Roster Roundup: August 6-12

Below you’ll find a roundup of notable moves from the past few days, as well as future expected moves and a Minor League Report, which includes a list of recent major league debuts, and top prospect promotions. For this column, any lineup regulars, starting pitchers, or late-inning relievers are considered “notable,” meaning that middle relievers, long relievers, and bench players are excluded. You can always find a full list of updated transactions here.

Lineup Regulars

Cincinnati Reds
8/12/19: INF Freddy Galvis claimed off waivers from Blue Jays.

The acquisition of Galvis, which might or might not be related to Jose Iglesias being out of the lineup for three consecutive games over the weekend due to biceps soreness, gives them another reliable option at shortstop and, at the least, a timeshare with Jose Peraza and Josh VanMeter at second base. The 29-year-old has a $5.5MM club option in 2020, making it very possible that he enters next season as the starting shortstop.

Roster Resource

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Kevin Cash’s Cold Call

Ryan Yarbrough was in Maddux territory. He’d thrown just 89 pitches as he walked to the mound to begin the top of the ninth inning against the Seattle Mariners on Sunday with his Tampa Bay Rays leading 1-0, having allowed just three hits and no walks against eight strikeouts. The 27-year-old southpaw had two lefties waiting to face him, neither of whom had reached base that afternoon.

The inning started about as well as it could have, as Yarbrough took just 10 pitches to induce weak ground balls out of Mallex Smith and J.P. Crawford. He was now at 99 pitches and one out away from just the 18th complete-game shutout thrown in the majors this season. But as soon as Yarbrough got the ball back from the infield after Crawford’s groundout, he turned to see Rays manager Kevin Cash exiting the dugout and walking toward him. He tried to sneak in a word of protest before Cash got to the mound, but it was no use. His day was over.

“Obviously, a little angry,” Yarbrough said to reporters after the game, according to “But I think [Cash] would want me to be. I think he would want me to want to finish it. I don’t think I have any ill-will about it or anything.”

In the moment, Yarbrough did little to conceal the way he felt about the decision. Here’s the moment he sees Cash walking his way:

And here he is walking off the mound:

From Cash’s perspective, the move was a well-reasoned one. Tampa Bay was ahead by just one run, and the hitter on deck at the time, Domingo Santana, is plenty capable of doing enough damage to a mistake to make that lead evaporate. With the Rays possessing just a 1 1/2 game lead in the second Wild Card playoff spot, there was little margin for error in the big picture, too. Read the rest of this entry »

Martín Pérez’s Cutter is No Longer Cutting It

While the Twins going home run-crazy in a world of home run-wackiness may have been the most significant early storyline for Minnesota, one of the team’s other early bright spots was the emergence of Martín Pérez. I was extremely skeptical of the decision to bring him in given his history with the Rangers, and thought the Twins ought to have been more aggressive in signing top free agents after clearing Joe Mauer’s salary.

In the early months of the season, my worries about Pérez seemed almost quaint. On May 23, at what I would call his high-water mark, the Twins outslugged the Angels, winning 16-7 and leaving Pérez with a 7-1 record and a 2.95 ERA. He was showing increased velocity. Pérez was never a big fastball pitcher, but his increased velocity from late 2018 — when he had an average velocity of at least 95 mph in four of his September relief appearances — continued in 2019 as a starter. But perhaps the most important factor in his early-season success was the development of his cut-fastball, a pitch he picked up on advice from his agent and with help from teammate Jake Odorizzi.

The proof of the pudding is in the eating and with his fancy new cutter, Pérez feasted on opposing batters in the late spring. Through the literal end of the season (June 20), Pérez threw 435 cutters, making it his most-used pitch, and held batters to a .164 BA and a .250 SLG. Against all other pitches, including his fastball, the league was hitting .301. 42% of his 74 strikeouts were thanks to his cutter. To put how well the cutter was performing in perspective, from 2007 on Mariano Rivera, who knows a bit about this pitch, had batters swing-and-miss on 10% of his cutters. Through mid-June, Pérez was at 15%. Read the rest of this entry »

Paul Goldschmidt Is Surging

When the Cardinals traded for Paul Goldschmidt this offseason, they added one of the most consistent and potent hitters in all of baseball to a team sorely in need of a jolt. As players go, Goldschmidt was about as safe a bet as there is. From 2013 to 2018, he had posted a wRC+ between 133 and 163 every season. His wasn’t a story of constant reinvention and tinkering: he was basically the same hitter every year. He walked a lot, struck out a lot, hit for power, and ran a high BABIP through a combination of his surprising speed and consistently above-average line drive rate.

