The Looming Threat of Ugly Contact Rates and Other Bullets

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The Looming Threat of Ugly Contact Rates and Other Bullets

Analysis and Commentary, Chicago Cubs News, Cubs Minor Leagues and Prospects

javier baez featureThe Bears have benched Jay Cutler for at least this week, opting for back-up Jimmy Clausen over the man they signed to an enormous contract just last year. Things are an utter mess for the Bears right now, and I feel for the fans among you. To put that benching in context, this is kind of like the Cubs deciding to move Jon Lester (and his just-signed, huge contract) into the bullpen in August 2015 because he’s had a rough year. Except imagine that there are two or three Lesters in the rotation (to make it more comparable to a quarterback), with each of them sent to the pen and replaced by a pitcher the Cubs gleaned from the waiver wire.

  • That huge Padres/Rays/Nationals trade is agreed upon, and will go down once the physicals are all complete. The main piece – if you can pick one main piece in an eleven-player trade – is former Rookie of the Year Wil Myers, who is coming off a very down, and wrist-injured 2014 campaign. Dave Cameron writes about why the Rays are willing to trade away such a promising youngster, and it’s not all about the wrist injury. Part of the problem is something that gave scouts pause back when Myers was an almost-universally acclaimed top five prospect in the game: contact troubles. Hopefully Cubs fans now understand how contact problems (think Brett Jackson, Junior Lake, Mike Olt, and Javier Baez as prominent examples (hopefully the latter three aren’t permanent ones)) can single-handedly sap a player of all reasonable big league value, no matter how well he does all of the other stuff. Myers’ contact rate in the big leagues is right around 75%, which is far below league average for 2014 (79.4%), and puts him in the bottom 30 or so regular players in baseball. That’s dangerous territory.
  • … which leads me to your moment of terror: in 2014, the Cubs had numerous young players with a contact rate even lower than Myers’ – Jorge Soler (72.3%), Arismendy Alcantara (70.7%), Mike Olt (66.0%), Junior Lake (61.4%), and Javier Baez (59.0%). That last one was the worst in baseball last year by any position player with more than 50 plate appearances.
  • Now, then: understand that contact rates vary year to year, and many of these are extremely small samples. Further, many players succeed with below-average contact rates, and these are young guys who still have adjustments ahead of them. But, well, it’s unnerving.
  • Speaking of Baez, he went 1-3 with a double and a walk in Puerto Rico yesterday, and struck out once.
  • Ryan Kalish was a fantastic offseason and Spring Training story for the Cubs last year as he returned from a cervical fusion, and then made the Cubs’ Opening Day roster. He didn’t become a star from there for the Cubs, and did a little bouncing back and forth between the bigs and AAA, but that doesn’t take away from what a great story it was. Now he’s moving on, though, having just signed a minor league deal with the Toronto Blue Jays, who will bring him to Spring Training. I hope he makes the team, and flourishes.
  • A fantastic read at BP from Sahadev Sharma on the tricky business of valuing “five-plus” players – I’ve been calling them “one-year guys,” but the meaning is the same: guys who can be free agents after 2015, and thus have just one year of team control left. Great quotes therein from Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer on not only how they view such trades, but how the industry as a whole looks at them. Sharma also goes into how the players in that category have been valued so far this offseason. In short, as you’d expect, it’s really hard to get a ton of quality prospects (or young players with many years of control left) for one year of an established player.
  • Want to work for the Cubs? Here’s another shot for you, if you’ve got production and/or video board skills.
  • With an eye toward the Jason Motte signing – him being a guy who relies on fastball velocity, but whose velocity didn’t come all the way back in his first year post-Tommy John surgery – Evan Altman writes about how pitchers recover in that second year after TJS. Do they get the huge velocity bounce then? Do they get a performance spike? We frequently hear that the second year after TJS is the year a guy is usually fully back to normal (if he’s going to get there at all), but Altman’s work doesn’t necessarily support that conclusion.
  • Following yesterday’s landmark announcement that the U.S. Government intends to pursue normalized relations with Cuba after decades of embargo, MLB offered a statement that confirmed the potential for significant baseball implications, as we discussed yesterday:

Major League Baseball is closely monitoring the White House’s announcement regarding Cuban-American relations. While there are not sufficient details to make a realistic evaluation, we will continue to track this significant issue, and we will keep our Clubs informed if this different direction may impact the manner in which they conduct business on issues related to Cuba.

  • In the very short-term, no one seems to know for sure what the impact will be here, because the embargo has not yet been lifted. Will Yoan Moncada, who is already in the United States, be able to sign immediately? Or will he still have to wait out the unblocking process? Will the U.S. establish interim rules for doing business with Cuban businesses and citizens? MLB is not at the top of the United States’ considerations here, so I think, genuinely, MLB doesn’t quite know what will happen – thus, a true statement that there aren’t sufficient details to know what’s what just yet. For now, we just know that this is potentially significant (to put it mildly).


Author: Brett Taylor

Brett Taylor is the Editor and Lead Writer at Bleacher Nation, and you can find him on Twitter at @BleacherNation and @Brett_A_Taylor.