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.
Let’s face it, the bunt gets a bad rap these days, especially the sacrifice bunt. We’re in an era where some form of analytics plays a roll in every front office, and air-ball revolutionaries roam the dugouts; nobody on the periphery of either movement is espousing the virtues of the bunt. Shoot, there are multiple varieties of shirts available for anyone who wants to flaunt their anti-bunt lifestyle.
I’ll concede that the pure sacrifice bunt is often a bad play, the kind where you’re telegraphing the bunt early, where the defense is anticipating it, and where there’s little chance of anything good happening beyond moving a runner up a base in exchange for an out. When getting one run is super important, and maybe the batter isn’t so hot, this can be a good play. Often, though, both the run and win expectancy will drop if you pull off a “successful” sacrifice bunt in this scenario.
Take a look at Franchy Cordero‘s bunt from last night, though. To set the scene: the Padres are up one in the seventh, with Cory Spangenberg on first and one out. Forgetting the tank here, a run is important but not necessarily critical in the context of trying to win the game.
By now, you’ve seen the video. You’ve read all of the accounts. You’ve dissected the viral diagrams:
I’m not sure there’s a whole lot more to say on the issue of Anthony Rizzo‘s “slide” into Austin Hedges from Monday night, but the internet isn’t going to stop me from trying. So here are some disjointed thoughts.
That was a dirty slide. It’s obviously hard to determine whether Rizzo attempted to injure Hedges, but he clearly went out of his way to collide with him to presumably jar the ball loose. There’s a good chance that kind of collision, initiated by a 6-foot-3, 240-pound man, will injure the person on the receiving end, the one who’s standing still and not expecting the impact. So when Rizzo decided to leave the base path and not make a play toward home plate (i.e., to break the rules), he opted to do something with a good chance of injuring Hedges. Parse things all you want, Rizzo’s actions led directly to Hedges leaving the game. To make matters worse, both Rizzo and his manager, Joe Maddon, acted like jackasses after the game.
(By the way, I’m not saying Rizzo is a dirty player. No idea. He probably isn’t one, and it was a split-second decision in effort to help his team win a ball game. It was still a dirty play in the context of the rules and general sportsmanship.)
One of the hardest things about writing about a baseball team every day is trying to avoid looking like a fool. The easiest way to make yourself look like a fool is to get too excited—or too down—on a player with limited playing time. It’s easy to do, though. You see a hyped (or maybe under-hyped) prospect roll on to the big-league team and dominate in a couple of appearances, and you’re looking for something to write about. Before you know it you’re comparing him to Lance McCullers or something.
After Dinelson Lamet‘s first two starts, where he combined for 16 strikeouts and three walks in 10 innings, maybe I got a little too excited. The only thing worse than making yourself look like a fool once, however, is making yourself look like a fool twice. The easiest way to do this is to get too excited—or too down—on a player with limited playing time and then, after a few bad (or good) outings, to reverse course entirely. All of the sudden, you’re backpedaling away from this player as fast as you can. It’s a bad look, especially if the player turns out to be good, as you had originally envisioned, or even just okay, as you had maybe never considered.
Hey, what’s going on here?
Counting his double last night, and the 26 extra-base hits he had in 48 games at Triple-A El Paso, Jose Pirela already has 32 extra-base hits this year in just 231 plate appearances. Back in 2014, between Triple-A and the majors, he accumulated only 45 extra-base hits in 606 plate appearances. Pirela slashed .331/.387/.635 this year while at El Paso, and he’s currently running a 280 wRC+ in limited big-league PAs.
Funny thing: Pirela never hit for consistent power in the minors. His highest ISO at a single stop was .155, and that came in half a season at Double-A way back in 2012. His career minor-league slash line, counting this year’s outburst, stands at a pedestrian .278/.342/.405. Not counting this year, he had never hit more than 10 home runs in a season.
So, really, what is going on here? Let’s run through some potential scenarios.
Sometimes the Hangover hits you in the first inning.
Ryan Schimpf isn’t playing in tonight’s Padres game, not because he had a night off, or an injury, or because he got abducted by baseball-obsessed aliens. Schimpf isn’t playing tonight because the Padres willingly opted to send him to Triple-A El Paso.
Schimpf was hardly a known quantity after he left the Toronto Blue Jays organization after 2015, a career minor leaguer with good numbers but worse scouting reports, just holding onto big-league dreams. The Padres took a chance on him and, by the standards of these things, struck gold. A year and a half later, Schimpf’s shtick is well-documented.
