Don't speak bad of el oso blanco lol
2016 MLB thread. Baseball is upon us! Royals are the champs - Page 703
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1st T Frazier homered to center, J Votto scored.
2nd N Walker homered to right.
2nd G Sanchez homered to center.
4th R Ludwick homered to center, T Frazier scored.
5th S Marte homered to left center.
5th T Snider homered to left.
5th J Votto homered to right center, N Soto scored.
6th N Walker homered to right.
6th G Sanchez homered to left.
6th D Mesoraco homered to left.
Arsenal FC | Huevos Rancheros Hockey | USMNT
Arsenal FC | Huevos Rancheros Hockey | USMNT
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There's absolutely no reason that our bullpen should be this bad. Everyone saw that it was horrendous last year. Amaro had all offseason to fix it, but he went with the same guys expecting a different result. Now we're supposed to expect that Mike Adams coming off of shoulder surgery is gonna fix the bullpen problem. But what can you expect from Amaro.
I'm just waiting for Papelbum to show up again. Then drop verbal grenades in the media calling out the team and its chemistry.
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Gattis is still a pup (experience wise), why would they not stick with him? He jacked 2 HRs last night and Atlanta's starting pitching has been the truth thus far after throwing out 1 legit arm, 2 pups, and 2 ****** off the street .. shouldn't the catcher get some of the credit? he needs to work on his pickoff throw tho... the Mets were just raping the bases
I'll give BJ Upton some credit for finally starting to have some good at bats ... he's not looking completely worthless at the plate anymore... making more contact and having product outs... great base running last night (2 steals and advanced to 3rd on bad throws) and his range in the outfield is a consolation while he's struggling...
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Jon Lester's real value.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Of course, that raises the following questions: What kind of contract should Lester expect to get in free agency? And if not Boston, where would he be likely to get it?
Unless someone goes absolutely crazy this winter and throws an insane amount of cash Lester's way, his deal won't approach the figures given to perennial Cy Young contenders like Clayton Kershaw, Felix Hernandez, or Justin Verlander. Lester was that kind of pitcher in 2008 through 2011, but after a terrible 2012 season and bounce-back 2013 campaign that was good but not near his peak performances, a team considering him a bona fide No. 1 starter -- and willing to pay him like one -- could get itself in trouble.
He's No. 2
Lester, the second-best starter on next winter's market, projects as a solid No. 2 starter for years to come.
YR W L ERA IP K WAR
'15 14 9 3.41 203 182 4.2
'16 14 9 3.46 200 174 4.0
'17 13 9 3.57 199 189 3.8
'18 12 9 3.61 184 155 3.6
'19 11 8 3.66 172 165 3.4
'20 10 8 3.78 159 155 3.1
What's he worth?
Per my calculations, I have clubs paying free agents $5.45 million per WAR over this past offseason. If we assume 5 percent salary growth, that would put Lester as worthy of a six-year, $145 million deal based on his long-term ZiPS projections (see table).
That would make him the second-most valuable pitcher in the next free-agent market, behind only Max Scherzer and ahead of James Shields and Jake Peavy. While there are a few other potential free agents who could land some serious dough, such as Yovani Gallardo and Johnny Cueto, both of whom are off to tremendous starts, they both have team options that will certainly be picked up if they pitch well this season. And if they don't, their market value would be diminished.
In many respects, it still makes sense for the Red Sox to up their offer and bring Lester back. Boston is set up to still be a serious contender in 2015, but it will be hard to do that if both Lester and Peavy leave. We know the Red Sox are comfortable with Lester, and the only money they have committed beyond 2015 is to Dustin Pedroia.
ZiPS is high on prospect Matt Barnes but sees him as a league-average pitcher, not a 4-WAR type, and the AL East is an extremely competitive division. There are also prospects Henry Owens, Brandon Workman and Allen Webster, but none of them are likely to match Lester's typical performance quickly, and the Red Sox will have other holes to replace given that Peavy's a free agent as well, John Lackey becomes one after the 2015 season and the odds are that somebody gets injured.
Where might Lester go?
Of course, time and again we see elite free agents leave their clubs even if staying put seems inevitable (see Cano, Robinson). So let's say Lester bolts Boston, where might he land? A few destinations come to mind.
The Cubs have shown interest in making a splashy free-agent signing and were reportedly a player for the very expensive services of Masahiro Tanaka. But by next year, a big signing starts to make more practical sense for them, with their bevy of offensive prospects closer to the majors. (Javier Baez, Kris Bryant and Jorge Soler head up an extremely long list.) The Cubs' pitching prospects aren't quite at that level, so if they want to spend money, a starting pitcher is a good place to go, and Lester has a history with Cubs president Theo Epstein, who used to be GM of the Red Sox. Lester will also benefit from facing pitchers over DHs.
Seattle landed the big fish over the winter in Robinson Cano, but outside of that signing, it didn't really do enough to make the team truly competitive with the A's or Rangers in the AL West. Max Scherzer would be the best addition, but he can only sign with one team, and Lester is from Tacoma, so there's at least some pre-existing connection with the franchise.
San Francisco Giants
At this point, there's little reason to be bullish on either Tim Lincecum or Ryan Vogelsong in the long term. The team already has $125 million in guaranteed salaries for 2015 and $84.5 million for 2016, so Scherzer might be a little out of the Giants' price range. Lester's the obvious No. 2 in the market, and to keep pace with the high-spending Dodgers despite a lower-tier farm system, the Giants are going to have to do more than simply wait for pitching prospect Kyle Crick.
The negotiations with Scherzer have broken down, but with the gigantic extension for Miguel Cabrera's declining years, there's little question the Tigers still see themselves in a win-now mode. If they're not unwilling to pay unlimited amounts of money -- and the trade of Doug Fister and the lackluster bullpen fixes suggest they are not -- Lester would provide a less expensive alternate.
The Tigers have little chance of coming even close to replacing Scherzer in-house next season and have upgraded their infield defense, so Lester provides an intriguing fall-back position if they can't come to terms with Scherzer before their exclusive negotiating window closes.
How travel costs the Mariners.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
While Clayton Kershaw's back injury kept that storyline in the news for another week or so, much of the talk surrounding the impact of travel has died down. It shouldn't.
Every year, the disparity of miles traveled has an impact on the standings, and there are certain teams that are most affected, such as the Seattle Mariners and the clubs in the NL Central and AL East.
Seattle, for example, kicks off a four-game series in Texas tonight before heading to Miami for three before flying back to Seattle for a series with Houston. There is not a single day off in there, and that's a continuation of a trend from the past few years.
Mariners get a raw deal
In 2011, the Mariners had to travel 53,415 miles, which is the most by any team since 2009, and that includes the teams that began their seasons in Japan and Australia. At the start of that season, the ZiPS projection system had Seattle pegged for 86 wins, and the M's ended up winning just 67, 19 shy of that projection.
In 2013, the Mariners were again over the 50,000 mark, traveling 51,845 miles. This is the second-longest travel schedule of any team since 2009. At the start of the season ZiPS projected them to win 87 games and they managed only 71 victories.
Based on that anecdotal evidence, I went back to 2009 and looked at each team's projected record (via ZiPS) and compared it to their actual record to see if long travel had an impact in the standings. In the graphic below, which looks at expected record versus miles traveled, we see that miles traveled does not typically have a major impact. However, we do see some major discrepancies on the extremes.
All the way on the right, we see the two Mariners seasons discussed earlier, the two biggest underperformances (per ZiPS) since 2009. This year, the M's are once again the only team scheduled to travel more than 50,000 miles; here's a look at the top five.
