Erick Aybar was the No. 2 hole hitter in the lineup yesterday for the third straight game. I don’t care much about lineups, but I’ve gotta write about something.

In an ideal word, for a team that’s trying to win baseball games, Erick Aybar should never bat second. He should almost always bat eighth (or ninth). This is not groundbreaking analysis.

Aybar is very much an old school two hole hitter because he works the count, can hit-and-run, bunt, hit behind the runner, control the bat, steal a bag here and there, yada yada. Those things are good and all—really, I don’t mind them in certain situations, for certain hitters—but they work perfectly fine lower in the order, too. Old school two hole hitters often simply aren’t productive overall, which is why they should usually bat at the bottom of the order.

Putting a bad hitter in the two spot doesn’t make sense, for obvious reasons: 1) you’re giving him more at-bats over the course of a season and 2) you’re putting him in an important lineup spot, right in the middle of the heart of the order. When you’re thinking about the top of a team’s batting order, the No. 2 hitter shouldn’t be a guy with a three-year OPS of .628. That’s a unnecessary breather ceded to the opposing pitcher.

So why is Andy Green, a seemingly smart, progressive manager, batting Aybar second?

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When the Padres lost a bidding war for Yoan Moncada a couple of years ago, it was, perhaps, a blessing in disguise. As good as Moncada is—and he’s potentially very, very good—missing out on him kept the Padres inside their international amateur spending budget in 2014-2015, helping to set up San Diego’s all-out assault on the current international signing market. In a sense, they traded Moncada for Adrian Morejon, Jorge Ona, Luis Almanzar, Gabriel Arias, Jeisson Rosario, Osvaldo Hernandez . . . and on and on.

Now, two years after the Red Sox inked Moncada to a $31.5 million deal, there’s a new Cuban phenom in town named Luis Robert. Like Moncada, Robert is very much a Physical Specimen, with speed, power, athleticism, and all the other attributes you’d expect from this sort of supremely talented prospect. A 19-year-old outfielder who will officially be cleared to sign with a major-league team in May, Robert is expected to sign before the next international signing period opens on July 4, when all teams will be limited by a (really dumb) hard spending cap.

If the Padres were drawing all this up when they decided not to match the Red Sox offer on Moncada back in March 2015, this is about how’d it go. With big-market teams like the Cubs, Red Sox, and Yankees currently on the sidelines for past spending sprees of their own, the Padres—yes, the Padres—got to throw money around like George Steinbrenner after a five-game losing streak. Instead of competing with the Dodgers and Red Sox for top international youngsters, the Padres were competing with teams like the A’s and Braves during the current signing period. And instead of coming up short, they got their guys. Give them credit, too, because they spent, busting past their international spending pool last July 4 while continuing to add talent over the winter.

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The Padres lost to the Freddie Freemans 5–4 yesterday, but Austin Hedges went 2-for-3 with a walk, a double, and a two-run go-ahead home run in the eighth inning.

That’s a big-league dinger, an opposite field shot off a 98 mile-per-hour outside fastball.

The thing about Hedges’ game is that because it’s so defense-oriented, home runs like the one above are just gravy. Hedges is already considered one of the best defensive catchers in baseball, a reputation he earned in the minor leagues as a sort of generational backstop, proficient in all areas of his craft, from receiving to blocking to controlling the running game to game calling.

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I didn’t get a chance to catch any of yesterday’s game in real time, so last night I queued up MLB.tv’s condensed game feature instead. Here are some random observations from 16 minutes and 25 seconds of footage.

The first inning

The opening action of the condensed game is Bartolo Colon striking out Travis Jankowski on an 0-2 fastball, which leads us to two points . . .

. . . Holy cow, Bartolo Colon is almost 44 years old. The funny thing is, Colon isn’t just a novelty act. He’s led the league in walk rate for two years running, he strikes out six guys per nine, and he’s posted an ERA+ of 105 since he turned 40. Colon, in his forties, is the very definition of a league-average innings eater (no, he does not actually eat the innings).

He also does it almost exclusively with the fastball. According to Brooks Baseball, 72 of his 85 pitches yesterday were either two- or four-seam fastballs, with 10 sliders and three changeups mixed in for good measure. That’s Colon’s MO, as he throws some version of the heater 80-plus percent of the time.

This pitch to Jankowski is like the perfect two-strike fastball, off the plate outside but enticing enough to induce a halfhearted hack. It’s a purpose pitch, with the purpose of getting someone out.

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Ryan Schimpf collected a pair of walks last night against the Braves, giving him a league-leading 11 on the young season. He’s hitting well south of .200 so far, but he’s still been an effective offensive player because he’s walking like Barry Bonds circa 2003. His slash line—.148/.375/.370—isn’t one you see everyday, but it still works.

In his first at-bat against Julio Teheran, Schimpf didn’t swing at a single pitch.

schimpf1

And that’s kind of his thing.

He just doesn’t swing the bat. According to the numbers at Baseball Prospectus, Schimpf’s swing rate—simply the percentage of pitches he offers at—is second-lowest in all of baseball at 32.5 percent, trailing only Logan Forsythe‘s 30 percent. Since 2010, the only hitters with a lower swing rate in a season (minimum 400 pitches) than Schimpf’s current mark are Nick Johnson, Brett Gardner, and George Kottaras.

