Archive for Padres

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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Matt Strahm Is Quite an Opening Act

The opener revolution originated in Tampa Bay earlier this season and has since spread to Los Angeles and San Diego.

Padres manager Andy Green, a colleague of former FanGraphs manager editor Dave Cameron, has expressed interest in continuing bullpen games. The strategy make some sense, as the Padres have one of the strongest and deepest bullpens in the game, trailing only the Yankees, Astros, and Brewers in relief WAR. The Padres have bullpenned four times in four weeks and three consecutive times through a vacant spot (Joey Lucchesi’s) in their stating rotation, most recently on Sunday at Atlanta.

Of the four bullpen games, Matt Strahm has started all of them. Strahm has taken to the role.

Since Strahm became a starter — or, more precisely, “an opener” — he’s been dominant. In his last three appearances, all technically starts, Strahm has recorded 11 strikeouts and no walks against 29 batters while conceding just three hits and a single run in 8.0 innings.

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You Might Not Recognize Kirby Yates

Kirby Yates entered the 2018 season as one of the league’s most quietly interesting relievers.

He posted an elite 29.9-point K-BB% last year, ranking seventh among all pitchers who threw at least 40 innings. Only Craig Kimbrel, Kenley Jansen, and James Hoyt bettered his 17.4% swinging-strike rate last season.

Yates ranked 24th in whiff-per-swing rate on his four-seam, high-spin fastball (31.7%), according to the PITCHf/x leaderboards at Baseball Prospectus. His split-change (45.7%) and slider (44.0%) also produced above-average swing-and-miss rates per swing. Selected off waivers from the Angels last April, Yates was quite a find.

Entering the season, then, the Padres appeared to have another potential difference-making bullpen arm to complement Brad Hand. In fact, the Padres appeared to have the makings of one of the better bullpens in the game — and it has been one of the better bullpens in the game. San Diego ranks fourth in relief WAR (3.5), trailing only the Astros, Brewers, and Yankees.

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Sunday Notes: Jeimer Candelario is Palm Up, Gap-to-Gap, a Talented Tiger

Jeimer Candelario is establishing himself as one of the best young players on a young Detroit Tigers team. Playing in his first full big-league season, the 24-year-old third baseman is slashing a solid .251/.346/.476 with 10 home runs. His 2.0 WAR leads all Tigers.

Acquired along with Isaac Paredes in the deal that sent Alex Avila and Justin Wilson to the Cubs at last summer’s trade deadline, “Candy” is a switch-hitter with pop. His M.O. is gap-to-gap, and the orientation of his top hand is a focal point of his swing.

“I want to hit the ball with palm up,” explained Candelario. “If you’re palm up and you hit the ball, you finish up. I try to be connected. My back side, my hands, my hips, and my legs come in the same moment. That way, when I hit the ball I hit the ball with power, with palm up.”

Candelario credits Cubs assistant hitting coach Andy Haines — at the time the club’s hitting coordinator — for helping him develop his stroke. Now that he’s in Motown, he’s heeding the advice of Lloyd McClendon, who is emphasizing “How to load and then follow through, which helps me have some doubles and homers. If I just concentrate on hitting line drives, the ball will carry.”

McClendon is bullish on the young infielder’s future. Ditto his here and now. Read the rest of this entry »


Eric Lauer Has Seven Pickoffs

Leading off the bottom of the first inning on Wednesday, Harrison Bader worked a full count against Eric Lauer and hit a single up the middle. In a matchup between two promising National League rookies, Bader appeared to have the upper hand. Tommy Pham stepped in and saw a first-pitch strike, and then the Cardinals TV broadcast said the following:

One thing to keep in mind — Lauer has a tremendous pickoff move. He has picked off four in four consecutive games.
[pause]
Now five.

That quickly, Bader was erased. Eric Lauer has picked off a runner five games in a row. This is just the fifth time that’s known to have happened in major-league history, and this active streak is a Padres franchise record. The major-league leader in pickoffs in 2016 had six. The major-league leader in pickoffs in 2017 had seven. Lauer already has seven in 2018. He’s two ahead of anyone else, even though he’s thrown just 45 innings. Sure, if you wanted to be critical, you could say that Lauer has given himself plenty of pickoff opportunities. But he’s been a baserunner-erasing machine. When Lauer is on the mound, every runner has to be careful.