Most miles to travel in 2014
1. Mariners: 51,540
2. A's: 47,259
3. Angels: 45,868
4. D-backs: 45,053
5. Dodgers: 44,675
As you'll note, the top five all play in the Pacific time zone, and the top three are in the AL West. While Oakland doesn't quite match up with Seattle, the A's are the only AL West club that makes two separate flights to New York, and they do the trips just three weeks apart, on June 3 and June 24.
On the flip side in the AL are the Baltimore Orioles, a team that theoretically is competing for a playoff spot with the Mariners and A's and travels roughly half as much as they do. The O's have only one West Coast trip, knocking out the Mariners, A's and Angels in one shot, and they are the only AL East team to hit the other AL West opponents, the Astros and Rangers, in one trip.
Of course, the O's aren't in the best shape when it comes to travel.
NL Central advantage
If you go back to the scatter graph above, you'll notice two other data points all the way on the left. Since 2009, those are the two examples of teams drastically overperforming their projections relative to miles traveled, and both of those teams -- the 2012 Cincinnati Reds and 2013 St. Louis Cardinals -- play in the NL Central.
Last season, the Cardinals traveled just 21,191 miles and outperformed their ZiPS projection (85 wins) by 12 games (97 victories). The Cardinals made no cross-country flights during that season.
A year before that the Reds won 97 games when ZiPS had them pegged for only 87, and they traveled fewer than 23,000 miles.
Teams in the NL Central have always had it fairly easy in terms of travel because of their close proximity to one another, and their travel burden was lessened in 2013 when the Astros moved to the AL West. And last year, teams from the NL Central happened to claim both NL wild-card slots.
This season, no NL Central club will pass the 30,000-mile mark, and the biggest beneficiary is the Chicago Cubs, who have the lightest travel schedule of any team in 2014, only 22,969 miles.
Fewest miles to travel in 2014
26. Orioles: 24,177
27. Pirates: 23,623
28. Cardinals: 23,474
29. Reds: 23,089
30. Cubs: 22,969
As you can see, the bottom four are all from the NL Central; here's a look at the Cubs' travel map, which you can compare to the Mariners' map above.
When looking for secondary factors that will impact the standings, do not discount the schedule, particularly as it pertains to clubs with wildly different travel schedules competing for the same playoff spots.
Based on the past few years, we've seen 23,000 and 50,000 as the magic mile markers when it comes to performance versus projection. The Cubs are the only team coming under 23,000 miles this year, while the Mariners are the sole club over 50K. ZiPS projects Chicago for 75 wins and Seattle for 83, and if recent history is a guide, you can take the under on the latter and the over on the former.
Don't expect Royals to improve.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Although it's just one swept series and it's still early, it's hard to see where the Royals as currently constituted could make enough gains to reach the postseason.
Poor lineup choices
The Royals' offense was one big key I focused on in February. I pegged Salvador Perez as a breakout player, and he is doing just that. Even after an 0-for-4 showing on Sunday, Perez stands at .333/.455/.472 for the season, good for a 165 wRC+. That's pretty great, but the rest of the squad isn't pulling its weight.
The Royals player with the next-best wRC+ is Alex Gordon at 113. That's about where you would expect to see him, and Lorenzo Cain, Omar Infante and Norichika Aoki are all hitting within their expected spheres of performance. Eric Hosmer and Billy Butler surely will improve, but they are not hitting enough at the moment, and at least some of their gains will cancel out when Perez comes back to earth a little bit. But two of the three problem hitters from a year ago, Alcides Escobar and Mike Moustakas, are still stinking up the joint.
Shortstop is not an offense-first position, but even by those lax standards, Escobar doesn't hit well. Through Sunday afternoon's games, Escobar's 59 wRC+ ranked 21st out of 25 qualifying shortstops. With Moustakas, though, the team has a partial solution, but manager Ned Yost appears reticent to take advantage of it.
As we mentioned in February, for his career, Danny Valencia has hit .327/.364/.509 (138 wRC+) in 431 plate appearances against left-handed pitchers, while Moustakas has hit .219/.275/.327 (63 wRC+) in 402 PAs against southpaws. Moustakas may hold a defensive edge over Valencia but not a large-enough one to account for the 75 percentage point difference between their performances against lefties. Yet Yost has started Moustakas against two of the first three lefties the Royals have faced.
That sort of thing might be acceptable if the other Royals hitters were firing on all cylinders, but they have scored only 32 runs in their first 11 games. The team can't afford to have Moustakas' .111/.220/.167 line weighing down the lineup in every game.
Since 1901, 2,712 MLB players have tallied at least 1,500 career plate appearances. Of them, 737 accrued at least that many by the end of their age-25 seasons. And of them, only 101 posted a worse wRC+ through their age-25 seasons than the 82 wRC+ Moustakas is currently sporting. And of those 101, 72 of them began their careers before 1980, and 63 of them were solely middle infielders. This isn't to say Moustakas is hopeless, as there are a couple of intriguing names on this list -- notably Yadier Molina and Carlos Gomez -- but for the moment, Moustakas is a historically bad hitter, and he isn't a good-enough fielder to warrant playing him every day.
Of course, this isn't the first time we've seen this sort of misplaced loyalty from Royals management. From 2011 to 2013, it let Jeff Francoeur pile up 1,452 plate appearances of replacement-level play. From 2010 to 2013, it let Chris Getz pile up 1,124 plate appearances of replacement-level play. Escobar is 1,925 plate appearances into a Royals career that has seen him post a 71 wRC+. This is an organization that watched Yuniesky Betancourt post minus-0.9 WAR from 2009 to 2010, then willingly signed him to a free-agent contract two years later.
History has shown that the Royals are slow to cut the cord on underperforming position players, but every day that they hold out hope for Moustakas and Escobar, they are crushing their playoff chances.
Not stranding runners
The pitching has been nearly identical to last season, at least in terms of fielding independent pitching (FIP). There have been a couple of bad breaks, such as Aaron Crow coughing up the just-gained-for-him lead in the eighth inning of Sunday's game, but overall, the team is pitching nearly the same (3.86 FIP this season compared to 3.83 last season).
The problem is that we can't expect the bullpen to repeat its incredible success of a year ago. In 2013, Kansas City relievers had an AL-best strand rate of 81.4 percent, which was the best in the circuit going back 10 seasons. This year, that statistic has dropped 54.8 percent to 26.6, which is the worst in the majors.
Strand rates have a high degree of variability from year to year, and the Royals' strand rate won't be this bad all season, but it will take a lot of work to get even close to that 2013 rate again. And in the process, they would need their starting pitchers to not drop off one bit.
When we took a look at the team back in February, FanGraphs' odds gave the Royals a 31.5 percent chance to reach the postseason and a 23.5 percent chance to reach the American League Division Series. After the far-less-than-optimal opening 11 games, those odds have declined to 16.8 percent and 12.1 percent, respectively. Both percentages are higher than those of only four AL teams -- the Orioles, White Sox, Twins and Astros.
The O's are harboring playoff aspirations of their own, but the other three teams can be safely classified in the "rebuilding/purposefully tanking" category. And that 16.8 percent chance of reaching the wild-card game is 9 percent lower than that of the next-highest team, the Blue Jays.
The Royals entered the season with a fair amount of hype, but their play thus far has done little to justify that optimism. Unless they make some changes on offense and get a huge reversal of fortune from the bullpen, their playoff drought will continue.
The best hitter in the draft class.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
This weekend we saw two stars from Southern California continue their sensational seasons, the battle to be the second collegiate starter off the board take an interesting turn, and up and down weekends for the best bats in the class.
