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Hey guys, how are you all doing? I'm pretty well, thanks. It's raining where I am, but it's also Friday, so that's good! And… oh, right, the MLB season starts on Sunday! Professional baseball, on our televisions and in our local stadiums, in just two days! Anyway, here's your weekly digest of baseball knowledge to help you fill up the ol' brain before the season starts. Knowledge is power, and I come bearing knowledge.

Monday
Despite what recent free-agent signings may suggest, the MLBPA actually faces a problem of its clients — the players — not being paid enough (or equitably, rather): The MLBPA Has a Problem, by Nathaniel Grow, Fangraphs

…While service time manipulation certainly needs to be dealt with, the MLBPA has a much more significant and pressing – but often overlooked – issue to address in the next round of CBA negotiations: the players’ plummeting share of overall MLB league revenues.

Since 1995, MLB’s overall league revenues have increased nearly 650%, going from around $1.4 billion to over $9 billion in 2014. During that same time period, though, MLB payrolls have only increased by around 378%, from roughly $925 million in 1995 to just under $3.5 billion last year.

How are teams doing with their distribution of area scouts, relative to drafted talent? Pretty good, but it could be better: Geographic Bias in the Amateur Draft: Part 2.2, by Daniel Meyer, Beyond the Box Score

The map shows that the southeastern U.S., Houston area, and the outskirts of southern California appear to be relatively "under" scouted. On the other hand Dallas, Phoenix, northern California and several areas throughout the northern U.S. appear to be relatively "over" scouted.

Tuesday
For pitchers, more spin equals more movement, right? Well, it depends on what kind of spin you're talking about: All Spin Is Not Alike, by Alan M. Nathan, Baseball Prospectus

In one group are those pitches that follow the general trend of the line, albeit with random scatter about the line. These pitches are of type FA, SI, CH, and FS, but for ease of discussion I will hereafter refer to them as “fastballs/changeups”. In the other group are those pitches that lie systematically below the line. These pitches are of type SL, CU, and FC, and I’ll refer to them as “breaking pitches”. So despite the scatter, we nevertheless arrive at the following tentative conclusion: the pitches in the fastball/changeup group have little or no gyrospin, whereas the breaking pitches all have various degrees of significant gyrospin. Another way to say this is that essentially all the fastball/changeup spin is useful spin, meaning that it results in movement, and that a significant fraction of the breaking ball spin is not useful spin.

We're seeing more high-whiff prospects than ever, and that doesn't necessarily bode well for their futures in the bigs: Prospects Are Striking Out More Often, Too, by Chris Mitchell, The Hardball Times (part of The 2015 Season Preview in Strikeouts)

A player who strikes out 30 percent of the time in the minors might whiff 35 percent of the time in the big leagues. Maybe that would be OK, but what if a hitter strikes out over 40 percent of the time in the majors? That wouldn’t leave very many plate appearances for a hitter to compensate for all of those automatic outs. I’m looking at you, Joey Gallo. And you, too, Javier Baez.

Each of these hitters has an impressive set of tools, and each has acquitted himself well in the upper levels of the minors. But at the same time, there have been very few successful big leaguers who flirted with 30-percent strikeout rates as minor leaguers. Since 1990, only 11 players who struck out over 27 percent of the time in a minor league season (minimum 400 PAs) went on to record over 4.0 WAR through age 28.

Wednesday
Teams don't just vary in the quality of the talent they draft, but also in how they develop that talent: Evaluating Front Offices and Farm Systems, Part 2, by Stephen Shaw, Banished to the Pen

By analyzing this chart one can see that just because a team can draft great talent does not mean that talent will contribute to the team in the future. Teams with a large gap between their team outputs and their total outputs are ones that have exported major league caliber players before they were able to contribute to their team. Some clubs do a really good job of drafting players, but either trade them away or fail to sign them. This causes those players to move and add value to another team. According to the chart, this does not seem to be a problem for clubs like the Red Sox and Yankees. This is most likely because their budgets allow them to sign high performance free agents to counter the loss of their top level farm prospects. In the case of the Padres and Diamondbacks, who have struggled over the past few years, one need look no further then the difference between their team and total outputs. They are putting together solid drafts, but they are letting those prospects leave their system a little to early. There are some smaller payroll teams that do hang on to their talent such as the Rockies, but their team outputs are not high enough to give them a significant advantage. Next, I will use team outputs along with a couple of other measures to get a better understanding of how effective each team‘s farm system is at developing players.

The state of two-out hitting is, well, pretty bad: The Demise of the Two-Out Rally, by Matthew Trueblood, Baseball Prospectus

With OBP down so significantly, chaining together positive events the way a team must in order to score runs with two outs is much, much more difficult than it once was. I was inclined, especially after hearing from Russell, to treat this as a fairly natural, minimally interesting finding.

