Monthly Archives: September 2019

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Maria Salvetti. Carl Bialik A day during the tournament can involve hours of watching tennis and thousands of decisions. Salvetti arrives by 10:30 a.m. and stays until the end of play, which can be almost 10 p.m. She works one hour and then takes the next one off. On Tuesday, she worked the first, third and fourth sets of the five-set quarterfinal that was won by Jo-Wilfried Tsonga over Kei Nishikori, and she expects to work both women’s semifinals Thursday. The tournament pays her about 100 euros (about $110), after taxes, for each day of work. When she’s off duty, the last thing she wants to do is watch tennis.When they are on the job, Salvetti and her French Open crew appear to be very good. For one thing, their numbers are consistent with those of independent match loggers. I compared the official stats for eight matches from last year’s French Open and 11 from this year’s with the numbers from the crowdsourced Match Charting Project and found that the amateurs and pros like Salvetti agree. The official scorers counted just 3 percent more winners and 3 percent fewer unforced errors. Scorers at the U.S. Open and Wimbledon are far more generous, awarding on average 27 percent and 32 percent fewer unforced errors than the independent scorers, according to the dozens of matches I’ve checked.Salvetti said the toughest judgment call is whether a missed shot was forced or unforced. She must decide whether the opponent’s shot was good enough to force the error or whether blame lies mostly with the player who missed. She thinks her courtside seat gives her an advantage over scorers working from home. “On TV, you don’t see all the power that all the players put into the hit,” she said. “You don’t see all the energy they use to run from one side of the court to the other.”Salvetti cited another reason that she’s confident in her work. After matches, the scorers reconcile their numbers with those that come from the umpire’s chair. Umps don’t record winners and unforced errors, but they do take note of whether serves go in, whether they’re aces and who wins the point. Salvetti said that in the rare cases when the umpires’ numbers disagree with Salvetti and her crew’s, 95 percent of the time the scorers are right. She doesn’t blame the umpires for this: They have “a lot more to focus on,” she said.Not every tournament keeps stats on winners, unforced errors and net points, and few do for every match. When they are recorded, they don’t make it into the official stats kept by the men’s tour and the women’s tour. I asked Salvetti how she feels about that. She said she knows from her regular job as an environmental economist how important data is. She wishes more came of her hard work collecting tennis data.“All this information is not used the way it could be used, for players to know more about their games, for coaches, for even journalists and people who bet,” Salvetti said, emphasizing that she was speaking for herself and not the scorers as a group. She teaches at the Sorbonne in Paris and thinks some of her statistically gifted students could do great things with the tennis stats. “All this information, in my opinion, has value that is not used,” she said. “It’s gold that we have in our hands, and we don’t make anything out of it.” Beyond hitting the ball, tennis has outsourced a lot of its work to technology. A sensor determines if a serve clipped the net and should be replayed, radar sensors measure serve speed, and calibrated courtside cameras judge whether a shot was in and generate advanced stats. But when it comes to recording unofficial stats such as winners and unforced errors, the Grand Slams still rely on people like Maria Salvetti.Salvetti has been keeping scores and stats at the French Open each spring for the past 20 years, since she was 19. When she was a child, Salvetti trained in Paris on the courts at Roland Garros, the home of the French Open. But when she was 15, she hurt her knee, stopped playing, and found her way to scorekeeping after a stint as a French Open ballgirl. She is one of about 40 scorers at this year’s French Open. Roughly one-third of them are women, up from about one-quarter when she started, she said.The job is filled with small, fast decisions: When a point ends, scorers determine whether it was decided by a winner, forced error or unforced error that was hit as a forehand, backhand or other type of shot. They also note whether the point was won while one player was at net. The data then feeds IBM databases and powers television graphics, and journalists use it to identify how the match was won. read more

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12/18/1971IndianaNotre DameREG94-29+64 12/29/1972New MexicoDartmouthREG107-36+65 2/27/1994MinnesotaIndianaREG106-56+65 Source: Sports Reference Best men’s basketball wins relative to average expectation 12/9/1955UtahArizonaREG119-45+64 12/23/1998MarylandNorth TexasREG132-57+63 3/3/2008KansasTexas TechREG109-51+67 12/10/1994Southern UtahSouth AlabamaREG140-72+71 DATEWINNEROPPONENTGAME TYPESCOREELO-ADJUSTED POINT MARGIN 12/27/1985North CarolinaManhattanREG129-45+73 Ahead of Saturday’s Final Four matchup between Villanova and Oklahoma, our prediction model had the Wildcats only slightly favored, with a 54 percent chance of winning, and nearly a quarter of the game was as tight as that probability suggests. When Oklahoma led 17-16 after eight minutes, our in-game win probabilities listed the odds as essentially the same as they’d been before tipoff. Fans across the country settled in for an exciting game, perhaps like the one Villanova had played against Kansas in the South Regional final.But from that point on, things were anything but close. ’Nova rattled off a 12-0 run, touching off an eight-minute sequence in which it outscored Oklahoma 21 to 4. By halftime, the Wildcats led by 14 — but they weren’t done yet. After the Sooners briefly cut Villanova’s lead to single-digits with 16 minutes left in the game, the Wildcats scored 49 of the game’s next 63 points, including a 25-0 run that lasted approximately five and a half minutes on the scoreboard (but must have felt like an eternity to Sooner fans).The result was a 44-point landslide win for Villanova, the most lopsided victory in Final Four history. That is a matter of historical fact. But using our Elo ratings (which estimate a team’s strength at a given moment), we can also say that it was probably the most impressive NCAA Tournament win in more than 53 years — and the 10th-most-impressive D-I basketball victory, period, since the 1949-50 season: 1/27/1993OklahomaFlorida A&MREG146-65+63 4/2/2016VillanovaOklahomaNCAA95-51+65 1/12/1952Holy CrossBrownREG100-31+64 3/11/1963Loyola (IL)Tennessee TechNCAA111-42+70 3/12/1993KentuckyTennesseeCTOURN101-40+66 12/17/1986ClemsonArmstrongREG112-39+65 11/17/2009TennesseeUNC-AshevilleREG124-49+64 1/5/1974UCLAWashingtonREG100-48+64 2/27/1956KentuckyGeorgiaREG143-66+65 12/17/1995TulsaPrairie ViewREG141-50+72 12/11/1954DaytonBowling GreenREG109-39+69 11/25/1989DukeHarvardREG130-54+63 Because Elo measures the difference in relative quality between teams going into a game, it can be used (in conjunction with information about the location of the game) to create a predictive point spread. It can also be used to generate a hypothetical point spread that would have been expected from an average Division I team1With an Elo rating of exactly 1500. against the same opponent in a given game. So against Oklahoma on a neutral court Saturday, for instance, Villanova was expected to win by about 2.5 points; an average team would have been expected to lose by 21. That Villanova won by 44 implies that the Wildcats outperformed their own expectations by 41.5 points and those of an “average” team by about 65 points.Suffice it to say that 65 points is an extraordinarily wide margin for a team to beat the D-I average by in a single game. The record since 1949-50 in any game between two D-I schools is 73, set by North Carolina when it trounced Manhattan College by 84 points in 1985. (Elo estimates that an average team, playing at home, would have beaten the 1200-rated Jaspers by about 11 points.) But that also took place in a forgettable non-conference game two days after Christmas.To find an NCAA Tournament win more impressive than Villanova’s romp, you’d have to go back to 1963, when Loyola of Chicago exceeded average by 70 points with a 111-42 opening-round triumph over Tennessee Tech. And before the Wildcats’ win Saturday, no team had beaten average by 60 or more points in an NCAA Tournament game since 1971, when a previous incarnation of Villanova beat Penn 90-47. read more

