Archive for Lineups

It’s Not Too Late to Give Bryce Brentz a Shot

*Apologies for the bad writing, as this is my first-ever community post on FanGraphs.*

At the time of this writing, it’s been seven days since rosters expanded in the major leagues. Still, the International League (AAA) home-run leader has yet to appear in a major-league game season. Since the 2000 season, there have been three International League home-run champions that had not appeared in a major-league game that same season. Bryce Brentz, leading that league with 31 home runs and winner of the Triple-A Home Run Derby, is about to be fourth.

The Red Sox of the old days had the reputation of being offensive powerhouses by working long at-bats and possessing big power in the middle of the lineup. This year, it’s been quite the opposite. Red Sox pitching has been absolutely amazing this season; the pitching WAR is tied for second place (with the Dodgers) while also having the fourth-best ERA in the majors at 3.76 ERA. Compared to how great the Red Sox pitching is, the hitting is bad. REALLY BAD. Their pitching and hitting are night and day. It’s well documented that the Red Sox aren’t hitting for power this year, sitting dead last in the AL with only 146 home runs. Perhaps teams don’t need to hit home runs to be productive? The advanced metrics say otherwise. Out of all qualified players, the Red Sox batter with the highest wRC+ is Dustin Pedroia who has a 106 wRC+, and 2016 MVP runner-up Mookie Betts is running a 101 wRC+. All in all, the Red Sox offense has been below average this season. The emergence of Rafael Devers and the spark that Eduardo Nunez has provided to the Red Sox have both softened the blow, but there still appears to be a glaring weakness.

In the absence of David Ortiz, Hanley Ramirez was supposed to step up and become a middle-of-the-order power threat. What’s inexcusable is his performance versus lefties this year. As someone who’s destroyed lefties his entire career, he’s suddenly slashing .194/.312/.419 against lefties in 2017. His career OPS/wRC+ vs. lefties is .902 OPS and 138 wRC+ respectively.

Hanley Ramirez OPS by Season

HanRam has been having one of his worst seasons hitting-wise versus lefties. Despite insisting that he will improve against lefties, Red Sox fans have yet to see the results come out.

Another factor is Chris Young’s performance. Chris Young was brought to Boston to club lefties. He’s always been able to hit them, and his splits against lefties prove just that.

Chris Young Splits v. Lefties

Discarding 2014 and this current season, that chart is a thing of beauty. Chris Young’s performance this year has been concerning; he hasn’t had an RBI since August 6! Chris Young was a player who was specifically brought onto this roster for the specific purpose of facing tough lefties. He is having his worst season hitting lefties yet. As of right now, he is batting only .184 against lefties this season with one home run, four extra-base hits, and four RBI.

The Red Sox need Bryce Brentz. Brentz certainly has the prospect pedigree, being drafted by Red Sox in the first round of the 2010 Major League Baseball Draft out of South-Doyle High School. Once rated as the No. 5 prospect in the Red Sox system, he stood out with his plus raw power. FanGraphs’ Kiley McDaniel had this to say about him a few years back:

“Brentz has easy plus raw power from the right side and is a solid athlete, but it doesn’t translate to defense, where his fringy arm limits him to left field. There’s some holes, lots of swing and miss and trouble with spin from right-handed pitchers, but also 20-25 homer power with a floor of a solid platoon bat.”

The key word here is “solid platoon bat,” something he’s finally evolved into this year. This year, down in Triple-A, when facing left-handed hitters, Brentz was hitting .279 with nine home runs, 25 RBI, and 17 walks. His OPS against lefties is 391 points higher than Chris Young’s OPS in the majors this season (.957 OPS). Rhys Hoskins, who took the majors by storm, was the only player ahead of him in the IL in terms of wRC+.

Brentz had worked with PawSox hitting coach Rich Gedman this past offseason, which has suddenly changed him into someone who destroys left-handed pitchers and is at least passable against righties. By introducing a toe-tapping procedure to Bryce Brentz, Gedman has turned him into a major home-run threat. I think it’s time to believe that after 6+ seasons in the minor leagues, Bryce Brentz finally has things figured out.

The basis behind why Dave Dombrowski won’t call up Bryce Brentz is, to say the least, questionable.

No 40-man roster spot available? C’mon. Off the top of my head, I could name off a few minor leaguers who don’t deserve this spot over Brentz. Most notably, the walk machine himself, Henry Owens. Owens was sent down to Double-A to work on mechanics, but instead, he’s walking 8.68 batters per 9. Ben Taylor, who made the Opening Day roster for the Red Sox, has had considerable minor-league success, but the results haven’t translated to the majors. He’ll most likely end up as a career middle reliever or minor-league journeyman. Sure, these players have their uses, but they don’t deserve their spots as much as Brentz does. After his hard work in the offseason, his performance needs to warrant him a 40-man spot. Additionally, after Chris Young becomes a free agent next year, Brentz can serve as the fourth outfield for the Red Sox in 2018. If the Red Sox don’t add Brentz to the 40-man by the offseason, he’ll become a free agent. It’s almost guaranteed that a team such as the Athletics or the Reds would be willing to give him a chance.

There’s another problem. At the moment, the Red Sox really lack good pinch-hitters. When your best hitters off the bench are Brock Holt, Sandy Leon, Rajai Davis, etc, the outcome looks really bleak. Brentz is a minor-league veteran who is a power threat off the bench, something the Sox currently lack. His career hasn’t progressed much (until now at least) since he shot himself in the leg during the spring training of 2013. If fact, if you go to some online forums, his spring-training incident has created tons of puns that have to with guns; the former top prospect had become a joke. Similar to the rest of the “comeback” stories (such as Rich Hill, Eric Thames, etc) that fans have loved to watch in recent seasons, the story of Bryce Brentz should warm the hearts of fans.

Something else stands out. During the Red Sox’s recent 19-inning game, this tweet was sent out. While it may have been mostly a joke, it really exemplifies the lack of power the Red Sox have.

This really speaks about the Red Sox offense. Bryce Brentz is the spark plug that they need.

As seen by the Nationals calling up Victor Robles just the other day (considered late), the Red Sox certainly still have time to call up Bryce Brentz. If any Red Sox personnel is reading this, the rest of Red Sox Nation and I have this to say to you: “Hey, It’s worth giving Brentz a shot.” He’s deserved it.


The Angels Have the Most Amazing Bullpen in Baseball

First, a caveat: what follows is assuredly too many words about middle relievers. When I set out to write this article I never could have guessed that it would occupy most of my leisure time this week. Nevertheless, something really interesting is happening in Anaheim and I hope I’m not the only one who thinks so.

The 2016 Angels were not a good team, and they had a terrible bullpen. When the 2017 Angels lost Mike Trout to a thumb injury at the end of May it seemed to ensure that they would miss the playoffs for the third season in a row. Instead of dropping completely out of the running, the team stayed afloat and at one point even improved their playoff odds without Trout. How did that happen? In addition to receiving surprising quality offensive performances from Andrelton Simmons and Cameron Maybin, they have quietly had one of the best bullpens in the Major leagues.

Team Bullpen Leaders by WAR

Looking at their five best relievers from last season, only Cam Bedrosian stands out as being any good. Other than not being particularly good, the rest are all completely unremarkable.

2016 Angels Five Best Relievers by WAR

Astute readers will be quick to point out that 2.9 cumulative WAR isn’t that bad, as far as bullpens go. After all, the 2016 Cubs bullpen pitched to a 3.2 WAR total last year, and they won the World Series. The Giants and Rangers bullpens had worse totals and they were both playoff teams. These guys weren’t the whole problem. They were let down by their teammates, who dragged the whole team down to 0.3 WAR by pitching to -2.6 WAR. The whole bullpen was just ahead of the second-last place Rays (with the Reds’ bullpen in a class by itself with -3.9 WAR). These five pitchers were much better than their teammates, but they pale in comparison to the five best Angels this year.

