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2016 MLB thread. Baseball is upon us! Royals are the champs - Page 742

post #22231 of 73412
Originally Posted by 651akathePaul View Post

Morse having a year so far too...The Mariners can't win.

pimp.gif I'm glad he's doing it in SF
post #22232 of 73412
Mauer's loved there unconditionally. He and the fans will be okay. They just suck royally right now. Hopefully he's getting his Molitor on by the time Buxton, Sano and the like give this team their next chance at a pennant.
post #22233 of 73412
Originally Posted by chaose57 View Post

Encarnacion. 15 pimp.gif

Dickey on the other hand mean.gif

Edit. Edwin for his 16th sick.gif
Joey Bats' throw to first to get Billy Butler was smokin.gif
post #22234 of 73412
Thread Starter 
Until Minny learns that the way they've been developing pitchers totally wrong, it's gonna be a tough road for a while unfortunately.
post #22235 of 73412
Originally Posted by Proshares View Post

Until Minny learns that the way they've been developing pitchers totally wrong, it's gonna be a tough road for a while unfortunately.

I pray to god they don't ruin Kohl Stewart lol
post #22236 of 73412
Thread Starter 
I'm pretty sure they already tweaked him. Last I heard from a friend, he was back to pitching to contact to cut down his K's but his walks are up. Same thing they're trying to do with Meyer apparently. It's hard to tweak guys like that and get that mentality in and justify taking them so high. He's kinda disregarding them but now his walks are sky high.
post #22237 of 73412
Originally Posted by Proshares View Post

I'm pretty sure they already tweaked him. Last I heard from a friend, he was back to pitching to contact to cut down his K's but his walks are up. Same thing they're trying to do with Meyer apparently. It's hard to tweak guys like that and get that mentality in and justify taking them so high. He's kinda disregarding them but now his walks are sky high.

He's also still 18 or 19. They have quite a few years to ruin him before he's major league ready lol
post #22238 of 73412
Thread Starter 
laugh.gif that's true as well. They just have a bad track record the last decade or so with pitchers. Same with Colorado.

Look at Kyle Gibson. Dude could strike out anyone and had great control of his pitches. Now, he's a ground ball pitcher who struggles to locate.
post #22239 of 73412
Thread Starter 
The Blue Jays' hot start, by the numbers.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
As Kevin Pillar dove across home plate Wednesday night with the run that extended Toronto's winning streak to nine games, the other Jays came spilling out of the dugout. It's as if they have stolen the winning formula from the 2013 Red Sox and are using it as their own: Wear down opposing pitchers with a relentless and deep lineup, sharing the information they've gleaned along the way, and create a margin for error.

The Blue Jays have broken away from the pack in the AL East by owning May, putting up some pretty incredible numbers in the process. Here are 11 numbers that encapsulate this team:

96: The victory pace of the Jays, who are 32-22 after the first third of the season.

22: The margin by which the Jays have outscored the second-highest team in May. In other words, Toronto has outscored every other team by almost a full run per game or more this month, and the team has almost doubled Cincinnati's run production in May.

76: The number of homers hit by Toronto, the most in the big leagues and 23 more than any other AL East team.

5: How many more homers the entire Royals team -- which opens a series with Toronto on Thursday -- has hit than Edwin Encarnacion, who has 16. Encarnacion is on a pace for 48 homers and 132 RBIs.

210: How many hits Melky Cabrera would finish with this season at his current pace.

.434: Jose Bautista's on-base percentage. At his current pace, he will reach base 315 times this season.

0: The number of seasons in which 35-year-old starter Mark Buehrle has posted an ERA below 3.00 in his career. He's currently at 2.33.

10: Defensive runs saved for the Blue Jays in 2014 as result of their shifting defense, most in the majors. (Mark Simon of ESPN Stats & Info sent this one along.)

3.75: The ERA of the Toronto rotation, which is the best in the division by a decent margin.

1: Number of home runs allowed by Buehrle in 40 innings this month. He has allowed only two all season after allowing 24 last season.

21: The number of years since the Blue Jays last made the playoffs, a streak that's now in jeopardy.

Around the league

• The Marlins won again, but there is concern about Henderson Alvarez's elbow. From Manny Navarro's story:
"The Marlins' No. 3 starter exited Wednesday's 8-5, 10-inning victory over the Nationals with what the team called right elbow stiffness. The Marlins (28-25) said it was for precautionary reasons. But it's never a good thing when an injury involves a pitcher's throwing elbow.

'My arm was tight, a little tight,' Alvarez said. 'From the time I went out to the mound, from the beginning I felt it … [but] I'll be fine for the next start.'

Alvarez didn't refer to it as an elbow injury. He said he felt tightness all over his arm, something he has felt in previous starts -- including when he made a start in San Diego earlier this month on the team's 11-game West Coast trip."

This doesn't appear serious, writes Craig Davis.

• On Wednesday's podcast, Adam Rubin and Jerry Crasnick discussed the Mets' dysfunction.

• The Astros finished off a sweep of the Kansas City Royals on Wednesday thanks in part to a couple of homers from Chris Carter and more help from the scorching-hot George Springer. From ESPN Stats & Info: Springer is hitting .405 (15-for-37) with six homers and 15 RBIs during a 10-game hit streak. His nine homers this month are the most by a rookie in May since Mark McGwire had 15 in May 1987.

Springer has taken a more selective approach at the plate of late, striking out less and turning ground balls into line drives, as you can see below:

Through May 11 Since
Swing rate 52.4% 42.2%
BA .215 .365
OPS .593 1.346
K-BB 37-6 13-12
Ground balls-line drives 30-7 10-13

From the time Springer debuted on April 16 through a four-strikeout game on May 11, no player was more helpless with two strikes. But he's also doing better in that regard:

Through May 11 Since
2-strike pitches 104 66
Swings 70 37
Swings-and-misses 33 10
***.074 batting average with two strikes was worst in MLB from April 16-May 11.

• On the same day Ryan Hanigan went on the disabled list with a strained hamstring, Jose Molina got blasted with a foul ball. As such, the Rays' catching situation is murky.

• Boston's 2004 champions got together Wednesday, and Manny Ramirez said he regrets the way he behaved in Boston.

By the way, Red Sox leaders John Henry, Tom Werner and Larry Lucchino did the right thing by inviting Cubs president Theo Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer back for their organization dinner honoring the 2004 team. The relationship between Epstein and the Boston ownership has not been warm and fuzzy since he left the team, but Epstein was part of an important time in Red Sox history, and like a divorced parent being invited to a wedding, it was right for him to be welcomed back for the ceremony.

• Paul Goldschmidt = Paul Bunyan. Check out this homer. Meanwhile, the Diamondbacks had a huge first inning.

• Ryan Zimmerman says he's ready to move to left field.

• The White Sox just swept the Indians, and they're expecting Jose Abreu back on Monday.

• The Angels were "Felixed" on Wednesday.

• As noted above, the Royals were swept by the Astros, and afterward, Royals manager Ned Yost spoke about a leadership void. Not good. From Vahe Gregorian's piece:
"Yost candidly clarified his frustration, pointedly suggested the team is suffering from a leadership void among its hitters and conceded it's time to grow up.

'There's a lot to deal with, but growing up is learning how to deal with it all, then still being productive,' Yost said.

Inadvertently, his allusion to players having to deal with the advent of the internet (which has been in vogue for, oh, about a generation now) and contending with the 'fish bowl' of publicity was even more telling testimony to his perception of the group's immaturity.

'You know, if we could shut all you guys (in the media) out and only deal with playing the game inside this locker room, or insulate it from all that, it would be better," he said, not confrontationally. 'But that's not the way of the world.'

Yost's thoughts were spurred by a question about his sharp message Tuesday night. That had been a rant only in the sense of the bite with which he noted his team doesn't do 'what successful big league hitters do' and acknowledged covering for his players at times when they don't hit well."

Also worth noting: Eric Hosmer was moved down to fifth in the Royals' lineup.

Moves, deals and decisions

1. The Yankees' roster imbalance is forcing them to do some weird things, writes Bob Klapisch.

2. Dan Connolly examined the latest in the Jeff Samardzija-Orioles link. It's extremely early in the process of trade discussions, meaning there really isn't a front-runner yet.

3. Johan Santana could be with the Orioles by mid-June.

4. Yasmani Grandal was back in the lineup Wednesday.

5. Braves prospect Tommy La Stella has been summoned to the big leagues, notes David O'Brien.

6. The Cardinals' crowded outfield is a problem, writes Bernie Miklasz.

7. The Tigers are weighing shortstop options, writes Lynn Henning.

Dings and dents

1. Mark Teixeira's right wrist is sore.

2. Matt Wieters is set to do some light throwing Friday. To repeat: To ensure that he is fully healthy for 2015, the last season before he becomes a free agent, he needs to have surgery by about July 1.

3. Clay Buchholz was placed on the disabled list Wednesday.

4. J.J. Putz still has a desire to pitch.

5. Carl Crawford was also placed on the disabled list Wednesday.

6. Sean Burnett is out for the season.

7. The Mariners hope James Paxton will be back on schedule.

Wednesday's games

1. Scott Kazmir went the distance against the Tigers before Josh Donaldson played the hero again.

From ESPN Stats & Info on Kazmir's outing:

A. He pitched just the second complete game of his career and first since 2006.
B. He threw his changeup a season-high 25.2 percent of the time.
C. He kept the ball down, with just 19.4 percent of his pitches up in the strike zone or above the strike zone, his second-lowest rate of the season.
D. Kazmir baffled the Tigers, as 40.9 percent of their swings came on pitches outside the strike zone. That was the second-highest rate for a Kazmir opponent this season.

2. Ryan Howard walked it off Wednesday.

3. The Yankees closed out a successful road trip. They are battling. This is a resourceful team, but more pop is needed, writes Ken Davidoff.

4. Bartolo Colon was "the man" for the Mets on Wednesday.

5. Boston continues to stifle the Braves.

6. A wild pitch was pivotal in the Dodgers' loss.

7. Joe Saunders had a nice outing.

8. Meanwhile, Shelby Miller had a rough outing.

9. Joe Nathan and the Tigers lost a ninth-inning lead.

10. It has been a while since the Cubs scored.

AL East

Baltimore: Most HR in May
The most May homers in a single season in Orioles history.
2014 Nelson Cruz 12*
1987 Eddie Murray 11
1962 Jim Gentile 11* Includes two HRs Wednesday
• Nelson Cruz hit two more homers Wednesday.

If this continues, his dominant performance will prompt -- nay, it will compel -- the Orioles to give him a qualifying offer at the end of this season, because if he keeps doing what he's doing, then a one-year deal for $16 million for 2015 would be a relative bargain.

AL Central

• The Indians were swept.

• Joe Mauer was booed in his home ballpark. Patrick Reusse graded the Twins' performances through 50 games.

AL West

• Oakland's bullpen has been a puzzle.

• Michael Saunders got some rest Wednesday.

• Alex Rios has been streaking.

NL East

• Domonic Brown needs to lay off more bad pitches, writes Mike Sielski. After last season, there was some sentiment within the organization that the Phillies needed to move Brown, like a hot stock, before his regression. It obviously didn't happen.

• Lucas Duda is coming around.

NL Central

• Andrew McCutchen is frustrated by how he's being pitched.

• Jay Bruce is struggling.

• Donald Lutz was impressive in his first start.

NL West

• The Giants are playing really well these days.

• For Matt Kemp, being in left field beats being left out.


• Hunter Pence's scooter was returned. As manager Bruce Bochy said, whoever took it was probably feeling the heat.

• Masahiro Tanaka's old team in Japan is struggling.

• The Rockies are racking up a lot of All-Star votes.

• Ryan Braun is third among NL outfielders in the voting.

And today will be better than yesterday.

Mets must spend to improve offense.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
There has been a lot of energy expended in discussion of the New York Mets' collective hitting approach under the newly ex-hitting coach Dave Hudgens, about whether the hitters' hunt for strikes ultimately turned them into pitchers' prey. Through Monday evening and Tuesday, Hudgens answered his phone when reporters and radio producers called, and he fielded questions about whether the hitters were too patient, whether the booing of the home fans psychologically impacted the players.

It feels like something out of "Wag The Dog," in which a movie producer generates a drama to distract the attention of the public away from a presidential scandal, from a larger truth. And in this case, the truth is the Mets don't have a lot of good hitters. David Wright is an All-Star and a lifetime .300 hitter, and beyond that the Mets are fielding complementary hitters, at best.

Daniel Murphy is batting .313, but he doesn't hit for power and never has. Curtis Granderson sometimes hits for power, but has a career average of .259. Chris Young has had success in the past, but he batted .200 for Oakland last season; there's a reason why the Mets were able to sign him on a one-year deal. Juan Lagares is a talented defender with six homers in 528 at-bats in the big leagues. Lucas Duda is big and powerful and at 28 years old, still looking to establish himself in the big leagues.

The mystery shouldn't be about whether the hitting coach has failed in his work. The mystery is why anybody is wondering why the Mets don't have a good offense. This just in: Mutts don't win at the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show.

General manager Sandy Alderson took on the responsibility of rebuilding the club's roster, and steadily, the budget set by the team's ownership has plummeted, from $142 million in 2011 to $85 million in 2014, the eighth lowest in the majors. Alderson has espoused the working philosophy -- presumably dictated by ownership -- that the payroll will climb after revenues do. So in other words, Alderson and his staff will be asked to construct a contender with nickels and pennies.

It's possible to win like this, just as it might be possible that a Labrador-beagle-German shepherd mix could win best in show. Alderson's former protege, Billy Beane, is doing this for Oakland, with the Athletics excelling at building a deep roster on the cheap. As of this morning, the Athletics -- who play their home games in a ballpark that distinctly favors pitchers, as the Mets do -- rank third in the majors in runs scored, with a payroll of $82.3 million.

But the Athletics are an exception to the general rule that you get what you pay for, which was reflected by run production and payroll last season.

Payroll ranking (Runs scored ranking)
30. Houston (26)
29. Miami (29)
28. Tampa Bay (11)
27. Pittsburgh (20)
26. Oakland (4)
25. San Diego (24)
24. Colorado (10th)
23. Minnesota (25)

So four of the six lowest scoring teams in the big leagues last season ranked among the eight lowest payrolls. That probably isn't a coincidence, and it probably isn't a coincidence that the Mets' offense slowly dried up as they cut payroll and more expensive stars -- such as Jose Reyes and Carlos Beltran -- signed where the money was.

