Author Archive

Austin Meadows Is Figuring Things Out Again

I guess if you’re a hitter, there are some pitchers you just see well. Maybe you aren’t fooled by their signature breaking ball or their arm slot is one you happen to be comfortable with. In the case of Austin Meadows, maybe he was able to homer twice in as many at-bats against Angels reliever Ben Rowen on Tuesday because he just likes facing submarine-tossing right handers. Then again, maybe it’s just because Rowen threw him two pitches that looked like this:

A couple of pitches like those can turn a hitter’s night around quickly; for Meadows, it turned an 0-for-3 evening entering the seventh inning into his best game of the year. Even before those two at-bats, though, he had already been having a sneaky-good season. His .208/.323/.462 batting line through 127 plate appearances amounts to a 127 wRC+; he has seven home runs. If you look at his Statcast metrics, he’s been even better. Meadows is in the 86th percentile in xwOBA, despite clocking in at just the 69th percentile in wOBA.

Considering the way Meadows performed last year, seeing those numbers has to be a huge relief for Tampa Bay. After breaking out in his first full season with the Rays to the tune of a 143 wRC+ and 4.1 WAR in 2019, Meadows was below replacement level last year, hitting just .205/.296/.371 with four homers, for a wRC+ of 87 in 152 plate appearances. And while there were inherent sample size issues for everyone in 2020, nothing really suggested he was simply getting unlucky. His strikeout rate climbed more than 10 points over the previous season, his ISO dropped by more than 100 points, and he plummeted into single-digit percentile rankings in xwOBA, xBA and xSLG. There were several possible explanations for his struggles — lingering effects from his bout with COVID-19, an oblique injury that ended his season prematurely, the general upheaval to daily routines caused by the pandemic — but there was still uncertainty surrounding what he might contribute in 2021. Read the rest of this entry »

The Giants’ Rotation Is One of Baseball’s Unlikeliest Success Stories

Like the rest of us, Aaron Sanchez’s 2020 caught him by surprise. A couple of weeks after a September 2019 anterior capsule surgery on his right shoulder — no easy thing to return from as a pitcher — he was optimistic when speaking with reporters, telling them, “I will pitch next year.” But he was non-tendered by the Houston Astros, and as the winter months came and went, he remained unsigned. Then the pandemic wiped out nearly four months of the 2020 season, and by the time baseball returned, teams weren’t in the mood to pay up for the remaining free agents. It wasn’t until February 21 of this year, 552 days after his most recent pitching appearance, that a team finally signed Sanchez to its big league roster.

That team was the San Francisco Giants, for whom Sanchez made his fifth start on Tuesday and threw 4.2 innings of two-run, one-hit baseball that included five walks and six strikeouts. The lack of certainty surrounding both his health and effectiveness entering the 2021 season seemed destined to make Sanchez an odd fit for the team that took a shot on him, but in San Francisco, his kind is actually right at home. The Giants’ rotation is filled with pitchers who have some kind of major injury in their recent history. In many cases, the return from those injuries hasn’t been graceful; some of those pitchers have found themselves moving to the bullpen in an effort to reclaim some of their value. Many were free agents last winter, with no guarantee they’d be given a starter’s job with their next team. Somehow, the Giants built a rotation out of these guys. And a month into the season, that rotation might be the best in baseball. Read the rest of this entry »

Blistering Bats, Bullpen Have Boston Back in the Hunt

Lucas Giolito is a terrifying pitcher. His fastball looks like it was fired out of a gun, and it isn’t even his best pitch; his changeup is one of the best in the sport, and his slider induced whiffs on over half the swings hitters took against it last year. He had a 2.55 ERA in his first three starts of this season, and that undersold how good he’d been: He was boasting the majors’ ninth-best FIP, sixth-best xFIP, and eighth-highest strikeout percentage. He’s as likely to throw a no-hitter on any given day as any other pitcher in baseball. And on Monday, the Red Sox mindlessly swatted him away like a fly buzzing around their ear.

Giolito retired just three of the 13 hitters he faced that morning in Boston, allowing eight runs on eight hits, two walks and two homers. He induced a whiff on just five of 31 swings, did not strike out anyone, and was knocked out in the second inning of a game the Red Sox went on to win, 11–4.

