FanGraphs Audio: Rachael McDaniel Is Prepared to Fight You

Episode 864

Rachael McDaniel, the new managing editor of The Hardball Times, joins the program to discuss Vancouver B.C., knitting, and the Blue Jays. We also explore Rachael’s approach to editing and vision for The Hardball Times. We then spend a little time on baseball brawls and feelings, and contemplate a few recent instances of baseball men behaving a bit badly.

If you would like to pitch new work to Rachael, please email an outline of the piece you’re interested in writing, along with links to examples of your prior work, to

Don’t hesitate to direct pod-related correspondence to @megrowler on Twitter.

You can subscribe to the podcast via iTunes or other feeder things.

Audio after the jump. (Approximate 47 min play time.)

Is Popup Rate a Skill?

When I wrote about Mike Soroka this week, I mentioned that he’s one of the best players in baseball at getting popups. Nearly 20% of the fly balls opponents have hit against him have ended up in an infielder’s glove, one of the best rates in baseball. It’s clear that this is a valuable skill for the Braves — a fifth of Soroka’s fly balls are automatic outs. But there’s a follow-up question there that’s just begging to be asked. Does Soroka have any control over this? Do pitchers in general have any control over how many popups they produce?

This is the kind of question where it’s important to know exactly what you’re asking. FanGraphs has a handy column in our batted ball stats, IFFB%, that looks like it cleanly answers what you’re looking for. Be careful, though! IFFB% refers to the percentage of fly balls that don’t leave the infield, not the percentage of overall balls in play. Let’s use Soroka as an illustration of this, because his extremely high groundball rate will make the example clear. Take a look at Soroka’s batted ball rates this year:

Mike Soroka’s Batted Ball Rates, 2019
2.97 22.0 58.4 19.7 17.6 2.9

Soroka allows 19.7% fly balls, of which 17.6% are infield fly balls. In other words, roughly 3.5% of balls put in play against Soroka this year have been popups. For me, that helps contextualize what we’re talking about. Lucas Giolito has the highest rate of popups per batted ball in the major leagues this year among qualified starters, a juicy 7.4% (in a lovely bit of symmetry, teammate and other half of the Adam Eaton trade package Reynaldo Lopez is second). Eduardo Rodriguez is last among qualified starters at 0.5%. There’s a spread in how many popups players allow, but it’s not enormous.
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Saberseminar Is Back — Get Your Tickets Now!

If you read FanGraphs regularly, you’re probably already familiar with Saberseminar, the annual weekend event that puts you up close with some of baseball’s top coaches, statisticians, scouts, doctors, and scientists. Officially titled Sabermetrics, Scouting, and the Science of Baseball, the event always boasts an incredible lineup; you can view last year’s speakers here.

This year’s seminar will take place August 10 and 11 at Boston University. And while the exact agenda is still being finalized – baseball folks are so busy! – the organizers have shared a few highlights, which include:

  • Research symposiums on defensive evaluation, physics, pitching, biomechanics and health, free agency and economics, game strategy, and more!
  • Over 25 research presentations.
  • The second annual presentation of Saberseminar’s scholarship awards to women and minority students aspiring to front office roles.
  • A live recording of Effectively Wild.

Early ticket pricing ends Saturday, June 15, with regular ticket sales starting June 16. Tickets, including discounted student tickets, can be purchased here.

And as if a weekend of nerdy baseball fun isn’t exciting enough, you’ll also be supporting a wonderful cause, as proceeds from the event will be donated to the Angioma Alliance.

We’ll keep you posted as the agenda is finalized and we confirm which FanGraphs writers will be in attendance. We’ll also have details on our annual Saberseminar Eve meetup soon.

In the meantime, take advantage of the early ticket pricing, and start looking forward to a great event!

Kiley McDaniel Chat – 6/12/19


Kiley McDaniel: Hello from ATL where Scout is passed out next to me from a busy day of napping. Some quick self-promotion before we get started


Kiley McDaniel: Last week was draft week! You can find all the draft content in the widget on the home page or our up to the second rankings of everyone and everything at…


Kiley McDaniel: we’re rolling out some of our favorite clips of draft video at our instagram @fangraphs but my personal favorite is also on twitter: Zach Thompson’s 3000+ rpm curveball:


Kiley McDaniel


One of the coolest clips we got this spring was Cardinals 1st rounder Kentucky LHP Zach Thompson throwing a 3000+ rpm hook in warmups. Look at the wrist action.
11 Jun 2019

Kiley McDaniel: and lastly, so those interested, we have a new top 100 and all the team lists have movement, graduations taken off, draft (all top 10 rounders or confirmed later signs) are added. I would guess that comes out this week since we’re just doing clerical stuff now like filling out blurbs and whatnot. Possibly Monday.