Until Alderson and his staff grow weary of taking bullets for ownership's austerity, they will continue to try to identify bargains and build lineups with little to spend -- which will be extremely difficult moving forward, given that Wright and Granderson will make a combined $36 million per year in the seasons ahead, or about 42 percent of an $85 million budget.

Those deals will make it impossible to follow the Athletics' low-budget model, because part of the Oakland philosophy has been to avoid the pricey long-term deals that box in the front office. Yes, the Athletics will pay Jim Johnson well this season, on a one-year deal, and Scott Kazmir has a solid two-year deal, but Oakland generally swaps its best young talent before it gets too expensive in return for younger, less expensive talent. See Tim Hudson, Mark Mulder, Huston Street, Gio Gonzalez, Andrew Bailey, etc. The Athletics traded Rich Harden to the Cubs and one of the minor leaguers they netted was Josh Donaldson.

If the Mets intend to keep Wright and Granderson, there would seem to be one realistic way for the offense to markedly improve, going into the future: The Wilpons need to increase their payroll. Considering where they sit today, the Mets need to make the same decision that a lot of businesses choose, and spend more to make more.

Oh sure, they could wait for the moons and stars to align and hope that lottery tickets like Young pay off better than they have this year. And every so often, the Mets can play the uniformed staff shell game to distract, and fire a coach or a manager to change the subject for a day or a week. Maybe new hitting coach Lamar Johnson can connect with a hitter or two and help make them a little better.

But if they want a good lineup, well, that's going to cost, and there's really almost no way around that. When you get right down to it, the hitting philosophy -- or lack thereof -- starts with the Wilpons.

Terry Collins backed Dave Hudgens's assessment that the home crowd is a challenge for the Mets.

The Mets' fans are a test for the team's hitters, writes Jay Schreiber. Hudgens says is a sign that the Mets are dysfunctional, writes Joel Sherman.

Around the league

• As old friend Dan Patrick would say: You can't stop Edwin Encarnacion and the Blue Jays, you can only hope to contain them. He mashed his 14th homer of the month and Toronto extended its lead in the AL East. The Blue Jays could go either way, writes Richard Griffin.

From ESPN Stats & Information: Encarnacion slugged .456 with two homers against pitches in the strike zone in April. Since the start of May, he's slugging over 300 points higher against pitches in the zone, with 11 home runs ... and far more of these balls are being hit in the air.

His 14 homers in a month tie Jose Bautista (14 homers in June, 2012) for the club record. In the wild-card era, only Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire and Ken Griffey Jr. have hit more homers in May.

• On Tuesday's podcast, Marlins Manager Mike Redmond discussed the changes that have helped Giancarlo Stanton, and Jayson Stark offered his take on the Cubs' hiring of Manny Ramirez.

• Yovani Gallardo lived out a pitcher's dream, as Tom Haudricourt writes.

• Teammates are ready to go to bat for Jon Lester, writes Rob Bradford.

• I don't think 50 Cent's first pitch is the worst ever. I still think that honor belongs to Mariah Carey. Then there was the effort of Carly Rae Jepsen. Or Mr. Mayor.

For the readers: What was the worst first pitch you've ever seen?

• The Royals got good news on Yordano Ventura, sort of.

• Matt Kemp doesn't seem to fit the Dodgers' big picture, writes Bill Shaikin. From his story:
In 2010, Joe Torre benched Kemp for several games, then said Kemp would have to come to him to get back in the lineup. Torre was the old-school manager, and he and Kemp did not hit it off. Don Mattingly, his protege, was heralded as a manager for the modern era, for a generation of players raised on constant communication and feedback, not a grunt and a nod at the lineup card.

On Tuesday, Mattingly said Kemp would have to come to him in to get back into the lineup.

"It's a matter of him saying, 'I'm comfortable, I'm ready to go,' " Mattingly said. "If he tells us he's comfortable, we'll go from there."

The Dodgers removed Kemp from center field last week, frustrated by his defensive shortcomings this season, and handed the position to Andre Ethier. They told Kemp to start working out in left field, where he has started eight games, all in 2006.

On Tuesday afternoon, Kemp worked out in left field. He spoke briefly, before Mattingly did, and scoffed at the question of whether he would be comfortable in left.

"I played left field in one game, man," he said, exaggerating to make his point. "I just want to play. It doesn't matter where I play."

There is no easy fix for this. Kemp will stay with the Dodgers until they determine to move him at great cost, because he's owed about $120 million. Perhaps Carl Crawford's injury Tuesday will open the door for Kemp to play more and to produce. Kemp could learn from Andre Ethier's response, writes Mark Saxon.

• Jered Weaver beat the Mariners, as the Angels just keep rolling.

• Ryne Sandberg is considering using Ryan Howard in a platoon at first base, as Bob Brookover writes.

• Ben Revere clubbed his first home run.

• The Tigers prevailed head-to-head against Oakland, with Rajai Davis making a pivotal play. Here is video of Davis' gutsy steal. Max Scherzer battled, as Shawn Windsor writes.

• The Giants just keep rolling: Tim Hudson shut down the Cubs, and got some offensive support from Mike Morse, as John Shea writes.

• Jackie Bradley Jr. helped the Red Sox win a second straight game.

• Here are the Cubs' proposed renovations.

• Andrelton Simmons is out with a bothersome ankle injury. There has been a notable decline in his defensive metrics this season.

Dings and dents

1. Brett Anderson and Tyler Chatwood are making progress, as Patrick Saunders writes.

2. The Red Sox say Clay Buchholz has an injured knee.

3. Noah Syndergaard's MRI came back OK.

4. Andrew Cashner had no pain during his bullpen session.

5. Sean Burnett's return may have lasted just three hitters.

6. James Paxton has arm stiffness.

7. The Marlins are hoping that Carter Capps can avoid elbow surgery.

8. A hamstring issue is bothering Ryan Hanigan.

9. Evan Gattis was scratched with a wrist strain.

10. Yu Darvish missed a start.

Moves, deals and decisions

1. Clint Hurdle is weighing his options at closer.

2. Stephen Drew is going to play in Triple-A on Wednesday.

3. Chris Davis was reinstated.

4. The Reds signed Carlos Marmol.

Tuesday's games

1. Wade Miley threw well, but the D-backs lost.

2. Wilin Rosario lifted the Rockies.

3. The smallest crowd of the season turned out as the Phillies lost again.

4. The Pirates' bullpen failed, writes Jenn Menendez.

5. The Royals struggled offensively, again.

6. The losing continues for the Reds.

7. Tommy Medica got it done for the Padres.

8. Oswaldo Arcia provided some fuel for the Twins.

9. Alex Cobb struggled for the Rays.

10. Joakim Soria blew a save chance.

AL East

• Zach Britton had his first blown save.

• The Orioles look like they'll be competitive.

• Anthony Gose is a keeper.

AL Central

• Michael Brantley is turning into one of the better players in the game, says Terry Francona.

• Gordon Beckham helped the White Sox in the rain.

AL West

• The Astros: nine wins in their last 14 games, and a run differential of plus-14 during that time. Collin McHugh extended Houston's winning streak to four.

• Dallas Keuchel shrugged off something that a rival manager said.

• Miguel Cabrera says Josh Donaldson should be an All-Star.

NL East

• The Nationals are getting better at the running game -- on both sides, as James Wagner writes.

• Ben Revere homered for the first time in his career Tuesday.

From Elias Sports Bureau, most plate appearances prior to first career homer*
Woody Woodward: 1,945 (1963-70)
Greg Gross: 1,890 (1973-77)
Frank Taveras: 1,779 (1972-77)
Larry Bowa: 1,744 (1970-72)
Ben Revere: 1,565 (2010-14)
Duane Kuiper: 1,532 (1974-77)
Alex Cole: 1,508 (1990-94)
*Non-pitchers who debuted 1960 or later

• The Marlins adjusted their rotation.

NL Central

• Lance Lynn owned the night.

From ESPN Stats & Information, how Lynn shut down the Yankees.

A. He triumphed with a fastball that ranged from 92 to 95 mph and netted him 19 outs.
B. Lynn threw a season-high 18 percent curveballs (22 of his 126 pitches) and those resulted in seven outs while yielding only one baserunner.
C. The Yankees went 2-for-17 when hitting a ground ball against Lynn, who has benefited from an improved infield defense. Cardinals infielders have turned 78 percent of ground balls hit against him into outs. Last season, their out rate on grounders was 72 percent.

• Kolten Wong is helping the Cardinals.

• Jake Arrieta is frustrated by soft runs.


• Hunter Pence's next scooter might have a GPS on it, as noted within this notebook.

• Mike Trout remains a popular choice in the All-Star voting.

• Manny as a mentor has a bad ring to it, writes Gene Collier.

• MLB investigated a death threat aimed at the Brewers' Khris Davis.

• Jared Remy was sentenced to life in prison.

And today will be better than yesterday.

Updated top 25 MLB prospects.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
As I have in past years, I'm pausing my draft coverage here around the two-month mark of the season for a quick update of the top 25 prospects already in professional baseball.

There aren't many huge changes here from my preseason top 100, as only three of my top 25 have been promoted to the majors (Xander Bogaerts, George Springer and Kevin Gausman). Players currently in the majors or who have exhausted their rookie eligibility are not candidates for this list, but I will consider players currently on the DL -- and pretty much have to, since the disabled list might have the best farm system in baseball right now.

Also, this is not a ranking of players' performances to date, but a consideration of their major league futures, where performance is just one criterion alongside traditional scouting evaluations.

1. Byron Buxton | CF | Minnesota Twins (age 20)
Current level: High Class A (Ft. Myers)
Preseason rank: 1

It looked like such a promising year for Buxton, but he sprained his wrist in the final week of spring training, returned in early May, then reaggravated the injury in his fifth game of the year, going back on the DL on May 8.

He still has the minors' best combination of present skills and ultimate ceiling, a potential plus-plus defender in center who hits for average and has some power, along with huge value on the bases.

2. Carlos Correa | SS | Houston Astros (age 19)
Current level: High Class A (Lancaster)
Preseason ranking: 4

Correa's always been a top offensive prospect, but he's continued to make believers out of scouts who see him at shortstop, and if he doesn't outgrow the position physically there's no reason he can't remain there at least into his mid-to-late 20s.

His performance so far has been excellent given his age, although I'd caution anyone looking at the raw stat lines (.305/.370/.458 through Tuesday) to bear in mind that Lancaster is a great place to hit, as are several other southern California League ballparks.

3. Gregory Polanco | CF | Pittsburgh Pirates (age 22)
Current level: Triple-A (Indianapolis)
Preseason ranking: 13

He's still working on some things, you know.

4. Oscar Taveras | RF | St. Louis Cardinals (age 21)
Current level: Triple-A (Memphis)
Preseason ranking: 5

He is, too. Actually Taveras' non-call-up is a little easier to understand given how much time he missed last year after suffering an ankle injury, as well as continued reports in spring training that he was running tentatively out of concern for the injury.

He's fine now, by all accounts, and both he and Polanco should be up within the month.

5. Addison Russell | SS | Oakland Athletics (age 20)
Current level: Double-A (Midland)
Preseason ranking: 3

Russell, like Buxton, has barely played this year, in his case due to a torn hamstring, and should be back fairly soon. He was impressive in spring training and has some of the best hands, both in the field and at the plate, I've ever scouted.

6. Francisco Lindor | SS | Cleveland Indians (age 20)
Current level: Double-A (Akron)
Preseason ranking: 6

Lindor, one of three Puerto Rican-born players in the top 10 (along with Correa and Baez), is among the youngest regulars in the Eastern League, once again boasting strong walk and contact rates and destroying left-handed pitching while playing good defense at short.

7. Jonathan Gray | RHP | Colorado Rockies (age 22)
Current level: Double-A (Tulsa)
Preseason ranking: 12

I don't want to call anyone the minors' best pitching prospect because that seems to be the kiss of death this year, so let's just call Gray the minors' most good pitching prospect and hope that appeases Baal or Osiris or whoever else is blowing up elbows all over the minors.

I can't imagine he spends the rest of the year in Double-A; he should at least surface in Colorado's bullpen later this summer.

8. Kris Bryant | 3B | Chicago Cubs (age 22)
Current level: Double-A (Tennessee)
Preseason ranking: 15

Aside from a high strikeout rate (more than 25 percent of his plate appearances), Bryant's season so far is unimpeachable, as he's walking, hitting for average, hitting for huge power and improving the second time around the league. We'll have to see what happens to that contact rate when he gets to Triple-A, though.

9. Javier Baez | SS | Chicago Cubs (age 21)
Current level: Triple-A (Iowa)
Preseason ranking: 7

Speaking of Cubs who don't make enough contact in Triple-A, here's Baez, owner of the fastest bat in the minors, striking out in a third of his plate appearances so far this year for Iowa.

When he does square the ball up, he hits it hard, but he's got work to do to make more contact, especially cutting down on his aggressiveness with two strikes, before he's ready to come up and take over any position in Chicago.

10. Hunter Harvey | RHP | Baltimore Orioles (age 19)
Current level: Low Class A (Delmarva)
Preseason ranking: 38

Harvey's warming up with the weather, with one of the best curveballs in the minors and above-average velocity already from an easy delivery; he's still working on refining his changeup, but has been able to get left-handed hitters out in low A using his fastball and curve because he commands them so well.

He's probably still a good two years away from the majors but the upside is enormous.

11. Corey Seager | SS/3B | LA Dodgers (age 20)
Current level: High Class A (Rancho Cucamonga)
Preseason ranking: 18

Seager scuffled a little after his call-up to Rancho last summer, but he's keeping his front side closed better and is making more contact this time around, leading the Cal League in average and doubles while ranking second in slugging percentage.

12. Archie Bradley | RHP | Arizona Diamondbacks (age 21)
Current level: Triple-A (Reno)
Preseason ranking: 9

Bradley probably would be in the majors by now had he not been slowed by an elbow injury that has cost him a month already and may not see him back in a game until mid-June.

He remains among the game's best pitching prospects despite his high ERA in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League, making four of his five starts so far in terrible pitchers' parks.

13. Miguel Sano | 3B | Minnesota Twins (age 21)
Current level: Out for season
Preseason ranking: 8

Sano will likely miss the entire year after Tommy John surgery -- he should be able to play winter ball and I'm hopeful the Twins send him to the Arizona Fall League first -- which costs him a lot of much-needed at-bats and reps in the field.

