Author Archive

Summarizing My Findings on Launch Angle

Over the last year I made a series of studies on Statcast and I thought it would be interesting to write a little overview article to summarize my findings.

In June I looked at the launch angle profile of the league. The average went up of course, but it accelerated faster at the top than at the bottom, so we have not reached a stage of consolidation yet where the league is moving closer together in launch angle, which ultimately should be expected (the LA is increasing at the bottom but less than at the top.

That means there still is room for more growth in elevating but mostly in the bottom half of launch angle.

In the above I found that there are limits to elevating. I found the top guys usually average 11-16 degrees of launch angle. Below that players definitely can benefit from elevating more.

Then I was looking at the cost of too much elevation. A common theory is that swinging up more leads to more Ks because you are not really matching the plane of the pitch. I found a small effect there but nothing really big.

However I did find that there is a BABIP cost, especially if it comes with pulling the ball, and confirmed that with more research and found out that elevating more without a BABIP cost is possible if you get off the ground while limiting pop-ups and high outfield FBs above 30 degrees like Daniel Murphy does very well, while the 50+% FB guys with 20+ degrees of average LA tend to have low BABIPs, especially when coupled with pulling a lot to sell out for power.

I also looked at the relationship of EV and LA and unsurprisingly found out that between like 8 and 20 degrees, exit velo doesn’t matter much, while above 20 degrees almost all production comes from homers. Balls above 20 degrees and below 95 MPH are basically worthless so you need a certain minimum power to make elevation work. Off the ground is always good, but for some it might make sense to stay between 5 and 20 degrees.

Not quite related to that topic, I also created a formula for the relationship between power, patience, and K rate. An old argument between sabermetric and traditional writers was whether Ks matter. We know that Ks are not worse than other outs and high-K hitters do not perform worse, but that is also because there is a selection bias against high-K, low-power guys. Everything being equal, low Ks is better, and I found a pretty linear relationship between K, BB, and ISO.

If production is equal, Ks obviously don’t matter, of course.

The Home Run Explosion, Home Runs, and Winning

I wondered how the power revolution changes the impact of power on winning. Does the abundance of HR mean that HRs are less valuable? Or are they even more necessary?

For that I compared 2017 and 2008. 2008 is kind of an arbitrary cutoff; I used it because it was 10 seasons ago and not a completely different game.

In 2008 the top-10 HR-hitting teams averaged 86 wins, and in 2017 just 82 wins. Also in the top 10 in HRs in 2008, three teams had losing seasons, and in 2017 it was a whopping five teams. So it seems being a top-HR team helps less.

However, when looking at the bottom 10 HR-hitting teams, it is 74 wins for both years. Three teams of the bottom 10 in HRs had winning seasons in 2008 versus just two in 2017. So it didn’t become easier to succeed as a no-power team.

The league also got closer together in HRs. In 2008 the bottom-10 average was 127, and it as 1.6 times as much for the top 10 (197). In 2017 it was 172 for the bottom and just 1.3 times as much for the top (230).

Of course park factors and year-to-year variations play a role, but last season Colorado wasn’t even in the top 10 for example.

So it seems power is at least as much needed to win as it used to be, but it isn’t really much of a difference maker anymore, it is more a baseline needed to win. But teams like the Rays and A’s who hit tons of homers in a pitcher’s park show that you can’t really build around power as a main skill; you need to make sure you don’t suck at power, but since you can’t really separate anymore with power, you need other primary skills.

I would probably say make sure to be in the top third in power, but once you are there, don’t sacrifice other stuff to get even more power.

That is especially true for defense. The A’s led the league in average launch angle and were fourth in HRs. Since they were only seven HR behind the Yankees and four behind the Astros in a vastly less hitter-friendly park, we can probably say they were the top HR-hitting team.

They tried to sell out for power and it clearly wasn’t enough to make up for historically bad defense and other flaws.

