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Scouting Explained: The Mysterious Hit Tool Mailbag

Scouting Explained: Introduction, Hitting Pt 1 Pt 2 Pt 3 Pt 4 Pt 5 Pt 6

I wrote a four-part series on the hit tool as an entirely-too-long breakdown of the things I look for when I scout a hitter, but I knew there would be things I forgot to mention.  The one thing I forgot to bring up is something I mentioned in the also-entirely-too-long draft rankings; the different process I use to grade the current hit tool for amateur players.  Quoting from those draft rankings:

The present hit grades for Rodgers and for all amateur players going forward is a peer grade…rather than just putting blanket 20s on everyone’s present hit tool. A peer grade means how the player performs currently in games relative to his peers: players the same age and general draft status or skill level. Some teams started using this system to avoid over-projecting a raw hitter; some use the rule that you can’t project over 10 points above the peer grade for the future grade.  This helps you avoid saying players that can’t really hit now will become standout big league hitters. Obviously, some will, but it’s not very common and it’s probably smart to not bet millions on the rare one that will.

I said I would explain more about this, but I think I said basically everything here.  All but maybe one or two hitters in each draft class will have present 20 hit grades, but the context and amount of evidence will vary greatly.  The peer hitting grade helps tie this all together because, for a player with a short track record, scouts will find themselves projecting only on hitting tools when there isn’t much performance to grade. Using this system, it helps remind you to consider performance, but still weighing it appropriately given the sample size, competition level, etc.  I’m sure I’ll talk more about this with more specific examples as the draft approaches and grading conundrums present themselves.

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Building Jake Arrieta

Let’s go back to 1920. Let’s look at starting pitchers who threw at least 75 innings in consecutive big-league seasons. Relative to last year, Jake Arrieta‘s K-BB% has improved by 14 percentage points. That’s the fourth-greatest improvement within the sample. Relative to last year, Arrieta’s FIP- has improved by 64 points. That’s the single greatest improvement within the sample, edging out 2007-2008 Cliff Lee. This is what a breakout looks like. This is what maybe the biggest breakout looks like.

It’s up to you to determine whether or not Jake Arrieta is an ace, but he’s certainly generated ace-like results for the past several months, so if he’s not an ace yet, he’s on the right track. Six times already, he’s held an opponent hitless into the fifth. Three times, he’s held an opponent hitless into the seventh. Twice, he’s held an opponent hitless into the eighth. Arrieta’s flirted with history a few times, and while he hasn’t sealed the deal on an actual no-hitter, he’s at least earned greater familiarity and exposure. The Arrieta breakout, by now, is obvious. And more and more people are becoming aware of it.

So, we think we know what we have. How did this happen? How was Jake Arrieta built? Let’s condense his whole story into a blog post. Seems editorially responsible.

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Scouting Explained: The Mysterious Hit Tool, Pt. 4

Scouting Explained: Introduction, Hitting Pt 1 Pt 2 Pt 3 Pt 4 Pt 5 Pt 6

Here’s the scouting data (not the text report) from what I wrote on the Rangers list, their top prospect, Joey Gallo.

Hit: 30/45, Game Power: 60/70, Raw Power: 80/80, Speed: 40/40, Field: 45/50, Throw: 70/70
Upside: .260/.350/.500 (30-35 HR), fringy 3B or solid RF
FV/Risk: 60, High (4 on a 1-5 scale)
Projected Path: 2014: AA, 2015: AAA/MLB, 2016: MLB

For this, we’ll focus on the hit grade and upside and risk sections. I’ve re-posted a table from the introduction to this series, showing the scale most clubs use to project the hit tool.
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Scouting Explained: The Mysterious Hit Tool, Pt. 2

Scouting Explained: Introduction, Hitting Pt 1 Pt 2 Pt 3 Pt 4 Pt 5 Pt 6

As I was learning to evaluate, I was overwhelmed by this challenge of grading the hit tool. I wasn’t advanced enough to notice when hitters seemed uncomfortable as fast as I wanted to notice it and I hadn’t been on the beat long enough to have multiple years of history with players to know how to put what I was seeing in context of their whole careers. The easier part, however, was noticing the raw hitting tools. By the time an evaluator gets good at noticing and grading these, the other stuff tends to follow.

I break hitting into three components, but you could easily break it down further into many more. I saw three basic groupings and put every observation into one, then graded each group on the 20-80 scale, then use those to get to a hit tool grade in a more objective way. Scouts all have different ways that they do it and I’ve tinkered with different methods, but this one works for me and also gives me a guide for what to ask scouts about with hitters I haven’t seen recently.

