The teams that have outhit and outpitched their projections, or fallen the farthest short.
We’re approaching the halfway point of the season, though we’re still over a month away from the nominal start of the second half. And that means we’re also approaching the point at which we stop thinking about how we thought the season would play out (except for our probably accidentally accurate predictions, which we treasure forever). According to Colin Wyers, in-season team records become more reliable than pre-season projections around Game 103. Most of us don’t have a particular point of the season at which we entirely abandon pre-season projections—nor should we—but every day we trust what we’ve seen so far a little more and what we expected to see a little less. And eventually, we look back and wonder why we didn’t see certain things coming.
PECOTA has had plenty of successes. The projected team TAvs for the Rangers and Brewers, for example, have been correct to the point, and the projected team ERAs for the Mets and Diamondbacks have been less than 0.02 points off. But while PECOTA deserves a pat on its back for its accurate predictions, there’s much more to say about the surprises. This article is about the lineups and pitching staffs that have defied our expectations so far.
The rest of this article is restricted to Baseball Prospectus Subscribers.
Not a subscriber?
Click here for more information on Baseball Prospectus subscriptions or use the buttons to the right to subscribe and get access to the best baseball content on the web.
The best and worst receivers of the week and season.
As promised, Max Marchi followed up on his work on Retrosheet-based historical framing by applying the same method to the minor leagues. I was somewhat skeptical that the results would be useful, since there are a few aspects of minor league life that make receiving skills harder to assess: umpires call less consistent zones, pitchers have worse command, and because of the constant promotions and demotions, catchers are less familiar with their batterymates’ arsenals.
But Max found a fairly strong correlation between framing performance in the upper minors and the majors, so we know that by the time a catcher gets to Double-A, at least, his receiving talents are detectable. That’s a significant finding, and it’s possible that we could identify strong receivers statistically in the low minors or even at the amateur level, if we had access to reliable pitch-by-pitch data. If teams aren’t doing this analysis already, they will be before long.
Why one of baseball's best young players doesn't get his due.
After nine games, Yasiel Puig’s video archive at MLB.com comes close to filling four pages, at 12 clips per page. Marcell Ozuna, another exciting 22-year-old right fielder who’s hit .324/.364/.462 since his arrival in April, is still stuck on page three. Almost every play Puig touches turns into a highlight. If he isn’t hitting homers, he’s recording outfield assists; if he’s not in the game, it’s because he’s just been ejected from a bench-clearing brawl. Whatever he does, it happens at the center of the spotlight. It took him one week to be named National League Player of the Week, and it took him four words to appear in this article, which isn’t even about him. More than the amateur draft, more than Biogenesis (fortunately), baseball in June has been about Yasiel Puig.
So when Puig was thrown out attempting to advance to third on a Jerry Hairston single on Monday, it wasn’t immediately clear who the star of the story was: Puig, or Gerardo Parra, the player who made the throw. It took another viewing to determine that Puig’s presence in yet another highlight was just a coincidence, that it was Parra who’d earned Puig some extra airtime on SportsCenter, not the other way around. The throw was perfect, an on-the-fly strike to Martin Prado that nailed the speedy Puig in plenty of time,
With the Royals struggling to score, Ned Yost looks to the stats for assistance.
"Innovation in baseball almost never accompanies talent. Innovations in baseball usually arise from those 75- to 85-win teams that are desperately trying to find a way to scratch out two more wins. We all know what wins baseball games is good baseball players. When you have the players, you're going to stick to proven strategies because you're more afraid of screwing it up than you are anxious to gain a small advantage."—Bill James, The Bill James Gold Mine 2008
On Wednesday, Sam Millerwrote about how lineup construction in baseball tends to change very slowly, if at all. Managers mostly fill out their lineup cards according to the same principles that governed their predecessors’ decisions decades ago, with little regard for more recent research that’s revealed some of those decisions to be suboptimal. For example, although Sam found some circumstantial evidence that this might be beginning to change, the no. 2 hitter still tend to be a team’s best bat-control guy, not its best, well, batter.
He doesn't strike out, and he doesn't hit for power. Does Cardinals Double-A outfielder Mike O'Neill have a major league future?
You know that the strikeout has become a much more common occurrence in the majors. What you might not know is that the story is much the same in the Texas League, whose Double-A history dates back to the mid-1940s. The progression hasn’t been quite as steep or as steady, but the end result is the same: this season, Texas League pitchers are striking out 7.6 batters per nine innings, just like the ones in the majors.
But there’s one Texas Leaguer whose strikeout rate refuses to rise. He’s an outfielder for the Springfield Cardinals, and his name is Mike O’Neill.
Because the Martin and Hanigan interviews were so lengthy, only parts of them fit into the Grantland posts. I didn't want the leftovers to go to waste, so I put the tastiest portions together in this BP piece. It's meaty.
This one goes to 14. An extended struggle exposes Jake Odorizzi, and Jose Fernandez shows Matt Joyce his whole arsenal.
The two longest plate appearances of 2013 (to date) took place two innings apart in Monday’s Rays-Marlins game at Tropicana Field. They both involved right-handed rookie pitchers who were facing batters for the first time in the big leagues. And like last week, I’m going to go over them both.
Is there meaning in checked swings, and can teams take advantage of it?
When I got home from the SABR Analytics Conference in mid-March, I spent a week or so writingandtalking about some of the most interesting things I’d heard there. But there was one particularly intriguing topic that I wasn’t yet ready to write about.
That topic was brought up by Bill James, who's given us more than his fair share of interesting insights. Here’s all the backstory you need to know: James was on an “Analytics Super Panel” with Brian Kenny and Joe Posnanski, and he was asked by an audience member whether there’s any utility for teams in gathering information on home plate umpires. If I’ve embedded it right, this video should play only a short clip from the relevant portion of the panel (59:40-1:00:29). If I’ve embedded it wrong, you can either skip to that section yourself or read the transcript below.
One year, four months, and five days ago, the Yankees traded Jesus Montero and Hector Noesi to the Mariners for Michael Pineda and Jose Campos. It was an unusually exciting trade, in that we hadn’t heard much about it before it went down, and it involved two of baseball’s most promising young players. As the internet scrambled to write up responses, a consensus emerged: both teams had done well to address an area of need. The Mariners, who hadn’t hit much since Edgar Martinez retired, had more trouble attracting hitters than pitchers to their big ballpark, and had just batted Miguel Olivo cleanup 43 times, and thus needed someone who wouldn’t look out of place in the middle of a major league lineup. The Yankees, who had a surplus of 1B/DH types signed to long-term contracts, needed a young starter to slot into their rotation behind CC Sabathia. If either team was believed to have “won” the trade, it may have been the Mariners, who wound up with the position player, generally the less risky part of any pitcher-for-position-player swap. But neither team was widely believed to have lost.
The best and worst of the week and season, plus more on Matt Wieters and the Brewers.
As promised last time, I put up several BP excerpts from interviews I conducted while working on my feature on framing for Grantland. If you missed any of them, the links are here: