Duck Snorts 2

This time with wings!

Ok, Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs reference aside, a few more quick hitters:

1. People often say someone should just “throw more strikes”, with the implication that throwing strikes isn’t that hard. And they are correct. Throwing strikes isn’t hard if you are trying to throw batting practice and give up 500 ft shots to the 3rd deck. Throwing GOOD strikes? Almost impossible. Because:

2. All pitches, even below average fastballs, leak or bleed. By that, we mean, they aren’t perfectly straight. They may look straight, but their charted path will demonstrate horizontal movement in one direction or the other. So:

3. Every pitch thrown is moving. This means that the idea of “throw it down the middle and let it move”, is misleading. If every pitch has natural horizontal movement, you have to understand when and how your pitches move before you can employ such a strategy. However:

4. There is a difference between command and control. Control is the ability to throw strikes consistently. Command is the ability to throw GOOD strikes consistently. And by GOOD strikes, we mean the 4 corners – up and in, down and in, down and away, up and away. If you don’t have command, merely having control can get you in trouble. Because:

5. If you frequently throw poorly located strikes, you get killed. Metaphorically. And eventually, literally, if your manager doesn’t bench you first. Ergo:

6. As launch angle, shifts, defensive alignment cards and other analytical tools have flooded baseball, the hitting landscape has changed. Guys now make less contact than ever, but the contact they do make is often louder, harder, and more dangerous – in other words, while strikeouts have become easier as a pitcher, they’ve also become a greater necessity, because today’s contact is frightening. Meaning:

7. Pitchers can’t just “pitch to contact”, because now contact is geared toward 100mph+ exit velocities instead of flares to the opposite field, bunts, and grounders through the hole. Defenses have closed the hole, math has damned the bunt, and the opposite flare has always been difficult. Thus:

8. Pitchers try to “nibble”. They don’t want their pitches to leak or bleed into the heart of the plate, so they start them off the plate and hope they bleed back to the corners. This is a 50/50 proposition, leading to a rise in walk rates, higher pitch counts, shorter outings for starting pitchers, heavier bullpen usage, and longer games. Which is sad, because:

9. With the decline in contact rate, there is less action happening than ever. Which brings us to:

10. Mike Foltynewicz. As a Braves fan, there are only 2 reasons I don’t watch a game. 1. They are playing the Yankees. I hate the Yankees, and they play absurdly long games. 2. Mike Foltynewicz is pitching.

Folty seems like a very nice guy. He unquestionably possesses the most talented arm on the Braves’ pitching staff. His velocity is elite and his slider is filthy. But he’s the classic victim of points 1-9. It’s not a problem I know how to fix. It’s not a criticism of him. But because of this progression of events, Folty has trouble going deep into games consistently. He is frequently at or approaching 100 pitches by the 5th inning, despite a relative lack of base runners or runs scored. Which means the games drag on, and on. He generally does a fantastic job of keeping the Braves in the game, and everyone can see how hard he’s working and trying.

But what he’s trying to fix isn’t even his fault. Somewhere along the way, someone threw a monkey wrench into how baseball was played. And the game went down a new path, that no one has yet figured out how to adjust to.

Scott Boras says ban the shift because it hurts left-handed hitters. But so does facing left-handed pitching. Should lefty/lefty match-ups be banned too?

Chip Caray and Joe Simpson say umpires should “call more strikes” – but that hurts the hitters and results in even worse contact.

How do you fix something when you don’t even know why or how it’s broken?

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Duck Snorts

Duck snorts, as Hawk Harrelson calls them, are little blooped singles that fall into no-man’s land between the infield and the outfield.

In this case, Duck Snorts are little quick-hitting thoughts that I find interesting, but not interesting enough to be worthy of an entire post.

  1. There’s a saying “speed never slumps.” That is a lie. Billy Hamilton is barely hitting .200. Byron Buxton is in the minors. Michael Taylor and Ender Inciarte are 1-2 in steals, and both have an OPS+ roughly 20% below league average.  Speed slumps plenty, and in many cases slumps worse than other skill sets because it doesn’t have the occasional home run, walk or double to fall back on.
  2. The Braves’ bandwagon is ridiculous. Every time they lose a game or two, or have something go wrong half the fans go “same old Braves, here comes the slide.” And the other half vehemently defend the Braves. They are both wrong. This Braves team is improved. But it is fundamentally a .500 team that had a lucky, hot start. So you shouldn’t think of them as contenders, but they aren’t losers either. They are just a slowly improving team that should win about as much as they lose, which in and of itself represents an improvement.
  3. Baseball’s replay system is impossibly stupid and broken, and should be scrapped all together. New York is supposed to have every available camera angle, but somehow have couched their language “enough to overturn” into a system where obvious calls are frequently missed, and then upheld even on replay. And instead of being sympathetic about it, most umpires are grumpy about being challenged in the first place so the next borderline call is always going to go against the last team that lost a challenge, just because the umpires know they can’t challenge again. (Which is a horribly dumb policy in and of itself). Either you want it right or you don’t. And if you don’t want to take the time to do it right, don’t do it at all! (Which would definitely help the “pace of play initiative”).
  4. I think it’s important in any attempt to talk about sports to be careful to simply point things out, and not be perceived as attacking a person. Politics has far too much of this already, but lately sports media has gone this direction as well. Half the “sports” “talkshows” are nothing but empty-headed  bloviating blowhards forming deliberately uninformed opinions just to bash someone who is massively more talented than they are. In school, name-calling and character assassination have a name – it’s called “bullying.” It’s a crying shame that the adult world thinks it’s perfectly acceptable behavior. Of course, on the flip side, I know several of these shows get a lower viewership than re-runs of Bonanza – so maybe we are growing up after all.
  5. Watching baseball in 2018 is an exercise in the ridiculous. Absurdly talented pitchers like Mike Foltynewicz and Sean Newcomb can barely pitch 5 innings, not due to a lack of skill, but because they run up 2 and 3 ball counts on every batter. Somehow, we’ve created a generation of pitchers afraid to trust their stuff, because we’ve created a generation of hitters who don’t care if they strike out 1/3rd of the time. They just keep on swinging for the fences. So now pitchers live in fear of the big swing, and nibble, nibble, nibble at the edges of the strike zone trying to avoid giving up a home run.
  6.  This leads to a self-referential, self-defeating spiral of avoiding the home run, but putting men on base, running up the pitch count, having shorter outings, and having a greater chance of giving up a 2, 3 or 4 run home run from all the base-runners.
  7. Additionally, high pitch counts and walk totals lead to slower, longer games, which doesn’t help MLB’s “pace of play” initiative. Plus, walks, strikeouts, and long at-bats aren’t action, which further slows down the actual pace of play, in addition to creating longer games.
  8. All of which leads to a novel, groundbreaking idea: If hitters would try to hit singles instead of home runs, pitchers could trust their stuff and throw strikes, at-bats and games would be shorter, there would be more action, there would be more steals, and home runs would be more exciting and matter more because they’d be less routine and represent an actual accomplishment!
  9. So hit a single once in while, why don’t you? Even if it’s just a bunt against the shift.

Single Use Only

Use it once, and it’s used up. That’s what can happen to your normal, everyday contact making swing when you pull out your best Carlos Gomez-esque swing-from-the-heels-spin-around-until-your-helmet-comes-off impression. Hey – it worked for Gomez for years – I don’t blame you for wanting to imitate it. But I’ll spare you the sorrow here: Don’t. Unless you are Carlos Gomez, you do not possess the required myriad of tools and amazing coordination to do anything with such a swing – except fall down and strike out. And if falling down and striking out is your goal, you might want to look for a new line of work.

Here’s the thing. I know all 2.3 people who read this blog (still trying to figure out who .3 is by the way), are expecting me to address the Dodgers record-setting home run binge today of 7 solo home runs. You’re expecting some snarky response about how they wouldn’t have been solo home runs if everyone hadn’t been swinging for the fences, and the game wouldn’t have had to go to extras if even 1 of the first 6 home runs had come with men on.

But I ain’t doing that. Listen, if the ball is jumping enough for 7 home runs to be hit by 1 team and 2 by the other – I’m not looking to hit a single either. I’m not vilifying singles under any conditions, but if there’s ever a day to sit on a pitch you can drive and not worry about a pitch you can dump down the line or flare over an infielder’s head – well, it’s a day like this one. Don’t change your swing to try and hit one (that’s how slumps start and careers end), but it’s totally cool to narrow your focus down to pitches in whatever zone you consider your “wheelhouse”. Days like that don’t come often, might as well enjoy it.

It’s also possible you came (or at least 2 of you did, .3 probably missed the first post), expecting a post on Ozzie Albies singles success this weekend. He raised his batting average nearly 20 points by going 9-16. And all 9 hits were singles.

But you ain’t getting that one either. I was right, neiner neiner boo boo, etc, etc. He’s also making me look like a moron, and I’m good with that too.

Nope, today I’m just here to point out simple math. Orlando Arcia is having a rough year. His OPS (ON-BASE PLUS SLUGGING) is roughly equivalent to the OBP (ON-BASE PERCENTAGE) of superstars like Mike Trout and Freddie Freeman.

Needless to say, that ain’t good y’all.

But I’m not going to say that his path out of is through singles. I’m going to point this out instead:

1 home run equals 4 bases. 4 bases equals a 4.000 Slugging Percentage on that swing.

1 single equals 1 base. 1 base equals a 1.000 Slugging Percentage on that swing.

So you’d need 4 singles for every home run. However, if you go 1-4 with a home run, your OBP is .250, and your slugging is 1.000. Makes a 1.250 ops

If you go 4-4 with 4 singles, your OBP is 1.000 and your slugging is 1.000. Makes a 2.000 ops.

So here’s the thing obviously, for singles to be as valuable, or more valuable than a home run they have to come in much greater frequency than home runs.

So the math is something like this 3 singles = 1 home run. A 3-4 day with 3 singles would net you a 1.500 ops. Which is superior to the 1.250 ops of a 1-4 day with a home run. However, it is not so superior when you consider that a home run will drive in every runner, regardless of what base they are one or where it’s hit, and a single is only guaranteed to drive in a runner if they are on 3b. So there’s not enough difference there to worry about on a game to game basis (over the season, those numbers would also work toward the middle, as 3 hit games are substantially harder to come by than 1 home run games.)

So as a hitter, there’s really only 1 thing to do. Ask yourself “Am I giving up 3 OR MORE singles per every home run I hit with this swing?”

If the answer is “yes”, then . . . well, you’re an idiot. You are deliberately doing the wrong thing and being an unproductive baseball player.

If the answer is “no” – well, first ask yourself if the answer really is “no”. And here’s a hint: if your swing is so long small children could ride it as a roller coaster, or you are frequently hitting the catcher with your backswing – the answer isn’t really “no”. You’re lying to yourself, and you’re now you’re a lying, unproductive baseball player. You are not trending in a positive direction.

However, if the answer truly is “no”, then congratulations. You have found the swing for you, and are maximizing your talents as a professional hitter. You’re name is also Mike Trout, Mookie Betts, Freddie Freeman, Nick Markakis, JD Martinez or anonymous utility guy who doesn’t have any power in the first place. So if you are one of the first 5, you are too good to be here. Leave. If you are in the second group, you’re beyond my aid, though you do have my sympathies. And if you are looking for quick ways to gain some weight in the hopes it will add some power, I recommend a diet heavy in Pizza, Doritos and Slushies. It’s worked wonders for me – and who DOESN’T want to look like a manatee?

Speed Dating

Where singles go desperately hoping to not feel so alone. Or, in baseball terms, when a fast guy like . . . oh, I don’t know, Ozzie Albies . . . actually gets on base enough to let fans, teammates and himself fall in love with his speed.

Let’s start with 4 truths.

1. Ozzie Albies is currently the leading 2b on NL All-Star ballots.

2. Ozzie Albies is currently leading off for the Atlanta Braves.

3. Ozzie Albies has an OBP of .293.

Ergo, 4. Ozzie Albies should not be either 1 or 2.

So, so many people think a low OBP means an inability to walk. That can be true. Jeff Francoeur, Salvador Perez, Starlin Castro (especially early in his career), Alcides Escobar, early Andrelton Simmons – all have had varying degrees of baseball success. All also flirted with All-Star and fan favorite territory. All have had trouble drawing a walk.

Casual fans, and people absorbed in the action side of baseball tend to forget walks. No one made contact, no defender made a play, nothing happened. So an inability to draw walks doesn’t really negatively effect “fan favorite” status on a game to game basis, because people don’t remember the walks anyway.

On the other hand, there are people who have a low OBP because . . . they can’t hit a freakin’ single! Ozzie’s drawn a mere 17 walks this year, which is not great. It means there’s scarcely .40 difference between his BA and his OBP.

However, given that we’ve already told you his OBP is below .300, it follows that his BA must then be a further .40 or more below that. In other words, while Ozzie isn’t drawing a ton of walks, part of the reason his OBP is so low is because he’s not getting on base by the more conventional means of hits very often either.

Thus far the 5’8″ Albies has 77 hits. Which include 22 doubles, 2 triples, and an astonishing 16 home runs. 40 of his 77 hits are extra base hits. Which looks great on the back of a baseball card. Until you see the .249 batting average and .293 on base percentage.

Because both of those tell you, that for all his success in the power department, the vast majority of the time Ozzie fails at primary goal of baseball – to get on base.

Let’s end this with another 4 truths.

1. Ozzie has struck out 58 times.

2. Ozzie has hit 37 singles.

3. Ozzie likes to run so hard that his helmet flies off.

Ergo, 4. If Ozzie would hit more singles, he’d have a lot more chances to run, and we’d have a lot more chances to watch his hat fly off, and a lot more reasons to bat him leadoff and vote him into All-Star games.

(Ozzie, I highly doubt you ever read this, but you’re a super fun and entertaining player to watch, both in terms of talent and personality. So don’t take it personally, and please, please make me look like an idiot.)

 

 

RIP, RISP

Or, in the words of Elton John “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road”.

The road to the promised land. The road to home. The road littered with dead rallies thanks to strike outs and launch angle.

It’s true that a sacrifice fly will score a run. So too will a ground ball to 2b with less than 2 outs. They don’t help your batting average, but they do get the run in. Pull off either one, and get a well-deserved pat on the back when you get back to the dugout. After all, there’s no such thing as a bad run to score.

However, sacrifice flies and ground outs to 2b are the result of actually getting a man to 3b with less than 2 outs. With 2 outs, they are just a fly out or a ground out – which admittedly are still contact, so you don’t want to complain overmuch about them.

What you can complain about though is this: through 70 games, Detroit led all of baseball this year with 621 At Bats with Runners in Scoring Position (RISP). That’s less than 9 at-bats a game.  And one of the big things about RISP, is that it isn’t an individual stat. A lead-off double is a man in scoring position for every hitter until there are 3 outs, or he scores.

Or in simple terms – you can’t know how many people came to bat with the same runner in the same spot. It could be 1. It could be 4. We can’t know. So this doesn’t mean Detroit is close to scoring 9 runs a game. It means, even at the top, a team only gets 8-9 chances a game to score a run without a home run.

10 years ago, 8 different teams cleared the 9 at-bat a game average. And 28 of the 30 teams cleared 8 at-bats a game. This season, there are 0 teams averaging 9 at-bats a game with RISP, and only 8 teams averaging 8 such at-bats.

Why? Because simply put, there are less runners on base. In the aggregate, an increase in home runs will make up for some of the difference in runs. But they don’t make up for the absence of action.

There are less RISP opportunities now than even 10 years ago. Because there are fewer runners now than 10 years ago. Because everyone stopped hitting singles.

And when no one is hitting singles, no one is in a position where someone else can drive them in with a single.

Maybe the stat should be Runners in SINGLES Position.

Either way, RIPieces. The pieces of a shattered bat on a jam shot just fair and just out of a first baseman’s reach. The pieces of a pitcher’s shattered heart when someone successfully bunts against the shift. The pieces of an opponent’s hopes of victory, lost on a successful squeeze play.

