2016 MLB thread. THE CUBS HAVE BROKEN THE CURSE! Chicago Cubs are your 2016 World Series champions. - Page 234
Initial Investigation Discredited By DNA Test
A son of Enrique Soto, one of the most powerful trainers in the Dominican Republic over the last two decades, used a false age when he signed with the Mariners in 2007, according to multiple sources familiar with the case.
George Soto signed with Seattle for $700,000 in February 2007, presenting himself as a 17-year-old shortstop with a birthdate of Nov. 19, 1989. According to George Soto's new paperwork, he was born Nov. 17, 1985, which would have made him 21 when he signed.
After Major League Baseball initially determined that Soto's age and identity were valid in its original investigation, a subsequent investigation revealed inconsistencies in his documentation. A DNA test also helped MLB catch the deception.
At this point, in fact, MLB does not have an official position on what Soto's age is. Dan Mullin, MLB's senior vice president of investigations, said MLB is satisfied that Soto's identity is accurate but is not confident of his age, based on the documentation available.
"It's just not enough to conclusively say he was born on that date," Mullin said. "We're not saying he wasn't born on that date; we're just not prepared, as MLB, to say that he was."
Soto hit .219/.306/.308 in 261 games over five professional seasons, four of which were spent in the Rookie-level Dominican Summer League. The Mariners released him at the end of spring training this year. He never appeared in a Mariners Top 30 Prospects list.
BA reached Enrique Soto by phone on Tuesday, and he declined to comment. The Mariners also declined comment.
MLB's initial investigation was done by Arlina Espaillat Matos, a contract investigator. At the time Soto signed, MLB used contract employees who were paid directly by the team to investigate a player, a system that was scrapped when MLB's department of investigations took over in 2009. In the process of reinvestigating several cases—some at the request of the U.S. Consulate—MLB discovered issues with Soto's documentation.
Mullin said the league finished its investigation in June 2011 after finding several warning signs. Sonia Gardenia Lara, who had been presenting herself as Soto's mother, declared her parentage of Soto when he was 11. In the Dominican Republic, in addition to hospital records of birth that may be available, parents also declare their children with the government, which may not happen until the children are several years old. If parentage is declared at an unusually late age, however, MLB sees that as a cause for suspicion. Hospital records for Soto were inaccurate and school records did not exist.
Sources said the smoking gun came when a DNA test was requested, and Soto's real mother, Melba Antonia Gonzalez, showed up to present a DNA sample, apparently with the hope that nobody would realize she was not the same woman who had originally presented herself as Soto's mother. Instead, a representative from MLB's department of investigations realized what was happening. Lara, it turned out, was Soto's stepmother.
"You'd be surprised how often people agree to take DNA tests and fail them," Mullin said.
Mullin said that MLB believes George Soto knew at the time he signed that he was using a false age and that Lara was not his real mother. Another source with knowledge of the situation said that Enrique Soto played a part in the deception. Mullin declined comment on whether any team employees knew what George Soto's real age was.
George Soto has since gone through the Dominican courts to obtain a new birth certificate with a new age that is four years older, meaning he would now be 26. He used that new age to obtain a visa and travel to Arizona for spring training this year, before the Mariners released him on March 23.
One of George Soto's brothers is Leance Soto, a third baseman who signed with the Blue Jays for $675,000 in April 2005 when he was 19. He spent four years in short-season ball, finishing a career .201/.248/.293 hitter in 149 games before his release after the 2008 season. He later signed with the Rangers on Jan. 19, 2010—the same day the Rangers signed Colombian catcher Jorge Alfaro for $1.3 million out of Enrique Soto's program—before getting released on July 19, 2010, having never played a game for the organization.
Leance Soto's listed date of birth is June 13, 1985, five months apart from George Soto's new date of birth. Sources said that George and Leance are half-brothers who do not have the same mother, though Baseball America could not confirm that. Mullin said the league does not currently have an investigation into Leance Soto.
Enrique Soto has been one of the most powerful people in Dominican baseball. A former scout for the Athletics in the early 1990s, Soto has worked in Bani as a trainer for Miguel Tejada (who used a false age to sign), Erick Aybar and Willy Aybar, among others.
The Mariners have signed several of Soto's most expensive players in recent years, including Jharmidy DeJesus, who signed for $1 million shortly before his 18th birthday in 2007 and is now a first baseman/third baseman with low Class A Clinton. Shortstop Esteilon Peguero, who also trained with Soto, agreed to sign with the Mariners in December 2010 for $2.9 million, which would have been the biggest bonus of the year, until the Mariners reduced his bonus to $1.1 million for unconfirmed reasons.
Soto was arrested in January 2011 when two unnamed brothers he had coached told Dominican authorities that Soto had sexually assaulted them over the course of six months in 2003 when they were 16 and 17. Soto was released on bond in late June 2011. Last July, an investigative report by Alicia Ortega aired on Noticias Sin in the Dominican Republic in which three former players accused Soto of sexually assaulting them. In the report, Soto denied every allegation against him. BA could not verify the current legal status of the charges against Soto in the Dominican Republic.
Harper will hit 35-40 homers a year and be a monster, no doubt...
Trout has a chance to give me 20-25 homers, 40+ stolen bases, 40 doubles and a .400 OBP from a premium defensive CF...
You can't go wrong either way, but I'd take Trout.
Among those categories I think Trout will likely only be superior in stolen bases and defense. Harper isn't a natural outfielder, but has the tools to be above average in time, and you gotta figure that wOBA will favor Harper. Plus speed will atrophy far sooner than power will.
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I'd note that Harper's first 150 ABs > Trout's first 150
Harper's power should make up the difference in fielding ability and then some. I think he'll be better, but they're both generational talents.
Trout was borderline mediocre when he was called up as a 19 year old while Harper is shining. I'm biased towards Harper obviously but I think that he'll be better than Trout when it's all said and done. Factor in that Harper was a catcher up until last year he can only get better in the OF. Trout is a monster though.
