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A Saber-Slanted Baseball Community



Updated: 2017-10-17T09:43:25-04:00

 



Didi Gregorius has shown himself to be a real extension candidate

2017-10-17T09:43:25-04:00

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Though he’ll hit free agency in 2020, the shortstop has been invaluable to the Yankees’ success.

Didi Gregorius’s two home runs in Game 5 of the ALDS proved to be the deciding factor in the game. Thanks to him, the Yankees are on their way to face the Astros in the ALCS as a Wild Card team. But Gregorius’s impact extends far from just a couple of home runs. He’s played himself into the Yankees’ core and may need to be locked up heading into arbitration.

Gregorius has been a more than adequate replacement to Derek Jeter. Since joining the Yankees as the heir apparent in 2015, he has consistently improved. Throughout his career in the minors (which included a winter in Canberra, Australia in the ABL), he was tabbed as a talented, glove-first shortstop. Now, Gregorius boasts a fairly complete profile entering his prime.

Prior to this season, Gregorius’s general projected profile — a light-hitting defender who can competently hold down shortstop — had looked accurate. He was about a two-win player who hovered below league average with the bat. Though the defensive metrics were a little up and down on him, it was generally fair to call him a top 10 defender at shortstop (just please don’t look at 2016). On top of that, he hit enough to make that defense worthwhile.

However, this past year was easily the best of his career. He came into his own at the plate and that was (unsurprisingly) a major difference maker. He posted career highs in wOBA, TAv, and wRC+ this year with .335, .282, and 107 respectively, along with solid defense (a 4 FRAA and 1 DRS). By WAR, all three metrics had him at a career high with a 4.3 bWARP, 3.9 fWAR, and 3.6 bWAR.

Contractually, Gregorius is heading into arbitration this season for the third time. After two one-year deals that totaled just over seven million dollars, Gregorius seems set to up his earnings this offseason. Though he has a few years until free agency, this is the time where teams tend to contemplate extensions to lock up players for the medium- or long-term.

For the Yankees, it makes a ton of sense to try and get Gregorius on one of those deals. Taking him through the entirety of his conventional prime (let’s say to 32) gives the Yankees peace of mind at an extremely important, up-the-middle position, while also offering them financial certainty to plan ahead toward future free agent classes (like the one that has Manny Machado in it). It might be buying high, but arbitration is going to increase Gregorius’s salaries anyway, so this might not be a bad time to strike.

Gregorius has improved steadily in his career with the Yankees. He might not improve beyond this point, but even if he doesn’t, he still seems to be one of the better starters at the shortstop position. Locking him up gives the Yankees the ability to stop worrying about that position and plan for more necessary upgrades at others. All in all, it’s a move that the Yankees need to seriously consider, regardless of the outcome of the ALCS.


Anthony Rescan is a Featured Writer at Beyond the Box Score and a Stats Intern at Baseball Prospectus. You can follow him on Twitter at @AnthonyRescan.




