Archive for Rockies

The Next Stage of Nolan Arenado

Walks, I think, have suffered from something of a marketing problem. And analysts were in large part responsible, back in OBP’s heyday 10 or 15 years ago. The walk felt underrated, and so in some circles it became maybe overrated. Analysts loved players who walked. But other players didn’t respond so well to that, because, to them, you don’t go up there trying to walk. You go up there trying to hit. In truth, everyone has always seen eye to eye — the goal is to reach base, by avoiding an out. But some damage was done. Low-walk players got tired of talking about their low walk totals. It seemed like a nonsense concern, coming from somewhere outside of the game.

Nolan Arenado has historically been a low-walk player. And, like others, he wasn’t real jazzed to talk about that. An excerpt from this past April:

Rockies third baseman Nolan Arenado couldn’t have thought it possible that he’d receive so much attention for not swinging.
[…]
Although the interest in his walks elicited a bemused eye-roll and a sardonic, “Great topic,” Arenado had fun with the subject, and with teammate Carlos Gonzalez.

Arenado didn’t want to hear criticism about his low walks. And, without question, he’s been successful while aggressive. Yet walks aren’t really the point. Walks are a proxy. Drawing a walk means a hitter didn’t swing at too many pitches out of the zone. No hitter wants to swing at too many pitches out of the zone. If you read on in the linked article, you see Arenado talking about how he was seeing the ball better. Arenado talked about what felt like better discipline. That’s all anyone’s ever wanted. And, say, Arenado’s stat line looks new.

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Jeff Hoffman Debut, Electric Boogaloo

I first saw Jeff Hoffman pitch in February of 2014, when he was a junior at East Carolina, and thought I was seeing the guy who would later go first overall in that June’s draft. Hoffman was electric, sitting 92-96 mph, touching 98 and showing feel for four pitches on a chilly, late-winter’s day in Virginia. Best amateur slider I’ve ever seen aside, Hoffman was better than Carlos Rodon that spring in every way and likely would have demanded consideration for the top overall selection (which eventually became Brady Aiken) in a class full of prospects with question marks up top.

But Hoffman broke. He had Tommy John in May of 2014. It was the second year in a row (Lucas Giolito) that the draft’s most talented right-handed arm was injured. The situation was a precarious one for Hoffman. If the injury torpedoed his stock, it would be hard for him to thumb his nose at the team that drafted him and return to school because, even with an aggressive recovery from TJ, he’d only be able to make a couple of starts as a senior before the 2015 draft and maybe not pitch at all. Alas, the Blue Jays saw the opportunity to grab a top-three talent at pick #9 and signed him for slot value, $3.1 million.

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Charlie Blackmon Has Zeroed In

It’s been observed before we don’t write that much about the Rockies. Now, this is one of those things that works both ways — we could probably stand to write about them more, but there also hasn’t been much in the way of demand. Mostly, I’d say it’s the Rockies’ fault, since people want to read about and write about winners. The Rockies haven’t won. When we have written about them, many of the posts have been examining that.

But I can say this much: For the first time in years, I like where the Rockies are headed. The sense I get is they’re close to a return to being competitive. Over the past month or two, I’ve been paying the Rockies extra attention out of curiosity, and that’s given me reason to write now about Charlie Blackmon. I know this year’s Rockies aren’t going to the playoffs. I know Blackmon’s will never be a household name. But the guy just won the National League player of the week award. He also leads all players in WAR in the half-month of August. So far this month, Blackmon has out-homered the Astros, and his surge has come from zeroing in on a hot spot.

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The “Not a Clayton Kershaw Comparison” Comparison

There’s only one Clayton Kershaw. Comparing a pitcher at any level — amateur, minors, majors — to Clayton Kershaw is a terrible, awful, no good, very bad idea. Presumably there will be another generational pitching talent at some point in the future and, when that future ace posts Kershavian stats over the course of multiple seasons, maybe we can start having that discussion. Maybe. Until then, do not make Kershaw comps. In fact, let’s call that The First Rule of Kershaw: no comps.