He remains one of the minors' best offensive prospects, as a hitter for both average and power, but the odds of him staying at third took a hit with this injury.

14. Lucas Giolito | RHP | Washington Nationals (age 19)
Current level: Low Class A (Hagerstown)
Preseason ranking: 21

Giolito is skipping a few turns in the Hagerstown rotation after he reported a little soreness and the Nats (wisely) chose to give him a rest rather than push their best prospect, who had Tommy John surgery himself back in July of 2012. He has a true three-pitch mix, all three pitches above-average to plus on the right day, with a good delivery and the size and athleticism you want from a No. 1 starter.

15. Julio Urias | LHP | Los Angeles Dodgers (age 17)
Current level: High Class A (Rancho Cucamonga)
Preseason ranking: 14

Urias missed a start in April with a sore shoulder, struggled in his first outing back, but has been very good since then, punching out 25 in 24 innings while allowing five walks, 18 hits and -- most impressive given his home park in Rancho -- no homers.

He won't turn 18 until August and will likely top out around 100 innings this year as the Dodgers try to keep him healthy for the long term, as he has top-of-the-rotation upside.

16. Mark Appel | RHP | Houston Astros (age 22)
Current level: High Class A (Lancaster)
Preseason ranking: 11

Appel's inability to adjust to Houston's four-day tandem rotation scheme isn't at all his fault, nor is it any kind of demerit toward his prospect status; the tandem system has its merits, but I wouldn't want to experiment like that with the first overall pick in the draft and my top pitching prospect.

He's been out of action for five weeks already, and while he's reportedly throwing very hard again in extended spring, I'd like to see him do it on a mound again -- preferably in Double-A, outside the tandem system entirely.

17. Eddie Butler | RHP | Colorado Rockies (age 23)
Current level: Double-A (Tulsa)
Preseason ranking: 17

Butler's season so far hasn't quite lived up to the scouting reports -- he's not missing that many bats, although he continues to generate ground balls (50 percent on the dot, according to and throw strikes.

A guy with Butler's stuff should strike more hitters out, and he'll probably need to when he pitches in Denver at some point this year, but as long as he's still touching the mid-90s with two plus secondary pitches there's a chance he can find that extra gear.

18. Raul Mondesi | SS | Kansas City Royals (age 18)
Current level: High Class A (Wilmington)
Preseason ranking: 22

Mondesi has struggled so far in high A, especially over the past month, although a lot of that is his difficulty hitting right-handed, a switch-hitting experiment the Royals may eventually want to end so he can focus on hitting left-handed and utilizing his plus-plus speed to get on base more often.

He won't turn 19 until the week of the MLB trade deadline and remains one of the youngest regulars in any full-season league, so I'm not concerned about his performance as long as his raw tools remain intact.

19. JP Crawford | SS | Philadelphia Phillies (age 19)
Current level: Low Class A (Lakewood)
Preseason ranking: 46

After Bryant, Crawford is having the best 2014 of any player drafted in last year's first round, showing an outstanding approach at the plate and surprising doubles power along with very promising work at shortstop.

I loved him at the time of the draft but thought he'd be a slow-developing prospect; based on his work in pro ball so far, with a composite .324/.418/.440 line in his first 411 plate appearances since he signed, I might have been a little light on him.

20. Henry Owens | LHP | Boston Red Sox (age 21)
Current level: Double-A (Portland)
Preseason ranking: 42

Owens' control has wobbled a bit early -- he had a three-start stretch in May where he walked 14 men across 15 2/3 innings -- but the stuff is still there, with a changeup scouts have told me might be as good as any in the majors right now and a fastball that plays up because hitters don't see the ball out of his hand. He does need to tighten up his breaking ball, and obviously throwing more strikes is rather important.

Statistical curiosity: Owens has always had a reverse platoon split, but managers still try to counter him with right-handed lineups, as 83 percent of the batters he's faced this year have been right-handed. Good job, good effort, guys.

21. Joc Pederson | OF | Los Angeles Dodgers (age 22)
Current level: Triple-A (Albuquerque)
Preseason ranking: 41

Pederson is getting a bit overrated through no fault of his own -- I think it's hard for people to see his raw stats and understand how to mentally adjust them to reflect the insanity of playing half your games in Albuquerque.

He's hitting .298/.387/.577 on the road, still playing a lot of games in hitters' parks, but that's at least a more accurate reflection of his skill set than his .410/.529/.735 line at home. Pederson is improving his approach every year, has power and speed, and is probably a better defender in center right now than anyone on L.A.'s active roster. Just don't ask him to come up and save the Dodgers' season all by himself.

22. Mookie Betts | 2B/CF | Boston Red Sox (age 21)
Current level: Double-A (Portland)
Preseason ranking: 61

Betts has cooled down after putting up hallucination-inducing stats in April, hitting "just" .299/.425/.454 in May, while stealing 12 bases in 12 attempts. Everyone knew he was a great athlete, and those are generally the players you might bet on to take a sudden step forward like this, but this is way beyond any reasonable expectations.

He's second in the league in walks behind a 29-year-old who's in his 10th year in pro ball, and seventh in slugging behind six players all at least 18 months older than he is. The really interesting part is that Betts, a natural middle infielder, has made seven of his past 10 non-DH starts in center field, a position he's fast and athletic enough to handle -- and where the Red Sox may have a need.

23. Braden Shipley | RHP | Arizona (age 22)
Current level: Low Class A (South Bend)
Preseason ranking: 25

Shipley got a slightly late start after a brief elbow scare of his own, but he's been solid so far in low A, showing three above-average pitches at times with excellent control, walking two or fewer batters in every start but one so far. He's too advanced for low A, but the D-backs may be trying to keep him out of the hitter-friendly Cal League, or to minimize any eventual stay there.

24. Noah Syndergaard | RHP | New York Mets (age 22)
Current level: Triple-A (Las Vegas)
Preseason ranking: 24

We might have needed a #sadthor meme if Syndergaard's current elbow injury, which has him on the DL this week, turned out to be more serious, but an MRI showed no structural damage and he should be back dropping hammers on PCL hitters shortly. Don't let his 4.02 ERA there worry you -- his peripherals are strong and Vegas is also a lousy place to pitch.

He's throwing strikes, his curveball is still gradually improving, and he's keeping the ball down. This might delay his arrival in Queens by a bit but the long-term outlook is very positive.

25. Joey Gallo | 3B | Texas Rangers (age 20)
Current level: High Class A (Myrtle Beach)
Preseason ranking: Unranked

Gallo moved up from low A to high A this year, leaving a few teammates behind to repeat the Sally League, and after drawing 48 walks and punching out 165 times for Hickory in 2013, Gallo has drawn 41 walks already and struck out 54 times for Myrtle Beach, with 18 homers to lead all of organized baseball -- even though Myrtle's not a great place to hit.

He's covering the plate better than he did last year, swinging and missing less at stuff in the zone, and laying off more pitches out of the zone, so while he's always going to be a high-strikeout guy, he doesn't look like he's going to be making annual attempts to topple Mark Reynolds' record once he reaches the majors.

Even if he strikes out 180-200 times a year, he's a very good bet to hit 40 homers and draw 80-100 walks, numbers that will play just fine even if he ends up at first base.

Honorable mentions: Kyle Zimmer, RHP, Kansas City Royals; Brandon Nimmo, OF, New York Mets; Albert Almora, OF, Chicago Cubs; Robert Stephenson, RHP, Cincinnati Reds; Jorge Soler, OF, Chicago Cubs; Andrew Heaney, LHP, Miami Marlins; Alex Meyer, RHP, Minnesota Twins.

Top prospects who won't be called up.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Perhaps the most obvious reason a top prospect isn't called up to the big leagues is he's simply not ready. For others, serious injuries have derailed their timeline to the big leagues, such as Miguel Sano (Minnesota Twins), Archie Bradley (Arizona Diamondbacks) and Addison Russell (Oakland Athletics).

Then there those prospects who are major league-ready but won't be brought up until mid-to-late June simply because their clubs want to ensure they don't qualify for Super Two status. This refers to their major league service time, which would allow them to become arbitration-eligible at the end of the 2016 season, as opposed to 2017. Gregory Polanco (Pittsburgh Pirates) and Andrew Heaney (Miami Marlins) are prime examples of this phenomenon.

As much as fans might want to see their teams' top prospects, a few who simply won't be in the big leagues anytime soon, regardless of injury or service time. Here are five:

1. Kris Bryant | 3B | Chicago Cubs

Just 12 months ago I said the Astros should draft Bryant as the first overall pick. A product of the University of San Diego, Bryant was the best position player in the draft, and the Cubs were wise to snatch him up at No. 2.

Bryant is off to a blistering start this season after a huge debut in 2013. He's dominated Double-A thus far, hitting .349/.452/.667 (AVG/OBP/SLG) with 14 homers. His bat is major league-ready right now. If he was promoted to Chicago, he would immediately hit in the middle of the lineup along with Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro.

However, don't look for the promotion soon. Bryant is still a work in progress at third base; some evaluators believe he might end up in right field. I still think he'll stay at third despite his 6-foot-5, 215-pound frame and be defensively adequate similar to Troy Glaus.

Also, if the Cubs leave Bryant in the minors, they won't have to use a 40-man roster spot on him. And if they keep him down until May 2015, it would preserve yet another year of free agency. Because the Cubs' timetable to win is 2017, there really isn't a good baseball or business reason to promote him this season.

2. Joc Pederson | OF | Los Angeles Dodgers

Pederson is tearing up Triple-A, hitting .340/.448/.629 in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League, though with big home-road splits. However, the Dodgers' outfield is crowded, and adding one more player to the equation would be a catastrophe.

The four-man competition of Matt Kemp, Yasiel Puig, Carl Crawford and Andre Ethier was relieved temporarily this past week when Crawford sprained an ankle and was put on the disabled list. However, the only way Pederson gets a call-up is if Kemp fails in his switch to left field or Crawford's ankle doesn't heal. When Pederson finally comes up, the Dodgers want him playing every day, not platooning or sitting on the bench.

Also, some within the Dodgers organization say privately that Pederson isn't quite ready on the defensive side, pointing to some of his jumps, angles and routes, though he'd still probably be in an upgrade in center over Ethier or Kemp.

3. Javier Baez | SS | Chicago Cubs

The Cubs didn't want to say it publicly, but if Baez had started the year by tearing up Triple-A, they would have been open to promoting him at the end of June once the Super Two status possibility was eliminated. However, Baez got off to a really slow start and is still trying to turn his season around.

Baez has struggled with breaking balls and chasing pitches out of the zone and is hitting .224/.282/.422, but he's been really hot over the past two weeks. The Cubs' recent signing of Manny Ramirez should be a positive influence on Baez in terms of understanding the mental side of hitting, and hopefully better plate discipline will follow soon after.

4. Maikel Franco | 3B | Philadelphia Phillies

Franco, 21, was on the fast track last year dominating two levels, leaving most front offices believing Franco would make it to the big leagues this year. However, he has struggled mightily, hitting just .232/.307/.351 in 185 at-bats.

GM Ruben Amaro told the media recently: "He's just not playing good enough baseball yet, he's not really ready to be a big leaguer yet."

Franco also has the competition of Cody Asche, the Phillies' current third baseman, who has better range than Franco. That said, Franco has more upside, but both Amaro and Sandberg have made it clear they don't want to promote him until he is firing on all cylinders.

5. Joey Gallo | 3B | Texas Rangers

Gallo is one of the best power prospects in minor league baseball. The left-handed-hitting third baseman is absolutely tearing up the high Class A Carolina League, batting .315/.454/.720 with 18 homers in just 50 games. The 20-year-old should soon get a promotion to Double-A, which is a phone call away from the big leagues.

However, Gallo still needs to cut down on his strikeouts and still has holes that will get exposed the higher he goes in the Rangers' farm system. Defensively, he lacks range and first-step quickness at third. And with Adrian Beltre, Prince Fielder and Shin-Soo Choo signed long term, the question is, where will he end up playing for the Rangers in the long run?

In an organization with needs at the corners he might be fast-tracked, but in Texas, that isn't the case.

Six teams that need a good draft.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
No matter how many picks a team has or how strong a farm system is, every draft is important for every club, as it's a chance to replenish the farm system with depth and address needs without having to give up anything but cash.

That being said, there's also no question that a draft can take on added significance, be it because of where a team is selecting, how often it's selecting, and how its prospects have developed in the respective systems.

"No draft is created equal," an American League scout said. "You place importance on it every year, but it'd be foolish to say there aren't years where it becomes more important than others. The danger is that you recognize that and change your process, and in the many years I've been doing this, I've never seen that work. Just like any other year, you have to trust your scouts and talent evaluators and hope that everything works out."

And so with just one week to go until draft day, here's a look at six teams this year's draft is particularly important for, and some potential targets that could make it a draft to remember.

Houston Astros

You can't leave the team with the first pick in the draft off this list, even if this is the third time in a row that the Astros have had this selection and there's a pretty good chance that they'll have it again in 2015. Houston also has the 37th and 42nd picks on Thursday, so they'll have a chance to add three top-50 talents to a system that might already be the best in baseball.

"Anytime you have pick No. 1, it's something you have to hit on," a long-time former scouting director said. "Yes, you want to hit on every pick you have, but when you get a chance to acquire the very best player in the draft, there's a little added incentive.

"Whomever they take won't turn them into a winner in 2014 or 2015, but with the depth they have in that system, it could be a huge building block for something special."

Possible top picks: Brady Aiken, LHP, Cathedral Catholic HS (San Diego), Carlos Rodon, LHP, NC State, Alex Jackson, C/OF, Rancho Bernardo HS (San Diego)

Chicago Cubs

The Cubs are going to be one of the most interesting clubs to watch in the draft this year, as this is an organization with enormous offensive potential in the system, but desperately needs to acquire pitching to compete in the NL Central by 2016. With pick No. 4, they may have to reach in order to fit their organizational needs if the clubs drafting ahead of them take pitchers with their selections, which is entirely possible.

Drafting for need isn't generally president Theo Epstein and GM Jed Hoyer's style, so they could chose to address the issue with their later picks, but it's unlikely they find the frontline starting pitching prospect the system needs with picks 45 or 78.

"If Aiken, Rodon and [Tyler] Kolek are off the board, I don't think you can take a pitcher," an AL East crosschecker said. "Two months ago you had [Jeff] Hoffman and [Tyler] Beede as options, but I think those are off the table. If they're fortunate enough to have [Aiken, Rodon or Kolek] fall to them, they're golden, but if not, they're going to have to get creative. They certainly have the right guys in the front office to do that, though."