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Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Late last Friday afternoon, a Seattle Mariners executive knocked on the door of the umpires' dressing room. Inside, the four umpires from that night's crew -- Brian Runge, Ted Barrett, Marvin Hudson and Dale Scott -- were preparing for the game.
"It's the perfect game crew!" said Mariners president Chuck Armstrong, greeting the group.
It was Armstrong's way of acknowledging Runge's group had been the umpires when Phil Humber threw his perfect game earlier this season in Seattle, with Runge as the home plate umpire.
But what Armstrong did not know, at that moment, was that six Mariners' pitchers would combine for a no-hitter with Runge working behind home plate, again. Or that five days later, the Perfect Game Crew would be at work in San Francisco, when Matt Cain threw his against the Houston Astros. Barrett was behind the plate, and Runge was at third base last night.
There was one change in the Perfect Game Crew from last Friday, however. Marvin Hudson -- who was the home plate umpire the night that Armando Galarraga threw his would-be perfect game in 2010, when history was altered by Jim Joyce's missed call -- had the night off; Hudson was replaced by Mark Muchlinski, who was the umpire at first and made the final out call of Cain's perfecto.
Today, Barrett and Runge and the others presumably will receive authenticated baseballs, as they did from the no-hitters earlier this season. The umpires are witnesses to history and care about it in the way that players do. Talking on the phone a few days ago, Runge said that after the no-hitter in Seattle last Friday, the other members of the crew were excited for him, and Tim McClelland -- who had been the crew chief for Humber's perfect game -- had called to congratulate him.
"What a great experience," said Runge, of the umpiring Runges.
Ed Runge, his grandfather, was an American League umpire from 1954 to 1970, and after he passed away, Brian wore a No. 13 sweatband in honor of his grandpa. Paul Runge, Brian's father, umpired from 1973 to 1997, and a few years ago, Brian found his father's old ball-strike indicator and continues to carry it to this day. "I don't even use it," he said, explaining that the numbers on it are worn off and that it doesn't really turn anymore. "I just have it in my pocket."
There are nerves for umpires during a no-hitter, as there are for players, their anxiety building from inning to inning. For almost all of the Mariners' no-hitter last Friday, nobody said anything to Runge about what was happening, and nobody referenced the fact that Runge had been behind the plate during Humber's perfect game.
But as the bottom of the eighth inning ended, Los Angeles Dodgers catcher A.J. Ellis -- a hard-core baseball fan with a deep knowledge of the sport -- turned to Runge. "Great job tonight," Ellis said. "Congratulations."
The words stuck with Runge, and undoubtedly, there were moments he will cherish from Wednesday's game when he had a perfect view of perfection.
By the way: Runge was the home plate umpire for Jonathan Sanchez's no-hitter in San Francisco years ago.
Inside Cain's perfect game, from ESPN Stats and Info:
• Can relied heavily on his fastball against the Astros, recording 19 of the 27 outs with his heater. He recorded the other eight outs with his slider (five), changeup (two) and curveball (one).
• With two strikes, Cain mixed his up pitch selection, using each of his four pitches. Along with the 14 strikeouts, Cain got eight more outs in at-bats with a two-strike count. His pitch selection with two strikes: fastball (22), slider (12), curveball (nine), changeup (seven).
• Cain threw first pitch strikes to 19 of the 27 batters he faced (70.4 percent). With Cain ahead in the count, he was able to retire 19 of 27 batters including 11 of his 14 strikeouts. Cain had to retire only two hitters from behind in the count all game.
The logic in Ethier's deal
Last fall, the free agent market was flush with proven closers, from Francisco Rodriguez to Heath Bell to Francisco Cordero, Joe Nathan, Jonathan Papelbon, Ryan Madson, Frank Francisco and Jon Rauch. And if you wanted to trade for a closer, well, you could have called the Oakland Athletics about Andrew Bailey, Houston about Mark Melancon or (as it turns out) the Toronto Blue Jays about Sergio Santos.
So it's instructive to remember that when the dust settled, the free agents who got the best deals were those who signed quickly -- Papelbon ($50 million), Bell ($27 million) and Nathan ($15 million). And the free agent left standing was the reliever who didn't grab the early money, Madson, who wound up taking the one-year deal with the Cincinnati Reds.
The outfield market for this fall is setting up parallel lines, with an enormous number of veterans with track records all about to hit free agency at the same time.
This is why it was a good thing for Andre Ethier to make his five-year, $85 million deal right now, because it figures that somebody is going to be left behind in the fall. It's the last guy standing who will lose out on options and negotiating leverage, in the way that Madson did.
Even Hamilton, arguably the best of the lot, may be affected in this way. In theory, he's the most dynamic of the group of outfielders, with the highest production ceiling and the most power at a time when power is coveted most. But with the Dodgers' signing of Ethier, it likely means they will spend their available dollars on something other than an outfielder in the offseason -- and this might eliminate one of the few possible landing spots for Hamilton.
The Texas Rangers want to keep Hamilton but at a price and risk level they're comfortable with, especially in light of his history of off-field issues and injuries. Keep in mind: Hamilton is 31 years old.
The Los Angeles Angels are already flush with outfielders, so they won't be an option for Hamilton. The New York Yankees have their own potential free agents to tend to in Robinson Cano and Curtis Granderson; both could hit the market in 17 months. The Red Sox's payroll is already bloated by long-term deals, and they almost certainly will not be in the market for a $100-million-plus outfielder.
The New York Mets are much more inclined to financial baby steps right now than the kind of big strike that would be required to sign Hamilton. The Chicago Cubs just acquired two dynamic outfield talents, signing 19-year-old Jorge Soler and drafting high schooler Albert Almora, as they focus on a slow and steady rebuilding process -- and they're already saddled with the whopper contract of Alfonso Soriano.
But at a time when industry executives are increasingly attached to metrics and averse to risk, it does not appear that there will be a high volume of bidders for Hamilton -- especially when there will be such a wide range of alternatives at the same position.