San Diego preps continue to thrive
San Diego has been a hotbed of talent over the last few years, and in Alex Jackson and Brady Aiken, it may just have the best two prep players in the country this spring.
Coming into the year, Jackson (Rancho Bernardo HS) was considered by most to be one of -- if not the -- best prep hitters in the country, and while there are still some questions about his overall upside and where he'll end up defensively, he's done very little to diminish his stock.
Jackson was particularly impressive on Thursday, hitting two homers against Torrey Pines High School, giving the right-handed hitting catcher seven on the season and 43 over his three years at Rancho Bernardo. The Oregon commit has impressed scouts with his ability to hit the ball hard to all parts of the field, and he's one of the few hitters in this year's class to get plus grades with both the hit and power tool.
"I think Jackson is the best hitter in the class," an NL scout said. "He had some timing issues early in the year, but he's impressed me with the way he's made adjustments. I think you're looking at a guy who can hit .300 and give you 25-30 homers during his best seasons, and I don't see any other hitter with that kind of potential this season at either the college or high school level. I think he's going to end up in right field, and he should be an All-Star there."
2014 Draft Order
1. Houston Astros
2. Miami Marlins
3. Chicago White Sox
4. Chicago Cubs
5. Minnesota Twins
6. Seattle Mariners
7. Philadelphia Phillies
8. Colorado Rockies
9. Toronto Blue Jays
10. New York Mets
11. Toronto Blue Jays*
12. Milwaukee Brewers
13. San Diego Padres
14. San Francisco Giants
15. Los Angeles Angels
16. Arizona Diamondbacks
17. Kansas City Royals
18. Washington Nationals
19. Cincinnati Reds
20. Tampa Bay Rays
21. Cleveland Indians
22. Los Angeles Dodgers
23. Detroit Tigers
24. Pittsburgh Pirates
25. Oakland Athletics
26. Boston Red Sox
27. St. Louis Cardinals
*Comp pick for failing to sign 2013 first-rounder Phil Bickford.
Jackson is a lock for the top half of the first round, and could go in the top 10 to a team like the Toronto Blue Jays, Philadelphia Phillies or Minnesota Twins.
Meanwhile, it was another dominating effort from Cathedral Catholic High School's Aiken, who continues to establish himself as the consensus No. 1 player in this draft. Aiken struck out 8 over 5 1/3 innings against Patrick Henry High school on Wednesday, hitting 96 mph with his fastball and showing the same quality secondary stuff he has this spring.
"At some point you run out of superlatives [about Aiken]," an NL crosschecker said. "The kid just knows how to pitch, and I love the delivery. It's been a long time since we've seen a prep pitcher go first overall, but I really think this could be the year."
In fact, the last time a prep pitcher went No. 1 overall is when the Yankees took Brien Taylor with the first pick in 1991.
Battle for No. 2 hurler heats up
Even with his inconsistencies, Carlos Rodon is still considered the consensus top collegiate pitcher in the class, but who that second hurler will be is still very much up for debate.
• LSU's Aaron Nola has been among the most consistent quality arms in college baseball this year, and that run continued on Friday night against Arkansas. Nola set a career high with 13 strikeouts in his seven innings against the Razorbacks, giving up just four hits and two earned runs in the process. The Tiger ace has now just allowed five earned runs on the year, with a batting average against of just .143.
"The command [for Nola] today was exceptional," an NL East scout said. "He located his fastball and breaking ball pretty much wherever he wanted today outside of the two leadoff walks in the second and seventh. I'm still not sure how well he's going to do verse quality left handed hitters, but when you're placing the ball where you want it may not matter."
Nola still looks likely to go in the first 20 picks, with teams like the Milwaukee Brewers, Washington Nationals and Kansas City Royals making sense as possible suitors.
• Jeff Hoffman has shown nowhere near the consistency Nola has this spring, and the East Carolina right-hander continued his up-and-down ways against Old Dominion. Hoffman gave up eight hits and three runs in his 6 1/3 innings of work with no walks and four strikeouts. He did get eight ground ball outs, but the lack of missed bats has grown concerning for some.
"He looks like a solid back-end starter to me," an AL West scout said. There's nothing wrong with that, but if you saw him over the summer you'd be disappointed with that prognosis. The slider/curve just isn't an out pitch like it was in the Cape Cod League, and without that, I don't see a guy worth a top ten pick."
• Vanderbilt right-hander Tyler Beede was once again not at his best on Friday against Texas A&M, though like Rodon his defense didn't help him much.
Beede gave up nine hits and seven runs over his five innings of work, walking four and striking out four. The former Blue Jays first-rounder had shown vastly improved command over the first six weeks of the season, but he's struggled to locate his pitches and throw strikes over the last month, and the breaking ball has been closer to an average offering rather than plus like it was in February and most of March.
Most scouts I've talked to believe that Beede is still No. 2 on the collegiate pitching board, but Nola and Hoffman both have a chance to pass him with strong finishes to their respective seasons.
Up-and-down weekend for college bats
• Indiana's Kyle Schwarber is one of the more divisive prospects in the 2014 draft, with some believing he's a future middle-of-the-order hitting catcher, and others believing he's a second-tier first baseman at the next level.
This weekend didn't put an end to that debate, but it certainly helped solidify his promising offensive stock. Schwarber went 6-for-10 over Friday and Saturday with a triple and a double, giving him 15 extra-base hits for the season. He showed some versatility, playing both left field and catcher for the Hoosiers, and despite his stocky build, he might just have the athleticism to stick behind the plate as a pro.
"I would give Schwarber every chance to catch," an NL scout said. "The bat looks so much better there than it does at first base or even the outfield, and I don't think he's going to be able to handle the outfield on an everyday basis anyway.
"It's an uphill battle for him to stay behind the plate, but it'd be foolish to just completely write him off at the position as well. If he can stick, someone's going to get a future all-star."
Schwarber should go early on day one, with teams like the Los Angeles Angels and Arizona Diamondbacks making sense as landing spots for his services.
• San Francisco's Bradley Zimmer has quietly established himself as arguably the best outfield prospect in the entire draft, but was not at his best against Pacific. Zimmer went 1-for-10 on Friday and Saturday with two strikeouts, with the one hit being a single. The left-handed hitting center fielder has put up gaudy numbers this season (.406/.478/.667), but the swing has been described by many as awkward, and there are concerns about where he'll end up playing in the field.
"[Zimmer] wasn't at his best this weekend, but I'm not too concerned," an AL area scout said. "He's been so hot lately that he was bound to have a couple of games that didn't go his way, that's just how baseball works. I still think he's the best collegiate bat in this year's class, and if I were a director picking in the top 10 I'd give him strong consideration."
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
But Moore needs to improve his control and his swinging strike rate if he wants to develop into anything more than an innings eater who doesn’t eat innings. Add to the warning flags: He missed a month in elbow inflammation and his fastball slowed almost two miles per hour from 2012. On the merit of his tools alone, Moore is still worth keeping on a roster, but he has too many shortcomings at his point to expect much more than 175 innings and a league-average FIP. Whether he’ll beat his FIP or not depends on how you see his career-best .259 batting average on balls in play.
There were those issues, and there was no overlooking the fact that Moore’s velocity was in decline. However, that was not the only indicator in decline for Moore and it did not take this most recent injury to find a problem with him.
Velocity was just one of the many areas where Matt Moore was showing decline heading into the 2014 season. Moore’s rates were in a two-year decline in each of the following areas:
It all starts with strike one. As our own Eno Sarris told MLB.com last year, first strike percentage is important enough to explain almost half the variance in walk rate. He wrote a piece in January of 2013 that pitchers were throwing first pitch strikes at a higher rate than they previously had. Getting that first strike gives the pitcher a distinct advantage in the count.