2017 Angels Five Best Relievers by WAR

These five guys have pitched to 4.4 WAR at the All-Star break. Isolating for the best five relievers, they are tied with the Dodgers for the second-best mark in baseball. Their walk rate has climbed up only slightly, they’re striking out more batters and their peripherals are way better.

In case you hadn’t noticed, there are four new names on the list. Those four new pitchers didn’t even pitch for the Angels last season and even the most ardent Angels fan could be forgiven for not noticing their signings. Nobody expected them to be any good whatsoever. Steamer projected them to collectively be worth 0.4 WAR. Depth Charts projected 0.2 WAR and didn’t project Hernandez to pitch at all (for the Angels or the Braves, with whom he spent spring training).

These five relievers are being paid a cumulative $5.65M for this season and have been worth $35.2M. They’ve already produced $30.35M in surplus value and we’re just past the halfway mark in 2017. For comparison’s sake, the Dodgers’ five best relievers have produced $16.16M of surplus value, the Yankees’ $10.04M and the Indians’ $4.05M. Among other leading bullpens, only the Blue Jays’ pitchers have produced more surplus value than the Angels and the Astros are the only other team within $10M. The Angels have have turned a group of cast-offs into the foundation of one of the best bullpens in the Major Leagues and are receiving an incredible return on their investment for that feat. Let’s dig a little into each of these pitchers to see what’s going on.

Blake Parker

Blake Parker took the most circuitous route to being the most valuable reliever in the Angels’ bullpen, which Neil Weinberg detailed in his article about Parker. He is playing on a deal worth $560,000 and won’t be eligible for free agency until 2021. His cumulative WAR total in his last three big-league seasons is 0.8. This year his 1.1 WAR through the All-Star break is tied for tenth among relievers.

How is he suddenly so good? I encourage you to read the entire Weinberg article for more detail, but in short: his pitch mix this season is markedly different from his previous two.

Blake Parker Pitch UsagePerhaps more crucially, he’s gained velocity on all of his pitches and has been getting better results with his harder stuff, especially his splitter. After being completely forgettable last season, it has become a great pitch for him this year.

Blake Parker Pitch Results Comparison 2016-2017

The uptick in velocity and change in pitch mix seems to be behind his improvement this year.

Bud Norris

Bud Norris was mostly ineffectual as a starter and reliever in the 2016 season for the Braves and Dodgers, providing 0.7 WAR after putting up 0.0 WAR as a reliever for the Padres in 2015. He signed a one-year minor-league deal for $1.7M dollars in January 2017 and has already been more valuable than last season.

The last article to appear on this website about Norris was on June 27, 2016, when Jeff Sullivan urge us to check out Bud Norris. In that piece, Sullivan extolled the virtues of the cutter that Norris had added to his repertoire. Well, look at him one year later:

Bud Norris Pitch UsageEven more cutters, and half as many four-seamers! After spending most of his career as a fastball/slider guy, he’s totally transformed his approach. He’s throwing his fastball and slider less while using his cutter and sinker way more. His sinker has become an entirely different pitch from last year, gaining the most value of all of his pitches.

Bud Norris Sinker Results 2016-2017

Given the massive increase in strikeout percentage and swinging-strike rate as well as the drop in zone percentage, it shouldn’t surprise you to learn that he’s locating the pitch much differently this year that last.

2016:

Bud Norris Sinker Heatmap 20162017:

Bud Norris Sinker Heatmap 2017He’s still locating his sinker off the plate but has also started throwing it below the zone this year, which I’m sure is what has contributed to the spike in his swinging-strike rate and strikeout percentage.

Yusmeiro Petit

Yusmeiro Petit is the most expensive of the bunch, signing a $2.25M minor-league deal after Washington declined to pick up his $3.0M option for 2017 and paid him $500,000 instead. After back-to-back seasons of negative totals, Petit is on pace to surpass his career high of 1.8 WAR that he set back in 2014 as a starter.

Yusmeiro Petit Pitch UsagePetit doesn’t have an obviously different approach from previous years but that doesn’t mean that there haven’t been important changes under the hood. His cutter has improved remarkably, becoming his most valuable pitch this year.

Yusmeiro Petit Cutter 2016-2017

Like Norris, he’s had a dramatic increase in strikeout percentage and swinging-strike rate, but he’s also given up much less contact this year. He’s actually throwing the ball in the zone slightly more frequently while missing more bats. His cutter heatmaps show the difference in approach this season.

2016:

Yusmeiro Petit Cutter Heatmap 20162017:

Yusmeiro Petit Cutter Heatmap 2017Just like Norris, he’s added a new location. His new spot is way out of the zone down and off the plate and I’m sure it is contributing to his increase in swinging-strike rate.

David Hernandez

David Hernandez went to spring training with the Giants but was released when he didn’t make the Opening Day roster. After signing a minor-league deal with the Braves he was traded to the Angels for a PTBNL in late April after their bullpen was decimated by injuries. Hernandez had a positive WAR in 2016 but has been worth -0.3 WAR over his last three MLB seasons.

Something funny happened after he arrived in Los Angeles though:

David Hernandez Pitch UsageFor the first time ever, Hernandez is throwing a cutter. He’s not just experimenting with it, either. After throwing his fastball more than 60% of the time for his entire career, he’s throwing it less than half of the time this year. He’s using his cutter almost 25% of the time and it has been really good.

David Hernandez Cutter Results 2017

That 66.7% ground-ball rate is his highest on any pitch since he had a 71.4% mark with his changeup in 2013; that rate, however, came on only 36 pitches. He has never had a ground-ball rate this high on a pitch that he throws regularly, and adding the cutter has turned him into a much better pitcher.

Cam Bedrosian

The only holdover from last season, Bedrosian would surely rank higher in terms of WAR if he hadn’t been hurt this year. Even with the missed time, he has still almost matched his WAR total from 2016 in almost half the innings. He’s also doing something differently in 2017:

Cam Bedrosian Pitch UsageHe’s still a two-pitch guy, but he’s throwing his slider more and his fastball less. The results for both pitches haven’t been much different this year compared to last, but his slider was the better pitch in 2016. This could very well just be a matter of throwing his best pitch more often to get more favourable results.

All of these guys have changed something in 2017, either the usage or location of a particular pitch or both. This suggests to me that the bullpen improvements in Anaheim are not only from changing personnel but also from coaching. Charles Nagy joined the team before the 2016 season and perhaps after presiding over one of the worst bullpens in baseball last year decided that a change in approach was in order. Besides Bedrosian, three other pitchers from last year’s most valuable list are still with the team and all three have tried something different this year as well. That’s not to say that they’ve been good, but fortunately this year’s Angels team doesn’t need them to be.


A Situational Lineup: Management Questions With No Clear Answers

It has come to my attention that in the 1880’s and early 1890’s an interesting management phenomenon presented itself around baseball. At this time, managers were not required to submit a lineup card before the start of the day’s game. Due to this, the first time through the batting order could be constructed the way the manager saw fit, based upon situations in the game. That being said, once the lineup went through its progression once, its construction would pervade throughout the rest of play. In lieu of this, an interesting set of strategical questions come into play. How would managers set lineups if this rule existed today? How would this effect run totals for the season for a given team? Would lineup construction change its form or remain largely the same as the way it is done now? This article is not one that analyzes or provides solutions but, instead, provides questions that are interesting and engaging to any baseball connoisseur.

The implications and strategy behind this lineup maneuverability are something that provides tons of differing opportunities for discussion. I think the lead-off hitter, if this rule was applied to the game today, would remain mostly the same. Managers would continue to look for an on-base machine to start off the game in a positive fashion. Along with this, I believe that the seven through nine batters would remain mostly static. Managers would look to place their worst hitters and their pitcher in these spots in order to diminish their number of at-bats in impact situations. With these assumptions established, a world of possibilities open up for the two through six hitters in the lineup. Each manager would approach this construction differently based upon the day’s match-up and the game’s progression. That said, here are a set of interesting scenarios that can provide interesting implications for the progression of a game and for run production in that game.

