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.


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  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.

Should Baseball’s segregation negatively impact our evaluation of Babe Ruth’s statistics?

In a recent article, ESPN’s Buster Olney wrote of ranking Babe Ruth among the all-time greatest baseball players that, “it’s difficult to put him at the top of this list when he played in an era of segregation”. The assumption is that it was easier for Ruth since many great players were not allowed to play in major league baseball. It is true that we will never know how players like Josh Gibson and Cool Papa Bell, stars of the Negro League, would have lined up against the likes of Ruth and Cobb because they did not play against each other outside of exhibition games. While the assumption underlying Olney’s statement is undeniable, this article seeks to make a counter argument that may offer as much weight for Ruth’s excellence. There are a few issues that can be explored:

1) In Ruth’s favor: The best athletes in the country commonly played professional baseball during Ruth’s time. Although there were other professional sports, baseball players made more money and garnered more fame than football players or olympic athletes. Currently, Major League Baseball is second (as of 2014) in average career earnings behind Basketball. Hockey, Football, and likely global soccer leagues are not far behind. This means that baseball has real competition from other sports for the best athletes. This would suggest that Ruth’s statistics might be even greater if he played in the modern era since some of the pitchers he could have faced today have opted for a career as an NFL quarterback instead.

2) Against Ruth’s dominance: The growth of baseball around the world (especially in Japan, Korea, and the Caribbean) means that the talent pool now is much richer than in Ruth’s time. Athletes from many of these areas would have either not played competitive professional sports, or would have played something other than baseball in Ruth’s time.

3) In Ruth’s favor: Ruth’s barnstorming tours of Japan were key in the growth of baseball in that country. This doesn’t help his stats, but shows that he was always willing (especially when the money was better than playing domestically) to take on all comers around the world. It seems clear that Ruth would have likely have preferred the greater money and fairness that would have come from playing with players disallowed in the major leagues.

4) In Ruth’s favor: The outstanding statistics of the stars of the historical Negro Leagues must also be examined with some caution. Would Josh Gibson have hit as many home runs if he had faced major league pitching on a daily basis? The argument goes both ways. If Ruth’s numbers take a hit then so should the numbers of players like Satchel Paige.

This is not to say that Ruth’s statistics would have been the same or even greater if he started his career in 2016, but it is to say that segregation alone should not diminish the evaluation of his numbers.

What did we learn about Julio Teheran in game 1?

On Monday, we saw the Braves go down in extra innings on opening day.  After celebrating the 1997 team that opened Turner Field before the game, the Braves had a very 1990s era performance with solid starting pitching, a reasonable but not dominating performance by the bullpen, and a fairly anemic offense outside of their best hitters.  The key plays were errors by Erick Aybar and Gordon Beckham that pulled Freeman off the bag at first base.

A few weeks ago, we laid out some metrics for Julio Teheran.  Some keys we mentioned were keeping his BB/9 under 2.5, and a change-up with a lower batting average against (maybe closer to his ever-improving fastball).  What did we see?  His newly revamped change-up was used more than in year’s past, and it did not give up a hit.  His fastball was at 91.5 mph, which continues his decline from previous years.  His fastest pitch was just over 93 mph.  He gave up 2 home runs, which continues a bad trend from last year, but both were solo home runs thanks to Julio continuing his amazing ability to pick off runners.  He might be the best in the majors (he lead the majors with 5 pickoffs last year), which is amazing considering he is a right-hander.  He gave up 3 walks in 6 innings, but as we mentioned that damage was limited.

A solid start for Freeman and Adonis Garcia, who both hit home runs.  Overall, better than could probably be expected against the Nationals and defending Cy Young winner, but the 2-5 spots in the rotation will likely be more of a wild ride this 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.


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.


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.


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.


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:


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?


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.

Season Preview – Julio Teheran

Julio Teheran seems to be at a crossroads.  Is he going to take his game to the next level as he enters his prime (he turned 25 just a few weeks ago), or is he going to level off as a solid 2nd or 3rd starter for the rest of his career?  Let’s look at some key data from and the pitch data from  We’ll start with his traditional numbers.


Since be became a starter in 2013, his FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching) rating has been higher than his ERA, but that’s to be expected for a pitcher with a good defense (we miss you Andrelton!).  His WHIP and ERA saw slight upticks, and so it will be interesting to see if he can shrug off the weak start to 2015 we experienced to put together a complete season of excellence.  If that upticks causes concern, let’s dig deeper into the reasons why that ERA went up.


As you can see, in 2015 he gave up more home runs per 9 innings, walked significantly more, gave up more hits, and struck out about the same.  7.5 strikeouts per nine innings isn’t going to dominate the league, but giving up nearly 8 hits and 3 walks every 9 innings is not going to get it done.  It will be interesting to see what his walk rates are in spring training, to see if he can get back below the 2.5 BB/9 level that he had in 2014.

Teheran seems to have settles into a career as a fastball/slider/sinker pitcher, without the overpowering fastball velocity he had a few years ago, but with a more effective slider.  Here’s the usage % for each pitch:


He rarely throws his curve and change anymore, but that’s okay because they’re fairly terrible.  His slider has become his 2nd most used pitch.  How has his velocity changed?


Everything is down from year to year, with his fastball settling in at a modest 92 mph average.  As you can see, the slider has replaced the changeup as his 10mph slower distraction from the fastball.  Normally a velocity chart like this would be troubling on a 25 year-old until you consider two things.  1) He only started from 2013 on, so the numbers on the left are very limited time as a reliever.  2) Look to the results as we go forward in his career:


His change-up and curveball have the highest batting average against, but he doesn’t use them much.  Meanwhile, his fastball has been better every year as a starter, and his slider is just creeping up to meet the fastball at about a .200 batting average.

What can we look for?  I look for a slight bounce-back season for Teheran, with a sub-4 ERA and a better WHIP.  If his BB/9 and H/9 continue to go in the wrong direction, the Braves may regret the contract extension they gave him through his age-29 season, but he should continue to be a serviceable starter in any case.

Season Preview – Nick Markakis

Today we dive back into the statistics waters of to see what we might expect from Nick Markakis this season. There’s some good news and some bad news. Let’s start with his various WAR values:


As Markakis enters his age-32 season, we see that the overall trends are not positive.  He has been a worse than average overall defender since 2009, and there seems no reason to believe he will improve.  His offensive and overall WAR have bounced back from his injury-shortened 2013 season with the Orioles, but there is little reason to believe his overall WAR will go much above the expected 2.5 WAR or so.  Not terrible for a $11 million/year salary, but there isn’t much hope for long-term improvement.  Let’s turn to his Right Field-specific defensive numbers.


As would be expected of a 32 year-old, his range factor is declining, but is still quite comparable to the league’s range factor.


As Braves fans have come to appreciate, Markakis simply doesn’t make errors in Right Field.  He is in the right place, he doesn’t drop the ball, and he throws the ball to the right place.  Let’s look at the traditional offensive numbers.


Not surprisingly, his batting average and walk rate have stayed fairly consistent with a slight upswing in both last year.  His home runs were way down, with many commentators blaming that on his recovery from neck surgery during the offseason before the 2015 season.  What we came to expect from many good hitters is a trade-off between batting average and home runs. We might expect that either the home runs will improve and the batting average falls slightly, or the home run numbers continue to be weak, but the batting average continues to be high.  In other words, the blue and red lines should either converge or diverge.  Either should keep Markakis with a high-level overall offensive performance.