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The Marvelous Mr. Montas

One element missing from the Oakland A’s in recent years has been an ability to develop long-term, high-quality starting pitchers. The cupboard hasn’t been completely bare, with Sonny Gray notably appearing on the cusp of establishing himself as one of the best starting pitchers in the league before a series of injuries waylaid him starting in 2016. Whether ultimate responsibility comes down to failure in developing pitchers or not choosing the right ones in the draft, the A’s have a poor record at finding starters. Gray remains the most-recent drafted pitcher to amass even five WAR in his MLB career.

The legacy of the trio of Mark Mulder, Tim Hudson, and Barry Zito leaves a long shadow on the franchise. In the past 20 years, the A’s have a total of 39 top-50 starting pitcher seasons. That’s above-average (you’d expect an average team to have roughly 33 of these seasons), but it’s also skewed very heavily in favor of the pitchers the team had back when we were worried that the Y2K bug would destroy humanity something something.

Top 50 Pitching Seasons, Oakland A’s, 2000-19
Season Pitcher WAR MLB Rank
2007 Joe Blanton 5.3  7
2001 Mark Mulder 5.7  8
2002 Tim Hudson 4.7  8
2019 Frankie Montas 2.6  8
2003 Tim Hudson 5.8  9
2004 Tim Hudson 4.6 11
2001 Tim Hudson 5.1 13
2001 Barry Zito 4.8 14
2002 Barry Zito 4.5 14
2011 Brandon McCarthy 4.5 15
2003 Mark Mulder 4.5 16
2007 Dan Haren 4.7 16
2015 Sonny Gray 3.9 18
2003 Barry Zito 4.4 19
2012 Jarrod Parker 3.7 19
2013 Bartolo Colon 4.0 19
2004 Rich Harden 4.1 20
2018 Blake Treinen 3.6 22
2002 Mark Mulder 3.9 24
2014 Sonny Gray 3.5 24
2005 Dan Haren 3.7 25
2006 Dan Haren 3.8 25
2000 Tim Hudson 3.5 27
2009 Brett Anderson 3.7 27
2014 Scott Kazmir 3.4 27
2002 Cory Lidle 3.7 29
2011 Gio Gonzalez 3.3 29
2005 Rich Harden 3.6 30
2012 Tommy Milone 3.1 32
2010 Dallas Braden 3.5 35
2004 Barry Zito 3.1 36
2010 Gio Gonzalez 3.2 41
2003 Ted Lilly 3.1 43
2006 Joe Blanton 3.2 45
2009 Dallas Braden 2.9 46
2005 Barry Zito 3.0 47
2012 Bartolo Colon 2.6 49
2000 Gil Heredia 2.6 50
2001 Cory Lidle 2.6 50

Wait, Gil Heredia had a top-50 season? Read the rest of this entry »


Dan Szymborski FanGraphs Chat – 6/17/2019

12:02
Avatar Dan Szymborski: “Dan Szymborski is chatting now.”

12:02
Avatar Dan Szymborski: OH GOD HE ISN’T PANIC

12:02
Avatar Dan Szymborski: Now I am.

12:02
The Other Dave: Is there ANY hope left for the Reds at this point? Or should they start exploring some trade scenarios? It just feels like if everything clicks, they should be a very good team. They just can’t seem to win any 1-run games.

12:03
Avatar Dan Szymborski: It kinda sucks, but their poor fortune is baked into the cake.

12:03
Avatar Dan Szymborski: Yeah, they’re 8 games under their Pythag. But the thing is, you don’t get those games back. You expect them to match their Pythags going forward, not get an extra helping from the good luck carnitas.

Read the rest of this entry »


Dan Szymborski FanGraphs Chat – 6/10/2019

12:01
Avatar Dan Szymborski: The prophecy of the chat has been fulfilled.

12:01
Roberto: Brandon Lowe has been fun to watch, but there must be some regression on the way, right? What’s a realistic expectation for his ROS?

12:01
Avatar Dan Szymborski: I actually had a dream about Brandon Lowe the other night that had no extra base hits and I decided to model ISO by BMI out of curiosity

12:02
Avatar Dan Szymborski: But for some reason, Lowe was 6-6 and huge in my dream, which he is not.

12:02
Avatar Dan Szymborski: The power is likely real, but I expect the BA to come down somewhat

12:03
Impatient Manchild: Where is the Szymborski prospect list?!?!

