Exploring the Crossover Effect

– The K Zone –

Exploring the Crossover Effect, by Ian Joffe

February 25th, 2019

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It is a well documented fact that Joey Votto is one of my favorite baseball players. I wrote my very first opinion article about how good he really was, and I have drafted him in fantasy baseball for several years in a row. However, this year my seemingly everlasting love for the Red’s first baseman hit a snag. Votto’s home run power plummeted in 2018 to 12 total bombs, his lowest full-season total ever, yet he did that despite maintaining his regularly high average exit velocity (88.1 mph) and launch angle (13.3 degrees). His line drive rate (31.4%) also remained exceptional. My first thought was that Votto was having a lot of near misses, balls were hit hard but died on the warning track. But, the Statcast data contested that theory too, as his barrel rate of only 6.7% matched his low home run total.

So, Votto had his normal high average exit velocity and strong launch angle, yet he was rarely getting barrels, which is defined as combination of the two. My theory became that he was still hitting balls hard and still hitting balls high, but in 2018 those types of hits did not coincide on the same at-bats. He had a lot of soft flyouts, and a lot of hard groundouts, but few well-hit balls angled for the stands. At first thought, one would think those two events — hitting balls hard, and hitting balls high — are independent. In other words, doing one does not make the other more likely on any specified at-bat. If this were the case, then Votto would be a victim of bad luck. One could expect his hard hits to coincide with his high hits at a normal rate again next season, and we can imagine 2018’s lack of intertwined hard and high hits like a low BABIP, where it will regress towards a mean. However, it is also possible that the two events are dependent, and that certain types of players are better at doing both at once than others. In that case, it is possible that Votto has experienced a legitimate decline in his skill level.

To test whether the events were independent or not, I examined data from 332 hitters that had at least 150 balls in play in 2018. The goal was to examine how often their hard hits and high hits actually coincided, versus how often they should have coincided, and to test whether those numbers differed by a reasonable margin. For this study, I looked at a statistic that I am calling crossover (CR), which is defined by a baseball hit with at least 99 mph of exit velocity and at least 22 degrees of launch angle. It’s similar to barrels, but a little less complicated. Barrels did not work for my purpose because their required launch angle differs based on exit velocity. The numbers 99 and 22 are admittedly somewhat arbitrary, but were decided upon by looking at where distribution of home runs started to accelerate. Crossover rate, or CR%, is defined as crossovers divided by crossover opportunities. A crossover opportunity, in turn, is the sum of a players hard hit balls and high hit balls, minus crossovers (so that crossovers only count for one at bat). The league average CR% was 13.1%, and Joey Gallo led the league with a 43.7%, although that number is over 10 points higher than the next best, which is Tyler Austin at 32.5%. From there, a right-skewed distribution starts:

dist

Next, I made a formula to determine the expected crossover rate of every player based on their hard hit rate and high hit rate. A player’s total expected crossovers (xCR) is the product of his hard hit rate and his high hit rate, times his number of ball in play. To find expected crossover rate (xCR%), put xCR over the sum of hits and high hits minus xCR, like with experimental CR%. My final statistic was CRd, or crossover differential. CRd is defined as CR% minus xCR%, times 100 (to make it more readable). A positive CRd indicates that a player had more crossovers than expected, and a lower, negative CRd indicates that a player had fewer crossovers than expected. A CRd of 0.0 means that the player’s crossover rate is the same as the expected number. Here is the distribution of CRd:

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Interestingly, the league average value was -2.3. The league leader in CRd was, once again, Joey Gallo with an astronomical 18.1, with Tyler Austin next at 10.5. After Austin came a new name, Matt Joyce, at 10.4. At the bottom of the charts was Yuli Gurriel, at -13.0, followed by Jose Bautista at -12.6.

The next step was to determine if having a higher CRd than expected meant that a player was lucky, or meant that a player was skilled. To do this, I analyzed how consistent CRd was between two halves. If a player’s first half CRd was predictive of the second half, it could be legitimate skill. If it was not, CRd is due to luck. Here is the scatter plot comparing the two halves for players who had sufficient balls in play in each:

scatter

From that plot, is looks like there is a very significant correlation between crossover differentials in each half. The statistics would back your eye test up, as the graph produces a resounding r value of 0.51 and a P-Value just over 10^-12, meaning the probability of crossover differential being entirely luck is, for all intents and purposes, zero. In fact, this makes crossover rate seem like even more of a controllable, intentional skill than the extreme peripheral of hard hit rate itself, which has an r value of 0.33.

