Archive for December, 2014

Evaluating the Prospects: San Diego Padres

Evaluating the Prospects: RangersRockiesD’BacksTwinsAstrosRed SoxCubsWhite SoxRedsPhilliesRaysMetsPadres & Marlins

Scouting Explained: Introduction, Hitting Pt 1 Pt 2 Pt 3 Pt 4 Pt 5 Pt 6

Amateur Coverage: 2015 Draft Rankings2015 July 2 Top Prospects & Latest on Yoan Moncada

This list was gutted by five deals over an 12-day period earlier this month by new general manager A.J. Preller. He generally turned minor league pieces into big league pieces and these deals included 11 guys that would’ve been on this list: Trea Turner, Max Fried, Zach Eflin, Joe Ross, Joe Wieland, Mallex Smith, Jace PetersonR.J. Alvarez, Johnny Barbato, Jake Bauers and Dustin Peterson, in that order.

Jesse Hahn would’ve been on the growth assets list and Burch Smith may have snuck on the end of the list but would likely be one of the last cuts, appearing in the others of note section. The lack of depth in the list below is understandable as a slightly above average system became a slightly below average one in the last month or so. Padres sources were quick to point out that only Justin Upton and Shawn Kelley were one-year assets, so this isn’t an all-in sort of move, but more of a reorganizing of the assets.

It’s interesting that the Rangers, where Preller worked until recently, have a reputation of not wanting to part with any prospects in trades. Preller came into a situation in San Diego where he didn’t sign any of the players he had and he immediately shipped one-third of the legitimate prospects out within a couple months, with no list-worthy prospects coming back in these deals. That’s somewhat misleading, as Preller’s job is to win big league games and a farm system exists to improve the big league team, but it’s interesting to note the contrast in styles.

Another big topic that came up on all my calls for this list was the recent history of Padres pitching prospects getting hurt. There have been somewhat recent Tommy John surgeries for Casey Kelly, Max Fried, Joe Wieland and Cory Luebke (twice) among the legitimate prospects, but the team has no explanation for why they’ve been hit harder than others. Padres execs detailed a study to me that was commissioned to answer this question and there were no common factors across the injuries and there didn’t appear to be problems with their throwing programs. It appears to just be rolling snake eyes a few more times than everyone else did, through random bad luck.

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FG on FOX: About This Unusual Yankees’ Offseason

By their own standards, the Yankees’ offseason has been strangely quiet. Has the team’s offseason to date flown under the radar? They’re simultaneously busy and quiet, signing two reasonably high-profile free agents and engineering two trades for everyday players. They’re both smart, imminently defensible trades but they don’t quite qualify as Yankee-scale blockbusters.

The team improved, but as it currently stands, New York trails the Blue Jays and Red Sox in terms of talent. Steamer Projections rank the Rays and Yankees as equals, forecasting an offense that marginally outscores the runs their defense and pitching allow. The offseason is far from over, but the Yankees are clearly taking their club into another direction.

The Yankees, against all odds, are getting younger. In doing so, they’re adding an element unseen in the Bronx for many years: uncertainty.

For years, fans of rival AL East teams waited on the mighty Yankees to age, decline, and finally collapse like an Old Vegas hotel rigged with dynamite. For the most part, those fans never got their wish. The Yankees had some down years, but they always had the resources to paper over their mistakes, to throw good money after bad and put together a competitive team. The second wild card spot kept the 2013 and 2014 Yankees within shouting distance of the playoffs when the talent on hand suggested they didn’t belong.

But the one thing the Yankees and their core of established talents always have is known commodities. With all their money and ability to spot a salvage job worth undertaking, the Yankees always manage a reasonably high floor for their talent. They traffic in big leaguers with little mystery. The opposite of the 2015 Chicago Cubs, in other words.

The recent veteran-laden Yankees teams came with long resumes and a whole lot of plate appearances to look back on when looking to their future. Especially over the last few seasons, the Yankees bent but never broke. They won 85 and then 84 games in the past two seasons, unable or unwilling to blow up their roster. It was never stars and scrubs as much as stars and plugs – upmarket scrubs preventing the Yankees from wallowing in rebuild seasons and netting higher draft picks.

Read the rest on Just A Bit Outside.

Courtney Hawkins: Are 2014’s Improvements Enough?

