December 30, 2016

Giancarlo Stanton's contract kerfuffle

by Daniel Conmy

Listening to Effectively Wild has become routine in many baseball fan's lives. Sam Miller and Ben Lindbergh banter back and forth about the hypothetical often and leave questions lingering during their show. In episode 998, Miller brought up Giancarlo Stanton's enormous contract  a 13-year/$325 million pact between him and the Miami Marlins. The breakdown of the contract looks like this:

Thanks to Spotrac, we see the breakdown in age, year, and salary. This contract does include and opt-out clause after the 2020 season. Per Fangraphs, Stanton has accumulated $196.7 million of worth since he entered the league in 2010. $44.7 million of that worth has come during the current contract. That's quite a bargain when you look at the relative contract value for 2015 and 2016. In 2017 there is an uptick in salary, but Stanton, based on Steamer, is projected to amass a 4.6 WAR. Yes, projections are just that and the real world can vary much more than a prediction. If Stanton stays in good health, the contract looks like surplus value for the Miami Marlins.

This assumption relies on the lower annual value years from the contract. At $8 million per one WAR Stanton has time, while in his supposed prime, to gather surplus value that might be lost in the later years of his contract. But, this is the issue posed by Sam Miller. The projections expect a relative move back to all-star height, but will Stanton move his value you back up to previous marks?

A larger than life  literally  superstar struggled immensely at the plate last season and there aren't any statistics that are extremely different from Stanton's career averages. One discernible difference is the way pitchers have attacked Stanton. A rise in sliders and curveballs led to diminished value at the plate for Stanton. 23.7 percent of pitches thrown to Stanton were sliders, compared to 19.6 percent through all seven seasons. For curveballs, Stanton saw an increase from 7.5 percent in 2015 to 9.6 percent in 2016  still below the average 10.4 percent in his career.

The difference in attack from pitchers is one that is backed by the numbers. Stanton's career runs above average per 100 pitches against sliders is -0.10. That means Stanton adds slightly below average value against sliders. Every other pitcher, except splitfingers, Stanton has positive value.

In baseball, pitchers and hitters are constantly adjusting to have a slight edge. Pitchers found a weakness in Stanton and exploited it by throwing more sliders. Stanton, if he wants to be revered in the city of Miami as the larger than life superstar, has to make the adjustments to either lay off the low and away slider or somehow do damage on that pitch. 

It's always difficult to justify the large cost in years and dollar amount for a superstar and we already are questioning the likelihood that Stanton will make good on his side of the contract. The first step begins with a better approach on breaking balls.

December 12, 2016

Market explosion for relievers

by Daniel Conmy

In the postseason, Andrew Miller was used in a creative role by Terry Francona. Miller, closer by trade, was openly used in a variety of innings not named the ninth inning. The Cleveland Baseball Team eventually lost to the Chicago Cubs in the seventh game of the World Series, but the creativity of Miller's usage led to wonder if other relievers can hold the same role.

There are two things to look into before we dive into Miller and the eventual three free agent reliever signings.

First, Zach Britton was not used in a one-game playoff by Buck Showalter. That led to an ungodly amount of criticism of not using your best reliever at the most important part of your season. This trigger sent of the baseball community into an outrage. Meanwhile, Miller was being used in a role not in the ninth inning since the trade from the New York Yankees to Cleveland. Terry Francona molded Miller into this role, but Miller also bought into the idea. In a piece written by the New York Times Miller stated his trust in his manager:
"The fact that I came in the fifth is not a big deal," Miller said. "We have a lot of trust in whoever's out there. Tito [Francona] puts guys in good situations. We trust the plan and it's gonna work out."
Miller already received his payday -- something many relievers never see -- and Cody Allen assumed the closer's role. Miller was used as a fireman -- coming in to douse an upcoming rally. This reasoning was critiqued by the baseball community, but the most important constituents are the relievers that just received their enormous paychecks.

Mark Melancon, Aroldis Chapman, and Kenley Jansen all received four- or five-year contracts and below are the contract values:

Name Team Years Contract (Millions)
Mark Melancon San Francisco Giants 4 $62
Aroldis Chapman New York Yankees 5 $86
Kenley Jansen Los Angeles Dodgers 5 $80

Big pay days, right? No one can argue that this is the most a reliever has received as payment since Jonathan Papelbon. The first question that comes to my mind and the mind of many fans is -- will they be worth it?

Everyone speculates wildly about contracts and their worth before players play out their finals days in said deal, instead, let's look into why these players were given large sums of money for such a minuscule amount of time at their position. 

Wins above replacement (WAR) discredits relievers and do not give them their due, therefore, we looked into win probability added (WPA). While WAR is an accumulation statistic, WPA takes context into consideration. This is vital when discussing relievers worth. Relievers are not used in non-consequential situations -- they are deployed when outs are critical. 

