Nats or Phillies Outfield – Who Ya Got In 2020?

So you just opened the best present ever – that thing you wanted that does that thing you want it to do better than the other things – and you are over the moon. Nobody you know actually got that thing you got and you know your friends will be jealous, but most of them are already saying how the thing isn’t as good as everyone said it was, and you find a little bit of doubt creeping into your mind about your gift. You ask yourself if your friends are correct or maybe just jealous that you got the thing instead of them, because you know they asked for the thing too. Then you start using the thing and people REALLY start ripping your present saying how getting it was a huge mistake. So you find yourself defending the thing but feeling a bit sick until the talk quiets down because your friends have moved on to complaining about something else. Last off-season the Phillies signed Bryce Harper to be their cool new thing and that’s pretty much what they went through. In 2020, they have to hope that the noise about their outfield takes on a different quality after a disappointing 2019. Harper is theirs for quite some time and the Nationals just won the World Series with a revamped outfield after Harper left so, the question is, which team will have the better outfield in 2020 – the Phillies outfield or the Nationals outfield?

Bryce Harper wasn’t the only outfielder the Phillies signed in 2019. They also signed Andrew McCutchen to a three year deal with a team option for a fourth year. In his age 24 season through his age 28 season, Cutch finished in the top five in MVP voting each season, including winning the award in 2013. McCutchen has aged gracefully enough and maintained some of his power and all of his on-base ability. In fact his walk rate has gone up quite a bit over the last two seasons peaking in 2019 at 16.4% – 3.2% above his career rate of 12.2%. Durability has also been a big part of McCutchen’s game until last season when he hurt his knee and missed more than half the season, managing only 262 plate appearances for the year. When healthy, 33 year old McCutchen is a solid 3.0 WAR player and anyone expecting the 7.0 WAR Cutch is being strongly affected by the off-gassing from the plastic seats in Citizens Bank Park. In his prime, you could count on McCutchen to post a slash line around .310/.405/.500 with 24 homers and 20ish steals from the centerfield spot. While that ship has sailed, a health Andrew McCutchen should be counted on for .260/.370/.450 with a wRC+ of 120, so about 20% better than the average player in the majors. The biggest knock on him has been his defense in centerfield, but now that he is mostly in left field he is putting up good defensive numbers. Cutch will be back in the Phillies outfield and hopefully fully recovered for 2020.

The Nationals have a youngster in left field by the name of Juan Soto. In his first full season in the majors as a 20 year old, he slashed .282/.401/.548 and now owns a career slash line of .287/.403/.535. His 2019 was a 4.8 WAR season driven largely by his 142 wRC+ which was 12th in the majors and 6th in the NL. There are a lot of things to love in Soto’s game but what separates him from most players his age is his incredible strike zone judgement. His 16.4% walk rate placed him 6th in the majors in 2019 and when matched with his power (34 home runs in 2019), it makes him a terror to pitchers. Not surprisingly, Soto’s overall swing rate as well as his swing rate on balls out of the zone are both well below league average – 6.2% below and 8.2% below respectively. If you watched the 2019 postseason, you saw that it was really difficult for pitchers to get him to chase pitches out of the strike zone. That kind of plate discipline means pitchers are forced to throw him pitches over the plate or risk walking him, which they did (walked him that is) 108 times last season. The point of all this is that Soto is already one of the best hitters in baseball and he is about to play only his second full season at the age of 21. That is flat out terrifying. If there is a knock on Soto, it would be his defense which the numbers say was pretty close to average or a bit below. His DRS was at 1 but his UZR/150 was -1.3 so pick your poison. The eye test says he is going to be fine and his tremendous bat can cover a lot of sins. As good as McCutchen is, Soto is establishing himself as one of the three best left fielders in baseball, if not the best, so the Nationals get the nod in left field over the Phillies.

Finding a top notch center fielder is not an easy thing to do. Many teams face the choice of running a defense-first guy out there who they have to hide at the bottom of the batting order, or using a bat-first guy who they hope doesn’t stink up the joint too badly with his glove. The Phillies came into 2019 with former Rule 5 golden ticket, Odubel Herrera as their starter, but lost him to an 85 game suspension for violating the league’s domestic abuse policy. Herrera’s first two seasons showed him to be an excellent defender with speed and a bit of pop and a good bat. His wRC+/WAR numbers in 2015 and 2016 were 111/3.8 and 110/3.7 respectively so Herrera looked like one of those rare players who could defend and hit. He was basically free talent and a minor star – quite a find, especially in the Rule 5 Draft – and entering the 2017 season he was still only 26 with bright skies ahead. While Herrera’s boat didn’t sink in 2017, there was a decline as his on base percentage fell from .344 and .361 in 2015 and 2016 to .325 in part due to his return to his suboptimal walk rate. The low walk totals exposed his reliance on a high batting average to get on base. So in 2018 when his average fell to .255, it dragged his wRC+ down to 96 – just below average – and his WAR down to 0.9. His decline in  WAR wouldn’t have been as precipitous had the defensive metrics not fallen out of love with him. He went from 9.6 defensive dWAR to -9.0 dWAR between 2017 and 2018. Still, Herrera played almost every day, so there was hope that he could right the ship in 2019 in his age 27 season, but the opposite happened. Herrera slashed .222/.288/.341 in 139 plate appearances before his season ended in suspension. A -0.4 WAR (wRC+ of 64) season is hard to come back from, but a suspension for domestic abuse added to the mix might make it hard for Herrera to get another chance to reclaim his starting job. Up steps Adam Haseley.

Haseley was a first round pick in 2017 and debuted in the majors after only 78 plate appearances in triple-A after the loss of Herrera and his backup, Roman Quinn (lost to injury). Haseley will play the season as a 24 year old and did a decent job in his almost half a season audition. All five of Haseley’s homers in the bigs came against righties against whom he hit .282. He only received 52 plate appearances against lefties so his .212 average shouldn’t be taken too seriously, although it wouldn’t be surprising to see him carrying the bigger part of a platoon situation until he shows he isn’t a pushover against lefties. Haseley is a good defender with some speed who hasn’t shown the power one would expect from a starting outfielder – 10 homers in 2018 split between double-A and triple-A are his season high. If he finds the power everyone expects him to develop, then he can remain a starter. If he doesn’t, then Haseley is only a stopgap as a starter, or an excellent fourth outfielder. He only has 1136 professional at bats so there is still plenty of room for growth. Haseley has shown the ability to hit for average and take walks. If he only turns into a good glove, leadoff-type hitter, then the Phillies have a starting center fielder for the future. If he adds power to his game then there is some star potential there.

