Dodgers Catchers’ Unique Traits Can Help Them Stand Out

The Dodgers’ current roster has two spots reserved for catchers. Yasmani Grandal being the headliner, and Austin Barnes being the backup/utility catcher. While being rather different forms of catchers, they both break some conventional rules of their position. The differences they have may come to be long-term benefits for the Dodgers as they will likely grant manager Dave Roberts flexibility in writing up the lineups every day. However, one point of interest and value that they share, something that won’t be lost regardless of who’s penned in, is in their pitch framing.

 

Per BaseballProspectus.com:

Yasmani Grandal Framing Chances Framing Runs
2016 (MLB + AAA) 6902 25.8

 

Austin Barnes Framing Chances Framing Runs
2016 (MLB + AAA) 4799 18.4

 

In 2016, Grandal claimed the 2nd spot in saving runs with his pitch-framing behind Giants’ catcher Buster Posey, who has saved 26.5 runs for San Francisco. Not that there is anything wrong with falling right behind Posey, but Grandal also had over 800 fewer chances. This means he was on pace to have possibly provided more value in his framing than any other catcher in the majors.

Similarly, Austin Barnes, despite almost all of his playing time being in AAA, performed even better than Grandal in this aspect. While pitch framing can be a fickle and finicky thing, dependent on the umpire’s eyes and mood, these numbers speak clearly. In literally thousands of chances, the Dodgers’ catchers have shown their strengths in pitch framing to be evident. At 28 and 27 years of age respectively, Grandal and Barnes still have quite a few years to provide this talent, a talent that will not likely decline with age.

Austin-Barnes-umpire

Dodgers catcher Austin Barnes appears to have a serious discussion with an umpire. (Photo by Kenny Karst/USA Today Sports)

Now, for how these players set themselves apart from each other and the archetypal catcher.

It’s often been said that catchers are defensive players and are generally not expected to provide much value offensively. While at first glance that seems to be true for Grandal, a look into more advanced metrics shows his value not found in his batting average.

Offensive Stats MLB Career Totals
Batting Average .238
On Base Percentage .348
Slugging Percentage .428
ISO .190
wOBA .341
wRC+ 119

While his BA is lower than most would consider ideal, every other number listed there is well-above league average. In other words, he doesn’t hit for average particularly well, but he definitely provides offensive value with his ability to work counts and earn walks, as well as with his power. In 2016, the switch-hitting catcher led National League catchers with 27 home runs, second in the majors to Evan Gattis, who spent about half the year as a DH. As mentioned above, Grandal is a switch-hitter (a relatively unique trait of his) but in 2016 almost all of his power came from him hitting left-handed. Of his 27 homers, only 4 of them came from the right side of the plate. During the last offseason, he worked to improve his production as a right-handed bat. So far in this young season, he has homered twice. Both home runs coming on Opening Day, one from each side of the plate.

Yasmani Grandal celebrates with his signature “Yasmanian Devil” Horns after hitting a homer. (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)

While Grandal leads MLB catchers with his power, Austin Barnes does not boast such power. He hit his first MLB home run on April 15th of this season. It has thus far remained his sole homer as a big-leaguer in a total of 94 plate appearances. That said, Barnes does have a few aspects to his playing that most catchers, including Grandal, lack. While the stereotypical catcher has bad knees from all the kneeling and beatings they deal with behind the plate and, by extension, they can’t run fast, Austin Barnes is a particularly speedy runner for the position he plays. According to FanGraphs, Barnes has a Speed score (SPD) of 6.8 in his limited time in the majors. This falls just shy of the top tier “excellent” marking at 7.0.

While speed may not help too much in the normal duties of a catcher, it does help greatly on the basepaths and in other defensive positions. It just so happens that Barnes can play other positions. His defensive versatility, another thing that sets him apart from most catchers, can serve as a great asset to the Dodgers. While they have no shortage of infield depth, Dave Roberts and co. may choose to play Barnes at 2B or 3B occasionally, as they have before. Though his extremely limited playing time in those positions gives next to no hint as to what his value there is, he can be considered a potential option for added infield depth.

The catchers on the Dodgers’ roster wield a handful of unique and valuable talents and traits that can help them to stand out and make their mark this season with the Dodgers.

