Mining the News (7/28/21)

Note: It has been a while since I’ve published a Mining the News and this 4000-word edition is what happens. Some of these reports are over a month old, but I still found them useful to help explain some player changes.

American League

Athletics

Matt Olson cut his strikeout rate by using a “little red machine”.

You might be wondering: What pitching machine is this, and where can I purchase one for my Little Leaguer? Unfortunately, Martins conceded that he didn’t remember the name of this seemingly transformational piece of technology, but says that the A’s swear by it.

“The machine has some ride to it,” Martins said. “It feels like the ball is rising on you, and you can’t make contact if you’re working underneath the baseball — if you’re not in a good position to hit. So I just think the muscle memory of getting on top of the ball has created some good habits for him and reinforced some other stuff that he’s done in the past.

“It’s cleaned up his bat path, helped him keep his barrel on the baseball as he gets into the zone, so those are the habits that he creates while using it. You can’t be lazy with this thing. You have to be direct to the baseball.”

Everyone should be using the red machine if it’s able to cut a strikeout rate from 31% K% to 16%.

Blue Jays

• If Nate Pearson returns this season, it will be as a reliever.

If this works — which remains an “if at this point” — Pearson’s upside is still significant. Look no further than the 2020 American League Wild Card Series against the Rays, when Pearson came in and pitched two dominant innings, striking out five. This would also offer the Blue Jays the type of length they’d love out of the bullpen, with a high-leverage arm capable of carrying multiple innings at a time.

Once Pearson is built back up physically, he’ll be sent on a rehab assignment. He won’t be rejoining the Blue Jays tomorrow by any means, but if he can work his way back at some point in August, that could provide the exact boost Walker envisions.

Mariners

Luis Torrens is trying to control the strike zone and use the whole field since being recalled.

Torrens cleaned up some things on the defensive side in Tacoma but also did a better job making swing decisions. He also showcased the kind of power the team always felt he had, hitting six home runs in 19 games.
….
“He does have a better idea of the strike zone and where he’s at,” Servais said. “I think Luis is at his best when he’s using the whole field and to see him hit that home run to right field was awesome. He’s doing a better job of controlling the strike zone. He has a good swing and stays inside the ball. And when he does that, good things happen.”

He is performing a ton better. Before being demoted, he had a 4% BB%, 26% K% and a .519 OPS. Since returning the strikeouts have stayed the same (25%), but his walk rate is up to 13% with a .949 OPS.

Ty France has played most of the season with a bone bruise in his wrist.

France continues to play with a bone bruise in his left wrist that bothers him from time to time, especially on a swing-and-miss. It’s residual from when he injured the wrist in April in Houston while diving for a groundball. He then hurt it again during an at-bat as he tried to escape a close pitch.

“I’m taking really good care of it trying to eliminate all the pain. The training staff here has done an unbelievable job taking care of me,” France said. “There’s some days where I don’t feel it at all and some days where the swing-and-miss doesn’t feel very good.”

His power was continuously dropping until mid to late June. While it has rebounded some, it’s still not up to 2020 or early 2021 levels.

Orioles

Jahmai Jones needs to work on his defense before being promoted.

… Jahmai Jones, despite the clamoring for him publicly, is not ready defensively at second base, according to the decision-makers.

Jones still remains on my Voit-Muncy All-Stars, so fantasy managers should be interested in him once he gets promoted.

Rangers

Mike Foltynewicz is working on a new curveball.

The short way to explain it is that his fingers are now perpendicular to the horseshoe when they used to be parallel. But more importantly than the grip, Foltynewicz explained on Wednesday, is that his arm angle has changed. Where he used to try to “get on top of it” to create more 12-to-6 movement, he says the new curveball breaks more like a slider, but moves a lot more, and is 7-9 mph slower. He credits pitching coach Brendan Sagara with the suggestion.

“The shapes he was creating, he had to really cheat his arm slot up,” explains Sagara. “His fingers are enormous, so it’s (a matter of) finding a grip that aerodynamically catches the seams better, but also put his fingers in a better place to spin it consistently. And then the byproduct is now everything comes out of the same slot. The fastball, the sinker, the changeup the slider, the curveball all come from the same area.”