So teams definitely shouldn’t sacrifice in other regards; there is enough power around to not put bad defenders or super low OBPs in the field to get more power.

Power is as important as it ever, was but it is not possible to dominate with it anymore like the 1927 Yankees did. Now it is now one necessary skill of many and well-roundedness is the name of the game in 2017. Same can be said for contact-hitting. People said after 2015 that contact was the future. However, low-power slap hitting didn’t prove to be successful, but with power now available so easy, teams now might be able to cut back on the Ks a little without sacrificing power like the Astros did, because super high Ks can suppress on-base percentage when it doesn’t come with Adam Dunn-like walks.

Does Lifting the Ball Have a Ceiling?

Elevating is en vogue; everyone wants to do it and it seems like every hitter who does it can become a power hitter, especially with rumors about a new ball. There have been many examples of successful hitters of that mold: Daniel Murphy, Justin Turner and Jose Altuve, among others. Is there a limit to this? Could we see hitters with a 25% GB rate in the future? 20% 15%?

One thing that seems to cap this is BABIP. There is a pretty positive correlation of BABIP and GB rate, i.e. GB hitters tend to have a higher BABIP. That seems logical since FBs tend to have a lower average, and even if they are hits they often don’t count for BABIP as they are often home runs.

This table shows the relation of BABIP and GB rate between 2008 and 2017. You can see that BABIP does go down with lower GB rates, but wRC+ is actually better with lower GB rates. Still, you could see a point being reached where the lower BABIP eats up the advantages.

GB rate >0.35 0.35-0.4 0.4-0.45 0.45-0.5 0.5-0-55 >0.55
BABIP 0.287 0.290 0.299 0.304 0.314 0.320
wRC+ 106 102 101 95 90 93

Average launch angle shows a similar picture:


av. LA <8 8 to 10 10 to 12 12 to 14 14 to 16 16 to 18 >18
BABIP 0.318 0.314 0.305 0.298 0.300 0.289 0.274

It seems that once you get past a certain launch angle or GB rate, a drop in BABIP is inevitable. However, an exception might be possible. I looked up guys with a lower than 35% GB rate and a FB rate of lower than 45%, and their BABIP was 0.304. Those guys were pretty rare between 2008 and 2017, but it is possible. You just need to get the ball off the ground and avoid both pop-ups and high outfield fly balls above 25 degrees. Not an easy thing to do, though, as the bat is a round object, and batted balls will always be distributed rather normally around the average LA, meaning that a higher average LA usually will mean more high outfield fly balls.

However, it is possible to imagine a super-hitter who has such good bat control that his band is very narrow. The best example of this might be Daniel Murphy, who managed to have a 34% GB rate with just a 40% FB rate (meaning a very high LD rate), and subsequently a very high (.345) BABIP over the last three years.

So we could indeed imagine a kind of “super Murphy” who hits 25% grounders with lower than 45% FBs. However, to date, we have not seen a guy sustaining such high LD rates; that guy would probably have to have superhuman bat control (which probably eliminates almost all >25% K rate guys). But with modern training methods, who knows what might happen.

Looking for Evidence of a Change to the Ball

We saw an unprecedented jump in home runs in the last few years. What made it so strange was that most of it happened after the 2015 All-Star break. There is an increased awareness of launch angle and bat path, and 2015 was the first year there was a public in-game feedback, but still you would expect such an adjustment to take longer, especially since in-season swing changes are really hard to do — maybe with a whole offseason to work on it, it might have been slightly more believable.

There have been multi-factor explanations like a great rookie class of power hitters in the second half of 2015, changed approach, and other stuff like a slightly smaller zone, but really you would not expect such a multi-factor cause to happen that quickly and distinctly between two season halves. That made most sabermetric writers, including most of the FanGraphs staff, believe in a single-factor cause, most likely the ball.

There is some evidence for a changed ball, and there is also anecdotal evidence of minor-league players called up claiming the MLB ball flies farther. However, MLB so far has rejected that, and supported that with the credible name of professor Alan Nathan, albeit without really publishing the data, which further increased the suspicion.

