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How Mariners’ Rule 5 Pick Brandon Brennan Is Like Max Scherzer

Rule 5 picks aren’t known to be guaranteed successes. Of course, there are the obvious exceptions, like Odubel Herrera, Marwin Gonzalez or Hector Rondon, but for every success, there’s a Tyler Goeddel, a Jabari Blash, a Taylor Featherston. Generally speaking, the Rule 5 Draft is a good way to ensure players aren’t buried on a roster, but in terms of long-term contributors, not much often comes of it.

With that said, let me introduce to you right-handed reliever Brandon Brennan. He was the 13th overall selection in the 2018 Rule 5 Draft by the Seattle Mariners, who were so interested in bringing him aboard that they made the pick even after missing out on signing him as a minor league free agent.

When the decision to draft Brennan was made, Mariners Vice President of Scouting Tom Allison expressed his enthusiasm to Greg Johns of “Opportunity is probably what he needs the most, and we have that to give him,” Allison said.

What I love most about this quote is how accurate it is four months later. Brennan not only made the Mariners’ Opening Day roster, but he’s been superb so far here in the early going, making the most of the opportunity that Allison said Seattle had to give. Granted, he’s made just nine appearances and pitched just 12.1 innings, but the results have been there. Brennan has pitched to a 0.73 ERA (one earned run allowed) and 2.57 FIP, with 13 strikeouts (29.6 K%) to just two walks (4.6 BB%) across the 44 batters he’s faced. Hitters are hitting just .143 (6-for-42) against him. Anecdotally, he’s been called “the Mariners’ best reliever this season.” Read the rest of this entry »

Examining Alex Gordon’s Hot Start

In Kansas City, Alex Gordon is more than just a Royals outfielder. He is the Royal of the 2010s, the face of the franchise during their two seasons of triumph, during their incredible run of back-to-back American League pennants and the 2015 World Series title. Gordon is arguably the most important Royals player since George Brett. And, fittingly, since the franchise was founded in 1969, Brett (84.6 WAR), Amos Otis (42.0), and Willie Wilson (35.2) are the only three Royals position players to produce more WAR than Gordon’s 32.0. It’s an indisputable fact that Gordon is one of the best players in franchise history, and his legacy has already been cemented as a true Kansas City Royal.

Unfortunately, Gordon’s best days are long behind him. In a four year stretch from 2011 to 2014, Gordon was the fourth-most valuable outfielder in baseball, consistently producing solid seasons on both sides of the ball. Alongside his excellent .283/.356/.453 triple slash line over 2,754 plate appearances, Gordon put up a total of 23.9 defensive runs above-average, good for the sixth-best defensive outfielder over that stretch.

Since 2016, the aging curve has come to bite Gordon, resulting in a couple of subpar seasons (0.6 WAR in 2016, -0.1 WAR in 2017) before creating some decent value in 2018 (1.7 WAR), mainly due to his defensive contributions.

To start 2019, though, Gordon has come out firing on all cylinders. Through his first 57 plate appearances, he’s put up an excellent .356/.456/.667 line with three home runs, seven walks and just five strikeouts. His 1.0 WAR is the fourth-most in baseball, as is his 198 wRC+. Even in a small, 13-game sample, Gordon is at a level that he hasn’t reached since August 2016. Read the rest of this entry »

Getting Mike Trout to a 15-WAR Season

The baseball world suffered a brief moment of shock on Tuesday night. Mike Trout, who needs no introduction within this interrupting clause to emphasize his greatness, was replaced by Peter Bourjos in the fourth inning of the Angels-Brewers game. Afterwards, Trout was diagnosed with a mild groin strain, and baseball collectively breathed a large sigh of relief. It appears that he plans to miss just a single game with the injury.

Before Trout exited on Tuesday, however, he had already gone 2-for-2 at the plate, adding yet another game to his hot start; in 49 plate appearances this season, Trout is slashing .406/.592/.938. Even in a brief outing, his WAR total still managed to increase, moving from 1.2 to 1.3. As of Wednesday, he is tied with Cody Bellinger for the major league lead in WAR rounded to one decimal place.

As we all know, Trout is the WAR king. He’s already put up 66.2 WAR in his career, making him the most valuable player in baseball since 2006, even though his career didn’t even start until 2011 and his first full season didn’t even come until 2012. I could go on and on about how great Mike Trout is at producing WAR, but a lot of those articles have already been written here and at other places.

One article that did catch my attention, however, was this 2015 piece from August Fagerstrom titled “Getting Mike Trout to 168.4 WAR.” In this piece, Fagerstrom outlined a potential career curve for Trout to hit 168.4 total WAR, a mark that would tie him with Babe Ruth for the most WAR produced by a single player in baseball history.

In this piece, I plan to do something similar but different. As in Fagerstrom’s piece, I want Trout to tie Ruth, but on a different WAR leaderboard: the all-time single-season mark. Read the rest of this entry »

With Wes Johnson, Twins Pitching Appears to Be Embracing Change

One of the beautiful things about baseball is that history is always being made. During every season, every game, every pitch, we may witness something that has never happened in the long history of this sport.

