Cactus League Game 4: Felix v. Kopech

marc w · February 28, 2017 · Filed Under Mariners

M’s at White Sox
KING FELIX v. Michael Kopech, 12:10pm

A very happy Felix Day to all of you.

We’ve had the novelty of live baseball on the radio, and we’ve explored the some of the lower-tier roster battles that make up the meager drama that this spring can gin up. Today, though…today, we get something interesting, and a game that most baseball fans would tune in to if they could (seriously, still no TV?). King Felix takes the mound for the first time, showing off what a few months of training hard than he’s ever trained before can do. Opposing him is one of the crown jewels in the re-made White Sox farm system, and one of the hardest throwing pitchers in the minors last year, right up there with M’s reliever Thyago Vieira. Michael Kopech was a Red Sox prospect who garnered a lot of attention for throwing 100 and being a much more advanced pitcher than seemed fair. In high A last year, Kopech made 11 starts, spanning 52 innings, yielding just 25 hits and whiffing 82. That’s someone who needs a new challenge. Like Vieira, he was pushed to the Arizona Fall League, where he averaged 98.4 MPH on his four-seam. Yes, that’s a tick or two slower than Vieira, but remember: Kopech’s a starter.

The White Sox acquired him in the big Chris Sale deal, and if you’d heard of him before then, it was probably due to the story circulating that he hit 105 MPH with a pitch in the Carolina league. He’s also now in an organization that’s shown a remarkable ability to reduce pitcher attrition and DL trips. He’s still just 20 and hasn’t hit AA yet, but he’s certainly someone to watch.

So why’s he ranked “just” the 36th best prospect by BP? Two things: first, he has a tendency to walk people. It’s not dire, but he doesn’t have pinpoint command, and that runs his pitch counts up. Second, and much more importantly, many scouts and observers have him ticketed for the bullpen. That’s why this year’s so important. If he can shoulder a starter’s workload this year (his career high in IP came this year, at just 78), and if the Sox keep him healthy, he’s got a good shot at shooting up the rankings for next year. The Sox picked up a number of high-ceiling arms, including top 10 arm Lucas Giolito, but Kopech may end the year as the biggest “get” in the Sox rebuild.

The game’s in Glendale, which means there won’t be an pitch fx. However, it IS a Trackman ballpark, so hopefully that gets pushed to Gameday, and that the broadcasters can give us some information about how hard Felix and Kopech are throwing.

1: Gamel, CF
2: Segura, SS
3: Cano, 2B
4: Cruz, DH
5: Vogelbach, 1B
6: Haniger, RF
7: Ruiz, C
8: Heredia, LF
9: O’Malley, 3B
SP: KING FELIX

Sooooo, Yovani Gallardo…. how about that?

Dylan Unsworth is in the clubhouse for this one, along with fellow non-40-man guys Andrew Moore, Jean Machi and UW product Braden Bishop.

What to Make of Jean Segura

marc w · February 27, 2017 · Filed Under Mariners

About a week ago (I know – I’m slow), Bob Dutton of the News Tribune had a great article on Jean Segura and his strange path to both a breakout 2016 campaign and then to the M’s in perhaps the most critical trade in recent memory. You know the statistical story – a solid rookie campaign followed by two abysmal batting seasons before last year’s explosion. Dutton adds some detail that may partially explain this odd career trajectory, from a freak injury in 2014 to the loss of his child a few months later. On the plus side, there’s also more explanation on how he might have reinvented himself – from working with Robinson Cano in the offseason to working with Bobby Tewksbary in the D-Backs system, Segura really does seem to have changed his swing. So what now? What do you make of someone who’s been one of the worst AND one of the best hitters in recent years? Has he actually changed or merely had better luck on balls in play?

The new statcast data is still in its infancy, and we (or at least I) still don’t know how changes in statcast metrics like exit velocity impact things like actual production at the plate. But if there’s anything to this stuff at all, it should help answer the question of if and how Segura differed in 2016. I’m not going to bury the lede any more than I already have: Segura looked totally different. If you want to be optimistic, this helps. Here now I’m going to rely on that venerable blogging cliche, a table comparing Player A to Player B. Hey, it’s spring training for me too, okay?

2015      
  Exit Vel. Launch Ang. Avg. Dist.
Player A 91.6 5.4 207
Player B 87.3 6 182

In 2015, both players had statistical down years. Their launch angles were nearly half of the league average, and while they didn’t K much, they just hit the ball on the ground a bit too much. Player A hit it hard, so had a better overall line, but both were disappointments. Let’s check in on both of them last year:

2016      
  Exit Vel. Launch Ang. Avg. Dist.
Player A 90.8 11.8 217
Player B 89.9 11.5 216

The gap in exit velocity’s narrowed considerably, but it’s launch angle that’s changed the most for both players. Their average distance is up, as you’d expect since they’re hitting the ball in the air a bit more. In this case, both players exceeded their own career average production, and at least from this carefully-curated-probably-misleading view, they look like doppelgangers.

Player B, is, of course, Segura, and Player A is his off-season training partner and new teammate, Robinson Cano. Both improved markedly, and both improved in similar ways from 2015 to 2016. Segura needed to stop hitting too many ground balls, and Cano needed to get back to hitting the ball in the air more. Both accomplished those goals. Segura’s exit velocity and angle averages now compare pretty well to Dustin Pedroia and Adrian Gonzalez. That’s remarkable for a guy who was one of baseball’s weakest hitters in 2015.

Segura’s launch angle and exit velocity are more or less league average now, so it’s not like he’s in the upper echelons in either metric. But for players like Segura (and Cano), you might not want to be. The launch angle leaders include guys like Kris Bryant, but also Chris Carter and Todd Frazier. There seems to be a bit of a trade-off here: you can eliminate a lot of ground balls, but you pay for it in strikeouts. Segura makes a lot of contact, so of course he’s not going to run similar numbers to Carter or Frazier – and no one would want him to. To be fair: you can be successful with the opposite strategy, as Christian Yelich and his flurry of well-struck grounders shows. But a middle infielder with league average velocity and angle numbers AND low K’s – that seems like a recipe for success.

