Checking in on Luis Urias

This is a free preview of June 29th’s Newsletter. Consider signing up for a subscription over on the right sidebar if this is your jam. (Or just subscribe to The Athletic San Diego, where my writing can also be found). 

Part two of the two-part Twitter mailbag incoming in five . . . four . . . three . . . ahh, what the heck, here it is:

@jefftsdHow about a compare and contrast of Urias’ 2018 YTD numbers vs. his 2017 numbers? Is his 2018 so far a step backwards, normal growing pains, or do you think his numbers are OK? Just an idea, I don’t remember you recently covering the topic.

Good topic. Just to get the particulars out of the way, Luis Urias is 21 years old and currently playing (mostly) second base at Triple-A El Paso. Through 321 plate appearances, he’s slashing .268/.377/.408 with a 112 wRC+.

The place to start with Urias is the strikeouts, I think. After walking more than he whiffed in every season going into this one, Triple-A pitching has caught up to Urias. He has 64 strikeouts to 43 walks after striking out just 65 times all of last season. The walks aren’t a problem—Urias is actually walking at a career-high 13.4 percent clip, an impressive number given the age and level.

The early concern is that strikeout rate, which has ballooned this season. Going into this year, Urias had an 8.8 percent K rate in his professional career, the stuff of a bat-to-ball legend. This year? It’s at 19.9 percent. As mentioned, Urias is just 21 and at Triple-A, so an increase in whiffs was expected. But even last year, as a 20-year-old at Double-A (and in a tougher hitter’s environment), Urias only K’ed in 12.4 percent of his PAs. It’s not like he needed a bunch of time to adjust to Double-A last season, either; through the first three months of 2017, his K rate was lower than his seasonal mark, at 11.5 percent.

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The Conflicting Priorities of Andy Green

During yesterday’s game, Andy Green made a curious move. Trailing 5–1 in the third inning, Green pulled a double-switch, removing Manuel Margot from center and putting Matt Szczur in his place. The move perhaps made a touch of strategic sense—it moved the pitcher’s spot from ninth to eighth in the lineup, so new hurler Robbie Erlin didn’t have to bat until the bottom of the fifth. Still, it was super early for a double-switch; avoiding a low-leverage at-bat from the pitcher’s spot in the third inning is hardly a needle-mover. If you believe Margot is a better player than Szczur, you can’t remove him in the third for a double-switch. (And if you don’t, perhaps Szczur should have just started the game.)

Without an easy-to-explain injury—one apparently wasn’t mentioned after the game—the move just didn’t make a whole lot of sense, but it perhaps highlighted a difference in priorities between Green and the Padres front office.

The question about who’s better between Margot and Szczur right now is possibly an open one, but we can probably all agree on one thing: Margot has a future in the organization and Szczur does not—at least not unless he’s willing to drop his spare outfielder gig for one as a roving instructor. And even if the switch might have made some sense from a win expectancy standpoint—not a given, by the way—it just didn’t jibe in the big scheme of things. The Padres were facing a left hander and a bad team, and Margot, so long as he’s on the team, should get as many at-bats as is reasonable. Starting him and then removing him after one plate appearance isn’t doing anybody any good.

Of course, if Green is doing everything he can to squeeze an extra point of win expectancy out of a thin roster, maybe it’s hard to blame him.

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Fernando Tatis Jr. is in Good Company

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.

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MRIs and Service Time

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?

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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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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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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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