Read the rest of this entry »


Dallas Keuchel Heads to Atlanta

The Atlanta Braves and Dallas Keuchel agreed to terms on a contract Thursday night, thus ending baseball’s short free agency burst following the conclusion of the MLB Draft. Keuchel’s one-year, $13 million deal will enable him to enter the free agent market after the 2019 season with a clean slate, without any qualifying offer compensation pick baggage to reduce his value to a new team (or offer an excuse not to sign him).

We’ve seen this short-term playbook before from the Braves before, so it’s unsurprising to see them commit to a one-year (in reality, four-month) contract for Keuchel. The offseason in Atlanta was quieter than expected, with the team — or more accurately Liberty Media, the ownership group — choosing not to try to splash cash in the direction of Manny Machado or Bryce Harper like some of the other Johnny-come-soonlys in baseball. The only significant signing the team made was a one-year deal with Josh Donaldson for $23 million.

The $13 million is $13 million straight-up, something that shouldn’t necessarily be taken for granted as these types of midseason contracts tend to be a bit strange. For example, when Roger Clemens signed a one-year contract worth $28,000,022 (the beer money at the end to match his uniform number), that figure represented what it would’ve been over an entire season; Clemens only made a little under $20 million, with the money starting to flow when he made his season debut for the Yankees in June.

The reasons the Braves signed Keuchel to a short-term contract are similar to those behind their Donaldson deal: the team has a very deep stable of prospects and doesn’t necessarily want to commit to Keuchel long-term any more than they wanted to with Donaldson.The long-term solution at third base was always Austin Riley, but with the team coming off an NL East crown and still very likely to be just as competitive in 2019, they wanted a safer short-term option. Enter Donaldson The exact pitcher for whom Keuchel is keeping a seat warm is unclear, but the Braves have enough interesting candidates that the assumption is the question will work itself out over time.

The issue for Atlanta was that that question was not working itself out as quickly as the team hoped. The Braves starters have combined for a 4.38 ERA (19th in MLB) and 3.6 WAR (also 19th) and while those numbers aren’t the worst among 2019’s contenders, the rotation clearly has not been enough of a positive asset. And obviously, this matters quite a bit, with the Braves looking up at the Phillies in the NL East by a two-game margin. Atlanta’s rotation as of this moment has more question marks than they did at the start of the season.

Kyle Wright, Sean Newcomb, Bryse Wilson, and Touki Toussaint have all had brief stints in the rotation, with all four losing those jobs quickly (the latter two after their first starts). You can make a pretty good argument that the Braves have perhaps been a bit impatient with some of these pitchers, but it’s hard to blame the team for their urgency.

Perhaps more rope would have been given if Mike Foltynewicz and Kevin Gasuman were meeting expectations.

Folty’s spring was marred by elbow problems and while his health doesn’t appear to be a question, his velocity and his slider have been. His velocity has recovered, with his fastball in recent starts in the 95-96 mph range, much closer to the 96-97 mph he showed throughout 2018 than the 93-95 he initially came back with in late April. But the slider is still missing bite and that’s a crucial pitch in his repertoire. The former Astro’s breakout 2018 was mostly due to his slider, which ranked fourth in our pitch values, behind only those of Patrick Corbin, Jhoulys Chacin, and Miles Mikolas. Batters only hit .106 against his sliders last year and only mustered a .183 slugging percentage. In just over a month of pitching, he’s allowed almost as many extra-base hits on sliders (9) as he did in all of 2018 (11). And looking at his Statcast data, he’s lost three inches of vertical movement and two inches of horizontal movement from last season.

Kevin Gausman’s ERA remains above six, a disturbingly high number considering that we’re now in June. Given that his FIP is a much better 4.03, Gausman’s poor bottom-line run prevention has some mitigating factors, including a .331 BABIP and a bullpen that hasn’t had his back (58% LOB compared to 72% league-average). But as with the Braves’ lack of patience with the young pitchers hitting roadblocks, Atlanta just doesn’t have the time to hang around and hope that Gausman turns his theoretical run-prevention back into actual run-prevention. Gausman’s done himself no favors by narrowing of his repertoire; he’s essentially been a fastball/splitter-only pitcher in 2019, with his slurve largely abandoned. He’ll likely end up in the bullpen for now, which may be a better fit for a two-pitch hurler still missing his former high-end heat.

