Welcome back to this week’s Baseball Musings! Let’s jump right into my baseball thoughts here on Mother’s Day!
Everyone: CALL YOUR MOM. My mother had a big impact on both my life and on my love for baseball. My father was always the big sports fan in our family, and he was a major guiding force in my sports life, but in a roundabout way my mother was just as essential to where I am today. As far as I could ever tell, my mother didn’t necessarily care about sports beyond the fact that my brother and I cared about sports. That didn’t stop her from coming to every little league game up through high school (she even came to many of my softball games after I switched over) and learning as much as she could about football (Ohio is a football state through and through), wrestling (I think she bruised my dad’s arm every single match), and baseball; we knew that even if she’d never even touched a baseball, it was still important to her. It made us feel important. She may have never been a full-blown fan of baseball, but she was a fan of us and so, therefore, she too loved the sport we loved. That continues to this day—even now it still makes feel very loved.
The other thing that I will always value about my mother was her approach to watching baseball. Football and basketball were sports I watched with my father or my friends, but baseball was always a family thing. Going to games was something we all did, and I think it really drove home that familial bond that I have with baseball and built the sense of community that I love so much about the game. To say that I wouldn’t be a baseball fan without my mother is a severe underselling of just how much of an impact she had on my sports life.
My mother deserves so much more than just three paragraphs in my weekly column, but at least it’s a start. I also want to make a point about mothers and their impact on me and my baseball life. I think it’s really easy to forget that so much happens outside of sports that in the end directly contributes to a person’s success in sports. While I didn’t grow up with wealth, I never wanted for anything. My dad is the one who taught me how to throw a baseball, but it was my mother who made sure my life ran smoothly enough that I had the chance to learn. All the life lessons, home cooked meals, rides to and from practice, washed uniforms, and help with my homework were just a few ways that my mother helped me both have a life in sports and more importantly become the man that I am today. I’m sure if you asked pro athletes, many of them would have similar stories. I think that’s the biggest thing that I think about on Mother’s Day. It’s not that she worked full-time to put me through college (both my parents did) or that she and my dad lent me money to get my start in San Francisco nearly 10 years ago that kickstarted my career and life as an adult; I’m eternally grateful for those sacrifices she made. I’m thinking of the exhausting, thankless work she did every day: from the days changing diapers, to driving all the way to Florida to drop me off at college, to flying out to California to help me move to Colorado. I will be forever grateful to her for those things and so much more. Thanks, Ma.
Favorite Mother’s Day Baseball Stories
I thought I’d share links to some of my favorite Mother’s Day stories and links:
- Lorenzo Cain on his mother raising him on her own
- A fascinating case for the day we can celebrate Mother’s Day in the MLB with a mother playing
- Various baseball players sharing stories about their mothers
- Christian Yelich on how his mom convinced him to keep playing baseball as a kid
- Moms who heckle their kids are my favorite moms
- This Baltimore baseball writer’s tribute to his mom feels really similar to my own
- Several Phillies players talk a few years ago about the impact their mom had on them
- An interview from last year with Paul DeJong‘s mom
Overall Offense Recap So Far
I’m not sure yet if I will do this every month, as at some point the league trends will stabilize and won’t really look any different from month-to-month. but when you’re only a month and a half in there’s a lot of interesting and valuable information to sift through. What I’m hoping to do here is look at a league-wide view on offense and compare a few overall statistics to where they were at this point last year. We hear broadcasters talk all the time about strikeouts and home runs being up, so I’ll avoid those, but we’ll talk tangentially about those two trends when we look at other stats. Note that all of these stats are as of the last day in April:
|2019 Totals Through April||33,296||4,046||9.2%||23.3%||.321||.421||.176||14.4%||36.5%||41.2%||29.8%||42.8%||11.0%||100|
|2018 Totals Through April||32,324||3,747||9.0%||22.7%||.319||.400||.156||11.9%||35.8%||40.3%||29.4%||43.5%||10.6%||95|
|Percent Change||Up 3.0%||Up 7.0%||Up 0.2%||Up 0.6%||Up 1.0%||Up 5.0%||Up 11.0%||Up 2.5%||Up 0.7%||Up 0.9%||Up 0.4%||Down 0.7%||Up 0.4%||Up 5.0%|
