Jayson Stark on the Art of Baseball Writing

Jayson Stark received a standing ovation from his BBWAA colleagues when it was announced that he is being honored with the J.G. Taylor Spink Award. The honor is well deserved. The award is given for meritorious contributions to baseball writing, and Stark, who currently writes for The Athletic, has been at the pinnacle of his profession for decades. (The National Baseball Hall of Fame announcement, which includes a snapshot of his career, can be found here.)

Following yesterday’s news, I asked Stark if he could share the story behind his love of writing with FanGraphs readers. Ever gracious, he told me the following.

———

Jayson Stark: “I love baseball, and I love the art of baseball writing. This is all I ever wanted to do. From the time I was nine years old, what I wanted was to be a sportswriter. Not a baseball player, but a baseball writer. All the time, I have to take a step back and think, ‘Oh my god, that happened. How lucky am I?’

“My mom (June Stark) was a writer. She wrote for a paper in Philadelphia — she knew Red Smith a little bit, because he worked there briefly — and was also the editor for Wear Magazine, Philadelphia. She was the president of the League of Women Journalists, Philadelphia chapter.

“She was a great writer with a love of turning a phrase. She loved reading great writing, and that inspired me to to have a love and appreciation of writing. Growing up, I had that and a love of sports. Read the rest of this entry »


Top 29 Prospects: Atlanta Braves

Below is an analysis of the prospects in the farm system of the Atlanta Braves. 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 of the numbered prospects here also appear on The Board, a new feature at the site that offers sortable scouting information for every organization. That can be found here.

Braves Top Prospects
Rk Name Age Highest Level Position ETA FV
1 Cristian Pache 20.1 AA CF 2021 55
2 Austin Riley 21.7 AAA 3B 2019 55
3 Mike Soroka 21.4 MLB RHP 2019 55
4 Ian Anderson 20.6 AA RHP 2020 55
5 Kyle Wright 23.2 MLB RHP 2020 55
6 Drew Waters 19.9 A+ CF 2021 50
7 William Contreras 21.0 A+ C 2021 50
8 Touki Toussaint 22.5 MLB RHP 2019 50
9 Luiz Gohara 22.4 MLB LHP 2019 50
10 Bryse Wilson 21.0 MLB RHP 2019 50
11 Joey Wentz 21.2 A+ LHP 2020 45+
12 Kolby Allard 21.3 MLB LHP 2019 45
13 Kyle Muller 21.2 AA LHP 2021 45
14 Greyson Jenista 22.0 A+ RF 2021 45
15 Freddy Tarnok 20.0 A RHP 2022 40+
16 Alex Jackson 23.0 AAA C 2020 40+
17 Jacob Webb 25.3 AAA RHP 2019 40
18 Huascar Ynoa 20.5 A+ RHP 2021 40
19 Tristan Beck 22.5 R RHP 2021 40
20 Tucker Davidson 22.7 A+ LHP 2021 40
21 Patrick Weigel 24.4 AAA RHP 2019 40
22 Chad Sobotka 25.4 MLB RHP 2019 40
23 Trey Riley 20.6 R RHP 2022 40
24 Izzy Wilson 20.8 A+ RF 2021 40
25 CJ Alexander 22.4 A+ 3B 2021 40
26 Josh Graham 25.2 AA RHP 2019 40
27 Jefrey Ramos 19.8 A LF 2021 35+
28 Jasseel De La Cruz 21.5 A RHP 2021 35+
29 Ray-Patrick Didder 24.2 AA SS 2020 35+

55 FV Prospects

Signed: July 2nd Period, 2015 from Dominican Republic (ATL)
Age 20.1 Height 6′ 2″ Weight 185 Bat / Thr R / R FV 55
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Hit Raw Power Game Power Run Fielding Throw
30/50 50/55 20/45 70/70 70/70 70/70

If we told you a prospect seemed like an injury-independent lock to play elite outfield defense, how much offense would he have to provide to be a star-level player? The industry’s six-week look at Pache during the Arizona Fall League further cemented the belief that Pache has a great chance to be one of the, if not the, best defensive center fielders in baseball as soon as he arrives in Atlanta. He’s a plus to plus-plus runner with a great first step, and he has a knack for contorting his body in ways that enable him to make spectacular catches on flyballs that would otherwise fall in for tough-luck hits. He also has a 70-grade arm when he sets and throws properly, though at times he sacrifices velocity and accuracy in order to get rid of the ball more quickly, which isn’t always the right decision. Pache also has good bat-to-ball skills and solid average raw power, but the quality of his at-bats and his hitting mechanics both vary. His upside is enormous if everything comes together, and Pache just turned 20 years old, but there’s risk that the bat plays down because of Pache’s approach. If that’s the case, he might exist in the Hamilton/Pillar area of WAR production, but even a one-dimensional offensive profile likely results in star level production and because Pache is still just the age of a college sophomore, we anticipate growth in this area.

Drafted: 1st Round, 2015 from DeSoto Central HS (MS) (ATL)
Age 21.7 Height 6′ 2″ Weight 220 Bat / Thr R / R FV 55
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Hit Raw Power Game Power Run Fielding Throw
40/45 70/70 45/60 45/40 45/50 65/65

Riley was a two-way high school player who many teams preferred as a pitcher, but the Braves preferred him as a hitter and liked him more than any other club, popping him rounds before most teams were prepared to draft him. That gamble has paid off. Braves personnel rave about Riley’s makeup and the strides he has made defensively, now projecting him as an average defender at third base after a lot of work on his footwork and keeping his strong frame nimble. He has an easy plus arm and plus plus raw power along with the contact skills to avoid being a huge strikeout type. What sort of hitter Riley becomes is more a matter of choice for him, but we think he’ll end up in the .250 average, with an average OBP and plus game power, meaning 25 homers or so annually.

3. Mike Soroka, RHP
Drafted: 1st Round, 2015 from Bishop Carroll HS (CAN) (ATL)
Age 21.4 Height 6′ 4″ Weight 210 Bat / Thr R / R FV 55
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Fastball Slider Changeup Command Sits/Tops
55/55 55/55 50/55 45/55 90-93 / 95

Soroka is a former hockey defenseman who brings that mentality to the mound, attacking hitters with three above average pitches and command. He attacks the zone with a low-90s sinker down in the zone and is a pitch efficient starter who isn’t gunning for the strikeout. He’s also a shorter strider so his velocity plays down a bit, making his command and offspeed pitches even more important. Soroka’s changeup went from rarely used to a pitch that flashes plus in the last year or so, and his high-spin hybrid breaking ball has always been a trusted secondary pitch. He missed much of 2018 with a muscular issue in his shoulder, but was ready to pitch in the big leagues in September, hitting the mid-90s in simulated games and only staying out of competitive contents because of the Braves’ cautious approach to his rehab.

Drafted: 1st Round, 2016 from Shenendowa HS (NY) (ATL)
Age 20.6 Height 6′ 3″ Weight 170 Bat / Thr R / R FV 55
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Fastball Curveball Changeup Command Sits/Tops
55/55 50/55 50/60 45/55 91-94 / 96

Anderson was a prep standout as an underclassman and despite some minor injuries in his draft year, was the third overall pick in 2016. The Braves got him for an under slot bonus that freed them up to grab Wentz, Muller, and Wilson for over slot bonuses; that group has worked out extremely well so far, especially considering how risky a subgroup prep pitching is. Anderson is the most advanced in terms of his combination of stuff now, command, and size, as evidenced by reaching Double-A at age 20 with excellent stats at every stop. He isn’t the sexiest prospect in terms of spin rates, so his command will need to continue to be a separator as the hitters he faces continue to get better. Anderson flashed a 60 curveball as an amateur but it’s more of a 55 now, while his changeup went from not being used much to flashing plus regularly, passing ahead of his curveball for some scouts.

5. Kyle Wright, RHP
Drafted: 1st Round, 2017 from Vanderbilt (ATL)
Age 23.2 Height 6′ 4″ Weight 200 Bat / Thr R / R FV 55
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Fastball Slider Curveball Changeup Command Sits/Tops
55/60 55/60 50/55 45/50 45/50 91-95 / 97

Wright passed up seven figures from the Braves out of an Alabama high school to go to Vanderbilt and got many times more than that three years later as the fifth overall pick. He’s a near ideal combination of frame, arm action, delivery, athleticism, broad repertoire, and feel for pitching. Wright’s fastball is solid, but not a standout swing-and-miss pitch, though his slider often is. Wright mixes in a curveball and changeup that are tertiary options and his lower slot matches the sinker/slider combo a bit better. His best route to early big league success may be to lean on his breaking ball and throw it as often as his fastball, like Chris Archer or Patrick Corbin do. Given the Braves young pitching depth, there may not be a rotation spot for Wright, but his stuff and approach would definitely work in a multi-inning relief role until that spot is available.

50 FV Prospects

Drafted: 2nd Round, 2017 from Etowah HS (GA) (ATL)
Age 19.9 Height 6′ 2″ Weight 183 Bat / Thr S / R FV 50
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Hit Raw Power Game Power Run Fielding Throw
35/60 55/60 30/50 60/55 45/50 60/60

Waters was the rare prep prospect who had present hit tool utility, top-of-the-line prep performance, and 55- or 60-grade supporting tools to give him both high certainty and some ceiling. He got lost in the shuffle a bit in his deep draft class and had a tough pro debut due to both fatigue and swing tinkering. His full season debut in 2018 was a smashing success; he demolished the Low-A Sally League and posted a 98 wRC+ in High-A as a teenager. Waters’ raw power is a 55 that will likely be a 60 as he fills out, and his speed is a current 60 that likely becomes a 55. His center field instincts are above average, so he’s still got a solid chance to stick at the position and his arm is an easy plus. Waters’ carrying tool is his bat and he regained an approach that works for him in 2018. His exciting combination of physical projection, now ability, and ceiling will give him upward mobility in the Top 100 with a strong start to 2019.

Signed: July 2nd Period, 2014 from Venezuela (ATL)
Age 21.0 Height 6′ 0″ Weight 180 Bat / Thr R / R FV 50
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Hit Raw Power Game Power Run Fielding Throw
30/50 50/55 20/50 45/40 45/55 60/60

Contreras’ older brother Willson is among the best catchers in baseball and was a late bloomer, breaking through at age 23 in Double-A. William had his breakout in 2018 as a 20-year-old, going from a trendy pick to breakout to a consensus Top 100 prospect by mid-season. He has been defensively advanced for years, both in his tools and his mental approach to the game, in part due to help from his brother. William projects as an above average defender with a plus arm. Contreras has also gotten stronger and is growing into his man strength after establishing a feel to hit, so he has a well-rounded approach now. He toned down his swing in 2018 and is slowly adding elements as he feels comfortable, rather than making a noisier swing work all at once. Contreras stands out because there are not many 21-year-olds who project for average to above offense along with above average defense, and have the makeup/mental part of the game under control without any major red flags like injuries. The scouts who like Contreras really like him–rounding up on both the tool grades due to makeup and his overall value due to a high floor at a position that’s a wasteland in the majors right now. This top 10 could be in almost any order, and Contreras may be the guy with the biggest variance as to where various baseball people rank him, which is a positive when his ranking peers are mostly MLB-ready, heavily-pedigreed prospects with much more track record.

Drafted: 1st Round, 2014 from Coral Springs Christian HS (FL) (ARI)
Age 22.5 Height 6′ 3″ Weight 185 Bat / Thr R / R FV 50
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Fastball Curveball Changeup Cutter Command Sits/Tops
60/60 65/65 55/60 50/55 40/45 91-95 / 97

Toussaint was a heralded and famous prep pitcher, showing plus-plus stuff as a high school sophomore and eventually going in the middle of the first round in 2014. He was traded to Atlanta as the prize for taking on Bronson Arroyo’s contract, and has slowly made adjustments to develop his starter traits and harness his high octane stuff. When he’s at his best, Toussaint works 91-94 and will hit 97 mph a couple of times a game when he needs to, mixing in a 55 or 60 grade curveball and hard changeup, though he’ll break out the 70-grade hook once or twice a game. With his power approach and delivery, Toussaint still has some command issues at times, but when he dials his stuff down a bit, he’s learned to be more pitch efficient. At the least, Toussaint is an ideal candidate to be a setup man or closer who can go multiple innings, but there’s a real chance he can be the no. 2 or 3 starter that teams work so hard, and go through so many arms, to find, and he’s ready to contribute now.

9. Luiz Gohara, LHP
Signed: July 2nd Period, 2012 from Brazil (SEA)
Age 22.4 Height 6′ 3″ Weight 240 Bat / Thr L / L FV 50
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Fastball Slider Changeup Command Sits/Tops
50/60 60/60 45/50 45/50 93-96 / 98

Gohara has had an up-and-down couple of years; he’s dealt with serious health issues and death in his immediate family, and living far away from home, along with some relatively less important professional matters, has also proven to be burdensome. A series of off-the-field issues and maturity concerns led the Mariners to sell low on him in the trade that brought him to Atlanta. He has a frame along the lines of a Prince Fielder or a CC Sabathia in that he looks unathletic when static, but you can see he’s deceptively athletic for his size. Gohara has reportedly recently lost a lot of weight and gotten into the best shape of his life (alarm sound). He has high octane stuff with a plus fastball/slider combo and a changeup that’s come to be average, along with better control and command than you might expect from a young power pitcher. Gohara is very close to losing eligibility, but he may be the rare case of a player who actually demonstrates in March that the changes he’s made are real and moves up a list, since it’s hard to upgrade a guy based on verbal reports that he’s making progress in non-competitive environments.

10. Bryse Wilson, RHP
Drafted: 4th Round, 2016 from Orange HS (NC) (ATL)
Age 21.0 Height 6′ 1″ Weight 224 Bat / Thr R / R FV 50
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Fastball Slider Changeup Command Sits/Tops
55/60 45/55 50/55 50/55 91-95 / 98

Wilson is a scout favorite, as an aggressive bulldog who relies on spotting his fastball in all quadrants of the zone, with the velocity, movement, and command all grading above average on his various fastballs. His slider will flash 55 in ideal situations, but plays closer to fringe average regularly, while his changeup also flashes 55 at times and is better than the slider most games. Wilson fits in today’s game because the concerns around him involve turning over the lineup and using his third pitch, but he normally has a plus fastball, above average command, plus plus makeup, and at least one average to above offspeed pitch, so he could be a great 2-3 inning reliever who works in various roles. There’s still a chance he could be a traditional starter, but the Braves’ pitching depth likely dictates a hybrid role in the short term.

