Mining the News (9/21/21)

American League

Blue Jays

• Hang in there with this story about Robbie Ray. First, I thought he might be worth taking a chance because his velocity was up in Spring Training

With an ADP of 294, I thought why not roster him. If things turn south, I could let him go.

In his first two starts, he posted an 8.1 BB/9 leading to a 1.60 WHIP. I couldn’t stand the walks and dropped him for … Josh Fleming.

Oopsie. This move probably cost a few hundred dollars. Rostering the league’s likely Cy Young winner would have been helpful. The deal is that I should have had a little more patience since Ray missed some time with a bruised elbow and it took a while to heal.

It took one start in spring training for Ray to feel like the work he put in over the winter would pay off. When his season began — albeit slightly delayed after he bruised his elbow after a fall — he felt confident about where he was. As the season has progressed, it has only gotten better.

So I’ve come up with a set of simple rules to handle desirable players coming back from injuries.

  1. Assume they are not 100% and give them some time to heal.
  2. If necessary, bench them.
  3. Look for improvement over the next couple of weeks. If none, then cut. One option is that there may be some improvement but not enough to start.

It will always be more of art than a science threading that line from having the patience to hold on too long to an injured and/or underperforming player. For myself, I need to get the hurt ones a little more time.

Guardians (maybe)

James Karinchak is working and improving on his ability to throw strikes.

In his last two months before his demotion, Karinchak posted just a 41.9 in-zone percentage, as opposed to the 49.3 in-zone percentage he owned through April and May. But in his first two outings in Triple-A, he showed that he’s getting back on the right path.

“I think most encouraging along with those two factors is his last outing, he threw one inning with 17 pitches, but he threw [with an] 82 percent in-zone rate,” Willis said. “The stuff we’re talking about, he was actually throwing it in the strike zone. He had a 50 percent swing-and-miss rate in the strike zone, but again, 82 percent of his pitches were in the zone, and that’s hugely important.”

“I think that would be our hope,” Indians president of baseball operations Chris Antonetti said. “We would want to make sure it’s the right thing for James and that he’s made real progress down there. His first couple outings have been encouraging. I think what we’d like to do is see that consistently. And as importantly, let James feel like he’s ready to come up and contribute and help get outs.”


Andrés Muñoz is back to throwing over 100 mph and will be ready for Spring Training.

Muñoz hit 101 mph and struck out all three hitters he faced in an Arizona Complex League game against Dodgers prospects. He will pitch every fourth day or so and will be completely ready to go for the start of spring training in February.

J.P. Crawford worked to improve his conditioning this past offseason so his production wouldn’t crash.

Crawford hit .279 in May and followed that with a .338 mark in July, which surely excited everyone in the organization and gave them affirmation that trading for Crawford months earlier was a smart acquisition.

But as summer inched toward fall, Crawford’s bat started to wilt, and that effervescent hop in his step began to fade. His first full season had caught up to him.

“I was tired. I was worn down,” Crawford said. “I always thought my talent would get me places, but I learned that first year that playing in the big leagues was a whole different animal.”

Season: 1H OPS, 2H OPS
2018: .645, .971
2019: .814, .587
2021: .732, .690
Career: .714, .663

He’s sort of struggling a little be less in the second half this year compared to his career numbers.

Tom Murphy struggled to start the season after missing most of 2020 with a broken foot.

Murphy’s roster spot looked to be in jeopardy at one point, but he’s rebounded since mid-May, hitting .236/.346/.408 with eight homers in his past 208 trips to the plate. His season line still rests at an ugly .205/.304/.373, but that’s weighed down by those first six weeks. Murphy didn’t play in 2020 after fouling a ball into his foot and suffering a fracture during Mariners “Summer Camp,” so the slow start after such a long layoff is somewhat understandable.

In the season’s first half he posted a .638 OPS and raised it to .717 in the second half. Almost all the improvement came from improved plate discipline. He lowered his strikeout rate from 34% to 29% and raised his walk rate from 10% to 16%.


Taylor Hearn has added a sinker and cutter. Also, the Rangers view him as a starting pitcher going forward.

