After leading the National League in batting average (.269), runs scored (783), and shattering the record for the highest RISP mark of all time* during the 2013 regular season, then finally upgrading from offensive black hole Pete Kozma to Jhonny Peralta at shortstop while simultaneously shuffling their defense to fit in even more bats over the winter, perhaps we expected too much of the St. Louis offense headed into the 2014 season. But my goodness have the Cards been woeful on that side of the ball thus far; in scoring just 3.41 runs per game, the team ranks 14th among Senior Circuit clubs, propped up only by the anemic San Diego Padres. After collectively hitting like prime-Miguel Cabrera with RISP last year too, the Redbirds are batting just .221/.290/.299 with a 69 OPS+ in such situations this year, and have left 196 men on base – tied with Arizona for the 2nd worst mark among NL teams. Presumed to be the division’s powerhouse squad, Mike Matheny‘s men already trail the upstart Milwaukee Brewers by 5.5 games in the NL Central.
All of which contributed to the Cardinals’ recent roster moves; after Sunday’s win it was announced that second baseman (and my preseason focus) Kolten Wong and outfielder Shane Robinson would be optioned back to Triple-A Memphis, the pair to be replaced on the 25-man roster by rookie infielder Greg Garcia and outfield prospect Randal Grichuk. Primarily done in order to spark their offense, such a roster shakeup may well effect the St. Louis lineup far beyond the standard promotion/demotion.
The decision to send down Wong seems slightly puzzling in spite of his slow start. After struggling during his first big-league stint – he hit .153/.194/.169 in a very sparsely-distributed 59 at-bats – and infamously being picked off at first base in the World Series, the 23-year- old was again scuffling, batting just .225/.276/.268 and losing playing time to Mark Ellis and Daniel Descalso before his demotion. But neither Ellis (.160/.267/.160) nor Descalso (.097/.152/.161) have hit a lick so far, which in addition to Wong being not the only everyday starter currently struggling, makes the move a little more fishy. Team GM John Mozeliak has cited the need to restore the former first round pick’s confidence with everyday at-bats in a less-pressured environment as the main factor in his decision to send down the rookie, but this marks the second time in which Matheny has pulled the plug on Wong playing daily at the keystone because of a slow start. His infield replacement Garcia meanwhile, though off to a thumping start at Memphis (he carries a .277/.366/.554 line to the majors), has troublingly never hit with as much power as he’s demonstrated so far this season, meaning that barring his aberration somehow continuing, he’ll likely see little meaningful time before being returned to Triple-A duty. Perhaps then, it will be third time lucky for Wong.
Where things get more interesting however, is the demotion of Robinson. There’s little actually to say in regards to Robinson himself – he was carried on the club as a fifth outfielder and had two hits in 20 at-bats, but with Jon Jay and Peter Bourjos also vying for time in center field and one option year remaining, he was likely an easy choice to become the odd man out. Grichuk on the other hand, is an intriguing figure. Acquired in the deal which sent David Freese to Los Angeles this past winter, the 22-year-old responded well to a change in organization, and was hitting .310/.359/.529 so far at Triple-A Memphis, with six walks and 17 strikeouts in 87 at-bats. Selected one pick ahead of Mike Trout in the 2009 amateur draft, the 6-1, 195 pound right-hander should bring a much-needed power injection to Busch Stadium, along with the capability to play all three outfield positions well on defense.
Most significantly was how was Grichuk was selected ahead of bigger-name peers for promotion, skipping ahead of higher-touted outfield prospects Stephen Piscotty and Oscar Taveras to be first in making it to the majors**. That he leapfrogged both despite being a lesser prospect suggests that this is merely a short-term solution; the Cards don’t want to burn the service time of either Piscotty or Taveras (who is still battling ankle injuries too), when they would only likely find themselves in a positional timeshare. While I’m sure the organization like Grichuk, his likely future as a fourth outfielder/impact bench bat makes risking his development a more palatable option that wasting studs like Taveras on the bench – an opinion seconded by Craig Edwards on the Viva el Birdos blog: ” Grichuk is a solid prospect, but not expected to be an impact player at the major league level absent more development… promoting Grichuk for limited at bats makes the most sense when trying to balance the short and long term needs of the St. Louis Cardinals.”
