The 2014 draft is now just nine days away, and most teams are starting their main pre-draft meetings today or in the next few days, which means team "pref lists" will start to become clearer between now and early next week.
In the meantime, here's a fresh take on the first round (which runs 27 picks), with a few significant changes near the top. As before, I expect a lot of the draft's better high school pitchers to slide out of the first round into the supplemental first round and second rounds, where they will be selected and likely paid over-slot bonuses by teams that saved money on their initial picks.
Please note that this only covers the first round, which is just 27 picks, because the New York Yankees, Texas Rangers, Atlanta Braves and Baltimore Orioles forfeited their first-round selections by signing free agents from others teams who had received qualifying offers. (The Toronto Blue Jays have two first-round picks.)
For a look at my top 100 draft prospects, click here.
1Brady AikenSCHOOL: Cathedral Catholic HS (San Diego)HT: 6-4WT: 200POS: LHP
Analysis: The Astros are still rumored to be on Aiken, Carlos Rodon and possibly Alex Jackson. They've also been linked to well under-slot deals with Aaron Nola (which I don't believe was ever true) and Nick Gordon (which I also doubt), although their concern about taking a pitcher rather than a position player first overall is certainly valid.
It seems far more likely that they do an under-slot deal with Aiken, who might not go until pick 4 if he doesn't go here, than pay full freight for Rodon, or take a player they internally rank much lower in Gordon or anyone else.
2Carlos RodonSCHOOL: NC StateHT: 6-4WT: 235POS: LHP
Analysis: I've heard this comes from the owner: If the Cuban-American lefty is there at No. 2, take him, and we'll have a pair of Cuban aces at the top of our rotation. If he's not here, they're also on Alex Jackson, and general manager Dan Jennings was in attendance for Aaron Nola's strong start at the SEC tournament last week -- although I think that's a real long shot.
3Tyler KolekSCHOOL: Shepherd (Texas) HSHT: 6-5WT: 250POS: RHP
Analysis: The White Sox have been locked in on Kolek for more than a month, and the industry is betting he's their guy even if Carlos Rodon or Brady Aiken drop to this pick. They apparently prefer Kolek to Aiken and would rather not grapple with Rodon's perceived high price tag. (I say "perceived" because I don't believe he has put out any demands at all.)
They were also in heavy at Aaron Nola's last start, with former GM Kenny Williams in the crowd.
4Michael ConfortoSCHOOL: Oregon StateHT: 6-1WT: 215POS: OF
Analysis: If Brady Aiken and Carlos Rodon are gone at this pick, the Cubs go off the board, looking at a deal with one of a handful of players they like here -- Conforto, Kyle Freeland, or maybe the injured Jeff Hoffman.
Both GM Jed Hoyer and team president Theo Epstein saw Max Pentecost within the past week, although I think he's less likely than the names above; Hoyer also saw Aaron Nola at the SEC tourney and left right afterward.
5Nick GordonSCHOOL: Olympia HS, Orlando, Fla.HT: 6-1WT: 170POS: SS
Analysis: They're heavy on Gordon, with Aaron Nola and Sean Newcomb also strong contenders. I think they're just assuming the three arms I have going 1-2-3 are all long gone.
6Alex JacksonSCHOOL: Rancho Bernardo HS (San Diego)HT: 6-2WT: 210POS: C
Analysis: As usual, no one seems to really know what Seattle is doing, and I've heard them on Jackson, Aaron Nola, Michael Conforto, Bradley Zimmer, Grant Holmes and Trea Turner, as well as Sean Newcomb, whom GM Jack Zduriencik flew cross-country to see when I saw Newcomb at Stony Brook earlier this month.
Jackson has been rumored to be their target all spring, though.
7Aaron NolaSCHOOL: LSUHT: 6-1WT: 180POS: RHP
Analysis: I think this is Nola's floor, and if he's gone, they could take Sean Newcomb. They don't seem to be on Kyle Freeland, whom they took in the 35th round out of high school in 2011. All indications, public and private, are that the Phillies would rather take an arm than a bat. The Phillies and Cubs are among a few teams strong on California prep righty Jack Flaherty as a potential over-slot pick in the second round.
8Kyle FreelandSCHOOL: EvansvilleHT: 6-4WT: 185POS: LHP
Analysis: Another team that had its sights set on players who would have reached them -- such as Aaron Nola or Nick Gordon -- had we not had this cascade of pitching injuries this spring. They're a dark horse team on Kyle Schwarber, and I know they had interest in Tyler Beede earlier in the season.
9Touki ToussaintSCHOOL: Coral Springs (Fla.) Christian Acad.HT: 6-2WT: 195POS: RHP
Analysis: The Jays pick again two spots later, and they aren't on many of the same names the Mets (picking in between) are, so the order may not matter much. Their scouting staff is suddenly very high on Trea Turner -- maybe since he started to hit well in the final month of NC State's season -- and he's the one non-pitcher who seems to seriously be in their mix, with Derek Hill a dark horse.
The Jays and Phillies are also on Canadian outfielder Gareth Morgan, who would be an overdraft here but probably goes before either team picks in the second round.
10Sean NewcombSCHOOL: HartfordHT: 6-4WT: 240POS: LHP
Analysis: I've heard them connected mostly with college players, including Michael Conforto and Trea Turner.
11Jeff HoffmanSCHOOL: East CarolinaHT: 6-3WT: 190POS: RHP
Analysis: This is a compensation pick for failing to sign 2013 first-rounder Phil Bickford.
The Jays grabbing Hoffman -- who had Tommy John surgery a few weeks ago -- is another strong consensus in the industry, like the Twins with Nick Gordon. Other players the Jays have been linked to include Grant Holmes and Sean Reid-Foley.
12Max PentecostSCHOOL: Kennesaw State UniversityHT: 6-1WT: 190POS: C
Analysis: They're also on Sean Reid-Foley, Grant Holmes, and Derek Hill, and they're the only team in this area of the draft still openly linked to Tyler Beede, who is in free fall right now.
13Trea TurnerSCHOOL: NC StateHT: 6-1WT: 171POS: SS
Analysis: It looks increasingly like this is Turner's floor, with Seattle probably his absolute best-case scenario. The Padres are also on Max Pentecost, Kyle Freeland and Brandon Finnegan.
14Grant HolmesSCHOOL: Conway (S.C.) HSHT: 6-2WT: 200POS: RHP
Analysis: They don't seem to be on local product Bradley Zimmer, but I've also heard them with Derek Hill and possibly Tyler Beede, as well as Jeff Hoffman, if he's still available.
15Nick BurdiSCHOOL: LouisvilleHT: 6-4WT: 215POS: RHP
Analysis: Also hearing them on Justus Sheffield, Tyler Beede (although that was more likely a month ago) and Kyle Freeland, if he should fall here.
16Bradley ZimmerSCHOOL: San FranciscoHT: 6-5WT: 205POS: OF
Analysis: It sounds like they are focused on bats, as the arms they like (such as Kyle Freeland) most likely will not get to them. In addition to Zimmer, Kyle Schwarber and Michael Chavis are also possibilities.
17Derek FisherSCHOOL: VirginiaHT: 6-3WT: 215POS: OF
Analysis: I've heard they're not on Bradley Zimmer that much, but they are intrigued with high-risk/high-ceiling guys like Michael Gettys, possibly in the supplemental first round.
18Erik FeddeSCHOOL: UNLVHT: 6-4WT: 165POS: RHP
Analysis: The Nats would love Kyle Freeland, and I think they'd do a deal with Jeff Hoffman if he got here, but Fedde -- another guy who recently had Tommy John surgery -- seems most likely.
19Derek HillSCHOOL: Elk Grove (Calif.) HSHT: 6-2WT: 170POS: OF
Analysis: They have also been connected to Sean Reid-Foley and Justus Sheffield.
20Kyle SchwarberSCHOOL: IndianaHT: 6-0WT: 240POS: 1B
Analysis: I'm hearing bats here, mostly college bats, such as Schwarber, Casey Gillaspie and Bradley Zimmer, with the occasional high school name mixed in.
21Michael ChavisSCHOOL: Sprayberry HS (Marietta, Ga.)HT: 5-11WT: 180POS: 3B
Analysis: I've heard the Indians will take the best player available regardless of position or school type, which I take to mean they're waiting to see who falls to them.
22Sean Reid-FoleySCHOOL: Sandalwood HS, Jacksonville, Fla.HT: 6-3WT: 205POS: RHP
Analysis: I did hear a rumor that team president Stan Kasten wants them to focus on college players, which they did with their first few picks last year, but otherwise they're only linked to prep guys, including Derek Hill (whose father works for the team), Justus Sheffield, Scott Blewett, Alex Verdugo and Luis Ortiz.
23Brandon FinneganSCHOOL: TCUHT: 5-11WT: 190POS: LHP
Analysis: Rumor has the Tigers taking Finnegan -- assuming Nick Burdi is gone -- and putting him in a relief role for the rest of the year to fast-track him. I've also heard them on Luis Ortiz, although in the past 13 years, they've taken only two prep pitchers in the first round since 2000: Jacob Turner and Rick Porcello.
24Luis OrtizSCHOOL: Sanger (Calif.) HSHT: 6-3WT: 220POS: RHP
Analysis: I've heard they, like Cleveland, will opt for the best player available rather than any subclass of players; I speculated last time around they might take Tyler Beede as a former top-10 lock who fell due to a subpar spring.
25Ti'Quan ForbesSCHOOL: Columbia (Miss.) HSHT: 6-4WT: 175POS: SS
Analysis: The A's have been linked to Forbes and Monte Harrison all spring, as they've found some success lately with high school bats in the first round and identified Forbes early as one they like.
26Casey GillaspieSCHOOL: Wichita StateHT: 6-4WT: 238POS: 1B
Analysis: I keep hearing a college bat for the Red Sox here, after which they'd open up to all categories of players -- but they did take a prep arm with their first pick last year in Trey Ball.
27Alex BlandinoSCHOOL: StanfordHT: 6-0WT: 190POS: 3B
Analysis: Similar rumors here: college bat first, then prep arms later. Foster Griffin has been a name here, as well as Justus Sheffield, who seems very likely to go in the supplemental first round (picks 28-34) if he doesn't go by this point.
Of course, this leaves a large number of well-known players thought to be first-rounders falling out of the round. Vanderbilt right-hander Tyler Beede was considered a top-five pick earlier in the spring, and still could go somewhere toward the end of the round even after his rough finish at the SEC tournament. Kentucky first baseman A.J. Reed could go in the 26-35 range.
Connecticut prep pitcher Austin Dicarr, a 19-year-old right-hander at the Salisbury School, has some late buzz as a possible top-40 pick. Florida infielder Forrest Wall, who has battled injuries this spring, is also apparently a target in that range, but likely after the first round. And Mississippi State lefty reliever Jacob Lindgren, who was outstanding in the SEC tournament last week, has been rumored for a while to be a candidate for the sandwich round and be this year's Paco Rodriguez -- a college lefty who reaches the majors this season out of the pen.
No matter how good a draft class is, there are always going to be pivot points in the first round; points in the draft where groups of similar talents and skill-sets begin to thin out and a team must move on to the next tier of players, however far the drop may be.
"We always have a straight draft board," an AL Central team executive said. "But you can’t help but say 'if we get one of these four players’ or 'if these two pitchers are still on the board’ we’ll still be in good shape. Even in the strongest draft classes you always have a group with OFP [overall future potential] that drop at some point. You just have to hope that the other clubs that pick ahead of you don’t feel like those players belong in the same group."
For better or worse, this year the talent is as grouped together as it has been in some time, but here’s a look at four "pivot points" in the first round that will help shape the draft in 2014.
Pick No. 4: Chicago Cubs
If the Miami Marlins select Alex Jackson (Rancho Bernardo HS, San Diego) with the second pick in the draft, the pivot point would change to the Minnesota Twins at pick No. 5. But let’s assume for a second that the "big three" pitchers -- Carlos Rodon (NC State), Brady Aiken (Cathedral Catholic HS, San Diego) and Tyler Kolek (Shepherd HS, Texas) -- all go in order to the Houston Astros, Miami and the Chicago White Sox with the first three selections of the draft.
With all due respect to Nick Gordon (Olympia HS, Orlando, Fla.) and Jackson, the injury to East Carolina right-hander Jeff Hoffman has made this one of, if not the, biggest drop-offs in terms of talent in the entire draft.
"I think that’s really where the draft starts," an NL West team scout said. "I really think you’ll see Rodon, Aiken and Kolek go one to three in some order, but after, I think it’s as wide open as it’s been in a very long time. The [Cubs'] system needs pitching, but I just don’t think you’ll ever see [Cubs president] Theo Epstein ever draft for need.
"I’ve heard names like Aaron Nola and a few of the collegiate left-handers mentioned there, but I think those are too big of reaches for them. My guess is they’re hoping that one of those three pitchers falls to them, and if not they go upside with Jackson or Gordon."
The other name that has been mentioned here is Kennesaw State catcher Max Pentecost, but whatever Chicago does will play a huge part in how the rest of the draft shapes up.
Pick No. 8: Colorado Rockies
In between the Cubs and Rockies sit the Minnesota Twins, Seattle Mariners and Philadelphia Phillies. Assuming that Gordon, Nola and Jackson are off the board, the talents start to muddle up even more at this point. The most common names attached with this selection outside of the three names mentioned above are NC State shortstop Trea Turner, Evansville left-hander Kyle Freeland and San Francisco outfielder Bradley Zimmer, but there are a plethora of other names that could end up with this selection.
What direction the Rockies go will be particularly interesting for the Toronto Blue Jays, who possess two of the next three selections and have had essentially every first-round talent linked to them at some point.
Pick No. 12: Milwaukee Brewers
As many names as the Blue Jays have had mentioned with their two selections, it pales in comparisons to the amount of players who have been attached to the Brewers, and it makes sense when you consider how much the talent dissipates after the first dozen or so players.
This was once viewed as the worst-case scenario (in terms of draft position) for Vanderbilt right-hander Tyler Beede, but his struggles could see him drop out of the first round all together. This could now be the fall point for players like Turner, Hartford left-hander Sean Newcomb, Oregon State outfielder Michael Conforto, and Conway (S.C.) High School right-hander Grant Holmes.
With teams like the San Diego Padres, Kansas City Royals and Washington Nationals -- who all tend to focus on upside -- picking after the Brewers, this will be a pivotal selection, as those teams will all be hoping Milwaukee goes for "safety" over volatility.
Pick No. 20: Tampa Bay Rays
Outside of the Nationals, the Rays have taken chances in the draft as much as any team in baseball, and this is one of the potential landing spots for not only high-risk, high-reward prospects such as Beede and shortstop Jacob Gatewood of Clovis (Calif.) HS, but safer players like Wichita State first-baseman Casey Gillaspie, Indiana catcher Kyle Schwarber and first baseman Braxton Davidson from TC Roberson High School (Ashville, N.C.).
If the Rays do chose to go the safe route with pick 20, you could see several of the "riskier" prospects fall out of the first round, giving teams with extra compensation picks or early picks in round two a chance to pick up a lottery ticket that could play huge dividends if their development goes right.
ST. LOUIS -- Mick Kelleher's first year in professional baseball was in 1969, and he says he had never seen before what he saw Monday: a crowd give a standing ovation to a catcher for throwing out a runner. But this is St. Louis and the catcher is Yadier Molina, and when he gunned down Brett Gardner in the eighth inning -- zipping a throw that Jhonny Peralta caught and dropped down on Gardner's left shoulder -- the fans all rose as one and chanted his first name.
"We've seen some pretty good catchers the last 40 to 50 years," said Kelleher, the first-base coach for the Yankees and a former Cardinal. "That was tremendous. I even get excited about something like that. Great baseball fans, great baseball city."
And an even greater catcher. Gardner was the 23rd baserunner who had attempted to steal a base against Molina this season, and the 13th to get thrown out. But when Jacoby Ellsbury drew a walk against Randy Choate to open the top of the 12th inning, with the score tied 3-3, Ellsbury figured he would try to steal at some point. The game situation dictated that he at least try, and besides, there is a difference between Ellsbury and most others who try to steal bases, including some faster than he is.
Molina "basically shuts the running game down," Kelleher said. "There are only a few guys who can even run on him … [But] Ellsbury is a tremendous base stealer. He has a knack, with a real sense of timing. It's incredible. He's as good as I've seen, except for maybe Lou Brock or Rickey Henderson, as far as the feel, the knack. As good as Gardy is, he doesn't have the same knack."
Last year, Ellsbury attempted 63 stolen bases in the regular season and postseason and was thrown out just five times. He has led the American League in steals in three different seasons at a success rate of 84 percent. Among players with at least 250 steals in their careers, that is the third highest of all time; only Tim Raines and Eric Davis are better.
Ellsbury watches video of pitchers to get some sense of their pickoff moves and their habits, like how many times they throw to first base, and Ellsbury has been amazed, once he reaches first base, by how often pitchers will alter their habits. Justin Verlander, he recalled, had rarely thrown to first base leading up to the playoffs, and yet when Ellsbury reached, Verlander kept firing over, trying to catch him, trying to keep him close.
Because Ellsbury had played against the Cardinals in last year's World Series, he had some sense of Choate's move to first base even before he reviewed his recent work. Choate had allowed 15 stolen bases in his entire career, a span of 559 games, before Ellsbury took his lead with Brian McCann at the plate. So in other words, Ellsbury was faced with a pitcher who doesn't allow steals working to one of the best-throwing catchers of all time. Choate threw to first, repeatedly, with Ellsbury stepping back to first. "I was looking to go," Ellsbury said. "It was a matter of when."
When Ellsbury gets to first base, he carries with him all of his preparation, the scouting reports and his video work. But like a hitter adjusting to a pitcher's stuff in a given at-bat, Ellsbury will alter his timing according to what he sees in that moment, and he had something on Choate. He saw something. Kelleher wouldn't detail the conversation he had with Ellsbury in between pitches of McCann's at-bat -- there are still two games remaining in this series, and any information the Yankees have gleaned may be used over the next 48 hours -- but he said he knew that Ellsbury would run on the 0-2 pitch.
Ellsbury got a nice break, Molina whipped a throw to second and the tag on Ellsbury was high and very close. Cardinals manager Mike Matheny immediately came out of the dugout to challenge, and from second base, Ellsbury watched the Cardinals dugout scramble to get a read on the replay. Matheny decided to challenge, which made sense, on a crucial play in the 12th inning. Ellsbury thought he was safe. "But any time you get that replay, you never know," he said.
Larry Vanover, the crew chief and the umpire who had the call at second base, took off his headset and flattened his hands in the air: safe.
The play changed the whole inning, as Brendan Ryan noted later. With Ellsbury at second and nobody out, McCann's mission was to pull a ball to the right side, and Choate, having to pitch with even more precision, bounced a pitch off McCann's backside. Yangervis Solarte bunted the runners to second and third, and with Ichiro at the plate and Brian Roberts on deck, Mike Matheny decided to intentionally walk Ichiro -- then looked at Choate and clapped his hands assertively, letting him know that he was leaving Choate in the game to get Roberts.
But Roberts lashed a single to left field and Ellsbury trotted home with the first of three decisive runs, and the Yankees went on to close out another extra-inning victory.
"He wanted to make a difference there," Ryan said. And Ellsbury did.
• Roberts rescued the Yankees, writes Mark Feinsand. Brett Gardner stole one from Molina, writes Bob Klapisch.
• Hyun-Jin Ryu nearly outdid Josh Beckett a day after Beckett's no-hitter, coming within six outs of a perfect game. From ESPN Stats & Information, how Ryu came close:
A. Threw 59.0 percent of his pitches in the strike zone, the second-highest rate in any start in his career.
B. Reds hitters were 2-for-17 in at-bats ending with a pitch in the strike zone.
C. Hitters were 0-for-11 with four strikeouts in at-bats ending with his fastball.
• Meanwhile, A.J. Ellis was placed on the disabled list after getting hurt during the no-hitter celebration.
Olney Signed Ball
Geddy Lee's autographed baseball.
• Rip Rowan is the equipment manager of the St. Louis Cardinals, and a friend asked him to get Derek Jeter and Ichiro Suzuki to sign a ball.
Except it's not just any baseball. This one contains the names of almost all of those who accumulated 3,000 hits in their careers. Pete Rose signed the ball, and so did Ty Cobb, and Stan Musial and Roberto Clemente and Carl Yastrzemski, George Brett, Hank Aaron, etc., etc. The only names that Derrick Goold and I couldn't find on the ball were those of Honus Wagner and Cap Anson.
The friend who asked Rip for a favor? Geddy Lee, the front man for the Hall of Fame band Rush, who is a huge baseball fan.
Around the league
• Within the context of 2014, Yordano Ventura seems like the perfect candidate for an elbow injury: He's really good, and he throws really hard. And now he has an elbow injury, as Andy McCullough writes, although Ned Yost says he's not concerned that this injury involves the ligament.
Really, it's incredible how often this has happened this year.
• Mets prospect Noah Syndergaard also has an elbow injury, as Tim Rohan writes.
• Cliff Lee has not been given clearance to resume throwing.
• The Rockies were shut down on the road, again, as Kyle Kendrick pitched a gem. These are the same old Rockies on this trip, writes Patrick Saunders.
The gap between their home and road run production is so stark that it's as though they are completely different teams.
Colorado at home: .952 OPS, 6.7 runs per game, an MLB-best 162 runs
The Rockies on the road: .687 OPS, 3.6 runs per games, 100 runs (17th best).
• There might be better relievers than Dellin Betances right now, but there is nobody else like him. The Yankees right-hander's fastball averages 95.5 mph, and Monday against the Cardinals, he was throwing up to 98 mph. But he throws his primary secondary pitch, his spike curveball, more than he throws his fastball -- 45.5 percent of the time, according to FanGraphs -- and the difference in average velocity is a staggering 13 mph. The disparity is so great that the hitters -- who must anticipate a fastball that good in order to keep up with it -- must essentially guess which pitch he's going to throw.
When Allen Craig batted against Betances on Monday, for example, he had seen other hitters get the curveball, so he looked for the curve. But when Craig got fastballs, all he could do was ward them off to the right side.
Betances has faced 113 batters this season and struck out 51 of those, with just nine walks, and because hitters are stuck in between, they've mustered a .221 slugging percentage against him.
From the Elias Sports Bureau: Betances got 50 strikeouts in 28 2/3 innings, the fewest needed to accumulate 50 strikeouts in a season by a Yankees pitcher in franchise history. The previous record was 31 1/3 innings pitched by Ron Davis in 1981, which was later matched by David Robertson in 2011.
• The Mets fired their hitting coach, Dave Hudgens, who said he believes that the booing at home is a problem. From Adam Rubin's story:
"I really just think guys tried too hard at home," Hudgens told MLB.com after his firing. "I think the fans are really tough on the guys at home. How can you boo Curtis Granderson? They have no idea how hard this guy works and how he goes about doing his business, doing his job. He gets off to a slow start and they're booing him? Come on. It’s tougher at home to play than it is on the road, there's no doubt about it. And they're trying really hard at home.
"You can see it in the statistics. The fly-ball rates went up, the swing-and-miss rates went up at home. I think we were first in the league in runs scored on the road, so I think guys were relaxed on the road. They could just go out and play the game, don’t worry about anything. Then at home, they’re trying to do so much. I’ve never seen that work out -- especially young players trying to do more than they should be doing. When you look at the numbers inside the numbers, and you see exit velocity rates going down at home, you see fly ball rates going up, you see swing-and-miss rates going up, you see chase rates going up a little bit -- although we’re best in the league in not chasing pitches out of the zone -- I think those things, it just means guys trying to do too much, trying too hard."
Hudgens also had some thoughts about Keith Hernandez's commentary on the Mets' broadcasts. From Marc Carig's story:
Hudgens, who joined the Mets in 2011, defended the team's patient hitting approach, which has been bashed by broadcaster Keith Hernandez.
"The naysayers, the guys who disapprove of us, the guys who I listen to on TV all the time, those guys that know everything about the game, I'm just amazed at it," Hudgens said.
"What's wrong with getting a good pitch to hit? Somebody, please punch a hole in that for me. I just shake my head at the old-school guys that have it all figured out. Go up there and swing the bat. Well, what do you want to swing at? It just confounds me. It's just hilarious, really.
"That's one thing. I'm glad I don't have to listen to those guys anymore."
• The Blue Jays are the first AL East team to 30 wins, and they are on a serious roll.
• Jeff Samardzija finally got his first win of the season.
• The Red Sox ended their losing streak, as Peter Abraham writes. Ben Cherington says they haven't performed.
• The Tigers got smacked around again.
Dings and dents
Chuck Myers/MCT/Getty Images
Nationals third baseman Ryan Zimmerman hopes to be back soon from a thumb injury.