The difference in movement can be seen in the following graph.

The adjustment has not helped his overall game. All the new curveball games were in July where he has a 10.42 ERA and a 6.66 xFIP.

Rays

Brandon Lowe is a constant tinkerer.

“He’s a competitor. He’s a worker. He is very meticulous,” Rays hitting coach Chad Mottola said. “Every day he’s probably tinkering, tinkering, tinkering to a fault in order to get this to happen. You’d rather have that guy that’s always working than the guy that just shows up. So he’s handled it the best way he can handle it, and that’s by working.”

He’s constantly working with Mottola and the Rays’ staff, and his most recent tweak — tucking in his back elbow earlier in his swing — has helped him stay through the ball longer and drive more back-spun balls to left field. Getting more comfortable with that adjustment, Mottola believes, will only continue to pay dividends.

Great, he’s going to be one of those guys who has something that works and then adjusts himself back to being unproductive.

Red Sox

Eduardo Rodriguez has reworked his changeup.

Rodriguez credits the work he did with pitching coach Dave Bush a few weeks back on a side day when he used the Rapsodo machine to help him key in on reducing the speed of the pitch from the high 80s to the low to mid 80s.

Rodriguez threw 25 changeups on Friday, averaging 85.3 mph.

“Four or five starts ago against the Yankees, the first changeup I threw was like 84, 83 [mph] and now I tell [catcher Christian Vázquez] every time he’s behind the plate, ‘Bro, every time you see a changeup up there 88, 89 just slap me in the face or tell me something,’ because I feel like that’s working [at a slower speed],” Rodriguez said.

Before the adjustment in early June, he had a 5.64 ERA, 9.9 K/9, and 1.44 WHIP. Since then it’s a 4.71 ERA, 11.3 K/9, and 1.24 WHIP.

Royals

Daniel Lynch reworked his slider.

A tweak to his slider gave the Royals more confidence. So did his continued ability to finesse his changeup from behind in the count. Add in his consistent lead arm, his overall mindset, and a 5 1/3-inning, three-earned run performance at Triple-A Omaha on July 20, and the Royals were confident enough to promote Lynch back to the big leagues.

Nicky Lopez has gone back to focusing on hitting fastballs.

“The main focus was, ‘We’re not revamping your swing. We’re not changing your mechanics. Let’s just focus on getting you back to that main simple priority of hitting the fastball and not missing,’” Zumwalt said. “His skillset has always been there. His track record has been the same all the way up until he got to the big leagues. He doesn’t swing and miss at fastballs.”

“One of his biggest gifts is his bat-to-ball skills,” Zumwalt said. “Solid contact is going to produce hard contact. That’s the main focus. When we were doing work in the cage, it was built around that. Trust your mechanics and focus on solid contact in the zone. That’ll help you not chase, help you stay within yourself, help you from not overswinging.”

He is performing the best of his career against fastballs with his vsOPS going from .663 to .687 to .759 and his 3.1% SwStr% against them is a career-low.

Kris Bubic is feeling confident in his curveball.

To get out of that situation was big for Bubic, but to do it using a curveball was even bigger for his development. It’s a pitch he’s worked tirelessly on since he was drafted by the Royals, gaining the trust and confidence to throw it in games and in big situations.

“It’s going to be a difference maker for me,” Bubic said the day after he shut down the Yankees. “There’s another level within me, but it’s easier said than done. And bringing in the curveball is the next step.”

Bubic has been encouraged by Royals coaches and officials to throw the curveball more, in part because he’s not going to get deep into games with his fastball and changeup mix, especially not when one or both pitches feel off on a particular night. Bubic has struggled with commanding his fastball or leaving his changeup in the middle of the plate, leading to lopsided scores and high pitch counts.

From the start of the season to the end of June, he threw his curve 12% of the time. In July, he’s doubled its usage to 23%. The pitch hasn’t gotten the best results with just a 9% SwStr% but a 72% GB%.

Tigers

Matt Manning just recently added a sinker and reworked his curveball.

First, he made a slight change to the grip on his curveball — a very effective pitch for him on his way up the Tigers’ system — but a secondary pitch for him behind his slider in his previous few starts.