• It's worth remembering the deep outfield class as we near the trade deadline, because it could help shape decisions. For example: The Minnesota Twins have indicated to others that they might be willing to talk about Josh Willingham if and when they decide to raise the white flag over their 2012 season.
Willingham's trade value may never be higher than it is right now, because he's having a good season at age 33 -- he's hitting .290 with a .405 on-base percentage -- and he's already under contract for the next two seasons at $7 million per year, a relatively modest price compared to what free agents will command in the offseason.
For the Pittsburgh Pirates, Willingham would make a lot of sense: He would augment their lineup now, when Pittsburgh is in the NL Central race, and he would not be budget-busting in 2013 or 2014.
• I did some official scoring years ago and always used this as a guideline on judging hit vs. error: If, at the end of the action, you were inclined to say "nice play" by a fielder, then it probably was a hit. The key word in the official scorers' guidelines is "ordinary" -- if it takes more than an ordinary effort, then it's a hit.
This what I thought when watching David Wright try to barehand the chopper hit by the speedy B.J. Upton in the first inning Wednesday night: If Wright had successfully grabbed the ball and thrown out Upton, I would've thought, Nice play. So when Wright didn't complete the play, I thought it was a hit for Upton -- and it was the only hit the Tampa Bay Rays got, as it turned out. The Mets are saying they'll appeal the scorer's decision.
From ESPN Stats and Info, how Dickey beat the Rays:
A) Dickey threw 100 knuckleballs in 106 pitches (94.3 percent). That is Dickey's highest percentage since 2009.
B) Fifty-five of the 100 knuckleballs were above the belt, gaining 16 outs (six strikeouts), which is Dickey's highest since 2009.
C) The Rays missed 22 of the 63 knuckleballs they swung at (34.9 percent). The 22 missed knuckleballs is the most for Dickey since 2009.
D) Eleven of the 12 strikeouts were swinging.
From Elias Sports Bureau: R.A. Dickey threw a one-hitter while striking out 12. The only Mets pitchers to throw a one-hitter while striking out more than 12? Nolan Ryan and Tom Seaver.
By The NumbersFrom ESPN Stats and Info
10: Starting pitchers with at least eight strikeouts on Wednesday.
257: Strikeouts by pitchers on Wednesday, tied for the third most in one day since the start of the 2000 season (15 games).
Moves, deals and decisions
4. Ron Roenicke keeps shuffling.
6. The Reds are trying to decide when to promote Billy Hamilton.
9. Terry Collins is an All-Star.
Dings and dents
4. Andy Dirks' availability is unclear.
6. Ron Gardenhire had to pull his pitcher and wasn't happy about it.
From Elias: Strasburg became the first pitcher to record 100 strikeouts this season. The last pitcher from a Washington team to do that was Walter Johnson in 1919. It took Johnson 11 more games than Strasburg (24 to 13). The Big Train finished with 147 K's that year to lead MLB.
Strasburg may have wowed the baseball world with his blistering fastball, but it's his changeup that has been his best pitch this season. Four of his eight strikeouts against the Blue Jays Wednesday came with his changeup, giving him 29 K's with the changeup this year (fifth among right-handed pitchers).
3. The Braves were swept, as Carroll Rogers writes.
5. The Phillies hung on.
11. The Yankees are rolling: That's six straight wins and counting.
Evaluating MLB's best umpires.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
As we've seen time and again this year, umpires are increasingly under the microscope. With the variety of angles available to TV viewers, it's become more and more apparent when a call is wrong, and as Jerry Crasnick writes today, umpiring in baseball is a major issue right now.
While many of the most memorable umpire mistakes have come on force plays, tag plays and "boundary calls," the most common kind of blown call, by far, happens behind home plate several times a game. It's possible to watch a game and forget about the base umpires, as long as none of them makes a glaring error. But it's impossible to ignore the home plate umpire, who has to make a ruling on every pitch not fouled off or put in play.
That's why arguing balls and strikes leads to an automatic ejection -- there are simply too many of them to make arguing each one permissible. Moreover, the strike zone is such a core component of baseball that questioning its consistency calls into question the integrity of the game.
Grousing about umpires is as old as the game itself, but the advent of instant replay -- and more recently, ball-tracking technology -- has made those complaints more numerous and provided conclusive evidence of occasional umpire incompetence. That doesn't necessarily mean that we're ready to do away with umpires, even if Major League Baseball would allow it.
Even Mike Fast, a former Baseball Prospectus and current Houston Astros analyst who made his name by studying the data collected by Sportvision's PITCHf/x system, has acknowledged that some significant technical hurdles would have to be cleared before an automated system could make more accurate calls in real time than human umpires. However, that hasn't stopped, or even slowed, the steady stream of complaints about officiating coming from couches and clubhouses alike. The shots are fired at even some of the best umpires in the game.
Boston Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine is the latest to make his feelings heard after the Sox were swept last weekend at Fenway Park by the Washington Nationals. The Nationals' starters have a collective 2.94 ERA this season, but nonetheless Valentine believed in this instance, they had some help behind home plate, saying, "I thought [the Nats' pitchers] pitched well. I thought they got pitches, in key situations, that weren't strikes."
Valentine went on to describe what he wants to see: "The game is simple. Throw it over the plate, call it a strike, don't throw it over the plate, call it a ball. Simple. That's all. It's all anybody asks."
Of course, it's not actually simple -- if it were, no umpire would rule incorrectly, and calls for robot umps would be few and far between. Calling balls and strikes is extremely difficult. Even Valentine is aware of this. A day after his initial complaints, he summarized the difficulties umpires face.
"I think they're very well trained, and I think they're very good at what they do," he said. "I think it's almost impossible to do what they do, so why do we ask them to do the impossible? … They're humans. We're asking humans to do a feat a human can't do."
But Valentine's acknowledgement of the difficulty of calling pitches doesn't make him any less eager to see them called correctly. And as much as he might want it, a significant change in the way balls and strikes are called still seems to be a ways away. So old-fashioned, flesh-and-blood umpires will have to do, and when we look closer, baseball has many high-quality ones.
