Giovanny Gallegos Deserves More High-Leverage Opportunities

Making the 2019 playoffs was never a sure thing for the St. Louis Cardinals. With the Brewers returning most of the team that won the 2018 division and the Cubs returning most of the team that contended until the literal last day of the season, and with the Reds and Pirates qualifying as “interesting” at worst, every single thing needed to go right for the Redbirds in 2019. Unfortunately for them, entering play on July 6th, the team’s odds for a playoff berth sat at just under 28%.

Still, the team is just three games out of first place and half a game out of a Wild Card spot. They need every win they can get, which is why Mike Shildt should give Giovanny Gallegos more high-leverage opportunities. One of the newest Cardinals, Gallegos was part of the trade that sent Luke Voit to the Yankees last year. His name didn’t cause many eyebrows to raise; after all, at the time he had a just-okay K-BB% of about 20%. Voit’s performance in the second half easily overshadowed any mention of Gallegos’ name.

But 2019 is different. Gallegos now features a stellar 33.3% K-BB rate, behind that of only four qualified relievers: Josh Hader, Ken Giles, Will Smith, and Kirby Yates. (You may have heard of these guys.) He’s missing bats like never before, and when hitters do get the bat on the ball, they’re not doing much. While everyone and their little brother is hitting 20-plus dingers, Gallegos’ HR/9 rate dropped year-to-year. It’s not a fluke; his xWOBA fell from .304 last year to .250 where it sits now. This ranks 16th out of the 388 pitchers who’ve faced at least 100 batters. Read the rest of this entry »

Is the Baseball Actually Juiced?

Home runs are on the rise. We all know this. The number of homers per game is at an all-time high in 2019, and has increased by about 36% just since 2015:

Home Run Rate
Year HR/game
2015 1.01
2016 1.16
2017 1.26
2018 1.15
2019 1.37

What we do not know is exactly why.

Commissioner Manfred recently suggested that the current baseballs have less drag through the air, caused by the more perfect “centering of the pill” (the innermost part of the ball). It has basically become an operational fact that there is something going on with the baseballs. Manfred’s explanation implies that the flight of the baseball is the key difference.

To look at this closer, I considered the distance traveled by balls in the air as a function of the exit velocity and launch angle at contact. If the average distance on similarly struck balls has increased over time, it would suggest that the ball itself is more aerodynamically efficient.

Pitch-by-pitch data for the 2015-2019 seasons was collected from Baseball Savant via the Statcast Search page. Two random forest models were built for each year, one using all fly balls and one using home runs. To account for a possible difference in flight due to the warm air in the summer months, only data through June of each year was used. (At the end of the season, the analysis can be applied to the full data set). In both cases, the distance the ball traveled is the response variable and the exit velocity and launch angle are the explanatory variables. The models are applied to a test data set of various exit velocity/launch angle combinations. Read the rest of this entry »

Bringing James Holzhauer to Baseball

It has been over a month since James Holzhauer lost on Jeopardy!, crushing my heart and, if Twitter is to be believed, the hearts of many others. Since part of the way through his incredible run, however, one question nagged at me. If we consider Jeopardy! to be a sport, then Holzhauer may very well have just had the most dominant stretch ever produced by an athlete. What would it take for a baseball player to equal this absurd level of performance?

There are some rules that first have to be established here. For the purposes of this exercise, monetary winnings on Jeopardy! will be equated to WAR. According to this research from the Jeopardy! fan website, the average contestant (since October of 2004) wins $11,899.44. Given that the show airs every weekday in the year, that rounds to about 261 episodes per year. With three contestants per episode, the average amount of money rewarded to Jeopardy! contestants in one season (ignoring that for certain tournaments there are set amounts of prize money, this only applies to the actual amounts won) is easily calculable. Three contestants per episode times 261 episodes times $11,899.44 per contestant equals $9,317,261.52 awarded from Jeopardy! to contestants each year.

In this article, in which the baseball equivalent of LeBron James is calculated, it is stated that MLB allots 1,000 WAR per season. Holzhauer’s winnings on Jeopardy! totaled $2,462,216, a staggering amount, one that would constitute 26.426% of the winnings in an average season. In baseball terms, Holzhauer was worth 264.3 WAR. That would be in one season. For reference, no player has even reached 200 career WAR. Now to see what it would take to reach this lofty number. Read the rest of this entry »

Caleb Smith Is a Covert Trade Deadline Commodity

Caleb Smith will likely be one of the names you’ll hear a lot as we close in on the trade deadline. It is not a foregone conclusion, but the Marlins probably won’t be playing meaningful games in late September. Derek Jeter and Co. make no bones about their willingness to trade talent, and Smith, who turns 28 years old three days before the deadline, might be the best trade chip Miami will have.