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Padres Face Early Rotation Woes

Luis Perdomo

We haven’t reached the 2-week point of the season, yet the Padres are already facing two injuries to their initial starting rotation. Padres beat writer Dennis Lin reports that Luis Perdomo will be placed on the 10-day DL with “posterior shoulder inflammation”. He will join starter Trevor Cahill on the disabled list. Cahill was sidelined on April 6th with lower back tightness. The Padres are not very deep in the starting pitcher spot to begin with and shall be hard pressed to replace the veteran Cahill and young starter Perdomo.

Trevor Cahill

Jarred Cosart pitched well on Monday, slotting in for Cahill and throwing 4 scoreless innings. Fortunately for the Padres, it is possible that Cahill (10-day DL) can return for his next start, easing the uncertainty in the rotation. Cosart started 13 games for the Marlins and Padres in 2016, posting an ERA of 6.00 and 38 strikeouts in 57 innings. While Cosart has posted less than stellar numbers in the past, he is experienced and capable of eating some innings.

Zach Lee

25-year old RHP Zach Lee, started for Perdomo on Tuesday.  Zach held the Rockies scoreless for 5 1/3 innings earning his first big league win. Lee has 1 previous MLB start, and described his debut as “bittersweet“, allowing 7 runs in 4 and 2/3rds of an inning. Over the course of his minor league career, Lee has posted an ERA of 4.29 in 149 starts.  Zach was a first-round pick of the Dodgers in the 2010 amateur draft. According to Brooks Baseball, Lee throws 6 pitches and had a 20% whiff rate on his cutter in a very small reviewed sample size. Lee was recalled in the corresponding move to placing Cahill on the DL.

Jake Esch

Dennis Lin reports that the corresponding move to placing Perdomo on the DL will be recalling Jake Esch from the minors. Esch, a 27-year-old, RHP was claimed off of waivers from the Marlins. Jake throws 4 pitches and has a 4.02 ERA over 6 minor league seasons. He has made 3 major league starts with an ERA of 5.54. In his Padres debut, Esch faced two batters and walked both of them.

Early indications are that Lee and Esch could both be in the mix for starts, along with Tyrell Jenkins and Walker Lockett, both currently with AAA El Paso. Christian Friedrich is definitely a better option, however, he is sidelined with elbow tenderness.

Best case scenario here seems to be that Cahill can return for his next start, possibly bumping Cosart into Perdomo’s rotation spot. Additionally, the Padres received good news last week, when it was reported that Christian Freidrich does not have any tendon damage in his elbow, although no timetable is currently available.

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Projecting The Dodgers’ Payroll

The Los Angeles Dodgers enter 2017 with the highest payroll in baseball – the fourth year in a row that they have managed to do so.

$241 million. That’s a lot of money unless you’re the Dodgers. They probably just have Magic Johnson roll up with a dump truck full of money every quarter and unload it in center field. It almost seems unsustainable that they have been doing this. It probably is. As everyone knows, this all is possible because of a disaster $8.3 billion TV deal paid out over 25 years.

How do the Dodgers compare to the rest of the league in 2017? Per Dayn Perry of CBSSports:

  1. Dodgers $241 MM
  2. Yankees $201 MM
  3. Red Sox $199 MM
  4. Tigers $199 MM
  5. Blue Jays $179 MM
  6. Rangers $175 MM
  7. Giants $172 MM
  8. Cubs $172 MM
  9. Nationals $167 MM
  10. Orioles $163MM

That’s a fairly sizable gap between the Dodgers and Yankees. What’s worse for the Dodgers is the luxury tax. The MLB threshold for luxury tax in 2017 is $195 MM. Since 2013, the Dodgers have blown past the luxury tax and have not looked back. Every year that a team is over on the luxury tax, they must pay a percentage for each dollar spent over the limit. This percentage increases for repeat offenders. Starting in 2018, teams may even begin to lose draft picks for being over. Forbes has an excellent breakdown of the new collective bargaining agreement and is where I got some of the above information from.

