Archive for Rays

The New Members of the 40 WAR Club

If you go to our leaderboards and click on “career,” you’ll get a sample of 3,879 qualified position players, and 2,988 pitchers. If you lower the playing time threshold down to zero on each, you end up with 16,824 and 9,127. Now, obviously there’s some overlap in those numbers, but the point is that at least 16,000 players have suited up for a major league game. In that context, when I note that only 472 players total (314 position, 158 pitcher) have crossed the 40 WAR threshold, you can see it’s a big deal. It’s more or less the top-500 players in the game’s history (you can fill in the gaps — and probably then some — with Negro League players for whom we don’t have WAR or any advanced metrics).

That’s not to say there’s a lot of fanfare with getting to 40 wins. No one throws you a party, and it doesn’t necessarily mean anything to the person. But since we know that 50 WAR is sort of the dividing line for whether a player can be a Hall of Famer (as I noted recently, there are plenty of players in the Hall of Fame who barely cracked the 50 WAR plateau, and I believe there are even some in who are below it), then 40 WAR is sort of the dividing line for whether we’ll argue about a player being deserving of the Hall of Fame. Well, for everyone except relief pitchers, anyway.

Read the rest of this entry »

The Most Confusing Rumor of the Off-Season

Ever since the Rockies signed Gerardo Parra, the Rockies trade of an outfielder has felt fait acompli, and given that they’re not really contenders this year, dealing Carlos Gonzalez has appeared to be the pretty obvious move. Given his strong second half and the fact that he’s only under team control for two more seasons — at a not-exactly-bargain-price of $38 million — while fellow outfielders Charlie Blackmon and Corey Dickerson are under control for three and four more years respectively, it seems pretty logical for CarGo to be one on the move, though the Rockies have been entertaining offers on all three. Which is perfectly rational; you might as well weigh your options before deciding on a course of action.

But this morning, Ken Rosenthal reported that Corey Dickerson is the most likely outfielder to be on the move, and Rays beat writer Mark Topkin followed up with a somewhat confirming note of his own, including the player most likely to be leaving Tampa Bay if the two teams do strike a deal.

While acknowledging that this may just be the framework of a larger deal, or perhaps the first step of a series of moves, I’m hard pressed to think of a trade that makes less sense to me than Corey Dickerson for Jake McGee.

You know what the non-contending Rockies need more of? Good solid players they can build around for the future, like, say, Corey Dickerson. You know what the Rockies don’t really need at this point? A injury-prone closer with only two years of team control remaining, and one whose salary will skyrocket in arbitration if he stays healthy and racks up a bunch of saves. Yes, the Rockies bullpen stinks, but when you’re not really in contention, you can afford to give chances to young unproven guys; the ability to create assets by giving players opportunities is one of the huge advantages of not focusing on short-term results. And it’s not bringing McGee in to pitch at Coors Field is a great way to raise his trade value, so even if the team is looking to get him to flip him this summer, that seems like a dubious strategy.

From the Rays side, turning two years of McGee into four years of Dickerson would be a pretty smart move, except it’s not entirely clear what they’d do with Dickerson. They have Desmond Jennings and Steven Souza in their corner outfield spots, and it seems unlikely they’d want to displace either of those two at this point in their careers. They could move Dickerson to first base — something the Rockies could just do as well — except that they’ve got kind of a logjam there, between James Loney and Logan Morrison from the left side and Steve Pearce and Brandon Guyer from the right side.

Loney and Morrison are not any good, so swapping in Dickerson for either would be an upgrade, but that was kind of the point of signing Pearce last week; it doesn’t seem likely that they want to relegate him to the weak side of a platoon right after signing him. And they just traded for Morrison a few months ago, so presumably, they’re not quite ready to give up on him just yet.

From a pure asset standpoint, turning two years of an injury prone closer into four years of a solid average corner outfielder would be worth doing, but the Rays don’t really need an average corner outfielder, so as Topkin noted, it would be a move that forced some other pieces to fall into place. But even with that, it wouldn’t really explain why the Rockies would want to trade Dickerson for a reliever. After all, the combination of Parra and McGee will make $13 million next year and probably closer to $16-$17 million in 2017; if they really wanted to just upgrade their bullpen, they could have thrown that money at a reliever in the free agent class and just kept Dickerson, retaining the younger outfielder rather than signing an older hitter and trading for a pitcher.

