Jacob Lindgren Gets a New, Better Opportunity

The Atlanta Braves recently signed pitcher Jacob Lindgren. Drafted as a relief by the Yankees out of Mississippi State in 2014, he was thought to be a candidate to ascend through the minor leagues quickly and join the major-league club within a year. That he did, as he dominated his way through the minors, albeit in short stints. His longest look came in AAA in 2015 where he held great numbers. He made his debut that year too.

Though Lindgren found his way onto the Yankees roster quickly, it was all for naught, as he sustained an injury to end the 2015 season and only pitched seven innings this past year. His performance with the Yankees two years ago was subpar, which led to a demotion before his injury. He also struggled in spring training before sustaining his second injury.

Though he was a starting pitcher for a year with Mississippi State, his short 5’11 stature meant he was all but destined for a career in the bullpen. He dominated in college which led to the Yankees’ belief in his ability to reach the majors. He has a good fastball-slider combination that he can use to strike out batters. His fastball doesn’t jump at batter like some, but the low- to mid-90s heat can still be utilized successfully in this league. The combination of his two best pitches can lead to success as long as he can further develop his command and sequencing.

Lindgren was the Yankees’ seventh-ranked prospect in 2015 according to MLB.com, but his injuries led to him falling of that board. Still just 23 years old, he can regain that prospect stature he had before with a successful run with the Braves. A rebuilding team, Atlanta may even give him the opportunity to complete his development in the MLB bullpen rather than in the minors. He proved what he can do in AAA, so all that’s really left is for him to pitch successfully in the majors.

The reason that Lindgren is even on the Braves is due to the fact that the Yankees ran out of room on their 40-man roster. Facing heavy competition from other relief pitchers in New York, especially with Jonathan Holder (who FanGraphs writer Jeff Sullivan deemed the most dominant relief pitcher in the minor leagues), Lindgren didn’t really have a spot with the Yankees this coming year. Rather than waste his time in New York, they cut him loose to give him a shot elsewhere.


The Cardinals’ Potential Diamond in the Huff

Last month, the St. Louis Cardinals made one of their signature under-the-radar moves that has characterized their organization in the 21st century. They signed 31-year-old outfielder/first baseman Chad Huffman to a minor-league contract. Huffman played for the Detroit Tigers’ Triple-A affiliate in Toledo in 2016. He was the best hitter in the International League and it wasn’t particularly close. He was tops in the league in OPS and wRC+, and led the league in wRAA by almost 10 runs. However you look at it, he dominated. It’s hard to figure out why Huffman didn’t get any kind of shot at the big leagues in 2016.

A former second-round pick by the San Diego Padres way back in 2006, Huffman was actually quite successful in his first go-round through the minor-league system. He was the Padres’ sixth-ranked prospect after the 2006 season and remained in their top 25 throughout his tenure there. His solid plate-discipline skills and non-sexy but decent power numbers most likely held him back from being ranked in the top 20 where he belonged. Huffman looked like he was on his way to getting a real shot in the big leagues.

His career took a turn in April of 2010 when the New York Yankees claimed him off waivers. His numbers in Triple-A took a step backwards and when he finally did get his shot in the major leagues, he failed to take advantage of it. His 2010 with the Yankees was his one and only time in the majors. He spent time in Triple-A with the Indians in 2011-12 and with the Cardinals in 2013, posting numbers very similar to his early minor-league days. Once again, it seems as though Huffman was deserving of some kind of shot in these years. He posted an OBP over .350 in each season and never had a wRC+ under 112. Somehow, a real shot continued to evade him.

Rather than rot away in Triple-A, Huffman took off for Caracas, and then Japan a year later. He actually posted worse numbers overseas, but something must have changed outside of the States because he came back an even better hitter than before. Most recently, 2016 was a career year for Huffman, if one is allowed to call a year in Triple-A a career year. If he were not blocked by the likes of Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez, J.D. Martinez, and Justin Upton, he would’ve been on the Detroit Tigers roster at some point. It is hard to imagine any other team Huffman wouldn’t have seen the light of day on. Up to this point, it seems as though the 31-year-old has been incredibly unlucky. So 2017 might be the year he gets his chance to shine in his second stint in the Cardinals organization.

As of right now, Mr. Huffman is on the Cardinals 40-man roster. With the subtractions over the last two offseasons of Matt Holliday and Jason Heyward, the Cardinals are in need of a new fourth outfielder and maybe even a starter depending on their confidence in Tommy Pham. Matt Carpenter is penciled in as the starting first baseman but there is no doubt he won’t be spending all his time there, being the third baseman by trade that he is. In that case, Matt Adams would become the starting first baseman, leaving them in need of a backup. Barring more offseason additions to the roster, it seems as though Huffman has a clear shot at a roster spot. Once you start taking into account how injury-prone the likes of Carpenter, Adams, and Pham are, and taking into account any other injuries that may play out, Huffman must be feeling pretty good about the situation he finds himself in.