If half-to-half correlation is strong, I would expect the year-to-year correlation to be even stronger, due to the larger sample. My assumption was correct:

scatter2

This chart churned out a correlation coefficient of 0.61 and another near-zero P-value. Interestingly, there was a lot less variation in 2017 than 2018, and no extreme upper outliers. I can’t explain exactly why that is, but I can confirm that players like Gallo, who led the league in 2018, also did so in 2017, just with a lower overall number. To build on the case of the high stability of CRd, look at how close most players’ 2018 numbers were to their 2017:

Change in CRd (In Either Direction) Percent Frequency
0-1 24%
1-2 22%
2-3 14%
3-4 15%
4-5 9%
5+ 16%

 

Almost a quarter of individuals differ by less than one percentage point between two years of tracking this statistic. 60% of players will deviate in CRd by less than 3 percentage points between two seasons. That’s a very low deviation between years, especially compared to very volatile statistics like batting average. To be honest, these results are the opposite of what I expected. I thought that hard hits and high hits would be independent of one another, and that differentiation would be up to luck. I thought that the statistic would regress to a league average, not a career average. But, it appears that my initial hypothesis was wrong. CRd is a very stable peripheral that is grounded heavily in the skill to do two important things at the same time.

Let’s get back to my friend Joey Votto. My original expectation was that he was getting unlucky by having his hard hits and high hits fall on different at-bats. I was wrong for two reasons. First, crossover rate is not up to luck. Second, his 2018 CR% was actually higher than his xCR%, 16.6% to 12.2%, so, even if it were luck, that would not explain his drop in power. Instead, we have to look at Votto’s case through what we do know: that crossover differential is based in skill, meaning if a player keeps the same skills, they should keep a similar CRd. Votto dropped 3.37 points in CRd between 2017 and 2018, from 7.68 to 4.31. That’s puts him in the bottom 20% of the league in CRd, which is a convincing argument that he has legitimately down-skilled. Votto is still an incredibly valuable MLB and fantasy asset due to OBP alone, but he is 35 years old, and I sadly must admit that it’s possible we will never see his old power totals again. In fact, based on what I have found in this article, I would not bet that he will hit for power again.

I used this set of stats to analyze Joey Votto, but you could, of course, just as easily apply it to any player. For your convenience, I have taken all the statistics invented for this article and written them into the following Google Sheet files:
2018 Stats
2017 Stats
Stats Glossary

Enjoy!

 

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Sources:
Baseball Savant
Fangraphs
Baseball Reference
MLB.com

Photographs Attributed to:
US Presswire
MLB.com

Los Angeles Dodgers Offseason Outlook: After Another Disappointing World Series Loss, What Can Dodgers Fans Expect?

By Aaron Heyman 2/19/19

With the MLB offseason in full swing, the goals of certain teams are starting to be revealed. The New York Yankees seem to be going on a shopping spree, whereas the Seattle Mariners are committed to a full tear down. However, the Los Angeles Dodgers are yet to answer questions about their motives. After completing a trade in December that sent Yasiel Puig, Matt Kemp, Alex Wood, And Kyle Farmer and cash to the Cincinnati Reds in exchange for Homer Bailey and two prospects (Jeter Downs and Josiah Gray), one free agent came to mind for Dodger fans: Bryce Harper. It made a lot of sense, clearing out cap space by getting rid of Matt Kemp’s contract and eventually releasing Homer Bailey’s, and making more room in the roster for a potential outfielder.

However, even after clearing up cap space, the Dodgers still only have about $30 million available. While that is a lot of money, it may not be enough to sign Bryce Harper to a mega-deal worth more than $300 million. Additionally, the Dodgers recently signed veteran outfielder AJ Pollock, who was a major part of the Arizona Diamondbacks’ great record to begin the season, before he dealt with a long term injury. Even though Pollock is no Bryce Harper, he serves as a very talented center fielder to add to the Dodgers’ dangerous lineup. The Dodgers may also move to the trade market, as adding two prospects from the Reds have given them possible trade capital. Rumors have surfaced earlier this offseason about potential trades for Cleveland Indians pitchers, whether it be Corey Kluber or Trevor Bauer. However, Spring Training is around the corner, and the window for trades is closing. With that in mind, there may be even greater plans in store, as a free agent signing may have been saved for next year when the contracts of David Freese, Rich Hill, and Hyun-Jin Ryu are set to expire. It makes sense, because Nolan Arenado, Paul Goldschmidt, Gerrit Cole, and Chris Sale are all free agents.

Even if the Dodgers don’t end up signing Bryce Harper, or if they cannot pull off a big trade, they still have a stacked roster to make another World Series push. The NL West is only getting weaker, and the overall competition in the National League is less impressive than the competition in the American League. However, the strength and performance of Corey Seager, who was out most of last year after undergoing Tommy John surgery this past May, is key in the Dodgers’ performance this year. If he is back to his full strength, the Dodgers lineup will be even more of a threat. And having utility players like Kike Hernandez and Chris Taylor, Cody Bellinger who can play center field along with Pollock, and young outfield prospect Alex Verdugo, there will still be plenty of outfield depth. The Dodgers are definitely approaching another contending season as an NL powerhouse, but do they need another big offseason move to get them over the hump, and bring home a World Series title to the city of Los Angeles?

Ballplayers: Bearded Or Baby-Faced?

