Archive for Padres

Big Game James and a Team That Should Have Some

Let’s ignore, for a moment, James Shields‘ actual major-league track record in what one might consider to be big games. We’ve all had fun at his expense, and the playoff ERA over 5 makes the nickname seem ironic. What’s interesting is that Shields has pitched a lot of big games in the first place. He debuted for a team that had never won more than 70 games, and the (Devil) Rays shortly blossomed into something of a second-tier powerhouse. And when Shields got dealt, he got dealt to a team that hadn’t been good since 1994.

The idea was to return the Royals to glory, and after a promising first year, in the second Shields got to start twice in the World Series. Now Shields has joined the Padres, signing for a four-year term, and the Padres’ hope is similar to what the Royals were looking to do: the organization wants to graduate from irrelevance. The Padres haven’t even been sufficiently relevant to be a laughingstock, but a whirlwind offseason has put the team on everyone’s radar, and in that way signing Shields is in large part symbolic. You don’t sign Big Game James unless you figure he’s going to start some. These Padres ain’t the Padres no more. Not the way you knew them.

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James Shields and the Value of Relevance

Matt Kemp, Wil Myers, Justin Upton, and now James Shields. No team has had a splashier off-season than the San Diego Padres, as new GM A.J. Preller overhauled the team’s roster to ensure that the 2015 Padres would actually be able to score some runs. This team now has an unmistakable identity — they might as well call themselves the San Diego Right-Handed Sluggers — and nearly as much star power as any team in the league. The organization is now a far cry from one whose best players were Rene Rivera and Seth Smith.

The Padres are now undoubtedly interesting. Are they going to be good, though? I remain a bit skeptical. As Mike noted this morning, their infield is still kind of dreadful, and while their outfield will hit a lot of home runs, they’re primarily one dimensional players who aren’t as valuable as their reputations. The pitching staff is deep — especially if Brandon Morrow and Josh Johnson figure out how to stay healthy — but not as strong up front as the other contenders in the NL.

Mostly, I see a lot of solid contributors, but very few players who are likely to be among the best players in the league. The Padres have imported three big names (and a former big time prospect) but I’m not sure any of them are going to perform like All-Stars in 2015. Given what Petco Park is likely to do to the raw numbers of Upton and Kemp, Joaquin Benoit might actually still be the team’s most likely All-Star representative.

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James Shields Can’t Solve The Biggest Padres Problem

Last week, I had the pleasure of being present at a panel of baseball people talking about 2015’s big stories, and one of the questions was, “are the Padres contenders?” Some said yes. Others said no. Most of the discussion centered on the rebuilt outfield of Justin Upton, Matt Kemp, and Wil Myers, mainly about how that could possibly come together on defense. Now, we’re hearing about how they may yet be the team that comes away with James Shields, who would inject some stability into what is a talented-but-fragile rotation.

Jeff will have more on that signing later, but obviously: Shields will help! Adding him makes for a rotation front four of Shields, Andrew Cashner, Ian Kennedy, and Tyson Ross, which is potentially pretty impressive. More innings from Shields means fewer that you need to rely upon from Odrisamer Despaigne, Josh Johnson and Brandon Morrow, and that’s a good thing. Signing Shields and trading for Cole Hamels would help! Lots of things, likely and less so, would help. Here’s what I had wanted to ask that panel, though, especially those who believe that the reworked Padres are now contenders: How many people can actually name all four Padres starting infielders?

Obviously there’s a bit of hyperbole there, but the point is that this isn’t a question you want to be asking about a team that wants to be included in the October conversation. If you didn’t follow the team closely, would you be able to come up with Yonder Alonso, Jedd Gyorko, Alexi Amarista, and Will Middlebrooks off the top of your head? Because this group, despite returning only one player who took more than 50% of the plate appearances at the same position last season, doesn’t look good. It’s actually a considerable issue, if you look at Steamer’s 2015 projections combined with our curated depth chart playing time inputs:

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Everything You Need to Know About Yoan Moncada

As I reported on twitter moments ago, MLB sent a memo to clubs detailing the new process for Cuban players to go from leaving the country to signing with an MLB team. The short version is that super prospect Yoan Moncada is eligible to sign now, after a maddening long delay.

