Mining the News (9/17/20)

American League

Angels

• Jared Walsh has simplified his swing.

The Angels focused on those fluid, powerful hands as Walsh remade his swing again this summer. Walsh quiets those hands and allows them to be more efficient and effective in their movements. Walsh used to be hunched over the plate, his hands in constant motion — not just pre-swing but as he loaded his hands behind his body to release the barrel, until the Angels shifted him. He’s more upright now, his hands quicker to the baseball to let them cook. The timing issues he battled in his first taste of the big leagues evaporated.

It also eased the transition for Walsh, giving him the ability to focus on pitch selection rather than simply trying to catch up. His swing has clicked, if only for a couple of weeks.

He’s doing something right by hitting .315/.328/.759 with six homers in just 21 games.

Indians

• Jose Ramirez is playing through a thumb injury.

Ramírez (left thumb contusion) was able to start Wednesday’s game against the Royals because left-hander Danny Duffy was on the mound. The switch-hitter reports that he feels no discomfort when hitting from the right side of the plate. But when Duffy was pulled for a righty, Ramírez was taken out of the game to avoid aggravating his thumb while batting left-handed.

“We’re just trying to find ways, with the better treatment, [so] he can heal faster,” Indians temporary manager Sandy Alomar Jr. said. “We took him out because we didn’t want him to jam that thumb again. So that will give him the day before yesterday, yesterday and today the day off. And hopefully tomorrow he feels much better.”

Whether the thumb discomfort that’s been nagging Ramírez for the past few weeks has played a role in his splits against righties and lefties this year is unknown, but the numbers back up the desire to put him in the lineup to face southpaws whenever he can.

Over the past extended offseason, I determined that hitters who played through an injury performed worse the next season. As the season winds down, more news will come out about these lingering injuries. I am a little worried about how Ramirez will age going forward.

Royals

• Brad Keller is releasing his pitches higher.

Pitchers are also modifying their release points both vertically to create more downhill action — Royals starter Brad Keller is releasing the ball nearly two inches higher in 2020 than he did in 2019 — and horizontally to enhance command.

I’m sure the two-inch change doesn’t completely explain the step forward (2.06 ERA, 1.01 WHIP), but it’s a start.

Twins

• Luis Arraez has been dealing with a “balky” knee since Summer Camp.

Arraez has had issues with both knees this year. His right knee bothered him toward the end of Summer Camp, while this balky left knee has caused him to consistently miss time since mid-August. He had played in only two of the Twins’ last seven games leading into off-days on Wednesday and Thursday.

“The improvement with even some days off did not seem big enough to where we were getting to the point where we could lean on him or rely on him to play regularly,” Baldelli said. “We want him to be able to play regularly, not go out there and be just a piecemeal, complementary-type player that plays a few innings and you have to get him out of there. We couldn’t carry on like that.”

The bad knee might explain why his OPS is down over 150 points (.838 to .673)

National League

Brewers

• Corbin Burnes developed two new pitches (sinker and change) this off-season.

Burnes tried to straighten that fastball and chase that ride over the winter and spring hiatus, but he stumbled on something even better. Burnes found comfort in a pitch quickly going out of style — the sinking two-seamer — and it’s a linchpin of his new success.

“We put in a lot of work this offseason trying to find a pitch that worked the best with the slider from last year,” Burnes said Wednesday, just after holding the Tigers to one hit while striking out 11 in the Brewers’ 19-0 blowout win. “Some of the things we did with the two-seam [fastball] and developing the changeup opened some doors. It gave me a lot more options, not only to right-handers but to left-handers as well.”

The adjustment has almost made him unhittable (0.2 HR/9, .260 BABIP). Interestingly enough, his strikeout (12.9 K/9 to 13.3 K/9) and walk (3.7 BB/9 to 4.0 BB/9) rate have barely moved.

• Avisail Garcia thinks he is wearing down physically by playing center field.

Does García believe that playing somewhat out of position has negatively impacted his performance at the plate?

“I’ve been struggling a little bit,” he said. “Like I say, it’s a grind. It’s a big difference [in 2020], but it’s no time for an excuse. I think I’ve been struggling. I just keep working. It’s a short season, you know?”

OK….I added playing CF being linked to production decline somewhere deep on my to-do list. I could see it matter but I’m throwing the B___ S___ flag.

