Last Monday, in what was a pretty critical game against the Mariners, Josh Donaldson got ejected in the seventh inning. Officially, he was ejected for arguing balls and strikes, but, unofficially, he was ejected for being a jerk. During his seventh inning at-bat, Donaldson tried to check a swing, and he disagreed with the determination that he didn’t check it enough. A couple pitches later, Donaldson was called out on a pitch that was probably below the zone. That was too much, and Donaldson expressed himself, and that was that. Donaldson wasn’t likely to hit again, so the ejection didn’t mean much, but he felt like he was getting screwed. Josh Donaldson belligerently wondered aloud why he couldn’t catch a break.
If only he knew then what he might know now. I don’t want to say that Donaldson deserved a break. A grown man needs to be able to control himself. But borderline calls are luck, and given enough time, luck will even out. Several days ago, Josh Donaldson felt like he was unfairly struck out. Friday night in Toronto, Donaldson was in the box for the very worst called ball of the entire PITCHf/x era.
Over in the National League, differing philosophical differences could shape the voting for the Cy Young award. Unless voters choose to embrace a closer like Zach Britton or look at only wins, however, we don’t have the same type of arguments over which to rage in the American League. In the AL, for example, there’s no pitcher with a massive, Kyle Hendricks-like difference in ERA and FIP. There’s no Clayton Kershaw-size innings gap between most of the contenders. Rather, the AL offers a large group of deserving candidates. To decipher which candidate is the most deserving, we’re going to have to split hairs. Let’s start splitting by discussing weak contact and its role in the candidates success.
To determine potential candidates for the Cy Young, just as I did for the National League, I looked at those in the top 10 of both RA/9-WAR as well as the WAR used on this site. If the pitcher appears among both groups, he’s included below. I also included J.A. Happ because he has a lot of pitching wins, and whether you agree or disagree with the value of a pitching win (I honestly had no idea Happ had 20 wins before beginning to write this, if you want to know the value this author places on them), some voters will consider them, so he’s on the list. A few relevant stats, sorted by WAR:
Those top four candidates seem to have the most compelling cases. Of those candidates, only Sale doesn’t appear among the top five of both ERA and FIP, but he also leads the AL in innings pitched this season. Rick Porcello has presented a strong argument for his candidacy in recent weeks, Tanaka leads the league in ERA, and Kluber looks to have best combination between FIP and ERA. There probably isn’t one right way to separate these candidates, but one aspect of the season at which we can choose to take a look is the impact that weak and strong contact has made in turning batted balls into outs.
As I mentioned in yesterday’s post about Michael Fulmer, I’ve been chosen as a voter for this season’s American League Rookie of the Year Award. And while I don’t yet know how I’m going to vote — and while I’m not supposed to tell you how I’m going to vote — I am supposed to supply content to FanGraphs.com, and there’s nothing wrong with going over my thought processes in the public sphere. I already have to go through this stuff anyway. Might as well get some articles out of it, so that I can further consider reader responses.
Most years, this vote would be seemingly easy, at least as first place goes. Fulmer’s been up most of the season, and he’s got a low ERA to show for it. Low ERAs aren’t as common now as they were a couple years back. But there’s an increasingly legitimate contender, who goes by the name of Gary Sanchez. Sanchez wasn’t supposed to get to this point. He’d made one single appearance before the month of August. But — well, you know. You know all about Gary Sanchez. Has he done enough to deserve some hardware?
According to our playoff odds, there are currently 13 teams which feature playoff odds below 2%. As that number grows throughout the month, an increasingly large percentage of baseball fans will be bidding farewell to the hopes that this is the year for their preferred teams and looking to adopt other rooting interests. There’s no full replacement for the satisfaction of your team winning in October, but playoff baseball is still worth enjoying as much as you can. So, for whom do you root this month?
In recent years, Jay Jaffe of Sports Illustrated has popularized Team Entropy — spending your September rooting for the chaos generated by ties testing the limits of baseball’s tie-breaker system. With a range of 5.5 games separating the seven teams atop the AL Wild Card standings, Team Entropy is as in play as ever. The theoretical implications of a three- or four- or five-way tie for a Wild Card spot are delightful to imagine. It would be a blast to watch and, as someone with no skin in the game this year, I’d enjoy the hell out of it. That said, my strongest loyalties lie with another team — I’m not Team Entropy, I’m Team Cinderella.