For those new to this topic or if you just want a refresher, here’s a recap of my coverage of this Moncada saga from the start:

October 3, 2014: Moncada is confirmed out of Cuba, but no one knows where he is.  We assume his whereabouts will become clear soon as he’s the most hyped prospect to leave the island in years. Here I first quote the common “teenage Puig that can play the infield and switch hit” comp and break down all the implications about who can sign him, who is likely to pony up the big bucks, game theory implications and more.

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2015 ZiPS Projections – San Diego Padres

After having typically appeared in the very hallowed pages of Baseball Think Factory, Dan Szymborski’s ZiPS projections have been released at FanGraphs the past couple years. The exercise continues this offseason. Below are the projections for the San Diego Padres. Szymborski can be found at ESPN and on Twitter at @DSzymborski.

Other Projections: Atlanta / Chicago AL / Colorado / Detroit / Houston / Los Angeles AL / Los Angeles NL / Miami / Milwaukee / New York NL / Oakland / San Francisco / St. Louis / Tampa Bay / Washington.

Batters
Unsurprisingly, given the zeal with which general manager AJ Preller et al. sought to turn over the roster this offseason, the four most encouraging WAR projections for Padres hitters belong to players who were acquired over the past month-plus. Surprisingly, perhaps — at least given the profile of the deal — none of those four are Matt Kemp. He’s forecast to produce among the top offensive lines on the club, but also -9 runs defensively in a corner-outfield spot. Wil Myers‘ defensive projection in center field (-12 runs) also fails to inspire hope.

An earlier version of the depth-chart image for the Padres — published by the author via Twitter on Tuesday night — featured Derek Norris and Tim Federowicz combining for five projected wins. In point of fact, the sum of their WAR forecasts is closer to five than any other whole number; the sum of their plate appearances is above 800, though, also. The number has been prorated to four wins here. Still enough, that, to profile as one of the team’s strongest positions.

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The Top-Five Padres Prospects by Projected WAR

On Wednesday, Kiley McDaniel published his consummately researched and demonstrably authoritative prospect list for the San Diego Padres. What follows is a different exercise than that, one much smaller in scope and designed to identify not San Diego’s top overall prospects but rather the rookie-eligible players in the Padres system who are most ready to produce wins at the major-league level in 2015 (regardless of whether they’re likely to receive the opportunity to do so). No attempt has been made, in other words, to account for future value.

Below are the top-five prospects in the Padres system by projected WAR. To assemble this brief list, what I’ve done is to locate the Steamer 600 projections for all the prospects to whom McDaniel assessed a Future Value grade of 40 or greater. Hitters’ numbers are normalized to 550 plate appearances; starting pitchers’, to 150 innings — i.e. the playing-time thresholds at which a league-average player would produce a 2.0 WAR. Catcher projections are prorated to 415 plate appearances to account for their reduced playing time.

Note that, in many cases, defensive value has been calculated entirely by positional adjustment based on the relevant player’s minor-league defensive starts — which is to say, there has been no attempt to account for the runs a player is likely to save in the field. As a result, players with an impressive offensive profile relative to their position are sometimes perhaps overvalued — that is, in such cases where their actual defensive skills are sub-par.

5. Austin Hedges, C (Profile)

PA AVG OBP SLG wRC+ WAR
415 .206 .251 .301 58 0.3

For a player such as Hedges, whose value is tied much more closely to his defensive than offensive skills, Steamer’s projections are likely to skew towards the conservative side. For minor leaguers, Steamer’s defensive forecasts are based largely (if not entirely) on positional adjustment — which, that’s generous for catchers, anyway. As McDaniel notes, though, Hedges is a candidate to save a non-negligible quantity of runs beyond that. Adding five runs (0.5 WAR) to Hedges’ projections wouldn’t be entirely irresponsible.

