The Weekend Takeaways
At this point in the Rockies’ season, sitting in the sub-basement of the NL West and with their franchise pillar traded away to a contender, all that’s really left is to play spoiler. And even that’s up for debate, because it would be okay to skid right to the top pick in next year’s draft, right?
That franchise-wide dilemma unfortunately masks the fact that the Rockies’ lineup has some of the best offensive talent in baseball. Nolan Arenado has improved on his already bountiful promise by piling up 5.0 WARP so far this season, with his bat playing just as big a role as his already vaunted glove.
Carlos Gonzalez has been doing even better lately, mashing at a rate unmatched in the game and doing it in the most disruptive way possible, as he almost singlehandedly sank the Nationals in the Rockies’ series victory this weekend. Gonzalez this month hasn’t quite continued the scorching pace set by his .403 ISO in July, but this past series hints at a return to similar form, because he hit three dingers.
The first came on Friday in the eighth inning, with the Nats nursing a 4-1 lead and Drew Storen on the mound:
That go-ahead grand slam sealed Friday’s matchup for the Rockies. After being stymied by Stephen Strasburg on Saturday, Gonzalez was back to his normal mashing on Sunday, drilling these two dingers off Max Scherzer to lead the Rockies’ barrage.
Gonzalez has been on a steady offensive surge since mid-May, when his average sat below the Mendoza line and he was hitting for about as much power as Dee Gordon. (Seriously, check the ISO figures.) He’s getting a lot of hits, and he’s hitting a lot of dingers. If you do those things, you’ll generally succeed! I should write a self-help book.
Here’s a teaser for that book’s second chapter: Hit more liners. Gonzalez is pretty athletic, but I wouldn’t call him a speedster. When he hits grounders, it’s not a good thing, generally, because they’re either weakly struck or going right into the shift. In April and May, Gonzalez was doing just that 52 and 55 percent of the time, respectively.
In June, his groundball percentage, per FanGraphs, plummeted to 37 percent, and that’s right about when Gonzalez’s fortunes started to turn. He corrected a little bit in July, with that percentage going back up to 49 percent, but Gonzalez was scorching hot by then. In recent months, Gonzalez has been striking out a bit more and walking less, but he’s never been the type of hitter to make his name due to his contact rate.
Take a look at the two Baseball Savant spray charts below, especially the clusters of dots about where the second baseman would be positioned.
The left chart is from April to the beginning of June, and the right is from June onward. Early in the season, Gonzalez’s outs pulled on the ground to second base were balls hit decently hard, but right into the shift with which teams had learned to play him. But later on, the balls that ended up there were softly hit and likely rolled over, i.e. the hits that would have been outs anyways. The ones that Gonzalez scalds, meanwhile, are in the air and headed to the outfield.
Groundballs are generally more often subject to the fluctuations associated with BABIP, and they’re the hits that allow guys like Dee Gordon to build unsustainably high averages. But Carlos Gonzalez is not Dee Gordon, and now that he’s realized that, his production is better off for it.
Bryant has been fine in his own right, with 15 dingers and a .360 OBP in 101 games, but he’s also second in the league in strikeouts and second-to-last in making contact. Prospect evaluators expressed concerns that the long levers and steep plane in Bryant’s swing could produce contact difficulties, and right now they’re being proven right.
Schwarber, on the other hand, got called up, mashed, got sent down, then called up again, and has mashed some more. He has a .341 average and .429 OBP in all, and the Cubs have won 10 of 11, with Schwarber contributing four hits in a sweep of the Giants this weekend.
On Friday, he reached out and stroked a two-run go-ahead single off Kelby Tomlinson‘s glove in the fifth inning, after he had scored the game’s first run when he doubled off Ryan Vogelsong in the first inning and came around on Chris Coghlan‘s single … off Kelby Tomlinson’s glove. Rough game for that guy; rougher still for his glove.
Then, on Saturday, Schwarber had two singles, the latter of which drove Dexter Fowler home to expand the Cubs’ lead to 8-3.
The book on Schwarber tells us that his defensive profile (or lack thereof) is the biggest concern when it comes to his future value. He played left field this weekend, and seemed okay! He had no errors, at least. Schwarber’s line so far in left field is 42 innings played, eight putouts, no assists and no errors. Here he is on Friday, making a good play to judge, track, and finish a nice running catch on Angel Pagan‘s drive to the wall.
Should the Cubs choose to stick Schwarber in left because they really want his bat in the lineup but have Miguel Montero already at catcher, it might work out for the team. Or it might not. We have far too small a sample size to tell, really. Schwarber was worth -1 DRS through five plays made, and that might improve, or it might get worse. Defense can be tricky and unpredictable: Nolan Arenado went from being a below-average defender in the low minors to an awesome defender in the majors. That might happen with Schwarber!
You heard it from me first: Kyle Schwarber could end up like Nolan Arenado. Feel free to quote that sentence without context.
You know those Blue Jays: The bats may be a bit suspect, but their pitchers have developed that fabled Northern Constitution, and it takes a special day to break through. (Oh, the opposite has actually been true this season? Well, that’s what you get when you enlist somebody who didn’t watch a single game of baseball in his life until Friday to write a weekend roundup.) Toronto scored just 10 runs against the Yankees this weekend, which seems precariously low for the Blue Jays, but they only allowed one, which thankfully came in a game in which they scored two.
The biggest swing of the series was undoubtedly this one from Justin Smoak on Saturday, which produced as many runs as the Blue Jays managed the entire rest of the series.
David Price‘s seven innings of shutout ball made it so Smoak’s dinger was more than enough run support. On Sunday, Josh Donaldson and Jose Bautista‘s solo dingers were all the support Marco Estrada needed, as the right-hander held the opposition to three or fewer hits for the third-straight start and his batting average allowed plummeted to .213. Along the way, Troy Tulowitzki made this exceptionally nifty play.
Toronto and New York are both off on Monday, but both get back to it on Tuesday with the Yankees resting on a 1½-game cushion in the division.
Defensive Play of the Weekend
There were plays that showcased more athletic ability and plays that were made in higher-leverage situations, but I don’t think anything approaches the pure improbability of this play, that Yasiel Puig even had the crazy thought of barehanding Starling Marte‘s shallow liner and immediately firing to second to nab Gregory Polanco. How many other league outfielders would even consider trying this play, much less have the bazooka of an arm to make it?
What to Watch on Monday
Chris Sale is a very good pitcher, and as is normally expected from very good pitchers, Chris Sale is having a very good year. Such a good year, in fact, that Sale is third in all of baseball—among pitchers reaching an arbitrary innings-pitched benchmark—in FIP. Clayton Kershaw is first, Max Scherzer is second, and Sale is third.
However, if you had been raised in a household normal in every way except that all mentions of any pitching statistic except ERA and wins were to be expunged from all media, you’d think Sale was having a pretty mediocre year, at least by his standards. Sale currently has a 3.52 ERA, more than a full run above that of Scherzer or Kershaw. In fact, Sale and Corey Kluber, he of a 3.60 ERA, are the only pitchers in the top five in FIP with ERAs above the 2.54 of Chris Archer.
The way FIP works, as you probably know, is that it attempts to remove the chaos and unpredictability inherent in batted balls from the numerical assessment of a pitcher. It focuses primarily on more controllable factors like strikeouts and walks, and because Sale has lots of the former and not a lot of the latter, he has a good FIP. Sale’s less-spectacular ERA, then, rests mostly on the weight of his abnormally high .325 BABIP.
A lot of that number is bad luck, but some of it could be linked to Sale’s stuff. Velocity-wise, Sale is basically no different than he’s been the rest of his career. The same can be said in terms of movement, and he’s actually getting more run on his changeup than ever before. I think it’s safe to chalk up Sale’s ERA to crappy luck and an even crappier White Sox defense. Despite what his ERA might tell you, Chris Sale is still great, and you should still watch him. You can do it tomorrow at 8:10, when he faces the Angels and Matt Shoemaker.
I followed Jon Gray when he was in college at Oklahoma, and back then, I could have sworn he went by Jonathan. Yeah, he definitely did. Perhaps his new first name is part of an all-out rebranding effort, accompanied by radio commercials, billboards, and a new, edgier haircut. (It is shaggier than he had it in college.)
Anyway, Gray is scheduled to start for the Rockies tonight at 7:10 p.m. against the Mets and Jon Niese, who also used to go by Jonathon, but spelled differently. From a stuff standpoint, the two could hardly be more different: Gray is a hard thrower who throws three pitches, and Niese is a soft-tosser who throws, like, six.
The Reds are bad, but Joey Votto is extremely good, especially in the last month. Votto has a 1.236 OPS in that timespan and an OBP of .587. Yes, in the last 24 games, Votto has gotten on base 59 percent of the time. Nobody else has an OBP over .461 during the past month.
You may be thinking, wow, I wonder if Barry Bonds has ever done that, and the answer would be yes, of course he did. In April 2004, for example, Bonds had a .696 OBP, with 39 walks to 6 strikeouts. His BABIP was .405. The next month, Bonds’ BABIP was .200, and he STILL got on base 53 percent of the time.
In 2004, Barry Bonds has a .609 on-base percentage for the entire season. I suppose I sort of devolved away from Votto, about whom I was originally writing, but I guess it’s just a reminder that you can call Votto’s past month Bonds-esque if you really want to, but that it’ll still be underselling Bonds in general. It’s still an impressive run that Votto’s on, however, and you can see it roll on when the Reds face Ian Kennedy at 10:10 P.M. tonight.