Lenny Torres Jr : Inside the 2018 Draft Interview

The K Zone

June 4th 2018

Lenny Torres Jr.

Interviewed By Mike Duffy


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Mike Duffy: Playing ball in a less friendly climate, what extra work did you put in during the winters, to become one of the most elite RHP in this years draft?

Lenny Torres Jr: The extra work I put in was just working out in an indoor facility and doing a lot of running in and outside to get adjusted to it, wasn’t that big of a deal but just sucked when we couldn’t play outside.


Mike Duffy: What feelings do you have before the draft?

Lenny Torres Jr: Feelings I have before the draft are just calm, accepting and just a waiting game, exciting to see where I could end up.


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Mike Duffy: What would you most be excited about if you wind up playing professional baseball?

Lenny Torres Jr: I would be most excited about fulfilling my dream since a kid and being able to play in a big league stadium with fans watching from my hometown and signing stuff for kids.



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Mike Duffy: What was the experience of playing at Petco Park in the Padres Showcase?

Lenny Torres Jr: The experience was like anything you’d expect to be at a professional stadium, you’re a kid in a candy store just doing a 360 and realizing that you’re actually there.


Mike Duffy: Who was your favorite player growing up?

Lenny Torres Jr: My favorite player growing up was Derek Jeter.


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Mike Duffy: What team are you the biggest fan of?

Lenny Torres Jr: My team that I’m a biggest fan of is Yankees.


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Mike Duffy: What is your favorite hobby besides baseball?

 

Lenny Torres Jr: Favorite hobby besides baseball is just hanging with friends, watching sports, listening to music.


Mike Duffy: What is your favorite T.V. show?

Lenny Torres Jr: My favorite Tv show is ESPN if that counts lol.


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Mike Duffy: Do you have a motto or a thing to do to get you out of a rough time?

Lenny Torres Jr: My routine to get out of a rough time is just listen to music, talk to friends or family and deal with it that way.


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Mike Duffy: When did you know you wanted to play professional baseball?

Lenny Torres Jr: I knew I wanted to play professional baseball last year where I could see I was able to keep up with some of the best kids in the game and have my velocity up there to match with them.


Mike Duffy: What is your favorite baseball memory?

Lenny Torres Jr: My favorite baseball memory is hitting my first homerun ever in little league, always a good feeling especially when you’re young.


Mike Duffy: Who is your favorite Musician?

Lenny Torres Jr: My favorite Musician is J Cole.


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Before they were Drafted: 2018 MLB Draft Edition Interviews

The K Zone

2018 Draft Edition

Interviewed By Mike Duffy


With the 2018 MLB Draft coming up, here are some exclusive interviews with this years top 100 projects. Make sure to follow these big names June 4th through June 6th, and see which team they will develop in for the years to come!


Click on the names below to read!


 

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Steele Walker – OF – College 

Round 2 Pick 46


“Few players in the 2018 college Draft class can match Walker’s track record with wood bats. He led the Northwoods League with a .406 batting average in the summer of 2016 and was Team USA’s most productive hitter last summer. His pure hitting ability gives him a chance to become the first Oklahoma position player selected in the first round since John Russell in 1982.

Thanks to his hand-eye coordination, pitch recognition and controlled approach, Walker repeatedly laces line drives to all fields. He’s not big but he has a quick left-handed swing and some deceptive strength that should produce at least average power. Though he makes contact so easily, he continues to hone his plate discipline and draws his share of walks.

Walker’s bat is his lone above-average tool and will have to carry him. While he uses his savvy to get the job done in center and right field for the Sooners, his average speed and fringy arm likely will push him to left field in pro ball. Scouts do love his instincts and makeup.” – MLB Pipeline


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Sean Hjelle – RHP – College

Round 2 Pick 45


“If Hjelle reaches the big leagues, he’ll match 6-foot-11 Jon Rauch as the tallest player in MLB history. After tying Kentucky’s freshman record with eight saves in 2016, he moved into the rotation last spring and won Southeastern Conference pitcher of the year honors. With an even better junior season, he has a chance to follow Joe Blanton (2002) and Alex Meyer (2011) as the only Wildcats pitchers ever taken in the first round.

Hjelle’s best pitch is his low-80s knuckle-curve, which has impressive depth. His fastball velocity has improved from the upper 80s as a high school senior to the low 90s at Kentucky, and he intrigued scouts by hitting 96 mph during fall practice heading into 2018. He has good feel for a changeup, mixes in a slider/cutter and throws all four of his pitches for strikes.

