Your thoughts on these developments Papelbon?
2016 MLB thread. Baseball is upon us! Royals are the champs - Page 439
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Pirates’ Defensive Shifts: The Hidden Secret Behind Baseball’s Best Team
It’s Saturday in Pittsburgh, a hot but tolerable 76-degree evening with a late sunset. Tonight, a full PNC Park will watch Dan Fox beat Rickie Weeks at baseball.
Dan Fox is 45 years old, tall but hardly wiry, bald and framed by Oakley glasses. His former internet baseball column was named after physicist Erwin Schrödinger and his Xbox gamertag is inspired by a work of John Milton.
Rickie Weeks is 30, shorter than average height but featuring bulging biceps that swing a heavy bat. He is a former All-Star for the Milwaukee Brewers and college baseball player of the year, and his dreadlocks add some weight to his 215-pound frame.
Though Weeks enters the game with a .400 average in the month of June, Fox has orchestrated the plan that will cool Weeks’ hot streak. After Weeks draws a six-pitch walk, he hits two ground balls to Pittsburgh shortstop Jordy Mercer and a pop fly to left fielder Starling Marte to end his 8-game hitting streak.
The Brewers lose to Fox’s Pirates 2-1, making them the first Pittsburgh team to get to 50 wins before the month of July. He put the ball in play, but Weeks had simply been out-Foxed.
Why Shift a Defense?
Fox, the Pirates’ director of baseball systems development, and quantitative analyst Mike Fitzgerald are the minds behind a defensive scheme that has pulled MLB’s most alignment shifts in baseball on balls in play (according to Baseball Info Solutions) and turned the most batted balls into outs. The Pirates have adopted Fox’s plan gradually over the last three years, and now the results are evident for the defense that is MLB’s second-best team at preventing runs this year.
“Our willingness to be more aggressive in optimizing our positioning has definitely been one of many factors,” Fox says. “I definitely think it’s helped.”
Let’s take this back to basics: A baseball team gets to put 9 players out on defense. The spots for the pitcher and catcher are largely fixed, but the seven other players have been placed in the spots teams believe can best cover the two acres of grass and dirt and three bases on the field. Over the years, those players have converted about 70 percent of their plays into outs.
How do you improve that? You look at where the batters hit the baseballs your defense is trying to grab and throw. Today, we have data that tells us where and how hard the batters are hitting the ball, where the pitchers give up their ground balls fly balls and the best way to defend those balls to throw out the batter before he can reach base.
See how the Pirates aligned the defense for right-hander Rickie Weeks, then hover over the image to see how it changed for left-hander Juan Francisco.
Look at Juan Francisco’s spray chart, especially the ground balls in green, to see why the Pirates put three infielders on the right side.
Given all that, Fox says, it is only logical to align a team’s defense batter by batter based on where that player hits the ball most often. Dramatic shifts include putting three infielders between first and second base for left-handed pull hitters like David Ortiz and Adrian Gonzalez. Less noticeable shifts include fading Neil Walker further up the middle or having Pedro Alvarez stay close to third base to prevent a double down the line. Thestyle of the pitcher on the mound can also change where defenders line up, and coaches will even change the alignment for a batter from at-bat to at-bat.
Fox doesn’t even like to call them “shifts,” as it implies a change from what is normal. Fox wants the fielders to consider the formation normal and logical even if it’s not typical.
“You want them to be thinking ‘This is our normal positioning. This is where I’m supposed to be. I’m not out of position. I am perfectly in position because that’s where the ball is going,’” Fox says.
Instilling and Installing New Ideas
How did Fox implement the system that helped catapult the Pirates from the National League’s worst fielding team (67% of balls into outs, 76 runs below average) to one of the league’s best fielding teams (72% of balls into outs, 31 runs above average)? Very gradually. Fox’s team provides the information to Pirates manager Clint Hurdle, third base coach Nick Leyva and minor league managers. The coaches then communicate to the players, often with visuals like spray charts of batted balls, about the benefits of shifting positions based on the hitter.
“We’ve definitely been more aggressive. The numbers don’t lie,” Leyva says. “And to this point we’ve been pretty successful, so they’re buying into it more on a daily basis.”
The results have been strong in defensive efficiency, turning batted balls into outs, from the minors to the majors.
- Pittsburgh Pirates: 1st of 30 teams
- Indianapolis Indians: 1st of 14 teams
- Altoona Curve: 2nd of 12 teams
- Bradenton Marauders: 5th of 12 teams
- West Virginia Power: 5th of 14 teams
“We just go play a position, line up where we do,” says Josh Harrison, in the Pirates organization since 2010. “It doesn’t really affect us as much as the pitchers.”
“That’s the opposite of what I said,” responds pitcher Bryan Morris with a laugh.
“Really?” replies Harrison. “For us, yeah it felt weird because we are so used to playing a certain area, but it works both ways. There may be a few hits given up, and we’re like, ‘Dang, if I would have played here I could have gotten it.’ But regardless of where we line up, we still have to throw the ball.”
How Much Shifts Help
Harrison introduces a good point: players and fans can be frustrated by the balls that go past where a fielder normally lines up because he has been shifted to another spot. Those glaring hits are offset, and more, by the extra outs fielders get with the optimized positioning. Since 2007, MLB teams have shifted more and converted 1 extra ball out of 100 into an out.
Since Fox and Co. started to implement the new defensive system in earnest in 2011, and expanded it since, the defense has gotten better and better at preventing hits and runs. Over the last four seasons, the Pirates have improved dramatically from their spot at the bottom of most fielding metrics.
- 2010: -77 runs saved, -57.7 UZR, 67.1% batted balls into outs, 449 plays made out of the zone
- 2011: -29 runs saved, -18.2 UZR, 68.4% batted balls into outs, 496 plays made out of the zone
- 2012: -25 runs saved, 0.4 UZR, 69.7% batted balls into outs, 492 plays made out of the zone
- 2013: 31 runs saved, 13.4 UZR, 71.7% balls in play into outs, 576 plays made out of the zone (projected)
Proper credit must be given to the fielders themselves, especially the improvements made by second baseman Neil Walker and third baseman Pedro Alvarez, plus the addition of elite defensive left fielder Starling Marte. The correlation between more aggressive shifting and better defensive play is strong, though. Coach Leyva sees it every day.
“Instead of having to dive for a ball, if they’re sitting in front of it. It makes a whole lot of difference,” Leyva says. “[Our fielders have] good range, but when we do it by position and put them in the right spot, it increases their range.”
The Pirates pulled more shifts in the first half of 2013 than in the last two full seasons combined. According to Baseball Info Solutions, the team has saved five extra runs using defensive shifts (as many runs as Neil Walker’s hitting has been worth above an average MLB second baseman), but BIS analyst Ben Jedlovec says the true gain is even higher.
“I think it goes well beyond the five runs that we’re citing there,” Jedlovec says. “The Pirates are getting better at making subtle positioning changes… You can take a guy like [Pedro Alvarez], put him in the right spots, and that can make up for a lot of shortcomings agility-wise.”
Pirates’ pitchers have benefited most from the infield shifts, especially ground-ball-generating starters Jeff Locke, A.J. Burnett and Jeanmar Gomez. Giving up a lot of grounders means not giving up home runs (the Pittsburgh staff has the 3rd-lowest homer rate in the NL) or other extra-base hits, but it only works if the infield can field the ground balls. With the shifts and range of Walker, Jordy Mercer and Clint Barmes, the Pirates’infield has been one of the five most efficient in baseball in addition to the outfield being top five.
Pirates general manager Neal Huntington says run prevention starts on the mound, and Bucs’ pitchers have allowed the fewest hard-hit balls in the Majors, according to ESPN’s Mark Simon. The next step, though, is the quality of the fielder and where he is positioned, with Huntington adding that his team has been more aggressive this year with changing typical positioning.
“We do feel there’s certainly been dividends,” Huntington says. “There’s been that four-hopper rolled that’s rolled through an open hole where a [fielder] is conventionally positioned, but there’s been a number of time where there’s been a ball smashed up the middle and there’s Neil Walker.”
You have to watch closely to see the benefits of the Pirates’ plan; it does not leap off the screen. Pittsburgh has had the fewest Web Gems appearing on ESPN’s Baseball Tonight this year. Fielding percentage often only considers errors on plays where a fielder is in a spot and doesn’t grab the ball. Good positioning allows a fielder to start closer to where the ball ends up, likely reducing the chances for flashy diving or running plays.
The Pirates’ fielders have made the second-most plays in baseball (294) “out of zone,” meaning outside the areas on the field in which an average player is able to catch a ball half the time. The first-place team is the Milwaukee Brewers, a team run by shift-endorsing manager Ron Roenicke.
“It helps a lot. More and more teams are starting to do it,” Roenicke says. “And it makes sense. If you can get them in the right spot and the pitching staff throws it in the right location for you, it’s a big advantage.”
The advantage was in the Pirates’ favor through 81 games. Fox doesn’t predict the Bucs will lead the Majors in defensive efficiency the rest of the season (“Any time you are first in anything, there is going to be some regression”), but Jedlovec from Baseball Info Solutions says good defensive stats in the first half are still solid predictors of good defense in the second half.
Get Inside Their Heads
One other effect the defensive shift can have is the old-fashioned mind game. Not only can regular shifting on a pull hitter reduce his batting average by about 30 points, seeing hard-hit balls fall into the glove of a third baseman who is in right field can get under a hitter’s skin. It certainly did for Yankees’ slugger Mark Teixeira when he hit left-handed.
