Author Archives: Zach Links

Baseball Blogs Weigh In: Kershaw, Desmond, Corbin

On this date in 2013, for the first time in baseball history, two playoff games on the same day ended with the score of 1-0, as Leo Panetta of NationalPastime.com writes:

In Game One of the ALCS, the Tigers blank Boston at Fenway Park with the contest’s lone run scoring on Jhonny Peralta’s sac fly in the sixth, and Jon Jay‘s fifth inning sacrifice fly at Busch Stadium provides the only run the Cardinals will need to take a 2-0 game advantage to Los Angeles in the NLCS.”

Here’s this week’s look around the baseball blogosphere..

Please send submissions to Zach at ZachBBWI@gmail.com.


Free Agent Profile: Aaron Harang

Last winter, veteran starter Aaron Harang hooked on with the Indians on a minor league deal and, at the time, he appeared to have a strong chance of being the fifth man in the Tribe’s rotation.  In March, when he was informed that he wouldn’t be a part of the Opening Day roster, Harang requested and secured his release.  That same day, he agreed to a big league deal with the Braves and he did not disappoint in Atlanta.  Now, the 36-year-old is hitting the open market once again and this time around he should only be fielding big league offers.

Strengths/Pros

Harang exceeded all expectations this season as he turned in a 3.57 ERA with 7.1 K/9 and 3.1 BB/9.  A lot of pitchers tend to tail off around Harang’s age, but this past year ranks as one of his very best at the big league level.  His ERA was the lowest it has ever been (ditto for his identical 3.57 FIP) and his 204.1 innings of work stands as his highest total since 2007.  Ultimately, his $1MM deal proved to be one of the better free agent bargains of 2014.Aaron Harang (vertical)

The 36-year-old won’t be held back by a qualifying offer and there’s reason to believe he could continue to deliver a ton of innings for his next team.  Harang hasn’t been on the disabled list with an arm-related injury since 2008 and he can hardly be penalized for his late season emergency appendectomy in 2009.

Harang didn’t magically discover the fountain of youth or go on a hardcore Julio Franco-esque diet this past season.  Instead, as he explained to David Lee of The Augusta Chronicle late last month, he has become a craftier pitcher in recent years.

I threw a lot more four-seamers when I was younger,” Harang said. “I had a coach show me how to throw a two-seamer, and I started doing it, and every year it seems to be more effective. Once you get used to throwing it and realize how key that pitch can be, you make those adjustments.

Harang made a concerted effort to start throwing more two-seam fastballs in 2009.  As Lee notes, in 2008, when he threw 64 percent four-seamers and 8 percent two-seamers, he posted a 4.78 ERA and averaged 1.7 home runs per nine innings.  This season, it was much more balanced with Harang throwing 29% two-seamers and 30% four-seamers.  Harang’s pitch velocity has faded a bit in recent years, but thanks to a different approach on the mound, he has been able to adjust and age more gracefully than a lot of his contemporaries.

Weaknesses/Cons

While Harang’s 2014 performance was strong, his 2013 campaign didn’t go quite as smoothly.  At the start of the season, the Dodgers traded Harang to the Rockies for Ramon Hernandez before he was quickly DFA’d and flipped to the Mariners just days later.  After posting a 5.76 ERA with 6.5 K/9 and 2.1 BB/9 in 22 starts for Seattle, the M’s DFA’d him in August.  Harang finished out the year with the Mets, meaning that he had bounced between four clubs all within that year.  In total, Harang had a 5.40 ERA – a number his next club doesn’t want to see – with 7.1 K/9 and 2.5 BB/9.  

This year, while his ERA was solid and his strikeout and walk rates were more or less consistent with his career average, some of the advanced metrics aren’t as crazy about his performance.  Both xFIP (4.03) and SIERA (4.18) feel that Harang’s ERA should have been a touch higher than 3.57.

Harang is putting less emphasis on his heater than he was earlier in his career, but it’s still hard to ignore his decreasing velocity.   Harang threw his fastball at an average of 88.8 MPH, his lowest average in the past eight years that it has been recorded by PITCHf/x.  If his velocity continues to lose steam, it’s fair to wonder whether his 6.4% HR/FB ratio from 2014 can be sustained.  For his career, Harang has a decidedly less sharp 10.2% HR/FB ratio.

Personal

Harang and his wife Jennifer have three children.  He knows how important fatherly wisdom can be as he attributes his 2,100+ innings of major league work to sage advice from his dad.

