Sunday Notes: Blue Jays Prospect Nate Pearson is Rising Fast, as is His Heater

The combination of power and command has been striking. In 34 innings split between high-A Dunedin and Double-A New Hampshire, Nate Pearson has punched out 52 batters and issued just six walks. His ERA sits comfortably at 1.32. Blessed with a blistering fastball and a carve-‘em-up slider, he’s the top pitching prospect in the Toronto Blue Jays organization.

The 22-year-old right-hander doesn’t possess a long professional resume. Selected 28th overall in the 2017 draft out of Central Florida Community College, Pearson got his feet wet with 20 innings of rookie ball, then began last year on the injured list with an intercostal strain. Upon returning in early May, he was promptly nailed by a come-backer and missed the remainder of the regular season with a fractured ulna.

Pearson recovered in time to make six appearances in the Fall League, an assignment Jeff Ware, Toronto’s minor-league pitching coordinator, called “a big test given that he’d really only pitched in short-season ball.” In terms of reestablishing his high-ceiling credentials, he passed with flying colors.

Standing a sturdy six-foot-six, Pearson looks the part of a power pitcher, and that’s exactly what he is. Asked for a self-scouting report, he led with that exact definition. Read the rest of this entry »

Effectively Wild Episode 1380: Baseball is Better, but Also Worse

Ben Lindbergh and Meg Rowley banter about snow in Colorado, the Rockies and the decline of Kyle Freeland, and the new-look Lucas Giolito and the White Sox rebuild, then discuss the state of the standings and the number of teams out of contention, touching on how the bad teams got that way, the impact of losing on attendance, the merits of rebuilding, the struggles of the Indians and Nationals (and the success of the Twins), the frequency of blowouts, Mike Trout leading the league in WAR, and consuming the season via players instead of via teams, and more.

Audio intro: Vampire Weekend, "Spring Snow"
Audio outro: The Proper Ornaments, "Who Thought"

Link to THT piece on Coors Field
Link to Freeland interview episode
Link to Devan on Giolito
Link to video of Giolito mechanics
Link to Eaton-Frazier feud explainer
Link to Rob Arthur on bad teams being out of the race
Link to Rob Arthur on losing and attendance
Link to Rob Mains on the decline of comebacks
Link to Jay on Cleveland’s offense
Link to Devan on the Memorial Day checkpoint
Link to preorder The MVP Machine

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A Closer Look to Gleyber Torres’ Orioles Demolition Act

When the 2019 major league baseball season opened, observers generally agreed with the projections that forecast the Baltimore Orioles’ pitching staff has likely to suffer like no other rotation in the American League East. Then again, not even the most pessimistic models could have predicted what the New York Yankees — and more specifically, Gleyber Torres — had in store for the Orioles in the teams’ first 12 games against each other.

First, let’s do a general body count after the latest six-game sweep the Orioles endured at the Yankees’ hands:

  • New York launched 36 home runs in 12 games. That’s already the third-most home runs the Yankees have generated against the Orioles in a single season. They are 10 home runs short of their 2017 record with seven games to go.
  • The Yankees’ tOPS+ against the Orioles this year is 127. Basically as a group when facing Baltimore, they own an OPS similar to Kris Bryant’s in 2019 (.967).
  • The xwOBA of Yankees hitters against Baltimore is .393. This is like if the Yankees lineup were instantly turned into a 2019 version of Franmil Reyes, Mitch Moreland, or Justin Turner.

But the destruction would have never reached these levels if not for Torres. The sophomore infielder has launched 10 of his 12 homers this year against the Orioles, joining Joe DiMaggio, Aaron Judge, Babe Ruth, and Lou Gehrig as the only players with double-digit home runs in a season against the O’s.

His triple-slash versus Baltimore this year is a ludicrous .465/.531/1.233 in 50 plate appearances and his tOPS+ sits at 275 in 2019 when he faces Baltimore.

In other words, Torres has really gone out of his way in order to bash Orioles pitchers. Just for context, if Torres didn’t play again this year against Baltimore, he would own the best tOPS+ of any Yankee hitter in history with at least 50 PAs against any ballclub in a single season:

Best tOPS+ for a Yankee Hitter vs Any Team in a Single Season
Rk Player Opponent Year PA tOPS+
1 Gleyber Torres Baltimore Orioles 2019 50 275
2 Jesse Barfield Baltimore Orioles 1990 50 248
3 Ken Griffey Boston Red Sox 1984 51 242
4 Joe DiMaggio St. Louis Browns 1936 108 234
5 Mickey Mantle Washington Senators 1968 59 231
SOURCE: Baseball-Reference

We really don’t know what happened in 1936 between DiMaggio and the St. Louis Browns (his tOPS+ was a bit lower than Torres’ but he had 108 PAs), but fortunately these days we can dive into Torres’ carnage and play the good old “blame game” but with advance stats.

Did Orioles pitchers really deserve this struggle, or is it just the case of a batter who seems to be ascending into the elite?

