Nationals Arm Race

"… the reason you win or lose is darn near always the same – pitching.” — Earl Weaver

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Verducci Effect for 2017

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Lopez is the #1 Verducci effect risk factor arm for 2017. Photo via wp.com/Mitchell Layton getty images

Lopez is the #1 Verducci effect risk factor arm for 2017. Photo via wp.com/Mitchell Layton getty images

This year’s installment of si.com’s Tom Verducci‘s “Year After Effect” (which he’s using as the title instead of the eponymous “Verducci Effect”) was published earlier this month.  This is a quick review of the past few years of his work and documentation of his macabre “success rate” in predicting trouble for young arms working on large innings load increases.

Here’s my reviews of his lists on this same topic from year’s past: 2013 year after effect and 2014 year after effect, and 2016’s year after effect (I forgot to do it in 2015).   In the 2013 post, there’s some counter-arguments to whether or not his “effect” actually exists, with research on all pitchers who qualified for the thresholds he laid out at the time.  I won’t go into the same arguments made there; what I will do is point out the actual results of his predictions:

  • 2013: 11 candidates mentioned, 5/11 regressed or got injured the following year (but, it should be noted, that another 3 of the candidates he mentioned have completely fallen off a cliff in subsequent years).  8/11 candidates showed regression: 72% prediction rate.
  • 2014: 10 candidates mentioned; 8/10 regressed and more shockingly 6/10 had arm injuries.  80% prediction rate.
  • 2015: 14 candidates mentioned (only 5 “main” ones were on his true watch list): 11 of those 14 regressed or got hurt.  One of the 14, Marcus Stroman missed the whole season with a knee injury but counts as a non-regression candidate, so frankly its 11 of 13 guys who actually pitched all year.  84% prediction rate.
  • 2016: 5 candidates mentioned: 2 regressed badly, one regressed nominally, one missed most of the season with arm injuries.  80% prediction rate.

So in the last four years, he’s identified a total of 40 arms at risk and 31 of them regressed or got hurt.  That’s a 77.5% overall “success” rate at predicting regression or injury over multiple years.  You can quibble with those who claim this “effect” doesn’t exist but you’can’t argue against Verducci’s research year over year.  For me, his analysis is less about running pure numbers to find candidates and more about giving context to the pitchers he selects.  Mostly they’re starters (not relievers), mostly they’re young and mostly they’re guys who had to pitch high leverage innings on top of vastly increased workloads.  But if you want counter arguments to his observations, see the 2013 post above for links.

So who’s listed this  year?  A slew of pitchers this year, including a name at the top that we’re quite familiar with.  Most of his pitchers this year are very young and nearly all of them only pitched part-time in the majors.  In a departure this year, 9 of the 12 guys he lists pitched mostly in the minors in 2016 and mostly struggled in the majors, which is going to make my judgement next year as to whether the player “regressed” more difficult.  But here’s the list of 12 guys:

2017 Candidate Name/TeamAge as of Jan 20172016 IP2016 IP delta increase2016 ERA2016 FIP2016 xFIP2016 SIERA
Reynaldo Lopez, White Sox22155.356.34.913.924.524.55
Aaron Sanchez, Blue Jays23203.670.333.553.754.01
Rob Whalen, Mariners22144.6486.575.054.774.47
Brock Stewart, Dodgers24149485.795.95.034.62
Joe Musgrove, Astros23147.346.64.064.184.043.98
Julio Urias, Dodgers19127.6403.393.173.693.88
Jeff Hoffman, Rockies23150464.886.274.965.22
Michael Fulmer, Tigers23174.349.63.063.763.954.03
Sean Manaea, A's24166.344.63.864.083.964.04
German Marquez, Rockies21187.348.35.234.263.893.97
Jake Thompson, Phillies22183.643.65.76.165.645.68
Daniel Mengden, A's23170.339.66.54.344.574.5

Click here for my full Verducci effect worksheet with detailed stats pre- and post-season.

The guys i’m most intrigued by include:

  • Reynaldo Lopez, who I suspect will start in AAA for the White Sox while they try to figure out if he’s a starter long-term or perhaps a future 100-mph closer.
  • Aaron Sanchez and Michael Fulmer were two awesome rookies last year (Fulmer won the AL Rookie of the Year and Sanchez was the best pitcher on a good Toronto team).
  • Sean Manaea is an interesting younger arm who I’ve often mentioned here because he would have been an option with the 1st round pick we gave up in the 2013 draft so that we could sign Rafael Soriano.
  • Julio Urias projects to be the Dodger’s 3rd or 4th starter and is incredibly accomplished for his age; he seems like he is a lower-risk guy here despite his workload thanks to effortless mechanics.
  • Jeff Hoffman is a rather “famous” name in that he was in talks to go 1-1 in 2014 before blowing out his elbow during his junior year; Toronto drafted him 9th overall despite the injury and then he was a key member of the prospect haul that went to Colorado in the Troy Tulowitzki deal.

Hey, at least there’s no Nats this year :-)

 

Brady Aiken has TJ surgery, shakes up draft boards

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Tough break for Aiken.  Photo via whotalking.com

Tough break for Aiken. Photo via whotalking.com

We got word today that 2014’s #1 overall pick Brady Aiken did indeed suffer an UCL injury in his first 2015 start and underwent Tommy John surgery yesterday.

Awful break for Aiken, and a  huge shake-up for the top of the 2015 Rule-4/Amateur draft.

Quick oral history of the Aiken situation: Houston made him last  year’s #1 overall pick, then rescinded/altered their $6.5M bonus offer after having “concerns” about Aiken’s UCL when viewing his medicals.  Aiken’s representatives rejected the lowered offer (wanting Houston to honor their original offer), and in the end declined to sign the lower amount (reportedly $5M at the deadline), and Aiken became just the third #1 overall pick to fail to sign in the draft’s history.  Thanks to baseball’s convoluted draft bonus rules, the failure to sign Aiken led to a cascading effect, costing them enough “pool dollars” to have to also rescind offers to 5th round pick Jacob Nix and 21st round pick Mac Marshall (now at LSU).  Nix (rightly so) filed a grievance against the Astros for the situation and was awarded his full $1.5M promised bonus (which, in my opinion, should absolutely be coming out of the Astros’ bonus pool for what they did).  Nix and Aiken eventually enrolled at the IMG academy in Florida, a post-graduate prep school designed to be a place for budding athletes to play who may have lost their HS eligibility.  Both had planned on re-entering the 2015 draft.

My thoughts on this whole mess?

  • I have to re-evaluate my opinion of the Astros organization’s behavior; previously I thought they were just being penny pinchers and were screwing with the careers of multiple amateur players (both Nix and Aiken lost UCLA scholarships over the mess).  Clearly they were right to be concerned about Aiken’s elbow, given that it tore within about 20 pitches of last being on the mound.  And now they get two top-5 picks out of a draft that does have some talent in it … and should have the money to sign them.
  • That being said … what was the real difference between their initial $6.5M offer and the $5M final offer?  Think about it: why are teams so ridiculously obsessed with figures in the $1-$2M range during amateur signings, when teams are *routinely* giving out 8-figure deals to mediocre veterans?  The Astros gave Luke Gregerson 3yrs/$18.5M and Pat Neshek 2yrs/$12.5M deals this off-season; that’s a combined $30M for two middle relief right handers.  They’ve been the lowest payroll team despite a massive RSN deal and play in the nation’s 4th largest market.  You mean to tell me they couldn’t still pony up the $1.5M difference for the #1 overall pick in the draft?  They couldn’t have just gotten an insurance policy to cover their risk of moving forward with Aiken?
  • If you were the Astros today, wouldn’t you rather have Aiken (with insurance policy), Nix and Marshall in the fold?  Do you think maybe your professional staff could have managed/mitigated this injury?
  • Did Aiken cut off his nose to spite his face by rejecting $5M?  Even before this injury, he was already dropping on draft boards, no sure guarantee to go 1st overall in 2015.  And with Houston holding the #2 and #5 overall picks there was already a real possibility of Aiken dropping outside the top 5 (since clearly Aiken would have refused “re-draft” possibilities), which means he’d have a heck of a time getting anywhere close to even the $5M he turned down. At some point his adviser should have just accepted the deal, in my opinion.  The new rules just make it impossible to get anything close to the bonus he turned down unless you’re #1 overall.
  • The situation kind of reminds me of the Matt Harrington situation, who turned down multiple bonus offers (one as high as $4M) and kept seeing his draft stock fall until he finally signed as a run-of-the-mill 13th rounder and quickly flamed out of pro ball.  His wiki page details the whole mess of a story.

There does exist a possibility of a team picking Aiken despite this injury.  Both Jeff Hoffman and our own Erick Fedde were picked in the mid-to-upper 1st round despite being rehabbing TJ arms.  And Aiken was more heralded than either guy.  I could see a team with a longer term view taking a chance on Aiken in the top 10.  A quick look at the 2015 draft order reveals some “gambler” type teams/GMs in the top 10 who could make a deal.  Assuming that your top-end names under consideration include the likes of Mike Matuella, Brendan Rodgers, Kolby Allard, Dillon Tate and maybe even someone like UVA’s Nathan Kirby , that could put teams in the 6-10 spot right in line to pick Aiken.  And that 6-10 range includes both Chicago teams and Boston, rich teams that could afford to wait him out.

One thing for sure; the odds of the Nationals getting another shot to pick a TJ case are slim; we gave up our 1st rounder to sign Max Scherzer and won’t pick until the 58th overall spot (compensation for not signing Miami’s Andrew Suarez last year).  I don’t think Aiken lasts til the 10th pick; certainly he won’t be there in the mid 2nd round.

Tough break for Aiken; hope he can salvage some bonus money and start his career.

Other opinions/hot takes I’ve read of use:

  • Jeff Ellis at Scout.com predicts the same that I do for Aiken’s draft status; top-10.
  • David Schoenfield at ESPN talks about Aiken and the “inequalities” between being born in the USA and elsewhere in the draft/signing markets (and the discrepancies are ridiculous).
  • Dave Cameron at fangraphs has some quotes from Aiken’s social media posting announcing his surgery and some critical analysis.

Post-posting update: presumed top-5 draft talent Kolby Allard is also out for the season with a back injury, further thinning the list of names in consideration for the #1 overall pick so far.

Another post-posting update: on 4/1/15, Duke ace (and NoVa native) Mike Matuella announced the he too has to have Tommy John surgery.  That’s three presumed top-5 picks in the upcoming draft now out with season-ending injuries.  Wow.

Who are the Nats targeting at #18 plus Mock Draft review of top5 picks

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Lots of pundits think the Nats are taking Fedde at #18.  Photo via chicagonow.com

Lots of pundits think the Nats are taking Fedde at #18. Photo via chicagonow.com

The annual amateur/Rule-4 draft is upon us.  Wendy Thurm posted a nice overview of the festivities, kicking off today, June 5th.   Who is going at the top, and who do we think the Nats are going to take with their first round draft pick (#18 overall?)

Lets check in with some experts and pundits.  Unlike in years past, there’s no real consensus #1 overall pick this year thanks to a host of factors.  But the top-5 is relatively consistent no matter who the pundit.  We’ll talk about predictions for the first few picks plus who they think the Nats will end up with.  (Link to the draft order for the first few rounds to show all the missing picks and supplemental additions from MLB.com).  Note that all the Keith Law and Jim Bowden links are ESPN insider.  Profiles on the frequent top-5 picks and the names being associated with the Nats potential picks are below the list of pundit’s mock drafts:

  • MLBDraftInsider’s Chris Crawford has done a host of Mock Drafts this spring (the sixth version dated 5/28/14 and the “near final” version on 6/2/14, his penultimate mock on 6/3/14, his “really final” board on 6/4/14 and his “final mock ever” on 6/5/14)  and in his last mock has come down on the Nats taking Hoffman. Predicted top 5 in final mock: Aiken, Rodon, Nola, Conforto, Gordon.  Same movements that Law is projecting at the final minute.
  • ESPN’s Keith Law put out his first mock draft on 5/16/14, his second on 5/27/14, his third on 6/4/14 and his final/last on 6/5/14 and had the Nats on Erick Fedde, calling it a “lock” in the industry.  Top 5 in the latest mock: Aiken, Rodon, Nola, Conforto, Gordon (only list on here without Kolek in top 5).
  • MLB.com’s Jonathan Mayo posted a mock on 5/16/14, another on 5/30/14.  One last one 6/5/14.  In his latest he went Aiken, Jackson, Rodon, Kolek, Gordon.  He has the Nats taking Jeff Hoffman, saying that it could come down to “financials” and who is willing to go over-slot.
  • MLB.com’s Jim Callis posted his latest mock on 5/23/14 and one last one 6/5/14.   He went Aiken, Jackson, Rodon, Gordon, Kolek.  He has the Nats on Hoffman as well, but in the description basically says he says Hoffman could go top 10 and/or the Nats could take Fedde.
  • MinorLeagueBall’s Matt Garrioch posted his first mock draft early (3/10/14), his second on 5/19/14.  His top 5: Rodon, Kolek, Aiken, Jackson, Gordon.  He has the Nats on Kyle Schwarber.
  • ESPN’s Jim Bowden posted his Top-10 picks on 5/28/14, trying to think like the GM of each top-10 picking team, and went Rodon, Aiken, Kolek, Jackson and wildcard Freeman.
  • BaseballAmerica’s John Manuel has posted mock drafts on 5/9/14, 5/16/14 and v3.0 on 5/25/14 and his final the day of the draft 6/5/14.  His top 5 in his most recent mock: Aiken, Rodon, Kolek, Conforto, Gordon, with the Nats on Fedde.
  • GradingontheCurve’s Shaun Kernahan put up his mock draft 5/29/14.  He went Aiken, Rodon, Kolek, Jackson, Gordon with the Nats on Gatewood.
  • MinorLeagueBall did a community Mock Draft on 5/30/14 (so, not full of expert opinion but interesting nonetheless to see what the crowd-sourced opinion on players is).   They went Aiken, Jackson, Rodon, Kolek, Gordon with the Nats taking Conforto.  Based on where Conforto is now being projected, there’s little chance he survives to #18.
  • BaseballInstinct’s Thomas Belmont has a top-200 draft board that isn’t a mock draft but lists top 5 as Aiken, Jackson, Kolek, Rodon and Toussant.  #18 is Grant Holmes, who I would be surprised if the Nats picked despite his pedigree.  He posted his mock draft on 6/4/14 where he follows his board, but I have a problem with his rankings considering what the professional reporters above are showing for top 5 and for the Nats.
  • PerfectGame’s Patrick Ebert posted a bunch of mock drafts; in his last one on 6/4/14, he went top-5 of Aiken, Rodon, Kolek, Gordon, Nola with the Nats on Bradley Zimmer.
  • Si.com’s Dave Perkin (a former professional scout who does some writing) posted a last-minute mock 6/5/14 online.    He goes Aiken, Rodon, Kolek, Freeland, Jackson with the Nats on Beede.  I like this scenario.

How do I think the top 5 will go?  I like Aiken #1, Rodon to the Marlins (for the cuban-american/quick to the majors factors), then Kolek.  From there I have no idea; the Cubs by all accounts want a college arm but the next best one (Nola) isn’t worth the #4 spot.  Maybe they take a college bat (Conforto?), maybe they go BPA.  I’m guessing they bite the bullet and play the hand that they’ve been dealt and get Jackson or Gordon 4th, with the other going 5th.

ACTUAL DRAFT RESULTS: Aiken, Kolek, Rodon, Schwarber and Gordon.  Who was closest?   hard to tell; Schwarber came out of nowhere, and nearly everyone had Rodon before Kolek.

A quick overview of the names in discussion for top 5 selection:

  • Carlos Rodon: lhp from NC State; was the heavy consensus 1-1 overall pick all winter, but a rough spring and high pitch counts have dropped him on most people’s mock boards.  Scout.com has a detailed scouting report and video.  Scouting Video from Keith Law.
  • Brady Aiken is a prep lhp from San Diego who could be just the third high school pitcher ever picked #1 overall.  Scout.com has a detailed scouting report and video.  Keith Law scouting video.
  • Alex Jackson is a prep C also from the San Diego area.  Scout.com has a detailed scouting report and video.  Scouting video from Keith Law.
  • Tyler Kokek is a prep RHP from Texas with big time stuff; 100mph velocity on his fastball.  Scouting video from Keith Law.
  • Aaron Nola is a polished RHP friday starter for LSU who may not overpower you with velocity, but is a good pitcher.  Scouting Video from Keith Law.
  • Nick Gordon is a prep SS from Florida.  Scouting Video from Keith Law.
  • Michael Conforto is a junior OF from Oregon State.
  • Kyle Freelan is a lhp junior starter from Evansville.  He has good velocity, a good slider and great control.
  • Max Pentecost is a C from Kennesaw State who may be a stretch to go top-5 but should be top-10.
  • Touki Toussaint is a prep RHP from Miami, FL who is considered the second best prep RHP arm behind Kolek; he doesn’t quite have the velocity but he has better secondary stuff.

MLB.com reports that seven of these guys will be in-studio during the draft (all high schoolers), including a couple that may drop out of the first round (could be a bit embarassing for both them and MLB).

The names associated/predicted with the Nat’s #18 overall pick:

  • Erick Fedde was UNLV’s friday starter before going down with the dreaded Tommy John injury, diagnosed on 5/10/14.  Before his injury Fedde was projected in the same general area where the Nats are picking … which makes me question this prediction.  I could understand if Jeff Hoffman falls (a projected top -5 pick) to #18 grabbing him … but here I don’t know if I’d agree with picking a guy who you won’t see for a year and a half in uniform.  Though that being said, BA had Fedde ranked #8 in their top-200 pre-injury draft rankings, so perhaps grabbing him at #18 could be appropriate.
  • Tyler Beede: RHP Vanderbilt starter, who was a projected top-10 pick thanks to his amazing sophomore season (14-1, 2.32 ERA and a Golden Spikes finalist), before a rough season (7-7, 3.49 ERA and 92/41 k/BB in 91 innings) dropped his draft status.  He turned down a big bonus out of HS as a Toronto 1st rounder and that apparently (combined with unknown/unstated “make-up” issues) has him dropping fast.  Personally, I think he could be a steal at #18.  BA’s Aaron Fitt profiled Beede on 5/29/14.  Scouting Video from Keith Law.
  • Kyle Schwarber, C/1B power hitter from Indiana.  Listed as 6’0″, 240.  .340/.450/.623 on the year with 12 homers, 27/41 K/BB ratio in 215 ABs.  Great numbers if he’s really a catcher; some listed him as C, others at 1B.  Question: Big10 baseball isn’t exactly the SEC; are his stats padded thanks to playing a bunch of weak programs all year?
  • Jeff Hoffman was ECU’s friday starter and a consensus top-5 predicted pick (perhaps as high as #3) before being felled by TJ surgery (diagnosed on 5/8/14).  I think he’s a huge long-shot to make it to #18 because Toronto picks twice in the top 11 picks and it makes complete sense for them to use their 2nd pick to take Hoffman, save some slot money and basically temper their draft risk by virtue of having a second high pick.  Scouting Video from Keith Law.
  • Jacob Gatewood is a prep SS from Fresno, California who has a ton of power for a middle-infield bat (he won the prep home run derby held during last year’s all-star game festivities), even if he has to move off Short to 3B.  Gatewood gets some mention as a potential Nats pick, but this seems very much out of Mike Rizzo‘s style.  I cannot see the Nats taking a high school player unless someone falls to them unexpectedly.  Scouting Video from Keith Law.
  • Casey Gillaspie is a 1B from Wichita State with huge power numbers in 2014: .389/.520/.682 with 15 homers and 28/58 K/BB ratio in 211 ABs.  But, like with Schwarber, do you draft a guy who is already locked into first base?  Are his numbers a mirage thanks to the weaker Missouri Valley Conference?
  • Michael Chavis is a prep OF/3B from Georgia who Crawford has the Nats taking in his mock draft … but which I cannot believe will happen.  I just don’t see Rizzo taking a HS player, practically ever, unless there’s huge upside or value.
  • Brandon Finnegan: friday LHP starter for national seed TCU.  Undersized but a big-time arm.  Not the prototypical pick for Rizzo (he likes big, tall guys).
  • Grant Holmes is a big RHP prep pitcher from South Carolina who likely goes before #18, but if he’s sitting here he could get a look.
  • Bradley Zimmer is an OF with a brother already in pro ball from San Francisco.

Who do I like for the Nats at #18?  Honestly, I think picking TJ surviver Fedde at #18 might be an overdraft.  Now, if Hoffman fell there I’d grab him … but most pundits put Hoffman at #11 (Toronto’s extra 1st rounder).  I’d love to take a crack at Tyler Beede; he was so good last  year and I don’t think he’s forgotten how to pitch.  I like Finnegan too.  Maybe they go with a college bat.  But one thing seems certain; I just cannot see one of these HS names at #18.  I think they’ll take someone whose quicker to the majors.

ACTUAL DRAFT RESULTS: In what may have been the worst kept secret of the draft, Nats take Fedde.

 

CWS Field of 64 announced; teams and analysis

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CWS 2014 logo

Hot on the heels of our “local college team” post earlier this week, the full 64-team field has been announced.  (here’s a cool picture of all 64 uniforms in the tourney)

A preliminary announcement earlier on 5/26/14 stated the 16 regional hosts, each of whom is also automatically in the field.  The full field announcement came later in the day (link from College Baseball Blog and nicely formatted regional pairings from BaseballAmerica).  Oregon State got the #1 overall seed in the field of 64 and the Top 16 National seeds are:

