Table of Contents

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Broadcast Bubbles and the Reds' Upcoming TV Deal

David Lazarus thinks the current Dodgers situation could indicate that we're seeing the first signs of the baseball broadcast bubble bursting, per his LA Times article and conversation with Ben Lindbergh on Effectively Wild.  Here's an excerpt:
The problem for Time Warner is that the company shelled out a reported $8.35 billion for exclusive rights to distribute SportsNet LA. That whopping sum pencils out only if almost all other pay-TV customers in the region can be forced to pay an additional $4 to $5 a month for the channel. For Time Warner to cut the monthly rate or, God forbid, offer the channel a la carte, recouping that multibillion-dollar investment would become much more difficult if not impossible.
The Dodgers' TV deal is what has permitted them to sport the highest payroll in major league baseball this season, easily eclipsing that of the Yankees.  If their deal, in their enormous media market, does not pay off for Time Warner, then it could have ripple effects for the rest of MLB...especially teams that haven't yet gotten in on the broadcast contract bonanza.

Teams like the Reds.  And as I noted earlier this month, the Reds' payroll is set to spike pretty dramatically next season thanks to both escalating long-term contracts and the fact that several of their young core are about to become arbitration eligible for the first time. While Castellini and Jocketty have said they're not counting on a big broadcast deal when making their contract extensions, there's no question that a burst in the baseball broadcast bubble could have dramatic, negative consequences for the Reds if it happens before their current TV deal expires after the 2016 season.

Lazarus's comments on the Effectively Wild podcast were also pretty interesting.  My family is case in point of what he was talking about: we got tired of Dish Network bills in excess of $100 per month, and so we have dropped everything in favor of high speed internet alone, netflix, hulu, and for me,  The package is basically a la carte product purchasing, and there's little question in my mind that this is going to be the long term solution for a lot of tv consumption.  It may take some time, but consumers won't settle for anything else.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Yasiel Puig's Cuban Defection

Yasiel Puig may have good reason to look
over his shoulder.
Photo credit: Ron Reiring
Recently on BPro's terrific Effectively Wild podcast, Ben (and fill-in for Sam, Jason) interviewed Jesse Katz.  Katz, who is not a sports journalist, recently wrote a feature story in Los Angeles Magazine about Yasiel Puig's journey out of Cuba.  It was an amazing story, full of shady dealings and tough times.  Both the interview and the article are highly recommended.  An excerpt:
Puig’s journey, according to claims made in court documents and detailed in interviews, had been underwritten by a small-time crook in Miami named Raul Pacheco, an air-conditioning repairman and recycler who was on probation for attempted burglary and possession of a fake ID. Pacheco had allegedly agreed to pay the smugglers $250,000 to get Puig out of Cuba; Puig, after signing a contract, would owe 20 percent of his future earnings to Pacheco. They were not the first to employ this scheme, a version of which has catapulted many of baseball’s new Cuban millionaires to American shores. It is usurious and expedient, illicit and tolerated. Even if you are as freakishly gifted as Yasiel Puig, there is no humanitarian boat lift delivering you to Chavez Ravine.
The amazing thing is that the story is not really over.  In the minds of those he dealt with, Puig still might owe 20% of his earnings to some of these characters.

It certainly provides an additional, interesting perspective on Puig's background.  A lot of the non-US players that we celebrate on a nightly basis have gone through all kinds of trials and tribulations that we often don't consider.  MLB's questionable conduct in the Dominican Republic, for example, continues to be underreported (here's a thing I wrote about it back in 2007), but these are issues that all fans really should know about.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Ben Lively's excellent start to the season

Last week John Sickels did a quick profile on Reds prospect Ben Lively:
Cincinnati Reds pitching prospect Ben Lively is making mincemeat of the High-A California League. Last night he threw six shutout innings against Modesto, allowing one hit and one walk, fanning ten. The walk was the first free pass he's given up all year: through 23 innings over four starts, Lively has a 33/1 K/BB ratio. He's allowed eight hits total in those four starts, holding Cal League hitters to a .105 average.
Here's his FanGraphs page:

I'm no prospect expert, but here's what I said about Lively when I profiled Reds pitching prospects earlier this month:
Ben Lively ranks right with him (David Holmberg) on the prospect charts, but as a 2013 college draftee, he has only pitched 4 innings above rookie ball. Still, his performance last season was amazing. If he continues to dominate this year, I'd think that he could be promoted aggressively.
Well, he's certainly acquitting himself well in Bakersfield!  Sickels mentions that he has an unconventional delivery with a fair bit of deception.  I'm keen to see how it plays in higher AA, which he might be seeing by mid-season at this rate.

Update: Via Doug Gray, Ben Lively had ANOTHER amazing start today:
* Ben Lively threw 6 shutout innings with 7 strikeouts. 
Once again the story of the game was starting pitching as Ben Lively continues to just embarrass California League hitters as he lowered his ERA to 0.31 on the season while maintaining a 40-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio.
So, that's another 6 innings, 7 K's, no walks. Yowzah!

Why Billy Hamilton Should Hit 9th

Ben Rubin lays out the many reasons why this makes so much sense.
I’m a Billy Hamilton believer. He’s developing patience at the plate, has shown a willingness to take walks in the minors and spring training, and will eventually either learn how to lay down a bunt, or stop trying. I expect that Billy Hamilton, the sophomore, can get on base at a league average rate.

But that’s moot right now because Billy Hamilton, the rookie, at least the April rookie, has proved to be a black hole of Patterson/Taveras/Stubbs dimensions at the top of the lineup. The Reds simply can’t afford to let him hit first right now.
In my piece on Reds lineups, I also argued for hitting Hamilton 9th.  The effect isn't huge: about 5 runs per year between Hamilton leading off and Hamilton hitting 9th.  But it might have other benefits, including some of the potential psychological benefits that Rubin mentions.  I'm not at all convinced that a leadoff hitter needs to be fast, anyway.  But the 9th spot (with the pitcher hitting 8th) is the natural spot for a weak hitter with zero power.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Bailey's continued struggles

Less than two weeks ago, I wrote a piece that noted how strange Homer Bailey's numbers had been to date.  He had just come off of three ugly starts, but all of the best indicators of how well he was actually throwing looked great.

After a good start against the Cubs, Homer Bailey had another rough start against the Braves last night.  He gave up 5 runs on 9 hits in 6 innings.  But his fielding-independent stats?  4 strikeouts, 0 walks, 52% ground ball rate.  His xFIP actually went DOWN (slightly) in his Braves start (3.08 in that start alone, 3.12 on the season, 3.19 SIERA on the season).

Asked to explain his bad starts, here's what Homer said:
"Bad pitches -- that typically does it," Bailey said when asked if there was a common thread to the rough starts. "It's one of those deals where I have to sharpen up a little bit, one pitch here, one pitch there. I'd be a little more worried if I were walking a bunch of guys or getting behind in a lot of counts. Then I'd be a little more evident of what we're doing wrong. It's simple pitch execution, it's what I'm not doing in big situations. As tonight's game went on, we got a little bit better and a little bit sharper, we just have to take that in the beginning of the game."
Maybe it's not overt saber-talk, and maybe it's just intuitive.  But Homer's thinking about this the right way.  Past history has shown us that when pitchers are getting beat in the way he's getting beat, they will be able to make the adjustments he's talking about.  Or, their luck will just even out.

It's no fun to see Homer getting torched so often in the early goings here, but I continue to see nothing in his line that leads me to think that the rest of his season won't be just fine.

Kudos to Aaron Harang

Just a small post to recognize the wonderful start of Aaron Harang's 2014 season.  I didn't get to profile him in my Braves/Reds preview because he's not throwing in this series.  But right now, Harang is leading all NL starters in ERA at 0.85.  I thought I'd do a quick retrospective.

When I started this blog in 2006, Harang was the Reds' #1 stud pitcher.  He was joined that season by a surprisingly good Bronson Arroyo, and they anchored the Reds' staff for 2006 and 2007.  We all know what happened in 2008.  But I prefer to remember his run from 2005-2007, when he averaged just under 5 WAR per season.  

When Harang was at his best, he was always a fly ball pitcher.  But he had a good strikeout rate, and an extremely low walk rate, which helped keep the home runs he allowed from hurting him.  While his 3.7ish ERAs don't look particularly impressive now, one has to remember that the scoring environment in 2006 was much different than it is now.  In 2006, the NL average ERA was 4.49.  By 2013, on the other hand, it fell all the way to 3.73.  So, in today's run environment, he would be something much closer to a 3.00 ERA pitcher at his peak.

What's different about Harang's approach this year?  Ben Lindbergh doesn't think he's doing anything differently than he did for Cleveland last year from a scouting basis.  Certainly, his peripherals don't suggest that his 0.85 ERA is sustainable.  But, in his first 5 starts, Harang has seen his strikeout rate, and his swinging strike rate, soar to levels better than even his best years with Cincinnati.  He has also seen his walk rate jump up, and his ground ball rate drop, of course.  Given all of that, it's hard to expect that his end of season numbers will be any better than league average.  

But I'm going to hope he can keep being effective all season.  Harang was a terrific Red, and I will always root for him.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Study explains my Reds fandom

I think that in the early years of my life, I didn't follow baseball very much.  I remember the Pete Rose hit fairly well, and I know I followed baseball, collected baseball cards (lightly), in the late 80's.  But I'm pretty sure that the first season that really became etched into my mind was that 1990 Wire-to-Wire Reds Championship season.  I was born in 1978, so I was 12 years old during that season.  From that age forward, I was a baseball nut.

It turns out, that's a pretty typical story.  According to this terrific article by Seth Stephens-Davidowitz, when your team wins a championship during a boy's mid-childhood, it results in higher rates of "permafandom." Here's the graph from the article:

 The effect is particularly strong for boys aged 8-12, but there's still a large effect throughout the 5-14 year ages.  Younger than that, and you're too young to know what's going on.  And older?  It's almost as if an imprinting window closes.

I imprinted.  I may vary in how closely I follow them from year to year.  But through thick and thin, I'm always going to be a Reds fan.

Glove slap: C. Trent

Reds vs. Braves Series Preview

My preview of the Reds vs. the Braves is up at Red Reporter!
The Braves look like a good team, and are off to a great start. Their main question moving forward will be whether their starting pitching can keep up at least quality performances once it starts to regress. They need Teheran to rediscover his strikeout rate, Aaron Harang to really have reinvented himself, and young gun Alex Wood to materialize. Fortunately, I think the Reds match up pretty nicely for this series. Game 1 looks like a pretty even match-up, and I like the Reds' chances in games 2 & 3. It would be awfully nice to take a 0.500+ record with them when the Reds return to Great American Ballpark on Monday to host the Cubs.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Book Review: The Slydepress 2014 Redleg Annual

This offseason, Joel Luckhaupt put together a collection of articles authored by some of the most interesting voices in the Reds blogosphere in the form of the Slydepress 2014 Redleg Annual.  Published in e-book format for $3, this annual is reminiscent of some of Joel's previous projects, such as the Maple Street Press annual from a few years back.  I think this might very well be the best of them, however.

The annual begins with a series of short player profiles for most of the Reds' starting 25.  I think these were written by Joel, and they manage to be informative and sophisticated in content while remaining extremely readable and engaging, with minimal mentions of the so-called advanced statistics that happen whenever I write something.  The piece by Manny Parra, for example, highlights his change in repertoire (which I only recently discovered) and gives a measured appraisal of how this should affect our hopes for him in 2014.  I thought his piece on Brandon Phillips was similarly excellent; it notes that his decline might be overstated because 2011 was a career year for Brandon, and because he played hurt for so much of the latter half of 2013.  At the same time, it recognizes his limitations.  Billy Hamilton's profile was easily the most entertaining, but I'll save the punchline for when you buy your copy!

After the profiles are a range of articles that include some that are fairly standard fare for a team annual (not that they're not excellent!), such as evaluations of where the Reds' fielding ranks in the team's history, a celebration of Joey Votto and his Hall of Fame prospects, and looks at some of the upcoming Reds minor leaguers.

But there were also some really original gems in here too.  Here are a few (and apologies to those I don't mention...these were just my favorites!):

  • Scott Hoberg of Red Reporter provided a fantastic, practical guide to effective ways to save some money when attending games at Great American Ballpark, down to recommended parking garages as well as good places for pre-game beers.  I'm definitely going to consult this when I'm in Cincinnati this July for a game--it's on my iphone's kindle app!  
  • Bryan Harris (also of Red Reporter) got the chance to interview Sam LeCure, which was just fantastic.  My favorite part was how he answered the question of the importance of the catcher to his performance, because I've never heard another pitcher say it before.  After lauding his catchers and noting his confidence in Mesoraco, he dropped this: "But, if you ask me about a certain instance or at-bat in a past game, I can probably tell you almost everything about it except for who's catching."
  • Sean Lahman (of the Lahman baseball database) provided a terrific recap and commentary on the 25th anniversary of Pete Rose's banishment from baseball.  I'm a little younger than Sean.  While I do remember Pete Rose's record-breaking hit (I keenly remember listening on the radio), my direct experiences with Pete Rose have come almost entirely after his banishment in 1989.  And frankly, I have a pretty negative opinion of him, so I almost skipped this chapter.  But I'm glad I didn't, because I learned a great deal about the events that occurred back then.  Furthermore, I've really enjoyed reading about Lahman's personal journey as he wrestled with how to respond to his boyhood hero as he came to grips with Rose's deception, and how his views have changed over the two-plus decades since.
  • Brian Welch of Chris Sabo's Goggles scored an interview with Chris Sabo himself that is another must-read gem.  Sabo has a reputation as a bit of an odd cat, and I guess that does come across in the interview.  But I found him to be really interesting.  The best part was his dissection of the 1990 Oakland Athletics, who the Reds defeated in that year's World Series.  He makes a compelling case that the Reds really weren't tremendous underdogs in that series, citing strong right-handed pitching to negate their right-handed lineup, and the fact that the 1990 Reds were a very athletic, multidimensional team.  Hindsight is 20/20, of course, but I found Sabo surprisingly insightful.  
A word on the format.  I made the switch over to e-book readers about a year ago, starting a kindle app on my phone/ipad, and then I recently got a kindle paperwhite.  I love them.  For whatever reason, reading on an e-reader seems to fit into my life much better (one of the big advantages is that I can read without a light on when other people in my house are sleeping).  I loved that this annual was designed from the ground up to play nice with e-readers.  The only place where I found that it did NOT work well was in the tables, which were consistently too small to be visible when viewed on my kindle.  When I took a look at the PDF version tonight, however, they are far easier to read.  That said, there aren't a lot of tables or graphics in this book--it really is a book--so this doesn't present a major problem.

So, hopefully this has convinced you to go pick up your copy.  At $3, it's very inexpensive, and it provides a lot of value in its content.  Granted, the 2014 season has already begun.  But we're not so far into the season that our views on many of the Reds players have changed (or, at least, they shouldn't have yet).  Furthermore, much of the content is pretty timeless, including many of the chapters I highlighted above.  And if that doesn't move you, supporting projects like this will make them more likely to happen again in the future!

Disclosure: I've known Joel for a while (as much as you can know anyone on the internet, anyway), and have worked with him on a few projects in the past.  That said, I was not in any way involved in this project, did not consult with him while writing the review, and am reviewing my own personal bought-and-paid-for copy.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Tony Cingrani is Mixing Pitches, but Missing Zone

In a excellent piece last week, Eno Sarris described Tony Cingrani's efforts to expand his repertoire this year.  Last year, Cingrani threw 81% fastballs.  This year, he is mixing in a few more sliders and change-ups into his offerings, and his fastball rate is down to a far more normal 72%.  Here are his usage patterns over the past two seasons:

It's not a radical departure from past seasons, really.  But this season, he his average fastball rate has been right about where his minimum was last year, around the 75% mark.  We've seen a corresponding increase in his use of his change-up and his slider.  Here are his pitches from his career, 2013-2014:

All of the curves shown here were from 2013, and stopped throwing it by August of last year.  At this point, he's a Fastball/Change-up/Slider pitcher.

How has he done?  Here's his FanGraphs line:

So, his ERA has been fine...but that might not be sustainable.  His xFIP and SIERA are showing a pretty substantial decrease in effectiveness, both showing up with an estimated ERA of about 4.20.  His strikeout rate is down very slightly, as is his swinging strike rate.  But the biggest concern has to be his walk rate, which is sitting at a pretty horrible 5.24 bb/9.  The main reason that his ERA is not higher, probably, is that his BABIP is 0.226.

Given the change in repertoire, the question that came to my mind is whether he is missing with those extra pitches that aren't fastballs, and that's driving his walk rate up.  So, let's look:

Tony Cingrani 2013 Pitch Outcomes

Tony Cingrani 2014 Pitch Outcomes

If anything, he's actually showing slight improvement in his ability to get his change-up over for a strike (or, alternatively, to induce a swing when it's thrown out of the zone).  Furthermore, as Eno noted in his article, his whiff rate on his change-up is up substantially this year (8% vs. 3%), as is his ground-ball rate (not shown, but it's 14% this year on change-ups vs. just 4% last year).  Both of these are good, encouraging things.

The issue with his walks seems to be that he's missing the strike zone with his fastball and slider more this year than he did last year.  He throws his fastball so much more than other pitches, that 6% jump in ball rates (39% vs. 31%) on his fastball seems to be the main culprit.  Cingrani doesn't have to be a guy who pounds the zone.  Nevertheless, he will need to get his walk rate under control if he is to have continued success this season.  Here is another look at the same thing in graphical form:
So, the good news is that while he hasn't exactly been a model of control this season, the good news is that (aside from his Chicago start) he hasn't been disastrously away from what he did last year in terms of where the ball arrives in the zone.  I'm not panicking, but I am raising my eyebrow, and will be watching this moving forward.

Another thing I noticed on Cingrani's FanGraphs page is that his fastball velocity is down by about 1 mph in the early goings.  Sometimes, this can indicate a loss in effectiveness.  That said, there's an easy and benign explanation for this:

Cingrani had a nice jump in his velocity last season in June of last year.  That, not coincidentally, is when Cingrani was pitching out of the bullpen (June 17 to June 28), which we often see when pitchers move from the rotation to the bullpen.  His velocity this season has been more or less right where it was at the end of last season.  While I'm certainly  hoping to see it rise a little bit as the summer heats up, he's not terribly outside last season's norms.

I'm not sure that there's a clear conclusion to be had, here.  Cingrani is doing some good things this year: he's mixing in more pitches to offset his fastball, and he's still missing bats at an excellent rate.  But his control has been iffy, particularly in his most recent start, which is something that he will have to address moving forward if he is to continue to have success.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Jay Bruce Changed His Approach Last Year

Photo credit: Trev Stair
On the heels of yesterday's (rather inconclusive ) post about Matt Adams, I decided to take a closer look at Jay Bruce's career splits.  My main question was how much a batter's splits on how often they hit balls to left, right, and center vary over their career.  I choose the left-handed Bruce because most teams employ the split against him, as he's known as a pull hitter.  He also talks about the importance of using the entire field in interviews, so it's something he's apparently working on.  Here he is, for example, talking about Devin Mesoraco:
"He understands that staying to the big part of the field and really taking what the pitcher gives him is something that's going to beneficial for him," said Jay Bruce. "It's not so much a feast-or-famine thing when you're cutting down the area of the field you use."
First, here are the percent of batted balls that Bruce hit to left, right, and center field (courtesy of FanGraphs):
2014's sample size is insanely low.  I almost didn't include it, but it does provide some insight into why Bruce has struggled so far this year.  In terms of any future prediction, however, I'm ignoring it.

For most of Bruce's career, he's been pretty constant, with a slight trend toward more balls hit to center field and fewer hit to left (his opposite field).  Last year, however, he made a pretty dramatic change.  He hit far fewer balls to his pull side, and far more to left and center field.  In other words, as he referenced, he was using the entire field, not just right field.  It may be a coincidence, but last year he posted the second-highest BABIP of his career (0.322; career 0.294).

Enter Blake Murphy's article this morning.  He reported that:
1) Balls thrown to the outside of the plate are hit to the opposite field more often, and:
2) Pull hitters often hit balls in the air to the opposite field, not on the ground, negating the concern with pitching lefties outside when deploying the infield shift.

So, I went to Baseball Savant to compare Bruce's 2012 and 2013 seasons.  First, here are all of his ground balls and line drives between the two seasons:

Jay Bruce: Line Drives & Ground Balls in 2012 & 2013

The increase in balls hit to left field last season is pretty dramatic--even after we eliminate all of his fly balls.  Bruce was definitely hitting more balls to his opposite field last year.

Now, let's look at what he did on pitches inside and outside.  Here is Bruce on balls thrown to him on the inside half of the plate (zones 3, 6, 9, 12, & 14 at Baseball Savant).

Jay Bruce - Line Drives & Ground Balls on Inside Pitches

Not a big difference.  Pitch Bruce inside and he'll try to pull the ball.  That's more or less what would be expected, because he's a power hitter.

Ok, now, what if you pitch him outside?

Jay Bruce - Ground Balls & Line Drives on Outside Pitches

Wow.  In 2012, if you pitched Bruce outside, he often (usually?) would still hit it to his pull side.  In 2013, however, he started going the other way with the pitch far more often.  And look at the results: he got 75 hits on balls on the outside half of the plate last season, including six home runs (3 were opposite-field).  If you're spraying the ball all over the field, you become far tougher to defend, and you're likely to pick up more hits.

Despite his success, it is worth noting that of his hits to left field in 2013, only eight were on ground balls (and one of those was an infield hit).  All the rest were on line drives, which may or may not be defendable by infielders.  And, as you can see, he's just not making outs on ground balls to third, either (probably because teams are usually shifting on him).  Therefore, if I'm defending Jay Bruce, it makes sense to play your outfield "honest," but you can probably still deploy the shift against him and succeed most of the time.

Now, so far this year, Bruce is struggling.  When he's making contact, he's hitting almost everything to right field.  If he can get back to what he did in 2013 and use the entire field, especially on outside pitches, he stands to see him performance increase.  That's something I'll be watching to see him do in the coming month.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Series Preview: Reds at Cubs

The Reds are heading to Wrigley tomorrow, and I previewed the Reds vs. Cubs series over at Red Reporter!
This series is a great opportunity for the Reds. They've struggled thus far, but this is only the second "bad" team they've had the chance to play this month. Everyone other team they've faced--or will face this month, for that matter--is expected to either be at the top of their division, or in contention for a wild card spot. While the Reds face off with the Cubs, the Cardinals play the Nationals, and the Brewers and Pirates are facing one another. Hopefully, the Reds can gain a little bit of ground this weekend.

Matt Adams is Beating the Shift

Mike Petriello had a nice article yesterday describing what the Reds observed first-hand when they faced the Cardinals: Matt Adams has been beating the shift.  He's mostly doing this by taking the ball to left field, especially on outside pitches:
But just about no one really bunts against the shift, especially not power hitters like Adams. (So far as I can tell, he has never successfully done so in the regular season, though he has tried in spring training.) Instead, he’s just taken advantage of it in a simpler way. In all of 2013, he had 17 hits to the left side of the field. In 2014, in less than 10 percent of the season, he already has 11.
Interestingly, it seems to be because he's offering more at pitches on the outer half of the plate:
All these minor differences begin to add up. Adams is seeing a higher percentage of pitches on the outside of the plate, he’s swinging at more of them, and he’s making contact with more of those — and overall, he’s got a .425 BABIP across all pitches. So maybe this is small sample size noise, but considering how close he is to matching his 2013 opposite field hit total, maybe there’s some amount of signal to it. Adams probably can’t exert a huge amount of control over where the ball goes — this isn’t billiards — but he can exercise some choice on which balls he chooses to swing at. Understandably, more outside pitches lead to more balls the other way. (And raises questions about whether teams choosing to shift should be more in tune with their pitchers about where their pitches go.)
I tried to visualize this by going to Mike's preferred site, Baseball Savant, and looking at spray charts.  Below, I'm reporting all ground balls and line drives by Adams in 2013 (left) and 2014 (left).  Green squares are singles, purple squares a ground-outs, blue-green triangles are doubles, green triangles are line-outs.
...I dunno.  I think this is a case where I'd rather just have the total event numbers than try to extract it from this.  But if you compare what's happening in left field, I'd say that Adams has roughly half as many left field events as he did in 2013.  And far less than half of the events to right field.  I'm going to have to look around and see if I can find a better source for this info that will compile the numbers better.

In any case, I think the notion is interesting here.  I love that the Reds are going to invoke the shift on batters this year.  But if you're going to do it, you have to be aware of how you're planning to pitch the batter.  If the pitching approach is to pound a hitter outside, then it might not make sense not to do a dramatic shift.  Not a revolutionary idea, but one worth keeping in mind.


Update: I'd forgotten this, but FanGraphs actually provides a Pull/Center/Opposite split.  Here are Matt Adams' career splits:
To Left
To Center
To Right
And Adams' 2014 performance:
To Left
To Center
To Right

So, we're seeing Adams hitting many more balls to left field.   But it's worth keeping in mind the sample size here; we're dealing with a total of 50 PA's, here.  The difference between this year's pattern and his career pattern is about 10 balls hit to right field.  That's not irrelevant, but we might not want to declare him to be a radically new hitter based on 10 balls hit to right field.

Also, just for comparison, here's Jay Bruce's career numbers:
Direction AB H %BIP wOBA
To Left
To Center
To Right
Bruce looks to be even more of a severe pull hitter than Adams--though Adams was at about these numbers prior to the season.  It's no wonder that pretty much every team plays him to shift.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Why the Confusion on the New Home Plate Collision Rule?

