Buck Showalter and the Orioles may have lost more than just one game with Zach Britton on the sidelines.
As writers and analysts, we often discuss, with the benefit of convenient removal from the situation, the merits of decision-making within major-league organizations. We wonder why a GM makes a certain trade or if the owner pushed for a particular player to be signed. We critique lineups and defensive positioning. We lampoon bunt proponents, and loathe bullpen mismanagers.
We do all of this, of course, because we know better. We have data and proofs and theories and algorithms. And more often than not, we’re not wrong. We might overstate the magnitude of these transgressions, or make a minor mistake seem like a life-or-death decision. This is why it’s so easy to criticize Buck Showalter for his decision-making related to inarguably the most dominant pitcher in baseball this season. Matthew Trueblood put it exceptionally well in his postgame recap:
It's not enough to have a database. Teams need to have a named database.
Humans name everything. We name our progeny, our pets, our cars, our software, our hardware, our boats, and many other things. It is believed that people have named things, inanimate or not, in order to assert their dominance over the object in question. Since there have been tools and machines people have been giving them names. Peter McClure of the Oxford English Dictionary suggest that machines are named for two reasons. The first being that it gives the owner/operator some sense of ownership over the machine and the second being purely anthropomorphic in nature.
The idea being that these machines are helpful and so we bestow names upon them, which allows us to greater appreciate their contributions to our work and goals. It’s all about comfort for the owner. Adrienne LaFrance of The Atlantic had a prescient observation in a profile of this phenomenon:
Exploring a hypothetical: What if Zach Britton, extreme batted-ball outlier, didn't strike anybody out?
Hypotheticals are fun. If they weren’t fun, nobody would put any time into thinking about them because, well, they’re hypothetical. Recently, hypothetical scenarios have gotten a lot of press, what with Lebron learning handball, and Tim Tebow figuring out how to waste the time of scouts.
It was that sort of thinking that led the BP Stats team down an interesting path on the afternoon of August 24th. The question at the heart of the matter was equal parts absurd and vexing:
It’s that time of year again. That last week in July when we swear that teams lose all sense of things big and small and ship otherwise valuable prospects in exchange for late-inning relievers who will pitch a few dozen innings over the balance of the season. It’s a formula that the sabermetric community sometimes finds difficult to rationalize. Relievers pitch so few innings and are so volatile that their value is almost certainly lower than that of the prospects dealt for them.
It’s difficult to look at the trade returns for late-game specialists and understand the thought process. The Cubs seemingly traded a king’s ransom to acquire Aroldis Chapman, a pitcher whose performance is only marred by the domestic violence charges that hang over him. Let’s not mince words either; that marring very real and deserved. For the purposes of this article, though, we're be ignoring that component of this trade, not because it doesn’t matter—it matters immensely—but because it didn’t dramatically diminish his value in the baseball world, which is what this article is about.
How a cycling equipment company splashed color onto every baseball broadcast.
You may have noticed a trend of major-league players using brightly colored bat grips in recent seasons. Bats that were once adorned only by pine tar buildup and cleat marks were now wrapped with a rubber-like material that was only seen on metal or composite bats to that point. What was once reserved for Little League had made its way to the highest level of the sport.
Behind this transformation in brightly colored grip tapes was a company who first made hay in the cycling industry. Their vision and, frankly, good fortune, have made images like the one below commonplace across the majors. Lizard Skins, a company who saw an opportunity to improve the feel players have with their bats, is now a big player in the baseball world.
Anticipating the disasters that will befall this year's rotations.
Each of the past two seasons, Sam Miller or I have done this fun bit of analysis that looks at which teams would fare best if they had to resort to their sixth and seventh starters (2014, 2015). Obviously, every GM needs to fill out the top five slots in his rotation, but that’s just the bare minimum. Over the course of the season, nearly two-thirds of teams will have two starters injured at the same time, meaning fans will get acquainted with sixth, seventh, and possibly even eighth and ninth starters.
As spring training ramps up, injuries are inevitable. So it makes sense for teams to assess their options now, just in case something goes awry before the real games start.
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Or: The only way Jake Elmore is going to get this much ink on Baseball Prospectus.
What does it really mean to be a super utility player? I’m not talking about Ben Zobrist or Ryan Flaherty here. I’m talking about someone who can literally play any position the manager might need him to. What does that kind of player look like?
Four players have ever played all nine positions on the field in one major-league baseball game (assuming you ignore Will Ferrell, which we will do here). Bert Campaneris was the original, doing so on September 8th, 1965. A little over three years later, Cesar Tovar would accomplish the same feat for the Minnesota Twins during their final home game of the season. Fast forward more than 30 years and Scott Sheldon would accomplish the feat in a September game where his Texas Rangers got blown out by the Chicago White Sox. Last but not least, Shane Halter played all nine positions for the Tigers less than a month later, even scoring the winning run in the process.
When we take the weather into account for DRA, how big a swing are we talking about?
One of the most important components of DRA is the awareness of external factors on pitching performance. Obvious things like the parks each player is pitching in, and the defense behind him, clearly affect performance. So too, does temperature.
Derek Holland quite literally brings the heat. Sure, he threw a 94 mph fastball in 2015, but he also pitched in some of the highest average temperature games among all pitchers who recorded at least 162 outs last season. Holland started 10 games for the Rangers, the average temperature of which was over 81 degrees. That’s nearly 8 degrees warmer than the average gametime temperature last season.
A look back at what makes a good changeup, and a look ahead at who has the best ones.
A few years ago, Harry Pavlidis presented some research on what makes a good changeup (part 1, part 2). In the first part of Harry’s analysis, he identified a few key truths about changeups that I’ll include below for quick reference:
1. The faster a pitcher's fastball, the more likely he was to get whiffs with his changeup.