Archive for Daily Graphings

Mike Matheny Fired by the Cardinals

“And just like that, as mysteriously as he arrived, he was gone.”

– Oscar Martinez, The Office

It wasn’t quite Nixon’s Saturday Night Massacre, but after the Cardinals lost to the Cardinals 8-2 Saturday night, dropping to just a skosh above .500 at 47-46, manager Mike Matheny was dismissed from his managerial duties. The Cardinals remain in the playoff race, but it’s been a tumultuous month behind the scenes in St. Louis, from normal run-of-the-mill struggles to public friction with right fielder Dexter Fowler to the latest report — written by the tireless Mark Saxon of The Athletic — of Bud Norris’s old-school clubhouse antics with rookie reliever Jordan Hicks.

While Matheny’s role in the Norris-Hicks situation probably wasn’t the main factor behind his dismissal, I have few doubts that it was a contributing factor. Saxon received a lot of pushback publicly about his reporting on the issues, but these types of wagon-circling denials from teams when a story becomes embarrassing isn’t just common, it’s practically de rigueur. That doesn’t necessarily negate the veracity of the original reports.

In the end, though, it usually comes down to winning. Like most managers, Matheny lived by the win before he died by the win, the extremely successful Cardinal seasons at the start of Matheny’s tenure making him as unassailable at the time as he was vulnerable by 2018.

In a piece for ESPN in 2013, Anna McDonald reported on the relationship between the analytics-friendly front office headed by then-general manager John Mozeliak (who’s since been promoted to team president) and the more traditional Matheny.

“I believe how [Matheny] puts a lineup together is that he is utilizing things we give him from upstairs, but we don’t want to bury him with having to overthink things. Most importantly, we hire a manager to make that lineup. I do think one thing that Mike and his staff have done a very good job of is embracing anything we can put together as far as advanced scouting for them. Trying to eliminate small sample sizes and make them accept larger ones for probabilities has been helpful. Mike, he is a young manager that is very interested at looking at the best ways to be successful, so that’s always a good sign when you have that in an employee.”

Few analytics types, myself included, really thought much of Matheny as an in-game tactician. But that’s only part of the job of a manager. I’ve talked a lot about admiring Joe Torre as a manager for the Yankees not because of his in-game acumen but simply because, unlike a lot of managers, he didn’t stand in the way of his team’s success. Sometimes, keeping the team from killing each other is what a manager is there for, which is why I praised Dusty Baker’s hiring by the Washington Nationals as the right move at the right time for that particular club.

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Sunday Notes: Nick Markakis Has His Timing Down

Nick Markakis is having a marvelous year. Now in his 13th big-league season — his fourth with the Atlanta Braves — the perennially-underappreciated outfielder is slashing .323/.388/.489, and he leads the senior circuit in base hits (119) and doubles (29). On Tuesday, he’ll take the field as an All-Star for the first time.

With the possible exception of a splashy 2008 campaign in Baltimore, this has been the lefty swinger’s best season from a statistical standpoint. (Given the Braves’ better-than-expected record, it’s been a boffo one from a team perspective, as well.) The secret to his age-34 success hasn’t been a springboard so much as it’s been cumulative. Fifteen years after he was drafted out of Young Harris (GA) College, he’s finding himself in full stride.

“My timing has been really good,” Markakis responded when I asked why he’s been swinging such a hot stick. “Hitting is all about timing. What I’ve learned over the years is that this game is constantly about adjustments, and timing is everything. If you’re not on time and can still hit, you’re a pretty damn good hitter. If you can figure out timing, you’re going to be a great hitter. Being on time with the fastball and being able to adjust to off-speed pitches is really the key for me right now.”

Markakis hasn’t radically changed his timing mechanism — there is no new leg kick, for instance — but there are some nuanced adjustments. According to the outfielder, they’re equal parts subtle and continuous.

“Every pitcher is different, so it’s all about figuring out your best timing mechanism for each pitcher,” he explained. “Some guys you’ve got to go a little early, and some guys you have to wait. Video helps out a lot. I like my front foot to come down at a certain point when the pitcher is in his delivery, so I look at video between each at bat to see where my timing was.”

Markakas has been on time often enough during his career to have amassed 2,171 hits, which is sixth-most among active players. He may not be able to cite that number off the top of his head, but he knows what he’s accomplished over a decade-plus of mostly-fanfare-free years.

“Every player knows what he’s done, and if they tell you they don’t know, they’re lying,” proclaimed Markakis. “People are constantly talking about it here and there. Guys know. At the same time, you don’t look too much into it, because each day brings something new. There are new challenges to face every day.”

As for the possibility of one day reaching 3,000 hits… let’s just say his focus currently lies elsewhere.

“That’s so far away from me right now,” said Markakis, who at age 34 has a legitimate shot at that milestone. “With what I’m trying to accomplish with this team, that’s really irrelevant. I have to just continue to go out there and do my job.”

It goes without saying that he’s doing it really well. His All-Star section is proof in the pudding.

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Nick Sandlin’s professional career is off to a splendid start. In seven outings covering a like amount of innings, the 21-year-old righty has surrendered just four hits, and he’s yet to issue a free pass or allow a run. He’s fanned a dozen batters, seven of them over his last three frames.

His performance with low-A Lake County has been a continuation of his final collegiate season. Prior to being selected by the Indians in the second round of this summer’s draft, Sandlin went 10-0 with a 1.06 ERA, and 144 strikeouts in 102-and-a-third innings, at the University of Southern Mississippi.