Let’s assume we’re the Angels and we have their current set of middling players that play alongside a healthy, and studly, Mike Trout. It’s the top of the first inning and the first two outs have already been made, no one’s on base, and we have to choose who will hit. Although there are no runners in scoring position, would you (as the manager) decide to hit Trout in this spot? Or, would you wait and hit Trout to lead off next inning and hope he starts off the inning strong? Or, would you wait to bat Trout sixth and hope that the first two batters in the next inning get on base and Trout can drive them in?

If you choose the latter, the implications of such would be a diminished number of at-bats in the game for Trout. Would it be worth it to wait on an impact situation to have Trout hit for the first time, even if this led to one less at-bat for the rest of the game? I think, personally, in this scenario I would hit Cameron Maybin in the three hole, following Yunel Escobar and Kole Calhoun. I think Maybin has enough pop to hit a home run every once in a while with the bases empty. I also think that if he got on base, I’d hit Trout directly following in the four hole. If it were a single by which Maybin got on, he would go first pitch and try to swipe second. If he got thrown out, it would be fine and I’d have Trout leading off my next inning, followed by Albert Pujols and Luis Valbuena. If he swiped the bag, we would now have a runner in scoring position for our best hitter, which is exactly what we want.

I can see as I’m writing that my ideas are getting harder and harder to follow, but I think this is a direct result of the vast array of possibilities this type of management choice presents. It would be interesting to see major-league managers, much more knowledgeable than myself, go about making these decisions on a daily basis. What do you think would be the best lineup set in this situation? And what other situations would be interesting to discuss as baseball fans?


The Case for Kolten Wong to Lead Off

Up until Wednesday’s game, the Cardinals offense had been struggling, or as Bernie Miklasz described it: “snoring.” As a result, the Cardinals went 1-5 over six games despite a rotation ERA of 1.28. In the same article, Bernie highlights some of the reasons this team has a “mediocre” record with the best starting pitching in baseball (3.06 ERA). Namely, a low on-base percentage from the leadoff hitter. How low you might ask? It’s at .302, which is good for 26th in the league.

Dexter Fowler

Mike Matheny has used only three different players in the top spot of the order: Dexter Fowler (35 games), Kolten Wong (7 games), and Greg Garcia (1 game). Without question, when Dexter Fowler is playing well, he should lead off. After all, that’s what he was signed to do (in one of the biggest FA deals of the offseason). Not only did he play a key role in leading a Cubs team that combined for well over 200 wins in 2015 and 2016, but he also had an OBP of .393 last year — second only to Mike Trout (who might end up being better than Mickey Mantle). This year, Fowler’s OBP has dropped to .305 and his wRC+ has fallen from 129 in 2016 to 89 (For those unfamiliar with wRC+, 100 is average).

I’m not the only one thinking it might be time for a change; Matheny has hinted at it too. But he’s not ready to make a decision just yet. Here’s why he should be.

Kolten Wong is quietly putting together a solid campaign. In one of the early surprises of the season, with a slash line of .281/.376/.422, Kolten has provided more value than Fowler thus far. If we look at a recent, albeit smaller sample size, the results are even more shocking.

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These results paint a clear picture: Wong has been the better player for the entire month of May. Although not an enormous difference, Wong’s 15 wRC+ advantage over Fowler is significant. As the splits become smaller, the difference only increases. This illuminates Kolten’s recent success and Dexter’s struggles.

While some may say Fowler is a natural leadoff hitter and Kolten is not, these two players have very similar plate-discipline profiles for 2017. Both players swing at about 26% of pitches out of the strike zone. To give these values some context, Matt Carpenter swings at 17% of pitches outside the strike zone, while Randal Grichuk swings at 35% of pitches outside the zone (plate-discipline profiles can be found here).

These next two tables show two things: the consistency with which Fowler has struggled, and the consistency with which Wong has excelled.

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Fowler has been an average hitter against the four-seam fastball. Against all other pitches, he isn’t hitting above the Mendoza line. When we examine the same data for Wong, we see a different kind of consistency.

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Kolten has excelled against most pitches. This is the profile of a complete major-league hitter. Of course, this isn’t the largest sample size. But a quarter of the way through the season, I’m sure many of you are as surprised as I was to see how consistent Kolten has been. Sure, he’s struggled with the sinker and doesn’t hit for much power, but I would argue that the Cardinals only need their leadoff hitter to get on base. In fact, Fowler’s pop would be a welcome addition with runners on base lower in the lineup.

The Cardinals have a few options for the leadoff position. The three players that have been used thus far (Fowler, Wong, Garcia), as well as Matt Carpenter. Because his power is needed in the 3-spot, Carpenter isn’t an option with this roster. Garcia isn’t an everyday player, so that option is not realistic either. And when it comes down to Fowler and Wong, the outfielder’s struggles have opened the door for the young infielder. It’s up to Matheny now.


Albert Pujols Still Loves Having Ducks on the Pond

While Albert Pujols is the active leader in RBI and is 13th all-time with 1,849, there is something different about how he is getting them this year. He has 32 RBI, good for second-best in baseball, despite the fact that he has a meager .247/.293/.370 slash-line. Even considering the fact that Pujols has the exclusive luxury of batting after Mike Trout, my brain has a hard time comprehending how this could happen without breaking the matrix that is baseball correlations. So let’s dig.

First of all, high rates of RISP is, in fact, a major contributor: Pujols has had a runner in scoring position in 54 or 174 plate appearances this year, good for a 31% rate. As a mark of comparison, his career rate of RISP is 28%, so he’s getting a little boost this year. However, the interest is in the parity of those plate appearances, where he has produced a .326/.407/.478 slash-line compared to a .216/.242/.328 in situations with no RISP.

But it doesn’t stop there. Let’s go deeper into these ABs with RISP. In situations with at least two men on, Pujols has 30 plate appearances and has hit a vintage Pujolsian .370/.433/.630! This results in an OPS+ of 183, which is roughly equivalent to Barry Bonds’ career OPS+. Not bad. In contrast, however, with fewer than two men on, Pujols has hit .222/.264/.319 in 144 plate appearances this season, for an OPS+ of 59, which is equal to the career OPS+ of Rey Ordonez. D’oh!

So there’s life in the old dog yet! Or maybe the Central American Cichlid is more like it. A species that pretends to be dead only to lure unsuspecting prey. Time will tell if Pujols will remain this great with RISP (and this bad with no RISP). If it does hold up, it’s too bad that Pujols has a full no-trade clause to go along with the 114 million dollars he’s owed through 2021, because he could be a great pinch-hitter for a National League team. In the meantime, it is really going to drag the Angels down if they continue to plug “clutch Rey Ordonez” in the 3 or 4 hole every night.


The 2017 Red Sox Season Ends and Starts With Bogaerts

The Red Sox are currently tabbed as the favourites in the American League by most experts and odds-makers, but there was a lot of roster turnover from last season so it is difficult to really project their level of success for the coming year. Their positive 2017 outlook is despite losing the face of their franchise and best power hitter, David Ortiz, to retirement. He has been one of the most consistent clean-up hitters in the past decade and so offensively he leaves big shoes to fill (pun intended). The Red Sox offense in 2017 led the majors in most offensive categories like AVG, OBP, SLG, Off WAR component, swStr%, contact% and had the best OPS since the 2009 Yankees. Instead of signing or trading for a big slugger in the offseason to fill this void, Red Sox management looked elsewhere by acquiring one of the majors’ best starting pitchers in Chris Sale. The 2017 Red Sox are now led by a young nucleus of hitters who are projected to carry an offence that is likely going to be one of the best, and the Red Sox are banking on the continuing development of their young offensive talent to help them go far in the postseason.