I would never teach a kid a breaking pitch until age 13,” Harang said, according to Anna McDonald of ESPN.com. “My dad wouldn’t show me one. He didn’t want [my elbow] to blow out. So I didn’t start throwing a curveball until I was 13 years old. I had the karate-chop one, where you just throw it and it spins up there. Your muscles aren’t developed enough, your ligaments aren’t developed enough to withstand it.

Harang, a San Diego native, told Dan Hayes (then of U-T San Diego) in 2010 that he prefers fish tacos to Skyline Chili, even though he has spent the bulk of his career in Cincinnati.  He also prefers The Simpsons to Family Guy, which is the right choice in my book.

Market

For his part, Harang told reporters, including MLB.com’s Mark Bowman, that he would be interested in pitching for Atlanta again.  The Braves undoubtedly appreciate his work this year, but they also know that they can’t retain him with another one-year, $1MM deal.  In theory, the Braves can trot out a starting five of Mike Minor, Kris Medlen, Julio Teheran, Brandon Beachy, and Alex Wood.  However, Medlen and Beachy are recovering from Tommy John surgery with unknown return dates and it would certainly help to have a battle-tested veteran pitcher at the ready.

Still, he may not be in the budget in Atlanta and he may not take a discount to stay put since this could be his last sizable deal.  The Pirates are one team that could use a reasonably priced out-of-house addition to their rotation.  Harang may also find a match with teams like the Astros and Rockies if he’s not aiming for a likely contender.

Expected Contract

Last winter, Bronson Arroyo, also at the age of 36, secured a guaranteed $23.5MM over two years from the Diamondbacks with an $11MM club option.  Like Arroyo, Harang fits the profile of a durable innings eater who isn’t dependent on velocity for success and both had strong walk years before hitting the open market.  However, not all innings eaters are created equal: before Arroyo’s unfortunate UCL tear this season, he pitched 200 innings or more from 2005 through 2013, with the exception of a 199 inning total in 2011.  Also, Harang’s vagabond 2013 might hurt his case for big money.

We expect the Levinson brothers to readily bring up Arroyo’s name, but Harang probably won’t match his deal.  I predict Harang will land a two-year, $14MM deal this offseason.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.


Quick Hits: Reds, Martinez, Street, Blue Jays

The Tigers and Athletics made noise at the trade deadline when they acquired David Price and Jon Lester, respectively, but now they have little to show for it, USA Today’s Bob Nightengale writes. Instead, some of the most effective moves have been the quieter ones, like the Orioles acquiring dominant lefty reliever Andrew Miller or the Giants dealing for Jake Peavy. Nightengale also notes that the Dodgers made the best move of the trading season by not dealing Matt Kemp, who hit like crazy down the stretch and so far in the postseason. Here are more notes from around the big leagues.

  • Johnny Cueto, Mat Latos, Mike Leake and Alfredo Simon can all become free agents after the 2015 season, putting the Reds in a tough spot, C. Trent Rosecrans of the Cincinnati Enquirer writes. “As much as I think we’d like to be able to keep every single guy and pay them what they deserve, it’s impossible to do it here,” says manager Bryan Price. Rosecrans quotes Cueto, Latos and Leake all saying they would be happy staying in Cincinnati, but the Reds will have a tight budget, with plenty of money already committed to Joey Votto, Brandon Phillips, Jay Bruce and Homer Bailey.
  • Victor Martinez doesn’t have a monetary goal in mind when it comes to the contract he’ll sign as a free agent this offseason, but he does know how many years he’d like to receive, writes Anthony Castrovince of Sports On Earth. Martinez won’t say how many years that is, but he does say he doesn’t want to still be playing at 40. He’ll open next season at 36, which might indicate he’s looking for a four-year deal. Martinez is poised to cash in after an outstanding .335/.409/.565 season in Detroit, although Castrovince notes that Martinez’s market will be constrained somewhat because he’s a DH and because the Tigers will almost certainly extend him a qualifying offer.
  • Now with the Angels (who were just eliminated from the postseason by the Royals), Huston Street fondly remembers his time as the Padres‘ closer, writes Dennis Lin of the San Diego Union-Tribune.  “When you leave someplace, you want to miss it as much as I miss San Diego, says Street. “Just because that means the time you spent there was meaningful. It was a time in my career that really set me on a very successful path.
  • Not retaining Casey Janssen will probably be the correct decision for the Blue Jays, Richard Griffin of the Toronto Star writes. Teams frequently change closers, as a look at playoff teams’ rosters indicates — the only playoff closer who has been in that position with his team for three years is Kenley Jansen of the Dodgers. Instead of worrying about a closer, Griffin argues, the Jays should address second base and the outfield.


