Spring Training Notes 2/28-3/1

3/1/18 – White Sox at Reds – Goodyear Stadium

Three fifths of what might be the White Sox future rotation threw in this game. Reynaldo Lopez, the most established of the group, was the starter. Last season Washington used him as both a starter and reliever, which begs the question, what will his long-term role look like? This was my first look at Lopez, and he only went two innings, but I think his stuff is too good to not make it work as a starter. He was dirty. The fastball, which ranged from 95-97 with run was paired with a plus curve. None of this is new, but seeing it in person from behind home was elucidating. Command has been his bugaboo. The White Sox should give him every opportunity to fail as a starter before moving him to the pen. I think he settles in as a third or fourth starter who looks great at times and is bafflingly bad at others.

Next up was Dane Dunning, who has the look of a high floor, low ceiling back-end starter. He sported three-pitch mix, which included a fastball, slider, and changeup. The fastball wasn’t overpowering but sat 90-92 and touched 93 with some wiggle armside. Dunning commanded the pitch well, primarily in the lower third of the zone. A ground ball rate over 50% last year seems to substantiate this observation. The changeup flashed above average, and I think the slider is already there. One above average cambio to Billy Hamilton stuck out in my mind. His arsenal should allow him to attack hitters to both sides of the plate. It’s worth noting that Dunning had more success versus righties than lefties last year (.589 vs .727 ops). From what I saw in this game, it’s possible his changeup has taken a step forward, a trend worth monitoring. In theory, that would allow for better success versus lefties.

Release pointThe final pitcher in the trio was Alec Hansen, a long-limbed 6’7″ right-hander. A high 3/4 slot appears to limit Hansen’s extension but also create significant downhill plane. Hansen hides the ball well behind his frame and accelerates with an athletic burst immediately after foot strike, making it difficult for hitters to pick up the ball out of his hand. It’s an athletic delivery but there is also some effort to it. His fastball sat low 90s and touched 94. Its velocity peaked in an at bat against Joey Votto. Hansen struck out Votto swinging with an elevated fastball. It was a well-sequenced and well-commanded series of pitches: slider in (b), change away (k-l), slider in (k-l), fastball up (k-sw). Obviously, striking out Joey Votto is no small feat. I was encouraged by Hansen’s control of his changeup, a pitch that has historically lagged behind his other offerings. It was evident not only in the Votto AB but throughout the outing.

2/28/18 – Rockies vs Diamondbacks (shared facility) – Salt River Field

Back in December the Diamondbacks signed Japanese closer Yoshihisa Hirano to a low-risk two-year deal for $6 million. His signing coupled with the deal for former Rays closer Brad Boxberger caused many to speculate how this affects their bullpen and whether it signaled a possible move for Archie Bradley into the starting rotation. Hirano’s first look stateside was last Wednesday.  The results were not great; He finished with a final line of 1 IP, 3 H, 2 ER, and the L. His splitter was his best pitch, registering in the low 80s and dropping off the table with mostly vertical movement. He struck out Tom Murphy swinging with it. His fastball and slider were around average and he displayed command of them within the zone. He repeats his delivery, which should allow for plus command. Upon first glance, I saw a guy who did not look like a closer but a serviceable bullpen piece. Don’t expect Archie Bradley to be moving out of the pen anytime soon. At least not on account of the Diamondback’s offseason moves.

 

2017’s Most Aggressive Base Stealing Teams

In June of 2017, Baseball Savant introduced a new Statcast metric for public consumption. They defined sprint speed as “‘feet per second in a player’s fastest one-second window.’ The Major League average on a ‘max effort’ play is 27 ft/sec, and the max effort range is roughly from 23 ft/sec (poor) to 30 ft/sec (elite). A player must have at least 10 max effort runs to qualify for this leaderboard.”

Now that we have a year’s worth of data, and we are trapped in the middle of a cold, dark offseason, I thought it would be an opportune time to play around with it. Over the last few weeks I sliced, diced, and minced the numbers. One area explored was team sprint speed and its relationship to stolen base attempts. Sprint speed was pulled from the Baseball Savant Leaderboard and stolen base data was downloaded from Baseball Reference.

