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Newsletter Free Preview: What’s The Deal With Eric Hosmer’s Defense?

What’s the deal with Eric Hosmer’s defense?

You’ve probably heard it discussed already: The observers generally love Hosmer’s glovework at first, whereas the numbers think he has the range of a lost Tetris block. The former Royal has won four out of the last five American League Gold Gloves at first, nipped only by Mitch Moreland in 2016, yet here are his advanced numbers over the last four years:

Year UZR DRS BP’s FRAA
2014 -0.4 3 8.0
2015 1.0 1 3.6
2016 -8.4 -6 -2.2
2017 -0.3 -7 0.6
2014-2017 -8.1 -9 10

Okay, they’re not exactly terrible, depending on how you look at them, but they aren’t great either. And If you look at them this way, they do look pretty bad: Among the 32 first basemen with at least 1,000 innings played over the past two seasons combined, Hosmer ranks 30th by DRS and dead last by UZR.

Eric Hosmer, Pickin’ Machine?

One of the reasons Hosmer gets touted as a good defender is thanks to his reputation for vacuuming up errant throws at first, particularly ones in the dirt. We don’t generally think about this skill when we think about the fielding ability of infielders, instead turning to range as the driving factor behind fielding prowess. But part of a first baseman’s primary responsibility, of course, is to receive throws from his infield mates. Could the fielding metrics be missing the mark here?

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Newsletter Free Preview: Chase Headley Is Still A Padre (And It’s A Little Awkward)

When the Padres acquired Chase Headley (and Bryan Mitchell) from the Yankees earlier this winter, I was sure they were going to flip him before Opening Day. I’m not so sure anymore.

What’s happened since, of course, is . . . well, a whole lotta nothin’. The Angels, one of the teams in need of a third baseman and rumored to be interested in Headley, instead signed Zack Cozart, a bigger upgrade, to play there. And the entire offseason, for the most part, has come to a screeching standstill. Outside of Yu Darvish and Lorenzo Cain—and Shohei Ohtani, who was essentially forced to sign—most of the big name free agents remain unsigned. Teams still interested in third base help could be waiting on Mike Moustakas to land somewhere, or perhaps other players to fill other holes, biding time until a clearer picture develops.

Meanwhile, the Padres are stuck with Headley. At the time of the deal, back in the middle of December, Headley’s one-year, $13 million remaining contract seemed eminently tradable. But that was before Bizarro Offseason took hold. Just last week, the Mets signed third baseman Todd Frazier for two years and a paltry $17 million total. Check out the comparison between Headley and Frazier:

Player Age ’18 ZiPS WAR ’18 Steamer WAR ’18 PECOTA WAR
Headley 34 1.9 1.1 1.0
Frazier 32 3.5 2.1 1.4

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The XFL Could Save Football (But It Probably Won’t)

The original iteration of the XFL only lasted one year, failing for numerous reasons ranging from the popularity of the NFL, its direct competitor, to being a rushed and inferior product, with inferior players, and so on. The XFL’s mantra then was that it was going to be even more extreme than the already hard-hitting NFL, and Vince McMahon, owner of the WWE (and thus XFL) likely thought he could do football even better. It was a stretch, sure, but his company was in the midst of the immensely popular “Attitude Era;” it wasn’t out of the question that McMahon could find something that rivaled the NFL, or at least carved out a niche alongside it, appealing to the many people who watched wrestling on television.

It didn’t happen, of course, as the XFL was largely an embarrassment, quickly shelved and jettisoned from public consciousness. It may be surprising to you then that now—in an era of CTE awareness and fair(er) treatment of women, etc.—that McMahon’s XFL, which got off on big hits and cheerleaders, is trying to make a comeback. McMahon’s already distanced himself from the previous version of the XFL, however, noting that this one will come without the gimmicks.

Okay, but what’s the angle? Well, take a step back, and you can see McMahon’s money-making levers start to jostle. The NFL’s had something of a controversial year, from players kneeling for the national anthem in droves early in the year to declining ratings to the ominous and ever-present specter of CTE knowledge. I’m not sure if McMahon sees value in that latter point, but the first two . . . that’s probably  why he’s pouncing here. He’s already made it clear in part of the XFL’s opening salvo that the league is going to essentially force players to stand during the national anthem, attempting to divorce the sport from any politics or social stances, while also not hiring, according to McMahon, any player with any sort of criminal record.

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Newsletter Free Preview: eBay Ranks the Prospects

When we think about what kind of people care deeply about baseball prospects, two groups generally jump to mind: there are those who obsessively track their favorite team’s prospects (hey there), and there are those looking for every possible edge in their upcoming fantasy draft. In fact, the rise of fantasy baseball—with money or bragging rights on the line—is probably the main reason prospect coverage has gone so mainstream over the years.