If you’re looking at this game in a vacuum, Giolito just had a very bad day. His fastball was poker-straight, and he couldn’t persuade his changeup to dip below the hitters’ thighs. The result was a complete inability to put guys away: Each of the first four batters he faced picked up a hit in two-strike counts. But the Red Sox have been turning in offensive monsoons like this with regularity this year. After getting swept by the Orioles in three games to start the season, they rattled off nine straight victories and entered Tuesday’s off-day winners of 12 of their last 15 games. In that time, they have scored double-digit runs in a game three times and averaged over six runs per contest. Overall, their 127 wRC+ this season is the best in baseball, and their 12–6 record is tops in the American League.

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For Two AL East Pitchers, Results Aren’t Important Yet

It has to be a wildly difficult thing, standing on a pitching rubber for the first time after a long absence caused by injury. Really, I’d submit that it is scary to do things in general. But I imagine it would be a special kind of burden to confront your fears on the mound, one of the loneliest places on earth. Sure, the defense is behind you, and the catcher does his best to guide you through; you have teammates and coaches cheering you on from the dugout. But the time has past for any of them to help you align your mechanics, or throw the ball as hard as you once did. You’re on your own, asking your body to do something it wasn’t built for and willing it not to fail you like it did last time.

The first time Jameson Taillon went through this process, he surely hoped he wouldn’t need to do it again. It was April 13, 2016, 955 days removed from the most recent game in which he appeared. Taillon, the second overall pick of the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2010, was coming off a 2013 season in which he tossed 165.2 innings between Double- and Triple-A, and looked sharp enough that a big league call-up early the next season looked like a sure thing. But plans changed when it was announced he would need Tommy John surgery in April 2014, then were disturbed even further when a sports hernia kept him off the mound in 2015 as well. When he returned to a Triple-A mound for Indianapolis in 2016, he was brilliant, holding a 2.04 ERA across 10 starts before finally earning his belated major league debut.

His latest return to the mound after a years-long absence hasn’t been quite as seamless. Now with the Yankees and looking to rebound from another UCL surgery and another 707 days away from pitching in games, he’s made two starts and allowed seven runs in 8.1 innings. He’s walked one, struck out 10, and surrendered three homers. The numbers from someone’s first two games after that long of a break are hardly worth putting under a magnifying glass, though. Right now, it feels more pertinent to celebrate the fact that he’s pitching again at all, and examine the ways in which he’s changed his process to not only try to stay healthy in the future, but also unlock greater success with his new club. Read the rest of this entry »

The A’s Finally Won, But They’re Already In A Deep Hole

It took until the late innings of their seventh game of the season, but the 2021 A’s have finally showed they have some fight in them. After losing the first six games of the season by a combined score of 50–13, Oakland was en route to loss No. 7 in a listless Wednesday matinee against the Dodgers, entering the bottom of the seventh with just a single hit and trailing 3–1. Then Matt Chapman halved the deficit with his first homer of the season and, two innings later, opened the ninth with a single to center. A walk, bunt and sacrifice fly scored him to tie the game, and a walk-off single by Mitch Moreland ended things in the 10th, at long last etching a “1” into the Athletics’ win column.

Oakland was the last team in baseball to secure its first win of the season, and by facing Houston and Los Angeles right out of the gate, those wins were always going to be hard to get. But the A’s aren’t a bottom feeder; they were division champs last year and 97-game winners in each of the two previous seasons. But the first week of the season shows how much weaker this year’s edition may be, and that can be traced directly to the effort, or lack thereof, that went into building this roster.

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The Brewers Have Officially Moved on From Orlando Arcia

Spiritually, the Orlando Arcia era in Milwaukee came to an end when the team acquired Luis Urías from San Diego in a four-player swap back in November 2019. Urías, then 22, had been one of the top prospects in the Padres’ farm system before his rookie eligibility expired the season prior and was expected to take over as the Brewers’ starting shortstop. Such a move would likely mean benching Arcia, a former top prospect himself who had put up rather anemic numbers in his first four big league seasons. Alas, Milwaukee’s starting infield hit a number of road blocks in the year that followed that trade, and when all was said and done, Arcia appeared in all but one of the team’s games last year, as well as each of the first four in 2021.

