury to injury replacement Blake Beavan forced the Mariners to call up righty Brandon Maurer from AAA to start, and he was brilliant for 4 1/3 innings, facing the minimum 12 batters through four, and leaving with a 2-1 lead. He faced the mighty Stanton twice, inducing a double-play grounder and striking him out. Rookie reliever Dominic Leone followed suit in the 6th, striking him out. Make quality pitches, hit the free throw, get the out.

The game remained 2-1 Mariners into the home 8th, when the final act unfolded. The ever-present Yelich – told you he was a good fantasy draft, Jessica – led off with a double off of lefty Charlie Furbush, who was then replaced by righty Tom Wilhelmsen, who promptly got Ozuna to fly out. Up walks Stanton, this time representing the winning run. The same Stanton who had been utterly neutralized by less experienced and pedigreed hurlers the previous three times up. The Mariners walked him intentionally, this time increasing the Marlins’ win probability by 5%. They didn’t try to make the free throw. They took a hit on 16.

Of course, the next batter, Casey McGehee, was unintentionally walked to load the bases. Such a result has a higher chance of happening than the DP grounder the Mariners were chasing. The rest was a mere formality. Yelich was safe at the plate on a fielder’s choice grounder – but only after a replay reversal – to tie it, and Adeiny Hechavarria followed with a sacrifice fly to win it. All that remained was for Marlins’ closer Steven Cishek – who did pitch in the tie game on Friday – to shakily fight through a man on third, one-out jam in the 9th for the save.

This article is not meant to pick on Lloyd McClendon or the Mariners in general. It could have been any number of managers or clubs – it just happened to be this one that did all of these things repeatedly in a single weekend, and lost more than one game as a direct result. Managers have the hardest job in baseball, in my opinion, and game strategy comprises a very small percentage of it. Managers are hired to be leaders of men, who are in this case often millionaires many times over, and are expected to hold their attention and respect for a long, 162-game marathon. I would argue that it is the responsibility of the organization to educate their field personnel about game theory, about the math behind the usage or non-usage of various strategies.

This is obviously taking place throughout the game with regard to infield overshifting, and field staff are obviously responding to the data being shown to them by implementing such strategies. This isn’t a one-way street – field staff obviously must have some degree of autonomy, and need to have a voice in development of on-field plans, but a front office that doesn’t share and effectively communicate data that can give their club a competitive advantage – or at least avoids placing them at a competitive disadvantage – does so at its own peril.

A healthy interaction between front office and field staff regarding implementation of data helps to forge a bond between them that is becoming increasingly vital. If it is the field staff’s responsibility to be open to all kinds of new information, it is the front office’s responsibility to have the field staff’s back on the inevitable occasions when that openness to good process leads to bad results. In the big picture, each front office has a responsibility, not only to its field staff, but also to its players and all of its core constituencies, including its fanbase, to maximize its organizational IQ.

When you think about it, these lingering suboptimal strategies are seemingly limited to baseball these days. In no other sport will you see a lesser player purposely entrusted with a central role in a game situation at the expense of an admittedly better player. In no other sport is a game strategy repeatedly undertaken that has a measurably negative effect on that team’s chances of winning. In no other sport will a team consciously forego attempting a task that has virtually the same probability of success as a free throw attempt. These things continue to happen every day in our sport.

There is a time and place for an intentional walk – it’s usually in front of an opposing pitcher, or a very weak hitter who isn’t likely to be replaced by a pinch-hitter. There is a time and place to walk Giancarlo Stanton – and that exact spot might have presented itself in the 9th inning on Friday night if a base was open. There’s a time and place for a sacrifice bunt – usually with a pitcher or weak hitter, or in an extreme low-run environment, late in a close game. You do have to pick your spots on when to use your best reliever – he only has so many bullets. If he’s barely pitched in a week, and the game is tied in the 9th, you just might want to get him in there.

There is hope, and progress, as AL sacrifice bunts are down 25% per plate appearance since just last year, and are over 40% down since 2010. NL intentional walks are down over 20% per plate appearance since just last year, and are over 40% down since 2006. For the math behind the relative efficacy of these situations and more, “The Book” by Tom Tango is a must read. He has every loose end tied up tight.

Similarly, there’s a time and place to hit on 16, but if you’re doing it regularly and without regard for context, you’re going to get burned. You’re going to become “that guy” in the card game, the guy no one wants to sit beside. At this stage of the game, with the preponderance of data at everyone’s disposal, we should be beyond this. No single team’s fanbase should have to wake up on Monday morning and stare at the ashes of a three-game sweep that shouldn’t have happened, that was largely attributable to bad process, to suboptimal decision-making that could have easily been avoided.

Prospect Watch: Early Fallers.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Bubba Starling, OF, Kansas City Royals (Profile)
Level: High-A Age: 21 Top-15: 8th Top-100: N/A
Line: 74 PA, .133/.284/.250, 1 HR, 9 BB, 24 K
The former fifth-overall pick continues to struggle with his swing, leading to increasingly poor output as he climbs the ladder.