In the PITCHf/x era (2007 to 2012), 81 umpires have been behind the plate for at least 5,000 pitches recorded by Sportvision's system. Among these experienced umps, 86.8 percent of pitches have been called correctly, using the rulebook definition of the strike zone's horizontal boundaries and a method for defining the top and bottom of the zone developed by Fast.
The range between the best and worst umps seems fairly small: Fewer than 5 percentage points separates the best from the worst. However, given the quantity of pitches a home plate umpire calls -- since 2010, an average of roughly 81 per team per game -- a difference in accuracy of even a few percentage points can make a major impact in a single contest, let alone a whole season. In a game featuring an average number of called pitches, the difference between the best and worst umpires would be about seven correct calls.
See the chart to the right. Those are the 10 umpires to rule on at least 5,000 pitches -- all of whom are still active -- with the highest percentage of pitches called correctly.
McClelland, the most accurate on the list, is also one of the most experienced -- he was the ump who called George Brett out in the so-called "Pine Tar Game" in 1983, McClelland's first full season. According to his MLB.com bio, the crew chief has worked at least one game at the major league level in 31 seasons, the third-highest total among active umpires.
At 6-foot-6, he has a different perspective on the zone than most umpires. He's also known for his deliberate pace behind the plate, which makes the broadcaster's job more difficult but might lead to more accurate calls. McClelland's consistency hasn't gone unrecognized: He has consistently finished at or near the top of player polls regarding baseball's best umpires.
Ironically, the three umpires who were behind the plate for the Nationals-Red Sox series -- Alan Porter, Dana DeMuth and Fieldin Culbreth -- have all been above-average at calling balls and strikes. The trio probably missed some important pitches in the series, but in those three games, 87.1 percent of pitches to Red Sox batters were called correctly -- an above-average success rate.
That would likely come as little consolation to Valentine, whose team still couldn't score.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Impact of Cespedes injury
Just four games into his return from the disabled list, Oakland outfielder Yoenis Cespedes was forced to leave Wednesday's contest against the Rockies after just two innings with a strained left hamstring.
Cespedes won't play in Thursday's series finale, but manager Bob Melvin said he'd consider using him as a designated hitter in Oakland "until we get him all the way healthy." With Cespedes at DH, the comeback of Manny Ramirez could be delayed further, says John Shea of the Chronicle.
The A's begin a nine-game homestand against NL clubs on Friday, giving Melvin the DH option. After a slow start, Ramirez has five hits in his last two games to raise his Triple-A average to .300. But Ramirez might be stuck in Sacramento for the time being unless Melvin is willing to use him in the outfield.
- Doug Mittler
Carlos Quentin returned from the disabled list two weeks ago and is hitting a sizzling .421 with five homers in 12 games. The hot streak is likely to help the San Diego Padres in more ways than one. Sure, it helps them compete and potentially win games. It also improves Quentin's trade value.
Jon Morisi tweets Thursday the Tigers have interest in dealing for Quentin, although his $7 million salary may be an impediment. The interest from Detroit is a mild surprise given the Tigers are expected to get back Victor Martinez later this summer. It also could indicate the Tigers are looking for a more immediate offensive boost.
ESPN The Magazine's Buster Olney last week suggested a handful of potential landing spots, including the Cincinnati Reds, Tampa Bay Rays, Los Angeles Dodgers and Atlanta Braves. The Reds, Olney adds, haven't been able to solve left field and the Rays and Indians needs pop -- the Indians need more balance in the form of a right-handed hitter.
The Brewers are another club to keep an on eye in trade scenarios for outfielders and bats as they have a hole at first base. They could move Corey Hart to first permanently and add an outfield bat such as Quentin.
- Doug Mittler and Jason A. Churchill
The Twins have not reached the point where they will sell off assets, but there would be a robust market for Josh Willingham if the Twins make the outfielder available, Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe reported earlier this week.
Willingham was the subject of numerous trade rumors last July before finishing out the year in Oakland and signing a three-year, $21 million deal with the Twins.
The extra wild card team should lead to a big buyers' market, and the Twins will be tempted tp take advantage. One team that might be looking to add an outfielder is the Pittsburgh Pirates, whose batting average for their left fielders was a paltry .209 as of Monday.
Buster Olney has more on Willingham in Thursday's blog:
"Willingham's trade value may never be higher than it is right now, because he's having a good season, at age 33 - he's hitting .290, with a .405 on-base percentage - and he's already under contract for the next two seasons, at $7 million per year, a relatively modest price compared to what free agents will command in the offseason. For the Pirates, Willingham would make a lot of sense: He would augment their lineup now, when Pittsburgh is in the NL Central race, and he would not be budget-busting in 2013 or 2014."
- Doug Mittler
The Atlanta Braves have yet to declare whether Kris Medlen, who was sent to Triple-A Gwinnett two weeks ago in hopes of stretching him out to be a starter, will return to the majors in the rotation or as a reliever.
Medlen allowed 15 hits and seven earned runs in 13 1/3 innings over three starts with Gwinnett. He could be more valuable in the bullpen, especially after the Braves blew four-run leads on Sunday and Tuesday.
Atlanta may be more comfortable sticking with Minor after the lefthander pitched seven strong innings against the Yankees on Tuesday.
- Doug Mittler
No ETA for Carpenter
St. Louis Cardinals
Chris Carpenter appears to be a long way away from pitching in a big league game, but the Cardinals ace made progress Wednesday, throwing off a mound for the first time since spring training.
Derrick Goold of the Post-Dispatch reports the session was similar to one he would do within two weeks of reporting to camp in February. Carpenter, who has been out all season after nerve irritation caused weakness in his right shoulder, will throw every other day for at least another week.
Given Carpenter's uncertain status, the Cardinals could easily be among the teams looking for starting pitching help as the trade deadline approaches.
- Doug Mittler
Remember Ben Sheets? The injury-plagued righthander who last pitched in the majors in 2010 may be planning a comeback.
