Trey Mancini Talks Hitting

His performance flew somewhat under the radar — that can happen when you play for a team that loses 108 games — but Trey Mancini had a fantastic 2019 season. Quietly crushing as one the game’s most-underrated hitters, the Baltimore Orioles outfielder/first baseman slashed .291/.364/.535, with 38 doubles and 35 home runs. Mancini’s 322 total bases were sixth most in the junior circuit, while his 132 wRC+ was higher than that of Nolan Arenado, Ronald Acuña Jr., Bryce Harper, and numerous other notables.

The 27-year-old University of Notre Dame product discussed his breakout, and his hitting approach as a whole, on the final weekend of his third full major league season.


David Laurila: You’ve obviously stepped up your game. What’s different this year?

Trey Mancini: “I think the biggest change, especially from the first half of [2018] to this year… I’d gotten to the point where I was almost obsessed with what I was doing mechanically. I’d become way too concerned with what was going on in my swing — where my hands were, and all that — and if you’re thinking about those things at the plate, the ball is going to be whizzing right by you. So I’ve pretty much eliminated any thought of the physical. Now it’s just pitch selection.”

Laurila: That said, hitters sometimes do need to make meaningful physical adjustments.

Mancini: “That’s what your offseason work is. If you’re working on any physical changes to your swing, it’s usually going to happen then. When you’re in the cage, even before a game, it kind of becomes subconscious. But again, once you’re up at the plate you have to eliminate any thought of what of you’re doing, and just compete. These guys are too good for you to be worried about what your swing is doing.”

Laurila: To what extent can a hitter make mechanical changes during the season? Read the rest of this entry »

MLB’s Winning and Losing Efforts to Conquer TV, Part I: The Strike

When massive television dollars from broadcast giants ABC, CBS, and NBC stopped flowing directly into baseball owners’ pockets 25 years ago, the downturn in revenue helped to cause a strike that the sport took years to recover from. In the earlier part of this decade, a similar specter loomed in the form of a cable bubble, the bursting of which threatened to take away the millions that teams receive to broadcast local games on Regional Sports Networks (RSNs) like the Yankees’ YES Network or the Cardinals’ Fox Sports Midwest. Due to a diversification of revenue, an emphasis on developing streaming technology with a impact felt beyond the sport, and an increasing number of bidders, both traditional and non-traditional, that want to broadcast baseball games, Major League Baseball has been able to avoid a bubble similar to the one that severely damaged the sport 25 years ago. But, as exemplified by the recent Sinclair acquisitions of RSNs and the Blue Jays’ decision to remove Canadian access to their games on MLB.TV, a short-sighted approach could undo their victory in the long-term.

First, how we got here.

In 1988, CBS won the right to broadcast Major League Baseball’s marquee events, including the All-Star Game and World Series, beginning in the 1990 season. The network would spend $1.08 billion over the following four years for those games, reportedly beating the offers of rival networks ABC and NBC by as much as $400 million. While the deal was massive in its size, its importance was outweighed by a smaller but more significant deal signed the same year.

One concern with CBS’ new deal was the dramatic decrease in the number of regular season games broadcast nationally, moving from more than 30 games per season down to just 12 beginning in 1990. Commissioner Peter Ueberoth laughed off those concerns, noting teams’ ability to sell local broadcast rights. Around the same time as the CBS deal, the New York Yankees announced one such deal:

The prime example was the recent sale of television rights by the Yankees, who will collect $500 million over a 12-year period from the Madison Square Garden cable network for as many as 150 games a season by 1991. The 12 others are reserved for the national television package, now owned by CBS. The Yankees thereby became the first baseball team to award its local broadcast package entirely to cable television, which could set the pattern for other teams in the future.

Read the rest of this entry »

Yankees Lose Luis Severino, Again

The 2019 Yankees won 103 regular season games despite receiving just three starts from Luis Severino. The 2020 Yankees will have to make do in an even more extreme fashion. On Tuesday, general manager Brian Cashman announced that doctors have recommended that the 26-year-old righty undergo Tommy John surgery; he will do so on Thursday. His injury further depletes a rotation that was already slated to start the season without either James Paxton or Domingo Germán, taking a bite out of the Yankees’ playoff hopes — though they’re still heavily favored to win the AL East.

