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Reds Choose Upside, Ink Frankie Montas

Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

Last year, the Cincinnati Reds surprisingly vaulted into contention thanks to an ascendant crop of young position players. Led by Matt McLain, Reds rookie hitters accrued 7.6 WAR, tops in the majors. Yet, their postseason bid ultimately fell short; while the Reds ran a middle-of-the-pack offense with a 98 wRC+ (17th in the bigs), their pitching flopped. Even park-adjusted ERA-, which removes claustrophobic Great American Ball Park from the equation, pegged them as the eighth-worst staff in the majors with a 105 mark.

Cincinnati’s cache of young hurlers was supposed to serve as a complement to the team’s potential-filled lineup. But pitching is a fickle beast, and the Reds’ staff was dogged by injuries and inconsistency in 2023. Now, they’ve added Frankie Montas, the poster child of injuries and inconsistency, to that group. Read the rest of this entry »

Tigers Try Their Hand at Cracking Jack

Mitch Stringer-USA TODAY Sports

Jack Flaherty, still just 28 years old, has already endured more ups and downs than most pitchers do in their entire careers. His peak, a 4.7-win, fourth-place Cy Young finish in 2019, tells a story far different from the middling 3.3 WAR he’s accrued in 299 innings sandwiching a variety of injuries since. What should we make of the former heir apparent to Adam Wainwright?

Let’s start by asking how teams are assessing him, now that we have at least one more data point. The Tigers evidently see enough in the erstwhile ace to fork over $14 million for a year of his services, with games-started-based incentives that could tack on an additional $1 million. Incentives aside, his age and upside helped him net the largest guarantee for a starter on a one-year deal so far this offseason, outpacing the likes of Luis Severino, Kyle Gibson, Lance Lynn, and Wade Miley. Among two-year contract recipients, his AAV is higher than that of Erick Fedde, Nick Martinez, Tyler Mahle, and teammate-to-be Kenta Maeda. Read the rest of this entry »

Backup Backstop Bonanza: Caratini, Hedges Ink New Deals

Austin Hedges
Andrew Dieb-USA TODAY Sports

Many transactions were obscured by the Ohtani-mania of the past week, perhaps none more than the always unheralded glove-first catcher signings. No one represents this category better than Austin Hedges, who’s sources say returned to Cleveland on a one-year, $4 million pact after departing for Pittsburgh last offseason and winning a World Series ring with Texas. Meanwhile, on Thursday, the Astros finalized their deal — a two-year, $12 million contract — with Victor Caratini, whose own defensive skills have taken a huge leap forward the past two seasons. Each will serve as a backup to an exciting young catcher, hopefully furthering their respective development trajectories in the process.

Let’s start with Hedges. At this point, what you see is what you get with the 31-year-old veteran. His framing was as good as ever this past season, saving his clubs an estimated 16.9 runs per our FRM metric, good for second best in the majors. It’s his fourth season saving at least 12.5 runs, though his 2023 total came in fewer innings than all but one of the rest of the top-ten framers (Jason Delay, who ranked eighth). Baseball Savant sees a similar halo sitting atop Hedges’ catcher’s mask, with sterling framing and blocking more than making up for a merely average arm. Neither Savant nor FRM has him as a below-average framer (save for a small-sample 2016) in any individual season, and Savant has never cast him as a below-average blocker. Read the rest of this entry »

Pirates Add Veteran Throwback Gonzales To Bolster Young Staff

Marco Gonzales
Steven Bisig-USA TODAY Sports

The Pirates have had a rough go of it. After notching three straight Wild Card berths from 2013 to ’15, they saw their production tail off and haven’t made the postseason since. In that time, they also had the second-best pitching staff by ERA and the fourth-best by FIP thanks to a league-leading 51.3% groundball rate. Their rate of burning worms was 2.8 points higher than the second-place Dodgers, the same distance between Los Angeles and the 10th-place Mets.

