Archive for Red Sox

The Manager’s Perspective: Alex Cora on Baseball in Puerto Rico

Alex Cora knows baseball in Puerto Rico inside and out. The Red Sox skipper was born and raised in Caguas — he still lives there in the offseason — and he’s served as the general manager of Team Puerto Rico. He knows the talent, the culture, the history. Ditto the challenges. From the 1989 decision to subject players from the U.S. territory to the amateur draft, to the ravages of Hurricane Maria — those are just two examples — the road to MLB success is often anything but smooth.

The talent speaks for itself. Rich history aside — there are four Hall of Famers, including Roberto Clemente — two dozen Puerto Rico-born players are now in the big leagues, and five of them saw action in last night’s All-Star Game. Cora himself is notable. Not only did he play 14 seasons (and earn a World Series ring), the team he’s leading boasts baseball’s best record in his first season as an MLB manager.

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Alex Cora: “We’re in a great place right now, as far as talent and impact players. I’m obviously managing, too, which is something different. I’m the second one from Puerto Rico in the history of the game [after Edwin Rodriguez].

“People point at the draft as a huge ‘game changer,’ saying that Puerto Rico got affected negatively because of it. I’ve always said that it was just a matter of time for us to adjust and get back to the heydays of the 1990s when we had seven or eight All-Stars. We had a lot of impact players back then.

“Now you take a look and you have Francisco [Lindor], you have Carlos [Correa], you have Javy [Baez], you have Enrique Hernandez. There’s Eddie [Rosario]. We have a few pitchers now with Edwin [Diaz] and Jose [Berrios] and Joe [Jimenez]. Obviously, the catching position has always been solid. We have one guy that is great, in a debate for the Hall of Fame. Yadi [Molina].

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Betts, Ramírez, Trout, and the Blistering Pace

Roughly a month ago, Mike Trout appeared headed towards history. On June 20, I took time out from gorging myself on lobster rolls and clam strips during my Cape Cod family vacation to put together a table showing the short list of players who reached 6.0 WAR before the All-Star break. After 74 games, Trout was on pace to finish at 13.8 WAR, the third-highest total for a position player in history, behind only the 1923 and 1921 seasons of Babe Ruth (15.0 and 13.9 WAR, respectively).

A funny thing happened on the way to the break, however: Trout fell into his first true slump of the year, and both Mookie Betts and José Ramírez have closed the gap such that the trio is in a virtual tie atop the leaderboard at 6.5 WAR. This is the first time since 1975 — as far back as our splits in this area go, alas — that three players have reached even 6.0 WAR by the All-Star break, though even that relatively recent history shows such a pace is nearly impossible to maintain.

Before I dig in, it’s worth noting that, while we generally refer to what transpires before and after the All-Star break as the season’s first and second halves, those are generally misnomers, since the pause in the schedule usually happens well after the 81st game of the season and at a slightly different point from year to year. So far in 2018, the average team has played 96 games, similar to the averages in 2013 (94) and 2014 (95) but well ahead of those in 2015 and 2016 (89 games) or 2017 (88 games). Thankfully, so long as we’re taking the trouble to prorate to 162 games, we can cope with this.

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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 »


Daily Prospect Notes: 7/11

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

Andres Gimenez, SS, New York Mets (Profile)
Level: Hi-A   Age: 19   Org Rank: 3   FV: 50
Line: 3-for-5, 2B, 3B

Notes
Gimenez is a 19-year-old shortstop slashing .280/.350/.430 in the Florida State League. That’s good for a 107 wRC+ in the FSL. Big-league shortstops with similar wRC+ marks are Trea Turner (a more explosive player and rangier defender than Gimenez) and Jurickson Profar, who have both been two-win players or better this year ahead of the break. Also of note in the Mets system last night was Ronny Mauricio, who extended his career-opening hitting streak to 19 games.

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Steve Pearce Is on the Move, Again, in the AL East

With his trade to Boston on Thursday night, Steve Pearce has completed a personal odyssey. By joining the Red Sox, Pearce has now been employed by all five clubs in the American League East. The last leg in his tour of the division moves him from a club with little chance of making the postseason — a Blue Jays team that is beginning to think about next year (or, really, 2020) — to one that figures to be competing with the Yankees into September for a division title.

The Red Sox acquire Pearce for a specific reason: to help against left-handed pitching. The Red Sox have been below average (97 wRC+) against lefties this season, ranking 14th in baseball and eighth in the American League.

Pearce, meanwhile, has always hit lefties well. He owns a career slash line of .264/.346/.494 and 127 wRC+ against left-handers, and this season he has a .306/.358/.531 slash and a 143 wRC+ in 53 plate appearances against lefties. He has played first, left, and right field for the Blue Jays, so he gives the Red Sox options for getting his bat into the lineup. Read the rest of this entry »


Daily Prospect Notes: 6/20

Notes on prospects from lead prospect analyst Eric Longenhagen running slightly later than usual due to travel for the FanGraphs meetup in Denver this weekend. Read previous installments here.