By Jack Kennedy

Ever since Jayson Werth dawned his Chewbacca-esque beard, players have been growing them in droves. Players like Jake Arrieta and Jose Bautista come to mind when I think of those with the most powerful facial hair in the game, but does it matter in terms of ability? Does having a beard make you better at hitting a baseball? 

In order for someone to answer that, they would have to look over nearly every MLB team’s active roster and handpick the important stats for comparison, but who has that kind of time? Lucky for you, I do. After spending a strenuous seven hours looking through major league players, I have determined the average stats, both regular and advanced, that each group of hitters produces. (maybe determining pitching stats will come later?) For qualification, I considered the size of the beard… and that’s basically it. If you have to look at it and think “does this count as facial hair?” the answer is no. Let me put it this way…

Khris Davis:

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No.

Yuli Gurriel:

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Yes.

If it looks like it’s just a weird shadow or possibly leftover food, then no. If it looks like a high schooler doing his best, I’ll give it to ‘em.

Now that we have the very rigid qualifications out of the way, let’s get into some speculation. Personally, as a bearded individual myself, I believe that having a beard will marginally improve one’s play. My theory goes beyond personal bias. Those with facial hair have more testosterone, and the thicker the hair the more the testosterone.  Because testosterone is associated with muscle growth and even competitive nature, it would not be far fetched to assume that facial hair as a result of more testosterone would lead to a more driven and athletic ball player. While obviously, nearly all ballplayers can grow a beard, the ones who truly embrace it are the subjects of my test. Below I have compiled the results of my findings. 

Bearded Players

 

Clean Shaven Players

For the most part, it’s about even between the two, but the clean-shaven players have a slight advantage in games played, home runs, RBIs, runs, and a decently substantial advantage in WAR coming in .3 above their bearded peers. The averages table breaks down below:

GP BA OBP SLG HR RBI’s Runs wOBA WAR
Bearded 95.51 0.2442 0.3124 0.409 11.878 44.989 42.474 0.3271 1.3323
Clean Shaven 101.65 0.2425 0.3163 0.402 13.080 52.878 45.424 0.3198 1.6070

However, this does not tell a complete story due to a 6 game difference in games played. Because of this, it is important to factor in the stats for a full season over 162 games:

GP HR RBI’s Runs WAR
Bearded 162 20.1472 76.3058 72.0399 2.252
Clean Shaven 162 20.8455 84.2676 72.3881 2.561

While there is still an advantage in RBI’s, the other season-long stats seem to normalize themselves a lot closer to each other, and the two types of hitters seem to be a lot closer in value until you get to WAR. In terms of WAR, there is still a large lead for the clean-shaven players. While conventional numbers show they are roughly the same an entire .3 lead in WAR is enough for me to say that players who are clean-shaven are in fact better ball players. 

So yes, contrary to my original opinion and hope, having a beard most certainly hinders one’s ability to play baseball, and K Zone Creator Mike Duffy says, “That’s why the Yankees always win,” although maybe the reason the clean-shaven players had an advantage is that the Yankees players are shaven and due to the level of talent they have they skew the data. Perhaps maybe bearded players are more precise in the way they carry out their daily lives, and baseball is a precision sport, but this is difficult to speculate on. It may be impossible to determine the reason for the advantage, but either way I know I will be shaving before my season starts.

 

How MLB Teams Got Their Names: NL Central

The K Zone News

A Series by Maddie Marriott and Mike Duffy

Installment #3 by Maddie Marriott

January 24th, 2019

Your favorite series is back and better than ever with its third installment.  If you’re new to this series, check out the first two installments here: AL West and AL Central. In this series, we take a look at what makes a team who they are: their name.  Today we’ll be checking out the five teams in the NL Central Division: The Chicago Cubs, the Cincinnati Reds, the Milwaukee Brewers, the Pittsburgh Pirates, and the St. Louis Cardinals.

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The Chicago Cubs

The organization now known as the Cubs started out as the Chicago White Stockings.  Interestingly enough, there is no relationship between this team and the current White Sox- today’s White Sox took the name after this organization dropped it in 1889.  I’ve also read that the team wore shoes of “white goatskin,” which doesn’t really scream “baseball uniform” to me, but I guess the late 1800s was a weird time for fashion, as evidenced by the huge dresses and weird hats.  Anyway, that name stuck until 1889, when the team became known as the Colts due to the young ages of their players.  They were called the Colts until 1897, when they became known as the Orphans for a short time after Cap Ansen left the team, leaving them without a manager.

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The Cubs that Chicago fans know and love were known by that name starting in 1902.  The name was first used by a newspaper journalist, again the result of the youth of the team, as well as their new manager, Frank Selee.  Some still used their previous names, but the short and sweet “Cubs” caught on rather quickly, and by 1907, it was the official name of the team.

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The Cincinnati Reds

Cincinnati teams have been known as the Red Stockings since professional baseball originated in the city in 1869.  We all know how baseball players feel about their socks, so I bet you can guess where this name came from.  This specific Red Stockings organization formed in 1882, and they quickly became known as the Reds, the shortened name being placed on uniforms by 1911.