Early in the offseason, I discussed Starling’s mechanical troubles at length, and two early-season looks this year revealed little improvement in his swing. He continues to have an awkward, hitchy stroke, he doesn’t use his lower half well, and his hips fire too late. I did see him do this…

…which a) was much better contact than I saw him have in three games last year and b) wasn’t as mechanically ugly–note how Starling gets his front foot down early and is then easily able to get his hands through the ball. Then again, maybe ripping a double off Terance Marin shouldn’t be taken as a huge accomplishment–Marin allowed ten runs this year while recording only three outs and was summarily released after two appearances.

Still, we can take a few positives out of Starling’s season so far–not only did he manage a good swing in front of me, he also has already equaled his 2013 total of homers in non-hitter-friendly parks. Twelve of his 13 bombs last year were hit in Lexington’s pinball environment; his only blast of 2014 came in his new pitcher-friendly home park in Wilmington. Further, he does still seem to have some pitch-recognition skills (leading to a 12.2% walk rate, slightly up from 10.6% last year), and he remains an athletic player who should contribute on the bases and in the outfield.

Starling turns 22 in about 3 1/2 months, and plenty of toolsy players have broken out at later ages than that. Still, a look at his wRC+s each year–135 in 2012, 111 in 2013, 81 this year–shows a lack of progress, one backed up all too clearly by his failure to make any mechanical improvements. It’s tough to see awkward, late cuts like the two in this video…

…or the two in this video…

…or this…

…and see a major league hitter, not when the same exact issues were present when he began his pro career two years ago. The fact that the statistics dovetail perfectly with this observation only underscores the need for Starling to get a mechanical overhaul. If he can make some adjustments, it’s not too late for him to turn into something, but it’s high time he revamps what he’s doing in the box.


David Ledbetter, RHP, Texas Rangers (Profile)
Level: Low-A Age: 22 Top-15: N/A Top-100: N/A
Line: 11 1/3 IP, 20 H, 11 R, 8/4 K/BB, 8.74 ERA, 8.51 FIP

This third-round collegiate selection has not fared well in his introduction to full-season ball, with a sharp velocity decrease and very poor early statistical output.

In my first Prospect Watch post last week, I discussed Ledbetter’s rotation mate Akeem Bostick‘s struggles, noting that the hyped righthander had no average skills at present and thus didn’t project to have a carrying skill for the future. On that front, the news with Ledbetter, picked a round after Bostick last year, is more positive. First, he has a nice, easy motion:

Further, Ledbetter has a couple of breaking pitches–a slider at 79-80 mph and a curveball at 73-76–that boast solid shape and are already in the average range, along with a changeup that’s at least as good as Bostick’s. However, he comes with two significant issues.

First, David Ledbetter is 22 years old, which means he’s slightly older than the average SAL player and a fair bit older than the average well-regarded SAL prospect. Since he’s a ’13 draftee from college, the fact that he’s at the level shouldn’t be held against him, but the fact that both his ERA and FIP are over 8.00? Even in a small sample, that’s troubling, because unlike Bostick, Ledbetter’s at an age relative to his level where, if he’s a real prospect, he shouldn’t be struggling like this.

Second, and more troubling, is Ledbetter’s velocity in the start I attended. His velo in the first inning was 88-91 mph, the same humdrum readings that raised some concern about Bostick, but unlike his teammate, Ledbetter wasn’t able to maintain his velocity through the outing. From the second inning on, he was strictly at 85-89 mph. Needless to say, one doesn’t see many righthanded pitchers succeed in Low-A, let alone MLB, at that velocity.

Ledbetter’s Baseball America Prospect Handbook report comes with a “90-94 mph fastball,” so something’s clearly off. As with Bostick, it’s an open question as to whether this is just early-season rounding into form or something more permanent. There are two positive things that can be said about Ledbetter that can’t be said about Bostick right now:

1) If he does return to 90-94 mph, he’ll be a solid four-pitch guy with good command, which is a really nice pitcher.
2) As a 5’11″ righthander with a clean delivery, breaking stuff that could work as out pitches, and a history of throwing harder in the past, it’s not hard to imagine Ledbetter picking up velocity and effectiveness with a bullpen move.

So he’s not suddenly a nonentity. Still, these mid-to-upper-80s readings better disappear some way or another, because Ledbetter clearly isn’t equipped to succeed even in the low minors with such a pedestrian heater. Until he’s able to consistently work in the low 90s, concern is warranted.

Gabriel Ynoa, RHP, New York Mets (Profile)
Level: High-A Age: 21 Top-15: N/A Top-100: N/A
Line: 14 IP, 20 H, 10 R, 7/6 K/BB, 5.79 ERA, 4.48 FIP
A top statistical performer at the Low-A level in 2013, the early returns on Ynoa’s 2014 season show he may be losing his slim margin for error.