Under the set of circumstances Atlanta is facing, not only is Keuchel a good signing, but the terms make it one of the best potential buys this year. It’s still strange to call $13 million nothing, but in terms of major league free agency, these are nanoscopic potatoes. You can’t spend as much as you want on amateur free agents or draft picks. You don’t have an unlimited supply of prospects to trade for short-term gains. But you can spend all you want on free agents, with the only limitation being the luxury tax threshold, which is still a softer roadblock than the severe penalties for overspending on other avenues of talent acquisition. That’s not a problem for the Braves, who could sign James Shields to a one-year, $50 million deal and still be short of the Danger Zone. (Warning: You should probably not sign James Shields for one year and $50 million.)

Having the opportunity to sign a legitimate free agent in midseason is pretty rare, but Keuchel’s unusual market afforded the Braves the chance to add a player who might not have seemed necessary for the team in January, but who addresses an obvious need now. One remaining question, perhaps one left unanswered and lost in time: did the Braves need to wait this long to sign Keuchel? After all, given how quickly they cycled through the pitching prospects, the team certainly understood how urgent the rotation issue was. It may not have been obvious in March, but the weakness was apparent certainly by mid-April. In terms of free-agent compensation, Craig Edwards estimated that signing Keuchel would have an additional cost of $4.7 million for Atlanta, hardly a crippling loss. What part of this late signing was the draft pick value (or a more general reluctance to spend on free agents) and what part was Keuchel and his agent preferring to have more teams in the bidding such as the Yankees ($10.6 million loss), Cardinals ($7.4 million), or the Cubs ($6.8 million)? If only houseflies on walls had tape recorders, or whatever the kids are calling those today.

ZiPS has been more of a fan of Keuchel, at least in 2019, than the other projection systems, so it’s unsurprising it gave a digital thumbs-up to this signing to go along with my analog one. The penalty used for his missing time is relatively tame as there’s no injury involved, and most players out voluntarily don’t return in as brutally an inept fashion as Kendrys Morales did after ending his 2014 hiatus. That history doesn’t suggest a huge penalty is hardly surprising, as most players don’t use that time sitting around eating cookies, playing video games, and watching reruns of Press Your Luck. Even I don’t eat that many cookies working at home in a decidedly non-athletic capacity.

ZiPS projects a 116 ERA+ and 1.6 WAR for Keuchel with the assumption that he needs a few weeks to be ready to pitch in a major league game. Atlanta will take that and honestly, probably be happy with less. Because if you’re not using money to sign Keuchel, your other options for signing pitchers using just money are Shields or Yovani Gallardo or Miguel Gonzalez, and so on. Keuchel adds just a hair over a win compared to the likely other options and in the NL East, that win might actually matter.

ZiPS Projected Standings, 6/7/19 (Pre-Keuchel)
Team W L GB PCT Div% WC% Playoff % WS Win% No. 1 Pick Avg Draft Pos.
Atlanta Braves 88 74 .543 51.1% 21.7% 72.8% 4.2% 0.0% 21.2
Washington Nationals 85 77 3 .525 22.9% 24.4% 47.3% 2.1% 0.0% 18.7
Philadelphia Phillies 85 77 3 .525 20.8% 23.6% 44.3% 1.9% 0.0% 18.4
New York Mets 80 82 8 .494 5.2% 10.1% 15.3% 0.5% 0.0% 14.9
Miami Marlins 59 103 29 .364 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 22.8% 2.3

ZiPS Projected Standings, 6/7/19 (Post-Keuchel)
Team W L GB PCT Div% WC% Playoff % WS Win% No. 1 Pick Avg Draft Pos.
Atlanta Braves 89 73 .549 60.1% 20.4% 80.6% 5.1% 0.0% 22.1
Washington Nationals 85 77 4 .525 18.8% 26.6% 45.3% 1.9% 0.0% 18.6
Philadelphia Phillies 85 77 4 .525 17.0% 25.5% 42.6% 1.7% 0.0% 18.3
New York Mets 80 82 9 .494 4.1% 10.2% 14.2% 0.5% 0.0% 14.8
Miami Marlins 58 104 31 .358 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 23.6% 2.3

Is adding a Keuchel a giant, season-changing move? Of course not, but those are more or less unicorns; situations like the Giants picking up Randy Winn midseason and getting 3.6 WAR in 58 games are highly unusual. From the projections, the Braves have turned about 20% of the scenarios in which they don’t win the NL East into NL East titles, and erased about 30% of their non-playoff finishes from the timeline. Without trading prospects or developing time travel technology, the Braves made as good an acquisition as you realistically can make in June. Of course, we could have said the same thing in May.


