2016 MLB thread. Baseball is upon us! Royals are the champs - Page 897
Hey, the Pirates can celebrate whatever they want. They should still pop champagne at 82 wins
Has nothing to do with the Pirates specifically. The Giants will likely clinch a playoff spot in the next few days, and I will have the same issue with their champagne celebration as I did with the Pirates'.
You catch finns this past week?
Automatic Cy Young Felix, down to don't deserve any awards at all, in like 8 days.
Giants said they arent going to do that.
Dude crushed the team in the playoffs while playing for them then crushed the franchise by leaving. Double whammy
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Terry Ryan was asked if he's ever given a bonus to a guy who falls just short (i.e. Hughes). "No. ... If a person earns them, he gets it."— Tyler Mason (@FSNtylermason) September 24, 2014
In the jungle banging Nas, Mobb Deep and Wu
"My Ohhh My"
In the jungle banging Nas, Mobb Deep and Wu
"My Ohhh My"
Arsenal FC | Huevos Rancheros Hockey | USMNT
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He better be pissed.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Because one half of one season can be noisy, two halves of one season can be noisy, particularly when a guy hasn’t been a full-time player from the start. Martinez hasn’t totally established his new baseline yet, but it’s not like this came without warning — Dan Farnsworth was all over it in December. I think we can see J.D. Martinez is better. So the question is: How much better is he?
There’s one thing in particular I want to highlight from Farnsworth’s tremendous breakdown. Regarding Martinez’s adjusted swing:
Quick synopsis? J.D. is showing a tremendously better ability to drive the ball to center and right-center fields due to a change in swing path and lower half stability.
I’ve linked to that post before, but, what the hell, you might as well read it again, even if you’ve already read it three or four times. Farnsworth projected that Martinez would show a better ability to drive the ball up the middle and the other way. Martinez was never lacking for power. It was about consistency and plate coverage. So keep that in mind as you examine the following table.
Everything should be self-explanatory, provided you’ve hung around FanGraphs before:
Year(s) Pull wRC+ Center wRC+ Opposite wRC+ Pull HR/FB Center HR/FB Opposite HR/FB
2011-2013 161 105 125 36% 5% 5%
2014 260 185 308 45% 11% 21%
Those wRC+ numbers are on contact, so, excepting strikeouts and walks and the like. Before, as an Astro, Martinez demonstrated fairly good pull power, but he didn’t have too much power elsewhere. He wasn’t a pile of crap to the other fields, but those weren’t necessarily strengths. This year’s numbers are absurdities. Even more pull power. Better power up the middle. Better power the other way. Martinez has been one of baseball’s best opposite-field hitters to date. He’s been perhaps even better the other way than to the pull side.
From Baseball Savant, here are Martinez’s home runs with Houston:
And, now, with Detroit:
What Farnsworth saw has come true, with Martinez indeed driving the ball more around right-center. What’s implied is Martinez has taken a step forward with regard to his plate coverage, and as compelling and convincing evidence, here are pitches Martinez has hit out. He’s hit a low pitch out:
He’s hit an outside pitch out:
He’s hit a high pitch out:
He’s hit whatever the heck this is out, somehow:
About that last one. The ESPN Home Run Tracker says it would’ve left 29 of 30 ballparks. That’s not 30 of 30 ballparks, but that’s all but one of them, and we’re looking at a pitch both in off the plate, and well above the belt. It was a fastball, and a fastball high and tight has the greatest possible perceived-velocity boost, so Martinez didn’t have a lot of time to turn on that pitch. But he turned on it for a dinger. It’s an individually remarkable dinger on its own, and in context it’s impressive that that was hit by a guy who’s also able to control the plate’s outer half.
So we can see Martinez is more consistent with his power. We can see he’s better with his coverage, and he’s been a lot more aggressive this season within the strike zone. I want to take you back to that table. So Martinez this year has a 260 wRC+ to the pull side, and a 308 wRC+ to the opposite field. There aren’t a lot of hitters who are tremendous at both. Allow me to prove that to you: I pulled data going back to 2010, so covering just short of five years. I used FanGraphs’ split leaderboards, with a 200-event minimum. I was left with a pool of 308 players.
Of those players, 43 have a wRC+ of at least 200 to the pull side. Of those players, zero have a wRC+ of at least 200 to the opposite field. Out of the whole pool, just five players meet that threshold, and Chris Davis comes tantalizingly close. Here are the players who come the closest to having a 200 wRC+ to both sides:
Chris Davis, 199 pull, 218 opposite
Mike Napoli, 185 pull, 216 opposite
Matt Kemp, 186 pull, 195 opposite
Paul Goldschmidt, 193 pull, 192 opposite
Ryan Braun, 194 pull, 185 opposite
Miguel Cabrera, 224 pull, 193 opposite
Those are guys at at least 200/200. Martinez this year is at 260/308. He blows the two thresholds away, and while it’s not fair to compare one guy’s single season to other guys’ combined seasons, this gives you a sense of what Martinez has been and what his potential could be now. In the five years, those six players have posted overall wRC+ figures between 121 and 170. Davis brings up the rear, at 21% better than an average hitter. Martinez also might be a half-decent defensive corner outfielder.
Fact: J.D. Martinez has succeeded this year in a big way, after changing the way that he hits.
Sub-fact: Martinez has succeeded by hitting the ball hard to all fields, which is an uncommon skill and a hard thing to fluke.
Theory: Martinez’s ability to spray line drives and dingers could mean he’s less likely to regress super hard.
The concerns with Martinez are his walks and his strikeouts. He likes to swing — in the zone and out of it — and he makes a below-average rate of contact. For that reason, he’s unlikely to hit like prime Miguel Cabrera. But he certainly makes more contact than Chris Davis, and as Martinez becomes better known, he’ll see fewer strikes, so he’ll end up with more walks. Maybe Martinez ends up hitting like the good versions of guys like Michael Morse and Corey Hart. But those good versions were good hitters. And when you blend that ability with Martinez’s other ability to play the field without embarrassing himself, you have a guy who looks like a star sometimes. Maybe a lot of the times. Sometimes the apparent breakouts are noise. And sometimes there are actual, honest-to-goodness breakouts.
The Three Most Distinctive Team Philosophies.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Such philosophies are few and far between. People believe one of them is the Diamondbacks and pitching inside, but in reality the Diamondbacks pitch inside as a staff an average amount, and they’ve hit a roughly average amount of batters. They’ve just had a tendency to talk. The Diamondbacks don’t have a team philosophy of brushing hitters back. You don’t see a lot of philosophies that stand out, because successful ones will be copied, and unsuccessful ones will be abandoned. But some do still exist. You’ve presumably heard about each, but I feel like they should be put together in one place. I can think of three standout examples. Do let me know if I’m missing any others.
The Astros and Shifting
Team shifts: More than 1,500
League average: Around 600
Team rank: No. 1 in baseball
(Numbers from here)
The Astros are an organizational science experiment, powered by cold analytics, and as baseball has leaned toward shifting more and more, the Astros have embraced the revolution and then some, putting their trust in the numbers and moving defenders around like apartment furniture. The Astros are by no means the only team to shift aggressively, as you’ve also got teams like the Rays, Yankees, and Orioles aligning infields just so, but the Astros have taken things to the max, blowing away the runner-up in terms of shifts utilized. The funny part of it is that the Astros have been trying to get as many outs as possible, while playing very much meaningless baseball, but I suppose all baseball is ultimately meaningless baseball, and this is a way to get players familiar with the system.
Has it worked?
Impossible to say! We can’t compare the Astros to a version of the Astros that doesn’t shift as much. Some of the numbers indicate that the shifts have saved the Astros several runs. Absolutely, some of the shifts have turned hits into outs. But from an article from the middle of August:
“I’m giving you what I see with my eyes and also what are our internal metrics are showing as far as our defensive efficiency,” Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow said. “We were definitely lacking some in the beginning of the year. We’ve improved.”
As a team, the Astros have allowed a .301 BABIP, a little worse than average. On grounders, they’ve allowed a .244 BABIP, basically dead on average. We don’t know what these numbers might look like otherwise, but with the personnel they’ve had, the Astros haven’t stood out, and there’ve been a few occasions of pitchers not entirely buying in. That’ll be less of an issue going forward, and the shifts might improve going forward as the Astros learn from this, but for the time being, while there’s reason to believe the shifts have helped, we can’t conclude they’re helping a ton.
The Pirates and Pitching Inside
Team inside pitches: 37%
League average: 29%
Team rank: No. 1 in baseball
(Numbers from here)
The Pirates like to preach working inside. As more and more data has come out showing that the weakest spots are down and away, the Pirates have still turned their attention in more than anybody else. This season they’re second in baseball in inside-pitch rate against righties, and they’re first in baseball in inside-pitch rate against lefties. Their overall inside-pitch rate is higher than second place by three percentage points, and while that might not seem like a big gap, that’s three pitches for every 100 that are going somewhere else, and the gap between first place and last place is just 13 percentage points. From Ben Lindbergh, Tuesday:
Fitzgerald provides one specific example of a Pirates philosophy that was born out of collaboration between coaches and analysts: their belief in the benefits of pitching inside. “That’s a good example of one of the things that we did not have as an idea coming in,” Fitzgerald says. “And that’s a thing that [Hurdle] and [Banister] and probably many other guys had brought up, of, ‘Hey, listen, can we prove this? Because we think it’s true and we have a pretty decent idea of a handful of guys who [are susceptible to it]. Is there a way to go through and identify other guys who may be susceptible to it as well?’”
The Pirates have also in part selected for pitchers they think would be effective pitching in. Lots of inside sinkers. The Pirates kind of quietly pitch like people think the Diamondbacks pitch. Just, when the Diamondbacks do it, people assume it’s with malice.
Has it worked?
Impossible to say! We can’t compare the Pirates to a version of the Pirates that doesn’t pitch inside as much. As a team, the Pirates have allowed the third-lowest slugging percentage on inside pitches. They’ve allowed an average slugging percentage on non-inside pitches. Overall, the Pirates’ pitching staff is tied for baseball’s ninth-lowest BABIP, with a slightly worse-than-average dinger rate, despite a pitcher-friendly home ballpark. The Pirates do have one of baseball’s best differences between ERA and FIP. Unsurprisingly, they’ve hit more batters than anyone else, by far. They’ve allowed an average wOBA to righties, and an average wOBA to lefties. If the Pirates didn’t pitch inside as much, they’d have different numbers. If this weren’t their philosophy, they’d also probably have some different pitchers. Perhaps this way they can find cheaper pitchers. Perhaps not!
