Reds Benefit from Error, Expected to Sign Undrafted Talent

University of Nevada CF and member of the USA Collegiate National Team T.J. Friedl is expected to sign a lucrative NDFA (non-drafted free agent) deal with the Cincinnati Reds. Friedl, a redshirt sophomore in 2016, was eligible to be drafted in June but, due to confusion with how he was listed on Nevada’s roster, the industry — and, rumor has it, Friedl himself — was unaware that he was draft-eligible. Only once Friedl began to make waves this summer with Team USA did scouts begin to look into his background and realize that he had slipped through the cracks and was eligible to sign.

Of course, NDFA’s that sign for over $100,000 count against the signing club’s draft bonus pool and as bidding for Friedl began to heat up, many teams had no room to make a run at him. The Reds had around $700K worth of money to spend without incurring heavy penalties for exceeding their pool limit, and indeed I’ve heard anything from $500-$750K as the likely amount here, with more sources indicating the number is toward the low end of that range. Tampa Bay was also heavily involved in negotiations with Friedl.

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Jeff Sullivan FanGraphs Chat — 7/29/16


Projecting Adalberto Mejia, the Return for Eduardo Nunez

Adalberto Mejia‘s turned in a 2.81 ERA in 18 starts between Double-A and Triple-A this year. His ERA was helped by a low BABIP, especially at the Double-A level. But even so, his 24% strikeout and 6% walk rates signify a solid pitcher. Although he’s pitched professionally since 2011, Mejia didn’t turn 23 until last month, which makes his high-minors dominance all the more impressive. Mejia’s numbers where significantly less impressive in a limited sample last season, but were still encouraging from a 22-year-old at Double-A.

My newly revamped KATOH projection system rates Mejia as a good, but not elite, pitching prospect. It projects him for 3.4 WAR over his first six seasons by the traditional method. Incorporating Baseball America rankings bumps Mejia’s forecast up to 3.9 WAR, which places him 94th overall among all prospects. To help you visualize what KATOH’s projection entails, here is a probability density function showing KATOH+’s projected distribution of outcomes for Mejia’s first six seasons in the major leagues.

Capture

To put some faces to Mejia’s statistical profile, let’s go ahead and generate some statistical comps for the southpaw. I calculated a Mahalanobis distance between Mejia’s Double-A and Triple-A performance this year and every season at those levels since 1991 in which a pitcher recorded at least 350 batters faced. In the table below, you’ll find the 10 most similar seasons, ranked from most to least similar. The WAR totals refer to each player’s first six seasons in the major leagues. A lower “Mah Dist” reading indicates a closer comp.

Please note that the Mahalanobis analysis is separate from KATOH. KATOH relies on macro-level trends, rather than comps. The fates of a few statistically similar players shouldn’t be used to draw sweeping conclusions about a prospect’s future. For this reason, I recommend using a player’s KATOH forecast to assess his future potential. The comps give us some interesting names that sometimes feel spot-on, but they’re mostly just there for fun.

Adalberto Mejia’s Mahalanobis Comps
Rank Name Mah Dist Projected KATOH+ WAR Actual WAR
1 Victor Santos 0.28 2.3 3.8
2 John Thomson 0.36 2.4 13.7
3 Zack Greinke 0.49 2.3 32.0
4 Jeff Karstens 0.66 2.0 3.4
5 John Johnstone 0.76 2.1 1.3
6 Ricky Nolasco 0.82 3.4 16.6
7 Jeff Housman 0.90 2.0 0.0
8 Peter Munro 0.97 3.5 3.3
9 Pat Misch 0.99 2.1 1.0
10 Wil Ledezma 1.02 2.9 1.4

The Fringe Five: Baseball’s Most Compelling Fringe Prospects

The Fringe Five is a weekly regular-season exercise, introduced a few years ago by the present author, wherein that same author utilizes regressed stats, scouting reports, and also his own fallible intuition to identify and/or continue monitoring the most compelling fringe prospects in all of baseball.

Central to the exercise, of course, is a definition of the word fringe, a term which possesses different connotations for different sorts of readers. For the purposes of the column this year, a fringe prospect (and therefore one eligible for inclusion in the Five) is any rookie-eligible player at High-A or above who (a) received a future value grade of 45 or less from Dan Farnsworth during the course of his organizational lists and who (b) was omitted from the preseason prospect lists produced by Baseball America, Baseball Prospectus, MLB.com’s Jonathan Mayo, and John Sickels, and also who (c) is currently absent from a major-league roster. Players appearing on a midseason list or, otherwise, selected in the first round of the current season’s amateur draft will also be excluded from eligibility.