I’m sure getting pitchers to actually agree to sign in Colorado is difficult — and no reliever on the market this winter is as dominant as a healthy Jake McGee — but I still find it hard to see how signing Parra to trade Dickerson for a short-term relief upgrade helps the Rockies do anything that they should want to be doing. If you’re optimistic about both Parra and McGee, maybe this pushes them from 74 to 76 wins or something, but it’s also quite possible that Parra is worse than Dickerson, offsetting most of the gain of adding McGee to the bullpen. And that’s without accounting for the fact that a Parra/McGee combination would be more expensive and have less long-term value than a Dickerson/FA reliever duo.

Most likely, if and when the deal is announced, there will be more pieces to the deal — or a follow-up trade — that will help explain the motivation that is driving these teams in this direction. The Rays side is at least fairly easy to imagine, especially if someone else is willing to overpay for Jennings or something. On the Rockies side, I would hope that there’s something else of note coming back besides McGee, or that they’re acquiring him with the intention of trading him elsewhere in the near future. If the Rockies really are trading a decent young hitter for a short-term bullpen upgrade in a year where they don’t really have much of a chance to contend, then it will be tough to see how the Rockies new front office is demonstrably different than the old one.

Managers on Learning on the Job

At the winter meetings, I asked a small collection of managers about the evolution of the role, and all of them — save perhaps Mike Scioscia — spoke to the importance of communicating with the media and with their players.

But that story had a longer scope, and a more universal one. I also asked them about a smaller more immediate thing — I asked many of them what they had learned this year, on the job. And for those just coming to the job, what they have tried to learn before they first manage a game.

Of particular note was what former position players did to learn about pitching, and vice versa. Managers have to communicate with all sorts of different players, and yet they came from one tradition within the game. And each has spent time developing themselves in their present role.

Read the rest of this entry »

Proposing a Dodgers Trade for Chris Archer

Yesterday, the Dodgers were involved in the three team trade that sent Todd Frazier to the White Sox, presumably because the Reds preferred a different type of prospect than what Chicago could offer. Andrew Friedman and his gang essentially acted as brokers for the other two teams, and took a commission for helping facilitate the trade, upgrading their own stock of prospects in the process.

But when a win-now team chooses to upgrade their prospect stock over simply just acquiring a guy like Frazier for themselves, it raises questions about what the overarching strategy really is. And when Andrew Friedman says stuff like this, the questions seem to be even more legitimate.

Of course, to be fair, Friedman also said this.

Ken Rosenthal, the most connected guy out there, published a piece not long after suggesting that this deal might help the Dodgers pursue Jose Fernandez. Based on what the asking price was during the winter meetings, however, perhaps we should actually be looking at the other Florida team when looking for a partner in a mega-trade for the Dodgers.

Read the rest of this entry »

Tigers Upgrade Bullpen with Mark Lowe

On July 7th, 2006, a 23-year-old righty made his major league debut against the Tigers. He entered the game in relief and immediately began putting up 99s on the radar gun. It wasn’t enough, however, to prevent Chris Shelton from singling to shortstop and beating out the throw. Brandon Inge also wasn’t afraid of the velocity, as he hit a ground-rule double to center. The young righty was now flustered. He hit Curtis Granderson to load the bases. He paced around the mound, gathered himself, and then rallied to strike out Placido Polanco, get a weak grounder from Ivan Rodriguez, and strike out Magglio Ordonez to end the threat.

On that day, Mark Lowe began a journey that started with the Mariners and continued on to the Rangers (in the Cliff Lee deal), and then the Dodgers, Angels, Nationals, Rays, Indians, Mariners (again), and Blue Jays. And now, almost ten years later, the Tigers have signed him with a two-year deal to be their setup man. It’s been quite a trip for him.

