Author Archives: MCoA

Thoughts on JABO

Not so much this guyl (RLRS Photo).

Not so much this guyl (RLRS Photo).

The playoffs have given us a Kansas City Royals team that can’t lose and an eight runs allowed Clayton Kershaw performance, but now we’ve got maybe the weirdest playoffs experience of them all. A Fox Sports broadcast with people who understand baseball saying smart things about baseball. As you’d expect from Fox Sports, the actual structure of the broadcast is wonky, with a split-screen that draws the eye to the dudes on laptops talking about the game rather than the game itself. But I have watched parts of two games on this setup, and even with the wonkiness, I’m a big fan. Here’s why.

It’s not about WAR. The broadcast will pop up little notes about Matt Carpenter’s WAR and Madison Bumgarner’s xFIP and so on, but that’s not the drawing point for me. You could replace every mention of RBIs and wins in the Joe Buck telecast with WAR and FIP, and it would make the whole production only very marginally better. The problem with baseball broadcasting today isn’t that they use bad stats.

What I loved, rather, was that it was a non-stop, dense baseball discussion. Gabe Kapler and CJ Nitkowski in particular had excellent chemistry, and were clearly just delighted to get to talk about baseball in this level of detail with other folks on the television. When Kapler decided to demonstrate John Jay’s hit-by-pitch technique on Saturday night, right as he was getting up, Jay twisted and took a ball off the bum. Kapler’s joy to have called it was great. Bud Black was more reserved, but he explained clearly a number of the trade-offs that go into bullpen management in the playoffs. Both he and Nitkowski offered great analyses of the pitchers’ stuff and their opinions of when a guy might be losing it.

The broadcast also featured OG stathead Rob Neyer, and he was fine, but he didn’t add much. What baseball broadcasts need isn’t statheads. It’s baseball people who can talk intelligently and excitedy about baseball during a baseball game. This broadcast needs to highlight the game more, visually, but I think it could offer some real improvements to the model of baseball telecasts.

The Mookening

In about a nanosecond, he will have hit a line drive (RLRS Photo).

In about a nanosecond, he will have hit a line drive (RLRS Photo).

This season has been kind of terrible. But finally, we have something legitimately good going on. Mookie Betts is on a hot streak. And it is fabulous. With mostly regular playing time, Betts is showing that his spectacular minor league numbers were no fluke.

He’s hit 305/390/460 in 123 plate appearances since the beginning of August. While Betts does have more strikeouts than walks or extra-base hits, it’s a close call (17 to 14 to 10). His line drive rate started around 15 percent and has jumped well over 20 percent. He started out with too many ground balls (about half of his batted balls) and has dropped that to a much better 40 percent.

Before I got to watch Betts hit, I had him pegged as a new Dustin Pedroia, a little guy with more power than you’d think. But getting to watch him regularly, Betts isn’t the special snowflake that Pedroia is. Which I think is a good thing. I found a bunch of good clips of Betts putting a hurt on the ball, but I think this is my favorite. It’s just a line drive single to right-center from two weeks ago, but it stands up on re-watch like the first season of Homicide.

Try to follow his hands from set position to getting through the ball. He lets the pitch get insanely deep, then releases a swing that seems to bend time between the moment it begins and the bat going through the hitting zone. Pedroia manages to hit for power, despite his slight frame, by swinging from the heels and counting on his otherworldly hand-eye coordination to allow him to get away with it. For Betts, his hands are so quick that he must be generating elite bat speed with a short, quick swing. It’s a very traditional way to combine contact hitting and power, which is good for projectibility. Betts is doing something that many stars have done before and many will in the future. I’m more confident than ever that Betts is a multiple All-Star in the making, and I look forward to watching him for another couple weeks.

Rusney Castillo did not have good numbers in Cuba

We're giving up on him? (RLRS Photo)

We’re giving up on him? (RLRS Photo)

The Red Sox already spent a chunk of their big 2015 free agent budget on Cuban center fielder Rusney Castillo. He will cost $72M over seven years, which is both a significant outlay and a bargain price so long as he’s a cromulent major leaguer. I wanted the Red Sox to sign Jose Abreu last offseason, so I should be happy about the Red Sox going for the next Cuban defector? Not so much.