1. Ryan Zimmerman got clearance to hit and throw.
2. Mark Teixeira was scratched from the lineup Monday with tightness in his wrist.
3. Mat Latos can't wait to get back.
4. The Indians are dealing with some injuries.
5. Jim Henderson had a setback, as Todd Rosiak writes.
6. Brandon Guyer suffered a broken thumb.
7. Within this notebook, there is word that Mark Trumbo is no longer wearing a boot.
8. Hector Sanchez admits that he's worried about blows to the head.
Moves, deals and decisions
1. The Red Sox need to let Clay Buchholz sit, writes Nick Cafardo. There are some rumblings within the Red Sox organization to that end, that Buchholz will be at least temporarily moved out of his role.
2. Randy Wolf is going to get another start.
3. Matt Kemp was benched for the fourth consecutive game.
1. The Pirates rallied against Jose Valverde, as Travis Sawchik writes.
2. Nick Hundley helped the Orioles, writes Dan Connolly.
3. Jose Quintana got a nice cushion.
4. Ervin Santana blew a big lead.
5. A.J. Pollock came up big.
6. Chris Young dominates in Safeco Field, as Bob Dutton writes.
• Somebody stole Hunter Pence's scooter.
• Yasiel Puig is the best right fielder in baseball, says Don Mattingly.
• Tommy Medica is looking for more playing time, writes Jeff Sanders.
• Don't expect the Pirates to make an emotional decision to keep hometown kid Neil Walker, writes Ron Cook.
• Michael Wacha threw the ball well.
• The Reds avoided being no-hit.
• Manny Ramirez has high-impact potential, says Theo Epstein.
The general reaction to the hiring around MLB, in a word: shock.
• K-Rod blew another save chance.
• Giancarlo Stanton hit another monster homer Monday, a 447-foot shot in the third inning at Washington, his MLB-leading sixth homer of at least 440 feet this season. His average home run in 2014 has been 431 feet, 34 feet longer than the MLB average.
Stanton's 15th homer helped the Marlins win Monday, as Manny Navarro writes.
• Justin Upton likes hitting at home, writes Carroll Rogers.
• Oakland had a home run party and the Tigers were invited.
• For Tyler Skaggs, progress.
• George Springer had a huge game. ESPN Research monster Justin Havens sent out this list late last night:
In addition to becoming the first Astros player to have four hits, five runs, three RBIs and a home run, he joined an impressive list of AL outfielders to do so:
AL outfielders since 1950
Monday, George Springer, Astros*
1998, Juan Encarnacion, Tigers
1996, Ken Griffey Jr., Mariners*
1994, Tim Raines, White Sox
1986, Joe Carter, Indians
1972, Bobby Murcer, Yankees
1959, Rocky Colavito, Indians*
1955, Minnie Minoso, White Sox
*Did not record an out
• Rougned Odor might be the Rangers' second baseman of the future.
• Ron Washington is nearing a managerial mark.
• Lloyd McClendon says he likes what he sees from the Mariners so far, writes Ryan Divish.
• Detroit's offensive weak spots are starting to show, writes Shawn Windsor.
• A Royals prospect is starting to put it together.
• Lonnie Chisenhall is gaining confidence against left-handers, writes Marla Ridenour.
• The Twins' desperation is not a good thing for Aaron Hicks, writes Chip Scoggins.
• Minnesota has a dubious number attached to it.
• Chase Whitley continues to help the Yankees as they struggle for depth in their rotation; he pitched into the sixth inning here Monday. Whitley was a 15th-round pick, and I asked Yankees scouting director Damon Oppenheimer about the background of how they picked out Whitley.
"Our area scout DJ Svihlik took our National Crosschecker Kendall Carter to see a starter against Troy University. There were a bunch of teams there to see the guy (don't remember his name); after he finished and was out of the game, all of the teams left and DJ asked the Troy coach if he could please put Chase in for an inning or more so his cross checker could see him. The coach did and our guys saw 90-to-91 mph with good change up and a competitor. We were able to draft him lower just because DJ knew the competition.
"Chase has worked hard and refined his stuff and control. Quality competitor."
• Dan Shaughnessy wants to debunk some myths about the 2014 Sox.
• Jonathan Schoop hit two homers Monday and wanted more.
• Vin Scully is missing a couple of games.
• Ozzie Smith helped give the Cardinals' goodbye to Derek Jeter.
ST. LOUIS -- Manny Ramirez offended a whole lot of folks who work under the Major League Baseball umbrella during his career.
OK, more than a lot. Maybe hundreds. Maybe thousands.
Start with Jack McCormick, the Boston Red Sox’s traveling secretary, who was physically accosted by Ramirez because McCormick couldn't come through on a last-minute request.
How about the employees of a St. Petersburg hotel, who were left to clean up the damage that Ramirez did to his room -- something so offensive that the Red Sox were asked to vacate the premises in the middle of the night. Or the clubhouse attendants whom Ramirez stiffed repeatedly, instead of just doing what every other player does and paying his dues. Or those teammates who constantly covered for him.
Or Frank McCourt, the former Los Angeles Dodgers owner who signed Ramirez to a two-year, $45 million deal following the 2008 season, only to see Ramirez immediately be suspended for the use of performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs) and then finish out his time with the Dodgers as a shell of the superhero he had been before. Maybe that doesn't meet the legal definition of fraud, and certainly McCourt is not a sympathetic figure, but Ramirez essentially took money under false pretenses.
Or how about John Henry, the Red Sox owner who signed Ramirez's checks for years, only to watch the outfielder appear to stop competing early in the summer of 2008, in what seemed to be an effort to force Boston to trade him so that he could get a new contract. Ramirez's behavior was so egregious that the Red Sox felt compelled to deal him, certain that he would continue to sabotage their efforts to win through the working definition of passive-aggressiveness.
Somewhere near the top of the list of those he wronged -- maybe at the very top of the list -- was Theo Epstein, the former general manager of the Red Sox. He saw the absolute worst of Manny being Manny, and often was the one left to deal with the fallout; it was Epstein who had to arrange the trade of Ramirez to the Dodgers, in which the Red Sox had to kick in dollars to get rid of one of the best hitters in the big leagues. If anybody has reason to never forgive Ramirez for his behavior, to hold a lifetime grudge, it might be Epstein.
So there's something to be drawn from the fact that it's Epstein, who now oversees baseball operations for the Chicago Cubs, who has hired Ramirez to be a minor league player-coach -- and to be clear, this is much, much, much more about Ramirez being a coach than a player. Within the press release sent out by the Cubs to announce the move, the team spelled out the reality that Ramirez is not going to play in the big leagues for them.
Epstein is not reflexively sunny-side up; he isn't naive. At the GM meetings and winter meetings, he makes his peers laugh with his dark humor.
Epstein is trying to solve problems and he's trying to make the Cubs get better, and presumably, he sees Ramirez as someone who can help the team's prospects -- Javier Baez and others -- get better. Through all the complaints about Ramirez's behavior through the years, nobody ever questioned whether he was a hitting savant, and that he worked extremely hard at his craft. Epstein saw the best of Manny being Manny, as well.
Earlier this season, Dodgers shortstop Hanley Ramirez, who began in professional baseball with the Red Sox, chatted about hitting one day at Dodger Stadium and said flatly that Manny knew more about what pitchers were trying to do than anybody he'd been around. He recalled the 7 a.m. sessions in the batting cage with Manny, about all the information he extracted from those conversations. The back of Manny Ramirez's baseball card says this: a career .312 average, .411 on-base percentage, 2,574 hits, 555 home runs. Those are numbers that cannot be achieved without extraordinary effort and knowledge. You cannot be known as the greatest breaking-ball hitter of your time, as Ramirez was, without a lot of thought and development.
Some former stars struggle to relate to the struggles of others -- Ted Williams was thought to have this problem when he managed the Washington Senators -- but one of Ramirez's gifts, apparently, is his ability to communicate the art of hitting.
Mike Olt, a teammate of Ramirez's with the Rangers' Triple-A farm team, endorsed Ramirez's ability to explain hitting to teammates, to help them understand their work.
Epstein once said that Ramirez was the best he's ever heard at articulating the swing of a right-handed hitter and the approach to hitting a breaking ball.
What Ramirez did leading up to his trade to the Dodgers in the summer of 2008 might be the worst thing I've seen in baseball: a player appearing to tank in his at-bats, in his play, for the sake of a new contract. (Remember that day when he said he couldn't play because of a knee issue but couldn't remember which knee was injured?)
When Mark McGwire wanted to get back into baseball as the hitting coach of the St. Louis Cardinals, he had to do a perp walk of interviews to acknowledge his past use of PEDs. What Ramirez did in his last season with the Red Sox was far worse than the act of taking steroids (although he later did that, too, apparently) because at least the PED users were trying to get better; they were trying to perform, for themselves and for their teams. The choice Ramirez seemed to make in the summer of 2008 wasn't that far removed from what Ed Cicotte and some of his teammates did in the 1919 World Series: compromising the integrity of their play -- and by extension, the competition -- for the sake of money.
But Epstein knows all that, first-hand, and there's no chance he would've hired Ramirez without serious thought, without doing the background work and discussing Ramirez's personal journey of the last couple of years.
There's no chance he would've brought Ramirez on board without believing that Manny has changed. There's no chance he would've hired Ramirez without believing he has become accountable and has taken responsibility for what he did in Boston. There's no chance Epstein would've hired Ramirez without believing he has a chance for baseball redemption, and that going forward, Ramirez should be judged on his ability to recover and do the right thing. There's no chance the Cubs would've hired Ramirez without some conversation with Major League Baseball; what they would've heard back was that Ramirez owned up to his past mistakes.
Based on the history, it's shocking that it's Epstein who is giving Ramirez a mulligan. But Epstein is looking ahead, not back, and providing Ramirez with an opportunity to create another side of his personal history.
David Haugh doesn't like the hiring. It's not a PR move, says Epstein. It's a dalliance that goes against all reason, writes Rick Morrissey.
From ESPN Stats & Info: Manny Ramirez homered against all 30 MLB clubs during his career -- and only one of his 555 regular-season career homers came against the Cubs. It was off Joe Borowski at Wrigley Field on June 12, 2005. The only other team he did not hit multiple homers against was the Dodgers.
Ramirez did more damage against the Cubs in the 2008 playoffs, in an unforgettable performance: He went 5-for-10 with two homers and four walks; one of his homers cut through the wind of Wrigley Field, to straightaway center field.
• Early in spring training, the Dodgers' catchers raved about how great Josh Beckett looked, how sharp his stuff was. When their words were related to Beckett, he mentioned what a difference it was to have full feeling back in his pitching hand again, after surgery to correct thoracic outlet syndrome.
And on Sunday, he joined the Dodgers' legacy of no-hitters, by dominating the Phillies.
From ESPN Stats & Info, how Beckett won:
A. He recorded 18 outs with his fastball, his second most with that pitch in the last six seasons, and the most since 2009.
B. He allowed only one hard-hit ball in 18 at-bats ending with his fastball.
C. He threw 23 first-pitch strikes, tied for his second most in any start in the last six seasons, and his most since 2010.
D. He got five first-pitch outs, tied for his fourth most in the last six seasons.
E. He threw 51.6 percent of his pitches in the lower third of the strike zone or lower, his highest rate since 2011; recorded 13 outs in at-bats ending with pitches in that location, his most in any game in the last six seasons.
Beckett started talking about the no-hitter in the fourth inning, as Dylan Hernandez writes.
The Phillies were unable to put pressure on Beckett, writes Marc Narducci.
• Meanwhile, the Phillies are thinking about calling up one of their best prospects.
• Adam Wainwright completely overpowered the Reds on "Sunday Night Baseball." We've got the Cardinals and Yankees at 4 p.m. EDT today, following the Red Sox and Braves at 1 p.m.
• Derek Jeter turned back the clock with four hits, writes Mark Feinsand. Busch Stadium is the only park in which Jeter has played and doesn't have a hit.
• That's 10 straight losses for the Red Sox, who had a scrap in the middle of Sunday's defeat in Tampa Bay. Nick Cafardo wonders if this might be a spark for this team.
Jonny Gomes says a World Series hangover isn't the problem. Boston's frustration boiled over, writes Gordon Edes.
I don't think it's very complicated: The Red Sox just aren't hitting like they did last year, when they racked up 57 more runs through the same point of the season. As of today, they are tied for 19th in runs scored.
The AL East is so muddled that even with this giant losing streak, Boston is still just seven games out in the loss column.
The Rays completed the sweep of Boston, and Joe Maddon took umbrage with what the Red Sox did, as Marc Topkin writes. From his story:
Boston manager John Farrrell called that "somewhat of a gray area" as far as no longer running. Maddon scoffed at the thought, mentioning repeatedly, and citing notes, that in last year's playoff opener, former Sox star Jacoby Ellsbury stole second leading 8-2 in the eighth, and the Rays didn't complain.
"That was a little more egregious than their interpretation of (Sunday)," Maddon said.
Escobar grew increasingly animated in his response, pointing repeatedly into the Boston dugout and barking back, breaking away from Foley.
"Yuni's an emotional guy," Foley said. "I guess he could only take so much and it finally got to him." (Escobar declined comment, issuing a statement through the Rays PR staff saying only, "As far as I'm concerned, it's over.")
And also to [Jonny] Gomes -- who led the charge for the Rays against the Sox in an infamous 2008 brawl — as he raced in from leftfield and shoved Escobar, trying to fire up his own team.
"I'm not one to have an arguing match with anyone," Gomes said. "What really has to be said? I figured a hands-on approach was a little more appropriate."
Dings and dents
1. Carlos Beltran is going to test his elbow today.
2. Michael Pineda is making progress in his rehab, writes George King.
3. Eric Young Jr. is likely headed to the disabled list.
4. Danny Valencia suffered a sprained hand.
5. Josh Hamilton had a setback, and the Angels are worried.
6. Carlos Gonzalez is back in the Colorado lineup.
7. James Paxton felt some normal tightness.
Moves, deals and decisions
1. Chris Colabello was sent to Triple-A.
2. Brandon Cumpton is going to get a spot start.
3. Johan Santana has a fluid situation with his opt-out clause, says Baltimore GM Dan Duquette.
4. The Brewers called up a youngster.
5. The Rangers have asked about a Washington first baseman.
6. The Astros bagged one of their platoons, and summoned Robbie Grossman.
7. Matt Kemp is moving to left field. Which would seem to increase the likelihood that somebody is getting traded; Carl Crawford might be the best candidate, given that he's owed about $50 million less than Kemp is.
1. Doug Fister had another strong start.
2. Francisco Liriano had another struggle, and the Pirates' four-game winning streak ended, as Paul Zeise writes. The Pittsburgh rotation has been reeling, writes Ron Cook.
The Pirates' rotation ERA is 4.44, which ranks 14th in the National League.
3. Daisuke Matsuzaka helped the Mets salvage a split.
4. The Twins were swept.
5. The Brewers closed out their road trip with a win.
6. Randy Wolf was hit hard.
7. Evan Gattis had a great day.
8. Arizona managed to split a doubleheader.
9. Drew Pomeranz got knocked around.
10. The Mariners didn't have a good weekend.
• Anthony Rendon is seeing the ball better, as he tells Adam Kilgore.
• Craig Kimbrel is nearing John Smoltz's save record.
• The Reds were shut down again, writes Tom Groeschen.
• Jason Hammel suffered from hand fatigue.
• Carlos Quentin delivered again.
• Mike Morse was helped by his mom, writes Ron Kroichick.
• The Giants rolled to a sweep.
• Edwin Encarnacion and the Blue Jays just keep rolling.
• Nick Hundley is really excited to join the Orioles, writes Eduardo Encina.
• Justin Verlander, hit hard Sunday, is still searching for ways to dominate without his good fastball. Verlander's average fastball velocity is down 3 mph from three years ago, according to FanGraphs.com.
• The White Sox should give Daniel Webb a shot at closing.
• A replacement for Prince Fielder helped the Rangers.
• Dallas Keuchel keeps throwing well.
• The Blue Jays are wearing some special jerseys today.
The evaluator hesitated for about 0.2 seconds when considering the question asked over the phone: Who's the best player you've seen lately?
"Chase Utley," he said, and went on to describe how Utley is getting to low pitches in a way he hadn't for a few years, in how he's driving the ball, in how he's making better contact.
Utley missed 216 games from 2010 through 2013, or almost 1.5 full seasons, and by the spring of 2012 he looked as if might never get back to being what he had been in his prime -- an All-Star in five straight seasons, someone who finished in the top 10 in the NL MVP voting three times.
Now Utley is hitting .335 with almost as many doubles (20) as strikeouts (22); we're almost a third of the way through the season, and, at his current pace, he would finish the season with 72 doubles, 11 triples and 11 homers. Ninety-four extra-base hits. His OPS of .942 ranks seventh in the National League.
Utley also could be putting himself onto a path that leads to Hall of Fame consideration, which seemed completely ridiculous two years ago -- and might still be a long shot, given his modest career totals of 1,466 hits and 220 homers. If Utley is ever going to have a case, it'll be because he was one of the game's best players for a period of about five years -- and might be entering that conversation again, surprisingly, in 2014.
If Utley needs a model to follow, he can look in the corner of his dugout. Ryne Sandberg did not accumulate whopping numbers in his career -- 2,386 career hits, with 282 homers and three top-10 finishes in the MVP race, including 1984, when he finished first. But Sandberg was consistently excellent, a high-end offensive player as a middle infielder, and that always plays well with Hall of Fame voters.
I think Utley needs two great years -- this year, and another -- to build the framework of a case for induction. He needs to at least get close to 2,000 hits, and, given his recent injury history, that's not a given. But there are numbers that reflect the overall efficiency and excellence in Utley's career, and they will attract some votes.
Sandberg finished his career with a cumulative WAR of 67.5, including a high of 8.5 in his MVP season. Utley sits at 59.6, with a career high of 9.0 in 2008 and a season of 8.2 in 2009.
To put that into context, here's how some other middle infielders in the Hall of Fame fared in WAR:
Pee Wee Reese, 66.3
Paul Molitor, 75.4
Ozzie Smith, 76.5
Robin Yount, 77.0
Joe Morgan, 100.3
Luis Aparicio, 55.8
Luke Appling, 74.5
Rogers Hornsby, 127.0
Eddie Collins, 119.6
Derek Jeter, 71.9
To repeat: I'm not saying Utley is a Hall of Famer. But he's a lot closer than you might think.
For the readers: Do you think Utley is a Hall of Famer?
• Utley and the Phillies were blanked by the Dodgers on Friday night.
Around the league
• On Friday's podcast, we have an update on the role Charlie Sheen is playing in the preparation for Sunday's "Baseball Tonight," and Richard Durrett, Karl Ravech and Justin Havens all weigh in on what they think the Rangers should do in the aftermath of the Prince Fielder injury.
• Another guy got hurt sliding headfirst, and it's a big-timer: Nolan Arenado might be out four to six weeks.
• Meanwhile, Clayton Kershaw got his groove back, firing six scoreless innings, as Dylan Hernandez writes.
• Chris Johnson erupted in the Atlanta dugout, was pulled from the game and apologized. But Gerald Laird came through again.
• Giancarlo Stanton continues to destroy the ball. From ESPN Stats & Information:
Stanton’s two home runs Friday each went at least 440 feet. The lesson for pitchers is that, if you are going to throw him a strike, you'd better locate the pitch at the edge of the strike zone. All 14 of his home runs this season have come on pitches in the strike zone, and nine of them have been center cut.
Most 440-foot-plus home runs this season
Giancarlo Stanton 5<<
Michael Morse 4
Justin Upton 3
<< More than 27 entire teams
• Chris Davis and the Orioles are on a roll. Meanwhile, the Red Sox have eight straight losses and this summation from David Ortiz: "We stink."
• The Red Sox have an identity crisis, writes Nick Cafardo.
• The Blue Jays beat Oakland behind Liam Hendriks, no small task.
Adam Dunn, Gordon Beckham
Brian Kersey/Getty Images
Adam Dunn hit his 10th career walk-off home run in a win against the Yankees.
• Adam Dunn walked it off. He got the job done, as Fred Mitchell writes.
From ESPN Stats & Info: Dunn had his 10th career walk-off home run. Since World War II, only five players have more walk-off bombs than the White Sox slugger.
Jim Thome 13
Frank Robinson 12
Mickey Mantle 12
Tony Perez 11
David Ortiz 11
9 players<< 10
<< Including Adam Dunn
• Evan Grant addresses the question of whether the Rangers got damaged goods in their trade with the Tigers.
• The Cardinals are in position to make a trade if they choose to, writes Bernie Miklasz.
The key question would be: If St. Louis actually sought a big-time starter, who would that be and would he be accessible? The Cubs would have to get a huge package in return to make a deal for Jeff Samardzija, and, although David Price would be a significant acquisition, would St. Louis deal for a pitcher who will be looking for a deal in the $140 million-plus range?
Price has allowed the most hits in the big leagues, writes Roger Mooney, but isn't walking anybody.
• Stephen Strasburg ditched his slider, writes Adam Kilgore.
Moves, deals and decisions
1. Jenrry Mejia hasn't yet been anointed the closer of the Mets, but he's moving in that direction.
2. Stephen Drew started his minor league assignment.
3. The Phillies' bench moves continue.
4. Jason Grilli was reinstated.
5. The Blue Jays cut Esmil Rogers.
6. The Cardinals are eyeing their outfielders in Triple-A.
7. Scott Baker's first start with the Rangers could be his last.
8. Billy Buckner is getting an emergency start today.
Dings and dents
1. The Orioles are hopeful that Manny Machado will avoid the disabled list, writes Eduardo Encina.
2. Adam LaRoche is moving closer to coming back.
3. Joey Votto's return is not set in stone.
4. Carlos Gomez thought at first that he wasn't in the lineup -- but he was, in a surprising spot.
5. Taijuan Walker feels good.
1. The Nationals' lineup continues to struggle.
2. Shelby Miller left the ball up.
3. Mark Reynolds is on one of his streaks, and he helped the Brewers hammer the Marlins.
4. Kyle Gibson continues to struggle on the road.
5. Tim Lincecum battled, and prevailed, as Henry Schulman writes.
6. The Padres had an offensive explosion.
• Curtis Granderson has found his swing, writes Jorge Arangure.
• Charlie Morton broke his personal losing streak.
• Dejan Kovacevic tries to separate the myth and reality in Bob Nutting.
• Bryan Price is getting comfortable.
• Edwin Jackson had a really bad day.
• Blame for the Diamondbacks' debacle goes to the top.
• Derek Jeter climbed another statistical ladder, writes George King.
• Andrew Romine did something he'd never done before.
• Mike Moustakas had lost his confidence, says Ned Yost.
• Carlos Santana is not frustrated.
• The White Sox are staying loose, writes Seth Gruen.
• Brian Dozier is making a name for himself, writes Mike Berardino.
• The Angels are finding reasons to believe.
• Oakland's making plans for its game against R.A. Dickey.
• Bo Porter fines his players for mistakes.
• Felix Hernandez dominated the Astros.
A) Hernandez threw his curveball 27.4 percent of the time, his highest rate since his second start of the season. Opponents were 0-2 on at-bats ending with the curveball and just 1 of 9 swings against the pitch resulted in a ball in play.
B) Hernandez also brought his best fastball of the season. Both his average velocity of 93.2 mph and his max velocity of 94.8 mph were season highs.
C) Hernandez got to two strikes on 16 batters and did not allow a hit to any of them, walking one and striking out nine.
• The Marlins cut their beer price.
• The Rays are honoring Don Zimmer.
• A-Rod's return to the Yankees is inevitable, writes Bob Klapisch.
• New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie would love to be GM of the Mets.
• There will be a very large crowd Saturday in Aberdeen, South Dakota, to remember Don Meyer.
The storms of the obvious must first be weathered by the Texas Rangers. Yes, the Prince Fielder injury hurts their chances to compete (although he wasn't playing that well, and whoever replaces him could be better). Yes, Texas would be well-served to give complete physicals to any player it has acquired (and its knowledge of what to test for just increased). Sure, the Ian Kinsler trade looks bad (and nobody has any idea how effective Fielder will be when he comes back next season).
But the more important question the Rangers must address is: What's next?
Seriously, now that Fielder, Matt Harrison, Martin Perez, Jurickson Profar and others are out, what is next?
More on the Rangers
LawESPN Insider Keith Law lays out his own reasons why Texas should shop Adrian Beltre and other veterans. Keith Law blog Insider
One answer would be to open the shop for business and retool for 2015. This organization, which has been in win-now mode for the past six seasons, twice made it to the World Series and came within one strike of winning a championship, could use this time to have a makeover, to gain more payroll flexibility, to add some young talent. The Rangers can find an opportunity in their misfortune, because they're in a position to send out a mass email to the other major league teams and inform them that they are open for trade offers.
It could be a seller's market, because there are very few teams willing to market players at this time of the season; most clubs will cling to the hope that they'll contend for a playoff spot. But the rash of injuries gives the Rangers a "get out of jail free" card. It's a logical course of action for them to trade some of their veterans in what looks to be a lost season.