Over a 162-game season the results are moot, but the reasoning for this outbreak in money for relievers comes from the postseason. 29 teams saw as Miller dazzled in multiple innings every outing and front offices took note of the competitive reliever market. 

All teams that signed these relievers -- Giants, Yankees, Dodgers -- are likely playoff contenders for the years of each contract. They are not being paid for the saves they collect throughout the regular season, their worth lies solely on their ability to perform where the WPA is highest. Chapman and Jansen were used in that role shortly in their postseason stints, but will it last? How long can relievers go in the postseason before their arsenal is lackluster? We've yet to cross that threshold and it is likely differs from pitcher to pitcher and how each team deploys those pitchers.

Ironically, Chapman blew his opportunity in game seven of the World Series when he allowed a game-tying home run to Rajai Davis. In such small samples -- like one or two innings performances -- pitchers will not deliver the results that are expected. We moved away from the fireman role that Miller is revitalizing, but where is the breaking point when pitchers are less than stellar? Will pitchers be used in more creative roles during the regular season?

These questions and more will be answered in the upcoming 2017 season. Front offices offered plenty of money for necessary arms, but we've seen a competitive Tampa Bay Rays teams in the late 2000's by having players on rookie contracts perform well. The signing of Melancon, Chapman, and Jansen brings less volatility into the back end of each bullpen, but relievers are generally unreliable. 

All these players will bring a positive worth to their team, but the lack of innings needs to be made up in high WPA numbers throughout the length of these contracts.

September 21, 2016

Playoffs be damned

by Daniel Conmy

There is an unspoken irony in American sport that needs to be changed. We wipe out the importance of the regular season in mostly every sport for a wild, random setting called the playoffs. As the baseball playoffs are approaching, it is important to remind everyone that five months of baseball is being thrown out for randomization and for teams, who are not as good as others, to have a chance at the only meaningful accolade in the sport. Some of these teams include the New York Mets, St. Louis Cardinals, and San Francisco Giants.

Economically speaking, it would be idiotic to not have the playoffs. Given the extra revenue from the home games in the playoffs, you could not persuade owners to sign off on this idea. Instead, we are arguing that the not playoff system finds the true champion of the sport. It is not fair to the 2001 Seattle Mariners to say they were not a “playoff” team. They won 116 games in the modern era (Even the 2016 Chicago Cubs, who are arguably a better team, won’t be close to that mark) and were taken out by the New York Yankees in the American League Championship Series (ALCS) in five games.

Shouldn’t the Mariners be celebrated for more than just a team that had the most wins in a season and blew it in the playoffs?

We will return to that questions, but let’s go across the pond and look at how English Premier League Soccer is run. In the Premier League, you play 38 games, twice against every opponent. The winner of the Premier League is based on whoever has the most points at the end of the season. A win is worth three points and a tie is worth one point. Now, we don’t have ties in baseball, we just play extra innings.

There are some complications to this idea and the first being scheduling and set up of the leagues. First, the schedule would have to reflect what is done in the premier league season: the same amount of games against every team. By wiping out the playoffs, this would create the opportunity to play more games in October. Every team would play six games (three at home and three away) against every team. This would create a 174-game schedule and six more home games for every team, which could possibly raise the revenue league wide.

Another obstacle to the Premier League model is the lack of excitement. The Chicago Cubs are far and away the best team in baseball this year. The mix of superb defense and young superstars has propelled them to eight more wins than the next closest team. There will be years where the excitement at the end of the year does not match the excitement that could be created in the playoff atmosphere. I agree with that concern, but most years, the races are a lot closer than the ones we are seeing in the present. In 2015 and 2014 the team with the most wins only had two more than the those chasing. Also, in 2013 the Red Sox and Cardinals had identical records at 97-65. There will be no co-champions in this model, either.

In the case of a tie at the top of the league, there should be a seven-game series. The reasoning for this is that the teams with the most wins are equal opponents and the randomness and fluctuation should not matter given their level of play. Wouldn’t that bring just as much excitement to the season?

I’m sure many of you are cautious or downright disagree with this stance, but it does not seem correct to state that the 2001 Mariners needed an “ace” and that’s why they did poorly in the playoffs. The system I have proposed, following the Premier League’s model, is a fairer system. Yes, there is randomness that occurs throughout a season, but over the entire season you have to sustain a high level of play and that high level of play should be rewarded.

Last year in the Premier League, Leicester City, a cinderella story, sustained the high level of play for all 38 matches and were rewarded the Premier League Championship. If the Premier League followed the example of Major League Baseball (MLB) playoffs, there is no way to say they would make it past the first round. Teams should not have to prove their worth over again for the sake of the spectacle. It seems utterly ludicrous that we wipe away important games because the playoffs are more meaningful. Instead, put meaning back into the full, newly created, 174-game season and watch as the drama will continue to unfold in a new, exciting way. 

