Archive for Rangers

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.

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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 »


Players’ View: Learning and Developing a Pitch, Part 16

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 sixteenth installment of this series, we’ll hear from three pitchers — Clay Buchholz, Matt Moore, and Tyler Skaggs — on how they learned and/or developed a specific pitch.

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Clay Buchholz (D-backs) on His Split-Change

“I don’t throw it a lot, but there’s the split-change I’ll use against lefties. The first time I threw it was in 2012. We were in Tampa. I was in the bullpen warming up for a game and I couldn’t throw a changeup for a strike, so I went into the dugout and asked Josh Beckett how he held his little split-change. He showed me, I gripped it, and it felt good, so I brought it out to the mound.

“I think I threw six or seven innings, and struck out something like six or seven guys on that one pitch. There was nothing in my head. There were no expectations, it was just grip it, throw it, and see if it works. I was going through a grip episode with my changeup, and I figured that was better than bouncing changeups and throwing them over hitters’ heads. I literally took it from the dugout into the game. Read the rest of this entry »


Daily Prospect Notes: 7/9

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

Victor Robles, CF, Washington Nationals (Profile)
Level: Rehab   Age: 21   Org Rank: 1   FV: 65
Line: 0-for-1, BB

Notes
Robles has begun to make rehab appearances on his way back from a hyperextended left elbow that he suffered in early April. He’s gotten two plate appearances in the GCL each of the last two days. The Nationals’ big-league outfield situation should enable Robles to have a slow, careful rehab process that takes a few weeks. He is one of baseball’s best prospects.

Adam Haseley, CF, Philadelphia Phillies (Profile)
Level: Hi-A Age: 22   Org Rank: 7   FV: 45
Line: 2-for-5, HR

Notes
The homer was Haseley’s fifth of the year and his slash line now stands at .301/.344/.417. He’s undergone several swing tweaks this year, starting with a vanilla, up-and-down leg kick last year; a closed, Giancarlo Stanton-like stance early this season; and now an open stance with more pronounced leg kick that loads more toward his rear hip. All that would seem to be part of an effort to get Haseley hitting for more power, his skillset’s most glaring weakness. But Haseley’s swing plane is so flat that such a change may not, alone, be meaningful as far as home-run production is concerned, though perhaps there will be more extra-base hits.

The way Haseley’s peripherals have trended since college gives us a glimpse of how a relative lack of power alters those variables in pro ball. His strikeout and walk rates at UVA were 11% and 12% respectively, an incredible 7% and 16% as a junior. In pro ball, they’ve inverted, and have been 15% and 5% in about 600 pro PAs.

Akil Baddoo, OF, Minnesota Twins (Profile)
Level: Low-A Age: 19   Org Rank: 12   FV: 45
Line: 3-for-5, 2B, SB

Notes
Baddoo is scorching, on an 11-game hit streak during which he has amassed 20 hits, nine for extra-bases. He crushes fastballs and can identify balls and strikes, but Baddoo’s strikeout rate has doubled this year as he’s seen more decent breaking balls, with which he has struggled. Considering how raw Baddoo was coming out of high school, however, his performance, especially as far as the plate discipline is concerned, has been encouraging. He’s a potential everyday player with power and speed.

Jesus Tinoco, RHP, Colorado Rockies (Profile)
Level: Double-A Age: 23   Org Rank: NR   FV: 40
Line: 6 IP, 3 H, 0 BB, 1 R, 7 K

Notes
Tinoco didn’t make the Rockies’ offseason list, as I thought he had an outside shot to be a reliever but little more. His strikeout rate is way up. He still projects in the bullpen, sitting 93-95 with extreme fastball plane that also adds artificial depth to an otherwise fringe curveball. He’ll probably throw harder than that in the Futures Game.

Travis MacGregor, RHP, Pittsburgh Pirates (Profile)
Level: Low-A Age: 20   Org Rank: 21   FV: 40
Line: 5 IP, 3 H, 1 BB, 2 R, 6 K

Notes
MacGregor is a projection arm who is performing thanks to his ability to throw his fastball for strikes, though not always where he wants. His delivery has a bit of a crossfire action but is otherwise on the default setting and well composed, with only the release point varying. It’s pretty good, considering many pitchers with MacGregor’s size are still reigning in control of their extremities. MacGregor’s secondaries don’t always have great movement but should be at least average at peak. He projects toward the back of a rotation.

