2019 has seen the arrival of numerous high-grade prospects — including the obvious juniors of Vlad and Fernando Tatis, as well as Nick Senzel, Austin Riley, et al, and more prized pieces of the way. Zac Gallen is name you probably hadn’t heard too much of until this year, other than he was one of the central pieces in the Marcell Ozuna trade last offseason. After going 9-1 over 91.1 IP with a 1.77 ERA in the Pacific Coast League (Triple-A) in 2019, he finally got called up for his Marlins debut.
Starting in St. Louis against the Cardinals, the team that originally drafted him, he managed to hold them to just one run on five hits, scattering two walks and six strikeouts through his five innings pitched. It wasn’t the most efficient start, as he needed 99 pitches to get through five frames of action, but for a 23-year old making his MLB debut, it was a good line.
We’ll get back to his debut, but let’s focus on his dominance at Triple-A. In addition to the 9-1 record and that gaudy 1.77 ERA, Gallen also amassed an impressive K:BB ratio of 112:17. Needless to say, he put up a ridiculous start to his season, which is saying something considering the state of the PCL this year, but his deeper analytical numbers, which we’ll get to in a moment, are also off the charts. Amidst Gallen’s great run to begin 2019, he also created a profile very similar to that of a very-well-known, extremely successful MLB pitcher. Before I reveal who it is, let’s look at the numbers and how they compare. To understand the similarities, lets first take a look at the context for each, and see how their body of work for 2019 has shaped up thus far (through the 21st of June): Read the rest of this entry »
The Evil Empire is no more.
Throughout history, the Yankees have been portrayed as Major League Baseball’s chief oppressor, needlessly feasting on the weaker, less financially able organizations. For the most part, they’ve fit the bill, never shying away from adding megastars like Jason Giambi, Alex Rodriguez, and CC Sabathia, and thus annually accumulating a payroll much richer than the rest of the league.
Factor in a staggering 27 World Series Championships and it’s not hard to see why opposing teams are a tad resentful. But times have changed.
The 2019 Yankees are built on young talent and depth. Gary Sanchez ($669,800), Gleyber Torres ($605,200), Luke Voit ($573,200), and Clint Frazier ($563,300) are the only Yankees with double-digit home runs and have been major contributors in stabilizing their first-place lineup with franchise-cornerstone Aaron Judge ($684,300) on the IL.
Not only that, but the Yankees have often recently been outbid while vying for the services of marquee free agents.
Most notably, Manny Machado and Bryce Harper, two of the youngest, most talented free agents on the market in history, were both rumored to be interested in joining the Yankees this winter. Machado was dined, but never officially offered a contract. The Yankees chose DJ LeMahieu instead. Harper was supposedly never even given a phone call. Brian Cashman and company felt better bringing back aging Brett Gardner to man left instead.
Manny Machado and Bryce Harper, making approximately $55 million total this season, have a combined 1.8 WAR.
DJ LeMahieu alone, making $12 million in 2019, has 2.4 WAR.
Most recently, the Atlanta Braves outbid the Yankees for the services of former Cy Young Award winner Dallas Keuchel, with the latter viewed at one point as the favorites to land the star.
Most fans were upset. They shouldn’t be. Read the rest of this entry »
The 2017 and 2018 seasons were not particularly kind to Atlanta Braves shortstop Dansby Swanson. The former No. 1 overall draft pick struggled to stick his landing at the plate after a solid 38-game debut in 2016 (107 wRC+), finishing with wRC+ marks of 64 and 80 respectively. This offensive stagnation was exacerbated by Alex Bregman, the man chosen immediately after Swanson as the second pick in the 2015 draft, who had followed up a similarly impressive 2016 start (114 wRC+ in 49 games) with back-to-back breakout seasons that include wRC+ marks of 123 and 157, a World Series victory in 2017, an All-Star appearance, a signature playoff performance (223 wRC+ in 38 plate appearances), and a top-five finish in Most Valuable Player voting in 2018. Swanson may never become as good a player as Bregman, who has become one of baseball’s signature stars. That’s a tough thing to do! However, his 2019 campaign thus far is a step in the right direction, one that could lead him towards the celebrated career he seemed destined for not too long ago.
Through 64 games, Swanson looks like a new hitter. His wRC+ sits at a 104, and each aspect of his .264/.314/.490 slash line represents marked improvements (and career-highs) from the full seasons prior. What has changed?
