The Luis Robert sweepstakes opened and closed on Saturday, with the Chicago White Sox and Robert agreeing to a deal in the neighborhood of $25 million by early afternoon. It’s almost like negotiations started before Saturday.

At this point, it’s kind of difficult to find much more to say about Robert and the Padres, given all the coverage he’s received right here at Padres Publicover at Gwynntelligence, and elsewhere in the Padres corner of the internet. My opinion remains unchanged: that losing out on Robert—even though the total price would have been in the $50-$55 million range—stings for a couple of major reasons.

  1. Robert is really good. He’s probably a cut below Yoan Moncada, subject of past Padres flirtation, but I’m not sure if the gap is as big as some think, and Moncada’s arguably the best prospect going right now. Maybe Yasiel Puig is a better comp, and despite his occasional struggles, he’s a special player. Robert, if everything works out, could be ready for the bigs in a couple of years, good timing for when the Padres are anticipated to get serious about winning again.
  2. There aren’t a lot of logical alternatives to spend the money. Again, this has been discussed in some detail, but where are the Padres going to spend the ~$50some million they saved by passing on Robert? Certainly not in the amateur draft, where bonus pools tap out at $14 or $15 million, and not in the international amateur market, either, with the new hard cap in place (plus two years of spending restrictions for the Padres). There’s just no guarantee that this money saved will go toward improving the team on the field in other areas—and let’s face it, this team could use some new shutters or something.

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Sometimes The Hangover hits you fast.

The one great truth about baseball is that it’s extremely difficult to play competitively. Most people realize this sometime in Little League; others in high school; fewer still in college; a select handful in the minor leagues; and the rest—the very best and most determined and talented and lucky—they realize it in the major leagues.

Jered Weaver had surely brushed up against this truth at various points in his career, after a bad outing at Long Beach State or a night when his stuff wasn’t working in The Show. But he was always able to forge on, be it on natural talent or raw determination or whatever the heck it is that makes a big leaguer tick. Five years ago he won 20 games and finished third in the American League Cy Young voting, and just three years ago he pitched 213 1/3 innings with a 3.59 ERA. Through the first seven seasons of his career, he racked up 30 WAR. The game was still difficult, sure, but Weaver was able to rise above it.

Much like Weaver, though, the game too has forged on. The players have gotten younger, and better, another truth about baseball. The overall group of major-league baseball players is always getting better, and the older players are always fighting an uphill battle against time to keep up. Weaver fended off the inevitable for a while, but the wear and tear of counted innings and countless throws took its toll. No longer was he able to shake off a 125-pitch outing like he did when he was 26. All of the sudden he was 34 years old, with a fastball that’d barely raise eye brows at one of those pitch radar booths at the county fair.

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Allen Cordoba got a rare start at shortstop yesterday and went 0-for-3 with an error, although he drew a walk and turned a couple of double plays.

Cordoba, of course, is a Rule 5 pick, plucked from the Cardinals over the winter and dropped into the majors from Rookie Ball. That kind of disruption to the normal developmental process is supposed to backfire, but Cordoba’s hitting .263/.333/.456 through 63 scattered plate appearances, generally looking the part of a legit player. It’s a super small sample size, and those numbers don’t mean much in the long run, but it’s still impressive to see a player with Cordoba’s limited professional track record hold his own, and more, in a rushed big-league debut.

I got to thinking: maybe he’s faced a ton of left-handed pitchers or just a ton of really bad pitchers, and that’s inflating the numbers some. It’s possible that Andy Green and company have picked the perfect spots for Cordoba, and that his performance has come in situations that don’t quite reflect what a typical everyday player might face. In fact, that’d make perfect sense, as you’d want to ease Cordoba in as much as possible with favorable matchups.

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Brandon Maurer has been a decent pitcher in San Diego. That’s not the highest praise for a guy who assumed a closer role this year. But his 3.15 DRA in 2015 was great, and his 4.33 DRA last year was average, so decent is the word I’m going with.

