Mining the News (8/19/21)

American League

Angels

Dylan Bundy has reworked his delivery.

The suggested solution from Angels pitching coach Matt Wise was to revamp his arm motion. Instead of bringing his arm all the way back, Bundy would have more of a snap throw. The look of a short-armed toss.

This is at the root of why he started to look for speed with a longer delivery. And while it may have added a tick to his velocity, it also added a lot of movement and, thus, an inconsistent arm path.

Wise hadn’t orchestrated this type of change at the big-league level. But he said other coaches have told him that it’s an eight-week process. It’s been exactly six weeks since Bundy vomited behind the Yankee Stadium mound. He was immediately pulled from the game — and, after, from the rotation entirely.

He ended up making the change in just four weeks — half the time Wise expected.

He has performed better since rejoining the rotation but not great. Before moving to the bullpen, he made 14 starts with a 6.72 ERA (4.46 xFIP) and 1.42 WHIP (.305 BABIP). In the four starts since leaving the bullpen, he has a 3.72 ERA (5.34 xFIP) and 1.03 WHIP (.182 BABIP). I guess he’s “better”.

Brandon Marsh has not been able to time up MLB pitchers.

Marsh sees it as an approach and timing issue, noting that the game is quicker at the major-league level. More specifically, he said he wants to be able to better adapt to the strengths of different pitchers.

He needs to get the fastball swing-and-miss out of his game. Right now he has an 11% SwStr% against four-seamers and a 10% SwStr% against sinkers. Additionally, his overall swinging-strike rate has shown no signs of slowing down.

Mariners

Jarred Kelenic has been using a more upright batting stance since being recalled the second time from the minors.

“I think I’m seeing the ball really well,” Kelenic said. “I talked about earlier, that being a little bit more upright has kind of helped me see pitches at the top of the strike zone a little bit better, and not chase the balls down, just changing my eye level. And I think that it’s really opened it up where I’m kind of targeting one spot, and that’s what I’m focusing on.”

Before the adjustment, he had a .378 OPS and since then a .638 OPS (.834 OPS in August). Here is a look at the difference.

Additionally, he’s not trying to pull every pitch for a home run.

“I’m really trying to just stay the other way. I’m not trying to pull the baseball at all and just letting that become a reaction,” Kelenic said. “And I was so fired up with myself in the first [at-bat] there when I hit that ball that short-hopped the wall, especially off a lefty, letting the ball get deep there on like a 95 mph fastball — because when I stepped into the box, that’s exactly what I pictured to do with that pitch. And to execute that, it’s awesome.”

I wonder if the all-fields approach will help with his batting average but limit his home runs to 20 to 25 a season.

Ty France dealt with wrist inflammation and tried to play through it.

Had France not missed nine games in May with left wrist inflammation — which certainly had a role in limiting his average to .190 that month — who knows where he might be at this point.

“We had to shut him down and try to get him feeling better, which I’m glad we did,” Servais said. “Since he’s coming back, he’s just been lights out and very consistent. The thing that stands out for me is his ability to keep the bat on a plane in the zone for a long time. He’s able to hit pitches that vary in speeds — we’ve seen him jump on fastballs, 95-96 mph, he stays on sliders, he uses the whole field.

The injury occurred on April 19th. Here are his OPS values surrounding keys dates with the injury.

Time Frame: OPS
Before HBP: .936
While playing through injury: .491 OPS
Since coming off the IL: .836 OPS

Red Sox

Christian Vázquez is losing his hold as Boston’s #1 catcher.

Christian Vázquez went into the season as Boston’s clear No. 1 catcher, a position he held since the start of 2019. But the line is becoming more blurred of late.

Kevin Plawecki, who has been swinging the bat better than Vázquez recently, got the nod on Wednesday against Rays lefty Josh Fleming. He entered the contest with a slash line of .364/.429/.477 against lefties this season.

Royals

Jackson Kowar has been trying to maintain some consistency in his windup while adding a slider.

The first order of business was fastball consistency. To find it, they focused on [Kowar’s] delivery.

“It’s about getting down the hill and staying on his lane,” Johnson said. “He gets upper-half dominant, working left to right with the upper half, coming out of his deliveries early. … It’s more just a feeling of getting down the hill, staying closed all the way down, firing his hips and upper half, working north to south rather than east to west.”

Johnson also placed emphasis on Kowar being able to land his fastball in the strike zone. Then they worked on adding an entirely new pitch: the slider.

Hunter Dozier’s struggles might be related to an early-season thumb injury.

“[Dozier] got off to such a tough start,” Matheny said. “And I’ll go back — and the staff and I have talked about this — but I don’t think we gave enough acknowledgment to when he got his thumb blown up earlier in the season. That’s a tough one to come back from. And it was interesting as we talked about it. A couple of guys here brought up Eric Hosmer, who one year right out of the gate got jammed really bad and started to alter his swing to keep … that thumb (from) getting blown up again. The next thing you know, it sent him on a spiral. And it’s a tough game to recoup from when you start messing with mechanics to get away from something that was an issue or a fear of going back on the injured list.

