Mining the News (10/1/21) by Jeff Zimmerman October 1, 2021 American League Angels • Matt Thaiss is moving back to catcher. Maddon reiterated Thursday that the organization views Thaiss as a catcher in the long term. He threw out 21 percent of 28 would-be base stealers this season, and registered five passed balls in 461 1/3 innings behind the plate. He’s currently working with Angels catching coach Jose Molina, and Maddon said the reports back have been positive. Thaiss didn’t single out any one thing he needed to improve, but said he’s worked on just being able to handle the duties the position requires in a competitive game. He might be a nice draft-and-hold dart in the later rounds. I could see him being the backup. Red Sox • Bobby Dalbec simplified his approach at the plate. Schwarber helped Dalbec simplify his approach, helping him categorize which areas he really needed to focus on and which ones might not have been as big of a deal as Dalbec originally thought. “Just a mix of things, swing, helping me get through the ball more, trying to feel like I have a deeper point of contact which actually allows me to pull the ball more instead of trying to force it out there,” Dalbec said. “So he was big for me.” Before the trade deadline, Dalbec had a .659 OPS. Since then, it’s up to a 1.054 OPS. Our own Devin Fink investigated Dalbec’s possible adjustments and came up with the following conclusion. Ultimately, my conclusion here appears somewhat unsatisfying. I’m not sure there has been enough of a change in Dalbec’s swing metrics to contend that his recent hot stretch is anything more than noise. Even though he’s had a 25-game stretch with a strikeout rate as low as 20.5%, other strikeout-prone types have done the same. Joey Gallo had a 25-game stretch with a strikeout rate of 24.3% this season; Javier Báez is currently in the midst of a sub-25% strikeout rate stretch; and Tyler O’Neill had one as low as 21.0% in July. Sometimes, even the players who are the most inclined to strike out crush everything and avoid the whiff, but mean reversion eventually runs its course. While it’s been fun to watch Dalbec have so much success, some of his underlying numbers demonstrate that he’s only made slight changes to his swing decisions. As with most players, his full-season stats describe him best, making this stretch likely just a small blip. There is going to be a ton written on Dalbec and this adjustment. The key will be if someone believes the adjustment sticks or if he regresses back to the previous four months of production. Tigers • The team is wanting Isaac Paredes to hit the ball harder. The Tigers have talked with Isaac Paredes about being more aggressive at the plate and trying to hit for more power. At the same time, he has been trying to maintain the strike-zone discipline that topped his resume as a prospect. … For the season, his average exit velocity and hard-hit rate are up slightly from last year, and his average launch angle has risen from 7.5 to 17.5 degrees. He’s showing some signs of an adjustment with his hard-hit angle going from 10 to 18 degrees from July to September. Also, his average exit velocity went from 84 mph to 91 mph over the same time frame. • Akil Baddoo started adjusting to left-handed pitching. After his hot start cooled, he had to make adjustments to handle left-handed pitching, first battling and just trying to stay alive in the count, still slowly working to get off more powerful swings against lefties. Here are his monthly results against lefties. Month: OPS, K% Apr: .100, 60% May: .443, 30% Jun: .558, 23% Jul: .552, 23% Aug: .727, 46% Sep: .542, 26% He wasn’t great or even average against lefties in the second half, but he wasn’t a complete zero like during the first two months. Twins • Max Kepler is not even going to try to hit for average and just go for homers. There’s potentially still some logic to what Kepler is saying and the adjustments he has planned. If he’s incapable of unlocking a higher BABIP by using the opposite field more and popping up less, then why not lean even more into tapping into the most power possible via launch angle and hard-hit fly balls. If he can’t hit it around the defense, hit it over the defense. Or put simply: There’s no shift for a home run. • Jorge Alcala has added a changeup and sinker during the season with improved results. The fastball and slider have been reliable pitches for the fireballer, who has thrown more pitches in excess of 100 mph than any other Twin in the pitch-tracking era (since 2008), with his 15 surpassing the 12 thrown by Brusdar Graterol and the three by Juan Morillo. But for whatever reason, left-handers saw him well, and because of that, he needed to get to a point where his changeup was a reliable weapon. It’s there now. And that’s why Alcala has emerged as a quiet force in the Minnesota bullpen following the July 30 Trade Deadline, a stretch that has featured 14 scoreless outings in 16 appearances, a 0.98 ERA, 22 strikeouts and only three walks in 18 1/3 innings. In that time, his 0.71 WHIP ranks sixth among all American League relievers to throw at least 10 innings. … Now that Alcala is pitching in tight games, Johnson notes that opposing hitters can tend to be more aggressive in those situations — and they wanted to see if he could add a sinker as an additional weapon without going through too much trouble. Fortunately for them, Alcala had tinkered with one in the Minors — and it ended up being a decent one. They really started ratcheting up the usage in July, and it’s proved an effective complement to his existing arsenal. Here is Alcala’s