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Updated: 2016-07-31T20:20:41-04:00


Indians acquire Andrew Miller from Yankees, shoot their shot


The Yankees pull off their second reliever-based blockbuster in a week, and the Indians get one step closer to a pennant. It’s been a hell of a 24 hours for the Indians. They had a deal in place with the Brewers for Jonathan Lucroy, and then Lucroy used his partial no-trade clause to nix the deal. In between, however, they launched a fadeaway three from center court. Cleveland has acquired uber-reliever Andrew Miller from the Yankees in exchange for four prospects. The move represents a seismic shift for both franchises. For the Indians, it’s very simple. Miller represents a mammoth addition at the back of the bullpen. If he’s the closer, everyone moves up a slot and the current back-end pitchers can be used earlier in games in potential high-leverage situations. If not, he can be deployed as a whenever-wherever fireman who’s placed on the mound when the need is most dire. He would also be the man tasked with getting tough lefty hitters (Anthony Rizzo, David Ortiz, Nomar Mazara, etc.) late in the game. Prior to the acquisition of Miller, Kyle Crockett was the lone southpaw in the Cleveland bullpen. Crockett has thrown only 7.2 innings so far this year, and because of that his ghastly 7.36 ERA should be taken with a whole shaker of salt. Over 55 career innings prior to his outing on Sunday, Crockett had pitched to a 3.59 DRA and had held lefties to a .231/.300/.307 line. That’s certainly not bad, and Crockett figures to make the postseason roster if he stays healthy. However, the point is that the Indians are now in a much better position to attack the playoffs. Those lockdown innings of relief are much more important in October because there are simply fewer outs to work with over the course of the postseason than there are over the course of the summer. Andrew Miller has simply been stunning this season. In 45.1 innings, Miller has struck out 77 and walked 7. Opposing batters are hitting a paltry .174/.216/.304 against him. He is left-handed. He is signed for two more seasons after this one, for $9 million a pop. He is incredibly, ridiculously valuable. He will pitch for Cleveland in the playoffs. That’s why it made sense for the Indians to give so much up to the Yankees. As was discussed in the look at the recent Aroldis Chapman trade, the Yankees have now made a fully conscious effort to not contend in 2016. That’s resulted in them suddenly having what may be the best farm system in baseball. Clint Frazier, the headliner of the deal, is an outfielder who ranked 26th on Baseball Prospectus’ midseason top prospect list. Frazier has the potential to be a middle-of-the-order hitter and is already in Triple A at age 21. Also in the deal is Justus Sheffield, a Double-A lefty starter who has put himself into top-100 consideration, along with Triple-A reliever Ben Heller (he hits 100 MPH and has a strong slider) and Double-A reliever J.P. Feyeresien (80-grade name and a good, intriguing arm). Between that and the haul that they got from the Cubs, the Yankees have put themselves in excellent position to do as they please over the winter and in the coming years. Much of the old and cumbersome talent on the big league roster will soon be gone (via contract expiration or trade), and young talent will quickly begin to filter up through the farm. Frazier will be a very important aspect of that shift. Conversely, the Yankees could use this sudden glut of talent to trade for impact players already established in the league. For the first time in a generation, the Yankees took a step back from the full-steam-ahead mentality that has defined them for so long. But they’re still the Yankees, and they'll probably at least initially try to win in 2017. If Chris Sale were to suddenly become available over the winter, would Hal Steinbrenner be able to resist? We’ll have to wait and see. For now, however, the Indians are in even better position to run deep into the playoffs, and the Yankees are in even better position to be the masters of their own future. That’s what the trade deadline is all about. Cle[...]

