This is the first edition of The Sacrifice Bunt Podcast.
Yesterday, on an entertaining edition of the Gwynntelligence podcast, the guys—HJ Preller and, this time, Woe Doctor—brought up David Marver’s recent tweets on Fernando Tatis Jr., which dovetailed into a good discussion on the riskiness of prospects and the inherent danger in relying too much on one player.
If you follow me on Twitter or have read any of my prospect-related love letters stuff over the last couple of years, you probably have a pretty good idea about my thoughts on Tatis. I once, for instance, ranked him as the Padres top 11 prospects. Yes, all of them. Of course, it’s important to consider the risks broached on Gwynntelligence and by Marver; I certainly understand that Tatis could bust completely or, more likely, simply become a so-so major-league player instead of a superstar, and I don’t want to be charged with overhyping him. The very early performance in Double-A—a .235/.250/.318 slash line with a 28.4 percent strikeout rate in 21 games—is perhaps a flickering warning sign that his developmental path could hit some rocky roads, especially with the way the Padres have fast-tracked him.
Then again, I remain almost unflinchingly high on Tatis, despite the risks and spotty recent performance. It’s certainly plausible that we, as observers of the Padres, are sometimes not great at respecting the risks. But I also think it’s possible that we’re just not used to dealing with a prospect of Tatis’ caliber, one who’s currently rated as a top 10 prospect by three of the biggest prospect-ranking outlets out there (Baseball America, Baseball Prospectus, and MLB.com) and just as high (or higher) elsewhere, like ESPN’s Keith Law or FanGraphs.
The Padres haven’t had a prospect this good in . . .well, a long time. First basemen like Anthony Rizzo and Yonder Alonso never even cracked the top 30 on an individual prospect list; Yasmani Grandal hovered around 50; Manuel Margot got close to the top 10 but never into it; even Jake Peavy only reached a peak of 28 back in 2002. The last Padres prospect this highly regarded was probably Sean Burroughs, who hit No. 4 on Baseball America’s list in 2002.
I know, I know, it’s a great story. It really is. Loyola-Chicago, a little-known basketball school from Illinois, has reached the Final Four, and their team cheerleader, a sweet, 98-year-old nun known as Sister Jean, is a media sensation. Even me, your resident contrarian, can’t pooh-pooh this story. Or can I? (Hold my beer.)
Now, look, I haven’t paid much attention to March Madness since my team, the Cincinnati Bearcats, took their early (and customary) heartbreaking exit in the second round. But I’ve caught at least parts of most Loyola-Chicago games, and I honestly don’t know a single player on their team by name. Part of that’s my fault, for sure. It’s easy to look up the numbers and names online, and I’m sure there are good, basketball-centered articles out there at places like The Athletic and The Ringer, and perhaps buried somewhere deep in the unnavigable pages of ESPN. But I’m a casual college basketball fan, so I consume most of my college basketball content in snippets from mainstream sources, almost by accident—on SportsCenter, for instance, I just watched an entire segment on Sister Jean that seemed to almost delight in ignoring the players.
I understand the appeal, I suppose. Good story. The non-sports fan is probably going to like it more than an X’s and O’s breakdown of Loyola-Chicago’s offense . . . but how many non-sports fans are watching SportsCenter at midnight? And how many stories about Sister Jean does the non-sports diehard need? Not this many, I’m sure. The media outlets would likely counter that these types of stories just get more views or hits, but each one of them replaces something that could have been written about strategy, players, or coaches, and maybe those pieces would do well too if given the light of day. There are only so many people on the internet looking for stories about basketball; the ones that are are going to gravitate toward what’s available.
What’s the deal with Dinelson?
As we discussed on Monday, Dinelson Lamet left his Sunday start with soreness in his right elbow. The Padres have since diagnosed Lamet with a flexor strain—a muscle issue—and ruled him out for April. At first blush, it’s great news. Anytime an elbow issue finds a pitcher, Tommy John surgery immediately jumps to mind. Flexor strain, then, is a pitcher’s best friend.
Still, like much of Padres Twitter, I can’t quite understand why the Padres haven’t given Lamet an MRI yet. Team doctors apparently diagnosed Lamet through some type of surface examination. That’s cool, I guess—I’m no fan of modern medicine myself, but I’m also not a major-league pitcher or someone who has to make decisions regarding the future of one. It seems like it’d be in the best interest of the Padres, Lamet, and everyone involved to order the MRI, just to double-check whether there could be structural damage in his ligament.
The lack of an MRI so far seems silly, but I like to believe that teams generally act rationally, particularly when confronted with something like this, something that could potentially hurt their on-field product—and, thus, their revenue stream. So . . . what’s the deal?
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:
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?
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|
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.
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:
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.
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?