Mining the News (3/30/22) Pt. 1

American League

Astros

Cristian Javier will start the season in the bullpen.

Astros manager Dusty Baker said on Monday that Cristian Javier will likely begin the season in the bullpen, because the club will need some long relievers in April.

Athletics

• According to manager Make Kotsay, Lou Trivino should be the closer.

Who begins the year as closer remains under wraps. However, A’s manager Mark Kotsay mentioned that Trivino’s track record does give him a leg up on the competition.

“When we put this roster together, we’ll try to identify roles,” Kotsay said. “But [Trivino] obviously has the most experience on the roster closing games, so it seems like he would be ahead of the curve.”

Mariners

Logan Gilbert has reworked his non-fastballs so they can be tunneled.

“I’m super excited about what I’ve seen early in camp,” Servais said. “[Logan Gilbert has] made some really nice adjustments to the shaping of his pitches. His slider is coming 87-88 miles an hour, which was never the case. It’s become shorter with more depth versus the bigger sweeper. The curveball is in play now … it’s coming out at 81-82 miles an hour versus the 76 mph big looper.

“He’s realizing that all the pitches need to look the same. They need to tunnel correctly otherwise big-league hitters, they recognize it. So he’s made some really good adjustments and he looks great.”

Rangers

• Manager Chris Woodward doesn’t want Joe Barlow to be the team’s initial closer.

When it comes to high-leverage situations, Texas has a number of options. Joe Barlow posted a 1.55 ERA and went 11-for-12 in save situations as a rookie last season, but Woodward said he doesn’t want to put the right-hander back in the closer’s role right away with expectations raised for the club in 2022. Spencer Patton could slide into that role, or even a non-roster veteran pitcher like Matt Bush or Greg Hollard, each of whom has closing experience.

Uh oh.

Royals

Kris Bubic is adding a slider.

Along with trying to gain more velocity and vertical break on his fastball, Bubic focused on finding the right grip on his slider while throwing at his alma mater, Stanford, with his former pitching coach Thomas Eager.

As Bubic assessed the way hitters game-planned against him last year, he realized there was a big part of the plate missing with his current arsenal. His fastball is at its best at the top of the zone and his changeup arm side. His curveball covers the bottom part of the zone.

And glove side? Bubic has been working on establishing his fastball inside against righties, but he still wanted to have a pitch that attacks that part of the plate. Enter the slider, which has a bit of a gyro look to it — meaning little spin — and can cut at times.

MJ Melendez is seeing time at third base and the outfield.

“That’s part of the reason we’ve had some of the looks of MJ at different places, knowing that’s a bat that was very good last year,” Matheny said. “If he’s able to keep making those strides, how do we get him opportunities if any present themselves? It’s just trying to be a little creative and not making wholesale changes. Because he’s a good catcher. It’s just where’s the opportunity, and how do we make the most of the talent and opportunity combined?”

Melendez is a plus defender behind the plate and is catching regularly, but he’s been getting reps in at third base and the outfield on the backfields. He’s seen game action at third base only and is open to wherever the Royals need him.

Tigers

• The Tigers are hoping Tarik Skubal will throw his curve more and for strikes.

Tarik Skubal continues to impress in spring training outings, and one of his big plans for 2022 is upping his curveball usage. Skubal threw the curve only 6.8 percent of the time last season. The hammer curve, though, has always looked good coming out of Skubal’s hand in spring training.

But for as much as we obsess over Skubal’s already nasty arsenal, the Tigers mostly want him to focus on command. Hinch is all for using the curveball so long as Skubal can spot it for strikes.

Twins

Luis Arraez and Gio Urshela may be in a third base platoon.

Urshela is the better defender and has more pop, while Arraez will hit for better contact and average, particularly against right-handed pitching. It’s tough because Correa and Polanco are everyday fixtures at shortstop and second base, respectively, while Urshela has relatively neutral platoon splits for his career, meaning it might not be quite as simple as playing Arraez against righties and Urshela against lefties.

There won’t even be a ton of consistent playing time at designated hitter, because the Twins plan to use a rotation through the position to keep guys fresh. Both third basemen could be everyday players on many teams, but there are too many decent players for too few positions on the Twins’ roster as of this moment. It’s not a bad problem to have, but Baldelli will need to feel out a balance.