One player who is expected to make major offensive contributions this season is Xander Bogaerts — a hitter who has shown the ability to hit for an elite batting average (.320 BA in 2015) and display some power (21 HR in 2016). He plays for one of the league’s most scrutinized teams and at one of the most important positions, creating an environment that demands excellence and puts a high level of pressure on a young player. Bogaerts has posted back-to-back seasons with a WAR over 4 and a wOBA over .338 but he achieved these feats in contrasting ways. In 2015, it was driven by an elite batting average, while in 2016 he made some changes to his swing and approach at the plate and was able to hit for a high average (.294) while increasing his home-run total from 7 to 21.

But when we delve into the numbers of his 2016 season, we learn that it was a tale of two halves. His noticeable two-halved season is similar to the 2016 seasons of Matt Carpenter and Kevin Pillar, players who I have written about recently, but these tales were directly related to injuries they sustained. For Bogaerts, however, his change was not due to an injury but from a change in his approach at the plate. This change had a negative effect on most of his offensive statistics and perhaps is a cause for concern for the coming season.

In the first half of the season versus the second half of the season, his batting average fell from .329 to .253, his BB/K fell from 0.59 to 0.37, his OPS dropped by 134 points, and his wOBA dropped by 57 points. The only improvements he displayed was improving his HR/FB ratio from 10.6% to 12.1% and increasing his ISO slightly by 13 points (.146 vs. .159).  So what changed, you ask? Well, you can probably tell from interpreting the aforementioned changes in his statistics; he sold out for power. He made a significant change to his ground-ball to fly-ball ratio, as it decreased from 1.62 to 0.98. Below we can see the change in his AVG/P from the first half to the second half of the 2016 season:


He stopped hitting balls to the opposite field, decreasing his Oppo% by 6.3% and increased his Pull% and Cent% by 2.8% and 3.5%, respectively. See below for a summary:

He also increased his average launch angle from 6.3 degrees in 2015 and 6.9 degrees in the first half of 2016 to almost double those marks in the second half of 2016 — 13.1 degrees. Despite increasing his launch angle in the second half, he made no major changes to his exit velocity (89.8 MPH vs. 90.2 MPH) or to his swing speed (61.3 MPH vs. 61.7 MPH).

In the table below, we see how Bogaerts ranked at his position in wRC+ and wOBA based on batted-ball type in the first half of the season and the second half:

Further, it is interesting to investigate his home and road splits in the second half as he hit .325 at home vs. .207 on the road. His second half away FB% was 39.9% and pull% was 42% while at home it was 38.3% and 52.1%. He increased his away FB% by 9.4% and increased his home FB% by 5.9% and his pull% by 7.7%. This change obviously helped him when playing at Fenway Park as his ISO increased from .172 to .205 while maintaining an identical batting average. However, while playing on the road, this new approach to hit fly balls and to pull the ball over an imaginary Green Monster led to major struggles at the plate.

I wanted to see if there was hope for Bogaerts with his new fly-ball-driven plate approach, so I wanted to look at hitters who made similar changes year-over-year and how they fared. I used data from the past four seasons and looked at qualified hitters who had at least a 0.40 decrease in their GB/FB from one year to the next. Analyzing the data, I found that Xander Bogaerts’ second half was eerily identical to Salvador Perez’s 2014 season. Perez made similar changes in his fly-ball approach from his 2013 to 2014 season and below are the results:


Apart from their HR/FB ratios, their batted-ball and hitting-profile metrics are identical. Bogaerts decided to pull and hit fly balls in the second half and if he was able to sustain this batted-ball profile over the course of a full season, versus if he kept his batted-ball profile the same as he had in the first half of the season, he would have hit six more home runs. Hitting over .310 with 18 HRs is much preferable to hitting sub .260 with 24 HRs. Of course, this extrapolation has its flaws, but whenever your hitting is compared to a catcher’s, it is a bit of a sign of concern.

It is not all doom and gloom for Bogaerts, as he is only 24 years old and has a lot of time to build into his frame and develop a power stroke. Looking at the same set of data, Bogaerts’ 2016 full-season data (a mixture of high-average approach vs. HR-hitting approach) looked similar to Robinson Cano’s 2016 season, apart from his ability to tap into his power. Cano and Bogaerts decreased their GB/FB rates by 0.72 and 0.75 respectively from 2015 to 2016, as shown below:


If Bogaerts can learn to hit the ball harder more consistently and perhaps focus less on pulling the ball, and revert back to his 2014 Oppo% of 32%, he could turn into both an elite power and contact hitter. An ideal future player comparison for Bogaerts would be somewhere in between Derek Jeter and Robinson Cano. Being able to utilize the whole field, hitting for a high batting average, stealing some bases, scoring lots of runs atop a killer lineup, and hitting for a lot of extra-base hits are all within the realm of possibilities for this young shortstop.

An important aspect to consider for the upcoming season is, where should Bogaerts hit in the batting order? According to Ian Browne of MLB.com, John Farrell is tinkering with the idea of hitting Bogaerts sixth in the Red Sox lineup, and this was the case for his first spring-training game since returning from the WBC on Thursday. And perhaps he has done so for good reason. In 2016, Bogaerts had most of his success hitting third in the lineup, but was moved to the two-hole on August 10th and stayed there for the vast majority of games there on out, and he began to struggle at the plate. It is a bit of a chicken-and-the-egg dilemma but something that probably prompted the move was his inability to hit with runners in scoring position. His batting average fell from .351 to .136, due mostly to his increased FB% — a trend that he has showed throughout his short major-league career, as shown by the table below:


His struggles with runners in scoring position are something that I am sure Farrell is well-aware of, and therefore his move down in the batting order makes a lot of sense, especially if he continues struggling with his new approach at the plate. It should not only helps his team be more efficient at run production, but it should also help Bogaerts’ chances of stealing more bases this season — something he has talked about doing more of if given the opportunity. He stole 11 bases in the first half of the season but only stole two in the second half, something that he attributed to having fewer green lights from his coaching staff when on the base paths, as they didn’t want to take the bat out of Big Papi’s hands. Of course, that is no longer an issue, and if he does in fact hit in sixth slot, he should have more opportunities to run than if he hit fourth – a position in the order that he was originally projected to hit from.


Fantasy Perspective: The move down in the order will definitely hurt his counting stats in runs and RBI, but the optimist in me believes that he will revert back a little to his 2015 self and hit fewer fly balls than he did in the second half of 2016. This should hopefully help him hit for a high batting average, considering he was able to sustain a BABIP in the .370 range over the course of over 1000 PAs from the beginning of the 2015 season to the halfway point of the 2016 season. His batting average over that period was .323, which which was tied for second with Jose Altuve, and only trailed Dee Gordon at .324. A more balanced approach should hopefully result in productive power numbers from Bogaerts, posting an elite number of doubles and HRs in the mid- to high teens. He has talked about trying to steal at least 20 bases this season and the likelihood of doing so is highly dependent on where he hits in the order. So if he stays in the six-hole for the majority of the season or moves up to the two-hole at some point – I believe that 20-25 steals is achievable.


Gary Sanchez Should Bat Second

What do Mike Trout, Josh Donaldson, Dustin Pedroia, Corey Seager and Manny Machado all have in common? Besides the numerous accolades that they share between the Rookies of the Year, the Silver Sluggers, the MVP awards and the combined 16 All-Star appearances, they all share one less obvious trait: they have more career plate appearances batting second in the lineup than anywhere else. Gone are the days of your team’s best player batting third or fourth. The new normal is now MVP-caliber players batting second. It has worked for Pedroia and the Boston Red Sox, Machado and the Baltimore Orioles, Donaldson and the Toronto Blue Jays and Seager and the Los Angeles Dodgers. Not for nothing, but those teams all made the postseason last year with large contributions from their second-hole hitters AND Trout was the AL MVP for the second time in his career on a last-place Los Angeles Angels team. And as more teams continue to adopt this trend, the New York Yankees should also look to bump up their best hitter.

