Jake Lamb‘s promotion to the bigs was not entirely unexpected, but it wasn’t ever the public plan; after all, Lamb had taken some time to adjust to new levels in the minors in the past, and he had spent a grand total of five games with Triple-A Reno. Despite a home run on Saturday, Lamb hasn’t exactly hit the ground running; he’s currently hitting .224 with just two extra-base hits in 53 PA. It’s a small sample, but it does mean that we still have some waiting to do to see if Lamb might be the real deal, or at least a fringe-average starter at third base. In the meantime, we can have some fun with Lamb puns, and remind ourselves of what Jeff Wiser has already written on what to expect from Lamb.
I had started to get used to the idea of a 4-man time share in the infield, with Lamb, Aaron Hill, Chris Owings and Didi Gregorius sharing the three positions to the point that everyone was starting at least 50% of games, with double-switches frequent. Compared to other positions, left-handed hitters at second, short and third are pretty rare, since they’re all right-handed throwers. With Lamb and Gregorius, the team has two; and in addition to lineup balance, that means the team could use platoon splits to increase overall batting rates for all four of those players.
If that were the plan, I was imagining that it would be Gregorius who would move around the infield. Next season, an injury would also probably mean Gregorius taking over a spot full time, with Nick Ahmed taking on a somewhat more traditional backup infield role. I thought it would be Gregorius in part because the D-backs had seemed committed to playing Chris Owings at shortstop. Perhaps that decision was made in a bid to keep Owings’s trade value high, but it no longer matters. Now, from a Sarah McLellan piece at AZCentral.com:
The team wants to size up its options in the middle of the infield for next season, and that means giving youngsters Didi Gregorius and Chris Owings plenty of playing time. With Gregorius at shortstop and Owings expected to move over to second base once he’s healthy — he’s already spent some time at second during his current rehab assignment for a left-shoulder strain with Triple-A Reno — Hill could be relegated to third base.
Ok, that makes sense. The goal for the rest of the season is data-gathering, and there’s been no greater puzzle than what to do with the team’s shortstop glut. But wait, what’s going on with Hill? More from McLellan’s piece:
A specific number of games or even when Hill could make the switch hasn’t been decided, but it could become a permanent spot for Hill next season if he’s still with the Diamondbacks. And if so, he’d like to work out the kinks this season.
“I have no doubt in my mind I can do it,” he said. “But it’s just getting in the game, getting in those certain situations, because that’s what I told (manager Kirk Gibson), ‘If this is how it’s going to be next year, I’d like to get some games in this year just to kind of get a feel for it again because to me it’s not the grounders. It’s going to be the bump plays and certainly the angles and just little stuff getting back into the swing of things.’ “
Hill at third base is interesting. His offense would still rate favorably there, and while he’s sometimes been rated very well defensively, both UZR and DRS had particularly difficult times with making sense of Hill’s work at second. My working theory is that he miffed about as many easy plays as a mediocre second baseman would, but that he made about as many very difficult plays as a very good second baseman would.
That theory has held true this season, per the Inside Edge Fielding statistics. Here’s how Hill has stacked up in the last three seasons, the time frame for which there are Inside Edge stats:
So, yes and no. Yes, because he’s done very well in the “remote” and “unlikely” categories (1-10% and 10-40%, respectively). No, because he’s actually done well pretty much across the board, and because the “routine” plays (90-100%) comprise the vast majority of the balls hit in Hill’s fielding zone (about 81% of the balls were “routine”).
So what do you think of a possible move of Hill to third base? I think it makes sense to have both Gregorius and Owings at the two middle infield spots if both are playing, but there are two other considerations.
1. Will Hill actually be any good at third base? It’s not possible to glean from the Inside Edge numbers whether Hill’s skills at second base will translate well to third. Other than the rush-in, bare hand play that no one else needs to try and a strong throwing arm, the other skill that makes or breaks a good third baseman is reaction time. This was one reason cited for putting Alex Rodriguez at third base when he was traded to the Yankees; it wasn’t a decision that Derek Jeter was the better shortstop, but possibly a reflection of scouts’ belief that the worst part of Jeter’s defensive game was reaction time, which might get more exposed at third.
