Archive for the ‘Denver Rockies’ category

What Will Cody Bellinger End Up Batting in 2019?

May 18, 2019

After today’s game in Cincinnati, Cody Bellinger is batting a lusty .404 46 games into the 2019 Dodgers’ season.  What might he end up hitting when the year is out?

I’ll go out on a limb and say that Bellinger won’t hit .380 this season, let alone .400.  The last player to hit .380 in a season was Tony Gwynn in 1994 when Gwynn batted .394, the closest any player has come to .400 since Ted Williams last did it in 1941.  Since 1941, only three other players have batted .380 in a season: Ted Williams batted .388 in 1957, Rod Carew batted .388 in 1977 and George Brett batted .390 in 1980.

By my calculation, Bellinger would have to bat .372 for the rest of the season (assuming that Bellinger stays healthy) in order to hit .380 for the season.  Seems unlikely.

The last player to bat .370 or better in a season was Ichiro when he hit .372 in 2004.  While a great season and a great hitter, Barry Bonds had hit .370 in 2002 and both Nomar Garciaparra and Todd Helton had batted .372 in 2000.

To hit .370 for the season, Bellinger would need to hit about .356 the rest of the way.  Certainly doable, but I’d think certainly less likely than not.

The last player to bat .360 or better in a season was Joe Mauer when he batted .365 in 2009.  As with Ichiro’s 2004, Mauer’s 2009 was not wildly better than other batting leaders of the previous few seasons:  Chipper Jones had batted .364 in 2008, and Magglio Ordonez had batted .363 in 2007.

To bat .360 on the season, Bellinger would need to hit .344 the rest of the way.  That certainly seems doable, given Bellinger’s talent level and the facts that he is a left-handed hitter who runs extremely well.

The last player to bat .350 in a season was Josh Hamilton, who batted .359 in 2010.  To hit .350 for the season, Bellinger would only need to hit .328 the rest of the way.  I’d be willing to bet even money on Bellinger hitting at least .350 this season if he can stay healthy.

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Hot Pitchers

May 4, 2019

23 year old Zac Gallen is ready for his major league promotion.  He’s leading the AAA Pacific Coast League with an 0.81 ERA, his 38Ks is tied for 1st, and the Marlins suck.  Gallen could pitch in relief to start with or one of the Marlins’ currently not very effective young starters could be moved to the bullpen to make way for Gallen.

It’s worth noting, though, that New Orleans with its below sea level air appears to be one of the PCL’s best pitchers’ parks — three of the circuit’s top five ERA leaders play for the Baby Cakes.

Rico Garcia (1.82 ERA, 35 Ks in 24.2 IP) deserves a promotion to AAA.  Devin Smeltzer has already received a promotion to AAA Rochester after recording an 0.60 ERA and 33 Ks in 30 IP at AA Pensacola.

I’m going to go out on a limb and say that top two-way prospect Brendan McKay is going to be mainly a pitcher at the major league level.  In 14 AA games, he has a .481 OPS as a hitter, but on the mound he currently has a 2.41 ERA with 33 Ks in 18.2 IP.  If he ever catches up with the bat, he’ll already be a major league starter that no one’s going to want to f@#$ around with.

Great namers MacKenzie Gore and Ljay Newsom are dominating the Class A+ California League.  Their respective 1.32 and 1.47 ERAs are the only ones under 2.00.  Gore has stuck out 38 batters in 26.1 IP, and Newsom has struck out 54 batters in 36.2 IP.  Each has allowed exactly four walks so far.  Gore is the better prospect, because at age 20, he’s two years younger.

22 year old Dominican Cristian Javier is impressing in the Class A+ Carolina League with an 0.73 ERA and 32 Ks in 24.2 IP.

Former No. 1 overall draft pick and recent no-hit throwing Case Mize is not the best pitcher in the pitcher-friendly Class A+ Florida State League.  While Mize has recorded an 0.35 ERA with 25 Ks in 26 IP, Bailey Ober has a perfect 0 ERA (and run average) with 26 Ks in 24 IP.  Meanwhile Damon Jones has an 0.77 ERA with 36 Ks in 23.1 IP.

AAA Defense

April 27, 2019

I was wondering yesterday what the level of defense is like in AAA ball compared to the Show.  In 2018, major league teams combined for a .984 fielding percentage.  In the International League last year, the league fielding percentage was .982 and in the Pacific Coast League .981.  So MLB is clearly just a little bit better, to the tune of two or three fewer errors put 1,000 chances by this relatively objective metric.

One thing I noticed about looking at AAA fielding statistics from last year was the degree to which AAA players still play multiple positions each year.  By my count only 12 players out of 30 AAA teams managed to play even 100 games (out of a 140 game schedule) at the same position in 2018.