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Detroit Tigers outfielder Delmon Young pleaded guilty Wednesday to aggravated harassment in an incident last spring where he shouted an anti-Semitic slur and tackled a man to the ground outside a Manhattan hotel, prosecutors said.The 27-year-old left fielder, who became a free agent after the World Series, was ordered to complete 10 days of community service and enroll in a program at the Museum of Tolerance New York as part of the Manhattan District Attorney’s office restorative justice program. His lawyer didn’t immediately return a call seeking comment.Young was standing outside of the Hilton New York in Manhattan and was accused of yelling anti-Jewish epithets at a group of tourists, tussling with them and tackling one to the ground in April, when the Tigers were in town to play the New York Yankees.Young later apologized to his team, and was suspended without pay for seven days.He went on to hit a game-tying home run in the sixth inning of the championship game of the World Series. But the San Francisco Giants  won 4-3 in 10 innings to sweep the Tigers.Young hit three home runs and had a .313 batting average in the postseason.In the court-ordered program, Young will participate in interactive workshops, videos, guided discussions and special instruction by museum educators to explore issues of prejudice, diversity, and tolerance, the district attorney’s office said.The museum reports progress back to prosecutors. If Young completes the program successfully he’ll be able to withdraw his plea and plead guilty to a lesser charge.“Dispositions for defendants charged with bias-related crimes need to be thoughtful and tailored toward healing both the defendant and the entire targeted community,” said District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance, Jr.The Tigers are prepared to let the Young, a quality designated hitter, sign with another team in the off season. read more

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Serena Williams captured the Brisbane International title on Saturday as she defeated Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova 6-2, 6-1 in the final, which was over in less than an hour.Williams is continuing her resurgence that she began in the second half 2012 season. She has won 35 of her last 36 matches, which include titles at Wimbledon, the 2012 London Olympics, the U.S. Open and WTA championships. Her last defeat came against No. 5 Angelique Kerber in Cincinnati last August.The 21-year-old Pavlyuchenkova, who was semi-finalist in Brisbane 2011 before losing to eventual champion Petra Kvitova, seems to struggle against Williams every time they meet.“I always feel like I don’t know how to play tennis when I play against you,” she told Williams during the trophy presentation, who now leads the series 4-0.Williams, a 15-time major winner, dominated from the beginning of the match to the very end. She went on a run of seven straight games after being tied in the first set 2-2.The 31-year-old Williams elevated her play, allowing her to strike nine aces and hit 24 winners. She also won 91 percent of her first serves.“Everything just came together with the right timing with me wanting to do better, with me wanting to work hard, (Patrick Mauratoglou) being there and having everything to work hard, and having the same mind frame of playing matches for the way I like to play,” Williams said.Mauratoglou is Williams new coach, but also coaches Pavlyuchenkova.Williams managed to advance to finals after top-ranked Victoria Azarenka withdrew a half hour before their semifinal Friday night because of an infected toe on her right foot. The 23-year-old Azarenka was not the only top seed ousted by an injury, second-ranked Maria Sharapova withdrew due to an injured collarbone.Pavlyuchenkova beat Kvitova in the second round, and fourth-seeded Kerber in Friday’s quarterfinals to advance to the finals. Even with the momentum headed into the finals, she felt that there was nothing she could do to stop Williams.“When she’s on fire, well, I feel like there is not much I can do. I mean, she’s a great player and she deserves to win,” Pavlyuchenkova said.Williams credits her comeback since losing in the first-round at the French Open to her dedication to being more composed and serene, which has allowed her to get into her zone on the court.“I was looking at a lot of old matches on YouTube, and I feel like right now I’m playing some of my best tennis,” Williams said. “I feel like I want to do better and play better still.”She will have the opportunity to play even better as she attempts to win her sixth Australian Open title in Melbourne that begins Jan. 14. Williams is currently ranked No. 3 on the WTA tour, but if she wins the Australian Open she will regain the No.1 ranking.Williams would become the oldest woman to hold the top spot. Chris Evert currently claims the record from November 1985, when she was 30 years, 11 months and three days old. read more

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Kevin Durant, the Oklahoma City Thunder superstar, has been offered an endorsement deal with Under Armour valued between $265 and $285 million over 10 years, which puts pressure on Nike to match it, according to ESPN.com.Superstar rapper Jay Z’s agency, Roc Nation Sports, brokered the deal that would have Under Armour stock and other incentives, including a community center built in his mother’s name.Durant is signed with Nike, which gained $175 million in business related to Durant last season. The brand leader will have the right to match, which is a condition of Durant’s current contract with it. Durant can still choose Nike if it doesn’t match, but can’t legally choose Under Armour if Nike does.Nike’s last offer, sources told ESPN.com, would have given Durant a base and a minimum royalty guarantee that would equal no less than $20 million a year.If Under Armour wins the services of Durant, it would be the largest sponsorship deal the company has ever committed to. The average of $26.5 million to $28.5 million per year means that Under Armour would be devoting nearly 10 percent of its current annual marketing budget on him. Although Under Armour has given investors guidance that it might hit $3 billion in revenues this year, only about 1 percent of that is from basketball shoes.Because Under Armour has such a small basketball business, the company has to guarantee Durant his money up front, instead of the typical shoe deals that offer a minimum guarantee, plus up to 5 percent royalty on the wholesale revenues. Michael Jordan, for example, made more than $100 million last year from Nike largely from royalties on sales of his Jordan brand.In 2007, before he played in his first NBA game, Durant wanted to sign with Nike badly enough that the $60 million contract he signed with the Swoosh was more than $20 million less than what Adidas had offered.But Roc Nation was interested in stronger negotiations, including both Under Armour and Adidas, which dropped out last week. read more

