Archive for Rays

Blake Snell Isn’t Fair Anymore

Blake Snell has turned into one of the very best pitchers in baseball, and in order to understand how and why, we can start by just looking at the most recent batter he faced. A couple days ago, in the bottom of the seventh, Snell struck out Rowdy Tellez. The first pitch was a slider for a ball, at 88 miles per hour. The second pitch was another slider for a ball, at 89. The third pitch was a slider for a foul, at 87. Then came a fastball for a ball, at 96. Then a curveball for a whiff, at 82. Then a curveball for a foul, at 81. Finally, a fastball for a called strike, at 98. Tellez was gone, and Snell was replaced by Chaz Roe, having thrown exactly 100 pitches.

It’s not that Snell is only just beginning to emerge. His turnaround began in the middle of last year, and he hasn’t looked back. It’s last season that now looks more like a breakout. This season, however, Snell is a contender for the AL Cy Young award, even despite a DL stint that threatened to derail his progress. And while Snell was strong in the first half, before his bout of shoulder fatigue, he’s come back nearly unhittable. Between halves, he’s chopped more than a run off his ERA. He’s chopped a run and a half off his FIP, and he’s done basically the same with his xFIP. He’s added ten points to his strikeout rate while trimming his walks. Blake Snell is like a dominant closer who throws for six innings.

In one way, it’s not hard to see where Snell has improved. Yet his most recent changes are far more subtle. And they might well be the last changes he has to make for a long time. All that’s left for Blake Snell is to stay healthy.

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The Arrival of the Tampa Bay Rays

Since the start of the season’s second half, the Rays have posted the third-best record in baseball. For fans of the team, it’s been fun, I imagine, but it also hasn’t mattered that much, since the A’s have run the single-best record in baseball. The Rays have gone 31-18 and lost ground in the wild-card standings, such that they’re only mathematically alive. They succeeded in catching up to the Mariners, but that won’t be enough to put them into the playoffs. It’s going to be another year without a World Series. It’s going to be another year without a postseason game.

You could say that the Rays are victims of circumstance. They’re 80-65 and almost irrelevant. That record, though, would ordinarily put them in a better spot. At this time last year, the Rays would be in possession of the first wild-card slot. The same would be true of 2016, and the same would be true of 2015. In 2014 and 2013, such a record would have given the Rays possession of the second wild-card slot. Most of the time, this would be a playoff contender. The Rays can’t help that the A’s are so good.

On its own, that’s somewhat encouraging. And yet there is so much more. From all appearances, the Rays are only just opening their competitive window. The talent-accumulation phase has guided them into an enviable position.

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Using Contact Quality to Sort Out the AL Cy Young Mess

The American League Cy Young race is pretty messed up this season. The current WAR leader, while apparently healthy, might throw so few innings in September that he fails to qualify for the ERA title as a result. The pitcher currently ranked second by WAR in the league hasn’t pitched in a month. A third pitcher who, as of July 1, had authored a sub-2.00 ERA and fantastic peripherals — and was probably the favorite for the award — is now an afterthought.

Overall, there are probably eight candidates who deserve to appear on a ballot — and that’s without even considering the credentials of dominant relievers like Edwin Diaz and Blake Treinen. Voters, however, can only choose five names — and, as a result, it is possible that totally defensible ballots will omit the eventual winner (or that a pitcher who would have otherwise won will be omitted from a totally defensible ballot).

As I noted yesterday with regard to the NL’s Cy Young field, this award invites multiple questions about how best to evaluate pitching performance. Unavoidably, one’s choice for Cy Young will depend on how one weighs what a pitcher can and cannot control — and how best to quantify those effects. In this post, I’ll look at various metrics and consider the implications of each regarding luck, defense, and pitcher skill.

Before we get to how contact and defense might be playing a role in voters’ minds, though, let’s look at some fairly standard statistics at FanGraphs.