His addition might bring a further wrinkle to the St. Louis lineup. If Matheny and Mozeliak believe tat Allen Craig‘s slow start (he’s hitting .190/.248/.280, with just 5 extra base hits) is intrinsically tied to his move to the more physically demanding right field, with Grichuk available to fill that position occasionally, Matt Adams‘ job security at first just took a hit. Adams has been solid in hitting for average this ear, but his power – his best tool – has gone walkabout (I propose that it’s tied to his looking to hit against the shift so often). If the Cardinals want to invigorate Craig back at first, Adams might well find himself limited to pinch-hitting duty, much like last year. The promotion of Grichuk is not just insurance for the struggling Bourjos and Jay in center field then, but may indeed factor into who’s playing first base too.
As put by St. Louis GM John Mozeliak, “We’ve been thinking about or contemplating this for some time in the sense of when you look at how we were playing and what we were doing, there’s just no silver bullet to make a quick fix because frankly, our everyday lineup has to produce.” The Cardinals are still in a strong position. That they are able to make such aggressive changes and tinker with their lineup so much is a testament to their incredible organizational depth – this isn’t like a Houston club that throw everything against the wall hoping someone surprises them by sticking. But these are moves of concern; things haven’t gone as planned in St. Louis so far. Perhaps Mozeliak and co. expected too much too.
* The Cardinals’ average of .330 (part of a crazy .330/.402/.463, 139 OPS+ RISP line), eviscerated the previous record of .311 set by Detroit in 2007. No other team hit above .282.
** Joey Butler actually had the best line in Triple-A this season of the outfielders, currently hitting .403/.519/.597 in Memphis, but can’t play center field.
There’s no dancing around it – the 2013 Mets offense was dismal; the club ranked second to last among the National League in both batting average (.237) and OPS (.672), and was spared the wooden spoon in those categories only by the anemic Marlins lineup. Thanks to a decent-ish pitching staff (led by the considerably better than decent-ish Matt Harvey – get well soon!), New York didn’t completely suck – eventually bungling their way to a 74-88 record – but with only two regulars providing above league average production (the eternally-excellent David Wright had an OPS+ of 155, while Daniel Murphy checked in with a mark of 107), upgrades were obviously needed if the offense were to provide any meaningful run support in 2014.
Continually running out a horrifically light-hitting trio of Eric Young, Juan Lagares, and after trading Marlon Bryd, Mike Baxter by the end of the season, improving the outfield was a glaring priority. Chris Young was added first, the 30-year-old inked to a one-year deal worth $7.25 million in the hope of him returning to the fine form that made him an All-Star in 2010 – a solid short-term, risk-reward gamble. The Mets’ other move to address their outfield woes however, was a little more puzzling; gambling he was over the injuries that plagued his 2013, and ignoring very blatant signs of decline on both sides of the ball, the team removed Curtis Granderson from the lefty-friendly confines of Yankee Stadium, locking him up to a $60 million deal (and sacrificing their second-round draft pick) that would cover his age-33 to -36 seasons. At the time even, there were concerns around the deal. It harkened back to the last time the Mets splurged on a big free-agent outfielder – Jason Bay, back in 2009 – an unmitigated disaster of a contract. So far, it looks like history might be repeating itself.
In his 20 games in a Mets uniform, Granderson has come to the plate 84 times. He’s struck out in 25 of those appearances, and walked in 10; nothing new there – @cgrand3 established a career high 195 Ks in 2012 with a similar rate in his abbreviated 2013. More worryingly for fans of the Amazin’s though, is what has happened when Granderson has actually made contact.
With a ground ball percentage of 40.2% (high for his recent standards, but right around where it was earlier in his career), and a customary fly ball percentage of 44.7%, his batted ball profile doesn’t appear to have changed so radically – a case could be made that his horrific .125 average is just a bad-luck result of his .170 BABIP. However, we know that BABIP is not a completely independent figure; it does depend on certain factors the hitter has control over – such as line drive rate, or infield fly ball percentage. Granderson’s figures in those two marks (14.9% in LD%, and 19% in IFFB%) are far from the rates he put up during his heyday with the Tigers and Yankees (he has career averages of 20.6% and 8.0 % respectively). He’s hit 6 line drives so far as a Met. 6! This slow start then, is not just bad luck – the endless stream of strikeouts, weak grounders, and harmless pop-ups are the result of swinging at far too many pitches way outside the zone, a diminished contact rate, and fading power, a toxic formula which doesn’t exactly bode well for the rest of his contract.
