Monday, May 1, 2017

All Future Posts Are Being Moved To

Thanks to everyone who followed along during my time at blogspot!!!! However, all future blogs will now be posted at 

In the meantime please enjoy this video of Pablo Sanchez beating the absolute shit out of a baseball.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Chris Devenski Is Andrew Miller On Steroids (And A Discussion On When Teams Should Use Their Best Relievers)

I had never heard of Chris Devenski until this year. There may be a lot of baseball fans who still don't know who he is. In order to catch you up to speed here is what you need to know:

--He was a 25th round pick by the White Sox in 2011 who was traded to the Astros a year later as the "player to be named later" in the Bretty Myers deal.

--He reached the majors as a 25-year-old in 2016 and finished fourth in the American League Rookie of the Year voting. His 2.16 ERA led all AL pitchers who threw at least 100 innings.

--Devenski made 48 appearances last season, which included five as a starter. Once he became a full time reliever in the second half he threw 49 2/3 innings and struck out 57 with a sub 2.00 ERA.

Basically he's a pretty good reliever. So what? There's plenty of those in the majors these days. That's true, except Devenski isn't your typical relief pitcher - at least not the way he's being used right now by Astros manager A.J. Hinch. I want to call him the next Andrew Miller but even that isn't a perfect comparison. Here's Devenski's game log so far in 2017. Notice how many innings he's pitched in each appearance:

The Astros are a very analytically oriented club so they are subscribing to the theory of using your best relievers in the game's biggest spots regardless of the inning. And whether or not you buy in to advanced stats the thought process is hard to argue with.

So this begs the question - when should baseball teams use their best relief pitcher? Traditionalists will tell you to save him for the ninth inning since those are "the three toughest outs to get". In a sense this is true. The final three outs of a ball game are when every batter is locked in and all the fans/media are watching closely. But what if the opposing team has their 7-8-9 hitters coming up to bat in the ninth and you have a three run lead? Is it worth using your best reliever in this spot? If it's a must win game, sure, but we don't want to fall into the trap of having to use your best bullpen arm in the ninth just because it's the way we've always done it. 

I'm going to use my favorite team, the Red Sox, as an example here. Let's say it's the eighth inning and the Sox have a one run lead against the Orioles. Coming up to bat is the heart of their order including Manny Machado, Chris Davis, and Mark Trumbo. Should Boston use their perfectly fine set up man Matt Barnes, or their dominant "closer" Craig Kimbrel? Traditional baseball wisdom would have you use the set up man since it's the eighth inning, but that would mean Barnes would pitch against the Orioles' best hitters while (assuming all went well) Kimbrel would get the bottom of the order. That doesn't make sense. If Kimbrel is Boston's best reliever, and if in this particular game the eighth inning happens to be the highest leverage spot, shouldn't the Red Sox use him then?

Of course, not every example is going to be that cut and dry. The point is not just to use your best arm against the opponents best bats. The point is that teams should be open to thinking differently when it comes to bullpen usage. But each team is different. Some have three great relievers while others only have one. Part of what makes the Indians so dangerous is they can use Andrew Miller in the earlier innings and still hand the ball off to a dominant Cody Allen in the ninth. During the first few weeks of 2017 Houston appears to have a similar luxury, with Ken Giles typically handling the ninth while Devenski filling in wherever he's needed.

All this bullpen usage theory has gotten me away from celebrating the great Devenski. Through 13 1/3 innings he has a 1.35 ERA with 25 strikeouts and just one walk. Essentially the Astros are using him the way the Indians used Andrew miller last post-season. They'll bring him in to pitch in high leverage situations (whether it's the fourth inning or eighth inning) and they'll ride him for multiple innings. The only difference is that Devenski was a starter so recently that he can go four innings on a day if need be. Right now he is on pace to throw around 120 innings out the bullpen, which is very out of the norm for relief pitchers. But that's why Chris Devenski isn't your typical reliever. He's Andrew Miller on steroids.

Takeaways From A Wild Weekend Against The Orioles

--Let's get right into the biggest story of the weekend, which was the fallout from Manny Machado's hard slide into Dustin Pedroia Friday night. There's already been a lot said and written about this so I don't want to spend too much time on the matter. My thoughts are that Machado was definitely intending to slide hard into second base. However, he was definitely not trying to cleat Pedroia, as evidenced by how he immediately went to help him up. I think what happened was that he slid harder than he wanted to, realized he had come in too hard, and then went to help Pedey up.

--Still, Machado slid hard at one of our best players so he deserved to get beaned in the ass. Or in the shoulder. Not the head. Absolutely not the head. Maybe Matt Barnes' pitch slipped a little but he definitely shouldn't have done what he did. On one hand good for Matty B for protecting one of his best players. He just should have been smarter about where he was throwing the ball. On the other hand if you're the Orioles you're now going to be seeking revenge. Baltimore comes to Fenway a week from today, Monday May 1st, and I have a feeling we haven't seen the end of this drama yet.