The A’s and Hitting Fly Balls
Team Fly Balls: 41%
League average: 34%
Team rank: No. 1 in baseball
This is an on-field strategy, but this is also a team-building strategy, since players generally come with their swings, leaving room for minimal tweaks. The players don’t approach the plate looking to try extra hard to put the ball in the air — they’ve just been selected for those swings, and they’ve had those swings cemented in. Years ago, in The Book, it was demonstrated that fly-ball hitters have an advantage against groundball pitchers. Andrew Koo demonstrated at Baseball Prospectus how Billy Beane has built his offenses. An excerpt from Business Week:
But here again, advanced data yielded a useful insight: Major league hitters had become so adept at hitting low pitches that they were vulnerable to high ones. Beane had discovered a particularly clever countermove. “Beane stayed ahead of the curve,” says Strom, “by finding hitters with a steep upward swing path to counter the sinking action of pitchers trying to induce ground balls.”
More and more, pitchers are working down. The strike zone keeps sinking, so there are more rewards to be gained. The A’s have looked for hitters who are particularly good at hitting low pitches, on account of their swing planes.
Has it worked?
Impossible to say! We can’t compare the A’s to a version of the A’s that doesn’t hit as many fly balls. This year, the A’s rank seventh in baseball in slugging percentage against low pitches. Meanwhile, they rank 28th in slugging percentage against high pitches. Brandon Moss, from just earlier today:
I know that up in the zone is a big hole in my swing because I have an uppercut swing. So up in the zone is going to be a problem. I felt like, early in the year and in spring training, that was an area of weakness I was going to work on. Not necessarily hitting that pitch, but not chasing that pitch.
What we most care about is overall performance, and as a team, the A’s are sixth in the American League in wRC+, sandwiched between the Indians and the Twins. They’re third in the AL in runs scored, and aside from Adam Dunn, their most expensive position player is Coco Crisp. Perhaps this way the A’s can find cheaper production, such that they can score runs with their budget. Perhaps not! But here are the year-to-year differences between Oakland’s FB% and the average FB%:
It’s been about three years of this, and it’s not like 2014 is going to cause Beane to stop believing in his strategy. Oakland isn’t going to quit; it’s just a matter of whether another team will try to mimic them.
Did Cleveland’s Defense Sabotage Danny Salazar’s Start?
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
With this as the background, then, one might naturally regard Danny Salazar‘s line from Tuesday night with some measure of surprise (box score). On a night when he Salazar struck out 30% of the 26 batters he faced and recorded an xFIP and FIP of 3.75 and 1.63, respectively, that same right-hander also conceded eight hits and five runs over 4.2 innings, producing a single-game 9.64 ERA. While it’s not impossible for a pitcher to allow a .533 BABIP over the course of one start, it’s also not a common occurrence — and even more suspicious when it happens to a Cleveland pitcher.
In any event, Cleveland lost perhaps the last meaningful game they’ll play all season on a night when their starter recorded an above-average fielding-independent performance. Did Cleveland’s defense sabotage the game? Was it merely a case of batted-ball variance? A combination of the two?
Without defensive-tracking technology such as that presented by MLBAM at the beginning of the season, there’s no way to tell for sure the speed or efficiency of the routes with which each play has been executed. In the absence of a more sophisticated method, then, what I’ve done below is identify the five hits which led directly to Kansas City’s five runs and attempted to determine if the responsibility for them lay with Salazar, the defense, or some combination of both.
Batter: Alex Gordon
Sabotage? Probably Not
Here Cleveland is playing with a mild shift on Alex Gordon, with second baseman Mike Aviles positioned probably closer to the first-base line than he might otherwise and shortstop Jose Ramirez playing just on the first-base side of second. Aviles waves at Gordon’s liner to right field, but the latter has hit it hard enough that there’s little chance of an out being converted given the defensive alignment.
Batter: Omar Infante
Sabotage? No, But Then Yes
This double by Infante actually represents two defensive opportunities and has been divided into two GIFs for that purpose. On the one hand, there’s Infante’s fliner down the left-field line, which is a legitimate double. On the other hand, though, there’s Brantley’s deft handling of the ball in left field and relay to the shortstop Ramirez, who in turn relays home for a play on Alex Gordon. Because of either Ramirez’s throw, though, and/or Yan Gomes’ inability to field it cleanly Gordon scores on an instance where an out was a possible outcome. Billy Butler, who walked to lead off the inning, scored on this play before Gordon, so he’s entirely Salazar’s responsibility. The Gordon run, however, appears at least in part attributable to defensive shortcomings.
Batter: Eric Hosmer
Sabotage? Absolutely Not
This is real double by Hosmer off the right-field wall. In fact, were the file not too large for inclusion here, a longer GIF than this would reveal right fielder David Murphy nearly throwing out Hosmer at second base.
Batter: Billy Butler
Outcome: Ground-Rule Double
This is a play where having some idea of a fielder’s starting point would be of some use. Just as Hosmer the play before, Butler hits the ball to right field. In this case, however, the ball hits the warning track and clears the wall for a ground-rule double. Where Murphy positioned himself quite well on the previous play, he appears to take something less than an entirely efficient route to the ball here, moving initially towards center field, but then bending back up to the right-field wall. The second GIF depicts Murphy’s position as the ball hits the track. Would a more direct path have led to an out? Perhaps. The result, however, isn’t a third out, but rather another Royals run and an opportunity for Salvador Perez…
Batter: Salvador Perez
Michael Brantley has been one of the league’s best overall players this season, having produced exceptional offensive numbers while also occasionally recording defensive innings in center field. Despite having played on the more challenging end of the defensive spectrum, however, he’s been a below-average defender over the course of his career, having posted -35 defensive runs (a figure which includes UZR and positional adjustments) over four-plus seasons. Once again, as above with Murphy, it’s difficult to make any conclusive statements about Brantley’s path to the ball without also knowing his original starting point. What we do see of the route is relatively efficient, perhaps with a slight uphill turn by Brantley towards the fence. That he misses the ball by so little, however, also suggests that any lack of efficiency by Brantley on his route was the probably he difference of an out — and also two more runs.
More On The Pirates’ Ground-Balling Pitching Staff.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Winning with significant financial restrictions is not easy to do. All of my years working in the baseball industry have been spent with Milwaukee and Seattle, and never once did we have a blank check for payroll. You need to find your stars through the draft and player development, and then attempt to uncover undervalued resources or market inefficiencies to surround that core. It takes time for the whole thing to come together. The Pirates have done a fine job on both fronts, with Andrew McCutchen fronting their homegrown star nucleus, and this interesting little pitching staff of theirs – along with fine team defense – keying a strong run prevention effort that meshes perfectly with pitcher-friendly PNC Park.
How historically significant is the Pirates’ ability to keep the ball on the ground? I went back to 2002 and measured each pitching staff’s grounder rate to the league average, looking for the true outliers – the clubs whose grounder rate was over two standard deviations above average. I found exactly nine clubs meeting this criteria. They appear below, in descending order of STD above league average:
TEAM YR + STD
PIT 2013 2.68
PIT 2014 2.59
STL 2009 2.57
STL 2005 2.44
TOR 2007 2.37
CLE 2010 2.16
ATL 2011 2.11
LAD 2008 2.07
STL 2004 2.06
Well, don’t you know, there are the 2013 and 2014 Pirates, sitting in the first and second slots. A couple of notes about this select group. There is a solid correlation with winning – these teams averaged 90 wins among them, with all but the 2010 Indians finishing above .500. Only two clubs repeated such an overall team grounder tendency in back-to-back seasons – the current iteration of the Pirates, and the 2004-05 Cardinals, who won 105 and 100 games, respectively. Both the extent to which the Pirates induce grounders, and their ability to repeat such a performance over multiple seasons are significant developments.
Let’s look at a small snapshot of the six primary members of the Pirates 2014 rotation, examining their respective grounder frequency and relative production data compared to MLB average, both before and after adjustment for context:
NAME GB % PCT AVG SLG REL PRD ADJ PRD
Volquez 48.2% 90 0.181 0.204 57 87
Liriano 49.4% 91 0.197 0.212 66 77
Morton 53.2% 98 0.212 0.242 80 86
Cole 47.1% 77 0.232 0.244 89 102
Locke 48.6% 90 0.207 0.229 74 88
Worley 51.1% 94 0.246 0.251 98 99
The actual production allowed on each BIP type is indicated in the AVG and SLG columns, and is converted to run values and compared to MLB average in the REL PRD column. That figure is then adjusted for context, such as home park, team defense, luck, etc., in the ADJ PRD column.
It is very rare for every member of a club’s starting rotation to have such similar grounder inducing abilities. Five of the Pirates six starters have a grounder rate percentile rank of 90 or higher – Charlie Morton leads the way at 98, while Gerrit Cole brings up the rear at 77. Looking back at the Cards similarly grounder-centric rotations, extreme fly ball guy Woody Williams pitched major innings in 2004, while the 2005 group – Mark Mulder, Chris Carpenter, Jason Marquis, Matt Morris and Jeff Suppan – like the Pirates, lacked a fly ball guy.
Each member of the Pirates 2014 rotation has allowed lower than MLB average grounder production, ranging from a low REL PRD figure of 57 (Edinson Volquez) to 98 (Vance Worley). The Pirates infield defense has helped each and every member of this group by varying amounts, as all of their ADJ PRD figures (adjusted for context) are higher than their REL PRD figures. Only Cole, by a narrow margin, has allowed above average grounder authority (102 ADJ PRD), while Francisco Liriano (77 ADJ PRD) has allowed the weakest contact among them.
To sum it all up, the Pirates not only allow way more grounders than anyone else, they also allow weaker than average grounders, and their infield defense is much better than average at turning them into outs. This, my friends, is how run prevention works.
It’s also instructive to compare how the Pirates put this group together vis-à-vis the aforementioned 2004-05 Cardinal group. Those were mainly well-established, relatively highly compensated pitchers on those Cardinal staffs – they were known quantities. Not so with the current Pirates.
Cole is a former #1 overall draft pick. When you get those picks, you have to nail them. Cole had overwhelming stuff, but had some contact management issues as an amateur. Liriano and Volquez were reclamation projects. The former always had stellar K rates, but had control lapses and didn’t manage contact very well. The latter was coming off of a deceptively terrible 2013 season in San Diego, one in which he actually allowed the lowest average grounder velocity in the NL. Morton and Jeff Locke have eerily similar backstories. Both were high draft picks – Locke was a 2nd rounder, Morton a 3rd rounder – out of New England high schools by the Atlanta Braves who were both acquired in the same trade, for Nate McLouth. Go back and read that sentence again. And then there’s Vance Worley.
