On Friday, I wrote a story about a group of bowlers in the city where I currently live. Did you know bowling can be a really, really complex sport? Depending on the event, a lane is oiled in a different pattern, meaning the ball will skid in some spots where it normally hooks and hook where it normally skids. You have to know those patterns, adjust your bowling accordingly, and even change balls when one begins to pick up more oil and whatnot. Imagine if baseball's playing surface were as varied as that; maybe one stadium has gravel down the first- and third-base line, maybe one has a concrete warning track, maybe one has a grass pitching mound. It would be kind of like real-life Backyard Baseball.
Pitchers tend to throw other pitchers more fastballs, but maybe they shouldn't, especially when they're bunting: How to Pitch to the Pitcher, by Patrick Dubuque, Baseball Prospectus
Unsurprisingly, pitches out of the zone are more difficult for pitchers to bunt well than those over the plate; the vast majority of the results are missed bunt strikeouts and fouled third strikes. Less intuitive are two other facts: that low pitches result in less successful bunts overall than high pitches, and all zones in the plate are more or less equal. It is true that high pitches do evoke more pop outs, and slightly more double plays (33, as opposed to 26 low). But this is countered by the fact that low pitches garnered far more strikeouts.
Those purple and blue boxes above are somewhat misleading, because they only include bunt attempts; they do not reflect the rate at which the hitter pulled the bat back and took the ball. Therefore, just as with every other type of pitching, it's best to make the hitter chase as long as you can make sure he will.
It's the second discovery that is the most interesting. Unlike with ordinary pitching, it's not necessary to paint the corners against the bunt-crazed pitcher. Throwing down the middle is only incrementally worse than burying it low and away. It's not what the pitcher does that ends up making the difference: it's how he does it.
Baseball's next frontier might be … Brazil?: Building Baseball's Popularity in Brazil, by Alex Skillin, The Hardball Times
Still, that the Rays and Major League Baseball both have shown serious interest in devoting resources toward developing the game in Brazil demonstrates how much potential young talent the country possesses. The nation's economic growth over the past couple of decades has helped create a wealthier middle class that now has more opportunities and money to pursue interests in a non-traditional sport like baseball. MLB has made Brazil a main focus as the league continues to advance the game's growth internationally.
Scared to trade within the division? Don't be, ya big wimp!: So You've Decided To Trade Within Your Division, by Russell Carleton, Baseball Prospectus
So all told, it is (comparatively) a lot safer to trade to the other league, or at least another division, but even trading within your own division isn't really all that big a deal. Even if the amount of value surrendered is a couple of wins, the likelihood that the team you trade with will be the one that comes back to bite you is relatively remote, to the point that a team would do better to get as much value as it can to ensure it is in the postseason discussion. While the idea that trading within the division does make it more likely the trade could come back to bite you directly, the order of magnitude of the effect is so much lower than other things that a team has to worry about.
A renaissance like we've seen from Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira this season is very rare, but the examples are heartening, at least: Aging slugger and second-half stamina, by Matthew Trueblood, Just a Bit Outside
You don't need me to tell you that Rodriguez and Teixeira sustaining this level of performance is unlikely. It's incredibly unlikely. Two years of nothing followed by a season this good is exceedingly rare, and there's not much evidence (though there is some, as we've seen) that it will hold up. If and when the fountain of youth in the home clubhouse at Yankee Stadium runs dry, the team is going to need continued good work from the likes of McCann, Gardner and Jacoby Ellsbury, plus a bit more from Chase Headley, in order to stay afloat. The odds of those things happening are better, though all of the players I just named are also 30 or older.
This current crop of rookies really is historically excellent, on a scale that only comes every few decades: The Historic Excellence of 2015's Positional Rookies, by Owen Watson, FanGraphs
2015 is good when performance is adjusted for playing time. Really, really good. It's not quite as good as the incredible back-to-back years of 1986 and 1987, however. 1986 featured first-half rookies Barry Bonds (1.8 first-half WAR), Jose Canseco(3.0), Wally Joyner (3.1), Kevin Mitchell (2.1), and Steve Lombardozzi (1.6). 1987 was no slouch either: Devon White (3.8 first-half WAR), Mark McGwire(3.6), Matt Nokes (2.8), and Kevin Seitzer (2.0) led the pack that year for first-half rookies. Those were exceptional classes, and the names associated with them tell us that 2015 being in the same conversation is really something special.
This season is one we should remember for the sheer joy of seeing so many talented young players come into the league at the same time: given the data we've looked at today, it only happens once every few decades. The confluence of a second wild card, many unexpected teams being in the playoff hunt, advanced training regiments, and better scouting have led us to this point. With all likelihood, this season will be one we'll look back on in a few decades with fondness, remembering the many household names that got their start in the early months of 2015.