We also did see an increase in launch angle: In 2015 in the first half, the LA of the league was 9.6, and in the second half it was 10.3, which further slightly increased in the first half of 2016 (10.4) and 2017 (10.8). The biggest jump, however, occurred between the season halves of 2015. So were the players really able to increase their LA with a single focus cue without really having much time to work on swing mechanics by just aiming higher after getting the first-half feedback? Those are the most talented athletes in the world, but still that sounds incredible.

But of course just increased elevation doesn’t explain the surge. The number of balls hit between 20 and 35 degrees (usual HR range) increased from roughly 8200 in the first half of 2015 to roughly 8600 in the first half of 2016, but the number of HRs increased from 2521 to 3082. Since less than half of the FBs between 20 and 35 go out of the park (I don’t have the exact number but I estimate 30% from the numbers I have), the 600 more batted balls in that range don’t explain 500 more HRs. That means, apart from more FBs, those also got out more, and the league saw a jump in HR/FB rate (9.5% in 2014 and 12.8 in 2016).

To research that, I looked into some Statcast stats. All stats here are just first halves of the respective seasons, because the first half of 2015 was the last “normal” HR half. Also I want to lessen weather effects.

This table shows that balls between 20 and 35 degrees do indeed fly farther and also go faster off the bat.
Average distance (20-35 LA)

2015 326 89.9
2016 331 91.6
2017 332 91.3

So does this jump in HR/FB prove a juiced ball? Not necessarily. To explain this, we have to get into swing mechanics. The attack angle is the vector of the bat’s sweetspot just before contact. Generally you can hit higher LAs (launch angles) by just hitting the bottom of the ball, but while some backspin is good, too much of it will slow down the ball. Generally the more LA and attack angle match, the higher the exit velo. That means players that try to swing up more might shift their highest velos to higher LAs. So while players couldn’t really change their swings that fast, just the intent of higher LA might have unconsciously caused a higher attack angle and thus more “flush hit” fly balls.

Evidence for the ball not being a factor is that average league EV is actually down a tiny bit. However, if the attack-angle theory is true, you would also expect that the EV of balls between 0 and 10 degrees would lower a little bit, and that hasn’t really happened.

Avg EV EV (0-10 LA)
2015 87.1 93.3
2016 87.8 93.3
2017 86.9 93.1

Another theory came from Tom Tango. He assumed that harder swinging and increased attack angles lead to higher peak EVs but also more weak mis-hits.

We do indeed see a big increase of balls hit above 105 MPH, but on the other side (and there have to be weaker hits to explain that overall EV is not up) there is an effect of more weak-hit balls in 2017, but not so in 2016.

EV >85 Balls 105
2015 96.2 19210 2960
2016 96.9 19075 3917
2017 96.7 20436 3635

To see if there is an aerodynamic effect — one theory of the juiced ball is reduced air drag due to lower seams — I looked at the average distance of balls hit at 20-25 degree LA in different velocity buckets.

EV Range 95-100 100-105 105-110
2015 366 391 415
2016 362 387 408
2017 363 391 411

You can’t really see an effect here. Balls hit at the same EV (which is measured right after exit so that air drag hasn’t done its work yet) don’t fly farther in 2016 or 2017 than they did in the first half of 2015. That means there likely isn’t really an effect of aerodynamics, at least not a big one.

So the reason for increased HRs seems to be mostly that fly balls fly faster and farther for whatever reason. We don’t see an across-the-board increase of EV, however, but simple explanations like a shift of max EVs to other launch angles don’t seem to really work either, as LAs from 0-10 (and also lower than minus 5 for that matter) haven’t really changed in their EV.

It remains mysterious what did actually happen. We do know LAs have increased some, but that doesn’t explain the whole story. But I couldn’t find real evidence for a changed ball in Statcast either. Could a super fast on-the-fly adjustment of the league between season halves based on the Statcast date really be the driving factor here?

