When the Athletics acquired Craig Gentry from the Rangers this past offseason, it was clear someone had to go; between Gentry, Coco Crisp, Yoenis Cespedes, Josh Reddick, and Seth Smith they had five outfielders for three spots (though at least had the luxury of the DH position available), all of whom were too good (/valuable as trade pieces) to simply languish on the bench. Cashing in one of their outfield chips for additional help elsewhere on the roster thus seemed inevitable for Oakland – it was just a matter of who would go. In the end it was Smith who was the man to escape not only the O.co Coliseum’s dreaded sewage system, but the A’s positional logjam, traded to San Diego in return for highly regarded reliever Luke Gregerson.
Once again though, despite his change in zip codes, Smith found himself surrounded by a bevy of capable outfielders, positional incumbents Cameron Maybin, Will Venable, Chris Denorfia, and Carlos Quentin all presumably vying for limited at bats (not to mention rookie Tommy Medica transitioning to the outfield after an impressive cup of coffee in 2013, or the presences of Kyle Blanks and Alexi Amarista). With no DH slot to fill in at either, it looked like the 31-year-old would be used sparsely as a situational pinch-hitter until the depth chart was thinned. Fortunately for Smith, albeit not so much for those mentioned, his path to playing time was made somewhat easier when both Maybin (ruptured biceps tendon) and Quentin (lingering knee issues) went down with injuries; with their absences, Bud Black would have little choice but to give Smith run as the strong side of a left field platoon with Medica.
So (#small) far (sample) so (size) good. Four at bats into his Padres career, the former backup quarterback of Eli Manning at Ole Miss already has two homers, including the game tying shot against the Dodgers’ Brian Wilson in Sunday’s Opening Night tilt – a hanging 2-and-0 cutter that he crushed to right field, endearing himself to his new home crowd.
Due to yesterday’s focus, the lefty Hjun-jin Ryu starting for L.A., Smith and his garish .203 average against fellow portsiders were relegated to pinch-hitting duties that night, but his 8th inning leadoff jack started the three run rally for San Diego that would ultimately propel them to victory. He was at it again just two nights later, getting the start in left against Zack Greinke, and breaking up the righty’s no-hit bid with a similar bomb in the fourth inning (it was a 2-and-1 change-up that he took 374 feet to right on Tuesday). This time though, his best efforts (2-3, 1BB) weren’t enough to lift the Friars over their NL West rivals.
Selected by the Colorado Rockies in the 2nd Round of the 2004 amateur draft, Smith has proven to be a useful player during his tenure in the majors; since making his debut in 2007, Smith has a lifetime line of .265/.342/.456, his best season coming in 2009, when he hit for .293 with 55 RBI and 14 homeruns with a .510 slugging percentage. His extreme splits though have sufficiently limited his ultimate usefulness as an everyday player – his OPS diving .262 points against fellow southpaws compared to his .849 mark versus righties. For comparisons sake however, since Smith came up in 2007, Andre Ethier owns a -.200 OPS differential between his total mark and that against lefties, while Shin-Soo Choo checks in with a -.174 figure; Smith though, will make $4.5 million this year before becoming eligible for free agency, while Ethier has (including this year and his vesting option) $86.5 million remaining on his deal, and the 31-year old Choo has just started a seven-year $130 million pact. I shall say no more.
In a carefully managed 400-500 PA role, Smith could prove very useful – and supremely valuable – indeed. As demonstrated over the past couple of days, he has the potential to pick on righties; Bud Black‘s optimal usage of his lefty weapon then should see him face no one but right-handed pitchers in a similar (albeit less-powerful) platoon role as former Oakland teammate – and previous DP topic – Brandon Moss. The Padres could sure do with his continued platoon production – last year San Diego ranked 25th in baseball with a .241 average against right-handed pitching, and were 29th in OPS (.668) against righties (H/T to Corey Brock of MLB.com).