Photo Credit: Allan Foster
I was extremely pleased when baseball rolled out their new rules to help eliminate--or at least reduce--home plate collisions.  Unlike a lot of Reds fans (from what I gather...), I think Pete Rose was a jerk for laying out Ray Fosse in the 1970 All Star game.  I don't like seeing players get hurt out of some ridiculous sense of manly tradition.  I'd be glad to see them go.

Unfortunately, the implementation of the new rule has had its share of hiccups.  The rule has a challenging job, and thus implementation is a challenge.  The goal is to keep catchers experiencing unnecessary collisions while simultaneously keeping things fair for the runner.

Today, it didn't seem to work very well.  C. Trent has a nice piece tonight at the Enquirer talking about the controversial play involving Roger Bernadina trying to score on the Pirates Tony Sanchez today.  He does a good job reviewing that play and everyone's reactions to it, so I'll just send you there to read up on it.  In short, everyone says they're confused by the ruling today.

Is the rule really so confusing?  Here's the complete rule 7.13, including the very important "comment" section.

Collisions at home plate
A runner attempting to score may not deviate from his direct pathway to the plate in order to initiate contact with the catcher (or other player covering home plate). If, in the judgment of the umpire, a runner attempting to score initiates contact with the catcher (or other player covering home plate) in such a manner, the umpire shall declare the runner out (even if the player covering home plate loses possession of the ball). In such circumstances, the umpire shall call the ball dead, and all other baserunners shall return to the last base touched at the time of the collision.
Rule 7.13 comment: The failure by the runner to make an effort to touch the plate, the runner's lowering of the shoulder, or the runner's pushing through with his hands, elbows or arms, would support a determination that the runner deviated from the pathway in order to initiate contact with the catcher in violation of Rule 7.13. If the runner slides into the plate in an appropriate manner, he shall not be adjudged to have violated Rule 7.13. A slide shall be deemed appropriate, in the case of a feet first slide, if the runner's buttocks and legs should hit the ground before contact with the catcher. In the case of a head first slide, a runner shall be deemed to have slid appropriately if his body should hit the ground before contact with the catcher. 
Unless the catcher is in possession of the ball, the catcher cannot block the pathway of the runner as he is attempting to score. If, in the judgment of the umpire, the catcher without possession of the ball blocks the pathway of the runner, the umpire shall call or signal the runner safe. Notwithstanding the above, it shall not be considered a violation of this Rule 7.13 if the catcher blocks the pathway of the runner in order to field a throw, and the umpire determines that the catcher could not have fielded the ball without blocking the pathway of the runner and that contact with the runner was unavoidable.
Frankly, this seems pretty straightforward.  Here's my interpretation:

  • First, there's the runner.  The runner cannot initiate contact with the catcher, and is explicitly forbidden from lowering his shoulder, pushing with his hands, etc.  If, however, he slides for the bag (i.e. not a take-out slide), he's doing it right.
  • Second, there's the catcher.  The catcher is required to leave a path for the runner to score unless they have the ball.  The one exception is that the catcher has a right to receive a throw, even if that takes them into the path of the runner.  So, the catcher can't set up in front of the plate, but if the throw brings him into the baserunner's path (as a good throw sometimes will), he has the right to move into the path as you catch the ball.

There's unquestionably going to be some subjectivity when it comes to applying the rule, especially when it comes to that exception for fielding a throw.  But if the events were as Bernadina and Price (and even Sanchez!) report, and Tony Sanchez did indeed have his body in the basepath throughout the entire play, and not just when trying to catch the ball, then Bernadina should have been called safe.  The rule seems clear as day on this.

The same situation arose in Toronto in a game vs. the Yankees, and Josh Thole sorta-kinda was in front of the plate as Francisco Cervilli slid.  The difference to me, however, was that Thole was a) standing (there was still a path to the plate) and b) moving away from the plate and into the path of the baserunner to intercept the throw as the ball came in.  It's a judgement call, but to me, it looks like a fair play by Thole.

As the photo from today's game that C. Trent posted indicates, however, Sanchez was already crouching in front of home plate before he received the ball.  When I watch the replays of that play, it again appears to me that Sanchez was set up, crouched, and in the path of the baserunner before he could reasonably said to be going after the throw from Jordy Mercer.  Admittedly, though, because none of the cameras, are focused on Sanchez the entire time, it is hard to be completely certain.

Here's the thing: this is exactly the situation that often would result in a home plate collision in the past.  Yes, the throw absolutely beat him to the plate.  But a year ago, Bernadina would have been expected to lay Tony Sanchez out in that situation.  That play is what the rule is designed to prevent.  Here, Bernadina did what he was supposed to do: slide.  But Sanchez did not adhere to his responsibilities under this rule.  He blocked the plate before receiving the ball.  For this rule to work--and I really think it needs to work--it needs to be enforced evenly.

Therefore, I don't think the problem is with the rule.  This is an important rule.  We need to protect catchers from unnecessary violence on the field.  But, at the same time, we need to protect the rights of the runner to not be blocked from home plate, in exactly the same way that they cannot be blocked from other other bases when fielders do not have the ball.

The problem today was not the rule.  It was that the rule was not enforced.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Homer Bailey's Bizarre Season

Homer Bailey: Down but not out.
Photo Credit: Keith Allison
Homer Bailey is having a rather absurd start to the season.  Check out his line, hot off the presses from FanGraphs:
The top row is his performance from last night's game alone.  It wasn't pretty.  He gave up 5 runs on 8 hits in 5 innings, including four home runs***.  The last two were particularly horrible to watch: the Reds had just come back on a Ryan Ludwick two-run homer to take the lead, and he immediately gave up back-to-back home runs to Starling Marte and Travis Snider.

The bottom row, in gray, are his 2014 totals.  Currently, Bailey has an awful 8.16 ERA.  And a miserable 7.25 FIP.  But he also has a 2.78 xFIP.  Which one of these is not like the other?

Why?  Look at the elements of his line that are the most volatile: BABIP, HR/FB %, and LOB%.  All of these numbers tend to show very little consistent pitcher "skill."  They often vary unpredictably from year to year across a pitcher's career, and as a result we tend to attribute most of the difference from league average for these statistics to "luck."  We're in the extreme small sample size segment of the season, so deviations from league average on these stats should be treated as completely unsustainable.  So, with that in mind...Bailey's Left On Base percentage is pretty typical, but his Batting Average on Balls in Play is an absurd 0.429 (league average is usually around 0.300, Bailey's career BABIP is 0.300).  And his Home Run per Fly Ball rate is even more absurd at 60% (league average is usually ~12%, Bailey's career rate is 11%) .  These are the numbers that experience has taught us to ignore.