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When Derek Jeter retired last year, the pundits puzzled over who would be the next “Face of Baseball.” Jeter was the guy on the Wheaties box, after all. And more broadly, Jeter’s retirement seemed to close one era of baseball and open another. Without an elder statesman, the game belonged to the kids. But would there be enough excellent, prodigious young players to replace Jeter’s cohort? We already have an answer: The kids are damn good, and they’re part of one of the most significant youth movements in baseball in the past 25 years.Baseball’s excellence is supremely concentrated in its young players at the moment. To get a sense for the balance of power in MLB, I calculated the average age of all position players in the league while weighting each player’s age by how good they were in a given year (using wins above replacement1FanGraphs’ version.). For example, the age of an MVP-type player counts for roughly eight2Here, I am contrasting an average MVP-level of performance — about 8 WAR — with a below-average player’s performance — about 1 WAR. times as much as a below-average scrub because he’s eight times better according to WAR. So, if the MVP is young, he’ll pull the weighted average down toward him. By weighting the ages in this way, we get a sense for where in MLB the production comes from — specifically, whether it arises from the grizzled veterans or the youngsters.The youngsters are winning.Since the early 2000s, the MLB’s weighted age has consistently fallen, hitting its low point (of 27.76) this year. This graph tells us that in recent years, more of the positive value in the league has been coming from younger players.The twin faces of the youth movement are undoubtedly Bryce Harper and Mike Trout, still only 22 and 23, respectively. Despite the best efforts of opposing pitchers, Trout is performing at his now-routine MVP level. Harper seems to have finally discovered consistent success with an overwhelming power stroke. But Harper and Trout have been joined by a generation of super-prospects who are outperforming even the loftiest expectations. Kris Bryant is the most obvious, but others include Joc Pederson, Carlos Correa, Mookie Betts and Addison Russell.There are several ways that baseball’s production could be getting younger, but it turns out that there are two straightforward explanations. One is that the oldest players have become less productive. The second is that the youngest players are on pace to create a tremendous amount of value.Let’s start with the veterans. Players ages 333Roughly the oldest 15 percent of players in MLB. and up have produced only 24 WAR so far this year, on pace for the second-lowest total of the past 25 years. Over a full year, that prorates to 54.8 WAR, which is less than half the total achieved by the equivalent group of players around the turn of the millennium.It’s not clear what is driving older position players down. One possibility is that new pace-of-play rules are making it harder for older hitters to make use of their experience. On the other hand, older position players seem to be getting worse not only at hitting, but also with the glove — and even on the base paths.There could be a connection between the fluctuating pattern of production by older players and the steroid era. Certainly, some of the confirmed steroid users managed to be productive well into their 30s, suggesting that steroids might confer their beneficial effects especially upon older hitters. But in the absence of data on who used what steroids when and how, it’s difficult to pursue this idea beyond a hypothesis. Regardless of the cause, it looks as though the current trend of age and production is more of a return to the norm of the early 1990s than a novelty.At the same time, we are witnessing a historic youth movement. Just as the very old players have gotten worse, the youngest have become much better. Players 24 and younger4Roughly the youngest 15 percent of players in MLB. have produced 48.7 WAR this year, which puts them on pace for about 110 WAR in a full year. If it holds, that would be the most WAR put up by this age group since 2007.That year saw a generation of future stars cement their place in the league. David Wright, at that time 24, had his best season, an MVP-caliber effort. Wright was joined by a host of talent, from Troy Tulowitzki to Jose Reyes to Miguel Cabrera. In total, 13 young hitters put up WAR values greater than 4, in the neighborhood of All-Star-level performance. Many of those players, and even some of the tier below them, have gone on to become superstars.Young players have traditionally relied upon their defense to build their value, and this year is no exception. The 24 and under group typically performs anywhere from 100 to 500 runs below average on offense but makes up for it to some extent with 100 to 200 runs from their defense.5I am also including the FanGraphs positional adjustment here. Less than halfway through this season’s games, young position players have been worth 93 runs defensively. Prorated to a full season, this would be the best defensive performance for that age group since 2001, when the overall value of the youngsters was near its low point.Except today’s kids can do something those 2001 ones couldn’t: rake. With an average mark of 94.6, young hitters are putting up the best Weighted Runs Created+ (wRC+) since that marvelous 2007 class (which was at 99.2). The average wRC+ is set at 100, so the young players are adding decent hitting to their superlative defense. Much of the hitting stems from a power surge: The young hitters are racking up a slugging percentage of .400, slightly better than the league average of .397.6Relative to the league average, this is the second-best number in the past 25 years (second, of course, to 2007).The young players are even providing value with their baserunning. Reds speedster Billy Hamilton, 24, leads the way, but the group is already up to 27.1 runs of baserunning value (Hamilton alone is responsible for nearly a third of this number). If it holds over a full season, that will be the best mark since 1990.Some of these statistics will not hold up over the length of a full season because of injuries or regression to the mean, of course. And many of the averages will be distorted by September call-ups. But two-thirds of the total WAR in this year’s young group comes from the 10 best players, all of whom are firmly ensconced in starting roles.A wave of young talent has arrived, just as the old veterans are fading into irrelevancy. Whether your preference is for Nolan Arenado’s slick glove work, Harper’s absurd power or Bryant’s eyes, we are witnessing the rise of a generation of future superstars. read more

