Archive for March, 2017

Fungraphs: Baseball’s Weird, Wonderful Superstitions

Why are we so weird?

We don’t have 13th floors in hotels, walk under ladders, or pick up coins facing tails-up because all of these things are bad luck. People knock on wood when they talk about the future. They say “God bless you” if you sneeze, for fear of your soul escaping.

And as if those habits weren’t odd enough, ballplayers and baseball go and take superstition to a whole new level of silly and agitating.

The worst is the concept of the jinx during a no-hitter. Under what circumstances does uttering some passing phrase about a pitcher’s no-hitter suddenly doom it? Even if it’s deliberate, how does that change a guy’s ability to paint the black or shoot a blooper? Maybe it’s some cosmic understanding that goes over the head of simpler folks. But baseball is a game that is constantly relying more and more heavily on numbers, odds, and percentages. A no-hitter is one thing we can accurately acknowledge in the moment and without in-depth analysis. Doing so is no foible.

A pitcher’s team not talking to him during a no-hitter is just fine, though. It makes out a single game as something special, and how often do we get to do that during the regular season? That pitcher is on a mission that has been accomplished only 252 times since 1901. Currently, there are nearly 2,500 games in a single season. If a guy’s doing something that’s only been done a fraction of a single percentage in all the games in modern history, there’s no reason to goof with him like it’s just another day at the park. To that point, it hasn’t been.

Other superstitions are ones that have become prominent because of the volume at which they occur. Guys skip over the chalk at the start and finish of every inning on the way out of and to the dugout. It’s okay to think, “But what would happen if they did hit the line just once? No one is going to get hurt. It isn’t going to break a teammate’s mother’s back like stepping on a crack.” Let’s remember, though: the inning is over. Commercials are about to start. That silly moment is an easy one to tune out, so we’d be best off doing just that when we find ourselves fixated on it.

But when the game is back, and a player’s getting ready to pitch or step into the box, we’re paying attention. And we notice those ridiculous, idiosyncratic tics that turn into superstition which so many guys maintain. They work them into their mechanics and if they don’t perform them they’re thrown off. I’m looking at you, Matt Garza. Your little glove twitch has been the visual equivalent to a throw-up burp. It’s unpleasant and people might take a drink of the nearest beverage just to forget it.

Though he’s retired, Nomar Garciaparra remains the king of batting-glove love. Each time he stepped to the plate he might as well have played pat-a-cake with himself. It’s nothing compared to Moises Alou, though, who refused to wear batting gloves and would pee on his hands to toughen them up. Gross.

In all this strangeness, through all this exercised peculiarity, there might be some logic, even though the very definition of superstition tells us there isn’t.

In an episode of Fresh Air titled “Habits: How They Form And How To Break Them,” we learn about something called the habit loop from Charles Duhigg, author of The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business. There are three steps to it: a cue, a routine, and a reward. The cue enables the brain to let a behavior happen, while the routine is the actual action, and the reward is the brain enjoying it all and making it easier to remember.

That process becomes automated rather quickly. Scientists attribute it to the basal ganglia, which “plays a key role in the development of emotions, memories and pattern recognition.” You might realize how none of this speaks to the actual decision of players to do quirky things like skip over foul lines or fiddle with their equipment a certain way. That’s because the part of our brain that makes decisions — the prefrontal cortex — checks out once a behavior becomes automatic. It appears that once someone starts a habit, in many cases they’re not actually choosing to continue it.

Habits do provide comfort, though. And habits held in the belief of good fortune are why we get silly baseball superstitions that we can laugh at or hate. Whether they’re rare or regular occurrences, they’re one more way the game gives back to us.

The Dodgers May Have Found the Next Justin Turner

Over the past few seasons, there seems to have been an uptick in power breakouts for hitters. J.D. Martinez, Jose Altuve, and Daniel Murphy are examples of guys who dramatically increased their power output seemingly out of nowhere. One of the most notable cases is Justin Turner, who transformed himself from a mediocre utility player with the Mets into an elite third baseman with the Dodgers. The Dodgers were rewarded for identifying a player with untapped potential and extracting that potential. Today I’m here to tell you that they’ve done it again, with Rob Segedin.

All right, a little background first. Rob Segedin was drafted in the third round by the Yankees back in 2010, and was traded to the Dodgers last year for pitching prospect Tyler Olson and KATOH star Ronald Torreyes. Despite having a pretty decent track record in the minors, he debuted in the majors just this past season and has never received much fanfare, even from the statistical community (the last article he was mention in on was a prospect report written back in 2012). Part of this is probably due to the fact that he’s usually been old for his level and never really hit for much power. The slew of injuries didn’t help, either.

Last year, however, all that changed. Well, the power and the health changed; he was still relatively old. Over 424 plate appearances in Triple-A last year, Segedin slashed .319/.392/.598 with 21 homers and a .279 ISO. That’s really good! The year before, his ISO was .136. Now, Segedin did move from Scranton to the PCL, which is significantly more hitter-friendly. But still, it’s hard not to be impressed with those numbers. And looking at his spray charts, the difference is stark (via MLB Farm).

Basically every home run Segedin hit in 2015 was pulled far left. In 2016 there’s a lot more action to center-left, and even some to the opposite field. And while, having looked over some footage, there doesn’t appear to be any obvious change to his swing, there’s another possible explanation for the sudden improvement. Segedin largely credits it to more consistent playing time after moving to the Dodgers organization – “It was a little frustrating for me last year to not be an everyday player and not get those everyday at-bats,” Segedin said. “I think playing for another organization was better for my career.” (Idec, Keith. “Baseball: Old Tappan’s Rob Segedin at Home in Dodger’s Organization.” The Record, 14 July 2016. Web. 27 Mar. 2017.)

As mentioned earlier, Segedin had his big-league debut last year, so we have some MLB data to work with. And I’m gonna be honest. It doesn’t look great. Not on the surface, at least. In 83 PA, he slashed .233/.301/.370, good for an 83 wRC+. The great power numbers he had in Triple-A didn’t seem to translate, as he posted a mediocre .137 ISO. So yeah, that’s not very encouraging.

But there’s reason for optimism! For one, despite the low ISO, his exit velocity was pretty good. Rob Segedin’s average EV last year was 91.6 MPH, which is the same as Carlos Santana and Evan Longoria, and puts him higher on the list than Edwin Encarnacion. Segedin’s problem was less about hitting the ball hard, and more about putting the ball in the air: his average launch angle was 8.6 and his ground-ball rate was 52.8%. Which is a major problem (it’s hard to hit for power when you hit everything on the ground), but it may not be as bad as it seems. For one, it was only 83 plate appearances, and though GB% stabilizes pretty quickly, there’s still a good bit of noise in that sample. Also, remember what Segedin said about inconsistent playing time hurting his performance? Well in 18 of his 83 plate appearances, he came to the plate as a pinch-hitter. In those 18 PA he hit a whopping 24 wRC+ , as opposed to a 99 wRC+ when playing as a regular. I mean, I know that’s a ridiculously small sample, but it fits the narrative, so here we are. For what it’s worth, he’s batting .444/.500/.944 with 2 home runs in 20 PA this spring.

