Mining the News (7/13/20)

American League

Astros

• In an interview, Justin Verlander points to why he changed his delivery and what can be expected going forward. First from The Athletic’s take.

If he planned on playing only a couple more years, Verlander thinks he could’ve stuck with his 2019 mechanics and withstood the strain they put on his body. But that, of course, has never been his plan. He set out to fix the issue. “It was almost like plugging holes in a roof when it’s raining,” he said. “I would fix one thing and another thing would pop up.” On Thursday, he pitched three no-hit innings on 43 pitches in an intrasquad game at Minute Maid Park. As he spoke to reporters on a Zoom call shortly afterward, he described the outing as a culmination of a two-to-three month process. He also noted that his mechanics aren’t exactly where he wants them yet, but they are close.

“I changed a lot of stuff that some people would think was unnecessary,” he said. “But I thought it was necessary, especially if I want to play eight, 10 more years.”

Some of the above points had me dropping his value. First, his mechanics needed to be changed and aren’t yet perfect. I’m not keen on my ace “working things out”. Also, he threw only 43 pitches. A lot of Verlander’s value comes from the innings he throws.

Then I got this exchange from MLB.com’s article from the same interview went into the nerdy details.

Verlander said his mechanics last year weren’t sustainable over a long period without leading to more injury. He said his delivery last year was “extremely high and vertical and arched” and said his release point was 7 feet, 2 inches off the ground at one point. He wanted to get back to a release point of 6 feet, 5 inches, which is where he was a few years ago.

“That’s a huge difference in height,” Verlander said. “That’s where it started, and that’s what I intended to fix. And, like I said, a bunch of other things, which I was anticipating, popped up along the way, and I just kind of dealt with them along the way.

So, a lot going on there. First checking with Brooksbaseball.net, Verlander did raise his release point that coincides with his 2017 trade to the Astros.

Over that time frame, here are the stats on his fastball:

Justin Verlander’s Fastball
Season Velo SwStr% GB% RPM
2014 93.3 6.4% 34.3%
2015 93.6 8.7% 26.3% 2491
2016 94.3 12.0% 25.0% 2558
2017 95.5 8.5% 27.7% 2541
2018 95.4 13.7% 21.0% 2618
2019 94.8 14.3% 19.2% 2577

The difference in results from a lower slot is huge. His best over strikeout rates with the lower slot were ~10 K/9 in 2016 and 2017 compared to the 12+ marks the last two years. In 2014 and 2015, his K/9 was never over 8 K/9. With this season’s injury and possible production drop, he should probably be removed from the top tier of pitchers.

And maybe the author should have written this article before he drafted last night.

Blue Jays

Ryan Borucki has dropped his slider and added a cutter.

Borucki feels good, has scrapped his slider for a cutter that he’s confident in and tossed three scoreless innings in Saturday’s intrasquad game. He considers himself part of the competition for the No. 5 starter’s job, in which Trent Thornton currently has the edge.

Compared to other sliders, his slider was well below average at 11% SwStr%. The key will be if he uses the cutter in place of his nearly useless sinker (3% SwStr%, 50% GB%). If the cutter is at least average, it can be paired with his great change (18% SwStr%, 48% GB%) to make him an interesting streaming option.

• The Blue Jays have several options to set up Ken Giles.

There will also be some competition. Once the bullpen is set, it’s still not clear who the Blue Jays will lean on first as their setup man in front of Ken Giles. In spring, Montoyo mentioned right-handers Anthony Bass and Rafael Dolis as possibilities. They might also have some company.

“I’ll tell you what, if [Jordan] Romano keeps throwing 97-98 mph, he’ll be on that list,” Montoyo said. “He was impressive [Wednesday]. I was really happy watching him throw live BPs.”

Indians

Shane Bieber will be fully stretched out to start the season.

Bieber threw 87 pitches and expects himself to be fully stretched out in the quick 2 1/2 weeks the team has left before he makes his start on Opening Day.

Yu Chang is crushing the ball.

Yu Chang started Summer Camp hot, launching a ball deep into the left-field bleachers off Carrasco on Monday afternoon that prompted Francona to joke that he’s never seen Chang hit a ball so far. On Wednesday, Chang replicated that long ball off Plesac in a simulated game and then took Bieber deep in Thursday’s scrimmage.