Not one outfielder managed to play 100 games at any of the three outfield positions.  Just about every AAA outfielder splits time between the corners or all three outfield positions.  Obviously, since it’s a developmental league, teams want as many of their players to be able to play multiple positions in a pinch if they are called up to the majors.

I was also wondering about the degree to which NPB and KBO teams are valuing defense among their foreign position players.  Both leagues still seem to prefer the best hitters they can find.  Unfortunately, baseball reference doesn’t provide fielding stats for NPB and the KBO, so there’s no way for me to compare defensive numbers between the three levels of play.

However, if some foreign players are good enough to star as hitters and pitchers, there must be some that could star in Asia based on their defense.  Particularly in this age of defensive metrics, there have to be some.  The fact that AAA players bounce around the diamond defensively must make it more difficult to project defense as it is offense.

One position I thought might be rich for defensive defensive value to Asian teams is 3B.  Most above major league average defensive shortstops, 2Bmen and CFs, even if they are not major league hitters, have a successful major league career path as bench infielders.  3B, however, is a position that is both difficult to play defensively, but has to be a major league hitter to keep a major league job.  Good glove, not quite major league hitting 3Bmen would seem to be especially good candidates for Asian major league success.

To my surprise, I found about 15 AAA 3Bman in 2018 who looked like they could play the hot corner at a major league level based on the raw numbers (fielding percentage; double plays and chances per 9/IP) who weren’t so young or good with the bat to be sure-fire prospects, but hit well enough in 2018 at the AAA level.

One I particularly like for Asian baseball next off-season is Albuquerque Isotope Josh Fuentes.  He batted .329 with an .871 OPS last year, and has a higher OPS (.924) so far this year.  On defense, Fuentes turned 25 DPs while making only 10 errors in 110 games and making 2.70 plays per 9/IP, so he’s likely a plus-major league defensive 3Bman.

However, Fuentes is 26 this year, and he is stuck behind Nolan Arenado in Denver, so unless he gets traded or Arenado gets hurt, Fuentes won’t much of a chance at the major league level this year.  Fuentes has all of 18 major league plate appearances to date, but that would be enough to entice an NPB or KBO team if Fuentes can keep his OPS this year at or near .900.

Another AAA 3Bman I’ll be keeping an eye on is the Las Vegas 51’s Sheldon Neuse.  He has the raw tools to be a plus major league defensive third-sacker and can play shortstop in a pinch, but he made a lot of errors last year and didn’t hit well in the Pacific Coast League (.661 OPS) in his age 23 season.  He’s slashing .308/.372/.474 so far this season.

Neuse is stuck behind Matt Chapman in Oakland, so he has to keep hitting in Las Vegas this summer and hope the A’s are buyers at the trade deadline, so he can get a shot at establishing himself as a major leaguer somewhere else while he’s still young enough to be considered a legitimate prospect.

Catcher Defense

April 16, 2019

One of the biggest breakthroughs of the recent analytics revolution of the last generation is the degree to which catcher defense can now be analyzed and quantified.  Specifically, pitch framing has turned out to be far more valuable than teams realized only two decades ago.  Teams, of course, knew that pitch framing was important, but until complete filming, saving and replay of every pitch thrown in MLB was accomplished it wasn’t really possible to quantify which catchers were good at and which ones weren’t and just how many runs are saved or lost as a result.

I was looking at fangraphs.com’s defensive leaders for 2018 today and the importance of catcher defense completely jumped out at me.  18 of the top 30 players in terms of runs saved over replacement were catchers.  Six of these 18 catchers caught fewer than 540 innings in 2018, meaning they played less than 60 full games at the position but were still among the most valuable defensive players in MLB.  The only other defenders of roughly or nearly equal value were the seven best everyday shortstops.

Three 2Bman, 3Bman Matt Chapman and CF Kevin Kiermaier round out the top 30.  Aside from being the only center fielder, Kiermaier played only 747.1 innings there in 2018, which gives you a pretty good idea of just how good his center field defense is.

MLB teams have known just about forever how importance catching defense is.  How else to explain the fact that Bill Bergen played 11 major league seasons more than 100 years ago in which he compiled an astounding .395 career OPS (even worse than today’s best hitting pitchers and a lot worse than the best hitting pitchers of his own era)?  Bergen played in the deadball era when catchers had to be good defensively, at least insofar as controlling the running game and fielding bunts.

What we have now is a better idea of which good-field, no-hit catchers are worth keeping around solely for their gloves and which ones aren’t.  By the same token, there are still intangibles like pitch-calling (particularly because on many teams the manager or coaches call the pitches and clubhouse/on-field presence which are hard to quantify.  Obviously, we can now quantify whether catchers of the same team have higher or lower ERAs when they are behind the dish, but it’s hard to quantify the value of pitch-calling or the ability to keep a pitcher calm and focused.