Having two starting outfielders under the age of 23 who have established themselves as valuable starters is a magical situation for a major league team. That one of them is a superstar and the other is a potential perennial Gold Glove center fielder with speed and developing power is enough to make a GM’s head explode with joy. Victor Robles was a top 10 prospect for a couple of years before earning a full-time job in center field in 2019. Robles is already an excellent defender in center (24 DRS in the outfield in 2019) but his offensive game is still a bit raw. He swings at a lot of pitches but also makes contact with pitches in and out of the strike zone. He has always had a thrilling combination of power and speed which was on display last season as he hit 17 home runs and stole 28 bags in 37 tries. His slash line has room for improvement as his .255/.326/.419 shows some impatience. He walked 5.7% of the time and struck out in 22.7% of his plate appearances so his strike zone judgment could definitely improve. His 91 wRC+ isn’t bad for a defender of his caliber, but his hit tool is excellent so the .255 average was a disappointment. He will likely never walk as much as Soto so at his peak he will probably be a high average/low walk totals hitter with great speed and good power. Hitters who are dependent on a high average to carry their on base percentage can be frustrating and volatile, but Robles has so many tools that he should be valuable even in years where his average is low. The Nationals expect him to improve on his rookie 2.5 WAR campaign and be a fixture in center for years to come. At this point, the Washington club has a big edge in center field but that is all reliant on how close Adam Haseley can get to his full potential.

Bryce Harper used his bat and glove to give the middle finger to his detractors and they didn’t even know it. The narrative that Harper was a disappointment was ludicrous. The right fielder for the Phillies had his third best season in terms of WAR (4.6), with his second highest home run total (35) while putting up good defensive numbers (9 DRS and 11.0 UZR/150) after hearing all offseason that he was a liability in the outfield. He even had 13 assists! It wasn’t an MVP year but it was excellent by any standard. His walk rate was high, but so was his strikeout rate as Harper swings at  and misses a lot of pitches. Harper had a much better second half than first half, so that bodes well for an even better age 27 season from Harper. When you slash .260/.372/.510 and there are signs that it will get even better, someone has to get excited for you!

Adam Eaton plays right field for the Nationals now that Victor Robles is the starter in center. 2019 was the first season since 2016 in which Eaton managed to get through the year without sustaining a major injury that cut his season short. The former Diamondback and White Sox player just turned 31, and in 656 plate appearances last season slashed .279/.365/.428. Those numbers are clearly in line with his career numbers, but his wRC+ of 107 was his lowest since 2013. Eaton’s defensive numbers were down too with both DRS and UZR showing him to be slightly below average. So while it was great for the Nationals to be able to run Eaton out there to right field most every day, one has to wonder if all of his injuries have sapped some of his skills. Don’t get me wrong – Eaton was still good, but instead of being a minor star like he was in 2016 and the first half of 2017, he was only a solid starter. He still hits around 15 home runs a season and steals bases efficiently if not that frequently, and his BABIP was almost 20 points below his career average, so don’t be surprised if he hits .290 in 2020 and puts up a 3.0 WAR season. There is a lot to like about Eaton, but he isn’t a game changing force like Bryce Harper, so the edge goes to the Phillies here.

If I had to choose an outfield for the 2020 season I would pick the Nationals. It isn’t because the Phillies have a bad outfield – they are quite talented even though there are some questions to be answered in center field. But moving forward, the Nationals could have a great outfield as Soto – gulp – gets better and Robles continues to develop. The Phillies will get some growth from Haseley, but Cutch is in the decline phase (even if it is slow) of his career, and Harper is already great and probably about done growing, although who knows with that kind of talent. Obviously teams don’t win with just their outfield, but these two teams won’t go anywhere without good seasons from their talented outfield core. It is worth noting that each club has at least one legitimate MVP candidate in their outfield, so while it is exciting to look at that part of the roster, the Phillies and Nationals both have the depth in their lineups to get to the post-season which would be the best present ever for the fans of either team.

Cincy’s Infield Looks To Carry Their Weight in 2020

After hitting the eject button on Jose Peraza and with the signing of Mike Moustakas, the Reds have continued the reshaping of their infield that started last season when they grabbed Freddie Galvis off waivers. Don’t buy any jerseys yet kids, but the Reds seem to be moving in the right direction after a string of losing seasons dating back to 2014 – they lost the 2013 NL Wild Card game to the Pirates. They finally have a competitive starting rotation with Sonny Gray, Luis Castillo, and Trevor Bauer at the top as well as some depth after the top three, so while it is weird to talk about a Reds team that needs their hitting to catch up with their pitching, that’s where they are in Cincy right now. So yeah, back to that infield situation.

Jose Peraza had his doubters after his productive 2018 season where he slashed .288/.326/.416 popping 14 home runs and stealing 23 bags in 29 attempts, good for a 96 wRC+ – not bad for your starting shortstop who also happened to be only 24 years old. Coming into 2019 it looked like shortstop was more or less locked down for the Reds. Turns out the doubters were right as Peraza had a horrible first half hitting only .222. The divisive infielder has never been one to let a pitch go by without hacking at it (swing rate 7% over league average), as evidenced by his OBP for the season which ended up at .285 even after a recovery of sorts in the second half where he hit .265. Peraza was unlucky with a BABIP of .265, but he didn’t set himself up for success either with a walk ratio of 4.2% when major league average is 8.5%. The Reds clearly had their doubts as they signed Jose Iglesias before the season started and then didn’t wait around to see if Pereza could regain the magic and grabbed Freddie Galvis off the waiver wire when Peraza struggled out of the gate. Pereza spent more time at second base and in the outfield in the second half. Interestingly, Galvis profiles a heck of a lot like Peraza with low walk rates but better defensive numbers. Galvis is older – 31 by the time the season starts – with more pop but doesn’t steal much anymore. He doesn’t have Peraza’s upside with the bat but he is more predictable at this point. Galvis slashed .260/.296/.438 in 2019 with 23 homers and while his defensive numbers were similar to Peraza’s at short in 2019, he is widely regarded as the superior defender.

Jose Iglesias is yet another slick fielding shortstop who refuses to walk but can hit a little (.288/.318/.407 slash line in 2019) if you can stomach all the outs he makes if he hits under .280. Iglesias is a free agent after a 1.6 WAR/84 wRC+ season so the Reds will have competition to resign him if they even want to. Iglesias will be 30 this season and Galvis, who is a very similar player, is under contract. It isn’t likely that Iglesias will wear the big red C on his chest in 2020. The Reds reportedly are looking at Francisco Lindor after missing out on Didi Gregorious, but back to Freddie Galvis – he is probably the starter for 2020 and a stopgap now that they’ve cut bait on Peraza who signed with Boston. Galvis will provide good to excellent defense at shortstop and home runs from the bottom of the lineup and a wRC+ around 80. They could do worse.

