Table of Contents

Wednesday, April 08, 2015

Devin Mesoraco's Bat Story

Devin Mesoraco will bring new lumber this year.
Photo Credit: Keith Allison
As someone who now calls central PA home, I absolutely loved C.Trent's story about Devin Mesoraco's bats.  I'm less than an hour from Punxsutawney, and the abundant maple trees in this area are a defining feature of our landscape.  It's pretty neat that he was able to get a dozen bats from trees living on his property.  I'm with the bat manufacturer, though: it's going to be tragic when they get broken this year.  I'm going to wince every time he breaks a bat this season.  Excerpt:
The entire Mesoraco family kept tabs on the process, and they were lucky because one of the two facilities Marucci uses, a mill in Punxsutawney, is just seven miles from Mesoraco's house. From there it was sent to Baton Rouge, Louisiana, where Marucci carves the bats, and even there a bat could get rejected. 
"That was a big fear because you don't know, you can look at a tree, you can read the grain pattern, but you don't know until you get in," Marucci said. "Or even when we cut them on the lathe, there's defects inside. We're so particular, we'll cut 40-some bats to get a dozen. It worked out perfectly, we picked out the perfect trees. We were fortunate and it was some of the best quality wood we've seen." 
In the end, there were 12 bats Mesoraco will use throughout this season — the DM 814 models are the ones from his house, the 814 representing his area code.
Great stuff by C.trent!

Friday, April 03, 2015

Better Know a Red: Kevin Gregg

Photo Credit: Keith Allison
Kevin Gregg was signed on a minor league deal over the offseason, and yesterday was added into the major league roster in a surprise decision to take him over Sam LeCure.  Gregg, along with fellow newcomer Burke Badenhop, will be counted on to help turn around the Reds 2015 bullpen after a rough year in 2015.  As a guy with 177 career saves to his name, he would seem to bring some pedigree.  He entered pro-ball, however, as a 15th-round selection out of Corvallis High School, Oregon, when the Oakland Athletics took him in 1996.  It wasn't until 2003, however, that he made his big league debut after becoming a six-year minor league free agent and then ultimately signing with the Anaheim Angels.

Throughout his minor league career, he was primarily a starting pitcher, but it wasn't until 2004 with the Angels as a 26-year old that he finally was tried in the major league bullpen.  He was reasonably effective in two of his three seasons with the Angels, but then was traded in the pre-2007 offseason to the Florida Marlins in exchange for a younger Chris Resop.  There, the Marlins tapped him as the closer, a role that he would hold for at least part of six of the next seven years for five different clubs.  Here are his career stats:


To be honest, Gregg's career as a closer seems like a shining example of how a mediocre pitcher can put up pretty nice safe numbers.  He's had some good seasons.  In 2010, for example, he posted an 84 ERA- to go with his 37 saves for the Blue Jays.  But over 2007-2011, his stint as a more or less full-time closer, was marked by an ERA only about 10% better than average (89 ERA-).  He has always posted decent to excellent strikeout rates, but he has also almost always had poor walk rates and, often, fairly poor ground ball rates to boot.  His stats profile looks like the classic hard-thrower who doesn't know where it's going.

I was surprised to learn, therefore, that he really doesn't throw that hard.  He's a big guy (listed at 6-6, 245 lbs), but his highest average fastball velocity was in 2008 when he threw 93 mph.  That number has been falling in recent years, and was in the 90-91 mph range the last few seasons.  So what does he throw?

He throws a pretty full complement of pitches, which is probably how he stuck as a starter through the minors.  It also seems like a pretty good indication of why he was tapped as a closer so often: if a team doesn't have a dominant pitcher, they should at least look to someone who can get batters from both sides out.  The mix of a splitter, cutter, and curve-ball gives him weapons that break both directions on the plate, which means he should be effective against both righties and lefties.  That fits his results, too: over his career, he's allowed a .311 wOBA vs. left-handed batters and a .320 wOBA vs. right-handed batters.  That's a reverse split, with about 1500 batters faced in each case.

His cutter seems a little slider-like to me, especially given how much slower it comes in than his true fastball.  It has a little bit of rise to it (~7" vertical rise), however, so "cutter" seems like a good definition of the pitch to me.