In addition, Hearn has added a two-seamer, and a second slider — one with more horizontal break that he is able to use in concert with his other slider. The turned corner hasn’t been lost on the Rangers’ front office.

“I’d be lying if I said previously that I had conviction that he was a starting pitcher,” president of baseball operations Jon Daniels said. “Whether it was more inconsistent strikes or inability to get deeper in games and go through an order two or three times. Those are the questions I had. You’ve always got to keep proving yourself in this game, but he’s gone a long way to answering those questions.”

Around his appearance on June 20th, he had incorporated his sinker (56% GB%, 8% SwStr%) and the new slider (14% SwStr%). It was also around this point when he stopped throwing his changeup (53% GB%, 8% SwStr%). I wonder if he would throw his slider more (20% usage on the season), he could have even more strikeouts.

Red Sox

Tanner Houck is trying to add a split change (7% usage in 2021) so he can go deeper into games.

Houck’s been throwing his split competitively — to professional catchers, presumably wearing a cup — for barely a year, but he’s been encouraged by the improvement. The split generated two swings-and-misses, including a strike three, in his Aug. 29 outing. His next appearance, he threw one split for a first-pitch called strike and four others for swings-and-misses, including two punchouts. Even in his most recent outing, which was less effective overall, he threw some effective splitters, one for a swing-and-miss and two for outs.

“It just adds that little bit more doubt in the back of a hitter’s mind,” Houck said. “Especially if I’m throwing it how I have been the last few times, where they’re actually having to respect it as a good put-away pitch right now, and as a pitch that I’ve been getting ahead with as well. It’s not just a show-me pitch anymore.”

The reason Houck is wanting to add a change is that he struggles the third time through the order (2.91 xFIP 1st TTO, 3.18 xFIP 2nd TTO, 9.03 xFIP 3rd TTO). He has a 6.8 HR/9 the third time. He should be struggling that much. Here are his pitch results:

Pitch: SwStr%, GB%
4-Seam: 9%, 48%
Slider: 15%, 40%
Sinker: 18%, 57%
Splitter: 18%, 33%

Off to I go and find two useful graphs. First, he doesn’t change is mix up much depending on the time through the order.

The other one was the number of righties versus lefties per time in the order.

I wonder if part of his third time through the order struggles are more of a left-handed hitter struggle. Against lefty hitters, he has a 3.95 xFIP. Against righties, it is a 2.01 xFIP. Again, this “problem” seems fixable.


Kyle Isbel is using a new batting stance.

The result was a suggestion: Turn your back foot inward to eliminate pressure that the inside part of his foot had been applying.

“That really cleaned up my path a lot,” Isbel said. “I don’t know (how they figured it out). That’s why they have that job. They help me in so many different ways. They’re amazing. Seriously. I’m so thankful.”

So did his numbers. He posted a .939 OPS in July and .881 OPS in August. By Sept. 11, his season-long OPS had jumped to .801.”


• The Twins are considering Jose Miranda

Miranda profiles best at third base, where he’s generally considered average-ish defensively, and that’s where he’s played most often for Triple-A St. Paul. He’s also seen regular action at second base and first base, and the Saints even briefly gave him reps in left field before deciding it wasn’t a great fit. Miranda played a little shortstop in the low minors, but that’s a big stretch at this point.

If the Twins trade Josh Donaldson this offseason, handing the third-base job to Miranda for 2022 and beyond would make all kinds of sense. If they don’t trade Donaldson, then Miranda’s most likely path to 2022 playing time would be as a utilityman bouncing around the infield. If the Twins could find 200-plus plate appearances for Astudillo this season, they can find 400 for Miranda in 2022.

and Nick Gordon

But even as Nick Gordon earned his first Major League start at short on Saturday, manager Rocco Baldelli indicated that the rookie likely won’t be in the mix for more consistent starts at the position moving forward.

“I don’t think the goal is to send him out at shortstop several times a week every week from here on out,” Baldelli said. “There may be a week where he is, but I still want to see him move around the field.”

That’s tough news for the 25-year-old Gordon, who played shortstop for most of his Minor League career and was thrilled to get back to the position on Saturday. He hasn’t gotten those opportunities at the Major League level, where Baldelli and his staff have focused on developing Gordon’s multi-positional skills, which could be key to his career.