Team Att.SBO Plus

As a proxy for team aggressiveness I added team stolen bases to caught stealing and divided by stolen base opportunities (plate appearances through which a runner was on first or second with the next base open). SB Att% = (SB+CS)/SBO

The table above shows teams that sent runners most often in their SBOs each of the past three seasons. Light green represents one standard deviation above average and dark green denotes two standard deviations above average. One has to question how much these totals were the result of team aggressiveness and how much they were the result of team personnel. To check I took a weighted average of each player’s sprint speed by respective player’s plate appearances and then added to find team totals. SS=speed in the next table. If you’re curious to see the exact figures I attached my sheet here: SS Weighted Avs

Att.SBO vs SS Rank

Surprisingly, the 2017 Angels attempted steals at the highest rate despite being the second slowest team! The Brewers and Rangers were also quite aggressive despite their below average collective sprint speeds. The implication is these three teams had some sort of organizational edict to test defenses and attempt more steals. On the other hand, the Reds were the tenth fastest team. It’s also worth noting they were the only team to attempt steals at a plus rate (1 STD > AVE) each of the past three seasons.

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To make more sense of the team-level numbers, I decided to get granular and look at them on a player level. First, I wanted to see how many players on each team attempted steals at a higher rate than the league average (5.17%), which you can see in the first column of the table below. Then, I wanted to see how many “not fast” players on each team attempted steals more than the league average rate. I did this by introducing a second filter, player sprint speed. The second and third columns show how many players per team were non-elite & below average runners but attempted steals more than the average rate.

For the purpose of this post I defined above average sprint speed as greater than 27 ft/sec and less than 28.3 ft/second. In the sample of 451 players on Baseball Savant’s Sprint Speed Leaderboard, 28.3 ft/sec was one standard deviation greater than average and 27 ft/sec was average. The middle column below shows eight Rangers, six Angels, and six Brewers attempted steals at a greater than average rate while having above average or worse speed. In other words, eight Rangers, six Angles, and six Brewers were non-elite runners but stole at a rate greater than league average anyway.

# Plyrs per team with att per SBO over 5.17

And they were not alone! My efforts monkeying around with filters and subtotals in Excel yielded this table. What does it tell us? Well for one, the Reds were not as aggressive sending runners as their overall SB Att% would suggest. Additionally, you could argue the Red Sox and Diamondbacks belong in the same conversation as the Angels, Brewers, and Rangers. They were willing to send a comparable number of non-elite runners at greater than league average rates.

While useful, this table is imperfect. Notably, it fails to account for magnitude of the SB Att%. In other words, it treats players who barely clear the league average threshold the same as players who are well above average.

The screenshots below display SB Att% by player for the five aforementioned teams plus Cincinnati. I highlighted SB Att% and sprint speed columns to add some meaning to the figures. It is intended to help visualize whether players attempted steals at a rate commensurate with their speed. The darker the green, the further from the mean. For example, Ryan Braun’s sprint speed cell is white (below average), but his SB Att% is green (over a standard deviation greater than average) so he attempted more steals than his sprint speed would suggest.

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Color Coding Explained

For those curious I attached my full spreadsheet. There are two tabs which show SS vs SB Att%: One for a sample of 451 and another for a sample of 491. The second tab adds extra lines for players who played for multiple teams. Sprint Speed vs SB Att%


I made observations on each of the six teams from the slideshow in the blurbs below:

Arizona Diamondbacks – Micro-level, Ketel Marte only attempted steals in 3.85% of his SBOs, a below average rate, despite ranking 29/451 in sprint speed. He should see an increase in his stolen base attempts to at least the above average range next season. Macro-level, the team was less aggressive than I thought. They were the sixth fastest team on my weighted average sprint speed sheet. And they had five players who ran less than their sprint speed may imply. The large number of Diamondbacks attempting to steal at a high rate seems to be due to their roster construction rather than organizational tendencies. I.e. their roster was littered with above average sprint speed players.

