Another Friday, another twitter mailbag.
Here’s how I’d rank the priorities of Andy Green this season, particularly for the last couple of months.
- Develop young players
- Develop older players/maximize their future trade value
- Keep good clubhouse moral and all that jazz
- Read at least one good book a week
- Go all-out to win games
On a contending team, those five things might be reversed (toss the books), but the Padres are 50-64, and they’re in no position to make any kind of run toward even the periphery of the playoff race. They’re not a winning team, and we essentially knew they weren’t going to be a winning team all season. They shouldn’t treat games the same way a winning team treats games.
Yesterday, in the seventh inning of a one-run game in Cincinnati, Green violated the hierarchy of priorities, putting no. 5 over no. 2 while brushing up against the warm fuzzies of no. 3 in the process, likely ticking off Kirby Yates. With runners on first and second, one out, and Joey Votto at the plate (in a 2-2 count!), Green yanked Yates for All-Star Brad Hand.
So, just to be clear here, Green brought Hand, an important future trade candidate, into a game in the middle of an at-bat against one of the best hitters in baseball to try to protect a one-run lead against direct tank competition.
What’s wrong with that move?
When the Padres acquired Pedro Avila from the Nationals last December, he was just an ordinary prospect—or at least he was supposed to be one. You can’t expect to get a good prospect for Derek Norris, not after Norris put up a .222/.283/.370 slash line in two seasons in San Diego, bottoming out in 2016.
Since coming over to the Padres, however, Avila’s quietly been distancing himself from ordinary prospect territory, as Ryan Luz documented recently over at Padres Prospectus. He’s back at Single-A currently, after some moderate struggles with Lake Elsinore earlier this year, but he’s still struck out 28 percent and allowed just 0.4 HR/9 on the season, rosy numbers for a 20-year-old no matter the level.
Then, last night happened. Avila gathered his favorite loud noise instruments—his vuvuzelas and his fog horns and his trumpets—and ensured himself a little attention in a farm system packed with attention-hogging prospects. Facing the Great Lakes Loons, in front of 3,018 patrons at a place called Dow Diamond in Midland, Michigan, Avila struck out 17 and walked none in eight innings.
Hey, the Hangover is back too.
The last time we talked about Carter Capps it was back in June, and Capps had just finished a showdown with an umpiring crew in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
After missing all of 2016 due to Tommy John surgery, Capps spent the first few months of this season in the minors, mostly in Triple-A El Paso, with good but not great results. In 27 2/3 innings, he struck out 30, walked 11, and allowed just one home run. Over his final 9 2/3 innings on his extended rehab, he struck out 15 and walked just one, showing the Padres that he was ready for another test.
Last night, in Cincinnati, Capps made his return to a big-league mound. There were, as you might expect, some positives and negatives.
Positive No. 1: His velocity was down, but not way down.
According to Brooks Baseball, Capps’ four-seamer averaged 93.3 mph last night, but he pumped one in there at 96 and a couple of others at 95-plus. Back in 2015, the peak Capps experience, he was averaging 98-plus, and that doesn’t include the extra perceived speed his delivery adds. So the velocity is clearly down, but it’s still just his first appearance on a big-league mound in two years. The positive here is that he was able to get it up to 96, which maybe indicates that he’ll be up to 95-plus on the reg by the time this season’s over.
Earlier this season, I defended Dinelson Lamet‘s changeup, noting that its early effectiveness was better than advertised. While the pitch didn’t have the traditional speed differential from the fastball that you’re looking for, Lamet was locating it well, and he had used it to induce plenty of whiffs, including a couple from lefty masher Michael Conforto.
As the season has progressed, a couple of things have become more clear. Lamet’s changeup has indeed revealed itself to be a work in progress; the speed differential isn’t there, but neither is the downhill, fading movement that accompanies most good changes. Further, the command that Lamet showed in his first few starts—dotting the pitch where he wanted it—has predictably ebbed and flowed, and a changeup high in the zone at 92 mph plays like a beach volleyball to any big-league hitter.
Rather than continuing to tinker with a subpar pitch at the big-league level, Lamet smushed his changeup into a discarded bottle and sent it down the San Diego River.
Michel Baez, RHP, Single-A Fort Wayne
I’ve been trying to work Baez into the lyrics of Jimmy Dean’s “Big Bad John“ for the better part of a month, but two things: 1) I’m not Geoff Young and 2) it’s not easy to compare the story of a pitcher from Cuba to that of a coal miner from Louisiana.
