Sunday Notes: Cards Bowman, Kinsler, Span, SABR Miami, Moore, more

Matt Bowman isn’t your stereotypical baseball player. The St. Louis Cardinals rookie right-hander majored in economics at Princeton, and his senior thesis looked at how much a win is worth in free agency. He doesn’t fit the physical profile, either. A slender 6-foot-even, he looks more like… well, an Ivy League economist.

Last year he pitched like one. In 140 innings for Triple-A Las Vegas, Bowman went 7-16 with a 5.53 ERA and a 4.95 K/9. To little surprise, he was left unprotected by the Mets, who had selected him in the 13th round of the 2012 draft. The last thing he expected was for a team to gamble on him in the Rule 5.

“I was surprised that I got picked up,” admitted Bowman. “I didn’t feel that I deserved a 40-man spot with the Mets and I certainly didn’t think that any team would be looking at me as someone who could contribute, or even hide, on a major league roster. When my agent said the Cardinals picked me up, not a whole lot of it made sense. These guys are perennial contenders and I was coming off a terrible year in Triple-A.”

The 25-year-old’s level of honesty and humility are also atypical. When I asked if he’s at all surprised at how well he’s pitching, I received an answer I wasn’t expecting. Read the rest of this entry »


Padres, Braves Exchange Toxic Assets

Note: this is all pending physicals, so

Follow-up note: physicals complete! Trade official. Update included at the very bottom.

Usually, we’re at least able to focus on the baseball side of things. Even though we all recognize that baseball is a business, we’ve gotten good at ignoring that part, focusing on the more baseball-y parts of player transactions. Business matters some in the Mark Melancon trade, but it seems mostly about the Nationals getting a good closer, and the Pirates getting some longer-term pieces. You know, baseball stuff. We’re all in it for the baseball stuff, after all, because the business part is seldom entertaining.

The Padres and Braves have made a business move. Oh, sure, there’s a baseball side, kind of. The Braves must see something in Matt Kemp, something they didn’t see in Hector Olivera. To help cover some of Kemp’s remaining cost, the Padres are reportedly including $10 – 12 million. It would be possible to look at this and think only about the roster implications. But this is mostly just a money move, and from where I sit, the Padres are coming out ahead.

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Nationals Acquire Elite Reliever for Relative Bargain

The Washington Nationals started with their sights on Aroldis Chapman. They’d deemed their bullpen to be in need of an upgrade, and Chapman was the most obvious candidate. Obviously, that didn’t happen. And not only did it not happen, but the return for Chapman was so high that clubs still interested in Andrew Miller could be seen as effectively priced out. From Washington, the Yankees reportedly asked for top prospect Lucas Giolito in exchange for Miller, and no matter what the tweets say, that was never going to happen.

So the Nationals had to lower their sights a bit. But they didn’t have to lower them far, because after Chapman and Miller, they might have gone out and gotten the next-best thing:

It’s a trade that makes sense for both teams, as they all should. The Pirates may not be strong current contenders, but they remain future contenders, if that makes sense. We’ve got their playoff odds at 16%, which is still very much in the race, but makes them a longshot. What the Pirates have beyond this year, though, is a strong core coupled with a handful of promising, near-ready prospects that ought to keep the club’s contention window open for years to come. They’re not going away anytime soon, but they’ve been largely done in this season by uncharacteristically poor starting pitching.

So they moved an expiring piece. Mark Melancon‘s been a fixture of Pittsburgh’s recent revival, but he’s gotten expensive, and he’ll be a free agent at year’s end. Teams like the Pirates typically don’t retain relievers like Melancon when they hit the market, so they got what they could. That means Felipe Rivero, a lefty reliever who touches the high-90’s in the majors right now, and that means Taylor Hearn, a lefty (future) reliever who stands 6-foot-5 and touches the high-90’s in the minors right now. They’ve got Rivero for five more years. They’ve got complete control of Hearns. The Pirates sold, but not really. They made this year’s team slightly worse in going from Melancon from Rivero, but they’ve made future year’s teams better by adding Rivero (and Hearns) for a player who was set to be gone anyway. It’s the perfect kind of retooling move for a small-market team operating within a window of contention.

