Archive for Rangers

Sunday Notes: Josh James Is More Than a Fringe Five Favorite

Josh James has been a Fringe Five favorite this season. He’s also been a shooting star. The 25-year-old hurler began the year in Double-A, and he’s finishing it with aplomb in Houston. Since debuting with the Astros on September 1, James has punched out 27 batters, and allowed just 14 hits and six runs, in 21 innings of work.

His ascent has come as a surprise. A 34th-round pick out of Western Oklahoma State University in 2014, James went unmentioned in our preseason Astros Top Prospects list (ergo his eligibility to take up residence in the aforementioned Carson Cistulli column).

Every bit as surprising was the righty’s response when I asked him how he goes about attacking hitters.

“To be honest, I’m still trying to figure that out,” James told me on the heels of his rock-solid MLB debut. “A couple of years ago I was a low-90s guy and mixed up pitches. I’d throw curveballs in 0-0 counts, work backwards. All that stuff. Now the velo is up a little higher, so I can throw more fastballs and attack the zone a little more.”

The velocity jump is real. James’ four-seam heater has averaged a tick over 97 MPH since his call up, and he’s been told that he touched 101 earlier this summer. Getting a good night’s sleep has helped breathe more life into his arsenal. Read the rest of this entry »

Sunday Notes: Tyler Clippard Sees a Save-Opportunity Disconnect

In all likelihood, Tyler Clippard’s numbers are better than you realize. In 696 career relief appearances encompassing 752 innings, the 33-year-old Toronto Blue Jays right-hander has a 3.17 ERA. Moreover, he’s allowed just 6.5 hits per nine innings, and his strikeout rate is a healthy 10.0. Add in durability — 72 outings annually since 2010 — and Clippard has quietly been one of baseball’s better relievers.

He also has 68 saves on his resume, and the fact that nearly half of them came in 2012 helps add to his under-the-radar status. It also helps explain the size of his bank account.

“My biggest jump in salary was the year I had 32 saves, and that was essentially the only reason,” explained Clippard, who was with the Washington Nationals at the time. “My overall body of work was pretty good, but numbers-wise it wasn’t one of my better seasons. I had a bad stretch where I had something like a 10.00 ERA, so I ended the year with a (3.72 ERA). But because I got all those saves, I received the big salary jump in salary arbitration.”

Circumstances proceeded to derail the righty’s earning power. The Nationals signed free-agent closer Rafael Soriano to a two-year, $22M contract, relegating Clippard to a set-up role. While Soriano was saving games, Clippard was being paid less than half that amount while logging a 2.29 ERA and allowing 84 hits in 141 innings. Read the rest of this entry »

Elegy for ’18 – Texas Rangers

After entering the season as a question mark, Jurickson Profar leads the team in WAR.
(Photo: Keith Allison)

With the Texas Rangers, we get to the first team that’s actually rebuilding rather than Rebuilding™. While the prospect of contending at the same time didn’t exactly come to fruition — Texas is the sixth team in this series, after all — the Rangers are making a legitimate go at threading the needle between competing in the present and preparing for the future.

The Setup

Because they’re both based in Texas, it’s natural to think of the Rangers’ attempts to become relevant again in the context of the Astros’ own efforts. The two cases might not be precisely analogous, however: while Houston absolutely needed to take their own house down to the studs, Texas may be able to escape without going to such extremes. The Rangers had much higher payrolls baked into the cake in 2017 than Houston ever did, with little real hope of shedding most of those high-end costs. Texas has also never let the farm system sink to the levels of voiditude of those late Ed Wade Astros teams or recent rebuilders like the Orioles or Marlins.

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Sunday Notes: Trevor Story Hovers, Then Explodes

Trevor Story has always been a good hitter. He’s never been as good of a hitter as he is now. In his third big-league season, the 25-year-old Colorado Rockies basher is slashing .291/.346/.555 with 40 doubles, five triples, and 33 home runs. In short, he’s been a beast.

According to Story, he hasn’t changed all that much mechanically since the Rockies took him 45th overall in the 2011 draft out of an Irving, Texas high school. But he has changed a little.

“I think you’d see something very similar (if you compared then to now), but there are some differences,” Story told me earlier this summer. “I had more of a leg kick when I was younger, and I was kind of bouncing my hands instead of resting them on my shoulder. Outside of that, my movements are basically the same.”

Story felt that having a higher kick resulted in him getting beat by fastballs from pitchers with plus velocity, and as he “didn’t really need a leg kick to hit the ball far,” he changed to what he considers “more of a lift than a kick now; it’s almost more of a hover.”

Leg kicks — ditto lifts and hovers — are timing mechanisms, and as not all pitchers are the same, nor is Story always the same. The differences are subtle, but they’re definitely there. Read the rest of this entry »

Sean Doolittle Has Issued a Challenge

A brief examination of basically any human encounter ever reveals that people frequently do not agree with each other. This one human over here has an opinion; this other one, meanwhile, has a different opinion. It would be fine, perhaps, if those individuals never interacted, but that is also part of being human: there’s a lot of interaction. At stores, for example. Or on streets. And the one human says to the other, “Hey, your opinion is different than mine!” And the second one says to the first, “I am mad about that!”

Sometimes the interaction in question occurs at home plate during baseball’s postseason and Sam Dyson, for reasons known primarily to Sam Dyson, has decided that the proper course of action for someone like him is just to slap Troy Tulowitzki directly on the buttocks. Tulowitzki, whom one will identify immediately as a different person than Sam Dyson, regards this as not the proper course of action and proceeds to lodge some complaints verbally. Other humans get involved and all manner of other complaints are lodged, some verbally and some even physically. Complaints abound, is what one finds. Then everyone retreats back to their respective holes in the ground (known, in the sport of baseball, as a “dugout”) and awaits the next event worthy of their indignation.

One small thing over which humans frequently disagree is how much joy is acceptable to display publicly. One camp, whom we might characterize broadly as The Sons and Daughters of John Calvin, believe the amount is very close to zero. Another camp, whom we might call Basically Everyone Else, contends that — so long as no one is getting hurt — it’s probably okay to just do whatever.

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The Best Reliever Season You Haven’t Heard About

Edwin Diaz was recently named the American League Reliever of the Month. This is, evidently, an award that exists, and Diaz this year has already won it four times. The baseball season has had just five months. Diaz has been absolutely overwhelming, and no player is more responsible for having kept the Mariners competitive. Diaz’s Oakland equivalent would be Blake Treinen, who’s had a similarly impossible year. In the National League, there has, of course, been Josh Hader. You know who many of the best relievers are right now. You might’ve read a few articles about them over the course of the regular season. It’s along season, and almost everything gets written about eventually.

But there’s a reliever breakout that’s been happening under the radar. Over time, the 2018 Texas Rangers have faded from relevance. Yet, over time, those same Rangers have watched Jose Leclerc develop into something sensational. Leclerc maybe hasn’t been the best reliever in baseball. He’s definitely been one of them, however, and what makes it all the more remarkable is where Leclerc was just a season ago. Wild hard-throwers come, and wild hard-throwers go. Usually, they never manage to harness their stuff. Leclerc’s an exception who flipped a switch, and now the batters just don’t know what to do.

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Daily Prospect Notes Finale: Arizona Fall League Roster Edition

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

Note from Eric: Hey you, this is the last one of these for the year, as the minor-league regular season comes to a close. Thanks for reading. I’ll be taking some time off next week, charging the batteries for the offseason duties that lie ahead for Kiley and me.

D.J. Peters, CF, Los Angeles Dodgers
Level: Double-A   Age: 22   Org Rank: 7   FV: 45+
Line: 4-for-7, 2 HR, 2B (double header)

A comparison of DJ Peters’ 2017 season in the Cal League and his 2018 season at Double-A gives us a good idea of what happens to on-paper production when a hitter is facing better pitching and defenses in a more stable offensive environment.

