Table of Contents

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

MLB Power Rankings: Orioles on the Rise

With methods described in this post, here are the latest MLB power rankings!

TPI = Team Performance Index (my ranking metric).  Based on wRC, DRA, DRS, and UZR.
W% = Team Winning Percentage (i.e. real life)
Py% = Pythagorean Winning Percentage (based on real RS and RA)

On-Paper Playoff Leaders

American League - East: Orioles, Central: Royals, West: A's, Wild cards: Tigers and Yankees
National League - East: Nationals, Central: Cardinals, West: Dodgers, Wild cards: Giants and Reds

The Baltimore Orioles shot past the Rays and Yankees to claim the top spot in the the AL East in this round of the power rankings.  They are in the midst of a 17-5 run, and about half of those games have come against AL East opponents (6 vs. Red Sox, 3 each against the Yankees and Blue Jays).  They are riding a resurgent Ubaldo Jimenez, who looks as good as he ever has looked during his career, and a brilliant first-half performance from Manny Machado, to push to the top of the AL East in both these rankings as well as real life.  I enjoy baseball more when the top of the AL East is not the Yankees or Red Sox, so this makes me happy.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Miami Series Preview: Giancarlo, Realmuto, and Yelich

Now running on LibreOffice!
Giancarlo Stanton can crush baseballs.
Photo credit: Corn Farmer

Following a much-needed rainout after Wednesday night's extra inning game, the Reds welcome the Miami Marlins to town.  The Marlins were a popular pick in the preseason as a team on the rise, thanks to a strong performance last year, a very good core that they've started to lock up, and some offseason acquisitions that signaled a "win-now" strategy.  Not the least among those was the acquisition of Mat Latos for Anthony DeSclafani, although the Reds will miss their former starter this go-around.

The Marlins have had ok relief pitching and have fielded well, but their offense has been pretty miserable all season outside of Giancarlo Stanton, and their starting pitching has been disappointing.  The preseason thought was that if they could just make it until Jose Fernandez gets back, they might have a shot.  At this point, though, they're 7 games behind the Mets, and are only "in" the race because no team has been particularly good in the NL East.

Position Players

I haven't watched many Marlins games this season, but I keep seeing clips of Giancarlo Stanton's master blasts.  And Dee Gordon has continued to exceed expectations, at least of those of the stats community.  He's been superb over the past season, though I do think it's fun to compare his baserunning totals to those of Billy Hamilton.  Gordon is the better hitter, though, and at this point in his career is the better all-around player.  I was surprised to see how badly Christian Yelich has struggled this year, because he seemed like a really nice player to lock up this spring when the Marlins signed him.  Finally, yes, the Solano brothers are actually brothers!  Neat, right?

The Rookie is J.T. Realmuto, the second rookie catcher the Reds have faced in as many series.  Realmuto was the Marlins #2 prospect entering the season according to most outlets.  The scouting report on him seems to be that he is a good athlete, that his receiving has dramatically improved over the past season or so and is now pretty solid (although note poor early returns), with a solid, contact-oriented bat.  ::shrug::

Have I mentioned that Todd Frazier has been the best third baseman in the NL the past two calendar years?  Oh, right, I have.  Good to see Jay Bruce's wRC+ push well up over the 100-mark after a strong series.  He could still end up with a decent season if he gets hot.  I'm been pretty encouraged by what I've seen from Eugenio Suarez thus far.  Brayan Pena has been hot lately as well, and would almost be at a full win over replacement if he wasn't so slow.  Did you see Ian Kinsler let a not-called infield fly drop last night to exchange Jay Bruce for Pena on the bases?  Clever move.  Glad to see Pena still score.

Probable Starters

If you go by this year's numbers, this doesn't look to like it will be a particularly well-pitched series.  The guy currently in the Marlins' rotation that I was most interested in seeing, Jose Urena, isn't throwing.  Koehler and Phelps are both late-20's guys.  Dan Haren is somehow only 34.  I figured he was pushing 40.

...I posted this on twitter the other night.  I'll just leave it at this:


Steve Cishek recently lost his closer gig to A.J. Ramos, who looks really good this year.  That's about all I have to say about their pen...

The Reds pen is huge right now, at least by sheer volume of names.  I think we're all pretty charged up about the job that Donovan Hand did last night.  Frazier deserves a lot of attention for his monster night, but Hand held a very good Tigers offense for three innings in his first big-league appearance in two years.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

My 2015 National League All Star Teams

It's time to talk All Star voting once again, and so here are my annual picks for the midsummer classic exhibition extravaganza.  As in prior years, I'm basing my recommendations for the All Star game on past calendar year performance; I don't like the fact that we don't pay attention to second-half statistics when choosing our All Stars.  Fortunately, FanGraphs makes this super-easy to do, thanks to their past-calendar year split.

Below, bold-faced players did not appear on my 2014 teams.


Buster Posey
Starter: Buster Posey (SFG; 6.6 WAR)
Reserve: Devin Mesoraco (CIN; 3.0 WAR; injured)
Alternate: Francisco Cervelli (PIT; 3.0 WAR)

Buster Posey has been magnificent over the past year, and has been worth approximately twice the value of any other catcher according to FanGraphs calculations.  Not only that, but he also tops Baseball Prospectus's rankings for Framing Runs added this year at 10 runs above average, so he's good at that as well.  He walks almost as much as he strikes out (and he has incredibly low strikeout rates), he hits for good power, and has played 147 games in the past year by manning first base.  There's talk that he might eventually have to move out from behind the plate, but that has to be a difficult proposition given how amazing he is back there.

Francisco Cervelli shocked me, but all of his PA's have happened in the past calendar year.  The last time he had even 300 PA's in a season was 2012 with the Yankees AAA affiliate.  But now that he's both healthy and being given a chance, he's showing himself to be a pretty nice hitter.  Sure, the .400 BABIP will come down, but a solid hitter and a top-tier framer?  The Pirates are looking pretty darn smart.