He started the season with the injury and struggled until the All-Star break with a .586 OPS. Since then, he has a .784 OPS which is a bit better than his .745 career OPS. Also, he’s stolen two bases in the second half after only stealing one in the first half.

Twins

• Griffin Jax has been working on his fastball’s vertical movement and his overall pitch mix.

For those who wondered if Jax’s low career strikeout totals and low-90s fastball could continue to play at the big league level, consider, too, that this is a different Jax in 2021, one with more vertical movement on his fastball thanks to some tweaked mechanics involving his hand placement during his motion and a greater reliance on his fastball and slider.

In fact, he threw the fastball and slider on 68 of his 83 pitches while using his curveball and changeup only to mix things up, a variation from the more balanced approach he’s used in the past. It’s tough to argue with the results, considering his 10 strikeouts matched his most in any professional start since he was drafted in 2016. Prior to this season, when he made those adjustments, he had never topped eight strikeouts in a start.

Jax added the vertical movement after the All-Star break while throwing his slider 11% points more (25% to 36%). Before the break, Jax had an 8.66 ERA (6.17 xFIP) and 1.70 WHIP in 17 IP and since the changes, he has a 2.73 ERA (4.85 xFIP) and 0.95 WHIP in 26 IP.

• The Twins could shut down Bailey Ober later this season.

Baldelli indicated that the Twins are still carefully monitoring Ober’s workload and haven’t ruled out a shutdown at some point this season, since the right-hander didn’t pitch in 2020 and only threw 78 2/3 innings — his career-high — in the Minors in ’19 due to arm injuries. The Twins have every reason to be cautious with Ober, considering the state of their season and their need for the big right-hander to be healthy in 2022.

White Sox

Andrew Vaughn has changed his swing to cut down on swings-and-misses.

The cat and mouse game between young players and the league is always fascinating. We’ve already seen an impressive adjustment out of Andrew Vaughn this season, as he’s drastically cut down on his whiffs seemingly thanks to a quieter and more direct hand-load. Now his struggles with breaking balls have become apparent; it seems time for the league to force him to fix that issue as well.

Vaughn cut down on the whiffs until the last 10 games or so when they started ticking up again.

Reynaldo López got his eyes fixed so he can now see the catcher’s signals. Additionally, he’s been working on a curve and streamlining his pitching motion.

“I think the correction with my eyes helped me a lot,” López said through Russo. “Because before sometimes I didn’t have the conviction to throw a pitch because I wasn’t sure that that was the pitch that the catcher was calling. I had a lot of doubt in my mind, because I couldn’t see clearly. Now that I got that fixed, I feel better. I can see the signs. I can see what is going on and I can throw my pitches with conviction.”

The first half of the season doubled as a test of his conviction in the White Sox’s prescribed changes for López. While he was taken aback by video pitching coach Ethan Katz showed him of how long and inconsistent his arm stroke had become in his delivery, and readily installed changes, shortening the motion brought meager initial rewards. López would rediscover his feel for his curveball and hit his spots at times in bullpens, but his velocity initially dipped as he adjusted to the smaller loading motion, and hard contact was plentiful.

Maybe “NOT SEEING” was behind this 2020 struggles with a 6.49 ERA (6.19 xFIP) and 1.63 WHIP (5.1 BB/9). I can’t believe the team didn’t check his eyesight.

Yankees

Zack Britton is still not 100% with the issues starting in Spring Training.

However, Britton’s problems this season can be traced back to a bad case of COVID-19 he caught during the offseason, that sent him into spring training down 20 pounds and feeling weaker. After a noticeably slower workload and ramp-up at the start of spring, Britton headed for surgery to remove bone chips from his pitching elbow in mid-March. The bone chips had existed prior to the offseason, and Britton said he wonders if the physical toll COVID-19 had on him might have made them into a bigger issue than before. He returned in June, but went on the injured list two weeks later with a hamstring strain that sidelined for another three weeks.

Britton said he’s still struggling with full range of motion after his elbow surgery and is probably not as strong as he’d like to be right now, but he is adamant that if he felt normal, he could pitch with his typical effectiveness despite feeling a bit “disjointed.” His sinker velocity is averaging 92.5 miles per hour this season, down from just shy of 95 mph over the prior three seasons.

How in the hell has this injury not already been fixed with just a quarter of the season left.

National League

Cardinals

Dylan Carlson was hiding his wrist injury before it was obvious to the team.

Dodgers

Cody Bellinger is just coming to grips that two recent surgeries just might be a cause for his 2021 struggles.

Bellinger’s struggles have been noteworthy, but now he can point to a cause.

