Archive for Padres

The Year James Shields Was Different

Three winters ago, we got into a lot of arguments about James Shields. He was at the center of a very polarizing trade and people took sides. You remember it, so I won’t rehash things other than to remark on how funny it is that the James Shields-Wil Myers blockbuster has actually become the Wade Davis trade. Wade Davis! The guy who gave up 5.92 runs per nine in the season following the deal.

Life’s little insanities aside, Shields was very good for the Royals during his two seasons in Kansas City. He was worth 4.0 and 3.3 WAR, respectively, and helped push them over the hump and back into relevance. Would they have gotten there without him? It’s entirely possible, but he was a key player on the team during their renaissance and deserves some recognition for it. You will note, however, that Shields signed elsewhere after the Royals lost the 2014 World Series and then the team won the 2015 title without him.

One of Shields’ hallmarks, and one of the main reasons the Royals acquired him, was his consistency. You were pretty much assured more than 200 innings of good, non-elite run prevention and above-average fielding independent numbers. Shields was as predictable as a person could be in baseball. Then he signed with the Padres.

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Did the Red Sox Just Reset the Market for Relievers?

The sabermetric movement has grown up over the last decade. A thing that you regularly hear now that you maybe wouldn’t have heard 10 years ago is this: I don’t know. So that’s where we start today. We don’t know what the going rate for ace relief pitchers is. That said, we do have one strong data point following this weekend’s trade of Craig Kimbrel by the Padres to the Red Sox, and it suggests that the cost to grab one of the best relievers in baseball is now substantial, akin to what it might have cost to get an ace starter some years ago.

Kimbrel is an elite relief pitcher, but it was surprising to see Boston acquire him for four prospects, including two top-50 prospects in outfielder Manuel Margot and shortstop Javier Guerra. On top of that already substantial talent the Red Sox tossed in starting pitcher Logan Allen and infielder Carlos Asuaje. That’s a ton of young talent to give up for anyone, let alone for three years of a reliever. It looks quite possibly as though the Red Sox have reset the cost for acquiring a top reliever. But have they?

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Projecting the Prospects in the Craig Kimbrel Trade

The Padres and Red Sox swung a deal on Friday night that sent Craig Kimbrel to Boston in exchange for a quartet of prospects: outfielder Manny Margot, shortstop Javier Guerra, second baseman Carlos Asuaje and left-handed pitcher Logan Allen. As Dave Cameron noted immediately following the trade, the Red Sox coughed up quite a package for the rights to Kimbrel. Not only did San Diego receive a high-quality prospect in Margot, but they got quantity as well. Here’s what my fancy computer math says about these prospects. The numbers next to their names refer to their projected WAR totals through age 28 according to KATOH.

Manny Margot, 10.2 WAR

The Red Sox signed Manny Margot as a 16-year-old out of the Dominican back in 2011, and he’s hit at every stop since then. He put himself on the prospect map in 2014 with a strong showing in Low-A, but he outdid himself in 2015 by essentially replicating those numbers in both High-A and Double-A. Margot makes a ton of contact, hits for modest power and runs wild on the base paths. All of that bodes well for his future in the show, especially considering he’s always been very young for his levels. Here are some comps that were generated using a series of Mahalanobis distance calculations.

Manny Margot’s Mahalanobis Matches
Rank Name Mah Dist WAR thru 28
1 Erick Aybar 1.60 13.3
2 Sergio Nunez 2.10 0.0
3 Nomar Garciaparra 2.24 32.6
4 Juan Sosa 2.32 0.0
5 Manny Alexander 2.46 0.0
6 William Bergolla 2.53 0.0
7 Tike Redman 2.55 1.8
8 Jacob May* 2.57 0.0
9 Robert Valido 2.77 0.0
10 Alex Ochoa 2.79 4.4
11 Jose Ramirez* 3.21 2.8
12 Brent Abernathy 3.25 0.0
13 Shane Victorino 3.54 13.1
14 Damon Buford 3.87 1.7
15 Eider Torres 3.94 0.0
16 Anthony Webster 3.95 0.0
17 Eddy Diaz 3.95 0.0
18 Aaron Holbert 4.04 0.0
19 Jesus Tavarez 4.05 0.0
20 Matt Howard 4.15 0.0
*Yet to play age-28 season

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Justin Upton’s Youth and Power in the Free Agent Market

By most accounts, Justin Upton has delivered on his promise as a former number-one draft pick and top prospect, hitting 190 home runs and averaging roughly four wins per season since turning 21 years ago. Upton has a rare power-speed combination, he was called up at an early age, he hits for consistent power, and he is still just 28 years old. Yet, not unlike another former first-round pick also hitting free agency, Jason Heyward, Upton is regarded by some as a slight disappointment, if unreasonably so. It is Jason Heyward, with even more youth than Upton to go along with great defense, who is seen as the best position player on the market despite hitting just 13 home runs this past year. Upton’s age, however, should not be dismissed, as he is still younger than most free agents on the market and combines that youth with the promise of considerable power.