Now let's focus on the numbers that are the most stable: K/9, BB/9, and GB%.  These numbers all look really good.  His walk rate is a bit higher than usual (career 2.9 BB/9), but his strikeout rate thus far has been outstanding.  And his ground ball percentage is actually up compared to the rest of his career at a very good 51% (career 44%, 46% last year).  Furthermore, while it's not shown above, his velocity has been just fine (only 1st two starts shown, but yesterday he was sitting 94 mph with his fastballs once again, and topped out at 96.5 mph):

I don't know if I buy that the large swings in BABIP, HR/FB%, and LOB% are really "luck," as in something completely out of control of the pitcher.  If Bailey is missing with his pitches and leaving hanging curveballs (to Marte) or grooving fastballs (to Walker, Sanchez, and Snider), they're going to hit the ball out of the park.  But past work has shown that these trends tend to not be predictive of future performances.  Pitchers either make adjustments to correct those problems...or their luck changes.

In contrast, the numbers that are predictive are quite positive for Bailey's future starts.  He's getting lots of strikeouts, he's getting a good number of ground balls, he's basically walking guys at his normal rate, and his velocity is just fine.  We're in small sample size even for those numbers, but I just don't see anything that would cause me to be particularly concerned about Bailey's next several starts, or his season.

So, let's all take a deep breath...and hope for better things in the future.

*** One thing more bizarre that Bailey's start to the season is last night game.  10 home runs in 6 innings, all in the midst of a downpour that finally(!) led to a rain delay.  I've nothing to say about that game that hasn't been said, but yeesh.

Source: FanGraphs

Monday, April 14, 2014

EdX sabermetrics course starting in May

There is a sabermetrics course offered on EdX by Andy Andres at Boston University.  It starts on May 8th, which conveniently is exactly two days before the end of my spring term.  What great timing!  Here is the course description:
This course will cover the theory and the fundamentals of the emerging science of Sabermetrics. We will discuss the game of baseball, not through consensus or a fan’s conventional wisdom, but by searching for objective knowledge in hitting, pitching, and fielding performance. These and other areas of sabermetrics will be analyzed and better understood with current and historical baseball data.

The course also serves as applied introduction to the basics of data science, a growing field of scholarship, that requires skills in computation, statistics, and communicating results of analyses. Using baseball data, the basics of statistical regression, the R Language, and SQL will be covered. 
This course has been successfully taught at the Experimental College at Tufts University since 2004. Many of its former students have gone on to careers writing about baseball and working in various MLB baseball operations and analytics departments. 
The course is free to audit, or you can take it for $25.  I'm signed up to audit it.  That said, given that I really do need an excuse to get acquainted using R for my day job, I'm strongly considering taking it for credit.  I don't really see why I couldn't claim this as a continuing education line on my annual report!

I will, no doubt, be posting here as I work through the course.  I'm not really sure how the format of the course will work--I've never taken a massive open online course like this before.  But I'm guessing (hoping?) there will be assignments, even if they are not graded, and I can post the results of little projects I get to do.  If nothing else, there should be plenty of fodder for topics, insights, and ideas.  I'm guessing that a lot of stuff will be basic introductory content, but I like seeing how a good introductory course is put together...and it might be helpful if I ever get to teach my Science of Baseball class again.  Should be fun!

Glove slap to Ben Nevis.

Pirates at Reds Preview

Last night, I wrote up a preview for the Pirates vs. Reds series.  It is now posted over at Red Reporter!
I like this Pirates club a lot more than I expected to coming into this. With one exception, their lineup looks both young and solid, and they have a deep bench that they can use to try to platoon away some of their weaknesses. Their rotation looks solid as well, and includes at least one young guy with a lot of upside. And I like that they are innovative: their aggressive use of the shift last season has been cited as an important reason for their success. In a lot of ways, they remind me of a light version of the Rays. If they can keep inserting useful parts into their pitching rotation, this is a team that can be a major presence in the NL Central for a long time to come.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Why Steve Smith should keep being aggressive

When a runner is tagged out at home to make the first out
in an inning, everyone blames the third base coach.
But he might have made the right decision, and just
lost the bet.
Photo credit: Keith Allison
In the aftermath of today's loss to the Rays, Reds third base coach Steve Smith beat himself up over his decision to send Joey Votto home with no outs.  Votto was tagged out, and ultimately the team lost 1-0.  His quote:
"I can't get a guy thrown out with no outs, and I understand that," Smith said. "I tried to be too aggressive at the wrong time. I got burned. ... I've got to play the game. I got aggressive. If the ball bounces one way or the other, then everybody doesn't know about it. It's no outs. I always assume a guy makes a great throw, and he did. I take full credit for that."
I think Steve Smith isn't looking at this the right way.  The fact that Votto was thrown out does NOT mean that he made the wrong decision in that spot.  He may have just lost on what was a good bet.

A few years ago, Pizza Cutter wrote an article titled "Why All Third-Base Coaches Should Be Fired."  In it, he noted that, based on success rates, third-base coaches seem to be far too conservative.  He noted that in sacrifice fly situations, runners that attempted to run home were successful 96% of the time.  That's despite the enormous gains that a team receives when a runner scores.

Let's try to repeat Pizza's math for the situation with Votto.  Pizza didn't explain his math, but I think the following is right.  We have three possible outcomes:
  1. What happened: Joey goes for it, gets thrown out.  That leaves the Reds with a runner on second (Phillips) and one out.  The average run expectancy in that case is 0.637 runs
  2. Joey goes for it, but scores!  That leads to 1 run (Votto's), plus Phillips went on the throw and thus is now at second base with no outs.  That gives us an extra run expectancy of 1.0499, for a total of 2.0499 runs.
  3. Joey holds at third on the single, giving the Reds 1st & 3rd with no one out.  Average run expectancy there is 1.6423 runs.
So, we want to find the break-even percentage of success at which point Votto should be sent.  That percentage, x, would make the average value of sending the runner equivalent to having him stay at third.  Therefore, any success rate over that percentage means you should send him, even if there is some chance that he is thrown out.  (warning, a little algebra can skip if you'd prefer to do so)
I solved this equation for x: 
Runs_Hold = Runs_Success*x + Runs_Failure*(1-x) 
Which would be:
1.6423 = 2.0499*x + .637*(1-x) 
1.6423 = 2.0499*x + 0.637 - 0.637x 
1.0053 = 1.4129x
x = 0.71

What this means is that if Steve Smith is more than 71% certain--let's say 75%--that Votto will score on that play, he should send him.  Even though there were no outs in the inning.  Yes, one out of four times, he'll get burned--just as he did tonight.  But he should be playing the percentages.  The Reds stand to gain more over the long haul by sending runners in that situation whenever the coach thinks they will succeed three out of four times.  The one in four chance might be that "great throw" that Smith cites in his statement.