September 6, 2016

Brian Dozier has pull power

by Daniel Conmy

We are lucky enough to get the day off on Labor Day, but baseball players are hard at work attempting to push their teams into the playoffs. Other teams are not as fortunate to be in a playoff race. They still play baseball, though, and sometimes it is impressive. Brian Dozier is one of those people we don't pay enough attention to. Before play on Monday, Dozier accumulated 35 home runs and a 5.3 WAR. Those are incredible numbers, so let's look into how Dozier's accomplishments, which are rare for second basemen.

All Brian Dozier does is pull the baseball, but once in a blue moon, he hits one to right field. That one time, Jeff Sullivan of FanGraphs wrote about Dozier's only opposite field home run last year. It was a look at a feat that hasn't been accomplished by the slugging second baseman. To give some perspective on how rare that is, here is a graph of Dozier's home runs this year:

This graphic displays home runs before play on Monday afternoon, where Dozier deposited three more home runs to left and left-center field. There are only two balls right of center field this year. His total has climbed to 38 home runs on the year, a career high, and is approaching the highest amount ever by a second basemen. Davey Johnson in 1973 leads all second basemen with 43 home runs in a single season. With a little under a month left, it is not far-fetched to think that Dozier can make it to 43.

In August, Dozier led the league with 13 home runs and has continued his torrid pace with six home runs already in September. What does Dozier do so well or why do pitchers continue to throw pitches in a zone where Dozier can lift them over the fence? One thing that Dozier has done incredibly well is not miss his pitch.

Looking at his pull percentage on FanGraphs, Dozier has not done anything differently from 2014 on. In 2014, Dozier’s philosophy changed from hitting balls all around the field to hitting over 50 percent of the balls to the pull side. What is being done more successfully is how hard he is hitting the ball. Dozier’s hard hit percentage from 2014 to 2016 has risen by seven percentage points. Since there is a change in his hard hit balls, his home run total has increased as well. It may not be perfect correlation because there are always other factors, but you can assume that the harder you hit the ball, the farther it will go.

Monday, Dozier battled against Ian Kennedy in a 10 pitch at-bat, which ended with a home run. Here are the pitches from that at-bat:

This graph, courtesy of Brooks Baseball, shows that Dozier battled off pitches that he was not able to do damage with. From the graph, you can look at how Dozier only swung at pitches in the zone and was able to lay off of pitches outside the zone, where he could do no damage. Then, Kennedy made a mistake over the middle of the plate:

What we see in the swing above is vintage Dozier -- a pitch middle or a little outside and the Minnesota Twins second basemen decides to be short and quick to the ball. Given Dozier's shorter stature, he does nothing more than barrel the ball. This year is shaping up to be a career year for the 29-year-old, who will likely enter a decline over the next couple years.

While the Twins do not have much to play for in these days of September, Dozier has a legitimate chance to break the all-time home run record for second basemen. We've seen many players decide to only pull the ball this year and focus on hitting home runs. Brian Dozier is one player that has thrived on this type of style and he is continually reaping the rewards, including his first three home run game on Labor Day.

July 27, 2016

Domestic violence and the forgiveness of athletes

by Daniel Conmy

This is a topic that does not get talked about often enough in sports circles. There's probably a rationalization by fans to not talk about domestic violence, but it needs to be in the forefront of conversation. Why? Because we are much more than just fans of a game that has a ball thrown around or hit out of a park. We, as consumer of sport, are much more than our fandom and the players are much more than entertainers.

I cannot stress enough that I have never been in a situation where domestic violence has directly affected me. These opinions are my own and they do not represent any one else's view. I do not have all the information on all the incidents I have or will preface, but what I will look into is the reaction from fans and teams. With that said, let's talk about the issues with athletes and domestic violence.

Aroldis Chapman, was accused of choking his girlfriend and firing eight shots in her general vicinity. Later, no criminal charges were filed. Chapman was suspended by Major League Baseball for 30 games for this incident. From the baseball side of things, Chapman's value was lowered given the suspension, but this is much more than a case of value being lower.

Chapman threw a scoreless, hitless inning for the Chicago Cubs in his first appearance for his new team. Everyone was standing and cheering as they saw the radar light up with numbers above 100. It was a spectacle for baseball fans. No one else consistently throws over 100 mph. Kids were locked in, the crowd reacted with a collective gasp when he hit over 100 on the radar gun. They cheered and the Cubs won the game after the 1-2-3 inning. The fans, who haven't seen a World Series since 1908, went into applause because their team won another game, putting them closer to a playoff spot. In the middle of that was a man who was recently accused of domestic violence.