What other organization would a no-name minor leaguer rather find himself in? the Cardinals have built one of the most successful professional sports organizations of the 21st century on guys like Huffman. Matt Carpenter, Aledmys Diaz, Jeremy Hazelbaker — the Cardinals churn these types of players out like no other. Chad Huffman is the next name in the long line of St. Louis Cardinals who came out of nowhere.


Finding the Real Eric Thames

On Tuesday (11/29), the Brewers signed former failed prospect Eric Thames to a three-year, $16-million contract. In doing so, they also DFA’d the co-leader for home runs in the National League, Chris Carter. Now, there has been some speculation that the Brewers made this move to save money, but regardless of what you think the motives behind the move may be, it certainly is an interesting one that deserves a closer look.

Thames came up with the Blue Jays after being drafted in the 7th round of the 2008 draft. He showed good power in the minors, belting 27 homers at AA to the tune of a .238 ISO in 2010. He continued this surge into 2011 and did a decent job with the Jays at the major-league level, but struggled to hit lefties. Then, in 2012, it fell apart. His ISO dropped nearly 30 points from the year before, and his strikeout rate increased to an even 30% from 22%. After bouncing around in the minors in 2013, he then went overseas to the Korean Baseball Organization (KBO) and signed with the NC Dinos, where he almost immediately ascended to god status, hitting 124 home runs in 388 games with a .371 ISO in three years. Not only that, but he won a Gold Glove in Korea and stole 40 bases in 2015.

Now, of course, it’s never that easy. You don’t get a 40/40 guy with decent defense in the MLB for $5 million a year. The KBO is notorious for being a hitter’s paradise, as the skill level isn’t nearly that of the MLB. Think of the KBO as essentially being AA, where any major-league-caliber player will thrive, just like Thames did. But does that mean Thames has actually improved? If you look at some former KBO stars like Jung-Ho Kang and Hyun-Soo Kim, you can see that both have had success in the majors, even though they haven’t come close to matching their numbers in Korea. Thames’ Davenport translations (per Eno Sarris) suggest he’ll be a beast, slashing .333/.389/.628. Looking at those numbers, you could easily argue that Thames would be a bargain for the Brewers, essentially matching Carter’s output while even adding more value on the base paths and in the field.

That being said, Thames is a rare case. We have his stats from when he flopped in the big leagues, and we also have his stats from when he tore up the KBO. Barring some sort of complete technical and mental overhaul, one could also easily argue that Thames’ weaknesses the first time around will be his downfall the second time around. Let’s take a look at some stats from the KBO and compare them to his time in the MLB.

As stated before, one of the issues Thames had was that when he made contact, the balls didn’t go anywhere worthwhile (like the stands). He slugged .431 with a .182 ISO from 2011-2012, which does not look good if you’re a major-league first baseman. In the KBO, he put that issue to rest, where he slugged .718 with a .371 ISO, which is essentially unheard of in the MLB. Let’s check that problem with power off the list. However, there still stands the issue of his strikeouts and walks. He struck out 26% of the time during his time in the bigs while walking only 6% of the time, which is a recipe for disaster. In Korea, he struck out 18% of the time and walked a whopping 14% of the time. Other KBO imports have shown that both strikeout and walk rates regress when moving from Korea to the majors. So, Thames solved that second problem, although based on available data, we can assume he’ll regress in both categories. Thames improved in both areas that he needed to, but was this only because he was facing lesser pitching in a hitter’s paradise, or did he make technical changes to his swing in addition to improving his plate discipline?

Below are two screen shots: the top is Thames getting ready to take Ryan Dempster yard in 2013, the bottom is Thames hitting one of his 47 home runs in 2015.

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Look at the hands. In the top picture, Thames keeps his hands roughly around his ears right before his swing, while in Korea, he appears to load his swing lower, near his shoulders. This allows Thames to stay in the zone with his bat longer and have a bit of an upswing, which leads to higher exit velocity and an improved launch angle. Both of these qualities translate into more power and more strikeouts. Ted Williams first pioneered this idea, saying that a slight upswing leads to extended contact on the ball, while a level swing leads to a smaller impact zone.

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This is a change many players have made, such as Josh Donaldson, Jake Lamb, and Ryon Healy. Eno Sarris wrote an excellent article on the changes Ryon Healy made to his swing. It looks like this is something Thames is trying to emulate and will hopefully carry over to the MLB.

It looks like Thames has made the adjustments that he has needed to become a successful player. Trying to project what player he’ll be is a bit difficult. Personally, I look at the Davenport projections and I’m a little hesitant to say Thames will hit .333 and slug .628, seeing as how his strikeout rate will almost certainly regress to levels close to his former major-league self. I don’t see his walk rate regressing down to that level, mainly because plate discipline is a skill that accrues over time, and pitchers will have to be more careful with Thames and his new approach at the plate.