Now, it would appear that era has formally come to a close once and for all. On Tuesday, the Brewers traded Arcia to the Braves, who immediately optioned him to the team’s alternate training site as the infielder undergoes necessary COVID protocols. Two pitchers, Chad Sobotka and Patrick Weigel, were sent to Milwaukee to complete the deal.

When word first got out that the Brewers were discussing a deal involving Arcia, there was naturally speculation that the team on the other end might be San Diego. After all, just night before, the Padres had watched in horror as franchise shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr. crumpled to the ground after injuring his left shoulder following through on a swing, and as of Tuesday morning remained unaware of how much time he was likely to miss. San Diego has ready replacements for Tatis in-house, but for a team as committed to accumulating depth as the Padres are, the timing of the news seemed all too convenient. Read the rest of this entry »

Twins Offer Randy Dobnak Some Long-Sought Certainty

Alderson Broaddus University carries an enrollment of fewer than 1,000 undergraduate students and sits in a town — Philippi, West Virginia — with a population just under 3,000 people. Its baseball team plays in the NCAA’s Division II and has produced just two players who were drafted by MLB teams, neither of whom ever actually played in the big leagues. In fact, Alderson Broaddus had never claimed a single major leaguer before Randy Dobnak was called up by the Twins in 2019. Two years before that, he had been playing in a four-team independent league in Michigan, assuming he’d give up baseball for good at the end of the season. After he got to the minors, he drove for rideshare services to make extra money. Even after his first full season in the Twins’ rotation, the team went out and signed two starting pitchers and bumped him to the bullpen. Dobnak’s baseball career has been non-stop uncertainty.

On Sunday, that finally came to an end, as the 26-year-old righty signed a five-year contract extension worth $9.25 million guaranteed and with a potential value of $29.75 million over eight years, per ESPN’s Jeff Passan. The deal offers Minnesota a good deal of flexibility and grants the pitcher a nice guarantee a couple of years before arbitration would have.

USA Today’s Bob Nightengale provided more details Monday morning.

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Rick Porcello Should Have A Job By Now

Rick Porcello’s time with the Mets in 2020 began by allowing seven runs in two innings to the Braves. A normal season would have offered him many more starts to help his numbers recover from that performance, but as it was, he took to the mound just 11 more times. So despite giving up two runs or fewer in five of his remaining appearances, his ERA for the season landed at an unsightly 5.64 — the second straight year in which it finished above 5.50.

With that in mind, it isn’t a huge surprise that Porcello, 32, is still unemployed one week before the regular season begins. Throughout his 12-year career, his value rests more on the quantity of his innings than the quality — over 2,000 in total now, and a pre-2020 average of 185 a year. It makes sense that teams would want to be cautious if his skills seem to be deteriorating. I’m not convinced that’s the case. The Porcello of last season bore a lot of resemblance to the Porcello of years before, including the one when he won a Cy Young award. He’s still deserving of a big league job. Let’s find him one.

It’s hard to assess how good or bad Porcello actually was last year. His ERA was the worst of his career, but his 3.33 FIP was his best. At 1.7 WAR, he was just inside of our top 25 pitchers in baseball, tied with Sonny Gray. Mets fans likely thought of him as a disaster, but he actually would have been the most valuable pitcher on 14 different teams.

Rick Porcello vs. Your Team’s Best Guy, 2020
Name Team IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 FIP WAR
Rick Porcello NYM 59.0 8.24 2.29 0.76 3.33 1.7
Zac Gallen ARI 72.0 10.25 3.13 1.13 3.66 1.5
Max Fried ATL 56.0 8.04 3.05 0.32 3.10 1.5
Keegan Akin BAL 25.2 12.27 3.51 1.05 3.27 0.8
Nathan Eovaldi BOS 48.1 9.68 1.30 1.49 3.87 0.9
Spencer Turnbull DET 56.2 8.10 4.61 0.32 3.49 1.4
Brad Keller KCR 54.2 5.76 2.80 0.33 3.43 1.3
Pablo López MIA 57.1 9.26 2.83 0.63 3.09 1.6
Gerrit Cole NYY 73.0 11.59 2.10 1.73 3.89 1.5
Liam Hendriks OAK 25.1 13.14 1.07 0.36 1.14 1.4
Joe Musgrove PIT 39.2 12.48 3.63 1.13 3.42 1.0
Kevin Gausman SFG 59.2 11.92 2.41 1.21 3.09 1.6
Adam Wainwright STL 65.2 7.40 2.06 1.23 4.11 1.1
Tyler Glasnow TBR 57.1 14.28 3.45 1.73 3.66 1.2
Lance Lynn TEX 84.0 9.54 2.68 1.39 4.19 1.3