Gordon will be out of Minor League options next year, meaning that he’ll need to break camp with the team and finish his needed development this season in preparation of holding a roster spot throughout the 2022 season.

… as utility players next season. Gordon will be forced into the role since he’s out of options.

• Because Kenta Maeda didn’t have the “normal” Tommy John surgery, he might pitch some next season.

Because Maeda received an internal brace in his right elbow — a newer development in the field — when he underwent Tommy John surgery with Dr. Keith Meister on Sept. 1, the Twins said that Maeda’s path to recovery could be abbreviated to 9-12 months from the standard 12-16 months for a normal Tommy John surgery.

But Maeda himself had gone into the procedure prepared to spend the entire 2022 season on recovery, if needed, and he said that he would leave his recovery timeline on how his body responded to each stage of the rehab process.

In leagues where a player can be drafted and stashed on an unlimited IL, he is a perfect add in those leagues.

White Sox

Yasmani Grandal is using a new batting stance since coming off the IL.

The pair went into the Knights’ batting cage, focusing on tee work. Grandal felt his front shoulder was opening up and he was pulling off the ball early with his left-handed swing, and he wanted to focus on driving pitches on the outer half to left-center while staying closed with his upper half the whole time. And he and Johnson figured what was good for pitches on the outer portion of the plate would serve him well for when he wanted to pull inside pitches and keep them fair as well, which they tested by moving to flips and putting his discipline for staying closed to the test.

Grandal has been on such a roll since returning from injury at the end of August that going 1-for-4 to extend his on-base streak with a game-tying RBI single Wednesday registered as a quieter night. He has hit .412/.523/.824 with six home runs in 15 games.

In the first half, he was hitting .188/.388/.436 and since returning from the IL, it is .375/.494/.813. Improvements in his BABIP (.189 to .327) and strikeout rate (26% to 11%) are fueling the improvements.


Jordan Montgomery’s bullpen is shorter so he doesn’t wear down as fast.

Part of that included a new approach to his bullpen work, particularly in his pre-start warmup program, which he said he has refocused and condensed.

“It was just a matter of throwing too much in the bullpen before starts,” Montgomery told The Athletic Monday. “I’d throw too much on the mound before, and I just needed to give myself some structure and focus on what I needed to work on executing in the game. I’m giving myself a set number of pitches to do that, because I used to get hot in the pen, then I’d spike six heaters in a row and I’d throw 12 fastballs before the bullpen was over, and I’d go out to the mound having thrown 40 pitches already.”

His production is steady each time through the batting order (1st TTO: 3.87 xFIP, 2nd: 3.78 xFIP, 3rd: 4.29).

• On September 7th, Gerritt Cole exited his start with hamstring tightness.

Cole will return to the Yankees’ rotation on Tuesday in Baltimore, having exited his most recent start on Sept. 7 after 3 2/3 innings with left hamstring tightness.

While he’s taken some rest, the hamstring still seems to be bothering him. Including that start, he has a 6.28 ERA, 10.0 K/9, and 1.74 WHIP. Until that point, it was a 2.73 ERA, 12.5 K/9, and 0.97 WHIP. He just doesn’t seem right, but the Yankees need all the help they can get.

National League


David Peralta adjusted his swing with better results.

The change they settled on was small, at least to the naked eye. Peralta raised his hands, keeping them near his ear until he initiated his swing. After struggling with his timing, particularly against fastballs, he worked to begin his swing earlier. It felt unnatural and uncomfortable, especially since Peralta rarely has had to tinker with his mechanics. But sometimes, Peralta realized, “you have to make a change.”

It’s hard to argue with the results. Since the beginning of August, Peralta has hit .316/.343/.490. The improvement in his timing and bat path has led to a chain reaction of better outcomes. Peralta’s expected batting average — a metric that takes into account batted ball data — against pitches at 95 mph or faster has gone from .243 before August to .321 since. His hard-hit rate has jumped from 30 percent before to 41 percent after. His average launch angle has nearly doubled, from 4.9 degrees to 9.4.