One thing that did catch my eye with his Brooks pages, however: Gregg's velocity has been up this spring:
It's not a big spike.  But after being down the last few years, his spring average of 93.2 mph is his best monthly mark since June 2011 (93.6 mph).  I imagine that helped his cause a bit with the Reds opting to take a flier on him.

2015 Outlook

Gregg is entering his age-37 season, and his projections are ugly.  Steamer projects a 4.18 ERA.  ZiPS projects 4.64.  He is coming off season-ending surgery last August to remove bone chips in his elbow, a similar procedure (if memory serves) to what Mat Latos had prior to the 2014 season.  His velocity seems good this spring, based on a handful of pitchf/x games, and the Reds seem happy with his performance.

If he's right, the dream is that Gregg can provide quality middle-relief against batters from both sides of the plate.  And yeah, sure, maybe he's got another quality season in the tank.  The concern, of course, is that if he can't keep his walk rates down (and he usually can't), his fly ball tendencies might lead to some big innings for the opposing team.  There's not much else that we can do other than hope, at least, that he can down the fort long enough for Sam LeCure to figure things out in AAA.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Tony Cingrani to the bullpen

Tony Cingrani could be a weapon for the Reds out of
the bullpen this season.  But does it matter if the game
is already out of hand?
Photo credit: Patrick Reddick
There was big news out of Goodyear today when Bryan Price, for the first time since last season, indicated that Tony Cingrani is destined for the pen.  Some quotes from Doug Miller's article:
"It means that we're going to get Iglesias stretched out, and as of right now, we're looking at Tony as more of a relief option than as a starting option," Reds manager Bryan Price said. "We have to find a way to get out of the gates strong, and at this point in time, the feeling was that organizationally, Tony's better suited for us at the moment as a relief pitcher."
....
"We want to keep him strong and healthy, and we've had a hard time doing that the last two years. … So one of the things that we hope is that pitching out of the bullpen will allow him to be strong and remain strong, and then evaluate if we think it's a good idea to look at him as a starter in the future."
As I wrote last season, Cingrani has seen some fairly dramatic fluctuations in his fastball velocity in his short big-league career.  When throwing out of the pen in 2013, he showed about a 2 mph jump in velocity.  And last year, just before he went on the DL, he showed a severe loss in velocity, and struggled with arm problems the rest of the season.

In a lot of ways, moving Cingrani to the bullpen makes a lot of sense.  First, he's left-handed.  With Chapman the closer and Marshall perpetually injured, the only lefty the Reds have in the bullpen available in the late innings is Manny Parra.  Second, he is exactly the kind of guy that you'd expect to do really well in the pen: he has a fairly limited repertoire highlighted by an explosive fastball that he has already demonstrated that he can throw harder in shorter stints.  Third, as Price indicated, perhaps a move to the pen will be easier on his arm, allowing him to stay healthy and have a longer, more productive career.

That said, as Doug pointed out, he's had good success as a MLB starter despite his apparent limitations.  In 157 career MLB innings as a starter, he has a 3.78 xFIP and has struck out more than a batter per inning.  Steamer projects him for a 3.66 ERA, while ZiPS projects him for a 3.98 ERA.  I sort of expected the Reds to let him pitch his way out of the role, but that's not in the cards.

Still, given that the Reds have DeScalfani and Iglesias as viable options for #4 and #5 starters, and can fill in for Homer Bailey with one of the veteran replacement player cogs in camp, I can be on board with them shifting Cingrani to the pen to start the season.

But then Price said this:
"The thing is, when we have veteran guys like Marquis and Maholm, you're not going to use them for one start," Price said. "If they're going to be on our team, the hope is that they're on our team for an entire season, if not longer. And that's how we have to look at that. … You can back-and-forth a young guy. You can start a game or two and then go down to the Minor Leagues or go to the bullpen and help us as a long guy. So Marquis and Maholm are looking more like long-term, start-to-finish options for us."
...honestly, I'm speechless.  What?

Update: I'm still speechless, but fortunately Dave Cameron is not.  And he's right.

