Jacob deGrom’s Run Support Is As Lacking as You Think

Jacob deGrom was his usual sterling self on Wednesday night, striking out nine Red Sox batters against no homers, one walk, and just three hits over his six innings of work. For his troubles, the Mets dropped the game 1-0, leaving deGrom with his second loss of 2021. A month into the season, deGrom now has the same number of losses as total earned runs allowed. He’s upped his Cy Young-worthy game to such a degree that allowing a single run nearly doubled his ERA, from 0.31 to 0.51. And with the Mets’ bats not cooperating, he’s even tried to help his own case, with hits in four of his five starts for a .462/.462/.538 line, though that performance might not continue. It certainly feels like of all the pitchers who have their health, deGrom is the unluckiest in baseball.

The Mets right-hander has never had a poor season, but he’s kicked his career into a new gear in recent years. Since the start of 2018, he sports a very healthy 1.99 ERA, a 2.21 FIP, and nearly 12 strikeouts per game. His total of 20.8 WAR is four more than the next-best pitcher, Gerrit Cole. And though he’s on the wrong side of 30, deGrom has even seen his velocity increase. While that’s not unheard of — Charlie Morton is the most obvious recent example that my brain trudges up — it’s not typical. If the season ended right now, he’d be the only starting pitcher to finish the season with an average fastball velocity of 99 mph of those with 20 innings thrown in a season since 2002. Not bad for a guy who broke into the league averaging 93!

Despite all that good performance, one of baseball’s cruelest stats, pitcher win-loss, has shown little mercy, leaving deGrom with a 27-21 record that looks more like what you’d expect from a good No. 3 starter than an ace. Is deGrom really the unluckiest pitcher in the game, at least when it comes to team support? Read the rest of this entry »

Matt Chapman and the Potential Demise of the Up-the-Middle Hit

A’s third baseman Matt Chapman has had a pretty brutal start to his season. In 96 plate appearances through games played on April 27, he’s slashing just .152/.281/.329 and has struck out more than 34% of the time. His wRC+, meanwhile, is 45 points below his career-average into this year.

Chapman also finds himself atop a leaderboard that would, upon first glance, seemingly lead to success at the plate. Year-over-year, no hitter has increased his Center% — or percentage of batted balls hit up the middle — more than he has, with a rate that has gone up by more than 1.75 times.

Largest Increases in Center%
Player 2020 Center% 2021 Center% Increase
Matt Chapman 29.2% 52.1% 22.9%
Randal Grichuk 24.9% 45.8% 20.9%
Tommy La Stella 32.1% 51.9% 19.8%
Gio Urshela 30.0% 47.4% 17.4%
J.P. Crawford 32.3% 47.5% 15.2%
Aaron Hicks 29.0% 44.0% 15.0%
AJ Pollock 28.1% 42.9% 14.8%
Adam Eaton 35.9% 50.0% 14.1%
Austin Slater 35.9% 50.0% 14.1%
Starling Marte 31.4% 44.4% 13.0%
Among hitters with at least 100 PA in 2020 and at least 50 PA in 2021.

Strikeouts aside, you would think that Chapman should at least be getting some decent batted ball results. More than 52% of his batted balls so far this year have gone up the middle, leading all hitters. Amazingly, though, he has hit the most groundballs up the middle this season without a hit, at 12. That’s right: On twelve different occasions this season when Chapman has hit a ball back towards the middle, it’s gone for an out.

Read the rest of this entry »

Amid Yankees’ Funk, Kyle Higashioka Catches and Surpasses Gary Sánchez

It would be inaccurate to say that the Yankees suddenly have a catching controversy, but only because the situation has been building for years, and already came to something of a head last fall. While Gary Sánchez burst onto the scene a few years ago as one of the game’s top backstops, he has struggled mightily in three years out of the past four, to the point that he started just two of the team’s seven postseason games last October and was nearly non-tendered last December. Amid his latest slump and the team’s ongoing funk, Yankees manager Aaron Boone said on Tuesday that going forward, Sánchez and longtime understudy Kyle Higashioka will share the starting job.

