MLB’s proto-gambling app is a managerial pace-of-play simulator

If you’ve been following the 2020 MLB playoffs, you likely have seen or heard advertisements for the MLB Rally app, through which fans may access a free-to-play contest with the possibility of monetary prizes. Contests are organized around individual MLB games and run before and during a game. Before first pitch, participants might be asked to predict the game’s winner, whether a particular player will hit a home run, or which of a selected group of players will have the most total bases. During the game, participants may make predictions about the outcome of each plate appearance. The options for each prediction opportunity have different potential values, and a correct prediction adds the associated number of points to the participant’s total points for the game. At the end of the game, a handful of participants who accumulated the most points during that game win cash prizes.

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RKB: The Candy Man Can, But for How Long?

How in the world is Jeimer Candelario the Detroit Tigers’ best hitter in 2020? Like so much this year, it isn’t a reality anyone would have predicted a year ago, but the hard facts are undeniable: Candelario leads all qualified Tigers batters in AVG/OBP/SLG (.313/.371/.519), wOBA (.379), and wRC+ (140). Candelario is a career 93 wRC+ hitter, and he posted a 72 wRC+ last season. How did he swing from thirty points below average at the plate in 2019 to forty points above average in 2020?

To be sure, this is not a J.D. Martinez fly-ball revolution situation. In fact, last week, FanGraphs highlighted Candelario as a batter with one of the largest year-over-year decreases in fly-ball rate. What he is doing, though, is making better, harder contact than he has in the past, with significant increases in barrel and hard-hit rates. Changes like that are very encouraging, even if he’s bucking trends and finding success on the ground instead of through the air.

There is one other hitting category in which Candelario leads the Tigers this season: batting average on balls in play. He’s currently running an insane .407 BABIP, making it a near-certainty that his offensive production rates drop off before too long. Even if real changes in his approach mean he can establish an expected BABIP higher than his current career level (.297), a .407 BABIP simply is not going to last no matter who Candelario is or has become. Since 1998, the highest single-season BABIP is Yoan Moncada’s .406 in 2019, one of only three total times during that span that anyone finished a season with a BABIP above .400. Perhaps that’s why Baseball Prospectus sees Candelario as a merely average hitter in 2020 (101 DRC+), rather than someone actually hitting like Mike Piazza, Larry Walker, Jason Giambi, or David Ortiz (all career 140 wRC+ batters). The highest career BABIP among that group of sluggers? Walker’s .332.

To this point in this short, strange season, Candelario’s production has been real. He really hit those forty-one hits, nine doubles, three triples, and four home runs, and he really drove in nineteen runs for the Tigers and drew eleven walks. No one is trying to take any of that away from him, and detected improvements in the quality of the contact he’s making with the bat provide a reasonable basis to believe he will continue to hit better than he has in prior seasons. A reasonable basis to believe he will not continue to hit quite as well as he has thus far in 2020 going forward also exists, however.

Thinking back to the end of the 2019 season, the idea of Candelario making a jump just to “merely average hitter” in 2020 would have felt like a major achievement. Even at a more modest outlook, that as his new floor would go a long way toward making Candelario a lasting part of Detroit’s rebuilt roster.

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Previously
RKB: Shifting the D to See Whether Analytics Drives the Motor City’s Baseball Team – 9/3
RKB: A Second Look at MLB Pitcher Casey Mize – 8/30
RKB: 2020 is the Season: Turn, Turn, Turnbull – 8/18
RKB: 2020 Detroit Tigers Season Preview – UPDATED PECOTA Ed.
RKB: 2020 Detroit Tigers Season Preview – Spring Training Ed.
RKB: 2020 Detroit Tigers Season Preview – Payroll Ed.