To answer this, we’re not going to analyze the 20 hits the infielder has connected versus the Orioles this year. Instead, we’ll just focus on the 10 home runs, and check velocity, type, and location of the pitches Torres took yard while we compare it to the results of similar pitches in the Statcast era.

1) Alex Cobb split fastball down and in.

Pitch location:

This was the first homer of the season for Torres, and it was no-doubter. It had a 105 mph exit velocity and a projected distance of 400 feet. The pitch was an 87.3 mph split fastball. down and in to the inner part of the zone for a right-handed batter.

The location of this pitch is right in Torres’ wheelhouse, so it’s safe to say this was a mistake. Additionally, splitters in that zone have not borne good results for Cobb historically. Since 2016, that pitch in that specific zone has a .629 xwOBA allowed versus right-handed hitters. When he locates it somewhere else, that numbers goes down to .326.

2) Mike Wright fastball up in the zone.

Pitch location:

This was a fastball at 94.6 mph that left the bat with a 101.9 mph exit velocity and was projected for 390 feet.

If you look at Torres’ past home runs, you will see that this is the first (and only) home run he has gotten with a fastball in that specific zone. He has 18 swing-and-misses, four swinging strikeouts, and three hits against those types of pitches. If you add the velocity, this was his first hit versus an upper fastball in the zone with at least 94 mph.

Maybe Wright doesn’t have an elite spin rate to go up there regularly (that pitch was at 2259 rpm), but you can’t blame him for trying this in an 0-2 count. Until that day, he had only allowed three home runs pitching there with his fastball. He also has allowed an xwOBA of .283 with his heater in that zone. The idea and the execution were good on paper, but Torres had other plans. This one is all Torres’ “fault.”

3) David Hess fastball up in the zone.

Pitch location:

This looked a lot like the Wright pitch. A 95-mph heater up in the zone that came back at 104 mph projected at 408 feet. Again, high fastballs have not been Torres’ favorite in the major leagues. This was, according to Baseball Savant, his fifth hit off a fastball in that specific zone and just his second home run. Also, he has swung and missed 21 times at similar pitches and suffered four swinging strikeouts.

Just a day after Torres collected his first home run in the majors against a fastball up in the middle of strike zone, he decided to launch his second career homer against a fastball up and in for strike. Just like Wright, you can’t blame Hess for going up there with good velo and a decent spin rate (2294 rpm on that pitch) in a 3-2 count. Until that day, he had only allowed one homer on his fastball in that zone. Now he has three (Clint Frazier also punished him there later in May). In my book this one was also a Gleyber Torres magic trick.

4) David Hess middle, middle fastball.

Pitch location:

Do we have to explain this?

Torres crushed this fastball at 89.9 mph right at the heart of the plate and sent it home at 108 mph, projected at 427 feet, the fourth-longest home run of his career in the majors.

In 2019, you can’t expect good results if you throw a middle-middle 90-mph fastball with below-average spin rate (that one had 2158 rpm). Just for context, since 2017, fastballs in the heart of the plate with a velocity between 89 and 91 mph and with a spin rate between 2100 and 2200 rpm have a very spooky .445 xwOBA. It’s just not good a pitch. This one is definitely on the pitcher.

5) Andrew Cashner changeup middle out (but in the zone).

Pitch location:

Destruction. This 84.8-mph changeup located in the middle/out part of the plate was demolished by Torres, who sent it out at 104.9 mph to center field. The shot projected at 432 feet, which ranks as the third-longest home run of the youngster’s career.

Cashner was in a 3-1 count and didn’t want to issue a walk, so he decided to use his best secondary pitch in the zone after he saw what Torres had done against the fastballs of a couple of his teammates. Of course the pitch landed in Torres’ hot zone (middle/in), but at least he failed with the secondary pitch he uses more. Cashner has an acceptable .311 xwOBA with his changeup since 2015 versus right-handed batters, and that was the first homer he had allowed to a righty with that pitch in that specific zone in his major league career.

It was good choice in my book, but the execution was a little bit flawed, and Torres was just too hot. There was more than one responsible on this one.

6) David Hess slider down and in (out of the zone).

Pitch location:

This was an 83.3-mph slider slightly out of the zone down and in that ends up in the stands with a 93.5 mph exit velocity, projected at 351 feet.

This was all Torres and Yankee Stadium. In a 3-1 count, Hess couldn’t sell him a fastball again in the zone. Instead he went with his money pitch down and a little bit in, and he suffered the first home run with his slider in that zone in his major league career. It was just a tough break if you consider that those types of hits (balls between 92-94 mph exit velocity and between 27-29 degrees launch angle) have been recorded 957 times in the Statcast era and only 58 of them have turned into a homer (6%).

7) Andrew Cashner middle-middle curveball.

Pitch location:

Torres was entering “God Mode” at right about this moment. An 81.2-mph curveball at the heart of the plate was blasted to center field at a 100.2 mph with a projected distance of 415 feet.