Smith is still in pre-arbitration and could be very appealing to a contender with budget concerns looking to add an arm. Depending on where the emerging staff ace might land, Smith could serve as a strong No. 2 or No. 3 starter. Should the Marlins make him available, what could Smith provide, and would he be worth the haul Miami may ask for?

Smith landed on the injured list back in early June and returned to the Marlins rotation on July 6th. He went six innings and gave up three earned runs on five hits with six strikeouts and one walk, earning his first victory since May 1st. He had a great first half, striking out at least six hitters in 10 of his 12 starts and currently stands ninth overall in K-rate at 31.5% (min 70 IP).

Smith works with three pitches — a four-seam fastball, a slider, and a changeup. His overall called-strike plus whiff rate (CSW) for all three is 31% (28% is average).

The most-used pitch in his repertoire is the four-seamer (48.6%), which sits in the 39th percentile for velocity alongside a higher-than-average spin rate (80th percentile). It gets some decent vertical break with a lot of horizontal action as a result of its 138-degree average spin axis. Read the rest of this entry »

Could Austin Adams Be the Next Elite Reliever?

In late June, Austin Adams entered a game for the Mariners against the Brewers with the reigning National League MVP, Christian Yelich, at the plate. He caught Yelich looking at an 89-mph slider for strike three before using that same slider on Ryan Braun and Mike Moustakas to get swinging strikeouts. He induced a groundout by Jesus Aguilar to finish his outing for the night. Navigating that part of the Brewers lineup is no easy task for any reliever, yet Adams almost effortlessly racked up three punchouts while facing only the four batters. That gave Adams four straight relief appearances with three or more strikeouts, part of a dominant stretch that saw him strike out 25 over 12.1 scoreless frames. On a struggling Mariners team, Adams has emerged as one of the lone bright spots. Soon, he could become the next elite bullpen arm in baseball.

Adams could also become the next name on a growing list of valuable relievers the Nationals have traded away in recent years. Felipe Vazquez and Blake Treinen have been reliable and at times elite closers for the their respective new teams. On May 4th, the Nationals traded Adams to the Mariners for Nick Wells and cash considerations. The trade came shortly after the Nationals designated Adams for assignment on April 29th. Starved for relievers and sporting MLB’s second-worst bullpen ERA of 6.29 and fifth-worst FIP of 4.89, the Nationals might have let another elite reliever slip away.

Since debuting with the Mariners on April 20th, Adams has been masterful. The 28-year-old right-hander, an eighth-round selection by the Angels out of the University of South Florida back in 2012, has a K/9 of over 15 and a K% of 43.9% through 24.1 innings pitched on the year thus far. He’s pitched his way to a 2.46 FIP and 2.28 xFIP, both of which come in well under his ERA of 3.70 (he was mostly recently charged with three runs on July 3 after leaving the bases loaded and having all runs score after he exited the game). In 36.2 innings in 2019, which includes his Triple-A numbers at Fresno and Tacoma, he’s served up just two home runs. At every level of professional baseball he’s pitched in since 2014, he’s accumulated a K/9 north of 12, including a 15.15 K/9 and a 1.93 FIP in 2018 while at Triple-A Syracuse in the Nationals organization. Read the rest of this entry »

The Passed Balls Are Gone, but Is Gary Sanchez a Better Defender?

The 2018 season was a messy one for Gary Sanchez, with an offensive showing that was among the worst in Yankees history, with not a lot of time for him to get into a good rhythm due to many injuries he suffered throughout the season. The 2018 season was also notable for Sanchez with a late-July controversy about his hustle after he failed to run out a ground ball on a misplay that ended the game. Most notable, however, was the great amount of passed balls and wild pitches that Sanchez allowed. Of all catchers to play at least 600 innings in the field in 2018, Sanchez led the pack with 18 passed balls despite playing only 653 innings at catcher, particularly notable because the top catchers in the league can play 1,000 or more innings at catcher in a single season.

Watching Sanchez in the field this season, that issue has seemed to resolve itself, as Sanchez is better than the league average for catchers this season in passed balls and wild pitches allowed. Seeing this improvement, I developed a theory about Sanchez that I was eager to test as the sample of innings got larger. Basically, I began to wonder if Sanchez has been so focused on improving his pitch blocking that he has begun to sacrifice pitch framing and if this change has made Sanchez an overall better defender than he was in 2018. Now, nobody from the Yankees or Sanchez himself has stated that this is the case, and it is good to see improvement from him in this area, but I wanted to know if these improvements are helping him overall. Passed balls are ugly and fans hate to see them because they are so visible and can directly cost a team runs, but framing is an important part of catching, and the impact of good framing can cancel out most blocking deficiencies.