For starters, Swanson has put a wrist injury that pestered him throughout 2018 in the past. Lance Brozdowski identified some mechanical changes Swanson appeared to have made before last season to the position of his hands and the timing of his front foot placement. His .766 OPS across March and April provided some evidence that these changes may be making a difference for the better before his fateful swing against the New York Mets, which tweaked his wrist and prevented a true sample size from taking a reliable shape. Injuries of any kind are not conducive to peak performance, but given the wrist’s role in the act of swinging a bat, this particular one was likely even less so. Read the rest of this entry »
(This piece originally ran at BTBNL.com on June 8)
It’s hard to believe that former Marlins prospect and current Athletics 1B/OF Mark Canha has only played 356 MLB games headed into tonight’s action. At 30 years old, he’s technically one-fifth through his third full season. He’s logged major league at-bats since 2015, a season in which he played his most games (124), but hasn’t taken a big leap forward until now.
Don’t scoff at the .247 batting average until looking under the hood. The San Jose product and Billy Bean project boasts a robust .383 OBP, and a man oft touted as a power-hitting prospect put up gaudy OBP numbers at all stops. At age 23, Canha reached base at a .371 clip at Double-A in the Marlins system. The next season at Triple-A, he improved to .384, and he logged over 500 plate appearances in both seasons. In 2017 at Triple-A, this time in the Oakland system, Canha did it again in a new league with a .373 rate in 75 games. Fast-forward to 122 major league games in 2018 and Canha, with 197 games of big league action under his belt, demonstrated his ability to produce with a .328 OBP and 17 homers in 411 plate appearances — close to a 30-homer pace.
That brings me to 2019. Canha is not only displaying career-bests in OBP and walk rate (15% BB, 8.3% in 2018), but he has also vastly improved his approach. In 2015 and 2018 (the two biggest samples), he swung at 32.9% and 31.1% of pitches outside the strike zone (O-Swing%) respectively. In those same two years, he swung and missed (SwStr%) at 9.8% and 8.1% of strikes. Now in 2019, he’s drastically reduced his O-Swing to 22.4% (!), good for the 19th-lowest mark in MLB (min. 120 PA), and is in the company of Anthony Rendon (22%), George Springer (21.4%) and Joey Votto (20.3%). When it comes to plate discipline for a “power prospect,” that’s extraordinary company. Furthermore, his 75.4% O-Contact rate in 2019 is a career-best, and his career-low 7.5% SwStr% is tied for 45th-lowest in MLB, well below the 10.4% MLB average. Read the rest of this entry »
Peter Alonso began 2019 by pummeling a belt-high fastball over the center field wall on the first pitch he saw in Spring Training. He has not stopped hitting since. Over his first 66 games in the regular season, he has slashed .254/.337/.596 with 22 homers and a .382 wOBA. The stats are impressive, but perhaps the most notable aspect of his success has been his ability to modify his approach in short order.
Over the first few weeks of the season, Alonso built an early reputation as a low-ball hitter. Even pitches well below the strike zone were getting sent over the fence. His slugging percentage per pitch by zone reflect this low-ball dominance:
Luckily for Alonso, pitchers had not yet caught on to his affinity for the low pitch. The pitch distribution chart below reveals that he was seeing a plurality of pitches at or below the middle of the zone.
This proved a lethal combination, as Alonso steamrolled his way through April. Read the rest of this entry »
I met Brad Keller when I was pitching in the Royals organization. He was the new face that everybody was talking during the first few weeks of spring training 2018. He’s a large guy, can drive a golf ball a mile, and seems like a genuinely good person. Here’s my take on him as a pitcher.
The Rule 5 draft is one of the most fascinating storylines to follow each season. It is a chance, in the most unadulterated sense, for one organization to dominate another in a lopsided transaction. Of course, the idea at the heart of the Rule 5 is to reward players talented enough to play in the major leagues who may not have a clear path to the bigs in their own organization — but this is a fun little side effect. After one team deems a player not valuable enough to protect from the Rule 5 draft, other scouting departments have the chance to evaluate whether this player could be of service to their major league team now and in the future. Most times, the player is returned to the original team and not much of note occurs. However, every so often, something remarkable happens, and an under-appreciated player gets his opportunity and makes the most of it. That is the case with the Royals and Brad Keller, their de facto ace.