First Base

Anthony Rizzo (CHC; 5.7 WAR)
Paul Goldschmidt (ARI; 5.3 WAR)

Rizzo is the newcomer (he "merely" earned a pat on the head last year as the Cubs representative), but as the Reds just witnessed first-hand, he has really come into his own in Chicago and might just be the best first baseman in baseball.  He's at the top of the leaderboard, if nothing else.  Rizzo's calling card is his power, but he gets on base thanks to decent walk rates and excellent contact rates.

Second Base

Joe Panik (SFG; 4.0 WAR)
Howie Kendrick (LAD; 4.0 WAR)

Although their overall value pegs out as identical over the past year, Panik gets the nod here over Kendrick because he has done so in fewer PA's, because he's having the better 2015 season, and it's fun to vote for young guys.  I don't remember Panik being much of a prospect as far as ballyhoos go, but he's having himself a terrific start to his career with the Giants.  The 24-year old is hitting for good power this season (mostly doubles), has outstanding contact skills, and holds his own in the infield.

Third Base

Todd Frazier
Todd Frazier (CIN; 5.6 WAR)
Anthony Rendon (WAS; 4.4 WAR)

For the second-straight year, Frazier is my starter in the National League at the hot corner.  I really enjoy watching Frazier in the field; he has good hands, but for me what seems to set him apart is his ability to make such good, strong, accurate throws from almost any position.  Offensively, while he is an aggressive hitter and often seems to lunge at balls low and away, he somehow gets enough barrel on balls to hit them with power when he does so.  Or, at least, he can hit them in the air over the infielders heads.  2015 is, so far, easily the best year of his career.  Two causes: one, a lower strikeout rate, and two, a major drop in his ground ball rate.  Almost everything he hits goes into the air, and he has enough power to do serious damage.

There's a bit of a snub with the reserve here, where I took Anthony Rendon over Josh Harrison.  Harrison actually had slightly more WAR (4.5), but Rendon got his total despite missing time with injury.  And, frankly, he's a guy I really like.  And I picked him last year.  Still, with Harrison being a Princeton High grad, I feel a little bad about.  I ended up taking him as an outfielder below...kind of a stretch, but he has played there.


Jhonny Peralta
Jhonny Peralta (STL: 5.5 WAR)
Brandon Crawford (SFG; 3.5 WAR)

This is a pretty thin position.  Peralta, though, continues to be one of the most interesting players I've seen.  When with the Indians, he was moved off of shortstop due to significant concerns about his ability to field the position.  The Tigers signed him and plugged him back at shortstop, but just about everyone thought this was a foolish move; would he hit enough to make up for his defense?  Not only did he do that, but he actually has become one of the best fielders at his position.  The how is still a bit unclear to me, but a) he very rarely makes mistakes, and b) he seems to be incredibly good at both positioning and reading the ball off the bat (or, maybe, reading the bat before it even hits the ball?). Regardless, he's easily been the best shortstop in baseball over the past year.


Starters: LF: Giancarlo Stanton (MIA: 5.2 WAR); CF: Andrew McCutchen (PIT: 5.0 WAR), RF: Bryce Harper (WAS: 5.7 WAR)
Reserves: Josh Harrison (PIT: 4.5 WAR), Starling Marte (4.2 WAR), Denard Span (4.0 WAR)

Of Harper's 5.7 WAR over the past 365 days, 4.6 of them have come this season.  He has nearly a full win lead over the next-best player (Josh Donaldson: 3.8 WAR), has an OBP we haven't really seen since Barry Bonds (.479), a 20% walk rate, an equal strikeout rate, and has shown a huge drop in his ground ball rate to help his other-worldly power play up.  I still think Mike Trout is a better ballplayer, but Harper's actually making me question that.  How fun; those two players have always been tied to one another, and now we're seeing both of them making good on their promise.

Starting Pitchers

Clayton Kershaw
Clayton Kershaw (LAD: 8.2 WAR)
Max Scherzer (WAS: 6.5 WAR)
Cole Hamels (PHI: 5.6 WAR)
Jacob deGrom (NYM: 5.5 WAR)
Jake Arrieta (CHC: 5.2 WAR)

Here I'm using an average of RA9-WAR (based purely on runs allowed per nine) and normal fWAR (based on FIP) in an effort to recognize that FIP doesn't catch everything that is within a pitcher's skillset.  Clayton Kershaw once again leads the way, and rightly so.  Jake Arrieta and Jacob deGrom were the two surprises for me.  Reigning rookie of the year deGrom has long been throwing well, but I guess I didn't realize how well.  And while I knew that Arietta had a great season last year, I overlooked him this year...likely because the Reds missed him when they faced the Cubs last week.


Aroldis Chapman (CIN: 2.4 WAR)
Drew Storen (WAS: 2.3 WAR)
Ken Giles (PHI: 2.2 WAR)
Kenley Jansen (LAD: 2.1 WAR)
Jonathan Papelbon (PHI: 2.1 WAR)

Aroldis Chapman has seemed mortal in recent weeks, but over the past calendar year he has arguably been the best reliever in the league.  It's curious that one team recently rumored to be interested in him is the Washington Nationals, who control the second name on this list.  A Storen-Chapman combination, played to maximize platoon advantage, would be brutal in late innings.  I didn't expect the Phillies' bullpen to rank out so well.  Ken Giles, in particular, is a revelation.  He has been walking a few more this season, but the 24-year old has a 1.49 ERA (and a 2.27 SIERA) in 72 innings between this and last year.  I completely overlooked him in my recent Phillies preview.