They certainly have some players who could be attractive to other teams, such as:
Adrian Beltre, 3B: He's a future Hall of Famer who is closing in on 400 homers and 2,500 hits for his career, and while he's off to a slow start and some scouts say his defensive skills have regressed, he still brings a lot to the table. He's hitting .270 this season -- after batting .315 last season -- and he's nearing the end of his contract. Beltre is making $17 million this year, will make $18 million next year, and has a reachable vesting option for 2016 for $16 million. Texas could move him now while he still has value and before his decline -- a team like the Dodgers could be a fit -- and get a prospect or two in return.
Alex Rios, OF: He's making $12.5 million this season, and the Rangers hold a $13.5 million team option with a $1 million buyout for 2015. He's hitting .304 with 17 extra-base hits in 181 at-bats and a respectable .790 OPS. He'd be a great fit for the Kansas City Royals, given their current needs.
Elvis Andrus, SS: He's signed through 2022, and identifying his true value in trade talks could prove too difficult, but the Rangers' front office might as well have the conversations. The Tigers and the Yankees will be looking for shortstops.
Mitch Moreland, 1B: He's making $2.65 million, and he'll be more expensive next year as he gathers service time. At some point this season, another major league team will no doubt need to plug a hole at first base.
Joakim Soria, RP: He has been really good this season, with 21 strikeouts and two walks in 16 innings and a 2.25 ERA. The Rangers hold a $7 million option on him for 2015. As we get closer to the trade deadline, Soria will have more value to another team as a proven closer than to the Rangers.
The Rangers' preparation for 2015 can begin today, given all the injuries incurred by the team.
Here's this tidbit from ESPN Stats & Information: "It has been a rough year injury-wise for the Rangers. This month alone Martin Perez's season ended with Tommy John surgery. Fellow starter Matt Harrison hit the DL with lower back inflammation. Prized prospect Jurickson Profar has been shut down after re-straining his injured shoulder … and Prince Fielder's herniated disk in his neck may require season-ending surgery."
Most times using disabled list (2014)
White Sox 10
*Including Prince Fielder
And just when it seemed things couldn't worse, Jurickson Profar re-strained a muscle in his shoulder and has been shut down.
Prince Fielder: Pitches In Strike Zone
His year-by-year slugging percentage and ranks since 2011 (entering Thursday's games).
As for Fielder, there's this from ESPN Stats & Info: "Fielder is no longer doing anywhere near the damage with pitches in the strike zone that he used to. Below is a year-by-year look at Fielder's declining ability to hit pitches in the strike zone with authority. In 2011, he slugged .699 against pitches in the zone; it dropped to .615 in 2012, .513 last season and a paltry .402 this season.
Texas' injury situation has reached a critical mass, writes Evan Grant. The Rangers look like a loser in the Fielder swap, writes Rick Gosselin.
And it's time for Tigers fans to let go of their post-Prince anger, writes Drew Sharp.
Around the league
• Some teams have begun to check in with the Cubs on Jeff Samardzija, and one team that could make a lot of sense -- it's all speculation at this point -- would be the San Francisco Giants. The team's front office has shown the willingness in the past to be aggressive in trading prospects in an effort to win, and Samardzija could fit their needs now and into the future.
Tim Hudson and Tim Lincecum are both in the first year of two-year deals, and Samardzija also will be eligible for free agency after 2015. The Giants could trade prospects to get him -- Double-A right-handed pitcher Kyle Crick would almost certainly have to be part of any deal -- and then work to re-sign the veteran, who has a 1.46 ERA so far this season.
David Price is the more proven commodity than Samardzija, given the lefty has a Cy Young award in his portfolio, but some evaluators note that Samardzija hasn't had to shoulder the kind of workload that Price has until recently. For example, Samardzija broke into the big leagues in 2008 and worked as a reliever for much of his first four seasons in the league. In all, he has thrown 10,252 pitches. Price, meanwhile, broke into the majors the same season and has thrown 16,667 pitches, and the presumption is he will command a bigger contract when he signs a long-term deal.
• On Thursday's podcast: Andre Dawson told stories from his career, including the extraordinarily strange circumstances that led to him signing with the Chicago Cubs. Keith Law talked about the Diamondbacks' changes, and the future of Kendrys Morales.
• Padres manager Bud Black might be in jeopardy of losing his job, writes Kevin Acee.
• The Toronto Blue Jays are officially a first-place team. And Anthony Gose is a difference-maker.
• The Red Sox, meanwhile, have lost seven consecutive games. I watched the outset of their game Thursday, when Jon Lester gave up back-to-back homers and looked incredibly frustrated. Everything seems to be falling apart for them, writes Dan Shaughnessy.
• The Brewers had a bullpen mixup, Tom Haudricourt writes. From his story:
Because of a miscommunication between the dugout and bullpen as to which left-handed reliever was warming up -- it turned out to be none of the above -- the Milwaukee Brewers watched a two-run lead disappear in the seventh inning Thursday night as Atlanta rallied for a 5-4 victory at Turner Field.
It was only the second time all season the Brewers lost when scoring at least four runs, and it never should have happened.
The miscommunication was a byproduct of the absence of two Milwaukee coaches. Pitching coach Rick Kranitz and bullpen coach Lee Tunnell were both given permission to attend graduations within their families, leaving minor league pitching coordinator Rick Tomlin to handle Kranitz's duties. The ranking 'officer' in the relief corps was bullpen catcher Marcus Hanel.
But Brewers manager Ron Roenicke took full responsibility for the debacle that resulted in reliever Will Smith taking the mound without warming up.
"It's my fault; miscommunication," said Roenicke. "There's a certain way we do things, and when Kranitz isn't here, I didn't go back and tell Rick Tomlin who to get up and bring in. So it's my fault.
"You do things the same way every day and when it changes, it just changes what goes on. I had to make the change. I sent Maldy (backup catcher Martin Maldonado) to run down to the bullpen because we needed two guys up. Maldy went down there and said, 'I think it's (Zach) Duke,' but he never got the call on who it was. So, we didn't call."
Roenicke wanted right-hander Brandon Kintzler and lefty Smith warming up, but only Kintzler got ready.
• The Indians keep finding ways to win, as Paul Hoynes writes.
• Chris Sale was nearly perfect in his return. From ESPN Stats & Info on how Sale won:
A. Sale threw his slider a season-high 22.1 percent of the time, and hitters went 0-for-4 with three strikeouts in at-bats ending with a slider.
B. Sale's average fastball velocity didn't suffer in his first start back. He averaged 93.3 miles per hour after averaging 93.2 in his first four games this season.
C. Hitters were 0-for-12 with 10 strikeouts in two-strike situations against Sale, and he faced 19 batters Thursday.
And this, from Elias Sports Bureau: Chris Sale struck out 10 batters and allowed only one hit in each of his past two starts: on April 17 against the Red Sox and Thursday night versus the Yankees in his return from the disabled list. The only other major league pitcher since 1900 with at least 10 strikeouts and no more than one hit given up in each of two straight starts was R.A. Dickey for the Mets in 2012, the year he won the N.L. Cy Young award.
• Danny Worth throws a heck of a knuckleball.
• The Royals shipped Mike Moustakas off to Triple-A. It's up to Moustakas to deal with this productively.
• The Dodgers released Miguel Olivo, as ESPN colleague Danny Knobler writes. Really, they had no choice.
Dings and dents
1. Carlos Gomez has a stiff back.
2. Adam Eaton will take it down a notch.
3. Tommy Hunter landed on the disabled list.
4. Manny Machado (groin) left Thursday's game but hopes to play today.
5. Michael Pineda is up for the next step of his rehab.
6. George Springer sat Thursday to rest his sore hip.
7. Carlos Gonzalez has a finger issue.
8. The Giants are hoping for a better prognosis for Matt Cain.
9. Logan Morrison is ready for a rehab stint.
Moves, deals and decisions
1. Ben Revere returned to the starting lineup.
2. The Pirates have released Wandy Rodriguez. It'll be interesting to see if the Yankees take a shot at him.
1. The Mets stood up to an ace, writes Tim Rohan.
2. Edinson Volquez had a strong outing.
3. The Cardinals are rolling, with Shane Robinson sparking a sweep of Arizona.
4. The Marlins are 19-6 in home games after winning again Thursday.
5. The Rays' win Thursday felt like a big one for them.
6. The Braves put together a big rally, as David O'Brien writes.
7. The Astros lost a series opener in Seattle.
8. Oakland's win streak came to a dramatic end.
9. Replay had a role in the Mariners' victory.
• Red Sox manager John Farrell sees a delivery flaw in Clay Buchholz.
• Ichiro Suzuki would love to pitch one more time, writes David Waldstein.
• Yankees manager Joe Girardi isn't saying whether he's in contact with Alex Rodriguez.
• Chris Parmelee has resurfaced after nearly becoming a former Twin, writes Phil Miller.
• Detroit's bullpen is in need of relief.
• A's GM Billy Beane has done it again, writes Tim Kawakami.
• Collin Cowgill sees upside in the return of Kole Calhoun and Josh Hamilton.
• Weight room work is paying off for Jered Weaver.
• The Nationals had no answer for Andrew McCutchen on Thursday.
• Stephen Strasburg and other Nationals pitchers are throwing a lot of changeups.
• Bryce Harper threw a football around Thursday.
• The Phillies will call up another pitcher Saturday to make a start, writes Matt Gelb.
• Pat Neshek keeps tossing up zeroes.
• A couple of prospects are flourishing with the Reds' Double-A affiliate.
• Cody Ross had to make some life adjustments following his hip injury.
• President Obama reveled in the past.
• The Cubs have intensified their battle with rooftop owners, as Tom Ricketts's patience finally wore off.
• Andrew Cashner said this about Wrigley Field: "It's a dump."
• A really hard thrower could be a hot item in the 2014 MLB draft.
• I wrote here a couple weeks ago about the resistance to Bud Selig's plan for a successor; Michael Schmidt writes about this today. Meanwhile, Lynn Henning writes that Dave Dombrowski is coy about his interest.
Max Scherzer still managed to impress while allowing 12 hits and seven earned runs Wednesday.
Max Scherzer had his worst outing of the season Wednesday, and even in that he showed a side of himself that will be valued when he becomes a free agent in the fall. Scherzer allowed seven runs in the first three innings, with his pitch count spinning out of control, and yet he still held it together long enough to throw the last pitch of the seventh inning. He will get paid in a big way, and so will Jon Lester, whether it's by the Red Sox this summer or by some other team in the open market, and James Shields, who is doing what he has always done, taking the ball and pitching well.
Here are some other prospective free agents off to strong starts:
1. Victor Martinez, DH, Detroit Tigers: On Wednesday's podcast, Torii Hunter offered a great description of how Martinez focuses, how he controls the tempo of each at-bat. Martinez, 35, is having one of the best seasons of his career, now having fully overcome the knee surgery that cost him the 2012 season and affected him the first half of 2013. So far he's hitting .329, with 12 homers, 16 walks and 11 strikeouts, sporting a .998 OPS. It would make sense for the Tigers to re-sign him, but if that doesn't happen, another team will jump at the chance to do so, given the nature of his at-bats and reputation for being an outstanding teammate.
2. Michael Morse, OF, San Francisco Giants: Because of his injury history, he was able to get only a one-year, $6 million deal this past offseason. But so far this year, he has stayed in the Giants' lineup and produced, with 10 homers already. He's only 32, so he is positioned to receive a multiyear deal.
3. Jed Lowrie, SS, Oakland Athletics: Lowrie has a lot of things going for him. He's relatively young, having just turned 30 years old. He's versatile, having played every infield position in his career. And he's off to a decent start, with a .358 on-base percentage. Lowrie has been dinged up recently and out of the Oakland lineup.
4. David Robertson, RP, New York Yankees: It appears the market for relievers could be lackluster, but Robertson, 29, would be an exception. He has 17 strikeouts and two walks in 12 2/3 innings so far, with just six hits allowed. He's going to get paid in a big way, within the context of the relief market.
5. Andrew Miller, RP, Boston Red Sox: He's another guy who has been around so long that you forget how young he is; he turned 29 Wednesday. The left-hander is showing some of the best stuff of his career -- his average fastball velocity is about 94 mph -- and has 31 strikeouts and six walks in 20 2/3 innings.
6. Melky Cabrera, OF, Toronto Blue Jays: No matter how you view Cabrera as a player, the production is there for the 29-year-old. He leads the majors in hits with 63 and is batting .320 with an .865 OPS. His career high for home runs is 18 and right now he's on a pace for 24 homers, along with 41 doubles, 7 triples and 217 hits.
7. Torii Hunter, OF, Tigers: He'll be 39 in a few months, but he continues to produce (.294 average, 15 extra-base hits). He's also known as a great clubhouse guy and is in great shape, and he'll keep getting offers. Hunter has 2,213 career hits, 1,179 runs and 320 homers.
8. Nelson Cruz, OF, Baltimore Orioles: He has mashed 14 homers and racked up 41 RBIs in 43 games. As with Melky Cabrera, he will be evaluated through the prism of his past PED suspension, but Cruz, who turns 34 this season, is putting up good numbers.
9. Pat Neshek, RP, St. Louis Cardinals: The 33-year-old right-hander is off to a great start, with 21 strikeouts, three walks and just two earned runs allowed in 18 innings. He is putting himself in line to get the first multiyear deal of his career.
10. Joba Chamberlain, RP, Tigers: He started throwing his slider earlier in the offseason in an effort to get a better feel for it, and so far, so good: The contact rate against him when hitters swing at pitches outside the strike zone has dropped from 57.7 percent last season to 44.7 percent this year. In all, Chamberlain has 25 strikeouts and five walks in 19 2/3 innings.
Around the league
• The Giants lost a couple of pitchers to hamstring injuries: Matt Cain and Santiago Casilla. Here is the video of Cain's injury.
• Giants broadcaster Mike Krukow wonders if Troy Tulowitzki is getting signs when the shortstop is playing at home. This is from John Shea's story:
Now a Giants broadcaster is suggesting Rockies shortstop Troy Tulowitzki might be getting signs to help him at the plate in home games; he's hitting above .500 at Coors Field.
"Tulowitzki right now is swinging the bat better than anyone in this game, and I'm thinking it's so good that you have to be a little skeptical how he does it," Mike Krukow said Wednesday, one day after he made similar statements on his KNBR show. "I'm not making any accusations whatsoever. I'm just saying he's as hot as if he's getting signs. It's unbelievable to see a guy get it going like that."
Tulowitzki wouldn't comment on Krukow's statements, but Colorado manager Walt Weiss had fun with them. "Yeah, we do it all," he said, tongue in cheek. "Yeah, we've got the umpires in on it. We change the balls. We have light bulbs going off on the scoreboard. Our mascot (Dinger) is in on it."
Weiss added, "I have a lot of respect for (the Giants) and what they've done and (Bruce Bochy). That's been going on for 100 years, teams accusing other teams of getting pitches in their stadiums. That's been going on since the beginning of time. We've been good at home."
On the radio, Krukow said, "We've accused them of jimmy-jacking with the balls. It's kind of a great relationship. I love going into Colorado. It's a great organization, very classy. But makes you think, doesn't it?"
The Rockies responded, as Patrick Saunders wrote.
• The Astros' George Springer suffered an injury Wednesday, as Evan Drellich writes.
• Also on Wednesday's podcast: Hunter talked about what happened when he raced his three grown sons over the winter, and Tim Kurkjian discussed Boston's re-signing of Stephen Drew.
• Because Alex Guerrero is out indefinitely -- it's an open question whether his ear will be OK -- the Dodgers called up another infielder instead, Erisbel Arruebarrena.
• Kevin Towers told Arizona Sports 98.7 he is not interested in being a pseudo GM.
• Drew said he's eager to play, writes Julian Benbow. The struggles of the team's veterans led to his return.
• The Red Sox have lost six straight and counting, and now they're looking for a starting pitcher to take over Felix Doubront's spot.
• The Blue Jays are getting a whole lot of bang for their buck with Edwin Encarnacion. He's making $9 million this year and already has 13 homers, after adding two more Wednesday. From Elias Sports Bureau: Encarnacion has now hit 11 homers in his past 15 games, becoming the first to accomplish that feat in Blue Jays history.
• The Yankees found a way to win in extra innings Wednesday, beating the Cubs after Jeff Samardzija was great, again. From ESPN Stats & Information: The Cubs bullpen once again failed starter Jeff Samardzija, who threw seven scoreless innings Wednesday. The righty has gone winless in 10 starts this season despite a 1.46 ERA. Then there's this from Elias: That is the lowest ERA without a win through the first 10 starts of a season by any pitcher in MLB history. Next closest was Rube Schauer's 2.33 ERA in 1917 for the Philadelphia Athletics.
• The Indians beat the Tigers in extra innings on a walk-off balk by Detroit reliever Al Alburquerque. From Elias: The last walk-off balk in the 13th inning or later was April 19, 2004 (Mariners 2-1 over A's in 14 innings, balk by Justin Duchscherer).
• Miguel Cabrera and Brad Ausmus were both ejected from that game.
• Oakland had one hit and still managed to score three runs and win, as Susan Slusser writes. From Elias: The Athletics beat the Rays 3-2 despite managing only one base hit. It is the first time in Athletics regular-season history that they won a game in which they had one hit or fewer. They are now 1-82 in such regular-season games all time.
• Very quietly, the Angels continue to roll along, with Jered Weaver firing a two-hitter Wednesday.
• Cliff Lee's injury hurts his trade value, writes Sam Donnellon.
• Michael Wacha got hurt in the midst of a weird win for the Cardinals. From Derrick Goold's story:
Wacha had pitched six scoreless innings and was defending a 1-0 lead when he went into the dugout to do what he normally does as his teammates hit. "Relax," he said. The first batter of the bottom of the sixth, Matt Adams, laced a foul ball into the Cardinals' dugout. Wacha didn't see the ball through the thicket of teammates as it cleared the dugout's railing. It appeared headed "straight for my chest," Wacha said. He moved out of the way, but the ball caromed off the wall and smashed the back of his pitching arm, just above the elbow.
"My hand goes numb," Wacha said. He joked: "None of the starters jumped in front to keep it from hitting me. I know I would have. I would have barehanded it."
It took time for the numbness to fade.
Coaches and the team's trainers checked on Wacha's elbow as the inning continued, and it was decided the righty would be removed for "precautionary reasons." Wacha said there were still stitch-like marks embedded near his elbow after the game from the force of the baseball. The team announced he was diagnosed with a contusion, and he expected the bruise to deepen over time. He was not sure whether the injury would jeopardize his next start, planned for Monday against the New York Yankees.
Moves, deals and decisions
1. Ryne Sandberg sees Darin Ruf as an option off the bench.
2. The Yankees are looking all over the place for starting pitching help.
3. I wrote in Wednesday's blog about why it makes sense for the Mariners to sign Kendrys Morales. Larry Stone is thinking along the same lines.
4. Hector Santiago was demoted to the minors.
5. Robbie Ross is OK with a bullpen role.
Dings and dents
1. Jason Grilli is eyeing a Saturday return.
2. Shawn Kelley had a setback, writes Mark Feinsand.
3. Matt Wieters is still waiting to test his elbow.
4. A couple of their Mariners are working their way back.
5. Mike Trout got a day off to rest his hamstring.
6. Arizona prospect Archie Bradley is rehabbing.
7. Rick Porcello is on track for his Saturday start, as George Sipple writes.
8. Prince Fielder says his neck bothered him last season.
9. Joey Votto landed on the disabled list.
1. The Orioles could not overcome Chris Tillman's rough start.
5. Tyson Ross threw the ball well, but the Padres didn't hit.
6. Jeremy Guthrie continued his mastery of the White Sox.
7. The Marlins racked up a bunch of runs.
8. Hector Rondon blew a save while pitching in his fourth consecutive game.
9. Mark Reynolds got the Brewers started Wednesday.
10. Phil Hughes was in control, as Mike Berardino writes.
• Jacoby Ellsbury is trying to work through his slump.
• The Yankees need their high-priced guys to start playing better, writes Ken Davidoff.
• A prospect had an unusual journey to the Blue Jays.
• Alex Cobb is not burdened by expectations as he rejoins the Rays.
• The Royals are walking a fine line with Mike Moustakas, writes Vahe Gregorian.
• Jose Quintana didn't get any support Wednesday.
• When Derek Norris is not hitting, he's drawing walks.
• Ian Kinsler is transforming the Tigers, while Prince Fielder is struggling.
• Ryan Zimmerman is excelling in his work in the outfield, writes Adam Kilgore.
The domino that would result from Zimmerman moving to left field would be simple in the infield: Anthony Rendon would shift to his natural position at third base. But among the outfielders, it would be complicated. Jayson Werth is just halfway through the seven-year, $126 million deal that he signed before the 2011 season. Bryce Harper could be moved to center field, although rival scouts view him as a corner outfielder. Meanwhile, center fielder Denard Span is making $6.5 million this season, and the Nationals have a club option for $9 million for 2015; he currently has an OPS of .697.
• Jacob deGrom was good again for the Mets.
• Walt Weiss is standing by his closer LaTroy Hawkins.
• It appears Tom Ricketts has taken off the gloves in his dealings with the rooftop owners. The Cubs are going to submit a revised expansion plan.
• Some Atlanta players and Carlos Gomez visited a little boy who was hit by a foul ball, as Carroll Rogers writes.
• Ron Gardenhire offered a critique of Mike Redmond's ejection.
Titles mean far less than practical power, and the simple truth is that Arizona Diamondbacks general manager Kevin Towers lost his power when Arizona hired Tony La Russa. Towers was hired after Jerry Dipoto stepped in on an interim basis after Josh Byrnes was fired in the summer of 2010.
There has been far less stability than success for the Diamondbacks, which is why one rival evaluator mentioned Tuesday that La Russa is probably already working on borrowed time. "He's like the rabbit in a dog race," said the evaluator.
In other words: History tells us that eventually, Arizona ownership will get fed up with him, too, just as it turned on Byrnes and then Towers, despite the fact the team generally played above expectations for a team with a middle-class payroll.
When Byrnes was hired in 2005, Arizona was in the midst of back-to-back seasons in which the Diamondbacks had the worst run differential in the majors. There was a good pocket of young position players coming, and there was Brandon Webb, who was an elite pitcher at the time. Otherwise, there were many holes from a talent standpoint and a few regrettable contracts.
With that context, compare how the Diamondbacks performed from 2007 to 2013 when compared to teams in their payroll neighborhood:
From 2007-2013, the D-backs fared well within their economic class.
In short: Arizona has had the fourth most wins in its payroll demographic (teams that generally spend about 70 percent of MLB average payroll). Cincinnati spent $88 million more over those seasons. Obviously, Tampa Bay and Oakland are viewed as the gold standards. Arizona also had an above-average rate of quality seasons (90-plus wins) as opposed to bad seasons (75 or fewer wins).
The seven-year stretch is certainly respectable in a reasonable context of payroll. Here's more, when considering that group of teams:
As La Russa takes over, Nick Piecoro writes about the question of whether he'll follow data or his gut feeling. From his piece:
He was an innovator during his 33 years as a major league manager, using information in new and transformative ways. He didn't invent the bullpen, but he revolutionized the use of relievers, particularly specialists. He was all about lineup optimization, often batting his pitcher eighth as a way of creating a sort of second leadoff batter for his run producers.
Playing matchups, maximizing run-scoring possibilities -- those are sabermetric principles.
But La Russa also told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch five years ago, "I believe analysis from a computer is useful but should be secondary to what you observe." He also spent time during two sessions with reporters over the weekend making similar caveats about his use of stats.
"There's been this proliferation where there's a lot of measures," La Russa said Sunday. "I read the one, WAR (wins above replacement) — I mean, they've got a lot of percentages and they're helpful to a point."
Those who know La Russa believe that, despite the anti-Moneyball vibe he might give off, he's going to incorporate numbers and data to a large degree. He just might not be comfortable aligning himself with the numbers crowd.
"It's sort of how the best scouts are naturally analytical," said a front-office executive who worked with La Russa in St. Louis. "They might eschew the numbers, but they're drawn to guys who get on base and slug without sort of expressing it in the same sort of terms. He's never going to say his viewpoint is from a printout, but in his mind, he's trying to solve a problem in a similar fashion. He's pragmatic."
Around the league
• On Tuesday's "Baseball Tonight" podcast, the Fireball Express of Karl Ravech and Justin Havens discussed the AL East attrition with Jayson Stark; the hot start of the Oakland Athletics, with Susan Slusser; and the Brewers, with Tom Haudricourt.
• So Miguel Olivo reportedly bit off the ear of teammate Alexander Guerrero. Not good. From Dylan Hernandez's story:
The alleged incident occurred in Salt Lake City, where the Dodgers’ Albuquerque-based affiliate dropped a 7-4 decision.
