Sunday, August 31, 2014

Trailing 30 - August 31

Here are the top (and bottom) performers over the past 30 days, made possible through the magic of FanGraphs and its fabulous Leaders application. Comment for the week: Since we're at the end of August, this should give us a good picture of the contenders for the August awards. NL Player of the Month is between Atlanta's Justin Upton and Miami's Giancarlo Stanton; I'd guess the latter. The AL race is pretty wide open, maybe Detroit's Victor Martinez? The Pitchers of the Month seem pretty certain to be Baltomore's Chris Tillman in the AL and San Francisco's Madison Bumgarner in the NL.

   American League              National League
   Team W-L                     Team W-L      
1. Kansas City      19-9     1. Washington       19-9       
2. Baltimore        18-9     2. San Diego       16-10        
3. Cleveland        17-9     3. San Francisco   15-12         
4. Los Angeles     18-10     4. Chicago         16-13   
5. Seattle         16-10     5. St. Louis       15-13        

   Worst Team W-L               Worst Team W-L
1. Chicago          8-19     1. Arizona          8-18      
2. Toronto          8-17     2. Colorado        10-17       
3. Texas           10-17     3. Cincinnati      11-17      
4. Minnesota       11-17        New York        11-17
5. Boston          11-16     5. Atlanta         13-14

   Batting Average              Batting Average     
1. Abreu, Chi       .381     1. Jay, SL          .389        
2. V Martinez, Det  .354     2. Panik, SF        .385      
3. Ortiz, Bos       .342     3. Castro, Chi      .379           
4. Beltre, Tex      .333     4. Ramirez, Mil     .375          
5. Hardy, Bal       .326     5. Yelich, Fla      .343       

   Lowest Batting Average       Lowest Batting Average  
1. Davis, Bal       .154     1. Gregorius, SD    .145          
2. Moss, Oak        .178     2. Granderson, NY   .147       
3. Dominguez, Hou   .182     3. Rutledge, Col    .159
4. Napoli, Bos      .184     4. Jones, Mia       .187           
5. Kiermaier, TB    .188     5. Alcantara, Chi   .195      

   On-Base Percentage           On-Base Percentage  
1. Abreu, Chi       .469     1. Jay, SL          .484           
2. V Martinez, Det  .448     2. Stanton, Mia     .445            
3. Ortiz, Bos       .440     3. Martin, Pit      .438         
4. Donaldson, Oak   .425     4. Freeman, Atl     .433          
5. Beltre, Tex      .420     5. Werth, Was       .432       
   Slugging Percentage          Slugging Percentage   
1. Carter, Hou      .626     1. Stanton, Mia     .591         
2. Ortiz, Bos       .603     2. Arenado, Col     .583     
3. V Martinez, Det  .558     3. Posey, SF        .579       
4. Gordon, KC       .553     4. Harrison, Pit    .579       
5. Arcia, Min       .549     5. J Upton, Atl     .576        
   Home Runs                    Home Runs
1. Carter, Hou        10     1. Stanton, Mia        8
2. Gordon, KC          8     2. Baez, Chi           7        
3. Arcia, Min          7        Dickerson, Col      7
   Bautista, Tor       7        Duda, NY            7
   Davis, Bal          7        J Upton, Atl        7
   Runs                         Runs    
1. Holt, Bos          24     1. Rendon, Was        22        
2. Dozier, Min        23     2. Harrison, Pit      20     
3. Zobrist, TB        21     3. 4 with             19
   Santana, Min       21     
5. 3 with             20     

   RBI                          RBI      
1. Carter, Hou        29     1. J Upton, Atl       28        
   V Martinez, Det    29     2. Stanton, Mia       25      
3. Vargas, Min        24     3. Dickerson, Col     23       
4. Arcia, Min         23     4. Howard, Phi        21
   Longoria, TB       23     5. 2 with             20
   Stolen Bases                 Stolen Bases             
1. Schafer, Min       10     1. Hamilton, Cin      11            
2. Cain, KC            9     2. Gordon, LA         10     
   Dyson, KC           9     3. Gomez, Mil          9   
   Ellsbury, NY        9        Revere, Phi         9
5. 2 with              7     5. Crawford, LA        8
   Saves                        Saves
1. Holland, KC        11     1. Kimbrel, Atl        8
2. Britton, Bal        9        Papelbon, Phi       8
3. Robertson, NY       8        Rodriguez, Mil      8
   Rodney, Sea         8        Rondon, Chi         8
5. 2 with              7     5. 2 with              7

   ERA                          ERA
1. Tillman, Bal     1.33     1. Bumgarner, SF    1.58
2. Smyly, TB        1.50     2. Cosart, Mia      1.64
   Cobb, TB         1.50     3. Hendricks, Chi   1.69
4. Shoemaker, LA    1.57     4. Kershaw, LA      1.80
5. Paxton, Sea      1.65     5. Fiers, Mil       1.80

   Worst ERA                    Worst ERA
1. Webster, Bos     7.28     1. Lyles, Col       5.46
2. Carroll, Chi     7.22     2. Arrieta, Chi     5.34
3. Danks, Chi       6.75     3. Matzek, Col      5.30
4. Stroman, Tor     6.39     4. Kendrick, Phi    5.22
5. Kazmir, Oak      6.28     5. Wainwright, Phi  5.17