By and large, he’s a side slinger. The 5-foot-11, 175-pound Evans, Georgia native began throwing from a low arm angle five years ago at the suggestion of his high school coach, and upon discovering that “hitters didn’t seem to like facing that stuff,” he decided to stick with it.

He will change things up from time to time.

“I’m mostly sidearm, but once or twice an inning I’ll raise up,” Sandlin told me on Thursday. “Last night, I actually raised up for three or four pitches. That’s something I’ll do to give hitters another look, maybe add a little deception.”

Sandlin feels he can elevate his fastball better from the higher slot — he’ll also throw a changeup from up top — but his bread and butter is the sidearm two-seamer that he likes to keep low in the zone.

In Sandlin’s case, ‘bread and butter’ is a relative term.

“I like to mix it up a lot,” said Sandlin, who estimated that he throws his low-90s fastball around 60 percent of the time. “I have a slider and a changeup that I go to a good bit. I like my off-speed pitches. I can throw them for strikes. That’s probably one of the things I do best.”

His role as he moves up the ladder is less settled than you might think.

“With a sidearm slot, the first thing you think of is reliever,” said Sandlin, who closed at Southern Mississippi before becoming a starter in his junior year. “But talking to scouts, with my command and my three pitches from that slot, I think most teams thought I could be a starter. At the same time, the fastest way to move up would be as a reliever. Right now the Indians have me going that route.”

Given the big-league club’s current bullpen woes — and Sandlin’s sidewinding dominance — it may not be farfetched to believe that he could reach Cleveland in fairly short order.

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Speaking of Southern Mississippi, another former Golden Eagle is quietly putting together one of the top reliever seasons in the high minors. Pitching for Triple-A Scranton Wilkes-Barre, 25-year-old Cody Carroll is 3-0 with nine saves and a 2.63 ERA, and he’s fanned 47 batters in 37-and-two-third innings.

According to a scout who has seen him multiple times, the under-the-radar Yankees prospect gets good downward plane on his fastball, and his splitter is also a plus pitch. (He was less bullish on the righty’s slider.) He feels that Carroll will pitch in the big leagues, although not necessarily with the team that took him in the 22nd round of the 2015 draft. The scout told me that he wouldn’t be surprised if teams were bringing up his name in trade talks.

I asked Scranton manager Bobby Mitchell how close Carroll is to being big-league ready.

“He’s really close,” responded the veteran skipper. “He’s just got to be a little more consistent in what he does — his command and so forth — but he’s come a long way since I had him in Double-A. He’s continued to improve. He throws 95-plus, and when he commands that, along with his split and his slider, he’s pretty much unhittable. I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s brought up this year.”

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A recent notes column included observations from Mike Bordick and Matt Williams on how similar — or dissimilar — offense and defense are in terms of mindset. Today we hear from Oakland A’s All-Star Jed Lowrie on the same subject.

“It’s obviously a different physical movement, but the act of hitting, in and of itself, is reactionary, just like defense,” said the former Stanford Cardinal. “You have the pitcher on the mound with the ball and you’re reacting to what he’s doing with that ball.

“I can’t speak to what other guys do at the plate, but when I’m at my best I’m reacting just like you would in the field. You don’t have time to react to a 95-mph fastball if you have too many thoughts in your head, so scouting reports are something you process in the back of your mind. That’s how I was taught to hit, to just recognize the pitch and react to it.”

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RANDOM HITTER-PITCHER MATCHUPS

Greg “The Bull” Luzinski went 3 for 43 against John “The Count” Montefusco.

Butch Henline went 8 for 15 against Mule Watson.

Don Slaught went 6 for 13 against John Butcher.

Enos Slaughter went 18 for 34 against Max Butcher.

Bunny Fabrique went 2 for 4 against Pol Perrit.

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J.A. Happ will represent Toronto in the All-Star Game, and his low-90s heater is one of the reasons why. The 35-year-old southpaw doesn’t light up radar guns, but as Orioles outfielder Trey Mancini explained, he’s sneaky fast.

“There are certain guys who are like that,” Mancini told me earlier this season. “J.A. Happ of the Blue Jays is one. He has one of the best fastballs in baseball. He effectively uses it up, and he switches it up. He’s not afraid to come in, he’ll go away, and he uses it up a lot. His fastball seems harder than it actually is.”

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NON-MLB NOTABLES

Former DiamondBacks, Dodgers, and Blue Jays pitcher Mike Bolsinger is 11-1 with a 2.16 ERA in 13 starts for the Chiba Lotte Marines of Japan’s Pacific League.

Yoshinobu Yamamoto, a 19-year-old right-hander, is 4-1 with a 1.29 ERA in 35 relief appearances for the Orix Buffaloes in Japan’s Pacific League.

Zach Pop, a 21-year-old right-hander in the Los Angeles Dodgers organization, has a 0.93 ERA in 35 relief appearances since being drafted in the seventh round last year out of the University of Kentucky. Pop is currently with high-A Rancho Cucamonga, where he’s allowed one run in 27 innings.

Luis Garcia, an 18-year-old (as of May) third baseman in the Washington Nationals organization, is slashing .302/.339/.402 between low-A Hagerstown and high-A Potomac. He began the season as the youngest player in the South-Atlantic League and is now the youngest in the Carolina League.

