Kevin Goldstein FanGraphs Chat – 2/24/2021

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The Envelope Please: Our 2022 Hall of Fame Crowdsource Ballot Results and a Preview of Election Day

The finish line of one of the longest Hall of Fame election cycles in memory is in sight. On Tuesday, the results of this year’s BBWAA balloting will be announced by new Hall president Josh Rawich at 6 pm ET on MLB Network. With so many polarizing and at times off-putting candidates — by my count, eight have been credibly linked to performance-enhancing drugs and six to incidents of domestic violence — it’s been another particularly contentious cycle; beyond the usual back-and-forth between voters and bystanders on social media, we’ve even seen a top candidate fire back at a voter over a snub. It remains entirely possible that for the second year in a row, the writers won’t elect a single candidate, something that hasn’t happened since 1958 and ’60, a point at which the BBWAA was voting on a biennial basis.

If it were up to FanGraphs readers, however, three candidates would be headed to Cooperstown this summer, based on the results of our fourth annual Hall of Fame crowdsource ballot. As has been the case since the 2019 ballot, registered FanGraphs users were invited to select as many as 10 candidates from this year’s slate, just as actual voters do, using the same December 31 deadline. A total of 1,018 users participated, which is down 11.6% from last year, a drop that probably owes something to a couple of lapses on my part. First, I forgot to send out a last call for votes, having last tweeted about the crowdsource ballot on December 23, and second, I plumb forgot to submit my own ballot into the system after filling out my paper one and dropping it in the mail on December 30. Though I called up the page and checked the boxes at some point that week, I was hazy on whether I’d actually completed the task until noticing that none of the individual returns matched my particular 10. None of those 1,018 ballots has Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, and Joe Nathan but not Alex Rodriguez or Manny Ramirez, just as none of the 178 ballots in the Ballot Tracker as of 12:01 AM ET on January 24 does. Oops. Read the rest of this entry »

Podcast Transcript: Buster Olney and Jay Jaffe on Election Season Suspense

On last week’s episode of FanGraphs Audio, Jay Jaffe welcomed ESPN senior writer and host of the Baseball Tonight podcast, Buster Olney, for a conversation about the upcoming Hall of Fame election and the effects of modern ballot-tracking. This transcribed conversation has been condensed and edited for clarity.

Jay Jaffe [3:03]: For FanGraphs audio, this is Jay Jaffe. It’s Hall of Fame election season, with the results set to be announced on January 25. Against the backdrop of the current lockout, it’s been a contentious election cycle, particularly with a quartet of controversial candidates — Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Sammy Sosa, and Curt Schilling — in their final year of eligibility, and Alex Rodriguez and David Ortiz in their first. The topics of performance enhancing drugs and the character clause have loomed large, and at times the din of the debate has been overwhelming. Earlier this month at ESPN, Buster Olney penned a piece asking about whether this prolonged discussion and the daily drip of ballot reveals is good for the Hall and the electoral process. I took issue with a couple of Buster’s points, and after a friendly exchange on Twitter, it seemed natural for the two of us to continue our conversation on a podcast.

With me today is ESPN senior writer and host of the Baseball Tonight podcast, Buster Olney, whom I’ve been reading for longer than I’ve been writing about baseball, which is to say a long time. Buster came to my attention back when he was covering the Yankees for the New York Times, and he’s been at ESPN now for a long time. We’ve crossed paths in conversation once at a Pitch Talks in Toronto in 2016. So it’s really great to have him on the show. Welcome, Buster. Read the rest of this entry »

Just Throw It Down the Middle

Is throwing a four-seam fastball down the middle a good idea? Regardless of whom you ask, the answer is probably no, and for good reason – the heart of the zone is where the majority of hard contact occurs, and fastballs are the most contact-prone of any pitch type. This disdain is rooted in our baseball lexicon, too. You’ll notice that after a ball is hit out of the park, broadcasters tend to remark that the pitcher “left one over the middle” or “hung his fastball.” The location is often to blame.

That doesn’t stop pitchers from trying, though. That’s not always because they want to – command comes and goes, after all – but it’s also because hitting a baseball is extremely difficult. Swings and misses happen! Bad contact happens! In each season since 2015, when Statcast data became public, hitters have accumulated a negative run value against down-the-middle fastballs. They’re still in the red despite seeing easier pitches. Though no pitcher would want to live solely in the middle, it makes sense why one might venture there.

But 2021 brought changes to the majors, and this is one of them: Hitters did worse against so-called meatballs than ever before. Here’s a graph that shows the league’s run value per 100 against fastballs in Baseball Savant’s “Heart” zone. Again, 2015 is the starting point:

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Sunday Notes: José Cruz Sr. is in The Hall of Very Good (and Throws a Great BP)

José Cruz Sr. had an outstanding career. Playing for three teams — most notably the Houston Astros — from 1970-1988, the Puerto Rico-born outfielder logged 2,251 hits while putting up a 119 wRC+ and 50.8 WAR. As his grandson, Detroit Tigers infield prospect Trei Cruz put it, the family patriarch may not be a Hall of Famer, but he is in “The Hall of Very Good.”

Moreover, the father of 1997-2008 big-leaguer José Cruz Jr. is a 74-year-old in a younger man’s body.

“He has more energy than anybody I’ve ever met in my life,” explained Trei, who calls Houston home and is No. 14 on our 2022 Tigers Top Prospect list. “I actually work with him, every single day. He throws BP for hours, and it’s some of the best left-handed BP you’ll ever see. He’s got a lot of life in his arm — he’ll really chuck it in there — and along with gas he’ll mix in sliders and changeups. Guys actually come to hit with me, because his BP is so good. He’s amazing, man. I don’t know how he does it.”