“It can change their approach,” Jedlovec says. ”Teixeira came out and said ‘I’m going to start raining down bunt… I’m gonna fool ‘em. I’m gonna make them stop shifting against me.’ You can tell it threw him off the first half of the season.”
It’s all about comfort level. Pirates’ fielders were uncomfortable at first moving from their normal spots on the field, sometimes to the opposite side of a base. But as they adapted and saw more balls fall into their gloves, they bought in.
“It was a little different, playing in different spots,” says shortstop Jordy Mercer, drafted by the Pirates in 2008. “Now I believe it. We do scouting report, see where guys hit the ball and where pitchers throw.”
Now the Pirates are comfortable moving from spot to spot on the field. It’s the hitters who have not adjusted. In fact, today’s Major League Baseball may be heavier on pull hitters now than ever before.
“People pull the ball now. The ability to hit the ball the other way has really trended down,” Pirates manager Clint Hurdle says. “It’s more of a dinosaur than anything.”
Now even right-handed hitters like Rickie Weeks see fielders shift on him. He understands though, as his Brewers are just as aggressive with moving around defensively as the Pirates are.
“I think there’s a lot more people paying attention to scouting reports and where guys hit the ball,” Weeks says. “Sometimes you get beat by it, sometimes you don’t.”
A Changed Team
On that hot Saturday night, Weeks was beat by it. For all the frustrating ground balls that hitters Ryan Howard will dribble through an open side of the field, there are several less noticeable strengths of the shift. Walker fields a ball on the opposite side of second and throws out a runner hustling to first. Mercer is in the perfect spot for a one-hop ground ball. Or in the outfield, McCutchen is on the warning track within a couple seconds to take away a possible double.
What is different about this year’s Pirates? What will prevent a third-straight collapse from breaking the heart of a city that wants to trust its baseball team? Can the team keep winning for the fans that are beginning to fill PNC Park and give it new life? Will Fox’s strategy keep paying off?
“We’ll see how it goes,” Fox says.
Fox may not have a crystal ball, but he has a plan. And his plan has helped the Pirates become baseball’s run prevention machine.
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Funny how Papelbon waited until the Phils left town to "express his opinion"
I'm with you on marking that August series in my calendar.
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Was at the Nats game tonight, one of the most boring and lifeless games I've ever attended. The Nats offense is so bizarre...score 23 runs in two days and then 1 in the next 18 innings and the fireworks show after the game was as explosive as our offense was, I'm ******* vexed.
They haven't been scoring much besides the last couple games lately. At least you guys got the pitching
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Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Some teams view Garza warily, knowing that he was taken down by injury at the end of 2012 and at the outset of 2013. But as one AL official explained Wednesday, you have to assume that because Garza has so much at stake this year as a pitcher headed into the free-agent market, he will do everything possible to succeed. He has tens of millions of dollars at stake in the last half of the season -- and perhaps in October if his next team advances into the postseason.
Last year, the Cubs’ efforts to trade Garza were sabotaged when he got hurt. But this year, a dream scenario is developing for them: In a lukewarm market of starting pitchers, Garza has become The Target, because of how well he’s throwing and because of his history of pitching in the AL East and his past success.
Yesterday I took a look at the NL. Today, a rundown of where the AL teams stand, with just 27 days before the July 31 trade deadline:
They moved on Scott Feldman to ensure that they get somebody among the group of available starters, and in his first start for them Wednesday, he provided exactly what they paid for: six solid innings in a win against the White Sox.
The Orioles rank dead last in batting average from their designated hitters, at .205, and so they have some room for improvement, and some flexibility. I’ve thought (and this is pure speculation) that if the Phillies decided to move Chase Utley that there would be a perfect fit for him with the Orioles. He could play some second base, he could serve some in the DH role, and give them one more excellent grind-it-out hitter for an already deep lineup.
Boston Red Sox
Given the ongoing issues with Jon Lester and the injury concerns for Clay Buchholz, the Red Sox are not only believed to be a possible fit for bullpen help, but also for their rotation. Garza would be a great pickup, having earned his AL East stripes with Tampa Bay, and they have the minor league depth to do it, for sure -- but the Red Sox would have to weigh the acquisition cost for a player who would walk away at the end of this season. At this time of the year, relationships between general managers is such an incredibly important and underrated factor, and while Boston’s ownership may still bear a grudge against Theo Epstein, Red Sox GM Ben Cherington would certainly be in a unique position to negotiate with his old friends in the Cubs’ front office.
Chicago White Sox
Do you remember how the Cubs were so unlucky before last year’s trade deadline, with Ryan Dempster rejecting a deal to the Atlanta Braves and Garza getting hurt? Well, the same sort of thing has happened to Chicago: Jesse Crain was placed on the DL Wednesday with a shoulder strain, and they really can’t pinpoint an exact timetable for Jake Peavy’s return -- which means that their best chance to trade him may come when the waiver period begins in August.
Alex Rios has drawn interest from some teams, as one of the few attractive outfield options in the market, but his $12.5 million salary may tamp down some aggressiveness. One of the most-asked questions these days is: What happened to Alexei Ramirez’s power?
They went all-in during the winter, with the hiring of Terry Francona and the signings of Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn. Now that they’ve charged toward the top of the AL Central and appear poised for a second-half challenge of Detroit, rival execs expect they will continue to be aggressive in looking for help. They could use Garza, in theory, although they may have concerns about his health.
They are beginning to run out of time to add the type of bullpen piece that they need, and really, there aren’t a lot of great options, especially now that Crain has landed on the disabled list. The relief market is currently comprised of a lot of second-tier guys such as Kevin Gregg, Brandon Lyon and Joba Chamberlain.
They’ve got pieces available, according to rival officials, from reliever Jose Veras to starting pitcher Bud Norris, who has a more-than-respectable 3.22 ERA. The Astros have so few players well known to their followers that they will have to weigh the value of any offer for Norris against the value of his fan identification.
Kansas City Royals
They are sitting in no man’s land at the moment, five games out of first place in the AL Central -- not quite close enough to say they’re serious contenders, but not quite far enough away to say they’re out of it. If they decide to make a push, then a push for Utley would make a ton of sense. If they decide to sell off before the end of the month, then Ervin Santana would immediately become one of the most attractive starting pitchers in the market, with his 2.84 ERA.
Los Angeles Angels
They’re playing a lot better, and at 8 1/2 games out of first place they’re far too close to back off now. The perception among rival organizations is that the Angels don’t have much to offer from their farm system, so presumably, any upgrades would be on the smaller scale.
Teams are circling the Twins, waiting to see if they will ever decide to at least weigh offers for closer Glen Perkins, but to this point, they have been told: He is not available. If the Twins altered course and made him available, he would be at the center of perhaps the most aggressive bidding war of the trade deadline. The knee injury to Josh Willingham took him out of play, and while there is a lot of speculation about Justin Morneau’s availability, his high salary ($14 million), his history of concussions and his lack of home runs (four this season) would mitigate his trade value to the degree that the Twins would have to wonder if dealing him would be worthwhile.
New York Yankees
They’ll continue to monitor the market for minor acquisitions, such as Luis Cruz, whom they signed as a temp fill-in at shortstop Wednesday. But with Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez and Curtis Granderson all expected to rejoin the Yankees lineup by the end of this month, they aren’t really in position to buy aggressively, because they don’t know exactly what they need, and where they need it. And the folks within the team’s hierarchy must go through this reality check and ask: Is this a club that’s really good enough to invest in, or are we betting on a losing horse? Because it may be that the smart play is for the Yankees to hang onto their prospects and start preparing for 2014.
Because of the impending return of Michael Pineda, they are expected to weigh offers for Phil Hughes, who is headed into free agency in the fall and would be a perfect fit for the San Francisco Giants or Los Angeles Dodgers because his fly ball-inducing stuff fits their parks better. And they are very likely to trade Joba Chamberlain, who figures to be on the move to a team like Atlanta or Detroit.
They have asked around about relief depth, and about starting pitching, and it figures they will add somebody. But keep in mind that they have top prospect Sonny Gray in the minors, and Brett Anderson is expected back sometime in the second half. Garza would give Oakland exactly what it needs: A veteran starter who gives them some protection against second-half regression by Bartolo Colon (or a suspension, if he’s winds up getting nailed again, in the Biogenesis investigation).
But it’s not really the Athletics’ style to use assets to grab would-be free agents like Garza -- unless part of their rationale was to work to keep him away from Texas.
They are viewed as a potential source of pieces and parts by rivals, but for the Mariners, the issue of when to sell off is prickly. Kendrys Morales, who is eligible for free agency in the fall, could be an interesting DH option for a team such as the Orioles, Rays, Athletics or Rangers, although managers have increasingly liked using the flexibility provided by the DH position to rest regulars. He’d fit the Yankees, too, but again, the Yankees would have to weigh the acquisition cost against what they believe to be their actual chances for making the playoffs. Raul Ibanez and Michael Morse could also be a fit for those aforementioned teams, along with the Giants; Morse could be attractive to the Cincinnati Reds, if they develop doubts about Ryan Ludwick’s return.
Tampa Bay Rays
Their two biggest upgrades in the second half could turn out to be David Price, who returned to their rotation with a strong outing Tuesday, and Alex Cobb, who remains on the disabled list. Their offense continues to be a strength: They are sixth in the majors in runs.