Olivo became steamed after his team gave up a stolen base in the seventh inning, according to [Guerrero's agent Scott] Boras. Olivo blamed Guerrero for failing to tag the baserunner in time, the agent said. A video posted on the Albuquerque Isotopes’ website showed Olivo attempting to charge Guerrero during a pitching change later in the inning. The players exchanged words as they walked off the field at the end of the inning.
“Guerrero was in the far end of the dugout,” Boras said. “He went to the front to get his bat and helmet to hit. As he walked across, Olivo decked him.”
Guerrero and Olivo had to be separated by teammates, according to Boras. When players pulled off Olivo, he had a piece of Guerrero’s ear in his mouth, Boras said.
Criminal charges could be filed against Olivo, a 35-year-old journeyman catcher who has played 13 major league seasons. Whether that happens could depend on whether Guerrero wants Olivo to be prosecuted, according to Det. Greg Wilking of the Salt Lake City Police Department.
• Stephen Drew twice had opportunities in the winter to accept the salary that he signed for Tuesday, except now he stands to make about $4 million less; there really is no way this can be spun as anything other than a mistake. Yes, he is now assured of going into the free-agent market in the fall without being given a qualifying offer and being tied to draft-pick compensation -- but would a qualifying offer for Drew have necessarily been a bad thing this November?
Think about it: If Drew had taken Boston's qualifying offer last fall, for $14.1 million, and then received another this fall -- when the QO's are expected to be about $16 million -- then he would've been in line to make $30 million over two seasons. He's now making $10 million for 2014, instead; is anyone confident he'll get a deal worth $20 million for 2015, to get to $30 million?
And now he'll be playing catch-up. Rival evaluators wonder whether Drew's need to rush into the season without the benefit of a regular spring training may put him at greater risk for injury after he joins the Red Sox. Drew will be effectively auditioning for the 2015 Yankees and Dodgers, among other teams, in the months ahead.
The Drew signing makes sense for Boston, given that no other team was going to sign the infielder before the draft and the Red Sox weren't going to get a draft pick in return. In Boston's series against Detroit, the Red Sox saw firsthand just how well-rounded the Tigers are, and that the only thing Detroit lacks is an established everyday shortstop like Drew; there was an assumption in some corners of the Boston organization that Detroit would be the most likely landing spot for Drew.
So it behooved Boston, then, to move on Drew now rather than wait until after the amateur draft, and the Red Sox upgraded their roster without trading prospects.
Dan Shaughnessy writes that this allowed the Red Sox to admit a mistake. Xander Bogaerts was disappointed with the move. This move still leaves questions about the Red Sox, writes Michael Silverman.
The Tigers are prepared to move ahead with Andrew Romine and Danny Worth.
The Red Sox lost to Toronto, as Felix Doubront got hurt.
• Cliff Lee landed on the disabled list, writes Ryan Lawrence.
• The Mariners, who need offensive help, should make a move similar to the Drew deal with Kendrys Morales, now that Corey Hart is out for the next two months. There's virtually no chance another team will sign Morales before the draft, and no chance Seattle will receive an extra draft pick. What may be at issue, however, is the level of compensation. Will Morales want the same type of salary as Drew? Would the Mariners pay $10 million for a DH for what will amount to four months of play? We'll see. Seattle is a really dangerous team, given the pitching it can run out; Hisashi Iwakuma threw well again Tuesday night.
• Adam Wainwright: Almost perfect. He dominated Arizona on Tuesday, Derrick Goold writes.
From ESPN Stats & Info, how Wainwright won:
A) He allowed only one line drive on 19 balls in play; entering the start, 23.3 percent of balls in play against Wainwright were line drives.
B) He went to just two three-ball counts -- tying a season low.
C) Wainwright's 74.8 percent strike percentage was his highest in the past six seasons.
• Oakland just keeps winning -- it shut out Tampa Bay -- and it named Sean Doolittle as its closer.
• The Angels should have Kole Calhoun and Josh Hamilton back in their lineup within a week, writes Mike DiGiovanna.
• Sergio Romo was beaten by the Rockies. Nolan Arenado walked it off, Nick Groke writes.
• Now comes the big test of the Brewers' roster: Yovani Gallardo was hurt, as Milwaukee lost.
Dings and dents
1. Buster Posey has a sore back.
2. Juan Uribe strained his hamstring.
3. Jed Lowrie is dealing with a neck injury.
4. Andrew Cashner spoke with optimism about his elbow issue.
5. Carlos Beltran will try his elbow.
6. Matt Harvey wants to pitch again this season, Roger Rubin writes.
7. Ryan Zimmerman is getting a splint for his thumb.
8. A couple of Washington pitchers suffered injuries in the minors, writes Adam Kilgore.
9. Jason Grilli says he feels ready.
10. Matt Lindstrom landed on the disabled list.
11. Ryan Ludwick is hurting.
1. Remember that slow start by Chris Davis? Well, he bashed three homers Tuesday night, Dan Connolly writes.
2. The Cubs became the first team to beat Masahiro Tanaka.
3. Francisco Liriano got pounded.
4. Edwin Encarnacion powered Toronto.
5. Kevin Correia was sharp for Minnesota.
6. Johnny Cueto threw out a stinker.
7. So did Justin Verlander.
Moves, deals and decisions
1. The Yankees are getting a look at some possible trade targets, writes Ken Davidoff.
2. It looks like Alex Cobb will be back Thursday.
3. Tony Pena's son was called up.
• The Angels continue to gain momentum.
• Prince Fielder's power outage is a problem. The Rangers had a roster shake-up. Stuff isn't getting better for the Rangers, writes Evan Grant.
• Trevor Bauer was The Man.
• Danny Valencia is playing; Mike Moustakas is not.
• The Royals need to hit better.
• Zach Britton is unlikely to pinch-hit, now that he could be the closer.
• Bob Klapisch wonders: Have we seen the last of the great CC Sabathia?
• The Rays are running low on time to make a change.
• The Cubs are pleased with Starlin Castro's progress, writes Gordon Wittenmyer.
• Bryan Price doesn't duck the tough questions.
• Jose Fernandez pitched despite not being healthy.
• Rafael Montero flopped.
• Doug Fister stepped up.
• Julio Teheran shut out the Brewers.
From ESPN Stats & Info, how Julio Teheran won:
A) Filthy fastball: opponents were 3-for-17 (.176) in at-bats ending with Teheran's fastball; opponents entered the game hitting .258 this season against Teheran's fastball.
B) Teheran was nearly unhittable out of the stretch, allowing just one hit in 16 at-bats with a man on.
From Elias: Julio Teheran became the fifth-youngest Braves pitcher with multiple shutouts in a season since they moved to Atlanta in 1966. He threw a career-high 128 pitches in Tuesday's effort (previous high: 123, May 20, 2013)
• A young fan in Atlanta was hit by a line drive, writes Jeff Schultz.
The Milwaukee Brewers had a great start to the season and were the talk of the league in April. But after losing six of their past eight games through Saturday, their National League Central lead has shrunk to 1½ games, and they now sit in the No. 7 spot in ESPN.com's Power Rankings.
The question surrounding the Brewers is whether this is a blip on the radar of a true surprise team or signs of a team gravitating back to its true talent level in the middle of the NL pack.
One of the first things we look for when trying to determine whether to buy in on a team's breakout is its record in various margins of victory, particularly one-run games. It would be hard to paint Milwaukee as anything other than fortunate in these situations. The Brewers' 10-6 record gives them a .625 winning percentage in contests with a one-run margin, which is tops in the NL.
Their record in these situations looks even more precarious if we look at the team's first two months separately. In April, the team played one-run affairs in eight of its 28 games and tallied a 4-4 record in them. In May, the team has played eight one-run contests in its first 22 games. It has gone 4-4 in them, but that's not what is most interesting. In a 13-game stretch from May 6 to May 20, the team either lost or eked out a one-run victory in 12 games. The Brewers had five wins in seven games, with four of them being one-run wins and two of the four being of the walk-off variety. This is not the sort of thing that is sustainable, and indeed, after the final one-run victory in that stretch on May 16, the team dropped its next four games.
The other thing to look at with Milwaukee is how it is performing on the road. Since the start of the 2011 season, the Brewers have been one of the best teams in the game at home, as their .588 home winning percentage ranks seventh in the majors. It has been a different story once the Brewers leave Milwaukee. This year, they started out much better than usual on the road, sweeping their first two road series in Boston and Philadelphia, which gave them two more road sweeps than they had last season. Their 16-11 road record is second-best in the NL, behind only the Dodgers.
So far, one bad sign and one good sign -- right in the middle. Looking at the FanGraphs playoff odds, we see the middling theme continuing. While the team has the second-highest odds of winning the division, those 27.0 percent odds are less than half of the Cardinals', whose odds stand at 59.9 percent. The Brewers' odds of winning the wild card, however, are much lower. FanGraphs has pegged those odds at 17.6 percent, which is sixth in the National League. That paints the Brewers more as a good-not-great team that needs a few things to go right to succeed.
To date, plenty has gone right. For one thing, the rest of their division has not played to expectations. The Cubs, despite a decent run differential, have been a laughingstock in the win-loss column, the Pirates are in a free fall, the Reds just can't do enough right or stay healthy, and the Cardinals are just kind of hanging around. Each team should be better than it has played, but so far they aren't, and that is a boon for the Brewers.
Eventually, though, Milwaukee will have to make its own luck to beat projections; the FanGraphs projected standings pegs the Brewers as having the second-worst winning percentage in the NL Central from here on out.
Path to the playoffs
The most important thing that they will need to go right is keeping Ryan Braun healthy. When Braun has played, he has been productive, but he has already dealt with thumb and oblique injuries, and the latter is currently hampering his ability to stay in the lineup. Carlos Gomez and Jonathan Lucroy are good anchors in the Milwaukee batting order, but the team needs Braun if it wants a chance at being elite.
It would also be nice if the Brewers could get some decent production out of first base. Last season, the Milwaukee first basemen combined for one of the worst offensive displays (or most offensive, depending on how you want to use the word "offensive") in history. This year, the first basemen haven't been much better, as their 72 wRC+ ranks 28th in the game.
One option might be to sign Kendrys Morales after the draft in a couple of weeks -- when it won't cost them a draft pick -- if the Mariners don't pounce on him first.
Another option would be to trade for a prospect. Rangel Ravelo has hit .298/.416/.461 in Double-A this season for the White Sox, good for a 152 wRC+ that is among the leaders at the Double-A level. The 22-year-old first baseman may be blocked now that Jose Abreu is in town. The Orioles' Christian Walker, who has hit .332/.385/.556 (161 wRC+) as a 23-year-old in Double-A this year, may be in a similar boat behind Chris Davis. Neither player is a highly regarded prospect, but both are young enough that perhaps there is some projection left in them.
Another stumbling block has been the team's middle infield. While Jean Segura has hit better of late, he still has just a .301 on-base percentage for the season, and he has spent the majority of his time hitting in the 2-hole, where on-base percentage is especially important. Furthermore, his OBP over the past calendar year -- a sample of 616 plate appearances -- is a paltry .302, which does not inspire much confidence. Segura plays good defense, but it may soon be time to let go of the idea of him as a plus hitter.
His double-play partner Scooter Gennett has also been unable to sustain his BABIP-fueled success of last season. Only five hitters had a higher BABIP than Gennett's .380 mark in 2013 (minimum 200 plate appearances), and that mark is down to .308 this year. Since the diminutive Gennett isn't great at hitting for power or drawing walks, he is completely reliant on his BABIP to be a plus offensive player. The team would be greatly helped if the balls he hit grew eyes on a more frequent basis.
Finally, Khris Davis has failed to live up to expectations. Following an impressive power display last season -- Davis bashed 11 home runs in 153 plate appearances, with a whopping .316 ISO -- the team made a big commitment to him, as it jettisoned the steady Norichika Aoki to create a starting spot in the outfield for Davis. He has yet to justify the love. While he has hit six homers, his ISO has been cut nearly in half, and his on-base percentage has completely cratered; only four qualified hitters have a lower OBP than Davis does.
The Brewers got off to a surprisingly good start, but they need some of their underperforming hitters to step up their game. The team has a solid but unspectacular pitching staff, and it is one that is unlikely to carry the team for stretches at a time. That leaves the burden squarely on the offense. If it can carry the load, the team should be able to mount a playoff challenge, but given the struggles of Segura, Gennett, Davis and whoever has played first base, that is far from a sure thing.
When thinking about how a player is projected to play, it would be a mistake to think of it as a single number, frozen in time. Projecting baseball players (and other things) is an inexact science, one in which we make very educated guesses about a midpoint of a player's likely performance and hope that reality resembles our projection. When the games actually start, all that new information is relevant and our projections must change. If a player we think is a .250 hitter hits .350 for six weeks, that doesn't mean that we suddenly believe he's a .350 hitter, but it does make it more likely that we were wrong and he's a .260 hitter and less likely that he's a .240 hitter.
The ZiPS projection system incorporates the daily round of games into the previous history of the player in order to make new estimates of a player's production going forward. In most cases, these new estimates will be very close to the preseason projection. For example, Mike Trout and Miguel Cabrera have thus far had relatively weak seasons -- for them -- but their new projections going forward are only a hair lower than they were in March. That's not true for everybody, however.
Below are 10 of the players who have seen the greatest increase or decrease in rest-of-season projections.
Tulowitzki was already a bonafide superstar coming into the season, but he's been on another level of reality this year, hitting .389/.492/.757 with 13 homers. If Tulo gets hits by a bus tomorrow, he's already had an All-Star level 2014 season as a whole, regardless of whether you prefer Baseball Reference's WAR interpretation (4.4 WAR) or that of FanGraphs (4.1).
Coors Field (and Mile High before it) has been the source of a lot of bad analysis over the last 20 years, first by people ignoring the park factors and, eventually, by people completely throwing out Coors Field performance. Coors may be responsible for 50 or 60 points of Tulo's OPS at home, but chop that amount off his 1.656 OPS and you still have a number that looks implausibly amazing. Giving Tulo none of the credit for his overperformance above Coors and he's still an .894 OPS, Gold Glove-worthy shortstop on the road this year.
At .151/.308/.277, there's little question that Santana's having the roughest season of his major league career, and it's not particularly close. One thing about his bad season that will change is the ice-cold .168 BABIP. While it seems like a cop-out to blame bad luck for something like this, a major league hitter with a BABIP that low is never sustainable. Major league pitchers, a dreadful class of hitter, tend to have BABIPs in the .220 range. Randy Johnson, whose form at the plate looked like Lurch from "The Addams Family" trying to indulge in the twerking fad, still managed a .234.
That being said, there's still cause for concern. He's not hitting the ball with authority, his xBABIP of .277 being 20 points off his career numbers, thanks to a line-drive rate at a career low of 12.5 percent. He's long been one of the best fastball hitters in baseball and saw relatively few fastballs as a result; however, this year, he's not punishing those pitches as he normally does. While it's speculation, one wonders if focusing on becoming a third baseman during spring training was a poor use of his time. Santana's also swinging at fewer pitches than ever before, making one wonder if his increased passivity is prolonging the slump.
Good: Victor Martinez | DH | Detroit Tigers
Preseason projected OPS: .766
Rest-of-season projected OPS: .809
After a lost season in 2012 courtesy of a torn ACL in spring training and a return season below his usual standards at age 34, there was good reason to believe the writing was on the wall for V-Mart. Not so. Martinez is hitting .323/.376/.594, and it isn't a BABIP-fueled fluke, as his .287 BABIP is well below his career average.
Martinez is hitting line drives and not striking out (only 11 K's), making that qualifying offer after 2014 a much bigger necessity than it seemed last winter.
Bad: Domonic Brown | OF | Philadelphia Phillies
Preseason projected OPS: .829
Rest-of-season projected OPS: .784
After a 27-homer 2013 season, Domonic Brown looked like one of the few young sources of significant offense on the Phillies. Instead, Cody Asche has doubled Brown's home run count so far, with Brown barely outslugging Ben Revere, who has less power than one of those potato batteries Mr. Wizard taught us to make as children. (Am I dating myself?)
Brown's power surge now seems limited to one magical period last May. Over the last calendar year, Brown's at .262/.318/.456, which is respectably average, but certainly not the line of someone hoping to be counted as a real plus on a team that's more big names than big performance at this point.
Norris has always had tantalizing secondary offensive skills, which is the main reason why he was included in the Gio Gonzalez trade with the Nationals. But the question was whether his batting average would ever rise to the level that would really make him valuable.
This season, Norris' strikeout rate (11.3 percent) has dropped to half that from last year, far better than anything he's ever done in the majors and minors. That's good news, simply because strikeout rate, for hitters as well as pitchers, is one of the stats least subject to small-sample-size concerns. ZiPS knows that his current .375 BABIP is coming way down to earth, but that still leaves a significant offensive plus for the A's.
Bad: Jedd Gyorko | 2B | San Diego Padres
Preseason projectedOPS: .731
Rest-of-season projected OPS: .688
Gyorko's a better defensive second baseman than he's commonly given credit for, and he'll probably be OK in the long run, but it's hard to overlook a .163/.217/.288 line in 175 plate appearances. ZiPS already saw Gyorko as overperforming a bit in his rookie season, projecting him for a .709 OPS against his actual .745 of last year, so it's not out of line to think that he was perhaps over his head in 2013. A .688 OPS from an adequate defensive second baseman is a legitimate starter when we're talking Petco Park in 2014 and a player who will likely be worth the contract extension he was given. But he's not a major, middle-of-the-order piece that the Padres might have wished for.
Despite fighting injuries for the past four years, Utley's performance never took a significant hit, and despite what one would normally expect from a hobbled middle infielder entering his mid-30s, he's remained a solid defensive player at second.
Utley's been one of the few bright spots for the Phillies' offense this year and possibly one of the few players with trade value this summer, should Philly finally decide to rebuild, though it may be tricky given that Utley has full no-trade protection.
Bad: Yonder Alonso | 1B | San Diego Padres
Preseason projected OPS: .727
Rest-of-season projected OPS: .692
The yearly wait for Alonso to develop offensively has proved even more fruitless in 2014 than usual, as he has a .524 OPS. While Alonso was one of the key parts of the trade that sent Mat Latos to the land of terrible chili, he's never developed anywhere near the power you need from a first baseman, even giving him some leeway for his home park. Gyorko can contribute with an OPS just south of .700, but at first base, Alonso can't and it's very near time the Padres throw in the towel and look elsewhere for a long-term solution at the position.
Good: Charlie Blackmon | OF | Colorado Rockies
Preseason projected OPS: .728
Rest-of-season projected OPS: .773
There's kind of a paradox in the way people look at crazy performances. If a .270 hitter hits .290 for a few months, many people will simply assume that the player has made an incremental improvement. If that .270 hitter hits .350 for a month, people tend to simply write it off as a stone-cold fluke. Blackmon has been stunning this season, a .941 OPS being excellent even by Coors-flated standards, and while we shouldn't think that Blackmon's a major offensive force, that's enough to boost our current expectations of Blackmon from a fairly generic fourth outfielder to someone who can be an adequate starter through the rest of his prime.
Bad: Raul Ibanez | OF | Los Angeles Angels
Preseason projected OPS: .751
Rest-of-season projected OPS: .714
After hitting 29 home runs at age 41, ZiPS expected that Ibanez would be able to eke out one last adequate season at a bargain price for the Angels. The Angels are back in the wild-card hunt, but that has little to do with Ibanez, who's posted a .152/.273/.277 line with no defensive value. If you want to see a manifestation of Ibanez's loss of bat speed, look at his out-of-zone contact rate, which has steadily declined from 72 percent in 2008 to 54 percent this season, a career low. At Ibanez's age, the next time he's good at connecting with a white ball will be on a golf course.
The obvious solution to the Texas Rangers' latest injury crisis, losing Prince Fielder for the season, would be for the Rangers to call Scott Boras and try to sign Kendrys Morales to a one-year deal through the end of 2014.
Unlike Stephen Drew, who just re-signed with Boston last week, Morales has virtually no market, as he's really a DH who can fake first base and there aren't any other AL teams with the need and the desire to spend beyond the Rangers. Boston gave Drew a salary that roughly equaled what he would have made on the qualifying offer, but prorated for the remainder of the season.
There's no reason whatsoever for Texas to be so generous with Morales, as the Rangers could offer $2-3 million -- even if they wait until after the draft begins, so they don't have to give a compensatory draft pick to their division rival (Seattle) -- and tell Morales to take it or just take the year off. It's hardball, but when you have all of the leverage, you have to use it.
But the other solution might be the smarter one for Texas to take in the long run, even if the fans don't want to hear it right now: Don't replace Fielder at all. The Rangers have now lost Fielder and Martin Perez for the year, Matt Harrison for the year if not longer, Geovany Soto for half the year, Jurickson Profar for two-thirds of it, and Derek Holland for at least the first two months. This isn't that good of a team on paper anymore, and unless the Rangers put Mitch Moreland on the mound and make him a decent starter, I'm not sure they can turn this around with what's currently in the organization.
[+] EnlargeAdrian Beltre
Bob DeChiara/USA TODAY Sports
Trading Adrian Beltre could help the Rangers reload for another run of success.
The Rangers do have some tradeable assets that could fetch them decent returns over the next two months, particularly in their bullpen, where Joakim Soria, Neal Cotts and Jason Frasor are impending free agents, with Soria a legitimate option for any team looking for late-game relief help. Right fielder Alex Rios is a free agent after the season, due about $9.75 million for the rest of this year plus another $1 million on a buyout of his 2015 club option, although only a few contenders are likely to need outfield help (Detroit, Milwaukee, possibly Oakland). Colby Lewis has about two months to try to reestablish some value, pitching poorly in his seven starts this year, his first in the majors since 2012.
The daring move, however, would involve trading someone whose next shot at free agency doesn't come until after 2015: Adrian Beltre. He's off to a tough start by his standards, but was among the best players in the league each of the past four years, and even at 35 should still find plenty of suitors willing to bet that his glove and power get back to pre-2014 levels.
The Rangers aren't likely to be good this year, and it'll take some effort and luck to restore their chances for a 90-win season next year, especially since Perez will miss about half of 2015 and who the heck knows when Harrison will be 100 percent again, leaving them with a rotation of Yu Darvish, hopefully Holland, and three Orphan Black-style clones made from DNA stolen off Nolan Ryan's toothbrush.
Beltre's eventual replacement in Arlington, Joey Gallo, is hitting .340/.461/.787 in high Class A at age 20, despite playing in a strong pitchers' park in Myrtle Beach. Trading Beltre now, with a year-plus and a 2016 option left, would get the Rangers more of a return than trading him in mid-2015, and could help them fill some needs while they wait for some young contributors for 2016 and beyond to develop (like Profar, Rougned Odor and perhaps Michael Choice) or to arrive (Gallo, right-hander Chi-Chi Gonzalez and possibly right-hander Luke Jackson).
I understand that could be unpalatable not just to fans but to owners and other financial stakeholders, but the Rangers are probably at the end of a five-year run of success, winning 89 or more games in each of those seasons, with three playoffs berths and two AL pennants. It's reasonable to expect to have to at least retool at some point in any 10-year span, and the injuries may force the Rangers to look at 2014 in that way -- the same way the Red Sox, a team with the financial wherewithal to compete every year, had to concede 2012, and made the huge trade with the Dodgers that cleared payroll they spent on key components of their 2013 championship team.
The Rangers won't get quite that kind of relief, but they could help themselves in the long run by accepting the short-run reality before them.
One of the more interesting exchanges from this past offseason was the dance between the Cleveland Indians and the pitcher who had been the most effective member of their rotation in 2013, Justin Masterson.
Masterson is scheduled to be a free agent at the end of this season, and according to reports, made overtures to the Indians about an interest in signing a multiyear deal. In the wake of Homer Bailey's lavish extension, Masterson's reported demands of a four-year deal to stay in Cleveland -- not exactly a marquee destination when players look to sign long-term deals -- seemed entirely reasonable.
But those seemingly reasonable contract demands were met with odd silence, or perhaps what can now be viewed as disinterest from the Indians' front office. While it would have been fair to assume this was another case of the Indians not wanting to spend money, the first 11 starts of Masterson's season -- which feature a 5.32 ERA and a career-high 4.3 walks per nine -- suggest the team had good reason for its caution.
After an inconsistent 2012 campaign, Masterson seemed to put it all together last season, posting a 3.45 ERA in 193 innings. He made a huge gain in his strikeout rate (17.6 percent to 24.3 percent) while allowing just four home runs all season. Consequently, that 3.45 ERA was accompanied by a 3.35 FIP, which ranked 25th among starters.
And then 2014 started. In his first outing of the year on March 31 at Oakland, his average four-seam fastball velocity was 90.1 mph and his average sinker was 88.7, which was a big drop from his final start of 2013, when he was at 94.7 and 90.8, respectively.
