Monday, January 20, 2020

Outs Above Average

Mike Petriello at mlb.com has a story about the new fielding metric called "Outs Above Average" or OAA. He links to a much more detailed background piece by Tom Tango on the MLB Tech blog. Both are long but are worth a look--there is a whole new world out there because of Statcast and we have to start learning about it. I should note that the articles are particular to the infield component of OAA, the outfield stuff is handled differently.

Since all batted balls are tracked (via radar) and the movements of all the players tracked as well (via stereo camera systems) the combination of the two technologies allows for the measurement of speed, direction, distance, and more on every play. Nowadays the "eye test" is not simply something a fan can do from his or her seat (at the game or in front of the TV) but an actual data record that can be revisited at MLB's clearinghouse site for Statcast data, Baseball Savant.

Fielding is a tough nut to crack and it is especially tough in this era because of infield shifts. Something like one-third of all pitches last season involved at least one shifted infielder! DRS and UZR have become part of the new saber-landscape but they will likely be supplanted by OAA simply because it is built on some of the things that the earlier stats relied on and is enhanced with real-game information. Not only that, it is a computer model which of course can be refined as new data come in and new problems with measurement and evaluation get solved (or at least improved upon).

The argument for OAA is that it is intuitive. We, as fans, naturally "compute the odds" as we watch a play unfold. We see the shortstop chase down a ball in the hole and think about the runner heading to first and "calculate" the probability that the throw will get there before him. When the runner is safe we wonder if perhaps the runner was faster than we expected, the fielder had a hitch in his throw, the ball was further into the outfield grass than we thought, etc. We've seen many many such plays and have a sense of what should work and when and thus we can be surprised by an unusually strong throw or quick feet by the fielder or dismayed by a failure to get what should have been an out.

OAA determines the likelihood of success for the fielder depending on how far he has to go to get the ball, how fast the ball was hit, and how quickly the runner gets down the line. Good fielders convert more "unlikely" chances and make the "routine" plays a higher percentage of the time. Like I said we do this in our heads anyway, without actual numbers but with a large history of observations. Would it surprise you that Javier Baez, Nolan Arenado, and Andrelton Simmons rate the best on this metric? Right now OAA can't include everything (like double plays, pitcher failing to cover a base, etc.) but it's a good start. I think we might have a real defensive stat emerging that we can rely on.

--M.C.


p.s. Do you want to know how Giants infielders were ranked in 2019? Go to the Statcast leaderboards and select Infield Outs Above Average from the pull-down menu and you'll find out. (Brandon Belt was 61st overall and 8th among first basemen, and Evan Longoria was 55th overall and 11th among third baseman, for example. Sadly, Brandon Crawford was 189th overall and 27th among shortstops. That seems to fit with what we watched. Every player has a specific profile that provides more granular information. Warning: major time sink!)

Thursday, January 16, 2020

All Smyles and a Distaff Staff

The Giants picked up lefty Drew Smyly, signing him to a 1-yr deal for around $4M. Trevor Oaks was cut loose to make a roster spot for Smyly. It's a familiar-feeling move, a low-cost gamble on a once-promising but recently-injured pitcher. Here's GM Scott Harris (from The Athletic):
 “One is the stuff,” Harris said. “He has a four-pitch mix and the weapons to attack left-handed and right-handed hitters in a variety of ways. We want to connect him with our pitching infrastructure and give him a plan to get through lineups multiple times. He’ll pitch up with the fastball, move the cutter around and drop in curveballs and changeups. The second thing is the health. When he was in Philly with Gabe, the underlying performance was interesting. He had a 26 percent strikeout rate.
“And based on the prior history I have with him and Kap has with him, he has a huge chip on his shoulder and something to prove. We’re both very confident he’s a player and person who will do the most he possibly can to be the most dominant version of himself on the mound.”
OK, how about that newspeak? "We want to connect him with our pitching infrastructure." Uhh, that's cool. Do teams really have "pitching infrastructures?" I guess so. You know what? I'm down with it. It takes a goddamn village. Baseball is hard. The more help, the better.

Speaking of more help, Gabe Kapler has added two more coaches. One is notable for being Buster Posey's teammate at Florida State, the other is notable for having two X-chromosomes. That's right, the Giants have a female coach, the first in the major leagues. The fella is Mark Hallberg, formerly the manager at Salem-Keizer (A-league), and the gal is Alyssa Nakken, who has been with the organization since 2014. She played softball ball at Sac State. Welcome aboard! We'll get you all sorted out later.

--M.C.