D.J. Peters’ Production
2017 .276 .372 .514 32.2% 10.9% .385 137
2018 .228 .314 .451 34.0% 8.1% .305 107

Reports of Peters’ physical abilities haven’t changed, nor is his batted-ball profile different in such a way that one would expect a downtick in production. The 2018 line is, I think, a more accurate distillation of Peters’ abilities. He belongs in a talent bucket with swing-and-miss outfielders like Franchy Cordero, Randal Grichuk, Michael A. Taylor, Bradley Zimmer, etc. These are slugging center fielders whose contact skills aren’t particularly great. Players like this are historically volatile from one season to the next but dominant if/when things click. They’re often ~1.5 WAR players who have some years in the three-win range. Sometimes they also turn into George Springer.

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Sunday Notes: Calling Games For The Rays is Rarely Boring

It’s safe to say that the Tampa Bay Rays aren’t following a paint-by-numbers script. Casting convention to the wind, they employ “an opener,” they station their relievers on corners, they… do just about anything to gain a potential edge. As a small-market team in the A.L. East, they need to be creative in order to compete. It makes sense.

But not to everybody, and that includes a fair share of their fanbase. And even if it does make sense to the fanbase — sorta, kinda, at least — that wasn’t always the case. They had to be brought up to speed on the methods behind the madness, and that job fell squarely on the shoulders of the people who report on, and broadcast, the games.

Andy Freed and Dave Wills — the radio voices of Rays baseball — were front and center. According to the latter, they at least had a head start.

“We were trained a little bit by Joe Maddon,” said Wills, who along with Freed has called games in Tampa since 2005. “Joe was kind of the leader with doing different things, such as shifts and putting four men in the outfield. He’d set lineups differently than other people. So when it comes to what they’re doing now, we’re already in grad school. We’ve seen it, we’ve been there, we’ve done that.”

Which doesn’t mean advance warning from Kevin Cash wasn’t appreciated when the team introduced the “opener” concept. Wills may have an advanced degree in understanding-out-of-the-box, but what the Rays manager told him and his broadcast partner was straight out of left field. Read the rest of this entry »

Daily Prospect Notes: 8/22/2018

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

Bubba Thompson, CF, Texas Rangers
Level: Low-A   Age: 20   Org Rank: 5   FV: 45
Line: 4-for-6, HR

Were Bubba Thompson wrapping up his season with poor numbers, I’d be excusing it based on context. A multi-sport high-school athlete who had focused solely on baseball for just one year, Thompson also had his reps limited, after he signed last summer, due to nagging lower-body issues. I expected him to hang back in extended spring training and then head to Spokane in June. Instead, after a month in extended, Thompson was pushed by Texas to a full-season affiliate as a 19-year-old. He’s hitting .295/.350/.460 with 28 extra-base hits in 323 PAz and 28 steals in 35 attempts. He’s projects as a center fielder with power.

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Daily Prospect Notes: 8/20/2018

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

Mark Vientos, 3B, New York Mets
Level: Appy   Age: 18   Org Rank: 7   FV: 45+
Line: 3-for-3, 2B, BB

The Mets have made effectual changes to Mark Vientos’s swing since he signed. His stance has opened up and his hands set up in a way that has enabled him to lift the ball better than he did in high school, especially pitches on the inner half. His hands are more alive and powerful than they were a year ago, and Vientos has launched balls out the other way even when he doesn’t fully square them up. His size/build might eventually cause a tumble down the defensive spectrum (he’s been projected off of shortstop to, at least, third base since he was a high-school underclassman), which would mean power alone won’t be enough to enable him to profile. His early-career contact rates are positive, especially considering Vientos doesn’t turn 19 until December.

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Jurickson Profar Has Finally Arrived

Once upon a time, half a decade ago, Jurickson Profar was the consensus No. 1 prospect in baseball. The 20-year-old switch-hitting shortstop had more than held his own as a teenager at Double-A Frisco in 2012 and had received a major-league cup of coffee in September. The following spring, he topped the prospect lists of Baseball America, Baseball Prospectus, ESPN, MLB Pipeline, FanGraphs, and (probably) Cat Fancy. While he spent most of the 2013 season in the majors, a significant shoulder injury and subpar performance in sporadic playing time within the Rangers’ deep infield have prevented him from getting a foothold as an everyday player until this season. Amid what’s mostly been a lost year for the Rangers, the now-25-year-old Profar’s performance has been a bright spot.