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Evaluating the Prospects: San Diego Padres

Evaluating the Prospects: RangersRockiesD’BacksTwinsAstrosRed SoxCubsWhite SoxRedsPhilliesRaysMetsPadres & Marlins

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

Amateur Coverage: 2015 Draft Rankings2015 July 2 Top Prospects & Latest on Yoan Moncada

This list was gutted by five deals over an 12-day period earlier this month by new general manager A.J. Preller. He generally turned minor league pieces into big league pieces and these deals included 11 guys that would’ve been on this list: Trea Turner, Max Fried, Zach Eflin, Joe Ross, Joe Wieland, Mallex Smith, Jace PetersonR.J. Alvarez, Johnny Barbato, Jake Bauers and Dustin Peterson, in that order.

Jesse Hahn would’ve been on the growth assets list and Burch Smith may have snuck on the end of the list but would likely be one of the last cuts, appearing in the others of note section. The lack of depth in the list below is understandable as a slightly above average system became a slightly below average one in the last month or so. Padres sources were quick to point out that only Justin Upton and Shawn Kelley were one-year assets, so this isn’t an all-in sort of move, but more of a reorganizing of the assets.

It’s interesting that the Rangers, where Preller worked until recently, have a reputation of not wanting to part with any prospects in trades. Preller came into a situation in San Diego where he didn’t sign any of the players he had and he immediately shipped one-third of the legitimate prospects out within a couple months, with no list-worthy prospects coming back in these deals. That’s somewhat misleading, as Preller’s job is to win big league games and a farm system exists to improve the big league team, but it’s interesting to note the contrast in styles.

Another big topic that came up on all my calls for this list was the recent history of Padres pitching prospects getting hurt. There have been somewhat recent Tommy John surgeries for Casey Kelly, Max Fried, Joe Wieland and Cory Luebke (twice) among the legitimate prospects, but the team has no explanation for why they’ve been hit harder than others. Padres execs detailed a study to me that was commissioned to answer this question and there were no common factors across the injuries and there didn’t appear to be problems with their throwing programs. It appears to just be rolling snake eyes a few more times than everyone else did, through random bad luck.

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The Best Pitches of 2014 (By Whiffs)

There are many different ways to describe the quality of a pitch. We have movement numbers on this site. There are ground-ball rates. There are whiff rates. There are metrics that use a combination of ground-ball and whiff rates. And metrics that use balls in play. There’s a whole spectrum from process to results, and you can focus on any one part of that spectrum if you like.

But there’s something that’s so appealing about the whiff. It’s a result, but it’s an undeniable one. There is no human being trying to decide if the ball went straight or if it went up in the air or if the ball went down. It’s just: did the batter swing and miss? So, as a result, it seems unassailable.

Of course, there are some decisions you still have to make if you want to judge pitches by whiff rates. How many of the pitch does the pitcher have to have thrown to be considered? Gonzalez Germen had a higher whiff rate on his changeup (30.7%) this year than Cole Hamels (23.7%). Cole Hamels threw seven times as many changeups (708 to 101).

So, in judging this year’s best pitches, let’s declare a top pitch among starters and a top pitch among relievers. That’s only fair, considering the difference in number of pitches thrown between the two. It’s way harder to get people to keep missing a pitch they’ve seen seven times as often. And, in order to avoid avoiding R.A. Dickey the R. A. Dickey Knuckler award, we’ll leave knucklers off the list, and include knuckle curves in among the curves.

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FG on Fox: The Padres’ Other Defensive Sacrifice

Let’s bring you up to speed, in case this has somehow eluded you: the Padres recently acquired Justin Upton, Matt Kemp, and Wil Myers. They also did more than that, too, but, as things stand, those guys project to be the Padres’ three starting outfielders, Kemp’s hip arthritis and all. (Matt Kemp reportedly has hip arthritis.) Because someone has to play center, it looks like Myers will play center. He’ll do so acceptably — Shin-Soo Choo played center for a team that won 90 games — but Myers looks like he’ll be a liability. The Padres are sacrificing outfield defense for outfield offense.

But that’s not the only defensive sacrifice they’re lined up to make. Now, before we proceed: who knows, right? Who knows what the Padres’ roster will look like in three months? Consider how the Padres’ roster looked just last month. A.J. Preller is a busy man. Answer the phone. It’s A.J. Preller. He’s calling you right now. You missed him. Preller still has moves to make, so we’ll just have to see how things look in the end, but given where things are now, the Padres are also going to be weaker behind the plate.

