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Mike Moustakas’ Subtle Adjustment

The last two offseasons have not been kind to Mike Moustakas.

After hitting a Royals franchise record 38 home runs in 2017, Moustakas went into free agency hoping to score a long-term deal. Months went by without a new contract. He was forced to settle in early March, taking a one-year, $6.5 million deal to return to Kansas City.

The Royals traded Moustakas to the Brewers midway through the 2018 season, ending his 12-year tenure with the organization. (Moustakas had been the Royals’ first round pick in 2007.) While he played well, his offensive production took a dip from the year prior. This was particularly true in the power department: Moustakas’ ISO fell from .249 to .208. He posted a 105 wRC+ and 2.4 WAR overall.

Due to improved defense, Moustakas was actually more valuable in 2018 than he was in 2017, but he faced similar issues in his attempt to procure a new contract. Again, Moustakas was forced to wait until late in the game to sign. A February 19 contract with the Brewers — a one-year, $10 million pact with a $7 million mutual option — to be the starting second baseman was the offer he ultimately accepted.

But now, after his second chilly free agency winter, Moustakas has stepped up his game, reaching a new level of offensive performance that we have not previously witnessed.

His numbers are better across the board. He’s already hit 22 home runs, just six shy of his 2018 season total. His 47-home run pace (per 650 PA) would result in a career-high. But in a larger sense, Moustakas has done more than just crank homers. He is getting on base at a higher rate and collecting more hits, many of which have been of the extra-base variety. His .390 wOBA would be a career-high, as would be his 140 wRC+. Moustakas has already produced 2.7 WAR, his highest total in four years and already the third-highest mark of his career. All of which is to say that Mike Moustakas has experienced an offensive surge, and I’m here to tell you why. Read the rest of this entry »

The Nationals Have a Chance to Save Their Season

For quite some time, it seemed as if the Nationals’ season was going awry.

I could point to a number of games to describe the beginning of their 2019 campaign, but none epitomize it nearly as well as their May 23 matinee versus the Mets. Stephen Strasburg was brilliant for seven innings (three runs, two earned), and after manager Dave Martinezthrew a furious tantrum” in the eighth, the Nationals went on to score three runs to take a 4-3 lead. But in the bottom half, a two-out, three-run home run from Carlos Gomez gave the Mets a 6-4 lead that they wouldn’t relinquish.

This game included all aspects of the beginning of the Nationals’ season. There was a great outing from the starting pitcher. The offense managed to come through at the right time. And, of course, the bullpen blew a late lead. On top of that, the manager let the rumors of his firing get to his emotions, and the team fell to 19-31, a season-high 12 games under .500.

The baseball season is long. Even in spite of the disarray, we put the Nationals’ odds at making the playoffs at 22.2%. That was their season-low. Check out what has happened in the time since. Read the rest of this entry »

What We Can Learn About Cavan Biggio so Far

It’s an exciting time to be a Blue Jays fan.

Despite the team being firmly out of contention, the presence of Cavan Biggio and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (both sons of Hall of Famers) in the lineup provides substantial watchability. Guerrero is known for his 80-grade raw power, an attribute which has already translated to the majors. Biggio, however, is known more for his plate discipline and approach, also something that has already been on display during his first three weeks in the big leagues.

In 77 plate appearances entering Wednesday, Biggio has slashed .222/.364/.492 with five home runs and a 130 wRC+. He’s already drawn 14 walks. Among players with at least 50 plate appearances this season, his 18.2% walk rate ranks fifth. Particularly for a player with no prior big league experience, Biggio’s discipline numbers are impressive.

But we must be careful in touting him. It has only been 77 plate appearances, after all. It is hard to draw any firm conclusions about any player in this small of a sample. That can be the issue with early-season baseball writing. Of course, it’s not early in the season anymore, but it’s still early in Biggio’s season. Read the rest of this entry »

Results Are Coming for an Improved Desmond

Last month, I wrote about Ian Desmond’s improved swing. For two seasons, Desmond hit ground balls at the highest rate in baseball, which is generally not the mark of a successful hitter. That is especially true in the current era of “elevate and celebrate.” Desmond was not elevating and thus rarely celebrating, even while playing most of his games in Coors Field.

Things changed this season, and for the better. Desmond had an average launch angle of 0 degrees in both 2017 and 2018, but has raised that mark to 7.8 degrees in 2019. His barrel rate has increased as a result, and he’s hitting for much more power: His .236 ISO is a career high.

When I first wrote about Desmond, the results weren’t yet there. On May 15, the day before publication, he sported a .218/.285/.411 slash line. His 64 wRC+ ranked 159th among qualified hitters, and his -0.4 WAR ranked 166th. While the underlying numbers were still encouraging at the time, Desmond was not yet seeing results. Read the rest of this entry »

Everything You Need to Know About the Intentional Balk

By now, most baseball fans have probably heard about Kenley Jansen’s intentional balk. If you haven’t, let me catch you up to speed.

The rarity occurred on Friday night. It was the top of the ninth inning. The Dodgers held a 5-3 lead over the Cubs, and Jansen was on the mound to close out the victory. The inning started nicely, as Jansen struck out Carlos Gonzalez, but the Cubs did not go down cleanly. Thanks to an error from first baseman Matt Beaty, Jason Heyward reached second base. David Bote then struck out, leaving Victor Caratini as the only roadblock between Jansen and his 20th save.