Austin Cox, LHP, Kansas City Royals (Profile)
Level: Short Season Age: 21   Org Rank: HM   FV: 35
Line: 5 IP, 3 H, 0 BB, 1 R, 10 K

Notes
Cox, Kansas City’s fourth-rounder out of Mercer, has a 23:3 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 11.2 pro innings. He put up goofy strikeout numbers at Mercer, too, but struggles with fastball command. He’s a high-slot lefty who creates tough angle on a low-90s fastball, and his curveball has powerful, vertical shape. It’s likely Cox will be limited to relief work due to fastball command, but he could be very good there, especially if the fastball ticks up in shorter outings.

Notes from the Field
Just some pitcher notes from the weekend here. I saw Rangers RHP Kyle Cody rehabbing in Scottsdale. He was 94-96 for two innings and flashed a plus curveball. Joe Palumbo rehabbed again in the AZL and looked the same as he did last week.

Cleveland has another arm of note in the AZL, 6-foot-1, 18-year-old Dominican righty Ignacio Feliz. He’s one of the best on-mound athletes I’ve seen in the AZL and his arm works well. He sits only 88-92 but that should tick up as he matures physically. His fastball has natural cut, and at times, he throws what looks like a true cutter in the 84-87 range. He also has a 12-to-6 curveball that flashes plus.

Feliz could develop in a number of different ways. Cleveland could make a concerted effort to alter his release so Feliz is more behind the ball, which would probably play better with his curveballs. Alternatively, they might nurture his natural proclivity for cut and see what happens. Either way, this is an exciting athlete with workable stuff who doesn’t turn 19 until the end of October.

Between 15 and 18 scouts were on hand for Saturday night’s Dodgers and Diamondbacks AZL game. That’s much more than is typical for an AZL game, even at this time of year, and is hard to explain away by saying these scouts were on usual coverage. D-backs OF Kristian Robinson (whom we have ranked No. 2 in the system) was a late, precautionary scratch after being hit with a ball the day before, so he probably wasn’t their collective target. Instead, I suspect it was Dodgers 19-year-old Mexican righty Gerardo Carrillo, who was 91-96 with a plus curveball. I saw Carrillo pitch in relief of Yadier Alvarez on the AZL’s opening night, during which he was 94-97. He’s small, and my knee-jerk reaction was to bucket him as a reliever, but there’s enough athleticism to try things out in a rotation and see if it sticks.


Shin-Soo Choo Is Streaking

In an AL West where the Astros and Mariners appear playoff bound, the A’s are resurgent, and the Angels have generated their share of interest thanks to the play of Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani, the Rangers’ season hasn’t been a whole lot of fun. A slew of early-season injuries quickly buried them, and it wasn’t until June that they posted their first month above .500 (14-11, and now 39-49 overall).

Even so, they’ve offered reasons to watch, and one lately has been the play of Shin-Soo Choo. On Wednesday, the 35-year-old outfielder/designated hitter homered off the Astros’ Gerrit Cole, extending his streak of consecutive games reaching base to 44; he later singled off Cole, as well. Alas, Choo sat on Thursday night, forestalling his chance to tie Odubel Herrera for the longest on-base streak in the majors over the past two seasons. He’s been nursing a mild right quad strain for at least a week, sitting out two games while Adrian Beltre DH-ed.

On-base streaks don’t get the same kind of love as hitting streaks, in part because of the historic primacy of batting average and the romanticization of Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak from 1941, which might be one of the sport’s unbreakable records. As it happens, the record for consecutive games reaching base via a hit, walk, or hit-by-pitch (not an error or a dropped third strike) is held by DiMaggio’s rival, Ted Williams, who reached base 84 straight times in 1949. But guess who’s tied at No. 2, at least going back to 1908, the period covered by the Baseball-Reference Play Index:

Longest On-Base Streaks Since 1908
Rk Player Team Start End Games
1 Ted Williams Red Sox 7/1/1949 9/27/1949 84
2T Joe DiMaggio Yankees 5/14/1941 8/2/1941 74
2T Ted Williams Red Sox 7/19/1941 4/18/1942 74
4 Orlando Cabrera Angels 4/25/2006 7/6/2006 63
5 Mark McGwire A’s 9/16/1995 6/18/1996 62
6 Jim Thome Indians-Phillies 7/28/2002 4/5/2003 60
7 Will Clark Rangers 9/6/1995 5/11/1996 59
8T Barry Bonds Giants 6/27/2003 9/20/2003 58
8T Barry Bonds Giants 8/16/2001 4/20/2002 58
8T Duke Snider Dodgers 5/13/1954 7/11/1954 58
11T Derek Jeter Yankees 9/24/1998 6/5/1999 57
11T Frank Thomas White Sox 9/27/1995 5/31/1996 57
11T Wade Boggs Red Sox 5/27/1985 7/31/1985 57
11T George Kell Tigers 5/13/1950 7/9/1950 57
15T Ryan Klesko Padres 4/9/2002 6/14/2002 56
15T Mike Schmidt Phillies 8/16/1981 5/8/1982 56
15T Arky Vaughan Pirates 7/18/1936 9/11/1936 56
18T Stan Musial Cardinals 8/8/1943 10/1/1943 55
18T Harry Heilmann Tigers 8/17/1922 6/12/1923 55
18T Ty Cobb Tigers 4/25/1915 6/28/1915 55
SOURCE: Baseball-Reference
In games where player had at least one plate appearance.

On May 14, 1941, the day before he began his 56-game hitting streak, DiMaggio went 0-for-3 with a walk against the Indians’ Mel Harder. And while he was held hitless by Harder’s teammates Al Smith and Jim Bagby on July 17, ending that streak, he did walk in his second plate appearance that day, keeping the on-base streak alive. He then collected hits in each of the next 16 games before going 0-for-4 without a time on base in the opener of an August 3 doubleheader against the St. Louis Browns.

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Daily Prospect Notes: 7/2

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

Today is July 2, the first day of the new international signing period. Both our rankings and scouting reports on the top players signing today are available by means of this ominous portal.

Brailyn Marquez, LHP, Chicago Cubs (Profile)
Level: Short Season   Age: 19   Org Rank: 14  FV: 40
Line: 6 IP, 2 H, 1 BB, 1 R, 8 K

Notes
Marquez has a 20:4 strikeout-to-walk ratio at Eugene. I saw him up to 96 last year, but he was 88-93 in extended spring training, and his body had matured and gotten somewhat soft pretty quickly. It didn’t affect his advanced fastball command, though, or his arm-side command of his breaking ball, which comprise a large chunk of Marquez’s current plan on the mound. He projects as a No. 4/5 starter with several average pitches and above-average control.

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Daily Prospect Notes: 6/27

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

Jabari Blash, OF, Los Angeles Angels (Profile)
Level: Triple-A   Age: 28   Org Rank: NR  FV: 35
Line: 3-for-3, 3 HR, BB

Notes
Blash is no longer rookie-eligible, so while he’s a fun player to watch hit bombs and had a hell of a game last night, he’s on here today as a conduit to discuss what’s going on with some of the Angels hitters in the lowest levels of the minors. This is Trent Deveaux last fall, when he first arrived in the states. His swing was largely the same early this spring, albeit with a stronger, more involved top hand, which helped him drive the ball with more authority. This is what he looks like right now, which bears quite a bit of resemblance to Blash. No offense to Blash, who has had a long pro career and will probably play for another half-decade or so, but I’m not sure I’d proactively alter an ultra-talented 18-year-old’s swing to mimic that of a notoriously frustrating replacement-level player. Deveaux isn’t the only low-level Angels hitting prospect whose swing now looks like this.