That loss of velocity trend has continued all year. Last season, Masterson hit 94 miles or higher an average of just under 18 times per start. Masterson's average four-seam velocity has broken 92 in a start once this season, and his sinker -- Masterson's go-to pitch-- has not averaged higher than 89.3 mph in a start this season, after sitting above 90 in 32 of 33 games in 2013.
Up, up and away
It's not just a velocity issue, though. Masterson has long dealt with a platoon split, to the point of many thinking he'd ultimately be a reliever. From 2009-12, Masterson limited right-handed batters to a .611 OPS, but left-handers were at .800.
In 2013, however, he seemed to fix this issue, limiting lefties to a .248 batting average and .698 OPS, while getting even better against righties, as well (.182/.507). But those issues with left-handed batters have cropped up again, and through his 11th start, they are hitting .319 with an .919 OPS.
Masterson's improved slider remains a potent weapon, but it's not going to surprise you to learn that left-handed batters are feasting on his reduced-velocity pitches; opponents are slugging .543 against the four-seam fastball after a .386 mark last season, and .575 against the sinker after .447 last season.
Specifically, batters simply are not missing the opportunity when the sinker or fastball is left up in the zone (see heat maps). Perhaps attributable to the reduced velocity of the pitches, batters are putting the four-seam and sinker in play more often than they did last season when it's up in the zone, and doing more damage when they do put it in play -- batters posted a .145 hard-hit average against the fastball/sinker in the upper half last season, and that mark is .224 so far in 2014.
Many of these difficulties are born out of the low 3/4 arm slot from which Masterson operates. There are exceptions, like the White Sox's Chris Sale, but in general, it is difficult for pitchers like Masterson, as well as true sidearm pitchers, to maintain high velocity over a number of seasons. It is also why teams waffle on whether a pitcher like Masterson is a legitimate starter or better in a role of swingman or long reliever. But the reasons for Masterson's struggles extend beyond him and his arm slot.
Where is the glove?
Finally, there's the simple fact that the Indians' defense -- or lack of -- is a uniquely poor fit for the ground ball-heavy Masterson. He has the second-highest ground ball rate of any starter this season (63.5 percent) after posting the highest one last season. Unfortunately, the Indians are bad at turning batted balls into outs, and we've seen that to be the case with their nominal ace this season.
Masterson's BABIP has increased over last season, both overall and on ground balls. Not surprisingly, this is due at least in part to the fact the Indians are a poor defensive club -- they are 27th in defensive efficiency this season (.690) and last in defensive runs saved (-34).
Specifically, the team's third base options -- which include converted catcher Carlos Santana -- have produced minus-7 DRS, worst in baseball, while the shortstops have produced minus-3. To dig a little deeper, Masterson's BABIP on ground balls hit to the left side this season is .310, a more than 100-point increase on that mark last season (.209).
Related to that, it may not surprise you, then, to learn that the Indians' rotation has both the worst BABIP of any staff this season, as well as the worst BABIP on ground balls.
Clearly, Masterson's year leading into free agency is off to a rough start, and it's because of three distinct issues -- an alarming drop in velocity, an inability to neutralize left-handed batters and playing in front of a poor defense as a groundball-heavy pitcher. The latter isn't likely to change, and finding the missing two miles an hour on his fastball could prove difficult.
For now, it's looking as though the Indians were wise to avoid a long-term deal with Masterson.
The Orioles are considered the leader for Cubs pitcher Jeff Samardzija, according to CBSChicago.com.
The two sides have mutual interest in a deal. Baltimore would acquire Samardzija, who is under team control through next season. The Cubs are scouting the Orioles top pitching prospects, including Kevin Gausman and Dylan Bundy. Samardzija has done everything possible to boost his trade value. Through 75 innings, he has a 1.68 ERA.
Several weeks ago, there was some concern over Edwin Encarnacion. He was having a somewhat strikeout-prone April, and he was having an under-powered April, and Jays fans weren’t sure what to make of the guy going forward. He’s since hit 13 home runs in May, all in a span of 20 games, and now he basically seems like himself, and on a hot streak to boot. All concern has been erased.
Similarly, people were very worried about George Springer after an underwhelming first couple weeks. Of course, Springer didn’t have Encarnacion’s track record, and of course, Springer was a rookie getting exposed to the majors for the first time, but I’d field questions in my chats about whether or not Springer might get demoted since his power was totally absent. In April, Springer batted .182 without a single dinger. In May, he’s batted .325 with eight dingers, and he’s homered in four games in a row. Springer has been one of the best hitters in baseball lately, and the initial overreaction now seems silly and absurd. Give rookies time. Especially the really good ones.
One thing Springer hasn’t done in May is cut down on the strikeouts. In April, he struck out just under a third of the time. In May, he’s struck out just under a third of the time. And anyone who knows anything about George Springer knows that the strikeouts will forever be a huge part of the equation. That was the big issue for him as he rose through the minor leagues, and issues like this tend not to resolve themselves simply. Springer has always swung and missed a lot, and he probably always will. He’s running one of baseball’s lowest contact rates, and he’s lately been succeeding despite that.
So, let’s talk a little about how. A league-average strikeout rate is about 20%. Springer’s is north of 30%. A league-average contact rate is about 80%. Springer’s is closer to 60% than 70%. Less than two-thirds of the time that Springer has swung so far has he made contact with the baseball. What some people might suggest is that there’s a line beyond which a player simply misses too much to be good, and Springer might be close to that line. Springer might be beyond that line. Springer skeptics have always been first and foremost skeptical about the future of a guy who whiffs so much.
A whiff is, basically, an empty swing. A strikeout is, basically, an empty plate appearance. Every additional whiff is a missed opportunity to do damage, and at some point a player might be reduced to having too few remaining opportunities to compensate. So the key for a guy like Springer is to maximize the contact that he does make. If we take it as a given that Springer will make contact a below-average amount of the time, then he will need for his contact to be above-average in terms of value. If Springer makes a lot out of his contact, then he can effectively cram the value of X contacts into Y/X contacts (where Y < X) (sorry about this).
So let’s make up a statistic. Let’s look at run value per time making contact, using plate-discipline statistics available here and also using information from the FanGraphs Guts page. We’ll look at singles, doubles, triples, and homers, all over times having made contact. So far in 2014, the league-average number is .140. Here’s the top 20, in value over average.
Player Runs/contact, over avg.
Yasiel Puig 0.092
Troy Tulowitzki 0.089
Giancarlo Stanton 0.086
Drew Stubbs 0.078
Juan Francisco 0.077
Derek Norris 0.061
Chase Utley 0.056
Seth Smith 0.052
Michael Brantley 0.050
Nelson Cruz 0.050
Paul Goldschmidt 0.050
Ryan Braun 0.050
A.J. Pollock 0.049
Carlos Gomez 0.048
George Springer 0.048
Justin Upton 0.048
Junior Lake 0.047
Adam LaRoche 0.046
Jose Bautista 0.045
Alexei Ramirez 0.044
This isn’t park-adjusted, but we’ll deal with that for now. Yasiel Puig leads the way, at almost a tenth of a run better than average for every time he’s made contact. Right behind him is Troy Tulowitzki. You see George Springer in the table, too, and the table shows 20 names out of 267. So Springer is in the top six percent, in terms of maximizing his contact.
And what if we just look at May? Here’s the top five, this time in bullet-point form for a change of pace:
Yasiel Puig, .141 runs/contact, over avg.
Giancarlo Stanton, .129
Troy Tulowitzki, .123
George Springer, .121
Brandon Moss, .087
In May, Springer comes out ranking fourth. Of course, you don’t need me to tell you that Springer has been making good contact when he’s made contact, but this goes to show that’s been true to an extreme. Springer actually made more frequent contact in April, but he’s made better contact in May, when he’s made it. He’s been up with the top hitters in baseball in that regard.
If you’re curious, the top five over the last three calendar years: Tulowitzki, Stanton, Carlos Gonzalez, Ryan Braun, and Mike Trout. Naturally, you should then park-adjust to make this a little better, but Springer, at his current rate, would rank among the very best. Some regression to the mean ought to be factored in, but it’s a question of how much, and there’s good reason to believe that Springer just knows how to make excellent contact when he does put the bat on the ball.
Even just looking at his swing, you get a good and accurate sense that Springer hits baseballs harder than the average player hits baseballs:
His career minor-league BABIP is .379, in part because he can run, in part because minor-league defense is worse, and in part because he hits the ball really hard. Springer, probably, is a guy who’s going to run above-average BABIPs, and that’s one means of maximizing contact. Jose Bautista hits homers instead of hitting for a high BABIP. Springer could be capable of both.
There’s also something else to point out. Dave just wrote about Mike Moustakas making terrible contact. Moustakas is among the league leaders in out-of-zone contact rate. Springer is in last, at 29%, separated from the runner-up by a full five percentage points. To repeat: for every ten swings Springer has attempted at balls, seven of them have missed. It’s interesting to look at his Brooks Baseball profile — Springer has attempted 47 swings at pitches below the zone, and 41 times, he’s missed. That’s fairly extreme, but what falls out of this is that Springer hasn’t put balls in play too often.
Just about 80% of his balls hit fair have been against pitches in the PITCHf/x strike zone. That ranks Springer near the very top of the league, and while the league is also populated by a number of bad-ball hitters, Springer isn’t one of them, and for hitters of his ilk, it’s better to make contact on strikes, because contact on balls results in easier outs. Springer hasn’t hit those balls. He’s completely missed those balls, oftentimes giving him another opportunity to maybe hit a strike. If Springer had a higher rate of contact on pitches out of the zone, his strikeouts would be lower, but he’d also make worse contact on average, so it probably wouldn’t be a benefit. And Springer hasn’t shown himself to be an over-aggressive hacker, so it’s not like he chases too often.
What I’m not quite sure of is where this goes — pitchers will notice that Springer doesn’t make contact on pitches down, and then there will have to be adjustments. Just as it was too early to overreact three weeks ago, it’s still too early to overreact now, to declare that Springer has arrived and is here to stay. Pitchers will keep on trying new things, and these are the good ones, the best ones he’s ever faced. But Springer has a track record of succeeding while whiffing, and now he’s carried that into the majors over a quarter of a year. He’s managed this because when he does make contact, he makes dangerous contact. That much you can get from his swing.
Some of the numbers are alarming, yeah. Springer’s made 65% contact. But then, over the past year, Chris Davis is at 67%. Giancarlo Stanton is at 69%. Yasiel Puig is at 70%. Springer, so far, has struck out 32% of the time. Over the past year, Davis is at 30%, and Mike Napoli is also at 30%. You can succeed with weird numbers, if you’re a freak. We don’t know yet if George Springer is sufficiently freaky, but I think we have an inkling.
Fun fact: over the last 365 days, the best hitter in baseball has been neither Miguel Cabrera nor Mike Trout. Instead, Yasiel Puig has ascended to the top of the charts, posting a 172 wRC+ that just edges past both superstars. Also fun fact: that 172 wRC+ is Puig’s career mark, because his entire Major League experience has been contained within the last calendar year. He’s a dozen games shy of one full Major league season, and he has a 172 wRC+.
Let’s try and put that start in some historical perspective. Tony already noted how good Puig’s rookie season was, relative to other 22-year-olds, but let’s see if we can go a little further, and isolate the best debut years in baseball history. This is actually a little difficult, because querying gamelog totals is not particularly easy, but we can hack together a list of comparisons using Baseball-Reference’s Play Index and our summable game logs here on FanGraphs.
To get a starting list, I used B-R’s Play Index to show me hitters with the best performances in their first two seasons, minimum 600 plate appearances, sorted by OPS+. This isn’t perfect — some players get a few quick stints in the Majors, so they’d fall through the cracks here — but for the purposes of what we’re looking for, most of the guys who come up and mash from day one should appear on this list, and by measuring across the firs two seasons, we should be able to capture guys who debut too late in one year to show up on qualifying rookie leaderboards. So here are the top 10 hitters in MLB history by OPS+, over their first two seasons, minimum 600 plate appearances.
Rk Player Age Year 1 Year 2 PA OPS+
1 Frank Thomas 22-23 1990 1991 941 179
2 Yasiel Puig 22-23 2013 2014 641 170
3 Johnny Mize 23-24 1936 1937 1090 169
4 Fred Lynn 22-23 1974 1975 656 167
5 Benny Kauff 22-24 1912 1914 683 164
6 Kal Daniels 22-23 1986 1987 637 162
7 **** Allen 21-22 1963 1964 734 161
8 Ted Williams 20-21 1939 1940 1336 161
9 Mark McGwire 22-23 1986 1987 699 157
10 Mike Trout 19-20 2011 2012 774 154
Puig ranks behind only Frank Thomas, who was one of the greatest hitters of all-time, but there are a few problems here. Because we’re measuring two seasons, most of these guys were given extra time to regress to the mean, and I’d argue that Johnny Mize’s 169 OPS+ is more impressive than Puig’s 170, given the extra 450 plate appearances. By setting the bar towards Puig’s PA total, we’re skewing things in his favor, so we really just want to compare Puig’s performance to other players through the first 150 games of their career.
This can be done through the summation of game log data. On FanGraphs, we don’t have historical game log data for all of history, but we do have it for more recent players, such as Thomas, so we can actually compare his first 150 games directly to Puig’s. In Thomas’ case, he debuted on August 2nd, 1990, so his 150th game occurred on July 21st, 1991. For the players that we have game log data on — our game data goes back to 1974 — I’ve gone through and summed the data for their first 150 games.
Player PA H 2B 3B HR R RBI SB CS
Fred Lynn 621 185 46 9 23 103 110 10 4
Yasiel Puig 641 183 33 5 29 93 80 16 11
Frank Thomas 640 160 29 4 23 95 92 1 2
Kal Daniels 507 141 28 5 25 89 65 33 9
Mike Trout 644 178 28 6 30 127 90 46 4
Mark McGwire 617 148 24 4 46 96 114 1 2
—– —– —– —– —– —– —– —– —– —–
Player BB% K% ISO BABIP AVG OBP SLG wOBA wRC+
Fred Lynn 11% 14% 0.245 0.382 0.348 0.418 0.592 0.447 179
Yasiel Puig 10% 21% 0.233 0.389 0.327 0.407 0.560 0.416 172
Frank Thomas 19% 20% 0.208 0.376 0.314 0.447 0.522 0.428 171
Kal Daniels 13% 14% 0.258 0.340 0.322 0.411 0.580 0.422 160
Mike Trout 9% 21% 0.227 0.356 0.311 0.374 0.538 0.389 152
Mark McGwire 11% 21% 0.315 0.276 0.275 0.355 0.590 0.395 147
While Thomas came out on top in the “first two years” query, it’s Fred Lynn who stands the tallest through the first 150 games. Puig scratches ahead of Thomas, and then there’s a big gap down to Daniels, Trout, and McGwire.
Of course, the fact that Fred Lynn is the best hitter identified through this method — a better database query writer than I could do a more exhaustive search on the complete Retrosheet database, and may very well find someone better than Lynn — is a nice reminder that sometimes great hitters do peak very early on. Lynn had a nice career, but he only had one more season as good as his rookie year, and settled in as more of a good player than a great one. That Puig has destroyed Major League pitching for the first 150 games of his career does not automatically guarantee that he will sustain this level of dominance going forward.
But, it’s still pretty freaking impressive. We’re talking about a guy who, through this point in his career, has been a better hitter than almost all of the greatest hitters of all-time. And he seems to be getting better. The story of Puig’s rookie year focused heavily on the parts of his game that reminded everyone of Manny Ramirez. Perhaps we shouldn’t miss out on the fact that he’s hitting like an in-his-prime Manny Ramirez as well.
What follows represents an attempt by the author to utilize the projections available at the site to identify the five major-league hitters whose wOBA projections have most improved since the beginning of the season.
For every batter, what I’ve done is first to calculate his preseason (PRE) wOBA projection, averaging together Steamer and ZiPS forecasts where both are available. What I’ve done next is to calculate every hitter’s rest-of-season (ROS) wOBA projection (again, using both Steamer and ZiPS when available). I’ve then found the difference in wOBA between the preseason and rest-of-season projection.
When I attempted a similar exercise last month (with WAR, in that case), I used updated end-of-season projections instead of rest-of-season ones. The advantage of the latter (and why I’m using it here) is that it provides the closest available thing to an estimate of any given player’s current true-talent level — which, reason dictates, is what one requires to best identify those players who have most improved.
Only those hitters have been considered who both (a) are currently on a major-league roster and (b) weren’t accidentally omitted by the author, who is a moron. Note that Projection denotes a composite Steamer and ZiPS projection. PRE denotes the player’s preseason projection; ROS, the rest-of-season projection. Plate-appearances estimates for both PRE and ROS projections are taken from relevant batter’s depth-chart projection. Data is current as of Monday.
In 160-plus career starts for the club, Mesoraco has served as Cincinnati’s cleanup hitter just three times. In five starts since last Monday, Mesoraco has also served as Cincinnati’s cleanup hitter three times. In part, the loss of Jay Bruce and then (upon Bruce’s return) Joey Votto has facilitated the move. In part, it’s Mesoraco’s own production which has suggested to manager Bryan Price that his catcher ought to occupy one of the most important spots (both symbolically and actually) in the Reds lineup. Notably, Mesoraco’s plate-discipline projections haven’t improved at all. Rather, it’s his early BABIP and power-on-contact figures which have led to his more encouraging forecasts.
On multiple occasions in the minor leagues — like as a 19-year-old at Low-A in 2008, and then again as a 21-year-old at High-A in 2010 — Norris produced full-season walk rates roughly on par with his strikeout ones. After failing to approximate that same achievement over his first two seasons as a major-leaguer, Norris has recorded walk and strikeout rates of 14.6% and 12.4%, respectively, through his first 137 plate appearances of 2014. The reduction in strikeouts, in particular, has been significant — and has complemented his higher BABIP mark to create more damage on contact. If Norris has recorded fewer starts than one might expect given his performance (30 in Oakland’s 51 games), it’s because his catching counterpart, John Jaso, has also been quite productive, as well.
On May 13th, FanGraphs author Jeff Sullivan celebrated in these pages the improved discipline of Dodgers wunderkind Yasiel Puig, noting that said wunderkind had demonstrated the single biggest drop in O-Swing% since last season. In a probably frightening development for every major-league pitcher, Puig has actually exhibited even more excellent plate discipline since then and, perhaps not uncoincidentally, even more excellent overall production.
Period PA BB% K% O-S% wRC+
Then 154 11.0% 20.1% 26.7% 172
Since 55 14.5% 16.4% 20.9% 265
Were he a defensively fantastic shortstop, Yasiel Puig would be more valuable. He’s maximizing his contribution to baseball wins in nearly every other way, however.
Here are some true facts, if not necessarily analytical epiphanies, concerning Smith:
Over his career, Smith has recorded just under 83% of plate appearances against right-handed pitchers; and
By comparison, about 71% of all plate appearances league-wide are against right-handed pitchers; and
In 2014, Smith has recorded an even higher percentage of his PAs (88.4%) against right-handers; but
The numbers he’s currently producing are way better than he’s ever produced against right-handed pitchers alone; and also
He’s actually recorded entirely reasonable numbers (99 wRC+) against left-handed pitchers, too, in a limited sample.
1. Troy Tulowitzki, SS, Colorado (Profile)
Projection (PRE): 600 PA, .299/.372/.524 (.312 BABIP), .386 wOBA, 133 wRC+
Projection (ROS): 415 PA, .310/.392/.556 (.322 BABIP), .408 wOBA, 147 wRC+
Projected batting lines are typically the product of past performance, age-related adjustment, and regression to the mean. Because of that last variable, it’s also the case that the batter who’s produced his league’s most excellent batting line is also one who’s outperforming his projections for that season. As such, it’s not surprising to find that Troy Tulowitzki, who has recorded all of baseball’s best park- and league-adjusted batting line, has also outperformed his own projected line for 2014 thus far. As a result, his rest-of-season plate-discipline projections have improved. And so have his rest-of-season BABIP projections. And so have his his isolated power ones, too.
This post is a bit of an experiment. During the day, while working on various writing topics and filtering through different ideas, I’ll often come up with something that isn’t quite worthy of a full 1,000 word post, but is interesting enough to share on its own. A lot of times, these things just end up on Twitter, but sometimes, they just don’t go anywhere.
Instead of just leaving these in the back room, I’m going to start putting them up just as stand-alone, low-commentary posts and see if there’s enough interest in the data points as conversation generators to continue posting them. If it turns out that you guys don’t like them, I won’t keep doing them, so critical feedback is certainly welcome, but perhaps there’s room on FanGraphs for posts that aren’t quite fully fleshed ideas, but instead just interesting statistical nuggets. We’ll see, I guess.
If you go to the site’s Playoff Odds page, you’ll see some pretty staggering numbers for the teams at the top. Our model currently forecasts the Tigers to have a 94% chance of reaching the postseason, for instance, both Bay Area teams are strong favorites to reach at least the Wild Card game as well. These numbers are surprisingly high given that we’re still in May, and there’s fourth months of baseball left to play. A lot can happen in four months.
But to illustrate why those numbers are so high, it helps to take a look at the projected final records in graph form, because there are some huge gaps between the teams at the top and the teams in the middle or bottom.
Here’s the American League first.
And now the National League.
The favorites in both league have very high playoff odds figures, but for different reasons.
In the AL, it’s because there is a huge gap in expected win totals between the top four and the next eight, with an overstuffed middle class fighting for what looks like one wild card spot, with none of them expected to be all that close to catching any of the current division leaders.
In the NL, the story is essentially the opposite, as there is basically no middle class to speak of. There are good teams and there are bad teams, and not much in between. While the Pirates aren’t completely dead in the water yet, it looks like the Brewers and Rockies are the only super serious threats to overtaking the established Big Five.
You can see the differences in league parity when the two leagues are plotted together.
Look at how weak the back half of the NL is in comparison to the second half of the AL; there are a half dozen NL teams that already have no real chance at reaching the playoffs. In the AL, pretty much everyone besides the Astros, Twins, and White Sox is considered a possible playoff team, but the huge blob in the middle means there’s no real serious outside threat to the top teams.
Injuries, trades, and just the unpredictable nature of the game will likely make it so that something unpredictable happens between now and the end of the season, but I would not be surprised at all if the nine teams that look to be strong favorites to reach the postseason all end up reaching that goal.
Something wacky happened in Tampa Bay on Wednesday night. When something wacky happens in baseball, @cantpredictball is usually on the case. I’ll let them (him? her?) begin the storytelling:
The A’s had one hit tonight. They won 3-2.
— YCPB (@cantpredictball) May 22, 2014
You don’t need me, or cantpredictball, to tell you that’s rare. According to the Baseball-Reference Play Index, teams that get one-hit have won just 62 baseball games in 100 years. That’s just the ninth time it’s happened in the last decade. Oakland had never done it in its 45-year tenure as a franchise.
What’s funny about the game, besides the Athletics being victorious with one hit, is that if you look at the win expectancy chart, you really can’t even tell when that hit came. Go ahead, see if you can tell:
In fact, let’s use that win expectancy chart to see just how this game unfolded. Follow along on the interactive chart, if you wish.
Tommy Milone took the mound for the Athletics. Erik Bedard got the start for the Rays. The game, as all do according to the win expectancy model, started out with each team having a 50% chance to win. Once Bedard struck Craig Gentry out looking to lead off the game, the Rays, obviously, became the slimmest of favorites. Bedard retired the Athletics in order and then Wil Myers led off the bottom of the first with a single for the Rays.
At this point the Rays’ win expectancy, in the first inning of a game in which they allowed one hit, was the highest it would ever reach at 58.1%. After Milone retired the next three batters and neither team had done any damage in the first, the win expectancy again became a break-even 50/50. The Athletics, then, were favorites for the next seven innings and went on to win, despite being no-hit until the fourth.
Here’s how the top of the second started off and what gave the Athletics their first edge in the ballgame:
Yunel Escobar has earned a reputation for, among other things, being one of the better defensive shortstops in baseball. This was already his eighth error of the season after committing just seven all of last year. The Rays television broadcasters mentioned that the Rays have been playing him deeper in the hole this season, and that he has struggled with this very throw, moving to his right and planting off his back foot. Whether or not there’s any evidence to support that, Escobar certainly struggled with it here and Yoenis Cespedes reached base to start the inning.
Bedard walked the next two batters to load the bases with no outs, bringing the Athletics win expectancy to 68% without a hit or a run. Alberto Callaspo struck out swinging for the first out of the inning, but then this happened to give the A’s the lead:
Sean Rodriguez has also earned a reputation as a pretty solid defender, but made a pretty costly mistake here. Josh Reddick was batting. Rodriguez had time to plant his feet and deliver a good throw to Escobar to turn an inning-ending double play. Instead, Rodriguez quickly turned and fired off his front foot while fading away and threw it into left field. Cespedes and Derek Norris each scored, and the Athletics took a 2-0 lead, increasing their probability of winning to 74.5%. The Athletics still did not have a hit. Rodriguez’s error was about a 14% swing.