Monday, January 13, 2020

Bad Boys

Teams rise and and teams fall. We've seen that with the Giants, have we not? Today we found out that baseball was not happy about the Astros and their sign-stealing shenanigans. The manager (AJ Hinch) and GM (Scott Lunhow) were suspended for a year without pay by MLB and were then promptly fired by the team's owner (Jim Crane). The toast of the baseball world not long ago will also be stripped of 1st- and 2nd-round draft picks for the next two years. Ouch! Oh, and a $5M fine, which I understand is the maximum. Chump change for this industry. I should note that The Athletic was given credit for breaking the story. If you read this blog regularly you know I like that site, they have a nice supply of good writers so there is usually something interesting or useful to read. The Astros still have a formidable team, talent-wise, I should note. Also there will likely be fallout in Boston as manager Alex Cora was on Hinch's staff. The Sox are facing a potential sign-stealing investigation as well. Carlos Beltran, the Mets new manager, was an active player on that 2017 championship team. I remember a story after that World Series that Beltran had picked up a tell from Yu Darvish and let all the guys on the team know, that's why they clobbered him. Seems like what really happened is that he had the job of relaying the stolen signs!

In Giants news, infielder Zack Cozart was cut loose. The Giants still owe him almost $13M. They gave the roster spot to waiver claim Jake Jewell, a 26-year old right-handed pitcher. The Giants took on Cozart and his salary presumably to obtain the #15 pick in the 2019 draft, North Carolina State 2B/SS Will Wilson. The Giants chose Arizona State OF Hunter Bishop with the #10 pick. Two chances are better than one, right?

Also, Jose Alguacil has returned to the organization and will serve as the manager of the Richmond Flying Squirrels (AA, Eastern League). He ran that club back in 2015 before managing the River Cats and then joining the Giants as first-base coach.

--M.C.

Thursday, January 9, 2020

NRIs: catchers

Joey Bart
Tyler Heineman
Chad Tromp

We all know about Bart, the #2 pick in the 2018 draft. The only question is how soon he will be ready to play in the majors. He's 23.

I mentioned Heineman in a comment earlier. The Astros drafted him in the 8th round in 2012. He's played over 600 games in the minors and finally made his debut (5 G, 12 PA) with Miami last season at age 28. He's a switch-hitter. Obviously his rookie status is still intact.

Chadwick Chandler Tromp is from Aruba. He signed as an amateur with the Reds in 2013 when he was 18. He has played over 300 games in the minors but has yet to reach the majors. He's 5'-9" tall which means we will hear about that a lot. For some reason we are constantly reminded that short (er, not-tall) ballplayers are short, that is, not-tall.

That's the whole lot: 40-man and NRIs.

--M.C.

Wednesday, January 8, 2020

NRIs: position players

I'll cover the catchers in a separate post. There are three infielders and two outfielders:

Christhian Adames (S, 2B/SS/3B), 29 in July, in pro ball since 2008, 176 G ML exp
Zach Green (R, 3B), 26 in March, 2012 3rd-round pick (PHI), 16 PA in debut with 2019 Giants
Drew Robinson (L, 2B/3B, OF), 28 in April, 2010 4th-round pick (TEX), 100 G ML exp

Joey Rickard (R, OF), 29 in May, 2012 9th-round pick (TBR), 343 G ML exp
Jamie Westbrook (R, OF/2B), 25 in June, 2013 5th-round pick (ARI), no ML time

Switch-hitter Adames could be a useful utility player. He was signed as a 16-year old by the Rockies out of the Dominican Republic. He's played almost a thousand games in the minors. Green is a local boy (Sacto, Jesuit HS) and really clobbered the ball last year in the PCL. He plays first base as well. Robinson has played all three OF positions in both the minors and with the Rangers in addition to his infield work. Rickard was non-tendered by the Giants but then re-signed. Rickard is fast, has a decent glove, and can get on base, but has not shown much power. Westbrook has played almost 800 games in the minors including stints in Australia and Mexico. He spent a lot of that time at second base in addition to the corner outfield spots. He's flashed a little power and has decent on-base numbers.

Adames and Robinson are arb-eligible in 2022. Green is still a rookie. Westbrook would be the same if he makes an ML roster. Rickard had his first taste of the arbitration process this fall--he's a free agent in 2023.

--M.C.

Tuesday, January 7, 2020

NRIs: pitchers

The Giants posted their list--18 players--of non-roster invitees to Spring Training.