“Kind of we’ll just go day by day,” Boone told reporters. “They’re obviously both going to play a lot. But it will be a day by day thing that I’ll try to communicate as best I can.”

“[Higashioka has] just earned more playing time. Simple as that… His improvements the last couple of years on both sides of the ball have been strong. I think the way he’s played here on the onset of the season has earned him some more opportunities.”

The move has as much to do with ascendance of the 31-year-old Higashioka — a seventh-round 2008 pick who’s spent parts of five seasons at Triple-A Scranton-Wilkes/Barre plus the past season-and-change as the top backup — as it does the ongoing descent of the 28-year-old Sánchez, a two-time All-Star. After a miserable 2020 campaign in which he hit an unfathomable .147/.253/.365 (68 wRC+) with 10 homers and -0.1 WAR, Sánchez showed signs of a bounce back during spring training, and homered in each of the Yankees’ first two games of the regular season against the Blue Jays. He hasn’t homered since, however, and has gone just 6-for-48 with a lone double and seven walks since en route to a .182/.308/.309 (85 wRC+) line, that while his defense has again regressed. He’s hardly the only reason that the Yankees have stumbled to an 11-13 start — they were 9-13 before rolling into Camden Yards for their usual pillaging and plundering — but with Higashioka outplaying him on both sides of the ball as so many of their other hitters have slumped, the time is right for the Yankees to try this. Read the rest of this entry »

Dan Szymborski FanGraphs Chat – 4/29/21

Avatar Dan Szymborski: The appointed time for chat has arrived.

Avatar Dan Szymborski: Also changed my avatar. Some of you were confused why I looked so old at 42. That was the Old Dan Szymborski avatar.

Avatar Dan Szymborski:

Greg: Can Huascar Ynoa stick as a starter? Pretty much fastball/slider only so far.

Avatar Dan Szymborski: I do worry about two-pitch starters. I’ve wanted Kevin Gausman to develop an actually effective breaking pitch for years now to at least a cutter or something.

Avatar Dan Szymborski: Hitters are very adaptable creatures. I’d love if Ynoa’s occasional change was more of a weapon he could use

Read the rest of this entry »

FanGraphs Merch Pre-Orders Ending Soon!

There are only a few days left to get your pre-orders in for new and classic FanGraphs merchandise! Pre-orders will be open until May 1, and all orders will start shipping May 21.

FanGraphs hats, hoodies, and the “Dark Gray FanGraphs T-Shirt” are available for pre-order along with two new shirts designed for us by new site contributor Luke Hooper. Read the rest of this entry »

Eduardo Rodriguez Is Back and More Dominant Than Ever

Eduardo Rodriguez has been one of the vital cogs for the resurgent Red Sox. Sure, Boston’s league-leading wRC+ is the main impetus for the club’s success. But both the starting rotation and the bullpen have been in the top third of the league and Rodriguez has been one of the larger actors of the former’s placement among the league-leaders. Rodriguez has accumulated 0.4 WAR in just four starts and 23 innings of work. He sports a 3.52 ERA and 3.34 FIP despite allowing a gaudy 17.4% HR/FB. The main driver of his results? Not only is he striking out a shade more than 29% of opposing hitters (after posting marks of 24.8% and 26.4% the previous two seasons), his walk rate sits at a sparkling 2.2%. This start is already extremely impressive. But in the context of what he endured in the very recent past, I would say it’s extraordinary.

For those unfamiliar, Rodriguez missed the entire 2020 campaign. It wasn’t due to an elbow injury or shoulder soreness or forearm tightness. Rodriguez suffered myocarditis; a heart condition connected to contracting COVID-19. Speaking to Joon Lee of ESPN, Rodriguez said he could not throw pitches without feeling significant fatigue brought on by the effects of his condition. He was unable to train for three months. This meant that not only did he miss last season but he was behind the proverbial eight ball when it came to preparing for the 2021 season.