Full disclosure: I haven’t seen Ynoa pitch this year. However, I did see him throw last season, and it was striking how much quieter his stuff was than that of fellow 2013 Savannah rotation-mates Luis Cessa and Matt Koch, both of whom usually came in below Ynoa on post-2013 prospect lists. Ynoa throws 89-93 mph running heat from a low 3/4 delivery, also tossing a solid changeup, a short, cutter-like slider, and a sloppy show-pitch curveball. He utilizes an easy motion that allows him to generally throw strikes, but it’s not an arsenal that gives the skinny righthander a whole lot of room for error.

His delivery and changeup also present a bit of a paradox–the slingy motion is tough on Ynoa’s fellow righties while allowing southpaws a long look at the ball, but his one good offspeed pitch is the changeup, a pitch that usually stifles opposite-side hitters. Thus, his attack basically consists of deception/moving heat/iffy slider to righties, no deception/platoon-split fastball/good changeup to lefties. These are both workable combinations, but even in Ynoa’s breakout 2013 (2.72 ERA, 3.16 FIP), they didn’t give him a great strikeout rate (19.6%). Instead, he excelled on the back of a 3.0% walk rate and just .6 HR/9, the latter in spite of a below-average groundball rate according to StatCorner.

Ynoa’s slightly square-peg-round-hole-ish skillset doesn’t render him useless, but superior command is the glue that holds it together, and with his move up to High-A this season, he’s already issued six free passes in 14 innings, tripling his 2013 walk rate, and his strikeout rate has also predictably shrunk. In his last outing on the 16th, Ynoa walked three and struck out just one while allowing six runs on eight hits in 2 2/3 frames. In 2013, he never walked three batters in a game and only once worked less than five frames, so even an isolated occurrence of this sort of outing is indicative of the rougher road he faces.

Ynoa hasn’t turned 21 and remains a somewhat projectable pitcher who does boast some assets, but his early-season statistical regression does highlight the fact that he didn’t project as a high-upside guy in the first place. Ynoa could carve out a career as a back-of-the-rotation arm or a solid reliever, but the notion that he’s the next Marco Estrada seemed misplaced to me last year, and the early returns on his transition to the Florida State League seem to make that sort of outcome appear all the more unlikely.

Charlie Blackmon and Mike Trout in the Same Sentence.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Funny thing about the WAR leaderboard is, as much as it’s still very early in the season, familiar names are starting to find their places. There’s Mike Trout. Of course there’s Mike Trout. If “WAR” didn’t sound so damned good, the stat might be called Wins Below Trout, and one would reasonably expect him to lead baseball from now through the end of the year. There’s Chase Utley, and as much as the Phillies have fallen apart around him, Utley remains one of the better all-around players in baseball, despite the injuries he’s been through. There’s Troy Tulowitzki, and of course Tulowitzki is one of the elites for as long as he can stay on the field. There’s Justin Upton, who has flashes of superstardom. There’s Freddie Freeman, who’s young enough to have this much upside. There are good players, and real good players, and some early surprises, and among the early surprises is Colorado’s Charlie Blackmon.

If you read FanGraphs, you’re more than a casual baseball fan, so you’re more likely to have heard of Charlie Blackmon. Also, if you read FanGraphs, you’ve read Carson Cistulli, so you’re more likely still to have heard of Charlie Blackmon. Blackmon has long been one of Cistulli’s crushes, but the thing about Cistulli’s crushes is that he deliberately falls in love with the fringey and unheralded. Those players aren’t supposed to blossom into stars, not anywhere outside of Cistulli’s head, but here we are and we have to acknowledge what Blackmon’s been up to since winning a job with the Rockies out of camp.

The basics: Blackmon’s running a .260 ISO after going deep twice against the Giants on Monday. He’s walked as often as he’s struck out, and his early defensive numbers are positive, and he’s on pace for a double-digit WAR. He won’t do that, and he won’t end with a .400 BABIP, but prior to this season he was worth 1.0 WAR in 151 games. He’s 28 on the first day of July and he didn’t get to spring training with a job to lose. It’s fair to say we aren’t the only people who’ve been surprised by Blackmon — the Rockies themselves couldn’t have expected this kind of production.

Certain parts of his game, we knew about. Blackmon’s been thought of as a passable defensive center fielder, which means he’d make for an above-average defensive corner outfielder. He’s pretty quick and pretty athletic, so with the glove he does more good than bad. Also, Blackmon’s far from powerless. While it isn’t easy to evaluate the power potential of guys who spend half their time in Coors, here’s Blackmon hitting a long home run at sea level in 2013:
With Blackmon, the questions were more about discipline. He finished last year with seven times as many strikeouts as walks. That’s enough to knock a guy from potential starter to potential backup, but now there’s something interesting to observe. Blackmon has walked once per 16 plate appearances. He’s also struck out once per 16 plate appearances. In the early going, Charlie Blackmon is running a strikeout rate that’s about exactly a third of last year’s strikeout rate.

