Welcome to the Mid-Week MLB Draft edition of Baseball Musings! Sorry for the delay this week but with the draft going on I thought it made sense to get my two cents in regarding what I look for in the draft and why I find it fascinating. Thanks for coming out and without further ado here are my baseball musings for the week!
The MLB draft has been going on the last few days and I always find the draft to be one of the more interesting events in sports. It’s such a different beast than the spectacle and hope of the NFL and NBA draft. A lot of that is tied into the immediacy of the last two drafts. A highly touted player in the NBA or NFL draft are ready to start making an impact from day one so I totally get it. Baseball is different, even if the player excels throughout the minors it’ll still be a few years before that player comes up and in most cases, a year or two more before they truly start to be the player they will become. So why pay attention to the MLB draft? Why not just wait and you’ll get to know the player once he gets to AAA? You can do that for sure but you’re missing out on a huge opportunity to learn something about an MLB team. If you pay close enough attention during a draft you’ll often start to notice a trend in what type of player your team likes to draft which in today’s youth forward climate can tell you about what kind of team they are looking to build in the future. Being an analytics guy first I won’t lie to you that I don’t always catch the patterns right away but I often turn to Fangraphs or Baseball America’s coverage to help fill in the gaps. Eric Longenhagen and Kiley McDaniels over at Fangraphs are always really great and their day one recap was no exception. I was intrigued by some of the patterns they were pointing out.
For example, The Diamondbacks took toolsy defensive outfielders (which makes sense given how huge their outfield is at Chase Field) and apparently they took a couple of college arms with vertical arm slots. Does this imply they value velocity over movement? Are they more interested in 12-6 curveballs and other pitches with vertical drop than sliders and changeups? It’s hard to tell in one draft but it would be interesting to see if the pattern continues throughout the draft and has been a focus in past drafts. What makes it super interesting is once it ties into the Major League ballclub. With the DBacks I think of how many of their pitchers are vertical release curveball guys (Zack Greinke, Robbie Ray, Merrill Kelly, Luke Weaver and the bullpen Zack Godley), it’s hard not to imagine that drafting this way is intentional. Same with the Astros or Rays and taking swing change guys. They have gone after so many players that have found success the last few years after a major swing change that when they draft a player who needs a swing change it can’t be a coincidence. I’m hoping once the draft is over I can do a deeper dive on any patterns I see and hopefully share them here. The Dodgers took a pitcher who has a big devastating curveball which isn’t surprising for the team that has Kershaw and Rich Hill pitching for them. In the meantime, as I said, view the draft as an opportunity to learn what your team values and what kind of players they think they can find success with. The good organizations will often end up having some sort of a pattern and this can often tell us both players we think the organization will value highly but also help us get an idea of which young players in an organization might find success with a particular team.
This has probably been the most hotly debated issue of the last week or so in the online baseball world and it’s weird because it’s a really simple issue. Let’s keep everyone safe. It’s not like people who buy the seats that are currently covered with the nets hate their seats or don’t enjoy the game so it really can’t be impacting how we see the game all that much. The argument should really just stop there, especially when it comes to keeping children safe but for the sake of looking at all the evidence let me make a few more arguments in favor of the netting.
To counteract the inevitable, just pay attention to the game line of thinking, live baseball is a social event with largish periods of not much happening. You talk with your seatmates, you have to reach down and get your beer, heck you order another beer or peanuts from the aisle vendors, there’s the wave going on, or you want to check the jumbotron to see who’s up next and what their batting average is now. There are about a thousand things going on at any given moment at a baseball game and to expect that you can watch every pitch and every moment of a game is impossible.
When talking about baseball we often discuss how remarkable it is that anyone can even hit a baseball. Most of us have seen this video talking about just how difficult it is pretty great detail:
Now they talk about a 97 mile an hour fastball in the video but it’s worth noting that many times the ball actually comes off the bat faster than that. We see batted balls with over 100+ MPH all the time. So the best players in the world (with apparently the best vision as well) and the best reaction times on the planet fail to react properly to balls hit that hard but fans are supposed to?
And finally to address the argument that children should be forced to sit in special sections or behind the netting. This would be really, really bad for baseball. I couldn’t hate this argument more. For one thing, you’re severely restricting where a child can sit. Most of the seats that currently sit behind netting are not cheap by any means. I just checked the price of tickets for the upcoming Rockies vs. Cubs series and those seats cost right around $100 dollars a ticket. So you’re talking about dropping at minimum $200 to take your child to a baseball game and remain safe? I grew up in a family of four and so now you’re talking about $400 for a game. You’ve basically made it impossible for families to go to baseball games.
Most people will respond that you should then buy tickets in the upper deck. To be fair that’s usually where my family would get tickets for the three to five or so games we’d go to a year but every so often my father would get tickets through work and they often be somewhere along the foul lines and near the dugouts and those were the games that made me a baseball fan. You’re right in the thick of the action and the players you idolized were within shouting distance. It was always an incredible experience. Now growing up in Cleveland in the 90s, the Indians were King so I was destined to love baseball but what if I was born in a different time period? Without those up close and personal games I might not have become the fanatic I am today. Keeping a sport sustainable (or even growing a fanbase) is all about getting fans invested early. When you become a fan of something that young you become a fan for life. Those seats are vital for that purpose. This thing is if a child gets nailed in the head by a foul ball it’s not likely to matter either way as they won’t be fans for long. The netting is good for the future of the sport.