Tipped by many to sneak a NL Wild-Card berth, Smith’s lefty pop could be pivotal in swinging a few games San Diego’s way in 2014, and thus helping them back to the postseason. Sure it may have taken a couple of unfortunate injuries for him to get his shot, but just ask the Dodgers what Seth Smith can do when given the appropriate chance.
Call it the curse of my NL power rankings; in my preseason edition of ‘The Senior Class’, I noted of the top-ranked Los Angeles Dodgers’ ace “Clayton Kershaw’s balky back has landed him on the DL, though the move right now is considered to be more a precautionary measure than anything.” His stint backdated to March 23rd – the day after dominated the Diamondbacks at the Sydney Cricket Ground – the newly-minted southpaw was at that point expected to return inflammation free at the earliest possible date, April 8th, for a marquee match-up against the Detroit Tigers. Fresh news today though has indicated that it will actually be a further two to three more weeks before he’s even re-evaluated, a time during which Kershaw will reportedly partake in both a submaximal throwing program and a minor league rehab assignment. Andrew Cashner, who had a similar injury two years ago, missed two months because of it; if the reigning NL Cy Young Award winner is out even half as long, it will still be a severe loss to L.A.
Fortunately for PECOTA’s favorite team, the Dodgers possess another lefty starter who’s pretty darn dominant himself – Hyun-jin Ryu – who’s ready to temporarily assume Kershaw’s mantle.
On half the teams in the majors (at least by my estimation), the 27-year-old would be a no. 1, a staff anchor atop the rotation; as part of a roster that not only normally boasts the aforementioned Kershaw and his Sandy Koufax impersonation every fifth day, but $147 million man Zack Greinke too though (who looked decidedly rusty in his outing against the Padres earlier today by the way), the 27-year-old is oft-overlooked. Bumped into a more prominent role than his regular no. 3 slot by means of Kershaw’s extended absence (as well as questions regarding Josh Beckett’s return from major surgery and Dan Haren’s effectiveness both affecting his utmost importance to the rotation), it should quickly become apparent – if you didn’t notice his under the radar performance last year that is – that Ryu is really, really good.
After paying a posting fee of $25.7 million to negotiate with the Hanwha Eagles, the Dodgers signed the Scott Boras client to a six-year, $36 million contract (with an out clause that kicks in after the fifth year if he has pitched 750 or more innings) in December 2012. Their investment immediately paid off, as Ryu became the first player to jump directly from the Korean league to the major leagues; breaking Spring Training with the club, the portsider posted a strong rookie campaign, going 14-8 in his 30 starts with a 3.00 ERA (192 IP). Of course, overshadowed by not just his fellow freshman teammate Yasiel Puig, but exceptional first years from Jose Fernandez and Shelby Miller too, Ryu fell to fourth in NL ROY voting – the sort of anonymous result which when combined with the spotlight commanded by his rotation mates led to Ryu being somewhat neglected in terms of recognition heading into 2014.
That’s exactly Ryu’s style though – quietly getting the job done without fanfare. The Korean’s stuff will certainly never command gobs of attention; sitting in between 88-92 mph, his fastball isn’t electric in the Stephen Strasburg-like sense, but he can accurately throw it to all four quadrants of the zone. Sure, he boasts an excellent fading changeup and a serviceable slider too, but neither possess the sort of filthy movement that draws both impartial eyes and high strikeout rates (7.2 SO/9 in 2013). He doesn’t even have effectively wild outings (6.10 K/BB rate in the second half last year), nor ever show any emotion on the mound, á la Chris Archer. Nondescript in every facet aside from his numerical performance, Ryu is, well… pretty boring to watch.
Not that the Dodgers mind right now; having started two games already, Ryu has pitched 12 scoreless innings, and was one horrific Brian Wilson outing away from winning twice before most every other starter had even thrown a pitch. In better shape than 2013, and with an improved curveball to boot (presumably to combat the reverse platoon splits he put up last year), Ryu has stepped it up a notch already this year – emerging as a true weapon rather than simply a reliable rotation presence.
