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A Saber-Slanted Baseball Community

Updated: 2018-04-23T13:46:35-04:00


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The Red Sox increased aggression has benefited them


The increased aggressiveness of Red Sox hitters has been well documented. Let’s dive into that further and see how much is it helping them. The Red Sox have been one of the biggest stories of this early 2018 season. They are off to a historically good 17-4 start, despite losing the last two games of the weekend to the Athletics. Wins are wins, but the Red Sox have been helped by an easy schedule so far, with twelve of their seventeen games coming against the Rays, Marlins, and Orioles. The Marlins might be a historically bad team, and the Rays and Orioles are projected to battle it out for last place in the division with projected win totals of 73 and 72, respectively. There is still something to be said about going 11-1 against those bad teams, and they did destroy the Angels last week as well. They are still major league teams — yes, even the Marlins — and you would be hard pressed to find a twelve-game stretch in history where a team won eleven games. The Red Sox have achieved this by firing on all cylinders. The offense in particular has been ridiculous. As a team, they are hitting .277/.344/.467 with 26 HR and 58 doubles. That doubles number leads the league by 11! They also lead the league with a 17.5 K%, which is especially impressive for reasons we will get to shortly. Last June, I wrote about how the Astros were on a historically good pace with their offense. They finished the season with a 121 wRC+, good for fourth-best all time in the live-ball era. The 1927 Yankees are still the best offensive team of the live-ball era, unsurprisingly, with a 126 wRC+. The Red Sox currently have a 118 wRC+, and it was at a 132 wRC+ before their tough weekend. I think it is safe to say that they will not finish the season as the best offense since 1920, but there is not a lot of flukish good luck that is apparent from the stats, at least not as a team. They have a .310 BABIP and a 12.0 percent HR/FB ratio. I expected to see that their xwOBA was much lower than their actual wOBA, but that is not the case at all. As a matter of fact, their .399 xwOBA is 34 points higher than their actual wOBA! As for the individual hitters, I mean just look at this... Mookie Betts in particular is hitting like peak Barry Bonds. Jeff Sullivan of FanGraphs broke down how he has accomplished that. As Sullivan says himself, Betts is obviously not going to sustain this. His 20.0 percent HR/FB could be the result of his increased launch angles, but his .345 BABIP is high, even for a hitter of his skill and speed. As is the trend with the team, his xwOBA is higher than his actual wOBA. The difference is much greater, though. He has a .563 xwOBA against a .498 wOBA. He is currently among the league leaders in WAR at FanGraphs. If you you have watched a lot of NESN broadcasts lately, you have probably heard a bit about how new manager Alex Cora has coached hitters to be more aggressive. Sullivan has recently done a great job writing about this. With all due respect to the tremendously talented Jeff Sullivan, I do not believe that “bringing to an end a long era of patience” is the correct way to describe the Red Sox’s changed approach. As he mentioned, the team is not walking less or reducing their frequency of swings outside the zone. The Red Sox are not being more or less patient. What they are doing is being less passive. It is great to work the count, but it becomes less so when that comes at the cost of declining to swing at good pitches in the zone. Walks are great, but hits, especially extra-base hits, are better. Cora is leveraging ideas that any serious baseball fan has likely had. Why don’t hitters swing more often at first pitch strikes? Why don’t hitters swing more often in 3-0 counts when the pitcher frequently throws one right down the middle? Let’s further break down how much more aggressive the Red Sox have been in hitters counts and how it has helped them. The 2018 is obviously a very small sample size, but the purpose of this exercise is to be more descriptive, not predictiv[...]

