Mining the News (2/29/24)

Steven Bisig-USA TODAY Sports

American League


• The team plans on running more.

Angels manager Ron Washington said he plans to change that this year and it’s already showing up early this spring. The Angels have stolen 11 bases through their first five games, which ranks second among all clubs this spring. Washington is coming from the Braves, who stole 132 bases last year, which ranked 10th in the Majors, while they were also the best team in baseball at taking the extra base at 51 percent. Washington’s teams with the Rangers were also aggressive and led by basestealers such as Elvis Andrus and Ian Kinsler.

“I think everybody is going to be pleased because that’s what they were used to seeing from the Angels, when Mike [Scioscia] was managing, it was a regularity,” Washington said. “When I was in Texas, it was a regularity and when I was in Atlanta, it was a regularity. We stole five bases yesterday and three before that, but I want these guys to keep building. I don’t think teams are going to let us run crazy but if they fall asleep, we’re going to run. I want to be aggressive, that’s the way I want to play.”


• The team is considering going with Jose Altuve, Yordan Alvarez, Alex Bregman, and Kyle Tucker (Ed. note: FINALLY!!!) as their first four batters

Astros manager Joe Espada is considering batting slugger Yordan Alvarez in the No. 2 spot in his lineup, behind leadoff hitter Jose Altuve and ahead of Alex Bregman and Kyle Tucker. Alvarez batted mostly third last year, with Bregman (101 starts) and Jeremy Peña (44) getting most of the ABs in the second spot.

… with Jeremy Peña moving down to the lineup’s bottom.

Peña had some success in the No. 2 hole last year, but Espada believes the bottom of the lineup is what’s best for him. More than anything, he wants to find Peña a stable spot in the lineup, so he can come to the ballpark knowing where he’s going to hit.


Kyle Muller, who is out of options, changed his delivery to differentiate his slider and cutter.

Coming off a down 2023 campaign, Muller revamped his delivery this offseason by raising his arm slot and adjusting his windup rotation from east-to-west to more of a north-to-south motion. The change came on the suggestion of the A’s baseball operations department.

The mechanics are similar to the ones Muller employed while in the Braves’ Minor League system in 2022. He switched up his delivery after joining the A’s last offseason as part of the return from Atlanta in the Sean Murphy deal.

Muller is hopeful that the changes can help him distinguish his slider and fastball again, which he said he felt were starting to blend together last season and led to a lot of his ineffectiveness. After being named Oakland’s 2023 Opening Day starter as a rookie, Muller posted a 7.60 ERA in 21 games (13 starts).

Muller finds himself in an interesting predicament this spring. He is out of Minor League options, which means that if the 26-year-old does not make the Opening Day roster, he must be placed on waivers and become available to the 29 other Major League clubs.

Mitch Spence is adding a sinker.

In addition to Spence’s durability — his 163 innings pitched in 2023 led all Minor League pitchers — the A’s were drawn to his four-pitch starter mix of a fastball, slider, curveball and changeup. He has also been working to incorporate a sinker this spring; as a pitcher who pitches to contact, the sinker should help him induce more weak grounders.

JP Sears is tinkering with a sinker.

While his afternoon was brief, Sears did get a chance to tinker with his emerging sinker. The 28-year-old, who led Oakland with 32 starts in 2023, got his developing sinker into its first game action and threw the pitch three times, inducing a strikeout and a fly out.

“I’ve been feeling pretty confident with it. It’s a new pitch for me,” Sears said. “I’ve never thrown a sinker. I’m just trying to get educated on it from the other guys that throw it and the catchers and results from the hitters on my team whenever I face them live.”

Nick Allen is adjusting his swing to “stay on top of the baseball” (i.e. hit the high fastball).

Shortstop Nick Allen continued his hot start to Spring Training, going 2-for-3 with two triples and three RBIs. In three Cactus League games, the 25-year-old has seven total bases, five RBIs, three hits, a walk, a stolen base, a run scored and no strikeouts.

“Nick has really focused on making an adjustment from last season with his swing,” said Kotsay. “He’s worked really hard with our hitting coaches these first 10 days of spring in just trying to stay on top of the baseball.”

Blue Jays

Yusei Kikuchi is moving from a splitter to a circle change.

After he successfully incorporated a curveball into his repertoire last year, which complemented his fastball and slider, Kikuchi is refining his off-speed pitch this year. The left-hander ditched his old split-finger changeup and is instead throwing a circle changeup, which allows him to take more speed off of the pitch.

Kikuchi called the changeup a “work in progress,” but the Blue Jays envision it being a weapon that he can use to generate weak contact, especially against right-handed hitters. The slower speed is intentional, too.