45+ FV Prospects

11. Joey Wentz, LHP
Drafted: 1st Round, 2016 from Shawnee Mission East HS (MO) (ATL)
Age 21.2 Height 6′ 5″ Weight 209 Bat / Thr L / L FV 45+
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Fastball Curveball Changeup Command Sits/Tops
45/50 45/55 60/60 45/55 88-92 / 94

Wentz has flashed three plus pitches at times, but has never done it all in the same outing. Some thought he was on the verge of doing so in 2018, but he missed huge chunks of the year with oblique and shoulder ailments, though they seem minor to us in terms of their long-term effects. Wentz was 88-92 mph with solid average stuff and average command in 2018, and projects to improve when he has a full, healthy offseason to regain what he was the year before. He is also big and athletic with a smooth delivery and arm action, so there’s the classic projection you’re looking for. Like Muller, Wentz also has 70-grade raw power to provide offensive value when he reaches the big leagues. At its best, Wentz’s fastball was 92-95, hitting 96 mph, and his curveball and changeup were plus, with multi-innings stretches when his command looked above average, which led some scouts to invoke Cole Hamels. Things probably land somewhere between the peak of each of his elements and his average 2018 showing.

45 FV Prospects

12. Kolby Allard, LHP
Drafted: 1st Round, 2015 from San Clemente HS (CA) (ATL)
Age 21.3 Height 6′ 1″ Weight 175 Bat / Thr L / L FV 45
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Fastball Curveball Changeup Command Sits/Tops
45/50 50/55 45/55 50/60 88-91 / 93

Allard has largely been the same pitcher since his draft spring, working with a 45 or 50 fastball, an above average offspeed offering, and plus command. He isn’t big and he got hit around in his first taste of the big leagues, which is what most scouts were afraid might happen to him. It was a short look and many have recovered from performances like that, but Allard has to be fine with what he does, and his style of pitching (along with his weapons) offers almost no margin for error and doesn’t exactly fit where the game is going. Luckily he has advanced feel for what he’s doing on the mound, so there is a path to being a reliable back-end starter.

13. Kyle Muller, LHP
Drafted: 2nd Round, 2016 from Jesuit Prep HS (TX) (ATL)
Age 21.2 Height 6′ 6″ Weight 215 Bat / Thr R / L FV 45
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Fastball Slider Changeup Command Sits/Tops
50/55 50/50 55/60 40/50 90-94 / 96

Muller is a big, athletic, aggressive lefty with a sturdy frame and above average stuff to go with average type command. He displayed raw power in high school that some scouts graded as a 70, so there’s likely some real value above what most NL pitchers offer at the plate. He had a velocity dip after signing, which most seem to think stemmed from heavy usage in high school. That appeared to be the case, as his velocity was back up this spring after some training at Driveline. Muller isn’t traditionally exciting since he doesn’t have huge velocity or a crazy athletic and loose delivery, but lots of long-time starters have looked like this at this stage in their careers.

Drafted: 2nd Round, 2018 from Wichita State (ATL)
Age 22.0 Height 6′ 4″ Weight 240 Bat / Thr L / R FV 45
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Hit Raw Power Game Power Run Fielding Throw
30/45 65/65 30/55 50/45 45/50 55/55

Jenista has a skillset that will be familiar to long-time fans of the game, with some qualities in common with players like Jeromy Burnitz, Adam Dunn, and Lance Berkman. Jenista is deceptively athletic for his size (a 50 runner at 6-foot-4 and 240 pounds) and has big raw power (a 65) along with a right field profile. Jenista is a late-count, power-focused hitter, so his approach will come with some swing-and-miss and some walks. He’ll need a slight adjustment to his swing plane, as it’s a little too flat for this type of player (he hits more doubles when he makes hard contact than you’d like), and he may age more quickly than player with a slighter build would. The upside is a three-win power-focused corner bat, though a more realistic expectation is probably a low-end regular worth around two wins annually, but he’ll need to make some offensive adjustments between now and then regardless.

40+ FV Prospects

15. Freddy Tarnok, RHP
Drafted: 3rd Round, 2017 from Riverview HS (FL) (ATL)
Age 20.0 Height 6′ 3″ Weight 185 Bat / Thr R / R FV 40+
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Fastball Curveball Changeup Command Sits/Tops
50/60 50/55 45/55 40/50 92-95 / 98

Tarnok was primarily a hitter in high school, and many teams didn’t take him seriously as a pitcher or even see him multiple times until late in the spring. The Braves were the team highest on him, and talked him into giving pitching a shot full-time with a well-over-slot bonus. Tarnok is, as expected, still raw, but it’s easy to see what Braves scouts were so excited about: he has near-ideal body and arm action along with standout arm strength, athleticism, and ability to spin the ball. The finer points of pitching, how to mix all of his pitches, and dialing in the repetition of his delivery are still variables, all stemming from his lack of innings. He’s a popular pick to be the breakout prospect in the system and has among its highest ceilings if it all comes together.

Drafted: 1st Round, 2014 from Rancho Bernardo HS (CA) (SEA)
Age 23.0 Height 6′ 2″ Weight 220 Bat / Thr R / R FV 40+
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Hit Raw Power Game Power Run Fielding Throw
30/40 70/70 40/55 30/30 45/50 60/60

Jackson was selected sixth overall out of a SoCal high school in 2014, and was among the most celebrated prep bats of all time. He ranked at the top of his class for three years and was projected to move from catcher to right field because of his prodigious talent at the plate, like Bryce Harper and Wil Myers before him. He had a tough pro debut with unlucky injuries, streaky hitting, and poor coaching, which he responded poorly to in turn, bristling at the criticism that came with not meeting expectations. Jackson was traded to the Braves, who moved him back behind the plate in an attempt to build some value since his bat no longer profiled as the 6 hit/6 power that was projected out of high school. He made great strides as a catcher in 2018 and now looks likely to be an average-or-close-to-it receiver with a plus arm and plus plus raw power. He’s gotten much bigger since high school and isn’t a runner, and his lessened twitch quickness also makes him more of a mistake hitter at the plate. Jackson being near MLB-ready and given the current state of catching, he could be a 90 wRC+ hitter and fringe-to-average receiver and have a long career. There’s a chance for more, but expectations have settled right around there.

40 FV Prospects

17. Jacob Webb, RHP
Drafted: 18th Round, 2014 from Tabor College (ATL)
Age 25.3 Height 6′ 1″ Weight 200 Bat / Thr R / R FV 40
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Fastball Slider Changeup Command Sits/Tops
60/60 55/55 50/50 45/45 94-96 / 98

Webb was a low-bonus, late-round, small school pick who still wasn’t really on the prospect radar for most clubs until 2018. His velocity took a step forward (up to 98 mph) and the added armspeed helped his 50 to 55 type stuff grade out a tick better. This improvement made him a lock to be a Rule 5 pick if not protected, so Atlanta added him to the 40-man roster. Like many of the 40 FV-grade relievers on this list, Webb projects as a middle reliever, but he has the best chance to turn into a bit more, and could possibly be a setup man.

18. Huascar Ynoa, RHP
Signed: July 2nd Period, 2014 from Dominican Republic (MIN)
Age 20.5 Height 6′ 3″ Weight 175 Bat / Thr R / R FV 40
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Fastball Slider Changeup Command Sits/Tops
65/70 50/55 45/50 35/45 94-98 / 100

Ynoa’s older bother Michel was the July 2nd bonus record-holder for awhile and still sets the pace for non-Cuban pitchers in the market. Huascar was also a premium arm in his class, receiving a high-six-figure bonus and making incremental progress since then, reaching a velocity peak of 100 mph in 2018. Ynoa’s fastball plays down a bit because he’s a short strider and throws a bit of sinker, but it often flattens out up in the zone when he overthrows, happens at his highest velocities. His slider occasionally flashes plus, but projecting a 55 pitch is more reasonable for the type of breaker he can command. Ynoa’s changeup is usable and his command shows flashes, but he was added to the 40-man roster this year and will start burning options now. This ticking options clock limits the time he has to develop starter traits, making a power middle reliever the most likely outcome.

19. Tristan Beck, RHP
Drafted: 4th Round, 2018 from Stanford (ATL)
Age 22.5 Height 6′ 4″ Weight 190 Bat / Thr R / R FV 40
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Fastball Curveball Changeup Command Sits/Tops
50/55 55/60 45/50 40/45 90-95 / 96

Beck was premium prospect out of a SoCal high school, reportedly turning down over $2.5 million to go to Stanford as he had long wanted to do. There, Beck had various injury issues and his stuff and command didn’t progress as many had hoped, but he still showed glimpses of his upside from high school. In instructional league, he ran his fastball up to 96 mph, which didn’t happen often in college, and his signature hammer curveball flashed plus once again. Beck is still in the nether region of starter vs. reliever given his uneven track record and command that doesn’t consistently flash average, but his power stuff will play in any role if he can continue showing what he did in instructional league.

Drafted: 19th Round, 2016 from Midland JC (TX) (ATL)
Age 22.7 Height 6′ 2″ Weight 215 Bat / Thr L / L FV 40
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Fastball Slider Curveball Changeup Command Sits/Tops
45/50 45/50 50/55 45/50 40/50 90-94 / 95

Davidson was a low-profile JC arm the Braves gambled on in 2016 and after improving his body composition entering the 2017 season, his stuff and command improved too, and he looked like a potential no. 4 starter. Davidson’s 2018 season wasn’t as good, as his stuff and command were both a bit worse, so he’s now at the nexus of back-end starter or depth relief lefty, though the upside of being a starter in the big leagues keeps him ahead of some of the 35 FV lefty relievers below (Clouse and Burrows) with similar stuff.

Drafted: 7th Round, 2015 from Houston (ATL)
Age 24.4 Height 6′ 6″ Weight 230 Bat / Thr R / R FV 40
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Fastball Slider Curveball Changeup Command Sits/Tops
60/65 55/55 45/50 45/50 40/45 92-96 / 98

As an amateur, Weigel was a big dude with an upper-90’s fastball and little else that showed much consistency, which allowed him to slip to the seventh round. In pro ball, Weigel was able to put it together as a starter, continuing to run his heater into the upper-90’s, but working more 92-94 mph with a four pitch mix that was also average or better. Due to the power of his repertoire and approach, and his long frame, Weigel had the sort of fringy command that made him seem better suited to being a multi-inning reliever than a starter. He underwent Tommy John surgery once he reached Triple-A in 2017 and returned to the mound late in 2018. In instructional league, Weigel’s arm speed was mostly back, hitting 96 mph, but the stamina and crispness of his offspeed pitches wasn’t quite there yet. It’s still too early to expect him to be completely back and there’s an expectation that he will return to his prior form in the upcoming season. That belief led the Braves to add him to the 40-man, as he would’ve been a strong candidate for a rebuilding team looking to buy low on him in the Rule 5 Draft.

22. Chad Sobotka, RHP
Drafted: 4th Round, 2014 from South Carolina Upstate (ATL)
Age 25.4 Height 6′ 7″ Weight 225 Bat / Thr R / R FV 40
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Fastball Slider Changeup Command Sits/Tops
65/65 50/55 40/45 40/45 95-98 / 100

Sobotka was a pop-up small school pitcher in the 2014 draft, but issues stemming from his size and arm speed limited him in various ways until 2018, when he velocity took the step forward that many foresaw in 2014. Sobotka now hits 100 mph and mixes in a slider that’s a 55 at times. His command will never be great since he has a slightly stiff, 6-foot-7 frame, but his stuff doesn’t need pinpoint control to be effective in a middle relief role. After contributing out of the big league bullpen down the stretch and in the playoffs in 2018, Sobotka is a useful middle reliever with options for the Braves to use and develop further.

23. Trey Riley, RHP
Drafted: 5th Round, 2018 from Logan JC (IA) (ATL)
Age 20.6 Height 6′ 2″ Weight 180 Bat / Thr L / R FV 40
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Fastball Slider Curveball Changeup Command Sits/Tops
55/60 55/60 50/55 40/50 35/45 92-95 / 97

Riley burst onto the scouting scene in 2018 at Logan JC in Iowa after bouncing back from Oklahoma State. Some teams were hesitant to take him where his talent suggested (second or third round) due to their interpretation of what led to him to leave Oklahoma State, but the Braves were excited to give him an over slot bonus in the fifth round of a draft where they were missing a third round selection. Riley’s stuff is exciting — up to 97 mph, with a slider that flashes plus, and a solid average curve and changeup that flashed average — while his arm action, athleticism, and command give him a chance to start, despite a short track record of doing so. Regardless, his present stuff will play in any role and fits where the game is going, so simply staying healthy, getting innings, and maintaining his stuff should keep him on the prospect radar.

24. Izzy Wilson, RF
Signed: July 2nd Period, 2014 from Saint Maarten (ATL)
Age 20.8 Height 6′ 3″ Weight 185 Bat / Thr L / R FV 40
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Hit Raw Power Game Power Run Fielding Throw
30/45 55/60 30/50 45/45 45/50 55/55

Wilson burst onto the prospect scene in 2015, hitting 10 homers in 48 games in the GCL at age 17. He signed as a shortstop but has moved down the defensive spectrum to right field, retaining his loose, lefty swing and physical projection. In the interim, Wilson has had maturity and consistency issues, which he appears to be moving past now. Longer-limbed power hitters typically take the longest to develop offensively, making his pro debut that much more surprising. He’ll be 21 years old next year, with a chance to get to Double-A and regain the everyday player projection some saw in 2015.