Marty’s musings: our first unlikely no-no


The Red Sox streak comes to a screeching halt at the hands of an unlikely pitcher. Welcome to ‘Marty’s Musings’, my weekly column of numbers summarizing the happenings in the baseball world. I am your guide for taking an analytic look at the news and notes throughout baseball, and highlighting this week’s key pitching matchups. This week, Sean Manaea tosses the first no-hitter of the year against the hottest team in baseball, Aaron Judge becomes the fastest player to hit 60 homers, and one team axess their manager. It’s all in this week’s Musings. News and Notes 100 - Game score for the Athletics Sean Manaea who tossed a no hitter against the Boston Red Sox on Saturday night. Manaea allowed only two walks and struck out ten Boston hitters. He dealt the Red Sox only their third loss of the year, and was the first pitcher to complete six innings or more since April 3rd. Some Red Sox hitters took it in stride, understanding full well that a loss is a loss. 197 - Games it took Aaron Judge to get to 60 home runs. Judge made history last Monday, jacking number 60 against the Marlins Caleb Smith at Yankee Stadium. He got to number 60 in 5 fewer games than it took the previous record-holder, Mark McGwire. 3 - Home runs by Red Sox outfielder Mookie Betts on Tuesday. Boston pounded Angels’ prodigy Shohei Ohtani, forcing him to leave after only two innings in the opening game of a three-game sweep in California. Ohtani suffered from a blister but looked mortal on the mound and at the plate. 11 - Home runs the Red Sox hit in the three-game set versus the Angels --- the most homers in any Boston three-game series since 1977. In the three-game sweep, Boston outscored Los Angeles 27-3. 2 - Blown saves for Dodgers’ closer Kenley Jansen who only blew one save in all of 2017. Jansen has allowed six earned runs already this year after allowing only ten all of last year, and he’s already given up three longballs to only five in 2017. 104 - Game started in Matt Harvey’s career. New York announced that he will be moved to the bullpen after yet another trouncing on Thursday, this one at the hands of Atlanta. So far in four strats this year, Harvey has allowed 14 runs in 21 innings, averaging a game score of 33 over his last three outings. 1 - Managerial change already in basell. Last week the Cincinnati Red axed manager Bryan Price. Over four+ years, Price’s teams never made the postseason, and compiled a .419 winning percentage. Former Nationals manager Jim Riggleman will be at the helm for the 3-18 Reds for the remainder of the season. 2 - Outs recorded on a traditional baseball play on Thursday night...but Evan Gattis walked off the field thinking the double play ended the inning. His walking out of the baseline caused an unconventional triple play. 21 - Pitch at bat in a battle between Angels’ pitcher Jaime Barria and the Giants Brandon Belt. Barria ultimately prevailed, inducing a fly-out, not before Belt raced up 21 pitches in what is the most pitches in one at bat ever recorded. Matchups to Watch Tuesday, April 24 Jose Berrios (MIN) v. CC Sabathia (NYY), 6:35 ET A rematch of the 2017 American League wild card game pits Twins ace Jose Barrios against Yankee veteran CC Sabathia. Berrios looks like he’s taken the step to be an impact player for the Twins, and in 99 innings so far this year, he has only walked one batter. He’s already accumulated 1.3 fWAR, compared to 2.8 all of 2017. Shohei Ohtani (LAA) v. Charlie Morton (HOU), 8:10 ET Ohtani struggled with a blister in his abbreviated outing against Boston, which did not go as well as his previous starts. He takes on another powerful lineup in Houston on Tuesday. Charlie Morton meanwhile has been unbelievably effective in his post-Pittsburgh career. He is following up his 2017 playoff heroics looking like he absolutely belongs in the company of Gerrit Cole and Justin Verlander. Expect the Angels and Astros to be jockeying for the AL West lead all season. Wednesday,[...]