  1. Oregon State: Pac-12 regular season champ (no tourney)
  2. Florida: SEC Eastern Division and overall regular season champion, Conference tourney runner-up
  3. Virginia: 2nd ACC coastal division
  4. Indiana: Big-10 regular season and conference tourney champion.
  5. Florida State: ACC Atlantic division champion.
  6. Louisiana-Lafayette: Sun Belt regular season and conference tourney champion.
  7. TCU: Big-12 2nd place regular season, conference tournament Champion
  8. LSU: 2nd SEC Western division, conference tourney champion.
  9. Rice: Conference USA regular season and conference tourney champion.
  10. Cal Poly: Big West regular season champ (no tourney)
  11. Ole Miss: SEC Western Division champion
  12. Louisville: American Athletic Conference regular season champion, Conference tourney runner-up
  13. Vanderbilt: 3rd SEC Western division
  14. South Carolina: 2nd SEC Eastern division,
  15. Miami: ACC Coastal Division and overall regular season champion,
  16. Oklahoma State: Big-12 regular season champion, Conference tourney runner-up

By inferring the stated match-ups of regional hosts, we infer the 9th-16 national seeds from the regional hosts: The 16 regional hosts *usually* are also the top 16 seeds of the tournament, though there have been some deviations from this in the past.  However these seem accurate based on RPI rankings and typical top-25 votes.

Seeding Analysis: I thought Oregon State was slightly over-seeded at #1; I think you have to put Florida or Florida State there based on their record, Strength of Schedule (SoS) and the conferences they play in.   Otherwise in some form or fashion I think your top 8 seeds are correct.   Some are complaining about Indiana but their RPI and BA ranks are top 8 material and there’s no team seeded 9-12 that can make a real strong case to rise.   I think teams like Houston, Washington and Texas were pretty hard done by not getting at least a regional host/9-16 seed.  How does the Pac-12 get the #1 overall seed but its 2nd best team doesn’t even rate a top 16 seed?  Meanwhile Houston is 10th in RPI and #15 in the latest BA poll, and they have to go to LSU to compete against a championship-calibre team.

(Note: CollegeBaseballBlog is reviewing every regional this week ahead of the weekend games.  Click here for an example).

Easiest RegionalsMiami, who in their 42nd consecutive CWS appearance gets Ivy league champ Columbia as its regional THREE seed and a team with a losing record as its 4th seed.  Of course, Miami’s prize will be a super-regional matchup with my tournament favorite Florida and a likely trip home.   Oregon State’s regional looks incredibly straight forward; its #2 and #3 seeds are from smaller baseball conferences and its #2 seed (UNLV) just lost their friday starter (Erick Fedde) to Tommy John.   Indiana’s regional looks pretty easy all things considered, and Florida State’s regional isn’t difficult, with middling SEC team Alabama and small conference schools to contend with.

Hardest Regionals: LSU; they get Houston, a team that should have been seeded as well as conference champ Bryant.  Oklahoma State got no favors with Nebraska and traditional power Cal-State Fullerton.  Rice gets #12 RPI ranked Texas to go with Texas A&M.  Ole Miss gets 14th ranked and under-seeded Washington to go with 25th ranked Georgia Tech and a pesky 4th seed in Jacksonville State.   Florida has three teams ranked inside of the RPI #50 in its regional; no cupcakes here and it includes the best #4 seed in the tourney (College of Charleston with local favorite Taylor Clarke).  TCU gets baseball powerhouse Dallas Baptist to go along with Sam Houston State, a team ranked in and out of the top 25 all year.  Lastly Louisville has a regional that looks like a fantastic basketball tournament; they have Kentucky, Kansas and Kent State.  Kentucky and Kansas were in the top 25 as recently as earlier this month and this could be a very competitive regional.

Snubs: West Virginia was the highest RPI ranked team left out (#38) but that was mostly on their SoS; they were barely a .500 team overall and were just 9-14 in divisional play.  Next in RPI rankings missing out were Mercer (#46), UCF (#48), and UC Santa Barbara (#50).  Central Florida likely was the “last team out” and Clemson/UC Irvine were the “last teams in.”  Duke may feel a bit unfairly done by; they finished ahead of two other NCAA teams in the conference standings.  CAA champ William & Mary just didn’t have the SOS to get in after losing the conference tournament.   Wright State won its conference going 25-4 in division only to lose the tournamnet to the team that finished dead last in conference play (Youngstown State).

(Links to other analysis from CollegeBaseballDaily blog, BaseballAmerica cool facts and tidbits, and BaseballAmerica field of 64 analysis by Aaron Fitt).

Local Rooting Interests: #3 overall seed and regional host UVA.  Liberty (#3 seed in Charlottesville region), Old Dominion (#3 seed in South Carolina’s region), George Mason (#4 seed in Rice’s regional), and U of Maryland (#2 seed in South Carolina region).  Tough matchup for Liberty.  Maryland returns to the tournament for the first time in 43 years, an amazing fact.  George Mason not only has to travel to Dallas, but they get two top 12 ranked teams in Rice and Texas.  Its hard to envision any of these teams besides host UVA advancing.

Big-time draft prospects to watch: Many of the biggest names in the upcoming draft failed to make the tourney (Carlos RodonBradley ZimmerSean Newcomb and Jeff Hoffman).  But you will have:

  • Aaron Nola, LSU’s friday night starter for the 2nd year running
  • Max Pentecost catches for Kennesaw State.
  • Michael Conforto, an OF with #1 seeded Oregon State
  • Brandon Finnegan, TCU’s #1 starter (a lefty who may be in Washington’s sights if he drops to #18 in the draft)
  • Tyler Beede, Vanderbilt’s #1 starter, who was a first rounder in 2011 out of HS but who failed to sign and has purported “make-up” issues (though finding links to whatever his transgressions may be are difficult)
  • Kyle Schwarber, Indiana’s backstop
  • Erick Fedde‘s team (UNLV) is in the tourney but he isn’t; he had Tommy John surgery a couple of weeks back.  Remember this name; more than one pundit has the Nats drafting him in 2 weeks time.
  • UVA has three 1st-2nd rounders of note as discussed here frequently: Derek FisherMike Papi and Nick Howard.

