Ben's time as a BP author and editor comes to a close.
I know where I was when I got the email: sitting in the Georgetown cafeteria between classes, eating lunch alone. It wasn’t the only time I soloed the delicious cuisine at Leo J. O’Donovan Dining Hall in the middle of the day during my senior year—not because I was bad company, but because I was the only one of my friends who was still paying for a meal plan (food preparation isn’t my strong suit). To pass the time (and to try to look less forlorn), I’d usually bury my face in a book, glancing up only occasionally to stare at the cafeteria worker who went by “Bone” and sometimes stormed around the room with a football helmet held under his arm, looking as if he was dodging invisible linemen. Lately, however, I’d had something besides books and Bone to distract me: a direct pipeline to Baseball Prospectus.
I’d been a BP research assistant the previous summer and had transitioned to intern when I went back to school, at which point I was added to “Chatter”—a now-defunct listserv that pinged everyone at BP, as well as some alumni and outsiders with ties to the staff. In late October of 2008, where our scene is set, I hadn’t been back at school long, and I still hadn’t acclimated to the idea that messages from writers I’d read and admired for years were ending up in my inbox, as if by some behind-the-scenes screw-up at the local NSA surveillance station. This was just before BP became BBWAA-certified, when the staff was still widely regarded as an assortment of “outsiders.” Still, I’d never felt closer to baseball’s beating heart. An email from work was a source of excitement. I willed my phone to flash.
The best and worst receptions, with glorious GIFs and graphs.
At the end of April, I brought back my weekly catcher framing series from 2013 in a new, monthly form (and came back for more after May). I mentioned this then, but as a refresher, here's where you can find catcher receiving stats at Baseball Prospectus:
Time heals all wounds, but in Washington's case, it will also inflict them.
You’d think Bryce Harper’s comeback from his latest long-term injury would be cause for unbridled celebration, and in some contexts, it has been (see the standing ovation Harper received from the fans at Nationals Park before his first plate appearance on Monday). However, the 21-year-old outfielder’s return also been cause for consternation. Harper’s presence, coupled with Ryan Zimmerman’s throwing problems from third, have given the Nats more qualified position players than they have open positions, which has made everyone around the team wonder: Where will they put their surplus player(s)?
Most teams suffer from the opposite issue—too few productive players—so the Nationals’ quandary is an example of the proverbial “good problem to have.” Still, it seems as though there’s no easy answer, and so the discussion has staying power. Twice last month, two weeks apart, I appeared on MLB Network’s MLB Now; both times, Washington’s positional logjam was a featured topic, and both times, the panel was split over what manager Matt Williams should do. The discourse in print hasn’t been much more decisive.
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Judging by research Baseball Prospectus published in January, we know what internet commenters are willing to trade for David Price: not much, because that’s what many of them think it would take to get a deal done. Of course, it’s much easier to mock the uninformed, biased evaluations that lead to proposals like “Price for Ivan Nova and Zoilo Almonte” than it is to put together a package that might make professional trade partners perk up. As BP commenter mblthd quite reasonably observed at the time:
Clayton Kershaw's no-hitter had the second-highest Game Score ever. Is that as significant as it sounds?
In the wake of 26-year-old Clayton Kershaw’s dazzling no-hitter last Wednesday, a 26-year-old statistic got its own moment in the sun. When Bill James introduced Game Score in the 1988 Baseball Abstract, he called it “a kind of garbage stat that I present not because it helps us understand anything in particular but because it is fun to play around with.” Unlike Micro Machines and Dolly Surprise, Game Score remains one of our favorite toys in 2014, so it’s safe to say that James undersold it. Despite (or maybe because of) its lack of sophistication, it’s still one of the most intuitive methods we have to convey how effective a given outing is. Thus, it wasn’t long after Kershaw sealed the deal with his 15th strikeout that the internet noticed that his Game Score of 102 was the second-highest ever for an outing of no more than nine innings, behind only Kerry Wood’s 20-strikeout start in 1998, which got a Game Score of 105. (Remove the innings restriction, and Vern Law’s 18-inning effort in 1955 takes the cake.)
The firing of Josh Byrnes ends a period of unprecedented GM job security. Did he deserve to get the axe?