RKB: Shifting the D to See Whether Analytics Drives the Motor City’s Baseball Team

The Detroit Tigers have the reputation of being a team late to baseball’s new analytical revolution, but they quietly have been making front-office hires (no, Brad Ausmus did not count) purportedly to try to catch up in that area, and there’s evidence that it’s happening. For example, two weeks ago, something occurredfor what I believe to be the first time in Tigers history, when manager Ron Gardenhire cited input from the analyitics department– excuse me, “analytic department”– as the reason for a decision he’d made:

If you’re excited — or angry — about seeing Jeimer Candelario in the lead-off spot Wednesday night, then feel to credit — or blame — the Detroit Tigers analytics department.

Tigers manager Ron Gardenhire said the recent spate of roster changes prompted a consultation with the club’s analytics and research department in an effort to find an ideal batting order.

“We did some research and the analytic department put all the data in there to try to see what gives up our best opportunities,” Gardenhire said. “(Candelario’s) name came up first as lead-off.”

Just the one analytic so far, but it’s a start. Now that we know the Tigers have sabermetric analysts and those analysts convey strategic input to the coaching staff, it’s fair to inquire into the quality of that input. As it turned out with respect to the above example, Candelario only hit leadoff for two games, and while he performed well (four hits, including a double and home run, and two strikeouts in eight plate appearances), it did not seem to be a part of Gardenhire’s long-term plan. Very likely coincidentally, the team lost both of those games, and Gardenhire moved Candelario back to fifth, where he’s hit for most of the season, for the next game, a win. As Lindbergh and Miller’s The Only Rule Is It Has To Work reminds, it’s one thing to develop sabermetrically informed strategies and another to implement them with coaches and players. (And, as beat writer Evan Woodbery pointed out in the article quoting Gardenhire, Detroit didn’t have many good options for the leadoff position anyway.)

More recently, Tigers observers and fans have cited with excitement a data point on defensive shifts an FSD producer pointed out over the weekend as more good evidence in this area, even suggesting that the team was becoming a leader (first place!) in the realm of new analytics-based strategy:

The irony of the timing of this was that it came as lead Baseball Prospectus writer Russell Carleton was in the process of dismantling the notion of the shift as a useful defensive strategy.  Continue reading

RKB: A Second Look at MLB Pitcher Casey Mize

The week of August 16 was as exciting a stretch of days as fans of the Detroit Tigers have had in a couple years. After sleepwalking through an aimless rebuilding process with lows as low as those of Houston’s famous tank job but without the Astros’ supercharged turnaround to competitive status, concern was growing that the organization might be starting to feel a little too comfortable in the increasingly populated sub-mediocre wilderness. Yet, to fans’ surprise and pleasure, General Manager Al Avila treated everyone to a one-two-three punch of debuts, allowing everyone an up-close look of the future of Detroit baseball. On Monday, Isaac Paredes, whom the Tigers received from the Chicago Cubs along with Jeimer Candelario in the trade for Alex Avila and Justin Wilson, started at third base following Candelario’s move to first after the injury to C.J. Cron. On Tuesday, left-handed pitcher Tarik Skubal, the Tigers’ ninth-round pick out of Seattle University in the 2018 draft, got the start. And on Wednesday, right-handed pitcher Casey Mize, the first overall pick in that same 2018 draft, had his turn.  Continue reading

Wowy do baseball players ever miss their fans

Fox says it will fill empty baseball stadiums with virtual ...

Everyone knows that MLB is playing the 2020 season without fans in the seats because of the way our country has responded to the COVID-19 crisis. It’s made for a strange, uncomfortable atmosphere in and around the game, which was to be expected.

Not to be expected, at least by this writer, was that the absence of warm bodies in the bleachers might affect on-field performances. While I enjoy cheering at games as much as the next person, it’s been some time since I’ve been under any delusion that noises I and my fellow spectators might produce from our in-house spectating positions influence the game itself in all but the highest of leverage scenarios. Despite players’ lip service to their teams’ respective “greatest fans in the world” issued upon a local reporter’s commanding prompt, we all recognize that they wouldn’t really miss us if we were gone, right? Maybe in the playoffs, but certainly not on a mundane, mid-season Monday night.

