Creating a Pirates Fan

[Editor’s note: I mentioned to my father that I run the Community Blog and that anyone can write in, and he decided to submit a piece. This is a reminder that you or anyone you know may send us words.]

In 1960, I was a 10-year-old baseball fanatic. For me, live baseball consisted of the Triple-A Seattle Rainiers, and access to major league baseball meant getting your chores done in time to get to watch Pee Wee Reese and Dizzy Dean preach the baseball gospel on the game of the week every Saturday (and if you were living right, sometimes on Sunday). That summer I was lucky enough to get to fly back to Kalamazoo, Michigan, and spend a week with my grandparents. I was transported to a world where if the Tigers had a baseball game on Tuesday, then major league baseball was on the television on Tuesday! Long live Ernie Harwell!

The big buzz that summer was who got the short end of the stick in the big trade when the Tigers sent Harvey Kuenn to Cleveland for Rocky Colavito. Free agency was still a long ways in the future so trades were infrequent, and dealing away the league-leader in average, hits, and doubles (Kuenn) for the leader in homers (Colavito) was a big deal.

Being a young Tigers fan, it was easy to become a life-long Yankee-hater. The Tigers would finish the year 12 games under .500 and 26 games behind New York. From the year of my birth until the year of my 14th birthday, the Yankees were the American League champs every season but two. Back then there were no playoffs, which meant the AL and NL regular-season champs met in the World Series, and the only question at the start of the year was who was going to face the Yankees. Read the rest of this entry »

Reframing Catcher Pop Time Grades Using Statcast Data

With the advent of Statcast, statistics like exit velocity, spin rate, and launch angle have become easily accessible to baseball fans. Catcher pop time data has also become available. However, unlike some of the other Statcast metrics, catcher pop time data has existed for much longer, with scouts measuring pop times in the minor leagues years before Statcast entered the mix.

This sounds all well and dandy, right? Well, it would be, if the Statcast numbers were consistent with scouting pop time tool grades. Baseball Prospectus, for example, calls a pop time from 1.7-1.8 a 70 pop time, which sounds reasonable enough without any context. However, considering the best average Statcast pop time to second base from 2015 to 2019 was JT Realmuto’s 1.88 (minimum 10 throws to second), something seems amiss here. I decided to take a deeper look into Statcast’s pop time data to get a better idea of what’s going on.

Read the rest of this entry »

How Brad Brach Re-Found Success With the Mets

Back in February, Justin Toscano wrote that when the Mets acquired reliever Brad Brach last August, the team asked Brach to do the one thing he couldn’t do with the Cubs in the first half of the season: throw his cutter.

The 6-foot-6, 33-year-old right-hander was designated for assignment by Chicago after signing a $1.65 million deal with the team during the 2018–19 offseason. Brach posted a 6.13 ERA in just 39.2 innings across 42 games for the Cubs in 2019.

After having spent most of the second half of 2019 with the Mets, Brach re-signed with the team on a $850,000 deal, with a player option for 2021, that can increase to $1.25 million with incentives.

From March 27 through August 10 of 2019, among 197 relief pitchers with at least 30 innings pitched during that time frame, Brach ranked 123rd in the league in GB% (41.1%), 70th in K/9 (10.21), 193rd in BB/9 (6.35), and 97th in FIP (4.12). Suffice it to say, Brach was not the most productive pitcher for the Cubs, thus justifying his being DFA’d from the team in the middle of the year.

When analyzing Brach’s career numbers, however, it is clear that his time with the Cubs is not indicative of his overall arc. From 2011–18 with the San Diego Padres and Baltimore Orioles (and half a season with the Braves), Brach pitched to a 3.08 ERA (132 ERA+), a 3.68 FIP, and a 9.6 K/9 in 456 IP.

Prior to 2019, Brach only recorded an ERA over 4.00 once (5.14 in seven innings in 2011 — his first year in the league) and has never allowed more than 28 earned runs in a season. Moreover, since 2013, Brach has posted an ERA+ over 100 in every year but 2019, including a 210 ERA+ in his All-Star 2016 campaign for Baltimore. Read the rest of this entry »

Turning Quarterbacks Into Pitchers

Why don’t teams ever sign former quarterbacks to try and turn them into pitchers?

This thought stems from watching Patrick Mahomes and his pre-draft NFL tape and discovering that his father was a former major league pitcher. Can a quarterback’s arm strength transfer to pitching? What can be learned from football velocity to uncover a future successful pitcher?