I have to give this one to Torres. Cashner was down in the count and just wanted to get back with a curveball in the zone. Yes, maybe it was a pitch too noble for a guy so inspired, but it was a perfectly fine selection to try to come back in the at-bat. That was just the second homer of Torres’ career against a curveball and the very first homer Cashner has allowed on a curveball in a 1-0 count in the majors. Of course, Cashner’s curveball isn’t a great pitch (.332 of xwOBA since 2015), but a man has to work with the tools he has.

8) Mychal Givens slider down and in (in the zone).

Pitch location:

This was an 85.3-mph slider down in the zone to open up the at-bat against a hitter with seven home runs in 2019 versus the Orioles. The result was a hit at 94.2 mph that turned into a 384-foot homer.

Givens has a solid slider with a career .284 xwOBA allowed, but Torres didn’t care. He just tagged that baseball on the very first pitch and gave Givens his first homer allowed on his slider in 2019.

Yes, you could argue that the pitch hung a bit and stayed in the strike zone too long, but this was just the second time Givens has allowed a long ball with a slider in that zone in his major league career.

This is just Gleyber Torres being hotter than the gates of hell. Look no further.

9) Dan Straily slider down and away (in the zone).

Pitch location:

Torres already had three games with multiple home runs against Baltimore when he started this game. Straily threw his money pitch at 85.3 mph in a reasonably good zone, and Torres blasted a 102.4-mph home run projected at 424 feet.

Straily believes in his slider. He owns a .267 xwOBA with that pitch since 2015, so that trust isn’t unreasonable. Then again, before facing Torres in the third inning, he already had allowed two homers against that pitch courtesy of Thairo Estrada and DJ LeMahieu. Despite that, he decided to go in the zone in a 1-2 count against a hitter that was looking for his ninth homer against his team this year. That was not wise. This home run has two fathers in my book, as it wasn’t the pitch location for the count or the hitter.

10) Gabriel Ynoa’s fastball away.

Pitch location:

At this point there is no way Torres gets something in the zone, right? Well, Ynoa decided to test him with a 92.9-mph fastball away at the edge of the strike zone, and Torres returned the favor with an opposite-field home run of 377 feet and at 101.5 mph.

This one is all Gleyber. You could ask why they were throwing strikes to him, but the Orioles were already down 6-2 in the fifth inning. Ynoa threw a fastball to a specific zone where Torres didn’t do real damage in his rookie season. Then again, this Torres seems different. This was his first homer against a fastball in that zone in his major league career and only his second hit.

Final review:

The Baltimore Orioles may have an underwhelming pitching staff right now, but these things that Gleyber Torres did against them were not entirely their fault. At only 21 years old, the Venezuelan infielder seems to be rapidly learning and reducing his holes at the plate while growing more power in different areas of the strike zone.

Yes, Baltimore pitching helped, but more than that it seems like Torres decided to use the Orioles to make a statement to the baseball world.

A statement that is just beginning to unfold.

Gary Sanchez is Killing the Ball

The Yankees snuck into first place in the AL East by dint of last weekend’s series win over the Rays, and they’ve since widened their lead to two games by steamrolling the Orioles in Baltimore, bashing 13 home runs during their four-game sweep — four of them by Gleyber Torres in a pair of multi-homer games, and three by Gary Sanchez, on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. Neither was in the lineup for Thursday afternoon’s contest, but both came up big while pinch-hitting in the ninth inning of a tie game, with Torres walking and scoring the winning run, aided by Sanchez’s single.

Of Sanchez’s three homers, the biggest of in terms of significance — if not distance — was Monday’s three-run shot off Mychal Givens, which broke a 7-7 tie and sent the Yankees to victory in a game they had once trailed, 6-1:

That one had an estimated distance of 389 feet. If it’s distance you crave, here’s Wednesday’s massive 440-footer off Dan Straily:

Read the rest of this entry »

The Team-By-Team Draft Cost of Signing Dallas Keuchel or Craig Kimbrel

We don’t know exactly why Dallas Keuchel and Craig Kimbrel didn’t sign with teams during the winter and early spring like the other prominent free agents did. It’s possible that early posturing around large contract demands pushed some teams away and caused them to explore other options. It’s possible there were just too many teams that weren’t sufficiently interested in adding good players at a reasonable cost, even if Keuchel and Kimbrel’s demands had come down. We do know that neither signed before the season, or in April, and that coming up on the end of May, both players are still looking for a team.

What we might have heard over the last few months is that teams are waiting until after the draft in June to sign Keuchel or Kimbrel so as to avoid losing a draft pick. Over the last decade, as the game has gotten younger and younger players have gotten cheaper relative to veterans, teams have placed greater emphasis on draft picks. Ahead of the last CBA, one of the bigger issues for players was the free agentcompensation system, in which teams made qualifying offers to free agents and then received a first round pick (or something close to it) when those free agents signed elsewhere. One of the major changes in the new CBA was a change to that system designed to make free agents more attractive by lessening the penalty for signing free agents attached to a qualifying offer. While Keuchel and Kimbrel aren’t ironclad proof the system didn’t work, they are a couple of key pieces of evidence. A breakdown of the penalties provides further reasoning.

