After months of moving downward, the October strike zone is suddenly rising.
Everybody’s been writing about the strike zone recently, and that’s for good reason. The strike zone is evolving, and for the first time in the history of baseball, we have the technology to directly record that evolution. Mostly, the bottom of the strike zone is dropping, and that plays some role in shaping the current pitching-dominated era (although exactly how much of a role is a matter of some debate).
What’s most astonishing about the strike zone’s changing definition is the rapidity with which we are witnessing the results. Year after year, the strike zone falls, and this year has been no exception. In this recent article, Jon Roegele chronicles the most dramatic drop in the bottom of the strike zone yet: In the last year, the zone’s real estate has increased by 16 square inches. But even without a rigorous statistical analysis of the zone, you could feel the impact of the strike zone’s accelerating fall in the numerous strikeout records which have been broken, and in the historic seasons of Clayton Kershaw and other pitchers.
With a rested Giants pen and a Royals' starter who exited his last start with shoulder issues, Game Two of the World Series could come down to which group of relievers steps up.
The difference between a tied series and an imposing lead for the Giants will likely be in the grips of the relievers, although for a very different reason on both sides. It’s a 13-year vet who’s happened upon the last two World Series taking on a rookie whose start couldn’t possibly come with more question marks. And then the real show will begin.
Notes on prospects who stood out yesterday, including Daniel Robertson and Deven Marrero.
Daniel Robertson, SS, Oakland (Mesa): 3-5, 2 R, HR. As a hitting prospect, Robertson struggles with very little. He hits for good power (great power for a shortstop), average, and has plus plate discipline. The California League helped this year and the AFL won’t be much different, but even with his stats returning to a more normal environment, Robertson looks to be a major part of the A’s future and one of the best hitting prospects in a depleted farm system. The question is whether or not he will be able to remain at shortstop; most doubt that he will, but the A’s haven’t given up on it yet.
Cal Towey, OF, Angels (Mesa): 3-4, 2 R, HR, BB, K. Towey was a 17th-round pick out of Baylor in 2013, but he handled a jump straight to the California League this season after just a short-season stint last year, which, in the Angels system, makes him something of a prospect. He was a senior sign, however, which means he was old when he got to pro ball and he’ll be 25 before next season begins. There’s virtually nothing blocking anyone who performs in the Angels system, so there’s room for Towey to move quickly, and he should start next season in Double-A. If he can show that his left-handed pop will translate against better pitching and in a more neutral hitting environment, he could end up being a useful piece.
The Royals shortstop won't be a sexy name on draft day, but there's a lot to like about his fantasy profile.
The Brewers signed Escobar as a 16-year-old on international signing day of 2003, and he made his stateside debut the following summer as a 17-year-old in the Pioneer League. After working his way up to Double-A for the second half of his age-20 season in 2007, he cracked the Brewers’ top prospect list for the first time heading into 2008, ultimately topping the list as a five-star prospect in 2010 and peaking as high as 19th on the BP 101 that same offseason. The Brewers traded away the then-26-year-old J.J. Hardy to clear a path for Escobar, which should tell you all you need to know about how highly regarded he was as a prospect. Regaled universally for his plus-plus range and generally top shelf defensive profile at short, Escobar was tabbed as an impatient, powerless hitter, but one still capable of slapping his way to a .280-plus batting average with 30-steal speed.
Despite the shortstop-of-the-future billing, the Brewers shipped the then-23-year-old to Kansas City as the centerpiece of the Zack Greinke trade after he struggled in his first full big-league season. Since arriving in KC, Escobar has pretty much developed into exactly the type of player scouts envisioned him becoming. He hasn’t posted a walk rate over 4.2 percent in any of his four seasons in Royal blue, nor has he managed to crack the .100 ISO threshold or generate league-average offensive value.
Notes on prospects who stood out yesterday, including Francisco Lindor and Mark Appel.
Francisco Lindor, SS, Indians (Peoria): 3-4, R, 2B. I’m not breaking any new ground by saying that Lindor is among the best, if not the best, shortstop prospect in the game, but he’s also perhaps the surest bet of any prospect at any position around whom you could build your team. There is no doubt that he is prepared to step in and provide defensive value in the majors today if necessary, as has been the case for some time. What will separate him from the pack, however, will be his ability to drive the ball for extra bases. He has just enough pop to keep pitchers honest and punish them when they leave the ball over the plate, something pitchers don’t fear with Lindor’s most frequent comp, Elvis Andrus. If Lindor can consistently get into the 30-double/10-home-run range (well within reach), the rest of his skill set should make him one of the best players in the American League.
Mark Appel, RHP, Astros (Salt River): 5 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 4 K. It’s safe to say that Appel has rebounded from his bizarre struggles at the start of the season, and Monday night’s start was the best of three strong outings thus far in the desert. These performances make his struggles early this season even more bizarre, as they were at least partially contributed to the unforgiving hitting environments of the California League, something not unlike what he’s handling quite well this October. Assuming he finishes the month as strong as he has started it, Appel is giving the Astros hope that he could get to the big leagues by some point next season, which seemed almost impossible earlier this year.
Charting Brian Roberts' rise and fall with a trip through the BP archives.
You might never cheer for a team with a second baseman better than Brian Roberts was in 2005. His career ends on a sadder note, a half-decade ruined by injuries. In honor of his career, we're reprinting all 14 comments written about him for the BP Annual, from the first in 2001 ("after having surgery to remove bone chips in his elbow") through last winter's ("myriad injuries have limited..."). Enjoy.
Tonight, the Kansas City Royals and the San Francisco Giants (who knew!) will square off in Game One of the 2014 World Series. I’m guessing that at least one of the 50 gentlemen on the two rosters will be a little nervous before the game starts. Maybe more than one. And surely, someone at a bar or on your couch or on a national telecast will opine on whether butterflies are currently flying in the stomach of just about every player that flashes across the screen. The World Series is amateur psychology’s finest hour.