As closer, Brandon Maurer has been frustrating of late. He blew a save dramatically against the Rangers last Thursday, wasn’t particularly effective against the White Sox on Sunday, then he blew another save last night against the Brewers.

So you start asking questions. The first answer to those questions is a reminder that we’re talking about 16 innings here. It’s been well established that baseball is weird, and baseball gets extra weird in 16 innings. His season so far is like, two or three starts from a pitcher. Nobody, except maybe Ron Fowler puts much stock into so short a time period.

But also, if you’re like me, you might pull up his Fangraphs page and have a little look see.

IP ERA FIP xFIP
16 6.75 2.53 1.96

As a refresher, FIP considers only a pitcher’s walks, strikeouts, and home runs, and xFIP pretends the number of home runs a pitcher gives up is what we would expect based on his fly ball rate.

Turns out Anibal Sanchez is the only pitcher with an ERA that far above his xFIP, and Maurer leads the majors in the same stat with regular FIP, among pitchers with 15+ innings.  There are a handful of guys mixed in here with 10-14 innings, but I left them out because the point about how extreme Maurer has been still stands, and #RelieverChat this early in the season is really more a fun novelty than a meaningful discussion.

How has this happened? Interestingly, Maurer is giving up a ton of dingers while still managing to strike guys out and avoid walks. His 3.24 DRA and 86 cFIP remain impressive as well. The plan to flip Maurer at the deadline to any team that might still believe in the benefits of a proven closer should still be in good shape.

 

Okay, okay, there really isn’t much of an update since we last wrote about Luis Robert.

Robert, the heralded 19-year-old Cuban outfielder, will become eligible to sign with a major-league team on Saturday. Don’t expect the bidding war to last long, however. Since Robert will almost certainly sign with a team before the next July 2 international amateur period starts, the deadline to sign him is bumped up to June 15, when the current signing period ends. There may be a couple of weeks of negotiation, but there’s probably a better chance a deal gets hammered out relatively soon.

It’s an exciting time for Padres fans, with San Diego assumed to be one of the five or six favorites to sign Robert, joined by a handful of other teams that have already exceeded their international amateur bonus pools plus those pesky Chicago White Sox. The Padres have already added a well-documented international haul over the last 10 and a half months, and Robert would qualify as the cherry on the top.

Anyway, Padres Jagoff wrote an excellent three-part series this week on why the Padres must sign Robert. I was leaning in that direction before reading any of Jagoff’s articles, but I’m fully on board now. Consider his last article, in which Jagoff discusses the strategic reasons why the Padres must sign Robert. In short: where else are they going to spend the money?

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The modern-day swing is all about bat speed (and launch angles!), borne out of strong hitters and maximum weight transfer. Today’s hitters generally start with some type of load mechanism, with their weight shifting back. Then, in a sudden shift of power, everything goes forward in violent yet controlled fury.

A hitter’s back leg is there to support that initial load and to provide something to pivot against, but by the time a hitter makes contact, it’s really just there for the ride. Here’s Mike Trout‘s first career home run (from hitting analyst Ryan Parker):

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While searching deep in the bowels of the internet on Sunday night for a Trevor Cahill article, I found some interesting nuggets on Luis Perdomo.

(Note: Most of these numbers don’t include last night’s start.)

Interesting nugget No. 1: Perdomo has gotten a 71 percent groundball/BIP on his sinker, ninth in the league among pitchers with at least 50 sinkers thrown.

This probably isn’t a huge surprise given Perdomo’s well-documented groundball ways, but it’s a six percentage point improvement over last season, and it’s led to a league-leading 68 percent groundball rate overall this year. Part of Perdomo’s success involves him keeping the ball on the ground, and his home run rate is significantly improved over last season.

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I didn’t catch Trevor Cahill‘s start on Saturday night because I was in Boston watching another ace named Chris Sale. I came away from that experience convinced that the key to solving baseball’s pace-of-play problem is to clone about 50 or so Sales, although that would immediately prompt a new run-scoring problem (and, perhaps, cross some ethical boundaries). Back to the subject at hand . . .