Hjelle has remarkable coordination for such a tall pitcher and consistently repeats his delivery and throws strikes. While he’s not overpowering, his huge size adds plane and angle to his pitches that make them difficult to hit. His stuff has gotten better as he has gotten stronger, and his frame still has room to carry much more than his current 215 pounds.” – MLB Pipeline


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Tristan Pompey – OF – College

Round 3 Pick 89


“The younger brother of Blue Jays outfielder Dalton Pompey, Tristan is more advanced and more physical than his sibling at the same stage of their careers. A 31st-round pick out of a Canadian high school by the Twins in 2015, he has the tools to go in the first round three years later. To join Chad Green (1996) and Evan White (2017) as the only Kentucky position players ever to go that high, he’ll have to shake off a down summer in the Cape Cod League that left scouts questioning his ability to hit with wood bats as well as his effort.

A switch-hitter, Pompey shows aptitude and power from both sides of the plate. He has the ability to hit for a high average with 15 or more homers per year, though his Cape struggles were a surprise after he batted .361/.464/.541 during a breakout sophomore season with the Wildcats. He has logged similar numbers as a junior, displaying a quick bat, good strength and a patient approach.

Though Pompey has solid-to-plus speed, he’s not always that fast out of the batter’s box and is still learning to get the most out of his quickness on the bases and in the outfield. He played mostly right field in his first two years at Kentucky before seeing more action in left field this spring, and he needs to improve his reads and routes. His arm is fringy at best, making him better suited for left field than right.” – MLB Pipeline


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Dominic Pipkin – RHP – HS

Round 9 Pick 257


“While the high school arms in other parts of the country get more attention, Pipkin made sure Northern California would be visited frequently by scouts when he kept pace with top prep prospect Ethan Hankins (Georgia) velocity-wise at the Area Code Games over the summer. His stock took a hit when he broke out of the gate poorly this spring, but he was righting the ship as his senior season wore on.

Tall, athletic and projectable physically, Pipkin screams upside potential. With a quick arm and long frame, he was up to 95-96 mph at Area Codes and maintained his velocity across two innings of work, though he was more in the 92-93 mph range early this spring. He’s demonstrated the makings of good secondary offerings as well, flashing a plus slider and showing feel for a changeup, giving him the chance to have three at least average pitches at his disposal. All of it comes from an easy and clean delivery.

The biggest question mark around Pipkin is with his command and control, which can be shaky at times. There’s reason to hope that his athleticism and delivery will lend itself to harnessing his stuff, especially as he matures. His ceiling could be entice a team to draft him early enough to not head down the road to California for college ball.” – MLB Pipeline


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Lenny Torres Jr. – RHP – HS 

Round 1CBA Pick 41


“There have been some good high school arms taken from New York state, most notably Ian Anderson, the No. 3 overall pick in 2016, and Scott Blewett, a second-round pick back in 2014. Torres Jr. won’t go as early as Anderson did, but also seeing him come off the board in the top two rounds seems very reasonable.

A standout for Beacon High School, Torres put his name more firmly on the national radar with strong showings at Perfect Game National, the Tournament of Stars and by pitching in the PG All-American Classic Game. He cemented his spot by coming out of the gate and showing similar arm strength this spring. The right-hander will sit around 93 mph right now and can touch 96-97 mph, and it’s easy to dream on more velocity consistently in the future, especially given he’s just 17 years old. Torres has a slider that could be a future plus pitch, though he doesn’t always show it now, dominating his competition with his fastball. He’ll also fiddle with a changeup in the bullpen that has some arm side run, but he doesn’t use it in games.

Like with many young pitchers, he’s more control over command right now, but he tends to throw strikes. Some see a future reliever in the St. John’s commit, but the team that thinks he can start will be the one to take him in the top few rounds.”  – MLB Pipeline


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Written By: Mike Duffy


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Gavin Cecchini Hitting Well and Working on Versatility in Vegas

– The K Zone –

Jun 20, 2017; Los Angeles, CA, USA; New York Mets shortstop Gavin Cecchini (2) throws to first in the seventh inning against the Los Angeles Dodgers at Dodger Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

May 12, 2018

Gavin Cecchini Hitting Well and Working on Versatility in Vegas by Mojo Hill

As I wrote in an article in February, 2018 is a critical year for Gavin Cecchini.

His prospect status took a hit when he was moved from shortstop to second base due to his defensive yips and the presence of Amed Rosario. Plus, he had a down year offensively in 2017 and failed to impress in his stint with the Mets.

But Cecchini showed up to camp in 2018 with a new swing and a new beard, determined to come back strong this year. Tim Healey of Newsday also wrote about how Cecchini wanted to improve his versatility.

After playing shortstop his whole life, it seemed as though at the end of last season he was pretty much restricted to playing second at this point. But with Cecchini still needing to prove that he can hit in the Majors, it would be hard for him to get a chance if he was limited to just one defensive position.