Let’s look at his slash line from his time in the MLB — in 633 at-bats, Thames hit .250/.296/.431 with 21 homers and a walk rate of 6% and a strikeout rate of 26%. Assuming regression from Korea, let’s keep the strikeouts at 25%, up from 18% in Korea, and let’s up the walk rate to account for added patience and power to 10%. With the technical changes in his swing, we can also assume his batted balls will go further and get hit harder, so let’s bump the slugging up to .500, which translates into something like 30-35 HR. This puts his ISO right at .250, a step up from what we saw earlier in his career. We’re now looking at a slash line of roughly .250/.350/.500 with an above-average glove at first and 10 steals (the Brewers love to let their players run). That’s good. In fact, that’s better than Chris Carter, and the Brewers are getting this at half the price of what Chris Carter would cost. I think there are plenty of reasons to be excited about Eric Thames in 2017.


Finding the Giants a Bat

Bobby Evans, the San Francisco Giants general manager, has said on numerous occasions that he’s comfortable with Mac Williamson or Jarrett Parker as the starting left fielder in 2017. That’s hard to believe.

In all likelihood, Evans said that so other teams and representatives of free agents don’t think they need to make a move for a left fielder. It’s a matter of leverage.

The Giants have, however, publicly stated that they’re targeting top relief pitchers. That need is so obvious they’d be foolish to deny it.

Despite what the Giants say publicly, they’re probably in the market for a left fielder and/or a third baseman in addition to an ace reliever.

Evans has stated that Eduardo Nuñez will be the starting third baseman, and that he’s comfortable with that reality. However, he’s lied about third base — or at least gone back on his word — before.

It happened just four months ago. Nuñez was acquired on July 28 in a move that surprised fans and analysts alike. Matt Duffy was just two days away from beginning a rehab assignment on his way back from an Achilles injury. Evans said he spoke with Duffy and assured him he wasn’t being replaced, and insisted that Nuñez was added as depth. Four days later, Duffy was traded to Tampa Bay.

So teams lie. They “change their minds.”

There’s no doubt the Giants could use some help in the lineup. While they weren’t a bad offensive team by any stretch, their lack of power in 2016 was severe, and the departure of Angel Pagan leaves a vacancy in left field. While Parker or Williamson may be capable of filling that void, it’s hard to imagine an otherwise complete team (once the bullpen is addressed) relying on two unproven players at a premium offensive position. Especially if they’re going to stand pat with Nuñez — an average hitter at best — as the starting third baseman, another premium offensive position. The Giants have a great starting rotation and several quality, cornerstone position players. Including the bullpen, they’re just two or three pieces away from looking like one of the best teams in the league. For all those reasons, it would be shocking if they didn’t acquire a left fielder.

One name that’s been mentioned is Ian Desmond. He’s capable of playing center field and shortstop (and therefore pretty much any other outfield or infield position) and he provides solid value on the base paths and at the plate. However, Desmond’s offense is a bit overrated. He’s put up just a 101 wRC+ in his career, and his bat has been known to disappear for long stretches.

Another problem with Desmond is that he’s a free-agent hitter. Free-agent hitters don’t like to sign with the Giants. It makes sense, when you think about it. What hitter in their right mind would want to play in San Francisco, given otherwise comparable alternatives, when it’s cold, windy, and the ballpark is enormous? Sure, the fans are great, the park is picturesque, and of course there’s the whole winning thing. But let’s be real: free-agent hitters would much rather go to Houston, Chicago, St. Louis, or just about anywhere other than AT&T if given the choice.

That’s why the Giants like to make the choice for them. Most of San Francisco’s impact hitters came to the team via the draft or a trade. Buster Posey, Brandon Belt, Joe Panik, and Brandon Crawford are homegrown. Nuñez, Pagan, and Hunter Pence were acquired in trades. They traded for Melky Cabrera, Pagan, and Casey McGehee in recent off-seasons. They got Freddy Sanchez, Carlos Beltran, Pence, Marco Scutaro, and Nuñez in mid-season trades.

That was a really long way of saying that I expect the Giants to trade for a hitter, and I expect that hitter to be a left fielder. Just the other day, Henry Schulman of the San Francisco Chronicle mentioned Jay Bruce and J.D. Martinez as possible trade targets:

The problem with Bruce is that he’s bad. A lot of Giants fans probably love with Jay Bruce. They shouldn’t. Defense actually matters, and a player’s home ballpark can have a massive impact on his offensive output. Bruce’s defense is terrible, and the offense we’re used to seeing from him is a mirage, because for essentially his entire career he’s played half his games at the Great American Smallpark (eye roll) in Cincinnati.

Forget about Jay Bruce. J.D. Martinez is much more intriguing. Over the last three seasons, Martinez has posted wRC+s of 154, 137, and 142. To put it bluntly, the man can flat out hit. He put up +4.0 fWAR in 2014, +5.0 in 2015, and just +1.8 in 2016. The reason for the big drop in 2016 is that he allegedly “forgot how to play defense.” He put up decent enough defensive numbers in 2014 and ’15 that betting on a rebound is probably worth the risk. His stock might never be lower, which means that now is the time to buy, especially because the Tigers are selling.