This offseason, the Twins made baseball history in a different way than I think you were expecting. They hired Wes Johnson, then the University of Arkansas’ pitching coach, to join their big league staff, serving in the same role. According to this story from La Velle E. Neal III in the Star Tribune, Johnson became the first pitching coach in baseball history to move directly from college to the majors. And, at the time, he was believed to be the first coach or manager of any kind to make this transition since Dick Howser left Florida State to manage the Yankees in 1980. That’s some legitimate baseball history there.

What was even more interesting about the Twins’ hire was Johnson’s pedigree as a pitching coach. From Neal’s story:

[Johnson] studies biomechanics. He uses analytics. He is into the gadgets teams invest in to help train pitchers. He earned a reputation in college as a velocity expert, someone who can help pitchers throw harder — although he says it’s difficult to do once a pitcher is no longer in his teens.

Perhaps the story of the Twins hiring a pitching coach who “uses analytics” might not sound all that exciting to you; you likely assume big league coaches use analytics at this point. But the change represented a real organizational philosophy shift. Read the rest of this entry »

J.D. Davis’ Changed Approach Could Turn Him Into a Big-Time Slugger

Through the Mets’ first nine games this season, J.D. Davis has 28 plate appearances. Jeff McNeil has 27. This, despite our playing time projections; we expected Davis to make just 67 trips to the plate all season. McNeil, on the other hand, was pegged for 509.

Davis, to say the least, has made the most of his early boon in playing time. He’s slashed .280/.357/.600, with two homers, three walks, and six strikeouts. He has also hit the ball incredibly hard. And, when I say incredibly hard, I really do mean it. Of Davis’ 17 batted balls, two have already left the bat at 108+ mph. Why is 108 mph a significant figure? Because, as Rob Arthur wrote in The Athletic in April 2018, “For every mile per hour above 108, a hitter is projected to gain about 6 points of OPS relative to their predicted number.” (Arthur looked at this correlation using a hitter’s projected OPS from PECOTA, Baseball Prospectus’ player projection system.)

On Saturday, Davis hit this home run off of Patrick Corbin at a whopping 114.7 mph off the bat, the hardest hit ball he has hit all season:

Going off of Arthur’s findings, this would mean Davis could gain up to 40 points of OPS off of his projected value, which our Depth Chart projections have as .718. By no means would 40 “bonus” points take Davis into elite territory — it only ups his projected OPS to .758 — but having a max exit velocity of 114.7 mph this early in the season is clearly not a bad sign. In fact, it’s the third-highest max exit velocity of any hitter in the big leagues (minimum 10 batted ball events), behind only Aaron Judge (118.1 mph!) and Joey Gallo (115.4 mph). That is some pretty good company to be in. And perhaps it means that Davis could be tapping into new potential. Read the rest of this entry »

José Ramírez Is in a Quarter-Season Long Slump

In my short time so far at FanGraphs, there have been a couple of underlying similarities between the player profile-style pieces that I have written. All three of them have been about under-the-radar pitchers, whether it be about Chase Anderson or Dan Straily or Jimmy Yacabonis, and all three articles have focused on their individual pitches or repertoires.

Today, I will take a different tact. First, it’s about a hitter, and second, this hitter is not, by any means, “under-the-radar.” José Ramírez slashed .270/.387/.552 in 698 plate appearances last year, producing a total of 8.0 WAR, a figure that ranked third in all of baseball. Ramírez even had a solid case at the American League MVP award, finishing third behind Mookie Betts and Mike Trout. That’s really good! That’s better than really good; it’s elite. Ramírez has truly been one of the best players in baseball over the last three years now, and we should all appreciate that.

The problem is, though, José Ramírez actually hasn’t been good lately. And I’m not just talking about his slow start to the 2019 season (11 wRC+ in his first 20 PA); Ramírez’s slump has actually been quite long. Over his last 40 games, dating back to August 21 of last season, Ramírez has slashed .170/.298/.279 across 178 plate appearances. His 60 wRC+ during this stretch was the 17th-lowest in the major leagues, among 228 players with at least 100 plate appearances. That puts him in the undoubtedly-not-elite 7th percentile. Just to add insult to injury, this excludes the 2018 postseason, in which Ramírez did not record a single hit and managed just one walk across 12 plate appearances, good for a .000/.083/.000 line. Read the rest of this entry »

Jimmy Yacabonis’ Excellent Movement Doesn’t Mean He’s Due for a Breakout

There probably won’t be many bright spots for the Orioles this year. Coming off of an awful 47-115 campaign in 2018, there’s certainly a lot of room for improvement to say the least, but even still, Baltimore is projected to be the worst team in baseball yet again. They did, however, open their season by taking two of three games against the Yankees, who project to be the best team in the majors. So perhaps we already have found bright spot No. 1.