To understand why the system hasn’t worked, it helps to look at the penalties. Here are the rules from MLB:

Any team that signs a player who has rejected a qualifying offer is subject to the loss of one or more Draft picks. However, a team’s highest first-round pick is exempt from forfeiture, which is the most notable change that went into affect with the new system. Three tiers of Draft-pick forfeiture — which are based on the financial status of the signing team — are in place to serve as a penalty for signing a player who rejected a qualifying offer:

• A team that exceeded the luxury tax in the preceding season will lose its second- and fifth-highest selections in the following year’s Draft, as well as $1 million from its international bonus pool for the upcoming signing period. If such a team signs multiple qualifying-offer free agents, it will forfeit its third- and sixth-highest remaining picks as well.

Examples: A team with one pick in each round of the 2019 Draft would lose its second- and fifth-round picks. A team with two first-round picks and one pick in each subsequent round would lose its second-highest first-round pick and its fourth-round pick.

• A team that receives revenue sharing will lose its third-highest selection in the following year’s Draft. If it signs two such players, it will also forfeit its fourth-highest remaining pick.

Examples: A team with one pick in each round of the 2019 Draft would lose its third-round pick. A team with two first-round picks and one pick in each subsequent round would lose its second-round pick.

• A team that neither exceeded the luxury tax in the preceding season nor receives revenue sharing will lose its second-highest selection in the following year’s Draft, as well as $500,000 from its international bonus pool for the upcoming signing period. If it signs two such players, it will also forfeit its third-highest remaining pick and an additional $500,000.

Examples: A team with one pick in each round of the 2019 Draft would lose its second-round pick. A team with two first-round picks would lose its second-highest first-round pick.

Determining exactly which picks can be forfeited is a little tricky, as essentially all picks count when determining a team’s second, third, or fourth pick, but compensatory picks from not signing a player the previous season, as well as the market/revenue picks at the end of the first and second rounds, are not subject to forfeiture. That said, since the market/revenue comp picks can be traded, if one of those picks is traded to another team, it is no longer protected. For example, Oakland was awarded the 40th pick in this year’s draft. That pick would have been a protected pick for the club, but since they traded it to Tampa Bay in the Jurickson Profar deal, it becomes subject to potential forfeiture for the Rays if they were to sign Dallas Keuchel or Craig Kimbrel.

To provide concrete examples, the table below shows the pick every team would give up for signing Keuchel or Kimbrel right now, along with the slot value for that pick (which can be found here), and the present value of the pick based on my research. Also included is the value of the international money penalty based Kiley McDaniel’s research, with one dollar of international spending estimated at five times that amount in value.

A note about this table: Houston and Boston are assumed to sign their own free agent, and thus not get a compensatory pick, which is the value listed below. In reality, that pick is now worth considerably less, as it is far less likely to happen. If Boston or Houston were to sign the other team’s free agents, the cost would be significantly higher.

Penalty for Signing Dallas Keuchel or Craig Kimbrel
Pick for FA Slot Amount Present Value of Pick International Value Lost Extra Cost of FA
NYY 38 $1,952,300 $8.1 M $2.5 M $10.6 M
TEX 41 $1,813,500 $7.4 M $2.5 M $9.9 M
ARI 33 $2,202,200 $9.3 M $9.3 M
CHW 45 $1,650,200 $6.7 M $2.5 M $9.2 M
SFG 51 $1,436,900 $5.8 M $2.5 M $8.3 M
TOR 52 $1,403,200 $5.7 M $2.5 M $8.2 M
NYM 53 $1,370,400 $5.5 M $2.5 M $8.0 M
LAA 55 $1,307,000 $5.3 M $2.5 M $7.8 M
TBR 40 $1,856,700 $7.6 M $7.6 M
STL 58 $1,214,300 $4.9 M $2.5 M $7.4 M
CHC 64 $1,050,300 $4.3 M $2.5 M $6.8 M
PHI 91 $647,300 $3.8 M $2.5 M $6.3 M
WSH 94, 183 $884,200 $6.3 M $6.3 M
LAD 78 $793,000 $3.8 M $2.5 M $6.3 M
MIN 54 $1,338,500 $5.4 M $5.4 M
PIT 57 $1,243,600 $5.0 M $5.0 M
ATL 60 $1,157,400 $4.7 M $4.7 M
BAL 79 $780,400 $3.8 M $3.8 M
KCR 80 $767,800 $3.8 M $3.8 M
MIA 46 $1,617,400 $6.6 M $3.8 M
DET 83 $733,100 $3.8 M $3.8 M
SDP 84 $721,900 $3.8 M $3.8 M
CIN 85 $710,700 $3.8 M $3.8 M
SEA 76 $818,200 $3.8 M $3.8 M
COL 100 $581,600 $3.8 M $3.8 M
CLE 101 $577,000 $3.8 M $3.8 M
OAK 104 $560,000 $3.8 M $3.8 M
HOU 79* $780,400 $3.8 M $2.5 M $3.8 M
MIL 133 $422,300 $2.8 M $2.8 M
BOS 138* $402,000 $2.5 M $2.5 M