Garrett Richards has the stuff


What stuff? Ace stuff, probably. His arsenal is incredible. There are two very obvious reasons to watch the Los Angeles Angels right now. In Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani, the Halos have the best player in MLB and the most fascinating player (who is also truly incredible), and it’s awesome. They’re also in first place in the AL West and off to a franchise-best 13-4 start. The Angels are more than just those two players, though. Amid all the Ohtani excitement, no one is talking about the potential impact of a healthy and effective Garrett Richards. It’s been two years since we’ve seen Richards at peak capability. Admittedlym he’s thrown less this year than in either of the previous two injury-shortened campaigns, so one could be blamed for jumping the gun on this. But bad luck can only haunt you so much, and after a stem cell injection to repair a partial UCL tear in 2016 and more right arm trouble in 2017, Richards — and most baseball fans* — hopes those troubles are behind him. *Well, outside the AL West. Richards has dazzling talent. This year, his fastball is averaging 96.2 miles per hour, third-highest among all starters, which is good enough to catch anyone’s eye on its own. Even better, it also has the fourth-highest spin rate of any four-seamer thrown this year, at 2617 RPM on average. Above him on that list are Justin Verlander (2619 — basically tied), and two relievers in Carl Edwards, Jr. and Luke Bard. The fastball alone is lethal, but as Richards diced up the Royals on Saturday — before suddenly imploding in the fifth inning — he paired it with quite the slider: src="" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" width="100%" height="100%" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;" allowfullscreen=""> In case you were confused by the suddenly shifting hitter, yes, that is two different at-bats. The individual hitter is immaterial here, though — we’re only talking about Richards’ arsenal. This pairing is a good example of what Richards can do with that slider when paired with his fastball. Since the heater has that high spin rate, it drops less than an average four-seamer, meaning to a hitter it seems to almost “rise.” Hitters have seen fastballs their entire lives, and their brains are programmed to expect it to drop at a certain rate; high-spin fastballs refute that. Richards has also shown steadily increasing velocity on his slider. In 2015, when he started 32 games and threw 207 innings, it clocked in at 87.4 mph. This year, it’s at 90.2 mph, about six miles per hour harder than league average. It’s still early, and the velo might be sample size, but the movement is real, and it’s spectacular. When his spinning fastball is paired with his hard-biting slider, it’s downright unfair. Richards has another pitch, a slower curve that he uses sparingly yet judiciously to cripple hitters. Paired again with that fastball, it’s quite the hammer: src="" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" width="100%" height="100%" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;" allowfullscreen=""> Unlike with Clayton Kershaw or Trevor Bauer curves, which drop seemingly seven or eight feet when they break, this hard, snapping curve is actually quite akin to Richards’ slider. It has less lateral movement, though, as it simply tumbles straight down. With the curveball in his arsenal, he has a range of 12-16 mph that can just mess with hitters as he works up and down in the zone with pitches that defy physics. While that one was at the top of the zone, he has the ability to bury one, too: src="" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" width="100%" height="100%" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;" allowfullscreen=""> This is more what you expect with a curveball, and regularly paired with a four-seamer in the lower half of the zone, it’s just as good a weapon of batter embarras[...]