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

*****

Yandy Diaz, 3B/OF, Cleveland (Profile)
Diaz possesses a number of traits common to many of the prospects who appear in this weekly column. Like above-average contact ability, for example. And like developing power. And like defensive tools that should allow him to produce runs in the field, as well. After exhibiting all those skills at Double-A, he’s continued to exhibit them at Triple-A Columbus, too, after receiving a promotion to that level in mid-May. He exhibited them all even harder this past week, over the course of which he produced a 3:2 walk-to-strikeout ratio and .238 isolated-power mark (on the strength of a triple and home run) in 25 plate appearances.

What else Diaz exhibited this week was an avant-garde approach to the sort of celebration one conducts following a game-winning hit. Indeed, rather than allowing himself to be mobbed by teammates, Diaz instead hoisted the leading member of that mob onto his own shoulder, as the following video footage reveals.

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Eduardo Nunez and the Case of the Minus-28

The San Francisco Giants and the Minnesota Twins made a little trade last night. The weekend of the trade deadline is here, meaning we’re about to see a frenzy of deals, meaning this little guy involving Eduardo Nunez and barely-a-top-100 prospect that happened on Thursday night is going to get swept under the rug pretty quickly. If you’re here for a deep analysis of the move and the players involved, well, sorry.

I can tell you that Paul Swydan gave you a bit of that last night when the news broke, and Eric Longenhagen whipped up a report on Adalberto Mejia, the new Twins pitching prospect. I can tell you that Eduardo Nunez has been worth 1.0 WAR in his career, and 1.6 WAR this year. He was technically just an All-Star, but he was an All-Star in the way that the guys who finished after Lance Armstrong during his doping years are Tour de France champions.

I can also tell you that something’s fascinated me about Nunez for a while, and this is actually an article I’ve been dying to write. Throughout most of the year, though, folks aren’t exactly dying to read Eduardo Nunez articles. The time is now. I may never have a more opportune moment.

This is what this article will be about:

Nunez

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Scouting New Twins Prospect Adalberto Mejia

Newly acquired Minnesota Twins LHP Adalberto Mejia doesn’t have the fire-breathing stuff that many of his fellow 2016 Futures Game participants do, but he combines a deep, usable repertoire with advanced sequencing to accrue outs — and was arguably the most advanced arm in the 2015 Arizona Fall League.

Mejia signed with San Francisco early in 2011 for $350,000 and dominated the Dominican Summer League later that year. He was sent directly to a full-season affiliate for his stateside debut the next year as a 19-year-old. In July of 2013, when the Giants needed an arm for a spot start at Triple-A, they were comfortable enough to let Mejia, then 20 years of age, make that start. Over 18 starts between Double and Triple-A this season, Mejia has a 2.81 ERA.

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Eduardo Nunez Shipped to the Dock of the Bay

The “Wait, that Eduardo Nunez?” season continued unabated on Thursday night. From a fill-in for legends, to sub replacement player, to reclamation project, to All-Star and now desired trade candidate. That’s a road few players travel. That road now leads him to San Francisco, as the Giants acquired him Thursday night from the Minnesota Twins in exchange for minor league pitcher Adalberto Mejia.

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Another Name for the Royals to Float

Things haven’t gone very well for the Royals this season. On that matter, we can all agree, right? Injuries have been a major problem, and injuries aren’t always “fair,” but what happens happens, and with the deadline coming up, the Royals aren’t in a great position. They’re eight and a half games out of first in their division, with three teams in front, and they’re only a couple games closer to a wild-card spot, with even more teams in front. No team wants to concede, and especially not a defending champ, but the Royals can probably tell this is unlikely to be their year. It’s not a coincidence they’re listening on Wade Davis. The Royals could be helped by doing some selling.

Some rumors have surrounded Davis. Other rumors have surrounded Ian Kennedy, if only when linked to Davis. Luke Hochevar has drawn attention to himself. Edinson Volquez has gotten some press. One name, to my knowledge, has been curiously absent. Danny Duffy is having a breakthrough season, and it feels like the Royals should make his availability known.

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Wade Davis, the Ultimate Deadline Gamble

The Royals are apparently listening to offers for Wade Davis. The Royals would be stupid if they didn’t listen to offers for Wade Davis. Any team would be stupid if it didn’t listen to offers for anyone. Listening comes at basically zero cost! There seems to be a real chance here, though, a chance of something happening. The Royals haven’t been very good, and while Davis has another year of control, you know where the reliever market is. If nothing else, you have to find out. You have to see what a guy like Davis could pull.