Pats on the Head

(players selected as team representatives despite not making the cut above)

Freddie Freeman
Atlanta: Freddie Freeman, 1B (4.7 WAR)
Colorado: Nolan Arenado, 3B (3.7 WAR)
Milwaukee: Carlos Gomez, CF (3.0 WAR)
San Diego: Tyson Ross, SP (3.3 WAR)

Team Totals

ARI - 1
ATL - 0
CHC - 2
CIN - 3
COL - 0
LAD - 3
MIA - 1
MIL - 0
NYM - 1
PHI - 3
PIT - 4
SDP - 0
SFG - 3
STL - 1
WAS - 5
(not including pat-on-head selections)

After placing second in the "Star Counts," the Nationals take the lead this year.  They've had a fairly disappointing season thus far, but I still like them to take their division when it's all said and done.  They're only 1.5 games behind the Mets.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Tigers Series(es) Preview: McCann, Martinez, and Verlander

The Reds begin a fourish-game series against the Tigers today.  Or, rather, they start a set of four games against the Tigers.  Through an interesting quirk in the schedule, the teams will play the first two games in Detroit, and then fly to Cincinnati for games on Wednesday and Thursday.  It's probably happened before, but I can't remember a time.  I'm sure you folks can enlighten me.

The tigers were seen by many as the favorites in the AL Central coming into the season.  The Royals were expected to regress, and while the While Sox looked to have improved in the offseason, they probably weren't top-tier teams yet.  The Indians looked to be their toughest competition.  The Twins looked like basement-dwellers.  

Baseball being baseball, that's pretty much exactly NOT what has happened.  Through the first two and a half months of the season, the Twins and Royals are dukeing it out for the AL Central crown, with the Tigers three games back and just three games over .500.  While the Twins seem to be falling back to earth, the Royals seem to have legitimately improved this season, while the Tigers have been scrapping.  Still, despite their aging roster, they still have a lot of talent, and they still have a good shot to make the playoffs this season.  They hit well, and they catch 'n throw surprisingly well (this used to be a team that punted on fielding).  Their downfall thus far has been their pitching, which has been merely adequate.

Position Players

With injuries to Alex Avila and Victor Martinez, the Tigers are playing a pair of prospects most days.  James McCann, a 2nd-round pick in 2010, is more or less on schedule, having played a full season at AAA last year.  He held his own, but showed himself to be an aggressive hitter with only modest power.  Kiley McDaniel sees him as best-suited for a backup role on account of his fairly weak bat, but praised his defense.  His early framing numbers are not great (3rd-worst in baseball), but he has made up for that a bit with his throwing arm.

The other is Tyler Collins, who is their typical DH against right-handed pitching.  McDaniel rates him as an average bat with good plate discipline, but below-average fielding skills.  That more or less matches his performance so far, though his K & BB rates leave a lot to be desired.

Otherwise, looking over the roster, aside from future Hall of Famer Miguel Cabrera (who looks to have rebounded from an "off" year last year), I think the most interesting guy is J.D. Martinez.  Martinez came up as a mid-range prospect, but was released by the Astros at the start of last season. He signed on with the Tigers, and proceeded to have a superb 4-win series.  Eno Sarris had a nice article on him recently, describing how he transitioned from a flat swing to an uppercut swing as a result of studying hitters while he was out with an injury.  He'd already made those adjustments when the Astros released him last year, but I don't think anyone could have expected those adjustments would make such a difference.  The whole thing rings of Jose Bautista, and it makes me wonder how many other players with flat swings could transform themselves by adjusting their swing.  I'm sure that's easier said than done.

Probable Starters

Mercifully, for my own sensibilities, the Reds will miss Alfredo Simon in this series because he pitched yesterday.  Instead, we get to see the Tigers' current Big Three: David Price, Justin Verlander, and Anibal Sanchez.  And someone named Kyle Ryan.

The marquee matchup will unquestionably be Cueto vs. Price in Cincinnati on Wednesday night.  Those two are arguably the top two free agents-to-be this offseason, and both are pitching well; it should be a fun game.  Sanchez and Justin Verlander look like pale imitations of their former selves.  Verlander, in particular, has lost several mph off his fastball, isn't striking guys out anymore, is walking plenty, has a horrific 13% ground ball rate, and seems to be getting by on pure guile, with a lot of smoke and mirrors.  He has a .133 BABIP, and 83% strand rate, a 5.74 xFIP, and a 6.49 SIERA.  Yikes.


The guy who caught my eye here was Joba Chamberlain.  The former top Yankee prospect has carved out a good career as a setup guy, having last started a game in the major leagues in 2009.  He has seemingly traded in strikeouts for contact this season, with a drop in both strikeout rate and walk rate.  He has probably gotten a bit lucky, but he and Soria have very effectively shorted games thus far.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Did Burke Badenhop Find His Velocity?

Burke Badenhop was the Reds lone free agent signing this past offseason who received a guaranteed big league deal.  I heralded it as a superb signing: a highly effective, ground-ball machine for the bullpen with a very low salary.

Instead, he's been a disaster.  His velocity was way down at the start of the season (~87 mph on his fastball, vs. ~89-90 mph in 2013-2014), his already-low strikeout rate plummeted, and it seemed his lack of velocity also reduced the effectiveness of his sinker.  While watching last night's game, however, I noticed him regularly hitting 90-91 mph, he managed a pair of strikeouts on fastballs up in the zone, and worked around an error by Brayan Pena on a squibber in front of the plate.