“It hit me later on,” Bellinger told The Athletic as he stood in the visiting dugout at Citi Field on Sunday. “It’s not an excuse. It’s just reality. I lost strength. My shoulder wasn’t as mobile as it was. I thought it was an excuse, that I’m the same guy, but no, it’s reality. My shoulder was tight. My leg was broke … but I’m there. I’m feeling good.”

Marlins

Miguel Rojas is taking steps to steal more bases.

The eight-year veteran, who had just 24 career steals before this season, credits his preparation with first-base coach Keith Johnson. That includes identifying barely recognizable patterns — like a pitcher moving his elbow or his back knee. Or running on certain pitches — like Joe Musgrove’s breaking ball, which he turns to in specific counts. Rojas relies on checking video, then seeing the pitcher’s pickoff move or delivery from the first-base angle when he reaches. Being a middle infielder also helps, particularly on delayed steals because the shortstop or second baseman might not be paying attention.

“I can’t really go to second if the guy’s going 1.4 seconds and under because I’m not that fast,” Rojas said. “I’m going to have to get a good jump. But if I find something that I can take a couple milliseconds before he starts his move to the plate, I think I’m going to have a good chance. I’ve been able to focus on that and know who I can go against.”

He’s already stolen a career-high 11 bases this season.

Jorge Alfaro has been playing games in the outfield.

Since backstop Alex Jackson’s activation, Alfaro has started eight games in left field. During that span, he has been behind the plate three times, including in each of the past two games. This was done in order to keep Alfaro’s bat in the lineup — and add to his versatility and value. But with the return of No. 5 prospect Jesús Sánchez, that would take away outfield reps. Sánchez has started in right field in two straight games, with Bryan De La Cruz shifting to left.

In giving Alfaro a start at first base — a position catchers have been known to play in order to give their legs a break — Jesús Aguilar gets a breather.

Alfaro has started seven straight games with three in left field and one at first base.

Pirates

• The Pirates don’t plan on shutting down JT Brubaker.

After the game in Cincinnati, Shelton said there hadn’t been any discussion about shutting down Brubaker. The Pirates already were moderating his workload. Brubaker has pitched 112 1/3 innings this season after throwing 47 1/3 innings last year. He put up a career-high 154 innings in 2018 while pitching at Double A and Triple A.

Reds

Sonny Gray has added a cutter, throwing his changeup more, and is using a new grip on his slider.

Since the outing against the Cardinals, Gray’s added a cutter. On Tuesday, he threw twice as many changeups (six) as he’d thrown in the previous three starts combined (three). Of those six changeups, three were balls, but three more were put in play for outs. The cutter was a pitch he didn’t throw last season, but threw one Tuesday (a ball) after nine in his previous start (against the Pirates) and eight against the Mets in the start before that.

He’s still doing that, but he’s also switched the grip on his slider.

While his pitch mix is all over the place, the results have stayed the same (3.43 xFIP before and a 3.51 xFIP after).

Rockies

Charlie Blackmon believes his struggles are from not seeing as many fastballs.

Baseball-wide, fastball usage has dropped. But part of how Blackmon is being pitched is rooted in the Rockies’ current lineup.

In his most powerful years, Blackmon batted leadoff with DJ LeMahieu, Nolan Arenado and Trevor Story behind him. The Rockies dropped Blackmon to the third and fourth spots last season. This year, with Story largely struggling and C.J. Cron just recently on a power surge, there was little reason to challenge Blackmon.

Last year, Blackmon was the talk of baseball when his average was above .400 early in the shortened season. But with Arenado struggling and not much help around Blackmon, pitchers dropped their fastball rate against him — from 58.8 percent while he was .400 and above to 55.5 percent the rest of the way, a significant falloff.

The number of fastballs is down from 57% to 52%. All of his struggles can be linked back to making weak contact. His groundball rate has jumped from 36% to 50% while his Soft Contact% has gone from 15% to 21%. He’s been aging for years and the rate of decline is speeding up for him.

Trevor Story is just getting healthy from a foot injury he had in May.

But any footing he found faded when he injured his right elbow making a diving play in late May.

He struggled after the injury, but for the first time, he’s back at more normal Story-like levels at the plate.

“This is consistently the best I’ve felt since the injury,” Story said. “I just feel really balanced. That’s my key. Honing into that to free myself up and trust my instincts.”

Before the All-Star break, he had a .765 OPS. Since then it is up to a .853 OPS.





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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WARonEverything
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WARonEverything

Did Reynaldo López think the catcher was calling for a Change-up all this time when really it was supposed to be a FB, Curve or Slide because it seems he is not seeing a sign for the Change anymore, so maybe that was the real fix.

https://www.fangraphs.com/players/reynaldo-lopez/16400/stats?position=P#pitch-info-pitch-type

Changeup has almost been totally dropped from 20% last season to 2.5% this year.