Davis could represent a proven, dominant addition. There’s no questioning his track record, and he was fantastic in last year’s playoffs. Davis is right there in the argument for the best reliever in the game, and relievers are being valued more highly than ever. It’s easy to see why Davis could command a huge trade return. It’s also easy to see how he could bust. These negotiations might well be complicated, because Davis looks like one massive gamble.

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Team Ball-in-Play Analysis: An Overview

Over the last few weeks we have taken a position-by-position look at granular ball-in-play data for both hitters and pitchers, assessing their respective contact quality/management ability. Next up: a macro-type evaluation of overall team performance in those areas.

Over the next few weeks, we’ll take a division-by-division look at each team’s granular data through the All-Star break, ultimately comparing their actual won-lost records to projected ones based on exit speed/angle of every ball in play hit and allowed by each club. About 90 games’ worth of balls in play is a fairly substantial sample size, one that enables us to make fairly educated guesses about the true talent level of each team. Today, we’ll focus on a brief overview of general BIP data estimating the overall hitting, pitching and defensive abilities of all 30 clubs; we’ll drill deeper into the data in the subsequent divisional articles.

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Calculating Ian Kennedy’s Negative Trade Value

At 49-51, 8 1/2 games out of first place, the Royals sound like they realize they’re probably not contenders this year, and with a few days to go before the trade deadline, they’re now listening to offers for their best trade chips. Given the price of relievers these days, Wade Davis is pretty clearly their most valuable asset, and the Royals could expect to get back a significant haul for him, given that he’s also under contract for 2017.

But according to Jeff Passan, the team might be looking to use Davis to do something besides add young talent to the organization.

So that’s an interesting idea. By tying Kennedy to Davis, the price in talent would come down, which would likely make a deal more appealing to a team like LA — we’ve seen the Dodgers take on plenty of dead-money deals in order to acquire or retain prospects in previous trades — and would give the Royals the flexibility to reallocate Kennedy’s money to other free agents this winter, which would allow them to essentially make a trade for 2017 assets instead of prospects who might not be able to help before the rest of their core players hit free agency.

On the surface, the idea makes some sense, but it also brings up a question; how much negative value does Kennedy have at this point? How much of a discount on the talent portion of the trade would the Royals have to give in order to free themselves from the rest of Kennedy’s deal? Let’s do the math.

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Jeremy Hellickson: Now Slightly More Interesting

This is simply the nature of the current starting-pitcher market. There’s no Cole Hamels, there’s no David Price. There’s a Chris Archer and a Sonny Gray and a Julio Teheran, but odds are they all stay put. So you move on to your Andrew Cashners and your Drew Pomeranzes and you look for reasons to get excited. You don’t force reasons to get excited — some guys just aren’t that exciting — but if they’re there, you pay attention.

It’s understandable to not find Jeremy Hellickson too exciting. Over the course of his career, he’s been about the definition of average. Oh, Hellickson once was exciting. As a minor leaguer in 2011, he was ranked as the No. 18 prospect in the sport by Baseball America, and after making a brief but impressive debut that year, was bumped up to No. 6 on the following year’s iteration. In 2011, he was arguably the most hyped pitching prospect in baseball, sandwiched between Teheran and Aroldis Chapman, and then he started off his career with 400 innings of a 3.00 ERA.

But then, there were the ugly peripherals that had always loomed, followed by the heavy hand of regression, and then the elbow surgery, and Hellickson became a forgotten name as quickly as he’d become an intriguing one.

Except now it’s 2016, and the Philadelphia Phillies are reportedly asking for a team’s top-five prospect in order to obtain Hellickson; otherwise, they’re comfortable extending to him what could be a $16.7 million qualifying offer. Which, of course that’s what the Phillies are asking — no harm in talking up your own guy. The question is: how crazy is it, really? Or, more specifically, how interesting is Hellickson, really?

