Sunday Notes: Christin, Chi Chi, Collins’ Decision, Reliever Value, more

Christin Stewart is the top power-hitting prospect in the Detroit Tigers system. He aspires to be the best overall hitter.

The 22-year-old outfielder got off on the right foot after being drafted 34th-overall last summer out of the University of Tennessee. Swinging from the left side, the muscular slugger slashed ..285/.372/.508 and bashed 10 home runs in half a season. He did the bulk of his damage in West Michigan, where he helped lead the Whitecaps to a Midwest League championship.

Stewart is highly touted, although the accolades come with cautions. Baseball America has lauded his plus bat speed and raw power, but also opined that he’s “an aggressive hitter whose swing gets long.”

This past summer, I asked the first-year pro about the latter assessment.

“There’s not a lot of movement in my swing,” Stewart told me. “I think I have a short swing to the ball. My extension through the ball can get a little long at times, and maybe that’s what they mean.”

Phil Clark, West Michigan’s hitting coach last year, had a different take. He concurred with his charge on length, but then to pointed to the start, as opposed to the finish.

“I don’t see so much of a long swing,” said Clark. “I think it’s more in his lower body. The lower body dictates how his swing works. I see more of a balance issue with his legs. He has a non-traditional way of loading his body.”

“I do have a different load than a lot of people,” agreed Stewart. “I stride back a little bit in my load. It’s a timing mechanism that I developed in college. When I got to Tennessee, I wanted to see what I could do to get more power in my legs and drive the ball farther. That’s what felt good, and it worked.”

His ability to drive the ball is unquestioned. Stewart left the yard a record 69 times as a Georgia prep, and he homered 15 times in 177 at bats in his final year as a Volunteer. At West Michigan, he homered seven times in 51 games.

“My first impression of him was his incredible strength,” said Clark. “I like his upper body strength. When he’s doing it right, he can hit the ball a long way. He’s got a pull swing, but he can backspin it the other way, too. It carries.”

Stewart knows he’s “been blessed with a powerful swing,” but he doesn’t want to “keyhole myself to the pull side and try to turn-and-burn on everything.” He looks for pitches he can get his hands extended on, and tries to drive the ball to all fields.

“A lot of people call me a power hitter, but I like to consider myself a hitter that has power,” stated Stewart. “I’m a hitter first. But if I get into one, I can drive it out of the ballpark.”

As for his non-traditional load, that’s something the Tigers haven’t tinkered with. At least not yet. Clark told me during the summer that Stewart “maybe needs to smooth himself out a little bit, but right now we don’t see any urgency to touch him.”

Detroit will hold a mini-camp at the onset of minor-league spring training — they didn’t field an instructional league team last fall — and any possible tweaks will be addressed then. According to farm director Dave Owen, “We’ll see how (Stewart) looks and begin preparing him for his 2016 season.”

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Alex Speier of the Boston Globe addressed an important aspect of Hall of Fame voting at a recent SABR event. Speaking a stone’s throw from Fenway Park, the stat-savvy columnist wondered aloud if it’s fair to penalize players for doing what was expected of them in their particular era.

I didn’t record his presentation, but I did subsequently ask Alex if he would contribute a brief synopsis to this column. He obliged with the following:

“There is a fascinating dynamic at work when it comes to contemplating the game’s history, especially as seen in Hall of Fame debates, with an at-times shrill exchange between those who want to judge player performance based on the values of the time, and those who prefer to examine the past based on the values of the present.

“The disagreements often are presented as an either/or. However, standards for greatness are dynamic rather than fixed, such that a player may be viewed more (or less) favorably outside the context of his times. Ultimately, it seems unfair not to evaluate players by the standards of greatness both at the time they played (especially given that they often were coached/instructed according to those norms — sometimes in opposition to future standards, as with the 20th century privileging of average over OBP) as well as from the contemporary standards at the time of judgment.”

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Hindsight being 20/20, Mets manager Terry Collins erred when he didn’t go to his closer to start the ninth inning of World Series Game 5. He compounded the error by leaving Matt Harvey in to face a second batter after he’d issued a lead-off walk.

But again, that’s hindsight. Harvey had been cruising — the horse’s pitch count was a relatively stress-free 100 — and many managers would have sent him back out. David Ross would have as well.

Watching from home, the Chicago Cubs catcher saw a pitcher who “was dominating the game” and belonged on the mound to begin the ninth. He probably would have lifted Harvey once someone got on, but as Ross made clear when we spoke, “Terry Collins knows his team and his players a lot better than I do; I’m not about to second-guess him.”

The 14-year veteran offered another observation, this one of a psychological nature.

“What ended up happening is that the focus came off the game a little bit,” Ross told me. “If you’re in the dugout arguing with your manager about staying in the game, your focus has gone in another direction.”

