Mining the News (2/19/21) by Jeff Zimmerman February 19, 2021 American League Angels • Andrew Heaney has been reworking his pitches and trying to be less predictable. Heaney, 29, made another change this offseason, purchasing his own Rapsodo pitching device and a slow-motion camera to better track his throwing sessions. It allowed Heaney to measure things such as his spin rate on certain pitches, while also using the slow-motion camera to analyze his grips and how the ball was coming out of his hand. … “I think that there is an element of my game that I am a little bit stubborn,” Heaney said. “I know I have a good fastball. I like to throw my four-seam, I like to move it in and out, like to try and get it in on guys’ hands. Maybe our new front office will bring in some new information to help us. But I’ve been stubborn, and I’ve been in the same league — and let’s face it, there’s not an element of surprise any more. So I think an evolution needs to happen with how I approach hitters and the way I use my stuff.” Part of what he said is true. His fastball gets hit (vs .845 OPS) and it’s predictable when he’s behind in the count (h/t BrooksBaseball.net). Any team can find this data so he’s not struggling against familiar opponents. It’s everybody. Over his career, he has a 4.20 ERA against the AL West and a 4.73 ERA against the rest of the league. • The team wants Shohei Ohtani to focus on pitching and then worry about hitting. Ohtani has mostly been on a plan where he pitches once a week and serves as DH roughly three to four times a week. But Maddon said they don’t want to limit him to just that going forward. “I’m staying away from that,” Maddon said. “He needs to prepare himself as a pitcher first, I think, because that’s harder to do. And then as a hitter second. So as we schedule him, we’re going to schedule his pitching and then work his offense into it, because I think that’s the best way to do it.” What I get from this quote is that Ohtani may try to pitch more often than once every seven days. Also, he may see fewer at-bats. • Taylor Ward is working out at catcher. Outfielder Taylor Ward is already in camp, as the Angels are having him get some work in at catcher to increase his versatility. Ward was originally drafted as a catcher in 2015, but made the move to third base in ’17 before settling in the outfield in ’19. Ward is competing for a spot as an extra outfielder, but Maddon said he’d be more valuable if he can also catch. I don’t think this news is actionable right now, but if he does split time between catching and the outfield, his value will increase. Athletics • Frankie Montas and Sean Murphy will not be ready for the start of Spring Training. A’s general manager David Forst also said the team hopes Murphy can resume baseball activity around March 1 and start playing in spring training games halfway through next month. He is expected to be ready for Opening Day. … Montas tested positive prior to report day (it wasn’t a positive test from the team’s intake testing) and has “flu-like” symptoms. He’s staying at home in Scottsdale, Ariz., and, as of now, is expected to be ready for Opening Day, Forst said. Montas is not on any sort of team throwing program and is not doing work remotely. Melvin hopes the right-hander will join the club in a few days, but Montas will have to test negative twice to join the team, per the league’s health and safety protocols. I have Murphy as undraftable unless the fantasy team has a long bench or several IL slots. As for Montas, he’ll need to be a reserve pick. After hearing how the virus caused some players to struggle, I’d rather gamble on other pitchers. Mariners • J.P. Crawford will lead off. No complaints with the glove, as Crawford captured his first Gold Glove last season. The Mariners think the bat will come around as well. He’s likely the best candidate to hit leadoff. • Jake Fraley could get another shot at left field until Jarred Kelenic forces his way into the major league lineup. It’s a big spring for Fraley, who has a real chance to emerge as the team’s everyday left fielder to start the season. He’s hit in the minors, but so far, success in the big leagues has eluded him (.152 average). Fraley has the potential for 20 homers and 20 steals, but it may come with a .200 AVG (36% K% in the majors). To see if he’s improved enough to be rosterable, check for a lower strikeout rate. Rangers • Dane Dunning and Kyle Cody will be on an innings limit. Not Kyle Gibson. Woodward said they expect to have both Dane Dunning and Kyle Cody on an innings limit. He didn’t specify what the limit was, but he did say neither would reach 200 on the season. “I think that, more based on science, we’re comfortable pushing guys who are healthy to where they’ve been historically within their career,” Young said. “So guys like Kyle Gibson, we’re confident that he can go out and throw 150-plus innings. Groundbreaking. Red Sox • Tanner Houck will likely start in AAA. Bloom has said the ideal plan for the Red Sox is to start Houck at Triple A, but that’s really dependent on how spring training progresses. He might pitch so well they can’t leave him out of the rotation at the outset or an injury might crop up among the five listed above. • The Red Sox will go with a structured bullpen. “I think it’s too early for that,” said Cora. “We have a lot of candidates, a lot of guys in the bullpen that can get three outs in the seventh, eighth and ninth. We’ll see how it goes in Spring Training. We’ll have conversations with the guys and then we’ll make a decision. You guys know how I feel about the ace reliever, and bouncing guys all over the place. It’s not fair for them physically. You’re asking a lot from them. So I like the structured bullpen. But when we have to make a decision, an announcement, we’ll get there when we get there.” While who has what roles isn’t known yet, there will be predictable roles once the