The oddity commenced when Jansen yelled, “I’m going to balk,” following the strikeout of Bote. Read the rest of this entry »

Consider Ketel Marte Broken Out

In writing, the rule of three “suggests that a trio of events or characters is more humorous, satisfying, or effective than other numbers.” With this in mind, I present to you three interesting facts about Diamondbacks second baseman and center fielder Ketel Marte.

First, he’s married to the cousin of Vladimir Guerrero Jr., and the two are so close that Marte thinks of himself as Guerrero’s older brother. Second, in 2017, he became just the eighth player in baseball history to hit two triples in a playoff game and was the first to do so from both sides of the plate. And third, he’s responsible for the second-longest home run this year, this 482-foot blast:

Hopefully you found those three facts an effective introduction to Ketel Marte. While the first two are certainly interesting tidbits, it is that third fact — the majestic home run — that is worth delving further into. Marte has hit 17 home runs in 302 plate appearances this season. Even in a homer-happy environment, that ranks tied for 15th in baseball. It also already represents a career-high, surpassing the 14-homer mark he set in 2018. Read the rest of this entry »

Scott Kingery’s Royal Improvement

Scott Kingery has had an eventful career.

A second round pick out of the University of Arizona back in 2015, Kingery breezed through Philadelphia’s minor league system. In 2017, he hit .304/.359/.530 with 26 home runs across 603 plate appearances split between Double-A and Triple-A. The next spring, Eric Longenhagen ranked Kingery as the team’s second-best prospect, calling him “a potential star.”

Kingery made national headlines that March when he signed a six-year, $24 million deal, becoming just the second drafted player to sign a multi-year contract before playing in a big league game. Soon after, Sheryl Ring analyzed each side’s motivation for making the move.

“The Phillies and Kingery both walk away with what they needed,” Ring wrote. “For the Phillies, their best chance to win now and, for Kingery, life-changing money. Deals don’t get any better than that.”

In his first taste of the big leagues, Kingery struggled. He played in 147 games, primarily at shortstop (887 innings), though he also saw action at six different positions and even pitched once. But his bat never came around. He slashed just .226/.267/.338 with eight homers and a 62 wRC+. Among batters with at least 400 plate appearances, Kingery was the fifth-worst hitter in baseball. Solid defense (3.4 runs above average) and baserunning (3.4) kept him on the roster, but Kingery was basically a replacement-level performer.

This season, Phillies fans are seeing a rejuvenated Kingery, and not a moment too soon. With Andrew McCutchen on the shelf with a torn ACL, Odubel Herrera on administrative leave after being charged with domestic violence, and Adam Haseley on the injured list after straining his groin, the Phillies’ outfield depth is perilously thin. A trade for Jay Bruce provided reinforcement, but Philadelphia needed someone else to step up, too. Read the rest of this entry »

A Look at Jordan Luplow, a Bright Spot in the Indians’ Lineup

Indians outfielder Jordan Luplow might not be a household name. But he has turned some heads in Cleveland with majestic home runs like this one:

That is quite the blast, but it’s clear the Indians’ Twitter account is being facetious. Luplow isn’t a legitimate Home Run Derby candidate, even with the All-Star Game being played in his home park in Cleveland. (Since 2013, at least one player from the hosting team participated in the Home Run Derby.) Francisco Lindor and Carlos Santana are much better options to serve as the hometown player.

Luplow has experienced something of a breakout this season. He is 25 years old and had just 190 plate appearances to his name prior to 2019. But, this season, he’s playing for an offense that has produced an 82 wRC+ team-wide, allowing him to serve as a bright spot in the order. In 120 plate appearances, Luplow has hit .248/.308/.523 with eight home runs and a 113 wRC+. His .275 ISO leads all Indians hitters, while also ranking in the top 10% of players with at least 100 trips to the plate. Read the rest of this entry »

Max Scherzer Has Allowed More Groundballs, but Is That a Good Thing?

If you take one look at Max Scherzer’s player page, it is not hard to identify where he has improved.

Both Scherzer’s strikeout (33.4%) and walk (5.1%) rates remain excellent, as is the standard. But his FIP (2.13) — which finds itself at the top of the pitching leaderboard — has fallen by more than half a run. If the season ended today, it would represent a career-low. This FIP decrease is due to a drop in Scherzer’s home run rate. In 2018, 2.7% of plate appearances against Scherzer resulted in a home run; in 2019, that figure is 1.7%.

Contributing to Scherzer’s home run reduction appear to be two main factors: better luck and more groundballs. His 8.0% home run per fly ball rate would represent his lowest mark since joining the Nationals. Considering that we’re in an era of home runs galore, some regression there is likely expected, though the seemingly livelier ball complicates that question. But a potentially more sustainable change rests in the large increase in Scherzer’s groundball rate, which he’s seen jump from 34.3% in 2018 to 42.8% in 2019. Read the rest of this entry »

100 Miles Giles Returns to Full Speed

Around this time last year, Ken Giles fell prey to the right hook… of Ken Giles.

On May 1, while with the Astros, Giles came into a scoreless game against the Yankees. After an Aaron Judge single, Didi Gregorius double, Giancarlo Stanton strikeout, Gary Sanchez homer, and an Aaron Hicks single, Giles exited the game, which, by this point, was no longer scoreless. The Yankees had mounted a four-run lead, and Giles had only recorded a single out. One might say that, as Giles left the field, he was not happy.

Read the rest of this entry »