Thursday night was among the brightest for Profar. In an 8-6 win over the Angels in Arlington, he not only went 2-for-3 with a solo homer (his 14th of the season), he started a triple play of a variety that hadn’t been seen in over a century. With the bases loaded and nobody out, he made a diving short-hop stop on a hot smash by David Fletcher, stepped on third to force out Eric Young Jr. (who was on second base), tagged Taylor Ward (who had wandered off third), and threw to Rougned Odor at second base to force Kole Calhoun:

Not only was it the Rangers’ first triple play since May 20, 2009, according to Stats Inc., it was the first triple play in which the batter wasn’t retired since June 3, 1912, when the Dodgers pulled one off against the Reds. Alas, there is no video available for that one, but the SABR Triple Plays Database describes that one as a 6-2-5-2-4 play, with catcher Otto Miller recording the first two outs, presumably via a forceout at home and then a second runner getting aggressive, and then second baseman John Hummel making the third out.

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The Pirates Add Rangers’ Reliever for Stretch Run and Beyond

A few weeks ago, the notion of the Pirates operating as buyers at the deadline would have sounded pretty ridiculous. After a good run of play, though — including some great offensive performances — the club is just 3.5 games out of a Wild Card spot despite having traded away Gerrit Cole and franchise icon Andrew McCutchen over the winter. While the Pirates bullpen has been pretty good of late behind the always good Felipe Vazquez, as well Kyle Crick, Richard Rodriguez, and Edgar Santana, another arm for the back of the pen is always a benefit. To that end, the team traded for one of the best relievers available in Rangers’ closer Keone Kela, a deal that was first reported by Jeff Passan.

Pirates receive:

Rangers receive:

Jerry Crasnick is reporting that the player to be named is a lesser prospect. When I wrote about the Pirates’ surprising run a week ago, I mentioned the dilemma the team faces given their unexpected contention:

Now that the Pirates find themselves in playoff contention, carving out a path forward isn’t as easy. A few weeks ago, they might have been taking calls on some of their bullpen arms as well as Mercer or Harrison. Now they have the option of adding an arm for a low-level prospect. Still, that isn’t going to move the team forward much. They have somewhat established starters at basically every position and Austin Meadows back in the minors awaiting playing time in the majors after a decent run earlier in the year. They have five MLB-caliber starters where most of the pitchers available won’t net a significant improvement over the last two months.

The Pirates are in weird spot. Nobody expected the team to do anything. Now that the team is somewhat close to a playoff spot, however, it feels like they should do something. Unfortunately, there’s not much the team can do right now to make themselves better.

By acquiring Keone Kela, the team is trying to thread the needle a bit. Kela is a good bullpen add for this season, recording a 2.97 FIP and 3.44 ERA while pitching his home games in Texas’ hitter-friendly environment. Using an upper-90s fastball and low-80s curve, he’s struck out 29% of batters while walking under 10%. He definitely helps Pittsburgh’s bullpen this year; however, he could also help the team in the future. Kela is making $1.2 million in his first year of arbitration. His salary will rise some over the next few years, but he won’t be a free agent until after the 2020 season. In theory, the Pirates have brought on a player who should help them in multiple seasons.

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Scouting Rollie Lacy, Part of Texas’s Return for Hamels

Cole Hamels has accumulated the third-most WAR among big-league lefties dating back to 2006. Last night, was traded for a fringe prospect. A 5.20 FIP, a $6 million buyout at the end of the year, and a relatively lengthy no-trade list all limited Hamels’ value on the trade market, and the Rangers received 2017 11th-rounder ($125,000 bonus) Rollie Lacy in their swap with the Cubs.