I find these numbers super interesting. Like I said before, we hear all the time about how strikeouts and home runs are up, but we never really hear about the forces at work that keep those numbers rising. Probably the most glaring reason for this change is that we’ve seen 3.0% more plate appearances in April than we did in 2018. This is what drives those rising numbers more than anything else. Almost all the rate stats like K%, HR/FB%, and SwStr% are up, but not as much you would expect from the way you hear a lot of folks talk about them. Yet if we’re seeing almost 1,000 more plate appearances, we’re talking about 1,000 more chances for home runs, runs, and strikeouts, so of course when combined with the slight rate gains we’re going to see an increase in all of those numbers across the board. At the end of the day, baseball will always be a game of opportunity. You can’t produce more if you don’t get the opportunity to do so. I have to wonder what is creating those extra plate appearances though. Off the top of my head, I wonder if it has to do with more and more teams being willing to take some of their best hitters and have them bat leadoff or in the 2-hole, as opposed to No. 3 and No. 4. Mookie Betts, Mike Trout, Francisco Lindor, Tommy Pham, Trey Mancini, Yoan Moncada, Nicholas Castellanos, Jose Altuve, Whit Merrifield, Jorge Polanco, Mitch Haniger, Josh Donaldson, Kris Bryant, Eugenio Suarez, Trevor Story, Christian Yelich, and Paul Goldschmidt are all hitters listed on Roster Resource as hitting primarily out of the No. 1 or No. 2 spot while being one of the best hitters (if not the best) on their team. We know that batters in the top three spots of the lineup end up with increased plate appearances, and since they are the better hitters they are succeeding more often and help to turn over the lineup more. Rinse and repeat. If it were true, it would explain the added plate appearance and much of the improved run production thanks to the best hitters getting a chance to hit more often.
We’re going to repeat this a couple of times, but let’s do the same thing for the pitchers.
|Innings Pitched||Pitches Thrown||FIP||WHIP||LOB%||SIERA||Strikes||Balls||FA%||FAv|
|2019 Totals through April||7,778.1||131,042||4.37||1.32||73.0%||4.22||82,646||48,396||53.0%||92.9|
|2018 Totals through April||7,566.2||126,620||4.09||1.31||72.5%||4.09||79,888||46,732||55.8%||92.4|
|Percent Change Rounded Off||Up .01%||Up 3.0%||Up 6.0%||Up 0.01%||Up 1.0%||Up 3.0%||Up 3.0%||Up 3.0%||Down 2.8%||Up 0.01%|
We’ve already looked at BB% and K% with the hitters. Those numbers would be the same regardless of whether we looked them up from the pitcher’s point of view or the hitter’s. We can see so far that we have had an increase in innings pitched, but that small of a gap could be explained by a couple of extra-innings games or the season starting a bit earlier. The thing I find most interesting here is the 3.0% increase in pitches thrown, despite a negligible difference in WHIP and LOB%. At first, it seems like it’s simply a case of inefficient pitching, but what I really wonder is if it’s connected to the drop in FA% (four-seam or unclassified fastball percentage): If we’re seeing more and more breaking and offspeed pitches, which are by their nature harder to control and locate, then it might explain why we would see more and more pitches thrown just to try and get the hitter to chase the pitch, as opposed to simply trying to blow the fastball by them.
I was starting to put this together when I saw Jay Jaffe had put together an incredibly comprehensive take on team defense so far with really great explainers for each of the stats I was going to use. Instead of trying to do the same thing or risk unconsciously plagiarizing most of his work, I’m going to direct you to his piece and give some of my own thoughts as well.
The first thing that I notice is obvious: four out of six of the division leaders (Tampa Bay Rays, Houston Astros, Minnesota Twins, Los Angeles Dodgers) are in the top ten for DefEff. Interestingly enough, these are also teams that have excellent fielders at one of the two most important positions in baseball, namely shortstop and center field. The Rays have Kevin Kiermaier, the Astros have Carlos Correa and George Springer, the Twins have Byron Buxton and Jorge Polanco, and the Dodgers have Corey Seager and Alex Verdugo. These are all pretty good fielders and it shows in the overall defensive results.
Another interesting thing I’ve noticed about team defense actually has some interesting fantasy impact. If you look at The List, it’s super interesting to break down how the elite pitchers all shake out when it comes to having elite defenses:
|Ranking||# of Pitchers on Top 15 Defenses|
|1-25||8 of 25|
|26-50||12 of 25|
|51-75||12 of 25|
|76-100||13 of 25|
The results aren’t surprising, but it’s worth noting that the elite guys don’t need elite defenses to get the job done, but the when evaluating the mid-level guys or young up and comers it might be really worthwhile to take their defense into account.
