Over the last few days, the Yankees addressed their surprisingly punchless and right-handed heavy lineup by adding Joey Gallo and Anthony Rizzo. In the waning minutes before the trade deadline, they struck a deal with the Angels to bring in another southpaw: left-handed pitcher Andrew Heaney. In exchange, New York will send a pair of pitching prospects to Los Angeles: Janson Junk and Elvis Peguero.
Heaney is playing out the last year of team control before he hits free agency this offseason. Over the last four years, he’s posted a strikeout-to-walk ratio a touch under four, the 26th best mark among the 100 qualified starters during that period. Unfortunately, he’s struggled with a gigantic home run problem that has led to some ugly ERAs that far outpace his peripherals.
This year, all those strengths and weaknesses are in full effect. He’s posting fantastic strikeout (28.2%) and walk (7.7%) rates but he’s allowed 16 home runs in 94 innings. Because his batted ball profile skews so heavily towards elevated contact, his home-run-per-fly-ball rate is around league average, but his HR/9 is the 15th highest among all starters with a similar number of innings pitched. That doesn’t bode well for a move to Yankee Stadium, which has boosted home run totals by 7% over the last four years.
Heaney’s pitch repertoire is rather odd. His four-seam fastball was classified as a sinker for much of his career because it moves horizontally like a sinker does but it doesn’t have the telltale vertical movement. He gets that horizontal action on his heater because he throws from an extremely low arm angle. With an odd release point and an uncommon movement profile, his fastball has been a whiff-generating machine. Opposing batters swing and miss nearly 30% of the time against his heater. Read the rest of this entry »
After addressing their offensive needs with their acquisition of Eduardo Escobar earlier this week, the Brewers turned their focus to their pitching staff. Their starting rotation has been the best in the majors but their bullpen has been merely good. They added some depth to their relief corps on Friday by trading for Daniel Norris, sending RHP Reese Olson to the Detroit Tigers in return.
Norris had worked out of the rotation for much of his career but recently made the transition to full-time relief work in 2020. Across 51 relief appearances over the last two seasons, he’s posted a solid 3.39 FIP that’s been somewhat hidden by an ugly 5.89 ERA this year. Like you would expect with any starter transitioning to shorter outings in relief, Norris’s fastball velocity has really benefited. He’s averaged 92.7 mph on his four-seam fastball during these last two campaigns, the highest velocity he’s seen on his heater since 2017. He’s also simplified his pitch mix, entirely cutting out his curveball and focusing on his slider and changeup as his two secondary options. Read the rest of this entry »
The Brewers have built a commanding lead in the NL Central, with a 7 1/2-game advantage over second-place Cincinnati. The team is being carried by the best starting rotation in baseball and a solid bullpen, the second-best run prevention unit in baseball behind the Giants. The offense is far less impressive, having scored just 4.4 runs per game this year with a wRC+ of 90 that ranks 22nd in the majors. Milwaukee’s pitching staff is more than good enough to carry it into the playoffs, so the front office has been focused on bringing in reinforcements to help the lineup. The team had already acquired Willy Adames and Rowdy Tellez in separate trades earlier this season. On Wednesday, it added another infielder to the mix, agreeing to a trade for Eduardo Escobar and sending two prospects, catcher/infielder Cooper Hummel and infielder Alberto Ciprian, to Arizona in exchange.
Escobar is in the last season of a three-year deal he signed back in 2019, and with the Diamondbacks’ 2021 a total loss, he was an obvious candidate to be moved; the only question was where. The White Sox had been connected to him a little earlier this month, but a finalized deal never materialized. Instead, the Brewers swooped in and added the versatile infielder to their roster.
The switch-hitter is in the midst of a resurgent season. From 2017 to ‘19, Escobar hit 79 home runs, posted a wRC+ of 108, and accumulated 8.8 WAR for the Twins and Diamondbacks. Things fell apart last year, though, as his power dried up and his wRC+ fell to 56. He’s gone back to normal this year, with 22 home runs, a wRC+ back up to 105, and the Diamondbacks’ lone All-Star roster spot a few weeks ago. Under the hood, his batted ball peripherals look like they’re intact from or improved on his peak.
