Archive for Brewers

The Manager’s Perspective: Craig Counsell on Probabilities and the Big Picture

Craig Counsell spent time as a special assistant to then-GM Doug Melvin before taking over as the manager of the Milwaukee Brewers in May 2015. That experience has proven to be valuable. Gifted with a deeper understanding of what goes on behind the scenes, the cerebral former infielder can better go about the job of leading a team on the field — not so much in terms of the Xs and Os, but rather the ability to see the big picture.

That doesn’t mean strategic decisions, or the statistical probabilities that go with them, don’t matter. They matter a lot, and Counsell approaches them with care. Even so, knowing that something has a slightly better than 50/50 chance to work doesn’t mean it’s an obvious choice. One can embrace analytics — which Counsell certainly does — and still let the gut play a role.

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Craig Counsell: “It was a little scary, frankly, to go into the office every day. It was something that had never been a part of my life. As a player, you felt like you were lucky that you never had to go into an office and sit behind a desk. But I’m so glad I did that, because I learned a lot about different people’s perspectives and about how everybody is trying to help create an organization that wins baseball games.

“I worked for Doug Melvin. Is he [an old-school baseball guy]? I wouldn’t say it like that. What I learned from Doug is how he put a staff together, how he created a culture, how he treated people, how he treated his team — ‘his team,’ meaning everybody that worked around him — and how he welcomed opposing views and allowed them to be heard. And his patience as far as making decisions and letting things play out, which was probably a trait of experience… It was really valuable to watch him use that to his advantage.

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There’s No Ignoring Jesus Aguilar Anymore

Among qualified hitters this season, Jesus Aguilar is tied for fourth in wRC+. He’s the current National League leader in home runs. He homered yesterday against the Marlins. The day before that, he homered twice against the Braves. At last update, he’s the leader in the NL for the All-Star Game’s Final Vote. Every player in there is good, but Aguilar is perfectly deserving.

Don’t like half-year samples? Since last season began, Aguilar has batted 596 times. He’s put up a 136 wRC+, which matches the wRC+ put up by Anthony Rendon. Mookie Betts is at 135. Nolan Arenado is at 133. Looking at first basemen, Aguilar has been out-hit by only Joey Votto, Freddie Freeman, and Paul Goldschmidt. Last season proves that Aguilar is no random flash in the pan.

It’s a bit of a funny coincidence that the Brewers are hurting for a second baseman, because late in the spring in 2017, they dropped Scooter Gennett, who’s turned into an All-Star. Gennett, in a sense, is exactly what the Brewers could use. Just a couple months earlier, though, the Brewers claimed Aguilar, who’s also in the process of turning into an All-Star. There was no room for Aguilar in Cleveland, and then he was in part responsible for there being no room for Gennett in Milwaukee. So as far as second base goes, the Brewers can be only so upset. Aguilar fought for opportunities to prove himself. He’s seized the few chances he’s had.

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Daily Prospect Notes: 7/10

Notes on prospects from lead prospect analyst Eric Longenhagen. Read previous installments here.

Maverik Buffo, RHP, Toronto Blue Jays (Profile)
Level: Hi-A   Age: 22   Org Rank: NR   FV: 30
Line: 8 IP, 3 H, 1 BB, 0 R, 5 K

Notes
Buffo, who has a tailing upper-80s fastball and average slider, is probably an upper-level depth arm. He throws strikes and has great makeup, so he’s nice to have in an organization. Sometimes those guys shove and make the Daily Notes, and sometimes they’re also named Maverik Buffo.

Carlos Hernandez, RHP, Kansas City Royals (Profile)
Level: Low-A   Age: 21   Org Rank: 24   FV: 40
Line: 7 IP, 4 H, 2 BB, 1 R, 12 K

Notes
Hernandez has a golden arm that produces plus-plus velocity and riding life, but he also has several traits that will likely push him to the bullpen. His secondaries are inconsistent, as is his fastball command, and Hernandez is a relatively stiff short-strider. It’s possible that some of these things improve, just probably not enough for Hernandez to be an efficient starter. Not much has to improve for him to be a bullpen piece, though — and potentially a very good one.

Victor Santos, RHP, Philadelphia Phillies (Profile)
Level: Complex (GCL)   Age: 17   Org Rank: NR   FV: 35+
Line: 6 IP, 5 H, 0 BB, 0 R, 9 K

Notes
Santos is a strong-bodied teenage righty with a bit of a longer arm action and presently average stuff for which he has advanced feel. He sits 90-93 with arm-side run and he locates it to his glove side, often running it back onto that corner of the plate. Santos doesn’t have much room on his frame, but at just 17, he’s still likely to get stronger as he matures, and there may be more stuff in here anyway.

Tristen Lutz, OF, Milwaukee Brewers (Profile)
Level: Low-A   Age: 19   Org Rank: 3   FV: 50
Line: 2-for-3, 2B, HR, 3 BB

Notes
Lutz had a putrid April that he followed with two months of pedestrian .250/.320/.420 ball, but he’s been hot of late and has been a .280/.350/.500 hitter since mid-May. Lutz is striking out more than is ideal and has a maxed-out frame, but he already possesses all the power he needs to play every day as long as a viable on-base/contact combination develops.

Notes from the Field
AZL games were rained out last night, so nothing today.


Players’ View: Learning and Developing a Pitch, Part 15

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 15th installment of this series, we’ll hear from three pitchers —Justin Anderson, Archie Bradley, and Brent Suter — on how they learned and/or developed a specific pitch.

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Justin Anderson (Angels) on His Spiked Slider

“Some people might think it’s a curveball, but it’s a slider. It kind of has the same plane as my fastball. That’s the idea. You want one pitch going one way, and one going the other. My thought process is to throw it as hard as I can and try to get break on it with my wrist flipping.

“It’s not a traditional slider grip by any means. It’s a grip I was always curious about. There’s a guy we’d always watch in the minor leagues — I played against him coming up — and we were like, ‘This guy has one of the best sliders ever.’ His name is Dean Deetz. I stole it from him. I finally saw his grip on a picture, on Twitter, last October or maybe in November. I was like, ‘OK, so this is how the guy throws it. I’m going to give it a go.’ That’s what I did. I ran with it.

Anderson’s spiked slider grip.

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Sunday Notes: Snapshots from SABR 48 in Pittsburgh

A pair of PNC Park official scorers spoke at SABR’s 48th-annual national convention on Thursday, and both shared good stories. One came from Evan Pattak, who explained why beat writers are no longer hired into the position. The precipitating incident occurred on June 3, 1979.

Bruce Kison took a no-hitter in the late innings against San Diego,” recounted Pattak. “A Padre (Barry Evans) hit a ball down the third base line that the third baseman (Phil Garner) couldn’t handle. The official scorer was Dan Donovan of the Pittsburgh Press, and he ruled it a hit, ending the no-hitter. Everybody at the park agreed with the call except Kison.

“This created a very awkward situation for Dan, who had to go into the locker room after game. He asked Kison, ‘What did you think of the call?’ Bruce let him know, in no uncertain terms. At that point, the newspapers realized they were placing their beat writers in untenable situations. At the end of the 1979 season, they banned beat writers from scoring, a ban that exists to this day.”

Bob Webb told of a game between the Brewers and Pirates on August 31, 2008. In this case, he played the role of Donovan, albeit with a notably different dynamic. Read the rest of this entry »


Lorenzo Cain Is Still Getting Better

As a part of their sudden organizational push, the Brewers almost simultaneously acquired both Christian Yelich and Lorenzo Cain. Yelich is only 26, but Cain is 32, yet when the Brewers gave Cain a five-year free-agent contract, they justified the investment by saying they believed his aging curve would be graceful. The Brewers were believers in Cain’s athleticism and track record, and they didn’t see him as a player likely to fall off a cliff. Every team that signs a free agent is optimistic, of course. But Cain was one of relatively few free agents whose market didn’t crater. In an otherwise challenging winter, he got what he was worth.

To this point, Cain’s been even better than the Brewers might’ve imagined. He’s 11th among position players in WAR. He’s more than halfway to his career high in stolen bases. He leads all major-league center fielders in Defensive Runs Saved, and he leads all major-league center fielders in Ultimate Zone Rating. And Cain is also showing off a new and disciplined approach at the plate. I know it’s early, and there’s plenty of contract to go. But Cain isn’t just avoiding decline — he’s taken steps to improve.

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A Conversation with Eric Thames

Eric Thames was activated from the disabled list yesterday, which makes this a good time to unearth a conversation I had with the Milwaukee Brewers slugger in spring training. It was originally going to run a handful of weeks into the season, but then Thames went down with a thumb injury. Consequently, the interview was shelved, as well.

Prior to landing on the DL — he was hurt diving for a ground ball on April 24 — the 31-year-old first baseman sported a .976 OPS and had gone deep seven times. The start was reminiscent of last season, when he’d been even better in the early going. Back from a four-year stint in South Korea, Thames had 11 bombs and a 1.276 OPS when the 2017 calendar flipped to May.

His summer wasn’t nearly as sunny. Thames scuffled more often than not, and by the time September rolled around his slash line was down to .235/.349/.510. Then came a late-season surge. With the Brewers battling for a playoff berth — they ultimately fell a game short — Thames reached base 12 times in his final 23 plate appearances. After closing August on a 2-for-27 skid, he logged a 1.004 OPS in September.

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Thames on his up-and-down 2017 season: “After my hot start, Ryan Braun went down [from May 25-June 27] and I had no protection in the lineup. Guys started pitching around me a little bit and I responded by being more aggressive. I wanted to hit a home run every time — I tried to do too much — and that doesn’t work too well. I became my own enemy, right then and there.”

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The Brewers and One-Run Success

With their 7-2 loss to the Cubs in 11 innings at Miller Park on Monday night, the Brewers fell out of first place in the NL Central for the first time since May 12, while Chicago — which has gone an NL-best 21-10 since May 6 — claimed its first share of the lead since May 1. While it’s not quite as extreme as what’s going on atop the AL West, this battle for first place is another one where differing success in one-run games has helped one team keep pace despite a significantly inferior run differential:

NL Central Leaders
Team W-L WPct Run Dif 1-Run W-L WPct Other W-L WPct
Cubs 38-25 .603 89 6-10 .375 32-15 .681
Brewers 39-27 .591 37 15-7 .682 24-20 .545

The Brewers have the majors’ fourth-best winning percentage in one-run games, and the second-highest win total behind only the Mariners’ 21. The Cubs, meanwhile, have the majors’ ninth-lowest winning percentage in one-run games, and are tied with the Astros and White Sox for the fifth-lowest win total in that category. (Remarkably, there were no one-run games in the majors on Monday night, so this table is a rerun save for my virtual highlighter.)

Records in One-Run Games
Tm W -L WPct
Yankees 11-3 .786
Braves 10-4 .714
Mariners 21-9 .700
Brewers 15-7 .682
Red Sox 12-6 .667
Rockies 10-5 .667
Angels 12-7 .632
Phillies 10-6 .625
Pirates 11-7 .611
Athletics 11-7 .611
Padres 8-6 .571
Cardinals 10-8 .556
Tigers 12-10 .545
Diamondbacks 11-10 .524
Indians 10-10 .500
Giants 9-9 .500
Blue Jays 7-7 .500
Rangers 7-7 .500
Dodgers 7-9 .438
Nationals 7-10 .412
Royals 8-13 .381
Cubs 6-10 .375
Marlins 5-9 .357
Rays 9-17 .346
Mets 7-14 .333
Astros 6-12 .333
Orioles 5-10 .333
White Sox 6-14 .300
Reds 5-12 .294
Twins 3-13 .188
SOURCE: Baseball-Reference

So how have the Brewers managed to stay so close to the Cubs? As noted in Monday’s Mariners piece, success in one-run games has a lot to do with sequencing, random variance, and luck. Extreme records in one-run games are prone to regression, though in recent years the 2016 Rangers (36-11, .766) and 2012 Orioles (29-9, .763) have posted the two highest winning percentages in such games since 1901. Bullpen performance has an outsized effect on a team’s record in such games, because managers have more control on when to deploy their best relievers in high-leverage spots than they do with regards to their best hitters because of the way that batting order works. Via FiveThirtyEight’s Rob Arthur, there’s a significant correlation (r = .28) between bullpen WAR and winning percentage in one-run games, and it just so happens that the Brewers own the NL lead in that category (3.5 WAR), though the Cubs rank third (2.6) — and, now that you mention it, the teams ranked second through sixth in bullpen WAR through Sunday (the Padres, Nationals, Giants and Diamondbacks being the others) were a combined 41-45 in one-run games.

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Josh Hader, Post-Label Star

CLEVELAND — Josh Hader wasn’t first.

Andrew Miller was the first elite relief arm deployed in multi-inning, non-save, high-leverage situations — at least in the current version of the game. Chris Devenski has carved out a similar role in Houston, too.

But Hader is a trailblazing figure in his own right.

What’s a little different about Hader is that, unlike so many elite relievers, he is not a failed major-league starter. Unlike Miller, for example, he assumed a relief role immediately upon reaching the majors. And unlike, say, a David Price or Chris Sale — that is, other powerful left-handed starting prospects who debuted as relievers — Hader isn’t merely biding his time until a spot opens in the rotation. Hader does not just fill a need in the Brewers’ bullpen. Instead, the club feels he has real value there. And rather than fight against the role or eye a return to starting, Hader has embraced his work.

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Meet the Extraordinary Freddy Peralta

Sometimes, when players are first promoted, their teams try to ease them in. After all, there’s already plenty of pressure, and you don’t want to give someone the shakes. Might as well give a guy the opportunity to get comfortable. Other times, whether by design or necessity, there’s no such special treatment. A few weeks ago, Eric Lauer became the 27th starting pitcher to make his big-league debut in Coors Field. You might remember Lauer for half-smiling after allowing a grand slam. Lauer was charged with seven runs in three frames, which is not good, but the history of these debuts is predictably not good — starters have allowed 6.9 runs per nine innings. Coors Field is a beast. Nothing in the minors can prepare you for major-league bats in Colorado.

Sunday afternoon, 21-year-old Freddy Peralta became the 28th starting pitcher to make his big-league debut in Coors Field. It wasn’t really supposed to happen that way, but Chase Anderson fell ill, and Peralta was scheduled to pitch in Colorado Springs. He was actually going to pitch in front of his family for the first time in his career. The sudden change of plans abruptly sent everyone to Denver. One would assume that expectations were modest. And yet, in the bottom of the sixth, this is how Peralta left the mound:

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You Can’t Blame Tanking for the Lack of Competitive Teams

Tanking is a problem. Professional sports like baseball are built on the assumption that both sides are trying to win. Organizations putting forth less than their best efforts hurts the integrity of the sport and provides fans with little reason to engage. That said, the perception of tanking might have overtaken the reality of late. Competitive imbalance is not the same as tanking. Sometimes teams are just bad, even if they are trying not to be.

Tanking concerns are not new. Two years ago, just after the Astros and Cubs had turned their teams around, the Phillies were attempting to dismantle their roster by trading Cole Hamels. The Braves had traded multiple players away from a team that had been competitive. The Brewers, who traded away Carlos Gomez, would soon do the same with Jonathan Lucroy after he rebuilt his trade value.

The Braves, Brewers, and Phillies all sold off whatever assets they could. Two years later, though, those clubs aren’t mired in last place. Rather, they’re a combined 54-37 and projected to win around 80 games each this season in what figures to be a competitive year for each. While the Braves and Phillies could and/or should have done more this offseason to improve their rosters, neither resorted to an extreme level of failure, and the teams are better today than they would have been had they not rebuilt. While accusations of tanking dogged each, none of those clubs descended as far as either the Astros or Cubs. None came close to the NBA-style tank jobs many feared.

One might suspect that I’ve cherry-picked the three clubs mentioned above, purposely selecting teams with surprising early-season success to prop up a point about the relatively innocuous effects of tanking. That’s not what I’ve done, though. Rather, I’ve highlighted the three teams Buster Olney cited by name two years ago — and which Dave Cameron also addressed — in a piece on tanking.

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That Josh Hader Game

Josh Hader entered Monday’s game in the bottom of the seventh inning with the Brewers clinging to a one-run lead. Nine batters and eight strikeouts later, that one-run lead was the margin of victory. Jeff Sullivan predicted this, or something like this, more than two weeks ago in his article titled “Josh Hader Is Becoming Baseball’s Most Valuable Reliever.” You can see a lot of things coming if you read Jeff’s work, as he covered Hader’s arsenal and how the Brewers lefty is carving up hitters:

If Josh Hader isn’t baseball’s most valuable reliever, he’s close. He could get there soon, elbow willing. Plain and simple, he does everything right, going multiple innings at a time and pitching well independent of batter handedness. You could think of him as peak Dellin Betances, another non-closer who racked up strikeouts over 70 or 80 or 90 innings. Betances made four consecutive All-Star Games. Maybe his control is starting to go, but nothing is forever. Hader is that good, and he’s only improved since basically doubling the size of his repertoire.

Fast-forward a couple weeks and here’s the reliever leaderboard for April.

April WAR Leaderboard for Relievers
Name IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 ERA FIP xFIP WAR
Josh Hader 18.0 19.5 2.5 0.5 1.00 0.42 0.56 1.0
Adam Ottavino 16.0 16.9 2.3 0.0 0.56 0.57 1.06 0.8
Shane Carle 18.2 8.2 1.9 0.0 0.96 2.02 3.35 0.7
Edwin Diaz 14.1 17.0 4.4 0.0 0.63 1.52 2.28 0.7
Chad Green 13.0 13.2 2.8 0.0 2.08 1.20 2.75 0.7
Carl Edwards Jr. 13.2 15.2 3.3 0.0 0.66 0.93 2.40 0.7
Aroldis Chapman 12.0 15.8 3.8 0.0 1.50 0.95 2.11 0.6
Archie Bradley 15.2 10.3 2.9 0.0 1.72 1.86 2.84 0.6
Jeurys Familia 15.0 10.8 3.6 0.0 1.80 2.20 3.44 0.6
Robert Gsellman 15.0 11.4 3.6 0.0 1.80 1.86 2.69 0.5

Hader is rightfully up top. That K/9 number is incredible and the 0.42 FIP naturally follows. Maybe most interesting is that Hader is the only pitcher on the leaderboard who has given up a home run. In small samples like what we have through one month, a homer makes a pretty significant difference. The only other pitchers among the top 20 of reliever WAR with a homer allowed are Craig Kimbrel and Bud Norris. For Hader to top the list despite allowing a home run is truly remarkable. That homer, to Tommy Pham on April 11, was very nearly not a homer considering it was called a double on the field and required a review to be turned into a home run. If that ball was a few feet shorter, Hader’s FIP for the month would have been -0.30. If you were wondering if that would have been some sort of record, the answer is yes, it would have.

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Josh Hader Is Becoming Baseball’s Most Valuable Reliever

Last year’s Brewers were a surprise contender, hanging around the race until the end of the season. It’s always a good thing when a team arrives ahead of schedule, but it can force a rebuilding organization to strike a new balance of short-term vs. long-term considerations. One decision the Brewers made was to call up pitching prospect Josh Hader so as to use him out of the bullpen. Hader was a starter with promising stuff, but the Brewers wanted later-inning reinforcements. To Hader’s credit, he thrived in his new role, starring down the stretch as a fireman.

It can get tricky when starters pitch in relief. Fans often worry that a prospect might end up stuck in the bullpen, accumulating fewer innings. Throughout the offseason and into the spring, there were questions regarding Hader’s present and future. Would the Brewers stretch him back out, or had Hader found his place? We’ve all grown up thinking of starters as being more valuable than relievers. Yet, in this age, starters are throwing fewer innings than ever. And as for Hader specifically — well, the matter isn’t so tricky when you’re talking about maybe the most valuable reliever around. Josh Hader was already good. Now he’s simply sensational.

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Zach Davies on Velocity-Challenged Effectiveness

Zach Davies logged 17 wins and a 3.90 ERA in 33 starts for the Milwaukee Brewers last season. He did so — as my colleague Travis Sawchik detailed in September — as a major-league outlier. Compared to the bulk of his contemporaries, the svelte right-hander is both undersized and velocity-challenged.

Neither of those things is about to change, at least not in a stand-up-and-take-notice way. Genetics are what genetics are. Not that he would mind adding a little meat to his six-foot frame and an extra inch or two to his not-so-fastball. The 25-year-old finesse specialist believes that each would be an asset to his already effective game.

Davies discussed that very game, including his velocity and his approach to sequencing and speed differential, earlier this spring.

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Davies on adding weight and (hopefully) velocity: “I went into the offseason trying to get stronger and put on some weight — that’s always a goal for me — and I’m up to 170 now. I was 160 last year. I think the extra weight has multiple benefits for me. Adding a little velo — I hovered right around 90 last year — would definitely be a positive, and the weight should at least help keep me healthy throughout the year.

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Let’s Talk About the Brewers’ Mediocre Projection

By most measures, the 2017 season was a very good one for the Brewers. On the heels of back-to-back sub-.500 seasons, the first of which saw them shift into rebuilding mode, they spent over two months atop the NL Central, from mid-May to late July, and remained in the Wild Card hunt until the season’s final weekend. Their 86 wins and second-place finish in the NL Central represented the franchise’s best showing since 2011. They made a big splash in late January, signing free-agent center fielder Lorenzo Cain and trading for left fielder Christian Yelich. They made some lower-cost moves as well, most notably adding a solid starter, Jhoulys Chacin, to a rotation that finished in the NL’s top five in ERA and WAR.

It’s not unreasonable to think that those improvements would put a team that missed a playoff spot by a single game in the thick of this year’s race. Yet, as of publication, the Brewers are projected to finish just 78-84. What in the name of Bernie Brewer is going on?

It bears repeating that projections are not destiny and that, at the team level, the error bars on a given year of preseason projections tend to average six to eight wins in either direction. The 2017 Brewers were one of those teams that push such averages higher, because as of Opening Day last year, they were forecast to win just 70 games. In terms of overachievement, they matched the Diamondbacks (77 projected wins, 93 actual wins) for the majors’ largest discrepancy; the Giants, projected for 88 wins but finishing with 64, had the largest discrepancy in the other direction.

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Will More Players Move Up the Defensive Spectrum?

GOODYEAR, Ariz. — Right before the start of spring training, Cincinnati prospect Nick Senzel received a phone call at his home in Knoxville, Tenn. It was from Reds headquarters. The club had a question for its top rookie-eligible player: could he handle shortstop?

“I said, ‘Yeah,’” Senzel told FanGraphs recently in Arizona. “And they got me there now.”

Even before taking the call, the No. 2 pick of the 2016 June draft was taking ground balls at third, second, and shortstop — and even fly balls in the outfield — on the playing surface of Lindsey Nelson Stadium, the baseball home of his alma mater, the University of Tennessee. A third baseman in college, Senzel wanted to make himself as versatile as possible entering this season.

It was prescient planning, as the Reds have since begun one of the great experiments of the spring.

As players advance through professional baseball, as they age at the major-league level, they typically move down the defensive spectrum. What is so interesting about Senzel playing shortstop, even if it’s short-lived, is that it represntns a case of a player moving up the spectrum.

There is an argument to be made that more teams should be identifying players who can move to more challenging positions. Why? Because over the last decade, about 20% of defensive opportunities — as in batted balls in play — have evaporated. In this three-true-outcomes environment, it’s easier to hide a bat, to trade some glove for bat, when the ball is less of a threat to reach the field of play.

There were 60,249 “plays” by defenders in 2007, according to FanGraphs data. Last season, there were just 49,809 — or roughly 10,000 fewer.

Consider opportunity trends by position:

It’s not just Senzel. Paul DeJong, who appeared at a variety of positions during his junior campaign at Illinois State, received over half the Cardinals’ starts at shortstop last season. Lonnie Chisenhall and Jason Kipnis were deployed in center at times in 2017, aided by a staff that recorded the highest strikeout rate of all time. Dee Gordon is transitioning to center field in Seattle.

Could it work? Could teams benefit from more aggressive defensive assignments? Could it be the next big thing? Or at least a little thing at no cost to clubs ever in search of efficiency and hidden value?

***

Senzel believes he can stick at short and has ambitions to make the team as the club’s starter out of spring training, although the realities of how clubs manipulate service time make that all but impossible. Still, Senzel reported early to camp. He’s worked with Barry Larkin. He’s participated every day in a particular drill where rubber balls are thrown off a wall, forcing Senzel to quickly reset his feet and transfer the ball into throwing positions.

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Effectively Wild Episode 1188: Season Preview Series: Diamondbacks and Brewers

EWFI

Ben Lindbergh and Jeff Sullivan banter about the odd odds of Jason Heyward opting out, the Mike Moustakas and Carlos Gonzalez contracts, the origins of shifting, the always-all-out Noah Syndergaard, Shohei Ohtani, and a non-throwing outfielder follow-up, then preview the 2018 Diamondbacks (38:46) with AZCentral Sports’ Nick Piecoro, and the 2018 Brewers (1:14:14) with The Frosty Mug’s Kyle Lobner.

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Sunday Notes: Gordon Beckham Feels the Best Is Yet to Come

One year ago this month, the Seattle Mariners signed Gordon Beckham to a minor-league contract, hoping that he could jumpstart a career in decline. That didn’t happen. The 31-year-old infielder slogged his way to a .706 OPS in Triple-A, then went an uninspiring 3 for 17 after a September call-up.

Despite those doldrums — and a lackadaisical track record that has seen him slash just .239/.303/.369 over parts of nine big-league seasons — Jerry Dipoto’s club is giving him another chance. So far he’s making the best of it. Going into yesterday, Beckham had nine hits, including a home run, in 13 spring training at bats.

The University of Georgia product was refreshingly honest when I asked him to assess his career thus far.

“I would describe it as having underperformed,” admitted Beckham, who was drafted eighth overall by the White Sox in 2008. “I started off well, and did some good things for a few years, but since then I haven’t played anywhere near my capabilities. If I don’t get it right soon, I probably won’t be playing much longer.”

Beckham was equally candid when asked why he hasn’t fulfilled his potential. Read the rest of this entry »


Sunday Notes: Cactus League Meanderings (Mostly)

Chris Young is in camp with the San Diego Padres, looking to extend a pitching career that began in 2000 when he was drafted out of Princeton University. It may be a tall task. The 6-foot-10 right-hander turns 39 in May, and he put up a 7.50 ERA last season in 30 ragged innings with the Royals. This could be his last hurrah, a fact he readily acknowledges.

“At some point my career will come to an end, as it does for everybody,” Young told me earlier this week. “I’m realistic about that. Over the offseason I had some of those conversations with people that I respect and admire within the game, but right now my focus is on playing. I feel good physically and the ball is coming out well, so I’m excited to compete for a spot.”

The conversations Young was referring to — with the exception of one coaching opportunity — were all in regard to front office work. Several organizations approached him about the possibility, and while no specific roles were discussed, there will undoubtably be follow-ups in the future. How soon that happens is the question that may be answered by opening day. Read the rest of this entry »


Hosmer and Yelich Do Not Need to Change

Eric Hosmer signed with the Padres…wow, was it only last weekend? Eric Hosmer signed with the Padres last weekend. I wrote up the whole post, and then sat back, eager to look at the comments, given how Hosmer is so famously polarizing. And, yeah, those expected comments rolled in, just as you’d think, but there was also another comment that stuck in my head. Here is most of it:

Maybe it’s kind of obvious, when you think about it, but we probably haven’t given it enough consideration. With all the tools we have, it’s been easy to dream on Hosmer’s power upside. Similarly, it’s been easy to dream on Christian Yelich’s power upside. This is supposed to be the era of data-driven player adjustments, so you can imagine a version of Hosmer and a version of Yelich who are able to generate consistent loft. But this isn’t as easy as it seems. It’s not even necessary, and there’s always the chance a change could backfire. See, the thing about Hosmer and the thing about Yelich is that both of these hitters are already good.

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