Mining the News (3/8/21) by Jeff Zimmerman March 8, 2021 • About every couple of days, I’ve been updating these Spring Training velocity readings. American League Astros • Alex Bregman still might not be ready by Opening Day. Bregman said he injured his hamstring in early January while running sprints, and he has been rehabbing it since. The Astros are taking it extremely slow with Bregman, who maintains he’ll be ready for Opening Day. He’s been a full participant in the team’s morning workouts in West Palm Beach, which means he’s been fielding grounders and getting swings against pitchers in live bullpen sessions. While it seems like Bregman might only miss a week or two at most, I’m worried the Astros will not give him a green light to steal bases … again (0 SB in 2021). Projections have Bregman between three and eight steals. While it’s not a ton of steals, he could end up with none. For owners looking to add some steals with each pick, Bregman may not fit that plan. Blue Jays • Vladimir Guerrero Jr. might play third base with a flyball pitcher. Vladimir Guerrero Jr. made his first Grapefruit League start at third base and saw just one ground ball, a slow chopper for an easy out. If the Blue Jays stick Guerrero at third for the odd game in 2021, that’s what they’d like to see, too. It makes sense for those games to come on days when the Blue Jays have a fly ball pitcher — like Roark — on the mound. Guerrero is optimistic in the strides he’s made since 2019 at the position, which he worked on over the offseason, including a stint in the Dominican Winter League. Here are the potential starting pitcher options and their projected Steamer groundball rates. It would be great if he regained third-base position eligibility. Blue Jay Starting Pitcher Groundball Rates Name GB% Robbie Ray 36% Trent Thornton 39% Tanner Roark 40% Nate Pearson 40% Steven Matz 44% Ross Stripling 45% Hyun Jin Ryu 류현진 48% Ray (36% GB%) is the only obvious option with several others around 40% GB%. • Robbie Ray was more productive (i.e better control) at a lower fastball velocity. Ray needed 31 pitches to get through the first, including 10 foul balls and two walks, and was consistently sitting at 96-97 mph with a peak of 98.4 mph on his fastball, well above his recent averages. Ray found his groove after that, though, while working more in the 94-96 mph range, and finished at 50 pitches (31 strikes). After those two walks in the first inning, Ray said he tried to focus more on hitting the plate and letting his pitches do the work. There wasn’t a conscious change to ease off of velocity, but it worked, and Ray’s misses were mostly on the edges of the zone. To see if this observation has been a trend, I went back to 2018 and here are his stats at different fastball velocities. Robbie Ray Results by Velocity FBv ERA K/9 BB/9 >94 4.43 11.4 5.1 93-94 4.62 11.8 6.0 92-93 4.51 12.4 4.1 <92 4.58 12.6 6.4 Well shoot, that was a waste of time. He struggled no matter how hard he threw. Maybe if a person squints hard enough, the 92-93 mph range is “better”. Rangers • Mike Foltynewicz is going full Beefcake to get his velocity back. Foltynewicz said the biggest issue with his velocity drop was his weight loss, which he put back on this offseason. He made multiple adjustments, both based on strength and technique in order to return to form. Foltynewicz is using his legs a lot more now than he was, even in his peak years. He said he got rid of some of his more “lazy” pitching habits and cleaned up his mechanics, pushing off his quad more than his glute and hamstring. His average velocity dropped from 95 mph in 2019 to 90 mph last year. It was back up in his first Spring Training appearance. 