When Worley first broke out with the Phillies in 2011, he was not a ground ball pitcher. He induced more grounders in 2012, but his overall performance went backward, and he then underwent elbow surgery to clean out bone chips late in the season. A quick, full recovery was expected and the always pitching-hungry Twins stepped up and traded Ben Revere to the Phillies for Worley and fellow righty Trevor May at the 2012 Winter Meetings. To put it mildly, Worley’s stay in Minnesota didn’t go well. He was slow to recover from the surgery, posting a 7.21 ERA and allowing two baserunners per inning in abbreviated 2013 duty. The Pirates must have liked what they physically saw – and what they inferred from his Pitch and Hit f(x) numbers – as they purchased him for cash near the end of 2014 spring training.
Let’s take a look at Worley’s 2014 plate appearance outcome frequency and production by BIP type data for some insight into the type of pitcher he has become. First, the frequency information:
Worley % REL PCT
K 17.4% 86 18
BB 5.1% 67 18
POP 6.7% 87 45
FLY 23.9% 85 12
LD 18.3% 88 4
GB 51.1% 117 94
His low K and BB rates, both 18 percentile ranks, suggest that he’s your typical pitch-to-contact guy – the kind of guy the Twins love. His grounder percentile rank of 94 is by far a career high – his previous best was 53 in 2012. His liner percentile rank is extremely low at 4 – this in large part may be due to random chance, as such rates fluctuate more than for other BIP types, and Worley’s previous low was 65 in 2011. With all of the other things going on in Worley’s case, however, I’d pause before writing it all off to random variation.
Let’s now take a look at the production by BIP type allowed by Worley, both before and after adjustment for context, this time on all batted balls, not just grounders:
PROD – 2014
Worley AVG OBP SLG REL PRD ADJ PRD ACT ERA CALC ERA TRU ERA
FLY 0.244 0.654 78 77
LD 0.650 0.850 96 102
GB 0.246 0.251 98 99
ALL BIP 0.309 0.445 85 87
ALL PA 0.252 0.290 0.363 86 88 2.93 3.23 3.28
In the three right-most columns, his actual ERA, calculated component ERA based on actual production allowed, and “tru” ERA, which is adjusted for context, are all presented. For the purposes of this exercise, SH and SF are included as outs and HBP are excluded from the OBP calculation.
Not only do we now have a pitcher with a newly found extreme grounder tendency, we also have one who is allowing significantly less than average authority on the relatively few fly balls he does allow. He is allowing just a .244 AVG-.654 SLG on fly balls, good for a 78 REL PRD, but his underlying batted ball data states that he’s doing it on merit – 77 ADJ PRD – not simply because he pitches in a spacious home park or has a strong outfield defense playing behind him.
HIs 87 ADJ PRD on all BIP is quite good, and his low BB rate successfully offsets his low K rate, allowing his overall ADJ PRD to creep up only fractionally to 88 when they are added back in, good for a “tru” ERA of 3.28, higher than his ERA, but lower than his 3.53 FIP.
How is he doing it? Well, he has thrown dramatically more two-seam fastballs since joining the Pirates. Fully 40.7% of his pitches in 2014 have been two-seamers – his previous high two-seam percentage was 16.2% in 2012. He is throwing his four-seamer and cutter much less, and the new arrangement has made him a new man. An extremely significant portion of his ground balls have been induced by the two-seamer.
It would seem that at the very least, the new and improved Vance Worley has a home in the mid-to-lower range of a strong Pirate rotation going forward. The Pirates again identified an undervalued asset, utilizing scouting and analytical information to do so, and have transformed him into a piece that it would cost $10M per year to purchase on the free agent market. Instead, they have paid a grand total of $16.5M to their six 2014 starters combined. That number might seem poised to rise as Cole enters his arb years and guys like Volquez and Liriano prepare to collect paychecks commensurate with their newfound production levels, but the Pirates very well might simply plug in another rookie, like a Tyler Glasnow, and unearth one or two more buy-low candidates while waving goodbye to one or more of their soon-to-be unaffordable incumbents. It’s the plight of the small market club, one which the Pirates have learned to embrace.
James Baldwin Has Huge Upside, Huge Holes.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
James Baldwin, CF, Rancho Cucamonga Quakes (LAD, High-A – most recently viewed 8/27 at Rancho)
Baldwin is the son of former big league righty James Baldwin, who was the pitching coach at the North Carolina high school that both were drafted from in the 4th round. The younger Baldwin signed with the Dodgers in 2010 as a raw, two-way, multi-sport athlete that the Dodgers thought fit best in center field. Somewhat predictably, there have been big tools and contact issues, but Baldwin’s roughly 35% strikeout rate threatens to sink his substantial upside. He’s still a nice flier some teams would like to take in a deal if they think they can fix the swing and/or approach, but Baldwin needs to perform soon to avoid becoming a frustratingly inconsistent org player.
Hit: 20/30, Game Power: 20/30, Raw Power: 50/50+, Run: 70/70, Field: 55/60, Throw: 55/55 -Kiley
James Baldwin is one of the most intriguing prospects in the California League. The outfielder checks off all the boxes with his graceful athleticism, tools across the board, and major league bloodlines. But the 23-year-old is currently facing an uphill battle due to his struggles in the batter’s box, which may ultimately deter him from reaching his tools-based ceiling.
Baldwin can get the bat through the zone quickly with his quick bat speed, but it is every other area in which he struggles. While he is a fantastic athlete, Baldwin lacks the athleticism in the batter’s box one would be expecting to see. He can do damage on anything that is middle-middle, but that’s essentially the only spot. It’s a stiff, grooved swing where he forces the bat head to come out in front, creating stiff hands and causing him to struggle tucking his hands in to cover the inner third. This also means the bat head is in the zone for a very quick and limited time, thus limiting his margin of error. He doesn’t appear to be a smart hitter with much of an idea of what he’s doing at the plate. He swings early and often without much discipline and can often get frustrated in the batter’s box. There are too many things working against Baldwin, so even though he possesses the one thing you can’t teach — bat speed –, he’ll always be a low average hitter.
Game Power: 35/40, Raw Power: 55/55
In batting practice, Baldwin displays above-average raw power due to his uppercut swing that possesses bat speed and loft. The swing and spray chart from batting practice is exactly identical during live games. The swing consistency in this case isn’t a good thing for reasons that have already been mentioned above. Baldwin’s power is mostly pull side and essentially nonexistent to the opposite field, but the ball will jump to right-center when he does everything perfectly in his swing and the ball is right down the heart of the plate. Unfortunately, he will never be able to get to all his power in games, because of the significant issues with the hit tool.
Run: 60/60, Field: 55/60, Throw: 55/55
Most of my times on Baldwin are anywhere from 4.10 to 4.17 seconds from home-to-first on digs from the left side, which convert to above-average to plus times on the 20-80 scouting scale. While there’s no reason to round up or down on those times, as he will usually get out of the box and into full gear quickly, he’s quite polished as a base runner, possessing strong instincts and aggressiveness on the bases.
The speed also shows up in the field, where he will display excellent closing speed on balls in the gaps. I haven’t seen him have an opportunity to handle the low line drive to center, which I think is one of the toughest plays to track for a center fielder, however. Other than that, Baldwin is sound fundamentally and runs fine routes in the outfield. He has a chance to be a plus defender in time, because of his combination of raw athleticism and present skills at a young age.
The arm isn’t a big weapon, but it is yet another above-average tool in the toolbox. The arm strength is perhaps just solid-average, but Baldwin’s strong fundamentals allow him to get the most out of his arm strength. He knows how to set himself up under balls to deliver throws, whether it’s just a routine fly ball or a tough play in either direction, and make accurate throws.
Baldwin possesses a ton of things scouts look for in players at the amateur level, from bloodlines to loud physical tools across the board to an athletic build. But the performance and questions surrounding the hit tool essentially make everything, or in this case the four above-average to plus tools, irrelevant, since it won’t allow him to receive the necessarily playing time to make an impact. He is capable of impacting the game in two of the three phases while even hitting for some power. But he needs to fix the swing in order to make consistent contact, and even though he’s a fine athlete, players don’t usually win the war in their attempt to make complete overhauls of their swing planes and bat paths.
Has a Team Like the Royals Ever Made the Playoffs?
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
The Royals haven’t made the playoffs since 1985, so that’s a pretty big deal. Congrats, Royals! You guys did it. Enjoy playoff baseball, you’ve earned it. That the Royals even made the playoffs is noteworthy in and of itself. What might be more noteworthy, though, is how this team got there.
A few things we know about the Royals
Just like last year, they fired their hitting coach at the end of May. At the time, they were last in the American League in OPS, home runs, slugging percentage and runs scored. Things have gotten a little better since then, but they’re still last in the MLB in home runs and are a bottom-10 offense overall.
Their defense has been amazing. Like, historically amazing. Alex Gordon is almost certain to win his fourth consecutive Gold Glove award in left field, Lorenzo Cain and Jarrod Dyson are two of the best defenders in baseball in center field – and sometimes one of them gets moved to right – and Alcides Escobar is pretty slick at shortstop.
Going hand-in-hand with their elite defense is elite speed. Dyson and Escobar each have more than 30 steals, Cain has 27 and, as a team, the Royals have stolen more bases than any team in baseball.
They have arguably the most dominant bullpen in the MLB, led by the American League’s best closer in Greg Holland, the American League’s best set-up man in Wade Davis, and maybe the American League’s best “seventh inning guy” – whatever that means – in Kelvin Herrera.
So, in the Royals, you’ve got a team that runs well, plays excellent defense, has a dominant bullpen and is headed to the playoffs while hitting poorly and throwing out good-but-not-great starting pitching.
If you’re the type who, at the start of the season, likes to predict playoff teams and eventual World Series champions, where do you begin evaluating a team? Don’t lie. It’s their lineup and starting pitching. Speed, defense and a good bullpen are nice to round out a team with a strong lineup and good rotation, but that’s where it starts – with hitting and starting pitching. Rarely do you see playoff-caliber teams being led by the little things. Yet here we are in 2014, and the Royals are headed to the playoffs.
That got me wondering: Has a team constructed like the Royals ever made the playoffs? They’re soon to become the first team in MLB history to make the playoffs while finishing dead last in both home runs and walks, so by that measure the answer is no, but that’s not a very good answer. We can do better than that.
