Projecting the Prospects in the Brian Matusz Trade

Last night, the Baltimore Orioles dealt Brian Matusz and the 76th overall pick in the draft to Atlanta for minor-league pitchers Brandon Barker and Trevor Belicek. As lead prospect analyst Eric Longenhagen noted on Twitter, the $838,900 in bonus money tied to that pick bumps the Braves’ draft and international bonus pool up to $13.2 million, which gives them the third-largest pool in baseball. Only the Reds and Phillies have more.

Neither of the two pitchers involved cracked Baseball America’s top-30 prospect list for Atlanta heading into the year, which tells you just about everything you need to know about them: they’re fringy. Barker did earn a mention on our Braves list, but was relegated to the “Quick Hits” section.

Brandon Barker is a 23-year-old righty who’s had a moderate amount of success in a starting capacity. He spun a 3.25 ERA and 3.49 FIP in 147 innings last year, but did so with an unremarkable 18% strikeout rate. The Braves bumped him up to Double-A this year, where he’s had a good deal of success. His strikeout rate has ticked up over 22%, resulting in a 2.00 ERA and 3.46 FIP. KATOH pegs him 0.9 WAR over his first six years in the majors.

Trevor Belicek was drafted as a starter in the 16th round of last year’s amateur draft, but has worked exclusively out of the bullpen this year. He seems to have taken well to his new role. In 28 innings pitched, the southpaw has spun a 2.50 FIP with a 28% strikeout rate. However, he’s made just one appearance above Low-A, so he’s completely untested against polished hitters. The outlook for 23-year-old Low-A relievers isn’t great, so KATOH pegs him for 0.3 WAR over his first six years in the majors.

The two minor-league arms headed to Baltimore have pitched well in the minors this year, but since they’re both 23 and don’t have much of a track record, they aren’t really prospects. It’s unlikely they’ll make any sort of noticeable impact at the big-league level. Matusz was once a top prospect, but he’s an unremarkable lefty reliever these days. He’s been all sorts of terrible this year, and the Braves have already designated him for assignment. The real asset trading hands here is the bonus-pool money. The Braves are essentially agreeing to take on the remainder of Matusz’s one-year, $3.9 million contract in exchange for more spending power in the draft.


The Orioles Sold a Draft Pick Again

Since the trading of some types of draft choices was allowed in the most recent CBA, we’ve seen teams use their “competitive balance” selections as currency, often swapping them for role players in minor mid-summer trades. As noted in this MLBTradeRumors post from last year, players traded for draft picks include the likes of Bryan Morris, Bud Norris, and Gaby Sanchez, although they have also been included in deals for better players like Jon Lester as part of a larger package.

Last year, though, the Orioles and Dodgers created a new kind of trade for a competitive balance pick, taking out the desired player aspect of the deal, and turning it into a simple cash proposition. Last April, the Orioles decided they didn’t want to pay the remainder of Ryan Webb‘s 2015 salary — roughly $2.8 million — and so they gave the 74th overall pick in the draft to the Dodgers in exchange for LA taking Webb’s contract. The Dodgers didn’t actually want Webb, as they showed by immediately DFA’ing him upon receipt, and the deal stood as the first time two teams had clearly decided that it would be mutually beneficial for one franchise to purchase a draft pick from the other.

A year later, the Orioles decided to do it again, so last night, they traded the 76th pick in the draft to the Braves, along with the roughly $3 million remaining on Brian Matusz‘s contract, in exchange for two non-prospects. For the Orioles, the competitive balance selections might as well be renamed “$3 million rebate checks”, because that’s apparently how Dan Duquette sees these selections.

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Noah Syndergaard Is an Elite Contact Pitcher, Too

One of the first things taught in any newswriting class is how to craft a compelling lede. You learn about the inverted pyramid, writing concisely, and the importance of employing strong verbs. No professor of mine ever said anything about .gifs, but hey, what’s more compelling than watching Noah Syndergaard pitch? If that doesn’t grab and hold your interest, you’re probably here on accident anyway.