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It took a couple of bold pickups the week of the trade deadline, but the Kansas City Royals had finally done it.Solidified themselves as clear front-runners for the American League pennant? Emerged as outright World Series favorites?Not quite.Kansas City’s big accomplishment was simply amassing enough talent to break .500 down the season’s final stretch — at least in the eyes of the statistical projections. Although the Royals had never dropped below .566 all season (and had posted the best winning percentage in the AL), leading sabermetric think tank Fangraphs hadn’t pegged them to win more than half of their remaining games until July 26.1KC hit a rest-of-season win projection of exactly .500 on May 11. For most of the year, Kansas City has had the record of a contender but the forecast of a lightweight.We’re not picking on Fangraphs. The 79 wins it forecast for the Royals before the season started (barring major personnel changes or extreme breakouts from current players, the preseason forecast largely determines a team’s rest-of-season projection) were actually on the high side. Although KC won 89 games and went to the World Series in 2014, a consensus average of betting over/unders2Using data compiled from the same sources we used here, plus implied win totals derived from preseason World Series odds when available. and other statistical systems3Including Baseball Prospectus’s PECOTA projections for the team, as well a regressed average of its Pythagorean winning percentages over the previous two seasons. would have pegged the Royals for 76 wins this year, a number that will likely end up at least 15 games low. Any projection system tied to the Royals’ comparatively weak preseason forecast would have been similarly bearish on their future record.And the Royals aren’t alone: The Houston Astros, Minnesota Twins and New York Yankees could all potentially beat their consensus preseason projections by double digits, while the Oakland A’s, Boston Red Sox, Miami Marlins and Seattle Mariners may undershoot theirs by that margin. Forecasting the fates of 30 different baseball teams has always been tricky work, but this season has seemed so unpredictable that it has sparked extra rounds of self-examination among statheads.Paradoxically, in an age of unprecedented baseball data, we somehow appear to be getting worse at knowing which teams are — and will be — good.In an absolute sense, this season’s forecast win totals aren’t any further off than usual.4Extrapolating records to 162 games, the root mean square error between actual and predicted wins is lower this year than the seasonal average from 1996 to 2014. But that obscures the way predictions — and, in fact, actual team records — have also gotten more compressed over the years. As a result of the trend toward parity in MLB, preseason projections explain less of the variation among teams’ records now than they have at any point in the last 20 seasons.Strangely, the projections are doing fine at the player level. Neither hitter nor pitcher projections are necessarily to blame for the downturn in team-level forecasts. If anything, PECOTA is better now at projecting rate statistics for batters than it was five years ago, and at the very least it has gotten no worse on the pitching side. Likewise, PECOTA’s ability to nail playing-time estimates (both plate appearances and innings pitched) has only improved over that span. So in the aggregate, it’s hard to detect the slump in team projection accuracy by looking at the performance of individual player forecasts.But while PECOTA’s absolute prediction errors are getting smaller across the entire population of MLB players, its squared errors — a gauge more sensitive to outliers — have increased over the last five seasons. For that kind of discrepancy to exist, there can be only one explanation: The big misses are getting bigger, at least relative to the normal, everyday misses. And, notably, more of those extreme errors come when predicting the performance of young players.By now, it’s no secret that baseball is in the midst of a historic youth movement. As the average age of players has decreased, a lot more of the game’s value has been concentrated among its fresh faces. That’s hailed as a good thing for the game, but it may be a bad thing for projection systems. For hitters ages 24 and younger, we found that absolute prediction errors in their rate statistics are on the rise since 2009, with an even more pronounced trend toward inaccuracy if outliers are given more weight. Since those players now contribute more to the game than at any other point in recent memory, they could be playing a role in driving the recent projection crisis.There could be other culprits. Teams may be better now at assessing themselves than public metrics are. If the internal projection systems some clubs employ are superior to the ones driving published preseason forecasts, those teams could be buying and selling talent according to a different rubric. As a result, they could be constructing their rosters in a way that would amplify team-level errors in the public forecasts — for example, loading up on publicly underrated players — even if the player-level accuracy of public projections hasn’t changed much.Then again, maybe it’s all just luck — we mean literally. By definition, the compression of team records across MLB means that random variance is playing a larger role in the standings than it used to. How much larger? Computing the spread of true talent in a season using the standard deviation of team winning percentages, it turns out that a whopping 64 percent of the observed variation among teams so far this season can be explained by binomial luck — by far the highest single-season proportion of the past two decades.Even if that number regresses a bit over the season’s final third, 2015 will shatter the previous post-199551996 was the first full, 162-game season after MLB’s 1994 strike. record for luck’s sway over team winning percentages. This fact alone may go a long way toward explaining why projections are struggling.It’s tough to know what all of this means for a team like Kansas City. The Royals were smart to go all-in at the trade deadline, and as an older team they figure to be less affected by the predictive uncertainty currently plaguing baseball. Ironically, though, that means we should probably be more confident in the relatively unimpressive rest-of-season forecast set for them by a site like Fangraphs, which still regards the Royals as a team with 84-win true talent even after accounting for their deadline pickups.6This also takes into account playing time missed due to injuries, such as the strained groin that will keep star outfielder Alex Gordon out for a few more weeks.It’s a long-held saying that baseball’s playoffs are a crapshoot, but the unexpectedly great performances of teams like Kansas City this year might indicate the regular season is headed in that direction, too. read more

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Cincinnati Reds Chicago Cubsneil (Neil Paine, senior sportswriter): Last year’s NL Central was one of the strongest divisions in memory, particularly between the Cardinals, Cubs and Pirates at the top. But Chicago had an unbelievable offseason, and most sources consider them the best team in baseball going into 2016. So, to get us started, what do we think about this stacked roster the Cubs have assembled? Do we buy the hype about this team’s potential to end the franchise’s 108-year championship drought?craigjedwards: I absolutely buy the hype. A lot of things had to go right last season for the Cubs to make their big leap earlier than expected: Kris Bryant instantly playing to his talent level, most of the team staying healthy (particularly in the rotation), Jake Arrieta’s incredible breakout year, etc. This season, the Cubs don’t need as much good fortune. By signing John Lackey, Ben Zobrist and Jason Heyward, and bringing back Dexter Fowler, they’ve built a bit of a buffer in case of bad luck.rob: I agree — the Cubs start the year with an excellent roster, loaded with depth. There’s a reason they’re favored so highly by PECOTA, Steamer and just about every other projection system. On top of its excellent starters, Chicago has prospects and the budget to add contracts mid-year, so if a major player suffers an injury or performance decline, they should be able to handle it.craigjedwards: But whether they can end the drought is a difficult question to answer. For most teams, just getting to the playoffs means the season was successful. But if the drought means a World Series title or bust, the team is setting itself up for disappointment. It’s really difficult to win three straight postseason series against other good teams.rob: Right. As much as I buy that this is a stacked roster, I have some bad news for Cubs fans: A good roster at the beginning of the year guarantees nothing. Between injuries, cluster luck and various other kinds of bad breaks, many