Which makes you stop and think. Strikeout rate is one of those things that’s supposed to remain incredibly stable. So it takes less time than with other stats to start to wonder if something’s up. We’re talking about a strikeout-rate difference of 12.7 percentage points. Because it’s so early, we can’t take that too seriously, but I want to give you a frame of reference. Since 1950, there are 11,779 pairs of consecutive seasons with at least 250 trips to the plate. In just 21 of those pairs, or less than 0.2%, did a player chop his strikeout rate by at least ten percentage points. at -12.7, Blackmon would actually rank fourth. Basically, players don’t often do what Blackmon’s done, just in terms of reducing the whiffs. To say nothing of the rest of his game.

But on that same note, I want to show you a table. So far this year, eight Rockies have batted at least 50 times. Let’s compare their 2013 and 2014 strikeout rates.

Player PA 2014 K% 2013 K% Difference
Charlie Blackmon 80 6.3% 19.0% -12.7%
Wilin Rosario 69 13.0% 23.4% -10.4%
Michael Cuddyer 67 10.4% 18.5% -8.1%
Justin Morneau 74 10.8% 17.3% -6.5%
Carlos Gonzalez 82 20.7% 27.1% -6.4%
Troy Tulowitzki 75 12.0% 16.6% -4.6%
DJ LeMahieu 68 14.7% 15.4% -0.7%
Nolan Arenado 86 15.1% 14.0% 1.1%
I don’t actually know exactly what to make of this. Six Rockies players are showing strikeout-rate decreases I’d consider significant off the top of my head. Wilin Rosario is right there with Blackmon, in terms of reducing his own whiffs. What this does do is make me think Blackmon isn’t responsible for the whole improvement, that there’s been something else going on. If it were only Blackmon, I’d be more willing to believe he’s genuinely this much better. Given the team-level pattern, it seems like we’ll be dealing with fractional responsibilities.

Last winter, the Rockies happened to hire Blake Doyle as a new hitting instructor. For all I know, that could be a factor. Equally or more likely to be a factor could be the Rockies’ schedule so far. I calculated the weighted average 2013 strikeout rate of all the pitchers the Rockies have faced in 2014, and their 2013 strikeout rate was lower than average. So if that’s any indication, it could be they’ve just faced more hittable arms.

But, all right. Look, we know Blackmon isn’t this good. Only Mike Trout is this good, and even that is still difficult to believe. The fact of the matter is that Blackmon’s always had a little defense. He’s always had a little power. And now he’s significantly chopped his strikeouts, more than anybody else on his own team. If there’s something to that last adjustment, it seems like Blackmon could be a legitimate longer-term regular. What does the history say about outfielders with this profile?

I pulled outfielder seasons from 1950 on. First, I narrowed the pool to guys with average or slightly above-average Defense ratings. Then, I looked for guys with ISOs that were between average and 25% better than average. Finally, out of the remaining pool, I looked for guys with strikeout rates lower than 75% of average. I wound up with 38 player-seasons, and they averaged 3.2 WAR per 600 plate appearances. So, these are pretty good non-star players.

That certainly required some assumptions. I had to assume Blackmon’s defense, I had to assume Blackmon’s power, and I had to give Blackmon credit for his reduced strikeouts. But, tweaking the filters doesn’t do much to change the general message. Blackmon was a discipline improvement away from seeming like a real big-league starter. That improvement might’ve been made, and the rest of his offense is also flourishing.

Blackmon might not even need to be platooned. The Rockies have been somewhat careful exposing Blackmon to lefties, but in his limited major-league experience, he actually has a reverse split. There’s a lot of BABIP in there, but Blackmon hasn’t been a platoon-side catastrophe. In the minors, Blackmon ran more normal-looking splits, with reduced power and increased whiffs against same-handed throwers, but Blackmon also walked against lefties and his contact rate was better than average. In essence, if the Rockies want to platoon Blackmon, they ought to let him show that he needs to be platooned first. He hasn’t shown that yet, and right now his game’s on a whole new level.

A guy who can run and hit the occasional knock doesn’t need to do a whole lot more to cut it as a starter. To what extent are you willing to believe in the improvement in Charlie Blackmon’s strikeout rate? How you feel about that is basically how you’ll feel about Charlie Blackmon. If nothing else, through his first 80 plate appearances he realistically could’ve done…nothing else. Carson Cistulli’s in charge of a lot of different fan clubs, but more than ever before, the Charlie Blackmon fan club is a fan club with other members.

When Should You Be Allowed to Bunt?
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Quick answer: whenever you feel like it. Longer answer: to follow.

You’ve already had the entire weekend to forget about last week, and over the weekend, there was an incident involving Carlos Gomez and Gerrit Cole that cleared the benches and that will lead to suspensions. So you’re forgiven if you don’t remember much from Friday, but from Friday, I’d like to present to you a sequence of events. Prior to the Gomez sportsmanship incident, there was a sportsmanship incident in a game between the A’s and the Astros with Jed Lowrie and Bo Porter right in the middle.