Launch angles — October 17, 2017

2017-10-17T08:00:10-04:00

All the baseball nuggets you need to start your day. The MLB season lasts half the year, and it can be hard for the average fan to keep up. That’s where we come in. Every day during the 2017 regular season, Beyond the Box Score will be recapping all the biggest action from the previous day — with a sabermetric slant, of course — and looking ahead to what today will bring. Yesterday’s biggest play Todd Frazier opens the scoring with a three-run blast — +.258 WPA GIF via MLB.com In Friday’s recap of ALCS Game 1, I noted that pitchers’ duels will usually feature one or two big swings in WPA, at most. The same obviously applies for blowouts, which tend to have a decisive win expectancy spike, then a bunch of smaller jumps adding insult to injury: Image via FanGraphs Here, the play was what you’d expect — or, at least, the result of the play was what you’d expect. How it got there is another matter entirely. After a sterling first inning — he struck out the first two hitters, then gave up a bunt single and picked the runner off first — Charlie Morton appeared to be in control. Trouble started brewing in the second frame, though, as Starlin Castro and Aaron Hicks’ back-to-back singles put two men in scoring position. With two outs on the board, Frazier stepped to the plate. Morton has always been an extreme ground ball pitcher, which means he lives low in the zone. Indeed, each of the three pitches he threw to Frazier was at or below the belt: Image via Brooks Baseball The first one, a 97-mph four-seamer, went for a ball thanks to poor framing. Frazier looked over the second one, a 96-mph sinker, for a called strike. Not wanting to mess with success, Morton came back with another blazing four-seamer at just about the same place. Even if Frazier made contact, he probably wouldn’t hit the ball very far. Then this happened: Image via MLB.com And this happened: GIF via MLB.com You just can’t predict baseball. I mean, you can maybe predict the part where Morton gives up four more runs later in the game — after all, he’s Charlie Morton — but Frazier poking a knee-high heater over the opposite-field wall? While we’ve seen plenty of weird stuff this postseason, this individual swing, and its result, could take the cake for craziest play when all is said and done. Yesterday’s best game score CC Sabathia — 67 Game Score was developed by Bill James as a quick way to evaluate a starting pitcher’s performance. The score begins at 50, with points added for outs and strikeouts, and subtracted for walks, hits, and runs. A score of 70 is very good; a score of 90 is outstanding. GIF via MLB.com For the most part, this series has gone the way of the starting pitching. Dallas Keuchel and Justin Verlander dominated in Games 1 and 2, respectively; Houston won each of those. Last night in Game 3, it was New York’s turn, with Sabathia’s six scoreless innings propelling the Bombers to a crucial victory. Score one for Al Leiter, I guess. Sabathia wasn’t exactly dominant against Houston; he gave up three hits and four walks, and an Astro reached base on an error to give the team eight total baserunners. But the veteran southpaw wasn’t entirely to blame for that — the umpiring was horrendous behind the plate: Image via Baseball Savant Despite that, Sabathia managed to throw 64 of his 99 pitches for strikes, while keeping the Astros from squaring the ball up. For a team in need of a stopper, that would suffice. Sabathia will probably allow a few runs his next time out, but he’s far from done — if the Yankees are in a do-or-die situation and they need someone to hold things together, he’s the one to call. Yesterday’s biggest home run Aaron Judge — 371 feet GIF via MLB.com This dinger doesn’t look to be that deep, but don’t denounce Statcast just yet. Sometimes we forget just how big[...]



How many ways can the Nationals lose?