We do have some numbers that can help us. Recently, Tom Tango has hosted some fan scouting reports at his site. All who follow the game are invited to weigh in — but it’s requested that you only weigh in if you have a pretty good idea of the player’s skills. Last year, I only filled it out for Diamondbacks, for example, and the number of responders for the D-backs has been fairly low. But still, take a look at these 2013 results. Generally speaking, Hill is probably rated lower than he should be, but check out his barely-above-average 56 rating for “Acceler. / First Few Steps.” Similar story for “Throwing Strength,” an area for which Hill got just a 54 rating. If those scores were particularly high, maybe we’d get some extra confidence that Hill could be a stellar third baseman.
2. Where the hell will Jake Lamb play? Any time that Hill starts at third base, Lamb won’t. That’s not such a horrible thing this September, probably; if Lamb were in the minors, he wouldn’t be playing in September anyway except for (possibly) some playoff games. But if Hill becomes the primary starter at third in 2015, that makes Lamb either the primary starter at Reno or not really a starter at all. It’s possible that the D-backs are taking the 4-man rotation thing to heart, but instead of having one rover, they’d like Hill to be the third baseman when it’s Lamb who sits. It’s also possible that the D-backs are making Hill a little more versatile so that his market might be wider in the offseason.
In other words, there are some non-Lamb reasons to try Hill out at third base. But it’s still less than a glowing endorsement of Lamb for 2015, and it has the chance to really impact Lamb’s role for the 2015 club.
On to the links:
- Want to make sure you didn’t miss our Jeff Wiser’s piece last week at Beyond the Box Score, which focused on some silver linings to the D-backs season: David Peralta and Trevor Cahill. I agree with Jeff all the way through, 100%.
- As Nick Piecoro reported, Daniel Hudson is dealing in the minors, with his fastball sticking at 93 and touching 95, his changeup already there, and his slider just a little behind. Sounds like a good, conservative plan to have him function at Triple-A as a true reliever, but with the Aces’ regular season schedule ending on September 1, he’s running out of time to do much there. I’m really looking forward to seeing him in September. By the way, if you’re looking for a playoff race, the Aces are currently just one game back in the Pacific Northern Division in the PCL — with just two weeks to play, the Tacoma Rainiers may be out of it (4 games back). The Aces, on the other hand, finish the season with a 5-game set (!) at division-leading Sacramento, and so even if they slip a bit, the Aces are likely to control their own destiny entering the final weekend of the Triple-A season.
- Piecoro also wrote about Tony La Russa‘s statements that the Big La Russa Plans aren’t quite ready but will start to unfold soon. We’ve gotten some feedback from La Russa that’s all over the map, from defending the beanball war to focusing on fundamentals like base running, and although we’re having the Inside the ‘Zona hatchets sharpening behind the woodshed, I’m hoping to be pleasantly surprised by what La Russa comes up with. It could be a lot more of the same, or it could be something new. I like that La Russa has taken this long to put something together; when he does start to roll out some edicts, he’s going to have enough credibility to get them done.
- Jeff Wiser and I chatted over the weekend about this Dave Cameron piece about the true impact of pitch framing. I guess I do agree that guys like Jose Molina aren’t worth $18M or so per season, as the framing stats currently available might indicate. Still, I don’t think the fact that he’s making much less is confirmation that he’s not worth that much. Framing has to be an area in which some front offices are thinking much differently than others, and with catching so scarce, we don’t see much liquidity in the position. What I mean is, teams rarely get to pick up a catcher they actually want, and are usually locked in to someone, preventing them from picking up and playing a guy like Jose Molina. Miguel Montero happens to be one of the majors’ best at framing, just after a couple of Molinas and Jonathan Lucroy (and possibly Christian Vazquez). The D-backs might have lucked into a benefit like this. But how in the world can Montero’s framing be that good, when D-backs pitchers have struggled so much, and have done so much better elsewhere? It might be what Brandon McCarthy has intimated: the lack of a good or flexible game plan. But I really don’t see how Dave Duncan can be bad at that, and I don’t see how Tony La Russa would let the field staff ignore Duncan’s over-arching advice to let pitchers pitch to their strengths. Something’s not right here, and unless the explanation is devastating, the fact that something’s not right does cast a shadow on what Montero’s framing is actually doing to help the D-backs limit runs and win games.