They believe that Alexi Ogando is coming back to rejoin their rotation, and a best-case scenario for them would be for him to rejoin Yu Darvish, Derek Holland and Martin Perez to form a core of their rotation, with Nick Tepesch and Justin Grimm competing for the fifth spot. But they continue to look around for starting pitching, and Garza may be the only starter available in the market who represents a major, worthwhile upgrade over what they have.
They signed Manny Ramirez to a minor league deal Wednesday, and really, they have nothing to lose. He’s making a minimal amount of money in the minors, and if he climbs to the majors, he’ll earn a prorated portion of $500,000, without bonuses. If he doesn’t hit, or if he’s a problem in any way -- and the Rangers are confident that he won’t be a problem -- then they just cut him. If he hits well, they might have something.
The issue of whether he’s using performance-enhancing drugs is completely out of their hands. He’ll be tested under Major League Baseball’s program, and if he’s caught, well, that will be his third strike.
Toronto Blue Jays
After their mad rush toward the top of the standings, the Blue Jays have fallen back again, to 10 games behind the Red Sox. If they decide to sell off anybody the next 27 days, the pitcher who will be drawing a lot of attention is Josh Johnson, who had thrown the ball better right after being activated from the disabled list -- but has had a few rough starts since, including a loss to the Tigers Wednesday, when he made two errors.
NL trade deadline preview.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
No one doubts that Jake Arrieta is talented, and as the Orioles know from their experience with Chris Davis, sometimes it just takes longer for some players to blossom than others. Maybe that will happen with Arrieta now that he is with the Cubs, a team that continues to collect as much volume as possible, in the same way the Astros have.
There are more deals to come from the Cubs in the days ahead, with Kevin Gregg and Matt Garza replacing Feldman on their front burner. When David DeJesus returns from the disabled list later this month, the Cubs probably will assess the interest for him and Nate Schierholtz and trade one, but not both.
Beyond the Cubs, here is how the trade market is shaping up for the rest of the teams in the National League.
Aaron Hill just came back, and they remain hopeful that Adam Eaton will return sometime soon to the everyday lineup. Their trade-market focus is pitching: They have been among the teams talking about Gregg for bullpen help, and about Yovani Gallardo and others for their rotation.
The perception among rival officials is that they are open to moving left-hander Tyler Skaggs in a significant deal, but not Archie Bradley.
J.J. Putz has not looked good since returning from the disabled list.
They are looking for relief help, actively, at a time when the Cubs are actively marketing Gregg. Keep in mind that left-handed hitters are 6-for-48 against him this year (.125).
Cincinnati GM Walt Jocketty is known as a dabbler, someone who will test the temperature of the market very carefully before diving in. Cincinnati doesn’t have a glaring problem, given the overall strength of the rotation and the lineup, but could look to add bullpen depth.
They have hung in the Ricky Nolasco conversations, which may be resolved as soon as today, and rival executives say Colorado has been seeking relief help as well. No matter what they do, the Rockies’ moves figure to be measured: They won’t take on much money, and they won’t give up top prospects.
Los Angeles Dodgers
Even though a strong argument could be made that the first 14 months of the Guggenheim ownership might represent the most inefficient period of player personnel decisions in baseball history -- from the already outdated contract of Andre Ethier to the extraordinary overpayment in the trade with the Red Sox -- the Dodgers remain aggressive, prepared to make the biggest, boldest moves.
They’ll get another starting pitcher, whether it’s Nolasco later today or Cliff Lee if he becomes available, and if Carlos Marmol doesn’t work out, they’ll jump at somebody else. They’ll look for an infielder, perhaps someone like Michael Young. Yasiel Puig has helped to give them hope.
Nolasco probably will be the first to go, but some rival evaluators think that Miami will be at the center of the relief market, with Steve Cishek, Mike Dunn and Ryan Webb among the bullpen guys who could be on the move.
They have made it known they are open for business and are willing to discuss almost anyone, including Yovani Gallardo and relievers such as Francisco Rodriguez. But Gallardo -- who is making $7.75 million this year, and will make $11.25 million in 2014, leading up to a team option for 2015 -- is not helping his market value with his perfomance (4.78 ERA).
Rival evaluators are seeing increased effort in his delivery, rather than nice and easy velocity, and wonder if the Brewers might be better off waiting to see if Gallardo can bounce back in August or September to help their chances for decent trade return.
New York Mets
The cupboard is really thin. Rival evaluators don’t think they have much to offer beyond the core guys they won’t trade, and even if they did swap Marlon Byrd or Brandon Lyon, they probably wouldn’t get much in return.
Byrd is among the outfielders discussed by the Giants, and Lyon could be depth for a team such as the Red Sox, given his history of pitching for John Farrell. David Aardsma has thrown OK so far for the Mets.
Their ownership and front office have been searching to identify the tipping point: When is the right time to deal, and who are the right players to deal, in light of the upcoming TV contract negotiations and the inherent obligation to fans who’ve already bought tickets for the second half of this season?
The team is gradually making the decisions easier, because the Phillies are now 9 1/2 games out of first place in the NL East, and 8 games out in the wild-card race. Last year, there was hope that as players returned from the disabled list, the Phillies could climb back into the race, and in the final weeks, Philadelphia did make it interesting. But in 2013, there isn’t the same dynamic in play.
The Dodgers would love for the Phillies to market Lee, but that may never happen. There figures to be a conversation between the Phillies and Chase Utley to determine what his preferences are in the second half of this season. Jonathan Papelbon has been blowing saves of late, but overall, he’s still one of the best options in the relief market.
Only the Toronto Blue Jays have had to pitch in more bullpen innings than the Bucs, and as the Braves and Reds can attest from 2011, heavy relief use early in the season can lead to late-season problems. The Pirates are fully cognizant of all that, which is why Jason Grilli got a five-day mini-vacation last week.
The Pirates will monitor the relief market, but whatever they do will not complicate their long-term plans: They will likely work conservatively.
St. Louis Cardinals
They are one of the more intriguing teams in the market and in a power position, because if they decide at any point to get aggressive, they have the cache of prospects who could net them any player they target.
Shortstop Pete Kozma has a .590 OPS, which is third to last among shortstops qualified in the batting races, but it’s not as if there are a lot of strong alternatives available: Alexei Ramirez of the White Sox has one home run and an OPS of .660. And to put Kozma’s production in complete context, Elvis Andrus -- who just got paid in a big way -- has a lower OPS than Kozma, and two of the top offensive shortstops, Jhonny Peralta and Everth Cabrera, are being investigated in the Biogenesis scandal. There just aren’t many high-production shortstops these days.
The Cardinals talked about Asdrubal Cabrera in the offseason and maybe there would be some deal for the Indians to make -- for pitching -- that would aid Cleveland’s push for the AL Central title, but it’d be a very complicated midseason conversation.
If the Twins ever decide to market Glen Perkins, the Cardinals could be a great trade partner.
San Diego Padres
They could have an advantage in the Garza discussions with the Cubs, because Chicago GM Jed Hoyer and VP of scouting and player development Jason McLeod helped build the San Diego farm system when both were in San Diego.
But the Padres have to ask a very hard question before investing assets in Garza, who will either walk away as a free agent or require a significant contract: Are we for real? On one hand, the Padres are 2 1/2 games out of first place in the NL West, so they’re close enough to contend -- and on the other hand, they’re four games under .500 and not playing well. If they trade prospects for Garza, the effort could be wasted.
It may make more sense for San Diego to invest in a less costly pitcher than Garza, as it looks to augment the rotation.
San Francisco Giants
San Francisco is in a free fall, losing 22 of its past 33 games, and the Giants aren’t perceived to have a lot to deal. If and when they make trades, they’ll be looking to add players who will help them not only in 2013, but in 2014 as well.
As poorly as the rotation has performed, the Giants’ greatest need right now might be for a right-handed hitting outfielder, such as Alex Rios, to aid their desolate offense, which was no-hit by Homer Bailey Tuesday night.
The division is so packed that the Giants could move into first place in just a matter of a few days, but as of this morning, San Francisco is a last-place team.
Rival evaluators say they have talked about adding pitching depth, whether it be in their rotation or bullpen.
Tomorrow, we’ll run through the American League.
By the way: Evaluators liked the Feldman trade for the Orioles too, because rather than wait for some upper-echelon option to emerge, they aggressively worked to make sure they got some help.
Feldman is cheaper than Garza will be, and certainly less than a Lee will cost, but Orioles Manager Buck Showalter knows Feldman, given his Rangers background; he knows that as a ground ball pitcher, Feldman is going to be OK pitching in a bandbox home ballpark; and knows that can pitch out of the bullpen if necessary. And he’s having a good season (3.46 ERA).
Like every other team, the Orioles would love to have five 240-inning starting pitchers. But in lieu of that, Showalter seems comfortable setting up right-hander/left-hander tandems and taking advantage of the increasingly specialized platoons that are being used by a lot of managers. Last weekend, for example, when Joe Girardi started his right-handed lineup against T.J. McFarland, Showalter wound up pulling the lefty after just 2 2/3 innings and installing right-hander Kevin Gausman -- who buzzed through the lineup of right-handed hitters.
Breaking down the Feldman trade.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
The Orioles add a much-needed starting pitcher in Feldman, who has remade himself this year into a ground ball pitcher who rarely walks anyone, alleviating the problem of his modest strikeout rate. Playing in front of a strong defense in Baltimore, especially on the left side of the infield, should help him; his BABIP in Chicago of .255 was unsustainably low, but the regression shouldn't be so severe with J.J. Hardy and Manny Machado behind him.