And yet, it’s hard not to view this return as relatively light, at least up against what the Yankees just received for Chapman. The Yankees got a top-25 prospect in Gleyber Torres, a fringe-100 prospect in Billy McKinney, a pitcher capable of starting with major league success under his belt in Adam Warren, and then some. Speculation around a Melancon-to-Washington trade invoked names like right-handed starter Erick Fedde, who ranked 61st in Baseball America’s midseason update. The actual return featured a pair of lefty relievers. Exciting lefty relievers, but lefty relievers nonetheless; one of whom has already had his clock started, the other of whom didn’t crack top-10 prospect lists in the Nationals’ system at the start of the season.

Of course, Chapman throws 105 and because of that, is Aroldis Chapman. Melancon isn’t that. But he’s closer than one might think! Like, for instance, since joining the Pirates in 2013, Melancon’s 1.80 ERA is the lowest among all 255 pitchers with at least 200 innings thrown. He’s been better at preventing runs than literally everyone over the last three-plus years. And while he might not do it with the sort of eye-popping stuff to which we’re accustomed from seeing of the game’s top relievers, there’s no arguing with the results:

Most Valuable Relievers, 2013-Present
Name IP K% BB% K-BB% GB% HR/9 ERA FIP WAR RA9-WAR tWAR
Aroldis Chapman 218 44.2% 10.9% 33.3% 37.8% 0.54 2.03 1.81 8.5 8.2 8.4
Dellin Betances 229 40.7% 9.0% 31.7% 48.2% 0.55 1.88 1.89 8.0 8.5 8.3
Kenley Jansen 240 37.8% 5.6% 32.2% 35.2% 0.71 2.13 1.95 8.4 8.1 8.3
Mark Melancon 260 23.8% 4.2% 19.7% 56.8% 0.31 1.80 2.27 6.9 8.7 7.8
Wade Davis 183 32.2% 8.8% 23.4% 45.3% 0.15 1.08 1.97 6.0 9.3 7.7
tWAR: 50/50 split of RA9-WAR and FIP-WAR

Again, the style is a bit different, but when we’ve talked about the Chapman’s and Jansen’s and Davis’ of the world, Melancon’s been right there all along. Here’s another way to view things, if you’re not as keen on using WAR to evaluate relievers:

Win Probability Added, all relievers, 2013-Present

  1. Mark Melancon, +11.74
  2. Tony Watson, +10.63
  3. Zach Britton, +10.55
  4. Wade Davis, +10.42
  5. Dellin Betances, +10.07

By WPA, no reliever’s been more valuable than Melancon during his time in Pittsburgh. By WAR, it’s only Chapman, Betances, and Jansen. You see the second name there on the WPA leaderboard also plays for the Pirates, so it’s not like they’re suddenly hurting for high-leverage relief options, and Watson will still be there next year, too. But the Nationals just added one of the game’s elite to an already great bullpen.

Not that there aren’t flags with Melancon. I’m hesitant to call them red flags, but they’re orange or maroon, maybe. His walk rate is still great, but it’s also the highest it’s been during his Pittsburgh tenure. The curveball’s being spotted less often at the bottom edge of the zone, and is more often winding up in the dirt, and batters are laying off:

Brooksbaseball-Chart

Fewer swings against the curve explains the slight uptick in walks, and it explains the downtick in ground balls — the curve has always been Melancon’s big ground ball pitch. Melancon doesn’t possess top-shelf raw stuff, so he’s thrived by limiting walks and homers. Limiting walks and homers are predicated on elite command, and there’s some evidence that the command could be starting to slip. For now, though, the command still looks great. And those maroon flags can be the next team’s concern, anyway; the Nationals only care about the next three months.