First, the limitations: We’ve only got complete defensive data dating back to 2003, so the “ever” in the title is actually more like “since 2003,” but this still gives us a pretty clear idea of what playoff teams look like and where the Royals fit in, historically.
What I’ve done is compiled the individual value components – batting, baserunning, fielding, starting pitching and relieving – of each playoff team since 2003. This gave me a sample of 102 teams. Then, I’ve calculated the percentage of each team’s value that came from just baserunning, fielding and the bullpen. What follows is an entirely sortable table of the top-10 playoff teams that have relied on “the little things,” and the bottom-10, with links to each team page in case you want to do some playing around. You’re going to see some wacky negative percentages, because we’re dealing with negative values, but it shouldn’t be too confusing.
Bat BsR Fld SP RP Total BsRFldBP%
’07 D-backs -141.7 9.2 -4.2 120.2 35.5 19.0 213%
-56.1 7.4 67.8 96.7 53.1 168.9 76%
’04 Dodgers -21.7 0.2 57.9 61.3 50.0 147.7 73%
’07 Cubs -83.1 -7.3 57.1 121.6 53.0 141.3 73%
’08 Phillies -18.9 17.8 69.0 94.2 42.5 204.6 63%
’14 Royals* -46.6 10.2 62.3 120.9 49.6 196.4 62%
’06 Mets -6.7 16.0 25.2 73.3 60.2 168.0 60%
’11 D-backs -23.8 1.3 66.6 103.8 26.0 173.9 54%
’12 Reds -50.2 4.8 25.7 124.9 57.0 162.2 54%
’06 Padres -10.2 9.0 24.9 80.6 32.0 136.3 48%
- - - - - - - -
’03 Athletics -40.7 6.6 -34.4 205.0 21.2 157.7 -4%
’04 Yankees 101.2 -0.1 -73.4 144.0 61.7 233.4 -5%
’13 Cardinals 30.8 -0.9 -42 123.2 29.5 140.6 -10%
’04 Red Sox 115.0 -22.1 -50.9 221.9 43.2 307.1 -10%
’06 Yankees 111.4 8.6 -77.1 151.5 44.0 238.4 -10%
’13 Indians 40.8 7.2 -42.1 129.4 17.1 152.4 -12%
’11 Cardinals 88.7 -5.0 -30.6 102.0 3.1 158.2 -21%
’14 Pirates* 51.4 4.5 -31.5 58.3 8.1 90.8 -21%
’14 Tigers* 70.9 -2.0 -44.8 169.4 4.7 198.2 -21%
’05 Yankees 121.9 -7.2 -143.7 129.5 38.3 138.8 -81%
OK, I know what you’re all thinking. We need to have a talk about the 2007 Diamondbacks. If you want to keep reading about the Royals, you can skip this intermission.
* * * INTERMISSION * * *
How the hell did the 2007 Diamondbacks make the playoffs?! I ran these numbers over three times to make sure they were accurate because I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. It almost made me not want to write this post anymore. This is a team that was 29th in position player WAR and 13th in pitching WAR, yet they still made the playoffs. I thought maybe the NL West was just exceptionally weak that season and they snuck in, but nope! San Diego and Colorado each won 89 games and had a play-in game to decide who went to the Wild Card. The D-backs took the division by half a game with a 90-72 record.
Their run differential was -20. Their best regular hitter, by wRC+, was Conor Jackson. Micah Owings — when he was still a starting pitcher — was fourth on the team in oWAR. After Brandon Webb, their best starting pitcher was Doug Davis. THIS WAS A 90-WIN PLAYOFF TEAM. What the hell, man. If anyone has any insight on how this could have possibly happened, please leave it in the comments, because I have no idea. I guess the real question is “Will a Team Like the ’07 D-backs Ever Make the Playoffs Again,” to which the answer would almost certainly be no. But this is about the Royals, so let’s get back to them.
* * * END OF INTERMISSION * * *
So, the Royals aren’t quite in a league of their own, but they’re close. Since 2003, there have been 102 playoff teams. Only nine of them have had over 50% of their team value come from baserunning, defense, and the bullpen. Only five have been more reliant on the little things than this year’s Royals.
Fittingly, the “little things” teams in the top half of the table are a hodgepodge of teams that only occasionally find themselves in the playoffs – the D-backs, Cubs, Royals, Mets, Reds and Padres. The bottom half are mostly powerhouses whom we’ve grown accustomed to seeing slug and pitch their way deep into the postseason – three different Yankees teams, the Red Sox and the Cardinals. The question that Royals fans likely want to know is: How have the most extreme sides of this coin fared in the playoffs?
Obviously, three of the teams in the above table are from this year and haven’t yet played a postseason game. In addition, two of them (last year’s Indians and the 2012 Braves) only played one Wild Card play-in game before being eliminated. To beef up the sample a bit, I grabbed the top 15 teams from either end of the spectrum who played at least one full series. The results are as follows:
Little things: 54-53, 6/15 LCS appearances, four WS appearances, two WS wins
Sluggers: 74-73, 9/15 LCS appearances, four WS appearances, two WS wins
The teams that have relied more on their lineup and rotation have gone deeper into the postseason and thus won more games, yet the two pools come away with the same amount of World Series appearances and victories. These are just two 15-team samples, so there can’t be too strong of a conclusion drawn from this, but it appears that while more traditionally-constructed teams have an advantage, it’s still pretty random as to who might go all the way.
The Royals will still likely have to survive a sudden death Wild Card play-in game to make the extended postseason, but either way, they’re a team unlike most others in recent history to play postseason baseball. They don’t hit and their starting pitching is good more than it is great, but they run, defend and relieve well enough to make up for their deficiencies. In a way, it’s fitting that they’ve gotten to the playoffs through such unconventional methods, seeing as it took them 30 years to get there. While recent history hasn’t been as kind to teams built like the Royals as it has been to more traditionally-built teams, what matters is that the Royals are there. And if the 2008 Phillies and 2010 Giants are any indication, teams built on the little things still have a shot.
RED SOX SHOULDN'T TRADE MOOKIE BETTS.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Which brings us to Mookie Betts. If we believe the Red Sox are likely to pursue big trades for premium starting pitching this winter, Betts is likely going to be the piece that everyone asks for. His dynamic debut has increased his value by establishing that his skills can translate to this level, but the Red Sox roster makes his future in Boston still a bit uncertain. He's a natural second baseman blocked by Dustin Pedroia; Betts converted to play center field, only to see the team spend $72 million on Castillo, rumored to be a plus defender in center himself. Betts could play right field, but one assumes that the Red Sox would prefer to let Shane Victorino win his job back next spring. And Betts has played far too well to head back to Triple-A.
So, a trade does make some sense, especially if putting Betts on the table opens the door to acquiring a young, lower-cost ace -- think someone like Chris Sale or Stephen Strasburg -- which would still allow the team to use its cash reserves to make a run at one of the big free-agent starters, rebuilding its rotation in a big way. But as tempting as that idea might be, I have a suggestion for Red Sox GM Ben Cherington: keep Mookie Betts. You might really regret trading him, even for an ace.
Due primarily to his size (5-9) and the potential limits that puts on his power, Betts has not generally been viewed as a franchise cornerstone type of prospect the way Xander Bogaerts was as he ascended the ranks. And while it might seem unfair to make generalities about Betts' future based on his height, there is merit to the idea that he probably won't become a big-time power hitter in the big leagues. For example, we can look at Betts' approach at the plate, and see how players with have a similar attack have fared as big leaguers.
Against big league pitching, Betts has swung at 36 percent of the pitches he's been thrown, and he's made contact on 88 percent of his swings. This is both a very low swing rate and very high contact rate for a big league hitter, with league averages at about 46 percent and 80 percent, respectively. Betts is a guy who not only doesn't chase pitches out of the zone, but is selective in the kinds of strikes he will chase. And he rarely swings through pitches when he does decide to swing.
In the seven years that we have PITCHF/x data, here are the hitters who have posted similar swing and contact rates, along with their isolated slugging (SLG-BA, a measure of a player's power) numbers:
Player Swing% Contact% ISO
Brett Gardner 35% 89% 0.126
Matt Carpenter 36% 88% 0.141
Joe Mauer 37% 88% 0.138
Daric Barton 38% 86% 0.111
Chone Figgins 38% 88% 0.064
Craig Counsell 38% 90% 0.089
Tony Gwynn Jr. 39% 87% 0.074
Elvis Andrus 39% 87% 0.073
Sam Fuld 39% 89% 0.099
This is the approach profile of players who don't hit for power. Guys who can do a lot of damage on contact swing at a higher rate of strikes -- among qualified hitters, only Carpenter and J.J. Hardy have swung at a lower rate of pitches in the strike zone this year than Betts -- as to not pass up chances to try to hit the ball over the fence. Guys who swing as rarely as Betts does aren't too passive; they just know their own physical limitations and have adopted an approach that maximizes their ability to get on base.
Mauer aside, this isn't the sexiest list of players around, and perhaps showing that Betts shares some traits with Craig Counsell and the Tony Gwynn who won't end up in the Hall of Fame isn't the best way for me to make a case that the Red Sox shouldn't swap him for an ace this winter. But let's not forget how valuable Carpenter has been to the Cardinals the past few years as an underpowered corner guy who gets on base enough that the lack of power isn't really a problem. Or, perhaps even more accurately, let's look at a guy who didn't quite the list above, but whose skillset shares a lot in common with Betts: Ben Zobrist.
Zobrist's name doesn't show up above because his career contact rate is "just" 84 percent, and I set the filters to show players between 86 and 90 percent, since Betts is at 88 percent this season. That was a pretty arbitrary decision on my part, though, and if you look at Zobrist's swing profile next to Betts', you can see the similarities across the board. First, here are the swing metrics for both:
Player O-Swing% Z-Swing% Swing%
Mookie Betts 19% 51% 36%
Ben Zobrist 23% 56% 39%
Betts has swung a little less this season than Zobrist has over his career, both on pitches outside the zone (the O in O-Swing) and on pitches inside the zone (Z-Swing means Zone-Swing), but Zobrist isn't some unrepentant hacker. He looks aggressive compared to the extremely patient Betts, but he's far more disciplined than the average big leaguer. Now, for his contact profile:
Player O-Contact% Z-Contact% Contact%
Mookie Betts 73% 92% 88%
Ben Zobrist 71% 90% 84%
This is where the comparison really works, as their swing results are very similar, both on pitches in and out of the zone. Unlike the other players listed above, though, Zobrist does have a bit of real power, running a .165 ISO over his career; for reference, Betts is at .152 through his first few months as a big leaguer. He's not a slugger or anything, but combining even average power with this kind of command of the strike zone creates a pretty good big league hitter.