Justin Upton will still get paid. Jon Heyman hit a high mark publicly, predicting seven years and $161 million, but FanGraphs crowdsourcing came up with six years, $120 million with Dave Cameron adding an extra year at $20 million to sign with the Yankees. That Upton’s contract is likely to be only the fourth, fifth or perhaps even sixth biggest contract of the offseason speaks to the quality of this free agent class as well as the amount of money that has been added to baseball’s revenues over the past few years.

Six years ago, Matt Holliday signed a seven year, $120 million contract with the St. Louis Cardinals. Since then, nine position players have signed $100 million contracts in free agency and player salaries have increased by 50%. Upton’s six year, $51 million contract served to delay his free agency by two years, but because he debuted at just 19 years old, he is still in position to sign a big long-term contract before the aging process begins his decline.

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Mariners Get Joaquin Benoit, Who Won’t Go Away

Here’s the difference between now and the trade deadline. At the trade deadline, when the Twins went out and picked up Kevin Jepsen, I shrugged and kept thinking about other, potentially bigger things. I forgot about the move five minutes after I learned about it. Now, this is a whole post about the Mariners going out and picking up Joaquin Benoit from the Padres. Not that Benoit and Jepsen are identical, but they belong in the tier of second- or third-class moves. As such, I’m sure many of you couldn’t care less about this, but before you go away, let me tell you — Benoit remains one interesting reliever. Good relief pitching is en vogue at the moment, and while Benoit will be 39 next July, he doesn’t seem to be on the verge of anything but another strong 65 innings.

Benoit is going to cost $7.5 million. The Mariners got him from San Diego for Enyel De Los Santos and Nelson Ward, and while De Los Santos is a young one with a big arm, there’s a reason those are two unfamiliar names. Neither is likely to do anything at the highest level; Benoit is likely to go another season or three. For the Padres, there’s nothing wrong with shedding salary and adding a live-armed project. But, necessarily, this is more interesting from the Mariners’ side. As long as Benoit has pitched, he still seems capable of keeping opponents off base.

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Towards an Objective Measure of Hanging Pitches

While working on something Erasmo Ramirez said — that his slider was always in the zone anyway, so he should probably use it to steal strikes rather than for swinging strikes — it became obvious that breaking pitches are much less effective in the zone than out when it comes to swinging strikes. Curves, in particular, are much better outside the zone. You get about one third of the whiffs on a curve in the zone as you do outside of the zone.

Separately, I’m working on a piece for The Hardball Times Annual about command. In it, a few pitchers talk about the difficulty of commanding breaking pitches. “Nobody throws anything that’s truly straight,” is how Trevor Bauer put it.

While sorting the in and out of zone whiff rates, and thinking about command, it came to me that the two are related. Maybe that’s a duh, but a big part of quantifying command is the problem of breaking balls and changeups and their movement. A breaking ball in the zone may often be a hung breaking ball, which contributes to the lower whiff rates.

Let’s take a look at the pitchers that have the most disparate results on their non fastballs inside and outside the zone first, and then try to find a way to spot these pitchers by movement.

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Elvis Andrus Steals Home, Padres’ Souls

The Rangers sure are exciting these days. They’re only two games behind Houston for the AL West lead and one game up on Minnesota for the last Wild Card while still holding the title of The Best Team With a Negative Run Differential. That is, if nothing else, an unwieldy banner. It’s the banner equivalent of Jarrod Saltalamacchia’s name on a t-shirt in that it would start on one side and end on the other. Negative run differential or not, the Rangers are winning games and doing it in exciting fashion. Tuesday the Rangers beat the Padres while Elvis Andrus stole home. I’m happy that happened because that this is an article about Elvis Andrus stealing home and if he hadn’t stolen home this would be a pretty weird article.

