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2016 MLB thread. Baseball is upon us! Royals are the champs - Page 719

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He said New Stadium
post #21542 of 73654
red sox jonny gomes is reminiscent of a young johnny holmes with the way he commands the stick
Ken Patera For WWE Hall OF Fame
Ken Patera For WWE Hall OF Fame
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Think I might go back to SF in a few weeks. Going to try and hit up an A's and Giants game
PSN: Aiinatural
Go Hawks, Mariners, Ducks
PSN: Aiinatural
Go Hawks, Mariners, Ducks
post #21544 of 73654
Thread Starter 
What The Braves’ Historic Pitching Month Means.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
We’re into that sort-of in-between part of the early season, the part where it’s early enough where you can see ridiculous things like Charlie Blackmon hitting .379/.425/.621 and know that the dreaded “small sample size” caveat is absolutely in play, but also to know that it’s not that early any longer and that the things we’re seeing count. Whether it’s to further inform us about a player or a team, or just to have added value and wins now that will be important later even if the current production can’t be maintained, what we’ve seen over the first month matters. It’s just up to us to decide how much it matters.

That’s where we are with the Atlanta Braves, who have somehow managed to keep their early run of insanely good pitching alive and well through the end of April. And when I say insanely good, I mean just that. Even after Alex Wood got hit hard in Miami on Tuesday night, Atlanta’s rotation ERA- is 55. Since Jackie Robinson integrated the game in 1947, the lowest rotation ERA- we have on record for a full season is 73, by three teams, including the 1997 and ’98 Braves of Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz. If it’s unfair to compare a month of play to full seasons, well, then you might like to know that since the 1968 “Year of the Pitcher,” only three other teams have had a rotation ERA below 2.00 in a month of at least 25 games, as the Braves currently do. Each of those teams — the 1976 Dodgers, 1992 Braves and 2011 Phillies — had at least one Hall of Famer in the rotation or someone with a strong case to be there in the future.

That the 2014 Cardinals sit second behind the Braves on the ERA- list further shows you how early it is, that the Braves won’t continue pitching like this, and that regression is coming. Obviously. Aaron Harang and Ervin Santana aren’t going to pitch like Maddux and Smoltz all year. I imagine it isn’t shocking, breaking news that the 2014 Braves aren’t going to end up as the pitching version of the 1927 Yankees.
Still, this all matters. It matters that they’re out to a 17-8 start, behind only Milwaukee for the fewest losses in baseball. It matters because this is quite a nice head start they’ve pushed themselves out to, one they can take advantage of when the rotation inevitably hits a rough patch.

You can see the effects of this already in how we’re viewing the Braves’ likelihood of reaching October. In late March, our staff projections came out, and 28 of the 31 of us selected the Nationals as the NL East favorite. That’s about the same as I saw on other major sites, and while the Nationals/Braves rivalry seems to be even hotter than Red Sox/Yankees these days — at least among those who comment on baseball articles and assume bias in everything — I don’t think it was unfair to have thought that way. At the time, Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy had recently exploded. Mike Minor was sidelined. Ervin Santana had just signed, but had missed most of camp. Doug Fister, Ryan Zimmerman, Wilson Ramos and Bryce Harper weren’t yet injured in Washington, and Stephen Strasburg wasn’t yet allowing a .407 BABIP. Harang had just signed with Atlanta that day, in what was termed a “curious swap” when Freddy Garcia was let go, which tells you a bit about how Harang was viewed. These rosters were different a month ago then they are now.

The playoff odds have changed along with them, although it’s not like Atlanta was coming from last place. (The Braves were the overwhelming choice for NL Wild Card in our staff picks.) Right now, we have the Braves on pace to win the second-most games in the majors. The playoff odds have them now as a toss-up with the Nationals to win the East, and equally as likely as the Dodgers to make the playoffs at all, at nearly 76%. Obviously, even if everything reverts back to what we thought we knew about the Braves a month ago, this run has made a huge difference. They have banked a good deal of wins. They’ve asked their bullpen to pitch the second-fewest innings in baseball. The Nationals are greatly weakened. Harang could never win another game, and he’ll still have been an important part of a potential playoff run.

But then: what will happen to this rotation? Other than not pitching as well, which seems obvious, but what, if anything, has this month taught us about them?

Take Harang, for example, the obvious poster boy here because of the 0.85 ERA in his age-36 season a month after being cut by the Indians. Maybe he was better than we gave him credit for before the season, but he’s still Aaron Harang, in every possible way. Even he doesn’t seem to have an answer as to what’s been different (at the end):
Here’s Harang’s FIP numbers dating back over the last five years, from 2009-13:

4.14, 4.60, 4.14, 4.17, 4.79

Now here’s his ERA:

4.21, 5.32, 3.64, 3.61, 5.40

It’s not hard to see the variances there, is it? By FIP, he’s been more or less the same guy for years. By ERA, subject to fluctuations in ballpark, defense and bullpen — he’s now on his sixth team since 2010 — as well as luck, he’s been all over the place. Last year, despite the ugly ERA, he actually got more whiffs and walked fewer than he had in years, but was set back by homer troubles and poor bullpen support. While the underlying peripherals may not have changed much, we’ve see the results differ greatly. This is the same guy who once struck out nine straight Padres in a season where he had his lowest swinging-strike percentage; we’ve seen him be very productive for stints of differing lengths.

So far, the 2014 Harang has succeeded because he’s been extremely lucky with batted balls (.200 BABIP), missed a few extra bats and hasn’t allowed a single homer, a rarity for a flyball pitcher. (Or, you know, any pitcher.) He’s actually given up the highest flyball rate in baseball, and he’s been helped by excellent outfield defense, particularly from Jason Heyward. Obviously, the homers are coming, eventually; that’s why his xFIP is 3.79. Still, simply being away from the atrocious defense of the 2013 Mariners and into the outstanding defense of the 2014 Braves is going to be a huge component for him, even if he goes back to the “regular” Harang from now on.

Otherwise, this is the same Harang. He doesn’t appear to have learned a new pitch, changed his repertoire (other than some mild reductions in his change & curve), improved his control, added movement or gained any significant velocity. This year, he’s faced the Mets twice, the Brewers, Nationals and Marlins. That means that four of his five starts have come against teams who rank among the bottom third of clubs who make contact. The Mets may be the least powerful team baseball has seen in decades. He’s got the Marlins again tonight. This isn’t so much about a “new” Harang as it is one who is pitching well in front of the right team against the right teams, but even the “usual” Harang could be a decent back-end starter.

It’s a little different for Santana, because he actually does have something new to point to: his new and improved changeup. Jeff wrote about Santana recently, so I’ll direct you to that post rather than repeat it here. Well, okay, I can’t help but share this GIF Jeff made of Santana making Joey Votto look foolish on a change, because it’s so, so good:

Santana, like Harang, isn’t going to keep up exactly what he’s done — he’s second in the game behind only Masahiro Tanaka in swinging-strike percentage — but he’s got a long history of being an average to occasionally above-average starter, and now he’s got something new to offer hitters. Now armed with a month of additional knowledge, Santana can be viewed as a more dangerous pitcher than we would have figured when he signed.

Like Santana, Julio Teheran isn’t going to keep an ERA below 2.00 all year, because that .224 BABIP is going to come up, but so should his strikeout performance. A drop from 8.24 K/9 to 5.44 K/9 is startling; a swinging-strike percentage that is nearly identical to last year’s 10.5 percent is not, and he’s coming off a very good 2013. Wood was very good last year in limited time, and he’s been very good this year, without any particularly striking BABIP or luck numbers. David Hale still hasn’t allowed a major league home run, which is how he managed to survive a high walk rate in four starts, but it no longer matters for now as he’s being moved back to the bullpen.

Again, obviously, the rotation isn’t going to keep doing what they’re doing, especially Harang. Then again, they might not need to. Minor returns to the rotation on Friday. Gavin Floyd should be available in May. Hale can always return if needed. If one of these guys turns back into a pumpkin, they have some options. Our projections have them as the No. 25 rotation in baseball from here on out, partially because none of the pitchers are suddenly seen as the true Felix Hernandez / Jose Fernandez type ace, and if you want to argue that’s too low, that’s fine. The Braves rotation, for the most part, is still the Braves rotation, with a possible exception in Santana. They’re just that with a month of outstanding performance replacing the month of decent performance we thought we’d see. That shouldn’t significantly change how we view them, but it all still counts — and it just might be what gets them another division title even if we never see them perform anything like this ever again.

Don't ignore .500 Angels: Certain stats claim club will be tough to beat.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
After a disappointing second-place finish in 2011, the Los Angeles Angels decided to become New York Yankees West and attempted to buy their way back into the playoffs.

They gave $240 million to Albert Pujols and $78 million to C.J. Wilson. Toss in the promotion of a young star named Mike Trout, and no one added more talent to their 2012 roster than the Angels.

The result? A modest three-win improvement that resulted in finishing in third place in the AL West rather than second, and a second consecutive season without October baseball.

So they doubled down and threw more money at their problems: $123 million to Josh Hamilton, $15 million to Joe Blanton, $8 million to Sean Burnett and $3.5 million to Ryan Madson.

The returns were even worse, as Hamilton was an unmitigated disaster and Blanton was among the worst pitchers in baseball. Madson never even threw a pitch for the organization as the Angels finished third again. But this time they finished below .500 at 78-84.

Two winters of spending over $450 million in future commitments — during the same two years that Trout emerged as one of baseball's best player — and the team managed back-to-back third-place finishes.

For the first month of 2014, it's just more of the same, as LA stands 13-13 — following Tuesday’s 6-4 win over Cleveland — with a game to go in April. Except this year, it might actually be different. This Angels team is actually showing signs of being pretty good.

Let's start with what they do best: Hit the tar out of the ball. After 26 games, they have a team wRC+ of 116 — wRC+ is designed so that 100 is average, so the Angels hitters have been 16 percent above average -- best in the American League, and second only to the Colorado Rockies among all of Major League Baseball. Sure, the Rockies play at a high altitude and the Angels play in a pitcher-friendly ballpark at sea level, but the Angels actually have the highest Isolated Slugging percentage in the majors.

With Pujols showing some real power again — as noted a few weeks ago — no player as good as he has been had declined this quickly, so a rebound season shouldn't come as a huge surprise. Plus, with solid contributions from role players up and down the lineup, the Angels rank among the top of the AL in offensive power stats, leading the league in homers.

That's with Hamilton and Kole Calhoun spending a good chunk of the season on the disabled list. So with two of its regular outfielders on the shelf, Mike Scioscia’s club is hitting better than most major-league teams so far. This roster has all the makings of a lineup that is going to score a lot of runs this year.

Of course, offense wasn't really a problem for the Angels last year either, yet they still finished six games under .500. Scoring five runs per game is great unless the pitching staff is giving up more. But the Angels don't look like they're going to give up six as often this year.

A year ago, the Angels received a combined 58 starts from Tommy Hanson, Joe Blanton and Jerome Williams. The best ERA among them as a starter was 5.06. Meanwhile, the final two rotation spots were a revolving door of struggles. This made starting pitching GM Jerry DiPoto’s primary goal to fix in the offseason.

He shipped slugger Mark Trumbo to the Diamondbacks for a pair of pitchers, Tyler Skaggs and Hector Santiago. Skaggs by himself would have been a nice return, and he's already paying dividends (2-0, 3.34 ERA in five starts through Tuesday). Toss in the potential breakthrough performance by young fireballer Garrett Richards (2-0, 2.53 in five starts) — the 25-year-old right-hander with the highest average fastball velocity thus far — and the Angels suddenly have a rotation that doesn't fall apart after Jered Weaver and Wilson.

So, why are they sitting at .500, yet again?

Fixing the bullpen has proven a little trickier for DiPoto than fixing the rotation. Ernesto Frieri has already pitched himself out of the closer's role, and the middle relief crew hasn't exactly clothed themselves in glory either. However, upgrading a bullpen in midseason is easier to pull off.

The short shelf life of relievers makes rebuilding teams view any bullpen arm as replaceable. Any team looking more to the future is likely willing to discuss a trade for about almost any member of its relief staff. If the Angels need to add a couple of relievers before the July 31 trade deadline, there will be relievers to add, and the Angels’ second-half bullpen likely won't resemble the one that was trying to protect leads in April.

If the Angels bullpen is even remotely adequate, with the way the rest of the team is performing, Los Angeles could be very dangerous over the next five months.

Early-season win-loss records aren't particularly predictive because of all the variables that can swing the results of a few dozen games, but drill down and look at each team's core performances to see how we might expect each team to play going forward.

One of my favorite ways to look at a team's overall performance is by their wOBA differential, which is basically just a fancy way of looking at which team's offense has created more positive events than their pitching and defense has allowed, without caring about mostly random things like the sequence in which those events occurred.

Through the first 26 games, the best wOBA differential in baseball belongs to the Oakland A's, with the Atlanta Braves and Milwaukee Brewers not too far behind. Not surprisingly, the A's, Braves, and Brewers are all in first place in their respective divisions.

But just behind those teams stand the Rockies and the Angels, the two clubs who are bludgeoning their opponents and pitching well enough to expect a good record. The Rockies are 16-12, but the Angels stand just 13-13, the only team in the top five in wOBA differential to not have a winning record at the moment. Some of that is LA’s poor bullpen performance, but some of that is just noise that will cancel out over the course of a six-month season.

Teams that hit, pitch, and field like the Angels have so far this season win 90-plus games, even if they don't have a great bullpen. It hasn't shown up in their W-L record yet, but the Angels are finally playing like the team that owner Arte Moreno thought he bought two years ago.

It's taken a while to get here, but this Angels team finally looks like it could live up to its payroll.

Prospect Watch: Severino, Andriese, and Schimpf.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Luis Severino, RHP, New York Yankees (Profile)
Level: Low-A Age: 20 Top-15: 11th Top-100: N/A
Line: 19.0 IP, 15 H, 22/6 K/BB, 1.89 ERA, 2.41 FIP

He’s still raw, but Severino is helping to lead a new wave of high-ceiling prospects into the conscious mind of New York fans.

Signed for a modest bonus out of the Dominican Republic in 2012, Severino looks like a scouting coup. He’s produced excellent numbers in his two seasons of pro ball prior to 2014.

The starter pitched fewer than four innings in each of his first three outings at the Low-A ball level in ’14 but the reigns were released a bit in his fourth appearance when he struck out eight batters with no walks in 5.2 innings.

The right-hander isn’t overly tall but he does a nice job of creating a downward plate on his offerings and that allows him to generate above-average ground-ball rates. Severino has solid low-to-mid-90s velocity on his heater and his frame suggests there might be a little more giddy-up down the road. His breaking ball has nice shape and break but he slows his arm down noticeably when he throws it. The changeup has a chance to be an above-average offering for him due to its fade.

I’m not a huge fan of his delivery because it lacks deception and hitters have a long look at the ball. He struggles with both his command because his arm slot has a tendency to wander and he gets underneath the ball, causing it to stay up in the zone. However, both those issues are correctable.

Severino is far from a finished product but that can be said for most of the truly intriguing prospects in the Yankees system. As former prospect darlings like Mason Williams and Tyler Austin threaten to fall by the wayside, other much less experienced names are bubbling to the surface like Severino, Eric Jagielo, Aaron Judge, Abiatal Avelino and Luis Torrens — all of whom made my pre-season Yankees Top 15 Prospects list.

Matt Andriese, RHP, Tampa Bay Rays (Profile)
Level: Triple-A Age: 24 Top-15: N/A Top-100: N/A
Line: 32.0 IP, 28 H, 30/10 K/BB, 4.22 ERA, 4.19 FIP

Hailing from the same school as a number of successful hurlers, Andriese could surface in Tampa Bay in the second half of the season and provide some much-needed innings to the injury-depleted staff.

Acquired from the San Diego Padres this past offseason during the seven-player Logan Forsythe deal, Andriese has been a favorite of mine since his early days in pro ball. For those who might remember, I was also a huge fan of both St. Louis’ Joe Kelly and Cleveland’s Marc Rzepczynski — all three UC Riverside alum — due to their solid fastballs and good ground-ball rates.

Andriese doesn’t have a huge ceiling but he projects to develop into a strong-framed, innings-eating No. 4 starter. He doesn’t have a true out-pitch but he attacks hitters with a four-pitch mix and, when he’s on, he pounds the lower half of the strike zone. One thing I noticed during his April 24 outing, though, was that he had a tendency to drag his arm behind him, which hurt his command. Recently, a saw him show a tight little curveball that I think has at least the potential to throw off hitters’ timings and cause them to make poor contact on the offering.

With all the injuries suffered by Tampa Bay Rays pitchers in recent months, Andriese could see time with the Rays in the second half of the 2014 season, and he might end up surprising a lot of people.

Ryan Schimpf, IF/OF, Toronto Blue Jays (Profile)
Level: Triple-A Age: 26 Top-15: N/A Top-100: N/A
Line: .299/.440/.642, 5 HR, 15 BB, 19 K (combined AA/AAA)

Schimpf isn’t flashy and doesn’t possess a huge ceiling, but he’s versatile and offers some left-handed pop.

Recently promoted to Triple-A, Schimpf is a fun little player. He stands just 5-9 but he’s got a strong frame and the ball jumps off his bat when he makes contact. Prior to the roster move, 12 of his 18 hits in Double-A went for extra bases and he’s also walked 13 times in 17 games. Strikeouts (17) will always be a part of the 26-year-old prospect’s game; because of the upper cut in his swing his bat doesn’t stay in the hitting zone for long.

His pop, left-handed bat and versatility (He can play 2B, 3B, LF) make him an ideal candidate for a future bench role in the big leagues. Toronto hasn’t been very successful at identifying big league role players, passing on the likes of Ryan Roberts, Erik Kratz, Jonathan Diaz and Darin Mastroianni (among others) — although in some cases to later re-acquire the player — so it will be interesting to see if the organization starts to learn from its missteps.

The New Austin Jackson, Again.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
You remember what the concerns with Austin Jackson used to be. There weren’t many questions about his defense, there weren’t many questions about his athleticism, there weren’t many questions about his ability to hit the ball hard. There were, simply, questions about his ability to hit the ball. A fine rookie season gave way to a mediocre sophomore campaign, in which Jackson posted the fourth-highest strikeout rate for a 24-year-old ever. Before 2012, Jackson worked hard to modify his swing and, most visibly, eliminate his high leg kick. He chopped a fifth off of his strikeouts, and his lifted his wRC+ by almost 50 points. Austin Jackson had been fixed, and he turned into a legitimate everyday player.

So fans knew what to credit for Jackson’s turnaround. Mechanical changes always make good sense after the fact, if a player’s been successful. Jackson had a rougher go of it in 2013, but he did keep his strikeouts down. Yet Jackson was awful in the playoffs, and he’s off to a scorching start in 2014, and he’s looked both very familiar and very different. Funny thing about those mechanical changes.

Here’s Austin Jackson from 2011:

Here’s Jackson from 2013:

And here’s Jackson from 2014:

The leg kick is back, replacing the toe tap that people figured explained Jackson’s breakthrough. Jackson went with the toe tap for two years, but now he’s back to how he was before. And, granted, this isn’t new news. This was talked about in spring training. Jackson spent the offseason thinking about all the parts of his swing. From Adam Berry:

Jackson has worked on his own and with new hitting coach Wally Joyner on making his swing feel more natural and comfortable. He brought back the leg kick before his swing, but he said it’s more important that he does it without thinking.