Castillo’s numbers in Cuban ball are seriously unimpressive. His best year, 2011-2012, he hit 324/373/555. And he only did it once. By contrast, Yoenis Cespedes was an established 400+/600+ hitter in Serie Nacional, Jose Abreu an established 500+/800+ hitter. The guy I thought of, just as a comparison for stat lines, was Juan Carlos Linares. The Red Sox signed Linares a couple years ago on the strength of two big 440/550 seasons in Serie Nacional, and he never got past the high minors. Cuban ball is a weird beast, with a combination of truly Major League quality talent plus dudes who would be playing in high-quality rec leagues in the US, but the defectors who have succeeded with the bat have almost all had track records of absolutely stomping their competition. Castillo lacks that, apart from one season still worse than Linares’ two best.

Brian Cartwright, creator of the Oliver system, pegs Castillo’s MLE for his best season in the 280/400 range. That looks about right to me based on eyeballing the numbers. A .400 SLG looks a touch low for the translation, but not by a huge gap. And getting on base in Cuba, it appears, comes very cheap. Cespedes is a low-OBP hitter in MLB and he on-based in the Wade Boggs range in Serie Nacional. Linares was a medium power hitter with big OBP, and that got him nowhere. Castillo’s numbers suggest very little control of the strike zone and no particularly amazing skills to counterbalance.

The positive spin on Castillo would come from Ben Badler at Baseball America, who reports that scouts were highly surprised at his increased strength and power in workouts. So maybe Castillo is now much better than he was in Cuba. I hope so. But the Sox are betting not on an established 27-year-old hitter with numbers that translate well. Rather, they’re betting on a bunch of workouts to tell them that a 27-year-old has taken a big step forward in ability which has not been captured in any competitive numbers.

Even leaving aside the roster crunch issues that appear to block Jackie Bradley Jr and Mookie Betts, I am skeptical that the Red Sox have acquired a major league starter in the first place with the talent to block those guys.

When the neighborhood is not the neighborhood

Very harsh to call this his "gaffe," redsox.com (RLRS Photo).

Very harsh to call this his “gaffe,” redsox.com (RLRS Photo).

I guess it does not matter that much whether the Sox win or lose right now. I guess that if the Sox can lose enough games to have a protected top-ten pick in the June draft, that’s a good thing. But regardless I do not like losing.

A double-play started by Xander Bogaerts at shortstop was overturned on review because Bogaerts released the ball to first before stepping on second. The rule in MLB’s new replay system is that the neighborhood play, where the pivot man in the double play gets an out at second by standing very close to the bag but not on it, is not reviewable. This is presumably done for reasons of player safety, as there would be a lot more lower leg injuries if the pivot man had to plant right where the runner is sliding.

But after consultation with the office in New York, the play was called reviewable and then overturned. As Steven Petrella explains for RedSox.com:

Plays like that are often not reviewable, but because this was a race to the bag between Bogaerts and Marc Krauss instead of a throw to second that Bogaerts needed to field — a “neighborhood play,” which means a player just needs to be near the bag while turning two so he can safely avoid a sliding runner — Porter could challenge it.

I see the point that a race to the bag needs to be won by either the fielder or the runner. It seems to me though, that in this case most of the same injury prevention issues apply. We will see what happens with Farrell’s protest.

Notes on Cespedophilia

I haven’t had time to fully collect my thoughts on the deadline madness. But last night solidified one thing. Jose had been talking about the value of a baseball team that’s fun to watch, even when the team isn’t going to make the playoffs. There are still thousands of fans in the stands every night, and the club has a real responsibility to entertain them. On that score at least, we can count the deadline moves as a reasonable success.

There is something very special that happens when Yoenis Cespedes connects with a baseball.

Wow. That was cool.

End of analysis. Go watch it again.

Source: Red Sox Play, Win West Coast Series

He throws the ball real hard (RLRS Photo).

He throws the ball real hard (RLRS Photo).