On the other hand, you’ve got the weight of baseball history here; it’s just hard to find hitters who’ve maintained gains like we’ve just seen with Segura. There are a number of ways to look for similar batters, so I may as well start with the easiest: his BBREF list titled, uh, “similar batters.” Here’s the top 10:

1. Xander Bogaerts (938.7)
2. Alex Cintron (937.1)
3. Angel Berroa (934.4)
4. Kazuo Matsui (932.1)
5. Billy Myers (931.6)
6. Topper Rigney (926.0)
7. Andrelton Simmons (924.4)
8. DJ LeMahieu (923.4)
9. Ernie Johnson (920.4)
10. Carlos Garcia (919.3)

Xander Bogaerts is a great comp from an M’s fan point of view, but Bogaerts’ career arc looks nothing like Segura’s. He scuffled in his first full year, then got better in year 2, before improving a touch more in year 3. Bogaerts’ rise looks downright normal; an adjustment period, then age-appropriate gains after figuring things out. If that’s one template, the next two represent textbook examples of its inverse: the flashes in the pan. Alex Cintron was great in his first full season in 2003, and then played *sub-replacement-level* ball for the rest of his career. Angel Berroa was essentially the AL version of Cintron, winning the ROY in 2003 and immediately turning into a replacement-level player before fizzling out. Matsui struggled, then had a decent breakout in his early 30s, but probably isn’t a great comp here for a variety of reasons (he was much older than Segura when he first came to the US). Myers and Rigney were both D-first infielders in the 20s/30s without a Segura-esque parabolic career arc. Andrelton Simmons has simply never been a positive force at the plate. DJ LeMahieu…that’s intriguing. The Rockies 2B had 2 years that were nearly as bad as Segura’s before improving a bit in 2015 and then going nuts in 2016, leading the NL in average and posting an OPS 250 points higher than his 2014 mark.

I decided to trawl through old stats and look for players who’d gained at least 15-20 points in wRC+ from one year to the next, with an eye to players who’d also LOST ground in wRC+ before their breakout year. Here’s that list:

Alex Gordon
Trevor Plouffe
Placido Polanco
Kelly Johnson
Aaron Hill
Jose Lopez
Chone Figgins
Brandon Inge
Mike Moustakas
Junior Spivey
Marco Scutaro
Felipe Lopez
Mark Bellhorn

That’s a lot of names, so let’s break them up a bit. Inge, Spivey and Jose Lopez have some volatility in their offensive numbers, but the more you look at them, the more you see a fairly normal – if short – peak with a drop off on either side. Spivey’s peak came right when he entered the league. Inge, like Lopez, needed a while to get there, and then dropped off quickly. Felipe Lopez and Mark Bellhorn each had two good years and bunch of bad ones. Moustakas took a while to get going, and then get hurt last year, so he’s tough to use as a comp. Chone Figgins was reasonably steady in Anaheim thanks to his OBP, but then cratered in…you know what, let’s just move on.

Aaron Hill and Kelly Johnson (traded for each other in 2011) represent peak volatility, two players whose batting lines have bounced around like crazy, and producing several peaks and valleys. Hill was a glove-first SS with the Jays, before tapping into his power and raising his wRC+ by 17 points in 2007. Thanks to injuries, he cratered in 2008 before going off in 2009, hitting 36 homers and raising his wRC+ by 30 points. In 2010, it dropped again by *37*, thanks to a sub-.200 BABIP. He started well for Toronto, but after being traded to the D’Backs, he cratered again. In his first full year in the desert, though, he again established himself as an offensive force, raising his wRC+ by a staggering 56 points and holding on to some of that before cratering again (!) in 2014. It’s a strange career, is what I’m saying.

Johnson had a great first two full years in Atlanta before his own BABIP-fueled collapse in 2009. He had a huge bounce-back year in 2010, raising his wRC+ by 46 points a year after seeing it drop by 27. He struggled again with the Jays, but had a half-decent year at the plate as recently as 2015. These two players represent a cautionary tale to the idea that development is linear and smooth, or that huge gains in production represent a new skill level/baseline towards which to regress a player.

That leaves Plouffe and Gordon, two hefty corner bats with no physical or swing similarities to Segura, but whose career arcs look pretty familiar. Plouffe was drafted as a SS, but has played mostly 3B in the majors. After a dreadful start, he tapped into his power and had a decent year at the plate in 2012. He couldn’t drive the ball in 2013, but largely figured things out after that. His peaks were never as high as Segura’s, but he also never looked quite as lost as Segura did in 2014-15. Plouffe’s career is like a regressed version of Segura’s, then. There’s some hope that Segura could maintain *most* of his gains, with the recognition that there may be some down years going forward, too.

The more you look at it, the more Gordon seems like the best-case comp, which, again, is weird to say about a small middle infielder like Segura. After being one of the best college hitters in recent memory and tearing through the minors, Gordon hit poorly in his rookie year of 2007. A spike in OBP helped him easily clear the league-average mark in 2008, and seemed to set him on the path to stardom. Unfortunately, everything fell apart in 2009 and 2010, as Gordon struggled mightily at the plate, and was sent to the minors. Part of this was injury-related, as he tore a labrum in his hip in 2009 and broke his thumb in 2010, but even when he was on the field, he looked lost, with subpar power for a corner OF and what looked like a consistently low batting average. Of course, then Gordon posted a brilliant 2011, slashing .303/.376/.502 and raising his wRC+ by over 50 points from his 2009-10 average, and while he slipped back in 2012 a bit, he was a consistently above-average hitter through 2015. Yes, he collapsed again in 2016, but that’s not relevant to Segura in 2016. Gordon’s the best example in recent years of a player who was solid, then bad, then great, and managed to hold on to most of his skill improvements for a number of years.

What have he learned here? 1: It’s actually really tough to find players like Segura and Gordon, who’ve been good, then terrible at the plate, and then great. 2: As you’d expect, most players who have large improvements in their batting line regress in the next year. Many of them were good again in the year after that, but in general, there’s generally a hefty regression tax to pay. 3: We all do it, but player comparisons are necessarily limited; each player is an n of 1. 4: If you want to be pessimistic, these data would seem to support that, but there are still enough Gordons or even Marco Scutaros that suggest Segura can hold on to most of his gains.

Cactus League Game 3: Let’s See Motter

marc w · February 27, 2017 · Filed Under Mariners

M’s Versus Royals

Yovani Gallardo v. Jason Vargas, 11:10pm. Radio Only. Note the earlier start time.

Yesterday, Shawn O’Malley got to make his case for the utility role, and today the M’s will get a look at newly-acquired UTIL, Taylor Motter. Both were drafted by the Rays, and both have a lot of experience in both the infield and outfield. O’Malley has the incumbent’s advantage, as the M’s staff and front office have seen him play; Scott Servais penciled his name in the starting line-up at *6* different positions last year. On the other hand, Motter is younger and shows a bit more promise with the bat, as indicated in his superior projections and minor league ISO numbers. Motter has much less big-league experience, but he too got starts at 6 different positions last year.

As position battles go, this one doesn’t matter a whole lot. With guys like Cano/Segura in the middle infield and with 5 or 6 guys capable of playing CF already on the roster, you could make the case that this role is LESS important to the M’s than it is to just about any other club. That said, it could be a window into how the M’s make roster decisions and what they value. Taylor Motter’s projections show a player ever so slightly better at controlling the strike zone, but O’Malley is probably the better defender.

