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A Saber-Slanted Baseball Community



Updated: 2017-10-19T11:00:05-04:00

 



Breaking down the home run revolution by position

2017-10-19T11:00:05-04:00

2017 was the "year of the homer." A positional breakdown of where and when the home runs exploded. In September, Major League Baseball passed the all-time record for home runs in a season. Devin Fink outlined the specifics in an article that day, pointing out that the heaviest of hitters dominated the 2000 season. Over the course of the last ten years however, the home run rate had been raised for every position and player, espiecally in the last two years. Going back only ten years, the average player hit 19.5 home runs. In 2017, that number exploded to 25.1, an increase of nearly a third! The trend is clear, and it’s obvious that all the recent home runs are being spread around to every position. With the exception of the designated hitter spot, every position is at or very close to their peak for home runs. Considering there are only 15 DH’s, the blip is easily explained by big-time-slugger retirements — David Ortiz, Mark Teixeira, and Alex Rodriguez — combined with a slowdown in production by some aging sluggers who tend to inhabit the position. Consider Mark Trumbo, for example, who went from 47 homers in 2016 to 28 this year. The biggest surprise is the change in second basemen long-ball production since 2014. Before 2015, second basemen had averaged around 16 homers per season. Then suddenly, that jumped to around 23 home runs per hitter. That alone counts for an increase in 210 home runs over the course of a yea — and that’s only for one position. If I asked you to name the second basemen home run leaders over the last three seasons, you’d probably throw out names like: Jose Altuve, Daniel Murphy, and Jason Kipnis. None of those three are in the top five, furthering the point that this is a widespread phenomena. The second basemen who have hit the most home runs since 2015 are Brian Dozier (who ran away with it at 104 homers), Robinson Cano (83), Rougned Odor (79), Jonathan Schoop (72) and Jedd Gyorko (66). Similarly, with the advent of the home run-hitting shortstop (think Francisco Lindor, Carlos Correa, and Corey Seager), the trends match similarly with second base, with a move from 15.1 homers per player to nearly 20. The trend in the majors is one that likely will continue unless there’s a fundamental change in the game, like changing the height or the mound or getting rid of a clearly juiced ball. The late 1990s and early 2000s are fondly (or not) remembered for home run chases, high-scoring games, and shootouts the likes of which had never been seen previously. It looks like the twenty-teens is going to overtake that from a numbers perspective, even if we don’t have the same home run chase narrative. For people who love home runs, middle infielders just became a lot more interesting. *** Steven Martano is an Editor at Beyond the Box Score, a Contributing Prospect Writer for the Colorado Rockies at Purple Row, and a contributing writer for The Hardball Times. You can follow him on Twitter at @SMartano [...]



Please don’t compare Clayton Kershaw to Sandy Koufax

2017-10-19T09:00:12-04:00

They both utterly dominated their generation, but one was much better than the other when it mattered the most. If you read something about baseball at least periodically, it’s quite difficult to not come across the name Clayton Kershaw. As most — if not all — of you know, Kershaw has easily been the most dominant pitcher of this generation. He’s without a doubt the most feared and the hardest starting pitcher to figure out. Even during a bad day for Kershaw, he’s still a more difficult opponent than a majority of the league’s starters. Because of Kershaw’s credentials, people tend to compare him to similarly dominant starters from generations past. One particular comparison I see repeatedly is Kershaw and another Dodgers legend, Sandy Koufax. Koufax dominated the game similarly to Kershaw, and is often considered the best pitcher of his generation as well. This all despite his career being shortened due to injuries which required him to retire at only 30 years old. What he did in the 11 seasons between 1955 and 1966 though, has been reminisced for decades and for good reason. Dodgers fans know what I am talking about. Koufax is the blueprint for how you want to pitch, winning three Cy Young’s in the span four seasons and an MVP to top it off. The regular season comparison is obvious as Kershaw and Koufax hold regular season career ERAs and FIPs under 3.00, both average at least nine strikeouts per nine innings as well as both average less than seven hits per nine innings. Without question they were dominant during the regular season and there’s no arguing that. Once you reach the postseason though, the comparison no longer makes sense. Although Kershaw hasn’t been terrible, he hasn’t been all that great either as he’s allowed at least four runs in six of his 16 postseason starts and only pitched at least one out in the seventh inning on eight occasions, so his starts have been hit or miss to say the least. His postseason performances have hardly been the dominating starts we’ve come to expect from April to September. Even if you cherry-pick Kershaw’s seven best starts in the postseason and compare them to Koufax’s seven total career postseason starts, Koufax still beats him in almost every statistical category, or at least the categories that we’re able to calculate from the data that was tracked during Koufax’s era. In comparing those seven starts, Koufax pitched an additional 14 innings, only giving up two more walks while striking out 16 additional batters. The chart below compares Koufax’s seven career postseason starts with Kershaw’s seven best postseason starts of his career (picked based on the number of runs he allowed). And now for their entire postseason careers. On top of Koufax beating Kershaw in almost every metric, Koufax had four complete games, two of which were shutouts. Admittedly, it was a different time, but Kershaw’s best postseason start was during the Game 2 of the 2016 NLCS where he pitched seven shutout innings allowing two hits and a walk against six strikeouts; it was a good start, but not at Koufax’s level. Additionally, by the end of the 2009 postseason, in three starts Kershaw had allowed three home runs which is more than Koufax allowed in all eight postseason appearances. Kershaw allowed three home runs in two starts during the 2014 NLDS series. You can even throw in Game 1 of the 2017 NLDS against the Arizona Diamondbacks where Kershaw allowed four homers in just the one start. Avoiding giving up the longball in the postseason was something in which Koufax and while Kershaw seems to struggle. This speaks to not only the level that Koufax was pitching, but also how much the game has changed. It’s altogether not entirely a fair comparison. After all, during Koufax’s era, there weren’t Division and Championships series; instead the best regular season AL team faced off against the best regular season NL team for the World Series, which explains the lack of postseason appearances for Koufax despite[...]



Didi Gregorius has shown himself to be a real extension candidate

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

(image)

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 denoun[...]



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. [...]



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 recipie[...]