See more of the guys in play by scanning down MLBdraftInsider’s latest mock draft.  And mlb.com posted its link to the Tourney teeming with talent.

Regionals run from Friday 5/30/14 to Monday June 2nd (if needed).

My Regional winner predictions: I’ll go chalk with national seeds 1-8.  After that most of the 9-16 seeds could be in trouble:

  • I think Texas beats out perennially over-ranked #9 Rice.
  • I think #10 Cal Poly doesn’t have the SoS to compete with either Arizona State or Pepperdine and will get beat.
  • I like Washington over #11 Ole Miss.
  • I think Kentucky can outlast #12 Louisville.
  • I think #16 Oklahoma State could be in trouble with Cal State Fullerton looming as a pretty tough #3 seed.
  • I worry about small-conference #6 Louisiana-Lafayette’s lofty ranking (they’re #1 in the final BA poll) but they got a pretty easy regional.
  • Despite Houston’s pedigre I don’t think they can beat out #8 LSU, and someone has to go through Aaron Nola.  And despite some complaints with #4 Indiana’s seeding their bracket is pretty easy.

Other pundit regional predictions: CollegeBaseballBlog and MinorLeagueBall/Chris Slade.

But no matter what happens, I hope they bring along the “Bat Dog” for one of the regionals :-)


Useful College Baseball links to use: BaseballAmerica, and their top-25 lists.  d1baseball.com is fantastic and is the best place to get updated information on day-to-day data, standings, and tournament results.  PerfectGame.org has the best data on college players in their vast prep database.  Warrennolan.com has the best guesses on college baseball RPIs.  NCBWA does top-30 polls and other analysis.

TJ Surgery epidemic: upbringing, showcases and mechanics

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Jose Fernandez is (arguably) the biggest name to go down to TJ surgery yet.  Photo via thestar.com

Jose Fernandez is (arguably) the biggest name to go down to TJ surgery yet. Photo via thestar.com

Its the biggest story in baseball so far in 2014.   We’ve had nearly 20 MLB pitchers get diagnosed with torn elbow ligaments so far this calendar year.  All of them have or are set to undergo “Tommy John” surgery (also known as ulnar collateral ligament/UCL replacement surgery).  That’s nearly as many as who got the surgery ALL of 2013 and we’re just 6 weeks into the season.  There’s an alarming trend upwards over just the past few seasons of pitchers getting this surgery.  There’s been plenty more minor leaguers (two Nats farmhands in Erik Davis and Danny Rosenbaum have already gotten it in 2014) and already a couple of very high-profile draft prospects as well (including as discussed in this space potential 1st rounders Jeff Hoffman and Erick Fedde just in the last week).

Lots of people are talking about this story, especially some heavy-weights in the baseball world.  A sampling:

  • Dr. James Andrews, perhaps the most famous sports doctor in the world, attributes the growing trend to the rise in year-round baseball competition in the US.
  • SI.com’s Jay Jaffe reviews Dr. Andrews comments and had other excellent stats about the trend in this April 2014 piece.
  • The Washington Post’s Dave Sheinin did an excellent piece in the paper a few weeks ago about the injury, which he attributes to youth usage.
  • Tom Verducci (he of the “Verducci effect”) proposed a solution in a column this week after the Jose Fernandez announcement.  His idea?  Lowering the mound across all levels of the sport.  He draws this conclusion after hosting a very interesting round-table on MLB Network.
  • Jayson Stark teamed up with ESPN injury analyst Stephania Bell and former player Alex Cora to discuss the rise in arm injuries in this ESPN.com video, and they follow Andrews’ theory of year-round pitching.
  • Chris O’Leary, king of the Inverted-W (whether you believe his theories or not, I’ve included this link here) has his own theories as discussed here.  He doesn’t really have much in the way of explanation, just more whining about how every pitcher’s mechanics has something you can complain about.
  • Jeff Passan basically calls out baseball executives for not having any answers.
  • If you want an index of all of ESPN.com’s stories on the topic, click here.  It will have columns, analysis and press releases for individuals getting the surgery.

Some interesting stats about Tommy John surgery:

So what the heck is going on??  Lets talk about some theories.  I’ll highlight them in Blue.

The new “hot theory” is essentially this: Over-throwing at Showcase events, which have become crucial scouting events for kids raised in the United States, are to blame.  Thanks to the rise in travel leagues and select teams, scouts spend less time sitting at high school games and more time at these all-star events.  To prescribers of this theory, it isn’t so much about the amount of innings or pitches that kids throw … its the nature of the “showcase” events and the high pressure situations that those events put kids under.  Kids are throwing year-round, and they’re ramping up max-effort pitches at national competitions multiple times per year, and in some cases out of “season.”  This leads to serious damage to kids’ arms done as 16 and 17 yr olds, which then manifests itself over the years and results in blown ligaments in pro ball.

Do you buy this explanation?  It certainly makes sense to me, but how do you prove this?  And, it doesn’t explain the similar rise in elbow injuries to non-American pitchers.

Is it less about the showcase events and more about the Larger Increase in Youth pitched innings thanks to the rise in Travel Leagues?   This theory also makes some sense to me: thirty years ago kids played an 18-20 game spring Little League season, at best would pitch half those games and that was it.  Maybe they played in the fall too, but there were specific innings limits in place that protected kids.  Now instead of playing limited spring and fall seasons, kids are playing AAU travel teams that play 40-50 games a summer, plus weekend tournaments, plus (eventually) the above showcase events as they get closer to matriculation.  This theory certainly is supported by a startling rise in youth arm injuries, as noted in this 2010 study by the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons.