Getting back on the mound was an amazing accomplishment alone. Having one of the most dominant starts to the season among all starting pitchers is one of the most surprising developments of the young season. Rodriguez has not just picked up where he left off. He has adjusted his pitch mix and fundamentally changed the method by which he attacks hitters.

His fastball velocity is down a half a tick, despite the league average increasing by half a tick.

But that hasn’t proven to be a problem. As I alluded to, he has made major tweaks to his arsenal in 2021. In his first three major league seasons, Rodriguez leveraged his plus fastball velocity by throwing the pitch about 60% of the time. As the velocity diminished, he began to rely on the pitch less in 2018-19. Now the four-seamer is his second-most used pitch:

Rodriguez Pitch Mix 2021 vs. 2018-19
Pitch Type 2021 Pitch% 2021 SwStr% 2021 wOBA 2018-19 Pitch% 2018-19 SwStr% 2018-19 wOBA
CH 31.2 16.8 .262 21.8 18.7 .294
FF 26.8 18.5 .337 38.1 10.4 .358
FC 20.4 5.7 .350 17.8 7.7 .264
SL 9.0 3.2 .182 5.0 10.4 .537
SOURCE: Baseball Savant

His four-seam usage is down 11.3 percentage points and he is really leaning into his elite changeup, the gem of his arsenal now that he is not a flame-throwing 22-year-old. The pitch has garnered swinging strikes at a 16.8% clip, a monstrous figure given how often he throws it. It gives him a great tool to keep right-handed hitters at bay. Rodriguez, like most, favors the pitch less with the platoon advantage, where he is more egalitarian with his pitch selection. Not only have opposing hitters struggled to make contact with the changeup, but the pitch has allowed just a .262 wOBA in plate appearances where he finishes off the batters with it.

The fastball, his most used pitch against left-handers, is inducing swinging strikes at a 18.5% rate, almost double the league average for the pitch type. Rodriguez’s main two pitches have been excellent in getting hitters to swing and miss. All of the whiffs on his two main pitches are surely a vital factor in adding almost 25% to his strikeout rate. Interestingly he has struggled to see the same swinging strike gains with his other two pitches, the cutter and slider. The slider, which he only throws 9.0% of the time, has allowed just a .182 wOBA despite the lack of whiffs. Such a discrepancy is not likely to hold. The cutter has not been great in terms of either whiff rate or overall production mitigation. And the movement profile of all his pitches is stable across seasons, so the rise in strikeout rate cannot be attributed to deviations in the quality of his stuff. If you look across all counts, there does not seem to be much of a difference between how often Rodriguez gets batters to whiff:

Rodriguez SwStr% by Count
Year 0-0 0-1 0-2 1-0 1-1 1-2 2-0 2-1 2-2 3-0 3-1 3-2
2018-2019 8.7 12.2 13.8 9.6 15.7 10.7 14.9 13.1 10.9 0.0 14.1 12.8
2021 10.1 10.9 14.8 10 12.1 19 25.0 25.0 7.7 0.0 0.0 13.3
SOURCE: Baseball Savant

He has been mildly more successful in two-strike counts. The same is true for more hitter-friendly counts. So what has contributed to large uptick in his swinging strike rate overall? The trick is that he is avoiding these hitter-friendly counts more than ever, bridging the start of plate appearances to two-strike counts more efficiently, which buoys his swinging strike rate on all pitches.

