Taylor Guerrieri is a Texas Ranger now, having signed a free-agent contract with the A.L. West club on Tuesday. His MLB experience is scant. Originally in the Tampa Bay organization — the Rays drafted him 24th overall in 2011 — he debuted with the Toronto Blue Jays last September and tossed nine-and-two-thirds innings over nine relief appearances.
Guerrieri features a high-spin-rate curveball, but what he throws most often is a sinker. Per StatCast, the 26-year-old right-hander relied on the pitch 47.1% of the time during his month-long cup of coffee. I asked him about it in the waning weeks of his maiden campaign.
“The main thing with the two-seam is to stay on top of it and drive it downhill,” Guerrieri told me. “That way you get the depth you’re looking for. Horizontal movement isn’t a very good play. Guys can see side to side. They struggle with up and down, so the more depth, the better.”
Natch. The goal for a sinker is to make it sink, and what Guerrieri explained is part of Pitching 101. As for grips… well, those are more nuanced. In Guerrieri’s case, they can also be a bit of a moving target.
“I used to throw it in between the railroad tracks, as we say,” said the yet-to-fully-find-his-stride hurler. “Now I kind of cross a little bit, to try to get more on that one seam. I’ve modified with it a little bit. Whatever is working, you’re kind of forced to play your hand with.”
Dealing with inconsistency is something he’s gotten used to. Ditto adversity. Guerrieri had Tommy John surgery in 2013, and that was followed by a 50-game suspension for running afoul of minor league baseball’s drug policy. A few years later his elbow flared up again. There was no need to go under the knife this time, but his 2017 season was nonetheless toast after just two Triple-A starts.
That winter, the Rays cut bait with the former first-rounder. Placed on waivers, Guerrieri was claimed by the Blue Jays, who ultimately determined that his future would be in the bullpen. All but seven of Guerrieri’s 23 appearances with the Triple-A Buffalo Bisons (Yes, the plural of bison is singular; life is full of mysteries.) came as a reliever. His smattering of September outings did, as well.
Which brings us back to the relationship Guerrieri’s fingers have with his low-90s sinker. Much like an option on your Facebook profile, it’s complicated.
“I didn’t like the action I was seeing,” Guerrieri explained. “It was straight, maybe running a little bit, so I was like, ‘You know what? I’m going switch it up.’ I moved my fingers, and automatically the bottom kind of started falling out. And then I lost it, about two weeks later. Luckily, I ended up finding it again. I reintroduce it to myself and hopefully it’s what I’ll be sticking with, versus between the railroads.”
I asked him how the effectiveness of a particular grip — much like an on-and-off romance — can come and go like that.
“It’s baseball,” the righty responded. “It’s a long season, and a lot goes into pitching. Sometimes it’s mechanical. Sometimes you’re not releasing it where you should be, or pulling down on it like you should be. But if you’re comfortable with the grip — if your mind is wrapped around it — that’s going to be the X factor.”
Guerrieri will be heading to spring training looking to win a job on a pitching staff that can use as many X factors as it can get. The Rangers allowed 848 runs last year — tied with the White Sox for second most in baseball, behind only the woebegone Orioles — and finished with a record of 67-95.
Jose Iglesias and Omar Vizquel top B-Ref’s list of shortstops with the highest-ever fielding percentages at that position. Citing that as a preface, I asked Detroit Tigers manager Ron Gardenhire where Iglesias — a player known for his flashiness and range — ranks among the best defensive shortstops he’s seen. Unfortunately, I didn’t get the answer I was looking for. Mishearing my question (it’s possible that I misspoke) Gardenhire addressed Vizquel instead. The exchange having taken place during a Winter Meetings media session, I chose to let things be.
“He ranks as good as I’ve seen defensively,” Gardenhire said of Vizquel. “Going back on fly balls; all the little things. Catching a ball. He was a wizard with a glove. One of the best. Softest glove I’ve ever seen in my life. He’s got my vote, a thousand times over.”
As for Iglesias, his .985 fielding percentage certainly stands out. While the stat itself is of limited importance — not to mention imperfect, given the whims of official scorers — it is nonetheless notable in this particular case. Along with being a human highlight reel, Iglesias has played error-free defense at a rate unequaled by any shortstop in history. Think about that for a minute. Oh, and he’s currently a free agent.
RANDOM HITTER-PITCHER MATCHUPS
Talking to Blake Swihart recently, I learned that the 26-year-old switch-hitter is tweaking his right-handed swing this offseason. Feeling that he’d gotten out of sync from that side due to limited opportunities, he’s raised his hands “an inch, maybe two inches” in an attempt to improve his rhythm as he loads. It’s not a both-sided change. His timing mechanism from the left side is remaining the same.
The Red Sox catcher is making the change under the watchful eye of Jason Columbus, who also works with fellow New Mexico product Alex Bregman. But while Swihart counts the young Houston Astros star among his friends, he doesn’t emulate him at the plate.
“(Bregman) hits completely different than I do,” explained Swihart. “He doesn’t have any movement — he doesn’t have rhythm — he just kind of loads his hands and goes. One reason we have great conversations with our hitting guy is that he knows how to communicate with both us.”
Asked about his current hitting coach in Boston, Swihart said that Tim Hyers is likewise a good communicator. He’s also a familiar voice, having been the Red Sox minor league hitting coordinator from 2013-2015 when the youngster was emerging as the team’s top prospect. Looking back, those were halcyon days. Burdened by injuries and the aforementioned lack of opportunities, Swihart has indeed gathered some rust. Where he scrapes it off is yet to be determined. Out of options and heading into the coming campaign as one of three catchers competing for two spots on the Boston roster, he’s a strong candidate to be traded.
