Fernando Tatis Jr. Isn’t San Diego’s Only Budding Star

Earlier this week, Jay Jaffe detailed Fernando Tatis Jr.’s ascent to superstardom. The 21-year-old shortstop is one of the most exciting players in baseball and is among the league leaders in nearly every meaningful offensive and defensive statistic. But he’s not the only player providing elite production from an up-the-middle position for the Padres. If you filter the position player WAR leaderboards to include players 23-years-old and younger, you’ll find one of Tatis’ teammates just a couple of spots behind him: Trent Grisham.

Among players 23-years-old and younger, Grisham is tied with Ronald Acuña Jr. and Juan Soto at 0.6 WAR. He doesn’t have the gaudy slash line Tatis has posted this year, but his overall offensive contribution has been 39% better than league average, just a couple points behind Acuña’s 141 wRC+. In his 51-game debut with the Brewers last year, Grisham posted a 92 wRC+. This improvement of nearly 50 points has been driven by an eight point jump in walk rate and an outburst of power.

Grisham’s plate discipline has always been a strength. While he was a Brewers prospect, he posted an excellent 15.8% walk rate, though that discerning eye didn’t always translate into low strikeout rates. Eric Longenhagen and Kiley McDaniel described his approach like this in his 2019 prospect profile:

The low batting averages he has posted have been due less to his inability to put the bat on the ball and more to an approach that is passive in excess. Grisham watches a lot of driveable pitches go by. That approach is also part of why he’s never run a season walk rate beneath 14%, and Grisham’s ability to reach base is part of why he’s still such an interesting prospect.

In 2019, it seemed like he had gotten his plate approach figured out, posting a 16.3% strikeout rate between Double-A and Triple-A. But the strikeouts returned in force after he was called up to the majors in August, jumping up to 26.2%, and his walk rate dropped to 10.9%. That elevated strikeout rate has followed him to San Diego but his walk rate has bounced back to 17.9%. Read the rest of this entry »

Mookie Betts Hit a Home Run

When I sat down to watch last night’s game between the Dodgers and the Padres, I was ready for some offense. The Padres jammed their lineup with righties against Julio Urías, and while the Dodgers didn’t do anything special on their side to face Chris Paddack, they’re pretty much always terrifying. But I absolutely didn’t expect what happened, an 11-2 rout complete with a three-homer game from Mookie Betts.

The game was an impressive show of force from the Dodgers. Those are almost a foregone conclusion with such a potent lineup, even against Paddack — you can’t keep this group from the occasional offensive eruption. What impressed me most, however, was Betts’ first home run of the day. Take a look:

Paddack would have been pleased with that pitch if he didn’t know the result. Betts is a judicious first-pitch swinger, so you can’t throw him something uncompetitive and expect to get a strike. At the same time, he’s Mookie Betts; you can’t toss a fastball down Main Street and expect to get out of it alive. Paddack chose an excellent compromise, just off the outside corner but close enough to draw a swing. He might have preferred it a few inches higher, but it was a good idea for a first pitch.

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Eric Longenhagen Chat- 8/14/2020

Eric A Longenhagen: howdy howdy howdy

Eric A Longenhagen: Hope you’re all enjoying all the spoarts, I know I’m mainlining them basically all day, I’m even watching hockey for the first time in years.

Eric A Longenhagen: Baseball uber alles, of course

Eric A Longenhagen: let’s talk about it

Justin: Do you expect you will gain access to any of the tracking data from alternate workout sites that clubs are going to share to help along trades this year?

Eric A Longenhagen: I’m certainly going to try. I’ve been able to do it in years past, hopefully can swing it again.

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After Outbreak, Cardinals Will Finally Return to Play, and Play and Play

After more than two weeks on the sidelines due to the majors’ second large-scale coronavirus outbreak (the Marlins were first), and more than a week of quarantining and daily testing, the Cardinals are finally slated to return to play on Saturday. The plan is for them to drive to Chicago on Friday to play a pair of series against the White Sox and Cubs, during which they’ll begin making up for lost time by playing three doubleheaders in five days. Even so, the math has become daunting as far as fitting the 55 games they have remaining into the 44 days from Saturday until the end of the season.

While the other four teams in the NL Central are between 16 and 19 games into their schedules, the Cardinals have played just five. They began the shortened season by beating the Pirates twice at home, losing to them once, and then losing two to the Twins in Minnesota. Before the start of their three-game series in Milwaukee on the weekend of July 31, two players tested positive, leading to the series’ postponement. Further positive tests have brought the total number of positives to 18 – 10 players and eight staffers, including a coach whose positive result was reported on Thursday — and they’ve had additional postponements of series against the Tigers, Cubs and Pirates, as well as the marquee “Field of Dreams” game against the White Sox in Dyersville, Iowa.