Maybe I’ve been too cynical. As MLB.com’s Mike Petriello noticed, home-team win percentage in 2020 is just .505, which would be the lowest-ever rate for a full season.

What’s different this year? A lot, obviously. Petriello’s article mentions travel as one variable, and teams certainly are doing less travel this year as a result of schedule modifications designed to keep teams playing games against geographically proximate opponents. But that’s the only obvious out-of-stadium factor that might affect home-road splits this season. And that leaves us with the fan factor.

This unfortunately unusual season has presented itself as a natural experiment. By comparing the difference between the magnitude of ordinary home-field advantage and 2020 home-field advantage, we can begin to quantify fan contribution to team winning.

Since 1998, when MLB expanded to thirty clubs, home teams have a .536 win percentage. Using that mark as a baseline suggests that home fans contribute about 0.031 points of winning percentage, a rate corresponding to about five games over the course of an ordinary 162-game season (and a bit under two games in a sixty-game season).

Does the presence of a team’s fans really contribute an average of five wins a year? That seems like a lot, and there of course are other factors at work, but it looks like there might be something here. If nothing else, the next time someone criticizes you for describing the accomplishments of your favorite team using first person plural pronouns, you can send them a copy of this post.

RKB: 2020 is the Season: Turn, Turn, Turnbull

Thoughts on Detroit Tigers prospect Spencer Turnbull - Minor ...

I can’t believe I burned that headline on what’s going to be such a modest batch of information, but I can believe that Spencer Turnbull has found his way to the top of the Detroit Tigers rotation this year. I don’t think any serious baseball fan still thinks about pitcher wins and losses anymore, but Turnbull obviously was much better than his 3-17 “record” in 2019. 

The exciting news is that he’s been even better than expected so far in 2020. With a 2.78 ERA/2.85 FIP, he’s the best Detroit pitcher by fWAR (0.7) and bWAR (0.6).

MLive Tigers beat reporter Evan Woodbery noted this morning that Turnbull’s likely to regress as the season proceeds, and he’s right: there are some signs pointing in that direction. Woodbery points to SIERA, an ERA estimator, which sees Turnbull as about two runs worse than his current ERA. To that I would add Turnbull’s .283 batting average on balls in play, which is about fifty points lower than his 2019 BABIP and seems likely to increase. His DRA, 3.56, also pegs him as a little worse than his ERA and FIP suggest, though still clearly the best among the current rotation.

There also are signs these good results might stick, though. Here’s a FanGraphs/RotoGraphs report from yesterday, which highlights Turnbull alongside Trevor Bauer as two pitchers who have produced significantly increased movement on one of their featured pitches. For Turnbull, it’s his slider, which has been his main out pitch:

Last year Turnbull’s main strikeout pitch was his slider which had a 15.3 SwStr%. That isn’t the greatest number to have as your main swing and miss pitch. He already has a really good four-seam fastball so pairing it with a true swing and miss pitch was the key to Turnbull having a better 2020 season. So far this season Turnbull’s slider has a 26.5 SwStr%. It also has a higher O-Swing%, better wOBA against, and better ISO against. But again, small sample size so we have to look deeper to make sure this is indeed legit.

To start, Turnbull increased his sliders RPMs. It has gone from 2,438 RPMs in 2019 to 2,533 RPMs this season thus resulting in more movement. His slider movement went from having an overall movement of 3.3 inches to 3.9. He did this mainly by increasing its horizontal movement. Something he seems to be working on in the past three years. Its movement in inches starting in 2018 went from 2.29 to 3.07 and now to 3.51. 

The increases in spin rate and movement on his slider show that Turnbull still is developing, refining, and improving his arsenal, and they constitute evidence that he may be ready to outdo the performance levels his past baselines suggest.

One other thing I’ve been wanting to document this year is the way Turnbull mixes speeds. The graph below plots the velocity of every pitch he threw in his first start of the 2020 regular season. In five complete innings, he only allowed three hits (just ten total balls in play) and recorded eight strikeouts, and it was clear that he had the Cincinnati batters off balance all day. This yo-yo velocity chart is a big part of the reason why.