Tim Dierkes of MLBTradeRumors.com reports Sheets threw for scouts Wednesday in Monroe, Louisiana, with representatives from the Phillies, Braves, Yankees, and Angels in attendance.
The 33-yearold Sheets was 4-9 in 20 starts for the A's in 2010 before shutting it down for a second flexor tendon procedure in August.
- Doug Mittler
The Los Angeles Dodgers are among the interested teams, Danny Knobler of CBSSports.com tweeted Tuesday. The Detroit Tigers, New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox, Texas Rangers and Cleveland Indians could be among those joining the chase for Dempster's services.
Amid the speculation, Dempster had a long chat with Cubs president Theo Epstein in the stands at Wrigley Field before Wednesday's game with the Tigers. Dempster told MLB.com's Carrie Muskat they were talking about an upcoming fundraiser in which Epstein is involved, but they very well could be discussing Dempster's future.
The 35-year-old Dempster is in the final year of a four-year, $52 million deal and is in line to ask for a multi-year deal, a route that Epstein may be very reluctant to travel.
ESPN Insider's Jim Bowden has the Cubs on his list of deadline sellers and gives a possible destination for Dempster:
- Doug Mittler and Jason A. Churchill
"Dempster will waive his no-trade rights and should be pitching for a contender. The Tigers could use another veteran arm."
Joba Chamberlain, who suffered a freak ankle injury in March playing on a trampoline with his son, still has hopes of being a valued reliever for the New York Yankees in the second half of the season.
Chamberlain tells Roger Rubin of the New York Daily News he believes he is 2-3 weeks away from going on a minor league rehab assignment.
Chamberlain appeared ready to make it back to the majors in less than a year after last June's Tommy John surgery, but took a huge step back with the trampoline injury. If Chamberlain were to return, the Yankees would have no problem putting him into a seventh-inning role to set-up Rafael Soriano and David Robertson.
- Doug Mittler
What's up with the Tigers?
An educated guess says the moves will involve a position player call-up after the Tigers learned Wednesday that outfielder Andy Dirks will not be able to come off the disabled list on Friday as originally hoped. Dirks continues to be bothered by Achilles tendinitis.
The Tigers also will need to clear a roster spot for Doug Fister, who is scheduled to come off the disabled list and start Thursday.
- Doug Mittler
Marco Scutaro and Chris Nelson will keep their current gigs as starting shortstop and starting second baseman for a little while longer as superstar Troy Tulowitzki has re-aggravated his left groin, reports the Denver Post.
Tulowitzki re-injured the leg during a rehab game in the minors and was originally expected to return to the Colorado Rockies very soon. If the aggravation is significant, he could be out until after the All-Star Break.
Rockies manager Jim Tracy said the initial information he received indicated the injury is minor.
The Rockies are not in contention and don't figure to be this season -- they sit nine games back in the wildcard and 14 1/2 games behind the Los Angeles Dodgers in the National League West -- so the impact here is relegated to fantasy baseball, and perhaps the MLB trade deadline.
The Rockies could have -- and still could, but now it may be less likely -- shopped Scutaro to one of the many clubs seeking upgrades, offensively or defensively, at shortstop, potentially including the Detroit Tigers.
- Jason A. Churchill
Free agent infield market shallow
Free Agent Infielders
Recently, Rumor Central's Jason Catania wrote that the depth in free agent outfielders could impact the way clubs go about re-signing their own pending free agents, but the same cannot be said for the infielders.
With Brandon Phillips, Howie Kendrick and Erick Aybar off the market -- they each signed extensions this spring -- the top middle infielders headed for free agency are the oft-injured Freddy Sanchez, Skip Schumaker, Ryan Theriot, Orlando Hudson and Jeff Keppinger. The struggling -- and injured -- Jason Bartlett is likely to be among that group.
Jhonny Peralta has a club option for 2013, as does Stephen Drew, but the Detroit Tigers and Arizona Diamondbacks, respectively, are likely to exercise those options to avoid a thin market for replacements.
Third baseman David Wright and Kevin Youkilis have team options attached, so they aren't likely to see the open market, and Chipper Jones is retiring. That leaves banged up veteran Scott Rolen and part-time players such as Ty Wigginton, Kevin Kouzmanoff, Maicer Izturis and Mark Teahen at the top of the hot corner market.
Mark Reynold has a club option, too, but it's for $11 million and his performance and injury history could convince the Orioles to buy out the slugger for $500,000.
The top first baseman are James Loney, Carlos Lee and Aubrey Huff if the Giants decline their option. Adam LaRoche may be earning his 2013 option with his bat this season, but could lead the first base crop if he hits the market.
Mike Napoli, if clubs consider him more of a first baseman than a catcher or DH, might be the most attractive of the entire infield class.
The market only thins after next season, too, so this could be a trend moving forward.
The White Sox’s Biggest Surprise.
Surprising performances have fueled the Chicago White Sox’s rise to the top of the division. Adam Dunn — who looked finished last season — is off to one of the best starts of his career, Jake Peavy is healthy for the first time in years and AJ Pierzynski has already clubbed eleven home runs. And while those performances were unexpected, there’s another player on the White Sox whose play has been even more shocking. At age-28, Alejandro De Aza has blossomed into one of the better center fielders in the game.
De Aza’s breakout was supposed to happen five years ago. After a strong Spring Training with the Florida Marlins, De Aza was named the starter in center field. His rise to prominence was short-lived. De Aza injured his ankle about a week into his debut season. While the injury was initially believed to be just a sprain, it turned out De Aza had been playing with a stress fracture. De Aza didn’t return until August, but looked overmatched in his debut season, hitting just .229/.261/.313. The following season, De Aza injured his ankle in an exhibition game and missed the entire season. After receiving just 27 plate appearances with the Marlins in 2009, the White Sox claimed him off waivers.
