Archive for Diamondbacks

Mike Hazen’s First Big Decision

Yesterday, the Diamondbacks introduced Mike Hazen as their new general manager and head of baseball operations, who is taking over for Dave Stewart after a two-year failed experiment in their front office. Hazen was most recently the GM in Boston, serving as Dave Dombrowski’s second-in-command, and has been an integral part of a Red Sox front office that built one of the best young cores in baseball. The Diamondbacks are hoping Hazen will lead them in that direction now, and allow them to build a sustainable winner in Arizona.

But before he can do that, Hazen and his staff will have to determine their course of action this winter, and whether the team is going to try and retool a roster that just lost 93 games or if he’s going to pivot away from the team’s attempt to contend in the short-term in favor of acquiring assets for the long-term. When asked about this at the press conference, Hazen demurred.

“I don’t have a defined view just yet,” Hazen said. “It would be irresponsible for me at this point to sort of say exactly how we’re going to attack the roster.

“We want to bring a championship to this city and state, but we also know that there’s going to be decisions that need to be made. We’ll have more concrete answers on that as we move through the offseason. We’ll see what the landscape is in the marketplace.”

That’s a nifty non-answer, but in reality, it’s also likely the correct one. It doesn’t really make sense to be committing to a certain path on your first day on the job, for one, but also, despite the dumpster fire that was the Diamondbacks 2016 season, it isn’t actually clear what the Diamondbacks should do this winter, and they probably do need to explore both paths.

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Fall League Daily Notes: October 14

Eric Longenhagen is publishing brief, informal notes from his looks at the prospects of the Arizona Fall League and, for the moment, the Fall Instructional League. Find all editions here.

As Fall Instructional League winds down here in Arizona, teams have begun playing their games earlier in the day, allowing scouts to double and triple up should they so choose, catching instrux at 9 or 10 am before moving on to the afternoon and night Fall League games. For me yesterday, that meant seeing the Brewers’ and Diamondbacks’ instructional-league teams in the early morning. Of note from that game, the Brewers lined up second-round pick Lucas Erceg at shortstop and shifted Gilbert Lara over to third. Lara’s destiny likely lies at a position other than his usual shortstop — and so, too, does Erceg’s (despite a 70-grade arm) — and this was probably more of a fun experiment or opportunity to let Lara move around than it is earnest developmental news for Erceg, who has looked great throughout instrux but can’t play shortstop.

Luis Alejandro Basabe homered the opposite way during the game. He has more power than his incredibly small frame would otherwise indicate. His double-play partner, Jasrado (Jazz) Chisholm, showed off his precocious defensive ability at shortstop, ranging to his left behind the bag, corralling an odd hop while he simultaneously made contact with second base and then making a strong, mostly accurate throw to first base from an awkward platform. It wasn’t especially pretty but an impressive play nonetheless.

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FanGraphs Audio: Eric Longenhagen’s Horrible Burden

Episode 688
Lead prospect analyst Eric Longenhagen is the guest on this edition of the pod, during which he discusses recent prep work on his horrible burden — namely, the forthcoming organizational prospect lists, which will begin with NL West clubs. By way of preview, Longenhangen discusses one prospect of note from each the five western teams: Jazz Chisholm (Arizona), Joan Gregorio (San Francisco), Michel Miliano (San Diego), Riley Pint (Colorado), and Jordan Sheffield (Los Angeles).

This episode of the program either is or isn’t 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 1 hr 16 min play time.)

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Pinpointing the Moment Jake Lamb’s Season Changed

Even if you didn’t predict great things for the Diamondbacks this year, it’s hard not to be disappointed by their 2016 season. You can set aside their various front-office nonsense and still come to that conclusion. Zack Greinke hasn’t been great, A.J. Pollock missed significant time, and Shelby Miller‘s year has gone about as poorly as you could imagine. The club is set to lose nearly 100 games and finish last in the NL West.

