How did Lucas Sims show himself ready for the majors?

There’s been a lot of discussion of this on the Braves radio and telecasts, but Lucas Sims seems to be one of those few players who had serious control issues and managed to solve them.  His ERA has always been okay to bad, and his strikeout numbers have been fine, but his stats were undermined by a very high walk rate.  Here are two charts that show his progress.  The seasons and partial seasons on the X axis are:

  1. 2015 season with A-advanced Carolina (Carolina League)
  2. 2015 season with AA Mississippi (Southern League)
  3. 2016 season with AA Mississippi (Southern League)
  4. 2016 season with AAA Gwinnett (International League)
  5. 2017 season with AAA Gwinnett (International League)
  6. 2017 season with Atlanta (National League)

For each chart, I’ve put Sims’ numbers along with the league average for that season for comparison.

So we see that while his ERA was actually slightly below average at Gwinnett this year, the bigger issue is that he managed to lower his walks per 9 innings from 6.7 in his 2016 Gwinnett season to 2.8 at Gwinnett this year.  His control has carried over into the majors as he has only a 1.5 BB9 in his first two games.  Let’s see how well he can do today against the Cardinals, who are fighting desperately for the National League central division.

 

Treemap Comparing the Salary and WAR of the Braves

This chart includes everyone on the current 40-man roster (and so includes players on the DL, excludes players the Braves have traded, etc.) who contributed this year.  I did not include salaries for non-roster players the Braves may still be paying.  The size of the square is their salary, the color depth is their WAR, and their location is where they play.  Batters to the left, pitchers to the right, infielders to the left of outfielders, relievers below starters.  The WAR and salary data come from baseball-reference.com, and for players without a listed salary, I assumed they make the league minimum (which is probably very close to accurate).

 

What we see is that Freeman is the most valuable player, Inciarte is a steal at his salary, and we’ve been getting a lot out of our catchers.  Nothing too surprising there.  Take a step back, and see that our pitchers are all about equal, and salary doesn’t matter.  Kemp is the standout here, where even though he’s hitting .290 with 14 HRs at the moment, his poor defense has more than eliminated his offensive value.  For fun, lets’ take a look at the same chart but just isolating the dWAR (Defensive Wins Above Replacement):

 

This again shows the value of Inciarte and Suzuki, the decline of Markakis compared to other right fielders around the league, and the hole in left that is Matt Kemp. Also notable is that Swanson’s defense is still valuable, even if his offense has struggled.

 

 

Which Braves Transaction has had the Largest Impact on Their Record?

There have been quite a few events in the Braves season, and I decided to investigate what impact those events have had on the Braves record this season. The five events I chose are the injury to Freddie Freeman, the signing of Matt Adams, the designation (and eventual release) of Bartolo Colon, the return of Freeman, and the trading of Jaime Garcia to the Twins. This chart shows the relationship of the Braves record to .500 after each game this season, with those events plotted. For fun, I also added a 20 game moving average.

What we can see is that the season has broken up into 4 “periods”.  First, the dramatic streakiness of the first few weeks of the season.  Second, the relative stability at around 6 games below .500 when Freeman was injured and Adams was brought in.  Third, the high point of the summer when the Braves were around 2-3 games under .500 and hit the .500 mark after finishing a sweep of Diamondbacks on July 16th.  Fourth, the current period in which the Braves have seen a precipitous decline after trading away Jaime Garcia.  This could be explained by a turn to younger pitchers, a feeling in the clubhouse that the team had given up on the season, or the loss of a positive dugout psychological force in Garcia.  That’s probably not answerable, but it does seem that the trade of Garcia has had more an impact on the record than the other four events.  Of course, the next month or so will tell us if the Braves are in a hiccup or a new “normal” down around 8 games below .500 or worse.

 

What Has Gone Wrong with Julio Teheran this Season?

At the beginning of the season, we pondered whether Julio Teheran was going to be able to retain his number one starter status (he is a 2-time all star, after all), or would he regress to a 2nd or 3rd starter? As it turns out, it may have fallen even farther. Of the 70 pitchers who have pitched at least 109 innings (the number of games the Braves have played), Julio is ranked 59th in ERA. He has pitched like a 5th starter. Why has this happened?

First, let’s look at some of his stats per 9 innings.

All of these are “bad” stats (lower is better), except for the light blue “strikeouts per 9 innings” number. All of them have moved in the wrong direction, all of them the worst of Julio’s career since he became a full-time starter in 2013. We mentioned in the post at the beginning of the season his fastball velocity. Here are the numbers, according to his fangraphs page.

That’s not good.  It’s only a little under 2 mph difference, but a sub 92 mph fastball is a problem for many pitchers.  It means the batters have slightly more time, and there is that much less difference between his fastball and change-up.  He’s also serving up home runs at a crazy-high rate (he’s tied for 64th among those 70 pitchers with 109 innings pitched).