So, while Cecchini spent the offseason working on his swing, he also worked on improving and cleaning up his play on the left side of the infield. And so far this season in Las Vegas, the 51s have used him at second for 147.2 innings, shortstop for 87.2 innings, and even an inning at third. The typical middle infield has been Cecchini and Luis Guillorme, where they have been alternating between the middle infield positions.

But it’s clear that the Mets are trying to get Cecchini reps at more than one position to create a clearer path back to the Majors, and it’s been so far so good. The infielder has only made three errors so far this year, and those were all at second base, which has proven to be his steadiest position.

If he can continue to play relatively clean defense on both the left and right sides of the infield, he could become much more useful when he gets another call.

Last year, a position change brought offensive regression along with it. After putting up an .819 OPS in Double-A in 2015 and an .838 OPS in Triple-A in 2016, Cecchini batted just .267/.329/.380.

2018 will be a key year for him to try to bounce back with the bat as he settles into his defensive role, and he’s off to a fast start, hitting .294/.342/.468  with only 15 strikeouts in 119 plate appearances.

This fast start offensively is likely due to the adjustments he made to his swing in the offseason.

Going forward, it will be interesting to see if he can keep it up and return to his 2016 level of hitting, and if he can overcome the fielding and throwing issues that took him off his lifelong position of shortstop.

The hope for Cecchini is that he reestablishes himself as a potential starting shortstop or second baseman that hits for average with strong gap power, because those attributes along with some defensive versatility could have a place on this Mets team. But he’s got to hit, and he’s got to not let the errors rack up like he did in 2016.

For now, all we can do is calmly wait and see how things play out for the 24-year-old infielder. This is his last major opportunity to earn a spot, and if he doesn’t take advantage of it, future opportunities may be scarce.

Thanks for reading! If you enjoyed this article, you might want to check out my analysis of Austin Barnes, or if you like interviews, Mike has plenty of those. You can also follow us on Twitter and Instagram for updates on when we publish a new article or interview.  You can also follow me on Twitter.

Sandy Gaston Interview – Top 2018 International Prospect Series – Cuba  

 

The K Zone

May 6th 2018

Sandy Gaston

Interviewed By Mike Duffy

English & Spanish Versions


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The question isn’t if Gaston can pitch. It’s whether he will be a starter or pitch out of the bullpen one day. The most skeptical scouts wonder if he will throw enough strikes. Here’s why: Gaston is an especially hard thrower. His fastball has been clocked as 97 mph and it’s not uncommon for him to sit at 94-95. That type of velocity is rare in any market and not surprisingly, some scouts wonder if he will be able to command the high velocity on a consistent basis. But his skill is extraordinary, and Gaston is the type of pitcher any club would like to put it in its system. In terms of secondary pitches, the belief is that those will develop once he signs with a team and receives daily instruction in an academy. Gaston gave up one hit, struck out a batter and walked one at MLB’s International Prospect Showcase in February. He didn’t show his best fastball or command. The right-handed pitcher is from Matanzas, Cuba, and trains with Yuan Pino. – MLB Pipeline


Mike Duffy: When did you start loving the game of baseball?

Sandy Gaston: From a very small age. I lived behind a stadium where I was always looking at everyone until at age 8 I started playing.


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Mike Duffy: What is your favorite hobby?

Sandy Gaston: I like to spend time with my family! I also love my friends and baseball a lot of baseball.


Mike Duffy: What is your favorite movie?

Sandy Gaston: My favorite movie The Mercenaries


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Mike Duffy: Who is your favorite baseball player?

Sandy Gaston: My favorite player is José Fernández. Rest in Peace.


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Mike Duffy: What is your favorite food?

Sandy Gaston: A good rice congriz with a big bisted pork and French fries.


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Mike Duffy: What do you love about Cuba?

Sandy Gaston: From Cuba I like everything especially the farms and the animals since I was little I was with my father.


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Mike Duffy: Who is your favorite musician?

Sandy Gaston: My favorite musician listened a lot to Enrique Iglesias and Los 4un cuban group.


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Mike Duffy: What are you most excited about for in the Major Leagues?

Sandy Gaston: My dream is to play in the big leagues and not only that, but to be someone in baseball. Baseball is something very important to me.


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Mike Duffy: Do you have a motto or thing to do to get you out of a bad time?

Sandy Gaston: My family who has always been supporting and listening to me … they are my calm my breath to keep going .. they are my everything .


Mike Duffy: What is your favorite part about playing baseball?

Sandy Gaston: When I’m in the play I feel like my dream is coming true.


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Spanish- Original Version

Mike Duffy: ¿Cuándo comenzó a amar el juego de béisbol?

Sandy Gaston: Desde muy pequeño .vivía detrás de un pley donde siempre estaba mirando a todos hasta q a los 8 años empezó a jugar ..