Funny thing about the Nationals bullpen is, before the Melancon trade, they were projected for 1.8 rest-of-season WAR, and after  they’re Melancon trade, they’re projected for… 1.8 rest-of-season WAR. But what they’ve done is shift their leverage, the sort of thing that a WAR projection might struggle to grasp. Melancon is now clearly the best option in Washington’s bullpen, and he’ll receive the most important innings. Less important innings are to follow for Jonathon Papelbon, as should be the case. Shawn Kelley remains elite. It’s the kind of 1-2-3 punch we’ve become accustomed to seeing in the late innings of playoff games.

And while I’ve referred to the cost as a bargain within this post, it’s really only a bargain relative to Chapman. Really, it’s the kind of return we should expect for three-plus months of an elite reliever. The kind of return we might’ve expected, say, a week ago. The Chapman move was just an outlier, for whatever reason. Take that how you will. The Pirates retooled, as they should have. The Nationals improved their high-leverage innings for the stretch run by acquiring one of the game’s best run preventers. It looks like a win for both clubs, and yet somehow it also feels like something of a steal by Washington, based on what we’ve recently seen. Maybe the Pirates could have done better for Melancon. Or maybe the Cubs just gave up a ton for Chapman.


Royals Get the Other Jarrod Dyson

Look, I know why you’re here. You want to read about deadline trades, and, more specifically, you want to read about impactful deadline trades. This is a post about the A’s trading Billy Burns to the Royals in exchange for Brett Eibner. I know exactly what we’re dealing with, so I won’t take up too much of your time. I’ll just leave some information and get out of here.

Why might the Royals like Burns? He’s under team control forever, he makes a ton of contact, he’s fast, and he’s a proven center fielder. Pretty solid foundation, all things considered. Why might the A’s like Eibner? He’s under team control forever, he has some power, he’s not unathletic, and he’s mostly played center in the minors. I’m not going to say this trade fell along party lines, since neither the Royals nor the A’s are actually caricatures of real front offices, but Burns and Eibner are probably both now in friendlier homes.

Burns is the one with the big-league track record. What’s interesting — last year he was a league-average hitter, and this year his wRC+ has gone down by literally half. Yet his overall profile has been pretty similar. He puts the ball in play, and he runs. Last year there were better outcomes. I want to show you something somewhat discouraging. In this plot are all the hitters who have batted at least 500 times over the past three calendar years. I’ve plotted them by pop-up rate and rate of home runs per fly ball:

burns

For Burns, that’s bad. In the sample, he has the game’s highest pop-up rate, but one of the game’s lowest rates of homers per fly. It’s not just a product of playing in Oakland, either, based on his splits. Billy Burns hasn’t shown good enough bat control, and with these balls in play it would be tremendously difficult for him to produce at all, long-term. Another point that isn’t exactly in his favor: here are the five lowest hard-hit rates from the sample.

Burns isn’t just in last — he’s in last by a few percentage points, which is a bad look. He simply doesn’t hit the baseball very hard. Borrowing from Baseball Savant: last year, in average exit velocity on flies and liners, Burns was tied for fourth-lowest. This year, he’s second-lowest. He doesn’t hit the ball hard, so he doesn’t flash much power, and because he doesn’t flash much power, pitchers challenge him, so he’s mostly unable to draw walks. He’s a ball-in-play sort, and that can make it hard to succeed.

But! It’s not impossible. Last year happened. Dee Gordon put together two productive years. Burns has a career wRC+ of 85, which makes him a lot like Dyson, his new teammate. Dyson might be the superior defender, but Burns is versatile, and he runs the bases well. Dyson isn’t controlled for too much longer; Burns is controlled for a while. Maybe he’s just a useful fourth outfielder, but he shouldn’t be useless, assuming he’s a better hitter than his 2016 statistics.

