FanGraphs Audio: Eric Longenhagen Is Here to Rock and Roll

Episode 865

Lead prospect analyst Eric Longenhagen returns to the program to detail FanGraphs’ recent trip to Cleveland. We discuss his impressions of the Futures Games, as well as what he looks for at showcase events like that, before contemplating the ideal format for the All-Star Game. This host also shares an embarrassing travel story, which she swears is true, and we review several particularly bad MLB.TV commercials and a few shark-related films.

For an extended Futures Game conversation, be sure to listen to the latest episode of The Untitled McDongenhagen Project, during which Eric and Kiley McDaniel discuss the prospects they saw and how their estimations of those prospects changed after last weekend. For prospect-related tweets, be sure to follow Eric and the FanGraphs Prospects account. And as always, you can find the guys’ latest rankings and reports on THE BOARD.

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 1 hour and 12 min play time.)


The Blossoming of Marcus Semien

Marcus Semien is having a moment. Semien finished the 2018 season with 3.7 WAR, nearly doubling the next-best total of his career. There was a catch, however, in that Semien’s WAR was largely fueled by a sudden jump in his defensive numbers. While the numbers for Baseball Info Solutions and Ultimate Zone Rating never completely agreed on Semien, they both thought he was a below-average defender at short. Coming into 2018, per 1350 innings, BIS had Semien at -2.7 runs, while UZR had him at -7.6 runs. In 2018, those numbers were +8.5 runs and +7.9 runs respectively, numbers that, if believed, meant that Semien had added 10-to-15 runs of value from somewhere very unexpected.

While a White Sox prospect, it was thought that Semien would likely struggle playing shortstop in the majors. In the minors, he made 60 errors in 2203 innings (37 errors per 1350 innings), which led the White Sox to find as much time for him at second and third base as possible. And while error rates usually come down in the majors, Semien committed 35 errors in his first season as the A’s shortstop. You could argue that errors can be overused as a method of defensive evaluation — and you’d be correct — but there are limits. UZR actually had Semien as slightly above-average in range, with the -11.7 total run estimate coming from a brutal -12.6 runs from errors. That’s not a run-of-the-mill error-prone season, either:

Worst Error Seasons, Shortstops, 2002-2019
Season Name Error Runs
2015 Marcus Semien -12.6
2017 Tim Anderson -10.7
2010 Ian Desmond -10.4
2010 Starlin Castro -9.7
2015 Ian Desmond -8.7
2004 Angel Berroa -7.6
2014 Jonathan Villar -7.3
2011 Eduardo Nunez -7.3
2006 Hanley Ramirez -6.9
2013 Jonathan Villar -6.9
2006 Felipe Lopez -6.9
2004 Kaz Matsui -6.8
2007 David Eckstein -6.7
2011 Elvis Andrus -6.6
2016 Ketel Marte -6.5
2016 Brad Miller -6.3
2009 Everth Cabrera -6.3
2003 Erick Almonte -6.3
2005 Russ Adams -6.3
2004 Rafael Furcal -6.2
2012 Dee Gordon -6.2
2005 Clint Barmes -6.1
2013 Starlin Castro -5.7
2015 Danny Santana -5.7
2003 Rafael Furcal -5.6

Read the rest of this entry »


James Paxton Has Hit a Bump in the Road

Through the first month of the season, it looked like James Paxton was going to build on his breakout 2018 season and elevate himself into the upper echelons of the pitching ranks. Through May 3, he had posted a 3.11 ERA backed by a 2.59 FIP and a ridiculous 33.6% strikeout rate. On May 3, Paxton exited his start with a knee injury and wound up missing four weeks of play, and since his return from the injured list, he just hasn’t been the same.

In his eight starts since May 29, his FIP has shot up to 4.65 and his strikeout rate has fallen to 24.7%. A vintage 11-strikeout performance in his last start on July 7 is propping up that strikeout rate, too; he struck out just three batters in each of his two previous starts before that. The league average strikeout rate for a starter is 22% so complaining about Paxton’s dip in results feels a little like picking nits. It would be easy to chalk up his post-IL results to the lingering effects of the knee injury or just a string of bad luck. But a deeper look into his pitch repertoire reveals some concerning trends.