Coming into the offseason, the Padres had both Rene Rivera and Yasmani Grandal. At one point, they were briefly in possession of Ryan Hanigan. They were also a rumored landing spot for David Ross. All those guys have gone elsewhere. The Padres’ depth chart reads Derek Norris, supported by Tim Federowicz. Top prospect Austin Hedges remains in the system, but he’s not yet ready for the show, nor should he be for a while. The Padres right now would go into the season with Norris and Federowicz receiving.

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How Many Runs Won’t Wil Myers Save in Center Field?

According to Dennis Lin of the U-T San Diego, the San Diego Padres — despite rumors to the contrary — aren’t interested in flipping the recently acquired Wil Myers to the Phillies in exchange for Philadelphia left-hander Cole Hamels.

Writes Lin:

Indications from sources within the organization… are that the Padres intend on playing all three of their newest outfielders, including Myers. The early plan is for the 2013 American League Rookie of the Year to start in center field, flanked by fellow power-hitting right-handers Justin Upton and Matt Kemp.

The bold is mine and the bold is of some interest insofar as center field, with the exception of 51 innings in 2013, isn’t a position at which Wil Myers has spent much time as a major leaguer. He played it to a greater extent in the minors, making about two-thirds as many starts there as he did in right field while still a member of the Royals organization. But one also notes that minor-league defensive assignment aren’t necessarily excellent indicators of future major-league defensive prowess. Miguel Cabrera, for example — on something more intimate than just nodding terms with inertia even as a 20-year-old rookie — nevertheless made more minor-league starts at shortstop than any other position. Michael Morse made 95% of his nearly 500 minor-league starts at shortstop leading up to his 2005 major-league debut. His physique now isn’t identical to his physique then, but he’s still the same human — and that human wasn’t a good shortstop in 2005.

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Breaking Down the Prospects in the Justin Upton Trade

The Braves are sending right fielder Justin Upton and a yet-to-be-named-publicly low level prospect to the Padres for for pitcher Max Fried, center fielder Mallex Smith, second baseman Jace Peterson and third baseman Dustin Peterson.  It’s an interesting way for Atlanta to get a very high upside player not usually available in a package for a one-year rental.  As I did with my breakdown of the Wil Myers trade, I’ve ranked the pieces in order of my preference, with a note where there’s a virtual tie.

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The International Bonus Pools Don’t Matter

International baseball has been in the news often lately with the ongoing saga of Yoan Moncada (he’s in America now), the signing of Yasmany Tomas and yesterday’s news that Cuba-U.S. relations could be getting much better.  In recent news, at the yearly international scouting directors’ meeting at the Winter Meetings last week, sources tell me there was no talk about the recent controversial rule change and no talk about an international draft, as expected.

So much has been happening lately that you may have temporarily forgotten about last summer, when the Yankees obliterated the international amateur spending record (and recently added another prospect). If the early rumors and innuendo are any indication, the rest of baseball isn’t going to let the Yankees have the last word.

I already mentioned the Cubs as one of multiple teams expected to spend well past their bonus pool starting on July 2nd, 2015.  I had heard rumors of other clubs planning to get in the act when I wrote that, but the group keeps growing with each call I make, so I decided to survey the industry and see where we stand.  After surveying about a dozen international sources, here are the dozen clubs that scouts either are sure, pretty sure or at least very suspicious will be spending past their bonus pool, ranked in order of likelihood:

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The Padres and A’s Keep Doing Things

If I had to sum up the offseason for the Oakland Athletics and San Diego Padres, it would be thusly:

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Burch Smith and the Problem of Holding Velocity

Right-hander Burch Smith has been traded from San Diego to Tampa Bay. “Will he start or not?” is a question a person might reasonably ask about that. What follows is an attempt to answer the question — in part, if not in whole.