dust settles. Yankees • Luis Severino will return between June and August. The Yanks’ rotation could receive a boost for the playoff push from Severino, who underwent Tommy John surgery in February 2020 and has been forecast for a “late summer” return, according to general manager Brian Cashman. That sounds like a conservative timetable for Severino, who is playing catch and has been slated to return anywhere from June to August. That really narrows it down. National League Cubs • The Cubs will go with a five-man rotation. Manager David Ross said on Tuesday that the team is not considering a six-man rotation. One concept under discussion is having pitchers who can move between the rotation and bullpen as a way to manage the innings-limit realities of the 2021 campaign. It sounds like fantasy managers will need to stay up the starters who might be headed to the bullpen. Diamondbacks • Madison Bumgarner blew off any pre-season fitness or throwing before last season. At any rate, preparing for an accelerated run-up to a shorter season isn’t something Bumgarner should need to do any time in the future. The veteran has known for a decade how to prepare for a seven-week spring training that starts in February and a six-month season that begins in April. By the end of the 2020 season, perhaps thanks to a month-long stay on the injured list, he was able to regain the fitness with which he’d normally enter a season. “He got to that point where he was prepared physically – strength-wise, flexibility-wise,” Herges said. “That’s what happened.” Plenty of other things clicked into place those final two starts. Bumgarner’s velocity improved to an average of 89.4 mph – and a max of 90.6 – after reaching a nadir of 87.5 mph the start before he hit the injured list. That was encouraging, but it was still several ticks below his average velocity his last year in San Francisco. More encouraging to Herges, and more instrumental to Bumgarner’s late-season rebound, was the left-hander’s improved command. He kept his pitches on the edges more than he had before, as illustrated in these heat maps from Baseball Savant. The results match up with his effort. A 6.48 ERA and 3 mph lost from his fastball. Also, it’s just amazing he got everything together seven weeks into the season. Spring training is seven weeks. Coincidence? • Eduardo Escobar came into camp out of shape that could have exacerbated his decline. At the end of the season, manager Torey Lovullo acknowledged he felt Escobar hadn’t kept on top of his conditioning during the break and that the team would like to see him slim down for 2021. Escobar appears to have done so, although he told The Arizona Republic that he doesn’t believe his weight affected him at the plate. Whatever did bother him offensively needs to get fixed, though. There were signs of a drop-off in the second half of 2019, when Escobar batted just .236 with a .280 on-base percentage in 69 games. He’s entering his age-32 season, so he may have reached his peak in 2019 when he hit 35 homers. With his quick ascent to being a regular, he might fall just as fast. Marlins • Anthony Bass, Yimi Garcia, and Dylan Floro are each in line to close. Mattingly mentioned García, Bass and Floro by name in regards to high-leverage situations. All three are projected for similar levels of production. Follow spring’s hat hand for some possible cheap Saves. Padres • Dinelson Lamet has not thrown his slider off a mound yet. One key hurdle remains, however. Lamet’s slider is his best pitch and easily one of the best in the entire sport. He’s been throwing those from flat ground, but he’s yet to use it in his offseason bullpen sessions. That’s not unusual for pitchers at this stage of spring. But getting Lamet throwing his slider with regularity remains a noteworthy step — perhaps the most important one — in his path toward recovery. Lamet, after all, was the only starting pitcher in baseball last season to use his slider at a clip higher than 50%. I’m still not drafting him until he goes a couple of innings in a game. Pirates • Adam Frazier shortened up his swing last season. Signs of that consistent contact showed up when he had a 12-game hitting streak from Aug. 29-Sept. 9, a period in which he hit .368. “I think he shortened his swing up,” manager Derek Shelton said of Frazier during the stretch. “I think at times he had gotten long and got away from what makes him effective. I think we’ve seen him shorten his swing up and make contact and put the ball in play.” Frazier struggled in August with a .617 OPS but did get going in September with a .756 OPS. His strikeout rate dropped from 19% to 11% while spraying the ball more (35% Pull% to 32% Pull%). The high contact swing did come at a price with his Hard% dropping from 32% to 21%. • The Pirates have not decided on a closer. “Right now, we don’t have (a closer),” Shelton said. It’s also hard to say what the Pirates have for the other bullpen roles. Neither Rodríguez nor Stratton fits as a ninth-inning guy and both could be traded by August. Feliz and Crick have been injured and ineffective. Oviedo is a Rule 5 pickup whom the Pirates will try to hide for as long as possible. It’s not like they need one. Rockies • There is a chance Brendan Rodgers becomes the second basemen. But with McMahon moving to third, the door is open for Rodgers to take over. Colorado’s former top prospect will be shown plenty of patience. If the team isn’t likely to contend anyway, why not let him work through the lumps? But Rodgers needs to show improvement all around, at the plate and in the field. If not, Owings can step in, like he did last year, or Hampson can play there. Both are at least reliable defensively. The onus for improvement here falls on Rodgers. The team’s top prospect has been pathetic in the majors with a .462 OPS in just over 100 PA. Even if he wins the spot, he might not be rosterable except during home games.