Back in early May, Sung Min Kim wrote an article detailing the changes Paxton had made to his pitch mix. In short, Paxton “basically swapped the usage rates of his cut fastball and curveball.” And why wouldn’t he want to throw his cutter more often? He generated a ridiculous number of whiffs with the pitch last year (37.2% whiff rate) and batters simply could not square it up when they did make contact with it (6.5% barrel rate). But the effectiveness of the pitch has waned with greater exposure.

In the past, it’s been a put-away pitch Paxton turned to when he was ahead in the count. He would use his fastball and curveball to get ahead and then earn a strikeout with a well placed cutter. Because he’s throwing his cutter more often this season, he’s had to use it earlier in at-bats. There are only so many two-strike counts to throw it in, so some of those extra cutters have come when the count is in the batter’s favor. Here’s what Paxton’s cutter usage has looked like by count over the last four seasons:

James Paxton, Cutter Usage
2016-2018 2019
Batter Ahead 11.9% 17.6%
Even 39.7% 43.3%
Pitcher Ahead 48.4% 39.1%

Not only is he throwing it more often earlier in the count, he’s also throwing it less often when he does get ahead. Trying to steal a strike with his cutter early in an at-bat isn’t necessarily a bad thing — he used his curveball to do exactly that last year — but it becomes a problem when he can’t locate his cutter in the zone:

Paxton’s cutter is at it’s very best if he can locate it down and in against a right-handed batter, right over their back foot. That location takes the pitch out of the strike zone to get a swinging strike. But he’s actually spotted his cutter in the zone more often than you might expect. In years past, he’s thrown his cutter in the zone around 47% of the time, a touch below the league average zone rate for a cutter. Even though it feels high for a put-away pitch, it never really affected his ability to earn a swinging strike. This year, he’s locating his cutter in the zone around 35% of the time, the lowest zone rate of any cutter thrown more than 100 times:

James Paxton, cutter results
Zone% Swing% SwStr% Whiff/Sw%
2016-2018 46.8% 57.9% 21.8% 37.2%
2019 34.9% 48.2% 18.7% 38.7%

He’s locating the pitch as though he was ahead in the count and looking for a whiff, but those pitch locations aren’t exactly ideal earlier in the count. Batters are content to just take a cutter when they hold the advantage, knowing that they’re likely to either whiff or it’ll end up out of the zone as a ball. So even though Paxton’s whiff per swing rate on his cutter is just as good as it has been in the past, because his overall swing rate on the pitch is down almost 10 points, his raw number of swinging strikes is down.

Since 2017, Paxton has added more than two inches of horizontal movement to his cutter. It’s possible that additional movement has affected his command of the pitch:

If he’s throwing his cutter the same way he did last year, aiming at a target that would locate the pitch in the zone, that extra horizontal movement could be carrying the pitch out of the zone despite his intent.

It’s also possible that batters are able to identify his cutter more easily this year. Paxton took a big step forward last year when he started to tunnel his high four-seam fastball with his curveball. But his cutter also benefited from that pitch tunnel as well:

James Paxton, fastball-cutter tunnel
Year Pitch Sequence Batter Hand PreMax PreMax Time
2018 Fastball-Cutter RHB 1.25 0.157
2019 Fastball-Cutter RHB 1.46 0.162
SOURCE: Baseball Prospectus

Last year, Paxton’s fastball-cutter pitch tunnel was excellent. The perceived distance between the two pitches in sequence (PreMax) was well above average and they separated in flight (PreMax Time) just a few milliseconds before the tunnel point. Both measures have deteriorated a bit this year and it’s likely due to the location of these pitches in sequence. Paxton’s pitch tunnel works best when his cutter is located right at the bottom of the zone but not too low. THe average location of his cutter this year has given opposing batters a few extra milliseconds to identify whether a pitch is worth swinging at.

I can’t explain why Paxton has swapped the number of curveballs and cutters he throws this year. Maybe he’s lost the feel for his curveball. But the effectiveness of his secondary pitches has waned with the altered usage pattern. The solution is likely a little more complicated than just swapping back. He’s going to have to figure how to locate his cutter a little better, especially if he needs to use it earlier in counts to keep batters off his fastball.