   WHIP                         WHIP
1. Smyly, TB        0.69     1. Bumgarner, SF    0.58
2. Carrasco, Cle    0.78     2. Fiers, Mil       0.66
3. Shoemaker, LA    0.79     3. Nuno, Ari        0.82
4. Tillman, Bal     0.79     4. Kershaw, LA      0.88
5. Duffy, KC        0.91     5. Vogelsong, SF    0.89

   Strikeouts                   Strikeouts
1. Sale, Chi          56     1. Bumgarner, SF      49      
2. Scherzer, Det      53     2. Kershaw, LA        44
3. Kluber, Cle        43     3. Strasburg, Was     43
4. Archer, TB         42     4. Fiers, Mil         41
5. 2 with             37     5. Kennedy, SD        39

Flyover: Boston Red Sox

This continues a series of looks at each team over the past month.

After finishing last in their division in 2012, 26 games behind the first place Yankees, the Boston Red Sox won the World Series in 2013. It that makes them a Cinderella team, the clock struck midnight this year, as they're in last place again. Their 59-67 record ties them with the Twins for third-worst in the American League. 

How Are They Doing Lately? On July 31, the Red Sox traded their ace starting pitcher, Jon Lester, and outfielder Jonny Gomes to the A's for left fielder Yoenis Cespedes. They also traded away No. 2 starter John Lackey. With Lester a free agent after the season, this move erased any question whether the Red Sox were throwing in the towel on 2014. Thus far in August, their 11-16 record is fifth-worst in the league (just ahead of the A's at 12-16, coincidentally). They've gotten there by way of a 4.29 ERA, fourth worst in the league, due largely to a terrible 5.38 ERA by their starters, second-worst. On offense, the team's batting .230 over the past 30 days, second worst in the league, with a second-worst .299 on base percentage and league-worst .336 slugging percentage. 

What's Going RIght? The bullpen's been pretty good. Red Sox relievers have made 94 appearances over the past 30 days, partly due to the struggles of the starters, but they've compiled a solid 2.57 ERA, fourth best in the league. They've probably been a little lucky, as both their .264 batting average on balls in play and 7.6% of fly balls leaving the park are far enough below league averages that they're unlikely to be sustained. Further, they've induced swings on only 29% of pitches outside the strike zone, third fewest in the league, violating the On The Field of Play mantra that it's good to throw strikes, but it's better to get strikes. So we could see some backsliding, particularly if the starters keep going just 5.70 innings per start, fourth-fewest in the league over the past month.

On offense, it's pretty hard to find bright spots over the past 30 days, but the Red Sox have had solid defense this year, with both traditional fielding metrics and advanced ones placing the team near the top of the pack in the American League. They've stolen 16 bases and been caught just once so far in August. Granted, that's not a lot of steals, but it's the highest success rate in the league. I'm reaching here.

What's Going Wrong? Oh, everything else. As noted above, the relievers have been good but probably lucky. The starters have been just bad: Lowest strikeout rate and highest walk rate in the league over the past month, inability to throw strikes (48% of pitches in the strike zone, third-fewest in the league) or get strikes (swings on 25% of pitches outside the strike zone, second-fewest). Only two starters with over 20 innings pitched (Joe Kelly and Rubby de la Rosa) have an ERA below 5.50, and both of them have walked way too many batters (5.8 per nine innings for Kelly, 4.8 for de la Rosa).

As noted above, the team's compiled the worst- or second-worst batting average, on base percentage, and slugging percentage in the American League over the past 30 days. Has that been partly due to bad luck? Not really: the .282 team batting average on balls in play trails the league average of .292, and that's not enough of a gap to say that the balls just haven't been falling in on a regular basis. They've struck out too much (22% of plate appearances, third-most in the league) and while they're walking a lot (8.4% of plate appearances, second most) they lack the power (19 homers, tied for third-fewest) to drive those walked runners home. 

Who's Hot? DH David Ortiz has a .342/.440/.603 slash line in August so far, ranking third in the league in batting and on base percentage and second in slugging. Second baseman Dustin Pedroia is having a subpar year for him but has been pretty good of late (.297/.333/.414).

The Red Sox's primary setup men are middle relievers Burke Badenhop, Tom Layne, Edward Mujica and Junichi Tazawa. Over the past 30 days, they've pitched in 48 innings, compiling a 1.50 ERA and 1.13 WHIP (1.04 excluding intentional walks). They've given up only two homers, both by Tazawa. Another middle reliever, Alex Wilson has a 1.17 ERA and has allowed only ten baserunners in 15.1 innings.

Who's Not? Ortiz has been hot, and three other hitters--Pedroia, Cespedes, and outfielder Daniel Nava--have been OK. Everybody else has been bad. Catcher Christian Vazquez is batting .197 over the past 30 days, with just a .212 slugging percentage, as his production has consisted of 12 singles and a double. First baseman Mike Napoli's hitting .184. Third baseman Will Middlebrooks is batting .200 and has supplemented that batting average with little plate discipline (just four walks) and little power (five doubles, no other extra base hits). Outfielder Brock Holt has supplied no power, either (.289 slugging percentage). And rookie shortstop Xander Bogaerts has seemed lost at the plate, batting .101 with a .130 slugging percentage, a far cry from the remarkably poised 21-year-old who batted .296 with a .412 on base percentage and .481 slugging percentage in last year's postseason.