More than anything, losing an electrifying two-time All-Star for a full season or perhaps even longer is just a bummer. Pitchers, man…

The latest turn in the ongoing Severino saga began last Thursday — coincidentally, the pitcher’s birthday — when the Yankees announced that he had been shut down due to forearm soreness, an issue that he’d first reported following his ALCS Game 3 start against the Astros last October but one the team believed to be transient. When Severino continued to experience soreness in the offseason before beginning his throwing program, the team had him travel to New York to undergo MRI and CT scans, neither of which revealed any significant problems. In the wake of last week’s shutdown — during which manager Aaron Boone revealed that Severino had a loose body in his elbow that had previously been asymptomatic — Severino underwent a dye contrast MRI, which revealed a partially torn ulnar collateral ligament as well as pain in the area. Thus, Severino will go under the knife of Dr. David Altchek at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York. Read the rest of this entry »

Effectively Wild Episode 1506: Season Preview Series: Athletics and Rockies

Ben Lindbergh and Meg Rowley banter about the Astros confiscating signs at spring training and Madison Bumgarner’s rodeo alter ego, Mason Saunders, then preview the 2020 Athletics (13:58) with the San Francisco Chronicle’s Susan Slusser, and the 2020 Rockies (39:47) with The Athletic’s Nick Groke, plus a postscript on the implications of Luis Severino’s season-ending surgery (1:13:16).

Audio intro: Jonathan Coulton, "I’m a Mason Now"
Audio interstitial 1: Johnny Cash, "Wreck of the Old 97"
Audio interstitial 2: Willie Nelson and Ray Price, "This Cold War With You"
Audio outro: Porcupine Tree, "Sever Tomorrow"

Link to Morning Consult sign-stealing poll
Link to Mason Saunders story
Link to story on Monfort’s 94-wins quote
Link to Ben on spring training elbow injuries
Link to Astros response to cheating lawsuit
Link to order The MVP Machine

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A Sweet Spot by Any Other Definition

I’d like to show you a graph. It’s not a surprising graph, nor a shocking one. Here’s the production on batted balls across all hitters in 2019, grouped by launch angle:

It’s not exactly rocket science. Hitting the ball straight down is death, hitting the ball straight up is just as bad, and most of the juice comes in line drives and fly balls that don’t approach popup status. There’s even a cute little dimple right around 15 degrees, where the ball has too much loft to be a flare but not enough that you’re all that likely to hit a home run. That all seems to make sense.

Next, let’s complicate it slightly. Here’s the same graph, only with batted balls hit less than 95 mph excluded: Read the rest of this entry »

Ketel Marte Tries to Keep the Party Going

Spring training results are basically meaningless, and yet as portents of things to come are concerned, Ketel Marte homering on Sunday, in his first plate appearance of the Cactus League season, was a positive. The 26-year-old Diamondback is coming off a breakout, MVP-caliber season, albeit one that ended with him on the sidelines. Marte didn’t play a single game after September 17 due to a stress reaction in his lower back, and while he didn’t need surgery, his recovery was something of an abstraction until that first knock; the same can be said for baseball in general.

Behold, let the new season begin:

The switch-hitting Marte enjoyed a dazzling 2019, setting career highs in virtually every key offensive category. He hit .329/.389/.592, numbers that respectively ranked second, seventh, and fourth in the NL; his 150 wRC+ ranked fourth as well, behind only Christian Yelich (174), Cody Bellinger (162), and Anthony Rendon (154). That performance wasn’t anything that could have been expected given his previous history, as he entered the season a career .263/.324/.389 hitter, one fresh off a modest .260/.332/.437 (106 wRC+) showing in 2018. Marte’s 32 homers more than doubled his previous total of 22, compiled in over 1,500 plate appearances from 2015-18. Read the rest of this entry »

Examining Mike Soroka’s Arsenal

After an impressive 4.0 WAR season in 2019, 22-year-old right-hander Mike Soroka is set up to become the ace of the Atlanta Braves pitching staff. Soroka started all 29 games he appeared in last year and ranked 14th overall in FIP, with a 7.2 K/9 against a 2.1 BB/9 rate. Soroka induced grounders on over 50% of the contact he allowed, with a .206 GB BABIP (league average is .242 ). It’s a mixed bag of success when it comes to groundball pitchers, and Soroka ranked sixth overall in groundball rate last season (one spot behind his teammate Max Fried). Of the top 10 grounder rates in 2019, Soroka’s ERA was second to Hyun-Jin Ryu’s.