About 16 months ago, I wrote this 3,000-word-plus diatribe about Courtney Hawkins, attempting to make sense of how a 2012 mid-first-round pick could collapse from a .284/.324/.480 line in his post-draft 2012 season (complete with reaching High-A at age 18) to an abysmal .178/.249/.384 mark in 2013 (complete with ghastly 37.6% strikeout rate).

For some, those numbers were grounds for Hawkins’ dismissal as a prospect; for others, his youth and level made that immediate, severe pessimism seem a bit over-the-top and premature; he did manage to slug nineteen homers in 103 games in the midst of all that whiffing, at least. The thought of this latter group was that Hawkins would repeat High-A in 2014 as a 20-year-old and that the tools that made him a first-round pick would again surface as he grew into the level.

A glance at the big outfielder’s 2014 end-of-season results shows that those who held out hope for improvement weren’t off base. Hawkins came through with a .249/.331/.450 line this past season, good for a .352 wOBA and 117 wRC+. He cut his strikeout rate to a more workable 27.8% while raising his walks from 6.8% to 10.3%. If his 2013 season didn’t exist, statistically-minded prospect-watchers would look at Hawkins’ age-20 campaign and declare it a solid success, or at least say he met expectations.

In this piece, I want to look beneath this superficial dramatic improvement and examine what drove Hawkins’ improvements, with an eye toward where his 2014 modifications might lead him in the future.

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The Best of FanGraphs: 10 Most Popular Posts of 2014

It’s the end of the year. At the end of the year, we like to look back before we look forward to the upcoming year. In that vein, I thought it would be instructive — and perhaps a little bit fun — to pull the most popular posts from our fair site for this calendar year. If you read the Best Of post each week (or even some weeks, or maybe you glanced at it while your significant other was in the dressing room that one time and you were suuuuper bored???), you know that I like to throw a little shine at all of the blogs in our family, so we’ll also have a spot for the most popular piece for each blog as well, if they didn’t reach the actual top 10. Onward!

Wait, before we move onward, a note — just because I’m using the “Best of” post here, doesn’t mean that these were necessarily the best posts. They’re simply the most popular. I am grouping them under the “Best of” banner because it’ll be easier to find them at a later date. You know, if you’re curious to find them again at a later date (I know I will be). OK, onward!!!

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Your 2014 MLB Legal Year-in-Review: Part Three

This is the final installment of a three-part series looking back at what has been an unusually eventful year for Major League Baseball in the courtroom. Part One recapped the legal maneuvering surrounding Alex Rodriguez’s suspension and the Oakland A’s proposed move to San Jose, while Part Two looked at MLB’s 2014 minimum wage and gender discrimination issues. This part concludes the series by reviewing the status of various television-related legal proceedings for MLB and its teams, as well as covering an assortment of other legal developments.


Television revenues are vital to MLB’s business, so it should be no surprise that the league was involved in a series of important TV-related legal proceedings in 2014. Perhaps the most significant of these cases is Garber v. Office of the Commissioner of Baseball, a suit challenging MLB’s television policies under federal antitrust law.

Wendy Thurm has previously discussed the Garber suit on several occasions. By way of a brief recap, the case alleges that MLB’s television policies violate the Sherman Act in two ways: first, by imposing unreasonable blackout policies on fans; and second, by selling only league-wide pay-per-view subscription packages (MLB Extra Innings and rather than allowing teams to offer their own individual out-of-market plans. Read the rest of this entry »

FanGraphs Q&A and Sunday Notes: The Best Quotes of 2014

In 2014, I had the pleasure of interviewing hundreds of people within baseball. Many of their words were shared via the FanGraphs Q&A series. Others came courtesy of the Sunday Notes column, which debuted in February. Here is a selection of the best quotes from this year’s conversations.


“Later on, when they went to the QuesTec system, the strike zone became more of a north-and-south than an east-and-west. I had to learn how to pitch inside more, which wasn’t an easy thing to do.” – Tom Glavine, Hall of Fame pitcher, January 2014

“In my first at bat, I hit a home run and thought to myself, ‘I’m going to hit 30 home runs in this league.’ I ended up hitting five.” – Clint Frazier, Cleveland Indians prospect, January 2014

“As a pitcher, you’re supposed to feel at home on the mound. You’re supposed to feel comfortable and strong. I didn’t feel that way.” – Jesse Biddle, Philadelphia Phillies prospect, January 2014

“My mind was free, because I was only concentrating on one thing, which was getting hitters out. I was in the big leagues, so I was able to relax and do my job.” – Matt Harvey, New York Mets, February 2014