Granderson hasn’t been the only Met off to a slow start*, and he did finally snap an 0-22 streak he had going yesterday, but already fas patience with him is wearing thin – as apparently, is manager Terry Collins‘; he relegated his big-money addition to the bench for today’s meet against the Cardinals in favor of playing 40-year-old Bobby Abreu – who couldn’t even latch on with the woeful Phillies this Spring**. Perhaps some time off in the batting cages with hitting coach Dave Hudgens will do him good. Mets fans best hope so, or as Dan Martin of the NY Post sarcastically said back on Tuesday night, “If Curtis Granderson keeps this up, the Jason Bay comparisons will stop. They’ll be too generous.” No one in Flushing wants that. Not another outfielder signed to big-money only to turn into a pumpkin.
* With Miami surprisingly raking (mainly thanks to Giancarlo Stanton), the club now has no prop to lift them from the bottom of the Senior Circuit’s offensive ranks; so far in 2014, they rank last in both BA (.216) and OPS (.602)
**Naturally considering the negativity of this piece, he singled when used in pinch-hitting duty for Bartolo Colon, raising his average to .137. Big whoop.
Release the prospect hounds! Yesterday, they had George Springer‘s Astros debut to slather over; soon they should have another stud outfield prospect to get excited about too. After Pittsburgh’s starting right fielder Jose Tabata left yesterday’s game against the Cincinnati Reds with “mild” concussion-like symptoms* – an injury sustained when he crashed into the fence making a spectacular catch – the Pirates have a decision to make: do they simply continue on their NL Central quest with Travis Snider manning RF everyday, or do they call up top prospect Gregory Polanco from AAA to the majors? If you were wondering, the correct answer is the latter option.
Signed as an international free agent back in 2009, the toolsy outfielder from Santo Domingo emerged from nowhere in 2012 to post a .325/.388/.522 line at Low-A West Virginia in the South Atlantic League, with 16 home runs and 40 stolen bases in his 485 plate appearances to boot. Having earned a ranking as the 51st best prospect in baseball from Baseball America, Polanco’s breakout continued last year, the then 21-year-old batting .285/.356/.434 (and accruing 12 home runs and 39 stolen bases too) across three stops, finishing the year at Triple-A Indianapolis. Having appeared in 44 Dominican Winter League games in which he produced a .922 OPS, the fast-mover homered off of David Phelps in his very first at-bat of Spring Training this year, eventually posting a very respectable .804 OPS in his 10 games played. Everything then looked in place for Polanco to make his big league debut with the Pirates sometime after the Super-2 deadline in June.
In conjunction with Tabata’s injury, Snider’s own health problems/lack of production, and Pittsburgh’s slow start, the 22-year-old’s incredible showing so far in 2014 may have accelerated that original timetable; rivaling the much-ballyhooed production of Springer, Polanco has so far batted a ridiculous .426 with two home runs and six extra-base hits in his 47 at-bats for the Indianapolis Indians. Perhaps even more incredibly, considering how he’s still learning to identify and handle breaking balls, according to J.J. Cooper, as of Tuesday Polanco had swung and missed at only six of the 170 pitches he had faced so far this year, one of which was to protect on a steal attempt. In the words of former Double-A coach Carlos Garcia, “You are talking about the next superstar for the Pittsburgh Pirates. This kid is unbelievable.”
While the full extent of Tabata’s ailment is unclear as of yet, Pittsburgh could certainly do with the shot in the arm Polanco has the potential to provide offensively. Continuing the positional malaise of last year (Pittsburgh’s right fielders combined to bat .242/.299/.385 with 16 home runs, 62 RBI and 144 strikeouts in 675 plate appearances, good for 0.8 collective fWAR), the 2014 platoon of Tabata and Snider have so far combined to hit just .231/.275/323 with only two home runs and 4 RBI through their 69 plate appearances. Their struggles however, have only been a microcosm of the team’s offensive woes; the Bucco’s currently have a team batting average of .223 (third-worst in the majors, propped up only by Houston and Tampa Bay), and a ghastly on base percentage of .294 (26th in the ML), while their 57 runs scored place them in the lower third of NL production. It’s likely however, that the Pirates will at least wait a little while to see what Snider can do in an everyday role, though his own brittle injury history (the 26-year-old set a personal high when he played in 111 games for the Pirates in 2013) and lack of production (he owns a .641 OPS in 471 plate appearances in his time as a Buc) don’t offer much hope of a breakout ahead.