The Mets have a catcher problem


The team with the best record in baseball just suffered a catastrophe at catcher. Thankfully, they have options. The Mets went into the season with some solid depth at catcher. That is a good thing, because Travis d’Arnaud’s career has been plagued with injury. Kevin Plawecki is the backup, and as with d’Arnaud, he has yet to fulfill scouts’ expectations of a bat-first catcher. To be fair, the same can be said for d’Arnaud, but Plawecki has a career line of .219/.309/.305 with only seven home runs. His career .272 wOBA is 36 points lower than d’Arnaud’s. Both catchers have similar defensive profiles as well. Neither one of them are especially good defensively in a classical sense. Where they do is excel, however, is their pitch-framing. With d’Arnaud especially, this led to him putting up pretty good numbers per Baseball Prospectus’s advanced defensive metric, FRAA. This depth recently blew up quickly. d’Arnaud was diagnosed with a partially torn UCL in his elbow and will undergo Tommy John surgery. Position players do not require the extensive rehab that pitchers do, but d’Arnaud will still need to miss the rest of the season. When it looked like it would be Plawecki’s time to shine, he took a 98-MPH fastball off of his left hand. He was diagnosed with a hairline fracture and is expected to miss 3-4 weeks. So the Mets needed both an everyday catcher and a back-up. They decided to promote from within to fill these roles, calling up Tomás Nido and José Lobatón. I was unfamiliar with Nido until recently — which surprised me, because I’m a Mets fan — but his profile is interesting. While you won’t find him on any list of top 100 prospects, he is considered to be one of the better prospects in the Mets’ system. ESPN’s Keith Law ranked him 16th in the system. Baseball Prospectus was more optimistic, putting him at sixth. They both agree that he is a strong defensive backstop with some pop in his swing, but his hit tool limits his ceiling. There is nothing wrong with projecting as a solid back-up catcher, but the Mets need more than that. Lobatón is the veteran catcher in his ninth season of major league baseball. He is more or less a career back-up who has never hit, with a career line of .219/.295/.325 and a 72 wRC+. He was especially bad last year, hitting just .170/.248/.277 over 158 PA. His 36 wRC+ was one of the worst in baseball among hitters with at least 150 PA. Nido might surprise, but neither one of these guys are a good choice for regular playing time for a team that can contend. Plawecki should be back in mid to late May, but he might not be the best choice for an everyday role either. So where should the Mets go from here? Their farm system is not especially strong at the moment, so that limits what they can do. They do have options, though. J.T. Realmuto would be a great option, and in fact, there are reports that the Mets have spoken to the Marlins about him. Reportedly it would take a “haul” to get him, but the Mets can’t offer that kind of return. It’s odd to see the new Marlins ownership suddenly appear to care about the baseball team, since they’ve made it very clear that they care more about money than the product on the field or their fans. The Mets have a bad reputation for being cheap as well, so perhaps “haul” means lots of money in the form of “cash considerations.” Realmuto has made it abundantly clear that he is unhappy with the Marlins’ most recent fire sale, so perhaps that can lighten the leverage that the Marlins have. I am sincerely surprised that the team is not willing to accept any paltry return just so that they can get out of the millions of dollars that they will owe Realmuto in arbitration through 2020. Unlike d’Arnaud, Realmuto has a good history of durability. He is a career .280/.322/.428 hitter, which is quite good for a catcher, and his defense has improved the past couple of years. He also has tw[...]

Marty’s musings: three winning streaks make their mark


Amidst a cold and wet spring, baseball gives us much to look forward to in the coming months. Welcome to ‘Marty’s Musings’, my weekly column of numbers summarizing the happenings in the baseball world. I am your guide for taking an analytic look at the news and notes throughout baseball, and highlighting this week’s key pitching matchups. This week the Red Sox continue to mow-down divisional foes as tempers flare against the Yankees, Gerrit Cole and Max Scherzer continue to dominate, and a pair of impressive winning streaks come to an end. It’s all in this week’s Musings. News and Notes 20 — Postponed games this year that have caused frustration throughout baseball. The cold, wet, and (in the upper midwest) snowy spring, have been a challenge throughout the game. On Sunday, the entire AL Central were forced to reschedule, and we’re already up to 20 postponements in comparison to 25 all of 2017. While MLB typically figures out how to maximize revenue and travel logistics, wet springs damage minor league ball much more. 10:0 — Strikeouts to walks in Max Scherzer’s start against Atlanta last Monday night. Scherzer tossed a complete game shutout, and put up a game score of 93. He followed up the impressive performance with seven strong innings of two-run ball against the Rockies. 27 — Runs put up by the Red Sox in a three-game set against the Yankees last week. Boston trounced New York `14-1 in the series opener and beat the Yanks 6-3 in the finale. The middle game was a 10-7 slugfest that also featured a bench-clearing brawl after a Tyler Austin slide clipped Brock Holt’s ankle. 9 — Wins in a row for both the Mets and the Red Sox; both streaks were snapped last week. The Mets’ winning streak was ended by the Brewers on Saturday, and the Yankees halted the Red Sox’ on Wednesday. Both teams are off to impressive starts behind some excellent starting pitching. 7 — Current winning streak for the Angels, who sit atop the AL West with a 13-3 record. The Angels play host to Boston this upcoming week. More on that in the must-watch section below. 2000 — Career hits by Twins veteran Joe Mauer. Mauer is not the All-Star backstop he used to be, as he’s made the full transition to first base and DH, but he still holds a special place in Twins history since he’s spent his entire 14-year-career in the Twin Cities. 21 — Consecutive starts for Orioles strater Chris Tillman in which he did not earn the win. The win stat is convoluted and in many ways an absurd way to measure a pitcher, but even so, 21 games without managing to fall into one is pretty darn impressive (in a bad way!). The Red Sox roughed up Tillman in two innings of work on Friday night, amassing six runs on seven hits and two walks. Despite starting over 20 games, his last win was in May of last year. 0 — Games won by the Kansas City Royals in which they have given up at least one run. The Royals’ only three wins have come in shutouts, and they are trying to rectify a current five-game losing streak coming into Monday’s matchup against Toronto. 2 — Pitchers in the history of baseball who have struck out at least 11 batters in each of their first three games with a new team: Gerrit Cole and Nolan Ryan. Cole has been unreal in his Houston debut and on the season has 36 strikeouts to just four walks. He’s given up only thee runs in 21 innings of work. 11 — Straight regular-season wins the Diamondbacks had delivered to the Dodgers until Sunday afternoon’s 7-2 loss. The Dodgers are not used to being any team’s doormat, and the streak was the longest against any single opponent since the team moved out of Brooklyn. Matchups to Watch Tuesday, April 17 Corey Kluber (CLE) v. Jake Odorizzi (MIN), 7:10 ET Kluber’s been so dominant for so long that it’s a dominating start is almost becoming the expectation. Of the 81 batters faced, Kluber has K’d 27 of them. He has g[...]