That little adjustment made a big difference. Manning’s curveballs averaged 2,347 rpm in spin rate Monday and accounted for three of his four strikeouts, though he also hung one for Brent Rooker’s home run that sailed 460 feet in the sixth inning. By comparison, his curves are averaging 2,230 rpm this season, according to Statcast. He also had five more inches of vertical break on the curve compared to his season average.

The second adjustment was a new pitch — a sinker that Manning had just started working on between starts.

Twins

Trevor Larnach has been struggling against breaking pitches but the Twins want him to work through them.

While he’s got an expected slugging percentage of .631 against left-handed fastballs this season, Larnach has a .199 mark against breaking pitches and an .045 clip against offspeed offerings from southpaws — and you’d better believe he knows that. But at this point in the season, with the Twins well out of contention, he’ll likely keep getting those opportunities to learn — and keep bettering himself for continued chances in those spots for years to come.

“I’ve been grateful, very grateful,” Larnach said. “I’ve been doing the best I can with those opportunities, but at the same time, I think the biggest thing I’m taking from them is I’m learning. What the situation will look like, I’m taking it all in and learning from it. At the same time, later on, I’m trying to make my adjustments based on what I’m getting myself out with.”

Larnach has a ton of swing-and-miss right now (34% K%, 43% K% in July). He might need to be benched or dropped in shallower formats.

White Sox

Yermín Mercedes will need to improve his chase rate if he wants to remain an MLB regular.

Mercedes has hit some of the hardest and farthest batted balls in the league this year (his 116.8 mph maximum exit velocity is in the 99th percentile), but Menechino’s eyes lit up at the mention of his approach sapping his ability to drive the baseball, and for good reason. The combination of Mercedes’ standout raw power and a high-contact approach can seem like the best of both worlds at times. But one of the highest chase rates in the league has resulted in a blizzard of weak contact (second percentile for hard-hit rate) for a below-average runner, and some of the worst performance against above-average fastball velocity in the game. That is not the best of both worlds.

Of all the hitters with at least 250 PA, his chase rate ranks 8th worst.

National League

Braves

Touki Toussaint has decided to just throw the ball over the plate and hope his stuff is good enough to get by.

“Just try to fill up the zone, honestly,” Toussaint said. “I think everybody knows that’s been my biggest problem, not throwing enough strikes. So (Gwinnett pitching coach) Mike Maroth was like, ‘Man, you just need to throw the ball in the zone. Let guys get themselves out.’ So that’s basically what I did, see how many strikes I could throw and go from there.”

Even though he has a career 5.4 BB/9, he’s pounded the plate this year with career bests of 53% Zone%, 63% F-Strike%, and 1.3 BB/9. Roster away.

Brewers

• The Brewers are ditching the six-man rotation.

The Brewers were able to have Peralta throw in such a way because they used Adrian Houser as the other end of the tandem start Friday night. Houser pitched two scoreless innings. Houser is expected to stick in such a role, at least for the short term.

“I think we’ll probably split up a start again, still kind of working through an exact day on it,” Counsell said, “but we’ll do it again, not with Freddy, somebody else.”

The Brewers no longer are using a six-man rotation. With Houser operating from the bullpen, Milwaukee’s other two starters are Brett Anderson and Eric Lauer. The idea behind ditching the six-man rotation in the second half was to keep the pitchers fresh.

• Luis Urias bulked up this offseason

Before the season, Urías told The Athletic he didn’t play winter ball because he wanted to prioritize his health and add strength. He said in spring training that he packed on around 10 additional pounds and was better informed on how to sustain that weight over the course of the season. He believed it would help him drive the ball more.

His 8% Barrel% is double his previous high and his 111.5 mph Max EV beats any previous high by 4 mph.

Cardinals

Harrison Bader is working on improving his plate discipline.

That type of success against breaking pitches hasn’t always been the case. Coming into this season, Bader was a career .171 hitter across 328 at-bats that ended in a breaking pitch. In 2019, he had a .132 batting average and .186 slugging percentage, far and away the worst season of his career against the funky stuff.