Already possessing the range of a center fielder thanks to that foot speed that so aids him on the base paths, Polanco would thus likely be an instant upgrade not only at the plate, but in the field as well; along with Andrew McCutchen and Starling Marte, his presence would almost instantly elevate Pittsburgh’s to one of the most exciting outfield trios in the game**. Given the competitive nature of the NL Central – with the perennial win-machine Cardinals, frisky Brewers, and my Reds coming around too – and how their other top pitching prospects Jameson Taillon (out for the year due to Tommy John surgery) and Tyler Glasnow (lower back tightness) are both on the shelf, Pittsburgh probably can’t afford to wait much longer for Polanco’s impact. The Pirates need to get their season going if they’re to seriously push once again for the playoffs. Calling up Polanco – especially now that there is a spot in the lineup available – would certainly be one way to move into a higher gear.
And really, if Houston can promote Springer already, given their more pressing circumstances, Pittsburgh have little excuse not to.
* I will for once resist arguing that there is no such thing as a “mild” concussion.
** Baseball Prospectus, in fact, wrote of the impact of such a defensive triumvirate, “the gaps in the PNC Park outfield will be the newest graveyard for doubles and triples.”
As previously detailed in my ROY cases for Noah Syndergaard and Xander Bogaerts, I’ll occasionally be interspersing my usual content with my (probably misguided) award predictions for the upcoming season. Today marks the next installment pertaining to my poor judgement – it’s time for an NL MVP pick.
He famously donned Sports Illustrated’s cover alongside the tagline ‘Baseball’s Chosen One’ while still a high schooler. The then-catcher was picked No. 1 in the 2010 draft, and secured a a $6.25 million signing bonus along the way. He blew kisses to pitchers in the Minors. He was booed vociferously by a raucous Dodgers crowd when he made his ML debut less than 2 years later. Within a week, Cole Hamels ‘welcomed’ him to the league with a good ol’ plunking, only to see his victim steal home that same inning. In that same season, at just 19, he became the youngest All-Star in baseball’s history. If that weren’t enough, since his debut, he’s muscled more home runs during his age 19 and 20 seasons (42) than any hitter since Tony Conigliaro, and accrued as many WAR over that period as Ty Cobb.
And yet somehow, Bryce Harper might now be underrated.
After posting a rookie season for the ages, winning the NL ROY award on the strength of a .270/.340/.477 line and 22 homers in 139 games, Harper headed into 2013 with the expectations of the baseball world upon his young shoulders; the Washington Nationals were expected to be World Series contenders, their star 20-year old to be the MVP-like force behind their inevitable success. Things didn’t quite work out as planned.
The Nats missed the postseason altogether in Davey Johnson’s last year at the helm, somehow limping only to a record of 84-78 in an NL East division which contained the lowly Marlins, Mets, and Phillies. And though Harper improved, he still wasn’t producing like Mike Trout – his symbolically aligned partner in carrying baseball for the next generation – drawing the ire of impatient fans and internet commentators alike. But while his end of season statistics may have ultimately disappointed those who predicted a breakout performance, they also obscured the truth; Harper was playing like an MVP, until he quite literally, hit the wall.
Through his first 25 games (103 PAs), the man whose eye-black sets the internet alight was batting .356 with 9 home runs and a ridiculous 1.181 OPS. Then, in his 26th game of the season, came the first collision – Harper falling foul of Turner Field’s outfield fence. He carried on regardless, but his line had already dropped to .303/.400/.622 just 37 plate appearances later, when his second run-in with an outfield wall occurred – this time at Dodger Stadium.
Harper would wind up on the DL, his balky knee forcing him out of five weeks of action. He would return in early July, but not the same player – something Harper himself admitted in September – managing just (by his high standards at least) a .789 OPS en route to a final line of .274/.368/.486 in 118 games played.