Gabe Kapler is learning on the fly as Phillies manager


He had a few rough games early, but Kapler has done a better job as of late. Six teams hired a new manager prior to the 2018 MLB season. The Washington Nationals, New York Mets, New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox and Detroit Tigers all found new skippers, but none have pushed as unorthodox methods as Philadelphia Phillies new manager Gabe Kapler. Right after the Phillies hired Kapler in November, I wrote an article about him in which I compared him to former Eagles coach Chip Kelly. Certainly, Philadelphia sports fans hope Kapler’s tenure in the city does not end similarly to how Kelly’s did. (Though that is very unlikely to occur, as Kapler would never get the GM duties as Kelly did. Baseball just does not work that way.) Thirteen games in, and Kapler has found himself right in the thick of things already, and not in the most positive of ways. It’s certianly not all bad however; of teams with first-time managers, Kapler’s Phillies do have the third-best record at 9-5. It’s a simplified comparison because all six managers inherited teams with different talent levels, but what I am trying to say is, well, Kapler’s Phillies have not fallen least not yet. For a bit, it seemed like the team’s direction might go sour. On Opening Day, Kapler pulled starting pitcher Aaron Nola with a 5-0 lead after throwing just 68 pitches. The Phillies went on to lose. Two days later, he brought in left-hander Hoby Milner from the bullpen without warming him up first. And, after dropping two more games to the Mets, the Phillies were 1-4. Kapler was booed in his first game as manager in Philadelphia. It was a less than auspicious beginning. Since then though, the Phillies have rebounded, albeit against bad teams. They took two of three from the Marlins, including a 20-1 thumping on Apr. 7th, then swept both the Reds and the Rays. What has impressed me is how quickly Kapler has been willing to change his methods when necessary. To survive in Major League Baseball requires being able to go off-script, to make the important changes right as things look bleak. Kapler has done just that, and he has done that with success. One thing Kapler has stressed throughout his managerial career is the third-time-through-the-order penalty. That is, a starting pitcher’s numbers significantly decrease when they are facing hitters for the third time, and they should be removed from the game before this happens. Kapler subscribed to that methodology when pulling Nola on Opening Day, yet many pointed out that he lacked the feel for the situation, as the game was pretty well-in-hand, and Nola’s pitch count was only in the 70s. Kapler did not need Nola, or any of his pitchers, to throw a shutout. All he needed was them to allow fewer than five runs. Nola should have been left in that game, even if it was only to just save the bullpen. It would not have been the end of the world had Nola given up one or two runs. Over the course of the season, those types of decisions help save a bullpen. In the first eight games of the Phillies season, the starting pitcher on any given night faced more than 18 hitters (exactly twice through the order) six times. That includes Nola on Opening Day, who faced 20, yet is still thrown in as having been pulled too quickly. So, yes, Kapler would let his pitchers get to face the order for a third time, but it usually wasn’t for long. The most batters that any of his first eight starters faced was 25. Over the last five games, Kapler has let his starters roll. Kapler let Ben Lively pitch up to 100 pitches in the first game of the series against the Reds, and that proved to be a mistake as he gave up the tying run in the top of the sixth. On the next night, Kapler let Nola pitch into the eighth inning (amazing, I know) in the first true Phillies gem of the season. To finish out the series, Kapler went with his gut and with the desir[...]

