Mining the News (3/4/24)

Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

• I expected more articles on the effects of the pitch clock but here is the first one I’ve seen. While I would have liked more details on results/methods used, it did find that “slow” starters struggled more than “slow” relievers. They used fWAR to determine if the pitcher struggled. I wish they would have divided up the talent and playing time components.

Though there are a number of factors at play in determining how well a pitcher performs, we can, at the very least, hypothesize that starters were more greatly impacted by the pitch clock than relievers. Starters’ changes in fWAR and tempo between ‘22 and ‘23 were more heavily correlated (0.55) than those of relievers (0.35). While correlation doesn’t imply causation, it does lead us to believe that starters were likely more strained from a performance standpoint than relievers. This would make sense, too, when considering the staminal game starters endure as opposed to the fast-paced, max-effort environment relievers face.

American League

Angels

Mickey Moniak plans on swinging at the “right pitches”.

“I definitely think [walks] can be part of my game,” Moniak said. “It’s a fine line between doing something I feel like is beneficial to my game, and that’s being aggressive and putting the ball in play hard. But it’s also about swinging at the right pitches. So it’s not necessarily looking to walk more, but to make sure that I’m swinging at the right pitches consistently.”

• The manager wants Logan O’Hoppe to catch 125-135 games.

Washington said he’d like to see catcher Logan O’Hoppe behind the plate for roughly 125-135 games this season as the club’s primary backstop.

Astros

• The team is looking at Ronel Blanco, Brandon Bielak, and Spencer Arrighetti to fill out their starting rotation.

Espada said Ronel Blanco, Brandon Bielak and top pitching prospect Spencer Arrighetti are among the candidates to fill out the staff.

“Brandon Bielak is a guy that has done it before,” Espada said. “Arrighetti is throwing the ball really well and could be considered for that spot. We do have options, and they’re really good options for us if those guys are not ready for Opening Day.”

• Top prospect Jacob Melton cleaned up his swing.

“That was a big thing this offseason, to try to clean up the swing, simplifying a lot of things,” Melton said. “I just want to be in a better position coming into this season.”

With that in mind, Melton worked on his swing in the offseason, looking to have smaller and fewer movements, which he hopes will put him in position to see the ball better. He worked with former Oregon State teammate Wade Meckler of the Giants and Oregon State assistant coach Ryan Gipson.

Cristian Javier lost 15 pounds to improve his delivery.

Astros starter Cristian Javier lost 15 pounds in the winter to help him be more fluid in his delivery, which looked like it paid some dividends on Saturday. Javier threw free and easy in three hitless innings, striking out three batters and walking two. He threw 51 pitches (26 strikes).

“I know it’s early in camp, but just how good his body was working — the lower half synchronized with his upper body — and how he was working down the hill and how he was hitting his spots, that was good to see,” manager Joe Espada said.

The key for Javier is movement on his fastball as it sails up in the zone, and the right-hander said he liked what he saw. He also mixed in some sliders in the low-to-mid 80s, though he didn’t seem to have a good feel for the pitch yet. Overall, he was pleased.

Athletics

• Left-handed hitting Tyler Soderstrom will likely add catcher eligibility soon into the season.

Soderstrom will likely enter the 2024 campaign in a left-right platoon with catcher Shea Langeliers, while also potentially getting some time at first base and designated hitter. Viewed as a key piece of the young core forming in the Majors along with others such as Zack Gelof and Lawrence Butler, the A’s are hopeful that Soderstrom’s elite hitting traits that were on display throughout the Minors will translate more this upcoming season.

Blue Jays

Mitch White, Bowden Francis, Paolo Espino, and Ricky Tiedemann are being considered for the rotation with Alek Manoah struggling.

Who is next in line behind Manoah?

The Blue Jays’ rotation depth, which has finally grown into a legitimate strength, might be needed sooner than we expected.

“You look at Mitch White, Bowden Francis,” Schneider said. “Paolo Espino, we’ll give a look, too, and we hope to get Ricky Tiedemann back on the mound here soon. You look at those guys, but hopefully it’s nothing crazy serious with Alek.”

• But Bowden Francis might be the front-runner for the rotation spot.

Francis feels like the front-runner, though, and has earned praise from coaches and teammates alike in camp. Francis posted a 1.73 ERA over 36 1/3 innings last season — somehow doing so quietly — but he’ll be challenged with stretching that over longer outings now.

“He added the splitter this year, which I think will be good against lefties to go with his heater and curveball,” Schneider said. “I think it’s just about seeing what his stuff does. We tried to do this a bit last year as camp went on, trying to get him up to 50-60 pitches. His stuff is so good in short spurts, but can you harness that as you get your pitch count up?”

Rangers

Cody Bradford is bringing back his curveball.

Bradford’s main emphasis this offseason was re-introducing the curveball to his arsenal. He threw the pitch in college at Baylor, but scrapped it after undergoing thoracic outlet syndrome surgery in 2019. At that time, he added the slider to go with his fastball and changeup.

Rays

Jose Siri plans on stealing more bases.

In the second inning, Jose Siri stole second base off Blue Jays starter Paolo Espino, then stole third on the next pitch.