It’s kinda hard for me to look at Segedin’s current situation and not be reminded of Justin Turner. That said, he’s probably gonna strike out a bit more than Turner did. And he might struggle to find playing time in a crowded Dodgers infield. So there probably isn’t quite as much upside. But all the signs of a Rob Segedin breakout are there. All he needs is the opportunity.

When Do Pitchers Try Harder?

Pitch counts have become an integral part of the game of baseball, so much so that it’s impossible to find a TV telecast that doesn’t display the pitch count side-by-side with the score and the inning. Yet pitch counts continue to be maybe the most annoyingly simple and arbitrary metric used to craft crucial in-game strategy. 99 mph fastball down the middle: +1 pitch. 76 mph curveball in the dirt: +1 pitch. Intentional ball: +1 pitch. Dirty ball tossed to the umpire: +0 pitches. Pitchout +1 pitch. Warmup pitches: +0 pitches. My goal here is not to fix this problem — just explore some interesting data that I believe should eventually be used to bring pitch count into the modern era.

Right now, I’m just going to look at 4-seam fastballs and how hard they’re thrown. All data comes from the 2016 regular season. Thank you Baseball Savant. The question I set out to answer is simple: When a pitcher needs to make a pitch, does he try harder? Common sense says yes, of course this is what happens. Relievers throw harder than starters in general because they don’t have to worry about throwing more quality pitches in later innings. But the data shows that pitchers change their effort levels within innings as well, especially when they have two strikes and/or runners in scoring position. Eventually, we should be able to use this knowledge to craft a better pitch count that takes this extra effort into account. Read the rest of this entry »

Mark Trumbo and Fitting a Square Peg in a Round Hole

A long, slow dance in free agency for Mark Trumbo culminated with a three-year pact worth $37.5M to return to his 2016 team, the Baltimore Orioles. Trumbo, a classic slugger, reportedly hoped for an extra year and a total value of $75-80M on the heels of a season in which he led Major League Baseball with 47 home runs. Those who favor traditional statistics would point to Trumbo’s home-run totals and argue that he is one of the premier sluggers in the game, but in a baseball landscape run by the sabermetric crowd, Trumbo is seen as a one-dimensional player. In this chart, we will look at statistics that paint the picture that Trumbo is a one-dimensional player.

Mark Trumbo and His Contemporaries (2016)

Player 1st Half BA 2nd Half BA UZR/150 Baserunning Runs fWAR
Mark Trumbo .288 .214 -9.9 -2.0 2.2
Mark Reynolds .283 0.1
Chris Carter .213 0.9
Jose Bautista -9.3 1.4
Joe Mauer -2.2 1

It is argued that Trumbo’s year was inflated by an unsustainable .288 batting average in the first half, comparing him to Mark Reynolds, a cautionary tale of a player who peaked with a rather one-dimensional 44-homer season of his own. This is only accentuated by the fact that Trumbo’s batting average collapsed to .214 in the second half; this is nearly identical to fellow 40-homer masher, Chris Carter, who was non-tendered for being one-dimensional himself. Incidentally, Carter has been mentioned as a cheaper and nearly as valuable alternative for teams unwilling to make the splurge this offseason on Trumbo. On the field, Trumbo has been worth just about -10 runs per 150 games, which is more negative value than Jose Bautista, who was ravaged by injuries this season. On the bases, he provided enough negative value to compare to Joe Mauer, a former catcher.

There are several issues with this argument, though. The first is that Trumbo’s 2.2 fWAR is significantly higher than the one-dimensional sluggers (and others) he is being labeled alongside. Another is that he was stuck in the outfield by Baltimore in 2016 despite having no business being there. In fact, in his career, Trumbo grades out as an above-average first baseman. On the basepaths, Trumbo’s value is 105/146 of all qualified players, which isn’t as much of a tanker as one would think. As for his fluctuating halves, there is a tale behind that, too.

Mark Trumbo, Above Average First Baseman

Player BABIP wRC+ UZR/150
Mark Trumbo (1st Half) .327 143
Mark Trumbo (2nd Half) .216 98
Mark Trumbo (Career) .288 111 6.3 (1B)
2016 1B AVG .307 120 .3

Batting Average on Balls in Play (BABIP)
assesses whether a player is going through a lucky (or unlucky) streak based on deviation from their normalized rate. The average BABIP is .290, and Trumbo is no different, checking in at .288 for his career. His first half was above the average rate, while his second half was at an extreme (and unsustainable) low. As you can see in the chart, his wRC+ is in line with the offensive-minded first basemen of the league, and there is room for some uptick. His defense at first base, even if 6.3 is too optimistic, can make him a $75M man. A lot of Trumbo’s depressed value comes from spending too much time in right field; this chart will break down the calculation behind Trumbo’s 2016 fWAR and estimate what he can provide if played at his true position (and some time at DH).

Mark Trumbo as Full Time 1B (2016, 2017 Projection)

Player Mark Trumbo
Batting Runs 18.7
Baserunning Runs -2
Fielding Runs* 5.7
Positional Adjustment* -12
League Adjustment 2.6
Replacement Runs 20.1
fWAR* 3.4

fWAR calculation: (BR+BsR+FR+Positional Adjustment+League Adjustment+Replacement Runs)/(R/W)

*Assumes a 6.3 UZR/150, 135 games played as 1B, 15 games played as DH

This is an aggressive projection, but Trumbo proves that he is not a one-dimensional player. A 3.4-win player is extremely valuable, and if he produces to that level over the next three years, he will provide a significant amount of surplus value.

Mark Trumbo Projected Surplus Value, 2017-2019

Year fWAR $/WAR Value Produced Salary Surplus/Deficit
2017 3.4 8M 27.2M 11M +16.2M
2018 2.9 8.4M 24.4M 11M +13.4M
2019 2.4 8.8M 21.1M 11M +10.1M
Totals 8.7 72.7M 37.5M* +35.2M*

*Assumed aging curve via FanGraphs: +0.25 WAR/yr (18-27), 0 WAR/yr (28-30),-0.5 WAR/yr (31-37),-0.75 WAR/yr (> 37, assumes a 5% inflation/year in $/WAR

*$4.5M of Mark Trumbo’s contract is deferred and to be paid in $1.5M increments from 2020-2022; that amount was subtracted from the overall surplus.

