Archive for Rockies

Descalso and Avila Hurl Their Way into Weird History

Even in these days of bloated, 13-man pitching staffs, it’s not uncommon for a position player to take the mound. With the season roughly halfway done, there have been 30 outings by position players thus far — not including two-way phenom Shohei Ohtani, who’s in a class by himself — which means we’re almost certain to see what, at the very least, is an expansion-era record (more on which momentarily). Despite that increasing commonality, Wednesday night brought a rarity that’s worth appreciating — a few of them, in fact — in the Rockies’ 19-2 trouncing of the Diamondbacks (box).

Yes, it was a game at Coors Field, where wackiness reigns thanks to the high altitude, and unfortunately, the circumstances were triggered by an injury. Diamondbacks starter Shelby Miller, making just his fourth major-league start since returning from Tommy John surgery, was lit up for five first-inning runs via two walks and four hits, the most important coming in the form of an Ian Desmond homer.

Though he completed the inning, Miller needed 37 pitches — a bit extreme given his recent injury, but take it up with manager Torey Lovullo — and began feeling elbow tightness by the end of his abbreviated stint. Reliever Jorge De La Rosa, who knows all about the horrors of Coors Field as he spent nine freakin’ years (2008-16) calling it home, came on in relief and allowed four runs in the second inning and three in the third via homers by Charlie Blackmon and Carlos Gonzalez. He got the hook with two outs and the Diamondbacks trailing 12-1. While T.J. Mcfarland got the final out of the third, Lovullo pulled him due to stiffness in his neck, and then Yoshihisa Hirano allowed four straight hits and three runs after retiring Desmond to start the fourth.

At that point, Lovullo effectively said, “To hell with this,” and called upon second baseman Daniel Descalso — who had already pitched four times in his nine-year major-league career, including May 4 of this year against the Astros — to take the hill, with Chris Owings coming off the bench to play second base. It didn’t go well at first, Nolan Arenado greeting Descalso with an RBI single and then Gonzalez following with a three-run homer, bringing the score to 18-1. Fortunately, Descalso settled down and wore it like a champ, lasting 2.2 innings and 36 pitches and retiring eight of the next 11 batters he faced, with the only run in that span arriving via a solo homer by pitcher German Marquez.

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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.


Did Jon Gray Deserve His Demotion to the Minors?

In one sense, Jon Gray’s 2018 season has been pretty successful. He’s struck out 29% of the batters he’s faced this year, for example, which ranks 12th among 90 qualified starters. His walk rate, at 7%, sits in the top third for starters. His home-run rate of 1.1 per nine innings is right in the middle of the pack among that sample, too, as are his 92 innings.

That’s he’s done of his work at elevation in Colorado makes those numbers even more impressive. His 3.07 FIP has produced a 2.5 WAR, one of the top 15 figures in baseball. Unfortunately, the Rockies haven’t received the benefit of that good pitching. In fact, Gray’s 5.77 ERA ranks 88th out 90 starters. The massive difference between his ERA and FIP would represent the largest such disparity in baseball history, and it was of sufficient concern to the Rockies to send Gray to Triple-A.

Not too long ago, Jay Jaffe wrote a piece on Jon Lester, whose season was also busting historical norms. Lester’s ERA was significantly lower than his FIP. So far this season, Gray is Lester’s opposite. The graph below shows every pitcher’s FIP and ERA this season.

You can see Jon Lester over there on the left on his own. If you go to the right, you can see Jon Gray with nobody even close to him. It should be evident that, in the middle, most players are reasonably close when it comes to ERA and FIP. The average differential per player 0.53. Of the 88 ERA and FIP pairs in this sample, 77 are within one run. So far this season, Gray’s 2.69 ERA-FIP is roughly double the player closest to him, as the table below shows.

Biggest ERA-FIP Gaps, 2018
Name Team ERA FIP E-F
Jon Gray Rockies 5.77 3.08 2.69
Jason Hammel Royals 5.56 4.20 1.37
Lance Lynn Twins 5.49 4.37 1.12
Sonny Gray Yankees 5.44 4.39 1.05
Nick Pivetta Phillies 4.71 3.68 1.03
Luke Weaver Cardinals 5.16 4.22 0.93
Vince Velasquez Phillies 4.69 3.81 0.87
Luis Castillo Reds 5.85 5.03 0.82
Carlos Carrasco Indians 4.24 3.42 0.82
Zack Wheeler Mets 4.47 3.66 0.80
Qualified starting pitchers.

That isn’t just remarkable for this season. Since 1901, here are the biggest differences among qualified pitchers.