Feldman gets good sink on his 89-91 mph fastball but also throws a ton of cutters at almost the same velocity, helping keep hitters from identifying either pitch too soon. His curveball is a clear third option, with most of his success coming on the fastball and cutter, and if there's a concern beyond the BABIP question, it's that he's a little vulnerable against right-handed power hitters, lacking a strong changeup to keep them off the fastball. The O's also get Clevenger, a capable backup catcher who probably ends up taking Taylor Teagarden's roster spot.
Arrieta has long underperformed his stuff thanks to below-average command and control, both of which deteriorated even further in his brief big league time this year. He'll sit 92-96 even as a starter, with a four-pitch mix featuring above-average breaking stuff but nothing that has ever played as a true out pitch for him, and there's some reason to think he might be better off in a late-game role where he can simplify the repertoire and just air out the fastball.
I expect the Cubs to try to work with him as a starter, to see if they can get similar improvements to the ones they've gotten from Jeff Samardzija and Travis Wood over the past two years after small mechanical adjustments.
Strop is just a hard-throwing reliever from the Carlos Marmol school of relief pitching -- let it go and don't worry about where it ends up -- who could end up a trade chip for the Cubs in the next two months if he starts throwing strikes again. The Cubs also receive two international bonus slots from the Orioles, potentially helping them boost their farm system while also highlighting how incredibly ridiculous it is that MLB teams can't trade draft picks.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
July, 5, 2013
Jul 59:12AM ETBy Jason A. Churchill | ESPN.com Recommend0Tweet0Comments0EmailPrintThursday we discussed the report that the Arizona Diamondbacks and Milwaukee Brewers have had conversations involving right-hander Yovani Gallardo and three Brewers relievers, with D-Backs left-hander Tyler Skaggs being mentioned as a possible return piece. Steve Gilbert of MLB.com wrote Thursday, however, that the Snakes have "no interest" in dealing Skaggs.
Skaggs hasn't moved quite as quickly as the Diamondbacks may have expected, but he's had a heck of a season in Triple-A Reno despite a tough environment for pitchers, and as Gilbert reports is expected to start Friday in the big leagues. He's made three spot starts already this season with mixed results -- one strong outing versus the Rangers in May and two mediocre, yet not exactly awful, starts in June.
Gilbert cited "a baseball source" for the information, but we should always remember that there can be tons of posturing between front offices during trade negotiations. Skaggs may indeed be off limits in talks for Gallardo, or even in general, but that isn't always the case, despite such reports. With Ian Kennedy's struggles in 2013 and Daniel Hudson's setback in his rehab from Tommy John surgery, Skaggs may be more necessary down the line, and his upside as a No. 1 or 2 starter is difficult to ship out in any deal.
Gallardo could draw interest from several clubs, including Arizona's four division rivals, the New York Yankees, Texas Rangers, Boston Red Sox and Baltimore Orioles.Tags:Arizona Diamondbacks, New York Yankees, Los Angeles Dodgers, Texas Rangers, Colorado Rockies, Baltimore Orioles, San Francisco Giants, Los Angeles Angels, San Diego Padres, Boston Red Sox, Milwaukee Brewers, Yovani Gallardo, Tyler Skaggs
Trade market for starting pitchers
July, 5, 2013
Jul 58:04AM ETBy Jason A. Churchill | ESPN.com Recommend0Tweet0Comments0EmailPrintIn recent days we've heard a handful of names mentioned in trade rumors, most notably right-handers right-hander Yovani Gallardo of the Milwaukee Brewers , Matt Garza of the Chicago Cubs and the Miami Marlins' Ricky Nolasco. Scott Feldman went from Chicago to Baltimore earlier this week, but the above trio aren't alone, at least in terms of possibilities.
Jake Peavy, RHP -- Chicago White Sox
Peavy is on the disabled and would need to get back and show he's healthy or his value may not be high enough to warrant the club moving him. Mark Gonzales reported Thursday that the right-hander will throw a bullpen session Friday and if all goes well could be back on the active roster after the all-star break. Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com wrote last week that the Sox are open for business. I discussed the club's potential trade bait here. Peavy, when healthy, is a frontline option, of which there's a lack of on the trade market.
Cliff Lee, LHP -- Philadelphia Phillies
The Phillies remain 8 1/2 games back in both the National League East and the circuit's Wild Card race, which may be far enough back for GM Ruben Amaro to begin fielding calls on a few veterans. The club appears determined to do whatever they can to stay in it, however, so any moves may have to wait until much closer to the deadline. Lee would be the top starter available if and when he hits the market, though his contract could complicate things and limit the interest. Lee is owed $25 million in each of the next two seasons, plus a $27.5 million salary for 2016 or a $12.5 million buyout. That is in addition to the roughly $8 million he'd be owed over the final two months of 2013, assuming he's not dealt until deadline day. To get the kind of return that might motivate them to make a deal, the Phillies may have to agree to include some cash.
Bud Norris, RHP -- Houston Astros
Norris, who ranks No. 10 in the American League with a 3.22 ERA, has been rumored to be available since the winter months and could be the most likely Astros player to go this summer. He's fairly cheap, earning just $3 million this season with two more arbitration go-rounds to come, and is not free-agent eligible until after the 2015 campaign. Norris is more a mid-rotation starter, but can eat innings and clubs such as the Angels, Dodgers and Giants could have interest.
Others: Edinson Volquez, RHP -- San Diego Padres; Travis Wood, RHP -- Chicago Cubs.Tags:Los Angeles Dodgers, Philadelphia Phillies, Colorado Rockies, San Francisco Giants, Los Angeles Angels, Chicago White Sox, Chicago Cubs, San Diego Padres, Houston Astros, Cliff Lee, Bud Norris, Travis Wood, Edinson Volquez, Jake Peavy
More moves for O's?
July, 4, 2013
Jul 412:57PM ETBy Jason A. Churchill | ESPN.com Recommend0Tweet0Comments0EmailPrintNow that the Baltimore Orioles have acquired a starting pitcher in right-hander Scott Feldman, the club may turn their trade attention to shoring up the bullpen or perhaps an option at second base in case Brian Roberts gets hurt again.
The club has struggled offensively at second base without a healthy Roberts and there should be a few options available, perhaps include Philadelphia's Chase Utley.
The bullpen options may be abound, including Jesse Crain of the Chicago White Sox, though, as always, the price will dictate how many relief arms will be moved.
The Orioles could stay in the market for starting pitching, too, still lacking the No. 1 starter type that most contenders possess. Might Cliff Lee be of interest?
Right-hander Matt Garza also could be an arm the Orioles consider.Tags:Philadelphia Phillies, Chicago Cubs, Cliff Lee, Scott Feldman, Chase Utley
Rios' no-trade list
July, 4, 2013
Jul 411:54AM ETBy Jason A. Churchill | ESPN.com Recommend0Tweet3Comments0EmailPrintWith the Chicago White Sox in sell mode clubs are undoubtedly going to call GM Rick Hahn about outfielder Alex Rios, who can hit, play a corner spot and is an affordable bat over the next three seasons if his 2015 option is exercised. The 30-year-old has the right to block trades to six teams, however.
Mark Gonzales of the Chicago Tribune reports that Rios can block deals to the Yankees, A's, Diamondbacks, Astros, Rockies and Royals, giving him some leverage this summer should the White Sox find the right trade offer. At worst, Rios can request of the team trying to acquire him that his option be picked up before he agrees to waive his no-trade, though several clubs not on the above list could be in play, including a few that aren't contending this season and would be acquiring Rios to help them in 2014 and beyond.
The Pittsburgh Pirates could use a reliable bat to man right field and help their offense become more consistent, the Seattle Mariners and New York Mets each need proven talent they have control of past this season and the Texas Rangers still have not replaced Josh Hamilton's bat in their lineup. Rios could be fits in all three cities. The Royals, who are among the six Rios can block trades to, may be the club in need of him the most. Their offense has struggled all season, they are on the brink of contention and after trading Wil Myers last offseason to land James Shields and Wade Davis are without answers in their farm system.Tags:Arizona Diamondbacks, New York Yankees, New York Mets, Oakland Athletics, Chicago White Sox, Houston Astros, Pittsburgh Pirates, Kansas City Royals, Alex Rios
Pence's free agent year
July, 4, 2013
Jul 411:14AM ETBy Jason A. Churchill | ESPN.com Recommend0Tweet0Comments0EmailPrintSan Francisco Giants right fielder Hunter Pence is scheduled to become a free agent after the World Series in October. He'll join Shin-Soo Choo and Jacoby Ellsbury as the top outfielders and hitters available. It's certainly not out of the question that the defending champs attempt to extend his contract before he hits the market, but Pence could cash in big if he the season strong.
Pence, who is earning $13.8 million this season, just turned 30 years of age and is known for his leadership, aggressive approach at the plate, good power and steady defense. Pence figures to get offers of at least four years and above the $15 million average annual value (AAV) mark.
Through 84 games, Pence is hitting .276 with 13 home runs and 13 stolen bases. He's in a bit of a funk right now, having gone hitless in his last 10 at-bats, but his season has been a success. A strong finish all but guarantees him some big money, perhaps in the range of what Nick Swisher received from the Indians last winter -- four years, $56 million.