“Last year, I focused on the home-run hitting [with 25], and last year with the rule changes, I stole a few bases [12],’’ Siri said through team interpreter Manny Navarro. “Now I want to be aggressive and not have the fear [of being thrown out]. I’m trying to steal more bases and focus on that.’’

Siri said his goal is 30 stolen bases — at least.

Red Sox

Enmanuel Valdez is the favorite to replace Vaughn Grissom at second base.

For now, it appears that Enmanuel Valdez will slot in at second in Grissom’s absence. Valdez landed with the Red Sox via the Christian Vázquez trade with the Astros on July 31, 2022, and brought with him a coveted left-handed-hitting option for the lineup. The 25-year-old slashed .266/.311/.453 across 49 games with the big league club last season and added 41 RBIs, 10 homers, two triples and eight doubles in 57 games with Triple-A Worcester.

Valdez has been struggling with the bat. In the Dominican Winter League, he hit .111/.319/.111 (49 PA). So far in Spring Training, he’s hitting just .000/.182/.000 (11 PA).

Jarren Duran’s toe will always be sore.

“I think lately, my biggest battle is knowing [my toe] is going to be sore, and that that’s normal,” said Duran, who’d completed endless drills on the back fields in the past weeks but admitted there’s no perfect simulation for real game action. “Some days are going to be better than the others, but it’s perfectly healed, and I should be able to do everything perfectly fine.”

The starters for the first weekend are Lucas Giolito, Brayan Bello, and Nick Pivetta.

Cora recently said he has Lucas Giolito, Brayan Bello and Nick Pivetta lined up for the season-opening series in Seattle, but not necessarily in that order. He’s also indicated Kutter Crawford had an upper hand on a fourth spot, so barring an injury or wild inconsistency over the next few weeks, it appears he’s another lock.

Tigers

Beau Brieske reshaped his slider.

Brieske threw [his slider] in his first Spring Training appearance on Monday against the Astros, throwing it for six of his 24 pitches, and it had a different look. While the average velocity of 85.4 mph was a couple ticks down from last year, the average spin rate of 2399 rpm was up 200 revolutions. He drew one swing and miss and no called strikes, but also none put in play.

“The shape has changed a little bit,” Brieske said earlier in the week, “and I do think that it fits my arsenal a little bit better.”

Whether Brieske ends up in the bullpen or stretching out as a starter — he would most likely begin the season at Triple-A Toledo if he returns to starting — the slider is key for him.

White Sox

Oscar Colás is playing some first base.

Oscar Colás played first base for the first time with the White Sox during a 14-3 loss to the Rangers on Saturday afternoon. But it was not the first time Colás tried his hand at that position.

“I feel comfortable because I used to play that position in Japan, like four or five years ago,” Colás said through interpreter Billy Russo. “I was an outfielder and a first baseman.

Michael Kopech added a cutter.

The cutter, a new pitch for Kopech, was used fairly liberally Friday. Kopech used it more than his slider, which he threw 27.2 percent of the time in 2023. Along with being in top-notch physical condition, Kopech is in a good mental place and primed for a big ‘24 season.

• The manager said that Yoán Moncada would bat second.

Grifol likes Yoán Moncada in the second spot of his batting order. Moncada feels comfortable in that spot. But nothing is given, according to Grifol.

“He’s one of our best bunters. He’s one of our best hit-and-run guys, and everyone knows the ability he has from both sides of the plate,” Grifol said. “What I did tell him is this: I like consistency in the lineup, even though I’ll shake it up this year if I have to.

National League

Cardinals

Lars Nootbaar revamped his swing to add more power.

Nootbaar will debut a different swing this year. After an underwhelming 2023 — he missed roughly 40 games due to injuries — Nootbaar approached last offseason as motivated as ever. Now, after spending four months revamping his mechanics, Nootbaar is ready to unveil a swing that could add power to an already encouraging offensive profile.

Cubs

Cody Bellinger will be the centerfielder with the DH being a rotating spot.

While Bellinger is primed to return as the everyday option in center field, flanked by two-time Gold Glover Ian Happ in left and Seiya Suzuki in right, one spot in the batting order remains undecided — DH.

“It’s the spot I’ve thought the least about. That probably means that it’s going to be a bunch of guys,” Counsell said. “Right now I’m viewing it as very open and uncommitted.”

Dodgers

• More confirmation that Walker Buehler won’t start until about a month into the season. Also, he added 20 pounds over the offseason.

Odds are, Buehler won’t appear in a game while the Dodgers are in Arizona for spring training. He likely won’t pitch for the first few weeks of the regular season, either, with the Dodgers hoping to curb his workload on the front end. The logic behind the precaution is simple, he said, and not an indication “it’s not going well.”

Both Buehler and the Dodgers would rather have him available in October than in April, a testament to what the organization still believes the 29-year-old is capable of even after a winter in which they spent a combined $473.5 million in guaranteed money to boost the rotation. After all, when the calendar flipped to the postseason each year, Buehler was “our guy,” as manager Dave Roberts said earlier this month.