Maybe, if there are enough of those pieces, RISP can actually RIP. Or better yet, with enough of those pieces, it won’t need to.

Singles Dinner

Where singles go looking for love. Or celebration of their singleness I suppose.

So let’s talk about Jason Heyward. I have to confess, he’s one of my all-time favorite players. I’ve followed him from his first at-bat jack until now. I probably have 25 of his baseball cards. I definitely have his Braves’ bobblehead. I like the dude.

Last time out, we talked about his replacement in Atlanta, Nick Markakis, and the fact that he’s built an All-Star resume this year based off of his ability to hit singles. However, prior to this season, even during Heyward’s struggles in Chicago, most Braves’ fans seemed to ignore Nick and conjure up ways that the Braves could bring Heyward back.

I confess, I did it as well. Heyward plays one of the better right fields baseball has ever seen. He had a 20 home run/20 steal season (at 6’5″!) He had the patience to draw 93 walks one year. As a prospect, as a young player, his overall package of tools was tantalizing. He was so easy to dream on.

In fact, Heyward was so easy to dream on that people painted him as a star. In several seasons, his WAR was star-level. However people missed the obvious: Heyward was a star not because he had tantalizing power (he did) or incredible speed for a guy his size (he did) or patience (he did). No, Heyward was a star because he was a remarkably gifted defensive outfielder who was able to tap into his power, speed and patience at the plate JUST enough to thrive.

And somewhere along the way, he got hit in the face by a fastball. And he changed his stance. And he lowered his hands. And he messed with his mechanics. And he went from being a tremendous asset to being a gifted defender who still played because of his glove, but sat every time offense was at a premium because he seemed so lost at the plate.

Then came 2018 against the Cardinals. He jumped at the wall to try and save a home run and hit his head, got diagnosed with a concussion, and went on the DL. When he came off the DL, he had a good game or two, followed by several stinkers. On May 25, his batting average bottomed out at .220. It seemed the dream was dead for good.

Except it’s now the morning of June 12th, and Heyward is hitting .281/.339/.421. According to Fangraphs wRC+ that places him roughly 6% better than league average.

How?

Since that night on May 25th, Heyward has gone 24-64 at the plate. That’s a .375 batting average. There’s been some power in there for sure(6 2b, 1 3b, 1 hr – a walk-off grand slam!). But there have also been some singles.

16 singles to be precise.

Because singles are how you go from being below average to being good again. Singles are what happen when you don’t overreach, you don’t over-swing, you just sit back, see what the pitcher is throwing, and you put it in play.

Singles are how you tie the game off a tough lefty relief ace like Josh Hader. Singles are how drive in that runner on 3b with two outs. And singles, in Mr. Heyward’s case, are how you become productive enough to play, to let your glove and total talent package shine.

A Single, By Any Other Name . . .

Sorry for ripping off Shakespeare. However, I think it’s appropriate. We live in a world of super-sized options, two-for-one sales, and out-sized expectations. We want, and expect more. Bigger. Flashier.

So when something is called a Single, we sneer and look the other way. It’s all in the name. It’s just one hit. Just one base. Nothing exciting. It’s not a Double. Or a Triple. It’s certainly not a home run. (Is it just me, or did Wendy’s name most of it’s items after hits?)

However, what if instead of calling a single a single we called it what it is. A hit. A NOT failure. A success.

Nick Markakis leads the National League this year in Successes with 82. 26 of his Successes have a little something extra attached. 56 of his Successes don’t. They are just good, solid, didn’t fail, didn’t swing too hard GOT THE JOB DONE Successes.

You know what his reward is for the 56 Solid, Normal Successes? The 10th best fangraphs WAR among outfielders, and 2nd best among NL outfielders despite the fact that he provides no value with his defense and negative value with base-running.

And do you know what they typically call people who rate that highly in WAR? All-Stars.

And what has Nick Markakis never been? An All-Star.

And what does it look like he might be this year? An All-Star.

Why? Because he accepts that failing while trying for Success with some secret sauce is still failure, and that Success, even garden variety success, is still . . . Success.

Or in other words, Nick Markakis may well be an All-Star this year because unlike so many modern players, he doesn’t mind hitting singles.