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Talking to Burke Badenhop about bullpen usage and leverage is a lot like talking to Glen Perkins about bullpen usage and leverage. The latter is an all-star closer and the former is a journeyman with four career saves, but they share the same mentality. Both recognize that the biggest outs often come before the ninth inning.

Another thing they have in common is their pitching backgrounds. Like most relievers, they didn’t begin in the bullpen.

“Relievers are basically broken starters,” said Badenhop. “There’s a reason we’re not starters anymore: We don’t do everything well. If we did, we’d still be starters. So there aren’t very many guys in your pen that are lights out against both sides. Most of us are either good at getting righties out, or at getting lefties out.”

Darren O’Day is especially good at getting righties out, and he’s about to get paid handsomely to do so. The sidewinder recently re-signed with the Orioles for $31 million over four years, one year after Andrew Miller inked a four-year, $36 million deal with the Yankees — heretofore exorbitant contracts for non-closers. As a matter of comparison, Perkins will be paid $19.3 million over the next three.

“Darren O’Day has never been a closer, but he consistently comes in and gets out of jams, in high-leverage situations,” said Badenhop. “He was a free agent this year and even though they won’t be looking for him to close, the pay is commensurate with his ability. Teams are starting to spend money on high-leverage relievers, and for good reason. Having a good closer in the ninth doesn’t do you any good if you blow the lead in the eighth.”

Badenhop can’t speak for O’Day, but he assumes the fellow righty is more concerned with getting important outs than he is with sexy job descriptions.

“Being older and wiser, he probably realizes that isn’t as important,” said Badenhop. “If he was younger and greener, it might be more ‘I want to be the closer.’

The reason — Badenhop called it a conundrum — is greenbacks. While teams have begun rewarding non-closers, they’re largely doing so when they hit free-agency.

“Stats matter for guys going into arbitration,” explained Badenhop. “Saves make you money. Until the save becomes less important, and some sort of leverage-index statistic starts getting emphasized, that’s going to be an issue.”

He expects it to happen in time.

“As the wheels keep turning — as baseball evolves — teams are going to start using their best relievers to get the biggest outs,” said Badenhop. “They’re not going to keep putting them in a box where they only pitch the ninth. And the teams that are early adopters are going to reap the most benefits, because everyone is probably going to start doing it. At the same time, guys are going to get paid for being the best reliever, not for getting the 6-7-8 hitters out with a three-run lead in the ninth inning.”

———

Last Sunday’s column included quotes from Josh Boyd on Rangers reliever Keone Kela, This week, the team’s senior director of player personnel weighs in on 24-year-old right-hander Chi Chi Gonzalez. A first-round pick in 2013, Gonzalez broke into the big leagues last year and posted a 3.90 ERA in 14 games, 10 of them starts, with a 48.6 GB% and a 4.3 K/9.

“Chi Chi got to the big leagues quickly because he was equipped with multiple pitches in his mix, he throws strikes, and he’s a smart pitcher with aptitude.” said Boyd. “In a perfect world — I think (GM Jon Daniels) said it at the time — his development process likely would have continued in Round Rock, but he came up and gave us some quality starts we needed.

“Delivery-wise, some of the minor adjustments our pitching coaches are emphasizing with him will allow his sinker-slider combo to play up more than it did in his minor league ascent. Chi Chi has the movement on his fastball to pitch to contact, but his slider and continued focus on his changeup and curveball development will lead to increased swing-and-miss as well. I don’t see Chi Chi as a four strikeouts per nine innings guy.”

———

On the surface, it didn’t make a lot of sense for the Rockies — a long shot contender in 2016 — to trade for Jake McGee. The southpaw throws smoke, but relievers aren’t what the team needs right now. Colorado needs building blocks, and that’s not what McGee is.

The guess here is that GM Jeff Bridich views his new acquisition as a short-term rental. Given the ever-increasing emphasis on deep bullpens, and the fact that McGee dials up 96 from the left side, he should have a lot of suitors at the trade deadline. Will a contender part with a better long-term piece than Corey Dickerson to acquire him for the stretch run? From my perspective, Bridich is banking on exactly that.

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Andruw Jones: .254/.337/.486, 1,933 hits, 434 home runs, 10 Gold Gloves, 67.1 fWAR

Jim Edmonds: .284/.376/.527, 1,949 hits, 393 home runs, 8 Gold Gloves, 64.5 fWAR

If you’re running a team and can have either of the two, for the entirety of his career, which one do you take?

———

Per MLB.com’s Mike “The Maestro of StatCast” Petriello, Red Sox righty Rick Porcello had the third-highest four-seam spin rate last year. That’s a fascinating fact, primarily because Porcello is known as a ground-ball pitcher. Or at least he used to be. His GB% has been inching down, and his two-seam usage has fallen from 45.2%, in 2012, to 29.8% in 2015. The results have been mixed. Porcello had a career-best year with the Tigers in 2014, but he backslid in Boston. On numerous occasions, elevated fastballs were his bugaboo.