From Lynn Henning:

“Going into the offseason, I had a plan I wanted to do,” said Jackson, who last month turned 27. “I wanted to eliminate a lot of extra movement.

“A lot has to do with the tap.”

The trick was to get his stride started quickly and efficiently with a limited trigger. That in turn would promote balance. It would enable Jackson to, as he explained Thursday, “incorporate it into the load” (the swing’s maximum extension before moving toward a pitch).

The result, as Jackson has displayed during these torrid weeks in Florida, has been a more direct path to pitches he too often missed during some rocky stretches in 2011 and 2013.

Austin Jackson is featuring a new, simplified swing. For those of us who don’t understand very much about swing mechanics, the leg kick is the easiest thing to pick up on, and that’s back to how it was. But his swing also seems shorter, with fewer holes than when he was younger. And what’s evident in the early numbers is Jackson is generating a very unusual profile for himself.

In 2011, Jackson had baseball’s fifth-highest strikeout rate among qualified players. So far this year, his strikeout rate is on the fringes of the lowest third. He’s cut his strikeouts not quite in half, but almost in half, and his contact rate has soared to 84%. Consider what Austin Jackson used to be. Now consider that, in 2014, he has the same contact rate as Chase Utley.

But that’s not even the most interesting thing. Take a look at Jackson’s career ground-ball rates:

2010: 48%
2011: 47%
2012: 42%
2013: 42%
2014: 23%
Or, if you prefer, Jackson’s career fly-ball rates:

2010: 27%
2011: 36%
2012: 34%
2013: 31%
2014: 56%
All of a sudden, Jackson has baseball’s lowest ground-ball rate. I’m not even necessarily saying that’s a good thing — I’m just noting that that’s a thing. As far as hitters are concerned, two of the numbers we expect to stabilize fastest are strikeout rate and grounder rate. For Jackson, the former has changed some, and the latter has changed a lot.

Between 2002 and 2014, we have 4,322 player-season pairs in which a hitter generated at least 50 balls in play in consecutive years. There are only 11 instances of a bigger season-to-season drop in ground-ball rate than what we can observe with Jackson right now. There are zero instances of a bigger season-to-season gain in fly-ball rate. That is, Jackson’s fly-ball rate has gone up 25 percentage points, and no one else since 2002 has been able to claim that.

Interestingly, FanGraphs puts Jackson at 21% line drives and 56% fly balls. However, MLBAM puts Jackson at 31% line drives and 46% fly balls. The point isn’t that one source is better than the other; the point is Jackson has hit a lot of borderline line-drive fly balls. Which isn’t surprising for a guy who owns a career .360 BABIP. It’s one of the highest BABIPs in baseball history. And though Jackson has a lot of career left to play through — a lot of career in which he’ll be slower than he is now — it stands to reason Jackson’s just long been able to make good contact when he’s made contact. And now he’s making more contact.

And he’s making more contact in the air. One also notes that, for the first time, Jackson is batting in the middle of the lineup instead of leading off. He’s acknowledged that now he has a different set of responsibilities, and that could partially explain his new profile. Maybe he’s trying to more aggressively drive the ball to the gap or beyond it? Austin Jackson isn’t a power hitter, but he also isn’t a slap hitter, and we could be seeing him trying to play the part. Thus far, he’s been able to manage.

Jackson’s entering the supposed prime of his career. He seems to be more of a contact hitter than a swing-and-miss hitter. He seems to be more of a fly-ball hitter than a ground-ball hitter. He’s a middle-of-the-order hitter, instead of a leadoff hitter. And he’s a hitter with a big leg kick, after being a hitter without a big leg kick, after being a hitter with a big leg kick. For a few seasons already, Jackson’s been a legitimately good player. He’s on track to do that again, in a very different way. And that allows him to be very different within a pool of the extraordinary.

Colorado’s Canny Outfield Platoon.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
This spring, the Colorado Rockies made the unusual decision to break camp with six outfielders. If any roster had the right personnel to overload in the outfield, it was the Rockies. Infielders Josh Rutledge, DJ LeMahieu and Charlie Culberson have plenty of utility (Rutledge did not make the club out of spring training). Backup catcher Jordan Pacheco can also play the infield corners, as can Michael Cuddyer. With Justin Morneau an uncertainty entering the season, the club probably planned on using Cuddyer at first base with some regularity. Additionally, Cuddyer, Morneau and Carlos Gonzalez can be considered injury risks. IN FACT, Cuddyer is already on the disabled list.

So we’ve covered why the Rockies could carry six outfielders: utility. But why did they want to carry them?

In short, there are two reasons. One, the Rockies didn’t want to lose any of the four second-tier guys – namely Charlie Blackmon, Corey Dickerson, Brandon Barnes and Drew Stubbs. Two, in the event of one of those aforementioned injuries, this quartet lines up perfectly for a regular platoon. With Cuddyer out, the platoon has been in full force with plenty of early returns. Let’s take a look at their performances through Sunday

You know the drill. Click to embiggen or click for a link.

Improbably, Blackmon is the best hitter in baseball to date. Oh sure, how easy is it to point to a .390 BABIP and 18.5% HR/FB and cry regression. Easy, I just did it. However, part of his success is built on plate discipline. He’s swinging at fewer pitches out of the strike zone and whiffing less frequently at all types of pitches. Even if Blackmon isn’t the best hitter in baseball (he’s not), it appears the Rockies have found themselves a breakout performer to bat against right-handed pitchers.

Dickerson is the other lefty in the outfield platoon crew. He’s received the least playing time, although people I’ve talked with see him as the best hitter of the quartet. We only have a 239 plate-appearance sample with Dickerson, but his game seems built around hitting line drives. Last season he hit 26% line drives, and this season he’s at 37% through his first 26 plate appearances. Mashing balls to the outfield is definitely a desirable skill set for Coors Field, although he does seem to hit a few too many ground balls.

Who’s been more surprising, Blackmon or Barnes? It’s clearly Blackmon because he’s shown new skills, but Barnes has done his best to keep pace as the small half of the platoon. The Rockies acquired Barnes primarily because he rates as an excellent defender in center field. Coors Field happens to have a large outfield. His ability to hit left-handed pitching reasonably well is what makes him more than a 26th man. It’s certainly not his career .095 ISO.

You probably noticed his sky-high .462 BABIP, which is partially supported by his 32% line-drive rate. For his career, he has a 107 wRC+ against left-handed pitching in 227 plate appearances. Part of his success is built upon a .400 BABIP against southpaws and 28% line-drive rate. Perhaps he’s very skilled against lefties — though more likely, he’s been fairly lucky. I hate looking at each player’s stats and saying, “He’s probably going to regress,” but, yeah, he’s probably going to regress. That’s how statistics work.

Stubbs has been the early disappointment, but there’s nothing in his profile that says he’s broken. Unlike his platoon-mates, Stubbs is probably in store for some positive regression. He’s put two-thirds of his balls in play on the ground. Hitting four ground balls for every fly ball isn’t going to work for many hitters not named Billy Hamilton. Thankfully for Stubbs, his career GB/FB ratio is 1.35. He has a career 115 wRC+ against left-handed pitchers. Assuming he’s healthy, there isn’t too much reason to expect much worse from him this season.

Since this is FanGraphs, we need not restrict ourselves only to what has already happened. We can also predict with perfect accuracy what will happen in the future.


Charlie Blackmon 427 6.0 15.5 0.161 0.316 0.283 0.332 0.443 0.341 104
Corey Dickerson 431 6.4 20.5 0.209 0.311 0.269 0.318 0.478 0.347 108
Brandon Barnes 422 5.8 24.4 0.134 0.324 0.254 0.304 0.388 0.308 81
Drew Stubbs 437 8.5 26.1 0.136 0.327 0.252 0.318 0.388 0.315 86
Steamer RoS

Charlie Blackmon 460 6.3 14.6 0.149 0.313 0.283 0.334 0.431 0.338 102
Corey Dickerson 111 6.1 17.7 0.193 0.312 0.279 0.325 0.472 0.347 109
Brandon Barnes 148 6.0 23.9 0.146 0.332 0.265 0.315 0.411 0.321 90
Drew Stubbs 234 8.9 27.5 0.138 0.338 0.254 0.324 0.392 0.320 89
The Steamer projections are better insofar as plate appearances are concerned, but I included both systems in case anyone has a strong preference. The expectation is Blackmon has earned fairly regular playing time. His RoS projections would make him a mediocre leadoff man, which is a lot more than we thought he was four weeks ago. Dickerson also draws strong projections, with the highest wOBA of the group. He’s not a big on-base threat, but he usually bats down in the order, so he fits the role.

Barnes and Stubbs have decidedly weaker projections, but they’re also the weak-side of the platoons, and are only playing against left-handers. If the Rockies limit their exposure to northpaws, they should hit better than 10% below league average. Maybe not much better, but the Rockies can allocate more of their at-bats to situations where they are most likely to be successful, which could allow them to outperform their rate projections.

In a nutshell, the platoon outfielders in Colorado have been very good thus far. Our projections suggest the left-handed pair can continue to be above average going forward. The righty duo might be below average at the plate. The outfield depth is one of several reasons why the Rockies are contenders in the National League West. For what it’s worth, we currently give them a 27.9% chance to reach the postseason, and given the mild expectations for this team heading into the season, I’d have to think they’ll take that.
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A week after Jose Fernandez tossed eight shutout innings against the Braves in Atlanta, the Marlins' ace turned in a repeat performance in South Beach,


allowing just two hits over another eight scoreless innings while his offense erupted for nine runs, including seven off Alex Wood.


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The @Brewers became the 1st MLB team to win 20 games. They acquired Hank the Dog in the offseason. Coincidence?

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storm system killin the east 

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The Brewers are clearly winning because of Hank. Anyone can see that.
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Originally Posted by Jewbacca View Post

The Brewers are clearly winning because of Hank. Anyone can see that.

Simple cause and effect.

Acquire dog. Become better.

Houston Rockets | Houston Texans | Houston Astros | Texas Aggies
Houston Rockets | Houston Texans | Houston Astros | Texas Aggies
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Rangers pimp.gif
A T H L E T I C S | U C L A | L A K E R S | R A I D E R S

A T H L E T I C S | U C L A | L A K E R S | R A I D E R S

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Originally Posted by Th3RealF0lkBlu3s View Post

Rangers sick.gif
Team Mopar
"Mother warned me that there would be men like you driving cars like that."
Team Mopar
"Mother warned me that there would be men like you driving cars like that."
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Comeback player of the year nerd.gif

Rangers... boat raced sick.gif
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Harang back to his usual shenanigans lmao
Enjoy atl
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Originally Posted by threeoneoh View Post

Harang back to his usual shenanigans lmao
Enjoy atl

Was waiting for it...I gave him until June but I'm happy to see it before may pimp.gif
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Thread Starter 
Prospect promotions to get excited about.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
So far this season we have been treated to a number of exciting young rookies, such as George Springer, Billy Hamilton, Nick Castellanos and Yordano Ventura (not to mention Masahiro Tanaka and Jose Abreu, though they aren't traditional rookies).

The good news for baseball fans is that there is another wave of prospects ready to join them soon. Here is my list of seven top prospects whom I am most excited about and will likely be called up before the All-Star Game.

I communicated with all of their general managers this week to get an update on their progress:

1. Gregory Polanco | OF | Pittsburgh Pirates

The Pirates' long-term outfield blueprint has been clear for the past couple of years: Starling Marte in left, Andrew McCutchen in center and Polanco in right. When Polanco arrives, he will complete the best overall Pirates outfield since 1990, when Barry Bonds was in left, Andy Van Slyke was in center and Bobby Bonilla was in right.

Polanco, 22, is tearing up Triple-A, batting .400/.457/.632. He is playing solid right field and will be an immediate upgrade for the struggling Pirates, and he has a chance to be an all-around superstar.

The Pirates' player development department continues to work with him on his overall game, offensive approach and ability to make quick adjustments. Hitting .400 for 80 plate appearances will certainly draw the attention of his opponents, and his ability to make adjustments to their adjustments is something the Pirates are monitoring closely.

The team doesn’t seem to be in a rush to promote him, instead thinking he needs the first half of the year in Triple-A to work on the finer points of the game, such as baserunning and outfield routes. And although the Pirates deny wanting to wait for the Super Two status to elapse in an effort to save arbitration dollars down the road, it seems bizarre that a team in dire need of some offense wouldn't consider promoting him sooner.

In my opinion, they should promote him now and let him finish his development in the major leagues, where the influence of McCutchen and manager Clint Hurdle might actually expedite the process. When he does arrive, the Pirates will have a much better team and yet another young star to watch.

GM Neal Huntington's take: "We are very pleased with the production Gregory has put up in his approximately 90 plate appearances in Triple-A. He has taken a huge step forward from his production in Double-A from a year ago and that is reflected in his continued growth on and off the field. Our job is to give him a solid foundation upon which he can build a great major league career, and we are committed to that."

2. Archie Bradley | RHP | Arizona Diamondbacks

Bradley, 21, is arguably the top pitching prospect in baseball and projects to be a true ace. He hasn't dominated Triple-A like you might have expected, but the Pacific Coast League is loaded with hitter-friendly parks, so a 3.98 ERA is respectable. His overpowering fastball and wipeout curve are enough to succeed at the major league level, especially the first time around the league. The Diamondbacks' pitching coaches would like him to throw the changeup more and would like to see the curveball be more consistent.

He is 6-foot-4 and 235 pounds, giving him an ideal frame for a pitcher, and I have no doubt he could succeed in the majors right now. Arizona's front office is hesitant to promote him, however, because management fears he would be seen as a savior for a last-place club, and it's unfair to put him in that position.

That said, the promotion talk is on hold for a little bit as Bradley was placed on the seven-day DL with a mild flexor staring in right elbow on Tuesday, and you can be sure the D-backs will take their time getting him back on the mound. Assuming this isn't serious -- and let's hope it's not -- it won’t be long before his name is mentioned with Gerrit Cole, Michael Wacha, Shelby Miller and Julio Teheran as some of the National League's best young starting pitchers.

GM Kevin Towers' take: "Bradley needs to insert the changeup into his repertoire of pitches on a more consistent basis and also gain more consistency with his breaking ball."

3. Jonathan Singleton | 1B |Houston Astros

Singleton, 22, was drafted by the Phillies and came to Houston in 2011 as part of the Hunter Pence trade. I always liked his swing and thought he would hit; the question was if he would have enough power to be a middle-of-the-order first baseman. Early evidence from 2014 suggests that he will.

Singleton continues to improve and is getting closer to being ready. His strikeout rate is down, his walk rate is up, and after posting a .687 OPS at Triple-A last year, he's over 1.000 in 2013. He homered six times in 294 plate appearances at Triple-A last year, and he has eight through 107 plate appearances this season. After missing 50 games last year while serving a suspension for testing positive for marijuana, he's showing that his transgressions are behind him.

He will be promoted after the Super Two deadline has passed and prior to the All-Star Game, giving Astros fans another reason to be excited.

GM Jeff Luhnow's take: "He is playing with confidence, and that seems to be the biggest difference. Defensively, he’s very sound and projects to be an average to plus fielder at first base. With these top guys, you prefer not have to send them back, so we want to be pretty sure they are ready [when you promote them]."

4. Andrew Heaney | LHP | Miami Marlins

The Marlins are quickly building one of the best young starting rotations in baseball, led by ace Jose Fernandez and followed by Henderson Alvarez, Tom Koehler and Nathan Eovaldi. However, when they promote their next top pitching prospect, they will have the No. 2 starter they’ve been looking for to put behind Fernandez.

Heaney's fastball is consistently in the 90-95 mph range with above-average life, and he can live down in the zone when he wants to. His slider is his best secondary pitch, and grades out at 65 on the 20-80 scouting scale. His changeup continues to develop and is probably a 40 now with a chance to be 50.

I absolutely love his delivery and easy arm action. I absolutely hate his inability to hold runners, although he’s working hard to improve this area of his game. However, when he finally arrives, the Marlins will be one more step closer to becoming contenders.

GM Dan Jennings take: "He’s working hard on finishing his changeup and a little better job in controlling the running game. He could be ready before the All-Star Game."

5. C.J. Cron | 1B | Los Angeles Angels

Cron is off to a torrid start in Triple-A, with an OPS hovering around 1.000. This is simply an extension of the progress he began to make in the Arizona Fall League last fall and continued through spring training. He’s made great strides defensively, which has not always been his strength. It’s pretty clear he can hit and has a knack for driving the ball the opposite way.

Angels GM Jerry Dipoto actually played with and for Cron's dad, Chris. They played together in 1994 when DiPoto was on a rehab stint in Triple-A with the Indians. He later spent a few weeks on rehab with the Rockies in 2000, when the elder Cron was the manager in Colorado Springs. Talk about a small baseball world.

There is no doubt in my mind that Cron will develop into a middle-of-the-order bat; the question is what uniform will he be wearing when it happens. With Albert Pujols signed through 2021, the DH spot would be the only Angels home for Cron. So do you make the 24-year-old DH? Or do you trade him for starting pitching? He's the only significant trade bait the Angels have, so it will be interesting to see if they move him.

If he stays, I could see him getting at-bats in the second half of the season, starting at DH when a lefty is on the hill and giving Pujols the occasional day off at first base.

GM Jerry Dipoto's take: "He continues to show improvement as it relates to pitch selection, which remains the primary area of his game that requires some improvement."

6. Oscar Taveras | OF | St. Louis Cardinals

Taveras is one of the top three position player prospects in all of baseball, but the problem for him is the way the Cardinals' major league roster is structured.

With Allen Craig in right field, Matt Holliday in left and Matt Adams at first base, there is no obvious spot for Taveras unless there is an injury or trade. Center field could be a possibility, although he profiles better in a corner and has played mostly left this season, sharing a Triple-A outfield with Stephen Piscotty and Randal Grichuk, two solid prospects in their own right. (Grichuk was promoted to the majors this week, in fact.)

The good news is that Taveras' ankle -- which cost him much of last season -- is 100 percent and he's hitting over .300. This is an impact player who is going to change the Cardinals' lineup when he arrives, and they will find a spot for him if their center fielders continue to struggle.

GM John Mozeliak's take: "Oscar is getting his timing back and is benefiting from playing every day. He has played center field only twice but will get more exposure there over time. Good news is he is healthy and driven so we are all happy he is back on the field."

7. Javier Baez | SS | Chicago Cubs

Baez has the best bat speed of any player in the minor leagues and reminds me of a young Gary Sheffield the way his bat zooms through the zone. He could be moved to second, and if he does, he could become the next major league second baseman to hit 40 home runs in a season.

I can't overstate how much fun it is to watch him hit. He has phenomenal plate coverage, a direct path to the ball and a violent swing that causes such loud sweetspot contact that you have to wear earplugs to watch him play.

Unfortunately for us, his promotion will probably be later than most of the players on this list because the Cubs have no reason to bring him to the major leagues until he is 100 percent ready. And the fact that he is off to a slow start at Triple-A gives them every excuse to be patient. He really has never failed since being drafted, so being humbled for a month could be the best thing that happens to him.