And while we're obviously dealing with too-small samples in Betts' case, here are some numbers since Zobrist's 2008 breakout compared with Betts' big league performance to date.
Betts: .285/.362/.436, .356 wOBA, 125 wRC+
Zobrist: .268/.363/.441, .352 wOBA, 125 wRC+
Betts has done this for fewer than 200 plate appearances, while Zobrist is over 4,000, but we can say that Zobrist is proof on concept for the skillset. While it doesn't guarantee that pitchers won't make adjustments and exploit some unknown hole in Betts' swing, we can be fairly confident that he's performing at a sustainable level of offense given his skillset.
And of course, Zobrist has more in common with Betts than just his approach at the plate. He also got to the big leagues as a middle infielder who profiled better as a second baseman, but has also spent a significant part of his career in the outfield and has never really settled in at one single position. This positional versatility has been particularly useful to the Rays, who have used Zobrist in different spots depending on their need at that particular time.
Perhaps there isn't one obvious spot for Betts in Boston, but that doesn't mean there won't be a spot for him in each year, even if it's not the same spot every year, or even every day. As Zobrist has shown, you can be immensely valuable without ever having a single defined role.
Keep in mind that since the start of the 2008 season, Zobrist has put up +37 WAR, an average of more than +5 WAR per season for over the past seven years. Here is the full list of pitchers who have posted a higher WAR than that over the same time frame: Justin Verlander, Cliff Lee, and Felix Hernandez. And only two position players -- Miguel Cabrera and Evan Longoria -- have bested Zobrist's mark on the hitting side.
Maybe Betts won't ever be quite as good defensively as Zobrist, but even if you think he might end up as Zobrist-lite, that's a pretty easy +4 WAR player. Right now, at age 21, the Steamer projection system projects Betts as a +3.3 WAR player, and that's with an assumption of average defensive value in center field. If you include the potential for above-average defense at second base, the forecasts think Betts is already in that +4 WAR range right now, and he's nowhere near normal prime age for a hitter.
Given a few more years of development, Zobrist's level of performance is an entirely realistic outcome for Betts. And while the idea of having a #1 starter in 2014 might be appealing, you don't want to give up six years of club control of a player with that kind of potential, especially when he's already a valuable big leaguer. No one should ever be completely untouchable in a trade, but Betts has demonstrated significant value not only in the future but also in the present, and the Red Sox should be very cautious before shipping him out for a pitcher.
Pitchers are nice until they break, something they're doing at ever higher rates recently. Rather than giving up Betts' future for what might very well be a minimal upgrade anyway, the Sox may very well be better off keeping their young second baseman/outfielder and letting him grow into the new version of the game's ultimate utility player.
Brandon Moss on the Anatomy of a Slump.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Eno Sarris: Have you ever heard of FanGraphs?
Brandon Moss: Yeah!
Sarris: Because we have you down as a top-ten hitter since 2012 by Isolated Slugging. So I wanted to say to you here, **** batting average.
Moss: I agree. I 100% agree with that.
Sarris: So I can quote you on that.
Moss: You can quote me that way if you want to. I’m not kidding, you can. I’m a 100% believer that it is one of the worst statistics to judge a hitter, it’s based entirely on luck.
Adam Dunn: That’s ********, dude.
Moss: Batting average? It’s the stupidest stat! It’s based entirely on luck.
Dunn: It tells it all.
Moss: It tells how unlucky I am. How many shifts they have on.
Dunn: Hit home runs, line drives will come.
Moss: This guy. You need to talk to him. That’s like talking to an older version of me.
Dunn: Older and better maybe.
Moss: Older and better!
Player BA Rank (of 222) OBP Rank ISO Rank BABIP Rank
Brandon Moss 145th 80th 8th 111th
Adam Dunn 220th 111th 12th 203rd
Sarris: Well I wanted to talk to you because I loved that piece that Jane Lee did on you last year, where Ruben Amaro, Jr said you couldn’t hit a major league fastball.
Moss: That was… that was a long time ago.
Dunn: Wait, let me hear about this.
Moss: I don’t want to bring this up. It’s old history.
Dunn: Tell me. Who’s this?
Moss: Ruben Amaro.
Dunn: Who’s that?
Moss: The GM for the Phillies. I was with the Phillies.
Dunn: The GM. They have no say.
Moss: Well, yes it does matter, if you want to be called up. I was having a good year and they went out and traded for a guy because they needed left-handed bench bat and someone asked, you know Moss is having a pretty good year in Triple-A for you guys, why do you need to go outside. He was like ‘We just don’t believe Brandon Moss is consistently able to hit a major league fastball.’ And I was like, that’s really all I kinda hit. It’s my best pitch. Everything else, I just hope I hit it. If you’re here, you’re like that. You better be able to hit that pitch. It was a funny comment and I laughed about it. Okay, if that’s how they feel, I can’t do anything about that.
Sarris: We track numbers per type of pitch, so we have you down…
Moss: I know. I know. I’m actually a big sabermetrics guy. I love Baseball Reference and FanGraphs, I love the both of them. Lots of cool things.
Sarris: Yeah and we have you down as a good fastball hitter, so he got that one wrong.
Since 2012 wFB wSL wCT wCB wCH wSF
Brandon Moss 33.5 2.9 7.4 11.3 -3.1 1.8
Sarris: One thing I noticed was that you had two incarnations. That’s why I brought up the Lee article, because they were trying to make you something that you weren’t in Pittsburgh and Boston. Slap hitting and going the other way.
Moss: I am an extreme pull hitter. But I try not to bring that stuff up that much, because I don’t want to throw anyone under the bus.
Pull Center Opposite
Brandon Moss 44.1% 34.4% 21.5%
League Average 38.8% 36.1% 25.1%
Sarris: Once you became you again…
Moss: Fly balls?
Sarris: Well, the number of pitches in the zone just went straight down.
Moss: That’s what happens when you hit for power. When you hit for power, it becomes more of a ‘nibble around the zone’ try to get him to chase thing. They know that once you control the heart of the zone… That’s my whole thing. Control the heart of the plate. You don’t have to control in.
I get close to the plate, because people think I want the ball in, but it’s really so that the pitch away becomes middle, and it’s like a heart of the zone pitch. I hit in way better than I hit away, so I trust myself on the inside pitch and I make the outside pitch middle.
arris: That’s partially because you opened up your stance with your hitting coach here, Chili Davis?
Moss: When I first came up, I was open. And then when I went to Pittsburgh, they squared me up. Well, Boston kinda squared me up at first, because I was pinch-hitting a lot, a fourth outfielder. I went to Pittsburgh and I squared up and that completely took away from the load that I had. Jeff Branson, the Triple-A hitting coach in Indianapolis for Pittsburgh — who’s now their big league hitting coach — opened me back up.
Sarris: And that helped you on the inside pitch.
Moss: 100%. It’s a gather and it’s a load but I’m not closed off to where I’m fighting to turn into that inside pitch. I’m just naturally over the plate. It’s a natural path.
Sarris: This year, it looks they’re throwing you higher in the zone.
Moss: Yeah. That’s a big weakness. I know that though. And that’s what I feel like early in the year, I talked to Chili about this a lot. That’s one area that me and him do a lot of work. I know that up in the zone is a big hole in my swing because I have an uppercut swing. So up in the zone is going to be a problem. I felt like, early in the year and in spring training, that was an area of weakness I was going to work on. Not necessarily hitting that pitch, but not chasing that pitch. But in this little bit of a slump…
Sarris: You might have been chasing…
Moss: Yeah, I’ve been chasing it a lot. Up and away is a big hole, and you just have to leave it alone. It’s really hard when you’re struggling, because you’re wanting to fight, you’re wanting to get hits, you’re wanting to battle.. You see a strike, regardless of up, down, wherever, and you want to hit it, and it’s just not a pitch I can handle.
Moss has been swinging at the high pitch a little more, too. Even late in the season. That’s before August 25th on the left, after that date on the right.
Sarris: That’s interesting because Chris Young said that you can fight off the pitch up and in like nobody else he faces.
Moss: I hit that well. Close in, my barrel doesn’t drop. Up and away, I can’t flatten my bat out up there. My bat comes through the zone like this [mimics uppercut swing] so up and away…
Sarris: Young said if he tries to get you up and in, you foul it off.
Moss: Yeah I foul that one off a lot.
Sarris: That’s a little dangerous at home though, with all that foul ground.
Moss: Yeah, but usually you foul that one straight back.
Sarris: Basically, as they’ve been throwing you less in the zone, though, you’ve been swinging less.
Moss: Well. I feel like. It’s not that I have been swinging less, I mean I have been swinging less, it’s just that you know when you go throw a slump, it’s because you’ve been chasing. My natural thing when I get into a slump is to swing more. And that’s when I start making more outs. And so I try to tone down my swing and say hey, zone in. The only problem with that is, you start zoning in and they start flipping that first pitch breaking balls in. They start throwing the changeup first pitch to steal a strike, and then you’re behind in the count. It’s a constant game of adjustments.
April May June July August September
Swing% 51.3% 50.4% 46.2% 51.8% 42.4% 45.1%
Reach % 38.3% 33.0% 33.5% 40.6% 26.9% 30.1%
When I’m locked in and I’m feeling right, I will swing at that first pitch changeup. I will try to hit that first pitch breaking ball because I see it well and I trust myself. But when I’m not swinging well, you know what, hey take it, now you’ve seen a pitch, you’ve seen that breaking ball and maybe later he’ll hang it or he’ll come and miss a spot. It hasn’t happened a lot, it’s just one of those things. When you feel good, you can hit more pitches. But when you don’t feel well, it’s better off to leave those alone and hope for a mistake later.
Sarris: You’ve said recently that you made an adjustment in late August that you felt good about?
Moss: More about covering the up and away pitch. As far as laying off of it when I’m ahead in the count and fouling it off when I’m behind in the count.
Sarris: I did see that since then you’ve been swinging at it less.
Moss: Sometimes, I just make something up that sounds good. In all honestly the adjustment I’ve made is that I’m really exposing myself by chasing this, and if they get that, get that, get that up there, then they just throw something down in the zone and I chase. Everything changes. Leave it alone if you’re ahead, and if you’re behind, foul it off. Or try to.
Fly balls are in blue here.
Sarris: Two quick questions. Fewer fly balls this year?
Moss: I don’t feel like that. I don’t even feel like I got fewer fly balls. I just feel like more… my fly balls don’t have the same trajectory on them. I’m getting a lot more high fly balls.
