What Happened to Benny?

It’s safe to say the Boston Red Sox have been underwhelming this season. As a Red Sox fan who follows the local media, it’s overwhelming to hear just how underwhelming they have been. If you have followed Boston sports media during this baseball season, you would think the team is tied with the Detroit Tigers for the worst record in the league. In fairness to Boston sports pundits, the team has a wealth of talent that has played below their usual standard for most of the season. This has the local radio shows calling to trade the beloved Mookie Betts, suddenly turning on ace Chris Sale, and openly criticizing manager Alex Cora, not even a year after he was hailed the Bill Belichick of baseball.

Oh, how quickly the tides turn in the city of Boston.

The team has certainly regressed from their magical 2018 season. That’s just the way baseball works sometimes. But the true mystery to me has been Andrew Benintendi. The Red Sox left fielder was coming off a fantastic 2018 season that saw him post a WAR of 4.3 and a wRC+ of 122. These numbers have dipped to a 2.6 and 112, respectively, through 115 games. No, it isn’t the most dramatic decline in the history of baseball, but Benintendi was a key part of Boston’s success in 2018. Of all the players to take a step back this season, I wasn’t necessarily expecting it to come from him.

Traditionally, the critique of Benintendi has been that he is an elite hitter against right-handed pitching and less than stellar against left-handeders. This trend has come to a screeching halt in 2019. Read the rest of this entry »


Jack Flaherty’s Magical Second Half

Jack Flaherty spent the first half of the 2019 season disappointing most Cardinals fans who expected a continuation of his breakout 2018 campaign. Flaherty, who posted a 4.64 ERA with a 26.4% strikeout rate and a 1.86 HR/9, had been quite disappointing up to that point for a ST. Louis squad that was relying on his ability to become their ace. The Cardinals were 44-44 at the time and two games back of the Cubs for the NL Central lead.

On July 16th, Flaherty took the mound against a Pirates team that would fall apart in the second half. Flaherty dominated, giving up just three hits and one run over seven innings of work while striking out eight. A line like this would soon become the norm for Flaherty, who has been absolutely on fire since the All-Star break. His efforts have helped propel the Cardinals to the top of the NL Central in the middle of a playoff race.

How did Flaherty turn it around? The biggest cause for success is his slider, which statistically has been one of the best pitches in baseball since the break. Additionally, Flaherty started locating his fastball better and got a nice little bump in velocity. Flaherty’s sharpened tools have allowed him to significantly increase his O-Swing % and decrease his Z-Contact %, meaning that he’s getting hitters to chase more out of the zone but also miss more in the zone. Read the rest of this entry »


Walks, Strikeouts, and the Playoff Race

There are still a lot of teams that are fighting for a postseason spot while we wind down the season. As I watch a lot of games down the stretch, I hear many different announcers bring up the same thing. If you want to win championships, then you need to follow a key ideology that the Astros and Red Sox have both preached in their title-winning seasons: You need to be able to take your walks, and you need to be able to put the ball in play instead of striking out.

In 2017, the Houston Astros had the lowest strikeout rate as a team. They were able to do that while also having the league’s highest team isolated power. Last season, the Red Sox had the third-lowest strikeout rate in the league while having the ninth-best walk rate and fourth-best ISO. This got me to thinking about teams’ walk and strikeout rates. But I did not want to just look at it from the full season perspective. I wanted to compare teams’ rates from before the All-Star game to post-All-Star game (more specifically August 26th, because that is when I am writing this).

Thanks to FanGraphs, I was able to pull the data for the two date ranges and compare the numbers. Let us take a look: Read the rest of this entry »


Pitch Sequencing Trends in the Statcast Era

As the Statcast era continues to age, we baseball obsessives are collecting more and more pitches to analyze in countless different ways. MLB Advanced Media releases 90 different metrics for every pitch thrown, including a pitch’s classification, where all the defenders are standing upon the pitch being thrown, exit speed, launch and spray angle, etc. Analysts across the web, armed with this exhaustive data set, have been able to unearth previously unknowable mysteries regarding team and player performance and league-wide trends.