Point is, Baez is big—he stands 6-foot-8 and weighs 225—and he’s bad, and you get the sense that his sole purpose on the mound is to find new ways to embarrass Midwest League hitters. Heading into his sixth start of the year on Monday, Baez had already transformed himself from unheralded international signing to bonafide prospect. Over his first four starts in the Midwest League he pitched 23 innings while allowing just two runs, with 33 strikeouts, three walks, and 17 spoken words to teammates.
On Monday, Baez upped the ante by striking out 14 and walking none in a 6 2/3 innings masterpiece against the Dayton Dragons, a team that demoted itself to the Pioneer League five minutes after the game ended to avoid a potential rematch. Somewhere, a wise prospect sage is hollering TINSTAAPP, warning us never to get too excited about a pitching prospect with six professional starts. I’ll wait until Baez gives up three runs in an outing before tempering my expectations.
/Big bad Baez. (Sac Bunt Dustin)
If I told you that Austin Hedges has allowed just two passed balls this year, you probably wouldn’t be surprised. Hedges has long been touted as a defensive prodigy at backstop, with good athleticism, good footwork, good hands, good just about anything you’d associate with defense at catcher; passed balls, on the other hand, are for slow, stone-handed handed catchers, save for the occasional cross-up or knuckleball. You probably also wouldn’t be surprised to learn that Hedges has allowed the second-fewest amount of passed balls in baseball among regular catchers this season, just one ahead of Buster Posey and nine behind the league leaders, Yasmani Grandal and Gary Sanchez.
At this point, you might think, okay, big deal.
Sciambi’s tweet got me thinking, though: what if more passed balls is actually a good thing?
The idea here is that good framing catchers are worried more about presenting the pitch correctly over securing the ball 100 percent of the time. And that the actions associated with good framing—staying quiet, sneakily moving the glove back toward the strike zone on the catch, occasionally catching the ball outside the pocket of the catcher’s mitt, etc.—are the kind of skills that might also lead to more passed balls. A passed ball, in isolation, is never a good thing. But if five extra passed balls a year lead to five extra runs in pitch framing, you’ll take it in a heartbeat.
In an trade deadline puzzler, the Padres held onto Brad Hand. Back in June, I was so sure that Hand was going to be dealt by July 31 that I traded him to every other team in the league, an article that now reads like a graveyard of what could have been. When I updated Hand’s most likely landing spots a few weeks back, I didn’t even consider the Padres as a top five contender.
What happened? In the simplest terms, it appears that the Padres set a high asking price—a fair initial stance for a pitcher of Hand’s quality—and the rest of the league failed to meet it, or even get close enough to make A.J. Preller & Co. budge. The complicated answer is, well, more complicated, and also unknown. Maybe it involves bits and pieces of some distrust of Preller, some distrust of Hand. Maybe it involves the Padres not budging enough from that initial asking price. More so, probably, it appears that the league as a whole decided to back off on dealing marquee prospects for last-ditch deadline improvements.
Justin Wilson, Hand’s most similar deadline comp, was traded to the Cubs, with Alex Avila, for Jeimer Candelario and Isaac Paredes, neither of whom cracked Baseball America’s midseason top 100. That’s a modest package, considering Avila, a one-year rental, is still a catcher OPSing .869. Addison Reed, another rental, was dealt from the Mets to the Red Sox for a trio of unexciting pitching prospects. Sonny Gray, mentioned in the tweet above, is a superb starter with 2.5 years left on his contract, and even he didn’t pry away one of the Yankees top prospects.
Yesterday, on twitter, I did what I do best on there. I hijacked an otherwise innocent thread and turned it into a lengthy debate on nuance (it turned into a good discussion, by the way).
First off, I’m down with the tank. I’ve been on board since day one, and although maybe I haven’t been loading and firing artillery, or driving that thing, I’ve been present in the back, filing paperwork on code regulations and such.
The tank makes perfect sense. If you’re not going to be good, be bad; be really bad. Don’t strive for the middle. That’s about all it is, really. Being bad in baseball gives you certain perks. For your toils, you get a higher first round draft pick, more draft bonus pool money, (formerly) more international money, and the ability to orchestrate a plan that focuses just about all resources on the future. It’s a strategy that allows you to draft MacKenzie Gore, to trade for players like Fernando Tatis Jr., and to audition Rule 5’ers like Luis Perdomo or Allen Cordoba.
The Padres have done a pretty good job with it. Their 68-94 record last year netted them the third overall pick, and they’ve been able to locate and polish up a number of diamond-in-the-rough types, either to use in trades (Trevor Cahill, possibly Brad Hand, etc.) or to maybe hold on to (Perdomo, etc.). They’ve also spent and scouted diligently in the international amateur market, and done a solid job with the stateside draft. As a result, the farm system is loaded with both upside and depth, and it currently ranks like fourth-best in all of baseball, give or take a few slots depending on your source.