The man hits the ball in the air with frightening frequency, he walks a lot, he strikes out a lot more, and he runs into his share of dingers. Schimpf’s slashing just .158/.284/.424 on the year, good for a 90 wRC+. Here’s the thing, though: that’s fourth on the Padres among qualified hitters, better than Manuel Margot, Austin Hedges, Yangervis Solarte, Erick Aybar, and Cory Spangenberg.
Throw in last year’s awesome production (a 129 wRC+ in 330 plate appearances) and Schimpf has an overall 115 wRC+. That’s five points better than Wil Myers‘ career mark. Say what you want about the nuances of advanced statistics, Schimpf’s been a good offensive player over his time in the majors. Schimpf rates even better by Baseball Prospectus’ measure of offense, True Average. At .276, he’s 14th out of 33 in the league among third baseman with at least 100 PAs this year, just two points behind fellow air-ball artist Joey Gallo. Schimpf’s career .301 TAv is 20 whole points better than Myers’.
It’s a little odd at this point, but every day or two I see someone in the Padres corner of the internet wondering if the Padres will, at some point this year, send Manuel Margot down to the minor leagues to manipulate his service-time clock. If Margot, who’s currently injured but inching closer to a return, spends a few weeks in the minors (rehab time not included), the Padres will gain an extra year of pre-free agency control over him. They’d have him through 2023 rather than 2022.
From purely a cold, hard business perspective, it makes sense. From every other perspective, it doesn’t.
First of all, it’s unclear that even the Padres would want to do this. They had the absolute perfect opportunity to do it, right out of spring training. Margot had a rough spring offensively, he was dealing with a couple of nagging injuries, and he was still just 21 and coming off a good but unspectacular year in Triple-A El Paso. Nobody would have questioned it, at least not too hard, if the Padres decided to send Margot back to El Paso for a few weeks, to get fully healthy and be in the best position to succeed against major-league pitching. In fact, it arguably would have been the smartest thing to do, and that’s before you even consider service time.
But they didn’t. They started Margot in the majors, signalling right then that a year of extra control more than a half decade away wasn’t a priority. In all likelihood, the Padres figured one of two things would happen: 1) that Margot would perform well, leading to a future contract extension that would make that extra year of control moot. (Sure, it’d be a little bit more expensive of an extension, without 2023 as an arbitration-eligible bargaining chip, but what’s a few million bucks to a big-league team?) Or 2) that Margot wouldn’t perform well, and that an extra year of control in his late-20s wouldn’t end up being something that anybody was all that concerned about losing.
Over his first two starts with the Padres, Dinelson Lamet did a lot of things well. One of them was getting ahead of hitters early, which put him in good situations and eventually allowed him to finish off at-bats with overpowering stuff.
No matter a pitcher’s velocity or stuff, it’s important to get ahead in the count. Hitters simply aren’t nearly as dangerous when the count isn’t in their favor, yet they can square up any velocity ahead 2-0. After a 1-0 count, for instance, major-league hitters are OPS-ing .838 this year. When it starts 0-1, on the other hand, they’ve got a paltry OPS of .620. That’s 200-plus OPS points just in getting strike one over. There’s an even bigger gap—some 332 OPS points—between 2-1 and 1-2, in part because hitters can only strike out when there are two strikes.
Anyway, it’s really important for a pitcher to get ahead, which isn’t exactly breaking news.
Here’s a comparison of the percentage of times Lamet was ahead in the count after the third pitch of an at-bat in each of his first three starts (I counted at-bats that ended on the third pitch if the count was a 0-2 or 2-0):
5/25 vs. Mets: 71 percent
5/30 vs. Cubs: 55 percent
6/6 vs. D’backs: 24 percent
(Patrick Brewer did a good comparison of Miguel Diaz and Luis Perdomo the other day over at EVT, but what the heck. I’ve got a streak to protect here.)
It’s really easy to compare Luis Perdomo and Miguel Diaz. Both are right handers of similar size, both are Rule 5 picks plucked out of A-ball, and both struggled big time upon entering the major leagues. Take a look at how similar Perdomo and Diaz performed through May of their rookie seasons:
Perdomo was actually worse, somehow, but if you just focus on the peripherals, they’re really similar. Let’s back up a bit further and compare these guys in the minors:
The numbers are close again. Both guys suppressed homers while posting solid strikeout and walk numbers. Important to note that Perdomo was almost exclusively a starter in the minors, whereas only about half of Diaz’s appearances came as a starter. Also, Perdomo was pushed a bit more rapidly through the minors, so more of his performance came against slightly tougher competition. Still, similar profile.