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The Reds changed things up for a while in the 1950s to make sure they wouldn’t be associated with Communism.  During a time when everyone thought everyone else was a secret Communist thanks to Senator McCarthy of Wisconsin, Cincinnati took steps to ensure that baseball, the most American of activities, would not come under any suspicion from the government.  From 1953 to 1961, Cincinnati’s baseball team was known as the Redlegs, a small but important distinction. Interestingly enough, the team kept the large “C’ in their logo during the so-called Red Scare until 1955, which, although seemingly inconsequential now, would have probably been enough to arouse suspicion at the time.

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The Milwaukee Brewers

The franchise now known as the Brewers was born in Seattle as the Pilots in 1969.  The Pilots derived their name from Seattle’s history with William Boeing, aviation pioneer who founded the Boeing Company in 1916.  The Boeing Airplane Company was soon a staple of the Pacific Northwest, including the city of Seattle, and came to dominate industry in the region.

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After a single unsuccessful season in Seattle, the team came under new ownership and moved to Milwaukee. Breweries were a big deal in Milwaukee at the time, so like many other teams, the Brewers were named after their new city’s leading industry.

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The Pittsburgh Pirates

The Pirates’ name actually stems from a battle of the Pennsylvania teams, at the time known as the Pittsburgh Alleghenys (I know, I don’t like that spelling either) and the Philadelphia Athletics.  For those of the readers that are not great with geography, Pittsburgh’s original name, the Alleghenys, is a reference to their stadium’s location in what was then known as Allegheny City and the Allegheny River that runs through Western Pennsylvania.

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After the 1890 season when a few Alleghenys left the team to join a Pittsburgh franchise in a different league, the team signed several players from their rival, the Philadelphia Athletics.  The Athletics were not happy, to say the least, referring to the Alleghenys actions as “piratical.” The nickname stuck and many referred to the team as the “Pirates” starting during the 1891 season.  By the time they reached their first World Series in 1903, they were formally known by the Pirates, which has a much nicer ring to it than Alleghenys.

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The St. Louis Cardinals

If I had a dollar for every time socks showed up in one of the articles in this series, I’d have enough money to buy my own franchise and give it a more creative name.  Professional baseball started out in St. Louis as the Brown Stockings, named after their brown socks.  The impeccably named Brown Stockings had a rough year in 1898, going 39-111 and losing their stadium to a fire.  (Side note: their owner was also kidnapped for outstanding debts, but I think that’s a story for another time.) Looking for a fresh start, they went with the Perfectos.  Shoot for the stars, I guess.

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Under new ownership, the team was looking for yet another rebrand since Perfectos was, as Aimee Levitt put it, “sort of lame.” The official story of the Cardinals’ name says that a reporter, William McHale, overheard a woman in the stands at one of the Perfectos’ games commenting on the beautiful “cardinal” shade of the players’ uniforms.  He used that name in his column, and the city approved.  The name was widely used by the players and fans alike by the end of the 1900 season.  The bird in the logo was not adopted until the 1920s.

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If you like this series and want to see more installments, let us know in the comments or on any of our social media accounts.  You can follow The K Zone News on Twitter here, or on Instagram here.

If you want to read more of my writing, my articles about Sixto Sánchez, Odúbel Herrera, and The 2018 NL Cy Young Race are linked here.  Check out all of the great content the K Zone News has to offer in the Article Index. The links to the first two articles in this series are in the first paragraph of this article and can also be found in the Article Index.

All credit for images goes to original owners.

Sources:

How the Cubs Got Their Name

http://chicago.cubs.mlb.com/chc/history/timeline.jsp

How Each MLB Team Got Its Name (National League)

http://www.espn.com/blog/sweetspot/post/_/id/56756/tbt-when-the-reds-became-redlegs

http://www.historylink.org/File/8023

The Only Major League Baseball Team to Go Bankrupt: The Story of the Seattle Pilots

https://www.post-gazette.com/sports/pirates/2013/10/03/Let-s-Learn-From-the-Past-How-the-Pirates-got-their-name/stories/201310030085

https://www.mlb.com/cardinals/history/timeline

https://www.riverfronttimes.com/newsblog/2011/10/21/ever-wonder-how-the-cardinals-got-their-name

 

 

The Mysterious Case of Ryan Schimpf

– The K Zone –

schimpf
Source: https://www.talkingchop.com/2018/3/5/17082090/who-ryan-schimpf-what-does-he-offer-braves-atlanta-mlb

January 22, 2019

The Mysterious Case of Ryan Schimpf by Mojo Hill

By now, most hardcore baseball fans have heard about Joey Gallo and how he is already having one of the strangest MLB careers of all time. Gallo, the man who has more career home runs than singles and has a career batting line of .203/.317/.498. No other qualified player in the history of baseball has ever had an average under .205 while maintaining an OPS over .600. And not only is his OPS above .600, but it’s actually a very good .815. And he does it with a 38% strikeout rate. Amazing. And Gallo, who has one of the highest fly ball rates in baseball, has never hit a sac fly. Hard to believe, right?