This chart shows the full potential of Mark Trumbo, quality first baseman. As calculated in the “Value Produced” column, he is rather close to the $75M man he marketed himself as. Because of the stigma surrounding his 2016 season, his market did not develop, and clearly overcorrected. Contending teams with needs at first base went elsewhere – the Red Sox signed Mitch Moreland, the Indians signed Edwin Encarnacion, and the Blue Jays signed Kendrys Morales. Even the Colorado Rockies signed SS/CF Ian Desmond for $70M (plus the 11th overall pick in the draft) to learn yet another new position. Unfortunately for Mark Trumbo, the team he signed with, the Baltimore Orioles, already employs a first baseman in Chris Davis. This redundancy will force Trumbo to again be a square peg in a round hole; part-time DH, part-time right fielder. This has been an unfortunate circumstance for him throughout his career, playing for teams that already had Albert Pujols and Paul Goldschmidt. What might have been to see Trumbo realize his full value, on a contract he deserves, and hitting moonshots out of Coors Field or Fenway Park.

Zack Greinke and the Future of Pitching Contracts

Spending money is an interesting avenue to build a pitching staff. Many of the deals are conventional; a superstar pitcher around 30 years old gets a contract in the neighborhood of at least 7/$175M. But something unconventional is the nature of the contract that Zack Greinke signed with Arizona; 6/$206M. We have seen pitching contracts at or exceeding $175M several times in recent years; they have all been at least seven years in length. Never before has a contract in Major League Baseball history paid so much money in so little time. In fact, Greinke’s $34.5M take-home in 2016 was the highest single-season pay in Major League Baseball history. Now, with stricter luxury taxes in place, the higher average annual value (AAV) is certainly a unique burden on Arizona, but what about the burden of the seventh, eighth, or even ninth year of a deal for every other team? Arizona’s braintrust decided that, rather than having Greinke hamstring their payroll for seven or eight years, he will only do so for six, albeit at a slightly higher rate. I think they are onto something.

Here’s a look at every major pitching contract signed from the 2000-2011 seasons worth at least five years. Compare the values produced in the first four years of those deals to the value of the whole contract, and look at the following years as well.

Pitching Contracts and Subsequent Performance in $, 2000-2011 Seasons

Player Contract Value in Yrs 1-4 Value in Yr 5 Value in Yr 6 Value in Yr 7 Value in Yr 8 Value in Yr 9
Mike Hampton 8/121M 28M 4.6M 2.3M 5.3M .7M
Mike Mussina 6/87M 84M 12.2M 24.9M
Roy Oswalt 5/73M 99.5M 20.5M
Daisuke Matsuzaka 6/52M 46.2M .6M -2.2M
Chris Carpenter 5/63.5M 58M 36.5M
Barry Zito 7/126M 41.1M -4.1M 5.8M -3.4M
Carlos Zambrano 5/91.5M 57.6M 3.1M
Johan Santana 6/137.5M 74.4M 10.7M INJ
A.J. Burnett 5/82.5M 54.4M 31M
C.C. Sabathia 9/211M 147.4M 18.9M .9M 9.5M 21.2M N/A**
John Lackey 5/82.5M 44.7M 17.9M
Cliff Lee 5/120M 138.8M INJ
Jered Weaver 5/85M 53.1M -1.2M
C.J. Wilson 5/77.5M 54.4M INJ
John Danks 5/65M 20M -.8M
Gio Gonzalez 5/42M 109.8M 22.9M
Yu Darvish 6/60M 91.1M 21.6M N/A**

*all contract data via Baseball Reference, all valuations via FanGraphs by conversion of (fWar)($/fWAR)

** these seasons will be played out in 2017

Of course, there are some contracts in here that went south from the start. Mike Hampton, Barry Zito, and John Danks are the culprits here. You probably notice that in most cases, years one through four go completely according to plan! Some of the exceptions are due to injury, and those are Johan Santana and John Lackey. But even other injury victims, such as Yu Darvish and Chris Carpenter, were so valuable in two or three years that they held up their end of the bargain.

However, the second thing you’ll notice is how quickly values go down on this list after year four. Of the 17 samples we have here, there are only seven success stories in year five (Oswalt, Carpenter, Burnett, Sabathia, Lackey, Gonzalez, and Darvish). Two of those cases are unique, as A.J. Burnett experienced a career revitalization in Pittsburgh under Ray Searage, and Darvish was a young international free agent. Overall, the success rate isn’t encouraging. The real black marks are the years following that. We have 11 samples on hand, and aside from modest renaissances from Mike Mussina and C.C. Sabathia, you get some really ugly numbers.

With this chart now in context, it brings us to wonder why any pitcher is even offered a deal in excess of four years. It is just not worth having so much dead payroll for one to five years. In fact, looking at how successful the first four years are, the values already come pretty close to the original contract anyways. Did the Phillies or Cliff Lee ever consider a four-year contract in that same $120M range? Probably not, but Lee would have taken it, and the Phillies would have been better off. I’m sure C.C. Sabathia never received a 4/$120M offer from the Yankees, but it would have let him hit the market again to potentially cash in one more time, and New York would have still recouped 75% of the value they ultimately got from him in nine years.

Thinking in present times, here’s a chart in a similar vein, but examining pitching contracts in the length of at least more than four years signed from just the 2012 season alone. Remember, these players have pitched the first four years of these contracts…

Pitching Contracts and Subsequent Performance in $, 2012-Present Seasons

Player Contract Value in Yrs 1-4 Value in Yr 5 Value in Yr 6 Value in Yr 7 Value in Yr 8
Matt Cain 5/112.5M 7M N/A N/A
Cole Hamels 6/144M 122.7M N/A
Hyun-Jin Ryu 6/36M 55.5M N/A N/A
Anibal Sanchez 5/80M 82.7M N/A
Matt Harrison 5/55M -1.1M INJ
Felix Hernandez 7/175M 120M N/A N/A N/A
Adam Wainwright 5/97.5M 116.7M N/A
Justin Verlander 5/140M 122.5M N/A N/A N/A N/A

*all contract data via Baseball Reference, all valuations via FanGraphs by conversion of (fWar)($/fWAR)

…and we see more of the same. Year five for these eight pitchers is 2017, and how many are a good bet to produce? Verlander, Hamels, most likely Hernandez, and…possibly Wainwright? Matt Harrison’s career is already over due to injury. Lengthy DL stints have ruined Ryu and Cain. Wainwright and Hernandez have also dealt with injury woes. Anibal Sanchez hasn’t been an effective pitcher since 2014. And yet, years one through four look beautiful for everybody but our two outliers.  

The same unorthodox contracts could apply to these guys. Anibal Sanchez is on the 2017 payroll for $16.8M, but what if Detroit had signed him for 4/$80M? Equal value would have been produced, and he wouldn’t be an albatross in 2017. 4/$100M for Adam Wainwright? That is similar to our previous Cliff Lee scenario. If Seattle had offered King Felix 4/$120M, he would have taken it in the hopes of cashing in one more time, and the Mariners would have received good value, similar to the Yankees and Sabathia.

Let’s condense all of the data from both charts and see what averages we get.