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The Padres Paid a Bunch for a Draft Pick

This past weekend, the San Diego Padres completed a trade, sending Janigson Villalobos to the Minnesota Twins in exchange for Phil Hughes.

The precise players involved aren’t of particular significance. The Padres’ prospect list contained 75 names and Villalobos was not among them. As for Hughes, he had recently been designated for assignment after pitching poorly over the last three seasons. Much of that subpar performance was due to injury and included thoracic outlet surgery. As Jay Jaffe recently chronicled, few pitchers return to prominence after TOS.

By designating Hughes for assignment, the Twins appeared willing to eat the roughly $22 million remaining on his contract through next season. The Padres are taking on some of that obligation in exchange for a competitive balance draft pick, so the functional part of the trade looks like this.

Padres get:

  • 74th pick in 2018 draft and $812,200 in bonus pool money that goes with it.

Twins get:

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Adam Cimber Is an Outlier of Outliers

The following three figures correspond to measurements for which objective data exists. One of them is the height above the ground at which the average major-league pitcher releases the ball. Another is the height at which a particular mystery pitcher releases the ball. Finally, the third is the height of this author’s three-year-old son.

(a) 2.18 feet
(b) 3.25 feet
(c) 5.75 feet

Here, with a minimum of suspense, are the corresponding answers:

(a) Mystery pitcher’s release point.
(b) The height of this author’s son.
(c) The average vertical release point of major-league pitchers.

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Top 43 Prospects: San Diego Padres

Below is an analysis of the prospects in the farm system of the San Diego Padres. 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.

All the numbered prospects here also appear on THE BOARD, a new feature at the site that offers sortable scouting information for every organization. Click here to visit THE BOARD.

Padres Top Prospects
Rk Name Age High Level Position ETA FV
1 Fernando Tatis Jr. 19 AA 3B 2019 65
2 Luis Urias 20 AAA 2B 2018 55
3 MacKenzie Gore 18 A LHP 2020 55
4 Michel Baez 22 A+ RHP 2020 55
5 Anderson Espinoza 19 A RHP 2019 50
6 Adrian Morejon 19 A+ LHP 2020 50
7 Joey Lucchesi 24 MLB LHP 2018 50
8 Logan Allen 20 AA LHP 2020 50
9 Cal Quantrill 23 AA RHP 2018 50
10 Gabriel Arias 18 A SS 2021 45
11 Tirso Ornelas 18 A LF 2021 45
12 Hudson Potts 19 A+ 3B 2020 45
13 Chris Paddack 20 A+ RHP 2020 45
14 Josh Naylor 20 AA 1B 2020 45
15 Pedro Avila 21 A+ RHP 2021 45
16 Jacob Nix 22 AA RHP 2019 45
17 Franchy Cordero 23 MLB CF 2018 45
18 Esteury Ruiz 19 A 2B 2022 45
19 Edward Olivares 22 A+ OF 2021 45
20 Jeisson Rosario 18 A CF 2022 40
21 Walker Lockett 23 AAA RHP 2018 40
22 Mason Thompson 18 A RHP 2022 40
23 Blake Hunt 19 R C 2022 40
24 Jordy Barley 18 R SS 2023 40
25 Luis Campusano 19 A C 2023 40
26 Eric Lauer 22 MLB LHP 2019 40
27 Franmil Reyes 22 MLB OF 2019 40
28 Brad Zunica 22 A+ 1B 2022 40
29 Robert Stock 28 AAA RHP 2018 40
30 Luis Patino 18 A RHP 2023 40
31 Ronald Bolanos 21 A+ RHP 2021 40
32 Buddy Reed 22 A+ CF 2019 40
33 Andres Munoz 19 A RHP 2020 40
34 Jorge Ona 21 A+ OF 2019 40
35 Mason House 19 R OF 2023 40
36 Luis Almanzar 18 R SS 2021 40
37 Reggie Lawson 19 A+ RHP 2021 40
38 Diomar Lopez 21 A+ RHP 2022 40
39 Trey Wingenter 24 AAA RHP 2018 40
40 David Bednar 23 A+ RHP 2019 40
41 Brad Wieck 26 AAA LHP 2018 40
42 Eguy Rosario 18 A+ 2B 2022 40
43 Michell Miliano 18 R RHP 2023 40