Largest ERA-FIP Since 1901
Name Team Season ERA FIP E-F
Jon Gray Rockies 2018 5.77 3.08 2.69
Jack Knott Browns 1936 7.29 5.16 2.12
George Caster Athletics 1940 6.56 4.52 2.04
Hub Pruett Phillies 1927 6.05 4.11 1.94
Chris Bosio Brewers 1987 5.24 3.38 1.86
John Burkett Rangers 1998 5.68 3.89 1.78
Bert Blyleven Twins 1988 5.43 3.66 1.77
Joe Oeschger Braves 1923 5.68 3.91 1.77
Ernie Wingard Browns 1927 6.56 4.80 1.76
Bobo Newsom – – – 1942 4.73 2.99 1.74
Ricky Nolasco Marlins 2009 5.06 3.35 1.71
Early Wynn Senators 1942 5.12 3.42 1.70
Jack Lamabe Red Sox 1964 5.89 4.21 1.68
Rick Wise Phillies 1968 4.55 2.89 1.66
Pol Perritt Cardinals 1913 5.25 3.59 1.66
Qualified starting pitchers.

There are a few Hall of Famers on that list in Blyleven and Wynn, but nobody comes close to what Gray has done thus far. Just to get a few more familiar names, here’s the same list since 1995.

Largest ERA-FIP Since 1995
Name Team Season ERA FIP E-F
Jon Gray Rockies 2018 5.77 3.08 2.69
John Burkett Rangers 1998 5.68 3.89 1.78
Ricky Nolasco Marlins 2009 5.06 3.35 1.71
Jaime Navarro White Sox 1997 5.79 4.21 1.59
Jose Mercedes Orioles 2001 5.82 4.32 1.51
LaTroy Hawkins Twins 1999 6.66 5.16 1.50
Edinson Volquez – – – 2013 5.71 4.24 1.47
Nate Robertson Tigers 2008 6.35 4.99 1.36
Derek Lowe Braves 2011 5.05 3.70 1.35
Clay Buchholz Red Sox 2014 5.34 4.01 1.33
Jose Jimenez Cardinals 1999 5.85 4.53 1.32
Zack Greinke Royals 2005 5.80 4.49 1.31
Mike Oquist Athletics 1998 6.22 4.93 1.30
Qualified starting pitchers.

There are some good pitchers on this list, too, including Zack Greinke. The odds are against Gray maintaining such a high difference. With half a season to go, Gray’s ERA is likely to be considerably closer to his FIP moving forward. If, the rest of the way, Gray’s FIP is one run lower than his ERA like it was in 2016, his ERA will end up right around Chris Bosio’s 1.86 number from 1988. If Gray’s ERA is half a run higher than his FIP like it was last year, he’ll end up with something close to Jaime Navarro’s 1.59 from 1997 and not even crack the top-15 all-time.

As we are getting close to the All-Star Break, it might be useful to take a look at the biggest half-season differences from our splits leaderboards, which go back to 2002. Here are the biggest first-half differences for pitchers with at least 70 first-half innings.

Largest ERA-FIP by Half Since 2002
Name Team Season 1st Half IP 1st Half ERA 1st Half FIP 1st Half ERA-FIP
Glendon Rusch MIL 2003 82.1 8.09 4.38 3.71
Jon Gray COL 2018 92.0 5.77 3.08 2.69
Tim Lincecum SFG 2012 96.2 6.42 4.01 2.42
Ubaldo Jimenez BAL 2016 79.1 7.03 4.63 2.40
Zack Greinke MIL 2011 74.1 5.45 3.05 2.40
Colby Lewis TEX 2014 84.0 6.54 4.17 2.37
Ricky Nolasco FLA 2009 90.2 5.76 3.56 2.20
Jake Arrieta BAL 2012 101.1 6.13 4.04 2.09
Edwin Jackson TBD 2007 74.1 7.26 5.19 2.07
John Lackey BOS 2011 79.0 6.84 4.84 2.00
Manny Parra MIL 2009 71.2 6.78 4.80 1.98
Ryan Dempster CIN 2003 96.0 6.75 4.78 1.97
Sidney Ponson BAL 2004 113.0 6.29 4.35 1.94
Edinson Volquez SDP 2013 109.2 5.74 3.85 1.89
AVERAGE 89.0 6.54 4.28 2.26
Min. 70 IP

That was quite a performance from Glendon Rusch. He would actually go on to have a couple productive seasons as a Cubs swingman, but 2003 might have soured the Brewers on his future. Scanning the list for similar performances to Gray, another Brewer, Zach Greinke, sticks out with a near-identical FIP to Gray this season. As the average indicates, we have roughly average to maybe below-average pitchers by FIP accompanied by horrendous ERAs. The next table shows how those players performed in the second half.

