• Ryan Feierabend Brought the Knuckleball Back to the Majors

    Posted 1 day ago

    Things didn’t exactly go his way on Saturday, but Ryan Feierabend’s start for the Blue Jays against the White Sox — a four-inning stint that resulted in defeat — was noteworthy, not just the kind of thing you don’t see every day, but the kind of thing you don’t see every decade. Not only had Feierabend, who began throwing the knuckleball during a four-year stint in the Korea Baseball Organization, not started in the majors since September 23, 2008 (when he faced the Angels’ Vladimir Guerrero, ahem), or appeared in a major league game since July 27, 2014, but it had been nearly 19 years since a left-handed knuckleballer pitched in the majors, and more than 20 since the last one made a start.

    As I noted in February, when the 33-year-old Feierabend, who found little success in parts of four major league seasons before going to Korea, signed with Toronto, the practice of throwing the knuckleball has fallen upon hard times during the pitch-tracking era:

    Last year, Boston’s Steven Wright was the only pitcher (as opposed to the occasionally dabbling position player) to throw a knuckleball, but between complications stemming from left knee surgery and a 15-game suspension for violating the league’s domestic violence policy, he threw just 53.2 innings. As he’s currently serving an 80-game suspension for a PED violation — making him the first major leaguer to attain that dubious dual distinction — the pitch needs a new champion. Enter Feierabend, who by virtue of even one appearance resurrected a long-dormant line.

    Updating research from The Neyer/James Guide to Pitchers and other sources, fewer than 100 major league pitchers have used the knuckleball as their primary pitch at one point in their careers. Just 20 of them have been lefties, beginning with Nap Rucker, one of four pitchers variously credited with inventing the pitch in the early 1900s. While 14 such pitchers dotted the majors from the 1920s through the ’50s, the departure of former AL MVP Bobby Shantz in 1964 left Wilbur Wood as the only one of prominence for a long time. Wood threw 2,684 innings in a career that spanned from 1961 to ’78. During his 1971-74 heyday with the White Sox, he topped 300 innings and 20 wins annually, with three All-Star appearances and three top-five finishes in the AL Cy Young race. On May 28, 1973, he pitched the end of a suspended game, then tossed a shutout in the regularly scheduled contest. On July 20 of that same season, he started both ends of a doubleheader, albeit in a pair of shellackings.

    Post-Wood, the landscape has been nearly barren, and rather bleak. In 1986, Rich Sauveur debuted with the Pirates, but his sporadic career consisted of six seasons with between three and 10 appearances for six different teams stretching all the way to the 2000 A’s. In those fleeting stops, he totaled just 46 innings with a 6.07 ERA and 6.39 FIP. During his protracted career, the major league-level portion of which ended on June 18, 2000, two more lefty knucklers came and went. Danny Boone, who had made a total of 57 relief appearances with the Padres and Astros in 1981-82, sans knuckleball, resurfaced while sporting the pitch for a four-game cameo with the Orioles in September 1990. Kirt Ojala, who started 19 times out of 57 total appearances for the Marlins from 1997-99, was the last left-handed knuckleballer prior to Feierabend to start. That he retired just one of the nine Phillies he faced on April 18, 1999 helps to explain why he didn’t get another turn.

    Fierabend’s own professional baseball odyssey began in 2003, when he was drafted in the third round by the Mariners out of an Ohio high school. He spent parts of the 2006-08 seasons with Seattle, making 25 appearances (19 starts) and mostly getting pounded (7.21 ERA, 5.64 FIP). Before receiving another shot in the majors, he passed through the operating room of Dr. Lewis Yocum for Tommy John surgery, then spent time in the organizations of the Phillies and Reds and even the York Revolution of the independent Atlantic League before joining the Rangers, who used him for six games out of the bullpen in 2014. After that, it was off to the Korea Baseball Organization, where Feierabend spent the past four seasons, first with the Nexen Heroes (2015 to mid-2016) and then with the KT Wiz.

    That might have been the last most MLB followers heard of him if not for his success integrating a knuckleball — which he had been throwing since age 13, albeit not in games — into his arsenal in 2017. Sung Min Kim covered Feierabend in March 2018. The knuckler essentially replaced his slider as his third offering, an out pitch behind his four-seam fastball and change-up; he threw it 20.9% of the time in 2017, and 13.5% of the time in 2018, according to Statiz. The rebuilding Blue Jays saw enough to sign him to a minor league contract with a non-roster invitation in February, a move I highlighted here at FanGraphs. He showed enough in spring training to be assigned to Triple-A Buffalo, where he had started three times with some success.

    Meanwhile, the Blue Jays quickly blew through their rotation depth. While the oft-injured Aaron Sanchez and Marcus Stroman have each taken their full complement of turns (though the former’s next start is endangered by yet another blister), Matt Shoemaker is done for the season due to a torn left ACL, and neither Clayton Richard nor Ryan Borucki has made an appearance yet; the former has been sidelined by a stress reaction in his right knee, the latter by elbow soreness that has knocked him to the 60-day Injured List. Never one to bypass a cavalcade of injuries, Clay Buchholz was recently diagnosed with a Grade 2 strain of his teres major. Needing yet another live body after having already called upon the most itinerant one in major league history, Edwin Jackson, the Jays recalled Feierabend to start on Saturday.

    His first knuckleball — the first knuckleball thrown by any pitcher this year, in fact — was demolished by White Sox leadoff hitter Leury Garcia, who, after fouling off an 84.8 mph four-seam fastball, hammered a high floater over the left-centerfield wall:

    Man, that ball got outta here in a hurry. Exit velocity: 103.2 mph. Undaunted, Feierabend managed to sandwich a pair of knuckler-induced groundouts around an eight-pitch walk of Jose Abreu, who was subsequently picked off at second base. Not a pretty inning, but hardly fatal. In the second, after Feierabend missed inside to Yoan Moncada, the 23-year-old Cuban scorched a meatball changeup all the way to the left field wall for a double; at 110.2 mph, this was the fastest ball off the bat Feierabend surrendered. When he left a knuckler in the middle of the zone, Yonder Alonso followed with a hard-hit RBI single to right field.

    At that point, one had to wonder how committed Blue Jays manager Charlie Montoyo was to the bit, but he stayed with Feierabend, who retired Jose Rondon via a groundout, then, after a passed ball by catcher Luke Maile (his only passed ball of the day, though Feierabend also had one wild pitch), he allowed an RBI single to Charlie Tilson to put Toronto in a 3-0 hole. Facing the number nine hitter, Ryan Cordell, Feierabend fell behind 3-0 on two knucklers and a changeup, but got a pair of called strikes, one with a fastball and the other a changeup. Finally, he got his first swinging strike with the knuckleball:

    Roll over, Phil Niekro, and tell Hoyt Wilhelm the news.

    Here it should be noted that while this was going on, Statcast had no idea how to read Feierabend’s knuckleball, which he was using to a far greater degree than he had in the KBO, registering the pitch as spinless sliders. At Brooks Baseball, they were initially sliders, sinkers, and knuckle curves. “He’s essentially making his MLB debut,” tweeted MLBcom’s Mike Petriello of Statcast’s interpretations. “It’ll be better as the game progresses and cleaned up after fully.”

    The third inning didn’t go too well for Feierabend, as Anderson, Abreu, and Alonso all singled — the first on a fastball, the other two on the knuckler — to produce yet another run, putting the Blue Jays behind 4-1. In the fourth inning, with the skies darkening to the point of requiring Guaranteed Rate Field’s lights, Feierabend finally retired the leadoff hitter of an inning, striking out Tilson. He induced Cordell to ground out, and looked as though he might complete a clean inning, but the big hop of Garcia’s grounder eluded third baseman Vladimir Guerrero Jr., who appeared of a mind to barehand the ball, which, no, not with rain starting to fall. E-5. Garcia stole second as Maile dropped the ball, but Anderson grounded out, giving Feierabend his first scoreless frame of the day.

    It would also be his last. Under heavy showers, White Sox starter Lucas Giolito struck out the side on 11 pitches, after which the tarp came out. The game was eventually called, with Chicago winning 4-1. Thus, Feierabend became just the 17th pitcher since 1908 to throw a four-inning complete game that did not involve a forfeit. Unfortunately, by definition, all of those pitchers wound up on the short end of things. Only six such outings have occurred since World War II, and only once since the turn of the millennium:

    The Short End: 4-Inning Complete Games Since World War II
    Pitcher Date Team Opp IP H R ER BB SO
    Don Larsen 7/30/1958 Yankees Athletics 4 4 2 2 2 1
    Dick Drago 7/30/1971 Royals Orioles 4 1 1 1 0 3
    Ross Grimsley 9/15/1977 Orioles Blue Jays 4 5 4 4 3 1
    Pete Smith 5/9/1990 Braves Cubs 4 6 4 4 0 2
    Steve Trachsel 5/11/2006 Mets Phillies 4 6 2 2 2 3
    Ryan Feierabend 5/18/2019 Blue Jays White Sox 4 7 4 4 1 2
    SOURCE: Baseball-Reference

    So there’s that. As to Feierabend’s performance, the line wasn’t pretty. According to Statcast’s accounting, he threw knuckleballs for 44 of his 74 pitches, but that number probably shouldn’t be taken as gospel. On the strikeout of Tilson, for example, Blue Jays play-by-play voice Buck Martinez called the pitch “a pretty good knuckleball,” and Statcast recorded no spin for the pitch (knuckleball spin can’t properly be tracked by Trackman), but it was somehow coded a changeup. That wouldn’t stand out so much if not for the fact that, eek, Feierabend recorded just three other swinging strikes with his new signature pitch. Counting Statcast’s two spinless “changeups” as knucklers means an 8.7% swinging strike rate for the pitch; by comparison, Dickey’s knuckler generated a 10.5% swinging strike rate, with a high of 13.7% in 2012; he was at 9.4% or better in all of his seasons as a starter.

    Pitch identification aside, Feierabend’s knuckler averaged 74.5 mph according to Statcast, which puts him third among the eight pitchers (as opposed to position players) who have thrown more than 25 knuckleballs since 2008:

    Knuckleball Velocity in the Pitch-Tracking Era
    Pitcher Total KB Avg Velo
    R.A. Dickey 22583 76.7
    Steven Wright 4087 75.1
    Ryan Feierabend 44 74.6
    Charlie Haeger 729 71.2
    Eddie Gamboa 166 70.7
    Charlie Zink 59 69.4
    Tim Wakefield 7757 65.9
    SOURCE: Baseball Savant
    Since 2008.

    While interesting, and noteworthy given the success and survival of the two pitchers above Feierabend, velo only tells us so much about a knuckleball, and pitch tracking can’t capture the offering’s true magic. Thus we’re left to sift through the results, small-sample though they may be. Perhaps the most hopeful is that he got a 38.9% chase rate, according to Pitch Info, though that 85.7% O-Contact% rate is unsustainable, suggesting hitters were happy to give it a whack whether or not it was a strike. On plate appearances ending with the pitch, batters generated a .250 BABIP (yay), .340 wOBA (ouch), and a 50% HR/FB (oof). Including his pedestrian fastball (which he threw 21 times, with an average velo of 85.7 mph) and changeup (seven of them if we exclude the two spinless ones), he had just a 6.8% swinging strike rate and a 25.7% chase rate; on contact, he yielded an average exit velocity of 85.7 mph, which isn’t bad, though his .387 xwOBA and .414 xwOBA on contact should be described with a “yikes.”

    As a novelty for those of us into such things, Feierabend’s return to the majors was a very cool one, even if it does leave questions about whether he can survive with the pitch at this level. As a milepost in one persistent pitcher’s journey, hopefully it isn’t the end of the story. “It’s all about the ultimate goal of being here and being a regular in the big leagues,” he told reporters. “That’s kind of why I sort of re-invented myself as a knuckleballer when I went overseas the last couple of years and had some success over there.”

    For what it’s worth, he hasn’t shuffled off to Buffalo yet, and the plan appears to be to pair him with the now-rehabbed Richard in some fashion on Thursday “to mitigate #RedSox righties one time through,” according to SportsNet’s Shi Davidi. In other words, he’s being thrust into the lion’s den. Let’s hope his floater cooperates.

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  • FanDuel: When’d Wind Winned

    Posted 1 day ago

    Great Sunday to you, Sunday Brunchers. Try to keep those hats on.

    We have ten games on the FanDuel Main Slate today, and almost all will be significantly effected by wind. Let us hope we can break this wind together. Let’s crop dust the rest of the field and use the wind to our advantage.

    In each of these games wind should provide a great advantage to hitters, given the speed, direction, and air density. Any pitcher with a poor fly ball to ground ball ratio or who relies on movement or deception to induce weak contact should be faded or avoided entirely:
    • Baltimore Orioles at Cleveland Indians, wind at 18 to 21 mph to center, positive VMI for hitters, temps in the mid 80’s
    • Colorado Rockies at Philadelphia Phillies, wind at 12 mph to left/center, temps in the 80’s
    • Los Angeles Dodgers at Cincinnati Reds, wind to left at 16 mph gives a bump to right handed hitters
    • Toronto Blue Jays at Chicago White Sox, wind to left at 17 mph bumps right handed hitters
    • Houston Astros at Boston Red Sox, wind to left/center at 15 mph
    • Tampa Bay Rays at New York Yankees, wind to left at 12 mph
    • St. Louis Cardinals at Texas Rangers, wind to right at 9 mph, temps in the 80’s

    Games with more room for error than usual for pitchers:
    • Milwaukee Brewers at Atlanta Braves, wind in from right at 10 mph counter the usual positive hitting conditions in Atlanta
    • Oakland Athletics at Detroit Tigers, wind in from right at 16 to 18 mph and light rain to end the game counter otherwise positive hitting conditions in Detroit
    • New York Mets at Miami Marlins, wind in from center at 11 mph, matters only if roof is open

    So, how can we use the wind to wind up winned? Continue reading below for the best picks of the day.

    New to FanDuel? Scared of feeling like a small fish in a big pond? Well, be sure to read our content and subscribe to the DFSBot for your daily baseball plays. Just remember to sign up through us before jumping into the fray. It’s how we know you care!