While I've thought about this at length in discussions with friends, it was never something I thought I could speak on with fervor, but discussion, of any kind, is what is going to make this change. What sparked this internal, and now external, discussion of this topic was highlighted with a tweet by Katie Nolan:

The response is not necessary to look into. What is important is what Nolan states. We look past domestic violence disputes. The amount of times I have seen people calling these females horrific names, stating that this is a "money grab" is atrocious. And we, as a society, have the audacity to put these figures back into the public eye without even bringing it up. Recently, more sports writers are tackling the issues of domestic violence, which is a long awaited step that needed to happen since the start of sports journalism. That's all well and good, but Chapman was suspended for 30 games and then he gets to be back on top of his world. That is not fair or correct. Some can make an argument where the legal system did its diligence and found that nothing happened. You can agree with that sentiment or you can look at the power dynamics in these cases.

It is well known that having a good lawyer or lawyers can get you a better deal or acquitted of any wrongdoing. They are powerful people because of their money and if they get in trouble, they have the financial capability to wiggle around any true punishment. What Chapman did was wrong there's no doubt, but some can argue that it never passed the "alleged" phase, so let's look at a more concrete case of domestic violence.

Jose Reyes, once member of the Colorado Rockies, was arrested in the offseason when Reyes had a physical altercation with his wife. Reyes was suspended until May 31, the equivalent of 52 games. The Rockies made a wise decision and designated him for assignment, although they are on the hook for his $40 million left on his contract. It was a tough pill to swallow, but Colorado was an upstanding organization in this aspect of not tolerating that behavior from its players. The issue? Reyes signed with the big league team he came up with, the New York Mets. Over time, Reyes was back into playing shape and up in the big leagues. This man received a standing ovation. Yes, the fans of the Metropolitans applauded a man who beat his wife in the offseason came back in a time where they "needed" a shortstop like him. That's not to say other fans were upset and booed him, but the fact is this man is playing baseball again with no repercussions other than a slightly damaged public image. 

I hear often that these players "did their time" or they "deserve a second chance," but you can make the argument they do not deserve another chance. Depending on the severity of the violence, the accused can serve no jail time or up to four years of jail time. While I am not proposing that Chapman and Reyes deserved jail time, forfeiting of salary for the allotted amount of games suspended seems weak. 

Unfortunately, as a society, we are not as strict on athletes as we should be. There is a superiority complex that we instill. These athletes are larger than life. Some, like members of the Baylor football team, get help from those higher up to cover up some behavior that could get members of their team jailed for a long time. This is a culture issue in the United States. We do not properly teach these people, who are obviously very talented in some aspect, how to respect another human being. We create monsters that do not think that they can be touched because of their fame and money. It runs rampant on college campuses and most most members of these institutions look the other way because the person being accused might be making that school millions upon millions of dollars. We must be better. We cannot stand for letting those people get off for crimes that severely damage another physically or emotionally or both.

Major League Baseball did what they could, giving Reyes the largest suspension possible given the Collective Bargaining Agreement with the Major League Baseball Player's Association. The fact is, these organizations are a business and they see the valuable asset that performs on the field, but sometimes do not think about the off field issues. What can be done by Major League Baseball organizations is a collective effort to not sign these players. The issue in the present day is your competitor might not have the same morals as you, and they not get a small PR hit, but the benefit of an all-star closer by overlooking the domestic violence incident. Major League Baseball is ahead of the National Football League with their handling of domestic violence, but it is not enough.

Athletes are sometimes immune to the consequences of the dreadful acts they commit. Some get cheered for the rest of their life. The domestic violence gets wiped to the side, the rape accusation gets silenced because an institution pays off the accuser. People point that it is a money grab, but you or I can never project on these victims. It is not our place to say what a victim is feeling or thinking. Be respectful of those in that situation and think before you start cheering for someone with a cloudy past just because they are on your favorite team.

Please, let's change and uphold everyone to a higher standard. 

July 25, 2016

Cubs acquire Chapman, future is still bright

by Daniel Conmy

Chicago saw a World Series victory in 2005, but that was on the South Side. This time around, the Cubs are going all in for the World Series. Tonight, the Chicago Cubs acquired Aroldis Chapman in a blockbuster deal close to the deadline. Sure, the price was steep, but the Cubs are in a precarious position.

As everyone knows, the Cubs have not won the World Series since 1908. Some call it the curse of the Bill Goat. Others still blame Bartman for something that wasn't his fault. Nevertheless, the Cubs know sadness and they might be on the verge of ending that sadness with the fantastic team Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer put together.

The Cubs are trading off future value since Gleyber Torres is the marquee prospect in the trade, but the Cubs time to win is now. Torres, is playing high-A ball in the Carolina League and the major league club has a wealth of infield ability. Along with Torres, the Cubs departed with Billy McKinney, Adam Warren, and a fourth player to be named later. Chicago's one weakness could lie within the middle relief, but they shifted that thinking after acquiring Mike Montgomery from the Seattle Mariners for Dan Vogelbach. To add to the bullpen depth, they have two shutdown closers with Hector Rondon and Chapman.