Prospecting Reds Pitchers with Steamer (2015)

Continuing my look at 2015 Reds prospects, here are Steamer projections for Reds top pitching prospects.  Here is the 2015 hitter prospects post, and here is my 2014 post on Reds pitching prospects.

The Reds are pitcher-heavy in their prospects, with a good number of both top-tier and mid-range prospects who could be ready for promotion in the next 12 to 18 months.

Age-25 Pitchers

Raisel Iglesias was signed last year after defecting from Cuba.  He has always been a relief pitcher, but the Reds think his four pitches can make him an effective starting pitcher.  He pitched as a starter in the Arizona Fall League, which, aside from this year's Spring Training, has been his only professional work in the United States.  Ideally, he will work out as a starter.  But at the same time, he's already 25, his stuff may be MLB ready in a relief role, and if he throws all season as a starter he will likely have a low inning limit.  Therefore, there's a lot of talk that he might pitch out of the Reds' bullpen most of the year.  I'm still hoping that they get him some starting experience later this season, but I'm ok with him being a reliever for some of the year.

Update 45 minutes after posting: news from the Reds today has Iglesias getting the nod as a starter over Tony Cingrani.  I'm surprised, but it is nice to see Iglesias being taken seriously as a potential starting pitcher.  Whether he'll be starting in Cincinnati or Louisville remains to be seen.

Age-24 Pitchers

Anthony DeScalfani was acquired in the Mat Latos trade, and seems very likely to break camp in the Reds' rotation.  While he might not have Tony Cingrani's ceiling, I'm pretty comfortable with DeSclafani as the Reds' #5 pitcher this year, and hope he gets that chance.

Age-23 Pitchers

This is an interesting group.  David Holmberg seemed to take a step back last year, at least early in the season, when he reportedly showed up to spring training out of shape and overweight.  He made a late-season appearance for the Reds, however, and held his own nicely.  He's down the pecking order a bit in terms of rotation jobs, but as a lefty there is always a chance that he might be asked to throw out of the bullpen this year.  Nevertheless, he's young enough, given his accomplishments, that he might still find his way into the rotation.

A few years ago, Daniel Corcino was among the most heralded of the Reds pitching prospects.  Unfortunately, regressed badly since then, and seems to be moving toward a career in the bullpen.  As a strong arm out of the pen, he does still have a shot at being a quality middle reliever, but I don't hold out a lot of hope that he'll ever provide a lot of value in the rotation.

Daniel Wright was a 2013 draftee out of Arkansas State University, and last year was his first season in as a full-time starter in professional baseball, and had a really nice 6.6 k/bb ratio (8.2 k/9, 1.2 bb/9).  He's a bit behind the others in terms of level, but should be in Pensacola at least some time this season.

Age-22 Pitchers

This is a big group, and represents a big chunk of the core of the Reds' pitching talent in the minors.  Jon Moscot is the polished, low ceiling, high-floor guy, who easily could find himself in the big leagues this year.

Michael Lorenzen has been skyrocketing up the depth charts since he converted to a starting pitcher just two years ago, and reports out of spring training have been ridiculous (sitting 97-98 mph in relief, and wowing Bryan Price).  He, also, is being talked about as a potential reliever for the Reds this season.  Unlike Iglesias, Lorenzen has age on his side, and I personally see little reason to start his service time clock early.  If I was confident that the Reds have the organizational will to move a pitcher back into the rotation after having strong success in the bullpen, I might think differently.  But I just don't trust them to do it.

Amir Garrett, a former two-sport player, has quit basketball and is now focusing on baseball full-time.  He's making strides as a result.  Nick Howard and recently-acquired Jonathon Crawford are both 1st-round draft picks with good performances behind them so far.  And for some reason, Steamer didn't make a projection for Wyatt Strahan, but he, along with passed-through-waivers Ismael Guillon, is distantly behind the other guys in this group.