ESPN was ramping up their coverage in the weeks leading up to the 2017 NFL Draft, and Mahomes was gaining momentum. A SportsCenter interview with the future MVP explored his multi-sport background, which caught my attention.

I was vaguely familiar with the story about Mahomes’ father reaching MLB as a pitcher. Apparently there was a time when Mahomes considered following in his father’s baseball footsteps. The interview spilled over into the prospect’s appearance in the Gruden QB Camp. He mentioned then that he was drafted by the Detroit Tigers in high school, but due to a strong desire to play quarterback at Texas Tech, he went in the 37th round. If his football passion wasn’t as strong, scouts told him that the top three rounds were a likely landing spot.

As the video continued, it featured highlights of in-game play and practices where Mahomes showed a dynamic skill set. He had special throwing abilities, and his baseball background and natural talent was obvious in just a few of his tosses. There were impressive clips of him throwing a football from his knees about 50 or so yards, and another highlighting a final pregame warmup toss and ritual: throwing the ball about 75-80 yards in the air. Read the rest of this entry »

What Actually Makes a Curveball Effective?

The other day I began pulling together Savant data to determine whether there was an ideal zone percentage for different types of curveballs (CUs) and sliders (SLs). I haven’t found much on that front yet. However, I did realize that I don’t really know what makes curveballs effective, both from a results standpoint (extra whiffs, weaker contact, etc.) or a trait standpoint (vertical break, horizontal break, velo). I took a look at all of these factors for the curveballs in the 2019 baseball season to see if anything stuck out.

I analyzed a sample of 214 pitchers, representing everyone from 2019 who threw at least 20 innings, a curveball at least 10% of the time, and qualified for Savant’s pitch movement leaderboard. From this sample I pulled info on every pitcher’s spin profile, wOBA, xwOBACON, zone percentage, SwStr %, and RHB/LHB splits. I even noted all that same info for the rest of their arsenal as well as just to have a full view. Then they were bucketed in every way imaginable with averages and standard deviations to see which ones stood out. I do want to preface all my findings by saying that the sample size is not ideal, as the buckets were mostly of decent size (roughly 100-plus players), but I did get granular at times (the smallest group was 48).

I am most focused on the following metrics: CU wOBA, CU xwOBACON, CU SwStr %, CU Drop & Tail (as a % difference vs. the average pitcher at similar velocity). Here are the averages across the entire sample: Read the rest of this entry »

Elieser Hernandez’s Improved Arsenal Makes Him a Rule 5 Pick to Watch

The Miami Marlins lost 105 games in 2019 under the shadow of their latest rebuild. For this franchise, it seems, hope is eternally just over the horizon. But like many rebuilds, the dispiriting results on the field hid some areas of promise.

In the Marlins’ case, people buzzed about some of their young arms. Sandy Alcantara got everyone the most excited with his 2.3 WAR, followed by guys like Pablo Lopez and Trevor Richards who could be called “serviceable’” which is a compliment for what’s essentially a quad-A team. (Before you boo me, know that I’m an Orioles fan.) Caleb Smith and Jordan Yamamoto also got some interest.

Other teams noticed. The Rays acquired Richards and Nick Anderson in the middle of a playoff run. The Diamondbacks did the same with Marlins hurler Zac Gallen. Down in the minors, hitters like Jazz Chisholm and JJ Bleday get attention alongside pitchers like Sixto Sanchez (what a fantastic name!) and Edward Cabrera.

But not many people got excited about Elieser Hernandez. I can understand why they didn’t: he’s not a household name. The Astros signed Hernandez in 2012 just after their much-heralded change in regimes and leagues. He bounced around their minors for awhile before the Marlins snagged him in the 2017 Rule 5 draft. Unless your name is Johan Santana (or maybe Dan Uggla), no one’s going to get excited if you’re picked in the Rule 5 draft. Heading into 2018, John Sickels gave Hernandez a C+ grade and ranked him 22nd among the team’s prospects.

After joining the Marlins, Hernandez was unspectacular in the minor leagues, posting a 21% strikeout rate and 10% walk rate across three levels. He fared much worse on a major league mound, with a 15.9% strikeout rate and 9.5% walk rate alongside a .337 xWOBA in more than 65 innings. Those disappointing stats contributed to a similarly disappointing -0.5 WAR. Read the rest of this entry »

Dick Arndt and the Saga of Henry Aaron’s Historic No. 755

On July 20, 1976, Dick Arndt got up in the morning and shuffled off to his job as a vocational rehabilitation counselor. Once his day shift ended, Dick headed to his part-time gig as the Brewers’ groundskeeper at Milwaukee County Stadium, where he was in charge of opening and closing the gate for the bullpen cart. This, however, would be no ordinary day for Arndt.