Given his loss in velocity and strikeout rate, he will have to start pitching to location to get more awkward swings to produce outs.  Since his walks and home runs are way up, that doesn’t seem to have happened.  At this point, he’s a 4th-5th starter, and will have to improve mightily to get back to his salary expectations.  His current WAR on Baseball-Reference is 0.0 on their version of WAR, and -0.5 on the Fangraphs version.  We’ll have to see if he can turn things around this season, but it doesn’t look good so far.

 

Is Foltynewicz trending in the right direction?

Mike Foltynewicz starts this evening for the Braves, and he is closing in on the end of his third year on the club.  He’s also now 25 years old, so we ask: is he becoming more effective?  Let’s look at the Game Log data from baseball-reference.com.  We’ll exclude games he appeared as a reliever (one game this season, three in 2015), which gives us 57 starts for the Braves.  What kind of trend lines do we see?

Here we have a plot of every start Folty has had for the Braves.  The blue line is the linear trend line, clearly going down.

Here we see the three season as three separate box plots.  Each shows the median earned runs, lowest, highest, and the 25th and 75th percentile.  So, 50% of his starts were inside the box.  Not only are his earned runs per game decreasing, they are less widely distributed (excepting the two high outliers from this season noted in the chart).

Interestingly, he doesn’t seem to have a strong correlation between his strike% (the number of strikes as a percentage of pitches) and either earned runs or Game Score (the Bill James numerical measure of the effectiveness of a start).  It would appear being “effectively wild” is a big part of his game.   He has already totaled his WAR from last year, and we’re at the beginning of August, so it seems the answer to our question is yes, Foltynewicz seems to be trending in the right direction.  Of course, this kind of statement can be a kiss of death, coming right before he gives up 8 runs in an inning, but that’s why you play the games.

 

How likely is it that Nick Markakis will get to 3,000 hits?

Last night, Nick Markakis became the latest major leaguer to accumulate 2,000 hits. He’s 10th on the active list as of today. The nine ahead of him are:

1. Ichiro Suzuki (3060)
2. Adrian Beltre (3002)
3. Albert Pujols (2918)
4. Carlos Beltran (2699)
5. Miguel Cabrera (2608)
6. Robinson Cano (2318)
7. Matt Holliday (2067)
8. Jose Reyes (2052)
9. Victor Martinez (2022)

Given that he’s 33 years old, I’m wondering what his chances are at getting to 3,000.

Let’s start with the current set of batting average and plate appearances for major leaguers as of last year. We’ll restrict it to players with at least 501 Plate Appearances, to give us a good read on those who were healthy everyday players, and would qualify for awards like the batting title.

Looks like something close to a normal distribution to me, with a big drop off in Plate Appearances at around 35. How about Batting Average?

This is all of the Batting Averages for 2016 players with at least 501 plate appearances. The blue line is a simple quadratic regression. Note how the line goes up for younger and older players. We would assume this is because younger players need to be able to hit to get on the field, and older players (who can’t run, or play defense as well) need to hit to stay on the field.  In the newest installment of “Name That Outlier!”, can you guess who that dot on the right is, the 40 year-old who hit over .300 last year?  ….

 

It was David Ortiz.

So, without going into the probability calculations, we can see that while his average will likely stay where it is, his availability will probably start a deep decline in the next 2-3 years.  As it is, he is second in career fielding percentage as a right fielder. He’s only made 6 errors in his nearly 3 years with the Braves. While his range (already below league average for right fielders) may go down, I can’t think of a good reason he’ll become more error prone. In any case, the Braves has been paying him $11 million per year for just under 2.0 WAR per year, and he’s under contract through the end of next year. Fangraphs, which uses a different calculation for WAR, uses the price of Free Agents and player’s WAR to calculate a player’s monetary value. They say that Markakis was worth $11.8 million in 2015 (slightly higher than his actual salary), $9.1 million in 2016 (lower than his salary), and has been worth only $700,000 so far this year due to reduced defensive range and power. Check out his Fangraphs page here.

Start of the 2017 Season

The Braves (0-1) started out the season with a loss today, as Teheran threw 96 pitches over 6 innings (4 H, 0 ER, 3 BB, 6 K), but the bullpen gave up 6 runs in two innings. Here’s a pdf summary of the 2016 season from baseball-reference.com.

2016 WAR by Position

This chart shows all of the Braves’ relative positions in WAR contributed by position. What we see on this pdf is that the Braves have a great first baseman, one that is locked up for a long contract.. and some other guys. Their outfield is fine.. and they have one of the favorites for the rookie of the year at shortstop! With the influx of a few short-term veterans, this team will be happy to finish above 70 wins, which would make for a much more entertaining summer.