Age-21 Pitchers

Robert Stephenson struggled for the first time last season, showing a big spike in his walk rate as he apparently tried to harness his command and pitch selection.  Most talent evaluators didn't seem particularly worried, however, given the quality of his stuff and his reputation as a smart, hard-working guy.  For what it's worth, neither does Steamer: despite just now entering his age-21 season, and only reaching AA, Stephenson got the best ERA projection among all Reds prospects.  The #2 guy, DeSclafani, is slated to be in the Reds rotation to start the year.  Here's hoping he rebounds well this year and is pitching in Cincinnati by the fall.

Age-20 Pitchers

Here are two pitchers who made huge strides last year.  Nick Travieso was the Reds' 1st-round selection in 2012 out of high school, but it wasn't until last year, when he repeated with Dayton, that he really put together numbers that would justify that selection.  He's still not posting outstanding strikeout numbers, but the scouting reports seem very strong, and I'm seeing reports that his velocity is inching back up.

Sal Romano, who was also in the Dayton rotation last year, took a similar step forward, with even better peripherals than Travieso.  As a result, he shot up the prospect rankings, and is now seen as something of a sleeper.  Both are still very young, and provide some much-needed depth in the lower minors for Reds pitching.

Age-19 Pitchers

Tyler Mahle has appeared at the bottom of this post two years running now.  He's not getting a lot of attention, but he posted great peripherals out of Billings' rotation last year (4.7 k/bb, 8.3 k/9), and might be throwing in the midwest league next year as a 19-year old (like Travieso and Romano did last year).  He'll be one to watch.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Redleg Nation asks: Should the NL adopt the DH?

Would Reds fans get to see more of Joey Votto
during his career if they had a DH?  Yeah, maybe.
Photo credit: Keith Allison
Today, Redleg Nation ran a post asking its various contributors to weigh in on the question of whether the National League should adopt the Designated Hitter.  This isn't something imminent, but I think everyone realizes that with offense down, this could well become one of the strategies that baseball adopts to increase its run environment.

There are a lot of arguments against the DH.  One set of them is based on ideals.  "It's tradition." "Every player should have to field and bat." "This is how baseball is meant to be."  Those arguments don't do much for me.  Then there are other arguments for it based on strategy, which work better for me.  Having a pitcher spot in the lineup introduces interesting strategic elements into the game.  Here are at least some of them:

  • When a pitcher is due up in the next inning, managers may be less likely to remove them mid-inning to set up a more favorable match-up.  This is an interesting decision, and might help prevent mid-inning pitching changes (which, in turn, might speed up games).
  • When a pitcher is throwing well but a team needs offense, there is an equally-interesting decision to be made about whether to pinch hit for him.
  • Double-switches are a fun, and have the consequence of removing a regular from a game in favor of a bench player.  
  • The necessity of having at least a few pinch hitter appearances in most games guarantees bench players will get into games more often.
These arguments held sway over me for a long time.  But over the past year, I've come to like the DH.  Some reasons:
  • Like it or not, pitchers are just not good at hitting.  In fact, one can use pitcher offense as a measure of league quality.  They aren't trained to do it, and it's not fun to watch them hit.
  • It doesn't happen often, but sometimes pitchers get hurt hitting or running the bases.  To cut down on injury risk, they are not even encouraged to run with maximum effort.  Again, not fun to watch.
  • The DH means fewer sacrifice bunts.
  • The DH allows for some small amount of specialization to improve the quality of play: offensive lineups get better because bad-fielding hitters can still play, and defense gets better because bad-fielding hitters don't have to field.
  • The DH allows hitters to get rest without actually taking a full game off.  Similarly, it sometimes allows players with a minor injuries to still play.  This should mean that fans get to see their favorite players in games more often.  Would Joey Votto have been able to play more last year if the Reds could use the DH?  I'm not sure, but maybe.
  • Fewer pitchers should be needed per game because managers are not forced to pinch hit for a pitcher.  This should help keep bullpens more rested, and makes it easier for managers to get the match-ups they want in late innings.  
  • It means that player performances decide games, not the machinations of managers.  That's what this game is all about.
So, there you have it.  Bring on the DH.  I'm finally converted.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Prospecting Reds Hitters with Steamer

As I did last year, tonight I'm reporting on preseason projections for the Reds' Top Prospects.  I find this to be a useful way to follow the progress of Reds prospects, since I do not track most of them closely from season to season.  Since Oliver doesn't seem to be readily available, I've switched to using Steamer this year.  While it does not provide baserunning or fielding projections, it provides deep projections throughout the minor leagues and seems appropriately conservative with prospects.  Reds Prospect rankings are based on this.