Sanchez was an above-average framer last season, and despite his bad blocking, he was considered a better overall defender than guys like Brian McCann, Salvador Perez, and Francisco Cervelli by the Baseball Prospectus Fielding Runs Above Average (FRAA) metric. His -1.4 FRAA in 2018 ranked as not-great-but-not-bad at 85th out 117 catchers, while at the midpoint of the 2019 season, Sanchez and his -7.6 FRAA ranks 87th out of 91 catchers in the same metric. Knowing this, I felt like I could test out my theory. Read the rest of this entry »

Ballpark Attendance and Starting Pitchers

When I am thinking about buying a ticket to a baseball game, often my first question is “Who’s pitching?” I have always felt that the most enjoyable type of game is one in which a great starter is on the mound. Is this feeling common among fans or do they buy tickets regardless of the starting pitcher?

To answer this question, I trained random forest models to predict attendance for games based on situational factors (not including the starting pitcher). Then I considered how the quality of starting pitchers relates to whether the models overestimate or underestimate the attendance. If the models consistently underestimate attendance when star pitchers are on the mound, it would suggest more tickets are sold because of the starter.


Information about each game was collected from Retrosheet’s game logs. In accordance with Retrosheet’s terms of use, please note the following statement: “The information used here was obtained free of charge from and is copyrighted by Retrosheet. Interested parties may contact Retrosheet at” Pitcher performance data was gathered from FanGraphs. In addition, the people.csv data set found here was used to match player ids from Retrosheet to FanGraphs. Read the rest of this entry »

Investigating the Struggles of Chris Devenski

Simply put, Chris Devenski has not pitched well in 2019. He’s currently sporting a 4.60 ERA and 4.59 FIP in 31 1/3 innings this season. It is also unfortunately a continuation of his struggles from last season. Do I even dare say it is going back to the second half of 2017? For a pitcher who was considered a key cog in the Astros’ bullpen only two years ago, the decline has been sharp for Devenski.

We’ve witnessed Devenski’s ERA noticeably worsen every season since his major league debut in 2016. In his rookie season with the Astros, we saw the former White Sox farmhand post a 2.16 ERA in 108 1/3 innings. He also finished fourth in the AL Rookie of the Year voting that year. The right-hander then made his first All-Star Game in 2017, which culminated with a 2.68 ERA in 80 2/3 innings and a World Series championship ring. If there were any warning signs with the right-hander in 2017, it was the roughly 10% jump in home run per fly ball rate. Devenski was still a quality reliever, however, in only his second season in the majors. Fast forward to 2018 and we saw more issues begin to emerge. Read the rest of this entry »

The Arm of Marcell Ozuna and the Outfield Arm Runs Saved Statistic

Sunday night baseball is such a great thing. Yes, I may fall asleep around the sixth or seventh inning, but I tend to fall asleep to baseball, which is nice. It’s such a summer feeling for me to have the window open, the summer breeze blowing in, and talk of baseball in the background. On June 9, the Cubs were aggressive early on the base paths. At one point, with Kyle Schwarber on first base and Kris Bryant at the plate, Bryant hit what would typically be a routine single to left-center. ​Now, with the Cardinals and the Cubs fighting it out for the top spot in the division, you saw an aggressive approach by Schwarber. Did mastermind Joe Maddon have that all planned and ready? Did he tell his team to run on Marcell Ozuna? Well, if so, maybe he (or his team of data scientists and analysts) was evaluating the rARM statistic.

Part 1: The Stat – Throwing Arm Runs Saved

A player’s total Throwing Arm Runs Saved is then the sum of our three halves: flyballs Runs Saved + groundballs Runs Saved + Miscellaneous Kills Runs Saved.

– The Fielding Bible Read the rest of this entry »

Does Switching Leagues Affect Pitching Performance?

When Major League pitchers change leagues, strange things begin to happen.

Jordan Zimmermann, an ace by any measure when he played for the Washington Nationals, became a free agent after the 2015 season before signing with the Detroit Tigers — only to quickly learn that he was not so invincible.

Wei-Yin Chen’s four strong seasons with the Baltimore Orioles gave him free agent swagger — and a hefty asking price — that led him to a spot on the Marlins roster just before the 2016 season. And then he suddenly became very human.

As is often the case, the stories that develop around pitchers as they transition from one league to the next are fed by assumptions, a bit of baseball history, certainly a little bias, and what can only be called the gut instincts of the fan.

Statistics, of course, aren’t infected by ESPN punditry and don’t care what color a uniform is. They are emotionless, sober friends of reason.

The known stats of Zimmermann and Chen — before I got involved — tell you part of the story. A deeper analysis, however, upends the conventional wisdom. Read the rest of this entry »