a preseason powerhouse has exited the playoffs early — or worse yet, failed to reach the postseason at all. (As a Cubs fan, I have been trained to expect the worst.)neil: Baseball is quite different from, say, the NBA, where the Golden State Warriors’ stacked roster means they’re a coin-flip to win the NBA title. Being the best MLB team means you have, what, a 15 to 20 percent chance (at best) of winning?rob: Yes, the difference between MLB teams is much smaller. We’ve never seen (and will never see) a baseball team like the 2016 Warriors or 1996 Bulls. Win projections in the high 90s are about as good as it gets, and that’s where the Cubs are right now.craigjedwards: The best players in the NBA handle the ball constantly, whereas a hitter comes to the plate four or five times per game, and an ace might only pitch twice in a playoff series. Plus, only eight teams make the divisional series, so even the worst playoff team is not going to be far from the best in terms of talent. The Cubs went 3-5 in the playoffs last year, and they were a success story.rob: If only Arrieta could pitch every game.neil: Another (possibly underrated) thing working against the Cubs’ chances is how top-heavy the NL is. According to FanGraphs, Chicago ranks first in projected team wins above replacement, but Nos. 2 through 5 — and seven of the top 10 teams — are in the NL.rob: That’s true — this year’s decrease in parity has been driven mostly by NL teams, particularly the Dodgers, Cubs and Mets. That will make the NL playoffs more of a crapshoot than usual. Even within the Central, the Cubs will have to contend with two difficult challengers in the Pirates and Cardinals.neil: They’d have an easier path to the World Series in the AL, I’d think.rob: Also, they’d get to play Kyle Schwarber at DH, where he probably belongs.craigjedwards: If the Pirates or Cardinals win 93 games, and the Cubs win 92 — which, again, would be a very successful season — all of a sudden Chicago is in the Wild Card game, hoping for a coin flip just to get to the Division Series. And some very good NL teams, at least on paper right now, will not even get to the playoffs.The difference might not be how a team does against other contenders, but rather how badly they can beat up the NL’s worst teams, some of which are very poor.rob: We saw that in the NL East preview, with two teams racing to the bottom and two strong outfits up top; there’s a similar pattern going on in the Central. Across the league, teams seem to be committing more to a particular trajectory in the competitive cycle, either rebuilding or making a championship run.neil: If the Cubs do have 95- to 100-win talent, the upper bound on that is one of the best teams ever. (Which could very well happen.) But I have a feeling the bottom bound is also lower than we think. What could send this seemingly stacked Cubs team there? Just the obvious scenario, a rash of key injuries?rob: A good, approximate rule of thumb is that team-level projections are 90 percent certain to be within +/-10 wins. So the bottom bound is something like 80 to 85 wins, which is probably not making the playoffs in this division. That’s the reason I’m cautious about the Cubs.craigjedwards: I think the bottom likely comes if the pitching falls apart. The projections aren’t exactly conservative on Arrieta and Jon Lester. Losing one of them would be a major blow, and there are some concerns about Arrieta’s crazy workload last season. Plus, Lester is one year older and has apparently been pitching at the risk of injury for some time now.rob: I think there’s still some reason to suspect Arrieta could turn back into a pumpkin. Lester’s inability to throw to first has been well-documented, yet strangely not taken advantage of as much as it could be. He’s also a pitcher older than 30, and those can fall apart at any time (remember Cliff Lee?). If you combine the risk of a rotation and bullpen collapse, that’s the most likely way I see the Cubs’ season falling apart.craigjedwards: But as far as their lineup goes, they are pretty well-insulated.rob: Yep, they have too many good, young position players to have a bad offense. Embed Code neil: If the Cubs do falter from their lofty projections, there are plenty of teams in this division waiting to pounce. Let’s start with the Cardinals, who won 100 games last year and looked unstoppable at times. Yet, they also suffered some offseason losses and outplayed their BaseRuns by more than any other team. Are the Cardinals still on the same level, or might they be due for a decline?rob: I think they are due for some decline. Even if they returned the exact same team as last year, the odds were against them outperforming their underlying stats to such an extraordinary degree again. So they probably won’t be quite as good, though they’d be falling from such lofty heights that it would still make for a decent team. FanGraphs has them at 85 wins, with PECOTA projecting 82.craigjedwards: Although a repeat of last season’s win total is unrealistic, the Cardinals also have a pretty high floor. They cannot repeat their success with runners on base this season, but the rotation is arguably more talented than it was a year ago. Nobody on the team is projected to have a great season, but that also means nobody is irreplaceable, and they have quite a few players with ceilings well above their projections.neil: That rotation could be impressive, with five starters carrying a FanGraphs projection of at least 2 WAR.craigjedwards: The rotation has its questions, though, most being injury-related. With health, they might approach their run prevention from last season, but no pitching staff stays healthy all year. For instance, I wonder about Michael Wacha as we head into the season — he tired at the end of last year, after being shut down in 2014 with a shoulder issue. Wacha has pitched at an ace-level for stretches, but if he can’t command his fastball he’s closer to an average pitcher.rob: I think a huge unknown on the team, and a big determinant of its fate, is Yadier Molina. He was injured last year and turned in an uncharacteristically mediocre pitch-framing performance behind the plate. Framing makes such a big difference because its effect, while small for any given pitch, are spread out across every pitch a staff throws. If Yadi returns to his normal level — which seems possible if his decline came from injury, and not aging — the staff will get a big boost. If not, those 2-WAR projections may be overly optimistic.craigjedwards: Right. Molina’s bat has also gotten significantly weaker over the past two seasons, and two offseason thumb surgeries make you wonder about his hitting ability. The projections might be overrating that, expecting a bounce-back that might not be possible. His leadership and game preparation are unquestioned, but Molina’s body is compromised at this stage of his career.neil: For all of those concerns, though, these are still the Cardinals. Have they earned the benefit of the doubt given the way the franchise has re-tooled on the fly in the past? Or is that more of a narrative that gets applied to them post-hoc because they’ve been so successful?rob: I don’t like to give any team the benefit of the doubt. Some teams do figure out major advantages before others, but we can usually follow along and figure out what those advantages are (or were). The Cardinals might have some kind of player-development talent that other teams are lacking, or they might just be exceptionally well-run and good at acquiring skilled players. But I’m not inclined to give them a “Magic Beans” bonus.On the other hand: They have produced historic RISP performances — both in terms of pitching and hitting — over the last five years. I don’t know what to make of that. Maybe they do have a secret we don’t know about.craigjedwards: I think the benefit of the doubt is almost a required narrative that has