2017-10-16T09:52:10-04:00

The Washington Nationals have experienced their fair share of heartbreak. Is there any way left to hurt them? The Nationals lost Game 5 of the NLDS against the Cubs. It was a painfully long game that contained nearly every quirk the game has to offer, and it ended in defeat for Washington. This is not their first experience with defeat in the NLDS, as you may know. In fact, they’ve never so much as reached the NLCS during their 12 years in Washington. Of course, to be fair, they have participated in just four different postseasons since their move. All four of those have ended in disaster for teams that played extraordinarily well in the regular season. It’s hard to pretend like there isn’t something happening here, but it could truly be the outcomes constantly favoring their opponents. Washington has not lost the same way in any two postseasons, after all, and it begs the question of whether there are any ways to lose remaining. Let’s take a look at their history. In 2012 they made the postseason on the backs of their two number one picks: Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper (Harper having been drafted two years earlier at the ripe age of 19). Both Strasburg and Harper were chosen to participate in the All-Star Game, and the Nationals had a tremendously successful 98-64 season which won them the NL East. The postseason presented them with the defending World Champion Cardinals fresh off their wild run in 2011. The Nationals were the young team on the cusp of becoming something good, and the Cardinals were at the tail end of a dominant run that lasted nearly a decade. Washington was the better team by regular season record, but the Cardinals had their mysterious postseason powers and experience on their side. Washington was also without its top pitcher in Strasburg, who had been shut down for the season due to (potential) injury and fatigue concerns stemming from a recent Tommy John surgery. The teams went back and forth during the short series and ultimately found themselves in a deciding Game 5. Game 5 is no friend of the Washington Nationals. They grabbed an early lead, but despite having their best starter on the mound, that lead was squandered in the subsequent eight innings. With a narrow one-run lead, the ninth inning dawned. Nationals closer, Drew Storen, was on the mound, but that didn’t stop the Cardinals from rallying for four runs when they were down to their final out. Washington was held silent in the bottom half of the inning, and their hope of reaching the NLCS was destroyed. But they were a young team facing a group of veterans that inexplicably found ways to win in the postseason. Surely things would get better for them in the following years. Things did not, however, get better. Washington next reached the postseason in 2014, where they were once again playing the Wild Card team. It was a tremendous advantage, playing three of the five games at home against a team that should have been below their talent level. Instead they quickly fell in a 2-0 hole that they could never dig themselves out of. They lost the series in four to the Giants, who ultimately ended up winning the World Series. It was the worst they have been beaten, but it was the least gut-wrenching. In 2016 it was the Dodgers in the opposing dugout. They had Clayton Kershaw on their side, but there were plenty of gaps that could have been exploited. The Nationals had the better regular season record and this time it was they who jumped out to a 2-1 series lead. With their backs against the wall in Game 4, the Dodgers threw Kershaw, who struggled only in the eyes of those who merely glanced at the box score. Kershaw’s dominance and the Dodgers offense pushed the series to a winner-take-all Game 5. With the ghosts of playoffs past merely an afterthought, the Nationals coasted through the first half of the game. They had Max Scherzer on the mound dominating the Dodgers offense and a 1-0 lead on the board. That is, until the very same Scherzer gave up a tying h[...]



Launch angles — October 16, 2017

2017-10-16T08:01:27-04:00

All the baseball nuggets you need to start your day. The MLB season lasts half the year, and it can be hard for the average fan to keep up. That’s where we come in. Every day during the 2017 season, Beyond the Box Score will be recapping all the biggest action from the previous day — with a sabermetric slant, of course — and looking ahead to what today will bring. Yesterday’s biggest play Justin Turner belts a walk-off dinger — +.057 cWPA MLB.com After 8 2⁄3 innings of a tense pitching duel, Justin Turner stepped to the plate with two outs and two men on. One grooved fastball later, and the Dodgers had a two-game lead in the NLCS. This was also the longest home run of the night, so we can talk about the mechanics of the home run down below. Up here, we’ll talk about the real hot topic: Joe Maddon’s managing. Jon Lester cruised through four innings unscathed, and when he ran into some slight trouble, Maddon went to the bullpen early, bringing in Carl Edwards Jr. to close out the fifth and take the sixth. Pedro Strop was called upon for the seventh — a reasonable choice, with a 2.83 ERA and 3.31 FIP in the regular season — and after he pitched a scoreless frame, Maddon was faced with a tied game entering the bottom of the 8th and an off-day tomorrow. This is remarkably similar to the situation that faced Buck Showalter last season in the AL Wild Card game, when the score was tied at 2 in the 11th and Showalter pitched Ubaldo Jimenez over Zach Britton and lost the game (probably) as a result. This was not technically a must-win game for the Cubs, and it was not yet extra innings, but the difference between 0–2 and 1–1 is huge in a best-of-seven series, and a run for the Dodgers would’ve put the Cubs in a horrible position. But instead of going to his best option — Wade Davis, outstanding pitcher, owner of a 2.30 ERA and 32.6 percent strikeout rate in the regular season — Maddon called on 34-year-old veteran Brian Duensing. Duensing had a good year with the Cubs, with a 2.74 ERA, but you can pick from any number of peripherals to make him look much worse: a 3.41 FIP, for example, or a 4.08 DRA, or career figures of 4.02 and 4.92 in those categories. The standard rationale managers give for this sort of move is that the excellent pitcher needs to be saved for the moment when the team has the lead, because that will be the most important inning. What that analysis ignores, of course, is that if the subpar alternative pitcher gives up a run before you take the lead, you lose the game, and never have the chance for your actually good pitcher to throw a single pitch. I’m writing this before Maddon’s postgame comments have been published, so I don’t know what his rationale is. But what he says shouldn’t really matter. Maddon has always excelled at wooing the media, and looking the part of an innovative, creative manager; last night, he managed like an old-school guy, and lost as a result. Duensing, funnily enough, had a fine 8th inning, but yielded a leadoff walk in the 9th. After a sacrifice and a strikeout, with the game perched at a critical moment, Maddon chose to go with John Lackey instead of Davis. Lackey promptly walked Chris Taylor, and Maddon still left Davis in the bullpen. Then Justin Turner hit this three-run home run, and the Cubs and Dodgers both got what they deserved. Yesterday’s best pitching performance Rich Hill — game score of 62 MLB.com Rich Hill did have the best game score of the day yesterday (edging out Jon Lester’s 51), but we’ve loosened the rules for this section during the postseason. That means that Hill is in this slot not because he was the best starter, but because he was the best pitcher period. Five innings is a totally respectable total for a starter in the playoffs, and Hill’s eight strike outs, one walk, three hits, and one run make this a deserving recipient of this honor. The defining characteristic of post-b[...]