Martinez is an impact bat. He’s under team control for one more season and costs just $11.8M. He’s 29 years old. He would immediately become the Giants’ biggest power threat. His righty bat would fit in nicely among a lineup of mostly left-handed hitters. Manager Bruce Bochy could use Parker and Williamson to give Pence, Span, and Martinez days off, meanwhile evaluating if they’re capable of having a bigger role in 2018. Or, the Giants could fall in love with Martinez and do their best to re-sign him after 2017, as they’ve had success doing with players they’ve acquired in trades.

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Martinez would be a big splash and a massive upgrade (assuming, which we probably shouldn’t, that he remembers how to defense), but there are other intriguing trade targets to discuss.

Jorge Soler is one of them. He has big upside. He’s entering his age-25 season. He still flashes the tremendous raw power and athleticism that had people so hyped on him after his spectacular, albeit brief, 2014 debut in which he slashed .292/.330/.573 in 97 plate appearances.

Despite the hot start, Soler has managed a pedestrian .258/.328/.434 line in 765 career PA. He’s no longer a starter for the loaded Chicago Cubs. Kyle Schwarber’s return from a knee injury makes playing time even more unfathomable for Soler. He’s likely expendable if the price is right.

He’s signed for the next four years for a total of just $15M, but he can opt into arbitration eligibility if he feels that will earn him more money. It’s worth noting that Soler’s defense does not rate particularly well, although it’s also worth noting that he’s not as bad as Jay Bruce.

Another intriguing name is Marcell Ozuna, who would probably be a better ‘get’ than Soler. He’s put up a solid 103 wRC+ in his young career. He’s only 26 and is arbitration-eligible for the first time this offseason. He’s capable of scintillating hot streaks at the plate and plays very good outfield defense. He would be an excellent addition to the Giants, and, like Desmond, he can play center field. The Marlins are reportedly interested in acquiring starting pitchers after the tragic death of Jose Fernandez. The Giants could theoretically offer a package centered around their young, promising minor-league pitcher Tyler Beede.

So there you have it. Everybody knows that the Giants need serious help in the bullpen. It’s so obvious, the team is willing to shout it from the rooftops. What’s less obvious is their need for for an upgrade in either the outfield or at third base. (Of course, it’s entirely possible they’ll upgrade at both positions.) Since Nuñez is an established veteran, and Parker and Williamson are not, it seems more likely that the Giants will target a left fielder than a third baseman if they decide to only address one of those positions.

Baseball’s winter meetings are right around the corner (editor’s note: now underway! Mark Melancon!). Look for the Giants to be right in the thick of things. They’ve been heavily involved at the meetings these last few years, as constructing a roster that wins championships has become a realistic annual goal. Despite the front office saying that they’re comfortable with their current group of position players, the acquisition of a left fielder in addition to an ace bullpen arm seems imminently likely in the coming days or weeks. It’s just a matter of when, and whom.


The Yankees Can Become a Contender, and Spend Less

With the new MLB CBA being agreed upon, details of the agreement are trickling in to the baseball news outlets. One of the major agreements is a new luxury-tax threshold for the upcoming 2017 season and beyond. The threshold will increase to $195 million for the 2017 season, an increase of $6 million. It will continue to increase over the four following seasons as well. This is good news for the Yankees.

For years, the Yankees have been over the luxury-tax line since its incorporation in the 2003 season. With incremental increases in taxes from being above the line, the Yankees have paid in excess of $276 million over the past 14 seasons, far more than any other team. Because of the funds that the Steinbrenners have had to issue out as an extra tax, Hal Steinbrenner has stated that he wants to go under the tax and reset the penalties against them.

As it stands, the Yankees have a payroll of approximately $136.2 million, albeit with only seven major leaguers signed to contracts. Their payroll includes the $21 million paid to Alex Rodriguez and $5.5 million of Brian McCann’s salary that they share with the Astros. With that said, they have seven players that they are likely to retain through arbitration, which adds approximately $22.1 million to their payroll according to MLBTradeRumors.com. After that, their payroll stands at about $158 million. To complete their 25-man roster, 11 MLB minimum contracts need to be added. At the new amount of $535,000, the total then stands at $164 million.

As their roster stands, the Yankees will be well under the tax threshold if they don’t sign a single MLB free agent. After a year of doing that already though, that is very, very unlikely. The team is already highly involved in negotiations with most of the top remaining free agents. Three of the players they are involved with include Aroldis Chapman, Edwin Encarnacion, and Rich Hill. Most of all, the Yankees are involved with Chapman and have long been thought to be the ultimate landing spot for him by several sources.

According to FanGraphs’ own Dave Cameron, Chapman projects to receive in the realm of $18.5 million as an annual average. He follows with an annual average of $21 million for Encarnacion. For the sake of this article and the point of the Yankees spending less (and my own belief of salary projection), I will use MLBTradeRumors’ Tim Dierkes’ salary projection for Rich Hill. He puts it at $16.7 million on average compared to Cameron’s $24-million average. The difference comes down to the third year, yet at a cheaper rate.