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  • Day Dream By Bieber And At Home K-ing Fifteen

    Posted 1 day ago

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    Kinda obsessed with our Top 100 Fantasy Starts tool (not a tool as much as it’s a free list).  Since I’m writing this on Sunday, I’m not sure yet where Shane Bieber and his 9 IP, 0 ER, 5 hits, zero walks, 15 Ks will rank, but my guess is 1st or 2nd overall.  (The tool (list?) updates after this is posted.)  Pretty deep into the season to have Shane Bieber throw possibly the best start of the year.  Bieber was the youngest Indians pitcher since 1987 with 12+ Ks — wow! — the last to do it was Greg Swindell — um, all right! Bieber was the 4th youngest since 1908 to have a 15-K, zero-walk game, the other three:  Gooden — crazy! — Kerry Wood — nasty company! — and Vince Velasquez — well, um, he had a good game.  Only two Indians starters in history with a shutout, no walks and 15 Ks are Bieber — damn! — and Luis Tiant, who at 78 years old just beat up my autocorrect for changing his name to Luis Taint.  Sunday’s start shows why I wanted to draft Bieber in every league.  Hopefully, he keeps it gong…gong…go I ng–Sorry, my autocorrect is scared to change anything now.  Anyway, here’s what else I saw this weekend in fantasy baseball:

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  • Top 29 Prospects: San Francisco Giants

    Posted 2 days ago

    Below is an analysis of the prospects in the farm system of the San Francisco Giants. Scouting reports are compiled with information provided by industry sources as well as from our own (both Eric Longenhagen’s and Kiley McDaniel’s) observations. For more information on the 20-80 scouting scale by which all of our prospect content is governed you can click here. For further explanation of the merits and drawbacks of Future Value, read this.

    All of the numbered prospects here also appear on The Board, a new feature at the site that offers sortable scouting information for every organization. That can be found here.

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    Giants Top Prospects
    Rk Name Age Highest Level Position ETA FV
    1 Joey Bart 22.4 A+ C 2020 55
    2 Heliot Ramos 19.7 A+ CF 2023 45+
    3 Marco Luciano 17.6 R SS 2023 45+
    4 Alexander Canario 19.0 R RF 2023 45
    5 Gregory Santos 19.7 A RHP 2021 45
    6 Sean Hjelle 22.0 A RHP 2021 40+
    7 Melvin Adon 24.9 AA RHP 2020 40+
    8 Shaun Anderson 24.5 MLB RHP 2019 40+
    9 Logan Webb 22.5 AA RHP 2021 40+
    10 Patrick Hilson 18.7 R CF 2024 40+
    11 Camilo Doval 21.9 A+ RHP 2021 40+
    12 Seth Corry 20.5 A LHP 2023 40
    13 Tyler Beede 26.0 MLB RHP 2019 40
    14 Luis Toribio 18.6 R 3B 2024 40
    15 Mike Gerber 26.9 MLB RF 2019 40
    16 Jairo Pomares 18.8 R CF 2023 40
    17 Ray Black 28.9 MLB RHP 2019 40
    18 Ricardo Genoves 20.0 A- C 2022 40
    19 Blake Rivera 21.4 A RHP 2023 40
    20 Jake Wong 22.7 A RHP 2022 40
    21 Chris Shaw 25.6 MLB 1B 2019 40
    22 Jalen Miller 22.4 AA 2B 2020 40
    23 Jacob Gonzalez 20.9 A 3B 2023 35+
    24 Abiatal Avelino 24.3 MLB 2B 2020 35+
    25 George Bell 21.0 R OF 2022 35+
    26 Jandel Gustave 26.6 MLB RHP 2019 35+
    27 Raffi Vizcaino 23.5 AA RHP 2020 35+
    28 Sam Wolff 28.1 AAA RHP 2019 35+
    29 Jose Marte 22.9 A+ RHP 2020 35+
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    55 FV Prospects

    Drafted: 1st Round, 2018 from Georgia Tech (SFG)
    Age 22.4 Height 6′ 3″ Weight 225 Bat / Thr R / R FV 55
    Tool Grades (Present/Future)
    Hit Raw Power Game Power Run Fielding Throw
    30/45 60/65 45/55 40/30 55/60 55/55

    Bart was a solid mid-tier prep prospect in the Atlanta suburbs who a couple of clubs really liked, but they ultimately couldn’t meet his price, pushing him to Georgia Tech. He made the leap between his sophomore and junior years, growing into his athleticism and developing plus raw power along with above average defensive tools and arm strength. The defensive tools are especially rare for a catcher of Bart’s size, as it’s much easier for a more compact-framed player to excel behind the plate. Bart has the rare ability to slow the game down defensively and scouts rave about his makeup, game calling, and game preparation.

    At the plate, Bart has big power and gets to it pretty often in games, particularly to his pull side, where he hit a majestic shot that was never found over the facade of the football complex in left field at Georgia Tech’s stadium. But while he is exceptional behind the plate, Bart doesn’t have the same ability to slow the game at it, with elevated strikeout rates in his draft year and just okay pitch selection. The bat speed is good and he doesn’t have trouble against velocity, and some scouts point to his solid pro debut as evidence that Bart was just frustrated by being pitched around and developed some bad habits in college. Since literally everything else you could want except for contact is already present, most assume that Bart will figure out a way to get to a 40 to 50 bat with above average game power and above average defense, even if it’s on the job in the big leagues in 2020. He broke his hand early in 2019 and will miss several weeks. He’s a strong Arizona Fall League possibility.

    45+ FV Prospects

    2. Heliot Ramos, CF
    Drafted: 1st Round, 2017 from Leadership Christian HS (PR) (SFG)
    Age 19.7 Height 6′ 2″ Weight 200 Bat / Thr R / R FV 45+
    Tool Grades (Present/Future)
    Hit Raw Power Game Power Run Fielding Throw
    25/45 55/60 30/55 60/55 45/50 60/60

    After he looked like a newly-drafted force of nature during the summer of 2017, Ramos’ physical tools actually regressed last year. The bat speed and quality of contact both dipped, and Ramos was noticeably out-shined by the other (mostly older) Futures Game participants during batting practice. Ramos developed some feel for opposite field contact during this span, something he retained as the power returned this spring. He’s hitting lasers to all fields now, adept at peppering the right center field gap.

    Built like, and as fast as, a bowling ball SEC running back, Ramos is going to stay in center field for a while but most scouts think he’ll eventually move to a corner. That could be a problem if such a move occurs sooner than anticipated, as Ramos has had whiff/discipline issues in the past, though they’ve been much more palatable this year. He has Mitch Haniger/Randal Grichuk-ish tools. Staying in center will be important, as will retaining some of this new plate discipline. If both happen, Ramos is going to be a highly entertaining star.

    Signed: July 2nd Period, 2018 from Dominican Republic (SFG)
    Age 17.6 Height 6′ 2″ Weight 180 Bat / Thr R / R FV 45+
    Tool Grades (Present/Future)
    Hit Raw Power Game Power Run Fielding Throw
    20/50 60/70 20/60 50/50 40/50 50/55

    Luciano’s broad, square, muscular shoulders look like they belong to a D1 high school football prospect. He has one of the better frames of all the 17-year-old hitters in pro ball, and plenty of room to add power to a body that already produces a lot of it. Luciano has explosive hands and a natural uppercut swing. He hits many more balls out during BP than is typical for a hitter this age, and has taken his peers deep in games, too.