The Pirates accomplished this by throwing sinkers at a 23.2% clip, separating them from the second-ranked Guardians by 5.5 points, about the same distance between Cleveland and the 10th-place Angels. Coupled with pitch-framing improvements and a move toward more strategic infield positioning, the Pirates experienced a pitching leap that’s Travis Sawchik chronicled in Big Data Baseball. This did wonders for a number of hurlers, namely Francisco Liriano, A.J. Burnett, and Edinson Volquez. But others, such as Charlie Morton and Gerrit Cole, only blossomed upon leaving the Steel City.

Pittsburgh’s pitching apparatus isn’t viewed as revolutionary any longer, but they’ve had a solid record with crafty lefties in recent years — think Rich Hill, Tyler Anderson, and Jose Quintana. Marco Gonzales, acquired from the Mariners (via the Braves) along with cash in exchange for a player to be named later, will hope to join that group. Perhaps the soft-tossing southpaw — who, like the Pirates of the 2010s, relies primarily on inducing weak contact — will be the one to reignite something in the Steel City forges. Read the rest of this entry »

Cardinals Ink Kyle Gibson, Continue Steady Restructuring of Rotation

Aaron Josefczyk-USA TODAY Sports

The Cardinals’ 2023 season was disappointing, but it was anything but boring. The electric Jordan Walker cracked the Opening Day roster, tying a record for most games (12) with a hit to start a career for a player age 20 or younger. Then he went on to post what I can only assume (given the dearth of fielding statistics before 2000) is one of the worst defensive seasons by a rookie ever, costing St. Louis 16 runs per Defensive Runs Saved and 12 runs per Ultimate Zone Rating and Runs Above Average. Additionally, the Cardinals brought over veteran signal-caller Willson Contreras from the division-rival Cubs for $87.5 million, only to relegate him to DH and corner outfielder in May, then to just DH, before moving him back to catcher… all within the span of a week. And don’t even ask me, or Jack Flaherty for that matter, about the right-hander’s fastball velocity.

But Kyle Gibson is boring. Last year, the Cardinals were in the bottom 10 in baseball in ERA, FIP, xFIP, and SIERA, and at the General Managers Meetings a couple of weeks ago, Cardinals’ President of Baseball Operations John Mozeliak made clear the team’s desire to upgrade their pitching staff this offseason. But the Cards whiffed on Aaron Nola despite their early interest in the ace, and instead went with… Lance Lynn and Gibson? Read the rest of this entry »

Breaking Down the Kansas Kids’ Gold Glove Snub

Peter Aiken-USA TODAY Sports

On October 18, Rawlings and MLB announced this year’s Gold Glove finalists. Conspicuously absent from the list were two electric young Royals: Bobby Witt Jr. and Maikel Garcia. The pair took to social media to voice their thoughts on the selections, with Garcia labelling the process “a joke,” team captain Salvador Perez backing him up, and Witt perhaps summarizing our collective thoughts most concisely with a simple thinking face emoji:

What led to Witt and Garcia’s exclusions? Let’s review the Gold Glove criteria. The SABR Defensive Index, or SDI, is a proprietary blend of fielding metrics that comprises about 25% of the selection process, with the rest depending on the votes of the manager and six other coaches per team. These seven votes per team can only be allocated to qualified players within the same league as the team, but not players on the team. So, for example, Royals coaches can only vote for non-Royal American League qualified players. Read the rest of this entry »

Astros Get One Back, Foil Mad Max’s Return in 8–5 Game 3 Win

Yordan Alvarez Jose Altuve
Andrew Dieb-USA TODAY Sports

Max Scherzer hadn’t pitched in 36 days, but when a future Hall of Famer says he can go, it’s hard to say no. That’s the spot that the Rangers found themselves in, and up two games to none in the ALCS, they could afford a clunker if they had to. Unfortunately, that’s what they got. Scherzer surrendered five runs over four innings; Cristian Javier no-hit Texas into the fifth. Though Houston’s hurler didn’t remain unblemished, the Rangers couldn’t overcome their early deficit, and the Astros narrowed Texas’ series lead with an 8–5 win.

