Archive for Athletics

Oakland A’s Add to the Familia

Whereas the first notable reliever acquisition of the trade deadline saw Cleveland receive, in Brad Hand and Adam Cimber, two pitchers who will remain with the club for future seasons, the Athletics this afternoon have performed a swap with a more traditional rent-a-player flavor, getting Jeurys Familia from the New York Mets in exchange for right-handed reliever Bobby Wahl, third baseman William Toffey, and an unspecified pile of international slot money, the 2018 version of a player-to-be-named-later.

There’s an argument to be made that, at this point, Familia may be slightly underrated among relievers. The extra couple of walks per nine that Familia picked up in a 2017 season mostly ruined by surgery to remove a blood clots from his shoulder have disappeared in 2018. Familia’s not relying on his hard, heavy sinker as much as he has in the past — especially against lefties — but given that the A’s have an infield whose four primary players, Matt Chapman, Marcus Semien, Matt Olson, and Jed Lowrie have all been above average by UZR (Lowrie a couple of runs in the negative in DRS), I’d be happy to see him go to that well a bit more often again. Even without relying on the sinker, Familia’s pitching as well as he was in 2016, which was enough to earn him an All-Star appearance and a rather odd MVP vote. Familia is in the top 20 of relievers in WAR and among the top 30 in FIP, so it’s a real upgrade to the A’s bullpen. Blake Treinen will remain the closer, which I believe is absolutely the right tack to take.

ZiPS Projection – Jeurys Familia
Year W L ERA G GS IP H ER HR BB SO ERA+ WAR
ROS 2018 2 1 3.00 25 0 24.0 21 8 1 10 25 137 0.7

Despite Sandy Alderson’s insistence earlier this season that the Mets have no plans to go full-scale rebuild, the team’s at least been listening to offers on pretty much the entire roster. Familia doesn’t necessarily indicate a stronger organizational willingness to go that route, of course, as he was likely to be traded anyway given his contract and the team’s position in the standings.

Bobby Wahl is an interesting flier for the Mets to take. It’s hard to characterize a 26-year-old reliever as some kind of top prospect — and I won’t — but Wahl throws in the upper 90s, has an effective slider (that really feels more like a slurve to me), and can change speeds at least tolerably well. His control’s been an issue at times, though not on the Bobby Witt scale, and one of the reasons he’s not been a bit higher in the pecking order is that he has a long history of injury, losing parts of most years with varying ailments, most recently surgery for a thoracic outlet issue last season. He was fine by spring training and, as far as I know, hasn’t had any significant issues along those lines since.

ZiPS Projection – Bobby Wahl
Year W L ERA G GS IP H ER HR BB SO ERA+ WAR
ROS 2018 1 1 4.58 15 0 17.7 21 9 3 10 23 85 0.1
2019 3 3 4.07 45 1 48.7 37 22 6 30 71 98 0.3
2020 3 2 3.97 40 0 43.0 32 19 6 26 63 101 0.3
2021 3 2 3.85 40 0 44.0 32 19 6 27 65 104 0.4
2022 2 2 3.98 35 0 38.7 28 17 5 24 57 101 0.3
2023 2 2 4.03 33 0 35.7 26 16 5 22 53 100 0.3
2024 2 2 4.01 31 0 33.7 24 15 5 21 50 99 0.3

Prospect-watchers tend to like Will Toffey more than Wahl, and ZiPS agrees that he’s a bit above-average defensively, placing him at about two runs per 150 games better than average based on the rough estimates ZiPS makes from play-by-play data. I’m really not sold on his bat: 23 is just too old for a player not in the middle infield or catching to not be killing the ball in the California League. While there’s obviously more time for Toffey to develop into something more than Wahl, I think the latter is more likely to actually contribute to a major-league team. The Mets’ squadron isn’t that deep in relief pitching and I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised to see him in the back end of the team’s bullpen in April (or even this year!) depending on what other moves the Mets make.

ZiPS Projection – Will Toffey
Year AB BA OBP SLG H 2B 3B HR BB SO SB CS OPS+ DR WAR
ROS 2018 189 .217 .267 .289 40 7 1 2 15 50 1 2 52 1 -0.3
2019 508 .211 .276 .297 107 19 2 7 44 138 3 5 56 2 -0.8
2020 488 .209 .280 .307 102 20 2 8 46 137 2 4 60 2 -0.6
2021 490 .208 .281 .310 102 20 3 8 48 140 2 4 61 3 -0.5
2022 486 .208 .284 .313 101 20 2 9 50 142 2 4 63 3 -0.3
2023 482 .205 .285 .311 99 20 2 9 52 144 2 3 63 3 -0.4

It’s interesting to see Oakland positioning themselves as buyers, at least in the bargain section. To find the last time Oakland was the team trading prospects for a veteran rather than vice-versa, you actually have to go back to the 2014 Jeff Samardzija trade, which saw the team give up Addison Russell, Dan Straily, and Billy McKinney to the Cubs for Samardzija and Jason Hammel. (They picked up Jon Lester later in that month, but you’d be hard-pressed to describe Yoenis Cespedes as a prospect.) While one doesn’t really think of the A’s as front-line, top-tier contenders, the fact is they’re essentially in a two-team race for the second Wild Card with the Mariners, a team that only has a Pythagorean record of right around .500 and likely isn’t as good as their seasonal record when you talk the rest-of-season projections. Even four games back, that it’s a two-team race is quite important: I’d rather be four games behind one team than two games back and fighting with seven other teams. But the 2018 National League is highly competitive one and the American league, the bifurcated stars-and-scrubs league, a flip of the situation a few years ago.