The Reds only big off-season acquisition so far, Mike Moustakas, became the poster boy for the new market for non-superstar hitters. In 2018, Moose could only get a late, one year deal with the Brewers for $7 million after hitting 38 homers in 2017 which in the past would have netted him a multi-year deal for good money. The Reds signed the infielder to a four year, $64 million deal this off-season taking him through his age 35 season. Moustakas has undeniable power with another 35 home runs in 2019 as a third baseman who also played about a third of his games at second. He put up solid defensive numbers at third and was a tiny bit below average at second, but he has more than enough bat to carry either spot even with only average defense at either spot. It seems that he will be the starting second baseman since the Reds already have third covered. He will be a significant upgrade even though he is another guy who doesn’t quite walk enough – only 7.0% for his career although last season he worked the free pass 9.1% of the time. If that improvement is real, Moose should maintain his near 3.0 WAR production and 110+ wRC+ offensive profile.

The guy standing in Moustakas’ way at third is Eugenio Suarez. Suarez keeps getting better and better with more and more power. His 49 home runs in 2019 was second in all of Major League Baseball behind only Pete Alonso. His power is even more remarkable when you consider that he only hit as many as 10 home runs once in his minor league career that spanned six seasons. Suarez is the complete package who gets on base, hits for power and plays good defense at third as you would expect from a former shortstop. 2019 was his second season in a row of wRC+ in the 130s (133) and his WAR was a career high 4.5 based in part on his defensive contributions. Suarez is only 28 in spite of his long professional career and should continue to put up star numbers for a few more years. He now drives the Reds offense and anchors the left side of the infield and with a team friendly 7 year deal for $66 million that takes him through his age 34 season, he will be a bargain for a few more years at least.

Joey Votto used to be the center-piece of the Reds offense but no longer. Last season was a mess for the guy who was once arguably the best pure hitter in baseball. Even with dropping power numbers, Votto had put up wRC+ numbers above 130 in every full season of this decade. His career wRC+ of 151 and his career WAR of 56.2 makes him a near lock for the Hall of Fame, but last season saw an alarming jump in his strikeout rate – up to 20.2% – and a dip in his batting average to .261 for a career .307 hitter. Is Votto done? It is hard to count out such a great hitter after just one average (for guys who AREN’T Joey Votto) season – he still had a wRC+ of 101, but it is such a precipitous drop from his standard that it sets off alarms. There is some good news for Reds fans in that Votto still hit the ball really hard each of the last two seasons with hard hit rates above 41% both seasons when his career rate is only 37.6%. His line drive rate was in line with his career rate, so Votto can still sting the ball. Pitchers attacked Votto with the slider more often last season and he struggled with that pitch more than he had in the past so an adjustment might bring back some of his Votto-ness. If Votto can take back some of his regression from last year either with the power numbers or the on base percentage, then the Reds will once again have an above average first baseman even if Votto is no longer a superstar. His defensive numbers have never been good so if he doesn’t do it with the bat there is no reason to keep running him out there (except for the remaining $80 million dollars left on his 10 year contract).

Even if the Reds don’t trade for a stud shortstop, their infield offense will still be greatly improved. Moustakas should provide value with his bat for a few more seasons and Galvis will provide pop and an excellent glove as a change and possibly a small upgrade from Peraza. There is probably something left in Votto’s tank so look for the Reds to improve upon their bottom half wRC+ in the NL (12th of 15 teams) to go with their improved pitching. There is a real chance that the Reds win more games than they lose in 2020 and that would be an accomplishment for Cincy given their struggles post 2013. I understand that excitement is usually generated by playoff runs, but small market teams like the Reds need to make improvements where they can and hope to catch some breaks. Winning is infinitely better than losing and could generate some buzz in Cincinnati. And in a division without a clear behemoth, the Reds could surprise if things break right. In a division with the Cubs, Brewers, and Cardinals, none of whom are at the top of their competitive cycles, the Reds need to take advantage of even small windows.

MadBum a Snake? What Is The World Coming To?

It’s hard not to feel bad for Giants fans after losing the one player fans most associate with post-season success – Madison Bumgarner. To make matters worse, Bumgarner signed with divisional rivals, the Arizona Diamondbacks, so the fans get to see him in a not-Giants uniform trying to make the Giants lose, and all San Francisco got for him was a draft pick. That has to sting. I know for Giants fans it will be hard to look at their roster for a few weeks, but eventually they will be ready to face reality and when they have grieved, this article will be sitting there like a hug from your best friend after a bad breakup. Who in the name of God will start games for the Giants in 2020, you ask? I’m here for you, man.

There are reasons to despair if you are a Giant’s fan, but there are reasons to hope as well and things are legitimately not as dark as they seem when it comes to the starting rotation. Try to keep in mind that the Giants are in the middle of a “soft rebuild”. They are trying to build a team that will stay out of the cellar and be worth watching, that is building for the long run without tearing it down to the studs. That means looking for bargains and taking short term risks on guys for reasonable costs who could completely flame out, but since they are on short deals, they don’t burden the team moving forward – enter Kevin Gausman. The former “Ace in Waiting” of the Orioles was available in part because of his 5.72 ERA in 2019. There are a couple of things that indicate that this might be a smart signing for the Giants. First of all, even though Gausman has been around a while he will only turn 29 in January. His fastball still sits around 94 and his control is good as indicated by his career walk rate of 2.72 per nine. Two more indicators of a possible brighter future for Gausman is the disparity between his ERA and his FIP – 5.72 versus 3.98 – portending a return to a reasonable ERA. Also, his BABIP was .344 which was 30 points above his career average – another indicator of possible bad luck contributing to his craptastic 2019. Where Gausman gets in trouble – and it has always been this way – is the long ball. His career rate of 1.26 homers per nine is up there, but he is leaving a hitters park in Atlanta and moving to an extreme pitcher’s park where the park and the weather both help to suppress offense. Even if he doesn’t pitch significantly better (which he probably will), his numbers should improve quite a bit. He is not an ace, but as the A’s have shown over the last couple of seasons you can get by without an ace if you can get average pitching and lots of depth. Gausman is a good signing on a one year deal – $9 million, and if he likes pitching in SF he might be a good candidate for an extension at mid-season.

That Johnny Cueto pitched at all last season after missing most of 2018 with a blown out elbow, which finally required Tommy John surgery, was a positive for the Giants. Cueto could not hit water from a boat with his pitches in his short stint at the end of 2019, but with a normal off-season and spring training he should be fine in 2020 – fine for an old guy. He will be 34 in 2020 so Giants’ fans shouldn’t expect prime Cueto, but he has always used deception and variation in his delivery to keep hitters perpetually annoyed, and that skill ages well. I also would not anticipate Cueto to break 200 innings like he did every season from 2012 through 2016. Still, it would be reasonable to expect Cueto to get 30 or so starts and be league average or maybe better because of his sneaky goodness – a mid-rotation starter. Welcome back, Johnny Cueto!