MLB’s Diversity Fellowship Program has a diversity problem

2017-10-15T11:00:02-04:00

MLB’s new Diversity Fellowship Program, aimed at women and people of color, will generate front office diversity, but its educational and economic requirements still act as barriers. Major League Baseball announced recently that it is implementing a Diversity Fellowship Program as part of its Diversity Pipeline Program, which began in 2016 as a means of combatting the lack of diversity within Major League Baseball front offices. The application for the fellowship became public last Friday, October 6th, and while the existence of the program in general is a positive step toward acting on the information obtained in the annual diversity report cards, there are several factors of the application process and program itself that undermine or limit this effort to generate diversity. In his statement announcing the fellowship program, commissioner Rob Manfred declared it to be MLB’s “most significant efforts to recruit the most talented array of diverse individuals who are interested in pursuing a long-term career in baseball.” The program, which offers fellowships for both MLB clubs and the Central Office, works thusly: This distinct opportunity will place candidates in entry-level roles within one of the MLB Clubs and MLB's Central Office. The Club-based program will be an 18-to-24-month commitment in a front office or baseball operations role at one of the MLB Clubs around the country participating in the MLB Diversity Fellowship Program. Additionally, Major League Baseball will offer three entry-level fellowships with a rotational, three-year phase opportunity to: (1) two years in Baseball Operations, focusing on International Operations & Scouting, Umpiring and On-field Rules & Regulations; and (2) one year working within the League Economics Department. Specifically recruiting women and POC, the program, on its surface, seems to be an important step in diversifying the most traditionally white elements of Major League Baseball. It aims to fully prepare these people for jobs in baseball beyond the fellowship. And it will assuredly introduce a number of people to front office work who would otherwise have been discouraged from applying to such positions. But there are still several faults in this program that prevent it from addressing fundamental concerns of diversity. GPA Requirement Primarily, applicants must have graduated no more than two years prior to the application deadline, and each must provide proof of obtaining a 3.2 GPA or higher in college. For many POC, this requirement is difficult to achieve because of systemic inequalities in the country’s education structure. Across the country, POC individuals, primarily Black and Latinx people, have obtained lower GPAs than their white counterparts. Of those who attended a four-year institution, according to a Department of Education report released in 2012, 75 percent of white Bachelor degree recipients had a GPA of at least 3.0 compared to 55 percent of Black students, and white students were twice as likely to graduate with a GPA of 3.5 or higher. Meanwhile, Black students were three times as likely to graduate with a GPA of 2.5 or lower. Several factors contribute to this GPA disparity, including unconscious racism on the part of white professors. A study conducted by Columbia University discovered that this racial bias may account for up to one full letter grade difference between white and POC grades. This bias manifests itself in a number of ways, including the anxiety white teachers face when instructing POC students, overcompensating in an effort to make themselves not racist. This anxiety then transfers to the students, negatively impacting their test scores. At least partially, then, a POC student’s GPA is something over which they have little control, and setting a hard GPA cutoff precludes many POC who are qualified and have been victims of systemic racism. Furthermore, this GPA requirement seems likely to reinfor[...]