GM Jed Hoyer's take: "He just needs to work on his approach, needs to force guys to throw him strikes. Defensively he just needs to focus and make the routine plays. The early struggles in Triple-A will be good for him."

Sandoval's swing problem.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Part of what has separated Pablo Sandoval from other hitters has been his innate ability to make good contact on pitches out of the strike zone. While Sandoval might not have been Vladimir Guerrero in that regard, he has an extended track record of being among the league leaders in hard contact against pitches out of the zone. To this point in the season, that skill has evaded him, and when you combine that issue with a seemingly confused and deteriorated approach at the plate, it's easy to understand why he's hitting .172 with a .553 OPS entering Tuesday's action. Those are not the kind of numbers you want on your baseball card heading into your free-agent walk year.

Pablo Sandoval's well-hit average vs. pitches out of strike zone
Year Average MLB Rank
MLB average this season: .058
2014 .077 64th
2013 .111 14th
2012 .191 2nd
2011 .251 1st
As you can see in the table to the right, Sandoval has an extended track record of crushing pitches outside of the strike zone, but his numbers are trending in the wrong direction.

Not only has Sandoval been robbed of one of his unique skills, but his approach has been confusing at best. First, Sandoval has been oddly patient on the first pitch. He's swinging at the first pitch 25.2 percent of the time, a stark departure from his approach in previous seasons: Sandoval swung at the first pitch over 40 percent of the time each season from 2009 to 2013.

In addition, he's actually seeing more pitches in the strike zone on the first pitch than he has in previous seasons (46.6 percent this season; 41.1 percent from 2011 to '13). He's also not chasing first pitches out of the zone as often, which is once again in direct contrast to his established approach. Sandoval is chasing 12.7 percent this season, compared to between 28.1 and 31.9 percent from 2009 to 2013.

But whatever increased discipline or patience or passiveness he's showing on the first pitch completely disappears by the time we get to two-strike counts. In these, he's been completely useless this season, with one hit in 46 at-bats that have reached two strikes, and it took him until April 27 to get his first hit with two strikes. That's right -- he started off the season 0-for-42 in two-strike counts. Not only has he lacked success, but his approach falls apart -- he's swinging over 70 percent of the time with two strikes, higher than his percentages in 2012 and '13, and he's chasing 64.6 percent of the time, the second-highest rate in baseball behind only Jean Segura (see table below).

Highest chase rate in two-strike counts
2014 Season

Player Rate
MLB average this season: 40.0%
Jean Segura 67.4%
Pablo Sandoval 64.6%
Starlin Castro 61.0%
I asked former big leaguer and current "Baseball Tonight" analyst Aaron Boone about Sandoval's struggles. While he wouldn't say definitively, he speculated that in an age in which working the count and patience at the plate are preached, Sandoval could have come into the season with the idea of adding that sort of discipline to his game. Sometimes, though, you are who you are, and it appears Sandoval's idea of swinging at fewer pitches early is being counteracted by pitchers throwing more strikes, digging him a hole and putting him in more two-strike counts.

His game against the Los Angeles Dodgers on April 17 encapsulates this struggle perfectly. In his second-to-last at-bat of the game, Sandoval took a curveball for Strike 1, before chasing a fastball out of the zone to strike out two pitches later. In his final at-bat, he took consecutive pitches in the zone for strikes to fall to 0-2, before eventually chasing a 1-2 fastball out of the zone. On April 12 against the Colorado Rockies, he took a first-pitch strike in three of his four at-bats, two of which ended in strikeouts when he chased a pitch out of the zone. The one at-bat in which he attacked a first-pitch strike? A line-drive double.

While we are not yet out of April, at least the start to Sandoval's free-agency audition has not gone smoothly. It will be interesting to see if he continues with his attempt to inject some patience early in the count, or if he scraps that and reverts back to his swing-happy ways. The current approach of swinging at fewer strikes early while also swinging at more balls late does not seem to be working.

Rockies' hot bats among stories to watch.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
In case you missed it:

The three leading hitters in the NL batting race all wear the same uniform.

The Rockies' Charlie Blackmon is batting .379, Troy Tulowitzki is at .376, and Justin Morneau is at .357. Oh, yeah, and Nolan Arenado is hitting .313 and D.J. LeMahieu is batting .305. Colorado is taking full advantage of Coors Field, and the team OPS is more than 50 points higher than any other team, and the Rockies are 16-12 after coming back to beat the Diamondbacks on Tuesday.

The Rockies are tied with the Brewers for the best run differential in the National League, at plus-25.

But there is this lingering concern from Tuesday night: Tyler Chatwood left with elbow tightness. Remember, Colorado has reinforcements on the way: Eddie Butler is off to a good start in Double-A, and Jonathan Gray has your basic 25-4 strikeout-to-walk ratio on the same team.

• Francisco Rodriguez is almost perfect so far this year.

K-Rod -- who didn't sign with Milwaukee until Feb. 7 -- tied a record for saves in the month of April on Tuesday by racking up his 13th. He hasn't allowed a run, and has issued just four walks in 16 innings, with 23 strikeouts. Opponents have an OPS against him of .339.

The guy who used to be all about the slider is now all about changeups: He throws it almost a third of the time, according to FanGraphs, and the contact rate on his pitches outside the strike zone has plummeted from 61 percent last season to just 36.7 percent this year. Which translates into a lot of strikeouts.

• Billy Hamilton's offense has gotten better through the month of April.

He went 3-for-4 Tuesday, including his first homer in the big leagues, and now has 16 hits in his past 47 at-bats. He is known as an eternal optimist, which seems to have helped him work through those first days of troubles.

From Mark Sheldon's story:
Through 25 games, Hamilton is batting .244 with 10 steals in 15 tries. His on-base percentage is still low at .281, but he has shown some of the catalyst moments the Reds hoped he would provide this season.

"I come here every day and try to do something good for the team to help them out," Hamilton said. "When I started the season, I didn't have my mind right. But today, I walk on to the field and get something out of the game -- whether it's a sac fly, a stolen base, a big run and not just hitting, I want to learn something new."

• Yadier Molina just keeps getting better and better at the plate.

The trendline of his year-to-year OPS is shaped like the side of a mountain:

2006: .595
2007: .708
2008: .741
2009: .749
2010: .671
2011: .814
2012: .874
2013: .836
2014: .917

He has won six straight Gold Gloves, of course, with a couple of championships along the way. You could make a compelling case for Molina for the Hall of Fame even if he never played another game. But he will play a lot more; he's just 31 years old.

• Oakland's pitching staff is completely dominating.

The Athletics' team ERA is 2.85, or almost half a run better than any other AL club. Three of the top seven pitchers in the league in ERA belong to Bob Melvin and Billy Beane -- No. 1 Sonny Gray, No. 4 Scott Kazmir (who beat Texas Tuesday night) and No. 7 Jesse Chavez. And the Athletics have easily the best run differential in the majors, at plus-48.

• The Mets' pitching continues to be really good.

Jon Niese lowered his ERA to 2.20 in shutting down the Phillies Tuesday night, and Dillon Gee, Jenrry Mejia and Zack Wheeler have all started nicely. New York is 15-11, and appears day by day as if it might be in the wild-card conversation. With Matt Harvey out for the year, it looked like a lost season for the Mets, but they're not losing very often, so far.

• The Astros are losing two-thirds of their games.

A lot of Houston's 9-18 start can be put on the shoulders of what has been an abysmal bullpen, which has accumulated a 6.04 ERA. This is how bad the Astros' relievers have been: Toronto's bullpen ranks 29th in total bases allowed, with 143, and Houston is way beyond that, at 171.

Pressure has increased within the Houston organization to win more often. So far, the Astros are not.

A quality start was wasted Tuesday, as Jesus Ortiz writes.

• Jose Fernandez never loses in the presence of the Marlins' sculpture. He is now 12-0 with a 1.00 ERA at home in his career.

Lowest ERA in first 19 career home starts (debut in last 100 years)
Jose Fernandez: 1.00 (2013-14)
Vida Blue: 1.28 (1969-71)
Jaime Garcia: 1.52 (2008-11)
Al Mamaux: 1.57 (1914-15)
Wheezer Dell: 1.58 (1915-16)

Opposing hitters have a slugging percentage of .257 against Fernandez this season. To put that into perspective, it means that all hitters are, generally, like Ruben Tejada.

Also, he is a defensive ninja, as this play shows.

• If the Angels sort out their bullpen, they could be pretty good.

Their .500 record really doesn't reflect how well they've played -- they have the second-best run differential in the majors, at plus-34, built on what has been a good rotation and a powerful offense. But Kevin Jepsen and Ernesto Frieri have really struggled -- Frieri already has allowed five homers this season -- and the improvement of the starters has been mitigated. But bullpens can be volatile and if the Angels sort out their bullpen issues, they could be very dangerous.

• Starling Marte is off to a horrific start.

Marte played a crucial role for the Pirates as they ascended to the playoffs last season, but so far this year, he has descended, sharply. He has a league-high 37 strikeouts, and an OPS of .612. If Pittsburgh had played Tuesday, he would've batted seventh, as Rob Biertempfel writes.

Around the league

• Michael Pineda got hurt during a simulated game in Tampa Tuesday.

• Manny Machado is back.

• The Texas pitchers are struggling against the patient Oakland lineup, and the Athletics have taken the first two games of the series in Arlington. Oakland leads the majors in walks.

• Chris Owings made a ridiculous play. But Arizona lost again: That's four straight for the Diamondbacks, who are 2-15 at home. The 1932 Yankees have the best home record ever: They went 62-15.

• Dustin McGowan's spot is under scrutiny, at a time when Marcus Stroman is dominating in the minors, writes Brendan Kennedy.

• Robinson Cano deserved better than boos from Yankees fans, writes Joel Sherman. He was going to be booed by some fans, but the virulence was surprising to me.

Moves, deals and decisions

1. The Marlins cut Greg Dobbs.

2. Mike Minor will return to the Atlanta rotation Friday.

3. Chris Getz was called up, and Ryan Goins was sent down.

4. The Twins need a pitcher, but Alex Meyer is not a consideration at this point.

Dings and dents

1. Kevin Kouzmanoff will get a second opinion on his back before having surgery.

2. Bruce Chen is hurting.

3. Alex Avila is dealing with a back problem.

4. Matt Cain cut himself.

5. A.J. Griffin is having elbow surgery.

AL East

• The Rays continue to have pitching issues.

• The Red Sox found a needed spark. They have additional punch now, writes Julian Benbow.

AL Central

• The Royals' offense came alive.

• The Tigers have been dealing with a lot of down time.

• Jose Abreu was not going to escape Jerry Reinsdorf.

NL East

• Baseball is talking to Bryce Harper, writes Thomas Boswell.

• Bullpen help is on the way for the Phillies.

NL Central

• Casey Sadler is aiming to impress the Pirates' bullpen.

• Peter Bourjos has been slumping.

• Jeff Samardzija is still winless.

NL West

• Hanley Ramirez is good to go.


• On Tuesday's podcast: Graphic artist Todd Radom offers his favorite throwback jersey that hasn't been used, and explains some of the details of particular uniforms. And Jayson Stark explains how he got actor Jon Hamm to blurb Jayson's new book.

• Andrew McCutchen's impersonations, the long version.

• A judge ruled in an ongoing case for Roger Clemens. The two sides are discussing a settlement.

• Jeff Conine has been immortalized.

• I loved working at the New York Times, but will never forget those days marred by Jayson Blair's deception.

And today will be better than yesterday.

Starters who could hit trade market.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
The Astros traded away Lucas Harrell on Monday, but he won’t be the last pitcher traded this season, of course. The market is a long way from fully developing, from being fully defined by failures and successes.

A long-time executive said last week that he hasn’t received a single trade call yet because a lot of teams won’t know for many days whether they will be buyers or sellers.

But an early forecast of what may develop based on the first results of this season would probably include some of these names:

David Price, Tampa Bay Rays

Tampa Bay decided to keep David Price for the outset of the 2014 season because the Rays didn’t find an acceptable offer for the left-hander over the winter, and because they had reason to believe they could win the AL East. But the Rays' context changed significantly when Matt Moore blew out his elbow and Alex Cobb went on the disabled list. Tampa Bay will be relevant in the playoff races only if its rotation is effective, and as of this morning, the Rays rank 25th in overall rotation ERA, and 24th in innings pitched.

The Rays may well hang on to Price throughout the entire season, in keeping with their history of contending; Tampa Bay has its problems, for sure, but there does not appear to be a powerhouse team in the division, either.

But rival officials continue to believe that Price will be traded some day, given his spiraling salary, and the Rays figure to do their due diligence, at the very least, and answer the phone if interested teams call.

A lot of power pitchers tend to build velocity through the course of the regular season, and Price's radar gun readings in the very small sample size of April have been some of the lowest of his career. Price's velocity by year:

2009: 92.9
2010: 94.6
2011: 94.8
2012: 95.5
2013: 93.5
2014: 92.1

Here are his velocity readings from start to start this season.

Price is set to become eligible for free agency after the 2015 season, so any team that acquired him before July 31 of this season would have him for two pennant races. As I wrote here during the spring, some within the Dodgers organization said that they had a shot at landing Price during the last offseason, and Tampa Bay and Los Angeles would match up in a lot of ways in a possible deal.

• The Rays are 11-15 after Monday's loss -- in which another starting pitcher failed to reach the sixth inning.

[+] EnlargeJeff Samardzija
David Banks/USA TODAY Sports
Cubs starter Jeff Samardzija has just nine walks in 35 1/3 innings this season.
Jeff Samardzija, Chicago Cubs

He's off to a strong start, with just nine walks in 35 1/3 innings and a 1.53 ERA. Like Price, he’ll be eligible for free agency after the 2015 season, and like Price, he's unlikely to sign a long-term deal with his current team.

Collin McHugh, Houston Astros

The Astros right-hander is 26 years old is 17 games into his big league career, and he has had two excellent starts to open this season. He was with the Mets in 2012 and the Rockies in 2013, but has opened some eyes. The Astros are trying to gain some traction for success this summer and given McHugh's low salary and limited service time, Houston could always keep him, depending on its internal evaluation of him.

But if the Astros' real view of McHugh's first starts is as a temporary thing, they could treat him like a hot stock and flip him in what will probably be a very thin pitching market.

• The Oakland hitters thought he changed speeds well the other day.

The Diamondbacks' starting pitchers not named Archie Bradley

Arizona is 8-21 and really, the front office has no choice but to hope that the Diamondbacks can dig their way out of their awful start. But if Arizona decides at some point to wave the white flag, the Diamondbacks could look to sell off a lot of pieces and parts, from position players such as Martin Prado and Aaron Hill to some of their starting pitchers.

The rotation is at the root of Arizona's problems and right now, none of them are throwing well. But perhaps rivals will see value or an adjustment to be made with Trevor Cahill, Brandon McCarthy or Bronson Arroyo.

Jason Hammel, Chicago Cubs

Just as they did with Scott Feldman last season, it appears as if the Cubs will be able to deal Hammel for decent return -- if he stays healthy, which was the primary concern of evaluators who considered him during the winter.

So far, so good: Hammel has allowed only 17 hits in his first 34⅔ innings, with seven walks and 27 strikeouts.

Around the league

• Sonny Gray struggled with some of his secondary stuff early in Monday’s start, but by the fourth inning, he had it all working. From ESPN Stats & Information, how he won:

A. The fastball and curveball accounted for 97 of Gray's 108 pitches and each fared very well. Gray got 13 outs with his heater and 12 outs with his hook, yielding only two baserunners with each pitch.

B. Gray threw 28 of his 37 curveballs for strikes. His 76 percent strike rate with that pitch was the best in a game for his career.

C. Gray also excelled at finishing off Rangers hitters, who were 0-for-12 with a walk against him in two-strike counts. Eight of those outs came against his curveball.

D. The curveball has been the finishing pitch for Gray since his debut. His 63 strikeouts with it rank tied with Ivan Nova for third most in MLB since his debut on July 10, 2013. A.J. Burnett (98) and Adam Wainwright (73) rank No. 1-2.

• Gray was tremendous, writes Susan Slusser.

• Yu Darvish is bedeviled by the Oakland Athletics.

• From ESPN Stats & Info: Darvish didn't finish the fourth inning Monday (3⅓ IP), the shortest start of his career. It's another rough start against the Athletics, which is nothing new for him. He now has a 4.73 ERA in his career against the A’s … and a 1.14 ERA against everyone else.

• Martin Perez has a chance to make Rangers history Tuesday night, writes Gerry Fraley.

• On Monday’s podcast, White Sox GM Rick Hahn explained the process of evaluating Jose Abreu and his team’s comfort level in investing in the relative unknown -- players from Cuba. Jerry Crasnick talked about a great day of pitching and his recent conversation with Joe Torre about pine tar. Abreu has turned into a real signing bonus.

• The White Sox put up a bunch of runs against the Rays again.

Bryce Harper
AP Photo/Alex Brandon
Bryce Harper will undergo surgery Tuesday to repair a torn ulnar collateral ligament in his left thumb.
• Bryce Harper needs thumb surgery, as Keith Law writes.

From ESPN Stats & Info, some guys who have been hurt sliding headfirst:

On Opening Day in Yankee Stadium last year, Dustin Pedroia slid headfirst into first base trying to beat out a grounder to short … and tore a ligament in his thumb. He played through the injury, but hit only nine homers, his fewest since 2007.

On April 5 this year, Yasiel Puig slid into first base trying beat out a ground ball. He landed awkwardly and hurt his left thumb. He didn't leave the game, but sat out the next two contests with a strained thumb ligament.

Josh Hamilton slid headfirst into first base trying to beat out a ground ball April 8 and tore a ligament in his thumb. He has missed the past 16 games and will be out another six weeks.

Mike Napoli dislocated his ring finger after sliding headfirst into second base on a wild pitch in the ninth inning against the White Sox on April 15. He left that game and missed the next one.

• Harper has been mishandled, Law writes.

• Yankees fans should know better than to boo Robinson Cano, writes John Harper.

• Cano pranked some fans on Jimmy Fallon’s show.

• The Yankees' hierarchy should take the high road with Cano, writes Bob Klapisch.

• The Cardinals had their guts ripped out, courtesy of the Brewers, who have baseball’s best record.

From Rick Hummel's story:

“This (loss) is as tough as any we’ve had this year,” said manager Mike Matheny. “Not very often do we get a three-run lead and not be able to hold on to it.”

• The Brewers pulled out a huge win.

• Troy Tulowitzki wrecked the Diamondbacks.

Moves, deals and decisions

1. Jim Johnson could be back in his old job as the Oakland closer, writes Susan Slusser.

2. Jedd Gyorko went on paternity leave.

Dings and dents

1. Ryan Braun's diagnosis has changed.

2. Rafael Furcal was pulled off a rehab assignment.

3. Jake Arrieta will return this weekend.

4. Clayton Kershaw will pitch Wednesday.

5. Running is the last hurdle for A.J. Ellis.

6. Hisashi Iwakuma has ramped up his rehab.

NL East

• David O'Brien addresses the question of whether the Braves can keep it going.

• The Marlins have struggled on the road, writes Manny Navarro.

• Travis d’Arnaud is starting to live up to expectations.