The Rangers have had some good luck in addition to playing well. For example, the San Diego Padres just wanted to play a baseball game Tuesday. I’m not even sure they wanted to win it. I mean, they’d probably have been fine with winning, but they’d have been fine with not winning, too. Let’s just play a game, they probably thought, then get some sleep. Instead they got Tuesday’s game which was much, much worse.

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Pondering Another Big August Red Sox Trade

Three years ago, a struggling Red Sox team dumped a big part of their roster — and their payroll — on the Los Angeles Dodgers, shipping Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford, and Josh Beckett to Los Angeles in exchange for a few prospects and a lot of financial relief. The deal freed up the team to reallocate a bunch of that money to free agents a few months later, and after hitting on signings like Shane Victorino, Mike Napoli, Stephen Drew, and Koji Uehara, the team celebrated a World Series title in 2013.

Things have fallen apart again since, however, and last winter’s free agent spending spree looks like a total disaster at this point. Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval have combined for -1.8 WAR while pulling in $40 million between them, and there’s no way the team can go into 2016 with this same defensive alignment. Ramirez is clearly not an outfielder, and Sandoval has been a bit of disaster at third base this year as well, leading to speculation that one of the two may move to first base next year. And that probably is the path of least resistance, but as rumors percolated of Red Sox-Padres trade discussion before last week’s deadline, I started wondering if there wasn’t an August deal to be made that might actually make sense for both sides.

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Grading the 58 Prospects Dealt at the Trade Deadline

This breakdown starts with the Scott Kazmir deal on July 23, but there weren’t any trades from the 16th to the 23rd, so this covers the whole second half of the month, trade-wise, up until now. I count 25 total trades with prospects involved in that span that add together to have 58 prospects on the move. Check out the preseason Top 200 List for more details, but I’ve added the range that each Future Value (FV) group fell in last year’s Top 200 to give you an idea of where they will fall in this winter’s list. Also see the preseason team-specific lists to see where the lower-rated prospects may fall within their new organization.

40 FV is the lowest grade that shows up on these numbered team lists, with 35+ and 35 FV prospects mentioned in the “Others of Note” section, so I’ll give blurbs for the 40 FV or better prospects here. I’ve also linked to the post-trade prospect breakdown for the trades I was able to analyze individually, so click there for more information. Alternately, click on the player’s name to see his player page with all his prior articles listed if I didn’t write up his trade.

I opted to not numerically rank these players now, but I will once I’ve made the dozens and dozens of calls necessary this fall and winter to have that level of precision with this many players. Look for the individual team lists to start rolling out in the next month, with the 2016 Top 200 list coming in early 2016. Lastly, the players are not ranked within their tiers, so these aren’t clues for where they will fall on the Top 200.

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Padres Negotiate With All, Strike Deal With None

Every season, teams play roughly 100 games before the trade deadline. During that time, there are two kinds of teams: buyers and sellers. As sellers, it is their job to give buyers a hard time to trade worthwhile players to the buyers in exchange for players to be used in the future or moving financial obligations that selling teams no longer wish to possess. By all accounts, the San Diego Padres were clearly in the sellers’ camp, yet they held on to all of their players, both potential short-term rentals like Justin Upton, Joaquin Benoit, and Ian Kennedy and longer-term players like Tyson Ross and Craig Kimbrel. The Padres have desirable players on their team, and the decision to hold onto all of their players is curious, although they did make a small move, acquiring lefty reliever Marc Rzepczynski.

After the trade deadline passed, Padres general manager A.J. Preller was said to believe the Padres had a chance to make the playoffs this season:

The Padres, as presently constituted, do not look like a playoff team. They are 49-53 with a -53 run differential, and BaseRuns, which strips out sequencing, indicates the Padres have actually been pretty lucky, as their BaseRuns record is actually five games worse than their present one. Our projections do not seem to hint at any great improvement moving forward either, as the team is projected to finish with an 80-82 record. They are currently eight games out in their division and 7.5 games out of the wild-card spot. More troubling than the deficit in the standings, they would have to pass four teams that all appear to be as good or better than the Padres to make the postseason. Their current playoff odds are under 4% for this season. Preller is either delusional or he simply could not get the type of return on his players that he expected. Given the huge amount of rumors associated with the Padres over the last few days, it is fair to assume the latter.

