Playing for a voluntarily terrible team makes it hard to cash in star-caliber performance for the full star treatment a player deserves. That’s why, if you failed to look closely enough, Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman might have slipped his graduation into true superstardom right under your nose last season. Don’t feel bad; he even has PECOTA fooled.
Reds prospect Zach Vincej explains how he changed his hitting approach through tinkering and ignoring cliches.
Late last May, Zach Vincej’s career was on life support. He’d turned 25 years old a few weeks earlier and was playing for the Reds’ Double-A affiliate in Pensacola—or, worse and more accurately, not playing for them.
Toronto's young closer has a potentially dominant cutter, if he can just figure out how to use it.
Earlier this week BP Toronto ran an excellent article by Kyle Matte about Roberto Osuna’s evolving array of breaking stuff. Specifically, Matte wrote about Osuna’s development of a cutter in 2016, and the way (as he observed, providing considerable evidence) it somewhat cannibalized his slider. Whenever a pitcher adds a new pitch to his arsenal there’s reason to hope that it will add a new dimension to his game, but there’s also cause to worry that it might eat into the effectiveness of one or more of his other pitches.
Last week, I wrote aboutDan Straily’s effort to flesh out his two-seam fastball this winter and about his expressed concern that doing so would compromise his changeup or slider. As I did with Straily’s sinker, though, I thought I'd dig into Osuna’s tunneling numbers to see whether the cutter offered a benefit that might make the tradeoffs worthwhile. What I found was pretty interesting, so I thought I would briefly share it here.
Falling for the WBC and everything that comes with it.
I’m an extremely new devotee of the World Baseball Classic. I didn’t like it in 2006, didn’t watch it in 2009, and was a jackass about it on Twitter in 2013. As recently as a few months ago, when there were reports that the tournament might be doomed if it didn’t yield higher attendance and more profit this year than in the past, I was all for simply letting it die.
Traded from the Reds to the Marlins, Dan Straily is an example of how new pitching data can help change a repertoire.
For nerdy baseball fans, the worst trade of the offseason was the Reds’ swap of Dan Straily to the Marlins. That’s not because there was an especially egregious mismatch in value in the deal; it was because the move separated Straily from the Reds’ beat reporters.
Just before being dealt, Straily spent almost an hour on a podcast with Zach Buchanan, one of the Reds writers for the Cincinnati Enquirer (and author of the Reds chapter in this year's Baseball Prospectus Annual). It was a delightful listening experience: wide-ranging but detailed, relaxed, smart. They talked about hunting and (ironically) what it’s like to be blindsided by a trade. My favorite discussion centered on the trip to Driveline Baseball from which Straily had returned just before the interview.
Baseball can be a different game for lefties and righties, but there's a lot more to learn.
In Thursday’s Boston Globe, Alex Speier had an interesting piece about new Red Sox first baseman Mitch Moreland. Speier began by noting that Moreland and Anthony Rizzo of the Cubs, who field and throw left-handed, won the two Gold Glove awards at first base in 2016, and that left-handed first basemen seem to have a substantial advantage in Gold Glove voting. His question: Why?
We all know several of the reasons and Speier deftly touches on them all. The throw to second base is easier for a left-handed first baseman. A left-hander wears the glove on his right hand, which might give him an infinitesimal but real advantage on ground balls in the hole between first base and second base. Some of the footwork around the bag can be more easily done in the optimal way by a lefty. There are myriad selection biases at work, too. Red Sox infield coach Brian Butterfield summed it all up by telling Speier: “The whole infield was made for right-handers, except for first base." That’s true.
Observations from an offseason spent watching games from a different era.
I needed baseball more this winter than in any offseason I can remember. I lost my son last spring; we buried him on Opening Day. I had a hard time coming back to the game at first, but eventually I did and (almost without my realizing it) the game wrapped itself around me. In a famous essay, former commissioner and baseball poet laureate Bart Giamatti wrote this:
Rob Manfred, like Bud Selig before him, is blaming the players for a problem MLB owners created.
Everything old is new again. Spring training games (real, live, quasi-competitive baseball games) are being played. Ulnar collateral ligaments are tearing. People are gushing over famous players with eye-popping new physiques, gleefully ignoring the fact that lacking muscle was never the thing holding those players back from transcendence. Most reliably, though, rules changes are being implemented (and, just as often, floated as an empty threat), story-starved columnists are gorging themselves on access to Rob Manfred, and the commissioner is using his platform to lay the groundwork for another thrashing of the MLB Players Association in a CBA negotiation years from now.
Will the Red Sox's new ace continue to trade strikeouts for fewer deep counts?
I think it's something close to common knowledge that Chris Sale pitched to contact last season. Sale talked about it. White Sox pitching coach Don Cooper talked about it. It showed up pretty plainly in the numbers, as Sale racked up a career-high in innings pitched and led the American League in complete games. The idea was a simple one: Sale is good enough to get batters out at an elite rate even without striking them out at an elite rate.
It was true, too. Sale fanned just a hair over a quarter of opposing hitters, instead of nearly a third of them. He posted the worst FIP of his career by a fair margin and gave up more home runs (27) than he ever had. Meanwhile, opposing batters reached base on balls in play at the lowest rate of Sale's starting career. All told, DRA and cFIP do indicate that Sale was slightly worse last season than in the two previous campaigns, but the extra innings he was able to pitch offset that and made him more valuable.