AL Cy Young Contenders
Metric Chris
Sale
Trevor Bauer Gerrit Cole Justin Verlander Corey Kluber Luis Severino Carlos Carrasco Blake Snell
IP 146 166 182.1 195 195 173.2 169 157
K% 38.7% 31.5% 34.6% 33.6% 25.6% 28.5% 29.3% 30.4%
BB% 5.8% 8.2% 8.1% 4.6% 3.8% 5.9% 5.0% 8.8%
HR/9 0.62 0.43 0.84 1.25 1.06 0.98 1.01 0.86
BABIP .276 .298 .286 .277 .269 .317 .322 .250
ERA 1.97 2.22 2.86 2.72 2.91 3.52 3.41 2.06
FIP 1.95 2.38 2.70 2.96 3.19 3.05 2.95 3.08
WAR 6.1 5.9 5.7 5.8 4.8 4.9 4.6 3.7
Blue=First
Orange=Second
Red=Third

Jay Jaffe made the case for Chris Sale’s candidacy last week, and that case certainly looks quite strong — or would, if the season ended today. Problem is, Sale might not get too many more opportunities to build said case. The left-hander is scheduled to throw two innings for Boston today and then another three innings on the 16th. If he records those five innings and then, say, another 10 over his final two starters, he won’t qualify for the ERA title and will potentially allow other pitchers the opportunity to catch up in value.

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Joey Wendle Feels the Best Swings Are Natural

Joey Wendle has been scorching the baseball. The Tampa Bay Rays infielder/outfielder is slashing .350/.405/.536 over his last 50 games, and he’s been especially torrid in his last 10. Wendle has 17 hits in his last 39 at-bats, pushing his season mark to a heady .300/.349/.429.

Pair those numbers with his defensively versatility — he’s started 10 or more games at three different positions — and the result for the 28-year-old late-bloomer is a 2.7 WAR that ranks first among AL rookies. Wendle is legitimate Rookie of the Year candidate.

His offensive output is surprising, but it’s by no means shocking. Wendle batted a solid .285 with a .441 slugging percentage in 380 Triple-A games, and he more than held his own in a pair of September cameos before coming to Tampa. The Rays acquired Wendle from the Oakland A’s last winter in exchange for Jonah Heim.

His left-handed stroke has never been better, and a big reason is that he’s no longer trying to build a better mousetrap. He’s simply being himself when he steps into the box.

“Personally, I feel the best swings are natural,” Wendle told me on a recent visit to Fenway Park. “I think some of my best swings came before I had any instruction. At the same time, you can slowly build them as you progress. I’d say that my career has gone from a natural swing to a bit of a forced swing, and now to a place where I understand my natural swing better.”

I asked the former West Chester University Golden Rams standout to elaborate on “forced swing.”

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Should We Adjust How We Evaluate Pitching Prospects?

Evaluating pitchers is a real challenge. A combination of experience and knowledge can help one to better understand how variables like velocity, spin, and pitch mix translate to the majors. Even with that information, though, the influence of other factors — like injury risk, like a pitcher’s likelihood of responding to mechanical or mental adjustments — creates a great deal of uncertainty.

Nor is this a challenge that faces only prospect analysts like myself and Eric Longenhagen: even front-office execs who have the benefit of substantial resources — in the form both of data and personnel — have trouble reliably projecting outcomes for otherwise similarly talented young arms.

In my role as a talent evaluator both with FanGraphs and with a few major-league clubs, the question of how best to assess pitchers is obviously one to which I’ve returned with some frequency. In my recent efforts to get some final looks at certain top pitching prospects, however, I began to rethink how Eric Longenhagen and I should approach rankings this offseason. Three prospects, in particular, help to illustrate my concerns.

Tigers righty Matt Manning was the ninth overall pick in 2016, is an athletic 20-year-old who stands 6-foot-6, and was promoted to Double-A last week. In addition to that, he sat 94-96 and hit 98 mph in my look, mixing in a spike curveball that flashed 65 on the 20-80 scale. The positives here are numerous, and very few other minor leaguers could match even a few of these qualities.

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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)

Notes
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
Year AVG OBP SLG K% BB% BABIP wRC+
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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Tyler Glasnow (and Pitching Coach Kyle Snyder) on Making Strides

As noted by FanGraphs author Jeff Sullivan earlier this month, Tyler Glasnow has become a different and better pitcher. Being traded from the Pittsburgh Pirates to the Tampa Bay Rays is playing a part in that, but there’s more to his step forward than a simple change of scenery. The 25-year-old right-hander had already begun evolving.