Mike Duffy: ¿Cuál es tu pasatiempo favorito?

Sandy Gaston: Me gusta pasar el tiempo con mi familia. amigos y béisbol mucho béisbol

Mike Duffy: ¿Cuál es tu película favorita?

Sandy Gaston: Mi película favorita Los Mercenarios

Mike Duffy: ¿Quién es tu jugador de béisbol favorito?

Sandy Gaston: Mi jugador preferido que en paz descanse José Fernández

Mike Duffy: ¿Cuál es tu equipo de béisbol favorito?

Sandy Gaston: Mi sueño es jugar en grandes ligas y no solo eso si no ser alguien en el béisbol

Mike Duffy: ¿Cuál es tu comida favorita?

Sandy Gaston: Un buen arroz congriz con un gran bisted de cerdo y papas fritas

Mike Duffy: ¿Qué te gusta de Cuba?

Sandy Gaston: De Cuba me gusta todo en especial la fincas y los animales desde chiquito andaba con mi padre el tenia una rica particular

Mike Duffy: ¿Quién es tu músico favorito?

Sandy Gaston: Mi musico favorito escucho mucho a Enrique Iglesias y Los 4un grupo cubano

Mike Duffy: ¿Qué es lo que más esperas cuando vas a las Grandes Ligas?

Sandy Gaston: Mi familia quien siempre a estado Apoyándome y escuchándome ..ellos son mi calma mi aliento a seguir adelante ..ellos son mi todo ..

Mike Duffy: ¿Tienes un lema o una cosa para hacer para sacarte de un mal momento?

Sandy Gaston: Cuando estoy en el pley me siento como si mi sueño se estuviera haciendo realidad. El béisbol es algo para mi muy importante.


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Limiting Walker Buehler’s Innings

The Dodgers recently called up their top pitching prospect Walker Buehler . In 3 starts (16 innings), Buehler has only allowed 2 earned runs (1.12 ERA), 19 Ks, and 7 BBs. The Dodgers want to limit his innings since he’s 2 years removed since Tommy John Surgery. They proved it on Friday when they removed him after tossing 6 no hit innings. They also want Buehler to be available for a potential playoff run. Although right now it is a little tough due to the injury of starter Hyun-Jin Ryu. But the Dodgers are still going to limit Buehler’s innings and I looked into a few options on how they can.

Option 1: In and out of the rotation/bullpen

In this method, Buehler would be making spot starts but mainly pitching out of the pen. The Dodgers recently did this with Julio Urías when he came up in 2016. This is not the best method since Buehler will never really be in a consistent routine. Yes you do limit innings but it’ll be better if he had a consistent routine.

Option 2: Move to the pen then to the rotation

Buehler will move out of the rotation and into the pen for the time being. He will later join the rotation when there is no worry of him exeding his inning limit. The problem with this is the transition from starter to reliever to starter again. The transition back to starter could take some time.

Option 3: Modified 6 man rotation

With ace Clayton Kershaw  in the rotation, a true 6 man rotation is unlikely to happen. But the Dodgers can modify the rotation. They can have Kershaw be the only pitcher to pitch every 5 days. This is beneficial to the Dodgers because it keeps Kershaw happy, it limits the innings of not only Buehler but every other pitcher not named Kershaw fresh too. The only down side is with an extra men in the rotation, Los Angeles loses an arm in the pen.

Option 4: DL Train

The Dodgers are very good at this. They can always manipulate the roster and put Buehler on the 10 day DL. This is beneficial because he is only skipping one start and the Dodgers can have an extra reliever for the time being.

Option 5: Minors

If the Dodgers have everyone healthy in the rotation. They can always option Buehler to Triple-A. It would be easier to manage his inning there in a controlled environment. It is also easier to manage Buehler in an environment where the main focus is to develop players.

 

There is not really a “correct” way to limit innings. It can change year in year out.But let’s hope that Buehler can pitch as much as possible this year.

 

Sources:

Baseball Reference

How to Win at Baseball

– The K Zone –

How to Win at Baseball, by Ian Joffe

April 17, 2018

With limited salaries and a finite number of high draft picks, teams are constantly forced to choose how, out of dozens of options, to build their team. Rosters can focus on hitting or pitching. They can look for power or on-base skills. They can make a core of speed and defense. A team might even try to build around leadership and personality traits. A roster with any kind of emphasis, or even a general well-roundedness, has the potential to be effective, but I want to figure out what teams are most effective. So, to do that, I turned to my Fangraphs spreadsheets and Python editor.