Alright, with all that out of the way, let’s have some fun comparing a pitcher to Clayton Kershaw… Look, I stand by The First Rule of Kershaw fully, but I’m also partial to this crazy theory that baseball is fun. We’re all smart enough here to recognize that players who aren’t comparable on a macro level can still have similarities at the micro level. So I’m going to ask you to turn off that beautifully analytical portion of your brain for just a moment, sit back, and watch two pitchers.

I know it’s been much too long, but here’s a reminder of what Clayton Kershaw looks like when he throws a baseball:

Full disclosure bordering on sacrilege: there’s a part of me that doesn’t love watching Kershaw pitch. I feel like a monster even admitting such a thing but, well, look at that delivery. It’s herky, jerky and doesn’t live up to my ideal of what an elite pitching motion should look like. But that’s my problem, not Kershaw’s. He’s a generational talent and that’s what this generational talent looks like when he pitches.

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Jon Gray Keeps Adding Pitches

There’s a bad joke that we throw around when an older player signs — that he brings with him veteran presents. In the modern clubhouse, though, it’s unclear how much this sort of thing matters. There’s a lot of putting your head down and working on your craft — or keeping your nose out of other players’ business, at least. But then you get the odd story here or there where a veteran comes in and helps a young man develop, and you wonder if the jokes are misplaced.

Like this story about Jon Gray. He was a man with a fastball and a slider, searching for something that would expand his arsenal. The curve was promising, but less effective in Colorado. “Then I talked to [Adam] Ottavino about the slider,” the 24-year-old Rockies starter told me earlier this year, “and I started manipulating it differently in different situations.” Look at that: tangible veteran presents, from a player who just last year told us about his ability to alter his slider to battle lefties.

I recently got to check back in with Gray about that slider manipulation. He was fresh off a rejuvenating bullpen session in San Francisco and had even better feelings about his changeup. And his curve. Now we look up and, in his last start, on Wednesday against the Orioles, he actually used both his curve and change 10% of the time… and it was the third time he’d done so all season. Looks like Gray has found a few more pitches that he trusts.

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What If the Rockies Aren’t Sellers?

On Sunday, news broke that the Rockies were ready to call up top prospect David Dahl following his 2016 minor-league stints at both Double-A and Triple-A, both of which were incredibly successful. For a prospect who looked to be thrown off his fast track last year thanks to a spleen injury, the news is joyous for Rockies fans. The high-school standout reaches the majors in his fifth professional season, which in the grand scheme of things, isn’t really that far off course.

While plenty of players from his draft class have already found success in the majors — Carlos Correa, Addison Russell, Corey Seager and Marcus Stroman, and Michael Wacha are other 2012 first rounders who have done well — some still haven’t debuted at all. That list includes three players taken ahead of him — Kyle Zimmer, Max Fried and Mark Appel — and Albert Almora, taken four picks ahead of Dahl, was only just recently promoted.

I think Dahl will be a monster, but don’t take my word for it: read what Eric and Chris have to say about him. As cool as Dahl’s promotion is for the Rockies, it wasn’t his actual promotion that was the most interesting tidbit to come out of his news report. The Rockies, 7-3 since the All-Star break at the time of his call-up (and now 7-4 following a loss last night), suddenly are not yet ready to give up on 2016. Per Thomas Harding of MLB.com:

The callup comes with the Rockies challenging themselves to become a contender. They are 47-51, six games back in the National League Wild Card race.

The Rockies wake up this morning in sixth place for a National League wild-card berth, behind the Dodgers, Mets, Marlins, Cardinals and Pirates, whom they trail by 4.5 games. The Rockies are sort of floating in their own tier, as they have a bit of separation between themselves and the next team in the queue (the Phillies at 8.0 games back).