Kiley McDaniel: Eric is at PG National this week and I’ll be hitting the summer circuit starting a few weeks from now, so if you’re 2020 draft curious, peek THE BOARD for updates as we learn them,1…


Kiley McDaniel: to your questions:

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Job Posting: Detroit Tigers Baseball Operations Data Engineer

Position: Data Engineer, Baseball Operations

Location: Detroit, MI

Job Description:
The Data Engineer, Baseball Operations will be responsible for working closely with the Analytics team to maintain the data infrastructure supporting internal baseball systems, reports, and procedures.

Key Responsibilities:

  • Design, maintain, and support data warehouses for reporting and analytics within Baseball Operations.
  • Automate and optimize data workflows and pipelines.
  • Document, troubleshoot, and resolve issues with Baseball Operations data processes.
  • Understand and document data structures, format, definitions, and content of internal and external data feeds.
  • Develop data quality assurance tools to ensure data integrity and system performance.
  • Collaborate with other members of the Baseball Operations team to develop best practices for storing and retrieving baseball data.
  • Recommend new tools and techniques for collecting and processing data.
  • Complete ad-hoc database queries and analysis as directed.

Minimum Knowledge, Skills, and Abilities:

  • 3+ years of related work experience with data management and infrastructure.
  • Degree or equivalent experience in Computer Science, Information Systems, or related technical field.
  • Strong passion for baseball and robust understanding of current baseball research.
  • Expertise with SQL and relational database concepts and design.
  • Experience ingesting and transforming data from a variety of sources and formats.
  • Experience with at least one programming language such as C#, Java, Python, or similar.
  • Experience with R, Shiny, Plotly, or ggplot is a plus.
  • Ability to communicate complex concepts to colleagues possessing a wide range of backgrounds and perspectives.
  • Willing and able to relocate to Detroit.

To Apply:
To apply, please complete the application found here.

The content in this posting was created and provided solely by the Detroit Tigers.

Edwin Jackson and the Abyss

Editor’s note: Brendan has previously written at Baseball Prospectus, The Athletic, and Lookout Landing. He’ll be contributing to FanGraphs a few times a week, and we’re excited to welcome him.

Edwin Jackson is not pitching well. He’s running an 11.90 ERA, with a FIP north of eight and a DRA above 12. Toronto, deep into their rebuild, has no long-term attachment to Jackson, who at 35 years old was never going to be more than a placeholder. Despite everything, Jackson is still scheduled to start today against the Orioles. When asked why, Blue Jays manager Charlie Montoyo quipped “we don’t have anybody else.”

Obviously, that’s not the nicest thing a manager has ever said about his player. It’s more resemblant of Leo Durocher lamenting that his “center fielder can’t catch a f–king ball” than the polished schtick contemporary skippers feed to the local media. It does, however, convey how ineffectively Jackson has pitched in Toronto this year.

The famously nomadic right-hander is on his 14th big-league team. Rachael McDaniel covered some of the more romantic parts of that journey after his first start, a perfectly cromulent five-inning, three-run outing. Since then though, the wheels have fallen off:

Jackson’s Last Four Starts
Opposition IP Runs Strikeouts Walks Home Runs
Boston 5 6 4 1 1
San Diego 4 7 2 1 3
Colorado 2.1 10 4 3 1
New York 3.1 6 3 2 2

Clearly, his opponents have been strong; few pitchers would get through that gauntlet without fluffing up their ERA at least a little bit. One of those starts was in Coors. But even accounting for a small sample size and tough competition, Jackson’s numbers are ghastly. If anything, the stats at the top of the page undersell just how freely hitters are teeing off. Collectively, they’re batting a Bondsian .383/.442/.787. Opponents are hitting .394 on balls in play, which is amazing because they’re not exactly limiting their hard contact to singles and doubles. Among pitchers who have thrown more than 15 innings, Jackson’s 3.66 HR/9 ratio is the second worst in the league.

What makes his collapse so spectacular is not the raw numbers, but the baseline it stems from. Jackson pitched just fine last season: his 3.33 ERA looks a bit rosy relative to his peripherals, but a 4.65 FIP across 92 innings isn’t nothing, particularly for a guy Oakland signed off the scrap heap.

At a glance, not much looks different this year. He’s still averaging a little more than 93 mph on his fastball, as he has for the last two seasons. He’s neither added nor subtracted a pitch, and his mix looks just about the same as it did in 2018. He’s still generating the same number of groundballs as ever.