    Luciano’s feet and actions are workable on the infield but he struggles with throwing velocity and accuracy when he’s forced to throw from a lower arm slot, as shortstops often are. If he can’t correct that, he’ll need to move to the outfield. If he can, this is a shortstop with 80 bat speed. Luciano is a potential superstar. Much of his profile (the plate discipline, ultimate defensive home) is still not in focus, but this young man has rare physical talent.

    45 FV Prospects

    Signed: July 2nd Period, 2016 from Dominican Republic (SFG)
    Age 19.0 Height 6′ 1″ Weight 165 Bat / Thr R / R FV 45
    Tool Grades (Present/Future)
    Hit Raw Power Game Power Run Fielding Throw
    20/45 60/65 30/60 55/50 40/50 60/60

    This system has three teenagers with awesome bat speed, and Canario is one. Some of his batting practice sessions during the Giants’ new January instructional camp were even up there with Joey Bart’s. But much of Canario’s game is unkempt. He has mediocre natural timing and feel to hit, and his front side often leaks, which impacts his ability to spoil breaking stuff away from him. His lower half got thicker and stronger during the offseason, making it more likely that he ends up in right field rather than center. But this is a potential middle-of-the-order hitter because of the raw power; the swing has natural loft, and the early-career plate discipline data is strong. There’s huge ceiling if the hit/approach component improves, but of course, this type of prospect often fails to fully actualize.

    Signed: July 2nd Period, 2015 from Dominican Republic (BOS)
    Age 19.7 Height 6′ 2″ Weight 190 Bat / Thr R / R FV 45
    Tool Grades (Present/Future)
    Fastball Slider Changeup Command Sits/Tops
    55/60 50/60 45/50 35/50 92-96 / 98

    The Giants proactively sent Santos, who was acquired from Boston as part of the Eduardo Nunez deal, to the Northwest League as an 18-year-old because his stuff was simply too powerful for AZL youngsters. He was 93-96 with sinker and cutter variation last year, and his breaking ball was often plus. He threw more strikes in affiliated ball than he did during the spring in extended, then arrived to 2019 camp with a better changeup. A strong breakout candidate, Santos had a shoulder strain in late-April. There’s probably no more velo coming because Santos is a mature-bodied guy, but he already throws hard so that doesn’t really matter. He has mid-rotation upside as long as the command improvement holds and this shoulder issue doesn’t become chronic.

    40+ FV Prospects

    6. Sean Hjelle, RHP
    Drafted: 2nd Round, 2018 from Kentucky (SFG)
    Age 22.0 Height 6′ 11″ Weight 215 Bat / Thr R / R FV 40+
    Tool Grades (Present/Future)
    Fastball Curveball Changeup Command Sits/Tops
    50/55 45/50 45/50 45/55 91-94 / 96

    Hjelle body comps to a young Pau Gasol and is remarkably athletic for his size. His delivery is graceful and fluid, and he has no trouble repeating it nor fielding his position, as he’s quick off the mound to corral bunts and cover first base, both of which can be challenging for XXL pitchers. Hjelle’s (it’s pronounced like peanut butter and _____ ) fastball only sits in the low-90s but plays up because of extension, life, and the angle created by his height. Those traits in concert with one another make for a heater that competes for whiffs in the zone. The secondaries are closer to average, often below, though Hjelle can locate them. He’s a pretty safe No. 4/5 starter candidate, though we might be underrating the impact of Hjelle’s size on hitters’ discomfort.

    7. Melvin Adon, RHP
    Signed: July 2nd Period, 2014 from Dominican Republic (SFG)
    Age 24.9 Height 6′ 3″ Weight 235 Bat / Thr R / R FV 40+
    Tool Grades (Present/Future)
    Fastball Slider Changeup Command Sits/Tops
    80/80 60/60 40/40 30/40 96-100 / 102

    A raw, arm strength goon for what seemed like forever, Adon found slider feel late last season and had dominant stretches where he looked like a potential closer. He has carried that into the early part of this season, more frequently dotting his slider just off the plate to his glove side and even getting it over for strikes when he’s behind in counts. Adon still just kind of chucks his fastball and hopes it arrives near the plate, but he’s going to get away with mistakes in the zone because of the velocity. Likely to have harrowing bouts of wildness, Adon has high-leverage/closer stuff and could be one of the better relief pitchers in baseball at some point, though he may already be in his late-20s once things really click.

    Drafted: 3rd Round, 2016 from Florida (BOS)
    Age 24.5 Height 6′ 4″ Weight 225 Bat / Thr R / R FV 40+
    Tool Grades (Present/Future)
    Fastball Slider Curveball Changeup Cutter Command Sits/Tops
    55/60 55/60 50/50 45/50 55/55 40/45 91-95 / 96

    Anderson has an unusually deep repertoire for a pitcher who scouts overwhelmingly project into the bullpen. He has a two seamer, a four seamer that has natural cut to it when he locates to his glove side, a slider (his best pitch dating back to college), and a changeup which has been the focal point of development since Anderson entered pro ball. A casualty of Florida’s ability to recruit and develop pitching, Anderson was a college reliever who would’ve been starting on just about every other college team in the country, so there’s a reason he lacks some of the finer attributes scout want to see from a starter. He could be an inefficient No. 4/5, but he might be really good in a multi-inning relief role where he throws 80 or more innings.

    9. Logan Webb, RHP
    Drafted: 4th Round, 2014 from Rocklin HS (CA) (SFG)
    Age 22.5 Height 6′ 2″ Weight 220 Bat / Thr R / R FV 40+
    Tool Grades (Present/Future)
    Fastball Curveball Changeup Command Sits/Tops
    55/60 55/60 45/50 40/45 91-94 / 95

    Webb spent most of 2016 on the shelf due to Tommy John, and the little bit of 2017 for which he was healthy he spent in a well-manicured relief role. Then he broke out in 2018, as he retained big stuff through a move back to the rotation. He was holding a tailing 92-95 deep into starts, topping out at 97, and spinning in a dastardly, bat-missing breaking ball. Unrefined fastball control led to a lot of bullpen projection, but Webb hadn’t pitched very much because of injury, so it seemed possible that it might yet improve.

    Early in 2019, Webb’s stuff was down a bit, more 91-94 and touching 95, before he got popped for PEDs and was suspended for 80 games. He’s missed about two years of development due to the TJ and this suspension and developmentally is more like a junior college arm than an advanced Double-A prospect. He has Top 100 stuff (assuming the 2018 heater comes back after this suspension) and if he can somehow refine fastball command and the changeup (or a third pitch of some kind), he could be a No. 4 starter. We don’t know how the PEDs, which Webb denies knowledge of using, may have impacted his stuff. He seems like a logical Fall League candidate.

    Drafted: 6th Round, 2018 from Nettleton HS (AR) (SFG)
    Age 18.7 Height 5′ 11″ Weight 175 Bat / Thr R / R FV 40+
    Tool Grades (Present/Future)
    Hit Raw Power Game Power Run Fielding Throw
    20/35 50/55 20/45 70/70 45/55 70/70

    Of all the players we’ve written up on the team reports (there are about 1,000 on The Board and well over that if you count the Others of Note section of the lists) the gap between what Hilson is now and what he might be is perhaps the biggest. He has scintillating physical ability. Speed, arm strength, barrel quickness, burgeoning power, hit-thieving defensive ability in center field. But he is raw as steak tartare and often takes hapless, juvenile swings that demonstrate an alarming lack of baseball feel, as evidenced by his 67 strikeouts in 166 2018 at-bats.