For no team is the extra cost greater than the amount guaranteed to Matt Harvey this offseason and for half the teams, the cost is around what Daniel Descalso or Jordy Mercer received. These are not large sums. This list isn’t meant to provide a justification for a team signing or not signing any particular free agent, but it does show that there are pretty significant differences in the penalties teams face. The amounts of money we are talking about shouldn’t be the deciding factor in determining whether or not to sign a free agent, and “We are unwilling to forfeit a draft selection to sign Player X” is actually a prohibited phrase under the CBA, whether on or off the record. Teams can and do factor in the value of a draft pick when making an offer. The argument that teams horde draft picks as things to be held at all costs rings false when Cleveland, Cincinnati, Milwaukee, Oakland, and St. Louis have all traded early-round draft picks in the current draft alone.

A handful of teams would incur additional penalties if they signed another free agent in the form of competitive balance taxes. An extra $18 million in salary would result in only a few million in penalties for teams like the Yankees and Cubs, though the Red Sox would pay an additional $15 million if they added the same amount to their roster. As for why the new qualifying offer system didn’t provide the improvements players expected, we can look at how the old rules applied compared to the current system. Under the old system, teams gave up their first pick so long as it wasn’t in the top 10. For teams picking in the middle of the first round, this constituted a pretty sizable amount of potential value lost, particularly under a system with a hard draft cap and the inability to pay more for greater talent later.

Using this year’s draft as an example, here is the value teams would give up under the old system versus the new system. Some of the penalties above might not match those below, as trades, qualifying offers, and free agent signings weren’t assumed below so we could get a better theoretical understanding of the differences.

Draft Pick Penalty Values In CBA Compared to Old CBA
Old CBA New CBA Difference
BAL $7.2 M $3.8 M -$3.4 M
KCR $6.9 M $3.8 M -$3.1 M
CHW $6.7 M $9.2 M $2.5 M
MIA $8.8 M $6.6 M -$2.2 M
DET $6.4 M $3.8 M -$2.6 M
SDP $6.3 M $3.8 M -$2.5 M
CIN $8.1 M $6.1 M -$2.0 M
TEX $7.4 M $9.9 M $2.5 M
ATL $14.1 M $4.7 M -$9.4 M
SFG $5.8 M $8.3 M $2.5 M
TOR $22.2 M $8.2 M -$14.0 M
NYM $21.1 M $8.0 M -$13.1 M
MIN $20.2 M $7.8 M -$12.4 M
PHI $19.2 M $7.8 M -$11.8 M
LAA $18.4 M $7.8 M -$10.6 M
ARI $17.6 M $9.3 M -$8.3 M
WSH $16.8 M $12.5 M -$4.3 M
PIT $16.1 M $5.0 M -$11.1 M
STL $15.4 M $7.4 M -$8.0 M
SEA $14.8 M $3.8 M -$11.0 M
TBR $13.6 M $7.6 M -$6.0 M
COL $13.0 M $3.8 M -$9.2 M
CLE $12.5 M $3.8 M -$8.7 M
LAD $12.0 M $6.8 M -$5.2 M
CHC $11.1 M $6.8 M -$4.3 M
MIL $10.7 M $4.3 M -$6.4 M
OAK $10.3 M $4.2 M -$6.1 M
NYY $10.1 M $10.6 M $0.5 M
HOU $9.5 M $6.5 M -$3.0 M
BOS $7.0 M $8.9 M $1.9 M
AVERAGE $12.3 M $6.7 M -$5.6 M

The penalty was lessened, but for teams picking in the top 10, it was virtually unchanged, and for teams paying the competitive balance tax, it was the same or worse. The gap would be even smaller if the Cubs, Yankees, and Dodgers were over the competitive balance tax as they have been fairly recently. While the most substantial improvements in terms of lessening the penalty come right in the middle of the draft, those teams generally still have the biggest penalties, with teams at the end of the draft not seeing much of a change. If draft picks played a big role in free agency prior to the current CBA, there isn’t that much reason to think the new CBA constitutes a big step forward, as the number of teams significantly affected isn’t that great and most of those teams were still left with penalties approaching eight figures.

Whether or not it is a sound decision to sign Dallas Keuchel or Craig Kimbrel at their current asking prices, it is important to understand the exact cost of signing either at this point in the baseball calendar. There is certainly a credible argument to be made that for the teams that might need those players now, the cost of their missed production over two months of the season outweighs the penalties above, and perhaps by a significant margin. There is always a need for starting pitchers and relievers, and most teams had a pretty good idea if they would be contending this season. If these players were available for the same price now as they were at the beginning of the season, which we don’t know, then not signing them then was a poor choice for most teams. Now the missed production is a sunk cost, and the penalties for the draft pick, when signing a player only gets you another week of their services, weigh more heavily. Even still, the costs aren’t great and shouldn’t be too difficult for any team to justify whether it is for this season or into the future.

