On the 17th episode of the DFA Podcast, Bryan, special guest Ben Diamond, and Shawn Brody discuss three big deals that are helping shape the 2017 playoff push. The Yankees pick up three pieces, the Nationals grab two, and the Diamondbacks just get one; how did each team do?
It's Baseball Prospectus's newest podcast: DFA! Host Bryan Grosnick (Baseball Prospectus), co-host R.J. Anderson (CBS Sports), and producer Shawn Brody (Beyond the Box Score, BP Mets) are talking about all the transactions and roster moves that make MLB go. From trades and signings to callups and disabled list stints, DFA is here to provide analysis and commentary on all things baseball.
Aaron Judge and Cody Bellinger are towering over baseball as rookies.
Two of the first half's top stories were the power-hitting pillars of two of the league’s flagship franchises. Aaron Judge and Cody Bellinger have captured the national imagination, and—with the Rookie of the Year trophies almost surely already engraved—they might just capture their league’s MVP awards come November. They’re the perfect new faces for the sport, at least for this part of this season—a spring marked by skyrocketing home run rates, questions about the ball being juiced, and a wave of young talent not only supernally talented, but also impossibly big, strong, and fast.
These are two towering sluggers, but they’re less unusual in that way than they might have been a decade ago, and certainly less so than they would have been in the 1980s or earlier. In fact, the six-foot-seven Judge and the six-foot-four Bellinger are just the latest in a line of very tall power hitters who have been taking over the game in recent seasons. Miguel Sano, Kris Bryant, Corey Seager, and Carlos Correa all are at least six-foot-four. For most of baseball history, conventional wisdom has held that guys with such long levers were too vulnerable strikeouts, too exploitable, too disadvantaged by the larger strike zone with which opposing pitchers could work. That conventional wisdom, to the extent that it’s not retroactively disproven by these superstar sluggers, seems to be eroding. I want to talk about why, and what it can tell us about the game.
The Situation: All of the stuff I wrote on Thursday about the Yankees using their vaunted prospect depth to cover position player injuries from Dustin Fowler’s Call-Up is still true. Throw on top of it that Fowler himself tore his patella tendon in his MLB debut, and the Yankees are now firing their last big hitting bullet from the farm, top outfield prospect Clint Frazier.
The Yankees will have an entirely new team of players by next week, all named Tyler or Dustin or Blake or something.
The Situation: The Yankees are muddling through a cold streak during a season of unexpected contention. With the Super-2 window having passed and injuries creating needs all over the diamond, they’re calling up much of their vaunted upper-level prospect depth. Today’s newest Baby Bomber is versatile and toolsy outfielder Dustin Fowler.
The last piece of the Yankees' Tyler Voltron has arrived.
The Situation: Starlin Castro tweaked a hamstring, so the Yankees have called on their swiss army prospect, Tyler Wade, to give them some additional flexibility in the infield.
The Background: The Yankees selected Wade in the fourth round of the 2013 draft as a SoCal prep shortstop, signing him for a little over $370,000. He got a somewhat aggressive assignment to Charleston in his first full pro season, considering he wasn’t a highly-touted prep pick, and both his raw athleticism and his general rawness showed up there. He progressed to Tampa in 2015 and prospect team member Jeff Moore saw a future big leaguer whose “contact skills, left-handed bat and ability to play two up-the-middle positions [gave] him a chance to play a nice role on a big-league roster.” I got eyes on him in 2016 in Trenton and saw much of the same, although I thought his athleticism was starting to show up more in the baseball skills now. He faded a bit down the stretch in Trenton, but overall put together a solid performance for a 21-year-old in Double-A. With the acquisition of Gleyber Torres at the trade deadline, the Yankees sent Wade to the AFL for the second straight season, this time to get some reps in the outfield. This year in Scranton he has played all three outfield positions in addition to shortstop, second, and third. He’s in the midst of a bit of a breakout season, adding a bit of pop to the profile and improving his efficiency on the bases.
The lion, the fox, the jackal, and the wolf, with the Yankees starring as the lion.
We talk a lot about the fundamental challenges faced by low-payroll or small-market teams trying to compete with the big boys. This goes back to the times of Branch Rickey and Ed Barrow, but it became a fashionable conversation once Moneyballturned baseball inside-out. The A’s might have been the first team to realize that speed was overvalued and that on-base percentage was undervalued, but the Red Sox and Yankees were among the first five, and that closed Oakland’s margin for error fast.
Ever since, MLB has been reenacting the fable of the lion, the fox, the jackal, and the wolf. See, all four animals went hunting together, and they killed a stag. The lion took his place, and he told the others to quarter the kill. They did, cut it up nice and evenly, and then the lion said, “I get one quarter because I’m king, and another because I’m the arbiter, and another because I took part in the chase. Now, who wants to lay a paw on the last quarter?”
Hitters like Miguel Sano, Marcell Ozuna, and Starlin Castro refuse to make things easy on pitchers.
We are, inarguably, living in the Golden Age Of Offensive Platitudes. Russell A. Carleton tossed out several of them in one recent column: “Sit fastball. Swing hard. Strikeouts don’t matter.” The Pirates say “OPS is in the air,” which is really just the Cubs’ “there’s no slug on the ground,” but stood on its head. Josh Donaldson wants you to “just say no to ground balls,” which is unimaginative but clear enough.
Modern offense comes down to launch angle and exit velocity, and to maximizing extra-base power (especially home runs) in order to make up for an unabating upshoot in strikeout rate. To be a great hitter in the modern game is nowhere near easy, but it’s fairly simple. Most teams, and many individual players, have dedicated themselves to breaking down hitting to the simplest set of basic ideas possible, so that batters can adapt to the unprecedented velocity and sheer stuff of modern pitchers as deftly as possible.
-1.) Gleyber Torres first enters the back of my consciousness sometime in the spring or summer of 2013. He’s one of the biggest July 2 international free agents of that cycle, and the Cubs are one of the first teams to jump through the loophole in the old July 2 free agency rules and blow far past their international spending cap. The top-rated prospects of that class are Eloy Jimenez and Torres; the Cubs sign them both for seven figures each, plus dozens of others.