Mining the News (3/5/20) by Jeff Zimmerman March 5, 2020 I’m caught up with a mix of recent or older news. I’m now off to the Spring Training fastball velocity tracker to catch it up. American League Astros • While Kyle Tucker hasn’t dialed in his swing yet he seems to have a spot on the MLB team.’ Tucker seems to have a spot locked up on the big league club, and he will push for playing time in right field with Reddick, but there’s progress that needs to be made at the plate. Baker said he sees signs that Tucker’s long left-handed swing is coming around. “That’s why I’m trying to give him as much time to get ready as possible, because he’s a long-lever guy and the long-lever guys tend to take longer, just like older players take longer to get their timing and get warmed up,” Baker said. “The shorter-lever guys tend to have a shorter stroke, tend to get it quicker than the guys like him being a longer-lever guy.” Rangers • The Rangers are expecting Danny Santana to start the season as the centerfielder. Rangers manager Chris Woodward said he is comfortable with Nick Solak in center, but doesn’t see him ready for a full-time role there. That project will take time. Danny Santana will be the Rangers’ center fielder to open the season. “He’ll get most of the time out there,” Woodward said. • Lance Lynn is looking at mixing in more curves and changes. That’s why he has focused on his curveball and changeup this spring, and that was the emphasis on Wednesday during his four-inning outing against the Rockies. Lynn threw more off-speed pitches as last season progressed, and he lowered his reliance on the fastball. “We talked about it all offseason, mixing in more curveballs and changeups,” Lynn said. “Today I threw some good ones. Got to keep going. If I can mix in my curve and changeup to get some easier outs, that’s the plan. Once I get going and do what I do, if I can have them as weapons, it’s going to be good.” Rays • Mike Zunino has a new swing. The catcher worked on his body positioning and fixing his lower half while also slightly shortening his swing, and the hope is that it will cut down on swings and misses. “We have some knowledge on some new swing changes and some new thoughts that were coming, and I’m confident that these are going to be something that really help me,” Zunino said. “The ultimate goal is to get better every day and feeling good here, and being able to put it into competition this spring has been fun.” Maybe he’ll break .200. Red Sox • The Red Sox are looking for Martín Pérez to throw his changeup more. Perez believes the Rays might have wanted him because their manager, Kevin Cash, played with Perez in the minor leaguers. He would know Perez is good teammate and a strong competitor. Perez said the Red Sox told him something similar, that they liked those elements of his persona. He wants to pitch inside more often this season and throw his changeup like he used to. He believes he can regain last year’s early success. The pitch has been really good (16% SwStr%, 50% GB%) but he has only thrown it 22% of the time. Royals • Jakob Junis is bringing back his curveball. Junis struck out Omar Narváez looking on a curveball and Avisaíl García looking on a slider. He also got a few swings and misses on his changeup. “I threw a curveball all through the Minor Leagues, and it might have been my rookie when I stopped throwing it because it started morphing into that slider and it took away from the slider a little bit,” Junis said. “But I feel like I’m in a good spot now. It’s two different shapes and I like where it’s at.” • Now that he is playing in the outfield, Hunter Dozier wants to steal more bags. “I think if I’m an outfielder, which I will be this year, I definitely want to steal more bags,” Dozier said. “Maybe not as important as a third baseman, but as an outfielder, yeah, I want to get more.” Royals manager Mike Matheny believes Dozier certainly is capable. “I do believe he’ll get more,” Matheny said. “You know the speed is there. Look at all the triples last year he had. That first [Spring Training] game here, he went first to third on a base hit to center and it wasn’t a gimme. He hit second base in stride. … That guy is an athlete. That guy is the epitome of bigger, faster, stronger. He can really pick up speed when he gets going.” I’m not sure the Royals want him to steal more since he’s four for nine so far in the majors. Yankees • Clint Frazier is tweaking his swing mechanics. Frazier, who’s vying for an everyday spot in the lineup with the Yankees, hit a home run in his first at-bat in Thursday afternoon’s 7-1 win over the Rays and credited a change he’s made with his mechanics. The 25-year-old outfielder said that he’s trying a new trigger mechanism that places his front foot turned inward as much as he can. Frazier said that he puts 60% of his weight on his back leg and that he’s eliminated a long stride to the ball in order to unlock his potential. Brewers • Brandon Woodruff and Corbin Burnes are looking to tighten their arsenals. Seeing an “A” team so early in the spring was helpful, said Brewers pitchers Brandon Woodruff, who is working to tighten his slider, and Corbin Burnes, who is refining the pitches around his slider. Woodruff is a lock for the season-opening rotation, but Burnes might begin the year in the bullpen or at Triple-A. • The days of Lorenzo Cain stealing bases could be over. As we said, Cain dealt with knee and ankle problems last year, and that can’t be discounted. But he’s also about to be 34, and that can’t be discounted either, especially now that we can measure speed, and that we know how heavily correlated youth is to speed. For Cain, we can see some trends over the years. Here, for example, is a trend. You’re probably more interested in his ranking than the raw feet per second number. • 2016: 29.1 ft/sec — 39th-best overall • 2017: 28.8 ft/sec — 75th-best overall • 2018: 28.6 ft/sec — 97th-best overall • 2019: 27.8 ft/sec — 197th-best overall Cubs • This article on Darvish from Sahadev Sharma of The Athletic is a must-read. Too much goodness. The overall theme is that Darvish has the willingness to improve on his own. If he’s better than what he threw in the second half of 2019, opposing hitters need to watch out. “I can make my pitch design easier,” Darvish said. “If I think my slider is a good pitch against lefties, it’s just me thinking that. But I don’t know if the data says that. So now I make sure everything is right. And then I make my pitch design, how to use my fastball for lefties and all my pitches against certain hitters.” According to those familiar with Ivy who also work with pitchers, Darvish’s desire to interpret and apply the data properly on his own is unique. That he not only had that desire, but has been able to actually improve himself using what he’s learned with little guidance, is exceptionally rare. • José Quintana adjusted his changeup grip and hopes to throw the pitch more. After discussions with pitching coach Tommy Hottovy, Quintana switched his changeup grip over the offseason, moving to a four-seam setup after using a two-seam method. Quintana said this will allow the pitch to look more like his primary fastball and, perhaps more importantly, give him the confidence to use the offspeed offering more. His previous change had a below-average swinging-strike rate (8% for his career, 10% last season), so it could be refined. • Tyler Chatwood is still in line for a Cubs rotation spot. Cubs right-hander Tyler Chatwood, the leading candidate for the rotation’s lone vacancy, logged three strong innings on Wednesday against the Reds. Chatwood piled up five strikeouts, issued no walks and allowed one run on a solo homer by Josh VanMeter. “I felt good,” Chatwood said. “Today, my big thing was making sure I pitched. I think last outing, I got in fastball-happy mode. So, today I wanted to go throw everything and I was able to do that, able to get good swing and misses and I felt really good.” Dodgers • In the last Launch Angle Podcast, I brought up a small worry that Gavin Lux might end up in a platoon role. Pedro Moura of The Athletic also acknowledges the possibility. That’s the likely iteration against right-handed pitching. No real flaws there. Smith’s hitting vacillated last season, but many evaluators still believe he will at least hit at above-average clips for a catcher. Few expect Lux to manage only a .704 OPS in the long term, as he did last September, and even that with plus defense is solid for a second baseman. The outfield is elite. There are no real flaws. Even the tendency to strike out has been lessened some by the addition of Betts. Against lefties, A.J. Pollock would slide in for Pederson, and Muncy might slide over to replace Lux. Or the Dodgers could just substitute one of their right-handed-hitting reserves for Lux. Or Lux could just play every day. Or they could start Lux in the minors. They have plenty of options. Here is a simple comparison of Lux’s OPS values while in the minors and majors. Gavin Lux Handedness Splits MiLB Season vsRHP vsLHP Difference 2019 MLB .756 .417 -.339 2016 .823 .671 -.152 2017 .774 .467 -.307 2018 .986 .575 -.411 2019 1.104 .840 -.264 Average .889 .594 -.295 Median .823 .575 -.307 While the averaging is far from perfect math, adding two values together (OPS) with different denominators might be worse. In The Process, we listed his projected vLHP to be .682. I think this might be a best-case scenario and almost unplayable on a contender. The Dodgers have no problems platooning young stars as they’ve done with Joc Pederson, so a playing time risk must be considered. • Enrique Hernández has adjusted his swing. Meanwhile, Hernández is slugging away, his confidence boosted by a mechanical adjustment he worked on all winter and showed off with a three-run bomb in the first inning Thursday. “I’m a guy with very loose hips, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing in baseball, but in my case it’s like my enemy,” Hernández said. “My hip flies open. Now I get myself in a better position to be more efficient and direct to the ball with my upper half. Padres Eric Hosmer hopes to get more lift from his swing. The difference in production stems from Hosmer’s swing plane. His 56-percent groundball rate was the second highest in the majors among players who qualified for the batting title. “I’ve got to get the ball in the air a little more,” Hosmer said. “I’ve got to drive the ball a little more. I hit the ball really hard. It just goes on the ground.” Finally, you stubborn f… Rockies • The Rockies implemented a new round of batting practice to help them get up to speed while on the road. Blackmon devised a plan to speed up his adjustment on the road. He wanted to reset his strike zone sights, to feel what a hard slider or an elevated fastball might look like later that night. Instead of waiting for an at-bat or a game or even longer to tell him how to read pitches, he wanted to accomplish the same in a batting cage. He started using a pitching machine that could duplicate pitches with high spin rates and velocity, a three-rotor machine he could tune to mimic that night’s pitcher. If Blackmon was set to face Clayton Kershaw at Dodger Stadium, he could tune the machine for 12-6 curveballs and deep-diving sliders. If it was Madison Bumgarner in San Francisco, he could dial up sweeping fastballs. … The results were immediately positive. For the Rockies, expected slugging percentage (xSLG), which uses exit velocity and launch angle to determine how results would play over time, became a key metric to measure their progress. After adopting the new road hitting routine, Blackmon’s xSLG jumped by nearly 90 points, Arenado’s by nearly 40, McMahon by almost 100 points. While I’ve poo-poo’ed on starting Rockies on the road, this change could be a huge difference-maker. • Antonio Senzatela has a new curveball. But quickly, Senzatela pushed those treats to the back of the mind. In addition to a new curveball, a renewed changeup and good ol’ self-confidence — which showed again this Spring Training with his two scoreless innings in the Rockies’ 7-4 loss to the Rangers on Wednesday — Senzatela lost 15 pounds during the offseason.