Today, Yovani Gallardo makes his first start with the M’s. The trade Jerry Dipoto made to acquire him was panned by most saber-inclined fans. Gallardo’s coming off his worst year as a pro, and after missing time with scary-sounding shoulder pain, you don’t have to be a pessimist to see how this year could go south on him. On the other hand, he recovered after a slow start, and was averaging 91 on his fastball down the stretch, up from 87+ in April. He missed 6 weeks in May/June to recuperate and work on things in the minors, so he may be healthier/more mechanically sound now than he was a year ago. But while he was throwing harder in July/August last year, he was not necessarily throwing better. His walk rate spiked after his return, and while it too was better down the stretch, it highlights the fact that there are multiple red flags with Gallardo. A lot of people are going to be scrutinizing Gallardo this spring, and for good reason.

It’s February, so the temptation to over-analyze is huge, but the M’s rotation is so intriguing, you pretty much can’t help it. James Paxton spent 6 weeks in Tacoma last year, and came up looking unrecognizable – throwing 100, different arm-slot, etc. Felix Hernandez just had his worst season, and spent the offseason working harder than he’s ever worked. Drew Smyly is talented, but coming off a down year and his fourth consecutive increase in HR rate. As a group, there’s a tremendous amount of talent and upside here. There’s also a lot of risk…I mean, even more than you’d have with 5 random pitchers.

I mentioned yesterday that the pitch FX readings on Chris Heston may be more important than for most, as he’s continuing his recovery from TJ surgery. It’s still February, but his old velocity wasn’t back, as he peaked at 89 and averaged about 88. He pitched well, so this isn’t a damning indictment of his 2017 chances, but poring over his numbers has another benefit. As I’ve mentioned many times, Peoria’s pitch FX system is miscalibrated, and has been for years. It seems to be reasonably good for velocity, but the movement numbers frequently take on a surrealistic quality. Sometimes, the natural movement is greatly exaggerated, and you’ll see pitchers throwing fastballs with 20″ to 2 feet of vertical movement. Yesterday, though, Heston threw a slider that went 79mph, had essentially no horizontal movement (so far so slider-y) but 13″ of vertical rise, far more than his average fastball. This is incredibly nerdy, and I apologize to those who’ve read this far, but let me be clear: that pitch is impossible. You can’t throw a pitch that slow with movement like that. But, noting that this pitch does not exist, I’m wondering if we might need to invent it. Some readers might point out that it looks suspiciously like a slow Chris Young fastball; a Chris Young 45 played at 33rpm. That’s true, but as the pitch slows down, gravity has more time to work on pulling it towards the ground. To maintain Young-like rise with 5-6mph off the velocity requires a lot more spin. Ok, ok: long story short: I know it isn’t real, but I would love to see this inverted splitter thing in the wild.

Today’s batting order:
1: Dyson, LF
2: Segura, SS
3: Seager, 3B
4: Valencia, 1B
5: Haniger, RF
6: Zunino, C
7: Motter, 2B
8: Marlette, DH
9: Martin, CF
SP: Gallardo

It’s good to see 2011 draft pick and perpetual marc w fave Tyler Marlette get a look early in camp. Like most of the org, he had a dreadful 2015 and seemed at risk of losing his roster spot, but improved markedly in 2016. He capped it off with a stint in the Arizona Fall League. The catcher figures to start with AA Arkansas this year.

It’s easy to be cynical about Spring Training, pointing out that the stats aren’t predictive, lamenting injury risk, and looking out at a field full of org depth and A-ball prospects by the 6th inning, but M’s prospect Dylan Unsworth provides an antidote in this video from his twitter feed. In it, the 24 year old righty from Durban, SA speaks about his excitement at being called up to his first big league spring training game. Note: he did not play in the game, and we’re still talking about ST, but he got to be in the locker room with Felix, Cano, Seager, etc. While I imagine it can be easy to focus on small improvements and take joy in each promotion, I bet toiling away in the minors can seem pointless at times. A sisyphean torture, in which the high draft pick with worse stats gets the promotion. Every no-bat catcher you’ve ever seen gets to be in big league camp while you strike out this year’s crop of 19-year old Arizona League hackers. I hadn’t imagined, but should of, what it would mean to walk across the parking lot and suit up with the big league club, even just once or twice. The sense of validation, the sense of acknowledgement. The fact that the pre-game spread might actually fill you up and not sink your per-diem might help, too, but maaan. To leave your home, try to make it in baseball while learning a new culture, trying to shut out everyone who’s telling you it’s pointless and you’ll never make it…spring training kind of validated itself the other day. Good luck, Sharkie.

Cactus League Game 2: Position Battle edition

marc w · February 26, 2017 · Filed Under Mariners

Chris Heston v. Zach Lee, 12:10pm

Yesterday’s game featured a line-up that looked pretty much like opening day’s. That’s cool and all, but it doesn’t tell us a whole lot. Or rather, the utility of seeing Segura hit in front of Cano is balanced by injury concerns. None of those guys are fighting for a job, so it’s just about getting their timing right and giving those of us who’ve missed baseball a sneak preview. For the record, they look good.

Today, though, is different. With Jarrod Dyson on the club, they may not have room on the opening day club for Ben Gamel. Shawn O’Malley’s bid to hold on to the utility spot will get a big challenge from Taylor Motter. Tyler O’Neill’s a long shot to make the club, but he has *a* shot. And as mentioned yesterday, Chris Heston has a lot to prove to get the inside track on the 6th rotation spot. With more time passed since his TJ rehab, we can actually learn something about his arm strength today, too. If he’s still near 88, that’s not great. Above 90, and the M’s may have something.

Zach Lee toiled for Tacoma last year, but it was the worst year in a pro career plagued by inconsistency and mediocrity. His arsenal isn’t as important as the fact that betters hit everything he throws hard. Would a piggy-back rotation help? I don’t know, and would think even the Pads have better candidates for that, but with his prospect pedigree, some player development staff will always give it a chance. If there’s one pitcher who desperately needs a velocity-gain off-season program, it’s Lee.

1: Gamel, RF
2: Valencia, 1B
3: Cano, 2B
4: Cruz, DH
5: Ruiz, C
6: O’Neill, LF
7: Freeman, 3B
8: Heredia, CF
9: O’Malley, 3B
SP: Heston

Cactus League Game 1: It Begins

marc w · February 25, 2017 · Filed Under Mariners

I’m still not in regular season shape, so some articles on Segura and others will have to wait, but…seriously, there’s a Mariner game on today.