Kiley McDaniel Chat – 5/24/19


Kiley McDaniel: Hello! I’ve taken a mini vacation to regain my sanity from going to baseball games but I’m also still doing some work so I guess I can never really escape these things.


Kiley McDaniel: On a brighter note!


Kiley McDaniel: Went long on the Carter Stewart Japan signing and broke it down into six big takeaways from the signing, which I think is being underrated for it’s long-term effects on the industry:…


Kiley McDaniel: Also went long once again on one topic: the international draft. Jeff Passan and Eric joined me to walk through all the parties involved, possible structure (trading of picks!!!), and motivations:…


Kiley McDaniel: A mock is coming next week. I would guess it will be on Tuesday and it will be different in format than the last one


Kiley McDaniel: Here is the previous one:

Read the rest of this entry »

Indians Drop CarGo, Retain Baggage From Offseason

When the Indians signed Carlos Gonzalez on March 19, it had the feel of a student buying an off-brand version of Cliff’s Notes at the Starbucks cash register to thumb through on the way to the final exam. It’s not that the team didn’t do their homework on the 33-year-old outfielder specifically — there’s a reason he was still a free agent at that late date. It’s that they went into the season looking particularly ill-prepared with regards to their outfield picture. The poor play of Gonzalez and the team’s other options isn’t the only reason why Cleveland finds itself looking up at the Twins in the AL Central standings, but it has contributed to a team-wide offensive decline that ranks as the majors’ largest.

The 2018 Indians, who went 91-71, were a very good offensive team. The 2019 Indians, who finished Wednesday 25-23, are not:

The Indians’ Offensive Decline
2018 5.05 216 8.8% 18.9% .259 .332 .434 104
Lg Rk 3 4 5 1 2 3 4 6
2019 3.92 51 10.4% 24.2% .224 .310 .366 78
Lg Rk 13 13 2 9 13 12 14 13

That 26-point drop in wRC+ is the majors’ largest.

Team-wide Changes in wRC+, 2018-19
Team 2018 2019 Dif
Indians 104 78 -26
Blue Jays 101 76 -25
Marlins 83 67 -16
Reds 95 79 -16
Pirates 96 84 -12
Tigers 84 72 -12
Nationals 101 90 -11
Athletics 110 101 -9
Red Sox 110 103 -7
Giants 82 77 -5
Orioles 87 83 -4
Yankees 111 107 -4
Rockies 87 84 -3
Padres 84 85 1
Rays 105 106 1
Dodgers 111 113 2
White Sox 92 94 2
Angels 100 104 4
Brewers 99 103 4
Mets 95 100 5
Royals 88 93 5
Phillies 91 97 6
Braves 97 106 9
Cardinals 98 107 9
Mariners 101 110 9
Diamondbacks 88 100 12
Cubs 100 113 13
Rangers 90 108 18
Astros 110 132 22
Twins 95 119 24

Note the 51-point swing in wRC+ among the AL Central’s top two teams. Where the Indians’ scoring has dropped by 1.13 runs per game relative to last year, the Twins’ has increased by exactly the same amount (from 4.56 to 5.69). At 32-16, they lead the Indians by 6.5 games; our playoff odds give them an 80.2% chance of winning the division to the Indians’ 19.8%

Roster turnover is a major reason for the Indians’ fall-off. Most notably, they lost Michael Brantely (124 wRC+) to free agency, as well as the oft-injured Lonnie Chisenhall (129 wRC+, albeit in just 95 PA due to time lost to strains in each calf), and in-season pickups Melky Cabrera (102 WRC+ in 278 PA) and Josh Donaldson (140 wRC+ in 60 PA). They also traded away Edwin Encarnacion (115 wRC+), Yandy Diaz (115 wRC+), Yan Gomes (101 wRC+), and Yonder Alonso (97 wRC+). In all, that’s eight of their 10 most productive bats (50 PA minimum), with Jose Ramirez (146 wRC+) and Francisco Lindor (130 wRC+) — two of the top hitters in the league — the holdovers. More on them shortly.

The trades have been a mixed bag, at least in the short term. Encarnacion and Diaz were part of a three-way deal that yielded Carlos Santana from the Mariners and Jake Bauers from the Rays. Santana, who spent 2010-17 with Cleveland before signing a free agent deal with the Phillies, has been the team’s best hitter (.291/.409/.491, 136 wRC+), more or less on par with Encarnacion (.254/.368/.514, 140 wRC+) but with more regular play at first base instead of DH. The 23-year-old Bauers, who hit just .201/.316/.384 (95 wRC+) as a rookie last year, has hit for a higher average but been less productive overall (.227/.312/.360, 79 wRC+) while Diaz has blossomed in Tampa Bay (.256/.339/.500, 124 wRC+). Alonso has fizzled with yonder White Sox (65 wRC+), as has Gomes for the Nationals (69 wRC+). That said, the Indians’ overall level of offensive production at catcher is virtually unchanged, as Roberto Perez’s gains have been offset by the struggles of backup Kevin Plawecki. In a lower profile move, the team dealt light-hitting backup infielder Erik Gonzalez for 25-year-old outfielder Jordan Luplow, who had managed just a 72 WRC+ in 103 PA in Pittsburgh; though he’s struck out in 34.2% of his 73 PA for the Indians, his 105 wRC+ (.242/.301/.500) is good for third on the team.