After decent performances in Triple-A in both 2010 and 2011, De Aza finally had an opportunity to make an impact. With Alex Rios struggling mightily, the White Sox turned to De Aza in center. The results were encouraging, in just 171 plate appearances, De Aza hit .329/.400/.520. That performance was enough for the White Sox to enter the 2012 season with De Aza firmly supplanted as their center fielder.
De Aza has responded in a big way. His 2.3 WAR rates him as the tenth best outfielder in baseball this season, and the fifth best center fielder. His overall line of .305/.382/.428 is strong — and he’s showing solid power and patience — but it’s also propped up by a .374 BABIP. While that’s extremely high for most players, we’re not entirely sure what De Aza’s natural BABIP should be. In his limited career, De Aza’s BABIP is .360, far higher than what we would predict. But even if De Aza’s BABIP drops to a more manageable number, he’s still shown some skills that should make him a useful piece for the White Sox.
De Aza has been more selective at the plate this season, but he’s still making solid contact. All of De Aza’s Swing rates are down this season, but his Contact% has jumped to 81.4. Much of that improvement has come on balls in the zone, where De Aza is making contact with 92.2% of pitches. And it hasn’t been weak contact, either. De Aza’s line drive rate has jumped to 30.6% this season, good for fourth in all of baseball. That definitely explains his elevated BABIP. De Aza has also managed to keep the ball on the ground, which plays to his strengths as a hitter. His fly ball rate is just 26.7% this year. While that approach probably won’t lead to many more home runs, it allows De Aza to capitalize on his speed.
That’s the nice thing about De Aza, he’ll contribute in multiple areas. He’s been a strong baserunner thus far, accumulating a 2.7 BsR (or UBR). And he seems like a capable defensive center fielder, too. We don’t have a huge sample with De Aza, but UZR seems to think he’s at least passable out there.
The White Sox went “All In
Epic Pitching Performances on the Same Night.
Last night, Matt Cain and R.A. Dickey combined to allow one hit in 18 innings, striking out 26 guys in the process. It was two of the very best performances of the year, and they happened on the same night. So, that got me thinking – how often do we get two stellar performances on the same day?
To answer the question, we’ll turn back to Game Score (again, not perfect, but good enough for this exercise), and look for dates where two pitchers both posted a Game Score of 90 or higher. Because this is kind of labor intensive and the game is a bit different now than it used to be, I’m only going back 20 years, but that should still give us a pretty good idea of how rare it is for two pitchers to be that good on the same day.
Anyway, here is the breakdown.
9/8/93: Darryl Kile (93) and Jason Bere (91) – 17 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 1 BB, 22 K
9/21/93: Randy Johnson (91) + Todd Stottlemyre (90) – 18 IP, 6 H, 0 R, 2 BB, 21 K
7/15/94: Bret Saberhagen (93) and Andy Benes (91) – 18 IP, 7 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 25 K
9/17/95: Ismael Valdez (92) and Patt Rapp (91) – 18 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 16 K
9/4/99: Pedro Martinez (90) and Kevin Brown (90) – 17 IP, 4 H, 0 R, 4 BB, 23 K
9/29/00: Chan Ho Park (95) and Ron Villone (92) – 18 IP, 4 H, 1 R, 6 BB, 29 K
5/25/01: Hideo Nomo (99) and Kerry Wood (97) – 18 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 2 BB, 28 K
4/26/02: Shawn Estes (92) and Odalis Perez (91) – 18 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 14 K
8/17/03: Mike Mussina (90) and Curt Schilling (90) – 16 IP, 4 H, 0 R, 2 BB, 21 K
4/16/04: Roy Oswalt (91) and Randy Johnson (90) – 18 IP, 5 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 18 K
5/18/04: Randy Johnson (100) and Jason Schmidt (97) – 18 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 26 K
7/8/10: Roy Oswalt (91) and John Danks (90) – 18 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 2 BB, 15 K
6/13/12: Matt Cain (101) and R.A. Dickey (95) – 18 IP, 1 H, 1 R, 0 BB, 26 K
13 times in 20 years, two guys have put up 90+ game scores on the same night. But, in most instances, one or both guys just barely clears the hurdle – only the Johnson/Schmidt duo in 2004 and the Nomo/Wood pair in 2001 featured both pitchers with a game score of 95 or higher, as we saw last night. And, given that Dickey’s game score is only lower than Schmidt’s due to the unearned run he allowed, you could probably argue that last night’s tandem was the best pair of pitching performances we’ve seen on the same night in since 1993 (and possibly before that, if any of you want to do the work and go back further). Of course, Game Score doesn’t adjust for park/era/opponent, so perhaps the fact that we’re back in a lower run environment now does tilt the scales back towards Johnson/Schmidt, but again, we’re hair splitting here. The point is that we don’t get nights like that very often.
Speaking of Johnson, I hope you noticed he’s on this list three times. What a beast.
On most nights, we’d be talking about what Lance Lynn, Wade Miley, Felix Dubront, and Jake Arrieta, did last night. Last night was not most nights, however. Last night belonged to Matt Cain and R.A. Dickey.
R.A. Dickey and Cy Young Hopes.
After yesterday’s 12-strikeout, no-walk complete game from R.A. Dickey, the league’s best knuckleballer moved into position with the MLB’s fourth-best xFIP, the MLB’s fourth-best ERA, and the 10th-best ERA-minus among historical knuckleballers.
Advanced stats can sometimes fail us with knuckleballers because they produce especially weak contact. In his most recent start, Dickey got 10 ground outs, 1 weak single that may get ruled an error, and 1 infield fly ball. So naturally, FIP and xFIP under-appreciate Dickey to a certain extent, but does that mean he should be in consideration for a Cy Young award?
Yes. Probably very much: Yes.
Well first of all: Matt Cain‘s perfect game last night certainly does not play in Dickey’s favor. Cain currently sports a better ERA and FIP than Dickey, plus he has one of the biggest badges a pitcher can earn in a single start, so if the San Francisco Giants pitcher can maintain his production and not totally Philip Humber before the end of the season, then he is probably the favorite.
