There are certain rules about changeup usage. The Rays, unsurprisingly, aren't beholden to those rules.
“The game evolves constantly,” Tampa Bay Rays pitching coach Jim Hickey tells me on a Saturday afternoon at Yankee Stadium, after wrapping up a bullpen session an hour before first pitch. Evolution in baseball works a lot like it does in real life: traits that confer a competitive advantage tend to be passed on. But before a new approach is adopted around the league, Hickey says, “someone’s going to have to be successful doing it.”
The Rays are often that someone. If the Rays have an identity—aside from their status as a team that doesn’t draw, locked into a lease that never expires—it’s that they do things differently. Driven by their need to make the most of their limited resources and the creativity of their front office and field staff, the Rays under General Manager Andrew Friedman and manager Joe Maddon have authored a long list of innovations. Shifting more aggressively than almost any other team. Giving defensive specialist Jose Molina a starting job for the first time at age 37. Opening an academy in Brazil. Refusing to sign free agent starters (before Roberto Hernandez). And so on.
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A recent study suggests that players' plate discipline erodes throughout the season due to fatigue. Here's why you should be skeptical.
Over the last few weeks, a press release has been making the rounds. It’s a persuasive press release that reports some interesting research, and wherever it goes, it produces a post. There’s just one problem: the research it reports is a little misleading.
The press release, which you can view here, was put out by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine. It summarizes the results of a recent study on the effect of fatigue on strike-zone judgment. The source of the study is a research abstract published in an online supplement of the journal SLEEP—you can access the abstract (PDF) on page A408 here—and the principal investigator behind it is Scott Kutscher, MD, an assistant professor of sleep and neurology at Vanderbilt University Medical Center.
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 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.