Even playing on a knee which required offseason surgery though, Harper showed across-the-board improvements in his game during 2013; per David Golebiewski, “Harper boosted his batting average (from .270 as a rookie in 2012 to .274), on-base percentage (.340 to .368) and slugging percentage (.477 to .486) while also sharpening his strike-zone control (his walk-to-strikeout ratio climbed from 0.47 to 0.65). His park-and-league-adjusted OPS spiked from 18 percent above average to 33 percent above average.” After swinging at most everything low and away as a rookie, the 20-year old demonstrated a more mature approach at the plate in his sophomore effort, jacking his walk rate almost 3 percentage points (9.4% in 2012 to 12.3% in 2013) despite pitchers throwing him marginally less strikes (41.2% as opposed to 42.3%). And even despite his injury, Harper’s trademark raw power remained, his .212 ISO mark remarkably similar to the .206 figure he posted the year prior.
Not that such incremental improvement satiated the demands of those preseason prognosticators – apparently an injury-marred campaign is no excuse in the march towards superstardom nowadays. After an offseason in which Mike Trout’s otherworldly play and soon-expected extension attracted more of the media’s attention however, Harper has quietly slinked away from the limelight – and dedicated himself to getting healthy for a monster 2014 (he may even have hit the gym too hard, with recent photos of his huge new physique inspiring PED talk – which Harper quickly shot down).
With World Series aspirations once more after the addition of Doug Fister, the Nats will need him if they’re to make a serious run during the postseason. Fortunately for new manager Matt Williams, Harper appears to be on board with the plan already: recently citing “I don’t want to run into another wall,” in recognising the importance of his everyday presence towards his team’s success, the young slugger has clearly matured in his first real time away from the glare – a factor that along with his health, should have opposing pitchers quaking in their cleats come April. With that in mind, and other pennant contenders St. Louis lacking a true superstar (although a fine leader, Yadier Molina doesn’t qualify in my eyes), the Dodger’s wealth of riches unreliable in terms of their health (I’m looking at you Hanley Ramirez and Matt Kemp), I’ve no problem in predicting this year to be the year for Harper; I’ll take his 16/1 odds of winning NL MVP over the 6/1 Andrew McCutchen, 7/1 Joey Votto or even 9/1 Paul Goldschmidt all the way to the bank, thank you very much.
It’s been too long for Bryce Harper to be out of the spotlight. I’m ready for him to snatch it back in a big way.
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before, but Billy Beane saw value where few else did.
Drafted in the 8th round out of high school way back in 2002 by the Boston Red Sox, as an infielder and pitcher, Brandon Moss was slowly transitioned to the outfield and eventually made his ML debut in 2007. With Boston’s strong positional depth though, the lefty never caught on with the club; by 2008, he was packaged to Pittsburgh as part of the Manny Ramirez to L.A. deal. The Pirates however, saw nothing to their liking either, and designated for assignment the Georgia native in 2010. Moss cleared waivers without a claim and found himself outrighted to the Triple-A Indianapolis Indians. Attempting to catch on elsewhere in 2011, he signed a minor-league free agent deal to play in Philadelphia, but would receive just 6 at-bats with the Phillies. Then, in 2012, with the 28 year old a free agent once again, Oakland came calling.
Since then, well, I’ll leave it to David Fiers of Fangraphs to explain the colossal bargain Oakland (typically) acquired: “among first baseman with at least 750 plate appearances, Moss’ .381 wOBA ranks fifth and his 146 wRC+ rates as fourth best. Socking 51 dingers over that time frame places Moss eighth and his 139 RBIs come in at 15th.” Again, the Phillies only gave this guy 6 at-bats in 2011, nor did Moss ever receive more than 250 in his time with either Boston or Pittsburgh. What the hell happened then, for Brandon Moss’ production to spike so dramatically as soon as he shrugged on an Athletics jersey?!