There is also Zack Greinke, pitching like Zach Greinke is wont to pitch (1.98 FIP, 2.34 xFIP — both best in the NL). And Cliff Lee (2.67 xFIP) and Stephen Strasburg (2.42 xFIP) have been sharp NL pitchers too.
Dickey indeed can beat his peripheral stats, and even though he sports an excellent ERA right now, he still may have even more room to improve. Since 2008, Dickey has averaged an ERA 0.55 points lower than his xFIP, and since 2009, it has been a full 0.68 points lower:
As Dickey has improved, his gap between defensive-independent numbers and his ERA has expanded.
And it’s not like the Mets have had some line-drive-swallowing defense either. From 2009 through 2011, their pitching staff had a .296 BABIP — sixth worst in the NL. And so far in 2012, they have a .300 mark, good for 7th worst and near the middle of the NL.
Dickey now has 10 consecutive starts without allowing more than 4 runs — with four zero-earned-run starts (all at or under 2.02 xFIP) coming most recently. He is, as the kids say, on a fire.
But this is the summer, which is Springtime for Knuckleballs. When it gets cold, it gets hard to dig those fingernails into the seams and the knuckler gets straight and homered. Paul Swydan noted how astoundingly consistent Dickey has been over the course of the 2012 season — and how unusual that is for a knuckleballer. Not only is Dickey consistently getting low ER totals, he is also doing it the “right
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
On the surface, the question seems like an easy one: If your team was playing in a championship game tomorrow, and you could have any starting pitcher, who would it be? Your choice is of any ace in the game, but for some it's not just about statistics, it's about comfort and mitigating risk.
The question was posed to 12 industry insiders, ranging from pro scout to general manager, and those 12 generated five different responses. (We also asked them who they think their choice will be in 2015, and those answers are below.)
1. Justin Verlander, Detroit Tigers (seven votes)
Verlander was the runaway winner, but some might be surprised to see him get just more than half the votes. "He just walks to the mound like he owns it," said an American League scouting official. "You're talking about 95-100 mph to both sides of the plate, a hellacious curveball and a plus change."
A National League scout agreed, while focusing on the thought of just one game. "He's capable of no-hitting anyone at any time, in any place," said the talent evaluator. "Every time you see him you wonder if you're going to see something special."
A National League front office member also focused on the one-game aspect but took a different angle. "Verlander has been the most consistent when it comes to maintaining plus-plus stuff deep into games, which for me is really what you ask for when looking for the best player to start one game," the front office member said.
T2. Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles Dodgers (two votes)
One of the two young guns to receive votes, Kershaw is just 24 years old and is already on his fourth straight year of putting up ace-level numbers in the big leagues.
"Verlander has more pitches and better stuff, and really he and Kershaw are the only two considerations for me," said a National League official. "I just think Kershaw is the most likely to dominate in a start tomorrow."
T2. Stephen Strasburg, Washington Nationals (two votes)
Despite being just 23 years old with less than 170 innings under his belt, Strasburg got a couple of nods.
"His stuff is just so much better than anyone else's stuff," said an American League official.
A scouting executive agreed, adding, "He's evolving from a pure flame guy to a pure pitcher that has an assortment of weapons."
T4. CC Sabathia, New York Yankees (one vote)
Sabathia is generally considered an ace despite that fact he's had an ERA of less than 3.00 just once in his career and struck out more than 200 batters just three times.
"He's just the man," said an assistant general manager. "I know it doesn't match up objectively or on the foundation of any evidence. But I think about what he did in Milwaukee and I think about him ripping off win after win with the Yankees, and for me this is a question about trust, and I trust that guy."
T4. Jered Weaver, Los Angeles Angels (one vote)
Last year's runner-up in the Cy Young voting, Weaver has improved his rate stats this year, and one American League executive decided to turn away from the strikeout machines and go for the efficiency.
"I was just thinking about power guys, and I still might rather have power," he explained. "But Verlander is in a bit of a funk right now, so I'll take the guy I know is going to consistently throw strikes."
Thinking about the future
Let's mix things up at bit. Let's change the time frame of this question to three years down the road. Your team is guaranteed a Game 7 in the 2015 World Series. You can pick any starting pitcher for the game, but you have to choose him today. While one pitcher pulled away with the most votes, options nonetheless went from a handful to a plethora.
"There's so much pitching right now," said an assistant GM. "There are so many kids that are mechanically sound, and with strength and conditioning and the way teams are protecting their arms, everything is going towards an era of pitching. It's hard to be a hitter right now." Still, the questions left another executive thinking about young hitters. "Can I take [Bryce] Harper and [Mike] Trout and then not care about what pitcher I get?" he joked.
1. Stephen Strasburg, Nationals (six votes)
While Strasburg ran away with the voting, he could have dominated had there not been concern about his injury history. "I'm sticking with Strasburg here, but while my gut says Strasburg, my brain says he might be hurt," said one scouting director. But for others, his injury issues were safely in the rearview mirror.
"2015?" asked a National League scout. "He's four years removed from Tommy John surgery and has four Cy Young awards on his mantle." A scouting official who selected Verlander for the game tomorrow, selected Strasburg while noting similarities between the two. "He's what Verlander was three years ago," he said. "He's going to be that monster that shuts you down on any given day."
2. Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers (three votes)
Kershaw finished second in both polls, a testament to both his youth and talent. "What is he now? 24?" asked a National League official. "We're talking about a left-hander with dynamite stuff. It could be scary to think about what he looks like in three years."
T3. Dylan Bundy, Baltimore Orioles (one vote)
The biggest surprise of the poll was a vote for a pitcher in A-ball, but both Bundy's stuff and minor league numbers have been the talk of the first half of the season. "We can agree that he's up next year, and maybe as soon as he clears the service time for super-two status," explained an assistant GM. "In 2015, we're talking about a 22-year-old with two-and-a-half years of service time, and he could be pretty damn good."
T3. Gio Gonzalez, Nationals (one vote)
With a walk rate that continues to drop and a strikeout rate that continues to increase, Gonzalez is an under-the-radar pitcher who is slowly but surely working his way to ace status. "I'm taking a 26-year-old who is elite now and has gotten better every year," said an American League scout.