Cahill didn’t have his best start against the White Sox, but he still managed seven strikeouts and a lone walk on the road in a hitter-friendly ballpark in the league with the DH. When even your bad starts look pretty darned good, you know you’re getting somewhere. We’re a month and a half into the season—or 41 1/3 innings in Cahill Time—so I figured it’d be a good time to check in on where Cahill stands in the majors in a variety of pitching categories (among starting pitchers). Let’s get right to it.

DRA

13. Lance McCullers, 2.02
14. Trevor Cahill, 2.07
15. Madison Bumgarner, 2.11

Brief stat description: Deserved Run Average, from Baseball Prospectus, is probably the best catch-all pitching stat going these days, a tremendously ambitious attempt to isolate pitcher performance as best as humanely possible.

Distance to leader: 1.01. Whoops, here’s that Sale guy again. He currently has a 1.06 DRA, which is 50 points better than Craig Kimbrel‘s best full season. I know it’s not fair to put anyone on Clayton Kershaw‘s level, but Sale is pushing the envelope. He is, quite simply, shredding it in a Red Sox uniform.

As for Cahill, this number, by itself, goes a long way toward validating just how good he’s been so far this year. You don’t put up the 14th-best DRA in the majors with smoke and mirrors.

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I don’t know about you, but I’m always amazed how often hitters miss good, hittable pitches, either fouling them off or swinging right through them. Of course, there are good reasons why this happens. Hitting is hard, for one. The hitter is always having to guess and/or react to a spinning baseball arriving in an unreasonable amount of time, and the pitcher is always in the driver’s seat, calling the shots.

Say, for example, it’s a 2–2 count and, in the back of his mind, the hitter is thinking slider. Instead he gets a fastball, at 93, right down the middle, but he fouls it back to the screen, just late. It looks like something to crush, but given the context of the situation, the pitcher’s tendencies and the hitter’s expectations, it turns out to be a tough pitch to handle. Consider, further, the first pitch hanging curve ball. It looks squarely like a meatball the whole way, but the hitter’s likely sitting fastball, and the speed and trajectory of the pitch throw him off enough to result in an awkward cut and whiff, or no swing at all.

There are other pitches, though, pitches that are too fat; pitches that define the very nature of the meatball. In a 3–1 count to Mike Napoli, tied 2–2 in the ninth, Brandon Maurer delivered one of those pitches last night:

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Before we get to Ron Fowler’s comments, let’s briefly discuss Jered Weaver‘s start to 2017. It’s been bad.

Weaver seems like a really good guy, with a sort of self-effacing sense of humor and candor that doesn’t often show in athletes, specifically when they’re down on their luck. But he’s been really bad. I’m not sure why anyone is particularly surprised by it, though, and maybe they aren’t. Last year Weaver posted a 7.50 DRA, worst in the whole darn league, and a full run worse than James freakin’ Shields. By Baseball Prospectus’ WARP calculation, he was worth negative (read: negative) 4.4 wins, a level of ineptitude rarely broached by WAR-based metrics.

Along with declining numbers across the board, Weaver’s fastball velocity has been in a much-publicized nosedive, dropping from the high 80s/low 90s a few years ago all the way down to the low-to-mid 80s now. There’s a good shot Joe Righthander, down at the local D3 Juco, throws harder than the 34-year-old Weaver does right now.

There was a very small chance that Weaver was going to be good this year, and slightly larger chance that he’d be okay, and a good chance he’d stink. I’m still convinced that the Padres signed him in part because he’s a good dude and in part because he wouldn’t impede the tank. And maybe, just maybe, he’d eat some innings and turn out to have a hint of trade value by July. But I’d be surprised if anyone in the baseball operations department had high expectations, given what we know about Weaver’s declining ability to get major-league hitters out.

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