Of course, Turnbull’s stay atop the Detroit rotation might not last long. Focusing on the positives in that regard, ostensible number one Matthew Boyd could recall the location of home plate at any moment. Even more exciting possibilities are the arrivals this week of highly anticipated pitching prospects Tarik Skubal and Casey Mize. Skubal is scheduled to make his first major-league start tonight, followed by Mize’s debut tomorrow night. Could we be witnessing the emergence of a 2013-era rotation in the Motor City? That’s an extremely high bar, but there’s no reason not to permit yourself a little bit of excitement during these rebuilding times.

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Previously
RKB: 2020 Detroit Tigers Season Preview – UPDATED PECOTA Ed.
RKB: 2020 Detroit Tigers Season Preview – Spring Training Ed.
RKB: 2020 Detroit Tigers Season Preview – Payroll Ed.
RKB: 2020 Detroit Tigers Season Preview – PECOTA Ed.
RKB: How does new Detroit Tiger Austin Romine relate to his teammates?

Related
Breakout prospect Tarik Skubal earns his first shot at the majors – Bless You Boys
The Call-Up: Tarik Skubal – Baseball Prospectus
The Call-Up: Isaac Paredes – Baseball Prospectus
Meet Isaac Paredes, the 21-year-old who is patient, punctual and experienced beyond his years – MLive

An inside look at the MLB COVID-19 testing process

bauer

Cincinnati Reds starting pitcher Trevor Bauer, coming off a 2019 season that saw him carry the heaviest workload– 213 innings pitched for Cleveland and Cincinnati– of his career, currently owns the third-best DRA (1.85) of any pitcher in the majors. His team hasn’t yet lived up to its lofty expectations, though, and it will be at least a few day before they’re allowed another opportunity to improve their record. That’s because one of Bauer’s teammates tested positive for COVID-19 on Friday night.

The Reds are the third team experiencing a positive player test requiring the postponement of games this season, and reports indicate that Commissioner Rob Manfred’s office will make an announcement about their revised schedule on Monday.

In the meantime, Bauer has taken fans inside the player-testing process with a video that shows “another day in this fake MLB season”:  Continue reading

Righteous indignation: The worst called ball of the 2020 MLB season?

Before he went to work for the Tampa Bay Rays, Jeff Sullivan was a prolific writer and visual analyst for FanGraphs. One of his regular features there documented in meticulous detail the worst umpire calls on balls and strikes in a recently completed MLB season. (Here, for example, is his treatment of the worst called ball of 2018.)

I thought of Sullivan last night while catching up on the Detroit Tigers’ 17-13, extra-innings win in Pittsburgh. I was trying to figure out why Pirates manager Derek Shelton (a $50 credit at the ALDLAND store to anyone outside Pennsylvania who convinces me he or she knew the name of the Pirates’ manager before yesterday) was out of the game and former Tigers folk hero Don Kelly was at the helm opposite his old team.

Bless You Boys on Twitter: "Beat me to the meme RT @blessyouboys ...

I discovered that home-plate umpire Ramon De Jesus had ejected Shelton for arguing balls and strikes. Yawn. During a pitching change, though, I decided to kill time by watching the clip of the ejection, after which I was wide awake. Could it be that just (depending on how you count) eleven games into this miniature baseball season we already have seen the worst called ball of 2020?  Continue reading

Rob Manfred is failing, both objectively and on his own terms

Is Rob Manfred the worst commissioner in the history of professional baseball? That’s the message I’ve been hearing over the past few months, as his litany of missteps (and worse) have come under the national microscope amidst an unflagging global pandemic. What’s clear to me is that the echoes of the drum– one that frames Manfred’s acts, omissions, and pretextual capriciousness as causing deep mutations of the sport borne as a burden by its afficionados– I have been beating is unlikely to be intelligible to the ears of those in the position to unseat Manfred. Instead of bemoaning the substance of the Commissioner’s decisions, it may prove more efficacious to examine their effects. After all, the team owners didn’t hire Manfred to implement a pitch clock; they hired him to make them money.