There is, however, another group of people invested in prospects with cold, hard cash, and it’s a group that speaks not in snake draft results or auction prices, but real dollars. Baseball card collectors, particularly the ones who invest in prospects hoping to one day make a small fortune, own an interesting space in the modern-day prospecting niche. Did you know, for instance, that Mike Trout’s Topps Update rookie card once sold for just a few bucks, and could be found in packs at Target? Now you can’t find one in decent condition for under $100.

With that in mind, I thought it’d be fun to compare the sale prices of top prospects on eBay. I chose each player’s Bowman Chrome base autograph (like this one), graded in 9.5 condition by BGS. From some limited knowledge, I gather that this is generally a player’s most coveted non-parallel rookie card, especially among pre-MLB debut cards. I took the five most recent sales, where applicable, for everyone on Phillips’ consensus top 25. Shohei Ohtani and Hunter Greene were omitted, as they don’t have such cards yet.

Without further ado, here’s the eBay top 15:

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Newsletter Free Preview: Thoughts on the Freddy Galvis Trade

Padres acquire shortstop Freddy Galvis from the Philadelphia Phillies in exchange for RHP Enyel De Los Santos

Behind every baseball trade, we search for something deeper than a player-for-player swap. No, we’re not necessarily looking for the meaning of life; a general and coherent direction from our club of interest will do.

When the Padres traded Craig Kimbrel to Boston two winters ago, we saw a focused effort to throw in the towel on A.J. Preller’s first vision of a winning team and rebuild for the future. When they traded James Shields to the White Sox, we saw the same thing. When they signed Trevor Cahill last year and then traded him to the Royals at the deadline for a couple of interesting prospects, we viewed it as part of a continued process to build for something down the road.

No, the Padres haven’t gone with a Cubs or Astros-style rebuild, but they’ve done a good job of making moves that generally fit together inside of a bigger plan. From the blockbusters like Kimbrel-to-Boston to the smaller moves (Yonder Alonso-for-Drew Pomeranz, Melvin Upton Jr.-for-Hansel Rodriguez, etc.) to all of those Rule 5 picks and the international class of 2016, the Padres have been building and building toward an eventual crescendo that should take place in 2020 or 2021 or whenever the baseball gods say they can win again. It’s mostly all made sense, save for the occasional hiccup.

And then came yesterday’s trade, where the Padres sent soon-to-be 22-year-old right-handed pitcher Enyel De Los Santos to the Phillies and received 28-year-old shortstop Freddy Galvis.

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Did Rashaad Penny Get Snubbed?

Let me preface this with a couple of quick bullet points:

  • My interest in season-ending awards, in baseball or football, has thankfully waned over the years.
  • I’m not necessarily a San Diego State football fan, although I did watch three or four of their games this season.
  • Whatever comes below does not discount the tremendous season that Rashaad Penny had.

Okay, glad that’s out of the way. My interest in whether Penny got snubbed from one of the three spots as a Doak Walker finalist is purely a curiosity. As in, is he or is he not one of the three best running backs in the country?

Of course, it’s a simple question with an almost impossible answer. Football is a team game, and much of the statistics that are recorded are tough to entangle from team play. How much credit goes to the running back and the offensive line on a good running play? How much credit goes to the quarterback and the wide receiver—let alone the O-line—on a long touchdown pass? And, further, how do we account for things that aren’t even recorded, like the blocking skills of a running back or the value of good play-calling?

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Newsletter Free Preview: Talking Myself Into Zack Cozart

After writing about why I wouldn’t sign Eric Hosmer on Monday, I thought I’d take a look through the top free agents in search of what might be a smarter, more realistic use of money—just in case the Padres are interested in shelling out some dough this winter, that is. In the end, after hemming on Alex Cobb and hawing on C.C. Sabathia, I landed on one name: Zachary Warren Cozart.

Cozart isn’t really my cup of tea at first glance, as he’s coming off a career-year and is already 32 years old. That’s the right combo for a big offseason contract and subsequent underperformance, and it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense for a team not yet ready to compete. The good news: Cozart isn’t really treated like a slick-fielding shortstop coming off a five-win year, and the Padres are perpetually looking for an answer at the position. The Reds couldn’t trade him over the summer and then didn’t even give him a qualifying offer after the season, and MLB Trade Rumors—which has him ranked as the 13th best free agent—projects him to get a reasonable three-year, $42 million deal. (Others, like Jon Heyman, Jon Heyman’s expert, and Dave Cameron have him in a similar price range.) Cozart is the rare free agent who flies all the red flags of a potential overpay yet remains comfortably underrated.

Cozart’s really had two different careers. From 2012 through 2014, he was well below average offensively, rarely walking while showing just occasional pop. He was still close to an average player just based on a good glove at short alone, as he racked up 35 DRS over that stretch. Since then, Cozart’s remained a solid (if steadily declining) gloveman, but he’s morphed into a better than average hitter. Counting his breakout this past year, he’s posted the fourth-best wRC+ (114) among regular shortstops since the start of 2015. In 2017, he doubled his career walk rate (12.2 percent) while also easily notching career highs in ISO (.251) and wRC+ (141).