These are the final pitches of the first three batters Syndergaard faced against the Brewers in New York on Sunday, his most recent start of the season:

1

2

3

Ignore the result of batter No. 2. That one is on David Wright. Just focus on what Syndergaard did. He got a ground ball, a ground ball, and then another ground ball. That’s three ground balls.

You know about Noah Syndergaard because of the 100 mph fastball and all the strikeouts. Or at least those would be among the most likely immediate reactions if presented with a silhouette of Syndergaard’s head while being administered a Rorschach inkblot test. And those responses would be justified. It’s less likely that “ground balls” would spring to mind, unless, that is, you’d been paying close attention to Syndergaard’s development as a pitcher, or had recently read this article.

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August Fagerstrom FanGraphs Chat — 5/24/16


An Improved Joey Gallo Joins the Rangers

The Rangers lost both Drew Stubbs and Shin-Soo Choo to injury over the weekend, leaving them relatively bare in the outfield. To fill the void, they’ve called up top prospect Joey Gallo, who’s perhaps one of the most exciting prospect in baseball due to his exceptional power. We’ve been here before. The Rangers called Gallo up last summer, too, but thanks to a .204/.301/.417 performance in the show, they wisely concluded he needed more seasoning in the minors. Most concerning of all was his 46% strikeout rate, which was literally over twice the league average.

Based on his recent performance, it seems Gallo’s gotten the seasoning he needed. Last year, Gallo hit .240/.342/.520 between Double-A and Triple-A, and struck out in a super-concerning 37% of his trips to the plate. This year, he’s slashed his strikeout rate to a merely mildly-concerning 23% in Triple-A. As a result, he’s hit a gaudy .265/.415/.639.

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NERD Game Scores for Tuesday, May 24, 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
New York NL at Washington | 19:05 ET
Harvey (48.1 IP, 97 xFIP-) vs. Strasburg (61.0 IP, 69 xFIP-)
A brief examination of the matter appears to suggest that Mets right-hander Matt Harvey both (a) continues to possess a number of the qualities typically also possessed by elite pitchers but that he (b) has nevertheless experienced some difficulties of late in terms of preventing runs. During his most recent start, for example — against Washington, as well — he didn’t acquit himself particularly well in terms of preventing runs, conceding nine of them (six earned) over just 2.2 innings (box). FanGraphs’ Eno Sarris, after performing the requisite forensic analysis, determined that a combination of slightly diminished velocity and less slightly diminished command of the slider is likely to blame. So this, it seems is what one ought to monitor tonight: Harvey’s fastball velocity and his command of the slider.

Readers’ Preferred Television Broadcast: New York NL.

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Ben Zobrist on Being in Sync

Better not throw a ball to Ben Zobrist right now. Better throw it in the zone.

He’s got the lowest swing rate in baseball this year, and a bottom-nine number since we started tracking that stat. He’s always swung less often than most, but this is extreme, even for him.

“I’m just seeing the ball really well,” he said before a game against the Giants, reducing the answer to a simplicity that can be common from a player in the middle of a hot streak. “I don’t want to analyze it too much,” he continued, laughing. “That’s your job.” Pretty much the motto for all players in the midst of a good run.

But this isn’t really just a streak. It’s the convergence of a few factors that have put the Cubs second baseman in the position to put up these numbers. Health, approach, competition, and mechanics are all coming together to set the scene.

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FanGraphs Audio: Dave Cameron on Analytics for Daily Life

Episode 654
Dave Cameron is the managing editor of FanGraphs. During this edition of FanGraphs Audio he discusses the implications which new regulations concerning overtime pay might possess for major-league clubs, the very bright financial prospects for Mets outfielder Yoenis Cespedes, and — at the request of the host — a wOBA-type metric for better determining the value of a residential property.

This episode of the program is sponsored by SeatGeek, which site removes both the work and also the hassle from the process of shopping for tickets.

Don’t hesitate to direct pod-related correspondence to @cistulli on Twitter.

You can subscribe to the podcast via iTunes or other feeder things.

Audio after the jump. (Approximately 44 min play time.)