Drafted: 20th Round, 2018 from State College JC (FL) (ATL)
Age 22.4 Height 6′ 5″ Weight 215 Bat / Thr L / R FV 40
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Hit Raw Power Game Power Run Fielding Throw
30/45 60/60 30/50 40/40 40/45 55/60

C.J. Alexander and his brother, SS Blaze Alexander (IMG Academy HS in Florida, drafted by the Diamondbacks), were both drafted lower in 2018 than their talent suggested. Blaze slipped due to demands as an over slot high school pick, while C.J. was old for a junior college player and is limited to a corner, though scouts have some debate about which position is his best fit. C.J. had a big pro debut, getting to High-A and playing in instructs in a season that saw him in real games from late January until October. He has plus raw power and a plus arm, with deceptive contact skills and at least passable defense at all four corner spots. The upside is a low-end regular or the correct side of a corner platoon, which is more likely to happen if he continues to move quickly through the system. His pro ball batted-ball outcomes were lucky but he also played among the longest seasons in all of organized baseball, putting up big numbers at every level.

26. Josh Graham, RHP
Drafted: 4th Round, 2015 from Oregon (ATL)
Age 25.2 Height 6′ 1″ Weight 215 Bat / Thr R / R FV 40
Tool Grades (Present/Future)
Fastball Slider Changeup Command Sits/Tops
50/55 50/60 65/70 40/45 92-95 / 97

Graham has some of the best pure stuff in baseball, running his fastball up to 97 mph, flashing a 60 slider at times, and relying heavily on one of the best changeups in the game, which is a 70 for most scouts. His short arm action is a giveaway that he converted from catching while at Oregon. The issues holding Graham back are that he consistently works behind in the count and seems focused on putting up big velocity numbers, which affects his fastball command and allows hitters to sit on his offspeed pitches. Like Didder and Demeritte, hope was bright in the past year that Graham could fix his issues and become a big league contributor, but none of the three have changed much in the interim and now have shorter developmental ropes as they enter their mid-20’s.

35+ FV Prospects

Signed: July 2nd Period, 2016 from Dominican Republic (ATL)
Age 19.8 Height 6′ 1″ Weight 200 Bat / Thr R / R FV 35+

Ramos was a higher profile July 2nd prospect whose market didn’t materialize as expected, so he waited until 2016 to sign as a 17-year-old in the Braves pool-busting class. Ramos is a left field only fit, with plus raw power as his carrying tool, so he has to hit. He made real progress on that front in 2018, bopping 16 homers and posting a 102 wRC+ in Low-A as a 19-year-old. He’s backed into a corner profile-wise, and has to keep progressing at the plate to avoid his upside being the wrong side of a left field/first base platoon. As an example, the Braves had a version of this at Triple-A recently in Dustin Peterson; he was put on waivers as the demand for this sort of less-versatile player is waning.

Signed: July 2nd Period, 2014 from Dominican Republic (ATL)
Age 21.5 Height 6′ 1″ Weight 175 Bat / Thr R / R FV 35+

De La Cruz is 92-95, touching 97 mph and flashing a plus slider at his best, so there’s some clear ceiling here. His changeup, command, and delivery all come and go, and he has pitched limited innings for a 21-year-old. A reasonable scenario for him is to continue trying to start for a bit longer, and if he doesn’t emerge in that role, to eventually focus on his fastball/slider combo in shorter stints. In that role, he could work his way into higher leverage late relief, but there’s still a long way to go before that happens.

Signed: July 2nd Period, 2012 from Aruba (ATL)
Age 24.2 Height 6′ 0″ Weight 170 Bat / Thr R / R FV 35+

Didder can play at least average defense at all the non-pitcher-and-catcher positions on the field and he’s shown plus ability in center, buoyed by plus-plus speed and a plus-plus arm. He’s shown ability at the plate and mistake power at times, but he’s now 24 and still hasn’t put it together offensively for long stretches. He’s Rule 5-eligible and is an ideal 25th man type if a team thinks they can tease out some offense and get a 1-2 WAR player with all of his secondary skills.

Other Prospects of Note
Grouped by type and listed in order of preference within each category.
Likely Reserve Position Players
A.J. Graffanino, SS
Drew Lugbauer, C
Justin Dean, CF
Andrew Moritz, CF
Travis Demeritte, LF

Graffanino is the son of Tony, and is an advanced defender with contact skills and feel for the game; he’s likely a reserve but was injured in college and is still adding weight, so there’s low-end regular upside. Lugbauer was a nice find in the 11th round and is at least third catcher quality behind the plate with 60 raw power and 55 arm strength, but he may end up being a primary first baseman and the contact skills come and go. Dean was another late-round find in the Carolinas for the Braves and is a true 80 runner, but is still raw enough that the realistic upside is a speed-oriented reserve. Moritz is a 55 runner who is hit-over-power and can play all three outfield positions, with one scout comparing him to Sam Fuld as a potential instinctual reserve. Demeritte still has easy plus power and is passable at multiple positions defensively, but will need to make some offensive adjustments to have a big league future.

Likely Relievers
Corbin Clouse, LHP
Wes Parsons, RHP
Thomas Burrows, LHP
Victor Vodnik, RHP
Gabriel Rodriguez, LHP
Troy Bacon, RHP
Jeremy Walker, RHP
Odalvi Javier, RHP

The other pitchers here are a mix of pure middle relief prospects and chance no. 5 starters who are more likely to slip into long relief territory if we’re being realistic. Clouse and Burrows are similar lefty relievers, with Clouse having a little more velo and Burrows more deception/feel; they share a similar breaking ball. Parsons and Javier are starter types with solid average stuff but nothing is plus, so you’re hoping for a no. 5 starter and will probably get a multi-inning depth arm if things work out. Walker flashes above average stuff from a frame/arm action that scouts like, but his delivery, command, and changeup haven’t progressed, so he’s a likely reliever but with more ceiling than Parsons or Javier. Vodnik and Rodriguez are relief-type arms from the 2018 draft class. Vodnik is a smallish righty who was 87-90 for some of the spring, but was 92-95, touching 98 mph with solid average offspeed in instructs. Rodriguez was a junior college position player who threw a handful of innings in the spring. The Braves saw them all, and stuck him on the mound in pro ball; he also topped at 98 mph, though he’s a project. Bacon can run it up to 96 mph and flashes a 55 breaker along with two other usable pitches and average command at times, but he’s a smallish righty reliever and isn’t always that good.

System Overview
The top 10 of the Braves’ system is still among the best in the game, which is why they still rank highly in our org rankings; Top 100 caliber players are so much more important than the depth pieces. Given some recent trades, graduations, and league sanctions, the depth in the system is down considerably, with something like 15 fewer prospects having trade value (between the list and the Others of Note section) than the list had before those issues. Once you get beyond the 50 FV prospects, this system is very ordinary or even below average. The weaknesses are at the lower levels, though, as the trades and sanctions affected players mostly aged 17-20, so the big league team won’t feel these losses for years and there’s still plenty of ammunition for trades, along with near-ready prospects for the big league team.

Their competitive window is securely open now and will likely stay that way for at least 4-5 years, even if the organization opts to move all their chips in for the short-term. The Braves have a rare group of talent in their core and should add a few more pieces to it from this list in 2019, with a trade of a few of the top dozen on this list for an established star with multiple years of control seemingly likely as well. The NL East could go a few different ways this winter, but it looks like every team but the Marlins is trying to win in the short-term and will have a chance at the division. Having a stable of young, optionable power arms should be a useful talent infusion in the second half for the Braves’ rotation and bullpen, constituting a built-in midseason trade of sorts, as payroll is always a factor for mid-market clubs.


Troy Tulowitzki Release Frees Up Roster Spot

From 2009 through 2014, Troy Tulowitzki’s 27.7 WAR ranked 12th among position players. The players ranked around Tulowitzki at that time present a decent snapshot of his standing today. At 10 is Dustin Pedroia, who didn’t play in 2018. Behind Pedroia is Matt Holliday, who was semi-retired for much of last season. Behind Tulo is Chase Utley, who just retired, and behind him is Albert Pujols, who has been a replacement level player since 2015. Given that company, it perhaps shouldn’t come as a surprise that Troy Tulowitzki was granted his release by the Toronto Blue Jays today.

What is somewhat surprising is that Tulowitzki was released with the Blue Jays owing the former star shortstop $38 million over the next two years, including a buyout on an option for 2021. Tulowitzki didn’t play at all last season, and as Jay Jaffe noted in August, the track record of shortstops who miss entire seasons in their 30s is not good. He also noted just how good Tulowitzki was in his 20s.

The bad news is that the likelihood of ever seeing 2009-14 Tulowitzki again appears remote, which is a shame, because that guy looked as though he had a shot at Cooperstown. Through his age-29 season, he had accumulated 37.8 bWAR, 16th all-time and ahead of 12 of the 21 enshrined shortstops. He may well wind up this generation’s Nomar Garciaparra. The Boston icon had complied 41.2 bWAR through age 29 (the 2003 season), close to the seven-year peak standard for Hall of Fame shortstops (42.9); in fact, Garciaparra’s actual peak score of 43.0 edges past it. But because his career ended after his age-35 season, he finished with 1,771 hits, 220 homers and 44.2 WAR, numbers too low for Hall consideration. Tulowitzki (1,389 hits and 224 homers) isn’t even to Nomah’s level yet.

Jaffe held out some hope for a rebound, but that rebound won’t happen with the Blue Jays. Tulowitzki came to Toronto in 2015 in exchange for Jose Reyes and a few pitching prospects as the Blue Jays roared to the playoffs. After a solid 2016 season, Tulowitzki only played for half of 2017 and didn’t play well when he did. His heel trouble caused him to miss all of 2018. He is reportedly in better health now and will try to latch on with some team for the major league minimum next year; Susan Slusser has reported that the A’s are a possible destination.

As for Toronto, the team viewed the money as a sunk cost and decided that some as yet unknown player had more potential as to contribute on the field than Tulowitzki did. Lourdes Gurriel Jr. will get an opportunity to play shortstop if the Blue Jays make no other additions. The club’s 40-man roster now stands at 38 players. Toronto is at least listening to offers for Marcus Stroman and Aaron Sanchez. It could be that the team is looking to add multiple players in a trade who would need to be on the 40-man. It’s also possible the team is about to sign a free agent or needs some extra roster space for the Rule 5 draft later this week. Tulowitzki will try to get an opportunity to play for another team while the Blue Jays try to make better use of his roster spot.


Andrew McCutchen Boosts a Lackluster Outfield

Around this time last December, the Phillies reached a three-year agreement with free agent Carlos Santana. The contract included a fourth-year club option, and it was worth a total of $60 million. Santana was headed into his age-32 season, and between the ages of 29 and 31, he’d been worth 8.2 WAR, with a wRC+ of 117. Because of the qualifying offer Santana had attached, the Phillies lost their second-round draft pick, along with half a million dollars in international bonus-pool money. The Phillies thought it was a great deal at the time. Santana turned into a salary dump.

Now, this time this December, the Phillies have reached a three-year agreement with free agent Andrew McCutchen. The contract includes a fourth-year club option, and it’s worth a total of $50 million. McCutchen is headed into his age-32 season, and between the ages of 29-31, he’s been worth 7.4 WAR, with a wRC+ of 116. There is no qualifying-offer penalty to consider here, as McCutchen was traded last summer. The Phillies presumably think this is a great deal at the time.

The parallels are spelled out right there. If you feel like being negative, you could accuse the Phillies of making the same mistake two years in a row. Yet for a variety of little reasons, McCutchen seems like a more suitable get. This isn’t a bargain — McCutchen’s getting paid real money. But how this can work out is more clear, as McCutchen returns to Pennsylvania.

Read the rest of this entry »


Dodgers Poised to Deal from Rotation and Outfield Depth

Apart from retaining both Clayton Kershaw, who signed a a two-year extension, and Hyun-Jin Ryu, who accepted a qualifying offer, the two-time defending NL champion Dodgers have had a quiet offseason thus far. They have several needs to fill, with catcher, second base, and the bullpen being the most glaring, and they’re particularly deep both in starting pitching options and in the outfield.

On that note, ESPN’s Buster Olney reported thusly from Las Vegas this morning:

Meanwhile, FanCred’s Jon Heyman added outfielders Alex Verdugo and Chris Taylor to the mix:

Plus, The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal mentioned the Dodgers and Reds discussing Yasiel Puig, that after Cincinnati recently plucked his mentor, hitting coach Turner Ward, away from Los Angeles. Rosenthal later added the name of Homer Bailey to the mix as a potential salary dump in a situation that would figure to involve prospects and a more complicated swap:

And finally, DK Sports’ John Perrotto, who covers the Pirates, noted this:

To varying degrees, all of this makes some sense given the tantalizing rumors that have connected the Dodgers to high-profile players such as Indians starter Corey Kluber, Marlins catcher J.T. Realmuto, and free agent outfielder Bryce Harper. Let’s break out the tools and build a table:

Deep, Deep Dodgers for Dealin’
Pitcher 2018 WAR 2019 Proj WAR 2019 Age Control Status 2019 Salary
Rich Hill 1.9 2.8 39 Through 2019 $18M
Ross Stripling 2.3 0.8 29 Through 2022 $585,000**
Alex Wood 2.6 0.6 28 Through 2019 $9-9.5M*
Outfielder 2018 WAR 2019 Proj WAR 2019 Age Control Status 2019 Salary
Cody Bellinger 3.6 3.9 23 Through 2023 $600,000**
Matt Kemp 1.6 0.5 34 Through 2019 $21.5M
Joc Pederson 2.7 2.9 27 Through 2020 $4.25-4.3M*
Yasiel Puig 1.8 3.1 28 Through 2019 $11.3-12.5M*
Chris Taylor 3.1 2.4 28 Through 2021 $3-2-3.5M*
Alex Verdugo 0.2 1.0 23 Through 2024? $555,000 **
SOURCE: Cot’s Contracts, MLB Trade Rumors
* = projected salary range via Cots and MLBTR, * * * = projected salary via this scribe given $555,000 MLB minimum.

The WAR projections on our Depth Charts page come with some caveats. The oft-injured Hill’s projection is based upon 159 innings, even though he has averaged 134 in his two full seasons with the Dodgers, while Wood’s is based upon just 58 innings in a swingman role, including 26 appearances but just six starts; he’s averaged 152 innings over the past two seasons. Similarly, Stripling is projected for just 68 innings in six starts and 30 relief appearances, while the projection for Verdugo (the Dodgers’ No. 3 prospect and the game’s No. 49 overall according to the fancy board put together by Eric Longenhagen and Kiley McDaniel) is based upon just 43 plate appearances at the major league level. Prorating Wood to 150 innings yields 1.6 WAR, doing so for Stripling yields 1.8 WAR, and doing so to 300 PA for Verdugo yields 0.5 WAR.