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Yasmani Grandal and Padres Pitchers

Not to beat a dead horse, or any kind of horse, but the Matt Kemp trade has been lopsided. There’s still an awful long way to go, but for now the Matt Kemp trade is more like the Yasmani Grandal trade, and Grandal and the Dodgers couldn’t be happier. The other day on Twitter I was tipped off to an article about Grandal written by Matt Calkins. The headline: “Padres blew it with Yasmani Grandal.” It talks about Grandal’s limited playing time, and the lack of trust some Padres pitchers had in him. One paragraph stood out to me as particularly interesting:

Despite the general San Diego approach being to throw down and away, Grandal thought the power pitchers should be throwing inside in the early part of the count before using the outer half of the plate to record the out. But the veteran hurlers weren’t catching his drift, and as a result, he wasn’t catching their pitches.

Pitchers identified were Andrew Cashner, Tyson Ross, and Ian Kennedy. Last season, Grandal didn’t catch Cashner. Ross eventually stopped throwing to him, and Kennedy did too. They preferred working with Rene Rivera. This year, the Padres pitching staff has struggled. From the bottom of the same article:

San Diego’s pitching, however, has disappointed, and Grandal can’t help but wonder if that would be the case had his advice been heeded.

On the one hand, this doesn’t really matter. Grandal isn’t in San Diego anymore, so everyone just ought to move on. But on the other hand, this can be an interesting thing to investigate. So let’s talk about what Grandal talked about.

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Tyson Ross on His Walk Rate

Tyson Ross was always supposed to have bad command. Just look at his mechanics! He’s huge! Look at his minor-league walk rates! Then, Ross came up and — for his first 300+ innings in the big leagues at least — proved the doubters wrong. An better-than-average walk rate happened, at least.

Now, though, Ross has regressed in that category. But figuring out why a walk rate has grown is not the simplest affair. Swings and misses can turn balls into strikes, and changes in pitching mix can bring on command problems. Tentative approaches can turn aggressive stuff into long plate appearances that end with a free pass. More runners on base can beget more runners on base. Ross himself shakes his head at it, but we did our best to try and figure it out together.

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San Francisco’s Secret Home-Field Advantage

ATT Park, from behind home plate, at game time for a night game.

Justin Upton has hit the ground running in San Diego. His power stats have not suffered as much as you might expect, at least, as his isolated slugging (.194) and home runs per fly ball (16.7%) are right in line with career norms (.201 and 15.1%, respectively). When I asked him about hitting in San Diego, he shrugged it off. He also said something interesting about San Francisco’s park.

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The Most Unlikely Home Run

It seems like a simple question to ask. Which recent home run was the least likely?

You could flippantly answer — the one Erick Aybar hit this year, or the one Melky Cabrera hit this year — and because they’ve got the lowest isolated slugging percentages with at least one homer hit, you would be right. But that doesn’t control for the quality of the pitcher. Aybar hit his off of Rick Porcello, who is having some issues with the home run right now.

A slightly more sophisticated approach might have you scan down the list of the worst isolated powers in the game right now, and then cross-reference those names with the pitchers that allowed those home runs. If you do that, you’ll eventually settle on Alexei Ramirez, who hit his first homer of the year off of Johnny Cueto earlier this year.

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Players’ View: Is Baseball Ready for an Openly Gay Player?

PrideNight Coliseum prepares for the Athletics’ LGBT Pride Night.

The Athletics had an LGBT Pride event Wednesday night, and the night was peppered with love for many people that haven’t always felt comfortable at the ballpark.

Opera Singer Breanna Sinclaire, the first trans singer accepted into the San Francisco Conservatory of Music’s master’s program according to the San Francisco Chronicle, sang the anthem. According to Major League Baseball, she was also the first trans singer to perform the anthem.

MLB ambassador of inclusion Billy Bean was in the building, and was part of the impetus for the event, as the news of this event came out after he addressed the Athletics in Spring Training.

Sean Doolittle‘s partner Eireann Dolan helped improve the event, as she not only offered to buy back tickets from disgruntled ticketholders with a heartfelt and funny letter, but also started a GoFundMe to help pay for even more donated tickets to members of Our Space, AIDS Project East Bay and Frameline, a nonprofit LGBTQ cinema foundation.

It seemed like a good time to ask the ballplayers willing to comment about the issue at hand: is baseball ready for an openly gay player, and what obstacles might they face when it happens? Even with a few “no comments,” the opinions given all had their own unique angle, and showed that even a ready country and sport will not make the first openly gay player’s professional life easy.