turned into a joke. The David Freese–Allen Craig–Matt Carpenter–Matt Adams pipeline of “unknown players rising to prominence” seems like it has run dry. But what the Cardinals have been good at over the past few years — in contrast with the Cubs, who have developed position players — is developing pitching. They’ve targeted athletes and guys who can throw the change-up, and those pitchers seem to have worked out. Milwaukee Brewers A FiveThirtyEight Chat The 2016 Major League Baseball season opened on Sunday, and FiveThirtyEight is assembling some of our favorite baseball writers to chat about the year to come. In today’s edition, we focus on the National League Central with Craig Edwards, managing editor of the Cardinals blog Viva El Birdos, and FiveThirtyEight’s own baseball columnist, Rob Arthur. The transcript below has been edited.Chicago CubsSt. Louis CardinalsPittsburgh PiratesMilwaukee BrewersCincinnati Reds rob: In any event, I suspect that, like last year, this division will be one of the most exciting in baseball. Even if the Cubs wrap it up early (and they probably won’t), the Cards and Pirates will go down to the wire competing for WC spots. It should be fun to watch.craigjedwards: The division is Chicago’s to lose, but both the Pirates and the Cardinals are contenders who could win under the right circumstances.neil: And at least we won’t have to hear those incessant “Back To The Future” references around the Cubs this season.craigjedwards: Don’t worry, the Cubs will come up with something at least as annoying this season. Between them and the Cardinals, the NL Central has morphed into the new AL East in terms of insufferableness. St. Louis Cardinals neil: So Milwaukee sounds like they’re in a better place than Cincinnati.craigjedwards: The Brewers saw the opportunity to start rebuilding, and they took it. The Reds, on the other hand, had the opportunity to start a major rebuild, but their heart wasn’t really in it.rob: Yes, they haven’t gone as far or received as much of a return. They’re holding onto Joey Votto now (which is understandable), but they also kept Aroldis Chapman too long. And they haven’t been as experimental as the Brewers, taking fliers on high-variance players. That will hurt them down the road when some of the Brewers’ risks pan out.craigjedwards: If they’d dealt Chapman and Jay Bruce for a few extra prospects at last year’s trade deadline, we might look at the Reds differently. Instead they hung onto Bruce, who collapsed at the end of the season; then Chapman’s offseason domestic violence investigation hurt his trade value. And now it’s difficult to see Votto drawing a package good enough to justify trading a franchise player.(They also still owe Homer Bailey more than $80 million through 2019, and couldn’t figure out a way around Brandon Phillips‘ no-trade clause, so he’s owed another $27 million over the next two years.)rob: Having said all that, the nice thing about this iteration of the Reds is that, even though they won’t be too competitive in the Central, they have some fun players to watch. Votto is always great, and Billy Hamilton remains entertaining (even if he’s not living up to his promise).craigjedwards: They also have a number of interesting young pitchers, such as Raisel Iglesias (a big signing out of Cuba) and Robert Stephenson. If a few of those guys pan out, Cincinnati could rebuild quickly. But unfortunately for the Reds, the probability of success for that strategy is not incredibly high.The bottom line: Neither the Reds nor Brewers is likely to do well in the next two, maybe three seasons. And it doesn’t look like the Cubs, Pirates or Cardinals are going to go anywhere, either.rob: So, in a way, it makes sense to go for a longer-term rebuild. When the top of the division is strong and will be for a while, maybe it’s reasonable to wait until you can field a genuinely good team.craigjedwards: But then what do you with Votto? It seems like such a waste to have him on terrible teams.rob: I agree. (#freejoeyvotto!) Then again, he gives Reds fans a reason to watch, when they’re not complaining about his otherworldly OBP.craigjedwards: That’s what makes him hard to trade. He’s a truly great player, but his enormous contract depresses his long-term value and limits Cincinnati’s trading partners. We just saw the Rockies go through this with Troy Tulowitzki. They waited too long to trade their franchise player, and ended up with a return that wasn’t as good as it would have been a year earlier.It almost seems as though having a player like Joey Votto provided the illusion of a bright long-term future. The same thing might be happening with the Angels and Mike Trout, but in Los Angeles they have more opportunities to spend their way out of it than in a market like Cincinnati.rob: The margin for a mid-market or small-market team is so thin. The couple of months’ difference between trading a player at the peak of his value and just off of it can multiply into a year’s difference in the competitive window. neil: The Pirates round out what was this division’s Big Three last year. But the statistical projections seem a little down on them — 83 wins at FanGraphs, 82 at Baseball Prospectus. Are you guys sensing a drop-off in Pittsburgh? Or do they extend a run that’s seen them average 93 wins the past three seasons?rob: I believe either the Pirates or Cardinals will get to 90 wins and probably snag a Wild Card spot. The Pirates are about as likely as the Cards, with a similar “benefit of the doubt” narrative surrounding them. As one of the most visibly sabermetric teams in the game (between ground balls, shifting, their health monitoring, etc.) it’s plausible to me that they’ll defy the projections slightly. If they do have a secret, I think it relates to their health, which has been notably better than other teams the last few years.craigjedwards: On the position-player side, they have a lot of talent, particularly in the outfield. Pitching-wise, Gerrit Cole and Francisco Liriano make for a very good one-two punch, though the rest of the rotation is not great. But if there’s a new magic-beans narrative going around, it’s in Pittsburgh, with Ray Searage getting unforeseen performances out of his pitchers. Juan Nicasio might be the beneficiary of that this season.rob: And they may not even need those kinds of secret advantages. This is a solid roster featuring one of the best players in the game — Andrew McCutchen — and a true ace in Cole. It’s also remarkably even across the board: Not a single lineup spot is projected to be below replacement-level, according to Baseball Prospectus.craigjedwards: But like you said, Rob, health is the key. The Pirates face the same problem as many teams in a similar financial situation: a lack of depth. If injuries force them to rely on reinforcements, it’s difficult to see them repeating the success of the past few seasons.rob: I agree, they are hurting for depth. You could easily see this team collapsing with only a few DL trips.neil: And even if they turn out OK in that department and make the playoffs, I’m not sure that fanbase can take another defeat in the Wild Card game.rob: Unfortunately, there’s a decent chance that’s exactly what will happen.neil: Again?rob: The wild card is a cruel mistress.craigjedwards: Pittsburgh got a bit unlucky being forced to go against Jake Arrieta last season, but Cole is also a good guy to have for a one-game playoff. The NL Wild Card could see another great pitching duel when you look at the aces who could be featured: Cole, Arrieta, Matt Harvey, Max Scherzer, Madison Bumgarner, Clayton Kershaw, Adam Wainwright.rob: With the Cubs and Cardinals as competition, it’s hard to see the Pirates capturing the division (although it’s possible). It’s easier to see them putting up another solid 92-win season, landing the Wild Card, and facing one of those pitchers in a do-or-die game. At that point, it’s