A WEDNESDAY CUP OF JOE
You wouldn’t know it by looking at the box score, but in the first inning of Monday’s Red Sox/Braves game Garrett Richards got just one out before Ron Roenicke asked the umpire to end the inning because Richards had thrown 20 pitches. Not pull the pitcher, mind you, but end the inning with men on base and the Braves owed two more outs.
Yet Richards came out to start the second inning and apparently got all three outs to end his first spring training start with two innings pitched and two earned runs allowed! No joke. The intent is to allow pitchers to get their work in without having to struggle through long innings full of runners on base, to keep them healthy, and it’s hard to argue since the word training is right there in the name: Spring training. But it’s weird, and it makes the box score a lie. At least credit the pitcher with the proper number of outs, baseball!
On top of that, teams can pull a pitcher after 20 pitches, insert a reliever and then let the first pitcher start the next inning. Oh, and for the first two weeks games can be five, six, or seven innings, and teams are sometimes following the shortened games with intrasquad games. Scorekeeping reconciliation software is breaking all over, and those of us who read box scores for information cannot.
Still, this picture by Steph Chambers for Getty Images makes spring training look pretty delightful.
The Great Fantasy Baseball Invitational has begun. It’s a 15-team slow draft, and I have the 11th pick. I’ve gone, so far: Shane Bieber, Manny Machado, Whit Merrifield, Marcel Ozuna, Michael Conforto, Max Fried. This 15-team league is part of a larger contest with 300+ teams in many leagues, which makes it important to compete in all 10 categories. That has me thinking I need a closer next round, Hendriks, Hader, Chapman and Diaz are gone, but we’ll have to see who gets back to me. I’m 15 picks away at this point.
Shane Bieber $36 (5x5 AL only roto)
Unanimous Cy Young in the age of sabremetrics and Statcast is probably all you need to know. Bieber was a top-10 starting pitcher going into the season and was so good that he's the fourth biggest profit-making pitcher in both leagues. He struck out 41 percent of opposing batters, that's the main takeaway, a major improvement from his fine ace-like 2019 campaign. This past year he struck out 35 hitters in his first three starts, a mark topped only by Nolan Ryan in 1973 and Gerrit Cole in 2018. Ever. The big difference? Two changes: His changeup went from a weak pitch to a better pitch, and he added a cutter that he threw 16 percent of the time. Bieber wasn't always comfortable with the cutter, didn't use it all the time, and in terms of opponent batting average and slugging percentage it was his worst pitch, but on the days it was working he mixed it in more. He said it helped set up his fastball, which in this day and age is a relatively tame 94 mph. The scary thing for this year is that you can be sure he's been working on the cutter over the winter, and we can expect he's going to be better with it.
One name I was very happy to see falling to me in the fifth round was Yordan Alvarez. He started last year with a bad knee, played two games and hurt the knee again, missing the rest of the season, which has made him something of a forgotten slugger. While I was waiting for my pick to come, Ben Clemens published a piece about Alvarez at FanGraphs that goes into great depth about why you have to consider him a great hitter even though he has relatively few career ML at-bats. I’m not saying that’s why Matthew Adams took him, but the timing was excellent. I profiled Alvarez in Newsletter No. 1.
My fallback was Pete Alonso, who I seem to have rated more highly than most. But not highly enough. He was sniped away the pick before mine. So I had to scramble, as much as you have to on a four-hour clock, and took Michael Conforto, who I also rate more highly than many and wrote a short profile of in last week’s newsletter. I don’t consider the fifth-round waterfalls. That’s the way it’s going to go in the middle rounds.
Alvarez, by the way, took batting practice yesterday for the first time. He’s working his way back from knee surgeries to all his knees. Maybe he’s not out of the woods yet, though the reports are he’s expected to be ready for opening day.
Fernando Tatis Jr. hit a grand slam, stole a base, singled, walked. Yawn.
Jordan Hicks hit 102 on the gun yesterday, according to the Cardinals pitching coach Mike Maddux. Hicks is an interesting case because he was expected to struggle a little last year while coming back from TJ. Then came pandemic and he opted out, so we haven’t seen him struggle and he’s now far enough removed that maybe he’s moved past that. The Cardinals pen has a handful of great arms, but a healthy Hicks seems like the obvious choice to finish games.
Finally, a thought about Joe Musgrove, who has an ADP of 124 in the NFBC, who was taken 114th by Ray Flowers in yesterday’s Tout Wars 12-team Mixed Draft, and who sold for $15 (originally said $17, but that was in a mixed league) in the CBS Sports NL expert draft:
You know that Musgrove is going to break out this year because the Pirates noticed that it was time to deal away one of their best arms, before he could do his best work for them. He's not a hard thrower but he mixes things up with spin, especially a curveball that batters whiffed on 53 percent of the time. This would be the place to get into detailed looks at how his approach has changed, how it has made him a better pitcher, and importantly how much better he might get this year and going forward. But you can find a lot of that out there on the world wide web, and each and every bit of it might be true or not. We can't be sure, and he hasn’t really done it yet. What we can be sure of is that Musgrove is perhaps one of two super-hyped starting pitchers this year whose last names start with M* who are likely to be bid up far beyond their prior achievements. The argument isn't that either or both won't break out, either or both could, but if you bid them up as if they already have you're eliminating the profit that comes from taking a risk. Take a good look, enjoy the possibility of great success (especially if you're holding a keeper) but in most cases the prudent action on Musgrove this year is no action. *Tyler Mahle
I have Musgrove at $13 presently, up from $10 because the market is so strong and I try to soak up money I know is going to be spent in the prices, even if I’m disinclined to go there. I would go $13.
LET'S GO META!
I’m adding some Picks and Pans today from Buck Davidson, longtime Guide contributor on both the baseball and football sides. Buck retired from firefighting a few years ago and now works for MLBAM as a photographer during the Arizona Fall League (maybe this fall?) and the Florida State League (which is being replaced this year).
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