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Newsletter Free Preview: Second-Guessing Dave Roberts

The Sacrifice Bunt Newsletter will almost always feature Padres-centric writing, but occasionally I might branch out into more general baseball stuff. This is one of those times. (As always, any feedback is always appreciated.)

Dave Roberts’ decision to take out Rich Hill after four innings on Wednesday night is easy to defend. Zach Crizer and Dave Cameron (among others) did so yesterday, each noting all the reasons why it made sense. The main argument is that Roberts was being proactive, getting a potentially tiring Hill out of the game before he faced the heart of the Astros order for a third time.

We’ve seen the trend ramping up over the last few postseasons: Managers are increasingly willing to pull their starters early—even good starters, like Hill or Clayton Kershaw—to get into the bullpen, turning the middle and late innings into out-by-out chess matches. The strategy is based primarily on the times-through-the-order penalty, which says, in clear facts and figures, that starting pitchers get worse the more times they run through a lineup. Further, good teams generally have good (and deep) bullpens, so relying on the relief corps early isn’t necessarily a problem.

Hill was pitching well through four. He had racked up seven strikeouts and made some of the best ‘Stros hitters, like Carlos Correa and Jose Altuve, look silly against a barrage of ~89 mph hour fastballs and sharp-breaking curves. But Hill had surrendered three walks on the night while allowing a total of five base runners between the third and the fourth alone, and the Astros had the top of the order due up in the top of the fifth. Given the right-handedness of George Springer, Alex Bregman, Altuve, Correa, and Yuli Gurriel, turning things over to the same-handed Kenta Maeda—a hard-throwing revelation in his new relief role—made twice as much sense.

Or did it?

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Newsletter Snippet: Padres Outfield Prospects, Reviewed

The Outfielders

Overview: It’s something of a theme for various areas of the farm, specifically on the position player side, but there’s all kinds of talent here but no slam-bang, no-doubt future superstar. There are enough young, promising players, however, that it wouldn’t be surprising if one emerged over the next year or two. There’s also a nice complement of safer, closer-to-the-majors types, like Franchy Cordero and Franmil Reyes, to balance things out. With Manuel Margot, Hunter Renfroe, and Alex Dickerson already at the big-league level, the Padres should be able to put together solid homegrown outfields for the next half decade, if that’s the route they choose.

  1. Franchy Cordero

If you count his work between Triple-A El Paso and the majors, Cordero had the rare 20/20/20 season in 2017, collecting 24 doubles, 21 triples, and 20 home runs in 518 plate appearances. That feat—plus good defense and base running—gives you a sense of the power-speed game that earned Cordero the top spot on this list.

The problem remains the strikeouts: In 99 plate appearances in San Diego, Cordero whiffed 44 times. After a hot start in the majors, pitchers simply figured out how to exploit the rookie, and in a stretch of 24 plate appearances in late June, he went hitless while striking out 17 times. His strikeout rate in Triple-A was a more manageable (but still high) 28.2 percent.

Cordero’s batting average on balls in play was high at both levels, which is something of a regression concern going forward. He BABiPed .400 with the Padres and a crazy-high .431 in El Paso, where, apparently, even tumbleweeds fall in for hits. That’s a sign he was consistently hitting the ball hard, sure, but also unsustainable. From 2010-2017, the highest BABiP among big-league hitters with at least 1,000 PAs is Miguel Sano’s .362 mark.

If Cordero can cure his swing-and-miss issues, he’s a star in the making. More likely, that problem will accompany his return to the majors, limiting his upside. Ultimately, he’s still a fleet-footed center fielder with speed and power, which is why he sits atop this list despite the obvious faults. He’s got a good shot to be a solid platoon/fourth outfielder, at least, and maybe something more.

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Newsletter Snippet: Padres First Base Prospects, Reviewed

The First Basemen

Overview: Unlike at catcher, there’s not a ton of depth here. Josh Naylor is a bonafide prospect, but the lack of power production keeps him at something less than blue-chip status. Brad Zunica hit 18 home runs in about half a season’s worth of work at Fort Wayne, but that was his second tour of the league, plus he destroys entire ant colonies when he runs at full speed. After Zunica, there’s just not much out there.

That’s not necessarily a problem, however, because most teams aren’t all that keen on developing players at first base. Oftentimes first basemen end up being outfield or third base transplants, so there are plenty of potential eventual candidates spread throughout the system (not to mention Naylor and Zunica). Plus, in theory, an adequate first baseman should be easier to find on the free agent market or, perhaps, through another astute trade.

  1. Josh Naylor

It took former Padres first baseman Yonder Alonso nearly a full decade of professional baseball to tap into the power potential that he showed as a junior at the University of Miami. Alonso connected for 28 round-trippers this season, besting his previous big-league career-high by 19 home runs. He made a conscious effort to—get this—hit more home runs in 2017, and it worked. With the new strategy came more strikeouts, more walks, and an ISO nearly double his previous career mark. Despite a late-season power outage, Alonso emerged as a truly effective hitter for the first time in his career.

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