In Lacy, the Rangers acquired a 23-year-old righty who is performing in A-ball. He has K’d 94 hitters in 80.2 innings this year, but the scouting reports indicate lesser stuff than Lacy’s strikeout rate would otherwise indicate. He’s a sinker/slider righty (60% ground-ball rate this year, which is excellent relative to the big-league average of 43%) with some cross-body mechanical deception and a fringey changeup.

On stuff, Lacy looks like an up-and-down arm. His ability to generate ground balls and the way his delivery enables his stuff to play up are possible paths toward more than that.

Cubs’ Need for Quality Pitching Leads to Cole Hamels

In late July, basically every contender is in pursuit of starting pitching in some form or another, whether it’s an ace who can make an impact in the playoffs or a rotation piece who can help the club survive the duration of the season.

That’s certainly the case for the Chicago Cubs. While the club actually does currently have five experienced and healthy starters — plus Yu Darvish — what they need most is quality starting pitching. The team’s starters have put up a 4.76 FIP and accumulated just 3.0 WAR, ranking 25th in baseball and outpacing only the Reds by that measure in the National League. It has quite possibly been one of the franchise’s worst rotations ever so far. And even after accounting for Cubs’ above-average defense, the team still only places in the middle of the pack in terms of run-prevention. In order to give themselves the best possible chance of qualifying for the postseason, Chicago needed better starting pitching.

Last night, they attempted to meet that need, reaching an agreement with the Texas Rangers to acquire left-hander Cole Hamels.

In Hamels, the Cubs receive a pitcher who’s recorded a good road ERA while having performed less well in a very tough pitcher’s park. It stands to reason, as Buster Olney himself reasoned yesterday afternoon, that a change in scenery alone — to a better park, to a league without the designated hitter — might lead to much better performances for Hamels. While there might be something to that, it’s important to remember that similar sentiments accompanied Tyler Chatwood’s arrival in Chicago. Now Hamels is probably taking Chatwood’s job.

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Cole Hamels to Cubs Looks Imminent

Last week, Craig Edwards observed that the current Cubs rotation was on pace to become the club’s worst ever. While the team as a whole had prevented runs at something slightly better than an average rate, that was due largely (noted Edwards) to the contributions of the defense. The starters, meanwhile, had performed poorly in those areas (strikeouts, walk, home-run prevention) over which they exerted the most control.

From Edwards’ post:

The Cubs appear to have gone some way towards addressing this particular shortcoming on Thursday night. While nothing’s official, a trade for Rangers left-hander Cole Hamels appears imminent. Per Jeff Passan:

For all his name recognition, the present-day incarnation of Cole Hamels is inferior to the best version of that same pitcher, the one whose on-field exploits for a decade were rivaled only by those produced by a group of starters who will receive real consideration for the Hall of Fame. After recording a successful first full season with the Rangers in 2016, Hamels has authored more ordinary work in the meantime, recording 1.7 WAR in 262.1 innings since the beginning of 2017. That said, both his swinging-strike and overall strikeout rates (9.7% and 17.1%, respectively, in 2017) have returned to his pre-2017 levels (12.3% and 22.7%, respectively, in 2018). He has exhibited, meanwhile, no real signs of velocity decline.

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Daily Prospect Notes: 7/26/18

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

Gabriel Maciel, CF, Arizona Diamondbacks (Profile)
Level: Low-A   Age: 19   Org Rank: 18   FV: 40
Line: 2-for-4, 2B

The 19-year-old Brazilian has hit in every July game in which he’s played and is riding an 18-game streak, including multi-hit games in eight of his past 10. Maciel was hitting .249/.336/.305 on July 1 and is now at .291/.367/.338. He’s a plus-plus running center fielder with very limited physicality, but he understands what his offensive approach has to be to reach base and he has played well-executed small-ball throughout his pro career. There’s risk that this style of hitting won’t play against better defenses and that Maciel winds up as a bench outfielder.