All that power that had escaped last season is back this year, and he’s increased his hard-hit rate and barrel rate, which has helped him offset a slight uptick in strikeout rate. On top of that, Escobar’s fly ball rate is pushing 50% for the first time in his career, and he’s pulling the ball more often than ever — and that batted ball profile stays consistent no matter which side he’s hitting from.
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The July 30 trade deadline is just days away, making this week the last opportunity for teams in the middle of the postseason hunt to improve their roster. Most of the true contenders are simply looking to solidify their rosters for the playoffs but there are a handful of surprising clubs that are still on the bubble between buying and selling.
A quick refresher: my approach takes the three most important components of a team — their offense (wRC+), and their starting rotation and bullpen (50%/50% FIP- and RA9-) — and combines them to create an overall team quality metric. I add in a factor for “luck” — adjusting based on a team’s expected win-loss record — to produce a power ranking. All of the below stats are through July 25.
The Giants have had an up-and-down start to the second half. They lost a pair of series to the Pirates and Cardinals but won three of four against their biggest rivals, the Dodgers. They still hold the best record in baseball and are the only team on pace to win more than 100 games this year. They face a stiff challenge this week as they host the Dodgers and the Astros.
Meanwhile, Los Angeles is powering through a bunch of bad injury luck. They were fortunate to face the Rockies six times in the past two weeks, with four wins against Colorado helping offset the three losses they suffered against the Giants. On Saturday, they rolled out a lineup that looked more like a spring training split squad than the team that’s scored the most runs per game in the National League — Albert Pujols was slotted in at cleanup, followed by light-hitting catcher Austin Barnes, with a handful of other depth pieces getting starts too. Gavin Lux has been sidelined since the All-Star break and Mookie Betts hit the Injured List Sunday, though Corey Seager could be making his return soon. Luckily, Chris Taylor has nearly single-handedly powered their offense, blasting five home runs last week. Read the rest of this entry »
The 2020 Oakland Athletics won 36 games on their way to winning the AL West for the first time since 2013. They did this despite rather lackluster offensive contributions from their core quintet of Matt Olson (103 wRC+), Matt Chapman (117), Ramón Laureano (103), and Marcus Semien (92). Those four players combined for 4.5 WAR, mostly driven by their stellar defensive performances. Instead, breakout seasons from Mark Canha and Robbie Grossman helped the A’s reach the postseason for the third consecutive season.
With Semien now out of the picture, Oakland needed bounce back seasons in 2021 from the two Matts and Laureano to continue their run of success. Thus far, the A’s are still waiting on two of those three to really get it going. Chapman has taken an even bigger step back; the strikeout issues that plagued him last year have stuck around and now his power has all but disappeared, too. Laureano has had an up-and-down season; he had a strong start to the year with a 138 wRC+ through June 22, but he’s fallen into a deep slump over the past month with a 54 wRC+ since then. Thankfully, Olson has been good enough for both of them.
Last year, Olson saw his strikeout rate jump up to 31.4%, contributing to a batting average that fell below the Mendoza line. A high strikeout rate had been the big concern since he burst onto the scene in 2017 with 24 home runs in 59 games. He’s always had some swing-and-miss in his profile, but a strikeout rate over 30% was definitely a big red flag, no matter how many home runs he launched over the fence. Read the rest of this entry »
The Angels and Braves have both suffered through largely disappointing seasons and through some serious woes in the outfield. In Los Angeles, a calf injury to Mike Trout and Justin Upton’s back issues have kept the two off the field for a significant amount of time. In Atlanta, things are even more dire. Marcell Ozuna dislocated two of his fingers back in May, but a pending domestic violence charge means he likely won’t see the field again this season. Then, on the Saturday before the All-Star break, Ronald Acuña Jr. tore the ACL in his right knee, ending his season.
Both teams are within shouting distance of a playoff spot; the Braves are four games behind the Mets in the NL East, and the Angels are five and a half back in the AL Wild Card. But to have any hope of making noise down the stretch, they needed to bring in reinforcements for their outfield depth. That’s exactly what both teams did during the break. On Wednesday, the Angels signed Adam Eaton after he was released by the White Sox on Monday. On Thursday, the Braves traded for Joc Pederson, sending prospect Bryce Ball back to the Cubs in return. Trying to replace the production of Acuña or Trout is a fool’s errand, but finding someone who’s above replacement level (even if barely in both cases) goes a long way toward filling the holes in these two lineups.