Welcome to the Cold A/C League

Nothing says more about the state of Major League Baseball in 2019 than the fact that one of the biggest stories during the MLB Draft is the possible signings of two of last winter’s biggest name-brand free agents. Unencumbered by the signing team’s loss of draft picks with the conclusion of the MLB Draft, Dallas Keuchel and Craig Kimbrel have suddenly become a lot more exciting to clubs.

While it’s become commonplace to point to these non-signings as proof of MLB’s broken system of player compensation, I’m not actually buying it. Not that I’m disputing that there’s a serious issue, but I’d argue that the signings that are most problematic are when players like Ozzie Albies feel the need to take pennies on the dollar in their early twenties just so they can guarantee getting some of the win-related revenue they generate.

For free agents that aren’t elite contributors, I don’t think there’s any financial system that puts the genie in the bottle. Teams may not generally use straight WAR measures as unerring scripture, but they are more widely aware — even the teams run relatively poorly — of the limited impact of any one player. Mike Trout, as amazing as he is, isn’t the LeBron James of baseball, because the very design of the game itself prevents any one player from having as much of an impact on a team as LeBron or Steph Curry or James Harden or Tom Brady or Patrick Mahomes.

The demands of the players matter as well. It was widely reported over the winter that Craig Kimbrel was looking for a contract worth over $100 million for six years. While you’ll never get these rumors backed up with ironclad verification, nobody I’ve talked to inside baseball about Kimbrel’s demands has done anything but accept that as his camp’s demands.

At his best, Kimbrel was possibly the most dominating reliever of this generation, arguably even better than Mariano Rivera at his best (remember, what made Mo special wasn’t just how good he was, but how good he was for two decades). Baseball’s system no doubt underpaid Kimbrel — and the system for cost-controlled player needs serious addressing — but the Yankees or Red Sox or Cardinals or whichever team signs him has no interest in “making up” missing dollars to him that the Braves didn’t have to pay. Read the rest of this entry »


Bruce Not-So-Almighty Heads to Philly

Jerry Dipoto broke a nearly two-week trade drought over the weekend, sending outfielder Jay Bruce and everyone’s favorite player, cash considerations, to the Philadelphia Phillies. In return, the Mariners received 1B/3B/OF prospect Jake Scheiner.

As with most Mariners, Bruce started the season with impressive power numbers, hitting seven home runs in the team’s first 13 games. There was a period earlier this season when home runs represented seven of Bruce’s nine hits, an unusual balance even for a one-dimensional power hitter in these home run-filled times. As a fan of unusual baseballings, I will cheerfully admit that I was kind of hoping for that to continue. At one point in April, Bruce held a .204/.298/.673 line. To put that into perspective, only four seasons in history among qualified batters have featured a SLG-OBP difference greater than 300 points.

Largest SLG/OBP Differences
Year Player Team SLG-OBP
2001 Barry Bonds Giants .348
1921 Babe Ruth Yankees .334
1920 Babe Ruth Yankees .316
2001 Sammy Sosa Cubs .300
1994 Jeff Bagwell Astros .299
2019 Christian Yelich Brewers .294
2019 Joc Pederson Dodgers .293
1927 Lou Gehrig Yankees .291
1995 Albert Belle Indians .289
1994 Matt Williams Giants .288
1927 Babe Ruth Yankees .286
2019 Josh Bell Pirates .286
1930 Al Simmons Athletics .285
1998 Mark McGwire Cardinals .282
1932 Jimmie Foxx Athletics .280

Bruce’s flirtation with a 400-point difference early was way more fun to me than the usual “Joe So-and-So is on pace for 324 homers!” stuff. A race to topple Mark Reynolds for Mendoza Line-superiority in home runs (32) and slugging percentage (.433) could have been my song of the summer. Unfortunately, Bruce’s homer-pace slackened and he started hitting the occasional single. That has been enough to turn his 2019 into a more typical “middling power hitter” tune.

While I don’t think that anyone believed the Mariners were even close to being the best team in baseball — save for a couple of excited Mariners fans in my Twitter timeline — a 13-2 start gave Seattle some hope for a more interesting summer than expected. After all, this is a team that was forecasted to be on the dull side, but more blandly mediocre than unfathomably terrible. The best recent comparison would be the 2014 Milwaukee Brewers, another team that just wasn’t very good, but after a blazing 20-7 start and a 6 1/2 game lead, had enough of a cushion to be relevant into late summer.

