Archive for June, 2015

FanGraphs Audio: Kiley McDaniel on the Second of July

Episode 577
Kiley McDaniel is both (a) the lead prospect analyst for FanGraphs and also (b) the guest on this particular edition of FanGraphs Audio — during which edition he discusses, among sundry matters, baseball’s looming international-signing period.

Don’t hesitate to direct pod-related correspondence to @cistulli on Twitter.

You can subscribe to the podcast via iTunes or other feeder things.

Audio after the jump. (Approximately 1 hr 19 min play time.)

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FanGraphs After Dark Chat – 6/30/15

3:22
Paul Swydan: Hi everybody!

Join Jeff and myself tonight at 9 pm ET for all the baseballing action you can act on.

It’s Jeff’s last chat for two weeks, so get in all the fancy Royals questions you’ve dying to ask! See you soon!

9:01
Paul Swydan: Hi guys! Let’s do this.

9:02
Comment From Jung Ho Kodos
Head to head league where I’ve taken second place 5 years in a row. Should I trade Joc for Stanton if I’m comfortably in the playoff picture and can survive the time between now and when Stanton comes back, or should I be worried about Stanton’s power when he gets back?

9:03
Jeff Zimmerman: I would worry if Stanto makes it back at all

9:03
Paul Swydan: I would absolutely be worried about his power when he comes back, because hand injuries tend to take longer to get over.

9:03
Paul Swydan: That’s another good point. Stanton’s injury is a clear sign that the Marlins can sell.

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Billy Hamilton, As Advertised

Monday, against the Twins, Billy Hamilton stole four bases. In so doing, he reached 40 steals on the year before anyone else reached 30. Probably even more impressive: Hamilton now has more steals than exactly half the teams in baseball. He has more than the White Sox and Dodgers combined. Over the course of the past month, Hamilton has stolen 20 bases, and second and third place on the leaderboard combined have stolen 19 bases. Over that same month, Hamilton has more stolen bases than he has hits.

It’s funny now to reflect on some of the things I wrote in 2014. Early on, when Hamilton started to hit, I decided he wasn’t a caricature. When it all ended, I asked why Hamilton hadn’t been a base-stealing dynamo. Now Hamilton is a base-stealing dynamo. And he’s a terrible hitter. He can’t hit, but he does run, and when he’s on the other side of things, he can play a mean center field. Which means, in a way, Billy Hamilton now is something of a caricature. He’s an exaggeration of a player type, which is exactly how he was advertised.

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Tempering Expectations for Atlanta’s Matt Wisler

Matt Wisler’s big-league debut went about as well as anyone could have expected. The 22-year-old tossed eight innings of one-run ball two Fridays. His performance was good enough to outduel Jacob deGrom, as he led the Braves to a 2-1 victory over the Mets. His second start didn’t go as swimmingly, however: the Nationals tattooed him for six runs in four innings of work. He didn’t strike out a single one of the 21 batters he faced.

Wisler’s primarily a fastball-slider guy, and both pitches have the potential to be plus, according to Kiley McDaniel. His fastball was clocked as fast as 95 mph in his big-league debut, but it’s averaged closer to 92 overall thus far. Both of Wisler’s strikeouts — yes, he’s only had two — came by way of his low-80s slider. The first victim was Curtis Granderson.

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MLB Urges U.S. Supreme Court to Deny San Jose Appeal

Overshadowed by last week’s series of momentous decisions by the U.S. Supreme Court, Major League Baseball recently filed a brief with the Court urging it to reject an appeal by the city of San Jose, California in the on-going dispute over the future home of the Oakland Athletics. As I noted at the time San Jose filed its appeal back in April, the city is hoping to challenge MLB’s refusal to approve the proposed relocation of the A’s to the city in court under the Sherman Antitrust Act.

Over the last two years, however, both the trial court and court of appeals have dismissed San Jose’s suit in light of professional baseball’s nearly century-old antitrust exemption. The city is now asking the Supreme Court to take its appeal and overturn the controversial doctrine in order to hold MLB accountable under the Sherman Act, like all of the other major U.S. professional sports leagues.