Arraez (career .814 OPS vs RHP) would be on the strong side and Urshela (career .762 OPS vs LHP) on the weak side.

Yankees

Aaron Hicks has come in 15 pounds lighter and wants to run more.

About 15 pounds trimmer and brimming with confidence after testing his surgically repaired left wrist this past winter, Hicks believes it might be possible.

“There is something special about 30-30,” Hicks said. “For me, I want to steal more, and I feel like 30 home runs are reachable for me. Those two together are a dangerous pair. That’s definitely something I would like to do.”

• Looks like Aaron Boone doesn’t want anyone stealing bases while hitting in the lineup’s top half.

Boone applauds Hicks’ intent, saying: “I like that his mind is right there. Him coming in at a lighter weight is going to serve him well, hopefully not only on the bases but in center field as well. Aaron’s a guy that I could see hitting almost anywhere in our lineup, but if he’s hitting in that No. 6 or No. 7 spot in our lineup, maybe there are some more chances to run there.”

The half dozen stolen base projections for Joey Gallo, Aaron Judge, and Anthony Rizzo could be zeroed out.

Josh Donaldson could leadoff.

National League

Braves

Dansby Swanson may get buried at the lineup’s bottom.

Braves’ potential lineup vs. a right-handed starter

Eddie Rosario, L, RF
Ozzie Albies, S, 2B
Matt Olson, L, 1B
Austin Riley, R, 3B
Marcell Ozuna, R, LF
Adam Duvall, R, CF
Alex Dickerson, L, DH
Dansby Swanson, R, SS
Travis d’Arnaud, R, C

Braves’ potential lineup vs. a left-handed starter

Ozzie Albies, S, 2B
Matt Olson, L, 1B
Austin Riley, R, 3B
Marcell Ozuna, R, DH
Adam Duvall, R, RF
Eddie Rosario, L, LF
Dansby Swanson, R, SS
Travis d’Arnaud, R, C
Guillermo Heredia, R, CF

It’s going to be tough for Swanson to accumulate elite-level counting stats with Travis d’Arnaud and Guillermo Heredia hitting after him.

Brewers

Andrew McCutchen was still feeling the effects of his ACL tear last season.

McCutchen cited another factor: Health. He suffered a torn left ACL in 2019 and was still feeling its effects last season.

“For me, it’s not like my numbers were so bad where it’s, ‘You can’t hit righties,’” McCutchen explained. “Anybody looking at the surface, that’s what they’re going to see. But if I’m crushing lefties, why aren’t I crushing righties? That’s the question I ask myself. …

“It was just going back to the table and figuring out what I did right and some things I needed to work on. I spun off a lot of pitches last year, and I think a lot of that had to do with my knee. I didn’t have my legs under me every single day. I had good days [and] I had bad days. I think that led to a lot of missed balls, pulling off a lot of balls, I couldn’t drive the ball with authority to the right side of the field. I addressed all of those things this offseason to get myself back strong. Today was a good sample size for me as far as executing my plan.”

Luis Urías will likely start the season in the IL.

Club officials haven’t officially ruled out Luis Urías being ready for Opening Day due to his left quad injury, but manager Craig Counsell conceded this weekend that it’s “getting less likely” that he will be active on April 7 against the Cubs.

Aaron Ashby wants to throw his sinker more.

Aaron Ashby wants to establish his sinker more in the bottom of the zone, and that sounds like a great idea.

From the “Did you know” department: Ashby’s most-used pitch was his slider and he actually utilized his slider to get ahead in counts. It was also his go-to putaway pitch, what he threw with two strikes.

Ashby’s sinker wasn’t great in 2021 — batters hit .333 against it — but with better control of it and more trust in it, the pitch could be a major factor. Ashby’s sinker averages 96 mph with solid movement. Improving it could mean throwing it early in counts to get ahead and set up his slider and trying to get weakly hit grounders, especially with runners on.

Cardinals

• The Cardinals are looking at going with a closer by committee.