Glasnow added a slider to his repertoire this year, giving him a third pitch to go with his high-octane heater and a curveball that has always flashed plus. He’s also started to elevate more fastballs, allowing him to take advantage of his velocity and above-average spin rate. Perhaps most importantly, he’s been getting his mechanics in order. Inconsistency has long been a bugaboo, with Glasnow’s 6-foot-8 frame getting much of the blame whenever he’s gotten out of whack with his delivery.

He’s back to a starting role now. The Pirates put him in the bullpen this spring, and he remained there until Tampa Bay finally pulled the trigger on an anticipated Chris Archer deal, acquiring Glasnow along with Austin Meadows and Shane Baz. The Rays promptly placed the high-ceiling hurler in their rotation, where they hope he remains for years to come.

Glasnow talked about the strides he’s made, particularly in terms of his repertoire and delivery, prior to a recent game. Also weighing in on the right-hander’s continued development is Tampa Bay pitching coach Kyle Snyder.

———

Glasnow on his two breaking balls: “They’re different grips, and the intent is different. Early in the count, I’m more of a curveball guy, while the slider is more of a put-away pitch. I would say my slider is the better of the two, but it’s easier for me to throw my curveball for strikes. I grip my slider like a traditional slider. My curveball is a pitch I release with the seams a little more parallel to my fingers.

Tyler Glasnow’s slider grip.

“The break is similar, they’re both 12-6, so I think it’s maybe hard for PITCHf/x, or whichever technology is being used, to [classify them]. In terms of usage, I’ve been throwing them pretty evenly. The curveball is a little slower and kind of just drops in the zone. The slider bites a little sharper. It comes in off a straighter plane, then breaks down.

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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 »


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 within Longenhagen and McDaniel’s most recent update — and the updates published by Jeffrey Paternostro of Baseball Prospectus and John Sickels at Minor League Ball — have also been excluded from consideration.

*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.

*****

Brock Burke, LHP, Tampa Bay (Profile)
A third-round selection out of a Colorado high school in 2014, Burke has had the capacity to hit 95 mph for much of his professional career but has struggled to consistently hold his velocity from start to start. “I’d be down to 87-90 at times,” he told FanGraphs’ David Laurila in a post from June. “Now I’m more consistent with ranges, and my velo isn’t dropping at the end of games.”

Burke attributes at least part of his development to a Driveline Baseball program in which he participated with other Rays pitchers. “It was definitely beneficial,” said Burke. “It got me in better body shape, which has helped my accuracy and my velo.”

Whatever the cause, Burke has been excellent of late. Following an early-July promotion to Double-A Montgomery, Burke has recorded strikeout and walk rates of 33.6% and 6.2%, respectively, in 36.2 innings. The differential of 27.4 points between those two figures would represent the highest such mark among qualified Double-A pitchers. Burke was characteristically strong in his most recent start, recording an 8:2 strikeout-to-walk ratio against 28 batters over 7.0 innings (box).

Burke seemed to have the most success with his fastball in that start earlier this week. Here, though, is footage of the one his better curveballs:

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Daily Prospect Notes: 8/15/18

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

Tanner Houck, RHP, Boston Red Sox
Level: Hi-A   Age: 22   Org Rank: 4   FV: 45
Line: 7 IP, 4 H, 0 BB, 1 R, 7 K

Notes
The Red Sox have been tinkering with Tanner Houck’s arm slot and pitch grips throughout the year in effort to find the best combination of pitch types for him. Earlier in the year that involved raising his arm slot and incorporating more four seamers into his mix, but now Houck’s fastball and arm slot look more like they did in college. His results have been better of late as he’s walked six and allowed nine runs combined over his last six starts. His low slot makes it easier for lefties to see the ball out of his hand and Houck will still need to find a way to counteract this issues to profile as a starter.

Mickey Moniak, OF, Philadelphia Phillies
Level: Hi-A   Age: 20   Org Rank: 14   FV: 40+
Line: 2-for-4, 2B, 3B

Notes
While his overall line is still disappointing, Mickey Moniak is slashing .298/.341/.465 since May 22. He’s made a subtle swing change that has him taking a using bigger leg kick with his knee driving back toward his rear hip (similar to the one Adam Haseley adopted while in Clearwater this year) and he’s also striding closed which has helped Moniak deal with stuff on the outer half, which had been a problem for him as a pro. I’ve asked teams for updated reports on Moniak and the pro side of the industry think he has tweener outfielder tools but acknowledges it appears he’s been playing a level ahead of his ability so far. The industry considers him a big leaguer but thinks it’s going to take some time.