I definitely think that some catchers — at least based on fangraphs’ evaluations — are still seen as major league catchers simply because they have been major league catchers.  For example, Drew Butera just got the call to come up with Rockies in spite of the fact that he is now 35 years old and has been worth $21.4M less to his major league teams than a replacement level catcher would have been across his nine year major league career.

Best Hitting Pitchers in MLB Baseball 2019

April 3, 2019

Shohei Ohtani has ended any debate about the best hitting pitcher in major league baseball.  He’s created a whole new paradigm for two-way players that hasn’t existed since the 1920’s and the only question is whether he is the start of a new trend or a one-off.  He won’t be pitching in 2019 after Tommy John surgery but is expected to return as a designated hitter in May.

Highly touted prospect Brendan McKay is still on pace to be to a great hitting major league pitcher, but his prospects as a two-way player aren’t as good as they were a year ago.  The main problem for McKay is that his talents as a pitcher are developing much faster in pro ball than his talents as a hitter.

1.  Shohei Ohtani.  Ohtani finished the 2018 season with .925 OPS in 367 plate appearances as a hitter and went 4-2 in 10 starts before hurting his elbow.  The entire baseball world is waiting for his right arm to be healthy enough to pitch again. ’nuff said.

2.  Michael Lorenzen (.247 career batting average and .767 career OPS).  Lorenzen is still short of the 100 career at-bat cut-off I’ve used in previous iterations of this post, but he had a tremendous season with the bat in 2018 and was used in a role that was specifically tailored to his ability to hit.  He managed 34 plate appearances last season, in which he batted .290 with a 1.043 OPS thanks to four home runs, despite making only three starts all season.  He was used at least nine times as a pinch hitter, and was frequently left in games to hit for himself when he pitched in relief.

I expect Lorenzen’s career averages to drop as he gets more major league plate appearances, but it’s clear at this point that he’s one of MLB’s very best hitting pitchers.

3.  Zack Greinke (.219 BA, .569 OPS).   One thing I’ve noticed about good hitting pitchers, writing about them as I have for some years now, is that there doesn’t seem to be a particularly strong correlation between a pitcher’s ability to hit and his having spent his minor league time or the vast majority of his MLB career with a National League team, even though this would presumably mean that the pitcher got a lot more opportunities to hit.  After spending his minor league career and his first seven major league seasons with the Royals, Greinke established himself as a fine hitter by his second National League season, and he has been remarkably consistent as a sweet-swinging pitcher since then.

If I had to guess, I would say that the ability to hit the fastball (and lay off breaking pitches) is probably the most important factor in a pitcher’s ability to hit.  Pitchers hate to walk the opposing pitcher, so any time the pitcher-as-hitter is ahead in the count, fastballs for strikes are likely to follow.

The fact that the Diamondbacks are apparently not willing to give Greinke even half a dozen opportunities to pinch hit each season is a missed opportunity.

4.  Madison Bumgarner (.184, .542).  I dropped MadBum a couple of spots this year, because he hit poorly in 2018 and his career batting line isn’t particularly impressive, although park factors are probably in play in comparing MadBum to Greinke.  We’ll see if Bumgarner bounces back to being the best hitting full-time pitcher in 2019.

5.  Yovani Gallardo (.201, .563).  Gallardo’s career as a major league pitcher is probably over, as he remains unsigned as of this writing, but he sure could hit.

6. Adam Wainwright (.202 BA, .537 OPS).  Another player whose major league pitching career is winding down, but with well over 500 career at-bats, Wainwright has well proven his abilities as a hitting pitcher.

7.  German Marquez (.230, .504).  Marquez benefits from a small sample size and playing his home games in Coors Field, but any pitcher who hits better than .220 with an OPS over .500 is great hitting pitcher in today’s game.

8.  Noah Syndergaard (.176 BA, .526 OPS).  “Hulk say Thor smash ball with hammer bat!” At least once in a while.

9.  Daniel Hudson (.222, .557).  Since coming back from an arm injury as a major league relief pitcher, Hudson hasn’t had many opportunities to hit in recent years, but his career numbers get him on the list.

10.   Mike Leake (.198, .507).  Mike Leake hasn’t had a plate appearance yet this year, as he is now an American League pitcher.  He hit a ton his first three seasons with the Reds, but hasn’t done much with the bat since.

11.  Tyler Chatwood (.210, .475) and Tyson Ross (.200, .481).  As I point out every year, the best hitting major league pitchers get pretty bad pretty fast.

Honorable Mentions.  fangraphs.com says that aces Clayton Kershaw and Max Scherzer were with Zack Greinke the best hitting pitchers in 2018.

