Author Archive

Reflecting on the Cubs’ Five-Year Run

Last month at The Athletic, Patrick Mooney and Sahadev Sharma took a deep dive into the Cubs’ successes and failures from 2015 through the conclusion of 2019. This led me to reflect upon this five-year run and try to figure out if, on the whole, it should be considered a success. They famously broke the franchise’s 112-year World Series drought, yet this Cubs team has seemed to leave baseball fans (especially Cubs fans) wanting more. When they took the league by storm in 2015 to the tune of 97 wins (a meteoric 24-win increase from the previous season), the baseball community was not asking if this group would win a World Series, but when. After the 2016 championship, we spent all offseason dreaming about how many World Series this group could claim over the next five years.

Of course, this Cubs group has yet to win another ring. Joe Maddon has left. Trade rumors have been swarming around the likes of Kris Bryant and Kyle Schwarber following reports of the Ricketts wanting to cut payroll. How do the Cubs pivot after this lost season? How much longer does Theo Epstein have to turn this ship around? These are the existential questions being asked in and around Wrigleyville after this season’s second-half collapse.

However, I would argue these questions are not totally fair. This Cubs core of Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, Javier Baez, and Jon Lester has led the team to post one of the best five-year runs in the National League since the inception of the Wild Card in 1994. The Cubs were swept in the NLCS in 2015 at the hands of the Mets, won the World Series in 2016, lost the NLCS in five games to the Dodgers in 2017, lost in the wild card game to the Rockies in 2018, and missed the playoffs this year. Those regular seasons, in order, consisted of 97, 103, 92, 95, and just 84 wins this past season. Simply looking at the playoff and regular season results, this does not feel like a completely dominant stretch of baseball. 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 »

What’s Next for Chris Archer?

The trade and struggles of Chris Archer have been well-documented by the baseball community. As many patrons of this very website know, Archer was sent from the Rays to the Pirates at the 2018 trade deadline for Austin Meadows, Tyler Glasnow, and a player to be named later, who was revealed as Shane Baz. Both Meadows and Glasnow have been very productive at the major league level for the Rays, while Baz is FanGraph’s 63rd-rated prospect on THE BOARD, carrying a future value of 50.

Archer, on the other hand, has been an unmitigated disaster. The once-tantalizing strikeout artist has delivered a 5.01 ERA paired with a 5.05 FIP. He has still struck out batters at a 26.0% rate, but his walk rate with the Bucs has surged to 10.1%. The main culprit for Archer’s spell of bad performance has been home runs; Archer has always tended to give up more fly balls than the average hurler, but since his move to Pittsburgh, 19.6% of his fly balls have gone over the fence, about 6% more than league average over that time span. Naturally, this leaves all of us baseball fans wondering, what happened to the pitcher who just four years ago was deemed by Dave Cameron as one of the 10 most valuable assets in MLB?

The Pirates were once thought of as one of the savviest organizations in baseball, a team that could spin washed-up pitchers into innings-eating workhorses. Detailed in Travis Sawchik’s book Big Data Baseball, the Pirates were one of the first teams to weaponize the infield shift. Pirates pitchers under the tutelage of pitching coach Ray Searage have been taught to rely on sinkers and two-seamers and to induce ground balls that can be gobbled up by the shift. As hitters have adjusted to the shift and focused on putting balls in the air, the Pirates’ approach of tailing fastballs low in the strike zone has become outdated. What was once the fountain of youth for veteran pitchers has become the focus of ridicule from the more analytically inclined. Read the rest of this entry »

How the Astros Can Fix Noah Syndergaard

With Noah Syndergaard trade rumors whirling around the baseball world, it is fair to ponder how a team who would acquire him could improve upon his 2019 results. To be clear, this incarnation of Syndergaard is still an excellent pitcher, but he still leaves us wanting more; Syndergaard has the physical profile and repertoire of a pitcher that teams dream about in their search for their next front-line starter. So how can he improve upon his already great season?

Look no further than his right-handed colleague, Gerrit Cole. When Cole was trade to the Astros, the baseball community expected that the Houston would be able to optimize Cole’s raw stuff to build one of the best pitchers in baseball. We expected the Astros would ditch his mediocre sinker and trade it for more breaking balls, Cole’s bread and butter. Sure enough, that was the case, and Cole has become one of the most dominant pitchers in the league:

Let’s look under the hood at Syndergaard’s 2019 season. Here is a zone plot of all of his pitches this year: Read the rest of this entry »