• Domonic Brown's power has diminished, writes Matt Gelb.

• Jonathan Papelbon has been a plus during the Phillies' run.

NL Central

• The Reds are excited about Billy Hamilton.

• Mark Melancon will get the closer role for a couple of weeks.

• Andrew Lambo is back in Triple-A, writes Paul Zeise.

• The Pirates are playing a waiting game with Gregory Polanco, writes Rob Biertempfel.

NL West

• Brandon Barnes has gotten off to a strong start.

• Madison Bumgarner's command has been off.

• Rene Rivera had a career game.

AL East

• Chris Capuano is off to an outstanding start for the Red Sox, as Peter Abraham writes.

• A.J. Pierzynski is starting to catch on, writes John Tomase.

• A couple of Orioles prospects have picked it up.

• CC Sabathia knows he has work to do.

• Josh Thole is showing more power.

AL Central

• The Tigers' starters need to survive a shaky bullpen.

• Max Scherzer was not happy with an article.

• Justin Verlander is poised for his best April ever.

• Jarrod Dyson has embraced his speed, writes Andy McCullough.

• Justin Masterson struggled in the eighth inning.

AL West

• A Houston prospect is blowing through the minor leagues.

• Mark Appel is going through some adjustments.

• Joe Smith got his first save as the Angels' closer.


• Baseball set a precedent for disciplining an owner, writes Richard Sandomir.

• The Orioles have mixed feelings about instant replay.

• Bryan Price is still waiting for replay expansion.

• Gary Thorne and Jim Palmer are the third-best announcer team.

And today will be better than yesterday.
post #21557 of 73654
A's were baseball's best team in April
May, 1, 2014

By David Schoenfield |

I hope the women and children in Texas didn’t witness the sweep the A's put on the Rangers because I think the A’s just committed three counts of felony sports-slaughter. After beating Yu Darvish 4-0 on Monday and the red-hot Martin Perez 9-3 on Tuesday, they bashed Robbie Ross in a 12-1 victory on Wednesday. The A’s close out April with an 18-10 record, including 12-4 on the road, and while they don’t have baseball’s best record, they are baseball’s best team after one month.

Here are 10 reasons they were the best in April … and should continue to roll along:

1. Run differential: The Milwaukee Brewers (20-glasses.gif and Atlanta Braves (17-9) have better win-loss records, but the A’s have a huge edge in run differential: plus-59 compared to plus-19 for the Brewers and plus-16 for the Braves. Sure, you don’t want to overemphasize run differential in April since one or two blowout wins or losses can skew the totals, but plus-59 is total domination and a better indicator of team strength than going 20-8 because you went 6-2 in one-run games and 4-1 in extra innings. Sorry, Brewers fans.

2. This lineup is deep: The Chicago White Sox, riding the big bat of Jose Abreu and some other improbable hot starts (Tyler Flowers hitting .354, Dayan Viciedo .348, Alexei Ramirez .351) have scored a few more runs, and the Los Angeles Angels have scored one more run in one less game played, but no team matches the depth of the Oakland lineup from one through nine. Coco Crisp (.393 OBP) and Jed Lowrie (.423) set the table at the top with Josh Donaldson, Brandon Moss and Yoenis Cespedes anchoring the middle of the order. They have two catchers who can hit in Derek Norris and John Jaso, Craig Gentry is one of the best fourth outfielders in baseball and Alberto Callaspo and Nick Punto are versatile switch-hitters off the bench. In fact, Crisp and Lowrie also switch-hit, making it difficult to match up with the A’s in the late innings. That kind of flexibility allowed the A’s to bat with the platoon advantage 70 percent of the time last season, the second highest in the majors.

3. Jesse Chavez is no fluke: When Jarrod Parker and A.J. Griffin (who just announced he’d undergo Tommy John surgery as well) both went down in spring training, it opened up a rotation slot for Chavez. He’s 2-0 with a 1.89 ERA in six starts and was silly good in Wednesday’s win, allowing one hit and one walk in seven innings. He’s a four-pitch guy, or five pitches if you want to include both his four-seam fastball and two-seam fastball, adding a cutter that he throws a lot, a changeup and a curveball.

What makes Chavez so tough is that he uses the different pitches to basically pitch to all four quadrants of the strike zone. Both fastballs tend to be up in the zone, primarily used inside to both righties and lefties; he uses his cutter on the outside part of the plate (meaning he has the ability to spot it to both sides, depending on whether it’s a lefty or righty batting; the changeup, mostly thrown to left-handed batters, is low and away; the curveball usually drops in at the knees across the plate.

Where did he come from? The journeyman righty spent time with the Pittsburgh Pirates, Braves, Kansas City Royals and Toronto Blue Jays before the A’s purchased him from Toronto in August of 2012. He had a 3.92 ERA in relief last season with Oakland. When he first reached the majors, Chavez was primarily a fastball/slider guy. He’s since dumped the slider and added the cutter while throwing his four-seamer less and his changeup and curve more often. It’s working. He throws strikes, he knows how to pitch and if, he can handle 30 starts without breaking down, he’ll be good all season.

4. Josh Donaldson is no fluke, either: He finished April with a .279/.338/.533 line, seven home runs and 23 RBIs. Just like 2013, he’ll be one of the best players in the American League.

5. Sonny Gray just might be an ace: I’ll admit I was skeptical heading into 2014 despite his dynamite showing at the end of 2013 and in the postseason. A short right-hander who is basically a two-pitch pitcher? I took a “prove it to me again” attitude. He’s proving it, alright, with a 4-1, 1.76 start, including that three-hit shutout against Darvish on Monday. Look, let’s not get carried away here: He’s only 16 starts into his career, and he needs to show he can handle 200 innings in the major leagues and pitch consistently every fifth day. But he is slowly working in a few changeups and sliders to go with his power heater and hammer curveball, and he’s got that “look” out there, not that I can define what that means.

6. Crisp has aged into an underrated star: Another Billy Beane special. Crisp does a little of everything: good range in center (although the metrics rate him off to a slow start with minus-7 Defensive Runs Saved), excellent percentage base stealer, doesn’t strike out much and he even added power last season with 22 home runs (and hit his third of 2014 on Wednesday). At 34, he’s playing the best baseball of his career.

7. An improved Yoenis Cespedes: The feeling last season was that Cespedes got a little too homer-happy, selling out for the long ball. He hit 26 of them, but his walk rate dropped and his strikeouts increased, leading to a .240 average and sub-.300 OBP. He has 16 strikeouts and 12 walks so far, a much improved ratio over last season’s 137/37 mark. A more disciplined Cespedes is a more scary Cespedes.

8. I’m not worried about the bullpen: The A’s have lost three games they led heading into the ninth, one reason they’re 18-10 instead of 21-7 or 20-8. They have some power arms down there, however, and things will get sorted out. Sean Doolittle, for example, is 0-2 with a 5.68 ERA, but he’s also fanned 15 with no walks; he’ll be fine. Luke Gregerson is good, Jim Johnson has pitched better after a couple early bad outings, Ryan Cook is back, Fernando Abad has pitched very well and Dan Otero is a tricky right-hander. The pen is fine.

9. Manager Bob Melvin: One of the best in the business. The calm serenity of a redwood tree. Or something like that.

10. Green Collar Baseball: That’s the A’s official slogan of sorts. The team’s website includes it, and the clubhouse in spring training had a sign up to remind players of it, not that they need reminding. As Donaldson told me in spring training about what it means, "It’s about grinding every at-bat. That you’re never out of a game." It’s not necessarily playing with a chip on your shoulder just because you’re on the small-market A’s but showcasing your ability every day, no matter your salary, your service time, the number of fans in the park or your place in the standings. "I think you’re going have guys in this locker room who are going to be $20 million ballplayers," Donaldson said in March. "They may not be making $20 million right now, but there’s definitely potential for guys to make that money. There’s a bunch of guys here with less than three years of service, so we have guys still trying to make their mark. That’s the great thing about baseball: You get a chance every time you step on the field to prove yourself."

If only they were baseball's best team in October.
A T H L E T I C S | U C L A | L A K E R S | R A I D E R S

A T H L E T I C S | U C L A | L A K E R S | R A I D E R S

post #21558 of 73654
A's fans, how about Jesse Chavez pimp.gif
post #21559 of 73654
I am obviously happy with the overall results of the first month of baseball, but this team still has some holes to fill.

First the closer situation. Hopefully Johnson can get his act together and let everyone slip back into their originals roles because this bullpen is stacked with 6-7-8 inning guys. Second, the defense and base running need to improve. Fundamentals. This team is too good to look like little leaguers on the base paths. My other concern still has to do with the offense. If this lineup is hot, they look amazing, but if they are cold, they look horrible. They have to find some sort of middle ground and be able to manufacture runs when needed. If Reddick continues to return to form, that would be a huge plus.

Gray really looks like the ace we have needed. Hope he can continue to improve because that kid looks built for the big stage.

I know Beane and company are against it, but I would love to add a legitimate DH at the deadline. This team is close to getting over the hump and they need to take advantage while they have the pieces.
post #21560 of 73654
Thread Starter 
Hopefully he doesn't give in to this whole "They're better without Cespedes" narrative that seems to be going on.
post #21561 of 73654
Originally Posted by Proshares View Post

Hopefully he doesn't give in to this whole "They're better without Cespedes" narrative that seems to be going on.

We're definitely not better without Cespedes. Even someone who isn't interested in the advanced math can simply look at the A's W/L with and without him and see that we're better with him in the lineup.
A T H L E T I C S | U C L A | L A K E R S | R A I D E R S

A T H L E T I C S | U C L A | L A K E R S | R A I D E R S

post #21562 of 73654
Originally Posted by Proshares View Post

Hopefully he doesn't give in to this whole "They're better without Cespedes" narrative that seems to be going on.

From a recent Mercury new article:

"This year the A's are 14-7 coming into Monday when Cespedes starts and 1-3 when he doesn't. And in his two-plus seasons in the big leagues, Cespedes has helped the club to a record of 179-103 when he starts. The A's are 26-41 when he does not."

post #21563 of 73654
Thread Starter 
Dan Haren on the Splitter and Cutter.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
There might not be two pitches as divisive as the splitter and the cutter. At least, there aren’t two pitches that are banned from development in multiple organizations across baseball like the splitter and the cutter. Dan Haren throws the splitter and the cutter.

That isn’t to say that he hasn’t had to be careful about throwing the two controversial pitches. Many of his adjustments over the course of his career have had to do with how he’s treated them. In fact, their story tells his story, in a way.

Haren ran into some resistance to his repertoire from the first day as a professional. The Cardinals didn’t want him to throw his splitter. That led to a difficult year in Short-A ball, and when they didn’t want him throwing the pitch that next spring, he had to say something: “I told them I needed to throw it because it was my second-best pitch,” Haren said. “They let me throw it a little bit.”

Studying the injury rates on splitfingers is tough. Look at the list of heavy users since 2003 and you get maybe ten to fifteen pitchers. Sure, there’s a whiff of injury about the pitch, and Brandon League did admit to me that his forearm was sore when he first learned the pitch, and Hisashi Iwakuma didn’t throw splitters on his rehab from a finger problem… but a J.J. Putz and a Brandon Morrow don’t say anything definitive about linking the pitch to injuries.

That said, Haren doesn’t like to go to the well too often. “I still don’t throw it much in bullpens between starts, and then I’ll throw 15 in a game, so it’s not like I’m using it that much,” Haren said of the splitfinger. You’ll see him among those league leaders in splitter usage at about ten percent for his career. But that number does only represent about ten splitters a game — he’s averaged 100 pitches per appearance for his career.

He’s not throwing the same splitter that he used to throw. “As my velocity has gone down, I’ve needed to fork it a little more than I used to, to get it to be a little slower, to maintain the gap between that and my four-seamer,” Haren said. “It was almost like a wide two-seam fastball,” he said of his old grip, showing me how he’s had to shove it deeper into his fingers since. We started keeping track of this sort of stuff in 2007, and his splitter averaged 86 (his fastball was 92) and four inches of arm-side run and three inches of drop. This year, his split-finger is humming along at 82 (fastball is at 88) with two inches of run and five inches of drop.

What might be most unique about Haren’s splitter is that he can throw it for strikes. Take a look at the zone percentages for the ten most-thrown splitters in the game right now.

Name IP FS% FS Zone%
Dan Haren 31 16.1% 50.6%
Ricky Nolasco 29.2 8.1% 45.0%
Alfredo Simon 33.2 9.3% 44.4%
Jorge de la Rosa 31 24.2% 41.9%
Ubaldo Jimenez 27.1 21.6% 34.2%
Tim Hudson 37 18.5% 29.2%
Masahiro Tanaka 35.2 21.4% 24.8%
Hiroki Kuroda 29 21.8% 19.6%
Yu Darvish 31.1 9.3% 19.6%
Jeff Samardzija 41 8.7% 18.2%
Ask him about this skill and he nods, but adds: “I can. I can pretty much throw anything for strikes in any count.” That is probably the first thing you think of when you think of Dan Haren — after all, his walk rate is top five in the game since 2008.

But it wasn’t always this way. His walk rate hovered around league average after the first two years with the Cardinals. What changed? “It was a trust issue. It started as a belief in myself that I could throw balls in the strike zone and get outs. That’s a hard thing as an up and coming pitcher to believe because they think they have to nibble on the outside of the strike zone,” Haren said of that time. “Now it’s become a completely different thing to me. Now, I can’t afford to walk a guy. I can’t afford the baserunners.”

(The homers he gives up? “It goes hand in hand with not walking guys. Sometimes I think I challenge people too much. I know that was the case last year at the beginning of the year. I even joked with guys that 3-1, I’ll throw a fastball down the middle and close my eyes. Because people pop up in BP,” he said.)

Haren fully admits that he’s trying to make things work with declining stuff. Enter the cutter: “a response to declining velocity” in his own words.

Year FA Velo FT Velo FC%
2007 91.8 - 5.00%
2008 91.1 90.5 11.60%
2009 90.5 90.3 27.60%
2010 90.5 90.5 31.60%
2011 89.8 90.1 49.10%
2012 88.5 88.9 36.90%
2013 88.9 89.1 40.00%
2014 87.5 86.7 41.20%
But there was a little bit more to it. “My fastball was a little flatter in Arizona,” Haren pointed out, and BrooksBaseball has him losing a full inch of vertical drop on the pitch between 2007 and 2008. “My two-seam fastball was running more towards right-handers barrels, so I was looking for something to get off the barrel, so I started using a cutter,” he continued. The cutter helped him… cut (!) power against his sinker drastically in 2008.

But, as with the splitter, there are concerns about the cutter. Dan Duquette banned the pitch from the Orioles organization, and in response I tried to see if there was evidence that the cutter killed fastball velocity. Though I didn’t find evidence, I did uncover the idea that there’s a baby slider, which is a little different than your typical cut fastball.

“I throw a baby slider, I grip it more like a slider, almost like a slider and throw it like a fastball instead of gripping it like a cutter and throwing it like a fastball; It’s more of a hard slider,” admitted Haren, before adding that the cutter “absolutely” leads to velocity loss. (He just didn’t care because he was already losing velocity.)

“Even through the course of a game, if I throw too many cutters, I lose feel for my fastball,” Haren continued. In his game against Detroit this year, he threw eight in a row at one point, and then pulled his catcher aside and told him that he needed to throw some four-seamers in the next inning. “If I throw too many cutters, I lose the feel of turning my wrist and I lose a lot of movement and it’s flatter.” The two flattest games of the year for his sinker were in Detroit and the game after.

As you can see from the table above, there are diminishing returns on the cutter. Off a career year (in his opinion) in 2011, the cutter started getting hit hard early last year. “I just have to be more careful with it, it just hasn’t been as good,” Haren said of the pitch. So when he came back from the DL he decided to be more fastball/splitter, and it worked for him.

And really, this is the kind of adjustment he’s had to continually make over his career. As his velocity has declined, and his different pitches have waxed and waned, he’s turned to the splitter and cutter in different doses to find relief. Despite all the questions about those two pitches, he’s found a way to make them work for him.

The MLB Commissioner’s Power To Discipline A Donald-Sterling Like Owner.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Less than 96 hours after published a racist and hate-filled audio recording between Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling and his then-girlfriend V. Stiviano, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver suspended Sterling from any and all NBA activities for life; fined Sterling $2.5 million; and asked the other 29 NBA owners to force a sale of the Clippers. When asked at his press conference what authority he had to force Sterling to sell the team, Silver replied:

The owners have the authority subject to three quarters vote of the ownership group, of the partners, to remove him as an owner.

Silver didn’t go into specifics, and when asked questions about his authority to suspend Sterling for life and impose a $2.5 million fine, he replied:

I’ll let the lawyers lay out for you the specific provisions of our constitution. Let’s just leave it that we have the authority to act as I’ve recommended.

A few hours later, the NBA made its Constitution and By-Laws available to the media through the league’s media center website. Deadspin, among others, published the document in full and provided a link for those of us who aren’t NBA media members.

So let’s take a look at Silver’s authority.

First, we need to see how the NBA Constitution and By-Laws defines the various entities at the team level. In a section entitled “Interpretation” are the following definitions:

“Member” shall mean a person or Entity that has been granted a Membership in the Association. For purposes of this Constitution and By-Laws, an action on behalf of a Member by any of its Owners, employees, officers, directors, managers, agents or representatives, or its Governor or Alternate Governors, shall be the action of a Member.

“Owner” shall mean a Member and each individual or Entity (including both the trustees and beneficiaries of any trust) that, directly or indirectly (including through one or more intermediate Entities), owns of record or beneficially an interest in, or has effective control over, a Member or its Membership.

“Team” shall mean the professional basketball team organized and operated by a Member to play in the league operated by the Association.

An owner is a member. A member takes action through its owner and other executives. A team is what the member operates as part of the league.

On the issue of terminating ownership or membership in the NBA, Article 13 of the Constitution says, in part:

The Membership of a Member or the interest of any Owner may be terminated by a vote of three fourths (3/4) of the Board of Governors if the Member or Owner shall do or suffer any of the following:

(a) Willfully violate any of the provisions of the Constitution and By-Laws, resolutions, or agreements of the Association.

(d) Fail or refuse to fulfill its contractual obligations to the Association, its Members, Players, or any other third party in such a way as to affect the Association or its Members adversely.

(emphasis added).

Subsections (b), (c) and (e) through (j) address financial failures, gambling on games, rigging game scores, not fielding a team or misrepresenting facts in a membership application. Those aren’t likely implicated by Sterling’s conduct, at least based on the facts we now know.

My best guess is that Silver and the NBA owners will rely on subsections (a) and (d) should the owners vote to remove Sterling as an owner of the Clippers. The question then, is, what provision of the Constitution or contractual obligations did Sterling violate with his racist diatribe captured in the audio recordings?

For that we turn to Article 35A, which reads, in part:

The provisions of this Article 35A shall apply only to

Members and Owners. . . . The word “persons” as used herein shall include all such Members [and] Owners . . . . [irrelevant definitions deleted for brevity].

(c) Any person who gives, makes, issues, authorizes or endorses any statement having, or designed to have, an effect prejudicial or detrimental to the best interests of basketball or of the Association or of a Member or its Team, shall be liable to a fine not exceeding $1,000,000 to be imposed by the Commissioner. The Member whose Owner, Officer, Manager, Coach or other employee has been so fined shall pay the amount of the fine should such person fail to do so within ten (10) days of its imposition.