Here are Badenhop's velocity measures, by game, this year and last year:
Over the last 5-7 games, his velocity has taken a big jump from where it had been in April and most of May.  It's back comfortably around 90 mph, though maybe still a slight tick off of where he averaged last season.  His results have been been a little bit better too: 4 K's and 2 BB's in 5 innings over his past five appearances, with 1 run allowed:

It's too early to know if he's really back.  But if Burke Badenhop can return to his 2014 form, it would be a nice shot in the arm for the Reds' bullpen.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Cubs Series Preview

The Reds head to Wrigley Field tomorrow to take on the Cubs in a long, four-game series.  The Cubs entered the season as a popular up-and-coming pick on the basis of both their outstanding cadre of almost-ready position prospects as well as an active offseason that saw the acquire or sign Jon Lester, Jason Hammel, Dexter Fowler, and Miguel Montero.  Perhaps as expected, they have seemingly taken that step forward this season and are locked in a dead heat with the Pirates for second place in the NL Central, albeit well back of the seemingly untouchable Cardinals.  They've played almost exactly according to their preseason projections (record-wise, at least), and are projected to have a better-than-even chance of landing a wild card playoff spot.

As good as this season has been for them, however, their underlying numbers aren't quite as strong as their record.  Their offense has been well below-average thus far, with the Reds taking a clear advantage in power.  Their starters have been excellent and their relief corps has been "fine," but it would seem that they are in need of some offense if they want to make something of this season.  The nice thing about having the kind of youth they have, of course, is that one can hope for better things in the future.  I think they've got a realistic shot.

Position Players

Zack Cozart's injury was heartbreaking to watch today.  I'm no doctor (not that kind, anyway...), but it looked to me like he hyperextended his knee pretty badly when he slid/missed first base.  That makes one worry about an anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injury, which is often repaired with surgery.  I don't know recovery times off-hand, but my hunch is "long."  It's so frustrating, because Zack Cozart had somehow transformed himself back into the player we all hoped he might be when he broke in with the Reds: a brilliant fielder and a solid hitter with very good power for a shortstop.  It was only 200 plate appearances, but it's hard to have watched the amazing turnaround he's experienced thus far in 2015 and not think that something has clicked for him.  With 1.6 fWAR, he's already topped his total from 2014, and has only received a modest boost from his fielding in that metric this year.  His .202 ISO is easily the best of his career, as is his walk rate (despite his claims about being more aggressive).  His ground ball rate is down, his strikeouts are down, and he's not even showing a strong BABIP (low for his career, though consistent with a more fly ball heavy approach).  Here's hoping he can completely heal from this injury, even if he misses the rest of the season, and doesn't see a loss of mobility sap his fantastic range.  Best wishes on a full recovery, Zack.

...As for the Cubs, Anthony Rizzo is fantastic.  Kris Bryant has been pretty much as-advertised and will be fun to watch this series.  Addison Russell has recovered pretty nicely from his disastrous start and almost has his batting line back to league average.  David Ross is the best catcher the Reds ever released.  And Starlin Castro probably needs to be worried about his job, as the Cubs have other middle-infield options in the minors and Russell looks ready to go.  The Reds catch a break this series with Reds-killer Jorge Soler on the DL.

Probable Starters

Tsuyoshi Wada is sort of the penultimate soft-tossing lefty, and there's an argument that the gap between his ERA and his peripherals is due to his low velocity.  I've long been a Jason Hammel fan (he's an old fantasy guy of mine), and it's great to see him having such a nice year.  He has the best xFIP of any starter in this series, and his duel against Johnny Cueto could be really fun to watch.  Finally, while I don't have much to say about Kyle Hendricks (a soft-tossing, control righty), I'm looking forward to a rematch between the pickoff-challenged Jon Lester and zippy skippy Billy Hamilton...assuming Hamilton is healthy enough to play by Sunday.


It's pretty hard to argue with with Reds' decision to demote Jumbo Diaz given his mind-numbingly frustrating tendency to give up the long ball this season.  But it was still the case that he has the best xFIP and best SIERA on the staff.  They stuck with him through June, however, and used him almost always in high-leverage situations.  Remember when he hit 102 mph in his last appearance, right before giving up the big hit?  I still just love that guy.  Hopefully he's ridiculous-dominant in AAA and makes it back up sooner than later.  I think the Reds would be foolish to give up on him.

Cubs pen: it's been pretty strong.  Justin Grimm has been a strikeout-and-walk machine this year, and looks like the bullpen suits him a lot better than the rotation.  They have a pretty impressive cadre of long-men between Travis Wood and Edwin Jackson.

The craziest outfield in baseball history

At the end of last month, David Temple posted an excellent episode of the Stealing Home podcast that highlights the rather absurd and definitely unique outfield used by the University of Texas baseball team until 1974.  This is despite the fact that a podcast is almost exactly the wrong medium to describe it.  Really, seeing is believing:
If you look closely along left-center field you can see the "Billy Goat Trail" up to deep center field.  Yes, deep center field was in play, which means outfielders had to run up there to field well-struck balls to center.  Amazing.

EJ Fagan, who was interviewed in David Temple's podcast, posted this article that gives more pictures, more anecdotes, and news accounts of what it was like to play there.  It's a great article, so please give it a look.

Tuesday, June 09, 2015

MLB Power Rankings: June 9th, 2015

With methods described in this post, here are the latest MLB power rankings!

TPI = Team Performance Index (my ranking metric).  Based on wRC, DRA, DRS, and UZR.
W% = Team Winning Percentage (i.e. real life)
Py% = Pythagorean Winning Percentage (based on real RS and RA)

On-Paper Playoff Leaders

American League - East: Rays, Central: Indians, West: A's, Wild cards: Royals and Tigers
National League - East: Mets, Central: Cardinals, West: Dodgers, Wild cards: Giants and Reds

(teams in bold are new leaders)

Team in Focus: Cleveland Indians

The Indians were one of the original "surprise" teams when I started these rankings last month, as they have been consistently rated well by the TPI stat, and well below their overall record.  They've continued to put up numbers that TPI likes, but they've also been winning.  They've gone 7-4 since the last power ranking post on May 27th.  Their pitching staff leads the major leagues in strikeout rates by a significant margin, and their 3.30 xFIP lags considerably behind their ERA.  We'd expect that for a poor-fielding team.  Nevertheless, their composite fielding score is only -12 runs, a far cry from the 58-run gap between their DRA-predicted runs allowed and their actual runs allowed.