That’s a whole lot of talent and control on the table, and it doesn’t even include their pair of catching prospects, Keibert Ruiz and Will Smith, one of whom could be moved as well. So the Dodgers have a veritable plethora of options as they try to navigate under the $206 million Competitive Balance Tax threshold if they so choose (Cot’s Contracts pegs them at $190 million and counting). One can envision, for example, the inclusion of Kemp in a trade involving Pederson (or, though it’s much less likely, Bellinger, as they’d probably have to be bowled over by an offer to deal the former NL Rookie of the Year), with the Dodgers picking up some portion of his remaining salary. The Indians and Dodgers are known to have discussed Puig in the past, and according to MLB.com’s Jon Morosi, have shown interest in Verdugo as well. In addition to his skill as a player, Puig could also appeal to the Marlins given Miami’s large Cuban population and the team’s recent rebranding to emphasize the city’s heritage; after all, it’s not like [squints at roster] Peter O’Brien is going to put butts in seats.

Meanwhile, the likes of free agents such as second baseman DJ LeMahieu and reliever David Robertson have been connected to the Dodgers as well, so it seems like it is only a matter of time before they commit to a path and light up the transaction wires.


White Sox Add Ivan Nova for Advanced Teen Righty, International Space

On Tuesday the White Sox acquired 31-year-old veteran strike-thrower Ivan Nova from the Pirates in exchange for 19-year-old Dominican right-hander Yordi Rosario, and $500,000 in international bonus space.

One of the most efficient strike-throwers in baseball, Nova joins a White Sox rotation comprised mostly of young-ish arms who struggle with walks. White Sox starters who threw at least 100 innings last year posted walk rates between 9% (James Shields) and 13% (Hector Santiago), all of which are below average. Nova’s walk rates have hovered in the 4-5% range during each of the last three seasons, the fifth-best rate in baseball during that span. The White Sox seem to have begun adding veteran pieces to a team that has been rebuilding for a while, perhaps with an eye on competing sooner than later in a weak division that has been dominated by a Cleveland club that appears to be focused more on shedding salary than adding premium talent and further separating themselves.

Nova is in the final year of a three-year deal and is set to make about $9 million in 2019. Pittsburgh’s decision to move him was likely motivated by a combination of the desire to shed salary as well as their comparable in-house replacements for the right-hander, who was a 1.1 WAR pitcher in 2018. The Pirates are stocked with several upper-level sinkerballers who should provide a similar quality of performance until promising pitching prospect Mitch Keller, who we ranked no. 2 in the system, is ready for promotion, which will likely be at some point next year.

The Pirates main return was teenage righty Yordi Rosario, who was advanced enough to garner a 2018 mid-summer promotion from the DSL to the AZL. Rosario is one of four young projection arms acquired by Pittsburgh already this offseason, joining Tahnaj Thomas, Dante Mendoza, and Wilkin Ramos, and he shares several traits with them.

Rosario is a spindly 6-foot-2 and has lots of room on his frame for physical growth, which could lead to increased fastball velocity. He repeats a graceful, athletic delivery and throws a lot of strikes with a fastball that currently resides in the 88-92 range and will bump 93 or 94 on occasion. He also has mature feel for an average, 12-6 curveball that has sufficient depth and bite to miss bats against low-level hitters. We had a 35+ FV on Rosario when the season ended and he’ll slot into the same tier on the Pirates list. His reasonable ceiling is that of a no. 4 or 5 starter, unless he grows into better stuff than I anticipate.

The Luis Robert signing late in the 2016-2017 International Free Agent put the White Sox in the bonus penalty box for the two subsequent signing periods. They’re barred from signing prospects for more than $300,000 until July 2 2019, so their international bonus money is arguably best used in trades like this. What Pittsburgh does with that international bonus space before the current signing period ends in June is undetermined. All of the top IFA talents have signed and the Pirates will be competing for the remaining prospects with teams that lost out on the Victor Victor Mesa sweepstakes, especially Baltimore, which still has several million dollars to spend. Pittsburgh has been more active in Asia than most other clubs.


Miguel Andujar Is Available

A rumor surfaced last night that a three-team trade might be brewing between the Mets, Yankees, and Marlins. According to Ken Rosenthal, J.T. Realmuto would head to the Mets with Noah Syndergaard going to the Yankees. While Realmuto might not fill the Mets’ biggest need, the Marlins catcher is a really good player who would provide a sizable upgrade over the options they have on the roster. For the Yankees, getting another ace-level pitcher in Syndergaard would help them to continue building their rotation after missing out on Patrick Corbin. As for the Marlins, they are obviously looking to get younger as they try to rebuild for the future. The player who might be headed to Miami? That would be Miguel Andujar.

The Yankees third baseman is coming off a very good rookie campaign, during which he batted .297/.328/.527 for a 128 wRC+. Andujar features a contact-heavy approach that limits walks and strikeouts. In the Yankees’ Top 27 Prospects write-up last year, this what Kiley McDaniel and Eric Longenhagen had to say about Andujar, who they ranked as the 14th-best prospect in baseball heading into the 2018 season.

Andujar has tantalized scouts since early in his pro career with a strong, athletic frame and flashy tools that are above average to plus across the board. He was largely seen as potential, even passed over by all 30 teams in the Rule 5 Draft following the 2015 season. He broke out in a huge way in 2017, reaching a critical mass of adjustments and maturity that showed up in the counting stats.

Andujar has cut down on his swing-and-miss while also lifting the ball more and hitting it with more authority, an obviously rare and desirable combination when you’re already working with a toolsy prospect who was always young for his level.

Andujar lived up to that report last season, and as a batter, he was a top ten third basemen in baseball. With five seasons left of team control, Andujar is a young, cheap potential star. As to why the Yankees might move him, Andujar was very bad on defense last year, 16 runs below average on defense by UZR and -25 by DRS. He should probably not be playing third base. I asked Longenhagen what position Andujar should be playing, and he said he would move him to right field. Andujar has a great arm and above-average sprint speed, so a move to the outfield might showcase his skills better than the hot corner does, but the Yankees already have a full outfield. First base might waste Andujar’s arm and some of his issues in the field might not be alleviated by moving across the diamond. Trading Andujar to help the rotation would also free up a spot to potentially sign Manny Machado.

Putting Andujar in right field limits his ceiling, as an average third baseman with his batting line last season would have been a 4-plus win player. Even slightly below average defense in right field would put Andujar in the three-win range, meaning the bat would need to take another step forward to compensate. That step forward is a possibility for a player who is just 23 years old, especially if he improves his walk rate a little and his strikeouts come down closer to his minor league numbers. That’s still an All-Star level player in right field. Even if the Yankees are making Andujar available, it shouldn’t be seen a huge slight to Andujar. He’s a good player now, and has the potential to be better.


TV Party from Vegas (with a Spink Award Winner)

Greetings from the Winter Meetings in Las Vegas, where the big excitement of the Tyson Ross signing still hasn’t died down. On Monday, in the wake of Harold Baines’ shocking election to the Hall of Fame by the Today’s Game Era Committee, I did a pair of TV spots on the subject that I shared on Twitter and figured I’d gather here as well.

First off, here’s the spot I did for Fox Sports South (the RSN of the Braves) with Cory McCartney. Naturally, our discussion touched upon several Atlanta-linked candidates:

And here I am on MLB Now, discussing the election with Brian Kenny, Dan O’Dowd, and Jayson Stark:

That would be 2019 J.G. Taylor Spink Award winner Jayson Stark, whose win was announced at the BBWAA’s winter meeting on Tuesday morning, as well as simultaneously on the organization’s web site. A 40-year veteran of the industry who has spent the bulk of his career at the Philadelphia Inquirer and ESPN (he’s now at The Athletic), Stark has long been a favorite of the statistically inclined, and was at the vanguard when it came to incorporating advanced statistics into his Hall of Fame deliberations (a topic I took up in The Cooperstown Casebook, for which he also provided a glowing back-cover blurb). In doing so, he’s introduced my work to countless people, including fellow voters. Thus, doing a TV spot with him was a bucket-list item given my respect for him and the impact he’s had upon my career. My heartfelt congratulations, Jayson!

For some reason, that MLB Network set upon which our discussion took place is outdoors overlooking a swimming pool, and when I was coming off set, I could not help but notice the potential for disaster and a particular variety of Winter Meetings infamy:


JAWS and the 2019 Hall of Fame Ballot: Fred McGriff

The following article is part of Jay Jaffe’s ongoing look at the candidates on the BBWAA 2019 Hall of Fame ballot. Originally written for the 2013 election at SI.com, it has been updated to reflect recent voting results as well as additional research. For a detailed introduction to this year’s ballot, and other candidates in the series, use the tool above; an introduction to JAWS can be found here. For a tentative schedule and a chance to fill out a Hall of Fame ballot for our crowdsourcing project, see here. All WAR figures refer to the Baseball-Reference version unless otherwise indicated.

Despite being an outstanding hitter, Fred McGriff had a hard time standing out. Though he arrived in the major leagues in the same year as Mark McGwire and Rafael Palmeiro and was the first player to lead each league in home runs since the dead-ball era, he couldn’t match the career accomplishments of either of those two men, finishing short of round-numbered milestones with “only” 493 home runs and 2,490 hits. The obvious explanation — that he didn’t have the pharmaceutical help that others did — may be true, but it was just one of many ways in which McGriff’s strong performance didn’t garner as much attention as it merited.

That isn’t to say that McGriff went totally unnoticed during his heyday, but some of the things for which he received attention were decidedly… square. Early in his major league career, McGriff acquired the nickname “the Crime Dog” in reference to McGruff, an animated talking bloodhound from a public service announcement who urged kids to “take a bite out of crime” by staying in school and away from drugs. He also appeared in the longest-running sports infomercial of all time, endorsing Tom Emanski’s Baseball Defensive Drills video, a staple of insomniac viewing amid SportsCenter segments on ESPN since 1991.

That those distinctions carry some amount of ironic cachet today is evidence that McGriff might have been just too gosh-darn wholesome a star for an increasingly cynical age. On the other hand, it’s far better to be remembered for pointing a finger in the service of a timeless baseball fundamentals video than providing sworn testimony in front of Congress. But it hasn’t translated to support from Hall of Fame voters. McGriff debuted at 21.5% on the 2010 ballot, peaked at 23.9% two years later, and is now in his final year of eligibility, with little hope of escaping the ballot’s lower reaches. Unfortunately for him, advanced statistics haven’t helped his cause, but with the elections of four living ex-players in the last two years by the Era Committees, he may well face a more sympathetic voting body in the near future.

2019 BBWAA Candidate: Fred McGriff
Player Career WAR Peak WAR JAWS
Fred McGriff 52.6 36.0 44.3
Avg. HOF 1B 66.8 42.7 54.7
H HR AVG/OBP/SLG OPS+
2,490 493 .284/.377/.509 134
SOURCE: Baseball-Reference

Read the rest of this entry »


The Next Frontier of Baseball and the Law

Perhaps the subject most frequently discussed in the chats and pieces that appear at FanGraphs is what the next great baseball innovation will be. Most teams have caught up on the analytics revolution heralded by Moneyball; even longstanding holdouts like the Orioles and Giants have surrendered to the inevitable and embraced the modern game. So what comes next? In an age in which everyone has access to advanced metrics, where will the next advantage be found?

One could argue that it’s already here and has been for a few years already, developing right under our noses. This movement actually started not in baseball, but in the National Basketball Association (NBA), which, in the past five years, began the gargantuan undertaking of incorporating biometrics – that is, the measurement of the bodies of the players themselves – into the fabric of the league. To see how this works, let’s take a look at this excerpt from a Tom Haberstroh ESPN story about how biometrics changed the career path of NBA star Kawhi Leonard.

When [Adam Silver] took over for David Stern [as NBA Commissioner], he made a series of changes to sharpen the NBA’s measurements. For the 2013-14 season, the league partnered with Stats LLC and installed SportVU player-tracking cameras in every arena. Now player speed, distance traveled and acceleration can all be cataloged and chewed on by data-crazed NBA fans and teams. The cameras even track potential assists.

In one sense, this sounds like the NBA version of Statcast. But it’s significantly more than that.

More quietly, in 2014 Silver hired a sports science institute called P3 Applied Sports Science to modernize the league’s draft combine. Beyond using tape measures, P3 puts players through a series of movements assessed by high-tech force plates embedded in the floor and cameras shooting from multiple angles, all feeding data into laptops. The founder, Dr. Marcus Elliott, says P3 asks not just how high do you jump but also how do you land and how high and how quickly can you jump a second time. The goal is to find patterns that predict injury. If a player lands on his right leg with disproportionately more force than his left, for example, that might be a signal of weakness in his left ankle. Even the smallest hitch in a player’s running pattern could, over time, create a chain reaction of physical breakdowns, a human butterfly effect.

So it is that the NBA has become primed to optimize a player with the right unique mix of physical attributes — the type of player who might have been overlooked just a few years ago.

In other words, while Statcast is looking at the metrics of what happened, the NBA has started looking for predictive metrics based on a player’s own physiological attributes.

During his second NBA season in 2012, Leonard was sidelined for 18 games with quadriceps tendinitis near his left knee. That offseason, the Spurs sent him to P3 to assess his vastus medialis, a teardrop-shaped muscle in the quads that powers the knee joint. “They focus on trying to balance out your body,” Leonard explains. “You don’t train there. I learned more about the body.” When P3’s evaluation showed imbalances from his injury — the particulars of which P3 refused to reveal to ESPN — Leonard and Shelton devoted that summer to ensuring his quads weren’t just strong but symmetrically and multidirectionally strong. “Most players are linear; they can run in a straight line and jump vertically,” Shelton says. “But with Kawhi, we focus on perfecting change of direction.”