Second-Half Performance for Largest ERA-FIP
Name Team Season 1st Half FIP 1st Half ERA-FIP 2nd Half IP 2nd Half ERA 2nd Half FIP 2nd Half ERA-FIP
Glendon Rusch MIL 2003 4.38 3.71 18.0 4.00 2.14 1.86
Tim Lincecum SFG 2012 4.01 2.42 89.1 3.83 4.36 -0.53
Ubaldo Jimenez BAL 2016 4.63 2.40 52.2 2.39 3.60 -1.21
Zack Greinke MIL 2011 3.05 2.40 97.1 2.59 2.92 -0.33
Colby Lewis TEX 2014 4.17 2.37 86.1 3.86 4.75 -0.89
Ricky Nolasco FLA 2009 3.56 2.20 94.1 4.39 3.15 1.24
Jake Arrieta BAL 2012 4.04 2.09 0.0 0.00
Edwin Jackson TBD 2007 5.19 2.07 86.1 4.48 4.62 -0.14
John Lackey BOS 2011 4.84 2.00 81.0 6.00 4.58 1.42
Manny Parra MIL 2009 4.80 1.98 68.1 5.93 4.96 0.97
Ryan Dempster CIN 2003 4.78 1.97 16.2 6.48 6.63 -0.15
Sidney Ponson BAL 2004 4.35 1.94 102.2 4.21 4.54 -0.33
Edinson Volquez SDP 2013 3.85 1.89 59.2 5.73 4.98 0.75
AVERAGE 4.28 2.26 66.0 4.49 4.27 0.20
Min. 70 IP.

As we might expect, the players’ first-half FIPs line up pretty well with their second-half FIPs. What’s interesting is that the second-half ERAs also line up pretty well with the FIPs from both the first and second halves. While this is what we would expect to see, it’s nice to have it show up so neatly.

One problem the above doesn’t solve is why Gray’s FIP, specfically, is so much lower than his ERA. A portion of the responsibility goes to his home park. Pitchers routinely post higher ERAs than FIPs in Coors Field because BABIP is a lot higher in Coors Field. Balls in play are not incorporated into FIP, so larger swings, like the one we see at Coors Field, are going to drive up ERA a bit. That only explains a very small portion of Gray’s differential, though. For the rest, please see the graph below depicting BABIP and left-on-base percentages for all qualified starting pitchers.

Previous research indicates that a vast majority of the difference between FIP and ERA is due to two factors, the two stats seen in the table above: BABIP and LOB%. Gray is the worst in both, about 50 points clear in BABIP and with few peers in LOB% this season.

A really poor BABIP might be an indicator that Gray is no longer an MLB-caliber pitcher. The rest of his stats say otherwise, however. Per Baseball Savant, his expected BABIP is about 50 points lower than his actual figure. As league-wide expected BABIP is about 20 points higher than actual BABIP, even once you factor in Coors Field, Gray’s BABIP is about 50 points too high based on the quality of contact, leaving the rest to luck and defense.

As for left-on-base percentage, if it were really high, we might think that perhaps Gray has trouble pitching with runners on base and that Gray’s 1.91 FIP with bases empty compared to 4.67 with runners on — and his .274 xwOBA with bases empty compared to .334 with runners on — speaks to the same issue. However, the latter number is roughly average for the league regarding xwOBA and pretty close to average for FIP once Coors Field is factored in. Jeff Zimmerman theorized that the issue might be pitching meatballs behind in the count, but even Gray’s numbers behind in the count are similar to an average pitcher in those situations. His velocity has been down in his last few starts. Ben Lindbergh noted the absence of competitive pitches from Gray this season. However, none of those theories explains a league-worst left-on-base rate or the massively high BABIP. The Rockies would have to keep Gray in Triple-A the rest of the season to game his service time, so that is an unlikely motivation, although if he hits the disabled list in the minors he would not accrue MLB service time like he would if he were DL’d now and something more serious was discovered.

Jon Gray is performing historically so far, but not in the way he would like. Now he’s pitching in a city he’d probably prefer not to. Based on the past history of others, as well as himself, there seems to be a pretty good chance — absent injury — that his ERA is going to be headed downward soon even if the big-league Rockies won’t be seeing the benefit of that downturn at the moment.


Why Can’t the Rockies Put Together an Outfield?

This past Saturday, with the FanGraphs staff in attendance at Coors Field, the Rockies honored their 25th anniversary team, which was selected last December. The pregame ceremony was a chance for fans to cheer franchise favorites such as Todd Helton, Larry Walker and Ellis Burks — and a missed opportunity as well, because given the state of the Rockies’ offense, you might be forgiven for thinking that those old-timers could outplay the team’s current regulars. Save for a four-game sweep during which they piled up 37 runs on the hapless Mets, the Rockies have gone 4-17 since May 29, falling from first place to fourth in the NL West race at 38-42.