95 mph first pitch for Mike Foltynewicz to kick off the game. Fly out to right field for Mookie Betts. — kennedi landry (@kennlandry) March 7, 2021 Red Sox • Michael Chavis could start the season in the minors. Even if Michael Chavis has a decent spring, does Arroyo make the roster over him due to being out of options? — Ryan Sanders @KingXeiros I think so. Chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom is all about roster flexibility, and that setup allows them to keep Chavis and Arroyo. Chavis could benefit from some consistent playing time in the minors. Chavis is pretty much unrosterable right now. • Alex Cora is going to mix-and-match lineups on a daily basis depending on the opponent. “One thing for sure, we’re not going to have a set lineup,” manager Alex Cora said. “We’re going to have moving parts the whole season. … There are certain days that we’re going to be very, very athletic and other days that we’re going to be hitting the ball out of the ballpark.” I’m worried that after the top five hitters, the rest won’t play every day. Maybe Bobby Dalbec gets full-time at at-bats. Maybe. Royals • Michael A. Taylor simplified his swing. The outfielder said this is the earliest he has felt like he has his timing down in the box, and that comes with a no-stride swing rather than entering the spring with a leg kick. He worked this offseason on simplifying his swing after signing with the Royals. “Now I have fewer moving parts, and it’s easier to just be on time,” Taylor said. “I err on the side of being early, and it’s just something that’s allowed me to be game-ready a little quicker.” • Adalberto Mondesi’s lineup placement will be determined by how he’s hitting. “If we’re watching Mondi be Mondi like the Mondi we saw at the end of the season, once again, it’s anywhere (in the lineup),” Matheny said. “Where do you want him? … Because when he’s going right, you want to see him as often as you can.” In the article, Mondesi might start out batting 7th with studs like Michael A. Taylor and Nicky Lopez there to drive him in. While his Run total might suffer, he could have the green light to steal at will in order to score on any batted ball. Tigers • Nomar Mazara has also simplified his swing. That’s something [Nomar Mazara] worked to correct with hitting coach Scott Coolbaugh last year in Chicago. Coolbaugh, of course, is now the Tigers hitting coach. Mazara said his swing finally began to feel right late in the 2020 season. In two postseason games, Mazara went 3-for-6. This year, Mazara said he has eliminated unnecessary movements and simplified his swing. He thinks that will allow him to drive through the ball with an increased launch angle instead of rolling over and hitting grounders. • Matthew Boyd worked on his changeup and plans on throwing it more. Boyd made a point to work in his changeup, a pitch he tried to improve in the offseason. He threw it for 10 of his 37 pitches Friday, according to Statcast, more than he used his workhorse slider. “The goal is to use everything,” Boyd said. “Go out there and attack with everything. I like how we used it.” Boyd’s change has been productive with an 18% SwStr%, but over the last two seasons, he kept it away from the strike zone (36% Zone). While his change has been hit around (14% HR/FB), his fastball (17% HR/FB) and slider (14% HR/FB) got hit just as hard. National League Braves • Mike Soroka likely will not be ready by the season’s start. The Braves still aren’t setting a specific timetable for Mike Soroka’s return, but Snitker hinted the right-hander might make a start before Spring Training ends. “He’s built up for us to get him out there at some point,” Snitker said of Soroka, who tore his right Achilles tendon on Aug. 3. Diamondbacks • Josh Rojas tweaked his game before Spring Training this year. “I changed a lot of things,” Rojas said. “I changed my diet. I changed my sleep habits. I changed how hard I was lifting. I also started swinging a lot earlier. I started working with [D-backs hitting coaches] probably at the beginning of January — a little bit in December but really picked it up in January. So instead of coming in for Spring Training like [it] used to happen, making those adjustments while playing games, now I can actually work on at-bats and fine-tune those things instead of making big tweaks while playing other competition.” With Kole Calhoun headed to the IL for while, Rojas has a chance to insert himself into the Diamondbacks lineup. Nationals • Patrick Corbin is trying to add an effective change. Patrick Corbin is known for throwing his slider. This season, though, the southpaw could be adding to his arsenal with a changeup. “If I walked into camp unaware of Patrick Corbin and his repertoire and all that type of thing, I would have just assumed that the changeup was a normal part of it — and it’s very, very good,” pitching coach Jim Hickey said. “It’s going to be a very