Instead, Seattle unwound their hot start with impressive speed. Since the 13-2 start, the team’s gone 12-35, essentially ending any potential for a shocking run at the AL West title. To find a worse 47-game run for the Mariners, you have to look back to 1980, during the Dark Times of Seattle history. Bruce Bochte led the team in homers that year, crushing…uh…13 dingers, and the starting shortstop was the actual Mario Mendoza.

Once the 2019 version of the team was out of contention, the question became when Seattle would start selling rather than if. Bruce was always one of the best bets to go quickly if another team needed his services, not having been acquired by Seattle because of any burning desire to have him on the roster but as a balancing act to make the money in the Edwin DiazRobinson Canó trade satisfy both sides of the transaction. The Mariners may not have planned to give Daniel Vogelbach a serious look, but the Kyle Seager injury had a domino effect on the roster, sending Ryon Healy to third and Bruce and Edwin Encarnacion to first, opening up a spot for Vogelbach. The early demotion of Mallex Smith resulted in Mitch Haniger playing center field with more regularity, and that defensive combination allowed the team to fit Vogelbach, Bruce, Encarnacion, and Healy into the lineup simultaneously.

That gave the Mariners a lot of homers, but it turned out to be a not-so-good development for the team’s fielding. Through Monday morning, the Mariners are last in the majors in DRS (-50 runs) and UZR (-35 runs). Amusingly, Ichiro still leads M’s outfielders in UZR, at 0.2 in 10 innings.

Once everyone started shuffling back to their proper positions, Bruce was demoted to a semi-platoon role. He now follows another veteran acquired as salary makeweight from the Mets trade, Anthony Swarzak, out of town.

Bruce is a better fit with what the Phillies need. While the team’s left-handed hitters have combined for a wRC+ of 98 in 2019, it’s largely because of the existence of Bryce Harper. Odúbel Herrera’s arrest for domestic violence and uncertain return left the team in search for some left-handed hitting outside of Harper, and an extra outfielder. Ideally, Nick Williams would have been the best option to get increased playing time, but he has had an abysmal 2019, hitting .159/.205/.232 with a single homer as a part-timer. One can argue, probably correctly, that Williams likely has higher upside than Bruce, but things have changed in Philadelphia in the last couple of years. A team in contention and a rebuilding team ought to look at risk in different ways.

Bruce will likely continue in the semi-platoon role, as a fourth-outfielder who spells the regulars and plays a corner against a tougher righty when Scott Kingery isn’t in the lineup. Citizens Bank is a place where Bruce’s power, his only real remaining strength at this point, will shine. He is no longer the young semi-star he was in his early days with the Reds, but at this point of Bruce’s career, nobody’s really expecting that anymore. As a role player for the Phillies, Bruce will do his part to help the team hang onto first place.


Dan Szymborski FanGraphs Chat – 6/3/2019

12:01
Avatar Dan Szymborski: It is noon. It is a time for chats.

12:01
My name is Judge…: Now that the White Sox are in second place should they pull the trigger and start calling up guys from their farm system to push them closer to a wild car?  i of course am referring mostly to Alcides Escobar.
BCC:  Josh Nelson

12:01
Avatar Dan Szymborski: ALCIDES KNOWS MORE ABOUT RINGS THAN JOSTENS

12:01
Mooseknuckle curves: Can Erick Fedde become a viable starter for the Nationals?  He hasn’t gone deep into a game yet, but has avoided giving up the big inning so far.

12:02
Avatar Dan Szymborski: I think he can be. The Nats really were too optimistic about counting on both Anibal and Heckickson.

12:02
Captain Ron: Dan, what the hell?

Read the rest of this entry »


The Twins Have Crushed Their Way to Overdog Status

While many of the division races in baseball look quite similar to those in 2018, the AL Central has gone topsy-turvy. The Indians, despite a lackluster offseason, looked to be the clear favorite, with the Twins the only realistic threat to their recent dominance. That has turned out not to be the case, with Cleveland hanging around .500 as we enter the third month of the season and Minnesota holding a 9 1/2 game advantage, the largest divisional lead in baseball. I’d like to say I saw this coming, but I did not, and if I claimed otherwise, readers would no doubt out me as a filthy, filthy liar.