“Twenty-four hours to vent and rage, break things. I punched my door and put a crack in it. I broke a few boat oars out back of the house. I was mad, because I felt I was being stolen from.” – Luke Scott, former big-league outfielder, February 2014

“When I brawled, I blacked out. I don’t really remember much outside of watching the videos. I do remember telling Dean Palmer, ‘They’re about to start hitting our guys and we’ll need to go out there.’ ” – Doug Brocail, former Detroit Tigers pitcher, February 2014

“When I stood on the mound while on Adderall, everything faded away except for the catcher’s mitt. No crowd noise, no distractions. It was almost like being in the Matrix. Although you were sped up, everything slowed down.” – Player X, March 2014 Read the rest of this entry »

Effectively Wild Episode 594: The Year’s Last Listener Emails

Ben and Sam end the year by answering listener emails about Barry Bonds, baseball in pop culture, Wil Myers, and more.

The Point of Asdrubal Cabrera

Asdrubal Cabrera’s signing with the Rays. There was thought the free-agent middle infielder would get multiple years, given the number of teams looking for a shortstop or a second baseman, but by the reports, Cabrera is signing for one year and something in the vicinity of $8 million. Call it the A.J. Burnett contract, if you’d like. Cabrera’s an unexciting player, signing for unexciting terms.

Whenever you think about a fresh transaction, there’s a desire to find and identify that certain hidden something. That one thing about a given player that made him so appealing to his new team. I don’t think there’s a certain hidden something about Asdrubal Cabrera. He’s a fairly established entity: he’s a relatively poor defensive shortstop who used to be a better player than he is. He can play short but he fits better at second, and his overall offense is close enough to being average you can get away with calling it average. What do you have when you have an average hitter who’s roughly an average overall defender? That’s an average player. Cabrera’s close to that, and maybe a little bit worse.

This isn’t a franchise player, the Rays are signing. This isn’t a player many will remember as having been a Ray five or ten years down the line. This is just one of those small, fine deals every team has to make, and the most interesting thing about it is what it means for other players. The Rays are signing Asdrubal Cabrera, which means more and more people are talking about Ben Zobrist.

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The Best Pitches of 2014 (By Whiffs)

There are many different ways to describe the quality of a pitch. We have movement numbers on this site. There are ground-ball rates. There are whiff rates. There are metrics that use a combination of ground-ball and whiff rates. And metrics that use balls in play. There’s a whole spectrum from process to results, and you can focus on any one part of that spectrum if you like.

But there’s something that’s so appealing about the whiff. It’s a result, but it’s an undeniable one. There is no human being trying to decide if the ball went straight or if it went up in the air or if the ball went down. It’s just: did the batter swing and miss? So, as a result, it seems unassailable.

Of course, there are some decisions you still have to make if you want to judge pitches by whiff rates. How many of the pitch does the pitcher have to have thrown to be considered? Gonzalez Germen had a higher whiff rate on his changeup (30.7%) this year than Cole Hamels (23.7%). Cole Hamels threw seven times as many changeups (708 to 101).

So, in judging this year’s best pitches, let’s declare a top pitch among starters and a top pitch among relievers. That’s only fair, considering the difference in number of pitches thrown between the two. It’s way harder to get people to keep missing a pitch they’ve seen seven times as often. And, in order to avoid avoiding R.A. Dickey the R. A. Dickey Knuckler award, we’ll leave knucklers off the list, and include knuckle curves in among the curves.

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When Scouting Shortstops Gets Too Subjective

When I’m making the calls for the Evaluating the Prospects series, I start picking up trends across multiple lists.  Some of it is simple, expected things—trends in types of players I or the industry tend to underrate or overrate—but there can be more specific things that keep coming up.  I wrote earlier about the trend of top hitting prospects flopping the big leagues after appearing bored at Triple-A along with a general plea of ignorance in any scouting projections, but now there’s now another constant I keep hearing on almost every list.

It’s become part of common internet prospect lingo to ask/comment on whether a prospect that plays shortstop in the minors can “stick at the position.” What this means is if he can project to be average to slightly below, or in other words, good enough to send out there on an everyday basis, assuming his bat is enough in combination with his defense to be one of the top 30 shortstops in the big leagues.

This seems like a simple enough question, but there’s a persistent blind spot in the industry of underrating the defensive ability in short looks (a showcase, infield practice or just a handful of games) of shortstops with solid fundamentals, but without flashy actions.