basically a coin flip, one the Pirates have lost a couple of times running now.craigjedwards: So they are probably due? That’s how coin flips work, right?rob: For the collective sanity of Pittsburgh’s residents, I hope so. neil: And now comes the time when we have to talk about the dregs of this division. Who should we discuss first, Brewers or Reds? Both were awful last season, though PECOTA actually sees Milwaukee vaguely edging in the direction of .500 this year.rob: The Brewers are kind of fun because they are obviously experimenting, and they’ve made some great moves this offseason in that direction.craigjedwards: They also aren’t tied down with as many long-term contracts as Cincinnati. It’s part of why Milwaukee seems to have the slightly brighter long-term future, if that counts for anything.neil: The Brewers even have the ninth-best farm system in MLB, per Baseball America.craigjedwards: The big question for them will be, “When will they trade Jonathan Lucroy, and how much will they get for him?”neil: And, “how much has Lucroy’s framing value gone down these past few years?”rob: A huge question with Lucroy is whether his framing went down or if everyone else’s went up. (This applies to Molina as well.) If the league as a whole improved at pitch framing, then guys like those two — who used to be leaps and bounds better than everyone else — will look like they’re declining. It even matters for Lucroy’s trade prospects, because if it’s a matter of him declining, then he could go back up. But if the league’s catchers all rose to his level, there’s not much prospect for improvement.craigjedwards: How much of an effect injuries might have had is another question that I don’t believe we can answer at this point. But even without the framing, he hits well for a catcher and is in a team-friendly contract over the next two seasons, so he should still be a good asset for the Brewers to flip and improve their farm system even more.rob: However, outside of Lucroy (and maybe Ryan Braun), the Brewers have a ho-hum, strikeout-prone lineup and an unimpressive rotation. They aren’t going to be very good this year.craigjedwards: Milwaukee looked like it was on the Oakland A’s track of trying to never rebuild, but after the team squandered a division lead in 2014, the bottom fell out last season and it was time for a major rebuild.neil: Rebuilding usually means promising youngsters. Anybody to keep an eye on this year?craigjedwards: Orlando Arcia. He’s their shortstop of the future with Segura gone.And to Rob’s earlier point about experimenting with players, Keon Broxton and Domingo Santana are the type of guys you try out when you know you have no hope of contending. They could easily disappoint, but there are no bad long-term ramifications if they can’t hack it in the majors.rob: “Hack” being the operative word; Santana had a contact rate of 67 percent last year. But yeah, there’s nothing to lose on high-variability players — Rymer Liriano also comes to mind — and a lot to gain, so they’re correct to invest in them.craigjedwards: If they hit on a couple of these guys, it could really help the team’s long-term outlook.rob: Right, this is a year where they feel out some of those young guys and see who can contribute to the next competitive Brewers team. Ben Lindbergh joins the Hot Takedown podcast to preview the 2016 MLB season. More: Apple Podcasts | ESPN App | RSS | Embed Pittsburgh Pirates read more

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102012Phillies.640.776+.136 72005Pirates.650.803+.153 10Jeff SamardzijaGiants9873-25 Nelson was awful last season, but he’s striking out more than two extra batters per nine innings this year — and walking two fewer — in part by ditching his lousy sinker. For his part, Anderson was nearly as bad as Nelson last year; his 2017 tonic has been a drastic reduction in homers allowed, from 1.7 per 9 to 0.7.Needless to say, neither is likely to be so lights-out going forward. But of the two, Nelson seems more likely to hold on to his gains (he has the better peripherals and is allowing softer contact). And for now, the Brewers have two of the best pitchers in baseball — completely out of the blue. It’s one of the biggest reasons why the Brew Crew are above .500 and a game up on the Cubs for the top slot in the NL Central, after being projected in preseason for a fourth-place finish. Just call them the anti-Mets.Check out our latest MLB predictions. 13Sean ManaeaAthletics9877-21 Source: FanGraphs When a previously solid hitting team (such as the Blue Jays, whose 2016 OPS was 1 percent better than average) suffers a poor April and bounces back in May, they usually deserve the benefit of the doubt. In a regression predicting each team’s rest-of-season performance based on its OPS in the first two months and its OPS the previous year4Again, using data since 2002., April is the least predictive. Performance in May and the previous year combined to carry about three times as much relative importance5According to the “lmg” (Lindeman, Merenda and Gold) function in R’s “relaimpo” package.. Also of particular note for an elderly roster such as the Toronto’s: Age was not significant in the prediction after controlling for a team’s various OPS splits.This isn’t to say a poor April means nothing. The Jays’ projected rest-of-season OPS would be 14 points higher if they’d hit in April like they did in 2016 as a whole. (That’s the difference between having the fifth-best offense in MLB and merely the 10th best.) But in conjunction with the lineup’s May recovery, it was more a blip on the radar than a sign of impending collapse.Now for the bad news, Toronto. A poor April record can sink a team’s playoff chances, even if it doesn’t represent their true talent level. Since MLB added the extra wild card in 2012, the worst April record by an eventual postseason team was 7-14 (.333), by the 2015 Texas Rangers. By comparison, Toronto’s April record was a full game worse, at 8-17 (.320). Of course, some of that is chalked up to the fact that teams with playoff-caliber talent don’t tend to suffer such rough starts, but it also speaks to the challenge posed by falling so far down the standings, so quickly. Even if every game were a coin-flip from May onward, the Jays’ April record dropped their playoff odds from 33 percent in preseason to 10 percent after one month.They’ve since risen to 21 percent under “coin flip mode” — or higher, if you account for the talent on Toronto’s roster. But any way you cut it, a team that boasts one of baseball’s top 10 or so most talented rosters will probably find itself outside the playoffs at season’s end. And if that does happen, they can look back and blame it the extra month of spring training that Toronto decided to take in 2017.Milwaukee’s dynamic duoEarlier this week, we detailed the horror show in Queens, formerly known as the Mets’ pitching staff. The Mets entered the season with several pitchers who they thought were aces, only to see a historic decline in 2017. The Milwaukee Brewers are enjoying the opposite scenario: Several pitchers who looked like liabilities before the season have transformed into elite starters (for now).Specifically, each of the two hurlers who’ve reduced their fielding independent pitching (FIP)6Relative to the league, so using FIP-. most between 2016 and ’17 wear Milwaukee uniforms: Jimmy Nelson and Chase Anderson. (These numbers are through the games of June 5; Nelson and Anderson have both made — and won — starts since.) Less than a month into the season, the Toronto Blue Jays seemed as good as dead. Toronto had 17 losses against only six victories (the worst record in baseball), was getting outscored by 1.1 runs per game and found itself threatening franchise records for April offensive futility. The Jays had enjoyed a handful of good seasons in recent years, but with such putrid stats — and the second-oldest