--What is getting lost in yesterday's fiasco is how well the Red Sox played. Markus Lynn Betts continued his streak of hitting homers at Camden Yards and Hanley Ramirez finally hit his first of the season, but the day belonged to Andrew Benintendi. Benny Baseball became the youngest Red Sox player since Tony Conigliario in 1967 to record five hits in a game. Benny went a perfect 5-for-5 (all singles) to raise his batting average on the year to .347 (!!!), which is good for fourth best in the American League. Even more impressive right now is his .415 on base percentage. I cautioned fans after his Opening Day homer to temper expectations from him in the power department. Well he hasn't homered since but that's alright. The contact skills and batting eye are legit. So far Benny is rewarding manager John Farrell's faith to bat him second at just 22 years old.

--On the pitching side of things, the Barnes/Machado incident overshadowed a brilliant start by Eduardo Rodriguez, who threw six shutout innings with seven strikeouts. This outing was particularly impressive since the left handed Rodriguez was dealing with a murderers row of right handed Baltimore bats. This was easily Fast Eddy's best start of the year and his ERA on the season now sits at 3.12 to go along with 22 strikeouts in 17 1/13 innings pitched. The concern for him right now, other than continuing to develop a reliable third pitch, would be the 12 walks he has allowed. I'm skeptical as to whether or not he will ever become a top of the rotation starter, but if he gets the walks under control the upside is immense.

--It would have been interesting to see what Chris "Best Pitcher in the American League" Sale would have done had he been starting over the weekend. He's intense enough to plunk Machado but also seems like the type who would prefer to just strike him out three times. Regardless Sale has been even better than we could have hoped for so far in 2017. Last Thursday afternoon he dominated a pathetic Blue Jays lineup for eight shutout innings while racking up 13 K's. Through his first four starts as a Red Sox Sale has pitched 29.2 innings while giving up just three runs (0.91 ERA) and has struck out a league leading 42 batters. His 0.71 WHIP ranks second in the majors and only Mike Trout (1.9) has accumulated more WAR than Sale so far (1.8) according to baseball-reference.

--I have zero problem with Farrell pulling Sale after 102 pitches against the Blue Jays on Thursday. We want him fresh come October and he was handing the ball off to one of the best relief pitchers in baseball so far in 2017. Many fans were nervous about Craig Kimbrel entering the year. How could you not be after he walked 5.1 per nine in his first season in Boston? Yet through his first 9 1/3 innings Kimbrel has been dominant this year. He has a 1.93 ERA with a 17-to-2 strikeout to walk ratio. His 1.9 walks per nine right now would be the best of his career if the season ended today.

Random Stuff:
--I want to take a moment to recognize the job done by manager John Farrell thus far this year. Farrell receives a ton of well deserved shit from fans and the media year after year. No, he is not a great (or even good) in game manager, but so far I think he's managed the bullpen very nicely. For the most part Matty B and Heath Hembree have been used in the right spots to close the bridge to Kimbrel. 

--David Price is scheduled to throw a 45-50 pitch bullpen at Fenway on Monday. He's going to be taking breaks in between to simulate an actual start and if all goes well the team will design a plan for him to start pitching in rehab games. We aren't out of the woods yet but if this session goes well we should receive an actual timetable for his return to Boston. 

--The Sox now return to Boston for a 10 game home stand against some good competition. They'll face the Yankees three times, the Cubs three times, and the Orioles four times. Through 19 games the Sox have a record of 11-8, but we'll know a lot more about how good we are after this week and a half.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Quick Reactions To Madison Bumgarner Is Going To The Disabled List For The First Time In His Career

Maybe we shouldn't be surprised that the Giants' season is already going down the drain. It's an odd numbered year after all. Since 2010 the Giants have won the World Series that year, in 2012, and in 2014. They have missed the playoffs altogether in 2011, 2013, and 2015. Last year, in 2016, the team made the post-season, fell down two games to none to the Cubs, won game three, and came within a game four bullpen meltdown to forcing game five. The formula has always been the same. Posey + Pitching = Championships. While the Giants still have Posey and some decent pitchers, losing one of baseball's five best starters might be too much to overcome.

This injury marks Madison Bumgarner's first ever trip to the disabled list. The fact that it happened as a non baseball related injury shows how durable he's been over the years. In every season from 2011 through 2016 MadBum made at least 31 starts while pitching over 200 innings. That type of workhorse ace just doesn't exist in 2017. Throughout the years no matter what else was ailing the Giants they could always look towards giving the ball to Bum every five days.