The next batter, Nick Punto, actually did ground into a double play to end the inning, but the A’s already had their lead. The next inning, the Rays got a couple guys in scoring position with one out and looked like they were in a prime position to respond. But Josh Donaldson did at third base what the Rays defenders couldn’t up the middle:
Logan Forsythe smoked a ball down the third base line, but Josh Donaldson made a great snag and saved at least one, if not both runs, from scoring. Milone got the next batter to pop out and the Athletics escaped the inning without surrendering a run.
Nothing much to see in the next couple innings, until this happened in the top of the fourth:
If you’re only going to get one hit in a baseball game, it’s probably best if you can make that hit be a home run. Bedard badly missed his spot with a curveball, leaving it out over the middle of the plate and Brandon Moss hit his team-leading 10th home run of the season. Just like that, the no-hit A’s with a win expectancy of 72.4% became the one-hit A’s with a win expectancy of 81.8%.
Bedard went back to not allowing any hits for the Rays and Milone pitched well for the Athletics until he scuffled a bit in the sixth inning. RBI singles by Escobar and James Loney scored two for the Rays, and closed the deficit to 3-2. A couple innings later in the bottom of the eighth, something interesting happened. Loney and Matt Joyce each got one-out singles and David DeJesus walked to load the bases, the Rays still trailing 3-2. With the bases loaded and Escobar up to bat, the Rays actually retook the title of favorites in the game, with a 54% chance to win. A sacrifice fly would tie the game. A hit would probably give them the lead. Instead, this happened:
Again, the Athletics defense did what the Rays defense earlier could not and turned the inning-ending double play. It almost didn’t happen with that throw to first, but it did. This was the single biggest change in win expectancy throughout the game, as the Rays went from 54% favorites to 15% underdogs with the swing of a bat.
Sean Doolittle then came on to close things out for the A’s in the ninth and did so, earning his fourth save of the season.
The Rays defenders didn’t execute, the Athletics defenders did, Erik Bedard walked a few guys and Brandon Moss hit a dinger. Add it all up and that’s how the Oakland Athletics beat the Tampa Bay Rays by a final score of 3-2 while getting just one hit. You can’t predict baseball.
J.B. Wendelken, RHP, Chicago White Sox (Profile)
Level: High-A Age: 21 Top-15: N/A Top-100: N/A
Line: 59.1 IP, 64 H, 30 R, 50/9 K/BB, 3.94 ERA, 3.51 FIP
This converted reliever has shown some positives and negatives in his first year as a professional starter.
J.B. Wendelken was acquired by the White Sox from the Red Sox as part of the Jake Peavy deal. I’ve already written about the other two prospects that went from Boston to Chicago in that move–flamethrower Francellis Montas and shortstop extroardinaire Cleuluis Rondon–this year, and Wendelken…well, doesn’t quite carry the excitement of Montas’ mid-90s gas and above-average slider or Rondon’s acrobatic defense, but he does show enough to reveal why White Sox brass would have wanted him in the first place.
A nondescript thirteenth-round pick out of junior college in 2012, Wendelken worked as a reliever in his first two professional seasons, dominating the New York-Penn League in 2012 and turning in a solid 2013 mostly at the Low-A level. The White Sox liked him enough to move him to starting this year with High-A Winston-Salem, and as his numbers show, he’s taken to it reasonably well, cutting his walk rate to 3.6% while maintaining a 20% strikeout rate. At 21 and in High-A, he’s certainly not too old to be a prospect, too.
As the title of this article implies, Wendelken’s big weapon right now is a monstrous changeup that features zone-crossing fade. And when I say zone-crossing, I mean zone-crossing:
The bigtime action on the pitch is paired with excellent velocity separation–early in my viewing, Wendelken’s fastball was in the low 90s while the change was in the upper 70s. He features it heavily to both lefties and righties and isn’t afraid to double or triple up on it if a batter’s unable to pick the pitch up. As you can see, it induces a ton of awkward swings.
So Wendelken has the great changeup, he can touch 94 mph, and he throws strikes. That’s not a bad mix of positives for a 21-year-old High-A starter, but he’ll need refinement on all other fronts to succeed as a major leaguer later on. The first question is his breaking pitch. I saw Wendelken as a reliever before the trade last year, and he flashed a big curveball:
That pitch was all but gone in my viewing this year, though. He threw one at 76 late in the outing that was a “hey, there it is!” moment (and then found out what happens when you go through the batting order a third time with a changeup-heavy approach)…
…but all his other breaking pitches were rolling slurves in the 78-82 mph range that generally weren’t much more than chase offerings. I’m not sure if they’re just overthrown curveballs or a different pitch–a slider–altogether, but whatever the case may be, he’s likely best served with the big curve going forward if he can get reasonably consistent shape.
A second issue is stamina. Wendelken came out throwing 92-94 mph in the first inning, but by the fifth and sixth, he was topping out at 88. His heater doesn’t have much life, so he’ll get crushed if it’s coming in at 85-88 for extended periods of time–particularly, as mentioned above, when hitters have already seen and adjusted to the changeup. To some extent, he can be excused due to his recent conversion to starting, but it bears watching if he can stay in the 90s throughout his outings.
While Wendelken is young and his issues might appear reasonably fixable, it should be emphasized that he’s not particularly projectable. If the stamina isn’t showing up soon, it may never, and that alone would likely preclude Wendelken from starting. While it might be tempting to dream on him as the next Marco Estrada, he’s more likely to fit into a Brad Boxberger/Tyler Clippard role as a reliever who can air it out around 92 mph and throw a nasty changeup 35% of the time. Not all that glamorous, but you don’t really expect glamor from trade throw-ins, so it’s actually a pretty nice outcome if it works out.
Alex Claudio, LHP, Texas Rangers (Profile)
Level: High-A Age: 22 Top-15: N/A Top-100: N/A
Line: 35.2 IP, 24 H, 6 R, 39/5 K/BB, 1.26 ERA, 2.23 FIP
The silliest changeup you’ll ever see, and…maybe enough else to make it work?
I write a lot of words about prospects. Sometimes, though, words are unnecessary. Alex Claudio’s changeup creates exactly this sort of situation:
Not only are words unnecessary to make sense of what you just saw, they’re also hard to find. I’ve had over a year to digest who Alex Claudio is and what he does–I saw him four times last year in Low-A and once this year in High-A–and I still don’t know what to say about this pitch. I’d say it’s the best changeup I’ve ever seen, and I suppose it is, but it’s such a ridiculous pitch that comparing other changeups to it doesn’t even seem right. Changeups aren’t supposed to go that slow–the pitch comes in around 17-18 mph slower than his fastball–and they sure aren’t supposed to move that much. It’s basically a righthanded curveball…thrown by a lefthanded sidearmer…in the mid-to-upper 60s, as if Randy Choate could magically get a ball to move like Joakim Soria‘s curve, or something.
With a pitch this slow and bizarre, it’s easy to see Claudio and brand him a novelty act–the word “eephus” comes up sometimes to describe his changeup, and there’s no precedent (recent, anyway) for a pitcher enjoying lasting MLB success with an eephus as his out pitch. The Puerto Rican southpaw certainly has gotten results, though. In fact, it’s mystifying to me that he’s spent the year in High-A–in the second half of last season, he put up a 2.84 ERA and 3.18 FIP in 21 appearances in Double-A as a 21-year-old. He’s been stretched out some this year, averaging three innings per appearance, but hasn’t made a start, so the organization’s handling of this changeup artist seems a bit strange.
Of course, the changeup is where the superlatives with Claudio end, unless one throws in his always-solid, sometimes-excellent walk rates as a second gold star. His fastball typically resides in the 84-86 mph range–I did see him touch 87 once in the outing I saw earlier this month, the first time I’ve seen him reach that velocity, and reports of occasional 88s exist as well, but he’s certainly not going to have even average velocity. Like many sidearmers, he does get good sink and run on the fastball, which helps offset this deficiency some. He also throws a 72-76 mph slider that he’ll usually use on lefthanders. It was just a show pitch in 2013, but it’s improved to fringe-average this year and could be a functional weapon to southpaws with continued improvement.
Claudio is such a unique pitcher that it’s really difficult to project him. Since he had Double-A success at 21, it’s likely that he’ll master the minors someday, so the question is simple: Will his act play in the big leagues? Some say yes, some say no, and with a pitcher this odd, sometimes it’s better to just wait and see than to pretend there’s a definite answer. If you want to reach for a comparison, probably the best is former Reds southpaw (and Rangers prospect) Danny Ray Herrera, who managed 101 2/3 above-replacement-level innings before being derailed by arm woes. Herrera’s arsenal was somewhat similar, though he threw a bit slower than Claudio, wasn’t quite a sidearmer, and was nine inches shorter. Herrera, however, was an extreme platoon-split guy (MLB RHBs hit .352/.417/.532 off him) despite his screwball changeup, while Claudio has yet to show signs of that weakness (RHBs hit .208/.264/.295 off him last year and are hitting .207/.247/.272 this year). Given his superior size and velocity, he may have a better (and hopefully longer) career. Claudio certainly has limitations and likely will never be a closer or even a primary setup man, but he could be a solid (and wildly entertaining) middle reliever in fairly short order.
This massive lefthander has always had great numbers but has been moved slowly.
I keep moving down the draft in this piece–Wendelken was taken in the 13th round, Claudio in the 27th, and Bennett Parry in the 40th. Since he was drafted, though, Parry has gotten outs–he owns a career 2.77 ERA and 122/41 K/BB in 120 1/3 innings across four seasons. Even though he had a solid 2013 as a swingman with Low-A Delmarva, the Orioles are having him repeat the level this year, and as you can see by the numbers above, he’s barely let anyone reach base in 2014.
You’d think a big lefty with this sort of track record would start to get noticed at some point, but Parry really hasn’t. He’s not all that old, too, being just 22 and having clearly proven himself at the Low-A level. The focus then turns to his stuff, with the assumption being that there’s not much there. It’s not an entirely false claim, but it’s not entirely true either.
If you look at the above video, you see Parry striking out the aforementioned Cleuluis Rondon, but you might also move to affirm the idea that there’s not much to his arsenal. Starting out 88, 87, 88 from a standard-ish, overhand slot is a good way to induce yawns, and then he gets Rondon out in front of a changeup at 77. Note that the changeup has good arm speed and velocity separation, though.
Parry’s success clearly doesn’t come from the pitch he starts Jeremy Dowdy off with here, though–his curveball is a 72-75 mph pitch that has a soft, rolling trajectory that isn’t going to miss many bats. However, he comes back with 90, 90, and 91 mph fastballs, showing a bit of life on the pitch as well. 90-91 mph heaters with steep downhill plane? What if he could combine that with that changeup?
And here’s where we get a real sense of why Parry is getting outs–he starts this sequence off 77, 91, 76, 92, and the delivery’s the same every time. Parry’s changeup doesn’t have the huge action of Wendelken’s or Claudio’s, but it’s got the same sort of velocity separation, and coming from a 6’6″, big-bodied lefty with some idea of where the ball’s going, that’s not a bad starting point. Parry isn’t likely to dominate hitters to this degree when he hits the upper minors, but if he can keep the fastball in the 90-92 range without so many 87-89s mixed in, he might be able to hold down the fort as a lefty reliever who can work multiple innings if needed.
The world hasn’t ended, or at least not the part I’ve been in. And while the world is indeed ending, technically, it isn’t ending any faster than it was a day ago or a week ago. Ben Revere hit a home run and it seems there haven’t been any greater, big-picture consequences. You ordinarily don’t expect there to be, but as far as Revere was concerned, we couldn’t be absolutely sure until now. Ben Revere homered and things kept on keeping on. It’s how it was with Joey Gathright. It’s how it was with Jason Tyner. It’s how it was with Tony Campana, if you choose to count his inside-the-parker. It looks just the same in the box score.
Revere’s homer wasn’t witnessed by that many. Paid attendance was barely 23,000, and the game had an extended rain delay. It made little significant difference, turning a 4-1 deficit into a 4-2 deficit on the way to a 6-2 loss. And Revere, otherwise, had an ordinary game. His first time up, he made an out to third. His second time up, he made an out to first. His third time up, he made an out to third. His fifth time up, he made an out to second. It was a regular Phillies game with Ben Revere in it, save for his fourth plate appearance. But that fourth plate appearance is something we’ve been waiting for for years, so we can’t just let this go by. We have to seize this occasion to dwell, and so, let’s go over some pertinent facts.
Fact No. 1
Ben Revere hit a home run. It was an out-of-play home run. It was not knocked over the fence by an outfielder, and it was not pulled over the fence by a fan. It did not strike any particular boundary. Revere homered, ending one of the longest homerless streaks in modern baseball history. This is the fact that beats all the other facts. Everything else is details, color. This is the bit that matters. If the other facts are sprinkles, this fact is the cupcake.
Fact No. 2
The pitch that Revere hit out was a 1-and-1 inside fastball, from a lefty to a lefty. The fastball was neither fast nor slow, and over the PITCHf/x era, similar pitches from lefties to lefties have been hit out about 1.5% of the time. Pitches down the middle from lefties to lefties have been hit out about 1.7% of the time. This was a good pitch to turn on, and Revere had seen a similar pitch to open the at-bat.
Fact No. 3
Not that one would expect Ben Revere to be able to turn on anything. He’s obviously never hit for power, but he’s done the bulk of his offensive damage up the middle or going the other way. We have split data going back to 2002, and since then, Revere has posted baseball’s third-lowest wRC+ to the pull field, with the very lowest ISO. Pulling the ball, he’s notched a 55 wRC+. Going the other way, he’s notched a 120 wRC+. Ben Revere’s always been a slap hitter, but Tuesday he mixed in a punch.
Fact No. 4
Revere didn’t just homer against a lefty. He homered against Boone Logan, who’s carved himself a career as a lefty specialist. What Logan isn’t is prime Aroldis Chapman. What Logan is is awful effective most of the time against upper-level lefty bats, a group to which Ben Revere doesn’t belong. If you’d heard just that Revere homered, you’d probably make a few assumptions. Was it an inside-the-parker? Was it against a righty? It was legit, and it was against a lefty, and it was against a lefty who’s good against lefties. He wasn’t good against this lefty, this one time.
Fact No. 5
Something known is that Ben Revere doesn’t drive the ball deep to the outfield. In part this is because he just isn’t a powerful hitter, but it’s also in large part a limited number of opportunities. Over the window for which we have data, Revere has posted baseball’s lowest fly-ball rate. Over the past calendar year, 31 different players have hit more fly balls than Revere has hit in his entire big-league career to date. Revere entered with a HR/FB% of 0.0%, but the denominator was relatively small, as Revere is aware of his strengths and weaknesses.
Fact No. 6
As Revere rounded second base, he didn’t really know what to do.
“When I got to second base, I didn’t know what to do, especially when I got to third,” Revere said.
Fact No. 7
The Phillie Phanatic didn’t really know what to do, either.
Fact No. 8
This post came close to not being written, as this came close to not being Ben Revere’s first homer. Here’s a screenshot from a 2012 fly ball:
Additionally, twice within a few weeks in 2011, Revere was thrown out at home trying for an inside-the-park dinger. On neither occasion was he successful, and inside-the-parkers are different from outside-the-parkers, but had Revere already had a homer to his credit, then Tuesday’s homer would be far less remarkable, even if it were the first that he’d put in the seats.
Fact No. 9
This post came close to not being written, as this came close to not being Ben Revere’s first homer. You’ll note that he hit the ball to the first row of the stands:
According to the ESPN Home Run Tracker, Revere’s homer had a distance of 357 feet. Given everything about it, the same ball would have left a grand total of six ballparks under standard conditions. One wind gust was all this fly needed to stay in the yard, and as an example, here’s Revere’s homer with an Arizona ballpark overlay:
It makes you think about what a home run really is. On the one hand, on this particular day, all Revere needed to do to hit a home run was do what he did. So he did what he did, and the ball flew over the fence, and that’s how a home run is defined. But if you figure that Revere didn’t swing a particular way because of his awareness of the stadium, then does Revere deserve full credit for a ball that wouldn’t have left most outfields? If you park-adjust this home run, it’s more of a double or a triple or an out. Revere homered, but he didn’t homer convincingly, so there’s room for something of a philosophical discussion for people who can’t stand to lose a hold of Revere’s homerless skid. Are Yankee Stadium home runs to right field really home runs? If we were to bucket balls in play differently, classifying by contact quality rather than result, then Revere might still be without a certain something. He homered. In most stadiums, he wouldn’t have homered. That doesn’t earn him an asterisk or anything, but it’s deeply interesting how baseball is played in such starkly different environments.
Fact No. 10
Boone Logan didn’t want to know that he was the guy who finally allowed it to happen.
Earlier this year, a pitcher and I had a conversation about Ben Revere, and I asked if he’d be willing to groove one or two in there, just to see if it could happen. The pitcher declined, asserting that pitching is his “real job” and that a big part of that job is not grooving pitches to hitters in games as part of informal experiments encouraged by bloggers, but the pitcher noted that he didn’t want to be the one guy. People won’t remember Logan’s role in this as long as they’ll remember Revere’s role in this, but baseball does have a memory, and Logan’s hope now is for Revere to do this a few more times so it’s no longer anything worth talking about. Pitchers have given up home runs to Juan Pierre, but I couldn’t name them.
Fact No. 11
Never before had Revere felt the sensation of going deep in a major-league game. But he had felt the sensation of going deep in a major-league ballpark, as he’s hit the ball out a bunch of times in batting practice. And he’s felt the sensation of going deep in a minor-league game, with this video offering proof. Ben Revere has been said to have a power swing, and while he’s smarter than to bring it out often in games now, the swing he used in the seventh inning Tuesday was not his ordinary swing. He’s reached the bleachers before. Just not under such circumstances.
Fact No. 12
Revere was greeted by the cold shoulder upon returning to the dugout, which is fairly standard practice. And yet, it was not that way for Jason Tyner, even though his going deep was about as silly as Revere’s going deep. From July 2007:
The excitement wasn’t lost on his teammates, who greeted him with an unusual occurrence for a player’s first career homer — a celebration. Normally a player gets the silent treatment. But this was, after all, something they all felt was a special occasion. So awaiting Tyner upon his return were a bunch of high fives and a big hug from the team’s unofficial cheerleader and clubhouse attendant, Wayne “Big Fella” Hattaway.
Fact No. 13
Ben Revere has more 2014 home runs than J.J. Hardy, and as many 2014 home runs as Billy Butler, Eric Hosmer, and Will Venable.
Fact No. 14
With Revere’s streak over, it’s unclear what might step in in its place. No current players of note are stuck on zero homers over meaningful samples. Home runs are also one of those classic, fundamental statistics, so Revere’s was a streak that everyone could appreciate. Rafael Betancourt hasn’t hit a guy since 2003, and *I* find that interesting, but nobody else cares. There just isn’t another streak like Revere’s out there, so while this is cause for celebration, perhaps things would’ve been more interesting had Revere not just gone yard. Then every day there would be some suspense, where now there will be none. I mean, aside from the usual suspense in a given baseball game.
Fact No. 15
Before the year, Steamer projected Revere to hit two home runs. ZiPS projected him to hit one. The fans projected him to hit zero.
Fact No. 16
Ben Revere has destroyed maybe the most interesting thing about himself as a player. If Revere is to remain widely known now, it will be for other things, the downside of that being that Revere hasn’t blossomed into very much of a regular. When Revere was homerless, we could appreciate his homerlessness, and appreciate the things he’s done to remain an adequate player. But now that he’s among the homered, he’s just another guy without much power, and with the focus removed from the dinger column, it’s more evident that there isn’t enough of the other stuff. As a Phillie, Revere has been worth one win above replacement in 131 games. Ben Revere was more interesting without a home run. That doesn’t matter to Revere or the Phillies, and there are other ways for him to establish himself as differently interesting in the future, but now that we all can’t chuckle about the lack of homers, we can see clearer there isn’t a lot to smile about.
All throughout the winter — and for the last few winters, really — the Philadelphia Phillies have been the go-to for easy jokes to make about seemingly terribly-run baseball teams. We’ve wrung years of hilarity out of the Ryan Howard extension, dating to basically the exact moment it was signed. We cringed at the riches awarded to the declining Jonathan Papelbon in an era where teams are getting smarter about the values of closers. We watched GM Ruben Amaro, Jr. squeeze a few more good years after Pat Gillick’s 2008 World Series champs once he was promoted in Nov. 2008, then ride the team downward from 102 wins in 2011 to 82 in 2012 to 73 in 2013, all while refusing to trade any of the team’s clearly aging core. Just days ago, the Sporting News ranked all 30 GMs. Amaro came in last, and while none of those rankings have a lot of science to them, it’s hardly the first time.
And really, it was a different kind of bad for the Phillies. The Astros are worse on the field, and so are the Cubs. But those teams, and others like them, seemed to have a plan. They were willing to suffer the pain of 100-loss seasons in order to rebuild barren farm systems. They’re not there yet, but they’re both going in the right direction. The Phillies, meanwhile, refused to trade Cliff Lee or Cole Hamels or Chase Utley or Jimmy Rollins for talent that could have been on track to form the core of the next good Phillies team with J.P. Crawford and Jesse Biddle. Amaro, likely with his own employment status in mind, chose to retain or re-sign all while reloading with the likes of Michael Young and Delmon Young in 2013, then to get even older with his main moves for 2014:
Retain 35-year-old catcher Carlos Ruiz for three years and $26.5 million
Add 36-year-old outfielder Marlon Byrd for two years and $16 million, plus attainable 2016 option
Import 37-year-old pitcher A.J. Burnett for one year and $16 million
Sign 33-year-old not-Fausto Carmona Roberto Hernandez for one year and $4.5 million
If there was an overall plan other than stubbornness, it was difficult (if not impossible) to see what it was. At an average 31.2 years of age, their hitters are older than any team other than the ancient Yankees. Their pitchers, at 31.3 years, are tied behind only the Giants. This is an old team that wasn’t expected to win this year, and isn’t winning this year. They’re sitting in last place at 22-27, with just one more win than Houston, and their projected 75-87 isn’t that far off from what many would have figured in March; that our projections don’t have them landing in last place says more about the forever in-turmoil Mets than it does the Phillies.
But a funny thing happened along the way. It’s not that the Phillies are mediocre and unlikely to make the playoffs; that part hasn’t changed. It’s that the problem hasn’t been with the senior citizens Amaro has either hung on to or imported. They have, for the most part, been stellar. The problems have been with everyone else.
Seriously, look at the numbers. If we split the team into “through 31″ and “32 and up”, the performances of the two sides of the Phillies team are shocking. (Why 32? It’s mostly arbitrary, but not entirely; it feels like close enough to being “post-peak,” and either way the Phillies have only little-used Jayson Nix & Tony Gwynn as players at either 31 or 32. If we moved it down far enough so that 30-year-old Cole Hamels and his close-to-career-best 3.08 FIP were in the older group, it’d be even more of a difference, so let’s go with this.)
I haven’t included labels for every team to improve readability, but I don’t imagine it’s that difficult to find the Phillies there, way down at -2.6 WAR, the only team to be getting negative production from their young players. (WAR, obviously, is a counting stat, and the samples are not even for every team. The Phillies have the fewest plate appearances from these players, 787. Their combined line is .212/.274/.297, or a 56 wRC+. No other team has below a 78. It’s not just that they have fewer opportunities, it’s that they’re bad.)
You need not look far for the culprits, of course. Domonic Brown, 26, has been completely unable to replicate last year’s hint of success, putting up a mere 51 wRC+ with bad defense. He’s been one of the worst regular players in baseball this year, regardless of age. Ben Revere, also 26, has taken his usual offensive ineptitude to new lows, becoming just the fifth player — and first since 1946 — to amass 1,500 career plate appearances without a home run (before finally getting one last night). Cody Asche, 24 in a month, showed some life at the plate (113 wRC+) to go with poor defense before being sidelined last week with a hamstring injury; he’s been replaced by 24-year-old utility man Cesar Hernandez, who has shown no ability to be a big league hitter, since prospect Maikel Franco, hitting .231/.311/.358 in Triple-A, “isn’t ready to be a big leaguer yet,” per Amaro.
Now, the older group:
Again, no labels needed, and again imperfect sample size comparison here. The “old” Phillies have 1,051 plate appearances in this age range; a team like the Cubs has only 82. But the point isn’t to compare playing time, because we always knew that the Phillies would be an older team; it’s to show how well they’ve done with that time. This group of Phillies has been good for .271/.344/.441, a 116 wRC+, with plus defense. The Yankees, for example, have nearly the exact same amount of plate appearances, but a .253/.318/.400 (97 wRC+) and awful defensive value, giving them a 2.0 WAR as opposed to Philadelphia’s 5.8 WAR.