The Indians signed only one free agent to a major league contract this past winter, namely lefty reliever Oliver Perez — I swear, this isn’t the punchline from a decade-old Mets joke — on a one-year, $2.5 million deal. Of the position players they signed to minor league deals, Hanley Ramirez hit just .184/.298/.327 (69 wRC+) in 57 PA before getting his walking papers. Matt Joyce didn’t even make it to Opening Day; he was released on March 19, when the Indians signed Gonzalez, who hit just .210/.282/.276 (50 wRC+) in 117 PA; he managed just two home runs, and was striking out at a career-worst 28.2% clip.

By the time the Indians signed Gonzalez, it was already clear that they were considerably undermanned in the outfield. On February 1, I tried to match unsigned free agents from our Top 50 list with teams that had obvious needs, noting that according to our depth charts forecasts, the team’s left fielders ranked 29th in the majors in WAR, and their right fielders 28th; between those two positions, the bulk of the playing time was earmarked for Luplow, Tyler Naquin, Greg Allen, and Bradley Zimmer, the last of whom was (and still is) recovering from July 2018 surgery to repair a torn labrum. None of them had produced at anything close to an acceptable level last year, and aside from Luplow, none has done so this year, though in both cases, we’re not talking about huge sample sizes:

Cleveland’s Unproductive Corner Outfielders
Player 2018 PA AVG OBP SLG wRC+ 2019 PA AVG OBP SLG wRC+
Jordan Luplow 103 .185 .272 .359 72 73 .242 .301 .500 106
Tyler Naquin 183 .264 .295 .356 72 96 .278 .316 .378 80
Jake Bauers 388 .252 .201 .316 95 170 .227 .312 .360 79
Greg Allen 291 .257 .310 .343 75 42 .105 .167 .158 -18
Bradley Zimmer 114 .226 .281 .330 63 N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A

I’ve included Bauers here because while he was expected to be the team’s regular first baseman, he’s started there just six times, compared to 24 in left field and four in right. Note that aside from him, we’re not talking about spring chickens. Naquin is 28 years old, Allen and Zimmer are 26, and Luplow is 25. While one can find reasons why the Indians might remain committed to each of those players or find them potentially useful — Allen is a speedster who can play center field, Luplow a pull hitter with plus power and the only natural righty swinger in this mix, Naquin an above-average hitter in his most substantial taste of major league action in 2016, Zimmer a 2014 first-round pick who was on top 100 lists as recently as 2017 — none of them projected well, as the aforementioned rankings suggest, and as a group, they made for a high-risk portfolio. Thus, I suggested that Adam Jones, a much-needed righty bat, could provide a boost despite coming off a subpar season (98 wRC+, 0.5 WAR). The Indians ignored my sage advice (they always do, alas), and he went unsigned until March 11, when he landed with the Diamondbacks on a one-year, $3 million deal. Thus far, he’s hit .265/.323/.476 (110 wRC+) with nine home runs, a total that would lead the Indians. Oops.

Jones’ production is a reminder that not every late-signing free agent has struggled out of the gate, but Gonzalez, who as a lefty fit into the mix less well, certainly did. While the Indians tried him as a middle-of-the-order bat, the production wasn’t there; among players with at least 100 PA, his 50 wRC+ put him in the fifth percentile, while both his 86.6 mph average exit velocity and .286 xwOBA put him in the 18th. Still, it’s a jarring sight to see yesterday’s cleanup hitter become today’s just-released free agent, particularly with Naquin having recently hit the IL due to a left calf strain. Zimmer is set to begin a rehab assignment next week, which leaves room for 24-year-old rookie Oscar Mercado, a 45 Future Value fourth-outfielder type who placed 12th on the team’s list this year, to get a look.

As for the rest of the lineup, center fielder Leonys Martin, whose acquisition I praised last July 31 thanks to his newfound ability to elevate the ball, has returned from the life-threatening infection that felled him after he played just six games for the Indians. While he showed some pop in April (five homers, 93 wRC+), he has scuffled mightily in May (one homer, 60 wRC+). Second baseman Jason Kipnis, who is coming off a pair of subpar offensive seasons (81 wRC+ in 2017, 89 in ’18) but was good enough defensively to still post 2.1 WAR last year, has been dreadful (.218/.301/.336, 70 wRC+).

