My favorite part of the animated series Attack on Titan, in which a race of giants appears out of nowhere and starts feasting on humanity for no apparent reason, is watching the humans try to assess and exploit the giants’ vulnerabilities more quickly than they’re being consumed. It’s analogous to any series against the juggernaut Los Angeles Dodgers, a club coming off a major-league best 43-17 regular season and the presumptive National League favorites to advance to the World Series. Do the Dodgers have a weak spot, a thread on which the limping Milwaukee Brewers can pull and unravel their season? Read the rest of this entry »
We’re a day away from the start of a bizarre, expanded postseason, one with an abnormally large field of teams, a short Wild Card round that makes the better ones unusually vulnerable, and a five-game Division round without an off day. The postseason’s new structure presents one-time advantages and disadvantages that could impact series outcomes. I’ve considered which aspects of roster construction might suit this unique situation (some more familiar than others) to determine which lower-seeded teams are especially strong and are perhaps teed up to make a sneaky deep October run.
For this exercise I’m only considering teams that currently have a winning percentage under .550, since while the Yankees and White Sox are currently seeded fifth and seventh respectively in the American League, I think they’re quite good and relegated to a lower seed purely due to the quality of their divisions. They’re not sleepers, they’re just a lower-seeded contenders. Let’s begin by looking at the obvious criteria.
It’s a tale as old as time, but having starters who can twirl a gem gives you a puncher’s chance in a playoff series. Even if your offense does nothing, a dominant start means you’re, at worst, in a close game with a chance to squeak out a victory despite scoring few runs.
I’m certain this category is the one already most familiar to even casual baseball fans, let alone FanGraphs readers, who can all point at Trevor Bauer, Luis Castillo and Sonny Gray and know the Reds are especially dangerous in this respect. But I wanted to apply some amount of rigor and objectivity to this to make sure I’m not either overrating or overlooking anyone. So I turned to Game Score Version 2. It’s a nice shorthand more than it is a precise, meaningful stat, but while FIP (which I’ve also included in the following table) is a better proxy for overall pitcher quality, I wanted a measure that indicates a pitcher’s capacity to have a dominant and/or elite-level start. As such, in the table is each pitcher’s 2020 FIP, as well as how many times they’ve had a Game Score v2 start of 65 (Strong Starts) or better, and how many they’ve had at 72 (Elite Starts) or better. Read the rest of this entry »
Without a true minor league season on which to fixate, I’ve been spending most of my time watching and evaluating young big leaguers who, because of the truncated season, will still be eligible for prospect lists at the end of the year. From a workflow standpoint, it makes sense for me to prioritize and complete my evaluations of these prospects before my time is divided between theoretical fall instructional ball on the pro side and college fall practices and scrimmages, which will have outsized importance this year due to the lack of both meaningful 2020 college stats and summer wood bat league looks because of COVID-19.
I started with the National League East, then completed my look at the American League West. Below is my assessment of the AL Central, covering players who have appeared in big league games. The results of the changes made to player rankings and evaluations can be found over on The Board, though I try to provide more specific links throughout this post in case readers only care about one team.
Chicago White Sox
Jonathan Stiever’s promotion was instructive because we got to see his velocity coming off of the forearm soreness that ended his spring. He sat 91-94, which is a little below his peak 2019 breakout when he would touch 6’s and 7’s. His changeup looked good, though, and it was a stabilizing force during a jittery first start. He’ll need to locate his slider more consistently for it to be effective, and the same goes for his heater if it’s going to live around 93. Stiever also incorporated his secondary stuff more often in his second outing — that’s probably the long-term strategy if this is where his fastball velocity is going to live.
You’re probably aware that Garrett Crochet made his major league debut over the weekend, becoming the first 2020 draftee to reach the majors and the first since Mike Leake to skip the minors entirely. He made just one pre-draft start this spring sandwiched between a February injury and March’s shutdown, so he was barely seen by teams this year, if at all, which is why some clubs were hesitant to draft him early in the first round. I’ve updated The Board to include his pitch data now that I have it, but neither his Future Value nor ranking has changed yet (45 FV is a late-inning reliever). He currently has the hardest fastball in baseball, and Crochet joins Zack Burdi and Codi Heuer as White Sox rookie relievers who have among the top 20 fastest heaters in the game. He’s yet another weapon in a bullpen that I consider dangerous enough to carry the Pale Hose deep into October. Read the rest of this entry »
Read the rest of this entry »
I started with the National League East; below is my look at the American League West, covering players who have appeared in big league games. The results of the changes made to player rankings and evaluations can be found over on The Board, though I try to provide more specific links throughout this post in case readers only care about one team.
A rash of injuries has necessitated several pitching prospect promotions in Houston. Cristian Javier (ranked second in org) and Brandon Bielak (fifth) have been up the longest, and both have struggled in unexpected ways. Bielak, who threw lots of strikes in the minors, has wrestled with walks. He might be nibbling with his fastball because it’s getting crushed to the tune of a 90% in-zone contact rate and a .674 xSLG according to Baseball Savant. He’s been bullpenned for now, but I still consider him a likely No. 4/5 starter (45 FV), albeit one who probably has to pitch more heavily off his secondary stuff. Even though he’s walked more hitters than usual, Bielak has still shown a consistent ability to execute his changeup and breaking balls to good locations, especially against lefties.