It runs a little bit deeper, though. See, as it turns out, 2014 saw two-out offensive performance slide to its worst since 1976, and to its worst ever, relative to offensive performance with zero or one out.

Thursday
Minor league park factors are here! Yay! Most Extreme Ballpark Contexts In The Minors, by Matt Eddy, Baseball America

People view the Pacific Coast League as a hitter’s paradise, and with good reason. Triple-A Las Vegas (172) and Albuquerque (169) out-homered all but three major league teams in 2014—the Orioles, Rockies and Blue Jays—despite playing a shorter, 144-game schedule. In fact, more home runs were hit per 100 plate appearances in the PCL last year (2.46) than in the big leagues (2.28), and the league’s isolated slugging percentage (.152) was higher than any league at the Double-A, Triple-A or big league level.

However, the unique conditions of the PCL—high altitude, low humidity, fast infields, spacious outfields—make it just as conducive for base hits as home runs. (The same is true of the California and Pioneer leagues.) Balls hit in the field of play—so that excludes home runs—fell in for hits for a .331 average* in the PCL last year, the highest rate in full-season ball.

Teams might not be shifting enough, actually: Have they maxed out the shifting?, by Rob Neyer, JABO

But of course the takeaway here is that if you're not shifting a lot, you're really not saving that many runs. Using the standard baseline of 10 runs per win, only nine teams in the majors last season gained at least a full win by shifting. And fully half the teams saved five runs or fewer. So nearly everybody probably should be shifting a lot more than they have been.

One thing that surprises me. I saw somewhere that the Rays, who led the majors in shifts in 2010, '11, and '12, fell to second in 2013 and fell even farther down the list in 2014. The Rays are famously one of MLB's most analytically driven organizations. So why aren't they keeping up?

There's a "stretch lady" near the Orioles' bullpens, among other bullpen fun facts: Burke Badenhop's Bullpen Bonanza: A Veteran MLB Reliever Shares His Thoughts on the Visiting Pen Scene, by Burke Badenhop, Grantland

The most unique part of the visiting pen in Baltimore, however, is Stretch Lady, an Orioles fan who shows up to most games, sits in the section nearest the bullpens, and mimics the stretch routines that relievers go through as they warm up. She doesn’t do this to mock us, since she mimics both the Orioles and the visitors; she does it because she has to. She doesn’t care how many fans around her think she’s nuts; she has to stretch with the pitchers. As soon as someone starts doing some arm circles, Stretch Lady stands up and does some arm circles. She’ll bend over and touch her toes. She’ll do the arm-across-the-chest stretch. She’ll stretch out her forearms, hop up and down, and bend to the right and then the left.

Friday
Being a "good" baserunner doesn't necessarily preclude you from hitting into a lot of double plays: The Non-Speed Components of Double Plays, by Neil Weinberg, Fangraphs

Perhaps more interestingly, none of the seven were particularly great base stealers (wSB) with the high water mark being Austin Jackson’s 1.1 wSB. This lends some credence to the idea that they aren’t fast as much as they are smart, which allows them to advance an extra base but not beat out a grounder. And also, to no one’s surprise, the group has a ground ball rate about 4% above league average and makes contact about 6% more often.

We’re also looking at six right-handed hitters and Robinson Cano, which fits with our expectations about which batters should beat out double plays.

We’re dealing with players who aren’t exceptionally fast but work smartly on the bases. They’re also right-handed hitters who put a lot of balls in play and put a lot of those on the ground. In other words, this group of hitters is exactly what you’d expect to find. Take the population of smart base runners who aren’t super fast, and then filter by those categories. It’s always nice when a theory fits so neatly with the data.

There are many ways to build a bullpen, though none of them are particularly predisposed to success (other than "Sign good pitchers," obviously): Do the Bullpens that Stay Together Parade Together?, by Jeff Long, Baseball Prospectus

We can see that the Giants acquired nearly all of their relievers when they were still in the minors, something that illustrates their preference for building guys into key bullpen players through their upper minors. We can also see what is often a long and tumultuous career path for these names and faces that so rarely get recognition among the fanbase.

That’s not to say that building a bullpen featuring veterans and guys that have been around your organization for several years is the best model. It’s not even possible for many teams, simply because they don’t have the young talent in place to do such a thing.

In fact, the top five bullpens in baseball by WPA averaged just over a year of tenure per relief pitcher and 3.5 total seasons of MLB experience.

Thank you for reading

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davescottofakron
4/03
This is terrific! Readers' Digest for core baseball fans.