In their final game before the All-Star break, the Braves ran out two converted infielders in the corner outfield spots, playing Ehire Adrianza in right and Orlando Arcia in left. In Pederson, they’re getting a capable outfielder who can play anywhere — he has plenty of experience in center field and covered left regularly in Chicago — and who’s an offensive boost to their lineup. With Guillermo Heredia already in center, Pederson will probably shift over to right, with Atlanta likely to use a rotating cast of players in left for now.
With the first half of the season in the books, the first round of the MLB Draft wrapped, and All-Star festivities underway, now is the moment teams can take a breath and start evaluating their strategy for the stretch run. There’s been some significant movement in these rankings since I last posted them, with a handful of teams moving into and out of the bubble during the last two weeks. That should make for a very exciting trade deadline that’s just a few weeks away.
One note: from here on out, these rankings will appear every other week. With most teams sorted into their tiers, there probably won’t be as much week-to-week movement in the rankings as we’ve seen earlier in the season.
A quick refresher: my approach takes the three most important components of a team — their offense (wRC+), and their starting rotation and bullpen (50%/50% FIP- and RA9-) — and combines them to create an overall team quality metric. I add in a factor for “luck” — adjusting based on a team’s expected win-loss record — to produce a power ranking. Read the rest of this entry »
With just a week until the All-Star break, the Mariners have played their way into the thick of the AL Wild Card race, though our Playoff Odds remain skeptical. Based on their pre-season projections, you might expect their surprising success to be linked to two of their top prospects having made their debuts in mid-May. You’d be partially right. While Jarred Kelenic’s big league career hit a major hiccup, Logan Gilbert has been a solid addition to the Mariners’ beleaguered starting rotation.
Gilbert has made nine starts in the majors so far and has compiled a 4.10 ERA backed by an impressive 3.50 FIP. In an ideal world, the Mariners probably would have liked to see Gilbert develop a bit longer in Triple-A earlier this season, but a bunch of injuries to their rotation forced their hand a bit. James Paxton, Nick Margevicius, and Ljay Newsome are all out for the season. Marco Gonzales missed time with a strained forearm. Justin Dunn has been sidelined recently with some recurring shoulder issues. Yusei Kikuchi has pitched extremely well, and deservedly earned the team’s only spot on the American League All-Star roster, but behind him, the rotation has been rather thin. Gilbert’s success at the highest level stabilized that group at a critical point as they began making their way up the standings. With just over 40 innings pitched under his belt, we now have an adequate amount of data to start comparing his minor-league scouting report to his major league results. Read the rest of this entry »
We’ve now reached the true halfway point of the season and the best teams in both leagues have continued to pull away from the pack. It’s looking like the Wild Card teams in both leagues will need to win around 95 games to ensure their playoff spot. That’s a lot of ground to make up for the squads that are well off that pace and the group of teams on the bubble has started to shrink as teams start to drop out of contention.
A quick refresher: my approach takes the three most important components of a team — their offense (wRC+), and their starting rotation and bullpen (50%/50% FIP- and RA9-) — and combines them to create an overall team quality metric. I add in a factor for “luck” — adjusting based on a team’s expected win-loss record — to produce a power ranking.
The top tier grew after the Padres, Rays, and Astros had really strong weeks. The six teams that make up this tier each have a run differential of at least +77 and hold a commanding grip on a playoff spot.
After holding the best record in baseball for the last few weeks, the Giants finally moved into the top spot in these rankings. They swept the Angels in a two-game series early last week and won their series against their Bay Area rivals over the weekend. They’ve won 10 of their last 12 games and have scored 6.9 runs per game during this hot stretch. With a Rays-esque roster that’s incredibly flexible and a fantastic rotation led by Kevin Gausman and Anthony DeSclafani, they’ve proven their success this year is no fluke. Read the rest of this entry »
With nearly half the season behind them, the Giants have shown that their early success was no fluke; they possess the best record in baseball and the best run differential in the National League. Much of their success can be attributed to their starting rotation, which ranks fifth best in the majors in park- and league-adjusted FIP and ERA. Those are some incredible results considering most of that rotation was built with bounce-back candidates.