Bottom of the first inning:

Note the score, note the shift, note the maneuver. Jed Lowrie bunted and got thrown out. The next time Lowrie came to the plate:

And, in between the half-innings:

During a seven-run first inning, Jed Lowrie tried to bunt for a hit against the shift. The next time Lowrie batted, he got thrown at by a first-pitch fastball. Lowrie didn’t actually get hit and shortly thereafter he flew out, but as the Astros ran off the field Lowrie engaged Jose Altuve and then got yelled at by an angry Bo Porter. Both pitchers were warned, but the game finished with no further incident. By the time the media got to ask questions, there were some coolers heads, and it seemed like the matter had been dealt with.

Let’s acknowledge two things right away:

(1) As outsiders, we don’t have a great understanding of the unwritten rules, and of the ways in which they’re enforced. These are in-baseball issues, a lot of the time, and in-baseball issues sometimes don’t make a lot of sense, the same way friend-circle drama sometimes doesn’t make a lot of sense.

(2) The Astros were embarrassed and frustrated and when you’re feeling down, it’s really easy to be ticked off by anything. You’re practically looking for reasons to hate the world, and Lowrie poked at the Astros when they were already snarling.

Now then, what to make of this? Who was in the right? Interestingly, the Astros broadcast was annoyed by Lowrie immediately. Maybe that’s less interesting, since the Astros broadcast is biased, but they took no time in calling out Lowrie for a cheap maneuver. They agreed with throwing at him. Actually interestingly, the A’s broadcast didn’t exactly come to Lowrie’s defense. They didn’t pile on, like the Astros broadcasters did, but they acknowledged that the targeted fastball was easy to see coming, and they basically left it up to the audience to decide whether or not Lowrie’s attempt was justifiable. Clearly, they got why the Astros were annoyed.

Lowrie’s defense is a fine one — it was the first inning. I think, as fans, we usually fall on the side opposed to the unwritten rules, because the unwritten rules are irrational, but Lowrie tried to bunt when the A’s were up by seven, not seventy. The Astros had another 24 outs, and the A’s win expectancy was about 97%, not 100%. Of course, when the A’s are beating the Astros by seven, the game’s basically over, no matter how early it is. The A’s are a really good Major League Baseball team and the Astros are a really good Pacific Coast League baseball team. But the first inning is the first inning, and it seems mighty early to give up.

Somewhat implied is also the misconception that bunting leads to an automatic, easy hit. Lowrie, after all, was thrown out on the play. Bunting isn’t easy, and if bunting against the shift always yielded simple singles, we’d see it attempted a lot more often than we do. It stands to reason the Astros wouldn’t have gotten in Lowrie’s face had he swung away and ripped a single. They weren’t opposed to Lowrie trying — they were opposed to how Lowrie tried, even though it didn’t swing the odds very much. This gets into the familiar oddness of the running-up-the-score conversation.

After thinking and talking this through, it seems the Astros’ complaint is less about Lowrie resorting to bunting, and more about Lowrie resorting to strategy. Bunting is a baseball tactic, just like attempting a steal is a baseball tactic, and teams getting blown out don’t like when the other team steals. It seems like the unwritten rule is that, when the score is lopsided enough, the teams are expected to play straight-up. There’s no specific margin beyond which a score is officially lopsided, but teams will arrive at a quiet understanding.

Already, one is free to disagree with that. But the thing in this specific instance is also that the Astros were playing a shifted defensive infield. Shifting your infield isn’t playing straight-up baseball. That’s employing a strategic maneuver, and it makes especially little sense for there to be situations in which it’s okay for only one of the two teams to employ what you might consider trickery. Shifting is still not the usual way of things, and it’s used to improve your odds of recording an out. Bunting is a counter-maneuver against the shift. The Astros, basically, started it, by playing something other than ordinary, straight-up baseball. They demonstrated that strategy was still in play, so Lowrie tried something strategic, and it didn’t even work. Had Lowrie bunted against a regular infield, it would’ve been a little different, but had there been a regular infield, Lowrie wouldn’t have bunted in the first place, so you could say the Astros have themselves to blame. There can never be a situation in which it’s okay to have an effort imbalance. However much a team’s trying to come back, the other team should be able to try that hard to stay on top. Who could reasonably disagree with that?

Also, again, it was the bottom of the first inning, and baseball games last more than one inning. As it happened, the Astros subsequently tied a season-high with ten hits. They never got close, but they did get closer, and while what happened after the fact doesn’t mean much with regard to the first inning, the game wasn’t close to over.

I think we can agree there are certain things that just don’t feel right. If you’re stealing bases up by ten in the eighth inning, it makes sense why that would be upsetting, even if it’s all still just baseball and anything’s possible before the last out. You can rationally argue against most unwritten rules. But even if you grant that there can and will be certain unwritten rules, it’s hard to see how Lowrie was completely in the wrong considering the Astros shifted him first. What the Astros conveyed was, “we’re putting a little extra thought into trying to get you out.” So how Lowrie responded was, “I’m putting a little extra thought into trying to not get out.” It’s okay that the Astros were upset, but they should’ve just been upset at themselves. Lowrie hardly did anything extraordinary.

