Category Archives: Player Analysis

The Best Players in Baseball to Lead Off Your Team’s Inning

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Timing in baseball is everything, it comes up again and again in different areas of the game. One area in which it is particularly important is the batting order, and which hitters come to the plate at various points in the game.

The effect of how the lineup is set has been well-documented, like herehere, and here, along with many other articles since then. But after the first inning or two, the order largely gets jumbled, and different players come to the plate at different points in the game with different leverages. With this in mind, which players have been the best this year at leading off an inning for their team(s)?

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The Blue Jays Quietly Have One of the League’s Best Rotations

Through August 13th, the Toronto Blue Jays’ rotation has performed at a high level, ranking 1st in innings pitched, 5th in groundball percentage, 3rd in GB/FB ratio, 4th in ERA, 12th in FIP, 9th in xFIP, and 5th in WAR. The collective of Marcus Stroman, R.A. Dickey, Marco Estrada, Aaron Sanchez, and J.A. Happ have even done this while posting league-average K% and BB% and laboring through innings (only the Reds and Orioles throw more than Toronto’s 17.1 pitches per inning). They also go after hitters at a league-average rate (i.e., they throw an average number of strikes), and yet they have the second lowest BABIP in the league at .273. What about Toronto’s rotation makes their results so special, when their peripherals seem so average? The short answer is their individual fastballs.

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The MLB Postseason Effects of Regular Season Performance Against Top of the Rotation Starters

In the ensuing discussion of Review of First Half Rotation Matchup Luck, Reddit user /u/JustTrynaChill posited the question of the effect of regular season success against top-of-the-rotation starters on playoff success. This certainly was an intriguing question, and so using similar parameters, we’ll investigate the query.

To examine this effect, we’ll look at the 40 playoff teams from 2012 to 2015, the beginning of the expanded Wild Card era. During each individual season, we’ll investigate the performance of the team versus the top two quintiles of MLB starters by FIP. We’ll limit these starters to ensure that they have at least 80 IP as a starter (approximately half a season), to guarantee that they had a significant enough effect on their team’s season to qualify.

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Reviewing First Half Rotation Matchup Luck

Now that the unofficial second half of the MLB season is underway, every team looks to reassess its approach as the non-waiver trade deadline nears. Underperforming teams look to become “sellers”, while teams confident in their playoff chances seek new infusion of talent as “buyers”. Part of a team’s prospective outlook is its remaining strength of schedule. Teams that over or under performed their talent due to the MLB schedule in the first half may look to benefit in the second half.

Having poor luck with the scheduling can cause an MLB team to underperform, but in addition to this there the luck involved with rotation scheduling. For instance, on two separate occasions, the Braves had to face a stretch of 4 #1 caliber pitchers in a row, and one of these occurred in a stretch of games where 10 of the 12 opposing starters were #1 caliber. Similar “luck” has also occurred for the Phillies and Diamondbacks so far this year. While in some instances the team handled it well, in others it caused extended overall down turns.

This luck applies to both the rotation scheduling of the other team, but also your own, and the disparity between the two. Let’s evaluate the relative strength of rotations that each team has faced over the first half of the season, and the disparity in the quality of their starter versus that of the opposing team. Continue reading Reviewing First Half Rotation Matchup Luck

Which Teams Use Their Bullpens Optimally?

Earlier this week, Casey Boguslaw posted an excellent article over at Baseball Essential regarding Lineup Optimization. The premise of his argument revolved around comparing a team’s wRC+ and their run production per game. In theory, a team with a low wRC+ but high R/G implies that the lineup has been optimized, i.e. they are squeezing every run out of which they are capable out of the lineup. Conversely, a team with a high wRC+ but low run production is suboptimal, and not scoring as much as they should.

Let’s apply this concept to bullpen use. Each team has a certain number of relievers they are able to use in different situations. Similar to the lineup, different points in the game are more or less crucial. This is tracked by the leverage index (pLi). In a few words, a game situation of average leverage has a pLi of 1, with more intense game situations greater than 1, while less intense situations are less than 1. For a bullpen to be optimized, as the leverage increases incrementally, better and better relievers must be used, i.e. the relationship is roughly linear.

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Probability: Why Hitting Streaks are Impressive (And Why They’re Not)

As it seems to happen every year, baseball was recently aflutter with a hitting streak chasing Joe DiMaggio‘s legendary 56 game streak. This time, it was Jackie Bradley Jr.‘s 29 game hitting streak, between April 24 and May 25. During this stretch, Bradley collected 44 hits, including 20 XBHs to triple-slash .415/.488/.783 and raised his batting average for the season from .222 to .350.

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Then, his teammate Xander Bogaerts followed it up with a 26 game hitting streak of his own from May 6 to June 2. During this time, Bogaerts collected 45 hits, 13 of which were XBHs, and triple-slashed .385/.419/.581.

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How Will the Cleveland Indians Handle Their Outfield Situation?

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The AP reports (via ESPN) that Cleveland Indians OF prospect Tyler Naquin will make the Opening Day roster, his first trip to the majors. Earlier in the week, Fox Sports reported that the Indians, despite the earlier-than-expected return of Michael Brantley (pictured) and the minor-league signing of Marlon Byrd, were still seeking help for their outfield, but this seems to clear that up. The Indians had an abundance of options and as the AP article mentions, they expect to carry 5 outfielders to start the season. Currently on the Indians Spring Training roster, there are at least 9 legitimate options to make the Opening Day Roster. These choices include probable starters Rajai Davis, Lonnie Chisenhall, and Naquin as well as some combination of the aforementioned Marlon Byrd, Joey Butler, Collin Cowgill, Will VenableRobbie Grossman, and Shane Robinson.

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Can Tyson Ross Break Out Even Further?

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Mark Simon at ESPN.com recently wrote a piece detailing the virtues of Tyson Ross and the fact that he has gone relatively unnoticed playing in San Diego for the Padres. Ross’s ability to produce a high number of ground balls and a low number of hard-hit balls gives Simon reason to consider him as a potential NL Cy Young candidate in 2016.

Ross does indeed produce an inordinately high number of ground balls. As mentioned at ESPN, his 62% GB rate ranked third in the majors last year. For comparison’s sake, starters in the MLB averaged 45.2%, giving Ross almost 1.4 times as many ground balls. The article also references his low hard-hit rate (~9%) and Ross confirms this occurs because he tries to induce “weak contact”.

How does Ross achieve this? And what would it take for him to become a bona fide Cy Young candidate in 2016? The answer to both questions is the classic mantra: “location, location, location”.

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