Archive for Red Sox

FanGraphs Audio: Both Touki Toussaint and Brian Johnson

Episode 554
Touki Toussaint is a right-hander in the Arizona system who was selected 16th overall in the most recent draft. Brian Johnson is a left-hander in the Red Sox system, currently playing for Triple-A Pawtucket. This edition of FanGraphs Audio features both of them, in conversation with lead prospect analyst Kiley McDaniel. (Note: Toussaint’s interview begins at about the 12:45 mark; Johnson’s, around the 20:35 mark.)

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 35 min play time.)

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The Same and Improved Joe Kelly

As of March 16th of this year, everything was decidedly not sweetness and light for Boston right-hander Joe Kelly. On that day, he recorded his third (and ultimately final) start of spring training, over the course of which he conceded three runs in just 2.2 innings, bringing his spring ERA to 11.05. Worse yet, he was compelled to leave that start due to biceps tightness in his biceps (i.e. the place where that kind of tightness is most commonly found). The outlook was sufficiently grim that managing editor Dave Cameron was forced to publish a post here considering other starting possibilities for the Boston Red Sox.

Following a retroactively dated trip to the disabled list and a pair of minor-league spring-training appearances, Kelly made his season debut on Saturday. It’s hard to know what Kelly’s expectations were or what the organization’s were, but “low-ish” is an objectively reasonable assumption. If nothing else, there had to be concerns regarding Kelly’s endurance. Of the two appearances he’d made since leaving his spring start with an injury, his highest pitch count was 78. “Ideally he’d have another outing to build arm strength before an MLB game,” John Farrell said in the presence of Providence Journal reporter Tim Britton. That ideal scenario did not become a reality. Instead, Kelly’s next appearance was Saturday’s.

There were reasons, in other words, to expect the worst for Joe Kelly’s start on Saturday at Yankees Stadium. In reality, however, Kelly’s results from that start were actually the best. Not the best in every sense of the word, but certainly among the best so far as Kelly’s major-league career is concerned. He allowed just one run over 7.0 innings. He posted the lowest single-game FIP (41 FIP-) of all his starts ever. And another thing he did was to surpass his previous single-game strikeout mark. Previous to Saturday, he’d recorded six strikeouts in a single game on seven different occasions. On Saturday, however, he produced eight strikeouts (i.e. two more than ever before).

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Pick Your Pedroia

The Red Sox have played one game this season. Seems like it’s time to check in on Dustin Pedroia. Before you go, assuming the rest of this is going to be stupid, at the very end there is a poll. Internet readers love polls. Please vote in it only after you at least glance over what’s in between. So: Dustin Pedroia has two home runs!

Already, that says something. Pedroia, last year, hit seven home runs. He went deep twice on Monday against the ace to whom the Red Sox have been most frequently linked in trade rumors. Now, Pedroia wasn’t the only Boston player to go deep, so, maybe it was just one of those days. Yet it wasn’t just that Pedroia homered. It was also how Pedroia homered. His homers looked like classic Pedroia homers, and that’s just the thing.

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JABO: Rick Porcello as Young Justin Masterson

The Red Sox clearly have a thing for Justin Masterson. They drafted him with their second-round pick in 2006, then developed him into one of their best young pitching prospects before the Indians demanded him as part of the Victor Martinez trade in 2009. This winter, when he was finally a free agent after spending six years in Cleveland, the Red Sox took the opportunity to bring him back to Boston, signing him to a $9.5 million contract for 2015 despite the fact that he posted a 5.88 ERA last season.

The organization’s affinity for Masterson’s skillset is noteworthy, because this week, the Red Sox signed Rick Porcello to a four year, $82.5 million contract extension on the bet that Porcello is essentially a younger version of this same type of pitcher.

First, let’s do a quick comparison. Here are Masterson and Porcello’s numbers from their age-23 through age-25 seasons, which in Porcello’s case covers the last three years.