Stephen Strasburg’s “flu game” reminded us of an unwritten postseason rule

2017-10-15T09:01:50-04:00

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When you’re in the postseason make sure you don’t poke the bear — especially a Strasbear.

Last week, I wrote about how the pressure and stress of the postseason can positively affect the average velocity for most pitchers. Something I touched on but didn’t discuss all that much is that even without the change in velocity, there is an enormous desire to succeed when you reach the postseason. Everyone knows how important the playoffs are, so I don’t need to dive any deeper there.

Now, there’s the standard motivation and desire to win in the postseason that I just mentioned, and then there’s the motivation that Stephen Strasburg had as he took the mound for Game 4 on Wednesday night. Before we talk about that, let's rewind a bit to find out what got us here.


Ron Wolschleger is a pitchaholic and a Contributing Writer for Beyond the Box Score as well as Bless You Boys. You can follow him on Twitter at @FIPmyWHIP.




Launch angles — October 15, 2017

2017-10-15T08:00:10-04:00

All the baseball nuggets you need to start your day. The MLB season lasts half the year, and it can be hard for the average fan to keep up. That’s where we come in. Every day during the 2017 regular season, Beyond the Box Score will be recapping all the biggest action from the previous day — with a sabermetric slant, of course — and looking ahead to what today will bring. Yesterday’s biggest play Carlos Correa and José Altuve win Game 2 for the Astros — +.055 cWPA MLB.com That’s gonna sting for a long time if the Yankees can’t dig their way out of this two-game hole. A recurring theme since his return from the DL has been Gary Sánchez’s lackluster defense in the traditional catcher skills. His 53 wild pitches were the second-most in MLB, and his 16 passed balls were the first; combined, his 69 missed pitches were the most in the league by a huge margin, and with a relatively low innings total. Sánchez is a fantastic player, of course, but his subpar glovework will probably attract a lot of focus this offseason if the Yankees’ run through the postseason ends in the ALCS. Because a clean catch here would’ve had Altuve dead to rights. I’m generally a fan of aggressive baserunning in the late innings — especially against a pitcher like Aroldis Chapman, you can’t assume you’ll get any further opportunities — but as the gif shows, the diminutive Astros second baseman was just rounding third as the ball skipped in to Gregorius. Maybe it was right to gamble on a bad throw or a faulty reception at the plate, but the odds aren’t great. In a tie game in the bottom of the 9th, the home team wins 80 percent of the time when it has runners on second and third with one out; that drops to 60 percent when it has a runner on second with two out. Altuve had to have roughly a 50/50 shot to make sending him worthwhile, and though it worked out, that seems like an extremely generous interpretation. “Scoreboard” is a totally reasonable response to this whole paragraph, though. Let’s not lose sight of Carlos Correa in all this, because this was an extremely clutch hit and a great plate appearance leading to it. He laid off three close pitches off the outside edge of the plate, and with the count full, managed to not only fight off a nasty heater at the bottom of the zone but drive it the other way. And it was his fourth-inning home run that gave the Astros their first run and put them in the position for this dramatic win. After this performance, Correa’s hitting .280/.333/.720 in the playoffs, with two dingers and three doubles, and he’s unsurprisingly been a key part of Houston’s success. Yesterday’s best pitching performance Justin Verlander — game score of 92 MLB.com This outing would’ve been impressive in the regular season; only two outings all year were better, by the catch-all metric of game score. And of course there’s an added layer of excitement because this is the playoffs, and because this start came against a very good team in a very important moment. But even more than your routine excellent postseason start, this gem from Justin Verlander is especially amazing: nine innings pitched, thirteen strikeouts, one walk, five hits, one run. There have been just seven other complete games in the postseason since 2011; especially this year, where bullpens have played an enormous role and lots of starters have been steered into relief (Verlander included), such a feat seemed nearly impossible until it happened. The Astros ace had an incredible 25 whiffs on the afternoon, with 13 on his slider and another 10 on his fastball. Unlike lots of modern pitchers, he didn’t get those whiffs on the fourseamer up above the top of the zone; instead, Verlander kept his fastball down for the most part, and got whiffs by going off the plate slightly or by using its movement. If your [...]



