E.J. Fagan been blogging about Yankee baseball since 2006. He is a Ph.D. student at University of Texas at Austin.

Author Archives: EJ Fagan

A Better Bullpen Part 1: Why Baseball Accidentally Made Up the Closer Position

Why did major league teams evolve to designate their best relief pitcher as the closer, who enters the game only in save situations? It began in the 1950s, when relief pitchers started to pitch more innings than starting pitchers:

Teams carried fewer relief pitchers before the 1980s. Generally, they had just one or two “firemen”, who are ace relief pitchers, and a few mop up guys for low-leverage situations. They almost always entered the game before the 9th inning with men on base. Bruce Sutter was the first relief pitcher to start more than 20% of his career games in the 9th inning. John Franco was the first pitcher to hit 50% in 1987, and Lee Smith broke 75% in 1994. As far as baseball history goes, the modern closer is a very new thing.

Up until the late 1960s, relief pitchers posted worse ERAs than starting pitchers. But that changed as, and relief pitchers now post lower ERAs than starting pitchers:

Why are ERAs lower?…

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Fangraphs Projection: Yankees 3rd Best Defense in MLB for 2015

Over at Fangraphs, Jeff Sullivan posted their 2015 UZR projections by team. The Yankees, who were an average defensive team last year, project as the 3rd best team in the majors in 2015 at +29 runs, in large part thanks to the additions of Didi Gregorius and Chase Headley.

Of course, that +29 number is highly regressed. The 3rd best team in 2014 ended up at +49 runs, or just over +6 wins above average. If the Yankees are that good defensively, they could make a lot of contact pitchers look pretty good next year. It might even make the team good enough to be a stealth contender for a wild card spot.

The full rankings:

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Nathan Eovaldi, Domingo German and the Rebuildingish Yankees

The Yankees made a trade today:

Pitching prospect Domingo German was also included.

My initial reaction–which I think is representative of a lot of Yankee fans–was disgust. Martin Prado was in a lot of ways the perfect player for the 2015 Yankee thanks to his ability to play lots of positions and Eovaldi posted a below-average ERA in 199 innings in 2014. But the more I think about the trade, the more I like it. Why? Because the Yankees are finally starting to rebuild their roster.

Eovaldi had for years shown a ton of promise, but took a huge step forward in 2014. He’s always had one of the best fastballs in the league, but finally improved his control enough to post a 3.37 FIP and 3.0 fWAR. He’s only 24 years old, so there is definitely room for improvement.…

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Putting This Year’s IFA Haul in Perspective

Much has been written about the Yankees signing ten of the top thirty international free agents this season. But how much talent have the Yankees landed, really?

I’m not going to pretend to know more about the specific players that the Yankees signed than what I’ve read on MLB.com and Baseball America. I did, however, go back and look at Baseball America’s top international free agent list five years ago, and checked in on the status of the top-25 players. The result:

2 really great signings (Sano and Profar), 6 players with varying prospect potential (including Gary Sanchez, probably the bet of the group), and 17 busts. If the Yankee haul follows the same pattern, they’ll emerge five years from now with roughly half that–a top-10 prospect, two or so top-100 prospects, and a fringey player or two.

Not bad, huh? Obviously, we’re looking at a sample of one year, but a quick glance at 2008 and 2010 show similar bust rates.…

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Chart: MLB Run Scoring Continues to Fall

When I last wrote about run scoring in late May, the early returns were a little mixed. Thanks in part to a relatively strong April for MLB hitters, the decline in MLB run scoring had stabilized, and even ticked up a little bit. That did not hold up this season, and MLB run scoring continued to decline:

So what is happening? We know that the decline can’t be blamed on increasing use of specialized bullpens. Batted ball types haven’t changed much:

Strikeout rates, on the other hand, have ballooned:

That strikeout trend is pretty insane. But it should also be noted that MLB BB% tied its record low in 2014.

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Bring on Rob Refsnyder

Rob Refsnyder is the best middle infield prospect in the Yankee system above A-ball, and it isn’t close.

Refsnyder followed up his breakout 2013 season (.293/.413/.413 between Charleston and Tampa, 148 and 119 wOBA+ respectively) with an arguably stronger start to the 2014 season. He’s currently hitting .320/.367/.522 (118 wOBA+) for Trenton.

Those are two very different batting lines. 2013 Rob Refsnyder was a hitter primarily creating value by drawing a lot of walks and making a lot of contact, but hitting for very little power. 2014 Rob Refsnyder is a hitter who is still making a lot of contact, but drawing very few walks and hitting for twice as much power. Look at this peripherals:

Here’s the crazy part: Trenton is overall an average ballpark for the Eastern League as far as run scoring for right-handed hitters. However, Trenton has a huge power split for a right-handed hitter. The park has a very strong 109 right-handed park factor for singles, but a below average 95 park factor for doubles and triples, and an absolutely abysmal 79 park factor for home runs.…

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MLB Run Scoring Decline Part 1: It’s Not About The Bullpens in 3 Charts

Last week, I posted a graph showing the history of MLB run scoring since 1946. The graph showed a steady decline in run scoring since it peaked in 2000, including a fairly precipitous drop over the last 4 years.

The most common thing, other than the exit of PEDs, that I’ve been hearing from commentators trying to explain the drop has been the growth of ‘power bullpens’ or ‘specialized bullpens.’ Generally, they’ll point to relievers throwing 96 coming out in the 7th inning, and talk about how that just didn’t happen a few years ago. Up until I started looking at the evidence, I believed that this was a big explanation for the decline in run scoring.

But not so much. Let’s start with RP usage:

This chart could be a post on its own. It’s pretty cool to watch relief usage grow over time. After four decades of growth, the starter/reliever shares of innings stabilized. 2014’s usage patterns are not significantly different from 2000’s.…

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Chart: MLB Run Scoring Since 1946

I have only one short piece of commentary to add to this, but I’m a big enough baseball geek to just stare at this chart and think about the possibilities:

Here’s the one piece of commentary I’d like to offer: How far does the current trend in run scoring go? NL run scoring (the better barometer, since the DH changed AL run scoring substantially) is pointed in the direction toward the Deadball Era. Will it keep going and bottom out that low? We’ll see. Personally, I think it will if MLB doesn’t change the rules.

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One Quarter of the Season of Yankee Hitting in Two Charts

It feels like the season just started yesterday, but we’ve played 25% of the 2014 season so far. It’s a good time to measure the Yankee hitters against the rest of the American League. How are they doing?

First, the hitters:

The Yankees have done a good job of limiting the damage at their weak positions (2b, SS) and pulling ahead at their best positions (1b, 3b, OF). The one exception being at catcher, which has somehow become the 3rd best-hitting position in the AL (behind 1b and DH), despite downright horrible production by Brian McCann.

WAR is a difficult stat to use through 1 quarter of the season due to small sample sizes on defense, so take this next chart with some skepticism. Yankee hitters by WAR and playing time so far:

Can you see Carlos Beltran‘s WAR? Nope, because he is sitting at -0.1. The Yankees could definitely use the real Carlos back in the lineup, but the one they’ve seen so far is just not worth the poor defense.…

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