Tyler Beede finally made it up to the bigs and stuck in the rotation in 2019 making 22 starts and striking out 8.69 per nine. But to be more than an innings eater, Beede needs to find the strike zone more often (3.54 walks per 9 in 2019) and keep the ball in the yard as his 1.69 home run per nine rate is untenable. Beede’s ERA and FIP were so close – 5.08/5.03 – and his BABIP was .312 indicating that he got what he deserved. It wasn’t pretty, but even small improvement and continued health would make him valuable as a guy who can get them 30 starts with an ERA under 5.00. Projections see his home run rate stabilizing, but his walk rate being pretty poor and still managing a FIP in the mid-fours. The Giants would gladly take that. Beede works with a four pitch mix including a fastball that averages around 94 MPH. Maybe some work with his pitching coaches will help him maximize his stuff through changing his pitch mix or sequencing. Whatever happens, the Giants need Beede to turn into something useful, and he is already close.

After Tommy John surgery and a suspension for PEDs, Logan Webb is one the Giants couldn’t have been clear on, and to be fair, they probably are still a bit unsure after watching only eight starts in the majors. But Webb’s peripherals show promise that in spite of the 5.22 ERA there might be something of value there. Webb struck out just over eight batters per nine and walked just over three showing fringy control and good strikeout ability. His ground ball rate wasn’t quite as high (48.8%) as what the Giants might have expected from his time in the minors. He had multiple stops with ground ball rates of better than 60%. Webb allowed a few too many homers – 1.13 per nine – but it wasn’t as bad as some of his rotation mates. If he could induce a few more grounders like he did in double-A and triple-A, then the homer rate should come down. If he can manage that while keeping his other rates about the same as last season, then his ERA might even beat his 2019 FIP of 4.12. With a fastball that averages around 93 (even higher from the pen) and a four pitch mix, Webb, who is only 23, could turn into a solid 4 or maybe even a 3 with some growth. There could still be some growing pains, but the Giants have something to build upon with Webb.

It is difficult to be too optimistic about what the Giants have in Jeff Samardzija. He is 34 so any talk of potential is silly at this point. He is not an ace or even a number 2. His ERA last season was 3.52 but his FIP was 4.59. He is no longer a strikeout pitcher (6.95 per nine last season) with a fastball that averages a tick under 92 MPH, but he has good control (2.43 walks over nine) so there’s that. If he induced a lot of ground balls then that might be a sustainable approach, but at just over 36% in 2019 in the launch angle era, that seems like a tough profile to predict anything but decline and volatility. He gave up 1.39 home runs per nine last season which seems appropriate since he gives up so many fly balls. He gave the Giants 181.33 innings last season and that has value, but he is more a back of the rotation guy now who will cost the Giants just north of $18 million. Oh Shark – what could have been!

If any of those five starters falter, there are other guys – pitchers with some serious question marks and a bit of potential to provide value – waiting for a chance. Conner Menez is 24 and gets batters to strike out quite a bit – over 10 batters per nine at each of three stops last season including San Francisco. What Menez also did last year as he climbed through the system was walk more batters as he moved to a higher level starting with 3.02 per nine at double-A, then 4.40 at triple-A, and finally 6.35 in 17 innings in the majors. That dog don’t hunt. The fastball isn’t particularly hard, but the lanky lefty generates well above average spin with it. Unless Menez can get his walk rate down to the mid to low threes, he will probably be a quad-A pitcher or move to the pen. Guys with high spin rates get lots of looks in this age of data so look for him to get a few shots as openings appear.

Dereck Rodriguez had a rough first half and a rougher second half, but at 27 and with two good seasons in a row under his belt before 2019, he should be an early option if the Giants need a starter. His home run rate exploded last year to 1.91 per nine and moving to the bullpen didn’t fix him or even turn him into something useful. His walk rate didn’t increase as much as his homer rate, but he doesn’t dominate, so another half a walk per nine might be enough to turn him from effective back of the rotation option to a quad-A, break glass only in case of emergency kind of guy.

Andrew Suarez, like Dereck Rodriguez, took a big step in the wrong direction in 2019 after showing promise in 2018. He also saw his home run rate explode (1.93) and his walk rate jump (by more than a walk per nine). Suarez is also 27 and doesn’t have a pitch that really separates him from the pack. What he did have before last season was good to excellent control. The Giants didn’t give him much of a chance after he started the season on the IL – he only started two games with the big club – and he wasn’t particularly effective at triple-A in 2019 (probably why they didn’t hand him a rotation spot). Still, a lefty who can throw strikes should get some chances, so watch for reports of health and effectiveness in Spring Training because Suarez could sneak back into the rotation if he reverts to his form from 2018.

It would be worth watching Tyler Anderson’s progress in Spring Training too. The former rotation survivor for the Rockies made five starts in 2019 and was shut down for the rest of the season with something called chondral defect which is short for “his knee was screwed up”. It includes cartilage and possibly bone damage of the knee, which as you can imagine makes it hard to pitch. Anyone who can fashion an ERA in the mid fours over 32 starts in Coors Field (which he did in 2018) deserves lots of chances to see if he can get healthy and recapture that. Mr. Anderson is a tall lefty with excellent control – a career strikeout to walk ratio of 8.32 to 2.81 per nine. There’s a lot to like about this signing assuming he can get past his knee injury, which sounds like a pretty big if for a starting pitcher. This is a very low risk and potentially very high reward move for the Giants since they signed him for $1.78 million on a one year deal. Anderson still has a minor league option left, so if he needs more time to make adjustments once he is healthy, the Giants can give him some time in the minors. Here’s hoping health to Tyler Anderson and a return to form which could turn his signing into an enormous coup for the Giants rotation, where he could slot in as a two or three.

The 2020 Giants seem to be following a similar path to the 2018/2019 A’s in their rotation construction – get a bunch of arms, chuck them at the nearest wall, and see what sticks. In spite of their brief run last season, the Giants aren’t ready to compete, so this strategy makes a lot of sense. I would expect them to do something on the free agent market that will excite Giants fans in 2021 once the Shark’s contract and Johnny Cueto’s even bigger contract is off the books. They are improving their minor league system, and with some luck their ship will begin to turn around in a couple of years. They don’t have an ace anymore now that Madison Bumgarner is gone – he hasn’t really pitched like an ace since 2016 anyway. Their rotation looks to be a collection of threes, fours, fives, and some sixes (which really isn’t a thing). With some luck one or two of the young arms will turn into something more than a rotation filler as they build to their next competitive window. They might also hit on a reclamation project like Tyler Anderson. It is hard to say goodbye to links to your glory days like Mad Bum, but it is the right thing to do when it is obvious that you don’t have enough to chase down the Dodgers and Diamondbacks or even the Padres in 2020. They will find another window to compete with their combination of money and the draw of their beautiful stadium. Don’t despair Giants fans; your day will come!