For data, I scraped information off all 480 teams from 2002-2017 (going back to 2002 because that’s when the pitching stats that I wanted became available). As the first step in seeing which skills are most effective to build around, I constructed a set of scatter plots that set each statistical category and team wins along the two axes. The categories I checked look at overall hitting (wRC+), on-base ability (OBP+), power (ISO+), speed (SB+), and two pitching metrics (xFIP+ and SIERA+), all of which, as you can see, have been normalized so that 100 is league average. In retrospect, I should have included at least one defensive statistic to look at, but I neglected to because given my process, it would have taken a long time to include that data, and now it’s too late. Here are the scatter plots for each stat, plus their Pearson correlation coefficients:

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As we could have predicted, teams with good stats tended to win more games. Because they are only slight, the differences in P-Values doesn’t tell us much here given the fact that baseball wins are not highly controlled experiments, and everything is in the same ballpark. That is, every stat except one:

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It turns out that steals had absolutely no correlation to wins, in fact, a set of 480 randomly dispersed points may have correlated even better. It’s possible that teams only run more because they have less power, but managers tend to keep the same strategy even when they move teams, so I would instead just say that in general, speed is not a key to winning at baseball. Sure, a steal now and then helps if there’s a high likelihood of reaching the base, but building a team around speed and hoping to win is a poor strategy, and historically has not worked.

To create a more telling story about which teams succeed and which teams fail, I looked at how teams that ended up in certain tiers were built. I defined a “playoff team” as a roster in the top 30%, a “Championship Series team” as one in the top 12%, and a “World Series champion” team as one in the top 3% (note that this has nothing to do with how the playoffs actually went, because the playoffs are essentially random). I then applied a label to teams based on whether they emphasized hitting or pitching by subtracting xFIP+ from wRC+. A team with a difference of 20+ has a “heavy hitting emphasis,” a team with a 10-20 differential has “some hitting emphasis,” a team with a value between 10 and -10 has “no significant emphasis,” a roster between -10 and -20 has “some pitching emphasis,” and finally a team with a difference under -20 is labeled with a “heavy pitching emphasis.” Here is the overall distribution of teams by emphasis:

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As you can see, and potentially predict, most teams have no emphasis. More importantly, however, is that many more teams have some pitching emphasis than hitting. Keeping that in mind, let’s look at the distribution within each tier:

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While the strength of the balanced team largely holds, we see an immediate dropoff in the number of teams who emphasize pitching, strongly or at all, and the number of teams who weight hitting is starting to grow.

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As we move to the top 12% of teams, no rosters that emphasized pitching remain. And, nearly half of the teams emphasize batting.

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And finally, as we reach the few elite teams, the vast majority have a hitting emphasis. Out of the 10 teams total that showed a heavy batting emphasis, all of them were playoff caliber and half of them were champion caliber. While teams with a hitting emphasis made up only 9% of total rosters, they comprise 42% of CS teams and 85% of championship teams. Meanwhile, not a single team who emphasized pitching made it to the top 12%, and despite being 31% of total teams, those who focused on pitching only made up 1% of the playoff teams overall. The lesson here seems clear: Build around hitting if you want success. When given the choice between two equally talented players in the free agent pool, or even more importantly the June draft, chose the hitter. There could be a few reasons for this. One reasonable theory may be the value of defense distracts and sets the value of the pitcher to, if you take an extreme stance, the point where pitchers become replaceable as long as the team retains a strong defensive cast. It’s also arguable that it’s easier to find good pitchers and more teams have been able to build pitching depth, as seen in the overall distribution. So, it would be harder to use pitching as a competitive advantage. Or, maybe because so many pitchers are used in today’s game, the value of each becomes diluted, therefore only when teams move to improve their hitting can they gain a competitive advantage. To be clear, I’m not saying that pitching doesn’t help a team; we saw from the correlation plots that it certainly does. However, given limited resources, ignoring hitting in pursuit of strong pitching – or even looking at the two in equal light – is not a recipe for success.

Now, let’s take a look at another potential difference in strategy: power vs. on-base skills. This one is a little harder to quantify because, while hitting and pitching make up almost all of the factors in a baseball game (minus defense), power and contact exist in a far less controlled experiment. But it’s worth a look anyways. I labeled the emphasis of teams in favor of power vs. on-base skills in a similar way I did with hitting and pitching (with the +20, -10, etc. differentials), except I used ISO+ and OBP+. Here is the initial distribution among all teams:

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It’s pretty similar to the full distribution among hitting and pitching, with a heavy spike in the middle. Here’s the distribution among playoff teams:

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It looks like power is winning out a little, although don’t read too much into the small sample of teams with heavy on-base emphasis. Still, the distribution doesn’t change too much.

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As we continue through the postseason, we see a continued normal percent loss in each category, about equivalent to the percent lost overall. PowerContactChamp.png

And the trend continues, with “some power emphasis” remaining as about 20% of teams throughout the playoffs and categories with smaller amounts to start off with being eliminated as a whole. Unlike with pitching vs. hitting, there is no clear story here. I wouldn’t even say that a balance is necessarily the best option, because it started so heavily weighted.  So, teams can go either way. As long as the focus is on hitting, they can win through a power-heavy strategy, contact-heavy build, or a balance.