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Padres Take First Step Toward Selling, Fire Bud Black

The Padres fired their manager Monday, saying goodbye to Bud Black, who’d been around since 2007. It’s not that the Padres blamed Black for what they’ve considered to be a disappointing start. That’s always the idea whenever any coach gets the axe, but that’s a gross oversimplification. It’s not that Black was the whole problem. It’s that the Padres thought Black was *a* problem, the kind of problem they might be able to fix midseason. Easier to do that than to find a whole new front office, or a whole new group of players.

As we all observed, the Padres put together a roster they thought could win in 2015. It hasn’t happened yet, not consistently, and with the trade deadline a month and a half away, A.J. Preller might be thinking about the pieces he has to sell off. There’s still plenty of time for the group to turn it around and mount a charge toward the playoffs, but if the Padres do end up a midseason seller, this would be the first step toward admitting the plan didn’t work out. The first step, that is, if you don’t count losing as often as you win.

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The Padres’ Biggest Problem

Even after a win Tuesday, the Padres stand at a flat 20-20, and there’s talk that manager Bud Black might be on the hot seat given ownership expectations. Curiously, the Padres aren’t letting minor-league coach Pat Murphy talk to the Brewers, and while there’s any number of potential explanations, one could be that the team sees Murphy as a Black replacement. Managers get fired by disappointing baseball teams. The Padres haven’t quite lived up to their preseason hype.

When you get to thinking about why, it’s only natural to consider the team defense. It always looked like it was going to be a potential issue, and the numbers indicate the defense has indeed been a weakness, mostly in the outfield. By Defensive Runs Saved, the Padres have been the fourth-worst defensive team in the league. By UZR, they’re second-worst. Right there, it seems like you can explain the team’s bottom-six ERA. But as it turns out, there’s something else going on. Something that’s hurt the Padres even more than their defense.

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Mat Latos Throws a Pitch That Nobody Else Has Thrown

Mat Latos throws a pitch that nobody in the big leagues throws. For good reason, too. He has no idea where it’s going.

“I was told in high school that it would never be a realistic pitch in the big leagues,” Latos said when I asked him about the pitch that he gripped like a knuckle curve but released like a changeup and was neither his breaking ball nor his changeup. Yeah, I said, sure, but what is this pitch?

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An Inning With Craig Kimbrel’s Command

The other day, Craig Kimbrel blew a save for the first time in — I don’t know — awhile. He was given a two-run lead and he retired the first two batters he faced, but then he unraveled. In a pinch, the game was off to extras. Kimbrel is one of those relievers for whom any hiccup is notable. And when you notice Kimbrel’s blown save, you notice something else. Kimbrel, in a tiny sample, is sitting on a 5.68 ERA. If you add up the ERAs from his first five seasons in the majors, you get a sum of 6.37. Something’s a little wonky. Or nothing’s wonky at all, and this is just early-season randomness. Regardless, Kimbrel catches your eye with a 5-something ERA. He’d catch your eye with a 3-something ERA.

Is there anything going on we should know about? Kimbrel’s pitch velocities are fine. Kimbrel’s pitch mix is normal. His arm slot hasn’t changed. So there’s no easy conclusion, but Ken Rosenthal spoke to somebody with something to say:

The report from one uniformed observer: “His command was terrible. He threw three pitches that almost hit guys in the head. He even threw a pickoff to first with no first baseman there. And on the pitch that was hit for a double to tie the game, he missed by three feet.”

Is it that simple? Is Kimbrel just missing his command? Is that why his strikeout rate is down? The source was talking about Kimbrel’s blown save in Arizona. So I decided to investigate Kimbrel’s blown save in Arizona.

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Wil Myers is Finally Healthy

“The biggest thing is that I’m finally healthy,” said Wil Myers before a game with the Giants. After breaking his wrist in the fourth game of the year in 2014, and then following that up with another broken wrist (the other one) about six weeks later, Myers is happy to have his health. Those broken wrists did a number on his game.

After the first wrist broke, Myers played through it. “I still have a bone that sticks out,” Myers said as he points to a protrusion. “And any time I turned this wrist over, this tendon right here was very painful.” Even that first half of last year, before the second injury, Myers had below-average power (.126 Isolated Slugging, .145 is average).

It was worse when he came back from the second broken wrist after 81 days away. “I just didn’t have it,” Myers said as he shook his head. “This forearm looked like a baby’s forearm, I had no muscle.” That’s when his performance really tanked, as his .055 ISO and overall offense that was 50% worse than league average can attest.

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