Clay Holmes, RHP, Pittsburgh Pirates (Profile)
Level: Triple-A   Age: 25   Org Rank: 27  FV: 40
Line: 7.1 IP, 5 H, 0 BB, 8 K, 1 R

Notes
Holmes has had mediocre command throughout his career and has generally projected to a bullpen role where he’d theoretically be a mid-90s sinker/slider guy. In the past month, he has thrown 66% of his pitches for strikes and has been locating his slider to the back foot of left-handed hitters effectively. He looks more like a backend starter than a reliever right now, but it’s a four-start run juxtaposed against more than a half decade of fringe control.

Alexander Montero, RHP, Boston Red Sox (Profile)
Level: Short-Season   Age: 20   Org Rank: NR  FV: 35+
Line: 5 IP, 3 H, 0 BB, 7 K, 1 R

Notes
Montero’s presence and early success is a welcome sight for one of the worst systems in baseball. He’s a relatively projectable 20-year-old with a three-pitch mix led by a fastball that’s up to 95 mph and a diving split changeup. Montero signed late for an amateur IFA last summer, inking a deal just weeks before he turned 20. He pitched in the DSL last year and was skipped directly to the New York-Penn League this summer after finishing extended.

Brandon Wagner, 1B, New York Yankees (Profile)
Level: A+  Age: 22   Org Rank: NR  FV: 35
Line: 3-for-5, 2B, HR

Notes
Wagner has had an odd developmental path. He was a chubby high school first baseman from New Jersey who spent two years at a Texas JUCO and became a 6th rounder as he improved his conditioning. He has displayed a career-long ability to discern balls from strikes and is a .365 OBP hitter over four pro seasons. During that time, Wagner has moved his batted-ball profile like a glacier from 50% ground balls down to 40% and has now begun to hit for significant in-game power. Six-foot first basemen with average, pull-only power are still long shots, but if Wagner keeps performing if/when he’s promoted to Double-A, he’ll at least force re-evaluation the way Mike Ford did.

Jackson Kowar, RHP, University of Florida (draft rights controlled by Kansas City)
Level: CWS Age: 21   Org Rank: NR  FV: 45
Line: 6.2 IP, 5 H, 2 BB, 13 K, 0 R

Notes
Kowar was dominant in his College World Series start against Texas yesterday, reaching back for 95-97 toward the end of his start and was flashing a 70 changeup. He also threw 121 pitches.

Jacob Amaya, SS, Los Angeles Dodgers (Profile)
Level: Short-Season  Age: 19   Org Rank: HM  FV: 35
Line: 1-for-1, 4 BB

Notes
Amaya’s tools have a utility vibe because his frame limits his power projection to something around average or just below it, but he’s an average athlete with defensive hands befitting a middle infielder and advanced bat-to-ball skills. If he grows into a 6 bat, which is unlikely but possible, it won’t matter that he doesn’t hit for a lot of game power.

Notes from the Field

I’m just going to drop a bunch of D-backs notes from yesterday’s AZL action. Alek Thomas went 0-for-3 but ground out tough at-bats and spoiled several good pitches while he did it. He also made two impressive defensive plays, one which might have robbed a homer and another in the left-center gap that robbed extra bases. Jake McCarthy looks fine physically (of note since he was hurt for most of his junior year at UVA) and took a tough left-on-left breaking ball the other way for a single in his first pro at-bat. Twenty-year-old righty Luis Frias was up to 96 mph, rehabbing Brian Ellington was up to 97. Finally, lefty reclamation project Henry Owens (Allen Webster, Owens, and Clay Buchholz have all been D-backs for some amount of time during the last year, which isn’t surprising if you know the roots of this current front office) K’d 5 in 2.1 innings with some help from the umpire. He was 87-90 with an above-average changeup, an average breaking ball, and arm slot closer to what he had as a prospect with Boston after he was side-arming last fall.


A Leaderboard With Mookie Betts and Barry Bonds

On April 18, I wrote an article titled “How Mookie Betts Has Been Baseball’s Best Hitter.” It was true — through to that point, Betts was first among all players in wRC+. Doesn’t get much more meaningful than wRC+. Betts opened the season on an absolute tear.

The way this usually goes, we write about a white-hot player, and then the player begins to regress. This is just an unavoidable fact of how writing works; we notice when players are doing something extreme, but extreme performances are unsustainable. Sure enough, since April 18, Betts no longer ranks first among all players in wRC+. He’s ranked second among all players in wRC+, only slightly behind teammate J.D. Martinez. In one way, Betts has cooled off. In another way, he’s done nothing of the sort.

Through roughly two months, Betts has been a better overall player than anyone else. I wrote in April about how he’s been able to lift so many balls to the pull side. That’s kept up — Betts knows he’s best as a pull hitter, and he’s getting more balls in the air. Yet there’s also something else going on. There’s been one other situational change, that’s paying off in a staggering way. I still have trouble believing the numbers, and I’ve already conducted all the research.