Sample Size Average Length Average Value Average Value (Yrs 1-4) Average Annual Value (AAV) Average Annual Value (AAV) – 4/73.14M
25 5.68 Yrs 96.68M 73.14M 17.02M 18.29M

Examining the averages, what if the average pitching contract shifted from nearly 6/$96.68M to 4/$73.14? The players would lose $23.54M on average over the length of the contract, but gain close to two free-agency years. Presumably, two free-agent years would be worth more than that, making for a worthy trade-off. As for the teams, they would pay $1.27M more per year in AAV, but eliminate two years of dead payroll (for those of you calculating that at home, that’s [17.02×1.68] – [1.27×4] for an average gain of $23.51M). That is a worthy trade-off for them as well. In other words, teams save millions, and players make more millions.

These condensed contracts have virtually no true precedent, but the 6/$206M deal that Greinke signed is closer to them than the current industry standard. Of course, pitching deals signed around the same time as Greinke are completely in tradition with this century (Max Scherzer, Jordan Zimmermann, David Price, Jeff Samardzija, Johnny Cueto, Mike Leake, Wei-Yin Chen, Ian Kennedy, and Stephen Strasburg), but that makes this one contract so potentially revolutionary among its contemporaries.

If you are thinking of the player and team who may follow these footsteps, I would imagine the perfect test case to be Matt Harvey. The Mets pitcher proved that he is an All-Star-level hurler in his comeback 2015 season from Tommy John surgery, but was hampered again in 2016 and diagnosed with thoracic outlet syndrome. All of this speculation is for naught if Harvey’s career is going to fizzle out or if he will need to be relegated to the bullpen, but let’s say the next two years are a comeback for him in the mold of 2015. After 2018, he would hit free agency going into his age-29 season. He would theoretically be in line for a five- to seven-year deal, but I don’t think someone with “Tommy John surgery” and “thoracic outlet syndrome” on his resume is a wise investment for that long. What if instead of something in the 6/$150M range, it’s a deal for 3/$100M? 4/$130M? If his production is equal to that type of contract, he would still hit free agency at age 33 or 34 and be in demand; it’s quid pro quo.             

Only time will tell if front offices of the future will adopt this strategy, and the harsher luxury-tax penalties surely dampen the idea. However, a team with cash to spend is always a team in need of pitching; perhaps we will see their contracts truly begin to condense.

Sigh of Relief Aside, Expect a Big Year From David Price

No matter what team you root for, we are all baseball fans, and as baseball fans, the game is better when David Price comes out of a visit with Dr. James Andrews in one piece. Red Sox fans held their collective breath after the (since-updated) report was released that Price was being sent to Dr. Andrews following a troubling MRI scan. Even Boston’s brass was expecting to lose Price for the year to Tommy John surgery. Of course, it is not known exactly what Price was diagnosed with, and being shut down for seven to ten days is still troubling, but while the spirits are up, let’s consider something else: David Price will be back in serious Cy Young contention this season.

To be clear, David Price was an excellent pitcher in 2016. Any team would sign up for a 4.5 fWAR pitcher, and that production alone is All-Star worthy. However, in the context of David Price’s career, 2016 qualified as an “off year.” His previous two seasons saw him post totals of 6 fWAR and 6.4 fWAR, respectively. Looking at traditional stats, his 3.99 ERA was his highest since his 128-inning rookie season. So while Price was worth every penny in 2016, it wasn’t the rosiest year of his career.

If we want to find out what was different for David Price in 2016, we won’t have to look very far.

What Went Wrong For David Price in 2016

Year HR/9 FB% HR/FB% Pull% Hard Hit%
2010 0.65 39.6% 6.5% 30.1% 25.5%
2011 0.88 36.9% 9.7% 34.4% 24.7%
2012 0.68 27.0% 10.5% 35.3% 25.6%
2013 0.77 33.4% 8.6% 34.7% 28.6%
2014 0.91 38.1% 9.7% 36.4% 28.3%
2015 0.69 36.4% 7.8% 33.3% 28.2%
2016 1.17 33.9% 13.5% 44.1% 34.8%

*all stats via FanGraphs

Starting in column two, we can see a clear-cut spike in the number of home runs he allowed. Your first thought may be that this can be explained by his having to pitch in the notoriously hitter-friendly Fenway Park, but Price has pitched nearly his entire career in the confines of the American League East and hasn’t had a homer problem until this point. So we move to column two, with the hopes that an increased fly-ball percentage would be the answer to our question. However, his fly-ball percentage was actually his third-lowest recorded since 2010, which makes his spiked home-run-per-fly-ball percentage in column four even more puzzling. With the mystery unsolved, we move to the next column, which measures the percentage of balls in play that were pulled by opposing batters. This rate increased dramatically in 2016, and it coincides with the escalated hard-hit rate in column six.

If opposing batters (generally righties) are squaring up on the ball and pulling it more than ever (generally to the Green Monster) on Price, it stands to reason that he is giving them pitches to pull hard. Let’s first examine a heatmap from Price’s pitch locations to right-handed batters over the same six-year sample size we have been using.


*via FanGraphs

This looks pretty good! It’s no wonder why Price has been so adept at avoiding the longball; he really pounds the outside corner on those right-handed batters. So let’s look at 2016 and see if anything has changed.


*via FanGraphs

Yeah, that will change your fortunes. Much less of that outside corner action, much more of that “meatball right down the middle” action. I decided to dig a little deeper and look at which of his four pitches (fastball, cutter, changeup, and curve) was most responsible, or if multiple pitches were culprits. I’ll save you the trouble and get to the one culprit.


*via FanGraphs

We’ve got a match, and you probably guessed it – it’s the fastball. I can’t explain to you why Price was missing his spots, but you and I know that this is a game of inches, and his fastball was responsible for 16 of the 30 homers he gave up. While this is purely speculation, it’s possible that Price was getting acclimated to his new environment and $217M contract. Whatever the case may be, this is the only adjustment that he really has to make in 2017 to return to his previous levels of Cy Young stardom.

Pitching is an unforgiving occupation, and pitchers often spend years refining their craft, but I am willing to go out on a limb and bet that someone of David Price’s caliber can make this one readjustment. He is no longer the new big-ticket addition in Boston (that would be Chris Sale), nor is he the defending Cy Young (that would be another teammate, Rick Porcello), which should lessen the pressure somewhat. With the hopes that Price is in good health, you can expect a huge bounce-back year from him in 2017.

The 2017 Red Sox Season Ends and Starts With Bogaerts

The Red Sox are currently tabbed as the favourites in the American League by most experts and odds-makers, but there was a lot of roster turnover from last season so it is difficult to really project their level of success for the coming year. Their positive 2017 outlook is despite losing the face of their franchise and best power hitter, David Ortiz, to retirement. He has been one of the most consistent clean-up hitters in the past decade and so offensively he leaves big shoes to fill (pun intended). The Red Sox offense in 2017 led the majors in most offensive categories like AVG, OBP, SLG, Off WAR component, swStr%, contact% and had the best OPS since the 2009 Yankees. Instead of signing or trading for a big slugger in the offseason to fill this void, Red Sox management looked elsewhere by acquiring one of the majors’ best starting pitchers in Chris Sale. The 2017 Red Sox are now led by a young nucleus of hitters who are projected to carry an offence that is likely going to be one of the best, and the Red Sox are banking on the continuing development of their young offensive talent to help them go far in the postseason.