Intellectually I really want to believe the juiced-ball theory, as it is the most elegant explanation for such a quick turnaround, but maybe it isn’t that easy.

The Nationals Could Use Zack Cozart

The Nationals again failed to win a round in the playoffs this year. Now, playoff success is pretty random and the Nats lost some series in Game 5, and they outscored the opponent in some of those series. However, we are in an era of super-teams in the NL with the Cubs, Dodgers and Nats all being loaded.

Also, the Nats’ window might be closing soon with Harper heading to free agency and several key players getting old. However, for next year they definitely should push all in since the division is ready for the taking, with the Phillies and Braves nearing the end of their rebuild but not winning yet in 2018, the Mets having lots of question marks regarding health (pitchers and also Conforto), and the Marlins tearing it down once again.

The Nats do have a really good team, but it is rather top-heavy. I wouldn’t call it stars and scrubs, because that would imply they have only 3-4 really good players when they have like 10 really good players, but the bottom of their roster is still weaker than the Cubs or Dodgers, who are using the more modern way of trying to bolster the bottom roster spots with 1 to 1.5 win players instead of zero or negative WAR players.

Here are the 10 players with the most PAs per team:

The Nats are right up there in wRC+ and WAR with the other big guys, and that was actually including the bad luck of losing Eaton for the year. The Nats clearly dominated the other two in top-six WAR and wRC+, but were quite bad with the bottom four. Now they will get Eaton back, which makes it a little better, but the top six actually included a 105 wRC+ for Michael Taylor, who is projected for just an 84 RC+ and was sporting some BABIP luck (.363 BABIP and .345 wOBA vs .294 xwOBA).

So the Nats could use some help with their lineup. However, their payroll is already pretty high, and the owners were not willing to spend much above that.

One solution would be getting Zack Cozart. Surprisingly, he was neither traded nor giving a QO by the Reds (I don’t understand why; the front office of the Reds at least should have tried to get a marginal return for him when they didn’t give him the QO), so he probably won’t be too expensive. Now Cozart was overperforming a lot himself and isn’t expected to get anywhere near his 5 wins of 2017 (.399 wOBA vs .332 xwOBA), and he also is 32 and had some injuries in the past, but he still is projected for 2.8 wins and a 98 wRC+, which is pretty good for a shortstop — where he is also good defensively.

That would allow the Nats to put Trea Turner back in center, where he can probably use his speed even better than at short (although he isn’t bad there), and more importantly it moves Eaton to a corner, where he is elite. So getting Cozart would improve the team both defensively and offensively and makes their lineup a little deeper with one fewer almost automatic out.

You don’t want to give him a long-term contract, but if you get him for two or even three years and around $15M per year, that wouldn’t be a bad value. Using the minus 0.5 WAR per year formula for aging past 30, you get 2.8 WAR in 2018, 2.2 in 2019 and 1.7 in 2020. That would be 6.7 WAR in three years, which is worth roughly $60M at $9M per win. I do think that he can be had cheaper, and even if the Nats decide to rebuild after 2019, having him on the hook for one more year won’t cripple them.

The Nats need to do everything to win in 2018; they can worry about the future later. And getting Cozart is a good little short-term upgrade who won’t demand a long-term commitment that might interfere with a potential rebuild in the post-Harper era.

Altuve vs. Judge: Should Awards Be Based on Skill or Results?

Last week, before the awards, Bill James argued on Twitter that Altuve should be the MVP because Judge had the highest run value, but Altuve had the highest win value, because Judge had lost a couple wins by being un-clutch. Tom Tango supported him some in that argument.

We know that clutch exists and it does affect real-world wins. Stats like WPA try to cover that; however, we also know that the year-to-year correlation of clutch is pretty weak, at least with hitters, so it could be considered pretty random. For that reason many people in the Twitter discussion rejected Bill’s argument and said we should go with run-based values.