Last year, his split-changeup averaged 88.7 mph, which in the Blue Jays’ view didn’t create enough separation from his 95 mph fastball. On Monday, his new changeup was averaging 84.6 mph, according to Baseball Savant. The Blue Jays envision the slower changeup pairing well with his fastball in a similar way to how Kikuchi’s 83 mph curveball complements his 89 mph slider.


Shane Bieber has reworked his curve to try to get back its magic.

Bieber said the feedback on his throwing motion was encouraging and that he didn’t need some overhaul. Guardians manager Stephen Vogt noted Bieber’s velocity has been better so far this spring. Willis said Bieber’s curveball resembles the one he tossed in 2020 and 2021, the one he could tunnel off his fastball and convince hitters to chase without hesitation.


Dominic Canzone added 15 pounds of muscle this offseason.

There’s a ton of raw power that might be untapped. Canzone crushed five homers after joining the Mariners, which averaged 106.7 mph and 406 feet — the second- and fourth-best marks on the team. And he put on 15 pounds of muscle this offseason to do even more damage.

Ty France cleaned up his mechanics to add 3.5 mph of bat speed.

So, for the first time in his pro career, France put his swing into the hands of outside counsel.

“It’s crazy to see how bad my swing was on a mechanical aspect,” the first baseman said.

Specifically, France felt he was hitting too much with his hands and not leveraging the rest of his body, most notably his lower half. Utilizing Driveline’s biometric data and other technology, France estimates that he added 3.5 mph of bat speed. Conditioning and trimming down was a big part of the plan, too, after he ranked in the seventh percentile in Statcast’s sprint speed.

To find out what 3.5 mph of bat speed means to the fantasy community, a 1 mph increase in bat speed equals a 1.2 mph increase in exit velocity for a total 4.2 mph increase. Assuming the rest of France’s game remained constant, he should expect a 20-point jump in wRC+ or a 20% better increase in his production.

I am worried there will be a trade of less contact with the increase in power. For The Process this year, I found that an increase in the strikeout rate offsets the power gains when hitters have attended Driveline over the winter.


Grayson Rodriguez has “tweaked” his two-seam fastball and re-added his cutter.

This spring, Rodriguez has further tweaked his repertoire by adding a two-seam fastball. It’s mostly intended as another weapon against right-handers, though Rodriguez said he plans to use it occasionally against lefties as well. Of his 37 pitches on Tuesday, Rodriguez said “a decent amount” were two-seamers.

“Tough to tell because he’s throwing 99 (mph),” manager Brandon Hyde said. “So, I couldn’t really tell (how many he threw) from my angle. But he hit 100 a few times, and the fastball was really good, just a tough time staying ahead in the count.”

As for the mostly abandoned cutter, it’s back in the mix, perhaps not as a singular weapon but as a pitch Rodriguez sees as important to the total picture.

“I think the cutter really helps me throw the slider,” Rodriguez said. “That’s something we’re still going to keep throwing. Not as much (as the first half of last season), but it definitely helps the development. Sets the slider up to be a better pitch, so the cutter’s still there.”

Cole Irvin added velocity by redesigning his pitches at Tread Athletics and improving his diet.

Of Irvin’s 28 pitches, 20 were strikes. He threw eight four-seam fastballs, seven cutters, six sinkers, five curveballs and two changeups.

All five had an average velocity higher than Irvin’s 2023 MLB average:

Four-seamer: +1.8 mph
Cutter: +2.5 mph
Sinker: +1.4 mph
Curveball: +1.6 mph
Changeup: +1.3 mph

Irvin didn’t take any days off this offseason, laser-focused on self-improvement. He worked with the coaches at Tread Athletics, a sports performance training company based in Charlotte, N.C., to refine his delivery and pitch designs.

Away from the field, Irvin cut down by more than 10 pounds by implementing a better diet. He also worked with a strength coach and increased the amount of weight he was lifting in the gym.


Dane Dunning is adding a splitter.

Making his second start of the spring on Tuesday against the D-backs at Salt River Fields, where Statcast pitch tracking data is available, Dunning may have let the cat out of the bag.

“It was nice to get an out with the new pitch and not spike it 47 feet, so that was kind of cool, popped him up to center,” he said, referring to Geraldo Perdomo’s second-inning popout on what Statcast called a splitter.

Jon Gray wants to throw his curve and change more.

Now — after scrapping the sweeper for a more traditional slider mid-2023 — Gray wants to use both the curveball and changeup a lot more frequently.