You’d think that Jake Lamb offensive exploits would be among the club’s few points of pride this season. In 2015, Lamb recorded a 91 wRC+; he’s raised that figure to 115 this year. But it’s more likely that the club is worried about their young third baseman going into the season’s final games. After a scorching hot start, Lamb hasn’t just cooled off in the second half, he’s cratered.

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What Can Hitters Actually See Out of a Pitcher’s Hand?

We’ve all seen those swings so terrible that a batter can’t help but smile. Swings like this one from Brandon Phillips last year.

Phillips, of course, isn’t the only victim of this sort of thing. He’s been a league-average major-league hitter for a decade, which is a substantial accomplishment. But even accomplished hitters can look bad, can get it very wrong.

Were Phillips batting not for a last-place club but one contending for the postseason, we might gnash our teeth. Couldn’t he see that was a slider? What was he thinking? What was he looking at?

The answer to that last question, turns out, is way more complicated than it seems. Phillips clearly should have laid off a breaking ball that failed to reach the plate. He clearly has done that — otherwise, he wouldn’t have had a major-league career. So what happened? What did he see? Or not see? Ask hitters and experts that question, and the answers are vague, conflicting, and sometimes just strange.

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Pitching to Contact with Zack Greinke and Denard Span

I hadn’t planned on talking to Zack Greinke about the game he’d started the night before, but then, for the second time in his career and the first time since his rookie year, he went six innings and recorded only one strikeout. It was a win for the team, but maybe not his finest game, that one against the Giants on Tuesday night. So I had to say something. “They make a lot of contact,” he grumbled, “but it wasn’t ideal.”

When I asked him if anything was different, he shrugged. “Against guys like Denard Span, Ben Revere, Buster Posey, I’m not going to spend a lot of pitches going for the strikeout. They make too much contact.”

We’ve heard this sort of thing before, of course. Pitching to contact is even espoused as a general philosophy by some organizations. But it’s a little surprising to hear from this pitcher, who regularly strikes out 200 batters a year, even if he’s told us before that pitching to FIP — pitching to limit the walks and increase the strikeouts — just led to hard contact in the zone.

He also gave us a name! Denard Span, he of the 3.7% career swinging strike rate, good for 11th-best overall since he’s been in the league. Span, because of his contact-oriented skill st, has forced Greinke to approach him differently.

So let’s look at Greinke’s plan against Span this past Tuesday and see what he was trying to do.

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Robbie Ray: A Diamondback Discusses His Arsenal

Robbie Ray has a 7-11 win-loss record and a 4.31 ERA. Neither is impressive. Some of his other numbers are. The Arizona Diamondbacks left-hander has a 3.53 FIP and his walks and strikeouts per nine innings are 3.2 and 11.2, respectively. His velocity is also notable. Ray’s heater is averaging 93.9 mph and topping out at 97. Six weeks short of his 25th birthday, he’s never thrown harder.

There have been a few situational issues. Third time through the order has been the biggest problem — resulting in a .331/.373/.598 slash line — and he’s had trouble closing out innings. With two outs, opposing batters are hitting .286/.347/.432 against him. As August Fagerstrom wrote earlier in the month, despite his plus stuff, Ray is “something of an enigma.”

In his last start he was masterful. On Sunday, in San Diego, Ray allowed one hit — a home run by Patrick Kivlehan — and fanned 13 over seven innings of work. A week earlier, he sat down to discuss his repertoire and the reasons behind his not-without-flaws breakout.


Ray on his mechanics and velocity gain: “The velo on my fastball is up this year. I think a lot of that is just me understanding my body better and fine-tuning my mechanics to get maximum efficiency out of my body. It hasn’t been anything big. I did make a minor change with my initial step. I step back now, kind of at a 45-degree angle, whereas before I stepped a little horizontally.

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How to Solve a Problem Like the Diamondbacks

Despite internally high hopes after some notable acquisitions over the winter, the Diamondbacks season has simply been an unmitigated disaster. As we head towards September, they have a 51-73 record, second-worst in the National League, and they’ve played every bit as poorly as their record indicates; they also have baseball’s second-worst run differential (-129) and third-worst BaseRuns expected run differential (-138). Basically every single thing that could have gone wrong did go wrong, and instead of becoming a contender, the team has fallen apart.

The lousy results might end up costing many of the high-ranking front office personnel their jobs. The team has yet to exercise their 2017 options on GM Dave Stewart or AGM De Jon Watson. Tony LaRussa‘s contract also expires at the end of the year, and reports suggest that the team is considering another front office overhaul. Unsurprisingly, Stewart and LaRussa feel that they deserve more than just two years on the job and don’t think basing an evaluation of their job performance on the team’s 2016 record is fair.

“We had one good year, and if you look at what’s happened on the field this year, then one bad year,” Stewart said. “I think we deserve a tiebreaker.”

“I think our group has earned the benefit of the doubt,” La Russa told USA TODAY Sports, “but it’s their decision. The way I look at it, if you get an opportunity, you don’t complain about the length of the opportunity. So I don’t complain about that.

“This is a game based on results. There was good improvement in ’15, and in ’16, was the opposite of that. It’s disappointing. We’re all upset about it.

“If somebody in charge is upset enough, they’ll make a change.”

In a rare case of agreement, I’m actually with LaRussa and Stewart on the idea that they shouldn’t be fired simply because the team performed badly in 2016. The results of one season, whether positive or negative, don’t provide enough information about the quality of the decisions made, and especially not the quality of the decision makers.

But I think the Diamondbacks should clean house anyway.

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Yasmany Tomas Is Finally Pulling the Ball in the Air

A poor base-runner and fielder who strikes out a lot and also doesn’t walk much needs to have a batting average like Tony Gwynn — or otherwise hit for a ton of power — to be a worthwhile player. This is the plight of Yasmany Tomas. He doesn’t run well and plays poor defense at one of the less challenging positions. He strikes out in a quarter of his plate appearances while walking just once every 20 times up. Expecting a Tony Gwynn batting average is impossible, and, up until a few weeks ago, Tomas wasn’t bringing much power either. The entire package rendered him a replacement-level player at best.

With eight home runs in the last ten games, however — and 12 in the last 19 games — Tomas is providing a glimmer of hope that he will not be a $68.5-million bust since signing with Arizona Diamondbacks before last season.

In 2015, Tomas parlayed an elevated .354 BABIP into just a .273 average, due largely to the strikeouts. The lack of walks led to an on-base percentage of only .305 on the season. He didn’t bring much power either, recording only nine home runs and a .128 ISO. The final product: an 88 wRC+ and -1.3 (that’s negative 1.3) WAR. Tomas got off to a good early start last season by taking the ball the other way. Of course, doing so muted his best tool, which was — and remains — his raw power. Out of the 211 hitters last season who recorded at least 400 plate appearances, Tomas’ 31.7% pull rate was 192nd, just ahead of Alcides Escobar. Outside of great all-around hitters like Ryan Braun and Paul Goldschmidt, the hitters around that range consist mostly of speedy, slap-happy type hitters. Not the type of company Tomas would want to keep, in other words.

Compounding Tomas’ pull problems last season was his inability to get the ball in the air. Tomas’ 54.9% ground-ball rate was 12th highest in MLB last season, and his 23.2% fly-ball rate was 15th lowest. Again, those numbers are more common among slap hitters who lack Tomas’ raw power. His problems last season were evident in his spray chart, seen below.

chart (13)

Note, on the pull side, how there’s roughly one black dot (home run) for every two blue dots (fly balls in the outfield). If he could pull the ball in the air, there was a decent chance — again, with his raw power — that Tomas would be able to hit it out. But the changes were few and far between. Tomas recorded a total of 297 batted balls last season but pulled just 94 of them (31.6%). Of those, only 17 (18.1%) were fly balls. Twenty-four percent of his pulled fly balls left the park, but because he gave himself so few opportunities, his power numbers were weak.

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Robbie Ray Is the Newest Strikeout Madman

It’s still sort of hard to fathom how quickly the league-wide strikeout spike snuck up on us. And after a one-year plateau between 2014 and 2015, they’re back on the rise again. On the one hand, a statement like, “Present-day Robbie Ray would’ve been baseball’s strikeout leader as recently as 2010” speaks volumes toward the current state of baseball and how much has changed just in the last five years. It also speaks volumes toward Robbie Ray, because era be damned, what he’s doing is impressive, and it seems like it’s flying under the radar. Funny how quickly we’ve come to take strikeouts for granted.

Robbie Ray has struck out 28% of all the batters he’s faced this season. That’s more than Jake Arrieta last year, higher than Danny Salazar‘s current total. It’s higher than almost anyone, in fact, even in our strikeout-laden era. What follows is a complete list of pitchers who, this season, have (a) as many or more innings thrown, and (b) a higher strikeout rate than Ray:

That completes the list. Just five pitchers in baseball have ran a higher strikeout rate over as many innings as Robbie Ray, and they might just be the five best. Over his last eight starts, the strikeout rate’s up to 33%. It seems time to start paying some real attention to Robbie Ray, who suddenly looks like the second-hand man to Zack Greinke in Arizona.

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Trade Deadline 2016 Omnibus Post

As it has been the past few years, the 2016 non-waiver trade deadline brought about a flurry of activity that was hard to keep up with even if it was the only thing you were doing. Since most of us have other things that we have to or would like to occupy our time with, we figured we would save you some hassle and create an omnibus post with all of our trade deadline content so that you have it all in one place. For clarity’s sake, I’m going to limit this to articles about trades that actually took place.

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Projecting the Prospects Traded Over the Weekend

A bevy of trades went down over the weekend, as this year’s trade deadline-season entered into full swing. Here are the prospects who changed teams the last couple of days, 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.

The Andrew Miller Trade

Clint Frazier, OF, New York (AL)


Frazier had been promoted to Triple-A a week ago after slashing a strong .276/.356/.469 with 13 steals at Double-A this year. He pairs a high walk rate with decent power and speed, making him one of the most promising offensive prospects in baseball. Despite possessing average speed, Frazier plays mostly the corner-outfield spots these days, and hasn’t graded out particularly well there defensively. This suggests most of his big-league value will come from his hitting. Still, considering he’s a 21-year-old who’s already mastered Double-A, his future looks bright.

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Scouting D-backs Debutant Braden Shipley

When he was selected 15th overall in the 2013 draft, Braden Shipley became the highest-drafted athlete in the University of Nevada’s history, purloining that mantle from former NBA guard Kirk Snyder (RIP). Shipley spent his freshman season at Nevada playing all but two of his games at shortstop, hitting .344 in conference play and successfully completing 80% of his stolen-base attempts. He took to the mound as a sophomore, partly just because Nevada needed extra arms, and he was terrific, leading the WAC in ERA. That summer, as a rising junior, Shipley pitched in relief in the Alaskan Summer League, was touching 97, and struck out 22 hitters in just 13 innings. He was up to 99 as a junior, impressing scouts with his athleticism, arm acceleration and the changeup projection those two attributes allow.

As is the case with many conversion arms, Shipley’s athleticism has played a huge role in his minor-league development and has allowed him to make adjustments. Most notably, Shipley’s reined in his fastball. Gone is the occasional upper-90s heat in deference to a sinking fastball in the 89-92 range that touches 94. The pitch will flatten out at times, usually when Shipley — who’s only 6-foot-1 — tries to work up in the zone with it, but dialing things back has allowed Shipley to cut his walk rate in half this season. The pitch is most effective when Shipley is locating it to his glove side, allowing the pitch to run back onto the corner.