65 FV Prospects

Signed: July 2nd Period, 2015 from Dominican Republic
Age 18 Height 6’3 Weight 185 Bat/Throw R/R
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Hit Raw Power Game Power Run Fielding Throw
30/55 60/70 40/60 55/45 50/55 60/60

Scouts in the U.S. became enamored of Tatis during 2016 extended spring training in Arizona, and San Diego poached him from the White Sox before he had even suited up for a professional game. He was sent to full-season Fort Wayne as an 18-year-old in 2017 and hit .280/.390/.520 with 20 homers and steals and, perhaps most impressively for his age, a 14.5% walk rate. He also flashes occasional acrobatic brilliance at shortstop, though scouts are not unanimous about his long-term prospects there because of the size of Tatis’s frame. He’s five years younger than the average regular at Double-A right now.

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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.

———

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 »


The Fringe Five: Baseball’s Most Compelling Fringe Prospects

Fringe Five Scoreboards: 2017 | 2016 | 2015 | 2014 | 2013.

The Fringe Five is a weekly regular-season exercise, introduced a few years ago by the present author, wherein that same author utilizes regressed stats, scouting reports, and also his own fallible intuition to identify and/or continue monitoring the most compelling fringe prospects in all of baseball.

Central to the exercise, of course, is a definition of the word fringe, a term which possesses different connotations for different sorts of readers. For the purposes of the column this year, a fringe prospect (and therefore one eligible for inclusion among the Five) is any rookie-eligible player at High-A or above who (a) was omitted from the preseason prospect lists produced by Baseball Prospectus, MLB.com, John Sickels, and (most importantly) FanGraphs’ Eric Longenhagen and Kiley McDaniel* and also who (b) is currently absent from a major-league roster. Players appearing on any updated, midseason-type list will also be excluded from eligibility.

*Note: I’ve excluded Baseball America’s list this year not due to any complaints with their coverage, but simply because said list is now behind a paywall.

For those interested in learning how Fringe Five players have fared at the major-league level, this somewhat recent post offers that kind of information. The short answer: better than a reasonable person would have have expected. In the final analysis, though, the basic idea here is to recognize those prospects who are perhaps receiving less notoriety than their talents or performance might otherwise warrant.

*****

Austin Dean, OF, Miami (Profile)
Selected by Miami in the fourth round of the 2012 draft out of a Texas high school, Dean appeared — when Eric Longenhagen published the Marlins list in February of 2017 — to have fallen into a sort of prospect netherspace, possessing too little footspeed and athleticism for center field but too little offensive ability to sustain a corner-outfield role. The Marlins’ assignments appeared to indicate a lack of enthusiasm, as well: after passing all of the 2016 and -17 seasons at Double-A, Dean began the present campaign there, as well.

In this case, however, Dean quickly earned a promotion, producing a strikeout rate and isolated-power mark that still rank second and sixth, respectively, among the 97 total Southern League batters to record at least 80 plate appearances. The early returns at Triple-A have been promising for a player in his first exposure to a new level. In particular, Dean’s contact skills have translated well: among batters with 50 or more plate appearances, Dean’s strikeout and swinging-strike rates place in the 91st and 97th percentile. Meanwhile, he’s produced roughly league-average power numbers. While the offensive burden of a corner-outfield role remains high, Dean could probably survive with slightly less power on contact than most given his bat-to-ball skills.

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Jordan Lyles Found Something He’s Never Had

In a bit of surprise, even in the year of almost no-hitters, Jordan Lyles took a perfect game into the eighth inning on Tuesday. Shortly after Trevor Story hit a single to end that particular quest, Lyles was removed, having gone 7.1 innings with one hit, one walk, and 10 strikeouts.