(d) The Commissioner shall have the power to suspend for a definite or indefinite period, or to impose a fine not exceeding $1,000,000, or inflict both such suspension and fine upon any person who, in his opinion, shall have been guilty of conduct prejudicial or detrimental to the Association.

In other words, owners agree to not make statements or act in any way that is prejudicial or detrimental to the NBA. If they do, they are not only subject to suspension and fine, but to a vote by the remaining owners on whether to terminate his or her interest. That’s the argument, at least.

Note that Article 35A limits a fine to $1 million, and Silver fined Sterling $2.5 million. There is a provision that refers to a potential $2.5 million fine, but it is a more general, catch-all provision under the Commissioner’s enumerated duties and responsibilities. Typically, a more specific contract provision will be applied over a more general one.

Article 24 establishes the Commissioner’s powers. Subsection (l) states:

(l) The Commissioner shall, wherever there is a rule for which no penalty is specifically fixed for violation thereof, have the authority to fix such penalty as in the Commissioner’s judgment shall be in the best interests of the Association. Where a situation arises which is not covered in the Constitution and By-Laws, the Commissioner shall have the authority to make such decision, including the imposition of a penalty, as in his judgment shall be in the best interests of the Association. The penalty that may be assessed under the preceding two sentences may include, without limitation, a fine, suspension, and/or the forfeiture or assignment of draft choices. No monetary penalty fixed under this provision shall exceed $2,500,000.

It may be that Silver imposed the maximum fine mentioned in the NBA Constitution knowing there was a possibility Sterling could convince a judge or arbitrator to reduce the fine on appeal. But there was enormous public pressure — from the players, fans and corporate sponsors — to take quick and decisive action against Sterling. Few would have been satisfied with a lawyerly response like: “Well, we’d would have liked to do more, but we’re not sure if subsection (l) of Article 24 applies.”

But action for the sake of public relations may not hold up under legal challenge. Michael McCann — the founder of the Sports and Entertainment Law Institute at the University of New Hampshire School of Law — wrote in this post at Sports Illustrated about the reasons owners might be reluctant to strip Sterling of his ownership interest. It all boils down to whether Sterling’s racist and offensive beliefs — caught on tape for all the world to hear — violate the NBA Constitution or any contractual obligation by the NBA.

What if Donald Sterling were an MLB owner? Or one of the 30 current MLB owners was shown to have expressed racist and hateful views? What would be the maximum penalty the MLB Commissioner could impose?

We start with the MLB Constitution (link here) and Article II, which outlines the authority of the Commissioner. Section 3 reads:

In the case of conduct by Major League Clubs, owners, officer, employees or players that is deemed by the Commissioner not to be in the best interests of Baseball, punitive action by the Commissioner for each offense may include any one or more of the following:

(a) a reprimand; (b) deprivation of a Major League Club of representation in Major League Meetings; (c) suspension or removal of any owner, officer or employee of a Major League Club; (d) temporary or permanent ineligibility of a player; (e) a fine, not to exceed $2,000,000 in the case of a Major League Club, not to exceed $500,000 in the case of an owner, officer or employee, and in an amount consistent with the then-current Basic Agreement with Major League Baseball Players Association, in the case of a player; (f) loss of the benefit of any and all of the Major League Rules, including but not limited to the denial or transfer of player selection rights provided by Major League Rules 4 and 5; and (g) such other actions as the Commissioner may deem appropriate [emphasis added].

Note the similarities and differences between the MLB and NBA Constitutions. The MLB Constitution gives the Commissioner broad authority to fine, suspend and remove owners who act contrary to “the best interests of baseball.” In the NBA, the Commissioner can fine and suspend (but not remove) an owner who “gives, makes, issues, authorizes or endorses any statement having, or designed to have, an effect prejudicial or detrimental to the best interests of basketball.” So while both leagues demand that owner always act in the best interests of the sport, MLB’s Commissioner has the power to remove an owner, and the NBA’s does not.

On the other hand, the NBA Constitution authorizes higher monetary penalties: at least $1 million, if not the $2.5 million imposed by Silver on Sterling. In MLB, the maximum monetary fine for an owner who acts contrary to the best of baseball is $500,000. Both Commissioners have full authority to suspend owners.

MLB’s Constitution also has provisions governing the involuntary termination of a Major League Club but that section doesn’t use the word owner. (Article VIII). That differs from the section on the Commissioner’s authority to act in the best interests of baseball, which specifically refers to owners. This makes sense if MLB’s Commissioner has the power to remove an owner, whereas the NBA Commissioner can only fine or suspend one.

Major League Clubs can terminate the rights, privileges and property rights of another Major League Club with the approval of 3/4 of all Major League Clubs for financial improprieties, gambling, throwing games, and failing to maintain an adequate ballpark. They may also act to terminate a Club’s rights when it “willfully violates any provision of the Constitution” or “fails or refuses to fulfill its contractual obligations.” This section is on par with Article 35A of the NBA Constitution in terms of voting structure and the kinds of misconduct that can lead to the expulsion of a team. But, again, in MLB, the involuntary termination provisions do not specifically apply to owners.

Baseball’s commissioner has never removed an owner for acting contrary to the best interests of baseball. Nor has the commissioner ever imposed the maximum $500,000 fine on an owner or suspended him or her for life. .

The harshest penalties ever imposed on an MLB owner not involving a crime involved former Cincinnatti Reds owner Marge Schott. In February, 1993, then-acting Commissioner Bud Selig suspended Schott for the 1993 season and fined her $25,000 after her racist and anti-semitic views and conduct were brought to light. Selig also ordered Schott to attend sensitivity training. Jay Jaffe of Sports Illustrated detailed Schott’s vile transgressions in this post earlier in the week, as the Sterling news broke and the world waited for the NBA’s response. As Jaffe wrote, Schott became known for calling her black players and other employees by the N word and for saying that “Hitler was okay in the beginning” — statements on par with — if not more offensive than — what Sterling said to his girlfriend.

Schott was not deterred or sensitized and continued on with her racist and anti-semitic comments, including praise for Hitler. Again, Selig responded with a suspension, in June 1996, to last through the end of the 1998 season. When the suspension expired, the commissioner threatened further action if Schott didn’t relinquish ownership of the Reds. She wasn’t removed as an owner under the commissioner’s authority, but pressured to sell the team or face another, longer suspension. She relented in 1999 and sold all but one share of the team.

Thanks to the 24/7 news cycle and the exponential effect of social media on news stories, Sterling’s comments received much greater public scrutiny and condemnation than Schott’s ever did. Corporate sponsors fled the Clippers and the NBA. The players’ union took a strong, united stand, with the players on teams in the postseason threatening boycotts if Silver didn’t quickly and harshly punish Sterling. Silver did the right thing in imposing the maximum penalty permitted by the NBA Constitution, but doing less would not have been in the best interest of the sport. It’s still up to the owners whether to force Sterling to sell the Clippers.

One would hope that, if in 2014 or beyond, an MLB owner treated his or her employees the way Schott did, or expressed such vile views, the MLB commissioner would act as swiftly and as forcefully as Adam Silver did.

Starter Durability, Overtaxed Bullpens and the Upcoming Summer of Attrition.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
By the time you read this, the calendar will have turned over to May, and a full month of baseball will be in the books. Charlie Blackmon is officially a thing, the Milwaukee Brewers have the best record in baseball, and the Arizona Diamondbacks’ season is essentially over – just like we all predicted.

It was a cold April throughout most of the country, and for that reason and others, the recent downward trend in run-scoring has continued. Before long, though, the summer heat will set in, and baseballs will begin flying out of ballparks more often, with pitching staffs bearing the brunt. Some teams will be better positioned to handle this than others. Let’s take a look at starting pitcher durability and relief pitcher usage for all clubs through Tuesday night’s games to get a feel for the clubs who are best and worst prepared for the upcoming summer of attrition.
Below are tables measuring starting pitcher durability and relief pitcher usage in 2013. The key items being measured, from left to right, are: starting pitcher innings per game (AVG SP IP), relief pitchers per game (RP/GM), relief innings per relief game (RP IP/RGM), as well as overall staff ERA for starters and relievers, respectively. The tables are sorted by average starting pitcher innings per game.

DET 162 1023.00 6.31 428 2.64 439.67 1.03 4.01 3.44
KC 162 986.67 6.09 427 2.64 461.67 1.08 2.55 3.87
BOS 162 984.00 6.07 450 2.78 470.00 1.04 3.70 3.84
CWS 162 982.67 6.07 470 2.90 472.33 1.00 4.00 3.99
OAK 162 976.67 6.03 447 2.76 475.33 1.06 3.22 3.72
NYY 162 969.67 5.99 428 2.64 477.67 1.12 3.66 4.08
TEX 163 971.67 5.96 475 2.91 491.67 1.04 2.91 3.99
LAA 162 964.00 5.95 496 3.06 493.67 1.00 4.12 4.30
SEA 162 960.00 5.93 448 2.77 505.00 1.13 4.58 4.18
TB 163 965.33 5.92 485 2.98 498.67 1.03 3.59 3.81
BAL 162 939.00 5.80 473 2.92 514.00 1.09 3.52 4.57
CLE 162 924.67 5.71 540 3.33 516.67 0.96 3.62 3.92
HOU 162 906.00 5.59 448 2.77 534.00 1.19 4.92 4.72
TOR 162 899.33 5.55 487 3.01 552.67 1.13 3.37 4.81
MIN 162 871.00 5.38 511 3.15 579.33 1.13 3.50 5.26
2432 14323.68 5.89 7013 2.88 7482.35 1.07 3.69 4.14

CIN 162 1003.33 6.19 461 2.85 470.33 1.02 3.29 3.43
ATL 162 989.67 6.11 466 2.88 460.67 0.99 2.46 3.51
STL 162 984.33 6.08 483 2.98 475.33 0.98 3.45 3.42
LAD 162 979.00 6.04 504 3.11 471.33 0.94 3.49 3.13
AZ 162 976.33 6.03 527 3.25 518.67 0.98 3.52 4.13
CUB 162 974.00 6.01 489 3.02 474.00 0.97 4.04 3.97
NYM 162 969.67 5.99 535 3.30 507.00 0.95 3.98 3.68
WAS 162 968.33 5.98 440 2.72 477.33 1.08 3.56 3.60
PHL 162 961.67 5.94 466 2.88 474.67 1.02 4.19 4.41
SF 162 946.00 5.84 524 3.23 501.33 0.96 3.30 4.37
MIA 162 944.00 5.83 471 2.91 516.00 1.10 3.42 3.87
SD 162 932.33 5.76 488 3.01 522.67 1.07 3.39 4.31
PIT 162 925.00 5.71 465 2.87 545.67 1.17 2.89 3.50
MIL 162 918.67 5.67 501 3.09 524.00 1.05 3.19 4.20
COL 162 880.33 5.43 503 3.10 555.67 1.10 4.23 4.57
2430 14352.66 5.91 7323 3.01 7494.67 1.02 3.50 3.86
While having your starters go relatively deep into games doesn’t guarantee a winning season (2013 White Sox are a case in point), it certainly doesn’t hurt. With the exception of the Indians and Rays in the AL and the Pirates in the NL, the 2013 playoff clubs all finished high on their respective league lists. In fact, the other four NL playoff teams were the top four NL finishers, and the other three AL playoff teams finished first, third and fifth. It’s pretty straightforward – the deeper your starter lasts into games, on average, the better your chance of winning.

Beyond that, however, a club’s relative starter durability doesn’t necessarily correspond with the stress applied to that club’s bullpen. One might expect a club whose starters last deeper into games to use fewer relief pitchers over the course of a season. While this is usually the case, there are notable exceptions. In the NL last season, for example, the Pirates’ starters were the 13th most durable in the league, but they used the third fewest relief pitchers in the league. The reason? They didn’t constantly chase the platoon advantage, averaging an NL-high 1.17 innings per relief appearance. Multiple members of their pen were fresh and rested almost every day, and they went on to finish second in the NL in relief ERA. The Astros took a similar approach in the AL, but under much different circumstances, as they were often far behind in games, and logged more long relief innings than most.

On the other hand, we have the 2013 Dodgers, who ranked 4th in the NL in starter innings per game – but also used the 4th most relief pitchers in the league. They averaged an NL-low 0.94 innings per relief game, as they consistently chased the platoon advantage with their two lefty specialists, J.P. Howell and Paco Rodriguez. What did this accomplish for them? Not much, as their overall pen ERA ranked 9th in the NL, in a pitchers’ park. The Mets managed their pen similarly to the Dodgers, and their AL counterpart was the Indians, who led all of baseball in relief outings and ranked last in the league in innings per relief appearance.

Now let’s take a look at the exact same information for 2014, through Tuesday night’s games, and attempt to identify some emerging trends that could cause some repercussions, both positive and negative, as the weather warms.

KC 25 157.67 6.31 60 2.40 63.67 1.06 3.39 3.20
LAA 26 161.00 6.19 86 3.31 77.33 0.90 4.42 3.58
OAK 27 166.67 6.17 78 2.89 83.00 1.06 2.60 2.97
BOS 27 161.67 5.99 74 2.74 83.00 1.12 3.25 4.23
DET 22 130.00 5.91 69 3.14 67.33 0.98 5.48 3.12
TEX 27 158.00 5.85 77 2.85 83.00 1.08 4.45 3.99
NYY 26 151.33 5.82 75 2.88 79.67 1.06 4.07 4.34
BAL 24 138.67 5.78 70 2.92 76.00 1.09 4.03 4.74
CLE 27 154.33 5.72 90 3.33 79.67 0.89 3.16 4.72
CWS 28 158.67 5.67 79 2.82 92.33 1.17 4.58 4.99
HOU 27 153.00 5.67 72 2.67 89.33 1.24 6.04 4.06
SEA 25 139.00 5.56 81 3.24 81.67 1.01 3.42 3.82
TB 27 149.67 5.54 84 3.11 91.00 1.08 4.25 4.51
MIN 23 126.67 5.51 71 3.09 82.00 1.15 3.40 6.04
TOR 26 140.00 5.38 82 3.15 90.33 1.10 5.08 4.37
387 2246.35 5.80 1148 2.97 1219.33 1.06 4.13 4.15

ATL 25 165.67 6.63 70 2.80 63.00 0.90 3.43 1.90
CIN 26 170.67 6.56 59 2.27 56.67 0.96 4.61 2.85
MIL 27 173.67 6.43 86 3.19 83.33 0.97 2.16 2.80
NYM 26 163.00 6.27 81 3.12 81.33 1.00 3.98 3.37
STL 28 172.00 6.14 78 2.79 79.00 1.01 3.87 2.41
CUB 25 152.67 6.11 76 3.04 73.67 0.97 3.79 3.83
PIT 26 157.67 6.06 66 2.54 81.33 1.23 2.66 4.17
PHL 26 155.33 5.97 78 3.00 74.33 0.95 4.84 4.06
SD 28 164.67 5.88 79 2.82 84.33 1.07 1.81 3.99
MIA 26 152.33 5.86 68 2.62 76.00 1.12 3.55 3.37
SF 27 156.67 5.80 83 3.07 87.33 1.05 2.06 3.96
LAD 26 150.33 5.78 99 3.81 92.33 0.93 3.61 2.81
WAS 27 155.00 5.74 80 2.96 89.67 1.12 2.21 3.89
COL 28 157.67 5.63 91 3.25 91.33 1.00 3.74 4.40
AZ 30 160.33 5.34 101 3.37 106.67 1.06 3.63 6.34
401 2407.68 6.00 1195 2.98 1220.32 1.02 3.28 3.59
The first team of concern is the Detroit Tigers. In 2013, they had by far the most durable group of starting pitchers in baseball, with their 6.31 inning average start length over a full standard deviation higher than the AL average of 5.89. This year, they rank 5th in the AL at 5.91, just above the league average of 5.80. This has something to do with the departure of Doug Fister, but he has yet to pitch a single inning for the Nationals, so shouldn’t be used as an excuse. All of their starters save Rick Porcello averaged well over six innings per start in 2013. While Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer and Porcello have averaged over six this season, recently disabled Anibal Sanchez and fifth starter Drew Smyly have averaged only 4.57 IP per start in their seven outings. Robbie Ray is set to soon make his Tiger debut, and needs to at least be respectable in this department to prevent this from becoming an even more pressing issue.

Compounding their starter durability issue is a fairly major change in bullpen management style from Jim Leyland in 2013 to Brad Ausmus in 2014. Not only do the Tigers need more pen innings this season, they are also generating far more pitching changes to generate them, chasing the platoon advantage more so than in the past. The Tigers tied for the second fewest relief pitchers used in the AL in 2013 (2.64 per game), and rank 5th in the AL in this department in 2014 at 3.14. This increased reliance on Phil Coke and Ian Krol from the left side has not worked out for them so far, as their pen ERA of 5.48 is second worst in the AL. Krol, Joe Nathan, Al Alburquerque and Joba Chamberlain are all on pace to pitch between 81 and 88 games, and haven’t dealt well with the heavy workload as a unit thus far. Starting pitcher durability has been one of the stealth drivers of Detroit’s success in recent years – they need to improve in this area to maintain their winning ways.

Next up are the Seattle Mariners. They currently rank 12th in the AL in starting pitcher innings per game at 5.56 – despite the presence of Felix Hernandez. Take him away, and the average drops to 5.14, by far the lowest in baseball. Take Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma away from their 2013 total, and their average drops from 5.93 to 5.48, 28th in the majors. Yes, taking away a team’s ace or aces would be damaging to any club, but it doesn’t detract from the fact that the Mariners have done a very poor job of filling out their starting rotation in both 2013 and 2014. Some combo of Iwakuma, James Paxton and Taijuan Walker should be added to their rotation within the next few weeks, but even a best-case scenario would see them rising only into the middle of the pack in starter durability, especially given Paxton and Walker’s status as relatively untested rookies, neither of whom has a history of averaging six innings per start, even in the minors.

Also concerning is the manner in which the M’s have deployed their bullpen thus far in 2014. The Mariners have used far more relievers per game (3.24) in 2014 compared to last season (2.77), chasing the platoon advantage far more often. Their relievers have averaged 1.01 IP per outing this season compared to 1.13 in 2013. Though their pen performance has been better so far this season, they have three relievers on pace for 78 outings (Danny Farquhar, Yoervis Medina and Charlie Furbush), with Farquhar on pace for 85 innings and rookie Dominic Leone, who didn’t even start the season with the club, on pace for 78.

They lack a true long reliever at present, and actually sent a starter capable of getting them 7 IP in a start — Erasmo Ramirez — down to the minors rather than putting him in that role. Their pen simply cannot hold up with this level of churn and overall usage. There is a path to success here, one that involves seamless returns to health and peak durability levels for Iwakuma, Paxton and Walker. History would suggest that this is unlikely to happen, and attrition could be a very real foe to the Mariners’ staff as the weather warms.