There's always been concern with the value from a midseason rental, but this move is not for the rest of the season. Given that the Cubs are likely going to keep pace to make it into the playoffs, this is for the playoffs where you can deploy your best relievers with more frequency, The extra days off for travel benefit the elite bullpens, just look at the Royals bullpen last year. The game is becoming an affair between bullpens and it's a wise decision to build up the best one for the playoffs. For example, Chapman threw 4.3 percent of the innings for the Cincinnati Reds in the 2013 season. That would be a foolish investment for the Cubs if he is only throwing that often in the postseason. Given Joe Maddon's forward thinking approach, that probably won't appear as an issue in the postseason.

Beyond Chapman's innings, this is a unique situation for a baseball team. If the Cubs won a World Series in the last few years, many would be calling this trade an overpay, and it still likely is. We have to throw all of that out the window when it comes to the Cubs. They are in a position to end the worst drought in all of American major sports. Taking a chance on one of the best, if not the best, reliever in the game is a no-brainer. Also, this one move does not damage the long term health of the major league roster.

Their farm system is a little weaker after the trade, but prospects have recently been overrated to an extreme. Everyone is looking for the next Mike Trout, but that likely won't exist for a while. To add to that, Chicago has a young, cheap, and controllable core. Yes, Jake Arrieta is up for arbitration starting next year and Jon Lester, John Lackey, and Ben Zobrist all signed healthy offseason contracts, not to mention Jason Heyward. The point being is, Kris Bryant is a young superstar that is filled with other young talent up the middle of the field. No, I did not forget about the all-star at first base in Anthony Rizzo. This is not an overpay for a longshot chance to make the playoffs and blow it up after this year. The Cubs have staying power for the next couple of years and management decided that most important value to receive is present value.

To add on, the price of relievers has gone up astronomically in the past seasons and it start with Craig Kimbrel and Ken Giles this offseason. Make no mistake, the price is steep, but the team to unload prospects is the Cubs.

People will always argue whether or not something is an overpayment,  but if the Cubs win the World Series, no one can argue with the trading of future value.

July 23, 2016

We are watching vintage Votto

by Daniel Conmy

Joey Votto is my favorite player. There's no way I can be impartial with that fact. I rave every day and night when he walks. Many roll their eyes when I say this, but the walk is something so fascinating to me. The value that it can add to the slash line is immense. Walks can only help you in the game of baseball and very few have mastered it like Joey Votto has. What makes Votto so special, though? It's his ability to control the strikezone and force pitchers to make his pitch. Last week, Corinne Landrey wrote at FanGraphs about Joey Votto and the effect of a bad April. Here, we will look at Votto's month to month differences and commentary from other media members.

Before we get into the more stark analysis, Votto is a character in the game of baseball. Some might remember this:

I apologize for the poor .gif quality, but this is Votto facing off against Derek Lowe. Votto through this whole at-bat did not move his feet. This was an incredible plate appearance, which, of course, ended in a walk. Lowe being the usual fast worker was perplexed by Votto's tactics, but later on in the full video, you can visibly see Lowe take his time on the mound. 

We cannot forget the other side of Votto that can be a little angry:

Votto did have a very good argument stemming from a bad strike call. Nonetheless, we have a fun Joey Votto and an angry Joey Votto above us. Some can question what that means, but no one can question Votto's unique ability in the game of baseball. The Cincinnati Reds first basemen can hit homeruns, choke up throughout whole at-bats, and seemingly create a walk out of thin air.

Votto is also a human who had some tough bouts with depression. Mark Sheldon of covered this story in 2009:
"The 25-year-old Votto revealed publicly that he was battling depression, anxiety attacks and issues that finally came to the surface several months after the sudden death of his 52-year-old father, Joseph, in August."
Death is something as humans we all have to deal with, but dealing with it on a very public stage is something that cannot be easy. Teammates are relying on you and you simply cannot be your best for those that are counting on you.

Votto obviously stuck around the game and is crushing it in this very season and it might be because of his idol, Ted Williams. Joe Posnaski of Sportsworld caught up with Votto in more recent years to talk about his hitting approach. In a previous interview with Reds reporter, Hal McCoy, Votto was very excited to have Ted Williams brought up:
"Only then McCoy mentioned how Votto’s hitting approach reminded him of Ted Williams, and Votto’s face lit up. He reached into his bag and pulled out a dog-eared copy of Williams’ classic, “The Science of Hitting.” He carried the book with him wherever he went and memorized entire sections. Votto said that when he was growing up, he had a Ted Williams poster on his wall."
Now that's a fandom. Votto studied one of the best hitters in the game of baseball. He worshiped the Red Sox star and now he's turned himself into a star in Cincinanti, but some fans of the Reds do not appreciate the patient approach. Votto does not let those followers phase him:
"Votto has analyzed the numbers as thoroughly as any hitter in the game, focusing much of his attention on Weighted Runs Created. He has endured injuries and depression and boos and criticism of the very way he plays the game. Through it all, he has continued to work obsessively hard and hit his own way."
It's time to stop romanticizing Votto, but I think you get the point. Votto is a human, with human emotions, that is possibly the best student of hitting we've ever seen. The fascination he has about the game of baseball has rubbed off on plenty of people, including the author of this piece.