Thursday, June 04, 2015

A Winning Tradition: The 1919 Cincinnati Reds - Position Players

1919 Cincinnati Reds - Table of Contents

As identified in the introduction, the 1919 Cincinnati Reds were an elite fielding team.  This was especially prominent in the outfield, where Edd Roush and Greasy Neale patrolled the vast real estate of Redland Field.  The star of the infield, defensively, was the unheralded Morrie Rath, who, by the numbers and reputation, was a brilliant defender.  Offensively, the team's production revolved around two key hitters: third-baseman Heinie Groh and MLB Hall of Famer Edd Roush.
Morrie Rath
Heinie Groh and Edd Roush were unquestionably the stars of this team; more on them shortly.  But the one who really jumps out at me on this graph was Morrie Rath.  Granted, one should have substantial reservations about fielding numbers from this era (see comment below the jump on this post), but Rath saved 27 runs above average with his glove between 1919-1920, and DRA has him at nearly 45 runs over the same time period.  The fascinating thing about Rath is that he had such a hard time getting the opportunities that he did.  He broke in with the Athletics in 1909, and enjoyed a short tenure with the White Sox as their starting second baseman from 1912-1913.  Following an injury-driven bad season in 1913, however, he was sent to the minors, and did not re-emerge until the Reds gave him an opportunity in 1919.  Rath played all but two games at second base that year, was the Reds' leadoff hitter, and turned in an outstanding defensive season along with league-average hitting.  By the estimates here, he was a 4-win player that year.  Bill James speculated that Rath might have had a longer career had he played in a different era, because his principle skills--fielding, and the ability to get on base--weren't adequately appreciated at the time, writing "He spent almost all of his career in the minor leagues just because his skills were too subtle for the men who managed the major league teams."

Reds Hall of Famer Larry Kopf does not rate highly by these measures.  He was about a league-average hitter in 1919, one of his two best offensive seasons.  However, while an average of his 1919-1920 Total Zone rates him as a league-average shortstop, Michael Humphrey's multiyear Defensive Regression Analysis metric rates him as well below-average (-21 runs).  The values above average the two.  If one uses just TZ or DRA alone, Kopf's WAR value swings by a full win higher or lower.  Kopf's reputation was as a solid defender, and given how good the team's overall fielding numbers were, it seems reasonable to believe Total Zone's numbers in this case.  Nevertheless, even from the most optimistic of perspectives, it is hard to justify induction into Reds' Hall of Fame.  Morrie Rath is more deserving, although he is ineligible due to only playing for the Reds for two seasons.

Greasy Neale
Also worth noting is Greasy Neale.  He rated as an equivalent fielder to Edd Roush that season, and the combination of those two resulted in few balls dropping throughout most of the outfield.  Being a pitcher's park with vast outfield fences, a strong outfield defense was important.  Neale might not have been an offensive force (he'd hit better the prior two seasons as a part-time player), but he was a solid enough hitter to justify his position and keep his glove in the field.  On top of all that, he competed closely with Heinie Groh for the title of best first name on a squad of outstanding first names.  Neale was traded after the 1920 season, along with Jimmy Ring, to the Philadelphia Athletics for future Hall of Famer Eppa Rixey.  The A's, in turn, put him on waivers in mid-1921, and the Reds immediately reacquired him, though he saw his role diminish.  Ultimately, after retiring from baseball, Greasy Neale became an extremely successful football coach, and was inducted in both the College Football Hall of Fame (Washington and Jefferson University) and the NFL Hall of Fame (Philadelphia Eagles).
Edd Roush
Heinie Groh and Edd Roush were similar, dynamic, highly effective hitters that formed the core of the Cincinnati Reds' offensive attack.  Their numbers in 1919 were virtually identical by all major measures, and they even had the exact same slugging percentage.  Groh walked more than Roush that year, but Roush made up most of that gap with a slightly higher batting average.  Both are justly in the Reds Hall of Fame, and Roush would become the Reds' first MLB Hall of Fame inductee in 1962.

The Reds got at least solid offensive production from all of their positions save one: left field.  Sherry Magee was the incumbant left fielder that season, but as the year went on he lost more and more playing time to Rube Bressler (a two-way player that season, as discussed in the post on pitching) and, later in the season, Pat Duncan.  Duncan, a rookie, would go on to take the left field job full-time in 1920, and started there for the Reds for four seasons.


Almost every reference you will see to the 1919 Reds will mention the Black Sox scandal.  Without question, it is the legacy of this Reds team that was most strongly tarnished by the actions of those players.  The team was legitimately outstanding, and there's no reason--in hindsight, anyway--to have considered them underdogs in that World Series.  They had an incredible record, easily the highest run differential in baseball, and a team that featured good hitting, good pitching, and outstanding defense.  They were also loaded with interesting and dynamic personalities.  This is a team that Reds Fans should celebrate, and it was a pleasure to learn about them through this series.

References and Resources

  • The Baseball Gauge is the most outstanding site on the internet when researching past teams.  It also is the one place I know of where you can find Defensive Regression Analysis data.
  • Baseball-Reference is always invaluable, especially for game logs, lineups, and their wonderful Bullpen wiki of concise player bios.
  • FanGraphs continues to be my go-to site for performance metrics, and furnished virtually all of the stats in my R baseball database.  Thank you David Appelman!
  • SABR's Baseball Biography project is an incredible resource for perspectives and histories on ballplayers.