“I don’t care if it’s January or February or we’re playing with nobody in the stands, I love seeing our guys do well,” Francona said. “He has taken four or five swings this past week that are just — he hit a ball the other day that was, like, five rows from hitting the back wall there. It’s just really obvious that he worked hard during the time off, but I love watching him do that. Hopefully it’s really good for his confidence, because this kid’s got some talent to play.”

I’ve read several reports on this power increase and him adding muscle weight. He’s not draftable right now, but if he is forced into playing time, fantasy managers should not have reservations about rostering him.

Mariners

• The outfield is set (Kyle Lewis, Jake Fraley, and Braden Bishop) with no mention of Dee Gordon.

With Smith and Rodriguez absent, that left Kyle Lewis, Jake Fraley and Braden Bishop — three rookies with a combined 57 games of MLB experience — along with prospects Kelenic and DeLoach as the only outfielders in camp the first week. Kelenic has never played above Double-A ball and DeLoach was a second-round Draft pick out of Texas A and M last month.

Orioles

• Lots of good news coming out on John Means. First, he gets the Opening Day nod.

In one summer, John Means transformed from an unknown into an All-Star and the runner-up for the 2019 American League Rookie of the Year Award. Now, he can officially tout another resume point: Opening Day starter.

And he’s throwing harder.

When his fastball was in the 93 mph to 94 mph range last season, the results were outstanding.

The pitch’s swinging-strike rate almost doubles from around 5% (91 mph starter velo) to ~10%. If this faster fastball is paired with his decent change (14% SwStr%) and slider (13% SwStr%), he is an intriguing streaming option.

Rangers

Jordan Lyles is not close to being 100% ready and will likely be skipped in his first start.

Lyles appears to be behind the other four starting pitchers, and the Rangers may skip him through the first turn of the rotation. The Rangers have three off-days through the first 11 days of the season.

Lyles spent the 3 1/2-month shutdown at his home in Denver and didn’t have the same throwing opportunities as Corey Kluber, Mike Minor, Lance Lynn and Kyle Gibson did elsewhere.

Lyles went five innings Saturday in the intrasquad game and allowed five runs (four earned) on five hits and two walks. He struck out one and finished at 80 pitches. Lyles is showing that he is strong, but now he needs to hone the results.

“Watching him pitch today, towards the end, I liked what I saw,” Woodward said. “We need him to kind of push through some of this stuff. He’s kind of in that adjustment period. I’m sure he’s dealing with some soreness and some things that he’s got to push through, whereas some of our other guys have already done that.”

He doesn’t seem like an option until week three at the earliest. I’m not sure he’s draftable at this point.

Rays

Peter Fairbanks is just another flame-throwing reliever to add to the Rays bullpen.

Fairbanks showed off the high velocity on his four-seam fastball, threw a newly-added changeup and used his slider as a wipeout pitch.

“He’s not very fun to face, whether you’re a righty or a lefty,” Kiermaier said. “To have that size that he does and to be pumping 98-100 [mph] with a nasty slider, I’m definitely glad to have him on our team. I would much rather play center field behind him than face him.”

Red Sox

José Peraza may end up playing several positions for the Red Sox this year.

“But we know he can play every day if we need him to play every day. And then it just depends on how he does. If Chavis is doing offensively what we saw at times last year, then he’s going to play a lot. So, I think, between the two guys, we feel really confident in what they can do.”

Look for Chavis to play at first against lefties, which will allow Moreland to get some rest.

“Peraza can move around also. He can move to short. He plays left field. He can play third. He hasn’t played a lot of third, but he can play it. So, we’re able to move guys around, and that kind of covers us,” said Roenicke.

Nathan Eovaldi has been working on his slider.

Eovaldi’s slider has been talked about quite a bit in the early days of Summer Camp, and he had it on full display Thursday, when he fired four dominant innings (one hit, no runs, one walk, four strikeouts) in an intrasquad scrimmage. Eovaldi threw a fifth inning in the bullpen afterward.