Since 2009, if a pitcher gets into an 0-1 count, the league has hit .226/.267/.345 after that point. In that same stretch, the league has hit .256/.323/.404 after 1-0 counts. That first strike is worth 30 points in batting average, 56 points in on base percentage, and 59 points of slugging percentage.
Once a pitcher gets behind in the count at 1-0, he has to come into the strike zone to get back even in the count. This is something Moore had to do quite a bit in 2013 as his first pitch strike percentage fell from 60.1% in 2012 to just 50.9% in 2013. Compounding his early command struggles was the fact batters made more contact against him both in and out of the strike zone, as well as cut down on their swinging strike rates. In fact, Moore’s numbers declined in each of the eight bulleted categories listed above. The declining velocity was one issue, but that much scaffolding falling down around him was going to make it tough for him to remain productive even before the injury crept up.
Moore is the only pitcher who declined in each category over 2012 to 2013, but he is not the only pitcher to decline in a majority of them. This is the list of the pitchers who have declined over the past two seasons in at least five of the eight categories:
Pitcher O-Swing% Swing% O-Contact Z-Contact Contact% Zone% SwStr% F-Strike%
Matt Moore X X X X X X X X
CC Sabathia X X X X X X
Jon Niese X X X X X X
Ian Kennedy X X X X X
Mike Leake X X X X X
Paul Maholm X X X X X
Ryan Vogelsong X X X X X
Trevor Cahill X X X X X
Wei-Yin Chen X X X X X
Yovani Gallardo X X X X X
That list has a few candidates with some of the same issues that Moore struggled with physically. Sabathia and Niese have both fought through injury issues. Sabathia, Vogelsong, and Gallardo have had notable struggles with velocity over the past two seasons. Cahill was recently demoted to the bullpen after getting off to a poor start to the season, and then there is Kennedy. He is an odd name on this list as he has maintained an above-league average strikeout rate despite the fact the league has made more contact against him than it did in 2010 and 2011.
The decrease in velocity is certainly a factor in the struggles some of these pitchers have had. Struggles in the other area also speaks to a decline in life on the pitches as batters have an easier time making contact with the pitches. While we worry about what went wrong with Moore, let’s not overlook the fact that others are heading down very similar paths.
The Old and the Restlesss: Weighted Team Ages.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
The depth charts also include expected future playing time for guys in the high minors who haven’t yet gotten the call to the big leagues, but should be expected to see some big league time this summer. The Astros weighted team age includes the playing time we’re expecting top prospects George Springer, Jonathan Singleton, and Mark Appel to get in Houston later this year, so this process evaluates a team’s age not just by what they currently have on the team but also the talent that should arrive in the near future.
Without further ado, the data.
The Astros and Marlins have the two youngest teams in baseball, to no one’s surprise. The Yankees, Phillies, and Red Sox are old, but again, this is not new information. But there are still some fascinating pieces of information in that graph.
For instance, the defending NL champion Cardinals come out as the fifth youngest team in baseball. The Pirates 2013 surge — led by core stars such as Andrew McCutchen and Starling Marte — makes them appear as the new young challengers in the NL Central, but the Cardinals are actually younger than the Pirates are, as St. Louis’ seemingly never-ending waves of talent just keep filling holes and providing value at the big league level. There’s a reason everyone wants to copy The Cardinal Way; they win with rosters that are comparable in age to clubs in the midst of long-term rebuilding projects.
Likewise, the Braves also deserve recognition for contending with the third youngest roster in MLB. They spent the off-season locking up the majority of their young core, but this graph is a reminder of just how young the Braves really are. The Cardinals and Braves are the best current examples of teams having both a strong present and future base of talent.
On the other end of the spectrum, I don’t really think of the Blue Jays as a particularly old team, but they rely heavily on R.A. Dickey and Mark Buehrle to carry their rotation, and Jose Bautista is a sneaky older player, since he developed late and doesn’t feel like he’s been around forever. While Bautista is still very productive, he’s also 33, and Edwin Encarnacion is 31. It’s not just the Toronto pitchers that are probably on the downside of their careers, and this is a roster that needs to win in the near future before some reckoning occurs.
Also in the sneaky old category, look at where the Royals and Rays are. Both teams are often talked about as being full of good young talent, but the Royals rotation is Yordano Ventura and four guys on the wrong side of 30, while the Rays lean heavily on 33 year old Ben Zobrist and 31 year old Yunel Escobar. Both organizations have produced a number of franchise-type young players over the last few years, but not as much as of late, leaving them to fill holes with veteran stop-gaps from outside the organization. There’s nothing wrong with having David DeJesus or Norichika Aoki around, but guys like that aren’t going to be productive for that much longer.
The Rays and Royals are two good examples of the trade-offs that contending teams make, however. Generally, older teams win more than younger teams, and if you’re in win-now mode, you have to fill out your roster with some veterans who can still contribute but don’t have much long term upside. The youngest teams are usually not contenders, and can afford to give playing time to guys who wouldn’t otherwise play on a team concerned with maximizing present wins. However, the correlation between team age and expected rest-of-season winning percentage isn’t actually that dramatic.
That’s an r of .34 and a r squared of .12, which means that you can chalk up about 12 percent of the difference in a team’s expected performance to their weighted team age. It matters, but it’s certainly not the driving force that cliches like “experience wins championships” have driven home for years. Older teams are better, but there’s a ton of noise in there too, and just loading up on veterans is no sure way to guarantee victory.
If you’re looking for an ideal combination of youth and current performance, you’re looking at a cluster of teams in that lower right hand quadrant: the Nationals, Cardinals, Rangers, and A’s. On the depressing side of things, there’s the upper left area, which houses the Twins and, most notably, the Phillies. No team in baseball has a worse combination of expected 2014 performance (.470 win%) and weighted team age (30.9 years). The Yankees are the oldest team in baseball, but at least they’re expected to have a winning season; the Phillies are the franchise with both a questionable present and a bleak future.
For those interested in seeing the full weighted age breakdowns by team, for both batters and pitchers, the full table is below.
Team Age BatAge PitchAge
Astros 26.9 25.8 27.9
Marlins 27.0 28.7 25.3
Braves 27.6 27.9 27.3
Mariners 27.6 27.5 27.7
White Sox 28.1 28.5 27.7
Cardinals 28.1 29.1 27.1
Cubs 28.2 27.4 29.0
Orioles 28.3 28.4 28.2
Rockies 28.3 28.2 28.5
Nationals 28.5 28.6 28.4
Pirates 28.6 28.0 29.1
Reds 28.6 29.5 27.7
Athletics 28.6 29.7 27.5
Rangers 28.7 29.1 28.2
Mets 28.8 28.5 29.0
Indians 28.9 30.1 27.8
Padres 28.9 29.0 28.8
Royals 29.1 28.2 30.0
Rays 29.2 29.8 28.5
Brewers 29.2 28.9 29.4
Twins 29.3 28.6 30.0
Angels 29.3 30.4 28.2
Diamondbacks 29.4 29.0 29.7
Tigers 29.6 30.7 28.6
Dodgers 29.8 30.2 29.3
Blue Jays 30.0 29.2 30.8
Giants 30.2 29.6 30.8
Red Sox 30.8 30.5 31.1
Phillies 30.9 30.9 31.0
Yankees 31.5 33.0 30.0
——- ——- ——- ——-
Average 28.9 29.1 28.8
Median 28.8 29.0 28.6
The Potentially Historic Comeback of Michael Pineda.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
At age 20, Jim Palmer had now truly arrived, following up a 15-win regular season with this heroic effort. The future could not appear brighter for a kid who, unbeknownst to anyone at the time, would pitch all of 49 major league innings over the next two seasons due to a serious shoulder injury. Why is any of this relevant? Because this is as close as anything in baseball history to a successful precedent for the comeback currently being attempted by the Yankees’ Michael Pineda.