Read the rest of this entry »

Hank Conger’s Jon Lester Season Behind the Plate

Jon Lester became a talking point during last year’s postseason for all the wrong reasons. For all the good things Lester can do on a pitcher’s mound, he has this one glaring weakness, and last October, that glaring weakness was exposed on a national stage. In the American League Wild Card game, the Royals ran all over Lester, taking full advantage of his inability to make pickoff throws to first base. The Royals stole five bases on Lester and a record seven in the game, and the stolen bases, of course, played a huge role in the team’s comeback victory

Plenty of time was spent in the offseason discussing Lester’s weakness and whether it would be exploited in the upcoming season. Curiously, runners hadn’t taken advantage of Lester before the Royals game the way one might expect, but with the weakness exposed on such a large scale, it seemed inevitable that things would change in the future. And they did. This year, in Chicago, Lester allowed a league-high 44 steals. He had the second-highest rate of steals attempted. He allowed the fifth-highest pitcher-isolated success rate. This season, Lester was exploited in the way we’d all imagined.

Though it didn’t receive anywhere near the same level of attention, the same thing happened to Hank Conger.

A brief aside: I just want to admit that it feels kind of dirty to keep bringing up Lester’s problem with the run game, because despite that very real shortcoming, Lester still does plenty of things well and his weakness doesn’t prevent him from being a valuable player. Before we dive into Conger’s weakness, it’s worth pointing out that he does plenty of things well, too. It’s also worth pointing out why we’re talking about Conger in the first place. If you missed it, Conger was a non-tender candidate in Houston, and late Wednesday night, he was traded to the Tampa Bay Rays for cold hard cash.

Now, for what Tampa Bay’s new catcher does well. Firstly: the robot. He does that very well. Also: pitch framing. Conger’s been one of the game’s best pitch framers, and that’s probably the most important skill for a catcher to have! He wasn’t quite elite last year, with BaseballProspectus’ framing metric grading him at roughly +4 runs, but the year before that he led all catchers with +25 framing runs. Lastly: Conger can hit a little. He’s a switch-hitter, which is a rare luxury in a catcher, and over the last three years he’s been about a league-average hitter, running a 96 wRC+. That’s not great, but for a catcher, it’s just fine. That’s the same as Salvador Perez, Matt Wieters and Jason Castro.

Considering the robot, the framing, and the bat, you could do a lot worse in a backup catcher. But there’s this part of Conger’s game where you can’t do a lot worse. You can’t do any worse, in fact, because in this one area of catching — a pretty major area — Hank Conger just had the worst season in recorded history.

Read the rest of this entry »

Kevin Kiermaier on His (Gold Glove) Defense

“I had a good year last year, but this year I wanted to separate myself,” Kevin Kiermaier told me in August before a game with the Athletics. And separate himself he did, since he just won a Gold Glove after leading all defensive players in the SABR Defensive Index rankings, UZR/150, and Defensive Runs Saved. We talked about how he honed his craft on the way to the defensive triple crown, and it’s a little bit instincts, a little bit scouting, and a little bit athleticism.

This year, Kiermaier he’s one of the few outfielders to have had a nearly-perfect route (99% efficiency) according to Statcast. Some of that is just gut. “I just let my instincts take over out there, as well,” the Rays’ center fielder said. “That’s something I’ve always been blessed with, I just feel like I have a really good idea of where the ball’s going to be hit.”

But press him a little on that, and there are a few things he does in order to help get into the right routes. He reads the catcher’s signs, for one, so that he can anticipate better where the ball is going. “I can see them usually from center field, since I have good vision,” he said. “I can see what pitches are going to be thrown, and I feel like I can get a head start on what direction that ball is going to be hit.”

Read the rest of this entry »

Some Belated Thoughts on the Miller-Karns Deal

Baseball’s hot stove season got off to an uncharacteristically early start this time around, as the Rays and Mariners made a “challenge” type of trade, centering around two young, inexpensive players with plenty of years of control remaining, shortstop Brad Miller and starting pitcher Nate Karns. I agree with most of Dave Cameron’s thoughts in the immediate wake the trade: one’s opinion of this deal largely depends on whether one believes Miller is truly a regular shortstop, and whether ones believe Karns is a long-term rotation fixture.