The Giants are playing well enough now to assume they'll be in the mix in July and will not be in a position to consider moving Pence before the July 31 trade deadline. The club could be the favorites to bring him back for the long haul, though clubs such as the New York Mets, Texas Rangers and perhaps the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox, too, could have significant interest.Tags:New York Yankees, Texas Rangers, New York Mets, San Francisco Giants, Boston Red Sox, Hunter Pence
Gallardo for Skaggs?
July, 4, 2013
Jul 49:06AM ETBy Jason A. Churchill | ESPN.com Recommend0Tweet0Comments1EmailPrintThe Milwaukee Brewers could very well trade right-hander Yovani Gallardo this summer and CBSSports.com's Jon Heyman wrote Wednesday that the Arizona Diamondbacks are engaged in talks with the Brewers, and could include left-hander Tyler Skaggs in a deal to land the veteran.
Skaggs has made a few big-league starts but is still viewed as a prospect, albeit a very good with top-of-the-rotation upside. Gallardo hasn't pitched all that well in 2013, but is under contract through 2014 with a club option for another year, and the salaries are rather affordable, totaling $24.25 million.
Gallardo has a limited no-trade, according to various reports, with the ability to block deals to 10 teams. It's unknown at this stage which 10 clubs, but there's always the chance the acquiring club can pick up the 2015 option as a way to convince him to waive the no-trade.
Other clubs in the market for pitching include the Texas Rangers, New York Yankees, Los Angeles Angels, all five clubs in the National League West, and possibly, still, the Baltimore Orioles if they'd like to add a more potent option to the front of their rotation. The Orioles acquired right-hander Scott Feldman from the Chicago Cubs earlier this week.
Jon Morosi of FOXSports.com was the first to report the talks between the Brewers and Diamondbacks Wednesday, and added that right-handers Jim Henderson, John Axford and Francisco Rodriguez have also been discussed.Tags:Arizona Diamondbacks, New York Yankees, Los Angeles Dodgers, Texas Rangers, Colorado Rockies, Baltimore Orioles, San Francisco Giants, Los Angeles Angels, San Diego Padres, Milwaukee Brewers
July, 4, 2013
Jul 48:06AM ETBy Jason A. Churchill | ESPN.com Recommend0Tweet0Comments0EmailPrintMiami Marlins right-hander Ricky Nolasco is the hottest name in trade buzz right now and he tossed seven strong innings versus the division-leading Atlanta Braves Wednesday, improving his trade value, if nothing else. He struck out seven and yielded but two runs, lowering his season ERA to 3.85.
Clubs being mentioned as potential suitors include the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Francisco Giants, who would presumably use Nolasco in the No. 4 or 5 spot in their respective rotations. For the Dodgers, that may mean Chris Capuano heads back to the bullpen, as he's being bettered by right-hander Stephen Fife of late. The Giants likely will stick Tim Lincecum in the bullpen should they acquire a starter.
Other clubs that may have interest in Nolasco include the New York Yankees and Texas Rangers, each of whom had scouts in attendance to see Nolasco beat the Braves. The Padres and Rockies also had scouts in Atlanta.
The Angels need pitching, too, but they've yet to be mentioned, though they could have their eyes on other names.Tags:Atlanta Braves, New York Yankees, Los Angeles Dodgers, Texas Rangers, Miami Marlins, Colorado Rockies, San Francisco Giants, Los Angeles Angels, San Diego Padres
Willingham's trade prospects
July, 3, 2013
Jul 34:02PM ETBy Jason A. Churchill | ESPN.com Recommend0Tweet5Comments0EmailPrintMinnesota Twins slugger Josh Willingham has been a potential summer trade target all season, but with the news that he'll have knee surgery and be out 4-6 weeks, as reported by Rhett Bollinger, the veteran is likely to stay put until at least the winter months.
Willingham had been struggling to hit for average, but there were enough doubles, home runs and walks to save his season and contenders may have blown up GM Terry Ryan's line looking to acquire the player before the July 31 deadline. He's signed through next season at just $7 million, a price that isn't likely scare away any club in baseball.
The Twins have other pieces that may interest clubs, but as a result of the injury, Willingham's name will likely come up more in November and December as teams look to build for 2014, and the Twins may be a potential contender and decided to keep the right-handed hitter in their lineup.
Tags:Minnesota Twins, Josh Willingham
Jackson time in St. Louis?
July, 3, 2013
Jul 32:04PM ETBy Jason A. Churchill | ESPN.com Recommend0Tweet0Comments0EmailPrintThe St. Louis Cardinals don't have a problem scoring runs or getting good pitching from their current staff. They have one of the best records in all of baseball and appear headed for the postseason once again. Their one offensive weak spot is shortstop, where Pete Kozma is batting .241/.286/.305, and has hit under .200 since the end of May. Daniel Descalso has picked up some time at shortstop as a result of Kozma's struggles, but the club also has an option in Triple-A Memphis.
Ryan Jackson, a plus defender, has had a solid year in the minors, batting .307 with a .386 on-base percentage, and could provide the club a decent upgrade at the plate and plenty of defense -- an upgrade over Descalso and at least as much glove as Kozma -- shoring up the lone weak spot on the roster.
Jackson, 25, mashes left-handed pitching, too, so if he's used mostly versus southpaws the numbers might end up quite good if he's given the opportunities. Kozma has but two hits in his last 24 at-bats with 10 strikeouts against one base on balls.Tags:St. Louis Cardinals, Daniel Descalso, Pete Kozma, Ryan Jackson
Dariel Alvarez's free agency
July, 3, 2013
Jul 310:14AM ETBy Jason A. Churchill | ESPN.com Recommend0Tweet0Comments2EmailPrintCuban outfielder Yasiel Puig followed Yoenis Cespedes with strong debuts in Major League Baseball and Chicago Cubs prospect Jorge Soler is a top prospect moving his way through the farm system with big-time tools. The next in line appears to be Dariel Alvarez, a 24-year-old outfielder who is eligible to sign and is being scouted by a handful of clubs.
Among those are the Texas Rangers, New York Yankees, Los Angeles Dodgers, Seattle Mariners, San Diego Padres, Arizona Diamondbacks and Boston Red Sox, MLB.com's Jesse Sanchez reported last Thursday.
While there isn't a lot of information available on Alvarez, it's worth noting that clubs are not subject to the new international free agent bonus regulations, since Alvarez is at least 23 and has three or more years of professional experience. Since the initial reports, there hasn't been any further buzz on Alvarez or which clubs appear most likely to make a strong bid.Tags:Arizona Diamondbacks, Seattle Mariners, New York Yankees, Los Angeles Dodgers, Texas Rangers, San Diego Padres, Boston Red Sox
Three suitors for Nolasco
July, 3, 2013
Jul 39:12AM ETBy Jayson Stark | ESPN.com Recommend0Tweet0Comments0EmailPrintRicky Nolasco is still scheduled to start Wednesday night for the Miami Marlins in Atlanta. But it’s increasingly possible he could be traded before he can make it to the mound.
According to two executives who spoke with the Marlins on Tuesday, three teams remain in heavy pursuit of Nolasco. Those executives told ESPN.com the indications they’ve gotten are that those three teams are the Rangers, Dodgers and Rockies. And the Marlins now appear to be narrowing their focus in an attempt to get a deal done quickly.
Miami continues to ask for multiple prospects in exchange for the 30-year-old right-hander. The approximately $5.7 million left on Nolasco’s contract is also an issue in the discussions, because the eventual price in players will depend on how much of that money Nolasco’s new team is willing to pick up.
Nolasco has been heavily pursued by a half-dozen clubs over the last two weeks, as the Marlins have ramped up their efforts to deal him to open a spot in their rotation for 23-year-old right-hander Henderson Alvarez.
Miami obtained Alvarez, who has not pitched in the big leagues this season because of shoulder trouble, from the Blue Jays last winter in the 12-player deal that sent Jose Reyes, Josh Johnson, Mark Buehrle and others to Toronto. Alvarez just completed a minor-league rehab option last Friday and must be activated by the Marlins this week.
Although Nolasco is 4-8, with a 3.93 ERA, this season, he has allowed three earned runs or fewer in 12 of his 17 starts. And the Marlins have scored one run or none, while he was in the game, in nine of those 17 starts, giving Nolasco the second-worst run support among all qualifying starters in the National League.
Also of interest: Nolaso’s FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching), a stat which factors out defensive effects to measure just what a pitcher can control, is a respectable 3.54. That ranks 23rd in the National League, ahead of several starters (Jeff Locke, Matt Cain, Scott Feldman) who would seem, on the surface, to be having a better year.
Nolasco can be a free agent at the end of this season. So if a team trades for him and he then signs elsewhere next winter, the club dealing for him can’t receive compensation for losing him, under the terms of baseballs’ most recent labor deal.Tags:Los Angeles Dodgers, Texas Rangers, Miami Marlins, Colorado Rockies, Ricky Nolasco
Corner infield trade market
July, 2, 2013
Jul 212:35PM ETBy Jason A. Churchill | ESPN.com Recommend0Tweet3Comments0EmailPrintAmong a few other clubs, the New York Yankees could be in the market for help at first base and/or third base. With Mark Teixeria back on the disabled list with more wrist problems, Kevin Youkilis out 10-12 weeks and Alex Rodriguez's return still up in the air, GM Brian Cashman could check the league for an everyday option at one of the two positions, and if it's one over the other, third base may be the bigger need with Lyle Overbay on the roster to man first base.