Name K-BB% GB% ERA- FIP- xFIP-
Porcello 11% 52% 101 94 91
Masterson 9% 57% 101 97 93

Both Porcello and Masterson were pitch-to-contact groundball hurlers, with Masterson getting a few more grounders and strikeouts at the expense of a walk rate that was significantly higher than what Porcello has posted. They’re not identical, but they’re cut from the same cloth, and heading into their mid-20s, the results were quite similar. By ERA, both were roughly league average starters, though metrics that attempt to eliminate defensive performance from the picture both thought they were significantly above average, with Porcello being slightly ahead of Masterson at the same point in their careers.

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What to Make of Mookie Betts

Following a stupid .451/.491/.804 performance in the Grapefruit League, the hype surrounding Red Sox outfielder Mookie Betts is through the roof. Scouts are all but penciling him into July’s All-Star lineup, and some of Betts’s peers have even gone as far as to compare him to Andrew McCutchen. And wouldn’t you know it, Betts opened the 2015 season by going 2-4 with a homer and a walk on opening day. Mookie-mania is upon us.

Here at FanGraphs, we’ve been on the Betts bandwagon for a while. Carson Cistulli’s been tracking Betts since July 2013, when he made his first appearance on one of his fringe five lists. An undersized 5th round draft pick with excellent stats, Betts was exactly the type of prospect who endears himself to prospect enthusiasts whose heads are buried in spreadsheets. At that point, Betts was merely a little-known A-Baller with an unusual name.

But last year, Betts took his act to Double-A, and kept right on hitting. He put up a 177 wRC+ in two months in Double-A, and followed it up with a 158 mark in Triple-A. The 5-9 second baseman with the funny name was starting to look like a bona fide prospect, and it was happening in a hurry.

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Red Sox Lock Up Rick Porcello

Beating the rest of the league to the punch with a large contract extension for Rick Porcello when much better players await in free agency is not going to garner excitement or plaudits, but the Red Sox are anticipating an expensive free agent market in 2016 and providing themselves a safety net. Boston resorted to Plan B before they knew if Plan A would work, but the Red Sox can still implement Plan A and sign a big-name free agent while simultaneously providing depth for their rotation. Five years and $95 million is a lot of money for a player without a world-beating track record, but Porcello has been good and reliable and he is still just 26 years old. This contract is not all that surprising as Mike Petriello predicted a similar contract in February.

Last year, three pitchers signed extensions just a year away from free agency and one of them is apt for Porcello. Clayton Kershaw’s seven-year, $215 million contract is way too big, Charlie Morton’s three-year, $21 million contract is too light, but Homer Bailey’s six-year, $105 million contract (with an option for a seventh year) is right in the same range as Porcello. Bailey was two years older and only twice pitched over 150 innings while Porcello has exceeded that mark in six straight seasons. Bailey was coming off the better season, with around four wins in 2013, but he also received more money with greater risk of injury. According to Jeff Zimmerman’s disabled list projections, Porcello is the second most likely starter to make it through the season without a stint on the disabled list.

Even if we treat Bailey as an outlier for an extension, last year’s free agent class has a pretty close contract to Porcello’s: James Shields, who signed for four years and $72 million with the Padres. Shields has the better track record, but he’s headed into his decline years while Porcello is headed into his mid-20s. While Shields’ deal ends when he’s 36, the Red Sox have only committed to Porcello up to age-30.
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Division Preview: AL East

And now the final division preview, just in time for Opening Day. If you missed them, here are the first five:

NL West
AL West
NL Central
AL Central
NL East

Now, wrapping things up with the AL East.

The Projected Standings

Team Wins Losses Division Wild Card World Series
Red Sox 87 75 45% 18% 8%
Blue Jays 83 79 19% 17% 3%
Yankees 83 79 19% 16% 3%
Rays 80 82 11% 12% 2%
Orioles 79 83 7% 9% 1%

The only division in baseball where all five teams have a legitimate shot at winning; the projected spread between first and last place in the AL East is smaller than the gap between first and second place in the NL East. The forecasts have a favorite, but this division is wide open, and nearly any order of finish could be reasonable. On to the teams themselves.

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The Nuttiest Pitches: Curves

This week’s nuttiest pitches might even have a point. But let’s just start with the GIFs. Because it’s fun to watch crazy pitches do crazy things.

Let’s do the uncle charlies, the yakkers, the yellow hammers — curveballs are on the menu today. As usual, we’re looking at the last three years because that’s what MLB.tv allows us, and we’re sorting PITCHF/x to find the pitches with the most extreme horizontal and vertical movement, as well as velocities.