The most notably bad Red Sox starters of late are Allen Webster (7.28 ERA, more walks than strikeouts), Brandon Workman (7.47 ERA over three starts) and Clay Bucholz (5.50 ERA). Workman's batting average allowed on balls in play is .408, a ridiculously high number that suggests an element of bad luck. 

The notable exception from the list of successful Red Sox relievers above is closer Koji Uehara, who's compiled a 5.56 ERA over the past 30 days, with 16 hits allowed in 11.1 innings en route to two blown saves. He still has a 2.25 ERA on the year, but that compares to last year's otherworldly 1.09 and raises concerns that at age 39, he's nearing the end of the road. 

What's the Outlook? The Red Sox are playing for 2015. Probably the most important thing the team could accomplish in the remainder of the year would be to get youngsters Bogardts (age 21), Middlebrooks (age 25), and Vazquez (24) squared away for next year. This year's a last-place waste.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Flyover: Baltimore Orioles

This continues a series of looks at each team over the past month.

The Baltimore Orioles are leading the American League East with a 75-56 record. Their six-game lead over the second-place Yankees is the largest in the league. They moved into a tie for first on July 3 and stayed there ever since. As was the case the last time they qualified for the postseason, their record has some lucky indicators--they lead the league in both extra-inning wins (12-5) and one-run wins (25-19), but they also have the fourth-best run differential in the league and the second best record against winning teams. 

How Are They Doing Lately? The Orioles' 17-10 record over the past 30 days gives them the second-most wins in the American League, behind the 21-7 Royals and tied with the 17-9 Mariners and 17-11 Angels. It's allowed them to expand their lead from 2.5 games a month ago to 6.0 today. They've done it with pitching (2.89 ERA, third best in the league), particularly the bullpen (an absurdly good 1.73 ERA, easily the best in the league) and an offense that's been good enough: sixth in runs scored, second in OPS, way more home runs (42) than anybody else (the Astros are second with 32). About the only thing they haven't had--not that they've needed it--is team speed, as they have no triples and just six stolen bases over the past month. The only dark cloud was the loss of third baseman Manny Machado to season-ending knee surgery. He last played on August 11. They're 8-6 in the games since.

What's Going RIght? The starting pitchers have been decent, with a 3.49 ERA over the past month. That's eighth in the league, but way ahead of the ninth-place Tigers at 4.17 and the league average of 3.90. The bullpen, as noted above, has been lights out. The Royals, Mariners, and Orioles haven't blown a save in the past month, and the Orioles relievers have allowed only three homers, tied with the Mariners for fewest in the league. While they've made fewer pitches in the strike zone (46.5%) than any other AL relief corps, they're third with swings induced on 34.7% of pitches outside the strike zone. The relievers have the league's fifth-highest strikeout rate and third-lowest walk rate over the past month. 

On offense, the story has been the power surge. Over the last 30 days, first baseman (and now, with Machado hurt, third baseman) Chris Davis has six homers, tied for fourth-most in the league, and the O's have three players with five (LF-DH Nelson Cruz, catcher Caleb Joseph, 1B-LF Steve Pearce) and four more with four (shortstop J.J. Hardy, CF Adam Jones, RF Nick Markakis, 2B Jonathan Schoop). There are a lot of unlikely sources there. Davis has batted .149 over the month with three singles, four doubles, and six homers. Joseph is a 28-year-old rookie catcher who's playing only because catcher Matt Wieters is out for the season with Tommy John surgery. Pearce has an interesting history: The O's bought him from the Yankees in June 2012, lost him to the Astros on waivers in July 2012, claimed him on waivers in September 2012, released him on April 27 this year, and then re-signed him two days later. Rookie second baseman Schoop has the lowest on base percentage in baseball (.251) among players with 390 or more plate appearances. The team's second-best .433 slugging percentage has outweighed a league-worst .297 on-base percentage.

What's Going Wrong? Obviously, if some of those fly balls stop clearing the fence--the O's have had nearly 15% of their fly balls land in the stands over the past month compared to the league average of 9% and the team's season-long average of less than 11%--that lousy on-base percentage is going to be a problem. They have a middle-of-the-pack .247 batting average but they've walked in just 5.7% of their plate appearances over the past month, well below every team in the league but the White Sox and Royals.

While It's hard to knock the performance of the relievers, the starters gotten batters to swing at only 28% of pitchers outside the strike zone, perhaps indicating that the starters aren't fooling opposing batters. Both the starters (.272) and the relievers (.228!) are sporting batting averages on balls in play well below the league averages of .296 and .286, respectively. Gaps that wide are hard to preserve. 

Who's Hot? The relievers are all hot. In particular, over the past 30 days, Darren O'Day, Brad Brach, and Andrew Miller have combined for a 0.25 ERA, 44 strikeouts, and 24 baserunners in 35 innings. That's allowed closer Zach Britton to go 9-for-9 in saves, even though his 3.27 ERA is the worst over the past month for Orioles relievers with more than one inning pitched. The standout starter has been Chris Tillman (4-0, 1.26 ERA), helped by a .174 batting average on balls in play. 