I thought like that too, but then again, we do often use results-based metrics.

For example, in pitching, many still use ERA or ERA+ to judge pitchers even though that is heavily affected by factors like luck and defense. Because of that, people have started to use context-independent stats like FIP with pitchers, although the writers are still split on this (although it starts to lean more the FIP way as evidenced by the Scherzer vs. Kershaw vote). We know a small part of FIP under- or over-performance is skill, but most is pretty random.

With hitters that is very different. While people see batting average as a stat that might be affected by luck, the more advanced hitting stats like OBP or wRC+ are usually seen as a hard skill, even though they are affected by randomness. Of course one factor is actual over-performing that is not sustainable (we know that a guy hitting 27% liners likely won’t repeat even if he really did it and thus his BABIP was earned), but there is also random BABIP luck, as well as HR/FB luck. But still, unlike pitching, the existing consistent independent stats like xwOBA are not used yet. Of course there are some good reasons for that, as ERA is also affected by team defense while hitters face a mix of defenses, so that hitting is a little less random, but still randomness can make a big difference. For example, Marwin Gonzalez and Chris Taylor were only expected to be a bit above league average by xwOBA, but their actual results were great. This not only affects their wRC+, but also their supposedly objective WAR.

I feel we don’t have a consistent stance here. In some cases we use context-dependent stats (like WAR for hitters or RA9 WAR for pitchers) and in other cases we use context-independent stats like FIP (although even that isn’t true as FIP is dependent on HR/FB luck to some degree – which could be corrected by using xStats-based HR rates). And if we want to base our awards based on results, then Bill James is correct and we probably should use context in our value metrics (WPA for example), but if we want to go by skill we need to ignore that. But we probably also need to change how we evaluate WAR, wRC+, and other supposedly objective stats.

Of course there is also a third way: we can accept that there is no one objective way to judge awards, and everyone has their own set of criteria. To me, that is a very valid solution, although it is not really appealing to me personally because if we argue like that, why not go with triple slash again? (That was a rhetorical question — I would hate that.)

Are GMs Hurting the Owners Long-Term?

There is some evidence that young players are getting more and more productive and the aging curve is shifted to the left, but salary distribution has not changed. In fact, the average salary since 2005 increased 1.5 times, but the minimum salary increased only 1.3 times, which means the young guys earn less despite producing more. Young guys are getting exploited by the owners. Of course there are extreme examples like Trout in 2012, who earned a little more than $500K but was worth roughly $65M using $6.5M per win, but it is pretty clear that on average the young players are getting underpaid.

Now it is pretty easy to blame the owners for that, but in reality that was by design. The union agreed to all that and they did it on purpose. The veterans have the power in the union and they were selling the young players to keep their own earnings up. Veterans in baseball are in a pretty privileged position. Baseball is pretty much the only major US sport without a salary cap, and there is also no maximum salary, and contracts are guaranteed. Basically, owners and the union had an agreement (you could almost say a collusion) in which they both exploited the young players to keep their revenue up.

That system wasn’t really fair toward the young players, but it did work. The baseball union was always criticized for being weak, but they always got what they wanted; it basically was a teamwork between owners and veterans which kept labor peace preserved for almost 20 years now.

However, now that system is put in danger. GMs are getting smarter, and they try to increase their value for the dollar. Top veterans are still getting paid, and actually better than ever. There are rumors that Bryce Harper will be the the first $500M player; however, it seems like the role of the mediocre veteran is diminishing. Older non-great players seem to struggle getting contracts, especially if they are of the slower slugging variety. 30 homers used to sound good, but if by WAR the guy is only worth 1.5 wins, the GMs prefer to not give him $10M, but instead get a guy to play for the minimum who might produce only 1.2 WAR but for a tenth of the salary. That is a very smart practice by the GMs because it increases the value/$ a lot.