But baseball is a hard game and there’s a very fine line between adequacy and the abyss. While there could be an infinite number of factors plaguing Jackson this season, two small ones stand out.

The first is velocity. While Jackson is throwing his heater just as hard as in years past, he’s actually lost some juice on his secondary pitches:

Jackson’s Average Velocity
Year Fastball Cutter Slider Curve Change
2017 93.5 91.4 86.8 78.9 87.4
2018 93.2 91.1 86.3 78.9 87.1
2019 93.4 91.2 85.5 77.4 86.2
SOURCE: Brooks Baseball

These aren’t seismic changes in velocity, the kind of drops that would suggest he’s pitching through an injury. But every tick on the radar gun is crucial; all else being equal, less velocity means less sharpness. It’s easier now for hitters to foul off a tough slider, lay off an average changeup, and thwack a bad curve than it was last season. Not surprisingly, batters are swinging and missing at his primary secondaries less often and hitting them harder when they do connect:

Batter Performance 2018 vs. 2019
Pitch Whiff Rate ‘18 Whiff Rate ‘19 BAA ‘18 BAA ‘19 SLG ‘18 SLG ‘19
Change 10.17% 6.25% .091 .250 .136 .500
Slider 19.37% 14.29% .240 .242 .400 .606
SOURCE: Brooks Baseball

It’s not clear whether Jackson has lost arm strength or if he’s doing any of this consciously. Perhaps he’s trying to take something off the ball, or is otherwise experimenting with grips. Regardless, what he’s done thus far hasn’t worked.

The second issue concerns Jackson’s fastballs, which are getting battered as well. His cutter, a late-career addition and his go-to pitch last year, has been hit even harder than the slider or change. Even worse, the sinker that he’s relied on for so long is increasingly a tough pitch to succeed with in the modern game. Batters throughout the league are better at driving balls low in the strike zone than ever before, and this year Jackson’s sinker has both mediocre velocity and less sink than normal. Not surprisingly, batters are torching it: He’s thrown 50 of them, and hitters are hitting .556 with three homers.

Both of those factors are exacerbated by a few things beyond Jackson’s control. He’s no longer pitching in Oakland’s spacious Coliseum, with one of the game’s finest defenses at his back. Four of his five starts this year have been in launching pads, and the Jays are still working out the kinks in the field. Moreover, the rabbit ball seems particularly unkind to guys like Jackson, dinger-prone hurlers without an out-pitch to miss bats with.

You’d have to search hard to find a silver lining in all of this. Watch Jackson’s outings, and there’s no hint that he’s about to turn a corner. Statcast only provides further indignities, revealing that he’s in the very bottom percentiles in both average exit velocity and the percentage of balls that opponents hit hard.

Still, there’s something morbidly compelling about watching someone at the very end of his career. A veteran like Jackson has wowed us before: He’s pitched in All-Star games and the World Series, thrown a no-hitter, and toiled seemingly everywhere. Watching such a durable player fade away is a reminder of our own waning skills.

There’s more to it than that though. One of the decade’s most gut-wrenching moments was watching Ramon Ortiz, a baseball lifer if there ever was one, openly sob after injuring his elbow, seemingly certain that he was leaving a major league mound for the last time. Ortiz was easy to empathize with because his reaction gave such visceral proof to what we all suspect: that big league baseball is not an easy thing to let go of. Knowing that, it’s captivating to watch players claw for their place in the game. As fans, we want the players to care. When Jackson slaps his glove in frustration, or looks bewildered as yet another homer sails into the seats, it’s clear he does.

So long as that last point holds true, there’s no glory in rooting for carnage today; I certainly hope that this isn’t the end of Jackson’s line. If you’re looking for a glimmer of hope, his career demonstrates the folly in declaring that someone is washed up. Jackson sure seemed cooked two years into his tenure with the Cubs — all the way back in 2014 — but a move to the bullpen sparked a return to form. Just last year, he appeared lost to minor league obscurity before reviving his career in Oakland. A start against the Orioles could be just the tonic he needs to get back on track.

But whether Jackson has one start left or 100, everyone’s time is fleeting. Enjoy baseball’s vagabond while you still can.

Franmil Reyes Has Power Everywhere

Hitting the ball over the fence in San Diego can be difficult, though not quite as difficult as it used to be after the team changed the dimensions in 2013. Similarly, hitting the ball out of the park to center and the opposite field is generally a more difficult task for hitters. Around 60% of home runs this season are pulled by batters, while only 15% of dingers are hit to the opposite field. These difficulties have proved to be of little consequence for 23-year-old Franmil Reyes.