Soroka isn’t really a strikeout pitcher (142 strikeouts in 174.2 IP), but he does have a good mix of above-average pitches and velocity that keeps hitters wary. Soroka already does a pretty good job spreading out his arsenal, especially when ahead in the count and with hitters facing a two-strike count. Soroka’s repertoire has a few great pairing options, and if sequenced properly in the right game state, it could make the youngster dominant.

Let’s start by examining his arsenal. Soroka throws a two-seamer, a slurve, a four-seamer, and a firm, fading circle changeup. All four are demonstrated in the following isolated pitch overlay:

Read the rest of this entry »

Can Cleveland Afford Francisco Lindor?

I think it’s fair to say that the city of Cleveland has an image problem. I don’t know how far back this issue goes, but they’ve been late-night joke fodder for as long as I can remember. I suppose flyover country plus rust belt plus the depiction of the city and baseball team in the movie Major League adds up to a less-than-stellar perception of the city. That attitude often transfers over to the baseball club, particularly in terms of what the team can and cannot do when it comes to spending. This perception is central to the debate about whether the Cleveland baseball club can afford a massive contract extension for Francisco Lindor. However, perception isn’t always reality.

There are two principal arguments against Cleveland offering a big contract to Lindor. The first is that Cleveland is too small of a market with meager revenues, and signing Lindor would push payroll too high. The second is an offshoot of the first: If Cleveland were to sign Lindor to a huge contract, they would have their ability to compete constrained because Lindor would cost too much to keep payroll in line with typical levels. Both arguments are worth exploring.

Last season, Forbes ranked Cleveland 25th among franchises for valuation purposes at $1.15 billion. Twenty-fifth place feels pretty close to 30th, and it’s true that Cleveland’s valuation by Forbes was just $150 million higher than the last-place Marlins. It’s also true that Cleveland is closer to 18th-ranked Arizona Diamondbacks than they are to Miami. Cleveland’s market certainly isn’t the biggest in baseball, but it has close to the same number of households as Denver and is significantly ahead of places like St. Louis, Pittsburgh, Baltimore, San Diego, Cincinnati, Kansas City, and Milwaukee. It’s not just market size and valuation where Cleveland is closer to a middle-of-the-pack team than a cellar-dweller. Read the rest of this entry »

Ben Clemens FanGraphs Chat – 2/24/2020

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Unlocking Juan Soto’s Power Potential

On Friday, reporter Sarah Langs wrote an article entitled, “Juan Soto is even better than you think he is.” Soto is already good. Like, really good. And he’s only 21 years old. Langs took Soto’s 2020 ZiPS projections and envisioned the continued growth he could see this upcoming season. If the projections hold up, we could be seeing a historic season from the young Dominican, as Langs explained:

“The only players to have multiple qualified seasons with a 140 or higher wRC+ before their age-22 seasons are Mel Ott (3), [Mike] Trout, Mickey Mantle, Ty Cobb, Rogers Hornsby and Ted Williams. Each of those players’ outstanding starts to their young careers resulted in a Cooperstown plaque, except for Trout, who’s still active but by all measures seems headed there, too.”

ZiPS projects a 5.5 WAR season for Soto with a 149 wRC+, a seven point increase over his 2019 mark. Only six other players are projected to accumulate more WAR and just three are projected to post a higher wRC+ than Soto. After placing second in Rookie of the Year balloting and a year after placing ninth in the NL MVP voting, Soto has a strong case to be one of the early frontrunners in the NL MVP race heading into this season:

Juan Soto, ZiPS projection
2018 0.338 0.225 20.0% 16.0% 145
2019 0.312 0.266 20.0% 16.4% 142
ZiPS 2020 0.323 0.270 18.7% 16.7% 149

Read the rest of this entry »