While initial, widely-circulated rumors of the outbreak’s origin centered around players visiting a casino, the team has refuted that allegation, and MLB concurs with that conclusion according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch’s Derrick Goold. Goold reported that the Potawatomi Hotel & Casino in Milwaukee went so far as to check the reservation and membership records it is keeping as part of their heath and safety protocols since reopening and found no record of any Cardinals player visiting. Attempts by the paper to trace any root of the casino report to Minneapolis or St. Louis have proved unsuccessful as well. The casino-based rumor may stem from a July 12 visit to an outdoor drive-in concert venue called the Hollywood Casino Amphitheater by Cardinals players, who were photographed wearing masks and socially distancing. Via Goold, manager Mike Shildt said that the Cardinals have “traced the genesis of the outbreak back to an outside individual who was asymptomatic when he had contact with a member of the club,” bringing the infection into the clubhouse.

According to MLB.com’s Anne Rogers, president of baseball operations John Mozeliak told reporters via Zoom on Thursday that the 18th positive test is a coach whose positive test “comes after several days of inconclusive results. He is asymptomatic and has been in isolation for the past week.” Read the rest of this entry »

You Can Dream on Dylan Bundy Again

Dylan Bundy’s first four starts last season were emblematic of a few different things. They told the story of the 2019 Orioles, a team that would set records for pitching futility. They told the story of last year’s juiced ball, which helped facilitate the highest league-wide home run rate in history. And they told the story, once again, of how far Bundy’s star had fallen. Once considered a generational pitching prospect, a Tommy John surgery combined with other injuries wedged three whole years between Bundy’s first season of big league action and his second. As time passed, dreams of him becoming a bona fide ace faded, as he instead turned into something closer to an average back-end starter — from 2017-18, his first two years as a full-time starter, he had an ERA- of 110 and a FIP- of 106, below-average marks that could usually be blamed on problems with the long ball. Through four starts in 2019, those issues persisted; he threw just 17.1 innings and allowed 15 runs on 18 hits, with a whopping seven homers allowed to go with nine walks and 22 strikeouts.

It is that backdrop that has made Bundy’s first four starts of this season almost entirely unrecognizable. He’s thrown 28.2 innings and allowed just five runs on 15 hits, three walks, and two homers. He has struck out 35 hitters. Pick a pitching category right now, and Bundy, 27, is probably either leading it or trailing only a handful of guys.

Dylan Bundy Major-League Ranks, 2020
Metric Value MLB Rank
Innings 28.2 1st
K% 33.0% 7th
BB% 2.8% 6th
K-BB% 30.2% 4th
HR/9 0.63 17th
ERA 1.57 8th
FIP 2.16 6th
WAR 1.1 1st

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ZiPS Time Warp: Johan Santana

When people get excited about the Rule 5 draft at the Winter Meetings, Johan Santana is one of the biggest reasons why. Roberto Clemente is almost certainly the best player ever taken in this event, but Santana leads a healthy spoonful of All-Stars who found new teams when their old ones couldn’t find the roster spot (this list also includes names such as Bobby Bonilla, George Bell, Josh Hamilton, and Shane Victorino). It took another trade to get Santana to the club for which he’d achieve his greatest exploits, the Minnesota Twins. After receiving Cy Young votes in six consecutive seasons and winning two trophies, injuries quickly ended Santana’s career before he reached his mid-30s.

The Twins weren’t even the team that launched Santana to stardom, though they certainly received a benefit from the Rule 5 draft. Knowing the Marlins wanted Jared Camp, the Twins took him in the 1999 Rule 5, only to instantly trade him to the Marlins for Santana and $500,000. Santana certainly wasn’t a finished product at this point and struggled in a mop-up role for Minnesota in his rookie season. His 2002 campaign didn’t go much better, as he was raw and didn’t have a true out pitch to punch out batters, and he missed significant time due to an elbow injury.

Santana was never a star on the radar gun, and at this point, a less determined team may have simply been happy to move on with the half a million bucks they pocketed. But the Twins persisted, and while converting Santana to a starting pitching role in the minors in 2002, former Ranger reliever Bobby Cuellar worked with Santana on refining his changeup and making it the centerpiece of his repertoire.

Santana fiddled with a changeup before 2002, but that was when the pitch blossomed. After Minnesota sent Santana to Class AAA Edmonton to convert him from a reliever to a starter, Bobby Cuellar, the pitching coach there, preached about the significance of trusting his changeup in any situation.

During bullpen sessions, Cuellar would tell Santana to imagine the count was 2-0 or 3-0 and would instruct him to throw a changeup. During games, Cuellar sometimes had Santana toss seven straight changeups. Although Santana said it took months to be that bold, Cuellar said he saw “a little glow in Johan’s eye” as the pitch developed. By July 2003, Santana was in the Twins’ rotation. By 2004, he was a 20-game winner.