How do I do this again? Oh yeah, that’s right:
M’s “at” Padres
Ariel Miranda vs. Paul Clemens, 12:10pm

It’s not just the M’s, but there’s something comfortable about kicking off the spring with a guy desperately pitching for a job. Erasmo Ramirez did this a few years ago, and ended up winning one…in Tampa. Last year, it was Nate Karns, who went first in a duel with James Paxton for the 5th rotation spot. In a series of events that highlight that spring training means little and that baseball is unpredictable, Karns won that battle, sending the pitcher that many N’s fans consider the team’s ace to AAA to start the year (and gain several MPH on his fastball).

This year, there’s no big competition. Barring injury, the rotation’s set, and all Miranda can do is demonstrate stuff that might play well out of the bullpen or lay claim to the first starter called up from Tacoma. THAT battle is actually going to be pretty intense, with Miranda, Chris Heston and ex-Athletic Dillon Overton all decent 6th-7th starters with a dash of upside.

That’s not completely irrelevant – depth matters – but it’s perhaps not appointment television. And hey, the game is not on TV at all, so…problem solved. (It’s on 710am for those in the Seattle area.) At least for today, the pitching match up will take a back seat to seeing this new-look M’s line up in action. Can Dan Vogelbach play a credible 1B? Is Jean Segura a (permanently) changed hitter? How about this Haniger fellow? Today we get our first, fleeting, often misleading, glimpse at the 2017 Mariners. May the pain of our fandom be different this year; perhaps even constructive.

As usual, the M’s open with stadium-mates, the San Diego Padres. Between a huge sell-off, front office penalties and a reputation for a non-traditional take on rules and ethics, the Padres are in trouble in 2017. Yes, they have a nice farm system, but that’s been true for a while. Unfortunate trades and some player development hiccups left them in bad shape last year, and realistically, they’re not much better in 2017.

As a case in point, ex-Astros journeyman/replacement level hurler Paul Clemens takes the mound today. The righty throws a tailing fastball and a high-spin curve, but hasn’t been able to carve out a real MLB role thus far. His big problem has been the long ball, and since nearly all of them have come off fastballs, it’s better to say that his big problem is his heater. Despite some mildly interesting movement, righties seem to see it really well and habitually bully the pitch. His curve is fine, maybe even good, but he doesn’t (yet) pitch off of it like Rich Hill.

Maybe in an effort to make it more sinker-y, he dropped his arm slot last year. That makes sense, given his particular symptoms, but it didn’t really work: righties still hit him, and if he gave up fewer HRs, well, Petco probably played a role.

This year, the bereft-of-pitching Padres are considering a piggy-back rotation with a number of pitchers working a few innings before giving way to a reliever working a few more. The similarly-barren Rockies tried it – unsuccessfully – in 2012, but it makes some sense for a team that realistically can’t match up to its opponents’ starting pitching. If you can’t beat ’em at their game, change the game sufficiently that you…well, I don’t know exactly. It’s not like their bullpen’s great either. And their problem last year wasn’t so much pitchers tiring and getting hit the 2nd/3rd time through the line up- they got hammered in the first inning. In any event, it’ll be interesting to see if they do implement this strategy, and what it’ll mean for guys like Clemens.

The initial line up:
1: Dyson, LF
2: Segura, SS
3: Cano, 2B
4: Cruz, DH
5: Seager, 3B
6: Haniger, RF
7: Vogelbach, 1B
8: Zunino, C
9: Martin, CF
SP: Miranda

Go M’s! Stretch properly! Nobody get hurt!

2017 Projections Time

marc w · February 15, 2017 · Filed Under Mariners

Sorry for the posting drought; I’d say it won’t happen again, but you know by now that I can’t promise that. It’s that quiet-before-the-storm portion of the off-season, where we get furtive glimpses of pitchers stretching, or dudes in t-shirts swinging bats. The big moves have mostly all happened now (though there are some surprisingly big names still waiting for a call), and thus we know the basic contours of each club in the AL West.

I ran a similar post to this one exactly one year ago, and a few things stand out about the view from February, 2016. First, beyond the win/loss estimates, the projections biggest “miss” was the run environment of 2016. The first thing that jumps off the page about the 2017 projections is that the runs scored/allowed numbers are all bigger – we’d all become somewhat accustomed to the depressed scoring environment of 2010-2014 or so, so it’s not a shock that the projections came in low. The average AL club scored just 677 runs in 2014. Last year, that figure was 731. The key driver was the explosion in home runs, a fact that won’t come as a shock to anyone who watched the 2016 M’s. This is probably a big reason why the parity that all the projections saw never really materialized – the AL schedule wasn’t a series of 3-2 and 4-3 games, so teams that excelled at clubbing the ball differentiated themselves a bit from the pack. That was a big reason the M’s not only beat the low estimates of their 2016 win total, but overcame some truly awful defense and baserunning – two factors that would’ve been more important in a low scoring environment.

The second thing, and again, this may be in part a product of more scoring, is that parity’s gone. Last year, the projections had four of the five AL West teams within 5 wins of each other. Cairo thought that’d be between 76-81 or so, while Davenport thought they’d be bunched between 83-87, but fundamentally, the division (and the league as a whole) was tightly bunched. This, far more than the individual team win numbers, turned out to be wrong. As I mentioned during the season, the systems essentially “got” the M’s, with Fangraphs 84-win projection two wins low, and Davenport’s 87 one win high. The “miss” was what those win totals would mean for their playoff odds. 86 wins in a league where no one won 90 would be one thing, but as it happened, 86 wins was only the 7th-best record in the league, and resulted in another year without a playoff appearance. That big clump of teams clustered around .500 is gone in 2017, with the Astros projected to win at least 90 games in nearly every system, and 97 in Clay Davenport’s. Fangraphs has 3 90 win-or-better clubs, in Houston, Boston and Cleveland. PECOTA has the same three, albeit in a different order. That also means there are more “bad” teams, with clubs like Baltimore and Kansas City tumbling below 80 wins.

Sticking with the AL West, here are how Fangraphs, Baseball Prospectus’ PECOTA, Clay Davenport’s projections and the Vegas over/under line shake out for 2017:

FG PEC DAV Vegas
Mariners 83 87 89 85.5
Astros 90 94 97 87.5
Angels 84 78 80 76.5
Athletics 77 75 79 66.5
Rangers 84 84 84 86.5

(FG=Fangraphs, PEC=PECOTA, DAV=Clay Davenport and Vegas=over/under betting line)
Unlike in past years, there are some considerable disagreements concerning the order of teams. The Astros are always first, but BP and Davenport both have the M’s as the clear runner-up, while Fangraphs has them 4th, barely behind Texas and Anaheim. The betting line follows PECOTA and Davenport, perhaps weighting each team’s 2016 record a bit more heavily*. PECOTA, Davenport and the CAIRO system are all in broad agreement about the M’s offense, and while there’s a bit more disagreement, on the run-prevention unit as well. In each of these systems, the M’s produce between about 60-75 runs. Fangraphs is the most pessimistic on both sides of the ball, producing a run differential of just 21, which accounts for their low projected win total.