Bryan Abreu, RHP, Houston Astros
Level: Low-A   Age: 21   Org Rank: 28   FV: 35+
Line: 6 IP, 4 H, 1 BB, 0 R, 10 K

Notes
Bryan Abreu has generated varying reports throughout the year, at times 92-94 with a 50 breaking ball and 40 control (which is barely a prospect) and others when he’s been up to 97, sitting 94-95 with big vertical action on one of two his breaking balls. He’s accrued double-digit strikeouts in two of his last three starts and has a 69:13 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 42.4 innings this season. The Astros are great at installing coherent pitching approaches into their prospects, most of whom are high-spin fastball/breaking ball guys who work up in the zone with their heaters, an approach which leads to more strikeouts. This, combined with Houston’s piggyback approach (where hitters don’t often see the same pitcher three or more times), leads to lots of strikeouts. I think the fastball (which is pretty straight) plays better out of the bullpen and I’m skeptical of Abreu’s short-term walk rate improvement because I’ve still got scouts questioning his command and it’s been an issue for Abreu in the past. I have him projected in relief and have added him to Houston’s team page on The Board.

Meandering Thoughts

Kiley wrote today about how he thinks the Rays have identified pitching subtypes that have skills to fit somewhere on the value spectrum between the perhaps unnecessary extremes of typical six or seven-inning starters and single-inning relievers. I’d like to talk about a few other oddball skillsets that might have a place on a 25-man roster as they help perform traditional and necessary on-field tasks but come in atypical packages. I’ve given them names that that the Cespedes Family BBQ kids will improve upon.

Waxahachie
This role, in which a player acts as relief specialist who can also play the outfield, has actually been utilized in the recent past and has been explored by other clubs in the minors even more recently. Outfielders with superlative arm strength or pitchers with plus athleticism could put an extra late-inning hitter or two at platoon disadvantage. The Astros have done this with Tony Sipp, bringing him in to face a lefty before sending him to the outfield while someone else gets righties out, and then returning Sipp to the mound to face another lefty. It seemed Houston might have hoped Rule 5 selection Anthony Gose would have been able to do something similar, but he didn’t make the team out of spring training and was returned to Texas.

Texas also has several candidates for this type of role in Gose (who is also a 70 runner and good defensive center fielder), James Jones (plus runner, plus outfield defense, low-90s with loopy breaking ball on the mound) and Jairo Beras (right-handed, mid-90s fastball, plus-plus raw power) who have all converted to the mound but have one or two other useful skills that could enable them to be deployed in the right situation.

James Jones, LHP, Texas Rangers from Eric Longenhagen on Vimeo.

Former big league OF Jordan Schafer would seem to have fit this archetype as well and he was used in various ways by different clubs (Atlanta played him in the outfield, the Dodgers tried to make him a base-stealing specialist for the 2016 stretch run and St. Louis tried him on the mound) but never in several different roles at once.

Rick Ankiel, who is attempting a big league comeback, is perfect for this kind of role, too. He could shuttle back and forth from the outfield to the mound a few times, while also pinch hitting when it makes sense to have a power-before-hit bat at the plate and pinch-running on occasion.

If someone like this already exists in the Rays system it’s RHP/OF Tanner Dodson, who the Rays wanted announced as a two-way player when he was drafted out of Cal in June. Dodson sits in the mid-90s on the mound and is also a plus runner who hit near the top of Cal’s lineup last year. He’s not polished in center and has a slap/slash approach at the plate, but there’s premium arm strength and speed here.

