There’s a lot to get to this Friday afternoon, as usual, so let’s check in on some news from around the league…
- In an apparent effort to get a bit stronger against left-handed pitching, the Los Angeles Dodgers have traded one of their most popular players (and Clayton Kershaw’s preferred catcher) in A.J. Ellis to the Philadelphia Phillies for Carlos Ruiz. Ruiz, according to Bill Shaikin, “has an .830 OPS against left-handers this season,” while Ellis is at just .616 OPS. If the Dodgers are going to make it to the postseason, the thinking goes, they’ll have to be able to beat guys like Madison Bumgarner and Matt Moore of the San Francisco Giants along the way (although the latter nearly no hit them last night, before giving up a bloop single with two outs in the ninth), before potentially seeing guys like Gio Gonzalez (Nationals) and Jon Lester (Cubs) later in the postseason.
- Although Ellis was not likely long for the Dodgers (he’s a free agent at the end of the season), the news still came as quite a shock. According to Andy McCullough on Twitter, both Ellis and Kershaw were quite upset about the trade (“absolutely devastated”) adding that “the two men wept together,” upon hearing the news. It’s yet another reminder that these players – from one of the best pitchers in the history of baseball to a part-time catcher – are human beings with feelings and personalities. We like to think of them as assets to make things easier, but that’s not really the case. And the clubhouse impact of moves can’t be completely ignored.
- At FanGraphs, Craig Edwards noticed that, “If the playoffs started today, the Washington Nationals, Chicago Cubs, Los Angeles Dodgers, San Francisco Giants, and St. Louis Cardinals would be in the playoffs on the National League side.” It just so happens, he continued, that those are also the top five payrolls in the National League. Noticing a relatively similar trend on the American League side, he openly wonders if money is once again buying wins in 2016. Although this wasn’t really the case last year (he performed a similar study and found a rather small correlation between payroll and winning percentage), it does seem to be accurate here in 2016. Furthermore, it’s not all about the on-field payroll. Edwards noticed another correlation between each franchise’s value (according to Forbes) and the number of wins they had through August 23, 2016. Taking a brief look back through the decades and using that information to get a better sense of happening right now, Edwards creates an interesting, thoughtful read. You should really check it out (and probably be a bit happy that the Cubs are a big market team).
- The Arizona Diamondbacks may have finally caught a lucky break, well … sorta. While Shelby Miller continues toiling away in the minors, he’s not accruing service time at the Major League level. And, if he makes his next scheduled start at Triple-A (or doesn’t return to the Majors by Thursday), he will not have accrued enough service time this season to constitute a full year. Thus, his free agency would be pushed back from after the 2018 season to after the 2019 season. Arizona will still need to go through arbitration with Miller, of course, but they may have actually gained another year of control – which, if he can turn things around, could prove to be quite valuable. There is less than a week until this becomes a reality, but as of now, it seems quite likely to happen. Even still, I’m guessing the D-backs would simply prefer he pitched better.
- At CSN Chicago, White Sox GM Rick Hahn denies that a “divided front” somehow prevented the front office from doing what they wanted to at the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline (the White Sox stood pat, despite having marketable assets and being out of the race). In fact, Hahn was quite resolute in his comments, implying his annoyance and frustration in having to routinely deny that such a rift exists. According to Hahn, all relevant parties (he, president Kenny Williams and owner Jerry Reinsdorf) are on the same page going forward, and are anxious to get to the offseason to begin executing their plan. What that plan is, exactly, he wouldn’t admit. In fact, he was being almost intentionally unclear about whether the Sox will rebuild or not, deflecting questions with his desire not to be disrespectful to his current players as a shield. He later suggested that the club “would also address all questions about its roster and coaching staff after the season.” It sure sounds like a rebuild is in the White Sox future, but I suppose you never know.
- At FanGraphs, David Laurila discussed Tyler Clippard’s innate ability to “beat BABIP,” by inducing a lot of weak contact (not unlike our own Kyle Hendricks). Clippard, you may not have known, has recorded the lowest BABIP against (.237) of any pitcher in baseball (with at least 500 innings) since his debut in 2007. When you do something for that long, that consistently, you’re no longer getting lucky. You’re making your own luck. In the article Clippard raises a number of interesting points, including his disbelief (but complete understanding) of how guys can go out there with fastballs in the upper 90s and still work a 4.50 ERA. According to Clippard, it’s all about changing planes and remaining unpredictable – something the fireballers have never had to resort to throughout their careers. You”ll definitely want to check this interview out, then, if not for your own educational purposes, then for the application to Kyle Hendricks.