The smooth left-handed-stroke that produced 650 extra-base hits is still there, as well. The septuagenarian may not be able to catch up to mid-90s heat anymore, but he hasn’t forgotten what to do with a bat in his hands. According to Trei, his abuelo isn’t shy about standing in the box when the situation calls for it. Read the rest of this entry »

Jay Jaffe FanGraphs Chat – 1/21/22

Avatar Jay Jaffe: Good afternoon, folks, and welcome to my Friday chat!

Avatar Jay Jaffe: Today I have a FanGraphs Audio podcast spot of a conversation I had with ESPN’s Buster Olney (…) in which we discussed his recent piece about the Hall of Fame Tracker (…) and how expanded coverage of the election cycle has changed the Hall of Fame process. Plus stuff about the character clause, the lockout, and more…

Avatar Jay Jaffe: Earlier this week I had profiles of Tim Lincecum (…) and Jonathan Papelbon (…), the final two profiles of this year’s 30 candidates.

Justin B.: Jay, a week or two ago I read a Verducci article in which he noted that Joe West could be part of the Era Committee ballot next year, something I had not considered. Now, since West does have the record for most games umpired, I guess I don’t want to say he shouldn’t ever make it, but I’m kind of bummed thinking about that era committee now. I was hoping for some players to get in, like Lofton or McGriff (sorry! Childhood favorite). I’m glad for Bochy to make it, but now with Joe West maybe in the picture as well… how do you sort out that picture? Do you think Bochy and West getting in would have to come at the expense of any players realistically having a shot?

Avatar Jay Jaffe: The big problem with next year’s Today’s Game ballot is is that Bonds, Clemens, Schilling, and Sosa will all be eligible, which could very well take up a significant chunk of real estate and oxygen. You’ve got guys who fell off the writers’ ballot (McGriff, Lofton), and managers (holdover Lou Piniella, plus Bochy and possibly Jim Leyland), and while there still could be other candidates on there, it might be hard to justify putting Joe West at the head of the line.

Avatar Jay Jaffe: and yes, since the Era Committee vote is basically a math problem — there are only 64 ballot slots to go around (16 x 4) and12 votes needed to gain entry, the more good candidates there are on the ballot the tougher it is to get a consensus. A repeat of the recent Golden Days result, with four candidates getting elected and a fifth missing by one vote, is extremely unlikely, and even getting three candidates elected would be as well.

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2022 ZiPS Projections: Milwaukee Brewers

After having typically appeared in the hallowed pages of Baseball Think Factory, Dan Szymborski’s ZiPS projections have now been released at FanGraphs for a decade. The exercise continues this offseason. Below are the projections for the Milwaukee Brewers.


I can’t say I’m displeased to see Luis Urías at the top of the batter list — I’ve long been fascinated by him and even featured him on my breakout list last year — but I’d definitely be uneasy about having him as my team’s best player. Urías projects to essentially repeat his 2021 season. Third base (or second) is a better long-term home for him than shortstop, so last year’s Willy Adames acquisition showed the correct instinct on Milwaukee’s part. Read the rest of this entry »

Errors and Omissions: Fixing the Line Score

Admit it: you don’t like line scores. If you look at them, it’s only in passing, or to make yourself a little angry (the indignant kind) after a game your team lost. Nine hits, and we only scored two runs?!? The other team scored four runs on four hits?!? There ain’t no justice. They even made an error, and we kept a clean sheet! How could this have happened?

Of course, if you weren’t looking at a line score, you probably wouldn’t make either of those complaints, because it’s unlikely that which team made an error had that much of a bearing on the outcome. And that’s a shame, because the line score should be a great source of information. It’s an ingenious construction – tons of data conveyed in a compressed format. The inning-by-inning scoreline gives you the dramatic beats of the game – who scored when, whether it was a comeback or a wire-to-wire romp, and so on. The smattering of information on the right tells you roughly how the runs scored with great efficiency.

Or at least, it should tell you how the runs scored. The problem is, it really doesn’t. Take this one (courtesy of Baseball Reference), from an April 1 tilt between the Astros and Athletics:

The Astros barely out-hit the A’s. They played atrocious defense. They won by seven runs anyway. That’s because a single and a double (or a triple or a home run) count the same under “hits.” Meanwhile walks don’t count anywhere but errors, which occur far less frequently than walks and produce similar results, take up a third of the available real estate. Home runs matter more than either, and are nowhere to be found. Let’s look at a more complete tale of the tape for this game:

Events in A’s-Astros Game
Astros 4 3 0 2 6 2 0
Athletics 4 2 0 0 3 1 2

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FanGraphs Audio: Buster Olney and Jay Jaffe on Election Season Suspense

Episode 958

On this week’s episode, we sit down with a veteran baseball writer to talk about the Hall of Fame before hearing from a minor league outfielder with plenty under his belt already.

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Audio after the jump. (Approximate 73 minutes play time.)

Chin Music, Episode 48: There Is Only One Zero

This week’s Chin Music features the return of FanGraphs’ very own Ben Clemens, and despite the dearth of baseball news, we still find plenty to talk about. We begin by discussing what’s not happening in regards to the labor situation, then get into the biggest remaining free agent switching agents, the future of Seiya Suzuka and the past of Jon Lester, plus an extended sidetrack conversation on unique box score lines. Then it’s your emails on stadium changes, agents, and baseball stock investing, followed by some high-brow Moments Of Culture from the world of film and literature. As always, we hope you enjoy, and thank you for listening.

Music by Mirror Boxx.

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Warning One: While ostensibly a podcast about baseball, these conversations often veer into other subjects.

Warning Two: There is explicit language.

Run Time: 1:38:28.

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