With these salaries, as with many large MLB contracts, there is an expectation of back-loading the deal, or having higher averages at the end of the contract. Because of this, a projection of first-year salaries close to $16 million for Chapman, $17 million for Encarnacion, and $13 million for Rich Hill are obtainable. For those values, the deals would have to be fairly back-loaded, which would sting a bit in the long-term. However, it is good to keep in mind that back-loaded deals wouldn’t hurt too much since two major salaries in C.C. Sabathia and Rodriguez will no longer have to be paid.

For the first-year salaries above, the Yankees could conceivable sign one of Chapman or Encarnacion and Rich Hill while staying below the luxury-tax threshold. They wouldn’t be far off if they decided to sign both Chapman and Encarnacion (a net $32 million added after factoring in league-minimum deals for two players sent to AAA).

All of this doesn’t even factor in the possibility of the Yankees trading Brett Gardner and/or Chase Headley. Trading both would give them the ability to add two of the above plus potentially Justin Turner while giving young players like Aaron Judge and Tyler Austin the opportunity to play.

Considering these possibilities, the Yankees would be able to creep just under the luxury-tax threshold heading into the season. This would reset their penalties with a year to spare before an expected spending spree during the 2018-2019 offseason thanks to the likes of Bryce Harper, Manny Machado, and many others that may be available that winter. All of this is very speculative, but it shows that one of the premier teams in terms of spending has the potential to become much better than last year while spending much less. The Yankees having more money to spend is dangerous for the rest of the league and gives them the ability to cut bait and buy players if their top prospects don’t work out.


Maple Leaf Mystery

Canadians! They walk among us, only revealing themselves when they say something like “out” or “sorry” or “I killed and field-dressed my first moose when I was six.” But we don’t get to hear baseball players talk that often, so how can we tell if a baseball player is Canadian? Generally there are three warning signs:

  1. They have a vaguely French-sounding last name
  2. They have been pursued by the Toronto Blue Jays1
  3. They bat left-handed and throw right-handed

1 I honestly thought Travis d’Arnaud was Canadian until just now

Wait, hold on. What’s up with that third one? This merits a bit of investigation.
Read the rest of this entry »


What Reducing the DL from 15 to 10 Days Could Mean

Wednesday night in the 11th hour, MLB owners and players agreed to a new collective bargaining agreement that will cover five seasons through 2021.  While many of the items eventually agreed upon were tweaks and not major overhauls, one of the items that was of interest to me was the reduction of the disabled list from 15 days to 10 days.  On the surface, this could look like a win-win for both the players and the owners.  After all, players get to come off the DL and back on to the playing field five days sooner than they would have in past seasons, and owners can save coaches and fans from having to watch replacement-level players play while a most likely better player is on the shelf.

Using DL data compiled by baseballheatmaps.com, I took a look at length of stay on the DL by all players who landed on the list from 2010-2016.  Since 2010, 319 players have spent exactly 15 days  on the DL.  In total, this is 4785 days spent on the DL in seven seasons.  Now, for fun, let’s assume those same 319 players were ready to go after the new minimum of 10 days on the DL.  Simple math here will tell you those players spent 3190 days on the DL.  So in theory, over the course of seven seasons, reducing the DL to 10 days could save players 1595 days on the DL and owners the same number of days using most likely replacement-level players.  On a per-team average basis, reducing the DL by five days could actually save a team 7.6 days of DL time.

Seems like a win-win, right?  Again, players come back sooner, GMs don’t have to call up as many players from the minors and burn options, and owners save money by not having as many extra players come up from the minors accumulating MLB service time.  Not so fast.  In the same seven-season stretch, 3324 players spent 15 days or more on the DL and only 319 came off after 15 days.  So only 9% of all players on the DL spent the minimum amount of time out of action.  Why would this be?  Well, the obvious answer is if a player is hurt, they are hurt.  No one knows a player’s body better than the players themselves and they will return to action when they feel they are ready.

But the other answer is it pays to be on the DL in the majors.  There is protection.  Players still earn their salary and collect service time, so why rush back from an injury?  In the minors it is a different story. If you get hurt it becomes the next man up for a promotion to the big leagues.  There’s a reason there is a saying in the minors: “you can’t make a club in the tub.”  Now, just because there is protection doesn’t mean players want to spend time on the DL.  If they could, they would spend no time on the DL, as time away from the playing field can hurt future earning potential. Injuries are an inevitable part of the game but most seem to prevent players from feeling they are healthy enough to come back sooner than 15 days to compete at their best.  By reducing the DL to 10 days, I can see increased pressure from fans and media to come back quicker.  What we have to remember is this is the new minimum.  Players will return when they and the medical staff feel they’re ready.  I wouldn’t give your hopes up to see players return from the DL sooner than they have in the past.


Oakland A’s Give Cesar Valdez a Shot

On November 19, the Oakland A’s signed Cesar Valdez to a minor-league contract. His last appearance in the major leagues was way back in 2010 with the Arizona Diamondbacks. Almost seven years ago. Since then, Valdez has been jumping from organization to organization, toiling as a journeyman reliever/starter in Triple-A. Not even a tweet by the organization is needed for these types of transactions. Just a normal organizational move. But this is not just any organizational move. A closer look at Valdez’ player page shows there is much more going on here than just adding organizational depth.