Among batters with more than 60 plate appearances in the past month, Hardy, Pearce, and Joseph hold the top three positions among Orioles batters in batting average, on base percentage, and slugging percentage. I listed all the Orioles hitters with four or more homers over the 30 days above; all but leadoff hitter Markakis has at least 10 RBI, and all but bottom-of-the-order Schoop and Joseph have scored at least 10 runs. 

Who's Not? Ubaldo Jimenez has pitched himself out of the rotation for now after compiling an 8.36 ERA over his last three starts. The club's two biggest sluggers, Nelson Cruz and Chris Davis, have been pretty bad. Davis is batting .149, worst in the league over the past 30 days, has a second-worst .219 on base percentage, and has stuck out in 36.5% of his plate appearances of late, the most among American League hitters. Cruz is batting .200 with a .248 on base percentage, sixth worst in the league. On July 7, Cruz went 3-for-5 with a homer, capping a three-game streak in which he went 11-for-16 with two homers and five runs batted in, raising his batting average, on base percentage, and slugging percentage to 2.94/.359/.591. Since then, he's hitting .173/.247/.333. And as noted above, outside of the homers, Schoop's bat has been bad.

What's the Outlook? It's a virtual certainty that Baltimore's bullpen won't remain this good nor that its hitters won't continue their torrid home run pace. But it's also unlikely that Davis and Cruz will stay this bad, and there's little to make you think the starting pitchers can't remain solid, particularly with Jimenez now in the bullpen to work out his problems. The Orioles have built up enough of a lead that they're favorites to win the division even if the relievers' ERA and the hitters' percentage of fly balls becoming home runs return to earth. Whether they'll go deep into the postseason is another story. They seem to be the best team in what has surprisingly become a weak division.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Flyover: Atlanta Braves

This continues a series of looks at each team over the past month.

The Atlanta Braves are currently 69-64, 11-16 over the past 30 days. They are second in the National League East, 6.5 games behind Washington, and 1.5 games out of the second National League wild card slot, tied with Pittsburgh.

How Are They Doing? The Braves won the division last year but after losing catcher Brian McCann to free agency and starting pitchers Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy to Tommy John surgery, a lot of observers (including On The Field of Play) figured they were a second-place team this year. They spent most of the year in first but relinquished the lead on July 21 and have been second to the Nationals ever since. They're tied with the Mets for the fourth-worst record in the league over the past 30 days. The pitching hasn't been bad, allowing the fifth-fewest runs in the league in the past month, but they've scored only 94 runs of late. Only the Diamondbacks have scored fewer. 

What's Going RIght? The starting pitchers have been decent, with a 3.51 ERA over the past month, sixth-best in the league. However, their peripheral stats aren't as impressive: fifth-fewest percentage of batters struck out, fifth-highest percentage of batters walked, middle of the pack in terms of both throwing strikes and getting batters to swing at pitches outside of the strike zone. The bullpen's also had a low strikeout rate and high walk rate. All this suggests that the pitchers have probably been a little bit lucky. 

The offense hasn't been good, but it hasn't been terrible. They've walked in 8.8% of plate appearances, fourth-best in the league, helping Braves batters draw 3.9 pitches per plate appearance, second-most in the league, wearing down opposing pitchers. Braves hitters haven't been hitting a lot of fly balls (31% of batted balls, third-fewest in the league) but when they do, 10.7% go over the fence, the fifth most.

What's Going Wrong? It's hard to score a lot runs when you strike out in 24% of your plate appearances, as the Braves have over the past 30 games. Their .244 batting average is fifth-worst, .314 on-base percentage sixth-worst, and .365 slugging percentage fourth-worst. Their home field, Turner Field, favors pitchers, but only slightly. The offense really has been bad. As for the pitchers, as noted above, the starters haven't struck out a lot of batters and have walked a lot. Based on strikeouts, walks, and home runs allowed, Braves starters have been fourth-worst in the league, belying their sixth-best 3.51 ERA.

Who's Hot? The starting pitchers, other than Aaron Harang (1-2, 4.62 ERA) have been decent, though as alluded to above, every one of them has an ERA that is probably a little lower than it ought to be, given their strikeout, walk, and home run rates. Closer Craig Kimbrel has seven saves and has allowed only five hits in 9.1 innings. Middle relievers David Carpenter, Jordan Walden, and James Russell have pitched 33.2 inning, striking out 29, allowing just 29 baserunners, and compiling a 2.41 ERA.

Left fielder Justin Upton (.313/.402/.606 slash line), first baseman Freddie Freeman (.330/.442/.510), right fielder Jason Heyward (.311/.360/.444), and second baseman Phil Gosselin (.311/.340/.400 in limited play) have all been really good. Upton's hit 7 homers (tied for fourth in the league) and driven in 28 runs (tied for first), and his slugging percentage is third best. With four hitters that good, how can the Braves have a bad offense? Keep reading.

