Mining the News (1/29/21)

American League

Astros

Myles Straw is set to be the centerfielder.

The Astros will make Straw win the job in spring training, but good luck identifying a legitimate challenger on the current roster.

He’s never hit for power, but there’s a scenario in which he gets on base enough to make it work. And if he does get on base, he’s got the potential to rack up stolen bases.

Neither of the Astros’ corner outfielders, Brantley and Kyle Tucker, are particularly strong defenders, so a good defensive center fielder is particularly important on their roster.

Straw is an “end-of-a-draft” dart throw for stolen bases. In 2018, he stole 72 over three different levels. The stolen base potential is legit but he’s projected for a replacement level ~.650 OPS. Most hitters will head to the bench producing at such a level. While his defense may give him a little more leeway and the roster is set, he’s far from a sure bet.

Blue Jays

• The outfield and DH playing time situation is a mess with the addition of George Springer.

Springer’s inclusion gives the outfield a new look. Gurriel should remain in left field, while Hernández and Grichuk figure to get their majority of playing time in right field. Right now, Grichuk looks to be their fourth outfielder, and one who will get starts as the designated hitter, too, especially if he’s swinging the bat well. Hernández could also be used as a DH quite a bit, too, especially if he struggles defensively in right field.

I don’t know how to value Lourdes Gurriel Jr., Teoscar Hernández, Rowdy Tellez, and Randal Grichuk. It’s four players for three spots, so it’s 450 PA for all four making each barely rosterable in shallow leagues. The four are close in projected talent, so it’s impossible to know who should get an edge.

I plan on following Spring Training lineups to see if anyone gets an edge.

Mariners

• The six-man rotation seems set.

To no surprise, Dipoto named Marco Gonzales, Yusei Kikuchi, Justus Sheffield and Flexen as members of the rotation. The last two spots in the six-man rotation figure to go to Justin Dunn and Nick Margevicius, though that could certainly change. Gilbert could factor into that equation if he shows he’s ready this spring, though the Mariners can gain an additional year of club control by having him begin the season in the minor leagues.

I don’t see the Mariners adding a major starter, so these six will get the first stab. Depending on the league’s depth, I’d be interested in rostering all of them except Dun.

• Justus Sheffield added a “sinker” last season.

The two-seamer (sinker) was a significant factor in his step forward last season, as it became his go-to pitch and he became more confident to throw the contact-prone offering over the plate because of the much-improved Mariners defense behind him. And he has one of the better sliders in the American League, with an opposing slugging percentage of just .219.

He moved from throwing his four-seamer half of the time to throwing his sinker that much according to the algorithms that label pitches. The deal is that the same pitch got reclassified. His four-seamer in 2019 had a 57% GB% while his sinker was at 53% GB%. The difference in the pitch’s production was with three homers allowed in 2019 (321 pitches) and just one last season (415 pitches). The only gains Sheffield made last season was from walk rate dropping from 4.5 K/9 to 3.3 K/9. Temper expectations.

Rays

Josh Fleming has a spot in the rotation.

There should be a spot available for Fleming and a handful of other young pitchers. With Charlie Morton in Atlanta and Blake Snell in San Diego, the Rays have three starters locked into their rotation: Tyler Glasnow, Ryan Yarbrough and Michael Wacha. It seems likely the Rays will acquire at least one more starter before Opening Day, whether it’s a free agent or a trade target, but that would still leave one open spot and plenty more opportunities for multi-inning pitchers throughout the year — opportunities like the one Fleming capitalized on last summer.

Fleming is a control lefty who fantasy managers can use in at least half his starts.

Tigers

• The Tigers may play Isaac Paredes some at second base.

Extra positional flexibility never hurts.

Matt Boyd is spending the offseason reworking his mechanics and rebuilding his strength.

While injuries hampered Norris’ progress until last year, Boyd emerged as a front-line starter and team leader the last couple of seasons. But he, too, had to deal with injuries last year, pitching through hamstring and Achilles tightness that impacted his leg drive and altered some of the mechanics he’d worked meticulously to build. Like Norris, Boyd has spent part of the offseason on pitch design, trying to tweak the slider that has been his primary out pitch the last few seasons.

Boyd’s 2020 season was a complete disaster (1.48 WHIP, 6.71 ERA) but there is a cause (i.e. injuries) and he’s working on a solution. With an NFBC ADP of 370, he’s free to take a dart thrown on.

Yankees

Gary Sánchez and Kyle Higashioka look to be splitting the catching duties 65/35 to start the season.

How do you see the catching situation playing out? Will Gary Sánchez and Kyle Higashioka split time all season?
— Chip A., Lubbock, Texas

Based on what we saw toward the end of last season, it seems fair to assume that Higashioka will catch most of Cole’s starts, though I would expect to see Sánchez and Cole work together in the spring. From there, the breakdown largely will depend on Sánchez’s performance. My best guess is that Sánchez will catch most of the games, perhaps a 65-35 split. In short, he will get every opportunity to prove that his 2020 season was an aberration. If the Yankees did not believe that to be true, they probably would have non-tendered Sánchez in December.

I think the split is reasonable.

• The increase in team injuries could have been from a new training staff.

Cashman mentioned that teams with new training staffs tend to experience injuries at the start. Is there reason to believe that injuries won’t be a significant issue this season?
— Tim S., New York

That is the hope. Before Spring Training, Cashman spoke with Robby Sikka, the medical director for the NBA’s Minnesota Timberwolves. Sikka told Cashman that he had crunched the numbers on similar programs over time, predicting that the Yankees would experience a rise in injuries during the first year before seeing improvement in subsequent seasons. Cashman had scoffed then, replying, “Yeah, that’s not going to happen.”

But it did; the team believes that the abrupt halt last March and the accelerated ramp-up in July contributed to many injuries around the league. Having a full offseason and (hopefully) spring to run the programs should help.

While I don’t remember a team changing out their entire training staff (I could be wrong), I’m going to try to keep track of them going forward.

National League

Marlins

Anthony Bass could be the closer.

Bass has more career saves (15) than the rest combined (eight), so he would appear to be the front-runner. In 2020, the right-hander recorded seven saves (team high) and four holds for the Blue Jays.

He’s an option along with …. no one really.





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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