The success of the NBA’s biometrics endeavors led the league the expand the initiative further – much further. In 2014, Eric Freeman wrote for Yahoo Sports that teams had begun monitoring their players’ sleep, and were proposing regular blood tests.

[T]he Golden State Warriors [are] having Andre Iguodala and others wear wristbands to monitor their sleep. In truth, most of the examples are fairly innocuous and involve players undergoing tests that would figure to improve their performance with minimal invasiveness. Every player mentioned also seems to take the monitoring and its results seriously, to the point where the information revealed could not be used against them in any obvious way.

However, the piece also includes several statements, like those from the Kings front-office members mentioned above, in which NBA decision-makers indicate that they would much prefer to track players’ fatigue levels with invasive procedures like regular blood tests. The stated goal is to keep players healthier so that franchises don’t lose money in salary via games spent on the bench, but the authors are right to suggest that the same information could easily be used against players in contract negotiations. . . . Rather, the question is if teams extracting data (or, as the recently retired Shane Battier fears, all bodily fluids) from players represents too much oversight and a breach of proper relations between employers and employees.

And last year, Jimmy Golen wrote for NBA.com that teams were now assessing players’ vital signs as they played, capturing that data and using it to predict injury and improve performance.

It is no longer enough for a basketball team to know how many shots a player makes, or even where he was standing when he made it.

Sports data is going biometric, tracking players’ heart rates, movements and energy levels to get a better picture of what’s going on inside their bodies as they run, jump and even sit on the bench. And, device-makers say, the technology can help coaches decide who needs a rest, who needs more work, or who might be most at risk for injury.

“Do you have eyes on every single athlete, every single session?” said Calvin Torres, a sports scientist with the tracker and data company Catapult, who’s heard all the complaints from old-time coaches who insist that they can do the same thing with their eyes and their instincts. “If you put a monitor on them, you do.”

These efforts have been so successful that teams in other leagues have joined them. As Golen wrote, “Catapult is already working with 16 NFL teams, 15 in the NBA and four in the NHL, along with more than a thousand in high school, college, national and pro teams in dozens of countries and sports from rowing to rugby and badminton to bandy.” By last year, NBA teams were talking about quantifying injury risks based on movement pattern analysis.

What’s missing in this strategy is objective, reliable information about a prospect’s injury risk factors and physical proposition. Unfortunately, there is not yet a mandatory pre-draft test that supplies such data. That’s where movement pattern analysis technology comes in – technology that provides coaches with a virtual team of biomechanical experts that output valuable insights that can lead them to making a more informed draft selection. With the latest solutions offering quick & automated assessment, teams need no more than a few minutes to obtain this imperative piece of knowledge during personal pre-draft workout sessions.

By getting a complete picture of a player’s capabilities — how strong his knees are, how stable his ankle movement is, how refined is his jumping technique — teams can greatly increase the likelihood that their pick will remain healthy and able to perform daily, and develop training plans that will enable turn them into the superstar they were yearning to get. Adding this piece to their puzzle, NBA decision-makers can sleep just a bit more soundly at night, knowing that they are way ahead of the curve.

This is the newest frontier in professional sports – and in major league baseball. And it’s easy to see why: the ability to quantify player injury risk, movement, and health is tantalizing. Imagine if teams could predict, based on movement pattern analysis, a pitcher’s risk for ulnar collateral ligament damage? Or if a team could anticipate injuries like Prince Fielder’s ultimately career-ending spinal damage before he signed his $214 million mega-deal with the Tigers? And the applications go beyond just injuries. Range could be quantified for infielders not just based on Statcast, but on physiological capability. Lateral movement and first-step quickness could be improved and predicted, not just measured. Age-related decline could be predicted with exacting accuracy based on measurable bodily degradation. Simply put, such technological advances could revolutionize professional sports.

But it’s not that simple. Why? Because teams are players’ employers. Think of the privacy concerns that could arise from your employer measuring your breathing, your heart rate, your blood levels, and even your sleep patterns, sometimes when you aren’t on the job. Suddenly, employees never have true off-time, because their employer knows their physiology whether they’re on the clock or not. If health information leaked to the press, it could be embarrassing or worse. There’s a reason that Congress passed the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996, which you probably know as HIPAA; in the United States, health information is and should be private.

FanGraphs’ own Rian Watt wrote for Vice Sports last year that the issue is rapidly approaching a critical point.

Imagine an office job wherein every keystroke, every mouse movement, and every roll of the desk chair is tracked and logged. Or don’t—such jobs already exist. Then add a heart rate monitor, a live video feed, and the inability to leave for another employer to that picture and you have a general sense of life as a professional baseball player in the biometric future.

The issue is that while HIPAA regulations say an employer generally can’t require an employee’s healthcare provider to turn over medical records, those regulations don’t prevent an employer from asking the employee to tender those records. In other words, HIPAA likely doesn’t stop baseball teams (or the NBA, or the NFL) from collecting biometric data. As Barbara Osborne and Jennie Cunningham wrote in an excellent article for the Marquette Sports Law Review:

Under the statutory language of HIPAA, most of the medical staff employed by professional sports teams would almost certainly be considered healthcare providers subject to the privacy and security requirements of HIPAA. . . . However, [the Department of Health and Human Services] issued a response during the notice and comment period that communicates the opposite effect: DHHS first noted professional sports teams were “unlikely to be covered entities” that would need to abide by HIPAA privacy rules. Further, even if teams would be covered or partly covered, DHHS noted that—although it did not condone a blanket reduction of privacy for an entire group of individuals (like players), it is fully within the purview of employers to “mak[e] an employee’s agreement to disclose health records a condition of employment” (as is maintaining a certain level physical fitness). DHHS adopted language “excluding employment records maintained by a covered entity in its capacity as an employer from the definition of ‘protected health information.’” Operationally, the effect of the guidance is to affirm teams’ power to compel players to disclose health information (waive HIPAA privacy) and subsume the information into the employment record of each player. Once considered part of the employment record, the contents of the record are not viewed as protected health information.

Recognizing this, the National Basketball Players’ Association (NBPA) negotiated language governing biometric data into their latest collective bargaining agreement with the NBA. Article XXII of the NBA’s CBA, governing Player health and fitness, guarantees that all player health information will remain confidential and the property of the player, and limits its allowable uses. And biometric data obtained from wearable technology cannot be used in contract negotiations.

Data collected from a Wearable worn at the request of a Team may be used for player health and performance purposes and Team on-court tactical and strategic purposes only. The data may not be considered, used, discussed or referenced for any other purpose such as in negotiations regarding a future Player Contract or other Player Contract transaction (e.g., a trade or waiver) involving the player. In a proceeding brought by the Players Association under the procedures set forth in Article XXXI, the Grievance Arbitrator will have authority to impose a fine of up to $250,000 on any Team shown to have violated this provision.

The National Football League Players’ Association (NFLPA) also sought protections for its players in its most recent CBA, including language saying that “players must agree to disclosure of their injury relevant HIPAA information…”

But so far, the MLBPA’s approach has been curiously divergent from that of the NBPA and NFLPA. While those unions have been working to limit the use of wearable technology and biometrics, the MLBPA has been slow to seek any protections for MLB players. And given how wearables and biometrics entered baseball in earnest in 2016, that’s somewhat distressing, particularly when you consider the warning Nathaniel Grow gave when he covered this topic most recently:

All told, then, with the exception of mandatory DNA testing, there is currently very little legal protection preventing MLB teams from subjecting their players to the obligatory collection of biometric data. As a result, given the prominent role that wearable technology is poised to play in the industry in the near future, this is certainly an area that the MLBPA would be wise to try to address in the next CBA.

And in August, Stephanie Springer wrote for The Hardball Times that MLB has approved nearly a dozen different wearable devices for in-game use, collecting data on everything from sleep patterns to heart rates.

Now, that doesn’t mean that the MLBPA has necessarily been asleep at the switch. Attachment 56 to the latest CBA, which governs wearable technology and data, guarantees the confidentiality of data obtained from wearable technology.

Any and all Wearable Data shall be treated as highly confidential at all times, including after the expiration, suspension or termination of this Agreement, shall not become a part of the Player’s medical record, and shall not be disclosed by a Club to any party other than those persons listed in this Paragraph 4 without the express written consent of the Player and the Association. In addition, all such Data must be destroyed or permanently deleted in the event a Player requests to have such Data destroyed or deleted, in which case a Player may request a copy of his data prior to its destruction or deletion.

This language is based, in part, on an Illinois statute called the Biometric Information Privacy Act (BIPA), and mirrors the language of the Illinois law. But there are differences. For one thing, biometric data is defined much more narrowly in Attachment 56 than it is in BIPA, giving MLB significantly more latitude. And Attachment 56 conspicuously omitted this language from BIPA:

A private entity in possession of biometric identifiers or biometric information must develop a written policy, made available to the public, establishing a retention schedule and guidelines for permanently destroying biometric identifiers and biometric information when the initial purpose for collecting or obtaining such identifiers or information has been satisfied or within 3 years of the individual’s last interaction with the private entity, whichever occurs first. Absent a valid warrant or subpoena issued by a court of competent jurisdiction, a private entity in possession of biometric identifiers or biometric information must comply with its established retention schedule and destruction guidelines.

And there are some other notable omissions. While the most recent CBA does guarantee that wearable data cannot be used in salary arbitration, there is no prohibition in the CBA on using it in contract negotiations generally, or in trades. Unlike the NBA’s CBA, there is no provision providing a penalty for violations. And unlike both the NFL and NBA agreements, the MLB CBA does not contain strict language stating that medical records are the property of the player. Now, the CBA does provide a prohibition on public disclosure:

A Club Physician or Certified Athletic Trainer treating a Player . . . shall be prohibited from making any public disclosure of a Player’s medical information absent a separate, specific written authorization from the Player authorizing such public disclosure.

That this language is less stringent than the NBPA negotiated has real effects, because it transfers the burden from the League to the player. And perhaps most significantly, the MLB CBA and Attachment 56 do not include minor league players within their scope, meaning that major league teams seemingly can lawfully compel minor leaguers to surrender data from wearable technology. As Nicholas Zych wrote for the DePaul University Journal of Sports Law, “In the approaching battle over [biometrics data] ownership, rights-holding Clubs will have a strong upper hand over MiLB players.”

And that’s another reason why the current CBA scheme is so flawed from the player perspective. If teams already know sensitive information regarding minor leaguers’ health – information which they are not required to keep confidential given the exclusion of minor leaguers from the CBA – it could give them a plausible-seeming reason to delay promotions and stunt service time accrual, and perhaps even manipulate trade value. And major leaguers could see their earning potential reduced by medical and biometric data dating from when they were in the minor leagues. When players are called up to the major leagues, sensitive data regarding their health may already have been compromised without remedy, giving further ground to a team which wishes to exploit it.

“With all of this, player consent is critical,” says Alan Milstein [to Watt], a New Jersey-based attorney who practices in both bioethics and sports law. . . . “A young player, 19 years old, when he sees the team physician, is going to be under the impression that that physician is his physician, and that there’s going to be some kind of doctor-patient relationship with some kind of fiduciary duty that the physician owes to him,” Milstein notes. “But that physician really works for the team, and that creates a lot of ethical issues.”

So what’s the solution here? This is one issue where the MLBPA needs to take a much firmer stance, not only on behalf of major league players but minor league players as well. Thus far, the MLBPA has notably been the least active union when it comes to these issues, and also the only one which provides such limited protections to future high-end professionals; the MLBPA CBA gives no defense to minor leaguer whose biometric data is being collected until the day he is added to a 40-man roster. That is simply not tenable, particularly given the incentive it gives teams to extract as much data as possible from minor leaguers for as long as they can. The MLBPA has essentially provided a route by which teams might one day have a staggering amount of private health information concerning its members, almost none of which will be subject to legal protection.


Elegy for ’18 – Atlanta Braves

Ronald Acuña is a big part of Atlanta’s bright present and future.
(Photo: Ian D’Andrea)

The Braves winning the NL East wasn’t really that big a surprise, as the questions surrounding the team generally centered on “when” rather than “if.” Perhaps a year ahead of schedule, 2018 saw some of the team’s prospect dividend started paying off richly.

The Setup

Tanking may be what the cool kids do when they rebuild these days, but back in 2014, it wasn’t quite as de rigueur as it is now. Atlanta was unusually aggressive about trading their players with value, even those who were still young, must notably Jason Heyward and Andrelton Simmons, who were traded after their age-24 and age-25 seasons respectively.

But they didn’t trade all of them. Staying in Atlanta was Freddie Freeman, who signed an eight-year, $135 million contract before the 2014 season, a deal that looks like it’ll be excellent right until the very end, which is a relative rarity for nine-figure deals with players on the easy end of the defensive spectrum.

Also remaining was Julio Teheran, who the Braves signed to a very reasonable six-year, $32.4 million contract with an option that would keep him in Atlanta through 2020. The team’s unofficial stance was that Teheran would anchor the rotation throughout the rebuilding process, though I also felt he might have been traded if his post-2014 performances had been more impressive.

In terms of competing in 2018, I’m still of the mind that this past season’s success caught the organization somewhat by surprise. If they had thought they were positioned to win 90 games, Atlanta’s biggest offseason signing probably wouldn’t have been Anibal Sanchez. Even the team’s trade involving big-in-2011 names, which sent Matt Kemp to the Dodgers for Adrian Gonzalez, Scott Kazmir, Brandon McCarthy, Charlie Culberson, and cash, was mostly about competitive balance tax implications. Gonzalez and Kazmir didn’t play a single game for the Braves; McCarthy was basically replacement level and retired by the end of the season; only Culberson was really left to contribute much to the team.

The Projection

While ZiPS was a big believer in both the Braves and Phillies in the long-term, the computer generally saw 2018 as a “too soon” kind of thing. ZiPS projected them well enough that I listed the Braves (and the Phillies) in the top two in a piece on stealth contenders in 2018. (The less said about the last two teams, the better!) ZiPS projected them for a 79-83 record in the final, official projection going into 2018, with a 1-in-7 chance of making the playoffs.

The Results

The team didn’t come out of the gate roaring, but they took most of their early series, and eventually took the divisional lead for the first time in early May after winning two out of three against the Phillies and sweeping the rapidly fading Mets. The team traded first with the Phillies over the next few months, never falling to second by more than a few games, before seizing first place for good in August.