Who's Not? Other than the four batters listed above, the rest of the lineup has been terrible. Catcher Evan Gattis is hitting .227 and has a 29-to-4 strikeout-to-walk ratio over his last 95 plate appearances. Were he striking out and walking at league-average rates--and remember, this is the league in which pitchers bat--he'd have 20 whiffs and 7 walks. Gosselin's playing because second baseman Tommy LaStella has turned into a pumpkin with a .225 batting average. Shortstop Andrelton Simmons remains astonishingly good in the field, but he's batting only .212. Third baseman Chris Johnson has an OK .250 batting average but over the past month he's gotten only six walks and six extra-base hits, making his batting average empty, not backed up by on-base skills or power. And then there's center fielder BJ Upton, to whom I alluded in the last Trailing 30 report. He's got a .135/.264/.243 slash line over the last 30 games, and has struck out in 34% of his plate appearances. There has been speculation that the Braves might drop him--he's hit .195 in two seasons in Atlanta--but that would mean the Braves would have to eat the remainder of the $13.45 million he's owed this year. And the $14.45 million he's owed next year. And the $15.45 million he's owed in 2016. And the $16.45 million he's owed in 2017. You get the picture. 

As for the pitchers, Kimbrel has struck out "only" ten batters in his 9.1 innings over the past month (his season rate is 14.5 per nine innings) and he's walked seven, none intentionally. He's gotten 45% of his pitches in the strike zone compared to a season average of 49%, possibly indicating a loss of command. Among the starters, Alex Wood (.236), Julio Teheran (.254), and Mike Minor (.247) have given up batting averages on balls in play way below the league average of .292, suggesting that they may have been a little lucky. 

What's the Outlook? It's probably not realistic to expect the Braves to defend their divisional title unless the Nationals collapse. They're still in the hunt for the wild card, though. In order to make it, the starters will need to remain strong, Kimbrel will have to remain unhittable, and somebody other than Justin Upton, Freddie Freeman, and Jason Heyward to generate offense. That may be a bit much to ask for.

Sweet Play of the Day - August 27

Another day, another Andrelton Simmons highlight. This play is similar to the jump throw that was Derek Jeter's specialty. (Two terms you won't see me use in a baseball context: trademark and patented. Derek Jeter did a a jump throw a lot. He was good at it. He's famous for it. But it's not a move, as some sportswriters would say, that he trademarked. Nor is it his patented move. That would require, you know, a trademark or a patent. I know I'm being literal, but calling it his trademarked jump throw, or his patented jump throw, is just lazy journalism, implying that he's the first one who did it or was the best at it. This play by Simmons exhibits not only a great arm but also range that Jeter could only dream of.)

Monday, August 25, 2014

Flyover: Arizona Diamondbacks

This blog has been subject to fits and starts. In order to generate more consistent content, I'm going to give quick reviews of recent performance by all 30 major league teams. I'll do it alphabetically, starting with the Arizona Diamondbacks.

How Are They Doing? The Diamondbacks are one of the more disappointing teams in baseball this season. After two straight years of winning exactly half their games (81-81), the Diamondbacks stumbled badly out of the gate, losing 22 of their first 30 games. They never really recovered. They were one game over .500 in May (14-13) and July (13-12), but over the past 30 days they're 11-17. Despite that record, things could be worse. They're 23-22 in one-run games and 10-5 in extra innings, suggesting that they may have been a bit lucky.

Recently, they've been pretty bad. Only the Rockies have a worse record over the past 30 days. Their 4.00 ERA is the third worst in the league, and they've scored just 100 runs, one more than the league-worst Cubs. Losing their best player, first baseman Paul Goldschmidt, with a broken hand on August 1, didn't help the team, of course. 

What's Going RIght? Despite playing in a hitter's park, only 9.6% of the fly balls allowed by Diamondbacks pitchers have left the park over the past 30 days, better than the league average of 9.7%. They've struck out 21.4% of batters, third most. In fact, based on just strikeouts, walks, and home runs allowed, Arizona's pitchers are the seventh-best in the league at preventing runs. 

Finding bright spots on offense is a bit more of a challenge. They've struck out the second-least frequently in the league over the past 30 days. Other than that...Well, they've probably been a bit unlucky. Their batting average on balls in play is .265 over the past 30 days, lowest in the league, compared to the league average of .299. That kind of outlier is usually indicative of bad luck (just as a high batting average on balls in play is indicative of good luck). On the year, Arizona's batting average on balls in play is .293, again suggesting that they've been hitting the ball at fielders a lot recently.

What's Going Wrong? Remember the On The Field of Play pitching mantra: Throwing strikes is good, getting strikes is better. Diamondback pitchers have failed on both accounts. Over the past 30 days, they've thrown 45.9% of pitches for strikes, second fewest in the league, and gotten batters to swing at 28.9% of pitches outside the strike zone, also second worst. As a result, they've given up a .309 batting average on balls in play, also second worst. Granted, batting average on balls in play is partly reflective of luck, but when you're not hitting the zone and not getting hitters to chase, batted balls are more likely to be crushed. They pitchers aren't being helped by their defense: The team's Defensive Efficiency Rating, which measures the number of balls in play that get turned into outs, is last in the league. 

The offense has been pretty bad. They're batting .229 over the past 30 days, worst in the league. Their on base percentage is .289 (third worst) and their slugging percentage .353 (second worst). And again, they play in a park that favors hitters. 

Who's Hot? Arizona's hottest hitter of late has been shortstop Cliff Pennington, who's hit .320 over the past month, with two homers, 11 RBIs, and walking more than he's struck out, all in just 14 games. Given that he's a 30-year-old with a lifetime batting average of .249, that screams "temporary hot streak." Catcher Miguel Montero's been decent as well. 