 

The Forecast For San Diego’s Outfield in 2020 – Is There a Chance of Rain?

It is an exciting time to be a Padres fan. They have possibly the most thrilling position player in baseball in Fernando Tatis Jr., and a potential ace in Chris Paddack. They also have one of the best farm systems in all of baseball including a slew of great young arms. So yeah – if you are lucky enough to live in San Diego and you like baseball, your life is good and it’s about to get better. Of course not everything is rose-colored as the Padres haven’t tasted the playoffs since 2006 and they have never won the World Series. So as the Padres try to massage their roster into a team that can contend, we should look at the impact of their latest trades on their outfield. Wil Myers, Hunter Renfroe, Manuel Margot, and Franmil Reyes (before he was traded) received most of the playing time in 2019, but Reyes and Renfroe are gone now and Trent Grisham and Tommy Pham are the newest Friar outfielders. What does all this reshuffling mean for the Padres in 2020?

Wil Myers is neither dead, nor the worst baseball player in the league. In fact he is only slightly below average. But don’t tell that to Padres fans who see him as a train wreck. And to be fair, he is kind of a train wreck when you consider that at 28 and with three years left on his six year, $83 million contract, he might have a hard time earning a starting outfield job, and has virually chance of winning a corner infield spot on a team that lost 92 games last season. That’s the thing about money though – when you pay a guy a lot of cash you are more likely to give him too many chances to prove that you didn’t screw up when you handed him that contract. So will Wil get another chance to start somewhere for the Padres in 2020? It is unlikely that he will see more than the odd start on the infield corners, but much more likely that if he is still on the roster in 2020 (and there is no way anyone will take on his contract unless he is packaged with some great prospects), he will get starts in the outfield. If he gets roughly 500 plate appearances then he should deliver something in line with his career slash line of .257/.327/.436. That comes with 20 or so homers and 15 or so steals. It also comes with decent defense if he is in an outfield corner and poor defense if he is anywhere else like centerfield, first base, or third base. Can the Padres live with that for now? Sure! Can they win championships with that kind of output from a position that usually provides superior offensive output? Probably not.

Manuel Margot was an exciting prospect at one point. The Padres got him in the 2015 trade with the Red Sox for Craig Kimbrel.  Margot is 25 and has basically three full seasons in the majors and a career wRC+ of 84 after a 2019 wRC+ of 82. Margot is still all kinds of toolsy, but after 1526 plate appearances he looks like he just won’t hit enough to hold down a starting spot. He will still have value off the bench as a pinch runner, defensive replacement in all three outfield spots, and spot starter, but if the Padres were to continue on with him as the starter in center, their offense would have to carry him. What Margot looks like now is an excellent use of a bench spot and I don’t mean that as a knock on him. He would be a valuable 4th outfielder because of his glove and his speed, and it would allow the Padres to take one last look at him in case there is something left in his development.

Hunter Renfroe can hit the ball pretty far and has started to walk more, but his hit tool is not good, so he ends up with on base percentages a notch below .300 (career .294). He has a cannon arm and put together a good defensive season based on UZR/150 and DRS last season. In fact his numbers put him right near the top of all right-fielders in baseball, but this is the first season of positive defensive numbers, so we will have to see if he can repeat that in Tampa Bay where he was just traded. At 27, and with 1450 plate appearances Renfroe doesn’t look like a starter in an outfield corner on a contending team. He has yet to break the 2.0 WAR mark (career high WAR of 1.9 set last season with a big bump from his defense), but a little more improvement at the plate might push him over the edge assuming his walk rate continues to improve and he repeats his stellar defensive season. It was clear that the Padres needed a different answer in right field and now Renfroe is a question to be pondered by the Rays.

It is unclear what the Padres have in Franchy Cordero aside from a dude with a cool name. He could make a push for the center field job based on his speed and good work at the position in two small auditions, but it isn’t clear that he is ready to hit major league pitching. He is a 70 raw power guy who looked like he was starting to get to some of that projection in his last full season – 2017. But at 25, Franchy looks fringy and raw and with more talented outfielders in the fold, he is going to have to step up now or be pushed aside. His minor league career slash line of .270/.335/.434 shows a hitter who needs a high average to have a healthy enough on base percentage to deserve a lineup spot. If he enjoys a power spike and can walk even 10% of the time, then he might be someone. If not, then the Padres would be better off handing his spot to someone like Manuel Margot who is better with the glove and has gotten to more of his power than Cordero at this point, if not to one of their new acquisitions.

Josh Naylor is only 22 but put in a half season in the majors in 2019. He wasn’t great, but he wasn’t horrible either. His wRC+ of 89 combined with his poor defensive numbers in the two corner outfield spots equalled a -0.2 WAR. Ok, maybe he was pretty bad. But 22 is young, and there were positives about his season that probably make the Padres think they might be onto something. Naylor drew enough walks in the minors and in his half season in San Diego to show that he will probably walk enough to turn him into a positive offensive contributor. His raw power is evident just by looking at him and he has begun to reach some of it – 18 homers in 2019 between triple-A and the majors. It is reasonable to project him to something like a slash line of .260/.330/.450 or maybe even more slugging once he accesses more of his power. That’s enough to start if his defense doesn’t erase all of his offensive production. Naylor was a first baseman until 2018 when the Padres started his conversion to the outfield. San Diego already has an expensive first baseman in Eric Hosmer, so the conversion makes sense if Naylor handles the outfield. He is quite slow – a 20 runner on the 20 to 80 scouting scale – so he won’t be running balls down in the corners. If he can get good jumps and run smart routes he might get to the point where he doesn’t hurt the team with his glove. From here that seems like a big if, but there is no DH in the NL so for him to start that will have to be the calculus. Naylor has some tough competition after the two trades the Padres made so let’s look at who else the Padres are likely to try in the outfield.

San Diego will enter Spring Training with a handful of younger outfielders who will push for a chance soon, if not in Spring Training, and some young outfielders who have yet to fulfill their promise. The recent trade that netted them Trent Grisham will more than likely reshape their outfield in 2020. Grisham was a first round pick for the Brewers and had been viewed as a disappointment until last season when he finally found the power stroke the Brewers had believed was possible. Grisham has always had the ability to get on base because his walk rates were quite high ( in spite of his marginal batting average – a minor league career slash line of .255/.376/.415). He also has shown some speed in the minors to go with his developing power. In his brief major league debut last season he posted good defensive numbers in right field and center showing that he could probably start in either spot. If Grisham wins the starting spot in center for the 2020 Padres, his bat will play there if his defense is enough for him to stick. He will probably be a low batting average, high walks hitter with some speed and power. Grisham is only 23 so it is possible the former first round pick could turn into at least a solid starter.