Dylan Cease, RHP, Chicago White Sox (Profile)
Level: Double-A   Age: 22   Org Rank: 9   FV: 45+
Line: 7 IP, 1 H, 1 BB, 12 K

This was the best start of Cease’s career. He has posted a 10% walk rate since being acquired by the White Sox, while big-league average is about 8%. Cease is a pretty strong candidate for late-blooming fastball command. He missed a year of development due to a surgery and will receive every opportunity to work with different coaches and orgs throughout his career as long as he throws as hard as he does. It might click at any time. But for now it’s realistic to assume that when Cease debuts in the next year or so he’ll probably be pitching with 40 control. Is there precedence for success among starting pitchers with a plus fastball, plus curveball, and a fringey collection of other stuff? Charlie Morton and German Marquez are two very encouraging examples, Sal Romano less so. Sean Newcomb looked like he’d have to be that guy but his changeup came along. It will take a pretty specific approach to pitching, but Cease should be fine with what he’s already working with.

Touki Toussaint, RHP, Atlanta Braves (Profile)
Level: Triple-A   Age: 22   Org Rank: 7   FV: 50
Line: 8 IP, 2 H, 4 BB, 0 R, 8 K

You could apply much of what I just said regarding Cease to Touki, but we’re higher on Touki than Cease, ranking-wise, because his curveball is better, he hasn’t had a surgery, and he is a level ahead of Cease at the same age.

Hans Crouse, RHP, Texas Rangers (Profile)
Level: Short-Season   Age: 19   Org Rank: 8   FV: 45
Line: 7 IP, 6 H, 0 BB, 0 R, 12 K

Crouse’s delivery looks weird and causes his fastball to play down a bit because he doesn’t get down the mound. While he had below-average fastball control when I saw him in the spring, he has just four walks combined in his past five starts for Spokane. Yet another plus fastball/breaking ball prospect with stuff nasty enough to overcome other issues.

Daily Prospect Notes: 7/24/18

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

Starling Joseph, OF, Texas Rangers (Profile)
Level: Short-Season   Age: 19   Org Rank: NR   FV: 35+
Line: 3-for-4, HR

Joseph is a physical 6-foot-3 outfielder with plus raw power. He’s raw from a bat-to-ball standpoint due to length and a lack of bat control, but the power/frame combination here is interesting for a 19-year-old. Joseph has a 67:10 strikeout-to-walk ratio in domestic pro ball and is as high-risk of a prospect as you’ll find, but he has the power to carry the profile if he ever becomes sentient in the batter’s box.

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On Shin-Soo Choo and the Charity of a Hit

It’s so funny, the things that stick with us from when we were kids. I don’t remember learning to read, but I do vividly recall the time my father told me I shouldn’t eat raisins because they are actually roly-poly bugs. I’ve since come to learn that Dad was fibbing, but I still don’t care for raisins. I carefully pick them out of trail mix in favor of M&Ms and peanuts. Part of it is the taste and some of it is the little seeds, but at least a bit of it is a concern that one of them will start moving around in my mouth as I chew. I know I’m not appreciating raisins as I should, but I just can’t shake what my dad said. And I think baseball types, so long enamored with batting average, might be similarly stuck when it comes to on-base streaks, even though our tastes have matured past thinking we’re eating bugs.

Shin-Soo Choo has a 51-game on-base streak, and we aren’t really talking about it much. We are talking about it some, of course. Back on July 6, when Choo’s streak was 44 games long, Jay Jaffe checked in on the venerable company Choo could soon be keeping if he kept streaking. The Rangers have mentioned it on their broadcasts. But a search of MLB’s twitter account for “Choo on base” since May 13, when the streak began, doesn’t return any results. I don’t recall any At-Bat notifications about it. It seems to have gone largely unremarked upon, which suggests it isn’t thought to be that remarkable, and I’ve been trying to figure out why.

I should say, hitting streaks have a greater degree of difficulty. After all, there is only one thing you can do to extend a hitting streak — which, most obviously, is to get a hit. No player has really come close to challenging Joe DiMaggio’s famous 1941 56-game hitting streak; the next closest batter, Pete Rose, tapped out at 44 hits during in 1978.