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Daily Prospect Notes: 6/24 and 6/25

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

Joe Palumbo, LHP, Texas Rangers (Profile)
Level: Rehabbing   Age: 23   Org Rank: 18  FV: 40
Line: 2 IP, 2 H, 0 BB, 3 K, 0 R

Notes
Sunday was Palumbo’s first start back from Tommy John surgery. He was into the mid-90s with a plus curveball before the injury, which caused him to miss all of 2017. Yerry Rodriguez (more detail here) had a second strong outing in relief of Palumbo, striking out seven in six innings of four-hit, one-run ball. Video of Rodriguez appears below.

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Daily Prospect Notes: 6/19

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

Forrest Whitley, RHP, Houston Astros (Profile)
Level: Double-A   Age: 20   Org Rank:FV: 60
Line: 4 IP, 2 H, 1 BB, 7 K, 0 R

Notes
This is the best pitching prospect in baseball, wielding ungodly stuff that spiked when he dropped about 60 pounds throughout his senior year of high school. He’s also on Driveline’s weighted-ball program. He’ll show your four plus or better pitches over the course of an outing. Whitley has yet to allow a run since returning from suspension. The suspension might be a blessing in disguise for Houston, who could now conceivably weave him into their playoff plans without fear of overworking Whitley’s innings count.

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Adrian Beltre Is Now MLB’s International Hit King

The Rangers’ two-game visit to Chavez Ravine wasn’t just a chance for Dodgers fans to watch a relatively unfamiliar team, it was an opportunity to see a future Hall of Famer (and former Dodger) claim one more slice of history. With two hits on Tuesday night and then three more on Wednesday, Adrian Beltre tied and then surpassed the recently retired (?) Ichiro Suzuki for the most hits by a player born outside the United States. Back on April 5, Beltre surpassed Rod Carew (3.054) for the most hits by a Latin America-born player. With Wednesday’s binge, he’s up to 3,092.

Here’s the go-ahead hit, a fourth-inning double to right-center field off Kenta Maeda:

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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 »


Where Nomar Mazara Seems to Have Improved

It feels like the Rangers have been playing out the string since somewhere around the fourth inning of Opening Day, even before injuries knocked Elvis Andrus, Adrian Beltre, Delino DeShields Jr., and Rougned Odor out of the lineup. But just because they’re already nine games below .500 (15-24) and no threat to contend for a playoff spot doesn’t mean they don’t mandate some attention. Beltre, who’s back in the lineup, is an all-time great, Joey Gallo is a fascinating player, Bartolo Colon is the eighth wonder of the world, and if you don’t want to see what Jurickson Profar can do with regular playing time after so many setbacks, you must be some kind of monster. Right now, though, the Ranger to watch is Nomar Mazara.

The 23-year-old Mazara has been on some kind of tear lately. Over his past nine games, he’s hit seven homers, including two against the Tigers on Wednesday. In the seventh inning, he tied the game with a solo homer off Daniel Stumpf, and in the 10th inning, he won it with a walk-off shot off of Warwick Saupold. Get outta here:

That second shot, a scorcher down the right-field line, had an exit velocity of 117.1 mph. Coming into Wednesday, there had been just five homers of 117.0 or more, two by Giancarlo Stanton and one apiece by Marcell Ozuna, Hanley Ramirez, and Kyle Schwarber. Hours after Mazara joined the club, so did Aaron Judge — the owner of seven such shots last year, including a season-high 121.1-mph homer on June 10 — via a laser into Yankee Stadium’s Monument Park. Anyway, it’s a cool group to be part of.

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Job Posting: Rangers Baseball Systems Developer

Position: Texas Rangers Baseball Systems Developer

Location: Arlington, Texas

Description:
The developer will be responsible for supporting, maintaining and expanding our baseball operations software systems. A knack for compelling visuals and design is preferred. The Rangers are looking for strong team players with outstanding people skills. Applicants who can provide code samples (any language, doesn’t have to be baseball related) will be given strong preference. Diverse applicants are encouraged to apply. Spanish fluency is a plus.

Responsibilities:

  • Web development, design and testing.
  • Database queries to support the application.
  • Designing and maintaining reports.
  • Application support for the front office, scouts and coaches.
  • Update and maintain internal system documentation.