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Projecting D-backs Debutant Braden Shipley

The Diamondbacks called upon top pitching prospect Braden Shipley to make yesterday’s start against the Milwaukee Brewers. Though it marked his big-league debut, the 24-year-old has been on the prospect scene for a while now. The Diamondbacks originally drafted him 15th overall out of college back in 2013, and he’s been a fixture on top-100 lists ever since. Last month, Baseball America ranked him 63rd on their midseason list.

Despite his prospect pedigree, Shipley’s minor-league numbers have never quite lived up to his raw stuff. He spent the entirety of the 2015 season at the Double-A level, where he pitched to a 3.50 ERA — though peripherals suggest he wasn’t quite that good. The D-backs bumped him up to Triple-A this year, where he was equally underwhelming.

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Jake Lamb’s Revamped Swing Made Him an All-Star (Snub)

It’s important to note, considering the title of this post, that Jake Lamb is presently not a member of the National League All-Star team. It’s certainly not for lack of production. Lamb’s played enough to qualify for the batting title, and his 3.5 Wins Above Replacement rank 13th among all position players, right alongside All-Star third basemen Nolan Arenado and Matt Carpenter, the latter of whom recently switched back to second base. Of the 12 players above Lamb on the WAR leaderboard, 11 are All-Stars. (Sorry, Brandon Crawford.) So are the next eight after him. Chalk it up to a deep third-base pool in the National League, and a lack of name recognition for Lamb.

As long as he continues hitting the way he’s been, Lamb’s name will become known. Entering the All-Star break, he’s been one of baseball’s 10 best hitters. With 20 homers, 19 doubles and a league-leading seven triples, he’s been the best power hitter in the National League, and the best non-David Ortiz-division power hitter in all of baseball. Yep — Lamb’s .325 isolated slugging percentage easily topples the first-half marks set by prolific sluggers like Mark Trumbo, Kris Bryant and Josh Donaldson. This coming from a guy who last year was known for his defense.

For Lamb, this was all part of the plan. Of course, “be one of the best players in the sport” would be an ideal plan for anyone, but Lamb specifically entered the season looking to add more power. Inspired by Jose Bautista and teammate A.J. Pollock, Lamb re-tooled his swing in the offseason in an effort to create more authority on contact.

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Who Will Hate Robot Umps the Most?

Ever since Eric Byrnes used a computer to help umpire an independent-league baseball game last year, and then Brian Kenny took up the mantle of #RobotUmpsNow on the MLB Network, I’ve been fascinated with the idea that robot umpires will soon call strike zones in baseball. The more I talk to players about it, though, the more I doubt that it’s an eventuality. Because the players, well, the players are going to hate it.

I can’t speak for all players, obviously. I haven’t talked to all of them. But I’ve talked to plenty on both sides, even ones I can’t quote here, and the biggest endorsement I could get was a tepid version of “It’s going to happen.”

So instead of asking each player what they thought about robot umpires, I changed the question a bit. Instead, I asked pitchers, catchers, and hitters, “Who will hate robot umps the most?”

The short answer? Everyone. The long answer? Much more interesting.

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It’s Rock Bottom for Shelby Miller

Shelby Miller just started his tenth game of the season. He has, to his name, all of one single quality start. It came a few weeks ago, in Atlanta, where Miller went to work against one of the worst team offenses in recent baseball history. Miller was removed after the six-inning minimum. He racked up one strikeout, to go with a pair of walks. He also hit a guy. That guy was Erick Aybar, who has a .423 OPS. In Miller’s one quality start, he was statistically bad. Then there are the nine other starts.

In an era of fair and balanced transactions, no offseason move got even a fraction of the criticism of Arizona’s Shelby Miller trade. Those opposed to the move believed the Diamondbacks overpaid for a non-elite starting pitcher. FanGraphs, of course, figured the Braves made out like bandits, and that also happened to be the industry consensus. But to be absolutely clear, no one back then thought that Miller was anything less than a legitimate No. 3. The criticism then had to do with Ender Inciarte and Dansby Swanson. If anything, there were indications Miller might’ve been on the verge of breaking out. At the moment, he’s a shell of himself. Miller has gone completely awry, and he and the Diamondbacks are suffering.

