August 2, 2016
Richer Get Rich
The Dodgers signed Alvarez just a month and a half ago, giving the former Cuban national $2 million on June 16. He's a big kid, listed at 6-foot-5, 220 pounds, and as you might guess from a first baseman that size, he does have some power projection. In order to tap into that projection, however, he's going to have to add more loft to his swing, as it's more geared for contact than big home run totals. That being said, that stroke also gives him a chance to hit for average, and his simple setup without a ton of movement gives him a chance to hit the ball with authority to all fields. He has shown some feel for the strike zone, so there should be some walks in his future. He's not a great athlete, but he should be fine at first base, where his lack of speed and so-so hands won't hurt him as much. He's a good half-decade away from being a big leaguer, but there is some offensive upside here. —Christopher Crawford
Cotton was the Dodgers' 20th-round pick back in 2011, and he's slowly but surely developed into one of their best starting pitching prospects. He's on the smaller side, but he does have quality arm strength, and he'll get his fastball up to 96 mph, generally sitting 91-94. He'll also throw a fringe-average cutter that has some velocity and enough bite to keep hitters honest. The curveball is also a 45 pitch; it has some depth, but it's fairly slurvy and quite hittable when it's up in the zone.
While the slider and cutter don't offer much inspiration, Cotton has a chance to start because of the fastball and one of the best changes in the upper levels. He has outstanding arm speed, and the pitch has the type of movement you see in swing-and-miss changes at the big-league level. It isn't consistently plus-plus, but it flashes that on a not-inconsistent basis. He throws strikes with all four pitches, and the command isn't terribly far behind the control. There is some effort to his delivery, however, so there's a chance he's not a starter long term. He could be electric with the fastball/change combination in relief, but he has a chance to pitch in the back of a rotation as is.
This is the third time Montas has been traded since 2012: He was shipped from Boston to Chicago in the Jake Peavy deal, and then was one of the prospects acquired in the three-way deal that sent Todd Frazier to the White Sox. Don't let the quantity of moves fool you, though. Montas has fantastic stuff. When working in short spurts he will touch triple digits, and he sits in the mid-90s while occasionally touching 100, even working as a starter. It also has some movement to it, making it a true 80 pitch. He'll complement that heater with a quality slider, with late, power tilt. It's rarely a strike, but there's enough deception/bats have to start early on the fastball, so that's okay. The change won't be necessary if he's in the bullpen, but it has made enough improvement to call it a fringe-average pitch. He's also taken strides to improve his delivery, but because he's—for lack of a better term—hefty, he doesn't always do a great job repeating it late. The stuff is there to pitch in the middle of a rotation, but because of his health issues and the body type, it might play best in relief, long term.
With all due respect to Cotton and Montas, Holmes is the headline of this package. Holmes received top 10 consideration in the 2014 draft, but concerns about size and signability saw him slide all the way to the 22nd pick. The Dodgers pounced.
Like Cotton, Holmes does not have prototypical size, but his arm strength is impressive, and it leads to a fastball that can touch 98 and sit 93-95. His curveball has been a plus offering since high school; it's a power curve with hard spin and the kind of depth you see in swing-and-miss yakkers in the big-leagues. He's still gaining feel for his change, but it gets better each year, and it's flashing average more often than it isn't.
Outside of the concerns over his build, the only other real concern with Holmes is the command. He does a decent job of repeating his delivery and arm slot, but he has walked 43 hitters in 105 innings this year, and hitting his spots has been more of an issue as a pro than anticipated. He's still just 20, so there's plenty of time to figure it out, and if he can, he has a chance to pitch at or near the top of a rotation. If he can't, he's a back-end starter, and worst-case scenario he's pitching in the eighth or ninth inning. —Christopher Crawford
Acquired LHP Rich Hill and RF-L Josh Reddick from Oakland Athletics, in exchange for RHP Frankie Montas, RHP Grant Holmes and RHP Jharel Cotton [8/1].
Tuesday will mark the one-year anniversary of Rich Hill’s first start with the Long Island Ducks, of the independent Atlantic League. He’d been released by the Nationals after walking nearly a batter per inning as a reliever in Triple-A. He was 35. In the six seasons since he’d turned 30 he had thrown a total of 75 major-league innings, all in relief, primarily as a LOOGY, none all that effective. His most recent major-league gigs had come with the Yankees (5 1/3 innings) and the Angels, with whom he failed to record an out. He threw 19 pitches as an Angel, and five were strikes.
You basically know all this, but Rich Hill is so fun. You go to a Rich Hill show, you want to hear the hits, not the new stuff. The guy in the back, yelling “Play ‘Best Pitcher In The League “Right Now”’!” Okay, we’ll play, yeah we’ll play:
But, of course, it’s more than just fun. It’s the background for why Rich Hill is one of the most extreme outliers in baseball history, which is why his error bars are so high. Let’s pick a random year—20…13. Okay, 2013. Here’s the list of pitchers 35 or older who were in Triple-A that year—not released from Triple-A, as Hill was, but simply in it:
The numbers after their names are how many MLB innings they've pitched since, 2014-2016. That’s 27 pitchers, all of whom were good enough to pitch just a few feet from the majors, most of whom had some record of succeeding in the majors, many of whom had succeeded to a greater degree or more recently than Rich Hill, and who, in the three seasons that followed, pitched a grand total of 166 replacement-level innings.
Hill, meanwhile, has thrown 115 major-league innings in the past calendar year with a ERA around 2 and FIP and DRA around 2.5. He’s been the best pitcher in the American League. His fastball has the highest whiff rate in baseball this year, by a lot: The gap between him and no. 2 David Price is as big as that between Price and no. 27 Trevor Bauer. His curveball, which he throws nearly half the time, is one of the most difficult in the game to square up; batters are slugging .246 against it since he came back. Jake Arrieta has allowed a higher OPS than Hill over the past two seasons. Every starter has, except Clayton Kershaw, and he gets to face pitchers. Does that undersell how good Hill has been? Okay, here:
Hey, you tell me whether any of this is necessary. I’m assuming you basically know all this, but is it less fun because of that? Not for me! So there’s the case for the Dodgers getting the steal of the trade deadline: The second-best pitcher in baseball over the past calendar year—and the only guy who has a clear argument as superior to Hill is either not going to be pitching this October or sets the Dodgers up to have the best one-two punch on any postseason rotation.
Now, to throw a bunch of cold water on this.
You’d be surprised how many pitchers are, roughly, the best in their league over 18 starts. Hill’s FIP, by our calculations, since he rejoined mainstream baseball, is 2.52. I went back to look at the past two decades to see how often a pitcher produced a FIP better than 2.60. I expected to find 20 pitchers who had done this at least once. I expected to then make the case that being this good for this long and not being an actually great pitcher would make Hill a different kind of outlier. None of us likes betting on an outlier, and I planned to set this up as a choice of which type of outlier you were more willing to bet on. But Hill’s last 18 starts aren’t actually that unusual.
There are 79 starters, including Hill, who have been this good for this many consecutive starts since 1997. This excludes multiple stretches and overlapping stretches; these are pitchers who had at least one stretch this good. (Pedro Martinez had literally scores of them.) Most were very good pitchers, but we don’t have to try that hard to find pitchers who were just good, or okay, or—excluding the 18 starts—even kind of bad. e.g.
Now, you’re looking at those names and saying, “wait, he was good, remember the year he finished sixth in Cy Young voting?” But that’s the point: These guys were all really, really good—for a short period of time. But they were mostly hurt, or mostly average, or mostly worse, besides those stretches. e.g.
It’s not like these guys are bad. It’s just that there’s a fair number of pitchers who a writer could get carried away with if he or she timed his or her piece just right.
Hill, by virtue of more or less freezing his Fun Fact stats in time while healing from blisters and groin troubles, has made it pretty easy to time this piece just right. It’s been about two months since he added significantly to his innings totals. Hill was never a good bet to hit 200 innings this year—the last time he threw even 100 innings, across all levels, in a season was in 2007, and that’s only partly because of his mid-career shift to relief work—and the groin and blister injuries might have actually done the Dodgers a favor, preserving Hill from more season-ending-type maladies.
This all adds up to one of the most vexing player-value questions a team has ever had to solve against a ticking deadline clock. For Hill’s sake, and for Josh Reddick’s, the Dodgers felt they solved it, as now each player will be loosed of free-agent compensation this winter. That makes this pair pure rentals, and perhaps excepting Aroldis Chapman—and perhaps not—the two best pure rentals moved this deadline.
Reddick needs little explanation. He’s an erstwhile power hitter who has traded home runs for contact in recent years, and is this year having the best offensive season of his career. It’d be easy to confuse this version of Reddick for post-30 Andre Ethier, which is good enough, especially with a bit more defensive value attached to Reddick. The Dodgers’ weakest two positions are the corner outfield spots, the only two places they’ve been below average as a club. At least one won’t be any longer.
But one wonders whether this trade was supposed to be the last one the Dodgers made Monday. If there’s a defining day in the Friedman Era, it’s the night during the 2014 winter meetings when, in separate deals, the Dodgers traded for Yasmani Grandal, Jimmy Rollins, Kiké Hernandez, Austin Barnes and Howie Kendrick and signed Brandon McCarthy. The moves all felt dependent on each other—either financially, or by opening up playing time, or literally because the players from one trade were shipped off elsewhere in another, and the case for carrying six GMs was suddenly easy to see. Each of the additions Monday—Reddick and Hill—felt like a possible precursor to more: Reddick would free the Dodgers to trade Yasiel Puig, who they were reportedly looking to move; Hill would ease the pressure to add somebody who could start two games in every postseason series, and therefore perhaps give the Dodgers more leverage in talks for a Chris Sale or Chris Archer. But there was no Sale or Archer, and Puig remains a Dodger. The Dodgers end up with a corner outfielder who’ll represent an upgrade—but over pretty good veterans (yes, even Puig, even still) who might easily have outperformed Reddick over the next two months. And they get a pitcher who might be the second-best starter in this year’s postseason, or who might pitch as often in the next two months (twice) as he has in the past two. It’s odd to say that the Dodgers’ getting the two best rentals on the market is anticlimactic, but that’s expectations for you. Rich Hill’s so much fun because expectations were nonexistent; the Dodgers often aren’t, because expectations are so high. —Sam Miller
Following their acquisition of Rich Hill, and ill-fated pursuits of Rays’ starters Matt Moore and Chris Archer, the Dodgers turned to address another area of need. While the rotation is still in relative shambles, the bullpen has been a relative strength, checking in at eighth in the majors in DRA. It’s been a relatively anonymous bullpen that has compiled these numbers, and one that’s been overworked, especially since Clayton Kershaw landed on the disabled list. The Dodgers’ ace last started on June 26; since then Dodgers starting pitchers have completed seven innings just twice (July 10, July 19). Kershaw, for reference, completed seven innings in 14 of 16 starts.
All of which is to say: A bullpen that has thrown the third-most innings in the majors was likely to start feeling some attrition without the necessary reinforcements. Enter Chavez. He’s versatile enough to start—though he hasn’t yet this year—and he averages more than an inning per appearance in relief. He’s seen a marked drop-off in his usage of the changeup as he’s shifted to the bullpen, relying more on his four-seam and cut fastballs. The results haven’t been spectacular, but this is what depth looks like. For an organization that has seen a steady stream of short starts, acquiring an arm who can go multiple innings or moonlight as a sixth starter is a smart move. It will look even smarter if Chavez can regain his ability to limit the long ball, which will be aided by his escape from the Rogers Centre—and either way he will be an improvement upon Casey Fien in every aspect save for memes. —Craig Goldstein
Yes, Josh Fields when necessary, but he’s been much better off this year when he and his teammates don’t have to. An excellent setup man for the Astros in 2014 and 2015, Fields has seen his true outcomes stay relatively true: he’s got good control, and he gets strikeouts and coughs up homers at rates befitting an extreme flyball pitcher. The trouble is when the ball enters play. In his 15.2 innings of work early in the season, he gave up 23 hits, to the tune of a .457 BABIP, which led to an ERA more than double his DRA. By mid-May, he became a victim of other people’s success: with Harris, Gregerson and Giles holding down the late innings, the Astros turned to more versatile, multi-inning relievers to fill out the bullpen, and Fields has spent the summer pitching like his usual self in Triple-A Fresno.
For the Dodgers, Fields becomes a useful if somewhat limited reserve, thanks to that last remaining option he has. He’s a little too homer-prone for high-leverage work, and he’s not cut out for more than an inning at a time, thanks to some dramatic platoon splits. His ideal fit is the seventh inning of an ultra-conventional bullpen setup, preferably with a two-run lead to protect against those solo home runs, even if some of them die at the warning track at the Ravine. But in this dreary plane of existence we operate on, Fields may have to return to Triple-A and wait for an injury call-up or for the rosters to expand. —Patrick Dubuque
I am shocked—shocked—there is a quality, frequently injured starter in this establishment! “Quality” may undersell what healthy Rich Hill has all-of-a-sudden evolved into, actually. Among pitchers to log his 76 innings this season he rates sixth in cFIP and eighth in DRA, with a top-10 strikeout rate and opponent’s batting average nestled cozily below the Mendoza Line. Ah, but there’s a rub. Of course there’s a rub. And the rub is that Hill has thrown just 12 innings since May thanks to groin and blister issues, and he’ll head down the coast as a resident of the disabled list. And when he comes off that list he’ll do so sitting on the most innings he’s logged in a season since 2007.
As those numbers suggest, though, when he’s been right, he’s been right as rain since his career resurgence began in earnest last September in Boston. He’s basically a two-pitch pitcher at this point, equal parts four-seamer and curveball. The deuce generates the 10th-best rate of groundballs in the majors when batters put it in play, which has driven an above-average overall groundball rate this year. And the move to Chavez Ravine is great news in that regard, as the Dodgers’ infield defense sits as the fourth-best unit at converting grounders into outs, compared with the Oakland crew’s bottom-tier effort. The swap from Stephen Vogt to possibly/hopefully/probably Yasmani Grandal adds an additionally welcome boost to the receiving end of Hill’s pitches if and when he’s able to throw them. And the Dodgers somehow boast the best bullpen ERA in baseball to back him up after he leave games. The rest of the stuff you look for comes out in the wash: the park effects don’t change all that much, and his new divisional opponents have scored exactly 12 fewer runs than the non-Athletic AL West, so not to be seen there, either.
Basically if you’ve been holding Hill through these hard times, you’ll be rewarded that much more once (if) he does come back to take regular turns down the stretch. He’ll be one of the great stretch wildcards in fantasy this year, as a return to healthy, productive form has the chance to tip the scales in many a league.
Bracketing the potential for advantage via lack of familiarity, NL West pitchers haven’t been particularly good this year, and the jump into that division is a good one on paper for Reddick. The Dodgers have fielded a marginally better offense without Reddick than the A’s have with him this year, so this move has the makings for an improved lineup context to help bolster Reddick’s counting stats (pending lineup placement). Dodger Stadium and O.Co. play almost identically for left-handed hitters overall, with a notable exception that over-the-fence power is much easier to come by for the fairer-handed in Chavez Ravine: Last year’s full-season park factor worked out to a 104 in Dodger Stadium, compared to a mark for left-handed hitters in Oakland that scraped the bottom 20th percentile. The scheduling gods have smiled upon this move as well, as he’ll join the team for the first of two remaining series at Coors Field. Trips to Philadelphia, Cincinnati, Yankee Stadium, and Phoenix also dot his upcoming calendar, and it is worth noting that Reddick has produced absurdly lopsided numbers on the road (career .875 OPS away from home, compared with a .747 mark in familiar confines). As long as he stays on the field, this move should be a nice one for his second-half fantasy value.
After briefly setting off a city-wide scramble of news teams to their car-chase helicopters, the initial reports of Puig’s moral demise proved false. So that was good. But then the cold reality of an impending Triple-A demotion set in. It’s been an ugly, ugly season for those fantasy managers who drafted him 77th overall on average last spring, and this indignity is the final nail in the coffin for those who’ve held him on benches and disabled lists all summer. He’ll probably be back up for the September stretch run, or he might tweak his linebacker-sized hamstring again. Who knows? It doesn’t matter in shallow re-draft leagues, where he can be safely cut in the handful of situations where he’s still riding pine on name recognition. There’s ostensibly difference-making potential for head-to-head playoffs if he does resurface at some point in September, but with Andre Ethier theoretically coming back at some point and Trayce Thomspon also in the recovery ward it’s far from clear where Puig’s place on the depth chart may reside in even a best-case scenario. I’d just as soon avoid him in all re-draft formats at this point, while those in non-dropable keeper formats are stuck grinning and bearing it. —Wilson Karaman
Sam Miller is an author of Baseball Prospectus. Follow @SamMillerBB