Lance Lynn Is Now a Cy Young Contender

Last night, Lance Lynn got the second half of the season off to a very good start for the Texas Rangers by striking out 11 while issuing just two walks in seven shutout innings. Even with that great start, Lynn is still second to Max Scherzer, who leads all pitchers with 5.5 WAR, but he’s now accumulated 4.4 WAR and is a full win clear of Charlie Morton and Gerrit Cole, who are tied behind him. When Lynn shut down the Astros, he wasn’t just dominating an average team. Houston has the best hitting offense in all of baseball, with a 118 wRC+ and an 18% strikeout rate that ranks second in the majors. Three weeks ago, I noted Lynn’s perch atop the AL WAR Leaderboard as an interesting peculiarity, an unexpected development. His performance since then has thrust him to the forefront of the American League Cy Young race.

On June 20, I wrote about how Lynn’s ERA was misleading, how he lessened his sinker usage in favor of the cutter, and how he used a different approach with runners on base to minimize damage. One thing I missed when writing that piece was Lynn’s slightly different arm slot, which Michael Ajeto wrote about at Pitcher List and which likely helped make his cutter better. In what ended up being less than fortuitous timing for my article, Lynn immediately went out and gave up four runs in the first inning of his June 22 tilt against the White Sox. Since that inning, Lynn has pitched 28 more frames, struck out 31 batters, walked just three, and allowed only three runs. His ERA at the time of the article was around four; it has since dropped to 3.69. That might not seem too low, but consider that Baseball-Reference’s version of WAR, which is primarily run-based as opposed to the FIP-based version here at FanGraphs, also thinks Lynn is excellent. His 4.5 WAR there is second in the AL to Mike Minor and third in baseball with Scherzer also ahead of him. Over at Baseball Prospectus, Lynn leads the AL with 4.2 WARP.

Here’s where Lynn ranks in a bunch of stats, both traditional and modern:

Lance Lynn: Cy Young Candidate
Lynn AL Rank
WAR 4.4 1
FIP 2.86 2
FIP- 60 1
IP 122 3
SO% 25.8% 9
HR/9 0.74 4
BB% 5.5% 7
bWAR 4.5 2
WARP 4.2 1

His relatively low poor ERA showing (13th) is mitigated by having no unearned runs, which is unusual, and pitching in a hitter-friendly park. Lynn’s case as AL’s best pitcher this season stands on its own, but he’s actually been even better since a so-so start to the season:

Lance Lynn Ranks Since April 28
Lynn AL Rank
WAR 3.9 1
FIP 2.53 1
FIP- 53 1
IP 94.1 1
SO 110 3
ERA 2.86 8
ERA- 58 5
HR/9 0.67 2
BB% 5.3 9

Consider this your Lance Lynn Cy Young update.


Josh Hader’s Fastball is Hilarious

I’ve been on something of a fastballs-down-the-middle kick recently. I hadn’t realized that it was possible to be so bad at hitting them until I looked into Wil Myers and his flailing ways. Then I started looking at a few underperforming hitters, and I was shocked by how many batters were missing middle-middle fastballs. Pitchers are throwing fastballs less often than ever before, and they’re designing new breaking balls every offseason. Meanwhile, some batters can’t handle a straight pitch in the center of the hitting zone. Baseball is weird sometimes!

Looking into these center-cut whiffs was baffling. There were a decent number of Jacob deGrom and Chris Sale fastballs on there, sure, but there were also plenty of replacement level relievers. Does the pitcher even have anything to do with it? Sure, Clayton Kershaw used to be great at throwing down the middle, but he’s thrown 96 pitches over the heart of the plate this year and gotten a paltry four swinging strikes. Aroldis Chapman excelled at it in 2016, but he’s thrown 43 of them this year and gotten only five swinging strikes. What if it’s a batter-centric phenomenon? Could it just be that batters sometimes miss because baseball is hard, regardless of pitcher?