Wednesday, June 03, 2015

A Winning Tradition: The 1919 Cincinnati Reds - Pitchers

1919 Cincinnati Reds - Table of Contents

As discussed yesterday, the Reds were among the best run-prevention teams in the major leagues in 1919.  While the team featured elite fielding, a healthy chunk of that credit goes to their pitching staff.  The Reds' rotation shouldered the majority of the pitching load, accounting for 84% of the innings pitched by the team.  Dolf Luque accounted for most of what was left, which included a handful of starts and a good number of performances in relief.

What you think of the Reds' individual starters depended a fair bit on what metrics you like when looking at pitchers.  Dutch Reuther led the team in ERA, but his fielding-independent numbers rated him as a tad below league-average.  If you like fielding-independent numbers, then Hod Eller probably looks like the best pitcher on the staff:

I put "Lucky" and "Unlucky" in quotes there: even in modern day baseball, you can't chalk all of the gap between FIP and ERA to luck.  And in the dead-ball era, I suspect that pitchers had more control over things like BABIP than they do presently.  Nevertheless, Hod Eller seems to clearly have been the ace of this staff.  He threw the most innings, posted a good ERA, and had the best fielding-independent numbers to go with it.

Now, a look at some of the underlying numbers to reveal how these pitchers went about their business.
Hod Eller
24-year old Hod Eller posted what was easily the best strikeout rate on the team.  It was his third year in the big leagues, all with the Reds, and he was a Shine Ball specialist.  This was a pitch created by rubbing one surface of the baseball extremely smooth using a patch of paraffin wax.  This, when coupled with a roughed-up ball courtesy of his infielders, resulted in a ball that could break in a variety of directions depending on which surface was up.  The pitch became very controversial by the 1919 season, was banned prior the 1920 season.  He missed much of May and June as he worked to develop an alternative arsenal.  While he ultimately pitched pretty well over the rest of the year, he reported out of shape in 1921, lost his starting job, and ultimately was out of major league baseball.  So, with the pitch, more or less, went Hod Eller's career.  But in 1919, it was a heck of a weapon.  It was Eller who pitched game 8 that ultimately brought Cincinnati its first World Series title.

Slim Sallee is interesting.  The veteran southpaw seemed the extreme version of the pitch-to-contact pitcher; almost every batter he faced ended the appearance with a ball in play.  He was known for having other-worldly command, and it showed in his walk rate.  But he also didn't strike anyone out in 1919.  By this point, Sallee had been playing for 11 seasons, for the Cardinals and then the Giants, and was in his first and only full season with the Reds (a deal he apparently engineered by refusing to play for anyone else!).  He'd been dealing with back problems since the prior season, and re-injured his back during spring training, which likely accounts for the major drop in his already-low strikeout rates from earlier in his career.  Nevertheless, using a combination of command, knowledge of batters, and guile, he still managed a very effective season.

Dutch Ruether
With the caveats mentioned above about the meaning of BABIP for dead ball pitchers still in mind, here is a comparison that tries to get at fielding-independent numbers (K-BB%) versus results of balls in play (BABIP).  Here is where two of the other Reds' starters show up as interesting: Dutch Ruether and Ray Fisher.  1919 was a breakout season for Ruether.  He posted a 1.81 ERA in 240+ innings as a 25-year old, and would go on to pitch as a dependable starter for the Robins, Senators, and even, in his final year, the 1927 New York Yankees.  Throughout his career, he posted a K-BB rate of nearly 0, but as his BABIP swung up in the live ball era, so too did his ERA.

Fisher, on the other hand, was 31 and on the downside of his career, having just returned to baseball after being drafted into the army during the 1918 season.  He was a spitball specialist, but unlike Hod Eller, he was among the 17 pitchers exempted from the ban on doctored baseballs that began in 1920.  Nevertheless, 1920 was his final year.  He went on to coach for 38 years at the University of Michigan.

The only starter who didn't pop out as remarkable on these graphs was the dependable Jimmy Ring.  Like Dutch Ruether, Ring had something of a breakout with the 1919 Reds.  He'd actually joined the Reds rotation as a 23-year old the year prior, but took a step forward in 1919, posting better strikeout numbers and the best ERA of his career.  The Reds ultimately traded him after the 1920 season to Philadelphia in exchange for Eppa Rixey, and Ring went on to post five solid seasons for the Phillies.

Dolf Luque
When the starters could not finish a ballgame, the man who usually got the nod was reliever Dolf Luque.  Loque, who hailed from Cuba, was in his second season with the Reds, and in 1919 pitched primarily in a relief role, with 9 spot starts among his 30 appearances.  On May 16, 1919, Luque threw the first shut-out of any latino ballplayer.  He would go on to secure a full-time starting job in 1920, and would be a keystone starter for the Reds through the 1929 season, earning a place in the Cincinnati Reds Hall of Fame.

One other reliever was of particular interest: Rube Bressler, also a Reds Hall of Famer.  Bressler had debuted in 1919 as a left-handed pitcher for the Philadelphia Athletics, and had had a fine debut season.  Unfortunately, by 1919, he'd encountered arm troubles severe enough that he'd been relegated to the bullpen.  One day, when outfielder Sherry Magee was ill, Reds manager Pat Moran tried Bressler in the outfield.  That was the start of his career as a hitter.  He didn't succeed immediately, but by 1921 Bressler started to have success.  He'd go on to have a number of above-average seasons with the Reds as a high-contact, high-walk, on-base oriented hitter.

Up next: the 1919 Reds Position Players!

Tuesday, June 02, 2015

A Winning Tradition: The 1919 Cincinnati Reds - Introduction

Today is the start of a series I've been planning for a few years now: a profile on winning Reds teams throughout history.  We start with the first winning Reds team of the 1900's, the 1919 Cincinnati Reds!  This is exciting for me; the way I have it set up, almost everything is automated with R, save for making a few of the pretty tables in Excel.  This will hopefully allow me to put these posts together much quicker as I work through later teams.  I'm looking forward to this tremendously.