It needs to be noted that Valdez is already heading into his age-32 season. Whatever value the A’s pull out of him needs to be extracted quickly because father time is right on his tail. The A’s don’t expect him to be a long-term asset. They probably don’t really even expect him to make it the big leagues. His high-level numbers over the last two years suggest he should be a major-leaguer again.

In 2016, Valdez posted a 3.24 FIP in the offense-happy Pacific Coast League playing for the Astros’ Triple-A affiliate, good for third-best in the league. One could look at this and say ‘okay, so what, he had a good 140 innings in the minor leagues.’ What jumps out of the page is how Valdez was even better pitching in the Mexican League in 2015, another offense-happy environment. He led the league in FIP and it really was not even close. He had the second highest K/9 and on top of it all he led the league in innings. He absolutely dominated the Mexican League and followed that up with another showing of dominance in the PCL.

Valdez’ walks per nine fell from 1.57 in 2015 to 0.85 in 2016. That was the lowest BB/9 in the PCL by almost one whole walk. There was reason to doubt Valdez following his 2015 season. It was dominant, but it also could be seen as fluky. He posted an outstanding 9.02/1.57/0.50 line. One could ask how he gave up so few home runs, and maybe that walk rate was bound to shoot up against stiffer competition. Valdez earns credibility with his 2016 campaign. His strikeout rate dipped a bit, although it was still strong, but his walk rate almost halved and he kept that outstanding home-run rate. He sustained most of his gains even against more advanced competition.

Remember the name Cesar Valdez. He will be up at some point with the Oakland A’s. There is no way to predict outcomes such as Corey Kluber and Junior Guerra but Mr. Valdez is as good a bet as any to follow in their footsteps.


Dodgers Should Pursue Steve Pearce

The Los Angeles Dodgers’ search for a second baseman continues. The solution might lie in the most obscure of places — a 1B/OF free agent. On many other websites there has certainly been a lot of debate about who the Dodgers should pursue to occupy second base. Ian Kinsler is clearly the focal point, and there’s good reasons for it. The Detroit Tigers publicly state they’re trying to get younger and the Dodgers need a second baseman. That’s about as natural a fit as possible.

And Ian Kinsler’s a really good second baseman. He just produced 5.8 WAR as a 34-year-old. That mark was the 11th-best WAR total in an offensively potent American League. In fact, the season he just turned in was a historic one as far as second basemen go.

There’s no denying Kinsler is a good player, and he’s definitely cost-controlled. He’s slated to earn $11 million in 2017 and he has a $10-million option for 2018 which would obviously be picked up by whatever team he plays for at that point. All this means that Kinsler is going to cost a fortune in a trade. Cody Bellinger’s name is being thrown around as the centerpiece. However, there have also been reports that Kinsler will not waive his no-trade clause should the new team not give him an extension. This wrinkle would make it easier to acquire Kinsler, but it would also undermine his best asset — a tiny contract.

But with everyone’s minds on trades, there’s another option the Dodgers could pursue and that option is named Steve Pearce.

In a way, Pearce reminds me a lot of Justin Turner. Both began their careers off slowly. Pearce never played more than 100 games until 2014 when he was 31 years old. Although Turner played more games earlier in his career, they weren’t that productive. The similarities start to come together when you notice they began to rake at the plate late in their careers. We all know about Turner’s numbers, but Pearce isn’t a slouch either.

In 2016, Pearce slashed .288/.374/.492 in 300 AB. Pair that with 13 home runs and a K% of 17.9% and you’ve got yourself a solid offensive player. He hits for average, gets on base, hits for moderate power, and doesn’t strike out much. So why hasn’t anyone been talking about him?

To begin with, people really only think of him as a platoon partner. Last year, FanGraphs even came out with an article stating “Orioles Reacquire Lefty Masher Steve Pearce.” As much as I love the writers there, I don’t buy the argument he only hits lefties. Just this year, Pearce posted a 176 wRC+ against lefties but still hit a well above-average 118 wRC+ against righties. Basically he goes from being a god against left-handed pitchers to being above-average against right-handed pitchers. And that’s crazy valuable!

With that problem being solved, he’s still not getting talked about. And that’s because he finished 2016 hurt. He actually underwent successful elbow surgery this year. So I’ll give the critics that.

But there’s another reason why no one’s talking about Steve Pearce as a second baseman. That’s because he doesn’t really play second base.

From 2007 to 2016, Pearce has played 33 games at second base, totaling a measly 242.2 innings at the position. But before you say signing a guy who has barely played second base to play second base all year long is dumb, I’ll explain. In those 242.2 innings, Pearce averaged 1.7 UZR/150 innings. Basically, he’s been about average defensively. Sure, it’s a ridiculously small sample, but it’s better than no data.