• The team is hoping Luis García will start walking more and then can move up the lineup.

The only change the Nats’ skipper has been mulling over is whether to move Luis García up in the lineup. For Friday’s season finale against the Rockies, the rookie is batting eighth, where he has hit for the majority of the season.

“We’re trying to get him to swing at strikes and to take his walks,” said Martinez. “He really hasn’t been able to do that. When they do throw balls in a strike zone, he’s been hitting pretty hard. But, we’ve got to get him in the strike zone. So, I don’t want to move him up and he starts chasing balls all over the place. That’s not what we’re trying to do here.”

Garcia just has a 3% BB% out of the eighth spot. The eighth spot is one of the highest BB% spots because many of the hitters get walked to face the pitcher. The National League’s average walk rate for the spot is 9%, three times Garcia’s rate.


Wade Miley’s pitches aren’t doing what he wants them to do.

“It’s just not getting through the baseball and finishing it. Pitches aren’t finishing. Guys know what I’m going to do. That’s the tricky thing, guys know what I’m going to do up there. It’s not a secret and just not being able to get through the baseball and down and away where I want it and just backing up over the plate. It’s just not good. I want them to swing, but I need the pitch to get to where it’s supposed to go. I just wasn’t executing.”

His sinker is all over the place as shown by its velocity and vertical and horizontal movements.

There is just no consistency from start to start.

Jesse Winker decided to end his rehab assignment and join the MLB team.

Two games for Triple-A Louisville and five hitless at-bats was all Jesse Winker had on his rehab assignment, but the Reds’ left fielder had had enough with waiting to return.

Winker was activated from the 10-day injured list on Friday after being out since Aug. 16 with an intercostal strain.

“I don’t think, realistically, feeling 100 percent was on the table,” Winker said. “I just wanted to get it good enough to just be able to come back and help. That’s all I wanted to do.”

So, he was obviously not healthy and immediately got hurt again.

Reds left fielder Jesse Winker’s much-anticipated return from the injured list lasted only one day. In a big blow for Winker and Cincinnati, he was placed back on the 10-day IL on Saturday with the same intercostal strain that kept him out for a month.

While showing a desire to play is great, this just showed a next level of ignorance. He remains just a streamable platoon bat (career .960 OPS vs RHP, .600 OPS vs LHP).

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 twice, and got his first NFBC Main Event win in 2021. Follow him on Twitter @jeffwzimmerman.

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2 years ago

Winker remains just a streamable platoon bat? Huh? He had a 143 wRC+ last year, and a 149 this year and was one of the fantasy mvps prior to injury. Even now missing all this time he is something like the 35th most valuable bat, even with no wheels at all. He is going to bat at the top of the lineup vs both. And while he hasn’t been good vs LHP this year and does strike out a lot more, he has also run a godawful .211 babip vs lhp, and was good vs them last year in a small sample. While I’d say he might be playing over his head a little, back to back 140wRC+ years make him much more than a streamer. He is going to be drafted pretty high next year, and is locked into the 2 spot vs LHP as well…even if he shouldn’t be. He isn’t a guy who will be streamed. If he settles into what it looks like he is, a 140-150 wrc bat vs RHP and an 80ish vs LHP (with some babip normalization) that is still a borderline fantasy star as long as he remains at the top of the lineup.

Outside of that, nice piece. Love these tidbits. Super excited to see what Miranda does at the big league level.

2 years ago
Reply to  carter

Just because his overall line still makes him a stud and he’ll still play against lefties in real life doesn’t mean fantasy players should start him against lefties if they have a better option that can post better than an 80 or so wRC+ against lefties. Sure, you’ll probably still do well by starting him every day, but you can do even better with a platoon.

2 years ago
Reply to  Lanidrac

If people see him as a platoon bat, I’ll just keep winning all my leagues

2 years ago
Reply to  bsgoldberg

My comment was better but yours is good too. It’s crazy how much free money there is in some baseball leagues despite all this info. being freely available.

2 years ago
Reply to  Lanidrac

I was getting Winker & McCutchen in the 20th round. You’re giving the 2020 drafting public way too much credit. His WOBA was right there on this website.