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Batters often see the ball better in some parks than they do in others, and the time of day plays a role as well. For Detroit Tigers third baseman Jeimer Candelario, his home venue is challenging in the early evening.

“Sometimes in the first AB at Comerica Park it’s difficult to see because the sun is dropping,” Candelario told me earlier this summer. “It’s right at the mound and home plate, so you have to battle. But overall, I see the ball pretty well there.”

On the season, Candelario has a .783 OPS at Comerica, versus .707 on the road.
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NEWSY STUFF

Albert Pujols homered twice on Thursday, giving him 630 for his career. That number ties him with Ken Griffey, Jr. for sixth on the all-time list.

Xander Bogaerts’ grand slam yesterday was Boston’s ninth of the season, the most in the majors. The Red Sox didn’t hit any last year.

The Pacific League topped the Central League by a score of 7-6 in the first of two NPB All-Star games on Friday night. Seibu Lions catcher Tomoya Mori went 3 for 3, including a three-run, first-inning home run off of Daisuke Matsuzaka.

Cubaball Tours has announce that their 19t-annual baseball tour of Cuba will be conducted from September 23-30, 2018. Highlights include five games of the 58th National Series, in five different ballparks. Information can be found here.

Sabermetrics, Scouting, and the Science of Baseball has begun announcing speakers for their annual (and always outstanding) seminar, which will be held in Boston on August 4 and 5. Among those on hand will be Brian Bannister, Nate Freiman, Alan Nathan, Fernando Perez, and Tom Tippett.

The Lansing Lugnuts lost to the Burlington Bees on Friday night, despite having an equal number of runners cross the plate safely. No, they didn’t lose on penalty kicks. What happened is that Toronto’s low-A squad scored five times in the top of the ninth to tie the score at 7-7, only to have a power failure kill the lights at Burlington’s Community Field. The umpires called the game, and per Midwest League rules the score reverted back to the completion of the last full inning.

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Jake Diekman is among the many MLB players active in charitable endeavors, and he has first-hand experience with the issue he’s involved with. The Texas Rangers reliever was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis when he was 10 years old.

“Last year I had my colon removed,” Diekman told me earlier this week. “I had a bag for six months, and missed the first five months (of the 2017 season) before coming back to pitch in September.

“My wife and I created the Gut It Out foundation to help a community of people reach out to one another, and to give grants and donations to help fund research projects and hospitals. If there’s a (clinical) trial that we feel needs a little money, we’ll pass it out to them.”

Information for Diekman’s Gut It Out foundation can be found here.

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Told that a pair of position players — Daniel Descalso and Alex Avila — combined to pitch four-and-two-thirds innings in Arizona’s 19-2 loss to Colorado on Wednesday, Toronto Blue Jays manager John Gibbons reminded a group of reporters that he once did something just as unique.

“I used a position player in the postseason,” said Gibbons, who called on infielder Cliff Pennington in Game 4 of the 2015 ALCS. “Great managing. First time in history. Probably the last time in history, too.”

Performing mop-up duty in the ninth inning of a 14-2 loss to the Kansas City Royals, Pennington allowed a pair of singles, then induced an inning-ending pop out.

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LINKS YOU’LL LIKE

At The Boston Globe, Alex Speier wrote about how the Red Sox have turned Fenway Park into a biomechanics lab for prospects.

Over at Forbes, Wayne McDonnell, Jr. wrote about how YES Network is embracing a friendly approach To analytics thanks to David Cone.

Sun Ming Kim talked to the one-and-only Julio Franco, who is currently coaching in Korea, for The Athletic.

At The Miami Herald, Clark Spencer wrote about how 22-year-old Marlins rookie Pablo Lopez passed up medical school in Venezuela to play pro ball.

How and why do Cubs and White Sox hitters choose their bats? Mark Gonzales asked that question to several of them and shared their answers at The Chicago Tribune.

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RANDOM FACTS AND STATS

Mets pitcher Drew Gagnon has one RBI and no official at bats (he hit a sacrifice fly in his only plate appearances). Seattle’s Andrew Romine has 79 at bats and no RBIs.

Charlie Gehringer played in six All-Star games and went 10 for 20 with nine walks and no strikeouts. Orlando Cepeda played in six All-Star games and went 1 for 27 with one walk and three strikeouts.

Paul Waner has the most career hits (3,152) without having recorded a hit in an All-Star game (0 for 8) . Robin Yount had 3,142 hits and went 0 for 7 in the summer classic.

The first MLB All-Star game home run derby took place in Minnesota’s Metrodome in 1985. Cincinnati’s Dave Parker came out on top.

Dean Stone of the Washington Senators was the winning pitcher of the 1954 All-Star game despite not retiring a batter. The lefty entered in the eighth inning to face Duke Snider, Red Schoendienst was out attempting to steal home, and the AL scored rallied to take the lead in the bottom half.

On this date in 1973, California’s Nolan Ryan struck out 17 batters while throwing a no-hitter in Tiger Stadium. In the ninth inning, Detroit’s Norm Cash walked to the plate carrying a piano leg, only to be ordered to go get a real bat. He subsequently popped to short to end the game.

Juan Marichal made his MLB debut with the San Francisco Giants on July 19, 1960 and threw a complete-game shutout against the Philadelphia Phillies. The only hit he allowed was a pinch single by Clay Dalrymple with two outs in the eighth inning.