Oddly enough, the Braves initially got to first without their eventual NL Rookie of the Year and best prospect, phenom Ronald Acuña, who was recalled at the end of April. Instead, it was some of the surprisingly good veterans, like Nick Markakis, Kurt Suzuki, and Ryan Flaherty, with wRC+s of 144, 136, and 126 respectively, leading the charge when they caught first place.

Markakis went on to make his first All-Star Game at age 34, long after anyone had considered him anything but a stopgap option in the outfield. It was not to last, with Markakis hitting .258/.332/.369 with only four homers after the midseason break. But the addition of Acuña to the roster more than compensated for the drop off; he was just as good as adding a Manny Machado or a Bryce Harper.

ZiPS already saw Acuña as a three-win player coming into 2018, hitting a perfectly respectable .269/.321/.425, a damn good line for a 20-year-old who would also be fully capable of playing centerfield if not for the existence of Ender Inciarte.

He was better than that. Reminiscent of Trout getting ZiPS best ever rookie projection and still eviscerating it by July, Acuña’s cromulent projected 101 wRC+ was mocked and beaten by the actual 143 he put up. For a time in July, when Acuña had slumped to a .249/.304/.438 line and missed significant time with a leg injury, it looked like Washington’s explosive Juan Soto would capture the Rookie of the Year award. But Acuña hit .322/.403/.625 while Atlanta put away the rest of the NL East and he won the award in a walk, taking 27 of the 30 first-place votes.

The postseason didn’t go quite as well for the Braves; the team was shutout in the first two games in Dodger Stadium by Hyun-Jin Ryu and Clayton Kershaw. After the bullpen failed to hold the line in Game 4, a two-run single by David Freese in the sixth and a three-run homer by Manny Machado in the seventh ended Atlanta’s season.

What Comes Next?

While it would have been fun to knock off the reigning NL champions in the NLDS, this also wasn’t a team fighting against a closing window; rather they were still in the process of opening one.

The inability to sign international prospects and the declared free agency of Kevin Maitan and others as a result of the Braves playing with fire vis-à-vis the international signing rules was an enormous loss. But hiring Alex Anthopoulos to run the team was still a silver lining.

Anthopoulos, since joining the Braves in November 2017, has focused on staying the course and even if it wasn’t one he personally set, he’s served as a terrific caretaker of Atlanta’s rebuild, electing not to carelessly fritter away long-term value to improve the Braves in the moment.

That’s not to say the team stood-pat in 2018. They did make significant moves, most notably picking up Kevin Gausman and Darren O’Day from the Baltimore Orioles, pickups that weren’t just about 2018. And they did it without giving up any of the crown jewels.

People are sometimes too quick to trade prospects who aren’t a great roster fit. Even if you don’t have an immediate slot for a Luiz Gohara or a Mike Soroka full-time, trading them now costs you the ability to trade them for a player who might be even more crucial later.

This winter, the Braves are blessed with both financial and roster flexibility, and are arguably one of the teams least constrained by various issues. They’ve already made their first move, bringing in Josh Donaldson for 2019, a move that is both win-now and will not block Austin Riley long-term. Atlanta doesn’t appear to be in on Bryce Harper, but they have the ability to go after just about anyone else. And with a team on the rise, they could be a real lure for free agents (as they were for Donaldson).

ZiPS Projection – Ronald Acuña

We’ve already spent a lot of digital ink on the merits of Atlanta’s young outfielder, so let’s just dump some projections on you; it’s almost fanservice at this point.

ZiPS Projection – Ronald Acuña
Year BA OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB OPS+ DR WAR
2019 .276 .344 .511 550 88 152 29 5 30 81 54 165 25 126 5 4.0
2020 .284 .354 .543 536 90 152 31 6 32 84 56 157 21 136 5 4.6
2021 .287 .359 .557 537 93 154 31 6 34 89 58 153 22 141 5 5.1
2022 .285 .360 .563 533 94 152 31 6 35 89 60 154 22 143 4 5.1
2023 .284 .361 .558 529 92 150 31 6 34 87 61 153 21 142 4 5.0
2024 .280 .359 .548 522 91 146 29 6 33 85 62 153 20 139 4 4.7
2025 .277 .358 .543 512 89 142 28 6 32 83 62 152 19 138 3 4.5

Tyson Ross to Be Trade Chip, Again, Maybe

A year ago, the Padres brought back Tyson Ross on an incentive-laden, one-year contract. He had had his best years in San Diego earlier this decade, but underwent Thoracic Outlet Syndrome in 2016; the track record of recovery following that surgery has been spotty at best. Ross made 10 ugly starts for the Rangers in 2017 before the Padres guaranteed him $1.75 million last season. Early in the year, Ross looked like a promising trade chip for a rebuilding San Diego team, using his slider often to get outs. But that wasn’t the way the season ended for the right hander, who was claimed off waivers by the Cardinals. Now, the Tigers are going to try the same gambit as they rebuild. According to Ken Rosenthal, Detroit has agreed to a deal with Ross for one year and $5.75 million.

While the Padres were likely hopeful in May that they would receive a decent prospect for Ross, he ended up netting them nothing. As the year wore on, his arm wore down. In June and July, he made 10 starts, striking out just 16% of batters and walking 11%, and gave up 10 homers on the way to a 5.93 FIP and 5.81 ERA. That incentive-laden contract turned out to be a burden for the Padres, who had to pay Ross $200,000 for each of his starts from number 20 through start 29.

St. Louis used Ross mostly in relief, and while his strikeout and walk numbers weren’t any better, he gave up just one homer in 26.1 innings. This is what Ross’ fastball velocity looked like during the year.

His velocity dipped after a strong start, and was inconsistent the rest of the way, though it ticked back up at the very end of the season. Ross used a cutter more often with the Cardinals and that might have helped increase his ground ball rate and help him last as a starter. Perhaps more experimenting with his good slider could help keep batters off balance.

It’s possible Ross simply can’t withstand starting for a full season given his injury history. Maybe with a year under his belt post-surgery, he’ll have more strength built up to make it through a full year. Ross is pretty far removed from his good seasons, but he’s less than a year removed from being an effective starter, at least for a stretch. The Tigers have made a minimal commitment with low expectations, and can afford to see what the 31-year-old has to offer. If Ross can put it back together again, and if he does, they might be rewarded at the trade deadline.


J.T. Realmuto Could Stand to Get out of Miami

The Marlins have an interesting relationship with J.T. Realmuto, who might well have blossomed into the best all-around catcher in baseball. The Marlins love Realmuto, and they’ve continued to insist that they want to sign him to a long-term contract extension, to keep him around as the centerpiece of the future core. Yet Realmuto has signed no long-term contract extension, and word has gotten out on more than one occasion that his side feels like he should be traded. You can understand why he might not trust that the Marlins are headed in a promising direction, given his own experiences with the team.

So even just from a psychological perspective, it’s clear why Realmuto might want a fresh start. But then, from a physical perspective, there’s also the matter of his home ballpark. It’s no secret that the Marlins play half of their games in a pitcher-friendly environment, but Realmuto himself has paid a particular price over his first few seasons.

Read the rest of this entry »


Mariners Claim Infielder to Pitch

Having already sold off most of his most valuable roster assets, Jerry Dipoto informed the media his top priority during the winter meetings would be to beef up the bullpen. I didn’t think this was how I’d start off a small post discussing the Mariners’ waiver claim of Kaleb Cowart.

I saw the press release in my inbox and initially didn’t think much of it. Lots of waiver claims today. Mike Gerber. Rio Ruiz. Kaleb Cowart. Others. But then there was a section that caught my eye:

Read the rest of this entry »


Royals Get Slightly More Interesting

Billy Hamilton does several things really well. Since the start of the 2014 season, Hamilton has stolen 264 bases, which is the most in baseball. During that time, he’s been worth 51 runs above average on the bases, which is also the best in baseball by a considerable margin. He’s been worth 55 runs above average on defense, which is sixth in the entire sport. Unfortunately, he’s also been a terrible hitter, with an anemic .244/.297/.332 line over the last five seasons. Of the 164 players with at least 2000 plate appearances over that span, Hamilton’s 69 wRC+ comes in dead last. The Reds no longer wished to deal with a player who, despite doing several things really well, is generally below average, particularly as Hamilton’s salary was set to rise in arbitration, so they did not tender him a contract. Hamilton has found a new home in Kansas City.

According to Buster Olney, the Royals and the speedy center fielder have agreed to a deal that will pay Hamilton $5.25 million, plus an additional one million dollars in potential incentives. MLB Trade Rumors projected Hamilton would receive $5.9 million in arbitration, so this deal falls a little short of that estimate.

For the Reds, the move opens up some options in a crowded part of their roster. With a full infield of Joey Votto, Scooter Gennett, the surprising Jose Peraza, and Eugenio Suarez, the team didn’t have room for top prospect Nick Senzel. The third base prospect was tried out in the middle infield last season, but he seems likely to take on a new project in center field next year.

Given the terms of Hamilton’s deal with Kansas City, there wasn’t likely a robust trade market for him. In Kansas City, he should get the opportunity to show off his great defensive skills and base running for a team not likely to win a lot of games next year. The Royals still seem to be committed to Brett Phillips, part of the return for Mike Moustakas last season in a deadline deal with the Brewers. That means that Phillips will likely move to right field, and with Alex Gordon in left field, the team should have very good outfield defense, though perhaps not quite on the level of the Boston Red Sox.

Despite his flaws, Billy Hamilton is one of the more exciting players in baseball, and it is good for the sport that he appears to have found a full-time home for next season.


JAWS and the 2019 Hall of Fame Ballot: Manny Ramirez

The following article is part of Jay Jaffe’s ongoing look at the candidates on the BBWAA 2019 Hall of Fame ballot. Originally written for the 2017 election at SI.com, it has been updated to reflect recent voting results as well as additional research. For a detailed introduction to this year’s ballot, and other candidates in the series, use the tool above; an introduction to JAWS can be found here. For a tentative schedule and a chance to fill out a Hall of Fame ballot for our crowdsourcing project, see here. All WAR figures refer to the Baseball-Reference version unless otherwise indicated.

A savant in the batter’s box, Manny Ramirez could be an idiot just about everywhere else — sometimes amusingly, sometimes much less so. The Dominican-born slugger, who grew up in the Washington Heights neighborhood of upper Manhattan, stands as one of the greatest hitters of all time, a power-hitting righthanded slugger who spent the better part of his 19 seasons (1993–2011) terrorizing pitchers. A 12-time All-Star, Ramirez bashed 555 home runs and helped the Indians and the Red Sox reach two World Series apiece, adding a record 29 postseason homers along the way. He was the World Series MVP for Boston in 2004, when the club won its first championship in 86 years.

For all of his prowess with the bat, Ramirez’s lapses — Manny Being Manny — both on and off the field are legendary. There was the time in 1997 that he “stole” first base, returning to the bag after a successful steal of second because he thought Jim Thome had fouled off a pitch… the time in 2004 that he inexplicably cut off centerfielder Johnny Damon’s relay throw from about 30 feet away, leading to an inside-the-park home run… the time in 2005 when he disappeared mid-inning to relieve himself inside Fenway Park’s Green Monster… the time in 2008 that he high-fived a fan in mid-play between catching a fly ball and doubling a runner off first… and so much more.

Beneath those often comic lapses was an intense work ethic, apparent as far back as his high school days, that allowed Ramirez’s talent to flourish. But there was also a darker side, one that, particularly after he left the Indians, went beyond the litany of late arrivals to spring training, questionable absences due to injury (particularly for the All-Star Game), and near-annual trade requests. Most notably, there was his shoving match with 64-year-old Red Sox traveling secretary Jack McCormick in 2008, which prefigured Ramirez’s trade to the Dodgers that summer, and a charge of misdemeanor domestic violence/battery in 2011 after his wife told an emergency operator that her husband had slapped her face, causing her to hit her head against the headboard of the bed. (That domestic violence charge was later dropped after his wife refused to testify.) Interspersed with those two incidents were a pair of suspensions for performance-enhancing drug use, the second of which ran him out of the majors.

For all of the handwringing about PED-tinged candidates on the Hall of Fame ballot over the past decade, Ramirez is the first star with actual suspensions on his record to gain eligibility since Rafael Palmeiro in 2011. Like Palmeiro, Ramirez has numbers that would otherwise make his enshrinement a lock. In his 2017 ballot debut, he received 23.8% — a higher share than Mark McGwire or Sammy Sosa, players who were never suspended — from an electorate that appeared to be in the midst of softening its hardline stance against PED users, but dipped to 22.0% in 2018. He won’t get into Cooperstown anytime soon, but he won’t fall off the ballot anytime soon, either.

2019 BBWAA Candidate: Manny Ramirez
Player Career WAR Peak WAR JAWS
Manny Ramirez 69.4 40.0 54.7
Avg. HOF LF 65.4 41.6 53.5
H HR AVG/OBP/SLG OPS+
2,574 555 .312/.411/.585 154
SOURCE: Baseball-Reference

Read the rest of this entry »


2019 ZiPS Projections – Boston Red Sox

After having typically appeared in the hallowed pages of Baseball Think Factory, Dan Szymborski’s ZiPS projections have now been released at FanGraphs for more than half a decade. The exercise continues this offseason. Below are the projections for the Boston Red Sox.

Batters

Obviously, the top of the offense is extremely strong, with reigning MVP Mookie Betts and one of the most dangerous hitters today, J.D. Martinez, who can be forgiven for being relatively one-dimensional when that one dimension involves a 170 wRC+ and an OPS over 1.000. But there were some cracks in the back-end in 2018, with Eduardo Núñez a stretch as a full-time second baseman and Mitch Moreland inevitably cooling off after a hot start to finish with the Usual Mitch Moreland Stats. The team brought in Steve Pearce and Ian Kinsler to dampen these issues. Pearce’s tenure was much more successful, but he also remains a role player heading into his late-30s, albeit a very good one. I remain hopeful about Rafael Devers’ future given that most players his age are still in the minors, but you can’t just wave away the fact that he regressed significantly both at the plate and in the field in 2018. Boston’s three-headed catcher-beast contributed defensively, and did a better job framing than dirty cops in a Brian De Palma movie, but you’d still like their bats to improve to a more normal version of terrible than we saw last season.