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Play

The 2016 Single-Game Pitching Belt: Scherzer vs. Velasquez

A few weeks back, we matched up three of the most dominant pitching performances from April, utilizing granular ball-in-play data, to determine which of Vince Velasquez, Jaime Garcia or Jake Arrieta had the best day. Velasquez won that time around, and with Max Scherzer recently authoring a 20-strikeout, no-walk complete game shutout over the Tigers, we have a worthy contender for the single-game pitching championship belt.

There’s one rule for entry into this competition: you had to finish what you started. Only complete games apply. Then we simply look at every batted ball allowed, and first calculate each pitcher’s single-game Adjusted Contact Score based on exit speed and angle data. Then, we add back the Ks and BBs, and calculate each pitcher’s single-game “tru” ERA-. With these two performances, we don’t need to worry about adding back any BBs.

Velasquez vs. Scherzer – Exit Speed/Angle Data
AVG ALL AVG FLY AVG LD AVG GB AVG VERT
Velasquez vs. SD 14-Apr 88.1 89.1 87.2 87.4 20.8
Scherzer vs. DET 11-May 86.6 93.1 93.5 56.8 19.1
MLB Avg. Thru 18-May 89.4 90.0 93.5 87.4 11.0

Both of these pitchers followed similar paths in their dominant outings. Besides striking out 36 and walking none between them, both pitchers allowed very high average exit angles, and very few grounders. Only extreme fly-ball/pop-up pitchers sustain average exit angles near 20 over a full season, the Chris Youngs and Jered Weavers of this world.

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Remembering Rougned Odor’s Big Adjustment

After the scrum was gone, after he’d answered all the difficult questions about his punch heard around the baseball world, after he’d deflected and postponed and shrugged, after he slumped into his seat and sighed, Rougned Odor looked up and saw me coming. To his credit, he raised his eyebrows for the coming question, ready for another round.

He was relieved when I asked him about being sent down in 2015, and what he learned when he was down there. Relieved, even though I was asking him about one of the more difficult times of his baseball life. Well, difficult in a different way than the difficult time he’s experiencing right now.

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Yoenis Cespedes Is Still Playing Like a Superstar

Last winter, coming off the best season of his career, Yoenis Cespedes hit the free-agent market, and promptly heard crickets. He watched David Price and Zack Greinke break $200 million in early December, and then saw Jason Heyward set the market for outfielders with a $184 million deal a week later. And then he sat and watched a bunch more pitchers get paid, while he, Chris Davis and Justin Upton sat around waiting for offers that never came. Finally, in January, all three eventually found homes, but Cespedes was unable to land the big deal he was looking for, instead taking a three-year deal from the Mets that gave him the chance to hit the market again this winter, if he so chose.

A quarter of the way through the 2016 season, Cespedes opting out of the last two years of the deal is now a foregone conclusion; the only way he wouldn’t hit the market this winter is if the Mets re-do his deal before he gets there, or if he blows out his knee between now and October. Cespedes has not only carried over last year’s second half surge, but he’s even somehow building on it.

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Major League Baseball and the New Overtime Rules

This past Wednesday, the U.S. Department of Labor released its long-awaited update of the regulations governing overtime pay under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). Specifically, the new Labor Department rule modifies the FLSA’s so-called “white collar” exception, under which certain salaried workers employed in an executive, administrative, or professional capacity are not entitled to overtime compensation.

Currently, anyone working in a white-collar position who receives a salary of at least $23,660 per year is exempt from the FLSA’s overtime requirement, meaning that they do not receive any additional pay even when working more than 40 hours per week. Beginning in December 2016, however, that salary threshold will rise to $47,476, so that any white-collar workers earning less than that amount annually will now be owed one-and-a-half times their normal hourly rate anytime they work 41 or more hours per week.

Because MLB teams employ dozens of front-office and business employees working in an executive, administrative, or professional capacity, and because many of these individuals may earn less than $47,000 per year despite routinely being expected to work more than 40 hours per week, this new rule has potentially significant ramifications for the baseball industry.