GMs were criticized for giving $100+M contracts to declining veterans and at times those contracts do look terrible, like in the case of Albert Pujols, who will get paid $30+million a year for a couple more years for basically replacement-level or below value. Now, those contracts are very bad (even though often they are not as bad as you think considering the current $/WAR price), but still, overall, the owners are saving a lot of money. Salaries do still go up, and faster than inflation, but since the mid-2000s the players’ share of overall revenue went down drastically. Now teams probably do invest more into analytics, staff, and player development, but still that is only a small piece compared to the huge jump in overall baseball revenue, and most of the money is pocketed by the owners.

The media and fans did help the owners a lot by painting the picture of the overpaid MLB player, but in reality that applies to only a small percentage of players. Last year 133 players made more than $10M per year, but there were well over 800 players playing, and more than half of them make less than $1.5M. You would guess that compensates the owners for paying Pujols $30M for nothing, and A-Rod for not playing at all! Basically, that slight overpaying of veterans was the fee the owners had to pay to the union for them agreeing to the system.

I’m not blaming the owners, as they invested billions, and they should make some profit out of that (as long they are not running the team on the cheap and basically make their profit just based on revenue sharing…) and I’m also not blaming the union for prioritizing the veterans, but that system might have outlived itself now. If the GMs continue to squeeze the lower-end veterans hard without giving something else back, they might force the union into another strike that nobody wants. There used to be a very delicate balance between union and owners, making sure that labor peace has now been kept for almost 20 years, making both sides very happy and rich, but that balance is in danger now. The union doesn’t want a strike, but if the players’ share continues to go down, they might be forced to do that if the owners don’t give something else back.

Of course the union is to blame for that problem too. They were thinking short0sighted by just focusing on veteran salaries, and thus making young player labor so cheap, which incentivized the GMs to target the young players so much. Short-term, the veterans made more money that way, but just like a fisherman fishing too many fish, they were hurting themselves by pricing themselves out of the market.

Now there are two possibilities for how this could end:

1. The owners could force their GMs to be market inefficient and overpay veterans more, and give more of them a job to keep the veterans happy. Of course that could only happen if all owners agree so that no single teams get a disadvantage by doing that. You could do that by agreeing to have a certain minimum number of veterans on the team, for example, or you could increase the salaries at the top end. Of course that has implications too, as that might have a negative effect on league quality (bad veterans just kept around to fulfill a quota), and it also might hurt the intra-union peace as the young guys would get squeezed even more, and that might cause them to riot.

2. The young guys could take over more power in the union, causing the earnings of the younger guys to go up. Raising the minimum salary would be a possibility, although even at like $1.5M they probably still would be underpaid. You could also increase arbitration salaries, and finally you could shorten service time requirements. A good thing probably would be to stop service time manipulation to prevent teams from getting a seventh control year. For example, instead of days of service time, you could say every year the player played in MLB is a service year (maybe except September call-ups from that). Of course that could delay some prospects that actually have the talent to play in MLB, but it would give more veterans a job, and also make things like exploiting the DL and shuttling between minors and majors more costly. Of course there are also disadvantages to that. As I mentioned, talented players would be held back for sometimes up to like 3/4 of a season (although it could also accelerate other very good prospects that are clearly ready by half a season), and shorter control also could hurt competitive balance because small-market teams can’t keep their core around as long as they used to.

Overall, this is a very serious problem that is not going away, and eventually probably will lead to a big clash. There are possible solutions, but each of them also has some negative implications, so this is not an easy to solve problem.

Preller’s Impressive Rebuild

Back in 2014, the Padres had a really good farm system. It featured Austin Hedges, Matt Wisler, Trea Turner, and a few other good prospects, and Baseball America had them ranked sixth.

However, then came 2015, and A.J. Preller made an ill-advised attempt to go all-in. We don’t know whether the owners demanded him to do that, but we can for sure say it didn’t work. The Padres did improve to 74 wins, but came nowhere close to a wild-card slot, and they sent away Yasmani Grandal, Max Fried, Mallex Smith, Trea Turner, and others.