For me, there’s no more exciting storyline than a September longshot bucking the odds and finding its way into the postseason. Two years ago, the Pirates had roughly a 20% chance to make the postseason on September 3rd according to The Baseball Gauge and then proceeded to secure themselves a spot in the Wild Card game. But I’d argue an even more exciting September Cinderella storyline unfolded a year before that when the 2013 Indians finished off the season by winning 15 of 17 and beating out the Rangers for a Wild Card Spot despite possessing 15% playoff odds at the start of that final 17-game run. Now that’s my idea of brilliant September baseball.
It’s been a few years and, though it may be a virtue, patience is certainly no fun. It’s time for a new September Cinderella team, so let’s go searching for one. For this exercise, I’m considering the cases of the five teams with playoff odds currently in the 3%-20% range.
There was a time not that long ago when Masahiro Tanaka was one of the most exciting players around. He was then a new import said to throw the world’s best splitter, and though many lamented he just wound up on the Yankees, the most important thing was to see how he did. Tanaka, toward the beginning, was must-watch baseball. But we all move on fast these days. Tanaka pitched well, but in a way that resembled other players we’ve seen. Novelty wore off, as it always does. And then there was the matter of the elbow ligament. Tanaka has pitched through a tear, and I suspect people out there are afraid to embrace him, fearing surgery could be needed at any moment. That fear has legitimacy, but it would be legitimate with any pitcher.
We’re 71 regular-season starts into Tanaka’s big-league career. He’s run an ERA 23% better than average. This year, his numbers are no worse than they were when he was a rookie. Sure, the strikeouts are down, but so are the dingers, and this is a hell of a year to experience a dinger reduction. Tanaka, ever so quietly, has positioned himself as a contender for the American League Cy Young Award. He remains worthy of your attention. And helping to fuel Tanaka’s big year is that, for the first time, he’s throwing a successful fastball.
Jesus Montero is still just 26 years old, and he’s having a pretty decent season at the plate. He’s batting over .300, and he has his OBP close to .350 and his slugging percentage close to .450. All things considered, that’s not a bad campaign. But for the fact that Montero has spent the summer in Triple-A, and he’s split his time between first base and DH. He’s mostly been the DH.
It’s hard to believe now that Montero spent three consecutive years within the Baseball America prospect top-10. Though the pop remains in his bat, there’s pretty much nothing else to speak of, and Montero has stood as a cautionary tale to those who’ve been high on Gary Sanchez. Not only did they rise through the same system — Montero and Sanchez have had similar roles and similar strengths, with similar criticisms and similar questions. They even made similar first impressions. At least for the time being, Montero is there to keep Sanchez fans grounded.
Yet Gary Sanchez is no Jesus Montero. I get that the parallels are many. But the profiles are dramatically different. Sanchez is looking like he can hit. Even more importantly, Sanchez is looking like he can catch.
Tyler Clippard has always been a smart pitcher. That’s evident from his erudition as well as his results. Based on my experience, the 31-year-old reliever is equally adept at discussing his craft and flummoxing opposing hitters with solid-but-unspectacular stuff.
As noted in this past Sunday’s Notes column, Clippard has recorded the lowest BABIP against (.237) of any pitcher to have thrown at least 500 innings since 2007. That’s when the righty broke into the big leagues. Pitching for the Nationals, A’s, Mets, Diamondbacks and now the Yankees, Clippard has 45 wins, 54 saves and a 2.94 ERA in 539 appearances (all but eight out of the bullpen). Augmenting his ability to induce weak contact is a better-than-you-might-expect 9.9 strikeouts per nine innings. He’s made a pair of All-Star teams.
Clippard on his BABIP and creating plane: “Someone brought it to my attention a few years ago. I guess it didn’t surprise me when I learned that. I’m constantly trying to figure out ways that I can pitch to get the weakest contact, whether it’s from my arm slot or my pitch selection. That’s kind of how I’ve always pitched. I’ve always tried to maximize my room for error. I’m not a guy who is going to have pinpoint command, so I’m always trying to create more plane, more deception.