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Daniel Mengden on Pitching to Red Sox Hitters

Daniel Mengden has bested the Red Sox twice this season. On April 22nd, the Oakland A’s right-hander was credited with a win after allowing the visiting Boston squad a lone run over 6.1 innings. This past Tuesday, he got another W while giving up a pair of runs, one of them unearned, over six equally effective innings at Fenway Park. In the combined outings, Mengden fanned eight, walked none, and surrendered just three extra-base bits, only one of which left the yard.

On Wednesday, I asked the mustachioed 25-year-old about his attack plan versus four of the Boston batters he’s faced. Here is what he had to say.

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Mengden on Mitch Moreland and Andrew Benintendi: “Mitch Moreland and Andrew Benintendi… when I faced [the Red Sox] in Oakland, I had a changeup-heavy game against them. My changeup was working really well that day. Moreland got me twice yesterday, once on a changeup. He also got me on a 1-2 curveball that I should have bounced. I left it up and he flipped it down the [right field] line. He’s one of those guys who I feel sits offspeed, and you have to be tricky with some of those guys.

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Players’ View: Learning and Developing a Pitch, Part 8

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 eighth installment of this series, we’ll hear from three pitchers — Sean Manaea, Blake Treinen, and Steven Wright — on how they learned and/or developed a specific pitch.

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Sean Manaea (Athletics) on His Changeup

“My college roommate, Tyler Pazik, showed me his changeup before the last start of my sophomore year [at Indiana State]. Three days later I took it to our regional game against Austin Peay and threw it pretty well. It was one of those things where I could just pick it up and throw it, and not have to think about it. Then I took it to the Cape and had a good summer there. Then I took it to my junior year.

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Players’ View: Learning and Developing a Pitch, Part 6

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 fifth installment of this series, we’ll hear from three pitchers — Danny Duffy, David Price, and Sergio Romo — on how they learned and/or developed a specific pitch.

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Danny Duffy (Royals) on His Changeup

“My changeup used to be a two-seam circle. It was a really good pitch in the minor leagues because of the difference in velocity — I could get away with lack of movement — but, up here, it was starting to get ineffective.

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The Best Rick Porcello Has Ever Been

Rick Porcello was really good in 2016 when he won the Cy Young award. He had a very strong 3.40 FIP, an even better 3.15 ERA, and was worth 5.1 WAR. The race was close that year, with Porcello narrowly edging out Justin Verlander. Corey Kluber, Chris Sale, and even Zach Britton all also had decent arguments for the award. Any one of the starters could have won, but Porcello got the nod in what was presumably his career year.

It’s early, but so far Porcello is putting those presumptions to the test. Through four games, Porcello has 23 strikeouts against just one walk with a fantastic 1.74 FIP and 1.40 ERA. He’s never pitched quite this well before.

Even during his 2016 campaign, Porcello never put together a stretch as good as the one of which he’s in the midst. The graph below shows rolling four-game stretches since Porcello came to Boston.

We are currently at the low mark for both ERA and FIP during Porcello’s tenure in Boston. As to why Porcello is on such a great run, we can start with the lack of home runs. Since joining the Red Sox, Porcello has never produced a four-game stretch without allowing a homer until now. He had a couple per year back in his extreme pitch-to-contact ground-balling days in Detroit, where the park suppressed homers, but he had no such streaks during his first three seasons with the Red Sox. Some of that can be chalked up to good fortune, of course: he is obviously going to give up a dinger at some point this season. In addition to keeping the ball in the yard, though, there’s also that 23:1 strikeout-to-walk ratio.

So what’s the difference? Is there even one?

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The Red Sox Are Becoming History

It took a no-hitter — a 108-pitch, 10-strikeout gem by the A’s Sean Manaea — to stop the Red Sox in their tracks, snapping their eight-game winning streak and dealing them just their third loss of the year in their 20th game. Though they lost to the A’s again on Sunday, they’ve spent time in some rarefied air in recent days.

When the Sox beat the A’s on Friday night to climb to 17-2, they became the first team in 31 years to reach that early-season pinnacle, and just the sixth since 1901, when the American League began play:

Teams That Started 17-2 or Better
Team Year Final W-L Finish Postseason
Tigers 1911 89-65 2
Giants (18-1) 1918 71-53 2
Dodgers 1955 98-55 1 Won World Series
A’s 1981 64-45 1 Won AL West (1st Half)
Tigers 1984 104-58 1 Won World Series
Brewers 1987 91-71 3
SOURCE: Baseball-Reference

Two of those five teams went on to win the World Series. The 1955 Dodgers, managed by Hall of Famer Walter Alston and led by Hall of Famers Jackie Robinson, Roy Campanella, Pee Wee Reese, and Duke Snider (and also featuring a 19-year-old bonus baby named Sandy Koufax), started the year 10-0 and ran their record to 22-2 before taking their third loss. By that point, they were nine games ahead of the National League pack; they would win by 13.5 games, then claim their long-awaited first championship by beating the Yankees in a seven-game World Series.

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The Red Sox Have a New Identity

As I was researching a Mookie Betts article yesterday, I kept coming across various suggestions that Betts was thriving because of a more swing-happy mindset. Maybe that’s true on some level, but Betts isn’t actually swinging more. He continues to run one of the lowest swing rates in either league. The key for Betts has been pulling the ball in the air. He’s hunted pitches to drive, and he’s driven them as he wanted. There are few better pull hitters in the game.