After getting Grisham, the Padres went and traded for Tommy Pham. With speed, power, and the ability to get on base, Pham will likely be the starter in left even though he has played center and right as there are younger options to play the other outfield spots. His numbers have declined each of the last two seasons, but he is still a 3 to 4 WAR player. Pham’s defensive numbers have bounced up and down with last season being a low point in terms of WAR but with some disagreement from other defensive metrics. Soon to be 32, Pham probably isn’t the long term answer, but he won’t be a free agent until 2021 so the Padres will get two good seasons out of the athletic Pham before they have to make any tough decisions.

The Padres have two potential star outfielders toiling away in the minors in Edward Olivares and Taylor Trammell. When Olivares arrives he will bring with him excellent speed and burgeoning pop in a well-rounded package. Olivares will start the season as a 24 year old, has played center and right field, and has mastered double-A. If the Padres need him he could be ready by mid-season if he shows he can handle triple-A. Taylor Trammell was rocketing toward the majors until an injury marred mess of a 2019 slowed him down. He finished strong after a trade to the Padres and his tools still make him look like a potential superstar. If he gets off to a strong start at triple-A, it could mean a fast track to San Diego where he will show off both speed and power. There are more outfield prospects lower in the minors like Tirso Ornellas and Jeisson Rosario, but the Padres have a lot of young players already at or near the majors to sort through and Ornellas and Rosario are still pretty raw in spite of their tantalizing tools.

The Padres will have decisions to make about guys like Manuel Margot, Franchy Cordero, and Josh Naylor, as well as veterans like Wil Myers, but with newcomers Trent Grisham and Tommy Pham they have already made improvements on defense and in the lineup. Pham will take one of the outfield spots – probably left field. Grisham showed platoon splits last season that would indicate they should at least initially give him days off against lefties. That would give Myers starts in right field against lefties to show if he should get more time, assuming he is still on the roster when the season starts (pretty likely). That means Cordero might get a chance to show that he can hit enough to start in center and allow Margot to hit his way into more playing time spelling Cordero in center – at least until Trammell or Olivares start pushing on them from the minors. Naylor will hit, but he hurts them enough on defense in the outfield that I would send him back to the minors to work on left field defense, where he is insurance in case of injury. If he sticks in San Diego, then he takes time from Pham in left or Eric Hosmer at first – both unlikely scenarios. They could also trade him as some team will be better situated to use his bat. That would allow the Padres to play the far superior defender Margot in all three outfield spots thereby improving their overall outfield defense. The Padres have a lot of moving parts in the outfield and depth is a good thing to insure them against injury and disappointing performances. It is 72 and sunny in San Diego, and yes – I mean that literally AND metaphorically.

The Middle of the Brewers (Infield)

The Brewers just made a pretty interesting trade so it seems like a good time to talk about the implications for their lineup, and some of the questions they will need to answer in 2020. Milwaukee sent Trent Grisham and pitcher Zach Davies to the Padres for middle infielder Luis Urias and pitcher Eric Lauer. We won’t talk about the pitchers in this post – what is interesting is how this impacts the Brewers lineup and middle infield next year. Before the 2019 season began it looked like Orlando Arcia and Keston Hiura were the keystone combo for Brewers teams of the foreseeable future. This trade puts that combo into question so let’s take a look, eh?

Keston Hiura was the Brewers first round pick in 2017 – 9th overall – based on his tremendous bat. His elbow in his throwing arm was a mess and there were questions as to whether he would be able to do anything but DH, otherwise he would have been a top 3 pick instead of going 9th to Milwaukee. But Hiura avoided surgery, zipped through the minors, and made his major league debut in 2019 and hit a lot while not really disproving the doubters who said he should only DH. A natural outfielder, Hiura is fairly new to second base and it shows. Still, Hiura made it clear that he was ready to hit major league pitching and should be starting somewhere. After slashing .329/.407/.681 at triple-A San Antonio (155 wRC+), he slashed .303/.368/.570 in Milwaukee (139 wRC+). Hiura crushed 38 homers split evenly between triple-A and the majors, so his power has clearly arrived. Looking back at his half season in the majors, there were two areas of concern in regard to his hitting. First, he struck out 30.7% of the time, almost 8% above league average, so big-league pitchers were able to find some holes in his swing. Hiura walks enough that he should still get on base if his K rate stays that high, but it is something to keep an eye on. Second, the 23 year old former UC Irvine Anteater had an unsustainably high BABIP (.402) indicating a likely drop in his batting average in seasons to come. He has carried a high BABIP most of his career (but not THIS high) and he hits the ball really hard so that accounts for part of the high BABIP – still he was at least a bit lucky. Even if his average comes down some, he will be an excellent hitter with power who hits for a good average and walks enough.

Hiura has only played second base as a professional even though he was an outfielder in college. There are those who doubt that Hiura can handle the position defensively. Neither DRS (-4) nor UZR/150 (-18.9) – two commonly used defensive metrics – liked him at second. Inside Edge Fielding breaks chances into six categories of difficulty with the three easiest being “routine”, “likely”, and “even” respectively. Granted, the numbers are based on a very small sample size, but on balls rated as “likely” to be turned into outs, he managed to succeed only 50% of the time and on balls rated as “even”, he succeeded 66.7% of the time. His arm isn’t a big concern at second base but if it is as bad as advertised what it might do is limit him to three positions: second base, first base – a position he has never played, and DH, which brings us back to the Brewers last move.

Luis Urias is a 22 year old above average defensive second baseman who has hit everywhere he has played – except the Majors (in 302 plate appearances). In the minors he has looked liked a prototypical leadoff hitter with his .308/.397/.433 career slash line who would help defensively at second and not hurt the team at short. He even added some pop at triple-A in 2019 banging 19 homers in half a season, but the questions still remain about his ability to hit major league pitching as indicated by his career slash line of .221/.318/.331. The Brewers think they know the answer to that question, and Urias is only 22, so it isn’t like he is finished baking. I have written this about Urias before and I will write it again – Urias has starter potential. But, where to play him on the Brewers?

If Hiura is locked into the second base spot it would seem that the Brewers plan on playing Urias at shortstop, which would mean the their defensively gifted but offensively disappointing starter from the last three and a half seasons, Orlando Arcia, becomes a bench glove with some pop. At 25, Arcia might be the victim of a high bar he set for himself as a 23 year old in 2017 when he hit .273 with 15 home runs to go with his excellent glove work. The glove work hasn’t gone away, but his bat has not developed as expected. His 86 wRC+ in 2017 was his peak with last year’s 61 being more the rule than the exception. Arcia still exhibits power and gets hot on occasion but his offense really drags down his WAR which has only seen the positive side of the line once in 2017 when it was 1.4. With 1676 plate appearances in the majors it isn’t like the Brewers haven’t given him a chance, but it is hard to give up on someone with Arcia’s tools. The Urias trade indicates that the Brewers are about to do just that – at least as their starting shortstop.

To review, the Urias deal leaves the Brewers with two starting second basemen and two shortstops (in 3 players), one of whom can’t hit enough to carry his excellent glove (Arcia), one who is a fringy shortstop and a good second baseman who hasn’t hit enough in the bigs to start anywhere (Urias), and one player who is probably best suited to DH where he’d be great at it (Hiura). If the deal works out and Urias breaks out with the bat, then the Brewers have an offense-first middle infield that will probably only hurt them a little with the gloves. Additionally, if the universal DH hits the National League in the next year or two then they are set at DH and second with a glove first shortstop if all breaks well. It’s a lot to juggle for the Brewers but Urias is definitely worth the gamble and Hiura’s bat looks elite already so it isn’t a horrible problem to have.

The A’s Have Options At Second But Their Most Intriguing Prospects At The Position Don’t. What To Do?

What a problem to have – stars at all the infield positions, except one. That’s where the A’s are with Chapman, Olson, and Semien locking down the two corners and shortstop to the tune of 17.6 WAR in 2019 even with Olson only playing part of the season due to an injury in Spring Training. It seemed that Oakland had solved second base too when they acquired Jurickson Profar in a three team trade with the Rangers and Rays. He was coming off his best season to date with a 107 wRC+, 2.8 WAR, and was only 25 at the time. It was an exciting move but it just didn’t work out last year. Profar played good defense and still hit 20 homers but his wRC+ dropped to 89 and he finished with a  slash line of .218/.301/.410. The 2019 version of Jurickson Profar disappointed from start to finish.

Heading into 2020 the A’s look to break through the Astros choke hold on the West and earn a postseason series – none of this one and done stuff! So this off-season the A’s will have some tough decisions to make with one of the toughest being who gets the starting spot at second. Profar was very unlucky with a BABIP of .218 where league average was .298. He also retained his improved hard hit rate from 2018 while slightly improving his walk and strikeout rates. And while he mostly played second base for the A’s, he retained his positional flexibility as he has now spent time (at least 38 games) in the outfield and at every infield position but catcher and pitcher. Profar is an excellent candidate for a bounce back season in 2020 if he stays healthy. There is no way he will be as bad as he was in 2019, but that won’t necessarily win him the job because the A’s have other options – two of whom are super talented and out of options, putting their GM in an interesting spot.

One of the other options to play second base, Franklin Barreto, was the top prize in the trade that sent Josh Donaldson to the Blue Jays. He has appeared on A’s top 10 prospect lists but has yet to take a major league job from anyone yet, and he is now out of options. The A’s must keep him on the big league roster, expose him to waivers where he will almost certainly be claimed by another team, or trade him to someone willing to keep him on their big league club. He turns 24 shortly before the season starts and has had over 200 plate appearances in the majors, but in spite of his tools and his minor league resume, he hasn’t hit a lick in Oakland. Barreto can play second, shortstop, and was tried in left and center at triple-A last season so, like Profar, he also has positional flexibility in his tool kit.

The other prospect who is out of options, Jorge Mateo, is a tool kit all by himself with freakish speed – 80 on the 20 to 80 scouting scale – and some pop. The A’s have to fish or cut bait with the young Dominican middle infielder because, at 24, he has no options left. 2019 was Mateo’s second try at triple-A and he showed off his speed and power hitting 14 triples (he has averaged 16 for 3 seasons in a row now), and slashing .289/.330/.504 while playing mostly shortstop, and some second base. Mateo had been tried in center field in 2017 but not since. So the A’s would most likely have to play him at second base or use him as a reserve middle infielder and pinch runner unless they choose to revive the center field experiment at the major league level. Is there more left in the tank? Maybe – he is only 24, and if there is more growth, then the A’s might have a star on their hands. Mateo has yet to sip even a cup of coffee in the majors so, unless he dominates Spring Training, it would be quite a leap of faith to commit to him sticking on the roster – much less starting him at second base for a contending team.

I have mentioned Profar’s positional flexibility and using him basically everywhere as a multi-tool while starting someone else at second might be a possible solution for the A’s logjam at second. There is however already someone in that spot – Chad Pinder. Pinder, who is much cheaper and can’t become a free agent until 2022 also has power but doesn’t walk as often as Profar. Pinder’s career average is about 10 points higher than Profar’s, but projections have them about even there.

And there is still more! Sheldon Neuse only played second base after he was called up to the A’s in 2019 but has played shortstop, 3rd, first, and the outfield in the minors. In 61 plate appearances in Oakland Sheldon slashed .250/.295/.304 after slashing .317/.389/.550 with 27 homers at triple-A. Neuse probably has the most power of all the second base options but realistically would be limited to the corners and second base where he has put up solid numbers in the minors. That still makes him a good multi-tool kind of guy although the A’s would probably only give Neuse the roster spot if they planned on making him the starter at second.

So now that you know the actors how should the story play out? The A’s will likely only have room to keep either Mateo or Barreto. One of them probably gets traded to a non-contending team for less than their value because of their lack of options. Neuse has options left so, unless he fights the starting spot at second away from the other candidates, he will likely return to triple-A. Pinder was in the outfield rotation in 2019 and probably returns as the designated multi-tool, while Profar gets another shot to be the starter where he should be at least an average hitter and better than average second baseman. Pinder is a year older than Profar and probably is done growing whereas Profar still has a bit of star potential left so there’s that to consider along with the roughly $6 million in price difference between the two men.

There is another way this could go with the A’s deciding to trade Profar if someone is banking on Profar’s remaining star potential. He will play as a 27 year old in 2020 and is in his last year of arbitration eligibility after which he will be an unrestricted free agent. He has played all the infield positions plus left field and the metrics have at times looked favorably upon him at every position, so another team might decide that he should be their starting shortstop where a return to league average as a hitter would make him quite valuable. If the A’s traded him away to open up a roster spot for Mateo and Barreto, or Neuse steals the job away, then Oakland’s second base position would be an interesting and potentially tumultuous situation to watch at the start of the 2020 season.

Jon Gray Is What He Is (Which Is What Again)?