Mechanical adjustments have let Justin Turner loose on pitchers everywhere


A testament to his leg kick and natural bat path, Justin Turner’s ability to hit the inside pitch is worthy of our admiration. For Justin Turner, some may believe his luscious flow of red cabbage and facial mimicry of Tormund Giantsbane are his only noticeable traits. And you know, you probably wouldn’t be wrong. Turner and Tormund, walking unmade beds whose copious sweat and hair, dyed red from the blood of their enemies, marks their respective battlefields. Though for Turner, it isn’t necessarily a Game of Thrones matter. More so a testament to his mastery of the game of zones. The former journeyman Turner has transformed his baseball career from overlooked role player to one of the most underrated everyday third basemen across both leagues. Since his arrival in Los Angeles, Turner has tallied a .299/.372/.490 slash in 332 games with the Dodgers, totaling a 139 OPS+, 9.9 oWAR, and .190 ISO. Guys like Turner, a former non-roster invitee, are often roster courtesies turned casualties, but his steady pace is no fluke. Turner is as mistakenly productive in the field as he is at the plate. Triggering the offensive turnaround for Turner was an offseason spent with Marlon Byrd, whose previous experiences led to a forcible reconstruction of his own approach at the plate. According to’s Phil Rogers, Turner claims he’s always had a leg kick in his pre-swing stride, though compared to today’s game, the 2013 version of himself doesn’t really cut it. Utilizing more of a timing toe-tap with a flailing bat, Turner was more of a handsy hitter who wasn’t transferring the rest of his body into the power of his swing. As he told Rogers last summer, he was “catching [the baseball] deep”, meaning Turner wasn’t extending through the baseball out in front of the plate. That Turner is gone. It would seem apparent that Byrd said just the right words, because Turner has adopted the look of much of today’s traditional power-hitting regulars. The left leg is much more pronounced in its rise, where he’s discarded the double-toe tap, his hands are much quieter in their readiness en route to the strike zone, and he’s adopted a more slightly open stance. Exchanging timidity with ferocity, Turner is no longer a victim of simple timing. He trusts what he sees, and his new accession to the baseball allows him to create heavy leverage in any scenario. And in this new sense of self, he’s developed a certain favoritism in one quadrant of the strike zone. There is a reason that Turner has been pitched predominantly on the outer half of the plate, and it’s because his trust in his front side has opened up a power path to the inner half of the plate. The idea of the leg kick is based around a hitter’s ability to recognize what he sees and adjust the placement of the front foot around the pitch. This hitting style, though not without its risks, is a way to maximize one’s power at all times. For Turner, it’s allowed him to clear his hips and, as he said before, hit the ball out in front of the plate. Though somewhat exposed up and in, Turner is discovering that his hands have a natural tendency to explode at their peak, down and in. All players have a built-in swing path that demonstrates where they naturally come through the strike zone. For example, D.J. LeMahieu is most comfortable middle-away, while Edwin Encarnacion inherently swings middle-in. For Turner, the path of his bat wants to be anywhere in and down, and yes, that’s where he tends to do the most damage. His ability to hit the pitch up and away is a testament to how Turner has translated old skills into what he is now, but given his swing rate on pitches down and in and his ability to find consistent contact in the bottom left portion of the strike zone, it’s evident he likes the ball down and in, because that’s where his bat wants to go. It’s no wonder his HR% has annually risen to what is now a career-high 4.5 percent, and des[...]

Matt Joyce is good again


Matt Joyce had a terrible 2015, but he has been great this season for the Pirates. What happened? Over the last couple of years, we have seen the Pittsburgh Pirates take in struggling players and somehow manage to garner solid production from them. The veteran Major Leaguers who turn things around as members of the Pirates occasionally get tagged with the ‘just needed a change in scenery’ narrative, but the fact of the matter is all of these so-called reclamation projects make some type of adjustment with their mechanics and/or approach. In addition to being the most recent player to match this description, outfielder Matt Joyce is a perfect example. Not only is he playing well as Pittsburgh’s fourth outfielder, but the mechanical and approach adjustments Joyce made that are behind his great play lead me believe that he is here to stay. A "productive Joyce" was a far cry from what we saw in 2015, a season where he posted a .174/.272/.291 slash line in 284 plate appearances for the Los Angeles Angels. Having fallen off a metaphorical cliff, there weren’t many positives to look for. The struggles weren’t at all hidden, but they were pretty well summed up by a 62 wRC+. A player who stood to benefit from a good contract year had anything but, and even Joyce’s ability to be a decent platoon option had apparently disappeared. Fast-forward to this season, and calling Joyce productive at the plate might be an understatement. In 177 plate appearances Joyce has been sensational. Not only has he managed to go from ‘well below average’ to ‘well above average’, in terms of wRC+, but Joyce has done most of it without having owning a starting role. That’s no surprise, since Starling Marte and Gregory Polanco are having two of the best seasons of their respective careers, and although Andrew McCutchen has struggled heavily, it is much too early to give up on him. It’s unfortunate that Joyce is stuck in a logjam like this, but how has he been able to turn things around in such a quick, drastic way? Let’s start with how Joyce has lowered his hands: As you can see, compared to 2015 Joyce’s hands are lower and a little further out from his body. Lower hands allow a hitter to get to the zone quicker, but they can help a batter get through the zone smoother and stay in the zone longer. It’s a lot like what Jake Lamb has done this season, in that it helps to keep his bat in the zone longer and can even allow a hitter to get more lift on the ball. In fact, Pedro Moura of the LA Times described how Joyce’s former manager, Mike Scioscia, was not surprised of this adjustment at all: Angels Manager Mike Scioscia said Friday he was not surprised that Joyce reversed the course of his career. He said it seemed to him that Joyce made the adjustments that the Angels’ coaches asked him to make, lowering his hands to achieve a smoother swing plane. "He had kind of toyed with them last year, but I think he committed to them over the winter," Scioscia said. "Just looking at the video we saw, he’s got a more consistent path to the ball." And that statement is backed up by statcast data taken from Baseball Savant: You can tell that Joyce now appears to be more consistent in his launch angle, though the small sample-size poses an obvious caveat. Thus far the lefty has gone from an average launch angle of 14.8 degrees to one much closer to 10 degrees. Lowering a players’ hands which contribute to a lower launch angle sound good, but there is a downside—a lower launch angle typically means more ground balls. Joyce is no exception, as his current ground ball rate is the highest of his career, but getting the ball into the line-drive/ground ball category has done wonders for his BABIP. Those two batted ball types, of course, lead to more hits than fly balls (though fly balls result in more extra base hits) and are probably why we’ve seen his BABIP go from .215 in 2015 to .333 this season. Jus[...]