Suddenly, BA then had their farm system ranked only 24th, and the talent in the majors wasn’t great either.

Those actions really were bad for the organization.

But then came 2016, and Preller made a complete 180-degree turn. Most notably, he traded Craig Kimbrel for Javier Guerra, Manuel Margot and Logan Allen. He also selected Dan Straily and Brad Hand from waivers, and he made a lot of rule 5 picks.

Later, he traded James Shields for eventual top prospect Fernando Tatis, and swung the infamous Drew Pomeranz for Anderson Espinoza trade where Preller rightfully got criticized for not being honest about the health of his player. Preller got punished and was despised by the league and fans, but that didn’t stop him in his quest. He drafted Jacob Nix in 2015, Cal Quantrill in 2016, and MacKenzie Gore in 2017. He also signed a lot of guys on the international market, most notably Cuban Adrian Morejon.

The bottom line is that he built up a farm system in little more than two years that contains some risk but has some high upside and a lot of depth. has seven of their guys in their top-100, and ranked their farm third midseason.

You can rightfully criticize Preller’s actions as a human being and professional, but there is little doubt about the results he got for his organization in the last two years.

If the Marlins Trade Stanton, They Need to Trade Everyone Else

The Jeter Group hasn’t been lazy and has made a lot of moves already. Now the rumor is that the payroll should be cut back to $90M and Stanton (and Gordon and Prado) should be traded, but the other stars like Yelich and Ozuna should be kept.

Now, I do think trading Stanton is a good idea. He has been great but also injury-prone, and he has a huge salary and opt-outs to make it worse. However, Stanton still is about a 4-5 win player and those wins have to be replaced. The Marlins are already a top-heavy team, with only six hitters and one pitcher with a WAR of 2 or better, and thus losing one star would hurt a lot. To make it worse, they only have three players between 1 and 2 WAR; the rest are below 1 or negative. Also, there is little help from the farm to be expected, which is ranked one of the worst in MLB by most sources.

So realistically, where does trading Stanton, Gordon, and Prado lead you? Gordon had a good season, but it was heavily fueled by BABIP; he isn’t really a good hitter and his trade value is limited. Stanton has trade value obviously, but the contract and opt-outs make him less appealing. Prado has zero value. So realistically trading the three gives you two top-100 prospects and maybe 2-3 more decent ones (40-45s). That is a good return, but we are talking about a terrible farm here, that according to Eric Longenhagen only had one top-100 guy pre-2017. So you lose about five wins from Stanton and maybe two from Gordon, and your team still is top-heavy and the farm is slightly better but still below average.

If the Marlins try to retool by trading Stanton and Gordon and keep everyone else, they are honestly in the same situation as the White Sox were before last year, a stars and scrubs team. Now, Yelich and Ozuna have long contracts, so they don’t necessarily need to go immediately, but without a farm system and trade chips it will be hard to build around them.

If the Marlins are serious about competing anytime soon, they need to either keep Stanton and spend big (which IMO is stupid because stars and scrubs teams hardly work anymore), or sell everyone and try to build a top-5 farm system as fast as possible. The Marlins aren’t in a bad spot to do that, although unfortunately their value is mostly hitters, and not ace pitchers, for whom the market currently is better.

But still, if you trade Stanton, Gordon, Yelich, Ozuna, Realmuto, Straily, and one or two of the relievers, you should easily be able to get back like seven top-100s, plus 6-7 more 40+ prospects, and that would immediately make them a top-5 farm system. Now, that would be a huge sell-off, but if you take Stanton away from such a top-heavy team, IMO that is the best thing that you can do.

I really hope Jeter is not just a popular head to sell an even more greedy owner. If the Marlins would trade the expensive guys and then try to retool around the cheap guys, that would be a very bad signal, because with that farm system, that likely would mean they keep being stuck in between. So unless the new group wants to spend $180M+, they better trade the high surplus value guys too.