Ha, no. Silly Ben. If you watched the 2018 playoffs, you’d already know: Josh Hader is the absolute king of throwing down the middle and coming out unscathed, and it’s not even close. Hader’s fastball is a magic trick, a sleight of hand performed on batters. In your head, he’s probably getting all his strikeouts at the very top of the strike zone or even a little above that, getting hitters to swing at pitches they can’t do anything with. That’s true, of course, but he’s also beating hitters when he messes up. Read the rest of this entry »


Eric Longenhagen Chat: 7/12/19

12:01
Eric A Longenhagen: Good morning from Tempe. One link for you this morning:

12:02
Eric A Longenhagen: Kiley and I podded about Futures Game. It’s a long episode in which we go over our notes and talk about Board changes. https://blogs.fangraphs.com/fangraphs-audio-presents-the-untitled-mcdo…

12:03
Nick: I know you guys weren’t excited about the Braves draft after day two. With the six HS picks they’ve now signed from rounds 11-19, how significantly does that change things?

12:03
Eric A Longenhagen: Somewhat, they’re adding a bunch of 35+ FV types. Depth is nice, now they need to develop those players.

12:03
Chris: The Yankee fans sure think Clint Frazier is worth any player… What’s a realistic one for one trade comp for their fans

12:06
Eric A Longenhagen: I have Frazier 50’d, so I think he’s a real piece. Would he, alone, net someone like Matt Boyd or White Merrifield who has 3ish years of control left? Probably not, but he’s a great start.

Read the rest of this entry »


Evan Longoria Talks Hitting

Evan Longoria has been a good player for a long time. Since debuting with the Tampa Bay Rays in 2008, the 33-year-old third baseman has bashed 289 home runs, been awarded three Gold Gloves, and garnered MVP votes in six separate seasons. A three-time All-Star, he’s been worth 50.4 WAR.

The extent to which his best days are behind him is difficult to determine. Longoria hasn’t been as productive since joining the San Francisco Giants prior to last season, but he’s showing signs of a revival. Going into the All-Star break, he was 10 for his last 25, with a pair of doubles and five home runs.

Longoria sat down to talk hitting prior to a recent game at Petco Park.

———

David Laurila: A number of hitters have told me they go up to the plate hunting fastballs. Does that describe your approach, as well?

Evan Longoria: “It starts there. I think if you look around the league, the top pitchers have an ability to locate a fastball. Commanding the zone early with a fastball is a big reason they’re successful, so as a hitter it makes sense to stay on that.

“On a very basic level, my approach is … over the course of my career, I’ve had a lot of success hitting the ball from gap to gap. That’s kind of where I start, but then it changes every day based on a few, if not a bunch of, factors. The starting pitcher that day has a lot to do with it. Sometimes it’s the way I’m feeling, both physically and mentally. Where the defense is positioned … sometimes, if you’re feeling really good, you pick your spot to try to beat the shift, or hit a hole.

“Velocity has a lot to do with it, too. Against guys who are in the upper 90s, you really have to look for one pitch; you have to stay on the fastball even more. Against guys with a little less velocity, you can kind of sit on those in-between speeds and make adjustments from there.”

Laurila: Regardless of how good you’re feeling at the plate, controlling where you hit the ball is easier said than done. Read the rest of this entry »


The 2019 FanGraphs Franchise Player Draft: Picks 1-15

Yesterday, we released the results of the back half of the 2019 FanGraphs Franchise Player Draft. As a reminder, the idea behind the exercise is simple: throwing out existing contracts, teams, and other real life sundry, which player would you most want to build a baseball franchise around if you were starting from scratch? Today, we offer picks 1-15 for your amusement and derision. Enjoy!

Devan Fink, Pick 1: Mike Trout, Los Angeles Angels
There’s no easier pick than Mike Trout at No. 1. He’s the only player in the league who guarantees elite production every year. Every time we think we’ve found someone better — whether it be Bryce Harper, Mookie Betts, Christian Yelich, or Cody Bellinger — Trout comes back to remind us why he reigns supreme.

Since 2005, no player has produced more WAR than Trout’s 71.0. He didn’t even debut until 2011. He has posted eight straight seasons with a wRC+ of 167 or better. He’s rated out as a positive defender in all but two seasons. Heck, even his baserunning has been worth 4.5 runs this year, eighth-best in the majors.