Qualifications:

  • Passion for the game of baseball.
  • 1-3 years professional experience in a similar capacity and/or degree in computer science preferred.
  • Excellent written and verbal communication skills.
  • Highly organized.
  • Occasional evening, weekend and holiday availability. Support is provided 24/7/365 and is shared among the team.

Technology:

  • Microsoft Visual Studio
  • ASP.Net
  • C#
  • JavaScript/AJAX
  • Microsoft SQL Server
  • SQL Reporting Services (SSRS)

To Apply:
Please apply here.


The Astonishing Development of Joey Gallo

There are certain players who are made more interesting by the greater context. Why is Team X suddenly so successful? Credit should go to the surprising Player Y. Certain other players, though — with some guys, the context is almost irrelevant. They can’t help but be compelling, regardless of whether their team is great or terrible. Joey Gallo is one of these players. Gallo is fascinating, and the Rangers are 8-16. Gallo would be no more fascinating if the Rangers were 16-8. Gallo is forever interesting to me, and he is forever interesting to you, because he might well be baseball’s most extreme hitter. He’s a project, a test of a prospect model we’ve hardly ever seen.

In a sense, Gallo has already passed the test. In his first year as a full-time player, he was worth 3 WAR, with a low batting average but a strong batting line. It’s one thing for a player to succeed over a month or a month and a half, but for me, personally, I like to leave time for opponents to adjust. Opponents adjusted, and Gallo adjusted back. He was better in last year’s second half than he was in the first. Over the course of 2017, Gallo proved that he’s a big-league ballplayer. It was a triumphant season for his extraordinary skillset.

And yet it’s not as if Gallo is all through with his progress. What we’re seeing in this year’s early going is something incredible indeed. One of the core things that’s made Joey Gallo Joey Gallo is starting to go away. Every good hitter evolves, but Gallo was starting with a truly weird foundation.

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Gary Sanchez Shows Some Punch

In a game that will be remembered more for a bench-clearing seventh-inning brawl between the beasts of the AL East — we’ll get to that, you blood-lusting rubberneckers — Gary Sanchez scored some points with a few swings of the bat himself on Wednesday night against the Red Sox. While the early struggles of reigning NL MVP and Bronx newcomer Giancarlo Stanton have gotten more attention, it was the Yankees’ 25-year-old catcher who owned the dubious title not just as the team’s coldest hitter, but as the majors’ single worst batting title-qualified player in terms of both wRC+ and WAR. Whether it was the intimate confines of Fenway Park, the struggles of the Red Sox pitching staff, or the inevitability of positive regression, by the fourth inning of the Yankees’ 10-7 victory, Gary got his groove back, at least for one night. Sanchez clubbed two homers and added a double, driving in four runs and more than doubling his season totals in hits, homers, and RBI.

Sanchez, who last year led all major-league catchers with 33 homers and a 130 wRC+ while batting .278/.345/.531, began the 2018 season in a 2-for-36 skid. Through Tuesday, his positive contributions at the plate could be counted on Mordecai Brown’s pitching hand: an RBI double off the Blue Jays’ John Axford on Opening Day, a two-run homer off the Rays’ Blake Snell on April 4, and a hit-by-pitch against the Orioles’ Darren O’Day on April 5. He went 0-for-17 between the first two hits, and 0-for-15 between the latter one and Wednesday’s game. Since he hadn’t drawn a single walk, that hit-by-pitch juiced his batting line all the way to .056/.081/.167. That’s a -42 wRC+, which is something closer to an ASCII approximation of a smashed fly than it is a comprehensible comparison to league average. He entered Wednesday as one of eight qualifiers with a negative wRC+

The Upside Down
Name Team PA AVG OBP SLG wRC+
Gary Sanchez Yankees 37 .056 .081 .167 -42
Logan Morrison Twins 30 .074 .167 .111 -22
Jose Iglesias Tigers 33 .069 .182 .103 -15
Jason Kipnis Indians 46 .098 .196 .122 -9
Kevin Kiermaier Rays 35 .094 .171 .156 -7
Byron Buxton Twins 35 .171 .171 .200 -7
Lewis Brinson Marlins 51 .149 .200 .149 -6
Randal Grichuk Blue Jays 39 .086 .154 .200 -6
All stats through April 10.

