Thursday, July 18, 2019

Cole Train Coming

I think the most interesting part of the Astros' success, especially this that none of the starting pitchers are homegrown.

Think about it. Verlander came from Detroit's farm system, McHugh was a Mets farmhand, Peacock came up with Washington and Oakland, Miley was an Arizona product, and Gerrit Cole, quite famously, was drafted first overall by the Pittsburgh.

And what I find very intriguing indeed is that with the exception of Verlander, none of these guys really hit their peak until joining the Astros. I mean, with McHugh and Peacock you can't dispute that, but...Miley had one good season with Arizona, bopped around for like 4 seasons with varying degrees of success, and finally found his footing again this year.

And then Cole...even coming into vogue during some strong years of Pittsburgh success, could never really give a consistent glimpse at his true talents there. He did have the 2015 season, where he won 19 games, hit 200 strikeouts, and helped the Pirates stay in the Wild Card race, but...other than that, he was at the mercy of the offense.

And then he gets to Houston, where he doesn't need to worry about run support, and his career reaches its apex. Last year he was unstoppable, notching 276 strikeouts, a career high, winning 15 games, and finishing the year with a 1.033 WHIP, his lowest to date. And right now he's leading the leagues in strikeouts with 196, as well as strikeouts-per-9 with 13.5. Honestly, one of the reasons why he's doing so well might be that he's not the staff ace, and he's not the #1 starter, so the pressure is slightly off, and he can do some more damage as the 2nd starter, surprise people.

The Astros have regained some of their momentum, and thanks to Cole they're still a major threat in the AL.

Coming Tomorrow- Other than Cody Bellinger, he might be the most dangerous Dodger right now.

Schroedinger's Felipe Vazquez (Always Be Closing)

We're heading into the heart of the most indistinct trade deadline season in recent history. There are names that could be traded, but might not, the big names on the board will only be good for temporary rentals, and unlike last year, there doesn't seem to be a gigantic piece on the board that everyone's gunning for. And the burgeoning stretching of names into the mix is annoying even people that could be safe, like Mike Minor, who told reporters he's sick of trade talk last night.

Arguably the biggest piece that could go is Felipe Vazquez, and the Pirates' ownership isn't expressly stating whether or not he's actually going to be traded.

The Pirates have come to terms with their status as non-competitors, and are currently the fourth-worst team in the NL, behind the Mets, Reds, and (surprise surprise) Marlins. They have a ton of good energy this year, but considering that Corey Dickerson and Jordan Lyles are also being shopped to teams, it's the kind of energy that can continue to exist with young, less-contractually-obligated players next year. So far this season we've seen Kevin Newman, Bryan Reynolds and Dario Agrazal come into their own after being called up, and with Josh Bell, Adam Frazier, Joe Musgrove and also kind of Starling Marte (his contract's up next year) running this team, you can see the youth taking over.

...So where does that leave Felipe Vazquez? He's 27, so he's not exactly a member of the youth movement. In 3 seasons as closer, he's saved 79 games and has a 2.13 ERA. Let's briefly compare that to the guy he was traded from Washington for, Mr. Mark Melancon, now slumming it in San Francisco. Melancon, in 3.5 seasons with Pittsburgh, saved 130 games, and had a 1.75 ERA

...where was I going with this analogy?

Possibly here: Felipe Vazquez is a good closer. He's been lights out the past two seasons. The numbers comparisons either mean that Melancon was a better closer (which is...debatable), or that Vazquez just played on worse teams with less save opportunities (Melancon had 14 blown saves, Vazquez only had 8, and I don't know if that speaks to ability or circumstance).

So...Felipe Vazquez' abilities are at the mercy of the Pittsburgh Pirates. They will be at the mercy of whatever team he plays for. He's not an 'I decide who lives or dies' closer like Kenley Jansen or Brad Hand.

The difference is that Mark Melancon never found another fit quite like Pittsburgh, and has still been searching for his prime numbers, perhaps because they only existed when he was in a semi-competitive, power-friendly city like Pittsburgh. But Vazquez, pitching for a less-powerful Pirates team, may be wasting his best numbers. I'm getting the sense that a lot of the teams that want to trade for him would rather use him as a set-up man than a closer (though Minnesota, Tampa Bay, Texas and  Atlanta could all use upgrades...and possibly Philly now that you mention it), but Vazquez closing for a team that could really USE him? That could be scary.

I love Felipe Vazquez, and I love the Pirates, but...if they don't trade him, he may never become the closer he's truly meant to be.

Coming Tonight- Speaking of people Pittsburgh mercifully let go, this one's blossomed completely, becoming one of the most powerful strikeout artists in the AL.