Pull-Side Infielder
There are certain hitters who don’t pull the ball enough to merit a shift but still pull the ball on the ground more often than hit it the other way and, perhaps, that means your rangiest infield defender should just play on the hitter’s pull side, even if that means swapping your 2B and SS, hitter-by-hitter. I think this idea is half-baked but I’d argue the Brewers are candidates for something like this right now as they’re playing Travis Shaw out of position at second base to shoehorn better hitters into their lineup. In my opinion, they should be swapping Jonathan Schoop and Shaw, hitter by hitter, something to maximize Schoop’s defensive touches and minimize Shaw’s. Perhaps my name for this type of thing is too narrow but the concept interests me. Tampa Bay has a slew of bat-first 2B-types who are either athletically viable all over the field in a dynamic defensive equation like this (Vidal Brujan, Nick Solak, Lucius Fox) or benefit from being hidden by it (Brandon Lowe, Taylor Walls, Jake Cronenworth)


The Next Prospects Who Could Pull a Glasnow

Among the biggest changes in on-field strategy this year is the Rays’ use of an “opener,” or a starting pitcher who isn’t a traditional starter in style and is expected to throw only an inning or two. While certainly notable, the role itself isn’t my interest here. Rather, I’d like to consider how Tampa Bay has cobbled together a staff from Blake Snell and a cast of misfit toys.

From talking to sources in and around the Rays, the use of an “opener” wasn’t a purposeful strategic shift on the organization’s part, but rather an attempt by the club to deploy the talent present on the roster in the most effective way possible. Snell is the only pitcher who won’t get an opener in front of him, while the rest varies game-to-game based on matchups and other factors. Much like the best coach in the NFL, the Rays are using a player’s strengths and building a scheme around it rather than building a roster around a scheme.

Consider this characterization of Bill Belichick’s coaching philosophy by Greg Bedard of SI in the context of Tampa Bay and their pitching strategy:

On both sides of the ball, the scheme is multiple and adaptable both to personnel and to specific opponents. The Patriots are never a team that just ‘does what it does’ on either side of the ball. There must be a level of unpredictability.

Recently acquired former top prospect Tyler Glasnow has been notably better in his 12 innings with the Rays, but the role the right-hander typically fills (the longest outing on his pitching day, usually after the opener) is a one that could create a competitive advantage for the Rays in player procurement.

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Tyler Glasnow Already Looks Better

Tyler Glasnow allowed a solo home run on Tuesday, but outside of that, he was nearly untouchable. Over four innings, he allowed two hits, with, importantly, zero walks, and, importantly, nine strikeouts. Now, I know what some of you will say, because I’ve already seen it on Twitter. “Who cares? It was the Orioles.” And indeed, the Orioles suck. But when Glasnow made his Rays debut against the Angels the week before, he was similarly effective. There was a solo homer, but also a bunch of strikes and whiffs over three solid innings. Glasnow is two (semi-)starts into his Rays career, and he’s made an outstanding first impression.

It should go without saying that we’ll need a lot more data. With Tampa Bay, Glasnow has taken the mound all of two times, and that’s only two times more than zero. The Rays need to see Glasnow pitch a lot more often, and that’s what’s going to happen from here on out. We can’t say whether Glasnow already is better. But he *looks* better, and this kind of topic is right in my wheelhouse, since Glasnow is a pitcher whose results haven’t yet matched up with his stuff. Let me quickly walk you through what I find encouraging.

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Sunday Notes: A New Red Dabbles in Data, and a New Ray Likes the Simple Life

What kind of pitcher did the Reds get when they acquired Lucas Sims in the deadline deal that sent Adam Duvall to the Braves? By and large, they got a former first-rounder who has had spotty results in his smattering of big-league outings, yet little left to prove at the minor-league level. Blessed with plus stuff, he remains a tantalizing young talent.

The 24-year-old is getting smarter about his craft. Aware that he should “always be looking for that next step to stay ahead of the curve,” Sims has begun dabbling in analytics. He’s not diving in head first, but his toes are definitely in the water.

“I’ve recently gotten into it, but not to the point where I’m getting overwhelmed with it,” Sims explained earlier this summer. “I’m taking a couple of things here and there, basically whatever resonates with me. I’ve started getting into the spin-rate stuff, and which types of pitches are most effective in certain situations.”

The young right-hander had a colorful answer when asked if his four-seam spin rate is above-average.

“Yeah, but I don’t know exactly what it is,” Sims admitted. “I saw that it was green, and he said green is good.”

The ‘he’ in question was Alex Tamin — “one of our analytics guys” — whose official title with the Braves is director of major league operations. Color-coded assessments weren’t all that Tamin passed along. Sims has also begun “looking into effective spin, and trying to make sure I get true spin.”

Just how much further he dives in with his new team remains a question.