There was one last thing I wanted to check out: a comparison of playoff teams to trends. It’s possible that while since 2002, power and contact have been equal, in certain mini-eras one has been more valuable. This would be because of a league trend. Perhaps the winning team is the one that’s ahead of the trend and really exaggerates it. Or, the winning teams could be the ones who zig while everyone else zags, finding bargains along the way. So, over the 16-year period, I graphed the league trends in ISO versus the median ISO+ of a playoff team, and applied a polynomial regression:

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There is no clear pattern between the power-emphasis of winning teams and the league trend. If anything, the playoff teams look to be behind the curve (imagine shifting the green line over about four years to the right). This further goes to show the original point, that teams can build both power, contact, or a mix, and will still have the same ability to win, no matter what the rest of the league is doing.

While these findings certainly apply to all methods of roster-building (such as free agency, trades, and Rule 5), it seems most important during the amateur draft, given the wide diversity of players available and the fact that there is usually little clarity on the future potential/reality of drafted players. That especially goes for systems that already lean hurler-heavy. Teams should seriously consider taking batters over pitchers, even if the pitchers appear to have slightly more raw ability. Because, simply, it works.

 

Sources:

Fangraphs

Image Attributed to:

Dodger Nation

Ross Stripling Interview: Being A Part of a Special Team

The K Zone

April 14th 2018

Ross Stripling

Interviewed By Mike Duffy


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Ross Stripling is a part of one of the most historic franchises, the Dodgers. When Stripling made a move to the bullpen, his versatility made him a cornerstone of the Dodgers who would go to the World Series in 2017. This year the Dodgers look to win it all, and with their young talent, they will be a dominant team for years to come.


Mike Duffy: You made a big step last year when you became more versatile, moving to the bullpen to adapt to the Dodgers’ depth. Was it a tough process or were you surprised at how well it worked out?

Ross Stripling: I struggled when I first went to the bullpen. I had a hard time finding a routine that kept me fresh both mentally and physically. I didn’t know when to lift, how hard to condition, how much preparation and scouting I needed to do. Once I found a consistent routine, which wasn’t until a few months into the season, I was able to relax and really enjoy the bullpen role. It’s always different and way more intense so it’s a lot of fun.


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Mike Duffy: There is no doubt that the Dodgers have all the pieces to bring home a ring to Los Angeles. What has it been like to be one of those pieces along with other young guys like Corey, Cody, and Chris, and the wise mentors like Kershaw and Chase?

Ross Stripling: I’ve been totally spoiled so far in my big league career. A lot of wins and 2 deep playoff runs. It’s pretty special to be apart of a team like this, to think one day I’ll be able to tell my grandkids I played with Kersh, Seager, Bellinger, Kenley, etc. At first I just felt like such a small piece, but as you get more experience and more comfortable, you start to feel like you belong around guys like that. Especially since they’re all such great guys and teammates, friends I’ll have for life.


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Mike Duffy: What is your favorite baseball memory?

Ross Stripling: I have a few favorite baseball memories. I would say the no hitter I threw in college the day I was supposed to walk across the stage to graduate, with all my family in town, is maybe my favorite. My debut was obviously another one that I’ll remember forever.


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Mike Duffy: Who was your favorite player and role model growing up?

Ross Stripling: My favorite player growing up was probably Ken Griffey Jr. I was also a huge A-Rod fan when he was on the Rangers. A baseball role model was always Cal Ripken Jr., he was my older brothers favorite player and just a guy that played the game the right way.


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Mike Duffy: In what ways has playing in a World Series changed your life?

Ross Stripling: For one, I think the World Series kinda puts your baseball career into perspective. Nothing else will ever be as high pressured or as intense as those games. I pitched in those games and survived so I should be able to handle anything moving forward in my career. Also I was able to pitch in Houston in front of dozens of friends and family, something we’ll be able to remember and talk about for the rest of our lives which is pretty special.


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Mike Duffy: What’s your favorite movie?

Ross Stripling: My favorite Movie is Good Will Hunting.


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Mike Duffy: What’s your favorite TV show?

Ross Stripling: My favorite Tv show is Entourage.


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Mike Duffy: Who’s your favorite musician?

Ross Stripling: My favorite Musician is Garth Brooks.


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Mike Duffy: What is your favorite hobby besides baseball?

Ross Stripling: My favorite hobby is trading on the stock market.


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Mike Duffy: Bucket-list item?

Ross Stripling: A Bucket list item would be to take a vacation with my wife/family every year.