ESPN Player Rater Top 10 Hitters
I firmly believe one of the hardest things in Roto leagues is figuring out where players rank against each other. Should we value stolen bases more than home runs? How much do wins factor into a pitcher’s ranking? These are the kinds of questions we should be asking around this time of the fantasy season. Oftentimes when I want an answer to that question, I’ll check out ESPN’s Player Rater and see if it can give me some perspective. It’s not perfect by any means, but it’s a nice quick and dirty way for me to get a glance at what has happened so far this season in a roto context. I love rankings, but most rankings are done based on what the player is going to do the rest of the season; in this case, I want to know information about what has already happened and the Player Rater is perfect for that. Here are their top ten hitters so far:
- Cody Bellinger
- Christian Yelich
- Adalberto Mondesi
- Tim Anderson
- George Springer
- Trevor Story
- Michael Brantley
- Javier Baez
- Nolan Arenado
- Elvis Andrus
Seeing Bellinger, Yelich, and Arenado on this list isn’t surprising in the least—those are some of the best hitters in the game. When you look at the rest of the list, it’s hard to ignore that stolen bases are easily where the Player Rater places the most value in roto. Five of the top ten hitters are also top ten in stolen bases. Seven of them are in the top 25. Five out of 10 of the hitters are also in the top 25 in AVG. Fascinatingly enough, only two of the top ten are in the top 25 in BB% and only two of them sit in the top 25 in K% as well. Finally, five of these overall top 10 are top 10 in runs (with Michael Brantley sitting in the top 25), while five of the 10 also sit in the top 10 in RBIs (seven sit in the top 25). It’s Anderson and Andrus who are sort of the oddballs here, as they are reliant on their SB and HR production to get them into the top 10, which leaves me skeptical as to whether or not their success will continue.
Top 10 Pitchers by ESPN Player Rater
Now for the Top 10 Pitchers!
- Justin Verlander
- Tyler Glasnow
- Luis Castillo
- Kirby Yates
- Jose Berrios
- Roberto Osuna
- Domingo German
- Zack Greinke
- Felipe Vasquez
- Gerrit Cole
I think the most surprising thing about this list is the presence of three closers. It turns out saves are the single most valuable pitching category so far this season, as they seem to carry nearly double the weight of every other category. Add in their elite ERA and WHIP and it’s easy to see how they snuck into the top 10. In case you were curious where wins fall on the value scale, they are third—they are almost even with Ks in value, but fall just short. I think this is why a lot of leagues are moving away from the win as a category. It’s a completely team-dependent stat that a pitcher doesn’t have nearly enough control over, but it’s the third most heavily weighted stat when we score them. This makes me nervous for Domingo German on this list, as 47% of his value so far has come from his win total, which makes me suspect that he is not long for this list. Ditto for Berrios. One thing that I think will change pretty heavily as the season goes on is that we will see more of the preseason top 10 end up back on this list, as several of the ace pitchers have gotten off to a slow start or been injured. It won’t be too long before we start to see the likes of Clayton Kershaw, Chris Sale, Blake Snell, and Trevor Bauer on this list.
Jerseys, Fandom, and Understanding What a Player Means to a Town
Last week, I finally got the chance to take in my first Rockies game of the season. It was a perfect night for baseball and even though the Rox got blown out, we had a fantastic time. One of my favorite parts of going to Rockies games is seeing how excited my girlfriend gets when she sees different jerseys in the crowd. Being a Rockies fan for almost a decade and a half, she knew every name inside and out and it’s both fun and fascinating to see which names she gets most excited about and why. Donte Bichette and Andres Gallaraga were two of her favorites (she yells “Big Cat!” every time she sees a Gallaraga jersey). While they were very good MLB players, it’s also really cool to see what lesser-known players warrant jerseys in a town: Ryan Spilborghs, Yorvit Torrealba, and Wilin Rosario jerseys were just a prominent as Nolan Arenado, Larry Walker, Troy Tulowitzki, and Todd Helton jerseys (OK, maybe not Helton jerseys but still). You buy a jersey to display how much you like a player. I just love seeing which players resonate with the fans and end up being a fanbase’s favorite players. It reminds me of growing up and seeing as many jerseys for Paul Sorrento, Omar Vizquel, Carlos Baerga, and Kenny Lofton (my personal favorite) as I saw for Jim Thome and Manny Ramirez. You still see those jerseys at games. Heck, I had a Jake Westbrook jersey once! What are some of your hometown team’s favorite players that most people wouldn’t think of right away? In case you were curious what the most popular jersey was at Coors Field, it was easily Charlie Blackmon. Why? Just ask this kid:
That’s all I’ve got for this week. Go give your mom a hug and I’ll see you next Sunday! Thanks so much to all the mothers out there, Happy Mother’s Day!
(Photo by Allen Fredrickson/Icon Sportswire)