I kid about the old-timers, but not entirely. As I sat in the Captain’s Deck in high right field, viewing the sprawling expanse of grass while chatting with my colleagues, I conceded for the umpteenth time that I simply don’t know why the Rockies can’t assemble a productive outfield. I’ve puzzled over it at Sports Illustrated. I’ve puzzled over it on a weekly basis in my FanGraphs chats. Now I’ve puzzled over it in person, and I still have more questions than answers.

The current unit, which primarily consists of Gerardo Parra in left, Charlie Blackmon in center and Carlos Gonzalez in right, entered Wednesday hitting .274/.326/.437, which wouldn’t be awful if it were produced at sea level, but their 90 wRC+ ranks 14th among NL outfields. Because of the club’s home park, there’s a lot of air in those raw numbers; the Padres’ outfield is at 96 wRC+ based on a .251/.312/.397 line. The Rockies look even worse when defense is brought into the equation, as that trio — plus Noel Cuevas, David Dahl, Ian Desmond and Mike Tauchman, the others they’ve used — has combined for -6 UZR (10th in the league), and lest you think they’ve been shortchanged by that metric, their -26 DRS is dead last by five runs. It’s UZR that’s included in our version of WAR, and even with that more favorable number, their 0.6 WAR is last as well. (All stats through Tuesday unless otherwise indicated.)

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The Rockies Have a Historic Void

The Rockies advanced to the postseason last year (albeit only for a brief stay) for the fourth time in club history, and they did it in a manner uncommon for them: through pitching.

The Rockies ranked eighth in pitching WAR (18.6) in the majors last season and seventh in ERA- (90). The mark tied the 2007 club, which advanced to the World Series, for the best ERA- in their history, and it was just the eighth time the club has been better than average off the mound when adjusting for park and league run-scoring environments.

The Rockies, 23-20 entering play Wednesday, are following a similar path this year, ranking seventh in pitching WAR (4.8) and fourth in the NL. They have a 96 ERA-.

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Top 22 Prospects: Colorado Rockies

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

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

Rockies Top Prospects
Rk Name Age High Level Position ETA FV
1 Brendan Rodgers 21 AA SS 2019 60
2 Riley Pint 20 A RHP 2021 50
3 Ryan McMahon 23 MLB 1B 2018 50
4 Ryan Vilade 19 A 3B 2022 45
5 Colton Welker 20 A+ 3B 2021 45
6 Yency Almonte 23 AAA RHP 2018 45
7 Forrest Wall 22 A+ CF 2019 45
8 Garrett Hampson 23 AA 2B 2019 45
9 Tyler Nevin 20 A+ 3B 2021 45
10 Peter Lambert 20 AA RHP 2020 45
11 Ryan Castellani 22 AA RHP 2019 45
12 Breiling Eusebio 21 A LHP 2021 40
13 Dom Nunez 23 AA C 2019 40
15 Will Gaddis 22 A RHP 2020 40
14 Robert Tyler 21 A RHP 2020 40
16 Sam Hilliard 24 AA OF 2020 40
17 Jordan Patterson 26 MLB LF 2019 40
18 Vince Fernandez 22 A+ OF 2020 40
19 Sam Howard 25 R LHP 2018 40
20 Chad Spanberger 22 A 1B 2021 40
21 Tom Murphy 27 MLB 1B 2018 40
22 Daniel Montano 19 R CF 2022 40

60 FV Prospects

Drafted: 1st Round, 2015 from Lake Mary HS (FL)
Age 20 Height 6’0 Weight 180 Bat/Throw R/R
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Hit Raw Power Game Power Run Fielding Throw
30/50 60/60 40/55 50/45 40/50 55/55

After demolishing the Cal League last year (as was expected), Rodgers had a solid 38-game run at Double-A. He turned 21 in August. He’s hit everywhere he’s been since high school and continues to look fine, if unspectacular, at shortstop. He’s above average in every way at the plate (the bat control, power, feel for opposite-field contact, ability to punish mistakes), which means he’s got a good chance to be an All-Star if he stays at shortstop, and it looks like he’s going to.

50 FV Prospects

2. Riley Pint, RHP
Drafted: 1st Round, 2016 from St. Thomas Aquinas HS (KS)
Age 19 Height 6’4 Weight 195 Bat/Throw R/R
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Fastball Slider Curveball Changeup Command
70/70 50/55 60/65 50/60 30/45

Pint was identified as a potential high-first-round pick as a high school underclassman, showing mid-90s velocity and a long, lanky, athletic frame in tournaments. He remained an elite arm over the next few years, going fourth overall in 2016 and continuing to show some of the best stuff on the planet, including two 70s and two 60s on some days.