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The Cubs’ Historic Offensive Infusion

Sparks of enthusiasm are once again kindling among Chicago Cubs’ loyalists, as the long-awaited influx of position-player talent onto their major league roster has begun in earnest. The club is far from a finished product, and a loaded minor league system is no guarantee of major league success — just ask some of the teams I’ll discuss below. It’s an exciting time on the North Side, however, and this is before Kris Bryant — arguably the best of the lot — has been penciled into the big-league lineup. How does this group match up with some other recent talent infusions? Read the rest of this entry »


Let’s Watch Aroldis Chapman and Javier Baez

Prospects are babies. They’re eagerly anticipated, they’re evaluated by their ceilings, their arrivals are memorable and frequently painful, and these days they’re traded for goods less than ever. They continue to be interesting for a handful of months, but then they start to develop into more fully-formed people, and the magic of limitless possibility disintegrates. Sometimes they turn into remarkable things, more often they turn into unremarkable things, and regardless, it doesn’t take long before they’re taken for granted. Toward the beginning, everything is celebrated. Later on, mistakes aren’t so novel, they aren’t so easy to explain away.

Javier Baez still counts as a prospect, even though his big-league career is weeks underway. He’s among the most exciting prospects we’ve seen in baseball in some years, and though it’s a certainty that he’ll be less compelling a year or two from now, at the moment everything he’s involved in can be turned into a highlight. If he were a real baby, all his activity would be posted on Facebook. Some people might already be getting Baez fatigue, but I’m not one of them, and even if I were, I’d probably make an exception for a showdown between Baez and a similarly extreme sort of pitcher. A pitcher like, I don’t know, Aroldis Chapman. Who Baez faced for the first time on Wednesday night in the top of the ninth of a close game.

Earlier this season, people paid a lot of attention to an at-bat between Kenley Jansen and Miguel Cabrera. It was compelling, because both Jansen and Cabrera are extremely talented. Chapman vs. Baez is compelling because both players are extremely powerful. There’s no one who throws harder than Aroldis Chapman. There might be no one who swings harder than Javier Baez.Who wouldn’t want to watch them go head-to-head over and over? They haven’t yet gone head-to-head over and over, but they have gone head-to-head once. Let’s put that at-bat under the microscope.

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How Pitchers are Pitching to Javier Baez

Javier Baez is a player who transcends ordinary prospect-dom. Not just because he possesses extraordinary skills — also because he’s a prospect in whom fans of every team might be interested. Usually, a guy on the farm or a guy just on the roster will captivate locally, but Baez is able to captivate nationally, in a way that few young players are able. He’s not quite on the level of rookie Stephen Strasburg, for whose debut the whole country turned on TV, but people want to know what Baez is going to become. And they want to know how quickly he’s going to become it. His big swings are the hitter equivalent of Strasburg’s big fastballs.

People who are interested in baseball are interested in Javier Baez. They know more about him than they know about the average young prospect. Keeping with the theme, other teams, too, seem to know more about Baez than they know about the average young prospect. Other teams have prepared for Javier Baez, just as we have as fans, and in the early going it turns out Javier Baez has been pitched pretty much exactly as you’d expect that Javier Baez would be pitched.

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Javier Baez and the Anomalous Dinger

Here is Mike Trout hitting an anomalous dinger:

The homer demonstrated that Mike Trout is special, because that’s not really a pitch people hit homers on. Trout hit a game-tying grand slam off one of the, I don’t know, five best starting pitchers in the world.

Here is Giancarlo Stanton hitting an anomalous dinger:

The homer demonstrated that Giancarlo Stanton is special, because people don’t really hit home runs like that. We’re all familiar with low-liner home runs, but it’s not like we ever see them hit down the line to the opposite field. That’s actually the opposite of how we see them.

So, Javier Baez is in the major leagues now.

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Darwin Barney Can Help the Dodgers

I once had an argument with Darwin Barney about whether or not he had any trade value. This is me, gloating that I was right — the Dodgers traded for the Cubs infielder on Monday.

Then again, maybe Barney had a point. We’ll have to see what the player to be named later looks like. No — it doesn’t matter. A team saw what Darwin Barney can do and traded for it. I win the argument. (He can still call me a nerd.)

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Don’t Worry About a Cubs Crowd that Doesn’t Exist

Based on the chats that we host, these things seem to go in waves. This past spring training, it felt like one of every two questions asked about teams trading for Nick Franklin. Once the season got underway, everybody was wondering when the Pirates would finally call up Gregory Polanco. And now there’s a new and different question of the moment: what are the Cubs going to do with all of their prospects? The situation appeared to be a little bit crowded even before the organization added Addison Russell and, less notably, Billy McKinney. Now there are people wondering when the Cubs are going to diversify.