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Soler Flare

Once again, I keep having the best timing on writing these posts about shoddier teams.

Last night was a rare triumph for the 2019 Royals, who've recently been gaining an ounce of steam, and by that I mean they're no longer in last (because the Tigers exist). This was an 11-0 victory against an alright White Sox team, featuring a COMPLETE GAME SHUTOUT by Glenn Sparkman, slowly becoming a notable name in KC, and featuring offensive feats from Whit Merrifield, Hunter Dozier, Alex Gordon, Bubba Starling, Cheslor Cuthbert and Billy Hamilton.

Like with the Giants, I have to ask...does this mean the Royals are for real?

...No, of course not. They're the Royals. The unloading process has already begun, as Homer Bailey is already in Oakland, and you can imagine that Ian Kennedy, Billy Hamilton and Jake Diekman are all gonna get traded fairly soon. But I'm not thinking that the core of the lineup (Dozier, Mondesi, Merrifield, Gordon) is gonna get moved, because they're all in for a few more years. So by the time we get to August, only some of the pitching is gonna feel really depleted (imagine me saying that 3 years ago about a post-Homer-Bailey rotation anywhere).

Still, even without Bailey, we have a rotation of Danny Duffy, Jakob Junis, Brad Keller, Sparkman and Jorge Lopez...which honestly could be a lot worse. Plus, if Hamilton goes, they can either pull Soler into the outfield, as he's already a mainstay at DH, bring Jorge Bonifacio back up, or just make Bubba Starling a starter, which...I'm not sure if that's still gonna be a good idea once the haze from his debut dies down.

Bottom line: the Royals might not be as bad as we once thought. True, they're not exactly competitive, but...they're not as drastic as they were earlier in the season.

Coming Tonight- The ultimate 'will they/won't they' question of the deadline: will the Pirates trade this guy?

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

The Marlins Dump-Trades, Revisited

So, while the Marlins are still in last place, you can still make the claim that...for the first time since the contract-dump of 2017, they seem to have a full team again. Like, there are concrete people at positions, and the team feels more...concrete than it did last year, when everybody was just getting a go.

You could also argue that a lot of this season's success has to do with those trades they made in 2018 (and 2019) in order to lighten the load. How, you might ask?

Well...let's go into detail...

-Giancarlo Stanton for Starlin Castro. Because the two prospects haven't prospered yet, this is the most obvious one. The Marlins lost their star outfielder, got a second baseman that can still hit. No complexity here.

-Marcell Ozuna for Sandy Alcantara, Magneuris Sierra and Zac Gallen. Now we start to see what I mean. At the time, Sierra was the big draw, hitting .317 in 22 games with St. Louis, while Alcantara had been used in relief. Now, Sierra is the team's unofficial ace and ASG standout, Zac Gallen has 21 strikeouts and a 4.24 ERA in 4 starts, and Sierra is still stewing in the minors. For a guy who is currently injured and a bit more one-dimensional, this is looking like a good deal.

-Christian Yelich for Lewis Brinson, Monte Harrison, Isan Diaz and Jordan Yamamoto. At the time, Brinson was the big draw, but seeing as the guy can't seem to hit well outside of AAA, we're left with the other three as the draws in exchange for the reigning MVP. And so far...on the strength of Jordan Yamamoto alone, this is still looking like an even trade. Yamamoto has been ON FIRE so far, with a 3-0 record, 30 strikeouts and a 1.24 ERA in 5 strikeouts. Harrison and Diaz still look like good prospects, too.

-Dee Gordon for 3 prospects. Well, neither Dugger, Torres or Neidert are doing well in the minors right now, so...Gordon still has this one.

-Justin Bour for McKenzie Mills. Mills, who was also traded for Howie Kendrick, is wobbling along in the minors...of course, so is Bour, So even.

-JT Realmuto for Jorge Alfaro and Sixto Sanchez. This may have been the last piece. Alfaro is a solid professional catcher who has been playing everyday, and Sanchez is a few years away from being the latest professional hurler for Miami.

So...from that cluster of trades, they landed three surefire aces, an everyday second baseman, an everyday catcher, some outfield help, and their eventual ace. That's...not bad. Perhaps I'll check back in a few years to see if this continues to age well.

Coming Tonight: He has 25 home runs right now, and you probably had no idea.

No Progress

Here's how you can sum up the 2019 Orioles. Joey Rickard has been with the O's since 2016, and I just found out that he was traded to the Giants in June.

A guy you'd think would be an integral piece of the team left a month ago and nobody, not even the team that traded for him, cares.

...Oriole magic indeed.