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Kyle Freeland Is Succeeding with Elevation

If one were to assemble a list of the major-league pitchers whose strengths are most well suited to surviving in Colorado, Kyle Freeland would appear among that collection of names — in particular, because he possesses both a good sinker and strong command. The sinker is important for inducing ground balls, which cause much less damage than balls in the air at Coors, due both to the altitude at which the park rests and the spacious outfield it contains. Command is important not only because mistake pitches are punished more swiftly at Coors, but also because walks tend to amplify the consequences of those mistakes.

Kyle Freeland had a modestly successful rookie season a year ago, getting a lot of ground balls and putting together a 4.57 FIP, perfectly average when factoring in his ballpark. He struggled a little to start the season, but over his last four starts, he’s defied the Coors Field stereotype by abandoning his sinking fastball and pitching up in the zone. So far, it is working.

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Job Posting: Rockies Research and Development Data Engineer

Position: Data Engineer

Description:

The Rockies are looking for a Data Engineer to join their Research and Development team. The successful candidate will be responsible for expanding and optimizing their data warehouse and data pipeline architecture, with a focus on collecting, cleaning, transforming, managing and validating data using distributed computing and storage systems. The goal of the Data Engineer is to democratize data, support data initiatives, ensure consistent data delivery and empower Rockies personnel to derive powerful and actionable insights.

Responsibilities and Duties:

  • Create, maintain and optimize data ETL/ELT pipelines
  • Documentation of data/pipelines
  • Ensure the ingestion of data and errors are handled without interruption
  • Process and securely store extremely sensitive data for callback and future use
  • Prepare distributed, disjoint, multi-formatted data sets for data scientists
  • Research and investigate new and interesting datasets to include in our data warehouse
  • Perform quantitative research related to baseball strategy and player evaluation
  • Collaborate with coaches, scouts and baseball operations to suggest process improvements

Requirements:

Education and Work Experience

  • Bachelor’s degree in Computer Science/Engineering
    • Candidates still in school (junior or senior level) with extensive work towards such degree will be considered
  • SQL knowledge and experience working with a variety of relational databases such as MySQL, PostgreSQL, or SQL Server
  • Experience with a variety of structured, semi-structured and un-structured data formats including delimited files, XML, JSON and natural language text
  • Ability to effectively use multiple programming languages including one of the major data science languages of Python, R or Scala
  • Experience or working knowledge of “Big Data” tools such as Hadoop, Hive, Spark or Presto is a plus
  • Experience with AWS Cloud services such as EC2, RDS, and S3 is a plus
  • Experience with data workflow tools such as Luigi, or Airflow is a plus
  • Knowledge and understanding of baseball and baseball statistics

Functional Skills

  • Ability to work evenings and weekends required
  • Passion for the intersection of baseball and data
  • Passion for quality data
  • Strong organizational skills and ability to self-start
  • Strong intellectual curiosity
  • Desire to learn and contribute
  • Ability to work in a collaborative and open team environment
  • Ability to develop and maintain successful working relationship with members of the Front Office

To Apply:
Qualified candidates should send their letter of interest and resume to BaseballJobs@rockies.com no later than June 3, 2018.


You Can’t Blame Tanking for the Lack of Competitive Teams

Tanking is a problem. Professional sports like baseball are built on the assumption that both sides are trying to win. Organizations putting forth less than their best efforts hurts the integrity of the sport and provides fans with little reason to engage. That said, the perception of tanking might have overtaken the reality of late. Competitive imbalance is not the same as tanking. Sometimes teams are just bad, even if they are trying not to be.

Tanking concerns are not new. Two years ago, just after the Astros and Cubs had turned their teams around, the Phillies were attempting to dismantle their roster by trading Cole Hamels. The Braves had traded multiple players away from a team that had been competitive. The Brewers, who traded away Carlos Gomez, would soon do the same with Jonathan Lucroy after he rebuilt his trade value.

The Braves, Brewers, and Phillies all sold off whatever assets they could. Two years later, though, those clubs aren’t mired in last place. Rather, they’re a combined 54-37 and projected to win around 80 games each this season in what figures to be a competitive year for each. While the Braves and Phillies could and/or should have done more this offseason to improve their rosters, neither resorted to an extreme level of failure, and the teams are better today than they would have been had they not rebuilt. While accusations of tanking dogged each, none of those clubs descended as far as either the Astros or Cubs. None came close to the NBA-style tank jobs many feared.

One might suspect that I’ve cherry-picked the three clubs mentioned above, purposely selecting teams with surprising early-season success to prop up a point about the relatively innocuous effects of tanking. That’s not what I’ve done, though. Rather, I’ve highlighted the three teams Buster Olney cited by name two years ago — and which Dave Cameron also addressed — in a piece on tanking.