The degree of agreement about the offense (Fangraphs aside) is striking and admittedly exciting. The M’s look better to me vis a vis their peers as a result from having dove into this than I’d thought. Some of this is the result of improved projections for the M’s core players like Nelson Cruz (whose 3-year run is remarkable, and serves as a counterweight to the aging penalties the projections will assess him) and Kyle Seager, whose breakout year boosts his projected slugging percentage. The team’s starting pitching is more of a question mark, but PECOTA gives them a big assist from their defenders. PECOTA’s team fielding runs above average metric sees the M’s as far and away the class of MLB. They’re projected to save 46 runs above average, and no other team is even in the 30s. The M’s are *18 runs* better than the 2nd best team (the Dodgers), and 26 runs above 2nd place in the division (the Astros). That’s helpful, but even with Jarrod Dyson in the fold, I’m going to take the under on that. Still, the improved defense is one reason why the projections don’t see the back of the rotation and the 6-8th starters as a black hole – they’ll give up fewer runs than they ought to.

The M’s depth is a strength overall, I’d say, with Danny Valencia, Guillermo Heredia and team-favorite Andrew Moore all looking surprisingly solid. The same’s true of some of the rookies the M’s will depend upon if they’re going to challenge Houston, namely Mitch Haniger and Dan Vogelbach. While the playing-time projections are really hard for the rotation (Iwakuma and Paxton could throw 100IP each or 200IP each, and it wouldn’t really shock anyone), it’s encouraging that they have a bit of depth in Moore, Dillon Overton, Chris Heston and Rob Whalen. None of those guys is great, but given the M’s struggles in avoiding line-up or rotation black holes, it’s nice to have options in case Yovani Gallardo face-plants again or if Paxton’s injury problems return.

* This probably accounts for what looks like, on paper, as the biggest gap between expected team strength and the betting line. Oakland’s (admittedly early) over/under total of 66.5 is 12.5 wins below their Davenport win total and over 8 wins below their most pessimistic projection.

Will There Be Enough for Martin/Dyson to Do?

marc w · January 16, 2017 · Filed Under Mariners

Happy Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day, everyone.

So, with the trade of Mallex Smith, the M’s are back down to 2 or 3 CFs, with Mitch Haniger – a competent CF himself – playing RF. There’s nothing wrong with defense first OFs, and in general, I subscribe to the idea that a run saved is essentially equal to a run scored. As M’s fans, we’ve seen an object lesson that putting two all-world defenders next to each other in the OF doesn’t reduce either one’s productivity: Mike Cameron in CF and Ichiro! in RF remains the single best OF duo I’ve ever seen, and the M’s pitching staff reaped the benefit.

The idea that elite defenders don’t necessarily take plays away from nearby defenders is a longstanding one, and it’s critical to Dave Cameron’s view of the Dyson/Karns trade. Quoth my erstwhile boss, “Now, though, there’s reason to think the 2017 Mariners might have the best outfield defense in baseball, or at least be in the conversation. Dyson, of course, was part of the Royals great wall of defense, and now he’s going to be roaming the fairly vast left field in Safeco.” He points out that the Royals OF racked up 135 runs above average by UZR and 121 by DRS in the past three years, while the M’s were solidly in negative territory. It’s not as simple as flipping the latter numbers for the former, so, really: how many runs are out there for the M’s to gain?

This is, sadly, a really difficult nut to crack. There are a number of different ways to look at this, and fortunately, a number of data sources to pore over. All of them have strengths and weaknesses, and ultimately, there’s no silver bullet here; there’s no equation that’ll spit out the runs the new-look M’s OF *will* save in the future. Futures are slippery like that. But we can try and examine the various factors that influence fly balls and figure out how the 2017 M’s might differ from their OFs of the past few years.

What might influence the number of balls an OF sees? There’s the total number of balls in play their pitchers give up; of those, the percentage that are hit in the air; how hard/where they’re hit; the physical size of the OF they’re attempting to cover; and a bunch of atmospheric/weather-related factors that are sadly going to be well outside the scope of this. Just from this partial list, you can see a number of reasons why the M’s of 2017 might be in a slightly different space with regard to OF chances than the Cameron/Ichiro!/Winn group of 2002 or so. The strikeout rate league-wide continues to grow, meaning there are balls in play, and the M’s have helpfully cut down their LF area which, as we’ve already seen, has had the effect of reducing the numbers of doubles and triples that batters hit. Still, a reduction in the number of chances still leaves plenty of room for the M’s to improve, right? The M’s trailed the Royals in OF UZR last year by 55 runs.

Let’s start by looking at total OF chances, as seen on Baseball-reference.com. The 2001 M’s saw 1,228 chances, 2nd most in the league. The American league average back then was 1,125, and the AL’s K% was 16.5%. Last year, the M’s saw 1,061 chances, a bit more than the league average of 1,045 – in related news, the AL K% was up to 20.9%. Taking a 3-year rolling average, the M’s have lost over 200 chances per year from 2003 to 2016. Obviously, the rise of strikeouts is a big contributing factor, as we can see from the fact that the league average itself has dropped by 62 chances per year. But the other part of this is Safeco’s dimension. From 2003-2012, the M’s averaged 1,188 chances/year and their average rank in the AL was 4.67. Since then, the M’s averaged 1,042 chances and have never topped 1,100; their average rank in the (now larger) AL is just 11th. Again, the confounding factor here is that the M’s have been almost intentionally bad defensively since the walls were brought in, so it’s tough to pull these various threads apart. However, it’s probably not a coincidence that the number of chances drops precipitously right when the dimensions changed, and that it’s pushed Seattle from a park that saw many *more* chances than the average park to one that’s seen fewer than average.

