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Good day, and welcome to a special Independence Day edition of Everything You Could Have Learned This Week. This series has its origins in the American Revolution, in fact: My great great great great great uncle, Ebenezer MacDonald, was an old town crier back in Northampton, Mass., and he used to do something much similar to this every Saturday afternoon, standing in the town square and reciting all the week's new baseball knowledge for the townspeople to hear. Well, that was until the British cracked down on Ebenezer, afraid the new knowledge he was spreading would embolden the citizens to rise up against the old RBI and wins-dominated regime of old. In fact, an important part of the First Amendment to the Constitution can be attributed to Ebenezer. During the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, when Ebenezer happened to be in town for business, he opened a window at Independence Hall and shouted from the outside: "Don't forget to include a part about the freedom of assembly for the purpose of the dissemination of baseball knowledge!"
Ultimately, they only used that first part.

Weekend/Monday

Strikeouts are indeed up, but a number of factors, such as more judicious starting pitcher management, are combining to endanger high-strikeout performances: We're Seeing More Strikeouts, But It Takes Many More Pitches To Get Them, by Rob Arthur, FiveThirtyEight

The problem is that it often takes a lot of pitches to get a strikeout. On average, in 2014, strikeouts required 4.5 pitches per plate appearance while outs on balls put in play took only 3 pitches. Every strikeout a pitcher gets drives them closer to their pitch-count limit even as it increases their Game Score. Any pitcher working on a record-challenging game must therefore contend with his manager, whose goal is to preserve the pitcher’s arm for another day. Kluber’s potentially historic performance was disrupted by just such reasoning, and it prevented him from getting a chance, however small, to break Kerry Wood’s record.

The recent drop in pitch counts is also partly attributable to sabermetric research. With the revelation that pitchers gradually decline every time they go through the order, there has been a shift toward pulling starters before their performance begins to tumble. Starting pitcher performance falls even when they have been cruising through the lineup, mowing down hitters. In potentially record-breaking games, a manager must often choose between a starter whose expected performance is league average (or worse) in their third time through the order versus a fresh reliever whose strikeout potential exceeds even the best starter. It’s no surprise that most managers opt to lock down the win.

Tuesday
An aesthetically appealing pitch is part movement, part a lot of other things, like camera angle and catcher behavior: Chaz Roe and the Mechanics of Aesthetics, by Jeff Long, Baseball Prospectus

Part of the reason Roe's slider seems so ridiculous is because of how Caleb Joseph reacts to the pitch. His glove appears to be squarely in the middle of the zone, but has to jerk his left arm over to the first base side to catch the pitch. The movement of the glove and subsequent pull of his entire upper body make the viewer think that even Joseph didn't expect the pitch to move quite that much. In reality, Roe likely just missed his spot—which is understandable when a pitch moves more than two feet—and Joseph was surprised at the location regardless of the movement.

Knowing that Joseph continues to be one of the best framing catchers in baseball should only serve to amplify the impact of having our perception anchored by the target he initially made for Roe. Ultimately, when the catcher sits off the plate where the pitch ends up, our perception is going to be that the offering was less impressive because the pitch did what the catcher expected it to. That doesn't mean it didn't have absurd movement; it just seems a lot less impressive than it perhaps ought to.

Wednesday
So, your favorite pitcher's getting Tommy John surgery? Bummer. At least it isn't Thoracic outlet syndrome: Thoracic outlet syndrome and pitcher effectiveness, by Nick Lampe, Beyond the Box Score

The injury has the potential to seriously hurt a pitcher's velocity, although this hasn't been the case in all situations. While pitchers like Chris Carpenter and Shaun Marcum saw a noticeable drop in their velocity, Matt Harrison saw his velocity increase as he became further removed from the surgery.

The biggest area these pitchers seemed to struggle was with their command, both in and out of the strike zone. This manifested itself in slightly higher walk rates, a lower percentage of pitches in the strike zone, and hard contact on pitchers that were in the strike zone, including abnormally high home run rates.