In an appearance the other week on a YES Network interview, GM Brian Cashman has stated that the Yankees have kicked the tires on splitting Brett Gardner and Jacoby Ellsbury in the lineup. This makes a lot of sense when looking at their game; they both rely on their ability to get on base and set the table more so than their ability to drive in runs. Additionally, both players have slowly, but noticeably, been in decline in recent seasons, primarily due to age and injury. Gardner has been the subject of trade rumors over the past few seasons and Ellsbury has been the ire of the New York media for largely failing to live up to the seven-year, $153-million deal he signed before the 2014 season. River Ave Blues has already had a look at how the Yankees would approach this situation and they have provided a solid solution, but they almost immediately toss out the idea of Gary Sanchez batting there for one reason or another, while Sanchez is most deserving of the promotion.

Sanchez has established himself as the Yankees’ most dominant hitter after bursting on the scene last year. The Yankees, their fans, and the nation all expect Sanchez to hit in the third spot in the lineup, a prestigious position considering the history of the franchise, but moving the young slugger to second would not only better suit the team, but would also play to his strengths. Sanchez, despite the short sample size of 231 plate appearances, has proved to be a pretty good fastball hitter. Of the 294 fastballs he has seen, he has connected for a .328 AVG and .781 SLG, and nine of his 20 home runs. Why does this matter? Traditionally, number-two hitters have seen more fastballs than elsewhere in the lineup, and to further cement his commitment to the fastball, per Brooks Baseball, Sanchez had an exit velocity of 94.3 MPH against the heater (Sanchez ranked in the top 10 in overall exit velocity last year). Young players are also traditionally late to adapt to major-league breaking pitches. Can you blame them when they’re up against this or this?

Secondly, it has been proven that two-hole hitters collect more plate appearances per season than the three through nine spots. This is not new information, but the exact number of plate appearances has been up for debate for years. Beyond the Box Score might’ve ended the debate while also examining how the two hole has changed, stating that “[e]ach drop in the batting order position decreases plate appearances by around 15-20 a year,” which might explain why MVPs Trout and Donaldson have made a living there over the past few seasons. An extra 10-20 plate appearances could mean an extra home run or two over the course of the season. Baseball is a game of inches, but it’s also a game of runs.

With a lineup bereft of veteran power and more intent on utilizing the “Baby Bombers,” as they’ve been so aptly named, moving Sanchez up to second could and should give the lineup a much-needed boost if the reliance on Greg Bird and Aaron Judge should go somehow awry. Veterans Matt Holliday, Chase Headley and Starlin Castro have had good seasons and impressive resumes, but they need to return to All-Star form to carry a team of youngsters and a questionable starting rotation. No one really expects Sanchez to produce at the same rate that he did last year, but perhaps a bump up would allow him to produce at an above-average level again.


The 2017 Phillies Can Change Baseball Forever

The GM of the Philadelphia Phillies has been accumulating the players to potentially pull off the greatest singleseason heist in the history of baseball.

How will they do this, you might ask?

By utilizing the 3-3-3 rotation.

I will explain why recent rotation alterations by the 1993 Athletics and 2012 Colorado Rockies were not successful. Then I will show how the Phillies version of the 3-3-3 will change the baseball world. But first, let me explain the 3-3-3 rotation and its benefits.

The classic 3-3-3 rotation uses three groups of three pitchers each, pitching once every three games.

Game 1 – Innings 1-3 (Pitcher#1) Innings 4-6 (Pitcher #2)  Innings 7-9 (Pitcher #3)

Game 2 -Innings 1-3 (Pitcher #4)Innings 4-6 (Pitcher #5)Innings 7-9 (Pitcher #6)

Game 3  – Innings 1-3 (Pitcher #7) Innings 4-6 (Pitcher #8) Innings 7-9 (Pitcher #9)

Ideally, each pitcher will throw three innings or 30-50 pitches per appearance. By the end of the season each pitcher will pitch about 162 innings over 54 appearances.

This rotation will help pitchers succeed by:

1) Allowing hitters only one plate appearance against each pitcher

2) Eliminating fatigue by keeping pitch counts down

The more opportunities a hitter has against a pitcher, the better success he has. Dave Fleming of Bill James Online provided statistical evidence from 2008 supporting this fact:

 PA  BA OBP SLG OPS

1st PA in G 108606 .255 .328 .398 .727

2nd PA in G 44505 .270 .334 .431 .765

3rd PA + in G 34520 .282 .346 .453 .800

Notice how every hitting statistic increases with each at-bat. To make a few comparisons, Eduardo Nunez was an All-Star last year, and his OPS was .758. All-Star Xander Bogaerts had an OPS of .802. So if you leave a pitcher in past the third AB (generally 7th or 8th inning) you’re facing a lineup full of 2016 Xander Bogaertses. Not exactly a winning formula.

A similar pattern was echoed in pitch counts:

PA BA OBP SLG OPS

Pitch 1-25 87685 .261 .333 .410 .743

Pitch 25-50 39383 .257 .326 .400 .726

Pitch 51-75 31791 .270 .333 .429 .763

Pitch 76-100 24261 .277 .344 .450 .795

The fact that pitches 1-25 were less effective than 25-50 is due to lineup construction. The rest of the numbers clearly show that pitchers are exponentially worse after the 50th pitch.

In this post, I will explain:

1) Why the 3-3-3 rotation did not work for La Russa in 1993

2) Why the Rockies’ alternative rotation wasn’t accepted in 2012

3) The benefits the 3-3-3 rotation will provide the Phillies in 2017 and beyond

Before we begin, there a few concepts we must accept:

1) Baseball is not archaic; it is ever-changing

2) Categorizing pitchers as only “starters”, “relievers” or “closers” is limiting to the pitchers’ value and abilities. We have to look beyond these inadequate labels. I will use these terms in this article, but attempt to focus on these underlying meanings:

a) Starter – Pitcher trained to throw 5+ innings

b) Reliever – Pitcher trained to throw 1-2 innings

c) Closer – Pitcher with experience throwing the last inning

3) There is no one system that produces winners or losers. You must utilize your personnel to the best of their abilities and limitations

Why the 3-3-3 rotation did not work in 1993

1) The Athletics did not have the personnel to execute the strategy

2) The experiment lasted one week

First, the Athletics had one of the worst pitching staffs in the league in 1993. They were in last place when they implemented the 3-3-3 rotation and had lost nine of their last 12 games. Here is a list of their ERAs in ascending order:

Name                      Training      ERA    Synopsis

Bobby Witt                 SP           4.21     97 ERA +

Goose Gossage          RP           4.53    Age-41 season

Todd Van Poppel      SP           5.04     21-year-old rookie

Ron Darling               SP           5.16       79 ERA+

Bob Welch                  SP           5.29     Age-36 season

Mike Mohler          RP / SP     5.60     Started 9 of 42 appearances

Kelly Downs           RP / SP     5.64     Started 12 of his 42 appearances

Shawn Hillegas      RP / SP      6.97    Started 11 of 18 appearances

John Briscoe             RP            8.03    Started 2 games in 139 IP in career

Only Bobby Witt and Goose Gossage had an ERA under 5.04. Witt was by far their best pitcher and his 97 ERA+ shows he was below average.

The second reason it did not work is the experiment only lasted one week. The public and media backlash from the switch to this rotation was so great that La Russa was forced to abandon the experiment after one week. One week! I don’t care what you do in baseball, if it only lasts one week, then you didn’t give it a real chance. Buster Posey hit .118 in his first week in the MLB in 2009, but the Giants wisely kept him around for 2010.

Why the Rockies’ alternative rotation did not work in 2012

1) They did not have the right personnel

First, let’s describe the specifics of the Rockies’ new rotation. It was a four-man rotation of Jeff Francis, Jeremy Guthrie and rookies Drew Pomeranz and Christian Friedrich. In each start, these four pitchers were given a strict 75-pitch limit. Three rotating pitchers called “piggybacks” would then relieve them.