For the most part, Schimpf’s done an excellent job simply waiting out pitchers. In the at-bat referenced above, note that second pitch. That’s a strike, but it’s a pitcher’s pitch, a backdoor slider that catches the outside part of the plate in a fastball count. It’s a hittable pitch, but up 1-0 in the count, it’s probably not what Schimpf is looking for. Rather than swinging at it, he takes it for a strike and lives to see another pitch. Teheran would go on to miss three straight times with fastballs, giving Schimpf first base and starting a two-run rally.

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A few weeks ago Rick and I drove out to the Phoenix area with our buddy Marshall for our annual Spring Training baseball trip. As has become tradition I have opinions about things, hopefully you’re here to read them because here we go!

Peoria Sports Complex

There’s a lot to like about the Padres and Mariners’ complex, built in 1994 and the first shared complex of its kind. We’ll start here: the craft beer selection is the best I’ve seen. While the surrounding neighborhood gets flak from some Spring Training veterans for being so suburban, there are much better options here compared to other stadiums we’ve visited. Peoria has lots of hotels in walking distance, though the “quality” can vary.

Here there’s a decent selection of chain restaurants and sports bars. The epicenter is the Moon Saloon, a bar across the street from the PSC full of sports fans and if you’re lucky, some sports employees. There’s also Salty Señorita, which admittedly has an awful beer selection and is generally kind of gross, but you know what Rick it’s outside, literally part of the complex, and you can see Padres minor leaguers practicing so it can’t be all that bad because sun baseball beer.

peoria sports complex outfieldSadly, the Peoria Sports Complex stadium does have one fatal flaw: it was built before panoramic concourses with shaded standing room to watch the game were commonplace. At the PSC the main concourse for buying concessions and walking around doesn’t have a view of the game. Meaning there’s almost no standing and watching from anywhere in the main seating bowl. There is one interior walkway visible on the right side of the panoramic photo below, it just isn’t meant for hanging out. If you try, you get (to be fair, politely) asked by an usher to move from the concourse to your seat. And because there’s no raised press box or upper level, shade isn’t easy to come by either.

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I’ll admit it, a lot of the time I spend thinking about sports is dedicated to absolutely silly stuff.

Where does Tim Tebow‘s throwing arm rank among all United States citizens? (I think it’s in the millions.) What position would Gonzaga basketball player Przemek Karnowski play if his school had football? (Right tackle.) Who would be better at the other player’s sport, Mookie Betts or Steph Curry? (Betts.)

Today’s silly topic: If you had to start a franchise (or a fantasy team), are you taking Manuel Margot or Byron Buxton?

This would have been pretty clear cut a year or two ago, but it’s closer now. Let’s run through some different categories.

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This space will mostly be used to discuss the previous day’s game, in some form or fashion, yes. Sometimes, however, we’ll diverge and talk about something else. (That silly Joel Sherman NY Post article was a strong contender, for example.) Today it’s Fernando Tatis Jr., a favorite prospect of this particular writer.

As I received the twitter notification from Phillip (@advancedstats23), the internet’s foremost collector of Tatis Jr. footage, I knew what I was in for.

The camera operator didn’t, apparently.

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In the first inning of Saturday night’s game, Madison Bumgarner started Manuel Margot with two inside fastballs, both of them good pitcher’s pitches, just off the plate. In a perfect world, for Bumgarner, they either clip the inside corner or induce weak contact. Margot, like a sage veteran, held off on both of them. Here’s their location, via Brooks Baseball:

margotlocation

That’s a Joey Votto-like eye. Okay, we won’t get carried away. But there wasn’t a whole lot Margot could have done with either pitch, so it was smart to lay off, to at least wait for something more juicy. Now, up 2-0, he gets his pitch. It’s another four-seam fastball—the third straight one he’d encountered—out over the plate and about belt high. It’s not the meatiest 2-0 meatball, but given the situation, ahead in the count and expecting more heat, it’s a good pitch for Margot to jump on. He makes solid contact and sends a hard ground ball past Brandon Crawford at short.

What turns a relatively harmless single into a more damaging lead-off double is Margot’s hustle. Sure, he’s got speed to spare, but this is the very definition of a hustle double. Check out how far center fielder Denard Span is from the ball when we first get eyes on him:

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Seven or eight years ago, in what would be the final game of my not-so-illustrious junior college baseball career, I faced a very sloooow pitcher. Even by the standards of the small town community college circuit, this dude, a big left hander, was abnormally slow.

I’d never hit an outside-the-park home run, believe it or not, although I’d come close two times that year, both against soft-tossing lefties. Watching his 70-something mile an hour heaters from the on-deck circle, I was salivating. With a short porch in left field, I’d made up my mind: I was going to try to hit a home run, and I was just about sure I was going to do it.

In three at-bats against the guy, I barely hit the ball out of the infield, grounding out twice to the left side and flying weakly into right field. He was, somehow, too slow, his otherwise juicy pitches turned effective because they traveled so far below the speed of the ones I’d grown familiar with. (Also, I wasn’t a very good hitter.)

Lesson No. 1: Never try to hit a home run. Lesson No. 2: Never underestimate the challenge of a slow fastball.

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