The good news is that when your highs are high and your lows are low, it’s easier to make a significant addition than it is if you have a team that’s fairly average from top to bottom. J.T. Realmuto would be just about the perfect fit for the team if the Marlins were motivated to make a reasonable trade. I suspect the Red Sox will be content with Moreland and Pearce at first as they more pressing needs on the roster. And Pearce probably was the best first baseman available in free agency, unless you’ve received some weird news from the future about how 2019 was the The Summer of Duda.

Pitchers

There’s not a lot to complain about in the rotation, so long as everyone is healthy. All five starters are projected to have ERAs better than league-average, and ZiPS, like Steamer, is cautiously optimistic about Nathan Eovaldi’s future, even though 200 innings shouldn’t be the default expectation for a pitcher with his injury history. Some depth would be nice, but Steven Wright is likely a perfectly capable emergency option and the bullpen, as constituted, is probably a below-average group. Even a diminished Craig Kimbrel is a tough reliever to lose. ZiPS thinks a lot of the no-name relievers can be adequate, especially Colten Brewer, a hard cutter/curve hurler picked up from the Padres a few weeks ago.

Bench and Prospects

The problem with the Red Sox farm system is that while it’s far from empty, trades and successful graduations have depleted the upper minors considerably, to the point that if the team is looking for a mid-season reinforcement, they’re more likely to call up a prospect rather than trade them for a more veteran solution. Sam Travis now has a .713 OPS in nearly a thousand Triple-A plate appearances; ZiPS has almost written him completely off as a prospect at this point. And there are no starting pitching prospects that are all that interesting for 2019. That Rusney Castillo has one of the best projections of the players currently at Triple A at .269/.304/.370 is a pretty good example of just how thin the high minors currently are. The big exception here is Michael Chavis, who ZiPS sees developing into an average third baseman with power upside, though not intriguing enough to be a better option than Devers in 2019, or a good enough hitter in the short-term to make Moreland and Pearce uncomfortable.

One pedantic note for 2019: for the WAR graphic, I’m using FanGraphs’ depth chart playing time, not the playing time ZiPS spits out, so there will be occasional differences in WAR totals.

Ballpark graphic courtesy Eephus League. Depth charts constructed by way of those listed here at site.

Batters – Counting Stats
Player B Age PO G AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB CS
Mookie Betts R 26 RF 148 591 114 177 43 4 28 94 75 91 29 6
J.D. Martinez R 31 DH 140 529 88 153 32 2 36 106 59 151 4 1
Xander Bogaerts R 26 SS 150 584 91 166 37 3 20 91 56 117 11 2
Andrew Benintendi L 24 LF 153 582 95 165 38 6 18 91 70 110 21 5
Jackie Bradley Jr. L 29 CF 138 479 73 118 28 4 17 68 49 133 12 2
Rafael Devers L 22 3B 140 525 75 139 30 1 27 84 44 135 6 3
Ian Kinsler R 37 2B 115 448 64 113 25 1 11 46 38 64 13 6
Dustin Pedroia R 35 2B 96 384 47 104 17 0 7 44 38 51 3 3
Eduardo Nunez B 32 3B 128 479 57 134 27 2 10 54 19 69 14 5
Michael Chavis R 23 3B 94 363 49 88 22 1 17 54 24 117 3 1
Mitch Moreland L 33 1B 124 409 50 98 23 1 16 64 42 109 1 0
Brock Holt! L 31 2B 109 335 40 89 18 2 6 43 38 77 7 7
Rusney Castillo R 31 CF 111 435 48 117 24 1 6 42 19 81 9 5
Steve Pearce R 36 LF 77 239 32 61 13 1 10 36 25 51 0 1
Tzu-Wei Lin L 25 SS 111 386 44 95 17 4 5 32 30 90 7 6
Bobby Dalbec R 24 3B 116 435 56 87 23 2 21 62 42 212 3 3
Hanley Ramirez R 35 1B 102 386 49 97 18 0 16 61 38 88 5 2
Christian Vazquez R 28 C 89 293 34 75 15 1 4 25 16 54 5 1
Sandy Leon B 30 C 91 285 33 63 13 1 6 30 20 79 1 0
Brandon Phillips R 38 2B 92 355 46 93 20 0 7 36 16 59 4 4
Dan Butler R 32 C 66 217 23 48 12 0 3 21 21 54 0 0
Mike Miller R 29 SS 98 332 35 83 15 1 3 26 23 59 8 5
Tony Renda R 28 2B 92 338 38 87 20 2 4 31 20 54 9 3
Blake Swihart B 27 C 73 220 28 49 10 1 3 20 19 67 4 1
Jantzen Witte R 29 3B 102 371 41 87 22 2 7 38 29 102 4 3
Adam Lind L 35 1B 92 291 35 73 14 0 10 44 25 66 0 1
Ivan De Jesus R 32 2B 107 352 34 87 16 2 3 31 25 82 2 3
Marco Hernandez L 26 2B 72 246 27 62 11 2 5 23 9 65 2 2
Chad de la Guerra L 26 2B 99 385 43 82 16 2 10 39 27 131 5 2
Sam Travis R 25 1B 113 402 46 98 20 1 8 38 31 104 4 3
Austin Rei R 25 C 87 302 31 57 15 1 5 26 26 109 1 3
Juan Centeno L 29 C 74 252 24 63 12 1 3 24 13 46 0 1
Jeremy Barfield R 30 LF 65 233 28 48 9 0 9 28 18 83 0 0
Mike Ohlman R 28 C 79 268 31 53 10 0 9 30 29 112 1 0
Josh Ockimey L 23 1B 123 447 55 98 21 1 16 55 53 182 1 2
C.J. Chatham R 24 SS 113 437 42 105 17 3 5 36 18 110 7 5
Mike Olt R 30 3B 84 291 33 57 13 0 10 32 30 118 0 0
Cole Sturgeon L 27 RF 110 405 39 94 17 2 6 35 23 105 9 4
Kyle Wren L 28 LF 109 385 41 88 13 4 3 33 34 98 14 6
Aneury Tavarez L 27 RF 102 382 39 86 16 3 7 32 23 110 9 5
Tyler Hill R 23 RF 127 472 53 112 20 2 4 37 37 87 22 11
Victor Acosta R 23 RF 111 399 39 96 25 2 6 38 20 62 4 5
Brett Netzer L 23 2B 120 477 42 108 24 2 2 36 26 137 3 10
Tate Matheny R 25 CF 111 419 41 86 17 3 3 31 28 161 11 9

Batters – Rate Stats
Player BA OBP SLG OPS+ ISO BABIP RC/27 Def WAR No. 1 Comp
Mookie Betts .299 .379 .528 138 .228 .316 8.0 17 6.7 Al Kaline
J.D. Martinez .289 .361 .561 140 .272 .342 7.7 0 4.0 Tony Perez
Xander Bogaerts .284 .351 .461 114 .176 .327 6.2 -2 3.8 Alan Trammell
Andrew Benintendi .284 .360 .462 117 .179 .324 6.5 2 3.4 John Kruk
Jackie Bradley Jr. .246 .326 .428 99 .182 .307 5.2 5 2.5 Lloyd Moseby
Rafael Devers .265 .320 .480 109 .215 .309 5.6 -6 1.9 Fernando Tatis
Ian Kinsler .252 .317 .386 86 .134 .273 4.4 8 1.8 Ray Durham
Dustin Pedroia .271 .336 .370 88 .099 .298 4.5 3 1.3 Mark Loretta
Eduardo Nunez .280 .310 .407 89 .127 .310 4.8 0 1.1 Julian Javier
Michael Chavis .242 .299 .449 95 .207 .310 4.8 -1 1.1 Mark Reynolds
Mitch Moreland .240 .314 .418 93 .178 .289 4.7 4 0.9 Kevin Barker
Brock Holt! .266 .349 .385 96 .119 .329 4.7 -5 0.7 Pete Runnels
Rusney Castillo .269 .304 .370 78 .101 .319 4.1 1 0.5 Ken Berry
Steve Pearce .255 .336 .444 105 .188 .287 5.3 -3 0.5 Dusty Baker
Tzu-Wei Lin .246 .301 .350 73 .104 .309 3.6 2 0.5 Scott Leius
Bobby Dalbec .200 .280 .407 80 .207 .327 3.8 0 0.5 Jared Sandberg
Hanley Ramirez .251 .325 .422 97 .171 .287 5.0 -2 0.4 Cliff Floyd
Christian Vazquez .256 .300 .355 74 .099 .302 4.0 -1 0.4 Angelo Encarnacion
Sandy Leon .221 .277 .337 63 .116 .285 3.3 4 0.4 Chad Moeller
Brandon Phillips .262 .302 .377 79 .115 .298 4.0 -2 0.2 Frank White
Dan Butler .221 .296 .318 64 .097 .281 3.3 -1 0.0 Keith McDonald
Mike Miller .250 .302 .328 68 .078 .296 3.5 -1 0.0 Ever Magallanes
Tony Renda .257 .305 .364 77 .107 .296 4.1 -4 0.0 William Bergolla
Blake Swihart .223 .286 .318 61 .095 .307 3.3 -1 -0.1 Tony DeFrancesco
Jantzen Witte .235 .297 .361 74 .127 .305 3.7 -4 -0.2 Rodney Nye
Adam Lind .251 .307 .402 87 .151 .293 4.4 -3 -0.3 Glenn Adams
Ivan De Jesus .247 .306 .330 70 .082 .315 3.5 -3 -0.3 Marty Perez
Marco Hernandez .252 .280 .374 72 .122 .324 3.7 -5 -0.5 Juan Melo
Chad de la Guerra .213 .270 .343 62 .130 .295 3.2 0 -0.5 Chris Saunders
Sam Travis .244 .301 .358 75 .114 .310 3.8 0 -0.5 Juan Tejeda
Austin Rei .189 .272 .295 51 .106 .277 2.5 0 -0.5 Brian Moon
Juan Centeno .250 .290 .341 67 .091 .296 3.5 -6 -0.5 Ken Huckaby
Jeremy Barfield .206 .270 .361 66 .155 .277 3.3 -1 -0.5 Jeremy Ware
Mike Ohlman .198 .277 .336 62 .138 .299 3.2 -6 -0.6 Henry Mercedes
Josh Ockimey .219 .302 .378 80 .159 .329 3.9 -3 -0.6 Nate Rolison
C.J. Chatham .240 .273 .327 59 .087 .311 3.1 -1 -0.6 Eddie Zosky
Mike Olt .196 .274 .344 63 .148 .288 3.2 -4 -0.7 Jose Santos
Cole Sturgeon .232 .277 .328 61 .096 .299 3.2 3 -0.8 Greg Thomson
Kyle Wren .229 .292 .306 60 .078 .299 3.2 2 -0.8 Jason Maas
Aneury Tavarez .225 .273 .338 62 .113 .298 3.2 2 -0.9 Greg Thomson
Tyler Hill .237 .303 .314 65 .076 .283 3.4 0 -1.0 Stephen Kirkpatrick
Victor Acosta .241 .281 .358 69 .118 .272 3.4 -2 -1.0 Rod Bair
Brett Netzer .226 .270 .298 51 .071 .314 2.4 4 -1.2 Demetrish Jenkins
Tate Matheny .205 .258 .282 44 .076 .325 2.3 -2 -1.9 Kevin Batiste

Pitchers – Counting Stats
Player T Age W L ERA G GS IP H ER HR BB SO
Chris Sale L 30 15 5 2.62 29 29 182.0 144 53 16 34 225
David Price L 33 13 8 3.78 28 28 164.3 158 69 20 42 157
Eduardo Rodriguez L 26 10 7 3.99 29 26 144.3 134 64 18 49 153
Rick Porcello R 30 13 10 4.36 30 30 175.3 186 85 27 40 158
Nathan Eovaldi R 29 8 5 3.98 23 22 110.7 118 49 14 26 96
Craig Kimbrel R 31 4 2 2.68 60 0 57.0 36 17 5 26 89
Matthew Kent L 26 7 6 4.79 27 27 150.3 179 80 17 45 91
Drew Pomeranz L 30 8 7 4.60 28 21 115.3 115 59 15 54 103
Chandler Shepherd R 26 8 8 4.79 23 23 124.0 144 66 17 31 81
Matt Barnes R 29 5 3 3.54 62 0 61.0 51 24 6 30 80
Joe Kelly R 31 4 2 3.58 65 0 60.3 54 24 4 29 60
Dedgar Jimenez L 23 9 9 4.92 25 24 130.0 146 71 16 52 88
Steven Wright R 34 4 4 4.46 21 11 82.7 85 41 11 32 59
Hector Velazquez R 30 4 4 4.58 34 14 96.3 108 49 13 32 64
Justin Haley R 28 7 7 4.88 25 21 107.0 121 58 14 37 75
Heath Hembree R 30 3 2 3.84 61 0 58.7 54 25 8 22 67
Ryan Brasier R 31 5 3 3.79 57 0 57.0 56 24 6 15 45
Carson Smith R 29 2 1 3.00 33 0 30.0 25 10 2 11 34
Mike Shawaryn R 24 9 9 5.18 26 25 133.7 148 77 23 47 104
Colten Brewer R 26 4 3 3.86 49 0 58.3 55 25 5 23 58
Marcus Walden R 30 4 3 4.36 29 8 66.0 69 32 5 28 45
William Cuevas R 28 8 9 5.14 28 22 126.0 139 72 19 52 96
Travis Lakins R 25 4 3 4.62 29 11 62.3 66 32 7 29 50
Brandon Workman R 30 5 4 4.30 54 0 60.7 61 29 8 22 54
Bobby Poyner L 26 1 1 4.33 50 0 62.3 66 30 9 16 52
Fernando Rodriguez Jr. R 35 3 3 4.70 31 4 51.7 50 27 7 22 49
Robby Scott L 29 3 3 4.47 53 0 52.3 50 26 7 23 51
Darwinzon Hernandez L 22 6 6 5.31 26 22 95.0 92 56 10 74 89
Bryan Mata R 20 5 5 5.27 18 18 68.3 71 40 4 59 46
Mark Montgomery R 28 4 4 4.57 46 0 45.3 45 23 6 21 43
Denyi Reyes R 22 8 9 5.49 19 19 101.7 118 62 18 34 59
Josh Taylor L 26 4 4 4.63 55 0 58.3 61 30 6 29 48
Trevor Kelley R 25 2 2 4.80 40 0 54.3 60 29 6 20 36
Matthew Gorst R 24 4 4 4.97 40 0 63.3 71 35 10 22 42
Tyler Thornburg R 30 3 3 4.86 48 0 46.3 45 25 7 23 41
Domingo Tapia R 27 4 5 5.12 44 5 65.0 73 37 8 31 43
Tanner Houck R 23 8 10 5.84 22 22 103.3 115 67 15 68 75
Teddy Stankiewicz R 25 8 10 5.95 25 21 134.7 168 89 28 42 82