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The Similarities of Christian Yelich and Mookie Betts

Yesterday, the Marlins agreed to sign outfielder Christian Yelich to a deal that guarantees him at least $51 million over seven years, locking up one of the game’s best young players. This morning, Rob Bradford of WEEI.com reported that the Red Sox are considering approaching Mookie Betts about signing a long-term deal of his own, which might both serve to lock in some future cost savings as well as temper the speculation about if they’ll use Betts as a trade chip to relieve their outfield logjam. The timing of Yelich’s deal and the rumored possible offer for Betts serves as an opportunity to look at them side by side, and note that while they’re physically quite different, they might be pretty similar players going forward.

Certainly, Yelich and Betts don’t look similar. Yelich is six inches taller, standing at 6-foot-3 compared to the 5-foot-9 Betts. Besides just the size difference, Yelich hits from the left side while Betts is a right-handed batter. If you watched them both swing, you wouldn’t necessarily draw a connection between them.

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Steven Wright as a Joe Kelly Alternative

Today, Joe Kelly took the mound in Ft. Myers, and it didn’t go well; he gave up seven hits in 2 2/3 innings before leaving with an injury currently being called biceps tightness

Today’s performance continued a trend from his two previous spring training starts, as he’s now allowed 17 hits in 7 2/3 innings this spring; his spring training ERA currently stands at 11.05. On their own, the results aren’t a big deal, but when you combine it with a potential injury, it might be fair to say that Kelly’s spot could be up for grabs at this point.

Of course, any time the Red Sox rotation is mentioned, people will invariably bring up Cole Hamels, but Boston continues to seem uninterested in meeting the Phillies price, and they do have some interesting alternatives in-house. While youngsters Henry Owens and Eduardo Rodriguez are the two best long-term prospects and might be ready for an audition, John Farrell has made sure the beat writers keep Steven Wright‘s name in the picture as well. Per Alex Speier, from this morning:

The Sox would not be opposed to adding a veteran starter to their Triple A rotation. But Farrell again expressed confidence in Steven Wright as a depth starter. “He gives us a lot of comfort. As that knuckleball has come along, he’s throwing a lot more strikes,” Farrell said. “He’s got the ability to give a contrast of style.”

Projecting the performance of knuckleballers is not quite impossible, but is something kind of close to it. Wright could be very good — as he was in a September trial last year — or he could be terrible, with pretty much any result in between seemingly equally likely. Knuckleballers are lottery tickets, especially ones with spotty track records and iffy command. Dickey’s success came after he cut his walk rate in half, which Wright appears to have done in Triple-A last year, but we essentially have half a minor league season and a month of big league action where Wright showed a consistent ability to throw strikes. If he’s not throwing strikes, he’s not any good, and it’s not a big surprise that the Red Sox wouldn’t want to count on his 2014 command improvement carrying over when trying to win in 2015.

But there are a couple of reasons why I think it might make sense for the Red Sox to give Wright a shot, especially if Kelly needs replacing on the Opening Day roster: his Z-Contact% and the knuckleball carryover effect.

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Pitchers Will Tell Us About Allen Craig

What if I told you Allen Craig played hurt last year, and I could prove it? You’d probably say something like “uh” or “that won’t be necessary.” Submitted as evidence: last season, Allen Craig sucked. He finished with a wRC+ that was just about half his previous season’s mark. Submitted as further evidence: Craig and everyone around him admitted he was playing hurt (Update: actually, maybe not!). There was absolutely zero mystery Craig had an injured foot, and hitters like to say almost all their success comes from the lower body. We can’t pin all of Craig’s struggles on his ailment, but it sure would make sense as an explanation.

Conveniently, though, we see other indicators. It was widely understood Craig was hurt. Because Craig was hurt, he had a different swing. Because he had a different swing — and different levels of strength — Craig was attacked in a different way. Allen Craig’s pitch pattern in 2014 strongly hinted at something being wrong, and so Craig’s pitch pattern in 2015 will tell us, and tell us quickly, to what degree he’s recovered. Even before Craig has much of a batting sample size, the pitchers will tell us if he seems like a threat.

