The Diamondbacks are setting themselves up to be a contender when 2016 comes around.
Very quietly, they have already been turning heads this season, going 63-66 coming into today. Many expected them to be much worse, considering they were the worst team in baseball last year.
But in all reality, the Diamondbacks have a great young core, including two of the National League's best players, Paul Goldschmidt and A.J. Pollock, who rank second and fourth in the NL in fWAR, respectively.
Overall, all eight of the Diamondbacks' starters are under the age of 30.
So why are the Diamondbacks all of a sudden possible contenders in 2016?
Even with Goldschmidt and Pollock, Arizona has some really nice pieces that could continue to develop as they begin to enter their primes.
Outfielder David Peralta (.872 OPS) has been a breakout candidate this year. Cuban signee Yasmany Tomas (.739 OPS) continues to develop into a solid Major League hitter. And rookie shortstop Jake Lamb (.736 OPS) has been above average both offensively and defensively.
With all their offense comes their pitching. The return of Patrick Corbin from Tommy John surgery is a welcome sight. Add top prospect Archie Bradley to the mix and a possible mid-to-top free agent signing and the Diamondbacks have one of the more formidable rotations in the National League.
Many questioned the Diamondbacks thinking when they attempted to acquire Aroldis Chapman at the trade deadline. However, Chapman is signed through next season, and if Arizona thinks they can contend, he would be a great supplement to an already above-average bullpen. If the Diamondbacks did get him and went ahead and re-signed him, that'd be an even greater and more worthwhile addition.
Obviously, they think they can contend. So, in 2016, watch out for the Arizona Diamondbacks. They have the talent to be a contender and very well may be.
I’ve been reading the book Big Data Baseball by Travis Sawchik of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. It’s a wonderful read and something that I have greatly enjoyed.
Sawchik notes that the Pirates used pitch framing as the reasoning behind signing catcher Russell Martin to perhaps the best deal the team has made in their recent years of success. Martin’s pitch framing allowed them to add runs saved on defense through an otherwise unknown way, in theory leading them to more wins.
As I continue to digest what I’ve read, I thought of another perhaps undervalued defensive adjustment: pitcher defense.
As we know, most of the value of a pitcher is through their ability to get strikeouts without allowing walks or hit batters. Hits and home runs allowed are usually based upon the defense the pitcher has behind him, the park he is playing in, and other luck factors.
But what about a pitcher’s ability to defend their position? Could that be a way to change a team’s thinking, or at least give that some thought in making a free agent signing? I don’t know. I do think it is interesting, and with FanGraphs.com right at my fingertips, the data is really easy to find and present.
The Phillies will probably be trading star second baseman Chase Utley here in the next few weeks.
The 36-year-old is a free agent at the end of the season. Due to a recent hot stretch since a return from the disabled list, many teams are showing interest in Utley, including the Angels, Dodgers, Yankees, Giants, Cubs, and possibly Astros.
As much as the Phillies have shown the need and willingness to rebuild, I’m not sure dealing one of the greatest players in their franchise history is the smartest move for them.
First off, Utley’s payroll obligations already limit the type of return they could get for him. He’s owed more than $6 million between contracts throughout the rest of the season and a $2 million buyout on a team option at the end of the year.
The only scenario where the Phillies could even get a prospect for Utley that is good enough to make a real impact at the big league level is through taking on most, or even all, of his salary. The Philadelphia market size will allow them to do that and they’ve already shown that they will do that in taking on a good chunk of Cole Hamels’ deal in the trade with the Texas Rangers and all of Matt Harrison’s deal in the same swap.
So, say the Phillies do decide to take on $4 million or $5 million or even all of Utley’s salary. The question now becomes: Does a team really want to give up a Top-20 or Top-25 prospect just to get six weeks of Utley? As each day passes, each team has fewer regular season games left, and is closer to seeing where they will stand at the end of the year.
Sure, Utley is an add for the postseason, as well. That’s where he will provide the most value. And it might not even come via his performance. Utley is well respected around the game as a “true professional” and will add clubhouse leadership. While this cannot be seen on the back of baseball cards, it is definitely something that will go a long way for the team acquiring him.