While there are no absolutes in the projection of either player’s future, and there are other players in the deal who will eventually impact the net result, this trade will likely come down to Miller vs. Karns. What does the weight of the evidence suggest at this point in time regarding those two players?

Read the rest of this entry »

The Best Changeups of the Year by Shape and Speed

No, we aren’t just going to do a leaderboard sort for best movement in each direction and call it a day. It’s a little bit more complicated to figure out the best changeups by shape and speed, mostly because it’s all relative. The changeup, as the name implies, functions off of the fastball, as a change of pace and movement. So we need to define anything the changeup does relative to the pitcher’s fastball.

Then we can do a sort and call it a day.

In order to define fastball movement, let’s just group together all of the fastballs thrown by a pitcher. It’s probably more nuanced than that; the concept of tunneling or sequencing shows that pitchers can pair their changeup with one fastball or the other for different results. But some of this comes out in the wash: by averaging movement across fastballs, their selection of different fastballs will weight the movement in the direction of the pitcher’s usage.

So then our x and y movement, and velocity, are defined against this average fastball for each pitcher. Using a minimum of 50 changeups thrown, and z-scores to sum up the values, we can get a list of best changeups quickly.

First, the relievers.

Best Reliever Changeups by Movement, Velocity
Pitcher FB (pfx_x) FB (pfx_z) FB (velo) CH (pfx_x) CH (pfx_y) CH (velo) Sum Z CH swSTR%
Brad Boxberger -3.3 10.6 92.6 -7.8 2.0 79.8 6.7 14%
Shawn Tolleson -2.6 11.0 92.9 -4.8 4.0 79.8 4.9 15%
Josh Fields 0.1 11.5 94.1 -0.6 3.7 81.4 4.5 8%
Roberto Osuna -4.2 10.7 95.5 -8.0 6.9 82.3 4.0 16%
Josh Smith -4.1 7.6 89.9 -8.4 1.9 79.4 4.0 8%
Chasen Shreve 7.3 10.6 91.4 6.3 1.5 82.6 3.5 18%
A.J. Ramos -3.0 8.6 92.4 -7.5 1.0 85.5 3.5 35%
Jeff Ferrell -4.1 10.2 93.0 -7.4 4.9 82.4 3.5 20%
Danny Farquhar -5.0 8.5 92.7 -7.5 1.0 84.5 3.2 24%
Fernando Rodney -6.7 7.1 94.7 -9.6 3.3 82.7 3.1 17%
Andrew Schugel -7.9 7.8 91.6 -9.6 2.3 80.5 3.1 23%
Joaquin Benoit -6.5 8.9 94.2 -7.5 1.9 84.1 3.1 24%
Tyler Thornburg -0.8 11.1 92.2 -5.8 6.3 83.8 3.0 19%
Arnold Leon -5.1 9.8 91.6 -4.6 2.8 80.2 2.9 22%
Pat Neshek -8.5 4.9 89.9 -4.6 3.7 68.4 2.9 9%
Tommy Kahnle -1.9 7.4 94.8 -7.6 2.8 87.2 2.8 23%
Mike Morin -4.7 8.9 92.3 -0.5 6.8 71.7 2.8 25%
Deolis Guerra -5.1 10.0 90.8 -6.7 4.0 80.7 2.8 15%
Daniel Hudson -6.6 8.3 96.0 -9.9 4.9 84.8 2.7 18%
Erik Goeddel -3.9 9.2 93.0 -4.7 2.0 84.3 2.5 32%
pfx_x = horizontal movement
pfx_z = vertical movement
Sum Z = sum of the z-scores for the differentials between fastball and changeups in x, y movement and velocity
swSTR% = swinging strikes over pitches for the changeup
Minumum 50 changeups thrown in 2015

If you listen to The Sleeper and The Bust, you know I talk about this all the time and do the math in my head. Now the math is there for us on the sheet of paper.

Read the rest of this entry »

Rays and Mariners Get Hot Stove Fired Up Early

Four days. It took MLB all of four days to bring us the first transaction of the off-season, as the Mariners and Rays got together on a six player trade that ships some interesting players in both directions. The full trade, as announced on Thursday evening.