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The Other Nationals Star In Need of an Extension

Last week, Jay Jaffe wrote about the rumors that the Nationals were considering a contract extension for wünderkind Juan Soto, the team’s first step toward keeping him in town for the majority of his career. Though just 22 years old and four years away from free agency, Soto receiving an extension in the $400 million range would hardly be premature. Projection systems — which by their nature are supposed to be dispassionate and shoot for the middle — see him as having a no-doubt Hall of Fame career.

Yet if you’re a Nationals fan, you have cause to be suspicious that an extension gets done. You’ve seen your super-talented homegrown players leave unceremoniously in free agency as soon as they could, and while Soto has a more favorable outlook than Bryce Harper or Anthony Rendon did, you don’t want to see these negotiations drag out any longer than they have to.

It would be enough if Washington had just one young player’s future to stew upon this spring, but in fact, there are two. As Soto has been fielding questions about a possible extension in spring training, so too has shortstop Trea Turner, who at 27 is much closer to free agency; he’s set to hit the market after the 2022 season. That makes any extension decision that much more urgent. Turner knows it, and he’s been open about wanting to get an agreement done. From the Washington Post’s Barry Svrluga:

“I would love to play here my entire career,” Turner said Tuesday. “I’ve said it in the past. I’ve always liked it here, and don’t think the grass is greener on the other side. … I love it here. I love the atmosphere and the ballclub that [General Manager Mike] Rizzo and the coaching staff has put together every single year. We’ll see. I think those talks have happened in the past, and hopefully they’ll happen in the future.”

The Nationals’ position is a tricky one. Turner’s free agency would come two years before Soto’s, but the latter’s contract may still be the most important one, as it will be the larger of the two and must fit within Washington’s payroll. But retaining Turner in 2023 and beyond won’t come cheap. One of the top prospects in baseball when he debuted in 2015, he has slowly but surely started living up to that billing, turning into one of the league’s best shortstops over the last three seasons.

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Maikel Franco and Orioles Finally Find Each Other

It’s the third week of spring training games, and the Orioles have added a new starting third baseman who’s been available since December: Maikel Franco, seven-year big league veteran with Philadelphia and Kansas City. Baltimore’s roster construction has hardly changed in that time, and I doubt Franco and his career 1.03 WAR/600 needed to be humbled out of demanding a hefty multi-year contract. Both parties have known their situations for months, but are only just now finding each other. This is an odd transaction. Let’s try to unpack it.

It isn’t as though the deal doesn’t make sense. Baltimore’s incumbent at the hot corner is Rio Ruiz, who has gotten a majority of the team’s starts at third base since the O’s claimed him off waivers before the 2019 season and who’s showed some modest fence-clearing ability, hitting 21 homers in 617 plate appearances. But his overall offensive profile is mediocre: His 90 wRC+ in 2020 stands as his career best. At 26, he’s exhausted much of the faith people had in him as a prospect, and his Statcast data doesn’t suggest there’s anything exciting hidden under the surface numbers. Ruiz’s value might top out at less than one WAR, and he entered camp running virtually unopposed for the starting job.

Enter Franco, who signed a change-of-scenery deal with the Royals in 2020 after a disappointing tenure in Philadelphia and turned in his best season in years, hitting .278/.321/.457 with eight homers, a 106 wRC+ and 1.3 WAR. That value placed him ninth among all third basemen, just ahead of peers like Eugenio Suárez and Brian Anderson. The bump in Franco’s production didn’t come from some random explosion in power numbers or a big jump in walk rate, though. He just finally got a normal distribution of balls in play to land for hits.

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