“Hopefully we go from using them two or three times [per game] again to closer to 10,” he said. “So just trying to show the slider and fastball less… It’ll make the fastball and slider a little bit better. If that’s not just the only thing you are really looking for as a hitter, then it’s gonna be a lot tougher. Like the margin for error can be a little bit larger for me.”


Zack Littell will be the team’s #2 or #3 starter.

After transforming from a reliever on the edge of the roster to a critically important stretch-run starter for the Rays last season, this spring is a little different for Littell.

“He’s probably pitching Game 2 or 3 for us to start the season. That’s got to be a good feeling for him,” manager Kevin Cash said. “He earned it.”

Red Sox

Masataka Yoshida had off-season jaw surgery.

Brayan Bello will pitch in the season’s first series.

Bello will pitch in the first series of the regular season and Cora said that pitching him in the D.R. on March 9 or 10 would take him off that path. The Sox open their season in Seattle on March 28.


• The team is not going to “platoon” Carlos Santana and Alex Kirilloff. Their playing time will be determined by the availability of the DH spot.

“In my mind, I don’t think of it as a traditional platoon in any way because one of our guys is a switch hitter,” Baldelli said. “You end up with different options because Santana can play pretty much any day. I think we are going to have the ability to move around the DH spot and get some different guys in there. It just gives us a lot of flexibility.”

Without a full-time designated hitter — something the lineup hasn’t had since Nelson Cruz — the Twins could use both Santana and Kirilloff versus righties, interchangeably at first base and DH. In that scenario, Santana would likely see the larger share of the first-base reps, in part because he’s a better defender and in part because Kirilloff was injured on a diving play there last season.


Anthony Rizzo just passed his last concussion test and is 100% cleared.

Having aced his most recent checkup in November, Rizzo said he was told not to be concerned about the possibility of symptoms returning. General manager Brian Cashman said he no longer considers Rizzo’s situation an ongoing issue, noting, “The doctors have told us he’s 100 percent cleared.”

National League


Forrest Wall will likely be the backup outfielder on the MLB roster but if the team needs an extended replacement, they will call up J.P. Martínez

However, the Braves have indicated that Martinez might be sent to Triple-A Gwinnett to begin the season since they’d prefer he get regular at-bats instead of rarely playing for a Braves team that expects its starting outfield of Harris, NL MVP Ronald Acuña Jr. and newcomer Jarred Kelenic to play virtually every day as long as they’re healthy.

If there were an injury and an outfielder was sidelined for multiple games, Martinez would be called up for that assignment.

Braves general manager and president of baseball operations Alex Anthopoulos indicated that speed is likely to be a big determining factor for one of the two remaining spots, which makes Wall a strong candidate.

Anthopoulos noted that Luke Williams also has good speed, if not the eye-popping stolen bases that Wall has produced


Colin Rea added a splitter.

Colin Rea has added a new split changeup to his four-pitch mix this spring, but his fastball played so well in his start Sunday that he didn’t get a chance to use it much.


Tommy Edman’s swing is still “progressing”.

Edman’s progression continues to be heavily monitored as he works through his hitting program. Manager Oli Marmol said Tuesday the switch-hitting Edman was progressing quicker through his left swing than his right swing. The next step is to make sure both swings are caught up before Edman can progress to coach-pitched batting practice.

“It’s day to day,” Marmol said. “There are certain days (Edman’s wrist) feels really good, and certain days where it doesn’t feel as great, and then the next day it feels good. So we have to take it day by day right now, until we get a little bit better rhythm.”


Keaton Winn expects to be at 70-80 pitches to start the season.

Winn, 26, was slated to throw out to 95 feet on Tuesday and has said he believes he’ll still have enough time to build up to approximately 70-80 pitches by the end of the spring.

Jordan Hicks threw just in the mid-90s during his second inning of work.

Hicks, a converted reliever, had to grind through a 30-pitch first inning and then sat for a while due to the Giants’ extended rally against Kirby in the bottom half of the frame. His velocity dipped a bit when he returned to the mound in the second, but he was able to push it back up to the mid-90s and recorded two outs on six pitches before leaving the game.

“It was good to get that,” Hicks said. “I know it’s going to be a part of the game, just those long sits, long innings. I came out there and I think my first pitch of the second inning was 93 [mph], and then it kind of slowly worked up from there.”


Eury Pérez is throwing a new curveball.

But it was Pérez’s new-look curveball that garnered the most attention. He and pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre Jr. came to a mutual decision on the grip this spring, and he threw it three times with mixed results. While the location was off — all three were balls — the pitch showed less average velocity (from 81.2 to 75.3 mph) with more spin (up 137 rpm; 100 is considered noteworthy), average vertical drop (57 inches up from 41) and average horizontal movement (eight inches up from four) compared to last season.


