Mining the News (10/12/20)

I’m just trying to grind through any nuggets in the end-of-season wrapups. I’ve found that teams out of the playoff picture provided better nuggets since they beat writers filling their article quotas writing about possible postseason lineups and rotations. I’ve got a few more late articles to comb through. I expect little to no usable news until the winter meetings.

American League

Angels

Dylan Bundy should be ready for a full workload in 2021.

Angels pitching coach Mickey Callaway said the way he and his staff approached the summer’s pandemic-induced layoff should help curb this. He estimated that Dylan Bundy has thrown “about 180 innings” this year from all the throwing on his ranch in Oklahoma, the summer training and his 65 2/3 innings in the big leagues this season. That would be about the same amount as what he threw in 2019 (161 2/3 with Baltimore plus spring training). It’s still something to monitor next year, though.

I expect all veteran pitchers to have the same limit since teams were most likely looking ahead to 2021, but it would be nice to have it stated about as many pitchers as possible.

Mike Mayers’s strikeout rate jumped (7.6 K/9 to 12.9 K/9) because he added a cutter.

The main reason why? A cutter he developed this winter. Mayers used the grip Mariano Rivera gave Roy Halladay (Mayers saw this on an Instagram video), and the pitch gave him a valuable horizontal weapon to play off his slider. He threw the cutter 24.6 percent of the time and gave up just five hits off of it all season, with just two coming off lefties.

While he didn’t throw the cutter much to start the season, he pushed the usage up to 40% by season’s end. It was his best pitch (18% SwStr%) compared to his slider (13% SwStr%) and four-seamer (16%).

Also, of note is that the results on his four-seamer improved … a lot (7% SwStr% to 16% SwStr%). Its movement and velocity didn’t change much so I’m not sure why the improved results. He could be tunneling better or hitters might not be expecting it because of the cutter. Whatever the reason, he completely reinvented himself.

Justin Upton reworked his stance late in the season.

The most notable change is in Upton’s setup in the batter’s box. Earlier in the season, Upton stood with his legs spread out at the plate and slightly bent at the knees. He would bring his bat up above his back shoulder and level it out so it was close to parallel to the ground, along with his customary bat waggle. Now, he is a little more upright in the batter’s box, with his legs closer together. He brings the bat up closer to his head with more of an angle, the waggle slightly reduced along with his hand load.

The changes were dramatic with his strikeout rate dropping from 32% to 18% and his OPS increasing from .497 to .936 from the first to second month. Hopefully, he can maintain the swing over the offseason.

Griffin Canning tinkers with his delivery and pitches.

But if Canning has shown anything in his evolution from top-100 prospect to legit major-league starter, it’s an ability to adapt and shift in either process or thinking.

“Almost to a fault sometimes,” Canning said recently, “I feel like I’m always trying to work on new things.”

For one, Canning has shown more of an ability to shift attack plans and pitch usage between games. It’s something he has highlighted as a necessity. When he has struggled in outings, he has often attributed it to hitters possessing a better grasp on how he will attack them. In different outings this season, Canning has used his cutter-like slider 30.5 percent of the time and 16.3 percent of the time. He’s had outings with heavier changeup usage (20.5 percent) and others in which he’ll throw it 9.1 percent. His curveball usage has been as low as 12.8 percent and gone as high as 32.7 percent. It’s a slight tweak from a usage pattern that primarily was fastball, slider, curveball and then changeup a year ago.

By switching grips and profiles, Canning has taken a good pitch and swapped it out for a great one. Only six pitchers — including Heaney — have gotten more swings and misses on their curveball this season than Canning (41), and he’s thrown the pitch 191 times and yielded just 11 hits.

First, I think the tinkering can be good and bad in a Trevor Bauer sort of way. If he’s throwing bad, he’s going to find ways to improve. But it may go too far take a good approach and worsen it. He seems like he might need constant monitoring.