2012 2013 2014
HR+FB Distance 294.1 295.7 280.6
Sarris: That’s why they throw high in the zone, to get the pop-ups.
Moss: Pop it up! And it’s going to work. But they’re pitchers, they miss. I would love to have more hits, I would love to have more doubles than this, but I have to be who I am. Once you start changing things about who you are, you lose it all.
Sarris: Last thing. Outfield vs first base. There is such a thing in baseball called the DH penalty. You hit 10% worse than you normally would when you come off the bench. Have you ever felt anything like that with first base and the outfield. Is one of them more engaging to you?
Moss: First base is much more engaging. You’re involved in everything, your body is constantly moving. Outfield is more relaxing, outfield is like okay, I’m out here, I can run down the ball.
Sarris: Is one of those states better for you at the plate?
Moss: I feel like first base is better for me at the plate, because it keeps you sharper. But I think that body-wise, and how you feel, the outfield is better. There are pros and cons. But it really does go into that.
Position PA Average On-base % Slugging wRC+
First Base 806 0.260 0.330 0.502 131
Left Field 465 0.261 0.361 0.464 126
Right Field 678 0.234 0.304 0.416 92
DH 51 0.239 0.294 0.674 166
People don’t understand that, they think we just play baseball and swing at pitches. But we watch a ton of video. I watch a ton of video. And that guy [points at Jon Lester] is probably the only guy in this clubhouse that looks at more video than I do. It’s because, as a power hitter that doesn’t have a high average, I know I have to make my swings count.
Sarris: When you swing…
Moss: When you swing, drive it. So I have to know, what is this guy most likely to throw. What does he like to get ahead with. When it’s two and oh, and he needs a strike in a big situation, does he flip the breaking ball in backdoor, does he throw a changeup, does he go up in the zone. You have to know those things, because if you don’t, you’re swinging wildly.
April May June July August September
Groundball % 33.8% 28.0% 32.3% 28.6% 30.8% 27.6%
Fly ball% 48.5% 52.0% 46.2% 42.9% 43.6% 62.1%
And that’s what I was doing a lot in August, I was swinging wildly, trying to do too much. And therefore, that’s when the weak outs, and that’s when the ground balls started coming, was in August. My ground-ball rate kinda skyrocketed. Strikeout rate went up, chase rate went up, walk rate went up because I was taking more pitches, but when I was swinging, I wasn’t swinging to drive the ball, I was swinging to get a hit. That’s why I said in late August, screw this, I’m going to cover this pitch, I’m going to gear for this pitch, and if I walk I walk, and if I strikeout I strikeout.
I like talking to you, you’re my kind of guy, with my kind of questions.
Return of the Most Deceptive Pitcher in Baseball.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
And you’ll remember the Pittsburgh Pirates got him pretty much for free. There’s an argument to be made that Worley’s been the best starter on the team, and while he’s not the most talented starter on the team, the numbers are compelling. Worley’s certainly been good enough to have fit with the Minnesota Twins, which dealt him in March. Vance Worley now is doing what he used to do, only now he’s doing things even better. And now he’s in a perfect situation for success.
Over the equivalent of a half-season, Worley’s run a sub-3 ERA while striking out seven batters for every two walks. Worley’s not the reason why the Pirates were able to turn things around and march toward the playoffs — but he’s played a big role in the team’s pitching rebound, and he’s done it by bringing his old skill from elsewhere. It seems to me Worley is the most deceptive pitcher in baseball. That can’t be proven until we all agree on a single definition of “deceptive,” but here’s the sort of thing I have in mind:
Among big-league starters, Worley’s allowed the second-highest contact rate, below only Scott Carroll. Eight of nine swings against Worley have made contact. Yet Worley has a strikeout rate comparable to Michael Pineda. He’s comparable to Jorge de la Rosa and Jered Weaver. Worley is not a strikeout pitcher, but he’s a lot more of a strikeout pitcher than he ought to be based on his contact profile. And it’s all because Worley is back to racking up the called third strikes.
When he was successful with the Philadelphia Phillies, this was one of his things. Over those two-plus seasons, 55% of Worley’s strikeouts were called. This year as a Pirate, 63% of Worley’s strikeouts have been called. The National League average for a starter is 26%. Worley doesn’t get swings and misses. Worley still gets strikeouts. Batters just don’t offer that much, relatively speaking, at Worley’s two-strike pitches in the strike-zone vicinity.
Let’s look at pitchers league-wide, setting a minimum of 1,000 pitches thrown. There are nearly 250 such pitchers. Worley’s tied for the fourth-lowest rate of two-strike pitches that have gone for swinging strikeouts. He’s around 7%. The leader is Kenley Jansen, at 26%. How about if we sort by the rate of two-strike pitches that have gone for called strikeouts?
Vance Worley, 12.1%
Cliff Lee, 9.6%
David Phelps, 9.5%
David Price, 9.0%
Dellin Betances, 8.7%
That’s not just a lead — that’s a massive lead. One of every eight two-strike Worley pitches has been a called strike three. Here are some heat maps, showing swing rates in two-strike counts. On the left, 2014 Vance Worley. On the right, 2014 baseball. You can see where the differences are.
If you prefer overall numbers, I set a little box that includes the full strike zone, and then extends a little farther. In two-strike counts, batters have swung at 72% of Worley’s pitches in the box. The league average is 84%. Worley’s history:
When he was messed up with the Twins, Worley wasn’t nearly so deceptive. With the Phillies, and now with the Pirates, there are hints of sustainability. If batters were going to adjust, you’d think they would’ve adjusted. This appears to be a skill.
From Baseball Savant, here’s where those called strikeouts have been:
Mostly, you’re looking at running fastballs around the glove-side edge. Mixed in there are just a few curveballs and four-seamers. This has always been Worley’s game, and now it’s time to watch him go to work. Here’s Worley getting rid of a good hitter:
Here he is getting rid of another good hitter:
Getting rid of another good hitter:
Getting rid of a worse hitter:
Worley has just about mastered that running fastball on the edge. He’ll use it as a front-door weapon and a back-door weapon, and though it seems like maybe hitters should be better prepared for this, it’s not like Worley throws that pitch all the time. He has another fastball, and he has a couple breaking balls, so it isn’t that simple. There’s also the matter of the pitch looking like a ball until one of the final moments, so it’s relatively hard for a batter to commit to a swing. While you do want to defend the zone in a two-strike count, hitters also don’t want to be over-aggressive.
One of the things that helps Worley is his movement. He’s also able to change speeds and looks, throwing fastballs and fastball-like pitches across a spectrum. Then there’s the matter of his delivery. Batters have said time and time again that it’s hard to pick the ball up against Worley, and that his pitches seem to have a lot of late life. Late life isn’t really a thing, at least in terms of late break, but perception is perception. Worley believes that his mechanics got messed up in Minnesota, when he struggled through an elbow problem. Now he’s restored, and you can kind of see why he gives hitters so much trouble:
Kind of similar to Jake Arrieta, Worley steps behind a righty, but you can also see that the ball is hidden behind his head. So righties get a late look, and lefties don’t have it that much better. And then when Worley targets the glove-side edge, he’s throwing across his body and it seems like the ball is coming in at a more exaggerated angle. It looks like it’s going to miss the zone until the ball changes its mind. I’ve never stepped in against Worley, so I’m not sure how the baseball really looks, but the results seem to speak for themselves. Worley’s throwing 87 mph to 90 mph fastballs for strikes and hitters aren’t swinging.
What helps put Worley over the top is the fact that, in Pittsburgh, he throws to Russell Martin, who’s the best receiver he’s had. He’s certainly a far better receiver than Worley had in Minnesota. That means Worley gets to expand the boundaries even more, which would lead to more called strikes and strikeouts. Whether Martin returns to the Pirates for 2015 is a question, and I suppose the same goes for Worley. But he’s a guy who could really benefit in particular from having a good framer, and I suspect the Pirates know that.
Vance Worley was once a fascinating pitcher, and after a year of absolute misery, he’s back to being himself. As far as the rest of this year is concerned, it’s unclear how the Pirates intend to use him, and it’s unclear where Worley’s career will take him from here. The most important thing, though, that Worley’s back on track as one of the more unusual starters in the game. Worley’s deception doesn’t make him an ace, but his deception is what makes him a big-leaguer. He’s got that deception again, and it’s giving fits to even the best hitters.
The Tight NL Rookie Of The Year Race That Isn’t.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Clayton Kershaw is clearly winning the NL Cy Young, probably unanimously. Felix Hernandez, despite a late push from Corey Kluber and an atrocious outing in Toronto on Tuesday, is still the favorite to win the AL Cy Young, though I guess I’m less certain of that each day. Mike Trout is obviously the AL MVP, becoming a three-time winner at age 22. (Oh.) Jose Abreu is even more obviously the AL Rookie of the Year, since Masahiro Tanaka missed so much time. There’s a fair amount of uncertainty about the NL MVP, but Kershaw’s momentum continues to build, and he’ll get a #narrative boost if the Dodgers clinch the NL West with him on the mound on Wednesday night. I won’t even bring up the managerial awards, because they’re less interesting and impossible to discuss.
But then there’s the NL Rookie of the Year, and that might be the award that’s hardest to pin down. With apologies to Ken Giles, Ender Inciarte, Joe Panik, Kolten Wong, and a few others, it’s pretty clear that this is a two-man race. It’s either Billy Hamilton, or it’s Jacob deGrom. That’s it, and with deGrom’s surprisingly effective rookie season now coming to an end with the Mets’ decision to shut him down in advance of his final start, this seems like an opportune moment to get into it.
Hamilton, for a while, has been seen as the front-runner, and it’s not hard to see why, because he was seen that way since before the season started. In our 2014 staff predictions, Hamilton was tied for first along with Gregory Polanco and Archie Bradley. Polanco came up late, impressed early, then stalled out; Bradley struggled with arm injuries and never made it up to the big leagues. It wasn’t just us, though, because you yourselves participated in our crowd projections, and Hamilton won there, collecting 19% of the vote.
deGrom wasn’t even mentioned in the comments of either of the two projection posts, nor should he have been, because he wasn’t really on the radar, starting out with Triple-A Las Vegas. As best as I can tell, deGrom had never even been referenced in the pages of FanGraphs until Eno started talking about his changeup in May, after deGrom’s first two major league starts (which, unintentionally, I was in attendance for). deGrom wasn’t Matt Harvey or Zack Wheeler or Noah Syndergaard or Rafael Montero; he was ranked in the 7-12 range of Mets prospects whether you were looking here, at Baseball America, or at Minor League Ball. Most projections considered him a 3/4 starter or a reliever. And why not? Entering his age-26 season, he’d thrown fewer than 300 professional innings. He’d pitched only 83.1 innings in college. It’s not so much that we missed this, but that there wasn’t anything to miss, not yet, anyway.