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Adam Ottavino Rebuilt Himself in a Vacant Manhattan Storefront

Between West 124th and 125th Streets on St. Nicholas Ave. in Harlem rests a street-level commercial space situated between a Dollar Tree and a Chuck E. Cheese’s, and it is where Adam Ottavino might have saved his career last winter.

The space was a solution to a problem. He lived in the city in the offseason with his wife and two-year-old daughter. In previous offseasons, he had traveled out to Long Island to work and throw at a facility, but the commute and practice time away was beginning to strain his family.

Moreover, Ottavino’s previous throwing partner, Steven Matz, had left the city and moved Nashville, Tenn., after becoming engaged. Finding a throwing partner and facility in Manhattan, the most prized real estate in the country, wasn’t easy. He knew Matt Harvey was one of a few major-league pitchers living in the city in the offseason, so he asked Harvey if he was interested in finding a place to throw, but Harvey declined.

“At that point, I was kind of screwed,” Ottavino said. “I didn’t know what to do.”

Ottavino, a Brooklyn native, required a productive offseason. He was left off the Rockies’ Wild Card roster weeks earlier after an awful 2017 season when he walked nearly seven batters per nine innings, leading to a 16% walk rate. He was in the final year of his contract. He had spent some time at Driveline Baseball after the season ended. He thought he had now had some solutions. He had bought tens of thousands of dollars worth of equipment with which to try and make himself a better pitcher. But he needed a place to experiment.

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DJ LeMahieu Is Up to Something

PITTSBURGH — As defensive shifts — or, at least, infields shifts — have become an everyday part of the game, it takes a lot to get our attention. The Diamondbacks’ shift against Rockies second baseman DJ LeMahieu last season got our attention.

In case you’ve forgotten, borrowing from a post from last season detailing the alignment:

That gets our attention.

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No One Is Doing What Adam Ottavino Is Doing

A favorite question of the baseball audience is, when does a small sample start to have meaning? There are a few general rules of thumb, but in large part it’s still a question, I think, because there is no perfect answer. It can be a gut thing, or it can be a matter of magnitude. I don’t care if a batter starts out 6-for-10 with three home runs. I’d care a lot more if a batter were to start out 8-for-10 with six home runs. Some performances over small samples are so very good — or so very bad — that there almost has to be signal. Even over a short amount of time, it’s hard for a player to fluke his way into the extremes.

Over the winter, the Rockies invested heavily in their bullpen. You could argue they invested *too* heavily, but, well, this is the bullpen era, and you’d figure the Rockies, of all teams, might need to keep theirs both deep and refreshed. It’s a bullpen with plenty of interesting arms, but the most important reliever might be Adam Ottavino. In the past, Ottavino has been genuinely dominant. Last season, he came off the rails, with a walk rate of 16%. With a bad Ottavino, the Colorado bullpen might not be a strength. With a good Ottavino, it would go four or five deep.

It’s early. But, as early as it is, Ottavino has faced 34 batters, and he’s struck out 22 of them. He’s walked one guy, he’s allowed one run, and he’s given up two hits. Nearly half of all swing attempts against Ottavino have missed. Nearly half of all swing attempts against Ottavino pitches in the strike zone have missed. Only Josh Hader might rival what Ottavino has done. This is a small sample that’s so good, it’s crying out to be investigated.

The results are almost unbelievable. It turns out Ottavino also has an exceptional process.

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Charlie Blackmon Decides Not to Deal With Doubt

I don’t know if Charlie Blackmon is baseball’s most underrated player. Probably not. There are a lot of very good players. But just in case you don’t know exactly what’s up: Last season, Blackmon finished ninth among position players in WAR. Over the past three seasons, Blackmon has ranked 22nd, between George Springer and Kyle Seager. Blackmon is a center fielder who just finished with a top-30 expected wOBA. The year before that, he was in the top 40. Charlie Blackmon is very good, and, depending on your own personal thresholds, you might well say that Charlie Blackmon is great. He’s been lined up to be a part of the upcoming massive free-agent market.

But Blackmon has decided to take himself off the market entirely. Or, the team and the agency have decided, with Blackmon’s final approval. You don’t often see premium free agents sign extensions so close to the end of a contract, but Blackmon has agreed to an extra five years with the Rockies, with a $94-million guarantee. It’s more complicated than that, but the take-home point is that Blackmon is going to stick around in Colorado. Clearly, he’s fond of it there, and he’d hardly be the first player to decide that free agency appears less appealing than it used to.

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Players’ View: Learning and Developing a Pitch, Part 2

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 second installment of this series — Part 1 can be found here — we’ll hear from three pitchers — Kyle Freeland, Jim Johnson, and Kris Medlen — on how they learned and/or developed a specific pitch.