Max Kranick just developed a two-seamer and a splitter over the winter.

Right-hander Max Kranick started Monday’s game against Washington and retired all six hitters he faced. Throwing his two-seam fastball, a pitch he developed only three weeks ago, has helped him find success on the mound. Kranick was also working on a splitter this winter, but he encountered mixed results. He said he might reintroduce the pitch to opponents sometime this season.

Francisco Alvarez is working on leveling out his swing.

Over the last handful of months, Alvarez has worked with Barnes on some swing adjustments. Essentially, coaches want Alvarez to cut down on the loopiness of his swing (Brett Baty and Mark Vientos have tried to make similar adjustments). The focus is on Alvarez’s first move at the plate. The desired results include Alvarez producing more backspin and line drives.


Joe Musgrove is fine with his early struggles.

“I’m working on [stuff] right now,” Musgrove said. “Some of it sucks. Some of it’s OK. I feel like I don’t have the level of confidence I have in-season, landing the breaking balls in any count, a little inconsistency. … But that’s part of the progression.”

Clearly, Musgrove wasn’t pleased with his performance. But he also acknowledged the bigger picture. The veteran right-hander is experimenting with a new slider — a more sweeper-like version of the pitch that he says won’t blend with his curveball. He still isn’t sure whether the pitch will stick.

In the meantime, his fastball velocity sat in the low 90s on Monday. That’s not health-related. It’s where Musgrove says he usually is at this stage of camp — and, to be fair, he’s struggled before in Spring Training.


Cristopher Sánchez added a cutter, 10 pounds, and 2 mph on his sinker.

The first pitch Cristopher Sánchez threw Carlos Correa on Tuesday was 90 mph, down and in, and Correa swung through it because it was not a pitch that appeared on any scouting report.

“It’s a cutter,” Stubbs said.

Correa nodded. Thirty minutes later, Sánchez reveled in the moment when he unveiled his newest weapon. “It’s one more pitch,” Sánchez said through a team interpreter. “The first one that I threw to Correa today, he got surprised. So that’s the goal for me.” Sánchez is 27 and, for the first time in his career, he is guaranteed a job in the majors to begin the season.

So, Sánchez took it to another level this past winter. He said he added about 10 pounds, and as a result he threw harder Tuesday against the Twins than he did all of last season. It’s not back to the high-90s fastballs he featured before. But he averaged 94 mph with his sinker Tuesday, a 2 mph improvement from 2023. More velocity — if controlled — is a great thing.

Aaron Nola might have struggled because he watched the wrong pitch clock.

Aaron Nola struggled the first several months of the 2023 season. The urgency to get things right only increased as the postseason approached. Then, one day late in the season, Nola said Phillies pitching coach Caleb Cotham suggested he stop looking at the pitch timer on the right side of home plate, particularly out of the stretch, and instead look at the pitch timer on the left. Nola had a 2.27 ERA in his final six starts, including the postseason. He had a 4.62 ERA in his first 30.

“You pretty much throw where your eyes go and where your head goes,” Nola said. “That was a big key.”

“He has incredible feel of what’s going on,” Cotham said. “Last year, he felt like he couldn’t see where he wanted to go. His eyes were late. His stride was a little across his body. His upper body was a little closed off. We can see stuff like that with some of the stuff we have. He was watching video. I was watching video. He’s looking at the right pitch clock. So when a runner’s on base, he’s coming set, he’s looking at that clock, the hitter, the runner, the hitter, that pitch clock. So it kind of nudged [his front shoulder] this way [to the right].”


Hunter Greene added a curveball and splitter over the winter.

With a full count to his first batter of Cactus League play, Cincinnati Reds starter Hunter Greene wanted to try his curveball.

The pitch — as well as a split-finger fastball — is new this year. And even though the curve went for a ball and a leadoff walk to the Los Angeles Angels’ Nelson Rada, using it showed the type of confidence Greene has in the pitch and what he wants to see from it.

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 four FSWA Awards including on for his Mining the News series. He's won Tout Wars three times, LABR twice, and got his first NFBC Main Event win in 2021. Follow him on Twitter @jeffwzimmerman.

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3 months ago

That comment about Nola and the pitch clock is really interesting. It shows how such a little thing can potentially be enough to throw off their timing and aim.

2 months ago
Reply to  dl80

Nola’s underlying #s look the exact same

2 months ago
Reply to  dl80

I have Nola on my keeper league so I try to watch him often. I noticed he stunk with runners on base last year. Felt like he would implode 1 inning and give up a 3-run homer then follow up with all shutout innings. Makes sense why he was “off” throwing from the set position.