- At Beyond the Box Score, Scott Lindholm did a study on pitcher and hitter pace to see if there was a trend in terms of hitter/pitcher quality. Low and behold, both did better with more time. As Lindholm was quick to point out, that’s a correlation that doesn’t necessarily show causation (“there are too many confounding variables at play”) — but it’s still interesting. Possibly a coincidence: out of 168 starting pitchers with at least 50 innings this season, there are no D-backs until you reach Chase Anderson‘s 22 second “Pace,” and he’s tied for 90th in that respect. Brandon McCarthy is tied for 112th (21.5 seconds). It’s not a staff of slow workers.
- I also particularly liked Chris Moran’s recent piece at BtBS, which studied flamethrowers. Maybe velocity isn’t as important as we thought, although it seems like more and more pitchers (especially relievers) are promoted on the basis of velocity. Which might mean soft-tossers or not-so-hard-tossers are getting undervalued, just like how a Tony Gwynn type might today be undervalued on the other side of the ball. By the way, the only D-backs pitcher to have thrown at least 98 mph is Matt Stites, who has done it 13 times. No D-back has touched 100, and when I lower the threshold to 96 mph, I get 138 Stites pitches, 21 Bo Schultz pitches, 3 Evan Marshall pitches and 2 Randall Delgado pitches. Maybe flamethrowers are good, what with this group of non-flamethrowers not so good.
- Fellow BtBS writer Dan Weigel did a piece at Minor League Ball on Archie Bradley. I spoke with Dan after the fact, and he’s still fairly high on Bradley, who might have two 70-grade pitches — he just doesn’t consider him the top pitching prospect in the minors. Fair enough, says me. There are plenty of unanswered questions about Bradley, which makes him a pretty big wild card for 2015. Do you think Bradley will get called up in September? I don’t, but other than service time I can’t think of a reason why not.
- On Tuesday of last week, Jeff Wiser wrote a piece here that got some play around the sport. Reacting to a Sports on Earth article about D-backs owner Ken Kendrick’s involvement in baseball decisions, Jeff wrote that it does change his evaluation of GM Kevin Towers if Kendrick has really gone over his head this often, as with the Cody Ross signing. On Saturday, Joe Jacquez of Venom Strikes added his two cents.
- Loved this piece from Rob Arthur at Baseball Prospectus ($) on the sound of the crack of the bat and what it can tell us. Definitely check it out, if you can. I’ve spent a lot of time since March thinking about “barrelling” the ball, or “sweet spotting” the ball, which is not something public stats currently account for (not directly, anyway). I assume HITf/x measures this, but we don’t have access. I’m hoping StatCast will get us there next season, or beyond. Arthur’s findings don’t surprise me, but I do think that the barrelling function (horizontal) might play a more important role in the pitch of a bat crack than launch angle, which is fairly accurately measured with our current batted ball types. When a ball is hit off the end of the bat, the end of the bat bends backward; when it’s hit more towards the handle, the end of the bat bends forward. At the sweet spot, the bat doesn’t bend at all, and I would guess that it’s that kind of hit, in which the bat is absorbing less force, that the bat/ball collision makes the loudest, highest crack.
- Finally, at Snake Pit, Clefo did a brilliant critique of D-backs players’ walk-up music. None of those songs really speak to me (and I’m still haunted by Miguel Montero’s song from last year), but in my book, it’s a high bar. I will probably go to my grave thinking that the best walk-up song of all time was Brian Daubach using “Sledgehammer” by Peter Gabriel in his White Sox days.
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