It’s all already blown over. These things usually do that, right quick. Which is what you’d expect of conflicts that don’t make rational sense even five or ten minutes after the fact. This probably isn’t the last time we’ll see something like this, given the popularity of shifting. But the next time I understand the perspective of the shifters will be the first time.

An Early Look at wOBA Differential.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
The season is still only three weeks old, and basically anything can happen over the course of 20 baseball games. The Brewers aren’t the best team in baseball, the D’Backs aren’t the worst, and Jesse Chavez isn’t going to win the Cy Young Award. But, at the same time, the most recent data is also the most informative data, and there are some numbers that can have meaning quicker than others. While you shouldn’t care too much about a team’s Win-Loss record on April 21st, we can boil down early season team performance into numbers that a bit more heavily represented by skill rather than randomness.

One of my favorite ways to look at team performance is wOBA differential. It’s basically the same concept as run differential, but strips away the heavy factor that sequencing can have on runs scored and runs allowed. The order of events matters in the outcome of past results, but holds little predictive value, and by looking at non-sequenced results, we can get a better idea of how a team has performed than if we also introduce the timing of those events into the mix.

wOBA differential isn’t perfect, of course; it doesn’t include baserunning, for one, and teams can move the needle a little bit by how often their baserunners advance, but that portion of the game is fairly small relative to everything else. By and large, wOBA differential gives you a pretty good idea of how teams have played thus far. So, let’s get to the numbers.

Team wOBA (Offense) wOBA (Defense) wOBA Differential Run Differential Winning %
Athletics 0.337 0.264 0.073 32 0.722
Braves 0.318 0.264 0.054 23 0.667
Brewers 0.323 0.281 0.042 18 0.737
Rockies 0.353 0.316 0.037 13 0.500
Rays 0.317 0.292 0.025 1 0.474
Dodgers 0.314 0.290 0.024 15 0.632
Reds 0.325 0.305 0.020 12 0.444
Marlins 0.335 0.315 0.020 13 0.474
Padres 0.285 0.266 0.019 -7 0.474
Cardinals 0.302 0.287 0.015 11 0.579
Nationals 0.328 0.314 0.014 5 0.579
Angels 0.327 0.319 0.008 13 0.444
Rangers 0.327 0.320 0.007 -6 0.579
Tigers 0.318 0.311 0.007 1 0.600
Royals 0.297 0.291 0.006 -5 0.529
Yankees 0.323 0.322 0.001 -9 0.579
Twins 0.332 0.334 -0.002 7 0.500
White Sox 0.334 0.337 -0.003 0 0.474
Giants 0.303 0.313 -0.010 9 0.579
Red Sox 0.303 0.316 -0.013 -5 0.474
Pirates 0.306 0.320 -0.014 1 0.421
Blue Jays 0.308 0.323 -0.015 4 0.526
Indians 0.312 0.327 -0.015 -7 0.444
Mariners 0.285 0.305 -0.020 -1 0.389
Cubs 0.293 0.316 -0.023 -18 0.294
Orioles 0.310 0.339 -0.029 0 0.471
Phillies 0.313 0.354 -0.041 -21 0.444
Mets 0.280 0.330 -0.050 -7 0.500
Diamondbacks 0.294 0.347 -0.053 -51 0.238
Astros 0.271 0.334 -0.063 -41 0.263
The A’s might be a half game behind the Brewers for best record in baseball, but no other team in baseball is dominating quite like Oakland. Now, quality of competition has to be considered, as the A’s have already finished sweeps of both the Astros and Twins, and have played another six against a mediocre Mariners team. But, this is what you’re supposed to do to weak opponents; bludgeon them. The A’s are tied with the Braves for the lowest wOBA allowed in baseball and are second in MLB in offensive wOBA, behind only the team that plays at altitude in Colorado. The A’s no-stars-no-scrubs approach to roster construction has left them with a very balanced, deep roster that continues to be remarkably underrated, even as they win year in and year out. If they keep playing like they have, we’ll eventually have to admit that the A’s are really, really good.

Also on the encouraging side of the ledger, Tampa Bay should find some solace here; they might be off to a slow start from a run differential or winning percentage perspective, but their 25 point wOBA advantage is fifth best in baseball. Taking sequencing out of the picture, the Rays have been essentially as good as the Dodgers, and no one sees them as an early disappointment. Even without Matt Moore and Jeremy Hellickson, the Rays run prevention has still been elite, and their overall performance should have produced a winning percentage closer to .575 than .475.