East Notes: Sandoval, Burnett, Shields, Mets

The AL East champion Orioles are looking for their first playoff sweep since they eliminated the A’s in the 1971 ALCS as they face the Tigers in Game Three of their ALDS. The NL East champion Nationals, meanwhile, will look to avoid being swept by the Giants tomorrow in their NLDS.

Here’s the latest from baseball’s East divisions:

  • Pablo Sandoval, with his personality and left-handed bat, would be a good fit for the Red Sox, opines the Boston Globe’s Nick Cafardo. Despite Sandoval’s weight issues and a declining OPS over the past four seasons, Cafardo hears the third baseman will command a five-year, $100MM pact with the Yankees and Dodgers joining Boston in the bidding.
  • A.J. Burnett‘s decision whether to exercise his $12.75MM player option will dictate how the Phillies‘ offseason unfolds, according to CSNPhilly.com’s Corey Seidman. If Burnett declines the option, the Phillies will have the financial flexibility required to make impactful free agent signings and begin the necessary roster overhaul, Seidman writes.
  • The James Shields-Wil Myers trade between the Rays and Royals is still under evaluation, notes Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times. At this point, who “won” the trade depends on whom you ask.
  • The Mets don’t need a spending spree to improve for 2015, posits Joel Sherman of the New York Post. Of course, it would be nice if they could spend the necessary money to sign free agent catcher Russell Martin, but there are cheaper ways they can upgrade their offense. One idea Sherman has is calling the Red Sox to inquire on a Bartolo Colon for Shane Victorino deal.

Free Agent Profile: Justin Masterson

In 2013, Justin Masterson turned in a career season for the Indians as he pitched to a 3.45 ERA with 9.1 K/9 and 3.5 BB/9, earning an All-Star Game nod and piquing the attention of baseball people everywhere.  No one knew where he would wind up after the 2014 season, but everyone agreed that he was in line for a massive contract.  Masterson might not get the same long-term haul he once envisioned thanks to a lackluster 2014, but he still figures to get paid this winter.

Strengths/Pros

Everything came together for Masterson in 2013.  His power sinker was clicking, he was striking batters out at a career-high rate, and his 3.33 xFIP indicated that he was just flat out good, not lucky.  With an aggressive approach on the mound and a 58.5 percent ground-ball rate, Masterson truly realized his potential with the Tribe.

Justin Masterson

Of course, the main difference between the 2013 and 2014 versions of Masterson was health.  Fortunately, he’s on the mend from his injuries and should be 100% on all fronts by the start of Spring Training.  While others in his position – banged up in a contract year – might have chosen to rest up, Masterson mostly pitched through the pain.  At 29, Masterson is younger than most of the quality pitchers available on the open market.  And, thanks to the midseason trade that sent him to St. Louis, Masterson can’t be hit with the qualifying offer and won’t have draft pick compensation tied to him.

His 2014 numbers – a 5.88 ERA with 8.1 K/9 and 4.8 BB/9 – aren’t so hot, but the fact that he managed to make 25 starts and 3 relief appearances despite it all is pretty impressive.  The righty logged four straight seasons of at least 180 innings for Cleveland and while his ERA yo-yoed – 4.70 in 2010, 3.21 in 2011, 4.93 in 2012, and 3.45 in 2013 – he was solid on the whole and his 11.7 fWAR in that stretch placed him among the top thirty starters in the game.  Masterson also hasn’t had a ground ball percentage lower than 55.1% in the last five years and he’s been around 58%  over the last two seasons.

GMs will ask their team doctors to do a thorough check on Masterson before putting pen to paper, but they probably won’t fret about the right-hander resting on his laurels and counting his money.  It’s also worth mentioning that the 29-year-old’s xFIP (4.06) and SIERA (4.03) were far kinder to him this year than ERA and his 8.1 K/9 is actually stronger than the average of his previous four seasons.  Given time to heal up and iron out the kinks in his delivery, Masterson could get back to his old self rather quickly.

Weaknesses/Cons

His troublesome right knee, which plagued him for a good chunk of the season, is partially to blame for the down year.  That problem seems to be in the rear view mirror but shoulder impingement and a nagging left oblique injury have held him back and adversely altered his mechanics.  He’s expected to fully recover from all of those injuries with some rest, but teams will certainly be wary and especially thorough in their examinations.  Clubs will want to be sure that they’re more likely to get the 2010-2013 version of Masterson than the 2014 version.

During Masterson’s 2010-2013 run, his fastball had an average velocity of about 92.9 MPH.  This season, Masterson threw his heater at a decidedly less warm 90.3 MPH.  Faulty mechanics brought on by injury are believed to be culprit for the drop, but teams will still view the decreased velocity as a concern.

