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Alexander Guerrero Conspiracy

Before the 2014 Season, the Dodgers signed Alex Guerrero for $28MM over 4 years and gave him two extraordinarily player friendly clauses, which severely limit what they can do with him. If he gets traded, he becomes a free agent after the season in which he’s dealt, and beginning in 2015 he must approve any minor league assignment. Sounds like they liked what they saw and decided to commit to it.

Since then, however the Dodgers have appeared incredibly insistent in keeping Guerrero from the Major Leagues and now the starting lineup, citing his defense as the cause for their restraint. The whole thing has had a fishy whiff to it for me and I feel the need to unpack the sequence of events with you.

In Guerrero’s first year in the Dodger’s organization he crushed at AAA (.329/.364/.613), with 15 home runs in only 258 PA. His season was shortened by a hungry Miguel Olivo, but wait… why does the corner of your ear keep you off the field for 80 games? Seems like something else was going on then as well. If it was, the Dodgers kept it quiet. But while Guerrero’s bat was in the lineup it was loud. In fact, the Dodgers had to talk over it, continually mumbling vague, disparaging comments about Guerrero’s glove.

This didn’t seem quite right either. While scouts said his defense was “stiff” before he signed with the Dodgers, they also said he has good hands. They’ve echoed both those sentiments consistently but never anything more harsh than “stiff.” And that’s how it looked when I saw him. He certainly had no trouble turning two (though the Dodgers would have had you believe otherwise). Defensively, this profile sounds like Daniel Murphy or Jedd Gyorko to me.

Gyorko produced -0.2 runs in 2014, while Murphy produced -4.5 runs. With Guerrero’s bat expected to play more like the latter (Murphy posted a 110 wRC+ in 2014), you’re looking at a 2.5 WAR player. That’s slightly above average. So why wait? Because Dee Gordon is having a fake good season? Even then you can just say “Dee Gordon is an All Star and we’re sticking with him.” But the Dodgers didn’t do that, they kept telling scary campfire stories about the Toxic Glove Monster.

Things were whipped into stiff peaks when the Dodgers went to outrageous lengths this offseason to keep Guerrero down the depth chart when, after trading Dee Gordon for Andrew Heaney and others, seemingly opening the door for the Cuban, they flipped Heaney for Howie Kendrick.

Kendrick is a free agent after this season. Heaney is a cost controlled young lefthander who can dial it up to 97, giving him a high floor to go along with a mid rotation ceiling.

I say flipping Heaney is an extraordinary measure not only because of the total value disparity between he and Kendrick, but also because the backend of their rotation is currently expected to be manned by two stuffed animals. The Dodgers paid a lot of money for those little dollies, too. Brandon McCarthy has chronic degenerative shoulder issues and secured $48MM for four years of saying “owie” and “sorry, guys.” Meanwhile Brett Anderson, who hasn’t made more than 8 starts since 2011, got $10MM for 2015. Heaney is simply a more durable, and therefore more sensible option, with the added bonus of having the potential to outperform either or both of them.

It’s not smart is my point. Especially when you have a guy like Guerrero, who could fill in admirably and who you can’t trade or demote. The incentives are so numerous and strong to just let the guy play that it’s become downright obvious over the offseason that something else must be the matter.

Why sacrifice 5 years of a cost controlled mid-rotation lefty for the difference between Kendrick and Guerrero? This is an especially challenging question when you consider the possibility of there being no difference. Kendrick produced 2.7 and 2.6 WAR in 2012 and 2013 respectively.

Don’t make fun of me yet. The tale gets fishier people. In Spring Training the Dodgers realized that fans would now be seeing Guerrero play at the Major League level.

Oh no, your story will unravel when they see how he really plays defense! Quick, cover your tracks!

At presumably the precise moment they considered this eventuality, reports began coming out of camp that Guerrero had magically improved on defense and was now looking so good and smooth and nice. What timing?! How incredible?!

To ice this bizarro cake, the Dodgers have now signed a very similar player (above average bat, below average glove, negligible baserunning value) in Hector Olivera, who’s even older than Guerrero and comes with a hazy list of injury and health concerns, some of which would seem to make this an extremely bad investment depending on which of them are real and which were fabricated by teams and the media. However, they like him to be an everyday third baseman, and with Juan Uribe leaving after this season, the move makes a little more sense.  But going back to the well for $62MM over 6 years, on a player who is so similar to a guy you seem desperate to keep away from the starting lineup is an odd decision. Again, it makes you consider the possibility there is something else going on with Guerrero and the Dodgers.