improvement during the season. Jorge Alcala In-Season Improvement Time Frame CH% SI% xFIP Holds Apr-May 8% 1% 4.26 1 Jun-Jul 16% 6% 3.83 3 Aug-Sep 23% 11% 2.58 7 I like him as a late-round add in a draft-and-hold. The cost will be minimal. He has the stuff to close. And as recently as 2019, he was starting. With four good pitches (all with a SwStr% over 12%), he could transition to being a starter. White Sox • Luis Robert is not stealing bases because he’s hurt. But with Robert not quite at 100 percent by his own admission, the White Sox don’t want to push him in that area. That caution now doesn’t mean Robert won’t return to stealing bases in the future. “Yes, of course. That’s one of the aspects of the game I enjoy the most,” Robert said. “Every time [I’m] on base, I try to go. I don’t like to spend too much time on the base or waste my time on the base. Every time I have a chance to run, I’ll do it.” Before his injury, he attempted 5 SB in 103 PA. Since coming off the IL, he’s attempted two stolen bases in 180 PA. National League Cardinals • By his own admission, it takes a while for Harrison Bader to change. “When it comes to offense, which in my opinion, is totally about feel and confidence, the work is there, but it just takes a little bit longer,” Bader explained. “When I look back at my four years here so far, I genuinely do believe I picked up on one solid thing, at least offensively, each season. It’s not all-encompassing yet, and it has taken me some time to really understand my feel, understand my confidence and understand the things I do really well and things I don’t do well. But I feel like especially this year, I have really done a good job of taking those things and using them in my arsenal.” The question remains if his 21% K% (down from 32% last year) will stick or was it a mirage because he saw more fastballs (+2% points) and fewer sliders (-4% points, 18% SwStr%) Diamondbacks • Josh Rojas says prepping for multiple positions put extra stress on his body during the season. Rojas’ body is dinged and dented. The 25-year-old Smith, who has played primarily outfield for the first time in his career, admits that his legs feel heavier than they did in April. “I’ve never felt anything in my hamstrings before, and running around in the outfield all year has taken a little bit of a toll,” he said. The effects have shown in their batting lines this month. After posting a .789 OPS through the first five months of the season, Rojas has a .601 mark since. Smith had a promising start to the year and a resurgence around the All-Star break, but has hit just .231/.310/.385 in September. … Rojas has mostly felt the effects physically. So, he’s cut back on his time in the batting cage and he’s tried to cut back on his pregame throwing, although that’s a difficult diet to follow when he has to prepare to play five different positions. “I have to get those reps every day at whatever spot I’m playing that day,” he said. “If I was playing the same position, once a series or twice a series, I could take a day off from doing early work.” • Pavin Smith’s mind and body weren’t ready for the full season. For Smith, September has been not a physical grind but a mental one. Being a big-league hitter is a six-month mental balancing act, which is one month longer than he’s ever had to keep himself on an even keel. “It’s tough to do when you’re in the minor leagues doing it for 120 games,” he said. “In this extra month of the year that I’ve never experienced before, it’s just harder to stay consistent the whole time.” As he’s slumped down the stretch, he’s had trouble grasping for a solution. He has some sense of what’s going wrong — there’s a bit of extraneous movement in his swing — but part of the problem has been the ticking-clock countdown to the season’s approaching endpoint. “You go in these slumps and you want to change stuff, but it’s very difficult to make major changes during the season,” Smith said. “It’s like should I try now or should I wait until the offseason?” Rojas has confronted that dilemma as well. “In-season, it’s really hard to make adjustments because you need the results that night,” he said. But there are no instant swing fixes in baseball. I wonder if rookies wore down more after the short season. Phillies • Alec Bohm is not moving to the outfield. The Phillies said they still see Bohm as their third baseman in 2022. The possibility of playing left field has not been brought to his attention. Pirates • Chad Kuhl days as a starter are likely over. Yet, no matter how desperate the Pirates’ need for starters, Chad Kuhl isn’t an option. “We’ve not thought about shifting Chad back into the rotation at all,” Shelton said Saturday. … “I think it was more about what they wanted to see out of me (as a reliever),” Kuhl said Tuesday. “Whether I agree with it or not, it’s just one of those things I can’t control. It’s gonna be their decision moving forward. They’ve communicated to me that this will be my role until the end of the year, no matter what happens with the (rotation).” While some pitchers thrive in the bullpen, Kuhl has not in 28 innings so far (5.14 ERA, 4.53 xFIP). Rockies • Trevor Story has been dealing with a shoulder injury all season that has affected his throwing motion (and likely his swing). But Story dealt with a right elbow injury in late April that brings curiosity today, as his whippet-like throws are replaced with a shoulder-heavy motion. His offensive numbers — .247, 24 home runs, 74 RBIs — are down from some of his all-time previous figures. It’s nice to finally learn about this … WITH THREE DAYS LEFT IN THE SEASON.