T3. Matt Moore, Tampa Bay Rays (one vote)
Entering the year as the top prospect in baseball, Moore has begun to dominate more in his first full big league season, and he's still years from his prime. "He has the upside everything is looking for, and he'd just be coming into the prime of his career at that point," said an assistant GM. "I'll admit Trevor Bauer came to mind, but I just can't go there yet."
T3. Justin Verlander (one vote)
The winner of the right now vote, one American League official was quick to note that there's no reason to think Verlander shouldn't be in play three years from now. "He'll be 32, it's not like he'll be old," he said.
Why Chapman needs to start.
Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
On Sunday night, we got to see one of the rarest events in baseball this season, Aroldis Chapman allowing two runs during a game. But when you have a bad game and your ERA balloons by half a run and yet is still less than 1.00, it's a sign that you're having a more than halfway decent year.
Chapman entered the season a bit of an enigma, a player with a triple-digit fastball but an up-and-down relationship with the strike zone. The Cuban Missile's targeting system had some flaws, and the Cincinnati Reds were smart to start Chapman in the bullpen this season. After all, Chapman is still just 24, and being very raw, it made a good deal of sense to allow him to work out his flaws and increase his role as he improved. That time has come, and I don't mean racking up saves -- it's time for the Reds to try Chapman as a starter.
Calls for Chapman to start are nothing new given his dominance so far this year. If major league baseball were a video game, Chapman has looked like a guy who really needed to increase the difficulty level. ZiPS projects Chapman to finish the season with a 2.36 ERA, but I think even the computer is having trouble coming to terms with just how extreme Chapman's improvement has been.
Chapman has been helped by the return of his quasi-splitter, a hybrid pitch that seems to be part fastball, part cutter, part splitter, part spell seen in a game of Dungeons & Dragons. Even PitchF/X has had trouble characterizing that filthy pitch, generally classifying it as a lively fastball or a ridiculously quick changeup.
The effect on Chapman's stats has been astounding, and there's little reason to think that it's a fluke. Walk rate is one of the least volatile stats for pitchers, and even in just 26 games, there's next to no chance that a drop from 7.4 BB/9 to 2.9 BB/9 isn't extremely significant. For all pitchers with 30 innings this season, batters are making contact with Chapman pitches on only 61 percent of swings. The next best has been Nate Jones at 71 percent. The distance between Chapman and Jones is greater than the distance between Jones and 89th place (Jared Hughes at 80.8 percent).
If you have an excellent starter and an excellent reliever, all things being equal, you want the starter. The reliever pitches in higher-leverage situations, but the starter pitches a lot more. That's definitely too simple, but in the situation the Reds are in, moving Chapman to the rotation makes even more sense than usual.
To start, Cincy's bullpen is very deep and performing extremely well, even with the nasty surprise of Ryan Madson missing the season and Bill Bray also being on the shelf. Even if you wipe out all of Chapman's stats this season, the bullpen's ERA of 3.03 has still been more than solid. Eight pitchers have appeared in relief for the Reds this season, and the second-worst strikeout rate among them is J.J. Hoover's 8.6 K/9.
With such a deep bullpen, the Reds can afford to lose an arm for a good cause. Jose Arredondo and Alfredo Simon have combined for 57 strikeouts and a 1.94 ERA in 51 innings this season, but with a combined leverage index of 0.77, the Reds haven't gotten maximum value out of that performance. Simply put, the Reds don't have enough high-leverage innings for all their high-performing relievers.
The rotation, on the other hand, has been less enthralling. Johnny Cueto has contributed as usual, and Mat Latos should be better going forward, but there's nobody else in the rotation that Cincinnati fans should be super-excited about seeing start games in October.
At this point in the season, there aren't many ways that a team can easily add a win or two. You can make a big trade, but that comes with the downside of losing a prospect. Moving Chapman to the rotation doesn't cost that, and, realistically, the Reds don't have the same farm depth that they had before the Latos trade.
A game or two doesn't sound like a major boost, but for a team in Cincinnati's position, it can very easily make the difference between Cincinnati playing baseball in October and watching baseball in October.
Just how crucial could two wins be for the Reds? To answer this, I simulated the rest of the season using the ZiPS projection system (see chart). But rather than asking the typical "Who will win the division?" question, I instead tabulated Cincy's odds of winning the division and making the playoffs at all final win totals from 75 to 95.
As one can see from the chart, there's a drastic difference between how useful a marginal win is at different levels of team quality. Adding two wins to a 75-win team in the NL Central this year barely moves the needle, and when it comes to making the playoffs, two extra wins are unlikely to provide much value to a 90-win team.
The Reds, as of Tuesday, are on an 87-88-win pace based on their actual record and an 85-win pace based on their Pythagorean record, strongly suggesting that the Reds are smack dab at the point where adding a win is the most crucial. Going from 86 to 88 wins actually improves their playoff chances for a coin flip to better than 75 percent.
One thing that separates successful franchises from laggards is the ability to take calculated risks to make the most of opportunities as they arise. The Texas Rangers would not have the same record of recent success if they hadn't risked making their best lefty reliever (C.J. Wilson) into a starter or taken a chance on a 30-year-old starter with a 6.71 ERA in the majors (Colby Lewis). The Atlanta Braves could have been satisfied to let 38-year-old John Smoltz finish his career as a closer, but his return to starting full time after six years proved to be the margin in the division back in 2005.
Fortune favors the bold, and it's time for the Reds to be bold. In Chapman, they have a pitcher with phenomenal potential and there will never be a better time to unleash his talent than now.
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A's release Man Ram
I can see him being picked up an AL team after the all-star break. He'll probably end up back in Cleveland
Why would any team pick him up now. He was having trouble hitting AAA Pitching. Oakland is usually the last stop for an aged hitter
MLB.TV premium is on sale, $49.99 for the rest of the year
next year for sure
screw extra innings