Caveat: No matter what the system, projection systems are NOT the ideal method to evaluate minor league players.  Scouting-based approaches work better, period.  But I can't scout.  And blending projections with top prospect lists was something that I took to doing when I was into fantasy baseball a few years ago.  If nothing else, it's place to start when trying learn players.  Keep in mind that all numbers below are projections for what the player would do in the major leagues.  In most cases, that's not relevant to what they'll do in the minors this season.  But it gives you an idea of how well they have developed to this point.

Age-24 Players


Graduating from this cohort last year was Billy Hamilton, and Tucker Barnhart seems just about ready to assume his career as a backup major league catcher.  He will probably never be much of a hitter, but he'll field well enough to be a valuable bench player.

Seth Mejias-Brean had another nice first half in Bakersfield last season, but struggled a bit when promoted to Pensacola.  If he can make the adjustment this year, he could be in Louisville by mid-summer.  I don't know if he will be a starter, but he could be an intriguing utility bat that provides nice on-base skills as early as next season.


Age-23 Players

Kyle Waldrop was the Reds' minor league hitter of the year in 2014, building upon what was already an impressive minor league resume.  He has shown good doubles power, some home run power already, makes contact well enough, and is on pace to reach AAA this year.  If only he were a bit more patient.

Chad Wallach was recently acquired in the Mat Latos trade, and has shown outstanding plate discipline skills so far.  I understand that his defense is well behind his offense, but I would like to see the Reds be fairly aggressive in promoting him this season given the state of his bat.


Age-22 Players

Yorman Rodriguez finally reached the big leagues last year as a 22-year old.  The astonishing thing about him is that since arriving in AA in 2013, he seemingly has learned to take a walk (9.4% BB last season).  His strikeouts were also down a bit (23%).  If he can keep his patience while improving his contact rates even more, or while showing a bit more power, he still can take a legitimate step forward.

2013's first-round draft pick Phil Ervin had a miserable season last year.  Injuries might have played a role, and it's worthwhile to remember how high we were on him this time last season.  I'm sure he'll repeat Dayton; let's all hope he has a big season.  Wouldn't it be strange for the one Reds' first round bust in recent years to be a college position player?

Alex Blandino is interesting to me, because it seems like Reds fan-prospect guys are more down on him than the national prospect guys.  That rarely happens, especially with an offense-oriented middle infielder.  Yeah, he probably won't stick at shortstop.  Nevertheless, he is showing decent power, which was the big concern on him when he was drafted out of Stanford.  I like him a little bit.  And quit it with the Chris Valaika comps, people.

Age-21 Players

Not surprisingly given his performance, level, and age, Jesse Winker has the best hitting projection of any Reds prospect.  That said, Steamer also still seems to think that he could use some more development time in the minor leagues.  I'm hearing that he is likely to start the season in AA, though I think we'd all be surprised if he's not at least in AAA by midseason.  If the Reds tank and they flip Marlon Byrd at the trade deadline, would you bring up Winker if he's mashing?  Or do you try to hide him until May 2016 to keep him longer?

Aristides Aquino is rose quickly in the prospect rankings this year on the back of his strong showing in Billings, but he still has yet to play over rookie ball.  I'm finding myself intrigued by Carlton Daal as the only middle-infielder not named Alex Blandino in the Reds system to make a top-prospect list, although Kiley McDaniel, at least, doesn't seem very impressed by his defense.

Jose Ortiz is a guy I keyed in on last year as being an interesting hitter out on the fringe.  For some reason, however, he didn't get a lot of playing time in 2014.  I haven't seen any reports of injury.  When he played, he didn't hit very well, but he didn't play a lot.