Given the long intro, lets now look at how Votto is currently running a 136 wRC+, including yesterday's performance.

In the month of April, Votto was bad. The type of bad where media members write you off and believe you are in your decline phase bad. Votto was running a 66 wRC+ in the month of April and was only walking in 12.2 percent of plate appearances (well below his average, but above league average) and striking out more often than his usual career 19 percent. Then, like most people that have a bad month of April, Votto got better.

In the month of May, Votto was already better than league average with a 113 wRC+. This is only in the month of May, so the sample size is small, but we saw remarkable improvement from the month of April. There was an issue with Votto in April. He was striking out in 29 percent of his plate appearances. To counteract that, Votto hit the ball out of the park nine times. This might please some of those who despise his patient approach, but Votto was still running a .200/.333/.484 slash line for the month of May.

In June, we already reached vintage Votto. Votto ran a 171 wRC+ due to his 20.7 percent walk rate. Yes, Votto did damage with his bat and not looking at pitches throughout the month, but Votto, with his ability to foul off close to every pitch was finally paying off in his season.

In the smallest sample size, July 1 to July 20, Votto posted a 207 wRC+. You guessed it, more walks and the occasional power that seeps into his game, but that is not his strength.

That brings us to July 22. On that day, Votto went 1-3 with a home run and two walks. The home run made it to the highlight reels, but what sticks out in my mind is his two walks.

His first walk of the night is a classic case where a pitcher not wanting any part of Votto:

Four pitches, low and away, to a dangerous hitter. It should be noted that Zac Curtis, Arizona Diamondbacks pitcher, walked Jay Bruce after this, too. Curtis was probably hoping for Votto to chase one of those pitches and get a swinging strike to expand Votto's zone. This walk is probably not the expertise of Votto, but it is a walk nonetheless. And I hate to break it to the reader, but Votto was then intentionally walked in his next plate appearance. 

One of the more impressive things that Votto does is the amount of pitches he sees per plate appearance.

Last night, Votto hit a home run on the second pitch he saw. He then worked an eight pitch line out and a seven pitch flyout. That's 17 pitches in three at bats, which averages out to 5.67 per plate appearance. In 2015, Votto was third best in pitches per plate appearance

What I am getting to is that Votto is one of the more difficult outs in the game. Yes, he will strikeout once every five times he goes up to bat, but it is a grueling process most of the time. Votto has some incredible ability to frustrate opposing pitchers, opposing fans, and even Reds fans. This student of the game is finally back on top of his game and  he continues to keep his amazing approach that he obtained from Teddy Ballgame.

July 19, 2016

Jarrod Dyson did it

by Daniel Conmy

That's right. Jarrod Dyson, outfielder for the Kansas City Royals hit a home run. Not just any home run though. This one was of the four RBI category. Yes, we are talking about the grand slam or, if Papa Johns had it their way, the Papa Slam®. The incessant advertising seen on MLB Network is not the prime focus. Instead we will focus the improbable, and almost impossible stroke from Dyson. 

Before we break down the grand slam in all of its glory, let's look at the Dyson. Dyson is one of very few players that was drafted in the 50th round and made it to the big leagues. In fact, he is the only player other than Travis Tartamella to play in the big leagues from the 50th round of the 2006 draft. Tartamella only played in three games, so it's somewhat a wash to note he made it to the big leagues. What I am saying is that no one really comes out of the later rounds, except for Hall of Famer Mike Piazza in the 62nd round of the 1988 draft among very few others. We are talking about people that do not have long storied careers, but Dyson has made it and continues to stick around in his seventh season. What's his trick? Well, Dyson is incredibly fast and was used as a fourth outfielder for most of his years in the Major Leagues. This year, Dyson has been employed in the outfield more often playing in 63 games. And yesterday we witnessed this:

Your eyes are not deceiving you, that is five foot 10 inch 165 lbs Jarrod Dyson hitting a grand slam in the bottom of the eighth inning in a one-run game. Yes, even your wildest fantasies cannot predict such an outcome, just look at Salvador Perez. Perez cannot contain his excitement in full catcher gear. I don't blame him given the sheer improbability of this hit. This is something he will be telling his kids about. 