Javier’s walk rate is actually better than usual, but he hasn’t missed bats at anything resembling his career norm, and a whopping nine of the 27 hits he’s surrendered this year have been home runs. That home run rate will likely regress across a larger sample, but if Javier is going to keep starting then he still needs to find a better way to deal with left-handed hitters because his splits have been pretty extreme. Because of an off day, Houston opted to skip Javier’s turn in the rotation over the weekend and use him out of the bullpen, where he had five strikeouts in two innings. I think he’s a candidate to move the ‘pen during the playoffs, and potentially long-term, and he projects as a high-leverage reliever if he does. Read the rest of this entry »
I’m starting with the National League East. Players who have appeared in big league games are covered below, as are a few players who have been at the offsite camps all season. The results of changes made to player rankings and evaluations can be found over on The Board, though I try to provide more specific links throughout this post in case readers only care about one team.
In an August post, I talked about how I was moving away from hitters who swing recklessly but failed to mention that I’d slid Drew Waters from the back of the 55 FV tier — around 50th overall — down to 76th overall, near a bunch of the high ceiling/high variance hitters grouped toward the back of the top 100.
I also slid Kyle Wright (now a 40+ FV — I know he has graduated off of other publications’ lists but even after counting his time on the roster I still have him classified as rookie-eligible, though perhaps I’m miscounting?) and Bryse Wilson (45+ FV). Both of them are throwing hard (Wilson up to 96 over the weekend, Wright up to 97 yesterday) but because they’re of the sink/tail variety, their fastballs don’t have margin for error in the strike zone and both of them too often miss in hittable locations. Each has the secondary stuff to start, but neither has seized a rotation spot even though Atlanta desperately needs someone to. Read the rest of this entry »
The closing bell rang on the trade deadline yesterday and, as always, many prospects were moved. I have the young players traded since early this month ranked below. Most of the deals these prospects were a part of were analyzed at length on this site. Those pieces can be found here, or by clicking the hyperlink in the “From” column below. I’ve moved all of the players below to their new orgs over on The Board, so you can click through and see where they rank among their new teammates; our farm rankings, which now update live, also reflect these changes, so you can see where teams’ systems stack up post-deadline.
A couple quick notes before I get to the order. The evaluations of players at the very bottom of the list (35 FV prospects) who weren’t on offseason prospect lists at all are subject to change as I continue to learn more about them. Follow the FanGraphs Prospects Twitter account or go to fangraphs.com/prospects for updates. Also, I’ve included a couple of post-prospect players in the order so you can get an idea of where I value them now as opposed to at their prospect peak. Both players, former top 100 guys, are highlighted in orange below. Read the rest of this entry »
Early this morning, the Padres and Indians officially consummated a much-rumored deal surrounding starter Mike Clevinger, one significant enough to demand multiple pieces of analysis, the prospect-centric slice of which I’ll serve you here. The broad strokes analysis of Cleveland’s prospect package is that in addition to the big league pieces they received, they added 20-year-old shortstop Gabriel Arias, yet another candidate to be the club’s long-term shortstop in the event that Francisco Lindor is either traded or leaves in free agency, and two other prospects, Joey Cantillo and Owen Miller, who fit archetypes that the org has often targeted and developed well.
He doesn’t have the highest ceiling of the group (Arias does), but I think Joey Cantillo is the best prospect in the trade. He entered 2020 coming off a breakout 2019 during which, at age 19, he struck out 144 hitters in 111 combined innings at Low-A Fort Wayne and Hi-A Lake Elsinore. It was a meteoric rise for a teenager who was less than two years removed from being a 16th round pick ($300,000 signing bonus) out of a high school in Hawaii, and Cantillo’s strikeout totals were especially confounding because he doesn’t throw all that hard, only living in the 87-90 range, touching 92. How does he do it? This piece has some specifics about how a fastball with below-average velocity can still miss bats in the strike zone. Cantillo also has an impact changeup. From his scouting report on The Board, where you can already see how the new Indians prospects rank in the system:
Not only does it have bat-missing movement but Cantillo’s arm speed really sells hitters on the notion that they’re getting a fastball; A-ball bats flailed at it in 2019. The carry on his fastball enables Cantillo to compete for swinging strikes in the zone, and that, plus his ability to throw lots of competitively-located changeups mean he can work back into any count. His breaking ball usage is ahead of its quality, something that might change if Cantillo does start throwing harder and adds power to his curve. The breaking ball and development of velo are now the two variables driving Cantillo’s potential future FV movement, but for now I think he has the tools to go right at hitters and be a No. 4/5 starter.
It seems like new Rockies pitcher Mychal Givens has had a robust trade market each of the last two summers, both because he is a good pitcher and because he has multiple years of team control left. The Orioles finally pulled the trigger on a deal for him and scooped up three prospects from the Rockies: Terrin Vavra, Tyler Nevin, and a player to be named later.
Givens has thrown 336 innings across parts of six seasons with the Orioles and has amassed a 3.32 career ERA (he’s sporting a cool 1.38 ERA this year) and struck out just shy of 11 hitters per nine (roughly 33% K%) during that time. His strikeout rate has climbed each of the last two years as Givens increased the usage of his changeup, which had previously been a distant tertiary pitch behind his fastball and a slider.
But Givens still works heavily with that mid-90s fastball (nearly 70% of the time), which averages 94 mph and tops out at 98. In addition to having a great arm, the right-hander has a unique low-slot delivery that lets him attack hitters in the top half of the zone from an odd angle. For how terse and explosive Givens’ delivery is, he has good feel for locating his secondary stuff to each pitch’s appropriate zip code and he adds stability to a Rockies bullpen filled with pitchers who have a history of being rather wild. Read the rest of this entry »