It's probably worth mentioning that this play comes only days after Billy Hamilton's amazing feat of scoring from third on a pop fly barely past the second baseman's position.  Smith presumably was in on that, and looked like a genius.  This time, he got burned.  But I hope he continues to be aggressive on sending runners home in the future.

Friday, April 11, 2014

How much has the Reds' slow start cost them?

The Reds have gotten off to a bit of a slow start this year, going 3-6, and losing all three of the opening series two games to one.  Meanwhile, the Cardinals (who the Reds played 6 times), the Pirates, and the Brewers are all off to good starts.  Right now, the Brewers are leading the division, and the Reds are already four games behind them.

It's obviously extremely early, and by no means should anyone give up hope on this team--or draw any conclusions about their talent level due to their performance in nine games of the season.  But it's not as if going 3-6 and falling four games behind makes no difference at all, either.

Changes in Playoff Odds

In my preview of the Reds' season, FanGraphs gave them a 28% of making the playoffs, while Baseball Prospectus had them at 38%.  Now, following the first nine games, the Reds' chances have dropped to 16% at FanGraphs (down 13%), and 24% at Baseball Prospectus (also down 13%).  That feels like a pretty big drop for a week and a half of games, but it's a consequence of both the Reds' poor performance thus far...and the wins banked by other teams.  In the case of FanGraphs, this was also the result of some downgrading of the Reds' projected talent level: FanGraphs dropped the Reds' rest of season winning percentage projection from 0.500 to 0.480.  I'm guessing a chunk of that is a decreased playing time projection for Mat Latos.

I'm surprised that there's been such a big change in the playoff odds.  Floored, really.  It's not like the Reds are out of the race, of course, but I'm used to the mindset that a team's record on April 11th is meaningless. And really, it should be meaningless, right?

First 10 Games & Historical Playoffs

John Dewan's Stat of the Week might beg to differ.  Today's, they look at whether team records over the first 10 games can predict the playoffs.  The effect is stronger than I expected:

In the middle of the distribution, which is where most teams are, initial record is close to meaningless.  But as you look at teams that had either extremely bad (3-7 or worse) or extremely good (8-2 or 9-1) first weeks, you start to see a change in the chances that they make the playoffs.  The Reds are teetering right on that edge, with the outcome of tonight's game determining whether they'll be 3-7 or 4-6.

These are just historical trends, of course, and are based on pretty small samples at the extremes.  It's not like Reds' playoff chances hinge on whether they beat the Rays tonight.  And they have lost a lot of close games thus far; their PythagenPat record is 0.437 going into tonight's game, compared to an actual winning percentage of 0.333.  So, I'd like to think they're a better team than they've shown.

Simple Maths

One more take.  Let's say the Reds are a true-talent 87-win team.  That's a 0.537 winning percentage.  Then, they start 3-6, because it's baseball.  Over the remaining 153 games, then, they should win 0.537*153=82 wins, making for 85 total wins on the year.

So yeah, it's really just two wins.  The problem is, with the Reds being a marginal playoff team as it is, a few games back in the loss column makes a big difference in the likelihood that they can get their way into a playoff slot.

I'm definitely not giving up, obviously (despite Jim Day saying scary things about Mat Latos's arm).  The Reds need only go on one good winning streak to make up this first 9 games.  Every game does count, but there are major ups and downs in any baseball season.  Let's just hope that these first three series have been one of the bigger downs for the 2014 Reds.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Why outfielders should throw to the cutoff man, part II

Last sunday, I highlighted a neat article by David Kagan at the Hardball Times that demonstrated the importance of understanding ballistic flight paths when explaining why outfielder should hit the cutoff man.  In my post, I also noted that accuracy on shorter throws by the infielder is also likely important, a point that +Joel Luckhaupt expanded upon when noting that the outfielder's throw is also more accurate when traveling shorter distance.

I thought I'd do some back-of-the-envelope calculations (seriously, I found a spare envelope and sketched this out) to illustrate the point.  Let's assume that any given fielder has a certain throwing accuracy, which we can measure in degrees.  To visualize this, put your nose up to the circle at the center of this protractor:
Our target is at 90 degrees.  If a player's accuracy is + 2 degrees, that would mean that, under stressful, rushed conditions, that player would be able to routinely make a baseball travel within a "window" that is between 88 and 92 degrees.  It's a very small window, but Major League Baseball players are pretty amazing people.

The longer the distance traveled, however, the more a minor angular error in the trajectory he fires a baseball  will result in a ball sailing away from his target.  If we take an outfielder who is 270 feet from home plate, lobbing a baseball at a runner heading home, small angular errors can result in the ball missing the plate by quite a bit:
At 270 Feet
Angular Error (Plus/minus Degrees) Misses Home Plate By (Feet)
0 0.0
0.5 2.4
1 4.7
1.5 7.1
2 9.4
2.5 11.8
3 14.2

This is where the cutoff man comes into play.  Let's assume (as David did in his article) that the cutoff man is 90 feet from home plate, rather than 270 feet.  Let's further assume that the average MLB fielder's throwing accuracy, under pressure, is +2 degrees.  This is a guess, but it seems sort of reasonable.  Here's what happens (graphic is showing a blimp's-eye view of the field):

The infielder and outfielder have the same throwing accuracy in my diagram: both are +2 degrees.  But the infielder is so much closer than his throws don't have the opportunity to deviate from their target as much.  With some simple trig, we can estimate that the infielder's throws all come in within 3 feet of the plate (roughly the length of a player's arm + glove), whereas the outfielder's throws might come in up to nine feet from the center of home plate.  In other words, the outfielder's throws will be three times as wild as the infielder's, simply because he is three times as far away.

Therefore, not only is hitting the cutoff man allowing a more direct route (lower launch angles negate the time it takes the infielder to catch, transfer, and throw again), and not only does doing so help prevent the hitter from advancing to second base on a throw home, but it also means that the ball will usually arrive in a better location for the catcher to make a play on the runner than if it was thrown all the way from the outfield.