Like I said it just be a no brainer. I know grown adults who don’t feel safe in those seats. It shouldn’t be about phones or money or obstructed views, it should be about being willing to sacrifice a minuscule amount of your enjoyment of the game to ensure everyone can enjoy it.
Cy Young So Far
I wanted to make a few notes on how I evaluate my choices for Cy Young. First of all, two things I couldn’t care a less about are wins and how good their team is playing. A great pitcher can have a huge impact on his team’s record but starters throw once every five days. It doesn’t seem fair to hold them accountable for what happens the other four days. As far as wins go, there’s just too many variables in play that the pitcher doesn’t have any control over that determine a win and we should hold that against the pitcher either. I’m also not going to rely too heavily on ERA as since I like to use WAR as a value baseline and fWAR relies way more on FIP than ERA so it helps keep my evaluation consistent.
AL Cy Young
1. Blake Snell
Honestly, if you wanted to flip #1 and #2 you wouldn’t get much argument from me even if I went with Snell in the end. After some early season struggles, Snell has been the best pitcher in baseball and it’s not even close. While he is a full point of WAR below my #2, much of that is Boyd’s FIP and I think that it Snell’s is skewed by his first two starts or so. Since then he has been just as good if not better. Throw in the second best SIERA in the AL and second best K-BB% at 27.7%. Perhaps the craziest part of his season is an elevated BABIP lays out the possibility that he might get even better as the year goes on. Did I mention he has 83 SOs in 61.2 IPs along with the second best O-Swing% while leading the league in SwStr% with an astonishing 19.1%. Yeah he’s been unreal
2. Matt Boyd
I know. Already I’m going way out on a limb but he’s been downright incredible this season so let me make my case. He leads the AL in pitching WAR by racking up 2.7 WAR over 77.2 IP with 97 SOs. His FIP sits at 2.76 which is 2nd best in the AL while his 3.19 SIERA sits at 4th in the AL and his 26.0 K-BB% also sits 4th in the league. He’s top 15 in O-Swing% and top 10 in SwStr% so the skills are there as well.
Tuesday follows Monday and Verlander deserves Cy Young votes. With 103 SOs in 87.1 IP and a 2.27 ERA, one would assume that Verlander would be the easy frontrunner but as I mentioned before I’m leaning heavily towards WAR as my baseline and Verlander falls a little short in that mark as his 1.9 WAR is nearly a full point behind Boyd. This has a lot to do with his 3.66 FIP which is supported by a 3.30 SIERA and a minuscule .161 BABIP implies that there has been quite a bit of luck and great defense helping support his stellar season. That’s honestly the only thing keeping him from #1 so I totally get if you want him in that spot. The extra innings and strikeouts put him in the top three easily and I wouldn’t be shocked if he’s #1 when we revisit these after the all-star game.
I know, I’m as surprised as you are but here we are. We always knew the talent was there he just needed it all to fall into place and wee-doggy has it ever this season. Sitting pretty at second in the AL in WAR, he has dominated to the tune of a 2.54 ERA over 67.1 IP with 78 SOs. The craziest part is it’s all backed up by his 2.62 FIP and his 3.59 SIERA isn’t too shabby either. His 22.2 K-BB% is over triple from last year and his O-Swing% and SwStr% are all up in big ways while his Contact% is way down and perhaps most importantly he’s shown vast improvements in his Zone% and his F-Strike% which may have been the key to unlocking everything for Giolito.
Odorizzi’s season has been nothing short of a Cinderella story and for many weeks I have been a doubter. Yet each week he continues to dominate to the tune of 2.1 WAR over 64.1 IP with 70 SOs and a 1.96 ERA. FIP supports his season so far hence the good WAR but his SIERA of 4.02 still spells doom and gloom and so when you combine that with a mere 19.6 K-BB% I remain skeptical. Still, his fastball has managed an astonishing 10.1 pVAL already this season and his approach of high fastballs with splitters inside and breakers down in the zone is the way to go. Time will tell but at some point something’s got to give and I have a a feeling we’ll be seeing Gerrit Cole or Chris Sale in this spot next time but for now, Odorizzi has earned a spot at the table.
NL Cy Young
1. Max Scherzer
The once and future king. There’s no stopping Scherzer, age be darned. I will be old and withered and he will still be getting whiffs left and right. He’s been incredible so far this season after some early season struggles posting a ridiculous 117 SOs over 85.1 IP with a 3.06 ERA is just leaps and bounds beyond anything anyone else in the league is doing right now. He leads the entire league in pitching WAR and is thoroughly supported by the luck stats. In fact, his 2.12 FIP and 2.94 SIERA say he should be doing even better based on how well he’s pitching (I’m looking at you Nationals defense). Add in a 28.4 K-BB%, 70.3 F-Strike% along with a 16.2 SwStr% and it’s hard to see this streak of dominance coming to an end any time soon.