On the other end of the spectrum, this methodology offers little hope for the D’Backs; they really have been atrocious, though wOBA differential puts them ahead of Houston, at least. But the relative placement of the D’Backs and Mets is a nice reminder of how much of a role sequencing can play, especially over small samples. The omission of baserunning is a bit of a factor here, as the Mets have been three runs better on the bases than the D’Backs, but a 50 point negative wOBA differential shouldn’t result in a .500 record. The D’Backs look like a dumpster fire because they’ve been both lousy and a little unlucky; the Mets have been maybe more of a contained garbage fire, but there’s still plenty of potential for disaster laying ahead.

But no team in baseball has won more by doing less so far than the San Francisco Giants. By results, they are 11-8 and have outscored their opponents by half a run per game, but they are 21st in wOBA and and only 12th in wOBA allowed, and it’s not because wOBA is underrating their baserunning, as they’ve been below average at that too. Their success has essentially come due to timely pitching; they’ve allowed a .334 wOBA with the bases empty but only a .283 wOBA with men on base; put runners in scoring position, and it goes down to a ridiculous .250. Basically, the Giants have spent the last three weeks pitching themselves into and then out of trouble. If they want to keep wining, they’ll have to stop allowing so many scoring opportunities, because you can’t go an entire season stranding as many runners as they have so far.

These numbers are still just three week samples, of course, and small samples of wOBA have to be regressed too; these numbers are still measuring what has happened over 20 games, not predicting what will happen over the next 140. But, by taking the sequencing aspects out of run and win differential, this does give us a better look at which teams have actually outplayed their opponents over the first few weeks of the season.

And while we have to adjust downwards for an easy opening schedule, the early results suggest that the A’s are a force to be reckoned with.

Prospect Watch: Borenstein, Sappington.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Zach Borenstein, OF, Los Angeles Angels (Profile)
Level: Double-A Age: 23 Top-15: 15th Top-100: N/A
Line: 58 AB, .241/.333/.448, 2 HR, 8 BB, 20 K

Coming off of a strong offensive season in the California League, Borenstein’s performance in 2014 will help determine if he’s a true prospect or a suspect.

Injuries to big league first-stringers Josh Hamilton and Kole Calhoun have significantly diminished the Los Angeles Angels outfield depth. Borenstein, whom I ranked as the 15th-best prospect in the system prior to the ’14 season, is doing his best to get noticed as a future depth piece — and possibly more. The 23-year-old outfielder hit for the cycle on April 20 at the Double-A level.

Borenstein is coming off of a statistically-impressive (and somewhat misleading) 2013 season as he was hitting in the California League, which is known for padding hitters’ stats. In this contest, he was aggressively attacking the fastball as soon as it was thrown in the strike zone. He showed a willingness to use the whole field despite an exaggerated open stance and took a fastball (the second pitch of the at-bat) the other way for a single in the first inning.

In his second at-bat, the left-handed hitter pulled his hands in and lined the ball over the first base bag and down into the right-field corner for a triple. He pulled the ball again in his fourth at-bat for a home run. In his final at-bat of the game, the young outfielder completed the cycle with a double to the centre field warning track against a left-handed reliever and on a 2-2 count.

Borenstein’s 2014 season will be an interesting one to watch because I’m not exactly sold on what type of hitter he’s going to become. He has above-average raw power and a strong frame. However, he showed a strong understanding of hitting on April 20 by utilizing the whole field, not trying to do too much and taking the pitch where it was thrown. He swung under more control and kept a more level swing plane than he had reportedly shown in the past — but that approach doesn’t tend to generate much over-the-fence pop.

Mark Sappington, RHP, Los Angeles Angels (Profile)
Level: Double-A Age: 23 Top-15: 5th Top-100: N/A
Line: 17.1 IP, 22 H, 13 R, 19/13 K/BB, 6.75 ERA, 4.44 FIP

Coming into the 2014 season, Sappington was ranked as the second-best pitcher in the Angels system and best hurler with experience above Rookie ball. With thin pitching depth in the upper levels of the system, the Angels need a strong season from the right hander.

A former fifth round pick out of a small Missouri college in 2012, Sappington needed just one full season to reach the Double-A level but he made only five starts there in 2013. As a result, he returned to Arkansas this season but had a slow start to the year. He ended up having his best game of the year on April 20.

Sappington is tall and lanky, listed at 6-6, 210 pounds, and he has a bit of a funky knee bend to his delivery that no doubt makes it somewhat difficult for him to throw strikes on a consistent basis. And, if we look at his historical numbers, we can see that the hurler has in fact struggled with his control. In his only full season of ball — last year — he walked 82 batters in 156.1 innings.

The right-hander’s height gives him a natural advantage because he has to the potential to create a strong downward plane. However, Sappington struggled to keep his shoulder closed through the first three innings of this contest so many of his pitches remained up in the zone.

He throws a four-pitch mix that includes his fastball, slider, curveball and changeup. The curve’s success is hampered by an altered (higher) arm slot that and slower arm speed that he also impacts his changeup. Both the fastball and slider come out of a slightly lower 3/4 slot with a quicker arm action.