Potentially available third basemen include San Diego Padres All-Star Chase Headley, but the price is likely to be sky high with the Friars preferring to sign Headley to a long-term deal. Milwaukee could dangle Aramis Ramirez, perhaps in exchange for pitching that can help them in 2014. Headley's struggles since returning from the disabled list only cloud that scenario, suggesting it may be even more unlikely he's moved this summer, if he's traded at all.
Possible part-time fits include Albert Callaspo. Luis Valbuena and Trevor Plouffe. If the Phillies fall out of contention, veteran Michael Young could be of interest to the Yankees or other clubs seeking third base assistance. Rodriguez's progress in rehab between now and July 31 may dictate whether or not Cashman believes his club needs more help. Jayson Nix, who has been playing a lot of shortstop, could play some third once Derek Jeter returns, but he's not producing at the plate and may be best suited as organizational depth in Triple-A.
As for first base possibilities, Minnesota's Justin Morneau, a free agent after the season, may be prime trade bait. He's not hitting for much power -- two home runs, sub-.400 slugging percentage -- but has managed to inch his batting average toward .290 in recent weeks, and has been healthy all year.
Toronto's Edwin Encarnacion could be an intriguing trade target if the Blue Jays are willing to consider such a move, and Paul Konerko, a free agent after the season with Morneau, could also be in play before July 31. Seattle's Kendrys Morales and Michael Morse are two more first base types that could generate some buzz this summer, as the Mariners aren't contending and neither player is signed beyond this season.Tags:Seattle Mariners, New York Yankees, Chicago White Sox, Michael Morse, Kendrys Morales, Chase Headley, Alex Rodriguez, Kevin Youkilis, Justin Morneau, Mark Teixeira, Paul Konerko, Lyle Overbay, Aramis Ramirez, Edwin Encarnacion
White Sox on trade block
July, 2, 2013
Jul 211:24AM ETBy Jason A. Churchill | ESPN.com Recommend0Tweet0Comments4EmailPrintWhile the club isn't necessarily shopping specific players, the Chicago White Sox are reportedly willing to discuss any player on their roster outside of veteran first baseman Paul Konerko and left-hander Chris Sale.
Konerko has 10-5 rights, anyway, but names that are apparently available include right-hander Jake Peavy, some interesting bullpen arms such as Jesse Crain and Matt Thornton, as well as outfielder Alex Rios.
Peavy and Rios are both signed beyond this season, which may make them extremely popular this summer among both contenders and even clubs that are eyeing 2014.
Crain has had a terrific 2013 and may be among the very best relievers on the market. He'll be a free agent after the season, so he's a rental, but he could help a club such as Boston or Detroit as they attempt to bridge the gap in their bullpens.
Peavy's currently on the disabled list and his injury history could scare some teams away, but if he's right his $14.5 million salary for next season shouldn't be much of a hurdle. It's worth noting that if the right-hander reaches 400 innings pitched over 2013-14, he'll receive a player option for 2015 at $15 million.
Shortstop Alexei Ramirez hasn't hit much this season, but the lack of options at the position across the league could create quite the market for him. He's solid defensively by all accounts and is signed through 2015 with a team option for 2016. His salary does spike from $7 million to $9.5 million and $10 million after this season, but the going rate for good shortstops is probably right in that range.
Peavy, for what it's worth, told Doug Padilla of ESPNChicago.com that he doesn't want to be traded.
And while Konerko may be off limits, ESPN Insider Jim Bowden, makes the case for dealing the veteran:
Sox can replace Konerko
"Konerko is a free agent at the end of the year and general manager Rick Hahn already is talking about moving Dayan Viciedo to first base. [Konerko would] like to get to the postseason one more time and going to another team gives him the best chance of accomplishing that. The Baltimore Orioles or Rays could use him as a DH, while the Pittsburgh Pirates could use him at first base."
Tags:Detroit Tigers, Chicago White Sox, Boston Red Sox, Alex Rios, Alexei Ramirez, Jake Peavy, Jesse Crain
Trade market for catchers
July, 2, 2013
Jul 29:11AM ETBy Jason A. Churchill | ESPN.com Recommend0Tweet0Comments0EmailPrintFinding catching help isn't easy in Major League Baseball and may be the most difficult task during the season. That doesn't mean there won't be any options this summer, however, and Chicago Cubs veteran Dioner Navarro may be among the top backstops available.
The 29-year-old switch hitter has had a strong season as the backup to Welington Castillo, with an enormous portion of the damage coming from the right side of the plate. Overall, Navarro is batting .260/.336/.521 with eight home runs. He's just 14-for-75 (.187, 5 HR) as a lefty, but has 11 hits -- three long balls -- in 21 at-bats as a right-handed batter.
He's a fringe-average defender and isn't conditioned to catch six days a week, but could be a valuable second option for a number of contenders, potentially including the Yankees and Orioles.
Other catchers that could be discussed this summer include Philly's Carlos Ruiz, who will be a free agent after the season, John Buck of the New York Mets and Colorado Rockies backup Yorvit Torrealba. Buck may be the most likely to be available while the Phillies and Rockies appear set to wait it out and see if they can stay in contention.Tags:New York Mets, Colorado Rockies, Chicago Cubs, John Buck, Yorvit Torrealba, Dioner Navarro
Utley headed west?
July, 2, 2013
Jul 28:21AM ETBy Jason A. Churchill | ESPN.com Recommend0Tweet1Comments1EmailPrintThe Philadelphia Phillies have yet to make it known whether or not they will be buyers or sellers at the trade deadline, but if second baseman Chase Utley becomes available, the Los Angeles Dodgers may be among those interested, reports Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com.
The Dodgers have been using Mark Ellis at the position primarily, and the veteran has struggled as well as spent some time on the disabled list. Utley is shy of having earned 10-5 rights, but he does have a limited no-trade clause in his contract. The veteran, however, is from the L.A. area, having attended UCLA and high school in Long Beach, so if the Dodgers make a play for him and it becomes Utley's choice, there's a chance he waives such rights.
Other clubs that could show interest in Utley include the Toronto Blue Jays and Oakland Athletics, both contending clubs that have not received much production from their second basemen this season. The Baltimore Orioles also could have some interest, but they appear more focused on starting pitching.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Of course, Marmol was just designated for assignment. There’s not a lot there, beyond the strikeouts, the frequency of which is plummeting. Since 2011, among pitchers with at least 150 innings, Marmol ranks 14th-worst in OBP allowed, at .355. He’s hanging around the likes of Dallas Keuchel and Derek Lowe and Edinson Volquez, and though Marmol generally limits batting and slugging, his career isn’t on the way up. Marmol, probably, can be useful, but since 2011 he has a 105 FIP-. Guerrier has a 109 FIP-. Lots of relievers can be useful and Marmol isn’t going to pitch the Dodgers into first place.
As far as this trade is concerned, it’s Marmol who’ll draw most of the attention. Marmol is a popular guy to discuss. But it seems clear to me the Dodgers don’t value him all that highly, what with the sending him right to the minors and all. What interests me more than the players is the money involved. According to reports, the Cubs will save something like $0.5 million, while the Dodgers will add something like $0.5 million. But the Dodgers also get the Cubs’ fourth international signing bonus slot, worth just about $0.21 million. It seems to me this is what the trade’s really about, and this is a new thing. As of Tuesday, there are new kinds of trades.
Tuesday was July 2, which meant the beginning of the new international signing period. For the first time, teams were allowed different amounts of money to spend, according to a slotting system shown here. Money from these pools can be traded between teams, but you can’t just trade a certain amount of dollars — teams are allowed to trade specific slot values. The Cubs basically traded the Dodgers slot number 92, worth $0.21 million. They did so in exchange for immediate salary relief.
There were three trades on Tuesday that involved international signing money, with the Cubs in on all of them. They gave up some money in their trade with the Dodgers, but they added to their pool by trading with both the Astros and the Orioles. To quickly recap:
Cubs <—> Orioles
Orioles get Scott Feldman, Steve Clevenger. Cubs get Jake Arrieta, Pedro Strop, $0.388 million for international spending.
Cubs <—> Astros
Astros get Ronald Torreyes. Cubs get $0.785 million for international spending.
Cubs <—> Dodgers
Dodgers get Carlos Marmol, cash considerations, $0.21 million for international spending. Cubs get Matt Guerrier.
They’re three different kinds of deals. In one, bonus money was given up to offset a big contract. In another, bonus money was picked up for a prospect. In the last, bonus money was picked up effectively as a prospect substitute. But what they all have in common is that teams exchanged bonus pool money, which we hadn’t before seen. Not that people didn’t know it was coming.
This is something available to all teams — if they like, they can try to add to their pools, and if they like, they can instead give it up. My understanding is that you can elect to trade away your entire pool. However, you can only add another 50%, which is to say, if you go in with $3 million, you’re capped at $4.5 million. If you go in with $2 million, you’re capped at $3 million. It’s going to take a little while for teams to completely figure out what they’re dealing with, but what we’re seeing now is a market being set. How much is this money worth? We have more of an idea today than we did on Monday.
We know, first of all, that a dollar isn’t a dollar. International signing money is valuable, specifically because it’s limited, and because there are penalties for over-spending. Even if you have a team that doesn’t intend to be internationally active, just because they don’t care about their money doesn’t mean other teams don’t. Other teams will want those slot values, creating demand. The Astros, for example, aren’t going to make any big international splashes, but they didn’t give their money away to the Cubs. They got a decent player in return.