I cannot venture to say that Alex Rodriguez is a complicated individual any more than any other person, but I can fairly easily say that Alex Rodriguez the baseball player is full of complications. He’s an all-time great who has twice signed two of the most expensive contracts in baseball history, been suspended for PED use, and is currently being shoved out of the organization he has played for the past 13 seasons despite putting up colossal numbers and leading the team to a World Series championship during the 2009 season. This post is not meant to analyze Rodriguez’s career, celebrate his accomplishments or discuss his flaws. The question here is should Alex Rodriguez retire, and like most Rodriguez-related issues, it is complicated. Read the rest of this entry »
Ben Heller was called up to the big leagues for the first time yesterday. He arrived as a member of the Yankees, having been acquired by New York from Cleveland at the trade deadline as part of the Andrew Millerdeal. As luck would have it, the 25-year-old right-hander’s first MLB venue was Fenway Park.
His debut will come elsewhere — the Bombers left Boston without him appearing in the game — and when it does, you can expect to see heat. Heller throws hard. Baseball America rated his fastball tops in the Indians system, and opposing hitters have certainly taken notice. In 45 relief innings this season, Heller has allowed 24 hits and fanned 52 in 45 innings at the Double-A and Triple-A levels.
Heller talked about his game, and the excitement of putting on a big-league uniform for the first time, shortly before taking the field at Fenway. Read the rest of this entry »
Yesterday afternoon, Ichiro Suzuki became just the 30th player to reach 3,000 hits in the major leagues. He did so with a triple, making him just the second player ever to get to hit number 3,000 on a triple. It was a pretty glorious hit, and it will be one of the capstones on an awesome career. To celebrate, I thought we could take a walk back down memory lane and look at some of the most impactful hits of his Hall of Fame career. Some are his best according to WPA, some are postseason hits, and a few are just round-number hits, because we all love those. We’ll go in chronological order.
April 2, 2001, Mariners vs. Athletics
Ichiro wasted little time getting going. After grounding out to the right side in his first two major-league plate appearances, and striking out in the third, Ichiro would single up the middle in his fourth plate appearance, and drop down a bunt single in his fifth and final plate appearance of his first game.
The first hit came off of T.J. Mathews, and the bunt came off of Jim Mecir. Ichiro scored following the first hit to pull the Mariners within one run, and the bunt would push go-ahead run Carlos Guillen to third. The bunt came following a walk. Generally speaking, you don’t want to give away an out with a bunt when a reliever comes into the game and walks the first batter he faces on five pitches, but Ichiro did anyway, quickly serving notice that the normal rules of engagement did not apply to him. Guillen would cross home three batters later, and the Mariners historic 2001 season started with a bang.
The New York Yankees are in the middle stages of an overhaul, both in terms of player turnover and also philosophy. Over the past few weeks, the team has traded Aroldis Chapman, Andrew Miller, and Carlos Beltran for a bevy of prospects that includes four players near the top of Eric Longenhagen’s rankings of prospects traded at the deadline. Mark Teixeira wasn’t going to be back next year, so his retirement announcement is more a symbol of — rather than actual contribution to — a changing Yankees’ future. The news that Alex Rodriguez would be stepping aside as well, though, further adds to the changing of the guard in the Bronx. They were in a similar spot in 2013 and abandoned plans to build for the future so they could contend in the near term. Will they abandon those plans again or will they exercise a little more discipline?
The Chicago Cubs spent years both (a) getting rid of old contracts and (b) trading, drafting, and signing prospects. Last season, they began to see the fruits of their labor. The Yankees shouldn’t need to head down that path. The team’s farm system was strong before the team sold at the trade deadline, and it’s possible that some of the international signings from 2014 will start to make their way up the ranks in the near future, as well. The Yankees also have less of a financial need to get rid of bad contracts before contending. The Yankees have the financial power to spend to succeed. These are the larger long-term contracts they do currently possess:
CC Sabathia (one more year at $25 M seems likely with his vested option)
Of those contracts, Sabathia is likely an overpay — but for just one season — and the Yankees might need his innings next year, even if they’re just of the average variety. Gardner, Headley, and McCann are all reasonable contracts which compensate each player at a rate pretty close to his actual value. If the team believes prospect Gary Sanchez is ready to take over full-time catching duties, then giving away McCann is an option to free up salary, but he’s not likely to bring decent prospects back. The same is true for Gardner. Castro remains an enigma, providing generally below-average production, but his salaries are hardly burdensome. Ellsbury has a contract from which the team might like to free itself, but it doesn’t necessarily make sense to pick up some of his contract for someone else when he’s still likely to provide average production from center field. Tanaka has pitched very well this season and should be the Yankees ace in 2017 before he opting out of his contract after that.