Young Hitting Pitchers to WatchBrent Suter (.174, .530).  Unfortunately, Suter is already 29 years old and likely to miss all of 2019 after having Tommy John surgery.

An Off-Season of Contract Extensions

March 26, 2019

As we approach the start of the 2019 season, it was a notable off-season for the way in which big money contract extensions eclipsed all but the top three free agent signings.  As Spring Training started, it seemed like every single team was determined to lock in their best players for many years at big money, bigger money it sure seems than the free agents got at least in grand total.

A couple of things seem to be in play here.  First, it seems like the owners have finally figured out what Charlie Finley had realized around 1975, which is essentially that only the superstars are worth the really big contracts and that more average players and aging stars are fungible enough that teams shouldn’t go around overpaying them.

When the players won the Andy Messersmith free agency arbitration, Finley suggested that all players should be allowed to be free agents every year.  That way, the biggest stars would get huge salaries, but all the other players would be competing with each other for contracts, which would drive their prices down.

However, the other owners thought Finley was a kook and wanted to hold on to their best players as long as they could.  Thus, the owners negotiated a six-year service requirement for free agency, which meant that there would always be more demand for free agents than there were actual players who satisfied the six year service requirement and were still playing well.  As a result, for a very long time, free agents received enormous contracts, and the players’ association used those contract amounts to get higher contracts for younger players through the salary arbitration process they had successfully negotiated for a few years earlier.

The pendulum back towards a freer market began when teams began to non-tender an increasingly large share of their arbitration eligible players as arbitration salaries also got enormous.  More available players each off-season meant more competition for second-tier free agents, and the non-tendered players were and are more likely to sign one-year contracts for less money just to guarantee themselves major league jobs.  That surely drove down the market for second-tier free agents.

Also, teams may be realizing that their own superstars are worth more to them than anyone else.  While it is certainly exciting to bring in a high profile free agent like Bryce Harper or Manny Machado, there is probably just as much good will to be gained from the fan base when a Mike Trout or Nolan Arenado is locked into play all or nearly all of his professional career for the team that developed him into a superstar.

Given how much more generous the recent spate of extensions feels compared to the free agent signings this winter, I would if teams aren’t acting collusively to send a message to players: sign with the team that developed you for big money, or test an increasingly uncertain free agent market.

Of course, if more superstars sign long-term extensions covering their prime and declining years, the superstars who do elect to become free agents will find even less competition for their services.  In short, the Bryce Harpers of the baseball world who elect free agency will continue to set contract records.  Instead, it’s the second-tier free agents who will be feeling greater pressure to accept any extension offers their current teams are willing to offer them.

San Francisco Giants Back in on the Hunt for Bryce Harper

February 27, 2019

The Giants are reportedly back in on the hunt for Bryce Harper and now willing to offer him the record-setting ten year deal he has been seeking.  It is not particularly surprising that the first few games of spring training action have made the Giants worried about the apparently sorry bunch of outfielders they have on hand.  The Dodgers are also reportedly considering meeting Harper’s and Scott Boras’ ten-year contract demand, but the fact remains that the Gints sorely need Harper in their 2019 outfield a lot more than either the Phillies or the Bums do.

Even with the Giants seemingly starting to move toward true rebuild mode, a ten-year deal would keep Harper around long enough to be a part of any rebuilt team come 2022 or 2023 while Harper is still in his prime.  Even with Harper, I am doubtful that the Giants would be anything better than a .500 team in 2019, so I expect the rebuilding to begin in earnest around the 2019 trade deadline.

I think the Giants will hold onto Buster Posey (and they’re stuck with Evan Longoria), but any of Madison Bumgarner, Brandon Crawford, Brandon Belt or Joe Panik who is playing well in the first half will get traded, unless, of course, they are all playing well and the Giants are in contention.

Harper and Boras have been holding out for at least a $330 million guarantee and it now looks like they are going to get it.  The seven year contract extension with $234 million of new money the Rockies just gave Nolan Arenado, not to mention Manny Machado‘s $300 million ten-year deal with the Padres, suggest strongly that one of the three remaining pursuers will set a new salary guarantee record with Harper.  While teams seem more reticent about signing free agents, the contract extensions of Arenado, Mile Mikolas and Aaron Hicks this past week all suggest that teams will still spend big money to hold onto their best players through their age 34 or 35 seasons.

The Mikolas four-year contract extension is particularly eye-opening, given Mikolas’ short major league track record plus the fact that it reportedly includes a complete no-trade clause in addition to the $68M guarantee.  The Hicks’ contract extension is notable more for the length (seven years) than the amount guaranteed ($70M).  However, because Hicks runs well and has improved dramatically at the plate the last two seasons, it looks like a great risk for the Bombers to take, even if Hicks can’t be expected to stick in center field for more than three or four more seasons.