Nonetheless, the Orioles employed the opener on Saturday, pitching Nathan Karns for two innings before turning to Jimmy Yacabonis as their first arm out of the bullpen. Karns was solid, limiting the Yankees to just one hit (though he did walk three) and no runs. Yacabonis, too, pitched well; he only allowed one run in his three innings of work. In the third, Yacabonis recorded both of his strikeouts on the day. The victims were Aaron Judge and Luke Voit. Read the rest of this entry »

The Phillies Demonstrate Their Potent Depth

Phillies third baseman Maikel Franco has been with the Phillies since signing as an international free agent in 2010, and since he made his major league debut in 2014, the Phillies haven’t had a winning season. Before this season, he had only 59 career plate appearances batting eighth in the order. During the Phillies’ rebuild, Franco was a middle-of-the-order bat, despite never truly evolving into one. Of his career 2,115 plate appearances, over half of them (1,068) came in either the No. 3 or No. 4 hole.

On Thursday, Franco batted eighth, not because of any personal struggles on his part, but because of the Phillies’ depth up and down their lineup. In the sixth inning, in a 3-2 count (and on the seventh pitch of the at-bat), Franco turned on a Shane Carle fastball and drove a three-run home run into the left field seats. With one swing of the bat, the Phillies’ 3-1 lead became 6-1, with this at-bat serving as the icing on the cake in the Phillies’ eventual 10-4 win.

“Our eight-hole guy hit a three-run homer,” Phillies outfielder Andrew McCutchen told “It just shows you how deep the lineup is. Franco, he’s not an eight-hole hitter. Not the typical one. It just shows you what we can do, one through eight. Yeah, we can do it on a daily basis. It’s not going to be one or two guys that’s picking the team up, we’re going to picking each other up because we have that type of lineup to do it.”

Why did this one at-bat in this one Opening Day game pique my interest? It’s because this at-bat might foreshadow one of the key themes of the 2019 Phillies season: depth. Read the rest of this entry »

Dan Straily Can Generate Solid Value With This Pitch

Some baseball players are good at everything (looking at you, Mike Trout) and some aren’t good at much (looking at you, Chris Davis, though you did used to be good), but most fall somewhere in the middle. Generally, the average major league player has one or two attributes that make them special and one or two attributes that the opposing hitter or pitcher can attack. That’s just how most populations work; the bell curve exists for a reason. Not everyone can be in the 99th percentile, though it would be fun to see an entire league of Mike Trouts. (But then everyone would be in the 50th percentile, so there’s no real winner here anyway.)

Nonetheless, this idea of one or two special attributes gets me to my main point. On Monday, the Marlins released right-handed pitcher Dan Straily in a move that was something of a surprise. Miami isn’t looking to contend this year, and at a minimum, Straily could have been a decent innings eater for them. Like many other teams, the Marlins are opting to roll with younger players; the average age of their starting rotation is just 27 years old, though at 30, Straily wouldn’t have had the most grey hairs on the staff. That title belongs to Wei-Yin Chen, who the Marlins still owe $42 million over the next two seasons.

Straily is now looking for a new home, and unfortunately, it’s at an inopportune time with Opening Day today. Still, Straily has had a decent seven-year career, reaching a career-high in WAR (2.1) in 181.2 innings as recently as 2017. Last year he made 23 starts, posting a 4.12 ERA and a 5.11 FIP over 122.1 innings. His 19.1 K% and a 10.0 BB% weren’t awful, though both marks were below league-average for a starting pitcher. Putting all of this together, he was worth just 0.1 WAR.

Does this mean that Straily has no positive attributes? Absolutely not. In fact, there is a lot to like about his profile. Well, two thing in particular: he’s really good at generating spin on his fastball (70th percentile), and he throws a potentially deadly changeup. Read the rest of this entry »

Now in the Bullpen, Chase Anderson Should Change His Repertoire

As the Brewers lined up to open their division-winning 2018 season, right-hander Chase Anderson took the hill. By shutting out the Padres over six innings, allowing just one hit and striking out six, Anderson pitched the Brewers to the Opening Day victory, helping them win their first of 96 games.

Now, almost exactly one year later, Brewers manager Craig Counsell has announced that Anderson will be moving to the bullpen, opting to roll with a rotation of Jhoulys Chacin, Corbin Burnes, Brandon Woodruff, Freddy Peralta, and Zach Davies to begin the season instead.

This move is interesting for a number of reasons. First, it is true that Anderson has pitched poorly this spring, posting a 6.19 ERA across 16 innings. He’s allowed 11 runs, four homers, struck out 13 and walked four. But, for what it’s worth, Davies (7.17 ERA) and Burnes (5.79 ERA) haven’t looked much better, and each of them comes with fewer years of starting experience than Anderson.

The Brewers also have injuries in their bullpen and may need more depth there, something Anderson can provide. Both Jeremy Jeffress (dealing with a sore right shoulder) and Corey Knebel (out indefinitely with a partial tear of his UCL) are expected to begin the season on the Injured List. Still, it’s probably a bit unreasonable to expect Anderson to make this quick of a transition from being a starter to a reliever who can replace either Jeffress or Knebel, both very good backend arms. But maybe this move could be good for him and his performance. Read the rest of this entry »