    Likely a long term project who will move through the minors with this exciting young contingent of talent from Latin America, Hilson’s chances of even making the big leagues are probably in the 20-30% range, and that may be optimistic. But on the scouting card, the tools read like David Dahl’s or Starling Marte’s, so there’s a chance for a star turn here, as well. It will likely take a long time and there will likely be developmental bumps in the road, but Hilson has monster, long-term potential and would be a peacock feather in the cap of Giants player dev if he can realize it.

    11. Camilo Doval, RHP
    Signed: July 2nd Period, 2015 from Dominican Republic (SFG)
    Age 21.9 Height 6′ 2″ Weight 185 Bat / Thr R / R FV 40+
    Tool Grades (Present/Future)
    Fastball Slider Cutter Command Sits/Tops
    55/60 45/50 60/70 20/40 89-98 / 100

    This is one of the weirder pitchers in all of the minors. At times, Doval will sit in the upper-90s with cutting action; at others, he’s living in the low-90s with no movement. Scouts think the cause is that he doesn’t grip the baseball in a consistent manner. Doval also has a delivery totally unique to him. It’s a long, swooping, side-winding look that creates cut/rise on the ball. He also throws a hard, horizontal slider.

    The Trackman readout for Doval is shocking. His primary fastball/cutter spins in at about 2700 rpm, which is incredible considering how hard he throws. He also generates nearly seven feet of extension, and the effective velocity of his fastball is about 2 mph harder than it’s actual velo.

    He has outings where he walks everyone and gives up a bunch of runs before he accrues an out, and he has outings where he’s untouchable for several innings. It’d be somewhat terrifying to acquire Doval if the outcome of a trade for him dictated one’s job security, but his stuff is bewitching and we think he has a chance to be an elite bullpen weapon if he ever figures things out.

    40 FV Prospects

    12. Seth Corry, LHP
    Drafted: 3rd Round, 2017 from Lone Peak HS (UT) (SFG)
    Age 20.5 Height 6′ 2″ Weight 195 Bat / Thr L / L FV 40
    Tool Grades (Present/Future)
    Fastball Curveball Changeup Command Sits/Tops
    50/55 50/55 50/55 40/45 90-94 / 95

    Corry was a pretty raw fastball/curveball high school prospect whose changeup got much better throughout last season, which is especially relevant because that pitch’s movement pairs better with his fastball than the curve does. He’s a fairly stiff, short strider and often has scattershot fastball control, so there’s significant relief risk here. But Corry’s pitch mix is more complete than most of the other arms in this system and he’s the youngest non-Santos arm on the main section of this list, so you could argue he belongs up near Hjelle if you think he ends up starting. Realistically he’s a No. 4/5 or a three-pitch relief piece.

    13. Tyler Beede, RHP
    Drafted: 1st Round, 2015 from Vanderbilt (SFG)
    Age 26.0 Height 6′ 2″ Weight 190 Bat / Thr R / R FV 40
    Tool Grades (Present/Future)
    Fastball Curveball Changeup Command Sits/Tops
    60/60 50/50 55/55 40/40 91-95 / 98

    It appears that Beede has ditched the cutter/slider thing bestowed upon him for a time and is, as he was in college, a fastball/curveball/changeup guy again. His velocity also seems to have been reborn. He’s once again lighting up radar guns with a mid-90s heater that has touched 98. His changeup has power sinking movement and should miss bats when Beede locates it competitively, but he’s more consistently able to do that with his curveball. Fastball control likely keeps Beede in the bullpen even though he did have stretches this spring where he looked like a mid-rotation starter. He’s 26, but looks like a strong three-pitch reliever. Maybe there’s a chance for high-leverage or multi-inning work here.

    14. Luis Toribio, 3B
    Signed: July 2nd Period, 2017 from Dominican Republic (SFG)
    Age 18.6 Height 6′ 1″ Weight 210 Bat / Thr L / R FV 40
    Tool Grades (Present/Future)
    Hit Raw Power Game Power Run Fielding Throw
    20/50 55/60 25/55 40/30 40/45 55/55

    Built at age 18 like Aramis Ramirez was in his prime, it’s likely that Toribio’s promising pro debut was at least somewhat a product of physical maturity. He has above-average raw power already and generates it with a comfortable, understated swing. He’s shown feel for contact in games. He’s too pull-heavy at times, or at least tries to pull pitches he shouldn’t, ones he should just take. So there’s power, early indicators that the contact skills will be fine, and a chance to stay at third. The size/frame means there’s risk Toribio ends up at first base if he gets bigger, and also probably means we shouldn’t expect much of an increase in raw power. He has a chance to be an everyday third baseman, and lots of other viable outs if he can’t get there, including a corner infield platoon of some kind and a low-end first baseman. Or maybe more power comes, and he’s a 50 at first.

    15. Mike Gerber, RF
    Drafted: 5th Round, 2014 from Creighton (DET)
    Age 26.9 Height 6′ 0″ Weight 190 Bat / Thr L / R FV 40
    Tool Grades (Present/Future)
    Hit Raw Power Game Power Run Fielding Throw
    40/40 60/60 50/55 50/50 55/55 50/50

    Boxed out of a surprisingly crowded corner outfield situation in Detroit, Gerber should get an opportunity to become a lefty-hitting platoon corner outfielder with power. He has at least above-average raw and has adjusted his swing to better ensure consistent lift. He’s going to strike out a lot, but he mashes right-handed pitching and plays a very good corner outfield, so he might play against lefties, too, and just hit toward the bottom of the order on those days. He’s older, but is a clear fit in a limited but necessary role.

    16. Jairo Pomares, CF
    Signed: July 2nd Period, 2018 from Cuba (SFG)
    Age 18.8 Height 6′ 1″ Weight 185 Bat / Thr L / R FV 40
    Tool Grades (Present/Future)
    Hit Raw Power Game Power Run Fielding Throw
    25/55 45/45 20/35 55/50 45/50 45/45

    The Giants signed Pomares for just shy of $1 million during the 2018 July 2 period. He’s already almost 19 and is, as one can probably guess, a little more advanced and a little less projectable than most other recent J2 signees. Pomares is a center field prospect with feel to hit. His swing is geared for all-fields contact and while he has above-average bat speed, it’s unlikely that he hits for power without a swing adjustment. He looked a little thicker and stronger than anticipated during San Francisco’s January instructs and early in the spring, so there may be less certainty that he stays in center than there was when Pomares was in Cuba. He looks more like a fourth outfield prospect than a potential regular right now, but Cuban players often have long stretches away from baseball and training, so what we’ve seen so far in Arizona might just be rust.

    17. Ray Black, RHP
    Drafted: 7th Round, 2011 from Pittsburgh (SFG)
    Age 28.9 Height 6′ 5″ Weight 225 Bat / Thr R / R FV 40
    Tool Grades (Present/Future)
    Fastball Slider Command Sits/Tops
    80/80 55/55 35/35 96-99 / 102

    Black is the oldest player on The Board and he’s only here, despite a career rife with injury and inconsistency, because his stuff is so good. He’s among the hardest throwers in professional baseball and also one of the best at spinning the baseball. He is wild and the quality of his secondary stuff is inconsistent, but at times he looks unhittable. He struck out 33 in 23 big league innings last year, but he’s currently on the IL with a forearm strain. He could one day pitch his way into high-leverage innings as long as he has this kind of stuff, which he has maintained despite the many maladies.