“You don’t want to end up getting paralysis by analysis,” Sims told me. “I don’t want it all in front of my face at the same time — I’m not trying to learn a million things at once — but I’m definitely looking forward to getting into it a little more. If something is going to make me better, I’m all for it.”

Sims made his first appearance as a member of the Reds organization last night. Pitching for Triple-A Louisville, he allowed one run over five innings, walking none and punching out six.

———

What style of hitter did the Rays get when they acquired Austin Meadows in the deadline deal that sent Chris Archer to the Pirates? By and large, they got a potential middle-of-the-order bat, albeit not one with a power hitter’s profile. And he’s certainly not a three-true-outcomes guy. The 23-year-old outfielder believes in putting the ball in play, ideally on a line.

“My approach is to be aggressive in the zone,” said Meadows, who was hitting a solid .292/.327/.468 at the time of the trade. “In the first at bat of a game you need to get an idea of how your timing is, and how your swing feels — there’s a lot that goes into it — but for me it’s about moving my bat through the zone on pitches that I can hit. I need an aggressive mindset. I can’t be passive up there.”

His aggressive mindset doesn’t include trying to drive balls out of the ballpark. He said as much when I talked to him in spring training of last year, and not much has changed.

“I’ll always believe in swinging down on the baseball and creating backspin,” said Meadows. “If I do that and hit the ball well, it can go out. I’m not trying to hit the ball out. I know that other guys are — other guys are believers in it — but personally, I try to swing through the ball and hit hard line drives. If it goes out, it goes out.”

Meadows does possess some pop. His gap-to-gap approach has produced five long balls in 165 big-league plate appearances, so it’s not as though he’s Frank Taveras or Jason Tyner. Launch angle is simply not his cup of tea. Nor is compromising what comes naturally.

“I’ve always been the hitter that has good hands and keeps things simple,’ stated the 2013 first-round pick. “I think simplicity keeps you in this game for a long time. Simplicity in anything will last you a long time in life.”

——

Joe Musgrove doesn’t feel that pitching in Pittsburgh is much different than pitching in Houston. Not when it comes to what he’s doing on the mound. The Pirates are “big on fastball usage and throwing the fastball inside,” and that’s always been part of his attack plan. And while new team is less bullish on high heat, they haven’t asked him to move downstairs.

“There isn’t as much analytics stuff on this end as there was with the Astros,” Musgrove shared with me in late June. “But they’re starting to trend that way, and we’ve talked more and more about using fastballs up in the zone. That’s something I learned in Houston, and it’s something I’ll continue to do.”

As you might expect, the 25-year-old right-hander enjoyed his conversations with Astros pitching guru Brent Strom.

“We talked analytics stuff a lot,” said Musgrove, who came to Pittsburgh in last winter’s Gerrit Cole deal. “We talked tunneling, and how the fastball up in the zone provides you that much more protection for the stuff you’re spinning down over the plate. If you emulate those two off that same high-fastball line, one is going to continue riding out and the other is going to break off it. It’s about disguising your pitches.”

Opposing hitters are seeing something new from the former first-round pick (The Blue Jays drafted Musgrove in 2011, and shipped him to Houston a year later). A pitch he threw sparingly in recent seasons is now a primary weapon. Read the rest of this entry »


The Pirates Made the Deadline’s Biggest Move

I think of the Pirates and Rays as being similar to one another. The A’s belong to the same small group. There are differences, obviously, and the organizations each have their own specific approaches, but these are smaller-budget operations that adhere to similar roster-building philosophies. They try not to ever completely tear down, accumulating years of team control while aiming for something close to .500. Constant churn is an unavoidable reality. It’s almost a feature instead of a bug. In a case like this year’s A’s, a club can get hot, but I’m used to seeing these teams in similar positions. So I wouldn’t expect them to swing major trades with one another.

Less than a month ago, the Rays were 11 games back of the second wild-card slot. In the other league, the Pirates were 10 games back of the second wild-card slot. Both of the teams were expected to sell, because competing down the stretch was unrealistic. Since then, the Rays have won nine times and lost nine times. The Pirates, however, have gone 15-4. The Rays are still very much out of the hunt, but the Pirates are within 3.5 games of the playoffs. That imbalance in the short-term outlooks has led us to a blockbuster. This is the time of year when a very small sample can dramatically change a team’s course. Because they caught fire at just the right time, the Pirates have decided to go for it.