Rays vs. Reds Series Preview at Red Reporter

The Red Reporter gang have been kind enough to allow me to post my series previews on their digs once again.  I'm going to do all of my other writing here, but it seemed appropriate to do the previews over there since that's where I started them a few years back.  I think of it as an ongoing guest column of sorts.  This way, I can get in front of a few more eyeballs, while still having the freedom to post whatever I wish over here. :)

I'll link to my previews from here as they are posted.

Here's the Rays vs. Reds preview!

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Celebrating Billy Hamilton's Day

Billy Hamilton had a great day today at the plate:

Quite a relief given how much of a struggle it has been for the guy in the early goings.  Even more impressive, however, was how two of those four times on base led to runs.  Jeff Sullivan gives a delightful retelling of Billy's 5th inning hijinks.  

The steal:
It’s important to note that the Cardinals’ catcher was Yadier Molina. It’s important to note that Molina didn’t even fake an attempt of a throw. Billy Hamilton took off against the best defensive catcher in baseball, and the best defensive catcher in baseball was like, “welp.”
Jay Bruce's Sac "Fly" (Sac Pop-Up?)
Jay Bruce hit a pop-up the second baseman could’ve caught. Bruce got credit for a sac fly and an RBI. With literally anybody else in the game, Bruce would’ve returned to the dugout knowing he’d screwed up. He still knew he screwed up, but that’s one of the things about Hamilton — he can erase other people’s mistakes. Billy Hamilton, by himself, turned Jay Bruce’s negative into a positive.
You’re looking at probably one of the most shallow sac flies in baseball history. It’s hard to imagine a sac fly more shallow. Let’s look at the most shallow sac flies from 2013, shall we? We’ll move in chronological order. These are the sac flies hit to what were considered infield zones.
Hamilton could very well go 0 for his next 15 again. But I'm hopeful that this is the first sign we get this season of what could be a really fun year watching him fly down the basepaths.

Catcher Framing is a Thing

Devin Mesoraco isn't bad at framing.  But
it's an area where he can improve.
Photo credit: Shawna Pairan
Arguably the biggest change that occurred in the time that I was away from blogging has been the growing realization of how important catcher framing is.  While some of the initial studies were dismissed because of preposterous effect sizes, subsequent work--though more conservative--has found that nevertheless catcher framing is really important that it can completely dwarf the catchers' other contributions, including their offensive contributions.

I've had a longstanding interest in catcher fielding.  At one point, I developed my "own" catching metric that inadvertently converged on work of Chris Dial in an effort to evaluate overall catcher performance due to stolen bases, errors, passed balls, etc.  But I'm way behind on this framing stuff.  Here's an attempt to catch up.

The Data

Last month, Harry Pavlidis and Dan Brooks pushed out a new set of catcher framing statistics that they call RPM (for Regressed Probabilistic Model) framing.  They seem very rigorous.  They are WOWY measures (to account for pitcher influence), include adjustments for umpires, and are regressed to the mean.  Their top-10 table is pretty interesting for Reds fans:
2008-2013 Catcher Framing Leaders, per 7000 opportunities (~1 year)
Jose Molina35.9
David Ross32.8
Yasmani Grandal32.4
Jonathan Lucroy31.0
Chris Stewart28.3
Gregg Zaun23.8
Mike Zunino23.5
Ryan Hanigan23.3
Carlos Corporan22.3
Brian McCann22.2
Those are totals for 2008-2013...and wow.  Not only was Ryan Hanigan brilliant with his arm, but he also provided outstanding value with framing.  I think it's interesting to see David Ross there near the top, who is another long-standing favorite of mine.  Also right there at the top, despite far less playing time, is former Red farmhand (and exchange currency for Mat Latos), Yasmani Grandal.

But more than the names, look at the magnitude!  +36 runs for Molina?  +23 runs for Hanigan?  That's worth ~3.6 and 2.3 wins apiece!  The swing is something like 50 runs per season.  Honestly, I can hardly believe the size of this effect, and it certainly makes me regret that Hanigan trade--despite my hopes for Devin Mesoraco this year.

And you can see what the Rays are doing here: if Jose Molina and Hanigan can keep doing what they do this year, it (almost) doesn't matter what they do on offense--they're bound to be above-average players.

Also, since they'd already done it for catchers, they can do it for the pitchers as well!  Here's the top 5:
Mariano Rivera

Heck, yeah, Sam LeCure!  I think it must be the facial hair.  Plus, the guy is unquestionably crafty.  For a right-hander.

Projecting Framing

On Monday, Harry published a set of catcher framing projections for the coming seasons.  Because the RPM data are already regressed, they were able to use a simple 3-2-1 weighting on past years to generate projections for 2014 catchers.  The highlights for Reds players:

Brayan Pena: +4.4 runs
Devin Mesoraco: -6.6 runs

I *think* these are based on projected playing time, rather than a full season of play.  Therefore, Pena is probably a bit better than his +4 rating would suggest.  Last year, for example, he was a +3 player in a half-season of play.

FWIW, Ryan Hanigan projects a +18 runs/season.

I'm going to add these projections to my series preview spreadsheets.  For most players, it doesn't matter much.  But for some, it makes a big difference.  For example, Friday night during the Reds broadcast, Chris Welch correctly pointed out that Travis d'Arnaud is an excellent pitch framer.  He projected as a +16.6 run framer in Harry's data.  Adding that to his other projections pushes his fielding projection to +16 runs, and his WAR projection shoots from +2.5 WAR all the way to +4.1 WAR.  It's a huge boost, but I can't see any reason to discount those projections.

At the team level, with both Jose Molina and Ryan Hanigan behind the dish, the Rays are projected to be +40 runs (4 wins) above average, by framing alone.  It's really impressive.  Catchers are really important.

Catcher Height Matters

One last thing.  Last April, I was listening to an episode of Ben Lindbergh and Sam Miller's excellent Effectively Wild podcast, which was my main link to baseball last season (and is mandatory listening).  On it, Ben mentioned a study that he did that checked whether catcher height was related to framing skill.  In particular, he found that taller catchers, like Joe Mauer, were better at framing pitches that were high in the strike zone.  And further, shorter catchers, like Jonathan Lucroy, were better at framing pitches low in the strike zone.  

It's not a huge effect: the correlation between high strike calls and catcher height was 0.35.  For low strike calls, it was -0.12, which is probably not significant.  But it's a neat idea, and at least for tall catchers, it might be a thing.  If you have a pitcher who lives up in the strike zone, all else being equal, you're best off choosing a taller catcher than a shorter catcher (assuming otherwise equal framing skill).  Fun tidbit!