What Goes Up Must Come Down

Not only does the luxury tax limit increase to $197 MM, the Dodgers have a project $170 MM on the books (before arbitration is factored in). A large part of that is Carl Crawford’s 21 MM/year and Alexander Guerrero 7.5 MM/year contracts coming to a merciful close. Andre Ethier will be a free agent as well. In 2019, there is an even more drastic drop to $107 MM. That’s a steep elevator ride, $241 MM to $170 MM to $101 MM. This is just in time for some high-priced free agents.

The 2018-2019 free agent class is likely going to be the best within the last 25 years. That is not hyperbole – look at this list.

Bryce Harper, Manny Machado, Clayton Kershaw, A.J. Pollock, Matt Harvey, Dallas Keuchel, Andrew McCutchen, Daniel Murphy, Josh Donaldson, Yasmani Grandal, Brian Dozier, Charlie Blackmon, David Price, Cody Allen, Jeurys Familia, Andrew Miller, and Zach Britton. This doesn’t even include players like Adrian Gonzalez, Brian McCann, Wilson Ramos, DJ LeMahieu, Jean Segura, Elvis Andrus, Adrian Beltre, Adam Jones, Jose Bautista, and Nelson Cruz.

The Dodgers have an opportunity to not only drop below the luxury tax limit, but they are also going to have the opportunity to sign someone of Manny Machado’s caliber. The Dodgers have had a top ranked farm system for the last few years, and players like Corey Seager, Joc Pederson, Grant Dayton, Cody Bellinger, Walker Buehler, Yadier Alvarez, Mitchell White, and Alex Verdugo will give them talent at an affordable rate.

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Strickland Out On Diaper Duty

Just call me the voice of the San Francisco pitchers. Just days after the 2017 season started, Hunter Strickland has been placed on paternity leave by the Giants. His wife Shelley is expecting their first child, a girl. The Strickland family talked about the difficulties they faced in conceiving a child, and went through several rounds of failed IVF attempts.

hunter_strickland_on_june_3_2015

Because Strickland’s spot in the bullpen needs to be filled, the Giants are bringing up LHP Steven Okert from Sacramento. Okert was big this last spring, but he had options and Neil Ramirez did not, hence why Okert started in Sacramento. For now, Okert is the second LHP in the Giants’ bullpen.

In the meantime, congratulations to Hunter and Shelley!

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Lefty-Loosey, Righty-Tighty: The Dodgers’ Tools to Fix Their LHP Woes

In case you haven’t heard, the Los Angeles Dodgers seem to have problems facing left-handed starters. It’s an issue that persisted throughout the 2016 season, and many worry it may continue throughout the 2017 season. However, the Dodgers have acquired even more depth to help adapt their lineup every day to best suit the match-up they face in that given day. So far, through four games, they’ve done just that. The Dodgers have faced a RHP, a LHP, then back to a RHP in the final two games of the series. Their lineups corresponding to each game have clearly reflected which arm the opposing pitcher throws with.

On Opening Day, against a righty, (Option A) Jhoulys Chacín, the lineup looked like:

Andrew Toles LF L
Corey Seager SS L
Justin Turner 3B R
Adrián González 1B L
Logan Forsythe 2B R
Joc Pederson CF L
Yasmani Grandal C S
Yasiel Puig RF R

The following day, against a lefty, (Option B) Clayton Richard:

Logan Forsythe 2B R
Corey Seager SS L
Justin Turner 3B R
Franklin Gutiérrez LF R
Yasiel Puig RF R
Adrián González 1B L
Yasmani Grandal C S
Kiké Hernández CF R

On Wednesday night, against righty Trevor Cahill, the Dodgers’ went right back to their lineup from Opening Day.

Thursday, at noon, the Dodgers faced Jered Weaver, a RHP. Their lineup, while different, was very similar to Option A. They gave Grandal and Turner the day off and let Austin Barnes and Chase Utley (shifting Forsythe to 3B) get a start in the opening series. Occasionally giving players some rest is a key part in the players performing effectively and not getting as fatigued in the long run, especially in a day game following a night game.

MeetingMound

Infielders Austin Barnes and Chase Utley (along with Justin Turner, Corey Seager, and Adrián González) meet with skipper Dave Roberts.