Pineda’s 2011 debut with the Mariners was stellar by any measure. He was dominant through the season’s first half, and after a six-inning, 7 K outing on July 4 against the A’s. his record stood at 8-5, 2.58, with a 106/34 K/BB ratio and only 75 hits allowed in 108 innings. At age 22, his future appeared as bright as Palmer’s had almost 45 years before. He pitched in the All Star Game, but was hit hard in the three starts surrounding the midsummer classic. For the remainder of the 2011 season, Pineda never again pitched on regular rest – he was already bearing down on his career high of 139 innings in a season – as the club tried to find a middle ground between a regular starter’s workload and a total shutdown.
That offseason, he was traded to the Yankees along with minor league hurler Jose Campos for Jesus Montero and Hector Noesi, a deal that appeared to be a washout for both clubs entering this season, as Pineda lost all of 2012 and 2013 to surgery for a significant labral tear in his shoulder. Based on Pineda’s first two starts this season, this deal might still have a pulse on the Yankee end.
Let’s take a couple of different approaches to attempt to find situations comparable to Pineda’s faced by past starting pitchers. First, going back to 1938, pitchers who qualified for an ERA title for the first time by age 22 and then did not again qualify until age 25 were identified. Only nine pitchers met this criteria, which had no qualitative restrictions of any kind attached to it.
NAME 1ST Q YR 1ST Q AGE YR 2 IP YR 3 IP 2ND Q YR 2ND Q AGE REASON FOR DNQ
J.Palmer 1966 20 49 1969 23 Shoulder
Koonce 1962 21 73 31 1965 24 Ineffective/Minors
K.Wood 1998 21 137 2001 24 Elbow (TJ)
T.Underwood 1975 21 156 133 1978 24 Swingman
Greinke 2005 21 6 122 2008 24 Social anxiety/Swingman
D.Alexander 1973 22 114 133 1976 25 Swingman
Rusch 1997 22 155 5 2000 25 Ineffective/Minors
Ol.Perez 2004 22 103 113 2007 25 Ineffective/Toe
Broberg 1972 22 119 29 1975 25 Ineffective/Minors
Pineda 2011 22 ? ? Shoulder
A wide-ranging list, to be sure. Most of these players didn’t qualify for ERA titles in the two seasons immediately following their first qualification for the same reason – they weren’t established as true major leaguers from a talent perspective. Cal Koonce, Glendon Rusch and Pete Broberg meet that strict definition, and while Oliver Perez certainly had the talent, his mechanics continually wavered, and left him unable to display it on a consistent basis.
Tom Underwood and Doyle Alexander were useful big league contributors in their two intervening seasons, but were fifth starter types who also did some work out of the pen, not accumulating enough innings to qualify for the ERA title. Zack Greinke‘s situation was quite unique, as he stepped away from the game for almost the entire 2006 season to address social anxiety issues, and then was used primarily out of the pen in 2007.
That leaves only two pitchers who didn’t qualify for ERA titles for two consecutive seasons after their first qualifying season at age 22 or younger who lost those seasons specifically due to injury – Jim Palmer and Kerry Wood. Wood’s injury was to his elbow, and after missing all of 1999, he came within 25 innings of qualifying in 2000, before returning to the qualifying ranks in 2001. While a Tommy John surgery is serious business, one has a much better chance of recovering from a serious injury to the elbow than to the shoulder.
Palmer clearly comes the closest to matching Pineda’s scenario. While Pineda is the only one of this group to log zero major league innings in the two seasons after his first qualifying season, Palmer pitched by far the fewest among the above group. Most importantly, he is the only one of the group to miss almost all of those two seasons due to a serious shoulder injury. Palmer pitched through his shoulder pain – he walked 54 batters in 71 minor league innings in 1967 and 1968, and even pitched in winter ball before miraculously coming out of the other end of the sausage grinder intact, and somehow primed to pitch 3600 innings and win 245 games over the next 16 seasons, beginning in 1969.
Now let’s put some qualitative restrictions on pitchers with comparable situations to Pineda. Below is a list of starting pitchers who A) since 1901, qualified for the ERA title for the first time at age 22 or younger, B) had a K/9 IP ratio of at least one full standard deviation higher than the average of their league’s ERA qualifiers that season, and C) missed qualifying for the ERA title for non-performance-based reasons at least once within two years of their first qualifying season.
NAME 1ST Q AGE + STD K 2ND Q AGE TOT Q YR LST Q AGE REASON FOR DNQ
Nolan 19 1.55 22 6 28 Shoulder
Ankiel 20 2.01 N/A 1 20 The Thing
P.Dean 20 1.92 21 2 21 Shoulder
Correa 20 1.76 N/A 1 20 Shoulder
K.Wood 21 3.80 24 4 26 Elbow (TJ)
Ba.Johnson 21 1.81 26 2 26 Knee, back, etc.
T.Griffin 21 1.35 26 3 33 Various injs.
Ol.Perez 22 2.44 25 3 26 Toe, mechanics
Prior 22 2.34 24 2 24 Elbow, shoulder, etc.
Youmans 22 1.41 N/A 1 22 Shoulder
Harden 22 1.11 N/A 1 22 Shoulder, elbow
Pineda 22 1.46 ? ? ? Shoulder
A very interesting list of “could have beens”. Gary Nolan was a young, fireballing phenom for the 1967 Reds, striking out 206 batters – and walking 92 – in his age 19 season. His shoulder issues robbed him of his best stuff very early in his career, but he pitched through the pain, willing his way through four 200-inning seasons, with his K and BB rates plunging all the while. He adapted and still had solid big league success (110-70 record, 117 ERA+), mostly as a finesse guy, but fell far short of what was once envisioned.
Rick Ankiel famously unraveled in the 2000 playoffs, walking 11 batters in 4 IP over two starts after a sparkling age-20 regular season in which he struck out 194 batters – and walked 90 in 175 innings. He only pitched 34 more innings in the big leagues, though he did carve out an enduring career as an outfielder through last season. Paul Dean, Dizzy’s younger brother, pitched a total of 503 innings in his age 21 and 22 seasons combined, winning 19 games both years. He would only pitch 284 more major league innings over seven seasons, striking out only 94 batters after his shoulder injury.
Edwin Correa struck out 189 batters – and walked 126 – in his age-20 rookie season in 1986. He too hurt his shoulder, and only pitched 70 more big league innings. Wood was briefly discussed earlier – he did return from his Tommy John surgery to unfurl three more Kerry Wood-esque seasons from ages 24 through 26, but was then struck down by a succession of injuries to his triceps, shoulder and then elbow again, which many trace to the heavy workload that he and Mark Prior (see below) were forced to carry during the 2003 season, when Wood was 26. He ended up fashioning a reasonably successful second act as a reliever, pitching until 2012.
Bart Johnson was basically the Rick Ankiel of his era. He struck out 153 – and walked 111 – in 178 innings as a starter/closer in 1971 at age 21, but was then hindered by knee and back injuries, and even became a position player in the minors for awhile before a rebound season as a finesse guy in 1976. Tom Griffin was a journeyman who qualified for three ERA titles at ages 21, 26 and 33, an interesting combination. In his rookie 1969 season, he struck out 200 batters – and walked 93 – in 188 1/3 innings, but then never again struck out more than 110 batters in a season in an injury-plagued career.