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Mike Duffy: Do you have any advice for young kids playing the game?

Ross Stripling: I would just tell kids to play the game hard and have fun. It’s taken so serious these days with travel ball and baseball year round. Play the game with passion  and get better every time you take the field, and let the rest take care of itself. Everyone matures at different rates and ages, so just control what you can control and play the game because you love it.


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Top 20 Baseball Players

Official K-Zone Ranking Mike’s Ranking Ian’s Ranking Mojo’s Ranking Guti’s Ranking
1. Mike Trout (LAA) Mike Trout (LAA) Mike Trout (LAA) Mike Trout (LAA) Mike Trout (LAA)
2. Clayton Kershaw (LAD) Clayton Kershaw (LAD) Clayton Kershaw (LAD) Clayton Kershaw (LAD) Clayton Kershaw (LAD)
3. Jose Altuve (HOU) Jose Altuve (HOU) Jose Altuve (HOU) Joey Votto (CIN) Jose Altuve (HOU)
4. Joey Votto (CIN) Bryce Harper (WSH) Paul Goldschmidt (ARI)  Josh Donaldson (TOR) Joey Votto (CIN)
5. Bryce Harper (WSH) Joey Votto (CIN) Joey Votto (CIN) Bryce Harper (WSH) Bryce Harper (WSH)
6. Nolan Arenado (COL) Max Scherzer (WSH) Bryce Harper (WSH) Aaron Judge (NYY) Paul Goldschmidt (ARI)
7. Paul Goldschmidt (ARI) Nolan Arenado (COL) Chris Sale (BOS) Jose Altuve (HOU) Kris Bryant (CHC)
8. Max Scherzer (WSH)  Paul Goldschmidt (ARI) Corey Kluber (CLE) Corey Kluber (CLE) Nolan Arenado (COL)
9. Kris Bryant (CHC) Trea Turner  (WSH) Giancarlo Stanton (NYY) Nolan Arenado (COL) Giancarlo Stanton (NYY)
10. Corey Kluber (CLE)   Anthony Rendon (WSH) Freddie Freeman (ATL)  Max Scherzer (WSH) Corey Seager (LAD)
11. Charlie Blackmon (COL) Aaron Judge (NYY) Josh Donaldson (TOR) Corey Seager (LAD) Max Scherzer (WSH)
12. Aaron Judge (NYY) Charlie Blackmon (COL) Nolan Arenado (COL) Charlie Blackmon (COL) Carlos Correa (HOU)
13. Giancarlo Stanton (NYY) Kris Bryant (CHC) J.D. Martinez (BOS)  Mookie Betts (BOS) Charlie Blackmon (COL)
14. Anthony Rendon (WSH) Christian Yelich (MIL) Kris Bryant (CHC)  Kris Bryant (CHC) Corey Kluber (CLE)
15. Corey Seager (LAD) Mookie Betts (BOS) Anthony Rizzo (CHC)  Anthony Rendon (WSH) Aaron Judge (NYY)
16. Chris Sale (BOS) Francisco Lindor (CLE) Charlie Blackmon (COL) Justin Turner (LAD) Francisco Lindor (CLE)
17 Mookie Betts (BOS) Giancarlo Stanton (NYY) Anthony Rendon (WSH) Carlos Correa (HOU) J.D. Martinez (BOS)
18. Francisco Lindor (CLE) Corey Kluber (CLE) Jose Ramirez (CLE) Francisco Lindor (CLE) Josh Donaldson (TOR)
19. J.D. Martinez (BOS) Chris Sale (BOS) Max Scherzer (WSH) Jose Ramirez (CLE) Anthony Rendon (WSH)
20. Carlos Correa (HOU)  Jose Ramirez (CLE) Mookie Betts (BOS) Giancarlo Stanton (NYY) Manny Machado (BAL)
Just Missed Daniel Murphy (WSH) Francisco Lindor, Carlos Correa (HOU), Trea Turner (WSH), Noah Syndergaard (NYM)  Adrian Beltre (TEX), Daniel Murphy (WSH), Christian Yelich (MIL), Chris Sale (BOS)

 

There you have it, the top 20 players in MLB for the coming season. We’ve written explanations for why each player made the list on the chart for that players’ individual position, all of which can be found here.