With their staff so suddenly weakened, L.A. will be depending on their lesser known southpaw to be their de facto ace for a while; perhaps now with that increased attention upon him too, people will realize that Ryu is legitimately close to such territory already.
Welcome to Week 2 of my 2014 MLB Season Preview Series! Needing to carefully word my dissertation thesis, yesterday’s look back on the train wreck also known as the 2013 Miami Marlins took on a somewhat lighter tone than usual. However, with the labeling of my exploration of counter-discursive nineteenth-century Cuban texts now complete, it’s time to plow on with all matters NL. The Milwaukee Brewers are on the clock today, as I focus on one of 2013’s breakout performers, at least during the first half of the season anyway; base running extraordinaire, Jean Segura.
I’ll get my bragging out of the way first. On April 11th last year, I picked up Jean Segura in my 14 team rotisserie fantasy league, eventually romping to the title in such a dominant manner that I can only assume the Karma Gods will smite my team down by early May this upcoming season. Not that I can say I knew what I’d be getting back then; with his ADP of 228.4, Segura was a speculative add – a player off to a hot start filling in for one of my injured middle infielders. Little did I know, I had picked up the eventual no. 1 SS per ESPN’s player rater for the 2013 season. Of course, fantasy baseball often ascribes value to players that are worth far less to their teams in reality, and vice versa. But even if Segura’s outrageous fantasy value wasn’t totally indicative of his on-field production for Milwaukee, it shouldn’t diminish what was still an outstanding season for the young Dominican. Aged 23, and in his first full season as a Brewer, Segura posted a .294/.329/.423 slash line over 623 PAs, demonstrating surprising power (12 HRs) to complement his signature speed (44 SBs). And while his final stats were certainly more than any sane Brewers fan would have predicted before the season, they were still somewhat of a disappointment come season’s end.
That’s because Segura’s performance simply fell off a cliff during the second half. Prior to the All-Star game – to which he was deservedly voted to – Segura owned a 325/.363/.487 slash line, including 11 HRs and 8 triples. With a wRC+ of 135, the Milwaukee shortstop also topped the NL in both hits (127) and stolen bases (27). From that point on however, he, well… posted the same OBP as Juan Francisco. After the break, Segura hit just .241/.268/.315, adding only 1 HR to his pre-break tally while also seeing his steal success rate plummet (27SB/5CS pre-break; 17/8 after). His wRC+ also plunged to merely 57, a mark far below the average for NL shortstops;
To what then, can we attribute such a precipitous drop-off in production? Quite probably, simple fatigue. After getting significant run in the second half of the 2012 season for Milwaukee after being the prize return in the Zack Greinke trade, Segura played – and dominated – winter ball back home in the Dominican Republic, before then accruing 620+ PAs last year. By then end of 2013 Segura’s power had all but disappeared accompanying the vanishing of his plate discipline, and weirdly, his speed – in addition to his lessened steal success rate, Segura was unable to leg out half as many infield hits despite hitting more ground balls (his IFH% fell from 16.2% down to 7.6%). Throw in the re-appearance of a nagging hamstring injury in September, and all the evidence points to Segura being run-down. Was it all that surprising then, to see the young star flame out?
By virtue of his dramatic first-half ascension, we tend to forget that 2013 was, aged just 23, Segura’s first full season in the majors. Aided by an unsustainable BABIP and power surge, Segura’s first half stats were unrealistically inflated to an extent that exaggerated his talent. His post-break line too, was unreliably skewed – just in the opposite direction – speaking more to his fatigue than simple regression. After such a Jekyll and Hyde performance in 2013, this season should hopefully bring a more consistent Jean Segura. Alongside the restored Ryan Braun and Carlos Gomez, Milwaukee’s climb back to relevancy will sit largely on their young shortstop’s shoulders, who – a year wiser and aided by an offseason of rest – seems set to bounce back from his second half slip in a big way.
You certainly won’t be picking him 228th overall again anyway.