The positions you associate with offensive production (or lack thereof) have been fairly constant throughout baseball's history: An Unchanging Truth: Positional Offense Through History, by Wendy Thurm, FanGraphs

But do you still need to sacrifice offense for good defense up the middle? Aren’t we over the days of the scrappy second baseman and lanky shortstop? Shouldn’t this be one of the modernizations made possible by 21st-century athletes? Look at Troy Tulowitzki. Look at Chase Utley. Look at what Barry Larkin and Cal Ripkenand Roberto Alomar did on the field and at the plate. When Tory Hernandez looks at those players, he sees once-in-a-generation talent. If there were more Tulowitzkis out there playing professional baseball — or thinking of playing professional baseball — there’d be plenty of teams willing to play those guys at shortstop, instead of pushing them to first base or the outfield.

Brad Kullman agrees. Kullman worked in scouting and player development for the Cincinnati Reds from 1996 to 2006, including a stint as assistant general manager from 2002 to 2006. More recently, he’s worked as a pro scout for the San Diego Padres and Chicago Cubs. “Scouts are always looking for the five-tool player,” Kullman told me. “That’s been consistent over time.” But not all guys have five strong tools and when they don’t, you have to make choices. “There are two things you can’t teach to a ballplayer — running speed and arm strength,” Kullman added. Even with the influx of talent from around the world, there are only so many guys who can play shortstop at the major-league level. If they can post a 125 wRC+, that’s great, but it isn’t a job requirement.

Thursday
A readjustment of the strike zone, back to its 2009 standards, could have an effect on a "thousands of runs" sort of scale: The Commissioner Speaks: Imagining a Redefined Strike Zone – The Hardball Times, by Jon Roegele, The Hardball Times

If the bottom of the strike zone reverted to its 2009 height, this analysis estimates about 1,000 additional runs would be scored over the course of the season. If we augment the 2014 run total by this difference, it brings the runs scored per team per game up from 4.07 to 4.27. Once again, this closely matches the run environment experienced in the league in 2012.

Friday

The bulk of talent at the major league level now lies — to a greater degree than in quite a while — with its young players: Baseball's Kids Are All Right, by Rob Arthur, FiveThirtyEight

Young players have traditionally relied upon their defense to build their value, and this year is no exception. The 24 and under group typically performs anywhere from 100 to 500 runs below average on offense but makes up for it to some extent with 100 to 200 runs from their defense. Less than halfway through this season’s games, young position players have been worth 93 runs defensively. Prorated to a full season, this would be the best defensive performance for that age group since 2001, when the overall value of the youngsters was near its low point.

Except today’s kids can do something those 2001 ones couldn’t: rake. With an average mark of 94.6, young hitters are putting up the best Weighted Runs Created+ (wRC+) since that marvelous 2007 class (which was at 99.2). The average wRC+ is set at 100, so the young players are adding decent hitting to their superlative defense. Much of the hitting stems from a power surge: The young hitters are racking up a slugging percentage of .400, slightly better than the league average of .397.

July 4th projections of teams' records are more accurate than those on opening day (but just barely so): The Variation of All Things, by Matthew Trueblood, Baseball Prospectus

We have here a sample of 90 team seasons, and an opportunity to look at which ended up closer to their preseason projection, and which ended up closer to their midseason one. Of the 90, I see 15 teams whose Opening Day expected win total better reflected their finish than their July 4 projection. By my count, 29 more teams either didn’t see a significant change in expected record over the first three months of their seasons, or ended up with a record more or less halfway between the preseason and midseason expectations. That leaves 46 teams—the slimmest possible majority in this sample—for whom the first half was valuable information, the kind one would be foolish to disregard.

Thank you for reading

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hotstatrat
7/07
Baseball's Kids are All Right was misleading - presenting a graph that only goes as far back as just where the steroids era began to boom. Weighted Runs Created, sure, shows the proportion of runs created by young players has increased - but that doesn't show they are hitting better (or "raking") compared to earlier generations of young players. Plus, a couple of years is not a trend or a new phenomena, it might just be a glitch. Anyway, as some of the commenters eluded to, the steroids era allowed an extrordinary number of hitters have a super-extroridanary post 30 years old career. The report only just confirms that we have returned to normal.