Rodriguez Percentage of Pitches by Count
Year 0-0 0-1 0-2 1-0 1-1 1-2 2-0 2-1 2-2 3-0 3-1 3-2
2018-2019 24.2 12.6 6.2 9.1 10.4 9.7 3.2 5.7 9.3 0.8 2.3 6.5
2021 25.9 13.4 7.9 8.7 9.6 12.2 2.3 3.5 11.4 0.3 0.3 4.4
SOURCE: Baseball Savant

Rodriguez is facing more batters in 0-2, 1-2, and 2-2 counts (31.5% versus 25.2% in 2018-19). His first pitch strike rate is up a couple of percentage points. Batters are seeing ball three on only 5% of pitches against Rodriguez compared to 9.6% before. You cannot throw ball four without getting to ball three, so that fact that this has led to a minuscule walk rate is not surprising in the slightest.

Excising batter-friendly counts is the result of Rodriguez relentlessly attacking the strike zone. In 2018 and ’19 combined, he threw 47.4% of his pitches in the strike zone (49.8% in ’18 and just 45.8% in ’19). That figure has climbed all the way up to 56.9% in his four 2021 starts and is not unique to any count-based situation. He is filling up the zone in two strike counts to the tune of 53.7% compared to 39.5% in 2018-19 per data from Baseball Savant. When even or behind in the count, his zone rate is up to 58.3% from 49.6% in those previous couple of seasons.

He has come back and become a markedly more aggressive pitcher. So far the strategy has worked and helped him get to those precious two-strike counts, a vital step to posting a higher strikeout rate. And by living so often in the zone, hitters are forced to swing at Rodriguez’s offerings more often and rarely get into advantageous three ball counts. His swing rate against is almost six percentage points higher than in previous seasons, with the uptick in swinging strike percentage as a cherry on top. That is some tough sledding for opposing batters, if you ask me.

Eduardo Rodriguez entered 2021 with a completely revamped approach. He has made substantial adjustments to his pitch mix, throwing his signature changeup most often at the expense of his four-seamer, which is probably at least partially the result of a decline in velocity. Not only that, but the degree to which he is taking the initiative and filling up the zone is forcing hitters to swing more, often decreasing the chance they can draw the walk. All the while, he is inducing the highest swinging strike rates of his career.

If that were the end of the story, we would be excited to see what Rodriguez will do going forward, and with good reason. But we know there is much more to it than that. He has made these adjustments after missing the entire 2020 season due to complications from COVID-19. If anyone said they felt confident about what to expect from Rodriguez in 2021, they were lying. To see him back in action and as good as ever — better even — has been one of the most exciting developments of the 2021 season.

A Thursday Scouting Notebook – 4/29/2021

Prospect writers Kevin Goldstein and Eric Longenhagen will sometimes have enough player notes to compile a scouting post. This is one of those dispatches, a collection of thoughts after another week of college baseball, minor league spring training, and big league action. Remember, prospect rankings can be found on The Board.

Kevin’s Notes

John Baker, RHP, Ball State: 9 IP, 4 H, 1 R, 1 BB, 8K

When I saw John Baker’s line from Friday’s game against North Illinois, my first reaction was, “Wait a second, that John Baker?” It feels like he’s been part of the Redbirds’ weekend rotation since the Clinton administration, but in reality he’s a fifth-year senior with 60 games and over 300 innings on his college resume. He’s always been good, earning All-Conference awards and a couple of pre-season All-American mentions while compiling a 3.17 career ERA and more than 10 strikeouts per nine innings. In 2019, he was a 29th round pick of the Marlins; he was overshadowed on that year’s Ball State team by eventual Arizona first-round pick Drey Jameson, who was taken 34th overall. Read the rest of this entry »

Chin Music, Episode 11: Fascinated by This Stupid Baseball Team

Chin Music comes a day early this week due to a scheduled COVID-19 vaccine dose. The co-host chair is considering claiming permanent residency in New York as Sports Illustrated Senior Writer Stephanie Apstein joins me to babble about baseball. We begin by discussing the Dodgers/Padres rivalry, the upside-down AL Central standings, using a home run derby as a tie breaker, and as happens on most shows, a quick check-in on the CBA situation. Then we are joined by Nick Groke, Rockies beat writer for The Athletic, who provides a frank and entertaining discussion of what’s going on in Colorado, from the resignation of GM Jeff Bridich to where we go from here. We finish up with emails on Zack Greinke and how the Astros scandal effects players’ Hall of Fame chances, before delving into Stephanie’s upcoming trip (maybe, probably) to Tokyo to cover the Olympic Games. As always, we hope you enjoy, and thank you for listening.