Kevin Gausman is the headliner on San Francisco’s staff, and if it weren’t for Jacob deGrom’s historic season, he’d be the front-runner for the NL Cy Young award. But his success was pretty easy to predict after his 2020 campaign. The real surprise this year has been Anthony DeSclafani.
DeSclafani has shown plenty of promise in years past. During his first three years in the major leagues, he compiled 5.3 WAR and a 3.99 ERA backed by a 3.78 FIP. But the strong start to his career was cut short by an oblique injury that cost him nearly half of the 2016 season, then a strained UCL kept him off the field for all of ‘17. He managed to avoid Tommy John surgery, but struggled upon returning from his elbow injury the following year. Things really fell apart in 2020. He started the season on the IL with a strained back muscle, was eventually demoted to the bullpen by the end of September, and was left off the Reds’ playoff roster for their first-round matchup against the Braves, ending the year with a 7.22 ERA and 6.10 FIP.
Short on suitors, DeSclafani signed a one-year, $6 million contract with the Giants in the offseason — one that has paid off handsomely for both player and team. He’s posted career-bests in ERA and FIP and is on pace to accumulate nearly 4 WAR this year, and outside of a 10-run disaster against the Dodgers on May 23, he hasn’t allowed more than three runs in any of his starts and just six total since then.
The changes DeSclafani has made to his repertoire and approach are many, so let’s start simple: his pitch mix.
His slider has always been his best weapon, and he’s throwing it more than a third of the time in 2021 — the second highest rate for that pitch in his career. He’s also upped the usage of his changeup this year, with both increases coming at the expense of his four-seam fastball.
Since returning from his elbow surgery in 2018, his slider has been a work-in-progress; the speed and the shape have deviated wildly over the last four years.
The only thing that’s stayed consistent through the seasons is the horizontal movement. In 2019, it looks like DeSclafani attempted to add velocity to the slider at the cost of some vertical movement. Last season, that velocity dropped back down to its previous level, but he was able to add more drop. This year, he’s found a healthy middle-ground; the velocity is higher than it was in 2018 and ‘20, and the vertical movement is right around where it was four years ago.
So how have these changes affected the slider’s results?
Despite all these evolutions, the slider has remained very effective. In 2019, when he added all that velocity, it actually saw its lowest whiff rate of the last few years. The next year, more vertical movement resulted in the lowest groundball rate out of the last four seasons. In 2021’s happy medium, his whiff rate has dipped a bit, but he’s inducing a lot more contact on the ground to offset the loss of those swings and misses.
DeSclafani’s changeup has also undergone some significant changes this year. That was a pitch he was committed to working on this spring, and that tinkering has had some interesting effects. He’s added more than an inch of arm side run to the pitch, but batters aren’t really swinging and missing against it, with a mere 9.2% whiff rate (surprisingly not a career low). Instead, he’s using the pitch to generate tons of weak contact. He throws his changeup almost exclusively to left-handed batters, and when hitters put it in play, they’re running a .299 xwOBA.
DeSclafani locates his changeup in the zone around 45% of the time, which matches what he was doing in 2018 and ‘19. But last year, that zone rate was just 28.6%, while its whiff rate was the highest it’s been over the last four seasons. That might just be a coincidence; he threw just 42 changeups last year after all, and the zone rate on all of his pitches was down. That loss of command was a big reason why his walk rate ballooned to 10.1%. This season, he’s gotten back to locating in the zone more often, and his walk rate has fallen back down to his career norms.
The best thing about all those additional strikes is that DeSclafani’s contact rate has continued its downward trend. It’s still a touch above average, which puts a cap on his strikeout ceiling, but he’s earning more called strikes and avoiding free passes again, and when batters do make contact, they’re not doing much damage. His groundball rate is the highest it’s ever been, and his massive home field advantage has helped him push his home run rate to well below league average.
With a long injury history to worry about and just one season with more than 180 innings under his belt, DeSclafani’s stamina could become an issue for the Giants down the road. For now, though, he’s settled in as the second-best starter in a very good rotation in San Francisco and has found the best version of himself after all that tinkering.