As one might expect, MLB’s brief instead argues that San Jose’s appeal should be rejected for several reasons. In particular, MLB devotes much of the first half of its brief to the contention that San Jose lacks standing to sue — a requirement in which the plaintiff must show that it has a personal stake in the outcome of an actual legal case or controversy (as opposed to a hypothetical, future dispute) — and therefore can’t sustain its case against the league.

MLB challenges San Jose’s standing on several grounds. The primary basis of MLB’s attack, however, focuses on a recent California state court decision holding that an option agreement between the city and the A’s for the land on which a new stadium is to be built is invalid under various state and municipal laws. Specifically, the California court determined that San Jose had illegally transferred the land to a governmental authority in an attempt to circumvent laws requiring that a public referendum be held to approve the use of any tax dollars to build a sports facility.

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Picking the 2015 American League All-Stars

Yesterday, we tackled the National League’s 34 most deserving candidates, so today, we’ll do the American League. When it comes to picking players, I lean very heavily towards in-season performance, as I tend towards the camp that sees the game as a reward for the players more than a showcase for the fans. It is both, of course, and trying to serve both masters can make for some tricky decisions, but I’d rather reward a deserving player for a big first half than simply invite the same players every year based on their legacy. I know others see it differently, and that’s fine; I personally just find it more interesting to recognize performance than name-value.

In putting this together, I broke the 34 roster spots into 21 position players and 13 pitchers, and I also held to the rule that every team had to be represented. Injured players were not considered, so while Andrew Miller will likely be picked and then replaced, I didn’t bother with that formality. And while the only stat listed is a player’s WAR, it’s just there for reference; I didn’t select the players based solely on their WAR totals. Oh, and for pitchers, the WAR listed is a 50/50 blend of FIP-based and RA9-based WAR.

Okay, on to the team. We’ll go position by position, with the starter listed first.

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The Simplicity of Josh Reddick’s Improvement

Not every breakout comes with a complicated story. Sometimes it’s super simple. Sometimes, as Josh Reddick put it, a player just comes to “a recognition.” For Reddick, it was recognition born of who he is. He became better by becoming more like himself.

Look down at his numbers, and it seems as straight forward as Reddick makes it when he told me, “It’s just staying on pitches in the zone as opposed to pitches outside of the zone.” Reddick has halved his career strikeout rate by swinging less than he’s ever swung.

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Kiley McDaniel Prospects Chat – 6/30/15

11:08
Kiley McDaniel: Headed to Hickory once we’re done here but you people get me for an hour or so. For most basic July 2 questions see the July 2 board (will be updated any minute when the admin sees my email) http://www.fangraphs.com/sc… and the international article archive http://www.fangraphs.com/bl… which has articles covering many of the more nuanced issues in the int’l game

11:08
Comment From mike
Bluejays sign Vandy commit Pruit, anything there besides speed and potential?

11:08
Kiley McDaniel: Plus speed, CF fit, twitchy athlete, has bat speed and decent results but swing is inconsistent. solid gamble. thought it would take more money than that to buy out Vandy

11:09
Comment From Giants Fanboy
Which do you think the Giants are more closer to signing between Fox and Eddy Julio?

11:10
Kiley McDaniel: I think it’s a real but unlikely chance on both. Say around 25%? Could jump in the coming weeks as neither have a deal in place yet.

11:10
Comment From Billy
So besides Socrates Brito having an 80 name, does he have much future potential?

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NERD Game Scores: Houston Astros Return Engagement

Devised originally in response to a challenge issued by viscount of the internet Rob Neyer, and expanded at the request of nobody, NERD scores represent an attempt to summarize in one number (and on a scale of 0-10) the likely aesthetic appeal or watchability, for the learned fan, of a player or team or game. Read more about the components of and formulae for NERD scores here.

