In the era of aggressive defensive positioning, does the old-fashioned box score still tell us where people played?
At its core, baseball’s defensive revolution has been about positioning fielders in places where the ball is most likely to be hit, an idea so simple and sensible that it seems incredible that teams didn’t adopt it earlier. As the Astros’ Sig Mejdal says, “Why weren't teams positioning their infielders different half a decade ago? I don't know. The data was all there.”
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Prince Fielder's injury may have ended the Rangers' hopes of contending. Could it have been avoided?
As Daniel Rathmannoted in today’s edition of What You Need to Know, Thursday was a rough one for the Rangers, despite their 9-2 victory over Detroit. Heading into the day, Texas had already established a sizeable lead on the next-closest team in terms of games missed due to injury, which had limited a club that the Baseball Prospectus staff (though not PECOTA) had picked to win the AL West to a fourth-place, sub-.500 start.
At one position, the A's are still Moneyballing like it's 1999.
For the most part, pitch receiving operates on a level that’s easy to overlook. Over thousands of pitches, certain catchers establish an edge, and those edges add up in a way we can’t see without looking at a leaderboard. Every now and then, though, framing on a small scale comes to the fore, usually when it leads to a larger event. Brett Lawrie, let’s say, strikes out looking out a pitch that appears to be outside, hurls his batting helmet at the home plate umpire, and gets ejected from the game. Our first impulse, like Lawrie’s, is to blame the umpire who blew the call. After reviewing the video, though, we realize that the real culprit was Jose Molina, in the catcher’s box, with the catcher’s glove. The ump was a red herring, a patsy, or maybe an unwitting accomplice.
Are recent Tommy John surgery victims about to become a new kind of contract extension candidate?
About a year ago, Sam Millerspeculated about the future of contract extensions, which had by then been embraced by big-market teams after years of mostly being the province of small-market clubs. “When that happens,” Sam wrote, “the market inefficiency might as well be gone.” To regain an edge, teams would have to get more creative with the kind of extensions they offered.
One of Sam’s suggestions was that we might start to see much longer extensions—contracts that would pay a player for 15 years or more. That hasn’t happened yet. However, Sam made two more predictions that have come to pass. First, he suggested that a team might offer a player an extension before his big-league debut, which has since occurred in the cases of George Springer and the Astros and Gregory Polanco and the Pirates. And second, he proposed that teams that lock up more marginal players than had previously been considered extendable. “Of the 20 players who have signed extensions longer than four years since the start of last season, all are, if not stars, something close to it,” Sam wrote. Since then, non-stars Jedd Gyorko, Yan Gomes (debatable), and Jose Quintana have signed five-year deals, not to mention Michael Brantley and Sean Doolittle, who’ve inked four-year pacts.
The latest exciting developments in the back-and-forth battle between batters/bunters and defenders.
Last month I started a season-long series (continued here and here) devoted to tracking bunts for base hits with the infield shift in effect; this is the third installment. To bring you up to speed on the series’ premise and methodology will take but two brief excerpts. Excerpt one:
Talking about today's most topical 21-year-old, 22-year-old, and 23-year-old: Bryce Harper, Gregory Polanco, and Kolten Wong.
Thoughts on three young National Leaguers in the news today, plus a bonus item about the Blue Jays:
Pittsburgh’s Gregory Polanco Promotion Watch
As Daniel Rathmanpointed out in today’s What You Need to Know, the Pirates—whose shutout loss to St. Louis on Sunday dropped them to 10-16 and (now) nine games back in the NL Central—aren’t hitting. A big part of Pittsburgh’s problems at the plate has been the team’s lack of production from right field, where Travis Snider, trade chipJose Tabata, and Josh Harrison (for one plate appearance) have combined for a .221/.289/.279 triple-slash line. As Dan also observed, the Pirates’ top healthy prospect, Gregory Polanco, plays right field for Triple-A Indianapolis, where he’s hitting .400/.460/.644. It doesn’t take Branch Rickey to connect the dots and conclude that the team’s greatest minor-league strength could be the solution to one of its major-league weaknesses.
Could PITCHf/x have held the key to preventing season-ending surgeries for two of this season's Tommy John victims?
We’ve gotten much better at designing buildings that refuse to fall down, but science still hasn’t made much headway in the field of earthquake prediction. Although we can estimate how many quakes of a certain magnitude we’ll experience over a span of time, we can’t pinpoint exactly when, where, or why they’ll occur. A big quake is often preceded by a smaller foreshock, but not always. And the only way to know whether any given disturbance is the main event or merely a precursor is to wait and see if something worse happens, which doesn’t lend itself to life-saving.
Athletic trainers can commiserate with seismologists. As the recent rash of season-ending injuries indicates, we’re a long way from figuring out when a pitcher is about to break. Not every injury is preceded by a warning sign, and not every red flag reveals a real problem. Many pitcher injuries are the result of cumulative wear and tear, but the process often culminates in one pitch, followed by a pop or a sharp pain and an arm clutched tightly on the trip back to the dugout. From there, it’s just a matter of time until the Twitpic from the operating table.
Dissecting the new season's most surprising sensation.
One of the things I’d like to think the baseball community has gotten better about is recognizing a fluke when we see one. When Jeff Locke pitched to a 2.15 ERA in the first half of 2013, running an 8-2 record, almost no one was buying. Instead of being distracted by the ERA or the record, we focused on the low strikeout-to-walk ratio, the microscopic BABIP, the middling velocity, and the fact that he wasn’t one of the team’s top 11 prospects the last time he was eligible. “Jeff Locke is going to regress,” intoned every internet analyst. “It is known.” We even had stats—FIP, xFIP, and so on—to support our position, which made the argument easier. That’s not to say that before Bill James, every soft-tosser who strung together a few successful starts was christened the next Sandy Koufax. But information is easier than ever to access, and most of it suggested that Locke wouldn’t last.
Locke himself made the case that the advanced stats were making a major mistake by overlooking the enhanced deception in his delivery and his newfound confidence and skill at pitching to contact. The evidence that's accumulated since suggests he was wrong: in the second half, Locke’s ERA ballooned to 6.12, and now, less than a year after Bruce Bochy named him to the National League All-Star team, he’s back in Triple-A. Sometimes, though, career reinventions are real. Last May, I wrote about “the incredible new Neal Cotts” based on the 30-something reliever’s 20-plus Triple-A innings, and the lefty lived up to the billing. The more impressive the peripherals, the more convincing the performance, no matter how small the sample.
Instead of limping into the 500-homer club, Albert Pujols went in leading the league.
Not long ago, it looked like Albert Pujols’ 500th home run, whenever it came, would at best be an opportunity for us to revisit the better days behind him. And that wouldn’t have been the worst thing, since Pujols’ past—thanks to his four-season streak of declines and his injury-shortened 2013—has already become chronically underappreciated.
Compare Pujols and the consensus top right-handed hitter du jour, Miguel Cabrera. The two were similarly productive at the plate in their best offensive seasons: Pujols posted a .373 True Average over 700 plate appearances in 2009, while Cabrera achieved a .372 mark in 652 PA last season. Scan the single-season TAv leaderboard, though, and you pass five more Pujols seasons before you get to Cabrera’s second strongest. Add in Pujols’ superior defense and better baserunning, and the gap between them grows: Pujols has had eight seasons that WARP says were worth more than Cabrera’s best.*