Possible top picks: Rodon; Aaron Nola, RHP, Louisiana State; Max Pentecost, C, Kennesaw State; Nick Gordon, SS, Olympia HS (Orlando, Fla.).

Miami Marlins

This draft could be a huge opportunity for a farm system that ranks near the middle of the pack, as Miami has four selections on Day 1 and more money to spend than any club. The Marlins have taken collegiate players with their last two first-round selections, but over their history they've had a strong lean toward prep players with high upside, and this could be the perfect draft for them to go back to that strategy and load up with young talents that could help them compete for the NL East in a few seasons.

There are rumors that ownership is mandating that they take Rodon if he's still on the board at No. 2, but the strength of this draft is in the prep ranks, and they have a chance to add intriguing upside talents with picks 36, 39 and 43.

Possible top picks: Rodon, Kolek, Jackson

Milwaukee Brewers and Los Angeles Angels

These two teams are linked together because it's an important draft for both clubs for the same reasons: These are the two worst farm systems in baseball, and assuming they don't want that to continue to be the case, they can use this year's draft to help rebuild their respective situations.

"There's no better way to build a system than through the draft," an NL East scout said. "Sure there's a lot of volatility and, unfortunately, you have to be bad in order to procure the elite talent. But if you look at some of the best farm systems out there, like Boston and St. Louis, you know that you can pick up elite talents through the draft no matter where you pick.

"In the case of [Los Angeles and Milwaukee], they haven't had a lot of picks because of free agency, but I don't think they've done a great job when it comes to process, either. With picks in the middle of the first round, they are very likely to pick up a guy who's going to rank at the top of their system. That's not the goal, but it's a start."

Possible top picks for Milwaukee: Pentecost; Kyle Freeland, LHP, Evansville; Grant Holmes, RHP, Conway (S.C.) HS

Possible top picks for Los Angeles: Kyle Schwarber, C, Indiana; Nick Burdi, RHP, Louisville; Bradley Zimmer, OF, San Francisco.

Toronto Blue Jays

When you trade away the majority of your quality prospects in trades for the likes of R.A. Dickey, Mark Buehrle and Jose Reyes, and you fail to sign two of your three previous first-round picks, and you miss on a large portion of the selections you do sign like the Blue Jays have, your system is going to be in trouble.

Fortunately for they Jays, they have two picks in the top 11 and close to $9.5 million to spend in the draft, and a chance to rectify some of those errors.

"I think this is a huge draft for them," an NL scout said. "And I am fascinated to see what they do, because there are so many different names attached to them, and not similar type players either. Ideally, they can take a chance on a guy like Jeff Hoffman or a volatile arm like Touki Toussaint or a guy like Jacob Gatewood. But I imagine one of these picks will be a safety guy. That being said, I've seen them take as many high-risk, high-reward guys as anyone in baseball, so I could see them going that route again."

Possible top picks: Hoffman; Trea Turner, SS, NC State; Sean Reid-Foley, RHP, Sandalwood HS (Jacksonville)
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Correa up to number 2

And Appel dropping from 11 to 16. I really didn't want the Astros to take Appel.
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Please let 1 of those 3 pitchers fall to #4. Come on God, help me out a lil here.

4 Pitcher
45 Pitcher
78 Pitcher

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Houston Rockets | Houston Texans | Houston Astros | Texas Aggies
Houston Rockets | Houston Texans | Houston Astros | Texas Aggies
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Originally Posted by do work son View Post


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Thread Starter 
Intent, Execution, and Edwin Encarnacion.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Thursday afternoon, I wrote something up regarding Edwin Encarnacion‘s power-hitting hot streak. Within a few hours of publishing, Encarnacion hit another home run, and within an hour or so of that home run, Encarnacion hit another home run. Twice, he went deep against Royals ace James Shields, and though the Blue Jays ultimately lost the contest, Encarnacion further demonstrated that he’s one of the most dangerous hitters in baseball. His April slump isn’t forgotten — I’m referring to it right here — but now it’s the sort of thing we can all laugh about. All of us who are not pitchers.

One of Encarnacion’s homers on Thursday came against a fastball, and the other came against a cut fastball. The homers themselves looked like ordinary Edwin Encarnacion homers, as he launched both of them high and out to left. But what caught my attention was something else going on. Something involving Shields and Salvador Perez. The thing we always observe is what a pitch actually is. The thing we don’t always observe is what a pitch was supposed to be.

Here are a couple screenshots, showing targets and actual pitch locations. The first of the home runs:

Now the second of the home runs:

Twice, Perez was set up around the low-away corner. Twice, Shields missed on the other side of the plate, with a little extra elevation. After the fact, Shields said he made three bad pitches. All three were homers, two by Encarnacion and one by Jose Bautista. One thing we know is that the catcher’s glove isn’t always the actual target being pitched to. Sometimes pitchers have their own ideas, and we’re reminded of this time and time again. But in these cases, I’m pretty comfortable asserting that Shields wanted to pitch to where Perez was set up. Those were good spots, and Encarnacion has been hunting pitches inside from the outer third. He likes to pull his home runs, and Shields threw him pullable pitches.

Inspired by the Shields examples, I’m trying something experimental. First, here are the pitches Encarnacion has hit out in 2014. Note that this is from the pitcher’s perspective, instead of the customary catcher’s perspective. This is for the sake of consistency with the background screenshots. So Encarnacion would be on the right side instead of the left.

You see inside pitches, you see pitches up and over the middle, and you see a couple pitches over the outer third. So, that’s where the pitches went. But where were the pitches supposed to go? I watched each highlight video and decided to plot an estimate of the catcher target. No, the target isn’t always the actual target. Yes, it can be tricky when you have off-center camera angles. But while the following image includes a bunch of approximations, I think it conveys the right idea. A rough plot of the targets:

Four pitches in. The rest, low and away. You’ll note that most of Encarnacion’s home runs have not been hit against low-and-away pitches. This is because the pitches missed. Pitches miss a lot, despite the best of intentions.

Why so many targets down and away? As Dave just wrote about, it’s generally a good target for any pitcher. And we can look at an Encarnacion-specific heat map. Here’s that, from the start of last season to the present day, once again from the pitcher’s perspective. You’re looking at runs above average per 100 pitches.

Encarnacion has been highly productive over the inner third, and of course he’s been good on pitches down the middle. If he’s had a weak spot, it’s down and away, and while he’s still capable of hitting some of those pitches hard, he’s less capable than he is elsewhere in the zone. And you can’t just not ever pitch him in the zone. Your best bet for retiring Encarnacion is staying in the low-away part of the strike zone. Sometimes pitchers have been able to do this, and sometimes they have very much not.

As you’ve probably realized, any discussion of home runs is going to be selective for pitches that didn’t quite hit their spots. Pitchers generally try not to pitch to areas where batters can go deep easily, so if a batter does go deep, what’s suggested is that the pitcher put the ball somewhere more hittable. Not all pitches to Encarnacion miss their targets by this much. But the two things worth remembering: pitchers miss pretty often, and Encarnacion is better than the majority of hitters when it comes to cashing in on mistakes.

Think about that low-away corner. Say you want to pitch Encarnacion in that low-away corner. Horizontally, it measures something like five or six inches. Vertically, it measures something like seven or eight or nine inches. Hold your hands out in front of you and approximate those dimensions. It’s a very small area, and then consider that pitchers are throwing from 60 feet away. The target area is smaller than an ordinary piece of paper, and if you miss, the pitch might be a ball, or the pitch might be a dinger threat. Pitches fly fast, and they move, and they don’t always move consistently or predictably. Twice on Thursday, James Shields missed his spots, but one has to remember that hitting spots is hard, and Edwin Encarnacion isn’t very forgiving.

In some sense, Encarnacion has been a mistake hitter. But for one thing, he’s also hit some non-mistakes, and for another, being a mistake hitter isn’t an insult, because pitchers constantly make mistakes. Because specific pitch targets are difficult to hit all the time. Encarnacion isn’t hopeless against pitches down and away. Yet even if he were, he’d still end up with plenty of pitches to handle, because that’s a small vulnerability. Against Edwin Encarnacion, pitchers and catchers always have a good-enough plan. Men make a lot of good-enough plans.

The Best and Worst Teams, Two Months In.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Four weeks ago, I introduced Expected Run Differentials, using the various linear weights tools we have on the site to construct a metric to evaluate a team’s performance without any timing or sequencing factors. Essentially, this method just counts up the context-neutral value of positive or negative events a team allows, and gives us an expected result if every team had distributed those events in the same manner. While run differential strips timing out of the conversion from runs to wins, this construct strips out timing from the runs themselves, and gives us the most sequencing-free look at a team’s overall performance to date.

Since it’s been nearly a month, let’s go ahead and update the numbers and look at what we can learn from them. There’s a lot of information in the table, and each column is sortable, so you can see where teams stand either by runs scored or allowed, expected runs scored or allowed, run differential or expected differential, or the differences in each section. The table is presented by expected run differential, from best to worst, and a reminder that the differences are set so that positive numbers are always favorable for the team.

Offense R xR Difference Defense RA xRA Difference Total Rdiff xRDiff Difference
Athletics 270 256 14 —— 170 165 -5 —— 100 91 9
Angels 256 256 0 —— 211 176 -35 —— 45 81 -36
Cardinals 212 215 -3 —— 188 178 -10 —— 24 37 -13
Rockies 271 282 -11 —— 237 249 12 —— 34 33 1
Giants 234 219 15 —— 186 195 9 —— 48 24 24
Dodgers 234 250 -16 —— 227 229 2 —— 7 20 -13
Marlins 246 245 1 —— 222 225 3 —— 24 20 4
Braves 178 194 -16 —— 174 176 2 —— 4 19 -15
Blue Jays 274 280 -6 —— 244 264 20 —— 30 16 14
Brewers 220 229 -9 —— 203 215 12 —— 17 14 3
Tigers 232 230 2 —— 213 216 3 —— 19 13 6
Nationals 203 210 -7 —— 202 197 -5 —— 1 13 -12
Cubs 194 182 13 —— 205 188 -17 —— -11 -6 -5
Yankees 224 226 -2 —— 231 232 1 —— -7 -6 -1
Indians 230 234 -4 —— 255 244 -11 —— -25 -10 -15
Rays 214 221 -7 —— 241 233 -8 —— -27 -11 -16
Reds 177 186 -9 —— 196 200 4 —— -19 -14 -5
Mariners 218 182 36 —— 207 198 -9 —— 11 -16 27
White Sox 258 239 19 —— 268 256 -12 —— -10 -18 8
Astros 209 221 -12 —— 247 239 -8 —— -38 -18 -20
Pirates 203 219 -16 —— 228 240 12 —— -25 -21 -4
Orioles 220 225 -5 —— 233 247 14 —— -13 -22 9
Twins 216 210 6 —— 243 235 -8 —— -27 -25 -2
Mets 208 197 11 —— 213 224 11 —— -5 -27 22
Royals 205 190 15 —— 219 218 -1 —— -14 -28 14
Rangers 232 230 2 —— 242 258 16 —— -10 -28 18
Red Sox 217 217 1 —— 234 253 19 —— -17 -36 19
Diamondbacks 220 222 -2 —— 277 261 -16 —— -57 -39 -18
Padres 175 169 7 —— 203 208 5 —— -28 -40 12
Phillies 201 197 4 —— 232 247 15 —— -31 -51 20
A month ago, the A’s and Angels came out on top as the two best teams in baseball, with a pretty good sized gap between them and the third place team. That remains true, and the gap has only gotten larger. The gap between the #2 and #3 teams is now essentially equal to the gap between #3 and #13. Or, to put it this way, the Angels are as far ahead of the Cardinals as the Cardinals are ahead of the Cubs. The Angels have gone 16-10 since the first publication of this list suggested they were better than their mediocre start, but by their underlying performance, even that could be considered a disappointing result.

It’s tempting to still see the Angels as an offensive juggernaut who is trying to get enough pitching to survive, but the team has actually been just as good at the things that prevent run scoring as they are at the things that lead to run scoring; they are third in the majors in expected runs scored, but tied for second in expected runs allowed. Because their wOBA allowed is being driven by in-play outs as opposed to the kinds of things that are more obviously good pitching — they have allowed just a .269 BABIP — it’s less likely that they will sustain this kind of performance all year, but even with some expected regression, it’s time to stop thinking of the Angels as a team that is going to give up a lot of runs. Their defense is good, the pitching is fine, and they can really hit. The Angels of 2014 are playing like the team people have been expecting the Angels to be for a few years now.

And yet, they’re still playing as well as the A’s, who are just a steamroller destroying anything in their path. It’s still hard to fathom that a team of cast-offs is this good, but we’re going on over a year of total dominance, and they’re not showing any signs of slowing down. The A’s are amazing.

On the other end of the spectrum, the Diamondbacks are no longer the league’s biggest dumpster fire, as both the Padres and Phillies have surpassed them with a combination of lousy everything. Expect all three to be sellers in July.

But then, look at who is fourth from the bottom; the defending World Champs. Injuries have been a legitimate problem, but the Red Sox haven’t fluked their way into a big hole; they have really played terrible baseball over the last month. It’s too early to write them off after a couple of bad months, but it’s certainly worth noting that this isn’t a team that is simply failing to hit in critical situations, with an obvious area for progression coming. For two months, the Red Sox have just played like one of the worst teams in baseball.

And as Jeff noted this morning, the Astros are showing some real signs of improvement. They had a -59 expected run differential four weeks ago, and now they’re at just -18; in other words, they’ve played like a team that should have outscored their opponents by 41 runs over their last 27 games. For the better part of the month of May, the Astros have played like one of the best teams in baseball. Of course, the fact that they were atrocious in April still counts, and we shouldn’t ignore previous history when projecting them forward, but they certainly appear to be significantly improved.

The season still has four months to go, so there’s enough time for the teams in the middle to change their course and salvage the 2014 season before it is entirely a lost cause. I wouldn’t even give up entirely on the Red Sox yet. But these numbers are a good reminder of who is actually playing well on a daily basis, rather than who is just getting hits or outs in the right situation, inflating their run differential and win-loss record in the process. Right now, it looks like the road to the World Series runs through the American League West.