Starters Trevor Cahill (2.73 ERA) and Vidal Nuno (3.44) have had strong months, as has setup man Evan Marshall (1.64 ERA, striking out 31% of the batters he's faced) and closer Addison Reed (2.53 ERA, six saves, 16 strikeouts and one walk in 10.2 innings). Then there's Brandon McCarthy, who's totally turned his season around, rebounding from a 3-10, 5.01 ERA start to go 5-2 with a 1.90 ERA...Oh, wait. The first part was his year with the Diamondbacks, and the second part was after he got traded to the Yankees on July 6. Never mind.

Who's Not? The competition for worst Diamondbacks hitter over the past 30 days is fierce. Is it shortstop Didi Gregorius, with a .193/.247/.349 slash line? How about outfielder Alfredo Marte (.170/.228/.264)? Corner infielder Jordan Pacheco (.178/.196/.222)? I cast my vote for second baseman Aaron Hill, whose .182/.247/.273 slash line comes with an $11 million salary, highest on the team. 

Remember Randall Delgado, who purposely hit Pirates star Andrew McCutchen? Karma's a bitch; he's allowed 12 earned runs over 10.1 innings in the past 30 days. 

What's the Outlook? At this point in the season, bad teams are just playing out the string. The Diamondbacks, along with the Rangers, Rockies, Astros, and Red Sox, are in the running for the worst record/top draft pick this year, so there's little incentive for them to get better. The offense has been unlucky and will probably improve. However, this really isn't a very good team, and they don't have the excuse of up-and-coming youth (their hitters are 0.5 years younger than the league average, their pitchers 0.3).

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Trailing 30 - August 24

Here are the top (and bottom) performers over the past 30 days, made possible through the magic of FanGraphs and its fabulous Leaders application. Comment for the week: Geez, those Upton brothers...The Braves have Justin (the good one) signed for one more year at $14.5 million, and big brother B.J. (the bad one) signed for three more years, for a total of $46.35 million.

   American League              National League
   Team W-L                     Team W-L      
1. Kansas City      21-6     1. Washington      19-10       
2. Baltimore        17-9     2. Los Angeles     18-10        
   Seattle          17-9     3. Miami           16-11         
4. Los Angeles     16-11        St. Louis       16-11   
5. Cleveland       14-12     5. Chicago         16-12        

   Worst Team W-L               Worst Team W-L
1. Boston           9-18     1. Colorado        10-17      
2. Texas            9-17     2. Cincinnati      11-18       
3. Chicago         10-16     3. Arizona         11-17      
4. Detroit         12-17     4. San Francisco   11-15
5. Minnesota       12-16     5. New York        12-16

   Batting Average              Batting Average     
1. Abreu, Chi       .368     1. Jay, SL          .382        
2. Reyes, Tor       .349     2. Span, Was        .362      
3. Zobrist, TB      .345     3. Arenado, Col     .362           
4. Pedroia, Bos     .339     4. Revere, Phi      .361          
5. 3 with           .333     5. Ramirez, Mil     .359       

   Lowest Batting Average       Lowest Batting Average  
1. Davis, Bal       .145     1. BJ Upton, Atl    .160          
2. Bogaerts, Bos    .165     2. Crawford, SF     .177       
3. Moss, Oak        .169     3. LeMahieu, Col    .179
4. Cruz, Bal        .174     4. Granderson, NY   .182           
5. Dominguez, Hou   .188     5. Braun, Mil       .188      

   On-Base Percentage           On-Base Percentage  
1. Abreu, Chi       .455     1. Jay, SL          .482           
2. Cano, Sea        .432     2. Freeman, Atl     .452            
3. Ortiz, Bos       .430     3. Stanton, Mia     .446         
4. Zobrist, TB      .416     4. Arenado, Col     .433          
5. V Martinez, Det  .416     5. Morneau, Col     .424       
   Slugging Percentage          Slugging Percentage   
1. Ortiz, Bos       .640     1. Stanton, Mia     .649         
2. Arcia, Min       .616     2. Arenado, Col     .648     
3. Carter, Hou      .571     3. Harrison, Pit    .625       
4. Gordon, KC       .557     4. J Upton, Atl     .590       
5. Abreu, Chi       .547     5. Kemp, LA         .578        
   Home Runs                    Home Runs
1. Carter, Hou        10     1. Stanton, Mia       10
2. Arcia, Min          8     2. Duda, NY            8        
3. 6 with              6     3. 5 with              7
   Runs                         Runs    
1. Santana, Min       24     1. Harrison, Pit      24        
2. Reyes, Tor         20     2. Arenado, Col       20     
   Zobrist, TB        20        Rendon, Was        20
4. 3 with             19     4. Gomez, Mil         19
                             5. 2 with             18

   RBI                          RBI      
1. Carter, Hou        27     1. J Upton, Atl       29        
2. V Martinez, Det    24     2. Stanton, Mia       27      
3. Cespedes, Oak-Bos  23     3. Dickerson, Col     23       
   Vargas, Min        23        Gonzalez, LA       23
5. 2 with             21     5. 5 with             20
   Stolen Bases                 Stolen Bases             
1. Dyson, KC           9     1. Gordon, LA         12            
2. Schafer, Min        8     2. Span, Was          10     
3. Aoki, KC            7     3. Crawford, LA        9   
4. 3 with              6        Hamilton, Cin       9
                                Revere, Phi         9
   Saves                        Saves
1. Holland, KC        14     1. Rodriguez, Mil      9
2. Rodney, Sea        10        Rondon, Chi         9
3. Britton, Bal        9     3. Jansen, LA          8
   Robertson, NY       9        Kimbrel, Atl        8
   Street, LA          9        Rosenthal, SL       8