But that’s just chances – how about a broad measure that gets at converting chances into outs, like defensive efficiency? Baseball Prospectus tracks defensive efficiency, and breaks it up between fly balls and ground balls. Here, the trend is the opposite, with teams generally getting better and better at turning fly balls into outs. In 2003 (the first year they have good data), the M’s fly ball efficiency (the percentage of fly balls they turned into outs) was .876, good for best in the AL. Last year, the M’s ranked 6th in the league…but with a .906 mark. What’s going on here? The culprit appears to be a general trend towards classifying more balls in play as line drives. “Fliners” that could be called either fly balls or line drives were once largely grouped in with fly balls, are now called line-drives. That’s going to make it really, really hard to look at these numbers over time, but we can try, and we can look at other teams within the same year. So, the percentage of balls in play has dropped by 10 percentage points over time, and as a result, those easier FBs remaining turn into outs more and more often. In fact, the M’s and Royals were nearly identical in 2016 – the Royals FB DE was .912, just one spot ahead of the M’s in the AL. Again, looking at 3 year averages, the clear trend is towards a lower percentage of fly balls, but the biggest single drop in the 3-year rolling average for Seattle is the first year that the average was made up of post-dimension change seasons. By *this* measure, which is super high-level and not attempting to account for the difficulty of chances, the M’s and Royals were more or less equals in turning FBs into outs last year. Interestingly, the M’s have been consistently *good* in this measure since 2013, despite being just atrocious by UZR/DRS. In 2014, for example, the M’s had a .919 FB DE, 3rd best in the AL. They had a -4 run UZR that year. The M’s AL rank has been fair to middling since 2013, but the M’s 2013-2016 average is .9035, percentage points better than the…Kansas City Royals, who clock in at .9028.

That’s strange, but now that we’ve got Statcast data, why not look at that? This way, we can avoid classifications (liner or fly ball or pop-up?) issues and control for things like number of chances and even the speed of the ball. The downside is that it’s only available for 2016 and 2015, and 2015 data haven’t been playing nicely this past week. We shall press on: I took a look at all balls in play fielded by an OF, and combining all fly balls, line drives and pop-ups. The Mariners dealt with 1,691 balls in play that met these criteria last year – helpfully, that’s nearly identical to the Royals’ 1,695. Across MLB, the percentage of these balls that fell in for hits (BABIP) was .432. The M’s bested that mark, posting a .418 mark, not quite as good as the Royals’ .407. Here, the Royals really are an elite club, ranking 4th in MLB. But the M’s, despite their awful UZR, come in 8th, and 4th in the AL. By SLG%, the gap is even bigger, with the M’s 9th in the league, giving up around 40 bases more than the Royals, who rank 3rd best. That’s significant, but again, it’s not gigantic. In fact, the gap in total bases is a bit less than the total gap in UZR or DRS *runs* in 2016. And again, the M’s are clearly above average compared to other MLB teams. Of course, last year was…weird. If you add in HRs and don’t focus only on balls in play, Safeco gave up a much *higher* than average SLG% on contact. But what if the combination of marine layer (however attenuated or El Nino’d it was) and smaller park will result in a *consistently* high floor for OF defense? The M’s worst defense in recent memory was clearly the 2015 group, but just looking at total chances and BA compared to the league average, they don’t seem completely terrible.

I can pull my head out of a spreadsheet every once in a while, and I actually enjoy watching a ball game. I can say that by the eye test, the 2015 M’s were terrible, and that the Royals of recent vintage look incredible; Cain/Gordon/Dyson is about as good, maybe AS good, as Cameron/Ichiro/Winn. Moreover, even if there are fewer than there used to be, there’ll still be 1,000 or so balls in play for the OFs, and the M’s should endeavor to catch them. But the more I look at it, the more I think it’s probably worth trying to quantify exactly how many balls Dyson/Martin will get to that Martin/Smith+Heredia+Gamel didn’t/couldn’t. It’s more than zero, I’ll stipulate that. But I’m also not convinced it’s a gigantic number, and given the persistently low number of chances – and the correlation between chances and UZR – that the M’s will save 40-50-60 runs with this defensive enhancement. Does that matter? I don’t know, ultimately. The M’s can still tinker with that number, as they control how FB or GB-minded their pitching staff is. With Drew Smyly in the fold, they may yield more flys than in the past, but again, they can only improve by so much: they ranked 6th in baseball last year in FB%.

Still, I think it’s interesting that some teams pretty consistently rank near the top in FB% allowed. Examples include the Angels and Rays, who rank #1 and #2 in FB% given up over the past 4 years combined. As a result, their OFs have made hundreds more plays than the M’s group over that time. Part of that is the like of Kevin Kiermaier patrolling the OF, but a large part of it is the sheer number of chances they’ve had. Given this imbalance, and given that this imbalance looks a whole lot like a coherent strategy, I understand the Rays’ desire to stick Mallex Smith next to Kiermaier. I understand somewhat *less* the Angels trade for Andrelton Simmons, given the paucity of chances he’ll get. Simmons is still great, no matter what uniform he’s wearing. And Jarrod Dyson’s (almost) equally incredible. But like Simmons in Anaheim, I wonder if *some* of that transcendent skill will be wasted in his new home park.

This Team…Just..hold on :catches breath: M’s Acquire Drew Smyly for Mallex Smith+Prospects

marc w · January 11, 2017 · Filed Under Mariners

For the second time in a week, I hit publish on one trade recap and news of another trade hits twitter. If you’ll remember to, oh, a half hour ago or so, I said that the M’s simply couldn’t keep ALL of Mallex Smith, Leonys Martin and Jarrod Dyson – one or two of them had to be traded on. We didn’t need to wait long. Jerry Dipoto’s found his solid #3 starter by acquiring lefty Drew Smyly from Tampa in exchange for Smith, SP prospect Ryan Yarbrough and IF Carlos Vargas.

After a series of trades that seemed to offer questionable upside to the 2017 M’s, it’s nice to see one that I can pretty enthusiastically endorse. The M’s nearly acquired Smyly 5 years ago in the Doug Fister trade; Smyly was rumored to be the PTBNL, but the M’s instead got Chance Ruffin, who retired a while ago. Instead, Smyly came up with Detroit and then moved to Tampa in the first big David Price trade. He worked out of the bullpen in 2013, but has worked as a starter since.

Armed with a low-90s four seam fastball with incredible vertical ‘rise’ and a big curve ball, Smyly was somewhat unheralded as a prospect, but enjoyed some immediate success in Detroit thanks to consistently above-average K- and strand-rates. Upon arriving in Tampa, Smyly targeted the very top of the zone and increased both his K rate as well as his fly-ball rate. He’s the last guy you’d go to if you needed a ground ball, but his 2016 GB rate of 31% is nearly off the charts – only the drain-circling Jered Weaver posted a lower mark among qualified pitchers.

As you might expect, this has brought with it a fairly severe problem with the long ball. His HR/FB rates are just about average, but that’s still problematic if you give up fly balls like Smyly does. He pitched around it in 2015 thanks to the best K rate of his career and a great strand rate. In 2016, though, his strand rate collapsed and that turned a lot of solo HRs into big innings, and his ERA and FIP rose substantially. Of course, even last year, in a sub-par year that saw his turn in the rotation skipped to clear his head, he was worth 2 fWAR. This is a pitcher with an admirably high floor, even if Safeco goes homer-happy again.