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Rick Porcello Is Figuring Out His Fastballs

For one month early in the 2015 season, Rick Porcello, traditionally a sinkerballer whose fastball sits at 91, led with the four-seam. It was only the second month in Porcello’s career in which the sinker’s position as his primary pitch was usurped by the four-seam, and unlike the other instance of this happening, the magnitude of the shift was noticeable.

It was the beginning of Porcello’s tenure in Boston, his new home after spending the first six years of his career in Detroit, and so at the time, it seemed like focusing on incorporating the four-seam fastball might’ve been part of the early organizational roadmap for Porcello. But the experiment didn’t go well. In eight four-seam-reliant starts, Porcello allowed 31 earned runs in 48 innings, good for a 5.81 ERA and a 4.76 FIP. All of his patented ground balls went missing, his home-run rate ballooned, he walked more batters than usual, and just like that, the four-seam trial run was over. Back to the sinkers he went.

If it really was an organizational thing — that the Red Sox encouraged Porcello to use his four-seam fastball more early in the season, if not just to see what it was like — it doesn’t seem like a bad idea, results notwithstanding. Even though Porcello’s “heater” only sits at 91, he has the ability to ramp it up to 96, and even more important than that, he’s able to naturally generate more spin on his four-seamer than almost any pitcher in baseball. We know that high-spin fastballs can be effective when located up in the zone, even without velocity, and so Porcello seems to possess a real weapon with his high-spin heater.

For whatever reason, though, the plan didn’t work, and so it didn’t stick. Maybe it was command, maybe it was comfort, maybe it was the way relying on the four-seamer affected the rest of his sequences, or maybe it was something else entirely. Whatever the case, Porcello went back to the sinker being his primary pitch, and he hasn’t looked back since. But the four-seamer is still there. And the way he’s using it now is making it more effective than ever. The idea to employ a four-seam approach may not have gone as smoothly as originally planned, but it looks like it’s working itself out anyway.

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NERD Game Scores for Monday, May 23, 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
Oakland at Seattle | 22:10 ET
Hill (49.2 IP, 89 xFIP-) vs. Walker (42.2 IP, 78 xFIP-)
One might be inclined, instead of opting for this game, to choose the one which features the Rays and Marlins, on account of that contest offers not only (a) two reasonably compelling starters but also (b) one of the very best center-field cameras in all of baseball. As opposed to this game, that is, which features two compelling starters, as well, but one of the worst center-field cameras. Unless there have been developments in the meantime, that is. In which case: ignore this entire brief entry. Whatever the case, the consequences are almost non-existent and we’re an embarrassment to our ancestors.

Readers’ Preferred Television Broadcast: Oakland Athletics.

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Mike Clevinger: An Indians Righty on His First MLB Inning

Mike Clevinger was nervous when he made his major-league debut with the Cleveland Indians last Wednesday. As a matter of fact, he was so nervous that he vomited prior to taking the mound. That didn’t prevent him from pitching well. The 25-year-old right-hander allowed just one run through five innings before faltering in the sixth. He wasn’t involved in the decision, but his club did come out on top in a 12-inning affair played in Cincinnati.

A fourth-round pick by the Angels in 2011, Clevinger came to Cleveland in the 2014 deal that sent Vinnie Pestano west. Prior to being called up, the impressively coifed native of Jacksonville, Florida, was 5-0 with a 3.03 ERA at Triple-A Columbus.

Clevinger talked about his debut outing — primarily his emotion-filled first inning of work — when Cleveland visited Boston over the weekend.

———

Clevinger on his mindset when he took the mound: “I remember trying not to look up. I was trying to just zone in on the catcher. Ever since I got to pro ball, what I’ve heard is, ‘Whenever that time comes, don’t look up. If you do, the moment will get you out of yourself. So all I thought was, ‘Stay within yourself, stay within yourself; don’t overthrow, don’t overthrow.’