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Kyle Freeland (Rockies) on His Changeup

“I never really threw a changeup in college. When I got into pro ball, that was our main focus to help me develop throughout the minors and get to this point. We had to find a grip that I was comfortable enough with to throw it in any count.

“It took some time. I probably went through half a dozen different grips before I finally found one that fits me, that works with my arm slot and my arm speed. It wasn’t until the end of last season that I finally found what I think works best. I had one that was working well for awhile, but it kind of tapered off. I wasn’t really comfortable throwing it off my ring finger and my pinky finger.

“I’ve switched to more of a full-grip changeup, to where it’s all the way in my hand. I feel more comfortable throwing it like a fastball, and I’m also getting better action with it. I throw it just like my two-seam fastball and it’s coming out with about an 8-to-10 mph difference to it. At the start, my changeup velo was only about a 5 mph difference unless I slowed down my arm. With the new grip, I can keep the same arm speed.

“I have it deep in and most of the pressure is on my middle finger, on the inside of the seam, where I can really feel myself turn it over and get the rotation that I want. One of my focus points when I’m throwing that pitch is to make sure I get pronation over the seam.

“When I was messing with grips, I talked to different players. I talked to Jon Gray about his. I talked to Chad Bettis, who has a really good changeup. He showed me his grip, and where he puts some pressure, and that kind of helped me form my own sort of grip and what I was comfortable with.”

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Jim Johnson (Angels) on His Sinker

“Everybody’s story is a little bit different, but when guys get to the big leagues they’re usually trying to get used to the ball. The ball is a little different than in the minor leagues, and pitching is a lot of feel, so pitchers are always messing around with grips. I didn’t really throw a sinker until I got to the big leagues, and it’s pretty much been my main pitch since I got here.

“I started throwing a sinker in 2008. I started throwing it because I needed something to get more contact outs, instead of having long at-bats and so on and so forth. Having a sinker that I can throw bottom of zone and get an early ground ball is kind of how it started. Then I kind of learned how to pitch off of that, moving the ball around, this that and the other.

“The sinker was a suggestion from Dave Schmidt, who’d pitched for the Rangers, Orioles and a few other teams. We were working together in the offseason. At the time, he was the Orioles’ minor-league pitching coordinator, but he lived in Sarasota and so did I. It wasn’t like we sat there and messed around with grips or anything. It was basically about how to use it, and I went from there. It’s just a traditional two-seam grip. There’s nothing crazy about it.

“With a two-seamer, you have to know that where it starts isn’t going to be where it finishes. And on certain days it might sink more, while on other days it might run more. It’s about knowing how to read it on a given day, and being able to move it around and locate whatever you’re working with on that single day. A lot of that is feel, and trial and error.”

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Kris Medlen (Diamondbacks) on His Cutter

“Just in the last couple of years, I’ve thrown a cutter. I felt I needed something that was a little more unique for me, something hitters hadn’t seen. As the game evolves, you have to evolve with it. Everybody is either throwing 95-plus, or they’re throwing a cutter, and the first one is something I don’t do.

“The last time I pitched with Kansas City, I tried throwing a slider. It wasn’t bad, but I felt it kind of threw me off my arm angle and arm action, because I was more of a curveball guy. I felt like I was throwing through it a little bit differently. I also ended up having rotator cuff issues in 2016, and while I don’t necessarily think it was because of that, I could maybe attribute it a little bit to it.

“I talked to Wade Davis, who has one of the best cutters in the league. I was always trying to throw it over there [in Kansas City], but it would never really do what I wanted it to do. Over the course of a couple of years I kind of figured it out and I’ve been throwing it way more consistently now.

“[Davis’s] advice was pretty much to do less — just grip it and let the grip do what it’s supposed to do. Throw it as straight as you can. A cutter is supposed to be smaller and look more like a four-seamer, and if you start trying to manipulate it, it gets bigger, and because the spin changes, it might be more visible to the hitter.”


Players’ View: Learning and Developing a Pitch, Part 1

Pitchers learn and develop different pitches at varying stages of their lives. It might be a curveball in high school, a cutter in college, a slider or split-finger fastball 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. As the quality of competition improves, a pitcher frequently needs to optimize his repertoire.

In the first installment of this series, we’ll hear from Jeff Hoffman, T.J. McFarland, and Drew Smyly on how they learned and/or developed a specific pitch.

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Jeff Hoffman (Rockies) on His Slider

“The one pitch in my repertoire that I haven’t thrown my whole life is my slider. I picked that up in college. It actually started as a cutter, but I couldn’t really keep it small, like a cutter, so it turned into a slider. I’ve kind of just hung with it through the years, embracing it as a slider.

