Buxton Watch: The End of Buxton Watch

Welp, that didn’t take long. Yesterday, after going 2-5 with his tenth triple of the year, Byron Buxton, who clearly doesn’t care about our prospect viewing needs at all, was promoted to High-A Fort Myers. Twins GM Terry Ryan was apparently in attendance for the entirety of this past weekend’s series, and he liked what he saw. This won’t change our plan to see Cedar Rapids in Clinton, and there is still a plethora of talent on the two squads that we can’t wait to see. But the timing of this is just painful.

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First Base Prospects Will Probably Disappoint You

Prospects are fun. They allow us to dream on their basic skill sets and imagine greatness eventually produced at the major league level. First base prospects in specific present a certain type of vision. While the offensive standard for first basemen of late has plummeted, we still want that .300/.400/.500 type slugger at first for our favorite teams. It’s a commodity that has become increasingly hard to find over the last few years. We’re all still waiting for Eric Hosmer to break out. Yonder Alonso has yet to really show anything and Anthony Rizzo still struggles mightily against lefties. Paul Goldschmidt has been very impressive so far but not many people saw this level of production coming. The only true high-end first base prospect in the minors today is Jonathan Singleton for the Astros.

With the help of the free archives of Baseball Prospectus (specifically Kevin Goldstein ‘s scouting reports from his Top 11 lists), I’m gonna look back a few years. This was a time with several high end first base prospects on the rise. These were supposed to be superstar level talents, getting on base at high clips and hitting for plenty of power. This is not meant to discredit Baseball Prospectus in any way; all five of these players were highly regarded throughout the industry.

Daric Barton, Oakland Athletics (2008):

barton 2008

Just a glowing report. He’s gonna bring offensive firepower to Oakland for years to come. No doubt. FLAWLESS PLATE-DISCIPLINE.

Daric Barton, Oakland Athletics (2013):

Besides a freak 2010 season, in which he expressed his “flawless plate-discipline” in the form of a major league leading 110 walks, Barton has yet to show much of the hitting acumen he was praised for as a prospect. He has yet to play a game for Oakland this season, and has 27 career home runs through 1,901 career plate appearances. He has slugged .371 for his career. Daric Barton is 27 years old.

Lars Anderson, Boston Red Sox (2009):

lars 2009

An elite offensive talent. Maturity and intelligence well beyond his years. He’s going to mash.

Lars Anderson, Chicago White Sox (2013): 

Anderson got 56 major league plate appearances over three years with the Red Sox in which he posted a .455 OPS. Last summer, the Sox finally gave up on Anderson and traded him to Cleveland for a knuckleballer named Steven Wright. Several months later, he was traded to Arizona. After that, he was DFA’d by Arizona, claimed by the White Sox, DFA’d by the White Sox, claimed by the Blue Jays, and finally traded back to the White Sox this April. He is currently slugging .267 at Triple-A Charlotte. Lars Anderson is 25 years old.

Matt LaPorta, Cleveland Indians (2009):

laporta 2009

The key piece in the Sabathia deal (!!!!!!). Plus-plus power to all fields. Cleanup hitter on a championship-level team.

Matt LaPorta, Cleveland Indians (2013): 

LaPorta has pretty much exhausted all of his opportunities to start for the Indians. He’s got a career OBP of .301 through 1068 plate appearances, with his “plus-plus power to all fields” only producing 31 home runs. He has not played a single game for Cleveland this season. Matt LaPorta is 28 years old.

Brett Wallace, St. Louis Cardinals (2009):

wallace 2009

Outstanding hand/eye coordination. Enough arm for the hot corner (!!!!!!!!!!!!!). He’ll be among the league leaders in batting average.

Brett Wallace, Houston Astros (2013): 

Outstanding trade bait indeed, as Wallace was traded three times before landing in Houston.  Since making his debut in 2010, Wallace has posted an OPS of .682 through 818 plate appearances. Both FanGraphs and Baseball-reference have Wallace at well below replacement level for his career. Before being optioned to Triple-A, Wallace started the 2013 season 1-24 with 17 strikeouts. Brett Wallace is 26 years old.