The Braves’ Salary Situation in 2016

Here’s a treemap of the Braves’ salaries in 2016, based on Spotrac information .  I had to make some guesses as to who will make the team, but I entered in “R1” through “R8” for all of the players who will end up making the team on a rookie (minimum) salary of a little more than a half a million dollars.  Batters are to the left, pitchers are to the right, the size of the rectangle is their salary, and the color of their rectangle is their WAR last year. Green means above 0.0, and red means below 0.0 with the intensity of the color reflecting the distance from zero.

 
BravesSalaries2016

First obvious conclusion?  We are in trouble.  What you’ll see immediately is that the only solid above-league-average players on the roster are Freddie Freeman, Erick Aybar, Nick Markakis, and A.J. Pierzynski.  Yes, Julio Teheran is primed for a bounce back season at the top of the rotation, but he was below replacement last season.  There’s every reason to believe, on top of all this, that Aybar will be traded for something before the all-star break as he is going to become a free agent in the offseason.  Remember, the theory is that we are building for next season!

Season Preview – Mallex Smith

We’ve spent some time analyzing the veterans coming back to the Braves this season, but our focus today turns to the 22 year old Mallex Smith, who was a single short of the cycle (with two triples!) on Wednesday against the Orioles in the 2nd Grapefruit League game for the Atlanta club.  Here we see Smith’s offensive numbers by minor league level.

MallexSmithActualNumbers

He has been truly great, but to put these into context, let’s see the next chart which converts each number into a 600 at bat season.  Each fraction is rounded down to the nearest integer and batting average is recalculated.

MallexSmithEstimatedNumbers2

The last row is a linear regression of the various seasons into the next level (a mythical AAAA league).  This isn’t really a good estimate of how Smith will produce in the majors for lots of reasons.  Research has shown that lower minor league stats are less predictive of major league success than higher minor league stats, and the difference in pitching between AAA and the majors is much greater than the difference between AA and AAA, etc., etc.

In any case, it is interesting that Michael Bourn is mentoring Smith in spring training, because they seem like very similar players.  Let’s look at Bourn’s defense by looking at Range Factor per 9 innings over his career in center field.

MichaelBournCareerFielding

He started out at or above the league range factor, and as of 2013 has been below it and falling.  If we isolate Bourn and Smith’s minors-only fielding numbers we can see the following comparison.

MallexAndBournMinorsFielding

It would appear that Smith’s ceiling might be a roughly equal offensive player to Bourn, but a slightly slower defensive center fielder with a few more errors.  That will be well worth it to the Braves if the Braves’ coaching staff can get the potential out of Smith.

How Tall is a Baseball Hall of Famer?

We take a quick break from our season preview articles to explore something completely unrelated: the height of the members of the Baseball Hall of Fame, and how that height has changed over time.  According to this article in Scientific American, the average human has grown 4 inches taller than they did 150 years ago.  Since 150 years ago is roughly the same time we have information on height in Major League Baseball (though that information is far from complete until well into the 20th century), we can compare the two numbers.

First, just taking the members of the Hall of Fame were inducted as players (excluding those who were inducted as managers, pioneers, umpires, etc. even if they also played), we get the following graph:

HeightAndWeightOfHallofFamersWithOutliers

As you can see, there are relative few outliers in the group.  Of the four labeled outliers, Johnny Evers and Willie Keeler are older players, and Frank Thomas and Randy Johnson are very recent players.  Louis Santop was a turn of the 20th century Negro League catcher who was large before his time.  If you’re wondering, Babe Ruth is in the big blog near the upper right.  Since he was more commonly filmed for popularity and technology issues very late in his career, a common belief was that he was the Pablo Sandoval of his time (Yes, Pablo would be far to the right of this line at 5’11” and 255 lbs.).  However, for most of his career Babe was a muscular and fit right fielder who could run.  You can also see a kind of baseline using the trendline to judge your own height and weight, or a favorite player.  Below and to the right of the line, you or that player could stand to lose a few pounds.  Above and to the left of the line, and you or they could pack on some muscle.

How have the heights changed over time?

HeightofHoFoverTime

As it is labeled, this chart doesn’t measure Hall of Famers by their year of induction, but by the date 20 years after their birth.  As mentioned earlier, the average human is 4 inches taller than 150 years ago.  According to this data, we might expect the average Hall of Famers in 1860 (if a great enough number existed) to have been about 68 inches tall, or 5’8″.  The average current 20 year-old future Hall of Famer now is around 74 inches, or 6’2″.  The Scientific American article lists the most significant cause of this growth to be from increased childhood vitamin consumption.  We might guess that the extra two inches the Baseball Hall of Famer is from not only improved nutrition, but by drawing from a larger international pool than 150 years ago.

With the exception of sports like auto and horse racing, in which size is a disadvantage by making the car or horse/rider combo heavier, all sports see size as a significant advantage.  All sports are getting taller, and the days of exceptional play from people like Jose Altuve (5’6″, 165 lbs.) may become more rare in the future.