That’s because the ancient Phillies hitters are all doing more than could be expected. Utley’s 160 wRC+ isn’t likely to sustain all year, but he’s easily on pace to match some of the elite seasons he had at his peak. Rollins seemed done; he’s also having one of the best years of his career, at 35. Howard is still a replacement-level player, but Ruiz and Byrd have both been very productive. Just about all of the success the Phillies have had on offense this year is thanks to this group.
Now the pitchers. Young guys first:
There’s your young Phillies in last, and it’s not just that they’ve thrown the fewest innings; their xFIP is No. 24, their FIP is No. 29. That’s even with Hamels and generally solid relief work from Jake Diekman; it’s a lot of Kyle Kendrick not being that good and little excitement to be found anywhere else. (Even from pitchers not on the big league roster! Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez, last year’s Cuban signing who has had little but arm woes and inconsistency since arriving in America, is now suffering from even more trouble.)
Back to the old guard:
Again, the Phillies have thrown the most innings here — that the Athletics have one, by Jeff Francis, probably demands further consideration — but they’ve also been good innings, with a No. 9 FIP and No. 7 xFIP. That’s mostly thanks to the incomparable Lee, who was wonderful yet again before his recent arm injury, but it helps that Papelbon has been outpitching his peripherals and generally being useful, in addition to the return of the finally-healthy Mike Adams.
Looking back at the deals signed this winter, you can see in our write-ups at the time that although none was especially popular, at least in the sense that adding non-elite age to a non-elite aging team wasn’t likely to move the needle, each of those deals made a certain amount of sense when taken by itself. The gamble on Byrd was small, and he was very good in 2013. Ruiz was a known quantity in a thin catching market. Burnett was excellent, and required only a one-year commitment.
So far, those deals have really worked out well for Amaro, and Utley & Rollins have provided far more than anyone could have possibly hoped — yet the team still struggles. The Phillies aren’t losing because they are old, and that’s maybe not what we would have expected several months ago. They’re losing because their young players aren’t very good. Suddenly, that seems so, so much worse, particularly if — well, when — Utley & Rollins are unable to maintain their production. It’s still a bad situation in Philadelphia. It’s just a differently bad situation.
A little over over a quarter of the 2014 season is in the books, and the sample sizes are creeping toward a representative level. Over the past couple of weeks, we have been taking somewhat deeper looks at some of this season’s more noteworthy players and performances to date. “Noteworthy” doesn’t always mean “best”, though it does in most cases. Today, we’ll take a look at the first quarter performance of Troy Tulowitzki, who has torn the National League limb from limb in the early going. Though he’s played at an All Star level for years now, he has taken things to a whole new level in 2014. Is this at all sustainable? Are the improvements in his offensive game real, or is this small sample size theater? How much does Coors Field have to do with all of this?
Troy Tulowitzki was selected with the seventh overall pick in the memorable 2005 draft. I will always have the order of a good chunk of that first round firmly embedded in my memory bank – One, Justin Upton, two, Alex Gordon, three, Jeff Clement, four, Ryan Zimmerman, five, Ryan Braun, six, Ricky Romero, seven, Tulo. Andrew McCutchen went 11th, Jay Bruce went 12th, Jacoby Ellsbury went 23rd, Matt Garza went 25th, Colby Rasmus went 28th……pretty good first round. I was a member of the Brewers’ front office then and remember that first round unfolding. For us, it was a very tough call between Braun and Tulowitzki. Though you really couldn’t go wrong with that coin flip, I’m pretty sure that most parties would agree that Tulowitzki has turned out to be the very best player among that group. Impact offense and defense, and still playing shortstop at age 29, with no position shift anywhere on the horizon.
It took Tulowitzki barely a calendar year and only 590 minor league at bats before arriving in Colorado to stay. He’s provided exceptional offense, not only for a shortstop, but for any position, hitting 24 or more homers five times, scoring 100 or more runs twice, driving in 100 runs once, hitting .300 three times, and slugging .500 five times. He is under contract with the Rockies through 2020, and is the face of the franchise.
As a shortstop, these numbers mark you as a true star. After all, in 2334 full-time shortstop seasons since 1901, the average OPS+ is 86.6. Among shortstops with a 10 or more full-time seasons at the position, only Honus Wagner (151) and Arky Vaughan (136) have higher career OPS+ figures than Tulowitzki’s 125. Ernie Banks and Alex Rodriguez would also rank higher, but both only had eight full-time shortstop seasons. Now Tulo’s got a few years before he has his decade in, but no one is moving him off of his position before then, so his slot is secure. He ranks ahead of the likes of Cal Ripken (118), Derek Jeter (116), Barry Larkin (116), Alan Trammell (110).
Tulo has posted OPS+ figures of 130 or better four times, all in a narrow band between 131 and 140. Though he is certainly aided and abetted by Coors Field (career .322-.397-.564 line), he hasn’t been too shabby on the road (.275-.349-.474). His platoon differential is real, but he has handled both lefties (.317-.403-.552) and righties (.292-.362-.507) quite well over his career. One of the few questions surrounding Tulowitzki entering this season was whether he had another gear, a higher, yet unattained level. This question has been answered with resounding authority.
What factors have driven his new level of production? Are they sustainable? Let’s take a look at his 2014 plate appearance outcome frequency and production by BIP type data for some hints. Keep in mind that the sample sizes remain small, so most of the contextual information incorporated below is from the 2013 season. No matter – we’re not searching for exactitude here, just looking for some indicators.
PROD – 2014
Tulowitzki AVG OBP SLG REL PRD ADJ PRD
FLY 0.500 1.750 454 259
LD 0.694 1.083 126 107
GB 0.326 0.326 173 122
ALL BIP 0.438 0.862 231 165
ALL PA 0.365 0.473 0.718 259 198
There are some interesting takeaways from the frequency table. First and foremost are the exceptional K and BB rates. He ranks very high among MLB regulars in both categories with percentile ranks of 13 and 98, respectively, and his K/BB ratio is the very best among NL regulars. Though his K and BB rates have always been solid, he has taken them to a new level this season, setting a strong foundation for his overall offensive game. Tulo has always had high popup rates – his career low percentile rank in this category is 63 – but his 90 percentile rank thus far in 2014 is a career high. His very high line drive rate (99 percentile rank) thus far in 2014 also stands out. This is a major departure for him, as he hasn’t posted an above MLB average liner rate since 2008. Best guess is that he will regress in this category as the season unfolds, taking some air out of his overall numbers.
The second table lists the production from and hints at the authority of Tulowitzki’s batted balls. The actual production allowed for each BIP type is listed in the “AVG” and “SLG” columns, and is converted into run values, compared to MLB average and scaled to 100 in the “REL PRD” column. Estimates of context, i.e., ballpark, player speed, team defense, simple regression and luck are applied in the “ADJ PRD” column in an attempt to isolate his true batting talent. For the purposes of this exercise, HBP are excluded from the OBP calculation, and SH and SF are counted as outs. Again – this is relatively small sample, with much subjectivity in the contextual adjustments, so let’s not get caught up in absolute precision here.
The most eyecatching line item reflects Tulo’s production on fly balls to date – a .500 AVG and 1.750 SLG, good for a REL PRD figure of 454, which would have ranked first in the majors in 2013, and is even better than Yasiel Puig‘s 2014 performance, which we took a look at last week. Coors Field is obviously of some help here – in particular, Tulowitzki has hit a couple of opposite field homers there this season that would have cleared the fence in a very small number of ballparks. Still, even after adjustment for context, his ADJ PRD on fly balls is 259. For comparison purposes, the closest 2013 regulars to this figure were David Ortiz (268), Mark Trumbo (258) and Hanley Ramirez (253). All guys who hit the ball really hard in the air last season.
Tulo also is achieving high levels of production on liners (126 REL PRD) and grounders (173), though adjustment for context brings those figures down to 107 and 122, respectively. Overall, he is batting an amazing .438 AVG-.862 SLG on all BIP, a 231 REL PRD that is adjusted down to 165 for context. Among 2013 regulars, Jay Bruce’s 164 ADJ PRD on all BIP was closest to Tulowitzki’s year-to-date 2014 mark. This is where the magic of Tulo’s K and BB rates kicks in – after adding the K and BB back to the equation, his overall ADJ PRD spikes upward to 198. Bruce’s 2013 185/63 K/BB ratio dropped his overall ADJ PRD to 129. Elite contact frequency and patience merged with elite ball-striking skills equals elite offensive player.
Let’s take a quick gander at the same info for 2013 to determine the sources of his improvement.
PROD – 2013
Tulowitzki AVG OBP SLG REL PRD ADJ PRD
FLY 0.400 1.182 231 185
LD 0.630 0.795 89 103
GB 0.324 0.352 187 138
ALL BIP 0.377 0.656 151 133
ALL PA 0.306 0.384 0.532 160 143
You can see the major steps forward in K and BB rate, which are likely sustainable, and the increased liner rate, which likely isn’t. There are also significant steps forward this season in production on fly balls and line drives, which could well be real. Not shown in these numbers is Tulowitzki’s ongoing significant pull tendency, which has become more pronounced this season.
As many power hitters in their prime do, he has shown the ability to selectively pull in the air for distance. In 2013, he had a “pull ratio” – balls hit to LF/LCF divided by balls hit to RCF/RF, for a righty hitter – of 4.00 on the ground. This is a little above average, but doesn’t call for an infield overshift. In 2014, however, his pull ratio is up to 7.20 on the ground, into overshift territory. Tulowitzki is clearly becoming more pull-focused, which should open up areas of opportunity for opposing pitchers over time. For now, though, his elite contact frequency and plate discipline have fought off any negative effects. Going forward, however, his popup tendency and dead-pull profile offers above average batted-ball risk to go along with the high reward he brings. He will need that K and BB foundation – and his home park won’t hurt, either – somewhere down the road, as crazy as it might seem now as he enjoys his peak.
One last table, before we go. As I write this, Tulowitzki’s OPS+ stands at an utterly ridiculous 210. If the season ended today – which it doesn’t – this would be the best single-season mark ever posted by a shortstop. Below are the Top Ten:
NAME YR AGE OPS+
Wagner 1908 34 205
Vaughan 1935 23 190
Ramirez 2013 29 190
Wagner 1904 30 187
Wagner 1907 33 186
Wagner 1909 35 176
Wagner 1905 31 174
Hornsby 1917 21 169
Wagner 1906 32 168
Petrocelli 1969 26 167
There are only five names on this list, as Honus Wagner appears six times. Consider that all of his listed seasons were at or after age 30 – many of his best seasons were before 1901. Alex Rodriguez’ best season ranked 13th (2000, age 24, 162), Cal Ripken’s ranked 14th (1991, age 30, 162), Ernie Banks’ ranked 21st (1959, age 27, 156), and Derek Jeter’s ranked 27th (1999, age 25, 153). Tulowitzki’s previous best season ranked 59th (2013, age 28, 140). Tulo is crashing this list and crashing it hard this season. There is no position change in his immediate or intermediate future, and he is just attaining a new level of offensive dominance from which it will take awhile to descend.
There is no question – Coors make Troy Tulowitzki look better than he actually is. Probably about 25-30% better, offensively. There is also no question that his level of current offensive performance is unsustainable. His line drive rate, in particular, is going to be coming down. Injuries have also been a bugaboo, as he has been limited to 126 or fewer games in three of the last four, and four of the last six seasons entering 2014. On the other hand, the Rockies have only played 23 games at home so far this season, among the lowest in the majors. Most critically, however, he needs to be evaluated with the bat and glove relative to his peers at the shortstop position. Defensively, he is on pace for 21.1 UZR/150 this season. He remains a true plus shortstop. And offensively, no matter what nits we can pick with regard to his offensive game, it must be remember that the typical starting shortstop posts a 86.6 OPS+.
In a vacuum, a player with Tulowitzki’s offensive skills is a superstar, regardless of position. That player, playing the game’s most important defensive position, and playing it at a very high level, with no position shift in sight, is a generational player, if he can remain healthy. This is probably the best we will ever see from Troy Tulowitzki as an all-around player. Take a good look, enjoy it, and realize that it could well be a very long time before we ever again see anything like it.
Dellin Betances made his major-league debut as a top prospect in 2011. Here’s how that went for him:
(via Baseball Savant)
You don’t need to know much about that chart to know that Betances was terrible. Beyond struggling with precise location, he struggled with general location, and he looked nothing like a pitcher a team would want to use. He had size and he had heat, but he didn’t have anything else, and there were signs he’d end up nothing but a bust.
In one sense, Betances is back. In another sense, he’s arrived for the first time. Betances now is excelling as a Yankees reliever, and the past no longer has much relevance. He’s changed some parts about his delivery. He’s changed his breaking ball. He’s changed his role, which is the most significant change of all. The things Betances has kept are his size and his heat, but the questions from the past aren’t the questions of today. I’m not sure today there are any questions.
In spring training, Betances had to fight to make the roster, as it turned out he had a fourth-year option. He was more than good enough, though, and since the end of camp he’s taken things to another level. Betances owns baseball’s second-highest strikeout rate. His walks have been perfectly fine, and he’s even managed to keep the ball on the ground. The whole result: Betances is running an xFIP- of 32, where 100 is league average. Put another way, if you add together Betances’ ERA, FIP, and xFIP, you get 4.01. David Price‘s ERA is 4.28.
The numbers might be best described as “stupid-good”, Betances looking like an elite closer in waiting. It was clear a year ago he took quite the liking to bullpen work. As a starter in triple-A, he posted 16 walks and 25 strikeouts in 24 innings. Upon shifting to relief, he posted 28 walks and 93 strikeouts in 65 innings. As a reliever, Betances could throw harder. As a reliever, Betances could shed his troublesome third and fourth pitches. Like many relievers, Betances alternates between two weapons; unlike many relievers, Betances has found his combination to be lethal.
You know about the advantage of the starter-to-reliever transition. Betances has also adjusted his delivery somewhat, these pictures comparing 2011 and 2014:
Betances now is further to the left on the rubber, and these days he’s more consistent and more able to get on top of the ball and throw it down. Betances’ release point has dropped, not so much because of a change in arm angle, but because he’s releasing the ball closer to the plate. He’s flying open less, the obvious result being better command.
And it has to be noted that Betances throws a different breaking ball than he used to. He doesn’t know quite what to call it, but he knows he likes it more than the first thing he had:
Betances said he learned the pitch — whatever it is — in the 2012 Arizona Fall League.
During that regular season, Betances said, he couldn’t throw his curveball for strikes. What’s worse, he said, it was breaking the nail on his right pointer finger, and causing bruising and bleeding from the finger. It all added up to a 6.44 ERA that season — the last he’d spend as a full-time starter.
That fall, teammate Michael O’Brien showed Betances a new way to hold his curveball — adjusting his grip and wrist tilt, Betances said. Betances figured he’d give it a shot, he said, since the cutter he was working on wasn’t getting him anywhere.
How good has that weapon been? Betances used it to great effect in 2013. This year, Betances’ breaking ball has the highest whiff rate of any pitch in baseball that’s been thrown at least 100 times. Out of every ten swings, more than six have missed, and small sample be damned, that stat is extraordinary. The pitch has left batters almost entirely helpless.
But, we know about the fastball/swing-and-miss breaking ball relief-pitcher profile. That’s somewhat familiar. The Betances profile comes with an additional twist. Betances has been doing something that’s far more unusual.
Here, now, are Betances’ 2014 called strikeouts:
So far, already 18, with 15 of them coming on the breaking ball (here identified as a knuckle curve). Here’s the current MLB leaderboard of called strikeouts on offspeed pitches:
Dellin Betances, 15
Masahiro Tanaka, 11
Jose Fernandez, 11
Justin Masterson, 10
Madison Bumgarner, 9
Yu Darvish, 9
Making up most of the list: starting pitchers. Standing on top of the list: a relief pitcher. Craig Kimbrel, Aroldis Chapman, and Kenley Jansen, for their careers, come in around 7-10% of plate appearances ending with a called strikeout. This year, Dellin Betances is at 18%. Dellin Betances has a higher called strikeout rate than Justin Verlander‘s overall strikeout rate.
Betances has been a few things. One is unhittable. Another is somewhat unswingable. A pitcher against whom it’s hard to make contact is likely to be successful. A pitcher who also gets called strikes is going to be one of the best pitchers in the whole league.
What’s going on here? In all, 233 different pitchers have thrown at least 20 innings. Betances’ zone-swing rate ranks third-lowest. His zone-contact rate is in the best 10%. His out-of-zone contact rate is the very lowest. So hitters are missing pitches out of the zone. They’re not offering at many pitches in the zone, and when they do, they’re also fairly likely to miss. This is what a perfect stat line would look like. Quality balls, and strikes that don’t get punished. Betances, mostly, has his breaking ball to thank.
Hitters have swung at 36% of Betances’ breaking balls out of the zone. They’ve swung at 31% of Betances’ breaking balls in the zone. That’s a lower rate. That’s nuts. Hitters expect Betances to bury his breaking ball, like relievers do, but then he’ll also throw it for strikes, and hitters get caught in between. It’s a reflection of a good approach, and of a good pitch, and of the blessing of being physically enormous. Betances’ fastball is good, but he’s been awesome with his other pitch, constantly getting hitters off guard.
In one relief appearance against the Mets, Betances struck out six consecutive hitters, four of them looking. Here are two of those called third strikes:
Meanwhile, here’s a recent three-pitch plate appearance between Betances and Anthony Rizzo:
On the first pitch, Rizzo swung at a pitch that hit him. On the second pitch, Rizzo did it again, and while replays revealed that he didn’t really go around, it’s remarkable he even thought about it. Twice in a row, Betances made Rizzo want to swing away a free base. The third pitch was basically the same pitch, and Rizzo was dismissed. Betances has struck out more than half of the lefties that he’s faced.
When you observe something crazy, you have to wonder about its sustainability. Betances will almost have to slow down from being virtually perfect. At some point hitters will make some successful adjustments, probably. But last season in the minors, Betances maintained a low swing rate with plenty of called strikeouts, so this isn’t a new thing, and he’s only gotten better with his delivery. He has more experience with the breaking ball, and more experience against major-league opponents, and as much as reliever success can be fleeting, Betances looks as good as anybody else. He should stay amazing, until or unless the thing that happens to relievers sometimes happens to him.
Dellin Betances is a young righty reliever with a hard fastball and a sharp breaking ball. You know all about that run-of-the-mill profile. Betances, though, also does something a little bit different. And that makes Betances a little bit different. That makes Betances a little bit amazing.
Major League Baseball asked a federal court this week to toss out claims by several fans that the league’s broadcast territories violate antitrust laws. The fans claim that MLB’s divvying up of the United States and Canada into exclusive broadcast markets means that regional sports networks need not compete with each other to telecast a team’s games in the local market. Plaintiffs also allege that MLB has a monopoly over broadcast packages of out-of-market games through Extra Innings and MLB.tv, and that MLB uses that monopoly for anti-competitive purposes by imposing blackouts on local games. My initial post explaining the lawsuit is here.
This week, MLB filed a motion for summary judgment with U.S. District Judge Shira Scheindlin, who is presiding over the case in Manhattan. Under federal procedure rules, a party can file a summary judgment motion to argue that under a set of undisputed facts, the other side’s claims (or defenses) are legally untenable, and therefore a trial on those claims (or defenses ) is unnecessary. You can read a copy of the motion here.
Note that several parts of the motion are redacted, which means they refer to MLB’s confidential business information. From what I can discern, most of the redactions relate to MLB’s national TV contracts and what would happen to those contracts should the plaintiffs succeed in blowing up the exclusive local markets. The evidence in support of the motion — documents and pre-trial testimony — is even more off limits, with much of it filed under seal. That means only court and the attorneys have access to it. The public does not.
Still, even with the redactions and the filings under seal, MLB’s position is clear.
At it’s core, MLB’s argument comes down to this: the territorial video rights structure among the 30 MLB teams, coupled with the explosive growth in live video streaming, means that virtually all fans can watch virtually all 2,400 MLB games through a combination of their regional sports network, nationally-televised games, and either Extra Innings or MLB.tv. That structure is reasonable, pro-fan, and pro-competition and to suggest otherwise is absurd.
As a legal matter, MLB argues first that plaintiffs claims are barred because federal antitrust laws do not apply to claims involving MLB’s structure and territoriality (this is known colloquially as MLB’s antitrust exemption). We’ve seen this argument succeed many times, most recently in the federal lawsuit by the city of San Jose against MLB over the league’s failure to approve the Oakland’s plan to move to San Jose. (That case is now on appeal.) Ironically, the A’s are a named defendant in this lawsuit, and filed papers “joining” MLB’s summary judgment motion. In other words, the A’s are arguing to the federal court in New York that issues relating to MLB’s territorial structure fall squarely within the antitrust exemption, while the team’s putative partner for a new ballpark — San Jose — is arguing in California that the antitrust exemption is invalid and doesn’t apply.
But the league doesn’t rely just on the antitrust exemption. Instead, it argues that even if the video rights structure is examined under the antitrust law’s rule of reason, it more than passes muster. The league lays out the following facts:
Under cross-license agreements among the 30 teams, each home and each visiting team has the right to telecast each game through its regional sports network, save for those games broadcast exclusively by the national TV networks.
The home team doesn’t charge a fee to the visiting team for the broadcast rights, because the home team knows that only its RSN can broadcast the game in the local market.
Local telecasts are critical to connecting with and growing the fan base and promoting the team’s brand. That, in turn, promotes competitive balance.
MLB posits that if the court were to find that the league’s video rights structure violated antitrust laws, the plaintiffs wouldn’t necessarily be any closer to their stated goals of having access to any game, any time, through any medium. According to motion, plaintiffs put forth no evidence showing that teams would compete with each other to broadcast games in each other’s markets or that, absent cooperation among the 30 teams, the Extra Innings and MLB.tv packages wouldn’t be economically feasible.
Noticeably absent in MLB’s motion is any discussion of the breadth of each team’s broadcast markets or the fact that many broadcast markets overlap–factors which lead to significant blackouts in areas without one main local MLB team. Iowa, for example, doesn’t have its own MLB team but is within the broadcast territory for the Cubs, Brewers, Royals, Twins, Cardinals, and White Sox. That means fans in Iowa can’t watch those six teams on MLB.tv or Extra Innings because those games are considered “in-market” in Iowa. The total lack of attention to blackouts in MLB’s motion is quite curious, give that regional blackouts were an impetus for the lawsuit in the first place.
We’ll learn more about the shape of these arguments and counterarguments after the plaintiffs file their opposition brief in the next week or so. I expect plaintiffs to come forward with sworn declarations and testimony of various experts in the fields of economics and telecommunications to poke holes in MLB’s claim that the current video rights structure is pro-competitive. I also expect a renewed focus on the overlapping broadcast territories and resulting regional blackouts.
Remember, the plaintiffs’ goal right now is to defeat this motion and get to trial. To do that, they’ll have to show the judge that evidence the current video rights structure isn’t as reasonable as MLB portrays, and that a jury must hear and weigh the evidence.
In theory, one would think Thursday was a good day for the Texas Rangers.
Ace Yu Darvish took the mound for an afternoon affair in Detroit. A few hours later, Texas enjoyed a 9-2 win over maybe the best team in baseball. The win drew the Rangers one game shy of .500 with a 23-24 record, but the victory was an afterthought because Thursday brought other, bigger-picture news.
Prince Fielder was scheduled for season-ending surgery on a herniated disc in his neck, and Jurickson Profar re-injured his shoulder. Fielder is getting a second opinion, but it’s almost a lock the first baseman will have surgery and is done for 2014, while Profar looks like he'll be a non-factor this season. And this didn't establish a new pattern — it continued an old one.
It's not even Memorial Day, and the Rangers have been devastated by the injury bug. Almost no position has been left untouched, and it seems like every week brings a new ailment. It's hard to say when everything started — left-hander Derek Holland injured his knee in the offseason — but spring training was unkind to the roster ... and the season's been the same.
There's a sense that these Rangers are cursed, and though, eventually, they'll have talent back and healthy at some point, it seems like the year is a lost cause with the Rangers too short-handed.
What's the approximate impact of all the injuries they've experienced?
Every team in baseball goes through injuries, but the Rangers have had it particularly bad. Sometimes the stat is presented as “days lost to the disabled list,” but that can be misleading. For example, reliever Pedro Figueroa is out for the year after Tommy John surgery, but the Rangers aren't going to miss him too much.
Another approach is to calculate salary paid to players on the DL, but that, too, isn't precise. Let's try something by tooling around with player projections, and see if we can estimate the win impact of the injuries the Rangers have already had to deal with.
Two favored projection systems at FanGraphs are ZiPS and Steamer. Both use historical data to try to predict future production, and this will be the basis of this attempt, where it focuses on projected Wins Above Replacement (WAR).
It'll be helpful to give an example. What would be the impact of being without Fielder for the rest of the season? Averaging ZiPS and Steamer equates about 2 WAR. That is, a healthy Fielder would be expected to provide 2 WAR over the duration. Now, the Rangers won't get that. They'll have a replacement, but the replacement will be worse.