roster in baseball — the party appeared to be coming to an ugly, abrupt conclusion.Then, just like that, the Jays started winning ballgames again. It started with two straight victories to close out April, followed by a .500 record in the first week of May. (Baby steps!) Then they got legitimately hot: Seven wins in an eight-game span as the month neared its midway point. And, after another brief mid-month hiccup (losing five of six), eight wins over the final nine games of May. Toronto was hitting again, pitching pretty well and clawing its way back into an absurdly stacked division race.Baseball can be a strange sport in that way, with hot and cold streaks coming and going without warning. So when a team has such a mercurial start to a season, how do we know which version is the genuine article? Toronto is hoping it’s the one from May, and history has good news — that’s more likely than it being the awful edition that showed up in April. But even so, one poor month may have buried the Jays in too deep a hole to escape.It’s hard to be much colder than Toronto’s hitters were in April. Out of the 480 MLB team-seasons since 2002,1The earliest season of monthly splits in FanGraphs’ splits leaderboard tool. the Blue Jays’ .645 April on-base plus slugging percentage (OPS) ranked 30th worst; it also represented the seventh-biggest April dip from a team’s previous full-season OPS, down 110 points as it was from Toronto’s .755 OPS showing at the plate in 2016. Although perennial-MVP-candidate third baseman Josh Donaldson was in and out of the lineup with a leg injury, his absence wasn’t the only explanation for Toronto’s struggles. Starting shortstop Troy Tulowitzki hit poorly when healthy,2Only adding to his disappointing record since donning a Jays uniform two years ago. aging sluggers Jose Bautista and Kendrys Morales looked well past their primes and second baseman Devon Travis was the worst regular batter in baseball.The Jays’ improvement at the plate in May was even more remarkable than their April slump. Since 2002, only two teams — the 2015 Texas Rangers and 2003 Detroit Tigers — improved their OPS as much from May to April as this year’s Jays did.3For all the good it did those Tigers; they still finished with 43 wins, the second-fewest of any team in the 162-game era. And it was their worst hitters from April who caught fire most when the calendar flipped: Bautista’s OPS leapt from .554 to 1.055, Morales’s from .667 to .930 and, most remarkably, Travis’s from .388 to 1.019 (!). Only the surging Houston Astros had a better month at the plate than Toronto did in May. 42007Tigers.727.888+.161 9Zack GreinkeDiamondbacks9974-25 6Luis PerdomoPadres11891-27 FIELDING INDEPENDENT PITCHING MINUS YEARTEAMAPRILMAYDIFFERENCE The biggest April-to-May OPS increases since 2002 22003Tigers.512.688+.177 PITCHERTEAMNEW TEAM?20162017DIFF. Includes pitchers with a minimum 100 innings per 162 team games in both seasons. Stats for 2017 through June 5.Source: FanGraphs 92004Expos.552.691+.139 8Josh TomlinIndians11488-26 12Sonny GrayAthletics11291-21 3Taijuan WalkerDiamondbacks✓12081-39 2Chase AndersonBrewers11878-40 5James PaxtonMariners6734-33 32017Blue Jays.645.809+.164 14Michael FulmerTigers8869-19 15Ivan NovaPirates✓9678-18 62004Yankees.723.877+.153 4Chris SaleRed Sox✓7943-36 82002Angels.684.836+.152 1Jimmy NelsonBrewers11970-49 11Dallas KeuchelAstros9271-21 52010Reds.713.873+.161 ON-BASE PLUS SLUGGING AVERAGE The most improved pitchers of 2017 7Chris ArcherRays9266-26 12015Rangers.611.797+.186 read more

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Aroldis Chapman walked into the visitor’s dugout Monday at Huntington Park a few hours before a game against the Columbus Clippers with a toothpick in his mouth and a gold chain around his neck. Behind the smile and glamorous appearance is a 22-year-old man trying to find his way into major league baseball and American culture.  Chapman left Cuba on July 1, 2009. He left his mother, father, two sisters, girlfriend and newborn child behind to pursue his dream of pitching in the major leagues. At 21 years old, Chapman was thrust into a new world surrounded by a language he did not know and a culture he did not understand.  Before coming to the United States, he petitioned major league baseball to become a free agent. After much hype and demand for the Cuban phenomenon, the Cincinnati Reds signed Chapman to a six-year, $30.25 million deal on Jan. 10, 2010. When spring training began, Chapman hoped to make the major league club in Cincinnati, but after a back injury hindered his progress for a couple of days, the Reds decided to send Chapman down to their AAA-affiliate, the Louisville Bats.  His demotion to the minors has not deterred him. “I would have liked to break into camp with the team, but being here has made me happy as well,” said Chapman, who has trainer Tomas Vera translate his Spanish to English. “I am happy here and I know I have to work and make the adjustments on all my pitches.” While Chapman works in the minors to develop his pitching skills, he is slowly learning the details of American baseball. “For example, we had our first game in Toledo,” said Rick Sweet, Louisville’s manager. “He wanted to know who we played the next day. He didn’t understand that we play the same team four days in a row. We gave him a schedule, which told him we go to this city, and each city has its own team.” Sweet acknowledged that Chapman is a work in progress. “He handles [pressure] very well,” Sweet said. “He needs to learn the game of baseball, our style. It is different. We need a ton of work on the fundamentals because I don’t think they’ve done that in Cuba. He’s got a lot to learn and he’s handling it well.” American major league baseball is fundamentally and organizationally different from Cuban baseball.  The Cuban season is only 90 games. In the minor leagues, the Louisville Bats are scheduled to play 143 games, and all major league teams play 162 games. This means that Chapman has to prepare to make anywhere from 10 to 15 more starts than usual. In a league that has grown more conservative with pitch counts and innings pitched, Chapman does not seem worried. “I don’t have any concerns about my conditioning,” Chapman said. “I have been preparing really well. I have been working hard and I don’t want to have any problems. I know this is a long season, but I know I will be ready and OK.” Chapman, along with Washington Nationals prospect Stephen Strasburg, has been the focus of much media attention. Both pitchers have been clocked at over 100 mph on multiple occasions, and their potential and talent level is comparable. But, as Strasburg can just concentrate on baseball, Chapman needs to learn fundamentals as well as understand the American way of life. “The hardest part [in America] has been off-the-field things,” Chapman said. “I have to be able to adapt and I am going through that. Baseball has been normal for me. I have more problems adapting outside [baseball]. There has been a lot of stuff to learn.” Though Chapman will have to battle off-the-field perplexities, he shouldn’t have a problem transferring his previous pitching success to America. In his professional debut on Sunday, Chapman pitched 4 2/3 innings, giving up one unearned run, while striking out nine batters. In addition, the stadium radar gun showed he hit 100 mph five times.  “I don’t know if I have seen that total in my career,” Sweet said. While integrating himself into American society has been difficult, Chapman feels this is the right thing to do. The only problem is that it comes at a personal price.  “I feel great. I am playing on the best baseball [stage] in the world,” Chapman said. “This is what I really want and that makes me feel gracious and happy, but the day I will be completely happy is when I have my family with me.” read more

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