I present to you the man, the myth, the legend: the one and only Ryan Schimpf, who would probably have a lot to talk about if he were to have lunch with Joey Gallo. Schimpf is a lot like Gallo, but arguably even more extreme. In case you’ve never heard of Schimpf, allow me to enlighten you.

Unlike Gallo, Schimpf is not an everyday MLB player, which is why he is not known nearly as well and doesn’t have as many MLB plate appearances. But Schimpf’s sample size is still large enough (534 plate appearances) that we can have some fun looking at the numbers.

Schimpf made his MLB debut for the Padres in 2016 after spending seven years in the Blue Jays organization. When San Diego called him up for the first time at the age of 28, he was murdering Triple-A pitching to the tune of a monstrous 201 wRC+ and .373 ISO. And he hit well in his debut season, which turned out to be his most successful season to date (so far). Recording 330 plate appearances over 89 games, the second and third baseman batted .217/.336/.533, good for a 128 wRC+ and 2.5 fWAR.

Schimpf took a step back in 2017, playing 69 games in Triple-A with a 98 wRC+ and 53 games for the Padres, where he hit .158/.284/.424.

After 2017, Schimpf was shuffled around a bit. After being traded to the Rays in the offseason for minor league shortstop Deion Tansel, he was designated for assignment and traded to Braves for cash in early March. Then on March 31, he was traded again, this time to the Angels for catcher Carlos Perez.

Schimpf only played five games for the Angels last year, going 1-5 with two walks and a home run. He was released in May after hitting a very underwhelming .178/.288/.355 in 30 games for the Salt Lake City Bees.

What fascinates me is how his value is being perceived by Major League clubs. Clearly, they are not very high on this guy. He had a solid minor league track record for the Blue Jays, yet they never promoted him to the big leagues. It took a monstrous season for the El Paso Chihuahuas for the Padres to finally give him his chance at age 28. He’s been thrown around in multiple trades, and each time he’s essentially been traded for peanuts or just straight up released.

Do teams not realize just how valuable Schimpf is and can be? As mentioned earlier, he accrued 2.5 fWAR in just 330 plate appearances. His career batting line through 534 games is .195/.318/.496. Yes, the average is low. But the OBP, aided by a 13.3% walk rate, is acceptable, along with a massive .496 SLG.

In fact, among all hitters in MLB history with at least 500 plate appearances, Schimpf’s .300 ISO is the foruth best of all time, behind only Babe Ruth, Mark McGwire, and Barry Bonds.

Think about that. He’s hit for more power on a rate basis than sluggers such as David OrtizAlex Rodriguez, and Mickey Mantle, just to name a few. He may not put the ball in play often, but man when he does, he hits it really, really hard. Hey, and you know who’s fifth on that list? Joey Gallo, of course.

Despite his obvious flaws, Schimpf is a valuable hitter. The walks and power make up for the low average and high strikeout rate, just like in the case of Gallo. Gallo’s career wRC+ is 109, and the Rangers have granted him a starting role over the last two seasons. In each of those seasons, he’s hit for a 121 and 110 wRC+, respectively, with exactly 2.8 fWAR in each year. Schimpf’s wRC+ is 114, and he even has more defensive value being a second and third baseman as opposed to Gallo, who the Rangers announced will no longer be playing third base and will stick to first base going forward. Yet Schimpf can’t find a Major League job, and Gallo can.

Some teams will look at the .195 batting average and shudder. But come on. We’re in 2019 now. This new age of analytics has taught us that batting average is a mostly meaningless tool in terms of evaluating a player’s actual offensive production and value. Getting on base and hitting for power, and Schimpf does both those things in spite of his low average. The Rangers have accepted and even embraced this three-true-outcomes characteristic with Gallo, and it’s about time for other teams to realize the same with Schimpf.

schimpf3
Source: https://www.gaslampball.com/2017/6/9/15773368/padres-option-third-baseman-ryan-schimpf-call-up-rhp-jose-valdez-bullpen-help

Now, there are some things going against Schimpf. He is already 30 years old, as opposed to Gallo who is still just 25. Schimpf took forever to receive a promotion to the Majors, and despite a solid fifth round selection, was never regarded that highly as a prospect. He’s simply someone that scouts have doubted for his entire career because of all the strikeouts and pop-ups.

And in today’s day and age, when players are hitting home runs and striking out more than ever, guys with power and not much else aren’t being valued that highly since power has become a more common skill around the league. This is especially true for the one-dimensional first base/DH types, who are struggling to even get Major League deals at this point. While Schimpf isn’t a great defender by any means, he does at least play a passable second and third base, which boosts his value a little bit. But even in this new age of analytics when people are starting to look beyond batting average to value hitters (as they should), Schimpf’s one-dimensional toolset as well as his age and lack of fanfare are hurting him.