Adding an ace at the deadline is probably as risky a move as not doing anything at all: What's Happened to Teams That Traded for Aces?, by Jeff Sullivan, FanGraphs
Through this method, I found 22 trades that were made by 21 teams. If that's a little confusing, it's because last year's Oakland Athletics added front-line starters in two separate deals — adding Jeff Samardzija and then Jon Lester. I don't want to bias by double-counting. Of the 21 teams that added good starters, 17 advanced beyond the end of the regular season. Two were eliminated in single-game eliminations. Nine were eliminated in the division series. Four were eliminated in the championship series. Two lost the World Series. Which means that none of the teams actually won the World Series.
It's not that World Series-winning teams haven't added starting pitchers. Last year's Giants swung a midseason trade for Jake Peavy. But Peavy wound up with a below-average FIP and an average ERA. When championship teams have added starters, they've been of the second- and third-tier varieties. The teams adding the big guys have made some noise, but of late they haven't hoisted a trophy.
Curveball spin is better than slider spin! Or more "useful." Basically, it does more to contribute to the pitch's movement: Spin That Curveball, by Jeff Long, Baseball Prospectus
For one thing, these pitches have close to the maximum movement possible because nearly all of their spin is of the useful variety. It would also seem to be plausible that McHugh has a propensity for better command on his curveball than most for a couple of reasons. First his average and max spin readings are fairly close, which indicates that most of his curveballs are spinning at roughly the same rate. Additionally, a high percentage of this spin is causing movement on the pitch, which again would seem to promote consistency. With consistency comes command, and with command comes the ability to throw strikes.
The current correlation between how much a team strikes out and how much it wins is the lowest it has been in quite some time: Getting on the right side of the strikeout scourge, by Chris Teeter, Beyond the Box Score
You can see that there is little difference in the correlations between winning percentage and pythagorean winning percentage. However, you can see that last season, when strikeout rate was the highest since 1916 and walk rate was bottom ten since 1916, had the lowest correlation. Perhaps the rates have gotten too high (and low) to be able to extract as much from team-to-team variation. Yet, in 2013, when K% (19.9) and BB% (7.9%) were not all that different from 2014, we see the second strongest relationship with winning percentage. So it is difficult to know what to take from this other than that there is a decent relationship here.
Due to turnover or bad luck, most GMs don't see many of their international free agent signings reach the bigs: How Many GMs See Their Amateur Free Agents to the Bigs?, by Miles Wray, FanGraphs
Looking at all of the players mentioned in this post, it looks like international amateur free agents are only occasional role players in today's game. Of course, that's really far from the truth — every contender would be crippled if their team was suddenly mandated to be 100% American. What does appear to be true, though, is this: that, as a GM — even as a great GM — it's really hard to stick around long enough to see the players one signed actually thrive in the major leagues. Unless you're Dayton Moore.
Major League Baseball's current TV revenue stream looks to be in decent shape: New Numbers Suggest Cord-Cutting Revolution Not Imminent, by Craig Edwards, FanGraphs
While the Rays are often the butt of jokes for their attendance problems and poor stadium environment, they are much closer to the middle when it comes to ratings and viewers, an indication that the stadium is the problem, not the team or the market. While MLB can broadcast just 15 games per day, the reach of each games is very wide due to each team producing a broadcast of the game. Adding up the numbers from the last graph, there are nearly 2.5 million people watching local baseball on a near-nightly basis. Those figures also do not include the number of people watching games in secondary markets nor do they include the nationally televised broadcasts from ESPN, Fox, FS1, or the MLB Network. All told, there might be more people watching professional baseball every night than the Tonight Show, and baseball fans are watching for three times as long. As long as the current cable model is alive, baseball should continue to see large local television deals. However…
The #YearOfTheRookie isn't all sunshine and flowers and puppies and happy feelings. Take shortstop offense, for examples: Shortstop offense is at its worst since 1989, by Shawn Brody, Beyond the Box Score
As you can see, not only are shortstops producing some of the lowest offensive levels since the end of the Cold War era, they also are challenging catchers—a position with a much greater defensive requirement—for the lowest percentage of players above league average offensively. Also notice that shortstop wOBA and league average wOBA trend closely for most of the time period. However, while league average wOBA has increased in 2015, shortstop wOBA has plummeted this year. So why might this be, and what does it mean for teams and shortstops, alike?
The cause of the offensive decline is likely more obvious than you might think. Simply put, we are beginning to see the next new batch of Major League shortstops cycle into the game—and with that comes the offensive adjustments needed to stay at the MLB level. When you think about how many shortstops there are in the game of baseball today that have played fewer than three years in the Majors, it can only mean a bright future is ahead.