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

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

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

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

Zack Britton’s Improved Sinker is Driving His Recent Success

When the Yankees re-signed Zack Britton as a free agent during this past offseason, there were some questioning if it made sense to bring back a 31-year-old reliever whose best days looked well behind him. Britton was good for the Yankees after being acquired from the Orioles in July 2018, posting a 2.88 ERA in 25 appearances, but his fielding-independent measures left more to be desired with a 4.08 FIP and lower strikeout numbers than what he posted during his dominant 2015 and 2016 seasons, performances that saw him emerge as the best relief pitcher in baseball.

Britton got off to a slow start in 2019, raising more questions about his long-term status and the Yankees’ decision to give him a large contract. He ended April with a 3.00 ERA, but his primary pitch, the sinker, did not have the same life on it that it did back in his prime years. The pitch sat mostly below 95 mph in April, and his FIP peaked at 3.93 on May 3rd, when he gave up two runs by issuing a walk and surrendering a home run in one inning against the Minnesota Twins. Since that point, Britton has issued five walks while striking out 12 in 16.1 innings and has only allowed three runs, coming courtesy of a Vladimir Guerrero Jr. home run on June 5th that was literally the first home run to be hit off a Britton sinker that was outside of the zone. That lone blemish aside, I noticed that his sinker has returned closer to its peak during this stretch, likely the best its been while Britton has worn a Yankees uniform.

To show that I am not making this up, here is a chart showing the average velocity of Britton’s sinker in every game this season:


According to Brooks Baseball, since his outing against the Giants on April 26th (in which he issued three walks), there has been an increase in average velocity each outing before a couple of drop-offs, but it has consistently been at around 95 mph and has averaged 96 multiple times since. The recent Vlad Jr. hiccup skews some of the numbers a bit, but during this period, Britton saw his ERA and FIP drop to their lowest marks of the season at 2.05 and 3.00 respectively before rising again after that June 5th game against Toronto. His strikeout rate also has risen to 22.3%, the best mark for Britton since his remarkable 2016 season. Also according to Brooks Baseball, the 95.52 average sinker velocity he recorded in May 2019 is the highest for Britton in a single month since September 2017. These are all good signs that suggest Britton’s progress in his road back to being an elite reliever. Read the rest of this entry »

Looking Into Brandon Nimmo’s Slow Start

Brandon Nimmo broke out for the New York Mets in 2018, emerging as one of their core hitters. He featured an excellent combination of power and plate discipline that led him to a .263/.404/.483 slash line and a 149 wRC+, a mark that ranked among the best in all of baseball. In getting to that point, Nimmo developed a more pull-heavy approach at the plate, which led to more hard contact and ultimately more power. Nimmo also featured a high .351 BABIP in 2018, which most would expect to come back down to a more reasonable number because of his tendency to pull ground balls into a shifted infield.

Very few, however, would have expected Nimmo to struggle like he has to start the 2019 season. To this point, Nimmo has put up a .200/.344/.323 slash line, good for a 93 wRC+ in 161 plate appearances, and injury concerns continue to linger. Nimmo’s struggles are playing a big part in the overall difficulties of the Mets lineup, and coaches have offered suggestions to Nimmo that might snap him out of it:


Nimmo disagrees with Callaway, and so do I. Nimmo is one of the more patient hitters in the game, and he likes to wait for a pitch he can do damage with. The problem has been that he isn’t doing damage on those pitches like last year, so I wanted to find out what it is about Nimmo’s profile that could potentially be causing such a slow start. Read the rest of this entry »

Getting Joe Musgrove to the Next Level

Joe Musgrove was a pretty ordinary pitcher in 2018, with a 103 ERA- and an 89 FIP- according to FanGraphs. He once again battled through injuries on the way to a career-high 115.1 innings, and he had more woes to deal with in the offseason by undergoing abdomen surgery. He doesn’t particularly stand out in Pittsburgh’s rotation, as he doesn’t have the track record or high transaction cost of Chris Archer, he doesn’t have the easy-to-root-for, feel-good story of cancer survivor Jameson Taillon, and he doesn’t have the intriguing out-of-nowhere 2018 performance of Trevor Williams. He is rather ordinary among starting pitchers. Even when I ran a query of starters with similar 2018 statistics, I got back a list of some good-but-perhaps-underwhelming hurlers. Look here:

musgrove comps 1

Nothing against these pitchers (especially Miles Mikolas, who had a good but perhaps unsustainable 2018 when looking at xFIP and SIERA, which he at least parlayed into a big contract extension), but these aren’t names that come to mind first when you think of the top pitchers in the league, and Garrett Richards isn’t usually on the mound to move up into that category in the first place.

This isn’t a great endorsement for Musgrove, so why am I interested in him? I drafted Musgrove in both of my fantasy baseball drafts earlier this month, prioritizing him over the other names in the above table. I did this based on the work of Nick Pollack, founder of the great website Pitcher List and contributor to FanGraphs, who has talked up Musgrove for awhile now. On the now- famous Top 100 Starting Pitcher Rankings featured on Pitcher List, Musgrove ranks 44th, ahead of the previously mentioned Archer (54), Alex Wood (69), Marco Gonzales (77), and other notable pitchers such as Cole Hamels (47), Jon Lester (48), and Dallas Keuchel (73). There must be an explanation for this. Read the rest of this entry »

A Closer Look at Luke Voit

When PECOTA projections were released at Baseball Prospectus in February, I’m sure that I wasn’t the only one who was surprised to see Luke Voit projected to be a top-25 hitter in the entire sport this season. We all know what Voit did in the final month or so of the 2018 campaign, and when you look back on it, there were always going to be questions of whether it was repeatable or whether he was going to go down the same path as famed Yankee flash-in-the-pan Shane Spencer.

I think there can be a comfortable medium between one-hit wonder and top-25 hitter in baseball, so I decided to do a deep dive into Voit’s batted ball profile. I then compared him to his peers based on both his profile as well as his walk and strikeout rates to find some comparable hitters and try to answer whether a top-25 projection for Voit is realistic, too high, or too low.

To do this, I took the batted ball leaderboards from FanGraphs and imported them into R. I then looked at Voit’s batted ball profile from the minor leagues, considered by Yankees officials to be part of the reason why they wanted to acquire him. I calculated his minor league averages in Ground Ball%, Line Drive%, Fly Ball%, Pull%, Center%, and Opposite%, which can be found in the table below:


Note: I only looked at minor league seasons in which he had more than 100 plate appearances. Read the rest of this entry »