Sappington’s changeup is reportedly his best non-fastball offering on most nights but it was inconsistent on April 20. In fact, none of his offerings were better than fringe-average in the early going. His fastball showed OK velocity in the 92-93 mph range but the lack of command would of made it a fringe-average offering even if he was throwing 95+ mph.

However, by the fourth inning he was showing improved control and command. His even through a couple of above-average curveballs and got a swinging strike three on the pitch in the fourth inning. He received a strikeout looking in the fifth inning on an off speed offering.

Prior to the year, I ranked Sappington as the fifth best prospect in a weak Angels system. Based on this showing, he looked like a future No. 4, innings-eating starter but more consistency with his control and command could push up to a No. 3.
post #21337 of 73652
Originally Posted by 651akathePaul View Post

Hush. It's early. Once they get their SP's reassembled they'll be good.

Define good... 



post #21338 of 73652

looking forward to see what hamels brings to the mound tonight


Remind yourself. Nobody built like you, you design yourself !





Team T.A.N   







Remind yourself. Nobody built like you, you design yourself !





Team T.A.N   





post #21339 of 73652
Nathan Eovaldi, embarassed.gif

Can't be mad 'cause it got us Hanley, but I knew he was going to turn out to be a solid 2-3.
Instagram: backyardlobo
Instagram: backyardlobo
post #21340 of 73652
Thread Starter 
Originally Posted by Nowitness41Dirk View Post

Originally Posted by 651akathePaul View Post

Hush. It's early. Once they get their SP's reassembled they'll be good.
Define good... 


laugh.gif some writers are already suggesting they eat $100mm and offer up Cano. They look atrocious as a whole right now mean.gif
post #21341 of 73652
Originally Posted by bbllplaya23 View Post

Seattle already waiting for football season? laugh.gif

Another ring wouldn't hurt glasses.gif
Kicks 4 Sale |Seattle Seahawks |Seattle Mariners |LA Lakers (Long live the Supersonics) | Instagram = Jetliferivas
Kicks 4 Sale |Seattle Seahawks |Seattle Mariners |LA Lakers (Long live the Supersonics) | Instagram = Jetliferivas
post #21342 of 73652
Cubs gave up 5 runs in 9th and lost 7-5 laugh.gif

You can't make this stuff up
post #21343 of 73652
Originally Posted by Nowitness41Dirk View Post

Originally Posted by 651akathePaul View Post

Hush. It's early. Once they get their SP's reassembled they'll be good.
Define good... 


Good = aight = not laughing stock
post #21344 of 73652
Franklin, Ackley, Saunders, Paxton, Montero and Hart for Giancarlo. Do it Z!
post #21345 of 73652
Originally Posted by Jewbacca View Post

Originally Posted by Th3RealF0lkBlu3s View Post

Originally Posted by Jewbacca View Post


...and the choking rangers sweep the series.

"what ch'all know 'bout dem Texas boys!?!"
"what ch'all know 'bout dem Texas boys!?!"
post #21346 of 73652

wtf is on jon sciambi's head lmao

Team Cleveland OG member #5
Team Cleveland OG member #5
post #21347 of 73652
looks like mr. pineda forgot the pine tar today....
Boston Bruins | New England Patriots | Boston Red Sox | Georgetown Hoyas | Michigan Wolverines |
Arsenal FC | Huevos Rancheros Hockey | USMNT
Boston Bruins | New England Patriots | Boston Red Sox | Georgetown Hoyas | Michigan Wolverines |
Arsenal FC | Huevos Rancheros Hockey | USMNT
post #21348 of 73652
Got to be atleast 10 HRs hit in this Giants / Rockies game
post #21349 of 73652
Morneau. pimp.gif

Thank you, Coors.
post #21350 of 73652
Originally Posted by DeadsetAce View Post

looks like mr. pineda forgot the pine tar today....

After you said this I remembered the game was on ESPN so I changed it to see the game and saw that big streak across his neck and was ready to post. laugh.gif

Then everyone else noticed.
post #21351 of 73652

Did he think he was slick because he had brown skin and pine tar is brown? C'mon, Pineda. laugh.gif

He don't even need that. It's all mental.
post #21352 of 73652
Thread Starter 
What an idiot laugh.gif
post #21353 of 73652
Pineda mean.gif
post #21354 of 73652

SB Nation animated GIF

post #21355 of 73652
Relax Wacha.

9 k's in 3 innings.
post #21356 of 73652
Thread Starter 
In other news, Wacha is mowing down the Mets. Eight K's in 2 2/3.
post #21357 of 73652

Giradi has to be to blame as well I would think mean.gif .
New York Yankees | New York Jets
New York Yankees | New York Jets
post #21358 of 73652
Wow roll.gifmean.gif
You whole crew's ravishing, team's untouchable
In the jungle banging Nas, Mobb Deep and Wu
"My Ohhh My"
You whole crew's ravishing, team's untouchable
In the jungle banging Nas, Mobb Deep and Wu
"My Ohhh My"
post #21359 of 73652

damn shame

post #21360 of 73652
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