Ten are pitchers:

Matt Carasiti (R), 29 in July, 2012 6th-round pick (COL), pre-arb (25-1/3 IP ML exp)
Tyler Cyr (R), 27 in May, Giants 10th-round pick in 2015, no ML time
Rico Garcia (R), 26, 2016 30th-round pick (COL), rookie/pre-arb (6 IP ML exp)
Sean Hjelle (R), 23 in May, Giants 2nd-round pick in 2018, no ML time
Trey McNutt (R), 31 in August, 2009 32nd-round pick (CHC), no ML time
Sam Moll (L), 28, 2013 3rd-round pick (COL), rookie/pre-arb (6-2/3 ML exp)
Carlos Navas (R), 28 in August, A's amateur free agent (Ven, 2010), no ML time
Andrew Triggs (R), 31 in March, 2012 19th round pick (KCR), arb-eligible (163 IP ML exp)
Raffi Vizcaino (R), 24, Giants amateur free agent (DR, 2013), no ML time
Sam Wolff (R), 29 in April, 2013 6th round pick (TEX), no ML time

Carasiti has almost 600 IP in the minors including a stint in Japan, mostly as a reliever. He was used as an opener in Seattle last season. He signed a minor-league deal with the Giants after being outrighted by the Mariners. Cyr is a whiff artist who has missed time due to TJS but was back to his whiffing ways last season (57 K in 48-1/3 IP) at AA-Richmond. Garcia has been a starter at every level including college and opened some eyes with a nice 13-game stretch for AA-Hartford (68 IP, 41 H, 16 R, 87 K) last year. He was picked up off waivers, non-tendered, then re-signed with the Giants on a minor-league deal. Hjelle is almost seven feet tall and if he makes the majors would be the tallest player in MLB history. The team is intrigued by his uniqueness and he seems to be on the fast track. Except for his freshman year at Kentucky he's been exclusively a starter. McNutt has to be the most determined player on the list, he's been in pro ball since he was 19 including stints in independent leagues as well as in Mexico. Moll was a Rule V pick and signed a minors deal with the Giants last year. Navas was a Giants NRI last spring, he's another highly determined fellow, logging ten seasons in the minors including four in Venezuela. Triggs has 27 starts in the bigs from 2016-2018, all with the A's. He missed last season due to surgery. Vizcaino looks like a swingman, having been a starter and closer in the Giants system. He'll likely wind up at AA-Richmond. Wolff was acquired in the Matt Moore trade. He's a reliever and will probably be assigned to AAA-Sacramento. He was a Giants NRI last spring.

In other news, the Giants apparently completed their coaching staff by hiring former ballplayer Nick Ortiz as their "Quality Control" man. I don't know what QC guys do in baseball but these are modern times and we need modern job titles so I am OK with it. Ortiz is from Puerto Rico and a native Spanish speaker. He was an infielder (mostly SS) and logged 17 seasons (1423 G) in the minors including time in independent leagues and in Puerto Rico. He's 46 and spent the last two seasons managing rookie-ball teams for the Yankees in the Gulf Coast League and the Appalachian League. Wow, talk about determination! You really have to love the game to play that long and never crack a big-league roster.

I'll cover the position players later.

--M.C.

Sunday, January 5, 2020

The 40-man roster: pitchers R-W

Dereck Rodriguez (R), free agent signing Nov 2017, 28 in June, arb-eligible in 2022
Tyler Rogers (R), Giants 2013 10th-round pick, 29, 17-2/3 IP in 2019 debut with SF
Sam Selman (L), 2012 2nd-round pick (KC), 29, 10-1/3 IP in 2019 debut with SF
Burch Smith (R), waiver claim, 30 in April, 65 G (135-2/3 IP) ML service
Andrew Suarez (L), Giants 2015 2nd-round pick, 27, arb-eligible in 2022
Logan Webb (R), Giants 2014 4th-round pick, 23, 39-2/3 IP over 8 starts in 2019 debut with SF

I left veterans Tony Watson and Jeff Samardzija off the list. I figure you know about these guys. Righty Smardj had a nice bounceback season, making 32 starts (181-1/3 IP), good for 2.9 bWAR. Watson's 2019 was closer to league average than his superb 2018 season, but the lefty-tosser remains a valuable late-inning reliever. Both men are 35 this season and will be free agents in 2021.

I mentioned in the comments on one of the earlier posts that the Giants signed former Padres starter Tyson Ross to a minor-league deal. He is not on the 40-man roster but brings a lot of experience with ten years in the bigs (142 starts). Ross was drafted by the A's, a 2nd-round pick in 2008. He was born in Berkeley, went to high school in Oakland at Bishop O'Dowd, and played NCAA ball at Cal. He'll be 33 in April. Sounds like a great story in the making--local boy returns home and kicks ass!

That's the 40-man roster. Subject to change, of course. I expect it will be busy this year at the Giants complex in Arizona--I envision lots of bodies coming and going. The first Spring Training games are scheduled for February 21st.

--M.C.