We made you wait an extra day, so we put in an extra writeup.
Eric Lauer, LHP, Kent State (2016 Draft Class) Lauer and the Kent State Flashes entered the MAC Tournament as the heavy favorites, however a loss to Western Michigan ended their run at post season play. Lauer started for the Flashes on Wednesday, going the distance with a complete-game shutout. He showed advanced pitchability throughout the game, and the stuff to match. While Lauer doesn’t currently have a pure out-pitch, his arsenal is still adequate. His fastball sat 93, hitting 94 a few times with a deceptive look from the left side, with some cutting action on it. His curveball will be an above-average pitch, showing 1-7 break across multiple planes at 76 mph. His slider is much improved since I last saw him in April; it usually sits 85-86 topping at 87 mph. His changeup also looked improved, and he threw it with much more confidence this game, featuring horizontal arm-side fade and a touch of tumble as it fell late at times.
Lauer won't be an ace, or even a number two in all likelihood, but what he is missing in ceiling he makes up for in floor. Even as someone who hates the term “high-floor player,” Lauer looks the part to be a fast-rising mid-to-back-end starter. He is as polished as anyone in the class currently, and if any of his off-speed pitches can improve into the plus range, his ceiling becomes even higher. His endurance has never been questioned, as his last two outings have been a no hitter at Bowling Green, and this shutout. His velocity held through all nine innings on Wednesday, and he maintained his delivery well. His delivery is extremely clean, but has a quirk with his left leg that needs to be timed correctly in order to hit his spots. But out of all of his outings that I have seen, he’s only lost his timing in a few. I would look for Lauer to go anywhere in the 25-40 range, but losing out on his ability to prove himself against post season competition is unfortunate. —Grant Jones
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Surveying the ninth-inning situations around the league.
Not a whole lot happened on the closer front this past week, but that doesn’t mean we have nothing to talk about. There’s a lot of uncertainty to be straightened out over the next couple of days, and it’s important to try to stay one step ahead of everyone in your league. It’s the welcome-back-from-the-DL version of the Closer Report. You can keep up with the changes with the closer grid, and as always the changes since last week are highlighted yellow.
Notes on prospects who stood out over the Memorial Day weekend, led by Rockies pitcher Sam Howard.
Prospect of the Weekend:
Sam Howard, LHP, Colorado Rockies (High-A Modesto): 8 IP, 2 H, 0 ER, 3 BB, 10 K.
This was yet another dominant performance for Howard, which has been a recurring theme in the month of May. Yes, he’s a little old for the level, but you can take one step back for the age and two steps forward when you consider what he’s doing in the Cal League. Both the fastball and change flash plus, and his slider has been a real weapon so far in 2016. You could soon see Howard challenging hitters in Double-A Hartford, and maybe challenging big leaguers in the back of the Rockies rotation at some point in the next two seasons.
A look at how the wise guys spent their money in expert leagues this week.
Welcome to The FAAB Review, the series that looks at the expert bidding in LABR mixed, Tout Wars NL, and Tout Wars AL every week in an effort to try and help you, the Baseball Prospectus reader, with your fantasy baseball bidding needs. Bret Sayre and I participate in LABR mixed while I have a team in Tout Wars NL, so I can provide some insight on the bids and the reasoning behind them. LABR uses a $100 budget with one-dollar minimum bids, while the Tout Wars leagues use a $1,000 budget with zero-dollar minimum bids. I will also be including Bret’s winning bids in Tout Wars mixed auction league where applicable.
LABR and Tout Wars both use a bidding deadline of Sunday at midnight ET.
Tracking the odds that Ichiro and ARod will hit important milestones, one day at a time.
Of the dozens of baseball statistics out there, Win Percentage Added might be my favorite. It’s a lovably useless stat: entirely beholden to timing and fortune, it ignores ill-timed greatness and throws favor on the man at the right place at the right time. It has almost no predictive value, and carries a faint whiff of the hero worship of days past, the old men talking of clutch performance. It’s the sophisticated remake of the Game-Winning RBI, a hack writer’s game recap in decimal form. As game stat, WPA isn’t particularly fair; in that sense, it’s the stat most like real life, when we’re measured by moments not of our choosing.
In a lost season, getting Byron Buxton settled in and ready to be a long-term asset is the most important goal for the next four months.
Twins general manager Terry Ryan admitted to calling up Byron Buxton too early last season, saying he regretted promoting the 21-year-old top prospect in June when injuries left Minnesota short-handed in the outfield. Buxton was overmatched in his first taste of the big leagues, hitting .209/.250/.326 with a 44/6 K/BB ratio in 46 games after arriving with the most hype of any Twins prospect since Joe Mauer in 2004.
Because of his poor debut and Ryan’s comments, most Minnesotans went into the offseason assuming Buxton would begin 2016 in the minors. Instead the Twins traded their best in-house center-field option, Aaron Hicks, and brought in no outside alternatives. Buxton arrived at spring training with essentially zero competition and won the starting job by default. He was the Opening Day center fielder at age 22, but three weeks and 17 games later the Twins demoted him back to Triple-A.
Nothing about Buxton’s performance suggested he was ready to thrive in the big leagues, and in fact, aside from flashing excellent range defensively he was pretty much a mess. However, the Twins calling him up “too early” in 2015 only to hand him the 2016 job without any competition and then change their minds 49 plate appearances later showed that Ryan and company are capable of being equally messy. Buxton has struggled and struggled mightily through his first 63 games, but the Twins also didn’t help much and that’s become a player development pattern.
Moving the strike zone up seems a simple, elegant solution to what ails offense. But won't anybody think of the unintended consequences!?
Last week, Major League Baseball announced a proposed change to the strike zone. In response to a zone that continued to sag downward, MLB’s competition committee has recommended that the definition of the bottom boundary of the strike zone be changed from the hollow under the kneecap to the top of the knee. It doesn’t seem like much. That’s maybe two inches of space, although the actual called strike zone has always differed somewhat from the rulebook strike zone, but if the changes are put into effect for 2017, then pitchers might be feeling a little more squeezed next year.
The Mets erstwhile ace gets back on track, the Braves are on a bona fide not-cold streak, and Wood beats Wood.
The Monday Takeaway
It’s been rocky sledding for Matt Harvey in recent weeks, especially his last three starts, when opponents hit the right-hander hard and often, to the tune of 27 hits—four of them homers—in 13 1/3 innings. That wouldn’t do on Memorial Day, not with Jose Quintana continuing a breakout season that’s seen him emerge as one of baseball’s elite left-handed starters. And to the great thrill of the fans in attendance at Citi Field, the Matt Harvey they’ve come to know and love returned and proved up to the task.
Yu Darvish returns in full force, the Royals stage an unlikely comeback, and the Mariners embarrass themselves on the basepaths in new and creative ways.
The Weekend Takeaway
It only took 659 days, but Yu Darvish is back where he belongs: striking out the league’s best hitters and taking names. The 29-year-old returned to the major-league stage on Saturday afternoon, where he pitched for the first time since August 9, 2014, in front of a sellout crowd in Arlington, Texas.