• Brandon Woodruff believes he’s performing better because he’s throwing his breaking balls for strikes.

“For me, when I start throwing off-speed for strikes and getting quality strikes with the off-speed, that helps the fastball play up more,” Woodruff said. “I was able to do that for the most part. Getting ahead, mixing in the slider, curveball and changeup, getting them over for strikes and then expanding when I had two strikes. Any time you can do that, it just helps the fastball. And it helps when you’re locating it well, too. Overall, that was the difference. Just getting ahead and making pitches when I had two strikes.”

Unlike playing centerfield defense wearing down a hitter, throwing strikes, especially with non-fastball can be huge for a pitcher.

Giants

• Brandon Belt believes his production jump is from being healthy

Sometimes a breakout season comes with an obvious adjustment — a clear change in approach or a player’s swing. That’s not the case for Belt, but there might, in fact, be a simple explanation. He’s indicated that perhaps full health is part of the key here.

“It was really the [right] knee,” he told reporters in late Aug. “The knee was a huge issue for me, and even after I had surgery on it in 2018, I didn’t really have enough time to get it strengthened to where it needed to be before the 2019 season. It was pretty weak last year. I think my mental approach last year was very good, and just the physical part wasn’t there. I spent all offseason strengthening my knee back up, and I feel like it is in a good spot. It [doesn’t] feel perfect, but I feel like my legs are strong, and that’s the important part.”

… but it could be from not facing many lefties.

Something else to consider: Belt hasn’t faced lefties much, so his plate appearances against the side he hits well, righties, have been maximized. Just 24 of his 132 plate appearances, 18%, have come against lefties. Last year, 26% of his plate appearances were against lefties. Belt is hitting .340/.426/.638 against righties, compared to .105/.292/.316 vs. southpaws. There’s no question that facing more righties than lefties gives him a better chance at a good plate appearance each time.

Belt’s .986 OPS is a career-high and over 250 points better than last season’s value (.742 OPS)

Reds

• Shogo Akiyama initially struggled as he got used to higher fastball velocity.

“I’ve also been getting used to the velocity a little more, and I’ve just been learning to hit inside the zone and what type of pitches they’ve been attacking me with,” Akiyama said.

During an Aug. 29 game vs. the Cubs, Akiyama felt things start to click for him when he lined a single to deep right-center field against ace Yu Darvish.

He’s performed fine against fastballs (5.5% SwStr%). It’s been sliders (18.9% SwStr%) that have eaten him up.

Rockies

• Nolan Arenado has been playing through a shoulder issue.

The A/C joint sits flat atop the shoulder. When it is compromised, it can pinch the muscles of the rotator cuff and inhibit baseball movements such as finishing a swing — especially on high pitches — or reaching across the body.

Arenado noted that he played through right (throwing) shoulder pain in 2018, and last year he fouled a pitch off his left big toe. With a longer season, he might have taken more time off. But, he added, “you don’t want to make excuses and you just try to find a way.” After he spoke, he displayed his best batting practice swing in at least a week and took grounders to test those painful movements.

Hopefully, he doesn’t inflict any permanent damage.





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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Anon
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Anon

For Garcia, I agree on the BS on CF being an issue. I’ve been wondering for all players if the compressed schedule with no off days wasn’t going to start wearing a few guys down.

I remember looking into Belt’s platoon splits a few years ago. He had virtually no platoon splits whatsoever through 2016. In fact, if you remove his dreadful numbers against Kershaw (.065/.134/.081 over 67 career PA including 30 Ks and only 4/31 with a lone 2B the times he did put it in play) he was actually better against lefties than righties. Even in 2017 he put up a 92 wRC+ against lefties which isn’t horrible. Obviously since then his numbers against lefties have been awful but if the knee was an issue, maybe he can get back to having little in the way of platoon splits.I also seem to recall he took a Robbie Ray fastball to the helmet and missed some tie with concussion issues and those can linger for a long time.

EDIT – check that, it was the DBacks but it was Anthony Banda and not Ray

Salty
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Salty

In general, it’s probably right, but I wonder if it would impact a guy the size of A Garcia who hasn’t played CF regularly in quite some time. If it was a player moving back to CF the size of Brett Gardner or Ketel Marte, I’d buy it less, but to ask a guy 6’4″ 250 to do it, maybe there’s some credence.