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Projecting Rockies Power-Speed Threat David Dahl

Before debuting yesterday for Colorado, 22-year-old outfielder David Dahl had recorded a smooth .307/.389/.562 between Double-A and Triple-A this year, including a torrid .456/.508/.886 showing in his short stint at Triple-A. Dahl possesses an exciting combination of power and speed. The former 10th-overall pick belted 18 homers in the minors this year while also swiping 17 bases. Dahl’s 20-plus-homer power is a relatively new addition to his skill set, but it’s not as though he hasn’t shown glimpses of it before.

Dahl has plenty going for him in the power and speed departments, but his strikeout numbers are some cause for concern. He whiffed in 25% of his plate appearances in Double-A last year, and didn’t really improve in that area this season. Much this year’s improvement can be traced back to his sky-high .388 BABIP, while the underlying contact issues linger.

Dwelling on Dahl’s contact rates almost feels like nitpicking, however, especially since his strikeout numbers are trending in the right direction. All in all, Dahl has an awful lot going for him. Whether you look at his stat line or his scouting reports (such as the one published today by Eric Longenhagen), it’s very easy to envision him sticking as a quality everyday center fielder.

My newly revamped KATOH projection system is a big believer in Dahl. My stats-only model rates him as the #12 prospect in baseball, while my KATOH+ model — which also integrates Baseball America’s prospect rankings — placed him at #14. They foresee 9.0 WAR and 11.1 WAR, respectively, over Dahl’s next six seasons.

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Scouting Rockies Call-Up David Dahl

Outfielder David Dahl‘s (dahl?) ascent to the major leagues, at which level he debuted last night for Colorado, has been relatively swift considering he missed just about all of 2013 with a hamstring injury and a huge chunk of 2015 with a ruptured spleen. That missed development time — in concert with Colorado’s unenviable affiliate situation — has made Dahl difficult to evaluate and project. In four pro seasons, Dahl has spent time with clubs in Grand Junction, CO; Asheville, NC; Modesto, CA; Boise, ID; New Britain, CT; Hartford, CT (but not actually in Hartford because that club doesn’t actually currently possess a home park); and Albuquerque, NM.

Pro scouts with area- or league-based coverage had a difficult time getting in-depth looks at Dahl because of the unusually nomadic nature of his career. His tools haven’t been difficult to evaluate (and they’re impressive), but what has been hard to grasp are Dahl’s secondary skills. He came into this season with a career walk rate around 5%, but Dahl has doubled that this season and it’s hard to discern if those improvements are real.

Let’s say, for the sake of argument and in effort to discern his floor, that Dahl’s newfound plate discipline is a mirage. Steamer has him regressing to a walk rate just shy of 6%. We’re still talking about a plus runner with a plus arm (his throw to nail Josh Naylor at the plate in the Futures Game was particularly impressive) who projects as a plus defender in center field. Impact defense at a premium position is often sufficient to justify playing everyday, even if the bat is light. Punchless though they may be, black-hole center fielders like Ender Inciarte (.242/.309/.319), Billy Hamilton (.251/.299/.351) and Kevin Pillar (.259/.390/.382) are all comfortably above replacement level this season. Dahl’s defense, though not on the elite level of Hamilton and Pillar, is strong enough that the offensive bar he’ll need to clear to play every day is relatively low.

Dahl sports plus bat speed and good bat control, but his ability to hit is undermined by some of the effort in his swing and inconsistent pitch-tracking. His swing can get long at times because of how early he extends his hands, which causes some tardiness. I’ve also gotten some reports that question Dahl’s ability to hit anything on the outer half with authority, though he’s adept at taking those pitches to the opposite field and his bat path aids in that. There’s above-average pull power here — and it will undoubtedly play up in Denver. It just remains to be seen how much of it Dahl will get to if I’m correct about his swing-and-miss issues.