Launch angles — October 14, 2017

2017-10-14T08:00:35-04:00

All the baseball nuggets you need to start your day. The MLB season lasts half the year, and it can be hard for the average fan to keep up. That’s where we come in. Every day during the 2017 regular season, Beyond the Box Score will be recapping all the biggest action from the previous day — with a sabermetric slant, of course — and looking ahead to what today will bring. Yesterday’s biggest play Carlos Correa puts Houston on the board — +.109 WPA GIF via MLB.com Pitchers’ duels don’t usually have exciting offensive plays. This sort of WPA graph is what you’ll usually see: Image via FanGraphs This isn’t to say the ALCS Game 1 between the Yankees and Astros — a 2-1 nail-biter of a win for Houston — had no excitement. Two dominant pitchers went head-to-head (which we’ll discuss in a moment), and a late home run (which we’ll also discuss in a moment) made things close. But none of that swung the game all that much. In low-scoring affairs like these, the first run — the one that finally breaks the tie, as first runs tend to do — will usually take the top spot. Such was the case in Friday’s game. In the top of the fourth, Jose Altuve knocked a one-out single, then stole second. Perhaps fazed by the runner at second, Tanaka caught a little too much of the strike zone: Image via Brooks Baseball Correa pulled the 2-1 slider to right field, and Brett Gardner’s underwhelming throw wasn’t nearly enough to catch Altuve, who decided to slide because he could. The RBI single put Houston ahead, 1-0. This wasn’t the only run of the game, or even the inning — Yuli Gurriel followed up with a single of his own, scoring Correa from second. The Yankees had some more high-leverage moments in the next frame, putting the first two hitters on base before stranding them. At the end of the day, though, this swing was the decisive one, the one that broke the game open. That’s why it gets top billing. Yesterday’s best game score Dallas Keuchel — 82 Game Score was developed by Bill James as a quick way to evaluate a starting pitcher’s performance. The score begins at 50, with points added for outs and strikeouts, and subtracted for walks, hits, and runs. A score of 70 is very good; a score of 90 is outstanding. GIF via MLB.com The real story of Game 1 was on the mound. Masahiro Tanaka did his best — limiting one of the best offenses in MLB history to two runs over six innings is an impressive accomplishment — but he didn’t stand a chance against Keuchel. The Houston southpaw was firing on all cylinders, holding New York to four hits and a walk over seven shutout innings. After failing to reach double-digit strikeouts in a regular-season game, he fanned 10 Yankees in this sterling outing. Earlier this year, FanGraphs’ Jeff Sullivan noted Keuchel had gone the way of Brad Ziegler, avoiding the strike zone like never before and pitching better as a result. That was the case in this game — Keuchel didn’t give the Yankees much to hit: Image via Brooks Baseball Still, he managed to throw 67 of his 109 pitches for strikes, thanks to an aggressive Bombers lineup and some slick framing from Brian McCann. His 56 sinkers racked up 15 called strikes, catching the Yankees looking whenever they weren’t making weak contact against it. For a change of speed, he tossed in 46 sliders and cutters, which gave him 10 whiffs and six outs on six balls in play. The result was — well, we’ve already talked about that. Things won’t get any easier for New York in Game 2 later today, when Houston will trot out Justin Verlander — he of the 1.06 ERA in five regular-season starts with the ‘Stros. Following a day off Sunday, the Yankees will face Charlie Morton and his renewed velocity in Game 3, with Keuche[...]