“I Wish We Could Get Guys Like That”.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Weird things about baseball fascinate me. One of those things is the concept of discarded players. Every once in awhile, you’ll see a player doing well and think to yourself, “Hey, wasn’t he on our team at one point?” David Carpenter is one such player. Watching him face the Red Sox this week, I couldn’t help but think that it would be sure nice if the Sox had him right now instead of Craig Breslow. Sure, the world will keep on spinning, and Carpenter wouldn’t make or break the 2014 Red Sox, but every little bit counts, and the Red Sox gave him away for free after just five weeks on the roster. In situations like these, we often jokingly say (or at least I do), “Hey, I wish we could get guys like that!”

I don’t mean to pick on the Red Sox, because every team does this. If you scan rosters, you’ll find one such player on just about every roster. And originally, my intention was to run down that list and look at them all individually. But then I got a look at this trade. On July 31, 2010, the Atlanta Braves traded Gregor Blanco, Jesse Chavez and Tim Collins to the Kansas City Royals for Rick Ankiel and Kyle Farnsworth. Take a look:

The Braves made this trade because they really wanted to get back to the playoffs. They had missed out on October berths in each of the past four seasons, they had not been to the National League Championship Series since 2001, and they could no longer claim that Tom Glavine, Greg Maddux or John Smoltz were walking through that door. On the day of the trade, the Braves were 9.5 games behind the Phillies in the East, and were in a dead heat with the Astros for the Wild Card spot. (Remember when there was only one Wild Card team? Ah, memories.) They didn’t need to reinvent the wheel, but they needed to do something.

Do something was an appropriate motto for the Royals’ action as well. Yes, Collins had a little bit of hype behind him, but he was far from a top prospect. The diminutive Worcester, Mass., native was never a top 100 prospect. And at the time, Blanco and Chavez weren’t thought of as much of anything themselves. In our writeup of the trade here at FanGraphs, Jack Moore called Chavez’s involvement in the trade “negligible,” and with good reason. The Royals would become Chavez’s fourth organization, and at the time he had pitched just 145 innings major league innings.

Fast forward four years and Chavez is suddenly a pretty valuable weapon. He had a great 2013 campaign in which he posted a 78 FIP- across 57.1 innings, mostly in relief. This season, as you probably already know, he has been a full-time starter, and acquitted himself quite well. The fly balls that once plagued him are relatively in check — though he still has a pretty healthy HR/FB% — and his Minus stats paint him as an above-average pitcher. But he’s not doing this for the Royals.

In fact, the Royals didn’t extract any value out of Chavez at all. In his season-plus with Kansas City, he posted -0.6 WAR and the team relinquished him to the Blue Jays, who claimed him off waivers. Less than 12 months later, Chavez had an 8.44 ERA in 21.1 innings pitched for the Blue Jays, and they too relinquished him via waiver claim. Now he’s working on 1.8 WAR and counting as a member of the A’s.

Blanco’s situation wasn’t nearly as bleak, but the results were mostly the same. Following the trade to the Royals, he immediately slotted in as the team’s starting center fielder, and compiled 0.5 WAR in his time there, which included 40 center-field starts. Spread that out over a full season, and you have the productive but unheralded player we know today. He managed 10 steals in 12 tries and posted a .348 on-base percentage for Kansas City, but when the next season started he was on the outside looking in. The Royals’ Opening Day outfield consisted of Alex Gordon in left, Melky Cabrera in center and Jeff Francoeur in right, and Jarrod Dyson and Mitch Maier in reserve. Blanco was in Omaha, where he hit just a buck-ninety six, but had a .384 OBP. The Royals had seen enough though, and shipped him off to the Nationals in a conditional deal. Conditional on what, I’m not sure, but it doesn’t appear that the Royals ever received anything in exchange for him. In fact, the transaction doesn’t even appear on the May 2011 transaction logs for the Royals or Nationals on

Blanco remained in Triple-A in the Nationals organization, where his performance got worse. Turns out, he had bone spurs in his wrist, and their removal ended his season early. The Giants, as you can see in the link in the previous sentence, had noticed his very healthy OBP, and took a chance on him. They had their hitting coach, Hensley Meulens, work with him, and he would win the Most Valuable Player Award in the Venezuelan Winter League that year. He went on to become an important part of the Giants’ 2012 World Series team, and was even better last year. He has not started as strong this year, but the Giants are now 6.2 WAR in the black on the Blanco transaction, and that has to feel pretty sweet.

If you’re keeping score, the Royals came out ahead in that 2010 trade. They derived 1.6 WAR collectively from their trio of players, while the Braves derived just 0.6 WAR. I’m sure the Braves don’t regret the trade. After all, Farnsworth picked up a win in the NL Division Series that season, and Ankiel homered as well. Their contributions were just positive enough, in other words. But it’s worth wondering what if. What if the Braves had held serve and kept Blanco. If Blanco had the 2012 season he did in San Fran in Atlanta instead, perhaps the B.J. Upton contract never happens. If Collins was still around, perhaps the temptation to foolishly move a player with legit upside like Alex Wood back to the bullpen in favor of the forever mediocre Gavin Floyd wouldn’t have become a thing that happened this season. Perhaps they wouldn’t have needed Floyd around at all if they still had Chavez.

We could do this dance with the Royals as well. Lorenzo Cain and Jarrod Dyson are essentially the same players as is Blanco, but in retrospect, you have to wonder if the Royals should have received at least something in return for his services. And While Blanco might have saved the Braves from Upton, perhaps Chavez could have saved the Royals from committing to Jeremy Guthrie once he hit free agency. Probably not, but it’s still interesting.

Again, the point of this post isn’t to criticize the Braves, Royals, Blue Jays or Nationals for discarding useful major league players. It’s simply to illustrate just how fragile success is in the majors, and how fates turn quickly. After being discarded by two organizations, Blanco would play a semi-starring role in October. Chavez woke up this morning leading a very good A’s pitching staff in strikeouts. Meanwhile, Farnsworth and Ankiel spent just a couple of months in Atlanta. Let’s let Smooth Jimmy Apollo sum things up for us (fast forward to the 16 second mark):

Don't look now: Houston doesn't have as many problems as before.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)

Entering Friday, the Houston Astros feature the longest winning streak in the majors — and a rookie slugger on a home-run tear.

Thursday's 3-1 victory over the visiting Baltimore Orioles was the Astros' sixth consecutive win. The streak started with the final two games of a four-game series in Seattle and included a three-game sweep in Kansas City. No, wait: Make that a clobbering of the Royals.

The Astros certainly earned their status as a punch line, losing 100-plus games in three consecutive campaigns. Before this season, the Astros had lost more games in the last three years than 15 different teams had lost in the last four.

The perception is that the Astros are an experiment, and the perception is that the experiment is a long ways from completion. The Astros still get no respect, and they had a miserable beginning to 2014.

But don't let the start and the history fool you. The Astros, 23-32 through Thursday, are actively shedding their losing reputation and are perhaps, no longer a punch line.

The Astros were going to get decent again at some point. That much was inevitable, and they've drawn praise from all corners for a deeply talented farm system. But the Astros, 14-13 in May, might be ahead of their own schedule.

Wins Above Replacement (WAR) combines all the known elements of the game into a single number to try to estimate overall value. Usually, it’s seen when referring to individual players, like the Angels' Mike Trout or the Tigers' Miguel Cabrera, but it also works on the team level.

Here are the Astros' month-by-month team WAR totals since April 2011.

Without a point of reference, it might not be easy to know what to make of this. We know that the Astros have been terrible, so it makes sense that their month-by-month WARs have been terrible. Above is the most terrible monthly WARs, but notice May 2014. This month isn't over yet, but the Astros have had their best month in years. It’s their best month by about two wins over the runner-up. It's three wins over third place.

Between 2011-'13, the Astros were last in the majors in WAR, by an awful lot. They came in at 34; next-worst were the Twins at 56. This confirms that those Astros were a disaster. You might have some quibbles with the WAR formula, but it's not like it really missed on the Astros’ calculations.

In the opening month of the 2014 season, the Astros were again last in the majors in WAR. They came in at -0.4; next-worst were the Pirates at 1.3. The Astros were 9-19 in April 9-19. That's what bad teams do, losing twice as much as they win.

But it isn't April anymore. Houston is a good example of "April showers bringing May flowers." Here are the top five teams in WAR for May:

1. Blue Jays: 9.9
2. Angels: 8.6
3. Tigers: 7.5
4 (tie). ASTROS: 7.2
4 (tie). Yankees: 7.2

Right there, tied for fourth, are the Astros, behind some of the best and hottest teams in the league. Because of the way the Astros started, they still look like a mess of a team in the standings, but they've been playing competitive baseball for weeks, meaning the AL West might not have a single pushover.

The Astros, presumably, are not really a top-five ballclub right now, but there's reason to believe they're back to all right. There's reason to believe they're a team worth a darn or two.

Certain Astros were expected to do well. Second baseman Jose Altuve has been a good young player even in the club’s darkest period. Catcher Jason Castro has come on strong offensively and defensively. Dexter Fowler added some competence to center field, right-hander Scott Feldman added some strength to the rotation, and third baseman Matt Dominguez is serviceable.

But this team also has one breakthrough prospect — that rookie on the home run tear — and a couple of major rotation surprises.

After scuffling through a rough early introduction, right fielder George Springer has caught fire in May, drilling homers in between walks and strikeouts. The strikeouts will probably always be there, but Springer, before this year, was one of the most fascinating prospects in the league because of his power/athleticism combination.

There were questions as to how that might translate to the bigs, but so far he's answering those questions, maximizing the contact that he does make. Springer is looking like a core asset for most of the next decade. In Thursday’s victory, Springer hit his seventh homer in the past seven games — he had a two-homer game on May 24.

The thing about Springer, though, is that he was a known-talent. His success isn't a complete and utter shock.

But when it comes to the rotation? Lefty Dallas Keuchel and righty Collin McHugh haven't just been the two best starters on the Astros, they’ve been two of the better starters in the majors.

Before this year, Keuchel had a career ERA of 5.20, while McHugh was at 8.94. Keuchel was a nobody, and McHugh was a waiver claim who wound up an April spot-starter. Even the Astros didn't expect McHugh to last longer than one or two starts.

But owing to a new repertoire and quality command, Keuchel has pitched like a groundball-heavy ace. McHugh has kind of been the other Dallas Keuchel, altering his arsenal while gaining strength.

The key for Keuchel has been a new slider. The key for McHugh has been an unhittable curveball. While neither is probably this good, they both look legitimately good, arriving almost out of nowhere.

So the Astros have been good for somewhat surprising reasons — with further talented players in the pipeline. Observers liked their youth before Keuchel and McHugh emerged as capable starters, and at this point the team is slowly, but surely, addressing its holes.

The roster remains incomplete, but following Springer ought to be Jonathan Singleton, who's mashing the ball as a first baseman in Triple-A Oklahoma City (.265, 13 homers 40 RBI in 51 games). Other good prospects are in or approaching the upper levels, and while the Astros have had some issues finding a stable bullpen, they don't need a good bullpen right now. That's what a team worries about when it’s trying to compete, which the Astros will do soon, and maybe sooner than most figured.

The Astros are something of a controversial organization, getting labeled as an "outcast." Some have been rubbed the wrong way by their on-field experiments, their analytical techniques and personnel decisions.

For years, the Astros did little to make themselves appear respectable. They've remained steadfast in their belief that winning will solve most everything, as it often does. The Astros have been confident that, in time, they'll win.

In part by design and in part by surprise, that time appears near. Which means it's time to find a new joke when it comes to baseball punch lines./spoiler]

What Happens When A Pitcher Goes Right Down The Middle?
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
The other week when I wrote about pitches that come in well out of the zone and what happens with those pitches, some discussion in the comments focused on the opposite – what happens right down the chute? If a pitcher is wasting 0-2 pitches, surely he’s firing down the center on 3-0, and if pitchers sometimes miss wildly outside, they probably miss to the meat of the plate on occasions, too.

There have already been 2,535 pitches thrown in 3-0 counts this season (2,227 if we exclude intentional walks), according to the awesome new HeatMaps here at Fangraphs, and so our knowledge of what happens when pitchers are far behind has a solid base. And thanks to data since 2012, we know why pitches have a strong incentive to fight back from 3-0, even with one strike – there is, obviously, an appreciable drop in expected on-base percentage in a 3-1 count, and there’s little chance the batter swings 3-0, anyway.

After 3-0 19973 7193 0.287 0.740 0.496
After 3-1 35990 20670 0.278 0.580 0.473
3-0 8806 654 0.347 0.949 0.745
*Since 2012

There are several interesting results here that we can dive into – batters do sometimes swing, pitchers often miss 3-0, but, sometimes, the pitcher sneaks that freebie by for a chance at salvaging the at bat from 3-1. (One unrelated side-note that I couldn’t shoehorn anywhere else: baserunners are 6-for-6 stealing bases on 3-0 counts this year, surely because the pitcher can’t be bothered with the baserunner since he’ll get second base on a walk, anyway.)

Here’s a scatter plot of all the pitches thrown in 3-0 counts this season by PITCHf/x location, with the strike zone and the “useful pitch zone” we identified previously drawn in, courtesy data from Baseball Savant:

That’s a lot of mess, so here’s a different breakdown, again via the new Heatmaps here at Fangraphs:

That’s a fairly even spread across zones, and it also shows that 68.5 percent of 3-0 pitches land in the strikezone. Despite this striking but not at all counter-intuitive rate, however, here are the results for 3-0 pitches so far this season:

Pitch Result % % (w/o IBB)
Called Strike 53.4% 59.3%
Ball 29.4% 32.6%
Intentional 9.9% n/a
Swing w Contact 6.2% 6.8%
Swinging Strike 1.1% 1.3%
Surprisingly, there doesn’t appear to be a strong umpire bias here, though the lack of 100 percent strikes on 3-0 pitches in the zone could be made up for by a larger zone in other instances. Instead, here, 67.4 percent of 3-0 pitches are strikes despite 78 percent of non-intentional pitches showing as in the zone in the heatmap above.

So, given how often 3-0 pitches come across the plate, maybe the green light isn’t a bad idea. Of those 206 occasions (8.1 percent of all 3-0 pitches) on which a batter swung 3-0, here are how the results broke down:

Pitch Result #
Foul 82
Out 58
Swinging Strike 32
Home Run 11
Double 6
RBI Single 6
Single 4
RBI Double 2
RBI Out 3
Error 2
– –
To 3-1 114
Unproductive 60
Productive 32
It’s a tough trade-off to navigate, as hitters have rarely (16 percent of 3-0 swings) done something productive but when they have, it’s easy value. Again, look at the slash line from above for at bats ending on a 3-0 pitch – a .745 slugging percentage.

