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A Saber-Slanted Baseball Community

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


How many ways can the Nationals lose?


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 home run to Joc Pederson. The game was suddenly differen[...]

Launch angles — October 16, 2017


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 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 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-breakout Rich Hill has been his adaptability. A few mon[...]

MLB’s Diversity Fellowship Program has a diversity problem


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 reinforce the long-standing favoritism of Ivy League grads in [...]

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



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


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 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 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 pitch is good enough to get whiffs like that, it’s a[...]

Launch angles — October 14, 2017


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 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 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 Keuchel perhaps returning in Game 4. Aaron Judge and co. will[...]

Marty’s musings: LDS edition


Recapping a wild LDS and previewing the League Championship Series. Welcome to “Marty's Musings,” my weekly column of numbers summarizing the past week in Major League Baseball. I am your guide to an analytic look at the previous week in MLB and a preview of some of this week's starting pitching matchups. In this week’s Musings, we review some numbers that led to the Indians loss, take a look at the Nationals’ latest unique way to exit the playoffs, and analyze the early departure of the Red Sox. LDS by the Numbers 171 ⅔ - Innings pitched by relief pitchers this postseason, compared to 165 ⅓ innings tossed by starting pitchers. The game sure is different in October, and the cavalcade of relievers is taking its toll on bullpens, lengthening games, and creating a different standard for matchups and short-leashes. Astros over Red Sox 2 - Losses for Chris Sale in the ALDS. Sale’s disappointing game one performance looked to be redeemed as he churned through the Indians lineup out of the bullpen in game four, but a gassed Sale allowed a go-ahead home run to Alex Bregman, propelling Houston to the ALCS for the first time since 2005. 1 - Relief appearances in Justin Verlander’s career, which came in game four of the LDS. JV has started over 400 games in his career, but came out of the bullpen to stave off a surging Red Sox team that nearly took the series to a fifth game. It wasn’t a great performance, as he didn’t strike anyone out in 2 ⅔ innings, but he did just enough to edge Boston. 3 - Home runs in 19 trips to the plate for Jose Altuve, who could easily be considered the MVP of the series. Altuve went 8-for-15 and walked four times in the four game set. Yankees over Indians 23 / 47 - Game scores for Corey Kluber who served as the goat in games two and five. Kluber put together two of his worst outings of the year, a major factor in the Yankees stealing this series in five games. He could not get out of the third inning in game one, and left after just 3 ⅔ in game five. Kluber did not have a game score this low in the regular season since May 2nd, when he got rocked by the Tigers. 2.54 - Walks per nine for Cleveland starters, the lowest in baseball all regular season. In the five games, the Indians averaged 4.20 walks per nine over the five game set. 4 - Hits delivered by Didi Gregorius in the series in 23 plate appearances, though those hits came at the most opportune time. Didi went 3 for 4 in game 5, including two home runs that sealed the Yankees’ victory. 16 - Strikeouts in 24 plate appearances for Aaron Judge. Judge made a spectacular home run saving catch to bring back a Francisco Lindor home run in game three, but at the plate, he looked entirely lost. The Yankees will need some pop against Houston to deliver another upset. Dodgers over Diamondbacks 7 - number of the Diamondbacks’ 11 runs in the series that came via a home run. The Dbacks rarely put a rally together, and only mustered a .189/.252/.421 slash line in the series despite another Clayton Kershaw playoff stumble. 4 - Earned runs given up by Kershaw, the most of any Dodgers pitcher in the series. Despite his sub-par game one start, the Dodgers won 9-5. Cubs over Nationals 4 - First-round exits for the Nationals, who cannot seem to break through to the LCS, no matter the opponent or circumstances. With their backs against the wall, Stephen Strasburg delivered a seven-inning, 12-strikeout gem. Game five was another story altogether, however. 3 - Pitchers who have struck out at least ten batters in twice in an LDS. Strasburg joins Justin Verlander who has done it twice (2012 and 2013) and Cliff Lee (2010). 10 - Number of Nats losses by a combined total of only 13 runs going back to 2012 NLDS game five. The Cubs 3-0 victory in game one of the series was the largest margin they defeated DC by, as they won game three 2-1, and game five 9-8. In add[...]

Kenley Jansen was historic and underused


The Los Angeles Dodgers closer just had one of the most dominant seasons from a relief pitcher ever. Could he have been leaned on even more? The Los Angeles Dodgers finished the regular season with the best record in baseball at 104-58. As a team, the Dodgers had thirteen different players finish above two wins above replacement and seven players with three wins above replacement. The top of the Dodgers' roster is filled with MVP candidates (Corey Seager, Justin Turner), all-star starting pitchers (Clayton Kershaw, Alex Wood), and breakout stars (Chris Taylor, Cody Bellinger). Despite that impressive collection of everyday players and starting pitchers, the Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen, who pitched in just 68 1⁄3 innings over 65 games, finished with the sixth-highest WAR on the Dodgers, according to FanGraphs. On a historically great team, it took an equally historic season from Jansen to breach the top of the WAR list. Jansen finished seventeenth-best among all pitchers — not just relievers! — at 3.5 wins above replacement. He finished alongside Yu Darvish and Michael Fulmer in WAR, who both pitched 186 2⁄3 and 164 2⁄3 innings respectively. He easily finished as the best relief pitcher in baseball by the same metric. Jansen's 2017 season ranks among the best all-time for a relief pitcher. His 1.31 fielding independent pitching (FIP) ranks seventh-best ever among those with over 30 innings pitched in a single season. His 1.32 ERA ranks inside the top thirty among relievers who have thrown more than 60 innings in a single season. There are no flaws in Jansen's game pitching-wise. His K/BB ratio was the third-best all-time among relievers with over 60 innings pitched. He allowed just five home runs all season, good for 0.66 HR/9. He induced an infield flyball percentage (IFFB%) of 23.2 percent, tenth-best ever among relievers. His soft-contact percentage of 31.7 percent ranked thirteenth all-time. Jansen strikes out a ton of guys, he doesn't allow hard contact, and he keeps walk and home runs to a minimum. He’s as close to perfect as a pitcher can get. Despite Jansen's historically dominant season ratio-wise, his 2017 ranks just twenty-fourth all-time in wins above replacement among relievers. In that way, his season is a testament to how modern major league bullpens are being used, and to the limited utility they get from superstar relievers such as Jansen. Once upon a time, it was extremely common for relief pitchers to throw over 100 innings in a season. In 1977, Bruce Sutter through 107 1⁄3 innings en route to the best single season of any relief pitcher ever, according to FanGraphs, at 5.2 wins above replacement. In 1974, Mike Marshall threw 208 1⁄3 innings over 106 games for the Dodgers. In 1980 alone, there were seventeen relief pitchers with over 100 innings pitched. For better or for worse, bullpen management has changed drastically. Major league baseball hasn't seen a 100-inning relief pitcher since Scott Proctor did it in 2006 with the New York Yankees. Relievers have only breached the 100 inning mark in a single season six times since 2000. This year, just five relievers made it past the 80-inning threshold. With just 68 1⁄3 innings this year, there is a question of whether Kenley Jansen is being fully utilized. He was used for more than an inning just fourteen times this year. He allowed an earned run in just one of those multi-inning appearances. He threw over thirty pitches in just one game this year and threw less than ten pitches on ten different occasions. The Dodgers won the National League West by eleven games. They almost surely did not want to push Jansen to his physical limits during the regular season. But Jansen's possible underusage in a historically dominant season raises the question whether teams have overcompensated as far as rest goes for relief pitchers. If Jansen had[...]