Rob is a senior writer for Baseball Prospectus.
Rob Mains: Hey everybody. It is 1 PM EST, 12 PM CST, 11 AM MST, 10 AM PST. I don't know what time it is in Arizona, they confuse me. Let's chat!
Chris (Baltimore): How much improvement do you see happening with Almora and Montgomery? Or, should I be satisfied with what they have already accomplished?
Rob Mains: Almora doesn't turn 25 until after the season starts, so we could see improvement. Two things were markedly worse for him this year: His plate discipline (O-Swing rate went from 37% to 41%, hence K% up by 1% and BB% down by 1%) and his quality of contact (hard hit percentage down 5%, resulting in his HR/FB down 6% and his infield fly % up 6%). Those two traits--plate discipline and quality of contact--are interrelated, of course. I think it's fair to expect some improvement in 2019. If he gets all the way back to his 2017 numbers, poor Chili Davis may never get another job...As for Montgomery, I'm less optimistic. You get past his ERA rise this year, and you see that his FIP (4.08 in 2017, 3.89 in 2018) and DRA (4.31 in 2017, 4.57 in 2018) are pretty similar, and given his oh-come-on-now .253 BABIP in 2017, it's hard to say that 2017 was the true talent level for a guy turning 30 next year. He's valuable as a swingman, and of course throwing with the left arm helps (though his platoon splits aren't all that large), but I'd view his 2016-17 numbers strike me more as a peak than a level to which he'll pitch going forward.
duhbear (VT): Both Gyorko and Wendle seemed to have substaintial improvement in plate discipline in the second half. Wendle also had some changed batted ball profile. Do you believe in either moving forward?
Rob Mains: Boy, I'd forgotten how old Wendle is for a rookie. He turns 29 in April! Gyorko's 30. It's not uncommon for players to improve their plate discipline as they age. In terms of believing, I'd be more inclined to believe in Wendle, given his less established MLB track record. Wendle's kind of the perfect Tampa Bay player, right? Bats left, can play a lot of positions, cost controlled. Gyorko's fine but I think I'd rather have Wendle for the next couple seasons.
Derek (MO): Saw this on MLB.com today, and seems like an easy win for the braves. Thoughts on Kluber for Inciarte, Wright, and Gohara?
Rob Mains: Well, I think Wright is a pretty big give for the Braves. That being said, this would be a big win-now move for Atlanta and a bit of a head-scratcher for Cleveland. But just a bit. Adding Wright and, to a lesser degree, Inciarte would extend Cleveland's competitive window. But the move for them now, it'd seem, would be to improve the current team, so they don't get devoured by the scary monsters in the East and West in the postseason. But I don't think this is as unbalanced as it seems, though I'm not convinced Gohara matches his reputation. My guess: If the Indians trade Kluber, it'll be for more of a bat and, probably, less of a glove than Inciarte--they definitely need OF help--and Wright is the level of pitching they'll be asking for.
Vandall (South Bend): Will we see Dustin May in LA in 2019? Do you think he still has the potential to be a #2 or #3?
Rob Mains: This seems an appropriate time to remind everyone reading this that I write about current baseball, baseball analytics, baseball history, and baseball economics. I know next to nothing about prospects and fantasy. Not that I don't care, but there are others here who are far, far better than I. So you should post questions like this to them! Wilson Karaman is chatting tomorrow; he knows fantasy and prospects. Jeffrey Paternostro is our lead prospect writer; he'll be chatting Friday. Bryan Grosnick and Jarrett Seidler next week. Mike Gianella and Kevin Carter the week after. All far better people to ask fantasy and prospects questions! As for Dustin May, I see he just turned 21 and has pitched a grand total of 34 1/3 innings above A-level. Again, I'll defer to the smart kids, but I don't see the Dodgers rushing him. (And yes, I know, Walker Buehler, but was older and rocketed his way up through the minors before arriving at Chavez Ravine.) But seriously, I'm a moron. Ask Wilson or Jeffrey tomorrow or Friday!
duhbear (VT): Rays seems to definitely be stockpiling lefties at all levels throughout the minors and majors. See any reason to think they're a market inefficiency?