But it’s more than just the degree of difficulty. I think it’s that we see too much charity in the walks and hit by pitches that find their way into on-base streaks. We tend to think of hits in terms of action and, importantly, in terms of having earned something. They’re about the hitter doing. Walks, or a pitch that plunks a guy in the ribs, on the other hand, seem to carry with them the generosity of strangers. Sometimes it’s the pitcher’s, for being unable or unwilling (undoubtedly the worst sort of charity in this calculus is the intentional kind) to locate. Sometimes it’s a fielder, who doesn’t get an error but really ought to have gotten that ball. Or else it’s the umpire’s, for balls that really ought to be strikes. Even though we know that patience is a skill — a skill we prize! — we can’t shake the sense that the batter has been given a little gift. Has done a little less doing. And while that’s partly fair, I would assert that how we seem to think of Choo’s streak suggests that we see too much of the charity in walks and hit by pitches (a rather mean sort of present!) and too little of the charity in hitting.

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Jesse Chavez Is Here to Pitch, Not Walk People

All things considered, the Chicago Cubs were in a pretty good place headed into the All-Star break. Their NL-leading offense had carried the team to a 13-4 record in the 17 games before the break, scoring 6.82 runs per game in that span and effecting a net five-game swing in the standings. The starting pitching, though — whose shortcomings were examined earlier today by Craig Edwards — had recorded an unimpressive 4.67 FIP coming into the break (ranked 14th in the National League) while benefiting from strong defense and perhaps, yes, a measure of good luck to record a 3.88 ERA that ranked seventh league-wide. Critical to the Cubs’ success, then, was the bullpen, which posted an 3.09 ERA (2nd) and 3.74 FIP (5th) on the back of strong performances from Steve Cishek, Carl Edwards Jr., Brandon Morrow, Pedro Strop, and Justin Wilson.

The twin problems for Cubs relievers were that they were, in the main, pitching a little bit more often than you’d like (their 3.7 innings pitched per game ranked fifth in the National League coming into the break, due to some early exits from Cubs starters) and that they were walking too many people while they were at it (their 11.3% free-pass rate as a relief corps was the worst in the game). These were problems even before the Cubs announced on Thursday that Morrow, their closer, would be placed on the disabled list with a “right biceps inflammation,” which does not sound pleasant even at the best of times and was particularly inconvenient for Chicago at this time. With that announcement, the Cubs’ public quest for relief depth acquired a more urgent flavor, and they sent A-ball starter Tyler Thomas, who’s having a nice season, to the Rangers for Jesse Chavez.

The good thing about Jesse Chavez, insofar as the Cubs are concerned with him, is that he’s used to throwing more than one inning at a time (averaging, this season, about 1.5 innings in his 30 appearances and on five occasions going at least three) and that his 5.1% walk rate is among the very best in the game. The Cubs had two problems with their relievers, and Jesse Chavez helps to address both. Joe Maddon has not particularly enjoyed having to cast about, each game, for a reliever to bridge the gap from the fifth inning to the seventh, and in Chavez he probably has someone who can take a little bit of the pressure off of folks like Wilson, Anthony Bass, Brian Duensing, and Randy Rosario early in games.

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Players’ View: Learning and Developing a Pitch, Part 17

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 seventeenth installment of this series, we’ll hear from three pitchers — Matt Barnes, Cam Bedrosian, and Jesse Chavez — on how they learned and/or developed a specific pitch.


Matt Barnes (Red Sox) on His Curveball

“I was in Double-A (Portland) with Brandon Workman and Anthony Ranaudo, and I think we were in Trenton, playing the Yankees at their place. I’d just pitched the day before and my curveball wasn’t good. They were like, ‘Try using a spiked grip.’ I was like, ‘I’ve never done it before.’ They said, ‘We both use it,’ and the rest is history. We started playing catch with it and I’ve had that grip ever since.

“Why did it work better for me than a conventional grip? I don’t know. There are little things in baseball. People could be saying the same thing to you, but one verbiage just latches on and allows you to understand it. The grip just felt natural to me. It felt easier to spin the baseball. What you’re trying to do is spin it as fast as you can, downward, to create the action, yet still be able to command it. I wasn’t able to do that with the grip I had before that, and what they showed me worked. Read the rest of this entry »