With Eibner, the A’s are betting on a bat. That he’s manned center in the minors shows he’s got some defensive skill, but mostly, his appeal is the consecutive productive years in Triple-A. He’s already 27, so he’s almost a Quadruple-A player, yet many believe those don’t exist. Count the A’s among them. In the high minors, Eibner has shown some discipline without having big contact problems. And, over a brief spell this year in the majors, Eibner ranked in the 85th percentile in average exit velocity on flies and liners. The pop in his bat is real. He just needs to be able to translate his eye. If he does that, he’s already an average player.

It’s an unsexy move, made between two teams currently going nowhere. A couple days from now, no one’s going to remember this ever happened. Every trade, though, is interesting if you dig into it. Here we have the Royals betting on athleticism, and the A’s betting on results. Sounds like the Royals. Sounds like the A’s.


NERD Game Scores for Saturday, July 30, 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
Washington at San Francisco | 16:05 ET
Lopez (4.2 IP, 25 xFIP-) vs. Peavy (104.2 IP, 120 xFIP-)
With the exception of all the “runs” he allowed, right-hander Reynaldo Lopez‘s major-league debut last week was more or less an exercise in best-case scenarios. Regard: he exhibited elite arm speed while recording an equally elite strikeout- and walk-rate differential. He also neutralized left-handers completely by means of his curveball. Regard, more: of the 20 curves he threw to them, 14 were strikes (70%) and zero were put into play.

Here’s an example of that curveball and those lefties:

Readers’ Preferred Broadcast: San Francisco Radio or Television.

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The Best of FanGraphs: July 25-29, 2016

Each week, we publish north of 100 posts on our various blogs. With this post, we hope to highlight 10 to 15 of them. You can read more on it here. The links below are color coded — green for FanGraphs, brown for RotoGraphs, dark red for The Hardball Times and blue for Community Research.
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NERD Game Scores for Friday, July 29, 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
Washington at San Francisco | 22:15 ET
Scherzer (141.2 IP, 78 xFIP-) vs. Samardzija (128.0 IP, 101 xFIP-)
Thought experiment: imagine a universe in which everything is exactly the same except that, during the opening credits of TV’s Laverne & Shirley, the title characters chant “1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8. Scherzer! Samardzija! Hasenpfeffer Incorporated!” — instead of Schlemiel and Schlimazel, like in this present universe we all occupy. What are the implications? Support your answer with evidence. Or, alternatively, ignore this paragraph altogether.

Readers’ Preferred Broadcast: San Francisco Radio or Television.

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The Case for Trading Lucas Giolito

There’s a rumor out there that the Nationals would be willing to trade Lucas Giolito for Andrew Miller. That is almost certainly not true. There’s a related rumor out there that the Yankees don’t think Giolito would be enough in exchange for Miller. That is almost certainly not true. Miller is fantastic, no doubt, and the Nationals could use him, but it’s not like Miller is the only good reliever in the game, and Giolito is a wonderful prospect. Baseball America just ranked him fourth. MLB.com has him ranked fourth. Prospect people love Giolito. The Nationals think he’s pretty good, themselves.

This all raises an interesting question, though. How willing should the Nationals be to move Giolito for help? For Miller alone, it wouldn’t make great sense. Yet I do think there’s an argument to be made that Giolito should be more available than his prospect rankings would suggest.

It comes down to the difference between Giolito’s reputation and Giolito’s performance. He was a high draft pick, and he’s a highly-ranked prospect. He’s a highly-ranked prospect because people have seen him throw an outstanding heater, and a wipeout curveball. When scouts see two plus-plus weapons, and an intimidating frame, it doesn’t take much of a leap to envision long-term, big-league success. Giolito is supposed to have the tools. And his numbers have been more than acceptable.

But they haven’t been amazing, certainly not since Giolito graduated from A-ball. Last year, in the Double-A Eastern League, Giolito’s K-BB% ranked as “pretty good.” This year, in the same league, his K-BB% has ranked as “slightly above average.” Strikeouts have been present, but they haven’t come by the bushel, and the walks have been elevated. Walks are nothing new for big giant power pitchers, but command issues are a tremendous obstacle. They can’t be dismissed, and Giolito was anything but impressive in his brief time in the majors.