I’ve dealt with this in a few consecutive chats. I think Dave has also done the same. But it seems like a topic worthy of a dedicated post. If all the players were to stay where they are, and if they all were to develop well, then the Cubs would have quite the crowd on their hands. At the moment, though, it’s a crowd that doesn’t exist. It’s a crowd that exists only in theory, in some possible future out of infinite possible futures, and therefore the Cubs aren’t facing any kind of urgency.

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Prospect Watch: New Cubs Hitters

Each weekday during the minor-league season, FanGraphs is providing a status update on multiple rookie-eligible players. Note that Age denotes the relevant prospect’s baseball age (i.e. as of July 1st of the current year); Top-15, the prospect’s place on Marc Hulet’s preseason organizational list; and Top-100, that same prospect’s rank on Hulet’s overall top-100 list.

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Billy McKinney, OF, Chicago Cubs (Profile)
Level: High-A   Age: 19.10   Top-15: 3rd (OAK) Top-100: N/A
Line:  333 PA,  17.4 K%, 10.3 BB%, .241/.330/.400 (wRC+ 93)

Summary
The less heralded of the hitters the Cubs’ received in the Jeff Samardzija, McKinney was a 2013 first round selection who profiles as a corner outfielder.

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The A’s and Cubs Blockbuster Trade

We all knew Jeff Samardzija was going to get traded. We all knew Jason Hammel was going to get traded. We all knew the Oakland A’s were in the market for a starting pitcher. Perhaps, in retrospect, we should have expected some convergence of these things we knew. But I don’t think anyone expected that any team would kick start the July trading season by picking up both Cubs starters. Perhaps even fewer figured that a prospect like Addison Russell would be on the move, and I’m assuming that just about nobody could have seen a scenario in which the A’s traded Russell for a starting pitcher who wasn’t David Price.

It’s a shocking trade, one that changes the landscape in a few ways, but there’s a lot happening here, so let’s not gloss over the specifics:
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Jake Arrieta’s Eight Worst Pitches from Monday

About a week ago, Jake Arrieta tried to throw a perfect game against the Cincinnati Reds. I mean, every pitcher is always trying to throw a perfect game, but Arrieta actually made a lot of progress before ultimately falling short. Then, Monday, Arrieta tried to no-hit the Red Sox. A no-hitter is a little less perfect than a perfect game, but Arrieta got deeper before ultimately falling short — again. He departed to a standing ovation in Fenway Park. For Arrieta, in the small picture, it was a pair of frustrating missed shots at history. For Arrieta, in the bigger picture, it was a twin demonstration of the pitcher Arrieta is becoming. You might not realize this, but the Cubs rotation has the highest WAR in the National League, and it’s not all because of the two trade targets.

Once again, in his latest start, Arrieta was masterful. Once again, Arrieta kept hitters off balance by mixing everything and featuring a lot of his new, improved slider. Or maybe it’s a cutter — people haven’t agreed. Arrieta was constantly down and constantly on the edges, and as the Red Sox waited for him to make mistakes, he picked up out after out. Arrieta turned in a start worthy of a tribute, so, as a tribute, I’ve taken care to identify the eight worst pitches Arrieta threw to the Red Sox during his 7.2 innings. It wasn’t an easy project.

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So What Should a Jeff Samardzija Extension Cost?

Yesterday, the Cubs reportedly offered Jeff Samardzija a five year, $85 million extension, a deal that would allow him to remain in Chicago rather than get traded at some point in the next five weeks. Samardzija turned it down without even countering, and it’s now basically guaranteed that he’ll end the season in another uniform. Samardzija’s rejection of the Cubs offer does raise an interesting question for interested buyers, though; just how much is he going to cost in order to sign with a team that trades for him?

The Homer Bailey contract is reportedly the benchmark deal that Samardzija’s agents are working off of, which covered $105 million over six seasons. Because Bailey was already in line for a $10 million arbitration payday regardless, the extension was for five free agent years at a total cost of $95 million, but any new deal for Samardzija would buy out his final year of arbitration as well, making the total contract the more relevant figure for comparison. And it would make sense that his agents would use that deal, as it is a very recent deal for a pitcher with a very similar career. Behold.

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Is Jake Arrieta the New Jesse Chavez?

Corey Kluber gave us Kluberization: the ditching of a bad four-seam for a better two-seamer. Dallas Keuchel gave us The Keuchel Excercise: the turfing of a bad curve for a better slider. Is Jake Arrieta following the Jesse Chavez Legacy? It certainly looks like he’s in the process of a major change in his pitching mix, and it might be what allows him to finally make good on all the promise that he’s shown to date. It should at least help him improve his command.