Basically, it's that process, repeated for players on the DL, and for players who have been on the DL. Some assumptions will have to be made regarding missed playing time, but this isn't technical, peer-reviewed science — we're just trying to come up with an estimate. Adding all the WARs together will give a number, reflecting the injury impact on the team. Our hypothesis: the injury impact is big and significant.
As for Profar, he might be healthy for a quarter or a fifth of the year. The value of the missed time comes out to about 1.8 WAR.
How about left-hander Matt Harrison? It looks like his season and career are in jeopardy with back problems. If he's done for 2014, the impact is about 1.9 WAR.
Holland is still rehabbing and while he's approaching a return, he will have missed about half the season, which could've been worth roughly 1.6 WAR. Losing lefty Martin Perez to Tommy John surgery? Something like 1.1 WAR.
There have been other injuries, too. Third baseman Adrian Beltre missed 15 games on the DL. Right-hander Tanner Scheppers, who started four games this season, got hurt and will come back as a reliever. Catcher Geovany Soto got hurt and forced the Rangers to go with J.P. Arencibia a bit too much, and Soto's absence will have been worth about a projected 0.8 WAR.
Lefty Joe Saunders is hurt. Ace Darvish missed a start. Lefty reliever Joseph Ortiz is hurt. Outfielder Engel Beltre is hurt. Third baseman Kevin Kouzmanoff is hurt. Outfielder/first baseman Jim Adduci is hurt. Figueroa's hurt. Infielder Donnie Murphy is hurt.
Putting it all together equals an impact of about 10.5 WAR. The Angels’ Mike Trout was worth 10.4 WAR last season, so it's kind of like, in total, the Rangers are without a full-season Mike Trout.
Now, things aren't that simple. Injured players get replaced, and they don't always get replaced by replacement-level players. For example, right-hander Nick Tepesch is now starting, and seems like a close-to-equivalent substitution. The same can’t be said for righty Scott Baker, who is now in the rotation. With Profar out, the Rangers will try to make something of prospects Rougned Odor and Luis Sardinas.
The injuries have cut into starters and depth. Plus, the Rangers have no clear alternative to Fielder.
So the team's in a lot of trouble. FanGraphs’ preseason projections had the Rangers winning at a .534 clip. Now, they're projected to win at a .492 clip, which is seven games worse on a 162-game scale — and the preseason projection included Profar, Soto and Holland being hurt. So that doesn't capture the full extent of the injury impact.
The Rangers, now, still aren't a bad team, but they might be an average team. At the start of the offseason it looked like they could be contenders for the World Series. The team signed Shin-Soo Choo before Holland busted his knee.
Often, people will over-estimate the impact of one player getting hurt. The best player in baseball is worth nine or 10 wins over a full season, and that's the best player in baseball. Every other player is worse, and most injuries are shorter term.
But with the Rangers, it's a bunch of individual injuries adding up, and the pile now of missing talent is enormous. The impact might still be widely over-estimated, in that the Rangers still project OK, but they're short-handed and facing a playoff-race deficit, which is why they have such dwindling playoff odds.
As obvious as it might seem for the Rangers to make a play for free agent Kendrys Morales, they might decide it's just not worth their money in a season that looks increasingly lost by the day. Morales isn't a great overall player, and the Rangers would have to wait another few weeks to get him without sacrificing a draft pick. The Mariners might end up signing him first.
Toward the end of spring training, Rangers assistant general manager Thad Levine said:
''We have been dealing with a number of injuries, but we feel like if we can weather the early storm, we're going to have guys coming back in waves as the season progresses.”
This has turned into the storm of the decade. It's not losing Prince Fielder that cripples the Rangers. It's everything. Injuries only really devastate when they pile up, but the top of the Rangers' pile now is well out of view.
I’ll begin my second post here at FanGraphs with a lazy comparison, sure to denounce any iota of credibility I’ve yet had the chance to establish.
2013-Present GS ERA FIP xFIP K% BB% GB% HR/9
David Price 37 3.59 3.08 3.08 22.2% 3.2% 44.5% 0.95
Corey Kluber 34 3.72 3.00 2.99 23.7% 5.4% 45.7% 0.80
Now, Corey Kluber isn’t David Price. We know that. But that’s over a full season’s worth of data from which to draw a conclusion, and Kluber has pretty much matched Price across the board. Price is one of the faces of baseball, who will almost certainly be cashing in for well over $100 million when he hits free agency in 2016, while Corey Kluber is mostly known as that guy who doesn’t smile.
Last season, Kluber emerged as a legitimate MLB starter, posting the 24th-best FIP in the MLB (3.30), right ahead of Homer Bailey, and the 12th-best xFIP (3.10), sandwiched between Jose Fernandez and Stephen Strasburg. Most pitchers who, in their first full body of work, post these kind of numbers become “sensations” or “phenoms,” like Fernandez and Strasburg themselves. Instead, Kluber was often referred to as the Indians third or fourth-best pitcher. A big reason why is because Kluber is already 28 years old and was never considered a real prospect. Part of it was due to his 3.85 ERA, which was still good, but didn’t match his dominant peripherals. It could have something to do with Justin Masterson having his best year and emerging as a team leader while Ubaldo Jimenez resurrected his career and Danny Salazar struck out everybody he faced in his first 10 MLB starts. Or you could say it’s because Kluber’s on-field personality is best described as: “absent.”
This season, Masterson’s strikeouts are down, his walks up and he has an ERA north of 5.00. Jimenez is in Baltimore and Salazar is in Triple-A. Meanwhile, Kluber’s 3.43 ERA is creeping closer to matching last year’s peripherals, and his peripherals are getting even better. By WAR, Kluber has been the most valuable pitcher in baseball this season, tied with Yu Darvish and Jon Lester and immediately ahead of Felix Hernandez and Masahiro Tanaka.
Whether it be his age, his prospect status, his lack of exuberance or something else that leaves him underappreciated, it might be time to start viewing Corey Kluber not only as the ace of the Cleveland Indians staff, but a true major league ace.
So how did a 27-year-old fringe prospect transform himself into one of the MLB’s better pitchers in less than two years time? Kluber will tell you that it started with the two-seamer. Kluber never threw a two-seam fastball until Indians pitching coach Mickey Callaway advised him before the 2012 season to ditch his four-seam fastball for the sinking two-seamer in an effort to work down in the strike zone more often and generate ground balls. Now, Kluber throws it half the time. On the first pitch, he throws it 60% of the time. In a hysterical in-game interview from Tuesday, Kluber credited getting ahead of hitters as the most important thing to his success, and the two-seamer is what he uses to get ahead of hitters.
“I think the biggest thing for me is always just being aggressive and trying to attack the strike zone. Trying to avoid falling behind hitters is the biggest key for me and probably most pitchers. Obviously, it’s a lot easier to hit when you’re ahead in the count and you can try to zone in on the one pitch you’re looking for.”
Here’s Kluber on the first pitch, perfectly spotting his two-seamer with great movement to get ahead in the count on Edwin Encarnacion, one of the MLB’s best power hitters:
And if it was Kluber’s two-seam fastball that put him on the map, it’s his cut fastball that helped turn him into an ace. Despite PITCHf/x calling it a slider, likely due to the massive amount of horizontal movement it has, Kluber himself calls it a cutter and Brooks Baseball knows better and classifies it as such. But before we talk about Corey Kluber’s cutter, let’s put it into context. Below are the 10 most valuable pitches in baseball since the beginning of 2013, according to PITCHf/x run values.
Player Pitch Type Value
Yu Darvish Slider 43.5
Clayton Kershaw Fastball 40.5
Jose Fernandez Curveball 31.8
Max Scherzer Fastball 28.0
Cole Hamels Changeup 27.3
Justin Masterson Slider 23.1
Corey Kluber Cutter 22.4
Adam Wainwright Curveball 22.0
Hyun-Jin Ryu Changeup 21.7
Lance Lynn Fastball 21.5
Included in this table are:
a.) A lot of baseball’s very best pitchers.
b.) A lot of “signature pitches” – pitches so good that guys have become known for them.
c.) Corey Kluber and his cutter.
Kluber’s cutter has a swinging strike rate of 21.2%. That is absolutely elite. To put it into more context, Yu Darvish’s slider, the most valuable pitch in baseball since the start of 2013, has a whiff rate of 18.5%. Now, an elite whiff rate is not all that makes an elite pitch. It certainly helps, but what makes Kluber’s cutter so good isn’t just its swinging strike rate, but his ability to command it. As evidenced by his fantastic 5.4% walk rate, a top-20 mark in the majors since 2013, Kluber has impeccable control.
Consider this zone breakdown of Kluber’s cutters in 2014:
Kluber has an approach, and he sticks with it. He’ll pound that bottom-right quadrant for swinging strikes over and over, starting on the plate and moving it low and away.
91 mph + that amount of movement breaking down and away from a righty + being spotted that well = darn near impossible to hit. Pitches like those make up a big chunk of that bottom-right quadrant in the image above and his ability to consistently spot it in that location is the main reason why Kluber’s cutter is one of baseball’s very best pitches.
To lefties, he works the other side of the plate, starting outside the strike zone and cutting it in to catch the outside corner. Look at where the catcher is set up in all of these GIFs. Kluber rarely misses his spots.
But Kluber doesn’t have just one “out pitch” with one of the best whiff rates in baseball, he has two. PITCHf/x calls it a curveball, Brooks Baseball calls it a slider. It’s probably best to call it a slurve. Whatever you’d like it to be called, it also has an elite whiff rate of 21.3% and Kluber isn’t afraid to throw it to a lefty or a righty.
Here’s Kluber’s slurve making the best hitter in baseball look silly:
And against a lefty:
He also has an above-average changeup, which he throws almost exclusively to lefties for both swings and misses and to generate ground balls, and he still occasionally pulls out the four-seam fastball, which he can crank up to 95 mph.
To put it simply, Corey Kluber has a full arsenal of well above average pitches and one of baseball’s best in his cutter. He revolutionized his career by learning a two-seam fastball that generates ground balls at an above league average rate and gets him ahead in the count. Getting ahead in the count allows him to throw an elite cutter and a great slurve to rack up strikeouts. A solid changeup which he throws to lefties allows him to minimize his platoon splits, so you can’t just stack a lineup full of lefties to beat him. He has elite strikeout and walk rates, is above league average at generating ground balls and limiting home runs, and, especially this year, has been pitching deep into games. There’s not much to dislike about what Kluber does on the mound.
Despite doing it without the fanfare of some of the game’s more exciting young pitchers, Kluber has turned himself into a legitimate front-end starter and has clearly emerged as the ace of the Indians rotation. And though he might not show it, Corey Kluber is certainly something worth smiling about.
Pedro Martinez was a genius with a baseball in his right hand. One of the most dominant pitchers of all time, he didn’t just overpower hitters. He outsmarted them. When he was on top of his game – as he often was – he was almost unhittable. No starting pitcher in history has a better adjusted ERA.
Martinez might be best described as a thinking man’s power pitcher. His pure stuff alone would have made him a star. His ability to read hitters and maximize his talent put him on a whole new level. The Hall of Fame awaits.
Martinez – currently a special assistant for the Red Sox – shared the wisdom of his craft earlier this week at the site of some his greatest glory, Fenway Park.
Martinez on the art and science of pitching: “Pitching is both [art and science] and you have to put them together. You have to study a lot. You have to study the movement of your pitches – the distance your pitches move compared to the swing paths of batters. You have to learn to read bat speed against the speed of a fastball. You can tell a slow bat or a long swing, or a short, quick swing. You counter those things. If a hitter has a slow swing, I don’t want to throw him anything soft. I want to go hard against slow. If he has a quick bat, I probably want to be soft more than I want to be hard. You have to be able to repeat your delivery and be deceiving at the same time.
“You repeat – you try to be consistent – until they start to figure out what you’re doing. If they don’t, that’s great. Just go through your routine and repeat, repeat, repeat. I wish I could have just thrown fastballs, but that wasn’t the case. I went along with the way the hitters and the game was going. I let the game come to me. I executed whatever I had to execute.”
On being a student of the game: “I would say the second half in 1996 is when I [made the transition from thrower to pitcher]. After that I felt I was on top of my craft. I felt like I could do what I wanted to do. I’d have off games sometimes, but everybody does. But most of the time I’d be around where I wanted to be. That’s when I feel I was becoming who I wanted to be as a pitcher.
“So much goes into it. You spend as much time as you can watching the game. You watch what the players do and how they do it. That’s how you become better. You never learn how to play ball on your own. If you follow the ball, the ball should teach you. You see over and over, and you repeat over and over what’s going on with the ball – the ball curves, the ball bounces bad, the ball bounces good, the ball is caught, the ball is thrown, the ball is hit. Everything is around the ball.”
On the importance of feel: “Pitching is feel. Your hand and the ball is a marriage that should never end. The pitcher and the ball should be married forever. Hands, fingers, the ball – they should be married forever. It’s like caressing your wife. It’s touching and getting that feel to know her, alone. It’s the same thing with a baseball.
“I can tell you right away the difference between two balls. If you put them in my hands I’ll tell you this one I like because of this, this one I don’t like because of that. I would throw them back. Unless I felt comfortable with a ball I wanted to throw for a certain pitch, the umpire was going to get it back. If I was planning to throw a curveball, I wanted the seams to be sticking up. Some balls have bigger seams than others. And I didn’t want a dry, slippery ball with a bad rub, or really flat seams for any pitch. I wanted to be on top of what the ball was going to do when I threw it.”
On weather effect: “Sometimes the weather is a factor. If you have a strong wind in front of you and you throw a ball and expect to see it break… if you’re used to seeing it break a foot, and the wind knocks it, it might break only half a foot. You delivered the ball right, but it broke six inches. That’s mother nature.
“Throw a knuckleball in front of wind. Ask R.A. Dickey or Tim Wakefield, or Charlie Hough. They’ll tell you what happens to a knuckleball with wind in front of them. Same with a changeup, because the rotation on a changeup is backwards. Sometimes it’s in circles going away from the hitter. If the wind is coming from the north – from your right – it might have a certain impact on the rotation of the ball.
“[Exact[ movement you never know. Gravity is a factor. That's why everything is together. Science. Everything we've talked about is part of it. Mother nature. I liked hot, humid, sticky days to pitch. I hated windy days. Looking back, I think in 40 percent of my games it rained it before, during, or after the game. It was always something with the rain for me.”
On commanding the ball: “I didn't always throw to the mitt. I had different targets I threw to. One was the ear flap on the catcher. I'd use that as guidance for height. I looked for hands; I'd throw right below the hands on certain hitters. For some others I would look knee high, or even lower. Sometimes I'd throw off the black, away by three or four inches. It depended on the hitter and the movement. I knew on a given day how my ball was moving.
“I pitched to my strength with whatever I had that day. The feel was something I woke up with. One day you might wake up with a great breaking pitch. Other days you wake up with a good changeup but not a breaking pitch. Maybe you just wake up with your fastball. I had three pitches I could normally rely on, but they weren't always all there. On the days they were, it would be a shutout. Maybe it would be a one-hitter, something special.”
On his changeup and his fastball: “I had control over how much my changeup was going to move. I could command it. I'd have to say I tried to throw a strike with it about 50 percent of the time. It depended on the situation. If I was ahead in the count, the strike zone wasn't an issue. Sometimes I wanted the ball out of the strike zone. But the times the count was 3-2 and I flipped that changeup, I wanted to throw it for a strike. And I would change speeds on it. You can't always throw the same thing. Would you go to the movies to see the same one all the time?
“My fastball was my best pitch. I was a power pitcher for most of my career. My fastball had a natural tail. I threw four-seams and two-seams, but predominately fours. My four was a power fastball that I could ramp up when I needed to. I could spot it.
“I needed [velocity] when I was younger. I didn’t have it late in my career, but I was mature. I was old. I was wise as far as pitching, so I didn’t have to throw as hard. The equalizer was age.”
On mechanics and arm action: “I changed [my mechanics] over my career. I was always studying and always trying to improve. I looked at a lot of video and not only of myself. I looked at everybody who pitched and made comparisons. I was a patch. I wasn’t gifted with everything I had. I was a patch of everything I learned from so many players.
“My arm action stayed the same until I got older. It got a little slower and my arm angle got a little lower. But it was good enough to pitch. You can change things as you learn. How do you study medicine? As a kid, you have that passion and you study it. How do you become a ballplayer? You practice it. Repetitions, repetitions, repetitions. You keep learning and getting better. I never stopped trying to learn.”
There are two big stories with Jeff Samardzija right now. One is that he’s almost certain to get traded by the Cubs somewhere around the deadline, as a contender looks for a major rotation boost. The other is that Samardzija is currently 0-4 in ten starts with a 1.46 ERA. Of course, we pretty much never talk about win/loss record, and of course a pitcher on the Cubs is going to have a worse record than he deserves, but for as silly as this bit of trivia is, it really is astonishing. In Samardzija’s ten games, the Cubs have scored 20 runs.
Because of those two things going on, relatively few people might have noticed a third thing going on. Samardzija remains a quality starter, but ever so quietly, he’s changed his profile. The starter version of Jeff Samardzija in 2014 isn’t the starter version of Jeff Samardzija from the two previous years, and in particular, this version of Samardzija doesn’t get as many strikeouts, even though he still has all his stuff. Last year, he was tied in strikeout rate with Shelby Miller and Gio Gonzalez. This year he’s even with Kyle Lohse. At the moment, Samardzija is one of the most talked-about pitchers in baseball, and so we might as well talk about why he isn’t quite what he was. It’s not that he’s a worse pitcher. It’s that he’s a different pitcher.
Where do you start? Pitch mix, right? Pitch mix is the easiest thing to investigate, and according to Brooks Baseball, Samardzija has moved away from his bread-and-butter, the split. He still has the splitter in his back pocket, because it’s an important pitch for him, but his splitter rate has dropped from 18% to 16% to 10%. Picking up the slack: he’s thrown more sinkers. Samardzija, basically, is throwing more hittable pitches.
And we can zero in on the splitter rate in two-strike counts, when Samardzija might be going for a whiff:
Used to be, Samardzija would get a strikeout with 22% of his two-strike pitches. So far this season, that’s at 17%, in part because there have been fewer splitters. And it seems important to note a couple things. One, Samardzija’s splitter has changed. It’s gained a few inches of arm-side run, and it’s lost a little bit of drop. Two, Samardzija didn’t start using the splitter this year until halfway through spring training. He was putting a lot of work into improving his other pitches, and, a relevant quote:
“You take a risk any time you do something like that and change or heavily work on one pitch or don’t work on one pitch,” Samardzija said. “You’re throwing something too much or not throwing it enough.”
“A couple of years ago I’d keep throwing my splitter, at times with the mentality to punch out a lot of guys. But a lot of time you’re wasting pitches and letting them back in counts,” Samardzija said.
After pitch mix, you think about pitch location. I’m going to show you a couple graphs, showing Samardzija against righties and Samardzija against lefties. The graphs will show average pitch location broken down by type, and while it isn’t the best thing to do to come up with an average location, the results can still be telling. Zero on the x-axis is the center of the plate, and zero on the y-axis is the middle of the zone, vertically.
In blue, locations from a year ago. In red, locations from this year. The biggest change, by far, is that Samardzija has thrown his splitter to righties a lot lower and more away. The units, incidentally, are feet. Samardzija has also been more willing to throw his sinker over the plate, and he’s brought in both his cutter and his four-seamer. The slider’s been lower. Four of five pitches have been lower. Samardzija has made an effort to work down, more, trying to get grounders and avoid the homers that’ve troubled him in the past.
The flip side:
Another massive change with the splitter. It’s being buried more, and where Samardzija used to throw it off the outside edge to lefties, now he’s a lot more willing to throw it down but over the plate. The cutter is no longer just an inside pitch. The four-seamer has drifted toward the outer edge. The sinker has come back closer to the fastball. All five pitches are lower, as, again, Samardzija is trying to do what he can to keep the ball out of the air.
What else? Plenty else. Samardzija made a change last September that didn’t seem to draw a lot of attention, but here are his horizontal release points, by start, from Brooks:
In his third-to-last start of 2013, Samardzija shifted toward the third-base side of the rubber, and he’s only shifted even more in 2014. The difference is about a foot, as Samardzija now is releasing the ball from behind a right-handed hitter’s back. I couldn’t find any quotes, but, presumably, this is about Samardzija looking for better angles, and in the three starts before Samardzija moved, lefties batted .237, but righties batted .400 while slugging .725. Samardzija was getting abused by right-handed hitters, so he tried to get a better angle against them, as sort of a counter-attack. It’s also worth noting that Samardzija has gradually been dropping his arm angle, though the difference has been more slight. This might be contributing to his splitter having different movement.
As screenshot support for the image above, here are three pictures, showing Samardzija before the shift in 2013, after the shift in 2013, and in 2014.
Samardzija these days is working from the extreme end of the rubber, and though that could change down the road — it changed just last September — it’s not like Samardzija is feeling any sense of urgency to change what’s allowed him to run such a low ERA.
So? Right now, Samardzija’s strikeouts of righties are down, but he’s also trimmed his walks to almost nothing, and he’s getting more grounders. He has yet to allow a right-handed home run. Lefties, meanwhile, are striking out a little less and walking a little more, but they’re also hitting more grounders, and slugging .319. Previously, lefties facing Samardzija slugged in the .440s.
It seems like we’ve covered everything, but there’s one last detail, and this might be the most dramatic of all. Last season, Samardzija struck out 23% of batters with the bases empty. This season, he’s also at 23%, with identical walks. With men on, though, his whiffs have dropped from 24% to 16%. About that pitch mix from earlier — let’s break that down some.
2012: 68% fastballs/cutters
2012: 54% fastballs/cutters
With nobody on base, Jeff Samardzija has more or less pitched like his familiar self. He’s generated familiar results. When somebody reaches, though, suddenly Samardzija is a fastball machine, where he used to throw almost half secondary stuff. His xFIP with men on base is worse. However, his actual results have been much better to date, with one extra-base hit and no homers. There have been grounders, and fewer deep drives, and it seems like Samardzija might be conquering the issue that has previously given him higher ERAs than you’d expect.
Of course, in time, there will be more homers, and Samardzija’s ERA will start with a 2 or a 3. Elements of his game right now are unsustainable, statistically, and it seems like he might want to prioritize strikeouts more with men on. But that hasn’t worked great for him in the past, so you can see why he’s interested in adjustments. You can see why he might want to throw fewer splitters, and you can see how Samardzija can succeed as a pitcher as less of a strikeout pitcher. If Samardzija ever wants to go back, he probably could, because he still has the repertoire. But if he likes this approach, and if the splitter is just a bit less useful from a lower slot and a more extreme angle, Samardzija is running the same xFIP- as he did last season. Samardzija is no less interesting than ever. Samardzija is no less effective than ever.
The Orioles are considered the leader for Cubs pitcher Jeff Samardzija, according to CBSChicago.com.
The two sides have mutual interest in a deal. Baltimore would acquire Samardzija, who is under team control through next season. The Cubs are scouting the Orioles top pitching prospects, including Kevin Gausman and Dylan Bundy. Samardzija has done everything possible to boost his trade value. Through 75 innings, he has a 1.68 ERA.
This is scary for the AL East. Luckily, Baltimore will choke as usual
The Orioles are considered the leader for Cubs pitcher Jeff Samardzija, according to CBSChicago.com.
The two sides have mutual interest in a deal. Baltimore would acquire Samardzija, who is under team control through next season. The Cubs are scouting the Orioles top pitching prospects, including Kevin Gausman and Dylan Bundy. Samardzija has done everything possible to boost his trade value. Through 75 innings, he has a 1.68 ERA.
Body is ready for this.
MIAMI DOLPHINS LA LAKERS CHICAGO CUBS MIAMI HURRICANES
He's a free agent after next year? Or after '16? I think he's eligible for one more year of arbitration then free agency. Baltimore has actually built a deep farm the last few years. I try to get Schoop if I'm Chicago, since I can probably throw a breaking ball and strike Baez out.
The Orioles are considered the leader for Cubs pitcher Jeff Samardzija, according to CBSChicago.com.
The two sides have mutual interest in a deal. Baltimore would acquire Samardzija, who is under team control through next season. The Cubs are scouting the Orioles top pitching prospects, including Kevin Gausman and Dylan Bundy. Samardzija has done everything possible to boost his trade value. Through 75 innings, he has a 1.68 ERA.
The Orioles are considered the leader for Cubs pitcher Jeff Samardzija, according to CBSChicago.com.
The two sides have mutual interest in a deal. Baltimore would acquire Samardzija, who is under team control through next season. The Cubs are scouting the Orioles top pitching prospects, including Kevin Gausman and Dylan Bundy. Samardzija has done everything possible to boost his trade value. Through 75 innings, he has a 1.68 ERA.