What should have San Francisco most concerned is the type of injury Bumgarner is dealing with, which is the AC joint in his shoulder. The problem with shoulder injuries is they tend to be unpredictable and are often re-aggrivated down the line. That means that even if Bum returns in his six to eight week projection, there could be setbacks.

Right now the Giants are just 6-11 and find themselves in last place in the National League West. If they remain out of contention as Bumgarner's return nears they should keep him out even longer. Bum is just 27 years old and the last thing San Fran wants is for this shoulder to become a problem in 2018 and beyond. Unless they feel like they have a real good shot at the playoffs this year they should operate as cautiously as possible.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

BRYCE HARPER IS OFFICIALLY BACK!!! (With Some Advanced Stats To Prove It)

Well we are not even three full weeks into the 2017 season and it seems like we can already declare that Bryce Harper is BACK. Last night Bryce had one of those games where he reminds you of how he became the youngest unanimous MVP in the over 100 year history of Major League Baseball. Bryce went 4-for-4 with two home runs, a double, five RBIs, a walk, and three runs scored as the Nationals beat the piss out of the Braves 14-4. It's been the continuation of a three weak tear for Harper that began in the very first game of the year.

Bryce Harper on Opening Day:
2013: 2 home runs
2014: N/A
2015: 1 home run
2016: 1 home run
2017: 1 home run

His incredible month of April continued on Easter Sunday when he came up to bat with two on and two outs with the Nationals trying by one. Bryce then did this:

We know Harper was disappointing last year following his MVP performance in 2015. I'll be the first to admit that Bryce rubs a lot of people the wrong way so everyone wanted to jump onto the bandwagon of this meaning he was a flash in the pan or that he couldn't live up to the hype he had set for himself. But for the millionth time let's take a look at what happened last year:

He began 2016 on a hot streak similar to what he's doing right now. Through his first 15 games he hit .321 with eight home runs and 22 RBIs. If anything he was performing even better than the year prior and he had idiots like me declaring he had won the Trout versus Harper debate. He was so good that the Cubs wanted absolutely nothing to do with him during a four game series in May where they walked him 13 times. Baseball hadn't seem someone get that type of respect since Barry Bonds. And then...nothing. The production just stopped. Harper became a shell of himself and finished the year with a .243 batting average and just 1.6 WAR.

So what happened? Were the haters right? Well if it his start to 2017 is any indication it looks like he was just playing hurt. It came out once during the season and then again this off-season that Bryce was dealing with a shoulder injury suffered mid way through last year, which just so happens to be around when he started struggling. Hmmm. What do shoulder injuries do to a hitter? They affect a hitter's ability to hit the ball hard that's what. So let's look at a stat called soft contact percent, which is exactly what it sounds like. It measures how often a hitter makes soft (weak) contact on a batted ball.

For some perspective, in Harper's MVP season he had a soft contact percent of 11.9 according to FanGraphs. That number rose to 19.8 (!!!) percent in 2016. For his career, including when he played through this shoulder injury, Bryce's soft contact percent is 15.0. So what does that mean? Well for one it likely proves he was playing hurt during the second half of last year. If you want to tell me he regressed a little after 2015, well I can buy that too. His breakout season was so good it would've been tough to repeat it. But what you cannot tell me is that his soft contact percent rose that much for no reason. There was something else going on and the timing of the shoulder injury makes too much sense. 

Fast forward to this year. As stated earlier Bryce is off to a scorching hot start. Through 14 games entering Thursday night he is slashing .404/.516/.846 with six home runs and 18 RBIs. His 1.3 WAR according to Baseball-Reference ranks second among position players. Just to make sure everyone is reading that triple slash line correctly, yes, that means Harper has gotten on base over 50% of the time so far. And how should we know he's "back" as opposed to just having a couple of good weeks? His soft contact percent this year is 7.1. Freed of last season's shoulder injury he is making weak contact at a rate even lower than his unanimous MVP winning 2015. It's official, Bryce is back.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Chris Sale Is Back To Striking Batters Out And It's Glorious

Chris Sale had a weird season in 2016. On the bright side, he finished with career highs in games started (32) and innings pitched (226 2/3). However, the increased durability resulted in a lot fewer strikeouts and his rate stats fell drastically.  After leading the league in K/9 in both 2014 (10.8) and 2015 (11.8) that number dropped to 9.3 last year. Often times a decrease in strikeouts, combined with a drop in velocity, could mean a pitcher is headed for a decline.

But that was not the case for the best pitcher in the American League. It turns out that Sale's strikeout numbers were actually down on purpose. It was part of a plan developed by Sale and White Sox pitching coach Don Cooper to allow the ace to pitch deeper into games by having easier innings. The thought process made sense - Sale was 27 at the time and had four seasons under his belt as a starting pitcher exerting maximum effort during every at bat. By making a conscious decision to pitch more to contact by pounding the strike zone he would be able to save some bullets for the playoffs.