Why don’t the Toronto Blue Jays win? They were a trendy AL East pick in 2013 after “winning” the offseason with major trades that netted them R.A. Dickey, Mark Buehrle and Jose Reyes, among others. A prime reason for their ongoing struggles is their lack of starting pitcher durability. They finished next to last in the AL in 2013 with 5.55 starting pitcher innings per game, and are dead last at 5.38 thus far in 2014. One player who carries a great deal of responsibility for this shortcoming is Brandon Morrow. In 2013, injuries limited him to 10 starts and 54 innings, and he has managed only 22 1/3 innings over five starts thus far this season.

At any given moment, Morrow can be truly dominant, but his mere presence in a starting rotation all but guarantees bullpen overuse. His presence in a rotation beside fellow injury reclamation projects Dustin McGowan and Drew Hutchison is a recipe for disaster – the three have combined for an average of 4.76 IP per start in their 15 outings. As a result, the Jays have two relievers, Steve Delabar and Brett Cecil, who are on track for 81 appearances, and another, Esmil Rogers, on track for 89 relief innings. Unsurprisingly, the Jays’ pen ERA of 5.08 ranks 13th in the AL thus far.

The Cleveland Indians continue to use more relief pitchers than any other AL club (3.33 per game), and use them for the shortest average outing (0.89 IP per relief outing). This is a difficult, if not impossible way to win. The Indians clawed their way into the postseason last year with Cody Allen, Bryan Shaw and Joe Smith logging 70 or more appearances, with Rich Hill (63), Matt Albers (56) and Chris Perez (54) also used liberally.

Except for Allen and Shaw, this entire group has turned over, with John Axford and Scott Atchison added on the right side and Marc Rzepczynski and Josh Outman added on the left. They’ve been solid to date, 2nd in the AL in relief ERA, but Shaw is on pace for 84 games and 82 innings, and Allen (78), Rzepczynski (72) and Outman (72) are also on pace for very heavy appearance workloads. The Indians are beginning to drift away from the AL Central leaders already, and things could get really dicey once the weather warms.

The Dodgers are a very interesting case thus far. Even without Clayton Kershaw, their starters have been exceptional, with a cumulative 2.81 ERA. Despite this, they rank just 12th in the NL in average starter innings at 5.78, way down from their 2013 average of 6.04. Only Dan Haren has averaged six innings per start – despite pitching very well, Zack Greinke and Hyun-Jin Ryu have averaged only 5.69 IP per start between them. This early-hook approach has put a great deal of additional strain on the bullpen, which as noted earlier, logs a ton of appearances even when they are getting many more innings from their starters, as in 2013.

This year they have used 3.81 relievers per game, over two standard deviations more than the NL league average of 2.98. They continue to chase the platoon advantage excessively, averaging 0.93 relief IP per outing, 14th in the NL, after finishing last in this category in 2013. Kenley Jansen is on track for 100 appearances – beyond brutal for a closer – and 87 innings. J.P. Howell (87), Jamey Wright (81) and Chris Perez (81) are also on pace for huge appearance totals. The innings the Dodgers took from some of their better starters and gave to their pen in April could come back to bite them later.

There is also some positive info in the starter durability/bullpen utilization data. In bite-size form, here it is:

- The Angels are up from 5.95 IP/start in 2013 to 6.19 in 2014, 2nd in the AL. Hey there, Tyler Skaggs. The D-Backs could sure use him right now. The Angel pen has been leaky at best, and despite a lack of lefty options, they are second in the AL in relievers used, with the second shortest average relief outing. They aren’t chasing the platoon advantage – they’re spinning the Wheel of Mediocrity.

- The Mets are up from 5.99 IP/start in 2013 to 6.27, 4th in the NL, in 2014 – without Matt Harvey. Dillon Gee has stepped up, and the addition of veteran stabilizer Bartolo Colon along with the return of Jon Niese from injury has allowed them to bring along youngsters Zack Wheeler and Jenrry Mejia relatively slowly.

- Good and bad news for the Nationals. On one hand, they continue to possess one of the game’s more reliable bullpens, featuring a core of Rafael Soriano, Tyler Clippard and Drew Storen. On the other hand, new manager Matt Williams appears to have a much quicker hook with his starters than did predecessor Davey Johnson. They rank 13th in the NL in starter IP per game (5.74), well down from 5.98 in 2013.

While the Washington debut of Doug Fister should help, it doesn’t make a lot of sense that the trio of Gio Gonzalez, Stephen Strasburg and Jordan Zimmerman has been limited to an average of 5.69 IP per start to date.

- There are some positives to be found in the Pirates’ dismal April. They are getting far more innings out of their starters, up from 5.71 per game in 2013 to 6.06 this season. Only Wandy Rodriguez appears to be on shaky ground in their rotation – the Edinson Volquez experiment unsurprisingly appears ready to yield dividends, and Charlie Morton is at least giving them some innings bulk. The Pirates are last in the NL in relief outings, and are again leading the league in average relief outing length (1.23 IP per outing). They have been hurt by sequencing in the season’s first month – their run prevention fundamentals are still strong, and as the weather warms and their offense awakens, they should have a strong, fresh bullpen at their disposal, especially if Jason Grilli returns fairly soon.

- Don’t sleep on the Cincinnati Reds, either. Among their chief strengths is the durability of their starters – they led the NL with an average of 6.19 IP per start in 2013, and are second to the Braves at 6.56 thus far this season. Their pen has not performed well, but it is certainly fresh, ranking last in the majors in appearances and innings. Their performance should positively regress somewhat, and that’s before taking the return of Aroldis Chapman into account. The Reds will be heard from this season.

- Have to mention those Milwaukee Brewers. The biggest changes to this club from their disappointing 2013 campaign are the return of Ryan Braun and the added length received from their starting pitchers. (Of course, as I typed this, Matt Garza left their Wednesday game early due to injury, and they needed to use a position player to close it out.) They ranked 14th in the NL at 5.67 IP per start in 2013, and are 3rd at 6.43 in 2014. This enabled them to handle a spate of extra-inning games without overly taxing their pen, even though they’re carrying a Rule 5 guy, and essentially going with six relievers. Each of their five starters is averaging over six IP per start, with the addition of Garza to replace their 2013 fifth starter revolving door and the development of Wily Peralta the key factors.

- The Braves’ starters’ performance has been off-the-charts great, and top-of-the-charts durable. Their pen hasn’t been nearly as effective as in 2013, but they have handled the second-lightest workload in baseball to date, and should be ready when needed later on. The Royals’ staff has quietly emerged as a lesser, AL version of the Braves’. They are leading the AL in average starter length, and have used the second fewest relievers in the AL, over two standard deviations lower than the AL average. Like the Braves, they have an elite pen that hasn’t been at its best thus far, but it will be ready when needed, giving the Royals a shot to contend despite their significant offensive woes.

A final note – only 14 relief pitchers in all of baseball made 75 or more appearances last season. Of the 14, 10 had an ERA better than the MLB average for relievers. Of these, two accumulated 75 or more relief innings. Of the entire group of 14, only four had made 75 appearances in a previous season, one time apiece. Relievers turn over, fast, and it is very rare and difficult for a reliever to carry such a heavy workload over the course of even one full season, let alone multiple seasons. Mowing through relievers at a rapid pace forces clubs to continuously identify entire new crops of relievers. This clogs 40-man rosters and can create all sorts of unintended consequences. The baseball season is an unforgiving grind, and proper utilization of complementary resources is an underrated trait of winning organizations. Organizational inefficiency in April often comes home to roost later in the season.

Prospect Watch: Two Graduates from the Fringe Five.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
The Fringe Five is a weekly column in which the author attempts to identify the most compelling rookie-eligible players not to have appeared on a top-100 prospect list. What follows is an inspection of two players who appeared frequently among the Five last year, but became ineligible this year owing to their growing prospect status.

Mookie Betts, 2B, Boston (Profile)
Level: Double-A Age: 21 Top-15: 4th Top-100: 59th
Line: 102 PA, 9.8% BB, 7.8% K, .422/.471/.689 (.425 BABIP), 10/12 SB

Betts is capable of most everything on a baseball field — including to play multiple positions on it, probably.

As was mostly the case with Class-A and High-A last season, Double-A doesn’t appear to offer enough in the way of talent to contend with the Venerable Betts. He’s produced in basically every way that’s possible: by taking walks, by avoiding strikeouts, by hitting some home runs, by converting other sorts of batted balls into hits, by stealing bases. Even regressing his BABIP into a range that might ultimately be considered sustainable doesn’t really take away much of the splendor from the overall line.

Another sign of Betts’ excellence: before the season, Steamer produced a projected 0.2 WAR for Betts per 600 plate appearances. A month later, that figure has risen to 1.1 per 600.

While it’s probably never wise to take for granted a prospect’s major-league ability so long as he’s in the minors, it’s also probably fair to say that one pressing question concerning Betts is that of opportunity. He’s continued to play exclusively at second base this season — at which position there’s room at Boston’s Triple-A affiliate. At the major-league level, however, that’s less the case.

Worldwide expert on Mookie Betts, WEEI’s Alex Speier, wrote at some length on Betts’ possible defensive future just a couple days ago. A sample from same:

[W]hile Betts has been portrayed as a redundancy given the presence of Pedroia, the Sox view him as anything but. He is the one player in the organization with the potential to emerge as a standout, multi-dimensional force while having the athleticism and skill set to address holes at different spots on the diamond.

At a time when the Sox are preparing to play the Rays, they can look into the other dugout at a player like Ben Zobrist — someone whose impact has been magnified by his ability to play seven positions in the big leagues (all four infield spots and all three outfield positions) and see a hint of the kind of impact Betts could one day make.

The Zobrist comparison is a compelling one, insofar as (a) Zobrist has recorded the third-highest WAR total in all the major leagues since 2009 and (b) given his youth, Betts might represent what’s possible when an all-around useful player such as Zobrist actually begins his career in earnest before age 28.

Maikel Franco, 3B, Philadelphia (Profile)
Level: Triple-A Age: 21 Top-15: 1st Top-100: 27th
Line: 94 PA, 6.4% BB, 19.1% K, .172/.234/.253 (.206 BABIP)

Age is actually something more than a number.

Before embarking on any real discussion of Franco’s performance thus far — which isn’t a particularly great performance thus far — it’s essential to acknowledge that he’s currently the fourth-youngest field player in all of Triple-A, behind only Ronald Torreyes (Houston), Jose Ramirez (Cleveland), and Javier Baez (Chicago NL). While, as Dan Szymborski astutely points out in his Hardball Times piece from yesterday, it’s not really the case that a “neat, tidy, aging curve” exists for every player, it’s also true that when a prospect is asked to contend with much older talent, that’s usually a sign of a future major-league career.

“What kind of future major-league career?” is a question that seems reasonable to ask.

To get the most basic sense of the answer, what I did was merely to identify the four-youngest players in Triple-A from 2006 to -08 — i.e. the earliest three years for which FanGraphs has complete minor-league data. Here are the players who meet that criteria, from 2006: Asdrubal Cabrera, Adam Jones, Felix Pie, and Ryan Sweeney. And from 2007: Daric Barton, Jones (again), Sweeney (again), and Brandon Wood. And from 2008: Andrew Mccutchen, Colby Rasmus, Matt Tuiasosopo, and Neil Walker.

And here are their respective career numbers, sorted by WAR per 550 plate appearances:

Name G PA wRC+ WAR WAR550
Andrew McCutchen 760 3291 139 28.2 4.7
Colby Rasmus 715 2762 102 12.8 2.5
Adam Jones 970 3908 107 17.4 2.4
Neil Walker 574 2363 111 9.3 2.2
Asdrubal Cabrera 845 3566 105 13.4 2.1
Ryan Sweeney 624 2171 94 7.4 1.9
Daric Barton 545 2075 102 7.0 1.9
Matt Tuiasosopo 152 401 79 -0.3 -0.4
Felix Pie 425 1082 72 -1.2 -0.6
Brandon Wood 272 751 36 -2.9 -2.1
Average 588 2237 95 9.1 1.5
Median 599 2267 102 8.4 2.0
It occurs to me, having assembled the above collection of players, that, to perform an evaluation of this nature with regard to Franco specifically, it might make more sense to consider the, say, second- through sixth-youngest players in Triple-A over a three-year span — thus placing the fourth-youngest player in the middle of that group. I’ve already produced the relevant data, however, and am too consumed by sloth to repeat the process.

What one extracts from this collection of players, however, is (first) that all of them graduated to the majors and that (second) seven of the ten have produced wins at an average-or-better rate. Quite promising, all of that.

In the case of Franco, specifically, it’s the case that no little part of his value both now and in the future is tied to his ability to hit home runs. He’s done that only once this season, but that’s also probably not particularly representative of his true talent in that regard. So, for a number of reasons, the alarm regarding his slow start ought to be minimal.

It Might Be Time to Adjust to Anthony Rendon.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Pitch-pattern data can be interesting when you’re trying to spot trends or adjustments for scouting reports. Changes in pitch patterns can sometimes be revealing. Just the other day, we looked at Miguel Cabrera, and beginning in last year’s playoffs, pitchers started to challenge him with more fastballs over the plate. That trend continued into this April, as opposing teams picked up on the fact Cabrera wasn’t 100% after offseason surgery. With Cabrera not swinging like himself, pitchers often tried to blow him away. Now Cabrera’s getting back to normal, so pitchers, one figures, should soon return to their normal. Not that it’ll do them much good.

Pitch-pattern data can also be interesting and revealing when it doesn’t change. Wilin Rosario doesn’t see many fastballs, or strikes, or fastballs for strikes. What’s revealed is how people think of Wilin Rosario and his eye. The way Rosario gets pitched is perfectly justifiable, and this is an example of baseball finding its equilibrium. Yet there’s something curious I’ve noticed about Anthony Rendon. His name has come up when I’ve been researching other things.

Wednesday night. It’s the first inning, and Rendon’s facing Brett Oberholtzer. The first pitch is a fastball in the zone. The fourth pitch — a 1-and-2 pitch — is a fastball in the zone. The sixth pitch is a fastball in the zone that gets called a ball. The seventh pitch is a fastball in the zone, and Rendon hits it for a double.

Rendon singles on a curve in the third. He bats again in the fourth, and with the count 1-and-2, he gets another fastball in the zone. Rendon hits it for a double.

The second double lifted Rendon’s average to .313, his slugging to .518 and his wRC+ to 142. Though it’s been only a month, Rendon has hinted at a big season, which wouldn’t exactly come as a shock given his top-prospect background. He was a league-average hitter a year ago, and, a year wiser, Rendon seems primed to take a step or two forward. He’s one of the guys the Washington Nationals will be counting on in the temporary absence of Bryce Harper.

What’s a little odd isn’t that Rendon is hitting. Rendon was always supposed to hit. What’s a little odd is what Rendon’s been seeing. It would seem it’s high time for opposing pitchers to make an adjustment with Rendon in the box.

Since the start of last season, a third of all pitches to Rendon have been fastballs inside the PITCHf/x strike zone. Out of all big-league hitters who’ve seen at least 1,000 pitches, Rendon’s rate ranks third-highest. Just this year, 35% of all pitches to Rendon have been fastballs inside the PITCHf/x strike zone, and, again, that ranks him third-highest. On its own, that might not mean much to you, but, consider the company.

I took the top 10 in in-zone fastball rate for 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2013-2014. This left me with a pool of 60 player-seasons. Those players have averaged an .082 ISO. Rendon is approaching a .150 ISO. The list is populated by names like Marco Scutaro, Jeff Keppinger and Jamey Carroll. Guys who mostly don’t pose any sort of power threat. To those players, it makes sense to be more aggressive with your fastball. With Rendon in the box, it makes less sense, because while Rendon isn’t Harper, he’s perfectly capable of punishing the baseball.

We can go at this a similar but different way: Since the start of last season, 342 players have batted at least 250 times. Out of that group, 29 players have seen a fastball rate at least a standard deviation above the mean, and a zone rate at least a standard deviation above the mean. That group has averaged an .085 ISO. Rendon has the highest ISO of all 29. His fastball rate in 2014 hasn’t gone down, and his zone rate in 2014 has gone up.

Rendon has been pitched as if he doesn’t have power. He’s been pitched as if pitchers aren’t very afraid of him. And if his numbers now are any indication, it’s time to change things up, because this approach isn’t getting the job done. As far as I can tell, there’s been a sense Rendon has a vulnerability to inside heat. From last August:

One key to Rendon’s recent surge: He’s recognized that opposing pitchers were starting to bust him inside with fastballs, trying to exploit the hole in his swing. By getting the head of his bat through the strike zone quicker, Rendon has been able to make better contact on those pitches, producing better results.

In his brief career, according to Brooks Baseball, Rendon has made contact with better than 90% of inside fastballs. When he’s put those pitches in play, he’s hit .320. Not every inside fastball is created alike, though, and there’s a difference between 88 mph in and 98 mph in, but everyone struggles with 98 in. If Rendon has a vulnerability there, his numbers aren’t showing it. Pitchers are pitching him aggressively, Rendon is hitting them aggressively, and pitchers don’t like to get hit for very long.

Rendon, from the bottom of the same linked article:

“I just think it’s pretty funny how that can change within a game,” he said. “From your first at bat, to see how you are, to come back and attack you a different way in your second at bat, just to see how you were standing in the box. They pay attention to every detail. They try to use everything they can.”

I’ll concede I’m not a professional swing analyst. I can’t look at a guy’s hack and determine where he’s going to struggle and where he’s going to excel. I can’t give you a better Rendon report than an actual major-league front office could. But it’s funny now to see Rendon crediting pitchers for quick adjustments, when it seems like another adjustment is overdue. In 2014, pitchers have pitched to Rendon like they did in 2013. In 2014, Rendon has done more damage. And in 2013, he was by no means a problem. It seems like it’s time to pitch to Anthony Rendon like the good hitter he is, and probably already was.

The Fringe Five: Baseball’s Most Compelling Fringe Prospects.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
The Fringe Five is a weekly regular-season exercise, introduced last April by the present author, wherein that same ridiculous author utilizes regressed stats, scouting reports, and also his own heart to identify and/or continue monitoring the most compelling fringe prospects in all of baseball.

Central to the exercise, of course, is a definition of the word fringe, a term which possesses different connotations for different sorts of readers. For the purposes of the column this year, a fringe prospect (and therefore one eligible for inclusion in the Five) is any rookie-eligible player at High-A or above both (a) absent from all of three notable preseason top-100 prospect lists* and also (b) not currently playing in the majors. Players appearing on the midseason prospect lists produced by those same notable sources or, otherwise, selected in the first round of the amateur draft will also be excluded from eligibility.

*In this case, those produced by Baseball America, ESPN’s Keith Law, and our own Marc Hulet.

In the final analysis, the basic idea is this: to recognize those prospects who are perhaps receiving less notoriety than their talents or performance might otherwise warrant.

Josh Hader, LHP, Houston (Profile)
With the promotion this past week of San Diego prospect Jace Peterson to the majors (which transaction renders him unavailable for the Five) and the demotion, for largely arbitrary reasons, of other San Diego prospect Robert Kral to the Next Five, Houston left-hander Josh Hader now has the distinction of having been the only player to appear in all four editions of this weekly column in 2014. One hopes that this isn’t the highest of his achievements. One hopes, as well, that Hader appears in a televised game at some point this season, thus providing footage which might then be rendered into GIF form and embedded into a post not unlike the present one. In his most recent and not-televised game, Hader produced the following, very excellent line (box): 3.0 IP, 9 TBF, 6 K, 0 BB, 0 HR, 0 H.