As for those home runs, well, each and every one of them came over the plate and was generally high – all of them were at least 2.2 feet off the ground, and all were within 0.7 inches of the center of home plate. As we discussed off the top, there’s plenty interesting about pitches right down the heart, so let’s turn the focus from what happens on 3-0 pitches to all pitches right down the middle.

Already this season, there have been 11,089 pitches thrown directly down the chute (pitches classified as “Zone 5” by Baseball Savant). Have a look:

Oh, cool, a plot that’s just a big blob in the center of the plate. Useful, right? While our heatmaps use slightly different zone dimensions (the data that follows uses Savant pitch data), they, too, show an obscene amount of pitches straight down the middle.

Obviously, with this many pitches already, there’s plenty we can look at. Such as, when do pitchers tend to groove pitches straight down the middle?

Count #
00 29.0%
01 11.0%
02 3.3%
10 12.0%
11 10.3%
12 6.4%
20 4.4%
21 5.9%
22 7.1%
30 1.8%
31 2.9%
32 5.9%
This is somewhat surprising. There have been 60,292 plate appearances so far this season and 3,715 of them have started off with a first pitch that is either a mistake or a goods-on-the-table challenge pitch. That’s a shade over 6.1 percent of plate appearances. Are pitchers crazy?

Well, not necessarily. A good deal of hitters will still take these offerings for an 0-1 start to the at bat, four lucky souls actually got balls called on these pitches, and a fair number of swings don’t produce negative results. However…

pitch_result # %
Called Strike 1923 51.8%
Swinging Strike 183 4.9%
Foul 746 20.1%
Ball 4 0.1%
Out 503 13.5%
Hit/Runs 356 9.6%
– –
Single 180 50.6%
Double 72 20.2%
Triple 11 3.1%
Home Run 50 14.0%
Other 43 12.1%
50 first-pitch home runs on pitches right down the middle already this season. That’s small in percentage terms – just 1.35 percent of 0-0 pitches thrown down the middle and 3.49 percent of all home runs this season – but it’s an obvious risk. Someone may want to alert Wade Miley, who leads the league by having served up three of these meatballs for home runs (Drew Hutchison, Tanner Roark, Jenrry Mejia and Shelby Miller are the only other players to have done it twice).

Beyond just 0-0 counts, it seems a pitch down the middle is exceptionally risky. Here’s how pitches in Zone 5 compare to all other pitches in any count:

Zone # Pitches HRs HR% xBH% Hit%
1 12801 260 2.03% 5.18% 14.03%
All other 219217 1171 0.53% 1.74% 5.36%
Obviously, treading down the middle of the plate is an enormous risk. This isn’t news, but the degree to which it’s risky is striking.

Some pitchers can get away with this, it seems – Max Scherzer, for example, has thrown 85 pitches down the middle this season, second in the majors, and not a single one has been taken for a ride…or even cashed in a run (in fact, only seven have gone for hits, compared to 10 swinging strikes; for context, 7.33 percent of pitches down the plate are swung on and missed, so Scherzer is nearly doubling that rate).

The table below shows the rate of pitches in the middle of the plate and the swinging strike and home run rates for those pitches for the league’s 101 qualified pitchers. Shelby Miller, get it together, man.

Name Pitches Middle Middle% Mid SwStr Mid SwStr% Mid HR Mid HR%
Jered Weaver 1073 50 4.66% 11 22.00% 1 2.00%
Chris Tillman 1115 59 5.29% 11 18.64% 1 1.69%
R.A. Dickey 1151 80 6.95% 14 17.50% 0.00%
Edwin Jackson 1061 68 6.41% 10 14.71% 0.00%
Drew Hutchison 1050 54 5.14% 7 12.96% 2 3.70%
Marco Estrada 1012 47 4.64% 6 12.77% 2 4.26%
Tyson Ross 1085 48 4.42% 6 12.50% 1 2.08%
Ryan Vogelsong 945 32 3.39% 4 12.50% 0.00%
Alfredo Simon 900 65 7.22% 8 12.31% 2 3.08%
Lance Lynn 1157 58 5.01% 7 12.07% 0.00%
Max Scherzer 1199 85 7.09% 10 11.76% 0.00%
Yordano Ventura 974 69 7.08% 8 11.59% 0.00%
Nathan Eovaldi 1109 70 6.31% 8 11.43% 1 1.43%
Tanner Roark 939 55 5.86% 6 10.91% 4 7.27%
Jordan Zimmermann 955 76 7.96% 8 10.53% 1 1.32%
Michael Wacha 1035 68 6.57% 7 10.29% 2 2.94%
David Price 1186 78 6.58% 8 10.26% 0.00%
Roenis Elias 1070 49 4.58% 5 10.20% 0.00%
Homer Bailey 1099 70 6.37% 7 10.00% 3 4.29%
Jeff Samardzija 1133 72 6.35% 7 9.72% 1 1.39%
Zack Wheeler 1003 62 6.18% 6 9.68% 1 1.61%
Julio Teheran 1077 42 3.90% 4 9.52% 2 4.76%
John Danks 1074 53 4.93% 5 9.43% 1 1.89%
Jon Lester 1210 64 5.29% 6 9.38% 2 3.13%
Wily Peralta 984 54 5.49% 5 9.26% 2 3.70%
Yu Darvish 960 54 5.63% 5 9.26% 1 1.85%
Jason Vargas 1134 44 3.88% 4 9.09% 2 4.55%
Tyler Skaggs 943 66 7.00% 6 9.09% 1 1.52%
Zack Greinke 1091 44 4.03% 4 9.09% 0.00%
Shelby Miller 1018 89 8.74% 8 8.99% 5 5.62%
Justin Verlander 1228 58 4.72% 5 8.62% 1 1.72%
Matt Garza 1064 60 5.64% 5 8.33% 1 1.67%
Tim Hudson 915 48 5.25% 4 8.33% 1 2.08%
Andrew Cashner 882 48 5.44% 4 8.33% 1 2.08%
Madison Bumgarner 1103 50 4.53% 4 8.00% 1 2.00%
Wade Miley 1193 63 5.28% 5 7.94% 4 6.35%
Ricky Nolasco 990 65 6.57% 5 7.69% 3 4.62%
Kyle Lohse 1107 65 5.87% 5 7.69% 2 3.08%
Chris Young 883 52 5.89% 4 7.69% 2 3.85%
Stephen Strasburg 1077 52 4.83% 4 7.69% 1 1.92%
A.J. Burnett 1133 52 4.59% 4 7.69% 0.00%
Alex Wood 894 55 6.15% 4 7.27% 0.00%
Jorge de la Rosa 995 55 5.53% 4 7.27% 1 1.82%
Franklin Morales 962 56 5.82% 4 7.14% 3 5.36%
Kyle Kendrick 991 56 5.65% 4 7.14% 2 3.57%
Francisco Liriano 993 28 2.82% 2 7.14% 0.00%
Jarred Cosart 1048 43 4.10% 3 6.98% 1 2.33%
Tom Koehler 954 59 6.18% 4 6.78% 1 1.69%
Masahiro Tanaka 1059 45 4.25% 3 6.67% 0.00%
Phil Hughes 958 64 6.68% 4 6.25% 1 1.56%
Scott Kazmir 999 65 6.51% 4 6.15% 0.00%
Cliff Lee 1067 65 6.09% 4 6.15% 0.00%
Bartolo Colon 989 82 8.29% 5 6.10% 1 1.22%
Aaron Harang 1121 68 6.07% 4 5.88% 0.00%
Jose Quintana 1143 68 5.95% 4 5.88% 0.00%
Juan Nicasio 952 52 5.46% 3 5.77% 2 3.85%
Mark Buehrle 1096 53 4.84% 3 5.66% 0.00%
Justin Masterson 1100 54 4.91% 3 5.56% 2 3.70%
Jeremy Guthrie 1135 57 5.02% 3 5.26% 1 1.75%
Tommy Milone 843 38 4.51% 2 5.26% 1 2.63%
Chris Archer 1086 58 5.34% 3 5.17% 1 1.72%
Johnny Cueto 1194 39 3.27% 2 5.13% 1 2.56%
Jason Hammel 1006 63 6.26% 3 4.76% 3 4.76%
Ubaldo Jimenez 1043 42 4.03% 2 4.76% 1 2.38%
C.J. Wilson 1277 64 5.01% 3 4.69% 1 1.56%
Brandon McCarthy 1001 65 6.49% 3 4.62% 3 4.62%
John Lackey 1124 66 5.87% 3 4.55% 0.00%
James Shields 1169 69 5.90% 3 4.35% 2 2.90%
Hiroki Kuroda 1059 47 4.44% 2 4.26% 4 8.51%
Travis Wood 1022 72 7.05% 3 4.17% 1 1.39%
Josh Beckett 905 48 5.30% 2 4.17% 1 2.08%
Ian Kennedy 1132 75 6.63% 3 4.00% 2 2.67%
Ervin Santana 859 51 5.94% 2 3.92% 2 3.92%
Charlie Morton 1110 54 4.86% 2 3.70% 0.00%
Yovani Gallardo 1087 55 5.06% 2 3.64% 2 3.64%
Mike Leake 994 56 5.63% 2 3.57% 1 1.79%
Sonny Gray 1110 56 5.05% 2 3.57% 0.00%
Eric Stults 897 30 3.34% 1 3.33% 2 6.67%
Jon Niese 983 63 6.41% 2 3.17% 1 1.59%
Gerrit Cole 1017 72 7.08% 2 2.78% 2 2.78%
Roberto Hernandez 928 39 4.20% 1 2.56% 0.00%
Kyle Gibson 912 39 4.28% 1 2.56% 0.00%
Bronson Arroyo 882 41 4.65% 1 2.44% 0.00%
Dillon Gee 771 44 5.71% 1 2.27% 4 9.09%
Henderson Alvarez 948 46 4.85% 1 2.17% 0.00%
Garrett Richards 1024 47 4.59% 1 2.13% 1 2.13%
Rick Porcello 878 49 5.58% 1 2.04% 1 2.04%
Tim Lincecum 1078 50 4.64% 1 2.00% 2 4.00%
Edinson Volquez 918 55 5.99% 1 1.82% 2 3.64%
Felix Hernandez 1219 55 4.51% 1 1.82% 0.00%
Dan Haren 1027 55 5.36% 1 1.82% 0.00%
Jake Peavy 1023 56 5.47% 1 1.79% 2 3.57%
Adam Wainwright 1132 62 5.48% 1 1.61% 1 1.61%
Bud Norris 1036 63 6.08% 1 1.59% 1 1.59%
Corey Kluber 1097 65 5.93% 1 1.54% 0.00%
Wei-Yin Chen 966 69 7.14% 1 1.45% 2 2.90%
Miguel Gonzalez 884 52 5.88% 0.00% 3 5.77%
Jesse Chavez 968 56 5.79% 0.00% 1 1.79%
Jordan Lyles 1054 54 5.12% 0.00% 1 1.85%
Kevin Correia 875 43 4.91% 0.00% 1 2.33%
Dallas Keuchel 1037 37 3.57% 0.00% 1 2.70%

Prospect Watch: Keeping The Walks Down.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Orlando Castro, LHP, Pittsburgh Pirates (Profile)
Level: High-A Age: 22 Top-15: N/A Top-100: N/A
Line: 55.2 IP, 46 H, 18 R, 41/7 K/BB, 2.91 ERA, 2.77 FIP
While he’s not remotely physically imposing, this little lefthander knows what he’s doing.

Last year, Orlando Castro emerged on the fringes of the prospect scene with a stellar first half with Low-A West Virginia, putting up a 1.93 ERA and 63/6 K/BB ratio in 74.2 innings. He was basically a complete nobody before that, so his performance didn’t get him noticed by many other than Pirates diehards and K/BB leaderboard sorters, and a mediocre second half with High-A Bradenton did nothing to further his ascent up prospect lists.

Now, though, Castro’s doing it again, dominating High-A hitters by filling the zone and missing enough bats to stay interesting, and this second successful run commands a bit more attention. After all, Castro’s just 22 and he throws with his left hand.

Castro’s listed at 5’11″ and 190 pounds, and size is certainly not a positive for him. As you might expect from a small lefty control artist, he’s not an especially hard thrower, though he works consistently at 88-91 mph, which isn’t particularly poor for a lefthanded starter. Castro throws both a four-seam and a two-seam fastball, the latter of which helps him get groundballs.

The Pirates tend to heavily emphasize changeup development over that of breaking pitches in the low minors, and so when I saw him in 2013, Castro used his 83-84 mph changeup far more than his big-breaking 73-76 mph curveball, but both pitches should end up average or better. The changeup is so advanced that he’s limited righties to just a .214/.245/.328 line this year, while his fellow southpaws have hit .257/.301/.314.

It all comes out of an extremely simple, eminently repeatable motion that allows Castro to hit his spots consistently. He’s not just a guy going out there and aiming for the plate–he moves and mixes his pitches and locations adeptly.

There’s certainly precedent out there for guys with this sort of approach succeeding in the bigs–take Tommy Milone, Jason Vargas, Dallas Keuchel, Jon Niese, and Travis Wood as a few examples of sub-90 southpaws with good pitchability and offspeed pitches. How he adjusts to Double-A hitters will be a big indicator of whether Castro will ascend to that status or become merely another organizational control pitcher. He’s probably about ready for that test, though, and I have a feeling he’ll do better on it than many think.

James Dykstra, RHP, Chicago White Sox (Profile)
Level: Low-A Age: 23 Top-15: N/A Top-100: N/A
Line: 51.2 IP, 59 H, 22 R, 44/7 K/BB, 3.83 ERA, 2.64 FIP
This sixth-round find has a polished arsenal and good control.

The brother of former first-rounder and current Triple-A slugger Allan Dykstra, James Dykstra became the highest-drafted player ever out of Cal State San Marcos last year, with his sixth-round selection trumping Johnny Omahen’s 35th-round slot quite handily. While his brother has walked more than he’s struck out this year, James has posted an eye-catching K/BB ratio of his own in his first extended minor league action, tacking on a 61% groundball rate as well. Above-average strikeouts, minimal walks, and an extreme groundball rate comprise a great statistical platform to build from, but Dykstra is 23, so he’ll need to move quickly to be taken seriously.