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Spring Scouting Notes: Kevin Maitan, a Rockies Breakout Reliever, and More

Recently, I posted notes on Cleveland ace Corey Kluber to give readers some idea of what a pitcher of such obvious talent looks like on a scouting report. Well, I recently ran into Rockies righty German Marquez — a 55 FV on his final FanGraphs prospect list and a 2.5 WAR pitcher as a rookie (which is a 55) — so here’s a similar rundown.

Marquez’s body looks like it’s backed up a bit, but he was still generating premium velocity with ease, sitting 94-96 with his fastball throughout my viewing. It, along with his low-80s curveball, is comfortably plus, and he threw several 70-grade curveballs. Marquez is clearly working on developing two other pitches — an upper-80s slider and mid-80s changeup — that are both below average right now. The change has promising movement, Marquez just lacks feel for it.

Marquez barely threw anything other than his heater and curve last year and was able to succeed anyway because they’re both excellent. If a tertiary offering is his focus this year, it’s reasonable to expect some growing pains and regression, though this is probably best for his long-term development. His fastball velocity has fluctuated a bit this spring (as low as 92 in other outings), but that’s to be expected.

He’s not technically a prospect, but Rockies righty Jairo Diaz looks poised to make an impact in the bullpen this year. Diaz missed all of 2016 and most of 2017 due to Tommy John, but his stuff has been vicious this spring. In two looks at him, Diaz has been 96-99 with a plus slider in the 87-90 mph range.

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Sunday Notes: Manny Margot Has Elevated His Profile

Manny Margot upped his launch angle more than any other player in the second half of the 2017 season. Eno Sarris wrote about that fact in January, and as he did so with data alone, a not-insignificant piece of information remained unaddressed: How purposeful was the change, and what (or who) prompted it?

The answer to the latter question is Johnny Washington. San Diego’s assistant hitting coach made the suggestion, and knowing that “hitting the ball in the air gives you more chances in the gaps,” Margot took it to heart.

The 23-year-old outfielder confirmed that “right around the halfway point” is when he began trying to hit more balls in the air. The ways in which he accomplished that goal were twofold. Read the rest of this entry »


Effectively Wild Episode 1194: Season Preview Series: Mariners and Rockies

EWFI

Ben Lindbergh and Jeff Sullivan banter about the passage of the so-called “Save America’s Pastime” Act, the future of minor-league spending, the endangered status of lower-level independent leagues, Ryan Zimmerman’s spring-training trailblazing, leadoff hitter Aaron Judge, actual likely Opening Day Dodgers starter Matt Kemp, a Zack Greinke anecdote, and Miguel Cabrera’s solution for not knowing teammates’ names, then preview the 2018 Mariners (20:38) with FanGraphs’ Meg Rowley, and the 2018 Rockies (53:35) with Rockies Magazine’s Jesse Spector.

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Carlos Gonzalez and the Value of Options

Back on the other side of the weekend, word got out the Rockies were re-signing Carlos Gonzalez for a year and $8 million. In one way, it’s great news, because now Gonzalez has a job. Furthermore, Nolan Arenado said bringing Gonzalez back “would be the greatest thing ever.” So, from the Rockies’ standpoint, and also from Gonzalez’s standpoint, it’s terrific to preserve some familiarity. In another way, this is disappointing news. It’s disappointing to Gonzalez, because a year ago, he turned down what would’ve been a lucrative three-year extension. And it’s disappointing to some fans, who now wonder what to make of the Rockies’ outfield picture. There are some younger players who are knocking on the door.

When I chatted last Friday, I received several inquiries related to Raimel Tapia, David Dahl, and Mike Tauchman. There’s an argument to be made that all of them are major-league ready. Gonzalez now gets in the way, because he’s not re-signing to platoon, or to sit on the bench. Gonzalez is going to play, and that playing time comes at the expense of other Rockies. What I would say is not to worry too much. Gonzalez now occupies a spot in a nine-man lineup, but I see this more as helping the depth. There’s value in having moving pieces.

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Sunday Notes: Cactus League Meanderings (Mostly)

Chris Young is in camp with the San Diego Padres, looking to extend a pitching career that began in 2000 when he was drafted out of Princeton University. It may be a tall task. The 6-foot-10 right-hander turns 39 in May, and he put up a 7.50 ERA last season in 30 ragged innings with the Royals. This could be his last hurrah, a fact he readily acknowledges.

“At some point my career will come to an end, as it does for everybody,” Young told me earlier this week. “I’m realistic about that. Over the offseason I had some of those conversations with people that I respect and admire within the game, but right now my focus is on playing. I feel good physically and the ball is coming out well, so I’m excited to compete for a spot.”

The conversations Young was referring to — with the exception of one coaching opportunity — were all in regard to front office work. Several organizations approached him about the possibility, and while no specific roles were discussed, there will undoubtably be follow-ups in the future. How soon that happens is the question that may be answered by opening day. Read the rest of this entry »