But, if its “bad” to play more baseball … then shouldn’t we be seeing even MORE injuries from players who grew up in third-world baseball hot beds like the Dominican Republic or Venezuela, where by all accounts kids play baseball from sun-up to sun-down 12 months out of the year in tropical climates?

Interestingly, of the list of 19 MLB players so far who have been diagnosed with a torn UCL (see next section), there’s 4 non-American developed pitchers (Rondo, Nova, Figueora, Cisnero).  4 of 19 = 21%, whereas about 22% of MLB pitchers are non-American developed (my 22% figure comes from this quick study that I did; I grabbed every active MLB pitcher as of early May 2014 and did a quick-and-dirty player upbringing analysis to determine that about 78% of players “grew up” in the current American system of player development).  It is small sample size … but the percentage of american versus foreign developed players are so far exactly in line with the total percentage of each type of player in the larger pool of MLB pitchers.  This doesn’t seem to support either of the two above theories.

We’ve all heard horror stories about pitch counts and pitcher abuse at  high school events in Japan (this came to light over the winter as we looked at Masahiro Tanaka and learned about these Japanese showcase events; this article here at thebiglead.com talks about one Japanese prospect’s 772 pitches thrown over 9 days, and Jeff Passan talked about Tanaka’s own pitch count abuse stories and his average pitch counts as a Japanese-league pro).   Unfortunately there’s not a ton of data available about this TJ theory and Japanese pitchers.  I can find a couple of instances of Asian pitchers getting the surgery (Kyuji Fujikawa in 2012 being the most recent example), but not enough to establish any trends.

But lets state it this way: you can’t have things both ways.  Both these stereotypes about player upbringing cannot be true:

  • Latin American poor youth plays baseball from sun up to sun down 12 months a year, building arm strength constantly, therefore his arm is “stronger” and he’s less suceptible to injury
  • American little leaguer plays limited schedules (18 games in the spring, perhaps fewer in the fall), has closely monitored pitch counts, therefore does not abuse his arm as a youth and thus his arm is “stronger” later in life as a result.

Here’s a list of the 19 MLB pitchers who have already gone under the TJ knife so far in 2014 (data from baseballheatmaps.com, which has detailed Disabled List data).

Of these 19 pitchers, they are evenly split between being starters (10) and relievers (9).  So that doesn’t seem to lend itself to any Starter vs Reliever usage conclusion.

How about Pitching Mechanics?  We’ve all heard ad-naseum about the “Inverted W” and people talking about pronation and timing and elbow lift and etc etc.  Here’s a quick attempt to analyize the mechanics of each of these 19 guys (all photos grabbed as thumbnails from google images for the purposes of demonstration; no copyright infringement intended).

CisnerJose landingFernandezJose landingGriffinAJ landingFigueroaPedro landing

 

NovaIvan landingJohnsonJosh landingMooreMatt landingGearrinCory landing

 

ParnellBobby landingDavisErik landingHernandezDavid landingMLB: Spring Training-Arizona Diamondbacks at Los Angeles Dodgers

 

RondonBruce landingCorbinPatrick landingParkerJarrod landingBeachyBrandon landing

 

MedlenKris landingHochevarLuke landingLeubkeCory landing2

Quick and Dirty Mechanics analysis (images in same order as list of pitchers above, which is choronological in order of diagnosis in 2014):

  • Inverted W: Griffin, Nova, Gearrin, Beachy, Hochevar
  • Sideways M: Fernandez, Johnson, Davis, Moylan, Rondon, Parker, Medlen
  • Inverted L: Cisnero, Figueroa, Moore, Parnell, Hernandez, Corbin, Luebke

But I’ll immediately add a caveat to these classifications; at various stop-points in a guy’s delivery, he may exhibit “good” or “bad” trends.   Maybe some of these “sideways-M” guys are actually “inverted-W” guys.  Maybe some of these inverted-W guys are ok and the stills make their mechanics seem worse than they are.

Nonetheless; there’s no trend among the 19 guys in terms of their mechanics.  In some cases they’re “bad” (Griffin and Gearrin’s look awful) but in some cases excellent (nobody should look at Moore’s mechanics and say they’re anything but clean, nor with Parnell or Corbin).  These pitchers are overhanders, 3/4-slot guys and even side-armers/submarine guys (Gearrin and Moylan).   These guys include hard throwers (Rondon had the 3rd highest velocity of *any* pitcher in 2013) and softer-throwing guys (Medlen had one of the lowest fastball velocities in the majors in 2013).  There’s starters and relievers almost equally represented in this list.

Conclusion; there’s no conclusions to draw from pitching mechanics analysis.  I think all attempts to look at guys’ mechanics and make judgements are useless.  I think (as does Keith Law and other pundits in the field) that the “Inverted W” is nonesense and that “research” posted online by concerned-fathers-turned-self-appointed-mechanics-experts is not exactly trustworthy.  The fact of the matter is this: throwing a baseball over and over is hard on the body.  Throwing a ball is an unnatural motion, and throwing a ball at max-effort will eventually lead to pitching injuries, no matter what your mechanics.  They can be “good” or “bad” according to someone’s pet theory on bio-mechanics and it has nothing to do about whether a pitcher is going to throw 10 seasons without injury or have two tommy johns before they’re 25.