One area of pitching analysis that has been largely untouched by the public is pitch sequencing. Baseball Savant has done some work with visualizing how a pitcher sequences his pitches, but to my knowledge there is no way to look at pitch sequencing for the league as a whole and see which sequences are most used and most effective. I was curious how pitchers have attacked hitters since 2015 (the beginning of the aforementioned Statcast era), so I parsed through every pitch thrown in the regular season starting from the beginning of the 2015 campaign up until August 11th of this year. I looked at how pitchers have paired pitches during every plate appearance. I discarded pitches that were not thrown to the same batter or the same inning; a pitch that is thrown to end an inning followed by a pitch to start an inning should not be considered a sequence (same can be said for two different plate appearances). The sequences should be read as the pitch on the right precedes the pitch on the left. Now, let us look at the trends:

This chart includes all sequences that represent at least 2.5% of all sequences used in a given season. Every year, the most-used sequence is a four-seamer preceded by a four-seamer. Sequences involving a slider and a four-seamer have been used more every year in the Statcast era. In response to the league-wide trend of increasing launch angle, two-seamers and sinkers have been going out of style; we can see sequences involving these two fastball variants are also on the decline.

Read the rest of this entry »


Mike Trout and the HBP Risk

If you’ve ever looked at Mike Trout’s Baseball Reference page, you’ve seen a lot of black ink, indicative of leading the league in some offensive category. Trout is currently leading the league in a lot of such categories — and he has done so in the past. He’s likely to lead the AL in homers for the first time this year, and as noted recently by Ben Lindbergh, that would be the 10th category out of 17 basic ones at Baseball Reference that he’s led the league in at least once in his career. Only about two dozen players have led the league in more of these 17 categories at some point in their careers.

Trout is also leading the league in another category that would also be a first for him: hit by pitch (HBP). He’s been plunked 15 times this season (editor’s note: now 16), one more than Shin-Soo Choo as of this writing. HBP is not what you would call a sexy stat, but it does have value. It’s as valuable as a walk — in fact, per FG’s linear weights, a little more so, apparently because it occurs slightly more in base-out states that have higher run expectancy (RE) than average.

HBP, like walks, are valuable because they put a runner on base, where he has a chance to score, while simultaneously avoiding an out, thus giving another batter a chance. They’re a good thing. But they also come with a risk. If a batter is hit by a pitch, he could suffer a significant injury and miss time. The resulting lost time is lost value. This raises an obvious question: is the increased value gained by getting hit by pitches greater than the potential risk of losing value to injury? If it is — and one would assume that in this stat-savvy age, it would have to be — by how much? Read the rest of this entry »


The Pros and Cons of Pulling the Ball: Bouncy Ball Edition

While there have been similar articles about the advantages of pulling the ball in the past, I wanted to do some new research based on the changed ball as well as player development.

Recently, there has been a lot of discussion among hitting coaches about pulling the ball. Traditionally, batting coaches usually suggested going gap-to-gap, which means basically hitting where the ball is pitched and mostly trying to stay in the middle of the field between the middle infielders. However, recently this has changed and more and more sabermetrically leaning coaches suggest focusing on pulling the ball because they think that this will create more power.

Let’s look at some pros and cons of pulling the ball using 2019 data, starting with the cons. Read the rest of this entry »


Talking The Tauch

You probably didn’t pay much attention (or even notice) when the New York Yankees acquired 28-year-old outfielder Mike Tauchman from the Colorado Rockies in exchange for pitching prospect Phillip Diehl towards the end of spring training on March 23rd. Who could blame you? Tauchman’s major league resume to that point was ugly: a .153/.265/.203 slash line in 69 plate appearances over 52 games for the Rockies.

From 2013 to 2016 in the Rockies’ farm system, Tauchman hadn’t shown much in his age-22 to age-25 seasons. He displayed a decent hit tool but didn’t flash much power, combining for only eight home runs across four minor league seasons. If Tauchman wanted to crack Colorado’s major league roster, he needed to make a change.

Prior to the 2017 campaign, as reported by the New York Times’ James Wagner, Tauchman worked with Justin Stone, a hitting instructor at Chicago-based Elite Baseball Training. With three-dimensional sensors and plates that measure force, Stone, who was hired as a hitting consultant by the Chicago Cubs in 2018, used biomechanics to help Tauchman improve his swing. Stone and Tauchman found that he was transferring energy inefficiently from his lower half to his upper half. In scientific terms, Tauchman’s kinetic chain, or the sequence of movements that make up his swing, was off. With Stone’s help, Tauchman learned to use his lower half better when starting his swing, enhancing the transfer of energy up the kinetic chain.