One player who is expected to make major offensive contributions this season is Xander Bogaerts — a hitter who has shown the ability to hit for an elite batting average (.320 BA in 2015) and display some power (21 HR in 2016). He plays for one of the league’s most scrutinized teams and at one of the most important positions, creating an environment that demands excellence and puts a high level of pressure on a young player. Bogaerts has posted back-to-back seasons with a WAR over 4 and a wOBA over .338 but he achieved these feats in contrasting ways. In 2015, it was driven by an elite batting average, while in 2016 he made some changes to his swing and approach at the plate and was able to hit for a high average (.294) while increasing his home-run total from 7 to 21.

But when we delve into the numbers of his 2016 season, we learn that it was a tale of two halves. His noticeable two-halved season is similar to the 2016 seasons of Matt Carpenter and Kevin Pillar, players who I have written about recently, but these tales were directly related to injuries they sustained. For Bogaerts, however, his change was not due to an injury but from a change in his approach at the plate. This change had a negative effect on most of his offensive statistics and perhaps is a cause for concern for the coming season.

In the first half of the season versus the second half of the season, his batting average fell from .329 to .253, his BB/K fell from 0.59 to 0.37, his OPS dropped by 134 points, and his wOBA dropped by 57 points. The only improvements he displayed was improving his HR/FB ratio from 10.6% to 12.1% and increasing his ISO slightly by 13 points (.146 vs. .159).  So what changed, you ask? Well, you can probably tell from interpreting the aforementioned changes in his statistics; he sold out for power. He made a significant change to his ground-ball to fly-ball ratio, as it decreased from 1.62 to 0.98. Below we can see the change in his AVG/P from the first half to the second half of the 2016 season:

He stopped hitting balls to the opposite field, decreasing his Oppo% by 6.3% and increased his Pull% and Cent% by 2.8% and 3.5%, respectively. See below for a summary:

He also increased his average launch angle from 6.3 degrees in 2015 and 6.9 degrees in the first half of 2016 to almost double those marks in the second half of 2016 — 13.1 degrees. Despite increasing his launch angle in the second half, he made no major changes to his exit velocity (89.8 MPH vs. 90.2 MPH) or to his swing speed (61.3 MPH vs. 61.7 MPH).

In the table below, we see how Bogaerts ranked at his position in wRC+ and wOBA based on batted-ball type in the first half of the season and the second half:

Further, it is interesting to investigate his home and road splits in the second half as he hit .325 at home vs. .207 on the road. His second half away FB% was 39.9% and pull% was 42% while at home it was 38.3% and 52.1%. He increased his away FB% by 9.4% and increased his home FB% by 5.9% and his pull% by 7.7%. This change obviously helped him when playing at Fenway Park as his ISO increased from .172 to .205 while maintaining an identical batting average. However, while playing on the road, this new approach to hit fly balls and to pull the ball over an imaginary Green Monster led to major struggles at the plate.

I wanted to see if there was hope for Bogaerts with his new fly-ball-driven plate approach, so I wanted to look at hitters who made similar changes year-over-year and how they fared. I used data from the past four seasons and looked at qualified hitters who had at least a 0.40 decrease in their GB/FB from one year to the next. Analyzing the data, I found that Xander Bogaerts’ second half was eerily identical to Salvador Perez’s 2014 season. Perez made similar changes in his fly-ball approach from his 2013 to 2014 season and below are the results:

Apart from their HR/FB ratios, their batted-ball and hitting-profile metrics are identical. Bogaerts decided to pull and hit fly balls in the second half and if he was able to sustain this batted-ball profile over the course of a full season, versus if he kept his batted-ball profile the same as he had in the first half of the season, he would have hit six more home runs. Hitting over .310 with 18 HRs is much preferable to hitting sub .260 with 24 HRs. Of course, this extrapolation has its flaws, but whenever your hitting is compared to a catcher’s, it is a bit of a sign of concern.

It is not all doom and gloom for Bogaerts, as he is only 24 years old and has a lot of time to build into his frame and develop a power stroke. Looking at the same set of data, Bogaerts’ 2016 full-season data (a mixture of high-average approach vs. HR-hitting approach) looked similar to Robinson Cano’s 2016 season, apart from his ability to tap into his power. Cano and Bogaerts decreased their GB/FB rates by 0.72 and 0.75 respectively from 2015 to 2016, as shown below:

If Bogaerts can learn to hit the ball harder more consistently and perhaps focus less on pulling the ball, and revert back to his 2014 Oppo% of 32%, he could turn into both an elite power and contact hitter. An ideal future player comparison for Bogaerts would be somewhere in between Derek Jeter and Robinson Cano. Being able to utilize the whole field, hitting for a high batting average, stealing some bases, scoring lots of runs atop a killer lineup, and hitting for a lot of extra-base hits are all within the realm of possibilities for this young shortstop.

An important aspect to consider for the upcoming season is, where should Bogaerts hit in the batting order? According to Ian Browne of, John Farrell is tinkering with the idea of hitting Bogaerts sixth in the Red Sox lineup, and this was the case for his first spring-training game since returning from the WBC on Thursday. And perhaps he has done so for good reason. In 2016, Bogaerts had most of his success hitting third in the lineup, but was moved to the two-hole on August 10th and stayed there for the vast majority of games there on out, and he began to struggle at the plate. It is a bit of a chicken-and-the-egg dilemma but something that probably prompted the move was his inability to hit with runners in scoring position. His batting average fell from .351 to .136, due mostly to his increased FB% — a trend that he has showed throughout his short major-league career, as shown by the table below:

His struggles with runners in scoring position are something that I am sure Farrell is well-aware of, and therefore his move down in the batting order makes a lot of sense, especially if he continues struggling with his new approach at the plate. It should not only helps his team be more efficient at run production, but it should also help Bogaerts’ chances of stealing more bases this season — something he has talked about doing more of if given the opportunity. He stole 11 bases in the first half of the season but only stole two in the second half, something that he attributed to having fewer green lights from his coaching staff when on the base paths, as they didn’t want to take the bat out of Big Papi’s hands. Of course, that is no longer an issue, and if he does in fact hit in sixth slot, he should have more opportunities to run than if he hit fourth – a position in the order that he was originally projected to hit from.

Fantasy Perspective: The move down in the order will definitely hurt his counting stats in runs and RBI, but the optimist in me believes that he will revert back a little to his 2015 self and hit fewer fly balls than he did in the second half of 2016. This should hopefully help him hit for a high batting average, considering he was able to sustain a BABIP in the .370 range over the course of over 1000 PAs from the beginning of the 2015 season to the halfway point of the 2016 season. His batting average over that period was .323, which which was tied for second with Jose Altuve, and only trailed Dee Gordon at .324. A more balanced approach should hopefully result in productive power numbers from Bogaerts, posting an elite number of doubles and HRs in the mid- to high teens. He has talked about trying to steal at least 20 bases this season and the likelihood of doing so is highly dependent on where he hits in the order. So if he stays in the six-hole for the majority of the season or moves up to the two-hole at some point – I believe that 20-25 steals is achievable.

