Archive for Teams

Prospect Watch: High-Ceiling Teenage Arms

Each weekday during the minor-league season, FanGraphs is providing a status update on multiple rookie-eligible players. Note that Age denotes the relevant prospect’s baseball age (i.e. as of July 1st of the current year); Top-15, the prospect’s place on Marc Hulet’s preseason organizational list; and Top-100, that same prospect’s rank on Hulet’s overall top-100 list.

This time around, I bring you tales of three teenagers who really stood out in recent viewings.

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Brent Honeywell, RHP, Tampa Bay Rays (Profile)
Level: Rookie-Advanced   Age: 19  Top-15: N/A   Top-100: N/A
Line: 8 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 10/1 K/BB, 0.00 ERA, 1.58 FIP

Summary
Honeywell already looks like a steal with the 72nd pick in the draft.

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Aaron Sanchez and the Trevor Rosenthal Experiment

On Thursday night, preseason consensus top-50 prospect Aaron Sanchez made his first appearance of the season out of the bullpen for the Buffalo Bisons, the Triple-A affiliate of the Toronto Blue Jays.

Sanchez’s move to the pen is notable for several reasons, even though he already had 14 relief appearances on his minor league resume (though some of those were from a tandem-starter experiment at Single-A in 2012).

But first, a note on how he performed: poorly. One inning is a woefully small sample to be judging anything from, but Sanchez was touched for two runs on three singles, taking the loss after allowing Pawtucket to break a 1-1 tie in the sixth. It wasn’t all that bad – three singles out of four balls in play is a little fluky – and one of those hits was from an MLB veteran in Shane Victorino, though the pitch was a mistake on Sanchez’ part (right over the plate and a shade above the knees). Still, he caught a lot of the plate on one of the other singles, and his final out was a well-hit liner to short.
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Matt Kemp’s Wish is a Pitching Staff’s Nightmare

The Dodgers’ outfield situation might be more complicated than ever. Yasiel Puig is one of the league’s better young players, you’re all familiar with the three expensive veterans, Scott Van Slyke is a better player than even the Dodgers might’ve recognized, and Joc Pederson is hanging out in Triple-A with a four-digit OPS. It’s pretty obvious that some bodies are going to have to be moved, and one trade possibility is Matt Kemp. Kemp was the subject of rumors over the offseason, and those rumors haven’t gone away now that Kemp’s on the field and getting kind of squeezed out. The idea is he isn’t yet 30, and he’s an athlete who can be a source of right-handed power. If the Dodgers were to cover some of Kemp’s remaining contract, they would be able to find a destination.

On paper, Kemp is a two-time winner of a Gold Glove. Yet one of the problems here is that Kemp doesn’t appear to be a good defender. He’s been moved away from center field by a team without a true center fielder, and Kemp’s reduced mobility reduces the value he can provide, to the Dodgers or to someone else. Worse, Kemp isn’t accepting the aging process. From a newsy article Wednesday, by Ken Rosenthal:

The outfielder’s agent, former major-league pitcher Dave Stewart, told FOX Sports on Wednesday that Kemp again wants to be an everyday center fielder, something that isn’t in his immediate future with the Dodgers.

“Whatever they want to do we’re favorable to, as long as it gives him an opportunity to play every day,” Stewart said. “He’d like to eventually go back to center field. He’s not opposed to right or left. But his hope at some point is to get back to center.”

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Don’t Worry About a Cubs Crowd that Doesn’t Exist

Based on the chats that we host, these things seem to go in waves. This past spring training, it felt like one of every two questions asked about teams trading for Nick Franklin. Once the season got underway, everybody was wondering when the Pirates would finally call up Gregory Polanco. And now there’s a new and different question of the moment: what are the Cubs going to do with all of their prospects? The situation appeared to be a little bit crowded even before the organization added Addison Russell and, less notably, Billy McKinney. Now there are people wondering when the Cubs are going to diversify.

I’ve dealt with this in a few consecutive chats. I think Dave has also done the same. But it seems like a topic worthy of a dedicated post. If all the players were to stay where they are, and if they all were to develop well, then the Cubs would have quite the crowd on their hands. At the moment, though, it’s a crowd that doesn’t exist. It’s a crowd that exists only in theory, in some possible future out of infinite possible futures, and therefore the Cubs aren’t facing any kind of urgency.