    Signed: July 2nd Period, 2015 from Venezuela (SFG)
    Age 20.0 Height 6′ 2″ Weight 210 Bat / Thr R / R FV 40
    Tool Grades (Present/Future)
    Hit Raw Power Game Power Run Fielding Throw
    30/50 55/60 30/45 20/20 45/50 50/50

    Built like a one of the moai sculptures on Easter Island, Genoves faces size-based questions about his ability to catch long term. But he has a plus arm, he’s procedurally advanced for a 20-year-old, and he has the leadership qualities and intangibles that have an outsized impact at catcher. He also has plus power, enough to put balls out to right center, though Genoves’ current approach to contact doesn’t often enable it. He pulls just about everything.

    Genoves’ future is heavily dependent on him staying behind the plate and ideally, he’d catch more than just 33 games (last year’s total at an affiliate, not including extended) throughout the course of this year, and show that the workload doesn’t detract from his bat or agility. The power gives him a shot to be a regular, though a backup role is probably more likely.

    19. Blake Rivera, RHP
    Drafted: 4th Round, 2018 from Wallace State CC (SFG)
    Age 21.4 Height 6′ 5″ Weight 225 Bat / Thr R / R FV 40
    Tool Grades (Present/Future)
    Fastball Curveball Changeup Cutter Command Sits/Tops
    55/55 55/60 40/45 55/55 40/45 93-97 / 98

    The Giants drafted Rivera after his 2017 freshman season, but he went back to school, raised his stock, and was the first JUCO arm off the board the following year. He has power stuff — 93-96 with cut action at times, and a plus curveball — but is wild and may be a reliever, though probably a very good one.

    20. Jake Wong, RHP
    Drafted: 3rd Round, 2018 from Grand Canyon (SFG)
    Age 22.7 Height 6′ 1″ Weight 210 Bat / Thr R / R FV 40
    Tool Grades (Present/Future)
    Fastball Slider Changeup Command Sits/Tops
    50/50 45/50 40/45 40/50 92-95 / 96

    Wong was holding 93-96 with sink deep into games as a junior, he throws strikes, and he occasionally snaps off a good curveball. Changeup development and refined command are areas of need, and they will likely dictate Wong’s ceiling, which is probably that of a No. 4/5 starter who induces weak contact rather than strikeouts.

    21. Chris Shaw, 1B
    Drafted: 1st Round, 2015 from Boston College (SFG)
    Age 25.6 Height 6′ 3″ Weight 260 Bat / Thr L / R FV 40
    Tool Grades (Present/Future)
    Hit Raw Power Game Power Run Fielding Throw
    45/50 50/55 70/70 40/40 40/40 55/55

    Shaw is one of many whiff-heavy corner bats with huge power who floats around the upper levels of the minors, putting up big power numbers while struggling to find a big league role if their parent club has someone at 1B/DH. The Giants have tried Shaw in the outfield but scouts don’t think he’s playable out there. Shaw has the advantage of hitting left-handed, but unless the Giants make a concerted effort to give him reps soon (they demoted him to Double-A to start 2019, so not a great sign) he’ll probably bounce around on waivers until a team with 40-man space — and the time to see whether or not Shaw can hit big league pitching — gives him a chance. Sometimes this is how clubs fall into Jesus Aguilar and Christian Walker, but it’s also the fate of many a Quad-A hitter.

    22. Jalen Miller, 2B
    Drafted: 3rd Round, 2015 from Riverwood HS (GA) (SFG)
    Age 22.4 Height 5′ 11″ Weight 190 Bat / Thr R / R FV 40
    Tool Grades (Present/Future)
    Hit Raw Power Game Power Run Fielding Throw
    40/50 50/50 40/45 55/55 45/50 40/40

    Miller’s lack of arm strength really boxes him in at second base, which means he has to hit enough to be a regular there because defensive versatility, and therefore a viable utility role, isn’t part of his profile. Much of the pressure will be on the bat to ball skills as Miller is a compact guy with average bat speed. He probably needs to be a 60 bat or better to play every day, which is feasible considering that his attributes, dating back to high school, are lead by a short swing and barrel control. He’s off to a good start in 2019, walking nearly as much as he has struck out.

    35+ FV Prospects

    Drafted: 2nd Round, 2017 from Chaparral HS (AZ) (SFG)
    Age 20.9 Height 6′ 3″ Weight 190 Bat / Thr R / R FV 35+
    Tool Grades (Present/Future)
    Hit Raw Power Game Power Run Fielding Throw
    30/40 60/70 30/55 45/40 40/40 55/55

    Though he looked somewhat better defensively during January workouts, Gonzalez still projects over to first base for all the scouts we’ve spoken with, and his inability to hit breaking stuff makes that pretty scary. He’s a hard worker with a frame built for longevity and he has arguably the best raw power in this system. His future looks much like Shaw’s, but Jacob hasn’t had the in-game power output yet.

    Signed: July 2nd Period, 2011 from Dominican Republic (NYY)
    Age 24.3 Height 5′ 11″ Weight 195 Bat / Thr R / R FV 35+
    Tool Grades (Present/Future)
    Hit Raw Power Game Power Run Fielding Throw
    45/45 50/50 30/30 55/55 50/50 60/60

    Last year, Avelino shuttled back and forth between Double-A (which he crushed) and Triple-A (which he did not) while with the Yankees, then was sent to San Francisco at the end of August as part of the McCutchen trade. He has rare power for a viable defensive shortstop but hits the ball on the ground so much that it’s highly unlikely he does much in-game damage with the bat unless his swing is overhauled. And while solid at short, Avelino’s not so good that you’d live with zero offense and play him everyday. He’ll likely be a glove-first utility guy, but he hasn’t played much second or third base yet and he’s already 24.

    25. George Bell, OF
    Drafted: 13th Round, 2018 from Connors JC (OK) (SFG)
    Age 21.0 Height 6′ 4″ Weight 215 Bat / Thr R / R FV 35+

    Former MVP George Bell has two sons also named George Bell in pro ball — this one and George Bryner Bell, who is with Oakland. This Bell is a body/power/speed junior college sleeper who has some plate discipline and bat control issues. He has a shot to break out in the Northwest League this summer and merit a promotion to Low-A for the stretch run. August will be a key time to evaluate him if that’s the case.

    26. Jandel Gustave, RHP
    Signed: July 2nd Period, 2010 from Dominican Republic (HOU)
    Age 26.6 Height 6′ 2″ Weight 210 Bat / Thr R / R FV 35+
    Tool Grades (Present/Future)
    Fastball Slider Command Sits/Tops
    70/70 55/55 40/40 96-98 / 99

    We typically slot relievers in their mid or late-20s in the honorable mention section of lists, especially if they’ve had injury issues. But the four you’re about to read about all have premium stuff and, at least at times, look capable of handling late-inning duty. Arm injuries have limited Gustave to 20 total innings since 2016, but his fastball was back into the upper-90s this spring. His slider is closer to average right now, which may mean he maxes out in a lower-leverage role.