Game 1 – Francis (75 pitches) Piggyback #1 Reliever #1 Closer #1

Game 2 – Guthrie (75) Piggyback #2 Reliever #2 Closer #1

Game 3 – Pomeranz (75) Piggyback #3 Reliever #3 Closer #1

Game 4 – Friedrich (75) Piggyback #1 Reliever #1/2 Closer #1

Similar to the 1993 A’s, the Rockies made their switch out of desperation. When implemented on June 20th, the Rockies were 18 games below .500 and in a 6-15 slump, on pace to lose over 100 games. Here is a look at the top six Rockies pitcher stats by the end of the year, with ERAs in ascending order:

Name                       Training         ERA       ERA+     IP

Jhoulys Chacin           SP               4.43        105         69

Drew Pomeranz         SP               4.93         94         96.2

Alex White               SP/RP           5.51          84          98

Jeff Francis                 SP               5.58          83          113

Christian Freidrich    SP               6.17          75           84.2

Jeremy Guthrie          SP               6.35          73          90.2

Only one of these starters was even an average pitcher. Three of the four rotation mates were at least 27% worse than the average pitcher in 2012. The issue with the 1993 A’s and the 2012 Rockies are they made these moves in the middle of last-place seasons. They were desperate to change what were the worst pitching staffs in the league. No team heading for a last-place finish is going to respond well to a complete overhaul of the staff in the middle of the summer.

The good news for this particular experiment, however, is that the Rockies pitching staff performed much better after the change was made. In the first 21 games that it was implemented, the starting pitchers improved from a league-worst 6.28 ERA to a league-worst 5.22 ERA. That’s more than an entire one-run improvement! Still the league worst (control your laughter), but that’s a major improvement.

I believe that gives us hope that an alternative and better rotation can be found in the correct circumstances. With the right rotation mates and the correct distribution of pitch counts, I believe there is room for improvement. The key is to train and implement the rotation before the season begins. No pitcher is going to be motivated to try a new system if it is implemented in the middle of a terrible season. It has to be the game plan to begin with, and everyone must be on board. Below you will see why the Phillies have the perfect staff for a 3-3-3 rotation. I have used the 3-3-3 rotation as my basis, but implemented some changes inspired by the 2012 Rockies to ensure success.

How the 3-3-3 Rotation will benefit the Phillies

1) Utilizing the perfect personnel

2) Peak value from assets

3) Health (Physical and Mental)

Personnel

The Phillies have eight middle-of-the-rotation MLB-ready starters who have demonstrated the ability to get MLB hitters out for multiple innings per appearance. The Phillies have five quality relievers who have demonstrated the ability to get MLB hitters out for one inning+ per appearance. Let’s take a look at the 2016 Phillies stats in order of ascending ERAs:

Name             Training    MLB IP 2016    ERA 2016      MLB service

Asher                 SP                27.2                    2.28              0.061 years

Neris                 RP                 80.1                   2.58               1.104 years

Benoit            RP / CP           48                      2.81                Final Year

Neshek          RP / CP            47                     3.06                Final Year

Eickhoff             SP                 197.1                  3.65                1.045 years

Hellickson       SP                 189                     3.71                Final Year

Ramos             RP                 40                       3.83               0.101 years

Buchholz         SP               139.1             Career 3.96          Final Year

Velasquez        SP                131                       4.12                1.086 years

Nola                  SP                 111                      4.78                 1.076 years

Gomez          RP/ CP           68.2             4.85 w/ 37 SV       Final Year

Eflin                   SP               63.1                     5.54                  0.111 years

Thompson        SP               53.2                     5.70                 0.058 years

Asher, Eickhoff and Hellickson were MLB starters with ERAs under 3.71 last year. Buchholz has the ability to be a front-line starter coupled with a career 3.96 ERA. Velasquez and Nola showed great promise despite rather average ERAs in the 4s. Velasquez sported a 10.6 K/9 ratio while Nola’s curveball has the best horizontal movement in the Majors (9.3 inches, beating out Gerrit Cole). The only two pitchers who disappointed were Eflin and Thompson, two young starters getting their first crack at the majors. Let’s count on them performing better next year.

The best reason why this personnel is perfect is because all of the trained starters have generally similar projections. From a projection and performance standpoint, all of these pitchers are middle- to back-of-the-rotation guys with upside. Nola and Velasquez are projected #2/#3 guys while Eflin, Thompson, Asher and Eickhoff are #3 to back-of-the-rotation guys (Though Eickhoff did have an impressive year in 2016). There is no Kershaw or Verlander or Bumgarner or Cueto who are expected to dominate and throw eight innings every start.

By only allowing them up to 50 pitches and one time through the lineup, the numbers listed in the introduction illustrate that the 3-3-3 rotation puts these players in the best possible position to succeed. Since the numbers are now in their favor, pitchers will have a refined focus and confidence. They can make a structured game plan on how they’re going to attack each hitter. This will limit extended innings under duress and ultimately build confidence in the minds of these young pitchers.

You may ask, Kevin, the Phillies aren’t going to contend in 2017. Why go through such a drastic change to get marginally better?

The answer is using the 2017 season as a stage for their assets to increase in value.

Asset Valuation

The Phillies are not in line for a winning season in 2017. They most likely won’t win 80 games in 2018. But 2019 is their year. That amazing 2018-2019 class of Kershaw, Donaldson, Machado, Harper, Pollock, LeMahieu, Keuchel, Harvey, Wainwright, Corbin, Smyly and Shelby Miller will be theirs for the taking, as the only money they have tied up is to Odubel Herrera. Even the 2017-2018 class of Arrieta, Cobb, Darvish, Duffy, Pineda, Tanaka (option), and Cueto (option) could insert an ace or #2 into their staff.

That is why they need to act now. They must increase their pitchers’ values now and acquire better assets with 2019 in mind. The free-agent market will be booming from 2017-2019, thus lowering trade-market value of any player after this year’s deadline. Instead of trading away prospects to get the guys they need, teams will simply open their pocketbooks. Now is the time to trade these middle-of-the-rotation guys away. Especially because they are not all in the 2019 plans.

“Utility Pitchers”

What is the most overpriced asset on the market right now? Relief pitching. More specifically, pitchers who can pitch multiple innings in relief in tough situations. See: Andrew Miller, Kenley Jansen, and Aroldis Chapman. By utilizing the 3-3-3 method, you are training your starters to pitch multiple innings in different scenarios and relieve in later innings. The 3-3-3 method trains your pitchers to achieve the greatest possible value by becoming what I like to call “utility pitchers.”

What makes players like Ben Zobrist, a .266 career hitter, and Ian Desmond, a .267 hitter, worth $60-70 million? They are utility players. Teams these days love utility players and are willing to pay big money for them. They are more valuable now than they have been in all of history. The same can be said for utility pitchers.

If you have ever been to the Arizona Fall League, it is used as a stage for the game’s top prospects. Starting pitchers generally pitch three innings, and relief pitchers will pitch 1-2 innings each for the remainder of the game. They do this to give teams’ top minor-league players exposure to higher competition with an added benefit of raising prospect value in the eyes of other teams. By sending their players to compete with top minor-league competition for all scouts to see, a good showing will raise potential trade interest. For example, this year the Giants sent a young catcher named Aramis Garcia, a former second-round pick. Garcia doesn’t fit into the Giants MLB plans with a player like Buster Posey entrenched at catcher until 2022, but they used him as one of their eight player selections anyway. I can surmise they did this to boost his stock for potential trade scenarios. The Phillies do not have all their current pitchers in their 2018-2019 MLB plans, so why not show them off to other teams?