All I’m saying is that the Dodgers would be smart to look into Steve Pearce. MLBTradeRumors projects he’ll receive a 2 year, $20 million offer. With that price tag, he’ll be a lot cheaper than acquiring Ian Kinsler. And there’s definitely a reason for that. He’s coming off elbow surgery and isn’t a natural second baseman. But offensively speaking, Pearce is better than Kinsler. It’s just a matter of whether he could play second.


BatCast the Bat Flip Tracker: Oh, How the Wood Was Chucked

“Make baseball fun again” is Bryce Harpers outcry against baseball fundamentalists who continue to police emotions and enforce baseball’s expressionless professionalism.  “Shut up and play the game right” might be something you’d hear uttered from the fundamentalist’s side — ideally through tobacco-glazed teeth — and maybe by Brian McCannThe discourse is of course more involved than that, covering everything from retaliatory plunk balls to bat flips, and anytime something marginally inflammatory happens, it’s beaten so hard that we’re reminded how boring our lives are that we have to discuss the same things over and over and over.  I know you can picture the media package that accompanies the discourse: a young, brash, exquisitely coiffed, generational talent, who was hit in the ribs in his first ever plate appearance (then proceeded to steal home), is unabashedly passionate about a “fun” revolution in baseball.  His eye black is adorned like war paint; he has emojis on the bottom of his bats; his helmet never stays on his head when he runs the bases; and yes, he “pimps” his home runs.  Cut to Joey Bats‘ ALDS bat flip and the ensuing brawl and then connect it with Rougned Odor‘s haymaker; cut to Brian McCann standing at home plate waiting for Jose Fernandez after his first career home run; then enter the commentator: “Is this wrong?”

While baseball’s moral code on gaining an edge is unpredictable, there’s always been the idea that individuals conform to the game, not the other way around.  Harper’s sermon won’t shatter the code of conduct, but it might move the needle, if it hasn’t already.  For example, I can’t think of a standout incident this season because of a bat flip.  That’s good! Because bat flips are really fun!  There’s really no need to overthink it.  There were plenty of memorable bat flips this year, and in an effort to make some fun out of baseball when there is no baseball being played, I’m breaking out my bat flip tracking equipment (a ruler, a stop watch, and a parabolic trajectory calculator) that I introduced last year, and booting up BatCast for a look back at the year’s most memorable wood-chucking moments.

A brief recap: arriving at these numbers is a sloppy and wildly imprecise affair.  I pull videos, gifs, and stills of a bat flip and start by measuring the height of the player as he appears on my screen.  I convert that measurement into the player’s real-life size and reference this ratio, as well as measurements on the baseball field, and rough estimates, to arrive at some of the data I present to you in meters and feet: initial height, apex, and distance.  Using a stopwatch or the time stamp on YouTube, I can declare a fairly accurate hang time of the bat.  Angles are roughly noted using the batter and the ground to form a 90-degree angle and are adjusted in the parabolic trajectory calculator.

Let’s kick this off:

Exhibit A – The one that’s probably at the forefront of your mind:

Asdrubal Cabrera

Date Inning Leverage Index ΔWE% Implication
09/22/16 11 4.42 82.5% 0.5 gm ld in WC

Statcast

Exit Velocity Launch Angle Distance
102 mph 28.50 393 ft

Le Flip

asdrubalbatflip092216

How about in slow motion?

092216_asdrubal_walkoff_slomo_med_m9up6w4p 

Ejaculatory!

How many of his teammates do you think saw that flip?  They may have seen the tail end of it, but I’m willing to bet zero saw the flip in its entirety because everyone in the dugout was gazing at the ball in flight.  But this was a no-doubter.  Edubray Ramos resigned to the outcome likely before the ball had reached its apex.  The Phillies weren’t playing for anything at this point, but the Mets?  Before this pitch, the Mets were tied with the Giants and Cardinals for the top wild-card spot.  Before this pitch, in the 9th inning, Jose Reyes erased a two-run deficit with a home run of his own, only to see that lead given up again when Jeurys Familia and Jim Henderson allowed two runs to score in the top of the 11th.  After this pitch, this game ended and they had a half-game lead on any team in the National League for the first wild-card spot.  That bat flip is a team effort.  There’s some “I did it” in there, but the way he looks towards the dugout and offers his bat up towards his teammates makes this feel like “We did it!”

The numbers:

Cabrera is listed as 6′ tall.  On the freeze frame I measured, he’s 1.9″ tall.  So our key tells us that 1″ on the screen is 37.9″ in real life.  When he releases the bat, he does so from about shoulder height and we’ll call 5′ (1.52 m) in real life.  The acme is, it appears, not a great deal lower than the top of Asdrubal’s head, so we’ll tally that down at 5′-7″ (1.71 m).  To me, the launch angle looks to be right around 30 degrees, and we’ll refine this number once we get them in the parabolic trajectory calculator.  The duration of flight I’m using is the average number I’ve come up with through timing the video 10 times — 0.79 seconds.