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Diagnosing Shelby Miller’s Troubles

Shelby Miller just pitched six innings and allowed just two runs on Saturday. For a pitcher who entered that game having given up 22 runs in 23.1 innings — while also recording as many walks as strikeouts and averaging under four innings per appearance — the start was definitely an encouraging one.

However, there are some caveats, as well. For one, it occurred against a terrible Braves offense. And Miller still gave up another home run. And he recorded two walks against just one strikeout. Miller is far from out of the woods at this point. His main problems so far this season have been pitch selection and lack of velocity. The former is easily fixable. The latter could be a source of trouble if he can’t find the lost velocity at some point — or, alternatively, if the lost velocity is the result of some physical problem that has prevented him from maintaining consistent mechanics.

In each of the past two offseasons, Shelby Miller’s teams have decided to move him. Depending on your narrative, that’s maybe a sign that two organizations gave up on a young pitcher. On the other hand, though, the Cardinals’ receipt of Jason Heyward and the Braves’ massive haul a year later both contradict that narrative: both receiving clubs gave up quite a bit for Miller. When the Cardinals gave up Miller, he was coming off a relatively disappointing 2014 season where his 17% strikeout rate, 10% walk rate, 3.74 ERA and 4.54 FIP were all worse than his promising 2013 season. While the season overall was underwhelming, there were reasons for optimism on Miller when the Braves trade for him, and he delivered on that optimism last season.

During the 2014 campaign, the Cardinals made a deadline deal for Justin Masterson, and while Masterson did not pitch well for St. Louis and has yet to recapture his old form, he did teach Miller a two-seamer grip that Miller was able to use the rest of the 2014 season. At the time of Masterson’s arrival, Miller had recorded a 4.14 ERA and 4.81 FIP, with a 16% strikeout rate and 11% walk rate. To that point in the season, Miller was throwing his four-seam fastball 68% of the time along with a two-seam fastball less than 5% of the time. The rest of the season, Miller threw his four-seamer 48% of the time while upping his two-seamer to 22%. The result? An increased strikeout rate, fewer walks, a better, but not great 4.00 FIP, plus a nice 2.95 ERA over his final 10 starts.

Miller carried that two-seamer to Atlanta, throwing it even more last season (34% of the time vs. 33% on the four-seamer). His walk and strikeout rates remained the same as his late-season run in 2014. Halving his home-run rate helped Miller to a 3.45 FIP and 3.02 ERA — and Miller’s best season as a professional. Arizona made Atlanta an offer it couldn’t refuse and Miller headed into the season hoping to continue last year’s success. 

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What’s Up With Greinke’s Slider?

Zack Greinke goes to the mound today after giving up 13 runs in his last three starts, something he didn’t do at all last year. So we’re all trying to diagnose him. He is, too. We couldn’t figure it out together, really. Sorry to spoil the ending.

The slider is getting hit hard. Of his pitch types, it has the second-worst exit velocity so far this year, and it’s suffered the most from last year to this year.

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Baseball’s New Approach to the Changeup

Baseball can be slow to change. We’ve had this idea for decades that certain pitch types have platoon splits, and that you should avoid them in certain situations because of it. Righties, don’t throw sliders to lefties! It’s Baseball 101.

Think of the changeup, too. “Does he have a changeup?” or some variation on the theme is the first question uttered of any prospect on the way up. It’s shorthand for “can he be a starter?” because we think of changeups as weapons against the opposite hand. A righty will need one to get lefties out and turn the lineup over, back to the other righties, who will be dispatched using breaking balls.

As with all conventional wisdom, this notion of handedness and pitch types should be rife for manipulation. Say you could use your changeup effectively against same-handed hitters, for example. You could have a fastball/changeup starter that was equally effective against both hands, despite the history of platoon splits on the pitch.

To the innovators go the spoils. And we’re starting to see some innovators.

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