Rob Mains: There is a bit of a over-tendency to believe that the Rays are playing five-dimensional chess all the time. I tried to do a little legwork on this, duhbear (incidentally--thanks to everyone who submitted questions early; it really helps) but the data aren't as available as I thought. My *guess* is that with growing pitching staffs crowding out bench players, MLB batters *may* be losing the platoon advantage relative to a few years ago. And it's pretty well-established that LHB perform better than RHB, because more humans throw with their right arm than their left. So might it be strategy (see Wendle question, e.g.) on Tampa Bay's part to horde LHBs? *Maybe.* And stockpiling LHP always has made sense. But it could also be a product of best-available talent too. If it sounds like I'm unsure, it's because I am.
duhbear (VT): Peter Maris seems like an interesting guy. Old for his level, but LH with developing power, solid speed, great plate control, and neutral MIF defense. Seems like an ML profile. Have any thoughts?
Rob Mains: My comments about Dustin May would apply here. Not what I said about him specifically, but that this is better for our deep bench of prospects experts, several of whom have upcoming chats.
Cole (MO): The braves made some good moves, but I think they need one more bat for the OF. What do you think of Castellanos as a trade candidate, or Cutch as a FA?
Rob Mains: Castellanos hit 46 doubles last year. I didn't know that until you asked it, Cole. Wow. That's good. Anyway, while he's better suited for a DH role than anything, he's still young and new enough to the OF to learn. That wouldn't be a bad pickup for Atlanta. Worth noting that he's a free agent after this year, so how amenable he is to signing a long-term deal will say a lot about his trade value. As for Cutch, man, it hurts me to say this, but he's really not what he used to be. I think his bad rep for OF D is a *little* unfair, in that Pittsburgh didn't do him any favors with positioning, but he doesn't offer a bat like Castellanos. All things being equal, I'd want Castellanos for 2019 and the next few years, but all things aren't equal when you're talking trade (where you lose something) and a free agent (where you don't). Liberty Media can certainly afford to pay both; whether they want to is the question. But to your question, yeah, either would help.
duhbear (VT): Is DRA scaled for starter vs. reliever? If so, is Yarbrough being relatively devalued moving forward?
Rob Mains: Ah, great question. No, there isn't any explicit difference between starters and relievers built into DRA. But keep in mind that it considers quality of competition. Relievers on average face better hitters than starters, particularly in the NL: Pitchers bat less frequently and you get more pinch-hitters. So, when you consider that factor, yeah, the scaling is a little different. For Yarbrough--I wrote about guys who pitch long relief today!--that factor isn't as acute for two reasons. First, he's an AL pitcher, so the pitcher doesn't bat in his games unless it's in an NL park. Second, the innings he's pitching, e.g. the second through sixth in a game that Stanek starts, looks and feels a lot more like what a starting pitcher would face in terms of pinch-hitters than what a late-inning reliever faces. In fact, by missing the top of the opposing team's lineup in the first inning, his five innings in the example above are easier than a starting pitcher's five innings. So yeah, his body of work is appropriately adjusted, imo.
cooldude (Mpls): Is it reasonable to hope Willians Astudillo becomes the starting catcher for a big-league team? I mean I know it's reasonable to hope for that, obviously, but is it reasonable to believe in it?
Rob Mains: (sorry had to look up a couple numbers) I think the greatest barrier to him becoming a *regular* catcher is workload. In 2016 he started 73 games behind the plate for the Mississippi Braves (Atlanta's nickname uniformity is *so* unfun) so he has never gotten a ton of reps there. But catch a lot? Sure. I mean, look at the Twins. Jason Castro turns 32 in June, strikes out in a quarter of his plate appearances, and hasn't been a league-average hitter since 2013. Mitch Garver was, well, not great defensively last year. I don't think Astudillo will supplant Castro (unless Castro hits .143 again) but I expect him to catch at least once a week for Minnesota. Third base is another opportunity, given that who knows what Miguel Sano is at this point. The current stathead cause celebre should get his reps next year, if not in Minnesota, than elsewhere. His combination of defensive versatility and ability to make contact should safeguard it.
Rob Mains: Well, that does it with the queue. Thanks for hanging out. Until next time, walk and run on the left, ride on the right, and if you don't like Riesling, it's probably because you haven't had a good one. Enjoy the offseason and the holidays, and please stay tuned to BP. We have a lot of exciting features on tap that I think you're going to like.