Ben Lively, RHP, Cincinnati (Profile)
Given his performance thus far in 2014, it’s difficult — at this point, at least — to conceive of a scenario in which Lively is omitted from midseason top-prospect lists. Over five starts and 29.0 innings, the right-hander has recorded a 40:1 strikeout-to-walk ratio while conceding just a single home run in the typically very offensive High-A California League. As he was omitted from preseason top-100 lists, however, Lively is entirely eligible for the Five right now. Regarding the 22-year-old, here’s a fact: he was selected in the fourth round of last year’s draft by the Reds out of the University of Central Florida. Here’s another fact: he recorded strikeout and walk rates of 33.6% and 8.2%, respectively, over 37.0 innings last year — against probably a lot of younger hitters, however, in the Rookie-level Pioneer League. According to a recent report by’s Ashley Marshall, Lively “sat between 89-94 mph with his fastball and 83-85 mph with his changeup” during a recent start against Stockton.

Here’s an example of Lively’s fastball from a more recent start — in this case, against Giants prospect Brian Ragira:

And here’s a slider from later in that same plate appearance to strike Ragira out:

And here’s a slower version of that slider, for some reason:

Dario Pizzano, OF, Seattle (Profile)
For reasons that won’t be explored at any length here, but which probably merit the attention of a trained professional, the author is the sort of person who’s predisposed to favoring those who either (a) possess some manner of affiliation with the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, (b) bear conspicuously Italian names (sur- and otherwise), or (c) have attended not lesser, but greater, Ivy League universities. To the extent that Saugus native and Columbia graduate Dario Pizzano is well-acquitted by all three of these criteria, the author is then predisposed to favoring him. One notes that Pizzano’s virtues don’t stop there, however: the outfielder has recorded a 17:12 walk-to-strikeout ratio (along with a home run) in 103 plate appearances with Seattle’s High-A California League affiliate — this, after having produced a positive walk-and-strikeout differential last season, as well, in the Midwest League. Because he’s currently playing in his age-23 season and also confined to a corner-outfield spot, the reasons for his omission from top-100 prospect lists are clear. His control of the strike zone and compelling biographical data, however, merit attention.

Jose Ramirez, 2B/SS, Cleveland (Profile)
Some probably wrong math by the author reveals that, in the Triple-A International League, only four players (Dan Johnson, Jesus Aguilar, J.D. Martinez, and Roberto Perez) have produced a more impressive regressed, defense-independent batting line than Jose Ramirez. All of them, one notes, are at least three years older than Ramirez. Ignoring BABIP entirely is ultimately poor form. After a month of plate appearances, however, a batter’s defense-independent numbers are starting to become reliable, whereas his batted-ball profile is still very much subject to the vagaries of randomness. Regardless of all that, what is clear at the moment is that Jose Ramirez (a) is merely 21 years old and (b) has produced one of Triple-A’s most promising offensive lines thus far. Since last week’s edition of the Five, he’s recorded a 3:2 walk-to-strikeout ratio and a homer in 29 plate appearances, giving him walk and strikeout rates of 8.6% and 7.6%, respectively — plus also four home runs — in 105 plate appearances this season.

Thomas Shirley, LHP, Houston (Profile)
There are times when it’s appropriate to discuss Thomas Shirley at some length. There are other times when it’s perhaps more appropriate to drink Marsala with some people from Sicily. This appears to be the former of those times. With regard to Shirley, however, one can say conclusively that he (a) has recorded one start since making his debut on last week’s edition of the Five and (b) produced a 6:1 strikeout-to-walk ratio against 22 batters over 6.0 innings in same (box).

The Next Five
These are players on whom the author might potentially become fixated.

Robert Kral, C, San Diego (Double-A Texas League)
Stephen Landazuri, RHP, Seattle (Double-A Southern League)
Billy McKinney, OF, Oakland (High-A California League)
Seth Mejias-Brean, 3B, Cincinnati (High-A California League)
Roberto Perez, C, 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.
Josh Hader Astros LHP 4 0 12
Robert Kral Padres C 3 1 10
Jace Peterson Padres SS 3 0 9
Jose Ramirez Indians 2B/SS 2 0 6
Thomas Shirley Astros LHP 2 0 6
Aaron West Astros RHP 1 2 5
Ben Lively Reds RHP 1 1 4
Adam Duvall Giants 3B 1 0 3
Cameron Rupp Phillies C 1 0 3
Dario Pizzano Mariners OF 1 0 3
Tsuyoshi Wada Cubs LHP 1 0 3
Bryan Mitchell Yankees RHP 0 2 2
Tommy La Stella Braves 2B 0 2 2
Andrew Aplin Astros OF 0 1 1
Billy Burns Athletics OF 0 1 1
Billy McKinney Athletics OF 0 1 1
Brett Eibner Royals OF 0 1 1
Chris Taylor Mariners SS 0 1 1
Darnell Sweeney Dodgers MI 0 1 1
Edwar Cabrera Rangers LHP 0 1 1
Roberto Perez Indians C 0 1 1
Seth Mejias-Brean Reds 3B 0 1 1
Stephen Landazuri Mariners RHP 0 1 1
Tim Cooney Cardinals LHP 0 1 1
Tyler Goeddel Rays 3B 0 1 1

Billy Hamilton, Who is Not a Caricature.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
A common question in our chats has asked how much longer the Reds can put up with Billy Hamilton and his lousy numbers out of the leadoff slot. Hamilton was known to be a question mark coming into the year, and he got off to a putrid beginning, and all the speed in the world can’t do you any good if you can never even get down to first. Some entertained the idea of Hamilton becoming a full-time pinch-runner, figuring that was the way for him to maximize value. The questions have been coming in less frequently lately. Hamilton, since April 15, has hit .340.

That isn’t intended as evidence that Billy Hamilton is a good hitter. Before he started hitting .340, Hamilton was hitting .140, and that data’s every bit as valid. What’s becoming more clear, though, is that Hamilton’s a real player, and not just an assortment of exaggerations. Before a player arrives in the majors, it’s tempting to view them as caricatures of their strengths and weaknesses. Then big-league performance pulls everything back closer to the ordinary. Billy Hamilton played a game Tuesday that said as much as words could: he’s probably not the worst hitter in baseball. And while he’s gifted on the bases, he’s far from un-throw-out-able.

That’s the caricature. That’s how people wanted to think of Billy Hamilton. For Hamilton, a single was as good as a double, and a double was about as good as a triple. The idea was that, for Hamilton, stealing bases was virtually automatic. The trouble was getting Hamilton on base, with his slender frame and feeble bat speed. You can look at it like this: Hamilton’s baserunning was thought to be +3 standard deviations. Hamilton’s hitting was thought to be -3 standard deviations. Extremes, combined into some compelling mystery.

Here’s how Hamilton began on Tuesday, against Jeff Samardzija:

Hamilton walked on five pitches without taking a swing. While Hamilton’s bat can’t do the damage of, say, Giancarlo Stanton‘s, what Hamilton does have is some semblance of discipline. And he has an understanding of how it’s often better for him to take a pitch than to swing at it. On Monday’s podcast, Dave highlighted Hamilton as an example of a guy who’d be best off swinging hardly ever at all. Hamilton, more than anybody else, is aware of his own strengths, and non-strengths.


Shortly following:

Soon after that, Hamilton scored on a Brandon Phillips sac fly that nearly left the yard. Anybody could’ve scored on the sac fly, so that part had nothing to do with Hamilton’s speed, and the wild pitch, also, would’ve advanced most or all players. But Hamilton did kick things off with the steal, and it’s impossible to know what effect he might’ve had on Samardzija while he was around on the bases.

In the third inning, Hamilton batted again:

I wouldn’t say Hamilton beat out a routine grounder. But he did beat out a grounder that wasn’t exceptionally tricky, and this is why people have been insisting that Hamilton just try to hit the top half of the baseball: if he puts the ball in play on the ground, he’ll always have a chance. And that sort of establishes a kind of floor for Hamilton’s performance, because no matter what, he’ll always have his infield singles. And while you might not realize this, Hamilton has an above-average contact rate. He isn’t bad at putting the bat on the baseball. And that’s going to lead to a lot of these hits.

Right after:

Juan Centeno. Know why you know that name? He was the first big-league catcher to successfully throw out Billy Hamilton stealing. Such a feat was thought to be impossible. Now, this season, Hamilton is 10 out of 15. Granted, this was probably a hit-and-run. Joey Votto swung, and there’s also the matter of Hamilton taking a peek. Here’s Hamilton on his first steal attempt:

Here he is on the second:

Hit-and-runs lead to easier caught steals than straight steal attempts, so this wasn’t Hamilton at his best. But the point remains that Hamilton was thrown out, and he wasn’t thrown out for the first time. He can be caught, as much as it seems like that should never happen, and then when you look at his minor-league logs, you see the truth that’s so much more fun to deny. Hamilton was thrown out 24% of the time in Double-A. He was thrown out 17% of the time in Triple-A. He stands out because of both his speed and the volume of his attempts, but the downside of the volume is that people pretty much always know Hamilton’s going, and that lets them prepare in advance. Billy Hamilton can be gunned down by a major-league battery. The odds are always against it, but the odds are always against it with most runners.

Moving on to the fifth:

It doesn’t look like a home-run swing. Billy Hamilton doesn’t have a home-run swing. But what he does have is a home run, off a good starting pitcher. He did this once to an inside fastball in spring training, and now he’s done it to an inside fastball in the season, and according to the ESPN Home Run Tracker, this ball had a standard distance of 401 feet, and it left the bat at more than 104 miles per hour. An average home run leaves the bat at just under 104 miles per hour. Hamilton demonstrated that he doesn’t just slap hit — he’s capable, from time to time, of giving a ball an actual ride. Of hitting a true big-boy dinger, which is something Ben Revere‘s still waiting to pull off.

To the sixth we go:

That’s Hamilton on the other side of a hit-and-run. And just in case you missed it somehow:

Hamilton singled to the third baseman. The third baseman was drawn in. The ball was hit right to him. Hamilton was safe anyway. One thing we can safely assume about Hamilton: he’ll make below-average quality of contact. Another thing we can safely assume about Hamilton: he’ll turn a greater rate of the weak balls in play into hits than the league average. By probably a lot. This was a swinging bunt, right to an infielder prepared for it, and it didn’t matter.

Finally, the bottom of the eighth:

Hamilton didn’t do anything. He made an out. But he did hit a sharp grounder, in contrast to the two weaker earlier grounders. The idea is to demonstrate, again, Hamilton is capable of hitting the ball with some authority. And he’ll end up with plenty of hits on balls he hit with considerably less authority. Barry Zito has this swing where he’s just up there trying to put the ball in play. As a Giant he posted an above-average contact rate, but the actual swings yielded embarrassing quality of contact. Zito would basically just return the ball to one of the waiting infielders. Hamilton, sometimes, will feature that swing. But Hamilton, other times, will hit the baseball like a major-league baseball hitter.

Just a few weeks ago, Hamilton was a statistical disaster. Now we can say this: he has 120 big-league plate appearances, and an 86 wRC+. Between last year and this year, Jimmy Rollins has an 86 wRC+. Brandon Phillips and Jose Altuve are at 87. Elvis Andrus is at 77. We have a good sense that Hamilton is going to be below-average at the plate, but that’s okay, because of what else he can do. It looks less like he’s a catastrophe. The truth is that Hamilton’s probably in the top 5-10% of baserunners, and the bottom 10-20% of hitters. That makes him a gamble, and far from a sure thing for the Reds as an everyday player. But at the same time, Billy Hamilton isn’t your hyperbole. For all I know he’s just about Michael Bourn or Leonys Martin. Maybe that makes Hamilton a little less exciting, a little less exotic, but you can’t blame reality for sometimes falling short of what you made up.

Jose Fernandez and Efficient Dominance.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
In the grand scheme of things, raising a child that ends up being a band nerd isn’t such a terrible fate. There are a lot of worse things a kid could do with their time, and band nerds generally stay out of trouble. They are just as weird and filled with hormones as the next kid, but band kids tend to be involved in a lot of activities which keeps them under fairly-constant supervision. Band parents may have to buy a few more fundraiser candy bars or sign off on a few more field trips, but at least they are not bailing their kids out of jail.

The life of a band parent isn’t without its pitfalls however. There’s a lot of shuttling around that needs to happen, and instruments aren’t necessarily cheap. And then there are the concerts. There are so many concerts. One in fall, one around the holidays, one in the spring — along with plenty of other parades and solo competitions and jazz concerts. It has to be excruciating. But some mixture of parental love and not wanting to be seen as monsters pushes these parents to sit through these things. They don’t want to be there. Nobody does. But they are there. And all they can do is hope it goes quickly.

The Atlanta Braves is a professional baseball team. I can’t speak directly to their stance on attending children’s band concerts, but I assume they have a fairly strict policy on not leaving games that are still ongoing. I can imagine they were cursing that policy Tuesday, as they were handed 9-0 loss at the hands of the Marlins and looked fairly punchless in the process. Luckily for them, the agony didn’t have to last too long. And for that, they can thank Jose Fernandez.
It seems odd writing about a Jose Fernandez v. Alex Wood matchup a mere seven days after Jeff Sullivan did the same thing here, but this game was special for another reason. The game from a week ago featured two pitchers that were extremely locked in, while Fernandez was the only affective starter on Tuesday. Wood got roughed up a bit, ending the night having allowed seven earned runs over five innings while allowing 10 hits, a walk, and a homer. It was certainly a few steps removed from his dominant performance one week prior.

And while Fernandez didn’t duplicate his previous start either, he still managed to quiet the Atlanta bats fairly well. He went eight innings, averaging one strikeout per inning, while allowing four baserunners and throwing 98 pitches. According to Baseball Reference, only 87 such feats have occurred. Fernandez probably could have pitched the ninth inning as well, but that was given to Carlos Marmol. This was probably in part to save the arm of Miami’s young ace, but also because the Marlins were winning 9-0. Even Carlos Marmol had a slim chance of blowing that lead. Fernandez’s line in the box score is impressive, there’s another stat at the bottom that is almost equally so — Time of Game: 2:07.

The ever-increasing amount of time it takes to complete a baseball game is certainly not a new topic of discussion. In fact, it was evoked quite a bit during the debate over instant replay. As a refresher, here is the average time of a baseball game since 1950, according to Retrosheet:

It takes a little more than three hours to complete a game these days, on average. But there still are short games, to be sure. The Atlanta/Miami game from last Tuesday went only 2:08, for instance. But that game was a one-run affair. Shouldn’t a one-run game take less time than one with lots of runs? It depends on how you look at it.

I looked at all nine-inning (or more) games over the past five years. If you sort by just the total, there is a clear positive trend between runs scored and time of game.

Total Runs Avg. Time (Min.)
1 to 4 162.4
5 to 8 172.9
9 to 12 183
13 or More 197.7
If you strip away the total and look just at score difference, however, something else emerges.

Score Difference Avg. Time (Min.)
1 to 3 180.5
4 to 6 175.2
7 to 9 176.7
10 or more 181
Close games and blowouts average to almost the same amount of time. This makes sense on the surface. Blowout games will most likely involve lots of hits, maybe a few home run trots, and a fair amount of pitching changes. Close games will have pitching changes too — more for matchup reasons than ineffectiveness — and close games have a tendency to slow down in general as pitchers and hitters work more deliberately.

So, what’s the sweet spot for the shortest game? Here’s a combo of sorts of the above tables.

Run Difference
Total Runs 1 to 3 4 to 6 7 to 9 10 or More
1 to 4 162.9 min 158.4 N/A N/A
5 to 8 176.6 166 163.4 N/A
9 to 12 188.8 178.8 172.3 169.7
13 or More 206.9 195.3 186.5 186.7
If you are trying to sneak in an afternoon game without your boss noticing, hope that one team wins 4-0. If it’s a close game with a lot of runs, you’re going to be there a while.

The chart tells us that the game in question should have lasted around 172 minutes, on average. It lasted 127. Of all the games between 2009 and 2013 in which nine or more runs were scored, this game was the third shortest, missing a tie for second by one minute. We can thank the relatively small amount of pitching changes (three), the fact that only one pitching change happened mid-inning, and we can certainly thank Jose Fernandez.

According to Brooks Baseball, Fernandez never had an inning in which he threw less than 60% of his pitches for strikes. He never needed more than 20 pitches to get out of an inning. He threw a first-pitch strike against 71% of the batters he faced. Of the sixteen balls that were put in play, only two of them were hits, only one of which went for extra bases.

Gaudy numbers are always fun to look at. We like seeing a pitcher or hitter exceed expectations in one way or another. While Jose Fernandez of April 29th didn’t put up the same numbers as Jose Fernandez of April 22nd, he certainly showed his dominance. Striking out 14 batters is wonderful, but if you can watch your teammates drop a nine spot on the opposition and still get off the field in less time than it takes to watch a Scorsese movie, then you’re doing something right. Jose Fernandez is certainly doing some things right. Atlanta saw that first-hand. At least they didn’t have to stay long.
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Dodgers with an overtaxed bullpen, shocker, laugh.gif

I like Donnie, but he's Joe Torre without the results and he overthings everything. Matchup this, matchup that. It's as if he hats leaving the starter in for more than 6 innings.
Instagram: backyardlobo
Instagram: backyardlobo
post #21565 of 73654  :smokin



Yasiel Puig: first @Dodgers player to reach base eight times in a doubleheader since Bill Buckner against the Giants in 1976 (@eliassports)

Edited by trueprada - 5/2/14 at 8:47am
post #21566 of 73654
Thread Starter 
Joey Votto and Protection Up Front.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Twice this offseason, Joey Votto has uttered a comment that goes against the baseball orthodoxy that lineup protection is best done behind the hitter. Votto believes it is done in front of him, and is best done by Billy Hamilton.

Votto told Eno Sarris in late March that Hamilton has offered him the best lineup protection when Hamilton is on base in front of him.

The order of the players in the lineup around him doesn’t matter that much to him, either. Protection? If protection is “getting specific pitches to hit — more fastballs — or more central part of the strike zone pitches, and I haven’t experienced that in 12 years,” Votto said. The priority of the pitcher is to make outs and the priority of the hitter is to not make outs and that doesn’t change a ton with regard to the hitter in the on-deck circle.

Protection, if it comes at all, might come from someone in front of him in the order. “The best lineup protection is when Billy Hamilton is on base in front of me, and it’s not about protection, it’s that I get a more predictable pitch to hit — fastball,” Votto said.

He expounded upon that to Lance McAllister of ESPN 1530 in Cincinnati on their weekly podcast as well.

“I love the two guys behind me, Brandon and Jay…I’ve had a lot of guys in the minor leagues hit behind me and have better seasons than I did. Jay Bruce did that in the minors and was far and away better than me. I never really noticed different quality pitches for the most part & that I was pitched roughly the same. Billy changes that..Billy changes that. I told him last year, “You’re the first person that has ever protected me.” In that, by definition, protection should be giving me an opportunity to see better pitches during my at bat. Them (pitchers) changing their approach against me and spending their time and energy..or at least splitting their focus between me and him. I saw several pitches that split the plate or in a part of the strike zone I never ever would gotten before because of him. So, there are going to be some advantages to having a guy run all of the time in front of me if he is on base a bunch, but I personally noticed a difference last season.