Chris Davis is swinging at the wrong pitches


Chris Davis hasn’t had the same amount of success for the Baltimore Orioles in 2016. Back in January, the Baltimore Orioles signed first baseman Chris Davis to a seven-year, $161 million contract. On one hand, it was a lot of money and was a near guarantee to take Davis into his decline years, but on the other hand Davis was coming off a season of 5.6 fWAR in which he led all Major League first basemen in home runs and ISO. Sometimes it’s worth it to pay for that kind of production. Unfortunately, the production in year one of the new contract hasn’t been quite the same. After putting up a batting line of .262/.361/.562 that was good for a wRC+ of 147 in 2015, Davis is hitting just .227/.340/.462 in 2016. That’s still better than average, but it’s 35 percentage points worse than the year before — down to a wRC+ of just 112 — and takes him out of the rarefied air he was in last season. To provide a reference point, just 12 hitters finished the 2015 season with a wRC+ of 145 or better (Davis being one of those 12, of course), while a whopping 70 had a wRC+ of 110 or better. What took Davis from elite to merely above average? There are a few things here we can try to point to in order to explain what’s going on here. He’s currently rocking a career-worst 33 percent strikeout rate, which is not good. However, while it is a career high, Davis has always struck out a lot and 33 percent is only marginally higher than his 31 percent rate from 2015, so that doesn’t seem to explain the difference. He’s also hitting more fly balls, fewer line drives, and swinging at fewer pitches in the strike zone. Those may all tie into his pitch selection. Let’s take a look. Before we can determine the quality of his pitch selection, we first need to know which pitches he should be swinging at. As a hitter, you naturally want to offer at the pitches you can hit the hardest and stay away from the pitches you have a hard time squaring up. We have just the tool for this over at Baseball Savant, where we’re able to see Davis’ average exit velocity by pitch location in 2015: Baseball Savant Using this chart, we can see which pitches Davis should be attacking and which he should be staying away from. First, the pitches he hits hard. These are the pitches he’s most likely to have success against. We’ll use the three zones with the highest average exit velocities — zones 4, 5, and 8 — and compare his swing rate in those zones from last season to this season. The first chart you’ll see is from last season, the second is from this season: Baseball Savant Baseball Savant Anything you see here that isn’t a called strike or ball means Davis swung at the pitch. In 2015, he went after pitches in his hot zones 74.3 percent of the time. So far in 2016, he has swung only 67.4 percent of the time. That’s about seven percentage points less often than last year. Certainly not ideal, but hopefully he’s offset that by also swinging less at the pitches he struggles against. We’ll do the same thing as before, but this time we’re looking at the three zones with the lowest average exit velocity (12, 14, and 3). Again, 2015 will come first. Baseball Savant Baseball Savant In 2015, Davis swung at pitches in his cold zones 35.2 percent of the time. So far in 2016, that number has actually gone up to 40.5 percent, more than a five percentage-point increase. If you compound that with the fact that Davis is also swinging less in the areas he does well, you get a real problem starting to emerge. Swinging at fewer good pitches and more bad pitches is naturally going to lead to fewer balls being hit on the barrel, which in turn is going to lead to lesser power numbers. This is backed up in the numbers themselves, as Davis has seen his ISO drop from .300 to .235. He’s also on pace for just 63 extra-base hits in 2016 after having 78 a[...]