Look, I don’t claim to offer an alternative to the narrative the Dodgers have pushed about Guerrero. I acknowledge the possibility that the Dodgers have legitimate reasons for doing what they’ve done and that they truly are acting in the player’s best interest, as well as their own. I also acknowledge that I could be totally and hopelessly off base with all this (I really don’t fucking think so though).

I have no idea why the Dodgers have appeared to exaggerate how bad his defense was or why they continue to put an emphasis on keeping him off the field, but it all looks weird from the outside. My intuition is screaming that something is up and I have never seen this with any other player.

I can’t wait until Guerrero leaves the Dodgers and can speak freely about his experience with the organization, so we can know what really happened. Would anyone like a foil hat? What size do you wear, like 7 1/4?

Free Alex Guerrero!

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Jesse Hahn’s Curveball is Educational

AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill

The Backstory

If you’ve heard this part or if you just don’t feel like engaging in foreplay, skip ahead. I won’t be upset.

Over the offseason the Padres traded Logan Forsythe, infielder Maxx Tissenbaum and pitchers Matt Andriese, Brad Boxberger and Matt Lollis to Tampa Bay for Alex Torres and Jesse Hahn. Basically, a bunch of spare parts for a good lefty reliever and somewhat of an unknown.

Hahn’s “question mark” status stems from his needing  Tommy John surgery in 2010, very shortly after being drafted out of high school, then recovering in 2011, and then not really logging a ton of innings since then. But he started to look pretty sharp last year in limited action.

Now, Torres wears the big funny hat, but since making his MLB Debut on June 3 against the Pirates, Hahn has made the deal look a lot sweeter for the Padres. But more importantly, Jesse Hahn has exposed something interesting about the way the game changes and how going against the current of change can be incredibly useful.

The Arsenal

Hahn spots the fastball, sitting at 91, but his curveball stands out when you watch him. It’s an old-school, slow twelve-to-sixer, and it certainly passes the eyeball test as being utterly filthy, inducing a lot of bad looking swings… and misses.

But that’s not all. His change-up, which sits at 83mph, has been extremely effective as well. In order to quantify this, I’ll turn to Fangraphs. They keep track of a metric called wCH/C. In basic terms, this is a park, luck and league adjusted measure of the value of a given change-up expressed in runs above average, per 100 times thrown.

Hahn’s wCH/C of 4.16 would put him well ahead of any qualified starter (if he were one himself), dancing past Felix Hernandez’s 2.83 mark this season. (R.A. Dickey actually leads the league per Fangraphs, but I have my suspicions about how mis-categorization of his pitches might be influencing that result, so I skipped down to Hernandez.)

The Results

This extraordinary compliment of off-speed stuff has Hahn striking out 8.6 batters per nine, and has propelled him to a 2.28 ERA, which is slightly outperforming his xFIP (3.39), largely due to a low BABIP (.233) and a high strand rate (80%). But that curveball though!

The Revelation

Watching Jesse Hahn’s curveball is fun, and it sent my mind racing one night. It was as if suddenly all the dots connected.

There is a trend in MLB toward pitches which involve maximum arm speed. That basic package is a 93mph fastball, a hard breaking ball and a change-up. The key to throwing a good slider or changeup? Max arm speed. The split finger is thrown this way as well. I believe this could be giving Jesse Hahn’s curveball an added advantage in two ways.

First, hitters may be less concerned with arm speed. If everything a hitter sees features max arm speed, a hitter can no longer use the speed of the arm to judge what pitch is being thrown, so why should he pay attention to it? If it is increasingly unnecessary for hitters to judge arm speed, this would mean the slower arm Hahn uses to throw his curveball is not being noticed as a dead giveaway like it might have been to hitters in previous eras.

Second, batters are used to a harder breaking ball with a more side-to-side break, as compared with the top-to-bottom shape of Hahn’s offering. The data backs this up:

hahncurvearticle

 

breaking ball movement

We can see here that the use of the curve has curtailed since PITCHf/x data started being collected in 2007. We can also see that the curve that is being thrown, is coming in faster, and that the shape of Hahn’s curve is not only markedly more pronounced than the average curveball, it’s even further removed from the shape of the slider, which is the predominant breaker around the league today. Another differentiating factor is that Hahn’s curve averages 74.3mph, as compared with the 77.3mph curveball of the league at large.

The Take Away

All this is to say that Jesse Hahn has a freakish hook, a dandy Charlie, and he locates it well too, but the fact that it’s also different probably contributes to why it’s so effective. Hahn’s curve helps to illustrate the fact that running the opposite direction of a trend can lead to great things. After that thought occurred to me, I watched a start by Odrisamer Despaigne, who is really a complete throwback to the starters I watched as a kid in 1992. I watched him in a different light and I really enjoyed it. Jesse Hahn’s curveball bent the lens through which I watch baseball and I am richer for it.