Masterson’s struggles landed him in the Cardinals’ bullpen to finish out the regular season and that’s obviously not how St. Louis saw things shaking out when they traded for him at the deadline.   The hurler was viewed as a top-of-the-rotation piece just a year ago and he will wind up with relief appearances as the most recent work on his resume.  Masterson actually did well in his grand total of 3 and 1/3 innings of bullpen work, but he’s obviously looking to join someone’s starting five next season.

Personal

Earlier this year, Justin and his wife Meryl welcomed twins to the world, a boy and a girl, making their three-year-old daughter a big sister.   Justin, the son of a pastor, spends much of his downtime aiding in humanitarian causes both here and abroad with Meryl.  This offseason, he’ll be heading to Uganda and Kenya on a mission trip to help with water projects and to build orphanages for needy children.  The Mastersons founded a non-profit organization (the Fortress Foundation) in 2013 to help extremely impoverished people from all around the world.  In Cleveland, they volunteered and donated to Laura’s Home, a local battered women’s shelter.  It’s no surprise that the Indians made Justin a repeat nominee for the Roberto Clemente Award.

In the clubhouse, Masterson is known a supportive teammate and someone who is always willing to help out the younger pitchers.  At 29, Masterson is still young, but he also has lots of valuable experience to draw from.

Market

If the medicals check out, a team could very well come away with one of the best pitching bargains of the winter.  Back in January, when Masterson was coming off of his career year, Tim Dierkes pegged his extension value around $65-$85MM over a five year stretch.  Like any free agent, the 6’6″ hurler has his question marks, but he could be a very solid value after an offseason of rest.

Last last month, Patrick Mooney of CSNChicago.com wondered aloud if Masterson could be a fit for the Cubs.  His history with former Red Sox GM and current Cubs president Theo Epstein could lead to a union and, as Mooney notes, coach Chris Bosio has a track record for taking his pitchers to the next level.  Speaking of the Red Sox, Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe wrote back in August that Boston will have interest in Masterson in the offseason.

Outside of those old friends, teams in bigger parks with pitching needs like the Twins, Angels, Marlins, and Braves might be in the mix for Masterson.

Expected Contract

Because Masterson’s four consecutive strong years were followed by a spotty walk year, it’s hard to gauge what kind of contract he’ll net this winter.  A one-year deal to reassert himself as a top starter could put him in line for a substantial long-term deal.  At the same time, it’s not hard to envision a team coming to the table with a multi-year offer to Masterson’s liking.

If Masterson opts for a one-year deal in order to restore his value and go for a monster contract after the 2015 season, a one-year, $12MM contract could make sense.

Steve Adams contributed to this post.  Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.


Baseball Blogs Weigh In: Rivera, Tomas, Sanchez

On this date in 2010, Hanshin Tigers outfielder Matt Murton broke Ichiro’s Japanese record for the most hits in a single season when he recorded his 211th hit of the year.  The 2003 first-round draft pick of the Red Sox had a rather unremarkable stint with the Rockies in the year prior, but made a major impact overseas.  Here’s this week’s look around the baseball blogosphere..

Please send submissions to Zach at ZachBBWI@gmail.com.


Cafardo On A-Rod, Miller, Iglesias, Jaso

In today’s column, Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe writes Red Sox bench coach Torey Lovullo is everybody’s bridesmaid right now.  He has a strong resume that has prepared him for managing, but he hasn’t gotten his big break yet.  There are others in the same boat, including Dodgers bench coach Tim Wallach and Athletics bench coach Chip Hale.  Lovullo hopes that like Bo Porter, he can break through it eventually.  Here’s more from today’s column..

  • Manager Joe Girardi says otherwise, but Cafardo writes that the Yankees are viewing Alex Rodriguez are more of a DH than a third baseman possibility in 2015.  A-Rod’s ability to play third could have an impact on the Yankees’ offseason plans, including whether to re-sign Chase Headley.
  • Orioles lefty Andrew Miller is a strong union man who will seek the best contract for himself when he reaches free agency.  Miller wants to return to the Red Sox, if they’re not close on money, but he’ll ultimately go to the highest bidder.  Major league sources tell Cafardo that they believe the bidding will start at three years, $21MM.
  • There was some trade buzz around shortstop Jose Iglesias but it now looks like he may be back in the driver’s seat as the Tigers‘ future shortstop.  Eugenio Suarez and Andrew Romine both showed promise at times, but they’ve each had their runs and fizzled out.  Iglesias has recovered fully from stress fractures in both shins and is expected to pick up where he left off as one of the top defensive shortstops in baseball.
  • The A’s are open to trading anyone, the Red Sox are looking for a backup left-handed hitter, and John Jaso seems to fit the profile for what Boston wants.  Jaso started 47 games this season for the A’s, who also used him at DH.

