Mining the News (9/10/20) by Jeff Zimmerman September 10, 2020 American League Blue Jays • Ken Giles won’t immediately be Toronto’s closer upon returning. Giles (right forearm strain) is also close to returning, but Montoyo expects to use him “before the ninth” at first. Once he’s comfortable, he’ll move back into the closer’s role. Indians José Ramírez left tonight's game with left thumb discomfort. He's been battling the thumb injury for a few weeks now. — Mandy Bell (@MandyBell02) September 8, 2020 Something is not adding up. Since September 25th, Ramirez has a .965 OPS. Before then, his OPS was just .762. I wonder if the time frame stated in the Tweet is off since he did struggle in August (.700 OPS). He seems to be feeling better with a .870 OPS in September. Mariners • Expect Phillip Ervin to get plenty of playing time in Seattle. The Mariners have a number of high-profile outfield prospects, but they’ll look to see if Ervin can offer some depth. The 28-year-old was the No. 27 overall pick in 2013 and has hit .250/.320/.415 with 17 home runs, 64 RBIs and 15 stolen bases in 219 games over the past four seasons with Cincinnati. … “We’re going to give Ervin an opportunity and hopefully he runs with it and we can see what we’ve got,” Servais said. That’s the approach the Mariners are taking with numerous players in the remaining few weeks, having just acquired catcher Luis Torrens and infielder/designated hitter Ty France from the Padres, as well as several new bullpen options. Ervin has started four of the last five games (.497 OPS). Rangers • Globe Life Park has really got into Joey Gallo’s noggin. “He started well and started hitting some balls that in his estimation would have gone out in the old stadium,” hitting coach Luis Ortiz said this week. “So as a ‘feel’ guy, you start opening up the front side a little more trying to do a little bit more. So now the ball is getting popped up instead of being hit forward.” “It is different, being in a different stadium, it really is,” Gallo confirmed on Tuesday via Zoom. “Luis showed me a sheet that broke down the difference between what I was doing last year and what I was doing this year … I wasn’t really disagreeing with him. I think that was a pretty good point. I didn’t really feel like that ever in the old stadium.” The results aren’t matching up to Gallo’s complaints. He’s a got a 2.5% PU% at home and 5.9% on the road this year. Maybe the park is just an excuse for sitting on his butt and playing video games during the shutdown. White Sox • Yoán Moncada is still dealing with the effects of COVID-19. But the 25-year-old White Sox third baseman, in excellent physical condition, still feels the after-effects of the virus. “Definitely, my body hasn’t felt the same after the virus. I feel a lack of energy, strength, it’s just a weird feeling. It’s different,” Moncada said Thursday through interpreter Billy Russo. “When I got to Chicago before I tested positive, I was feeling strong and with energy. “Now, it’s like a daily battle to try to find that strength, that energy to go through the day. But that’s something that I have to deal with, and it is what it is. I have to find a way to get through it.” The second study* I’m running this offseason is on how players who had COVID-19 symptoms under or over-performed their projections. • Nick Madrigal may tap the brakes on stealing bases. “I’m always going to be an aggressive baserunner. But it’s just picking and choosing different times in the game when to do it. And especially with this lineup, me hitting at the bottom of the order, knowing that the lineup’s going to turn over after I come up, not having to push the envelope all that much. Don’t force anything, pretty much, is the bottom line.” — Madrigal Yankees • Aaron Boone doesn’t think Gary Sánchez is able to hit fastballs. “It’s just more about making that little fine-tune adjustment to where [Sánchez is] getting back to really dominating the fastball,” Boone said. “As a hitter, I think that’s where it all begins. When you’re in a good position to hit the fastball well, that’s usually when you recognize and are able to lay off off-speed pitches out of the zone.” Boone’s right. Sanchez has an 18% SwStr% against four-seam fastballs this season (11% for his career). If he can’t hit a fastball, pitchers are going to just keep feeding them to him. National League Cubs • Javier Báez and unknown others are missing in-game video to adjust their swing. “To be honest, it sucks,” Báez said. “I make my adjustments during the game. I watch my swing. I watch where the ball was, where the contact was. I’m really mad that we don’t have it. To be honest, with all the respect, we didn’t cheat. We’re not cheating. And we gotta pay for others. It’s tough, but at the same time, it’s a short season and all this crap that we don’t like. “I know a lot of players are struggling, too. A lot of stars are struggling. I’m just one more. But the way that it is is not the way we play baseball. I need video. I need video to make adjustments during the game. It don’t matter who’s there to watch us. It don’t matter if we have all the police that MLB wants to send over here. We need video back. I’m one of the guys. I’m going to keep trying to bring it back because we need it and I make adjustments with it.” … “He’s definitely the only honest one in the group,” Ross said with a smile inside the Wrigley Field interview room before Tuesday’s 3-0 win over the Cincinnati Reds. “I would say it’s impacting more than just him. I’m not going to say who it is. But