Per Statcast, Dyson hit that ball 100 mph at a launch angle of 30 degrees and it traveled a distance of 384 ft. The best launch angles to hit a home run are 25-30 degrees. The crazy thing? This is Dyson's seventh home run of his whole career. In 1388 plate appearances (PA), Dyson has muscled up seven times. That's roughly a home run every 198 PA. To give you some perspective, Barry Bonds hit a home run every 16.5 times he stepped up to the plate. 

This also was in a game where Corey Kluber shut the Royals down for seven innings. Then the Royals jumped on the bullpen for a seven run eighth inning that was capped off by this rare launch off the bat from Dyson. While predicting baseball is becoming more precise, it is always enjoyable to see something unpredictable happen. I think we all look forward to Dyson stepping up to the plate 198 PA from now to give us another home run.

July 15, 2016

Houston pulls the ball

by Daniel Conmy

A couple days ago, I looked into Colby Rasmus, the league's most extreme hitter. Rasmus is a member of the Houston Astros and they are a fascinating team. The Astros have stormed back into the AL West race and stormed into a playoff push for the second half. They were picked by many projection systems as the winners of the AL West and they possibly can do that after a very sluggish start to their season. So, what has led to their success? It's likely scoring more runs than the other teams more often than not, but that's not the type of analysis we are going to do today. Instead, we are just going to look at how much they pull the ball.

Minute Maid Park, home of the Houston Astros, is a very interesting park given they have a high wall in left field that is very close to the field, giving right-handed hitters who pull the ball a short porch. Balls go to die given that Tal's hill is a very long way from home plate. With that in mind, let's look at how much players pull the ball.

Name Pull% Cent% Oppo%
Colby Rasmus 55.1% 26.7% 18.2%
Evan Gattis 50.6% 32.4% 17.1%
Marwin Gonzalez 48.5% 30.0% 21.5%
Luis Valbuena 48.4% 27.7% 23.9%
Carlos Gomez 47.0% 29.3% 23.8%
Jose Altuve 43.9% 36.1% 19.9%
Jake Marisnick 42.7% 30.3% 27.0%
Tyler White 41.8% 35.3% 23.0%
George Springer 41.3% 37.5% 21.2%
Carlos Correa 38.5% 33.2% 28.3%
Jason Castro 38.3% 37.4% 24.4%

These are batters on Houston with at least 100 plate appearances on the year. What we see is a lot of high pull rates. This is usually the norm when it comes to batters. It is easier to pull the ball, but the Astros lead the next team by 1.7 percent. As a team, the Astros pull the ball 44.7 percent of the time when they make contact in the field of play. That's great and all, but does this strategy work? You can argue any strategy works if you perfect it. Within this case and the case with the major leagues, pulling the ball is beneficial when those balls are in the the air. If they are in the air, then there is a chance that the ball goes over the fence. This is where the Astros struggle a little too much. Houston hits the ball in the air 34.4 percent of the time which is 13th best in the MLB. In the last 30 days, the Astros have pulled the ball 47.8 percent of the time, but even less in the air than the 2016 average.

This is not to propose that if they continue to pull the ball even more, they will have more success. This is more a note about the aspects of their field and the players they've decided to scout and bring to their team. Also of note, not all of these hitters are right-handed and, therefore, do not get the same advantages of a short porch on pulled balls. Dustin Pedroia has made a living peppering balls off the Green Monster and Wade Boggs did before him (albeit Boggs was a Hall of Fame player and a left-hander) it would be foolish if the Astros did not take advantage of their home field. After all, they play 81 games a season there.

Dombrowski punts future value for necessary asset

by Daniel Conmy

Drew Pomeranz was traded for minor leaguer Anderson Espinoza in a one-for-one deal between the San Diego Padres and the Boston Red Sox. This deal essentially kicks off trade season, although Red Sox President of Baseball Operations, Dave Dombrowski, made two smaller deals prior to this huge deal.

If this same trade happened before this year, then members of the Red Sox fanbase would be calling for Dombrowski's head, but Pomeranz is a new pitcher. He added a new pitch that essentially puts him back into the starter category. Pomeranz has flourished as a starter this year given his new arsenal, but is he worth a top 20 prospect?

This is not a question that will get answered shortly because Espinoza is an 18-year old pitcher that was pitching for the Greenville Drive in A ball. This is a simple supply and demand function if we want to look at this economically.

The Red Sox were in dire need, and quite possibly still are in dire need, of starting pitching, The market is very thin this year when it comes to quality starting pitching on the trade block. Dave Cameron even recommended that Boston attempts to acquire Jonathan Lucroy to play in that offense where he would obviously flourish. The need was there for an offensive catcher given that the Red Sox catchers have been anemic up to this point. Anyway, since the market was not large, you have to give up more future value then you would like because the demand is high and the supply is sparse.