If you’ve been a reader here for a while, you probably know that I’m a fan of Smyly’s, and I think I’ve written more about him than most non-M’s pitchers. I’m excited by his production – when healthy – in Tampa, and I think he’s still got some potential to be unlocked. I mentioned it last year, but the cutter he uses against righties was atrocious, and getting a decent third pitch to righties would help him ameliorate his platoon issues. I’m aware of his flaws, but think this is an absolute coup for the M’s, given Smyly was openly being shopped by the Rays and many, many teams wanted him.

So why did the Rays want to move him? The slide last year may have contributed, but so too does his escalating salary. Because he pitched enough innings in Detroit in 2012, Smyly was a super two player, giving him essentially an extra year of arbitration. With raises in arbitration (he prevailed in his arb case last year), he was starting to get…well, not expensive for most teams, but Rays-expensive. The club has shown a willingness to capitalize on their pitchers’ surplus value around this time, as the trade that brought Smyly to Tampa demonstrates. Chris Archer seems to be on the block, and that’s another great example. This time, though, the Rays are giving up *2* years of club control, as Smyly’s arb eligible in 2018, too. That boosted Tampa’s return in trade (though I would’ve made this trade for 1 year), but it’s obviously better for Seattle as well. I’m glad to see that the M’s were able to capitalize in this case, even if I’m not quite sure why Mallex Smith was such an important get for the club that employs Kevin Kiemaier. That’s their problem, of course.

The rest of the package going to Tampa was SP prospect Ryan Yarbrough and IF Carlos Vargas. Yarbrough was just named the Southern League’s Most Outstanding Pitcher after posting a 2.92 ERA and leading the team to a title. That said, he wasn’t seen as the kind of impact prospect that the Rays’ own Brent Honeywell or the Braves’ Sean Newcomb thanks to velocity that’s a bit below average (and which has been somewhat inconsistent across his M’s tenure). He’s got well above-average command, and walks few enough that he’s almost sure to have some sort of MLB career. Still, there are those who see him as a 5th starter at best, and thus he wasn’t included in BP’s 2017 M’s prospect list…a list that mentioned that the team was very short on starting pitching. In any event, the M’s had a very similar player in Andrew Moore, who *also* pitched well at the AA level last year and who is also seen as a back-of-the-rotation candidate. Ryan Yarbrough is not an org-level player, and has some value considering the 6 years of club control the Rays will get. But he wasn’t untouchable, and I’m frankly a bit stunned to see what he produced in trade considering what the M’s got for Luiz Gohara.

Of course, as the return for Gohara became a piece of this deal, it’s better to view them together. Gohara/Yarbrough and stuff for Drew Smyly? I’m more than OK with that.

Mariners Swap Luiz Gohara for Mallex Smith/Shae Simmons

marc w · January 11, 2017 · Filed Under Mariners

The M’s face an uncertain future thanks to an aging core and an ace starter that looked much more common than royal in 2016. That’s led many fans to encourage the M’s to stop *tweaking* the roster and actually overhaul it by bringing in talent, even if that makes them weaker in 2018 and beyond. There are a number of ways to operationalize that sentiment – from opening their wallet for Jose Bautista to trading the farm for a top-name starter. In the past, the M’s were perhaps too fond of their own prospects, and the Zduriencik regime foundered when their hand-picked core of Ackley/Smoak and Montero fizzled out. Jerry Dipoto has now shipped out the M’s #1 and #3 prospects from 2016 this off-season – Alex Jackson earlier and Luiz Gohara today – and received a back-up OF, a LH reliever coming off TJ surgery, and two lower-level SP prospects. The M’s have been ready and willing to deal just about anyone in their system. It’s just that the market isn’t all that interested in what they’re selling.

Luiz Gohara – the recipient of the biggest signing bonus ever given to a Brazilian, and a teenage phenom touching 97 – took a long, long while to get his pro career going. After a few disastrous seasons in Everett where he walked too many and gained a reputation for an inconsistent work ethic, he took a big leap forward last year. His command improved markedly, and he finally passed the Northwest League test and he was able to sustain that success in the Midwest League. He’s been in the US affiliated system since 2013, but he’s still somehow just 20 years old. He capped this past season with a stint as a reliever in the Arizona Fall League. Facing much more advanced hitters, he still held his own, striking out 19 in 11 2/3 IP and averaging 98 MPH with his fastball. Though he’s been named as a potential piece in several trades (most prominently, the rumored deal for SS Zack Cozart), it was pretty evident that he just wasn’t a hugely valuable trade chip given his previous struggles and the sense that his future role was in the bullpen.

So, you’re the M’s, people are telling you to go for it, and you’ve got a SP prospect with elite size and velo and you go to Antiques Roadshow and it’s apparently a fairly recent copy, not an original. Meanwhile, a banged-up Ian Desmond, with dog-chewed shortstop ability, gets enough for several people to retire on. The market is strange, and fickle, and potentially Wrong, but the M’s can’t use Gohara (or Alex Jackson) to get a franchise-changing player. What do you do then? Wait it out, carry Gohara on the 40-man and try and find a SP somewhere? Or just rip the band-aid off and take what you can get if you think it makes the club better? Jerry Dipoto made his mind up, and Gohara will join Alex Jackson in the Braves system.

The return is an odd one, given what we’ve seen in the past week. The headliner coming back is CF/OF Mallex Smith, a former Padres prospect that went to Atlanta in the Justin Upton trade a few years ago. After a brilliant 2015 in the Braves’ system, he played in 72 games at the major league level in 2016, hitting .238/.316/.365 and playing a solid CF. However, he suffered a broken bone in his hand after being hit by a pitch and the Braves seemingly moved on. They acquired Ender Inciarte, then Matt Kemp, and now have IF/OF/UTIL Sean Rodriguez on hand. Smith is a much better defender than any of them, save perhaps Inciarte, but offers less at the plate. A left-handed hitter, Smith is decent against right-handers, and has a very good batting eye, but makes less contact than, say Jarrod Dyson. Little power and less contact means high risk with very little reward.

Dipoto has stressed often that he wanted to make the M’s more athletic, and this latest trade accomplishes that. But just as with Dyson, it’s really hard to see how the specific pieces the M’s picked up fit together, however athletic they are. The M’s now have *three* left handed hitting/righty throwing CFs in Smith, Dyson and Leonys Martin. As I mentioned the other day, it’s already difficult for the M’s to best use Dyson and Martin, which makes how to deploy Smith even more of a challenge. Smith’s ZiPS projection shows a 78 OPS+ batting line, a bit worse than Dyson’s 84, and Dyson’s elite glove might already need to waste its time in an outfield corner. To get full value from an all-glove, not-much-stick outfielder, you need to play them in CF, and the M’s can’t use three lefty CFs, with CFs Guillermo Heredia and Mitch Haniger flanking them. This trade only makes sense if one or more of the M’s CF bounty goes away in yet another trade. I’ve said before that Jerry Dipoto tends to identify a player type and then buy in bulk. That’s probably appropriate/smart when sorting through middle relievers, but when you’re trading fairly interesting pieces for identical – and flawed – CFs, it looks less like strategy and more like OCD.