Pirates get:

Rays get:

Both the Rays and Pirates already thought they could be close in the future. The Pirates’ last 19 games have made all the difference. They’ve opened up a shot in 2018, which was enough to tip all the necessary scales.

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Phillies Catch an Upgrade in Wilson Ramos

Weeks ago, Wilson Ramos appeared to be the ideal trade target for the catching-deficient Nationals given his previous experience with the team (2010-16) and their current Replacement-Level Killer-esque production, but a funny thing happened on the way to Washington, DC. A left hamstring strain forced Ramos to bow out from the All-Star Game, the Nationals continued their descent into disarray, and now the Rays have traded the nearly 31-year-old backstop to the Phillies in exchange for a player to be named later or cash considerations.

Ramos, who also missed the first 76 games of last season due to a torn ACL, has been doing catching drills and is likely to begin a rehab assignment soon. He’s enjoyed a strong season at the plate, hitting .297/.346/.488 with 14 homers in 315 PA, good for a career-best 130 wRC+. That’s a significant upgrade over what the Phillies have gotten from the 25-year-old Jorge Alfaro (.254/.305/.398, 85 wRC+) or 26-year-old Andrew Knapp (.223/.318/.372, 87 wRC+) on the offensive side, no small matter for a team whose 92 wRC+ ranks 10th in the NL.

Assuming that Ramos replaces Knapp in some kind of pairing with Alfaro, who has started 70 of the Phillies’ 106 games behind the plate, this looks like a defensive upgrade, as well. Via the version of Defensive Runs Saved that doesn’t include pitch framing, Ramos has been average this year, Alfaro two runs below average, and Knapp five below average, while via the framing-inclusive version, the numbers are -1, 0, and -10 runs, respectively. According to Baseball Prospectus’ numbers, Ramos has been 0.9 runs below average overall but dead even on framing, not as good as Alfaro (7.4 runs above average overall, 8.5 above average via framing) but significantly better than Knapp (-5.7 runs overall, -4.3 via framing), who’s gotten about half as much playing time.

As for the return to Tampa Bay, obviously, there’s no scouting report to offer on PTBNL. Ramos’s $10.5 million salary made him the highest-paid Ray, but as with Denard Span earlier this year and Evan Longoria and David Price previously, that title is always a temporary one. Like the mortality rates among those crowned the oldest living human, there’s no mystery about the turnover.


Rays Trade for Older Christian Yelich

At 53-53, the Rays aren’t bad, but they’re also not anywhere close to the race. At 54-52, the Cardinals aren’t much better, but a wild-card slot remains within reach. Given that, you’d think, if anything, the Cardinals would be improving, while the Rays would be selling. Instead, we have a trade that goes in the other direction. It’s a little bit of a surprising deadline maneuver, yet the Rays are gearing up for a run next season. And the Cardinals are just making more room for Harrison Bader and Tyler O’Neill. I’ll give you the specifics:

Rays get:

  • Tommy Pham
  • $500,000 international bonus-pool money

Cardinals get:

On the surface, you can understand the Cardinals’ perspective here. Pham is 30 years old, and his numbers don’t look like they did last season. Pham and the organization haven’t always seen eye-to-eye, and besides, Bader looks like one of the better defensive outfielders in either league, so it makes sense to play him more often. I can see why they might’ve wanted to make a trade. Still, it feels like they’ve sold Pham low. The Rays are getting a possible difference-maker here, and you don’t have to dig too far into the numbers to see it.

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Cardinals Trade Tommy Pham to Rays

This is the player who was traded.
(Photo: Charles Edward Miller)

In somewhat of a surprise move, the Cardinals have traded outfielder Tommy Pham this morning. In somewhat of another surprise, the team acquiring Pham hasn’t added him for the purposes of contending this season. While the Tampa Bay Rays haven’t been mathematically eliminated from a place in the playoffs, their chances of earning even a Wild Card berth are effectively zero at this point. Pham has value to the organization beyond 2018, though.

Even as rumors continue to circle around Chris Archer, the Rays have added a much needed outfielder not only for the remainder of the season, but also for the future. In trading away Pham, the Cardinals appear to be receiving multiple minor-league depth pieces.