Parabolic Trajectory Calculator:

ptraj

BatCast

Exit Velocity Launch Angle Acme Distance
8.7 mph 30 Deg 5’-7” 8’-9”

Exhibit B – A Man Possessed:

Matt Adams

Date Inning Leverage Index ΔWE% Implication
07/22/16 16th 1.71 42.7% 2nd straight walk-off for Cardinals

Statcast

Exit Velocity Launch Angle Distance
105.8 mph 28.34 444 ft

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If this picture was part of an emotional intelligence quiz, I’m sure the answers given as to what facial expression is being displayed would vary greatly.  To accurately assess the information in this picture it may behoove one to understand that, in baseball, home teams wear white and that the man in the background is most likely a fan of the home team and that his hands are held high in jubilation.  If you’re only looking at the horrifying ogre in the foreground who appears to be screaming at 67 Hz+, the pitch only a dog can hear, you’d be hard-pressed to say that is a happy man.  In fact, he may not be happy yet — he’s likely evoking a form of relief, having just exorcised the demons one faces when up to bat in the 16th inning of a tie baseball game; he looks like pure adrenaline.  Most of us don’t get to experience a moment like this in our lifetime so we don’t have a really strong reference point for what he’s feeling, but luckily you know what this article is about and there’s a gif:

giphy

PUMP! PUMP! PUMP IT UP!

That’s all lizard brain right there.  It’s a little undignified, but that’s the beauty of it.  Matt Adams is a dense, hulking man, and that makes it a little scarier and a little sillier.  Look:

matt-adams-b809f422f7cc9370

Sassy.

The numbers:

This one is especially hard to measure because of Adams’ primitive (yet graceful) movements.  I extracted these numbers using the still image and the video:

screen-shot-2016-11-28-at-10-04-38-pm

BatCast

Exit Velocity Launch Angle Acme Distance
20.6 mph 10 Deg 4’-11” 22’-1”

Exhibit C – Into the Batosphere

Yoenis Cespedes

Date Inning Leverage Index ΔWE% Implication
08/29/16 10th 1.23 47.0% The first baseball bat in outer space (for America – Korea has several).

Statcast

Exit Velocity Launch Angle Distance
101.9 mph 28.33 416 ft

Yoenis Cespedes made it into my BatCast segment last year with his nifty flip in the NLDS.  This flip follows a similar trajectory but he varies his look this time with a cross-bodied toss.  It’s rude:

082916_cespedes_bat_toss_med_k3thrcyn (1).gif

“Hold my drink, bitch.”

While the lesson here is obvious, the mistake is not as easily avoided: get the fastball ball UP and in on Cespedes.

plot_h_profile

Because of the evidence we have, the numbers for this bat flip will be even more rough than the others — by the way, I hope you’re not a mathematician, and I apologize if you are.  The data we can gather is the launch angle and at what time stamp the bat reaches it’s highest point.  Here’s a better view of the angle:

USP MLB: MIAMI MARLINS AT NEW YORK METS S BBN USA NY

Can we agree on shoulder height for the initial launch height to make things easier?   Let’s call it 5′ since Cespedes is 5′-10″.  We’ll say the bat was launched at a 70-degree angle and in the gif the bat appears to reach it’s apex at just before 0.4 seconds.

BatCast

Exit Velocity Launch Angle Acme Distance
9.2 mph 70 deg 12’-6” 4’-11”

Exhibit D – The “I probably didn’t even need this bat to hit this home run” flip

Bryce Harper

Date Inning Leverage Index ΔWE% Implication
09/10/16 8th 3.63 30.5% Bryce’s helmet probably won’t fall off when he’s running the bases.
Statcast
Exit Velocity Launch Angle Distance
99.7 mph 26.39 377 ft

After my long-winded intro it’s fitting to get to feature Bryce Harper in this piece.  He probably didn’t have as much fun this year as he did in 2015, but he appears to have gotten some enjoyment out of this shot.
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Correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe that is what the kids call “Swagadoscious.”  I’ll just get right to the point this time.

bharpflipp

 

BatCast

Exit Velocity Launch Angle Acme Distance
6.3 mph 50 deg 6’-8” 5’-1”

Those are the ones that stuck out to me as the best flips of the year and I hope you were able to move past the rough estimates and get some enjoyment out of that as well.  I should note that Joc Pederson‘s bat flip in the NLDS is omitted because I cannot find substantial evidence of an acme or distance.  And while a lefty going across his body like he did is pretty exotic, the uncertainty he exudes, combined with his panicked sashay, makes this effort pretty uncool.

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(Scherzer looks super imposed here)

So what can we pretend to glean from this?  Based on WPA, it’s probably not surprising that Harper had the most disproportionate bat flip.  Looking at the Statcast data, Harper’s home run was also the “weakest” out of the group.  So I guess even if Bryce Harper says what he says just so he can get away with being a little douchey, he’s holding up his part of the deal.  Of course, bat flips aren’t what make baseball fun.  Baseball is fun because we can see so much of our own lives in the game — it’s the humanity.  It provokes endless curiosity and it will reward you if you know where to look.  It’s the only game that can end, not because of time, but with one swing, and flip, of the bat.

Don’t be afraid to clue me in to bat flips in the future — my Twitter handle is in my bio (below).