I wouldn’t read too deeply into those numbers. In the majors, Giolito has nine walks and five strikeouts, but, whatever. That’s nothing. Of greater interest: The stuff wasn’t…quite…there, not as advertised. I’ll pull from Baseball Savant. By average spin rate, Giolito’s four-seam fastball ranked in the ninth percentile. His curveball ranked in the 44th percentile. The drop on the curve is big, and it does look like a weapon, but the fastball result is more curious. Giolito didn’t throw an 80-grade fastball. Not with the Nationals. I don’t yet know what to make of that.

It’s not like I don’t believe the scouts. They’ve seen what they’ve seen. And Giolito does throw hard, which clearly boosts his ceiling. He’s helped by his size, which aids his plane. I’m just not in love with pitching prospects who don’t have outstanding numbers, or who haven’t shown much in the majors. Aaron Sanchez, this year, has proved my skepticism wrong, and sometimes pitchers do achieve that leap. Giolito still has to make that leap, and the majority of prospects don’t.

There’s no question he is a very good prospect. He’s already been a big-leaguer, and it’s always all about probability. Giolito’s probability distribution includes some ace-level outcomes. But for whatever it’s worth, this year, he hasn’t out-pitched co-prospect Reynaldo Lopez. He hasn’t out-pitched, say, Adalberto Mejia, who just earlier fetched Eduardo Nunez. Mejia doesn’t have Giolito’s raw stuff, but he has missed bats and thrown strikes. That has to matter for something. His command doesn’t need to improve so much.

If the Nationals love Giolito, that’s great. If the Nationals think he might be overrated, there could be an opportunity here. Giolito might even conceivably be around peak value, so the Nationals could cash him in, sending him to an organization that remains high on him. He’s definitely not someone to be given away, and for all I know he could be the solution to the Nationals’ current bullpen woes. Giolito is to be highly prized. But there are very legitimate questions. The Nationals, I’m almost sure, wouldn’t trade Giolito for Andrew Miller. But for, say, Dellin Betances? It’s not so far-fetched.


What Happened to Jeurys Familia’s Splitter?

The Mets have been scuffling for quite a while now. After posting an impressive 15-7 record in April, they have gone 38-41 since May 1st and currently sit in third place behind the Nationals and Marlins. They’re still very much alive in the playoff race — our playoff odds give them a 32.8% chance of making it at least as far as the wild-card game — but, to state the obvious, they’re beginning to run out of time to get themselves back into playoff position. Suddenly, every loss is placed under a microscope and, over the past two days, that’s been an unfortunate development for closer Jeurys Familia.

On Wednesday night, Familia blew his first (regular season) save in almost exactly a year and then, roughly 18 hours later, he blew another. The outings themselves aren’t particularly important. There was a mix of command problems, hard-hit balls, and horrendous batted-ball luck over a span of 13 batters faced. What is important, though, is taking stock of Familia’s season as a whole and what has or hasn’t changed for the pitcher who suddenly emerged as an elite back-of-the-bullpen arm during the Mets’ stretch run a year ago.

If you remember one thing about the profile of 2015 Jeurys Familia, it’s probably that he developed and began utilizing a pitch unlike anything anyone else threw in baseball. As outlined by Jeff Sullivan last October, Familia added a splitter averaging 94 mph to his arsenal in mid-August. No one throws a splitter in the mid-90s — that’s not a thing people do. And yet there was Familia suddenly incorporating this devastating pitch just in time for the most significant stretch of Mets baseball in a decade and a half.