Music by Mint Mile.

Have a question you’d like answered on the show? Ask us anything at chinmusic@fangraphs.com. Read the rest of this entry »

Effectively Wild Episode 1687: Not Bad, Vlad

Ben Lindbergh and Meg Rowley banter about 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan’s morbid press conference comment, the continued excellence of Byron Buxton, Mike Trout, and Vladimir Guerrero Jr., an early-season dip in infield shifting and an interesting disparity in defensive disparity between the Padres and Dodgers, and Rob Manfred’s comment about sports betting and the pace of baseball. Then they bring on frequent Stat Blast consultant Adam Ott, who’s about to begin a new job as a data scientist in Cleveland’s R&D department, to explain how he got a job in baseball and how to work with baseball data and to deliver an in-person Stat Blast about the most successful pitchers with no outs and a runner on second (plus a bonus Stat Blast about the pitchers with the most career wins after blowing saves).

Audio intro: The Rembrandts, "April 29"
Audio outro: Jackson Browne, "Song for Adam"

Link to Shanahan comments
Link to Buxton’s 5-for-5 video
Link to Petriello on Trout
Link to Trout’s best calendar months
Link to Trout’s best 19-game spans
Link to video of Vlad’s 3 homers
Link to Ben on shifting against righties
Link to Justin Choi on shifting against righties
Link to overall shift rate by year
Link to shift rate against lefties by year
Link to shift rate against righties by year
Link to team shift rate against lefties
Link to team shift rate against righties
Link to Emma Baccellieri on early-season offense
Link to Manfred’s comment at Sportico Live
Link to Craig Goldstein on Manfred
Link to new Pioneer League rules
Link to Adam’s Stat Blast data
Link to career leaders in “stupid wins”
Link to active leaders in “stupid wins”
Link to Adam’s blog post on Opening Day starters
Link to Bill Petti on creating a Retrosheet database

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The Giants’ Rotation Is One of Baseball’s Unlikeliest Success Stories

Like the rest of us, Aaron Sanchez’s 2020 caught him by surprise. A couple of weeks after a September 2019 anterior capsule surgery on his right shoulder — no easy thing to return from as a pitcher — he was optimistic when speaking with reporters, telling them, “I will pitch next year.” But he was non-tendered by the Houston Astros, and as the winter months came and went, he remained unsigned. Then the pandemic wiped out nearly four months of the 2020 season, and by the time baseball returned, teams weren’t in the mood to pay up for the remaining free agents. It wasn’t until February 21 of this year, 552 days after his most recent pitching appearance, that a team finally signed Sanchez to its big league roster.

That team was the San Francisco Giants, for whom Sanchez made his fifth start on Tuesday and threw 4.2 innings of two-run, one-hit baseball that included five walks and six strikeouts. The lack of certainty surrounding both his health and effectiveness entering the 2021 season seemed destined to make Sanchez an odd fit for the team that took a shot on him, but in San Francisco, his kind is actually right at home. The Giants’ rotation is filled with pitchers who have some kind of major injury in their recent history. In many cases, the return from those injuries hasn’t been graceful; some of those pitchers have found themselves moving to the bullpen in an effort to reclaim some of their value. Many were free agents last winter, with no guarantee they’d be given a starter’s job with their next team. Somehow, the Giants built a rotation out of these guys. And a month into the season, that rotation might be the best in baseball. Read the rest of this entry »