“I was trying to work on my slider a lot [during the shutdown],” he said. “I feel like it’s improved. … It’s definitely helped having some quick outs for me. Earlier in spring, I was using it just at the beginning of counts. Today, I was using it when I was ahead, a couple of times when I was behind, and I was able to get swings and misses on it and get outs.”

Collin McHugh will not be ready for the season’s start.

It doesn’t sound as if right-handed swingman Collin McHugh will be ready for the start of the season. Recovering from a flexor strain in his elbow that he sustained last season, McHugh has been throwing bullpen sessions, but he hasn’t faced hitters yet.

“I’ve talked to [trainer] Brad [Pearson] about him, talked to [pitching coach] Dave Bush about him [Saturday],” Roenicke said. “He’s just not at a point where we feel he can start throwing live BPs and things. Brad told me, ‘He’s really still on a rehab program, so don’t feel like there’s a progression here like you’d normally do with a healthy guy in Spring Training. Just leave it as he’s still rehabbing, and once we get to that spot where we know he’s really confident in his long toss and he plays catch every day, then we’ll try to progress there.’”

Twins

Eddie Rosario is trying to be more patient at the plate.

It’s well-established that Eddie Rosario has been a free swinger throughout his Major League career, but the slugger and fan favorite reiterated on Saturday his desire to be more patient at the plate in 2020, instead of continuing to attack bad pitches. Rosario has been working with hitting coach Edgar Varela to improve his .309 career on-base percentage while maintaining his ability to damage hittable pitches.

“The main focus is to swing and be more selective to good pitches,” Rosario said. “When I swing at good pitches, my numbers are there. So I’m just going to concentrate on that and try to keep getting better — just concentrate on that facet of my at-bats.”

National League

Brewers

Brandon Woodruff has been working on his changeup.

The development of Woodruff’s changeup is what gives Counsell optimism that there remains room to grow. Woodruff has honed that pitch to the point “it’s in his back pocket whenever he needs it.”

His change has always been an effective pitch (14% SwStr%) that he has thrown it only 13% of the time.

• The rotation will not be set because of the extra roster spots to start the season.

Counsell hasn’t set any plans for an Opening Day rotation, but he suggested Sunday that it might look different than in years past because of the condensed schedule. There could be five starting pitchers on schedule as usual, but then additional pitchers could also work on a tentative schedule of relief for the first few weeks of the season. It’s all designed to maximize the luxury of an expanded staff — rosters will consist of 30 players for the first two weeks of the regular season and 28 players for the next two weeks before reducing to 26 players for the remainder of the year.

Cardinals

Jack Flaherty only threw 43 pitches.

Cardinals Blue loaded the bases against Flaherty in the third after Justin Williams walked and Sosa and Dexter Fowler singled. Third baseman Tommy Edman reached on an RBI fielder’s choice, but Flaherty got out of the inning with a ground ball. In three innings, Flaherty allowed one run on two hits and two walks with two strikeouts over 43 pitches.

• And Carlos Martinez was only at 28.

Carlos Martínez worked quickly and efficiently in his 1-0 win for Cardinals Blue on Saturday night. Facing many of the Cardinals’ regulars, he struck out four — including Paul Goldschmidt swinging — over two innings, didn’t allow a hit and walked one. Martínez threw 28 pitches, 18 for strikes, and had six swing-and-misses. Saturday’s intrasquad was three innings, and the scoreboard showed the last three innings of a game instead of the first three, simulating a close game in late innings.

Compared to the rest of the league, the Cardinals starters are behind.

Cubs

Victor Caratini may see some at-bats as the DH.

Since the early days of the original Spring Training, Ross has raved about catcher Victor Caratini’s abilities in the batter’s box. While Schwarber and others will surely cycle through the DH slot, the Cubs’ manager also likes the idea of having both Caratini and catcher Willson Contreras in the lineup at the same time.

• The starters are expected to throw five innings to start the season.

The goal is to get them each built to at least five innings by the July 24 opener, but manager David Ross said the Cubs will be more conservative, if necessary.

“I don’t want to push anybody to rush that,” Ross said. “So I mean, that’s a good gauge, good barometer, but I don’t know that it’s a must that everybody’s at five. It just would be a nice starting point for those guys when we start the season.”

• I’m fading Rizzo hard. His back problems never seem to go away.