This start comes on the heels of a five-inning, six-strikeout, one-walk, one-earned-run performance in his first start of the season last week. Yesterday was the first time since April 2016 that Lyles pitched at least five innings and yielded no earned runs. It was the first time since June 2013 that Lyles pitched consecutive games of at least five innings and allowed one or zero earned runs. The Padres right-hander was just 22 years old at that time. He’s 27 now, and it is fair to say not a great many people have spent a lot of time thinking about Lyles in the interim.

While Lyles might not have garnered a lot of attention, he was actually a decent starter as recently as 2015. After his trade from the Astros to the Rockies in the winter ahead of the 2014 season, Lyles made 32 starts across the next two seasons, pitching 175.2 innings with a decent 4.10 FIP and 2.1 WAR. He was basically an average pitcher with a slightly elevated 4.56 ERA. He didn’t strike out a lot of hitters, but he got a lot of ground balls and kept the ball in the park.

His 2015 season ended with a sprained toe, and he got off to a poor start in 2016 that included multiple trips to the minors and an eventual bullpen stay. That reliever role continued into 2017, but he didn’t perform well and the Rockies released him. The Padres picked him up and let him start a handful of games, but those didn’t really go well, either. Lyles opened this season in the Padres bullpen and pitched well enough to get back in the rotation. Thus ends the recent history of Jordan Lyles and brings us to today.

Lyles is no longer the contact-oriented sinker pitcher of his Rockies days. To illustrate the changes Lyles has made, let’s run through his first batter faced yesterday, David Dahl.

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Sunday Notes: Indians Prospect Will Benson Has Power and a Plan

The Cleveland Indians were looking into the future when they selected Will Benson 14th overall in the 2016 draft. The powerfully-built Atlanta, Georgia product was a week shy of his 18th birthday, and his left-handed stroke — lethal against prep competition — was going to require polish if he hoped to reach his sky-high ceiling. Two years later, that process is well underway.

“You really wouldn’t,” Benson responded when I asked if now-versus-then film footage would show the same setup and swing. “In high school, you’d see a very athletic kid just competing and somehow getting it done. What you’d see now is more efficient movement — that’s a big thing I’ve worked on — and I’m maintaining better posture throughout my swing. Mechanically, making sure I’m getting behind the baseball is huge for me.”

Hitting the ball long distances isn’t a problem for the young outfielder. His power potential is a primary reason he went in the first round, and 545 plate appearances into his professional career — keep in mind he’s still a teenager — Benson has gone yard 23 times. The youngest position player on the roster of the Lake County Captains, he currently co-leads the low-A Midwest League with seven round trippers.

While Benson’s swing is conducive to clearing fences, his mindset is that of a well-rounded hitter. While he’s embraced launch-angle concepts, his focus is on simply squaring up the baseball. Read the rest of this entry »


Padres Prospect Cal Quantrill on His Repertoire

Cal Quantrill’s potential is considerable. Drafted eighth overall by the Padres in 2016 despite having undergone Tommy John surgery while at Stanford — he missed all of his junior year and much of his sophomore season — the 23-year-old right-hander possesses a combination of plus stuff and pitchability. Baseball America and MLB.com rank him as the fourth-best prospect in the San Diego system, while our own list — expect that soon — will have him a bit lower.

Quantrill, who is lauded as having one of the best changeups in the minors, has made seven starts for Double-A San Antonio this season and has a 3.52 ERA, a 3.29 FIP, and is striking out 8.2 batters per nine innings. He discussed his multi-pitch mix, and his take-no-prisoners approach, during spring training.

———

Cal Quantrill: “I’m a fastball pitcher. Am I a power pitcher? I guess that would depend on how you want to define it. To me, a power pitcher is someone who attacks hitters, regardless of how fast their fastball is. They don’t fool around — they don’t play around with the edges of the strike zone — they go right after them. Getting ahead in the count is something I take great pride in. I try to make hitters get themselves out, and I want that to happen quickly so that I can go deep into games.