effective pitch, and it’s something that he could use a lot more.” Over his career, Corbin has thrown a changeup 7% of the time for a 5% SwStr% and 55% GB%. Corbin needs a third pitch (and his fastball velocity back) to become an elite starter. Phillies • Hector Neris is adding a slider. Neris has dabbled with a slider before; he threw it more in 2015 than any other season. He threw a slider just three times in 2017, according to MLB’s Statcast data, then pulled it out of his pocket 29 times in 2018. It was a terrible pitch that season: Opponents hit .833 with three homers against Neris’ slider. • Odúbel Herrera could be the starting centerfielder. The chances of Odúbel Herrera starting in center field on April 1 seemed to increase each day during the first week of Grapefruit League action. Herrera started spring training in minicamp, a long shot to head north with the team when camp breaks. It’s still early as the Phillies have 21 spring games left, but it’s no longer far-fetched to imagine the team debating Herrera’s place when it finalizes the 26-man roster before opening day. The 29-year-old missed 2020 on the heels of a disgusting domestic violence incident and hopefully he used that time to better himself as a person above all else. When on the field, he used to steal bases (25 in 2016) but that total dropped to 5 in 2018 in almost 600 PA. Over the same timeframe, his Sprint Speed declined from 27.9 ft/s to 26.6 ft/s. For the steals to come back, he’s going to have to start running faster. Pirates • Chad Kuhl is working on his arsenal. First, he’s moving back to a two-seamer. When throwing his two-seamer, Kuhl would like to resemble a much younger version of himself. The sinker is not necessarily his most devastating pitch, but it is predominant in his arsenal. … The slider is Kuhl’s best pitch. Batters hit only .071 /.114/.179 last year against his curveball. This spring, he’s putting a lot of time into sharpening his change-up. Although his four-seamer can buzz at 95-plus mph, he calls it his fourth-best offering and claims he never fell in love with velo. Kuhl’s most important pitch is the two-seamer. He throws it 42 percent of the time to get outs in the zone and generate swing-and-miss. It was his staple when Kuhl broke into the majors in 2016. And working on his changeup. Chad Kuhl worked on a slightly new grip for his changeup this offseason, and he got some reps with it against cream-of-the-crop competition in his start Friday against the Phillies. Kuhl threw his changeup for a swinging strike to Andrew McCutchen, a called strike to Brad Miller and a ball in the dirt and called strike to Bryce Harper, who ultimately tagged Kuhl for a home run on a 1-1 sinker. First, for reference, here is Kuhl’s career results. Chad Kuhl’s Career Pitch Mix Pitch Usage SwStr% GB% Sinker 53% 5.5% 41% Four-seam 6% 4.0% 30% Slider 24% 19.6% 46% Curve 8% 11.4% 48% Change 9% 7.9% 42% The four-seamer shouldn’t be a factor but last season he increased its usage up to 23%. His sinker has been better slightly better, so I could see moving to it. As for the new change, its performance will be key but the bar isn’t that high to replace his below-average curve. • Kevin Newman changed his batting stance and has been leading off. Kevin Newman has reached base safely in seven of his first nine plate appearances (four singles, three walks). That’s what you want to see, especially with Newman batting leadoff in all three games in which he’s played. … Over the winter, Newman changed to a more upright stance that lets him be more direct and shorter to the ball. “I felt like my swing got a little long last year,” he said. Newman was a nice power/speed/AVG combo in 2020 (12 HR/16 SB/.308 AVG). With a 550 NFBC ADP, he’s free at this point. Reds • Tejay Antone is likely headed to the bullpen. Antone is one of the four main candidates for the fifth spot in the rotation, joining Michael Lorenzen, José De León and Jeff Hoffman. Reds manager David Bell and the coaches have raved about Antone since he came up last season. But from what I’ve been hearing, Antone will also get serious consideration for the bullpen and that seems like the better bet to open the season. I read this take from several sources. Damn. I hope he stays stretched out and can eventually join the rotation.