Justin Smoak, Texas Rangers (2009):

smoak 2009

An impact hitter in the middle of a lineup. Power from both sides of the plate. Let’s face it, HE’S GOING TO HIT.

Justin Smoak, Seattle Mariners (2013):

Since being traded to Seattle for CLIFF LEE in 2010, Smoak has disappointed the Mariners and their fans to the point that I’m not sure I’m gonna be able to get through this paragraph without getting emotional. Smoak has shown flashes of competency but has mainly expressed his appreciation for groundouts and lazy flyouts through the form of a .372 career slugging percentage over 1,500 plate appearances. As one of 17 first base/designated hitters on the Mariners, I’m curious to see how much playing time he gets this year as the season goes on. HE CAN’T BE THIS BAD. Justin Smoak is 26 years old.

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IN CONCLUSION…baseball is hard. It’s easy to look back at these failed prospects and get frustrated with what never came to be. I think it’s also a way to appreciate how incredibly difficult major league baseball is. Justin Smoak is a horrendous major league baseball player but holy crap he is an amazing baseball player. It’s never stressed enough how insanely hard it is to succeed at the highest level of this sport. There are success stories, and there are these five players. All five player reached the major league level. And sure, over a combined 5,384 plate appearances they’ve only hit 122 home runs (one every 44 at-bats). And sure, they’ve amassed an astonishingly low total of 6.9 b-ref WAR and 3.5 FanGraphs WAR (which is even more nuts when you realize that Daric Barton’s 2010 alone was worth 5.4 wins and 4.8 wins respectively). But they reached a level that thousands upon thousands of players will never even sniff. Baseball is hard.

 

What Has Changed About Chris Davis ?

This past January, Baseball Prospectus’ Sam Miller explored the possibility of former Orioles slugger Mark Reynolds having a very unfortunate visual deficiency. It got me thinking.

Baltimore Orioles first baseman/designated hitter/occasional disastrous right fielder Chris Davis is off to an unbelievable start to the 2013 season. Through 14 games and 58 humble plate appearances, Davis is slugging a comical .784 with 20 RBI and 6 dingers. In 2011, split between Texas and Baltimore, Davis drove in 18 runs and hit 5 dingers over 210 plate appearances. Last year, he broke out in a full season with the O’s, blasting 33 home runs and driving in 85. He’s always had big time raw power, but it’s never translated to this extent.  So what changed? What has changed about Chris Davis that has turned him into a true middle-of-the-order threat? 

It had to be something subtle, I pondered. He hasn’t developed a new approach or magically acquired improved hand-eye coordination to help reduce the strikeouts. I believe Chris Davis has actually eliminated a part of his game in order to improve his performance.

After nearly a full 10 minutes of research, I’ve concluded that Chris Davis has decided to stop blinking. It seems hard to comprehend, but the evidence is overwhelming. Let’s take a look back at Davis’ days as a Texas Ranger.

Here are some conveniently timed screenshots of Chris Davis participating in interviews as a Ranger:

blink 1  blink 5

Here is Chris Davis blinking, or being a pervert:

blink 3

Here is Chris Davis blinking in front of his locker (notice his abysmal numbers through 45 games):

blink 6

Here is a frustrated Chris Davis blinking:

blink 4

Here is Chris Davis blinking after hitting a home run:

blink 2

Here is Chris Davis probably blinking:

blink 7

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So we’ve identified the problem. Has Davis really fixed this horrendous flaw in his game?

Here is Chris Davis not blinking as two female fans admire his biceps:

Here is Chris Davis showcasing his new and improved eternal stare:

Here is Chris Davis not blinking while being interviewed during spring training:

Here is Chris Davis shirtless and still not blinking:

“You thought I was gonna blink, right? Wrong.”

I rest my case, your honor.