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NERD Game Scores for Sunday, May 22, 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
Chicago NL at San Francisco | 20:05 ET
Hendricks (41.0 IP, 75 xFIP-) vs. Bumgarner (58.2 IP, 85 xFIP-)
It doesn’t require a brain surgeon to recognize that a game featuring two of the league’s more successful pitchers and more successful clubs — that such a game would possess some interest for the public. There’s also no reason to believe, however, that a medical doctor trained specifically in the field of neurology would be particularly well-suited to diagnosing the likely aesthetic value of such a game. There are a number of neurosurgeons, presumably, who have almost no familiarity with the Pastime. Like Nate’s dad, for example. He’s a neurosurgeon, but what does he know about sport? Nothing, is what.

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Sunday Notes: Khris Davis, Naquin’s Pop, Reds, Rockies, more

The numbers suggest that Khris Davis should be labeled a power hitter. Since the beginning of last season, the Oakland outfielder is hitting .244/.308/.504 with 39 home runs in 603 plate appearances. This past week, he had a three-homer game capped off by a walk-off grand slam.

A few days before his heroics, I opined to Davis that he’s best described by said label. He demurred.

“That’s arguable,” answered the 28-year-old former Brewer. “It’s just what everybody’s judgment is of me. I don’t think I’m a power hitter.”

Color me a skeptic. Not only is Davis among the league leaders in home runs this year, he went deep 21 times over the second half of last season. If he’s not a power hitter, where are the bombs coming from? Read the rest of this entry »


NERD Game Scores: Buy-Low Psychic Investment Opportunity

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
Tampa Bay at Detroit | 16:10 ET
Smyly (49.2 IP, 85 xFIP-) vs. Fulmer (19.1 IP, 85 xFIP-)
The virtues of Drew Smyly as a pitcher are what Thomas Jefferson — and also anyone who possesses some facility with English — might describe as “self-evident.” As for Michael Fulmer‘s virtues as a pitcher, those are decidedly less evident at the moment. Because one of the things he’s done is to concede earned runs at a rate about 50% higher than an average pitcher. By this measure, his virtues are rather obscure. But look: he’s produced a fielding-independent line that’s roughly a standard deviation better than the average starter’s. And a sitting fastball velocity more than a standard deviation better. And he’s also more than a standard deviation younger than the average starter. The marginal return on your psychic investment in Michael Fulmer is likely to be enormous. Thanks to Michael Fulmer, you’re going to be flush with psychic currency.

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The Best of FanGraphs: May 16-20, 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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Is Marcell Ozuna Breaking Out?

Marcell Ozuna is the third-best outfielder on his team. He can’t match the power and discipline of Giancarlo Stanton, and he can’t match the patient, contact-oriented approach of rising star Christian Yelich. Partially related to those two statements, Yelich and Stanton have signed contracts worth nearly $400 million total while Ozuna, despite possessing more service time than Yelich and having played 50 more games than Stanton since the start of 2014, will be paid near the league minimum this year. Ozuna is off to a great start this season, and we might want to look for changes to his game after a rough 2015 season, but Ozuna is very much a similar player to the one that slugged 23 homers back in 2014.

Ozuna has a fairly unique game. He has good power, but in more than 1500 plate appearances, it has only shown up as average with a .157 ISO. He walks at a below average rate (6% for his career), strikes out at a below-average rate (23% for his career), and has maintained a high .331 BABIP. Together, it has made him a roughly average offensive player, and a difficult home park elevates his wRC+ to 104. Not too bad. On defense, Ozuna has recorded nearly 3,000 innings in center field and both UZR and DRS place him right at average. Average offense and average defense in center field combine for an above-average player. Average to above-average might sound a bit boring, but Ozuna’s streaky performance and perceived inconsistency means he gets to his stats in rather exciting fashion.

Ozuna has had one really good year, in 2014, followed by a disappointing season in 2015 that saw him receive a demotion in the middle of the season, although that demotion might have been tied more closely to Ozuna’s super-two status and his agent Scott Boras rather than any strict performance-related deficiencies. This season, Ozuna is back, picking up where he left off at the end of 2015 and playing like the player who exhibited so much promise two seasons ago. How long will this last? It’s hard to say.

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