Now, if there isn’t a good offer for Yelich and Ozuna, they can afford to wait a little like the White Sox did with Quintana, but ultimately the two need to be traded if the Marlins want to rebuild the team. Half-way rebuilds rarely work, at least if you don’t have a good farm system and good depth in the back end of the roster already.

The Luckiest and Unluckiest Batters by xwOBA

Last week I posted an article about Chris Taylor and how I expected him to regress. I won’t get into that much detail here but I just want to look at the luckiest and unluckiest players of 2017.

The under-archiever leaderboard looks like this (copied from Baseball Savant):

1 Miguel Cabrera 0.382 – 0.322 0.060
2 Mitch Moreland 0.371 – 0.335 0.036
3 Victor Martinez 0.344 – 0.311 0.033
4 Alex Avila 0.401 – 0.368 0.033
5 Albert Pujols 0.326 – 0.294 0.032
6 Kendrys Morales 0.358 – 0.326 0.032
7 Brandon Moss 0.336 – 0.305 0.031
8 Taylor Motter 0.288 – 0.259 0.029
9 Alex Gordon 0.300 – 0.275 0.025
10 Jose Martinez 0.411 – 0.386 0.025


And here is the over-achiever leaderboard. Also in the top-30 are the mentioned Taylor, Jose Ramirez, Nolan Arenado and Javier Baez, among notable players:

1 Eduardo Nunez 0.275 – 0.348 -0.073
2 Marwin Gonzalez 0.320 – 0.387 -0.067
3 Zack Cozart 0.332 – 0.399 -0.067
4 Mallex Smith 0.239 – 0.305 -0.066
5 Jose Altuve 0.349 – 0.413 -0.064
6 Dee Gordon 0.254 – 0.318 -0.064
7 Scooter Gennett 0.312 – 0.374 -0.062
8 Kevin Kiermaier 0.279 – 0.341 -0.062
9 Charlie Blackmon 0.364 – 0.424 -0.060
10 Ronald Torreyes 0.241 – 0.299 -0.058


Now the question is whether it is really all luck. If you look at the unlucky leaderboard, it is pretty easy to see that many of them are slow as dirt. The over-achiever group has some average-speed players (for example Marwin Gonzalez), but also speedsters like Altuve, Smith, Gordon and Kiermaier.

Overall, the under-performers had a higher launch angle, higher exit velo, and a slightly but not significantly higher pull rate (thought that might be a factor due to the shift, but really wasn’t).


sprint speed exit velo launch angle pull%
under-performers 25.66 89.24 12.59 42.1
over-performers 27.98 84.04 8.49 40.89


Of course we don’t know whether those factors like low LA and low power, which are generally associated with worse hitting, are not correlated directly to the sprint speed. To test that, I looked at some sub-groups. When searching for harder hitters at lower LAs, I took EVs of over 89, paired with LAs under 9 (just eight players fulfilled that BTW). You get a slightly positive differential, which means slight under-performance, but only by about 18 wOBA points. Looking at soft hitters (below 85) with high LAs (<12 degrees), it does get more significant at a wOBA difference of 30 points.

Hard hitters with high LAs, however, only under-perform a tiny bit (about 8 points), so LA alone doesn’t really seem to make a difference. Hitting fly balls soft might be a factor that affects the under-performing, and very clearly speed does.

What we need to find out is how much of that is sustainable year to year. We do know that some pitchers have the skill to outperform their FIP, but for the most part pitchers who outperform their FIP will regress. Under or over-performing xwOBA might not be pure luck; there are factors which likely have an influence on that. Some of that might be holes in the xwOBA stat that can be fixed over time, and others might be caused by the player type. I think we need to do more analysis on the predictive value of xwOBA and the factors that influence it.

But of course one last thing needs to be said: Over-performing your wOBA is nice, but still, the overall production counts. Some of the over-performing hitters are still not good hitters (Gordon, Torreyes, Gennett), while some under-performers are good.