Avril Lavigne Threw Two Ceremonial First Pitches; Let’s Over-analyze Them

While rival Kelly Clarkson has sung more Star-Spangled Banners in her career, my favorite Canadian (sorry Joey Votto), Avril Lavigne, leads another category of pre-game traditions: the ceremonial first pitch. She’s thrown two; one during the 2009 season in Toronto, and one in Tampa Bay during the 2011 season (the same night she later performed a disastrous concert and got booed off the stage for cursing everyone out). I’ve decided to take the analytic approach to these occurrences. I’ve obviously .giffed them, and at the end I’m gonna throw some 20-80 grades on Avril’s pitching mechanics with the help of the all-knowing Doug Thorburn (pitching guru at Baseball Prospectus).

This was Avril’s first pitch in Tampa Bay:

To start, she’s standing about 10 feet in front of the mound, so we know her arm strength isn’t exactly a plus tool. But she plants her right foot somewhat correctly, and fires an eephus-like dart to then Rays reliever Adam Russell. At first I thought it was JP Howell, who currently wears number 39 for the Rays. And then this little meet and greet happened:

JP Howell is only 6″0 tall and 190 lbs. I know Avril is small. But if that’s Howell, she’s a legal midget…and I’m pretty sure that’s not the case. The player who Avril is actually posing with looks legitimately twice her size. Sure enough, it’s Russell (then number 36), who is listed at a ridiculous 6″8 and 255 lbs. Makes more sense.

We are fortunate to have a side angle for this pitch, which is an essential view when evaluating top pitching prospects such as Avril Ramona Lavigne. She takes the ball out of her glove awfully early, almost like a right-handed Brian Fuentes, except not at all.

This action shot gives us a better sense of what pitch Avril was throwing:

Hard to judge, considering how tiny her hands are, but it looks like a palmball/change-up hybrid grip, as also evidenced by the late arm-side run the pitch shows. I’m almost positive Juan Francisco would swing at it.

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Let’s move on to Avril’s other ceremonial first pitch.

Again, we see her throwing from closer than where the mound actually is, except in this case, they even moved the plate up for her. It’s a big breaker. This shot of her right after the release is incredibly informative:

You usually want your glove pointing to your target when you’re pitching, but it’s not like Avril gives a shit. Her fingers are actually indicating some type of knuckleball variation, which could explain the intense movement, and also why the Jays would trade for RA Dickey three years later.

More curiously, this is what Avril did after she threw the pitch:

It seems to be her version of Aroldis Chapman’s infamous somersault.

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Balance (55): It’s pretty solid, as her low effort delivery allows her to not fall down and completely embarrass herself. It’s unquestionably better than Carlos MarmLOL, and she also keeps her head relatively aligned with the rest of her body throughout the delivery.

Momentum (45): It’s eh. Her stride is certainly strong, which helps, but when you consider how limited/non-existent the leg kick is, it’s hard to go higher for this one.

Torque (30):  Very poor. One would hope that she could maintain at least one other similar quality to Aroldis, such as the elite torque that he produces with his max-effort delivery, but I guess not. There’s just not a lot of pushing that baseball forward. Needs improvement.

Posture (80): She’s essentially standing straight up until she releases the ball, so I gotta hand her an elite grade for posture. It’s unclear if she knows that she’s supposed to lift her leg at all, but hey, posture is posture is posture. Whether it’s accidental or not.

Release Distance (30): There’s zero leg kick whatsoever, and that kinda dooms this grade from the start. I’m tempted to throw at least a 4 on this one, seeing as the amount of movement she gets on the pitch (due mostly to gravity, but whatever) even with the horrendous release is extremely impressive. The pitch in Toronto shows uncanny similarities to Sergio Romo’s slider. But unfortunately, she’s really not releasing it anywhere close to the optimal point in her delivery, thus the below-average grade.

Repetition and Timing (20):  You say small sample size, I say this is a complete disaster and a serious disappointment. These two pitches were thrown at completely different angles, release points…even the arm action was different. Sure, we’re only looking at two pitches ever, but the huge mechanical discrepancy between the two is just bad. Let’s be honest…she’s probably gonna have to move to the bullpen.

 

#CFB