David Fletcher’s 2021 Was Missing Something

What’s 0/573?

Baseball Savant knows, but they also know it’s useless information. This is precisely why they do not display it. And it’s a shame that they don’t display it.

If they did, it would show that David Fletcher is in the zeroth Percentile for Barrels.

For a quick refresher, Barrels are “a batted ball with the perfect combination of exit velocity and launch angle.” To qualify, a ball must be hit at least 98 mph. For that exit velocity, a launch angle of between 26-30 degrees is required. For every single mph increase, the range of acceptable launch angle degrees increases by two or three, up until 116 mph. At that level, any ball hit between 8-50 launch degrees is considered Barreled.

Fletcher didn’t do that once in 2021. Instead, he mustered eight “close calls” among his 573 batted ball events. Read the rest of this entry »

Giving Away At-Bats

One piece from FanGraphs this season has stayed with me more than any other article on the website. In early September, Kevin Goldstein wrote a piece called The Rays’ Unique Ability To Mitigate Risk.

For most of the piece, Goldstein examined why the Rays pitch effectively even though they use so many relief pitchers. Most of the time, a team that cycles though relief pitchers in bunches is a bad one, like the Baltimore Orioles this year. But the Rays, as they often do, defy common practice.

I actually did not remember that part of Goldstein’s article; I only remembered it when I re-read it before writing this. What stuck with me was a short section at the beginning in which he explained why the Rays score so many runs.

Goldstein’s question was how does a team that has no high-priced free agent slugger, like Bryce Harper or Manny Machado, or no home-grown young stud, like Juan Soto or Fernando Tatis Jr., score so many runs? (You will see in a moment why I am ignoring the Rays’ young phenom Wander Franco.) Read the rest of this entry »

Pitchers Had Another Bad Year Hitting. But No. 9 Hitters…

October 4, 1972: Yankees righty Larry Gowell hits a double off of Milwaukee Brewers pitcher Jim Lonborg. The American League Brewers played that game in an American League park in the Bronx, with no designated hitter on either side.

October 3, 2021: Dodgers righty Andre Jackson hits for himself, in relief, grounding out against Milwaukee Brewers pitcher Daniel Norris. The National League Brewers played that game in a National League park in Los Angeles, with no designated hitter on either side.

Gowell started his game and went five innings. In the third he led off, got his double, and advanced on a 6-3 groundout before being stranded at third base. In the bottom of the inning, he gave up a sac fly to John Briggs. That proved to be the only run, tagging Gowell with the loss.

Jackson was in relief of Phil Bickford, himself in relief of Walker Buehler. When a reliever hits for himself, rarely is the game competitive: here, Jackson had already pitched two innings with a nice lead. Immediately before Jackson’s spot in the batting order came up, outfielder Matt Beaty drove in catcher Will Smith, utility man Chris Taylor, and himself. Dodgers skipper Dave Roberts surely saw the score in LA, the score in San Francisco, and Jackson’s roster status for the playoffs, and let him hit and finish out the ninth. (Jackson collected a save for his three-inning effort, the first of his career.)

Gowell probably wasn’t the last AL pitcher to bat before the DH. The Angels and Royals had night games on the same day with pitcher at-bats in the Pacific and Central time zones. If baseball should adopt the designated hitter rule for the National League effective next year, Jackson will probably be the last NL pitcher to bat under these rules. The Reds’ Reiver Sanmartin collected three at-bats before being lifted for a pinch-hitter on the same day, but two of those came to start and end the fifth inning in his game against the Pirates. The Giants’ Logan Webb collected three at-bats too, but his day as a batter ended after a home run in the fifth. All those games began around the same time, so Jackson’s appearance in the eighth inning was a bit later on. Read the rest of this entry »

Frankenstein and the Rays’ Sister City Concept

In 2018, the Tampa Bay Rays introduced the Opener, a novel concept in which a relief pitcher started a game with the purpose of shutting down an offense in the first few innings. The Opener would then hand the ball to a bulk pitcher, who went three-to-four innings before giving way to the usual bullpen corps.

When the Rays introduced the Opener strategy, many in baseball thought it was blasphemy. Starting pitchers have roles and this is the way the pitcher order has been for generations. How dare the Rays upset the natural order of roles, titles, and statistics?

When analysts looked at the Rays roster, however, they quickly understood what the team was doing. By not recognizing a “pitching rotation,” the Rays were looking a level deeper. They were stacking pitchers on a per-game basis, with the intent to win each game and hence build enough wins to make the playoffs. Once it was understood, the Opener was applauded and eventually copied throughout the league.

Besides being a sly way to neutralize lineups, the Opener represented the “Rays Way” amidst financial necessity. The team could not afford a typical major league rotation of four or five quality starters. Relief pitchers are cheaper and easier to find. They couldn’t find five aces, so they built ace performances using multiple relievers, with the additional bonus of paying them less. If you can’t find a hundred-million-dollar starter, build one. Read the rest of this entry »

Should Boston Prepare To Move Past Christian Vázquez?

As the Red Sox move on to the American League Championship Series, the team may not have the talent to contend with teams like the Astros. Some could say the same thing about the Rays, but the Red Sox were fortunate Tampa Bay’s staff was shot after injuries plagued them throughout the season. The Red Sox have All-Stars talents like Rafael Devers, Xander Bogarts, and J.D. Martinez, but they need better role players who provide depth in October if they are truly going to contend each year. Successful teams don’t often undergo a complete rebuild, instead choosing to go through mini-rebuilds and focus on positions of need. This avoids 70-win seasons, ​​something Boston sports fans have not been accustomed to in the last two decades. It is no mystery that they need pitching help, but a more overlooked position of need is at catcher, which could help improve the staff as well.