That being said, while Betts hasn’t turned into anything particularly aggressive, he has given a little push to his in-zone swing rate. He’s cut down on his out-of-zone swing rate. There’s no benefit from swinging at would-be balls. And as for the rest of the Red Sox around him — this has become a different-feeling lineup. The Red Sox, as a team, have changed their approach, bringing to an end a long era of patience.

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How Mookie Betts Has Been Baseball’s Best Hitter

It’s not entirely clear anything was wrong with Mookie Betts in 2017. Yes, he finished with a wRC+ of just 108, after the previous season’s 137, but those numbers can occasionally mislead. Consider the Statcast-based expected wOBA, available to query at Baseball Savant. Betts, in 2015, had an expected wOBA of .335. In 2016, it was .336. In 2017, it was .341. I wouldn’t necessarily call that conclusive, but it’s evidence that Betts was just hurt by a little bit of bad luck. He remained a perfectly good hitter all the while.

In 2018, Betts has an expected wOBA of .602. He leads all qualified hitters in wRC+. Tuesday night, in a game started by Shohei Ohtani, Betts went deep three times. Betts won’t keep this up, because no one could keep this up, but it’s worth it to look under the hood. Betts’ scorching start has been a consequence of his hitting to his strengths.

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Players’ View: Learning and Developing a Pitch, Part 4

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 slider 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 fourth installment of this series, we’ll hear from three pitchers — Andrew Cashner, Drew Pomeranz, and CC Sabathia — on how they learned and/or developed a specific pitch.

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Andrew Cashner (Orioles) on His Sinker

“I got cut with a knife in 2013, in the offseason. I cut the flexor tendon in my right thumb. That was when I really learned a sinker. After I got cut, I had to learn a new pitch.

“My slider wasn’t the same pitch after that. I had a hard time getting extension with it, getting out front. The cut healed, but the tendon was tight. I think it just took time for the tendon to lengthen. It’s a feel pitch and it just never felt the same. It took a long time, but I’ve got [the slider] back now.

“The good thing is that I gained another pitch. And the sinker isn’t just arm-side run. Once you can learn to locate it back-door, it’s almost like a reverse slider for s lefty. You throw it at the hip and it comes back.”

Drew Pomeranz (Red Sox) on his Curveball

“It would have to be my curveball. Everybody I play with is like, ‘How the hell do you throw that?’ That’s because I flick it forward. I don’t turn my wrist like a normal person does.

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Players’ View: Learning and Developing a Pitch, Part 3

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 third installment of this series, we’ll hear from four pitchers — Anthony Bass, Matt Andriese, and Bobby Poyner — on how they learned and/or developed a specific pitch.

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Anthony Bass (Cubs) on His Splitter

“I learned a split from my friend Matt Shoemaker, who is with the Angels. That’s his out pitch. I picked it up from him, and then when I was overseas in Japan [in 2016], I watched the way they threw their splits and started incorporating that into the way I use mine. It’s started becoming a swing-and-miss pitch for me.

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The Good News About Xander Bogaerts

Xander Bogaerts has been on the major-league scene for so long that it’s easy to forget he’s still just 25 years old, young enough to be considered part of what is perhaps the best crop of young shortstops in the game’s history. He’s had his ups and downs through his four full seasons, with the second half of last year representing a particularly down one.

His recent trip to the disabled list with a non-displaced fracture of the talus bone in his left ankle might seem like a continuation of Bogaerts’ misfortune. But there’s good news: not only is the injury expected to keep Bogaerts sidelined for only 10 to 14 days but the shortstop’s performance to begin the season has rivaled Bryce Harper and Didi Gregorius as one of the young season’s best. What’s more: the underlying indicators suggest that a fundamental change is partially to credit for Bogaerts’ success.

Bogaerts injured the ankle during the seventh inning of Sunday’s 8-7 comeback victory over the Rays. He had mishandled a relay throw from J.D. Martinez, and sped towards the Tampa Bay dugout, on the third-base side of Fenway Park. He stopped the ball before it could roll into the dugout, which would have added another run onto the Rays’ 6-2 lead, but came up limping after sliding into the dugout himself. Adding insult to injury, Joey Wendle, who wound up on third after hitting the Green Monster shot that Martinez relayed, scored on a sacrifice fly anyway once Bogaerts departed, though the Red Sox rallied for six eighth-inning runs to steal the game and climb to 7-1 on the season.

On Friday, Bogaerts had been the hero in the Red Sox’ 10-3 win, driving in six runs with a two-run double and a grand slam, both off Jake Faria. The outburst ran Bogaerts’ league-leading doubles total to seven; throw in his two homers and only Gregorius has more extra-base hits. Through nine games, Bogaerts is hitting .368/.400..711, good for sole ownership or a share of third in the AL in slugging percentage, wRC+ (213), and WAR (0.7).