Baseball Blogs Weigh In: Navarro, Blue Jays, D’Backs

On this date in 1995, Greg Harris became the first post-1900 major leaguer to pitch ambidextrously.  In the ninth inning, the Expos reliever blanked the Reds as he faced four batters – two as a right-hander (his natural side) and the other two as a southpaw.  Here’s this week’s look around the baseball blogosphere..

Please send submissions to Zach at ZachBBWI@gmail.com.


NL Central Notes: Martin, Huntington, Brewers, Cubs

As a former player, Dodgers manager Don Mattingly can relate to what Cubs prospects Javier Baez and Arismendy Alcantara are going through, writes David Just of the Chicago Sun-Times. “It’s just a time factor with the young guys,” Mattingly said. “They can look good right away, and the next year they come out and it doesn’t look good. Or they can look kind of shaky and figure a lot of it out. So time is going to tell.” As a youngster, Mattingly got off to a slow start with the Yankees, hitting .278 with a .326 on-base percentage in his first 98 games during the 1982 and ’83 seasons. He then led the American League in hits, doubles, and batting average in 1984.

Here’s the latest from the NL Central:

  • Pirates GM Neal Huntington says re-signing catcher Russell Martin is a priority for the franchise, tweets Travis Sawchik of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. “We are going to try to do everything we can to keep Russ,” said Huntington. “We’d love nothing more than to have (Martin) in a Pirates uniform.
  • Huntington, however, reiterated the Pirates will not veer from their financial philosophy. “We’re going to continue to have to pay guys for what we believe they’re going to do, and not what they’ve done,” said Huntington (as quoted by MLB.com’s Stephen Pianovich). “The bigger markets certainly have luxury to be able to extend much beyond comfort levels to pay an extra year or two, to pave over prior mistakes with more money.
  • Brewers GM Doug Melvin does not “think there’s a need to go out and try to get another starter” and will instead focus on offense this offseason, reports MLB.com’s Adam McCalvy. The Brewers are all but certain to pick up the $13MM option on Yovani Gallardo, McCalvy opines.
  • The Brewers‘ biggest offseason decisions will be the infield corners and whether to exercise Gallardo’s option, according to Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel in a recent chat. The Brewers will consider both internal and external options at first base, but Haudricourt notes finding productive first basemen is easier said than done.
  • In a separate piece, Haudricourt writes Rickie Weeks is nearing the end of his tenure with the Brewers (his $11.5MM option isn’t expected to be exercised), but the team’s senior member in terms of service time is not thinking about 2015. “I’ll worry about that when the time comes,” Weeks said. “I’m still with the Brewers right now. That’s the way I look at it.
  • What we’d really like is to have a bunch of really good baserunners,” is what Cubs manager Rick Renteria told reporters, including MLB.com’s Carrie Muskat, when asked about the club’s 2015 wish list.

AL Notes: Soria, Indians, Cruz, Bogar

Offense is at a premium this season and Rays manager Joe Maddon doesn’t think it will improve any time soon, writes MLB.com’s Bill Chastain. “The hitter’s at a total disadvantage right now,” Maddon said. “And there’s no advantages on the horizon. I don’t see it. That’s why it’s going to take a lot of creative thinking. It could be just going back maybe to something that had been done before. I’m not sure. But right now, offense is going south, and it’s going to continue going south based on pitching and defense. Everything, data, video, all the information benefits them over offense.” Maddon also pointed to improved bullpens throughout baseball as another factor in the depressed offensive numbers.

Here’s more from the American League:

  • July acquisition Joakim Soria deserves a shot at pitching in high-pressure situations for the Tigers, writes Chris Iott of MLive.com. Soria could be the best relief pitcher the Tigers have and they paid a price to get him, so they should utilize him in the best way possible, Iott argues.
  • The Indians led the majors in errors for much of the sesaon, but there likely won’t be sweeping changes in Cleveland’s infield, writes Paul Hoynes of The Plain Dealer.
  • Nelson Cruz reiterated he would like to stay with the Orioles, but extension talks will still wait until after the season, tweets Rich Dubroff of CSNBaltimore.com.
  • Tim Bogar is now the clear runaway favorite to be hired as the next Rangers manager, according to Bob Nightengale of USA Today (on Twitter).