In March, I wrote about the unprecedented job security major-league general managers have enjoyed over the previous two-plus years. Led by the long-tenured Brian Sabean, Billy Beane, Brian Cashman, and Dan O’Dowd (who was forced to share the throne but hasn’t been relieved of his duties), GMs have seen their occupation, historically a high-turnover one in which on-field success was the only sure route to remaining employed, morph into one that comes standard with the owner’s commitment to stay the course, even if it means suffering through some lean times. Accordingly, I dubbed the new strain of nearly unemployment-proof GMs the “Duracell GM Generation”—a cohort of front-office head honchos who last.
On Sunday, Josh Byrnes’ battery died. Byrnes, the Padres’ GM since October 26, 2011, became the first GM fired since the Astros axed Ed Wade on November 27, 2011. That’s a streak of 938 firing-free days—by far the longest such streak over at least the last four decades, even though baseball’s expansion to 30 teams has created more opportunities for a change to take place.
Hitters and pitchers who've defied their preseason PECOTAs, and players who've changed the projection system's mind.
Among the things a Baseball Prospectus subscriber might like to know, as we approach the midway point of the season, are the names of the players who’ve roundly beaten (or fallen fall short of) their preseason PECOTA projections, and the names of the players who will continue to do so. The first list of names is much easier to provide than the second. In Russell Carleton’s article today, he alludes to some relevantresearch by Mitchel Lichtman, who recently studied the subject of breakouts. Here’s how Russell explains what Lichtman did:
Giancarlo Stanton finds a new way to impress us with his power.
On Monday’s episode of Effectively Wild, I named Giancarlo Stanton to my All-MLB.TV team—a short list of players so compelling that I’d change channels solely to see them do their thing. Stanton’s thing is hitting homers, which he’s done more often than any other National Leaguer in 2014. His brand of dinger is particularly pleasing to the eye, consisting mostly of majestic shots that we have plenty of time to admire before they finally touch down in some remote part of the park where we didn’t know gravity would allow a baseball to trespass. The Marlins’ right fielder is responsible for the longest homer hit this season, as well as the longest launched since 2009, and he also owns 2014’s highest average home run distance. If I switch games to see Stanton, I’m tuning in on the off chance that he’ll hit one out of the stadium or at least destroy the scoreboard.
On Monday, Stanton hit a home run as awe-inspiring as any of the 135 that preceded it, but it wasn’t breath-taking because it took down a light tower or broke the 500-foot barrier. In fact, it brought down his 2014 home run distance by a few feet. In ESPN Home Run Tracker terminology, Stanton hit it “Just Enough,” which means that it “cleared the fence by less than 10 vertical feet, OR that it landed less than one fence height past the fence.”
Why bringing an end to the strikeout scourge might require some three-dimensional thinking.
Even if you’ve missed Rob Neyer’s midnight ride to warn the world about the Strikeout Scourge—one if by land, two if by sea, three strikes you’re out—you can’t help but have noticed how many plate appearances are ending in punchouts. Baseball’s strikeout rate is up this season (from an old-record 19.9 percent last year to a new-record 20.4 percent in 2014), and batting average is at its lowest ebb in the DH era. As a result, action seems scarce, unless you prefer seeing swings-and-misses to watching balls in play.
Everyone has a pet fix for this state of affairs, or at least a way to prevent it from growing worse. Although recent research by Russell Carleton revealed that educating hitters might help turn the tide, most proposed solutions suggest hamstringing hurlers. Tighten the strike zone. Limit the number of permissible pitching changes. Politely ask Stephen Strasburg to retire for the good of the game.
Framing leaders, best and worst receptions, and a bunch of glorious GIFs.
Earlier this year, I brought back my weekly catcher framing series from 2013 in a new, monthly form. I mentioned this then, but as a refresher, here's where you can find receiving stats at Baseball Prospectus:
This week's bunts, a chat with Chip Hale, and a new trend in defensive shifts. Plus: Ted Williams.
Last month I started a season-long series (continued here, here, here, here, and here) devoted to tracking bunts for base hits with the infield shift in effect; this is the seventh installment. To bring you up to speed on the series’ premise and methodology will take but two brief excerpts. Excerpt one: