Every year, some of the weird minor moves that are too small to cover wind up having a positive impact for teams. Here are a dozen of them.
Since January, we've published almost 200 editions of the Transaction Analysis column, yet the sport's unpredictability means that, no matter how hard we try, we'll never be able to cover every move that winds up mattering. So, as part of an annual tradition, here are a dozen transactions we wish we had covered, complete with what we would (and should) have written about each. (Players are listed in alphabetical order.)
Joey Butler, DH/OF, Rays
The move: Signed a minor-league contract [1/3] Seasonal numbers: .278/.333/.410 (.258 TAv) in 246 PA
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Of pitching well, we mean. The question is why, and the even more important question is whether he can improve.
Last November, when Doug Fister was a year away from free agency, he received four down-ballot votes for the Cy Young Award. It seemed then that all Fister needed to do in order to enter the marketplace on good terms was remain healthy and perform in 2015 as he had in previous seasons. If he could do both, he would secure his place in the second tier of available starters, favorable standing for a pitcher whose "underrated" label was born from a) his inclusion in two one-sided trades and b) statistics that had outrun his stuff at every turn, giving them the feel of unsustainability.
Some nine months later, Fister's statistics have indeed worsened. His production this season has been so poor—entering the week his adjusted DRA was the 11th-worst among pitchers with 50-plus innings, a smidge better than the likes of Sean O'Sullivan and Jeremy Guthrie—that he is now outside the second tier of perspective free-agent starters; in fact, he's outside of all the tiers because he's no longer a starter. Late last week the Nationals officially moved Fister to relief, bumping their old heisted gem in favor of their newest: rookie sensation Joe Ross.
Eight teams are already out of the playoff race, but there are still reasons to watch.
If absence makes the heart grow fonder, then by Friday even the fans of the eight teams without a realistic shot at the postseason (read: less than a 5 percent chance) should be overjoyed to see their clubs resume play. But with two and a half months until the playoffs, those fans will need more than a shot of elation to hold their attention; they'll need to focus on someone doing something in order to endure what remains of a lost season. So let's find a subplot worthy of tracking for each team that is no longer included in the season's main narrative. (Teams are listed in descending order of their playoff odds.)
San Diego Padres
Record: 41–49 Projected wins: 77 Playoff odds: 2.0 percent Storyline worth watching: A.J. Preller's next wave of deals will determine the main intrigue in San Diego, but here's a secondary concern for those out west: Kevin Quackenbush. Funny name, questionable beard, and polarizing profile aside, Quackenbush finished the first half with 27 innings and zero home runs allowed. (Milwaukee's Michael Blazek has the most innings of anybody who has yet to give up a homer with 45 2/3.) You might think Quackenbush is nearing signature significance with each inning, yet in San Diego that hasn't been the case. The other Padres since the last round of expansion to complete a season with more than 25 innings and zero baseballs lost, Sean O'Sullivan (2013) and Kevin Cameron (2007), didn't enjoy Made Man status or even a hint of big-league success following their seeming trademark efforts. Presuming Quackenbush isn't prone to superstition or confusing correlation with causation, he'll try to join that not-so-select company in the coming months.
R.J. and Randy put their heads together to figure out where the top 10 trade targets will be going in the next month.
Last week we looked at the sellers and who they could place on the market. This week let's examine and rank the top 10 trade targets, as well as guess at where they could be headed.
A few notes: Players perceived as more likely to be traded during the offseason (e.g. Cole Hamels and Troy Tulowitzki) were not included in the process. Randy's predictions were formed using a random number generator and assigning numbers to each team with a greater than 15 percent shot at making the postseason. Its projections are (obviously) void of reason. Lastly, players are discussed in descending order of their expected value.
Which teams are likely to be sellers, and who are they going to sell?
With the trade deadline just five weeks away, it's time to preview the forthcoming dealings. To do so, let's take a look at the plausible sellers—defined here as the nine teams that entered the week with a losing record and less than a 10 percent chance at cracking the postseason—their perceived strategy and which players they could and could not put on the market. (The teams are ordered alphabetically.)
Billy Burns has a very particular set of skills, which set includes fouling off pitches.
Billy Burns must be tired of the word grinder and its relatives, having heard them all throughout his career. Such diction is often reserved for short players, like the 5-foot-9 Burns, or those with otherwise unimpressive physiques—hence their now-pejorative nature. But sometimes a player is called a grinder based on merit. Such is the case with Burns, who deserves the label for legitimate baseball reasons, as opposed to having the heart of a hummingbird. Burns is a grinder in the sense that he annoys pitchers by fouling off put-away attempts, disrupting pitch counts and tempers. He has a statistical claim on the title, too, having entered the week with the highest percentage of fouls per two-strike swings:
Taijuan Walker's performance might be the least fulfilling of the drafted-and-developed bunch. After six turns through the rotation, Walker has the highest DRA among big-league starting pitchers. His Game Scores have been (in order): 7, 29, 60, 67, 12, and 49—or more bad than good, and more scattered than fixed. Old stats tell the same tale. Walker has not flourished like a cockatoo in a birdbath; instead he's languished to the point of allowing 27 runs and 39 hits in 27 2/3 innings.
Alfredo Simon exemplifies this truth in baseball. Simon's legal history makes him perhaps the least endearing player on a big-league roster. In 2011, he was charged with (then acquitted of) involuntary manslaughter arising from a shooting death. More recently, he was sued by a woman who says he assaulted and raped her in April 2013.