Taken with the fifth pick in the 2017 Rule 5 draft, Keller was a revelation last year, giving the Royals a reason to smile while they trudged through a 104-loss season. Keller made 20 starts for the Royals in 2018 after earning a spot in the rotation following a solid stint in the bullpen. He worked 140.1 innings to the tune of a 3.08 ERA and 2.6 wins above replacement. Not bad for someone who hadn’t pitched above Double-A prior to making his major league debut.
It looked like Keller had all the makings of a quality major league starter after being raved about by the Royals for his work effort and competitiveness. Here’s what Royals backstop Martin Maldonado had to say to the Kansas City Star about the 2019 Opening Day starter: “He’s a guy that goes out there and competes. Every pitch that he throws is with meaning. He’s got that mentality of go get ‘em. That’s a guy you can see in his face when he’s about to throw a pitch that he’s locked in to execute a pitch.”
If that’s the case, then where’s the disconnect? Why hasn’t Keller been able to replicate his success from 2018 so far this season? Is he actually a quality No. 2 or No. 3 starter, or is he destined for the back end of the rotation or a spot in the bullpen? Let’s dive a little deeper into Keller’s numbers to see if we can find out what’s different this year. Read the rest of this entry »
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 »
SNELL THE GLOVE
Since 2002, when the stat began being recorded, the top three swinging strike percentages for pitchers through June 1st of a season (minimum 60 innings) are…
To say that Snell has been in fine form the first two months of the season would be a massive understatement, as he’s in historic form according to this metric. The reigning AL Cy Young winner’s surface numbers may not look as incredible as they did last year, but his talent is still off the charts.
RYU READY TO ROCK?
When facing lefties, there is an offense that ranks first in ISO, second in wOBA, third in wRC+, and possesses the eighth-lowest strikeout rate this season. It’s not the Twins, who have caught the serious attention of the baseball world. It’s not the Astros, who have had quite the reputation of being death to lefties for the past few years. It’s also not the other teams (the Dodgers, Mariners, Braves, Cardinals, etc.) you would normally suspect…
Yep, you didn’t guess it!
It’s the Arizona Diamondbacks. Granted, two months of data may still be leaning on the short side of sample sizes when it comes to team trends. Their BABIP indicates at least some bit of good fortune, and they currently sit with the third-lowest walk rate. However, none of this mattered against Hyun-Jin Ryu in his last outing on June 4. The Dodgers southpaw continued his stellar campaign by firing seven scoreless innings against the D-backs, allowing just three hits to move to 9-1 in 12 starts. Ryu now holds a 1.35 ERA, 2.6 fWAR, and has allowed just five walks to 71 strikeouts in 80 innings.
It’s worth noting that the matchup took place at Chase Field, where they’ve been conveniently keeping the roof open for night games, which in turn mitigates the effects of the humidor system they installed before the 2018 season. That said, Ryu is doing something truly remarkable and seems capable of silencing just about any lineup in MLB. Read the rest of this entry »
The question of how pitchers age is paramount to players and front offices. “Stuff,” the colloquial term for raw talent throwing the baseball, can really be boiled down to velocity and movement (if we really wanted to oversimplify things). PITCHf/x gives us an opportunity to use big data to estimate “stuff” by looking at measurements of velocity and movement. We can use the copious data collected to estimate what “stuff” we can expect from pitchers as they pass the dreaded 30-years-old mark and beyond.
PITCHf/x reports movement in horizontal and vertical vectors. Horizontal movement (Hmov) is the right or left movement of the pitch compared to the expected trajectory without air resistance. A positive value is away from a right-handed batter. Vertical movement (Vmov) is the amount the ball moves up or down relative to the expected drop in a vacuum. A positive value means the ball dropped less than would be expected without effective spin.
It has been established that fastball velocity tends to decrease with age, but movement trends haven’t been looked at before. Might aging pitchers compensate their decrease in velocity with an increase in movement? Or does time steal away effective spin as well?
Let’s find out.
I collected all PITCHf/x data from every pitcher with at least 300 innings pitched from 2007 to 2018 (n=537). Data was aged based on the age of the player on April 1st of the corresponding season. Velocity, horizontal movement, and vertical movement were averaged for each age and graphed. The horizontal axis of left-handed pitchers was flipped so right and left-handed data could be analyzed together.
I then took out the top starters by WAR (n=63), according to FanGraphs, from 2007 to 2018 and graphed their data separately.
Results/Discussion: Graphs are available by clicking on the links below, and raw data available in tables at the end of this post. Read the rest of this entry »