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Eno Sarris Baseball Chat — 7/28/16

1:39
Eno Sarris: I think I’ll do some weird music today. Some won’t like it. Shrug emoticon!
12:01
Mike : What’d you think of Demeritte in San Diego?
12:02
Eno Sarris: Asked him about his two-strike approach and he said he was trying stuff and nothing had clicked. I think that’s a fairly bad sign and I’ll put his bust rate at 80+%. But! He probably still has a 5% or so superior rate, because if he does put it together, I believe in his power, and think he can even stick at second.
12:02
Eric: I hope you are very wrong that Josh Reddick could net Bellinger+. That would be an objectively horrible trade for the Dodgers’ present and future
12:02
Eno Sarris: Well, I think the trade would be Hill and Reddick together, and I thought Bellinger was further down the prospect list, so I probably am wrong.
12:02
Jake: Where do you think manfred can improve!

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Scouting New Braves Prospect Travis Demeritte

The Atlanta Braves have turned one player they claimed off of waivers and another they signed to a minor-league deal into a prospect who appeared in this month’s Futures Game. Even if one is skeptical of that prospect, as I am, acquiring a tooled-up middle infielder for two pieces you acquired at next to no cost represents a success for the rebuilding Braves. The newly acquired Travis Demeritte has an interesting set of tools undermined by one potentially fatal flaw that, if remedied, could make him a valuable everyday player.

Demeritte, who turns 22 in September, is hitting .272/.352/.583 with 25 home runs at High-A High Desert. He was suspended for 80 games in 2015 for use of a banned substance, the masking agent Furosemide. He also had a 25-homer season at Hickory in 2014. Both Hickory and High Desert, along with most of the rest of the Cal League, are power paradises. A study done by Baseball America’s Matt Eddy in 2015 found those two affiliates to be the most homer-friendly parks in there respective leagues. Though Demeritte has plus raw power projection, I think it’s fair to be skeptical of his in-game power performance’s sustainability.

The raw pop comes primarily from Demeritte’s plus bat speed and a big back-side collapse that creates uppercut in his swing. His footwork is aggressive and noisy and at times he strides down the third-base side, leaving him vulnerable on the outer half, though he’s still able to take the ball the other way exclusively with his hands. He has 11 opposite-field home runs so far this season, according to MLBfarm.com.

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Projecting New Braves Prospect Travis Demeritte

A cursory glance at Travis Demeritte‘s stat line might lead one to think the he’s an offensive beast. He’s hit a powerful .272/.352/.583 at High-A this year, on the strength of an impressive 25 homers. In addition to his offensive exploits, he’s also swiped 13 bases and played solid defense at second base.

But there’s one bad attribute that largely outweighs all the good stuff: his 33% strikeout rate. Demeritte suffers from chronic contact problems, which have led to problematic strikeout rates ever since the Rangers took him in the first round back in 2013. Though he has the eighth-best wRC+ in High-A this year, he also has the fourth-worst strikeout rate. The latter suggests he’ll have a tough time replicating the former against more advanced pitching.

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NERD Game Scores for Thursday, July 28, 2016

Devised originally in response to a challenge issued by sabermetric nobleman Rob Neyer, and expanded at the request of nobody, NERD scores represent an attempt to summarize in one number (and on a scale of 0-10) the likely aesthetic appeal or watchability, for the learned fan, of a player or team or game. Read more about the components of and formulae for NERD scores here.

***

Most Highly Rated Game
St. Louis at Miami | 19:10 ET
Wacha (115.1 IP, 97 xFIP-) vs. Fernandez (120.2 IP, 56 xFIP-)
Probably an irresponsible way to evaluate a pitcher is to cite his WAR per games started. The author cites it here, however, as an attempt to answer a question poorly. The question: at what point is someone likely to tie and/or pass the injured Clayton Kershaw on the WAR pitching leaderboard. The answer: probably mid-August.

First, regard:

Qualified Starters by WAR per Start
Name Team GS WAR WAR/GS
Clayton Kershaw Dodgers 16 5.5 0.34
Jose Fernandez Marlins 19 4.5 0.24
Noah Syndergaard Mets 19 4.2 0.22
Johnny Cueto Giants 20 3.7 0.19
Corey Kluber Indians 20 3.7 0.19
Note 1: Only data from starts (not relief appearances) considered.
Note 2: Likely irresponsible, this method.

Those are the top-five qualified pitchers this year by WAR per game started. As noted, only the data from starts has been considered. Although, it doesn’t really matter: this is basically identical to the top-five pitchers by WAR without any additional criteria. It appears here, however, to provide a sense of how many more starts a pitcher might need — how many Jose Fernandez, in particular, might need — to catch Kershaw.