The plan worked, and actually had an unintentional consequence that could help Sale have a career year in 2017. While Chicago wasn't able to reap the rewards in the playoffs the experiment gave him another method of attacking hitters. Throwing hard and striking batters out can only work for so long. Eventually a pitcher's velocity will decline and if they haven't learned other ways of pitching to batters then they are not going to have success into their 30s (think Tim Lincecum).

But so far in 2017 Sale is not there yet. His velocity is back and with it so are the strikeouts. In 21 2/3 innings this year he has struck out 29 while recording a 1.25 ERA. He has already complied two games of 10+ strikeouts, which represents half of his total from a year ago (when he did not record his first double digit strikeout game until the beginning of August). 

This means we are witnessing prime Chris Sale right now. So far he has been able to both strike guys out and go deep into games. He has the stuff to get a K when he needs it, yet has also learned to pitch to contact if his pitch count is getting high. And sometimes even when he's "pitching to contact" he'll strike guys out because his stuff is that good. Chris Sale is not back to being his old self - he's the best version of himself we have ever seen.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Eric Thames Is The Story Of The 2017 Major League Baseball Season (So Far)

What Eric Thames is doing right now is fucking nuts. Through just 12 games entering Tuesday night he is batting .405 while leading the league in home runs (7), runs scored, slugging, OPS, OPS+, and total bases. You may remember him from his first stint in Major League Baseball with the Blue Jays and Mariners in 2011/2012. In those two seasons Thames was a free swinger who compiled 175 strikeouts compared to just 38 walks. He had power, no doubt, but that type of strikeout to walk ratio is practically impossible to sustain for a big league hitter. 

Following a 2013 season spent in the minors Thames asked for his release and then went to play in Korea for three years. In this USA Today article he credits the Korean league for teaching him plate discipline as well as teaching him the mental side of baseball. It's a cool story of the transformation from a major league castoff to becoming a Korean superstar that earned him the nickname "God". In three seasons in Korea Thames batted .348 with 124 home runs. In 2015 he hit 47 long balls while stealing 40 bases and won league MVP honors. But most importantly he began walking at much a higher rate while striking out at a much lower one.

We have just two weeks of data to go off of, but so far there are two advanced metrics that really highlight how good Thames has been. The first one is isolated power (ISO). You can read more about it here but what you need to know is ISO measures how many extra bases a player averages per at bat. Basically, it tells you whether or not a player is a legit power hitter. Typically a good ISO is anything above .200. In 2016 David Ortiz led baseball with a .305 ISO. For more historical perspectives Babe Ruth had a .473 ISO in 1920 and Barry Bonds had a .536 ISO in his 73 homer 2001 season. Entering Tuesday night Thames has an ISO of .595.

That number will regress. Unless we are witnessing the craziest baseball story of all time then Thames is not a Hall of Fame player, or even an MVP caliber one. Instead the reason I point out this stat is to show how dominant his first 48 plate appearances of the season have been. Pitchers will adjust to him and that ISO will come very much back down to Earth. It will then be up to Thames to adjust back to how guys pitch him. But there's another stat that shows his success so far is much more than just a fluke.

This stat is even more nerdy and FanGraphs has a full breakdown of it here but it is called Z-Contact% and it measures how often a batter makes contact on pitches he swings at in the strike zone. Cruising the leaderboards of this stat you'll find a lot of line drive type hitters with good bat on ball skills such as Mookie Betts and Joey Votto. Think the opposite of what Chris Davis of the Orioles is. What you don't see on that leaderboards list are players with a .595 ISO (okay fine that ISO won't last but the point is you don't see big time power hitters on this list).

Entering Tuesday night's game Thames ranked 28th on the Z-Contact% leaderboard, which signals a massive improvement in strike zone judgement and contact skills from his first stint as a big leaguer. Basically when he swings at a pitch in the strike zone he's making contact. And when he makes contact he's going for extra bases. That's what happens when you combine his Z-Contact% with his isolated power. And remember that ridiculous strikeout to walk ratio he had back in 2011 and 2012? Well so far in 2017 he has struck out 11 times and has taken five free passes. It's not elite, but it's pretty damn good. 

If Thames was just hitting for power or only showing improved contact skills, then his contract would still be a success for the Brewers. He is owed $4 million this season, $5 million in 2018, and $6 million in 2019. He also has a $7.5 million player option in 2020 that at this rate he won't be picking up. Thames is 30 years old right now, which means he will be entering his age 33 season at the earliest when he reaches free agency. That's a long ways away so he may never be properly compensated for how well he's playing right now. Then again it's only April 18th. Like I mentioned earlier pitchers are going to adjust to him. What is going to separate him from being a flash in the pan to a star in this league is whether or not he adjusts back. His newfound contact skills give him such a high floor that I'm betting he'll do just fine.