Mining the News (1/20/21)

Free Agents

Yadier Molina and …

Molina, 38, has made clear his preference to return to the Cardinals, and the Cards have expressed their interest in re-signing him. He’s seeking a two-year contract, but in a recent interview with Cardinals broadcaster Polo Ascencio for La Vida Baseball, Molina acknowledged that if an appealing offer isn’t there, he’ll consider retirement.

“I’m preparing hard. When God says — if He wants, if it’s His will that I can come back, I’ll come back,” Molina said in Spanish. “And if not, I’ll retire happy and with my head held high.”

Masahiro Tanaka might not sign with an MLB team.

Per SNY TV’s Andy Martino, “there continues to be informed speculation in the industry” that Tanaka will return to his home country of Japan to continue his professional career.

Tanaka, who has spent all seven seasons of his MLB career with the New York Yankees, appeared on a radio show in Japan last week and said there was a “not zero” chance that he would return to the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles, where he played before joining MLB in 2013 (h/t Mike Rosenstein of NJ.com).

Fantasy managers just need to understand that one or both might be a big zero in 2021 and plan accordingly in leagues with no waiver wire.

American League

Red Sox

Bobby Dalbec is the starting first baseman.

Do you get the sense that the first base job is Dalbec’s to lose?

First base is Dalbec’s to lose right now. We delved into that a little in Thursday’s mailbag, too, but I think they’ll give him a bit of a leash given that his first taste of the majors was just a couple of months during a pandemic-shortened season. He obviously has tremendous power and handled first base well, but cutting down on his strikeouts is what is going to determine if he can stick in the majors.

I still think there is a chance the Red Sox bring in some kind of serviceable backup like C.J. Cron.

• The Red Sox are going to take a cautious approach with Chris Sale’s return.

But Sale is about to embark on Year 2 of his five-year, $145 million deal that was finalized early in the 2019 season, and so both the team and the pitcher have reason to take a long view on his recovery. The bulk of the left-hander’s production for the Red Sox will happen in the last three years of the deal, and while sources say the team would love for Sale to come back and be a factor at some point in 2021, the Red Sox are apt to take a conservative approach.

This news is not surprising at all compared to the Mets plan with Syndergaard.

Tigers

Robbie Grossman reworked his swing last season.

Bush showed Grossman the data, including the hard-hit rates of successful major-league players. You can do the same thing, Bush told him. The goal was for Grossman to make more consistent hard contact. Doing that started with the basics: using the legs, generating power from the ground up.

So with the help of Bush, Grossman began a series of small tweaks to his swing.

Grossman’s hard-hit rates and groundball numbers stayed constant but the switch hitter went pull happy.

Opposing teams noticed the adjustment and started shifting him more dragging down his BABIP.

Season Not Shifted Shifted Shift% BABIP
2017 203 95 32% .287
2018 206 109 35% .329
2019 149 181 55% .288
2020 29 91 76% .267

For two months, the adjustment stuck and his power production was up quite a bit. The question for 2021, does the power stay, or does he revert back to his old form?

Yankees

• The Rays tried to sign Corey Kluber

The Rays made a very strong run at free-agent pitcher Corey Kluber, who opted for a one-year, $11 million deal with the Yankees, and will keep searching for an experienced starter, looking at free-agent (ex-Ray Chris Archer remains a possibility) and trade options.

I don’t trust the Yankees to make sound decisions when it comes to any of their player’s health (e.g. Aaron Judge). I trust the Rays process more, so depending on Kluber’s price (260 NFBC ADP over the past month), I’m a little more interested.

National League

Mets

Noah Syndergaard is pushing to return early from the normal 14 month recovery time.

The New York Mets and pitcher Noah Syndergaard, however, are taking a more aggressive approach. Though Syndergaard also had his Tommy John surgery in late March, both he and the Mets want to push the timeline on recovery.

I love the gung-ho nature of this comment, but the Mets track record of injury failures (e.g. Matt Harvey) give me no hope. Hopefully when the new GM gets settled (good riddance to the scumbag), they make sure Thor comes back healthy. I’m guessing they’ll screw it up as much as possible.

Phillies

Spencer Howard was unable to maintain his inning-to-inning fastball velocity.

It was noticeable. Howard’s fastball velocity dipped as he pitched deeper into games. Hitters batted .118 with no extra-base hits on Howard fastballs thrown at 95 mph or faster. They hit .353 with a .529 slugging percentage on fastballs 95 mph or slower. And, as Howard faced a batting order for the second time, he was attacking hitters with lesser stuff.

Howard’s body was not right and, to compensate, he made mechanical adjustments without always noticing them. He was chasing this feeling he said he felt in the Arizona Fall League in 2019. “It’s a strange sensation to try to describe,” Howard said. “But I feel like when I was in Arizona, I could just rip through the ball.” He had a larger window to release the ball and still achieve the results he wanted.

Just a bit more information on Howard. First, here is how his fastball misses bats at different velocities (limited sample).

And he got utterly destroyed each time through the lineup.

TTO: ERA
1st: 1.32
2nd: 10.00
3rd: 21.60

Nothing looks good, but it just was 24 innings in the most jacked-up season ever. For me, I’m not knocking down his value compared to going into the 2020 season where he was a late-round dart throw. His inability to go late into games would be something I’d check on once the season starts.

• The Phillies don’t know who will be the closer, but eventually, the bullpen will have set roles.

“I think coming into this year, flexibility is extremely important,” Girardi said. “Just because of what we went through last year, and we’re not exactly sure when we start, how we start, if players are going to be vaccinated — we just don’t know. But in the perfect world, I’d like to set up roles so everyone knows what their role is. I think it’s easier for players to be successful. I think it’s easier for players to prepare. Now look, there may be a day when you go to a guy and say, ‘If this situation comes up, these three guys are coming up in the eighth instead of the ninth, this might be a day where I’d like to use you in the eighth instead of the ninth.’ But I’d want to establish roles if we could.”

Archie Bradley, Héctor Neris, and José Alvarado each have closed and could again this season. In a broader sense, I believe this is how most managers think. They aren’t sure who will have each role until they see each pitcher throw but want defined roles once everyone’s talent is known.





Jeff, one of the authors of the fantasy baseball guide,The Process, writes for RotoGraphs, The Hardball Times, Rotowire, Baseball America, and BaseballHQ. He has been nominated for two SABR Analytics Research Award for Contemporary Analysis and won it in 2013 in tandem with Bill Petti. He has won three FSWA Awards including on for his MASH series. In his first two seasons in Tout Wars, he's won the H2H league and mixed auction league. Follow him on Twitter @jeffwzimmerman.

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Skin Blues
Member
Member
Skin Blues

Given a full ramp-up and a normal spring training, I think I’ll take a chance on Howard. The skills are there, and it looks like a huge part of his problem was poor conditioning. That’s a relatively easy fix for somebody that’s motivated.

airforce21one
Member
airforce21one

Wouldn’t someone motivated not have poor conditioning in the first place?