With Superbowl XLVIII in the rearview mirror and the dog days of the NBA fast approaching, what makes more sense than to look ahead to the upcoming baseball season. Accordingly, I’m going to be breaking down some of the players, teams, and story lines which I deem most relevant/engaging/amusingly-bloggable leading up to Opening Day 2014. Or actually just until the week before Opening Day – I’ll be in Nicaragua for the 8 days preceding the first pitch… Anyhow, by virtue of their alphabetical rank, I present my person of interest relating to the 2014 incarnation of the Arizona Diamondbacks; Archie Bradley.
If you want the quick and dirty 140 character scouting report of Archie Bradley, I refer you simply to Ben Badler’s tweet from last year’s Futures Game in which Bradley threw a perfect inning, inducing two groundouts and an easy fly out;
Archie Bradley with an overpowering 96-98 mph fastball and a low-80s hammer with power and depth. Filthy.
— Ben Badler (@BenBadler) July 14, 2013
Nothing Badler says in those few words is false – Bradley is simply so good that ‘Filthy’ sums his overpowering stuff up quite sufficiently. Drafted in the 1st round (7th overall) back in 2011 – the same draft in which the Diamondbacks also took the since-traded Trevor Bauer with the 3rd overall pick – the 6-4, 225lb Bradley looks set to crack the Arizona rotation at some point this year, if not straight from Spring Training, having spent his age 20 season dominating the minors. Boasting a fastball that consistently sits 94-96 mph, in addition to the aforementioned “hammer” curve (80-82 mph), Bradley possesses two plus-plus pitches, and while his changeup clearly profiles as his third pitch, it still projects to be comfortably above average. In combination with his above average control, and improving command, Bradley was simply too good for the lower levels in 2013, posting a 1.97 ERA over 152 innings across High A and AA ball, impressively striking out 162 in that span. His dominant year only served to confirm the high esteem in which scouts held him – Bradley could well be the future no. 1 of a big-league rotation, the ace which the Diamondbacks have been trying to acquire all winter long.
The Diamondbacks have clearly been shopping for their frontline answer to the riches possessed by NL West rivals the Los Angeles Dodgers. In an attempt to bolster a starting rotation that was a large part of an underwhelming .500 2013 campaign that saw those Dodgers celebrate the capture of the division in their home pool, Arizona fell short in the bidding for Masahiro Tanaka, and rightly weren’t willing to include Bradley in any deal for David Price. For a team built upon the depth of it’s pitching more so than offense, the performance of Kirk Gibson’s staff was far from the ‘gritty’ pre-season expectations conferred upon it; though lefty starter Patrick Corbin posted an All-Star worthy first half, his performance fell off after the break, while sophomore Wade Miley (predictably) regressed from his surprising rookie campaign. Ian Kennedy, who entered the season as the staff’s leader only a season removed from winning 21 games himself, also struggled, generating more press for his plunking of Yasiel Puig and Zack Greinke than for his performance on the mound, before being dealt to the Padres in July. Following him out of the organizational door, last year’s top prospect Tyler Skaggs was sold low on in the winter trade that netted Mark Trumbo (from the Arizona perspective, the less said about this entire deal the better).
With Brandon McCarthy, Trevor Cahill, and Randall Delgado joining Corbin and Miley in the projected 2014 rotation (barring injury), Bradley figures to be on the outside looking in, at least to begin the season. But the Diamondbacks pitching quantity shouldn’t long obstruct his quality; if Bradley meets expectations, it wouldn’t be completely out of the equation for him to succeed from the jump, á la fellow 2011 draftee José Fernández in 2013. With GM Kevin Towers reportedly considering an 175/180 innings limit for his top prospect, the path of the 1st overall pick in that draft, Gerrit Cole, might be more relevant in regards to how much we see of Bradley in the majors next year; called up on June 11th, the Pirates not only suppressed Cole’s service time but still managed to wring 117.1 big-league innings out of him, and snuck into the postseason in the process.
The 2014 Diamondbacks can only hope to rebound from last year’s disappointment, and follow Pittsburgh’s lead into the playoffs. The performance of Bradley will be a huge factor in determining if they do so or not.