Second, his new curve was great with a 22% SwStr%. Hopefully, he’s done changing it.

Taylor Ward also reworked his swing.

Ward credited hitting coaches Jeremy Reed, Paul Sorrento and John Mallee for helping him make those adjustments with his swing. It’s helped him drive the ball more the other way and use the whole field instead of trying to pull everything to left field.

“Once I began my swing, I needed to stay on plane with the ball more. As it’s coming down, I want to match that with my bat path,” Ward said. “And as I was starting my swing, I would go underneath the ball flight and then get back up to the where I’d have to make contact and that would give me a small window to make consistent contact. So if I was a little late, I would swing and miss or foul it back instead of being a little late and lining it into you know, right field or the right-center-field gap.”

No one is will be targetting Ward, but he has the potential for a 15 HR/15 SB season and those stolen bases could be key in deeper drafts.

Indians

Triston McKenzie had issues keeping up his velocity as a starter.

McKenzie’s average fastball velocity has dropped to 93.3 mph, 92.7 mph, 92.4 mph and 92.2 mph in each of his outings since his debut. In Saturday’s 5-2 loss to Detroit, the pitch sat around 90.6 mph.

“He was navigating through a lot of traffic,” temporary Indians manager Sandy Alomar Jr. said. “He had to labor a lot, and his velocity was not all there. He was throwing 89 mph. He fought hard and still pitched well.”

McKenzie knows that each time he takes the mound, he’s going to be coming out of the game when his pitch count sits between 80 and 90 pitches.

It was only six starts he saw his average fastball velocity drop almost 4 mph before moving to the bullpen for his last two appearances.

I’d need to see him maintain his velocity before spending any resources on him.

Mariners

• A new plate approach helped fuel Dylan Moore’s breakout.

That’s mostly because Moore, who hit .206 last season in 113 games, worked his tail off to get better at the plate. He worked closely with the team’s hitting coaches in spring training, and when he returned this summer, focused on making more consistent contact with the barrel of the bat. He was able to cut his strikeout rate from 33 percent to 27 percent.

“He made such improvements offensively — the power, the ability to use all fields to hit, handling the different pitches in the strike zone better than he ever has,” Servais said. “It’s a credit to him. He had an awesome year for us.”

Orioles

Trey Mancini’s return may be delayed based on the prevalence of COVID-19.

Throughout his cancer fight, Mancini has said he is determined to return to the field in 2021. Whether that happens or not remains unclear, and it could be affected by factors related to the COVID-19 pandemic, given how Mancini’s condition puts him at high risk for the virus. Mancini was the O’s top run-producer in 2019, hitting a career-high 35 homers and batting .291 with an .899 OPS. He would return to a team that’s watched Anthony Santander and Ryan Mountcastle emerge this year as impact corner types, playing mostly right and left field, and also first base.

I’d not roster him in early drafts until his status is known.

Rangers

• Part of Willie Calhoun’s struggles were in his head.

“I just feel like I’ve been in my own head a lot this whole year, ever since Spring Training,” Calhoun said. “So, I haven’t fully gotten over it, but [I’m] slowly getting over it. It’s been depressing, for sure. Like I said, I’m going to detach for a while after the season and just kind of go dark for a while.”

The fractured jaw in Spring Training started the downward spiral. Just when he was starting to get healthy at the end of Summer Camp, Calhoun strained a right oblique muscle. A strained left hamstring later cost him almost four weeks on the injured list. He had two hits on Thursday, but that left him hitting .193/.232/.273 over 26 games and 88 at-bats.

I have no idea how to value Calhoun at this point.

• The Rangers expect Leody Taveras to play center field and leadoff next season.

So does that mean the Rangers have found their leadoff hitter for next season?

“I don’t think we go into it with that kind of confidence,” Woodward said. “He still has to earn a spot. He is the front-runner in my opinion heading into camp, based on what I have seen this year. Everybody on this roster has to earn their spot. He is not excluded from that. I do feel more confident and more comfortable we have our leadoff hitter and center fielder for next year. But it is up to him to come into camp to prove that.”