The young slugger’s statistics can leave you slightly underwhelmed when compared to his imposing figure and powerful bat. Reyes has a 120 wRC+, which is good but not great, and his defense in the outfield keeps his WAR at 0.8 on the season. Reyes doesn’t walk a ton, he strikes out a bit too much, and he doesn’t add anything on the basepaths, but he can do this:

Fourteen of Reyes’ 19 homers have gone out to center or the opposite field. That figure is the most in baseball and two clear of Christian Yelich and Peter Alonso, and includes five homers to the opposite field. Ten of those 14 homers have come in Petco Park, one of the more difficult stadiums for lefties to hit homers, and they have the advantage over Reyes in being able to pull the ball to right field. Trying to hit homers to the opposite field is generally not advisable, but for a man of Reyes’ size and power, it’s a worthwhile strategy. And when Reyes hits the ball in the air to center or the opposite field, he hits the ball harder than anyone in the game, per Baseball Savant: Read the rest of this entry »

What’s Up With Joey Votto?

On the heels of five straight losing seasons, the last four with at least 94 losses, the Reds are at least relevant and interesting again. Despite a 29-35 record entering Tuesday, their +33 run differential is the league’s fourth-best. Luis Castillo is showing signs of developing into an ace. Derek Dietrich is fighting off bees and retrograde broadcasters. Yasiel Puig is entertaining even when he’s not hitting, Michael Lorenzen sometimes plays the outfield when he’s not pitching, and top prospect Nick Senzel has arrived. And now, finally, Joey Votto is starting to heat up.

For the second season in a row, Votto has started slowly. On the heels of his 36-homer, 6.5-WAR 2017 season, a few frosty weeks to start 2018 (his age-34 season) could be easily dismissed, but the full-season lows Votto wound up setting in batting average (.284), slugging percentage (.419), wRC+ (131), home runs (12), and WAR (3.5) look considerably more ominous in light of his current line (.256/.347/.379, 5 HR, 93 wRC+, 0.2 WAR), which looks bad until you peep at his stats through May 10: .206/.333/.333 with three homers, an 80 wRC+, and -0.1 WAR.

As noted, the now-35-year-old Votto is showing signs of life. In his past 23 games and 106 PA, he’s batting .316/.377/.432 for a 115 wRC+, which isn’t exactly Votto-esque, but it’s a significant uptick within an offense managing just an 81 wRC+, the worst of any non-rebuilding team. Of his 15 multi-hit games this year, nine of them have taken place in that span, including all three of his three-hit games. This past weekend against the Phillies, he went 5-for-12 with a pair of walks, a homer — his first to the opposite field this year, off Zach Eflin — and a game-tying two-run single off Jose Alvarez in Sunday’s victory, Cincinnati’s only one of the three-game series. Here’s the homer:

As Votto noted after that shot, “I’ve been thinking my swing has been coming around since the beginning of May. I know I had some rough stretches, but it’s a very good sign. I haven’t done that yet this year.” Read the rest of this entry »

Meg Rowley FanGraphs Chat – 6/11/19

Meg Rowley: Hello everyone, and welcome to the chat.

Meg Rowley: A few things to highlight in case you missed them during our very busy week of draft coverage.

Meg Rowley: FanGraphs is headed to Cleveland for a Very Special Event the weekend before the All-Star Game.

Meg Rowley: We will have a fun panel of fun folks, which is why tickets are $15 (free with FanGraphs membership).

Meg Rowley: Hope to see everyone (or errr 90 of you) there.

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A Look at Jordan Luplow, a Bright Spot in the Indians’ Lineup

Indians outfielder Jordan Luplow might not be a household name. But he has turned some heads in Cleveland with majestic home runs like this one:

That is quite the blast, but it’s clear the Indians’ Twitter account is being facetious. Luplow isn’t a legitimate Home Run Derby candidate, even with the All-Star Game being played in his home park in Cleveland. (Since 2013, at least one player from the hosting team participated in the Home Run Derby.) Francisco Lindor and Carlos Santana are much better options to serve as the hometown player.

Luplow has experienced something of a breakout this season. He is 25 years old and had just 190 plate appearances to his name prior to 2019. But, this season, he’s playing for an offense that has produced an 82 wRC+ team-wide, allowing him to serve as a bright spot in the order. In 120 plate appearances, Luplow has hit .248/.308/.523 with eight home runs and a 113 wRC+. His .275 ISO leads all Indians hitters, while also ranking in the top 10% of players with at least 100 trips to the plate. Read the rest of this entry »