Boston’s primary catcher and recent hero, Christian Vázquez, has had many memorable moments, none more important than his walk-off home run on Sunday. Despite this, it may be time for the Red Sox to part ways with their veteran. At age 31, Vázquez has shown signs of aging this season, and the Red Sox know this too. In the Wild Card game against the Yankees, the biggest game of the year, the Red Sox turned to backup Kevin Plawecki to get the job done behind the dish. Similarly on Sunday, Plawecki got the start while Vazquez came in to pinch-hit. The Red Sox need to start planning for their long-term future, which means seriously considering their better and younger options at catcher. Read the rest of this entry »

Dominican Major Leaguers and the Provinces They Hail From

It shouldn’t come as any great surprise to a typical baseball fan that Dominican players play an outsized role in Major League Baseball today. In fact, the Dominican Republic, which has a population roughly just 3.3% that of the United States, supplies MLB with upwards of 10% of its players. Major League Baseball and baseball fans are better off because of this. After all, who wants to live in a baseball world without Nelson Cruz or Fernando Tatis Jr., for instance?

With this point in mind, the following takes a look at players from the Dominican Republic. More specifically, where in the D.R. players were born and when they made their way to MLB. What follows will be split into three brief sections: a description of the data utilized, some insights into the growth of the D.R.’s influence in MLB, and finally some map-based depictions of the players’ provinces of birth within the Dominican Republic. Read the rest of this entry »

Are Third Base Coaches Too Hesitant in Sacrifice Fly Situations?

Imagine you are coaching third base. Your team is at bat with a runner on third and one out. There is a flyball caught in marginally shallow left field. You think your runner has about a 50/50 chance of scoring if you send him. Do you send him?

Many of you would probably say no. This is a risky call. There is a 50% chance the runner would be out, which would be a huge momentum killer. Furthermore, if he gets caught and your team loses by a run, you are going to be the person blamed by the media.

My hypothesis is that third base coaches are leaving runs on the table. Over the past four seasons, third base runners scored 98% of the time when sent in sac fly situations, suggesting that coaches are sending them only when they have a very high degree of confidence of success. I hypothesize they won’t send runners unless they feel they have at least an 80% chance of scoring, but my analysis says they should be sent even with much lower chances. Read the rest of this entry »

Computer Vision and Pitch Framing

Quantifying catcher framing was a huge step for the analytical community in trying to understand the position more fully. It has allowed evaluators to have more accurate numbers on what a catcher is adding to the team. It has seemingly also brought more organizational focus to framing at the expense of blocking across the league, as can be seen in the increased prevalence of catching from a knee.

Perhaps all this work will be moot if robo-umpires are ever implemented, but teams clearly see marginal advantages to be gained by research and development on this topic for now. With this in mind, the quantification of a catcher’s ability to frame is only the first step in the journey. Next we should be looking to find what makes a catcher good or bad at framing in order to improve player development practices. Finding this from a statistical perspective is tricky, as we don’t really have easily accessible data on what the catcher is doing behind the plate other than the video of it happening. This may not be the case on the team side as markerless motion capture is a developing technology in this space which can record more data, but publicly, we just have video. Instead of sitting down and trying to watch thousands of pitches like surely many coaches have done, I’ll try my hand with OpenCV and Tensorflow. Read the rest of this entry »

Solving Adam Ottavino

There are many contributing factors to the lackluster performance of Boston Red Sox reliever Adam Ottavino, who made headlines in 2018 after saying he “would strike Babe Ruth out every time.” Currently, Ottavino has a 3.68 ERA, a FIP of 3.27, and 58.2 innings pitched at time of writing, placing him 119th out of 283 qualifying pitchers. Some big reasons for his mediocre stat line includes his inability to get left-handed batters out, command struggle, and pitch selection.

Red Sox Manager Alex Cora has done well to put Ottavino in situations to succeed, and without Cora at the helm, Ottavino’s stat line would look much worse. The bottom line is that the right-hander has been an abomination against lefties in 2021. In 19.2 innings pitched, he has allowed 10 earned runs, 22 hits, and 10 walks. Ottavino’s comments to the Boston Herald earlier in the season did not age well:

“I have no idea what they’re looking for these days in terms of roles and stuff like that, but I do think it would benefit me to get a full season in facing as many lefties as possible so I can put that kind of narrative to bed.”

Read the rest of this entry »

Pitch Mix Effectiveness

In a previous project, I attempted to determine what types of pitches are most effective in 1-2 and 0-2 counts based on suspicions that wasting pitches was not inherently strategic. I did this by analyzing league average wOBA values of different types of pitches in and out of the strike zone. The findings showed that on average, breaking and off-speed pitches outside of the zone were the most effective pitch to throw in order to minimize wOBA in both 0-2 and 1-2 counts.

While using league-average data produced some interesting results, I was still unsatisfied, since trying to project pitching strategy to a single pitcher doesn’t work when the data is league-wide. My goal was then to write an algorithm that could use a specific pitcher’s career pitching history to analyze the results of each of their pitches and determine every pitcher’s most effective pitch mix.

After a long time writing and editing code, I believe I have written a script that can do just that: evaluate each pitcher who has thrown more than 1,250 pitches since the start of 2019 and determine the wOBA value of each of their pitches at every count. Read the rest of this entry »