Did the Tigers, and/or the Red Sox, ask Porcello to change his stripes and become more of a fly-ball pitcher, because of his four-seam spin rate?

———

Last summer, I interviewed Cubs outfielder Chris Coghlan. This past week, Petriello did so in podcast form. Not surprisingly, it’s a great listen.

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RANDOM FACTS AND STATS

Over the past five seasons, Joey Votto (.361) has the highest BABiP among players with at least 2,500 plate appearances. Albert Pujols (.260) has the lowest.

Randal Grichuk had 17 home runs and a .548 slugging percentage last year. Miguel Cabrera had 18 home runs and a .534 slugging percentage.

Of the 20 pitchers who recorded 30-or-more saves last year, only Kenley Jansen and Shawn Tolleson weren’t charged with a wild pitch. Cody Allen had nine wild pitches.

Per MLB.com’s Daren Willman, when Josh Tomlin got the spin rate of his off-speed pitches above 2,500 RPM, batters were 1-for-35 (.028) versus him, the lowest mark in MLB (minimum 20 at bats).

Among pitchers who didn’t allow a home run last year, Adam Wainwright threw the most innings (28).

Per Baseball America, Astros farm teams have a .550 winning percentage over the past four years, the best in both leagues. The Brewers, at .464, have the lowest winning percentage.



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David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from February 2006-March 2011 and is a regular contributor to several publications. His first book, Interviews from Red Sox Nation, was published by Maple Street Press in 2006. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.


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gbaked
Member
3 months 24 days ago

Did that bit of Ross talking about Harvey come from an article? I don’t see the link. Thanks!

wobatus
Member
wobatus
3 months 24 days ago

It comes from this article. Looks like the author spoke to Ross.

grandbranyan
Member
grandbranyan
3 months 24 days ago

Really like the Edmonds/Andruw question. Edmonds was clearly the better offensive player (318 to 116) & offered great defense (+73). I think I’d probably take Andruw though because he was more consistent (1st in games played over 11 seaon peak compared to 30th for Edmonds over his 11 season peak) & offered defense that transcended great to otherworldly (+281).

tz
Member
tz
3 months 24 days ago

I’d take Jones, simply because he’d cost you less (Edmonds having many more excellent seasons after FA eligibility).

In fact, if you took Jones through his age 29 season, and then Edmonds for his age 30+ seasons, your hypothetical player would have this career line:

Andruw Edmonds: .272/.362/.522, 2,805 hits, 625 home runs, 15 Gold Gloves, 108.3 fWAR.

That’s basically Junior Griffey if he stretched his defensive peak long enough to become the most valuable defensive player of all time.

vivalajeter
Member
vivalajeter
3 months 24 days ago

Great work with the career numbers, but I’m not sure that Jones would cost you less. It’s not a perfect comparison because they debuted 3 years apart, but according to Baseball Reference, Jones made $128MM over his career while Edmonds only made $86MM. Edmonds only cleared $10MM/year twice (2005 and 2006), while Jones made at least $10MM/year from 2002-2009.

tz
Member
tz
3 months 23 days ago

Excellent point. I had forgotten that he “chose” to have his worst, injury-plagued season right before his walk year. When the Cards got him for Adam Kennedy and Kent Bottenfield, Edmonds was his old self, and they wisely locked him up for a long extension in May:

http://www.thebaseballcube.com/players/profile.asp?P=Jim-Edmonds&Page=Tranx#Salary

Jones, on the other hand, got a six-year extension from the Braves after his first arbitration year.

http://www.thebaseballcube.com/players/profile.asp?P=Andruw-Jones&Page=Tranx#Salary

So I would have to change my answer to a toss-up. And also, props to both the Braves and Cardinals for making very shrewd investments on these guys.

kevintdame
Member
kevintdame
3 months 24 days ago

Rankometer likes Jones slightly better than Edmonds.

Edmonds:

Jones:

gelezinis vilkas
Member
gelezinis vilkas
3 months 24 days ago

It’s close, but I’m going to take the contrarian view and go with Edmonds. And I’ll admit, I have a bias towards players with a high OBP.
Edmonds had four seasons with an OBP of over .400 and two that were very close (.385 twice). Also, not surprisingly, Edmonds best wRC+ years were 156,157, and 168.
Jones never came close to those marks.
Jones was clearly the better defensive player, but IMO Edmonds was the more well rounded ballplayer.

David
Member
David
3 months 24 days ago

Jones was also in the lineup more—11 straight seasons with 153+ games played, whereas Edmonds only played as many as 150 four times, and had seasons in which he was counted on to be a full-time starter in which he missed 29, 45, 48, 52 and 107 games.

JorgeGeorge
Member
JorgeGeorge
3 months 20 days ago

The HOF vote will always be screwy as long as voters can only vote for ten players. A more logical system would be vote for EACH player yes or no. This excuse that “there where more than 10 players deserving my vote” is ridiculous!

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