It’s a good thing the Cardinals have a depth of pitchers who have closed games because new manager Oliver Marmol, pitching coach Mike Maddux and the front office are tinkering with the idea of having a fluid bullpen free of defined roles. Whereas many pitchers strictly adhere to their routines and managers often prefer having a defined pecking order when it comes to bullpen hierarchy, the Cardinals are contemplating a system where pitchers are called upon because of favorable matchups and their top pitches instead of set schedules. Whereas some might consider it bullpen by committee, the Cardinals think of it as bullpen by calculus, cunning and control.

Cubs

Manuel Rodríguez, David Robertson, Mychal Givens, and Chris Martin are in the running for the team’s closer.

Without a true closer in hand, Ross plans on beginning the season with a mixture of pitchers in that role. Manuel Rodríguez could be in that conversation, along with more veteran arms like David Robertson, Mychal Givens or Chris Martin, depending on how the roster shakes out and Opening Day readiness.

“Those things have a way of defining themselves,” Ross said. “We have, I think, an idea of what everybody’s stuff does and how it plays. And I think each individual lineup we’ll try to match that up correctly, and you may see some different guys on the back side.

“But you may also see somebody that starts to stand out a little bit. You guys will notice it, I’ll notice it and we’ll kind of adjust as we need to.”

The last sentence is a big deal. Check the group’s Spring Training results to see how each one is doing. Here is how they are their results so far in Spring Training games.

  • Manuel Rodríguez: 1 IP, 1 K, 0.00 WHIP
  • David Robertson: Not stats
  • Mychal Givens: Not stats
  • Chris Martin: 2 IP, 0 K, 2.00 WHIP
  • Rowan Wick: 2 IP, 3 K, 1.50 WHIP

Diamondbacks

Geraldo Perdomo could start the season as the team’s shortstop.

If Ahmed starts the season on the injured list, it would seem to be a no-brainer that Perdomo will handle shortstop in his absence. That’s what the prospect did when Ahmed was out at the beginning and end of last season. Even if Ahmed is playable but limited — starting two out of every three games, for instance — it might provide enough at-bats to justify keeping Perdomo from daily action in the minors, where he still could use some development time. But until we have a firmer grip on Ahmed’s status, we’ll project Alcántara to crack the club as a non-roster player.

In the minors in 2019, Perdomo stole a combined 26 bases. A two-week rabbit rental.

Dodgers

• The Athletic’s Fabian Ardaya has Daniel Hudson penciled in as the closer.

Otherwise, it’s essentially the bullpen that ended last season, with Daniel Hudson in Kenley Jansen’s spot.

• Dave Roberts has yet to anoint Blake Treinen as the closer.

Giants

Mike Yastrzemski believes he struggled against lefties because of an early-season hit-by-pitch.

“I think the biggest difference between ‘19, ‘20 and ‘21 was how much damage and how good he was against left-handed pitching,” Kapler said. “That was just an everyday, well-above-average, All-Star-caliber player at the Major League level. Last year was more like a productive platoon bat. When he’s at his best, it’s lefties, it’s righties, it’s comfort seeing pitches, it’s comfort hitting in two-strike counts, it’s comfort hitting velocity. It’s the most dangerous version of Yaz.”

Yastrzemski believes one of the issues stemmed from his final Cactus League game of 2021, when he was hit on the left hand by a pitch from A’s left-hander Sean Manaea. While he escaped serious injury, Yastrzemski had a difficult time putting the incident fully out of his mind, which affected his performance against lefties.

Brandon Belt’s knee is hurting him again.

Kapler said Belt reported to camp with discomfort in his right knee, which has given him trouble in the past. The 33-year-old underwent surgery in September 2018 to clean up the meniscus in the knee and also missed time with inflammation after injuring himself while running the bases at Angel Stadium last year.

As someone who has his meniscus messed up, I was given the fast (i.e. remove the screwed up meniscus) or slow (i.e brace and time to heal). The issue with the fast one is that there is no protection to the bones grinding each other. It looks like Belt took the fast method.

The good news for the Giants is that the meniscus tear won’t require an extensive rehabilitation stint, so the first baseman should be good to go for spring training assuming he doesn’t suffer any setbacks.