By using the 3-3-3 method in the MLB as a stage for their abundance of young pitching talent, their pitchers will:

1) Get experience against the top talent in the world

2) Potentially increase their trade value

3) Limit innings to 130 – 160 IP

4) Give young pitching the best chance to succeed at the MLB level

5) Keep their innings down and arms fresh

The Phillies 2017 3-3-3 rotation, which you will notice is a quasi version of the 3-3-3 that I referenced above, would look like this:

1st Group – Hellickson (3) Asher (3) Eflin (2) Neris (1)

2nd group –  Nola (3) Eickhoff (3) Thompson (2) Gomez (1)

3rd Group –  Velasquez (3) Buchholz (3) Benoit (1) Ramos (1) Neshek (1)

Why this particular grouping?

1. Ability to sell three of what we call “closers” at the deadline. They can also switch Benoit and Ramos to the closer role on any particular day, giving Klentak five pitchers with closing experience to sell.

2. Give Eflin and Thompson only 2 IP per appearance because of their struggles last year. This should increase their confidence by decreasing their perceived pressure.

3. Since the Phillies signed two relievers to one-year deals in the offseason, it is apparent that Klentak wants to sell them off at the deadline. This is why I chose the quasi 3-3-3 system.

Imagine Klentak’s bargaining power at the deadline if he has even three of these newly trained utility pitchers pitching well, especially if one is a guy like Asher, Eflin, or Thompson? He could promise 5+ years of control of a utility pitcher who can be a traditional starter or a multi-inning reliever out of the bullpen.

Some people will read this and think that this would be a “demotion” or “devaluation” from being a “starter.” This is not true. All of these pitchers made it to the MLB as what you would call “starters.” They have excelled at pitching 6+ innings per game. This experiment would simply add value to all of them. Just as playing Ben Zobrist at LF, RF and SS doesn’t take away his ability to play 2B.

Most relief pitchers don’t get drafted as closers or relief pitchers. They are given chances at various roles and stick with whichever role suits their strengths best. Look at Chapman and Andrew Miller. Look at Joe Blanton! Terrible pitcher as a labeled “starter” but excelled in a set-up role for the Dodgers last year. General managers won’t trade for a guy for a postseason run if he hasn’t proven that he is going to be a solid contributor in the specific role they need for their team. So by using 2017 as a value-booster, you train all of your pitchers for multiple roles so you can have the leverage to trade any of your guys to any team. Every postseason team needs pitching. The 3-3-3 rotation will give Klentak unlimited options to acquire talent that will help the 2019 team be successful. GMs are most vulnerable at the deadline, and it is time to take full advantage.

Some people might argue that bringing up all of these pitchers at once would be a waste of MLB service time. But what is more important to a GM who has multiple pitchers with middle-of-the rotation ceilings? An option year or service time? This experiment is exactly that, an experiment. It is a trial run for one half of a season to ramp up current asset valuations to acquire a lot of quality pieces for the future. Since all of these pitchers are already on the 40-man roster, sending them to the minors would waste an option year anyway. So why not give this a try? The worst thing you could lose is half a season of MLB service time on a few guys who have served less then 20% of one year in their career.

HEALTH

In an arm-health study by Dr. James R. Andrews the following chart is comprised:

Ages 14 and under – 66+ Pitches (4 days rest) 51-65 (3) 36-50 (2) 21-35 (1) 1-20 (0)

Ages 15 and over – 76+ Pitches (4 days rest) 61-75(3) 46-60 (2) 31-45 (1) 1-30 (0)

These pitchers are prized assets. Millions of dollars coupled with thousands of hours of prep, coaching and playing time are used per arm. Why don’t we take better care of these players?

As a kid, your parents told you to eat your vegetables, sleep eight hours a night and stay in school while getting 60 minutes of exercise a day. But as we grow older we continually skip our vegetables, sleep five or six hours a night, forget to keep our brains active, and rarely exercise. We feel that we can still function this way, but more importantly, we feel we have to function this way. This is because we put too many responsibilities on ourselves at the expense of our own well-being. I’m arguing that we are giving these pitchers too many responsibilities, at a detriment to their peak physical health. Why? Because traditional baseball knowledge tells us that a five-man starting staff is the right way to go in 2017. But look back at history: there used to be one-man, two-man, three-man and even four-man rotations. Those proved to be unsuccessful. I am saying that the five-man rotation isn’t working either. It’s time to make a change.

What if we treated these valuable multi-million-dollar arms with the care that we take with our Little League arms? I propose a hopeful plan of three innings finished for each starter, but an absolute maximum of 36-50 pitches no matter what. These pitchers will then receive two days of rest for every 36-50 pitches, thus receiving the care a child under 14 would receive (see chart above). It is impossible to argue that this wouldn’t be a healthier system than the one we have now. Finally, let’s shift back to trade value. If Klentak is making deals on July 31 and a playoff contender is asking him how his players can help them win a championship, health is another big concern! If he can say that his pitchers have been put on a stricter regimen than any other team in the league, and that his players’ arms are healthier and more fresh than any other team in July in the history of baseball, that is going to increase his bargaining power. Remember, keeping players healthy, putting them in the best position to succeed and increasing trade value all are focused on the 2019 season. Klentak’s initial plan has always been focused on the 2019 season. And this plan will add tremendous benefit to that goal.

Conclusion

Now I am not saying that every team should utilize this strategy. I am not saying this is the future of baseball for eternity. I am saying that with the Phillies assets, at the perfect time in their development, this will be a great strategy to use. A Double-A or Triple-A prospect is worth much less than an MLB-proven prospect. A pitcher who can relieve, start and spot-start is worth more than just a conventional “starter” or “reliever.” More utility is always better than less utility. Healthier arms are better than overused arms.

I am saying the Phillies should give this a try for half of a season in which they won’t win more than 80 games. There is nothing to lose. And hey, if everything goes to plan, maybe this starts a revolution. If not, then they seamlessly revert to a five-man rotation in August. The goal of business is to buy low and sell high, looking for the most reward for the least amount of risk. This is about as high-reward as you can get in a sub-.500 season with about as little risk as I can imagine.

A new idea is always crazy before it makes sense. In the 1920s and 30s it was a rule that star pitchers had to throw 10-20 relief appearances in addition to their normal starting roles. In the 1880s, catching a ball on one bounce was an out. It even used to be legal for a first baseman to grab a runner by the belt so he couldn’t steal second! It is time for a new discussion about the modern-day pitching staff. It is time for rebuilding teams to try new things to get an edge on the competition. It is time for the game of baseball to go through yet another change. We owe it to the fans, to the players, and to the history of our beloved game. We owe it to ourselves to put our reputations on the line for the greater good of baseball.


Edwin’s New Home

Edwin Encarnacion’s eight-year stint with the Jays is over, as he has decided to move his talents to Cleveland. This leaves a gaping hole in the Jays lineup. During his six and a half seasons in Toronto, he accumulated 239 homers and 679 RBI while hitting for an average of .268. He reinvented his career when he made the switch to first base five seasons ago, as he began to play with more confidence. He has had a higher fielding average than the rest of the league at his position since he started playing 1B in 2011 — however, his defense is nothing to write home about.

Edwin will likely be replaced with Justin Smoak and Kendrys Morales. Smoak was able to swat 14 homers with 34 RBI in just 299 at-bats, and with more plate appearances, he will be capable of cutting into the missing 42 homers and 127 RBI Edwin produced last season. Furthermore, Morales hit 30 homers with 93 RBI, which are closer to Edwin’s numbers, and with the move to a more hitter-friendly field, Morales may actually be able to replicate similar numbers. It is also important to note that right-handed hitters fare better at Rogers Centre, and Morales seems to hit the ball better from the left side, as his wRC+ is 115 hitting from the left and 109 from the right. As far as WAR goes, however, Edwin’s total through 11 seasons is 27.6, while Kendrys only has 8.4 in 10 years, and Smoak has a WAR of  0.2 through six years. In this sense, Edwin has left his old home with a gaping hole.