Trea Turner has fixed his biggest weakness


The Nats speedster is much more patient at the plate. Trea Turner is nothing if not aggressive. Every second he’s on the diamond, he plays at 100 percent, and it shows. It’s how he’s able to steal second when the pitcher tries to pick him off: GIF via And it’s how he’s able to lay out for line drives on the warning track: GIF via But aggression isn’t always a positive. While it’s good for Turner to go hard on the bases or in the field, it can hold him back at the plate. This isn’t the type of pitch you want to be swinging at: GIF via Baseball Savant During his first two years with the Nationals, Turner took a walk in just 5.7 percent of his plate appearances. Despite a superb .309 batting average, his on-base percentage was a more human .351. He was doing well at pretty much everything — he picked up plenty of hits, he sprinkled in some doubles and triples, he was a terror on the basepaths, and he defended his position — except for earning free passes. In 2018, things have changed. Behold, the new Trea Turner! Image via FanGraphs Yeah, you were expecting another GIF, but these are walks we’re talking about. Thus far, Turner has earned nine walks in 55 trips to the dish — that’s a 16.4 percent clip. The sample size is obviously an issue, but consider this: In 2016, Turner didn’t earn his ninth base on balls until his 59th game. In 2017, it took him 49 games. This year, he got there by his 10th game. And even better, that production has been spread out — Turner has taken those nine walks across nine contests. This isn’t a case where he faced a wild starter one time and just kept the bat on his shoulder; this is a real shift in his approach. In his third full season as a big-leaguer, Turner has reined himself in, and he’s all the better for it. This trend started toward the end of 2017. Turner had a 5.7 percent walk rate to start the season, before a pitch to the wrist landed him on the DL in June. After returning to the lineup in late August, he worked a base on balls in 9.1 percent of his plate appearances. That helped him improve his wRC+ from 94 before his injury to 133 afterward. Nine percent is a long way from 16 percent, though. Pitchers haven’t been treating Turner much differently; to get where he is today, he made strides with his plate discipline. He’s laying off pitches outside the strike zone this year, a lot more so than in the past: Image via FanGraphs And that hasn’t stopped him from swinging at a good amount of strikes: Image via FanGraphs This adjustment has been more pronounced in certain situations. During the past two seasons, Turner swung 66.8 percent of the time in three-ball counts; this year, that’s down to 40 percent. He’s not just being patient to work the count in his favor and get a pitch to drive — he’s doing it so he can take walks and get on base. Of course, there’s a fine line between being patient and being passive. In spring training, as Turner tweaked his approach, he expressed some reservations about it: Trea Turner knows the primary criticism with his approach at the plate. And he doesn’t entirely disagree, even if he adds a qualifier to the sentiment. “I think a lot of people made a big deal out of me not walking the last couple years, I guess rightfully so,” the Nationals shortstop said. “But I feel like if they give me pitches to hit, I should put them in play. And if they don’t, I need to walk.” … “I’m trying to take a few more pitches here and there, but at the same time I don’t want to be hitting with two strikes all the time,” he said. “It’s trying to find a happy medium. I don’t want to be 0-2 and miss the pitches I feel like I should’ve swung at.” [...]