I wonder if Belt’s knee is just going to keep getting worse and worse as his bones grind together and his career quickly winds down.

Marlins

• The Marlins are going to go with a closer-by-committee.

If Floro isn’t ready, who might the Marlins turn to at the end of the game? Right-hander Anthony Bender recorded 12 holds and three saves as a rookie. After blowing his first two save chances of 2021, righty Anthony Bass compiled a 3.05 ERA and 19 holds over his final 67 outings. [Richard] Bleier is a possibility if left-handed batters are lined up. For now, Miami will go closer-by-committee during high-leverage situations.

Edward Cabrera is behind the other Miami starters.

Right-hander Edward Cabrera (MLB Pipeline’s No. 34 overall prospect) will soon appear either on a back field or in a Grapefruit League game, according to Mattingly. As a member of the 40-man roster, the 23-year-old Dominican was unable to train with the other Minor Leaguers during the lockout.

“He was a little bit behind,” Mattingly said. “We didn’t feel good about getting him out there. I don’t know the number of innings he’s going to end up getting before he leaves. We weren’t sure how he was going to walk in.”

Padres

Emilio Pagán is working on going back to his old mechanics and adding a splitter.

And then of years past, college through the minor leagues. And it was glaringly obvious that my [Emilio Pagan] mechanics last year were different. So I’m just trying to get back to a delivery that felt like me, felt athletic and allowed me to drive the ball to the top of the zone instead of just letting it get there.

I started throwing pretty quickly this offseason. I had a lot of goals that I wanted to accomplish, the splitter being one of them, so I knew I probably needed a little bit more time than I’d given myself in the past. So I would throw the splitter probably five or six times a day in catch play for the first few weeks, and then I graduated to, like, 10 to 12. And then it was 10 to 12 times on flat ground, a couple times off the mound. Just ease into the process. It was early January when I started facing hitters, and the first few times I faced hitters, I threw it probably three or four times. And then I’ve just thrown it more and more over time to try and make my arm comfortable with what it feels like bouncing back after outings. I’m excited with where it’s at, and I hope it continues to progress.

Emilio Pagán and Robert Suarez are the front runners for the closer’s job.

As it stands, Emilio Pagán and Robert Suarez look like their readiest options at closer. Ideally, perhaps, those two would serve as setup men, of which the Padres have plenty. And they could trade from this collection to help address another need.

Phillies

Bryson Stott is taking reps at third base.

Phillies top prospect Bryson Stott is in the mix for a starting job on the Opening Day roster — but not at the position some might have expected.

The highly touted shortstop prospect slid over to make the start at third base for Sunday’s 10-5 win over the Blue Jays at TD Ballpark.

“I want flexibility,” manager Joe Girardi said. “Because I’m not exactly sure how we’re going to go.”

So is Stott a candidate for the third-base job?

“It’s something we’re gonna look at,” Girardi said.

“He hasn’t showed us anything that he’s not [ready],” said Girardi, who added the club has no qualms about starting Stott’s service time if he’s ready to contribute. “I think his defense has been good. I think his at-bats have been good. But Spring Training is always different than the season, right? They tell you don’t judge players in September and don’t judge players in Spring Training.”

Odúbel Herrera could be out for six weeks.

Odúbel Herrera will not make the Opening Day roster because of a mild strain in his right oblique. Girardi said Herrera could miss four to six weeks, which opened a spot for Haseley, who was the team’s Opening Day center fielder in 2021 before stepping away from the team due to personal reasons.

Girardi said he sees Harper as the primary right fielder and Schwarber as the primary left fielder. Castellanos is most likely to bounce from right to left to DH. But everybody will get a turn at DH at some point.

Vierling could run with the job in center, but Haseley has an opportunity to get at-bats against right-handers.

Matt Vierling (projected .303 wOBA) and Adam Haseley (projected .295 wOBA) are the replacement options. Both have 15 HR/15 SB upside if given a full season of plate appearances.

Ed. note: Haseley was traded to the White Sox

• Todd Zolecki of MLB.com believes Corey Knebel is the team’s closer.