The Tribe, however, will be happy landing this heavy-hitting righty. Mike Napoli is yet to sign this offseason, so at this point Edwin will likely share time between first base and DH with Carlos Santana. The Indians ranked 10th in the AL with 185 homers last season, thus, Edwin’s bat will help with the lack of power in their lineup. Moreover, Encarnacion’s 3.9 WAR will make him the third-most valuable hitter (tied with Jose Ramirez) in the lineup.

A three-year contract locks Edwin in Cleveland until age 36, but the 33-year-old has shown no signs of slowing down, as his WAR has hovered around 4 since turning 29. His cumulative WAR was only 7.4 in his first six seasons, compared to a WAR of 20.2 in his past five. The three-year contract still seems most favorable to Cleveland, as, if he sees a drop in numbers next season, he will have a year to recover, and if he is unable to they can drop him in 2020. For Edwin, if the Tribe is not able to replicate the success they had last season, he is stuck watching his prime go down the drain. However, with the addition of Andrew Miller, and the experience the pitching rotation gained from their run in the postseason this past October, there is no reason the Indians should not produce the same success.

So, Edwin’s new home may be a breath of fresh air for the slugger, as his power will not be outshone by a lineup of heavy hitters. And he is still with a team that gets on base a lot, and a pitching staff that has the capability of being one of the best in the majors. Additionally, playing half of his games at Progressive Field will not hurt, as he should be able to hit a few moonshots over the shallow eight-foot wall in right field.

At any rate, Edwin’s acquisition has pushed the Indians into being arguably the projected best team for the 2017 season, and it should be a cake walk to finish first in the AL Central, especially compared to the AL East Edwin is used to. He might have found a home more suitable than the one across the border.


The State of the Yankees

As a Yankees fan (albeit one that has only witnessed their 2009 World Series), I have never been more excited about the team’s present and future. With the MLB roster slowly filling with good, young talent, and with even more stirring circumstances in the minors, the Yankees have the potential to be another powerhouse team.

The Team

Right now, the Yankees are in the midst of a revolution. Out with the old (A-Rod and Teixeira) and in with the new (Sanchez, Judge and Austin). Despite missing out on the playoffs, they will feature a well-rounded lineup at the start of next year.

It’s safe to say that Gary Sanchez won’t enjoy quite the success he did in the last two months of this season. Actually, he won’t come close. This isn’t to say he will play poorly, it’s just that he played so well that he can’t come back to those levels. However, Sanchez will no doubt still be one of the better-hitting catchers in the MLB with average to plus defense behind the dish, so they will already be better in that position in 2017 than they were in 2016.

The Yankees infield is the most likely to change the least with only Greg Bird slotting in at first base. Didi Gregorious, Starlin Castro and Chase Headley are each under team control until at least 2018, and there isn’t anyone challenging them for their spots at the moment. At first base, though, I say it is most likely that Bird gets the spot because it is possible that Tyler Austin beats him out in spring training. Austin is more likely to be used as a quasi-utility player as he can play at first, in right field and DH.

In the outfield everything could remain the same as the end of the season with Hicks or Judge in right, Ellsbury in center and Gardner in left. It could also see some changes. Gardner and Ellsbury both have the potential to be traded over the offseason with Gardner the more likely of the two. There are options to fill those gaps if trades do happen. Mason Williams could fill in until Clint Frazier is (hopefully) ready later in the season. Hicks, Austin and Judge could also fill the holes if needed.

The Yankees pitching is the most worrisome issue. The starting pitching, that is. Masahiro Tanaka performed well in 2016, so there is no reason to think otherwise for the next year. Beyond that, though, are question marks. Nate Eovaldi will probably be a non-tender after his Tommy John surgery. Pineda had his usual ups and downs. Sabathia is still getting older. Then there are numerous options in Luis Severino, Chad Green, Luis Cessa and Bryan Mitchell. Severino will be given the longest look because of his end to the 2015 season, but it’s a toss-up from there.

The bullpen in New York is still a quality one despite trading away Aroldis Chapman and Andrew Miller. Dellin Betances is one of the best in the game, so that’s a good start. Tyler Clippard, Adam Warren and whoever misses out on the rotation gig will presumably fill in the rest with a lefty thrown in.

The Minors

Now comes the most exciting part of the Yankees. With a system that starts with four top-30 prospects despite Sanchez already graduating, the Bombers are on their way to a good future. Frazier is in AAA and still needs to put up good at-bats before he gets the call to the majors, but that time will come soon enough. Gleyber Torres and Jorge Mateo will likely start the year in AA, so they won’t be seen until 2018 most likely, especially with the likes of Gregorious and Castro blocking them. Beyond their top three guys, the Yankees still have plenty of players who could make a major-league impact once it’s their time. Simply, there is a lot to be excited about when it comes to the team’s future.

The Yankees will have the 17th overall pick in next year’s draft, so they will be in familiar position after having the 16th and 18th picks in the two previous years. Their first-round picks in recent years have both been ones that I personally like, but who wouldn’t? James Kaprielian is shining in the Arizona Fall League and Blake Rutherford looks like a steal at the 18th pick, especially after his hot start to his pro career. This year will hopefully prove to be another that produces some good picks.

The Offseason

With the Yankees pretty much set with position players, there’s no reason to add any pricey free agents. It also wouldn’t be wise to block some of their young players out to prove themselves or ones that are close to ready in the minors. Pitching is another story.

As I stated before, their starting pitching has question marks when it comes to Sabathia’s age, Pineda’s consistency and Severino bouncing back. There also aren’t many pitchers on the free-agent market that stand out. Overpaying for Rich Hill would be contradictory to what the Yankees are trying to do in becoming younger, but his dominance when healthy is something that can’t be questioned. It wouldn’t be a bad move to sign him, but it would add yet another question mark to their rotation due to his injury history. Signing him also wouldn’t help any towards getting under the luxury tax, which Steinbrenner would like to do.

The only free-agent acquisition that I would like to see is a top-notch reliever, which means one of Chapman, Kenley Jansen or Mark Melancon. Jansen is likely going back to the Dodgers and Melancon would be yet another righty for the bullpen. A reunion with Chapman would be the best move. Pairing him with Betances again would put the bullpen in great shape. It’s just that it will cost a lot.

In terms of trading, I am one that is all for trading Gardner, Ellsbury and/or Brian McCann. Ellsbury’s contract probably means he’s staying, but Gardner will be easy to move if Brian Cashman can get the right return. Some reports have said that a swap of him for a middle-of-the-rotation pitcher could work, and that would be just what the Yankees need. McCann will have high demand this offseason with multiple teams needing catchers and not enough free agents to go around. The Yankees will have to eat a good chunk of his contract to get anything of value in return, but it shouldn’t be a problem as they’d be shedding a good portion of his $17-million-per-year contract. It would also give younger players like Bird, Austin and Judge a chance to DH.

The Braves have been said to want a reunion with McCann but won’t trade Mike Foltynewicz for him. The Yankees will do well if they can eat about half of his contract and get a couple middling prospects with some upside.

With such a deep farm, the Yankees also have the ability to trade for a front-of-the-rotation starter. Landing one of the top guys on the trade market probably isn’t in their best interests, though. To get one of Chris Sale, Chris Archer or Sonny Gray will cost a good portion of what the Yankees were able to get for Chapman and Miller. Instead, they should look to trade from depth for a guy that is a step down from the others. With Torres looking like the better middle-infield prospect, trading Mateo as the headliner of a package for a starter would be a good move and won’t impact the team’s future too much.

In Summary

In an ideal scenario, the Yankees will sign one of the top relievers to pair with Betances, stand pat on other free agents and see how Cashman can work the trade market for a third straight offseason. The Yankees likely aren’t a top contender next season, but the potential is there. If things break right with Judge, Bird, Sanchez and the rotation, they could find themselves at the top of the A.L. East. Right now, though, they should look to continue development of their top-three farm system and look at 2018 as the year to really contend.