   ERA                          ERA
1. Iwakuma, Sea     0.99     1. Fister, Was      1.31
2. Cobb, TB         1.06     2. Kershaw, LA      1.62
3. Kluber, Cle      1.22     3. Hendricks, Chi   1.67
4. Shoemaker, LA    1.57     4. Lynn, SL         1.71
5. Santiago, LA     1.82     5. Hamels, Phi      1.85

   Worst ERA                    Worst ERA
1. Mikolas, Tex     7.48     1. Matzek, Col      6.14
2. Buchholz, Bos    7.26     2. Despaigne, SD    5.81
3. Danks, Chi       7.15     3. Simon, Cin       5.68
4. Carroll, Chi     6.37     4. Kendrick, Phi    5.14
5. Martinez, Tex    6.18     5. Locke, Pit       4.79

   WHIP                         WHIP
1. Tillman, Bal     0.74     1. Kershaw, LA      0.80
2. Shoemaker, LA    0.76     2. Strasburg, Was   0.82
3. Iwakuma, Sea     0.80     3. Bumgarner, SF    0.86
4. Hernandez, Sea   0.83     4. Zimmermann, Was  0.86
5. Price, TB-Det    0.88     5. Hernandez,Phi-LA 0.94

   Strikeouts                   Strikeouts
1. Sale, Chi          48     1. Kershaw, LA        50      
   Price, TB-Det      48     2. Greinke, LA        44
3. Scherzer, Det      44     3. Cueto, Cin         43
4. Kluber, Cle        43     4. Santana, Atl       41
5. Hernandez, Sea     41     5. Bumgarner, SF      38

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Trailing 30 - August 17

Here are the top (and bottom) performers over the past 30 days, made possible through the magic of FanGraphs and its fabulous Leaders application. Comment for the week: When Tampa Bay traded David Price to Detroit, wasn't it supposed to be Tampa giving up on the season and Detroit lining up a rotation for a World Series run? 

   American League              National League
   Team W-L                     Team W-L      
1. Kansas City      19-9     1. San Diego       17-10       
2. Tampa Bay        17-9     2. Washington      17-11        
3. Baltimore       17-10     3. Miami           17-12         
4. LA, Sea, NY     15-12     4. Los Angeles     16-12   
                                Milwaukee       16-12        

   Worst Team W-L               Worst Team W-L
1. Texas            9-19     1. Colorado         7-20      
2. Houston         11-17     2. Cincinnati      10-17       
3. Minnesota       11-16     3. Atlanta         11-17      
4. Detroit         13-17     4. Chicago         12-16
5. Bos, Chi        13-14        Philadelphia    12-16

   Batting Average              Batting Average     
1. Eaton, Chi       .434     1. Span, Was        .407        
2. Cabrera, Tor     .366     2. Revere, Phi      .357      
3. Gomes, Cle       .352     3. Gonzalez, LA     .350           
4. Abreu, Chi       .350     4. Smith, SD        .342          
5. Reyes, Tor       .336     5. Puig, LA         .333       

   Lowest Batting Average       Lowest Batting Average  
1. Davis, bal       .165     1. Crawford, SF     .167          
2. Chisenhall, Cle  .170     2. Granderson, NY   .170       
3. Beckham, Chi     .172     3. Valbuena, Chi    .173
4. Cruz, Bal        .175     4. Alcantara, Chi   .177           
5. Singleton, Chi   .183     5. Ozuna, Mia       .184      

   On-Base Percentage           On-Base Percentage  
1. Eaton, Chi       .488     1. Span, Was        .460           
2. Joyce, TB        .440     2. Smith, SD        .418            
3. Cabrera, Tor     .437     3. Puig, LA         .414         
4. Santana, Cle     .427     4. Martin, Pit      .413          
5. Abreu, Chi       .426     5. Stanton, Mia     .402       
   Slugging Percentage          Slugging Percentage   
1. Carter, Hou      .673     1. Stanton, Mia     .634         
2. Gomes, Cle       .591     2. Harrison, Pit    .589     
3. Cabrera, Tor     .571     3. Kemp, LA         .569       
4. Santana, Cle     .570     4. Dickerson, Col   .568       
5. Ortiz, Bos       .568     5. J Upton, Atl     .552        
   Home Runs                    Home Runs
1. Carter, Hou        10     1. Stanton, Mia       10
2. Ortiz, Bos          8     2. Duda, NY            7        
3. Arencibia, Tex      7        Kemp, LA            7
   Jones, Bal          7        Reynolds, Mil       7
   Santana, Cle        7        Rizzo, Chi          7