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Shohei Ohtani and Beyond: a History of Double-Duty Players

Between Shohei Ohtani’s strong six-inning start against the A’s on Sunday and home runs in back-to-back games against the Indians on Tuesday and Wednesday, it’s fair to say that the 23-year-old phenom’s major league career is off to an impressive and unprecedented start. Obviously, it will take much longer before Ohtani’s attempt to star as both a hitter and pitcher can be judged a true success, but as Travis Sawchik pointed out, he has, at the very least, already shown off the tools that created all the hype in the first place– namely the triple-digit heat/nasty splitter/slider combo as a pitcher, as well as the raw power as a hitter.

Ohtani is doing things that haven’t been done at the major league level in nearly a century. Not since June 13-14, 1921 has a player followed up a win as a starting pitcher with a home run as a position player in his next game, and not since 1919 has a player served as both a starting pitcher and position player with any kind of regularity. Both of those feats were accomplished by Babe Ruth, of course. The Bambino spent his final two seasons with the Red Sox, 1918 and 1919, pulling double duty, then made cameos on the mound as a Yankee in 1920, 1921, 1930 and 1933. His last two Yankees pitching appearances came on the final day of the regular season, allowing him no chance to homer the following day. The other three times — including an October 1, 1921 relief appearance — that he pitched, he homered in his next game. Of course he did.

While other players have split time between the mound and position playing in a given season, the majority of them predate Ruth. Combing through the Baseball-Reference Play Index, since the inception of the American League in 1901, 20 players pitched at least 15 times in a season and played a position (besides pinch-hitter) at least 15 times as well; four of them did so twice. Fifteen of those 24 player-seasons predated Ruth, with all but one of those falling between 1901-1909. Only two have occurred since the start of World War II:

Two-Way Seasons Since 1901
Player Year Team G(p) W-L ERA- RA9-WAR Pos G(tot) wRC+ WAR
Dale Gear 1901 Senators 24 4-11 108 1.5 RF 58 53 -1.0
Jock Menefee 1901 Orphans 21 8-12 119 0.6 RF 48 82 0.3
Zaza Harvey 1901 White Sox/Blues 16 3-7 104 0.3 LF/RF 62 124 1.4
Doc White 1902 Phillies 36 16-20 92 3.8 LF 61 89 0.1
Harry Howell 1902 Orioles 26 9-15 110 -0.1 2B/3B/OF 96 90 0.2
Nixey Callahan 1902 White Sox 35 16-14 106 2.3 RF 70 59 -0.6
Jock Menefee 1902 Orphans 22 12-10 90 2.2 RF/1B 65 46 0.1
Watty Lee 1903 Senators 22 8-12 102 0.8 Rf 75 64 -0.3
Bob Wicker 1904 Cubs 30 17-9 101 3.3 CF 50 50 0.3
Otto Hess 1905 Naps 26 10-15 122 0.8 LF 54 102 0.5
Johnny Lush 1906 Phillies 37 18-15 92 0.8 RF/1B 76 93 0.5
Jack Coombs 1908 A’s 26 7-5 82 1.0 RF 78 103 1.0
Doc White 1909 White Sox 24 11-9 74 3.4 CF 72 111 0.7
George Hunter 1909 Superbas 16 4-10 98 0.6 RF 44 81 -0.2
George Sisler 1915 Browns 15 4-4 99 1.1 1B/RF 81 101 0.6
Babe Ruth 1918 Red Sox 20 13-7 84 3.2 LF 95 189 5.2
George Cunningham 1918 Tigers 27 6-7 113 -0.2 RF 56 83 -0.3
Ray Caldwell 1918 Yankees 24 9-8 109 2.0 OF 65 118 0.8
Babe Ruth 1919 Red Sox 17 9-5 96 1.2 LF 130 203 9.4
Johnny Cooney 1924 Braves 34 8-9 87 2.6 CF 55 62 -0.4
Johnny Cooney 1926 Braves 19 3-3 110 -0.4 1B 64 103 0.5
Ossie Orwoll 1928 A’s 27 6-5 112 0.6 1B 64 102 0.7
Earl Naylor 1942 Phillies 20 0-5 187 -1.4 CF 76 39 -1.0
Willie Smith 1964 Angels 15 1-4 83 0.2 LF/RF 118 119 1.7
Minimum 15 games pitched and 15 games at a single position (not pinch-hitter) in the same season

That’s quite a motley assortment, one that will test your knowledge of deadball era team nicknames (the Orphans became the Cubs, the Blues and Naps became the Indians, the Superbas became the Dodgers). As you can see, most of the early two-way players were pretty lousy hitters and nothing special as pitchers, at least within the seasons in question. I’ve highlighted the ones who were better than average at both tasks. A few of these players stand out and deserve worth closer looks.

Zaza Harvey

On name alone, I had to include this guy, though I know almost nothing about him other than his real name (Ervin King Harvey) and the fact that he switched roles due to a trade. After debuting with the Orphans in 1900, he jumped to the White Sox in 1901 and pitched all of his games for them before being purchased by the Blues in mid-August, after which he was exclusively an outfielder; apparently, he requested not to pitch. He hit a sizzling .333/.375/.443 and stole 16 bases in 227 PA as a 22-year-old that year. Illness limited him to 12 games the next year, and he disappeared from baseball entirely.