Still, he’s a 30-year-old infielder with pop, so he definitely has some baseball left in him and I would be stunned if he didn’t pick up at least a minor league deal.

Oh, and one last fun (or depressing) tidbit about Schimpf. Schimpf is the proud owner of one of the worst Spring Training performances in MLB history. Before the 2018 season while he was playing for a spot on the Braves’ Opening Day roster, he went 0-30 with a whopping 19 strikeouts. Yep, you read that correctly. Wow. Maybe that’s why teams don’t like him.

Seriously, though, Schimpf is a baseball player with undeniable flaws in his game, but also some admirable qualities that I think are being severely undervalued by teams. I don’t think teams realize just how much power he actually has. And with his value at a low point right now, I believe that any MLB team should be willing to give him a look on a low-risk minor league contract, especially a team in need of quality infield depth.

Thanks for reading! If you enjoyed this article, you might want to check out my analysis of Austin Barnes, or if you like interviews, Mike has plenty of those. You can also follow us on Twitter and Instagram for updates on when we publish a new article or interview.  You can also follow me on Twitter.

 

How MLB Teams Got Their Names: AL Central

The K Zone

A Series by Maddie Marriott and Mike Duffy

Installment #2 by Maddie Marriott

January 9, 2019

Welcome back to your favorite series: How MLB Teams Got Their Names! (*crowd roars*) If you haven’t checked out our first article about the AL West, you can read it here. This series explores the origins of one of a team’s most important distinctions: its name. Today we’ll be looking at…drum roll please…the AL Central! We’ll look at the origins of the names of the Cleveland Indians, the Detroit Tigers, the Chicago White Sox, the Kansas City Royals, and the Minnesota Twins.

AL-Central-4-26

The Cleveland Indians

Probably the most controversial of the MLB names, “Indians” has an interesting and somewhat unclear history.  The team joined the AL in 1901, originally known as the Bluebirds, but often shortened to the Blues, for their all-blue uniforms. The players were certainly not fans of this name and after one season they were renamed the Bronchos, a less common spelling of Broncos, after the wild horse.  That name only lasted a year, as  the team was called the “Naps” from 1903-1914 after Napoleon Lajoie, a player-manager for the team. After Lajoie left Cleveland for Philadelphia, the organization wanted a new name.

Lajoie_Nap_1505-68WT_HS_PD-Conlon

There is some debate over the true reason behind Cleveland choosing the name “Indians.” They claim it was chosen to honor Louis Sockalexis, the first recognized Native American in the league. Sockalexis played for the Cleveland Spiders from 1897-1899. Unrelated but interesting fact, the 1899 Cleveland Spiders were one of the worst teams, if not the worst, in MLB history, with an abysmal record of 20-134.

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After taking a look at the way other players talked about Sockalexis, I have some doubts the name had anything to do with honoring him. His teammate and Cleveland Hall of Fame player Jesse Burkett once said “I haven’t hit over .100 since he [Sockalexis] joined the team […] Wait till I strike my gait and I will make him go back to the woods and look for a few scalps.” There are lots of other quotes like that one and general stories about the racism Sockalexis endured in this article, also linked at the bottom of this page.

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Another way to interpret the name choice of the team is not as nice to think about, but in my opinion, the more likely scenario. The name “Indians” provided Cleveland with an opportunity to capitalize on countless race-based jokes, cliches, and images that would promote the team. This is certainly not the only questionable team name in major league sports (I’m looking at you, Redskins). I’ll let you decide for yourselves which is the real reason behind the name, and if it’s time for Cleveland to switch things up.

The Detroit Tigers

Okay, I’m just gonna say it: Major League Baseball is weirdly obsessed with socks. The fact that this article has multiple stories about socks is just strange. Anyway, we’ll get to the first of many sock references in this series in a minute. Detroit’s MLB legacy began in 1881 with the Detroit Wolverines. Some dispute that this name came specifically from the University of Michigan Wolverines name, but it certainly comes from Michigan’s nickname as “The Wolverine State.” The Wolverines remained until 1888 when they were forced to disband due to the low population of Detroit at the time.

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Surprise! Professional baseball is back for good in Detroit in 1896. There are two stories describing how the name “Tigers” came to be, and only one has to do with socks. The first story is unofficial, but some believe the name comes from the black and orange (or brown) stockings the team wore. I found some conflicting information about this story, as the name was penned in 1896, but the Tigers didn’t officially wear black and orange socks until the 1920s. You know what they say: Which came first, the team name or the matching socks?

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The official story of the Tigers team name comes from the Civil War. The name was chosen to honor the Detroit Light Guard, a military group said to have fought with the “ferocity of the jungle beast.” The Light Guard was held in high esteem in the city of Detroit and some sources confirm the blue color of their uniforms comes from the color of the Union uniform.

The Chicago White Sox

The organization that would come to be known as the White Sox started out as the Sioux City Cornhuskers in Iowa in 1894. Iowa is the corn capital of the US, so that name basically explains itself.