“This game’s a game of repetition,” Bader said. “So, just constantly working on understanding the ones I can handle in the zone and the ones I can do some damage on, and just fighting until I get that pitch in the at-bat.”

The approach has paid off with his strikeout rate going from 32% to 16%.

Cubs

Adbert Alzolay should finish the season in the Cubs rotation.

At his current pace and production, the team feels the rookie is on target for a complete campaign as part of Chicago’s rotation.

“The June 22 answer is, ‘Yes,'” Cubs pitching coach Tommy Hottovy said prior to Tuesday’s game against Cleveland. “I don’t have any concerns. I’d have concerns if we start seeing dips in velocity or pitch data and all that stuff. For right now, he’s doing the work and looks good.”

Alzolay came off the 10-day injured list on Monday and logged 4 2/3 innings in a 4-0 loss to Cleveland. The pitcher was dealing with a blister on the middle finger of his pitching hand, so the IL stint achieved two goals. It allowed Alzolay’s finger to heal, but also provided an in-season breather as he aims for a full body of work.

Dodgers

• While trying to regain some command, Tony Gonsolin has dropped and is back to use a windup.

Gonsolin has been working his way back to his typical command in games, but twirled his best outing of the year Saturday. His fastball had renewed life to it and his pitches appeared sharp, regardless of the lineup he was facing. One of the things he’s done differently — he’s recently gone back to pitching out of the windup, something he’d ditched when he had some command issues in his first few starts of the year.

His command has improved some with a 6.9 BB/9 in June but “just” a 4.7 BB/9 in July.

Zach McKinstry started hitting with his eyes open.

The hitting staff noticed something on video in San Diego for McKinstry to adjust, a rather important mechanical flaw: He wasn’t keeping his eyes open on contact.

“That was a new one for me,” Roberts said, laughing. “I actually commend Zach for having the success he’s had to this point, having his eyes closed on contact. Just one of those things you take for granted.”

McKinstry said it’s not the first time he’s had such an issue, as he closes his eyes to get a better feel for where his body is at and how it’s moving. It’s understandable, given he’s coming off an injury to an area heavily involved in his swing, that he’d want to test it out. But keeping his eyes closed as he swung was another issue entirely. Seeing the ball when you hit it is a significant adjustment, which Roberts credited for McKinstry’s re-emergence against the Cubs — two home runs, including his first grand slam, in Sunday’s big win.

When he was shutting his eyes, he was hitting .248/.304/.406. Since then, .170/.200/.434. Maybe he should go back to closing his eyes.

Giants

Mauricio Dubón retooled his swing.

He has continued to put in work in the cages and at home with Nancy by his side throughout the process, which made the solo homer on Tuesday night more special.

“I’ve been putting in a lot of work and the results are showing,” he said. “When I hit it, it felt kinda like it’s a such a relief, just because you’ve been putting in the work and she’s been by my side all the time. So it was really pretty good.”

Dubón has had limited at-bats in June, just 28, but the retooling of his swing has led to strong results more recently. He has slashed .462/.462/.769 in his last seven games.

The adjustment didn’t help him stay in the majors, but he is hitting .359/.434/.467 in AAA.

Nationals

Josh Bell has been working at possibly playing in the outfield.

In the weeks since Schwarber was sidelined with a significant hamstring strain, first baseman Josh Bell has been working with Martinez and outfield coach Bob Henley to refine his craft in left field. His debut at the position could come soon.

“He’s gonna be pretty good,” Martinez said Monday afternoon at Nationals Park as he and Bell returned to the dugout from a brief pregame drill in left.

Padres

Chris Paddack has been working on improving his curveball.

It was a filthy pitch that was emblematic of a larger trend. Paddack’s improvement with his curveball this season has been huge. Opposing hitters are slugging just .143 against the pitch (compared with a .583 mark last season and a .444 mark in 2019).

Paddack, of course, deserves most of the credit for the overhaul. He’s the one who put in the work to make the pitch a serious big league out pitch, complementing his fastball/changeup mix.

Before July, he threw the curve 10% of the time. This month he’s nearly doubled the usage to 19%. The pitch has been decent with a 13% SwStr% and 52% GB%.

Tommy Pham was never healthy to start the season.