Doc White

Known by a nickname due to his degree in dentistry from Georgetown University, White was a very good pitcher during a 13-year career that ran from 1901-1913, going 189–156 with a 2.39 ERA (89 ERA-) and 48.9 RA9-WAR. Though he played 85 games in the outfield, he simply wasn’t much of a hitter; baseball history makes no mention of his prowess at filling cavities. As a hurler, he led the NL in strikeout rate in 1902 (5.4 per nine) while serving as the staff ace and occasional left fielder for the seventh-place Phillies, hitting just .202/.331/.232 in 120 PA. He found more success after jumping to the White Sox in 1903, and posted ERAs below 2.00 from 1904-1906. In the first of those years, he reeled off 45 straight scoreless innings via a major league record five consecutive shutouts; he would live to see Don Drysdale break that record 64 years later.

He led the AL with a 1.52 ERA in 1906 and starred in the World Series as the “Hitless Wonder” White Sox upset the Cubs, pitching a complete game in the clincher after earning a three-inning save the day before. The next year, he led the AL with 27 wins in 1907. He spent about six weeks as the White Sox’s regular center fielder in May and June of 1909, posting a .398 OBP for that stretch and hitting .234/.347/.292 in 238 PA on the season before his focus returned to the mound.

Nixey Callahan

Callahan spent 13 years in the majors between 1894 and 1913, winning 20 games twice for the Orphans (1898 and 1899) and totaling 99 wins and 16.8 WAR (18.3 RA9-WAR) as a pitcher. He dabbled at other positions as early as 1897, when he pitched 23 games and made 18 or more appearances at second base, shortstop and in the outfield, and he played a total of 23 games in the pasture in 1902. That year, he threw the first no-hitter in AL history on September 20 against the Tigers, but by then, he was more or less done with pitching; he made just five more starts, three of them in 1903, the year he took over as the White Sox manager.

He led the Sox to a 60-77 record while serving as their regular third baseman, and was replaced as manager by Fielder Jones — who would lead the White Sox to the aforementioned upset of the Cubs — early in 1904. He spent that season and the next as the team’s regular left fielder; over the 1903-05 span, he produced a combined 7.0 WAR while hitting for a 115 wRC+. He missed out on the White Sox’s biggest triumph, spending 1906-10 leading the semipro Logan Squares, much to the consternation of AL president Ban Johnson, then rejoined the Sox as a player in 1911, and as their manager from 1912-14.

Jack Coombs

Coombs pitched a shutout in his July 5, 1906 major league debut for the A’s, and later that year pitched a 24-inning (!) complete game victory against the Red Sox, striking out 18. Perhaps unsurprisingly, he developed arm troubles that limited his effectiveness in 1907, and when A’s right fielder Socks Seybold broke his leg in spring training the following year, manager Connie Mack installed Coombs as his regular. He started hot, but by June he had played his way back to the mound. While he hit just .255/.287/.355 in 235 PA for the full season, he posted a 2.00 ERA over 153 innings the rest of the way. He continued to improve as a pitcher, and in 1910, led the AL with 31 wins (against nine losses) with a 1.30 ERA in 350 innings, setting a record with 53 consecutive scoreless innings along the way and adding three more wins in the A’s World Series victory over the Cubs. Though his ERA shot to 3.53 the next year, he had a league-high 28 wins and helped Philadelphia to another championship.

Later, he helped the 1916 Brooklyn Robins win the NL pennant, and got the team’s lone win in their World Series loss to Ruth and the Red Sox. As his pitching declined, he made a 13-game foray to the outfield for the 1918 Robins, but his .168/.223/.230 line in 122 PA confirms that was the wrong way to go about it.

George Sisler

As a rookie in 1915, Sisler dabbled on the mound, with seven relief appearances and eight starts, six of which were complete games. In one of them, he outdueled Walter Johnson. He hit a thin .285/.307/.369 in 294 PA as a rookie, but soon developed into a contact-hitting machine whose career bridged the dead-and live-ball eras, winning a pair of batting titles with averages above .400 in 1920 (when he set a longstanding record with 257 hits) and 1922 and placing among the league’s top five seven times in that category, mostly before scoring levels got silly. He occasionally took the mound after his rookie season, throwing a total of 41 innings from 1916-1928, but as his career .340/.379/.468 batting line, 2,812 hits and 1939 election to the Hall of Fame attest, he made the right call.

Johnny Cooney

In a 20-year major league career that spanned from 1921-44, with a five-year foray to the minors (1930-34) in between, Cooney did it all: played, coached and managed in both leagues (albeit on an interim basis, with his AL stint confined to one game while Al Lopez attended a funeral). He even umpired a game. He broke in primarily as a pitcher with the Braves, but hot hitting (.379/.414/.394 in 73 PA in 1923) and good defense led to additional work in center field, though he hit a meager .254/.302/.285 in 1924 while throwing 181 innings.