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Madison Bumgarner’s Most Impressive At-Bat of the First Half

Madison Kyle Bumgarner plays pitcher for the San Francisco Giants. At 52-43, the Giants have the sixth-best record in baseball. Madison the pitcher has +0.8 WAR as a hitter. That means a pitcher has been the seventh-most valuable hitter on a playoff-caliber team. Most major league pitchers make very poor major league hitters. This hasn’t applied to pretty much any of the San Francisco Giants starters, but especially to Madison Kyle Bumgarner.

Bumgarner’s slash line through the first half of the 2014 season is .275/.302/.550. That gives him matching wRC+ and OPS+ totals of 140. Thanks to the great Dan Szymborski, I can tell you that his ZiPS end-of-season-projection includes a 107 OPS+. That is to say, even if he goes back to hitting like a pitcher in the second half, it is more likely than not that Madison Bumgarner will finish the season with above-league average hitting numbers. There are many actual major league hitters that won’t finish the season with above-league average hitting numbers.

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Everyone Looks Bad In the Brady Aiken Mess

This was supposed to be the year that things started heading in the right direction for the Houston Astros, you know. After bottoming out in 2013 with a third straight 100-loss season, a season-ending 16-game losing streak, 0.0 television ratings, and endless accusations of “not trying to win,” they were expected to at least trend upwards in 2014. Thanks to importing major league players in Dexter Fowler and Scott Feldman, welcoming top prospects George Springer and Jon Singleton, and seeing unexpected steps forward from Jose Altuve and Dallas Keuchel, it largely has. The Astros are still a bad team, but they aren’t even last in their own division, and they’re merely within the range of other bad teams, as opposed to drifting on their own private island of awful.

But despite some on-field positives, it’s still been a tough few weeks for the organization. The leaked Ground Control files were an embarrassment. Stories began to pop up about potential hits to the organization’s reputation thanks to their non-traditional methods. 2012 top pick Carlos Correa had a successful season cut short by a broken leg. 2013 top pick Mark Appel has struggled badly in A-ball. Now, there’s this: Casey Close, the agent for 2014 top overall pick Brady Aiken, is criticizing the Astros for how they’ve handled negotiations with both Aiken and another of his Astros-drafted clients, fifth-round high school pitcher Jacob Nix.

To catch you up for those just joining us: Read the rest of this entry »


How Trading for David Price Changes the Odds

Something I assume the Rays understand: From here on out, they project to be perhaps the best team in the American League East. Something else I assume the Rays understand: They’ve dug themselves into too deep a hole, so this year the playoffs presumably aren’t in the cards. And that’s why we’re probably going to see the Rays trade David Price within the next couple weeks. He can help them only so much in 2014, he’ll be difficult for them to afford in 2015 and pieces received in return could replenish what’s become an emptier system than usual. This is how the Rays do the Rays. Price’s status is no kind of secret.

Given how good Price is — and given how many teams consider themselves to be in the playoff hunt — the lefty has a number of potential suitors. Price is the premier impact player available, so no one out there can shift the balance like he can. He might be worth 2 WAR in the final two-and-a-half months; then there’s the playoff bonus, to say nothing of 2015. It’s pretty easy to plug in numbers and see how Price could improve any rotation. But how do those improvements translate to changes in the odds?

Another way of asking the same question: Who might stand to benefit the most — in 2014 — from acquiring a guy like David Price?

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The All Star Game’s Fast Fastballs and Slow Curves

As a starting pitcher, you get to the All Star Game by dominating with a full array of pitches. You’re built to go deep into games and see lineups multiple times. You scout the opposing hitters and it’s all a lot of work. Then you get to the All Star Game, you break from your routine, you have to come in for a short stint, and you can air it out.

It’s a situation ripe for fastballs.

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Whom The All-Stars Are Looking Forward to Seeing

Because of  interleague play, many of this season’s All-Stars have already seen who’s on the other side. But there’s a unique opportunity to see the best of the other league on one field in Minnesota. So I asked some All-Stars if they were looking forward to a particular matchup today.

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Prospect Watch: ’14 Draftee Arms in the Appy

Each weekday during the minor-league season, FanGraphs is providing a status update on multiple rookie-eligible players. Note that Age denotes the relevant prospect’s baseball age (i.e. as of July 1st of the current year); Top-15, the prospect’s place on Marc Hulet’s preseason organizational list; and Top-100, that same prospect’s rank on Hulet’s overall top-100 list.

In this installment of the PW, I’m focusing on three hurlers in the Appalachian League who were just selected in the top three rounds of the 2014 draft.