As it has been the past few years, the 2016 non-waiver trade deadline brought about a flurry of activity that was hard to keep up with even if it was the only thing you were doing. Since most of us have other things that we have to or would like to occupy our time with, we figured we would save you some hassle and create an omnibus post with all of our trade deadline content so that you have it all in one place. For clarity’s sake, I’m going to limit this to articles about trades that actually took place.
Some trade-deadline decisions are painstakingly difficult. The line between buyer and seller can be microscopically thin and the undeniable appeal of winning win can easily tempt teams to hold onto talented players when logic dictates that selling is the right call. For the Yankees, the decision was harder than it should have been this season. For the Rangers, it was as clear as day.
The Yankees are a .500 team sitting just five-and-a-half games out of a wild-card position, and yet the decision to sell couldn’t have been more obvious to those of us on the outside without emotional or financial stakes on the line. Selling is not part of the Yankees’ M.O. They expect to win and, more often than not, they deliver on that expectation. But with a roster laden with aging veterans and little-to-no evidence of an emergent winning core, the obvious choice was for the Yankees to improve their future outlook by trading players who had minimal chances of being key contributors to the next winning Yankees team. To general manager Brian Cashman’s credit, they made the right call and returned impressive prospect value for relievers Aroldis Chapman and Andrew Miller. Today, they cashed in another obvious trade candidate and sent Carlos Beltran to the Texas Rangers.
For the Rangers, six games up in the division despite a roster with blatant holes and an unimpressive run differential of +3, the decision to buy was an easy one. They’re a team that’s benefited from luck, but one that also possesses enough core talent that it’s more than conceivable a few roster upgrades could put this team in position to win in October. As has been discussed ad nauseam this season, the American League is lacking for obvious powerhouse postseason favorites, unlike the Senior Circuit which is starkly stratified by roster talent. Add to the mix the fact that the Rangers have a farm system dripping with top-tier talent and now was as good a time as any for the Rangers to push their chips all in.
A Beltran/Rangers pairing was such a strong and evident match on paper that Dave Cameron correctly predicted the trade last week (in addition to the Jeremy Jeffress acquisition!). When looking to upgrade a roster, the first place to check is a team’s weaknesses and the Rangers this season have far and away received the worst production out of the designated-hitter position in the American League thanks primarily to Prince Fielder’s ineffectiveness. With Fielder out for the season and a hitter of Beltran’s quality available on the trade market, this match was kismet.
Dillon Tate‘s career at UC Santa Barbara began in the bullpen and he transitioned to a starting role in 2015 as a junior. He threw 103 innings in 2015, a significant increase for a raw pitcher who’d only thrown 43 the year before. Regardless, he was holding his velocity deep into games and was among those considered by the Diamondbacks for the top-overall pick in last year’s draft. Tate’s stuff waxed and waned during his junior season but was back by draft time. He was up to 98 for me at NCAA Regionals and flashing a plus breaking ball. The Rangers drafted him fourth overall shortly thereafter.
That Tate has previously dealt with and bounced back from a downward turn in his stuff is especially significant considering he’s going to have to do it again. Reports on Tate suggest the quality of his arsenal is down across the board — and, indeed, he’s struggled to miss bats for the past two months. During spring training, Tate was 94-96 with a plus slider and flashing an above-average changeup. The fastball velo has been down in the 90-93 range lately and Tate is currently sporting a 5.12 ERA at Low-A Hickory.
A bevy of trades went down over the weekend, as this year’s trade deadline-season entered into full swing. Here are the prospects who changed teams the last couple of days, as evaluated by my newly updated KATOH system. KATOH denotes WAR forecast for first six years of player’s major-league career. KATOH+ uses similar methodology with consideration also for Baseball America’s rankings.
Frazier had been promoted to Triple-A a week ago after slashing a strong .276/.356/.469 with 13 steals at Double-A this year. He pairs a high walk rate with decent power and speed, making him one of the most promising offensive prospects in baseball. Despite possessing average speed, Frazier plays mostly the corner-outfield spots these days, and hasn’t graded out particularly well there defensively. This suggests most of his big-league value will come from his hitting. Still, considering he’s a 21-year-old who’s already mastered Double-A, his future looks bright.