Focused almost entirely on pitching the next year, he set a career high with 245.2 innings while going 14-14 with a 3.48 ERA. And he again hit well enough (.320/.346/.388 in 112 PA) to resume double duty, which came in handy when he was beset with arm trouble that limited his mound work. He hit .302/.367/.357 in 147 PA, primarily as a first baseman, while throwing just 83.1 innings in 1926. He didn’t pitch at all in 1927, and did so only sporadicly from 1928-30, but after his lengthy minor league detour, he returned as a center fielder, first with the Dodgers (1935-37) and then back to the Braves (1938-42), averaging 120 games a year in that capacity from 1936-41. He finished his career with an 86 wRC+ in 3,675 PA and a 95 ERA- in 795.1 innings, totaling 10.9 WAR.

Willie Smith

Of all the players to pull significant double duty, Wonderful Willie Smith is the only one to do so since World War II, and is the only black player to do so. He played his first professional baseball in the post-integration Negro Leagues, with the Birmingham Black Barons, and was good enough to play in the Negro American League’s 1958 and 1959 East-West All-Star Games. As a 22-year-old southpaw, he pitched three scoreless innings of relief and singled in the winning run in the former, and started and hit an inside-the-park homer in the latter.

Signed by the Tigers, he spent 1960-62 in the minors, and got a cup of coffee in 1963, playing a total of 17 games, with 11 on the mound and the balance in pinch-hitting and -running roles. Traded to the Angels in 1964, he pinch-hit and threw 31.2 innings on the mound in 15 appearances, all in May and June, and nearly all in mop-up duty, with a 2.84 ERA. On June 8, manager Bill Rigney sent him to right field in the late innings. “I didn’t dare say I wouldn’t play out there,” Smith later said. Rigney then brought him in to pitch, but he faced three batters and gave up two homers.

After taking one of his four losses in relief on June 13, he started the nightcap of a doubleheader the next day in left field and homered. He made just one more mound appearance that year but became a semi-regular at the outfield corners, hitting .301/.317/.465 with 11 homers and seven steals in 373 PA. He would spend seven more years in the majors, never replicating that success (.248/.295/.395 lifetime) and making just three relief appearances in 1968 as his further mound work. The highlight of his post-double duty career was a game-winning pinch-hit homer for the Cubs on Opening Day in 1969.

As interesting as those players are, their relatively minimal success in one role or the other can’t hold a candle to the expectations for Ohtani. And while the accomplishments of the nascent Ruth in 1918-19 may stand as the closest analogue to what the Angels are attempting, it’s important to understand the on-the-fly nature of Ruth’s journey from star southpaw to Sultan of Swat. After breaking in as a 19-year-old in 1914, Ruth went 65-33 with a 2.02 ERA in 867.2 innings over the next three seasons, topping 20 wins twice, leading the AL with a 1.75 ERA and nine shutouts in 1916 (when he helped the Red Sox beat the Robins in the World Series) and with 35 complete games the following year. Through the end of the 1917 season, he hit .299/.355/.474 (148 wRC+) with nine homers in 405 PA, but his non-pitching work was limited to pinch-hitting.

Ruth was the Red Sox’s Opening Day starter on April 15, 1918, and started four times that month, with two pinch-hitting appearances thrown in as well. After another start on May 4, during which he hit his first home run of the season, he started Boston’s next game, on May 6, as a first baseman, batting sixth. He homered. He tied the major league record by homering again in his third straight game, and thereafter his pitching was sporadic. He made just two more starts on the mound that month, one in June (when he hit eight of his MLB-leading 11 homers), and three in July, then eight in August, the season’s final month; due to World War I, the regular season ended on September 2, and the World Series, in which Ruth beat the Cubs twice, ended on September 11.

In 1919, Ruth started nine times in May and June, but just six times the rest of the way; after he tied the major league record with nine homers in July (against just three starts on the mound), he took the hill just once in August and twice in September. He finished the year hitting .322/456/.657 with 29 homers, a record he would demolish in 1920, with 54 homers, and then 59 the following year. You don’t need me to tell you that part of the story.

Here’s a breakdown of Ruth’s 1918-19:

Babe Ruth in Transition, 1918-19
Year P LF CF 1B
1918 19 46 11 13
1919 15 106 0 5
SOURCE: Baseball-Reference
Totals are only for games started at each position

Even working within the Angels’ planned six-man rotation, Ohtani figures to surpass Ruth in games started; our Depth Charts forecast has him down for 24 (one to date plus 23 for the rest of his season). If he’s DHing three times a week, that’s another 78 starts, and while that may be less taxing than playing the field for nine innings, it’s also true that the caliber of competition he’s facing is much higher.

We’ve grappled with other ways of looking at players who have spent time as both pitchers and hitters, but we’re really in uncharted territory with Ohtani. And while the hype may be a bit much to endure, based on what we’ve seen so far, this promises to be a fun and fascinating ride. Buckle up.


Top 19 Prospects: Boston Red Sox

Below is an analysis of the prospects in the farm system of the Boston Red Sox. Scouting reports are compiled with information provided by industry sources as well as from our own (both Eric Longenhagen’s and Kiley McDaniel’s) observations. For more information on the 20-80 scouting scale by which all of our prospect content is governed you can click here. For further explanation of the merits and drawbacks of Future Value, read this.