In 1898, Wee Willie Keeler led the National League with a .385 batting average. He had 206 singles and 10 extra-base hits, and struck out four times in 604 plate appearances.

The 1927 “Murderer’s Row” Yankees led baseball with 158 home runs, as well as strikeouts (610) and walks (642). The league averages for the other 15 teams were 51 home runs, 417 strikeouts, and 454 walks.

In his eight seasons with the Cincinnati Reds (1926-1933), Red Lucas went 109-99 with a 3.64 ERA. As a hitter, he slashed .300/.361/.375 in 1,100 plate appearances. Over his 16-year career, Lucas went 103 for 379 (.272) as a pinch-hitter. His nickname was “The Nashville Narcissus.”


Utley’s Chase for Cooperstown

Joe Mauer got there, but Chase Utley won’t. By there, I don’t mean the Hall of Fame, at least not directly, but the 2,000 hit plateau, which has functioned as a bright-line test for BBWAA and small-committee Hall voters for the past several decades. As I wrote back in April after Mauer collected his milestone hit, voters have effectively put an unofficial “Rule of 2,000” in place, withholding election from any position player below that level whose career crossed into the post-1960 expansion era, no matter his other merits. For anyone holding out hope that Utley would stick around long enough — while playing well, of course — to reach that marker, Friday was a rough day.

At a press conference at Dodger Stadium on Friday afternoon, the 39-year-old Utley announced that he would retire at the end of the season, forgoing the second year of a two-year, $2 million deal he signed in February. With “only” 1,881 hits over the course of his 16-year career, and less than half a season remaining, he’ll fall short of the marker.

After beginning the press conference by deadpanning that he’d signed a five-year extension, Utley said:

“I transitioned to a part-time player, something new for me, but I took it in stride… Also, a part-time strength coach, part-time pitching coach, occasionally part-time catching coach as well as a part-time general manager. The thing I’m having the most difficult time with is being a part-time dad. So that’s really the reason I’m shutting it down. I’m ready to be a full-time dad.”

While evolving from Phillies regular to Dodgers reserve/elder statesman, Utley has collected at least 100 hits just once in the past four seasons, and has just 30 this year. As injuries to Justin Turner, Corey Seager and Logan Forsythe decimated the Dodgers’ infield this spring, he appeared in 36 of the team’s first 40 games, 22 as a starter, and as of May 11 (through 38 games, selective endpoint alert!), he was hitting .271/.370/.412 with a 13.0% walk rate and a 114 wRC+ in 100 plate appearances. With Forsythe and Turner both back in the picture, however, and with Max Muncy hitting his way into regular duty, Utley went just 1-for-26 without a walk from May 12-29, after which he missed 20 games due to a sprained left thumb. Since returning, he’s made just four starts in 20 games, going 7-for-20 in that span, albeit with some big plays off the bench.

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On Liking Jean Segura

There are few things that can make us feel more anxious than when we realize that people we consider our friends don’t enjoy the same things we do. Music, comedy specials, how much to go outside. There’s a little daring in liking things, especially when we like them deeply. By professing that we like something, we invite someone else to say that they don’t like that something, and then suddenly, there is one less thing that knits us to that someone.

Not liking the same little somethings is fine; I like eggplant and I have friends who don’t and it has never mattered, not even one time. But it can be hard to suss out in advance which little things, when pulled open, will lead to the bigger somethings that do matter. And so sharing the things we like can make us feel nervous. Perhaps you, the eggplant disliker, don’t care for its texture. That’s fine; eggplant has divisive mouthfeel. But maybe you don’t like it because you prefer the meaty taste of the human persons you have folded up in your basement freezer. That’s considerably less good! I went in liking eggplant and came out knowing you’re a murderer. Friendship can be dicey in this way, but I guess we have to risk it.

So here’s what I like. I like watching Jean Segura play baseball.

I liked this single, on a ball just above the zone.

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Broadcasters’ View: Who Have Been the Top Players in the Midwest League?

Who have been the best players in the Midwest League so far this season? I recently posed that question to some of the circuit’s broadcasters, with an important qualifier: I requested that they base their selections on what they’ve seen with their own eyes and not on reputations. I also asked for snapshot observations on each player named, which the respondents graciously took the time to provide.

As noted in last season’s year-end survey, the Midwest League comprised two divisions, with an unbalanced schedule. Couple that with the fact that this is a midseason look, and the respondents will have seen some players more than others (or not at all). For that reason, notable prospects may not appear on a particular list.

Six broadcasters participated, three from the Eastern Division and three from the Western Division. Their respective lists were put together within the past month.

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Nathan Baliva, Peoria Chiefs (Cardinals)

1. Royce Lewis: Smooth in the field when we saw him in April. Hit the ball hard and to all fields. Consistent and you can see why he went 1-1.

2. Hunter Greene: So raw but so much fun to watch. His first 20-some pitches, and 45 of the first 46, were fastballs against us, so he wasn’t working on offspeed stuff that game — but when the fastballs were all 97-101, it was fun to watch the radar gun. He threw strikes — no walks, two hits, five Ks in four innings against us — and seems to have figured things out after a rough start. Will be fun to watch how he grows.

3. Alex Kirilloff: At least we aren’t the only team he crushes. What he has done coming off injury is awesome and very impressive after missing a full season of development at his age.