Santana’s control was yet to reach the levels it would during his prime, but his change quickly became a weapon. From an overall run value standpoint, his changeup ranked 14th in baseball in 2002 and 17th in 2003. Coincidentally, his first Cy Young vote came in 2003. Read the rest of this entry »

Carlos Santana’s Walks Will Trick You

It’s always important to remember that statistics can lie. They’re interesting, and if used with caution they can reveal all kinds of truths. Most statistics are silly, though. When we mock old guard baseball minds who quote eight-plate-appearance samples of one batter against a particular pitcher, or what Mike Moustakas has done in home day games this year, it’s implied: those statistics don’t tell you anything meaningful. So here’s what we’ll do today: I’m going to tell you a statistic, and then we’ll try to find out if it’s meaningful.

Carlos Santana has walked in 30.4% of his plate appearances this year. If you hear that and think “Wow, that’s a lot of walks,” you’re absolutely correct. Santana has always walked a lot, but not like this. Walking that often hardly looks like baseball. It lets him run a ludicrous, .182/.430/.255 slash line. The question is, does it mean anything?

Here’s a simplistic way of looking at it: Santana has batted a lot of times in the major leagues. He’s up to 6,226 plate appearances over 11 seasons of work. How many times has he walked this often in a 19-game stretch? Exactly none:

Think of it this way. Before the season, we projected Santana for a 14.8% walk rate. You can use a binomial probability calculator to estimate how likely it is he’d sustain a 30.4% walk rate over 79 plate appearances. As you might expect, it’s wildly unlikely — if his true-talent walk rate is still 14.8%, there would be a 0.03% chance of this happening. Read the rest of this entry »

Craig Edwards FanGraphs Chat – 8/13/2020

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Charlie Blackmon Is Chasing .500… For Now

In the run-up to the 60-game 2020 season, colleagues Craig Edwards and Dan Szymborski were among the many writers in the industry who weighed in on the possibility of a player hitting .400 or better. They used lots of fancy math and projections to do so, but it’s already clear that both laid down on the job by failing to estimate the odds of a player hitting .500, as Rockies right fielder Charlie Blackmon was through Tuesday night. Can’t anybody here play this game?

Blackmon’s 3-for-4 performance against the Diamondbacks on Tuesday extended his hitting streak to 15 games, which is tied with the Giants’ Donovan Solano for the major league high this year; during that span, he hit .567/.591/.817. The three-hit game also marked Blackmon’s sixth straight with multiple hits, tied with the Mariners’ Kyle Lewis for the big league high; over that span, he hit .739/.778/1.174 — that’s 17 hits in 23 at-bats, and without a single strikeout, to boot.

Blackmon entered Wednesday afternoon’s game against the Diamondbacks — in which he went 0-for-4 with a walk, but don’t let that tangle my yarn — at .500/.527/.721, with 34 hits through 17 games. As best as I can tell using Baseball-Reference’s Stathead service (the updated version of the Play Index), that’s tied for fourth since 1901:

Most Hits Through Team’s First 17 Games
Rk Player Year Team H PA AVG OBP SLG
1 Nap Lajoie* 1901 Athletics 37 70 .578 .614 .938
2T Stan Musial* 1958 Cardinals 36 80 .529 .588 .853
Hank Aaron* 1959 Braves 36 77 .500 .494 .972
4T Carl Reynolds 1934 Red Sox 34 74 .507 .554 .791
Pete Rose 1976 Reds 34 85 .466 .541 .616
Charlie Blackmon 2020 Rockies 34 74 .500 .527 .721
Dante Bichette 1998 Rockies 34 77 .453 .455 .587
Larry Walker* 1997 Rockies 34 79 .507 .582 1.030
Nap Lajoie* 1904 Naps 34 73 .486 .507 .670
SOURCE: Baseball-Reference
*Hall of Famer

That’s some company, with four Hall of Famers — one a repeat customer, topping the list in the American League’s inaugural season (expansion alert!) — and the all-time hits leader, plus the Rockies’ original right fielder (Bichette) as well as the already-counted Hall of Famer who bumped him to left field upon arriving in 1995 (Walker). The one you don’t know about is Reynolds, a well-traveled outfielder from a high-offense era; he played for five teams in 13 years from 1927-39, batting as high as .359 for the White Sox in 1930, the year that offense was off the charts. Read the rest of this entry »

Dan Szymborski FanGraphs Chat – 8/13/20

Avatar Dan Szymborski: Hello chatters and chatees

Joe: The Orioles will win 28 or more games. True or false.

Avatar Dan Szymborski: EVER? True.

Ben: Kyle Hendricks is good at pitching baseballs

Avatar Dan Szymborski: After facing his curve and change, Hendricks fastballs look like Jordan Hicks

Avatar Dan Szymborski: Well, Jordan Hicks fastballs. They don’t actually look like Jordan Hicks

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