That’s two very different paths to a similar outcome, in the sense that in total value, there’s not a ton of difference between the two. Hamilton, entering Tuesday’s game, has been worth 3.4 WAR. deGrom’s season ends at 3.1 WAR and 3.5 RA9-WAR. That’s all close enough to essentially call it a wash.
You can make your own choices about which one you prefer. There’s reasons to like either one. Hamilton was the early favorite who played all season long, added value on the bases and in the field, and was at least mediocre at the plate, rather than unthinkably awful, even showing some power with six homers. deGrom was at times dominant, but because he came up six weeks into the season and missed several August starts with a trip to the disabled list, pitched only 140.1 innings. deGrom was objectively “better,” but Hamilton was in the bigs all year, and that has value. If deGrom wins this, he’ll do so with the lowest innings total of any starting pitcher in a non-strike year, beating the 160.2 innings that Dontrelle Willis had in 2003, and that’s not nothing. Months worth of “is the ROY front runner” articles probably don’t have as much actual value, but you never know how the perception of the voter is going to work.
There’s really two questions that are going to drive this in the actual voting, however, since there’s no “can a pitcher win” issue as there is in the MVP: Will the difference in playing time between the two matter? And how much will Hamilton’s late-season collapse hurt him?
Those are important questions, because these two could not have had more divergent second halves, to the point that Hamilton’s best hope may have been that since both the Mets and Reds were never seriously in the playoff race, few people were paying attention. It was that bad.
This first table shows the worst qualified hitters in baseball in the second half (stats, again, not including Tuesday night):
Name Team PA AVG OBP SLG SB wOBA wRC+ WAR
Matt Dominguez Astros 210 .176 .202 .271 0 .211 29 -1.4
Andrelton Simmons Braves 197 .203 .240 .278 1 .231 42 0.1
Billy Hamilton Reds 246 .204 .259 .262 18 .238 45 0.3
Brock Holt Red Sox 213 .219 .278 .271 6 .251 52 -0.2
Omar Infante Royals 243 .228 .267 .290 5 .246 52 -0.5
Jay Bruce Reds 210 .199 .243 .332 3 .252 54 -1.2
Javier Baez Cubs 206 .168 .228 .340 4 .255 56 -0.6
Coco Crisp Athletics 207 .199 .271 .274 3 .247 56 -0.8
Salvador Perez Royals 237 .228 .236 .345 0 .254 57 0.3
Derek Jeter Yankees 245 .231 .274 .298 4 .258 58 -0.5
This is ranked by wRC+, though Hamilton managed to at least gain some value back in other areas. This is really, really ugly, especially if for some reason you thought the Brock Holt Experience was going to run indefinitely, and it’s something of a continuation of an issue for Hamilton. Needing to get off to a quick start to ward off the worries of those who saw his 2013 .308 Triple-A OBP, he didn’t, putting up a 68 wRC+ in April and just a 79 wRC+ in May. In June, it should be noted, he was outstanding, with a .327/.348/.500 line that gave hope that he’d figured out some of his issues, and while a lot of that was obviously BABIP-fueled, he seems like the most obvious player in the game to outperform BABIP expectations.
It didn’t last, obviously. July was an 83 wRC+. August was 74. September, even before Tuesday’s 0-3, was a nearly unthinkable 17. Again, assuming that his value is entirely based on his offense is selling him short, because his defense has been well-received across the board, and despite some stolen base efficiency problems, he’s been a valuable player on the bases. Unfortunately, the net result here is one excellent offensive month, four mediocre ones, and one absolute catastrophe.
Now, the best pitchers in baseball in the second half:
Name Team GS IP GB% K% BB% HR/FB ERA FIP xFIP WAR
Corey Kluber Indians 13 96 47.3% 30.8% 4.5% 5.6% 1.88 1.85 2.24 3.7
Clayton Kershaw Dodgers 12 94 47.6% 29.0% 5.1% 5.3% 1.82 2.15 2.59 3.2
David Price - – - 12 84.2 44.1% 26.2% 4.3% 7.1% 3.61 2.43 2.74 2.6
Max Scherzer Tigers 13 88 38.0% 26.9% 6.7% 6.7% 2.97 2.73 3.10 2.4
Carlos Carrasco Indians 9 71 50.0% 27.7% 4.0% 6.4% 1.77 2.00 2.27 2.3
Alex Cobb Rays 12 77.1 54.1% 23.9% 6.9% 1.6% 1.51 2.38 3.19 2.2
Marcus Stroman Blue Jays 12 73.1 57.7% 20.2% 5.1% 3.8% 3.56 2.50 3.03 2.2
Jacob deGrom Mets 10 66.2 50.0% 27.9% 5.8% 3.8% 2.03 2.03 2.61 2.1
Chris Sale White Sox 11 73 36.4% 32.1% 6.7% 9.2% 2.34 2.77 2.82 2.1
Phil Hughes Twins 12 80 37.8% 22.5% 1.5% 7.3% 3.15 2.78 3.13 2.1
Jose Quintana White Sox 12 73.2 40.5% 20.7% 5.8% 3.7% 3.18 2.73 3.57 2.1
That’s ranked by WAR, to show how much value deGrom has generated despite his lesser amount of innings, and those are some impressive names. (Also, holy good lord, Corey Kluber). Eno explained how deGrom improved his secondary pitches, partially thanks to Johan Santana. August Fagerstrom regaled us with GIFs of deGrom striking out eight consecutive Marlins to start a game last week.
Again, though, to display it like this shows the main issue here. This award isn’t for “best rookie of the second half,” it’s for “best rookie in 2014,” or at least it should be. Fairly or (mostly) not, finishing strong counts in the minds of some voters. Think about how long ago Kershaw’s missed time in April seems compared to Giancarlo Stanton‘s lost September. As voters sit down to fill out their ballot, what’s going to be fresh in their minds is two months of deGrom being brilliant, and two months of Hamilton being atrocious. That Hamilton had some success earlier on in the year shouldn’t be lost; then again, that’s not how human nature works.
If it sounds like I’m talking myself into deGrom, I think I am. Hamilton’s season was a success in many ways, but I don’t know that we’re walking away from it any more convinced that he’s the answer the Reds need. The biggest strike against deGrom — maybe the only one, really — is that he didn’t pitch as much as you would have liked in the bigs this year. But really, it’s not like he was mediocre for a while and then had a great finish. In his debut, he held the Yankees to one run over seven innings. He held the Pirates scoreless over 6.2 innings in his third start. In his fourth, he struck out 11 hitters. Only three times all year did he allow more than three earned runs.
So really, for me, it comes down to this: If deGrom had made three more starts that weren’t total disasters, are we even talking about this? I’m not sure that we are. Hamilton had his moments. deGrom, despite being around less, had more. What stopped Hamilton from being more valuable was his own performance; what stopped deGrom was opportunities given, plus he had the likely boost of finishing well while Hamilton did not. deGrom is the choice for the Rookie of the Year on these pages, and I think, in a tight vote, the actual voters will agree.
The Yankees Successful Summer of Reclamations.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
But this isn’t a post about Buck Showalter, or even about the Yankees lousy season. This is a post about the thing the Yankees did this year that went really well. At the trade deadline, they weren’t so close to the race that they could justify making big moves to add star players, but they’re also the Yankees, so they weren’t going to punt the season in July. This left them in the position of wanting to upgrade their roster without borrowing significantly from their future to do so, which meant that they had to go dumpster diving. Or, maybe phrased more politely, they had to target buy-low players in the midst of down years and hope that their early struggles weren’t predictive of future performance.
This low-cost upgrade plan began in earnest on July 6th, when the acquired Brandon McCarthy from the D’Backs. On July 22nd, they got Chase Headley from the Padres. On July 24th, they bought Chris Capuano from the Rockies. On July 31st, they acquired Martin Prado from the D’Backs, Stephen Drew from the Red Sox, and claimed Esmil Rogers off waivers from the Blue Jays. And then on August 28th, they signed Chris Young after the Mets cut him loose.
Over the course of a couple of months, they brought in eight new players, and the total cost was a couple of non-elite prospects and some cash. How has it worked out?
Here are the players PA/IP totals and WAR totals for their seasons before joining NYY, and then after. Since we’re focusing heavily on players who were regression candidates, we’ll use RA9-WAR instead of FIP-WAR, since a high runs allowed total is what allowed these pitchers to be available in the first place.
Player Pre-Yankee PA Pre-Yankee WAR Yankee PA Yankee WAR
Chase Headley 307 1.6 203 2.3
Martin Prado 436 1.2 137 1.4
Stephen Drew 145 0.2 136 -1.1
Chris Young 287 -0.6 55 0.9
Totals 1,175 2.4 531 3.5
— — — — —
Pitcher Pre-Yankee IP Pre-Yankee WAR Yankee IP Yankee WAR
Brandon McCarthy 110 -0.2 85 2.2
Chris Capuano 32 -0.1 59 0.2
Esmil Rogers 21 -0.5 23 0.3
Totals 163 -0.8 167 2.7
These seven players combined for the playing time equivalent of about three full seasons before joining the Yankees, and averaged about +0.5 WAR per “season”. They played like scrubs, basically. The pitchers runs allowed totals were worse than what you’d expect from waiver wire fodder, and a good chunk of the position players’ WAR total was tied to Chase Headley’s UZR. Based on pre-Yankee 2014 performance, this was a group of players having pretty terrible years. Since joining the Yankees, however, they’ve played the equivalent of a little less than two seasons, and have combined for +6.2 WAR, even with the disaster that has been Stephen Drew included in the mix.
Headley’s continued to post excellent defensive numbers at third base, and his bat has rebounded almost exactly to his career average, as he’s put up a 112 wRC+ in New York. Prado regressed well past his own mean, putting up a 145 wRC+ and making a pretty decent case for being the Yankees starting second baseman next year. Young, meanwhile, has put up a 146 wRC+, though only in 55 plate appearances, since he joined less than a month ago. This trio has been so good that, even adding in Drew’s awful .153/.221/.258 line, they’ve still put up a combined 103 wRC+ since joining the Yankees, and they’ve added in a good amount of defensive value as well.
