If you’ve read any of my columns thus far, you probably could see this one coming. Tommy La Stella, erstwhile OBP machine second-base fantasy sleeper for the Atlanta Braves and current Iowa Cub, has been one of the most fascinating baseball stories this year—well, at least for someone like me who likes to think about labor and contracts and the ugly side of baseball.
The short version is that La Stella, despite putting together a pretty solid year as a utility/spot start guy, got sent down to the minors after the Cubs acquired Once, Future, Past, and Present Cub Chris Coghlan. Understandably frustrated, La Stella made the unexpected move to, well, not report. He did not show up in Des Moines and held out in his home of New Jersey. Held out might be the wrong word here, as La Stella does not have the leverage that an NFL player like Joey Bosa does in his current holdout or like a young top draft pick like Jacob Groome did in this year’s Rule 4 draft. La Stella didn’t make any dramatic demands or pleas of unfairness; he just decided to take some time to think about what he wanted from his future.
Unsurprisingly, the minds at Baseball Prospectus Wrigleyville have had some wonderful takes on the situation. Twitter pal and good writer Tom Hitchner produced a piece near and dear to my heart that tied film analysis to the La Stella situation in an effort to talk about anticlimax in baseball. And Ken Schultz put together a lovely piece explaining the ways in which La Stella’s holdout was not what it might seem, and that a young player might actually deserve time to get his head together.
And it’s times like this that I’m grateful to my colleagues for being such good people. Baseball Prospectus, despite its beep bop boop computers reputation, gets that people, who are sometimes flawed and complex, play the game. In the mainstream press, La Stella has not fared so well. Most notorious is the piece that Schultz critiques in his BP Wrigleyville essay, a fairly brutal polemic against La Stella by Paul Sullivan of the Chicago Tribune.
I don’t want to give my editors conniptions by spending an entire article getting furious at another reporter, so let me give the very quick blow-by-blow of what I find problematic about Sullivan’s piece. First he opens with a fairly hamfisted Carlos Zambrano comparison that smacks of typical Anti-Latino sentiment in major-league baseball writing. Second, the piece refuses to believe La Stella’s own explanation of his behavior, casting not-so-subtle aspersions on his claim that his refusal to report to Iowa was not about being demoted. But third, and worst of all to this leftist’s mind, he sides with management. A longish quote:
Gary Sanchez sets a new home run record, Luke Weaver dazzles in his home debut, and more from the weekend’s action.
The Weekend Takeaway
If you thought Trevor Story’s record-breaking April was the only time we’d see a rookie rake in his major-league debut season, you need to meet Gary Sanchez. It isn’t just that the 23-year-old catcher is cultivating a .400/.467/.900 batting line, or that he became the first rookie to hit 11 home runs in his first 23 games with this blast off of a Dylan Bundy heater,
A look at whether four players with big-time helium can keep on soaring, or if they're balloons waiting to pop.
Normally, in this space, I explore one hitter or one pitcher in a more longform fashion. This week, though, I wanted to profile four specific players who have gotten a lot of helium in the second half. I’ll present my thoughts on each player and offer a buy/hold/sell recommendation on each, per usual.
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Baseball's most prepared first-base coach talks about the details that can change a scouting report, and ignoring the sheet of paper that comes from upstairs.
Few men embody the ethos of the defending champion Kansas City Royals better than first-base coach Rusty Kuntz. The long-time coach is the maestro behind Kansas City's running game and its outfield defense—previously overlooked qualities that have helped propel the Royals to consecutive pennants and a World Series title.
Baseball's move beyond seat-of-your-pants, gut-feel baserunning is good for winning and good for Vince Coleman's records.
In this article, I talked about Vince Coleman who stole 326 bases in his first three years in the majors, eclipsing 100 every season, and opined that Billy Hamilton is a similarly devastating basestealer in a more boring era. I calculated that if Hamilton had been used in 2014-2016 the way Coleman was in 1985-1987, he’d have 244 stolen bases since the start of 2014 rather than his present 166. That breaks down to 87 in 2014, 89 in 2015, and 68 so far in 2016. We’d be talking about one of the greatest basestealers in baseball history rather than a guy who’s just really fast. Why aren’t we? Why aren’t the Reds deploying Hamilton the way the Cardinals deployed Coleman three decades ago?
Well, it’s not the Reds. It’s baseball.
It’s not just that Hamilton gets (justifiably) marked down for his low OBP (.296 so far in his career, .294 since 2014) in a way Coleman never did. Here’s a chart of stolen base attempts per team per year from 1951 to 2016. I’ve normalized all the figures to assume a 162-game season, to put the pre-expansion 154-game seasons, the strike years, and the ongoing 2016 season on equal footing.
Notes on Matt Manning, Stephen Gonsalves, Cody Ponce, and more.
Stephen Gonsalves, LHP, Minnesota Twins (Double-A Chattanooga)
Gonsalves has been putting up impressive numbers throughout his minor-league career, and that hasn’t changed in the Double-A jump this year. Does the stuff match the minor-league production? Somewhat. Most importantly, it’s enough to project a serviceable major-league starter.
Examining players who might pique your interest in deeper formats.
Most of the players in this week’s Deep League Report are worth single-digit FAAB bids, and some of them are barely worth that. One guy, though, is worth most if not all of your remaining budget. Can’t stand the suspense? Start reading.
Notes on prospects who stood out over the weekend, including Jose De Leon, Jeimer Candelario, Nick Torres, and Carson Fulmer.
Prospect of the Weekend:
Jose De Leon, RHP, Los Angeles Dodgers (Triple-A Oklahoma City): 7.2 IP, 4 H, 0 ER, 0 BB, 13 K
On July 25th, De Leon gave up seven runs on eight hits while getting four outs. Since that start, De Leon has given up six runs in 41 innings. In his last three starts, he’s struck out 33 hitters in 21 innings while allowing just four runs. Long story shorter, Jose De Leon is on fire, and by all accounts, he’s ready to pitch for the Dodgers.
How a lesser known Yankees prospect is helping himself stand out.
James Reeves stepped on the field in Tampa to accept an honor from his current team, the Tampa Yankees. Reeves was named Pitcher of the Month, just a week after holding down the Florida State League honor for Pitcher of the Week.
The day the lefty received the monthly award, he was preparing to take the mound for his 12th start of the 2016. He was upbeat and humorous in the early part of the day, but, later, as the game got closer, he was quieter, an unwavering focus showed on his face as he walked toward his locker. That mix of concentration and lightheartedness has served him well. In June, the Yankees switched the script and decided to make Reeves a full-time starter.