Though it’s by now common knowledge that many hitters perform far better against opposite-handed pitchers, many teams still either choose to ignore, or don’t possess the necessary positional flexibility to fully take advantage of, platoon pairing. Thankfully for Moss, Beane’s Athletics are not one of those teams – in fact, along with Tampa Bay (it’s not a coincidence both are low-budget organizations), they consistently wring offensive production from small investments by forming platoons. But while Matt Joyce remains the long-time poster boy of the strategy in Tampa, Brandon Moss might just be the biggest platoon beneficiary of anyone currently employed in the league.
After racking up 21 HRs, 52 RBIs, and a slash line of .291/.358/.596 (*cough* .359 BABIP *cough*) in 84 games in 2012, Moss received a career-high 505 plate appearances as the Athletics’ primary first baseman in 2013. Of those, 417 were against right-handed pitches, and boy, did the lefty crush ‘em;
As shown in the table above, Moss was a full 68 points better in batting average and 164 points better in slugging percentage versus right-handers, against whom he slugged 26 of his 30 home runs. Additionally he walked more and struck out less when facing righties, his platoon use alleviating concerns about the slugger’s plate discipline.
Credit where credit’s due, given consistent playing time for the first time in his career, Moss did make strides in regard to his approach at the dish; his walk rate reached almost 10% and, although still very high (27.7%), he cut his strikeout rate by almost 3% over the season – an improvement made almost entirely over the second half of the season (his K% went from 30.8 to 23.2. after the All-Star break), helped by both his declined proclivity to swing at pitches out of the strike zone, and also by a raised contact rate. His power too, despite the offense-supressing reputation of Oakland’s home ballpark, the O.co Coliseum, was legitimate rather than fluky; his ISO of .267 ranked third among qualified hitters, while according to ESPN’s home run tracker, the average true distance of his home runs was 403.7 feet – 20 of his 30 dingers were judged “Plenty” or “No Doubt” (meaning they cleared the fence by at least 20 feet).
It’s clear by the numbers however, that Moss was helped most in breaking out during 2013 by Bob Melvin’s line-up writing ability – put in the best position to succeed by his manager, the lefty did just that. Hitting on a situational basis, Moss is clearly among the best power bats in the game, and a bargain at his 2014 price of $4.1M if he can replicate the 2.2 WAR he accumulated in 2013. Alongside the performance of fellow oft-overlooked contributors Josh Donaldson, Coco Crisp, and Josh Reddick, Moss’ continued righty-crushing will go a long way towards Oakland defending their AL West division crown.
Let’s just hope he won’t have to face too many lefties come playoff time.
When I first found out I would be attending the University of Oregon for this academic year, I immediately scoped out the Eugene sports scene. Obviously there were the Ducks – who hasn’t heard of them? – and the Nike-inspired running community, but what I didn’t know was that the town was also home to the Eugene Emeralds, the short season affiliate of the San Diego Padres. I quickly threw myself into their season, and followed them from afar; a decision that led to my specifically bookmarking one prospect’s Baseball Reference page, a player who I’ll be closely monitoring this upcoming year.
After batting .345 for Mississippi State, and pasting 16 homers in the process of leading his squad to the College World Series finals, the Padres selected first team All-American Hunter Renfroe with the 13th overall pick in the 2013 amateur draft – a move called by Fangraphs to be “interesting… given that his best tool is his plus raw power and the club plays its home games in a very spacious park.” Still, with the ceiling to be a five tool outfielder at the major league level, the Padres saw a bargain; scouting director Billy Gasparino dubbing his pick “a unique player.” And after quickly signing their prize for slot value ($2,678,000), the right fielder was despatched off to the Northwest League to join the Ems.
Renfroe didn’t stay in Eugene long enough for me to catch him live, but performed well enough in his short stay to be ranked the no. 2 prospect in the league, right behind the Cubs’ 2013 first round pick Kris Bryant; after just 104 at bats (25 games), Renfroe had a slash line of .308/.333/.510, including nine doubles and four home runs, numbers sufficiently dominant to warrant his end of season promotion to the Midwest League. There, with the Fort Wayne TinCaps, he fared less well, compiling a .212/.268/.379 line (with five doubles and two home runs) in his 16 games against sterner competition – struggling to either get on base or hit the ball with his customary authority. After following up his long collegiate season with his professional debut, the power hitter’s slower bat speed was most probably an issue simply caused by simple fatigue rather than anything to have long-term concerns about.