The results were undeniable. Still in Triple-A, Tauchman improved his wOBA from .322 in 2016 to .399 in 2017 and .420 in 2018. His 139 wRC+ was good for the eighth-best mark in Triple-A in 2017. In 2018, his 153 wRC+ was fourth-best, just behind fellow 2019 breakouts Daniel Vogelbach and J.D. Davis as well as Astros top prospect Kyle Tucker. Tauchman’s power had definitely increased: he tripled his career home run mark with 16 homers in 2017 and swatted another 20 in 2018. The Yankees front office took notice and was intrigued enough by Tauchman’s minor league success to add him as a depth piece just before the 2019 season. Read the rest of this entry »


A Better Understanding of Pitch Overlays

I make pitching gifs on a regular basis. In fact, there are dozens of other accounts on Twitter that do it as well. We participate in trying to help other fans understand what happens during plate appearances that go beyond what meets the eye. They can be great for seeing pitch shapes and how they contrast each other, but it’s important to know that there are some factors that can make them a bit deceptive (I myself have been guilty of making more out of an overlay that there actually is).

Overlays can be good for viewing how pitches move in relation to each other or noticing how different spin and axis affect the shape of a pitch. The Athletic’s Joe Schwarz is great at writing about and breaking that stuff down with the help of another gif-creating giant, ‘cardinalsgifs‘.

These two use gifs to demonstrate how a pitcher has made adjustments, for better or worse, and compare how it impacted the shape of their respective pitch. Having a good camera angle for that practice matters as we are less concerned about how the hitter sees the pitch and more about how certain tweaks can alter its personality.

Most MLB cameras do not lend themselves to a good visual representation of an event. You’re not getting the actual pitch shape nor are you getting the real trajectories from the hitter’s perspective. Even direct-level views (via the Braves, Marlins, or Orioles, to name a few) aren’t always beneficial, especially if you’re trying to make a point of how “filthy” or “nasty” pitches are to hitters. Read the rest of this entry »


playerElo: Factoring Strength of Schedule into Player Analysis

*Note: All numbers updated to August 12th, 2019*

Introduction

Consider the following comparison between Freddie Freeman (29) and Carlos Santana (33). Both players were starters for the 2019 All-Star teams of their respective leagues, and both are enjoying breakout seasons beyond their usual high production level, with nearly identical statistics across the board.

  PA wOBA xwOBA wRC+
Freeman, 1B 533 0.400 0.398 146
Santana, 1B 503 0.390 0.366 142

However, I argue that there is an underlying statistic that makes Santana’s success less impressive and Freeman’s worth MVP consideration. Recall the quality of competition of pitchers faced. The Atlanta Braves’ division, the NL East, contains the respectable pitching competition of the Mets (13th in league-wide in ERA), Nationals (15th), Marlins (16th), and Phillies (19th). Contrast this with the competition of the Cleveland Indians in the AL Central: The Twins (ninth), White Sox (22nd), Royals (24th), and Tigers (28th). Over 503 plate appearances, Santana has faced a top-15 pitcher (ranked by FIP) just 15 times, compared to 46 times by Freeman over 533 plate appearances. wRC+ controls for park effects and the current run environment, while xwOBA takes into account quality of contact, but all modern sabermetrics fail to address the problem of Freeman and Santana’s near-equal statistics despite widely different qualities of competition. Thus, I present the modeling system of playerElo. Read the rest of this entry »


Edwin Diaz’s Running Fastball

Edwin Diaz is having an absolutely miserable season. A year after posting a 1.96 ERA (208 ERA+), he currently holds an ERA of 5.32 (78 ERA+). He has already given up 10 homers in 44.0 innings, whereas last year he gave up just 5 in 73.1 frames. Some of his stats, such as his strikeout rate of 14.5% and walk rate of 3.3%, while less impressive than last year, are sitting at about his career averages. Mets mananger Mickey Callaway has often cited his mechanics as the main problem, and that when he throws more “sidearm,” it is a recipe for disaster. To get a visual of this difference, notice the release point on the following two pitches:


Notice how Diaz’s arm is much flatter in the first picture. The release point is a bit farther from his body and significantly lower. Pitches released in that way have too often resulted in a running fastball:


From this angle, however, it is difficult to see the exact difference in release point because one may be farther forward than the other. Consider the following table that tells a more detailed story: Read the rest of this entry »