Bosses evaluate their employees based on results, and an examination of results under Manfred’s tenure does not reflect success.

Manfred ascended to his current position in January of 2015. Since then, he has presented an obsession with reducing the temporal length of individual games and used that objective (one for which no one asked) as the basis for many of his most visible modifications, yet the games just keep getting longer:

gametime 7-29-20

Of course, Manfred admitted his changes wouldn’t actually change anything, so none of this should come as a surprise to him.

The problems are even more fundamental, though. If you’re in the entertainment business and people stop coming to see the show, is that bad?

gameattend 7-29-20Total attendance has dropped in each season since Manfred took the helm.

Sure, television viewership is up, but if that’s Manfred’s first line of defense, it presents serious questions about the tight restrictions on the availability of baseball media to fans and the league’s push for public funding for new stadiums. And while owners’ investments continue to accrue value, there is a rising tide of concern that that value could collapse and those owners will not be able to pass that value onto the next generation. Whatever positives Manfred counts in the state of the sport are not the result of his doing. There was so much momentum behind baseball’s profitability that it now appears, from a business perspective, to be succeeding in spite of itself and has been for some time.

Thanks to COVID-19 and America’s response thereto, the 2020 MLB season remains in danger, but the sport has survived shortened and truncated seasons before, and there are good reasons to believe it will do so again. Whether it can survive Commissioner Manfred, however, remains to be seen.

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Related
Tilde Talk: The Empty Ureña Suspension
Designated Sitter, or, Manfred Ado About Nothing
2018 MLB rule changes less drastic than anticipated
Rob Manfred’s Use Your Illusion Tour

RKB: 2020 Detroit Tigers Season Preview – UPDATED PECOTA Ed.

Just four months late, today is MLB’s big opening day for the 2020 season. Before the Detroit Tigers kick off their sixty-game sprint this evening against the Reds in Cincinnati (6:10 pm on MLB Network), we are taking one last look at what the Baseball Prospectus computer projects for the team in this abridged campaign.

BP’s PECOTA system sill sees Detroit finishing fourth in the division, which of course will not be enough for a postseason berth even under the hopefully temporary expanded playoff structure in place for this year, with a 26-34 record. As a sign of the comparatively small scale on which this season will play out, opening-day starter Matthew Boyd, previously projected to contribute 2 WARP, now is down to 0.8 WARP over eleven appearances. The same numbers apply for Jonathan Schoop, expected to be the Tigers’ best hitter. Miguel Cabrera, in the DH role, is looking at a projection of 0.6 WARP, including seven home runs. He only hit twelve in 549 plate appearances last season, so that would be part of a substantial increase in power– and reversal of a recent downward trend— over sixty games.

Back in February, when the idea of a canceled or severely shortened season hadn’t set in, I was pleased to discover PECOTA’s 69-93 record projection, a nice bump over 2019’s basement rap. Now, though, I’m finding it difficult to be very excited about the season at all. I will be watching tonight, of course, and will do my best to keep up with the development of all of Detroit’s exciting young pitching prospects, but, with my negotiations with MLB.tv at a standstill (the ball is in their court, and they know how to reach me), I don’t know how many games I’ll watch. More or fewer than Chris Ilitch? That’s for you to decide. Regardless, same great coverage here at ALDLAND.com all season long/short.

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Previously
RKB: 2020 Detroit Tigers Season Preview – Spring Training Ed.
RKB: 2020 Detroit Tigers Season Preview – Payroll Ed.
RKB: 2020 Detroit Tigers Season Preview – PECOTA Ed.
RKB: How does new Detroit Tiger Austin Romine relate to his teammates?
RKB: An unprecedented offseason move?
RKB: Detroit’s long, municipal nightmare is over, as Al Avila has solved the Tigers’ bullpen woes
RKB: Brief 2019 Recapitulation

Related
Season Preview Series 2020: 60 Words for 60 Games – Banished to the Pen