Will they always hop between these two basic lineups depending on the pitching match-up? Even ignoring the inevitable injuries and breaks for rest, like on Thursday, it’s highly unlikely. One could definitely argue for Option A to remain a constant, as close to an everyday lineup as possible, at least against righties. This mindset is completely understandable as they put up a total of 17 runs, 20 hits, and led the team to their first two wins of the season. Even with a few of the big bats resting, on Thursday, the Dodgers scored big again with a mostly similar lineup. Though the stellar performances from Clayton Kershaw, Rich Hill, and Brandon McCarthy clearly helped, the offense, in both those games, worked smoothly and struck early. Everything seems so much easier when you score early, doesn’t it?

So far, in just a singular outing, Option B has not looked so hot. They only put up 5 hits and were shutout. This could be simply due to them facing a LHP (sound familiar?), or it could be any number of other reasons. There exists very few smaller sample sizes in a 162 game season than a single game. However, baseball fans panic; I’m convinced it’s a prerequisite at this point. It’s simply too early to know for sure if the Dodgers will truly struggle against left-handed pitching yet again this year. One thing that can be known is how the Dodgers have tried to fix this issue, and how they still can.

The immediate example that comes to mind is Logan Forsythe. Along with his filling-in of the hole at 2B, his leadoff capabilities, and his defensive versatility, he has also historically hit LHP quite well. In his short time so far with the Dodgers, he has lived up to that potential. Specifically on Tuesday night, against a LHP, he went 2-3 with two singles, a walk, and even the out he made was a sharp line drive to centerfield.

logan-forsythe-morry-gash-ap2

Logan Forsythe is expected to be the (mostly) everyday second baseman this year.

Franklin Gutiérrez is another player acquired with the goal of improving against left-handed pitchers. He’s only started in the one game, and provided one of just three hits not hit by Logan Forsythe. He went 1-3 with a single and a strikeout. More on Gutiérrez here.

Another way the Dodgers hope to improve against lefties this season is by certain players returning to their pre-2016 form. For example, Kiké Hernández, a career .267 hitter against LHP, only hit for an average of .189 last season against them. While a small sample size of just 87 plate appearances, in 2015 against LHP he hit .423. Hopefully Hernández can remain focused and live up to the potential he has shown before. He has serious potential value as he can play virtually anywhere on the field, with speed and above-average defense, particularly in the outfield. Another player who underperformed in 2016 is Scott Van Slyke, a career .260 hitter against lefties. Although his average against lefties only dropped to .243 in 2016, the bigger concern is in his wrist injury. The wrist irritation that shelved him for all but 52 games ended up requiring arthroscopic surgery to clear cysts and scar tissue out of his wrist. There will be no way of knowing for sure if it had long-term effects until he plays more. However, two things are clear. One being that he was cleared by the medical team, and made the Opening Day roster. The other being his outfield versatility and ability to cover for Adrián González at 1B, presumably against LHP mainly, will provide a lot of value in a full and healthy season.

KikeSVS

Kiké Hernández and Scott Van Slyke celebrate a walk-off homer hit by Van Slyke in May 2015.

Despite the fact that the Dodgers are expected to improve against lefties with these returns and acquisitions, it may still remain an issue. However, looking back to 2016, though the issue of hitting against left-handed pitching was a year-long issue, it wasn’t made particularly apparent, and certainly didn’t make many headlines, until the end of the year. This year, if the matter continues to be a thorn in the side of the Dodgers, the front office can be expected to make a roster move or two to provide assistance. In other words: don’t panic. Not yet, at least.

As the Dodgers head out on their first road-trip of the 2017 season, they can see ahead on their schedule that they are set to face lefties in four of their next six games. This is a perfect opportunity to show they may just have it in them to triumph over their greatest apparent weakness.

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Breaking Down The Giants Position Players

In a previous post, I took a look at which position players may make the Opening Day roster for the Giants. Now, it is time to look at who really did.

Catcher: No surprises here, as Buster Posey‘s back-up will be veteran Nick Hundley.

Infield: 1st to 3rd will be Brandon Belt, Joe Panik, Brandon Crawford and the speedy Eduardo Nunez (who has three stolen bases in the first four games of the season). Aaron Hill made the team as a backup infielder, and has already seen some time in left field, his first career appearance in the outfield. Postseason hero Conor Gillaspie also made the team, although he probably will not see much action.