Pitchers – Rate Stats
Player TBF K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP ERA+ ERA- FIP WAR No. 1 Comp
Chris Sale 727 11.13 1.68 0.79 .292 168 59 2.61 5.9 Johan Santana
David Price 689 8.60 2.30 1.10 .298 117 86 3.72 3.3 Frank Viola
Eduardo Rodriguez 611 9.54 3.06 1.12 .301 110 91 3.77 2.5 Chris Nabholz
Rick Porcello 748 8.11 2.05 1.39 .309 101 99 4.19 2.3 Moose Haas
Nathan Eovaldi 470 7.81 2.11 1.14 .313 111 90 3.82 1.9 Carl Pavano
Craig Kimbrel 233 14.05 4.11 0.79 .282 159 63 2.69 1.7 Greg Harris
Matthew Kent 672 5.45 2.69 1.02 .318 92 109 4.49 1.3 Jeff Johnson
Drew Pomeranz 510 8.04 4.21 1.17 .299 96 104 4.54 1.2 Rich Robertson
Chandler Shepherd 543 5.88 2.25 1.23 .311 92 109 4.52 1.1 Lary Sorensen
Matt Barnes 262 11.80 4.43 0.89 .313 124 80 3.38 1.1 Ryne Duren
Joe Kelly 263 8.95 4.33 0.60 .299 123 81 3.61 1.0 Jim Hughes
Dedgar Jimenez 585 6.09 3.60 1.11 .308 90 112 4.76 1.0 Wes Whisler
Steven Wright 363 6.42 3.48 1.20 .288 99 101 4.76 1.0 Diego Segui
Hector Velazquez 427 5.98 2.99 1.21 .304 96 104 4.76 0.9 Dallas Green
Justin Haley 477 6.31 3.11 1.18 .310 90 111 4.65 0.8 Bill Swift
Heath Hembree 249 10.28 3.38 1.23 .305 115 87 3.81 0.8 Jay Powell
Ryan Brasier 240 7.11 2.37 0.95 .291 116 86 3.83 0.8 Kent Tekulve
Carson Smith 126 10.20 3.30 0.60 .299 147 68 3.05 0.7 Danny Kolb
Mike Shawaryn 594 7.00 3.16 1.55 .303 85 118 5.07 0.6 Andy Taulbee
Colten Brewer 252 8.95 3.55 0.77 .307 111 90 3.61 0.6 Jose Rodriguez
Marcus Walden 293 6.14 3.82 0.68 .302 98 102 4.18 0.6 Ed Klieman
William Cuevas 566 6.86 3.71 1.36 .306 86 117 4.99 0.6 Jeremy Guthrie
Travis Lakins 281 7.22 4.19 1.01 .309 95 105 4.59 0.6 Tim Byron
Brandon Workman 263 8.01 3.26 1.19 .299 102 98 4.27 0.5 Kenny Greer
Bobby Poyner 267 7.51 2.31 1.30 .305 102 98 4.27 0.5 Chris Key
Fernando Rodriguez Jr. 225 8.54 3.83 1.22 .297 94 107 4.41 0.3 Don Aase
Robby Scott 230 8.77 3.96 1.20 .297 99 101 4.49 0.3 Scott Wiegandt
Darwinzon Hernandez 450 8.43 7.01 0.95 .303 83 120 5.17 0.3 Bryan Clark
Bryan Mata 335 6.06 7.77 0.53 .303 84 120 5.37 0.3 Rick Berg
Mark Montgomery 201 8.54 4.17 1.19 .302 97 104 4.50 0.2 Greg Bauer
Denyi Reyes 458 5.22 3.01 1.59 .296 80 125 5.56 0.2 Bob Tewksbury
Josh Taylor 264 7.41 4.47 0.93 .309 92 108 4.49 0.2 Philip Barzilla
Trevor Kelley 242 5.96 3.31 0.99 .305 92 109 4.53 0.1 Bob Miller
Matthew Gorst 282 5.97 3.13 1.42 .299 89 113 5.11 0.0 Rich DeLosSantos
Tyler Thornburg 206 7.96 4.47 1.36 .286 88 114 4.96 0.0 Craig McMurtry
Domingo Tapia 298 5.95 4.29 1.11 .307 83 120 5.04 0.0 Barry Hertzler
Tanner Houck 491 6.53 5.92 1.31 .306 76 132 5.73 -0.2 Randy Nosek
Teddy Stankiewicz 611 5.48 2.81 1.87 .310 74 135 5.75 -0.5 Cameron Reimers

Disclaimer: ZiPS projections are computer-based projections of performance. Performances have not been allocated to predicted playing time in the majors — many of the players listed above are unlikely to play in the majors at all in 2019. ZiPS is projecting equivalent production — a .240 ZiPS projection may end up being .280 in AAA or .300 in AA, for example. Whether or not a player will play is one of many non-statistical factors one has to take into account when predicting the future.

Players are listed with their most recent teams, unless I have made a mistake. This is very possible, as a lot of minor-league signings go generally unreported in the offseason.

ZiPS’ projections are based on the American League having a 4.29 ERA and the National League having a 4.15 ERA.

Players who are expected to be out due to injury are still projected. More information is always better than less information, and a computer isn’t the tool that should project the injury status of, for example, a pitcher who has had Tommy John surgery.

Both hitters and pitchers are ranked by projected zWAR — which is to say, WAR values as calculated by me, Dan Szymborski, whose surname is spelled with a z. WAR values might differ slightly from those which appear in full release of ZiPS. Finally, I will advise anyone against — and might karate chop anyone guilty of — merely adding up WAR totals on a depth chart to produce projected team WAR.


Effectively Wild Episode 1307: The Baines of Our Existence

EWFI
Ben Lindbergh and Jeff Sullivan banter about expected activity at the Winter Meetings, the pointlessness of the Winter Meetings, and the Hall of Fame elections of Lee Smith and Harold Baines (yes, that Harold Baines). Then (23:04) they talk to FanGraphs prospect analyst Eric Longenhagen about the baseball and multi-sport future of Heisman Trophy winner and A’s first-round draftee Kyler Murray. Lastly (38:38), they bring on baseball executive and former journalist Octavio Hernández to discuss the killings of Luis Valbuena and Jose Castillo, how Venezuelan Winter League teams arrange travel and security, how major leaguers deal with unrest at home, the state of baseball in Venezuela, the state of life in Venezuela, and why Octavio fled the country.

Audio intro: Yes, "Harold Land"
Audio interstitial 1: Dr. Dog, "Both Sides of the Line"
Audio interstitial 2: Parquet Courts, "Violence"
Audio outro: The Thrills, "Your Love is Like Las Vegas"

Link to right field JAWS leaders
Link to Jay’s pre-election post on Baines
Link to Jay’s post-election post on Baines
Link to Ben’s Hall of Baines
Link to Eric’s post on Murray
Link to Murray’s recreation of the Jackson photo
Link to Kiley’s Murray video
Link to story about Venezuelan MLB players who won’t go home
Link to story about Venezuelan players speaking out
Link to episode on Mexican League sabermetrics

 iTunes Feed (Please rate and review us!)
 Sponsor Us on Patreon
 Facebook Group
 Effectively Wild Wiki
 Twitter Account
 Get Our Merch!
 Email Us: podcast@fangraphs.com


Hall Election of Lee Smith Makes Sense, But Harold Baines?

The Hall of Fame’s Class of 2019 may belong to the specialists. Ahead of a BBWAA election where all-time saves leader Mariano Rivera and legendary designated hitter Edgar Martinez are most likely to gain entry, on Sunday at the Winter Meetings in Las Vegas, the Today’s Game Era Committee elected reliever Lee Smith and outfielder/DH Harold Baines. More than just rankling purists, it is a result that raises some eyebrows.

Smith and Baines were two of the six players on the 10-candidate ballot, alongside outfielders Albert Belle and Joe Carter, first baseman Will Clark, and starter Orel Hershiser. Managers Davey Johnson, Charlie Manuel, and Lou Piniella, and owner George Steinbrenner rounded out the slate. To these eyes, Smith was the most qualified of the players, not only because he held the all-time saves record from 1993 to 2006, when his total of 478 was surpassed by Trevor Hoffman, but because advanced statistics such as WAR, JAWS, and WPA place him in the middle of what’s now a seven-member group of relievers in the Hall. That he once received over 50% of the vote on the BBWAA ballot, where none of the other candidates ever topped 11.2%, made his election appear all the more likely, particularly in front of a group more predisposed to old-school stats than the writers, who lost sight of Smith when the ballot became more crowded late in his 15-year run.

Baines, who took 59.7% of his career plate appearances as a DH and set records in that capacity that were later surpassed by Martinez and David Ortiz, collected 2,866 hits and 384 homers over the course of his 22-year career. Nonetheless, he was poorly supported by the writers; though he lasted through five election cycles before falling off the ballot, he topped out at just 6.1%. Not only is there no precedent for a candidate with so little BBWAA support gaining election by a small committee in the era of the “Five Percent Rule” (from 1980 onward), but there’s really no precedent for a player from the post-1960 expansion era doing so. Via Baseball-Reference:

Hall of Famers with Lowest Peak BBWAA Voting Pct.
Player MLB Career Peak % Vote Year
Jake Beckley 1888-1907 0.4% 1942
Elmer Flick 1898-1910 0.4% 1938
Billy Hamilton 1888-1901 0.4% 1942
Joe Kelley 1891-1906, 1908 0.4% 1939
Satchel Paige 1948-1949, 1951-1952, 1965 0.4% 1951
Rick Ferrell 1929-1945, 1947 0.5% 1956
Buck Ewing 1880-1897 0.7% 1939
Jesse Burkett 1890-1905 1.7% 1942
High Pockets Kelly 1915-1917, 1919-1930, 1932 1.9% 1960
Jack Chesbro 1899-1909 2.2% 1939
Kid Nichols 1890-1901, 1904-1906 2.7% 1939
Bobby Wallace 1894-1918 2.7% 1938
Harry Hooper 1909-1925 3.0% 1937
Amos Rusie 1889-1895, 1897-1898, 1901 3.1% 1939
Larry Doby 1947-1959 3.4% 1967
Sam Crawford 1899-1917 4.2% 1938
Freddie Lindstrom 1924-1936 4.4% 1962
Earl Averill 1929-1941 5.4% 1958
Harold Baines 1980-2001 6.1% 2010
Travis Jackson 1922-1936 7.3% 1956
SOURCE: Baseball-Reference

Of that group besides Baines, only Doby and Paige even played after World War II. Doby broke the AL’s color line in 1947 and played 13 major league seasons, while Paige arrived in 1948 and pitched in parts of just six seasons (the last of which was a one-game cameo at age 59!) and thus was technically ineligible to be voted upon by the writers, since 10 years is the minimum to appear on a BBWAA ballot. What’s more, the stray vote he received was from 1951, when he was still active and before the five-year waiting period rule had been formalized.

All of which is to underscore the fact that there’s no modern precedent for the election of a candidate such as Baines in that regard. While his election does offer some hope to players bumped off the ballot in their first go-round — such as Bobby Grich, Kenny Lofton, and Ted Simmons, who missed election by the Modern Baseball Era Committee by one vote last year — the custom of withholding first-year votes from all but the most qualified candidates helps to explain those mistakes; with Baines, 94 to 95 percent of voters consistently judged him to be unworthy.

Every bit as unsettling is the fact that Baines accumulated just 38.7 WAR (using the Baseball-Reference version) and 30.1 JAWS. Considered as a right fielder — I consider every DH candidate at the position where he accrued the most value — he ranks just 74th in JAWS, below 24 of the 25 Hall of Famers (19th century outfielder Tommy McCarthy is the exception). From under-supported BBWAA candidate Larry Walker (10th in JAWS among right fielders), to players such as Dwight Evans (15th) and Reggie Smith (16th) who have never sniffed a small committee ballot, that’s a troubling inequity. And everyone and their brother has a pet candidate just among the right fielders for whom a stronger case could be mounted. Tony Oliva, Rusty Staub, Dave Parker? All rank in the 30s in JAWS among right fielders, and appear to have stronger traditional credentials as well.

Read the rest of this entry »


Sunday Notes: Alex Kirilloff Wore Out Iron Mike; Taylor Trammell is a Work of Art

Alex Kirilloff grew up hitting baseballs. A lot of baseballs. His father owns an indoor hitting facility, and having been home-schooled for much of his life, the top prospect in the Minnesota Twins system not named Royce Lewis would often accompany dad to work. He didn’t sit around reading comic books while he was there.

“I was blessed to have access to a cage, and I took advantage of that,” Kirilloff told me prior to suiting up for this summer’s Futures Game. “We had these big Iron Mike machines that would hold something like 600 balls in the hopper and I would hit two or three of those a day.”

This past season, he banged out a steady stream of hits against Florida State League and Midwest League pitching. Playing 65 games each in Fort Myers and Cedar Rapids, the left-handed-hitting outfielder stroked 107 singles, 49 doubles, seven triples, and 20 home runs. His slash line was a scary .348/.392/.578.

In terms of hands-on molding, Kirilloff isn’t Frankenstein’s monster. His hitting-instructor father didn’t skimp on pointers, but he also understood that a swing has to come naturally. Read the rest of this entry »