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Foster Griffin, LHP, Kansas City Royals (Profile)
Level: Rookie-Advanced   Age: 18  Top-15: N/A   Top-100: N/A
Line: 8.2 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 6/3 K/BB, 1.04 ERA, 5.15 FIP

Summary
More about projection than current ability, Griffin is nonetheless off to a good start in pro ball.

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The Orioles Don’t Care About Our Expectations

In 2012, the Orioles — fresh off a losing streak dating back to the Cal Ripken / Mike Mussina / Davey Johnson squad of 1997 — shocked all of baseball by winning 93 games and the American League wild card game. Backed by what seemed like completely unsustainable one-run luck and with the knowledge that the rest of the AL East was still dangerous, most analysts said something along the lines of “that was fun, good luck doing it again.” They didn’t quite get back to the playoffs in 2013, but 85 wins was still something to be proud of, thanks mostly to 53 homers from Chris Davis and the smashing defensive debut of Manny Machado.

Once again, no one thought much of them headed into 2014. The Red Sox had just won the World Series; the Yankees had added Masahiro Tanaka, Brian McCann, Jacoby Ellsbury and Carlos Beltran. The Jays couldn’t possibly be as bad as they’d been in 2013, and the Rays might have been the best team of any of them. In our 2014 predictions, only two writers picked the O’s to win the division.

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The Aftermath of the Carlos Santana Experiment

Cleveland Indians manager Terry Francona had this to say before Wednesday’s home game against the New York Yankees:

“Early in the year, there’s always some inconsistencies that take a while to kind of play themselves out. That’s just the way a year is. It happens with every team. Then, once guys get settled in and get on a roll, then you see how good you can be. For whatever reason, sometimes it takes a while.”

Carlos Santana started this game at first base for the Indians. Lonnie Chisenhall played third. Nick Swisher served as the designated hitter.

There’s a reason I’ve presented those three facts to you immediately following that quote. The reason is because the “inconsistencies” Francona spoke of relate to an experiment the Indians underwent to begin the season, concerning those three players and those three positions.

Well, the experiment really had just one subject, Santana, but it ended up effecting all three players. The experiment was a big deal when it was first announced. Quietly, nearly two months ago, the experiment came to an end without an official announcement or much fanfare.
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The New Marlon Byrd is the Real Marlon Byrd

This is a trade-deadline season defined by available pitching. We’ve already seen a handful of arms on the move, with more still to get dealt, and for the teams who’ve been looking for bats, there’s not nearly the same kind of market. But one player out there who’s gotten a little attention is Marlon Byrd, who’s been a good veteran hitter on a bad team. There’s little reason for the Phillies to keep Byrd on the roster through July, and while, a year ago, the Pirates took a bit of a risk in acquiring the bounceback outfielder, now there’s every reason to believe the version of Marlon Byrd that suddenly came into existence in 2013 is the version of Marlon Byrd that there is.

The changes, see, have only been sustained through this season’s first three months. Byrd still strikes out more than he used to, but he also hits for more power than he used to, and he’s right on the edge of being an all-or-nothing slugger. When I was first getting into sabermetrics, I learned about the concept of old-player skills, and I was told that players near the end of the line will often sell out for dingers and fly balls. Based just on the numbers, Byrd has indeed sold out for dingers and fly balls, but in his case, this seems to be less about his approach and more about the swing he modified a year and a half ago. And that makes it seem like he has a little more left in the tank.

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Jose Quintana Is Better Than You Think

There were a lot of good pitchers in the American League last year. Jose Quintana was one of them. There are a lot of good pitchers in the American League this year. Jose Quintana is one of them. You may not have noticed until recently, as he’s been on a very nice run of late, which was punctuated by five perfect innings to start yesterday’s game at Fenway Park.

Quintana is an easy guy to ignore. He isn’t especially young. This is his age-25 season, and he’s in the midst of his third big-league season, and in his first season he wasn’t called up until early May. That’s pretty good, particularly for a pitcher, but it certainly isn’t remarkable. There are plenty of pitchers who have more than two full seasons under their belt by the time they get to their age-25 season.

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The AL East War Of Attrition

They say all games are created equally, and that each outing in a long season is just one of 162 games. That’s certainly true, from a mathematical perspective – 90 wins is 90 wins, regardless of how a team gets there.

From a practical perspective, however, not all games are equal. While the primacy effect may make it seem like it’s the games late in the season, within a tight race, that “matter more,” the argument can be made that it’s the games earlier in the year that can shape a team’s endpoint the most. In particular, success in the games ahead of the July 31 trade deadline, when looked at together, is paramount.