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Your Periodic Eric Hosmer Swing Update

Earlier today, Jeff Sullivan examined the most changed hitters — change for better and for worse — in the game.

In this post, I want to revisit one of the hitters most famously averse to change — for better and for worse — in Eric Hosmer.

From speculating on what sort of contract he might receive to analyzing the contract he actually did receive to evaluating his swing mechanics, this author and others at FanGraphs considered Hosmer at some length during the offseason. He was one of the key figures of public interest in what seemed like the longest winter ever.

It only seems appropriate that we revisit Hosmer this spring — particularly after I approached him in Arizona during exhibition season and asked him about whether he was thinking about making changes.

That conversation didn’t start well.

“What are you trying to ask me? About launch angle?” exclaimed Hosmer as I (indeed) attempted to use that precise term, which can have a negative connotation in clubhouses. The conversation proceeded rather amicably, though, and Hosmer even disclosed he had spent some time exploring the “Air Ball Revolution” and how he could possibly benefit from coming aboard.

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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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Welcome Back, Tyson Ross

A couple Fridays ago, Tyson Ross took a no-hitter against the Diamondbacks into the eighth inning. It was complicated, even as no-hitters go — no-hitters are special, and the Padres have never thrown one, but it should also be more about the team than the player. On top of that, Ross was allowed to throw 127 pitches, and he’s a guy with a record of arm problems. Even going into the eighth, Ross completing the no-hitter seemed highly unlikely. You could argue, if you wanted to, that Andy Green took too great of a risk.

Over the course of that dominant start, Ross racked up ten strikeouts. And as long as we’re here, let’s consider that record of arm problems. Ross had a miserable 2017. That followed a differently miserable 2016, in which he was able to make only one start. What that would suggest is that, these days, Tyson Ross might be fragile. On the other hand, what if he’s not? What if he’s actually all the way better? Because it’s looking to me like Tyson Ross is all the way better.

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Christian Villanueva Has Become Relevant

For most of his professional career, now in its 10th season, Christian Villanueva has been largely irrelevant.

He appeared on Baseball America’s top-100 list in 2012 — but as the last player on that list.

He was the “other guy” in the deal the that sent Kyle Hendricks — and Villanueva — from the Rangers to the Cubs for Ryan Dempster on July 31st, 2012.

While putting together a solid 2013 season in Double-A, he observed as the Cubs selected University of San Diego third baseman Kris Bryant with the second overall pick in the June draft. While Bryant was a level or two behind Villanueva in 2013 and 2014, the former soon passed the latter en route to the majors.

As Bryant was fashioning a Rookie of the Year campaign in 2015, Villanueva slashed .259/.313/.437 in Iowa with 18 home runs over 508 plate appearance as a 24-year-old in Triple-A. Not only was he blocked, but he wasn’t performing like someone who appeared to be a future regular. In 2016, he suffered a broken leg and missed the entire season.

At the end of the 2016 season, with seemingly no place for him in the Cubs’ infield or on their 40-man roster, Villanueva was granted free agency. He signed a minor-league deal 10 days later with the San Diego Padres.

At that point in time, Villanueva wasn’t particularly relevant in baseball circles. He wasn’t particularly relevant last season, either, when he slashed .296/.369/.528 with 20 homers in Triple-A, a trying year personally after his brother died in the spring.

He was a relative unknown for the first nine years of his professional career. That’s changed early this season.

A player with whom few were acquainted a month ago now leads baseball in wRC+ (236) among hitters with 70 or more plate appearances and is eighth in WAR (1.4) as the season approaches May.

He got our attention early with a three-homer game on April 3rd.

As seen here:

And here:

And here:

Villanueva doesn’t have exceptional exit velocity like his teammate Franchy Cordero, the latter perhaps representing the greatest curiosity in the majors. He ranks 193rd in exit velocity on fly balls and line drives early this season, according to Baseball Savant.

But he is doing several things unusually well.

For starters, he’s been air-balling since before air-balling was a thing. The only time Villanueva hit more ground balls than fly balls at a professional stop was in Rookie ball in 2009. Villanueva has the 23rd-lowest ground-ball rate (29.3%) in the sport.