Pham has said he continues to regain strength since being stabbed and undergoing offseason wrist surgery. His underlying numbers in April and May indicated he was suffering from rotten luck. He said earlier this season he was still experimenting with different contact lenses, though that seems to have been sorted out.

Phillies

• The Phillies want Spencer Howard to pound the strike zone with his breaking pitches.

The team optioned [Howard] to Triple-A Lehigh Valley prior to Tuesday’s game against the Marlins to make room for second baseman Jean Segura, who was activated from the 10-day injured list. Howard will continue to start with Lehigh Valley, where he will focus on building to 100 pitches and learning to pound the strike zone with his offspeed pitches.

Howard was 0-2 with a 5.82 ERA in nine appearances (five starts) this season. He started Monday night in Cincinnati, but he lasted only 2 1/3 innings. Howard has dominated hitters his first time through the lineup, holding them to a .103 batting average and a .350 OPS. But those numbers skyrocket to a .353 average and a 1.344 OPS the second time through.

Before his last start, he threw his fastball 72% of the time, but dropped it down to 58% in his last start.

Besides throwing his fastball fewer times, Howard reworked his slider.

While at Lehigh Valley, Howard worked on a new slider. The goal: to find a breaking ball that wasn’t soft and loopy; his curveball, slider and changeup didn’t have enough separation. Howard said he took his cutter grip from college and messed around with it in the minors. He tried throwing it with slider wrist action. It worked. His slider, before, averaged 79 mph, but it was 88.6 mph against the Yankees. It was a better secondary weapon to pair with his powerful fastball.

With the increased velocity, the pitch tracking systems think the slider is a cutter. His “cutter” hasn’t been great with a 6% SwStr% but a 70% GB%.

Sam Coonrod is using a new grip on his slider.

Sam Coonrod tied his month-long elbow problem to the decision to adopt a new slider grip in the middle of June. He wanted more bite on his slider, a pitch that was not effective in April and May. (Opponents batted .333 against it.) Phillies pitching coach Caleb Cotham suggested an unusual slider grip: a split grip.

Coonrod had continued to throw the new slider as he rehabbed, then realized last week at Triple A that he only felt elbow pain when he threw the slider. The Phillies shut down the righty for three days. He’ll resume throwing this week with the old slider.

Pirates

Cole Tucker stabilized his swing.

When spring training ended, Tucker was told to stick around Pirate City in Bradenton, Fla., to overhaul his swing. It was more about mending his mechanics than his approach. Working with hitting coach Jon Nunnally, Tucker stabilized his lower half and eliminated head movement, which helps him see the ball better. “There was a lot of off-the-wall kind of training stuff we were doing down there,” Tucker said.

Reds

Jonathan India has been dealing with a sore ankle for most of the season.

Second baseman Jonathan India was back in the lineup on Wednesday after he was pulled in the sixth inning Tuesday because of continued right ankle soreness. India’s ankle was rolled over by the Cubs’ Javier Báez during a stolen base attempt on Sunday, but India has been trying to play through it.

Rockies

Sam Hilliard spent time in AAA retooling his swing.

But Hilliard and the Rockies have no choice but to be awake and alert. He returned from a lengthy retooling at Triple-A Albuquerque…

“There’s always going to be something to work on, some adjustments still to be made,” said assistant hitting coach Jeff Salazar. “But we obviously want him here. He’s too good of an athlete. There’s too many ways on the field that he can [contribute], even the infield single.”

Rockies hitting coach Dave Magadan said Hilliard’s demotion was to work on ongoing swing traps — getting long and loopy against the fastball, directing his swing to the opposite gap. Fix those, Magadan noted, and Hilliard produces power with backspin. But the Rockies have to be patient.

Since returning, he’s hitting .269 .367 .538 with 2 HR in 30 PA.





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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FrodoBeck
9 months ago

Curious if it really matters if a player (McKinstry) has their eyes open at the point of contact or not?

I would think that regardless of whether your eyes are open at that point, your swing has already materialized in the way it’s going to finish and your eyes at that point are basically moot.

lostatlimbomember
9 months ago
Reply to  FrodoBeck

Probably a “follow-through” element to it. i.e. not maintaining a clean swing path all the way through