What made Familia particularly dominant was that he paired this new absurd splitter with an already unfair sinker. His upper-90s fastball with stellar movement was (and is) a devastating pitch in its own right. In fact, during yesterday afternoon’s rough outing, the pitch was on display in all its glory:

Ninety-eight mph with extreme run? Yeah, that’ll play. He generates 28.7% whiffs per swing on the pitch, which is second only to Zach Britton’s otherworldly 40.8% rate. When batters do make contact on Familia’s sinker, it’s typically in the form of a grounder. In fact, his sinker is generating grounders this season at the highest rate of his career per BrooksBaseball.

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The Case for Keeping Josh Reddick

Josh Reddick is the near-ideal trade candidate. He’ll be a free agent at the end of the season, he’s continued to hit ever since rebounding from a disappointing 2013 campaign, and he’s playing for a team in the Oakland Athletics that’s eight games under .500 and has virtually no chance at the playoffs. Reddick is headed to free agency in market populated by few decent players, suggesting there’s little expectation of a return to the A’s, a small-market club relying on young players to compete. All that said, there’s a case to be made that the A’s need not move Reddick at the deadline if they fail to receive a solid offer.

The market for corner outfielders hasn’t been great for sellers or free agents over the past year. A year ago, minor deals were made for Shane Victorino, David DeJesus, David Murphy, and Gerardo Parra. Yoenis Cespedes netted a good package for the Detroit Tigers headlined by Michael Fulmer, and even Cespedes was brought in to play center field. Jay Bruce, on a selling Reds team, stayed put. Carlos Gonzalez, on the selling Colorado Rockies, stayed put. Justin Upton, despite pending free agency, stayed put with the Padres. The latter three players were all producing offensively, but the Padres opted to take a draft pick for Upton, while the Rockies and Reds decided to hold on to their outfielders to try and get better value later.

Then, last offseason, the Rockies and Reds still couldn’t find any offers to their liking. As a result, the Rockies opted to trade the younger, cheaper Corey Dickerson to the Tampa Bay Rays for reliever Jake McGee. Jason Heyward got paid as did Justin Upton, but Cespedes ended up with an unusual three-year deal despite an MVP-type season. Alex Gordon did fine to get four years and $72 million — and Gerardo Parra was fortunate to get a three-year deal from the Rockies — but Dexter Fowler and Austin Jackson both had to sign one-year deals, while Colby Rasmus avoided the market altogether by accepting the qualifying offer. The FanGraphs crowdsourced guesses overshot it on almost all of the outfielders.

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Projecting the Prospects in the Andrew Cashner Trade

Here are the prospects changing hands in today’s deal between Miami and San Diego as evaluated by my newly updated KATOH system. KATOH denotes WAR forecast for first six years of player’s major-league career. KATOH+ uses similar methodology with consideration also for Baseball America’s rankings.

Josh Naylor, 1B, San Diego (Profile)

KATOH: 4.4 WAR (80th overall)
KATOH+: 4.6 WAR (77th overall)

Though he turned 19 just last month, Naylor’s held his own in Low-A this year. Nothing in Naylor’s batting line is particularly great, but he also lacks a major weakness. He makes a decent amount of contact and draws an acceptable number of walks. His home-run total is a bit underwhelming for a first baseman, but’s made up for it by hitting a bunch of doubles this year. He’s also swiped 10 bases and played good defense, so KATOH gives him something of a pass for his underwhelming offensive numbers.

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Finding a Fair Price for Chris Sale

This deadline has, thus far, been pretty boring. When Andrew Cashner and Eduardo Nunez are headlining notable trades, you know it’s a slow market. There is one guy who could change all that though, and could have a significant impact on how the postseason shakes out. That guy, of course, is Chris Sale.

The White Sox ace is a legitimate difference maker; even with just a couple months left in the season, he still projects to add another +2 WAR to whatever team he’s on, not counting what he’ll do in the postseason. He’s a high-end player in the prime of his career, and since he’s signed for three more years after this one, he’s also one of the most valuable assets in the sport.