Aaron ball 1-page-0

Photo credit: Journal Photo/Eugene Burton

The sparse crowd of 10,134 that night — about a fifth of capacity — was there to see the Angels take on the lowly Brewers, part of the draw being 42-year-old Hank Aaron during his farewell season. In the seventh inning, Arndt was sitting in the left-field stands keeping a lookout for any signals that a pitching change was to be made. With the Brewers ahead 2-1, George Scott hit a two-run home run, increasing the Milwaukee lead. Aaron came up next and drove a Dick Drago offering on a line into the left-field seats, flying about 10 feet over Arndt’s head. The ball settled into an empty row, where Arndt quickly retrieved it. Read the rest of this entry »

Gaming out a Phillie Phanatic Free-Agent Contract

The Chicago Cubs have basically admitted they won’t be signing impact free agents until they “clear some payroll,” with the only likely major moves being trading away star-level players rather than trying to re-sign them, despite having already cleared $15 million in salary, projecting for a decent win total, and having a very lucrative TV deal about to begin that could net them $50 million a year.

This is a long way of saying: I hate this offseason and I present to you the following speculative post on how much the Phillie Phanatic would earn in the offseason.

As you may have heard, the company that created the Phillie Phanatic tried to get out of its previous agreement to assign its rights to the Philadelphia Phillies “forever” (I’ll leave my lawyering critiques on the side for now). As a result, the Phillies sued the mascot company to ensure that it can keep the Phanatic from becoming a “free agent.” (Fun fact: the designer of the Phanatic also designed Miss Piggy and Statler and Waldorf!)

This leads to the obvious question: What is a reasonable contract for the Phillie Phanatic? Read the rest of this entry »

Marcell Ozuna Has a Slice

This article was originally published at Birds on the Black, a St. Louis Cardinals blog. You can find the blog (@birdsontheblack), author (@zjgifford), and artist (@cardinalsgifs) on Twitter.

Back in November, the FanGraphs staff ranked Marcell Ozuna as the seventh-best available free agent. In that article, Kiley McDaniel and the FanGraphs crowd both expected Ozuna would receive a four-year deal, with the median crowdsource estimate coming in at $64 million ($16 million per year) while McDaniel was a little higher at $70 million ($17.5 million per year). Teams could dream on Ozuna’s potential and a return to his 2017 production with relatively minimal risk — since his 2013 debut, Ozuna has consistently produced as an average or better player. Coming into this offseason, he had produced more than 2 WAR in four straight seasons dating back to 2016. Free agents are never a sure bet, but Ozuna seemed pretty close to one at a reasonable price.

Ozuna ended up betting on himself by taking a one-year deal with Atlanta, which was a bit of a surprise. With that context, I wanted to see what happened during his breakout 2017 campaign and what might be holding him back from tapping back into that potential. We’ll start with some numbers: Read the rest of this entry »

What Is a Run Worth?

I recently began thinking about how teams can know that they are efficiently spending their money, or where teams actually get the runs that they spend all their money on. With players signing massive contracts in the 2018-19 offseason, I began to wonder if any players were really worth that much money. The process begins with one big question: What is a run worth? I quickly realized that each team theoretically needs to manufacture the same number of runs as all the other teams do if they want a better chance to make the postseason. What is different from team to team is budget. This means that a run is worth a different monetary value to each team, and that each team would be willing to pay a different amount of money for the same number of runs. The problem is that to each player, a run costs the same amount, causing Billy Beane, played by Brad Pitt in the movie Moneyball, to claim that “It’s an unfair game”.

Figuring out what each team values their runs at would enable me to evaluate how efficient the signing of certain contracts was for each team and furthermore would allow me to figure out where the most value comes from in the payroll of a team. First, I had to figure out how to convert the basic statistics of a player into the number of runs that player actually contributed to the team. I eventually came across the Estimated Runs Produced statistic from the 1985 Bill James abstract. Below is the calculation.

ERP = (2 (TB + BB + HBP) + H + SB – (.605 (AB + CS + GDP – H))) .16

This is a stat created by Paul Johnson in order to obtain more accuracy than Runs Created, which he succeeded in doing. I then fired up R and ran some tests on team statistics to see how well it lined up with the actual number of runs that each team scored. I graphed ERP against Runs Scored first for every team dating back to the beginning of the 30-team era in MLB: Read the rest of this entry »