Of course, McCarthy’s story has been told multiple times, so we don’t need to do a full rehash here. His peripherals were outstanding in Arizona, but the results were not, and so no team even claimed him when he was put on outright waivers earlier in the season. Since joining NYY, McCarthy has re-established his cut fastball and posted a 65/76/77 ERA-/FIP-/xFIP- line in 85 innings of work. For reference, that 65 ERA- would rank 5th best in baseball if it was his full season mark, behind only Clayton Kershaw, Felix Hernandez, Chris Sale, and Jon Lester. That’ll do.
Capuano and Esmil Rogers haven’t had the same kind of transformations, but they’ve been useful enough role players, with Capuano giving the team decent enough innings as a rotation stop-gap and Rogers providing perfectly reasonable performances out of the bullpen. Neither one is anything special, but they’ve given the team above replacement level performance without requiring the organization to surrender any talent to acquire them.
This kind of broad success — with Drew as the exception — leads to the natural question of whether the Yankees just did a good job of identifying players who were likely to start performing better or whether they identified fixable flaws that could change the course for these players if extracted from their current circumstances. With McCarthy, the cut fastball has been given a lot of credit for his resurgence, though it’s worth noting that his BB/K/GB rates are basically identical from what they were in Arizona, with the entirety of the improvement coming from decreases in BABIP and HR/FB rates, both of which show little predictive power in small samples.
Likely, it is a mix of both aspects, with the front office identifying players who are underperforming and the coaching staff helping those players make changes that could improve performance. The two variables are difficult to untangle, and we can’t know whether these players would have had the same success in other venues, had they not been traded to the Yankees. But for the players acquired by the Yankees whose names don’t rhyme with Treason Stew, the move to the Bronx has been a big positive. However one wants to divide credit between the front office, the coaching staff, and the players themselves, the combination has worked exceptionally well for New York.
Now if only they could figure out how to fix the guys they paid real money to get last winter.
Evaluating Giancarlo Stanton’s Award-Worthiness.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
The Fangraphs voters’ award ballots will be made public, and I have a strong feeling that they’re not simply going to be a regurgitation of the year-end WAR standings. Still, I would imagine that every voter will at least take a gander at those numbers before submitting his or her final ballot. At the end of Sunday’s games, here are the position player WAR rankings behind some guy who plays center field for the Angels:
Quite a logjam there, and that’s before you count a bunch of other guys at 5.5-5.6 WAR, plus the three top starting pitchers – Clayton Kershaw, Corey Kluber and Felix Hernandez – who are clearly worthy of Player of the Year ballot consideration. Not to mention a handful of other niche competitors who fall a bit short on WAR but are at least worthy of down-ballot consideration. What on earth does one do to separate the players within this group? Every voter will have their own way of doing so. Of all of these players, however, exactly one player’s season is 100% in the books, and that’s Stanton’s.
One thing that I will not be holding against Stanton is the 17 games he missed at the end of the season. The other players in the same WAR area code will play more games than him – McCutchen’s total will likely be the same. On a per game basis, Stanton deserves a slight bump in his WAR total compared to this group. He was on track to play 162 games this season, and while no one can say for sure if that would have come to pass, I’m not about to hold a pitch to the face against him when he was already 90% of the way there.
I’m also going to regress defensive statistics a bit when I put my final ballot together. Guys who get too much of their value from the more esoteric, subjective side of the ledger are going to take a little bit of a hit. I’m going to look at defensive numbers over multiple years, with 2014 getting the heaviest weighting. This probably doesn’t bode too well for Alex Gordon, for example, but it probably won’t hurt Stanton, who gets virtually all of his value from his offense.
I’m also going to do everything I can to ensure that context is properly weighed when evaluating each player. On the surface, this would appear to be a key area of consideration when Stanton is put under the microscope. He plays his home games in one of the more pitcher-friendly parks in the major leagues – according to my own park factors, which rely upon granular batted-ball data, Marlins’ Park was the 3rd most pitcher-friendly park in the majors in 2013, with a 90.2 park factor. It had the 5th lowest fly ball park factor (76.1), and the 8th lowest line drive park factor (96.2). At the midpoint of the 2014 season, the picture wasn’t much different – a 90.5 fly ball, and 95.9 liner PF. Does Stanton’s 2014 WAR figure properly represent the context in which he has performed?
Let’s take a closer look at Stanton’s 2014 plate appearance outcome frequency and production by BIP type data to attempt to answer these questions. First, the frequency information:
FREQ – 2014
Stanton % REL PCT
K 26.6% 131 90
BB 14.7% 191 97
POP 9.7% 127 83
FLY 28.1% 101 52
LD 20.3% 98 43
GB 41.8% 96 43
Though Stanton remains a very high K guy, he is showing some progress in that area. His 26.6% K rate and 90 percentile rank are both career lows – he makes such thunderous contact, as we shall see, that every additional bit of it makes a difference. His 14.7% BB rate matches the career high he set in 2013, and his percentile rank of 97 comes up fractionally short. A much higher percentage of his free passes were intentional this season – if he can bounce back to his 2013 unintentional pass level, his OBP could pass the .400 mark going forward.
Except for his injury-plagued 2013 season, when he had a very low fly ball percentile rank of 26, Stanton’s fly ball rate has been near league average, in a narrow band between percentile ranks of 41 and 59 (52 in 2014). His liner rate has been operating within an even narrower band, between his 2014 mark of 38 and 45, for the last four seasons. His popup rate is high – 83 percentile rank in 2014 – but manageable for a power hitter.
Frequency-wise, Stanton basically is who he is, though he is making some small strides around the margins. With a guy who impacts the ball like Stanton, the really interesting stuff – especially with regard to context – will show up in his production by BIP type information:
PROD – 2014
Stanton AVG OBP SLG REL PRD ADJ PRD
FLY 0.416 1.347 290 352
LD 0.808 1.384 190 147
GB 0.327 0.353 181 142
ALL BIP 0.417 0.798 206 194
ALL PA 0.285 0.391 0.546 173 165
Stanton’s actual production on each BIP type is indicated in the AVG and SLG columns, and it’s converted to run values and compared to MLB average in the REL PRD column. That figure then is adjusted for context, such as home park, luck, etc., in the ADJ PRD column. For the purposes of this exercise, SH and SF are included as outs and HBP are excluded from the OBP calculation.
To put it bluntly, Stanton devastates the baseball. He’s batting .416 AVG-1.347 SLG on fly balls this season, for actual REL PRD of 290. Adjustment for context pushes that figure up to an ADJ PRD of 352 – it doesn’t get much higher than that. In 2013, Stanton’s 364 ADJ PRD on fly balls was 2nd in the majors to Chris Davis‘ 393. Stanton’s raw numbers on liners are ridiculous – .808 AVG-1.384 SLG, including an amazing 7 line drive homers. As good as Stanton is, adjustment for context reins in his 190 REL PRD on liners to a 147 ADJ PRD. No one in baseball besides Stanton – who had a 163 ADJ PRD on liners – matched this figure last season. Oh, and he hits his grounders hard too, with his 181 REL PRD adjusted down to 142 ADJ PRD for context.
On all BIP, Stanton has batted .417 AVG-.798 SLG this season, for a 206 REL PRD, which is adjusted downward to 194 ADJ PRD for context. This was actually a step up from his 185 ADJ PRD on all BIP in 2013, when Stanton struggled to get the ball in the air with frequency. When the K’s and BB’s are added back, his overall 2014 figures fall to 173 REL PRD and 165 ADJ PRD, due to Stanton’s very high K rate.
Let’s take a second to step back and put Stanton’s ball-striking ability into some sort of perspective. There have been 198 fly balls hit at 105 MPH or higher in the major leagues this season. Stanton has hit 14 of them. No one else has hit more than 8 105 MPH fly balls – Mike Trout, Mike Morse and George Springer have hit that many, while Chris Carter has hit 7. Stanton has hit the two single hardest fly balls, 3 of the hardest 8, and 7 of the hardest 28 fly balls hit in the major leagues this season. In all of 2014 only two lefties – Pablo Sandoval and Ryan Howard – and six righties – Hunter Pence, Justin Ruggiano, Ian Desmond, Josh Donaldson, Stanton and Springer – have hit 105 MPH fly balls to the opposite field. In the first half of 2014, 0.7% of fly balls were hit at 105 MPH or higher – 13.7% of Stanton’s were.
In addition to the 14 105 MPH fly balls hit by Stanton, he hit another 19 between 100-105 MPH. The vast majority of these fly balls are home runs regardless of the park in which they are hit. Most “normal” power hitters hit maybe one or two 105 MPH fly balls, and maybe a dozen more between 100-105 MPH. Adam Jones, for example, had 2 105 MPH fly balls and 12 100-105 MPH fly balls in 2013, and he’s no slouch. It’s the batted balls in the next couple of buckets down that are most affected by context – Stanton hit only six 97.5-100 MPH and four 95-97.5 MPH fly balls in 2014. By contrast, in 2013 Jones hit 14 and 13, respectively. Giancarlo Stanton defies context. Whereas you might want to adjust Marcell Ozuna‘s – or any other mortal Marlins righty hitter’s with power in the normal range – numbers upward a little bit for the effects of Marlins Park, there is no need to do so for Stanton.
I am comfortable with the numbers in Stanton’s production by BIP type table above – if anything, his 2014 numbers are inflated a bit by relative overperformance on liners and grounders. He hits his liners hard, but .808 AVG-1.384 SLG? No way that requires an upward adjustment. His pull ratio – ground balls hit to (LF-LCF sectors)/(RCF-RF sectors) – on the ground is extreme at 6.11. He is an automatic overshift guy who has a large amount of batting average risk on the ground. Stanton’s greatness – and he is great, make no mistake about it – is fully reflected in his WAR total. He doesn’t need any further help, beyond making him a 162-game player.
Things change awfully quickly in this game. A year ago, most assumed that the Marlins were in long-term rebuild mode, and that Stanton would be moved to rebuild the organization yet again from the ground up. Now, the Phillies and Braves’ arrows are pointed down, the Mets’ is pointed sideways, and only the Nationals stand in the ascendant Marlins’ path in the NL East in the near term. Stanton is very likely staying in town, with a youthful, exciting, rapidly improving cast around him. He isn’t without risk – the K rate and the excessive grounder pulling are cases in point – but thunderous contact such as his takes a long, long while to regress to anywhere near the mean. He’ll be on my Player of the Year ballot, though not at the top, and I wouldn’t expect him to win the NL MVP, either. His long term future may be brighter than anyone on the ballot, however – at 24, he’s two months younger than George Springer.