Tampa Bay receives:

SS Brad Miller
1B Logan Morrison
RHP Danny Farquhar

Seattle receives:

RHP Nate Karns
OF Boog Powell
LHP C.J. Riefenhauser

While this is a six player deal, for simplicity, we can mostly break this down into three one-for-ones.

Read the rest of this entry »

Matt Moore Without Matt Moore’s Fastball

On Aug. 22, Tampa Bay left-hander Matt Moore reminded everyone of how excellent he can be. Once a consensus top-three prospect (alongside Bryce Harper and Mike Trout), Moore was dominant. In six innings, he recorded 16 strikeouts — 13 of which came in a stretch of just 15 batters. He allowed a single run. But there’s one problem: Moore was pitching for the Durham Bulls, in a game against the Columbus Clippers.

Sad puppies.

At a point earlier in his career, Matt Moore had been an All Star; now he was in Triple-A. Why? Well, since returning from a Tommy John procedure that limited him to just two appearances in 2014, he had been, to put it not nicely but succinctly, putrid. Moore made his season debut in Tampa on July 2. Since (and including) that time, he’d made six major league starts, giving up 26 runs (all earned) in 26.2 innings. Lest you think this was a function merely of batted ball luck, consider: over those 26.2 innings, Moore had struck out 17, walked 13, and gave up four homers as well. The Rays sent him to Durham.

Moore had been an ace starter before having the surgery two starts into the 2014 season, but six starts into his return he hardly looked the part (and two starts following his return from the majors haven’t offered any counterarguments to that point). I’m not sure what Tampa’s expectations were for him, but the often less-grounded expectations of fans and media were that he’d step back into his previous role in front of the Tampa rotation, thereby forming an unbeatable duo of awesomeness (potentially with capes!) with Chris Archer. But so far it hasn’t happened. Can Matt Moore be an ace again? Was Matt Moore ever an ace? Do capes help you pitch? Why questions? How about answers!

Read the rest of this entry »

Erasmo Ramirez and Identifying Ideal Strike-Stealing Pitches

Talking to Erasmo Ramirez is refreshing. He always has a smile on his face. Life is fun for him — especially now. He’s having the best season of his career in Tampa Bay. It turns out that changing the use of his slider has been a big part of that success. And certain aspects of his slider may provide a roadmap for other pitchers that should make the same move.

His best pitch is his changeup — “it’s the best one to take me out of troubles,” the pitcher admitted to me — but it’s not good enough to throw every single time. “I try to stay away from it, and show the hitters I’m going to throw every pitch I have in my arsenal,” Ramirez said of his pitching mix.

The grip for the change thrown by Erasmo Ramirez, which has the seventh-best swinging strike rate in baseball (min. 400).

The breaking balls haven’t been great. Even as Tony Blengino waxed positively on the pitcher recently, he admitted that “his breaking balls needed reps” coming up. Ramirez this year has been using his curve less (“I’ve been trying to stay away from it, unless I have it rolling.”) but a key change in his slider usage has been huge.

Read the rest of this entry »

JABO: Kevin Kiermaier Might Be Having the Best Defensive Season We Know Of

Just in case, let’s get this out of the way early: Kevin Kiermaier is the Rays’ center fielder. You probably already knew that, but you can never be too safe. Kiermaier is considered by everyone to be something of a defensive whiz. They say you’re supposed to open with a joke. Here’s a funny picture that proves even a defensive whiz can end up in a humiliating screenshot:


There’s a perfectly good explanation for what happened that relieves Kiermaier of pretty much all blame, but it’s more fun if you don’t know. Look at that guy! What a silly person.

Realistically, for the hitter, it’s probably a good thing that what happened happened. Spoiler alert: By rule, the hitter was awarded a home run. Had a physical structure not interrupted the flight of the baseball, there’s a decent chance Kevin Kiermaier would have, a few seconds later.