First baseman Anthony Rizzo has not played in the last two intrasquad games due to tightness in his lower back, but he took part in Saturday’s workout. Rizzo got in his throwing, participated in infield drills and got some swings in to test his back. He remains day to day.

Diamondbacks

Jake Lamb is simplifying his swing.

Yeah, I don’t really remember the questions you asked then, but I definitely tried to simplify everything. It all just comes down to timing. I feel like I’ve made it that much easier to time up the pitcher by simplifying my moves. That’s where I feel like I’m at right now. I feel like I’m on time, not early, which ultimately allows me to make a good decision on whether it’s a strike or ball and whether I want to swing or not.

David Peralta is now wearing contacts to “focus” more on the ball.

Peralta has not used contacts or glasses in the past, but about a month ago he felt like he wasn’t seeing the ball quite as well.

“I can concentrate more and focus on the ball more,” he said.

Marlins

José Ureña is working on his pitch mix with more four-seamers.

A reason he’s improving, according to Mattingly, is he’s using both sides of the plate better.

“The adjustments I made in Spring Training, I tried to put more attention on throwing to the outside corner for a righty and inside for a lefty,” Ureña said on Saturday. “And throwing more four-seamers.”

I’m not sure why the four-seamer. His sinker (6% SwStr%) had more swing-and-miss than his four-seamer (4% SwStr%) last season.

Padres

• The team hasn’t settled on Joey Lucchesi or Cal Quantrill as the team’s fifth starter.

But if Lucchesi and Quantrill were once competing for the final place on the pitching staff, it now seems likelier that they both make the club — in different capacities. Quantrill might fit perfectly as a swingman and a spot starter in the event of an injury or a virus-related absence. Lucchesi, meanwhile, hasn’t been ruled out of a long relief role, but he’s viewed more as a starter.

As things stand, Lucchesi is probably the favorite, but the Padres have yet to settle on him in that role. If Quantrill’s their best option, they’d choose him. Or, they might experiment …

• And every starter is going to be on a short leash.

“[Our starters] are probably not going to have a lot of wiggle room to work out of jams, depending on where our bullpen situation is,” he said. “In general, when we’re fresh, we’re going to go as long as we can, as hard as we can, and be ready for the next guy up.”

That’s especially likely to be true at the start of the season, Tingler said. The team’s five starters should be built up to their normal Opening Day capacity. But the Padres might play it safe with pitch counts early on, Tingler said, with rosters set to expand to 30 for the first two weeks, then 28 for the next two.

Phillies

Vince Velasquez has added a cutter and Nick Pivetta has worked on a change.

“I expect big things from [Vince Velasquez],” Phillies catcher J.T. Realmuto said. “He worked on a new pitch during quarantine, mixing in a cutter now, and his changeup he’s using a lot more than he has in the past, so just the pitchability from him. I was talking to [pitching coach] Bryan Price about it. We’re not going to be so one-dimensional with him. We’re going to move the ball around the plate, pitch up and down, mix the changeup in, mix that cutter in. He’s always had that curveball. He looked really good during the scrimmage in his first outing.”

But the Phillies remain high on Pivetta, too. He was working on a changeup this spring. He believed it would complement his fastball and elite curveball nicely. Both pitchers are excited to work with Price, who is new. They believe he will help.

Pirates

Nick Burdi may be inline to be the Pirates closer.

Burdi’s ascension to the ninth-inning role might not be far off, as closer Keone Kela hasn’t yet participated in preseason camp. Shelton declined to say if Kela’s absence is related to COVID-19.

Setup man Kyle Crick also is a candidate to replace Kela, who will be a free agent after this season. On Wednesday, Shelton said Crick is “participating” in preseason camp, but hasn’t yet had a live pitching session.

Asked about his role, Burdi shrugged and said the right things about getting the job done and passing the ball to the next guy. Don’t let that fool you into thinking he’s not a fierce competitor.

At least I read this report before last night’s draft I took a dart throw on Burdi in the 29th round.

We hoped you liked reading Mining the News (7/13/20) by Jeff Zimmerman!

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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 three FSWA Awards including on for his MASH series. In his first two seasons in Tout Wars, he's won the H2H league and mixed auction league. Follow him on Twitter @jeffwzimmerman.

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