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What’s Become of Prospects Kind of Like Yoan Moncada?

Part 1 is over. Part 1 was figuring out which team was going to sign Yoan Moncada, and now we know, with the Red Sox having given up more than $60 million for the right to try to make him into something. Most conspicuously, the Sox beat out the Yankees; less conspicuously, the Sox beat out everyone else. Moncada joins an organization with a silly amount of talent and resources, and he is now presumably Boston’s No. 1 prospect. Not a whole lot of prospects better than Blake Swihart, either. So that’s meaningful.

Now we move on to Part 2. What’s Part 2? Figuring out what Yoan Moncada is going to be. You can kind of deduce what teams expect him to be — based on the price, and based on all the attention, Moncada figures to be some kind of big-leaguer, with a high ceiling. But what have we seen from prospects like this before? Moncada’s going into his age-20 season. We can put some numbers to this, trying in a way to project the unfamiliar. Let’s scan some historical top-prospect lists.

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Why I Might Rather Trade for Cliff Lee

All winter, the focus on the Phillies has centered on Cole Hamels. He’s their best player, they’re an obvious seller, and the remainder of his contract is a bit of a discount relative to the current market price for frontline starting pitchers. Of course, those last two factors also mean that the Phillies asking price has been quite high, as they look for multiple young prospects in return, with the acquiring team also absorbing the entirety of the rest of his contract. For reasons that have been covered ad nauseum, no one has been willing to give up that kind of talent while also taking on $96 million in salary commitments, and so for now, Hamels remains in Philadelphia.

At some point sooner than later, now that spring training is beginning, pitchers are going to start getting hurt. Pitchers on contenders. Guys that win-now teams were counting on are going to report some stiffness in their elbow, and after a few days of assuming its just normal dead arm, they’ll be told they need Tommy John Surgery. And then the rumors will begin to kick up, and that team will get attached to Hamels as a potential suitor, and eventually, Hamels will have a new home. At least, as long as he isn’t one of the guys complaining about dead arm anyway.

From now through the trade deadline, the asking price for Hamels probably only goes up. The Phillies are already paying the cost in awkwardness of bringing him to spring training, so there’s no reason for them to give in and take a deal similar to what they’ve been offered at this point. Amaro is betting on injuries depleting the supply of arms on contending teams, pushing the demand for Hamels higher, allowing him to get the kind of return he’s been seeking all winter. As long as Hamels stays healthy, it will probably work.

But Cole Hamels isn’t the only interesting piece of trade-bait in Philadelphia. And in fact, if I was a team like the Red Sox or the Padres, I might actually target Cliff Lee instead.

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The FanGraphs Top 200 Prospect List

Yesterday, we gave you a little bit of a tease, giving you a glimpse into the making of FanGraphs Top 200 Prospect List. This morning, however, we present the list in its entirety, including scouting grades and reports for every prospect rated as a 50 Future Value player currently in the minor leagues. As discussed in the linked introduction, some notable international players were not included on the list, but their respective statuses were discussed in yesterday’s post. If you haven’t read any of the prior prospect pieces here on the site, I’d highly encourage you to read the introduction, which explains all of the terms and grades used below.

Additionally, I’d be remiss if I didn’t point you towards our YouTube channel, which currently holds over 600 prospect videos, including all of the names near the top of this list. Players’ individual videos are linked in the profiles below as well.

And lastly, before we get to the list, one final reminder that a player’s placement in a specific order is less important than his placement within a Future Value tier. Numerical rankings can give a false impression of separation between players who are actually quite similar, and you shouldn’t get too worked up over the precise placement of players within each tier. The ranking provides some additional information, but players in each grouping should be seen as more or less equivalent prospects.

If you have any questions about the list, I’ll be chatting today at noon here on the site (EDIT: here’s the chat transcript), and you can find me on Twitter at @kileymcd.

Alright, that’s enough stalling. Let’s get to this.

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Yadier Alvarez Emerges While Other Cubans Move Closer to Deals

I returned a few days ago from a three-day trip to the Dominican to see top July 2nd prospects (more on that in the coming weeks) and also a workout that had 18 Cuban players in it. Two of those 18 were big-time prospects, the well-known and hyped 29-year-old 2B Hector Olivera and the brand new name, 18-year-old righty Yadier Alvarez.  Here’s my notes and video on those two, along with some quick updates on the other two notable Cubans on the market, 2B/3B/CF Yoan Moncada and 2B Andy Ibanez.