That would be his decison-making on when to swing the lumber; With a cumulative OBP of .308 across his professional career so far, and a 49/8 strikeout to walk ratio to boot, Renfroe undoubtedly has room to improve in terms of plate discipline and pitch recognition. Still, as Baseball Prospectus said of the slugger, his “ability to hit to hit tape-measure homers cannot be ignored.” With solid range, good athleticism and a gun for an arm too (the 22 year old is a converted catcher, but also apparently featured a mid- to upper-90s fastball as a reliever), Renfroe profiles favorably as an above-average right fielder. An above-average right fielder whose batting philosophy – as told to David Laurila – is to “just try to hit the ball right in the face.”
Despite his late season struggles, the scouts remain high on Renfroe; he has already drawn comparisons to Nelson Cruz, with Fangraphs writer Marc Hulet assessing “the Mississippi State alum looks capable of developing into an average or better corner outfielder with 20+ home run potential.” The Padres too, have every confidence in their outfield prospect; Projected to begin the season at High-A Lake Elsinore in the California League, if all goes well for Renfroe, he should end the year bombing away in Double-A, with an eye towards making his major league debut in 2015. There he will hopefully be part of the next great Padres team, joining a group that ideally will also include fellow top prospects Austin Hedges, Max Fried, Matt Wisler, and Casey Kelly.
I’ll be keeping tabs on him every step of the way.
You know the feeling. We’ve all done it. You’re putting off reading about race and gender in nineteenth-century coastal Ecuador by just casually clicking through Baseball Reference, Fangraphs, or whichever other site your baseball fandom dictates. It was a five minute break twenty minutes ago, when suddenly a certain statistic just sticks out so glaringly it disrupts your deep dive. Now admittedly, my trawling wasn’t particularly intense today – I was feeling vaguely on the ball when it came to my schoolwork – but Michael Cuddyer won the NL batting title last year?!
As a career .277 hitter, and someone who had never hit above .284 coming into 2013, Cuddyer’s mark of .331 was not only hugely surprising, but blew away the competition; the 34 year old’s clip was a full 10 points ahead of his nearest competitor (Chris Johnson), and left perennial batting average contenders like Yadier Molina, Joey Votto, and teammate Troy Tulowitzki in the dust. Throw in his 20 HRs, 84 RBIs, and 10 steals, and Cuddyer probably swung more than a few fantasy leagues in his second year as a Rockie. Alas! Fantasy baseball is not real, nor is the idea that Cuddyer will put up a good fight in defending his average crown; his deal with the baseball Gods is likely over.
Quite simply, the regression monster is coming – and in a big way; the former Minnesota man’s 2013 batting average success was all smoke, mirrors, and good ol’ luck on batted balls in play. Trailing only the aforementioned Johnson and former Twin’s teammate Joe Mauer, Cuddyer’s 2013 BABIP of .382 was a full 70 points higher than his career rate, and more than 16 percent higher than his previous career high of .328 all the way back in 2006. And while both Johnson and Mauer were also among the leaders in line drive percentage (27.0% and 27.7% respectively), Cuddyer only managed a rate of 20.2% – only his fourth highest percentage in a season in which he stepped to the plate at least 250 times; based on such a number, Cuddyer’s BABIP should have been at .295, making his average .264. Which y’know, would put him right in line with his 2012 season, in which the then-33 year old slashed .260/.317/.489 thanks to a .287 BABIP and was a 1.5 WAR player – the sort of normal figures that restore my faith in baseball reality.
My aim in pointing out his inflated average is not to rag on Cuddyer, or suggest he is a bad player who simply got by last year by faking it – far from it. In fact, the Virginia native has recently been remarkably consistent, his peripheral numbers remaining mostly the same despite his advancing age and a change in home ballpark. But as fantasy draft season rapidly approaches, such knowledge of obvious regression candidates should be deemed absolutely necessary – kind of like a buyer’s beware PSA. The 16-20 HR power? Legit. Plenty of RBI opportunities batting behind Carlos Gonzalez and Tulo? Assured. 10 steal potential? Sure. A DL stint and a final total of around 140 games played? Inevitable. Terrible defense in right field guaranteed for another year because the Rockies went out and signed Justin Morneau to play first this year? Lock it in.
The batting average though? I’ll let you work that one out.