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After one year, the team was sold and moved to St. Paul, where they became known as the St. Paul Saints. Information on this team is particularly difficult to find because of the St. Paul Saints organization that still exists today, but all evidence seems to point to the fact that the team was simply named after the city.

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The team moved to Chicago in 1900 and took on the name “White Stockings” after, you guessed it, their classic white stockings. The name officially became “White Sox” in 1904, and has remained the same ever since. Apparently, it was common slang in the early 1900s to substitute “x” for “cks.”

The Kansas City Royals

If you read the last article in this series about the AL West, you’ll remember that the Athletics made a brief stop in Kansas City before moving out to Oakland after the 1967 season. MLB gave one of the four expansion teams set to begin play in 1969 to the newly vacant Kansas City.

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The origin you’re probably thinking for the team name is incorrect, because the Royals are named after good old-fashioned cows. The American Royal was a livestock show held yearly in Missouri beginning in 1899. This name was chosen to honor the enormous livestock industry that powered Missouri at the time after it was submitted in a name-the-team contest.

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The Minnesota Twins

The Twins were born out of the already existent Washington Senators in 1961. Eagle-eyed readers might notice that the same can be said for the Texas Rangers from my previous article. This move from Washington to Minneapolis occurred ten years before the next incarnation of the Senators team moved out of D.C. and to Arlington. I’ll admit, as a Phillies fan, it brings me an unreasonable amount of happiness knowing Washington D.C. had two failed franchises in ten years, even if it was almost sixty years ago.

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The Twins are named after Minneapolis and St. Paul, the “twin cities” in Upper Midwest Minnesota. This name gives a sense of identity to fans from St. Paul, even though their city didn’t make it in the team’s name.

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If you want us to continue this series, let us know in the comments or on any of our social media accounts. Once again, the first installment is linked here. You can find The K Zone on Twitter or on Instagram.

If you want to check out some more of my writing, my articles about Sixto Sánchez, Odúbel Herrera, and the 2018 NL Cy Young Race are all linked here.  Check out all of The K Zone’s great content in the Article Index.

All credit for images goes to original owners.

Sources:

https://www.cleveland.com/tribe/index.ssf/2018/01/why_are_the_cleveland_indians_1.html

http://sportsecyclopedia.com/nl/clev99/spiders.html

https://mlb.nbcsports.com/2014/03/18/the-cleveland-indians-louis-sockalexis-and-the-name/

Detroit Tigers: Why Are the Tigers the Tigers?

https://www.britannica.com/topic/Chicago-White-Sox

http://kansascity.royals.mlb.com/kc/history/timeline.jsp

https://www.npr.org/2014/10/21/357859480/don-t-let-history-of-kansas-city-royals-name-steer-you-wrong

https://www.mlb.com/twins/history/timeline-1960s

 

How MLB Teams Got Their Names: AL West

The K Zone News

A Series by Mike Duffy and Maddie Marriott

Installment #1 by Maddie Marriott

January 2nd, 2019

A team’s name is a vital part of its identity. The name shapes almost everything about the team’s image, including merchandise, uniforms, and their beloved mascot. While names can share a similar importance across the league, how each team got its name is quite different. Whether it’s from the origin of their players or the staple of the city, the origin of each MLB team’s name is uniquely interesting.

In this article, we’ll take a look at the origin of the names of AL West teams: The Houston Astros, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, the Oakland Athletics, the Seattle Mariners, and the Texas Rangers.

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The Houston Astros

Houston’s baseball team was originally called the Colt .45’s when they were founded as an expansion team in 1962. This name came about after the owners of the new team hosted a name-the-team competition that allowed people of the city to submit their own ideas for the name of the first Texas baseball team. Colt .45, a gun used in the fight for the American West, won out because of its historical significance to the city. William Neder, the man who submitted the winning name, wrote, “The Colt .45 won the west and we will win the National League.”

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The Colt .45’s changed their name to the Astros in 1965 to represent the huge aeronautics and space industry in the city. Houston, at the time called Space City U.S.A., was the center of aeronautics activity in the United States. The spring training headquarters for the team was even located at the Cape Kennedy Launching Pad. Furthermore, the front office hoped that the name change would get rid of the stigma that Texas was a land of “cowboys and Indians” and help bring the team and the city into the 20th century.

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The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

The history of the “Los Angeles” team name is…complicated to say the least.  The name “Angels” came from the city’s former Pacific Coast League (PCL) team. “Angels” has stuck as the team name, but the city name in front (and behind) has changed multiple times. They started out playing in Los Angeles, sharing a stadium with the Dodgers, also from Los Angeles. The team moved out of that stadium and into Anaheim Stadium in 1966. They then appropriately changed their name to the California Angels. Thirty years later, the team was renamed the Anaheim Angels after the city put in an additional thirty million dollars to the renovation of their stadium.

