The Weekend Takeaway
The Trade Deadline Express is in motion, and I’d like it to slow down because I already feel a bit nauseous.
The deal that actually happened was Johnny Cueto being traded from the Reds to the Royals. The Royals’ main need was a bona fide ace, and they got one in exchange for Brandon Finnegan, John Lamb, and Cody Reed, all of whom basically qualify as prospects. On the surface, it looks pretty good for both sides: The Royals added a piece for a championship run without giving up any current major contributors, and the Reds picked up some good young arms to help with their rebuild. For more, check out the corresponding Transaction Analysis.
However, to just say “Johnny Cueto got traded to the Royals” does not come close to doing the intrigue and tomfoolery and drama surrounding this trade justice. It was totally wack. This story from John Fay of the Cincinnati Enquirer covers the saga fully, but what basically happened is that Cueto was scheduled to start on Saturday, and while he was warming up Michael Lorenzen started warming up too. Cueto asked why, and Lorenzen told Cueto that he just got traded.
Or not, because Cueto made the start. Ken Rosenthal reported that the trade was suspended because a piece going from the Royals didn’t pass medical muster. That adds the juiciest layer of intrigue and speculation to the whole thing, because the Royals have numerous prospects with somewhat dodgy injury histories. Was it Kyle Zimmer? Was it Sean Manaea? Maybe Bubba Starling? Either way, when Cueto actually got traded, on Sunday afternoon, none of those guys were in the deal.
We’ll probably never know for sure because that version of the trade never happened. However, Cueto pitched on Saturday, somehow slowing his mind down enough to shut down the Rockies for four hits in eight innings. That excellent start sandwiched two mediocre ones against the Marlins and Indians with a complete game two-hitter against the Nationals on July 7th.
Fourteen of the outs Cueto recorded came on fly balls, which is an impressive feat to accomplish in Coors Field, where a pop fly with a bunch of backspin can fly out if somebody in the upper deck exhales too hard. Kansas City is a much more favorable environment, both in terms of its dimensions and its outfield corps, so Cueto’s fly ball–heavy profile will work just fine there.
The Royals, in the meantime, had a pretty decent weekend themselves. Their three-game series against the Astros didn’t start on a good note, as Houston native Scott Kazmir threw seven innings of shutout ball in his start since being traded from the A’s—you can read the Transaction Analysis here—and the Astros won 4–0.
The Royals took a 2–1 win in 10 innings on Saturday when Paulo Orlando singled, stole second, and scored on Alcides Escobar‘s single. And on Sunday, Yordano Ventura made his return from an exceedingly short stint in Triple-A—those sort of things happen when one of your other starters goes down with an elbow injury—and looked to be in much better form than his previous four starts, allowing one run and striking out five in seven innings as the Royals took a 5–1 win. Ventura hadn’t gone more than even five innings in a start since May 31st.
Value is a tricky subject. At their core, Baseball Prospectus and FanGraphs and Beyond the Box Score and Worldstarhiphop are all about measuring baseball players’ value with the tools we have and ruminating about circumstances and perspectives that might hide value or obscure it. If you want sappy human-interest stories, go to the newspapers—we’re all about cold, soulless numbers!
Around the trade deadline, value is even more of a talking point. If you’re trying to trade for a guy, you want one with good value, right? And how is that value determined? How far back do you go in using past performance to determine a pitchers’ present value, and how do you weigh that against more recent performance?
Before Cole Hamels‘ start on Saturday, one exec apparently told ESPN’s Jayson Stark this about Cole Hamels:
One exec on Cole Hamels' start tomorrow: “He's pitched in playoffs & WS. But for that front office this may be biggest start he’s ever had”
— Jayson Stark (@jaysonst) July 24, 2015
Pressure much? Well, like Cueto, Hamels’ previous two starts before Saturday were some hot, stinky garbage, like an unfinished Philly Taco on the banks of the Schuylkill River: 6 1/3 total innings, 20 hits, 14 runs, five strikeouts. Hamels has an entire career of excellence to outweigh those starts, but still, I don’t think it’s possible to look at that performance and not get a bit of an uneasy, sickly feeling in your stomach, like you would the moment after taking a bite of that half-eaten Philly Taco you found on the banks of the Schuylkill River.
Well, forget about all of that, because on Saturday, Hamels threw a freaking no-hitter! The fastball had zip, the changeup had fade, and the Cubs couldn’t hit any of it. Hamels had 13 strikeouts, two more than the total from his last three starts. And in typical Phillies fashion, center fielder Odubel Herrera very nearly misplayed Kris Bryant‘s fly ball with two outs in the ninth, making the catch in a prone position on the warning track. In the eighth inning, he made a similar catch on David Ross‘ drive.
Some things never change, though: The Phillies still suck, and as of the writing of this article, Hamels still plays for them. He might get traded on Monday, or Tuesday, or Wednesday, or maybe not at all. Lots of teams would like to have him, as would I, because I’m driving from Missouri to Virginia starting Tuesday and I think he would be an interesting travel companion. Here is my offer: A four-pack of Boulevard Tank 7, Grand Theft Auto V for PlayStation 4, and a parking pass from the 2015 Fayetteville Super Regional. There’s no harm in asking!
A cursory look at the Washington Nationals‘ roster might lead one to ask why they aren’t considered to be aggressive buyers at the trade deadline. Tyler Moore? Clint Robinson? Matt den Dekker? Well, those guys are mainly just fill-ins until Jayson Werth, Denard Span, and Ryan Zimmerman come back from the disabled list.
One of those fill-ins, and the one with easily the most prospect hype, is center fielder Michael A. Taylor, ranked the organization’s no. 4 prospect heading into 2014. He is swift, rangy, and packs some serious pop; check out this bomb he hit off Addison Reed on May 13th:
In his first season with regular playing time, however, Taylor’s performance hasn’t quite measured up to his tools. He’s only hitting for a .244 TAv this year, and his 3.4 FRAA is just enough to get his WARP into the positive range.
This weekend was much better for Taylor, however. He started off with just a single on Friday against the Pirates, but blew up on Saturday for the first four-hit game of his career, with a two-run dinger off Arquimedes Caminero being one of those hits.
Taylor had just one hit on Sunday, but it was a long bomb off Gerrit Cole, and just look at where this pitch was!
He also made this catch on an absolute rocket off the bat of Gregory Polanco. I can’t tell if it was really impressive, because he covered so much ground and didn’t have to dive, or not all that impressive, because maybe he misread it off the bat. Either way, I certainly couldn’t have made it, and neither could you!
Sometimes, baseball is really, really anti-climactic, like the time when Max Scherzer had a perfect game going with two outs in the ninth inning, threw a perfectly acceptable front-door slider, and Jose Tabata decided to stick his elbow out and spoil everybody’s fun.
Zack Greinke had his own good-pitching streak going heading into Sunday’s action, and it too ended in a way that made everybody just go “… oh.” The scoreless-innings streak finished at 45 2/3 innings for Greinke when Jacob deGrom hit a bouncer to Adrian Gonzalez at first. Gonzalez’s throw home was a bit high and wide left, and that was that.
Greinke was fine overall, allowing two runs over seven innings, but he wasn’t better than the fireballing deGrom, who struck out eight in 7 2/3.
And just like all roads lead to Rome, all recaps eventually lead to Juan Uribe, who reintroduced himself to the team with which he started the season by drilling this bombskie off the wall in center to drive in Curtis Granderson for the winning run.
Defensive Play of the Weekend
Carlos Correa very well could have gone to Jose Altuve at second on this play. It would have been the shorter throw, and it looks to me like Altuve was in position to receive it in time. But Correa doesn’t take the easy route on things: He plays Super Smash Bros. with a Wiimote, rather than a gamepad. He unscrews the lugnuts on his car halfway to give him an extra-wobbly, white-knuckle ride. Correa is actually left-handed, and he’s just playing shortstop and batting righty because baseball is too easy for him otherwise.
What to Watch on Monday
Mike Montgomery had been a nicely productive addition to the Mariners’ rotation since his major-league debut on June 2nd. Montgomery was good through four starts, with a 2.73 ERA to show for it, then freaking incredible the next two starts, with back-to-back shutouts. But since then, he’s been pretty mediocre. In fact, I’d hazard to say his last start, in which he gave up eight runs against the Tigers, was bad! I swear, I’ve got to wear gloves to handle these fiery hot takes I’m dishing out.
Montgomery hasn’t seen his velocity decline particularly noticeable since his debut—though his cutter has lost a tick or two—but the movement on some of his pitches has noticeably declined since his two shutouts. He averaged at least 3.5 inches of horizontal movement on his curve through his first seven starts, but hasn’t averaged more than 2.8 inches in any of his last three outings. That pitch has also lost depth, topping at out at an average of 8.9 inches of vertical movement on June 23rd but averaging 7.3 in Montgomery’s last start. Montgomery is set to go against the Diamondbacks on Monday, and we’ll see if he can regain the feel for the curve, and whether it even matters if he does.
The West Coast is home of the Sonoma Stompers, popular pop-punk outfit The Story So Far, and the two closest division races in baseball. The Dodgers are a game ahead of the Giants, and the Angels are a game ahead of the Astros. The Dodgers do not play on Monday, and the Giants face the Brewers at home, throwing Chris Heston against Kyle Lohse. Heston threw a no-hitter earlier this season, and in his last start he allowed one hit in 7 1/3 innings. And neither the Angels nor the Astros are playing, so I don’t really know why I mentioned them. I mean, it’s not like I get paid by the word. (Or do I?)
The Orioles have been giving Kevin Gausman starts as of late after using the leggy righty in the bullpen to begin the year. His scheduled start on Monday will be his fifth of the year, and his previous ones have been of varying success. Gausman hasn’t gone longer than 6 1/3 innings so far, and he’s given up one or more dingers in his past two. Gausman’s best game this season came against the Rangers on July 2nd, when he threw 6 1/3 scoreless and allowed four hits. Gausman has actually been throwing just as hard in his starting role as he did in relief, averaging 96.7 mph on his four-seamer his last time out. He’s also been more willing to throw his curveball, which he very seldom used in his relief outings. But other than that, Gausman is primarily throwing four-seam/splitter. He’ll oppose fellow Southeastern Conference alumnus Alex Wood on Monday night in Baltimore.