In terms of seeing more fastballs, that has yet to play out for Votto if we look at the numbers where he has hit in the lineup. He hit in the third spot of the lineup from March 31st through April 11th. In those games, he saw 132 fastballs in 206 pitches thrown to him, which computes to a 64% rate. Pitchers tended to stay away from the center of the plate with those fastballs and picked up where they left off last season working him away.

Votto was bumped up to the second spot of the lineup on April 12th, and has seen fewer fastballs than he did hitting out of the third spot of the lineup. Whereas he saw 64% fastballs hitting in the third spot, through April 30th, he has seen just 52% fastballs hitting in the second spot. Dating back to last season, Votto has been at the plate with Hamilton on first or second base 15 times and has seen 55% fastballs in those situations. So far, Votto is not seeing an increased frequency of fastballs at the plate, but he is seeing slightly more pitches in the zone. His Zone% batting third was 45.6%, but it has risen to 45.9% since his promotion to the second spot in the lineup.

Votto hit .257/.372/.400 through the first ten games of the season when Bryan Price had him penciled in third in the lineup card. Since the switch to the second spot in the lineup, Votto is hitting .293/.474/.500. Cincinnati averaged 2.8 runs per contest before the switch scoring more than three runs just three times in the first ten games. Since altering the lineup, the team has scored four or more runs in 13 of its last 18 contests and is averaging 4.6 runs per contest.

The increase in offense is obviously not solely due to moving Votto up in the lineup, but getting your best player an additional plate appearances and having his most desired lineup protection hit .281 and score 11 runs in front of him certainly does not hurt. This run of offensive success for Cincinnati is being done despite the fact that Brandon Phillips, who hits in the traditional spot for protecting Votto, has hit just .230/.237/.257 since the two traded places in the lineup.

Padres are largely average, but they're in the zone in one stat.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
The Padres are a team that always just kind of blends in. They do little to call attention to themselves, and they seldom excel in any particular category. Right now, they're a few games under .500, close to the race without being actively involved in the race, and they appear set for another season best described as inoffensive.

Per usual, the Padres are a team without star players. At the moment, they're featuring baseball's worst team offense. They have a middle-of-the-pack rotation, and they have a fine if slightly overachieving bullpen. The team defense, as a group, has been right around the league average. In a lot of ways, this Padres team is unremarkable. In still more ways, this Padres team is worse than that.

But there's one area where the Padres have been better than anyone else. One area where the Padres might continue to be at least among the league leaders. It's an area that doesn't get a whole lot of attention, but is gaining traction every month. The Padres have gotten to pitch to the best strike zone in the majors.

I know it sounds strange -- in theory, everybody pitches to the same strike zone. And, in theory, if everyone's supposed to pitch to the same strike zone, then it seems like not doing that ought to be unsustainable. But this is an area where the Padres have an advantage, and already in 2014 they've derived a substantial benefit.

We have data for every pitch that's been taken (or not swung at) so far this year. Using that data, we can see where strikes are usually called, and where balls are usually called. So for any given distribution of pitches, we can predict how many strikes there should be, based on the league average. But not every pitching staff comes in at the league average. Below, all 30 teams, ranked by extra strikes above or below the expected average:

Team Extra Strikes
Padres 52
Brewers 47
D-backs 40
Yankees 29
Astros 25
Rays 22
Red Sox 15
Pirates 12
Giants 10
Mets 9
Royals -1
Mariners -2
Orioles -4
Reds -4
Indians -9
Nationals -11
Dodgers -13
Angels -16
Braves -17
Phillies -21
Cardinals -23
Rangers -23
Tigers -28
Marlins -32
Rockies -32
Athletics -33
Blue Jays -33
White Sox -36
Cubs -37
Twins -44

Given the pitches Padres hurlers have thrown, they've gotten 52 more called strikes than one would expect. So, that's just 52 bonus strikes, which is currently the highest total in the majors. Of course, an extra strike has value compared to a ball. An extra strike isn't worth close to a full run, but it is worth a fraction of a run, and if you put enough fractions together, you can end up with something meaningful. For the Padres, the extra strikes have already been worth an estimated seven to eight runs, which sounds small, before you remember it's only been a month.

What's driving this? In part, it's the Padres' pitching staff. Some of the pitchers have had pretty good command, so they've been able to get some pitches on the borders. But, presumably, this is mostly about the catchers. You might be familiar with the concept of pitch-framing, also known as pitch-receiving. It's been quite popular in analytic circles, to the point where some people are sick of talking about it. What we see is that certain catchers are better than others at preserving strikes in the zone, and getting strikes just outside of it. These catchers are able to catch pitches while keeping their bodies about as motionless as possible. It's always been understood to be a part of the game, but for a while it could never be quantified, and now that we have some data, it looks like both Rene Rivera and Yasmani Grandal are magnificent receivers.

Because Rivera and Grandal can catch well, Padres pitchers can expect to throw to a more favorable zone. So far they've averaged nearly two extra strikes per game, worth about a quarter of a run per game. Contrast that with the Twins, who are in the opposite situation. This isn't as sexy as leading the league in dingers or ERA, but it seems to be an important category and it's a way that the Padres might be able to sneak up on the unsuspecting.

Of course, for the Padres organization, this isn't a coincidence. They didn't just end up with good receivers by chance. They're leading the league in this category by design. From a Corey Brock article from March:

If there's been one constant to Nick Hundley's spring, it's his morning video sessions with Padres assistant general manager A.J. Hinch and their discussions about catching mechanics, including pitch framing. [...]
Hinch said this is by no means a new topic, though it's something that's getting attention, especially this past winter, as the organization has looked closely helping their catcher get better mechanically. [...]
There's been more of a focus for us, from [manager Bud Black] to the front office. Because of the 150 or so pitches that we are going to call, execute and receive each game, every one of them we have to work hard on."

The Padres have worked with Hundley on his receiving. They've worked with Grandal on his receiving. They acquired Rivera in the first place in large part because of his defensive reputation and skillset. The Rays are the organizational face of the pitch-framing movement, with Jose Molina behind the plate, but they aren't the only organization using the technique to find great value.

So what does this look like? Let's plot the Padres' called strike zone, and compare it to an average zone and the last-place zone. The black box in all three images is just an approximate reference rule-book strike zone.




You can probably spot a few differences, but it's hard to tell with that many data points. Let's break things down for easier consumption. For one thing, the Padres have preserved most of the strikes within the strike zone. Now let's look at the left and right edges. Let's isolate the pitches between 1-1/2 and 3-1/2 feet off the ground. Now let's further isolate the pitches between the lateral strike-zone edges and the lines 15 inches from the center of the plate. Basically, we're looking at pitches off the plate to the left, and off the plate to the right. How do the strike rates look?

Padres: 53%

Royals: 43%

Twins: 38%

The Padres have gotten strikes on more than half of those pitches, when not swung at. Neither the Royals nor Twins are close. What if we look now at low pitches? Here are strike rates on pitches over the plate, between 15 and 24 inches off the ground.

Padres: 58%

Royals: 55%

Twins: 45%

The difference is less pronounced, but it's there. The Padres have also been good at getting low called strikes, and while we're not going to say anything about high called strikes, there aren't very many of those, relatively speaking. Most framing is down around the lateral and lower edges, and that's where the Padres have excelled.

The good receiving, naturally, helps the pitchers, and it'll show up in their pitching numbers. So this is and isn't a hidden advantage -- it's an advantage not everyone knows about, but it's an advantage that's already built into the more familiar data. Padres pitchers can work the edges and get more strikes, and this helps them not only get more strikes but also pitch away from more dangerous areas. It isn't enough to make the Padres the best team in baseball. It might not end up enough to make the Padres a playoff team.

What this is, though, is the thing the Padres are best at. And it's the thing they know they're the best at. As mediocre as the Padres might turn out to be, one figures things would only be worse if it weren't for the men catching their pitches. The Padres have statistical superstars. It's just that fewer people know about the statistics.

Prospect Watch: Danish, Borden, and Araiza.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Tyler Danish, RHP, Chicago White Sox (Profile)
Level: Low-A Age: 19 Top-15: 12th Top-100: N/A
Line: 26 IP, 23 H, 8 R, 17/6 K/BB, 1.04 ERA, 2.99 FIP
This 2013 2nd-rounder is a unique mix of skills and drawbacks.

Tyler Danish was selected 55th overall in the 2013 draft out of a Florida high school; since then, he’s breezed to a 1.12 ERA in 56 professional innings, including 30 Low-A frames with a 0.90 mark. It’s easy to buy into Danish as an excellent performance prospect, then, but should we?

Reports on Danish from high school listed his velocity as typically residing in the low 90s, touching 95. However, I saw him three times last year, all in scheduled two-inning relief stints, and he worked at just 86-90 mph in each, which was concerning. Further, he employed a delivery that was, well, nonstandard.

Yes, should Danish succeed with his current mechanics, White Sox fans can look forward a similar debate about his long-term durability as they’ve had about Chris Sale. I got my first 2014 look at him (and first as a starter) earlier this week, and he did have less stiffness and more athleticism in the motion, but the arm action remains quite strange.

Most attributed Danish’s 2013 velocity loss to the fatigue of working a high school season and a professional season, and the thought was that he would jump back into the low 90s this year. While he did work at 89-91 mph and touched 92 once in the first inning of my look on April 29, he promptly lost velocity thereafter and worked at 85-89 for the rest of the game, very occasionally reaching 90-91. It’s not out of the question that he regains more velocity at some point, but it may be that this is the range he settles into as a pro, which is well below the typical velocity range of well-regarded pitching prospects.

Fortunately, velocity isn’t central to Danish’s game, as he features hard vertical sink on his fastball thanks to the aforementioned strange arm action and low arm slot he employs. He pairs it with a 77-82 mph slider that flashes plus with big tilt at times, as well as a 77-82 mph changeup that’s workable and could develop into a third average pitch. You can get a good sense of the slider here:

In a perfect world, Danish could be a Derek Lowe sort of pitcher, piling up the grounders, avoiding walks, and getting just enough empty cuts at the slider to manage a reasonable strikeout rate. According to StatCorner, he boasts a 67.1% groundball rate this year, and he’s not walking many guys, essentially forcing the opposition to beat him by finding holes in the infield. On the other hand, his lack of velocity, low arm slot, the relative weakness of his changeup, and the concerns over his motion make it a lot easier to see him as an elite sinker-slider guy out of the bullpen.

Buddy Borden, RHP, Pittsburgh Pirates (Profile)
Level: Low-A Age: 22 Top-15: N/A Top-100: N/A
Line: 19 2/3 IP, 13 H, 6 R, 19/9 K/BB, 1.37 ERA, 4.16 FIP
Borden has gotten off to an excellent start in his first full season, but the lack of movement in his arsenal is problematic.

Borden’s 65-grade name (“Buddy” and alliteration? Winner!) grabs attention, as does a 1.37 ERA so far this year, and it’s not like that’s all smoke and mirrors, as he’s struck out 22.1% of opposing batters so far (and 35.1% last year in short-season ball). He was Danish’s opponent on Tuesday, and each righthander threw six scoreless frames. The similarities pretty much end there.

While Danish’s game is all centered around movement and deception from a low arm slot, the 6’3″ Borden releases the baseball from a height that nears Collmenterian proportions.

He works at 89-92 mph, and unlike Danish, he held that velocity comfortably throughout the outing; however, like many high-slot pitchers, his heater is quite straight. He throws a 73-77 mph curveball that doesn’t have big break but does have sharp late vertical action at times, allowing him to miss bats at the Low-A level when he gets it down in the zone. He also has a flat 80-83 mph changeup that he showed no feel for in the outing, usually trying to throw it to open plate appearances and steal strikes.

Here’s a look at Borden’s fastball/curve combo:

Borden’s easy low-90s heat, stamina, breaking ball, and decent feel make for a reasonable overall package, but the overall lack of movement in his game will likely make it difficult for him to consistently miss bats at higher levels, painting him as a solid organizational arm more than a prospect on the rise.

Armando Araiza, C, Tampa Bay Rays (Profile)
Level: Low-A Age: 21 Top-15: N/A Top-100: N/A
Line: 52 PA, .273/.385/.364, 1 HR, 7 BB, 11 K
Araiza is an advanced defensive catcher who isn’t hopeless at the plate, marking him as someone to watch.

Much has been made in recent years of the Rays’ attention to catcher framing and defense, acquiring Jose Molina and Ryan Hanigan despite their troubling offensive output. There’s another catcher in their organization who may offer excellent defensive value someday, though, but nobody seems to be talking about him.

In the Rookie-level Appalachian League, where Armando Araiza played last season, most position players look bad defensively. It’s not that there aren’t some potential quality defenders there, but most of those are too raw to reveal their gifts on anything close to a consistent basis. This clearly manifests itself in catcher defense, which features a whole lot of passed balls (Appy hurlers not exactly helping in the cause) and a lot of throws that bounce far short of second base or sail into center field, as well as noisy actions behind the dish.

Those symptoms applied to some extent to every catcher I saw in the circuit last year…except Araiza, who impressed me with his quiet actions, feel for the position, and arm strength. Last year, he allowed just five passed balls in 47 contests (a strong rate for a low-minors catcher) and gunned down 37% of opposing base thieves; in his full-season debut this year, he’s allowed just one ball by him in twelve contests caught while throwing out an even 50% of basestealers. Check out his athleticism and arm here:

As with Molina and Hanigan, then, any reasonable amount of offense should get Araiza to the majors as a backup backstop, and that’s a threshold he may be able to clear. He’s showed solid strike zone control his whole career, with K/BB ratios between 2/1 and 1/1, and he has enough sting in his bat to project for 6-12 homer power. He’s also a better athlete than most catchers and isn’t a baseclogger. Here’s a look at his swing–he employs a bat wrap, but has a nice level plane and some natural wrist/hand strength:

Araiza remains a deep sleeper, but with his defensive acumen and offensive competence, he could surprise a lot of people and have a solid career.

Dan Uggla on Hitting (and Not Hitting).
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Dan Uggla isn’t the most popular player in Atlanta, and he has only himself to blame. The well-compensated second baseman has hit .213/.320/.399 since being acquired from the Marlins prior to the 2011 season. After going deep 36 times in his first year in a Braves uniform, he’s seen his power numbers plummet. His K rate has climbed.

Uggla isn’t necessarily cooked. The ability to drive a baseball is still there, and his OBP skills – always good for a low-average hitter – haven’t completely deserted him. At 34 years old, he’s not over the hill. It’s a matter of rediscovering his stroke, which he readily admits is easier said than done.

Uggla talked about his struggles, and what it will take to regain his old form, prior to a mid-April game at Turner Field.


Ugla on his approach: “When I first broke in, I was more of a hitter. I wasn’t worried about home runs at all. I knew I had power. But after a few years of hitting a lot of home runs, I kind of… you have to be mentally strong enough to stay within yourself and just try to hit the ball hard where it’s pitched. The last couple of years, whether it was because of coming to a new city, getting a new contract, or whatever, I got caught up in trying too hard and wanting to hit home runs. I let my approach get away from me. It’s been a huge challenge to get back to where I was. I doubt I’ll ever be known as a hitter that hits home runs, as opposed to a guy that hits homers and swings and misses a lot.

“I’ve always been a see-ball-hit-ball guy. The difference the last couple years is that when I’ve seen a pitch in the zone, it’s been an automatic, ‘I can hit a homer on this pitch,’ rather than, ‘Just see it and hit it hard where it’s pitched, and if it goes out it goes out.’ My approach hasn’t changed as far as looking in zones or sitting on pitches – it’s still see-ball-hit-ball – I’m just not hitting as well as I did.”

On walks and strikeouts: “Some people draw a bunch of [walks] and some people don’t. You can look at it a couple different ways. For guys who can hurt you with one swing — the 30-homer guys — pitchers are going to be more careful. They’re going to try to pick around you a little more. They’re going to throw more balls out of the zone, more junk in the dirt. You get better at laying off those pitches. At the same time, guys who don’t walk a lot make more contact when they swing the bat. I’ve been making a little more contact this year, so my walk rate is down. That’s fine. Everything is going to pan out the way it’s supposed to pan out.

“Joey Votto makes a lot of hard contact and walks a lot. Freddie Freeman makes a lot of hard contact and doesn’t walk a lot. Guys like me and Russell Branyan… we’re not really cutting down our swings with two strikes. We’re just trying to be selective and battle. We can still go deep with two strikes.

“If it was after 2011, I’d say you could look at my career and say what you want about strikeouts and I’ll prove you wrong every time. But the last two years it has been a problem. It does need to be addressed. I didn’t drive in 90 runs and hit 30 homers, so there has to be an adjustment made. I have to get my swing back to where I’m making more contact so I can drive in runs. That’s whether it’s with home runs, two-out base hits, or whatever. Last year there were way too many strikeouts and not enough production.”

On Three True Outcomes and advanced stats: “I’ve heard [TTO] a lot in the last few years. I probably wasn’t on that list when I was in Florida, but that’s the perception here in Atlanta. Everybody looks at batting average, but when you get to this level it’s all about run production. I’ve always been a guy who produces runs. Even though I had the worst year of my career last year, I still drove in almost 60. That’s not good by my standards, by any means, but it’s not terrible.

“My on-base percentage was somewhere around .300 and when you hit .180 that’s hard to do. That’s been a big thing for me. I’ve always had a pretty good on-base percentage, whether I hit .240-something or .280-something. I’ve been close to scoring 100 and driving in 100, and that’s what’s most important to me.

“I don’t look at WAR and stuff like that. I’m familiar with it – things like ‘The Shredder’ on MLB Network – but I know how people view me. None of that matters. Last year was tough because I wasn’t able to live up to my usual self, but everyone is going to have a down year. I know what I’ve done in my career, and I know what I’m capable of.”

On his swing: “I had a lot of bad things going on in my pre-swing last year and that led to my swing not being very good. My setup wasn’t letting me get to the right spot to recognize pitches and put the barrel on the ball. I was missing pitches I should be hitting. I wasn’t in sync mechanically. There’s a huge connection between mental and physical. Being mentally strong is important, and mechanically… all the years before, I was always able to hit. If you threw a 99-mph fastball and I was ready for it, I was going to hit it. Last year that wasn’t the case. It was more that if I hit it, I got lucky. I’m trying to fix that. It’s definitely a work in progress, but I feel great this year. I haven’t got hot yet, but I’m feeling better and better every day.”
post #21567 of 73654

I thought this was pretty cool. About a 5 minute video of the 1919 World Series. I love footage like this. Even the "big screen" in NY is amazing.
post #21568 of 73654
The A’s lead the AL in ERA (2.78), starters ERA (2.85) and bullpen ERA (2.65). Also lead the Majors in OBP (.351).
A T H L E T I C S | U C L A | L A K E R S | R A I D E R S

A T H L E T I C S | U C L A | L A K E R S | R A I D E R S

post #21569 of 73654
All Jhonny Peralta does is hit home runs.
post #21570 of 73654
Folk Blues: Any updates or extensive insight (beyond the norm) for Addison Russell. You tracking his progress closely?
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