Major League Baseball fans were first introduced to Kiermaier late in 2013, when the Rays called him up for tiebreaker game 163, and the AL Wild Card Game. Kiermaier wasn’t promoted to serve as some sort of dangerous slugger off the bench. Nor was he around to be a potential pinch runner. Kiermaier was brought up specifically for his outfield defense. The Rays knew it was a little crazy, but they thought Kiermaier was the best defensive outfielder in the organization, so it wasn’t hard to talk themselves into it. Kiermaier played an inning in the first game. He played two in the second. That was it. Over the winter, Baseball America called Kiermaier the No. 10 prospect in the system.

Some prospects go away. Some hype proves to be unjustified. I don’t think it would’ve been a shock had Kiermaier never shown up again, or had he been limited to a bench role. But he wound up playing 108 games last year as a rookie, and he’s already close to 130 as a sophomore. Kiermaier’s bat has developed enough for him to play nearly every day. And because he’s played so often, we’ve seen ample evidence of his defensive skill. The Rays, back then, were on to something. I’m obligated to share some defensive highlights. The hardest thing is picking.

Read the rest on Just A Bit Outside.

Likely Scenarios for Current Front-Office Vacancies

Two seasons ago, I ranked the job security of each general manager and listed GM prospects. I think I did a pretty good job with both lists given what we knew at the time, and may do it again as Opening Day 2016 closes in. We’ve had less executive movement in the last few off-seasons than usual and it looks like the regression is happening this year, with four GM jobs currently open and a likely fifth coming soon. This seemed like a good time to cover each of the situations in flux and target some possible changes in the near future, along with some names to keep in mind as candidates to fill these openings.

The Open GM Spots
We have two teams without a top baseball decision-making executive, in Seattle and Milwaukee:

The Mariners moved on from (now former) GM Jack Zduriencik recently, a long-rumored move that club president Kevin Mather admitted he waited too long to execute. Mather has said they’re looking for a replacement sooner than later (likely eliminating execs from playoff teams), with GM experience (eliminating most of the GM prospects you’ll see below), and that the team doesn’t require a rebuild (meaning a shorter leash and higher expectations from day one). This should prove to narrow the pool of candidates a good bit, but this is still seen as the best of the currently open jobs.

Read the rest of this entry »

Chris Archer Produces a Masterpiece

Amid the ever-increasing dominance of pitching this season, Chris Archer has been a singular figure among the leaderboard of best pitchers during 2015: he’s not only a newcomer to the best handful of starters that populate baseball, but he’s also gotten to where he currently is in a rather unique way. In late April, I noticed that Archer was now throwing his slider almost 40% of the time and getting incredible results from it; in May, Carson noted that Archer was in a select group that blended an elite ground-ball rate with an elite strikeout rate; and, in early June, Dave wrote that Archer’s slider was now being thrown much harder, at upwards of 90 mph, making it an almost totally unfair pitch.

Archer has truly found himself as an ace this season, and last night, he turned in the best performance of his young career.

Unsurprisingly, the Rays’ right-hander pitched his complete game, one hit, one walk, 11 strikeout, 98-pitch performance in the method he has come to rely on this season: an overpowering fastball coupled almost exclusively with an unfair slider. Archer threw a Maddux, and he did so in historic fashion, compiling a Bill James game score of 95 along the way. The only other pitchers to throw a complete game with under 100 pitches and a game score of at least 95? I’ll let our friend Kazuto answer that:

That’s a lot of perfect games and one no-hitter on that very short list, which tells us just how good Archer was last night. He was this close, in fact, to a no-no:

Read the rest of this entry »

Is Erasmo Ramirez for Real?

Every year, a number of starting pitchers seemingly come out of nowhere to become significant contributors at the major-league level. Sometimes, like in the case of Jacob deGrom, the sudden evolution is real and sustainable. In the case of the majority of short-term success stories, the league adjusts, the pitcher can’t respond to those adjustments, and he disappears from the major-league scene or he settles into a lesser role.