His average launch angle of 19.4 degrees ranks ranks 30th and his 11 launches between 20 to 30 degrees ranks 30th, as well.

And it’s not just that he’s putting balls in the air, it’s where he’s directing them: to his pull side and in an extreme way.

As you’ll notice in the above clips, he’s even been able to hook breaking balls on the outside part of the plate over the left-field wall in a Gary Sheffield sort of way. He’s covering the whole plate and with power.

Villanueva leads the majors in pull percentage on fly balls and line drives (62.1%) and that’s in large part why he ranks first in the majors with a 36.8% HR/FB rate.

Can he continue to pull fly balls and line drives at such a rate? It’s rare. Since 2007, only 37 batters have accomplished it, including the aforementioned Sheffield twice.

If he can, he’s interesting. This isn’t just a bat-only corner bat, it’s one that plays third and one with which the Padres have even considered experimenting at shortstop.

Might this be for real?

It’s a unique batted-ball profile, one that should lend itself to constant home-run power so long as he can make contact and pull air balls. Another key is that Padres manager Andy Green said Villanueva has tightened up his strike zone.

“It’s been great to see Villa make the adjustments he’s made,” Green said. “When he got to the point where he was swinging at everything, you know that’s not going to play well in the long run. Seeing him make that adjustment, be a bit more patient, means more to me than seeing him hit three homers in a game.”

Maybe Green is seeing something from dugout level, but Villanueva doesn’t seem patient by the numbers: he’s swinging at out-of-zone pitches at 40% rate. While he never had major contact issues in the minors, he’s striking out on 30% of his plate appearances thus far in the majors. He has a swinging strike rate of 17.4%.

While he’s crushing fastballs and changeups, he’s swinging through an awful lot of curveballs and sliders. He’s not going to continue to see fastballs at a 56% rate.

If there isn’t yet a book on Villanueva, one is being written by opponents as we speak. He’ll have to make some adjustments now that he’s no longer a secret, now that he’s no longer irrelevant.


Sunday Notes: Zack Godley’s Hook Looks Like a Heater

Zack Godley threw 34 curveballs on Tuesday in a 96-pitch effort that saw him hold the Dodgers to four hits and one run over seven innings. The defending NL champs knew to expect a goodly amount of them. The Diamondbacks’ right-hander went to his signature offering 35.6% of the time last year, the second-most hook-heavy ratio among pitchers with at least 150 innings, behind only Drew Pomeranz’s 37%.

The results support the frequency of usage. Per our friends at Baseball Savant, opposing hitters went just 33 for 218 (.151), with a .248 SLG, against Godley’s bender in 2017. Deception was a big reason why. Everything Godley throws looks the same coming out his hand.

“Especially the curveball,” opined D-Backs catcher Jeff Mathis. “It’s coming out on the same plane. With a lot of guys, you’ll recognize curveball right away. With Zack, you’re not seeing any keys, any little tips, when the ball is being released. On top of that, he’s got good stuff.”

Arizona’s newest backstop had yet to catch Godley when I asked for his perspective, but he had good reason to concur with his colleague. Read the rest of this entry »


The Padres Have an Unusual Bullpen – Might It Also Be Super?

The Padres are interesting because they have one of the game’s best farm systems. Talents like Fernando Tatis Jr. could be difference-makers and change fortunes.

The Padres are interesting because they gave Eric Hosmer an eight-year deal when similarly productive corner bats went for far cheaper this winter.

The Padres are interesting because they raided this very site of its previous managing editor and Face of the Franchise, Dave Cameron. The Padres were all about acquiring Faces of Franchises this offseason.

But the Padres are also of interest because they have one of the game’s more intriguing bullpens. As you might be aware, bullpens continue to gain a greater share of regular-season innings. Last season, relievers accounted for 38.1% of innings thrown in the regular season, a major league record. In the postseason that jumped to 46.4%. So if the Padres are really going to turn things around, they’ll probably need a quality reliever corps and they just might have one. Read the rest of this entry »