Rays receive:

  • Tommy Pham
  • $500K international bonus-pool money

Cardinals receive:

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The Rays Played a Pitcher at Third Base

Wednesday was a busy day for the Rays front office. First, they traded starter Nathan Eovaldi to the rival Red Sox. Then, they traded versatile righty Matt Andriese to the Diamondbacks. As I write this, Wednesday still has another few hours to go, so it’s possible they have even more in store, something you’ll have heard about by the time this post is published. Though the Rays are still incredibly north of .500, they’re not really in the hunt, so they’re shifting their priorities to the future. The nearer-term future, but the future nevertheless.

In the middle of the Rays’ busy Wednesday, there was a baseball game. It was a baseball game Eovaldi was scheduled to start. Based on that fact alone, the game was out of the ordinary, but it got stranger still. The Rays, of course, are the team that brought you the opener. They’re the team that used a catcher to protect a late lead. They’re the team that played a pitcher at first base. And now they’re also the team that played a pitcher at third base. These weren’t emergency circumstances the Rays were playing under. It was the same strategy as it was before, with Jose Alvarado. This time, it was Sergio Romo’s turn to head to a corner.

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Scouting the Rays’ Return for Matt Andriese

The Rays traded RHP Matt Andriese to the Diamondbacks this afternoon for minor leaguers Michael Perez and Brian Shaffer.

Tampa Bay has targeted basically two kinds of player in trades over the past few years — specifically, big-league-ready types who either (a) could function as a starting pitcher or (b) feature contact skills and the capacity to play an up-the-middle defensive position. Perez, a catcher, fits the latter category and has made strides this year defensively, moving from a 50 to a 55 behind the plate, driven by his improvement metrically in the framing department. There isn’t much in the way of publicly available minor-league framing numbers, and there’s some variance even with the big leagues ones, but multiple front-office sources described Perez’s figures this year as “elite.” He’s a definite hit-over-power type offensively and is seen as a future backup with just mistake power, but sometimes these types can turn into low-end regulars for a few years. He will likely be a 40+ FV in the coming update to THE BOARD, adding to Tampa Bay’s embarrassment of minor-league depth that was already supplemented earlier today.

Perez was the headliner here. Shaffer, meanwhile, is more of a generic depth arm. He was a sixth-rounder in 2017 out of Maryland and would occasionally show fringey stuff (87-91 mph) and sometimes more than that (90-93 mph with above-average life). His 6-foot-5, 220-pound frame is durable and he throws strikes, so any kind of improvement in the stuff department would make him a solid bet to turn into a back-end starter. He’s been mostly 89-92, touching 94 mph, this year with a slider that’s fringey to average and a changeup that’s a little better but mostly average. In today’s game, this is somewhere in the range of a sixth starter, swing man, innings-eating middle reliever or up/down fill arm, as indicated by the fact that Shaffer is still pitching in Low-A at nearly 22 years old. Shaffer will likely be a 35 or 35+ FV.


Rays Add Lefty Jalen Beeks to Deep System

Here are my very brief thoughts on Jalen Beeks, who was acquired by Tampa Bay from Boston in exchange for Nathan Eovaldi:

Beeks was ranked 6th in a bad Red Sox system entering the year and received a 45 FV grade from us as we thought he had passable control and a deep enough pitch mix to start. He proceeded to dominate the International League and had accumulated 117 strikeouts in 87.1 innings at the time of the trade.

We still have a 45 FV on Beeks, who has a fringe fastball in the 89-93-mph range, an above-average curveball, and an average changeup and cutter. Finding some way for the fastball to play is of paramount importance to Beeks’ ability to start, and it’s probably going to take heavier in-zone use of his curveball to keep hitters from sitting on a relatively hittable fastball. Tampa Bay’s pitchers have used their fastballs less than all other big leagues teams aside from the Yankees, so this seems likely to occur. Beeks projects as a No. 4 or No. 5 starter, and because we’re talking about a lefty with a good breaking ball, his injury-independent floor is that of a good bullpen piece.

You could argue this was Boston’s best realistic trade chip as none of the other 45 FV prospects in the org have really performed this year, and 50 FV prospects Michael Chavis (PED suspension) and Jay Groome (Tommy John) have other issues impacting their value.