Red Sox

J.D. Martinez’s “back side” led to his production drop.

“He’s worked and been diligent the same way he’s been in the past. I know this kind of sounds like an excuse, but he fell into some bad habits,” said Hyers. “Right now, he’s trying to deal with his back side. We call it his back hip. He just jumps off his back side and he’s creating some length in his swing on the back side, and he’s just late to fastballs. I know he’s working on it.”

“It’s just a habit that has gone on and on. I know it seems a player of his caliber [making] those changes should be a lot easier, but to be honest with you, that’s what we’ve been grinding on, is him just to shorten up and not have that length in the back with his hands, to create length and catch up to the fastball. That’s what he’s working on, and obviously to go into the winter trying to improve.”

First no video and now back side issues. What’s next for excuses, no naps?

Royals

• The Nicky Lopez experiment is not over yet.

From the sounds of things, the Royals are prepared to give Nicky Lopez more opportunities at second base, which would slide Merrifield back to the outfield.

Tigers

Miguel Cabrera may play some first base next year.

Could Miguel Cabrera actually return to playing first base? “When we hire the new manager, we’ll probably take a look at it, and I can’t tell you that I look at him as a full-time, everyday first baseman, just because of the risk factor. Not because I don’t think he can do it. I think he can actually do it. But the risk factor of him getting injured obviously goes up tremendously,” Avila said. “So it’s really not in his personal best interest nor ours if we want to keep him healthy and keep him in the lineup hitting. So I’m not gonna rule out that maybe he can play first base from time to time, but at the same time, I don’t think I would risk making him the everyday first baseman again.”

Cabrera didn’t play one game at first last season. He’s DH only going forward and therefore completely worthless in almost all formats.

Twins

Jorge Polanco had ankle surgery before the season and it didn’t help so he’s going back under the knife.

The back-to-back AL Central champions could now see one of their key players go under the knife, as president of baseball operations Derek Falvey said Thursday that shortstop Jorge Polanco may need surgery as a result of right ankle problems, Aaron Gleeman of The Athletic and Phil Miller of the Star Tribune were among those to report.

“He battled every day, but he was not playing at full strength for a good chunk of the year,” Falvey said of Polanco, who missed just five of the Twins’ 60 regular-season games.

Notably, Polanco underwent arthroscopic surgery on his right ankle last November, though it doesn’t appear that procedure erased his issues. Falvey said the Twins “need to assess whether or not there is something else going on there that we need to address.”

I don’t like this whole situation. First, surgery for the same issues as a year ago. Second, he played through the injury so who knows what bad habits appeared. I’ll need a major discount to roster him next season.

White Sox

Andrew Vaughn may force himself into the White Sox first base/DH situation.

And sure, every GM would like that, but the first base/designated hitter situation is where the Sox could be cost-effective by simply plugging in Andrew Vaughn and throwing their remaining budget toward positions with less appealing internal options. They have already indicated they feel he’s ready for it.

“Given his makeup and given his tools, it’s hard to look at him and rule him out of being able to help a team in the not too distant future,” Hahn said of Vaughn. “He’s been very impressive out there and a guy that there’s a great deal of confidence in his current ability, much less than what we foresee this player being over the next several years.”

Dane Dunning utilizes different arm slots for different pitches.

Part of how Dunning’s stuff plays is a kitchen sink approach by which he essentially offers five pitches: four-seamer and curveball, as well as sinker, slider and changeup. The groupings are important because, as Baseball Prospectus’ Matthew Trueblood pointed out, they come from two distinct release points. He’s a bit lower and farther away from his body when he’s getting the more horizontal movement offered by his sinkers, changeups and sliders, and he’s closer to over the top when he’s relying on the verticality of a four-seam fastball and a curve. That there are multiple possibilities from each slot gives me more confidence than Trueblood has about the long-term viability of the approach.