1919 Cincinnati Reds - Table of Contents
The 1919 Reds played in Redland Park, which opened in 1912.
Photo source, c.1920: Wikipedia
The 1919 Reds were the first Cincinnati squad to win their division since the franchise's inaugural team won the debut season of the American Association in 1882.  This team's championship came at a really interesting time.  World War I had just ended, and players were returning from service in the military.  It was the end of the dead ball era.  The next year, in 1920, with the exception of a handful of pitchers, spitballs, scuffballs, and shine balls were outlawed.  With the death of Ray Chapman in 1920, baseballs were replaced whenever they became dirty or damaged to enhance their visibility (this also maintained their performance throughout the game, favoring hitters).  In 1919, Babe Ruth broke the home run record with 29 home runs, topping Ned Williamson's mark of 27 from 1884.  Ruth would crush that record the next year, slugging 54 home runs in 1920 to usher in the Live Ball Era.  And, of course, the 1919 World Series will be forever infamous because of the Black Sox scandal, when White Sox players took money from gamblers to throw the series.

Lost in all of that excitement was an excellent Cincinnati Reds team that featured an MLB Hall of Fame Center Fielder, 6 Cincinnati Reds Hall of Fame players, a roster full of brilliant first names, and, most of all, a legitimate claim to being the best overall team in baseball that season.

The Regular Season

Graph courtesy of the fantastic Baseball Gauge
The Reds entered the season having finished above .500 in two consecutive seasons, but with more than three decades having passed since they topped their league, be it the American Association or the National League.  After a middling start, they finally started to turn it on in June, and climbed their way into a dogfight with the New York Giants that would last until August.  Once August hit, however, the Reds finally gained some separation, and finished with an outstanding 96-44 (.686) record in the 140 game season.  That's 52 games over .500!  To maintain that winning percentage over a 162-game schedule in modern baseball, a team would need to go 111-49.

The Playoffs

Chart courtesy of The Baseball Gauge

While it's impossible to know how much the series was negatively tainted by the gambling operation that would be exposed a year later, the Reds were in control pretty much from the start.  After slugging their away ahead mid-way through the first game, they would win four of the first five contests.  While the White Sox came back to win the next two, the Reds would power their way to a 10-5 victory in game eight behind Hod Eller and lock in their first World Series championship.

Redland Field

Redland Field opened in 1912 in the same location of the Palace of Fans.  It was a deep park, with approximately symmetrical dimensions: 360 feet to left and right field, and 420 feet to center field.  This was reflected in its 96 Park Factor, which put it in a tie for the best pitchers' parks in baseball that year along with Boston and Milwaukee.  It had some interesting quirks, including a 15-degree sloping terrace in left field that angled up to York Street, which is visible in the photograph to the right just beyond the left field wall.

The Reds played at Redland Field until Riverfront Stadium opened in 1970, though the park would undergo massive changes: additional seating, movement of home plate toward the outfield, the installation of the first lights in a major league park, and, of course, a change of name in 1934 to Crosley Field.

Team Statistics

The 1919 Reds were not the best-hitting team in baseball.  That honor went to the White Sox, which likely resulted in their reputation as the superior team.  But the Reds were still a solid-hitting team.   After park adjustments, they were the fifth-best offense in baseball, and by wRC+ they were basically tied with the White Sox.  Where they really excelled, however, was in run prevention, posting the second-lowest park-adjusted runs allowed total in baseball.  This combination made them the best-performing team in baseball, with the highest run differential of any team in baseball.  It really wasn't even close:

Runs Scored*
Runs Allowed*
Run Differential
White Sox
Red Sox

Team Statistics: Preventing Runs
How they achieved that outstanding Run Allowed total is interesting.  As will become clear in the pitcher profiles, this Reds team featured a lot of pitch-to-contact guys.  As a group, they didn't strike out a lot of players (even by the standards of the day), though they did avoid walks pretty well.  What this team did do, however, is convert balls in play into outs at a league-leading rate:
There are two major explanations for this.  First, the 1919 Reds were a superb defensive team.  In fact, we can plot xFIP- against Total Zone (it's actually JAARF), which has some corrections for park factors and such and more player-by-player nuance, and we see the Reds still rated as one of the best-fielding teams in baseball that year:
1919 Reds were unquestionably an elite-fielding team.  I also think, however, that when we're looking at Dead Ball Era teams, we need to be far more cautious about assuming how well fielding-independent stats tell the story.  It's very reasonable to suspect that the DER numbers were aided by the ability of some Reds pitchers to induce weak contact, thereby increasing the Reds' ability to convert those balls into outs.

Team Statistics: Producing Runs
Finally, a look at the Reds' offense compared to other teams:
The 1919 Reds were not an elite offense.  They played in Redland Field (later renamed Crosley Field), a pitcher's park (park factor of 96), and so their league-average OBP probably rates out as a tick above-average.  They didn't have a ton of power, although this was still the Dead-Ball era; even the Red Sox, with home run champion Babe Ruth, had an isolated power below .100.  The spread in ISO was about half then what it is now, and even now a point of OBP is worth about 1.7 times as much as a point of ISO.  Power just wasn't that important in terms of how teams varied in the Dead Ball Era.

Next up: 1919 Reds Pitchers!

Statistics courtesy of FanGraphs.

Monday, June 01, 2015

Phillies Series Preview

Is this the twilight of Chase Utley's superb career?
Photo credit: Angela
The Reds begin a three-game set in Philadelphia tomorrow night.  May was a rough month for the Reds, but at least they ended it on a high note: a 3-game sweep against a very good Washington Nationals team.  It was an odd series in a variety of ways, but at least it was nice to see the Reds' offense come alive.  I found myself repeatedly marveling at how much fun it is to see the bases full of Reds, and then to see them running around the diamond with yet another clutch hit.  It was a great series.