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Unfortunately, the name changes didn’t end there. In 2003, The Walt Disney corporation sold the Angels to Arte Moreno. Two years later, in 2005, it was announced that the team would be renamed “The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.” Yep, that’s two cities in there. People everywhere were confused, and the people of both Anaheim and Los Angeles were upset.  Moreno claimed the name change was part of a marketing plan to extend the Angels’ fanbase into urban Los Angeles. The people of Anaheim felt cheated, especially since the city had paid for the stadium about a decade earlier. The city of Anaheim sued with the support of Los Angeles to keep the name from changing, but eventually lost the case, and the mouthful of a name has remained ever since.

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The Oakland Athletics

The Oakland Athletics started out in 1901 as the Philadelphia Athletics. They were named after the Athletic Baseball Club of Philadelphia, a local organization founded in 1859. The Athletics remained in Philadelphia until 1954 when they moved to Kansas City.  Just thirteen years later, in 1968, the club moved to Oakland. The name “Athletics” is often shortened to “A’s” which can be found on much of the team’s merchandise and some of their uniforms. The name has been called the “oldest name in baseball.”

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The Seattle Mariners

The Mariners were actually not the first Seattle-based baseball team. The Seattle Pilots were formed in 1968, but after one unsuccessful season, the owners sold the team to a Milwaukee car dealer who moved the team to his home town. After the state’s attorney general filed a lawsuit against the league for failing to field a team in Seattle as promised, new teams were created in Seattle and Toronto.

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The Seattle Mariners were created as an expansion team in 1977. Once again, a name-the-team contest was held to pick a name for the team. The name “Mariners” was submitted by multiple fans, the most compelling argument being, “I’ve selected Mariners because of the natural association between the sea and Seattle and her people, who have been challenged and rewarded by it.”

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The Texas Rangers

The organization originally began as the Washington (D.C.) Senators in 1961. After a noticeable lack of success in the number of seasons after their creation, low attendance and therefore, low revenue, contributed to poor play. The team relocated to Arlington, Texas after the 1971 season.

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After the move, the team needed a new name. “Rangers” was chosen by team owner Robert Short, honoring the Texas Rangers Division, a Texas-born law enforcement agency founded in 1823. The agency was originally founded to track down and punish a band of Native Americans, but evolved into the state police force.

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If you want The K Zone to continue this series, let us know in the comments or on any of our social media platforms. You can follow us here on Twitter, or here on Instagram.

If you want to check out more of my writing, click here to find my articles about the 2018 NL Cy Young Race, Sixto Sánchez, and Odubel Herrera.  You can check out all of the content on the K Zone here.

All credit for images goes to original owners.

Sources:

https://tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/xoh08

https://astrostalk.wordpress.com/2012/12/12/whats-in-the-astros-name/

https://www.fangraphs.com/tht/the-absurd-history-of-the-los-angeles-angels-of-anaheim/

http://www.phillyvintagebaseball.org/about/

Seattle Mariners Team History

http://www.historylink.org/File/9560

https://tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/met04

 

 

 

Gavin Garay: Elevating People Around

-The K Zone-

January 1st 2018

Gavin Garay

Interview by Mike Duffy


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Photo by Ed Delany

Mike Duffy: When did you know you wanted to play professional baseball?

Gavin Garay: It was always a dream of mine but it became real around my junior year of high school when I committed to college.


Mike Duffy: Who was your favorite player growing up?

Gavin Garay: Derek Jeter.


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Mike Duffy: What team were you the biggest fan of growing up?

Gavin Garay:  The New York Yankees.


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Mike Duffy: What is it like being apart of the Mets Organization?

Gavin Garay:  It’s awesome. A dream come true being from New York and play by for a NY team.


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Mike Duffy: What is your favorite baseball memory?

Gavin Garay:  My favorite baseball memory is either being drafted or high School baseball playoffs.


Mike Duffy: Do you have a motto or a thing to do to get you out of a rough time?

Gavin Garay:  Just try to stay positive and reach out to the people closest to me for advice!


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Mike Duffy: What is your favorite book?

Gavin Garay: My favorite book is either Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook by Gary Vaynerchuk or The Compound Effect by Darren Hardy.


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Mike Duffy: What is your favorite movie?

Gavin Garay: Favorite movie is probably 12 Strong.


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Mike Duffy: What is your favorite Tv show?

Gavin Garay: Game Of Thrones no doubt.


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Mike Duffy: Who is your favorite Musician and what’s your favorite song?

Gavin Garay: Eminem and don’t really have a favorite maybe 20/20 by logic.


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Mike Duffy: What is your favorite hobby besides baseball?

Gavin Garay: I love to hunt and fish as well as self educating, working out, and building my business Elevate which is a clothing brand.


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Mike Duffy: What inspired you to create Elevate clothing?

Gavin Garay: It’s always been a vision of mine and always something I wanted to do. When I got drafted I was able to put it into motion and start building it. Always have wanted to help motivate people and empower people to chase there dreams.


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