Oliver Perez is somehow still active, and was quite effective in 2013. After a strong age-22 season in 2004, he broke his toe and his mechanics went haywire, and he couldn’t get anyone out for two years. He has alternated between feast and famine cycles ever since, but has lived to tell about it. Mark Prior was the best pre-injury “pitcher” of this group, the only one who exhibited strong control in his first qualifying season, posting a 245/50 K/BB ratio in 211 innings in 2003 at age 22. He broke his elbow in 2004, and after a reasonably strong bounce-back season in 2005 was then derailed by the shoulder injury that ended his career.
Floyd Youmans struck out 202 batters – and walked 118 – in 219 innings at age 22 in 1986, but only pitched 243 MLB innings the rest of his career, whiffing only 74 batters in his last 127 innings. Shoulder surgery again was the culprit. Rich Harden struck out 167 batters – walking 81 – in 189 2/3 innings at age 22 in 2004. He was beset by a barrage of shoulder and elbow injuries, but did manage to pitch 664 more MLB innings over the next seven seasons, including three years with more than 125 innings, striking out 715 batters along the way. The stuff never left, but the durability never came back.
What can we learn from these pitchers and apply to the Pineda situation? First, there aren’t many success stories here. Gary Nolan and Kerry Wood went on to have the best careers among the group, but both still fell what short of what might have been. Most notably, all of these pitchers with the exception of Prior and Paul Dean had below average control prior to their first significant career-interrupting injury. High K and high BB totals equal high pitch counts, and added potential for overuse at a young age. Without their Grade A stuff, all of the below average command guys except for Nolan and Wood were unable to appreciably improve their strike-throwing enough to have a post-injury future.
Michael Pineda did not have poor command in his rookie season. In fact, his calling card as he advanced through the minors was his unusual combination of upper-90′s heat and very low walk rates – he walked barely over two batters per nine innings over his minor league career, and averaged under three per nine innings in his 2011 rookie season. Let’s take a look at all of Pineda’s 2011 plate appearance outcome frequencies to see how the pre-injury version got things done:
Pineda % REL PCT
K 25.4% 141 94
BB 8.1% 106 65
POP 14.1% 166 95
FLY 27.5% 99 45
LD 22.5% 106 76
GB 35.9% 76 18
On the positive side, both his K and popup rates are at the extreme high end of the spectrum, with 94 and 95 percentile ranks, respectively. That’s a devastating “free out” combination that gives him tons of margin for error regarding the relative authority of other types of contact he can allow without materially negatively impacting his overall performance. His line drive rate was high (76 percentile rank), but that may regress going forward. Pineda was a fly ball pitcher in 2011, with a very low grounder rate (18 percentile rank). His BB rate was above average for a starting pitcher (65 percentile rank), but that was influenced by an upward late-season spike as his partial shutdown phase was implemented.
Repertoire-wise, Pineda dominated in 2011 with basically two pitches – a fastball that averaged nearly 95 MPH and a wipeout slider that averaged 84 MPH, with the odd changeup mixed in. The lack of a legit changeup was the prime reason for his fairly large platoon split (110 relative OPS+ vs. lefties, 89 vs. righties). His swing-and-miss percentage of 11.9% ranked second among AL ERA qualifiers in 2011.
It’s only been two starts, but so far, the 2014 version of Michael Pineda looks an awful lot like the 2011 model. His swing-and-miss rate is even better, at 14.1%. His popup rate is high, and he is showing a strong fly ball tendency. The big platoon split is still there. His average fastball velocity is down by over 2 MPH to 92.3, though he is throwing his slider and changeup at almost exactly the same average speed, and is throwing them the almost exact same percentage of the time as he did in 2011.
Michael Pineda needed to accomplish two exceedingly difficult tasks to get back to being the dominant starter he was in 2011. The first was to get back to being the same guy qualitatively – the early returns suggest that he has done that. Only Kerry Wood and – briefly – Mark Prior on the second list above were able to do so, even for a short period. The second task is to make it stick – to hold up over time, to pitch enough innings to qualify for an ERA title, and beyond, experiencing enduring major league success. The jury is still out on that one.
This brings us back full circle to Jim Palmer. The link between Palmer and Pineda just might be the key to the latter’s chance of making it stick. In that 1966 World Series Game 2 shutout, Palmer recorded seven popups among his 21 contact outs. Palmer outperformed his K rate by one of the most significant margins in baseball history. Part of this was due to exceptional defense behind him – all-time great defenders supported Palmer at third base (Brooks Robinson), shortstop (Mark Belanger) and center field (Paul Blair) for most of his career – but only part of it. Palmer was one of the greatest contact managers in the game’s history, due in large part to his ability to generate popups – a true, measureable skill that Michael Pineda happens to share.
Pineda is not the athlete that Palmer was – but Palmer did not have the bat-missing ability that Pineda has. If Pineda can stay on the mound, continuing to show the strikeout/popup package that he has shown both before and after his shoulder injury, the sky is the limit. What he is in the process of doing is basically unprecedented in baseball history – baseball fans of all stripes should be able to get behind a positive outcome here, one that should be a lot of fun to watch unfold.
The Startlingly Effective Jesse Chavez’s Repertoire, Illustrated.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
What’s notable about the pitchers who appear towards the top of the leaderboard to which I’ve linked just above is that all of them either (a) entered the season having recorded more career major-league starts than Jesse Chavez or (b) signed a seven-year, $155 million contract with the Yankees this offseason after a celebrated career in Japanese baseball.
“How,” one wonders, “has the relatively unknown Chavez — in his age-30 season, having basically never been utilized as a starter in the majors — how has Chavez produced three starts of such quality?” Indeed, that would be an excellent question to have answered, and I look forward to such a time as a competent author pursues that particular line of inquiry.
In lieu of such an ambitious endeavor, however the present and much less competent author has provided the following alternative to such a study — namely, by attempting to document Chavez’s repertoire as it exists right now by means of however many GIFs are necessary.
In particular, I’ve taken interest in Chavez’s start at Target Stadium on April 9th, which park offers one the league’s better center-field cameras — one that’s much superior, for example, to Chavez’s home camera and all the others in the AL West, basically.
During his start against Minnesota — as with his other two starts (one before, one after) — Chavez exhibited four pitches: a first kind of fastball at 90-95 mph that’s sometimes divided into two separate classifications (a four-seamer, on the one hand; a two-seamer, on the other) but which creates one mostly distinct mass on the PITCHf/x chart below; a cut fastball with considerably more gloveside movement at 87-90 mph; a changeup at 84-87 mph; and a curveball with considerable vertical break at 76-78 mph.
Through three starts, Chavez has thrown each pitch at least about 15% or more of the time, relying most heavily on the cutter. As the chart above demonstrates, Chavez threw each pitch quite a bit against Minnesota, as well — with the distinction that he utilized the fastball more often than any of this other pitches.
Regardless of how one classifies it — whether four-seam or two-seam or sinker — the thing which Chavez throws that most resembles a fastball is the pitch most likely to end up in the zone and least likely to induce a swinging strike (by kinda a lot), making it both (a) probably an important part of Chavez’s success, but also (b) much less compelling in the visual sense.
Here’s an example of it from the fourth inning against Minnesota, for a called first strike to Chris Herrmann:
Against Minnesota, Chavez succeeded in throwing his cutter in at least three ways: within the zone while behind or even in the count, with a view to inviting weak contact; with the count in his favor, for a strike looking; and as a swing-and-miss offering.