Boston Red Sox – I would classify the Red Sox as somewhat aggressive. They were willing to send three above average runners, Benintendi, Betts, and Nunez at well above average rates. They were also “sneaky aggressive” in the sense they sent below average runners Vazquez and Chris Young at above average rates. They should consider sending Bogaerts more often. Not only does his speed indicate he is capable of it, he was only caught stealing once in 16 attempts (94% success rate).

Cincinnati Reds – How does a team with the fourth highest stolen base attempt rate (shown in first table) have only three runners attempt steals at an above average rate? Billy f****** Hamilton. That’s how. He attempted steals an absurd 33.33% of the time in his 216 stolen base opportunities last year. Simply silly. I want to know how many of his attempts included pitch outs. Billy (yes we are on a first name basis) and to a lesser degree Jose Peraza were complete anomalies on this list, and their rates heavily skewed the Reds data. Cincinnati as a whole is firmly in the non-aggressive bucket.

Los Angeles Angels – The Angels table was revealing. All of their eight fastest runners attempted more steals than their speed may suggest. None of their 11 slowest runners attempted more steals than expected. This helps to explain how they could simultaneously attempt the steals at the highest rate while having the second slowest roster. In essence, they were selectively aggressive, stealing more often than expected with above average runners and making little to no effort with below average runners. On a player level, I found it surprising that neither Cameron Maybin nor Ben Revere cleared the plus threshold for sprint speed (1 STD > AVE). However! (S.A.S. voice) They attempted steals at an elite rate (3 STD > AVE).

Milwaukee Brewers – This is a run happy team. Seven players ran more than expected based on their sprint speed, two of whom, Ryan Braun and Domingo Santana sported average or worse sprint speed. Jonathan Villar attempted steals three STDs over the league average rate with merely above average sprint speed.

Texas Rangers – Perhaps the most aggressive team in MLB, they sent some below average runners at above average rates, and they sent above average runners at well above average rates. Delino Deshields was their only real burner, but that didn’t stop them from sending eight other players at an above average rate, which was the second most in the league. (Shown in the second table, first column)

For fantasy players it would be wise to keep an eye on offseason acquisitions by the Rangers, Brewers, and Angels. These players are liable to see increase in their stolen bases in 2018. To what degree? This will be tackled in a future post. Also on tap, who were the least aggressive teams and what we can learn from their data?


A few notes on the information from the slide show:

*Many Detailed Statistics are based on play-by-play accounts accumulated by RetroSheet. These totals may be incomplete – (Copied verbatim from Baseball Reference). This is referring to the asterisks next to player names.

**No players in the sprint speed data set are greater than three standard deviations from the mean. That does not mean Buxton, Hamilton etc. are not 80 runners on the scouting scale. It just means the distribution for sprint speeds does not follow a normal curve.

***Not every player was available on the Sprint Speed Leaderboard, limiting our sample to 451, which is why the average SB Att% of 5.01% differs from the overall league at 5.17%.

10/13/17, 10/14/17 Arizona Fall League Notes

10/14/17 AFL Notes

Kirby Bellow (LHP) Diamondbacks – Bellow is a lefty who stands on the far right side of the rubber (hitter’s perspective) and pounds the opposite side of the plate with fastballs and curveballs. He was extremely predictable but effective nonetheless. Bellow’s fastball was mostly 90-91 but one touched 95. His curveball was high 70s and is probably his best pitch. It was generating a lot of swing and miss. When batters were able to make contact, it resulted in weak ground balls. He sparingly used a changeup around 83 as a weapon against right-handed hitters. His arm angle looks really tough on lefties. Curiosity got me, and I looked up his platoon splits. Last season in a 39 2/3 inning sample at AA-Jackson, RHH were held to a .654 ops and LHH were utterly dominated. They only had two hits in 61 plate appearances, resulting in a minuscule .098 ops. Bellow should excel as a LOOGY with the upside of a more conventional middle reliever.

(11/26 Edit – I learned that Bellow’s breaker is actually a slider not a curve as I wrote above.)