Kelby Tomlinson begins the season at Triple-A Sacramento and Jimmy Rollins was granted his release after being told he wouldn’t make the club.

Outfield: The left field battle ended up not being as exciting as I would have hoped, as Mac Williamson went down with an injury during spring. He is expected to go to Triple-A once he returns. His competition for the spot was Jarrett Parker, who starts the season in a platoon with Chris Marrero, who hit the cover off of the ball in spring, hitting eight home runs, including a few walk-off blasts.

Denard Span started the year in center field, although a bruised hip is currently keeping him out of action. Gorkys Hernandez is available as a fill-in much the same way as Gregor Blanco had been the past several seasons.

Hunter Pence is, as always, happy to hang out in right field, and, barring injury, should start almost every game for the team this season.

The outfield situation is quite concerning and a definite spot to watch… Stay tuned!

 

 

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Opening Day Remarks & Review of The ‘Pen and Up the Middle

Before going into any review, just a few remarks on Opening Day, which I was lucky enough to have attended. First things first, what a game. Both teams were out there battling, a pitcher hit two homers, and a “non-hitting” catcher went 3 for 4, including breaking up the Perfect Game and helping to spark a rally in the ninth. Of course, in true D-backs fashion, we won the game with a bloop single in the bottom of the ninth. There were multiple good things to take out of this game, most notably the way the offense looked. Pollock was back and firing, we got contributions off of the bench, and the timely hits were there, except for in the 8th when Jake Lamb and Yasmany Tomás grounded the rally to a stop. That 8th inning had the feeling of so many games last year. You have a rally building through, punch in a run with Paul Goldschmidt, then suddenly a double play and it’s killed. Tomás was absolutely bamboozled by off-speed the entire game, having no semblance of comfort in the box, but where the nugget of hope for change came was in the ninth, via Mr. Jeff Mathis and Mr. Daniel Descalso. Mathis was introduced this offseason, coming in alongside Chris Iannetta as the replacement for Beef Welington. It showed a fairly distinct move in ideology about the catching position, going for more defensive catchers. Daniel Descalso was brought in with the subsequent departure of Phil Gosselin, which received quite a few head scratches at the time. What I got out of it was that they were trying to address the issue of situational hitting that has plagued us in recent years. Descalso last year posted a .368 RISP average. Gosselin hit .178. This move certainly paid off for us in this game, and I think it will continue for the rest of the season, as Descalso develops as a bit of a fan favorite.

Here are the links to my previous articles concerning the bullpen and the middle infield

In the bullpen, we wound up with seven pitchers: 5 righties and 2 lefties. As far as surprises go, none were particularly shocking, especially with so many of the spots up for contest. Archie Bradley lost out on the fifth spot, sticking him in the ‘pen, but look to see him making some spot starts here and there, and if struggles start to emerge, he seems to be next in line for the rotation. I was pretty happy to see Tom Wilhelmsen on the roster, as he had a good Spring and has some local ties to Tucson, having lived and worked here for a little bit as a bartender. JJ Hoover pushed his way on with a stellar spring. Andrew Chafin and Ranall Delgado were bound to be on there, and the same goes for Fernando Rodney, who I hope turns things around after that misstep on Opening Day, but at least it was a non-save situation, so take it with a grain of salt, if you believe in such things as performances being altered by situation. Sadly, Evan Marshall was claimed off of waivers by the Mariners this week. He started off his D-backs career very promising, putting up a 2.74 ERA in 2014, but he has been rough in the years since after taking a line drive to the head. I know I am wishing him all the best in Seattle.

For the middle infield, I had my write-up pretty close to the end of the Spring Training, so the decisions seemed pretty apparent at that point, and I was correct on Chris Owings and Brandon Drury getting the first looks up the middle. Nick Ahmed proved some worth off the bench in the first game, and hopefully we will see it continue, maybe with him putting up some better hitting numbers. I will continue watching Ketel Marte down at Reno, seeing what sort of season he puts together. I think that should he begin the season hot, we may be seeing him sooner rather than later, especially if Ahmed does not pan out coming off of the bench.

I thoroughly loved going to Opening Day for the second year, and I’m hoping to continue it as a yearly tradition! Here’s a bit of my experience, and here’s hoping for a great season!

All Stats courtesy of baseball-reference.com.
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