I'm still feeling like a bit of a Negative Nelly about the Reds overall, however.  Their underlying numbers weren't very strong before the Losing Streak from Hell, and they obviously got a lot worse as a result of being beat up for almost two weeks.  Some of the excellent results they've gotten from their young starters have not been backed up by good peripherals.  Doom and gloom.

But hey, at least they're not the Phillies, right?  Last year, I wrote a little bit about how the Phillies were a bad-case future for the Reds.  They were saddled with some tough contracts, they're aging, and their young talent either hasn't materialized or is still far away.  That's still a pretty good description of their plight: they can't hit, can't field, and can't pitch.  I  do tend to think that a change in their front office might be warranted at this point.  Maybe they're just waiting to see what Amaro can do with Cole Hamels, who is the last good trade chip.  Surely they have to realize it's time to commit to a rebuild, right?

It's a shame, because this team was so good just a few years ago.  Did you know?  The 2011 Phillies posted the fourth-highest pitching staff fWAR of any team in MLB history, behind only the 1996 & 1997 Braves and the 2003 Yankees?  Man, those Braves teams were really good.

Position Players

The biggest shock here is unquestionably the crater that has been Chase Utley.  I watched a game earlier this season, I think it was Phillies vs. Mets, in which Utley was wreaking his usual havoc; getting on base, driving in runs, being dominant and awesome, etc.  Apparently, that's about the only game in which he did that this season.  Utley hasn't posted a sub-3 WAR season since 2004, but one has to wonder if, at 36 years old, the knees and body are finally failing.  He's long been among my favorite players, and it's sad to see him struggle so much.  Similarly, though less spectacularly, are the struggles of the offense-first catcher, Carlos Ruiz, who gets buried by framing statistics and can't seem to hit any longer.

A few weeks ago, Ryan Howard was being talked about as a possible trade candidate if the Phillies could find someone to take on his contract in a salary dump-style deal.  He's been tapering off a bit, though, and I wonder if that's still realistic.  He's only under contract for another year.

The interesting rookie here is Maikel Franco.  In the minors, the 22-year old third baseman has shown good power and good contact rates, but rather poor patience.  Kiley McDaniel has him as a 55 future value prospect, again noting good power, good bat control, but poor plate discipline.  So far, that combination hasn't worked for him.

Finally: holy crap, Todd Frazier!  He has been ridiculous this season.  The home run he hit Sunday was "only" the 3rd-longest of the day (419 feet) and was rated at "just" 104 mph, but to my eye it was crushed as hard as any ball I've seen this season.  And while part of me cringes on the inside, I can't help but grin every time he lunges for a ball low and outside and somehow still drills it to right field.

Probable Starters

The big story, obviously, will be Johnny Cueto's return for game 1.  While I don't hold much hope for the Reds' playoff dreams this season, Cueto's performance over the coming month figures prominently in their future seasons: he's their most obvious trade chip, and a healthy Cueto could be a huge boost to almost any playoff contender.  Jocketty needs to play this right.  Mike Leake is another important trade chip, and I'd love to see him get back on track with a nice outing against a weak-hitting Phillies offense.  He really needs to pitch well enough to be worth trading, because I see him as the kind of player who will see his value get killed if he becomes a compensation pick free agent.

...I hate to be the downer, but as much as I enjoy Anthony DeSclafani, and as much as I cheer him on, I'm not feeling particularly encouraged by his most recent couple of starts.  He's just not doing anything well save for having a good BABIP.  I still think he can be a good back-end starter, but he's not showing that level of performance yet.

Sean O'Sullivan's line is kind of interesting as a sort of poor-man's Mike Leake.  There's not much in his track record that indicates he can sustain even this level of success, however.


I continue to be a big believer in Jumbo Diaz, despite the ERA.  Love his velocity, love his strikeouts, love his lack of walks.  It just seems like he has been missing in bad places this season, and those misses have been crushed.  Also, Ryan Mattheus has been pretty impressive since joining the team, no?

I wonder how much of a trade chip Jonathan Papelbon is for the Phillies.  He's certainly been pitching like an elite closer this season, and has a bit of an "aura" still.


Here's hoping the Reds can have a nice series against a very weak club.  I'm at that point that I'm already more focused on individual performances than the team's, but three of the Reds' biggest trade chips are pitchers (Cueto, Leake, and Chapman), and this could be a good series for all three.  While I don't think the Reds need to blow up the entire team, I do think they need to do everything they can to improve the 2016 team without regard for this year.  A strong June by those three would help quite a bit.

Minor League Guy I Noticed: Seth Varner

I ran across Seth Varner today while looking around at Reds minor league numbers.  He was the Reds' 2014 10th-round selection out of Miami University in Oxford, and hails from Batavia Ohio.  And he's absolutely carving up the Midwest League right now:

He's actually a nice example of why using K%-BB% is safer than K/BB ratio: his K/BB ratio is a ridiculous 14.0 right now, whereas his K-BB% is a less ridiculous, but still very-commendable 23%.  He just isn't walking anyone, and he's getting plenty of strikeouts.  His .350 BABIP is a bit high given his other performance, and accounts for the FIP-ERA gap.  So, by the stats, we have a lefty with outstanding control, excellent strikeout rates, and just one year removed from his drafted season.  And he's not on anyone's prospect lists.

So, I popped Doug Gray a tweet.  Dutifully, he gave a nice response:

I guess that explains it!  In a subsequent tweet, he did point out that he's a lefty, so maybe he's got a shot at a relief role someday.  But apparently I didn't identify the Next Big Thing, probably.

I'll still be cheering for him!