- Statcast/Baseball Savant has released a new real time MLB Game view app that’s sure to be helpful if you’re baseball nerds like we are:
— Daren Willman (@darenw) August 25, 2016
- We all love Statcast and the new pile of data it has dumped in front of our collective computer screens (Devices, Michael, come on. #millennials), but it turns out it isn’t exactly 100% accurate. In fact, according to Rob Arthur at FiveThirtyEight, Statcast misses a lot of batted balls. Most of the “misses” come on balls with unusual or atypical trajectories (like extremely high popups or chopped grounders) with popups being the biggest offenders. In fact, in 2015, Statcast failed to provide data on 13.4% of all batted balls. The problem, then, is that players with a predisposition to hit pop-ups are being unequally evaluated. Their “weak” popups aren’t being included in the data and thus their average exit velocity is a bit higher than it should be. Eric Hosmer, it turns out, was the biggest benefactor from this lapse in data, with his average exit velocity being reported at roughly 2.0 MPH faster than reality. But things are getting better. According to Arthur, Statcast has dropped its number of misses to 12.5% in the first half this year and again to 11.2% in the second half of the season. Still, it’s important to remember that all data and technology, no matter how new, can have its flaws.
- Rays righty Alex Cobb’s long awaited return to the Majors may be happening as soon as next weekend (September 2 or 3) at Tropicana Field against the Blue Jays. “I have a vision of when I’m going to get back, and I know it will happen,” Cobb said Wednesday via Marc Topkin at the Tampa Bay Times. “I’ve worked too hard, I’ve done too much, I feel too good now for it not to happen.” Indeed, it’s been over a year and a half since Cobb first felt something wrong in his right arm, ultimately leading to Tommy John Surgery and 15 months of rehabilitation. Now, he’s ready to throw a bullpen session, make one final rehab start for Triple-A Durham, and finally reappear at the Major League level (his last game in MLB was on September 28, 2014 – Joe Maddon was still managing the Rays). It’s easy to forget, but Cobb appeared to be on the fast track to the top of the rotation, before his injury (and subsequent surgery) derailed his career. Back in 2013, Cobb posted a 2.76 ERA through 143.1 innings pitched, before following it up with a 2.87 ERA through 166.1 innings the very next season. Now, at just 28 years old, Cobb is finally ready to make his return. And, for whatever it’s worth, he’s been a Cubs trade target in the past. So be sure to follow his last few weeks of the season closely, because you never know if the Cubs will make another pass at him in the winter.
- After Terry Ryan was fired as the GM for the Minnesota Twins back in July, Assistant GM Rob Antony took over in the interim, as the Twins (presumably) looked for his replacement. Now, according to Ken Rosenthal on Twitter, that may not happen (sorta). Apparently, the Twins aren’t exactly looking for a General Manager. Instead, they’re looking to hire a President of Baseball Operations type (like Theo Epstein with the Cubs) who may then hire a GM (“and others”) as he sees fit. Whenever a GM spot open up throughout baseball, it’s important to remember that the Cubs front office is full of potential GM candidates like Shiraz Rehman, Jason McLeod, and others, but, for the most part, those searches exclude names like Jed Hoyer (given the parallel nature of his job). But, when a position as President of Baseball Operations opens up (a theoretical promotion for Hoyer), his name *could* be seen as an option. To be quite clear, no one is reporting anything of the nature and I strongly suspect Hoyer will stay with the Cubs for quite some time, but it felt worth addressing given the slightly different nature of this particular opening.
- Tim Tebow took some batting practice with former MLB closer David Aardsma, who left feeling rather impressed. You can watch that BP session here, and look for reports from his open showcase in Los Angeles early next week.
- Remember when Rougned Odor popped Jose Bautista with a right hook back in May? Of course you do. And so does Jason Kipnis. Check out what happened when Odor slid late into second base yesterday … I’m still laughing about it.
- And finally, at Baseball is Fun, watch Chicago Cubs second baseman Ben Zobrist sing “Let It Go,” at the top of his lungs with his daughter dressed as a princess at Disney Land. It’s pretty adorable.