    27. Raffi Vizcaino, RHP
    Signed: July 2nd Period, 2011 from Dominican Republic (SFG)
    Age 23.5 Height 6′ 2″ Weight 235 Bat / Thr R / R FV 35+
    Tool Grades (Present/Future)
    Fastball Slider Curveball Changeup Command Sits/Tops
    55/55 45/45 50/55 50/55 40/40 91-95 / 98

    Vizcaino has been hurt for long stretches during the last few years and was moved to the bullpen this spring. He’ll touch 98 but sit mostly 91-95, and he has an above-average changeup, as well as two lesser breaking balls.

    28. Sam Wolff, RHP
    Drafted: 6th Round, 2013 from New Mexico (TEX)
    Age 28.1 Height 6′ 1″ Weight 204 Bat / Thr R / R FV 35+
    Tool Grades (Present/Future)
    Fastball Slider Curveball Changeup Command Sits/Tops
    55/55 55/55 55/55 40/40 40/40 92-95 / 96

    Wolff was part of the Matt Moore trade and he’s spent time in Double-A every year since 2016. He has standard 40 FV, middle relief stuff, but he’s 28 and has a long injury history.

    29. Jose Marte, RHP
    Signed: July 2nd Period, 2015 from Dominican Republic (SFG)
    Age 22.9 Height 6′ 4″ Weight 180 Bat / Thr R / R FV 35+
    Tool Grades (Present/Future)
    Fastball Slider Changeup Command Sits/Tops
    60/60 45/45 50/55 35/40 90-96 / 97

    Marte has a four-pitch mix and generates plus-plus extension, which makes his mid-90s fastball play up. We have his 2018 breaking ball spin rate on The Board because this year’s are way, way down, likely due to injury.

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    Other Prospects of Note

    Grouped by type and listed in order of preference within each category.

    Power Bats
    Diego Rincones, OF
    Zach Green, 3B/1B
    Sandro Fabian, OF
    Jacob Heyward, OF
    Kwan Adkins, OF

    Rincones, 19, is a plump corner outfielder with quick, strong hands. He’s posted two consecutive years of strong offensive statistics (AZL and NWL) and has plus raw power, but he’s a corner-only guy with a high-maintenance build, so he’ll need to keep doing that. Green was a minor league free agent who had an average exit velo of about 95 mph through this season’s first month. He has plus-plus power and barely hits the ball on the ground (25% GB%). Fabian looked like a potential contact/power corner outfielder but his approach is just too aggressive and he’s posted sub-.300 OBPs for two years. Heyward, 23, is a bit older than most prospects at Double-A but he has plus raw power and athleticism. He needs to keep walking a lot to balance the strikeouts. Adkins was a two-sport athlete at Northwestern State (he played wide receiver as a junior) who didn’t have statistical success in college, but has so far flashed all-fields power against younger pro pitching.

    Relief Potential
    Sam Coonrod, RHP
    Garrett Williams, LHP
    Franklin Van Gurp, RHP
    Kervin Castro, RHP

    Coonrod touches 99 and has a pretty good cutter and curveball. Williams is a low-90s lefty with a plus curveball but he’s quite wild. Van Gurp could be a traditional sinker/slider reliever if he develops above-average command. Castro is a projectionless 20-year-old who throws hard (93-96 this spring) with flat, up-in-the-zone plane that’s suited for missing bats. His secondaries are raw, but he missed most of the last two years with injury.

    Younger Sleepers
    Ismael Munguia, OF
    Ghordy Santos, INF
    Andrew Caraballo, INF

    Izzy Munguia is a tiny corner outfield prospect with great feel to hit. His power is limited. He’ll likely need to be a 7 bat to profile. Santos and Caraballo are each built like Jorge Polanco. Santos has plus bat speed and some low-ball ability. Caraballo has plus infield hands and actions and Eric thought he saw him breaking in a catcher’s mitt on the backfields.

    System Overview

    This rebuild could take a while. There’s probably a dominant, homegrown bullpen in this system but most of the pitchers who’ll be part of it are already in their mid or late-20s. There’s a huge timeline gap between that group and the more exciting, potentially impactful group of teenagers (mostly bats) who are, by and large, currently in rookie and A-ball. Parlaying current big leaguers and upper-level prospects into long-term assets will be an important part of accelerating a return to competitiveness. That means nailing a seemingly imminent Madison Bumgarner trade. Scouts from opposing clubs are already deviating from their normal coverage to get extra looks at the left-hander so their teams have as much info as possible as we approach June and July.

    Now that the org is under new leadership, the way talent is acquired and developed will change, but we’re not yet sure exactly how. It seems as if early priorities involve throwing fringe roster guys like Connor Joe, Aaron Altherr, and Breyvic Valera at the wall to see who sticks. Expect the Giants to try to find diamonds in the rough on the waiver wire who they’ll likely look to flip for long-term help rather than keep around.

    We’ve seen Giants personnel at amateur games with the same model camera we’re using to take high-speed video, so they’re proactively entering that space. It’s likely their new Ops leader, Farhan Zaidi, will bring Dodger player dev concepts with him to San Francisco because the Dodgers have been so good at improving their players, but some of LA’s more prominent scouting tendencies (injured arms, toolsy college hitters with contact red flags, talent from Mexico) will be harder to replicate effectively because the Dodgers still exist in those spaces, too.

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  • Further Adventures In Starting vs. Relieving

    Posted 2 days ago

    Last week, I investigated the changing performance of starters relative to relievers. There’s nothing too crazy about that — FanGraphs is a baseball analysis website, after all, and the starter/reliever divide is a rich topic for analysis. I have to confess, though, that the reception of the article was pretty exciting for me. You see, I got into baseball statistics when a friend recommended The Book to me, and there was Tom Tango, writing about my piece.

    Aside from making me feel validated, Tango went over a few methodological improvements I could make to strip a little more noise out of the data. That, in essence, is what all of this analysis is doing — removing noise piece by piece, hoping to find the sweet, sweet signal underneath it all. In my initial article, I covered three topics: pitchers the first time through the order, starters vs. relievers but only using good pitchers, and swingmen. Today, I’d like to look at each of the three with a slightly different aim.

    First, let’s talk about performance the first time through the order. Focusing on this consistent set of data (first time through the order, batters 1-7) for both starters and relievers lets us strip out distributional effects from starter workload changes. Merely looking at these splits, however, left out one key factor: home vs. away performance. Mitchel Lichtman has found that home field advantage isn’t a constant — it’s highest in the first inning. Road batters have a pronounced disadvantage relative to home batters in the first inning, which fades away somewhat afterwards. Credit it to having to hit cold, or go the other way and say that road starters are off their game in the first inning, but it’s worth exploring home and away splits to see if there’s anything there.

    To handle this, I looked at starter and reliever performance in away games. Even with halved sample sizes, our data is still pretty robust — 17,000-ish batters faced per year for starters. 2019 is going to be significantly noisier, with only 4,400 plate appearances so far, but that’s the price of slicing more finely. So, do we still see the past two years as a significant step forward for starters as the past two years of overall data show?

    Hmm. With the caveat that the 2019 point has a larger margin of error than the rest, this data looks less promising. 2018 is still a relative weak spot for relievers, but 2019 has moved back to the pack, and that’s not even addressing those weird blips in 2008 and 2010. Let’s look at the data again, this time adding in home and overall wOBA differential.