***

Most Highly Rated Game
Kansas City at Houston | 20:10 ET
Duffy (43.0 IP, 117 xFIP-) vs. Keuchel (116.1 IP, 73 xFIP-)
By mere decimal points, this Royals-Astros encounter receives today’s highest game score, rendering it not only (a) the (hypothetically) most watchable contest of the evening according to the inadequate methodology devised by the author, but also (b) the third consecutive day on which the Houstons have been featured within same. With regard to which of the club’s qualities distinguish them most substantially, one finds that they’ve produced a park-adjusted home-run rate nearly 2.5 standard deviations better than the league average while having deployed batters who, overall, are more than 2.5 standard deviations younger than the mean — both league-leading figures, those. Additionally, the Astros bullpen has recorded the lowest park-adjusted xFIP in all the majors; its baserunners, the fifth-most runs by that measure. A collection of promising traits, is what one finds here — just as within a dating profile on which one has lied about his collection of promising traits.

Readers’ Preferred Broadcast: Houston Radio.

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Pablo Sandoval Hit a Pitch at His Eyes

A few years ago, early in the World Series, Pablo Sandoval teed off against the Tigers, going deep three times. What people tend to remember most is Sandoval tomahawking an 0-and-2 Justin Verlander fastball, up and out of the zone. Sandoval, of course, has always been perhaps the best bad-ball hitter in the game, but it was still something to get on top of that kind of pitch, in that kind of place, in that kind of situation. A relevant still:

sandoval-verlander

That’s a high pitch, that Sandoval drilled with little problem. The form looks good. I mean, it was a dinger — the form had to look good. Some people took to saying that Sandoval homered off a pitch at his eyes. Something of an exaggeration, sure, but it’s the language of baseball, and it’s not like pitches get a whole lot higher.

On Monday, against Toronto, Pablo Sandoval hit a pitch that was actually at his eyes. It wasn’t the World Series, and it wasn’t a home run. It wasn’t even a base hit. It was just a groundball, like any other groundball. Except for that one thing, where the pitch was more than five feet off of the earth. People still remember Sandoval going upstairs to punish Verlander. The pitch Sandoval put in play against R.A. Dickey was higher than the Verlander pitch by 21 inches. 21 inches is the height of the world’s smallest man. Between Monday’s pitch and the Verlander pitch, you could fit a whole man.

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FanGraphs Audio: Cubs Broadcaster Len Kasper

Episode 576
Len Kasper is currently in his 11th year as the play-by-play announcer for Chicago Cubs telecasts. He’s also the very patient guest on this edition of the program.

Don’t hesitate to direct pod-related correspondence to @cistulli on Twitter.

You can subscribe to the podcast via iTunes or other feeder things.

Audio after the jump. (Approximately 15 min play time.)

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What the Rockies Have In Nolan Arenado

It’s been a good stretch for Nolan Arenado. In the past seven games, he’s hit eight home runs. Going back seven games is an arbitrary endpoint, so, in the five games preceding, Arenado hit either a double or a triple. After a May 23 doubleheader, Arenado was batting .257; since then, he’s batted .333, and far more importantly, he’s slugged .811. Now, the Rockies themselves haven’t necessarily felt it. They’ve played .500 baseball over the course of Arenado’s hot stretch, and it’s not a team that’s about to compete. But the Rockies are no strangers to playing ordinary baseball while getting extraordinary performances. This time we just get to look beyond Troy Tulowitzki.

I’m not all that interested in trying to analyze Arenado while he’s on fire. There’s only so much to be said about a short-term awesome performance, and in a case like this, I think it’s best to just take a step back and try to consider the bigger picture. Arenado is starting to get a little more attention. God knows he deserves it. He’s not a mediocre player in the middle of doing well; he’s a good player in the middle of being amazing. Have we seen a player like Nolan Arenado before? What kind of asset is he, to the Rockies? In the interest of honesty, I went into this with an idea already in mind. It was just a matter of collecting evidence. I don’t think the initial bias invalidates the conclusion.

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JABO: Has Alex Rodriguez Been Worth the Money?

Alex Rodriguez has had an interesting few years. Ok, so that’s a big understatement. Besides the controversies, the 3,000 hits, and the various arguments with management and professional baseball catchers, we’re now witnessing something most people didn’t expect: a 39-year-old A-Rod putting together an incredible offensive year. As he heads toward the final two years of his contract in New York, two questions arise: has Rodriguez been worth the incredible amount of money he’s received over the span of his current contract? And has he been worth the money he’s getting this year?

First, it’s important to establish just how great and anomalous Rodriguez has been this season for, well, how old he is. It is pretty well known that most offensive categories should have taken a serious hit by the time a slugger approaches 40, but A-Rod has bucked that trend — in fact, he’s been close to his former greatness, at least offensively.

We can measure his success this year in a number of ways: by simple numbers (his current 152 wRC+ is in line with some of his better previous seasons — he posted the same wRC+ in his stellar 2008 campaign), average batted-ball velocity (he’s top five in the league), and fly ball/home run distance. The short story: A-Rod is hitting the ball really hard, really far, and he’s even being pitched to like he’s a slugger in his prime.

Now that we’ve established how great he’s been this season, let’s talk about the contract, and free agent deals. We often hear about teams backending contracts. They do so because inflation will devalue the later years of a deal, and they might be able to deal the player to a team who will eat some of the contract later on. It’s the free agent version of kicking the can down the road: sign the player now, get the production, and deal with the hard decisions later.

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Ubaldo Jimenez Proving His Worth

Heading into this season, not unlike most seasons over the past few years, not much was expected out of the Baltimore Orioles from the statistics-based community at FanGraphs. Despite winning at least 85 games in each of the past three seasons with two playoff berths and the division title in 2014, just seven of the 38 FanGraphs writers surveyed before the season expected the Orioles to make the playoffs. The projections pegged the Orioles for 79 wins and gave them just a 16% chance of making the playoffs. The offense figured to be led by Adam Jones, Chris Davis, and emerging star Manny Machado providing great production at the plate and in the field, but the pitching had some question marks with no starter projected to record an ERA or FIP below four. While Jones, Davis, and Machado pacing the offense, there are still questions about the pitching staff, but Ubaldo Jimenez has returned from a terrible 2014 to provide stability for an Orioles team once again in first place in the American League East.

Jimenez was once one of the best pitchers in major-league baseball. From 2008 to 2010 with the Colorado Rockies, Jimenez accumulated 15.3 WAR, ninth in MLB just behind Felix Hernandez and right ahead of Jon Lester, Adam Wainwright, and Jered Weaver. Inconsistency plagued Jimenez over the next three seasons with the Cleveland Indians, but a great second half in 2013 — when he posted a 1.82 ERA, 2.17 FIP and 3.0 WAR — earned him a four-year deal with the Orioles worth $50 million.

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Signing July 2nd Players Has Gotten Even More Complicated

The 2015 international signing class is seen as above average, both at the top end and in depth. Check out the sortable board, introduction to the board and international article archives for more details. Even with multiple teams blowing past their pools, there appear to be more seven figure talents than they are seven-figure bonuses to hand out, which makes for an interesting game of musical chairs among the international prospects.

Early Deals Muddy the Waters

Some seven-figure-caliber players like Venezuelans RHP Alvaro Seijas and CF Miguel Aparicio allegedly turned down low seven-figure offers early in the process but then held out too long, looking for even more money, and were forced to settle for a six-figure bonus.  In talking to international scouting directors in the past weeks, there seems to be a consensus that the best strategy this year for a team staying under its bonus pool was to wait until late and scoop up multiple middle-tier prospects at lower prices than to lock up one middle-tier player early in the process for seven figures, even if this means the market dictates which players you’ll end up signing.

I’ve written about this a few times but MLB’s effort to control international bonuses has caused a number of unintended consequences. By putting in bonus pools that the majority of teams treat like hard caps, you put a limit on what a team can spend and the main way they can get better than average value is to lock players up earlier and earlier, often over a year before a player can even sign the contract, commonly when he’s 14 years old. That’s now been happening for years and the culture of July 2nd is that of early deals. Now that it’s the norm, the majority of the big bonuses are handed out before the spring rolls around, so if a prospect improves late in the process or held out for a bigger bonus, all your suitors could be out of money when it’s the optimum time for you to strike your deal.

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Phillies’ Sleeper Righty Franklyn Kilome Has a Velo Spike

Phillies 6-foot-6 righty Franklyn Kilome works from a high 3/4 slot and has the size, arm speed, pitches, and mentality that you want in a starting pitcher. He has shown a huge jump not only in velocity, but also with the consistency of his secondary pitches. His long, lanky frame still oozes projection and the growth he’s shown with his stuff in less than a year has been exciting to watch.

Fastball 60/70

Last summer I had Kilome sitting mostly 89-92 while touching 93 mph on occasion, so seeing him routinely in the 93-95 range and touching 96-97 at times during extended spring training shows how quickly he is developing. The command is still not where it needs to be, but the growth he’s shown in one year is very positive. The fastball is heavy and has excellent sinking action, which is amplified with the good amount of downhill plane he gets by creating angles and letting his tall frame work for him.

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Picking the 2015 National League All-Stars

We’re two weeks away from the 2015 All-Star Game, and fan voting ends this Thursday, so I figure it’s probably about time to put my ballot together. When it comes to picking players, I lean very heavily towards in-season performance, as I tend towards the camp that sees the game as a reward for the players more than a showcase for the fans. It is both, of course, and trying to serve both masters can make for some tricky decisions, but I’d rather reward a deserving player for a big first half than simply invite the same players every year based on their legacy. I know others see it differently, and that’s fine; I personally just find it more interesting to recognize performance than name-value.

In putting this together, I broke the 34 roster spots into 21 position players and 13 pitchers, and I also held to the rule that every team had to be represented. Injured players were not considered, so while Giancarlo Stanton will almost certainly be picked and then be replaced, I didn’t bother with that formality. And while the only stat listed is a player’s WAR, it’s just there for reference; I didn’t select the players based solely on their WAR totals. Oh, and for pitchers, the WAR listed is a 50/50 blend of FIP-based and RA9-based WAR.

Okay, on to the team. We’ll go position by position, with the starter listed first.

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Dan Szymborski FanGraphs Chat – 6/29/15

11:58
Dan Szymborski: I am here. Chat has begun. I need to expel some urine before we start, so please fill up the chat with some valuable questions.

11:59
Dan Szymborski: If I come back and there are 8 questions “Pick 4 players from my fantasy team to keep” I will be very disappointed and there may be punitive results.

12:01
Comment From RotoLando
Is this the 5:00 Free Crack Giveaway?

12:01
Dan Szymborski: No, because I am in Eastern time zone.

12:01
Dan Szymborski: Even if I were to be giving away crack — which I am not — this would be the noon giveaway.

12:02
Dan Szymborski: And given my round, beer-inflated stomach, it ought to be clear that I am not a user of crack or cocaine.

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Robinson Cano Isn’t Just Aging

The Mariners have not gotten the production they were expecting from Robinson Cano so far. I know, bold statement. Surely the Mariners prepared themselves for paying Cano handsomely well into his decline years, giving him $240 million over ten years starting with his age-31 season. Still, nobody could have anticipated the steep drop in total offensive production he has endured the first year and a half of the deal. It would not be the first time an elite hitter fell off quickly on the elder side of 30, but is his decline simply due to mean, old Father Time? The overall numbers, as well as some of his results on a more granular level, certainly support that narrative.

If you have read this far, you know enough about Cano’s difficulties not to need his basic stat line spelled out for the hundredth time. Obviously he hasn’t hit as well, especially for power, as he did in New York. As you would expect, his ability to hit long fly balls has dwindled in the same manner:

Season Feet (Avg.)
2011 284.7
2012 295.3
2013 288.7
2014 270.0
2015 278.1
Average 285.8

This data comes courtesy of Baseball Heat Maps, and though it only covers the 2007 season onward, the change is obvious enough. His average distance on fly balls is noticeably shorter than both his career and his last few years in New York, which would make sense for a hitter losing the strength and athleticism of his younger self.

If he’s not hitting the ball as far because of age, you would expect his batted-ball rates to be suffering as well. Much ink has been written on how many more ground balls he has hit in the last year and a half; we’ll get to that. Here are his hard, medium and soft contact rates, found on FanGraphs’ player page for Cano:

Season Team Soft% Med% Hard%
2011 Yankees 23.9% 45.6% 30.5%
2012 Yankees 12.0% 49.9% 38.1%
2013 Yankees 11.0% 50.1% 38.9%
2014 Mariners 17.9% 53.6% 28.5%
2015 Mariners 14.6% 52.3% 33.1%
Average 2 Teams 15.5% 51.7% 32.8%

His Mariners years fall below the most recent peak years he had in New York, but this year his hard-hit rate is back above his career average, as well as his 2011 season rate in which he put up tremendous numbers.

So we have a declining hitter who is hitting fly balls for a shorter distance, but is still hitting the ball hard enough on average to approximate his former performance levels. He’s also putting more balls in play on the ground, though nothing I have learned about aging leads to hitting the top of a baseball more often than the bottom of it. Christopher Rinaldi pointed out in the Community Blog a few weeks ago that Cano hasn’t gone to the opposite field as much this season, but if you include last season as well, there’s not as appreciable a change in pull versus opposite field rates from his Yankee career. Here is a look at the types of batted balls he’s hit to each for more clarity.

Period Location LD% GB% FB% Hard%
Yankees Pull 22.0% 62.4% 15.6% 36.2%
Mariners Pull 19.0% 71.3% 9.8% 25.2%
Yankees Center 25.6% 44.6% 29.9% 36.8%
Mariners Center 22.0% 49.9% 28.2% 36.8%
Yankees Oppo 27.5% 23.9% 48.7% 33.5%
Mariners Oppo 32.3% 27.5% 40.4% 29.4%

Remember that the hard/medium/soft delineations come from a BIS algorithm that does not include exit speed. I suspect that the decline in hard-hit rate may be due in part to the decreased number of fly balls and line drives, rather than simply a decreased ability to create force. Also, since his overall hard-hit rate isn’t that far off from his career numbers, this has the signs of a case of altered swing mechanics creating more ground balls, especially to the pull side. Canvassing video over the past few years for clues in his swing, this starts to make even more sense as the true culprit.The Yankees timeframe covers Cano’s last three seasons in the Big Apple for comparison. Everything you would associate with a negative change shows up here: fewer line drives and fly balls everywhere except for more liners to the opposite field, and despite an unchanged hard-hit rate to center, a lower figure to left and right fields. His batted balls are coming out on a lower trajectory, and to the sides of the field without as much force behind them.

Here is a swing from Cano’s 2012 season:

Cano 1-21-13 06

And here is one from June of last year:

Cano 6-29-14

Both of these swings are on similarly placed pitches, both fastballs up in the zone. The 2014 pitch is a few inches higher, but they are close enough to show some important differences.

The first is the way the hands take the bat to the ball. Notice how in the 2013 version, there is more of a loop to his hand path; the first move is down before they start moving forward. In the 2014 look, Cano’s hands start pushing directly toward contact. This makes his swing much more level, which is not as conducive to hitting high line drives and deep fly balls. You can really see how this works over three frames in the swings:

Cano 1-21-13 abbr

Cano 6-29-14 abbr

The other noticeable inconsistency is where the barrel travels in relation to the hands. It’s a little subtler, but in the 2013 swing you can see how the barrel drops slightly more under the hands as it comes into contact. In the second look, the barrel stays closer to the same level as the hands, coming around them more so than underneath them. When the barrel works around the ball on a flatter plane, you have a sure-fire recipe for more pull-side ground balls.

These aren’t just two cherry-picked swings either. Here’s another swing from this year on a low and outside pitch, followed by a low pitch in the Yankee era.

Cano 1-21-13 31

Cano 6-9-15

Former Cano digs the ball out and lifts it into the outfield, whereas latter Cano looks like he’s forcing his hands down all the way through the swing. Both balls end up in the air, but the Yankee swing obviously looks much more beneficial for a guy who should be looking to drive the ball out of the park on occasion.

From the pitcher’s view, this difference is still apparent. This time we will see a 2013 swing and a 2015 swing, cut off one frame after the left arm gets fully extended.