MEDIA/BROADCASTING NEWS BITS
Tommy Thrall, the voice of the Southern League’s Pensacola Blue Wahoos since 2012, will be part of the Cincinnati Reds broadcast team this coming season. Thrall is a 2006 graduate of Northwest Missouri State University.
Portland, Maine native Jerry Crasnick — one of the game’s most-highly-respected sportswriters — is joining the Major League Baseball Players Association as a senior advisor for player, agent, and media relations.
Deesha Thosar, who has written for MLB.com, will be joining The New York Daily News as a Mets beat writer. Thosar is a 2016 graduate of Penn State University.
Richard Griffin, a longtime columnist for The Toronto Star, has reportedly been named as the Blue Jays’ new director of baseball media. Griffin served in that role for the Montreal Expos from 1978-1985.
Can Twins fans expect to see the team’s best lineup on the field the vast majority of the time in 2019, or will first-year manager Rocco Baldelli be giving his players regular time off to keep them as fresh as possible? I asked that question to Minnesota’s Executive Vice President during December’s Winter Meetings.
“I would say both,” Derek Falvey answered. “I mean, you have to do both. Right? You want to put the best lineup out there, and hopefully your bench is filled with players who can step up and make the most of their opportunities. Not many guys are going to be targeting 160 or 162 games. We’ve got to figure out when we give rest days, but by and large, we’re going to be putting our best group out there.”
Falvey elaborated, saying that’s what done on a day-to-day recovery standpoint is critical. Batting practice is a good example. Routines are important, but they don’t have to be iron-clad.
“The structure will be that there are a lot of optional days,” explained the 35-year-old exec. “We would still take BP, but if a guy comes in and says, ‘Hey, this is a good day for me to take a day down,’ we’ll be open to that. It’s a partnership with the players on that front.”
FRONT OFFICE, COACHING, AND MISCELLANEOUS NEWS ITEMS
The Cleveland Indians have promoted Dan Budreika to Coordinator of Professional Scouting. A contributor to Baseball America and here at FanGraphs prior to being hired by the Marlins as a video assistant in 2013, Budreika has been scouting with the Indians since December 2016.
Bradley Ankrom, who wrote for Baseball Prospectus in 2011 and 2012, has been hired by the Texas Rangers as their Senior Developer of Baseball Systems. Ankrom worked for the Tampa Bay Rays from 2015-2017.
Ozney Guillen, the 27-year-old son of former White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen, is the new manager for Houston’s short-season affiliate, the Tri-City ValleyCats. Guillen played in the independent Can-Am and Atlantic leagues last season.
Tom Hausman, who pitched for three teams from 1975-1983, died earlier this month at age 65. He debuted with the Milwaukee Brewers, but spent the bulk of his career with the New York Mets, with whom he made 125 of his 160 career appearances.
Several speakers have been announced for the eighth-annual SABR Analytics Conference, which will be held in Phoenix from March 8-10. On the docket thus far are John Dewan, Mike Ferrin, Vince Gennaro, Rob Neyer, Carlos Pena, and Eno Sarris. More speakers will be announced soon.
Not necessarily news, but according to Red Sox chairman Tom Werner — this via Peter Abraham of The Boston Globe — player compensation in MLB is 54 percent of revenues, which is higher than the NBA, NHL, and NFL. Also notable in the article is that players with six or more years of service time account for 76 percent of payrolls.
Left on the cutting room floor from last Sunday’s look at fast-rising Blue Jays prospect Chavez Young was his refreshing outlook on the game of baseball. The 21-year-old native of the Bahamas shared the following when I concluded our interview by asking if he had any final thoughts.
“Every time I step on the field I’m a kid,” Young told me. “I’m a kid to the game. It’s my dream to play in the big leagues, and I’m going to keep pushing to get there, but I’m still going to have fun. And whenever I see a young fan, I want to make their day. I was in those same shoes once. I was always, ‘Hey, I want to play on a big stage, too.’ Now that I’m here, I’m not going to be ‘big league’ and showboat anybody. I’m going to be a kid, because I’m playing the game I love.”
There was a lot to love about the switch-hitting outfielder’s game last year. He had 50 extra-base hits, 44 steals, and an .808 OPS with the Midwest League’s Lansing Lugnuts.
LINKS YOU’LL LIKE
At CBS Sports, R.J. Anderson wrote about how Kyler Murray has become the most fascinating story in sports.
At The Japan Times, Jason Coskrey wrote about how Yokohama BayStars outfielder Yoshitomo Tsutsugo wants to take his game to MLB — but first he wants to change the youth baseball culture in his homeland.
Over at The Athletic, Sahadev Sharma wrote about how the Chicago Cubs — minor-league pitching coordinator Brendan Sagara playing a key role — are continuing to push the envelope with technology.
RANDOM FACTS AND STATS
On this date in 1982, the Philadelphia Phillies acquired Ivan DeJesus from the Chicago Cubs in exchange for Larry Bowa and a 22-year-old infield prospect named Ryne Sandberg. DeJesus was worth 1.1 WAR over the remainder of his career. Bowa went on to be worth -0.1 WAR. Sandberg went on to be worth 60.9 WAR.
Harold Baines batted .290 at home and .289 on the road. He batted .290 in the first half of the season, and .289 in the second half of the season.
Over his first 10 seasons, Wade Boggs had 1,965 hits, 400 doubles, a .345 batting average, a .435 OBP, 930 walks, and 439 strikeouts.
From 1945-1951, Eddie Stanky had a .420 OBP and 35.6 WAR. He was traded twice within that six-year stretch.
Prior to his 31st birthday, Dazzy Vance had a career record of 0-4 with a 4.91 ERA. In the nine-year stretch spanning his age 31-39 seasons, Vance went 164-105 and led the NL in ERA in three times. He led in FIP six times, and in strikeouts seven times.
David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.