June 15, 2024

The Giants have been on a tear; there’s more to the Jorge López story

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More info has emerged on the Jorge López situation. Plus: scoring is down, the Giants are fun, we dip our toe into defensive metrics and the Baseball Card of the Week! I’m Levi Weaver, here with Ken Rosenthal — welcome to The Windup!

Context for Jorge López’s actions

Yesterday, we led with more Mets madness: Reliever Jorge López was ejected, threw his glove into the stands, and was promptly designated for assignment. I meant what I said — the Mets have been a magnet for “this can’t be real” stories for years. The Mets!

But as more information emerges, I think it’s important to consider López’s angle. Let’s start with the clarification from López and his agency explaining that he intended only to criticize himself, not the Mets.

I have no idea if this is true or damage control, but as someone who, as a teenager, accidentally told a group of Spanish-speaking kids that I had a dozen “hijos” (children) — I meant “primos” (cousins) — I’m inclined to give López the benefit of the doubt about an interview done in English, his second language.

But the more pertinent information today comes from a 2022 Baltimore Sun article by Andy Kostka. It tells the story of López’s son Mikael, who has spent much of his life hospitalized, suffering from autoimmune disorders. Yesterday, Awful Announcing posted a video in which broadcaster Boomer Esiason said he had learned that Mikael was awaiting a transplant.

Assuming Esiason’s information is accurate, does that excuse López throwing his glove into the stands? Unpopular opinion: I think it might? He wasn’t violent; he didn’t throw anything dangerous. Given the new information, it sounds like he had a horrible day, an umpire escalated it and his emotions spiraled.

It demands a definition of the line between “excusable” and “understandable,” at least. Frankly, that sounds like a situation in which a team should have available resources to help, rather than make an example of a player — it wouldn’t be unprecedented.

True: playing big-league ball is a privilege; players are expected to endure immense pressure, and perform at the highest level. But it appears there was more going on here. The Mets might be a punchline, but I don’t think López should be.

Ken’s Notebook: The run-scoring struggle is real

From my latest notes column:

If your favorite team is struggling to score runs, rest assured it is not alone. In the second season of rules changes designed in part to boost offense, the run-scoring environment is pretty much the same as it was in 2022, the year before the changes took effect.

Why? Good question.

Through Memorial Day, the strikeout rate through the same number of games in 2023 had dropped from 22.7 to 22.3 percent, a seemingly encouraging sign. The batting average on balls in play, however, had dropped 10 points, from .297 to .287. And according to The Athletic’s Eno Sarris, pulled Barrels were traveling three feet less than they did last season, tied for the lowest distance (378 feet) since the Statcast era began in 2015.

The weather might be part of this. The average game temperature in April dropped from 63.5 degrees in 2023 to 62.9 in 2024. Then again, May has been warmer than it was a year ago; the average game temperature rose from 68.8 to 70.2. So the weather variances would figure to balance out.

Is it possible teams adjusted to the limits on defensive shifts by better positioning their infielders within the requirement that two must remain on either side of the second-base bag? Sure. The reduction in BABIP also could be partly the result of better defensive positioning in the outfield, where there are no restrictions.

In 2022, before the league implemented the new rules, Russell A. Carleton wrote in Baseball Prospectus that positioning in the outfield was even more effective at run suppression than in the infield. “The effects of better outfielder positioning are four times as powerful at taking away hits,” Carleton said. “More than that, not everyone gets shifted, but everyone hits fly balls. Better, data-driven, outfielder positioning is taking away far more hits than the infield shift.”

The sample is small. The downturn in offense probably is not attributable to one factor. But the situation bears watching. If the limits on shifts and rules to boost stolen bases aren’t having the intended effect, the league might need to explore other ways to satisfy its desire to increase offense.

The Giants have been very entertaining

OK, it’s overdue. We have to talk about the Giants.

On May 14, San Francisco was 19-25, sitting in fourth place in the NL West, a full 10 games behind the Dodgers. What’s happened since?

Oh, just a 10-3 stretch, with four extra-innings games. Two of the three losses didn’t happen until the final at-bat. Even Wednesday’s 6-1 loss featured a little drama, as benches briefly cleared.

In the process, they leapfrogged the D-Backs and (by one percentage point) the Padres into second place, and climbed to within 5 1/2 games in the division before Wednesday’s loss. (They’re now 6 1/2 games back.)

In the meantime, there were numerous defensive gemsexciting comebacks, and contributions from their younger players.

I could go on, but Grant Brisbee already wrote a way more entertaining and thorough review earlier this week, which I highly recommend.

More Giants: Oh, you think the Dodgers are throwing a lot of sinkers? Ahem.

Diving into Fielding Run Value

To wrap this series, I wanted to get into at least one fielding stat, because they can be very confusing! One example: on FanGraphs advanced fielding leaderboards for shortstops, Elly De La Cruz is ranked dead last in UZR (Ultimate Zone Rating) at minus-4.9, with Gunnar Henderson in first, at 5.5.

But if we arrange it by “Def,” De La Cruz (5.2) is the sixth-best shortstop, with Bobby Witt Jr. ranking first (9.1) and Henderson below De La Cruz, in eighth (4.2).

You can read more here about UZR and the factors contributing to the difference between UZR and Def (short version: two months isn’t a big enough sample), but let’s add another one: Fielding Run Value over on Baseball Savant.

Like UZR and Def on FanGraphs, Fielding Run Value combines several other defensive stats into one stat that attempts to give a simple-to-understand number. Like UZR and Def, Fielding Run Value is a “counting” stat, rather than a percentage stat (think home runs, not batting average).

Per Baseball Savant:

  • Outs Above Average (range): 1 out = .9 run (OF) // 1 out = .75 run (IF)
  • Fielder Throwing Runs: 1 run = 1 run
  • Catcher blocking: 1 block saved = .25 run (available 2018-pres).
  • Catcher framing: 1 strike saved = .125 run
  • Catcher throwing: 1 SB prevented = .65 run

As of last night, your league leader in Fielding Run Value is Marcus Semien of the Rangers (9). Does that make him the best defender in the league? Remember: it’s a “counting” stat, so let’s take a look at how many innings Semien has played.

It’s 478 — 21st-most in the league. It’s a lot, but not so many that it discredits his lead. He’s good!

Baseball Card of the Week

It’s probably nostalgia, but I’ve always loved the simplicity of the 1989 Topps design. As for Pete Incaviglia, perhaps you’ve heard of his rule? Oh yeah, there’s a whole rule. Players couldn’t be traded within a year of being drafted (the rule changed in 2015). Inky did that.

Handshakes and High Fives

With the Negro Leagues stats being included in the official MLB register, Jayson Stark asks a really great question: so how many no-hitters did Satchel Paige throw, anyway?

Tyler Kepner’s Sliders column starts with Ryne Sandberg and ends with Hank Aaron on Happy Days.

While the Astros battle rotation injuries, there’s some good news: Hunter Brown and Spencer Arrighetti appear to be figuring things out in a big way.

Eno Sarris digs in on five pitchers who could benefit from recent changes to their arsenals.

We have new City Connects — check out the new “night mode” digs by the [squints at photo] TornadoTomat — ohhh wait, no, that says Toronto.

You can buy tickets to every MLB game here.

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(Top photo of Tyler Fitzgerald: Ezra Shaw / Getty Images)