The first inning went innocently enough, though Scherzer allowed a pair of well-struck fly balls that hinted at the trouble to come. Ahead 0–2 on Yordan Alvarez to begin the second, the veteran went with a back-foot cutter that, well, hit Alvarez in the back foot. After punching out José Abreu, Scherzer walked Kyle Tucker on five pitches, then yielded a 104.8 mph frozen rope to Mauricio Dubón on a slider that hung up. Jeremy Peña popped out, and for a second, Scherzer seemed to be close to getting out of a bases-loaded jam. Instead, he spiked an 0–1 slider to no. 9 hitter Martín Maldonado, he of the 66 regular-season wRC+, to bring home Alvarez. On the very next pitch, Maldonado ripped a 101.1 mph single past third baseman Josh Jung, driving in two more:

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The Postseason Pitching/Hitting Divide Might Be Widening

Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Ah, the playoffs. The smell of fall in the air, the sight of towel waving and packed stadiums across the country, and the endless stream of pontification on social media. Are the Rays just not built for the postseason due to a lack of star power? Have the Dodgers been playoff slouches because they’re too dependent on their stars? Do the Astros know something about how Martín Maldonado manages a pitching staff that we don’t? Do we know more about how to manage a pitching staff than John Schneider? The list goes on.

Especially with the new opportunities to weigh in given the expanded playoff structure, it’s been harder than ever to hone in on ideas worth pondering, let alone hypotheses that are falsifiable. But the other day, a xweet from MLB Network researcher Jessica Brand caught my eye:

Thanks to our handy new postseason leaderboards, this was indeed an interesting assertion that I could test. I limited my sample to hurlers who not only tossed at least 50 frames in the playoffs, but who also managed 500 innings in the regular season. There were 142 pitchers who met these criteria, and they averaged an ERA three tenths of a run lower in the playoffs. Per a paired-samples t-test, this result was statistically significant. Read the rest of this entry »

Diamondbacks Secure Narrow Game 2 Victory to Push Dodgers to Brink of Elimination

Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

In Game 1 of the NLDS, the 84-win Arizona Diamondbacks raced to a commanding 11-2 victory over the 100-win Los Angeles Dodgers, their longtime tormenters in the NL West. While Game 2’s 4-2 win wasn’t quite as dominant, it nevertheless lifted the D-backs to a 2-0 series lead and the brink of a sweep. With a combination of patience (forcing Bobby Miller to throw 52 pitches in under two innings) and guile (becoming the second team to notch four stolen bases in a game this postseason), the upstart Arizonans firmly established themselves as legitimate title contenders.

Though the Los Angeles crowd roared at Miller’s first 100-mph heater, déjà vu set in within a few hitters. With the bases loaded and no one out in the top of the first, Christian Walker rocketed a four-seam fastball 105.6 mph off the bat to deep center. But while James Outman missed his first chance on Saturday, he didn’t blink this time, leaping and snagging the slicing drive and limiting the damage to a sac fly:

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Rays Narrowly Avoid Infamy but Can’t Avoid the Sweep as Rangers Advance

Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports

The Texas Rangers locked up their first postseason series since 2016 with an exclamation point, once again dominating the Tampa Bay Rays, this time by a score of 7-1. Nathan Eovaldi shook off his late-season struggles to deliver a masterclass, while Corey Seager and Josh Jung chipped in a pair of doubles each (with the latter also adding a triple), and Adolis García and Evan Carter went deep. For the Rays, this marked their third season in a row of playoff disappointment, and while they won’t sit atop the list of postseason scoreless streaks after Curtis Mead’s RBI single in the seventh, they’ll head into the offseason with more question marks than they’ve had in recent memory.

After the lefty Jordan Montgomery shut them down in Game One, the Rays made a couple of notable changes in advance of facing the right-handed Eovaldi. First, they shed the Devil Rays uniforms that may have doomed them to the fate of their World Series-less ancestors. Second, and more directly in response to yesterday’s events, they swapped the recently returned Jose Siri — who made critical errors on both sides of the ball yesterday — for the left-handed hitting Josh Lowe, shifting Manuel Margot from right field to center in order to accommodate him. Read the rest of this entry »