 

The revelatory deuce in eternal gif repetition mode, sorry Mr. Carpenter

The revelatory deuce in eternal gif repetition mode, sorry Mr. Carpenter

 

[RA ROWE]

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Fox Mulder icing his alien

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– R.A. Rowe

College Prospecting: CSUF v. Texas A&M

I haven’t watched a lot of college baseball. I don’t have a ton of access to it, as I imagine is the case with most people who don’t have cable. Most of my NCAA viewing has come at a handful of games at Goodwin Field in Fullerton, when I was a student there between 2004 and 2009. But with Fullerton the fertile ground of Major League talent it has been, I’ve had the opportunity to see a lot of good ballplayers in a formative stage.

I once saw now Toronto Blue Jays starter Ricky Romero chew up some poor school for eight innings before current Cleveland Indians reliever Vinnie Pestano took over to finish the deed. That same season (2005) I saw Stanford’s John Mayberry Jr. (now with the Phillies) pound what must have been a 450 foot home run into the parking lot over a 50 foot high screen behind the left field fence. 2005 was a good season. Mets infielder Justin Turner, and Giants first baseman Brett Pill were also on that year’s Fullerton squad. In 2008 I watched a few games and remember being very impressed with then freshman infielder Christian Colon. He is now close to breaking into the big leagues with the Royals.

My point is that I tend to remember the players that make it at the next level. Of course, highly rated Giants prospect Gary Brown was also on the 2008 team and I don’t remember him at all. Here are some notes on several memorable players (and the game in general) from my Saturday night trip to the old Alma Mater.

The Titans taking infield. Photo - Vivian Lopez

The Titans taking infield. Photo – Vivian Lopez

Titans v. Aggies

The Titans have the number 10 ranked club and took on Texas A&M, recently ousted from the top 30. We (my fiancée and I) grabbed two seats off the catchers right shoulder just in time to watch both teams take infield. It really is a treat to watch this. The Major Leaguers have stopped in favor of letting little leaguers or dogs or the staff of the La Puente DMV wander around the warning track, like lost mental patients.

It was a tight ballgame, with neither team barreling the ball well or stringing hits together. CSUF came out on top 2-0, in large part to errors and flukey hits. CSUF centerfielder Michael Lorenzen had a base hit, then stole second, and advanced to third when the throw hit him and went into left center. He then scored on a sac fly. The other Titans’ second run came off a bloop single, followed by two bunt base-hits (meant to be sacrifices), and a hit batsmen.

The amount of bunting that went on was downright stupid. A&M had their three hitter bunt with two men on and none out in the 6th, this nonsense went on even after he had two strikes on him. Of course this strategy failed to produce a run. Gee I wonder why? Then Fullerton one-up’d this stupididy with two men on and nobody out by having their cleanup hitter, Chad Wallach put one down. Taking the bat out of your best hitter’s hands with men on and nobody out is stupid no matter what the score is. Major League managers have learned this, but shockingly, it appears the approach has not trickled down to college, where it is even easier to hit. Enough about the coaches, let’s talk players.

CSUF Titans

Justin Garza – Freshman, RHP, 5’11″/160

Garza is a sort of typical, small bodied right-hander with good velocity, who plays well as a starter in college, but is viewed as a reliever by pro scouts. He was the starter for the Titans on Saturday and pitched well, continuing what has been a dominant season so far. He used a medium effort delivery to throw a decent straight change, and a crisp, tailing fastball that he located very well. The breaking ball was behind the other offerings, really unremarkable. It didn’t seem to have much depth or lateral movement, and the break was more baring than sharp. I didn’t see anybody swing and miss on it. There were a handful of well hit balls that Garza was lucky didn’t go for hits. His command carried him.

7IP, 6Ks, 1BB, 4H, 0R.

Matt Chapman – Sophomore, 3B, 6’1″/195

A big 6’1″, he moves well and has a strong arm from third. He played the position very well, making three tough plays. And with the exception of a strikeout in the first, he had three good at bats. He singled for Fullerton’s first hit of the game in the 4th, then was pegged with the bases loaded in the 6th, and finished by coaxing a walk in the 8th. I would like to see him get ahold of one, as he looks very strong. His cool demeanor, stature, selective at bats, and quality defense reminded me of Chase Headley. I’m looking forward to seeing more of him, and I don’t think I’m the only one.