Hardball Retrospective – What Might Have Been – The “Original” 2001 Rangers

In “Hardball Retrospective: Evaluating Scouting and Development Outcomes for the Modern-Era Franchises”, I placed every ballplayer in the modern era (from 1901-present) on their original team. I calculated revised standings for every season based entirely on the performance of each team’s “original” players. I discuss every team’s “original” players and seasons at length along with organizational performance with respect to the Amateur Draft (or First-Year Player Draft), amateur free agent signings and other methods of player acquisition.  Season standings, WAR and Win Shares totals for the “original” teams are compared against the “actual” team results to assess each franchise’s scouting, development and general management skills.

Expanding on my research for the book, the following series of articles will reveal the teams with the biggest single-season difference in the WAR and Win Shares for the “Original” vs. “Actual” rosters for every Major League organization. “Hardball Retrospective” is available in digital format on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, GooglePlay, iTunes and KoboBooks. The paperback edition is available on Amazon, Barnes and Noble and CreateSpace. Supplemental Statistics, Charts and Graphs along with a discussion forum are offered at

Don Daglow (Intellivision World Series Major League Baseball, Earl Weaver Baseball, Tony LaRussa Baseball) contributed the foreword for Hardball Retrospective. The foreword and preview of my book are accessible here.


OWAR – Wins Above Replacement for players on “original” teams

OWS – Win Shares for players on “original” teams

OPW% – Pythagorean Won-Loss record for the “original” teams

AWAR – Wins Above Replacement for players on “actual” teams

AWS – Win Shares for players on “actual” teams

APW% – Pythagorean Won-Loss record for the “actual” teams


The 2001 Texas Rangers 

OWAR: 48.4     OWS: 278     OPW%: .513     (83-79)

AWAR: 34.2      AWS: 219     APW%: .451     (73-89)

WARdiff: 14.2                        WSdiff: 59  

The “Original” 2001 Rangers placed third in the American League West behind Seattle and Oakland. Sammy “Say It Ain’t” Sosa (.328/64/160) established personal bests in batting average, runs scored (146), RBI and bases on balls (116) while placing runner-up in the MVP balloting. Rich Aurilia (.324/37/97) contributed career-highs in nearly every batting classification including 114 tallies and 206 safeties. Juan “Igor” Gonzalez (.325/35/140) achieved his third All-Star invite and finished fifth in the American League MVP race. Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez (.308/25/65) merited his tenth straight Gold Glove Award. Jose Hernandez swatted 26 two-baggers and 25 big-flies. The “Actuals” lineup featured Alex Rodriguez (.318/52/135) who paced the circuit in four-baggers and runs scored (133). Rafael Palmeiro (.273/47/123) surpassed the century mark in walks and equaled his single-season HR total. Frank Catalanotto batted at a .330 clip and ripped 31 two-base hits.

Ivan Rodriguez rated thirteenth among backstops according to “The New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract” top 100 player rankings. “Original” Rangers registered in the “NBJHBA” top 100 ratings include Sammy Sosa (45th-RF), Juan Gonzalez (52nd-RF) and Ruben Sierra (70th-RF). Moreover, Alex Rodriguez (17th-SS), Rafael Palmeiro (19th-1B), Ken Caminiti (25th-3B) and Andres Galarraga (42nd-1B) achieved the distinction among members of the “Actuals” roster.

  Original 2001 Rangers                              Actual 2001 Rangers

Rusty Greer LF -0.04 5.64 Frank Catalanotto LF 2.19 16.86
Mark Little CF 0.39 2.69 Gabe Kapler CF 0.85 12.52
Sammy Sosa RF 9.56 43.85 Ricky Ledee RF -0.48 2.21
Juan Gonzalez DH/RF 4.21 23.5 Ruben Sierra DH 0.82 9.21
Carlos Pena 1B 0.21 2.01 Rafael Palmeiro 1B 3.62 24.62
Benji Gil 2B/SS 0.99 6.69 Randy Velarde 2B 1.57 8.75
Rich Aurilia SS 5.46 32.44 Alex Rodriguez SS 8.2 34.67
Mike Lamb 3B -0.03 6.37 Mike Lamb 3B -0.03 6.37
Ivan Rodriguez C 3.92 19.8 Ivan Rodriguez C 3.92 19.8
Rey Sanchez SS 2.37 13.45 Michael Young 2B 0.09 6.32
Jose Hernandez SS 2.7 12.63 Rusty Greer LF -0.04 5.64
Ruben Sierra DH 0.82 9.21 Bill Haselman C 0.09 3.71
Chad Kreuter C 1.28 9.03 Ken Caminiti 3B -0.07 3.66
Dean Palmer DH 0.14 4.53 Andres Galarraga DH -0.71 3.22
Bill Haselman C 0.09 3.71 Chad Curtis CF 0.14 2.04
Jeff Frye 2B -0.45 3.61 Carlos Pena 1B 0.21 2.01
Fernando Tatis 3B -0.26 2.25 Doug Mirabelli C -0.09 1.31
Ruben Mateo RF -0.61 1.31 Ruben Mateo RF -0.61 1.31
Andy Barkett LF 0.11 1.26 Scott Sheldon 3B -0.56 0.89
Kevin L. Brown C 0.11 1.09 Bo Porter LF -0.18 0.77
Craig Monroe RF 0.03 0.61 Craig Monroe RF 0.03 0.61
Warren Morris 2B -0.43 0.53 Mike Hubbard C 0.06 0.41
Cliff Brumbaugh RF -0.39 0.24 Marcus Jensen C -0.27 0.29
Scott Podsednik LF -0.06 0.04 Chris Magruder LF -0.32 0.12
Kelly Dransfeldt SS -0.03 0.04 Kelly Dransfeldt SS -0.03 0.04
Cliff Brumbaugh RF -0.16 0.02

Kevin J. Brown (10-4, 2.65) fashioned a 1.141 WHIP in an abbreviated season (19 starts). Robb Nen (3.01, 45 SV) struck out 93 batters in 77.2 innings and topped the circuit in saves. Jeff Zimmerman (2.40, 28 SV) was nearly unhittable out of the bullpen, producing a 0.897 WHIP.