Here’s an example of the middle one of those — in this case from the first inning, to strike out Chris Colabello looking:
And here’s an almost identical pitch, from the third inning — except one at which Brian Dozier offered and missed:
Finally, here’s perhaps the most aesthetically pleasing sort of Chavez’s cutters: the backfoot variety for a swinging strike — in this case to Pedro Florimon, also during the third inning, also for a strikeout.
Not surprisingly, Chavez (according to Brooks Baseball) has utilized the changeup about twice as often to left-handed batters this season as right-handed ones — ca. 18% and 9%, respectively. Also not surprisingly, Chavez’s changeup has produced the highest swinging-strike rate against left-handed batters among his repertoire.
Here’s an example of Chavez inducing a swinging strike from a batter against whom such a thing is generally quite difficult, Joe Mauer — in this case, during the first inning of that game in Minnesota.
Here’s the same thing, except slower and sexier:
Chavez’s curveball and his cutter have produced pretty similar whiff rates thus far this season, both at just under 20%. Chavez’s usage rates for the curve against right-handers demonstrate the two ways in which he appears to most often utilize the offering: either as a change of speeds for a strike looking or as a chase pitch down and out of the zone.
Here’s an example from the Minnesota game of Chavez striking out Jason Kubel with the curve:
And a slower version of that, for the enjoyment of everyone:
Finally, here’s some footage from Monday night, against Anaheim, in front of that stadium’s inferior center-field camera. First, one finds here, in the first inning, an instance of Chavez throwing the curve at such a point in his confrontation with Mike Trout (against whom Chavez recorded four swinging strikes) as the latter was clearly not anticipating the pitch, which he takes for a called strike three:
Just a few batters later, Chavez utilizes the curve in slightly different fashion, as a pitch below the zone at which Howie Kendrick offers fruitlessly.
Prospect Watch: Balog, Binford, and Bostick.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Level: Low-A Age: 21 Top-15: N/A Top-100: N/A
Line: 11 IP, 9 H, 5 R, 1 HR, 9/5 K/BB, 4.09 ERA, 4.38 FIP
The 70th overall pick in last year’s draft struggled mightily upon his introduction to pro ball in 2013, but has regained the stuff that got him drafted so high.
A 6’6″ behemoth out of the University of San Francisco, Alex Balog was chosen by the Rockies 70th overall in the 2013 draft, but the college product was dominated by short-season hitters in the Pioneer League after he signed. His velocity declined to the upper 80s, and he was pitching in homer-happy parks. Throw in some bad luck (.396 BABIP), and Balog walked away from his first 30 professional innings with a 9.30 ERA.
There were no hints of such bad form this past Friday, when I saw Balog, now with Low-A Asheville, overmatch a talented Hickory lineup with a very interesting three-pitch mix. Using a very easy delivery, Balog unleashes a 90-95 mph fastball that he’s willing to throw to all four quadrants of the zone. His size gives him good extension, and he uses a slight hip turn that hides the ball well, making the pitch jump on hitters. The pitch sets up a plus curveball that he’ll throw anywhere from 74-81 mph. He shows the ability to get the pitch over for called strikes and bury it in the dirt, as you can see in this strikeout of Lewis Brinson:
Finally, he tosses in a changeup anywhere from 78-86 mph that has nice sink and fade at its best. It works well to lefthanders, as one can see in these two strikeouts of Kellin Deglan:
With great size, an easy motion, and three pitches that flash at least solid-average, Balog is a very interesting pitching prospect who could quickly become a prospect-list presence if he can maintain this form. He has a good chance at becoming an innings-eater, and if he can add any velocity or further improve his changeup, he may have a shot at being an above-average starting pitcher. One key aspect to his reaching his ceiling is going to be keeping the ball in the park–the Rockies’ system is full of hitter’s havens, and Balog’s fastball doesn’t have much life, so it’ll be interesting to see how the short porches and wind patterns punish him for his heater’s straight trajectory.
Christian Binford, RHP, Kansas City Royals (Profile)
Level: High-A Age: 21 Top-15: N/A Top-100: N/A
Line: 12 IP, 8 H, 2 R, 16/0 K/BB, 0.00 ERA, 1.62 FIP
After a strong 2013 that established him as a solid pitching prospect, Binford has come out rolling in 2014. However, despite his intimidating size and results, he doesn’t look like a potential dominant starter.
Christian Binford is a 6’6″ righthander who lit up the Low-A South Atlantic League in 2013, posting a 2.67 ERA, 2.66 FIP, and 130/25 K/BB in 135 innings at age 20. Those are excellent numbers, and I was disappointed that I wasn’t able to see him and get context for them last year. Fortunately, I was able to see him a mere three days into this season–where he’s compiled 16 strikeouts in 44 batters faced without walking anyone–and while I didn’t come away particularly disappointed, I wasn’t blown away, either.
I’ll start with the positives. Binford is a 6’6″ righthander who, unlike many young hurlers of that height, has no trouble with his mechanics, utilizing a low-effort, repeatable delivery that allows him to project for near-plus command. He also has a solid fastball-slider combination–his heater works at 89-93 with good extension from his height, and the slider comes in at 79-82, occasionally flashing plus with two-plane bite. At other times, it gets less sharp and more slurvy, but it’s still an average pitch with a chance to round into more consistent plus form. You can see both pitches in action in these two strikeout videos:
However, Binford didn’t throw very many changeups in the outing, and the few he did throw were too firm and lacked much finish. That leaves him without great weaponry against lefthanded batters, since he doesn’t have premium velocity and sliders have been shown to have one of the largest platoon splits of pitch types. Indeed, lefties hit .304/.348/.396 last year against Binford, compared to just .218/.258/.304 for righties, so there’s some statistical evidence that this issue is already being reflected in the stat sheet.
With a fastball that probably won’t ever be a true plus offering and a changeup that needs a lot of work, Binford seems to have a difficult road ahead of him to be any sort of upper-echelon starting pitcher at the game’s highest level. That’s not to say that his combination of reasonable velocity, a good breaking pitch, and plus command and pitchability won’t make him a valuable innings-eater, but think more along the lines of Scott Feldman than Adam Wainwright.
Akeem Bostick, RHP, Texas Rangers (Profile)
Level: Low-A Age: 19 Top-15: N/A Top-100: N/A
Line: 9 2/3 IP, 9 H, 7 R, 7/2 K/BB, 4.66 ERA, 3.72 FIP
This high school product of the 2013 draft class has plenty of time and projection, but the early returns on his skillset this season leave a lot to be desired.
Bostick missed our own Marc Hulet’s Rangers Top 15, but he was picked 62nd overall last year–eight selections before Balog–and generally fell somewhere in the 10-25 range of Rangers prospects in most offseason lists after throwing well (2.83 ERA, 2.55 FIP) in the Arizona League after being drafted. As the above statline shows, he hasn’t completely fallen on his face in Low-A Hickory so far despite not turning 19 yet–another positive sign.
However, the actual on-field performance Bostick has shown has been less positive. Reported to have “a fastball that sat at 90-94 mph before the draft and tickled 96 in the AZL” in the 2014 Baseball America Prospect Handbook, he spent the entirety of his most recent start on April 10 working at a comparatively meager 88-91 mph. His fastball has some run and sink to it, but not so much that it makes up for such a lack of velocity.