Regardless of this team's...general effeteness (Andrew Cashner's only getting a slight upgrade, but I bet he's glad he got out), there has begun to be a few upsides to this team. For instance...Pedro Severino's only 25? I'd forgotten he made his debut in Washington at only 21. As shaky as his backup material was during their playoff runs, Severino seems to finally be a steady, reliable hitting catcher...which is something the O's weren't exactly LOOKING to stumble upon for cheap, but they'll take what they can get.

Guys who take a couple years to really come into their own seems to be the theme in Baltimore. Both Chance Sisco and Anthony Santander. Sisco's batting .265 with 6 home runs in 22 games, while Santander may be usurping Dwight Smith for a starting spot, batting .273 with 16 RBIs in 32 games. Neither of these two were any good last year, so it helps that they've...waited for the O's to be disappointing in order to start being great.

It's also amusing that the O's are embracing the opener method, and are starting less and less pitchers...and that's not just because they're running out of competent starters. They'll probably make up some reason, like 'we wanted to embrace the new and exciting method of using 20 relievers when...we're probably just gonna do that anyway when Boston scores 15 runs against us'.

So...not a ton of progress other than some younger highlights, but...I kinda wanna see who'll be left in August, and how they'll cope with that.

Coming Tonight: I love how, in 2019, I'm actually excited to write Marlins posts. Here's an All-Star pitcher for Miami.

Monday, July 15, 2019

Giant Feats Aside...

...Picked a hell of a day to talk about the San Francisco Giants, didn't I?

Final score of today's Rox-Giants game: NINETEEN TO TWO. Proof that there may still be some life in this rusty old Giants lineup after all. Brandon Crawford had 2 home runs, and a TEAM-RECORD-TYING 8 RBIs. There was also RBIs to be had from (clears throat) Buster Posey, Joe Panik, Kevin Pillar, Brandon Belt, Mike Yastrzemski and Alex Dickerson. And a phenomenal start from a slightly-improving Jeff Samardzija.

So...are the Giants back?

....wellllll....not really.

I mean, one good game is just one good game. Remember, the Orioles started the season in 2nd place.  The Giants, if anything, have been a scrappy team that isn't gonna win many games, but has fun when they do. Look at Stephen Vogt, who's killing it as backup catcher. Look at Mike Yastrzemski, who just seems thrilled to finally be in the bigs. Look at Pablo Sandoval having his best season in years. Even if they're not exactly reaching for the Dodgers, they're still having a ton of fun.

Plus...they're only 4.5 games out of the wild card spot. Like...that NL WC race is tight as hell. All these teams you'd think would be out of it, like the Pirates, D-Backs, Rockies and Reds, are all gunning for it just like San Fran, so...stranger things have happened. The Giants still have a lot of talent around, and the question does remain whether they're gonna give the brunt of it away in two weeks or not.

Still...the wins, like today's, have got to be welcome there.

Coming Tomorrow- One of the many nobodies trying to make it in Baltimore.

Fletcher Lives

I'm liking this trend of rookies who come in and instead of hitting 20 home runs and doing the power thing, they just get 100 hits, beef up their batting average, and baseball like it's supposed to. Mid-year last year we had two of those, at least two that immediately come to mind. One is New York's Jeff McNeil, the other's Anaheim's David Fletcher.

Fletcher is cool, in that he fits right along with the big guns in LA, like Andrelton Simmons, Mike Trout and Tommy La Stella. The Angels, while they do have a 30-home-run guy with Trout, do emphasize the RBI and contact ball. It doesn't always work, but their wins are well fought. And while guys like Justin Bour fail to grasp the concept, Fletcher has been leading all non-Trout Angels in hits, doubles and batting average.

Fletcher, who hit his stride around May, is now thankfully watching the rest of the team hit their stride around now. I mean, Friday night was enough of a sign that the Angels might be competing this year, with an unprecedented combined-no-hitter and subsequent clobbering of the Mariners. We're seeing the returns of Andrelton Simmons, Shohei Ohtani and Justin Upton, and they're all playing pretty damn well. We're also seeing the transformation of Kevan Smith into a starting catcher again, in order to cover for Jonathan Lucroy, and he's been hitting pretty well since getting the gig.

Heck, Trevor Cahill and Matt Harvey are both back from the are their bloated ERAs. Thankfully the Angels are trying more openers, and that's been going well, as more and more relievers are getting the chance to get time early, while people like Felix Pena, Noe Ramirez and, yes, Cahill, are doing the long-man work in the middle. It may have been the Rays' strategy, but the Angels are copying it damn well.

Will the Angels creep back on the A's-Rangers WC race? Do they have enough to rival the upper half of this crazy division? For the sake of the Skaggs family, I really, really hope so.

Coming Tomorrow- Speaking of things stolen from the Rays...