10/13/17 AFL Notes

Dean Deetz (RHP) Astros – I really liked Deetz’s three-pitch mix. It’s definitely worthy of a major league pen. His fastball sat 95-96 and touched 98, although it has been somewhat hittable in my viewings. His 83-85 slider had hefty two plane break, but his command of the pitch waivered. His change was 86-87, and he could spot it to both sides of the plate. Overall, the stuff was impressive, but the command was worrisome. I think Deetz a guy who could thrive in a middle relief role. I also think he’s a guy who could cause your favorite team’s fanbase a lot of stress in a high-leverage role, resulting in a myriad of prematurely balding heads.

10/07/17 Instructs Notes

Diamondbacks at Rockies & Rockies at Diamondbacks! (Shared Complex) – Salt River Field

Elvis Luciano (RHP) Arizona Diamondbacks – Luciano will be 17 years old until next February. Now 17, Luciano was in the 91-92 range with his fastball and in the mid 80s with his changeup. His mechanics and arm action were repeatable for both pitches, which should help keep hitters guessing. The fastball touched as high as 94. Luciano also threw one curveball in this game. It came in 78 and was respectable but a clear third pitch. Luciano is only 17 and has a thick lower half, which suggests there could be more velocity down the line. This is a guy I like.

Matt Tabor (RHP) Arizona Diamondbacks – Tabor sat 89-90 with his fastball and touched 94. It’s possible that Tabor, a relatively raw pitcher from the Northeast, may be able to gain a few ticks on his velocity. His change was in the mid 80s. Tabor varied his speed of delivery utilizing a quick pitch and a delayed delivery, taking a page from the Stroman book of pitching.

Will Gaddis (RHP) Colorado Rockies – Gaddis sat 88-90 with his fastball today, topping out at 91. The curveball was his most frequently used  secondary offering. It had good depth, and Gaddis was able to locate it in or out of the zone. This pitch caught my eye because he started Chris Owings and Yasmani Tomas with it. This was a wise way “steal strikes” and get the 0-0 count in his favor. Gaddis also showed a mid 80’s changeup that was used sparingly. I am wondering if the Rockies wanted him to focus on his curve this fall. Various reports say his changeup is his best offspeed pitch, but he used the curve more in this outing.

10/2/17 Instructs Notes

10/2/17 Diamondbacks at Athletics – Mesa, AZ – Fitch Field (1/2 Mile South of Hohokam Stadium)

Marcos Brito (2B) Oakland Athletics – The 17 year old has quick hands. At the plate, he will spit on breaking pitches out of the zone and wait for “his pitch”. He has an advanced approach for his age. There is room for growth on his slender frame, which could lead to more power down the line.

Miguel Mercedes (1B) Oakland Athletics – It’s no shit plus raw, but how much of it is playable in games? He appears to hunt fastballs.

Norge Ruiz (RHP) Oakland Athletics – He’s a 23-year-old Cuban signee. The stuff is not overpowering. As a result, a high percentage of pitches were offspeed, moving in various directions.

Rafael Kelly (RHP) Oakland Athletics – Hitters had a difficult time laying off his mid 70s curve. It induced a swing and miss from Chris Owings (who was on rehab assignment) and two other batters. The fastball was 90-91. I would like to see more of him.

Wilkin Ramos (RHP) Oakland Athletics – Ramos will not turn 17 until 10/31. He’s listed as 6’5” 165, and I overheard a scout body-comp him to CJ Edwards. He already sits 91-92 with a change in the mid 80s and a curve in the mid 70s. The frame is pretty lithe so I think projecting a large weight increase is a mistake, but there is still room for some more weight right now.

Matt Brill (RHP) Arizona Diamondbacks – It’s a relief profile but a high-leverage one. The fastball sits 95 touches 97. His change is in the mid 80s. I overheard a coach in attendance comparing his delivery to Jason Motte.

Andy Yerzy (C) Arizona Diamondbacks – He hit the ball hard in my looks and was especially deadly against fastballs. The strike zone awareness looked good, as he was able to lay off of breaking balls below the zone. He’s an “Off the Bus Guy” as Up and In used to say, meaning his physicality stands out.