Bostick spent much of the outing focusing on his changeup–he started quite a few batters with it to steal strikes, and also tried to turn to it as his “out pitch.” Here, he struck out Correlle Prime with one at 83…
…but you can see that even there, the pitch doesn’t have a whole lot of action on it. It came in anywhere from 79-86; sometimes it showed some cutting action, and at other times, it had a bit of fade, but still other times, it didn’t have much movement at all. As these fluctuations in both velocity and movement imply, it occasionally looks like a fringe-average offering, but quite often just doesn’t work. As such, Bostick struck out three of the first four batters he faced in the outing–and three pretty good ones (Ryan McMahon, David Dahl, and Prime) at that–but the Asheville hitters quickly caught on to his duo of unimpressive offerings, and he wasn’t able to notch any strikeouts the rest of the way. I’m not sure if Bostick’s changeup obsession is some sort of odd confidence in this offering or an organizational mandate, and if it’s the latter, I’m not necessarily saying it’s a poor idea for him to get a lot of work in on a pitch that will be a key component of his arsenal. Still, one can hardly count this pitch as a point in Bostick’s favor at this point in time.
Bostick threw exactly three breaking pitches in the outing–curveballs of 72, 75, and 76 mph–and the first didn’t come until his final pitch of the fourth inning. And the last one…well…
urthermore, as one can see from the above clips, Bostick doesn’t really have an optimal motion. He’s fairly compact and certainly isn’t high-effort, but he doesn’t get great momentum or extension toward the plate, and he strides fairly far toward third base in his motion, hampering his ability to locate.
Bostick doesn’t turn 19 for a few more weeks, giving him plenty of time,and at 6’4″ 180, he has a lot of projection left. Still, this is a pitcher who has no average pitches yet and who doesn’t have the sort of delivery that projects to give him the sort of command that will allow the stuff to play above its raw velocity and movement (like Binford’s does). Even at his young age, that’s a concern–for example, last year I saw a Royals pitching prospect named Jake Newberry, as an 18-year-old in the Rookie-level Appalachian League. Newberry worked mostly 88-93, showed off a near-plus breaking ball, and had an easy delivery, though he didn’t have much of a changeup–so overall, his changeup’s worse than Bostick’s, but his other pitches and mechanics were superior at the same age. Newberry doesn’t sniff prospect lists in his own organization–he wasn’t even on Baseball America‘s Royals depth chart in the latest Prospect Handbook.
The point of the above sidebar is that even at 18, a lot of pitchers display something that projects to be an interesting asset for them down the line, whether it’s raw arm strength, a great offspeed pitch, or an easy motion. Bostick, though, isn’t really showing anything that looks to be his “carrying skill.” It’s certainly possible that we’re just seeing him get accustomed to the grind of a full professional season, and he may he up into that 90-94 range a month from now, so I don’t want to sound the alarm too loudly, and it’s beyond foolish to discard his prospect status this early, but Bostick needs to find an identity he can work from in full-season ball before some of the rosier projections bestowed upon him look realistic.
Dee Gordon as the Poor Man’s Billy Hamilton.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Some more neat ephemeral trivia: Before the season started, Steamer projected Gordon for 0.3 WAR. Meanwhile, ZiPS projected Gordon for 0.7 WAR. Already, Gordon’s been worth 0.6 WAR, so he can be replacement-level from this point forward and the Dodgers won’t be worse off than they were expected to be. Following about a season’s worth of games of being terrible, Gordon’s gone from busted prospect to contributor, and he even went so far as to hit a legitimate home run off Max Scherzer. Sunday, he did something more his own speed.
Leading off against Trevor Cahill in the first inning, Gordon drew a walk. He subsequently attracted Cahill’s attention, and as Yasiel Puig struck out swinging, Gordon stole second base.
Gordon drew another walk in the third, with one out. With Puig at the plate, Gordon stole second for the second time.
He then almost immediately stole third.
At last, in the sixth, Gordon bounced a one-out single. This time Randall Delgado was on the mound. And this time, Gordon didn’t wait for a pitch to move up 90 feet.
Gordon finished spring training with nine steals in nine attempts. Now, he’s the current major-league leader, with nine steals in 10 attempts. He’s always been a base-stealing threat, with the limiting factor being the need to get on base in the first place. Now Gordon’s OBP is closer to .500 than .400, and as a side effect, he’s been running like a crazy person.
Of course, the man at the center of most stolen-base conversations these days is Billy Hamilton. There are people who allege that Hamilton gets from first to second quicker than anyone ever, and even if Hamilton’s speed isn’t genuinely unprecedented, he’s a base-runner like none other in the game today. He’s a base-runner capable of getting people deeply interested in base-running, and he’s a base-runner capable of the completely and utterly absurd. It stands to reason Hamilton is kind of like the Babe Ruth of running the bases. He probably represents almost the maximum of human ability. If Hamilton is the ceiling, then Gordon is a poor man’s equivalent, which might not be a bad overall comparison.
Which, as it happens, isn’t great news for Dee Gordon, since we still don’t know if Billy Hamilton is going to be able to hit enough to stick around as a regular. That’s with Hamilton being basically unparalleled in one core skill. Gordon’s hitting now, but he’s also hitting most balls in play on the ground, and he also has a negative career WAR with sloppy defense. The burden of proof is on speed players to demonstrate they can make a consistent and significant contribution. Gordon needs to produce over more than 46 plate appearances. But this isn’t intended as an analysis of Gordon’s profile. I’m still skeptical of Gordon’s profile. Rather, I wanted to try to find differences between Gordon and Hamilton as base-stealers.
We know Gordon is one of the fastest runners in the game. We know that about Hamilton, too. We know Gordon has been caught in 20 of 95 big-league steal attempts. Hamilton is 15 out of 17. Observers have timed Hamilton between 3 seconds and 3.2 seconds from first move to reaching second base. I’ve timed Gordon around 3.2 seconds to 3.4 seconds. These are good, quick times, but tenths of a second matter when it comes to trying to move 90 feet. Some of the difference is probably that Hamilton just runs faster than Gordon does. But what if we look beyond that?
Here are a couple screengrabs, with Gordon and Hamilton and pitchers with their knees up:
Both runners have started their motions. But Hamilton’s body is almost fully turned to second, while Gordon’s still rotating his shoulders. Hamilton’s right foot is under him, and his left foot is off the ground. Gordon’s right foot is just coming up, and his left foot appears fully planted.
Hamilton, then, seems to have gotten the quicker read. That allowed him to start his motion sooner. Also, there’s another thing: Watching a few Gordon steals, I counted 14 to 15 frames between his right foot coming up and his left foot touching back down in stride. With Hamilton, it was more like 11 frames — which makes for a difference of about a tenth of a second. The evidence would suggest Hamilton both got the quicker read and had a quicker first step. The slowest part of any steal attempt is the very beginning, and Hamilton completes that stage as quickly as possible. Gordon clearly isn’t slow, but the difference here isn’t all about sprinting. Hamilton also just starts sprinting sooner.
Not that there’s a ton to conclude from this, since I didn’t look at every single steal attempt by Dee Gordon and Billy Hamilton, and since every steal and every pitcher is different. Maybe Hamilton isn’t always that quick. Maybe Gordon isn’t always that slow, relatively speaking. But look above, at Gordon’s fourth steal. Or, I’ll just re-embed it below:
On this stealth steal, Gordon achieved a Hamilton-esque time down to second base. He also never faced the pitcher, so he never had to turn to build his momentum. Dee Gordon went in a straight line in about the amount of time it takes Billy Hamilton to turn and do the same. That’s the difference between one of the best base-runners in baseball and the very best base-runner in baseball.
The original idea wasn’t to turn this into another post about Billy Hamilton. But he just has a way of showing up when you don’t expect it. Sunday afternoon, Dee Gordon did something really terrific. Hopefully, he proves good enough to last in the majors. If he can, Hamilton certainly can. And if he can’t, well, Hamilton still has a chance.