If that’s what the Cardinals thought they were adding to the lineup with Goldschmidt, the early returns were disappointing. Fresh off of signing a five-year extension, Goldschmidt scuffled through the first months of the season. After starting off the season strong with a three-dinger game in his second game in a Cardinals uniform, he put up some alarmingly pedestrian numbers. He ran a 123 wRC+ for March and April, not up to his usual standards, and it went downhill from there. He declined to a 104 wRC+ in May and a shocking 57 wRC+ in June.

Alarmingly, it didn’t look like luck was to blame. Goldschmidt’s .302 BABIP was below his career average, but not concerningly so. His strikeouts were up a hair and his walks were down perhaps two hairs from his Arizona form, but nothing about that screamed regression. No, Goldschmidt’s problems boiled down primarily to one thing: he stopped hitting for power. In his last six seasons with the Diamondbacks, Goldschmidt had posted an ISO in the top 20 in baseball five times. The one year he didn’t, he propped up his value with a whopping 32 steals and career-best plate discipline.

With half of the 2019 season in the books, Goldschmidt’s ISO was below league average, leading to a 97 wRC+. Not just outside the top 20, not just below .200 — it was a puny .159, smack dab between Amed Rosario and Nick Ahmed. As for propping up his value with steals and plate discipline, he had zero steals and the worst K-BB% since his rookie year. Add it all up, and he’d been worth 0.7 WAR, less value than he’d accrued in his average *month* with the Diamondbacks. Read the rest of this entry »

Dan Szymborski FanGraphs Chat – 8/12/2019

Avatar Dan Szymborski: Instead of getting into a random Twitter fight right at 11:58 AM and starting the chat late, I’m going to go against character and do the responsible thing and just start my chat at 11:58 AM!

ECDC: Would you give Scherzer the Verlander extension (2 years/$66 million) right now?

Avatar Dan Szymborski: Absotively, posilutely.

Bread Gardner: Gotta admit, not really digging this matte black/matte white motif for Players’ Weekend. I’d have loved to see more throwback jerseys… like, it would be legendary to have ’50s-era uniforms for the Yankees-at-Dodgers games, you know?

Avatar Dan Szymborski: I wouldn’t mind everyone getting to choose their own. It’s not football and it’s not really hard to tell who is on what team from context.

Bread Gardner: I would like to call attention to Suzyn Waldman’s recent nomination to the Radio Hall of Fame; unfortunately, she was not elected. She’s a genuine trailblazer and I hope she someday gets a well-deserved place in Cooperstown.

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Charlie Morton’s Best Season Yet

WAR isn’t everything, and it can certainly be more variable year to year for pitchers than it is for hitters. Still, Charlie Morton — who has pitched in parts of 12 major league seasons and never before accumulated more than 3.1 WAR in a single year — has posted 4.7 WAR through 25 starts in 2019, and we’re not even all the way to the middle of August. Here’s how he compares to the league leaders in that category:

2019 MLB Leaders, WAR (Pitchers)
Player IP K% BB% ERA- FIP- WAR
Max Scherzer 134.1 35.3% 4.7% 54 47 5.6
Lance Lynn 155.0 27.7% 5.9% 73 61 5.5
Charlie Morton 149.0 30.5% 7.1% 65 62 4.7
Jacob deGrom 143.0 31.5% 6.1% 67 66 4.6
Gerrit Cole 156.2 36.8% 6.4% 65 68 4.5
Through games played on Saturday, August 10th.

Morton, who signed as a free agent with the Rays this offseason after stints in Atlanta, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, and Houston, has been a few different pitchers over the years. With Pittsburgh, where he established himself as a credible big league starter after a spotty minor league track record for the Braves, Morton threw two-seam fastballs nearly two thirds of the time and earned a reputation as a groundball machine, ranking 11th in the majors in GB% over the course of his seven seasons with the Pirates. In Philadelphia in 2016, and then even more markedly in Houston, where he won a world title in 2017, Morton raised his velocity by about two miles per hour across the board and added a cut fastball to complement his elite curveball.

This year for Tampa, Morton is throwing that curveball more frequently than he ever has before — 36.5% of the time, against a previous career high of 29.3% last year — and has found previously unknown levels of success in pairing that pitch with that cut fastball he first developed in Philadelphia and has been refining ever since. That pitch, in particular, has allowed Morton to make significant strides against lefties, who previously burned him to the tune of a career .344 wOBA against, but who are posting a substantially worsened .288 against him this year. Read the rest of this entry »

Effectively Wild Episode 1416: Live at Saber Seminar (for the Third Time)

In the third episode of Effectively Wild recorded live at Saber Seminar in Boston, Ben Lindbergh and Meg Rowley talk to Boston Globe sportswriter Alex Speier, author of the new book Homegrown: How the Red Sox Built a Champion From the Ground Up, about Boston’s championship core, the twists and turns of player development, why clubhouse chemistry is so unpredictable, player development before big data, how scouting and player development machines break, the future importance of player development, what’s next for the Red Sox, and more.