Perhaps the only downside, if you want to call it that, is Trout’s age. Position players tend to peak around 28, and Trout is 27. We don’t know how gracefully he will decline, but even at 70 or 80 percent of his current talent level, Trout would be one of the best. Age should not deter me.

Mike Trout is the best player of this generation. He could go down as the best player in baseball history. Wanting to start my team with anyone else would be foolish.

Eric Longenhagen, Pick 2: Francisco Lindor, Cleveland Indians
I assumed Trout would be off the board at No. 1, so my mix for this selection was Lindor, Mookie Betts (who I’d have announced as a second baseman), and Alex Bregman. Frankie is fourth among hitters in WAR since 2016 and would probably be third, ahead of Christian Yelich, had he not missed a few weeks this year with a calf and then ankle injury. He’s an elite athlete and defender at a premium position, and a dynamic offensive player who has grown into more power than even those who were most enthused about his future anticipated he would while he was a prospect. A switch-hitter with a 116 wRC+ from the left side and a 128 wRC+ from the right side, Lindor is also matchup-proof in an age when teams are more intelligently and proactively attacking hitters with relievers.

He also has the emotional maturity and easy-going affability suited to being a franchise’s cultural cornerstone, both in the clubhouse and off the field. His well-known, infectious smile and effervescence are great to be around, but he’s also an intense, vocal leader when he needs to be and has been willing to confront veterans about their play. Is that as important as his talent? No, but when everyone at the top of this draft is an elite talent, it’s a separator.

Rian Watt, Pick 3: Alex Bregman, Houston Astros
If Trout had been on the board at three, I’d have taken Trout. But Bregman would have been my choice even if I’d had Eric’s slot at two, as much as I love Lindor and Cody Bellinger (the other two players I considered here). That’s because Alex Bregman is 25 years old, already does just about everything right on the baseball field, and is still getting better. After hitting 31 homers across 700 or so plate appearances last year, he already has 23 in half that many trips to the plate so far this season. Last year, he was already one of the few players in baseball to walk more than he struck out (just four qualified players met that standard last year) and this year he’s bumped his walk rate more than three points while holding his strikeout rate basically steady. He’s good on the bases, and he’s terrific with the glove at third. He’s bilingual, a rock in the clubhouse, and already a world champion. Besides Trout, who is the best baseball player most of us will ever see, there’s nobody I’d want more to start a franchise with than Bregman.

Brendan Gawlowski, Pick 4: Cody Bellinger, Los Angeles Dodgers
This was not an easy decision. To the consternation of my friends, I interrupted a good half hour of our trip pinging back and forth between FanGraphs and Baseball Savant, making sure I took the right guy here. Would I be overreacting to select Cody Bellinger after a hot three months? To pass over Mookie Betts after his (relatively) slow start? Isn’t Christian Yelich the safe option? Would this blurb be more interesting if I picked Ohtani?

Ultimately, it came down to the swing. In an era characterized by uppercut hacks, Bellinger’s steep and swift cut still stands out for its unapologetic force. It’s easy to imagine how, in trusted hands, that swing could produce a 40-homer season or three. It is not, however, the measured and efficient stroke we associate with the game’s most judicious hitters. And yet Bellinger has walked more than he’s struck out this season. Anyone who can do this kind of damage, with that kind of discipline, must be pretty special. To top it all off, he’s also just 23 and he plays a capable center field. He is a remarkable talent, and a guy I feel comfortable drafting No. 4 overall.

Audrey Stark, Pick 5: Anthony Rendon, Washington Nationals
When selecting a franchise player, I wanted a “veteran” with consistently above-average play in the field and at the plate. It is important for this player to have experience so they can take on a leadership role in the clubhouse, but also have enough playing years left to be a cornerstone for this new ballclub over the next several seasons. At the end of the day, I felt like Anthony Rendon exemplifies all of those things.

Since the beginning of the 2017 season, his WAR is fourth in all of baseball. He has 144 wRC+ over that period and a 23.6 defensive rating. Rendon is a consistent hitter and an above-average third baseman. He is also a low-key, unproblematic person. Rendon seems like a genuinely good human, in addition to being a great baseball player. He is involved in the Nationals’ charity organization and his biggest scandal was cutting off his hair. I like watching him play; that’s the sort of person I’d like to build a team around.