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How Ken Giles Became a Minor Leaguer

Ken Giles did not have a good night on Tuesday. Called upon in the top of the ninth inning to protect the Astros’ 4-0 lead over the A’s, he served up three straight singles over the course of eight pitches, allowing one run and bringing the tying run to the plate in the form of Matt Olson. On the heels of a visit from pitching coach Brent Strom after back-to-back hits by Mark Canha and Jed Lowrie, manager A.J. Hinch didn’t like what he saw, and after a first-pitch single by Khris Davis, came out to get Giles, who… didn’t like what he saw either. The closer appeared to have some choice words as he handed over the ball.

The A’s wound up tying the game in the ninth, with all three runs charged to Giles’ room, and they went ahead, 5-4, in the top of the 11th. The Astros nonetheless rallied for two runs in the bottom of the inning, scoring the winning run in bizarre fashion, when A’s catcher Jonathan Lucroy made a hash of Alex Bregman’s swinging bunt:

Giles was reportedly not in the clubhouse after the game, and by Wednesday afternoon, he was a Fresno Grizzly. He’d been optioned to the team’s Triple-A affiliate in what general manager Jeff Luhnow called “a baseball decision.”

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Ryan Borucki and Baseball’s Newest Plus Pitch

For most of 2018, any positive noise about the Toronto Blue Jays has been oriented to the future. Teoscar Hernandez — picked up for Francisco Liriano last July 3 — has proven to be a solid piece for the team. The farm system boasts four prospects in the top 100, led by baseball’s No. 1 prospect in Vladimir Guerrero Jr. While injured currently, Guerrero has posted video-game numbers at Double-A, and even the slightest possibility of his call-up to Toronto has sent fans into hysterics. With the AL East pretty well set for the playoffs, looking ahead is an entirely realistic plan for the Blue Jays.

Two weeks ago, another young Blue Jay made his major-league debut. Ryan Borucki comes from a baseball family: his father played 600 games in the minors and was a one-time teammate of Ryne Sandberg’s. The younger Borucki was a 15th-round pick in 2012 and signed for $426,000 to forego his commitment to Iowa. After a rough start to the career — including Tommy John surgery and shoulder pain that led to lost 2015 campaign — he turned it around after a demotion to Low-A in 2016 and shot up three levels to Triple-A in 2017. After a middling start to the 2018 season in Triple-A, Borucki got called out to fill out a rotation plagued by struggles and injury.

In his first three starts, Borucki faced the Astros, Yankees, and Tigers. Despite the quality of those first two clubs, Borucki conceded only five total runs in 20 innings while recording a 16:6 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Nor does it get any easier: Borucki is scheduled to start tonight against Boston.

At first glance, Borucki’s arsenal doesn’t seem like the sort capable of thwarting two of the league’s highest-scoring offenses. His sinking fastball averages around 92 mph and his slider is generally seen as pedestrian. However, he does have one weapon that could become one of the best pitches of its kind in the majors.

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Scooter Gennett Breaks Out the Old-Fashioned Way

CLEVELAND — As Belgium’s attempt to equalize against France fell short in the World Cup semifinal on Tuesday, this contributor witnessed Scooter Gennett morph from desperately hopeful — wanting the Belgians to show more urgency — to crestfallen in the visiting clubhouse at Progressive Field. Whatever Gennett’s connection to that small European nation, it was apparently strong enough for him to take their loss somewhat personally.

While he might not have realized it at the time, it represented one of the few opportunities Gennett has had to experience genuine disappointment at a baseball park in recent years. Over the past two seasons, he’s been one of a small collection of players to transform from a marginal, contact-based hitter into a star-level bat. Gennett has never been in a better place as a professional baseball player.

After posting a career-best 27 homers and a 124 wRC+ last season, a campaign which included perhaps the most unlikely four-homer game in major-league history (as documented at SI by current colleague Jay Jaffe), Gennett has been even better this year, to the tune of a 137 wRC+. He’s recorded the 26th-best batting line amongst qualified hitters. He’s currently the 23rd-most valuable position player by WAR.

Gennett has already overcome the odds several times. He advanced to the majors after being selected as a 16th-rounder out of Sarasota (Fla.) High School in the 2009 draft. He is the rare player to enjoy remarkable success after being claimed off waivers (by the Reds last year), which FanGraphs managing editor Carson Cistulli noted last season. You could understand why Gennett, at 5-foot-10 and 185 pounds, might be asked for ID when he tries to enter a visiting major-league ballpark. He is one of the few physical comps to this author in the major leagues. He does not look like someone capable of hitting for much power.

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Kyle Schwarber Bunted With Two Strikes and the Bases Empty

So far, it’s been an exciting season of change for Kyle Schwarber. He showed up to camp in the best shape of his life, and while those stories are typically easy to dismiss, Schwarber has undergone something of a transformation. He’s sitting on what would be a career-high WAR. He’s walking more than he used to, and he’s striking out less than he used to. He’s hitting ground balls more than he used to, but he’s also still hitting for power, because he’s attempting to hit more line drives. Most impressively, Schwarber has turned himself into a pretty good defensive corner outfielder. His range is basically average, and his throwing arm is a weapon. The Cubs always said they believed in Schwarber’s future. We’re seeing the best version of him that there’s been.

There is an entire article to be written about appreciating Kyle Schwarber in general. This article is about appreciating Kyle Schwarber in specific. Because in the ninth inning against the Giants on Wednesday, Schwarber bunted for a single with two strikes and the bases empty. This is one of those plays that just can’t be ignored.

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The National League’s Most Balanced Pitcher

When I think about control artists, I think about pitchers who consistently hit their spots, particularly on the edges of the strike zone. These thoughts are further associated in my mind with low walk totals. So when I look at the National League leaderboard in walk percentage and see Miles Mikolas at 3.9%, I assume, he is good at painting corners. Then I look at his heat maps, and I don’t see that at all.

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Descalso and Avila Hurl Their Way into Weird History

Even in these days of bloated, 13-man pitching staffs, it’s not uncommon for a position player to take the mound. With the season roughly halfway done, there have been 30 outings by position players thus far — not including two-way phenom Shohei Ohtani, who’s in a class by himself — which means we’re almost certain to see what, at the very least, is an expansion-era record (more on which momentarily). Despite that increasing commonality, Wednesday night brought a rarity that’s worth appreciating — a few of them, in fact — in the Rockies’ 19-2 trouncing of the Diamondbacks (box).

Yes, it was a game at Coors Field, where wackiness reigns thanks to the high altitude, and unfortunately, the circumstances were triggered by an injury. Diamondbacks starter Shelby Miller, making just his fourth major-league start since returning from Tommy John surgery, was lit up for five first-inning runs via two walks and four hits, the most important coming in the form of an Ian Desmond homer.

Though he completed the inning, Miller needed 37 pitches — a bit extreme given his recent injury, but take it up with manager Torey Lovullo — and began feeling elbow tightness by the end of his abbreviated stint. Reliever Jorge De La Rosa, who knows all about the horrors of Coors Field as he spent nine freakin’ years (2008-16) calling it home, came on in relief and allowed four runs in the second inning and three in the third via homers by Charlie Blackmon and Carlos Gonzalez. He got the hook with two outs and the Diamondbacks trailing 12-1. While T.J. Mcfarland got the final out of the third, Lovullo pulled him due to stiffness in his neck, and then Yoshihisa Hirano allowed four straight hits and three runs after retiring Desmond to start the fourth.

At that point, Lovullo effectively said, “To hell with this,” and called upon second baseman Daniel Descalso — who had already pitched four times in his nine-year major-league career, including May 4 of this year against the Astros — to take the hill, with Chris Owings coming off the bench to play second base. It didn’t go well at first, Nolan Arenado greeting Descalso with an RBI single and then Gonzalez following with a three-run homer, bringing the score to 18-1. Fortunately, Descalso settled down and wore it like a champ, lasting 2.2 innings and 36 pitches and retiring eight of the next 11 batters he faced, with the only run in that span arriving via a solo homer by pitcher German Marquez.

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The First Sixteenth of the Hosmer Deal Is Complete

The 2017-2018 offseason was not one of the more exciting winters in memory, to put it mildly. A large part of that, no doubt, was the result of a relatively undistinguished free-agent class and the absence of some larger clubs from the market, teams saving their ammunition for the likely more exciting 2018-2019 period. Add into that the hard-to-gauge effects of more unanimity among front offices in how to evaluate veteran players and the whispered rumors of the collusion poltergeist, and it was a formula for not a lot happening. And not a lot happened.

For about three weeks around the holidays, the only news in town was the rumbling surrounding Eric Hosmer’s new home. Now, in most offseasons, Eric Hosmer wouldn’t be one of the marquee free agents, having been a rather up-and-down first baseman with some high points, but also some low ones, enough so that he entered the 2018 campaign having never strung together consecutive years of one or more wins. The 2017 season was one of the highlights, however, with Hosmer avoiding those half-long slumps that doomed 2014 and 2016 to sub-mediocrity. It was a legitimately excellent season, Hosmer hitting .318/.385/.498, to the tune of a 135 wRC+, and reaching that four-win mark that serves as an informal threshold for an All-Star season.

In the end, the Royals attempted to retain Hosmer, though the truth of whether he was actually offered $147 million, as the rumors went, will probably be lost in history unless Scott Boras writes a tell-all book after his retirement. San Diego, a team in the middle of their own rebuild, signed Hosmer to an eight-year, $144 million contract, with an opt-out clause exercisable by Hosmer, allowing him to forgo the last three years and $39 million for free agency. To get an estimate, here are the full ZiPS projections for the Hosmer contract at the time.

Eric Hosmer, ZiPS Projections, Preseason
Year BA OBP SLG G AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO OPS+ DR WAR
2018 .275 .344 .447 155 582 86 160 27 2 23 90 62 116 116 -2 2.6
2019 .277 .349 .452 148 553 83 153 27 2 22 86 62 110 118 -3 2.7
2020 .276 .347 .449 144 537 79 148 26 2 21 83 59 104 117 -3 2.4
2021 .270 .340 .439 138 519 75 140 24 2 20 78 56 99 113 -3 2.0
2022 .267 .336 .428 131 495 69 132 22 2 18 71 52 90 109 -3 1.5
2023 .265 .332 .415 120 453 61 120 19 2 15 62 46 76 104 -4 1.1
2024 .261 .326 .398 104 394 51 103 16 1 12 52 38 62 98 -4 0.5
2025 .259 .320 .386 84 324 40 84 12 1 9 41 29 46 93 -3 0.2

One thing to note is that there is a bit of a discrepancy between the zWAR (ZiPS WAR) and FanGraphs WAR figures, as we haven’t always used the exact same park and league factors for future seasons and have utilized a slightly different methodology. For next year’s ZiPS, I hope to report both zWAR and fWAR to reduce this occasional confusion. But for right now, I’m still figuring out how to not break FanGraphs.

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Yadier Molina’s Climb Towards Cooperstown

Yadier Molina was added to the NL All-Star team on Monday, replacing the injured Buster Posey, who’s been slowed by a bout of inflammation in his right hip and recently received a cortisone shot. Molina’s addition is just the first of a wave that will dull some outrage over the most obvious snubs from Sunday’s roster announcement; on the AL side, Jed Lowrie was named as Gleyber Torres’ replacement on Tuesday. As Molina is a Star Player of a Certain Age, his ninth selection to the Midsummer Classic in a 10-year span (he missed 2016) set off another round of everybody’s favorite parlor game, Is He a Hall of Famer?. You know I can’t resist buzzing in for that one.

But first, the selection. Molina, who turns 36 on July 13, is having a pretty good season, particularly for a guy who missed a month due to [crosses legs uncomfortably] emergency groin surgery necessitated by a foul tip. He’s currently hitting 274/.317/.484 with 13 homers in 240 plate appearances, and while his on-base percentage is nothing to write home about — how is it a guy who spends half the game minding the strike zone for his pitchers can walk just 5.4% of the time? — his slugging percentage is his highest since 2012, his best offensive season. His 115 wRC+ is his highest since 2013, and it’s lifted his career mark to an even 100. Of the 23 catchers with at least 200 PA this year, that 114 wRC+ is tied for sixth overall. Both MLB leader J.T. Realmuto (149) and fourth-ranked Willson Contreras (122) are already on the NL All-Star squad, with the latter elected the starter.

While Molina’s offense is in a good place in 2018, his defense appears to be off, and not only because he’s thrown out just four out of 19 stolen-base attempts (21%, nearly half of his 41% career mark). Via FanGraphs’ version of catcher defense (which isn’t UZR), he’s 2.4 runs below average, including two below average in the stolen-base component of Defensive Runs Saved. Via the non-pitch-framing version of DRS, he’s four runs below average, while via the framing-inclusive version, he’s two below average. Via Baseball Prospectus’ Fielding Runs Above Average, which includes framing, he’s 2.3 runs above average overall and 3.7 above in the framing component. Via our version of WAR — which, again, does not include framing — Molina’s 1.3 WAR is tied for ninth among catchers overall. Some of that is the impact of his injury; prorate all of the catchers with at least 200 PA to 600 PA and he’s a rounding error out of fifth:

Top Catchers by 2018 WAR, Prorated to 600 PA
Name Team PA AVG OBP SLG wRC+ WAR WAR/600
1 J.T. Realmuto Marlins 290 .317 .368 .551 149 3.5 7.2
2 Francisco Cervelli Pirates 231 .247 .381 .468 132 2.3 6.0
3 Willson Contreras Cubs 332 .279 .367 .453 122 2.5 4.5
4 Yasmani Grandal Dodgers 291 .243 .340 .450 118 1.7 3.5
5 Kurt Suzuki Braves 239 .275 .343 .455 116 1.3 3.3
6 Yan Gomes Indians 258 .251 .314 .447 104 1.4 3.3
7 Yadier Molina Cardinals 240 .274 .317 .484 115 1.3 3.3
8 Wilson Ramos Rays 303 .291 .340 .479 127 1.6 3.2
9 Buster Posey Giants 326 .282 .362 .404 113 1.7 3.1
10 Gary Sanchez Yankees 265 .190 .291 .433 97 1.2 2.7
Min. 200 PA.

Thus it’s fair to say that his selection isn’t just about 2018 performance but about his reputation and bigger-picture productivity, and as I noted in Monday’s reaction piece to the NL starting outfield of Bryce Harper, Nick Markakis, and Matt Kemp, I’m not one to sweat that.

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Early 2019-21 Draft Rankings

The 2018 MLB Draft’s signing deadline passed last week, and more teams failed to sign their early picks than is typical. Ultimately, four of the top 36 selections opted not to enter professional ball, all from the prep ranks. Those players are as follows: RHP Carter Stewart (Atlanta’s pick at No. 8), SS Matt McLain (Arizona at No. 25), RHP J.T. Ginn (Dodgers at No. 30), and Gunnar Hoglund (Pirates at No. 36). Scouting details on those individuals can be found on THE BOARD.

This has left those teams with one fewer prospect in their system than anticipated (all four teams get a compensation pick in next year’s draft), but more significantly, it moves a handful of premium talent into future draft classes. This year’s crop of unsigned high schoolers now serves as a preview of the college talent pool for the 2021 draft, but there are also a few 2020 prospects who are eligible early because they’re old for their class. There’s also a possibility that some could find their way into the 2019 draft class if they opt to attend junior college. We’ll reclassify players on THE BOARD as they change.

With that in mind, we thought it reasonable to present snapshots of each of the next three draft classes based on how we have the players graded right now. The industry’s evaluation of the 2019 class is already underway in earnest (Team USA, Cape Cod, and prep showcases are all occurring as we speak), and we’ve lined up a short list of the class’s top names thus far over on THE BOARD. Our 2020 list is mostly composed of the players we regarded as the best college freshmen this year, though we know of a few high schoolers who look like early first-round talents, too. The 2021 list is just a ranking of the high schoolers who didn’t sign in this year’s draft, exactly as they appeared on our 2018 draft board. We’re skeptical of prep players who have popped up this early because it’s often the result of physical maturity, but we don’t think that’s the case for Pennsylvania high school RHP Kevin Bitsko, whom we have evaluated similarly to the lean projection arms who are 40 FVs on the July 2 list.

Click here to see the 2019-21 draft prospects at THE BOARD.

We’re still too early in the process to make conclusive statements about the talent level of the 2019 draft class as a whole, much less the 2020 or 2021 varieties, so all this could change. As it stands now, however, the 2019 class collectively appears to lack the depth of the 2018 crop. By this time last year, we had a rough idea of how deep the high-school pitching was and knew that the Southeast had an overwhelming volume of talent. College hitting is the strength of next year’s draft class, and there’s lots of depth to the college crop in general, but the prep class lacks the quantity of players who are regarded as in-a-vacuum first rounders that one customarily sees at this point. Moreover, the college pitching class lacks a guy who looks like a top-five or -10 selection right now, though Casey Mize didn’t fit that criteria last summer and then ended up going first overall to Detroit in June.

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The Precedent for a Manny Machado Trade

Sometime soon, the Orioles are going to trade their best player. Sometime soon, the Orioles are going to trade one of the best players, period. I’ve seen people worrying that the Orioles might just hang onto Manny Machado through the end of the year, and I understand that, historically, trading with the Orioles has always been complicated, but that would be a bridge too far. There’s just about no way the Orioles would settle for free-agent compensation, here. There’s a blockbuster trade to be made, and there are interesting prospects to be acquired.

So, a Machado trade is virtually inevitable. There is no shortage of suitors. Two factors make this situation unusual. One, Machado is very good. Many good players are traded around the deadline, but few are at Machado’s level. Two, Machado will become a free agent in a matter of months. He’s a rental. Some suitor might think they could win Machado over down the stretch, but that’s unlikely to lead to much of a bargain. Machado’s not signing a contract extension before he hits the market. This should be interpreted first and foremost as a short-term move.

It can be hard to know what would be an appropriate price. How much should someone be willing to give up for Machado? For how much should the Orioles be willing to settle? To this point, the Orioles have asked for more than anyone’s been willing to surrender. That much is self-evident, since Machado is available but there hasn’t yet been an agreement. I think it’s useful to dig into the history. Every trade negotiation is different, conducted under unique circumstances, but there’s value in understanding the precedent. Trades don’t follow precedent in the way that, say, arbitration does, but we can get an idea of what’s going to happen by looking at what has happened. Time to consider a whole bunch of names.

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The Telephone Game in Cleveland

CLEVELAND — This author is all too familiar with cases of identification mix-ups within the confines of Progressive Field, as you might be aware of if you are a loyal listener of FanGraphs Audio.

Earlier this year, I approached Matt Davidson’s locker stall in the visiting clubhouse in Cleveland and asked Matt if he had time for an interview. Seated, Matt agreed. He was pleasant and eager, as if he hadn’t spent much time being hounded by reporters. It was in the midst of the interview, speaking with Matt — Matt Skole — when he mentioned how he played in the Nationals organization earlier in his career. I realized my mistake. I had the wrong 6-foot-4 position-playing Matt. I politely asked another question or two and ended the interview. While a surge of embarrassment struck me, at least the error was realized before, say, publication.

There was another sort of case of mistaken identity in Cleveland on Tuesday night.

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The Trade Deadline Matters Less Than Ever

Among MLB’s calendar of so-called Important Events, one finds a fast-approaching date — namely, the July 31st non-waiver trade deadline.

Historically, it is a deadline that facilitates action, that forces teams to declare whether they’re contenders or rebuilders, that compels sellers and buyers to stop negotiating and come to terms on a deal. Deadlines often force actors to make “yes” or “no” calls. This date is one of the last periods for teams with postseason aspirations to improve, for rebuilding clubs to retool. The date creates interest in the sport. This very Web site experiences increased traffic during the days leading up to to the deadline.

But the trade deadline wasn’t so packed with action a year ago, and it might be even slower this season.

The trade deadline just might not matter that much anymore.

Teams knew early last year whether they were buyers or sellers. They’ve known earlier still this season. They also know the deadline doesn’t typically provide much impact.

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Brett Gardner, Fines, and Pace of Play

Brett Gardner’s posted a walk rate north of 10% six times in his 11-year big-league career, including each of the last four seasons. He’s racked up 2.5 WAR or better in every full season he’s played, on the back of sometimes elite defense, consistently above-average offense, and the ability to knock a few dingers into the short porch in Yankee Stadium III. In other words, Gardner is a Very Useful Player, the kind of complementary piece every contending roster needs.

That’s not Gardner’s reputation, though. Instead, Gardner is regarded more as a “pest.” Not because of his conduct as a person — I’ve never met him, though I’m sure he’s a lovely human and fine conversationalist — but rather as a leadoff hitter. And the numbers mostly bear this out: this year, he’s seeing 4.15 pitches per plate appearance, 10th best in the American League. Last year, it was 4.23 pitches per plate appearance, seventh best in the American League. In 2016, Gardner saw 4.09 pitches per plate appearance, 16th best in the Junior Circuit. You get the idea: Gardner is a tough out. Jeff Sullivan wrote about this last year during the playoffs.

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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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