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An Annual Reminder from Eric Hosmer and Adam Jones

If you woke up this morning, looked at the WAR Leaderboards for position players and saw Mike TroutJose Altuve, and Manny Machado near the top, you might have had an inclination that all is right with the world. After all, those three players are some of the very best in major-league baseball, and we would expect to see them at the top of the list. Of course, when you look closely at the leaderboard, it’s important to note that there are 171 qualified players. To regard the WAR marks as some sort of de facto ranking for all players would be foolish. For some players, defensive value has a large impact on their WAR total, and it’s important, when considering WAR values one-third of the way into the season, to consider the context in which those figures.

“Small sample size” is a phrase that’s invoked a lot throughout the season. At FanGraphs, we try to determine what might be a small-sample aberration from what could be a new talent level. Generally speaking, the bigger the sample size, the better — and this is especially true for defensive statistics, where we want to have a very big sample to determine a player’s talent level. Last year, I attempted to provide a warning on the reliability of defensive statistics. Now that the season has reached its third month, it’s appropriate to revisit that work.

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There’s Already Been More than One Trevor Story

The first read of Trevor Story‘s split stats produces an easy narrative. In April, he recorded a .988 OPS due (in part) to ridiculous, unsustainable power. Since then, his OPS has been under .800, with half as many homers. The league adjusted to him, and he didn’t adjust back. Simple enough.

Of course it’s much more complicated than that in reality, at least in terms of what’s happening on the field. To the player, it’s simple.

Jeff Sullivan documented a stark adjustment that the league made to the Rockies’ shortstop after that huge first week. They stopped throwing him inside because he showed he could pull those pitches for homers.

“A lot of people don’t pitch inside, I don’t think,” said Story about that first week, framing that first week as the anomaly, which might come as a surprise. “Some teams do, and some teams don’t.”

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Jon Gray on Staying in Sync and Throwing High Heat at Coors

Jon Gray had one of his best starts of the season on Sunday. The Colorado Rockies right-hander fanned 12 while limiting the Padres to two runs over seven innings. It was his third straight solid outing following a a nine-run dud against the Cardinals on May 19.

A few days after his St. Louis shelling, the 24-year-old University of Oklahoma product threw a pre-game bullpen session at Fenway Park. On his way back to the clubhouse, he stopped in the outfield grass and conferred with his pitching coach, occasionally mimicking his pitching motion.

After the confab concluded, I approached him to ask what they’d been working on. I had other questions in mind as well. I’d interviewed Gray a few months after he was taken third overall in the 2013 draft, and a lot of development had occurred since that time. A follow-up was in order.

———

Gray on his development and needing to stay in sync: “There’s a lot more to this game than it might seem. You’re constantly making adjustments in order to compete. I’ve done a lot of things with my delivery, as well as mentally. You have to make adjustments a lot faster at this level. If I know something isn’t right in my delivery, I have to change it as soon as possible, otherwise it’s going to get bad. Same thing mentally. I have to really keep tabs on myself, with each pitch, each approach.

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DJ LeMahieu: A Quiet Transformation in Colorado

Heading into the 2012 season, Baseball America wrote of DJ LeMahieu, “Most scouts see him as a singles hitter who doesn’t provide enough beyond his batting average.” BA added that “his fringy speed and quickness don’t fit at second base.”

The latter turned out to be patently false. The 27-year-old won a Gold Glove at second base with the Rockies in 2014, and he remains a solid defender. He doesn’t look like a middle infielder — LeMahieu is 6-foot-4 — but his plus-2 DRS over the last two years puts him solidly in the gets-the-job-done category.

From an offensive standpoint, the singles-hitter label has a grain of truth to it. Despite calling Coors Field home, LeMahieu doesn’t leave the yard very often. Extra-base hits aren’t his forte (last night’s home run and pair of doubles notwithstanding). And while he’ll accept a free pass — his walk rate is a respectable 8.3% — no one is about to compare him to Eddie Yost.

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The Rockies’ Blockbuster Night

In last night’s fifth inning, the Rockies threw punches and punches until the Giants were frontless. They scored 13 runs, which, as was noted at Purple Row, was a team record for runs scored in an inning. Oh, did I mention that this game was in San Francisco, and not in Denver? Because it was, which makes it all the more surprising. Let’s walk back through their blockbuster night, and use it to show what the Rockies are doing right this season.