Which is why he's a good fit for the Cubs, where he might be able to fix Starlin Castro (although, that might be a little too farfetched), but could provide postseason experience to a team that’s oldest infielder is 26-year-old Anthony Rizzo (if you include Castro).
But Utley could do exactly the same thing back in Philadelphia. They are rebuilding, but they could still use a mentor and a leader for their increasingly younger team. As they continue to move veterans out of Philly, they need to realize that the guys left need someone to provide leadership, to help them if they happen to be in a slump.
Utley doesn’t want to leave Philadelphia. But should the team really want him to go?
Justin Masterson was designated for assignment by the Red Sox on Sunday. Fans were elated that he would finally be out of their organization after a poor year (to say the least).
For those not familiar with the Red Sox, here's how Masterson's season went with Boston.
This past December, Masterson inked a one-year, $9.5 million deal with the team, as they hoped that he could return to old form and anchor a rotation with no top notch starter.
The 30-year-old Masterson started the Sox' third game of the season, pitching to a 6-2 win, going six innings, allowing just two runs while striking out seven. His game score of 63 would be the highest of the season and the highest since he was with the Cardinals on August 13, 2014.
That start was, in a sense, Masterson's peak. He made eight more starts, allowing 28 earned runs in 38 innings pitched (6.63 ERA). Opponents hit for a .913 OPS in that stretch, one that spanned from April 14 to July 3.
He missed 39 games due to shoulder tendonitis in May and was brought back to the team in June. He made two below average starts (both of which were included in that time span above) and then was moved to the bullpen.
The Red Sox thought that they had, at the least, a serviceable starter when they spent $9.5 million on Masterson. Instead, they got a long reliever.
Coming into tonight, Masterson had pitched fairly well out of the bullpen, coming into eight games, allowing six runs over 14 1/3 innings (3.77 ERA), with a pretty good 16 to 5 strikeout-to-walk rate. Despite solid numbers on the surface, opponents still hit for an .899 OPS against him. Basically, Masterson still wasn't good.
Tonight, he pitched an inning, gave up a home run, and leaves the ballpark no longer a member of the Red Sox.
Masterson has seen a huge velocity drop-off from his career averages, being about 4 mph slower on all of his pitches. Once a guy who could dial it up to 98 when needed, Masterson struggled to hit 90, topping out at 92 on his sinker.
He just doesn't have it anymore. Some team, however, will give him a second chance. Whether that will be on a minor league deal (it likely will be), Masterson will likely have one more opportunity to try and be the same guy that was a 2013 All-Star.
But for now, he's a failed experiment by a team that has failed to meet expectations coming into the season.
The National League Rookie of the Year award race isn't as clear cut as everyone thought it would be coming into the season.
Kris Bryant, Matt Duffy, Maikel Franco, Jung-ho Kang, Joc Pederson, and Noah Syndergaard have all been thrown as more-than-deserving candidates and rightly so.
But as much as everyone talks about Kang, Grichuk, Syndergaard, and the others, the best rookie in the Senior Circuit has in fact been Kris Bryant, the third baseman who was favorited to win the award coming into the year.
Bryant leads all rookies in fWAR with a 3.9 mark.
While his offense hasn't quite been what people expected, Bryant has been just fine there. Bryant's .249 batting average and 30.3 strikeout rate has caused him no longer be the unanimous top choice, but his 124 wRC+ (wins created plus) ranks seventh among rookies. This means that Bryant is 24 percent better than league average at creating runs, adjusted for park- and league-factors.
However, what really sets Bryant apart from the rest of the pack is the completeness in his game.
This is almost ironic, considering the Cubs kept him down in the minor leagues for the first two weeks of the season to work on his "defense," but in all reality, amongst the top seven NL rookies in wRC+, Bryant is the best defender through FanGraphs' overall defensive rating.
Not only is Bryant much better than expected defensively, but he also leads the 2015 NL Rookie Class in base running runs above average, adding six runs through solid base running. His surprising speed (11 stolen bases), combined with his smarts, make him 2.5 runs more valuable than the next best rookie (Duffy).
It might not be his bat that wins him the award, but Kris Bryant is still the best rookie in the National League this season. He is the best overall player and will be exciting to watch for years to come.