His elbow, he says, feels good. He’s hopeful that adding mass, approximately 20 pounds, can keep things that way.

Emmet Sheehan might not be ready by either Opening Day.

Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said right-hander Emmet Sheehan’s availability for the two-game series against the Padres in Seoul, South Korea will probably be affected by the fact that he hasn’t faced live hitters this spring due to lingering general body soreness. His status for the domestic Opening Day is also in question.

Giants

Nick Ahmed’s shoulder is finally healthy.

Ahmed, 33, said he is healthy and his arm strength is finally all the way back following labrum surgery on his right shoulder in June 2022. He said other players who underwent the procedure told him it would be a year to 14 months before the shoulder began to turn a corner.

“Last year I was playing, but I wasn’t up to full speed,” he said. “I’ve always been a guy who likes to get rid of the ball quickly, but I had to get rid of it really quickly last year, especially balls in the hole where maybe I didn’t have the same arm strength. But that’s come back now. I feel I can make throws from different arm angles, too.”

Matt Chapman will NOT play shortstop.

Scratch the idea of Chapman at shortstop. The Giants signed him to be their third baseman, team sources said.

Luis Matos added about nine pounds and is now using a heavier bat.

Matos has been enjoying an early power surge after adding about nine pounds of muscle over the offseason, as he launched a pair of solo shots on Friday to give him a team-leading three homers this spring.

In addition to bulking up, Matos began swinging a heavier bat — 31.5 ounces, up from 30.5 ounces last year — and moved closer to the plate at the suggestion of his dad, Jose Luis, which he believes will help him get the barrel on more outside pitches this season. The adjustments are paying off thus far, as Matos has gone 5-for-11 (.455) through his first five Cactus League games.

• Because of injuries, Landen Roupp and Carson Whisenhunt are both behind the other starting pitchers.

The Giants have expressed optimism in the next wave of young pitching in the system, a group headed by left-hander Carson Whisenhunt and right-handers Landen Roupp, Mason Black and Hayden Birdsong. But Roupp and Whisenhunt are being brought along slowly, as well. Roupp, who had a back injury last season, threw his first live batting practice session on Wednesday. Whisenhunt, who was shut down in late July last season because of a left elbow sprain and had a minor setback early in camp when he took a groundball off the fingers on his pitching hand, has made encouraging progress in side sessions but still hasn’t faced hitters.

Nationals

Josiah Gray is going with a modified delivery.

Since embracing a shortened and modified delivery instead of a usual windup toward the end of last season, the 26-year-old [Gray] has found himself to be as solid as they come.

In September 2023, Gray tossed aside a usual full-length windup, opting for a shortened, side-step start to his delivery. That month, he posted a sub-three ERA over four starts and held hitters to a .241 average.

“I went to sort of an abbreviated stretch delivery, and I think focusing on the start of the delivery has allowed me to stay more stacked, stay more stable throughout the delivery, and really give myself a chance to throw strikes,” Gray said. “I think there were times last year where I’d be pitching well out of the stretch, and then go back to the windup and throw four balls in a row.

Pirates

• The team will carry several second-base options.

And as Shelton hinted, it likely won’t just be one clear winner for the second base job. It seems safe to assume multiple infielders will travel to the team to Miami for Opening Day later this month.

Quinn Priester reshaped his slider.

The most interesting development is Priester’s slider velocity was noticeably up, averaging 88.7 mph compared to 85.3 mph last year.

“When I turned around and saw 88, that’s exactly what we want, man,” Priester said. “That’s it. The swings were telling me it was good too. So I was just really pleased with that pitch for sure.”

Priester’s slider has always had a little cutter in it, and while he acknowledged it is moving a little closer to a cutter now, he still considers it a slider. It got eight fewer inches of vertical break for that extra velocity, but the early returns were encouraging, getting four whiffs on six swings. That’s partly because it plays well off his sinker.

Rockies

• The team is going to go with a strict left-right lineup.

Manager Bud Black believes a lineup that should make opponents’ late-game relief strategy difficult can also accommodate Rodgers as he tries to grow into a lineup force.

The Rockies’ preferred lineup is a forward march — left, right, left, right — through the top six spots. That would be lefty-hitting leadoff man Blackmon, followed by Kris Bryant, Nolan Jones, Rodgers, Ryan McMahon and Elias Díaz.

“It’s not so much the cleanup spot, but I think the balance of the lineup works with left-right, and those are our best hitters,” Black said. “And when it gets into the latter stages of the game when opposing managers start using the bullpen, it gives them a little more pause on who to bring in if there are specialists out there.”





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.

5 Comments
Oldest
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Richiemember
1 month ago

Correlation does IMPLY causation, else we wouldn’t bother running regressions.

Just to then SHOW causation, and where it’s actually coming from, you need to do additional work.

A Salty Scientist
1 month ago
Reply to  Richie

Nah, there can’t be causation without correlation, and we can hypothesize causation, but correlation doesn’t strictly imply causation.

Travis Lmember
1 month ago
Reply to  Richie

I would say it potentially indications causation, and is useful where it’s too difficult to run a causative analysis.