The most difficult trade to analyze is the Feldman move, just because of the number of pieces involved. The Cubs came away with Arrieta, Strop, some millions in salary relief, and international spending money. Even without the spending money, it wouldn’t have been that bad of a trade. There’s value in salary relief, and there’s potential value in Arrieta, perhaps as a reliever. But the spending money basically takes the place of a low-level prospect.
The other moves are simpler. The Cubs directly exchanged Torreyes for $0.785 million getting added to their bonus pool. We can assume that Torreyes is valued at more than that, but we can’t put a dollar figure on him. He’s 20, making him one of the very youngest players in the Double-A Southern League. He’s a little second baseman with more walks than strikeouts, and barely any power to speak of. Torreyes hasn’t ranked on any top-10 prospect lists, but there’s potential in a young guy holding his own at an advanced level, and there’s more certainty in Torreyes than there is in international signings. Torreyes is only two levels away from the majors. He has value in a system.
And then there’s the last one. If you just cancel out Guerrier and Marmol, you’re left with an exchange of about $0.5 million for about $0.21 million of international spending money. It’s probably not going to get much clearer than this, with an international spending dollar being worth a little more than two ordinary dollars. In reality it’s more complicated than that, and we can learn only so much from how two of 30 teams value these resources at this time, but there’s all your necessary evidence that it’s not cash for equivalent cash. The Dodgers are taking on more salary than the boost to their bonus pool. For the Cubs, it’s the opposite. Though the Cubs clearly have prioritized international activity, those dollars have a price, even to them.
Clearly, international spending money is more valuable than regular money. This is because one can spend internationally only to a point, and those dollars are limited. This much, we could’ve guessed. But the difference in value isn’t extreme, because, ultimately, a lot of the time you’re talking about talented 16-year-olds who are as far from the majors as you can get while at least having a contract. The majority of the players signed during this period won’t go on to achieve much, since there’s a high flameout rate, and because of the risk this money isn’t a team’s most valuable asset. It’s just an asset, that we’re going to see get involved in a number of moves. There are trades of big-leaguers, and there are trades of prospects. If you want, you can think of these as trades of sub-prospects, faceless players who are a long ways away. When you spend internationally, you’re spending for the long term. But it’s critically important to look out for the long term, so this money won’t be exchanged without careful consideration.
Homer Bailey’s Peers.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
I’m going to show you a table of pitchers, the qualification being that they met minimum thresholds based on just two statistics. These lines were somewhat arbitrarily drawn, and there is more to pitching than clearing these made up dividers in these two metrics. That said, I think these parameters illustrate the point pretty nicely.
Below is a list of every starting pitcher in the Major Leagues (minimum 75 innings) that has thrown at least half of their pitches in the strike zone while also getting hitters to make contact less than 78% of the time, according to PITCHF/x.
Name IP ERA FIP xFIP WAR RA9-WAR Contact% Zone%
Anibal Sanchez 81.2 2.76 2.07 2.57 3.2 2.4 73% 50%
Max Scherzer 110.1 3.10 2.69 2.79 3.4 3.1 74% 51%
Matt Harvey 117.0 2.00 2.00 2.64 4.2 4.6 74% 51%
Corey Kluber 81.0 4.33 3.53 3.13 1.2 0.5 75% 52%
Chris Sale 106.1 2.79 2.86 2.99 3.1 3.3 76% 52%
A.J. Burnett 89.1 3.12 3.32 3.09 1.3 1.9 76% 50%
Clayton Kershaw 130.1 1.93 2.59 3.12 3.4 4.7 76% 50%
Madison Bumgarner 111.0 3.08 3.42 3.49 1.6 2.1 77% 51%
CC Sabathia 117.0 4.15 3.93 3.52 1.8 1.6 77% 50%
Homer Bailey 111.0 3.57 2.67 2.98 2.9 2.0 77% 50%
Hisashi Iwakuma 115.1 2.42 3.47 3.22 2.0 3.7 78% 53%
Justin Verlander 105.0 3.77 3.05 3.42 2.8 1.8 78% 51%
Justin Masterson 124.0 3.48 3.43 3.39 2.3 2.7 78% 52%
Mike Minor 102.2 2.98 3.47 3.60 1.8 2.2 78% 52%
Total 1,500 3.07 3.04 3.15 2.5 2.7 76% 51%
14 pitchers in baseball are pulling off this neat little trick, and Homer Bailey is one of them. Now, these arbitrary lines exclude guys like Adam Wainwright and Stephen Strasburg, who are both over 49% on in-zone pitches, and it excludes Cliff Lee and Shelby Miller who are pitching to just slightly more contact than this. You can be a good pitcher without meeting these exact parameters.
But, you know, throwing a lot of pitches in the zone while also getting hitters to swing and miss a lot is a sign that you’re doing most of the things that good pitchers do. And that list is full of pretty great pitchers, plus Corey Kluber, who Carson Cistulli thinks is a pretty great pitcher. As a group, they’re averaging 4.2 WAR per 180 innings pitched, and no, it isn’t full of guys like Kluber who are underperforming their FIP, as their overall ERA is a little lower than their peripherals would suggest.
Throwing strikes and missing bats is the majority of good pitching. It’s not the entirety of it, and this list is primarily missing a variable that would account for home run rate, but Homer Bailey is doing the two things that are most likely to make you an ace. And despite his name and the not-really-deserved reputation, he’s not giving up home runs either. If his first name was Mat or Bronson, I wonder if he’d be viewed as a pitcher with a long ball problem, given his career 10.5% HR/FB ratio and 1.01 HR/9 rate.
Bailey’s main problem has been that his strikeout rate has never really matched his stuff before. He’s basically been a league average strikeout hurler, which limited his ability to reach his potential. It takes some kind of special command to be a true ace while only striking out 20% of the batters you face in the National League.
This year, though, Bailey’s striking out 25% of the batters he faces, and that difference has allowed him to make the leap into the top tier of NL starting pitchers. He’ll have to keep this up for more than three months to be considered a true #1 starter, but his combination of high strikes/low contact is a recipe for greatness.
Bailey’s no-hitter last night wasn’t a frustrating young pitcher finally putting it all together; it was a high quality pitcher having a great night in the middle of a great season. Homer Bailey didn’t arrive last night. He’s been really good for a while now.
Kevin Gregg With A Wider Base.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
After what seems like a lifetime with iffy control (10.2% walk rate career), the 35-year-old has his walk rate below league average for the first time in six years. You can’t point to first strike rate (55.6%, 60.3% league average) or zone percentage (40.1%, 45.4% is average) — even though the two have varying degrees of influence on walk rate anyway. You can’t point to pitching mix, since he’s throwing more split-fingers and sliders, and those have worse strike rates than fastballs. You can call it a small sample, but he’s almost two-thirds of the way to last year’s innings total and he’s almost halved his walk rate.
And dismissing the new walk rate ignores a simple fact. Kevin Gregg has made a change to the way he sets up. “My feet got a lot wider. I went from three or four inches apart to where now my feet are outside my shoulders,” Gregg said. When prodded if that meant he was lower, he re-emphasized that it was wider, not lower. “It’s a biomechanical thing: being wider allows your hips to open up, and allows you go get into your front foot better,” he answered.
As I promised the reliever, it’s time to go to the video tape. On second thought, let’s spare the world GIFs of a pitcher setting up and use old-fashioned still images. 2012 is on the left, 2013 on the right, both games in New York to keep the camera angles consistent.
It’s fairly impossible to get a view of a pitcher’s feet when they’re setting up, even when you’ve got size 15 honkers like Kevin Gregg does. The camera doesn’t care. But along the way, if you went looking, you’d find that Gregg is also pitching exclusively from the stretch this year. So this new mechanical change — which does seems to produce a ready position that then requires less energy to continue into his motion — might be more repeatable. He doesn’t have to learn two different ways to set up in this new fashion, just one.
In any case, the reliever says this new position offers him “balance” and “mobility.” It’s not easy to see how different it is, but his stride is smaller since his foot is further towards home plate, and the whole thing seems to take less energy. Check out the full delivery in video (2012 and 2013) and you may see what Gregg is talking about. Even if the peripherals are not completely supportive, it’s worth mentioning that the ball rate on his fastball is down from around 40% over the last three years to about 33% this year.
And all it took was a wider base. What nerdery.
Velocity Decline Trends for June, 2012-13.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Month 1 mph Drop No 1 mph Drop Relative Risk
April 38% 9% 4.2
May 47% 6% 7.8
June 55% 5% 11.0
July 56% 4% 14.0
August 53% 6% 8.8
The table above breaks out the percent of pitchers who experience at least a 1 mph drop in their four-seam fastball velocity in a month relative to that same month a year ago and who also went on to finish the season down a full 1 mph. It also shows the relative risk — meaning, the increased likelihood that a pitcher will experience a true velocity loss at season’s end when compared to those pitchers that didn’t lose 1 mph in that month.
For example, pitchers that lost velocity in May finished the season down a full 1 mph 47% of the time, compared to just 6% that didn’t lose 1 mph in May — an increased likelihood of 7.8.
Here is your list of pitchers that lost at least 1 mph in June of 2013 compared to last June:
Now, remember, the relative risk outlined above and in previous studies only holds for pitchers that were in the same role (i.e. starters or relievers) in both 2012 and 2013. I’ve noted in the table which pitchers fit that criteria for 2013. The 2-Year Decline column notes if this pitcher suffered the same kind of decline the previous year (so, June 2012 compared to June 2011). I’ve also listed those pitchers where I had data on their velocity trends from May 2012 to May 2013, with negative values representing a velocity loss during last month.