Someone explain to me again how the Nationals aren’t any good this year? I wrote earlier in the year about how Strasburg’s sinker stinks and that he used it too much and needed to ditch it for additional curveball usage. I like to think of Strasburg as an avid follower of my work because he did just that and after a rough 4-5 starts at the beginning of the season he unleashed the curveball dogs of war and has been demolishing the league ever since. Our own Shelley V. does a really fantastic job breaking down Strasburg’s season so far and I cannot recommend it enough. Want the numbers? At 2.6 WAR Strasburg sits second in the NL and tied for 3rd in the league. His 2.68 FIP and 3.20 SIERA shows that he’s been even better than the base numbers show (continues to glare at the Nationals defense). Add in a 24.9 K-BB% to go with an insane 38.1 O-Swing% and 14.5 SwStr%. He’s just incredible.
3. Hyun-Jin Ryu
Speaking of incredible seasons. You absolutely can make an argument that Ryu has been the best pitcher in baseball and deserves the #1 spot. I won’t stop you. I mean it’s hard to argue with a 1.48 ERA over Based on the criteria I set out through his underlying skills and predictive numbers he just doesn’t hold up as well as the first two on my list. The 2.52 FIP supports his elite success and to a lesser degree, his 3.27 SIERA does as well (The Dodgers defense points and laughs at the Nationals defense). The only thing that has me concerned is 90.0+ LOB% as there’s no way he can keep that up. Even if he doesn’t he’ll still be great. He’s been incredible and there’s no way around it. Strasburg just narrowly eeks out the win due to his superior strikeouts and WAR advantage but make no mistake Ryu would be well deserving of a Cy Young this year.
4. Zack Greinke
Greinke has been really fun to watch so far this season. We’ve spent years worrying about his declining velocity but I don’t think I’ve seen a pitch make the transition to wily veteran pitcher so successfully and in such dominating fashion. Everything is working right now for Greinke as his 4 seamer, changeup and curveball are all positive pitches so far according to pVAL. Over 81.2 IP Greinke has put up a fantastic 3.09 ERA with 75 SOs. His ranking here has mostly been hurt by his peripheral stats as a 20.3 K-BB% is good but not great while his 3.50 FIP and 3.73 SIERA definitely lag behind our first 3 candidates.
Hendricks has been one of the most interesting surprises so far this season. Typically considered a good but not great pitcher, Hendricks has been unstoppable for the Cubs this season. Much like Greinke, he’s survived without getting a ton of strikeouts as evidenced by his 16.4 K-BB%. His fastball and sinker are working for him so far this season which has allowed him to put up a 3.09 ERA and 61 SOs over 70.0 IP. FIP backs up what he’s done so far as he sits with a nice 3.24 FIP but I’m skeptical it continues throughout the season and his 4.11 SIERA agrees with me. I wouldn’t be shocked to see Clayton Kershaw or Jacob Degrom or Chris Paddack here by season’s end.
There’s been a lot of conversation lately about attendance and as I am wont to do I find myself looking for greater context than what is being presented on telecasts and whatnot. Oftentimes when a team has low attendance it is presented as being solely the fault of the local fans, or as if the city has failed the team in some way shape or form and I really wish we would often look deeper than that. In fact, I will say that if you look hard enough most attendance issues are either due to failures of management, ownership or mother nature herself.
Take Tampa for instance. I went to college in the Tampa area and lived in Tampa itself for two years post graduation. I went to my fair share of Rays games and even lived there during the crazy, magical 2008 season where they made it all the way to the World Series and let me tell you there Rays hats everywhere in town. So why don’t they go to the regular season games? All you would need to do to understand why is try getting to a game. Tropicana Park is actually on the island of St.Petersburg that is technically part of Tampa and it is nearly impossible to get to on a game day. There are only two bridges on and off the island and one has only two lanes each way and the other was widened to four lanes but still is only two at either end. I live in Tampa and it once took me about four hours to get to a game once. I can’t necessarily blame fans for not wanting to make that trip for a random game.
There are lots of other reasons why attendance could be down so far at certain parks. Cleveland and Boston had sub 50 degree weather days all the way until the middle of May. In Denver, it snowed just last week! One other reason I always like to point out is when attendance suffers in big sprawling cities, where the team covers a lot of ground and includes the suburbs. Going to a game in some of those cities can involve a lot of driving and parking especially if there isn’t adequate public transportation or accessibility. These factors all come into play and I think it is reductive to just jump to the conclusion that it simply boils down to being bad fans.
Since I’m starting to run a bit long on word space I think that’s all I have for this week. Coming up this Sunday I’ll be back with an update on my Game Theory studies and how I think it’s essential to understanding how the hitter vs. pitcher chess match works and I’ll also share with you my Silver Sluggers, Gold Gloves and best reliever picks!
(Photo by Juan DeLeon/Icon Sportswire)