  Original 2001 Rangers                            Actual 2001 Rangers 

Kevin J. Brown SP 2.66 10.63 Doug Davis SP 2.6 9.25
Doug Davis SP 2.6 9.25 Rick Helling SP 1.67 8.01
Jim Brower SP 1.47 8.13 Darren Oliver SP -0.06 3.78
Rick Helling SP 1.67 8.01 Kenny Rogers SP -0.37 1.96
Ryan Dempster SP 0.53 7.65 Aaron Myette SP -0.79 0.19
Robb Nen RP 1.3 13.82 Jeff Zimmerman RP 3.13 13.09
Jeff Zimmerman RP 3.13 13.09 Mike Venafro RP 0.24 4.77
Danny Patterson RP 1.29 6.66 Pat Mahomes RP -0.13 3.56
Scott Stewart RP 0.73 5.53 Juan Moreno RP 0.44 3
Mike Venafro RP 0.24 4.77 Chris Michalak RP 0.49 1.82
Darren Oliver SP -0.06 3.78 Danny Kolb RP 0.16 0.85
Bobby Witt SP 0.5 2.53 Jeff Brantley RP 0.09 0.68
Kenny Rogers SP -0.37 1.96 J. D. Smart RP -0.15 0.26
Scott Eyre RP 0.34 1.82 Mark Petkovsek RP -1.42 0.22
Brian Bohanon SP 0.11 1.78 Francisco Cordero RP 0.06 0.1
Joey Eischen RP 0 1.27 Rob Bell SP -1.14 0.08
Danny Kolb RP 0.16 0.85 R. A. Dickey RP -0.17 0.01
Luis Pineda RP -0.01 0.65 Kevin Foster RP -0.32 0.01
Mark Petkovsek RP -1.42 0.22 Joaquin Benoit SP -0.2 0
Billy Taylor RP 0.01 0.1 Tim Crabtree RP -0.39 0
R. A. Dickey RP -0.17 0.01 Justin Duchscherer SP -0.8 0
Joaquin Benoit SP -0.2 0 Ryan Glynn SP -0.51 0
Ryan Glynn SP -0.51 0 Jonathan Johnson RP -0.44 0
Jonathan Johnson RP -0.44 0 Mike Judd SP -0.33 0
Brandon Knight RP -0.54 0 Brandon Villafuerte RP -0.51 0
Matt Whiteside RP -0.61 0

 Notable Transactions

Sammy Sosa 

July 29, 1989: Traded by the Texas Rangers with Wilson Alvarez and Scott Fletcher to the Chicago White Sox for Harold Baines and Fred Manrique.

March 30, 1992: Traded by the Chicago White Sox with Ken Patterson to the Chicago Cubs for George Bell.

Rich Aurilia

December 22, 1994: Traded by the Texas Rangers with Desi Wilson to the San Francisco Giants for John Burkett.

Juan Gonzalez

November 2, 1999: Traded by the Texas Rangers with Danny Patterson and Gregg Zaun to the Detroit Tigers for Alan Webb (minors), Frank Catalanotto, Francisco Cordero, Bill Haselman, Gabe Kapler and Justin Thompson.

November 1, 2000: Granted Free Agency.

January 9, 2001: Signed as a Free Agent with the Cleveland Indians. 

Robb Nen

July 17, 1993: Traded by the Texas Rangers with Kurt Miller to the Florida Marlins for Cris Carpenter.

November 18, 1997: Traded by the Florida Marlins to the San Francisco Giants for Mick Pageler (minors), Mike Villano (minors) and Joe Fontenot.

Rey Sanchez 

January 3, 1990: Traded by the Texas Rangers to the Chicago Cubs for Bryan House (minors).

August 16, 1997: Traded by the Chicago Cubs to the New York Yankees for Frisco Parotte (minors).

November 3, 1997: Granted Free Agency.

January 22, 1998: Signed as a Free Agent with the San Francisco Giants.

November 5, 1998: Granted Free Agency.

December 11, 1998: Signed as a Free Agent with the Kansas City Royals.

October 29, 1999: Granted Free Agency.

December 7, 1999: Signed as a Free Agent with the Kansas City Royals. 

Jose Hernandez 

April 3, 1992: Selected off waivers by the Cleveland Indians from the Texas Rangers.

June 1, 1993: Traded by the Cleveland Indians to the Chicago Cubs for Heathcliff Slocumb.

July 31, 1999: Traded by the Chicago Cubs with Terry Mulholland to the Atlanta Braves for a player to be named later, Micah Bowie and Ruben Quevedo. The Atlanta Braves sent Joey Nation (August 24, 1999) to the Chicago Cubs to complete the trade.

November 5, 1999: Granted Free Agency.

December 16, 1999: Signed as a Free Agent with the Milwaukee Brewers.

Kevin J. Brown 

October 15, 1994: Granted Free Agency.

April 9, 1995: Signed as a Free Agent with the Baltimore Orioles.

November 3, 1995: Granted Free Agency.

December 22, 1995: Signed as a Free Agent with the Florida Marlins.

December 15, 1997: Traded by the Florida Marlins to the San Diego Padres for Steve Hoff (minors), Derrek Lee and Rafael Medina.

October 26, 1998: Granted Free Agency.

December 12, 1998: Signed as a Free Agent with the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Honorable Mention

The 2007 Texas Rangers 

OWAR: 36.9     OWS: 249     OPW%: .496     (80-82)

AWAR: 27.8      AWS: 225     APW%: .463     (75-87)

WARdiff: 9.1                        WSdiff: 24  

Texas finished a distant sixteen games behind Seattle in ’07. Carlos Pena (.282/46/121) registered 99 tallies and achieved personal-bests in virtually every offensive category. Mark Teixeira tagged 30 long balls, drove in 105 baserunners and contributed a .306 BA. Ian Kinsler swiped 23 bases in 25 attempts, scored 96 runs and clubbed 20 dingers during his sophomore season. Travis “Pronk” Hafner blasted 24 dingers and eclipsed the century mark in RBI for the fourth consecutive campaign. Ivan Rodriguez drilled 31 two-base hits while third-sacker Edwin Encarnacion delivered a .289 BA with 16 jacks. Aaron Harang (16-6, 3.73) posted a career-best 1.144 WHIP and placed fourth in the Cy Young balloting. Joaquin Benoit whiffed 87 batsmen over 82 innings while furnishing a 2.85 ERA along with a WHIP of 1.171.

On Deck

What Might Have Been – The “Original” 2003 Indians

References and Resources

Baseball America – Executive Database


James, Bill. The New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract. New York, NY.: The Free Press, 2001. Print.

James, Bill, with Jim Henzler. Win Shares. Morton Grove, Ill.: STATS, 2002. Print.

Retrosheet – Transactions Database 

The information used here was obtained free of charge from and is copyrighted by Retrosheet. Interested parties may contact Retrosheet at “”.

Seamheads – Baseball Gauge

Sean Lahman Baseball Archive

Hitters Who Made the Most Outs When Ahead in the Count

Last week I explored how exciting it is when certain things happen in baseball that shouldn’t. Some of the moments are quirky, like Ben Revere homers, while some of them are static shocks of excitement, like a guy getting on despite being behind in the count. They’re all enjoyable though.