Jason Martinez, Pick 6: Fernando Tatis Jr., San Diego Padres
Through his first 55 games as a big leaguer, Tatis has been a human highlight-reel with a collection of amazing baserunning and defensive feats. Even as he skyrocketed up the prospect rankings in recent years, there were some concerns that he wouldn’t be able to stick at shortstop long-term. Now, it would be difficult to tell which defender on the left side of the Padres’ infield is nicknamed “El Ministro de Defensa” and which one was in Double-A this time last season. While Manny Machado has been as good as advertised at the hot corner, it’s Tatis who seems to steal the show on a regular basis.

And the kid can hit, too. At his current pace, the 20-year-old would have 135 runs, 27 doubles, 15 triples, 41 home runs, 97 RBI, and 38 stolen bases over his first 162 games. Which shortstops have put up numbers that even remotely resemble those? A few players come to mind, all amongst the greatest to ever step foot on a baseball diamond.

There’s no question that we’re witnessing a rare five-tool shortstop in action. What makes Tatis stand out even more, however, are the incredible baseball instincts that enhance each one of those tools. It’s a big part of why he can be so good at such a young age, and why he’s the kind of player who you would build your franchise around.

Sung Min Kim, Pick 7: Christian Yelich, Milwaukee Brewers
If I were start a new franchise, there aren’t a lot of players I’d want more than the 27-year-old Christian Yelich. Sometimes, you don’t have to overthink it. Hitting for a 180 wRC+ and slashing .329/.433/.707 with 31 home runs through 82 games, Yelich is one of the bona-fide superstars of major league baseball. While his defense is not all that elite, his bat has amassed enough value to boast a 5.1 WAR, third-best among all positional players. The ridiculous thing about Yelich is that he’s taken steps to be a more dangerous hitter after his 2018 MVP campaign. He’s hitting fewer grounders (2.20 GB/FB compared to 1.11) while lifting the ball more (23.5 FB% to 38.7%), which has resulted in a higher home run rate despite a lower HR/FB rate (35.0% vs. 34.1%). What he’s doing right now is so ridiculous that you couldn’t possibly expect him to keep up this pace for the rest of the season or the next few years … unless he does. Even if things normalize a bit, he’d still be a 5-WAR player who has a lot of good years left in the tank.

Eli Ben-Porat, Pick 8: Wander Franco, Tampa Bay Rays
Baseball’s current economic environment necessitates accumulating surplus value by leveraging cost controlled years. Given the recent trend of team-friendly deals, especially those that included free-agent years, it seemed imperative to build a franchise around one of these players. Players who fit that mold (and were available at No. 8) were Wander Franco, Ronald Acuna, Gleyber Torres, Juan Soto, and Vlad Jr.

No prospect is a sure thing, but prospects who hit for power and don’t strike out are a very rare breed. Wander Franco, despite being extremely young for his level, has walked 50% more than he’s struck out, all while hitting for power and getting on base at a high clip. To top off his flawless profile, he also looks likely to stick at shortstop. Vlad Jr. shares a lot of the same traits as Franco, but he’s likely to be a liability on defense, much like Juan Soto.

The decision came down to Franco, Torres, and Acuna, all players who have shown they can play up the middle. They’re all young, but at 18, Franco is the youngest, a cornerstone I can build around for years to come.

Nick Pollack, Pick 9: Mookie Betts, Boston Red Sox
Mookie Betts was an easy choice and doesn’t require much defending. He’s a blend of offensive and defensive excellence, putting up 33.6 WAR in four-and-a-half seasons worth of games. Even in 2019’s “down” first half, Betts has still posted a 124 wRC+ as he holds a -2% strikeout-to-walk ratio, seemingly on the precipice of a return to the elites in the second half. Oh, and his glove is still ridiculously good in the outfield.

And on top of all his on-the-field talents, a franchise player needs to be a leader. A player who builds a clubhouse, displays maturity to steer new members in the right direction, a face of an organization who forces outsiders to flock to what you’re selling. Betts carries this without question, providing a steady rock to set the proper tone to lead a team.