We’d also like to extend our condolences to the friends and family of the late Daniel Flores, as well as the Red Sox international scouting department. We were excited to watch Daniel play baseball and can’t imagine what those who anticipated watching him grow up have dealt with since his untimely passing.

Red Sox Top Prospects
Rk Name Age High Level Position ETA FV
1 Michael Chavis 22 AA 1B 2018 50
2 Jay Groome 19 A LHP 2021 50
3 Tanner Houck 21 A- RHP 2019 45
4 Sam Travis 24 MLB 1B 2018 45
5 Bryan Mata 18 A RHP 2021 45
6 Jalen Beeks 24 AAA LHP 2018 45
7 Darwinzon Hernandez 21 A LHP 2021 45
8 Danny Diaz 17 R 3B 2022 40
9 Mike Shawaryn 23 A+ RHP 2019 40
10 Cole Brannen 19 A- OF 2022 40
11 Bobby Dalbec 22 A 3B 2021 40
12 Josh Ockimey 22 AA 1B 2020 40
13 C.J. Chatham 23 A SS 2020 40
14 Ty Buttrey 25 AAA RHP 2018 40
15 Alex Scherff 20 R RHP 2022 40
16 Tzu-Wei Lin 24 MLB UTIL 2018 40
17 Joan Martinez 21 R RHP 2021 40
18 Roniel Raudes 20 A+ RHP 2020 40
19 Bobby Poyner 25 MLB LHP 2018 40

50 FV Prospects

Drafted: 1st Round, 2014 from Sprayberry HS (GA)
Age 21 Height 5’10 Weight 210 Bat/Throw R/R
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Hit Raw Power Game Power Run Fielding Throw
30/40 65/65 50/60 40/40 40/45 55/55

If you were to look just at Chavis’s 2016 stats and with the knowledge that he was only a viable defensive fit at first base, you’d call him a non-prospect. This dip in production was brought about by a broken finger, and in 2017, Chavis was back to taking monster hacks that produce comfortably plus raw power. He’s going to strike out, and he isn’t especially patient, but he has a good chance to get to most of that power and do enough damage to profile at first base. Chavis has the arm for third base but lacks the horizontal mobility to profile there in a vacuum. Boston has shown a willingness to put up with less lateral range on their infield, but a left side of the infield which features Chavis and Xander Bogaerts together is probably too heavy-footed for comfort, even with proactive defensive positioning. Chavis projects to first base and has dealt with an oblique injury this spring.

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A Happy, Healthy Hanley Ramirez?

Hanley Ramirez hit 23 home runs “with one arm” in 2017.
(Photo: Keith Allison)

It’s not a stretch to say that Hanley Ramirez’s four-year, $88 million contract with the Red Sox hasn’t worked out well through its first three years. He’s moved off of shortstop to unfamiliar positions at which he’s struggled, namely left field (2015) and first base (2016). He’s battled injuries — particularly problems with both shoulders — to the point of averaging just 128 games per year. And in two of his three seasons, he’s finished with a sub-zero WAR (-1.7 in 2015, -0.4 last year). With the addition of J.D. Martinez to the crowded Boston roster, he stands to lose playing time. Even so, his chipper disposition in this Boston Herald piece earlier this week was eye-catching, even if it marks the 34-year-old slugger’s entry into the “Best Shape of His Life” genre.

After hitting just .242/.320/.429 with 23 homers and a 93 wRC+ last year, Ramirez underwent surgery to debride his left shoulder (the one that required season-ending surgery in 2011) in November. He spent the winter working out with Martinez in Miami, reported to camp (allegedly) 15 pounds lighter thanks to a new diet and fitness regimen, and has been playing first base in Grapefruit League games with no reported difficulties. Via the Herald‘s Mike Silverman, Ramirez has been telling reporters he’ll go 30-30 this year — 30 homers and 30 steals, a pairing he achieved in 2008 after missing by one homer the year before. It certainly seems unlikely given that he stole just one base last year and has needed the past four seasons to total exactly 30.

Nobody’s about to bet on that. The big question is how much playing time he’ll get under new manager Alex Cora, who will have his hands full. With an outfield of 23-year-old Andrew Benintendi in left, 28-year-old Jackie Bradley in center, and 25-year-old Mookie Betts in right — a defensively adept group that combined for 48 DRS and 26 UZR last year — it’s not like it makes a ton of sense to shoehorn Martinez (-8 UZR in rightfield last year, -5.8 per 150 games in the two corners career-wise) into an outfield corner instead of DH-ing him. Perhaps the lefty-swinging Benintendi’s struggles against same-side pitching (60 wRC+ in 140 career PA) provide an opening, albeit at the risk of impeding the younger player’s development and forcing Martinez to play the Green Monster. The Red Sox have discussed what amounts to a home-road platoon with Martinez-Bradley-Betts at Fenway and Benintendi-Betts-Martinez elsewhere, but that’s a lot of time riding pine for Bradley as well as Benintendi, who just a year ago was touted as a Rookie of the Year candidate.

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