When you are the 3rd overall pick of any draft in any sport, expectations will be quite high for you. Jon Gray is a good pitcher, but one can’t help feel that he is somewhat of a disappointment for the Rockies and their fans. Gray was supposed to be the eventual ace the Rockies have been looking for since Coors Field opened and maybe the game that most represents his tenure with Colorado was his one playoff appearance where he got torched by the Diamondbacks to the tune of 7 hits and 4 earned runs, effectively ending the Rockies season by the time he was lifted after one and a third innings in the 2017 Wild Card game. Gray had gone 10-4 during the regular season and in his second “full” season was starting to prove the Rockies right for taking him with their first pick in 2013. Rockies fans felt pretty good about Gray starting the Wild Card game but that feeling faded to disappointment rather quickly. Gray started the game by giving up a pair of singles followed by a 3 run homer to the first 3 batters he faced in a game the Rockies lost 11-8, so while it wasn’t all his fault that Colorado’s players watched the rest of the playoffs from their couches, he was supposed to be the ace and he didn’t pitch like one when the chips were down.

Flash forward to the 2020 pre-season and the Rockies have seen 114 starts from the “Gray Ghost” who is now 28. 2019 was a nice looking year for Gray who crafted a 3.84 ERA, but in reality maintained almost exactly the same FIP he had posted (4.06 in 2019 to 4.08 in 2018) in 2018 when his ERA was 5.12. FIP is a version of ERA that removes fielding from the equation and looks at what a pitcher’s ERA would be if it were based only on things the pitcher can control like walks, home runs, strike outs and hit batters. A big discrepancy between FIP and ERA in either direction can indicate luck, or lack thereof, on the pitcher’s part. In 2018 Gray was probably unlucky and in 2019 he was perhaps a bit lucky. Part of the smaller discrepancy between ERA and FIP in 2019 was likely due to his much better left on base percentage, along with an increase in his ground ball rate. It is easier to prevent home runs when you make the batter pound the ball into the dirt – this isn’t Skee Ball after all. Gray saw his highest strand rate ever as 75.9% (average is in the 70-72% range) of the runners Gray saw were left on base as he trudged toward the dugout at the end of an inning. Gray was solid if unspectacular and that is the problem. The Rockies expected spectacular and he just hasn’t delivered on that yet. At 28 how long do you wait until you decide to drop the “yet” and just accept what he is? If you are the Rockies, it is possible that what he is now just isn’t enough, and this offseason there is talk of the Rockies, who are always looking for starting pitchers who can survive the rigors of Coors Field home games, shopping Gray around. Is this the beginning of a rebuild or are the Rockies folding on Gray? To frame this a bit more clearly, let’s look at what Gray is right now and what his numbers indicate for the future.

Gray seems to be healthy if you look at his velocity, which is higher than ever with an average fastball at 96.1 MPH last season. Okay, so he broke his foot and missed time again last year, but his arm seems to be fine. Gray brought the cheese slightly less often than his career rate – a bit above half the time – while mixing in his slider, curveball, and change at roughly the same rate as his career numbers would indicate. One interesting (in a bad way) number from 2019 was his hard hit rate which was 43.6 percent placing him in the 96th percentile (again, in the bad way) in the league for that dubious stat. Part of what kept his home run rate down was the average launch angle he allowed of 7.5 degrees. There’s that previously mentioned improved ground ball rate helping him survive.

What else do we know about Jon Gray? In each of the last three seasons he has had a lower ERA in home games than in road games. In 2019 it was a difference of .76 of a run. That is a puzzling split because Gray isn’t the most prolific inducer of the ground ball – on his staff even – which might have accounted for his success in Coors Field. Nor is he the guy with the highest strikeout rate on the Rockies. Home cooking? Whatever is causing him to produce a better ERA at home, he has repeated it for 3 years now. Gray also has some pretty pronounced platoon splits in the last two seasons including 2018 where he posted a 3.87 ERA against righties and a 6.36 ERA against lefties. 2019 wasn’t quite as dramatic – 3.01 against righties and 4.80 against lefties – but it seems that Gray doesn’t have a great approach when he faces a lefty heavy lineup like the Dodgers, or perhaps it is his pitch mix. He still gets K’s but he gives up more hits and walks a lot of lefties. Speaking of his pitch mix, let’s speak of his pitch mix!

Gray featured 5 pitches in 2019, but he so rarely threw the 2-seam fastball (1.2% vs. lefties and 1.3% versus righties) that it is hardly worth mentioning. Versus righties, Gray worked mostly with the 4-seam fastball (47.8%), the slider (38.2%), and the curve (10.5%). Against lefties his approach changed quite a bit throwing the 4-seamer 54.6% of the time, dropping the slider down to 11.7%, almost ditching the curve completely (3.6%) and replacing it with the change (28.9%). What is interesting to note with a pitcher like Gray, who throws his fastball with alacrity, is that the pitch wasn’t all that effective in sending hitters back to the dugout. Against both lefties and righties, hitters’ weighted on-base percentage (wOBA) against him is over .400 (.418 against lefties and .400 against righties). wOBA should be viewed on a similar scale as on-base percentage where anything over .400 is excellent for a hitter so lefties and righties both seem to feast on his fastball. Against lefties, by far his most effective pitches were the slider and change that he worked for wOBA’s of .210 and .228 respectively. Against righties, his two best pitches were the curveball and slider – .172 and .221 wOBA’s respectively. So what does that tell us? It is hard to know what would happen if he threw a lot more sliders and curveballs to righties and sliders and changeups to lefties using the fastball much less and more just to set up the other pitches. It seems like it would be worth a try and I would bet his patterns would change if he went to another team in a trade as the pitching coach tried to get the most out of Gray’s abilities.

So what is Jon Gray? He hasn’t shown himself to be a horse that you can give the ball to every 5th day and count on him working deep into the game – except last year it looked like he would finally get to 200 innings until he broke his foot. He was definitely on pace to best his career high in innings pitched for the second season in a row and he averaged about 6 innings a start. He still strikes out slightly more than a batter an inning and walks 3 per 9 innings, so that’s a quite solid 3 to 1 strikeout to walk ratio. Jon Gray may not be an ace but unless someone is willing to dramatically overpay for him, it seems that trading him would cost the Rockies their best number 3 starter ever who is poised to throw 200 innings in 2020 which would be especially difficult to replace in Denver where no pitcher in his right mind would sign as a free agent. So Gray isn’t an ace – so what? How many pitchers develop into aces? Not many. How many pitchers can regularly succeed in Coors Field and give 150+ innings and 25+ starts a season which Gray has done each of the last two seasons averaging 28.5 starts? Again, not many. So the Rockies need to pretend they just received Gray in a trade and look at him for what he is instead of viewing him as a failed ace. He is a strong number 3 in a world where that is something not to be sneezed at. The Gray Ghost needs to ride again in Coors Field in 2020!