The Giants won yesterday, 4-3 in extra innings against the Padres, and even before they did, they had the best week of any team in baseball. By BP’s own reckoning, in the form of our Playoff Odds report, their chances of making a postseason appearance this year increased by the largest amount—17.0 percent—of any other team this week, and that’s before the system had a chance to consider Brandon Crawford’s walkoff single by the bay last night. When it does, their odds of tasting October in this, an even year, will go up further, not only because the Padres are a division rival but because, as well, the season is one day closer to its end.
Clayton Kershaw is peaking, Pujols hits a sort of a milestone, and the Cubs are slumping, relatively speaking.
The Monday Takeaway
The Warriors are actually bad at basketball, as they take too many jump shots and don’t have a strong enough game in the post. Their once-in-a-lifetime shooter is overrated, and their records mean nothing in the face of grit and Russell Westbrook.
Why our changing expectations are driving us all insane.
Pace of game (or time of game? It’s so unclear which problem the various hand-wringers want to solve, and there’s imperfect overlap when it comes to the solutions to each) is in the news again. The average length of an MLB game this season is three hours, some seven minutes longer than at the same point last season. This, everyone seems to agree, is a problem.
On Monday night, before I saw the Rob Manfred quotes that made it clear this would be a major topic of discussion this week, I sat on my couch, sorting socks and watching the Dodgers play the Angels. It was already past 11:30 Central time when I turned on the game, so I was mildly surprised to find that the top of the seventh inning was just beginning. Apparently, though, I had missed the quick part of the game. Pedro Baez was on the mound for the Dodgers, and pretty quickly, he began laboring. That’s not new. Of the 355 pitchers who have thrown at least 10 innings this season, Baez takes longer between pitches (an even 30 seconds) than all but two. The issue was particularly pronounced on Monday, though, because Baez was really up against it.
Chase Anderson (almost) shuts down the Cubs, Scherzer vs. Syndergaard lives up to the billing, and Kershaw vs. Trout lives up to Kershaw.
The Tuesday Takeaway
Milwaukee’s pitching has offered little excitement this year (except, perhaps, excitement about the fact that the Reds exist, which allows the Brewers to be second to last for most pitching stats instead of the worst in baseball). The Cubs’ hitting, on the other hand, has offered excitement near nonstop. And because baseball is weird, when the two met Tuesday night, the excitement was all Milwaukee’s—though the Cubs did their best to spoil that up until the very end.
Clayton Kershaw is really doing something, David Price finds his feel again, and Chase Headley finally finds second base.
The Thursday Takeaway Bartolo Colon took the mound Thursday for the first time since the beauty of his historic first home run last week. But any lingering bliss was quick to evaporate, as the Dodgers piled on for a four-run first inning anchored by a Yasmani Grandal home run. It was quickly made clear that Thursday’s spotlight would belong to the game’s other starting pitcher: one Clayton Kershaw.
Revisiting last year's biggest velocity changes, because change is just another word for regression to come.
Every year, I write a pair of articles that breaks down the risers and fallers in pitch velocity, specifically targeting multi-year trends to look for any changes in baseline stuff. With all of the talk about pitchers who have lost a tick (or three) of velo, it seemed appropriate to revisit the movers and shakers to see if the changes in pitch speed have carried over thus far in 2016.
Let me begin by saying this: this was not my idea. Last Friday, I attended a talk at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology given by Farhan Zaidi, formerly the AGM in Oakland and currently the GM of the Dodgers. (He’s one of many.) During the course of his talk, Zaidi highlighted the phenomenon I’m about to describe—among others—as an example of intriguing applications of economic theory to baseball analysis. He credited this particular discovery (if that is, indeed, the correct term) to his in-house R&D team. So, credit goes to you, anonymous L.A. baseball ops staffer. I’m sorry I don’t know your name.
Kansas City's slow start, plus: Yes to Trayce Thompson, yay J.A. Happ, and way to be Dae-Ho Lee
The Tuesday Takeaway Close your eyes and think of the Royals. There has perhaps been no more unique team over the past two years. They’ve won in a way that was at first foreign, and—seemingly, at times—illogical. The long ball isn’t the weapon of choice here; rather, they wield defense, a never-ending procession of elite relievers, and Ned Yost’s gut. Close your eyes and think of the Royals. You see Wade Davis. You see Alcides Escobar and his sub-.300 OBP leading off. You see Salvador Perez poking the ball under Josh Donaldson’s glove down the left field line. You see Omar Infante running rampant in the All-Star voting. It feels unconventional, but it feels right. There’s something magical about what they have done and what they have been. Something that makes the corners of your mouth curl up and forces a chuckle out of your throat.
Marcus Stroman has a happy birthday, Clayton Kershaw continues to pitch in a class of his own, and Trevor Story finds another way to write himself into the history books.
The Weekend Takeaway
Talent and luck rarely keep the same company, but they found a mutual friend in Jordan Zimmermann on Saturday afternoon. The Tigers’ right-hander polished his ERA to a shiny 0.55 mark with another pristine outing against the Twins, striking out seven in his fifth consecutive win and going seven innings without issuing a walk for the first time since July 22, 2015.
What did we learn about various players and teams this month? Less than we'll learn in the next one.
Early season baseball is full of articles about “What we’ve learned so far” after a week, or two weeks, or a month of play. You can’t really blame the sportswriters and TV sports producers and podcast hosts who come up with these pieces. They have to talk about something, and there aren’t any pennant races or awards competitions to discuss in April.
As Russell Carleton has demonstrated, though, most measures of baseball performance take far longer than a week or three to stabilize. Drawing conclusions from a 10- or 20-game sample is akin to statistics problem sets involving drawing balls from an urn. A really, really big urn. With lots and lots of balls in it. When you draw a few balls from a really, really big urn with lots and lots of balls in it, you don’t get a good picture of what’s really in the urn.
We can look at the relevance of April numbers by correlating them to players’ full-year figures, and comparing the correlation in April to that of May, June, July, August, and September. (Throughout this analysis, April includes a few days of March play in the relevant years, and September includes a few days of October games.) To do this, I selected batting title and ERA qualifiers from each of the past 10 seasons and compared their monthly results to their full-year results. I had a sample of 1,487 batter seasons with corresponding monthly data in about 87 percent of months and 850 pitcher seasons with corresponding monthly data in 86 percent of months.
Admittedly, there’s a selection bias in April data, and it applies mostly to young players. Since I’m comparing monthly data to full-year data for batting title and ERA qualifiers, I’m selecting from those players who hung around long enough to compile 502 plate appearances or 162 innings pitched. If you’re a young player who puts up a .298/.461/.596 batting line in April, as Joc Pederson did last April, you get to stick around to get your 502 plate appearances, even though 261 of your plate appearances occurred during July, August, and September, when you hit .170/.300/.284. On the other hand, if you bat .147/.284/.235 in April, as Rougned Odor did, you do get a chance to bat .352/.426/.639 in 124 plate appearances spread between May and June, but you get them in Round Rock instead of Arlington. So there’s a bias in this analysis in favor of players who perform well in April (giving them a chance to continue to play) compared to those who don’t (who may get shipped out). This shouldn’t have a big impact on the overall variability of April data, though, since the presence of early-season outperformers like Pederson who get full-time status on the strength of their April is canceled, to an extent, by early-season underperformers like Odor who don’t.
So is April more predictive than other months? Here’s a chart for batters, using OPS as the measure, comparing the correlation between batters’ full-year performance and that of each month.