He has the stuff to make that jump, though, with a polished three-pitch mix that includes an 89-93 mph running fastball, a 72-76 mph big-breaking curveball, and an 80-84 mph sinking changeup. His fastball/changeup combination is solid, and both are solid-average pitches; the curveball flashes higher than both of them and could be a plus offering, but he’s not consistent with his usage of it. Sometimes he’ll fall in love with the pitch and throw it 50% of the time for an inning, while others he’ll abandon it altogether. Here’s a look at the pitch flummoxing touted Red Sox prospect Manuel Margot:

And here’s a look at a strikeout on the changeup:

With good size and athleticism, an easy delivery, and an interesting set of pitches, Dykstra has the upside of a good innings-eater at the big-league level. He’s not always consistent with his stuff and approach, which is both an obvious negative–consistency is, well, good–and a positive–he’s already pitching extremely well without consistency, so if he can tighten the screws further on his stuff, mechanics, and approach, he’ll adjust to new levels very well. He will need to move quickly due to his age, but this isn’t just a random college finesse pitcher beating up on inexperienced bats–the all-around excellent numbers are backed up by across-the-board solid attributes.


Antonio Senzatela, RHP, Colorado Rockies (Profile)
Level: Low-A Age: 19 Top-15: N/A Top-100: N/A
Line: 55.1 IP, 57 H, 28 R, 27/13 K/BB, 3.90 ERA, 5.40 FIP

A teenager with easy velocity, Senzatela doesn’t have exciting numbers, but his upside is high if his offspeed pitches come around.

Antonio Senzatela has the highest walk rate of the three pitchers discussed in this piece, at (a still very good) 5.5%. He also has easily the lowest strikeout rate, a worrisome 11.5%. His FIP is an ugly 5.40, roughly double Dykstra’s and Castro’s. So why should we care about him? There are several reasons.

First, Senzatela turned 19 in January, roughly two months after Dykstra–who, mind you, is in the same league–turned 23. Comparing their performances doesn’t mean a whole lot–one would hope that Dykstra’s the more advanced guy, and he is. Senzatela has at least a couple of years before he needs to really get moving performance-wise; at this stage, the question is stuff.

And he has stuff. Or, at least, he has a fastball.

Three things about the above video:

1.) He hit 95 mph.

2.) He hit 95 easy.

3.) He hit 95 easy in the sixth inning.

When Senzatela first came out for warmups in the start I saw, I wasn’t expecting much. He looks shorter than his listed 6’1″ and heavier than his listed 180, maybe 5’11″ 205 or so, and he employs a low-effort motion that doesn’t look like it should generate a whole lot of velocity, especially from a pitcher of that size. And yet, there it is. Senzatela works mostly at 90-94 mph and projects for above-average command due to the easy motion, which is a heck of a pair of building blocks for a teenager.

Everything else is a work in progress, which is why Senzatela doesn’t miss many bats. He throws a slider, curve, and changeup, all of which grade out as 30 or 35-grade pitches on the 20-80 scouting scale. The 71-75 mph curve is very soft and doesn’t have the big break required to make a pitch that slow work, the slider lacks bite, and the changeup doesn’t have good movement either, though it does have good velocity separation at 77-82 mph. Every now and then, Senzatela will flash up to fringe-average with his offspeed pitches, lending hope that he’ll take some steps forward in that department as time goes on. The curve, in particular, has some potential if he can tighten it up some, an adjustment that is quite common for pitchers at this developmental stage. All he needs is one of his secondary pitches to come around to profile as a good relief pitcher, and if the whole set can come up to average, he’ll be a good #4 starter. There’s some risk involved here because of the inadequacy of his current offspeed arsenal, but Senzatela’s easy velocity can’t be taught, and he has time to figure everything else out.

Q&A: Matt Martin, Detroit Tigers Defensive Coordinator.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
The Detroit Tigers have a defensive coordinator this season. The role is being manned by Matt Martin, who joined the coaching staff shortly after Brad Ausmus was hired in November. Martin came to Motown with nearly two decades of experience as a minor league manager, coach and infield coordinator.

His job isn’t to reinvent the wheel. The 44-year-old was brought in to help make the Detroit defense more efficient. Metrics are part of his process, as is fine-tuning fundamentals. Much like his manager, Martin is a combination of old-school and new-school.

According to Baseball Info Solutions, the Tigers have 66 shifts on balls in play [as of Tuesday] – the seventh fewest in baseball – and two Shift Runs Saved. Nuanced positioning is far more prevalent. Even when it’s only a step or two, it’s by design – and it’s effective. Ian Kinsler has seven Defensive Runs Saved, which trails only Kolten Wong among second baseman. Miguel Cabrera, who was -18 as a third baseman last season, has two Defensive Runs Saved at first base.

Martin discussed defensive alignments – including The Big Papi shift and the importance of instincts – when the Tigers visited Boston earlier this month.

Martin on coordinating the Detroit defense: “Along with Omar [Vizquel], I position our defense, although Brad has the final say. We see who we want to shift – including who we want to put a major shift on – and make sure the pitchers are pitching to what we’re defending. Omar and I work with the infielders. Dave Clark has the outfielders and Jeff Jones has the pitching. I’m coordinating that so everybody is on the same page.

”When we formulate the plan of how to defend teams, Jeff is kind of the last line of defense to communicate with the pitchers. I’ll do it some, but Jeff has such a strong relationship with them. We want to run everything by the pitchers, because we want everybody on the same page. That’s why Brad wanted a defensive coordinator. He wants everything to mesh. He doesn’t want there to a divide.

“We’re looking at everything involved, but we’ll never go away from what the pitchers’ strengths are. We’re never going to dictate to “This is how we’re doing it’ to Justin Verlander or to Max Scherzer,’ We want them to have a say. Sometimes our pitchers are right on board, sometimes they’re not and sometimes we settle in the middle – we shift, just not as drastically. In this series [at Fenway Park] we’ve done the Big Papi shift on two or three guys.”

On positioning and shifting within a shift: “It all starts with, ‘Where are they hitting the ball?’ That’s the first thing we look at and we go from there. There are other factors. Where is it in the game? Will this hitter bunt? Everybody sees the Big Papi shift – that’s what we call it when we put our third baseman in short right field against any left-handed hitter – but more often we’re subtle with our shifts. Rather than shifting 20 feet, we’re shifting five or six feet.

“A player has X amount of instincts. If we can put him in a better position initially, and he uses his instincts to move a couple of feet either way from there… he can see what a hitter is telling you that day and what the pitcher’s ball is telling you that day. Basically, it’s shifting within a shift.

“Ian Kinsler has taken hits away this year doing that. He’s reading the hitter and adjusting himself by a few feet. He did it last night. We didn’t have to say, ‘Hey, Kins, move over.’ He did it himself. It was only a step-and-a-half, but how many times do you see a ball sneak through and it would have been an out had the infielder moved over a step-and-a-half?”

“It was often said about Cal Ripken that he was always in the right spot. Omar was the same way. The hitter is going to tell you what he’s doing. Maybe he was out running the streets until three in the morning and can’t get the bat head out that night. You’re starting out in one spot and the next thing you know you’re a couple of steps over because of what your eyes are telling you. If Brad, Omar or I see something’s not right, we”ll be, ‘Hey, hey, hey.’ But we want our guys to develop those instincts so they can recognize things and adjust on their own.”

On personnel and positioning: “Our shortstops – Andrew Romine and Danny Worth – can play anywhere in the infield. Romine has been strictly a shortstop for us, but he did it for the Angels. Guys like that you feel comfortable putting anywhere. Nick Castellanos has been a third baseman, he was moved to left field for a year and a half, and now he’s back to third, so it’s taken more work to get him out in short right field. But it’s different for Kinsler, too. He’s been on the right side almost his whole life, but it’s different when you’re 15-20 feet on the grass. The ground ball is different, the throw is different. It’s something you’re not accustomed to.

“I don’t think [personnel] has too much impact on how we shift. It’s hard to put a value on defense and defensive range. I know the metrics are getting better, but it’s still hard to assign a value that gives you an absolute. [Jose Iglesias] has tremendous range – it’s probably two feet to each side more than what we’re running out there right now – but we feel our shortstops have good range. From a guy who has solid range to a guy who has great range, it’s maybe a yard to each side – two to three feet – but we’re still going to position guys in a similar fashion.

“You’re seeing a lot of shifts right now and I think maybe it’s gone a little overboard. You see a team have success, so everybody thinks they should be doing it. Just like anything… if you look at the NFL or at college football, you’ll see the spread offenses. Everybody started jumping on that, it kind of had a high point, then it started filtering down. I think we’re at a high point with the shifting we’re seeing right now. Maybe it will continue in this direction – teams will actually shift more – but I don’t think it will.”

On trusting the process: “Sometimes you get your pitchers throwing their hands up, because it would have been an easy double play without the shift. Earlier in the year, I saw where [Jonathan] Papelbon was upset about a ball against the Rangers. They weren’t actually shifting, but [Ryne] Sandberg and [Larry] Bowa had the infield playing three-depth instead of being back about five feet more. Papelbon threw his hands up.

“Any time you get external voices, whether it’s the media, the fans – or especially your pitchers – it’s easy to start second-guessing yourself. But one thing about Brad is he’s extremely intelligent. But that doesn’t mean he’s what a lot of people think. They see his educational background and how well-spoken he is, and think he’ll go straight to the numbers – straight to sabermetrics. He looks at that, but it’s only a factor for him.

“If something continually goes against us – maybe teams are beating out shifts – we’re going to reevaluate. That said, it’s not going to be a knee-jerk reaction. If the media barks loud enough, or the fans bark loud enough, or the pitchers bark loud enough, sometimes there’s a knee-jerk reaction. But we’re simply going to reevaluate.

“We don’t want Justin Verlander, we don’t want Max Scherzer, we don’t want Ian Krol or Joe Nathan – any of our pitchers – to not be 100 percent on the same page with what we’re doing. We don’t want hands thrown up in the air if a ball gets through. We’re all in this together. Let’s throw the dice out there and they’ll land how they land. In the end, it’s all about putting our guys in the best position to make plays.”

Edwin Encarnacion is Hunting.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
One of the coolest stories taking place right now is the emergence of George Springer in Houston. Springer is among the more interesting prospects in recent years, and after a bit of a rough introduction to the majors, Springer’s caught fire. He homered again Wednesday, and over the course of the last month, Springer’s gone deep nine times, ahead of Yasiel Puig, Giancarlo Stanton, and Troy Tulowitzki. Springer’s been one of the best power hitters in the world, and over that month, he’s also hit 40% fewer home runs than Edwin Encarnacion.

Encarnacion stands at 15 dingers in 30 days, and over those 30 days, that’s more home runs than have been hit by both the Cardinals and the Royals as whole teams. Previous to the hot streak, Encarnacion had gone deep just once, prompting people to worry that something was wrong. If something was wrong, it was resolved in a damned hurry, and now Encarnacion is among the Blue Jays who have led the team into a playoff position. It’s interesting to examine some of Encarnacion’s recent trends. It’s interesting, too, to compare those against larger ones.

The biggest thing when it comes to power streaks and power droughts is that there’s usually an awful lot of noise. When asked about the difference for Encarnacion, John Gibbons offered that Encarnacion before was just missing his pitches, and now he’s hitting them. A home run is the result of a single swing. A home run can turn into a non-home run very, very easily. Let’s break this down real quick. It’s easy to swing a baseball bat. It’s less easy to use the bat to strike the baseball. It’s less easy still to strike the baseball and hit it somewhere fair. The toughest thing is actually squaring the ball up to make quality contact. That’s where it gets to be a matter of timing and millimeters. A good home-run swing might be almost identical to a non-home run swing, but for a very minor difference, and so it stands to reason that sometimes streaks and slumps will be arranged randomly, and not the result of something being wrong or right. There’s a reason why power numbers take so long to stabilize, relatively speaking. Powerful hits represent a small fraction of all swings.

So, one thing we can say about Encarnacion: he’s not this good, nor is he as mediocre as he was the first few weeks. He’s had some lucky swings, following some unlucky swings. But there have been some changes underneath. Edwin Encarnacion, right now, is hunting certain pitches. He’s looking for pitches he can lift and yank.

A few simple numbers. We’ll split Encarnacion’s season around the end of April, to capture his slump and his surge. First, his rate of swings at pitches over the outer third, or beyond:

Slump: 39% swings
Surge: 32%

Now, his rate of swings at pitches over the inner third, or beyond:

Slump: 44% swings
Surge: 51%

Before catching fire, Encarnacion attempted 22 more outside swings than inside swings. Since heating up, he’s attempted a dozen more inside swings than outside swings. Of course, that doesn’t explain everything, but the reasoning is this: Encarnacion is most dangerous over the middle and in, and he’s least dangerous away. This is the case for most righties, but Encarnacion has pull power more than anything else, and he’s been swinging like he knows it.

This mirrors a greater trend over Encarnacion’s career. I’d like to show you a table. Below, we’ll compare 2009-2011 Encarnacion to 2012-2014 Encarnacion, using numbers you’re familiar with.

Window GB% HR/FB% O-Swing% Z-Swing% Contact% Zone% wRC+
2009-2011 35% 12% 27% 64% 83% 51% 106
2012-2014 34% 18% 24% 61% 83% 49% 149
Quickly glance at parts of the table and you won’t see any real meaningful changes. Encarnacion has chased very slightly less, and he’s swung at strikes very slightly less, and he’s still put a lot of balls in the air. He’s the same sort of contact hitter. But then there are the big differences. Encarnacion has lifted his HR/FB by 50%. His wRC+ is up 43 points. One explanation is that the plate-discipline numbers don’t reveal enough detail.

Let’s look at some swing rates again. First, here are swings at pitches out of the zone over the outer third, or beyond:

2009-2011: 33% swings
2012-2014: 26%

And here are swings at pitches out of the zone over the inner third, or beyond:

2009-2011: 25% swings
2012-2014: 28%

So Encarnacion has swung at fewer balls away, and more balls in. Put another way, he’s swung at fewer balls he can’t do much with, and he’s swung at more balls that have some power potential. Let’s look now at Encarnacion’s overall swing rates at pitches over the outer third, or beyond, including both would-be strikes and balls:

2008: 43% swings
2009: 42%
2010: 43%
2011: 44%
2012: 37%
2013: 34%
2014: 35%

You see a big drop there between 2011 and 2012, which is also when Encarnacion blossomed into an elite-level slugger. He’s kept up the same habits, and while Encarnacion doesn’t ignore outside pitches, he thinks less of them than he used to. Some of this is psychology and development. Some of this probably has to do with mechanics, which Encarnacion tweaked prior to 2012. This is an old story now, but here are a couple sample swings, the first from 2011 and the second from 2012. Both are home runs.