But let’s be fair. Sometimes hitters are up at the plate with the advantage. They’re ahead in the count, have the pitcher behind the 8-ball and the defense extra up on its toes, but then…womp womp. They strike out, hit a weak fly ball, or tap a grounder to short, and the at-bat ends with the curt sound of a deflating balloon. And we’d be remiss to not acknowledge the guys who left us deflated most in 2016.


Like last time, that’s the top 10 from last year, plus their previous two years for some context. This list is just as interesting because it’s just as diverse in terms of position, age, and spot in the lineup. Certain guys do stick out though. You can’t help but think how the consistency in the numbers for Albert Pujols could speak to his decline. From 2008-10, which are the first three years of data available from Statcast, his BABIP when ahead was .389, .313, and .288. Those are also the last three years his batting average was .300 or better, which is understandable if you consider the possibility that pitchers have become less fearful of him when they give him advantageous counts.

Then there’s the Curious Case in the Collapse of Jason Heyward. Nobody expected him to be so bad so quickly in his first year with the Cubs. How much of it had to do with his BABIP loafing on the Mendoza line when ahead? As such an aberration, does it suggest he could bounce back with anything more than terrible luck? Probably at least a little.

And let’s not forget Francisco Lindor! He’s the only guy to show up on this list and the best-when-behind list. Perhaps that speaks to his relative youth — maybe too much comfort when ahead and focus that wants to make up for it when behind. That will be interesting to track as he moves into the next phase of his career.


Collectively, these guys were all more comfortable when ahead, as you may have guessed. Pujols sticks out again in terms of how the ball comes off his bat. While he’s been making outs at a high rate when ahead the last three years, he’s also still squaring up the ball pretty darn well. As for Heyward, his launch angle when ahead might be another reason he could improve in 2017, even if his exit velo is almost definitively average. Unless his combo of loft and soft-ish hitting gives defenders enough time to get to the ball. Then maybe he’s doomed forever.

Kyle Seager has the highest launch angle when ahead and second-highest in other counts. While he clearly likes to put the ball in the air, his decent-but-not-exceptional exit velo might make for a lot of long outs. And at the other end of the spectrum, Christian Yelich’s numbers tell us he’s hitting it low and hard a ton. That makes it easier to grasp why he made 80 outs when ahead in the count last year, but he also more than doubled his career home-run total last year, so he’s starting to put some loft under the ball.

Based on the numbers immediately above, Carlos Santana might get on base even more in the coming season. Hitting it as hard and at the angles he did in 2016 makes it seem unreasonable that he made the most outs in the league when ahead.

And finally, we examine when these guys made their outs when in hitters counts. Like the best-when-behind list possibly provided some inkling when to tune into a game or one of those players’ at-bats, this data might tell you when to tune out. Unless you’re into disappointment or schadenfreude.


Only two guys made more outs in the last three innings than they did in the first or middle three: Eric Hosmer and Jason Heyward. It’s intriguing that everyone else trended down as the game went on. I don’t readily buy into the idea of players being “in the zone” or “a great place mentally.” However, I am curious about the possibility of mentality making an impact on action in this context because I do believe mind and body are one. That they might come together as the stakes get higher would speak to the crux of how any of these hitters have become professionals.

I don’t think these numbers are as informative in the players’ approaches when ahead as much as they are a matter of BABIP. And by no means do I think that’s bulletproof. They still tell us how they hit the ball and when, which means they leave open opportunities to examine where tweaks might occur, though. With the variability of average on balls in play, it’s unlikely these players post the exact same numbers, but if any of them come close, it could account for roughly 20% of the total outs they make all year. Or 20% of the reasons you see what other games are on.

Kiermaier Takes Guaranteed Cash, Rays Upgrade Asset

Center fielder/sabermetric superstar Kevin Kiermaier signed an extension with the Tampa Bay Rays for 6/$53.5M this week. Dave Cameron of FanGraphs notes that he will receive roughly $30M for three arbitration seasons and $12M per year for three free-agency seasons. There will also likely be a $12M team option. Cameron’s article, while rightfully criticizing Major League Baseball’s flawed arbitration system, will run counter to my argument. Kiermaier is an excellent player, no doubt – a defensive whiz, a great base runner, and a league-average bat to boot. One thing that is not on his side is age. Kiermaier will be 27 this season, would have been 30 in free agency, and will be 33 or 34 when his contract is over. Much of Kiermaier’s value is derived from his defensive prowess; he has recorded a 44 UZR for his work in center field in his career. While this is impressive, the precedent for Kiermaier to continue this excellence through his free-agent years is unlikely. Let’s consider the center fielders of the UZR era who have signed significant free-agent contracts.

Major Free Agent Center Fielders’ UZR

Player FA Age Contract CF UZR (Pre-Contract) CF UZR (Post-Contract)
Carlos Beltran 28 7/119M 16.1 15.1
Juan Pierre 29 5/44M 32.6 -0.8
Gary Matthews Jr. 32 5/50M 12.4 -24.4
Torii Hunter 32 5/90M 11.9 -17.7
Aaron Rowand 30 5/60M 46.2 7
Melvin Upton Jr. 28 5/75.25M 18.6 1.6
Angel Pagan 31 4/40M -1.5 -25.6
Michael Bourn 30 4/48M 51.6 -14.2
Jacoby Ellsbury 30 7/153M 28.9 -2

*data via FanGraphs

Here we see a list of center fielders with (mostly) fantastic defensive records before signing a free-agent contract around the age of 30. With the exception of Carlos Beltran, the youngest player on this list, every single one of these players’ defensive values in center cratered. All of them were or will be rendered unplayable in center before the expiration of their contracts. Kevin Kiermaier is a fantastic center fielder, but even he is no immortal among these men. With the stench of the Jacoby Ellsbury deal still fresh in the air, it is likely that most executives around the game will prefer developing defense rather than buying it.

The Rays get to pay Kiermaier $24-36M for 3-4 free-agent seasons in exchange for the guaranteed money during his arbitration years, but if Kiermaier the hypothetical free agent isn’t going to be paid for his defense, is his bat really going to be worth 3/$24M or 4/$36M? Looking at Kiermaier’s place among center fielders with at least 1000 plate appearances in the previous three seasons, his wRC+ made him this red mark on the graph.

wRC+ chart

He’s holding his own (league average), and this is around where he has been for his whole career, but this is also supposed to be his prime. If this is the offensive peak (plateau?) of Kevin Kiermaier, it’s hard to imagine him creating $24-36M worth of value if the plateau crumbles around the age-30 mark.

While Kevin Kiermaier is a bona fide stud, it’s likely he will only be one until he reaches what would have been his free-agent years. By signing this extension, I believe Kiermaier increased his career earnings, while taking that money guaranteed. However, don’t presume that Tampa was reckless about the $24-36M they will allocate to Kiermaier over those last three or four years; precedents can be broken, and he is an awesome player. It’s also important to consider the new asset that Tampa upgraded to, a nice Adam Eaton-esque carrot to dangle in front of interested teams – seven years of control of Kevin Kiermaier.