Sanchez had some good company in this particularly decrepit Small Sample Theater: a guy who hit even more homers last year (Morrison), two of the game’s best defensive center fielders (Kiermaier and Buxton, who is apparently constitutionally incapable of hitting major-league pitching before May 1), a top prospect (Brinson), and so on.

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Adrian Beltre Becomes the Latin American Hit King

With over 3,000 hits and his status as one of the greatest defensive third basemen in history, Adrian Beltre is already a lock for Cooperstown. On Thursday, he claimed a particularly cool slice of history. With his double off A’s starter Daniel Mengden, he collected hit number 3,054, surpassing Hall of Famer Rod Carew, whom he had tied on Tuesday night, for the most hits of any player born in Latin America.

Here’s the record-setting hit, whose significance was acknowledged by the Rangers’ broadcasters a few moments after the clip:

At some point later this season, Beltre will likely overtake Ichiro Suzuki, now a 44-year-old reserve, as the all-time leader in hits for a player born outside of the United States:

Most Hits by Players Born Outside U.S.
RK Player Birthplace Hits Overall Rk
1 Ichiro Suzuki Japan 3082 22
2 Adrian Beltre Dominican Republic 3054 25
3 Rod Carew+ Panama 3053 26
4 Rafael Palmeiro Cuba 3020 28
5 Roberto Clemente+ Puerto Rico 3000 31
6 Albert Pujols Dominican Republic 2972 33
7 Omar Vizquel Venezuela 2877 43
8 Ivan Rodriguez+ Puerto Rico 2844 49
9 Tony Perez+ Cuba 2732 59
10 Carlos Beltran Puerto Rico 2725 61
11 Roberto Alomar+ Puerto Rico 2724 62
12 Luis Aparicio+ Venezuela 2677 71
13 Miguel Cabrera Venezuela 2642 79
14 Vladimir Guerrero+ Dominican Republic 2590 86
15 Julio Franco Dominican Republic 2586 87
SOURCE: Baseball-Reference
+ = Hall of Famer

Note that I’ve included Puerto Rico-born players here. Puerto Rico is an unincorporated US territory, and its citizens are US citizens, but the Caribbean island is also considered part of Latin America, and its ballplayers have long been recognized and celebrated within that context, particularly during and after the career of the iconic Clemente.

Looking at the above list, it’s remarkable that for all of the talented Latin American players that have starred in the game over the past several decades, only four have reached 3,000 hits (out of 24 such players since World War II), with Pujols poised to become the fifth; none has advanced much further than that. Clemente ranked 11th on the all-time hit list at the time of his December 31, 1972 death, but the total number of players above him has more than doubled in the 45 years since. He was 16th at the end of 1985, Carew’s final year, while Carew himself was 13th. Beltre, who turns 39 on April 7, is still playing at a consistently high enough level to think beyond 2018. Assuming he can total 200 hits over this season and next — a conservative assumption given that he had 106 in just 94 games last year — he’d climb to 14th all time, with 3,248, seven shy of Eddie Murray at number 13, and 35 shy of Willie Mays at number 12. He’d need a total of 3,320 to crack the all-time top 10.

(All of these rankings rely upon the inclusion of Cap Anson’s National Association stats from 1871-75 towards his career total of 3,435, as recognized by Retrosheet and Baseball-Reference. Elias Bureau and Major League Baseball, which do not recognize NA stats, credit him with 3,011 hits.)

Beltre is also bearing down on another very cool distinction within this group. His 84.2 WAR is the second-highest total of any player born outside of the US, trailing only Pujols, who’s at 89.1 but moving backwards (-2.1 since the start of 2017). Beltre will probably need at least another season to close the gap, but if he does, the Hall of Fame will have to break out a very narrow typeface for his plaque in order to fit all of his accomplishments.