First, let’s put this game into some context. Here are all the teams who have scored 15 or more runs in a game at AT&T Park, which as you probably know has been open since 2000.

15+ Runs Scored by Single Team, AT&T Park History
Date Tm Runs Opp Runs Barry Bonds?
5/6/2016 COL 17 SFG 7 No
7/10/2015 SF 15 PHI 2 No
9/13/2014 LAD 17 SF 0 No
8/31/2014 SF 15 MIL 5 No
8/24/2010 SF 16 CIN 5 No
9/24/2008 COL 15 SF 6 No
7/23/2005 FLO 16 SF 4 No
9/3/2004 SF 18 ARI 7 Yes
4/9/2003 SF 15 SD 11 Yes
5/24/2000 SF 18 MON 0 Yes
SOURCE: Baseball-Reference Play Index

As you can see, this doesn’t happen very often — happens even less when Barry Bonds hasn’t been involved. For reference, over the same time span, a team has scored 15-plus runs at Fenway Park 37 times. Across the bay at whatever Oakland’s ballpark is called now, it’s happened 16 times. At Camden Yards, it’s happened 27 times. Runs are simply harder to come by in games affected by the marine layer.

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They’ve Adjusted to Trevor Story

They say you can’t predict baseball, but that’s nonsense. You can’t predict all of baseball, but you can definitely predict some of baseball. One of those predictions that any one of us could’ve made: There was no way Trevor Story was going to keep that up. It was so obvious that even saying it would’ve been empty. Pointless. The prediction was essentially implied by the statistics, because the statistics were so absurd everybody recognized it.

Let’s talk about this. Hot starts like Story’s regress. We know that to be true, and regression takes place for a few reasons. Luck just evening out is one of them. Hot streaks are typically accompanied by good luck, and cold slumps are typically accompanied by bad luck. And then there are the adjustments. Adjustments! Our favorite genre. When you’re a hot hitter, you don’t keep getting the same at-bats over and over and over again. Opponents learn about you, and they put that information to use. Strengths are apparent, and so are anti-strengths, and that gets folded in to how a guy gets pitched. It’s a tale as old as baseball, even if it’s told a little differently these days.

Hot starts regress. Opponents adjust. Trevor Story had a hot start. Opponents adjusted. Welcome to the big leagues.

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What Pitchers (and Numbers) Say About Pitching in the Cold

Maybe it was the fact that she spent her formative years in Germany, while I spent most of mine in Jamaica and America’s South, but my mother and I have always disagreed about a fundamental thing when it comes to the weather. For her, she wants the sun. It doesn’t matter if it’s bitter cold and dry; if the sun’s out, she’s fine. I’d rather it was warm. Don’t care if there’s a drizzle or humidity or whatever.

It turns out, when we were disagreeing about these things, we were really talking about pitching. Mostly because life is pitching and pitching is life.

But also because the temperature, and the temperature alone, does not tell the story of pitching in the cold. It’ll make sense, just stick with it.

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Nolan Arenado Looks Like He’s Up to Something

We’ve gotten to see many sides of Nolan Arenado over the past two years. The maker of ridiculous defensive plays. The hitter of a multitude of home runs. The effusive trotter of the base paths. With regard to his plate discipline, however, Arenado hasn’t changed much since he got to the majors. To call him a “free swinger” doesn’t really do him justice: between 2014 and -15, Arenado ranked 10th in overall swing percentage (53.5%) and eighth in swing percentage at pitches outside of the strike zone (38.7%). As a result, he hasn’t walked much since he was called up in 2014 — at just over half the league average the past two years — which, hey, is something you might do too if you had the talent and skill to hit 40-plus home runs in the major leagues. In 2015, he saw the 17th-fewest pitches per plate appearance out of qualified hitters. Arenado hasn’t really waited around, is the point. He’s been aggressive in and out of the zone, and the trade-off has been fewer free passes. The reward was ten first-pitch home runs last season.