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Jeff Samardzija, In the Name of Efficiency

There are two big stories with Jeff Samardzija right now. One is that he’s almost certain to get traded by the Cubs somewhere around the deadline, as a contender looks for a major rotation boost. The other is that Samardzija is currently 0-4 in ten starts with a 1.46 ERA. Of course, we pretty much never talk about win/loss record, and of course a pitcher on the Cubs is going to have a worse record than he deserves, but for as silly as this bit of trivia is, it really is astonishing. In Samardzija’s ten games, the Cubs have scored 20 runs.

Because of those two things going on, relatively few people might have noticed a third thing going on. Samardzija remains a quality starter, but ever so quietly, he’s changed his profile. The starter version of Jeff Samardzija in 2014 isn’t the starter version of Jeff Samardzija from the two previous years, and in particular, this version of Samardzija doesn’t get as many strikeouts, even though he still has all his stuff. Last year, he was tied in strikeout rate with Shelby Miller and Gio Gonzalez. This year he’s even with Kyle Lohse. At the moment, Samardzija is one of the most talked-about pitchers in baseball, and so we might as well talk about why he isn’t quite what he was. It’s not that he’s a worse pitcher. It’s that he’s a different pitcher.

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Terrible Months in Good Seasons

Even good hitters go through a cold streaks at some point. If they want to avoid fan panic, though, they need to make sure and save those week or month-long slumps for later in the season. When slumps happen at the beginning of the season, they sandbag the player’s line, and it takes a while for even a good hitter’s line to return to “normal.” Most FanGraphs readers are familiar with the notion of small sample, and thus are, at least on an intellectual level, hopefully immunized against overreaction to early season struggles of good players.

Nonetheless, at this time of the year it is often good to have some existential reassurance. Intellectually, we know that just because a cold streak happens over the first two weeks or month of a season it is not any different than happening in the middle of the year. Slumps at the beginning of the year simply stand out more because they are the whole of the player’s line. One terrible month (and we are not even at the one month point in this season) does not doom a season. Rather than repeat the same old stuff about regression and sample size, this post will offer to anecdotal help. Here are five seasons from hitters, each of which contain (at least) one terrible month at some point, but each of which turned out to be excellent overall.

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Corey Kluber and Kluberization: Ditching the Four-Seam

If Corey Kluber‘s road to the big leagues was long and winding, the reason for his recent success might be short and simple. One day, some time in 2011, the pitcher finally gave up on his four-seam fastball and started throwing a two-seamer. And now you have the current Corey Kluber. A contrite pitcher talking about a simple change doesn’t make for a long interview, but the Corey Kluber Process might be applicable to some other young pitchers around the league.

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Ryan Dempster Sort of Retires But Not Really

From just missing out on the Marlins’ first World Series title to being a member of the Red Sox’s eighth, Ryan Dempster has experienced plenty in his big league career. He might have just had his final experiences as a player however, as the 36-year-old Canadian native announced on Sunday morning that he will be sitting out the 2014 season. If this is the end, it has been a good run for Dempster, who has achieved some notable things in his career. And while the announcement comes at the dawn of spring training, his retirement doesn’t create a panicked situation for Boston in a vacuum, as the team has several pitchers ready (or close) to graduate to major league duty.

Dempster certainly isn’t going to be mistaken for one of the greatest pitchers of all-time, but in a way, he was. Using our leaderboards, we can see the following:

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The Sense In Waiting to Trade Jeff Samardzija

The Chicago Cubs have had two sets of negotiations involving Jeff Samardzija. The two sides have talked about a long-term extension — so far nothing’s been agreed to — and the sides seem pretty far apart. The front office also has fielded some trade offers, and while you can never be entirely certain about rumors, certain reports have painted the asking price as astronomical. From the Toronto Blue Jays, the Cubs supposedly wanted Aaron Sanchez, Marcus Stroman and more. From the Braves, the Cubs supposedly wanted Justin Upton or Jason Heyward. Even if the names are off, the message is clear: the Cubs are looking for a massive haul. Last year, Samardzija posted a worse ERA than Kevin Correia and Jeremy Hefner.

It’s been suggested the Cubs want more for Samardzija than the Rays have been looking for in return for David Price. Samardzija, of course, isn’t as good as Price. On the other hand, he’s considerably cheaper, and Samardzija isn’t coming off a season with an arm injury. His big-league health history is clean. So it’s not an outlandish position, but nothing’s been agreed to yet, because no one’s been willing to give up what the Cubs have wanted. More recent reports have suggested the Cubs intend to revisit the Samardzija trade market in the middle of the season. At first, it seems like this could only deflate Samardzija’s value. It would, after all, leave him with less time to make a contribution to a new employer. But there are good reasons for the Cubs to stick to their guns. Come June or July, they could still turn Samardzija into a blockbuster.

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