Michael Lorenzen – Junior, OF/CL, 6’3″/200

A tall, athletic, broad shouldered player. Things look easy for him. He runs well, is a good outfielder and has a rocket arm. He didn’t look especially impressive at the plate Saturday, though he apparently can be. It was clear his approach was to hit the ball in. He fell behind in the count watching pitches on the outer half, and swung at a few off the plate inside. His lone single came on a hard hit grounder that struck the opposing pitcher. Lorenzen is special on the mound however, and we got to see him close this one out.

As soon as the eighth inning ended, four or five scouts scurried over and sat down behind us with notepads and guns. They had come just to see him pitch. According to one of them he was sitting 94 with the heater. His breaker was by far the best of the game, with a big, sharp break. He threw only two, but located both of them well to generate one swing and miss, and one first pitch strike. He also had excellent command of the fastball, going right after hitters. The most impressive thing was the ease with which he delivered the ball to the plate; almost casually. He will almost certainly be a pitcher at the next level, and judging by the behavior of the scouts, I am not pioneering anything with that statement.

Texas A&M “Aggies”

Daniel Mengden – Sophomore, RHP/C, 6’1″/210

To me, Mengden looked a couple inches smaller than his listed height, but he is certainly a big deal to this A&M team, pitching and hitting cleanup for the Aggies. On the mound, the results were superb. As mentioned above, Fullerton could not have scored off of him without the aid of some seriously whacky shit. Another smallish righty, Mengden had terrific control and only one of his pitches was hit hard by the opposition. He appeared to be sitting low nineties with a tailing heater and had (at least during this game) command and control of the change as well as the curve. The curve did not impress, but was better than Garza's, and located with better frequency. It was not a swing-and-miss pitch for him, but produced grounders effectively.

While he didn't have MLB written on him, Mengden was a bulldog. After the Lorenzen chopper up the middle nailed him in the bicep of his pitching arm, he hung in. After Fullerton's pathetic, bunt and HBP fueled rally, he escaped a no outs, bases loaded situation with two huge strikeouts and a routine fly to center. He did not walk a single batter. Also: sweet mustache alert.

Mikey Reynolds – Senior, SS, 5’10″/170

Both the range and arm are good for college, but average in pro ball. He did make a spectacular play however, going to the edge of his range on what appeared to be a sure base hit up the middle, before spinning and firing a perfect strike to first for the out. Scraping .500 with his OBP coming in, it was easy to see why. He has good speed, played each at bat maturely and made solid contact to go 3-4 with three base hits and two steals. It may sound strange, but there is nothing special about Reynolds besides his ability to play baseball. What I mean is that he appears to be an extremely good baseball player, but is without impressive tools. His style of play was best embodied by an extremely aggressive turn he made around first base on a routine base hit, something you have to appreciate. He may find his way into the minor leagues, but without pop and slickness afield, nothing more.

Mitchell Nau – Sophomore, C, 5’10″/195

Nau looks like he could crush a plate of carne asada fries in his sleep. He is a stout man; from another era really. We took to calling him “Red Bean” because of his build and the Aggies’ dark red jerseys. And while there is almost no way he will be a factor in professional baseball, he had a good game. He was the only hitter on either team who consistently squared the ball up. He had only one hit, but hit two long flies to the opposite field, that were caught by outfielders in dead sprints at the edge of their respective ranges. He runs pretty well for his body type as well, but during infield I noticed the backup catcher’s arm looked much stronger than his.

Saturday's starting lineup. Photo - RA Rowe

Saturday’s starting lineup. Photo – RA Rowe

Looking forward to more.

[RA ROWE]

Update: Comeback, Podcast

I would like to apologize, as there has been about a two week hiatus here at National West. Mainly this is due to the fact that there is finally baseball to watch again, and until somebody is paying me write this shit, I am a fan first. I would like to thank Kirk Gibson for getting me back on the grid.

But don’t despair, or even wonder… there will be a flurry of activity to come. The season is, of course, going to begin, but before that there is more Spring Training action to attend to.

I will be attending four Cactus League games in mid-March, with my friend Jeff joining me to christen the audio component of National West, which I have titled National West Dispatch.

Our first episode will be delivered in around a week. We’ll preview some stuff we’re excited about for the coming season and offer some background on each of us. We will hope to give you, our very privileged audience, a flavor of what is to come.

There will then be an episode or two from Spring Training. These episodes will try to reflect the dynamic of baseball during Spring Training, which is equal parts dicking around and focusing on getting ready for a long season of baseball. We’ll recount episodes from our trip, analyze prospects and review the facilities we visit.

Stay tuned. This is going to be fun.

[RA ROWE]

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