At a young age of 26-years-old, Betts is an excellent combination of veteran leadership and elite performance while being highly capable of handling himself as the leader of a team. Honestly, who wouldn’t want Mookie Betts?

Tony Wolfe, Pick 10: Ronald Acuna Jr., Atlanta Braves
I strongly considered Vladimir Guerrero Jr. here because of the enormous upside that comes with his bat and his incredibly young age. Then I remembered Ronald Acuna Jr. is just one year older than Vlad, has almost as much upside offensively, and has already amassed nearly 7.0 WAR in 201 big league games. Acuna, 21, currently sits in the 95th percentile in both sprint speed and xwOBA, and has made some strides as a defender in center field. If we factored in team control, salaries, and all of that into this draft, Acuna’s legitimately gross contract might make him the No. 1 overall pick. But even after that’s set aside, it’s difficult for me to imagine a better player to build around than the center fielder, barely of legal drinking age, who already hits the ball harder than almost anyone else, runs faster than almost anyone else, and walks 10 percent of the time.

Mike Podhorzer, Pick 11: Manny Machado, San Diego Padres
I immediately eliminated pitchers from consideration, as their skills change more rapidly and injuries seemingly derail their performances more frequently than hitters. I wanted a hitter who could add defensive value, in addition to being highly productive at the plate, and of course, is young enough to still be in his prime. It’s easy to forget that Manny Machado just turned 27, as it feels like he has been around forever. It’s true that he hasn’t been absolutely elite offensively during his career, but he has still been pretty darn good (.349 wOBA and 120 wRC+). While he hasn’t performed nearly as well with the glove at shortstop as at third base, his ability to play two premium positions competently (and he has been a fantastic third baseman throughout his career) provides valuable roster flexibility. With strong contributions from both sides of the field, he’s clearly a guy to build a club around.

Dylan Higgins, Pick 12: Shohei Ohtani, Los Angeles Angels
I won’t insist that Shohei Ohtani is the most talented baseball player on the planet, but I’m willing to suggest it. Do you want someone that hits the ball very hard? What about someone who runs very fast? An ace pitcher should certainly be near the top of your list. Ohtani checks every box, having already proven to be outstanding at the plate and on the mound, and he hasn’t even had the opportunity to show what he could do in the field.

Baseball has had several multi-sport stars in the century since it last saw a legitimate two-way legend. Bo Jackson was absolutely incredible, but he wasn’t especially productive (7.7 WAR in 694 games across seven seasons). Ohtani is already over halfway there (4.1 WAR) after 1 1/2 years, and that’s including a Tommy John surgery and no defense. I will sell so many Sho Knows t-shirts.

Ohtani is a superstar on both sides of the ball and both sides of the globe, and he hasn’t come close to reaching his potential. He’s just 25, he can already do everything, and he isn’t even healthy. I am in love with the face of my new franchise at pick No. 12.

David Laurila, Pick 13: Matt Chapman, Oakland Athletics
When I learned we would be doing this draft, one of my first thoughts was “If he’s available, I’m taking Fernando Tatis Jr.” The opportunity never presented itself — he was long gone by the time my pick rolled around — so I defaulted to Rafael Devers, who I liken to a young David Ortiz. Then I changed my mind. Is there a more-under-appreciated superstar in the game of baseball than Matt Chapman? Superstar? Yes, it is reasonable to place that tag on the 26-year-old Oakland Athletics third baseman.

Brooks Robinson is in the Hall of Fame because he was an all-time great defender at the hot corner, as well as a steady, productive hitter. Chapman is on track to be just that. His glove is as good as it gets, while his offensive numbers — don’t forget that he plays his home games in Oakland — are quietly superb. He’s on pace to hit 40 home runs this year, and his wOBA and wRC+ since the start of last season are .369 and 136 respectively. He’s been worth 10 WAR over that same period. Matt Chapman is the type of player you can build a team around.