Audio intro: Derek and the Dominoes, "Keep on Growing"
Audio outro: Jason Isbell, "Grown"

Link to Saber Seminar site
Link to Alex’s book
Link to order The MVP Machine

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Effectively Wild Episode 1415: You Can’t Predict Baseball

Ben Lindbergh and Meg Rowley banter about Bo Bichette fun facts vs. Travis Demeritte fun facts, Javier Báez batting left-handed against a position player and why the shift appears to be exempt from unwritten rules, and umpire perfect games, then (30:46) talk to The Athletic’s New York Yankees beat writer Lindsey Adler about how to explain the team’s injury-riddled yet somehow ultra-successful season.

Audio intro: The Pretenders, "Almost Perfect"
Audio interstitial: James Brown, "I Refuse to Lose"
Audio outro: Bing Crosby, "Out of Nowhere"

Link to Bichette fun facts
Link to story on Báez batting lefty
Link to video of Báez batting lefty
Link to diagram of shift on Báez
Link to Sam on unwritten rules and the shift
Link to Ben on umpire perfect games
Link to story on compassionate umpires
Link to Jay Jaffe on the Yankees
Link to Mike Petriello on the Yankees
Link to order The MVP Machine

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The Cubs Are Slowly Pulling Away

Unlike the other five divisions in the majors, the National League Central has spent 2019 in a constant state of upheaval. Four of the five teams have spent multiple days in first place, with none of the quartet being able to hang on to and solidify their lead. The division’s doormat, the rapidly collapsing Pittsburgh Pirates, spent nearly 15% of the season in first or second place. The Cincinnati Reds, the only team that hasn’t led the Central (I’m not counting the tie the morning after Opening Day), have the division’s second-best Pythagorean record.

In this environment, one might have expected to see significant wheeling-and-dealing at the trade deadline. While most of the National League could rightly claim to be in the Wild Card race, the Central teams jockeying for October baseball had the benefit of also being in a tight race for the division. Being able to draw the straight or the flush, the NL Central teams with 2019 postseason aspirations were incentivized to make an aggressive play for a Zack Greinke or a Trevor Bauer.

And the teams’ closeness wasn’t just a creation of the projections, either. On the morning of July 31, the Cubs and Cardinals were tied for first-place; the Brewers were a game back. ZiPS largely agreed that the Cubs had the strongest roster, enough to make the North Siders the favorite, but hardly a prohibitive one:

ZiPS NL Central Projections – 8/1/19
Team W L GB PCT Div% WC% Playoff%
Chicago Cubs 87 75 .537 53.0% 20.4% 73.4%
St. Louis Cardinals 85 77 2 .525 25.7% 24.2% 49.9%
Milwaukee Brewers 84 78 3 .519 20.3% 22.3% 42.5%
Cincinnati Reds 78 84 9 .481 1.1% 2.5% 3.6%
Pittsburgh Pirates 71 91 16 .438 0.0% 0.0% 0.0%

What ought to have made making significant upgrades more important for the Cardinals and Brewers is that hidden in the projections were signs that the Cubs were more dangerous at the end of July than they had been earlier in the season. Dial back to May 15 and the ZiPS projections only saw the Cubs roster as that of a .531 team, with the Brewers at .525 and the Cardinals at .519. That’s just under a two-game spread from top to bottom over the course of a 162-game season. Read the rest of this entry »

Gio Urshela Powers Up

On Thursday, Jay Jaffe examined the terrible injury luck the Yankees have suffered through this season. Twenty-five players have been sent to the injured list—with 17 active stints—for a combined 1,748 days lost to injuries. Still, despite being so banged up, the Yankees are a virtual lock to make the playoffs as the American League East champion. A big reason why they’ve posted the best record in baseball is the unexpected contributions from their replacement players. The most impressive breakout has been from Gio Urshela. The 2.4 WAR he’s accumulated this year is the third highest mark on the Yankees. For a player who was seen as a glove-first utility man at one point, it’s been a remarkable transformation.

Yesterday, Urshela launched two home runs against the Blue Jays, his fourth and fifth in his last three games. That gives him nine home runs since the All-Star break, almost tripling his season total. Since the midseason break, few hitters have been as hot as Urshela. He’s posted a .380/.402/.848 slash line in the month since the All-Star game, a 221 wRC+ that ranks second in the majors. This current hot streak surpasses the good run he had to start the year.

Through the end of May, Urshela had posted a .338/.390/.482 slash line and a 131 wRC+, both excellent marks. But he accumulated just 14 extra-base hits in 154 plate appearances during that early season bender. Since the All-Star break, he has 19 extra-base hits in a little more than half the plate appearances. His isolated power has ballooned to a ridiculous .468! In the minors, the highest ISO he had ever posted was .267 in fewer than 100 plate appearances in Double-A back in 2014. He had never hit for much power until this season — and only just recently. Read the rest of this entry »