What was my complaint about the Twins? While they were considerably busier in the offseason than their rivals on the Cuyahoga, I was disappointed that they didn’t do more. Nelson Cruz was a solid short-term addition, and players like Marwin Gonzalez, C.J. Cron, and Jonathan Schoop all improved the depth of the team’s talent base, but I thought they should have been even more aggressive in their winter investments. Joe Mauer’s contract came off the books, and in a division with only one real 2019 rival, my belief was that it would be a mistake to start the season with a lower payroll than in 2018. Just one year before, the Twins aggressively pursued Yu Darvish and while that would clearly not have been a boon for the team that season, it represented them really pushing chips with the high-rollers when the opportunity presented itself.

But it has turned out that the need for a Bryce Harper or a Manny Machado or a Patrick Corbin wasn’t so pressing after all. Jake Odorizzi‘s continued development and Martin Perez’s unexpected velocity have a lot to do with it as well, but the Twins wouldn’t be where they are if a change in their offensive philosophy hadn’t paid off in spades. Read the rest of this entry »


Pedroia’s Possible Premature Parting

“You don’t know the end result, and that part’s hard. So that’s why a little reflection right now, I need to reevaluate, go home, chill out and see how everything responds.”

– Dustin Pedroia, 5/27/19 press conference

The fat lady hasn’t sung for Dustin Pedroia, but she’s at least warming up for her aria. Pedroia, Red Sox manager Alex Cora, and president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski took a break from any Memorial Day barbecues to hold a press conference updating Pedroia’s injury status.

As you probably know by now, the news was not of the optimistic variety, with Pedroia announcing that he was taking a break from any rehab that specifically targeted a return to baseball in 2019. Pedroia’s knee has been a problem for years and he originally underwent surgery to repair a torn meniscus after the 2016 season.

Not all of Pedroia’s missed 2017 time was due to the knee injury, with the infielder also suffering issues with his ribs, his wrist, and even a nasal contusion after getting hit in the nose by a foul ball he hit off home plate. Complicating the situation was the hard slide from Manny Machado in an April 2017 game — there was a controversy at the time whether it was a dirty play — that led to Pedroia limping off the field. Pedroia’s stated in the past that he doesn’t hold a grudge against Machado, but that he does think about that injury.

Manny's Hard Slide, 4/21/17

Pedroia's Nose Catches a Foul, 9/18/17 (NESN)

After offseason surgery during the 2017-2018 winter that attempted to restore cartilage to his knee, Pedroia has suffered numerous setbacks, only getting into a few games in 2018 and 2019. When asked if he would return, Pedroia responded that he was not sure he’d ever play again. Read the rest of this entry »


Yordan Alvarez Has Figured Out This Baseball Stuff

What does ZiPS have for Yordan Alvarez’s translation?

Is Alvarez for real?

Do the Astros need to call up Alvarez right now?

Scattered within my weekly chat questions about cat and chili, there were quite a few questions revolving on Yordan Alvarez, who has spent the first two months of the 2019 season traumatizing minor league pitchers. So naturally, instead of answering the questions, I greedily saved the Alvarez talk for an article on the subject.

Prior to this season, Alvarez was ranked seventh in Houston’s farm system by Eric Longenhagen and Kiley McDaniel on the strength of his raw power potential. Ranking seventh on the Astros says more about the team’s organizational strength than any negative about Alvarez; he’s not someone who would appear in a Fringe Five column. While with a lot of minor league outfielders, you try to see if they can stick in center as long as possible, this was never a realistic option for Alvarez, who is cut from the massive slugger template.

But if you thought he was a one-dimensional type of hitter, a Pedro Cerrano type, you’d be wrong. While it’s not believed that he’ll maintain high batting averages in the majors, I think he might hang onto better averages than many think. For one, he has an efficient, easy swing and is willing to use the entire field, making him less likely to be subject to shift abuse than some other sluggers in the majors. Just to illustrate, here’s Alvarez’s spray chart in the minors in 2019 compared to Max Kepler, a more pull-heavy left-handed hitter.

Alvarez has kept his swinging strike rate under 10% in the high minors, and in the early going, he has cut off about a quarter of his 2018 strikeout rate. His walk rate has also edged higher; Alvarez is a hitter who eats what he hunts. ZiPS uses play-by-play data to estimate a version of xBABIP that I refer to as zBABIP (you don’t win the Kewpie doll for guessing what the z stands for). Alvarez won’t keep the .424 BABIP that’s currently driving his .400 batting average in the minors, of course, but the hit data suggests he may keep quite a lot of it. Read the rest of this entry »