For reference, in my top 200 prospects list that is coming next week, these Cuban players aren’t included on the list, but Moncada would be 8th, Alvarez would be 57th and Ibanez would be in the 150-200 range, while Olivera is ineligible due to his age and experience.

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Rick Porcello’s Upcoming Enormous Payday

The other night on Twitter, I put out one of those early-February thoughts that can’t really be properly explained in a mere 140 characters: Rick Porcello is going to make more than $100 million next year, and people are going to freak out about that.

Needless to say, I received some interesting replies to that, because the second part’s pretty easy to understand. Porcello’s generally seen as a decent enough pitcher, but one who doesn’t miss bats or prevent runs like his peripherals say that he should, and he’s usually not been among the top three pitchers on his own team. (That he’s been teammates with Max Scherzer, Justin Verlander, David Price, Anibal Sanchez, and Doug Fister generally gets left out of that last point.)

James Shields, who has had something like seven seasons better than Porcello’s best, just very recently couldn’t get to $80 million. Porcello’s going to top that? Well, okay then. I guess I need to back this up. Let’s run through this and see if it’s crazy. Spoiler alert: It might be crazy.

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How to Tell Quickly if Dustin Pedroia Is Back

It’s safe to say that Dustin Pedroia has never been lacking for confidence. And remember, Pedroia’s confidence stands out among other major-league baseball players, who are already some of the most confident individuals around, by necessity. So it’s not just that Pedroia has 80-grade self-confidence; it’s that he has 80-grade self-confidence even out of the population pool limited to people with 80-grade self-confidence relative to the general populace. Pedroia is three standard deviations above the mean of those who are three standard deviations above the mean. Related: Pedroia’s 2014 ended with wrist surgery, and these days he’s feeling really good about things.

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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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The Particular Upside of Robbie Ross

Toward the end of the day on Tuesday, the Boston Red Sox and Texas Rangers swapped Anthony Ranaudo and Robbie Ross. It doesn’t immediately seem like a trade of much consequence: Ranaudo’s a prospect with diminishing sheen, and Ross is coming off a pretty ugly experience as an attempted big-league starter. And, probably, it won’t be a trade of much consequence. Ranaudo seems like, if he’ll be anything, he’ll be a decent reliever. And Ross has looked like a lefty reliever who doesn’t do a great job of getting lefties out.

But — well, let me start with this. I’m about to focus on one side of this trade. I’ve heard all you guys complaining that we post too much content about the Red Sox. I understand where you’re coming from, and this isn’t going to make things better. But this isn’t about fitting into a pattern; I just find Ross to be more interesting, statistically, than I do Ranaudo. Ranaudo’s all scouting. Visual learners are going to like to talk about him. Me? I want to share something about Ross’ 2014 — something that might make him better than he seems.

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2015 ZiPS Projections – Boston Red Sox

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 Boston Red Sox. Szymborski can be found at ESPN and on Twitter at @DSzymborski.

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

Batters
Despite the considerable investments made by the club both in Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval this offseason — amounting to nearly $200 million collectively, those contracts — the top WAR projection among all Red Sox players belongs to their second-round pick from the 2004 draft. Dustin Pedroia produced the lowest slugging and isolated-power figures (.376 and .098, respectively) of his career last year, while also recording a career-worst strikeout rate (12.3%). ZiPS calls for Pedroia to find some positive regression in all three areas while still retaining his elite second-base defense.

Probably also capable of providing if not elite, then at least above-average, second-base defense is Mookie Betts. Owing to the continued employment by the club of Pedroia, however, Betts will be forced to supply above-average defense elsewhere. In this case, the most likely destination is right field. It would fair to say that Betts doesn’t possess the typical right-field profile, featuring less power and size than most who play the position. He has excellent plate-discipline skills, however, plus speed and non-negligible power on contact. Note that Betts’ defensive projection below (of -1 runs) is for center field. The equivalent in right would be about +6 or +7 runs saved.

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