Top 10 Starting Pitchers

Official K-Zone Ranking Mike’s Ranking Ian’s Ranking Mojo’s Ranking Guti’s Ranking
1. Clayton Kershaw (LAD) Clayton Kershaw (LAD) Clayton Kershaw (LAD)  Clayton Kershaw (LAD) Clayton Kershaw (LAD)
2. Max Scherzer (WSH) Chris Sale (BOS) Chris Sale (BOS) Corey Kluber (CLE) Max Scherzer (WSH)
3. Corey Kluber (CLE) Max Scherzer (WSH) Corey Kluber (CLE) Max Scherzer (WSH) Corey Kluber (CLE)
4. Chris Sale (BOS) Corey Kluber (CLE) Max Scherzer (WSH) Chris Sale (BOS) Chris Sale (BOS)
5. Steven Strasburg (WSH) Stephen Strasburg (WSH) Noah Syndergaard (NYM) Stephen Strasburg (WSH) Stephen Strasburg (WSH)
6. Noah Syndergaard (NYM) Luis Severino (NYY) Stephen Strasburg (WSH) Noah Syndergaard (NYM) Noah Syndergaard(NYM)
7. Luis Severino (NYY) Zack Greinke (ARI) Luis Severino (NYY) Luis Severino (NYY) Luis Severino (NYY)
8. Zack Greinke (ARI) Madison Bumgarner (SF) Madison Bumgarner (SF) Madison Bumgarner (SF) Zack Greinke (ARI)
9. Madison Bumgarner (SF) Chris Archer (TB)  Zack Greinke (ARI)  Zack Greinke (ARI) Madison Bumgarner (SF)
10. Chris Archer (TB) Noah Syndergaard (NYM) Chris Archer (TB) Kyle Hendricks (CHC) Kyle Hendricks (CHC)
Sleeper Aaron Nola (PHI)

Rich Hill (LAD)

Aaron Nola (PHI)

Trevor Bauer (CLE)

Tyler Chatwood (CHC)

Jacob deGrom (NYM)

Rich Hill (LAD)

Carlos Carrasco (CLE)

Carlos Carrasco (CLE)

Trevor Bauer (CLE)

Aaron Nola (PHI)

 

Starting pitchers are likely the single most important individual in any game. The top tier of starters involves a “big four,” although the order in which they can go is heavily debated. The K Zone unanimously chose to lead off with Clayton Kershaw, who has topped this list for years and years past. Last year he held a 2.31 ERA with 10.39 K/9 and only 1.49 BB/9, a low walk rate perhaps being the calling card of the older version of Clayton. Nationals’ ace Max Scherzer ranks at a contested second. He had a 2.51 ERA with a 2.90 FIP and and 34% K rate last year. Scherzer is the oldest pitcher in the big four, but shows no signs of slowing down, as 2017 actually marked his best season in terms of ERA and strikeouts. Corey Kluber is the #3 starter in baseball, with a 2017 xFIP of 2.52, 11.71 K/9, and 1.59 BB/9. In the second half, Kluber’s ERA was only 1.79, although his more detailed statistics are similar in both halves despite the crazy run. Chris Sale put up almost identical numbers to Kluber in 2017, but ranks one spot below him. Sale’s FIP totaled 2.45 and he struck out batters at a 36% rate, while limiting walks to less than two per nine innings. Steven Strasburg heads the next tier of starting pitchers, beginning at #5. Sometimes it’s easy to forget that when Strasburg is on the field, he can really pitch, like he did in 2017 with a 2.52 ERA, 2.72 FIP. He posted similar strikeout and walk rates as the big four, and allowed even fewer home runs than most of them. Noah Syndergaard missed nearly all of 2017 with a lat strain, but was excellent as a 23-year-old the year before, when his 2.29 FIP was even lower than his ERA. Noah’s 6.9 WAR was near the top of the league, including hitters. Luis Severino has the opposite story, struggling in 2016 but breaking out in a big way come last year. Severino had remarkably a similar 2.98 ERA, 3.07 FIP, and 3.04 xFIP, while approaching a 1/3 K rate. He was assisted on balls in play by his 50.6% ground ball rate. Zack Greinke has returned to grace after pitching to a 3.20 ERA and 3.34 xFIP in 2017 with the typical high strikeouts and low walks for this tier. His 2017 numbers match his career stats well, signifying that there’s a good chance the 34-year-old can continue to help his team. A dirtbike accident cost #9 SP Madison Bumgarner much of 2017, and he wasn’t the same when he came back (although the command stayed, with 1.62 BB/9). However, before then, he was not only one of the most durable, but one of the most consistently strong pitchers in baseball. In every season since his debut, his ERA has been within a reasonable margin of his 3.01 career mark, and every year he has added strikeouts. Tough-luck Ray Chris Archer struck out an elite 11.15 batters in nine last year, leading to a 3.35 xFIP, even though the ERA did not agree. For three of the past four seasons, Archer ‘s FIP has been under 3.40, but a 19-loss 2016 and two years of a high ERA have cost him a lot of attention.

See the top 10 players at every other position here and follow us on Twitter to be the first to know whenever a new list comes out!

 

Sources:
Fangraphs
Baseball Reference

Images Attributed to:
Orange County Register
Getty Images
MLB
Sports Illustrated