Fortunately, the math is pretty simple. Fernandez sits roughly a win behind Kershaw and produces roughly a quarter win per start. So, “four starts” would appear to be the answer. Accounting for today’s start and assuming that Fernandez appears for Miami every fifth day, he’s likely to have tied Kershaw following his start against the White Sox on Friday, August 12th. If Miami preserves a five-man rotation through a couple days off, Fernandez is still likely to appear in that White Sox series, just a day or two later.

Reason, is what has been exhibited here. But reason in the most frightening quantity.

Readers’ Preferred Broadcast: St. Louis Radio.

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Kyle Gibson on His Best Outing of the Season

Kyle Gibson starts tonight against Baltimore. He pitched his best game of the season on Friday. The Minnesota Twins right-hander gave up a home run to the first batter he faced, but that was the lone blemish in a 2-1 win. Matching up against the Red Sox at Fenway Park, Gibson fanned six and allowed just three base-runners over eight innings of work.

He mixed his pitches proficiently. Per Brooks Baseball, the 29-year-old sinker-baller threw 37 two-seamers, 24 sliders, 18 changeups, nine curveballs and eight four-seamers. His sequencing induced a 38.8% swing rate on pitches outside the zone (O-Swing%) against one of baseball’s most patient lineups.

Gibson, who is suffering through a subpar year, discussed the game and his overall pitch usage the following day.

———

Gibson on his July 22 outing: “The homer to [Mookie] Betts was on a four-seamer. There are times I’ll throw a first-pitch four-seamer to righties, but it’s usually all sinkers. Most of the four-seamers I throw are in to lefties and I haven’t been beaten too many times on that. One that comes to mind is a Jackie Bradley home run in our ballpark [on June 11]. It’s a pitch I’m normally trying to elevate and throw for effect.

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Rangers Land Potential Relief Ace

An afternoon trade went down between the Rangers and the Braves. One very much legitimate way of thinking about it: Lucas Harrell isn’t very good, but the back of the Rangers’ rotation lately has been terrible, and this just goes to show how the market for any half-decent starting pitcher right now is inflated. While Travis Demeritte isn’t a top-10 prospect or anything, he is a former first-rounder having a breakthrough season in High-A. Not a lot of available 21-year-olds with that sort of power. Good get for the Braves, considering they just added Harrell for practically nothing a couple months ago.

Another very much legitimate way of thinking about it: The Rangers didn’t want to pay the high price for an established relief arm, so they found an alternative route, landing in Dario Alvarez a potential front-line lefty bullpen weapon. Harrell gets attention as the starter with experience, and Demeritte gets attention as the prospect stepping forward, but Alvarez might be a hell of a pitcher, considering you might not have ever heard of him.

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Luck Has Not Been Jason Heyward’s Problem

The worst hitter on the Cubs has also been their most expensive. For Jason Heyward, there are two silver linings. One, he’s impossibly rich, and he can provide for himself and his family without ever feeling a great deal of concern. He’s living and shall live a privileged existence. Two, the Cubs are so good Heyward hasn’t yet been the focus. People have noticed his numbers, sure, and everyone would prefer him to be more successful, but there isn’t that angst. Heyward has mostly avoided the spotlight, which is something, given the contract he signed.

That was a controversial contract, you’ll remember. One totally justified by WAR, but one that needed for WAR to be accurate, defensive metrics and all. The attack on Heyward was that he wasn’t a good enough hitter, and only excellent hitters should get that kind of money. I can say this: Even the Heyward skeptics wouldn’t have expected him to be this bad. He’s hit like an infield backup. Last year’s wRC+ was 121.

What’s the matter with the Cubs’ Gold Glove outfielder? If you listen to them tell it, a big component has been straight-up bad luck. It can happen — the public always underestimates the importance of luck. I don’t think Jason Heyward has gotten much of any good luck. But there has been a bigger issue.

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Projecting Royals Call-Up Raul Mondesi

Raul Mondesi’s calling card has always been his shortstop defense, while his hitting — or lack thereof — left something to be desired. He hit .243/.279/.372 in his age-19 season at Double-A last year, and was similarly underwhelming in the lower levels of the minor leagues. In fairness to Mondesi, he was always exceptionally young for his level. But still: sub-.300 OBPs are never good.

Despite his paltry batting lines, scouts always maintained that Mondesi’s tools suggested some offensive upside. Here in 2016, he’s finally begun to tap into that upside. He slashed an encouraging .259/.331/.448 in Double-A around a 50-game PED suspension, and followed it up with a .304/.328/.536 mark in two weeks at Triple-A. Read the rest of this entry »