Some of this comes from a team talking about their own prospect, trying to change the consensus that their own prospect can, in fact, stick at shortstop in the big leagues. I can say from working in three front offices that over 95% of the time, the team that has a prospect also has the #1 highest value of him out of all 30 teams. There’s a number of understandable reasons for this effect, but it only accounts for a small part of the overall trend.

I hear it often and in the all three talent markets: the draft, July 2nd and now on organizational prospect lists. The player getting underrated is a shortstop with anywhere from 45 to 55 speed on the 20-80 scale, that has fringy to average pure range for the position and the minimum amount arm strength (55) for the position. So many times, this player doesn’t seem in early looks like he could stick, but now a scout, a plurality of scouts or a whole organization later come to realize that he can.

You probably have a mental image of these two sorts of players. There’s the flashy (almost always Latin) shortstop with quick hands, plus speed and the actions that, after one ground ball, look like a big league shortstop.  This guy could be Elvis Andrus, Rey Ordonez, Andrelton Simmons or any other number of players you may be thinking of right now.  Then there’s the other guy, either with a third base looking frame and/or speed (Jhonny Peralta, Juan Uribe, Jordy Mercer) or just a guy with unspectacular tools (Jed Lowrie, the recently-traded Franklin Barreto or 2015 draft prospects Alex Bregman of LSU and Brendan Rodgers, from an Orlando-area high school).

You can see there’s a subtle amount of racial influence here in most cases, but what I’m realizing is that the answer to “is he a shortstop?” is a snap reaction that’s answering a different question. The answer is often addressing “does he look like Rey Ordonez?” rather than “can he be fringy to average defensively with enough bat to be one of the 30 starting shortstops?” question, which is the one being asked by the scouting report. It usually isn’t until the high minors or big leagues that the default answer by scouts is to the more important question.

I find myself (and other scouts echo my sentiment) that when you go to a showcase and see 40 kids you’ve never seen before run out to shortstop and each take a half dozen grounders that I write in my notes after you see some Jed Lowrie type tools “2B fit” or “3B fit” next to his name.  Then, this same player plays in games the rest of the evaluation period until signing/draft day and you start seeing instincts, positioning and the intangibles of defense and you slowly start thinking this kid might be able to stick.

This happens in various forms at every level of baseball, but there’s little accountability for when scouts or writers get it wrong, because the shortstop was called a future non-shortstop at every level until he proved it in the big leagues for multiple years. It didn’t matter if you were wrong, because everyone was wrong, because they were answering the wrong question.

The more accurate way to think about shortstop defensive evaluations is in three buckets: definite yes, maybe and definite no. Some scouts may already think of it this way, but odds are only the flashy guys go in the first bucket and some of them don’t show the consistency to deserve that standing. Plenty of second bucket guys are getting tossed in the third bucket way too quickly, before they claw their way to where they belonged in the first place.

Barreto and Rodgers (the front-runner for the #1 overall pick in June) are both interesting cases to watch going forward, but the best case study may be two current college players. There’s another 2015 draft shortstop prospect I haven’t mentioned yet — University of Florida product Richie Martin. He is the flashier type of shortstop and has plus speed: he immediately passes the eye test and every scout you talk to says he should be at least an average defensive shortstop.

When you drill down or talk to a scout who is really paying attention, you’ll hear it pointed out that Martin makes a number of mental errors and lapses in focus to where he’s clearly behind Bregman as a defender currently. Bregman is a smaller guy that is a tick slower, doesn’t have flashy actions and has been projected as a pro second baseman or catcher his whole amateur career for these reasons.

That said, Bregman makes every play and to make up for his merely okay range, he charges almost every ball hit to him and has sure hands, making nearly every play. Martin has always had a light bat and was almost benched as a sophomore, but had a breakout offensive summer on the Cape, so now he’s seen as a complete prospect that likely goes in the top 50 picks.  Some scouts are a little wary of the short track record of offensive success and the inconsistency on defense, so it’ll be interesting to track the scouting consensus and actual results for these two SEC shortstops.

While this is just one case study and it could go either way, I’ll be paying closer attention to scouts’ and other publications’ pronouncements, along with my own, about who can stick at short and who cannot.  This is also yet another reason why, for next year’s prospect rankings, I’ll be going through this year’s rankings and pointing out where I was wrong.  Here’s to hoping it won’t be longer than the actual list.