Some historical context for pitching mechanics arguments: the pitcher who has the 2nd most innings thrown in the non-knuckleballer modern era (behind Nolan Ryan) was Don Sutton.  Sutton displayed absolutely *classic* inverted-W mechanicsnever hit the D/L in his career and threw nearly 5,300 innings over the course of 23 seasons.   Walter Johnson‘s mechanics were awful; he slung the ball sideways as he literally pushed backwards away from the hitter at the end of his delivery.  If someone saw Johnson’s mechanics today they’d talk about how over-compensated he was on his shoulder and how he lost velocity thanks to landing stiff and having zero follow through.  Johnson only threw 5,900 innings in his pro career; yeah those mechanics really held him back.  Nolan Ryan was a freak of nature, throwing at that velocity for as long as he did.  The point?  You just don’t know.


Maybe there’s something to the “showcase abuse” theory for some players.   Maybe there’s something to the travel-ball overuse theory for some kids.  But I think the answer may be a bit more simple.  We all know there’s been a rise in the average MPH of fastballs in the majors, both on starters and especially with relievers.  My theory is simply this: kids who “can” throw upper 90s spend all their time trying to throw upper 90s/max effort fastballs 100% of the time, and human arms just cannot withstand that kind of abuse over and over.  In prior generations, kids who “could” throw that hard wouldn’t, or would rarely try to throw that hard, and thus suffered fewer elbow injuries.

Side note: I also firmly believe that we’re “victims of our own success” to a certain extent with respect to modern medicine; 30 years ago would someone have just “blown out their arm” instead of being diagnosed specifically with a “torn ulnar collateral ligament?”  Would some kid in the low minors who hurt his harm even bother to get an MRI?  How much of the rise in these injuries is simply the fact that we’re better at diagnosing injuries in the modern sports world?

Why are these kids trying to throw so hard these days?  Because velocity is king, and that’s what scouts look for.   A kid who “only” throws mid 80s as a 17-yr old is dismissed, while the kid who can throw mid 90s at the same age is fawned over.   Guys like Greg MaddoxMark Buehrle, and Tom Glavine probably don’t even get drafted in the modern baseball climate thanks to the over-focus on pure velocity.

You can talk about upbringing and showcase events and pitch counts and mechanics all you want, but I think it comes down to Pitcher over-exertion thanks to the rising trend of fastball velocity and the human nature urge of prospects and farm-hands to show more and more velocity so they can advance their careers.

What do you guys think?  Do you dismiss the “inverted-W” arguments like I do?  Do you think its all about showcase events?

If Hoffman is there at #18, do you take him?

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Jeff Hoffman gets some terrible news; would you still draft him?  Photo via ECU Media Relations department.

Jeff Hoffman gets some terrible news; would you still draft him? Photo via ECU Media Relations department.

News came down on 5/7/14 that likely top-5 pick Jeff Hoffman, a RHP starter for East Carolina University, has a small tear in his UCL that will require Tommy John surgery (also reported here on PerfectGame and discussed on MLBTradeRumors).  Yet another high-profile starter in the sport befelled by this injury.   Keith Law believed that the Chicago Cubs (picking 4th overall) were highly likely to be drafting Hoffman … and now are re-making their draft strategy on the fly.

Here’s the question of the day: If you’re Mike Rizzo and you’re the Washington Nationals, and Hoffman drops to you picking in the first round at #18 … do you consider taking him?

Despite this injury, Hoffman likely will be drafted and will sign.  Why?  Because even if he gets the surgery tomorrow, he’s looking at least at a 12-month recovery time, which means he’d miss his entire senior season.  He could red-shirt so that he could play a 5th college season, but by the time he were to do that, he’d be pushing 23 and will have missed two full years of pro development time compared to his contemporaries.  If he signs a pro contract, he can rehab under the care of a pro baseball team that likely has had numerous other pitchers go through this surgery instead of rehabbing on his summer break from school, likely away from his college coaching and training staff.  Who may never have had to deal with an injury like this frankly.  By the time he recovers, it’ll be just in time for him to debut on a short-season squad in 2015 after having worked out since February in a team’s spring training facility.

If he’s getting any sort of decent representation, they’ll advise him to sign.

Now the question is; how far does he drop in the draft?  Mid first round?  End of the first round?  Further?  He’ll drop on everyone’s draft board; the question is just how much.  Law predicts he drops from about 4-5 to about #25 overall, citing players like Kyle Gibson and last year’s Sean Manaea as examples of players who got drafted while injured in recent years.

There is another important precident here, and it involves the Nats.  Lucas Giolito was in the discussion of going 1st overall in the 2012 draft before injuring his arm, and the Nats grabbed him at #16.  After attempting to rehab the arm all summer, Giolito’s one pro outing that year was stopped short and he had the surgery.   He returned ahead of schedule, got in 36 pro innings in 2013, and started this year in the low-A full season rotation.  One of the reasons Giolito signed was because of the Nats track record with the injury and its recovery, and its reputation for putting the player’s concerns over the teams (see Strasburg Shutdowngate and the similar handling of Jordan Zimmermann and Taylor Jordan).   Now, Hoffman is no Giolito; he’s older, his stuff reportedly isn’t quite as good, and ECU isn’t exactly in a powerhouse conference so the possibility exists that his stats are augmented.  But that’s why teams have scouts, and despite all of this he is widely considered the 2nd-best college pitching prospect in this draft (after Carlos Rodon).

I think the Nats might be tempted to grab a top 5 talent at #18, knowing that he’ll be ready to go by 2015’s short-season.  The question is whether they value that committment at #18 overall over another player.  My gut reaction is that the Nats will skip him and go a different direction, and that someone with a comp 1st round pick will grab him knowing that they have another first rounder in the bag.  But if he’s still hanging around in the mid-2nd round … I think he’d be a great roll-of-the-dice pick.