The second piece is right-handed reliever Shae Simmons, an undersized righty reliever who missed all of 2015 and most of 2016 rehabbing from Tommy John surgery. That’s…that’s not encouraging, but I’ll say that I was intrigued by Simmons’ potential since seeing him against the Mariners back in 2014. He throws hard from a lower arm slot and has some gyrospin on his four-seam fastball, which has made it a great ground ball pitch. His slider has extreme sink as well, and gets plenty of swinging strikes. He hasn’t thrown very much of his change-up, but I love the look of it; its serious sink means it could function more like a splitter and work against same-handed hitters (he hasn’t used it that way in his handful of big league innings).

While he’s struck out plenty of righties – and with that solid slider, that doesn’t seem like a fluke – he’s had tremendous success against lefties. Again, tiny sample, and LHB’s BABIP is under .150, so it sure *looks* like good luck, but there’s something more interesting in his splits: lefties just can’t hit the ball in the air off of him. That held true in A ball and in AA, and his stuff seems likely to get GBs in the future.

I’m glad the M’s got Simmons, who’s probably undervalued after pitching all of 6+ big league innings in the past 2 years, but that doesn’t make this deal any easier to understand. The M’s themselves say that they need a SP and a LH reliever. Others would argue that they need to upgrade their offense. Over the past week, the M’s have almost certainly traded some amount of offense for improved OF defense – and it’s cost them the club’s best pitching prospect and a SP with a modicum of upside in Nate Karns. I appreciate the willingness to push their chips in and attempt to improve the 2017 club, but the execution of that improvement looks bizarre at this point.

Aaaaaand the M’s Also Traded Nate Karns for Jarrod Dyson

marc w · January 6, 2017 · Filed Under Mariners

After creating an opening for a platoon OF, the M’s filled that position quickly by trading for ex-Royals CF Jarrod Dyson. Dyson’s been one of the league’s best defenders, but he’s not much of a hitter, as he’s got both very little power and serious platoon problems that have limited him to part-time duty in KC. The cost: Nate Karns, one of the few SP options in Seattle that had some upside potential. After an inconsistent season and injury woes (he was on the 60-day DL last year), I can understand the M’s desire to move on, but this feels like selling very low.

Dyson is coming off a 3-fWAR season according to Fangraphs, but he’s also 32. As a result, Karns is projected to be more valuable in 2017, despite the injury concerns. More problematic is how to deploy Dyson in a line-up that already has a solid defender in CF, Leonys Martin. A platoon perhaps? Well, Dyson and Martin are both left-handed bats (who both throw righty, oddly), so that may not work. Putting Dyson (or Martin) in a corner saps their value. With an OF now of Guillermo Heredia, Mitch Haniger, Martin, and now Dyson, the M’s have four potential CFs. Despite getting more athletic in 2016, the M’s were still a disastrous defensive OF unit – 27.9 runs worse than average by UZR and 22 runs worse than average by DRS. Getting up to average or better is a great, mostly hidden way to add some production, but again, all of the players who put up league average or better seasons last year are now gone. It’s not as useful to gain 25 runs on defense if you just give it away again at the plate.

Dyson also adds value on the basepaths, another area the M’s struggled with last year. He’s become a better and better hitter too, in large part by making more contact – his 11% K rate last year ranked 27th out of 353 players with at least 200 PAs in 2016. His speed helps him post consistently decent BABIPs despite not hitting the ball all that hard. All told, he made himself something like an average offensive player, which, combined with his defense, is pretty useful – especially given the relative pittance he earns in salary.

Still, he’s 32, and will turn 33 before the 2017’s over. It’s hard to assume that his batting trend line keeps climbing, especially at an age when injuries become a bit more common; he missed 6 weeks with an oblique strain last year. More troubling is his batted ball authority. In 2015, Dyson’s average exit velocity was 3rd lowest in MLB according to Statcast. In 2016, it was just slightly better, but still ranking him hear the bottom with Ichiro, Billy Hamilton and a bunch of guys who’ve sinced been DFA’d (Max Muncy, JB Shuck). Statcast is still so new, it’s hard to know what to make of the new metrics, and despite its simplicity, *average* exit velocity won’t tell the whole story with some hitters. But it’s a pretty clean measure, and troublingly, it may actually OVERstate Dyson’s authority. Quite a few balls aren’t actually tracked by Statcast; those that are hit extremely softly or popped up are often missed by the system. That wouldn’t be a problem if Dyson just hit a ton of grounders, but he now hits more infield fly balls than average. Jeff Zimmermann adds average exit velocities for the batted-ball types that Statcast misses, and comes up with “corrected” exit velocities. That pushes Dyson’s average down, and it shows that the slight improvement in authority from 2015 to 2016 may be an illusion – all of those pop-ups mean that Dyson’s EV may have actually declined.

There’s a way to deploy Dyson optimally – a way to extract the maximum value from his exceptional speed and glove, while minimizing his exposure to left-handed pitchers. I’m just not sure that the M’s are well-positioned to do so. He can’t easily platoon with either Martin or Ben Gamel, and while Mitch Haniger hit lefties much better in the minors, it seems a waste to take at-bats from him in 2017. That leaves Guillermo Heredia, who saw most of his big league time in LF. Getting Jarrod Dyson to be a platoon LF seems sub-optimal to me.

This is a lot of negativity around a trade involving a 3 win player who’ll make $2.5M next year. There’s some actual upside in Dyson; the man’s proven that he can add better-than-league-average-production in part time duty, which is no small thing. But for a number of reasons, I was pretty high on Nate Karns – who, let’s remember, is still a pre-arb player. That said, Karns didn’t pitch all that well, and suffered a serious injury – his 2nd in a short MLB career. Whatever it was that caused the M’s coaching staff to sour on the guy (remember, he was demoted to the bullpen and just not used for a while) may have been a factor here, and maybe the M’s know some things that would change my view of this move. I know the M’s were thin at BOTH OF and SP, but this pair of trades doesn’t add a lot of value to the rotation while replacing their most consistent OF bat with a glove-first player without a glove-first place to play. Jerry Dipoto’s apparently told Bob Dutton that this is essentially it as far as position player additions go, so, uh, save us, Mitch Haniger. By Steamer projections, the M’s have just lost a win going from Karns+Seth Smith to Gallardo+Dyson. By ZiPS, it’s not quite as bad, but it’s still hard to see exactly how the M’s are better as a result of the two trades they made today.

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