Swinging as much as Arenado has in the past two years tends to require other skills to offset/complement that tendency, like above-average contact rates, great power, or speed on the base paths. An illustration: of the ten leaders in overall swing percentage from 2015, five had below-average contact rates:

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Trevor Story and Sample Size

Trevor Story hit another homer last night, his league-leading eighth home run of the season. That’s eight home runs in just 13 games, totaling 59 plate appearances. He also hit a double, giving him 12 extra base hits on the year; Josh Donaldson is the only other player in the majors in double-digits, and he has 10. At this point, it’s pretty clear that, while still a player with holes in his swing, Trevor Story hits the ball really hard when he does make contact.

Last night’s home run, for instance, was hit at 108 mph. It was the eighth ball he’s hit this year that left the bat with an exit velocity north of 105. For reference, here is the full list of the 13 players that already have eight or more balls hit at 105+.

Most 105+ Exit Velocities
Player Results Total Pitches
Carlos Gonzalez 15 215
Domingo Santana 13 230
Mark Trumbo 12 178
Manny Machado 11 175
Carlos Correa 10 189
Gregory Polanco 9 223
Josh Donaldson 9 248
Trevor Story 8 245
Giancarlo Stanton 8 219
J.D. Martinez 8 169
Bryce Harper 8 186
Danny Valencia 8 160
Jonathan Schoop 8 147
SOURCE: BaseballSavant.MLB.com

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Trevor Story Sorta Looks Like J.D. Martinez

The Orioles are 5-0, Ross Stripling almost threw a no-hitter in his Major League debut, and Eugenio Suarez apparently doesn’t make outs anymore, but those were all just footnotes of the first week of the 2016 season. There’s only one big story in MLB right now, and no, that’s not another easy setup for a pun based on Trevor Story‘s last name. Okay, maybe it is. They’re so easy!

But despite Trevor’s made-for-headline-writers last name, it’s his performance that keeps him in the news. After finally failing to hit a home run on Saturday, the first time in five big league games that he didn’t go yard, Story launched another one last night, bringing his season total to seven. No one else has more than four. 16 teams have fewer home runs than Trevor Story right now. He has as many long balls as the Mets, Marlins, Pirates, and Angels combined.

So, yeah, welcome to the big leagues, kid. It’s not often that rookie shortstops put on this type of show, and no player of any type has ever hit for this kind of power in their first week in the Major Leagues.

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Three Counterpoints to Trevor Story’s First Three Games

Trevor Story did something that has never happened in major-league history before: he homered in first three games of his career. People are generally pretty excited about that, and rightly so. Jeff detailed that excitement the other day, and backed it up with a couple of very good points about Story’s plate coverage and adaptability. It may very well be that we are watching the genesis of the next great Rockies shortstop. (Or, if you prefer, the second great Rockies shortstop.) But before we get carried away, I wanted to offer a few counterpoints.

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Let’s Get Irresponsibly Excited About Trevor Story

It took only three games for us to be able to refer to Trevor Story as a rookie sensation. For the most part, this is because Story is currently out-homering most of the teams in major-league baseball. He got Zack Greinke twice on opening day, and that’s remarkable enough, but Story homered again in each of the following two contests, so now here we are, with Story owning four dingers before the overwhelming majority of rookie players are even called up so as to preserve that extra year of control. Hot start. We’re good at noticing hot starts.

After the hot start will come a cooler period. In time, when we have more information, Story will resemble some kind of familiar shortstop, and we’ll have a better idea of how he’s going to work out. In the long run, I mean. The reality is we don’t know that much more now than we did a week ago. This is the hazard of trying to talk about anything so early in a season, and so early in a career. But the word “irresponsibly” is right in that headline. I think we can allow ourselves to have some fun. What’s the downside? So let’s discuss just a few notable observations. Exactly what they mean, I’ll leave to time to settle.

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