Earlier this week, we took a look at one such pitcher who got off to a fabulous start this season before crashing to earth: the Seattle Mariners’ Mike Montgomery. Today, we’ll take a look at the player dealt to the Rays by the Mariners for Montgomery at the end of the past spring training, right-hander Erasmo Ramirez. The 25-year-old was pummeled beyond recognition in his first two outings as a Ray, but has quietly fashioned a very nice season in Tampa, with a 10-4, 3.57, traditional line at present. Have the Rays uncovered a low-cost, high-performance starting pitcher, as they have so many times in the past? Or is it a matter of time until he starts being pounded on pitches in the fat part of the zone, as he did for much of his tenure in Seattle? Let’s take a look at Ramirez’ 2015 batted-ball data and make some observations.

Read the rest of this entry »

Rays Call up Richie Shaffer

With a 52-54 record and a meager 10% chance of making the playoffs, there likely won’t be much reason to pay attention to the Rays over the next two months. Simply put, it’s unlikely they’ll be playing too many more meaningful games from here on out. However, the Rays just got a bit more interesting today. They called up former first round pick Richard Shaffer from Triple-A Durham, who’s been one of the best hitters in the minor leagues this season.

Shaffer’s hit the crap out of the ball this year. The 24-year-old slugger opened the year in Double-A, where he hit .262/.362/.470 in 175 trips to the plate. The Rays promoted Shaffer to Triple-A in May, and he made it immediately clear that he was one of the best hitters at that level too. His .261/.353/.592 performance yielded a 168 wRC+, which is the second highest mark of any hitter with at least 200 plate appearances in the International League this season, trailing only Jerry Sands.

Shaffer’s 2015 performance has been undeniably excellent, but he hasn’t always enjoyed that same level of success. In 2013 and 2014, he posted wRC+s of 99 and 112, respectively. Since Shaffer was a bat-first prospect, that performance pushed him to the fringes of the prospect radar. At first glance, it might appear as though Shaffer’s 2015 breakout came out of nowhere, and that it’s only a matter of time before the unfeeling hand of regression pushes him back towards mediocrity. But there’s reason to believe that Shaffer’s improvements are for real, and that he very well might be the hitter his 162 wRC+ in Triple-A suggests he is. Read the rest of this entry »

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.

Read the rest of this entry »

The First Half’s Most Improved Pitch

Want to be a better pitcher? Pick one of your pitches and work on it all offseason. Change the grip. Alter the release. It can change your career.

At best, you might find a new pitch that changes everything for you, like the time Clayton Kershaw picked up the ball and tried to throw a slider for the first time. Or you’ll improve an old standard that has faded, as Cole Hamels has done with his curveball this year.

While this sort of improvement happens so often in spring, or in the offseason, the most improved pitch of the first half is actually improving in front of our eyes.

Read the rest of this entry »

Rays’ Historically Heavy Bullpen Usage Key to Relevance

The Tampa Bay Rays are taking a relatively novel approach to divvying up innings between starters and relievers. Injuries have robbed the team of Alex Cobb for the season, Matt Moore and Drew Smyly for much of the year, and Jake Odorizzi for a time as well. Despite those problems, the team climbed to a 41-32 record a few weeks ago thanks to a splendid season from Chris Archer, good seasons from Odorizzi, Nate Karns — and even Erasmo Ramirez has pitched in to help the team form a solid rotation. The team has slid back to the pack in the difficult-to-decipher American League East, but still finds itself just two games back of the Yankees after losing nine of their past 12 games. Rays’ starters have been effective, but have not pitched deep into games, leaving the outcome of many games to a set of inexperienced relievers who have been shuffled between the big-league club and the minors all season long.

The Rays’ strategy appeared to be related to to two potential issues. First, the rotation was so depleted at the beginning of the year, they twice pitched bullpen games, letting Steve Geltz pitch a couple innings until his spot in the batting order. The other problem is that the deeper pitchers tend to pitch into games, the worse they tend to do. Getting a pitcher out of the game after two times through the lineup can limit damage to the starters and it can work so long as the team has a deep and effective bullpen. The Rays’ starters have averaged just 89 pitches per start, the fewest in MLB. Ted Berg noted a few weeks ago that the Rays were on pace for the second-lowest total of plate appearances (to the 2012 Colorado Rockies, who experimented with a four-man rotation) three times through the lineup in the last decade.

The graph below shows innings pitched by every bullpen this season.

Read the rest of this entry »