to their credit, it’s hard to get up in front of you guys and make excuses, right? I don’t think a lot of guys want to do that, so they’re just trying to take ownership of their at-bats. He is frustrated. And I don’t think he’s using it as an excuse. I’m not trying to say that. I just feel like there’s elements to a season and a baseball game that we all use as tools. When we start taking (away some things) that you feel like are a big part of your success, it’s frustrating.” Historically, Baez has crushed starters the second time he faced them. He’s posted a .712 OPS the first time seeing a pitcher (16% below league average) and it is a .842 OPS (17% above league average) the second. The deal is that he’s getting even more of an increase the second time (55% increase), but the jump is going from a .344 OPS to .605 OPS. • Kris Bryant is just not able to drive pitches in the heart of the plate. While others have been able to thrive against unfamiliar pitching, it’s possible this combined with smaller injuries and just a lack of time to get comfortable have helped contribute to Bryant’s poor numbers this season. The bottom line is statistically, Bryant is at one of the lowest points of his career. By the end of the 2020 season, it’s likely Bryant will have many career lows staring back at him. But that’s the reality many players who got off to a slow start or slumped for an extended period of time will be faced with this season. Outside of getting healthy, Bryant’s best bet is likely finding a way to get back in hitter’s counts and the best way to do that is to start doing damage with the pitches he’s seeing in the zone, forcing the opposition to be more careful in how they attack him. More cautious pitchers are more liable to work around him or to make mistakes, meaning Bryant should see more of those pitches in areas in which he does more damage. Until that happens, Bryant’s struggles may only continue. I agree 100%. Bryant is just not able to catch up to fastballs. Here are his swinging-strike rates on four-seamers over the past four seasons. Season: SwStr% 2017: 6.5% 2018: 8.8% 2019: 10.0% 2020: 15.1% Not good. Giants • Austin Slater may end up on the weak-side of a platoon. “Slater has just swung the bat so well against lefties and righties, but in particular, he’s been excellent against left-handed pitching,” manager Gabe Kapler said. “Obviously, Madison is tough on all hitters, but in particular on lefties, so it’s nice to be able to get a heavy right-handed-hitting lineup out there with Slater at the top.” Fantasy managers hoping for more steals (seven so far) might be out of luck. Marlins • Garrett Cooper’s bout with COVID-19 kicked his butt. Marlins first baseman Garrett Cooper said he is feeling much better after missing a good chunk of the season because of COVID-19. But he’s back in time to help the team in a pennant race. After contracting the illness, Cooper spent the first four weeks in Jupiter, Fla. The virus took a lot out of him, he said, and it didn’t help that he was coughing a lot for two to three weeks. After recovering, Cooper then worked hard to get back in baseball shape. Cooper is just another example (see Yoan Moncada) on why it’s important to investigate if/how COVID-19 hampered certain players. Mets • Michael Conforto is trying to spray the ball to all fields. “I know that I have power and bat speed and all that stuff. I just wanted to work on being a better hitter and more of a pure hitter, not just focused on launching balls and seeing how far I can hit the ball,” he said. “We all want to hit the ball as hard as we can and as far as we can, but hitting is such a unique thing in sports. It’s not always about how hard you hit the ball. It’s about how squarely you can hit it on the barrel and on the proper trajectory. So that’s kind of where I shifted my focus, not thinking so much about launch angle, but how do I get the barrel to the ball most consistently?” The results of those efforts are clear so far this season. Conforto is hitting the ball to the opposite field more than ever before, with his hits almost evenly distributed to left, center and right. It’s nice to see the adjustment lead to more hits will maintaining his power profile. Padres • MacKenzie Gore has not been promoted because he’s working through some mechanical issues. “Yips” is too extreme a description — and Gore has looked noticeably better lately — but the lefty has worked through some mechanical problems. (Similar to Paddack, his fastball hasn’t moved exactly the way it did last year.) Which is why the Padres don’t think Gore is ready yet. That probably would be the case even if they hadn’t acquired a starter. Rockies • Sam Hilliard has shortened his swing and is relaxing. Yes, the swing is shorter and there is less unnecessary effort. But the relaxed spirit has had just as much to do with Hilliard’s production — .325 with five home runs and seven RBIs while appearing in all but one of the Rockies’ last 14 games (and starting 11) going into Saturday night at Dodger Stadium. “I definitely believe that it’s a combination of getting more reps and more opportunities, as well as just really trying to relax,” Hilliard said. “I remember when things started to turn for me at the plate. It was really just a conscious decision that I made to not put so much pressure on myself and remind myself to have fun.” * The first is how to weight performance if a player has two full seasons followed by a third of a season. The weighting will be at the heart of every postseason discussion.