Cano 8-31-13 1

Cano 6-15

The finish of the swing is easier to compare from this angle, which is pretty clearly different despite similar pitch locations. Yankee Cano again shows more lift in his swing, resulting in a higher finish. Mariner Cano’s hands do come up through contact a bit more than the previous swings we looked at, but not nearly to the same degree as the Yankee version. The flatter finish in the 2015 swing is the product of the barrel coming around the hands, as well as the more downward plane his hands take toward the ball. Again, all signs point toward lower-trajectory hits, with the flatter barrel making an early swing more likely to yank the ball to the pull side. The bat staying more vertical used to allow Cano to lift the ball, as well as giving him a better chance of driving it toward the middle of the field.

What we cannot know is why this change has happened. I don’t know if this has been a conscious change or just falling into bad habits. The fact that this struggle has gone on for a year and a half with a fairly big change occurring simultaneously certainly raises a lot of questions. One interesting side note makes me even more intrigued to follow Cano’s season is Edgar Martinez’s recent hiring as hitting coach. I know absolutely nothing about Howard Johnson as a hitting coach, so this is not to say that he didn’t do a good job. But it’s hard not to be excited about a guy I have heard has an excellent perception of the swing, particularly regarding hand path, get a crack at helping Cano get back on track. He definitely has proof of concept:

Edgar Martinez

Of course, it remains to be seen how well he can work with players as a coach. Doing a thing and understanding a thing do not automatically qualify you to teach a thing. Color me intrigued though. Maybe it’s just noise or coincidence, or maybe he’s already made an impression. The hiring was announced on June 20, and here are swings from each of June 21 and June 22:

Cano 6-21-15 Front

Cano 6-21-15 Side

Cano 6-22-15 Front

Cano 6-22-15 Side

There’s a little more of that old lift to his swing, and the barrel is a little more vertical. The second is a bit flatter with the bat, but it’s a product of the pitch location more than a swing issue; he doesn’t look like he hooks the ball nearly as much. To be clear, Cano has still shown a number of swings in the past week that look like everything he’s done in the past year and a half. On top of that, it’s extremely hard for even the best hitters to make mechanical changes in the middle of a season. For Cano’s sake, and for the Mariners offense’s sake, hopefully he (and Martinez?) can figure out a way to set himself back up for some better production at the plate.

To the main point of this piece, yes, Cano is getting to an age where a down month raises concerns and a down season sounds the panic alarm. Based on what I see, there’s still enough of a reason to believe he has the ability to be the mythical power and contact guy the Mariners need in their lineup. A mechanical issue can be fixed, and it’s just too hard to believe Cano’s strength and ability could have eroded so quickly. The problem is that fixing it is not always as easy as it sounds.


NERD Game Scores: Joe Blanton Re-Assessment Opportunity

Devised originally in response to a challenge issued by viscount of the internet Rob Neyer, and expanded at the request of nobody, NERD scores represent an attempt to summarize in one number (and on a scale of 0-10) the likely aesthetic appeal or watchability, for the learned fan, of a player or team or game. Read more about the components of and formulae for NERD scores here.

***

Most Highly Rated Game
Kansas City at Houston | 20:10 ET
Blanton (26.0 IP, 75 xFIP-) vs. McCullers (46.1 IP, 86 xFIP-)
Reason dictates that the most recent three or four years of Joe Blanton’s career are more representative of his true talent than a small collection of appearances — including merely two starts — over the first three months of the current season. What one notes, however, is that Blanton has been particularly effective in those same recent appearances, producing a 75 xFIP- over 26.0 innings — and, indeed, has recorded even better numbers in a starting capacity, striking out nearly a third of the 39 batters he’s faced while walking none.

The most probable cause for Blanton’s uncharacteristic success is, naturally, randomness — or at least something like randomness. That said, were one in the mood for mounting a case against the merely random, one might note that Blanton both (a) has thrown his fastball harder this season (even as a starter) by 1-2 mph in each outing, and also that he (b) has almost always recorded above-average fielding-independent numbers, even if he’s conceded runs at a rate less stellar than that. What this encounter represents — in addition to another game featuring that flawed and compelling bande à part the Houston Astros — is an opportunity to re-assess Joe Blanton based on his most recent track record.

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