At some point during during April or May of 2013, after the latter had produced some conspicuously excellent numbers with Double-A San Antonio, the present author developed a fascination with then-Padres right-hander Burch Smith — including that pitcher, for example, in multiple editions of the Fringe Five.

When Smith was finally promoted to the Padres, it was not unlike Christmas on May 11th. And even after Smith conceded six runs over a single inning in his debut, I remained curiously enamored of him.

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The Padres, Buzz, and Contention

Neither Matt Kemp nor Wil Myers have yet been officially traded. Yet it feels like those should happen any moment now, if not while I’m in the process of writing this post, and the end result will be that the Padres will have a pair of new corner outfielders. Kemp is older and Myers is younger, but both would be under team control for several years, and one of the ideas here is to generate some actual buzz about a Padres team that wants to win in 2015.

Subjectively, the Padres have long lacked meaningful buzz, even or especially locally. They’ve had nothing since Adrian Gonzalez was dealt away, and even Gonzalez was sort of a reluctant face of the franchise. Kemp is a celebrity, particularly in California. Myers, meanwhile, is a power bat with personality. People are talking about the Padres now, and everyone likes a team trying to win sooner. No one enjoys slogging through an extended period of irrelevance. But as much as the Padres are succeeding in building some hype, at the end of the day it still looks like there’s a lot missing.

You could say the Padres are kind of trying to be the National League’s White Sox. We know that, with the second wild card, teams are incentivized more than ever to try to be at least okay. With an active offseason, the White Sox have improved from also-ran to potential contender. People are excited! It’s exciting. The White Sox saw an opportunity to put pieces around Jose Abreu, Chris Sale, Jose Quintana, and Adam Eaton. San Diego? San Diego doesn’t have an Abreu. It doesn’t have a Sale. And the players coming in don’t appear to be superstars, name value be damned.

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The Matt Kemp Trade Feels Like the Vernon Wells Trade

This isn’t one of those deals that came out of nowhere. The Padres have been rumored to be the most aggressive Matt Kemp suitor for a couple of weeks now, and all other interested parties seemingly dropped out as the asking price kept getting higher and higher. Over the last few days, this deal felt somewhat inevitable, so we’ve had plenty of time to process the trade and figure out what to say about it. And yet, I’m still kind of stumped.

The 2015 Padres are going to be bad. We currently project them at around a 75 win level, putting them in the same group as the Astros, Twins, Diamondbacks, and Braves. The only team demonstrably worse is the Phillies; you could reasonably argue that the Padres are something like the second worst team in baseball. And they could very well make themselves worse on purpose before the offseason ends, as they’ve reportedly been shopping their veteran starting pitchers, including walk-year guy Ian Kennedy.

It makes plenty of sense for the Padres to trade Kennedy, and if they’re worried that Tyson Ross‘ elbow will blow up from all the sliders he throws, there’s a good case to be made for trading him too. Non-contenders should generally be incentivized to move their short-term assets, especially ones with a significant chance of losing value, in exchange for players who will stick around longer and might increase in value in the future. Given the state of the Padres talent base, they should probably be focusing more on the future than the present.

Which is why I have a hard time understanding why they prioritized adding Matt Kemp. Yes, it’s clear that the team wanted to add a “big bat” to their line-up this winter, and Kemp is legitimately one of the best right-handed hitters in baseball. He gives them something they didn’t have before. I just don’t see how adding Kemp makes them a significantly better baseball team.

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FG on Fox: The High Fastball and The Big Curve

Late this season, Padres righty Andrew Cashner came back from a shoulder injury with a new twist on his repertoire — again. This time, he featured a few more high fastballs and big curves than he had in the past. You’d think those two pitches are often linked across baseball, but the numbers aren’t as clear.

The last time Cashner came back from injury, he focused on throwing more two-seamers to get quicker outs, altered his changeup grip, and changed his grip on his breaking pitch. These changes were made with his health in mind, but they also served to make him a more complete pitcher.

This year, when he came back from shoulder inflammation that sidelined him for two months, Cashner again came back from a wrinkle. “I started throwing the four-seamer more in order to establish the high strike,” Cashner said before a game against the Giants in late September. Of course the pitcher knows best about his approach, but it’s worth noticing that he only threw an average of three more four-seam fastballs per game when he returned compared to the same time frame before his injury. And that his heat maps before and after his injury aren’t conclusive on the subject of high four-seamers.