Watch the front foot and you see a much more modest timing mechanism. Watch the hands and now you see a two-handed follow-through. The first adjustment was to keep Encarnacion from being behind on pitches. These days he’s more balanced earlier on. The second adjustment was to cut down on the swing length and improve bat control. While some feared this would cut into Encarnacion’s power, it’s quite obviously done the opposite, as he’s not lacking for strength and now he’s better able to consistently hit the ball where he wants to.

By improving his timing, Encarnacion is more able to turn on pitches. And by cutting down on the length, Encarnacion is less able to reach away, but he’s better able to punish pitches over the inner half, and beyond that. He’s never been great away, but he’s gotten better in, and now he’s optimizing his swing selections.

Here is a table of slugging percentages by pitch location:

Window Inside Middle Outside
2009-2011 0.420 0.521 0.430
2012-2014 0.572 0.698 0.434
And that ignores, also, whiffs and fouls. What Encarnacion wants to do the least is go after pitches over and beyond the outer third. He’s learned that and improved on that, and that’s in part what’s driven his success with the Blue Jays. That’s in part what’s driven his most recent success with the Blue Jays.

In terms of his eye, Edwin Encarnacion has become a particularly focused hitter, and that’s been true to an extreme degree during his current power streak. He lives by hunting pitches he can drive to left or center field, and while in theory this leaves him vulnerable to pitchers who can work him over the outside edge, Encarnacion’s strikeout rate suggests that it simply isn’t that easy to do that over and over again. He doesn’t miss pitches over the middle or inside. He doesn’t like to swing at the rest of the pitches. A series of perfect pitches away can retire him, but miss outside and you’ll throw balls, and miss inside and you’ll need a new ball. Encarnacion doesn’t leave a lot of wiggle room.

In time, Encarnacion will cool off, as this is way too hot of a hot streak. In a lot more time, Encarnacion might decline into something less than one of the best power hitters in baseball. He and Jose Bautista share an awful lot in common these days, and that’s the kind of terrible news for pitchers that makes facing the Blue Jays an unenviable task at the moment.

Down and Away: The Best Location.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Yesterday, David Appelman unveiled our new heat maps, and I love them. As I noted yesterday, the linear weights graph is especially awesome, as it allows you to see where a particular hitter or pitcher is having success, and not just settling for incomplete answers like outcomes on balls in play, which ignores all the variable outcomes that happen on takes, or on swings that don’t put a ball in play. Being able to highlight a player’s overall performance on all pitches is a big step forward for the heat map concept in general.

But beyond even just individual players, there is some really fascinating information available. Based on his discussion with Chris Young, Eno got David Appelman to generate some great charts of league-wide averages for groundballs and home runs. And now, with the release of the heat map tool for all pitches on a league-wide basis, we can begin to say some pretty interesting things about pitching to specific parts of the strike zone.

When given access to the league-wide heat map, my first instinct was to look up the linear weight value of pitch locations. For the 2014 season, that looks like this.

Nothing too revolutionary here, though. Pitches in the zone are better for the pitcher than they are for the hitter, with pitches in the very middle of the zone being not quite as good for the pitcher as pitches on the edges. But, yeah, anyone who has watched baseball knows this. Pitchers should throw strikes, and when they don’t, it works out poorly for them: News at 11.

So, instead, we have to drill down a bit further to find anything interesting. For starters, instead of looking at all batters versus all pitchers, we want to just look at batter handedness, so that one chart isn’t representing both inside pitches and outside pitches in the same location. Because the heat map tool lets you choose what kind of batter/pitcher handedness match-ups you want, we can go down to specific match-ups and look for location information based on those match-ups.

For now, let’s start with RHP vs RHB, since this is the most common match-up in baseball. And because larger samples are better, let’s expand from just 2014 data to include the last few years as well, so we’re now looking at all pitches from 2012 to 2014 thrown by a right-handed pitcher to a right-handed batter. Here’s what that map looks like.

This is much more interesting. Here, we see that the pitchers have far more success pitching on the outer third than they do when they try to come inside, with the down-and-in area being even better for the hitter than elevated pitches over the heart of the plate. This is consistent with what we saw when we looked at Mike Trout‘s heat map yesterday; you do not want to throw Trout anything down-and-in if you can help it. While he’s exceptionally dangerous there, this data does suggest that pitching inside is, as a general rule, not as effective as pitching away, though of course one almost certainly needs to do both in order to avoid being predictable.

But this doesn’t help us answer the question of why the outer third, and specifically the lower part of the outer third of the zone, is so strongly positive for the pitchers. The linear weights chart gives us the result but not the process, so instead, let’s look at the charts that do measure the process. First off, here’s the rate at which right-handed hitter’s swing at pitches from right-handed pitchers, and we’ll switch to the 5×5 grid in order to show the differences a little more clearly.

The down-and-away area of the strike zone is the only one where batters take more often than they swing. Hitters are much more willing to go after pitches on the inner-third than they are on the outer-third, and the down-and-in swing rate is 15 percentage points higher than the down-and-away swing rate. Hitters aren’t stupid, though; they aren’t going to pass up on pitches they think they can drive, so if they are taking a majority of pitches in that part of the zone, it follows that either they think down-and-away pitches are likely to be called balls, or that they just can’t really do anything with pitches in that area to begin with, so they keep the bat on their shoulder and hope for the best.

The charts seemingly suggest that the latter is true. Here’s their contact rate by swing locations:

Down-and-away is the only in-zone area where RHBs make contact less than 80% of the time when they swing at a pitch from an RHP. There’s no other part of the zone that is even close to having that low of a contact rate, and additionally, the contact rate drops even more dramatically if you miss further down, further away, or further down-and-away. There is no location, in-zone or out-of-zone, that offers lower contact rates than pitches down and away.

And what about when they do hit the ball? Again, no area offers a more meager return on investment than down-and-away pitches. Here is the league’s RHB/RHP Isolated Slugging Per Pitch:

Hitters drive the ball on pitches middle-in, but on pitches down-and-away, there’s basically no power whatsoever. So on pitches down-and-away, hitters don’t make contact when they swing, and when they do make contact, they don’t drive the ball with any kind of authority. No wonder they don’t swing at those pitches; there’s no real reward for doing so.

Now, we have to keep in mind that we’re only looking at one variable here. A pitches location is certainly important, but we can’t just extrapolate from this that every pitcher should just throw every pitch down-and-away. Realistically, the down-and-away area is probably disproportionately represented by breaking balls, as RHPs want to bury their sliders in that area when facing an RHB. Pitchers can’t live on a steady diet of only down-and-away breaking balls or else hitters will simply stand closer to the plate and sit on a pitch they know is coming. Also, their elows would explode, even more than they are now. Pitchers have to pitch to different parts of the zone, and with different pitches, in order to maintain some element of surprise.

But perhaps the fact that the down-and-away area — and just pitching away in general — is so strongly positive for the pitcher suggests that pitchers are still not going there enough. In a perfect world where the hitters and pitchers keep adjusting to each other’s adjustments, we would expect these adjustments to eventually find an equilibrium. That doesn’t exist right now. Right now, hitters basically can’t hit pitches down-and-away, and they’re much worse on pitches away than pitches in.

At the very least, the data strongly suggests pitchers should not pitch inside nearly as often as television announcers tell us they should. Pitch inside to keep hitters honest, but if you want to get them out and avoid giving up hard contact, you want to pitch outside, not inside.
post #22246 of 73412
Until Minny learns that the way they've been developing pitchers totally wrong, it's gonna be a tough road for a while unfortunately.

What do you mean eyes.gifsick.giflaugh.gif

MLB Team Strikeouts

26. 376 - Pirates
27. 375 - White Sox
28. 366 - Orioles
29. 347 - Rockies
30. 308 - Twins

26. 1169 - Orioles
27. 1125 - Brewers
28. 1084 - Astros
29. 1064 - Rockies
30. 985 - Twins

26. 1136 - A's
27. 1128 - Cubs
28. 1113 - Marlins
29. 1086 - Indians
30. 943 - Twins

26. 1049 - Nationals
27. 1044 - Orioles
28. 1031 - Pirates
29. 1024 - Indians
30. 940 - Twins

The "Twins Way" don't work any longer, and they are the last ones to know it.
post #22247 of 73412
Twins tweaking their power arms to pitch to contact, laugh.gif

In the age of power arms and rising strikeout numbers... stay losing Minnesota.

As a small market team you have to be smarter than the next guy, Minnesota isn't and the have fallen behind. Take notes from Tampa Bay and Oakland, got to stay one step ahead because you don't have the money/resources to bail you out.

Being a small market team must suck, but ignoring the blue print of sustained success that the Rays and A's have laid out. You have to evolve, the Twins haven't.
Instagram: backyardlobo
Instagram: backyardlobo
post #22248 of 73412
Bryce Harper engaged at the age of 21. Do any of these dudes not learn from Jeter?
post #22249 of 73412
The Twins epitomized success in a small market not too long ago, man. They may be messing with their pitchers way more than needed, but ptiching to contact backed by a strong defense was their M.O. for years during their consistent playoff runs. And the blue print is a strong farm system that keeps being replenished, which they've done a very good job of...They just have that one weakness in their plan. I'll only give you half credit, because you're half wrong, in my opinion.

They're trying to create a staff full of Brad Radke's instead of letting each pitcher do their own things.
post #22250 of 73412
Seems like the twins starting rotation has consisted of 5 white guys who throw 88 MPH since Johan left. laugh.gif
Instagram. | just my art and photography. #NT will follow back. Also Flickr.
Instagram. | just my art and photography. #NT will follow back. Also Flickr.
post #22251 of 73412
Originally Posted by 651akathePaul View Post

The Twins epitomized success in a small market not too long ago, man. They may be messing with their pitchers way more than needed, but ptiching to contact backed by a strong defense was their M.O. for years during their consistent playoff runs. And the blue print is a strong farm system that keeps being replenished, which they've done a very good job of...They just have that one weakness in their plan. I'll only give you half credit, because you're half wrong, in my opinion.

They're trying to create a staff full of Brad Radke's instead of letting each pitcher do their own things.

eek.gif what a blast from the past laugh.gif miss that Twins OF of Shannon Stewart/Torii Hunter/Jacque Jones smokin.gif
post #22252 of 73412
Originally Posted by madj55 View Post

Bryce Harper engaged at the age of 21. Do any of these dudes not learn from Jeter?

Maybe he'll go the Phillip rivers route and have 7+ kids laugh.gif
post #22253 of 73412
Originally Posted by madj55 View Post

Bryce Harper engaged at the age of 21. Do any of these dudes not learn from Jeter?


Isn't it normal for Mormons to get married at a young age? 

post #22254 of 73412
Originally Posted by Mr Marcus View Post

Maybe he'll go the Phillip rivers route and have 7+ kids laugh.gif
Originally Posted by PhillyzPhan View Post

Isn't it normal for Mormons to get married at a young age? 
Completely forgot he was Mormon. Makes much more sense now laugh.gif
post #22255 of 73412
Originally Posted by CP1708 View Post

Please let 1 of those 3 pitchers fall to #4. Come on God, help me out a lil here.

4 Pitcher
45 Pitcher
78 Pitcher

Alex Jackson should go two to the Marlins. Most likely Tyler Kolek is there at 4.

Sounds like it's down to Rodon or Aiken at one. Gordon has had some late rumblings as a possible 1.1 but I don't see it.
TEAM CHEESEHEADS ..... HoustonRockets
Jordy Nelson: Best WR in the game .................................. The Roc Boys in the building tonight
TEAM CHEESEHEADS ..... HoustonRockets
Jordy Nelson: Best WR in the game .................................. The Roc Boys in the building tonight
post #22256 of 73412
Originally Posted by RetroBaller View Post

Originally Posted by CP1708 View Post

Please let 1 of those 3 pitchers fall to #4. Come on God, help me out a lil here.

4 Pitcher
45 Pitcher
78 Pitcher

Alex Jackson should go two to the Marlins. Most likely Tyler Kolek is there at 4.

Sounds like it's down to Rodon or Aiken at one. Gordon has had some late rumblings as a possible 1.1 but I don't see it.

Yeah, I've seen a lot of Jackson to Miami talk, and really, I can't be upset if that kid falls to 4. We have enough bats, I think, but if he's the best on the board and not a reach, then Theo will do what's right and grab him, same as he did with Bryant.

I just prefer that we start adding arms to the mix now. Shark should net at least one, CJ Edwards is in hand, pick #4 could be a 3rd, and likely, we should have a top 3-5 pick again next year, for yet another arm to pull in. At that point, we have plenty to work with, not even including the 2nd and 3rd round picks or other pieces currently in our system from rounds 2 and 3. Hell, Neil Ramirez may step into that 4th-5th starter role in a year or two.

Still bizarre to me I have a farm system. We have NEVER had anything outside of 1-2 guys that come up and nobody follows behind them, ever. I don't know if it will work out the way we hope for, but it's certainly better than pinning all your hopes on a lone Corey Patterson, or Jerome Walton, etc. laugh.gif
post #22257 of 73412
Don't forget Felix Pie.
post #22258 of 73412
Originally Posted by madj55 View Post

Originally Posted by 651akathePaul View Post

The Twins epitomized success in a small market not too long ago, man. They may be messing with their pitchers way more than needed, but ptiching to contact backed by a strong defense was their M.O. for years during their consistent playoff runs. And the blue print is a strong farm system that keeps being replenished, which they've done a very good job of...They just have that one weakness in their plan. I'll only give you half credit, because you're half wrong, in my opinion.

They're trying to create a staff full of Brad Radke's instead of letting each pitcher do their own things.

eek.gif what a blast from the past laugh.gif miss that Twins OF of Shannon Stewart/Torii Hunter/Jacque Jones smokin.gif

Good times. I loved that early-mid 00's team. Before the Mauer/Morneau days. Speed, defense and great overall baseball players. Doug Mientkiewicz, Luis Rivas, Christian Guzman and Corey Koskie in the infield. Team was just stout all around...

They'll be back...
post #22259 of 73412
Corey Patterson. laugh.gif Talk about a lifetime potential guy...Every year, even after getting traded to Baltimore some years in, you'd hear he was going to "breakout this year."
post #22260 of 73412
At least Target Field is nice laugh.gif Twins are gonna be bad for a while
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