Paul Sporer, Pick 14: Gleyber Torres, New York Yankees
Torres is a 22-year old, up the middle infielder who showed that his debut effort (120 wRC+) was not only legit but may have undersold his premium bat. He takes a 130 mark into the second half and was rightfully named to his first All-Star game. Torres doesn’t have any 70s on his scouting report but rather a collection of 50-60 grade tools that add up to elite upside. Small plate skill improvements this year have him closer to his minor league rates (20% K, 10% BB) and if he continues to produce at this clip, he will have a double digit walk rate annually. His defense at shortstop isn’t top of the scale but it’s good enough to hold the position for the foreseeable future, with second base remaining a perfectly reasonable fallback. One of the game’s brightest stars, Torres could soon be hitting 30+ home runs while landing in the 4-5 WAR range every year.

Jake Mailhot, Pick 15: Joey Gallo, Texas Rangers
No one in baseball hits the ball harder than Joey Gallo. There are few who walk more than Joey Gallo. There are even fewer still who strikeout more than Joey Gallo. Therein lies the risk in picking him to headline this hypothetical baseball franchise. But the power is just so tantalizing. And to his credit, he’s made some real changes to his approach at the plate this year. He’s chasing pitches out of the zone far less often while managing to hit the ball harder than ever. When he does make contact—even if it isn’t all that often—he’s running an expected wOBA of .686! He’s also no slouch in the field either. He’s put up positive defensive marks at all three outfield positions and can play either infield corner in a pinch. That defensive value and flexibility elevates him above some of the other bat-first options on the board. His relative youth—he’ll turn 26 this November—gives him the perfect mix of short term and long term value. Picking Gallo feels like an endorsement of a particular baseball aesthetic, one centered around the three true outcomes, but his strong skills beyond his extreme power makes him a franchise cornerstone.


The D-Backs Are on the Brink of a New Stolen-Base Frontier

We do not live in an exciting time for record chases. Ichiro’s single-season hits record is perfectly safe, as is Barry Bonds‘ home run record. The records that are getting broken are of the team variety, and even those seem to be as much a sign of the times as they are reflective of a team’s historical excellence. The team home run record, for example, is about to fall for a second straight year, with the Minnesota Twins on pace to demolish the 2018 Yankees’ mark. The record for strikeouts recorded by a pitching staff has been broken in each of the last two seasons as well.

Still, there is at least one team record in jeopardy that’s worth a bit more discussion. In the first half of the season, the Arizona Diamondbacks stole 50 bases in 56 attempts, good for an 89.3% success rate. The all-time record, set by the 2007 Philadelphia Phillies, is 87.9%.

Is it the sexiest record in sports? It is not. Is that a jaw-dropping gap between the record pursuer and the current record holder? Nope! But I’m not here to talk about what it would mean if the D-backs edged the 2007 Phillies out by a decimal point or two at the end of the season. What I’d like to talk about instead is what it would mean if Arizona finished the year with a 90% success rate.

Before we talk about a 90% stolen-base success rate, let’s discuss an 80% success rate. Since the beginning of the live ball era, just 38 teams in major league history have finished a season with a stolen-base success rate of 80% or higher. Here are those 38 teams: Read the rest of this entry »


Effectively Wild Episode 1403: Bullhorse and Horsecrock

EWFI
Ben Lindbergh and Sam Miller banter about Ball Four and Jim Bouton, Million Dollar Coin Flip, Christian Yelich’s pursuit of the first 50-30 season and which combination of power and speed would be most impressive, a baseball scene on Cheers, how the MLB All-Star Game differs from other sports’ all-star games, Bubba Starling and the incredible first round of the 2011 draft, the latest Atlantic League experiments and a new rule that isn’t really about stealing first base, the effect of the unified trade deadline and the strange state of the standings, and more.

Audio intro: Lizzo, "Juice"
Audio outro: Tommy James and the Shondells, "Ball of Fire"

Link to Jay on Bouton
Link to Yelich 50-30 article
Link to THT article on Cheers
Link to Bob Costas Cheers video
Link to Ben on the baseball scene in Elementary
Link to article about all-star game ridiculousness
Link to Rany’s draft age study
Link to recap of Portland Pickles’ Future of Baseball Night
Link to Sam on the most watchable players
Link to Ben on busy trade deadlines
Link to Ben on this year’s unified deadline and strange standings
Link to order The MVP Machine

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