Knebel is the closer. Hand and Familia are expected to be setup men, but Alvarado, Domínguez, Brogdon and Coonrod will see time in the late innings.

Pirates

Mitch Keller’s fastball is up over 3 mph.

In two games, Keller’s fastball has an average velocity of 97.3 mph. By comparison, Keller’s average fastball velocity last season was 93.8 mph, the slowest of his young career. When Keller’s heater touches the mid-to-high 90s, if not triple digits, his secondary pitches, which now includes a slurve, plays much better. As Keller said after his start against the Phillies, “when I throw hard, it’s harder to hit.” While it’s early, Keller’s dominance in Spring Training could serve as the foundation of a breakout season.

• The only locks for the rotation seem to be Mitch Keller, José Quintana, and JT Brubaker

With Cruz likely destined for Triple-A Indianapolis, the biggest question that remains for the Pirates is how the starting rotation looks and operates. Keller and José Quintana are just about locks with JT Brubaker not being too far behind. From there? The Pirates have a lot of options, but not a lot of clarity.

Among those who could potentially be in the rotation come Opening Day are Wil Crowe, Zach Thompson (who pitched three innings in Saturday’s 14-5 loss to the Orioles), Dillon Peters and Bryse Wilson. Miguel Yajure and Max Kranick, who have yet to pitch this spring, are also possibilities once they’re ramped up. Expect the rotation, especially early, to be a work in progress.

Greg Allen looks to have won one outfield spot.

Coming into Spring Training, right field was one of the Pirates’ true positional battles. Through the first handful of games, Allen appears likely to lock down the starting job. Coming into Friday, Allen has three hits, two of which are home runs, two walks, four RBIs and a steal.

Allen’s Steamer600 projection has him at 9 HR, 24 SB, and a .243 AVG.

Reds

Luis Cessa and Hunter Strickland could end up as the closer.

A minor offseason back injury slowed Lucas Sims’ preparation and leaves him unable to be ready in time for the start of the season. Without Sims, closing duties could fall to Cessa or the just-signed Strickland as both will factor large in the late innings.

Rockies

• Manager Bud Black wants a closer who can strike out batters.

Colomé’s strikeout rate peaked at 11.3 per nine innings in his All-Star year of 2016 with the Rays and was 9.5 in 2018 with the Mariners and Rays. But it was in the low 8.0s the last two full seasons. For comparison, Bard fanned 11.0 batters per nine innings last season and Estévez’s rate was 8.8.

Last season, however, Colomé had the lowest WHIP of the three, 1.400 to Estévez’s 1.492 and Bard’s 1.599, so the evaluation scale could slide.

“You like the strikeout … the WHIP is as important as a closer,” Black said. “If you walk guys, you’d better get the strikeout. If you don’t walk guys and you get your outs via the ground ball or the mishit or the high fly ball, that counts, too. It depends on the talent of the pitcher.

“But generally speaking, over the history of the game, the best closers usually have strikeouts. They usually have good stuff that produces the strikeout, and that can come in a lot of different ways.”

Here are the projected strikeout rate (depth charts) for the closer candidates:

Name: Proj K/9
Daniel Bard: 10.1 K/9
Robert Stephenson: 10.1 K/9
Carlos Estévez: 8.9 K/9
Alex Colomé: 7.9 K/9

It looks like two names stick out.

Kyle Freeland is still working on a new changeup.

The new changeup came after his study of advanced metrics showed that he could create a desired spin profile. Freeland has spent time gripping a softball to get used to spreading his fingers enough to throw it. However, he can still go back to the circle-ish (the thumb and index finger don’t touch in this grip) change he has used in the past, which he can manipulate for location’s sake.

But in order to know why the new grip didn’t work, he threw it repeatedly against the Reds.

“We didn’t shy away from it,” said Freeland, who was especially happy with his slider, and felt good about his fastball and curve. “We wanted to throw it and find what adjustments we need to make. I continued to throw it. It got hit. That’s OK. That’s why we’re in Spring Training.”





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 once, and got his first NFBC Main Event win in 2021. Follow him on Twitter @jeffwzimmerman.

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jbmember
4 months ago

Call me greedy. When is part 2 coming.. Timely info!