Age-20 Players

Drafted in the fourth round last year out of Carl Albert High School in Midwest City, Oklahoma, Gavin LaValley had a nice year for Goodyear before a short stint in Billings.  He'll be just 20 years old this year, but his performance was enough to vault him onto all but one top-xx Reds prospect list in my sample.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

2015 Cincinnati Reds Composite Prospect Rankings

Taking a page from Chris St. John (and as I've done in the past), here are consensus rankings for 2015 Cincinnati Reds top prospects.  The methods, in brief: I collected top prospect lists from five sources that I respect and gave points to players based on their position on the rankings.  Being listed first earned a player 28 points, being listed second earned 27 points, and so on.  If a player was not ranked on a list, he did not earn points from that list.  The consensus rankings were then determined by simply totaling up the points for a player.

The lists:
* Kiley's list was published last November, and so did not include any of the newly acquired Reds.  Based on this comment and the average rank of a projected 45 FV prospect on the Reds' list, I gave DiSclafani an equivalent ranking to Kyle Waldrop.  I don't have any information on Kiley's opinions of Jonathon Crawford or Chad Wallach, so I just left them blank.  This likely underrates Crawford, at least.

** Doug's list has been updated to include these new arrivals, which pushed three previously-ranked players off his list.  I kept them, giving them ranks 26, 27, and 28.

Here is the list!

2015 Cincinnati Reds Composite Top Prospect List

Rank
Player
Total Pts
# Lists
Avg Rnk
Change
1
Robert Stephenson
139
5
1.2
+0
2
Jesse Winker
134
5
2.2
+2
3
Michael Lorenzen
129
5
3.2
+5
4
Nick Howard
114
5
6.2
1st Rnd
5
Nick Travieso
108
5
7.4
+4
6
Raisel Iglesias
97
4
4.8
Intl. FA
7
Yorman Rodriguez
88
4
7.0
-2
T-8
Anthony DeSclafani
84
4
8.0
Trade
T-8
Alex Blandino
84
4
8.0
1st Rnd
10
Amir Garrett
83
4
8.3
+7
T-11
Phillip Ervin
74
4
10.5
-8
T-11
Aristides Aquino
74
4
10.5
+12
13
Kyle Waldrop
50
3
12.3
+14
14
Sal Romano
49
3
12.7
+27
15
Gavin LaValley
43
4
18.3
4th Rnd
16
Seth Mejias-Brean
33
3
18.0
+2
17
Jonathon Crawford
29
2
14.5
Trade
18
Taylor Sparks
26
3
20.3
2nd Rnd
19
Tucker Barnhart
25
2
16.5
-6
T-20
Jon Moscot
22
2
18.0
-8
T-20
Junior Arias
22
2
18.0
+4
22
Tyler Mahle
17
2
20.5
+13
23
Wyatt Strahan
16
2
21.0
3rd Rnd
24
Daniel Corcino
16
1
13.0
-13
25
Chad Wallach
15
2
21.5
Trade
26
Ismael Guillon
10
2
24.0
-12
27
David Holmberg
10
1
19.0
-21
28
Carlton Daal
8
1
21.0
---
29
Jose Ortiz
7
1
22.0
-15
30
Jeremy Kivel
5
1
24.0
-11
T-31
Jackson Stephens
3
1
26.0
-10
T-31
Daniel Wright
3
1
26.0
---
33
Sebastian Elizalde
1
1
28.0
Intl. FA
Big risers include Michael Lorenzen, Nick Travieso (who were already ranked well), Aristides Aquino, Kyle Waldrop, and Sal Romano.

Big fallers include Phillip Ervin, Jon Moscot (due to pessimism on ceiling rather than performance), Daniel Corcino, David Holmberg, and Jose Ortiz.

Among the top-10, the guy this methodology may be missing low on is Rasiel Iglesias.  He didn't make Baseball Prospectus's top-10 list, but otherwise was ranked aggressively on the other lists (average of 5th).  Reports out of spring training have been very positive on him, though Michael Lorenzen seems to be stealing the show.

2014 4th round pick Gavin LaValley also caught my eye.  He didn't make Baseball America's top-10 list, but appeared everywhere...including Baseball Prospectus's top-10.  Former football player-turned-thinner baseball player with good power potential.

Reactions?  Thoughts?