I’m not a believer in going all-in for a Wild Card unless it comes with a significant chance of also capturing the division title, but with what Oakland is giving up, they’re not going all-in, but simply making an incremental addition to enhance their Wild Card odds. Being less risk-averse with Familia is better in this situation than rolling the dice with Wahl would be. In all, the A’s add a significant part of their present without giving up a significant part of their future.

Wins on both sides here, with both teams getting what they need from this trade. I daresay that I’d be happier with Familia at this price than Zach Britton at the price he eventually fetches.


The A’s Are Being Led From the Back

Last Tuesday, the A’s played probably the most frustrating game of their season. Facing the first-place Astros in Houston, the A’s erased a 4-0 deficit in the top of the ninth. In the 11th, they pulled ahead on a two-out home run, getting the chance to hand a lead to Blake Treinen. The tying run scored on a fielder’s choice, with Jonathan Lucroy unable to handle a throw home. The losing run scored on a tapper that went about five feet, after Lucroy threw the ball away. It was a tough inning for Lucroy, and it was a rough game for Oakland to stomach, because they’d had the Astros just where they’d wanted them. While the A’s had been hot, you never know which loss might get under a team’s skin.

The A’s came back and beat the Astros the next day. They beat them again the day after that, and then they took two of three in San Francisco. Where just weeks ago it looked almost impossible, we’ve gotten to the All-Star break and now we have a wild-card race. The A’s are catching up to the Mariners, and while every run is a function of a number of players, Oakland’s two standouts are at the back of the bullpen.

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Daily Prospect Notes: 7/5

Monday through Wednesday notes on prospects from lead prospect analyst Eric Longenhagen. Read previous installments here.

7/2

Brewer Hicklen, OF, Kansas City Royals (Profile)
Level: Low-A   Age: 22   Org Rank: HM   FV: 35+
Line: 4-for-6, 2B, HR

Notes
Hicklen has some statistical red flags if you’re unaware of the context with which you should be viewing his performance. He’s a 22-year-old college hitter with a 30% strikeout rate at Low-A. But Hicklen hasn’t been committed to playing baseball for very long, as he sought, late in high school and throughout college, to have a football career. He went to UAB as a baseball walk-on and eventually earned a football scholarship as the school’s defunct program was to be reborn. But Hicklen’s physical tools stood out as he continued to play baseball (plus speed and raw power), so he was drafted and compelled to sign. He hasn’t been focusing on baseball, alone, for very long and has a .300/.350/.525 line in his first full pro season. He’s a toolsy long shot, but so far so good.

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Sunday Notes: Ian Kinsler Has Deserved More Gold Gloves

Ian Kinsler was awarded his only Gold Glove in 2016. He’s been deserving of several more. Presenting at SABR’s national convention last weekend, Chris Dial shared that Kinsler has topped SABR’s Defensive Index at second base in five separate seasons, and on three other occasions he ranked as the runner up. Another metric is equally bullish on his glove work. Since breaking into the big leagues in 2006, Kinsler has 115 Defensive Runs Saved, the most of anyone at his position.

I asked the 36-year-old Angel if he was aware of how well he stacks up by the numbers.

“I secretly knew that,” smiled Kinsler, who then proceeded to balance appreciation with a touch of old-school skepticism for defensive metrics.

“It’s always nice to be valued in one way or another,” acknowledged Kinsler, who spent eight seasons in Texas, and four more in Detroit, before coming to Anaheim. “I don’t know if analytics are always correct. They don’t take into account everything this game offers, and I don’t know if they ever will, but to be thought of in that regard is flattering.”

Kinsler credits hard work, as well as the tutelage of coaches and teammates, for his having developed into a plus defender. Read the rest of this entry »


Players’ View: Learning and Developing a Pitch, Part 13

Pitchers learn and develop different pitches, and they do so at varying stages of their lives. It might be a curveball in high school, a cutter in college, or a changeup in A-ball. Sometimes the addition or refinement is a natural progression — graduating from Pitching 101 to advanced course work — and often it’s a matter of necessity. In order to get hitters out as the quality of competition improves, a pitcher needs to optimize his repertoire.

In the thirteenth installment of this series, we’ll hear from three pitchers — Dennis Eckersley, Michael Fulmer, Miguel Gonzalez — on how they learned and/or developed a specific pitch.

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Dennis Eckersley (Hall of Famer) on His Slider

“I couldn’t throw a curveball because of my angle. I couldn’t get on top of it. That’s all they’d ever tell me. Every time somebody would whistle at me, it would be, ‘Get your arm up! Get your elbow up!’ But a slider came pretty easy. It was just, ‘Turn your wrist a little bit.’

“I went straight from high school to pro ball [in 1972], and all of a sudden my fastball didn’t play. I was in the California League when I was 17, and they could hit. The next thing you know, I’m throwing a lot more breaking balls than I ever did in my life. I didn’t have any choice.

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The Manager’s Perspective: Bob Melvin on Umpires

Bob Melvin has plenty of experience interacting with umpires. The Oakland A’s skipper was a big-league catcher from 1985 to 1994, and he’s since gone on to manage 2,127 games over 15 MLB seasons. He knows what makes the men in blue tick, including what buttons can and can’t be pushed when arguing a call — an event which happens far less frequently since the introduction of replay review.

In the second installment of this series — we’re hearing from a different manager each week, generally focusing on a specific subject — Melvin talks about his relationship with umpires and the ways in which that dynamic has changed in recent years.

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Bob Melvin: “I feel I have a good relationship with umpires. I was a catcher and you kind of build good relationships with umpires. Of course, since I’ve been managing, there has been some turnover — there are some younger guys I wasn’t with as a player — and you’re constantly trying to build relationships. You also have to hold them accountable and stick up for your team at times.

“You have to look at things from their shoes, too. They have a tough job, and there are certain days where you’re not as good as you can possibly be — I’m no different — so there is definitely a balance to strike. You have to hold them accountable but not go too far. I wouldn’t say there are any guys that I don’t get along with, to where you’d maybe see that in ejections.

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The A’s Traded a Dominant Closer for a Dominant Closer

The A’s don’t currently occupy a wild-card slot, and, even if they did, it’s May 22, which is too early to be talking about wild-card slots. That said, the A’s have won four in a row, and the A’s are three games over .500. While they’re in fourth place in their own division, that’s mostly because their own division is strong.

Back in the spring, I bought into Oakland’s wild-card hype. There’s no question, though, their odds were hurt considerably by the injuries to Jharel Cotton and A.J. Puk. What was left was a short-handed pitching staff, a staff that would need a few players to step up. One of those players has been Daniel Mengden. And honestly, if you want to understand why the A’s are where they are, you have to give much of the credit to the offense, an offense that seems to come in waves, an offense that’s been among the best in baseball since last July. Yet moving back to the pitching staff, Blake Treinen has been a revelation. He’s pitching like one of the better relievers in either league, and he’s tied with Josh Hader for the most saves lasting more than one inning.

As unsettled as the A’s pitching staff might seem at the start, they at least have an answer at the end. Treinen is finally fulfilling his potential, having come to Oakland as something of a major-league prospect.

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Players’ View: Learning and Developing a Pitch, Part 9

Pitchers learn and develop different pitches, and they do so at varying stages of their lives. It might be a curveball in high school, a cutter in college, or a changeup in A-ball. Sometimes the addition or refinement is a natural progression — graduating from Pitching 101 to advanced course work — and often it’s a matter of necessity. In order to get hitters out as the quality of competition improves, a pitcher needs to optimize his repertoire.

In the ninth installment of this series, we’ll hear from three pitchers — Brad Brach, Daniel Mengden, and Kirby Yates— on how they learned and/or developed a specific pitch.

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Brad Brach (Orioles) on His Changeup

“”It’s weird. In college, my changeup was probably my best pitch, but when I got to pro ball [in 2008] I wasn’t able throw it. I don’t know if it was the minor-league balls or what, but I kept cutting it all the time. It was hard for me to throw strikes with it, so I pretty much got rid of it and started throwing a splitter.

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Sunday Notes: Brad Keller, Almost Once a Royal, is Thriving as a Rule 5 Royal

Brad Keller is having an impressive rookie season with the Kansas City Royals. Pumping fastballs with a bulldog mentality, the 22-year-old right-hander has appeared in 18 games and has a 1.96 ERA. He’s not afraid to challenge big-league hitters. Substantiating KC skipper Ned Yost’s assertion that he’s “been able to come in and bang strikes on the attack,” Keller has issued just five free passes in 18-and-a-third innings of work.

His path to the Kansas City bullpen was roundabout. In retrospect, it was also only a matter of time before he got there.

Drafted out of a Flowery Beach, Georgia high school by the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2013, Keller changed addresses twice in a 15-minute stretch during December’s Rule 5 draft.

“My agent called to say, ‘Hey, the Reds picked you up in the Rule 5,’” explained Keller. “I hung up the phone, called my parents, called my brother, and as soon as I hung up my agent called again. ‘Hey, you just got traded to the Royals.’ Then I had to pick up the phone and call everybody back.”

Keller’s next conversation was with the D-Backs — “they told me everything that was going down” — and soon thereafter Royals assistant GM Scott Sharp called to welcome him to his new organization. A similar call almost came four years earlier. Read the rest of this entry »


Daniel Mengden on Pitching to Red Sox Hitters

Daniel Mengden has bested the Red Sox twice this season. On April 22nd, the Oakland A’s right-hander was credited with a win after allowing the visiting Boston squad a lone run over 6.1 innings. This past Tuesday, he got another W while giving up a pair of runs, one of them unearned, over six equally effective innings at Fenway Park. In the combined outings, Mengden fanned eight, walked none, and surrendered just three extra-base bits, only one of which left the yard.

On Wednesday, I asked the mustachioed 25-year-old about his attack plan versus four of the Boston batters he’s faced. Here is what he had to say.

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Mengden on Mitch Moreland and Andrew Benintendi: “Mitch Moreland and Andrew Benintendi… when I faced [the Red Sox] in Oakland, I had a changeup-heavy game against them. My changeup was working really well that day. Moreland got me twice yesterday, once on a changeup. He also got me on a 1-2 curveball that I should have bounced. I left it up and he flipped it down the [right field] line. He’s one of those guys who I feel sits offspeed, and you have to be tricky with some of those guys.

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Players’ View: Learning and Developing a Pitch, Part 8

Pitchers learn and develop different pitches, and they do so at varying stages of their lives. It might be a curveball in high school, a cutter in college, or a changeup in A-ball. Sometimes the addition or refinement is a natural progression — graduating from Pitching 101 to advanced course work — and often it’s a matter of necessity. In order to get hitters out as the quality of competition improves, a pitcher needs to optimize his repertoire.

In the eighth installment of this series, we’ll hear from three pitchers — Sean Manaea, Blake Treinen, and Steven Wright — on how they learned and/or developed a specific pitch.

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Sean Manaea (Athletics) on His Changeup

“My college roommate, Tyler Pazik, showed me his changeup before the last start of my sophomore year [at Indiana State]. Three days later I took it to our regional game against Austin Peay and threw it pretty well. It was one of those things where I could just pick it up and throw it, and not have to think about it. Then I took it to the Cape and had a good summer there. Then I took it to my junior year.

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Sean Manaea Is Slowing Everything Down

This is Jake Mailhot’s second post as part of his May Residency at FanGraphs. A lifelong Mariners fan, Jake now lives in Bellingham, Washington, just a little too far away from Seattle to make it to games regularly, which is sometimes for the best. He is a staff editor at Mariners blog Lookout Landing. He can be found on Twitter at @jakemailhot.

Fastball velocity is one of the main factors at which analysts look when attempting to predict pitcher injuries. When a pitcher suddenly starts throwing slower than before, alarm bells start ringing. Sometimes it’s nothing; more often than not, though, it’s a pretty bad sign. Having said that, let me present — without any other context — a velocity chart for a starting pitcher from 2016 through this season.

That’s a pretty disturbing downward trend. But as far as we know, this pitcher isn’t injured. In fact, he might be the healthiest he’s been in his major league career — and he’s thrown a no-hitter this year as proof. If you haven’t guessed already, the pitcher in question is Sean Manaea. He’s throwing slower than ever before and thriving.

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A Former Yankees Prospect on the Athletics Is Suing the White Sox

Lots of things went right last year in the Yankees’ run to the American League Championship Series.

This wasn’t one of them.

The player you see here is Dustin Fowler, who was making his major-league debut for the Yankees. Fowler, in a haunting echo of Moonlight Graham, never got to bat in that game; he had been due up in the top half of the second. Fowler suffered an open rupture of his patellar tendon on the play and required emergency surgery.

During his recovery, he was traded to the Athletics in the Sonny Gray deal.

How Fowler is expected to develop as a player in the wake of his injury is a worthy line of inquiry; however, it’s not the one I’ll pursue here. Rather, my interest is in the lawsuit that Fowler filed against the White Sox in the wake of his injury — a lawsuit that remains pending.

Fowler’s suit, on the surface, is pretty simple. Fowler has sued two parties — both Chicago White Sox, Ltd. (the limited partnership that owns the White Sox) and the Illinois Sports Facilities Authority (the Illinois government agency that actually owns Guaranteed Rate Field, where the White Sox play). The complaint alleges two counts, one against each Defendant, and sounds in both simple negligence and a peculiar creation of Illinois law known as “willful and wanton conduct.” Essentially, Fowler alleges that, although the wall into which he crashed was padded, an electrical box located there wasn’t.

Here’s the relevant passage:

Let’s start with the obvious question: whither the electrical box? It’s hard to tell from the video. A still image from the above provides some sense, but it’s also easy enough not to notice.

In fact, the Chicago Tribune reported after the game that video seemed to show Fowler missing the exposed electrical box, which is there to provide wifi to fans. Based on that video, the Tribune reported in the same story that no changes would be made to the stadium.

The Tribune, however, appears to have been a bit premature in their reporting. Later image seemed to suggest Fowler did make contact with the electrical box. (You can see the best ones via Newsday here.) The fact that the box is so hard to see — it’s designed to blend in with the wall — is actually part of Fowler’s lawsuit.

So we know the box is there, and that — it appears, at least — Fowler’s knee did impact it. So that leads to the second question: are the White Sox and the ISFA legally responsible?

Last year, Nathaniel Grow took an excellent look at workers’ compensation for professional athletes. Like in many states, Illinois has a law which says that, for the most part, you can’t sue your employer for an injury you suffer on the job. That’s the reason workers’ compensation exists. In Fowler’s case, though, while he is suing for an injury that occurred on the job, he is not suing his employer. As a result, this isn’t a workers’ compensation issue, and Fowler’s negligence claim isn’t barred on that basis.

Michael McCann did a nice run-through of Fowler’s suit back when it was first filed, and I encourage you to read it in full. But negligence law in torts is a lot more complicated than it might seem, and since I’m an Illinois lawyer, I figured I might examine this from a more local perspective. To establish negligence, a plaintiff generally has to plead and prove all of the following:

  1. The existence of a legal duty owed by the defendant to the plaintiff;
  2. The breach of that legal duty by the defendant;
  3. That the breach by the defendant caused an injury to the defendant; and
  4. That the injury is a real and cognizable harm.

Lawyers generally turn these elements into the shorthand of DBCH, which is short for duty, breach, causation, and harm. Illinois follows the traditional negligence standard, with those same four elements: “To state a cause of action for negligence, a plaintiff must plead the existence of a duty owed by the defendant to the plaintiff, a breach of that duty, an injury proximately caused by the breach, and damages.”

The tricky thing with negligence suits is twofold, though. First, you are basically punishing a defendant for what it did or didn’t do even though those actions weren’t intentional. That means that, every time you find for a plaintiff, you are necessarily saying the defendants have to undertake an obligation to protect people that otherwise wouldn’t exist. That, of course, has real social and economic costs, so courts tend to be wary of pushing the creation and application of legal duties too far. Second, because we’re talking about unintentional conduct here, there are a lot of defenses to negligence that don’t apply anywhere else in the law. These are things like contributory or comparative negligence (sometimes called comparative fault), assumption of the risk, and others which vary by state.

The first question, then, is whether the White Sox and ISFA owed a legal duty towards Fowler. In this case, there are two types of possible duties. (Actually, there are more, but we have limited space here.) There could be a “duty to warn.” That would mean anything from a sign down the right-field line saying “beware of box,” to actually telling Fowler about the box’s existence before the game, to just painting the box a bright shade of yellow so it stands out. On the other hand, there could be a “duty to protect” Fowler, with things like padding on the box or just the complete relocation of the box to somewhere outside the field of play.

Obviously, all of these points relate to the defendants, because the defendants are the ones with control over the box. That doesn’t always happen in negligence cases. What that means, though, is that a court will have to decide whether the law imposes a duty on ISFA and the White Sox either to warn players or protect them from hidden on-field hazards and — if so — how far that duty goes. Many states have accepted what’s called the “Learned Hand Rule” as the gold standard for whether to impose a duty on a defendant. Named for Judge Learned Hand (yes, that really was his name), the Learned Hand Rule uses what’s called “law and economics” to determine whether a duty should be imposed on a defendant. I personally think of the Learned Hand Rule as the “FanGraphs Method” of Negligence. Professor Doug Holden explains why:

This formula lists three factors:

1. Probability of harm (or likelihood of injury) and = P
2. Gravity of harm (or seriousness of injury) as weighed against = L (loss or liability)
3. Burden on defendant (or injury sacrificed) to take adequate precautions = B.

Therefore, if B < P x L, then you have unreasonable behavior. If you have unreasonable behavior, then there is a breach of duty.

This is a useful little algorithm for identifying breach of duty. In practice, however, judges don’t like to sit and calculate such variables like Learned Hand did. So somewhere along the line, the Learned Hand rule went from functioning as a mathematical calculation to serving as a guidepost to then becoming the rule that a party has a duty to all persons who could suffer a “reasonably foreseeable” harm as a result of the former’s actions.

Illinois follows that “reasonably foreseeable” standard. So, in this case, the question is whether it was reasonably foreseeable that a player like Fowler would injure himself on the electrical box. Given that much of the rest of the wall is padded, it’s clearly foreseeable that a player could be injured by colliding with an unpadded wall. By extension, it seems reasonably foreseeable that an unpadded box could also cause harm. Therefore a duty does exist to take adequate precaution. And theoretically, since the burden on the defendant is minimal — like spray-painting the box yellow or a few feet of padding — the Hand formula weighs in favor of Fowler, too.

Next is whether the ISFA and White Sox breached their legal duty to Fowler. To that point, we know they didn’t pad the box. We also have no reason to believe they warned Fowler, either. Of some relevance here perhaps is a doctrine in the law called “res ipsa loquitur.” Res ipsa loquitur basically means that if a defendant exercises exclusive control over an object — like an electrical box — and the object harms someone, the law presumes the defendant was negligent even in the absence of evidence of negligence. Here, I think there is that evidence of negligence, though: the existence of the padding elsewhere. Remember when we discussed protective netting that I explained the “voluntary undertaking doctrine”?

Here’s a refresher:

The Illinois Supreme Court, for example, explained in Nelson v. Union Wire Rope Corp. that, where a company voluntarily does something it wasn’t legally obligated to do, that company is liable for failing to do so reasonably. In some states (like Illinois, for instance), this is known as the voluntary undertaking doctrine.

If the ISFA and White Sox voluntarily undertook to protect fielders by padding the wall but didn’t pad the box, that’s negligence because they failed to complete the job reasonably.

Next are causation and harm. Did the box cause Fowler’s injuries? Well, the impact is what tore his knee open. I could talk about proximate cause and cause-in-fact, but we don’t really need to here. Because the injury was foreseeable and a direct result of an impact with the box, causation’s probably satisfied.

So what defenses do the ISFA and White Sox have? Their primary argument is probably going to be that they didn’t owe Fowler any duty. But in an Illinois court, that’s unlikely to hold water simply because Illinois courts have adopted the reasonable foreseeability standard. And they could argue that Fowler assumed the risk of being injured, but it’s hard to argue that running into things is part of baseball the way being hit by a pitch is. And they can’t argue that Fowler wasn’t injured, because even though he’s back and playing, his injury was very real, which in and of itself entitles him to damages under Illinois law.

So they tried something else. Shortly after Fowler filed his lawsuit, the ISFA and White Sox removed the case to federal court. The White Sox then moved to dismiss the case, arguing that it was preempted by the CBA. The White Sox invoked the Labor Management Relations Act (“LMRA”), a federal law stating (in Section 301) that federal courts, and federal law, govern all employment disputes where the rights of the parties have been collectively bargained. As the White Sox argue, “Plaintiff alleges that he was injured as a result of an incident that took place only because he was employed as a Major League Baseball Player pursuant to a highly regulated contractual employment relationship that specified all of the rights and duties of the respective parties – including with respect to Players health and safety.” Here, the White Sox point to Article XIII of the CBA, which governs players’ safety and health.

Here we return to the issue of “willful and wanton conduct” cited at the outset of this piece. In Illinois, under a case called Ziarko v. Soo Line Railroad, willful and wanton conduct represents something more severe than just negligence, but not so severe as intentional conduct. It’s akin to recklessness. And generally, in Illinois, you can’t disclaim willful and wanton conduct by contract. Moreover, Fowler argues, the CBA doesn’t actually cover situations like this, which means the CBA doesn’t preempt Fowler’s claims.

On that basis, Fowler wants the case sent back to state court.

This is one case where both sides appear to have strong arguments, and there’s ample case law going both ways. I tend to think Fowler has the better of the argument, but I don’t see this as being a clear-cut issue, particularly given the unusual set of facts. Many of the cases cited by both sides, like Stringer v. NFL, concerned situations where the player was injured by or on his own team’s facilities or lack of care. And even there, courts often split the proverbial baby, allowing some claims through and not others. The issue is currently being briefed, and Judge Gary Feinerman will rule sometime in June or July.

Meanwhile, Dustin Fowler hasn’t yet exhibited the form that made him a top prospect when he debuted last June. After a 138 wRC+ last year at Triple-A, he has just a 84 wRC+ for Oakland’s highest affiliate this year through 97 plate appearances. On the plus side, he’s already stolen five bases.


Sean Manaea Was Pretty Good Before That No-Hitter

Many people had probably heard of Sean Manaea before Saturday. He was a consensus top-100 prospect before the 2015 and 2016 seasons. He was involved in a trade-deadline deal for Ben Zobrist as the Royals went on to win the World Series back in 2015. That sort of stuff is going to make him well known among those who follow baseball closely; however, even relatively committed fans might not have been paying attention to Manaea’s last two seasons in Oakland. A lot more people are likely to have heard of Manaea now that he’s pitched a no-hitter, the first one by an American League pitcher in nearly three seasons.

Manaea has made good on his pedigree — and Oakland’s decision to trade for him — with two successful seasons. He’s one of just 40 pitchers with at least 300 innings and an above average ERA and FIP across 2016 and 2017. The only pitchers as young or younger than Manaea on that list are and Zach Davies, Michael Fulmer, Carlos Martinez, and Robbie Ray. Manaea isn’t yet anybody’s version of an ace, but his 4.3 WAR from 2016 to 2017 represents the most of any Athletics pitcher. The A’s have averaged 90 losses over the past two seasons, and a roughly average pitcher on a bad team isn’t going to garner a lot off attention. There have been some signs, though — even before the no-hitter against the Red Sox this past weekend — that Manaea had taken a step forward this season.

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You Should Know What Matt Chapman’s Been Doing

You know about Matt Chapman. Right? Of course you know about him. You’re a smart, literate baseball fan. You’re even pretty sure that Matt Chapman is on the A’s these days, and that he’s good with the glove. He is good with the glove. And, in fact, he’s only ever been on the A’s, because he’s only 24 years old and was born the year before they started the O.J. murder trial. But you knew that. Didn’t you?

Anyway, if you know those things about Matt Chapman, you know, probably, about the same amount of things about Matt Chapman as the average baseball fan knew before oh, about two weeks ago. And that’s because in the last two weeks, Matt Chapman has hit as many major-league home runs as anybody not named Charlie Blackmon, Bryce Harper, or Mike Trout, and gotten on base more than 40% of the time to boot. We’re just about 10% of the way through the 2018 big-league schedule, and Matt Chapman is leading the major leagues in WAR.

This won’t last, probably. So this isn’t a piece about how, because we’re already X plate appearances into the season, A’s fans should believe that Chapman is going to sustain the .650 slugging percentage he’s put up so far and become the second coming of Sal Bando but with more power, or whatever. This is a piece about how Chapman has already had an extremely good 16 days at work, and about what he’s been doing differently during those 16 days. If you’d like to make this piece about the future, go for it. That’s on you, though. This is a piece about what Matt Chapman’s doing now.

First, the past. That’s a video of Matt Chapman hitting his 14th and final home run of 2017, against the Gallopin’ Guadalajaran, Miguel González, who tried to locate a second fastball right where he’d put the first one and instead ended up locating it somewhere over the wall in dead center field. I’m showing this to you now to demonstrate that Matt Chapman’s power didn’t come out of nowhere, exactly. Big-league hitters with power are meant to hit fastballs like that one out to dead center field, and Chapman did. He hit 30 home runs last year, between the big leagues and two different minor-league stops. He’s always had very good power. The thing was, he wasn’t as good at putting the power into action in a game setting as he could have been.

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Effectively Wild Episode 1189: Season Preview Series: Giants and Athletics

EWFI

On a Bay Area edition of EW’s season-preview series, Ben Lindbergh and Jeff Sullivan banter about the resolution of their free-agent-contracts draft, the Lance Lynn, Neil Walker, and Jake Arrieta signings, the offseason market in review, and a Stephen Hawking baseball connection, then preview the 2018 Giants (32:07) with SB Nation’s Grant Brisbee, and the 2018 Athletics (1:07:20) with the San Francisco Chronicle’s Susan Slusser.

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What Even Is Jonathan Lucroy These Days?

The A’s are signing Jonathan Lucroy for one year and $6.5 million. Why are they doing that? Because Lucroy has been good before, and, other than Lucroy, the A’s catchers are Bruce Maxwell, Josh Phegley, and Dustin Garneau. It’s not so much that Lucroy is sure to be a massive improvement. But, he ought to help, and the A’s had some money to move, and this season, the A’s also happen to look like a half-decent wild-card contender. Everything makes sense. This move was almost painfully obvious.

Of course, in order for this move to go down, Lucroy had to accept. You know how free agency works. And the A’s have had some problems here, in terms of getting players to take their money. Sure, the A’s have run low payrolls in large part because they’ve intended for payroll to be low, but they’ve also often been turned down, even when they’ve had the high offer. This offseason, for example, the A’s offered the biggest contract to Brian Duensing, who re-signed with the Cubs. Maybe Lucroy is fond of the A’s. Maybe he’s excited to go there. But, it’s the middle of spring training. The market decided Lucroy wasn’t worth being enthusiastic about. The A’s came calling with a job.

As I write this, Lucroy is 31 years old. Not even very long ago, he was considered one of baseball’s best catchers. How did his free agency end up in this place? Lucroy, like Carlos Gonzalez, is coming off a bad season. And it’s not at all clear what anyone should make of him at this point. What skills he still has are fair to question.

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Scouting Corey Kluber as an Exercise

In my weekly chats or in the comments section of certain posts, readers often ask a question like, “Does Pitcher X have ace potential?” or some variant of it. While it makes sense that people would be curious about such a thing, the answer is (by definition) almost always “No.” Because there are so few aces in the majors, the probability that any prospect would develop into one is necessarily low.

When I’m at games — and especially when I’m at spring-training games — I’ll occasionally run into someone like Corey Kluber, though. And while I realize nobody’s wondering if Kluber has a chance of succeeding in the majors, there’s some value in writing up guys like this as an exercise, to illustrate what an ace looks like on paper. So that’s what I’ve done here. (Note, as well: context is important when reading the following, as it’s the product of an abbreviated spring look.)

Kluber was 90-92 in my viewing, with enough movement on his fastball to merit a half-grade bump. That’s about 1.5 ticks slower than his average fastball velocity from last year, but this is typical of early-spring Kluber. I put a 55 on his fastball while observing im and imagine it’s plus during the season when he’s throwing harder.

He mixed in a cutter, slider, changeup, and a curveball. The cutter was 86-88 with tight, late movement. It was consistently plus, flashing plus-plus, and Kluber put it where he wanted to when he wanted to. It’s likely that the slider and curveball are the same pitch and that Kluber can just manipulate the shape and depth of the pitch, but the ball acts differently enough when Kluber does this that he functionally has both, even if the catcher puts down the same sign for both. When his breaking ball behaved more like a curveball, it was a 50, a deep, but blunt, 80-82 mph curveball. The slider was one of the best I’ve ever seen, and Kluber threw a few 80-grade sliders in the outing, while most were 70s in the 83-85 mph range. These had more horizontal movement and, like everything else Kluber does, located with precision. I saw a few changeups that I thought were average.

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Top 23 Prospects: Oakland Athletics

Below is an analysis of the prospects in the farm system of the Oakland Athletics. Scouting reports are compiled with information provided by industry sources as well as from our own (both Eric Longenhagen’s and Kiley McDaniel’s) observations. For more information on the 20-80 scouting scale by which all of our prospect content is governed you can click here. For further explanation of the merits and drawbacks of Future Value, read this.

A’s Top Prospects
Rk Name Age High Level Position ETA FV
1 A.J. Puk 22 AA LHP 2018 55
2 Franklin Barreto 21 MLB CF 2018 55
3 Jorge Mateo 22 AA CF 2018 50
4 Dustin Fowler 23 MLB CF 2018 50
5 Jesus Luzardo 20 A- LHP 2020 50
6 Sean Murphy 23 R C 2019 50
7 Austin Beck 19 R OF 2021 45
8 Lazaro Armenteros 18 R LF 2021 45
9 Sheldon Neuse 23 AA 3B 2019 45
10 James Kaprielian 23 A+ RHP 2019 45
11 Nick Allen 19 R SS 2021 45
12 Daulton Jefferies 22 A+ RHP 2020 45
13 Grant Holmes 21 AA RHP 2019 45
14 Greg Deichmann 22 A- RF 2020 40
15 Alexander Campos 18 R SS 2023 40
16 Marcos Brito 18 R 2B 2022 40
17 Logan Shore 23 A+ RHP 2019 40
18 Kevin Merrell 22 A- MIF/CF 2021 40
19 Renato Nunez 23 MLB 4C 2018 40
20 Dalton Sawyer 24 AAA LHP 2019 40
21 Nolan Blackwood 22 A+ RHP 2019 40
22 Luis Miguel Romero 23 A+ RHP 2019 40
23 Kyle Finnegan 26 AAA RHP 2018 40

55 FV Prospects

1. A.J. Puk, LHP
Drafted: 1st Round, 2016 from Florida
Age 22 Height 6’7 Weight 220 Bat/Throw L/L
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Fastball Slider Curveball Changeup Command
60/65 60/60 55/60 55/60 45/50

Puk had back issues in college and scouts weren’t enamored with his conditioning, but he also featured premium velocity and a plus slider while performing against SEC hitters. He somewhat surprisingly fell to Oakland’s sixth overall selection in the 2016 draft. Reports were even stronger in 2017.

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What the MLBPA’s Grievance Means

On Tuesday, the Major League Baseball Players Association filed a grievance against four major-league teams: Miami, Oakland, Pittsburgh, and Tampa Bay. Specifically, the MLBPA contends that these four teams are violating the collective bargaining agreement by misusing their revenue-sharing money.

To understand the implications of the union’s grievance, we have to begin with the language of the CBA itself. Article XXIV(A) of the CBA states that “[a]ny Club seeking a distribution from the Commissioner’s Discretionary Fund [that is, the revenue-sharing money] shall submit a request in writing to the Commissioner. The written request must include, but need not be limited to: (i) the amount requested; (ii) the use(s) to which the Club intends to put the requested distribution; and (iii) an explanation of how, in the Club’s view, the requested distribution should improve the Club’s performance on the field” (emphasis mine).

Later on, the CBA is even more explicit:

[E]ach Club shall use its revenue sharing receipts (including any distributions from the Commissioner’s Discretionary Fund) in an effort to improve its performance on the field. The following uses of revenue sharing receipts are not consistent with a Club’s obligation . . . to improve its performance on the field: payments to service acquisition debt or any other debt that is unrelated to past or future efforts to improve performance on the field; payments to individuals other than on-field personnel or personnel related to player development; payments to entities that do not have a direct role in improving on-field performance; and distributions to ownership that are not intended to offset tax obligations resulting from Club operations.

It’s that language on which the MLBPA is hanging its hat.

Now the MLBPA’s grievance will go before an arbitration panel, not a court. The rules of private arbitrations like this are generally set by the parties themselves. That can lead to some interesting quirks, like the fact that the commissioner himself serves as arbitrator in certain proceedings that are appeals from his own decisions (the interest-of-the-game clause and the like). In this case, the grievance hearing will be conducted in accordance with the Rules of Procedure laid out in Appendix B of the CBA.

Those Rules are pretty lengthy, so here are the pertinent bits: the legal rules of evidence don’t apply, the arbitration panel sets its own standard of proof (in other words, how much evidence one side needs to present to win), and it’s possible to avoid a hearing altogether just by both sides agreeing to submit legal briefs. Also, there are three arbitrators: one selected by the MLBPA, one selected by MLB, and a neutral third party who is usually a lawyer with some experience in conflict resolution and who serves as the panel chair. That means that, as a practical matter, it’s the panel chair who decides these cases.

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