When we did the Trade Value series a few weeks ago, I ranked Sale as the 15th most valuable trade chip in the game. Here is the table that we used to summarize his value.

Team Control WAR Total +17.1
Guaranteed Dollars $12.0 M
Team Control Through 2019
Previous Rank #6
Year Age Projected WAR Contract Status
2017 28 +6.1 $12.0 M
2018 29 +5.7 $12.5 M
2019 30 +5.3 $13.5 M
Team Option

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Marlins Add Andrew Cashner, Colin Rea for Stretch Run

One need only glance at the Marlins’ projected starters over the next few days to determine where the team could use an upgrade. Jose Urena, a hard-throwing right-hander whose stuff hasn’t translated to strikeouts out of the bullpen or in the rotation, will pitch tonight’s game. Tomorrow, Jarred Cosart is scheduled to pitch — and he has a 15% strikeout rate and 11% walk rate over his career. The Marlins apparently didn’t like the look of that situation going forward, especially if Jose Fernandez‘s innings need to be managed and/or if Wei-Yin Chen is unable to return from the disabled list soon.

So, they’ve conducted a trade, which reportedly includes the following pieces (arranged in approximate order of name-recognition):

The Marlins get:

The Padres get:

As for the Marlins, they receive an immediate boost from adding Cashner to the rotation. While his season numbers (which include a 4.76 ERA and 4.94 FIP) look pretty ugly, Cashner seemed to have boosted his trade value over the last few weeks. As August Fagerstrom noted recently, he’s been much better since coming off the disabled list:

Cashner’s picked up a half-tick on his average fastball. Pre-disabled list, 15% of his fastballs went 96 or harder. These last four starts, he’s reached that upper-tier of velocity on 21% of fastballs. The walks are down from a bit over 9% to a bit under 6%. The strikeouts are way up, from 15% to 28%, because Cashner is missing plenty more bats. He’s missing more bats inside the zone, perhaps due in part to the added life on the heater, and he’s missing more bats outside the zone, and that’s because of the slider. The slider is really what this is all about.

Cashner’s slider has been more effective of late, and if he can maintain his current run, he should be able to hit his roughly league-average projections and represent an improvement over where the team stands right now. If the playoffs started today, the Marlins would be in, playing in a one-game playoff with the Cardinals for the right to play the Dodgers in another one-game playoff to qualify for the divisional series.

However, the projections see the Cardinals as the better team going forward. They actually see the same for the Mets, who are a game and a half behind the Marlins and Cardinals. The chart below shows the playoff odds before the trade for the teams that look to be in the hunt for the second wild card. The Marlins are in orange, essentially in a dead heat with the Mets and behind the Cardinals.

chart (9)

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The Other Compelling Cubs Reliever Acquisition

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last week, you’re aware that the Chicago Cubs and New York Yankees linked up on a rather substantial trade that sent Aroldis Chapman, perhaps baseball’s best reliever, to Chicago. The Cubs wanted to solidify their bullpen, and they did it in about the most splashy way possible. You also could’ve been living in a normal, not-rock-like home and missed that they acquired Mike Montgomery, too. That much would’ve been understandable.

Trading for a player is just one way to improve your club with new, exciting talent. You can also think of promotions as acquisitions in a sense, at least for the major league club, and last month, the Cubs made another acquisition to improve their bullpen. We paid mind to the trades when they happened, as we’re wont to do this time of the year, but there’s another Cubs reliever I’d like to pay some mind to. Because Carl Edwards Jr. is deserving of it.

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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

9:05
Jeff Sullivan: Hello friends

9:05
Jeff Sullivan: Welcome to baseball chat

9:05
Bork: Hello, friend!

9:05
Jeff Sullivan: Hello friend

9:05
Section 118: Why have I not heard any chatter at all re: Oakland shipping people off?

9:06
Jeff Sullivan: Hill has been hurt, Gray has been mediocre, Reddick is part of a saturated outfield market, and Valencia is basically on the level of Steve Pearce

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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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