Bartolo Is Back and Better Than 2017 (For Now)

It was only one start, but when you’re coming off an age-44 season featuring a 6.48 ERA, a 5.21 FIP, and a 5.4% swinging-strike rate (the lowest among pitchers with at least 140 innings), you’re on a start-to-start basis anyway. So it counts as good news that, on Monday night, Bartolo Colon made an impressive debut with the Rangers — his 11th franchise — throwing six innings of one-run ball against the A’s in Oakland.

After three surprisingly strong seasons with the Mets, during which he averaged 196 innings, a 3.90 ERA, 3.79 FIP, and 2.7 WAR, Colon signed a one-year, $12.5 million deal with the Braves for last season, but he struggled mightily, first in Atlanta and then Minnesota after being released in July. With no major-league deal forthcoming, he inked a minor-league deal with the Rangers on February 4, with a base salary of $1.75 million plus another $1.3 million in incentives. With Martin Perez still on the disabled list as he rehabs from a bull-induced elbow fracture that required surgery, Colon had his opening to make the team, but only after being released and then re-signed last week in order to work around his opt-out clause.

Colon retired the first six A’s he faced, bookended by caught-looking strikeouts to Marcus Semien and Stephen Piscotty on sinkers, something he’s done 245 times since returning to the majors in 2011, more often than any pitcher this side of David Price. He would later victimize both hitters again, the former swinging at a slider, the latter swinging at an 0-2 sinker.

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Effectively Wild Episode 1192: Season Preview Series: Twins and Rangers

EWFI

Ben Lindbergh and Jeff Sullivan banter about the Eugenio Suarez and Jose Altuve extensions, whether this offseason’s slow free-agent market will make players more likely to sign extensions, the industry’s latest effort to avoid paying minor leaguers, and the debate about where Shohei Ohtani should start the season, then preview the 2018 Twins (18:52) with Baseball Prospectus’s Aaron Gleeman, and the 2018 Rangers (56:45) with The Athletic DFW’s Levi Weaver.

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Ronald Acuna, Willie Calhoun, and Service-Time Manipulations

Kris Bryant has become the handsome, clear-eyed face of service-time manipulation.
(Photo: Arturo Pardavila III)

Three years ago, Kris Bryant ranked as the best prospect in baseball. Then 23 years old, Bryant had brutalized minor-league pitching the year before and destroyed the competition in spring training with nine homers and 17 total hits in 44 plate appearances. Despite a clubhouse that now included Jon Lester and manager Joe Maddon among others — part of the Cubs’ signal to the world they were ready to compete — Bryant was easily one of the best 25 players in the organization, probably among the top five, and eventually proved during the season he was Chicago’s best position player.

And yet, the Cubs opted not to start the season with Kris Bryant on the roster. Once Bryant had spent enough days at Triple-A to extend his team control by a year — to become a free agent after the 2021 season instead of the 2020 campaign — the future MVP received a callup to the majors.

Bryant is still the most famous and most obvious case of a team’s effort to manipulate player service time to the potential detriment of the on-field product, but it happened before Bryant, has happened since Bryant, and is likely to keep happening. This season, there are several prominent players who might be kept off their major-league rosters for a time so that the team might save money and gain control of the player for an extra season.

For those unfamiliar with how service time works in these instances, here it is briefly. Players achieve free agency once they have six years of service time. Although the season lasts 187 days, a player is considered to have played a full season if he appears on an MLB roster or disabled list for 172 days. In any season where a player hits the 172-day threshold, that counts as one season of service time. If a player belongs to the roster for fewer than 172 days, he must combine those days with days from another campaign to reach the official “full season” mark.

Kris Bryant’s case is a useful example of this work. In 2015, he was on the roster for 171 days. That time counts only as a partial season. In the last two years, Bryant has been on the roster for more than 180 days each year, and each of those seasons count as one year of service time. At the end of the 2020 season, Bryant will have five seasons and 171 days of service, one day short of the six seasons necessary for free agency. As a result, he will need to play in 2021 to become a free agent. An extended discussion of service time appears in the FanGraphs glossary.

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