Another interesting facet to this deal is Pomeranz is very cheap and controllable, thus giving A.J. Preller, San Diego Padres General Manager, more power within the discussion. This is not a rental player for half a season, this is a player that will be a part of the Red Sox until he becomes a free agent in 2019. That is beneficial for the Red Sox, but also a risk.

So, Boston may not exactly be punting all future value because we have no idea what Espinoza will turn into, but Pomeranz has question marks even with his new repertoire. Pomeranz has already thrown more innings this year than he has in his past season in the Major Leagues. Dombrowski clearly is making a decision based on his ability to stay healthy, as well as his repertoire.

As I write this I start to nod my head more and more about this deal. There is too much risk, right? Pomeranz can easily get hurt and break down? Is Dombrowski putting too much faith in just half a season of data? That last question is something we can dive into a little bit in a hypothetical sense.

Let's say I am supposed to take the trash out to the curb every Sunday night, but I forget seven out of nine times. The next time I remember, my roommates are impressed that I remembered to do this chore. I tell them that I will remember from now on because my memory has increased and, therefore, I can remember more things, like taking out the trash. My roommates scoff at this idea and do not believe this change. Why do they not believe me? Well it's probably because they have seen the awful track record laid before them. One Sunday of remembering isn't going to change that.

Dave Dombrowski is believing in that one Sunday and the change in memory. The example could always be better, but Dombrowski sees the benefit of half a season of new data. I definitely say new because Pomeranz did not have a cutter, which he is throwing now. The scouting report is thrown out and Pomeranz is mowing hitters down.

This is not the first Dombrowski trade that has seen valuable minor leaguers traded for a very good major leaguer. In that case, Dombrowski, then General Manager of the Detroit Tigers, traded for Miguel Cabrera. This is not the same type of  magnitude obviously, but Cameron Maybin did not pan out in that trade and Andrew Miller reinvented himself into one of the best bullpen arms who might get traded this trade season. With that said, the Tigers 'won' that trade.

Dave Dombrowski continues to show a willingness to do whatever it takes to stay competitive. While some analytics members of the baseball community might be critical of this decision, Dombrowski is betting on a half-season of great baseball and he could reap the benefits. Espinoza could never pan out into a good pitcher, we just do not know. It is not wise to pin someone as a 'winner' or 'loser' until seven years or so down the road. While we can speculate about the trade, we cannot make any conclusive decisions. The Red Sox are in win-now mode while A.J. Preller and the Padres can take their time to develop their players given their roster.

July 14, 2016

Colby Rasmus is extreme

by Daniel Conmy

When I think extreme, I think of those people jumping off of mountains in those flying suit things.
(Courtesy of Industry Tap)
Yup, that's it. That is something that many people would label as an intense activity. Will I ever do it? Probably not because I don't have a desire to go very fast and possibly die by not properly flying this confusing invention of mankind. What I would do if I had the chance is be an extreme hitter in the Major Leagues.

Unfortunately for some, I will not be indulging into the extraordinary aspect of wing suit flight. For others, that's probably a good thing because I have no formal understanding of these suits. Instead, we will be talking about a Houston Astros outfielder and his extreme tendencies on the baseball field.

I'm sure you could have figured out the individual that this article is written about by simply reading the title line. Colby Rasmus is our subject and he does something more than any other baseball player this year. That is pulling the ball. 

Rasmus pulls the ball 55.1 percent of the time he makes contact on a ball in play. That is an absurd amount of pulled balls. So, lets see his spray chart.

Obviously a big thank you to the FanGraphs spray chart. Rasmus pulls the ball a lot and he makes a lot of outs on the ground and this is a huge problem given his past ability to put the ball in the air. Let's look at this years spray chart compared to what he has done in his past seasons.

Season LD% GB% FB%
2009 19.6% 34.7% 45.7%
2010 19.4% 32.0% 48.6%
2011 16.5% 35.8% 47.7%
2012 20.1% 37.6% 42.2%
2013 22.0% 33.0% 45.0%
2014 23.3% 34.2% 42.5%
2015 20.0% 28.4% 51.6%
2016 24.4% 36.7% 38.9%

From the data, we see a considerable increase in groundballs from last year to this year. The grounball percentage is actually quite close to his averages in the six years prior, but Rasmus was able to pull the ball in the air last year more than he has ever done. Since that was the case, Rasmus hit 25 home runs, a career high, and was worth a modest 2.5 WAR given his ability to launch the ball into the seats and play good defense. This year, we are seeing Rasmus' worst season in terms of putting the ball in the air, 

While Rasmus is not a liability and is a very short investment given that he accepted the qualifying offer, there is always the reason to want more. It might be that 2015 was more of an anomaly and not something that can be replicated. 

The Houston Astros have a positive asset in Rasmus who is pulling the ball more than ever, but he is doing it on the ground at the highest rate in his career. If Rasmus can put some air under the ball again, like in 2015, he can set himself up for a modest payday on the open market next year.