    This is marginally more enlightening. Relievers almost always have less of a wOBA advantage when pitching at home, which makes sense given the penalty away batters face in the first inning. Additionally, both split samples look noisier than the overall data, which makes sense given the declining sample sizes. Here’s the data in table form, for those inclined to play around with it.

    Reliever wOBA – Starter wOBA
    Year Home Differential Away Differential Total Differential
    2002 -0.008 -0.010 -0.009
    2003 -0.008 -0.013 -0.011
    2004 0.000 -0.014 -0.007
    2005 -0.004 -0.016 -0.010
    2006 -0.012 -0.014 -0.013
    2007 -0.015 -0.017 -0.016
    2008 -0.010 -0.006 -0.008
    2009 0.000 -0.019 -0.010
    2010 -0.008 0.002 -0.003
    2011 -0.007 -0.015 -0.012
    2012 -0.013 -0.019 -0.016
    2013 -0.010 -0.017 -0.013
    2014 0.000 -0.018 -0.009
    2015 -0.012 -0.013 -0.013
    2016 -0.004 -0.020 -0.012
    2017 -0.013 -0.014 -0.014
    2018 0.004 -0.003 0.000
    2019 0.014 -0.011 0.002

    Okay, so that didn’t clear up much. We’ll need more data this year to say whether home field advantage is changing, but this could certainly muddle up our data. Still, the overall trend is probably pointing up, even if this year is a bit of a confounding variable so far when it comes to home/road splits.

    For the next section, I was faced with a difficult experimental design. Last article, I looked at relievers and starters who faced at least 120 batters the first time through the lineup as a proxy for the performances of “good” pitchers, the ones their team wants out there. Tango rightly pointed out, though, that this method runs into some selection bias. Pitchers who get results tend to get more playing time, so my sample ends up biased because a player’s presence on the list implies he started out pitching effectively.

    To avoid this pitfall, I used a split-half methodology. I cut every year in half at July 1 and used the first half of the year to select my pitchers. In each year, I selected the 150 starters and 150 relievers with the most total batters faced. I took those pitchers and looked at their second-half results. In this way, I think I was able to work out which pitchers teams trusted the most without letting the first half results mess with my data.

    Why 150? Well, that gives each team five starters and five relievers who they truly want out there. This, I think, gets rid of the problem of the back end of the bullpen diluting reliever results while still amassing a sufficient sample. Next, I selected the split I wanted: the 150 highest-workload starters and relievers, the first time through the order. I chose to look at away games to deal with the issue addressed in the first study above, but I could see the merit in looking at home games or overall performance as well just to be a stickler for detail.

    That methodological note completed, let’s look at the results. We have, most likely, isolated the effects of Triple-A shuttle relievers who didn’t have a roster spot 10 years ago. How does it look?

    Sigh. Looks like we’ll need to do some interpretation, because this data is again kind of confusing. 2017 and 2018 were both good years for starters relative to relievers, but once again, we’re left to wonder what’s going on with 2008 and 2010? It’s probably not a sample size issue, at least not exclusively — these samples were around 8000 batters a year for each group, which isn’t insignificant. About the only good news is that the 2008 and 2010 spikes were mirrored in the above dataset, so it doesn’t look like we’re introducing new problems into our analysis.

    What can we say about these pools? Well, between the years we “care about” — 2017 and 2018 — relievers’ overall advantage over starters declined across the board. On the road, relievers fared worse by 10 points of wOBA. That’s when the relevant trend looks like it started in the overall data. How did the “best” relievers and starters fare between those years? Relievers’ advantage declined by eight points of wOBA. To a large extent, then, the recent decline in reliever performance wasn’t limited to the fringes of the roster. The best relievers were right alongside their more marginal compatriots in terms of losing relative effectiveness.

    This data, to me, suggests patience. Could the reliever decline be entirely limited to talent dilution? Sure, maybe. Still, even after stripping out the newly promoted fringe arms, the effect remains. It’s noisy, absolutely. Trying to find an effect like this always will be. Still, the best relievers have less of an advantage over the best starters than they have at nearly another other point this millennium. Theories that ignore that fact are probably missing something. The best course of action is probably to gather more data — 2019 is looking like another good year for starters relative to relievers, so let’s take a peek at these splits again at the end of the year.

    There’s one last angle to cover in refining my initial piece. When I looked at swingman performance since 2008, MGL chimed in on Twitter to ask whether swingmen were throwing harder as starters than they used to. This question requires less interpretation and data slicing than our previous two — simply build your population of swingmen and look at their fastballs.

    One great thing about looking at velocity is that your sample size issues go away. In this data set, for example, I looked only at four-seam fastballs thrown by pitchers who made 10 starts and 10 relief appearances. I weighted each pitcher’s velocity differential by the lesser of the two pitch counts. If a pitcher threw 200 fastballs in relief and 300 while starting, in other words, I counted that as 200 pitches. Even using this sampling method, I obtained more than a thousand pitches worth of data in every year of the sample, and velocity stabilizes quickly. I’m confident in this data in a way that I’m simply not for some of the skimpier wOBA sample sizes.

    With that out of the way, let’s cover a few caveats. I manually stripped out openers in 2018. I ignored knuckleballers entirely — Tim Wakefield’s fastball might be a delight to watch, but it’s not the pitch we’re looking for in this study. With those qualifications out of the way, how do the data look?

    Velocity Gain as a Reliever, Swingmen 2008-2018
    Year Velo Gain (mph) Pitches
    2008 1.1 2562
    2009 0.8 2362
    2010 0.6 1675
    2011 0.6 1710
    2012 1.0 1600
    2013 0.6 2283
    2014 0.7 2477
    2015 1.2 2083
    2016 0.8 3129
    2017 0.9 2814
    2018 1.0 3516

    Well, ugh. Just, ugh. There’s nothing here at all! If starters are really throwing harder knowing that they’ll pitch fewer innings, the effect doesn’t carry over to swingmen. The data on swingmen’s relative improvement as starters is middling at best, and there’s no evidence at all that they’re doing it by throwing harder in their abbreviated starts.

    What’s the upshot of all of this data? Starters are still getting better relative to relievers. That’s indisputable. The mechanism for that improvement remains very much in doubt, however. Is it talent dilution? Probably! Still, even the top 150 starters are getting better relative to the top 150 relievers. Are starters throwing harder in abbreviated stints? Maybe! Swingmen don’t seem to be, though. Like a Facebook relationship status, it’s complicated.

    Perhaps this is always going to be the result of sifting data with such a fine-toothed comb. There are no slam dunk stories, and no easy narratives. Still, there’s always value in looking, and with the feedback of two esteemed sabermetricians, I think I was able to look a bit more closely this time.

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  • Prospect Podcast: Call-Ups A Plenty, Spend FAAB Accordingly

    Posted 2 days ago

    This week Lance and Lifshitz are back in saddle after a long layover. Not to worry, we pickup right where we left off by diving into some of the callups over the last week, as well as a laundry list of live looks between the two of us over the first month plus. From Wander Franco to Casey Mize and all the looks in between, we give you the low down from the field from the Midwest to the International League. Maybe it’s been a month since you last heard the sweet sounds of Bro-Shitz, maybe you’ve been in coma and didn’t miss anything. Who cares? We’re back!

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