   Runs                         Runs    
1. Carter, Hou        22     1. Harrison, Pit      23        
2. Santana, Cle       21     2. Arenado, Col       19     
3. Cespedes, Oak-Bos  20        LaRoche, Was       19
4. 5 with             19     4. 3 with             18
   RBI                          RBI      
1. Carter, Hou        29     1. Gonzalez, LA       23        
2. Ortiz, Bos         27     2. Howard, Phi        21      
3, Arencibia, Tex     23        Stanton, Mia       21       
4. 3 with             22     4. Kemp, LA           20
                                Pence, SF          20
   Stolen Bases                 Stolen Bases             
1. Dyson, KC           9     1. Gordon, LA         13            
   Gose, TB            9     2. Gomes, Mil         10     
3. Aoki, KC            7        Span, Was          10   
   Ellsbury, NY        7     4. Harrison, Pit       8
5. 3 with              6        Revere, Ph          8
   Saves                        Saves
1. Holland, KC        12     1. Cishek, Mia        11
2. Britton, Bal       10        Rodriguez, Mil     11
3. Perkins, Min        9     3. Mejia, NY           8
   Robertson, NY       9        Reed, Ari           8
   Street, LA          9        Rosenthal, SL       8

   ERA                          ERA
1. Kluber, Cle      0.76     1. Hendricks, Chi   1.01
2. Cobb, TB         1.36     2. Fister, Was      1.06
3. Hernandez, Sea   1.54     3. Hamels, Phi      1.23
4. Sale, Chi        1.80     4. Bailey, Cin      1.61
5. Scherzer, De     1.90     5. Worley, Pit      1.62

   Worst ERA                    Worst ERA
1. Danks, Chi       8.37     1. Burnett, Phi     6.54
2. Buehrle, Tor     6.67     2. Matzek, Col      6.28
3. Mikolas, Tex     6.60     3. Jackson, Ch      6.10
4. Buchholz, Bos    6.57     4. Kendrick, Phi    5.88
5. Pino, Min        6.28     5. Morton, Pit      5.73

   WHIP                         WHIP
1. Kluber, Cle      0.69     1. Bumgarner, SF    0.79
2. Hernandez, Sea   0.78     2. Bailey, Cin      0.82
3. Tillman, Bal     0.86     3. Kershaw, LA      0.86
4. Richards, LA     0.87     4. Hernandez,Phi-LA 0.86
5. Shoemaker, LA    0.90     5. Liriano, Pi      0.87

   Strikeouts                   Strikeouts
1. Kluber, Cle        55     1. Kershaw, LA        48      
2. Scherzer, Det      50     2. Cueto, Cin         46
3. Sale, Chi          48     3. Strasburg, Wa      45
   Price, TB-Det      48     4. Greinke, LA        43
5. Hernandez, Se      43        Hamels, Phi        43

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Living in Dangerous Times

I wrote about this in passing a few days ago, but it's such an unexpected outcome, I wanted to point it out separately.

Here's the headline: Batters are getting hit by pitches at near-historic rates. For all that you hear about pitchers who won't pitch inside, and umpires issuing warnings that make it impossible to throw at pitchers, and batters being unwilling to take one for the team, we're seeing batters get hit by pitches at the highest rate since the turn of the last century.

I looked at each decade since 1901, the first year there were two leagues. Using FanGraphs' Leaders page, I calculated the number of hit batsmen per 100 games played:
   1901-1910  6.5
   1911-1920  4.9
   1921-1930  3.6
   1931-1940  2.6
   1941-1950  2.4
   1951-1960  3.1
   1961-1970  3.4
   1971-1980  3.1
   1981-1990  3.0
   1991-2000  4.7
   2001-2010  5.8
   2011-2014  5.3
Baseball was kind of a wild game in the early days, with all sorts of shenanigans on the ball field, including throwing at batters. Hit batsmen were already in decline when, on August 16, 1920, Carl Mays hit Ben Chapman in the head with a pitch, killing him. Hit batters declined through the next three decades, bottoming out at 2.14 per 100 games in 1946. They stayed around 3 or so per 100 games through the 1980s, and then they took off. Here are the 30 years with the most batters hit by a pitch per 100 games:

  1. 1901  8.0
  2. 1903  6.9
  3. 1905  6.9
  4. 1902  6.8
  5. 1904  6.6
  6. 1911  6.5
  7. 2001  6.2
  8. 1908  6.1
  9. 1910  6.1
  10. 1906  6.1
  11. 1907  6.1
  12. 2004  6.1
  13. 1909  6.0
  14. 2003  6.0
  15. 2006  6.0
  16. 2005  6.0
  17. 2007  5.8
  18. 2014  5.7
  19. 2002  5.7
  20. 1912  5.5
  21. 2008  5.5
  22. 2011  5.3
  23. 2009  5.3
  24. 2013  5.2
  25. 1913  5.2
  26. 2010  5.2
  27. 1999  5.1
  28. 1998  5.1
  29. 2000  5.1
  30. 2012  5.1
Isn't that strange? Every year from 1901 to 1913 and every year since 1998. Nothing from the intervening 84 seasons. It raises two questions:
  1. What's going on? Why have hit batsmen increased despite efforts to cut down on beanball wars? It really has turned on a dime. There were 3.8 hit batsmen per 100 games in 1992, the 68th straight year below 4.0. It hasn't been below that level since.
  2. Why haven't we heard more about this? Andrew McCutchen's plunking was a big story. Amid laudable efforts to improve player safety, from batting helmets to neighborhood plays to home plate collision rules, hit batters are returning to levels not seen in a century.
This really is the most surprising thing I've seen since I started blogging. I never would've guessed that we're seeing a renaissance of hit by pitches.