Which brings us to Lindor and Ramirez, the twin engines of this lineup, and two of the majors’ six most valuable players by WAR last year (7.6 for the former, 8.0 for the latter). Lindor, who set additional career highs with 38 homers and a 130 wRC+, missed the team’s first 19 games due to a right calf strain, but has largely returned to form (.296/.349/.513, 119 wRC+). Ramirez, who outdid Lindor with 39 homers and a 146 wRC+ while spending most of the 2018 season as an MVP candidate, has the majors’ seventh-lowest wRC+ out of 170 qualifiers (60) via an abysmal .196/.296/.302 line. As Devan Fink noted just two weeks into the season, his struggles actually date back to last August, and appear to coincide with his attempts to beat the shift while batting left-handed. Focusing only on 2019 stats, he’s been shifted against in 57% of his left-handed plate appearances but just 35% of his right-handed ones. Shift or no, he’s been pulling the ball less, going opposite field more often, and as he’s done it, his average fly ball distance has fallen dramatically:

Jose Ramirez’s Batted Balls, 2018-19
Split GB FB Pull Oppo Avg FB Dist HR/FB Avg FB Dist Pull HR/FB Pull FB wRC+
2018 L 32.1% 46.4% 47.6% 20.6% 329 19.1% 356 52.0% 212
2019 L 32.0% 46.6% 42.3% 24.0% 311 4.2% 326 16.7% -17
2018 R 36.4% 44.8% 55.5% 18.1% 309 8.7% 320 12.5% 45
2019 R 30.4% 52.2% 37.0% 34.8% 301 8.3% 314 25.0% 17

From the left side, which constitutes 62% of Ramirez’s plate appearances, his average fly ball distance has decreased by 18 feet, and his rate of home runs per fly ball is just a quarter of what it was last year. He’s dropped eight feet while batting righty, where his home run rate is basically unchanged (we’re talking about a sample of just 24 fly balls). Note the 30-foot gap when he pulls the ball on the fly, which is central to the Indians’ offensive philosophy, as Travis Sawchik pointed out last year. In 2018, 26 of his 50 pulled fly balls as a left-hander went over the wall, but this year, it’s just two out of 12; from the right side, the percentage has risen, but in smaller sample sizes (from four out of 32 to two out of eight).

How much of Ramirez’s struggles are mechanical versus psychological or philosophical, I can’t say, but his fall-off has been precipitous, and the Indians’ dearth of solid bats to help the lineup withstand his slump sticks out like a sore thumb. The play of Mercado and the return of Zimmer aside, any influx of offense will have to either come from within or by trading from a farm system that’s generally considered to be in the upper half of the league but is currently lacking in near-ready help.

Note that while the team has lost starting pitchers Corey Kluber and Mike Clevinger to injuries until at least next month, the rotation still ranks among the AL’s top five in both ERA (4.03) and FIP (3.97), while the bullpen (3.04 ERA, 3.69 FIP) is in the top three in both categories. The pitching has kept this team competitive. The Indians are in danger of missing the postseason for the first time since 2015 due to an offense whose gaps were entirely foreseeable.

Craig Edwards FanGraphs Chat–5/23/2019

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A Further Discussion on the Memorial Day Checkpoint

Yesterday, I published an article about Memorial Day as it relates to the baseball standings. In sum, I wrote about the baseball adage that one should not check the standings until Memorial Day. Using data from 2010 to 2018, I looked at the correlation between Memorial Day winning percentage and end-of-season winning percentage and constructed a linear regression line to fit the data.

Within the piece, I used the regression equation to discuss full-season scenarios for the Twins and Nationals, two teams that have surprised — albeit for different reasons — this season. The response to the article was interesting, and some asked for me to take a look at full-season projections for all 30 teams based on the regression. Read the rest of this entry »

Let’s Find a Multi-Inning Reliever

The height of fashion in baseball analysis three years ago was finding a reliever who could pitch multiple innings. Some people called it the Andrew Miller role, though Miller was never a perfect example of it — aside from the memorable 2016 playoffs, Miller was more of a setup man who occasionally threw the seventh in his tenure on the Indians. Chris Devenski and Chad Green were trendy examples in 2017, and Mets swingmen Seth Lugo and Robert Gsellman both performed admirably in long relief in 2018.

Whichever example you turn to, the value of having a reliever who can perform over multiple innings of work is clear to see. As starters throw fewer innings across baseball, having relievers who can handle larger workloads is increasingly important. A two-inning reliever might have been a luxury in 2009, when a seven-man bullpen would cover two or three innings a night, but 2019 bullpens go eight deep and pick up nearly four innings a game. Using relievers to cover more innings naturally results in weaker relievers getting into games, so getting extra frames out of good relievers has never been more valuable.

That’s the theory, anyway. In practice, the role isn’t easy to fill. If you’re looking for someone to throw a few innings of relief, they have to be a decent pitcher. There’s not really much point in filling bulk innings with replacement-level stuff — you could just use the back of the bullpen for that. There’s just one problem with that: a good pitcher who can throw multiple innings mostly describes a starter, and getting rid of a good starter to create a good reliever doesn’t make that much sense. Blake Snell, for example, would probably make a great reliever, but that would be a waste of his talent. Read the rest of this entry »