Clint Frazier was the fifth-overall pick in the 2013 draft out of Loganville High School in Georgia. He was signed away from his commitment to Georgia with a $3.5 million bonus, the most lucrative bonus in Indians draft history. Frazier was a high-effort spark plug with elite bat speed, though he didn’t look like your typical high-upside prep draftee.
Before the draft, most organizations were correctly skeptical about Frazier’s long-term ability to play center field despite some of the run times he was posting (he ran a 6.6-second 60-yard dash at East Coast Pro) because of the way they anticipated his body to fill out. Frazier was listed at 5-foot-11, 185 pounds as an amateur but has grown into a listed 6-foot-1, 190, though he’s probably heavier than that. Despite his likely corner-only destiny, Frazier’s bat speed and advanced feel for hitting made him a worthy top-five selection, even if he had atypical physical projection.
Because of the superhuman circumference of his biceps and his generally muscular physique, Frazier is most often body-comped to Popeye the Sailor Man, a reference I hope doesn’t elude the youngest of our readers. Though he posts some plus run times to first base because of a natural jailbreak, he’s only about an average runner whose middling speed is masked by visible effort and good base-running instincts. Frazier’s speed and feel for center are enough that I think he’d be passable there in an emergency, but I wouldn’t advocate him playing there everyday. I think that, given his size and build just shy of age 22, Frazier is likely to slow down as he enters his prime. His arm strength should allow him to play in either outfield corner (though I think he fits best in left), where I believe he’ll be an average defender at maturity.
Frazier’s 80-grade bat speed has helped him generate a .278/.360/.452 career batting line. He’s hit despite the excessive loop his hands take back to the ball, a mechanical hiccup that I think causes his barrel to arrive late and robs him of the ability to pull the ball consistently. This could dilute his game power a bit, but Frazier is strong enough to muscle some of those balls out to right field anyway, and the new Yankee Stadium will be particularly kind to this flaw. Though his swing features a good bit of effort and Frazier has struggled some with strikeouts throughout his minor-league career, he still projects as an average Major League hitter. Again, the bat speed is the primary reason for this, but Frazier has shown that he has some barrel control and the ability to make adjustments in the middle of at-bats, as well. Reports on his makeup are glowing.
The recipe goes like this. Take an American League-best 59-42 record and sauté it in a 67-year World Series drought. Chop up a recently revamped, sneakily excellent farm system and add it to the pan, along with some league-worst catcher production and a relatively thin bullpen. Let cook for one trade deadline, pour over the long-term perils of building a team around starting pitching, and season with a touch of championship envy from your neighbors across the street. It’s the perfect recipe for pushing all-in, pulled straight out of the Cleveland Indians cookbook.
Let’s get the details out of the way now. Late last night, Ken Rosenthal broke the Jonathan Lucroy news, which has now fallen apart and is a story all of its own. This morning, Rosenthal broke some more news, as he’s wont to do, regarding Andrew Miller. The Miller news is official — no take-backs! — and the details are as follows:
You’ll have to forgive me if I think of Andrew Miller as the travellin man. Now in his 11th major league season, Miller is headed to his sixth major league team, all east of the Mississippi. But unlike most journeymen, for the most part the teams acquiring Miller have been quite excited about the possibility. The latest team to celebrate getting the lanky lefty are the Cleveland Indians, who are now looking quite formidable. But they’re not the only team looking formidable. The Yankees may no longer be in 2016 contention, but they’re setting up well for 2017 and beyond. Read the rest of this entry »
You’ve undoubtedly heard about the Chapman blockbuster by now. Yesterday, lead prospect analyst Eric Longenhagen gave his take on the prospects involved. Below, I outline what my newly revamped KATOH projection system thinks about the youngsters headed to the Yankees. I also go on to compare that group to the group the Yankees sent to Cincinnati last December in exchange for Chapman’s services.
Note that I’ve included two types of KATOH projection. KATOH denotes the newest iteration of my projection system, outlined yesterday. KATOH+ denotes a version of that same thing which also accounts for Baseball America’s prospect rankings.
KATOH Projection: 5.6 WAR KATOH+ Projection: 7.1 WAR
Although he’s just 19, Torres has been one of the more productive hitters in High-A this year. The Venezuelan shortstop is slashing .275/.359/.433 on the year, with an impressive nine homers and 19 steals. In addition to his offensive exploits, Torres plays an uber-premium position and plays it well.