Jason Marquis continues to pitch at a below-average level, posting a 107 ERA- and 163 FIP- so far in 2013. In June, Marquis saw his velocity decline for a second straight month relative to last year — 3.1 mph compared to last June after 1.4 compared to last May. Now, Marquis relies mostly on his sinker, but that pitch is also down relative to last year.
Matt Moore has had a bit of an up and down season, starting 2013 with 11 straight games where he gave up four or fewer runs. He then gave up six, nine, and five over his next three starts before his last three starts of three, one, and zero runs allowed. Moore’s biggest issue this season has been walks — after posting a 10.7% BB% last season he’s actually increased his walk rate in 2013 (12.6%). Lucky for Moore he’s decreased his HR/FB, so he hasn’t been hurt as much by the extra base runners he’s allowed. Still, I would keep my eye on Moore as his velocity declined 2.3 mph in May and 2.2 in June. It’s possible he’s trading velocity for attempts at better control, but he has pretty much been down the entire season and his walk rate has not improved significantly over time.
The other interesting name for me on this list is Zack Greinke. It’s true that Greinke’s velocity could be off a bit given that he missed time with a broken collarbone, and that was after some elbow drama during spring training. However, he came back from the disabled list in mid-May and he’s suffered velocity loss in both May and June. Greinke has been slightly below average in terms of ERA and FIP and is now sitting around 90-91 mph on average with his fastball. He is in his age-29 season, so it wouldn’t be all that odd to see him starting to lose more significant velocity. On average, starters lose about .5 mph between ages 28 and 29 and that begins the steeper decline portion of their aging curve. Strikeout rate, which is also down about 6% this year for Greinke, also begins a steeper decline around 29-30 years of age as well.
Oh, and one of the happiest teams with this list? Probably the Yankees, since CC Sabathia isn’t on it. Yes, he still posted a lower June velocity than last year (-.7 mph), but he’s below the 1 mph threshold and that’s an improvement based on his April and May (down -1.9 mph in both).
The Fringe Five: Baseball’s Most Compelling Fringe Prospects.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Central to this exercise, of course, is a definition of the word fringe. The author recognizes that the word certainly has different connotations to different sorts of readers. For the purposes of this column, however — and for reasons discussed more thoroughly in last week’s edition of the Five — the author has considered eligible for the Five any prospect who was absent from all of three notable preseason top-100 prospect lists.
This week, the reader will find that two players retain their place this week among the Five: well-educated Mets pitching prospect Matthew Bowman and young Philadelphia third baseman, the sort of recently promoted Maikel Franco.
Departing from the Five proper — largely because the author is restless and dumb — are diminutive batsman, St. Louis outfield prospect Mike O’Neill, promising Cleveland right-hander Danny Salazar; and two-true-outcome shortstop, Washington’s Zach Walters.
Replacing that triumvirate are the rather young, but offensively advanced, Wilmer Flores of the Mets system; Atlanta reliever-turned-quite-effective-starter Cody Martin; and White Sox shortstop or second-base or third-base prospect Marcus Semien.
Now, here are this week’s Fringe Five:
Matthew Bowman, RHP, New York NL (Profile)
After consecutive appearances among the Fringe Five, Bowman produced another excellent start this past week, recording a 7:2 strikeout-to-walk ratio against 26 batters over 8.0 innings in a Florida State League game versus St. Louis affiliate Palm Beach (box). Those figures should add to the already excellent line he’s produced, which — as of last Wednesday, at least — has placed him third among all High-A starters by SCOUT, the author’s flawed and proprietary metric. Unmentioned in previous editions of the Five is Bowman’s capacity for inducing ground balls, as well: both Minor League Central and StatCorner suggest that’s recorded grounders on more than 60% of batted balls.
Wilmer Flores, 2B, New York NL (Profile)
After hitting only four home runs over the first two months of the season, Flores recorded six of them in June — and two of those since the most recent edition of the Five. Whether related or not, Flores’ plate-discipline numbers haven’t entirely resembled his previously established levels. To wit: the infielder posted walk and strikeout rates of 3.4% and 15.3%, respectively, in June after recording rates of about 7.0% and 10.0% last season during his march through High- and Double-A. Always one needs to remember, however, with regard to Flores, that he’s just 21 years old. Indeed, Flores’ home-run, walk, and strikeout rates remain almost identical to much more celebrated 21-year-old prospect Oscar Taveras‘s, also in the Pacific Coast League.
Maikel Franco, 3B, Philadelphia (Profile)
The 20-year-old Franco has taken enthusiastically to Double-A. Following his promotion about two weeks ago to Reading, Philadelphia’s Eastern League affiliate, Franco has batted .431/.442/.765 (.400 BABIP) in 52 plate appearances. Nor is it merely the slash stats which are impressive: Franco’s combination of plate discipline and power — he’s recorded a 1:2 walk-to-strikeout ratio and four home runs — are excellent relative to his peers, even after being regressed using the author’s likely flawed method. Franco’s numbers continue to echo very impressive Twins prospect Miguel Sano‘s, himself recently promoted to Double-A. Sano has hit six home runs in 75 plate appearances, almost precisely the same rate (8.0%) as Franco (7.7%).
Cody Martin, RHP, Atlanta (Profile)
While typically prejudiced against people, and also probably dogs, named Cody, the author has been compelled to include Martin among the Five this week owing to his (i.e. Martin’s) entirely promising results at Triple-A Gwinnett. Following a promotion from the Southern League, the 23-year-old Martin has recorded a 24:5 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 21.0 innings — which figures include his most recent start, during which he struck out 11 of 27 batters faced against Baltimore affiliate Norfolk (box). A closer at Gonzaga during his senior year there, Martin was selected by Atlanta in the seventh round of 2011 draft and has been converted gradually into a starter. Ranked 13th among Braves prospects by Marc Hulet this preseason, Martin throws (according to Hulet) “a fastball that has hit 93-94 mph coming out of the bullpen… a promising slider, good curveball and a developing changeup.”
Marcus Semien, MI, Chicago AL (Profile)
Semien has been a fixture in this column since its inaugural edition back in April — and, with his inclusion here among the Fringe Five, ascends to third place on the potentially meaningless Scoreboard crafted by the author (see below). The 22-year-old was excellent in June, not only recording a walk-to-strikeout ratio above 1.00 (26:25 BB:K), but also hitting four home runs, slashing .248/.406/.465, and stealing seven bases on just as many attempts in the Double-A Southern League. Semien’s final defensive home still remains uncertain. The White Sox seem, at the moment, to be preparing him for every infield position. Over the last 18 games (which is an arbitrary endpoint, entirely), Semien has played second base (four times), third base (five times), and shortstop (nine times).
The Next Five
These are players on whom the author might potentially become fixated.
Nick Kingham, RHP, Pittsburgh (Double-A Eastern League)
Rafael Montero, RHP, New York NL (Triple-A Pacific Coast League)
Mike O’Neill, OF, St. Louis (Double-A Texas League)
Joc Pederson, OF, Los Angeles NL (Double-A Southern League)
Danny Salazar, RHP, Cleveland (Triple-A International League)
Fringe Five Scoreboard
Here are all the players to have appeared among either the Fringe Five (FF) or Next Five (NF) so far this season. For mostly arbitrary reasons, players are assessed three points for each week they’ve appeared among the Fringe Five; a single point, for each week among the Next Five.
Name Team POS FF NF PTS
Mike O’Neill Cardinals OF 10 1 31
Wilmer Flores Mets 2B 8 3 27
Marcus Semien White Sox SS 4 6 18
Brian Flynn Marlins LHP 4 3 15
Maikel Franco Phillies 3B 5 0 15
Danny Salazar Indians RHP 3 5 14
Rafael Montero Mets RHP 3 5 14
Burch Smith Padres RHP 4 1 13
Corban Joseph Yankees 2B 3 1 10
Matthew Bowman Mets RHP 3 0 9
Chase Anderson D-backs RHP 2 2 8
Nick Kingham Pirates RHP 1 4 7
Robbie Ray Nationals LHP 2 1 7
Joc Pederson Dodgers OF 1 3 6
Max Muncy Athletics 1B 1 3 6
Ronald Torreyes Cubs 2B 1 3 6
Chad Bettis Rockies RHP 1 2 5
Arismendy Alcantara Cubs SS 1 1 4
Jose Ramirez Yankees RHP 1 1 4
Zach Walters Nationals SS 1 1 4
Cody Martin Atlanta RHP 1 0 3
Brad Miller Mariners SS 0 2 2
Nolan Fontana Astros SS 0 2 2
Taylor Lindsey Angels 2B 0 2 2
Victor Payano Rangers LHP 0 2 2
Chris Heston Giants RHP 0 1 1
Clayton Blackburn Giants RHP 0 1 1
Garin Cecchini Red Sox 3B 0 1 1
Greg Garcia Cardinals SS 0 1 1
R.J. Seidel Brewers RHP 0 1 1
Tim Cooney Cardinals LHP 0 1 1
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Posey comes up to bat 3rd with a runner on 3rd and only one out. Doubles down the right field line, but on the official scorecard it was supposed to be Sandoval batting 3rd and Posey 4th. Posey automatically out and runner back to third. Posey gets to bat again because he's the offical 4th hitter. Sandoval doesnt get a plate appearance but is 0-1 I guess.