The American League East is a great example of this. With five teams projected to perform similarly before the season, the spread in the division so far is perhaps wider than most anticipated, with 9.5 games separating first and last. The team quality evaluation hasn’t changed all that much, however, with each team projected to win between 35 and 37 games (.480-.521) the rest of the way. The teams who have performed well early are in the driver’s seat for a playoff push, even though they don’t necessarily project as better than the others the rest of the way.

This is important not just for building an edge within the division – it’s made three teams buyers and two teams sellers ahead of the deadline.
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Prospect Watch: Polished Hurlers

Each weekday during the minor-league season, FanGraphs is providing a status update on multiple rookie-eligible players. Note that Age denotes the relevant prospect’s baseball age (i.e. as of July 1st of the current year); Top-15, the prospect’s place on Marc Hulet’s preseason organizational list; and Top-100, that same prospect’s rank on Hulet’s overall top-100 list.

In this installment, I’ll discuss three pitchers I’ve come across in A-ball who boast more polish than most at their level.

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Adam Plutko, RHP, Cleveland Indians (Profile)
Level: High-A   Age: 23   Top-15: N/A   Top-100: N/A
Line: 41 IP, 41 H, 23 R, 31/9 K/BB, 4.83 ERA, 4.86 FIP

Summary
Plutko gained plenty of prospect helium with a dominant run at Low-A early in the season, but he’s found the going tougher after a promotion to the Carolina League.

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Brandon Belt, Making Adjustments

Brandon Belt was once thought of primarily a pitcher, so the Giants’ first baseman knows a little bit about change. He’s been accused of walking too much, striking out too much, and now perhaps swinging too much. But he’s still found his way to just outside the top ten at a position with a high offensive bar.

The process hasn’t been easy, but past changes to his game, combined with his current mindset, can both give us hope that he’s got what it takes to continue improving, while also dishing us a dollop of despair — hitting seems hopelessly hard, a continual game of adjustments, even on the game level.

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Jorge de la Rosa and the Rockies Talent Evaluation Problem

The Rockies 2014 season is essentially over. They stand 39-53, and our Playoff Odds model gives them a 0.1% chance of reaching the postseason. And that’s just a one-tenth-of-one-percent chance of getting to the Wild Card game, where they would be heavy underdogs and likely eliminated after Game 163. As Mike Petriello wrote earlier this week, the Rockies need to seriously think about changing course.

There are good arguments against trading Troy Tulowitzki, however. He’s a superstar signed to one of the most team-friendly contracts in baseball. They can rebuild around Tulo and build a winner while he’s still a productive player. He needs better teammates, but it’s generally easier to find new good role players than it is to develop another MVP-caliber shortstop and sign him to a long term extension for half of his market value.

But the key to building a winner around Troy Tulowitzki is to properly determine which players should be kept, and which players should be replaced. Given the recent rumors, it appears that the Rockies may not have figure that part out yet.

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How Much Better Does “The Trade” Make the A’s?

There is something to be said for getting the jump on the trading deadline. You get an opportunity to set the market, rather than react to it. Making a big move for pitching in advance of the trading deadline has other, salient benefits, such as the ability to get an extra start or two from your newly acquired arm(s) as you restructure your rotation going into, and out of the All Star break. This rings especially true to me personally, having been with the Brewers the year of the C.C. Sabathia trade, when we wound up needing almost every exceptional start and inning he gave us.

The A’s jumped the gun on this year’s deadline, getting not one, but two of the premier available arms, Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel, albeit for a hefty price. The A’s are obviously playing for now – so how much better does this deal make the A’s in the short term, and does it materially increase their chances of finally bringing home some hardware this fall? Read the rest of this entry »


Prospect Watch: New Cubs Hitters

Each weekday during the minor-league season, FanGraphs is providing a status update on multiple rookie-eligible players. Note that Age denotes the relevant prospect’s baseball age (i.e. as of July 1st of the current year); Top-15, the prospect’s place on Marc Hulet’s preseason organizational list; and Top-100, that same prospect’s rank on Hulet’s overall top-100 list.

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Billy McKinney, OF, Chicago Cubs (Profile)
Level: High-A   Age: 19.10   Top-15: 3rd (OAK) Top-100: N/A
Line:  333 PA,  17.4 K%, 10.3 BB%, .241/.330/.400 (wRC+ 93)

Summary
The less heralded of the hitters the Cubs’ received in the Jeff Samardzija, McKinney was a 2013 first round selection who profiles as a corner outfielder.

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