He pointed out that he threw more curveballs when he came back, too. He’d thrown nine in his first fourteen starts before he got hurt. He threw 18 curves in the seven starts that came after his stint on the DL. This September was the month in which Cashner showed the best whiff rate on his curve ball in his career.

The second part of the plan was paired with the first, he admitted. That high fastball is “on the same plane” as the curveball. That makes all sorts of intuitive sense, considering the way the the idea of a high 94 mph high fastball coming the same general area as a big, dropping slow curve. It’s the kind of thing that seems to work for other pitchers.

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Fitting Yasmany Tomas in San Diego

Pablo Sandoval has joined the Red Sox. It’s not surprising that the Giants were right there in the race for his services. More surprising is that the Padres apparently were, too. And according to reports, all the teams made similar offers, so it’s not like Sandoval is chasing extra millions to Boston. An interesting thing to think about is whether the winner’s curse applies to a situation in which no one really out-bid the competition. An also interesting thing to think about is what the Padres intend to do. It’s a team under new management, and they seem to want to be active.

This is taken right from Dave’s chat earlier Wednesday:

12:04
Comment From AJ Preller
I made a run at Pablo Sandoval but it didn’t work out. What should I do now?

The Padres, to date, have been heavily connected to Yasmany Tomas. One isn’t accustomed to seeing the Padres hot in pursuit of any expensive available player, but he’d appear to be exactly the right kind of fit. In theory, at least, if not in reality, and while Tomas is by no means guaranteed to end up in San Diego, that’s the sort of area where the Padres should probably be putting their money. It’s important that one understands where the Padres are today.

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Stock Report: November Prospect Updates

I’ve said it before but could stand to say it again: prospect rankings don’t have a long shelf life.  Usually, players ranked in the offseason don’t change much over that offseason, or at least we don’t have a chance to see any changes since they normally aren’t playing organized ball.  Every now and then a player with limited information (like a Cuban defector that signed late in the season) will go to a winter league and we’ll learn more, but most times, players look mostly the same in the fall/winter leagues, or more often a tired version of themselves.

This means that updating prospect rankings before we have a nice sample of regular season games to judge by (say, late April), seems pretty foolish.  The two mitigating factors in the case of my rankings is that I started ranking players before instructional league and the Arizona Fall League started and I also did draft rankings, which are constantly in flux.

I was on the road 17 of the last 18 days, seeing July 2nd prospects (recap here), draft prospects and minor league prospects.  I’ll take this chance to provide some updates to my draft rankings from September and below that, some players that looked to have improved at the AFL, particularly those from clubs whose prospects I’ve already ranked.

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The Unexpected Leader in Trying to Bunt for a Hit

It’s never easy to try to figure out intent after the fact. Consider questionable hit-by-pitches. Some of them are more obviously intentional than others, but there’s nothing we can do in a database to separate the intentionals from the accidentals. It gets a little tricky with bunting for a hit, too, because bunting can also serve a very different purpose, but there’s one thing we can look at as a proxy. Let’s focus only on bunt attempts with nobody on base. Sometimes, a hitter might be trying to bunt for a hit with somebody on, but that’s relatively uncommon, and when the bases are empty, at least we know with absolute certainty the idea. A bunt with no one on is a bunt attempt for a hit. Or it’s a bunt attempt by a guy inexplicably playing through a strained oblique, but, generally, it’s a bunt attempt for a hit.

So, 2014. Let’s use some data from Baseball Savant, combining bunts in play with foul and missed bunts, to come up with total attempts. Here’s something that won’t surprise you: Billy Hamilton led baseball with 77 bunt attempts with the bases empty. We can think of those as 77 bunt attempts for a hit. In second place, again unsurprisingly, we find Dee Gordon, with 70 attempts. Then there’s Leonys Martin, with 52, and Adeiny Hechavarria, with 40. All makes perfect sense. This only gets weird when you consider rate stats.

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