I’m not a fan of the different release points since the hitter can immediately start eliminating pitches if he sees the slot.

National League

Braves

Adam Duvall cleaned up his swing before the season.

“When I went down, I met (minor-league hitting coordinators) Bobby Magallanes and Mike Brumley in the cage the first day. They opened my eyes to a lot of deficiencies in my swing. At that point it was, ‘Ok, I’m going to show up every day and work and get this thing figured out.’

“We worked non-stop the rest of spring training on cleaning up the moves of my swing. Then me and Mags went to Gwinnett and continued the process of trying to understand how I can get better and putting that into action. For me, it’s so much fun to show up to work and try and be a better version of myself each day.”

With the adjustment, he saw his strikeouts drop (30% to 26%) and his power increase (16 HR in 209 PA).

Brewers

Keston Hiura had problems making contact with fastballs.

The main problem this season has been Hiura’s whiffs on pitches in the zone. His overall swing rate, his swing rate on pitches in the zone and his swing rate on pitches out of the zone are all nearly identical to last year. His contact rate on pitches in the zone, however, is 13 percentage points lower than 2019. No one in the National League has swung and missed on pitches in the zone more than Hiura this season (36.4 percent), according to Statcast.

High fastballs have been kryptonite for Hiura. He has missed on pitches at top and over the middle of the zone more than any other area, usually late and under them. Most of his strikeouts have come on pitches in the top third of the zone, where he has only four batted balls and two hits.

Fastballs aren’t the only issue with Hiura, he has contact issues with all pitches. He has over a 20% SwStr%, the second-worst behind Luis Robert (qualified hitters). It’s tough to roster a batter who can’t hit fastballs.

Cubs

Jason Heyward may start to get platooned against lefties.

It’ll be interesting to see exactly how much Ross will use Heyward against lefties in a full season. His divergent splits were once again on display in 2020 (54 wRC+ against lefties and 153 wRC+ against righties) and Ross actually started him in six of the team’s 11 games (54.5 percent) against lefty starters.

Heyward would lose all fantasy value if he’s platooned.

Giants

• The Giants believe they have several internal options to be the next closer.

“But we don’t go into this offseason saying that’s got to be a priority on our shopping list, to go out and get a closer, because we think it could work if we have the right group of relievers and the right level of depth in the bullpen.” Rather than acquire a closer, Shea wonders if the team could develop a steady ninth-inning arm from within, citing Reyes Moronta, Shaun Anderson, Jarlin Garcia and Camilo Doval as potential closer candidates.

No one said they were good options.

Phillies

Rhys Hoskins might not be ready for Spring Training because of elbow surgery.

Philadelphia Phillies first baseman Rhys Hoskins had surgery to repair a ligament tear in his left elbow last week and the team says he’s expected to return to play in four to six months.

Zach Eflin morphed into a sinkerballer this year.

He broke away last year from the cookie-cutter approach Gabe Kapler and his coaching staff tried to implement, namely utilizing elevated fastballs. Eflin, 26, knows who he is as a sinker ball pitcher. Eflin spent the three-month layoff working on his curveball back home in Florida. He knew he needed a pitch he could throw in the dirt to expand the zone and hitters’ eye level while hopefully generating swings and misses.

“To be completely honest, I just stopped throwing it like a baby,” Eflin said after his final start of the season. “I’m really aggressive with it now. I kind of used to cast — it used to pop out of my hand and then it’d come down. … It’s cool to see that pitch come to fruition from all the work that I put in for it. And really, it’s just about being aggressive in it coming out four-seam or coming out fastball, having no hump in it.

The change was drastic with both his strikeout (7.1 K/9 to 10.7 K/9) and groundball (44% to 47%) rate up.





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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jdrury12
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jdrury12

Fantastic article, as always. I can’t wait to draft a lot of worthless Giants closers the next few months!