The schedule-makers gave the Red Sox a nasty little run here in mid-August. They flew to St. Louis for three with the Cardinals, and then without a rest day on to Anaheim for a series with a club sporting baseball second-best record. The kids in the rotation stepped up, and the Sox won two of three. Despite a highly unpleasant 19-inning loss on Saturday, Sox fans have to be reasonably pleased with these games. First, While wins and losses are not the primary measuring stick for this team down the stretch, wins over top opposition are always nice. Second, the biggest driver of these wins was three good performances by pitchers the Red Sox will need in 2015.

Clay Buchholz actually threw a good game and struck out eight. I have no expectations for him, but it was good to see something other than a disaster start. Allen Webster threw a very solid 65 percent of his pitches for strikes in a good outing. And best of all, Rubby De La Rosa dominated yesterday. The bullpen was dead, and he went seven strong innings. He sat 92-96 on the fastball and got consistent swings-and-misses with his changeup and slider. There’s a really lovely plot at Brooks Baseball showing the excellent separation between these three pitches.

Rubby has three pitches

You can see how De La Rosa’s changeup has the same horizontal movement as his fastball but sits 8-10 mph slower, while the slider comes in at close to the same speed as the changeup but breaks big right to left. That is a big league starter’s arsenal.

For the remainder of 2014 to be a success, the Red Sox need outings like this from El Lankador in particular. The tryouts for young pitchers are fun, but guys need to earn jobs for next year. Yesterday De La Rosa put himself in serious contention for the rotation next year.

What Is Wrong With Xander Bogaerts?

You're good at this, kid (RLRS Photo).

You’re good at this, kid (RLRS Photo).

The young Red Sox shortstop smacked a double to the gap in last night’s loss, after doing the same the night before. Maybe, maybe he is finally turning it around. But perhaps the thing I expected most when I returned to baseball after the World Cup was that Xander Bogaerts would have settled in and started crushing the ball. Instead, he is still not really hitting. He had typically been a slow starter in the minors, and I figured there would just be some adjustment period. When Bogaerts hit 327/407/490 in May, he was clearly benefiting from a spike in batting average on balls in play, but a 12 XBH month seemed to presage better things to come. Instead, Bogaerts just fell off a cliff.

And what’s worse, it seems like he lost his control over the strike zone at the same time. Bogaerts has been striking out too much all year, but at least early on he was drawing walks. He walked in about 11 percent of his plate appearances in April and May, with a high but not awful 49:25 strikeout to walk ratio. Since then, Bogaerts has walked in under three percent of his PA. He has a Middlebrooksian 54:6 strikeout to walk ratio. The power has disappeared at the same time. 19 extra-base hits in April and May, down to 11 in the next several months.

If it were a lingering injury, you would think Bogaerts would have reasonable control of the strike zone. If it were an adjustment period, he sure is taking a long time to adjust. I am still very hopeful about Bogaerts for the future, but it would be a nice if he would hit like the future superstar I still think he is at some point this summer.

Christian Vazquez Has Crazy Great Early Numbers

He is good at this  (RLRS Photo).

He is good at this (RLRS Photo).

Not his hitting, of course. Christian Vazquez is hitting a perfectly acceptable 350/370 and he’s only struck out six times in 15 games. Vazquez’ contact ability was his best batting skill in the minors, and it is a good sign that he’s maintained solid numbers in the majors. But the young catcher does not hit for much power or draw a ton of walks, and he’s never going to be close to a great hitter.

We already had evidence that Vazquez was a great defensive catcher in his control of the running game. Red Sox folks had raved about his pop times, but the early returns on his pitch framing are even better. He’s worked out with the Molinas, some of the best pitch-framers in the business, and he appears to have developed skills that could give Bengie, Yadier or Jose a run for their money.

Over at Fangraphs, Jeff Sullivan produced an incredible chart of balls and strikes called with Vazquez behind the plate. (The article also includes a fantastic selection of gifs to show precisely what Vazquez is doing to earn the added strikes.)

Wow

According to Baseball Prospectus’ catching metric, all those added red dots add up to about four of five runs saved in just a handful of games. Over a full season, that is a scientifically measured crapton of runs saved. Even at just 5-10 runs saved over a season, it would be enough to make Vazquez a league average catcher, or better, on a minimum salary. If he’s anything like a Molina-quality pitch framer, Vazquez could be a hidden star.

Blake Swihart watch out.